A stroll with an Orangutan 

Chapter 23

We headed to Borneo, purely because we had time to spare. It wasn’t really planned and to be honest we rushed it. A visit from Harry’s parent’s was imminent and in the time between their arrival and our country hopping, it turned out we could do more than we initially had planned. 

So we escaped the chaos of KL and headed to the prosperity of Borneo. Largely famous for its nature, diving, jungle and foremost it’s population of Orangutan’s. 

Our first stop in Borneo was Kota Kinabalu. We headed here for one reason only, Mount Kinabalu. Harry and I were yearning to climb a mountain and we had heard that this was a mountain within our reach. We arrived in KK a little cold, until now weather had been hot, hot, hot and now it was time to fish out the moth eaten jumper and a little too tight fitting jeans. We stayed in a a log cabin set into a backdrop of trees, high above sea level. It was a climb up and once we finally arrived, we saw what all the fuss was about. 

From a quaint little window in our quaint little room, we gazed over mountains and rolling landscape, it was a beautiful setting and in the distance Mount Kinabalu, towered over us, clouds ruffling around her peak. We dined that even with fellow backpackers, sharing stories and reminiscing of past adventures, tomorrow we would head to our mountain.

As usual nothing ever goes to plan. We headed to the national park, which was grand! We wondered amongst sky scraping trees and followed streams deep into the park, so deep infact that after a strenuous three hours we found ourselves at base camp. We hovered at the gate hoping that we would meet a tour guide, another trekker or even another human being? After shivering a while in the unfamiliar cooling temperatures, finally some fellow trekkers arrived accompanied by their guide. They were a little deflated and not heroic in their 4,095m accomplishment. Wearily they talked with us a while, honest in their portrayal of the two day summit. Despite their lack of enthusiasm, me and my fellow traveler were still keen to take on Kinabalu’s steps. But in the heart of Asia, where you can barter for just about anything, on that day and at that moment, there was no bartering to be done. No deal was made and Harry and I, tight backpackers we may be, were not prepared to pay the price on Mount Kinabalu’s peak.

We enjoyed our time in KK even if we hadn’t accomplished what we set to do. We packed our bags and waited for our connecting coach, whilst we waited we were accompanied by a couple of stray dogs. If I haven’t already mentioned, the issue of plentiful stray dogs in Asia cannot be ignored and whilst it is an obvious hinderance to the common local and tourist, I actually am very fond of the occasional stray doggys, a self confessed puppy fan. So whether it be your ratty, undernourished pup or your more popular, British pedigree chum, I’m a sucker for both and while we waited for our pickup, our two stray fury friends endured in a display of public frolicking. Frolicking soon turned into an unsettling show of doggy harassment and one aggressively pinned the other down, the poor pup yelped for help. Over and over it escaped the paws of the rapist dog and we cheered in her escape but despite it’s efforts the poor bitch lost her battle and in that moment, much to our despair, two stray dogs made another litter of stray dogs, right in the prosperity of Kinabulu’s streets. 

Boarding our coach I questioned if my puppy love remained the same but there was not much time to reflect on traumatic events, we had a date with an Orangutan. Orangutans, if you didn’t already know are classified as an endangered species. Native to Indonesia and Malaysia, Orangutans for years have been exploited in the Indonesian black market for entertainment, sold to a twisted audience for an insufferable exsistence. A bitter reality but in some parts of the world, Borneo being one, there are sanctuaries that protect our primate friends and when in Borneo it would be rude not to book a date with our monkey friends.

We visited the Sepilok Sanctuary, with a guarantee of seeing their residents. I’m not sure what we expected, more likely just a glimpse of these rare creatures from afar but it was quite the opposite. Almost immediately we caught our first sighting, unfortunately we were not the only tourists to spot it and the poor monkey was bombarded with sloppy tourists, itching for the perfect selfie. He was gone in a blink of an eye and I, annoyed and impatient. 

We kept walking and followed a path that took you further into the sanctuary. In the distance, not too far was an Orangutan, an Orangutan on a Backapacker! He cradled himself around the guys chest and whilst he tussled the guys hair, he repeatedly tried to remove the guys belt, sneakily reaching into his back pocket in search of his phone. The guy called out to me for help, so I ran to the backpacker in need! On arrival into the sanctuary we were specifically told, not to touch the monkeys but how could you resist when one throws himself at you. It was a problem but as I arrived at the scene I suddenly understood what these creatures were all about. His hands were much the same as ours, operating in every way that a humans hands would, his curiosity was like a child’s, a child who knew he was being naughty , his facial expressions were timeless, this monkey wasn’t silly, there was wisdom back there and as I came ever closer his attention was drawn to me for a second, until a park ranger appeared shewing the monkey away. He jumped from the guy and clung to a tree dashing to the safety of the higher branches our gaze followed him, taking us to an audience of cowering Orangutans. There were three gazing down at us, it seemed like they were laughing at the park ranger, as if it was some game; Orangutan 1, Park Ranger 0.

We continued our stroll through the park and saw plentiful nature on the way. The highlight of our walk was our tour guide, an Orangutan infact and an excellent tour guide he was. Unbeknown to him as we strolled through the sanctuary following our primate friend, we were actually here to see him and not so interested in his home. 

The crowd gathered behind him in complete ore of him. It striked me then and there, that we of course are a descendant of the monkey and no science lesson on evolution could prepare you for quite how human these animals are. His stroll, his curiosity, his stares, man this was a walking talking fury human! It would have seemed almost normal if this Orangutan turned around and conversed with us, naming trees and pointing out wildlife just as any tour guide would. 

Harry wasn’t as overwhelmed as me, perhaps I’m a nature geek or just a big monkey fan. But for me, on that day in the heart of Sepilok sanctuary, I fell in love with the Orangutan, our brothers, ancestors and the most fascinating creature I have ever seen.

We strolled a little further and when he seemed to tire, he simply turned around, acknowledged us, nodded a little and then was gone, back into the trees and completely out of our sight.  


Traveling with Harry

Chapter 22

Harry, obsessed with Motocross, loves raving and misbehaving, tans well and has a great six pack. That’s the guy I met four years ago and now he is my partner in crime and travel buddy. 

If you’ve ever traveled with a friend or partner, you can appreciate that at times its a rocky road. Differences in travel plans and irritating traits, can induce awkward silences or even explosive rows. A catalyst to many of these problems is alcohol and when enjoying the marvels of a backpacker life, it’s hard to avoid the plentiful boozy nights and exposure to copious amounts of cheap alcohol. In comparison to other backpackers, we budgeted tightly for such occasions, only drinking when the offer can’t be rejected. But just like at home, we can be accountable for such a ‘boosy’ induced argument and friends we’ve met along the way have been our witnesses. But of course this is not unusual for a couple who, sleeps, eats, works , drinks and even shares a toothe brush together. Yes at times its surely considered the norm, to occasionally have a blow up to dust the cobwebs away. 

Our journey around the world took a rocky start in Bangkok. Still nursing our differences that we intended to leave in England, we headed for South East Asia, where unfortunately our problems continued to haunt us. Despite our petty squabbles we made it to the other side of the world together where we continue our lives as Pearl Farmers, a far different exsistence to that of a Personal Trainer and Roofer. 

Harry at first struggled to settle into the travelers life. I believe the unpredictability of events was unsettling for us both, not knowing where you will sleep for the night, struggles of keeping in touch with people at home, concerns over money and valuables contributed to a beginning of anxieties. I however was keen to meet new people, extend our network of friends across the globe and simply travel as a ‘stereotypical’ backpacker should. This after all was only what our budget budgeted for, cheap hostels, cheap food and cheap thrills. How else would you travel? Flash packing my ass! Harry and I were certainly not considered to be ‘flash packers,’ yet our new lives as globe trotters, took some getting used to. 

Traveling isn’t all amazing sunsets, beach days and not having a worry in the world. It’s full of decision making, budgeting and exposure to vunerability. For example, buying a second hand motorbike in Vietnam and travelling the length of the country, or crossing the border of a third world country and just for a moment, sacrificing your passport to a complete stranger. And not forgetting crashing into a kangaroo and righting off your car. Or being pulled on the roadside by the local police and questioned under the act of drink driving, to which I state we were completely innocent. Some would argue that it’s poor decision making that gets you into such sticky situations, I argue its backpacking at its finest and a life we have grown to love. 

So Harry and I adapted to our new exsistence. Starting with adapting to each other. The pussycat verses the raging bull. It’s a match made in heaven. Harry the mediator, chilled and calm and me, quite the opposite. But this was different to life at home, carelessness, silly mind games and pettiness wouldn’t work away form the securities of home, we had to work as a team. 

People assured me that, ‘you’re be fine, you and Harry lived together, you’ve been together two years, it’s nothing you can’t handle.’ Yet sharing a one bedroom flat, living quite a normal life, spending only evenings and Sunday’s together is quite different to living out a backpack, a 24-7 saga of events, with absolutely no intervals or possibility to hit the pause button . 

At home our time was precious together, clearing up after Harry wasn’t too bad, his drunken antics, manageable, his attempts at domestics, far better than that of an average male, Harry and I made a good partnership. 

Suddenly however we found ourselves country hopping, sleeping in countless hostels with countless strangers, long forgetting what the feel of soft toilet paper felt like, getting used to the sight of a cockroach and feeling like every day, was a ‘Friday feeling’ kind of day. 

In Vietnam we were joined by three other travelers, two German boys and a fellow POM. This was our first episode of traveling as part of a group. Five unlikely strangers, traveling across Vietnam on our fake Honda Wins, hoping, somehow that we would make it to Saigon alive. It was an eye opener into what traveling rough was really like. Staying in hostels with four boy’s was tough for a girl who likes the toilet seat down, insists on showering at least once a day and cant tolerate the smell of sweaty men. It was a challenge and instead of being an attentive boyfriend, Harry was now one of the lads and I, a burden on the back of his motorbiking dream. 

I immersed myself into the life as an unlikely extra in a schoolboys dream adventure. Accepting that for now I was Harry’s secondary concern, his Honda Win being his first. That was okay, after all it’s not all about me?! It was an eventful four weeks that pushed us to the very limits of our relationship but we came out stronger at the end, triumphant, proud and finally, I was considered as one of the lads. 

We entered into Australia, nearly broke and in desperate hope of finding a job after six life altering months in South East Asia. We hoped to become Pearl Farmers, a job that had been suggested to us by a friend and after a tiresome week of job searching, interviews, cleaning people’s gardens and homes, finally we got the call and off to the west coast we went, in search of pearl’s.

Now not only do we travel together, we now work together, confined to the perimeters of the largest pearling ship in the world,with nothing but blue ocean surrounding us. Harry was and is a seaman at heart. Relishing in all the luxuries a man at sea could; beers on the back deck with fellow lads, fishing, steering boats and all other manly duties. Of course working at sea is a man’s world, a boat filled with enough testosterone to fill a football stadium, a boat governed by egos and competition over who has the biggest……… Feet? You fit in perfectly Harry! More importantly, it’s an experience that has proved to us no matter what we do, how far we travel, how far we are pushed, we still, after all the squabbles and cat fights,manage to make it out the other side. 

We flew away from our family and friends 18 months ago, leaving comfort and security behind, yet in this time we’ve found comfort and adventure we never thought possible in each other and for that Harry, I am eternally grateful. It seems no matter where we go we fit, making new friends and in some cases new family. You’ve somehow managed to keep your six pack, your tan constantly topped up and whilst you may be famous for standing two inches shorter than me, or is it me standing two inches taller than you? Who bloody cares, you make up for it elsewhere 😉

It’s been a cracking experience and I can at least for once give my dad an honest answer when he says, ‘is H looking after you? Yes, of course, we look after each other and when times have got rough, you’ve held it together, kept things calm and kept us safe. 
Happy birthday Haribo, let’s keep globe trotting, let’s keep the magic happening – love you Ringo x

An encounter with a turtle 

Chapter 21

It’s hard to explain your first proper encounter with a turtle. For one it’s not anything like the photos you see on Facebook, travelers and their selfies with turtles, photos of them touching turtles and pretend kissing turtles, because your first encounter with a turtle is like no one else’s , this is your turtle and an encounter not to be forgotten.

We had searched high and low for turtles and on occasions we had come across them. The trouble is whenever we saw one so did everybody else. We of course had to share it, wait for a photo opportunity, wait to have that moment, wait to see it in all it’s beauty. 

As cheesy as it may sound, turtles are simply beautiful. They are unlike anything you have ever seen, majestic, careless, solitary, graceful, simply magnificent animals. But to get real close with one, so close you ‘could touch it’ and then have it all to yourself, well that’s something different. 

As soon as we arrived at the Perhentian islands situated in Malaysia, we began our hunt for a turtle. Until now we had had very few encounters with a turtle, whilst we had seen one we had never had the pleasure of having one to ourselves, an opportunity to capture just the turtle and the ocean. That meant no greedy divers bombarding us and no flappy, duck like snorkelers in their fluorescent life jackets, photo bombing our photos with their great oaf feet! It was quite an unlikely opportunity, us, alone, with a turtle of our own but we were to persevere and surely, eventually, we would have our moment. 

We loved the Perhentian islands, for many reasons, it’s beauty, it’s isolation, it’s tranquility but most of all, the people. 

An island occupied by the most prosperous of people living a very serene life. We loved being part of the community, living in just a wooden shack, wearing nothing but our beach wear and looking and longing for our turtle. 

We treated ourselves to yet another dive, we were becoming quite the human fishes. The island spoilt us for marine life we were surrounded by waters of plentiful Reef Sharks, Trigger Fish, Puffers and Nemos . Our dive master gave us some advice, we of course were looking in the wrong places, our best chance was to head for the other side of the island. So we got walking and in less than one hour we were there, equipped with snorkeling gear and swimsuit, ready to swim a marathon. 

In the distance was a group of snorkelers, frantically wagging their arms and legs, clustering around something and that something was a turtle. This is exactly what we wanted to avoid, what we also wanted to avoid was the congestion of boat traffic coming in and out the bay. Two snorkelers in a sea overrun by boats, were in great danger of getting their heads sliced off by an incoming propeller. 

We were cautious as we swam out, slow and cautious, hoping that the swell wouldn’t suck as out too far. We made it as far as the snorkeling group and saw, about eight meters down what everyone was gathering around. A turtle, carelessly feeding on the sea bed, oblivious to the floaters bouncing above him. He was just as we hoped he would be but we were too far away to really be graced by his presence and far too imposed by others. So we swam away, swimming ever further from the sure yet closer into the congestion of boat traffic. We were tired and a little uneasy, hovering around seven meters above the sea bed, with nothing but ocean surrounding us, there was no place to take shelter. We kept looking and finally when nearly all hope was lost, an outline of a turtle caught Harry’s eye. There he was, unspoiled, untouched and beautiful in every way. He, she, I’m not sure, was just feeding on the ocean bed, gracefully upturning sand searching for food. Unbeknown to him, Harry and I hovered above, staring, idealizing, totally fascinated by our friend. We withdrew our heads from the water, suddenly screaming and giggling,  just as a child would after tasting their first mouthful of ice cream, this was it, this was the moment we had been searching for. 

Seven meters is a long way down, especially without the use of fins. But we were desperate to get close and personal to our turtle and the only way was to swim down. Harry and I took turns holding our breath and making a break for it, swimming down, lasting a few seconds with our marine friend and then frantically returning to the waters surface for a large gulp of air. 

At that depth most people have to equalize on the way down, in other terms ‘pop your ears,’ something that you may have done when you are taking off on a airplane. So time and oxygen was limited. Still however those few seconds spent at the bottom of the ocean were surpassing and those few moments were simply priceless . 

It wasn’t long however, until we were interrupted by an uninvited sailor and his spluttering boat. ‘You guys can’t stay here, move along, move along, it’s too dangerous.’ Of course he was right but to hell with him, we had found our turtle and we would wait all day if we had to, if only to see it surface. 

We waited and waited, bobbing around on the surface of the water, one eye on our turtle the other scouting for incoming boats. Then as if God had answered our prayers, our turtle began to ascend, gracefully making his way towards us, effortless in each stroke until suddenly he was almost touching us. The turtle of all turtles, the DON, The Godfather, the Arnie, the absolute elite of turtles! Okay I am being biased but who can tell me different? And why would I care ? Like I said, your first encounter with a turtle is like no other and no matter who shares with you their turtle encounters, yours somehow was so much better. He gulped long gulps of air pulling his head 90 degrees out of the water, till he head was completely vertical. His little beak opened and closed and as if all for our pleasure, it seemed he took his time, hovering and gulping again and again. It was a turtle show, an ocean theatre ,hosting its best host and he was putting on the finest of shows. Of course we just looked and didn’t touch, for all you turtle ‘touchers,’ ask yourself how much you like being touched by strangers?

So we swam for a few moments with our little dinosaur type creature. Hovering close enough to appreciate it in all it’s glory and after those few moments passed, after his forth gulp of air, he began to descend back to where he came from. 

We were overwhelmed but quite exhausted once we said our goodbyes. Perhaps some just can’t understand it but this experience was much like the time we walked with elephants, it’s the closet encounter with nature, it’s these moments we were searching for, all the saving and grafting was for times such as this, just the ocean, you and your turtle. 

City slickers 

Chapter 20

You can smell the money as you enter Singapore, it smells fresh, clean and rich. There are no cheap guest houses here, infact the cheapest accommodation you’ll find is a hostel, a bed in an eight man dorm for £20 a night. But when there is a bustling city on your doorstep there is not much time to be spent in your room. We were city slickers for three days and there was a whole lot of city to see. A concrete jungle of shops, restaurants, tourist attractions and the best of all attractions, the Singapore Zoo. 

Singapore is a unique city in more ways than one. At the forefront of its originality is its status for being the second safest city in the world. Relax backpackers, no need to wear your secret money belts here, this is a city where you can walk with your phone in your back pocket, there’s no need to worry about how much cash you are carrying in your purse and you can very well sleep easy at night because daylight robbery is not a problem here. 

Singapore is also renowned for its obscure laws, for example it’s illegal to jaywalk, you can’t eat or drink on the light rail, Dorian is considered contraband and chewing gum is a criminal offense. As absurd as this may sound, it’s not worth questioning it because it works, these obscure laws and sense of secure community, sets Singapore aside for all but positive reasons. And of course let’s not forget the shopping, Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Dior, store after store of heavenly delight but the only Chanel I’ll be buying is an Asian knockoff. 

We loved Singapore and its practicality. But it was a short visit as only the richest of backpackers can hang around for longer. So onto Malaysia it was and we felt a little skeptical. We had heard mixed reviews on Malaysia especially about the countries capital, Kuala Lumpur.
On arrival into Kuala Lumpur we made our first mistake. Note: always read up on transport links between the airport and your destination to avoid a ‘total screw-up.’ There is no cheap travel between KL airport and the city, whether it be bus, taxi or train be prepared to fork your money over. Our taxi journey into KL triggered a chain of bad events, it started with a row with the taxi driver after deliberately being short changed, followed by the worst arrival into a hostel yet. We had arrived in a Muslim country at the peak of Ramadan and without knowing we had checked ourselves into a hostel mainly occupied by Muslim men working away from home. There was no problem to begin with but of course we were not ideal occupants for a time such as this. We checked into our room and were read our rights, ‘no drinking on the premises, keep the noise down during the day, no friends allowed and no noise or drunken behavior.’ So it was a very big welcome to Malaysia for us and it was about to get even better. 
Harry’s bunk was dirty, in fact so dirty that the last resident had left a little gift on the bedsheets, it was black and it was curly, enough said incase you are eating your breakfast. To top it off the guy who was napping in our room at 4pm was not happy about our arrival and we had annoyingly awoken him from his beauty sleep. And there, in the prosperity of ‘Serenity Backpackers,’ a row unfolded for the second time that day between a Malaysian man and me. 

We were immediately moved to another room, incase the Malaysian man really did decide to ‘keep me up all night.’ So in the supposed safety of the room across the hallway, we found ourselves removed from one problem and into another. A room packed tight with eight bunk beds, no window and a smell of musty damp welcomed us, the Malaysians really know how to do greetings. Despite the unsettling circumstances our room mates were slightly more welcoming than the last, yet we still wanted to drop our bags and skarper. 
I’m not trying to depreciate people’s religion, race or lifestyle but when a hostel advertises a friendly bustling environment for backpackers you expect to find at least one other backpacker. You expect to be greeted with a little ‘serenity,’ you expect the showers to meet the legal standard of cleanliness and you expect to be able to have the lights on at 4pm and not to succumb to the demands of residents who have become nocturnal during religious occasions.
So we spent as much of our time away from the hostel as possible, sight seeing, walking, walking some more, eating and drinking, but in a city there’s only so much to do before time and money forces you to retreat back to your base. At night when we retired into our bunks, the room came alive. Men that had been sleeping in the day now woke to prey and the flicker of light on and off, on and off, kept us awake throughout the night. The gentleman Adi, who I shared my bunk with, was a kind character and bestowed on us the values of his religion, a very enlightening discussion.
It was a peculiar first evening spent in KL and the rest of our days continued much the same way. KL is a city that prospers with the very poor living amongst the very rich. Unfortunately the poverty is hard to ignore, beggars and young children line the streets of KLs less prosperous suburbs but you can’t change one mans life here, a few ringgit may feed a child for a day, but a few ringgit won’t change a third world crisis. So you must ignore the children who are exploited in hope that you will reach into your back pocket and spare whatever change you have. Brutal but very much real. 
Eventually we escaped the ‘hostel from hell,’ we decided to cut our losses and relocate for one night. It was a lesson learnt, never book accommodation for more than two nights in advance incase it turns out to be quite different from the advertisement that sold you in the first place. 

Our new accommodation was a quaint guest house and in the middle of the night we were woken to the sound of rats feeding and fighting on the roof top. Clearly we had been dealt a hand of bad luck in KL but we were not to judge Malaysia solely on this. 
So we packed up once more and headed north to the east coast islands, the Pehentians. We were in search for a turtle and we had heard there was plenty of them there. It was a long journey across Malaysia and we traveled most of it with the locals. There had only be a handful of occasions when we had traveled amongst Malaysia’s resident’s and this was the way to travel. 

The whole idea of backpacking, is to adjust your way of living, to immerse yourself into the local culture, eat with the locals, travel with the locals, learn from the locals, yet backpackers, myself included, get caught up in the tourist hub, handmade for us. Be sure to hang on to your independence adventure seekers, because so easily it can be taken from you, following other backpackers journeys is common, if the guy you met in the hostel said it was good, then surely that’s good enough for you. But what of your own decisions and choices? Too often Harry and I have been influenced by what others backpackers have said and done, altering our journey, occasionally for the better, sometimes for the worse. Of course that is the way of the backpackers world, conversations in bars over a beer have lead to adventures out on the road, ‘word of mouth’ is the best form of advertisement, but be sure to stick to your plans and not follow the lives of others. 
So for us, Malaysia was a country that was of interest to us and not always to popular opinion of others. The start had been a disappointing one but we were to follow our journey, one we had chosen, surely the good times would prevail? Our mode of transport was the local bus and with the locals we traveled. Of course the further away you go from the tourist trail, the harder the journey. Being English is the first problem,once we were on our bus, the journey was spent second guessing if we were actually on the right one. What’s unique however, is the company you keep on journeys such as this, the wandering eyes, the glances, the curiosity in people’s faces, the whispers and smiles that you accidentally catch. Of course two white backpackers is not something Malaysians see every day on their way to work but it seemed a welcomed arrival and once they had finished sizing up the alien tourists, they went back to their ways. 
We traveled for 9 hours and eventually ended up in Kuala Terrangu. This is where we would stay for the night before heading to the islands. It was late when we arrived and although we had booked to stay at the hostel, we wasn’t quite sure where it was or how to get there. 
It’s situations like this, that you should absolutely avoid as a backpacker. Stranded in the middle of nowhere, late at night, with no clue where your hostel is. This would be a ‘high risk’ situation if you are traveling alone but we had each other and with the constant security of a partner you become lenient and too dependent on the thought that because there are two of you, you are safe.  
We of course made it to our hostel unscathed but we had unnecessarily put our safety at risk. A dark night in unfamiliar territory, loaded with valuables, wondering the streets was red code for, ‘im asking for trouble.’ We were annoyed at each other for our stupidity but we moved on, slapped our wrists and swore never to be so careless again. 

A year from home 

It comes at no surprise that when you’ve only ever lived in one town your whole life, the minute you step outside it, you miss it. 
Gravesend, a town situated in the South East in a county called Kent, is a place I call home. Where friends and family have become the unit of security and familiarity, where I went to school, built a business, had a few midnight brawls and encountered some life altering events. 
Home for me, is where the heart is, though not for everyone, I still can’t find a place abroad that I can honestly call home. Since traveling to South East Asia and now Australia a place far more similar to that of our Western world, I have begun to understand why so many find it easy to relocate, to find new homes, or simply have no desire for a home, just a flamboyant life across countries, with no commitment, register or allegiance to an address. 
Whilst England is very beautiful in its own way, there are places far beyond the English Channel that simply blow your mind and for many English tourists these plentiful destinations can eventually be a place they call home. And why not ? Australia with its abundant beaches, sizzling temperatures and breathtaking landscape, is surely a ‘win-win’ option for any tourist looking to relocate. Or perhaps Thailand, cheap living, beautiful culture and a chilled, peaceful way to life. Or maybe Vietnam where jobs are plentiful and pay is good but still you can reap the benefits of a tourist life. 
Maybe it is an English thing, that us the residents of such an over populated country have found humbling and security in such big crowds. A density that we so often complain about but when at the other side of the world, in countries full of baron land, we tend to miss the crowds that we once loathed. I am one of these tourists, a backpacker that although is having the time of her life, still longs for home, a home I so often complained about. 
Of course for now, whilst the bulk of my traveling days are nearly over and I face a six month stint out at sea assisting in the production of pearl farms, it’s easy to miss home. No more lazy days at the beach, no more adventures on motorbikes, no more diving and no more coffee dates, now it’s forthcoming 5:30am starts and twelve hour days laboring, blood sweat and tears! So of course home seems a far more inviting place right now. Harry reminds me every day that we are fortunate to have had an experience such as this and he’s right, there’s been nothing else in my life so far that can compare. 
In many circumstances we have been loved and accepted by strangers into their homes, learning what home is for other people and the comforts that make it just that. In some instances it has merely been a man made shack, no heating, nor tele or even running water but a place built amongst natural resources, love and family. In other destinations it has been a place very similar to that of my home, a fully functioning western home, with all the commodities but of course this is someone else’s home, not mine at all. 
The biggest drawback of being away from home is being absent from so many things. Weddings, arrival of new babies, funerals, birthdays, the list goes on. When you’re the other side of the world it’s not possible to drop everything and fly back, a massive flight bill will put a stop to that. 
Unfortunately the age of social media has in many ways catalyzed feelings of home sickness, whilst it’s the best tool given to staying in touch with loved ones back at home, it also exploits everything you are missing. Why oh why would you be bothered when there is ocean, mountains and adventure on your doorstep but it does and most probably because I wish I was in two worlds at one time, one at home with family and friends and one here seeing all the wonders of the world. Of course you can’t have everything and after all we are only human and the natural instinct to want what you can’t have is prevalent. 
When I talk to my parents on the phone or friends I’m momentarily reminded that things are much the same as I left them a year ago. The weather, the nightlife, the gossip the drama queens, the general churn of day to day life, so they say when I arrive home I’ll be eager to leave again. But I argue that what I left behind is exactly what I miss, nothing has changed, that same life, that’s the one I miss.
Despite this I do somehow wonder how I will settle back home when I have seen and experienced another life. It seems Harry and I have fallen in love with the ocean, ether surfing it, snorkeling it, earning money from it or diving in it , it begs the question do we spend more time on land or sea? The absence of ocean for me is the biggest test to whether home will still be home when we get back. How will we survive without an ocean of blue to swim in? The English Channel I hear you say, well I suppose people are capable of compromise. Minus this and crystal white sands, sand so white you squint just looking at it and then of course there’s the spontaneity of life, not knowing what adventure lies ahead, not knowing where you will end up or who you’ll meet but of course all life is spontaneous. 
It’s now been a year to the day Harry and I packed our bags and headed to familiarize ourselves a little better with the world. It’s been a spectacular year and we’re not quite ready to return home yet. The thought of home is comforting , to know that it is always there just as you left it but to go home is something quite different. Once home all this will be over and become a distant memory, it will be something we talk about with friends and family, till I’m sure they will be bored of hearing the same stories over and over. 
I think about my friends every day and whilst you make new friends on the way, you still long for the ones closest to your heart. Amen to social media, to modern day technology, because without that I wouldn’t be able to share all this with them, I wouldn’t be able to keep a window open into their existence too. Arguably the wonders of FaceTime, Skype and WhatsApp allow us to spy into people’s lives, keeping a portal open into all that we fear to be missing out on, so what’s the problem? Surely it’s easy to relocate and live the other side of the world when we can so easily connect with family and friends by virtual dates and scheduled phone calls . But this isn’t enough for me, I’m not brave like so many of my friends, I just haven’t got the minerals to do it. 
So in less than a year Harry and I will head home in search of what we left behind. I look forward to friends, family, home-cooked food, decent nightlife and starting my business again. I’m sure we will long for all this, adventure, freedom and simplicity but no matter where this journey takes us, no matter what we encounter, home for us, is where the heart is. 

Bali and all things nice 

Chapter 19

How can it not feel good when a good friend comes to meet you and checks you into a five star villa? Life was sweet and honestly it was because I had white sheets under my skin, aircon blowing sweet,sweet air onto my face and more importantly Tui had arrived. 

Whilst fortune buys you all things nice, let’s not forget that Asia offers all the fundamentals of a ‘finer life.’ Blue seas, white sands, cheap beer and a life so chilled you’re mistake standing up for laying down, we fell in love with Bali and it was only going to get better. 

So Tui, Harry and I, became a tripod of adventure seekers, exploring Bali and its family islands whilst making habit of retiring to classy hotel suites. One of our favorite destinations was of course Gili Trawangan, more famously known as Gili T. To get there you have to get a boat and once Tui was presented with this idea, she wasn’t too enthusiastic. Water is not her thing and whilst the woman can bench press more than Lara Croft, an overrun and poorly constructed boat traveling across choppy waters unsettled her. But there was no choice and in no time we were carting our belongings onto the boat with several other backpackers and holiday makers, all bumping shoulders and fighting for a seat. 

We were lucky, or so we thought and we managed to make it to top deck where we could enjoy the views and watch the waves lapping against the boat . Though, soon enough it began to get choppy and the general chitter chatter of strangers meeting strangers was interrupted by a set of rather boisterous waves. We became anxious as the boat crashed in and out the surf, the water lapping over our heads and then it happened, the wave of all waves. The boat plummeted head first into a swell and in doing so sent a wave crashing over the top of us. It was so quick, so sudden that in a panic all you could think was to save yourself! We clutched at the railings and the people in the middle clutched to us, even the Balinese were caught off guard and were soon on their feet frantically doing the rounds.

It was a rollercoaster of a ride, a ride that lost us one pair of sunglasses and dare I say it, a Mulberry wallet. Horror I hear you scream but Tui dealt with it well and our loss was not to ruin the day as comforts of a luxury villa softened the blow. 

Our days were spent lazing by the pool, exploring the island, drinking cocktails and simply enjoying the finer things in life. But of course all good things have to come to an end and the time came when Tui had to leave. Yet another goodbye to another friend and they just don’t get any easier . When will I see you again? What will I do without you? Why can’t Harry be a girl? Of course after the emotions settled and irrationality resumed to rational, all was good again and I honestly was glad that Harry was Harry and not the Tui double I had momentarily wished for. 

We headed for Canggu a surfers paradise. It was love at first sight. A stretch of charcoal colored sand lapped by an ocean of deep blue. What set this beach from the rest was it’s surf, not a placid, crystal calm that we had become so used to but one that was run by white horses colliding onto the shore. Okay it wasn’t quite like the surf you see in Newquay at the height of the winters season, engulfing Englands West Coast and all that dares to enter it, but they were big enough and certainly big enough for us the ‘surfer virgins.’ So we hired a board and took time practicing in our water-park full of other surfer virgins as well as elite surfers and people rudely paddling at the waters edge, how dare they! It was chaos and whilst Harry was pretending to be well within his comfort zone, I was obviously way out of mine! Tumble, head over heels, face plant, belly flop were just some of the impressive finishes I completed for the entertainment of Canggu’s residents and it certainly did not go unnoticed. People laughed yet offered advice but I certainly was not the only surfer virgin on the beach, it was a show of surfer clowns defying all and eventually catching their first waves. 

That night we dined with three friends, Flic, Zita and Trisna and what a feast it was. Indonesia have a cuisine they call Nasi Campur and what a cuisine it it! First you are given a bowl of rice then you have a choice of dishes to choose from in a quaintly displayed dolly type trolley. Its simple but tasty and the trick, to find the best local food restaurant to serve it and that is easy.

It’s was the perfect banquet for five starving backpackers with a tight budget but a huge appetite. We ate to our heart’s content and that was largely how we spent our time in Canggu, surf, eat, drink,repeat. 

Our most favorite refreshment was a ‘pot of English tea.’ We couldn’t believe our luck, served piping hot in a pot with two mugs and the taste, just like home. Zita was quite amused, after all you can take the couple out of England but you can’t take the England out the couple. 

We headed for Bingin Beach, a recommendation for anyone who is heading to Bali, permitting that you are fit and able. Bingin is situated at the base of a cliff and the only way to access it is a steep climb down and the only way to leave is a steep climb up. But we had been told this was a place much like paradise, beautiful beach, beach front apartments, late night BBQs, amazing sunsets and even a wave or two to catch. Our tip-off had been a good one, we were not disappointed but if you’re looking for luxury you won’t find it there. Electricity is minimal, phone reception is impossible and there’s not much to do but sunbathe, snorkel and surf. Who said paradise was defined by luxury? 

We explored the beach front accommodation hoping to find a room with a view that fitted our budget and for £10 a night we got more than we could have hoped for. Two floors up, our tiny little boudoir with its French window, opened up to a sea of blue, treating us to sunrises, sunsets and the sound of the ocean lapping underneath us. A backpackers budget couldn’t buy you this in Europe, America or Australia but here in Uluwatu at Bingin Beach where very little people know or go, £10 can buy you your own little touch of paradise. 

The climb back up the cliff face was as devilish as we had thought it would be, slugging a 16kg backpack was a tough match for an unfit couple of travelers. But eventually we made it and with a few seconds to look back over our haven of paradise we enjoyed Bingin Beach one last time. 

With the early morning heat relentlessly beating down on us we said goodbye to Indonesia and a sad goodbye it was. But our goodbye would not be forever, we would return to Indonesia to endeavor to climb Mount Rinjani and we had a long awaited date with Harry’s parents. 

Next stop Singapore. 

Cambodia 🇰🇭 

Chapter 18

To us, I mean us Backpackers, we know Cambodia for its attractive beaches, chilled vibes, cheap beer and soothing sounds of blissfulness. But come away from from the the prosperity of Cambodia’s tourist attractions, where tourism has brought wealth and happiness to the locals and you will find a darker past, a disturbing reality, one that if you had bothered to pick up a book, search the net or talk to a previous visitor, you would realize its a place still suffering a history of corruption and tragedy. 

Harry and I were in a hurry. We wanted to tick Cambodia of the list and with very little time to do so. With already enough time spent seeing beaches, sipping cocktails and hours upon hours spent frying under the sun, we decided to stick to the mainland, first stop Phnom Penh.

Im not sure what we expected, of course this was Asia and let us remind ourselves Cambodia is one of it’s many third world countries. But as we crossed the border from Vietnam, leaving a motorbike adventure behind us we were greeted with something quite different. 

We checked ourselves into a hostel much like any other. But the heat was choking and with a tight budget, we refused the inflated price of an aircon room. The hostel was manageable, the owner was not. The guy was arrogant and everything I cant stand about a crook selling a corrupted service to a backpacker. First its this price, then its that price, then we must leave a deposit, then he wants our passports, then he insists we use his own chauffeur/taxi to get around, (another crook in the making) and so on and so on. It never ends, haggle this and haggle that, but we had become wise to this, we’d played this faceooff before and I simply wanted a bed in a dorm, the cheapest one and no boltons, add ons or tricks that came with it.

That night we decided to venture out. Cambodia have their own currency, Cambodian Riel but they prefer American dollars and when they hand over your change, be prepared for it to be Riel thats simply worth pittance anywhere else. Also make a note that Cambodia is expensive compared to its family countries, Thailand, Laos and Vietnam, so be prepared to pay more for less. I hate to be a pessimist but for me Phnom Penh wasn’t too appealing. Maybe you would argue, but once you’ve been there a day, you’ve outstayed you’re welcome. The food is good, if you find the right street food vender, markets are average, prices are inflated and weather, its humid and hot, hot, hot. Night life similarly reminds me of Thailand’s famous geriatric attraction Pattaya. Known for its table top dancers and seedy bars, with their questionable but popular waitress service, all offering Cambodia’s finest ‘lucky, lucky’ VIP service. NOTE: be sure to know what you are paying for. You might be ordering a few beers and a couple of rounds of pool – but you might get something very, very different. 

Thankfully I did just order a vodka lime and soda and didn’t end up with a Cambodian prostitute serving me a far different concoction. 

We returned to our hostel and found a merry group of Columbians knocking back beers and reminiscing of times on the road. We were instantly drawn to them and it wasn’t too long before we were sinking back beers too. Their charm and charisma was contagious, I’m not sure if it’s a common trait of all Columbians but these guys had a thirst for life, a merryiness and a happy ora surrounding them, it was a good night. 

We did what any tourists do in Phnom Penh, we visited the S21 Prison and then if you’re not too emotionally drained, a visit to the Killing Fields. What I hadn’t prepared for was how disturbing both experiences would be. Unbeknown to Harry and I Cambodia is far more troubled then we could ever have imagined, a country labeled as ‘third world,’ yet its poverty extends far beyond.

Out of touch with history and out of touch with reality. Whilst at home luxuries of eduction, career choices, wealth and stability are taken for granted, here in the realms of a country still suffering a genocide, there are no such qualities in life. Cambodia, where a third of the countries population was wiped out merely 50 years ago has no choice for such finer things, instead they are still suffering and rebuilding a country that was left in tatters. 

So as we walked around S21, a place where people were tortured and killed, we learnt how Cambodia had suffered at the hands of an extremist, known by the name of Pol Pots, who brutally and deliberately murdered nearly 2 millions of the countries population under the charges that they were of wealth or upper class status. If you were of a working class background, you were predicted safe, safe from execution yet not safe from slavery or a slow and brutal path to starvation. He believed that all people were to be the same, and his goal, to turn the country into a communist agrarian utopia where everyone was equal. If you were a teacher, doctor, or even a monk, you were at high risk for execution, even wearing glasses was a sign that you were educated and of course that was a sin. Cambodia suffered quietly in turmoil, whilst the world operated in business and war around them. 

The tour around the prison was depressing, unless you were inhuman there was no way you couldn’t be effected by what you saw and heard. Room after room of death, brutality and suffering and each with a story that lingered and burnt away at you. It became apparent why there was such an absence of elderly people in Cambodia, of course so many of them had been killed. Before now Phnom Penh was a flourishing city, now the aftermath of an extremist had forced a country to be reborn again. 

Nevertheless Cambodia seems to be defying its history and continues to operate, rebuilding homes, schools cities and lives. After our experience at S21 we then went onto the Killing Fields an equally disturbing and unforgettable place. I recommend anyone to read up about the events that unfolded in Cambodia during the 1970s, because whatever I write here can’t fathom or do justice to the reality that really is.  

Cambodia is an unforgettable country but not for all the wrong reasons, at the fore front of its attractions is temples. Temples at their very best and whilst Asia know how to do temples, Cambodia knows how to absolutely nail them. Angkor Wat is its name and ‘wow,’ it’s worth every penny. When visiting Angkor Wat make sure you are dressed appropriately, I was not and in a hasty retreat back to our room to find something more suitable, I managed to select thermal leggings and a long sleeve top. Hell on earth and the only thing to distract my thoughts from a slow death in a burning inferno, was the site of these breathtaking buildings. Angkor Wat, the first of a series of temples, was for me the most breathtaking. A monumental building situated amongst a gully of water and its family temples, not too far in the distance. It was hard to conjure how people managed to build such spectacular monuments in a day when only man and elephant were seen on such building sites. But they did and now each temple stands, landmarking an attraction for thousands of tourists. 

Cambodia has left its own land mark on Harry and I. Maybe traveling softens you up, maybe it makes you more emotional or maybe it simply gives opportunity to look closer into other people’s lives. I will forever remember my day at S21 Prison and I will forever remember the Cambodian people and their struggle for freedom. 

Next stop Bali . 

Recommended reading : First they Killed my Father by Loung Ung

Goodbye Betty

Chapter 17

We eventually shook off the trauma of our recent jungle showdown and moved on with life. 

Of course whilst jumping from place to place, there’s not much time to absorb your surroundings, so with the little time we had, we did our best at being tourists. We fell in love with Da Lat, mainly because the temperature had dropped a generous eight degrees.

Our hostel, ‘Da Lat Family Hostel,’ was one of a kind. It was exactly what it said to be – family. We ate together, we drank together and we gathered in overcrowded dorms to sleep together. Dinner time was always eventful, much like feeding time at the zoo. We squeezed around tables, fighting off rivals for the best seat at the banquet. Plates of food were then served to us, we sat like starving animals salivating, clapping our paws together encoring the food. Out it came meal after meal and it was money well spent. Vietnamese cuisine at it’s almost best. Soups, noodles, meats, morning glory and to wrap it all up, the best banana pancakes you’ve ever had. We certainly felt amongst family there.

The next day we did what all tourists do in Da Lat, abseiling. It came highly recommended by friends and other backpackers, the descent down a series of waterfalls into foaming white waters was exhilaration at its best.

Out of Da Lat and back on the road a journey that would take us to Mui Ne. Here we would enjoy acres of sand dunes, red and yellow in color, most beautiful when the sun creeps up behind them marking the start of a new day. 

But we had to get there first and of course, as usual, this was an arduous task. We had been pre-warned that there were police pulling tourists over on the side of the road asking for money in exchange for avoiding prison time. The best way to avoid them was to take the back roads, but this was longer. 

We thought better and until now we had never been pulled over by the Vietnamese roadside patrol. But there’s a first for everything and this time we were pulled. A group of questionable Vietnamese men, in questionable Police attire, flagged us down and we had no choice but to answer to their call. We had been prepared for this and so the battle was on, backpackers verses the Vietnamese. 

The language barrier proposed the first problem. Their knowledge of the English vocabulary consisted mainly of ‘police,’ ‘driving license,’ ‘money,’ and ‘illegal,’ all words deliberately learnt to make the tourist anxious. After all, we were in their country, driving illegally, these guys were calling the shots. They wanted money and they wanted it now. We were absent of our German friends and Nathan, Nathan’s bike had broken down yet again and the Germans – too hungover to make an early start. So our travels buddies for this trip were two Canadian guys. And great allies they were, Johan was confident and no Police punk was going to ruin his day. He took the lead and we was immediately carted away from our bikes, sat at a roadside table where we were scorned and lectured for driving illegally and apparently under the influence of alcohol . 

We could buy our ‘get out of jail card free,’ with a handsome sum of $300 – enough money to feed a Vietnamese family for a year! The threats kept coming, they even threatened to cease our Betty! I would rather spend a night in a cell then give her up. 

To my fellow travelers, please take note of the following points, guaranteed to help you in situations such as this;

-Lesson number one – never carry more than 100,000 dong on you- equivalent to £3, so if a situation ever proposes itself such as this , you can only offer them what you truly have – Three quid.

-Lesson number two; if you’re brave enough answer to their threats with some of your own, ‘please contact the British embassy,’ or ‘take me to the police station, I’ll take my chances there,’ this worked well for us. Or simply say ‘no, I don’t understand, NO, NO, NO’

-Lesson number three; travel in numbers, you have a better chance of survival this way- four backpackers are a strong match for a team of clown police officers.

Of course with all this tried and tested you can never guarantee outsmarting the Vietnamese Calvary, after-all you are on their soil. We had a battle on our hands and once we were nearly all out of luck our only solution was to sit in protest and in pure ignorance, so we sat, legs folded on the hard shoulder of a highway hailing, ‘we shall not, we shall not be moved! 

More likely we sang this to ourselves in our heads, more likely we were all terrified. Seconds grew into minutes, minutes grew into a hour and finally when our feet had gone numb and my knees were done in, one of the officers told us ‘clear off.’ Victory! Backpackers 1, Vietnam 0!  

Entering into our last stop Ho Chi Minh City, was very much like our departure from Hanoi. Motorbikes everywhere! ROad or pavement, it didn’t matter and whilst we all tried to que in an orderly fashion, it became apparent that patience was not a virtue here, it was a battle of the quickest and most cunning . By now there was nothing that couldnt phase us, traffic, Police, jungle, cattle, water, lorries- we had faced it all. So Harry glided us through to our final pit-stop, this was the end of the road for Betty and us. 

I however had other things on my mind and the arrival of a friend from home was all I could concentrate on. Whilst you spend your whole time convincing yourself you’re not homesick, you don’t want to come home and that inside you’re not an emotional wreck, the sight of a familiar face can defy all that. Helen is a good friend and she also had a supreme hotel room, hot water and clean sheets, it was all too much and when I heard her chirpy voice, the tears just flooded. 

Whilst I note traveling to be the best experience to date of my life, I’m still reminded every day of what is even more important- Friends, home, family and a good old cuppa. Helen was a reminder of home and a reminder that when all this was over, home is where my heart is. So we said an emotional goodbye to Betty, after two days of convincing other backpackers that she was the purchase of the year and you could absolutely rely on her to get you 2400km back up to North Vietnam. Then it was farewell to Helen, a quick hug and a few tears but reassurance that we would see each other some time soon. So we were back on the road, this time without Betty, next stop Cambodia. 

Goodbye Betty it’s been emotional ❤

Survival of the fittest

Chapter 16

When I began my venture around the world, I never thought I would stay in hostels that cost £1.50 a night. I never thought I would lie to my parents about whether or not I was taking anti-malaria tablets, just so they could sleep easy at night. I never thought I’d befriend two German guys and become a Game of Thrones addict. I never thought I would walk with elephants or learn how to dive. I never thought my boyfriend and I would buy a motorbike and travel 2400km across Vietnam. And I never thought, that I would find myself 3 miles into the heart of the Vietnamese jungle running after a motorbike, wearing my boyfriend’s trainers, covered in ants and screaming for all this to be over. 

I met a frantic Harry at a narrow verge that bridged over an eight meter drop, about to lose the backend of our Betty, all of our luggage and more importantly himself. Out of breath, tired and sun-burnt the only solution in a ten second emergency stand-off, was to scream and PUSH!

Now if I’d taken a second in our short window of time, the time between losing my boyfriend, our bike and everything we owned to a steep verge of destruction, I may well have pulled out my phone and snapped a few pictures of the devastation that was unfolding in front of us. However I’m only human and natural human instinct triggered way before the impulse to capture this all on camera. So instead we pushed and pushed and whilst the clay like earth fell away under our feet, we somehow defied the laws of gravity and hauled our Betty across the verge and onto safe ground. 

Harry and I collapsed into a heap on the floor, we were exhausted and beaten. Although we had made it to safety we still faced, according to our travel app, another 12miles of possible jungle pasture. But we had to push on. Roll the tears and frantic rants, the cursing of God, Betty and any lunatic that had ever wanted to travel. Curse Harry and his ego, curse Vietnam and all it’s beauty! Harry shouted back and whilst we were not really even shouting at each other, we were just shouting at something, somewhere. 

We made the decision to push on, Harry back on Betty and I by foot. The journey continued and as we pushed further on, the jungle consumed us evermore. 

As if out of nowhere, an elderly lady suddenly appeared. She was busy picking herbs or plants. We tried to explain our situation, frantic in our efforts to make any sense. It was if God had sent us a Vietnamese angel. But of course in rural Vietnam there are no English speaking Vietnamese, it was hopeless. She stared at us in disbelief and as if to humor our madness, she smiled and got back to her business. Our angel was not so angelic.

Overwhelmed and exhausted we were depleted, que the tears to roll once again. I felt as if I couldn’t run anymore, my legs were heavy and I was bitten and bruised. Harry eventually stopped up ahead and when I finally reached him, he called time and said what we had both been avoiding, ‘it’s time to head back.’ 

To keep going would be madness, to go back was insane. We would have to cross the verge again, would it even hold us this time? But with no idea where we were, where we were heading or if we would ever get out of this alive, we had to make a decision, back across the verge we would go. We planned it the best we could. This time we would unload the luggage off Betty, walk the luggage across and come back for her. Harry would steer her by foot, whilst I pushed from the back, a bulletproof plan. Of course it was steeper and more narrow than we had remembered, the weight of Harry and I, plus Betty, would surely collapse the earth beneath us. Less time thinking and more time acting, with the luggage off and safely across, we were good to go. We of course prepared for the worse and as the ground crumbled beneath us, I knew we were done for. 

I collapsed on the mud, my legs and arms cut, wearing only one shoe, the other lost to the ground beneath me. Breathless, exhausted and wondering how we had been triumphant. There was only silence, no longer could I hear the screeches of Betty’s engine revving, nor the cries of Harry begging me to push harder, nor the sound of rubble and earth falling beneath me and as I lay staring at the green overhang of trees, Harry called, ‘ back on your feet Cherry we’ve got to push on.’

We finally arrived in Delat four hours later. A trip that should have taken three hours but had cost us eight. It was an emotional arrival at our Hostel, where our two German friends and Nathan were waiting. I’m not sure now if in that moment Dominic had realized just how much comfort I felt when he threw his arms around me and handed me a beer. The hostel was bustling, the beer was flowing Delat felt cooler, welcoming and fresh. We gathered round for dinner, we joked about the journey down, perhaps too soon to joke but it felt good to be back with the Wolfpack, it felt good to be back with our friends. 

A wrong turn 

Chapter 15

Our motorbike journey took us from Hue to Denang, to Hoian. Hoian beautiful for its French themed buildings, cosy restaurants and romantic river settings.

Time was running away from us. We were jumping from place to place, with little time to absorb our surroundings. The less miles we crossed the less time we had to make Saigon. Pressure, heat, hostels, sun burn and the inability to have any privacy was wearing thin on me. Whilst your life fits into a backpack, simply and sweetly, it proposes its own day-to-day problems. Lack of opportunity to prune, living with boys, sharing a bunk with your boyfriend and sharing a toilet with four men can strain your ability to wake up every day with a smile on your face. Be under no illusion that backpacking is not just what the majority of my friends may think, endless days spent lazing on the beach, sipping cocktails and watching the pretty sunsets. It’s hard graft, it’s pushing your patience to the limit, it’s not having time to shave your legs, it’s sleeping on a wafer thin mattress and waking up with a layer of sweat wrapped around your body. And, after this way of life continues to chip, chip away at you, you find yourself slowly cracking under the pressure. 

Harry and I were becoming impatient with each other. Nit-picking at every given moment and it was beginning to wear a hole on our relationship. Of course until now I have left out any quarrels or domestic disputes because of what relevance are they to a backpacker and their ‘how to backpack’ handbook? But now it seems more important than ever to highlight the stress that backpacking pushes on you and your partner. 

We were at breaking point and in my head I could pick no particular reason why? Was it me? Was I being high maintenance, stroppy or just a mega bitch? I couldn’t work it out, nether of us could and whilst we traveled ever further into the realms of Vietnam, we were traveling ever further apart.

So in a rage of fury and despair I pulled the plug and a drunken argument unfolded in the prosperity of Hoian’s streets. We believed it to be the row that ended all rows but of corse it wasn’t. Licking our wounds, we decided that time alone would be good, a break from the wolf pack, from hostels and from team play. We would ride solo for the next few days. 

So we headed on alone and as the sun rose the next day, we were already heading south again. All was going well, we were making good progress it seemed the perfect way to recuperate, relight our fire and distress. But of course Betty was still on our minds, how much longer would she last without burning up, her tyres were wearing thin and she was producing a strange rattling sound.

We checked into a hotel in Kotum, at six quid a night, it was a bargain. A similar setting to that of the film The Shining. Long dark corridors, eary and unnerving. But it was home for the night, as it was also home to a few fury friends. A rat scurried around chewing the wires and whilst Harry had got so very good at pretending he was asleep, I was left to battle the rodent myself. 

We moved on again, traveling to Buon Ma Thuot and then onto Lak Lake. A detour took us to Lak Lake, more so two tour guides travelling on Harley Davidsons, their cargo two Australians. Vinnie was the tour guides name and theyre title ‘The Easy Riders.’ He mananged to convince us to follow them and he promised to show us the ‘real Vietnam.’ Of course we didn’t predict that that we would end up in a solitary karaoke room with Vinnie letting loose on the mic, whilst the Ozi couple got fruity on the dance floor. 

The next day to avoid the ‘Easy Riders’ and their kinky travel buddies, we deliberately set our alarm late and insisted we left after. We set off that morning solo and began our journey to Delat 180km away. 

The journey began well, it was hot and humid and heavy showers were imminent. Our journey took us to a lake and the only way to cross was by a taxi boat. More so a young boy operating a raft to and fro with a charge of 30,000 dong. He seemed surprised by us, the white tourists, surly questioning if his raft would carry our heavy load. Across the water junction we went what happened later that day was a time I will never forget. 

We were faced with nothing more than a dirt path heading into a grassy verge. Too tight for us with our burden of luggage, however defiant to push on, we defied all and pushed through to the jungle overhang. To succeed on accomplishing our new route I had to vacate our Betty and travel by foot, Harry would lead the way gaining ground quicker and I would follow in an exasperated run. 

The idea was absurd. One mile in and I was bruised, battered and at breaking point. Breathless I decided to take a moment to recuperate and assess the situation.How could we have been so stupid?! No human in their right mind would have followed this path into a labyrinth of jungle, taking us deeper and deeper into the outback of Vietnam’s most untouched territory. We were completely lost and we were too far in to turn back. Harry had maneuvered Betty through the tough terrain, executing winding bends, steep verges and paths that had possibly never been touched by mankind. For it had not been his several years of riding dirt bikes, we would never have endevoured this motocross style race track, we had made a ‘Wrong turn,’ one that would nearly cost us everything.