Tag Archives: Off-the-beaten-track

How I Became a Sculptor in Mamallapuram

The main street of Mamallapuram is lined with countless stalls selling immaculately handcrafted sculptures and most of the shops owners spend there days working on new pieces in front of their store. I was in the rare mood for shopping probably because I had a good reason this time, my dads 50th birthday was coming up and I wanted to send something home for him.

Wandering through a few different stalls nothing seemed fitting, I got chatting with a local sculptor out of the front of his workshop and he downed his tools and invited me in for chai. I was asking him about getting a small piece custom made and engraved when he suggested that rather than pay someone to make it he’ll teach me to make something myself. The idea sounded great except for one small thing – my discernible lack of artistic talent. He was persuasive enough that I agreed to come back and start Sculpture 101 with him the next day.

Sculpting away...

Sculpting away…

Venkat – my new sculpture instructor – was patient, persistent and extraordinarily resilient, nothing was a better example of this than his story of losing his home, store and complete collection of his work and tools to the 2004 tsunami. An event tragic enough to floor even the strongest of characters didn’t seem to deter his spirit and with the help of the community he managed re-open his shop not long after.

I walked into his shop at 9:30 the next day and he was eagerly awaiting with the tools laid out and a cup of chai and biscuits. We shared chai and looked through some of his work while I decided what I wanted to make and the type of stone to make it out of. I started carving away at big block of greenstone with the idea of a lizard perched on a rock, this was to be my first piece and more of a practice piece than anything too serious.

DSC00437

The next two days were spent drinking chai, going out for lunch and sculpting in-between. It was awesome I began to make friends in the town and despite my now sore and calloused hands my lizard was starting to take shape.

Then it all came crumbling down.

I was starting to put the final details on the head of the lizard and must have hammered a little too hard into a fault line in the stone and a huge crack ran through – off with the lizards head! I was pretty disheartened, my hands were killing me and a day and a half of work had just gone down the drain. In hindsight, it seems petty to have become upset at losing one piece when Venkat had lost so much more in the tsunami 9 and half years earlier.

Out came a new block of stone, this time I was using a stronger stone which would be harder to carve but also harder to break. I chose a seated Buddha in the palm of a hand. This piece was literally make or break.

The days rolled on in more or less the same fashion – lots of sculpting and lots of chai. Venkat gave me a little help here and there with some of the finer details (I was still a little rattled about breaking my last piece) and my Buddha was starting to take shape. Four days of sculpting and polishing paid off, I had completed it and couldn’t have been happier.

The finished piece!

The finished piece!

In celebration I took Venkat out for dinner that night at a little local restaurant where we feasted on lamb thali. As with all celebrations in India they never just last one day so the next morning we went to the market to pick up some fresh fish, lamb and beer. Venkat invited his friend, a chef of 15 years at Mamallapuram’s nicest hotel to come and cook for us at Venkat’s hut. Venkat lived in a village about 15 minutes away in a hut with a tiny kitchen and no electricity. That didn’t stop his friend serving up 4 amazing dishes.

Cooking up a storm.

Cooking up a storm.

I’m glad to have made such a great friend in Venkat and it is a true example of his genuine friendliness that during my 6 days of sculpting not once did he ask for a fee or a tip for his services and was reluctant to take my money when I offered it. Mamallapuram is a place I will hold in high regard for a long time to come.

Desert Days in Jaisalmer

Jaisalmer, India’s gateway to the Thar Desert sits in Western Rajasthan about 130km’s east of the Pakistani border, it’s India’s capital for camel safaris. Stepping off the bus you are engulfed and a little overwhelmed by two things – the stifling heat and hot winds rolling in off the Thar Desert and Jaisalmer’s touts, rickshaw drivers and camel safari operators, given that it’s off-season both the heat and the people are as pressing as ever. It’s a whirlwind of people offering cheap rooms and cheap safaris and just 22 hours later I found myself on a camel 70 kilometres outside of Jaisalmer with a Polish couple, our guides Hokum and Salem, and our camel convoy – Johnny Boy, Sonia, Mr. Bean and Papu.

Johnny Boy and I

Johnny Boy and I

 

Camel Safari in Rajasthan

The camel convoy


The camel safaris have long been considered a must do of India (like Hampi) and I can now see why.  The days start early with chai, eggs and toast around the campfire. As the sun peaks it’s head over the horizon we began to pack the camels for the long day ahead. After loading them up with 75 litres of water and all our other rations for the 2 nights in the desert we make our way out into the blistering sun – I should hardly complain I make the journey on the back of the camel and apart from keeping myself on the camel there’s not much I have to do for the next few hours. At around 11 o clock, after 3 hours of riding we stop under the shade of a tree and cook lunch – this is more for our sake than the camels.

‘Camel Kitchen’ – a few pots and pans over a campfire – as the drivers call it cooks up a delicious mixed veg masala with endless chapati’s as well as the obligatory chai (it happens to be the best chai in India). We eat more or less the same meals for lunch and dinner on the 3 days and there was no complaining there – the food was tasty, filling and endless. All of us except the camels followed this up by a nap under the tree.

Camel Kitchen - serving up India's finest Chai

Camel Kitchen – serving up India’s finest Chai

We rest and let the camels wander for a few hours while the sun is at it’s most extreme then our turbans go back on and we venture off in search of a campsite by sunrise. It’s worth noting that for some reason fluoro pink and orange turbans are somewhat of a ‘thing’ out here, even among some of the locals.  The days end in much the same way they start, with chai and dinner as the sun goes down this time over Pakistani border. The air instantly cools and we spend the nights sitting around the campfire drinking desert whisky, telling stories and listening to Salem’s renditions on classic songs. If you’ve never heard an Indian camel driver belt out ‘Hotel Camelfornia’ while playing the water container as a tabla then I seriously suggest you book your camel safari today.

Our camp for the night

Our camp for the night

The long day in the sun and desert whisky take its toll and I retire to bed, a blanket on top of a nearby sand dune. As the campfire burns out the cosmic light show comes to life. The Milky Way spans the sky and I can’t remember the last time I had seen this many stars. As I lay there I remember reading that there are more stars in the universe than all the grains of sand on this Earth and lying in the middle of 200,000 square kilometres of sandy desert is a timely reminder of just how small we are.

DSC01038

This escape from the chaos of India was exactly what I needed. It was an amazing way to tick off another item on My Bucket List.

Have you done a Camel Safari or a trip into the desert somewhere? What was your experience like?

theboywander

Walking with jaguars.

We’d just spent the night camping in hammocks in the middle of the Colombian jungle – Tayrona National Park to be exact. Tayrona National Park is 34 kilometres from Santa Marta and only a few hours by bus from the main city of Cartagena.

Tayrona National Park is an absolute must-see if your travels take you as far as Santa Marta or Cartagena. It’s 150 square kilometres of pristine Colombian jungle with the refreshing waters of the Caribbean Sea running along the northern coastline. It is home to over 500 species of birds, animals, bats, reptiles and a hugely diverse sea life. Among the creatures that thrive on the forest floor, nothing tops the king of the South American Jungle- The Jaguar.

Jungle accommodation

Jungle accommodation

There is accommodation spread throughout Tayrona National Park which usually consists of hammocks under an open hut exposing you to the cool jungle breeze, this also means insect repellant is an absolute must. The main area for accommodation is a 45 minute hike in from the entrance. Entry will cost you $22AUD and you can expect to pay between 5 or 6 dollars for a hammock.

We stayed one night and spent the day exploring the jungle and coastline before stumbling upon a little beach called La Piscina (after hearing the name my mind was cast back to the book Marching Powder but luckily enough this was a completely different kind of ‘La Piscina’). La Piscina is a beautifully calm beach secluded from the notorious currents that menace other parts of the coastline. We spent hours under the sun with regular trips to the juice stand at the end of the beach for freshly squeezed jugo de naranja.

La Piscina

 

We ran back through the jungle to our camp and noticed the fallen coconuts all over the ground from the trees above. We attempted to treat ourselves to coconut milk in the most primitive fashion, we scoured the surrounding bushland for anything that could help us tear open the hard shells of these delicious coconuts. We found a metal bar and some rocks, brought them back to camp and set about opening out afternoon treat. The 3 of us spent the next hour on rotation trying to crack one open. As a survival method, I’m sure we burned more calories in opening the coconut than we actually received from eating but it was by far the most delicious coconut milk we had ever tasted.

Fresh Coconut Milk

Fresh Coconut Milk

The next morning we had two choices for the return leg of our journey – a 45 minute walk back to the entry we had come from or a 6 hour hike through the jungle to the closest town. Of course, we chose the 6 hour hike. We strapped into our standard issue hiking thongs, packed away our 6 litres of water, nuts, tuna and bread and went to thank the owners for an incredible stay. We told them of our plan to take the 6 hour hike and they told us without a hint of humour in their voice ‘Be careful of jaguars’. We walked towards the exit of our camp, laughing off what we thought was the joke they played on every backpacker that came through. We were joking around and doing our best to imitate jaguar roars to each other when another group of backpackers walked past and asked us whether or not we had also heard the roars this morning. We stopped dead in our tracks and realised maybe this wasn’t just a big local joke. They explained there had been reports of two jaguars roaring not far from our camp early that morning. We decided to make the 6 hour hike out anyway.

We spent the first hour or so on edge, with our ears wide open for signs of a lurking jaguar. We soon came to accept the fact that the chances of seeing one were pretty unlikely and we allowed ourselves to become distracted by the beauty of the surrounding jungle. We stopped for lunch perched on top of rock overlooking the jungle and coastline, made our lunch and soaked in the Colombian sun, it was completely silent.

No sign of jaguars yet…

The remainder of the walk led us through ruins, caves, rivers, waterfalls and a family living deep within this jungle. We made it jaguar-free to the nearest town, some 6 hours later and got a bus back to our hostel where we succumbed to exhaustion in the pool. This is not a trek I’d want to do solo!

theboywander

Forget Sydney…

Well, not quite but it would be easy enough to do on New South Wales’ South Coast. Although Sydney has an endless list of attractions, which makes it one of the favoured cities by tourists and backpackers alike, you may be aiming a little high on the coastline if you’re looking for some of the best kept secrets New South Wales has to offer.

The South Coast (conveniently located 2 hours from Sydney) is known for its abundance of Australian wildlife so it’s a must for anyone looking to find dolphins, whales, wombats, echidnas, koalas or kangaroos.

Camping or camper-van is the favoured choice by the modern day explorer on the South Coast allowing you to immerse yourself in nature. Surrounded by such serenity it breeds locals to suit. How truly content they are is reflected in the way they talk about the area, upon asking where to go we were left with endless suggestions. Given that I’m a sucker for lighthouses and headlands we drove out towards Point Perpendicular on the Northern Head of Jervis Bay.

The gum-trees on either side of the road set against a steel grey sky would’ve looked equally as appropriate in an Australian Art exhibition as it did guiding us to the light house ahead.
Looking up from the grounds of the lighthouse where a kangaroo hopped around, the huge white lighthouse keeps guard over Jervis Bay. Shortly beyond the lighthouse the cliffs fall so perfectly vertical to the ocean you suspect it may be the work of a huge ancient stonemason.

While the view from the headland had left me awestruck, the highlight of the trip was yet to come…

Another kangaroo on the other side of the bay.

Another kangaroo on the other side of the bay.

A short walk through the bush opens up to one of the most beautiful beaches I’d ever seen, Honeymoon Bay. The fine white sand wrapped around the bay like a waning moon. The crystal clear water had tempted a kangaroo down to the waters edge and even in the chilly late autumn weather I was tempted to indulge. If skinny-dipping happened to be on your bucket list, a swim under the stars in Honeymoon Bay would be hard to beat. You just don’d find this serenity anywhere in Sydney.

After returning to camp and realising that not too far down the road are places that offer surfing, water-skiing, fishing, bush walks, wildlife tours, wineries, markets and more you slowly start to forget Sydney…

The Boy Wander begins…

IMG_2104Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing at all. – Helen Keller

It seems I’ve long had an infatuation with exploring and anything new. I’ve always struggled to stay settled in one environment for too long but I never really had an appropriate outlet for it until I discovered travel.

After spending some time in New Zealand, Austria and Switzerland throughout 2009 I was given my first glimpse into travel and set about following these trips up with a more serious adventure the following year which took me from the ski fields in Canada, down the West Coast of the USA, across Central America, to the rainforests of Colombia.

Returning home after 9 months I thought I’d ‘gotten travel out of my system’. Now that mindset and what I think is wrong with it warrants an entire post itself but basically I thought I’d come home and begin setting up the life you’re told you’re supposed to.
Within a year of being home I had come to the realisation it just wasn’t right….I had to explore again.

The plan is….well there’s no real plan as such. I fly to India in early February from there my plans will be spontaneous where possible as I endeavour to find the rhythm at the heart of every town and city I visit.

As for the next 8 months I will look to share more about what drives me to explore, my travel preparations and a bunch of useful tips as well as a locals guide to Sydney and its surrounds. I promise to show you a bunch of stuff you won’t find in any guide books and only the truest of locals know about.

Stay tuned for an upcoming post on NSW’s beautiful South Coast. As promised here it is Forget Sydney.