Asia

British Airways airport horror

This is a horror story that happened to me in Heathrow, my own British Airways airport horror, well, near horror, more of a misdemeanor really.

One would think that after traveling somewhat these last 2 years I would have collated a better swearword vocab but all I can manage now is a mumbled “Fuck…Fuck-fuck-fuck”

Things start to go downhill when we don’t. The plane circles above Bangkok, I’m on the way to Christmas with my family nearby Jakarta, it is already five minutes past our scheduled landing. The two hours I have in Bangkok are slipping through my fingers. When I booked these flights in June my darling travel agent Mel said,

“Two hours is manageable mate, you should be OK, but don’t dawdle”

“Christmas is busy though Mel”

“You can run eh!”

“Yeah but if anything goes wrong future Ben will hate me”

“You should be fine”

“I suppose this is future Ben’s problem!”

I know never to question Mel, or to doubt her expansive knowledge of all things travel. When I ignored her advice about getting a visa early for Carnavale I had to detour to Uruguay for a Brazilian visa and missed three days of Carnavale. Now it turns out that Garuda Airlines do not play well with others. This means that in my two hours in Bangkok I have to exit through immigration, collect my bag, pass customs, go to the desk, check-in, enter through immigration, clear security and find the gate. I know the Suvarnabhumi Airport well-I have passed through it seven times in the last 2 years-they are efficient and quick but still, “Fuck,fuck,fuck” stop circling, land the bloody thing!

My commute to here has been fine. In Denmark I watched an octogenarian women systematically destroy three beers on a train at 11am. I flew over London’s center at night looking down on the big blue eye, Big Ben and Westminster Abbey. While we passed I chatted to a very British man who told me about his friend. Gary’s friend wrote the well known “da, da, na, naah” jingle know it? It is played before advertising breaks on Molly Meldrum’s Countdown, the 80’s music show. Gary’s friend is paid six pounds in royalties every time it plays, this sounds like a piddling amount. However, the jingle plays four times a show and to this day repeat episodes are being aired worldwide, meaning that this little “da, da, na, naah” earns the musician around seventy-thousand pounds annually. I make a mental note to pull out the keyboard in Tassie.

On my flight from London to Bangkok there was an Indian guy seated directly in front of me who drunk gin the whole way, the girl to my right slept for ten hours straight. I watched some Art house movie with cello music and grainy pictures, drunk some wine. Fidgeted. Bear Grylles and Top Gear are listed under factual documentaries, which is debatable.

15:20 – 2 hours 0 mins to next takeoff.

Circling above Bangkok, thinking I will miss the first Christmas with my family in two years, I am as tense as a racehorse. The chief cabin crew manager Sam continually repeats what the captain says except with a lisp,

“Ladies and gentlemen we are in a holding pattern but expect to land soon”

Twenty-second pause

“Laideeth and gentlemen, thith is Tham the chief cabin crew manager ath the captain hath said we are in a holding pattern, we hope you have enjoyed the hothpitality of this Britith Airwayth….”

“I’ll show you hothpitality British Airways”

This annoys me more than it should, the man is just trying to do his job

“Laideeth and Gentlemen, ath Ben hath just thought, I am jutht trying to do my job, I hope…”

“Oh pith off Sam”

I have not slept for about forty-one hours, ‘humour level’ warning lights are blinking red on my dash.

15:50 – 1 hour 30 mins to next takeoff.

“Ladies and gentlemen we have landed within 40mins of our expected landing”

“Ladeeth and gentlemen, thith ith…”

I turn to the man in the aisle seat,

“Finally. Hey mate, just to warn you, when the seatbelt light thinks about going out I am running”

“No worries, good luck catching the next one”

“Cheers man, have a great Christmas”

It is taking an unusually long time to couple the skyway with the plane. I am unable to contain myself anymore so before the seatbelt lights go out I jump out of seat 48E-at the very back-grab my bags and make my way down the aisle. This prompts around four hundred other passengers to follow suit. Forcing my way apologetically down the crowded aisle I annoy everyone

“Sorry, about to miss a connection…excuse me, need to get off first…connection soon, sorry”

Midway, an elderly couple don’t let me through

“We also have a connection”

“Yeah, but I reckon I can run faster than you…excuse me, sorry”

They laugh and wish me good luck, I force a smile, wish them luck as well and push onward.

16:18 -1 hour 2 mins to next takeoff.

The plane doors open releasing a cloud of green, stagnant air into Bangkok’s brown atmosphere along with four hundred passengers. Dodging wheelchairs and prams littering the corridor I bolt. Try if you will, sitting still for eleven hours then sprinting 750 meters, this guarantees crippling cramps. I imagine blood clots being loosened from my calves as I run past relaxed holiday makers. Skidding to a halt at the nearest information desk I slam my itinerary down and gasp,

“Can you get me on this plane?”

While I jitter and twitch, the woman takes my itinerary, slowly taps on her keyboard, strokes her chin and casually asks a colleague something in Thai. My eyes bore into the top of her head as I think,

“Information desks are where airlines park slow employees who they don’t know what to do with, like trolley boys and CEOs”

She looks up then tells me,

“Sorry sir, you need to collect bag, immigration and…” I grab the papers and bolt to the crowded immigration area.

16:25 I run up to a suited lady with 55 minutes to go.

“Flight. Soon. Can you help me get through immigration?”

“OK”

She leads me to a priority queue with only a small family being processed. Two young children are having a lovely time having their photos taken while Dad chats with the official.

“C’mon, hurry up, what is this?”

Mum looks at me angrily, I hold her gaze. I have morphed into my alter ego ‘Psycho travel man” Do. Not. Hold. Me. Up!

Laconically the immigration man waves me over. He checks my details carefully. Yes, I am still Ben West, was still born in Devonport…this has not changed since I last entered your country. I do not hang about to make the usual kangaroo smalltalk. With a stamp in my passport I run to baggage collections for rucksack time.

16:40 – 40 mins to takeoff. Still not checked in.

While waiting I mentally practice the move to get my bags on quickly. Small black pack on right shoulder, sling Big Red off conveyor onto left shoulder. Big Red on the back, small black becomes a canvas beer belly. Big Red trundles up the belt and into sight. It takes all my willpower not to run up the conveyor, Crocodile Dundee style, to grab it.

Garuda still do not know that I am here, I need to check in. Now loaded with an extra 30 kilograms I trot towards customs. Trusting that I am sweating from running and not a rectum crammed with heroin, the man accepts my declaration form without breaking my stride. This is where I break travel rule number one, I ‘man-down’ and load a nearby trolley. Running, I weave my trolley around groups of tired looking commuters and drunken toddlers to find level 4 and the check-in counter.

Going up the escalators I figure out why luggage trolley wheels have tread. Every trolley has a comb-like tread which slot into the escalator grip pattern to stop mad buggers in a rush trying to push their way up an incline.

16:50 – 30mins to takeoff, I dump Big Red onto the scales and gasp,

“Time enough, do I have?”

I have turned into Yoda

“Why of course sir”

“Great, thought, missed *breath* flight”

“No, you have just made check-in”

“Brilliant, Garuda not allowing remote check-in. I found out in Copenhagen, had to pass immigration, customs and that, phew”

“Why you no use transit check-in sir?”

“I had to get my bag”

“No, they fix for you”

“The information lady told me…”

“She is wrong”

“Oh well I made it”

“By the way your next flight is delayed about half an hour, Christmas time is busy.”

Climbing philosophy, It does not have to be fun to be fun


I have just been researching future climbs on the Jagged Globe website and stumbled upon the climbing philosophy quote by mountaineer Andy Owen. The quote reminded me of a conversation I had with my mate Mal last October.

Two days before this conversation I crawled – almost in tears – over the 5150 meter high Larkya La pass in snowy, cold conditions. I was suffering rather explosive gastroenteritis, on the way I had a weird conversation with a German chap. He spotted me hiding behind a rock as every drop of liquid was purged from my digestive tract post haste, watching with interest for a while he said;

“Are you OK there?”

I looked up and saw only a silhouette, I forgot to mention that we faced a big day and started walking at around five in the morning.

“Yeah mate, I’ll be OK”

What I really wanted to say was;

“Fucks sake, what does it look like you fucking fool!”

Surprisingly though, throughout the crawl over the pass I never once wished myself out of this experience, sickness is just a natural part of trekking in Nepal, especially for idiots who accept the grubby nailed farmer’s offer to, “Come in for a cup of milk tea”. This is a classic example of type two fun, but I am getting ahead of myself…

I am getting to the conversation with Mal, promise! …two days later I was all but recovered and feeling rather proud of surviving this ordeal. The mood of the expedition had slightly changed, we were on an eight day trek back to civilisation after a very exciting climb, everyone was starting to get slightly reflective, borderline laconic. The adrenaline had all burnt off and we were winding down.

While wandering past the small township of Goa, through fields of wild marijuana, Mal turned to me. Wisdom gained from his years of slogging up icy mountains was showing in his eyes as he said;

“Do you know about the four types of fun Ben?”

“What’s that?”

“The four types of fun, never heard of them bro?”

“No idea mate, something to do with how hard you work to have the fun?”

“Well…”

We strolled along the winding valley and Mal explained his theory to me.

“Well Ben, type one fun is fun at the time and fun afterwards”

A classic example of type one fun is eating a ripe strawberry or dancing in your boxer shorts.

I once lived with a bloke called Simon Turk. Simon and I are great mates and we used to take great delight playing cruel jokes on each other. One time as I walked between the shower and my room with only a towel around my waist I made Simon look up from his breakfast with a cheery “Good morning”

Just as he looked up I dropped the towel, stark naked.

Simon covered his eyes but quickly did a shocked double take. I had done a ‘testie tuck’ or ‘manjina’ Simon’s expression at my apparent Barbie’s Ken-like lack of genitalia had me in fits of mirth, however, Simon took a few hours to fully appreciate this piece of comic genius.

This whole experience for me was definitely type one fun. Fun then and fun afterwards but for Simon it was probably closer to type two…

“Type two fun is not fun at the time but fun shortly afterwards”

Type two fun, like my crawl over the pass involves a relatively quick bounce back. Like rock climbing for the first time, it is certainly not fun as you desperately claw at grips while not trusting the rope to catch you. As soon as feet reach terra-firma again you realise that it actually was fun and want to go again. The more you partake in type two activities the more they resemble type one. Example: I have a terrible fear of public speaking but by actively seeking opportunities to do just this I have managed to make it morph into type one, however,

“Type three fun is not fun at the time but after months, sometimes years, you realise that it truly was fun and begin to consider doing it again”

Type three fun is the most rewarding. It generally means that you have launched yourself completely out of that cable TV watching comfort zone and have seen or done things which you never dreamt possible, or you have just done something plain stupid. Climbing really big mountains or running marathons are both type three activities. Also doing stuff which is just plain stupid…

In April 2011 got chatting to a short-ish, muscly Brazilian chap about his big surfboard bag while waiting to drop my bags off at the Santiago airport.

“Hey mate, how many boards you got stuffed in there?”

“Only two, and all of my clothes for the month”

“You off to Sydney as well?”

“Yeah, to see my sister, then to Bali for some surfing”

“Nice, Bali’s good hear”

“World class, my name’s Ian”

“Ben”

We dropped off our bags and wandered the international airport aimlessly, our journey linked by a six hour layover.

“Hey Ian, did you know you can pay fifteen dollars Australian and hang out in the VIP lounge?

“Really, I am keen”

“Well, free grog, food and wi-fi, let’s do it”

Five and a half hours later we staggered out of the VIP lounge reeking of whiskey to find our gate, we had drunk the best part of a bottle of whiskey and I was ready to collapse in my seat and sleep the flight away. Boarding passed in a blur. Ian swapped seats to be beside me. He relieved a grateful young redheaded girl originally seated by my side from being stuck next to this bearded, whiskey-smelling man who had been in transit for two days (My transit went from Marseille France to Rio to Sao Paolo to Santiago, Sydney then home. A quirk of my flight bookings it was cheaper to go this way than to sneak around the back). Ian all but passed out by my side, not before talking loudly right throughout the safety speech. I stared at the bloody seatbelt sign intently as we took off and made a mad dash for the toilet as it went out.  Waking briefly in New Zealand for our short fuel stop I then slept all the way to Sydney. Finally on home turf after ten months exploring I felt refreshed and in sync with the time zone change, if a bit dehydrated. Ian, however, was in a bad way. Once relieved of the plane he ran to a toilet and relieved his stomach of all its contents. I never did see Ian again, he was a lovely chap though and we occasionally send each the emails and I have a standing invite to visit Ian in Brazil, despite his suffering. I think Ian would agree that this experience was type three fun for him, it was more a type two for me.

“Type four fun is not fun at the time, never fun afterwards”

Anchors failing, paraglider wings collapsing, ending up in a wheelchair, avalanches, bashing your thumb repeatedly with a hammer and so forth. Nothing more to say, I have never experienced this type of fun, thankfully.

For me, fun it is most rewarding when a type is reduced; when something that absolutely terrifies me the first time is not so bad the second time. Personally, fun is best when it pushes me completely out of my comfort zone. This is what drives some people to fly further, climb higher and do what others may consider stupid or irresponsible.

Having said that though, if the fun-type of an activity reduces to the point of complacency many type two activities can quickly become type four. Which is best avoided.

Having shared all this philosophy, however, sometimes it is nice to just eat a juicy, ripe strawberry while dancing in your boxer shorts.

Manaslu expedition – lessons learnt

grey Manaslu expedition   lessons learntI had many important lessons when on my Manaslu expedition with Mal in October last year, not least of which are the four golden rules of good mountain communication:

1 Thou will not assume knowledge in others.

“The sat phone does not work on the hill babe, but we’ll be right”

2 Thou will always consider the other person on line.

“I’m in some tricky terrain man”

“Can you get back up to camp 2?”

“I’ll try” *Radio silence, Mal exhausted but starts preparing for a rescue*

3 Your voice changes at altitude.

“Is thith Yeh-the?”

“Yes, who is this? What has happened”

“Is thith Yeh-the…”

4 Thou will never assume the worst.

“Melanie, I am in Kathmandu, call me soon”

grey Manaslu expedition   lessons learntIn October last year I climbed a mountain called Manaslu in the Gorkha region of Nepal. Manaslu is 8162 meters high and quite remote, for me it was an incredible adventure and the fulfillment of a life long dream. I learnt a lot about what to (and what not to) tell loved ones before, during and after such a climb. I climbed with Mal Haskins who is a serial adventurer, world class paragliding pilot, professional mountaineer and (I am proud to say) a good mate. My experience is embryonic compared to Mal. Mal has had his head firmly in the clouds for years since he shelved a promising career as an electrical engineer with the Australian armed forces to, as he says; “Get into the hills Bro” He has guided in Nepal numerous times-most notably on Lhotse which is an imposing 8000 meter high lump of ice and rock very near Mt Everest. Mal has lead climbing trips in Peru and is constantly dragging paid clients around his now native New Zealand. For Mal a climb of New Zealand’s Mt Cook is just a standard day at the office. Me? Well, I have survived a ten day mountaineering course in New Zealand, climbed to just over 6000 meters in Nepal and turned back just below the summit of Cotopaxi in Ecuador due to bad snow pack conditions. Embryonic.

You are wondering, no doubt, what was I thinking when I signed up to tackle this intimidating beast with a small team of four climbers. Put simply, I love being on mountains, even without the plan of getting to that final pointy bit, I love prancing around in crampons, swinging off ropes and looking at the view from high places. Like many people I find peace in the hills. In big hills I find inner peace flavored with awe and wonderment. My initial goal was to climb to a camp at 7450 meters and to film Mal flying past me. On this mission Mal was planning to not only summit but to also launch from the top with a speed wing and skis. Speedflying is a sport where people use a small version of a paragliding wing and skis to zoom down mountains occasionally kissing their slopes with skis while reaching speeds of up to 120 kilometers an hour. In the thin air above 8000 meters Mal was expecting to go much, much faster than this and no one has attempted such a feat. On the climb I felt strong, conditions were not right for Mal to fly and he didn’t need a cameraman so I pushed on to the top. I would have been really happy to reach my initial goal of 7450 meters so when I found myself enjoying half an hour at the pointy bit gasping for air and snapping self portraits I was beyond ecstatic.

As little as I knew, my girlfriend and emergency contact Jette knew even less. While Mal and I were crunching onwards to the top Jette was frantically chewing her nails back in her native Denmark.

‘Thou will not assume knowledge in others’

When I sent Jette an email casually mentioning that the phone did not work on the hill I assumed that she would figure we had regular scheduled radio contact with base camp (base did have contact with the outside world should we need to order an emergency KFC bucket or even rescue helicopter). However, Jette thought that Mal and I were bumbling about on an 8000 meter high hill without any communications at all, this caused her significant angst.

The second communication law involves use of radios. Mal and I reached camp three fairly late in the afternoon, we were extremely tired after four big summit days, however I decided to continue down to camp two with the understanding that Pemba was planning to follow shortly with a load. I happily set off in the afternoon light and Mal crawled into his tent, comforted that I would soon be in good company. However, Pemba changed his mind and instead of descending with gear he went to bed at camp three, completely exhausted he didn’t tell anyone. This would have only meant a lonely night for me at the abandoned camp two…had I not got off trail. As the sun set I veered too far to the left and what started as ankle deep and supportive snow became soft, thigh deep snow. Each time I broke the thin, icy crust I would lunge, pull myself up, roll onto my belly and stand to take a few more steps. Every few steps the crust gave way and I fell back into thigh deep snow. Now, every time the crust broke and I broke through I was convinced that I would fall into a deep crevasse. After four days going up and one down I was understandably exhausted and very, very scared.

I sat in the snow watching a truly spectacular sunset paint nearby peaks while trying for about half an hour to get Mal, or anyone, on the radio without success. I gave up and prepared for a very lonely and cold night out in the elements alone. Survival is not guaranteed when outside overnight on big hills, even inside our highest camp with four people crammed into one tent we recorded minus twenty-eight degrees. Finally Mal, who unknown to me, had been trying to follow my progress visually without success, turned on the radio and we had a crackly conversation:

“Ben, you there? Do you copy Ben?”

“Mal, when is Phemba coming down? I’m a bit off the track and in some pretty deep snow…”

“Um …. it appears that Phemba is not coming down tonight bro … Can you manage your way back to the track and come back up?”

“%^**….$%^^% – I’ll try man….”

I turned off my radio to save batteries and backtracked, comforted that Mal was now aware of my predicament.

‘Thou will always consider the other person on line’

Mal grew increasingly concerned at my lack of radio contact and decided to send Sidi Mama (our other climbing sherpa) down to get me. In my own little world of pain I did not consider Mal and had not even turned on my headlight in the dusk light. I did not have the presence of mind to realize that a bright light on my head may help both Mal and Sidi to find me. Finally back on the trail I was met by Sidi who aided a very exhausted (emotionally and physically) me down towards camp two.

When Sidi reached me I still had not thought to turn on my headlight or radio and all that Mal could see was a lone headlight (which he knew was Sidi’s) going down to camp two. With the limited knowledge available to him Mal grew concerned that I had fallen into a deep crevasse and was in real trouble so he started quickly preparing his gear for a rescue. Finally down at camp two Sidi thought to radio Mal;

“Mal, this is Sidi – Ben and I are now are C2″

“Whew, thank F#$K, goodnight”

Sidi and I had a very cold, hungry night under a single sleeping bag at camp two. I was more than happy to only be a bit cold but in good company. When Mal came down to the following day he spotted the tracks from my little adventure and commented on how close to the trail I was. This brought home just how easy it is to get confused and scared when at altitude and beyond tired. Next time I’ll just stay at camp and drink a cup of tea. Lesson learnt.

Mal’s finance Sophie was stationed at bast camp where she radioed us weather reports and updated the expedition website (www.speedfly8000.com) with information, she also kindly offered to send Mum, Dad and Jette personal emails of our progress to keep everyone in the loop. During our descent Sophie was kept very busy retrieving useful weather information for us and with monitoring progress so for the two days of our descent she did not have a chance to contact the outside world with an update.

When I did arrive at base camp and despite telling her I would only ever email, the first thing I wanted to do was to call my normally unflappable girlfriend. At the time of my call she had not had any news for two sleepless nights and was at a conference, it is kind of ironic that the conference was about her employer’s safety protocols. Jette sat next to a mountain climber who spent the entire morning gleefully telling her countless stories of missions gone wrong on descent and with ensuring she was fully conversant with the fact that descent is the most dangerous part of a climb. Right before she had to do a role play about the dangers of staplers her phone rang and displayed “Manaslu Emergency Phone” Understandably concerned Jette grabbed her phone and ran into the hallway. This is where I managed to unwittingly upset her further. ‘Your voice changes at altitude’

Standing beside my tent at base camp I had bad reception and my voice was different due to exhaustion, altitude and emotion. Mostly my voice was unrecognizable due to a recalcitrant tongue. Numerous blood noses caused by the thin, very dry air had blocked my nose and forced me to mouth breath while climbing. With UV’s flooding in my mouth my tongue had become sunburnt and was swollen, red and sore. I sounded like a patient after root canal surgery. She did not recognize the voice that repeatedly asked;

“Is this Jette?”

I could not recognize the voice squeaking

“Who is this?”. Finally I managed to convince Jette that it was really me calling with good news of a successful climb. Lesson learnt.

The last communication lesson was not a first hand one. My sister Mel was relying on both our expedition website and on Mum for news. She had noted no updates for a few days during our ascent and had emailed Mum asking for news of her little brother. A day after sending this email Mel received the following message;

“I am at Kathmandu, call me now”

Mel immediately assumed the worst, picturing Mum in Kathmandu weeping over my corpse she found a teaching aide and left her classroom quickly to contact Mum. When Mum picked up she asked Mel,

“What size is your son wearing these days?”

“Why are you in Kathmandu? What has happened! Is Ben OK?”

“What, Yeah, I am just buying your kids some clothes, what size does Ameer take now?”

“Oh…thank F#$K, Kathmandu, the clothing shop, yeah?”

“Yeah, where else?”

‘Thou will never assume the worst’

Hello again


Hello again, hello, hello, hi… I don’t want to start off awkwardly but get naked, cover yourself in honey and go stand next to an ants nest in the full sun for eleven hours and fifty minutes.

Ok, you have just had a more pleasant day than myself. It would seem that the German people have not improved their method of transporting large numbers of people since they were busily shoving Jews into overcrowded train carriages, hosing the outside down to stop them from dying and nicking the gold fillings of the ones who did. The trouble started at the Bangkok airport. At gate D4 we were all shuttled into a cubicle sized glass room which let in the blinding sun. Oh, sorry, I changed a few flights about after finishing my climb early and suffering a strong desire to be back in Denmark. As Qantas and some other airlines are barking on about union trouble I was forced to change flights and go via Berlin, with Air Berlin, the world’s worst airline, I say this despite that fact that I have flown into Lukla Airport with Yeti Air in a 1960’s Twin Otter.

Anyway, our box gave us a lovely view of the sky corridor (the walkway to the plane) just ending without a plane attached. I stood there in the glass room amongst fat business men who were sweating out last nights whiskey and numerous screaming children who fit the prescribing criteria of Ritalin (see movie; “The Exorcist”) I clocked five young mum’s holding babies and a few incontinent looking old couples. None of whom I wanted to be seated with, on long flight there is only one person I like being seated with, Jette, other than her I just pray for three or four empty seats located near the front of the plane so I can get off quickly after landing. I hate nothing more than being on the ground ready to get off the plane but having to watch short people making really hard work of lifting their huge hand luggage cases out of the lockers above. Seriously, two words; Hand. Luggage. If you cannot carry or lift it above your head it can hardly be called hand luggage now can it. While I am on this thin ice offending people I might as well jump up and down a bit….

I think that instead of making a blanket rule of 20 kilograms checked luggage and 7 kilograms hand luggage, airlines should give a total weight allowance for the flight. “Sorry fatty kind of used up your total weight allowance there, you can only take 5 kilograms, suggest you go and make friends with skinny baldie over there….” Well, the plane has to fly. Anyway enough of this, no just a little bit more, things I have learnt in flight about different cultures;

  1. Arabic people have terrible smelling feet and they don’t care, they also hog the armrests
  2. Chinese people fart, a lot
  3. French people complain about the food
  4. Nepalese people sweat nervously and are jumpy (as they were on the to Doha to be used as practically slave labour.
  5. Italians drink too much whiskey and kick the seat in front of them.
  6. Argentinians go out of their way to piss on the floor of the toilet and
  7. Ok, enough now

As no explanation was given for our lack of plane I could only assume that some last minute mechanical problem they didn’t want to us to know about was being patched up. I did get a chuckle when the Captain and Co-Pilot followed by babbling cabin staff purposefully strode down, past us and into the sky corridor. Hugely disappointed to not see the Captain fall off the end, Monty Python style, I again chuckled as I pictured them huddling in the corridor speaking in whispers not wanting to walk past us all again after their grand entrance.

Finally the plane casually rolled up like a petulant child with no explanation and docked with the corridor. This made me wonder who was driving as our Captain was currently huddled in the sky corridor. Like with cars, the mechanics probably draw straws on who gets to drive around in the machine they have just fixed. Anyway, they did over half an hour of pre-flight checks which convinced me that the delay was mechanical. We were left waiting in our glass box before being let us onto the plane.

To my great disappointment, but not surprise, my seat was in the crappy middle section with four seats, to my right an Asian lady was loudly munching on Pumpkin seeds and burping pumpkin burps and to my left was the aisle. Numerous German folk rubbed various body parts onto my left shoulder as they lent over me to rummage through my bag in the over head locker. Usually on takeoff the Pilot shows off a bit, does a bit of “Check out how powerful my plane is” for the ladies. You are pushed back in your seat as the Pilot uses less than a quarter of the runway length to be in flight, within seconds you whoosh upwards, ears popping and enjoy the flight comfortable in the fact that this machine which is currently suspending over two hundred lives, has the power to stay up. Think about it, it is really quite an amazing thing to be sitting in a seat, in the air, listening to music or drinking a coke, don’t you think?

Anyway our takeoff was somewhat slower, I heard the rush of the engines winding up but didn’t feel that powerful backwards push, we trundled down the runway slowly gaining speed. It would be easy to imagine the Pilot sitting up there, yawning to the Co-pilot to wake him once we got up to takeoff speed. Just before we turned left onto the city ring road we escaped the clutches of gravity and the ominous squeaking stopped, it was obviously a suspension issue which we don’t have to worry about again, until landing. The squeaking was quickly replaced with the high pitched squeal of the wheels retracting, this noise dominated the cabin for over half an hour.

Finally in the air I noticed that the cabin had something of a different atmosphere to the one I just flew in with Thai Air. Thai Air cabins firstly smell nice (from the flower scented super bug killer they lace the air with), the upholstery is spotless, looks brand new and is colored purple, yellow and other pleasant tropical colours. Thai attendants glide about the cabin with a small smile playing around their mouths and attend to your every need. As soon as a drink is finished they either whisk away the empty or refill it, if you sneeze they get a tissue to your nose before you are done. Oh, and the food is amazing, especially if (like I always do) you tell them you are either Vegetarian, Vegan or Muslim. This also means your food comes out first and you can enjoy your meal as the others around you watch the regular trolley’s glacial progress up the aisle.

This current plane kind of smells like raw potatoes and boiled cabbage, the upholstery is threadbare and depressingly dark blue, my cushion is 3 microns thick meaning that my ass is already numb, I have been sitting in my chair for less than twenty minutes. The attendants are kind of scary with angular features and that unnervingly penetrating blue eye stare Germans do going on. Mid-daydream, the attendant who glared at me throughout takeoff suddenly appears at my side and barks out an order in German. Cowering in my seat I plead; “ITWASN’TME-I-SWEAR”. Oh she is just offering me a drink, “Yes please I would like a coke” The Asian lady to my right and her boyfriend sneak off to the toilet together and return five minutes later, him looking very smug. I barely resist leaning over and saying; “Dude, that little effort falls outside the official rules for Mile high Club, go and try again champ” but just chuckle to myself.

Watching the ice melt in my glass, boredom starts to kick in. The hours slide by, second by slow second. On long haul flights, which this one is definitely going to be, normal airlines instal those wonderful little screens on the back of the seat in front of you, with a retractable controller in the armrest. You have a selection of Television shows, documentaries, video games, recent movies and cartoons for the little ones. This plane has two central screens which has shown repeats of the 1980’s hit series ‘Cheers!’ and ‘Friends’. The problem is that I cannot hear what is being said on the screen as earphones are three Euros each. Next thing they will be charging for snacks, I check the menu and find out that they are; 6.90 Euros for a cut sausage in gravy and 10.90 Euros for a cut sausage in gravy… with rice. My travel agent had better have a fat roll of notes as a refund waiting for my return to Tasmania.

Waking with a thoroughly cricked neck I wish I had smuggled in the Diazepam I bought in Laos for a back issue at least I would sleep soundly with relaxed muscles. I decide to look for better lodgings. I reach the very back of the plane where usually there is either a fruit platter or snacks and spot an empty double over the opposite side of the plane. Not wanting to wake the people sprawled across their hard seats in the middle I decide to sneak through the rear galley, nick some food, maybe get a drink, and enjoy my new seat. I pull back the curtain and indeed there is a fruit platter, surrounded by air hostesses’s, which is clearly not going to be shared with the rest of us. I flash a smile, which is returned by a blank, pale skinned stare, and ask; “Mind if I just sneak past to a different chair”. The leader of this Air-Hostess-Wolf-Pack looks at me and says, with no word of a lie; “You go other way like rest of people” I turn and walk back down the aisle, wake a poor soul to sneak past and just beat the skinny balding man to the free double seat, nice… take that baldy.

We are now flying around Katrachan, (never heard of it either, looks sandy) and I have just go to thinking, as one does when spending eleven hours and fifty minutes on a plane, I am thinking;

“If the pilot got bored, what is to stop him from taking a shortcut over Bagdad, apart from fighter jets and Derka-Jihads of course? Do the pilots get better food than the rest of the us? Why were air hostess’s in the sixties and seventies so good looking but now the standards have slipped, is this an equal opportunity initiative for uglies? Now might be the time to see what really happens when you smoke in the toilet? Why was I frisked three times in the Kathmandu Airport yesterday – maybe he just liked me?, What is that incessant squeaking noise? What to do for the next four hours?, If someone really got naked, covered themselves in honey and stood next to an ants nest, would they be able to sue me as I told them to?”

I ponder these big issues as the plane rattles on it’s detour around Baghdad, slowly bringing me ever closer to seeing my lovely Jette who I have not laid eyes on for way too long. This slight discomfort will be easily worth it.

Angkor Wat and seeing hands massage

grey Angkor Wat and seeing hands massage

Circus. A total circus. That is the only way to describe Angkor Wat at sunset. It was an amazing show though! Winding through hoards of camera wielding Japanese tourists, gum chewing Americans (with bumbags) and British tourists with security belts poking out of polo shirts we found a lovely quiet spot and sat to view the sunset.

Angkor Wat is only part of this massive temple complex. It is the biggest part, built by a guy called Suryavaram II at around the same time as the Europeans were busily building the Notre Dam cathedral in Paris. Suryavaram II was something of a megalomaniac, he extended the Khmer influence right through Asia and it would seem when he built his temple was trying to compensate for something (like those guys who drive around in lowered Skyline cars with the lights under the wheels). Angkor Wat, unlike the other temples in the almost 20km square area dotted with temples of various vintage, has been in constant use since it was built. Every block was cut and dragged from a quarry 50km away.

grey Angkor Wat and seeing hands massage

Just as sunset began to light the clouds and just as I had the tripod set up to capture some photos of Jette and I a disagreeable little man wearing a sweaty green guards uniform came puffing up to tell us that we had to leave. The temple was closing. I looked at him in disbelief. We slowly packed up our things and dragged ourselves away, dawdling, we were the last to be shepherded out of the inner temple complex. Not before the guard offered to let us climb the currently-being-restored main temple, for $20US. We declined and slowly made our way out of the inner temple.

grey Angkor Wat and seeing hands massageInto a throng of other visitors, children selling bracelets, adults selling guidebooks, tuk-tuk men offering rides and Japanese watching it all through canon viewfinders. Phirun met us and took us away, efficiently and politely to our hotel.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


grey Angkor Wat and seeing hands massagegrey Angkor Wat and seeing hands massage

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The next thing I knew I was somewhere down a dark alley in a disused hotel, lying facedown on a hard bed with a man holding my hand. I had left Jette behind to return to the hotel alone. Sounds dodgy? ‘Seeing hands’ is not a charity but a business. Blind Cambodians are offered board, food and massage lessons free for three years. When they graduate from school they work at the massage parlour for one year to repay the loan, after that they get to keep the money they earn. Not only does this keep motivated blind people from needing to beg on the street but it also gives them dignity and a sense of accomplishment. As his thumbs tried to penetrate my lungs through my back, Dale, a short Cambodian man in his mid twenties, was excitedly telling all about his plans for the future now that he has paid back his loan, a future which now extends beyond one day to the next.

 

The name “Seeing hands” is so apt. Throughout the massage which Dale so deftly performed I was constantly thinking it is amazing how confident he was. The only indication that he was without two eyes, (literally, to empty sockets) was that he started by gently tapping over my back to get his bearings. At one stage for one particularly stubborn bus-seat knot Dale climbed onto the table and dug his heel into my left shoulder blade. I got up off the table one hour later feeling like he had taken my back completely apart, every nut and bolt, polished and oiled all the bits, then reassembled it. This was the first time since I started being assaulted by awkward bus seats three weeks ago that my back had been completely knot free. I gladly left a hefty tip on top of the $7 charge and walked away wondering how this knot-whisperer knows what the different dollar notes are.

grey Angkor Wat and seeing hands massage

 

 

Buy this book!

The Red Rucksack - Available now

This business partnership has expired.” Ben has no idea what adventures are in store when he sets out to discover what lies over that next mountain.

This week's popular posts

My favourite video

Sometime getting home is the best bit!