The dead fisherman of Aarambol

Adventure, backpacking, Discover, Goa, India, Travel

 

Look just past that trio of people on the beach, and you will make out some people kneeling before the shore. A group of people are sat around a body wrapped in a white cloth, with just a pair of lifeless feet uncovered.
We had walked down to the beach for a couple of beers, but instead of watching the sunset, those around the body joined hands, lighting candles. I laughed awkwardly, hoping the large hole to the right of us (pictured) wasn’t to be the grave.
As if the scenario wasn’t strange enough, an Indian man appeared on his knees, swinging a golden necklace right out in front of me like a pendulum. I didn’t even get chance to blink before he wrote in the sand, ‘100’. He wanted 100 rupees for it.
I shook my head and told him to go away, freaked out by his sudden appearance and action in my face. Frantically, he wrote 50 – and having seen his desperation, I gave in – exchanging 50 rupees for an old golden chain with a pendant hanging from it. I put it in my satchel and forgot about it, wishing i had given him more from the look on his face. He ran off.
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It turned out the hole was not for a grave but this.. 

Despite a dead body on the beach, every one reacted as though they were just watching the tide come in. We were in Aarambol, traditionally a fisherman village which was largely inhabited by a ‘new age’ hippie community.
The hippies made it apparent they didn’t want to socialize, not having acknowledged us at all in the few days we had spent staying in a beach shack there. It was because of this atmosphere, we hadn’t gone round asking what had happened, despite our curiosity.
As the sun set, we could barely make out the figure, and as the tide continued to draw in we understood the body would be swept out to sea. Confused we hadn’t seen any type of authority we wondered if the ‘man’ had even been identified, if ‘his’ family even knew or if ‘he’ would just be regarded as a mysterious disappearance. I still don’t know the answers to these questions.
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Sunset on Aarambol Beach 

The next day, we got talking to some french backpackers. Supposedly, three local fishermen had gone out to sea in their boat drunk, and a few hours later their bodies had washed up on different beaches. This was the only version of the story that we heard.
It wasn’t for a couple of weeks that i found the golden necklace, zipped inside a pocket in my satchel. The chain was fairly thick but old, a brassy yellowing color. The weight of it passed as real, unlike the pendent which was very much fake. The circular pendent had a Hindu marking on it, which could imply it belonged to a local.
Now that i think back to the man who madly sold me this necklace, i wonder if i had mistaken his desperation as poverty instead of fear. Was he a thief, and could this necklace have belonged to the fisherman? Thinking back to his actions, it seemed more likely that it had been stolen. 50 rupees was less than a penny, why was he so reluctant to recieve so little so urgently?
Again more unanswered questions and speculation, but i still have the necklace. A bad omen perhaps, a reminder of the mystery..
Should i keep it, or drop it in the ocean?

 

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Diving out of your comfort zone

Adventure, backpacking, Discover, Diving, Uncategorized
You can’t talk to each other under the sea. I mean, you have the bare essentials with hand signals and motions to say OK, Up, Down, Shark! and so forth. But you can’t have a real conversation, it’s just about reading the emotion in each others eyes.
That’s something I really struggle with. I was never one to be able do ‘sponsored silences’ at school. I like to ask a lot of questions, as well as answer and argue them. I’ve never really been able to think without giving a running commentary, so naturally – I felt lost underwater. Particularly when I didn’t remember what I was supposed to be doing, floating around in the open water – wide eyed, and trying to gesture ‘I don’t know arms’ out like an idiot.
I was fortunate enough to be able to do my open water diving course in one of the most beautiful spots in the world, the Gili Islands. I was even more fortunate to have the most caring, understanding and supportive diving instructor – Mimi. For these reasons, I was able create some of my most fond memories.
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The beautiful Gili Air
I’ve never been much of a water baby, except for when i was an actual baby. But when water goes up my nose (I’ve got a big one), it fills me with panic and claustrophobia. It’s something that made me avoid going under water – and given that that the sea likes to swallow people, a paddle was enough for me.
With that said, my boyfriend told me there was no way i would be able to become a certified diver if i was scared of the Sea. Not really an unreasonable statement, but I hate being told that i can’t do something so i decided i had to prove him wrong.
My first dive was a fun dive, and it was exactly that! The mixture of adrenaline, mystery in this new enchanting world and Mimi’s cool and calming presence affirmed the fact that i wanted complete the course – pass my tests and become a certified open water diver.
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Flipping backwards off the boat

Two of the tests i needed to pass that were literally the last thing i would ever want to do:
  1. Pull up your mask to allow it to fill with water, tilt your head back, apply pressure to the top and blow air out through your nose to clear.
  2. Take the mask off at 15 meters below, put it back on around your head and repeat action 1.
Luckily enough, we got to practice the tests before hand in a swimming pool. It sort of went exactly how i hoped it wouldn’t. I watched as my group took off their masks casually and then Mimi gestured with her arms that it was my turn.
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Not something you see every day.

I peeled back by mask to let the water come flooding in. Panic filled me as the water suffocated my nostrils and the adrenaline sent my body shooting up to the surface of the water. But before i could spurt out, there was a firm grip around my jacket. Mimi shook me with pleading eyes, and i could only mimic this gesture with equal measure. I didn’t need words for this, i knew i wouldn’t be able to act this way in the real test without risk of getting the bends.
The bends is basically caused by the nitrogen you are breathing in, it starts to expand as you rise, if an air bubble gets into your bloodstream and travels to your heart or brain –  you are dead. In the real test we would be some meters below, and given that none of us wanted to die, we took the safety measures of rising to the surface slowly.
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Putting on our mermaid costumes

Gili Air fast became my most favorite place in the world. The laid back island attitude, natural beauty and familiarity of faces you passed each day made it feel like a home, and having such paradise feel that way is pretty euphoric. The 7 Seas Diving school team started to feel like family too, I couldn’t have been luckier.
The whole nose thing seemed a bit ridiculous, but Mimi never once made me feel like I was stupid. She persisted with me, and i was soon able to clear the water out of my nose by repetitively breathing out through it (funny that).
The day came, and just wanted the boat journey out to the reef to continue on. I really didn’t want to do my mask tests down there on the Sea Bed. As the boat stopped, sickness rose and my breath shortened. Everyone was in the water, but I had completely lost sight of any state of calmness. But i was determined. Shakily, i flipped backwards over board and tried to regulate my breath back in the water. I lay afloat in the water until i was ready to go down.
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Joe, Mimi, Pijan, Simon and Me having a well deserved beer after a dive.

I can’t tell you how relieved i was when the mask test was over. I had my eyes closed the whole time but i could feel Mimi there with me. After that, I started to feel more confident diving, and once i had passed the open water test i started my Advanced.
I’m so glad i got to prove Simon wrong –  but more importantly,  I got to prove to myself that if i pushed myself out of my comfort zone i could achieve (and enjoy) something i never knew was possible. Next up i just need to create an underwater talking device and i’l be as happy as Dory can be.

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The Rookie Backpacker, my first big mistake.

Adventure, backpacking, thailand, Travel
I’ve made a couple of blunders on my travels, some I’ve not actually admitted to. But I’ve come to learn that it’s not about how or why you get yourself into a rut, because that’s inevitable. It’s about how you react in these situations and get yourself out of them..
Fresh on the scene, I’ve just landed in Bangkok feeling young brash and cocky. I’m now officially a backpacker, and i’m only going to get edgier. Actually, i’m pretty knackered, and the humidity has hit me like a train. But our bags are first out on the conveyor belt – so we swing them over our backs, high five and go outside to hail a Cab.
Despite the Thai cab driver being a lunatic, the hotel is only a short drive away. We came to a halt on the side of the motorway as the argument on  the drivers phone stepped up a gear (pun not intended). We wasn’t sure if he even knew where he was going, but despite his erratic driving we managed to get there in one piece.
We ace our check in, eager to get changed and join those in the pool drinking beers.  I knew I had packed my swimmers in one of the side pockets for easy access – smug with myself, i unzip the pocket.. but instead of my bikini I pull out a giant pair of knickers that certainly don’t belong to me. Confused i check the other pockets – more Bridget Jones knickers. Has an airport official searched my bag and placed the wrong items back?!
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Frantically, i unfasten the buckles around the top of my backpack and open the main compartment – a box of jumbo tampons..Suddenly the reality hits me – it’s not my bag.What are the chances of someone else having the exact same backpack as me that is coincidentally the cheapest one in Millet’s? Apparently not that low. 
We race back to the airport, with me in a total frenzy -i’m feeling like a total idiot – here i am self proclaiming to be miss independent, and i can’t even pick up my own bag from the airport. Definitely not going to tell my parents about this one (until they read this post).
Bangkok airport is huge, and panicking really doesn’t help whatsoever when you are trying to locate one out of tens of airline desks. We try to explain as best we can about the mix up to the pretty Thai stewardess, and wait anxiously whilst she makes a couple of phone calls.
‘Miss Ruth bag!!’ ‘you take Miss Ruth bag!!’ I try to explain that Miss Ruth (who clearly has some serious menstrual issues) has the same backpack as me, and that i had taken this bag by mistake, but the language barrier didn’t seem to give off any understanding. The bag is taken from me and two Thai security guards appear, asking for one of us to go with them – and one of us to remain at the desk.
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Separated, in Thailand, hundreds of miles away from home in a corrupt country where i have potentially been mistaken for stealing someone elses bag. I wait at the desk chewing my arm off, for Simon to return for what feels like an eternity. Where have they taken him and will i ever see him again!? Okay drama levels are at 100 but my anxiety was generally through the roof. I had no phone to contact anyone, and no idea where i was – so all i could do was wait at the desk in the middle of the airport to find out what was going to happen.
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Finally Simon returns with a smile that reads ‘you are a total idiot’ along with my actual backpack, I have never loved the contents of my bag – the few invaluable items i had with with me more than i could in that moment. 
I never got to meet Miss Ruth, but i hope she packs her essentials in her hand luggage next time. 

Farm Work Fails

Australia, backpacking, Discover, Farming, Tractor, Travel
If you had told me a year ago I would be hanging up my office wear for overalls and wellies, living out in the wilderness of bogan Australia learning how to drive a tractor – I would have probably laughed and idealized the thought of living a random lifestyle temporarily.
But in reality, it was far from that- except of course in retrospect and in those moments of insanity where you can only laugh not to cry.
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I’m smiling because it’s my last day at the farm, literally.
And so to revel in my misfortunes, I have put together all of my ‘Farm Failures’. I never thought becoming a tractor driver, or living out in the sticks would exactly come naturally to me, but I didn’t expect to fail so much…….
1. The day I thought I had taken all precautions to turn the electric fence off. I hardheartedly got hold of the gate to close, and as I wrapped my hands around the fence panels to pull it shut – I literally jolted in the air and felt the current stun my entire body. When I told the farmer about trauma, he simply told me that electricity was good for the heart. I spent every day forward wincing in anticipation for a fear of it happening again.
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This was literally me. Except I wasn’t naked.
2. Breeding season. Stick a randy Bull in with a herd of virginal Cows and you get a whole lot of fear. Especially for me, because not only am I terrified of Bulls but I had to feed the whole paddock, and that’s something else Bulls get excited about. I’m driving across the field, trying to wear out the animals chasing me so that I don’t have to get too close to them. But they weren’t tiring today, they wanted their feed. I stepped out of the tractor and walked around to the trailer where I had to cut the plastic away from the hay in order to churn it out. Sometimes the plastic gets caught underneath the trailer and so you have to crawl underneath to untangle it. I went to lean down to do so and my stomach collapsed at the sight of a Bull raging right towards me. I’m pretty sure I ran faster than Usain Bolt back into that tractor where I burst into tears and called Simon to come and rescue me. In hindsight, I probably could have handled it better.
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Next time I’ll just be like..
3. Another time I was driving down the road in my tractor, probably singing Shakira or something. Unbeknown to me, I had incidentally cut up a truck who with very little space on the road was forced off onto the drain. I literally held my breath as the driver somehow managed to stop it from tipping. A huge Cowboy got out of his truck absolutely livid. Turns out he was a contractor on the farm and he threatened to get me sacked. After he saw how terrified and inexperienced I was, he agreed to ‘keep it our little secret’. I had to put up with his pervy comments from that day forward.
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Oops

4. Finding your way around a 700 thousand acre farm is not easy. Especially with a basic map and an expectancy for you to pick it up straight away. It wasn’t exactly a rarity for me to get lost, but this particular day I really thought I had it in the bag.  I had driven across a couple of paddocks and believed to be heading in the right direction. Spotting a gate I assumed to be the entrance – I drove on in and up the pathway. It wasn’t long before i was teetering over the edge of a massive hole, with four or five cow faces looking up at me. I had in fact driven into what they call the dead pit – full animals at various stages of decomposition. Being up high up in the tractor gave me 360 views. Not an image or smell I’m going to forget in a hurry.
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bastards

5. I was actually quite content in my first couple of hours collecting firewood. I wasn’t thinking about what could be living in the wood or surroundings, just simply picking up logs and piling them up to be chopped. So there I am, peacefully picking up logs, getting lost in the rhythm of my routine when I pick up the next and a family of huntsmen spiders came running out, it all happened in such quick succession and then one JUMPED on my chest. I literally screamed the farm down and jumped up and down up and down oh my god I had the heemie – jieebes for days. I never done much firewood collecting after that.
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If you don’t know who Meredith is then you should probably watch the parent trap.

How you end up in the River Ganges.

Adventure, backpacking, Discover, India, Travel
After spending a day on the banks of the River Ganges, I had at this point – absolutely no intention of getting in this cesspit of a river although admittedly i liked the idea of doing it. With that in mind, two idiotic companions ( Simon and Joe) and far too much illegal alcohol a story is born…
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Me, Simon and Joe.

I can’t remember what day it was, for as far as any traveller is concerned every day is Saturday. We were sitting up on the rooftop of our hostel trying to relax.  You see the streets of Varanasi are intimidating, chaotic, filthy and full of people you want to avoid. So after an afternoon of startling exploring we were pretty worn out mentally. If you was going to relax anywhere, the rooftop was the best bet – drowning out the noise and smells of the streets below.
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Typical day in Varanassi…

Me Simon and Joe sat up here in our fort, laughing at what we had got ourselves into. Trying to make sense of what was going on, how we would ever try and explain this madness to anyone, and who’s idea was it to come here anyway!? Its one of those moments where you are dizzy with laughter and slightly unhinged, undoubtedly time for a beer. However, being in a third world country,  even more so the ‘spiritual capital’ its not as though we could just pop down to the off license for a 6 pack, it was actually deemed illegal to drink alcohol at all.
That aside, anything goes in India for a price. We strike up a ‘deal’ and 20 minutes later our guy arrives with the goods. 6 cans of warm extra strength larger. Of course this only added to our amusement and we sent our guy back for more.
I’m not sure how many trips our guy did, or how many cans of warm larger were consumed but i remember we were all pretty tanked. Our conversation didn’t deviate far from the Ganges, and of course it wasn’t long before it was a brilliant idea. A must do in fact. Who comes to Varanasi and doesn’t dunk themselves in the holy river? We should all get in the river and become reborn again with Hindu names! We can become Bantu, Rikesh and Pooja.
Our enthusiasm was sky high, but at this point we were safe – because at this point it was still only an idea. Our guy returned with our next batch of warm beer and we began slurrily asking him questions about the Ganges river. He spoke of the magical and spiritual presence and insisted taking us out in his boat at sunrise.
We were beside ourselves, this is great – exactly what we wanted to do. Our guy would take us to the other side of the river, that way we wouldn’t be disrespecting anyone. If we wanted to, we could then dunk ourselves in the river – but we must experience it. He was to pick us up from the hostel the next morning at 6am.
The last thing i remember from that night was singing and dancing up on the rooftop to Toploader, Dancing in the Moonlight. I was actually dancing in the moonlight and was really enjoying the irony of it all.
Waking up in the early hours of the morning with a hangover is always a struggle. But when the reason is because a random Indian man is coming to pick you up and take you out on his boat it’s a little bit worse. On a boat to one of the worlds dirtiest rivers so that you can willingly get in and dunk your head under to become reborn as ‘Pooja’. So what did i do to make it worse? I googled.
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Oh fantastic, even a devout Hindu won’t get in.

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So now i’m literally freaking out, I’m even considering backing out, but our guy is waiting and we are walking down to the banks to his boat. Joe and Simon are still enthused and i realize that it’s not in my nature to be the only one who didn’t do it.
And that’s how i ended up in the River Ganges.

To be continued…

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Bantu, Pooja and Rikesh