Uluru: an iconic, magical, sacred landscape. A loud American tour guide shuffles slowly past us with a group of foreigners, spouting nonsense about local customs. Young people take selfies. Bus loads of people seem to arrive by the minute.
We pass the American tour guide and find ourselves alone in silent contemplative bliss. Suddenly, the tour guide appears round the corner with his booming voice, oblivious to the fact that he is standing next to a sign urging visitors to “sit and reflect” in this “quiet place of respect.”
“If you were a woman I’d give you a lift,” a sleazy truck driver says to Chris. It’s late afternoon in Charters Towers in eastern Australia. We’re excited and nervous as we stick our thumbs out and wait for our first car to take us into Australia’s Outback. A billboard poster behind us advertises how to make ‘fuller cattle’.
The sky turns pink as the sun goes down. Miners drive past us on their way to one of Australia’s many mines. Road trains (giant four-carriage trucks) speed past us, full of cows who have been transported through the 40°C heat.
It’s immediately obvious that the Outback is going to be frustrating for two vegan activists who have just come from protests on the east coast against coal mining.
** I’d like to acknowledge the First Nations peoples of Australia, their elders and their ancestors: custodians of the land that I have been travelling through.**
Imagine a place where dolphins play amongst surfers in the waves. A place where parrots squawk above you and pelicans sit on shores. A place where kangaroos hop into gardens for their breakfast of grass. A place where koalas sleep in eucalyptus trees. A place with thousands of kilometres of perfect beaches. This is Australia’s east coast.
I’m always a little bit nervous when hitchhiking in a new country, especially where there’s a language barrier. But Japan is great to hitchhike! People know the concept (pronouncing it ‘hitch hike’, emphasising the space between the two syallables). We also saw some Japanese hitchhikers.
To hitchhike, you do the same as you would in western Europe, and stand with your thumb out. Sometimes we used a sign, sometimes we didn’t.
Waiting times were similar to in Europe, ranging from three minutes to three hours.
Hitchhiking at the exit of a rest area. We have a sign which may or may not say ‘west’!
Tokyo is surely the most capitalist, consumerist city in the world, and is not a good introduction to beautiful Japan. Billboards and lights scream at people to buy stuff. Trains are crammed with adverts whilst people are transfixed with smartphones. Everywhere I turn, there are women who look like film stars. Looking perfect is seemingly important in Tokyo.
The gaudy lights of central Tokyo make no sense to me. They seem out of place in a culture with such beautiful ornate art, shrines and intricate wooden buildings.
One advert says “life is beautiful.” Not in central Tokyo.
“You can’t hike any more. You have to change your plans,” the doctor says sympathetically. “Was it your dream to tramp across New Zealand? Had you been planning it for years?”
“Well, no,” I reply, “but it’s really disappointing. How long will I take to heal?”
“Three more months, maybe…or keyhole surgery.”
I have torn a cartilage in my knee just 160km into the Te Araroa hike across New Zealand. It’s now very clear that I won’t be able to hike the whole trail. But because I can stay in the country for six months, it’s possible that I’ll recover in time to walk half of it.
“What is he doing with his arm?”
We travel from Malaysia to Sumatra, Indonesia, on the Vomit Boat. Its real name is the Star Express. But throughout the four hour journey we listen to everyone on board throw their dinners up into plastic bags (ironically, before this, the staff give everyone a meal of chicken and rice when the boat is still on deceptively calm waters). The boat sways roughly from side to side, and there’s no access to a deck or any fresh air.
If you want to find out how it feels to be famous (and I mean really famous like a Hollywood actor) then head to the town of Tanjungbalai. Everyone we pass says hello to us. Everyone wants photos with us. And this sets the tone for our month hitchhiking through Sumatra and Aceh.
Map of our route from my diary
“Aaaaggghhhh! You fucking wankerrrrrr!” I scream at a young guy as I chase after him on my scooter. He has just grabbed my breast, whilst driving at 60kmph on his scooter, and now I’m on a high speed chase.
But after just half a minute I wonder what I would actually do if I caught him. Ask him to pull over so that I can have a polite word with him about his misogynist ways? More likely the chase would end with me having a serious scooter accident. So I stop driving and cry instead.
Read Travels in Kurdistan (part 1) here
Children of Roboski at the graves of their relatives, who were killed by Turkey’s military on 28th December 2011
It’s late June, and we arrive in Midyat as it’s getting dark. Unfortunately for us, President Tayyip Erdoğan has also decided to visit Midyat on the same evening, after a farcical PR stunt, giving Angelina Jolie a tour of the nearby Syrian refugee camp. Police are everywhere, roads are blocked, paparazzi wait, and a deafening helicopter hovers over our heads.
We move onto Roboski, close to the border with South (Iraqi) Kurdistan. Four years ago, me and my friends, Robert and Mats, crossed the border here, and learned about the Roboski massacre, which took place a few days before we arrived. Turkey’s military bombed and killed 34 local people who were on mules, carrying out cross-border trade between North and South Kurdistan.
“Where the hell are we?!” I say, as I look at the map
I like to think I’m a good map reader. But sometimes – fairly often, actually – I look at a map and my mind goes completely blank. I can’t work out where the hell I am.
Chris and I are in the Pyrénées. We need to stay low: there’s thick snow once we get above 1400 metres. So it’s also important not to get lost, or we might find ourselves camping up on a mountain ridge in a snowy blizzard, completely unprepared.
But, of course, we get lost. There’s five different trails, some bigger than others, all branching off in different directions.