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Adventure Archives

Missing Chapters Part Two

Tony with a Lemon

Guess what, folks? It’s Missing Chapter time! For anyone who missing the first Missing Chapter, it’s HERE – but hurry right back, because… um… well, I’ll miss you!

This time we’ve got a story that I cut out of ‘That Bear Ate My Pants!’ simply because it wasn’t good enough. I know – way to encourage you to read it, right? The truth is, when the agents told me my book couldn’t be longer than 100,000 words, I cried inside. Because I’d already written nearly double that – and it had taken me six frigging years to do it!

Still. At that point I still had high hopes of getting ‘properly’ published, so with a heavy heart I dove into my list of chapters and deleted as many as I could.

The first to go were the unfinished bits – fragments of jokes and funny stories that were too short to make chapters. Next I started on the full-length chapters, cutting out any that didn’t move the story along. If I found something hysterically funny – even after reading it fifty-odd times – I generally kept it in. If not, it got the axe.

So, here I present one of those chapters. I liked it because it was a particularly odd memory, and my ideal version of the book would describe everything that happened to me in Ecuador. But even good authors have to cut bits out for reasons like pacing, and I felt that this chapter, whilst amusing (especially to me, who lived through it) – was a bit of a speed-bump.

The axe came down, and it’s never seen the light of day since.

Enjoy!

 

A Fruit Too Far…

I was quite excited when Johnny asked me to get into the ‘good’ truck on Saturday morning. After a frustrating few days of digging yet more post holes, I was thrilled to be spending my Saturday doing anything else. Getting in the good truck meant we were going somewhere outside the refuge, and a quick check in the back confirmed we weren’t taking any shovels with us. Toby was off in Quito again on one of his recruitment drives, which meant poor old Ashley was staying behind on her own.
“Never mind,” I tried to console her, “I don’t think we’ll be having much fun. Probably doing something very boring.”
“Yeah right. Whatever. This is so unfair.”
“What can I say? I guess they just want men.”
“And yet they’re still taking you…” Ashley stuck her tongue out at me.
“Ooh! You cheeky little… I hope you dig ‘till you hit China!”

Johnny tried to explain the day’s mission to me, but gave up after a few minutes of talking to my vacant expression. He shrugged his shoulders and climbed into the front with Jimmy. The engine roared and the truck rocketed off up the driveway.
The weather was looking less and less clement as we descended the mountain, and I began to wish I’d brought a jacket. But who knows where we’re going, I thought to myself. Perhaps they’re taking me shopping!
“We go see my friends,” Johnny called back from the front. Apparently he’d been thinking and had come up with a Spanish phrase simple enough for me to understand. “We go help my friends.”
Interesting. A few light rain drops patterned the windscreen.

It was starting to come down heavier when we pulled up in town. Which town, I couldn’t say – we’d been driving for what seemed like an age, down an endless network of tiny back streets somewhere north of Quito. The area we’d stopped in featured an unhealthy looking mix of decrepit alleyways and deserted courtyards. It didn’t look like a sensible place to take a massive four wheel drive truck, for fear it’d never be able to get out again, but I left that worry to Johnny and counted my fortunes that I was sitting in the warm, comfy back seat and staring out at the steadily worsening weather.
Johnny’s friends turned out to be a tiny, wrinkled old man and his equally tiny, equally wrinkled wife.
But this was Ecuador; what was I expecting? Eight-foot-tall blonde skiing instructors?
Coaxing me out of the car, Johnny and his friends led me to a tall steel door in a tumbledown wall. The door seemed to have survived the ravages of time much better than the wall. This is probably why they decided not to open it – there was a good chance that doing so would precipitate a major collapse.
Instead, they enthusiastically scaled the wall at a slightly more broken-down section, and I scurried over in their wake. Within was a somewhat unexpected sight; this walled suburban enclosure was filled with brightly coloured trees! And on the trees hung a strange, luminous green fruit in vast quantities.
I gazed in wonder at this alien landscape – but not for too long. By now it was pissing it down, and I was already getting soaked.
Johnny waved a black plastic bag in my face and gestured around at the trees. It wasn’t hard to grasp his plan, as Jimmy was already shredding the foliage of the first tree to divest it of… what, exactly? Some kind of small, misshapen fruit that bore no resemblance to anything I’d ever seen.
Jimmy was filling his bag with them, so I grabbed the bag from Johnny and followed suit. It was fairly quick work to strip the fruit from the trees, the more so because I was taller than most of them. Jimmy was having a tougher time of it – he had to jump to reach the uppermost branches. These were clearly Ecuadorian-scaled trees.
The wrinkly old couple lent a hand too, though they were considerably less effective. There must have been fifty trees in that courtyard; I think they might have managed one apiece. Of course, all this happened under the careful ‘supervision’ of Johnny and his friends. Yet again I had the thought that I’d like to be the supervisor one day. It really was a tough gig.
The tempo of the rain was steadily increasing. The trees weren’t providing a whole of cover, because my head stuck out the top of them. Plus they were getting wet themselves, and I was rooting deep amongst the leaves. Ecuador may be on the equator, but the rain there is as cold as anywhere else, especially for people only wearing a t-shirt.
A few minutes in, I was already soaked. And a couple of hours after that, we’d finally removed most of the weird green things from their branches. I’d lost count of how many giant black bin-bags I’d filled. Dragging our last bulging sacks with us, we gathered in the partial shelter of a roofless barn-like structure.
Johnny and his friends were ecstatic. They’d been loading our haul into the trucks outside, splitting it between Johnny’s beast and a wreck of a truck that had to belong to the old couple. In fairness they’d worked quite hard, dragging the heavy bags over what was left of the wall. It had been a rush job from start to finish, and I could only thank God that we were finally in sight of that finish.
There seemed to be a lot of commotion around me, something to do with the sheer quantity of water that was pouring off me. After much pointing and rapid-fire Spanish, the old woman disappeared for a few minutes – only to reappear with the most hideous jumper I have ever laid eyes on. She thrust it at me with such ferocity that I didn’t dare refuse it – and then, amidst much laughter and gesticulation, I was persuaded to strip off my sopping t-shirt and don the jumper. It was navy blue knitted wool, patterned like the worst Christmas present you ever received from some distant aunt with only a shred of her mind remaining.
And it was sized to fit a ten year old boy.
From Ecuador.
The sleeves stretched skin-tight, and ended just beyond my elbows. My head ripped the neck hole on its way out, and the bottom third of my torso was left naked to the elements. I looked like a cabbage patch doll that had been fished out of a lake. Everyone present fell about laughing, which really helped to bolster my ego. Being wool, the garment was already starting to itch like crazy. The humiliation was total; I could only be grateful that no-one bar Jimmy and Johnny was there to see me. I was only too pleased when Johnny sniggered his way over the wall and then mocked me as I followed. It was time to go home, where I could hopefully salvage some dignity – and quite possibly burn that bloody thing. I still had absolutely no idea why we’d been called upon to pick the strange fruits in the pissing-it-down rain.
But the trip home seemed to take much longer than expected. I realised why as we pulled up in a thronging Quito market place.
“Get out, have a walk, if you like,” Johnny told me generously. “We’ll be here for a while.”

And we were. Fruit by fruit, for a couple of dollars per shopping bag full, he gradually unloaded the entire truck. I sat grumpily in the car, shivering, scratching, and trying not to make eye contact with the passers-by. Because every time I did, they pointed and laughed. I could almost imagine Johnny setting me up as a sideshow; ‘See the great white ape trying to wear clothes!’. He’d probably have made more money than he was getting for the… “What the hell are those things anyway?” I grumbled. “Hey Jimmy! Que es estos?”
He gave me a wicked grin. “Limon.”
Ah. I could feel pneumonia setting in. And hives…
Perhaps there was a lesson in all of this?
            When life gives you lemons… sell the bastard things! At least you might be able to afford a decent jumper.

It had been dark for hours when we pulled up at Santa Martha. “Please God,” I prayed, “next Saturday let me dig post holes.”
“How was your day?” Ashley asked as I stomped inside. The door closed behind me with a screech like tortured metal.
“Good.”
She looked up at the sour tone in my voice and beheld the sight. She managed a good few seconds before the first guffaw burst out of her.
“Holy shit! Did you shrink in the rain? Or just beat up a ten year old and steal his clothes? You look like a scarecrow!”
“Thanks for that Ash. I’m just going to go and take this off.”
“Oh, that’s gonna be tough. You wanna pair of scissors?”
“You want to kiss my ass?”
“I wouldn’t bend over wearing that thing if I were you. It might strangle you.”
“Someone’s going to get strangled,” I fumed.
Both Toby and I owned cameras, but Ashley did not – for which I was extremely grateful.

It was only much later, and with a significantly better command of the Spanish language, that I managed to get some answers out of Jimmy. We were sitting with a beer in the two-room shack Johnny had built for him and his wife, Nancy – and their adorable kids, Myra and JimmyTwo. When I mentioned the incident, Jimmy laughed so hard at the memory of the jumper that I thought he was going to pee himself.
Si, si!” he chuckled. “We only had one day – the owners of that place had gone away on a trip!”
And the light bulb pinged on above my head. A gate that no-one opened. Scrambling over the wall. One day to get in and out, under cover of a deluge. And a trip to the market on the way home to sell Johnny’s half of the loot…
I’d been duped.
Those cheeky sons of bitches had turned me into a criminal.
And possibly the worst-dressed criminal in the history of crime.
Life hadn’t given me lemons, after all; I’d stolen the damn things.

END.

 

Hope you enjoyed that, folks! For anyone who hasn’t had chance to check out ‘That Bear Ate My Pants!’ in all its glory, here’s a sneaky link to it on Amazon:

Link to That bear Ate My Pants on Amazon

I’ll try and get the next one ready a bit quicker, I promise 😉

Happy travels!

Tony

Sleeping like an Eskimo!

Roo on an igloo bed

Roo testing out the igloo bed.

Sleeping in an Igloo!

It’s one of those weird things I’ve always wanted to try, so when my family wanted to know what to get me for my birthday I sent them a link to the Igludorf.com website. The response was mixed… “Omg, it’s like extreme SAS survival training!”, and “But how do you sleep when its actually freezing cold?” and from my dad; ”Make sure Tony doesn’t stick to the ice toilet!”

We ended up being lucky enough to get squeezed in to a Friday night reservation because it books up pretty fast. It was a glorious bus ride up towards the ski resort village of Kuhtai in Austria, and I was SO EXCITED when it changed from rain in Innsbruck to heavier and heavier snow as we drove higher. By the time we arrived it was almost a blizzard! These snow-flakes were the biggest I’ve ever seen, like Australian 20 cent pieces and so incredibly fluffy! The hardest part was actually finding the Igloo Village, because looking for white domes made of snow in heavy white snowfall was a bit tricky… Read the rest of this entry

On the Road Again!

G’day Adventurers… Roo here! It’s my turn to take over the blog because Tony is busy writing!

Bay window
Tony working hard in a Slovenian apartment!

It’s been a very busy couple of months for us. I mean, Christmas is busy for everyone but we also had to pack up our entire lives on NYE and cram it into a storage unit in preparation for our next trip overseas… As usual, we declared that we owned far too much stuff and yet couldn’t seem to part with any of it… Luckily it fit into the 3m by 3m storage unit we’d paid for. But only because it was also 3m tall!

Storage Unit Full
VERY FULL!

It was hard leaving Perth this time. Even though we were looking forward to 6 months of adventures around Europe, my dad is selling the family home up in the Perth hills. Read the rest of this entry

Drifting Part Four

It wasn’t a complete disaster.

We spent our second night moored alongside the idyllic Blackmere Lake, which Roo had been looking forward to photographing. She wasn’t disappointed – the leaves were turning for Autumn, making for some gorgeous pics. They were also falling into the canal by the bucketload, fouling our propeller and slowing our already agonising crawl to the speed at which dinosaur turds fossilize.

Black Mere Lake

 

Having reached the southernmost point of our journey, we now had to turn the boat around. Canals being somewhat narrow, this can only be accomplished at specific places, called ‘winding holes’. Apparently this is not a place you ‘wind’ like a watch (which would make sense), but rather a place you ‘wind,’ like the stiff breeze that we’d been battling since Llangollen. This one was a semi-circular bite out of the opposite bank, into which we guided our nose. Between the boat’s somewhat delayed reactions and my Dad’s instinct to do exactly the opposite of what was required, I think we turned that boat around by the power of swearing alone. Read the rest of this entry

Drifting Part Three

This is Part Three of our Canal Boat Odyssey. Parts One and Two can be found HERE and HERE respectively 😉

Towel Sign

We spent a total of four nights on board the Henley.

In hindsight we probably set ourselves way too big a journey, because we wanted to go all the way from the hire place in Trevor to the picturesque Black Mere, and then return back past Trevor and go all the way to Llangollen in the other direction. It didn’t seem that far on Google Maps… But we hadn’t reckoned with the boat’s average speed of around 2km per hour. At one point we were overtaken by a mother and daughter, out for a casual stroll along the towpath. They moseyed past us, and disappeared into the distance, leaving us in the dust. Over an hour later we finally caught them up – but only because they’d turned around and were coming back again! I think on our biggest day, we managed a staggering 12 miles…

Read the rest of this entry

Drifting – Part One

Side-of-boat

Four adults on a relaxing, 4-night canal boat cruise. What could possibly go wrong?

Unfortunately, when three of the adults are Slaters, things are bound to get interesting…

It’s always been a dream of ours to try living aboard a narrow boat, and drift along the English countryside on the canals, occasionally winding a lock up or down. It all sounds so relaxing…

Read the rest of this entry

House Goals!

It’s strange, but the more we travel the more we actually aspire to own our own home! Maybe we are sick of packing everything we own up into boxes in my poor Dad’s spare room, or maybe we’ve just been to so many amazing properties. We are constantly collecting cool ideas for our future.

Dover Castle Inner

If only we could live in a castle forever… :)

And lets be honest, Dover castle is the pinnacle of permanent safe home ownership! The castle has stood for 800 years and counting! And the medieval earthworks began as an iron age hill fort before 1000 ad! We spent 6 hours exploring Dover castle and we’ve decided September is the perfect time of year because the weather is still warm and cloudy/sunny yet the crowds won’t bowl you over the turrets.

Read the rest of this entry

Roo Takes Over! WARNING: Expect Rainbows…

I’ve been thinking for a while about how to do justice to this blog, when a) I’m incredibly busy writing the next book, and b) I’m incredibly lazy. Then an idea struck me – actually, it was Roo that struck me (though I still maintain that it didn’t hurt. It was the surprise that made me scream).

“Let ME do something!” she said. Which didn’t sound like a bad idea. And so, quicker than I could drop my trousers upload a photo, here we have it – our new, combined, shared blog! I know, I know. It looks exactly like the other one. But the point is, nothing has changed – Roo has been supplying me with the best photos for this blog for years, so now I’m making it official: Roo is my co-contributor, co-conspirator, and partner in (occasional) crime. She will now fill the gaps in my busy schedule by posting some of the best pictures from our travels around the world. I’ll continue to post overly-long, pointless rants about the random things that happen to us – and somewhere in the middle we’ll have… well. You. You poor sod! Here – have a biscuit.

So! She’s fabulous, she’s multi-talented – hell, she’s multi-coloured! A genius behind the lens, and not ‘arf bad in front of one; she’s the love of my life, and the only person I’ve ever known who can sing an entire song and not get a single lyric right. Without further ado, I give you my wife! (But you can’t keep her. So stop asking.)

Roo on snowy log

ROO: Well, we all know Tony is busy on his fifth book so I thought I’d sneak over here and have some input on the blog! Some of you may know me from my husband’s books ‘Kamikaze Kangaroos!’ and ‘Can I Kiss Her Yet?’. For the rest of you, I’ll introduce myself – and throw in a couple of my favourite traveling photos along the way 🙂

My real name is Krista but everyone knows me by my nickname of Roo, it makes sense since I am from Australia…

I started out as a shy 19 year-old travelling from my home in Western Australia allllllllll the way to Connecticut USA to be a riding instructor at an American Summer Camp. I was too scared to go actually, but my Mum pushed me to get out there and do something different. I will be eternally grateful to her for starting my love of travelling. I had a pretty tough time at camp… wild horses, sleeping in a tent for 3 months, coping with American teens… and the odd case of E-Coli poisoning! Luckily, I met my best friend Gillian there, as well as some other lifelong friends from all over the world. Gill and I travelled around the USA, Europe and Australia, and eventually we convinced her older brother to join us in Australia. And that, as they say, was the beginning of the end (just kidding!).

But yes, I may have fallen in love with my best friend’s older brother, sorry Gill! 🙂

Tony on Xian city walls at night

Here’s Tony – on Xi’an City Walls, in one of my first attempts at night-time photography! Kind of pleased with how it turned out 🙂

I can’t believe Tony and I have been travelling now for so long, these past 8 years of adventures have certainly tested us in so many ways. Luckily, we are scarily alike in some ways, and despite the stresses of travelling, getting lost and sick in strange countries and living in each other’s pockets, we are still happily married.

I’m not going to lie, travelling with someone as accident prone as Tony can be pretty nerve wracking! He seems oblivious to the fact that he is clumsy and instead believes himself to be a stealthy ninja – and that climbing up that pillar would be so very easy… I like to think that I am now the voice of reason and can (hopefully) rein in his most dangerous impulses!

Borneo Orangutan

Tony actually tried to hand-feed this guy with a mashed up banana he found on the floor! Does that count as dangerous?

I am a pretty colourful person. I have a hoarding instinct for brightly coloured or sparkly things, which is why my wardrobe almost entirely consists of an Australian brand of clothing called Black Milk. The crazy colourful clothes may at times clash with my rainbow hair, but I love it! I always try to be myself, which is great fun but can sometimes result in strange looks…

Traveling Pants beach

These leggings are Black Milk’s infamous Travelling pants – they’ve been around the world, passed on from person to person. I have them now, in Nova Scotia, Canada – who knows where they’ll end up next!

I have always loved photography. I saved for years to buy my first film camera, (with a TEN TIMES zoom lens – pretty good for the ‘90s!) Before we set off on our six-month trip around Asia I did loads of research and invested in a Nikon D5100, with a second-hand Tamron 18 – 270mm lens off eBay. I would love to say it was a good choice… but the lens came with a few issues and was so stiff it took a lot of elbow grease just to zoom in and out. I didn’t mind because I knew we would be hiking in the Borneo rainforests, and backpacking is rough on camera gear. But it was a great starter lens!

Saigon Cart in Rain

This shot of a street vendor pushing her cart through the rain in Saigon, Vietnam, is my first action panning shot – and my favourite picture with this lens!

After a little accident on Cat Ba Island in Vietnam, where Tony dumped me off the back of a motorbike and squished my lens, I was forced to upgrade to a NEW Tamron 18-270. Or rather, he was forced to 🙂

Icy lagoon

This shot of the Icebergs in Jokulsarlon Lagoon, Iceland proves the new lens was worth every penny!

I hope you’ve enjoyed these photos – they are some of my favourites from the last few years. I hope to sneak onto the blog every now and then to break up Tony’s written ramblings with some cool pictures. As I am still learning the art of photography, please feel free to discuss my pictures and give me any tips you may have; like traveling, this is a hobby I intend to carry on forever! You can get in touch with me via the comments below, or on the Contact Page. Thanks for having me 🙂 xxx

Girl with machete

Great photo to end on – possibly the craziest thing we saw in Asia. I never let Tony play with knives this big!

My Secret Plan™

Top SecretSo, by now one or two of you might have heard me mention my SECRET PLAN on Facebook. In fact, a few of you have already weaseled the details out of me! Let’s face it – I’m crap at keeping secrets, and I can’t keep this one any longer.

So here it is:

I’m coming to America!

In June.

This year.

To write a book.

But that’s not it. Not really. You see, from time to time, I get emails from my readers, saying nice things about my books. Well, some of them. I also get the occasional death-threat, but that’s been happening since way before I was an author, so I try not to take them too seriously.

The idea grew from my last visit to the US – which the hardened readers amongst you might remember from ‘Don’t need The Whole Dog!’ It was a pretty successful trip for me; I met the love of my life there (not that either of us knew it at the time), and I even managed to avoid falling into the Grand Canyon.

But I was flat broke back then, and this ten-day holiday was paid for by my Mum, as a reward for coming home from Ecuador with all my limbs still attached. I always felt that I’d missed out on seeing the real America; rumour has it that it’s quite a big place, and I’d been there – but only just.

Flash forward to the present day, and not a lot has changed. Well, I’m married now, and I write books for a living, and I found a frikkin’ GREY HAIR yesterday, for gawd’s sake – okay, so quite a few things have changed.

But I’m basically still broke.

However! As I said, I’ve been getting emails from readers. Loads of emails. I get like, one, maybe two, practically every other week! Well, what did you expect? I’m not exactly Stephen king, am I?

Now, amongst those emails, people often say things like, “If you’re ever in Ponca City, Oklahoma, you’re welcome to come and stay with me!” They say these things because they feel safe in the knowledge that I am never actually going to be in Ponca City, Oklahoma…

Until now. Because my Secret Plan is threefold;

1)   I AM coming to America;

2)   I AM going to write a book about it, and

3)   I AM coming to visit you all!

Blame Roo. It was her idea, after all. Honestly, I think she was just bored of sitting on the sofa, watching me type.

“We should do you a book tour, like the real authors do,” she said. “We could go to New York and LA.”

“I’d love to, but we can’t afford to travel in first-world countries. Not for long.”

“Why don’t we stay with some of your readers? They’re always asking… that’d make it cheaper. And that way we’d get to see the ‘real’ America.”

Hm… Not a bad idea, I thought. “The only problem is, I don’t think any of those people actually wanted me to come and stay with them. I think they were just being nice.”

“Well,” she said, “hard luck.”

And that was that!

So, anyone who has a place for us to stay – be it outhouse, tree-house, dog-house or bouncy-castle – and anyone who thinks they have a genuine cultural experience* to offer us (or who just wants to try something crazy) – let me know! You might not think it, but I’m always up for an adventure.

Walking on beach

Right then, here’s the nitty gritty:

  1. I can’t come to visit everyone. I wish I could, but the Powers That Be will only let Roo and I into the country for three months. We’ll get as far as we can, but that’s a big-assed country you’ve got there. Ain’t no way we’re going to see it all in one trip. Sorry!
  2. We’ll need a place to stay, but we’re not fussy – having lived for months in a tent, and slept on floors, benches, beaches and the world’s most uncomfortable van, we’re not expecting luxury! But we will need somewhere to sleep while we visit you, as the motels part of our budget will be spent on the nights in-between visiting people.
  3. Food is good! We’d appreciate it if you could feed us at least a little bit while we’re there. This is the perfect time to break out Grandma’s famous recipe for meatloaf, and we’re happy to help with the cooking – well, Roo is. I’d probably burn down your kitchen. And probably your neighbour’s kitchen too. But I’m a mean washer-up J
  4. SHOW ME AMERICA! I’m keen to do as much crazy, fun stuff as is humanly possibly on this trip. If there’s anything cool you can show me (or weird, unusual, exciting, traditional, different etc.) – please let me know! I can’t give you an example, as I’ve no idea what’s out there, but I’m less inclined to go to expensive, well-known touristy things like Disneyland, and more inclined to find interesting stuff to write about – secret places, experiences that not everyone gets to have… anything we can have fun doing, without breaking the bank!
  5. Media Is Also Very Good! Mostly this trip is about me meeting all my awesome readers, but the cold-hearted money-making machine inside of me hates to miss an opportunity. We might not be able to afford to eat by the end of this trip, unless I manage to get some books sold, and the best way to do that is to attract a bit of media attention. I know not everyone has a girlfriend/uncle/friend from yoga class who runs a multinational publishing empire, but if you’ve got a tiny local rag, and it’s a sufficiently slow news week, the story of one of your favourite authors** coming out to meet you might be worth a mention. I’d really appreciate it if you could do a bit of leg work and find out if there’s any interest before I visit, as it’s notoriously difficult to set these things up after I’ve gone 😉
  6. Books are GREAT! I love books. And I love book shops. I also love libraries, and book groups, and all those kinds of places. I’m happy to do talks (or just have tea!) at any of these places if they’re interested. Again, if you think there’s a local place or group that might like to hear me waffle about the topic of their choice, I’d love to include that in my itinerary. I’ve got to get a bit of practice at that kind of stuff before I end up on Oprah! (Hang on – didn’t she get fired?)

Having said all that, please don’t be put off! I really DO want to see you all, and I’m flexible (you should see me do the splits! It’ll bring tears to your eyes.) I just had to put this stuff here to save me writing the same bunch of questions in every email. I won’t automatically choose not to visit you just because you can’t afford to feed me! There’s always room to wiggle. And I LOVE a good wiggle.

And that’s it. As of now, I’m accepting suggestions! If you’d like me to come and visit, please drop me a line, by Facebook, email, or a comment on here. (I was going to allow carrier pigeons too, but that always ends badly.)

Please let me know if you have any ideas for things to do near you, and whether or not you’ll be able to help us out with them.

I do have a Wish List of stuff Roo and I would dearly love to do while we’re over there, which I’ll be posting at some point, but for now I’m open to every suggestion under the sun. And even ones that aren’t.

So! Thank-you to those of you who’ve made it this far. Sorry for the gigantic blog post, and rest assured that service will return to normal after this. Which means nothing for a whole year short, witty blog posts, and lots of Roo’s pretty pictures. I promise!

Meanwhile… stay happy! I’ll look forward to hearing from you J

Tony@TonyJamesSlater.com

 

* Watching Star Wars totally counts as a cultural experience.

** And while you’re waiting for one of your favourite authors to come and meet you, you could have a visit from me!

So, where were we?

Huashan SunsetOh, that’s right. We’d arrived at the top. Except, it wasn’t the top. It was the beginning of an immense, circuitous route which visited each of the five peaks of the sacred mountain; from the North Peak, where we were now, over the much-higher Central Peak, to the West Peak, where our hostel was, and to the notorious East Peak, where we wanted to go tomorrow. I forget what the other peak was called.

Mountain view

Now, where exactly was that hostel again?

Owing to the slight delay in our starting time, it was 7pm, and the light was already beginning to fail. It made for some gorgeous pictures of the valley below, and the lights of nearby Xi’an City were very nearly visible through the smog. But not quite. We gazed up at the ridiculous ribbon of the Dragonback Ridge payed out above us, and resigned ourselves to another epic stair-climbing session – but not before a brief comedy interlude:

Propergander DeskOh, yes! The bloke behind the desk clearly didn’t appreciate the irony, and I wasn’t about to tell him as he was armed to the teeth. Like all good Tourist Information officers.

And so to the stairs! Forgotten those, hadn’t you? Or blocked them out… Sadly, we didn’t have that luxury. Dragonback ridge followed the barest knife-edge of the rock, a path at times less than a meter wide, with sheer cliffs plunging down on either side. Not a great place to be drunk, I thought, or to meet anyone coming the other way…  At first I thought we were lucky with this, our lateness meaning most visitors had already left the area; but later on we discovered it’s a strictly enforced one-way system, as it is simply too dangerous to allow people to try to pass each other on the ridge.

Looking down Dragonback Ridge

Looking back down the Ridge was even more dramatic!

Beyond the ridge we came to an unexpected guesthouse, that wasn’t listed on any of our maps (Ha! Maps? We had a 2-inch line drawing on the back of our ticket. Labelled in Chinese.) The manager offered us a discount, but Roo and I had been in China long enough by this point to expect a scam of some kind. We pressed on, hauling ourselves up the ragged stone steps, until a gap in the foliage allowed us a glimpse of our destination.

“Bugger that,” I said to Roo. She agreed. The West Peak shone in the distance, the last rays of sun picking out a tiny building clinging to the slope facing us. It was bloody miles away.

So, steps retraced, we booked into the cheapest dorm, and spent the night with eighteen other people, packed in so tight I could feel tremors in my bunk whenever the guy at the far side of the room scratched his arse. We’d scored some free hot water from the manager to make our noodles; in China boiling water is always freely available, in hotels, on trains, in libraries… cold water, though, was an issue. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t convince the manager that it was safe to give me any. I had a bag full of water purification pills and a state-of-the-art UV steriliser in my bag, but still I spent two hours decanting boiling water from cup to cup until it was cool enough to pour into our plastic drink bottles!

Huashan Hostel

Gateway to the central peak… where a dorm-bed for $20 is a ‘discount’!

Then we settled in for some sleep. We didn’t get any of course, but what were we expecting, really?

It’s one of the eternal mysteries of the universe: how do people who snore like a drunken sumo-wrestler, always get to sleep before everyone else? Within minutes of the lights going out, a fat bloke two beds over started moaning like a water-buffalo with its balls caught in a barbwire fence. His vocal range was impressive; from squeaks to ecstatic sighs, he covered every noise the human body is capable of making – all with the volume knob set to 11. None of it sounded healthy. Every so often, he would lapse into silence for up to a minute, and I would have the happy thought, “At last! He’s died!”

But no. After an hour, I got up and shook him awake. He jabbered at me in Chinese, and I gave him my best pissed-off look, and went back to bed. He sat up, hacked and coughed for a few seconds, then spat a massive gob-full of phlegm onto the floor. And went back to sleep.

Huashan Hostel Dorm

Close Quarters; the 20 bed dorm maximizes the breathing-space-to-profit ratio…

I don’t think anyone else in that dorm slept. Three other people got up and woke him throughout the night, and each time he was snoring again before they climbed back into their bunks. One girl on the opposite side kept throwing her pillow at him. I spent at least an hour contemplating tipping him out of bed, and making some kind of scene so that the whole dorm could tell him what he was doing to them – but then, the faintest stirrings of light in the room made me realise than dawn was on the way. My alarm was set for 5:00am anyway, so it hardly seemed worth bothering.

At 4:00am the room came alive. All these people were eager to see the dawn, but they still had an hour and a half for that. I think they all just wanted to get the hell out of there, and a few stern words were directed at the snorer as the room emptied. This ended rather abruptly, when he stood up and pulled on a police uniform! It made me quite glad I hadn’t physically assaulted him in the night.

So, dawn it was – we ate our last instant noodles on the darkened deck, and slowly, feeling every step in leg muscles still burning from the previous day’s climb – we headed upwards.

As we went, we passed hundreds of people waiting to see the dawn; they thronged the path, making it more of a shoving match than a hike. There was no sign of dawn, as we moved up past them; nor would there be, as a dense curtain of vegetation shadowed most of the route. But hell, they were the ones who’d invested all this effort in seeing the sunrise. Let them stand wherever the hell they wanted! I was far more concerned with something else just up ahead…

Crowds on Huashan

Dawn is a rare sight in China!

As it happened, we did see the dawn. By not waiting for it, we’d already climbed higher than most by the time it arrived, and emerged onto the crest of a bare ridge. It wasn’t as impressive as the crowds suggested; even this high up a sacred mountain, we were still only an hour from the city. As a result, it was more of a smog-rise than anything else.

Huashan Dawn

The sun rises above the… well, let’s call them clouds, shall we?

But there were other benefits to being up early. After following a series of very helpful signs (WARNING: sarcasm), we managed to find our way to the East Peak… and THIS:

Huashan Plank Walk at dawnThe plank-walk, notorious around the internet as ‘The Most Dangerous Hike In The World’ ™ – is not actually part of the trail. It’s an optional extra that, sadly, now requires the wearing of a harness. I know! How rude. But Roo was having a few last-minute nerves, especially after seeing the metal rungs we had to climb down just to get there…

Rungs down to huashan plank walkSo, maybe the harness was for the best! It certainly gave us the freedom to have a little fun (more of which later…) And because we were the first there, we had the entire Plank Walk to ourselves! We spent about 20 minutes traversing slowly around the cliff face, alone with the spectacular view, and each other. We took so long that other people started to arrive; on the way back we had to pass several tourists, a particularly scary experience involving one party unclipping their safety straps while the other squeezes around them…

Huashan Plank WalkRoo on plank walk rocks

Hua shan plank walk

Ever felt like you were flying?

And then, the excitement was done. There were of course a vast number of stairs still to climb, as we hiked the circuit between the peaks – another 8km in total, that took us over four hours. Some of it was crazy-steep, some utterly-ridiculously steep. And then there were some…

Hua Shan Steep Stairs

Climbing Hua ShanSteep Steps on Hua ShanUnsurprisingly, I climbed this last one a few times too! I just can’t help myself. There’s a video of it HERE, if you’re interested (it’s the one that’s been floating around on Facebook). It wasn’t too difficult; a tiny old Chinese woman did it just after I’d finished. But, um, let’s pretend I didn’t say that. Yes, hero-type-stuff, this climb was… :0)

We were on the way down now, and I couldn’t help noticing the ongoing Disneyfication of the place that had bothered me on the way up. We watched a gang of workmen with hammers chipping the ancient stone steps into gravel – while another gang set the formwork to pour concrete replacements! I think the plan is, by 2015, to turn the entire mountain into a multi-storey car park…

Huashan repairs

“Hey, if we smash these crappy old steps into gravel, we can use it in the concrete for the new ones!”

Far more interesting – and amazing – was the labour they were using to facilitate their ‘repairs’. We passed porters on the way up – carrying everything from huge granite blocks, to vast lengths of metal reinforcing bars – on their shoulders! Having climbed the Soldiers Path yesterday, I could hardly believe these guys were doing it for a living – presumably several times a day – with at least thirty kilos of stone on their backs! Incredible.

Huashan PorterHuashan PorterFinally… at long, long last… we were done. Utterly spent! We’d never planned to hike all the way back down, as it would only be torturing ourselves to cover the same ground; instead we shelled out $15 each, to enjoy the view from the cable cars.

Cable Car view Huashan

As we follow the other cars down, you can just see some of the Soldier’s Path below us!

And of course, the bus ride back to Xi’an was fraught with the usual problems. Such as when the driver kicked us out at a random bus stop on the edge of the city, leaving us lost yet again…

But I won’t bore you with details. Instead, here it is – the video from the dreaded Plank Walk… with a twist! Enjoy!

(And please, let me know what you think in the comments!)