Travel Diary: On Sweat and Cambodian Fever

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As it’s Travel Tuesday today and because I haven’t posted one for a while, here’s a short and sweet nugget from the Travel Diary on, rather appropriately as the sun is out (or inappropriately if your mind is politely inclined), sweat and the relentless heat we encountered wandering around Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, Cambodia.

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“I think I will always have mixed feelings about Cambodia. I am vaguely relieved to leave it, yet can’t help but feel that there is so much more I should be seeing.

I feel drained, hollow, almost as if I had been ill while I was here. Like a fever has emptied me drop by arterial drop. That’s what it’s like here, a fever.

331_528088397192_2364_nThe unrelenting heat, a cacophony of sound, a wall of smells. Fever-pitched eyes lingering on a tear of sweat that falls, languidly, elegantly caressing  pale neck on the way down while it drops, hidden in the modest clothing. Dreams of what is underneath.

Lying so still, a corpse on a damp bed with shallow, racked breathing. The soporific whir of the fan mixing with the inky blackness, soft, like incense. Like a drug-induced slumber. Embalmed
darkness. Food so longed for sits heavy in your stomach, too heavy to swallow. It sticks and lingers. The heat eats your hunger.”

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Travel Diary: Into the Eye of the Sun in Ko Tao, Thailand

I was recently asked if I would take a trip to Dubai and the first thing that popped into my head (besides bloody hell, aren’t I lucky) was ‘yes!’ An escape from the relentless grey skies and thundering, sopping, drenching British rain.

Dubai has never been too far up on my travel wishlist but, at this time of year, it means red deserts and golden sunshine. It means a legitimate excuse to wear sunglasses in February, a chance to break out summer clothes early and to just sit, face up in the white light, letting the warmth coat my skin, saturating it in a glowing halo. It also means suncream, and lots of it for me. Being fair-skinned I only ever manage a light dusting of gold when I try to sunbathe and, after spending too much time in the sun travelling and watching my freckles breed and multiply at an alarming rate, I doubt I’ll ever be a sun worshipper.

I did try to be once though, years ago on a bleached-white beach in Ko Tao, Thailand…although it didn’t go quite as planned.

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“The sea, the sand, the air. It is all so slow, so soft. Like a drug. It makes you slow and soft as well. Damp sponges soaked in salt water and salty sweat.

I feel serene here. Completely and perfectly lazy like a coddled child. Your daily routine is all picked and chartered for you: wake, up, eat, dress, walk and lie down and pass the day in a haze, revelling in your lack of an agenda.

Your flesh is slick with heat here, you feel every tiny breeze like a gift. A whisper over your gleaming skin and you are grateful. The water is warm. Green by the sandbanks and turquoise where the sun touches it.”

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“Your day boils down to sensations. The sting of salt water, the scratch of sand in the suncream, the cool wind on your arched back and the burn of the sun, white-hot and blinding.

I think I looked like a skinned rabbit. Laid out flat, pink and raw and exposed. The hairs on my arms shine white. Albino…”

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“The water tricked us. So cool, so green, so inviting. So we swam in its crocodile jaws, shedding our white armour in the waves. It was as if I had flown into the sun itself. I am roasted, boiled, as if I had been slapped by a giant burning hand. I feel damaged, tender, like a snake about to shed, revealing baby pink flesh underneath.”

I seem to remember I then had mild sunstroke followed by a cold…always follow the golden rule: don’t be that burnt Brit abroad, re-apply suncream after swimming!

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Travel Diary: Backpackers and Rucksack Fatigue

This weekend I took a trip back home to my parents’ house in Hampshire and, while I am still working on transcribing the intricacies and transient deliciousness of Japanese food, I’m also contemplating lugging a suitcase back to London this afternoon on the train.

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I always seem to leave my childhood house with more than I came down with. There’s always a photograph, a forgotten box of clothes or stack of scribblings hidden in an old drawer that I can’t seem to part with. My room is like a Tardis, it’s a trick of the eye or a paranormal vortex, because no matter how much ‘stuff’ I cart backwards and forwards to my teeny box room in London – to be later wedged like a complicated Russian doll set in something else that’s stacked on top of another pile in turn…like award-winning Tetris, if they gave medals for packing – my old room is still heaving with possessions.

Later I’ve got the slow muscle burn to look forward to in that moment that you realise you can’t actually lift your case but, incapable of admitting weakness or defeat, you create a kind of back stretching pendulum movement to swing it on board a train, praying that it doesn’t throw your body forwards into those unapprovingly commuters. Those very same commuters, in fact, who clocked you and your case and frowned at your space-hogging, luggage-toting audacity before you shuffled into their carriage. But then again, I would do the same if I was on the other side, superior in my unencumbered, luggage-less state.

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Actually, it put me in the mind of a diary entry on travellers with luggage where I had a similar moment of ‘rather them than me.’ That quiet moment of relief when you realise your bags are safe and locked in a room that you’ve claimed as yours and you can stop and breathe for the next few days before you repeat the tired trauma of pack, travel, search, stay again.

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“Travellers. Freshly arrived. They are like tortoises.

Sort of pale. Blinking in the sun or squinting in the dark. Huge packs like shells drag them down, necks craning forwards under the pressure. The Rucksack, the traveller’s portable home. Your life is in your pack: your medicine, your toiletries, your clothes and your protective gear. Without it we’d like to think we would survive, but we would feel stranded. Lost. Disconnected from ourselves and what we were and are. So we cling on for dear life, lugging our possessions like a burden, like a treasure.”

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“You feel pity. Empathy. I feel their fatigue, that slow, hungry panic eating through when night falls. Where will we stay? How much will it be? We have to find somewhere. And the dogged tiredness, the heavy-eyed, heavy-footed trudge. The people around you so sure, so aware of where they are and what they are doing. They arrived years ago and have been there aeons.

I feel this because I have lived it and will continue to do so for the next four months of constant, bone-aching moving.

Yet a sneaky voice bubbles up, whispering illicitly through my saintly sympathy. ‘Thank god’ it creeps, ‘thank god it’s them and not us tonight.’”

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Travel Diary: Indian Trains and Restaurant Menus

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Illegible scribblings, doodles and snatches from the dirty, scuffed travel diary I kept while travelling around South East Asia in 2008.

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On Ordering from the Menu in India

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“A menu is essentially useless here. They will either not have or not have the inclination to cook half the dishes from it. Ordering merely one local dish will be met with suspicion and ignored and instead you’ll be brought two of everything.

Your choice of plain fizzy water will be considered insultingly plain and will obligingly be pepped up with spices, sugar and copious amounts of salt.

Food orders will be repeated, tirelessly for around ten minutes until both diner and waiter are beyond a level of confusion to the extent that the appearance of food – not what you ordered but presented with such a flourish you don’t care – is a miracle in itself.”

168926_594343122192_1338368_n“Do you have coke?”

“……Coke?”

“Coca Cola? Or Pepsi?”

“Ah yes, Pepsi. I know Pepsi. Yes we have Pepsi.”

Two minutes later he returns with a can of Coke. “Pepsi sir, very good sir.”

On the Train from Goa to The Pink City, Jaipur

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“It’s just gone seven and I am uncomfortably awake. The Nun sits in profile to the window below me, her figure is half-lit by pale, lemon sunshine. She looks as though she should belong in some ancient triptych, a stained-glass window or carved of blonde and chestnut wood.”

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“She looks martyred, blessed by divine illumination, quiet, infinitely composed. She is ‘Nun’ personified. A girl sits opposite. All I can see are her feet. The edge of a sari so red it burns in the half light. She has dancer’s feet: high arched and oddly supple. She stretches them, languidly. Everything seems beautifully serene at this moment. India is a bubble dream contained at this point.”

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