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My Love-Hate Relationship with Australia

26 Dec stormclouds incoming over sydney, australia

[tweetmeme source=”@mummy_t” only_single=false]THINGS I LOVE ABOUT AUSTRALIA

1: The Landscapes
After Namibia and Mongolia, Australia is the third least densely populated country in the world. And given almost everyone lives in cities and the nation has the money to build roads, it has the most easily accessible big, empty landscapes on this earth.

Zac and his grandfather on the longest jetty in the southern hemisphere

The horizons are huge… Continue reading

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The Barmy Army Explain the Rules of Cricket

6 Dec

Today in Adelaide saw the fifth and final day of the second English-Australian Test cricket match, to the outsider one of the most bewildering sporting events on the planet, after cheese-rolling, bog-snorkelling, synchronised skating and that thing that Afghans do with dead goats on horseback.

I went down to the English end of the ground to chat to members of the touring supporters’ group, proudly branded the Barmy Army, to see if anyone could spare the time from chanting songs about convicts* to explain the rules in a bit more detail… Continue reading

Travel Photo: Umbrellas, Bo Sang, Thailand

6 Dec

Painted silk umbrellas in Bo Sang, outside Chiang Mai, Thailand

Bo Sang, a village outside Chiang Mai, is the umbrella-making capital of Thailand.

Seeing Stars in the Outback

4 Dec

The curving edges of Wilpena Pound, a gigantic geological depression.
Weather doesn’t get more biblical than droughts, floods and plagues of locusts. And that precise trifecta has hit the South Australian outback this summer.

The great salt lakes, which sit dry for decades on end as brilliant mirrors of pinkish white, oscillate between aggressive blue and muted brown. The impossibly ancient mountains have turned from the iconic outback red to green.

In fact, looking out from the ridgetops of the Flinders Ranges, it’s easy to see how the ridiculed explorer turned prescient surveyor, George Goyder, decided the mountains were ringed by an enormous inland sea.

It’s easier still to pity the poor sods who slogged in his wake through almost a thousand kilometres of spiky acacia, spiny wattle and savage spinifex, amid flies so persistent that the diagonal motion of the hand in front of the face to clear them away for a second or two is known as “the Aussie salute”, carrying (yes, carrying) a wooden boat to traverse the imaginary sea… Continue reading

Oof! We’re in Australia…

2 Dec

Sign in the Australian outback, indicating that roads to and from Mount Hopeless are closed.

[tweetmeme source=”@mummy_t” only_single=false]Like a lot of Londoners, I’ve always taken a sort of lugubrious, self-hating pride in coming from one of the world’s most expensive cities (third in 2008, seventeenth this year).

Prices, in fact, along with national sporting failures, weather — the UK is currently in the annual winter paralysis induced by the kind of snow the average Canadian wouldn’t put on socks for — and the state of the Tube (still crowded!) are things we can dwell on with an enthusiasm so incomprehensible to outsiders that we are globally decried as a nation of whingers.

This does, however, have advantages. Notably, the rest of the world (excluding Japan, Scandinavia, parts of Switzerland and the odd Stan) seems pretty damn cheap once you’re out there.

In fact, it does until you reach Australia. A country still, bizarrely, listed as a budget travel destination. Travel destination? Sure.

Budget travel? Oof!

Because that audible, gut-punch, WTF “oof!” has been a soundtrack to our Australian experience. Most naturally experienced when bouncing off the seatbelt in a Toyota HiLux, assailed by swarms of giant locusts Continue reading

A Little Adrenaline

24 Nov

[tweetmeme source=”@mummy_t” only_single=false]From terrifying, world class surf breaks at Ulu Watu to the beginner-friendly swells on Kuta Beach, from one of the world’s easiest and most satisfying wreck dives at Tulamben to high-adrenaline drift dives amid lethal currents off Gili Selang, Bali packs a lot of adrenaline into a very compact island…

I’ll be posting a lot, lot more about Bali (including some great dive sites) once we return there in January. After almost three months in Indonesia, we’d barely scratched the surface, so rather than heading for Latin America we’re going back to the archipelago, thence to China, Nepal and India by way of Laos… But more on that later.

Still, if you like a little adrenaline, without the ocean channel risk to life and limb, read on for probably the best waterpark in South-East Asia, rafting down 12km of almost constant white water, and a chance to leap through the trees, zipwire, balance and Tarzan swing up to 30m above the ground. Oh, yeah, and a gorgeous double waterfall with enticing rope swing too. Continue reading

Heaven and Hell on Wheels…

6 Nov

Bali. One of the most consistently beautiful places on the planet. With (outside the timelessly international package hell of Kuta) a culture that is beyond unique. Landscapes of misty mountains, stepped rice terraces, river gorges fringed with palms and broad banana leaves, stone-carved temples everywhere you look, and pavements littered with offerings lovingly hand-crafted from palm leaves, flowers and coloured rice.

Snacks for the angels, demons, gods and goddesses that are everywhere, even today.

This is a place where you can stop for petrol and find yourself overlooking an ancient royal palace built in brick and stone with views across to dark forest and crater lakes and down a staircase of young rice to a river gorge. So, for the driver, it’s almost exactly equidistant between heaven and hell. Continue reading

14 Great Arts Courses in Ubud, Bali

3 Nov

Yves Picq's image of Rice terraces in Bali

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Set amid the rice fields, temples and river gorges of rural Bali, art comes naturally in Ubud. And it’s one of the easiest destinations in the world to get in touch with your artistic side, thanks to a myriad day, half-day or longer arts courses just waiting for the taking.

Before you begin the perennial quest for cheap hotels in Bali, it’s worth planning some time to be creative. Here’s just some of the arts you can learn in Ubud:

1: Silversmithing Continue reading

Hearts and Minds

29 Oct

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We meet Cam and The Big O on a WWII amphibious landing craft in a coconut grove outside the island’s capital. They are surrounded by a curious semi-circle of locals, a nice complement to our own substantial entourage, who trail back through the tall palms and young bananas for several hundred yards of scrubby grass.

The Big O is a lovely kid. His compact frame decked out in stripy surf shorts, boxfresh T-shirt, mirrored aviators and oodles of sunscreen, he can work a look as well as his English idiom.

An idiom inherited, like his dreams of Miami Beach, from the time the US Navy came to town. A formative experience for The Big O, the highlight of his 23 years on the planet.

Formative, also, it appears, for much of the population of what is, fundamentally, a small, conservative and largely Muslim island. Continue reading

The Last Soldier

27 Oct Wikimedia commons image of WWii japanese flag

[tweetmeme source=”@mummy_t” only_single=false]In parts of Halmahera, they remember Teruo Nakamura as the good Japanese. You know.

The one who didn’t rape and kill and pillage. Didn’t enslave workers to dig pits for war gold, then bayonet them when the work was done. (When treasure hunters on Halmahera find an Indonesian corpse or two, they know they’re getting close.)

In fact, Teruo met his wartime girlfriend when other soldiers were trying to mutilate her, and he recognised the magic which prevented them…

But this story’s not really about Maria. Though she’s alive, still. 105 years old, her magic as strong as ever, living the quiet life in Western Halmahera.

It’s about Teruo. Teruo Nakamura, the man who fought the Second World War until 1974. Continue reading