Back in time for tea

Travelling the world, hopefully with a cuppa in hand

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King of the swingers

I'm the king of the swingers, the jungle VIP

We have an hour before setting off into the jungle so we thought we’d do a quick post to tell you all about our orang utan adventure this morning at the Sepilok Orang Utan Sanctuary and rehabilitation centre. To paint the scene, there’s a big viewing platform for all the tourists and a feeding platform about 20m away connected to surrounding trees by cables for hungry orang utans to swing along to reach the platform. After waiting in an expectant hush, we saw some trees move and then hands moving along one of the far ropes until our first orang utan came swinging into view! Once on the platform, he had his pick of the pile of bananas and other fruit for a while but it wasn’t too long before a second orang utan swung into view, shortly followed by a mum and baby and an adorable youngster. We were really priviledged to see this many as there’s no guarantee that any orang utans will be seen. We were captivated and made good use of a pair of binoculars and a higher zoom lens to watch them more closely and take photos (thanks Mum and Dad Wood!). We don’t have time to add photos now but they’ll certainly feature in our next post.

Mum and baby

After eating most of the food on the platform, the orang utans swung away one by one, only to be replaced on the platform by macaque monkeys who entertained the crowd by scampering about, fighting over bananas and scuffling with each other. They are very bold and even came over to the viewing platform (cue rapid movement of tourists) and sat on the fences of the boardwalk leading the way back to the visitor centre. One monkey in particular became annoyed at the tourists walking past and after some snarling and baring of teeth, he jumped on Jon! Jon wasn’t hurt as the monkey just jumped on his back and off again but it was enough to scare everyone else in the group. A lady warder had to come and rescue everyone but the monkey even chased her. Apparently the trick is not to look them in the eyes but we think this one was just a nasty character.

Monkey adventures aside, we are fine apart from being boiling hot and sweaty all the time – yuck! We had a stressful time yesterday as we spent all afternoon waiting for a bus in the back of beyond, seeing about five go past, with none of them stopping as they said they were all full (indicated by hand signals!). Just as we were preparing our hitching sign, a guy in a 4×4 pick-up truck pulled in and asked us where we were going. It turned out Benn, a keen liverpool supporter, was going all the way and so gave us a lift for free in his nice air-conditioned, liverpool football club themed car! Thank you Benn if you’re reading this. It was very good luck for us as otherwise it would have messed up all our onward jungle plans.

Off to the jungle now and we’ll update you on our Mount Kinabalu climb next time. It’s been two days since we came down but we can still hardly walk without wincing.


Learning about all things Argentinian

A tango orchestra playing at the Sunday market. Once our spanish improves we´ll be able to understand the lyrics.

First of all an update on how our spanish is progressing after two weeks of study. Every morning while having our breakfast of milky coffee and sweet croissants, we try and learn topics from our phrasebook and revise vocab we´ve noted down from the previous day. Today we learned how to reference time in the past and future, for example, five days ago, tomorrow night, the day after tomorrow. We´ve been supplementing our phrasebook lessons by occasionally using the online BBC and studyspanish websites. Our reading has progressed best and we can now understand the gist of most adverts, notices, headlines and magazine articles. Our spoken spanish is very hesitant at the minute but we´re trying to practise it in shops and cafes. Worst of all is understanding what people say back to us even when they speak very slowly. This is quite frustrating but we hope it will improve with practice.

One thing we have learned is the spanish for lots of different cuts of beef! The parillas (grills) are everywhere and offer every cut of beef you can imagine, freshly chopped and barbecued over coals to pink perfection. Hefty portions of meat come served with chips and bread. Apart from salads we haven´t seen hardly any veg served while we´ve been here. Just so our mums don´t worry we´ve been shopping at the colourful grocery shops to get our five-a-day.

Argentinians are very sweet-toothed and we´ve become as fond of dulce de leche (caramel sauce) as they are. We´ve had it as a flavour of ice cream, in handmade alfajores (like a millionaires shortbread shaped as a wagon wheel), in churros (a stick-shaped doughnut) and as a pancake filling with a liberal topping of chocolate sprinkles.

More shoes

After our diet of steak, chips, wine and dulce de leche, it is just as well that we´re keeping fit by dancing tango. Last night we went back to the open air milonga just down the road at Plaza Dorrego. Towards the end of the night they played around six different folk tunes and it was nice to see all the locals having a fun time dancing to them. We´re now up to two pairs of shoes each with Lou buying a very nice pair of green suede ones from libertango and Jon a pair of dance sneakers from GretaFlora (mine don´t have flowers).


COPEing with UXO in Laos

The COPE center in Laos, helping victims of unexploded ordnance

While in Vientiane in Laos we took some time out off our usual plodding about the streets and sightseeing in order to check out the visitor centre at COPE, the Cooperative Prosthetic Rehabilitation Center. They work with the victims of UXO or Unexploded Ordnance, providing them with locally produced prosthetics and other rehabilitation services. Laos is the most bombed country per capita in the world, and the countryside is strewn with millions bombs, particularly close to the Vietnam border.  Just walking around the cities in Laos, it is quite common to see people with missing limbs and it is just a tragic fact of life to the people living here. We found the centre really eye opening.  One of the exhibits we enjoyed listening to was a BBC Radio 4 podcast about kids foraging for UXO for its scrap metal value – you can listen to it here. There has always been a problem with children mistaking the colourful tennis ball-sized cluster bombs for toys, but over recent years with the increasing price of scrap metal, kids are actively collecting these dangerous munitions for their scrap value.  With a larger munition they could possibly feed their families for a couple of months, fetching around a dollar per kilo for the high quality weapons-grade steel.  Villagers often put the remains of munitions to inventive uses, using cluster bomb casings as supports for houses, cooking stoves, or converting aluminum bands to scythes for example.

Pineapple and BLU submunitions, basically ball bearings encased explosive

Cluster munitions have been used in every major conflict since the second world war and leave behind a dangerous legacy for the local population after the armies have left. No doubt everyone can remember the pictures of Princess Diana walking through a field of landmines, and it is this publicity that has gradually produced the new Convention on Cluster Munitions which bans the use, production, stockpiling and transfer of cluster munitions. It also places an obligation on states to clear affected areas after their previous use and assist victims. It entered into force last August (2010), and us Brits can be proud that the UK has fully signed up to it. Unfortunately many of the other large states, including the USA, India, China, Russia and Israel have still not signed up, but hopefully the moral pressure now placed on these countries will help prevent their further use.  As for the laborious clearing of the rusting timebombs in countries such as Laos, perhaps the money being spent by the USA in attempting to detect Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDS) being used against them by the Taliban in Afghanistan, will have the side effect of improving the accuracy and speed of UXO detection and clearance.  In Laos, one of the obstacles is the shortage of trained personnel and we sat through a movie where locals were being trained to international bomb clearance standards and forming their own clearance teams.

A cluster bomb opening

If you want to see or learn more, you can visit the COPE website and also browse a collection of photos by Sean Sutton on the problem of UXO here.


Vietnamese recipes

Shaun, our cookery course chef

While in Hoi An we went to a cookery course and learned to cook four dishes: fresh spring rolls with prawns and pork, noodle soup with beef (Pho Bo), fish cooked in a clay pot and sauteed water spinach with garlic. All amounts are to make enough for 6 people but otherwise, you’ll have to use your own judgement. The dishes were all simple to make and delicious. We’re looking forward to trying them out once we have access to a kitchen. If you try them out, let us know how it goes!

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A luggage rack for two

Nighttime train travel

We’re back online in Aurangabad after travelling for the past few days. We moved on from Gokarna on Monday, thwarted in our first steps in leaving our accommodation by an auto-rickshaw (tuk-tuk) driver union meeting! Who’d have thought! We had booked overnight sleeper tickets to Mumbai but were high on the waitlist so ended up travelling unreserved (general) second class all the way (12 hours approx, overnight). Despite it being incredibly busy, we managed to secure a luggage rack for the two of us and our bags. We were made to feel very welcome but it wasn’t very comfortable. From this experience we are going to try and book our train tickets earlier on the internet. We’ve just found unhelpful staff and confusion at railway station booking offices so doing it online is much simpler (we use cleartrip).

We’re taking today easy, getting some laundry done (essential), booking onward travel (to Agra to see the Taj Mahal), uploading photos from Karnataka (hopefully) and maybe hiring some bicycles to look around town. Tomorrow we are going to visit the Ellora caves, more on that to come soon.

Today marks 3 weeks in India. We’ve had some incredible experiences; top of the pops is probably the day on the houseboat, seeing wild elephants and our restful time in Hampi. We wish we’d stayed there longer.  We’ve met such a lot of friendly people who are interested in why we’re visiting India and our lives back home. We’re both still feeling really positive and engaged with everything around us, and a lot more comfortable with how things work here.  Yesterday morning we  enjoyed revisiting Mumbai which illustrated to us how much we’ve acclimatised since first landing and how far we’ve come.