From North to South

For the last 6 weeks or so, I’ve had a chance to test live-aboard life for a longer time than just a short holiday. Even better, not only do I live on a boat, but we’ve been using it for what it’s meant to do: move about! Amazingly, not many lived-on boats travel: most tend to fulfill a role of floating flat.
This opportunity came about as I flew to Ireland to stay with Ted, my partner since January, on his boat. I had only come over for the usual two weeks, commuting back and forth between Ted’s barge and the Wirral, and had not brought much stuff – no laptop, no camera battery charger, and only thin summer trousers that threatened to rip any second. The plan was to join Ted on the first part of a leisurely journey back from Northern Ireland, to the barge’s winter quarter on the Grand Canal.
After a short portion of the trip and the initial two weeks were over, it seemed a real shame to leave and miss out on the best part of journey, so after much deliberation, I stayed on!

We first set off from Lower Lough Erne in good company: self-designated ‘Misfit Mariners’ Eric, Jill, Giles and Ted, and dogs Oíche (=Ee-ha) and Hobbes (=Hobz!), had already traveled together for several weeks over the summer, sharing meals and water-borne adventures. I’d heard all about it while I was working, and couldn’t wait to join them.
Eric lives aboard the tjalk Nieuwe Zorgen with Oíche, and Jill and Giles aboard Dutch barge Hawthorn with Hobbes. We live on the smaller widebeam barge Heron. Ted’s motorbike, a Transalp 650, was of the journey too, either on our boat or on Eric’s. It only just fits on the Heron’s rear deck, as it is a long as the boat is wide.
Together the boats looked a great sight, and to be honest, a somewhat curious spectacle next to the plastic hire cruisers that patrol these waters.

I liked traveling with the Misfit Mariners. We sailed from harbour to jetty, stayed here and there and just…. lived! A live-aboard life. Jill and Giles run a business from their barge, making boat covers, and sometimes that was the reason to stay somewhere. One of these stays was Swan Island on Lough Garadice.

At first, after India and Asia, this journey seemed a bit dull to share – even though I was enjoying it very much! It took a while to dawn on me that we were actually doing quite unusual things, all in subtlety.
Watching the kind of pictures Ted took opened my eyes. The camera had to be turned around and pointed at ourselves, not at the landscape and people I saw. Rather than functioning like a witness to extraordinary surroundings and unfamiliar people living their lives, I was the slightly unusual object, living in more familiar (by European standards), but still extraordinary surroundings. By the time I realised that, my camera batteries were dead. So I borrowed Ted’s camera now and then, and in part 2, I even borrowed one or two of his photos…. But here’s the journey:

From North to South, pt2

Burma Afterthoughts

Nearly 18 months after my trip, I decided that the few pictures of Burma I’d originally posted were completely inadequate to describe such a fantastic trip. I decided to re-open my photo album and select all the pictures that brought me back there, and am posting them now with short commentaries. For chronological ease, I’ve put them back in 2008, when it all happened. The first two are up.

After India, Ireland.

New Year, by the Liffey. I accidentally lost all these pictures, and rescued these from my Moblog.

No more photo paper in Chennai

I went to Chennai to buy some more photographic paper, so I could do a little more pinhole photography. Unfortunately, the last two shops who had it, have stopped stocking paper and chemicals.

28 Days in Burma

As we flew closer to Yangon, we could see a green rice paddies glimmering in the sun, like a fertile mirror. Here we were, no turning back now, our Myanmar adventure had begun.

I first thought of visiting the country when Laxman announced, almost a year earlier, that he was now ready to go and see what was going on there. I thought I wouldn’t mind going along, accompany him on a first time adventure for both of us. He had postponed his visit for two decades because of the political situation in Myanmar. Till my first trip to India the year before, I’d never really thought of where I’d like to go, and I certainly hadn’t thought of myself as someone who’d go anywhere ‘dodgy’. All I’d heard of Burma was about Aung San Su Si on house arrest and 1940′s soldiers building railways in jungles, but suddenly the names of Mandalay and Rangoon sparkled with poetic wonder in my mind.

Our friend Charlotte had been a tour guide on several organised trip to the country, and spoke of it and of its beautiful people with warmth and enthusiasm.

I started reading up on Burma, her history, also contemporary real stories, and talking about it. Some of my friends had seen documentaries about the tourist infrastructure being built on slave labour, the Burmese had called for a boycott themselves and the regime brutally repressed the people. But now on the internet, some other Burmese were decrying the boycott as more harmful than tourism, saying that there is no worse fate for the people of Myanmar than isolation. It seemed the leader herself started to hint at discrimination.
What was really going on?

In the middle of my research, the September 07 monks’ rebellion started. Now, with some background information, our visit looked quite unlikely. Laxman continued to gather practical information, and I kept on following the news and reading background info till January, when I really needed to make a decision – I was leaving by the end of the month…

Reading the latest forum posts from people who had just returned, I made my mind. They were saying that we must go, tourism had dropped to almost zero, and the budding independent tourist industry was decimated. Isolation was painfully severe to ordinary Burmese, and used by the regime to control people further.

The important thing, insisted the travel book and individual travellers with a conscience, was to avoid putting money in the pocket of the government, and use as far as possible local, private and independent services. Put money directly in people’s hands.

So, sharing this information, we still both wanted to go.
I took off with the intention to get to Bangkok first, and see there if I’d get a visa there.

We got a visa without any hassle or trouble. There were only another 7 or 8 tourists applying, and it all went very quickly. At the embassy, the guys behind the window, presumably ‘baddies’ in league with the regime, looked like ordinary family men trying to earn their living. So it was going to be a lot more complex than the new Rambo film, just coming out these days and much talked about, made out….

As the old, near empty plane prepared to land, I let my thoughts wander – what were we going to find down there?

Bago and Taungoo

The very next day we were off North by bus. First we had to get a taxi to the bus station. We got on a rickety bus blaring a Burmese cabaret video for a few hours. Then we got to a town that made us feel more at home, as it felt less controlled (a bit like India, in other words). This town, Bago, harboured treasures. A giant reclining Buddha, and magnificent payas.
After a brief visit, we got another bus to Taungoo, to stay in a guesthouse described in the infamous LP guide, to catch our breath. Strolling round the market and shaded alleys on the outskirts of town was a great pleasure and constantly held surprises for us.

Yangon and Shwedagon

First day in Burma. We’re a bit unnerved by the strange, expectant atmosphere in Yangon and don’t like it much here. The long deserted avenues to Shwedagon Paya. The lack of motorbikes. But Shwedagon itself more than makes up for it, and we stay till well after dark.
Last, the extraordinary White House Hotel, more of a folly than anything else, with its vertiginous views, and staff cooking a bountiful breakfast.

Pinhole Photos

Pinhole Photography

For years I’d wanted to try out pinhole photography. The opportunity came whilst I was living in the one place for a few weeks: at the foot of sacred mountain Arunachala, in Tamil Nadu, South India (More at a later date about that).

The light was great, and I had lots of time on my hands. In the process, I learnt as much about India and myself than about photography, if not more – my entire resourcing system, based on phone calls and the Internet, just didn’t work there. My friend Laxman taught me how to do it, and thanks to him I persevered and set up the project successfully.

It took a while before I got results. I had to re-invent the whole process empirically, without the Western controlled comfort of measures, light meters and instructions on packets.