Thursday, February 12, 2004

Oh Nicaragua you are even sweeter than the honey from Tamagas.

I think one of the problems of writing a regular blog is you soon run out of things to say.

While I want to make this a reflection of my life I don't want to make it too much of a diary. I hate those blogs that says "got up, went to work, got bollocked by the boss, came home and watched Eastenders".

I don't see the point.

Then again, I don't want to make it too introverted either. If I sat and wrote about all my worst fears, personal thoughts and bad moods then I would come across as whiney and self centered. I remember reading arguably the greatest diary writer of the 20th centuary - Anne Frank and she annoyed me so much. It was only later that I realised that being cooped up with a load of others in a secret shoebox probably meant more navel gazing then is normal. So sorry for that Anne.

What I do do is rant. As you may have noticed I rant a lot. I do it in real life too. I get annoyed by everything from international politics to GMTV. Actually I get annoyed more by GMTV and bloody Lorraine Kelly than I ever do by George Bush and co. It's the sort of programme that could follow a report on anorexia with details of the very latest lettuce leaf diet.

Anyway, before I resort to another rant I wanted to make this entry about the things that make me smile. I don't know if it is just me but I reckon I can calibrate my life with what I call "dopey grin moments" (DGMs).

I guess when you are much younger you have too many to keep track of. Naivete and innocence conspire to make everyday look pretty good. However I can pretty much remember them all post the age of 18.

There was the moment after my parents dropped me off in Manchester when I started Poly there. The feeling of this big city, being alone, being my own boss and all those new people and new experiences that awaited me.

Probably the next couple were alcohol induced. I was a regular at the much-missed and much-lauded Hacienda night club. Suddenly this small town boy was smack in the middle of Madchester, at the time, the coolest city in Europe. I was loving it.

Then I recall at the very end of my college term being invited down to London for an 21st birthday party on the Thames. I had also just been offered a job and I was about to move to my beloved Newcastle. I can remember sitting out on the top of the boat - beer in one hand - fag in the other - and thinking life was pretty much sorted.

Through my first job the DGMs were still pretty regular. I worked in a fast-paced industry. I worked stupid hours, but my colleagues were young and wild too and we were all fired up, ambitious and unquestioning of how much we were being exploited. This all happened around the same time as Britpop too. Suddenly there was a new Labour government, the Gallaghers were everywhere and the whole country was gaining in confidence.

It fizzled out a bit after that. The high pressure became less fun and became more like, well, high pressure. The fact that I was doing it for so little money soon started to nag too. So I jumped ship while my sanity was intact and joined the service industry.

But I've soon come to realise that when you sacrifice the lows you often lose the highs too. Get rid of the adrenalin and the ups and down smooth out.

It was after another five years of this, and nearly 12 years working in all, that I decided to go traveling. That was then the DGMs started to come thick and fast.

Can you imagine what it's like starting your trip by driving into Hanoi in a clapped out taxi? Thousands of mopeds part in front of you and, on either side, women in conical hats work in the fields. It was like a dream - a totally different world.

A couple of days in I was swimming off a boat in the middle of the South China Sea. DGM 2.

The biggest DGM of those first few weeks was arriving in a bar in beach town Nha Trang. I was on my own, feeling a little lonely, and wondering if I could really hack the life of a lone traveler. Then all of a sudden this Irish guy, probably guessing my mood, invited me over to join his group.

They all introduced themselves. There were Dutch, Germans, Americans, Irish, Aussies, French, Kiwis etc etc. And suddenly I was in the middle of this pack, downing beers, talking about my travel plans, comparing notes on hotels and train prices. Then the music was switched on in this beautiful beach bar and we were all up and dancing and every tune sounded like the best song I had ever heard.

I had intended to stay for three days in Nha Trang. I ended up staying nearly three weeks. By the time I left people from the shops and cafes used to say hello to me in the streets or bring their kids out to wave at me. Looking back, Nha Trang was one big DGM.

Soon after I left Nha Trang I was traveling up the Mekon Delta on the back of a boat on my way to Cambodia. The sun was going down, the kids were waving from their stilt huts and I felt humbled, happy and content like I never had before.

In truth the DGMs continued to follow me right the way through my travels. I remember feeling so alive buzzing around the temples and jungles of Ankor Watt on the back of a motor bike, dodging stray monkeys along the way. Then there was the arrival at the beautiful island of Koh Chaing in Thailand with a new group of travelers I had met on the way.

Weeks later I was diving in Malaysia followed by a peace rally in San Francisco and I still miss the community of travelers iI met in Anitgua Guatemala.

That was also where I met London girl. And for a couple of months we became something of a serious item. We even talked about moving in together on our return. And although it fizzled out back in the UK, I remember leaving Antigua in a car with her asleep on my shoulder and thinking that life really doesn't get much better than this.

We were on our way to Hacienda Tijax a beautiful spot on Rio Dulce where we stayed in these amazing little cabins. They were on stilts above a stream that was home to turtles, Jesus Christ lizards and an absolute cauldron of fish. In all honesty we didn't leave that cabin much except to go and get the occasional meal and bring it back to bed. Mindful of ants we threw any left overs to the fish and with so much activity it looked like the water was boiling below us.

We traveled a while together. I had a lot of fun. But I was aware that the DGMs were getting less and less frequent. Soon there was fewer of them than there had been when I had traveled on my own.

Still, I was sad to say goodbye when she flew out of San Salvador. I hung around a couple of days before getting a bus right across Honduras and into Nicaragua. Before long I found myself on the fresh water island of Ometepe, watching the sun go down every night.

We used to all go right to the end of this dilapidated old pier and sit out with a beer or two while the women who owned the hostel made this huge buffet meal.

The sunset was quite the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. Orange, pink, purples and blues mixed together and a hush fell over this fantastic group of travelers as the sun slowly slipped away. Almost without noticing it, it was soon totally dark and when you turned around to walk back along the pier, hundreds of little fire flies lit up the side of the lake.

I'm getting misty-eyed just thinking about it. The place was one long DGM.

I had another three stops on my travels but within a couple of weeks or so I was back in Newcastle. I got the DGM I always used to get when climbing the steps to my seat in the stands at St James's Park. It kicks in when you first get sight of the pitch. I had the meeting up with old friends for the first time in a while DGM.

But they've fizzled out again and I've learnt that if you want to measure the success of your life then the DGM-count is as suitable a barometer as any other.

That's why I want to go and do voluntary work abroad. I've had my interview, collated my references and had my police checks. Now I just need the okay and to know that I have been accepted. The next step is to find out where to? Africa or Eastern Europe is likely but I fantasize that it'll be Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Indonesia or (please please please) Vietnam again.

My fingers are still crossed. And I'm still waiting to be accepted.

I think two years working for VSO might mean as many hardships and tears as DGMs, but I reckon it would be well and truly worth it. I have learnt that highs and lows are better than boredom.

Love, light and peace,


I saw two shooting stars last night I wished on them but they were only satellites. It's wrong to wish on space hardware. I wish, I wish, I wish you'd care.