Bodh Gaya – The Buddhist Theme Park

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There are four places which are important and the ultimate pilgrimages for Buddhists. There is his birthplace which is Lumbini in Nepal, his death place at Kushinigar, India, his first sermon at Sarnath, Varanasi (more about this in later blog) and the place where he sat under a tree for a bit, as steady as a tampon, before attaining enlightenment at Bodh Gaya in the lawless state of Bihar. (lawless today that is). The exact spot where he did this is now a shrine to Buddhists and spiritual seekers worldwide wanting to visit the tree where he battled off Mara. It of course is not the original tree but a descendant of it, but the spot is still the spot.

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Scholars have often debated what Mara is. It is commonly known as a demon who came to tempt Buddha back into worldly attachments, copied some 500 years later by Bible writers when their own version of Mara, S*tan, similarly tempted Jesus in the wilderness. The difference in these stories is that the Buddhist one is known and understood to be symbolic. Well the spot at Bodh Gaya is where that all happened though I think Mara was not the worst thing for Mr B, it must have been the mosquitoes because they seem to like it here better than anywhere else in India. One can only assume that the Buddha, when he eventually got up, was rather spotty.

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It’s not an easy place to get to, Bodh Gaya. We had to grab an internal flight to Patna which at first experience reminded me of Philip Pullman’s description of Hell in ‘His Dark Materials’. We stayed overnight at one of Patna’s better hotels – comparable to a bad Travelodge that has been taken over by a biker gang. We were on the top floor but luckily we were still able to hear, as if it was happening in the en-siute bathroom, the Indian rave going on in the function room three floors below. And this was a Wednesday!

Leaving in the morning, we tested our patience at the railway station to try to get a train to Gaya, 5 hours away. We had two hours to wait and became a curiosity to all other travellers because one guy could speak English and wanted to know everything about us.  Our answers were translated to the 600 people circling us at a distance of 6 inches. When the train came in, some kids ran in and jumped on to seats and said they were for us – and a pleasurable journey was had.
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Once at Gaya though, things got a bit scary. We needed to find a tuk tuk to take us the remaining 12 miles to Bodh Gaya itself and it was then that three young lads, doing a credible impression of a pack of hyenas, began stalking Alison, right on her tail. I nodded to my son James that we have a problem and we turned and faced them off. I gave them my best show of teeth and emitted a little growl and they backed off. This was noticed by approximately 10,000 other locals and then I remembered, from all the travel guides, that the state of Bihar should be avoided, if at all possible. I have learned, in my life, three tactics to ward off violence – the most drastic and risky being an actual teeth bearing growl. The other two are to either suddenly become very gay and very camp (people say I’m *too* good at this) or to cock one’s head, point randomly into the sky and begin slobbering. It is my experience that guys don’t generally hit you if you adopt one of these.

However, this incident marred our arrival into Bodh Gaya – which was met by a guy riding alongside our tuk tuk on a motorbike offering accommodation for only £3.50 a room per night. In exhaustion we instructed the tt driver to follow him and so began what would turn out to be the worst sleep or more accurately wake I’ve ever had. Apart from the room being bereft of air conditioning – just a wobbly ceiling fan -our bedrooms were a meeting place, if not the meeting place for mosquitoes, the likes of which I’ve never seen, the new mattresses were bedecked with plastic sheets, so when the power goes out, which is about every hour, the ceiling fan stops, the 90 degree heat mingles with the plastic sheet and the mozzies come out to play, and as there is no power,  you can only hear them, and hear them everywhere – and when the power does eventually come back on you catch yourself in the mirror, soaked with sweat doing a wonderful impersonation of a lunatic with rickets repeating words like ‘for fucks sake’ and ‘bastard’s at an unacceptable volume.

The next morning, bleary eyed, wandering around the town it becomes very obvious that Bodh Gaya is a Buddhist theme park. Each country has it’s own monastery, even China, vying to be the most impressive.

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It was so much like the Epcot Centre only with added cows and stray dogs. The Tibetans are currently constructing one which rivals a football stadium.

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We visited several and marveled at the architecture and artifacts, we visited the Big Buddha statue before going to the Mahabodhi Temple, where the tree is.

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Security was tight as there had been a bomb explode not too long ago but once inside the grounds, it was all very impressive. Shoes off, we headed for the tree. Fenced off, overhanging a courtyard in front of the temple, there it was, or there the spot was, and we sat with many others contemplating the significance of the spot and watching monks trying to out-monk each other with the best meditation posture, and then it happened – a gust of wind! And so began the best entertainment so far.  Each gust dislodged a few leaves, and fortuitously one fell near my feet, but looking up, I witnessed Buddhist mayhem. When the leaves came to the ground the monks didn’t actually fight, but ‘withdrew’, when another had beaten them to a leaf.  It was akin to a rock idol throwing plectrums into a crowd.  One tattooed Burmese monk had a whole bag.
I think they were learning about attachment.

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There was also a meditation garden which you had to pay admission to enter if you didn’t intend to meditate but it was free if you were to meditate or, I guess, pretend to. The irony of this was not lost on me.

That evening on the street we met some lovely teenagers who spoke good English who walked with us for an hour or so and couldn’t grasp that most English people can’t stand cricket. They asked me to buy them a football and I did and they are now facebook friends (Hi guys!)
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But it was time to arrange transport to get to Varanasi – the jewel in India’s crown and on inquiring I was whisked away on the back of a motorbike to a man who knows a man who can – and Varanasi is a whole new story

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all posts from this trip – ‘North India in 23 Days’ can be found at
https://kevollier.com/category/north-india-in-23-days/

and for other Yoga and Buddhist related posts as well as general randomness see
kevollier.com/

The Karma of Gay Abandon

Before this India trip a neighbour informed me that he’d never get on to a bus in India where the driver believes in reincarnation. I recalled this statement less than one hour in.

The day had started with a tad of tension which as the day and night went by descended further.
We’d taken a taxi from McLeod Ganj down to Dharmasala bus station where we were to pick up the 14 hour overnight deluxe coach to Rishikesh. 
Leaving McLeod was slightly throat aching, reminiscent of those past holidays where you say goodbye to a place where a great time was had.

We had an hour to spare at the station and the first thing I did was to go to the ticket office and pointlessly ask what platform our coach was to depart from. They never tell you unless waving their hand in a dismissive manner is a signal.

The small station shop was selling pop and water and so I went to get some refreshments and it was then that I made the mistake I never thought I’d make. As I removed my wallet a small kid of about 4 years old ran over with his hand outstretched. He found me in a moment of compassion, having just been surrounded by Buddhist monks for 4 days, and as the note was out, I gave it to him – 50 rupees (50p). Before I’d had time to put my wallet away an army of very small children surrounded me, hung to my legs, gripped my shirt and made me the amusement of the whole station and so I took them to meet my family and we all started repeating the word ‘No’ verbatim with accompanying head shakes, that, on reflection, may have made us look like an odd cult.

The families they were with were camped out on the station floor and only admonished their child beggars when they went back empty handed it seemed. Amongst all this, a beautiful puppy was looking for safety from the kids who were doing their very best to terrorise it. It chose well in picking under our chairs to take refuge and he was loved and cuddled and how I wished we could take him with us.

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I was taken away from this puppy reverie by an elderly member of staff telling me that our bus was in. I turned to follow his pointing finger and then turned back to explain that we actually have a deluxe coach and this isn’t our bus. He assured me in a rather vengeful manner that it was our bus, so I showed him our ticket and he brushed it off and said ‘your bus’.  As the bus to Rishikesh was to leave in less than 10 minutes I went back to the ticket office ‘allowing’ three people to barge in front, before spreading myself across the ticket window. I carefully explained that we have a deluxe coach. He replied, whilst pointing at the same vehicle the other guy had and said ‘your bus, deluxe’. I had to assume that this wasn’t his first day and he’d know what a deluxe bus looked like but on this occasion he was mistaken. He replied to this suggestion, and rather too gleefully for my liking, ‘deluxe, deluxe, only bus to Rishikesh until tomorrow’. I had to accept that as the bus route and the destination and the time of departure all matched that on the ticket that I’d booked 3 months previously, that this was indeed our 14 hour overnight bus. I informed the other two members of my family of this and I think the exact words my son used were ‘you fucked up this time dad’ – and he was right.

This was the sort of bus that was running, woefully, in Manchester in the fifties.  Air con was supplied by the windows that had an automatic slide mechanism which worked by them sliding forwards only to slam shut on every brake of the bus and to slide backwards and slam open on every acceleration, which essentially means 20 times a minute.  The seats were very, very shiny, and they weren’t leather or plastic, and as the bus began to move it shook as if it had square wheels. It shook as if every nut and bolt was hanging on by a thread. I felt my first measure of total discomfort before it had even left the bus station and had resigned myself to the fact that sleep would not be something that would occur.

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The actual ‘deluxe coach’

We were then told that the beggar children had got hold of the puppy and had thrown it violently down a set of stairs. The sadness this filled me with made me angry as it must have surely died and the thought that went through my mind was that the beggars had virtually guaranteed their rebirth as a dog in India.

My mood was jolted sideways when the driver, a maniac even by Indian standards, having dared to do 007 manoeuvres on very winding mountain roads, with infinite drops, hit the brakes, and skidded across the highway narrowly missing wiping out an ambulance on an emergency call. Once we’d all removed our heads from the very, very shiny headrests in front we consoled ourselves that had he hit it, we would have at least got instant medical attention, had the crew survived themselves. This was 15 minutes into the 14 hour journey. We were later joined on the bus as dusk fell by several large families of mosquitos taking advantage of the automatic windows.

But there’s only one thing you can do in a situation like this.
Switch off your mind, relax and float down stream.

At the halfway stage the driver stopped at a roadside ‘restaurant’ where we got talking to our fellow passengers all of whom were Indian. One guy said he does this journey, 10 hours from Dharmasala to his drop off point,  twice a week to commute to work –a return journey I might add! After staring at him speechless for a long unbelieving while I asked if all the drivers are as bad as this one and I was reliably informed that they are not and ‘this one is crazy, the worst driver I’ve known’.

Lucky us.

 

all posts from this trip – ‘North India in 23 Days’ can be found at
https://kevollier.com/category/north-india-in-23-days/

see also

‘I am not a Buddhist….’ https://kevollier.com/2014/06/14/i-am-not-a-buddhist/

‘In Search of Gandhi’ https://kevollier.com/2014/04/14/north-india-in-23-days-day-2-in-search-of-gandhi-part-1/

Delhi to McLeod Ganj

Of all the things to excite you in Delhi there is one ‘must do’. At around 5pm take a taxi across the breadth of the city, a journey of about an hour and then get a tuk tuk back and in that 2 hours, apart from having what may well be the most thrilling journey you will ever take and, if you survive, you will know Delhi.

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Our crazy ride let us off at the ISBT (Inter State Bus Terminal) at Kashmiri Gate and our coach to McLeod Ganj, a trip of 12 hours, was due to depart at 8.06pm. You simply have to trust that your bus will come in at the stand that it is supposed to come in on and that you will board it at the time printed on the ticket, but for all the world, until two minutes before it arrives, you are convinced, along with the other westerners that have gathered with faces of stark confusion that there is no bus for you. The chaos and noise and organised insanity teaches one to either lie on the floor kicking and screaming or to let go. It was a toss up for a while which one I’d end up doing.

The overnight Deluxe Volvo AC coach had seats that virtually recline horizontally, but on the downside there is no toilet on board so you’re in trouble if you’ve been keeping up your water levels and not thought to wear a diaper. They do stop though approximately every 3 hours at a remote chai stand with a loo. And these loos are the stuff of museums as you likely have never seen loos like these before. And it befuddled me that the dirtiest, most grotesque toilets have a guy outside demanding a payment for using it. I’m not sure what it is he does but evidence suggested that after every so many customers have relieved themselves, he goes in with a brush and spreads shit everywhere.

Another downside is that these deluxe coaches are so air conditioned that Eskimos refuse to use them as they are not used to such low temperatures. At one stop, the driver was forced to open the luggage hold so that passengers could don all of the clothing they’d brought for their whole trip, including bobble hats.

On top of this, when getting on the bus, all the seats have been thoughtfully reclined ready and all the lights are off or dimmed to encourage sleep and relaxation on the dark 12 hour sojourn, but then, once moving and as drowsiness sets in the driver puts a film onto the one blurry TV and at full volume to the point that it distorted, and as it was a coach full of westerners the film he chose was in very loud Hindi – which had enough machine gun firing and door bells ringing and shrieking and sirens that thoughts of hijacking the bus rumbled down the aisle.

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As dawn broke, we saw the first enticing glimpses of the snowy peaks of the Himalayas and the coach began it’s ascent on roads, the like of those that Ice Road Truckers would refuse to navigate. The coach made a quick stop at Dharamsala bus station to drop off people who thought Dharmasala was where the Dalai Lama lived, before continuing higher into the mountains, another 10km, to the town where the Dalai Lama actually lives – McLeod Ganj (which we instantly re-named Heaven)

all posts from this trip – ‘North India in 23 Days’ can be found at
https://kevollier.com/category/north-india-in-23-days/

Holi !

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following on from In Search of Gandhi (Part 2)
https://kevollier.com/2014/04/23/north-india-in-search-of-gandhi-part-2/

Sitting down for breakfast we were joined by a Swiss couple who looked like they’d been in a road accident – and indeed they had. The night before, the tuk tuk they’d been riding in had been hit, side on by a car throwing both of them from the rickshaw and subsequently being ambulanced to hospital. They checked themselves out though because the amount of ‘carnage’ that was coming in to the A&E from road accidents made their injuries seem trivial (gashed forehead on him, possible dislocated shoulder on her). Despite what the taxi, coach and tuk drivers tell you, India has the highest road death rates in the world. In fact it is safer to base jump.

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It was then that Ashwari, the hotel owner, came in to the dining room brandishing pink paint powder and so it was that we were all facially colored before even leaving the breakfast table so my holi festival avoidance tactics had hiccuped at not even the sight of a first hurdle.

Holi is a spring festival also known as the festival of colours or the festival of love. It is an ancient Hindu religious festival that has become popular with non-Hindus as well. It is primarily observed in India, Nepal, and other regions of the world with significant populations with people of Indian origin. Recently, the fesitval spread to parts of Europe and North America as a spring celebration of love and colors.

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We left the hotel to walk to the one open shop that sold water and was immediately in a movie scene from Black Hawk Down. In that film the US soldiers had to run a guantlet of bullets through the streets of the Somali capital of Mogadishu whilst we, it very quickly transpired had to walk a gauntlet of paint bombs through the streets of a quiet neighbourhood suburb of Delhi. They were coming at us from all angles from rooftops, from the windows of every floor on every house, from passing motorbikes where one bike with three people on it all managed a synchronized bombing whilst moving.

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All the time random people from age 2 to 90 were running up to us, smearing, pouring and covering us with the rainbow of paints – all the time and without exception smiling and laughing and saying ‘HAPPY HOLI!’

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By the time we had reached the end of this one, quiet mind, street we looked like we’d survived an explosion at a Dulux factory. My Holi avoidance tactics had clearly failed. The next street and the one after that was no different. It had obviously gone along the wires that they’re were westerners coming and we were met at every nook and crannie.

We happened upon a park where the locals of Saket were having a community Holi party – big buffet, DJ’s and bollywood dancing and we were invited in and it was insisted that we ate and danced. Indians definitely dance differently. They make all westerners who dance, regardless of any past Ibiza credentiials, look like your father in law after five pints at a bad disco.

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Then there was a sort of undercover finale where lots of little plastic bottles, full of vodka were handed out and we were also encouraged to take part. It was a lovely time and after the vodka, it felt like we lived in this suburb of Delhi as we’d got to know so many of the residents and them us.  One Love.

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One set of kids had earlier covered James in a bucket of water which inadvertently soaked his smartphone which later on returning to the hotel he decided to dry – on the 3rd floor balcony rail of his room. I had truly forgotten he’d told us that he had done t this and when going on to the balcony to watch the clean up below, I only slightly felt my finger brush something before hearing the smashing sound that is a smartphone hitting solid concrete three floors below.  :0

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all posts from this trip – ‘North India in 23 Days’ can be found at
https://kevollier.com/category/north-india-in-23-days/

Glastonbury to Delhi

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After our last trip to India in 2012 we decided not to ever again sleep overnight on chairs at Gatwick or any other airport and so we booked in at a nearby Gatwick Hotel which is a 10 minute shuttle from the hotel door to the North Terminal.
The staff here were lovely but for all its neon promise of decadence the room was, in a word, shit. The bed, when one sat up straight in it with one’s back against the wall (there was no headboard besides it being London in the 21st century), rolled away towards the door. The one pillow seemed to be stuffed with itching powder and, as the walls were no thicker than white washed kleenex, it wasn’t at all difficult to hear the thoughts of our young neighbours – neighbours, it turned out, that were on a school trip from Brookside, just 2 miles from Glastonbury.

All flights were on time and once again Emirates proved to be real value for money. Their economy class would match business class on many other airlines. The seats are spaced so that in the event of a crash you would actually be able to get your head on to your knees rather than up against the head rest of the seat in front of you and as I practice Yoga I knew I’d have no trouble in going as far to be able to kiss my arse goodbye if the moment called for it.  This leg of the journey took 6 hours which the three of us whiled away watching movies. There was an hour to kill at Dubai airport which we did in a Costa before getting the connection to Delhi, a trip of 3 hours.

Arriving in Delhi at 2am to the amazing Mudra walled arrivals building everything was going swimmingly until we met the queue for passport control

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We stood in line watching the queue we’d thought about joining diminish at least, I had time to work out, five times faster than ours. After a whole hour and having only 5 people in front of us, we swapped queues. This was a silent protest at the imbecilic official that had converted mild mannered travellers in front of us into potential terrorists. I was particularly anxious as I’d mislaid (turns out, lost) the phone number and address of the small hotel down a side-street that we’d booked and there was supposed to be a driver waiting. Had he gone home, all I knew was the small hotel down a side-street’s name and in the biggest city in India, I knew we could be in trouble and at 3am. We were in 20th position in our new queue but still we went through passport stamping before one other person had moved in the other.

Suffice to say our backpacks were just being loaded onto the Delhi lost persons presumed dead trolley when we arrived and thankfully the wonderful driver from our booked hotel had waited all this time who by now was nonchalantly waving a board with ‘OLLIER’ across it to anyone who would listen. I’d use the word ‘relieved’ to describe his reaction but I might have been mistaken as I think he also had given us up for or wishing we were dead.

At 4am he delivered us to ‘The Tree of Life’ and our second India adventure had begun, this one with our adult son along for the ride – and what a time was about to be had………

all posts from this trip – ‘North India in 23 Days’ can be found at
https://kevollier.com/category/north-india-in-23-days/

Longleat Safari Park

Just before Christmas I took my grandson Ollie, daughter Emma and son James to Longleat Safari Park (which means I paid for them) and it was very excellent.

The Lions were super active and being extremely liony.
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Ollie hated the Monkeys as one startled him as it jumped on to the windscreen. I had to wave Ollie’s stuffed, wooly monkey around to fend them off but that just seemed to attract the whole colony.

At first they were horrified at what we did to woolly monkey
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they then mourned their woolly kin
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and decided to give us the finger, euphemistically
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and finally their revenge was had
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We walked through the Penguin enclosure (with permission obviously) and one bit and has bruised Emma. She is worried that she might have rabies. I assured her that the rabid penguins are kept inside for health and safety reasons.

the naughty (non-rabid) penguins
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We went into the noisy, tropical bird enclosure and one sat and then shat on my arm. I had a millipede walk over, and by default, massage my hands with it’s 300 legs. Ollie didn’t like the millipede.

Then we went into the main house that they had turned into a Pantomime House where upon we were met by Cinderella and a life size carriage and we were sprinkled with fairy dust before we could proceed.

Each room had been dressed beautifully as say Aladdin or Peter Pan or Goldilocks and the Three Bears etc and each room had a ‘stay in character’ actor to greet and amuse one. Ollie didn’t like these stay in character actors and his protestations nearly awoke Sleeping Beauty.
The evil queen made me jump in the Snow White room as I thought she was a waxwork.

A great few hours, brill time to see the animals, who are definitely more active than in the summer heat and the Pantomime rooms in the main Longleat House were all wonderfully magical and Narnian and a rubber stamp for the spirit of Christmas, that you leave with.

Entrance to the Pantomime House
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Five Lads on the Isle of Arran

The day before ‘the lads’ went over to the Buddhist car free Holy Isle for a few days of reflection – (as previously blogged at https://kevollier.com/2012/10/06/buddhists-peace-and-yoga-turrets/ ) we partook in our annual get together hike – something we’ve been doing now for twenty years and this year and on that day we all hiked through the mountains of Arran and it was on a day that was the hottest Scotland had witnessed since the days of William Wallace.  Something that should have taken reasonable preparation but unfortunately the only preparation had been arriving off the Ardrossan to Brodick ferry the day earlier and hiking off the jetty the full 100 metres to The Douglas beer garden.

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just off the ferry, Goat Fell ahead – the Douglas left

The sun had literally come out, (for the first time in 83 years on Arran if a later hired taxi driver was to be believed), as soon as the ferry docked.
And there is no better combination than four men (free of all the shackles of modern life for five days) the sun and amazing scenery for one to be drawn to a nearby, and quite frankly, begging, beer garden.

The Famous Five of 2012

It was some pints and a couple of ferry arrivals later that we were joined for a few hours by an old friend from Glastonbury who had since moved back to his native Glasgow.  So we now had a Scotsman and his bagpipes.  At some point we remembered that the next day we were supposed to climb Goat Fell, Arran’s highest peak, and we vaguely agreed on a route that we might take.  We drank up, eventually, and wandered over to the beach to be treated to some bagpiping.  This I remember.  We all felt very Scottish watching a piper pipe away the ferry back to Ardrossan and we all agreed that Mel Gibson was indeed correct to sack Carlisle and we then all imagined what it must have been like to have marched with Wallace that amazing distance from the Highlands to Carlisle and with no shops on the way and all the time wearing an itchy skirt and no underpants, walking through waist-high thistles in the most midge infested landscape on Earth.  No wonder they were annoyed.

Craig McFarlane Bagpipes Arran

And then someone went to the off licence and introduced us to a Scottish delicacy that ironically is brewed in Devon known as Buckfast Tonic Wine (Toxic more like)  and that is approximately where I lost my memory until the next morning.

Bagpiper Craig got the last ferry to the mainland, I wore a hat for the rest of the evening and then went missing at midnight but where to I have no recollection but I did find the hotel – the Ormidale, in a copse and managed to awake hotel staff at 4am enquiring where my room might be and was subsequently helped into bed.

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Me – apparently – totally hatted

I was enlightened with this information at the breakfast table by staff who were so nonchalant about it, that it seemed as if someone does this sort of thing quite regularly and possibly on a nightly basis.

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The Ormidale

I managed to eat a full Scottish breakfast and get 200 metres into the hike before the hangover kicked in. It was 80 plus degrees and not even a whimsy of a breeze was to be had as we started the slow climb through the beauty that is Glen Rosa. We all had a bottle of water each which we sipped at, as it quickly became evident that one small bottle of water wouldn’t be enough. It is here that you have to understand that we are not advisors to Ray Mears or Bear Grylls though I’m sure we have a much better time and don’t have to wear make up  (It’s still a choice). It was quite a busy path as we mingled with day trippers from the ferry as well as local teenage lads, who were heading for a natural rock plunge pool. Something I imagine that only happens on very hot sunny days – so that would be once in a lifetime.

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into Glen Rosa

One of our party is terrified of heights and another was already out of water. A debate ensued, considering the temperature, about whether to go up Goat Fell, turn back or take another route. The one terrified of heights wasn’t intending to ever go up it, ‘if it looked steep’ and the one without the water was determined to.  Neil and I were not bothered either way but certainly wouldn’t be turning back so we strolled onwards and upwards towards’ The Saddle’ where we would decide a definite plan of action.

The going did get a bit tough as it was so hot and I’d perspired the last drop of Buckfast and was now seriously in need of water. We’d followed a stream all the way up the Glen and we decided we were now high enough to drink straight from the stream. Refreshed by Gaia we continued on and the path veered away from the stream for the first time that day and we suddenly realised that we now had this amazing valley to ourselves. Soon though Robin fell ill with what we expected was heat exhaustion and I was asked to get water for him but as the path had now veered about 100 metres from the river it meant I had to traipse through waist-high thistles in shorts disturbing plagues of sleeping, dusk awaiting midges and then scramble down a gorse cliff, over rocks and hang on by one arm whilst plunging the other into a mini waterfall and then having to make the return journey whereupon I disturbed more midges or maybe the same ones only now  more aggravated at a double intrusion. On my bedraggled and sweaty reunion with the lads Robin said he would have to go back to which I said something on the lines of, ‘I don’t bloody think so’. We had no mobile reception so we couldn’t call a helicopter rescue and we were alone but only a couple of hundred metres from the Saddle which was the half way point and for all we know there might actually be a tree over the other side that could afford us some shade as there were none the way we’d come.

We were climbing the last steep bit when some walkers appeared coming our way from over the Saddle. I smiled at this. There were two couples who on traversing the peak came upon us, me topless, legs torn by thistles with my shirt over my head (think Lawrence of Arabia), with a guy who looked as if he’d barely survived a Cessna plane crash in a desert with only mirages for comfort to be confronted by Phil concerned at how steep the other side was. One of the women didn’t help one iota when she said, ‘that’s so dangerous, be careful, you might die’ which was rubber stamped by her friend. I actually saw Phil turn grey.

The Saddle however was worth it. The views were immense and the wind that hit over the top was so cooling.

Robin Whitlock The Saddle to Glen Rosa Arran

Looking past Robin back to Glen Rosa from The Saddle

Kev Ollier The Saddle to Glen Sannox

and looking down into the future, Glen Sannox

We took rest and convinced Phil to keep going. I volunteered to go first so if he fell I’d break his fall.
And it was steep. It wasn’t even a footpath but a scramble. It says so on the map apparently and it’s one of the most notorious on Arran but it actually did get the adrenalin going as we had no ropes and it was indeed touch and go dangerous – the one slip and you’re dead dangerous – not even a halfway house of an injury – just dead, ex-parrot death.

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The scramble…

Glen Sannox

…and breathe

Suffice to say we got down, we walked the few more miles to Sannox and stopped at the hotel on the beach for an Arran single malt – to celebrate being alive and a large glass of iced sparkling water – bliss. We caught the next packed bus (they’re not often) back the 7 miles or so to Brodick to discover that I’d left my phone on the Sannox hotel lawn and there are no more buses today. Hence where the taxi driver came in….

Gunfight at the Florida Mall

There are times when taking a photo could get you killed and had I found my camera that day, it’s likely you wouldn’t be reading this because I wouldn’t be here to write it.

It has been said in a previous blog that as a family, when on holiday, we’d managed to obtain the nickname ‘the Griswolds’ because we had Griswold vacation type things happen to us and this is one such happening. We’d spent a week in Florida. It was our eighth visit to the US and the fourth visit to this state yet it had been 8 years since the last time. The first visit was in 1989 when Emma was a toddler and in subsequent trips we’d taken tents, our next child, James, and having two kids meant budgeting so we camped in the wilderness parks, canoe’d lonely and alligator infested creeks and out run rednecks (see –  https://kevollier.com/2012/08/15/india-the-next-adventure-is-on/ ).

Emma left home, due to her age, not to our griswoldian near death experiences, and James was all grown up, and it just worked out that we could have one last trip as a family before the additions of spouses and grand-children and so we thought let’s go back to Florida and do adult things rather than queue at theme parks for a week, so we hired a house on an average Orlando estate.

The house was a smidge smaller than Longleat and had its own indoor-ish pool and a walk in fridge with a full-sized billiards table in the soda section. The en-suite bathroom in the fourth bedroom was slightly larger than our entire England home and garden. The garage, or should I say hanger, could have held concerts. You had to get a cab to the mailbox. I assumed that every house has a huge ‘H” painted on its roof – and this is where the working classes live.

Kev Ollier's 66 Ford Mustang

The Mustang of my youth!

At Orlando airport arrivals I accepted that ‘when in Rome do what the Romans do’ and so quickly became a climate change denier and upgraded our hire car from the average Mondeo sized model to a brand new Dodge Charger, and for only an extra $20 a day. It would have been a crime not to. I once owned a 66 Mustang and once you’ve felt the throb of a V8 under your buttocks, it’s difficult to resist another. A washing machine on full spin just doesn’t cut it.  So we throbbed around Florida. We went over to Tampa and then down to Miami and Miami beach for a few days, taking in the Everglades and one of those air boat rides where the noise travelled through my ears and made my inner nostrils vibrate for a week afterwards. I’m just thankful I wore ear plugs. We did Planet Hollywood and movies and bars and beaches and shops and restaurants and lots of Denny’s and basically had a wonderful time with nothing even close to a griswold moment.

My beautiful picture

The Dodge Charger

And then the final day arrived and I succumbed to pressure and said , ‘ok, we’ll go to the Florida Mall’. The thing with a mall in the US is that if you’ve been to Cribbs Causeway or to the Arndale or Meadowbank etc, then you’ve been to a mall. You could be anywhere with the possible exception that everyone in America seems to wear white training shoes. We even played a game of only staring at passing feet to see if we could spot anything different and we did come across two people wearing scuffed but none white trainers and another two wearing flip-flops who all happened to be English, another guy wearing sandals with socks (??) who was German and one bare footed guy selling a Bhagavad Gita but everyone else had the Stepford standard issue.

On the way into the mall, I spotted a bookshop and promised myself to drop in on our way out – which was about two hours later.

The four of us all smoked at that time and the three others needed their fix and so they wandered off to the outside and to the car to roll a cigarette whilst I promised to join them after a browse amongst the books. It being a mall meant the bookshop was of the WH Smith type and after about ten minutes I was done – and putting my hands in my pocket discovered the car keys and decided I ought to get a move on. My son met me asking me to hurry up as I hadn’t given them the keys and they ‘were stood about like lemons’.  As we exited, we heard various sirens and I commented that although inside the mall you could have been anywhere, outside it was the sound of America. I opened the car, jumped in, rolled my own ciggie and put it in my mouth about to light it when a siren wailed right behind the car and a voice in a megaphone shouted, ‘put your hands up’.

The first thing I did was dive into the foot well to search for my camera as I wanted a real life hold up on film but I couldn’t find it and the police guy was insisting that the people he was shouting at put their hands up. When I turned to see where the action was, I quickly noticed that my wife, who was sat in the passenger seat, had her hands up to the car roof and behind her a cop stood, resting on the roof of the adjacent car, aiming a gun straight at her head. I looked into the back and couldn’t help notice that both the kids had their hands up too and they also had their very own policeman with a gun pointing at them through the back window. I was then startled when a loud voice to my left told me, in no uncertain terms, to ‘GET YOUR HANDS UP’ and as I looked  through my open window and was met, only eighteen inches from my face and pointing at my forehead, by a barrel of a gun with a copper firmly attached. My instinctual response was ‘are you serious?’ A fourth cop was talking into a radio, my cop reached in and took the roll up from my mouth and asked me what was in it, another asked if we were English and then suddenly it was all loudly called off and guns were raised skywards in synchronicity and apologies reined down upon us. I was just starting to get what had  happened. Emma shouted, ‘I don’t appreciate having a gun in my face thank you very much’ and I told her to shut up. But we wanted an explanation all the same.

My cop smiled and said, ‘you were smoking in a rental’ and followed that with, ‘I’m just kidding’.  Oh, how I laughed.  Another explained that the mall CCTV spotted ‘suspicious behaviour’ around the car, and it was assumed that we were either terrorists or trying to steal the best car in the car park. Further symbiotic investigation  revealed that when the other three had gone back to the car and then realised that they hadn’t got the keys, they tried each door and the boot (trunk) for entry but to no avail, then when they’d rolled their ciggies, the kids had a sibling quarrel and the lighter was dropped and skidded under the car where they both tried to retrieve it.  James then ran to he mall to meet me and we both alighted from the building heading back to the car. None of this surprised me. It all seemed very inevitable and all I could say to the withdrawing, ‘you have a nice day now’ police officers was, ‘well, you certainly don’t get this at Tesco’

The British Buddhist Holy Isle.

On the 18th April 1992 Buddhist Lama Yeshe Rinpoche bought a whole island off the coast from the Island of Arran which in turn is off the coast of Scotland. It is called Holy Isle and must not be visited, indeed given the widest possible birth, if you can’t cope with peace, beauty, tranquility and serenity.
The island came into Buddhist hands via a devout catholic no less, Mrs Kay Morris, who owned Holy Isle and had been ‘instructed by Mother Mary in a dream’ to pass Holy Isle to Lama Yeshe to be used for peace and meditation. See –  http://www.holyisland.org/

We went there this year as the second part of the annual ‘lads walk’.  We’d spent the first part, a couple of days, walking the wilds of Arran getting sunburned and heat stroke as we’d managed to marry our trip with the hottest weather Scotland has had since Dodo’s were a menace to outdoor chip eaters.

Arrival on Arran


There was only four of us this year and one of us, a freelance writer, was writing an article on our visit for Kindred Spirit magazine. It was the third day of our trip that we caught the small ferry over to this car free paradise. The plus with Holy Isle is that nobody is playing at being Buddhist. There was some disappointment by one of our group as he’d genuinely expected that our boat, on landing, would be met by a line of purple cloaked, bald blokes ringing bells and welcoming us on to their island. I wondered if he also thought they would be saying Aloha and passing garlands of thistles around our necks.
The resident Buddhists are simply average people of all ages who are trying to follow a peaceful existence via the teachings of Buddha. This, in other words, is not a pretentious new age centre.

The main building

The island consists of a main building which houses the dormitories, library, kitchen and dining room. There is no TV room, no amusement arcade or gym because like the world over they’re not really necessary. Behind this there is another building where the courses are held and at the far end of the island, about half a mile away, was a not for visitors retreat centre where twelve women are currently on a three year, three month, three day retreat. They were 18 months in to it at the time of our visit in May 2012.  The disappointed friend drew looks, accompanied by frowning eyebrows, when he inquired if this was voluntary on their part, obviously having decided to himself that we were on some sort of unwelcoming Zen Alcatraz.
In the hillside above the retreat centre there was a couple of eco-lodges for people on a lifetime retreat and once the resident has passed on the lodge also gets passed on to the next person on the waiting list.

The retreat building

The lifetime retreat lodges and the home of Lama Yeshe when he visits.

There is a also a wonderful cafe/shop on the grass beach which caters for visitors and helps fund the island and sells lots of mediation bowls which everyone seemed to try out and I imagine were there as some special meditative training test for the shop assistant.
Above the cafe was a meditation room which I visited at several ungodly hours to spend time, cross legged, cutting off the blood flow to my feet. I didn’t take my reading glasses into these meditations and was put on the spot when given a 2 inch thick set of cards to be able to recite the Chenrezig prayer, which was written in writing so small that I had no choice but to mumble along in a low Buddhisty sounding, throaty tone so as not to be exposed and glared at.

The Holy Isle passenger terminal looking towards Arran


Before meditation one morning as the sun was just up, around 5am as it happens, I decided to practice some yoga outdoors. There was a time when 5am was when I’d think of getting off home from a party and not heading for seclusion to do a yoga practice. I found a lovely spot by the sea edge looking across to Arran. I stripped down to my underpants because 1/ it was already hot and more importantly, 2/ I was alone – and so I began Surya Namaskara A (Sun Salutation A) and by the time I’d reached my first downward facing dog I realised I was not at all alone. I was joined by an ever expanding cloud of wee midges and these midges were not at all Buddhist and brought on what I can only describe as yoga turrets and a quick desertion of my practice as I ran back to the meditation hall with my new friends in hot, biting pursuit.

In the main building one could help oneself to free teas and coffees 24/7 and the food, three meals a day that are included in your £28 a night stay, was gorgeous vegan fayre. We all occasionally chipped in washing and wiping dishes and very quickly became part of the community  and after only three days it was as if we’d never lived anywhere else.

On Holy Isle, you are not expected to go to meditation or to do anything particularly. You are simply free to be. It is relaxation personified and still quite a secret.

Peaced out. Last night on the island. Arran in the background

On returning to Arran the next day with it’s one bus every two hours, seemed akin to being dropped into Manhattan on Christmas Eve. It took a while for the peace to dissolve back into distraction which suffice to say most of it eventually did – except for a small part that now sits there still – I guess, waiting for me.

There are currently plans to put a power plant on Arran which the Buddhist community fear will spoil the tranquility of Holy Isle causing noise, pollution and smoke.
see – http://tinyurl.com/9a387jd

Kino MacGregor, London.

I’m writing this with the only things on my body that are currently not stiff and that’s the tips of my fingers (and ok yes the other one). This weekends Kino MacGregor yoga workshops in London are responsible and what workshops they were.!


Mrs Ollier and I left home on Friday morning walking to the bus stop and catching a bus into Wells, and then another from Wells to Bristol Temple Meads and on to a train to London Paddington and several tubes before eventually alighting at Covent Garden in torrential rain to then find the hotel on foot.
Covent Garden Underground is the one tube station in the capital that you wouldn’t want to alight from, as 193 steps up a pre war curly staircase are the method of alightenment, which includes, from most people, a one word exhalation on reaching the final step, that’s if you’re fit enough to be able to still utter anything but gasping air, as 193 steps is the equivalent of climbing to the top of a 15-storey building. It was later that we discovered that there were also lifts in place and we’d managed to miss the signs saying so, no doubt obscured by the constant throngs of travellers. Obviously.


We found our hotel and dropped our bags and yoga mats into the room, freshened up and wandered off out again to find the triyoga studio where we were later to attend the first of the three workshops, titled Burn Baby Burn.

The studio was right in the hub of Carnaby Street, the very same Carnaby Street of Beatles and Twiggy fame, which is in Soho and only a 1 mile – 20 minute walk away so rather than spend that 20 minutes descending those steps again, we decided to walk and four miles and two hours later arrived at the triyoga studio. (We had no idea where we went wrong but we managed to repeat that incorrectness twice more in the next 24 hours).

The people at triyoga studio (https://www.triyoga.co.uk/) were, as you’d expect for anything yogic, lovely and friendly. On peeping into a studio room I observed many yoga mats being laid out by a member of staff which prompted a question from me, ‘so you don’t need to bring your own yoga mat then?’. ‘No’, the lovely, smiley lady replied. My yoga mat is, of course, of the eco variety and made of 100% natural rubber and therefore a tad heavy and it had spent the day, unnecessarily it now turns out, with me on two buses, a train, lots of tubes and their attending stairs and lengthy walking tunnels including the 193 steps. ‘Oh’, I said.
We left, only to return a few hours and two Chai Latte’s later, quite knackered, for the intense first class from Kino.

Kino MacGregor is a funny yoga teacher as in she is very comical – at least to anyone on a yoga trip. She is also extremely knowledgable, confident and true to the practice. When she was just 29 she became the youngest woman, and one of only a select group of people, to receive the Certification to teach Ashtanga Yoga by its founder Sri K. Pattabhi Jois in Mysore, India.

Sri K. Pattabhi Jois


Suffice to say this class did certainly burn, developed to awaken the inner fire by using the Mulabandha, the root lock, and within an hour I was pulling up my anus, lifting my perineum and testicles, squeezing in my lower belly and drawing in the space between my pubic bone and sacrum, all at the same time, and what a heat that created and I felt amazing, we both did. (Please note Mrs Ollier didn’t have to raise her testicles, using instead the cervix – just in case you were wondering).
We later left the studio to be enveloped in the crazy, hedonistic, Friday night shenanigans of London as we drifted hazily through Soho, Piccadilly Circus, Leicester Square and Covent Garden. Wall to wall people all the way. Every single pub and bar crammed inside and 30 foot outside. London has seemingly not had a recession.

Another Chai Latte stop and then to bed and up early for yet another Chai Latte before a full primary series talk through in the morning. The Chai, on top of the bottle of water I had for breakfast turned out to be an oversight as I had to pee three times in the half hour before the class and I wanted to go again just as Kino entered the room, but it was clear that nobody was leaving this class until it was over and done and so I began Surya Namaskara A (Sun Salutation A) trying desperately not to think of waterfalls or running taps and when it all finished two hours later I didn’t even need to go as I think my urine had evaporated through my head.

        This photo, taken by Kino, is the only picture ever taken of me in a yoga class. I am the right foot, ankle and lower leg in the bottom right hand corner.

After a lunch break (we had a Chai Latte) there was a brilliant three-hour afternoon workshop on arm balancing and near the end Kino suggested that when back at home we all do one full minute each day in Bakasana, the crow posture, before she had us all do a full minute right there and then. Well, that worked!

Sadly we had to leave after the class to get the 7pm train back to Bristol and therefore missing a Mysore session in the morning and a back bends workshop in the afternoon which I was a bit done about as I do a weekly Mysore session with my wonderful Glastonbury teacher and it’s always my favourite class so to do one with Kino adjusting would have been a great extra dimensional experience – but on waking this morning I was having more than a jot of trouble reaching for my socks – and they were on a shelf!

Kino teaches classes worldwide and particularly at her home in Miami where she is co founder of the Miami Life Center – and if you ever get the chance or opportunity, I would seriously recommend treating yourself.

In the meantime check out http://www.kinoyoga.com/

NDE on Ben Nevis

I knew this was going to be a classic ‘lads walk’ when checking in at Bristol airport and newcomer Reg decided to put his budbomb through security. A budbomb is a highly sophisticated polished metal, chambered pipe designed for smoking the buds of cannabis, free of tobacco, delivering a direct hit to the brain. That’s where the bud part comes in. The bomb part isn’t called such because it does this type of delivering but because it’s shaped like a small bomb and therefore not the most ideal thing to put through the security scanner at airports. But this was pre 911 and security were not looking for bombs or narcotics at that time, having their hands full with people smuggling an extra bottle of Archers or having 20 cigarettes over the limit, so suffice to say we landed at Glasgow without interruption.  We transferred to a train that lolled through the scenery of Scotland to finally drop us at Fort William which is the town at the end of Scotland’s greatest trail and the reason we were here, to walk part of the West Highland Way. It seemed however that we had gone in through the out door so to speak as we were about to walk three days over this trail the wrong way.

Walked ‘correctly’ the 154Km (96 miles) Route starts at Milngavie passes through Mugdock Country Park, follows the shores of Loch Lomond, passing Ben Lomond, through Glen Falloch and Strathfillan, crossing Rannoch Moor, past Buachaille Etive Mor to the head of Glencoe, climbing the Devil’s Staircase, descending to sea level to cross the River Leven at the head of Loch Leven before entering Lairigmor and Glen Nevis and finishes at Gordon Square in Fort William. The thing was we weren’t going to be walking it correctly because for one we hadn’t got the latest fad that every other walker without exception was carrying, these ski sticks whose only benefit seemed to be of occupying one’s arms whilst the legs are busy – a bit like stabilizers for walkers and for two we had what probably every walker without exception didn’t have which was enough dope to wilt a field of thistles. Well at least we hoped we had, since we hadn’t risked taking the stuffed A5 envelope onto an aircraft but instead posted it, for our attention, to the Glen Nevis Youth Hostel which was to be our home for the first couple of nights and that was where we headed to straight from the station. On checking in, we smiled as the receptionist said, ‘ah, you have a strange smelling package here’. You have to love Royal Mail for their drug courier service and at no extra cost.

The next day saw three of the group hanging around Fort William for the day testing the contents of that package whilst Phil and I arose at the crack of dawn to surmount Ben Nevis, which looked very welcoming in the morning May sunshine wearing its thick snowy cap. Nevis is the highest mountain in the UK at 4408 feet (1344 metres) and the starting point is only about 65 feet above sea level still leaving 4343 feet to ascend, which we did in just over three hours since Phil informed me, approximately half way up, that he was terrified of heights but was ok if he didn’t stop and hoped I wouldn’t let him down being his mate and all.

We had the mountain more or less completely to ourselves and didn’t see one other walker whatsoever until we hit the scree zone, (always used in films that depict hell), at about 3500 feet which was now covered in cloud and visibility was only around 30 feet. This lone walker appeared out of the mist like a wraith whose only reason for being there was to inform a man terrified of heights ‘to be very careful, it’s deadly up there’. Phil had to be more than cajoled to continue but this he did, albeit even faster. I remember shouting to his disappearing form to slow down for fucks sake otherwise you’ll be on your own with a dead body to deal with. Not long after this we hit the snow line and within a hundred metres it was a foot thick and we experienced what was essentially a white out (as opposed to a ‘whitey’ which no doubt our three, estranged ground level companions were having around about the same time). The visibility was less than 10 feet and we’d lost the path as the local council selfishly don’t send salt gritters up this far, and it was very, very cold but as the ground still had a slope to it and knowing we were very near the top, we continued and then two things happened. We’d been discussing Marcus, one of our fellow walkers and a best friend to both of us who had died in tragic circumstances a couple of years before and as we were doing so a lone little bird flew beside us and landed right next to us at this great, narnian height to allow us enough time to look at each other and then to the bird and say ‘Hi Marcus’ before it promptly flew away. It raised one of *those* smiles. With this in mind I kept trudging through the shin-deep snow and got a tad lost in my own thoughts thinking about the movie Touching the Void and the Rivers of Babylon song, when Phil screamed at me to stop – which I did abruptly. He told me to re-trace my steps and not to move onwards one more inch. I obeyed because his tone was so serious, he must have obviously spotted a grizzly bear coming my way and if not a grizzly then possibly a dreaded winged haggis.
 Well it turned out that I owed him one as I was no longer walking on land but on a snow overhang which just happened to be overhanging the 700-metre (2,300 ft) high cliffs of the north face which are among the highest cliffs in the UK.

The snow overhang in question though not the same day. This one being clear

Although I was the one who nearly actually died, it was actually Phil who really nearly died and by now he was almost invisible as his face was whiter than the pure driven snow surrounding him and it didn’t seem sensible, that minutes later at the found summit, to open a bottle of whisky and to have no more than two minutes rest before making our anxious descent. I think we are the first people on Earth to get up and down Ben Nevis within 5 hours without running.  Alas, we soon met back up with the other three who had no interest in our adventures, preferring to giggle a lot. We all headed for a local pub which we sat in until closing time, making our plans and sharing our thoughts about what the next few days held walking ‘The Way’. We left Phil asleep slumped at the table and stood in the street looking (and giggling – bear in mind we were only in our 30’s and 40’s) through the window, marveling at Phil’s reaction as the cleaner prodded him for several minutes before he got up and wandered for what he thought was the door but what was instead the pub kitchen. These things have to be done.

To be continued…………

Yeehaws and Alligators

14359312-alligator-closeup-in-wild-in-gator-park-in-miami-florida
We’ve never really been the package tour types, though we have done a few and they’ve mostly been good delivering exactly what one would expect. But even when the kids were small we did some wonderful travelling and when you do things independently, things occur that glossy brochures never prepare you for and I have to admit we’ve been lucky or blessed to have got through quite a few close calls.
The list that springs to mind –
We once drove from New York to the Florida Keys and whilst on the back roads of South Carolina we managed to gain the attention of some drunken, toothless, brace wearing and no doubt armed yeehaas in a pick up truck who followed us for over 20 miles on a desolate road and they had made it quite clear by their drawling gestures that they’d like to have their way with the wife and daughter and possibly me too. All the time I was driving, with, I might add, the petrol gauge pointing at E, I was designing a plan of action that my mind kept insisting would involve banjos and shoving. And the rest of the family were not too comfortable and giving me constant advice on how I should drive. I was already doing 90 and the boys were keeping right up just 6 feet shy of the back seat.
They did pull off. I think it was me giving them by best Burt Reynolds scowl in the rear view.  Either that or they were reaching the boundary of their electronic tag.

Then there was the alligator incident.
We’d hired a canoe in a wilderness in Florida ( a different year) where one paddles along a spring fed river until you come to the first spot where you can be picked up (a road bridge over the river) which was four hours downstream. The river was crystal clear, only approx 20 feet wide at its widest and only 4 feet deep, very winding and strewn with overhanging trees that have to be navigated around. I used the word ‘navigate’ as if we were respected in the canoeist community for our daring do. We are not. A better and more honest sentence would be, overhanging trees that will be smashed into, get jammed stuck on that tear your skin as you continue to wing it. This was the first time we’d ever canoed by the way but we weren’t worried about being humiliated because we were the only ones doing it.  We were totally on our own.  Alone.


However, after a good hour, none of us were talking to each other and we’d got into a nice rhythm with only the occasional straight on into the bank when the river took a bend, which luckily for us novices was only about every 10 yards. Ali was in the front, me at the back all Apache like and the kids in the middle, one behind the other, but we were trundling along nicely and hadn’t crashed for a good 15 minutes.  It was then that I spotted, about 30 yards ahead, a rather large alligator, about the same length as the canoe, slip off the bank into the water. I thought ‘Oh My God’ – (had it been recently I would have probably just thought OMG) – but quickly decided that I wouldn’t say anything to the others, I’ll just keep paddling whilst keeping an eye on it, at which point Ali did a full 180 degree turn in her seat showing a face that would scare a ghost and said, ‘did you see that massive crocodile just go into the river?’. This was the moment that the kids made loud noises and the boat rocked and we careered into a sand bank – approximately exactly where the Gator had gone in. And we were stuck rigid. No amount of paddles pushing into the bank would release us. By this time the kids were hysterical and I don’t mean they were doing their best comedy routines. So a decision was taken that somebody would have to jump out of the canoe and pull it off. Yes of course it was me. I gave my daughter Emma my paddle and said, ‘if the alligator comes you have to hit it on the head as hard as you can or daddy will die’.

At this moment I became totally alive. I even recalled the Zen story of the man being chased by a vicious tiger (are there other sorts?)  – He ran but soon came to the edge of a high cliff. Desperate to save himself, he climbed down a vine and dangled over the fatal precipice. As he hung there, two mice appeared from a hole in the cliff and began gnawing on the vine. Suddenly, he noticed on the vine a plump wild strawberry. He plucked it and popped it in his mouth. It was incredibly delicious. I jumped out of that canoe as if in a dream, wrenched it clear and jumped back in like a gymnast all the time assuming that I was about to go the way of Captain Hook.  Suffice to say, he must have eaten and thought the English underfed as that one glimpse was all we had.

Then there’s the family being held up by four cops at gun point and at point blank range in the US incident –  and there’s the hashish incident in Morocco and the Wild Boar encounter and the Amsterdam incident – but they’re other future blogs.