Archive for May, 2011

#Sample Sunday… erm… sample.

Hello, Green Volunteers!

Welcome to everyone who found this link through Green Volunteers, the group which originally inspired me to go on the adventures featured in my book. I’ve just discovered ‘Sample Sunday’ and have been inspired to share a chapter with you as a result. Someone recently asked me to “share more about the tree-thing.” Well, here it is. Enjoy!

This is a sample from near the beginning of my book, ‘That Bear Ate My Pants!’, which follows my adventures in Ecuador, whilst working as a volunteer in an exotic animal refuge. At this stage the boss of the refuge, Jimmy, is showing me how to make fences that are jaguar-proof…

Growling Jaguar

The Trouble With Trees

My turn at machete work was more to my liking. True, by that point I’d already lost most of the skin on my palms, but I do love sharp things. My first attempt, with a white-knuckled death grip on the handle, resulted in score one for the tree. I deployed all my strength in one brutal swing, only to find that contact with the solid wooden trunk simply redirected most of the force back up my arm. As I staggered back clutching my shoulder the machete didn’t even have the good grace to remain lodged in the tree. It clattered to the ground, a steely ring of defiance from my adversary. “Take that!” The tree said. After a bout of extreme eye-rolling Jimmy demonstrated the proper technique again. With much exaggerated looseness and a precise swing he smoothly embedded the blade three inches deep. It looked effortless, as though he knew which parts of the tree were secretly made of painted foam. To me the problem was insurmountable – the tree was clearly harder than I was. But it was a sitting target! Could I really lose a fight with an inanimate object? Even if it was bigger than me?

I swung loose and was rewarded with a bite. Not quite a Jimmy, but a start – the narrow edge of the blade had chopped clear through the bark and on into virgin wood!

And it took nearly five minutes for me to get it back out.

Score two to the tree.

By the time I chopped down my first tree, Toby and Jimmy had cut enough posts between them for the rest of the enclosure. I consoled myself with the thought that there had to be a knack to it and it had to be learnable. Jimmy might actually have been a machete in a former life, but Toby was a Londoner. He had to have picked up his skills since he got here – I couldn’t see him hacking his way through rush hour on the tube train.

Felling a mighty giant of the forest made me feel a bit guilty. A proud living entity had been callously cut down in it’s prime, hacked to pieces by an arrogant youth with a knife fetish. But it was for the greater good, I told myself. And anyway, it served it right for being so cocky.

I reclaimed the machete and wiped my blood off the handle as the others eyed my handiwork. Jimmy’s critique was a simple, two stage process; first he pointed at the log he had just finished with. It’s end was a neat point, as was the corresponding end still rooted to the ground. Slivers of wood were scattered in a rough circle around the scene. Then he guestured towards the fruits of my labour. My tree had been severed by sheer violence. The length that lay on the ground was badly wounded by cuts ranging up all sides. The rooted portion showed evidence of the same treatment. It looked like Edward Scissorhands had had an epileptic fit in front of it. Everywhere lay chunks, shards, splinters, of wood. I was ankle deep in the stuff. Between the bit that was cut and the bit that was left, there had once existed a clear foot of tree trunk that I had reduced entirely to sawdust.

By the end of the day our new enclosure was finished. We’d hauled logs, raised logs, and jumped around the bases of them like wasted druids. Finally Jimmy had shown us to an area opposite the garage where several huge rolls of wire mesh lay slowly disintegrating. With much cursing in a mixture of languages we’d dragged the mesh over to the new enclosure, unrolled it, and nailed it firmly around the posts. It was, of course, a lot more work than that, but describing it is not even as much fun as doing it was.  Suffice to say the cage was built. Apart from the door; that would be tomorrow’s job.

The day had been one hell of a learning curve. In addition to turning half a tree into kindling I’d begun to understand the true meaning of the word ‘manpower’. I’d learnt that Jimmy, though tiny, was clearly made of the same stuff they built the Terminator out of. And that when people back home talked about making something with blood, sweat and tears they really had no idea. None.

I wasn’t going to let it defeat me though. Today had been a triumph! I had taken all the punishment thrown my way and asked for more. I’d dug, chopped and nailed harder than I’d thought possible. Work here was obviously going to be painful, but I could handle that. I was going to prove it. I would become a MAN!

The upwelling of pride carried me all the way back to the volunteer house and lasted right up until I put my hands into a bowl of hot, soapy water.

Jimmy

Jimmy. Indestructible.

END (of Chapter 5)

“That Bear Ate My Pants!” is available now from the Amazon Kindle bookstore. It costs just $2.99 (US) or £2.99 (UK), and the beginning of the book can be downloaded as a FREE sample from either of the Amazon sales pages. In case you’d like to check it out (and I’d love you to do that!) here they are:

“That Bear Ate My Pants!” on Amazon.com (for USA  and everywhere other than the UK)

“That Bear Ate My Pants!” on Amazon.co.uk (for those of us lucky enough to live in England. :0)

Right, that’s your lot for now! I welcome feedback of any kind in the comments  – let rip people! The adventure continues…

This is Part Two of a Three Part post about Petra in Jordan. To read the first part, click here.

Tomb in PetraAll the guidebooks plead with you not to enter ancient sites without paying, as the money is needed to conserve the area. Well I say bollocks to that! If they’re going to charge £50 to get in, I think everyone should go to see Petra without paying. Boycott the box office. That might convince ‘em to be more careful about biting the hand that feeds them. Or robbing it blind.

The tombs at Petra have stood for more than 2,000 years. The place has hardly changed. It’s been attacked and conquered, sacked and relieved, stolen, lost and rediscovered by every civilisation this part of the world has known. Despite it being low season, the car park was rammed out with tour buses, at least fifty I reckoned. If just a thousand of us were there that day, the authorities had made fifty grand. What the hell kind of conservation they were undertaking on that budget? Building a life-size replica out of Lego?

Most of the tombs were closed anyway. No explanation was given – just steel or plastic barriers stretched across the entrance of all the most popular tombs mentioned in our guidebook. ‘With a funeral chamber in the upper story, it’s a must-see…’ the book gushed. Nope. A mustn’t see. A soldier with an AK47 was lounging against the entrance to Tomb #67.

“I want to go inside,” I complained.

“No. Is closed.” And he patted his gun.

Had I paid to get in I’d have wanted to swear at him, point out that I’d just paid his wages for two days of sitting there, stroking his weapon, telling people what they couldn’t do. But I hadn’t, so I didn’t.

The injustice continued on the souvenir stalls. Yes, an experienced haggler could barter a deal that made both sides think they’d won, but that wasn’t really the point; this is Petra: recognised globally (even if it is because of Indiana Jones), if not a Wonder of the ancient world then certainly a marvel. But it’s also a market. Hundreds of stalls line the trek through the canyon, selling buckets of fake silver jewellery and shitty beady necklaces. It would have been interesting, if every tourist site I’d visited so far hadn’t been lined with identical stalls selling identical ‘hand-made Bedouin products’. I was starting to think that these mysterious Bedouin were bloody productive, given that there were only a handful of them scattered around the remotest parts of the country. And as closer inspection of the trinkets revealed, at least some of them now lived in China.

I struggled to comprehend the depth of the scam; they charge us such a ludicrous sum of money to get in here that we don’t dare leave until we’ve walked every square metre of the place. Then they fill roughly 50% of those square metres with irritating locals trying to sell us stuff. Presumably they take a cut, in the form of licensing these people to continually harass the paying guests. So we’ve basically bought a ticket into an enclosed version of the tourist-scamming hell we’ve been trying to escape since we set foot in the country! Oh, somebody, somewhere high up in a Jordanian government building, is laughing into his quail omelettes.

Stall selling junk in PetraWe sped through the site barely pausing at the tombs, intent on making the furthest part of Petra before the crowds. There were steps we wanted to climb – eight hundred of them. They wound up the gorge to a distant plateau where the most impressive structure – the Monastery – was carved into the side of a mountain. The views were legendary and the trail, gouged out of the rock by hand centuries ago, was twisted and torturous. Precipitous, even, bordering on the downright scary. One one side, then the other – or occasionally on both – vertical drops for hundreds of feet led to a nasty finish on a carpet of fallen boulders. Narrow, steep, uneven – all these words were redefined by these monumental steps. Eight hundred – that’s about sixty-four floors of your average building. I loved every minute of it.

Well, apart from the stalls which lined the entire route.

What IS it about these people? WHY do they think I want to buy their shit? I had just run the gauntlet of over a dozen tatty stalls pushing exactly the same crud. At each, a fistful of filthy merchandise was thrust in my face and a voice pleaded with me to pay for it. I repeatedly fended them off whilst shouting “No, NO!” in five languages – one of which was even their own. So what in all the hells makes the stall holder at pitch #13, watching my progress from his ragged awning, think “Eh up! This guy looks keen…”

By stall thirty I’d started swearing at them. By stall ninety I’d run out of swear words and my throat was full of sand. Luckily enough stall ninety-five or so seemed to be selling cans of cheap cola – no doubt for the price of a Stella in a swanky Soho night-club. But between me and the outrageously priced beverages lay at least four more stalls. I could see the owners rubbing their hands in glee. “This one’s lost the will to fight already,” they were saying to themselves, “he hasn’t cursed anyone for ten stalls! Perhaps he will buy my shit just to shut me up. Quick! Rasheed! We must be extra persuasive…”

A young Arab clucked to his donkey as he rode down, leaning back against the incline. Sure-footed, the donkey plodded down step after step, picking a path so precarious it had me clutching at the rock wall for support. Of course there were no handrails.

“Hire a Porsche?” The man asked as he came level with us. “Air conditioned, see!” He waved his hand above the donkey’s ears.

I had to smile. “Sir, your Porsche is trying to eat my hat.”

With a chuckle he was off, slapping the ass of his… ass. It paid him no heed, taking its own sweet time to choose the footing.

“I think I’d be more scared doing this on a donkey,” Mum said.

“Me too,” I told her. “But mostly I’d be scared for your donkey.”

I had to run the next few steps.

Four door Sedan, One careful owner, Only 8,000,000 stairs on the clock

To Be Concluded…

Eat, drink, be merry! Then get fat.

A measure of good healthToday I started a new fitness regime with ‘MyFitnessPal.com’. It was recommended by one of the staff at the gym, where Roo and I have been slaving away trying to achieve our dream bodies. (None of those dream bodies are looking at us though, so we’re stuck with each other.)

So, feeling a bit lazy today I thought I’d make a move in the right direction by signing up to the website. It has an online calculator where you put in the food you’ve eaten for each meal and it tells you how much of it you shouldn’t have eaten. Then a giant hand comes out of the monitor and slaps you across the face, whilst a shrill voice in an American accent shrieks at you about the dangers to your health.

I was amazed at how comprehensive the food lists were. Search for ‘Crunchy Nut Corn flakes’ for example, and you get ten different variations – different bowl sizes, types of milk, even brands of corn flakes. Woo! I was excited, of course.

Then, less than halfway through the process of recording my food for the day, I cheated. What is that they say about best intentions? Well, wherever that road is headed, I’m going there. I knew the food records were private. At least, I was fairly sure they were. But even so, there was just something so wrong about admitting – even to my computer – that I had whisky for breakfast. I didn’t dare search for a listing.

The software also records exercise. So far today, sneaky snifters none withstanding, I’ve done alright. In fact I seem to be eating about 600 calories less each day than I should be doing, which probably means I should drink more. For compensation.

Today there was no exercise to record. Or was there? Next to me, Roo was also working on her fitness program. “Should I put ‘sex’ under exercise?” she asked.

I laughed. Then said, “yeah!”

The only trouble was, after an extensive search under ‘Cardio Exercise’, we couldn’t find it anywhere.

One advantage of this particular site however, is the ability of casual users such as myself to add to the foods and activities on offer…

So feel free to go now to ‘MyFitnessPal.com’. Should you be interested enough to register (free) and start recording your progress (also free), you could choose to browse the exercise categories, where now, under ‘Sex’, there is the following:

1) Sex, quickie in the kitchen, 8 minutes, 0 foreplay: 150 calories

2) Sex, gentle spooning at 8am. One or both partners still asleep: 85 calories

3) Sex, ‘taken roughly from behind’, 300 calories

4) Sex, toe curling, multiple screaming orgasms, 500 calories (handcuffs optional)

5) Sex – imagination only, as bed is now broken: 35 calories

Well, it doesn’t look like I’m going to get fat. Food for thought  :0)