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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!

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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

‘The Missing Chapters’ Part 1

Okay… hands up if you thought this would never happen? Yes folks, I am here to bring you the FIRST in a series of blog posts dedicated to the fabled ‘Missing Chapters’ – the ones I cut from ‘That Bear Ate My Pants!’ (and all the other books) for a wide variety of reasons.

I’ve been promising to release these for what seems like years… What’s that? It’s BEEN years? Oh, right. Yes, well… um, sorry about that!

But at long, long last, here they are! And I have to say it’s been quite exciting for me, lifting the lid on all these stories I wrote so long ago, none of which have ever seen the light of day. Some are short, some have no discernable end, some ended up irrelevant in the grand narrative of the book… and some I loved dearly, but had to cut out simply because the Powers That Be decreed my book was WAY too long to ever get published… Ha!

So, here’s how we’re going to do this: I’ll introduce each new chapter with a brief explanation of what’s going on, perhaps adding some insights as to why it ended up on the cutting room floor. And then I’ll unleash the chapter in question, with very little editing…

I apologise in advance for the crudeness of the writing. I haven’t looked back at ‘That Bear Ate My Pants!’ for quite a while, but I hope the final version was more polished than these early excerpts. Still, I’ve written and learned a lot since those days… perhaps it’s time for a thorough going-over?

Anyway! Without further ado, here is what could have been the very first chapter of ‘That Bear Ate My Pants!’. Reading it, I think you’ll see why I opted for the current, cut-to-the-chase version. Actually, the real reason is: Mum convinced me it was better that way! My original intention with this start was to set the scene, to describe my journey to Ecuador and some of my encounters along the way. Whereas Mum’s opinion was, “Bollocks to that! Start at the good bit!”

Which of course I did. Eventually… Right! Buckle up. Here goes 🤗

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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 Two

Area we got stuck

Before we get started, here’s some rules about canal boat conduct:

  • Always pass other boats on the right.
  • Always pass other boats at walking pace.
  • Do not intentionally ram other boats at top speed.

And while we’re at it, here are a few facts about the boats themselves:

  • They are long and narrow. Kind of ram-shaped.
  • They are bastard impossible to steer. Impossible!
  • They have absolutely NO BRAKES. NONE.
  • They hate you.
  • They want you to die screaming.

Putting all that together, you might gain an insight into the first few minutes and hours of our boat stewardship.

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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…

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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.

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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!)

SerenDIPity

I’ve entered a contest run by Cherie and Chris of Technomadia, where they’ve asked travellers (like me!) to write about how serendipity has influenced our lives. If you want to know why I’ve written SerenDIPity like that, check out this post about the contest. If you’re already here via Technomadia, welcome!

And if you’re not? Well, we can’t all be perfect. Welcome anyway :0)

This is my story.

 

Paradise Lost?

I left England for Thailand, intending to spend three months volunteering in an animal clinic. I had visions of a tiny paradise island – and I was dead right! Koh Phangan had everything I could have asked for – postcard-perfect beaches, dense tropical jungle and a party scene so wild I very nearly didn’t survive it.

It was so good, I couldn’t even think about going home.

Actually I missed my flight.

It was accidentally-on-purpose. I’d sort of seen it coming; I hadn’t bothered to check my ticket for a long time, and I wasn’t exactly devastated to find the flight had left without me. I just climbed back into my hammock and appreciated one more fiery sunset over the ocean.

I ended up staying for nearly a year.

I had no desire to go back to England at all – I was taking people Scuba-diving for a living, still working at the animal clinic in-between times and still loving life on that tiny tropical island.

Every day was different; whether guiding customers through shoals of brightly coloured fish, nursing stray dogs back to health at the clinic, or rescuing irate monkeys from places they really shouldn’t be (like restaurants); as far as I was concerned, my life there was perfect.

Palm Tree ClimbingThai BeachEventually though, I began to run out of money; I’d spent everything I could, then borrowed more and spent that too. My diving wages had all gone on dive gear and I was fighting the realisation that my trip was nearly over.  The final blow was when a thief broke into my bungalow and stole the last of my cash. I was getting desperate. Being suddenly penniless 6,000 miles from home, in a country where no-one in authority speaks your language, is pretty scary. Home would be boring – it would certainly mean the end of my adventures – but it would be safe.

Then I got a phone call from my sister. She was on holiday in Australia, staying with a friend she’d met whilst traveling, and the two of them were planning a grand trip around the country. She’d called to see if she could convince me to leave Thailand, fly to Australia, and come with them!

I said I’d have loved to, if only I could afford it.

“No worries!” she said. Her friend Krista had a place I could stay while I looked for work.

It all seemed likely to end in tears – my sister and I have had a volatile relationship in the past, and being dependant entirely on her friend’s charity would be the total opposite of the freedom I’d become accustomed to.

Plus there was paperwork, and visas, and… that ever-present fear of the unknown.

But sometimes you’ve just got to go for it.

Trust to fate, I thought.

I went for it.

I flew into Perth on a maxed out credit card, arriving with nothing but the clothes on my back – the animals had destroyed the rest! My entire luggage allowance was taken up by one huge bag of diving gear.

I couldn’t even afford a cup of coffee in the airport.

But then, who can these days?

Gill and Krista came to pick me up in a crumbling van they’d bought and decorated with multi-coloured hand prints! Appropriately enough, they’d called it ‘Rusty’.

Krista had set up an interview for me with a local job agency for the following day.

I started work the day after that.

She drove me in to work herself, and picked me up afterwards, every day for the couple of weeks it took me to get back on my feet. Sometimes she’d even bring me cookies or cake! I had so much fun hanging out with her, I decided to risk joining the grand adventure after all; as soon as I had a bit of cash saved up we all piled into ‘Rusty’ and set off for parts unknown.

Six years later, Krista and I are still travelling.

In that time we’ve hardly been apart, despite being residents of two countries on opposite sides of the world. We’ve had a lot of adventures and done a lot of crazy things – and we always trust to fate, or to Serendipity, to get us where we’re meant to be.

We were married last year in an English castle, with guests from seven different countries helping us celebrate.

I was a bit scared of marriage, at first.

But like with anything else, sometimes you’ve just got to go for it.

Wedding photo

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