Tag Archives: backpackers

31 Destinations in Time #1: Bali, 1994

Bali 94 photo on a diary

My diary and a photo of me in Bali 1994

Being an irrepressible listmaker, I can’t resist people’s personal lists of recommendations – from 31 Songs by Nick Hornby, to High Fidelity by Nick Hornby, to things beyond Nick Hornby.

Ages ago, I remember getting all inspired reading Tom Lennon’s ‘Top 20 Albums of the Decade‘ but I decided that my top 20 would have to be a list of destinations, and maybe it would be a top 30 since I’m still not done. And maybe it should be 31 in honour of Nicky Boy.

Anyway, in no particular order, and occasionally with some diary entries from back in the day, here are My Top 31 Destinations In Time, starting with…

1. Bali, Indonesia

They say you never forget your first time in Asia – and Bali in the summer of 1994 was mine. This was where I landed after a tearful goodbye to my partner at the airport, a 16-hour flight when I was petrified of flying, inhalers on the plane because I was allergic to my malaria tablets and facing two months of backpacking all on my lonesome. It was like walking onto the movie set of a Seventies disaster island complete with conical volcano, lava flows and earthquake tremors to remind you of how epic this little island is. We were on tidal wave alert several times – which basically involved sleeping in our clothes with our trainers by the bedside, ready to run for the hills. I’d never seen anywhere like it, except maybe in a Bob Hope/Bing Crosby Road movie. The lush tropical green hurt my eyes and there was aesthetic beauty in everything.

25th May 1994, Kuta, Bali, Day 1

Too many things are different to write them all. A hundred hawkers shoving things at you, opening suitcases of watches in front of you, grabbing your hair, your arm, your bum… Can’t find the roads because they look like back alleys and nearly as narrow. Being called bimbo, la-la, plenty hair girl, red hair girl and other terms not for public consumption. Being asked if I want hash, marijuana, a man! My hair braided, skirt swapped for sarong, sitting watching a pinky blue sunset over the Indian Ocean. The Indian Ocean!!! A drink seller, Jos, comes to practice his English on me, where am I from, how long here, am I married? It’s rude to say No, so I say Not yet. Covered head to foot so I don’t get bitten by a mosquito; everyone else is in tiny beach gear. I stand out like a sore thumb. Maniac mopeds buzzing up and down tiny alleys. Gagging on disgusting gado-gado. Real true MUTTS, sleeping, strolling, licking themselves, scratching, mangy, hairless, wary. It’s 8.30pm in Bali, I’ve been up 29 hours, I feel very very alone.

Kuta, Bali

Kuta, Bali: © Marufish/Flickr

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Ok, so exactly what is a tourist and what is a traveller?

It had to be done. People are searching for the answer to this question and finding this blog, naturally enough. So feel free to post your definitions. Because I’m not sure I know what the difference is. Budget, attitude, destination, length of holiday, courage, individuality, all of the above, none of the above?

Answers on a postcard… or even below. As you wish.

Oh yes, and here’s explorer Benedict Allen’s take on it when I asked him at a talk recently – it’s all about the note-taking and recording it for others.

Egypt tourist

A great pic from David Evers/Flickr

Tourist vs Traveller – the difference according to Benedict Allen

How important is it to record your travels? This is the question I put to the explorer and Unbreakable tough guy Benedict Allen at the Travellers’ Tales festival in London this Saturday. I’m also interested in other people’s takes on this, and why they keep personal travel diaries?

Firstly, though, here’s Benedict Allen’s response:

It is crucial to record. The difference between a traveller and a tourist is that a traveller simulates that experience (for others) and records it.

Explorers like travellers are in the business of reporting back and, increasingly, this is a justification for going. We can no longer see the world simply as a playground (I was pretty self-indulgent when I started out). I feel better looking back that I recorded my expeditions: through writing, filming and photography.

You have to remember that is it s privilege to travel – many can’t do it (for financial and other reasons) – but by sharing it you give others a chance to get out there.

Of course, Benedict Allen has been on some pretty unique and far-flung trips. He added that the Niowra tribe he stayed with knew that their way of life was disintegrating and wanted him to record their Crocodile Initiation Ceremony for posterity.

But is there much value in the rest of us contributing our travel writing to others, especially if we aren’t adventurers but say backpackers following a well-trodden trail – or playground as Allen calls it? Is there anything for the world to learn from us?

Are we breaking down prejudices through our travel writing or are we just underscoring them?

And why are we so driven to record our experiences beyond the tourist holiday snap? Why, for example, do I have around 40-50 travel diaries locked up in a trunk in my house!?

(Aside: I did it so that I would have my best memories in writing for if I ever lost my memory. But also there were ideas of having published books, being the new Anais Nin, and let’s not underestimate the sheer habit of it.)

Finally, is ‘recording the experience’ really a difference between tourists and travellers? Or is it just that travelling types are often on long journeys with hours to kill so out comes the diary/blogging platform – or do you think you can you still be a ‘traveller’ on a weekend in the Lake District?

Of course, the irony of staying up late to blog my weekend of travel writing isn’t escaping me. I’m also reminded of Jack Kerouac who recorded the beat years while Neal Cassidy was the person who fully lived them.

So my finally question I’m pondering is how would my travels have been if I hadn’t stopped to record them – would I have live more fully in the moment, or is it worth saving some back to relive them later on?

More from Travellers’ Tales festival: See the list that keeps Benedict Allen alive

Girl with diary

A (wannabe) travel writer takes notes in a leather-bound diary at the Travellers' Tales festival, London (Feb 2010)

Spending New Year at Birmingham’s shiny new Coach Station in Digbeth

Birmingham Coach Station frontageBirmingham finally has a shiny new National Express coach station – and we chose to see in the New Year there last Thursday pm/Friday am. (Actually, we were jumping on local blogger Nicky Getgood’s project – she was spending 6pm-6am there collecting stories of the people passing through the new station – here’s the full story.)

Gates for boardingThe new station is still on the same site as the old Digbeth coach station but it’s enclosed, airport-style, with different gateways for different destinations.

Ticket machinesIt’s also clean, white, warm and welcoming – very different from the old, cold and black station. For a peak inside, the full set of pics is here on Flickr.

COW Vintage and Big Bull's HeadThe area around the station used to be pretty bleak as well, but it now houses a lively alternative underbelly of Birmingham culture and entertainment, the antithesis to the mainstream glitz of Broad Street. If you’re killing time between buses, head cross the road to COW Vintage (pictured behind the yellow door!), a warehouse full of retro loveliness. The Big Bull’s Head, a few doors up, is the spot to grab huge platefuls of cheap and filling pub food – I can recommend the fantastic Irish Stew.

Custard FactoryWithin five minutes walk is also the revamped Irish Centre, the Custard Factory (pictured above), Birmingham’s oldest inn The Old Crown, favoured Irish pub The Spotted Dog, digital media centre Fazeley Studios, Birmingham Central Backpackers, Manzil’s Indian restaurant, Friends of the Earth cafe, Latifs – a modern-day Aladdin’s cave, The Rainbow and much more.

Digbeth O'LympicsIt’s also a hub for events such as the St Patrick’s Day parade, the Digbeth O’Lympics (pictured above), Supersonic festival, and more. Check out Nicky’s Digbeth Is Good blog for latest news.

She should also have updates as to when the bus station (and therefore Digbeth) finally gets its first cashpoint. Until then, happy new year from the bus station crew, pictured here with party poppers at the ready at 11.59 and followed by fireworks over nearby Chinatown just afterwards…

11.59 on NYE at the bus station

NYE Fireworks over Chinatown

[All images © Fiona Cullinan, released under Creative Commons, attribution only, non-commercial license – contact me for other usage permissions. Words fulfilling one of my 10 New Year’s Travel Resolutions of writing about Hometown Tourism]