. . . “Two weeks later I’m on Penang Island, named after the betel nut so loved by many older men and women: all recognisable by their stained teeth and frequent spitting. It’s early in the morning: very early. Standing in the dawn light, at the colourful temple I’m unsure if I should go in. A few other tourists are also standing around, talking in low whispers, cameras around their necks.
It’s Thaipusam; a day of consecration to the Hindu deity Lord Murugen who is confusingly also called Lord Subramanian. Hindus who have made a vow to him carry frames decorated with coloured paper and flowers, fresh fruit and milk. When these tributes are placed at the feet of the deity, their penance or gratitude is accepted. Some 2000 people will carry the kavadi or silver milk containers, the 12 kilometres to the Natlukotai Temple in Waterfall Road, Penang Island on this annual pilgrimage.
(Extract from Naked in Budapest: travels with a passionate nomad. Available from Amazon and all other e-book sites, for Kobo, Nook, Kindle and others – if you have read it, I would really value a small review (on Amazon, Goodreads etc) so others know whether to buy a copy – seems many only buy on reviews)
. . . The sixties were an important time for me too, flower power or blooming idiots we were called. Idealistic, the first of the baby-boomers, we wanted to change the world – the American civil rights movement and television was the catalyst for many. For me they started in 1960 when South Africa demanded that no Māori could be in the All Blacks rugby tour to South Africa. ‘No Maori. No tour’ was the call from many New Zealanders and it became my first political stance. I was at high school; Vietnam and women’s issues followed and this museum brings it flooding back. Feeling drained, I eventually leave and return to the hostel and go to bed early. Tomorrow will be la crème de la crème – I’m off to Graceland.
Local buses take me the 16 kilometres (10 miles) to my goal. I’m wondering if I’ve missed the stop when I see ‘his’ aeroplanes and ring the bell; it’s time to get off. Heart pounding, I walk to the ornate wrought-iron gates – I’m going to Elvis’s home: it’s right in front of me, perched on the top of a little rise and smaller than I’d visualised. A guard stands at the gate.
‘Sorry Ma’am, you can’t come in this way. You need to get a ticket over the road’ and points at what looks like an Elvis Disneyland. Although frustrated in my plans I ask him to photograph me at the gates, then cross the road.
Despite my initial distaste, I’m swept up into the atmosphere as I wander through a few shops then buy the expensive ticket that will allow me back over the road – a short wait then I’m invited into a mini bus.
‘Welcome to Graceland. This is a great time to come to Graceland. The house has just been decorated for Christmas just as Elvis did. He loved Christmas and we try to keep things just as he would,’ our guide tells us. We drive to the road, wait for the lights to change, cross the busy road then through the gates I’d been turned way from. Within two minutes we pull up in front of the doors my hero went in and out: I’m here, I’m breathless and it’s not the mansion I’d expected. I’m welcomed again and given a hand-held audio cassette player to guide me around the house.
The dining room first: I’m surprised the small room as it’s so formal and made even smaller with people milling around the table, set for a traditional Christmas dinner.
‘What a ghastly colour scheme.’ A woman says as she looks around the living room frozen in time – the 1970s colours of orange and black. I want to explain that HE would have changed it had he been alive, that this was the fashionable decor of the time but I bite my tongue. I want to sit and absorb the atmosphere; rest on HIS couch; soak in HIS presence, imagine HIM jamming with friends. It’s not possible so continue slowly through the house.
Gazing up the stairs that lead to the out-of-bounds bedroom: I imagine how I’d have slept there if he had married me – like my youthful dreams visualised.
A thick peanut butter sandwich awaits the King and I’m pinching myself. Am I really here? Right where HE ate? Exactly where HE sat? I push the rewind button and listen to his voice repeatedly.
Continuing on to the stables, through the collection of records and clothes in the trophy room, I spend ages reading the plaques and gazing at the small paddock where he rode his horse, trying to visualise him there and eventually I’m at his grave in the Meditation Garden.
I was driving to work in the early morning light when I heard he’d died and was appalled most of the staff didn’t see his death as a moment of import. In the following days I played and replayed his records: crying. No more new music, no films – he’ll never marry me now I sobbed; my kids thought I was mad – perhaps they were right.
I’m horrified I didn’t think to bring flowers for his grave. I take photos around the Elvis-pilgrims who are spoiling the moment for me and soon I’m back in the mini-bus to return over the road – wishing the others would shut up, stop contaminating my mood with their noise.
Walking slowly around the museum I sit and watch film excerpts, climb into the planes, gaze at the powder pink Cadillac, the Harley Davidson golf-cart and then ring New Zealand – my daughter’s out of her office.
I leave a message on the answer-phone. ‘Guess where I am! I’m at Gracelands! I’m at Gracelands!’ I gloat. I buy tapes, a book then reluctantly leave. If only he waited for me – such are the dreams of a 50-year-old-woman-going-on-16.
I leave a message on the answer-phone. ‘Guess where I am! I’m at Gracelands! I’m at Graceland!’ I gloat. I buy tapes, a book then reluctantly leave. If only he waited for me – such are the dreams of a 50-year-old-woman-going-on-16.
Excerpt from Naked in Budapest: travels with a passionate nomad (Available as an e-book)
I’m publishing this excerpt for a friend who sails to this wonderful island today.
Monsoon nights on Pulau Perhentian Kecil, Malaysia
“Paddling along the water’s edge crabs scurry away at my approach, ducking into the safety of their holes and when I step off the beach I’m absorbed into lush forest. Something scuttles into the undergrowth in front of me and I freeze: there are scorpions and other biting things here and I have no shoes on. Moments later, when nothing else moves, I carry on, watching where my feet land. Climbing over exposed roots and dirt I see nothing dangerous and in minutes reach Coral Bay, the other side of the island. Sitting under a tree I watch palm squirrels, with their reddish bottlebrush tails, chasing each other up and down palm trees with amazing speed and agility: this beach too is deserted, except for a man playing a flute.
The wind and waves are building up when I return to Long Beach hours later and with the tide now high, men are pushing boats further up the beach and the rooster’s long tail blows over his body as he struts on the sand in front of the restaurant.
That night, as I sit under the net canopy on my bed feeling like an Elizabethan woman in a four-poster, the rain starts. It almost drowns the loud calls of the geckos, the singing lizard. I’ve been told to count the number of their calls; seven or more refrains and luck will be mine. Tonight the only gecko that’s audible is the one who lives under the eaves of my one-room chalet with its million dollar views. I count one, two, three and four. His song always peters out after three or four calls, no luck for me tonight. Despite the noise of the storm I sleep well and wake to a changed landscape. The path leading to the toilet and shower area is a river and I dare not walk without sandals – in fear of biting, stinging, creepy-crawlies hidden in the rushing water.
For 48 hours we are bombarded with non-stop torrential rain, thunder, lightning and wind. The rain-dimpled beach is rearranged. Little creeks flood, gentle slopes and pathways become waterfalls and rivers carrying a variety of rubbish: the generator fails and palms sway, looking like umbrellas on a windy street. A green wheelbarrow, a large blue plastic drum, a palm-tree trunk and a two-metre long monitor lizard are swept along in the violent rush. While the rubbish hurries out to sea and the wheelbarrow is rescued, the monitor lizard escapes the waves at the last minute, nonchalantly walking back up the beach, looking like a staunch, bandy-legged, bull terrier and his head sways side to side, his tongue exploring the air.
As I watch, a metre of sand is sucked out to sea. Rocks are now visible where smooth sand once lay and the constant noise of the wind sounds like planes taking off so we have to talk loudly to be heard. I order rice for breakfast and local coffee made with sweetened tinned milk. I’m sure the kitchen staff are male despite their female clothes: Mr Rooster joins me for breakfast and three tomcats fight.
The pounding rain bounces and splatters up and down on the ground, almost looking like a musical score for sound waves. It’s writing a percussion symphony of sound, light and action, the only string instruments provided by swallows who dart back and forth, enjoying the rain, soaring and then with a sudden folding of wings, swooping in a fearless free-fall. It’s a dramatic interlude and I sit on the bottom step and absorb the wild atmosphere as waves lick my feet.
While others spend the day in bed, writing and reading and sleeping, I’m too excited to do anything but sit in the eye of the storm. Asia has honed my ability to spend hours doing nothing, not even the writing I’d planned. The owner of Shake Shak was right; I have caught the island disease. ‘It’s fatal’ he’d said, ‘you may never leave here.’ The Lazy Virus he called it and I’m happy to sink into its inertia, it hardly seems possible that at times I’ve been so busy that I’ve cleaned my teeth while sitting on the toilet.
The owners struggle to fix the generator, divert water that pours through the restaurant and still cook meals. They remain cheerful and between tasks someone provides background music on a well-worn guitar: their repertoire is small, the words often different to the original, but we join in, even me with my flat voice.
Despite the storm some holidaymakers have come down the beach for dinner at our restaurant. After they’ve eaten, the tide has backed the creek up; creating a swirling body of water they have to cross. We, the Moonlight guests and staff, give them advice. ‘Here’s a raincoat,’ Khaleck, Moonlight’s owner says, as he rips a hole in a black rubbish bag.
‘Don’t go down there, stay away from the waves.’
‘Use the trunk as a bridge.’
‘Come back three feet, it’s shallower there.’
‘Hold hands as you go through the water.’
We shine torches as they attempt to get through the water and debris, retreating when it gets too deep, something floats past, or brushes against a leg. A man walks across the palm-tree trunk that lies across the rushing water, his arms are stretched out like a high-wire artist and his success inspires his partner to try. She’s halfway along the temporary bridge when the log rolls. She is soaked, up to her waist in the swirling water and instead of continuing she comes back through the flotsam and jetsam to our side. Shortly afterwards, the waves subside momentarily and she makes a successful dash to the accompaniment of our cheers.
The next morning sunrays make sporadic forays into Long Beach and it seems the monsoon is nearly over. As soon as that thought appears, the rain comes back with vengeance and, for another day and night, the torrential rain continues while we share a celebration.
Naoko, a Japanese woman, also travelling on her own, celebrates her birthday. The kitchen produces a cake for her. We push tables together and sit in candle and lantern light, enjoying the fun and laughter that surviving a storm has produced – periodically a cry of horror emerges from someone as a rivulet under the table changes course and flows unexpectedly over their foot. Sand, that forms the floor covering, is washing through the cracks in the wood, while a decorative waterfall has formed halfway up the stairs: we name it the Moonlight Cascade.
Over coffee and cake, we’re told tales of shipwrecks, murder and pirates and how the beach was renamed. They tell us it used to be called Ghost Bay and locals would rarely come here; we hear about a refugee camp for Vietnamese boat people and I’m told that young men who work in the tourist trade find it hard to find ‘good Muslim girls’ to marry.”
© Heather Hapeta
fun to find such good reviews of Naked In Budapest: travels with passionate nomad
The WINNER of Naked in Budapest: travels with a passionate, is Mallory from Florida. It will be winging its way to her soon ( this is a copy of the tweet I have just sent – 2nd April NZ time … I had to wait for all the world to have the 31st March just in case there was a last-minute flurry of people signing up! (there wasn’t)
I picked the person who was exactly in the middle of my new readers over these past two weeks.
Thanks for following Heather, the kiwitravelwriter
PS: On invitation I have just written a guest post and tip for Velvet Escape and it will be published on Monday (European time) It’s about Rotorua and in finding photos to go with it I found many more than I needed so here’s one just for you. Unlike some, I actually like the smells of Rotorua!
‘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.
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.
Unsolicited email from an unknown reader
I purchased your book yesterday (Friday 14th August 09) after the Probus meeting and have just finished it.
It can only be described as an absolute gem. It is a fabulous travel book; it is an even greater person story. I read several books a week and for me this is The book of the year. Your comments on your success in the battle with alcohol for me made this book even greater. Well done Heather. You have the great skill and achievement of knowing what is important in life and of knowing what is trivial.
Also, places I have been to and know reasonably well especially S.E.Asia I could suddenly see in a whole new light, I guess that is the skill of the very observant traveller and the skilled travel writer
Cheers, Harry (NOTE – last name not added here in respect for this person’s privacy, Heather)
Another male wrote –
‘Suffering serious withdrawals after finishing Naked in Budapest, and being deprived of my daily fix of travel in far-away places. I have not enjoyed a book so much for yonks.’
Hugh Adams (author of ‘A bakers dozen’)
Buy Naked in Budapest: travels with a passionate nomad (ISBN 978-0-473-11675-0) for Fathers Day: Details here http://kiwitravelwriter.com