Creative Accounting and Lightweight Travel.

Part One

TRAVELLING LIGHTER , TIGHTER AND BEING A WRITER   (with a bit of photography chucked in for good measure)

Learning to become a tight arse traveller, meandering slowly and smelling the roses, is akin to starting your own offshore tax haven. Don’t let that fool you. The fact is you may never earn enough money to pay tax. But so what? Eat your heart out, here’s my office.

WHITE SAND BEACH
This is my second home, a bonus of creative accounting. It’s rent free so I have nothing to hide from the taxman. This a drone shot, not mine, I pinched it from a friend.

These days I’m learning a perverse logic:  You may as well not earn money at doing something you enjoy than not earn money doing something you don’t enjoy. Think about it!

I’ve never been mean, especially when it comes to spending Other People’s Money. Now, in the world of media’s changing economics and OPM vapourising, I’m learning to become lean and mean; a tight arse traveller. It takes practice but sooner or later  unique creative accounting falls into place. Not only that but it’s possible to earn a comfortable living. For example I don’t measure my economy in dollars and cents, rial, roubles, rupiah, kip or kyat, even though my best friend is a free currency converting App on the iPad.

THE NEW ECONOMY

My economy is measured in units of air fares and the cost of beer. There is no App for that yet.  One Air Fare Unit (AFU) is $250. A Unit of Beer (BU) is one dollar.

The process started in late 2008 when a global recession scattered freelance journalists and photojournalists in all directions. I was at a career point where I wanted to slow down a little. It was time for a change.

I found myself disliking driving. I’d been down the road of exotic cars, luxury appartments and had a trophy wife. I ‘let her go’ and she quickly married a Gucci. That has become the basis for a bigger story. I’m working on that.

Driving had been a passion but with crowded roads and traffic lights it had become frustrating. I was calculating how much I could sell my car for when somebody kindly drove theirs into the side of mine. The other driver should have become my new best friend. I would have bought him a few beers and traded girl friends because my car was deemed a write off and the insurers paid me twice what my asking price was going to be had I sold it. Suddenly I fell in love with an insurance company, that was a first, they can be very unlovable.

NEW FREEDOM, NEW LIFESTYLE

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New supermarket. Fresh fruit, fresh vegetables, fresh fish. A weeks shopping costs about $15

Within a week the money was in a new account marked ‘Travel’. I woke to a new freedom, a new style of living. I had an old bike and a worn out travel bag which, at a squeeze, could accommodate a few T-shirts, shorts, jocks, toothbrush, shaving gear and pain killers. This kit was the framework for lightweight travel and a reasonable income.

The economic benefit was instant. No fuel bills, no massive service fees, no new tyres, no broken screens, no break-ins, no parking tickets, no speeding fines, no road tax, no depreciation, no insurance and no drink driving problems. That doesn’t mean no drinking. Collectively they save me a minimum of about $6000 a year.

I axed two daily newspapers, weekend papers and a few magazines saving another $2000 a year. My travel budget was now sitting on $8000 a year. Not a lot in the overall scheme of things but sufficient.

I had been travelling on OPM, staying in decent hotels, sometimes in exotic locations. I had every so often flown first class (nice); more often business class (nearly as nice) and sometimes cattle class;  not nice at all but I liked the passengers a great deal more.

I had spent years in Fleet Street, a nerve centre of journalism in those days, and was on the staff of a French magazine. After several years I went freelance, working on assignments, earning well, saving little but enjoying the freedom only a freelance journalist can enjoy. I then started working on a totally speculative basis, writing and illustrating self assigned stories.  My publication rate was high and I enjoyed more independence.

I’m an avid reader of Graham Green, Somerset Maugham and others who travelled and wrote about the region. Prompted by their influences I have let myself loose in SE Asia, an old territory of colonial France, Indochina. I saw a refreshed career as what the French fondly refer to as a flâneur; simply wandering streets and observing life, making a few notes, taking a few photographs.  I disciplined myself to write most evenings for an hour or so, usually in the company of  ice cold beer and a local meal.

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A sea level view of the office. My spot is on the extreme right, in that dark space.

As it happens Bali is only about three and a half hours by air from my Australian base so I made the island a second home. I can travel door to door, home to home, in about seven hours for  one AFU. Once there I stay in a delightful, clean and comfortable hotel. It has eight rooms and costs me ten bucks, about 10BUs, a night including breakfast and, importantly, a fast internet connection. Adding to the romance of the place is the rumour that it was formerly  a brothel.  I find that hard to believe as it has cold showers which could be counterproductive in some situations. I can live for about $200 a week on the island, including the hotel. That’s less than one AFU. People don’t believe me when I say I’m heading off to Bali to work. “Enjoy your holiday” they say. My office is a beach where I  write in a  warung, eat fresh fish daily with salads, rice and fruit and have a beer or two at about a dollar a bottle. That’s only 2BUs v 18BUs minimum in Australia.

I go to the morning market, buy fruit and chat to the locals who’ve named me ‘Poppa’, which I rather like. I buy fish to feed the hotel’s scrawny cats and frequently a kilo of rambutan when in season but the market is always full of fresh fruits. The fruit costs me about dollar, the fish about 20cents. In my local store, in Australia, rambutan is nearly $50 a kilo! Five kilos is an air fare! The more I eat the more I save.

BALI ERNA WHITE SAND BEACH
Erna and Made in their beachfront warung which doubles as my office. A decent lunch sets me back about  4BU of my creative travel currency. I do  a bit of writing, walk about twelve lengths of the beach, swim. There’s a secret trail though the trees along cliff top to the beach . It takes me about ten minutes to walk to the ‘office’.  

I’m digressing. This blog is aimed at people looking for an uncomplicated life, smelling the roses and earning a quid doing something they enjoy doing. So back to the travel light and write theme. Having spent several decades covering news and other events I was ready for a change. I have always written, always taken pictures. It was a useful combination and I see no reason to change that. This change in direction is to look at laid back stories, probably around travel, people I meet, food I eat. Like any good flâneur I have no sense of direction. I do have a list of ideas which tend to revolve around rivers, lakes, oceans, boats, beaches and palm trees. And a Happy Hour in a bar somewhere. So please feel free to watch this space.

WORKING KIT for WORDS

This is my basic working kit. I sometimes take a Macbook Air but generally find the basic iPad is sufficient. I carry a notebook and prefer the French Clairfontaine products as the paper is extraordinarily good for writing on. I used to use Moleskine but the paper is not in the same league and they cost nearly three times as much – about 33BUs against 12BUs. I like to write with a fountain pen and Clarefontaine paper doesn’t suffer from ‘show through’. Ink is often not practical in climates of high humidity either as the paper can get a little damp from sweaty hands. In that instance I use a highly treasured ball point pen. A few pencils and a sharpener are handy backups.

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Basic writing kit: I use the notebook as a scrap book too. On the left hand page I paste useful things like maps, menus, beer labels. Anything which may jog a memory. On the facing page I make notes. Each page is dated.
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The iPad and notebook are stored in lightweight nylon bag. Not totally waterproof but it could help. Pens, pencils, sharpeners are in a waterproof roll-up pouch. 

I’ll write about a photography kit in the next blog.  Cheers for now.

Roger Garwood. <rjgarwood@gmail.com>

Bali Funeral

A Balinese funeral is a unique combination of the spirituality of Buddhist and Hindu rites which celebrate a person’s time on Earth and, more importantly, their transition to a life after death.

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Various elements of the funeral ceremony are spaced out over seven days. At one point relatives of the deceased walk around the funeral pyre carrying offerings and pictures of relatives

Tourists will be aware of the funeral ‘season’ on the tropical island by the visible presence of massive bamboo towers which will convey a body to a cremation. But these prominent structures are for wealthy Balinese. In most villages and towns throughout the island the cost of a funeral is shared between several families.

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The first part of the funeral starts, at about 3a.m. Each relative is disinterred and carefully wrapped in a white sheet before before lifted from the temporary grave and taken to an area of cemetery for cleaning.  There is a pervading,  sweet, smell of decay in the still morning air.

In a small coastal town which I look on as second home, a mass cremation is held about every three years. When a family member dies they are buried in a grave in the local cemetery.

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Family members take the skeletal remains, wrapped in a sheet, to an area for washing and preparing for the cremation.

This is a temporary resting place. Over three years enough relatives are ready to move on to a new life. In this ceremony, held in June last year (2016), 98 were cremated.

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During a ritual washing the skull is passed to family members to be kissed. 

The ceremonial process took seven days culminating in the Ngaben, the cremation, after which the ashes are divided between family members and taken to sea for a final scattering on the element of water, in this case the Badung Strait.

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Skeletal remains are ceremoniously laid out and scattered with flowers before being wrapped ready for cremation.
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As family names are called relatives carry their body,  ready for cremation, to be placed on the funeral pyre 
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A body is carried by family members to the funeral pyre
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Early in the day of the cremation a procession leaves the local temple. On this day effigies of 98 relatives were carried through the town.
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Hot, humid, days make it necessary for an occasional rest
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A priest from the temple blesses the pyre before the cremation

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Bali and Beyond

Sea Change on the Horizon

The past few months have been the beginning of a watershed. A slight change of life style and direction. Only slight of course, I don’t like drama.

I have been living in Fremantle, Australia, for close to 40 years. Those years have been great fun, sometimes profitable and sometimes a touch irritating when it comes to glancing at the pile of bills alongside the bank statement. I imagine a few people experience that feeling.

I’ve pretty much covered Australia from top to bottom and side to side. Produced a number of books and written umpteen articles about everything from mining, agriculture, prospecting, cattle rustling, rodeos, fishing, pearling, diamonds … it goes on.

Now, with massive changes in the media resulting from new technology, great changes in photography for similar reasons and changes in my mind for no particular reasons, I have made a decision to take a sideways shift in lifestyle.

Bali, peaceful and charming

Fremantle is a little over three hours flying time from Bali, a place I enjoy for it’s laid back lifestyle, peaceful culture and charm. Thus I thought “Why not work from Bali?” It costs very little to live here in reasonable comfort and it is a convenient  point to reach pretty well anywhere in Asia. So now I’m spending a few weeks here looking for a suitable place with two or three bedrooms, a swimming pool and space for an office. Thus I can live a ‘fly in fly out’ lifestyle and friends are welcome to drop in when they wish.

The idea is to carry on doing what I do, produce a few more books of one sort or another, write a few articles and not make any rigid rules. I don’t do stress.

I’ve also made a commitment to shoot more film, black and white, as well as the digital colour  necessary for articles. More on that later but I have bought myself a rather indulgent Christmas present. I’ll show and tell in a later post, probably mid January.

Here’s the view from what I refer to as my ‘Lunch Office’. I also have a ‘Coffee Office’ and a little further down the road a ‘Beer Office’.

photo

I confess that I do enjoy taking snaps on my iPad. This was a straight shot which went through a sort of random button pressing process on the  Snapseed App which is far more entertaining than any computer games.

Bali – The Bonus

The Bonus of a ‘Business’ Trip

I may have mentioned before that the idea of going to Bali was to catch up on some writing and maybe take a few pictures. I booked the trip while remarkably low fares were available and arrived in a bucketing tropical rain storm. I did actually do some work, mostly while sitting on a beach with a cold beer on standby. I really don’t like offices.

When I booked the trip I’d forgotten that the Balinese New Year was to happen right in the middle of my time on the island. This is when, after a few celebrations which involves building giant monsters – the famed Ogah Ogah (read ogre) –  representing the evil spirits said to roam the island. The object of New Year is to frighten these spirits and force them to leave the island. It’s a story which has been told a few times to say the least but I’d never witnessed it and in any event it seems to happen mostly at night-time which makes photography a little arduous.

Ogah Ogah ready for the New Year parade © Roger Garwood 2013
Ogah Ogah ready for the New Year parade
© Roger Garwood 2013

As luck would have it I was staying in Padang Bai and the performance which is designed to frighten the local ogahs into a hasty retreat takes place in daylight. This was bonus for me.

In the morning I strolled around town, finding these colourful creatures having finishing touches put to their hideous bodies and watched them being hoisted onto frames, making it easy for them to be hauled through streets.

Padang Bai is small enough to walk around in ten minutes and it is not a tourist centre as such. It is a small port where ferries leave for a variety of islands such as Lombok. It’s also a popular dive centre. As the time came close for the procession of about a dozen ogahs to be paraded and ultimately destroyed the atmosphere became quite electric. I could feel good pictures in my bones.

Small groups of bands formed up. Kids, dressed in their brightest and best took up vantage points in the streets and I armed myself with my only travelling companion – the little Leica D Lux 5. “Bring ’em on” I thought. And they did.

The beginning of the parade in Padang Bai. most of these horrific effigies of evil spirits are made by school children. © Roger Garwood 2013
The beginning of the parade in Padang Bai. most of these horrific effigies of evil spirits are made by school children.
© Roger Garwood 2013
Evil spirits had little chance of distracting these two youngsters from their iPhone © Roger Garwood 2013
Evil spirits had little chance of distracting these two youngsters from their smart phone 
© Roger Garwood 2013
The more noise the better. Everything about the parade is designed to frighten off the bad spirits. © Roger Garwood 2013
The more noise the better. Everything about the parade is designed to frighten off the bad spirits.
© Roger Garwood 2013
Colour alone would frighten most people. Most of these creatures are made from carved polystyrene. Traditionally they were constructed from bamboo frames and paper.   © Roger Garwood 2013
Colour alone would frighten most people. Most of these creatures are made from carved polystyrene. Traditionally they were constructed from bamboo frames and paper.
© Roger Garwood 2013
This character really put me off my dinner. I didn't order sausages that evening. © Roger Garwood 2013
This character really put me off my dinner. I didn’t order sausages that evening.
© Roger Garwood 2013

All of the pictures were taken on the Leica D Lux 5, a perfect camera for travelling with. The 24-90mm (equivalent) lens offers a useful range from wide-angle to a short telephoto.

The weather in Bali can be hot and humid. At the end of the parade a few people would hose down the members in the parade to help keep them cool. © Roger Garwood 2013
The weather in Bali can be hot and humid. At the end of the parade a few people would hose down the members in the parade to help keep them cool.
© Roger Garwood 2013

I keep the camera on auto everything. I have three basic programs. The first handles colour with an ISO setting of 80. The other two are B&W set to 80 and 400 ISO. I find this combination is pretty much perfect for everyday shooting in reasonable light. The D-Lux 5 has now been superseded  by the D Lux 6.

Ultimately the spirits are taken to the beach and enthusiastically dismembered by school kids.  The ultimate prize is a head. © Roger Garwood 2013
Ultimately the spirits are taken to the beach and enthusiastically dismembered by school kids. The ultimate prize is a head.
© Roger Garwood 2013
To ensure they don't come back the ogahs' remains are burnt to a cinder on the beach. © Roger Garwood 2013
To ensure they don’t come back the ogahs’ remains are burnt to a cinder on the beach.
© Roger Garwood 2013

Apart from a few holiday snaps I did the bulk of my shooting in one day. From about 350 pictures I edited 35-40 which formed an excellent back up to a short story about the New Year celebrations.

As a matter of interest these days I specialise in travelling light and producing stories and pictures which I syndicate. I am running a workshop at the Ballarat Photo Festival. If anybody is interested check out the details at <http://ballaratfoto.org/garwood-workshop/&gt; This will lead you to the home page. Look for “Participate”, scroll to “Workshops”.

I may meet some of you there. It’s going to be great festival.

Bali Part II – Making a Plan – Who am I Kidding?

You Can’t Miss It

And so I made a plan. I’d spend five days in Padang Bai, then slip over to my favourite hotel in Candidasa where they have an excellent restaurant with a French influence and a brand new pool to frolic around in and finally round off the trip with a few days in Ahmed. So much for the best laid plans. Anyway, this was a working trip and I had to work out a routine of some sort.

One view from the $9 a night hotel.  © Roger Garwood 2013
One view from the $9 a night hotel.
© Roger Garwood 2013

On my first morning I thought I’d gather my thoughts by heading off to White Beach with my notes and iPad.

There’s a beach at one end of the town – White Beach. If you read the Lonely Planet guide it’s a short walk. Thus I cheerfully set off. It was a hot tropical day – humid with air like close-fitting velvet. I was told the beach was a gentle meander over the hill, a stroll past the temple ” … take about half an hour … you can’t miss it”. I’ve heard that phrase a good many times in Australia and greeted it with a sinking feeling. I’m the bloke who always misses the bright red oil drum marking the beginning of the dirt tract. Can anybody explain to me how it is possible to get lost on a single track lane who’s only destination is a beach?

Black Beach or White Beach?

It was simple as far as the temple which is just beyond the harbour’s ferry terminal. The hill then became somewhat more inclined, to the ‘short of breath’ status. After going down the other side of the hill I came to a junction. Nobody had mentioned that. The left side went up, the right side went down. Logic told me the beach must be down so I turned right. Wrong! I could hear water on a beach but it wasn’t getting closer. I stopped a guy on a motor bike which had a huge pile of hay on board, holding him in place: “Excuse me my good man, would you be kind enough to tell me the way to the beach please?” I said in my best and clearest English.

“Black beach or white beach?” he asked in perfect Indonesian.

“Er, white please my good chap”.

He indicated the direction I had come from, told me to go to the top of the hill, I’d see a big green gate, ignore that, go to the road at the left and look for a pathway. “About 25 minutes”.

White Beach. Tarzan and Jane would have loved it. Especially with an ice cold coke. © Roger Garwood 2013
White Beach. Tarzan and Jane would have loved it. Especially with an ice cold coke.
© Roger Garwood 2013

Grasshoppers get their rocks off

Dehydrated and close to death I retraced my steps, found the gate, ignored it, found a network of paths and took several wrong ones, all within earshot of surf. I finally found some steps which led through unremitting undergrowth and  trees. Suddenly there it was. White beach. I felt like Tarzan, in one of those films we used to watch as kids, suddenly seeing water for the first time. I grabbed the last creeper and swung down onto the soft sand and staggered up to one of half a dozen bamboo and tin warung, each with rickety tables and bench seats sitting unsteadily in the sand. I sat in the shade and ordered a Coke which came ice-cold in an old-fashioned bottle, the sort Tarzan would have been familiar with in Hollywood.The ocean was azure, palm trees dutifully did their postcard bit behind the huts and a few people plunged into the water. They were mostly of the eye candy version which gladdened my heart, making the journey worthwhile. It had only taken close to an hour and half to get here?

I made camp and settled down at the least busy table, planning to read and write a bit but allowing myself the occasional distraction. A grasshopper, massive bugger, lodged at the end of my table and was slowly rocking backwards and forwards. I looked a bit closer and there were two of them … shagging themselves silly. I didn’t want to disturb them so let them get on with it.

Shagging grasshoppers. You can't get away with that sort of behaviour here. © Roger Garwood 2013
Shagging grasshoppers. You can’t get away with that sort of behaviour here.
© Roger Garwood 2013

It didn’t take long before there was spontaneous outbreak of yoga on the beach. Not organised, just individuals. Having spent a day looking at ogahs (more about them in the next posting) in various stages of distortion and licentious behaviour I saw no reason not to enjoy what was happening. Women started contorting themselves on the beach in a manner they wouldn’t dream of doing at home, in front of menfolk. In any event they would have been hosed down with cold water.

Downward Dog was pretty easy to spot but there were interesting variations. Scratching Panda, Itching Monkey … how do you describe such things? Thank goodness they hadn’t seen Shagging Grasshopper. One tender morsel, trim, taut, terrific (and knowing it ) stood up, all but naked and covered in damp sand which was sticking like Lycra, where it touched, which was almost everywhere. She skipped to the water’s edge with one of those dainty little hopping dances which fitted a ‘look at me, look at me’ rhythm. So I did. Then ordered a cold beer and a plate of freshly prepared nasi goreng – total cost about $3.

Lunch. Nasi Goreng $1.50. Cold beer $1.50 © Roger Garwood 2013
Lunch. Nasi goreng $1.50. Cold beer $1.50
© Roger Garwood 2013

I returned visit to the beach the day afterwards. Managed it in 27 minutes without even breaking into a sweat. It was a tad different. The sky clouded, the cloud base lowered to head height and lightening ripped through, biblical style. Thunder shook the area and torrential rain smashed into the beach, creating small rivers which then recycled it to the ocean. After the initial fright which caused everybody to retreat to the back row of tables a few mad buggers rushed out onto the beach and started to hug each other. They were all washed out to sea so I finished their beers which was  the most charitable thing to come to my mind.

To be continued :-

An outbreak of hugs during a tropical storm. © Roger Garwood 2013
An outbreak of hugs during a tropical storm.
© Roger Garwood 2013

BALI: Travelling Light in the Tropical Zone

Commuting to work takes on a whole new meaning

Should I offer an apology? May be I should but I haven’t. In any event I doubt that too many people will be losing much sleep over it.

The truth is I said I would post Part II of the Mekong Delta story: Travelling with Dragons. In the event I ran out of time to complete that and decided to take a backlog of work to Bali, find a cheap hotel and catch up with ‘stuff’ – basically unfinished stories. For readers who don’t know Fremantle, where I live, you may consider that it’s rather extravagant to hop on a plane to Bali. In fact it is quicker (that’s stretching a point a little) and a lot cheaper  (that’s not stretching a point)  for me to go to Bali than to go to next nearest place of note. . It’s a three hour drive to our nearest resort region and it’s very expensive territory.

Thus I find it easy to slip into Bali, not quite a commute but it’s getting like that.

Marco Inn: Not five star but cheap and clean

Thus, decision made, I fronted up in the small coastal town of Padang Bai in the middle of a tropical downpour which delighted me as I hadn’t experienced real rain for about a year. It was well after sunset and, as I like travelling with no prior hotel bookings, I lobbed into the first place I found. Marco Inn is tiny, about eight rooms, and right on the waterfront of Padang Bai. Like may of these small hotels it is situated down a narrow alley which is wedged between a shop on one side, which sells many wooden carvings, and a warung which sells icy beer, fresh fruit juices and snacks.

This is the main drag, over the road from the beach in Padang Bai. If you look carefully you'll see the Marco Inn sign. The hotel is down a small alleyway which leads into a jasmin scented courtyard.  © Roger Garwood 2013
This is the main drag, over the road from the beach, in Padang Bai. If you look carefully you’ll see the Marco Inn sign. The hotel is down a small alleyway leading into a jasmin scented courtyard.
© Roger Garwood 2013

A room was available on the first floor and  had all I wished for – it was clean, there was a shower, toilet, fan, a small desk and a cupboard. It was not five star, more like a monk’s cell. Even in the damp climate of the wet season it smelt fresh and when the sun rose, summoned by roosters crowing, dogs barking and the  booming horns of ferries I was able to look out over rooftops to the harbour. Perfect. Even better it was nine dollars a night which included breakfast.

No pressures

Like many visitors to the island I am totally addicted to banana pancakes for breakfast. That and a heart starter of Balinese style coffee – somewhere between Greek and Vietnamese – sets me up for the morning.

Breakfast was taken in a small frangipani scented courtyard with blooming pink Bougainvillea. And to round it off my banana pancake was served by an attractive and chatty Balinese woman named Jasmin. In the middle of the courtyard yard is a small structure, call it a family temple, and the day’s offerings to the Balinese gods and spirits were already sitting beside small statues. Sandalwood incense sticks were slowly burning and tiny columns of blue smoke mingled with the frangipani’s aroma.

You may have guessed that these days I don’t like to work under pressure.

Opposite the hotel is the main beach where local fishermen make an early catch and deliver fish straight to restaurants along the waterfronts. © Roger Gawood 2013
Opposite the hotel is the main beach where local fishermen make an early catch and deliver fish straight to restaurants along the waterfronts.
© Roger Gawood 2013
Freshly caught fish are cooked in restaurants less than a minutes walk away. © Roger Garwood 2013
Freshly caught fish are cooked in restaurants less than a minutes walk away.
© Roger Garwood 2013

Travelling Light

I specialise in travelling light. So much so I even lecture in the practice. My total baggage weighed a little over 8kilos – about 17-18 pounds. I travel with an iPad, a keyboard, a Leica D Lux 5, a few cards for the camera, notebook, pens and pencils, about five T-shirts, three pairs of shorts and bits – shaving gear etc. I carry this onboard as hand baggage. (TIP: Jetstar allow 10kg of hand baggage). I book a seat up front in the plane and am invariably in the first half-dozen passengers through immigration.

But this trip was going to be full of surprises so tune in tomorrow …. or the day after, I’ll see how I go. And I will finish the Dragon’s Tale soon as possible.