A Magical Mystery Tour

Following on from my last post; I would stay in Byron for a few days before heading onward to Brisbane in the search for work.

After the first nights antics on the town, most of us packed our bags and headed onward in different directions.  This left me, another James and Lisa, on our own.  We decided to spend the day exploring Byron.  Sadly the surf was rubbish, but we went swimming in the sea and then took the long and famous walk up to the lighthouse and Australia’s most Eastern point for sunset.  Lisa left later that night leaving me and James to discover our shared love of 90’s punk rock and guitars over a couple of beers.

The following day James also left, which meant I was alone once again.  I was staying at The Arts Factory (later featured in the Inbetweeners 2 movie), which although quite a cool spot, I didn’t find particularly conducive to making new friends. I had one trip I wanted to do before leaving town, which was to take the bus out to Nimbin.  I’d seen some cool photos friends had taken and I wanted to see it myself.

I booked onto what looked like an ace trip … it would taken in the town, waterfalls and scenic lookouts.  The morning of the tour arrived and with it, a distraught driver.  His mum had just been taken seriously ill into hospital and he would have to cancel.  The Arts Factory immediately booked me onto another trip – ‘Jim’s Alternative Tours’.  This trip was packed with people from the hostel – it seems they wanted to stock up on something …

Walking into Nimbin museum a pretty blonde girl asked me if I wanted to purchase some cookies.  $15 for 3 of them.  I said OK, and she warned me not to eat all at once.  I went outside and ate 1/2 of one immediately.  30 minutes later, I figured I should probably eat the other half.  We then got back on the bus … and I felt fine.  So I ate another 1/2.

We drove out to Paul Recher’s house.  Some kind of hippy heaven in the midst of the forest. He seemed a nice guy, slightly out there, but a friendly chap who seemed happy to show us where he lived.  We shared a smoke overlooking the late at the back of property.  And this is where things became a little hazy.

He took us on a walk though the gardens/forest … and I quickly found myself at the rear of the line.  I became paranoid that I would become lost … and the plants … the plants were moving, dancing and talking to me.  Somehow I made it back.  We drove out to Minyon Falls and I was tripping.  The crazed looks from the rest of the crew meant I wasn’t the only one.  We drove back to Byron with Pink Floyd playing loudly as the soundtrack. I felt greener and greener. This video I found on You Tube (filmed just a few days before I did it) sums it up perfectly.

Getting back to the hostel I went straight to bed, avoiding all people and barricading myself in the dorm.  I slept for a few hours and woke up with the worst munchies.  Walking into Byron I ordered the hugest cheeseburger and fries that I could find.  Then ate it all in a cave on the beach because I thought a nearby girl wanted to steal it!

I will never, *ever again eat a cookie from Nimbin!

* Apart from the following day when Liam and I shared the final cookie on our reunion.  Lunch was entertaining …

 

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Sydney & The Hunter Valley

I’ve been in a reflective mood recently.  For fun, I decided back in January that I’d start posting a “Throwback Thursday” image on Instagram every week of my travels back in 2007/2008 in Australia.  This mini project has finally given me the kick I need to share the images and stories I took at that time.  If you happen to follow my Flickr account you’ll see I’ve been uploading like mad over the past few weeks and months. The intention is to now also run with a flurry of posts here – 2 a month – until I’m up to date.

Each picture tells a story though and viewing them brings back memories and feelings, some of which I had long forgotten.  In November it’ll be 10 years since I left England. 10 whole years. A decade.  I’m so aware of time slipping through my fingertips … and beginning to feel my age.

When I left the hometown village I didn’t realise that it would never be quite the same again. My friends are now mostly married with children, the people I met on my travels are very much the same.  As for me, I’m just stuttering along not knowing quite where I’m going or what to do next.

I guess that’s what has made me so reflective.  I genuinely believed that going away would change me for the better, that somehow I would have an epiphany and life would be mapped out and straightforward ever more.  How wrong I was.

~ ~ ~

Sydney November 2007

After a whirlwind stop in Bangkok we touched down in Sydney airport.  We’d heard tales of people being stuck at passport control for hours, but for us immigration was a breeze and we waltzed through.  The first few days were spent adjusting to the time difference and acclimatising ourselves in the city.  Days consisted of exploration and nights of beer drinking. We had a jet boat tour of Sydney harbour and I took a course in hospitality skills so that I’d be qualified to do bar work there (this didn’t come in helpful , once!). This was an exciting time. I still remember my first sight of Sydney Opera House.  I was seeing something with my own eyes I’d previously only dreamed of.  For a small time country boy this was some occasion. The first week was over before I knew it.

Fractures were beginning to appear however and I wasn’t feeling as happy in myself as I should have been.  I felt increasingly lonely and was struggling to form a bond with the people I’d travelled over with.

We then (still as a group) headed to The Hunter Valley for a wine tasting tour and few days out of the city.  I realised at this point that as much as I liked the people I’d flown over with, that I was going to have to find my own way from here on.  We were too different and this eventually culminated in a bit of an alcohol fuelled argument with one of the others.  Nevertheless, in those few days I met a couple of new people who I got on with brilliantly and who lifted my spirits considerably (Mark and Alice).  Though sadly I would only see Alice again once more when back in Sydney, Mark and I remained close and I even got to visit him in Melbourne nearly a year later.

When we returned from The Hunter Valley I knew my future wasn’t in Sydney itself.  I needed to get out and find some blue juice therapy.  I didn’t go far though.  I found what I needed just over the water in Manly.  That’s where I will pick up in the next blog post.

People often ask if you’re a Sydney or Melbourne person;  I will always pick Sydney, I did love it, but it’s a city of contrast for me.  Of excitement and discovery, yet of loneliness and unhappiness entwined.

Amie Boulton

Back in October of 2015 I was invited to take part in a last minute shoot in Torquay with the amazing Amie Boulton and fellow photographer, Eleanor Stobbart.

It was a murky, freezing cold day and at this stage I was pretty new to portrait photography.  I wasn’t holding out much hope for getting decent images, but figured it’d be a great opportunity to learn from two people I admired.  Both Eleanor and Amie are super friendly and easy going and within 5 minutes of sitting down with our pre-shoot coffees we were laughing away and I knew we’d have a great day.

First location was Torquay Pier, which is a really cool structure.  On such a cold day out of season, it was really quiet so we could shoot away without any distractions.  For our second location we spotted some lobster pots around the harbour.  These easily turned into my favourite images of the day.  The colour and textures here were unreal.  The final location was a little rocky cove we found around the back of Living Coast.  We shot here until it got dark and poor Amie was shaking.  That was followed up by some good old fish and chips in order to refuel and warm up!

Here’s a bunch of my images from the shoot.  Amie is amazing and if you’re looking for a stunning fashion model then I highly recommend her.

PS.  Big thanks to Steven Chapman for his reflector bouncing skills!

Land of Smiles

Here it is, the final of my posts from 2015’s trip to Thailand.  Expect some posts from 2016’s trip in a few months time, but I think it’s likely I’m going to move off travelling for a while and post the results of the portrait shoots I’ve also been working on.

Phuket … Patong especially, is a place that I think I’ve fallen in love with.  It’s brash and loud and a tourist hot spot. Why would I like it so much when there’s so many other beautiful places in Thailand?  Well, I don’t especially subscribe to the backpacker ideology – in fact, I find it often far too self indulgent.  If you’ve ever seen ‘The Inbetweeners 2’ you’ll have an idea what I’m talking about.  Instead, Patong despite it’s tackiness and obvious tourist traps I find to be somewhat honest – it is what it is and it doesn’t try to hide it. I understand why some people hate it, but not me.

Patong Beach, although busy is still very beautiful and there’s enough space on it to find your own spot.  The water is warm and inviting.  My favourite spot at sunset was to walk North to Kalim Beach.  A rocky cove about 5-10 minutes from Patong main beach.  Just perfect for long exposures at dusk.

At night there’s an abundance of restaurants.  I preferred to stay away from the big ones on the ocean front and stick to the smaller local ones hidden away on side Soi’s.  Beautiful food for an incredible price (and what’s more, I went back after 12 months and I was recognised like an old friend – you can’t put a price on that!).

After that, there’s as many bars as you could wish for to drink in and places to dance and bands to listen too.  Every night, a couple of beers and some guitar driven rock music.  It was great.

Thailand is indeed, a Land of Smiles.

Phang Nga Bay

The final trip of my week in Phuket was to head out to Phang Nga Bay.  The reason?  I was desperate to see James Bond Island.  It’s one of the most popular tourist attractions in the area, but having been such a huge James Bond fan back in my early years I knew I had to go there.

I got a pretty good deal on a package trip (booked on the roadside in Patong).  I was incredibly fortunate to make the tour though – a mistake my end meant I’d got my days mixed up and it was only drunkenly fooling around at about 3am the night before that I realised my mistake!

The first stop on our trip was at Suwankuha Temple (Monkey Temple).  I’ll be honest … I found this a bit boring.  I suppose I was pretty templed out still from the amazing Bangkok and Chiang Mai.  A good chance to grab a coffee however. After this we boarded longtail boats and started heading out into Phang Nga Bay.  From a small river, this quickly becomes an awe dropping sight with turquoise sea and beautiful islands aplenty.

First stop was for lunch at Ko Panyee, which is a Muslim floating fishing village.  Lunch was good.  Not an awful lot of time to explore sadly – lots of touristy fare shops.  Apparently they have a floating football pitch – but I missed that. Next up was James Bond Island.  It’s absolutely beautiful, tiny … and completely crowded with tourists!  Oh, it must be fantastic to hire a private boat and be there for sunrise or sunset … the middle of the day is still wonderful, just busy!

Second stop was at Talu Island for some sea kayaking.  This was really relaxing and I wish I’d had my Sunco to hand to take some shots and grab some video footage.  The ones I did grab were from the boat as we were leaving.  The kayaks actually take you into the interior of the island (under the limestone cliffs) where it’s eerily quiet and peaceful.  I loved it.

After this I had just a couple of days left in Patong and then would begin the long journey home (via a couple of mad days in Pattaya which there is no chance of me blogging about!).

There’s only one more post from this 2015 trip to come, which will be a few words about my time in Patong.  Possibly one of my most favourite places on Earth!

Islands In The Sun

The weirdest thing about writing this post from last years trip?  That in the past few weeks I’ve just enjoyed my second visit to Thailand! Prior to this my memories from 2015 were vivid and clear, but now they’ve become somewhat hazy.  This means I really need to focus on finishing the blog posts before my mind becomes too murky and confused.

After the visit to Chiang Mai and the north of the country I hopped on a flight down to Phuket.  the intention was to spend a few days relaxing but also to make sure I visited a few islands.  Top of the list was The Phi Phi Islands – I think mainly (just like everyone else) because of ‘The Beach’.  For so long I’d had a longing to see that place.

I booked onto a speed boat tour from Phuket which would take in both Phi Phi Don and Phi Phi Leh (where Maya Bay is located).  The trip was pretty hectic, but there were some nice people on it and I thoroughly enjoyed myself.  The only shame was the crowds.  Perhaps best in hindsight to stay overnight at Phi Phi Don and arrange for an early morning trip to Phi Phi Leh before the crowds arrive on the scheduled tours.  Nevermind, that’s one off the bucket list!

The White Temple & Golden Triangle

This was my last day in the North of Thailand and in advance I had decided that I’d participate in a full days trip which would take in The White Temple (Wat Rong Khun) in Chiang Rai and the Golden Triangle, which is where the countries of Thailand, Myanmar (Burma) and Laos all meet, split by the mighty Mekong and Ruak rivers which converge here.

As with all my other trips in this area I booked with Travel Hub Chiang Mai.  A really nice and professional company.

Starting early in the morning (and I mean wayyy too early!) we got picked up in the bus and started driving North.  First stop was at The White Temple, Chiang Rai.  This is a spectacular sight (even the toilet block is magnificent – but sadly not yet opened for us!).

After a short while here it was back in the bus to head up to The Golden Triangle.  We experienced some pretty stormy weather on the way up and I lost count of the times we aquaplaned.  We had a schedule to keep to!  My seat belt was firmly fastened I tell you!  The Golden Triangle was interesting to see (despite the downpour) and it was fascinating hearing about the history of opium in the area.

The trip included a visit to Don Sao island, which technically is in Laos.  On arrival we were given a free shot of ‘Cobra Whiskey’.  This is supposed to help men with sexual ailments and to ‘make you strong’.  I got given two shots – I wonder if I looked like I might need help in that department?

We then headed up to Wat Phra That Doi Wao, which is a temple overlooking the town of Mae Sai, an official border point into Myanmar.  The views were pretty great and we had some lovely golden afternoon light making it really special.  I was so engrossed taking photos that I nearly missed our bus leaving!

On the way back we stopped in a hill village (just like the previous day).  Again a bit too touristy for me, but then again this I think is what you should expect and I certainly didn’t begrudge our time there.

We got back into Chiang Mai mid-evening.  Most of the day seemed to be spent travelling, yet it was completely worth it to see such an interesting part of the country.  I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

The next day however … I’d be heading off down to Phuket!

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