Police or scammer? ‘take your f-ing hands off me’, I tell him

Years later I arrive in style

Budapest is home to two million people and transport choices are confusing so I’m pleased an English guy who is at the same home-stay has shown me the way here. ‘Will we find our way back without him?’ I wonder as I join the line of people at the ticket office. We’ve travelled from suburban Budapest to this castle-like building on the edge of the Danube: the journey – by bus, metro then trolleybus – baffled me.

Underground tunnels, where I lose all sense of direction, lead to the metro station where men and women were standing, almost silently, with their meagre goods for sale. Underwear, jackets, baby clothes, food, all held up to our gaze: only the eyes of the sellers asking us to buy. Their silence is daunting: their poverty makes me ashamed that yesterday I stole a train ride from this city, in a country that’s just emerged from a communist regime.

I was travelling by underground to a posh hotel for an all-you-can-eat afternoon tea when I didn’t buy a ticket – and was caught. Leaving the station two Aussies and I were approached by three or four inspectors. ‘Tickets’ they snap and we search our pockets for the non-existent items. I feel guilty, then intimidated, when they tell us we will have to pay an exorbitant fine. ‘We have no money on us,’ I lie.

‘I will call the police. You have to pay,’ said heavy number one. His dark-haired, surly partner joins in.

‘Give me your passports; I will see if our supervisor will let you pay less.’

‘I haven’t got my passport with me,’ wails one of the young women.

I don’t carry mine around either then suddenly memory warning-bells clang at the mention of passports and I recall being cautioned about such a fraud. ‘Be careful of bogus ticket inspectors,’ our bus driver had said, ‘they run scams to get money.’ My brain tells me that genuine inspectors would not be asking for passports.’ These guys are not for real, I’m not paying’ I say, ‘let’s go,’ and turn to walk off.

‘Stop! Stay here!’ shouts one of the heavies and grabs my wrist.

‘Take your fucking hand off me.’ With a quick flick that amazingly removes his grip, I walk towards the exit. An Aussie races past me, a moment later the other does the same while I continue in the same measured, but fearful pace – expecting the police or heavies to grab me at any second. Relieved to see my young friends waiting at the top of the stairs, I burst into hysterical laughter. ‘Boy, you two can run!’

‘Take your fucking hand off me,’ they mimic. ‘Wait until we tell the others what you said. No one will believe you’d talk like that.’

‘Well I know I’ll buy tickets in future. That was scary!’

Excerpt from Naked in Budapest: travels with a passionate nomad by Heather Hapeta – the kiwitravelwriter

The ‘navel of the world’ erupts on Bali – I was warned about its powers

The ‘navel of the world’ erupts on Bali – I was warned about its powers

With Mt Agung erupting again it seems appropriate to repeat the warming I was given when staying, for a month, on the lower slopes of the holy mountain some years ago, by reposting this.

Don’t go in the men’s shower. If you do the water will stop.” Within minutes of arriving at Tirta Gangga, Bali, I’m shown the bathing area and warned.wshing cattle

The day winds down, birds become silent, bats replace swallows swooping over the rice fields, frogs start their nightly chorus, and men and women call to each other as they bathe in communal showers.

The water is from the Tirta Gangga  (Holy water of the Ganges) on the lower slopes of Gunung Agung – the 3142 metre, conical volcano that the Balinese consider the ‘navel of the world.’

Lying on cushions and gazing at the night sky I can understand why locals believe that heaven is paradise and paradise is Bali.

Of course it depends on the Bali you experience. Apart from two days in Ubud and Sanur, my Bali does not include the tourist traps of bars and cockfights – so this little village on the Indonesian archipelago feels like heaven to me.

I relax into the rhythms of the locals: early to bed, early to rise and lots of jalan jalan – walking aimlessly – and around each corner I find new and even better vistas.

My camera clicks its way through the rice fields in the various stages of cultivation: burning, flooding, ploughing, planting, weeding, cutting, threshing, and finally, drying the kernels on the sun-warmed roads. It’s here that photos of sculptured rice fields are taken for the postcards you’ll send your envious friends and family.

Tirta Gangga has grown around the Water Palace, which was built in 1947 by King Karangasem and is his final resting-place. Although the palace and pools were damaged by an eruption of the sacred mountain in 1963, it’s been restored to its past glory.

water palaceThe water in the pools flows down the mountain in a constant, cool, clear stream, and is the lifeblood of the area. Locals believe swimming in the palace pools washes away their sins and the palace grounds are the centre of activities; I attend a concert there. The extended family – of the owner of my rented bungalow – and I share a picnic of fruit (mangosteen, banana, jackfruit) and nasi campur from the local warung (foodshop) while we listen to traditional and modern music and songs.

Balinese have only four first names, translating as one, two, three, and four, and which are given to both sexes. Wayan, the housekeeper, is a great source of information about customs and language. As in most Pacific islands, the yard is swept twice daily and a layer of dirt is removed along with any stray leaf, stone or blade of grass that dares to grow. Every evening, after she has bathed and changed into a good sarong with the usual temple scarf wrapped around her waist, Wayan, often with flowers in her hair, performs a ceremony. Small offerings or gifts are given to various deities to ensure all is well for us – a combination of thanks, prayers, and pleas for protection. Incense, flowers, and rice are placed at the entrance to the property, the bedrooms and kitchen, on top of the refrigerator, in the dinning room and, of course, in the spirit-house and small temple which every home has.

Each day I walk and each day people ask “Apa kabar? Mau ke mana?”(How are you, where are you going?) Each day I reply, “ Bagus. Jalan jalan” (I’m good and just walking.)rice padi feilds

blessing the houseWandering around these beautiful hills and valley, from one village to the next I see a very different Bali to that of most tourists. I sit and watch women carrying huge loads on their heads; see fields being ploughed and rice threshed; the activity at the market; children walking to and from school and talk with the hairdresser with his bicycle hair-dressing salon on the side of the road. I also see cattle being lovingly bathed, roosters having their feet soaking in the streams to ‘strengthen their legs’, and children weeding the fields to feed the pigs.

I become part of a farewell party. Flowers are strewn over the ground, incense is burning, and the men are drinking spirits from Lombok.  Old men lead the singing and laughing exposes their betel-stained teeth.

As the cliché says- the best things in life are free – and so it is in Bali. Orange sunsets, green rice fields, a rich culture and best of all, getting off the well-worn tourist trail is still possible.

Warning: reading this may make you want to travel

Warning: reading this may make you want to travel

read this and start packing

” ‘Why do you want to go to Zimbabwe?’

Even I thought it seemed a little silly, when I replied ,’Because I like the name.’ Zimbabwe sounded exotic and I just wanted to go.

Now I’ve arrived in Africa and I’m ready for my big adventure: a canoe safari down the Zambesi River.

Standing on the banks of the calm looking river, I am beginning to get scared. Watching us is the biggest, meanest looking crocodile I have ever seen. Lying in the sun, he seems to be inspecting us. I watch him and he watches me as I listen to our guide’s safety instructions.

“Keep looking for hippos, usually you will just see their little ears sticking out of the water, and every few minutes I want to you give a little knock on the canoe so they can hear us coming. If you don’t and we frighten them they are likely to charge our canoes as they try to get into deeper water to hide.” he said.

I’m really getting scared now – last night I’d read that hippos kill more people in Africa than any other animal – but it’s too late to change my mind.

Our canoes are laden with tents, food and water: enough for four days. We paddle away from the security of the Mana Pools National Park – our destination, a wee village just before the Mozambique border.

the author sets off on her adventure

We paddle down-stream and, once the crocodile is out of sight, the safari is as wonderful as I had imagined. The sun is warm and all around me I can see the sacred white ibis balancing on the back of cape buffalo, iridescent dragonflies hover about, I can hear noisy baboons, and the sky has many fish eagles, Goliath herons and beautiful white-fronted bee-eaters. Magic. Just like a storybook.

“Hippo!” The guide and I paddle as fast as we can. It is coming directly towards us. We just miss colliding with each other!

Close your mouth. Danger’s over,” I tell myself. I have a swig of water to get some moisture back into my dry mouth.

“Whew that was close!’ Adrenaline is surging through my body. I try to breathe evenly and calm my heart. “That was a lessor spotted hippo” laughs Chobe our guide.

True, we had spotted it at the last possible moment and I’m not sure who was the most scared: hippo, guide or me! In seconds Chobe had changed from a laid back, softly spoken Zimbabwean, to a fast paddling man who was sure both he and I were about to be killed by a hippo. The front of the canoe almost rose in the air as we both paddled deeply and strongly.

Perhaps it is true the hippo was just scared but I’d like to know why a vegetarian has such big teeth and powerful jaws if it only eats grass.”

Read more in ‘Naked in Budapest: travels with a passionate nomad’ by Heather Hapeta. Available as an ebook on Amazon etc.

Drumming at the Rainforest World Festival

Drumming at the Rainforest World Festival

Last year I went to the Rain Forest World Music Festival in Kuching, Sarawak , Malaysian Borneo, for about the fourth time. My longtime friend, writer, and tour guide, Judy Shane, there for the first time, said ‘it was so amazing it is hard to put it in words.’

The next one is in three weeks – 13th – 15th July 2018 – so, for this years performers check out the official website

Mornings started with media briefings with a panel of artists and we were then left to explore the tribal villages, the musical workshops, and the schedule of performances. Add delicious local food and its a festival not to e missed. (Its a great stopover destination between the hemispheres too) But for me, Sarawak IS the destination.

The highlight for Judy was being part of this drum circle which I insisted she participated in – I had done so every other year and had a ball – so I just ignored her almost kicking and screaming, protesting she was ‘not musical’. She loved it! I believe it was her festival highlight .

As befitting a rainforest, two out of the three nights had a downpour and while some fans left, others danced and slipped in the mud. Next morning the international musicians commented on what a great sports the fans were and how they had never seen such enthusiastic dancing in the rain before.

We avoided the downpour by slipping into a van to go back to our room at Damai Beach Resort. While escaping into a van in the dark I had a young man sit on my knee – their drums and other instruments were taking up the rest of the van – He thought it was only fellow band members in the vehicle – I laughed, but the boy leapt out of the van with mortification – fancy sitting on an unknown Aunties knee.

This festival has thrived for two decades and is for all; young ,old, couples, families and people alone – it is the friendly festival.

Here are just a few photos from one of the drumming circles which is set in the grounds of the Sarawak Cultural Village

I’m scared – I’m in New Orleans

I’m in New Orléans for the first time – and I’m scared!

Green viper (Borneo)

Excerpt from Naked in Budapest : travels with a passionate nomad

Over the past few days I’ve listened to Elvis singing, sat through rhythm and blues on Beale Street and now the musical theme continues in New Orléans.

Arriving in the dark at the usual grotty bus-depot, I agree to an offer of a taxi. The driver, carrying my pack, walks out the doors to his cab where an argument immediately starts. A tough-looking, rotund man is trying to grab my pack from driver number one; it seems my driver has jumped the queue. This second driver is insisting I go with him, his taxi is in the front of the queue and the young man looks at me and shrugs his shoulders: it seems I get to go with the bully. Reluctantly I get in the cab – it’s dirty, smelly and the upholstery is ripped – I feel a little unsafe.

We speed though dark streets and, after a few turns, when I’ve totally lost my sense of direction, I begin to worry: seriously worry. Finally, one more turn and we’re in a well-lit street where he pulls up at the hostel.

‘Don’t go walking around here at night lady – it can be dangerous’ he tells me.

In the morning, the hostel is buzzing. I’ve slept through a murder.

Not long after I’d arrived, a young man – a local – was shot three times and died on the hostel doorstep. A drug-deal gone wrong is the common consensus but drug deal or not, I’ll try to look like a local: my camera and bag left behind, my money tucked into a pocket.

Sometimes things, and taxi drivers,  are not as I, fearfully, imagine. If you want to travel alone this is a great how-to book.

Print version was published in 2007 – also as an ebook on Amazon (kindle, kobo, android, etc)

 

 

 

How to run away from home and reinvent yourself: a personal recipe

  • Xiamen library

      Start as a child with a love of reading. For me this involved hiding under the blankets reading of far-away places that created a desire for travel: I was Anne Frank in her Amsterdam attic; and, I was Heidi on the mountains of Switzerland: I was the hero between the covers of every book!

  • Add listening to far away, static-crackling voices in languages I didn’t understand on my brother’s crystal radio, and dream of exploring those lives! An idea, the yeast of a dream, began bubbling below the surface of my conciseness. The first, most basic ingredients for my developing recipe are then lined up on the kitchen bench of my mind.
  • Cover and leave that bowl of imagination to infiltrate through life’s ups and downs, keep reading, keep dreaming until life and circumstances add more ingredients. These extra components are where your individuality, situation, and conditions, add to the recipe and finally, the result! (NOTE: Unlike many recipes, this one is totally tailored to your circumstances.)

My extra ingredients included: the deaths of my 20-year old son and my 35-yr old husband, recovery from alcoholism, and, after what seemed like too many birthdays, I still didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up.

Perhaps I could play catch-up with the traditional Kiwi penchant for travel. That germ of an idea, like all living things, divides and multiplies as it sits on the sometimes-messy kitchen bench of my mind.

Just some of my travel pics!

Now, add more ingredients so you too can reinvent yourself – mine were:

Travel solo

Travel for a year

Make no plans or bookings, just travel

On returning, after a year, I added:

  • Two years work & saving
  • A short writing course
  • Have an article about canoeing down the Zambesi published
  • Sell more travel stories; add those dollars to my travel fund
  • Buy another international airline ticket
  • Travel for another year in different countries
  • Publish a book about your travels
Print version was published in 2007

This recipe is never finished yet you can cook it, eat it, and share it daily. The flavours and textures change frequently – depending if you have used the high heat of Thailand or the coolness of a northern hemisphere winter, and, of course, your choice of spices.

So, if you want to run away from home or reinvent yourself, pick your ingredients from the lists above, add your own, use your imagination, mix well, and as ‘they’ whoever they are, say, “the world’s your oyster.”

Write two more books and travel, travel, travel!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Water around the world – and waka, birds and mermaids

Water around the world – and waka, birds and mermaids

Really busy right now so instead of words here is a photo-based blog  of water from around the world – well not all over the world, just some that were already web-sized and still on my laptop.

China, India, Wellington and Christchurch, New Zealand and Florida too – which is where the mermaids are to be found.

Taj Mahal – well worth visiting

Taj Mahal – well worth visiting

I wondered if the Taj was worth visiting – after all I’d been before. Yes, for me it was well worth visiting –  but this remains my favourite photo from my first visit.

Water buffalo working at the Taj Mahal – early morning and the marble has a pinkish tinge

Did you know the Taj Mahal gardens are only a tenth of the size they were in the days of Shah Jahan? Designed primarily as Gardens of Paradise, they planted fruit trees for harvesting and which contributed towards the upkeep of the Taj Mahal.

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The trees – in the gardens now – are not of Mughal origin but a legacy of the British. During the British Raj, Lord Curzon initiated the restoration of the Taj Mahal after it had fallen into disrepair and made renovations to the lawns and surroundings.

Visiting the fifteenth century Taj Mahal for the second time was just is great as the first time.  As you know it’s a mausoleum, built on the south bank of the Yamuna River in Agra.

A combination of Indian, Islāmic and Persian styles it was commissioned by the Emperor Shah Jahan and he dedicated the building to the memory of his beautiful queen Mumtaz Mahal.  The Emperor died 23 years after the tomb for his wife was competed and he too is buried there.

My boatman

Some of the facts I heard while there were:

  • Over 1000 elephants were used to haul the construction materials.
  • Over thirty different types of gemstones decorate the Taj
  • Many types of marble were used – from Afghanistan, Sir Lanka, Saudi Arabia, and China.
  • The marble walls seem to change colour over the day – in the morning it seems pink, white during the day, while in the moonlight, it apparently seems golden.

I saw the Taj from about four different places: from beside, and on, the river; from the fort;  from nearby gardens, and inside the walls: my favourite view is from the river.

As I’ve said before – you will love India or hate it … this last trip was my fourth or fifth yatra to this diverse, tasty and colourful country

Birds on a misty morning below the Taj Mahal
Our first view of the Taj Mahal from inside the fences
Encounters with creatures in Udaipur, India

Encounters with creatures in Udaipur, India

In India, architectural heritage is often linked to the major religions of the country: Buddhist stupas and monasteries; Hindu and Jain temples in  many styles – many share structural characteristics such as stone columns and horizontal blocks carved with sacred imagery or decorative motifs sculptures of the vast pantheon of Hindu gods and goddesses are everywhere the various deities have many manifestations which becomes confusing as their names, like many Indian cities, are interchangeable.

Udaipur, Rajasthan, is a fairy-tale city with marble palaces and lakes – and I will blog about them later. In the meantime, here is a slideshow (23 pics) some of the local wildlife.

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