Getting a haircut in Bangkok may be cheap, but you really do get what you pay for. I figured I should get some hair chopped off before I head home — it's a bargain here, plus I never get round to it when I'm in Sydney. I asked the lady: "number one on the sides, and nice and short on top — but don't shave the top." And what does she do? She says: "OK, no ploblem" — and then proceeds to brandish her shaver, and... vrooomp! There goes my hair. All but completely shaved off. "You say number one on side and short on top", she explained (this was just before I strangled her to death with a hair-dryer cord, you understand). "So I do number two on top." Arrgghhh! Hence, when you see me back in Sydney and I look like a gawdaym US Marine, you'll appreciate why and how this came to be. Next time, I think I'll get my hair cut by someone who speaks just a little more English.
As I approach the end of my massive world trip — I now have exactly one week to go, before I touch down back in Sydney — I can't help but think about what it's going to be like returning home. And one thing that keeps worrying me, is that after a year of travelling, my English language skills have become somewhat eroded! I never expected I'd ever be saying this: but I'm really concerned that my spoken English has deteriorated during my travels. I believe that it's been caused by a combination of my intensive Spanish study; of the significant amount of time that I've spent in non-English-speaking countries; and more than anything, of the amount of conversing that I've done, in English, with non-native English speakers.
Piece of advice: never take directions from a gay Austrian. If only I'd followed it. After spending this morning once again chilling on Moondance beach, today I tagged along with my friend Robert, who wanted to show me the next beach along on the island, where he claimed there was nice swimming and a great restaurant. Only problem was, Robert thought he could take a "shortcut" up the hillside, and onto the main track that leads to this beach. And as anyone (named Murphy) can tell you, a shortcut is the longest possible distance between two points. Several steep cliffs, spiky ferns, bulging ant-nests, enveloping spiderwebs, and thick bush-clumps later, the truth of this rule was quite thoroughly proven. Although our intensive bush-bashing did eventually pay off: at long last, we finally found the road that we were looking for. Nice views along the way, too.
It's 6:30am, and I've just pulled into Bangkok, tired and hungry after a night on the road. I'm wandering around the streets near Khao San Road, looking for a quiet café where I can grab some breakfast and read a book, while I wait for the city (and for myself) to wake up. I'm armed with my hefty backpack, and perusing the menu of an early-bird café, when a scantily-clad Thai girl runs up to me (out of nowhere), drapes her arm around me, and starts caressing me. I pretty much literally had to run away from her, before she gave up on offering herself to me, and left me in peace. For heaven's sake: if a bleary-eyed backpacker at the crack of dawn isn't safe from assaults by whores, when who and when the hell is safe?
Thailand is infamous for being a steaming hotspot of all things sex-related. Sex abuse, sex entertainment, sex tourism — you name it, sexy, and they've got it. One of the particularly less appealing of these things is the popularity of sex changes in Thailand. So common are the transsexuals — who started out as men, and who have consumed masses of artificial hormones (and some of whom have also undergone surgery) to become women, and who end up something in between — that here in Thailand, they have a special name. They're called "ladyboys". And they're bad news. Most of them are fairly obvious to look at: i.e. their sexual appearance is totally... well, f$#%ed. But quite a few of them have taken it so far, that you can't tell them apart from real women.
I have no complaints about my time here at the Cat's hostel in Madrid. It's been a great experience: that is, except for one very unpleasant incident this evening. It was New Year's Eve, and we were all down in the Cat's bar, having a few beverages as you do (but not that many). An American girl sitting upstairs asked me to heat up a donut that she'd bought: she said that we weren't supposed to go behind the bar and use the microwave; but I was in a jolly festive mood, so I said: "here, give me the donut, and I'll heat it up behind the bar — it's not like anyone's going to care." Boy, was I wrong — clearly, the hostel staff had no interest whatsoever in joining in on the New Year's spirit. In almost a year of travelling, I've managed to never once pi$$ off a hostel's management: and never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that heating up a donut without permission would get me in more hostel-bound trouble than almost anything else on this trip.
One of the really fun things about travelling in dodgy, economically-mismanaged Latin America is the value for money. Although the mathematics are slightly different wherever you go — in Peru, you divide the local price by 3 to get the dollar price; in Mexico, you divide by 10; and in inflation-scarred Chile, you divide by 500 — in every country, the local currencies are weak, and there's always division involved. Suddenly, now that I'm in Europe, it's reverse mathematics — all the local currencies here (with "all" being the Euro, almost everwhere) are stronger than the dollar; and instead of dividing local prices, I'm multiplying them! Eek!
When we cruised down the river for three hours yesterday, we saw quite a few of the famous pink dolphins of the pampas. This afternoon, we didn't just see them: we jumped in the water, and tried to swim with them. Unfortunately, the dolphins are both shy and speedy: as soon as you see them in one spot, by the time you've swum towards them, they've already popped up somewhere entirely different. I think they like to taunt as well. But hey, it was good fun sharing the river with them.
The pampas has many strange and wonderful animals — monkeys, dolphins, and alligators among them — but what most people really come here to see is the anacondas. The legendary water-snake monsters — that can (in parts of the Amazon basin) grow to as much as 10m in length, and that have long been the subject of adventure books and horror movies — are certainly a sight to see. And this morning, our group went on a romp through the swamplands, and found two little baby ones! Even these young critters had a formidable mouth of teeth, though.