18 Sep

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It was on the golden sands of Pulau Kadidiri, in the Togian Islands, Sulawesi, Indonesia, as a wave of what I would dearly like to call “social diseases” spread along the beach like glandular fever in a boys’ boarding school that just took girls for Sixth Form, that I began contemplating a new hashtag.

And, after our social disease non-drama culminated in a small hospital, several hundred miles up north, yesterday, I cannot think of a saga more ripe for the Twitter tag #theglamoroftravel than this.

Some term conjunctivitis “pink eye”.

They certainly weren’t talking about the type that came to Pulau Kadidiri.

“Pink” is a grotesque misnomer for this ninja among bacteria. It turns the cornea the kind of suppurating, terrifying scarlet last seen in 28 Weeks Later and makes your lids look like you went ten rounds with Mike Tyson.

The islands are beautiful, btw. Here’s a flower picture.
scarlet hibiscus covered in dew, pulau kadidiri, indonesia

The flowers on Pulau Kadidiri are especially lovely, I find, when one’s vision is unobscured by tendrilled blotches of floating pus.

I’m sorry. I digress.

Pulau Kadidiri is not a large island. Which means that the disease can be traced back four or five generations to an Irish girl who stayed at Paradise.

You know who you are. You left two weeks ago or thereabouts. And, no, I bear no grudge.

You might, however, like to know that the plague you imported has spread as far as Pulau Bunaken, down to Makassar and into Manado, leaving trails of golden tissues and thwarted romance in its wake.

Or then again, I guess, you might not.

Ooh! Here’s a lovely picture of the lagoon by the mangroves.

I will not attribute blame for the virus that left me sneezing with a European winter cold. On a beautiful, tropical beach.

Though, you too, in Bangkok, you know who you are.

And, yea, the horsemen of the non-Apocalypse brought not only pus but snot.

In fact, between the conjunctivitis and the cold, all that was required was a bout of traveller’s D&V and, I guess, an authentic “social disease” — though that conjunctivitis bug is one helluva contraceptive — to leave one running from every single orifice.

Ooh! Time for a pretty picture, I think. How about a Pulau Kadidiri sunset?
Twlight sky with little boat moored in front of near-shore islet. Pulau Kadidiri, indonesia.

Anywise. It was the contrast of this idyllic setting with my rather unidyllic condition that brought to mind:


A hashtag, for those of you who don’t use Twitter, or have only just begun to use it, is a way of tagging tweets so that tweets on a similar topic are linked. You click on one, and it gives you a list of what other people have been saying on the theme.

And I would like this hashtag to cover precisely those times when travel is…

Certainly not dangerous. Not edgy. Not dramatic. Not exciting. Nothing, for example, that you could brag about in a bar.

But, just, y’know, a bit shit.

If you’ve travelled long term, I guess you’ll know the feeling.

It’s sitting in an “internet cafe” 20 minutes walk from the place you’re staying, packed to the gunnels with chainsmoking Filipino teenagers playing shoot’em-ups with the volume on max for an hour or more, while a single crucial email fails to send, your Skype won’t connect, your mum’s waiting at the webcam… and, fan-fucking-tastic!! A power cut shorts out the entire town. Till morning.

Brightly coloured T-shirts drying in the sun, strung between white clapboard and red corrugated iron houses. Pulau Derawan, in fact.

It’s when the sky dumps repeatedly, without warning and at random on laundry you have handwashed with water you have personally drawn from a well in good time to dry for your marathon journey off an idyllic island. Meaning that it spends 30 hours mouldering damply in your pack and even after it’s been through a PROPER bloody laundry half of it still smells of dishcloths.

As does your pack. Because do you have a plastic bag to put your laundry in?

You do not.

And why is that? Not because decent plastic bags are like gold dust in many developing countries and the last laundry stole it.

Oh no.

You were wise to that. You had a *spare*.

It’s because, 30-odd minutes into a sixteen hour bus ride not so much through the highlands as round and round and up and down every single hill within a hundred mile radius, your child has revealed a hitherto unknown capacity for motion sickness and emitted copious quantities of scarlet liquid in The Exorcist vein that crucial nanosecond before you got the bag which formerly held your laundry properly in position.

Aha, you might say.

(Or, of course, you might not, because many of us, to be honest, will never be there, and that is not, necessarily, a bad thing.)

You know those plastic sickbags they hand out when you whinge plaintively in Indonesian “anak sakit” and mime vomiting, while trying to empty your prized and precious plastic bag onto the roadside for reuse?

(You don’t? Your loss. Or maybe not.)

Anyway, you could use them for your laundry, couldn’t you?

I mean, they will hold laundry, won’t they?

Nay, I say.

For in this dialogue, I am Socrates and you, my friend, are Alcibiades.

In fact, as you may or may not discover for yourself one day, these suckers are so flimsy you need to double-bag them just to contain the vomit, and triple-bag them to get the stuff out of the window without spraying everyone in range.

And, to the two Indonesian ladies and both French Canadian girls, of course I understand why you moved. And, yes, I am still sorry. You were very nice about it.

Here’s a flower picture. To say thank you.

And, yes, yes, yes, before anyone starts, I know full well that one should not throw plastic bags of anything out of bus windows anywhere, especially not in areas of outstanding natural beauty.

A beauty, I might add, which it is even possible to appreciate when coated in a fibrous web of what was just plain ole tamarillo juice when you saw it on the breakfast table two hours ago but is now forming some kind of early stage civilisation on one’s jeans. (Or, and serious props to Z for this, when one has just emitted said alien matter.)

And, yes, yes, yes, I know full well that, just because pretty much every man, woman and child in a nation of 270 million people is doing exactly that on a regular basis, it is still no excuse.

And, you know what? If you’ve ever vomited, been vomited on, or merely been in range of the complex aromatics of eau de vomit with fifteen hours of bad road ahead of you, and kept the receptacle on or around your seat for the duration…

Then, then, I say, in the immortal words of Charlotte Church, then you can come and ‘av a go, luv.

I could itemise a zillion and one of the sort of minor unpleasantness the hashtag #theglamoroftravel was designed to encompass.

But, let’s move on from body fluids and talk about something more pleasant.

Like, you know. Going to the cashpoint.

Let us imagine that you, like many of us, have inquired about the availability of ATMs in the nearest decent-sized town, and received the answer: “Oh yes, three.”

Golden sand and boats on the beach of Pulau Kadidiri, Togian Islands, Indonesia.

You will, perhaps, like many of us, have taken this statement to mean: “In the nearest town there are three ATMs, generally in working order and stocked with cash, which accept either Mastercard or Visa and probably Cirrus, too.”

You will probably not have taken it to mean: “ATMs? Hell, we got a bunch of those! We got the Independence War Veterans’ bank! We got TWO branches of Our Very Own Very Small Island Bank. One has the ATM and the other does the fish food loans. We got the Halal Shariya “interest? what interest? just a small monthly service fee expressed as a percentage” Banca Usuriya. No problemo.”

You might, in fact, like some poor chaps we met in Palawan, the Philippines, spend all your cash reserves on the four hour round trip to the town with the ATMs. Only to find that your Western Mastercard don’t mean jack.

That’s when you end up hocking your passports and belongings to the guesthouse in exchange for a cash loan to cover the TWENTY-four-hour round trip to the “nearest” Western cashpoint.

Ha! That won’t happen to you, of course. Because you, of course, will have US dollars. And you can change greenbacks anywhere, right?


Up to a point, lord copper.

Plenty of smaller banks in Indonesia and the Philippines will not take notes that are folded, faded, torn or worn in any way. Just won’t.

Your precious dollars may be legal tender anywhere else in the world. But, if they’ve got a crease, they might as well be Monopoly money for all the good they’ll do you.

Some apply the same stigma to notes that are older than five years. And many regions — including all of Myanmar — will not accept notes with specific serial numbers. (Presumably on the basis that someone passed a fake back in the 80s and the counterfeiters have not moved on since then.)

But enough of practicalities.

What the #theglamoroftravel tag is really about is the little moments. The moment you finally get your arse into gear to do the museums or live performances you’ve been meaning to visit all week to find they’re shut on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, it’s Monday morning, and you leave town on Wednesday evening.

Ferry pulls out to sea.

The moment you arrive at the port fifteen minutes ahead of some ungodly early start to find the ferry left, well, *early*.

The moment someone knocks back your visa application last thing on a Friday because the background to the photo is the wrong shade of red.

The moment you wake at 3am having hiked eight hard hours up a mountain to find it’s pissing down and you won’t make the summit.

And, for that matter, it’s the moment when, on that idyllic, quiet island chain where everywhere is shut for Eid, you realise that the eyedrops you keep in stock for everything from infections to burning straw to Vietnamese city air are, unlike every other Asian over-the-counter medication you have ever bought, not weapons grade.

Just witchhazel. And that, faced with this lurgy, you might as well be pissing in the bloody wind.

Which brings me, rather neatly, back to our morning at the hospital. A saga, I fear, to be continued.

Please do subscribe to my RSS if you’d like. Or follow me on Twitter: I’m @Mummy_T.

In the meantime. I’d love your thoughts. What does #theglamoroftravel mean to you? Is there a moment that encapsulates it for you? Drop me a comment, and share away.

Me? I think we’ll have a swim and go and see the tarsiers.

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14 Responses to “#theglamoroftravel”

  1. Nicole September 18, 2010 at 1:36 pm #

    I am so loving your blog.

    I have a whole book full of these moments from when I was living on the Caribbean island of St. Vincent, operating an off-the-grid resort that could only be reached by boat, with my husband and young children.

    Hmm, a single “glamourous” part? We kept a “house” in the next village with a deep freezer because the resort’s solar powered freezers weren’t efficient enough to keep up with guests ice demand. But, the summer before we arrived, a villager tied their goat to the outside spigot and the goat tore it off the house and water flowed for two months straight while the proprietor was off island. Never was the dispute settled, and thus, there was no running water in the house. To make ice, we filled 35# jerrycans of filtered rainwater at the resort, hauled them to the boat, boated them over to the village, hauled them to the house, filled ice cube trays, froze them in the deep freezer, later retrieved the ice from the house, hauled the cubes to the boat, boated them back to the resort. Day after day after day. #theglamouroftravel

    And the vomiting into a plastic bag? My recent story pales in comparison to yours. I’m sorry…

    • MummyT September 20, 2010 at 11:24 am #

      Jesus. That is a hell of a lot worse than doing the odd bit of washing from a well… Looking forward to more stories from St. Vincent…

  2. forrestblogging September 18, 2010 at 1:50 pm #

    An amazing post. I promise I was laughing with you, not at you!
    It is great for you to have an outlet like this, where there are people that can read and nod along and understand. I know that if I related some of my ‘less than pleasant’ travel moments to many people the attitude would be ‘well that’s what you get for travelling’ or ‘if you think it sucks, don’t travel (or don’t travel ‘off the beaten track’)’.

    So despite discussion of sick, pink eye and stories that make me reconsider travelling places I will have troubles getting a visa, I will keep reading your wonderful writing!

    • MummyT September 20, 2010 at 11:32 am #

      It was only Myanmar where visas have proved difficult: I’ve written journalism, which they didn’t like at all, so we never went. The red coloured background was required by one specific Indonesian consulate, so we decided to go for a different one…

      Thank you for your kind words. There’s one more pink eye update incoming and then I will switch to more, err, edifying topics…

  3. JennInJapan September 18, 2010 at 2:30 pm #

    A wonderful, vivid blog! Traveling is one of my passionate pursuits. I am loving the opportunity to read into your life and experience your glimpses of culture. Bravo!

    • MummyT September 20, 2010 at 11:24 am #

      Thank you, sweet lady, thank you.

  4. Snap September 18, 2010 at 2:40 pm #

    Ooooohhhh Mummy T, funny for us on the outside,looking in!

    • MummyT September 20, 2010 at 11:35 am #

      Quite funny at the time, in parts. Shortly after Z puked for the first time the bus stopped as there was a waterfall running across the road on a tight corner. Then they put the KTV video on with the man with the moustache. It was a “laugh or cry” moment…

  5. The Only Gringo on the Bus September 19, 2010 at 4:11 pm #

    I know #theglamoroftravel well, and feel your pain. My bowels for the last month or so in Vietnam would fit nicely into this category!

  6. morecultureinyoghurt September 20, 2010 at 6:15 am #

    Absolutely love your blog. I hope you don’t mind, I mentioned it on the Thorntree. You are an inspiration! I only wish I had been schooled in this way. I hope, one day in the future, I may have the courage to do the same for my child. Thanks so much for sharing.

    • MummyT September 20, 2010 at 11:21 am #

      Ah! Thank you. And, absolutely charmed to be mentioned wherever…

  7. Ada September 21, 2010 at 4:29 pm #

    Oh! I’m so envious… really, really beautiful pics

    • MummyT September 21, 2010 at 6:34 pm #

      An unusual response… But glad you liked the pictures…

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