Archive for March, 2011

09
Mar
11

the more you know the less you know

I am back in the UK, sat in my Mum and Stepdad’s dining room drinking a cup of tea and staring out the window whilst listening to the birds sing outside in the garden. It’s already a far cry from the noise of horns and general carnage that have accompanied me on and off for the past five and a bit months whilst spending time across Asia. You forget just how noisy India in particular can be – and that’s just the music played between overs during the cricket! If I am honest it’s just lovely to have some peace and quiet after a twenty three hour door to door journey from Chennai to Bristol via Dubai and London Heathrow a couple of days ago.

I haven’t really thought a great deal about what is likely to be a last entry. The one thing that has struck me as a natural subject is to write a bit about what I have got out of this trip on a personal level. After all, if you go away round the world for several months by yourself and pretend not to have learnt anything then you are a liar. One of the biggest things people like to say about travellers is that they are going away to find themselves. Before I went away I thought this was just bullshit. Reflecting now, having done what I have done, seen what I have seen and experienced what I have experienced, I still think it is bullshit. I know I am still pretty much the same opinionated, reasonably confident and up for a laugh person that I was before I left for this adventure. That in my opinion is a good thing. I liked who I was before I left and still like myself now. And I’m certainly not ashamed to say that. Is it not true that if you cannot like yourself then you can’t like anyone else?

So what have I learnt then? Well I do have one major lesson that has struck a chord me over the past few weeks that I would like to share. As I just said, I’m pretty opinionated when it comes to all things life. This very blog is full of my opinions and it’s cool whether people agree or disagree with them. The one thing I do try and make sure is that if I have a strong opinion on something, that I have some evidence to back it up. There are too many people in this world that talk crap on subjects that they really don’t have a clue about. Which brings me on to my lesson – the more you see of the world, the less you know. This may seem an odd statement so I’ll try to explain what I mean.

When you live in a small city, town or village and only leave that comfort zone every once in a while for a family holiday or a weekend break, you live a very secluded life. Now, before I go any further I just want to emphasise that there is nothing wrong with that. It wouldn’t be my choice but I respect anyone that makes a decision to take an ‘easy’ option of leading a quiet life. My point is that if you live in the same place all your life, work in the same job, visit the same pubs, speak to the same people and walk or drive the same roads, then naturally you are going to know everything there is to know. That is your world and you profess to know everything. Travelling (and I don’t mean a two week break in Magaluf) opens up a whole new world. A fascinating, beautiful, confusing and infuriating world full of different religions, attitudes, cultures and people. By stepping away from that comfort blanket of a quiet home life and putting yourself in the middle of nowhere is an incredibly uplifting and rewarding experience. It makes you realise that the world is such a massive, diverse place that is worth the hardship sometimes entailed in order to view it. Travelling definitely broadens the mind. I know that’s one of the biggest clichés knocking around, but it is true.

I’ve also learnt that I much prefer travelling in the company of someone else. When I set off I was comfortable in my own space, not realising that as time wore on I would become wearier and wearier at the prospect of having to sort everything out by myself. It’s the simple things. Hot and bothered from a sweaty walk through Kuala Lumpur the other week I found myself struggling to find the energy to do something basic like queue up for a ticket for the monorail. I walked off to get a drink, only to find on my return that Steph had purchased me a ticket. My spirits were instantly boosted from the fact I had someone alongside to help me out. These simple tasks over a long period away, trying to communicate to someone who speaks broken English what you require can be extremely frustrating. Surrounded by several dozen cricket mates in India ensured that the daily arguments with tuk tuk drivers over a fare could be shared equally. I suppose you could say that I’ve become much less controlling, quite happy for others to make decisions for me from time to time. Experiencing where you find yourself, whether good or bad, alongside a travel buddy also gives a greater feeling of satisfaction. They don’t have to be people that you will necessarily see again, such as the several dozen I shared the experience of being on the top of Mount Kinabalu with as the sun came up. It’s just that feeling of seeing the happiness on other people’s faces, enjoying seeing what they are witnessing just as much as you are. Having someone there to wax lyrical about just how great place is helps keep that feeling fresh in the brain. On the flip side, if a place comes across as a shithole then you can both have a whine and a moan together about it. I’m not sure me or Dave would have got through Calcutta as easily as we did had we not had each others company! I still had a great time for the majority of the times I was travelling on my lonesome, but I definitely didn’t get as much out of these times as I did when in the company of friends, old or new.

Another question that gets thrown about a lot is what do I love about travelling? The one thing that sticks out that excites me more than anything else is when I stumble across a place that has great natural beauty. It could be a simple thing, like a bus journey through Cambodia’s stunning rural countryside or some morning mist collecting on top of a mountain in Thailand. Perhaps sipping a cold tiger beer on the beach in Langkawi whilst watching the sun go down, ending another perfect day. Even the sea crashing into the cliffs whilst driving along the Great Ocean Road in Australia or taking a motorbike ride through the winding roads outside Nha Trang, Vietnam. Basically I just love being in places that the world has created and humans have yet to ruin. They tend to be places that make day to day strife seem so far away and unimportant. I also love watching the world go by. Watching people go about their daily lives; shopping, socialising, working or even in some places simply surviving – it’s a fascinating world out there.

There have been far too many highlights to list them all. Ones that stick out include winning the Ashes in Australia which was undoubtedly as good a time as I have had in my twenty five years on this planet. At the same time getting to spend time with Loz in three different states ‘down under’ added so much to the Australia experience. I’ll be eternally grateful for her and her families generosity over Christmas. From a travel point of view no feeling came close to the matching what I felt on top of Kinabalu. Another cliché here, but I literally felt on top of the world. Meeting the incredible kids at CCH with Fred in Phnom Penh was a hugely uplifting experience. Seeing how happy they were at our presence and our willingness to play a simple game of chase the bouncy ball with them was remarkable. Chilling out on the beautiful isle of Gili Trawangan after the hardship faced in getting across Sumatra the previous week gave a great feel of self fulfilment. Likewise, challenging myself in going back to the south of Mumbai, a place that gave me nightmares, only to come through that gave an equally high sense of satisfaction.

There have been low times too. After all, five and a bit months away from friends, family and familiarity is bound to throw up sad times. That first week alone in Vietnam after leaving all my cricket mates and Loz back in Australia so soon after my ‘best week on earth’ was as tough a time as I can recall. There was an incident back home during the Adelaide test that nearly made me cancel the whole trip – thank goodness I didn’t as it has all turned out fine.

It feels slightly odd writing this. Hereford Rich has come to an end, at least in its current format for the foreseeable future and that is quite a sad moment for me. I’m thrilled to be back, reunited with family members on what is a special time of the year (yesterday was a family meal for Mum’s birthday) plus the thought of having several weeks, as opposed days, to fit back into what can be classed as a normal life. I know for a fact that I made the right call in booking that Emirates flight ‘home’. There maybe one or two more entries if I feel the need to get more off my chest, but for the time being this is the end. Thanks to everyone who has contributed whether it be commenting on here, emailing me or a simple ‘like’ on facebook. Even those that haven’t, I hope it has provided you with an insight of what it has been like to follow a dream and live it out. If anyone out there is stuck in a bit of a rut and fancies a change then I would recommend packing everything up for a period of time and hitting the road. It’s a big wide world out there and despite what you might read in newspapers or watch on TV, it really isn’t all bad. It’s there to be explored and I’m already looking forward to my next adventure – whenever and wherever that maybe.

07
Mar
11

a love hate relationship

India is one of the most fascinating countries I have ever set foot in. At times the whole nation feels like an entirely different world. It can be as infuriating as it can perplexing. I wrote the start of this entry in the grotty departure lounge in Chennai airport while surrounded by a bunch of half naked men getting changed into an entirely different outfit for their flight whilst trying not to look at the rather sickly sight of spilt curry all over the floor. It’s looked like it has been there all night, why bother cleaning anything up in an international airport?

Anyway, here’s some reasons why I love and hate this quite ridiculous country in equal proportions.

Loves
People watching. The new sights that you witness every time you step out of the door. Just watching the locals go about a daily chore is fascinating. Every journey through an Indian city throws at you the most crazy scenes imaginable. The colours, the people, the general chaos – I’ve lost count the amount of times I have shaken my head in disbelief during an average tuk tuk ride at the latest ‘is that really happening’ moment.

Cricket. The country is cricket mad which makes it a great place for me to visit. A simply mention of the words ‘Sachin’ or ‘Dhoni’ and you are instantaneously greeted with handshakes, head wobbles and excitable laughter. The easiest form of communication and the perfect topic to defuse any situation.

Friendly locals. Posing for pictures and signing autographs in Nagpur was hilarious. Walking down the streets and having people shout out hello and welcome for no other reason than you are a western visitor in their country is endearing. If you can keep your defensive guard (which is often on high alert in India) down to a minimum, then the majority of Indians are as friendly as anywhere else in the world. My personal highlight is whenever I receive a head wobble in return for a wave or a smile dished out. It seems the Chennai head wobble is spreading across India.

Diversity. Not just city to city, but state to state – India changes in attitude, appearance and likeability. You couldn’t get two more different places than the crazy, smelly, busy and dirty streets of Calcutta to the picturesque, tropical, peaceful countryside witnessed between Bangalore and Chennai. I’ve been to India three times and not even scratched the surface of the place.

Hates
Poverty. OK, it doesn’t have the same ‘shock’ effect that it used to have, but seeing people existing on the streets with no possessions, money or even shelter still sucks massively. To me it is a harsher poverty than other places in Asia that I have seen. Put simply, there are just far too many people to all live to a decent standard of life.

Bureaucracy. The issues with getting a visa (they don’t issue them to foreigners in Malaysia for some reason) plus having to pay extra for a double entry that I have ended up not using. Its just taken me nearly two hours to fill in more forms in regards to departing the country, check in for my flight, queue up through immigration, have about twelve people check my boarding pass and passport before finally clearing security. It really should not take that long. I wasn’t the only one – ex-England spinner Ashley Giles and ECB head honcho Hugh Morris had to do the same!

Hygiene. Things are getting slightly better; there’s even hand sanitizer in Mumbai airport now. The problem with food still exists as eating any form of meat or western food is like playing Russian Roulette with food poisoning. Luckily for me the vegetarian diet of curries, naans, chips and samosas ensured that all happenings ‘downstairs’ stayed reasonably solid. Not being able to eat meat safely for me is hard work – so much so that on arrival in Dubai airport I wolfed down a Burger King. Lovely.

Rip Off Merchants. OK, you get these all over the world as a tourist. But for some reason the ones in India are worse. Tuk tuk and taxi drivers are more often than not out to fleece you for as many rupees as humanly possible. I have a strong dislike for the ones that quote you several times more the price than what they would eventually agree with you. Please don’t treat me as any ATM just because I am white. As I’ve wrote about, I tip drivers heavily who don’t take the piss with their original offers, thanking them for treating me as if I am anyone else.

04
Mar
11

surprise surprise

I was going to keep this news close to my chest as I wanted to surprise everyone back home. Having time to reflect on my latest decision today in the car back from an excellent day trip to Mysore with Hazel and Ian, I realised that I’d be short changing people by not sharing my news. After all, the whole point of sharing this tale has been to honest with myself and whoever may stumble upon this and read it. Put bluntly, not writing about one of my biggest decisions would be bloody stupid. (I’m trying desperately here to built up the suspense, can you tell?) I’ll get down to business.

The April 6th date is no more. That will just be another day in life’s rich tapestry. For now the date that matters is March 7th. For the observant amongst you, you may have recognised that this date coincides with my birthday. Nothing particularly exciting about that, I hear you say. Except it is quite an exciting date for me. It is now the date that I will be ending this chapter of my life. That’s right, I’ve decided to fly back to Blighty four weeks early.

Don’t worry, it’s not a decision based upon anything like not enjoying travelling. Far from it, in fact. The last few weeks have seen me return to my best, enjoying the time spent with Steph in Malaysia before hitting the ground hard in India with my mates whilst watching England make a dogs dinner of playing ODI cricket. I’ve been loving every minute of being in India. The smog, the filth, the travel, the lack of edible red meat. Even the projectile vomiting made me burst into fits of laughter at how ridiculous I must have looked. The cricket has been awesome, the banter has been as great as ever. So why have I decided to curtail my trip then? Well there are several reasons which I will try to explain.

If you look back over this blogs life you will read that once England’s group games were over, I didn’t really know what was going to happen for the last few weeks. I made a decision to fly to Goa between Chennai matches before heading down to Sri Lanka whilst waiting to see what happens with England who may or may not being playing quarter and/or semi finals in Colombo. If England were not playing a semi final in Colombo but were still in the tournament, then they’d have a semi final in northern India in a place called Mohali that would take three flights to get to or two flights and a six hour bus ride. If England reached the final then I’d have to get down to Mumbai, before heading back up to Delhi for my flight home. If you followed that then you are a wiser man than me, who’s head is hurting somewhat after trying to put that down in words. Basically it’s all just become too much of a logistical and financial ball ache to bother with for the sake of a few one day cricket matches at the end of a trip.

My mind was made up the other day when I looked at sorting out a return flight from Chennai to Goa. The cheapest I could find was £150. For someone that has spent several thousands of pounds on twenty two flights already, this probably should not have been an issue. The fact is for some reason it was. I wasn’t willing to part with that amount of cash to a domestic Indian airline for what is a short trip. As my boss pointed out the other day over email, I like to make sure I am getting VFM (Value for Money)! In short I found I could buy a single flight back the UK from Chennai for not much more, thus cutting out four weeks of potential large expenditure plus more fist shakes at my laptop screen at the price fixing that seems to be going on here during the World Cup with domestic carriers.

Of course the other option was to simply forget all about the cricket. I was chatting with my mate Welsh Chris about this last night. Chris is a massive beach lover and would happily sit in Goa for weeks on end, chilling out and getting suntanned. I love a bit of this myself once in a while, I’ve just had ten days of that in Langkawi. He suggested that I go to Goa or Sri Lanka as planned and just do exactly that – chill out. The fact is I don’t feel the need for more of that. I’m in a great place with my travel at the moment and as selfish as it sounds, I really don’t want to sit on a beach doing nothing waiting to see what may or may not come about with the English cricket team. I’m just ready to finish the trip on a high, happy with where I am with no regrets about my decision. I know for a fact that if England miraculously do progress to the latter stages that I’ll still be happy with my decision of coming home and not having to worry about even more logistics.

Another reason is that I’m not doing anything particularly new. I’ve been to Goa, Chennai and Colombo before and have seen enough of beach life recently, as explained above, not to get overly excited about it. I know for a fact that many will read this and think that I’m being blasé, which I promise is not the case. Let’s be honest though, how many of you get bored on a beach after a week whilst on holiday? Exactly.

I’m smiling whilst writing this knowing I’ve made the right call. A final adventure beckons tomorrow with my first Indian train. I couldn’t think of a greater way to end what has been an amazing roller coaster ride of a trip than a journey like this before seeing England take on South Africa on Sunday in Chennai.

As the song goes, ‘Where were you when we were in Chennai?’

01
Mar
11

let the challenges begin

I mentioned prior to arriving in India that I was ready for the challenges it would undoubtedly throw at me. Eleven days in and I’m lying in my bed coughing and spluttering thanks to the general pollution levels here whilst recovering from a hilarious bout of projectile vomiting that matched Simon from ‘The Inbetweeners’ efforts where he spewed all over his dream girls kid brother whilst trying to ask her out. If you haven’t seen this entertaining clip then I suggest you do. It will give you a good idea of where I was at 3am yesterday morning. Luckily it came on after the incredible tied game against the Indians which I had the pleasure of witnessing amongst forty thousand screaming home fans.

It’s been a challenging week or so. I had the misfortune of spending three days in Calcutta after an excellent time in Nagpur. More on that latter. After my positive experience of Mumbai third time around I’m not going to judge Calcutta as quickly on a first impression as I did of Mumbai and label it outright as a ‘shithole’. However, it was without doubt the dirtiest, filthiest and least endearing place I have ever spent any time in through my life. Of course it is a big city which is as densely populated as any place I have been (10th in the world, apparently) but having a large number of people in a small space is no excuse not to at least attempt to keep the place clean. One of my favourite cities in the world is Jakarta; home to some ten million people. Chennai is 15th on the list of densely populated cities in the world, yet the people there were several times more approachable and friendly than the ones I encountered in Calcutta. Basically, just because you live amongst millions of others shouldn’t automatically give you an excuse to shit on the streets, burn rubbish, unsubtly spit on the floor every three seconds before trying to rip off two tourists that just happened to be visiting your city.

We had to check out of our first hotel because of the general feel that we were being harassed by all and sundry for a few rupees for the most minimal of work. One of my biggest bug bearers about India is the lads that carry your bags to your room who won’t take ‘No thanks, I’ll carry my own bag’ for an answer. I wouldn’t have an issue if they were doing it as part of a service, like they do everywhere else in Asia. My issue is they hang around like a bad smell waiting for payment despite you telling them that you are happy to carry your own bag at the beginning. I mean come on, I’ve carried my bag across the world in 35c heat for several miles looking for somewhere to stay. Why would I need you to carry my backpack (incorrectly by the way, the strap nearly broke) up to my room via a lift? No, sorry. You aren’t getting money off me for that. And no, we don’t want ‘mineral water’ from an obviously refilled and recycled bottle given the state of the screw top and the labelling of the bottle. And we certainly don’t want to be woken up before 8am by some moron with a broom, knocking our door and asking for money to sweep up what was a perfectly clean room when we checked in at 9pm the previous evening.

The feeling that we were being treated like an ATM continued throughout the trip thanks to some of the rudest taxi drivers I have ever encountered. The most frustrating was trying to sort out a fair price for what was shorter journey back to the airport from our new hotel. Now, before we go any further I have mellowed hugely when it comes to arguing over 50p here and there. Call it seven weeks in the economic power house that is Australia or something. But when you pay a fixed price of 260 rupees from the airport then are offered 700 rupees for a mush shorter journey back, you know you are being ripped off. The taxi mafia that operated outside our new hotel wouldn’t even bargain with me. Still angry from the previous nights argument over a ridiculously overpriced bar bill (that’s another two hour story) I was ready for a dust up – not physically, but verbally. I walked off onto the main road, flagged down a cab and straight away accepted his realistic offer of 200 rupees. As we piled our bags in the boot we were surrounded by the taxi mafia who all of a sudden were willing to accept my original offer. I told them in no uncertain terms to go forth and multiple, explaining that if they hadn’t of taken the piss out of me then they’d have got the fare. I’d rather walk to the airport than go with them. Maybe next time they won’t try and rip off the next westerner that comes out of the hotel looking for a ride. Once we arrived at the airport, I thanked our taxi driver for not taking advantage and gave him double what we agreed. I have no doubt he will treat the next westerners with the same respect, hoping to get the same type of tip next time.

If Calcutta didn’t endear itself to me, then Nagpur most certainly did. Judging by the inquisitive stares, smiles, head wobbles and cries of ‘Hello Sir!’ that accompanied every walk down the street, I’d say Nagpur doesn’t get many tourists. In all fairness, unless you were passing through the centrally located city to get to somewhere else, you wouldn’t visit Nagpur. There’s not a great deal to do and see if you were a guidebook follower. What this meant is that the forty or so of us that travelled to the city to watch our game against the Dutch were made to feel extremely welcome. The tuk tuk and taxi drivers were just happy for the business, giving us tours and local knowledge of the city as we passed notable landmarks such as the railway station or a market. Of course there was pollution, poverty and plenty of eyesores, but at least Nagpur was trying. I especially liked the main road to the cricket ground where the central reservation was covered in freshly planted shrubbery. In between were small signs telling the cities many drivers to drive carefully in small riddles. My favourites included ‘Be a hero by making accidents zero’, ‘Drive slowly to see our city’, ‘Speed thrills but kills’, ‘Arrive home in peace, not pieces’ plus the catchy ‘Danger creeps whilst safety sleeps’.

The experience at the cricket ground was another example of Nagpur not getting many visitors. About fifteen of us has congregated in the mid range seats and were instantly awarded celebrity status by the many local students that has been let into the ground for free. Against ridiculous ICC regulations, the kids had managed to smuggle in mobile phones which they used to pose for photos with us. This was before asking us to autograph the many four and six cards that the sponsors hand out. ‘Union Dave’, ‘Pompey Chris’, ‘Basingstoke Pat’ and of course ‘Hereford Rich’ all got a good airing!

This is one of the reasons I love following the England side abroad. We get to visit places ‘off the beaten track’ that even the most hardened of travellers wouldn’t consider visiting. For instance many people visit Jamaica to stay at one of many beach resorts dotted round the island, such as Montego Bay. As a cricket fan, I’ve had the pleasure of several nights in Kingston. I’ve only ever met one person in my life that has visited Kingston for non cricketing reasons and that was American Doug who married a lass from Jamaica! A number of my mates have visited and loved time spent in Bangladesh. Again, unless you had family contacts or maybe had some business to attend to in Dhaka, you’d never dream of holidaying there. Basically being an England fan who is willing to travel the world to follow the side opens up a whole new world of interesting travel which isn’t always in the guidebook.

India has slowly provided its first challenges and I’m just about still standing. The realisation that the end of this trip is creeping up on me has led me to start contacting letting agents back in Hereford. This could just be the biggest challenge yet!

***On a final note please remember that all material and photos on this website belong to me. Please contact me if you wish to use anything***




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