Aspasiya Part 1

 

As my flight neared Athens airport, I looked out my window and was surprised by what I saw. Beneath me was a barren, dry landscape of rocks, low hills and ocean. There were very few areas of arable land, let alone rich farmland. There were no rivers or lakes. It was a country which at first sight seemed to me more likely to be a place where humans had to struggle just to survive, never mind think great thoughts and ask big questions…… Read more

Fishing in Troubled Waters

(Written in 2006, recently revised)

Thirty years on and he knew the coast of south-west Cambodia like the back of his hand. And what a coast it was. Lush jungle covered islands of different sizes and shapes, some of them no more than big outcrops of rock, others taking minutes for our boat to pass.

On the horizon behind the islands was the mainland, wild jungle covered mountains sweeping down into long stretches of white beach lapped by aqua blue ocean.

He pointed out each island, told me its Cambodian name, and gave a short explanation about it.

See that one over there?

You could stay on that island for as long as you like, there’s plenty of water and fruit.

See that one there?….yeah its big ok, but there’s not much water on it so you know, you could only stay there a night or two.

See that one there, the one that sticks up like a building?

There’s a big reef alongside it, under the water, but you’d never put a net down there, the bottom’s real bad you know, lots of sharp rocks and potholes, tear up your net like knives…’

Read more

The Night Stalker

 

I awoke and heard the rhythm of your breathing

The sound of the waves outside our bamboo window

And with the sudden appearance of the tropic’s dawn

 

Saw the night stalker

Seemingly glued to the thatch ceiling of our hut

Stone age acrobat

So delicately painted on the morning’s blank face.

Black brown body crossed by aquamarine stripes,

Diamond shaped head with eyes like crystal balls of black,

Eyes keened to darkness.

Long toes splayed out like the leaves of a papaya tree,

And the tail!

In the form of an ‘S’, long, tapering into something as

Fine an insect’s antennae.

 

You awoke, a smile lit your face.

The night stalker fled into the thatch roof seeking

Refuge from the light.

 

We made love, discovered each other once again

And I too fled

Inside somewhere deep, my own refuge from the light.

 

An Inconvenient Truth Part 2

Early one morning, after two days in the tourist city of Vigan, I got in a small motor bike rickshaw and travelled to a small guest house on the coast.

It wasn´t far, 15 kilometres or so.

Before long, we left Vigan behind us and motored down narrow pot holed roads with open fields and small houses on either side. There were was almost no traffic. The sky was a blanket of grey. 

We came to a small town called Santa Catalina. ‘Santa Catalina’: a vestige of The Philippines origins as a Spanish colony.

There was a single main street, houses and shops either side and a large church. There were few people about.

Finally we neared the coast.

There was a strong wind blowing off the sea. It was good to breathe fresh air again. Then the sea came into view. I’d had ideas of going for a swim but I at first sight, I knew that was completely out of the question. Big ocean swells broke far out to sea, reformed and broke again and again, forming a series of wild, breaking waves which pounded the beach violently.

With the sound of the waves filling the air, the rickshaw turned left and drove down a long drive and pulled up a large open dining area with wooden tables and chairs under a large sloping thatch roof. There was a middle-aged man seated at one of the tables talking to a couple of young Filipino tourists. Besides some of the place names, another surviving remnant of the Spanish era are people’s names and as far as that went, you couldn’t get more Spanish than ‘Carlos Fernando’. 

Carlos got up and came over to the rickshaw and introduced himself.

Read more

An Inconvenient Truth Part 1

The bus journey from Aleminos to Vigan took a lot longer than I anticipated: the distance was 270 kilometres and it took 11 hours.

These two cities are on the west coast of Luzon, the largest and most populated of the islands comprising The Philippines (and home to the capital city Manila). There is one main road running along this west coast because much of the interior of Luzon is mountainous. Unbeknownst to me and I should have realised this, most of the people in Luzon live along the coasts and especially, the west coast.

Some of the buses in The Philippines are ultra-modern but mine wasn´t one of them. It had bench seats and ventilation was provided by sliding windows. For much of the way, the bus crawled along a traffic choked road, a chaos of cars, small trucks, SUV’s – and hundreds of the three wheel motor bike rickshaws. There were long periods when the bus was stationary. Moving so slowly along that over congested coast road, accompanied by a constant haze of pollution, I got a sobering look at life for the Filipinos, especially those living at the lower end of the social economic ladder.  Read more