‘Twas a cold night in Orange. That’s the second time I’ve been able to say that. It occurs about every one third of a century.
In 1986, Sarah, Jenny and I slept in a campervan in a campsite in Orange. It was cold. So cold, there was ice on the windows in the morning. It was our coldest night camping ever.
Today, we woke up to a temperature of 45°F (7°C). A few months ago, we were enjoying 45°C (113°F). One extreme to the other. There was dew on the grass, maybe even frost, that’s how cold it was.
During the nearly two hour drive, we passed a few wallabies and kangaroos wondering why their early morning grass was so crunchy. But it warmed up nicely, the sky was clear and blue, so a good day was definitely in store.
I’d last visited Dubbo Zoo in 1986: a return visit was well overdue.
We arrived just in time to Prowl the Pridelands, to look at the lions. The bus accommodates over 20 guests, but there were just the three of us on this tour.
Four young brothers live and play together, and take advantage of the shadow cast by the bus.
Their parents are in a large, separate area, and they all looked very content. So would we if we could sleep for 16-20 hours a day.
It would be cruel and heartless to pull a lock of hair from a lion’s mane, but that’s exactly what someone has done.
It’s surprisingly coarse and it would have been difficult to untangle the dreadlock into which it had been wrought.
Taronga Western Plains, aka Dubbo, Zoo is very spacious, 300 hectares, so the animals have plenty of room to roam. The disadvantage for us visitors is that sometimes, they’re way over there on the other side of the field.
We hired a buggy to drive around the 6 km circuit. It didn’t necessarily mean less walking altogether, but we were able to visit pretty much all the inmates.
The meerkats were very active: well, some of them.
The zebras and other big animals are behind a moat and a fence that are well concealed until you’re up close, giving the impression of wide open spaces.
In 1986, when we visited Dubbo Zoo, we hired bikes to cycle around. Sarah had 2-year old Jenny on the back of her bike. After a short while, I realised there were no brakes so I rode back to complain, and was told that you have to back-pedal to brake. Obvious. Well, later on, as we rode towards the hippopotamus pond, down a slope, Sarah momentarily forgot how to brake and she and Jenny nearly ended up joining the hippos in the water.
Today, we arrived at the hippopotamus enclosure in style, on four wheels. We listened to the Hippo Talk, haha, no, we listened to a zookeeper talk about the hippos. There is one way apart from the obvious to tell the difference between males and females. A nice, neat pile of poo is probably deposited by a female. Males tend to poo and pee at the same time and get their tail spinning round like a propellor to spread it far and wide. A better metaphor for Brexit I have never seen.
We watched a baby elephant having a nice mudbath followed by a dry dirt shower.
I started singing “There’s a starman waiting in the sky” as we approached the black apes. The sideways text on the sign soon became clearer: siamang.
Two of them were playing on the rope bridge over the water. Later on, one ate a carrot while the other ran off with a lettuce or something. Both kept their backs to us, they obviously know humans would be after their food, given half a chance.
Liesel and I hadn’t seen camels in the wild in the Northern Territory, so we were delighted to see some here. Liesel asked the question so I told her about the two different kinds. Bactrian camels have two humps, like the letter B. Dromedaries have one hump, like the letter D. I was hoping to find a sign confirming this.
The sign just described all the residents here as Arabian Camels. No Asian Bactrians, it seems.
We heard a booming noise. I thought it was the siamang using the echo chamber built into his throat. Liesel thought it was the lion. We never did find out the origin of the slightly spooky noise.
The quokka was cute but we couldn’t approach any closer than from the viewing platform, several metres above.
Towards the end of the afternoon, we were sitting outside the giftshop. I was eating my apple and this did not go unnoticed. The ring-tailed lemur over the water was watching me like a hawk. It wanted my apple but I don’t feel guilty about eating the whole thing all by myself, thank you very much.
If we’d wanted to visit Africa, this signpost would have been very helpful.
It was a fun day at the zoo, probably one of the best zoo days we’ve ever had. Not once did we think the animals looked a bit unhappy or stressed and that makes a lot of difference. The weather was perfect, there weren’t too many other people, the buggy was fun to drive and none of us fell out.
The drive back over the hills to Orange was pretty, especially as the Sun began to set.
This photo is being used as evidence that I fell asleep in the back of the car. Well, yes, I did rest my eyes for a minute or two.
As we were in Helen’s car, we mostly listened to her music. So lots of Snow Patrol and Killers. At Liesel’s request, we listened to the soundtrack from the film The Big Chill.
We kept the house slightly warmer tonight, but the floor was still cold, made from some material designed to suck all the warmth out of your feet.
We woke up in Manly, several degrees further south and several degrees cooler than Queensland. In the morning, after work, Helen and Liesel went to the shopping mall. My invitation is still in the post, so I went for a massage and a walk instead.
A fire engine and several police cars in close proximity plus a few people looking at something: the something was a damaged car. It’s hard to see how a vehicle can be driven fast enough to cause that much damage in the narrow roads of Manly, but Helen assures me it happens all the time.
Manly Beach provided two contrasting views. In one direction, a bit grey and gloomy. In the other, bright blue skies, an image worthy of a picture postcard.
My second perambulation of the day was arranged to coincide with the ridiculously early sunset time of 5pm.
I was surprised to see so many people still out and about and playing in the sea.
For supper, Helen had baked pies for me. As requested. Pies with Quorn chunks and leeks. I do like pies and it’s been disappointing a couple of times to come across a pie shop only to find it’s not open. Or in some cases, to find that the only pies totally sold out are the vegetarian pies. I like pies and I miss pies probably more than any other single food item. Really looking forward to a pie fest when we get home. Lovely pies, thanks, Helen!
I’ve not watched any proper TV for ages but tonight, we watched the first episode of “Gentleman Jack”, several hours before it was shown back in the UK! Well, we watched half of it. Martha and William called Helen after their swimming lessons and we watched them on a laptop screen rather than a phone screen, both talking, both delightful to watch. William is quite happy to pilfer tomatoes from Martha. He’s quite happy to climb out of his chair and onto the table. He’s 18 months old, in case you’d forgotten.
Liesel and I have suffered a few early mornings but today’s early rise in Manly was really hard.
Adam’s away for work, so Helen’s offered to take Liesel and me away for a couple of days. Our third Aussie road trip on this visit. We left the apartment at 7am, drove through the busy streets of Sydney but, as a multiple-occupied car, we were allowed in the special inside lane for special people.
The city views were enhanced by the odd patch of mist.
Sydney’s a big city, it takes hours to drive through all the suburbs. And people commute these great distances too, which we all would find so depressing.
We stopped briefly at the Blue Mountains Botanic Gardens and what a beautiful view over the Blue Mountains. The Sun was out, it was a bit misty in the valleys, there were some Autumnal colours.
A Japanese artist would produce a much better image than my camera ever could, but it was a sunning view.
We had a quick look at some of the botanicals too, and as usual, a longer visit here is recommended.
This display of colour is in direct competition with anything at the Chelsea Flower Show, which is on right now.
The sundial was fantastic: if we had a garden, this would fit right in.
We stopped for lunch in Bathurst, and this is another cute little place that we need to explore more. The architecture is very attractive, once you look up from the modern-day shop façades.
Helen coped with it very well, but I wondered whether this ‘squareabout’, a square roundabout at a crossroads, which you drive around the wrong way, was designed purely to confuse the slightly less astute visitor.
The landscapes and skyscapes were great to look at: sometimes, we could have been looking at an English pastoral scene, but then you’d see something quintessentially Australian, and come back to reality.
We arrived at Heifer Station Cellar Door where we went on a tour of the vineyard, on a golf buggy. We sampled wines as we progressed, stopping every few minutes while our guide told us about the different grapes they grow here and the different wines produced.
We tried sparkling, white, rosé and red. They were all good, I recognised some of the flavours but my suggestion that one had a hint of licorice was slightly poopooed! One of the sampled wines was only bottled five days ago.
There are some animals here too, including a petting zoo with a Shetland pony, some goats and a pig. Best of all was the hieland coo.
We all bought several bottles and if we don’t drink it all, Liesel and I will have to lug some bottles all the way home.
Mount Canobolas is the highest peak in this section of the range. It is claimed that, looking west, there is nothing higher until you reach Madagascar. We drove to the summit in order to watch the sunset. We didn’t see Madagascar.
It was a little bit colder up on top, but the views were good, in all directions.
It became dark very quickly once the Sun set. Helen drove us to our b&b in Orange, stopping in town so we could buy some groceries.
It was a cold house. There, I said it. The floor is made of ice, or so my feet told me. We turned on the heater. A few days ago, we were still using air conditioning. No more. Heat is required. Helen and Liesel both feel the cold more than I do, but it was a bit of a shock coming into this cold storage unit pretending to be holiday accommodation. Brrr.
We said goodbye to Trudi, and drove up to see the view from Castle Hill. That’s a high outcrop in Townsville, not to be confused with the school of the same name in Chessington.
We drove, but many people were walking, cycling or even running up the hill. Not a pleasant walk, we thought, with all the traffic. After parking, we walked around, climbed to the highest points, and looked down on Townsville and the surrounding area. The views were stunning, helped by it being such a clear day, contrary to the earlier forecast.
The Summit Loop track at 260m was one of the shortest walks on offer and the only one we completed. Radio transmitters are on top, and they are today’s hazard – no crocodiles, snakes, parachutists, asbestos here, just radio signals out to boil your brain.
We had another long drive today and I think we enjoyed watching the changes of scenery, but less time in the car would be nice.
We drove by Billabong Sanctuary but decided not to stop for koala cuddles.
This was another place Sarah, Jenny and I visited in 1986. The highlight was being chased by an emu known as Gonzo. At the time, I thought it was because he thought I had some tasty emu treats in my camera bag. When the photos came back from the film processor, I realised what was going on. In profile, me and my bulky bag were a very similar shape to an emu. I think Gonzo just fancied me.
Brandon is a nice up-and-coming little place: they even sell videos, now, in one shop.
We stopped in Ayr for breakfast and I was disappointed not to find the Ayrdresser. I thought the speed cameras might be labelled Ayr Traffic Control but the closest we got to that was the sign showing the end of the Ayr Traffic Zone.
Bowen was bypassed so if there were any archery shops selling Bowen arrows, we’ll never know.
As suggested by Alison whom we would meet later, we made a detour to Cape Gloucester. We walked on Hideaway Bay beach which had a much steeper camber than any of the beaches we’ve seen for ages.
The sand was coarser too and there were rocks and coral and many seashells. An interesting beach, yes, but not proper seaside.
I have no idea how that Egyptian pyramid got into the picture. Liesel reckons it’s a small island to the south of Gloucester Island, and she’s usually right.
Airlie Beach greeted us and we looked at the lagoon, visited the booking office and ate at the Hog’s Breath Café, or Hog’s, Australia’s Steakhouse.
Our new Airbnb is up the hill and boasts views of the town, the sea and the mountains, depending on which window you look through. We met Alison and Trevor but their dining companions vamoosed as soon as we showed up: no offence taken.
Here’s the next (and possibly final) episode in the ongoing in-car entertainment saga. It’s not for everyone, so if you want to stop reading the post at this point, no offence taken.
The car we hired in Cairns doesn’t like to play music from my phone, so we’ve been playing the songs through our little portable speaker. Normally we think its acoustics are ok, but with all the background noise in a car, it’s really hard to tell.
The main problem is still that different CDs and other music sources provide music at vastly differing sound volumes. I hope we can find a way to fix this at some point.
Imagine you were having a dinner party and you could only invite people from songs on my phone with titles beginning with the definite article. Who might turn up? A strange collection of folk, that’s for sure. Hundreds of ’em!
The Saddest Crowd
The Emperor’s Wife
The Impossible Girl
The Fool on the Hill
The Lovely Linda
The Lovers that Never Were
The Other Me
The Real Me
The Bewlay Brothers
The Laughing Gnome
The Man Who Sold the World
The Man With the Child in his Eyes
The Maid of Culmore
The Bloke who Serves the Beer
The Only Living Boy in New York
The Little Cowboy
The Poor Stranger
Them Heavy People just miss out an an invitation because the song is the first after the ‘The’s.
The excitement in the car was palpable as we finally reached the end of the Ts and we were eager to plough through the Us, Vs, Ws. Whoa, lots of Ws, many asking questions, Where, When, Who?
A couple of good segues came up by accident. Tomorrow Never Comes was followed by Tomorrow Today.
The raunchy Wake up and Make Love With Me was followed by the innocent Walking in the Air, which made us chuckle.
No Xs, lots of Yous and other Ys
Today was a landmark day, though. We’ve played all the music tracks from my phone, from A to Z. Actually, there were a few before the As even started: punctuation and numerals are sorted before the alphabet.
The first Z was Ziggy Stardust (performed by Seu Jorge rather than David) and we knew there wouldn’t be many Zs.
The final Z song came to an end. Zui-Zui-Zukkorobashi by Hiro Fujikake and James Galway.
But wait, there’s more!
What comes after Z? ÞAð Sést Ekki Sætari Mey, an early Icelandic song by Björk, that’s what! It was playing as we drove past the Billabong Sanctuary, a moment to be cherished throughout the ages. People will probably write songs about the occasion.
Meanwhile, what do we do now for in-car musical entertainment? We’ll revert to ‘random shuffle’ knowing that some songs will never play, but the plan is to download some new music when we get a good enough wifi connection. The request list (from both of us) is quite long.
Liesel managed to sleep on the flight to Darwin, but I just couldn’t get comfortable enough. It was a shorter flight than anticipated though: I’d forgotten about the 90 minute time difference between here and Singapore. Bonus! Ah, but arriving at 5am isn’t so good. We’d booked a hire care for 8am, that being the earliest available on the online booking form dropdown list, but a member of staff arrived soon after 6.30, so we weren’t hanging around for too long. Double bonus!! Passing time, walking around the airport, I did find a coffee shop and so I was able to caffeine myself up a bit. Triple bonus!!!
Mick’s earworm today is courtesy of one of his old Biology teachers. Martin Hyman was trying to explain the origin of species by natural selection. I’m sure it was interesting, but the only thing that stuck was his frequent recital of ‘♫ Charlie is my Darwin, my Darwin, my Darwin♪’.
We weren’t able to check in to our Airbnb until 2pm and we both just wanted to sleeeep. Instead, we drove to East Point, away from the city centre.
This is crocodile country and we were on full alert. As I told Liesel, if we encounter a croc in the wild, as with bears in Alaska, you don’t have to run faster than the predator, you just have to run faster than your companion!
The wallabies were cute but very wary of people, and quite right too. I tried to creep a little closer, but 100 feet seems to be the limit of their comfort zone.
I said hello to the horses as well, but they walked away in a huff as I had no food for them.
There were big bugs flying around, really big, and interesting but very reluctant to sit still while I studied them. We later decided they were dragonflies: big, fat, Aussie dragonflies.
The Darwin Military Museum is here too, we walked by some of the buildings. I had a quick look at the beach, but didn’t venture down on this occasion. The one fisherman seemed to be having a good time. But this is saltwater crocodile country. You wouldn’t catch me out there with only a thin, flexible stick as a weapon. By which, I mean, that even if I enjoyed fishing, that is one place I wouldn’t do it from.
It was good to see so many people using the off-road track too, walking, running or cycling. I exchanged a few ‘hello’s and ‘g’day’s. I spent too long making sure those apostrophes are in the right place.
What a lovely spot, such a contrast to the h&b of Singapore.
There were a few of these, too. In the publicity photos from Northern Territory Tourist Board, the termite mounds are all about eight feet tall. This might be a small one, but I didn’t want to poke it and have hundreds of angry termites gnashing at my be-sandalled feet.
The water pipeline here in Darwin is much more visually appealing than the oil pipeline in Alaska.
A message came through: we could go to our Airbnb early if we coughed up some cash for the airconditioner being turned on. That’s a deal! And what a welcome!
After a quick nap, we went shopping. Let me rephrase that. Liesel went shopping while I went for a walk around town. It was hot, yes, but nowhere near as humid as we’ve become accustomed to. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or not.
The Bicentennial Park area was cordoned off as they are implementing a Smart Lighting Upgrade. But I did find the site of the ANZAC Day Dawn Service, by the War Memorial.
The sky is blue, really, gorgeous, cerulean, azure, aquamarine blue. It’s been painted by a child, you can tell by the fluffy white clouds.
Darwin Memorial Uniting Church was decorated from the same palette of colours.
For our first home-cooked meal in quite a while, Liesel provided veggie burgers. Very nice, very tasty, thank you! At the end of a long day, an early night in bed was called for and I was in the land of nod before reading a whole sentence in my book.
The Dawn Service would have been lovely, and moving, to attend, but we missed it. Sadly, we missed the Parade too but later on, we did see many sailors and other military personnel in town. I was saluted by a passer-by who mistook my sunhat and Hawaiian shirt for a naval uniform. Or, maybe she was just drunk.
Crocosaurus Cove seemed like a good place to visit: we’d be able to see real crocs and not have to run for our lives.
We walked under a glass canopy and suddenly realised we were looking up at a crocodile. Well, a bit of a crocodile. It was huge. We knew they can be big but this one was ginormous, we couldn’t see either end, from below.
This hand belongs to a real, normal-size grown-up human. The croc’s claw is bigger than that.
We still feel amphibious about animals being kept in captivity. All of the crocs here have a story, though. Some were injured, and some were just in the wrong place for too long and would probably have been killed for taking too many cattle or something. William, aka Houdini and Kate, aka Bess, have been a successfully mating couple for 20 years, which is unusual in reptilian circles, apparently. Since meeting Bess, Houdini has been happy here and has stopped trying to escape, the trait that gave him his first name. Yes, I mistakenly used the word ‘amphibious’ instead of ‘ambivalent’ just now, but I left it to see if anybody else notices.
A human has a bite force of 380 newtons, enough to bite through an apple, appropriately. Tyrannosaurus rex had a bite force of 18,200 newtons, probably enough to bite through an apple tree. A saltie, a saltwater crocodile has a bite force of 33,800 newtons. A demonstration of this force featured a large lump of ice being snapped by a mechanical crocodile jaw. Very loud and very violent.
For a fee, you can get in the water with a crocodile. Yes, you have to pay them, not the other way around. Too scary for Liesel and me, but we did enjoy watching one victim for a while. And, to be fair, she seemed to be enjoying the experience, being separated from the croc by a whole inch of toughened plastic.
On the other hand…
During the day, there are several demonstrations by knowledgable staff. While one person feeds a crocodile from the other end of a long pole, a second person watches closely for signs of anger or antagonism from the animal. Growls, ear flaps opening, all are signs that it’s time to beat a hasty retreat.
The food seems to be mainly chickens with their feathers still attached. Loose feathers floating about: this is the real reason why Liesel and I didn’t want to get in the water.
There are other animals here too, fishes, stingrays, snakes, other lizards, some lifelike models. You can handle a blue-tongued lizard, although this one had a pink tongue. You can handle snakes too.
Again, it was great to see these creatures here and while it would be exciting to see them out in the wild, we don’t really want to. Or do we? What a conundrum.
The fierce snake, inland or western taipan is the most venomous snake in the world. The advice? Don’t get bitten!
We drove to Mindil Beach: we can’t hide from the Sun all day. It was time for a brisk walk on the beach and then to enjoy the sunset. We were delighted to encounter the Thursday night market here too, so much food to choose from, lots of arts and crafts to admire. And while it’s good to see any market being popular, we found it hard to cope with so many people here on this occasion.
The good news is, the big dragonflies were in abundance here too, and a bit more cooperative this time.
An hour and a half until sunset and of course we had to try for a selfie. The bright Sun would be good in the background. Or its reflection in the water.
We walked to one end of the beach and I walked all the way to the other end while Liesel went back to the market. The blurb says this beach is 500m long: I think it’s longer than that, it certainly took more than ten minutes to walk its length, and I wasn’t slacking. The Sun was bright and hot, but I toasted both sides of my body nicely so I’m not asymmetrical.
The countdown to sunset was on. With about half an hour to go, hundreds of people descended on to the beach.
Liesel sat down near the top of the beach while I went down nearly to the water’s edge, hoping for the best photo opportunity.
The sunset was gorgeous, as you’d expect, looking west, with no clouds on the horizon. There were a couple of small boats on the water: one of them would be a nice silhouette against the face of the Sun.
Yes, I adjusted the settings on the camera, and the pictures have been cropped but otherwise, there is no trickery here.
If you enjoyed seeing these pictures and spontaneously broke into a round of applause, you are not alone. The crowd on the beach clapped the Sun as it disappeared below the horizon and if I weren’t so British and restrained and refined, I may well have joined in.
Our final full day in Darwin wasn’t as active. We took advantage of a rest day, as we’ll be on the road for the next few weeks.
Another quick walk at East Point and in the city centre was very pleasant. Not so much wildlife this time, in either venue.
For a brief few moments in the 1990s, Sarah and I were related to Charles Darwin. Sarah directly and me by marriage. Still, quite exciting news. Which was immediately followed up with “Oh no, not Charles Darwin, it was Charles somebody else”.
As I write, it’s the anniversary of my Mum’s departure from this beautiful Earth. One lazy Sunday afternoon in the mid to late 1960s, my sister Pauline, Mum and I were watching a grainy old black and white TV set. Dad was in bed having his regular Sunday afternoon nap. There was a programme on about pineapple growers in Darwin. Mum and Pauline decided that that’s what they were going to do: move to Darwin and grow pineapples. “Can I come, too?” I remember asking. Neither Pauline nor I can remember the response. I was reminded of this incident when we saw pineapples being sold at the sunset market yesterday.
I’m just sorry Mum never had the chance to visit Darwin. Never mind the pineapples, she would have loved the cuddly dragonflies.
Admin is a fact of life, even in exotic locations. We took a couple of days out, messing about with the phone, booking flights and accommodation for later on, processing a pile of paperwork and discarding most of it. This post completes our stay in Kota Bharu but the next one may be delayed: we have limited wifi, restricted 4G, dodgy electric supply and who knows what other resources may be lacking? But that’s in the future, here is the recent past.
The State Museum’s new exhibit is now open. It’s a time tunnel comparing Kota Bharu old and new, then and now. Unusually for a museum exhibit, this one had more photographs than actual items to look at.
One thing I did like was the old, well-used typewriter, with a very wide carriage.
This painting adorned one wall but there was no descriptive label.
A couple of men were walking around the museum with a handful of labels but they’d either forgotten the sticky tape, or they really didn’t know which label belonged to which item. I could have told them, obviously, but not while keeping a straight face.
The ploughing equipment was all made from wood. The plough itself, also wood, is pulled by a buffalo.
Believe it or not, this small cave is a mock-up of the real Gua Cha, the site of a 10,000 year old settlement. We didn’t know if we were allowed in, but as I approached, the lights came on, and we were totally awed by the 10,000 year old technology.
We’d missed out on seeing a local, wayang, shadow puppet show, so it was interesting to see examples of the puppets here.
Very simple design, you don’t need much detail if you’re just projecting shadows onto the screen.
We walked to a local market and stopped for a coffee in Muhiba Restoran and Kafe. The temperature was 34° but it felt like 41° according to the weather app. I think we’d have guessed a higher number, just comparing it to what we experienced at Uluru.
The market was huge. We liked the fabrics that were on display, all very colourful.
We weren’t so keen on the food stalls. The fruit and veg was a bit smelly, the fish stalls a bit stinky. We turned a corner and walked into a wall of stench. We saw the meat being hacked and cut up and I’ve never seen so much blood. We reversed PDQ trying not to let our abject disgust show on our now even more pasty white faces. We didn’t need to walk in and witness an abattoir. Definitely a lowlight of our travels.
But the hanging cloth was pretty, hiding a grubby little alleyway.
We walked back to the hotel, still expressing disbelief at each other: how can people even eat meat? How can people bear to work in that sort of place? And a hundred and one other variations on “yuck, that was horrible”.
Very grateful that we didn’t have nightmares.
I woke up early but feeling lethargic and yet itchy for exercise. We had breakfast just in time, before they closed up shop at 10.30. The Kelentan River isn’t that far away and I decided to go for a quick walk in that direction. The temperature was lower than yesterday, and it was overcast, so, slightly less uncomfortable.
Crossing the roads is a fine art. You learn to select the narrower ones, with only two lanes instead of four. One-way streets should be easy, but motorcyclists use the footpaths willy-nilly, so they’re not bothered about going the wrong way up a one-way street either. You still have to look in both directions before crossing your fingers, closing your eyes and running across.
The trouble is, when you open your eyes again, you see this sort of rubbish. Literally.
Plastic drinks bottles are all over the place. It’s very sad to see but as Stephen said the other day, the Malays and the Chinese just don’t care about nature or the environment.
Sorry to say, Kota Bharu isn’t as interesting a town to wander around as some others, at least, not the area close to our hotel. The other day when we drove across the bridge, the river looked like melted milk chocolate. Today, it was more the colour of Caramac, and I can say now that it tasted of neither.
I looked around and spotted a BBC. No, I am not referring to the Brexit Broadcasting Corporation. There was a big black cloud over there so I took the hint, and began traipsing back to the hotel.
Some of the street art is fabulous. Here is a depiction of the local martial art, silat, some top spinners and a dragon being trained.
There’s not a lot of greenery here in Kota Bharu. The small patch of grass I did find to walk on was, let’s say, scratchy. It was like walking on upturned wire brushes. Thank goodness at least I had my sandals on. But I did smile at the attempt to replicate the Batman logo on this decorative arch.
On my return to the hotel, I went to the gym. No, that’s not a typo. I used the hotel’s gym, aiming to complete my 10,000 steps on the treadmill. 2 km, 23 minutes later, mission accomplished. My heart rate increased of course, but never to the point of discomfort: that sense of breathlessness that sometimes occurs at the slightest hint of exercise. I felt I could have carried on all day, but walking on a treadmill is a bit boring, to be honest.
From the treadmill, I could see what we think are the only other two white people in residence right now. He was wearing a one-piece swinsuit, she was wearing a very teeny bikini. Even I know it’s not appropriate in this particular place to flash that much flesh.
The shower was very welcome and I feel much better now, thanks. It’s still warm, even with the AC on in the room, but hopefully the sense of lethargy and weariness has been hit on the head, for now.
We’ve realised that another thing that makes it hard to wander round this town is seeing the poverty. The Grab cab fares are ridiculously low by our standards, and restaurant prices are too. I’ve been tipping, but I’m not sure that’s common here in Malaysia. I hope I’m not giving off vibes, flaunting my wealth: but the alternative is to not tip when I’m expected to, then I’m a stingy westerner.
In the afternoon, we went to the Community Centre for some local entertainment. Our friend Roselan was the MC. In the audience was a young German couple and that’s about it. But the entertainment was very good.
The drumming was fun and they even let Liesel have a go. She’s got rhythm, that girl.
When I first heard the oboe, I thought the player must have a bag of wind, similar to bagpipes, but it seems he was circular breathing, like didgeridoo players do. There was never a pause in the flow of music.
The local, Kelantanese martial art, silat, is similar to tai chi. During the display, the two players move slowly and with purpose, but as time went on and the music became faster and more insistent, they engaged in combat. It made us jump back when they moved in our direction.
A long, long time ago, Sarah and I acquired a board game and I’d forgotten its name. The wooden board had several holes in it, a large one at each end and a series of six or seven smaller ones along each of the long sides. We had small sea-shells as playing pieces. Unfortunately, the instructions weren’t explicit enough, and we could never make up a good game. So how exciting to, finally, be able to play the game called congkak here in Malaysia. I think our (long gone) game was called Sungka, from the Philippines.
A couple of young muslim women showed us how to play, then invited the German girl to take over and later on, I started playing. We used marbles rather than sea-shells but at last, I think I know what I’m doing!
Top spinning is something I thought I’d find easy. Not these tops. They’re wooden, the rope is wound tight, looped round your wrist and you fling the top, it spins for a long time. Hah.
Once a top is spinning in the correct area, a second player tries to knock it over with his own top. Hence the name, Striking Tops. I had several attempts but never succeeded in spinning a top, but it was good fun trying.
More fun than the other activity I was invited to join. Dancing. I can’t dance. I can pick up a rhythm, tap my foot, drum on a table, but I can not dance. The video is embarrassing. Everyone else is totally out of step with me.
It was a fun afternoon. We looked at the artists painting lovely flowers, but we resisted the temptation to buy.
We managed to see and speak to Martha on this, her third birthday. The theme this year is Unicorns. She is fascinated by them and we can’t wait to see her in real life, dressed up as a unicorn, cuddling a toy unicorn, having riding lessons on a real unicorn.
We made one more trip to the Aeon shopping mall, to buy some supplies for next week. I would have picked eight discs, but we don’t have a record player and the island we’re going to isn’t a desert island. We dined in Vivo. Next, we’ll eat out of petri dishes, in Vitro.
Breakfast at the hotel has been good. I’ve avoided some items because I don’t know what they are. There’s a rice dish, nasi kerabu, which is a gorgeous colour blue. But I didn’t know if it was blueberries (OK) or squid ink (not OK) giving it that colour. So we looked it up.
Nasi kerabu is a Malay rice dish, a type of nasi ulam, in which blue-coloured rice is eaten with dried fish or fried chicken, crackers, pickles and other salads. The blue color of the rice comes from the petals of …. whaaaattt? Who knew such a plant existed. And how lucky that it was found in the first place.
Kota Bharu means “New Castle” so quite rightly, it’s located in the northeast of the country. We booked a taxi to drive us to our hotel. Yes, a hotel because there is no Airbnb coverage in this area.
And how excited were we to find we’re in the Executive Wing of the Hotel. Until, that is, studying the emergency evacuation plan, we find that the whole whole place is the Executive Wing.
Kota Bharu is 93% Muslim with a smattering of Chinese and Thai people. And the main employment seems to be Standing Around, although, to be fair, one hotel in a northern town isn’t a scientific sample. One man opened the door for us, one man carried our bags up to the room. Every time we left or reentered the hotel, someone would open the door for us. I could do that job.
Street food: you just rock up to the vendor, say what you want, pay for it, wait for it, take it away and eat it, right? Oh no, not at this hotel. As well as its five in-house restaurants, they’re selling various kinds of street food for a few evenings. We only wanted ice-cream, easy. We went to the payment counter where we ticked the relevant box on the order form. The clerk took this form, picked up a yellow ticket (the ice-cream roll one) and told us how much it would cost. We paid. He then asked for a name which he wrote on both the order form and on our yellow ticket. What a palaver. We presented the ticket to the young lady at the ice-cream stall. While we waited for the ice-cream to be made, we were being looked at. We were the only white people here, staff and customers included. The ice-cream was freshly made. Young lady number 2 poured some cream into the freezing pan. Like a frying pan, only instead of frying stuff, it froze it. She added strawberries, blueberries and a few slices of banana. She chopped the whole lot together with a straight blade and as it cooled, it began to stick to the bottom of the pan. When it was completely mixed and frozen, she scraped it off the bottom and it rolled up into coils. Ice-cream rolls. This was placed into a pot, where young lady number 1 added more fruit and an Oreo biscuit, a couple of chocolate roll biscuits and, unfortunately, some marshmallows.
What a great dessert that was, well worth waiting for. And more expensive than our first course had been, at a Roti Canai place just round the corner from the hotel.
It doesn’t look much from the outside but this little shack delivered the best roti with a couple of dipping sauces that we could have asked for, and just a two-minute walk away. The roti are made by a couple of young guys and it seems they employ their Mums too: one was peeling the onions and the other was peeling bananas.
We’re on the seventh floor of the hotel and the view from our window, and in any direction is nothing special. But at least we haven’t seen any bonfires or bin fires on the streets, yet.
Breakfast was huge, almost too much choice, so we just kept going until we stopped. Eggs, toast, fresh fruit, cereal, pastries, tea, coffee, juice, not to mention the Asian food. There were many young ladies working, topping up the pans and pots of food, clearing the tables, cooking the eggs and doing a great job, smiling and happy to be there. They were, unnecessarily, being kept in check by two 1920s gangsters in very important black suits, two sizes too big.
We walked out into the heat of the day to the visitor information place, where we met Roselan. We didn’t realise it was him at first, but he is featured in the Lonely Planet Guide.
It was indeed hot, after the coolness of Fraser’s Hill, so we decided it would be a museum day.
As I was taking a picture of the bazaar, Liesel thought I would be arrested for taking a picture of the police station. Well, I wasn’t, and I wasn’t. But I was careful not to brandish my camera at anything or anyone remotely official.
First, nearly next door to the information office, was the State Museum. It was closed for a few days while they install a new exhibit. The lady who told us this was sitting at a desk, outside. That’s a job I couldn’t do.
Let’s try the Customs and Cermonies Museum. It was a cheap entry fee, RM2 for locals and RM4 for ‘foreigners’. Well, from my point of view, you’re the foreigners, but I didn’t say that out loud.
The Royal Barge is made of teak, dates from the 1900s, accommodates up to ten people and still looks usable. Some of the other vessels had big holes.
It seems that in olden times, they’d use any excuse to have a big celebration: birthday, engagement, marriage, circumcision, birth, funeral, even being 7 months pregnant. The original 24-hour party people.
This carriage was used during the 52nd birthday celebrations of His Royal Highness Sultan Ismail Petra.
Can you imagine a fight between two bulls which, if they’re fairly equally matched, can last forty minutes or more? That’s Malay bull fighting. The arena, or ‘bong’, is the size of a football field. We can see the Sultan Muhammad IV Stadium from our hotel. It has floodlights and the field is marked out for football, soccer, so I hope that’s all we see, if anything.
The spiral staircases are a work of art in their own right.
The Royal Museum really does celebrate the royal family. Many, many portraits, going back several generations.
There was a family tree but in Arabic, I think, so I couldn’t read the text. But, if it follows the conventions of a western family tree, someone gave birth to 25 children and a few generations later, someone had 24.
This plaque gives a brief history. It’s interesting to see there’s been some form of monarchy in the region for over 2000 years. Also interesting to see that the King of Malaysia, the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, is elected every five years from all eligible Sultans.
We live in more enlightened times now, and I like to think that no more elephant’s tusks will be taken and decorated in this way.
These vases are very decorative too, and it was a relief to leave the room without tripping over and falling onto them.
There is a finite amount of time you can spend walking slowly round a museum, or two, so we decided to go to a big shopping centre, just a Grab cab ride away.
My phone’s been complaining about running out of storage recently. 128 GB seemed a lot when I bought the phone. So I’ve been diligently deleting duplicate photos, rubbish photos, excess videos, trying to recover storage space. But I decided the best solution would be to buy an SD card and move lots of stuff onto it.
Needless to say, I purchased the wrong thing today. I need a microSD card, not just an SD card.
But the shopping mall provides plenty of entertainment. You are expected to leapfrog over a bollard if you want to use the escalator.
Neither Liesel nor I came a cropper, thank goodness. We stopped for a coffee and I was delighted with my jalapeño bagel with cream cheese, the first since Alaska, I think.
After another (too) big breakfast, as arranged, Roselan picked us up for a quick tour. I thought he’d be driving, himself, but instead, Suri drove us. Roselan’s English is obviously better than our Malay. He even throws in colloquialisms such as “lovely, jubbly” and “alright, love?”
We passed by some rice fields, highly irrigated, but Roselan says he prefers Thai rice, it’s softer.
The first temple, Wat Phothivihan, features The Reclining Buddha.
Its Thai style is different to Buddhas we’ve seen in other places, even here in Malaysia.
Underneath is a crypt, a gathering point for remembering lost souls. The ashes are stored in jars, each one set into a numbered shrine. Some are bare, some are very well attired with incense, flowers, other artefacts. It was a moving place, yet celebratory.
One ‘locker’ in particular, for that is what they look like, stood out. He was a young man, the photo was from his graduation ceremony. I wondered whether he was a mathematician? Why else choose number 1024, 2¹⁰, surrounded by empty, unused tombs?
Amongst the many other statues, we did like the Buddha being protected by snakes.
And we like the big belly bloke too, even if the birds don’t. He’s still laughing.
Wat Machimmaram has a big Buddha sitting on the roof. He has the largest known dharma wheel on his chest. Apparently, you can climb up inside, but today the doors were locked, and I’d forgotten to bring boltcutters.
We don’t know how many tiles are needed to make a Buddha, but this really was a labour of love.
Most temples have smaller shrines in the grounds, and this was no exception. Any one of them would be worth visiting in its own right. Conversely, some of the artwork was quite disturbing, images you wouldn’t normally associate with Buddhism and its message of peace and harmony.
These temples are in Tumpat, a small town just south of the Thai border. So of course, we had to go and at least look at Thailand, even if we’re not visiting on this occasion.
The market by the river is a Duty Free Zone, and there’s a thriving trade.
Roselan took us right through the customs office, he knows the right people, right up to the barbed wire that prevented us from jumping into the Golok river and swimming across. Looking down, Liesel spotted this lizard.
On the Thai side, there is an equivalent market. Ferries operate every half hour or so. There’s a fishery just along the river bank but luckily, the wind was in the right direction.
And so onto the third temple of the day. Wat Maisuwankiri. It was here that we found a tiger, standing guard.
We’ve reclined, we’ve sat, now we’re standing. And this Buddha is a female, just to add to the confusion.
There’s a lot to see inside too: I think we saved the best until last.
One thing we didn’t need to see was the preserved body of a former abbot. We told ourselves it was a waxwork model. Yes, what we saw was wax, we missed the actual dead body.
Outside, the famous dragon boat is protected by the largest, longest dragon we’ve ever come across. The dragon boat’s dragon head made me smile, bringing back memories of the Ice Dragon from Noggin the Nog stories.
The donation box was designed to accept coins but I forced a bent banknote into it. I thought about my lost loved ones and lit incense sticks for my Mum and Dad and Sarah.
All of the temples we visited were populated by the saddest looking stray dogs you could imagine. Some had had babies, they may have had rabies and they definitely had scabies. They just wandered around the grounds, looking sad, looking for food, but otherwise, not interested in the world. We needn’t have worried about leaving our sandals outside the temples: these dogs had no interest in walking off with them.
Although Roselan had said at each point to take as long as we needed, we judged it just right. He dropped us off at the hotel at 12:30, perfect timing for his midday prayers at 1:20pm.
We’d driven over the bridge again, across the Kelantan River that gives the state its name. Or vice versa. The runny chocolate milkshake, that’s what it looked like, was flowing slowly. It usually floods up to the level of the bridge during the monsoon season, but sometimes, the floods are even higher.
Hard to believe, then, that people live in houses, or shacks, right down by the water’s edge.
I volunteered to go back to the shopping mall alone to (try to) buy the correct memory card for my phone. And as a bonus, for the first time in a while, I took a photo inside a toilet. Another little rule to live by.
And yes, I found a 128GB microSDXYZ bla bla bla card. There was also was a rare opportunity to see a rhinoceros in the wild. Well, an electric rhinoceros in a shopping centre.
This lady said it was OK to take the photos of her and her children, so what a shame they’re not very good pictures. Other motorised sit-upons were available too and I’m sorry Liesel missed out on the rides.
For a few seconds when I woke up, I forgot it was my birthday. Then I remembered. And then I remembered where I was. And the feeling of excitement and well-being totally out-weighed any sense of dismay at being yet another year older.
Postman Liesel delivered two cards: thank you Helen and Adam, Martha, William, Jenny and Liam!
I enjoyed my birthday big bash bonanza breakfast buffet but I didn’t want to over-stuff myself. A massage was booked for 10am. I know: two massages within a few days! Happy birthday, me!
It was brilliant: she found all the usual suspects, pops and clicks in my muscles. The treatment included feet being washed and scrubbed, tea before and a pot of ginger tea afterwards, out on the balcony overlooking the sea. Wonderful.
There are a number of pools here at the hotel, and the biggest is for adults only. That’s where we spent most of the afternoon. Swimming, reading, napping. And repeat. Happy birthday, me!
This was our way of life for the next few days. Big breakfast, short walk, pool time.
We heard the rumble of thunder in the distance, but no storm materialised. We chose in the end not to climb the coconut tree as I’d suggested in my Facebook status.
I spoke to Helen and to Martha on the phone, despite the best efforts of the iffy wiffi.
Summertime and the living is easy. This feels like a proper holiday, by the sea, relaxing by the pool, enjoying cocktails in the evening. I’m not sure I would enjoy this sort of break for more than a few days at a time, but it’s exactly what the doctor ordered for now. A nice break from hikes, museums, city life. Happy birthday, me!
After such a big breakfast, we felt no need for a substantial lunch and even our evening meals have not been that large.
Other entertainment in the pool is provided by the swallows that dive down for a quick dip. I went into the water with my phone, hoping for a good close-up photo, but sod’s law: this was when the largest group of people we’d ever seen chose to use the pool at the same time. Five of them. So, no swallow photo.
Lazybones, sitting in the Sun, how you gonna get your day’s work done?
I went for a walk along Riau Beach, the one closest to our room. It was the busiest beach we’ve seen for a long time: we now expect to have a beach to ourselves! All sorts of people here and all doing normal stuff, burying their dad in the sand, digging holes, paddling in the sea, making sand castles, having picnics.
As it was a couple of hours before sunset, I tried for an artistic shot and this silhouette is as good as I managed.
There were lots of holes on the beach, possibly made by those little crabs I saw the previous day. Very clever, hundreds of little balls of sand expelled and probably a complex warren underneath.
My leg is just to give an idea of scale! Plus, that’s my birthday treat for you: the sight of my lovely leg.
Me mind on fire, me soul on fire, feeling hot hot hot. But nicely hot, not so uncomfortably hot that I can’t think nor concentrate nor do anything physical.
Entertainment from the beach was provided by a woman singing in the distance and by groups of people falling off their banana boats as the waves came in.
I saw a pile of bright yellow mangoes and thought I’d indulge.
Imagine my disappointment when I got close enough to see that in fact, it’s a rope of float buoys and not really edible.
So, a small evening meal, after cocktails of course, and there was room for dessert, the nearest we could find to a large slice of actual cake. Happy birthday, me!
In the middle of the night, when the tide was out, we saw a few people in the distance on the sand-flats, walking about with torches. We assume they were fishing for something very specific and nocturnal. But neither of us volunteered to go out and ask.
Hotter then a pepper sprout. But our room was air-conditioned and it really is much easier to sleep when it’s not too hot inside.
There is much less haze here than in Melaka too. The horizon is as it should be, a nice, sharp boundary between the sea and the sky.
Another big breakfast, another lounge by the pool, another distant rumble of thunder. We had coffee inside. Total excitement when Liesel knocked over her mango juice with the newspaper. It missed me, though (take note, Jyoti).
Liesel phoned her Mom and we found the wifi signal to be much more reliable outside, by the beach. Explain that, you technical people.
I went down to investigate the piles of sand along the waterfront.
Yes, worms, being dug up and later to be used as fish bait. Apparently, they’re expensive to buy in a shop.
In the afternoon, while I was busy attempting, and messing up, a new kind of puzzle in today’s newspaper, Liesel filmed the swallows.
She returned to our room while I continued with another puzzle (messed that one up too) and another swim. And while I was sitting there, minding my own business, there was a crash. A small coconut landed right by the pool. Followed closely by several pieces of bark.
I was so glad I was wearing my brand new hard hat. Happy birthday, me!
I don’t know if there was a monkey up in the tree, but someone was taking photos of the goings-on up above.
Peacocks can count to 6. We had one sitting close to us while we ate dinner, and every few minutes it would shout/squawk six times, never five, never seven, always six. But he never did find his mate.
Other fellow diners included a couple of geckos playing peek-a-boo around a lamp.
Still, I’d rather see them than what was outside our room: a dead cockroach.
All day I’d been trying a take a picture of a particular bird: dark, oily green in colour with piercing red eyes. Very timid, very wary of me and my camera. But I did get a bright red eye later on.
Other housemates include the birds that either live or at least spend a lot of time in the roof space above our bathroom. We hear their high-pitched calls and now we know the source of the noise, actually, it’s quite relaxing.
Spring has arrived back home but here it’s still definitely hotter then Hull, and it’s great.
As I write, it’s about 1:15pm, two days after my birthday. Liesel is having a massage while I’m sitting here, outside, in the so-called Author’s Recluse. Yes, I’m pretending to be an author. Or maybe I’m a recluse.
Every few seconds, I have to blow an ant or a small spider off the keyboard. From behind, I can hear a cockerel and some other small birds. In the opposite direction, the call to dhuhr, midday prayer has just finished.
I’m under a shade so quite cool. And this is the terrible view I have.
Now and then, there’s a slight smoky smell, but not as strong nor as pungent as in Melaka. And the whiff from the petting zoo sometimes wafts this far too. But, this is great, there is no smoking anywhere at this hotel.
Bad news: later on, we did see a cigarette butt on the path.
Good news: the nighttime torchlight prowlers were looking for edible sea snails, according to Nina, today’s barista.
The only thing we missed on my birthday was joining the two million other people marching in London campaigning for a People’s Vote on whether or not the UK should leave the European Union. Now that we know what Brexit actually means (“Brexit means Brexit” was always bollocks, PM), let’s have a proper, informed decision, since the government have totally messed it all up.
I have signed the petition to Revoke Article 50 too. I was about number 170,000. As I write, there are over 5 million signatures. If you haven’t signed, here’s the link. Please sign even if you disagree with the petition, it’ll be alright, honest. (Another little lie for brexiters to fall for.)
A march and a petition: maybe futile gestures in the face of a PM desperate to cling on to her job and who puts the unity of her political party before the interests and well-being of the country as a whole, but someone’s protest, someone’s signature just might be the tipping point we need.
I apologise for a rare and brief political rant. Happy birthday, me!