Making Friends in the Luang Prabang Rainforest

These gentle giants (an absolutely accurate name for them) really do seem to just bring a sense of peace, of happiness, an awareness that we really all do need to slow down and enjoy life a little bit more, to any situation where one is able to be so intimate  with them.

I’m not particularly spiritual. Though I do identify as belonging to a particular religion, I don’t actually believe in much of it, nor has it been practiced since abandoning eleven years of religious schooling – besides the occasional mass attendance or baptism. Neither do I believe or participate in any other form of labeled spiritually, whether it be meditating at a yoga retreat, or believing that people have coloured auras, and that the most spiritual and in tuned of us can actually see these radiating colours. Though if I had to use the word, to attach it to a particular activity or state of mind which could be described as “spiritual”, in a humanistic psychology sense, I think playing with recused elephants in the Laos rainforest comes pretty close.

Unlike many elephants throughout South East Asia, particulary Thailand, which are used for tourist purposes, these guys (and girls) are treated completely humanly by their life long carers. All of them were either recused or bought off keepers who were not so nice to them, and have been given a new life, and for a good cause as well – all funds go back into the local community.

My elephant friend for the day, the youngest and only male of the group, and his carer. Just watching these guys handle and play with their elephants, you can see a genuine affection and love they have for each other.

First we climbed upon our elephants, with the help of their carers, and off we headed into the rainforest!

Everyone was so excited!

After a while in between the trees, we emerged at the Nam Khan River, and after a quick dip through a (not so shallow) river, we were on it’s banks where the elephants enjoyed playing on it’s edge and munching down on some tasty bamboo.

After a few hours messing around and enjoying the moment, we headed back up to the top of the for a little more time with the animals which we had had such an amazing morning with, and to say goodbye.

Advertisements

What were you doing in 1922?

Being me can be pretty awesome sometimes, especially when I’m occasionally¬† given the some pretty sweet opportunities, and once in a blue moon these opportunities may include trying a really bloody good wine.

Recently one of these wine related opportunities was to try a glass of a red which was bottled in 1922 – just so that 91 years later I could savor the moment when it’s lightly coloured liquidy self could pass my lips and I could say I have drunken a wine which could even rival my great grandmother’s would-be age.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, when it comes to wine I don’t know what the hell I’m taking about, though in the simplest way I can convey; it’s sweet without being sickly, with a smell that is most definitely strong (like a shock to the eyes as you hold up within a foot of your mouth), yet still being pleasurable. Basically, it was like liquid heaven, and the most amazing thing I have ever, and will ever taste again.

Sinterklaas Feest

A few of weeks ago I had organised to go visit a friend from Holland for a few days, and she was determined to show me something other then just Amsterdam. So a couple of days before I was due to arrive I received a message announcing that she has found something super exciting for us to do the day that I arrived – Sinterklaas Feest. Equally as excited as she appeared to be, I asked what it was exactly, to which she said, “Oh, it’s this festival for this old man who gives children presents!” My immediate reaction to this was, “What the fuck? That’s seriously the creepiest thing I have ever heard! Why is this a thing?” Then I said his name out loud – Sinterklaas – sounds familiar, doesn’t it? That’s when I realised two things; firstly, Santa really is just some old creepy guy who gives kids presents, and that my entire childhood up until the age of eleven has now been ruined; and secondly, this guy was the original Santa Claus!

???????????????????????????????

So here’s the back story: Saint Nicholas, a Turkish Priest was an extremely kind hearted man, who was quite generous to the children of Holland. He spent some time in the Netherlands, but eventually went to live in Spain. However, every year in mid November, he returns to continue his tradition of giving gifts to the children of Holland. Accompanying him is his trusted helpers known as Zwarte Pieten – which in English translates to Black Peters’. These guys are portrayed by white Dutch guys and girls who wear old fashioned Joker like clothes and paint their face dark brown paint. Yes, and to anyone who isn’t Dutch, this looks very fucked up (excuse the language). In fact this particular representation is currently under investigation by the UN, for obvious reasons, along the lines of racism and slavery. I have been assured however, that this is not at all the case. Apparently their faces are that colour because they are covered with soot as they have been crawling through a lot of chimney’s. Okay.

DSCN5613

Every year Sinter Klaas arrives on a boat from Spain, visiting a different Dutch town on each occasion. Luckily enough, this year he just happened to be visiting Groningen; a fairly small university town in the North of Holland, which also just happens to be where my friend currently lives. Sinter Klaas arrives and there is a huge parade and everyone is cheering while the Zwarte Pieten throw little cinnamon biscuits into the crowd. After this has finished and everyone has had a good look at the man of the hour, Sinter Klaas, a concert involving dancing and singing and performers gets under way. Plus all the Zwarte Pieten continue to walk around and hand more biscuits out to children who eagerly run their way with sacks to collect their presents in.

???????????????????????????????

???????????????????????????????These guys really get into the celebrations!

While I was walking around, I couldn’t help but think that this was the weirdest thing I have experienced. This is due mainly to the credit of the creepy, painted faced Zwarte Pieten. Like seriously, they are super creepy. But besides that it was super cool to be apart of another culture’s celebrations. And even better, I had a local to accompany me and give me all the facts. There is also one more Sinter Klaas tradition which I am quite fond of. The giving of a giant chocolate in the shape of your first initial! And it was delicious!

???????????????????????????????Zwarte Pieten chocolates

So if you are ever around The Netherlands in mid November, definitely try and make your way to the celebrations.

DSCN5615

Soup in Chiang Rai

560667_10150672751309422_1315079027_n

In the centre of Chiang Rai, Thailand, there sits a giant outdoor food court, where you can buy everything from 100 year old eggs and every deep fried insect imaginable to ‘fresh’ sushi – though I would advise against the sushi, on the basis of it’s freshness, considering as the nearest ocean is quite a way away. But don’t worry, there is plenty of other fresh goodness to be found in the stalls which border the large court, which accommodates hundreds of tables and chairs, and tourists and locals alike to fill them.

If you want super fresh, and super delicious, I would go for this Pho style soup which you get to create yourself. You go up and order, telling the stall’s staff where you are sitting, and in no time they appear with the burning embers, a pot of soup base, meat, and your fresh ingredients for you to add as you please. They set it up for you, and away you go!

529262_10101439010952399_886633938_nA friend and I eagerly watching our pot being set up, while we continue on our entree of fried critters!

Yeah, the place is kind of dodgy to Western standards, and the tables aren’t the cleanest, but if you want authenticity and want to eat where the locals do, this is the place. There are plenty of food stalls, and even if you don’t want to give everything a taste, there is lots to be intrigued by. Plus, they put on a traditional Thai dance show on stage every evening!

580706_10150672751349422_1355907660_n

Image

Anyone Have A Pair Of Chopsticks?

Anyone Have A Pair Of Chopsticks?

Ever been stuck on an over night train in Egypt with two bottles of cheap, Egyptian wine and no bottle opener? Well I have, and it’s somewhat frustrating. But luckily, despite the fact that we were in North Africa, someone did have a pair of chop sticks! After a few minutes of giving the corks a bit of a stab, problem solved MacGyver style! Be warned though, do expect to be picking small bits of cork out of your teeth…

Hagelslag For Brekkie?

When you go to a new country do you ever wonder what is in the pantry of a local kitchen? What are the staples? What do they eat on a daily basis. What is their Vegemite equivalent?

Well in Holland, you will find a box of ‘Hagelslag’. Despite having the best name for a food product ever, I find it kind of weird that they have this for breakfast. Basically, it is small bits of chocolate which you pour onto buttered bread.

For me personally, not my thing at all – though for other people I know, I’m sure they would be more then happy to have chocolate for breakfast every day.DSCN5636

 

More To Life Then Cheap Drinks

Recently I moved to London, and since being here I have made plenty of new friends. All of them really are great, but the thing about new friends is that they just don’t know you the same as older friends. They don’t know your past, they don’t know your morals, they don’t know what you stand for. Not to the same extent as others which you have know for a lot longer do anyway.

Anyone who does know me knows I like to party. All you have to do is have a quick click through my Facebook photos to see, but lately I have toned it down a bit. Why? To save money. My favourite people to party with are living in other countries. Maybe I just don’t feel like it anymore. To me, there just seems to be more to life then going out on the weekend, getting fucked up, then working hungover the next day.

561243_10200224471628665_1574200131_nNow this, is what you call hungover.

To some people though, they see things differently then to me. To them, this is what living life is about, and that’s fine, but I don’t really need them telling me this. “Oh but Clare, you’re not living life if you’re not out having fun!” This is usually said by ‘new friends’. Friends who know that I travel, but not every detail of everywhere I have been. It’s also quite ironic, and can be either a little funny, or quite annoying. They don’t know that I’ve been to Ibiza. Or the two weeks in Bali during Schoolies. Nor do they know that I spent three of the craziest weeks in South East Asia. Have they ever given rice Monks at 5am, in a small Laos town while still drunk? Got up on the bar and drank from the bottle in Cusco, then started serving drinks from behind the bar? Passed out in an airport check-in line, then check-ined merely by showing my arm which had my flight number and name written on it? Partied on the Vang Vieng River? And don’t even get me started on the time in Thailand when we went to a bar called Sperm, and in one night had one guy hospitalised due to dehydration, another threw his only pair of shoes away when a ladyboy prostitute tried to get him on his/her motorbike, and another guy we lost for 12 hours because he ran into a rice field, due to the fact that he thought the Viet Cong were after him, and ended up at a remote hill tribe. Now, I’m not saying I’m necessarily proud of all these, but they are undoubtedly better drinking stories then, “We went to the Ivy, got in a fight with the bouncer, then ended up in Oxford Street KFC at 4am. It was the craziest night ever!”

Even more then just the drinking stories, what are you going to remember more; that one Friday night you went out and had the ‘best night ever’, or the morning you got up at 3am and saw sunrise over Angkor Wat? Or the two days you spent cruising down The Mekong Delta? Or when you struggled to climb that mountain at 14,000 feet, only to get to the top and be in awe of the view which lay out in front of you?

So those people can go out every night, and pay a 20 quid cover charge, and drink and ‘live life’ the way they want to, but I am perfectly happy with where I’ve been and what I’ve seen.

Though, if you need further convincing that I don’t mind a sneaky shot (or 2) every now and again…Fine, here you go. And remember guys, always drink responsibly.

403452_4037224604520_200953635_n