Travel: Morocco (part 1) – The Beach of Essaouira

My Moroccan holiday had started in a typically frantic style. After getting next to no sleep the night before, I made my way to Luton airport and onto a 7am flight to Essaouira. I had originally planned a 2 hour camel trip, and to be picked up from the airport by the guide, although I had cancelled this the night before, predicting my sleep deprivation. I was glad of this, as I managed to take the day at my own pace, meeting an expat local at the airport who offered me advice and allowed me to share his taxi into the Medina.

I was immediately struck by the pleasantness of Essaouira. The road from the airport to the town winded tightly around modest looking orange houses, passing small farms and assortment of animals – goats and sheep mostly. The weather was warm, the sky blue, a welcome contrast from the grey London that I’d just left. I noted the sticky sweet scent in the air, perhaps a smell that permeates countries of warm, tropical climates. I noticed a similiar smell in Kuala Lumpur and Heraklion. Each of these places I’m sure have their own distinct aroma, but the Essaouira aroma for sure brought back memories of those places. Just stepping foot in a Mediterranean climate, and having my senses immersed for the first time in North Africa was a thrill.

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My British taxi companion, who owned a holiday home in the center of Essaouira, imparted valuable advice as we rolled into the Medina. I learnt the cost of catching a Taxi around the Medina, an affordable 7 Dirham (about 50p), as well as where the good drinking spots were found (which he indicated were filled with interesting characters) and that if I wanted a feed, the market at the wharf was best. There you get fresh fish of your choice and have it cooked in front of you. As a appealing as that sounded, I opted to first head to a bus depot and book my bus later that day to Marrakesh, which for 100 Dirham secured myself a seat on a comfortable Supratours coach.

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I then taxi’d straight to the beach entrance, where a mass of Camels were lazy spread out on the sand. As I stood surveying the beach, wondering which Camel was to be my ride of choice, a Berber guide came straight up to me, towing two Camels behind him. He asked me if I wanted a ride, to which I asked of he could take me to the castle’s made of sand. He indicated yes, and mentioned the Jimi Hendrix cafe, something I had a vague interest in seeing, in spite of the exaggerations of the amount of time Hendrix actually spent in Essaouira. Having researched about the culture of haggling in Morocco, I tried my skills out for the first and eventually agreed on good price for an hours Camel ride. I was a initially little wary that this would be the most quality ride, seeing as my Camel looked a bit past it’s prime. Cappuccino, as he was named, was also reluctant to sit down, the guide had to give it a small whip around the legs with his rope to encourage it to do so. The camel knelt down with a groan and in spite of my reservations, I hopped on the seat on the poor old creatures back. Cappuccino set off shuffling down the beach, with a friend Camel following behind, and my guide holding the rope in front. The experience was a slightly odd one, and while it was a  fun and slightly surreal introduction to Essaouira, I was happy I had chosen just the hour long ride, and not the 2 hour trek as previously planned. I did not make it to the Hendrix cafe, although I saw some nice sand dunes, and the guide was good enough to take photos for me. Perhaps If I return to Essaouira, I will chose a healthier looking Camel, to make the animal rights side of my personality a little less guilty.

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Now off the Camel, I tipped my guide for his extra help taking photos (and a music video shot), and proceeded to a beach side cafe for a beer, and to change into togs. Hurling myself into the North African sea, ignoring the slight chill, I spent a good hour rolling amongst the considerable surf. Many other travelers had the same idea, although most people I shared the water with were showing off impressive surfing skills. Essaouira, I soon learnt, has waves just right for surfing, hence the share amount of them out in the water. I took to body surfing, and met a couple of Danish blokes body boarding nearby. We exchanged brief pleasantries, before they took to the task of catching waves with much concentration. I bobbed around in the water a bit longer, appreciating the novelty of being in the North African sea, before returning to land.

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Back at the beach side cafe, I met a British man working from a camper-van in Essaouira –  he has traveled here to chase the sun and escape the British winter, and also his girlfriend who had just that day joined him. She recognized me from the airport, having had been on the same flight. The next few hours slipped away in a haze of beer and baileys, and before I knew it I had only 30 minutes to make the bus I had booked to Marrakesh. Not wanting to leave without seeing some of the port, I said goodbye to my new friends, and quickly ran to the nearest taxi I could find. Having made it to the port, in less than 10 minutes I ran to the sites I had been interested in – the location where they had filmed some of Daenerys Targaryen’s story in Game Of Thrones season 3. I had to give the guards 20 Dirham, as the port entrance was near closing time, but having quickly snapped the desired photos, I again grabbed a taxi and rushed in the direction of the bus depot. Somehow I made it in time, and with a few minutes to spare I boarded the bus.

On the road to Marrakesh, there are apparently goats perplexingly standing in trees. This seemed something to witness, though in part due to the sleep deprivation of catching an early flight, and also due to the drinks consumed, I soon nodded off. The tree standing goats would have to wait ’till my next Moroccan visit.

Next time – the chaos of Marrakesh, adventures to the set of Lawrence of Arabia, and how to fall for the most obvious of Moroccan tourist traps.

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Travel Blog: A brief tour of Crete and Athens

There has been a lot discussed in the media recently about the economic crisis in Greece – making it seem not the most appealing of holiday destinations. No doubt statistically, the country is not in the best state. Unemployment has reached 26% this year, thousands are homeless and 20% of shops in Athens are empty. Does this make it wrong to visit such troubled country for recreational purposes? On the surface, maybe so. But upon visiting Crete and Athens recently, I did not encounter a hostile and unwelcoming environment. In contrary, locals were welcoming and our experiences were nothing but positive. Greece is beautiful, and even if only visiting for a short few days as I did – you’ll find a lot of take away.

My itinerary was irrationally rushed. After finishing work on a Wednesday, I departed London to arrive on the Cretian city of Heraklion at two in the morning, their time. I was to spend two days in Crete, before flying Friday night to Athens. After a sleep in a backpackers I would have one day and night in Athens before flying back to London, with a day stop over to explore Rome on the way home. I would recommend spending a great deal more time in Greece, particularly Crete. There is a lot to take in and I only scratched the surface. I managed to see plenty of the ruins and historical sites, but something had to be sacrificed – in my case this was the beaches. Coming to the end of Summer this was not necessarily a terrible thing – I did manage one swim at a great spot just outside our Air BnB accommodation at Amoudara, yet if I am to return, I would most definitely make more of the Mediterranean sea.

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On my first day in Crete we hired a car at a discount price, and set off to explore the streets of Heraklion and drive the coast to the seaside town of Elounda. Before the leaving, we were given some insight into life on Crete, with the owner car rental business explaining to us that the depression had not hit Crete as hard as mainland cities such as Athens, due to the still booming tourist trade. We did however get a nice discount on the car hire price, perhaps due to it being the end of tourist season and to entice business in that bit more. If you do head to Greece at the right time, you’ll find it fairly affordable, accommodation as well as food and drink.

A flock of Kiwis with no previously experience driving on the right side of the road and in completely foreign country was probably not the most responsible group to be hiring a car, though we somehow we made our way from Heraklion to Elounda on the east coast in one piece. This was a great experience in of itself, tackling the aggressive Greek traffic while cruising past some amazing mediterranean vistas.  Once at Elounda we took a boat over to Spinalonga island, home to ruins of a 16th century Venetian military fort, and which was used as a leper colony in the early 20th century, before being abandoned in the 1950s. The ruins are fascinating and some good climbing is to be had. The town of Elounda is a charming seaside community in of itself with some nice restaraunts, and apparently beaches nearby. We did not stay long however – with Spinalonga taking up most of the day the sun was soon setting and it was time to return to Heraklion.

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Back in Heraklion we stopped at our accommodation before heading out to dinner. A friend attempted to have a hot shower – in order to do this the hot water had to be turned at the main switchboard, as all water is heated by solar panels in Amoudara. The wrong switch was flicked at the mains, blowing the fuse in our accommodation and cutting off all electricity to the dismay of several of our group. With our cellphones needing a charge before the next day’s adventures – stress levels were about to run high. This potentially awkward situation had silver linings however, as the incident served as a glimpse into the generosity of Cretian hospitality. Several of the neighbours gathered to help fix the blown fuse – and going out of their way, eventually taking a fuse out of their houses and installing it in ours. Due to a significant language barrier, it was not immediately apparent how he had fixed our fuse board – until we looked in the corridor and saw his house, the apartment across the hallway from ours. His wife was standing in his doorway, in the dark, holding a candle. He had sacrificed power for his own house in order to fix the outage we had created in ours. A touching scene you couldn’t stage if you tried. We were taken away by this hospitality – we thanked them as best we could and a bottle of wine and chocolates were bought for the man and his wife. We hope they shared it and forgave our New Zealand bluntness, as we left with our tale between our legs and resumed our previously plans of heading to a cretian restaurant.

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My friends had been in Crete for several days before I arrived and had developed some connections with the locals – the restaurant we visited that night becoming their local. At the time I was unable to decipher the name of the restaurant, being in Greek text, but I’ve since found it on trip advisor. It’s called kritiki Spiti and can be found here http://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/Restaurant_Review-g670533-d2446337-Reviews-Kritiki_Spiti-Amoudara_Crete.html#photos. They had brilliant Cretan cuisine and introduced us all to a fantastic local drink – Raki. Raki is similar to vodka or tequila and works well with cucumber and a hint of lemon – a cocktail known as a Rakitini. I would say a visit to Crete is worth it for sampling the food alone. Restaurants will bring out complimentary bred, olives, cheese and dips before you’ve even ordered. Of the mains we tried, the Lamb and Artichoke was a big hit, Rabbit and Goat meat being on the menu as well, worth it if you’re willing to experience outside the usual meats. On the day of our group leaving Heraklion, we walked past the restaurant that became my groups favourite, waving goodbye to the old man who worked at and perhaps owned the establishment. He called us in, offering us a bottle of home brewed Honey Mead as a gift (which would later drink by the docs at Chania). His humour was a little controversial by Western standings, with flirtatious jokes aimed at my female friends being the standard, but this was taken to be in good humour rather than sexual harassment, with the culture and generation gap being the excuse.

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In another example of Cretan hospitality, a taxi driver for example went out of his way to take me on a little tour of Heraklion where I stayed the first night, stopping for 40 minutes as I visited Knossus but charging me not a terrible amount extra to take me afterwards to the Venetian fortress at the harbour entrance. I gave him a tip – and yes the taxi still cost significantly more than public transport, but the conversation with a local of Heraklion seemed well worth it and more than I would have gained from a cheaper bus ride.

My time in Crete came to an early end, with a plane to Athens to catch on only my second night on the island. We had to catch the plane from Chania, the other major Cretan city, which had a larger and more organised vibe than Heraklion, and another spectacular wharf fort area, compliments of the Venetians. After hanging out of the pier, making friends with local stray dogs and getting a buzz going from the Honey Mead and Raki, the airport called and it was time for the mainland stage of the adventure.

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I have equally good things to say about Athens, even though my time there was criminally short. Athens is for sure faster and bigger than Crete, and the failing economy makes itself apparent in the amount of graffiti and the general level of cleanliness. That is only surface observations, but I was not in Athens long enough to gain any deep understanding of the situation there. My first impressions involved the tube ride out of the airport, which seemed an organised public transport system not dissimilar from London’s. The Greek government had obviously pumped some funding into this. Once inside the city we headed straight for the backpackers as this was now night-time, stopping first to get a snack. A pastry feta and spinach option was my choice, which seemed a suitably Greek choice of fast food. Athens smelt pretty bad, or at least our area. Kind of like piss, to be precise. So rather than hang around this not so great smelling city square, we opted to sleep in preparation for the next day.IMG_1140

For our one complete day in Athens, we chose to begin with a free walking tour of the city, which took us by the monuments and back alley areas and gave us an understanding of the city and it’s history packed into a brief few hours. It was a good introduction and exposed us to parts of the city we would not have thought to visit, such as the museum for Melina Mercouri. Our tour guide, who was a high school teacher, part time studying for a History PHD and taking tours on the weekends, shared his own insight into Greek politics and society, taking us not only to the old monuments but also to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier to watch the changing of the guards. The guard tradition was not particularly moving, though our guides insights into the currently political zeitgeist, with far right parties of fascist comparison gaining traction. He seemed dismayed that Greece, the birthplace of democracy, would be continually plagued by un-democratic political influence.

We tipped our guide and were then left on our own to explore the city. Getting stuck into the ruins, we managed to tick off several of the main areas. These included the massive columns of the Temple of Zeus, the impressive remains of the Temple of Hephaestus in the Agora, a brief visit to the Archeological Museum of the Athenain Agora and then of course, the Acropolis. The Acropolis is particularly spectacular and with to see such old structures still in any condition at all is a transcendent experience. Sitting up there, looking at the Parthenon, one could only imagine how powerful and dominating these structures would have appeared to the peasants down below, three thousand years earlier. The gods must really have appeared to be watching over the city.

View from Acropolis

Exhausted from the sightseeing, we briefly rested at our accommodation before heading out for one last Greek dinner. The authentic restaurant we stumbled upon had a musical theme, with some seriously good Greek folk musicians jamming just beside where we ate. The food was good, perhaps not great, but the entertainment was excellent, completed with a waiter smashing plates and throwing napkins in appreciation. If you’re ever in Athens, the restaurant was just off the city centre and called “Taverna tou Psirri”, it can be found on trip advisor here http://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/Restaurant_Review-g189400-d1503450-Reviews-Taverna_Tou_Psirri-Athens_Attica.html. We invited all our new friends gathered during the early walking tour to join us, and the meal was thus extended with more and more drinks ordered. As we all had early flights, rather than sleep we opted to stay out exploring Athens some more, and consuming a few more beverages. This basically ended up with us all on the roof of a backpackers, talking smack and staring at the Acropolis in the distance. Perhaps an image that will be burnt into my mind for some time, contributed self-indulgently to the fact I turned 26 earlier that day.

The next morning I dragged my half-alive self back to the airport, not quite ready to say goodbye to Greece but being forced to due to a pre-booked itinerary. I had organised a stopover in Rome but in hindsight this time would have been better spent exploring Athens that bit longer. I spent an afternoon exploring Rome, but I had left my heart in Greece. For now, I will be an advocate of Greece over Italy as preferred holiday spot, but of course I will have to explore both in more detail later.

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TL;DR – Crete as we experienced it is a warm, varied and culturally interesting place. Athens was equally awe inspiring, with the obvious draw card being the share amount of Ancient ruins, some still in good condition. The locals we encountered in Athens were communicative and friendly, local customs are full of life and while there is some poverty most people seem to be getting on with their lives and the overall vibe is safe. I would encourage people to visit Greece – inject your holiday savings into their economy and learn more about what this historic Mediterranean nation has to offer.

A Season Of Firsts part IV: A day in South East Asia – Kuala Lumpur

The ‘A Season Of Firsts’ series of blogs is me accounting my experience of relocating from New Zealand to the United Kingdom to work and travel.

I’m now five days into my travels and two hours from landing in London, writing this entry from my quite comfortable Emirates economy seat – complete with wifi and plus for my laptop. Having slept most of the last flight from KL to Dubai, I continued my sleep quest in order to be as rested as possible by the time the plane lands in Gatwick. It was one of those strange post-REM sleep phases, where dreams are vivid and sleep feels more like indulgent dozing than necessary rest. Never the less, the eight hour trip from Dubai to London flew by and I was quite happy to be awoken by one of the flight attendants for breakfast. Although in my groggy state, I took the word omelet to mean the same thing as a croissant, and not wanting a bread item for breakfast I ordered the Scrambled Eggs instead. The eggs were not bad, but who knows how good that omelet could have been.

Any fears I’ve had regarding air travel have been largely rendered unwarranted, as flying both Royal Brunei and Emirates were fine experiences. Emirates lived up to it’s reputation and was the cushier of the airlines, the multi-region charging plugs and wifi being greatly appreciated. Due to all the sleep I didn’t experience a great deal of in-flight entertainment, but there is a lot to choose from. I briefly watched Blazing Saddles during dinner and a few days ago on Royal Brunei watched the original film adaptation of Anastasia with Ingrid Bergman. A novel experience watching such an old film 10,000 feat in the air, but probably not that entertaining an adaptation.

It’s all been a bit of a gimmick so far, seeing new places and things, such as being able to tell people as I landed in Kuala Lumpur a few days ago that this was my first time out of Australasia (minus the hour stop of in Brunei just previous to that). My short lived and slightly frantic tour of one South East Asia metropolis was fun, but not without it’s hiccups. I was under the assumption that the hotel I’d booked was close to the airport and of a decent quality for the money I was paying. Turns out that close to the airport was still 20 minutes away, and no matter how comfortable the bed was and how polished the interiors looked, the cockroaches that crawled the hallway and my room before sleep would be the lasting impression. I had hoped to get into the city on my one night in Kuala Lumpur, but the hotel was in the opposite direction from the city and the only way to get in there would have been to go back to the airport. Things were not all bad and the experience was unique at least. The hotel was right beside Palm Oil farms, and so felt as if it was the hangout point for local workers. There featured a selection of independent fast food stalls as well as a KFC and Pizza hut, and the men and boys sat around smoking, drinking tea and watching TV movies, projected ohto screens surrounding the area like a drive in movie. I hung out with these people for a bit, wandered the grounds of the area that surrounded the hotel, tried a little bit of Malaysian KFC featuring a soy style seasoning before giving up on my adventures for the night and heading to sleep. Just after destroying my cockroach friend from before.

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My hotel choice, while interesting, was probably not the complete Kuala Lumpur experience, so the next day, against the advice of an Australian engineer I met at the hotel I headed off to the airport to catch a train to town. At this stage I had also lost one of Debit cards (thankfully I have both a Visa and a Mastercard), so spent the first hour of the day trying to call Westpac at the airport to cancel that card. Turns out you can cancel these cards online, which I preceded to do using the Airport Wifi, and after storing my bags at the airport for a reasonable 60 MYR, I found my way to the city train-line and headed off towards KL Sentral. KL Sentral is the main train meeting up in Kuala Lumpur and from there I was to catch another train, of which the last stop was the Batu Caves. I knew not much about these Caves, except that they are a Hindu sacred place of some sort, and that they were commonly rated a top place to visit in KL on the usual lists. Seemed like a good enough mission for my one day in the Malaysian Metropolis.

It was easier and faster than expected to train out to the Batu Caves, and on the way I met a Canadian couple who had been traveling South East Asia and seemed to know more about what the caves were than me. I followed them off the last train stop and found the Caves to be right there. The rumour that Monkeys were roaming freely around the Batu caves area was true, to my delight, and the next two hours were taken up taken videos and photos of nearly every Monkey I saw. They were quite the characters, ruthlessly stealing tourists’ bags if in reaching distance, mostly looking for food however and uninterested in material possessions

Leading up to the caves were a steep set of steps and a giant gold Hindu statue. The Australian man’s claim from earlier that the steps would take half an hour to climb were also untrue, but were quite an impressive and spectacular experience. Inside the caves were sacred Hindu worshiping areas, that I mostly avoided, although earlier I had walked through a scared area wearing shoes – a Taboo. Not intentionally a disrespectful traveler, but it happens.

Before leaving the Caves I took time to visit a dark area, which are a conservation area stripped of the lights, monkeys and statues that inhabit the other caves. The donation given to enter these caves goes directly into supporting the conservation of these caves, and inside a tour guide took us through areas containing massive stalactites, spiders, rare a-sexual worms and the highlight for me – bats. Although the bats were fairly hard to see, one or two swooped by which was thrilling in of itself.

Now just past midday, tired but feeling accomplished in my tourist adventures, I ate a nice vegetarian curry from a restaurant just beside the caves and then headed back to town. I meet a new friend on the way, a man from Uruguay who had also just arrived in KL after traveling Asia for months. We shared stories and then departed, after exchanging Facebook details of course. I still had a few hours left before I had to check in for my next flight, so in one last tourist quest, took another train-line to KLCC (Kuala Lumpur City Central perhaps?) in order to see a bit man made structure, the Petronas towers. They are indeed large towers but I couldn’t figure out how to get to the sky walk. Having experienced such things at the Skytower viewing point in Auckland I instead opted to pay 2 MYR to use a fancy toilet that came complete with a selection of perfumes. Smelling better I then wandered Kuala Lumpur streets for a little bit, taking a few more photos, shooting a few more music video shots in front of the towers (video to come) before finally deciding it was time to take my exhausted self back to the airport.

After a low amount of sleep the night before, and the adventures of that day in the fairly hot South East Asian climate, I was pretty much ready to crash by the time I had gotten to the airport. I struggled my way through check-in and a few more security checks, nearly had a breakdown as I couldn’t figure out where to buy a travel pillow amongst the huge amounts of Duty Free stores and then finally made my way to the gate where I collapsed in a fatigued but accomplished state. My first Asian experience was a good one, and just seeing new trees, animals, communities and types of food was a massive thrill. I’d chosen Kuala Lumpur on a whim, because it was a cheaper Asian stop-over than many, and because I’d once had a random dream about stopping over in a large unknown Asian country. It turned out worthwhile, if just as disorganized as I would expect. Next I will tell you of my four hour Dubai stop-over rampage (that took place a mere six hours after leaving KL) and of my introduction to London.

Hamish, shutting up for now.

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Glastonbury 2015 live blog: Day One

As long as I can get some wifi, and have a little bit of battery life, i will attempt to blog live throughout Glastonbury. Which means the writing might be a little sloppier, but will benefit from being in the moment, rathered than a laboured review two weeks after the event.

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I’ve made it through the gates. The queue wasn’t too bad for me although i had to trek for some time around the festival perimetre to find the international ticket pickup office. The various security and festival staff all seemed to have a different idea of where the ticket office was – at one stage i went back and forward over the same field between different gates three or four times, until eventually finding the correct gate. The line was thankfully short from then on, although my friends perhaps weren’t quite so lucky. As we speak I sit eating a bacon, sausage and egg wrap from the first food stall that greeted me upon entry, quite delicious and a much needed energy boost. My friends on the other hand did not have to trek between gates to pick up their tickets, they are however still in a much larger queue to enter.

Last night we stayed at the town of Glastonbury, which is a town full of history, old buildings and a pagan vibe. Felt like I was sleeping in the Inn from the film The Wicker Man. We took the Megabus yesterday from London to Glastonbury, which on the other hand, is not an experience I would recommend or repeat. It will probably go down as my least favourite bus ride ever, with drunken young lads from London drinking, fighting and streaking throughout the bus. Added to this, the bus had a toilet onboard, which soon lost its ability to flush. ‘Nuff said.

But onwards and upwards, its a beautiful day, and i may blog again soon.

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Tents have now been set up and the crew has been reunited minus a few who are still stuck waiting for coach back in London. We’ve found a good spot to camp near John Peel stage, which, upon scouting the area seems to be not too far of a walk between the Pyramid and Other Stages, as well as much needed necessities such as toilets, taps and food areas. Competition is high already in the quest for the perfect spot, we’ve had to protect our area already from a flood of fellow opportunist campers.

Most of the afternoon has been spent exploring the grounds, mapping out routes between stages and checking out the markets and food stalls. Bacon buttys’ seem so far to be the food choice of the day, another having been consumed at the Summer Cafe on the way back from checking out the Other Stage. The grounds are as magnificent and spectacular as I had expected, the iconic Pyramid stage being surrounded by other notable icons such as the blue and orange John Peel circus tent, the giant maypole in The Park and the..

I’m now on a mission to try and find showers, which are apparently near Michael Eavis’ house. Fingers crossed I’ll run into the man. More from me soon.

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No luck finding Michael Eavis but i did run into his grandson working at the Merchandise tent, upon buying an official festival Tshirt. I’m still exploring the Glastonbury site and haven’t returned back to the camp, so I’ve no idea what the rest of my group are doing. It turns out that the Glastonbury site is indeed huge, and around every corner is another section of interesting food or market stalls – or crazy, wild, diverse music stages.

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Finally made it back to the campsite and to my friends after already having a pretty great time, just one day into this festival. Most of the enjoyment came from having cool conversations with random festival goers and staff, including a long chat with Glastonbury veteran, photographer and friend of the Eavis’s, Matt Cardy. I also found a jam spot in The Park complete with a drumkit – and proceeded to join in a jam of American Pie. A pretty sloppy jam at that, but I can kind of say I’ve ticked something else off the bucketlist – gigging at Glastonbury.

As I write this we’re heading off to the Stonecircle to watch the sunset, so I should probably get off social media for today and get in the moment. I will try to keep up these blogs or at least write a couple more from here, but no promises.Making the most of the festival should probably be my priority so for now, peace out from Worthy Farm.

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The Positives of Having Surgery

One of the excuses for not blogging at all through October that I can make, is that I was out of action, getting surgery for a fairly routine ailment.

Well.. not completely routine, but an injury common enough, especially in men. Still an injury that carries with it some stigma and embarrassment. I’m talking about a *cough* hernia (said under the breath).  Common enough that plenty of athletes, even young ones face having to get one fixed in order to continue their careers. It’s pretty hard to explain to people what a hernia is without grossing them out if they’re squeamish – so I’ll just leave it up to “Weird Al” Yankovich.

“Weird Al” does nothing to promote the social acceptability of having a hernia – and the ailment will no doubt never be considered cool like a broken leg or a burst appendix, but at least it’s inspiring hilarious parody songs such as the above.

Surgery itself, not something that any young person would expect to have too regularly, has it’s positives and can almost be considered a fun experience from a certain perspective. You’re the center of attention for starters, being wheeled into an operating theater surrounding by many friendly anesthetists, surgeons and nurses all attempting to make the experience as pleasant for you as possible – depending on your surgical team I guess. General anesthetics themselves are pretty crazy and a unique experience. Entering the theater you might be initially a tad nervous at the thought of being put to sleep. At least I was. Would I wake up? Or worse yet, would I would up during the operation? It was almost pleasant however. First I was staring at the ceiling, chatting away, while they administered the anesthetic via a drip. Then my vision started getting slightly blurry, my thought process slowed slightly. I continued talking, while looking at the lights above me. The next moment – it felt like no time had past and I was still chatting, about muesli I believe (having been pretty hungry from the nil-by-mouth), except this time to a nurse on my right – it dawned on me that two hours had past and the surgery was complete. I had awoken again, modern medicine had not failed me.

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The first hospital meal I’m assuming

Not everything in hospital is fun as you might assume, but even such things as being nil-by-mouth for days on end have an amount of enjoyment to them. I had to await a second surgery to remove a blood-clot that had formed post the first surgery. Too much information I’m sure. Due to the acute ward having to let the most urgent patients through first (and due to some communication errors) stayed nil-by-mouth for several days before having this second surgery. But the good things about being nil-by-mouth are several. Modern hospital beds are awesome for starters. They’re pretty damn comfortable, and you have control to move so many parts of them – the back angles up and down, the middle as well, and a section for your feet. I could spend hours getting into ultimate comfortable positions and then abusing the free hospital WiFi on concert streams and TV shows. Being nil-by-mouth I was attached to a drip, but this was pretty fun, not having a feeling of hunger at all meant I could sit and chill and not worry about my stomach. Perhaps that’s the way of the future – we’ll all hook ourselves up to drips as we go to bed to give us the nutrients we need to survive, removing any of the hassle and time wasted from having to prepare meals and worry about nutrition. Food is of course a very fun social activity and we’d probably miss the pleasures of taste, but not having to worry about food was a fairly fun gimmick for a few days.

Perhaps during a moment of frustration

You also meet a lot of cool people in hospital wards. One night an older man named Ron was wheeled in beside me. I wasn’t sure we’d get along as he spent the first night yelling at the nurses, but the next day we struck up conversation and ended up talking for hours. He’d been a great piano player, a tour bus driver and told me all about his life and various romantic (mis)adventures. He had also been struck with polio at a young age, but had not let it hold him back, become quite an accomplished swing dancer with the help of an older woman who’d opened a dancing school in the Waikato with her husband. She was a bigger lady, and he had several hilarious and un-politically correct (true to his generation) morals to impart. One of which, regarding dancing with this lady was that – “you should never underestimate the dancing skill of larger ladies – she was big, but light on her feet”. He sadly had broken his shoulder and arm in a year previously so could no longer play the piano, but he schooled me up in some of his favorite honky-tonk and jazz – leaving me with the advice – “music is harmony, harmony is understanding – and with understanding, you’ve got it sussed”. I’m not entirely sure what it means but I liked it none-the-less.

hamish and ron

Ron and I. Cool dude, don’t know if he’d want his photo online, but oh well.

The second surgery was once again pretty fun and I quizzed the surgeons in how long it had taken to get trained as they again knocked me out. Waking up was a bit harder this second time round, perhaps due having two lots of anesthetic in several days, and the fatigue catching up to me from being nil-by-mouth. Never the less I recovered fairly quickly and was able to rest at home, receiving home cooked meals and not having to do anything by lie about for a week or so. That rest period is now all but over and I’m back at work, but I have to say there’s more to appreciate about having routine surgery than one would initial expect.

Feeling great, post-discharge

Will I look forward to the next lot of surgery I have to receive,  if so necessary in the future? Well.. probably not look forward to. Good health is much preferable to hanging in a hospital, using up free WiFi and not eating for several days, while being knocked unconscious and re-awoken at various intervals. But at least I know that there are pleasant elements to the experience and while I don’t wish another bout of surgery anytime soon, I’ll not worry if that is what fate brings my way. Perhaps I’ll take more time off work next time however.