Indonesia reflections

Travel reflections after 3 weeks in Indonesia

If I’m honest, I felt nervous about this trip. “The world is unsafe” has been the media message of the year, like a relentless drum tapping heightened vigilance into my nervous system. It seems I let those suspicions in a bit, and felt an unusual sense of solo travel trepidation as my plane took flight to Istanbul (gunmen! ISIS!) before pushing on to Jakarta. 

It took a week at least before I fully let those fears go. With each interaction, they became weaker and less sure of themselves. Every broad smile, every open-handed welcome, every ‘hello miss!’ shouted from giggling kids emerging from homes in a gaggle to catch a glimpse of us – the foreign people. The fears were drowned out by the sunset orchestra of clacking cicadas and 90s Bryan Adams tracks blasting from old radios. They were extinguished by the echoing thump of torrential rains, the crack of twigs underfoot, the soprano calls of unfamiliar birds at 4am, the shared laughter at language misunderstandings, the silence. It started to seem like there’s far more peace beyond our green and pleasant lands than there is within them just now.

It’s been good to be out here – travelling across Flores not seeing another tourist for days. Out where the seas crash on black sand shorelines, where hot volcanic springs hit cold mountain waterfalls and dense rainforests stretch for miles in a tidal wave of deep green. Where 2016 was a good year because the rains came and rice crops were good and babies were born healthy. 

In these more remote Indonesian islands, most people smile on sight. They don’t know the word Brexit. They haven’t heard of Trump. Villages and towns work the same as they have done for centuries, save the screen shine of mobile phones. It’s been good to remember there’s a whole wide wonderful world outside our bubble. 

That world is changing, of course. People tell us that the weather isn’t always so predictable, but it’s ok for now because when it rains more than usual they just plant peanuts instead of rice. Luckily, on Flores, they’re mostly out of site from the big companies and government contracts. But on islands beyond the ones we visited ancient forests are being cleared and rare animals find their territories shrinking. This unruly planet is being forceably tamed.

While at the same time, we foreigners seem to be less at ease. In Bali a teacher said to me that she thinks my country is “agitated”. She said she sees it more and more in people who come here from the UK – a quickness to react, an expectation of threat rather than goodness, a readiness to reward cynicism. I recognise this in myself sometimes.

So here are the things I want to do in 2017: keep travelling to new places. Don’t let unfounded suspicions about the world take hold. Donate to the Rainforest Trust. And maybe listen uncynically to Bryan Adams once in a while.

And big thanks to Martin and Jen for being really great travelling friends – it was wonderful to share this trip with you!

Dinner with a North Korean defector

We’re in a back room of a Korean restaurant, sat around a low table contorting Western knees into a cross legged position that probably hasn’t been attempted since school assembly days. For most of us that was a very long time ago.

We’re here to listen to this man’s story of how and why he escaped North Korea, and what he thinks about things there, and here, in this leafy Surrey suburb just a 20 minute train ride from London Waterloo.

He’s a youngish looking forty-something year old. He nods at our English-speaking questions, then looks to the women on his right to translate them into Korean. Even with the ‘lost in translation’ translation, his speech holds to a regular pace. Then she translates his words about “escaping from hell” in the same way – with the even tone you might use for giving directions or reading a shopping list.

He grew up trusting the system, he says. He grew up learning that it was good, and that South Korea and America were bad. It was only when he joined the army and travelled around the country that he realised that it wasn’t just his village that was suffering.

He began to experience doubt. When asked to cook a meal for the soldiers, the only way to get food is to steal it from a nearby farm. “How could this be good?” he says. When he visited his sister, she deprived her daughter of food so he could eat. He didn’t know she had done so – only finding out when his niece, left alone, came across a bag of corn supplies, ate and drank water too quickly for her malnourished stomach, so it bloated and burst. She died, and it was then he knew he could not stay in North Korea.

He didn’t know if it would be better somewhere else. He didn’t know anything about what it would be like on the other side of the river. He couldn’t tell anyone he was thinking of trying to get out. Every third or forth person was a spy. Army personnel were required to ‘confess’ once a week on anything they had heard or seen that was suspicious.

He says he felt he had to try anyway. He says he was curious.

His crossing took four and a half hours. The water was shallow and every 50 metres there was a guard. At one point he bumps into a rock, and finds it is a soldier sleeping.

I ask him if he thought he would make it.

He says no. But he was willing to take the risk.

In one pocket he had a knife, and in the other a candy bar. You die or not, he says. Had he been caught – and he thought he would be caught – he would have killed himself. And the candy bar? He says he thought he might need to do a lot of walking if he made it to the other side. He would need it for energy.

When he reached the other side, he says he saw an apple tree, and it was then he knew he had been deceived by his country. The ground beneath the tree was scattered with rotting apples. This was unthinkable to him, he says. That food would be so abundant that it would be left to over ripen and rot on the floor.

He says that escaping takes courage. He says that that river to him represented the difference between heaven and hell.

He says he has no regrets. He says though that he thought the regime would change within 10 years and he would be able to see his parents again. It’s been nine years now, and it hasn’t changed. And his parents are getting older.

And so the story ends, and we walk back out onto Kingston Road in South West London, bellies full and collars turned up against the February cold.

I can’t stop thinking about the guts of the man – to go it alone, with a knife in one pocket and a candy bar in the other, with no idea what it would be like on the other side. Just in the curious hope it might be better.

For the latest news on North Korea, visit www.nknews.org/. To visit North Korea there are a number of tour operators who will take you in from China. Try Political Tours for an in-depth look at the place and its people.  

My Vic Falls journey in 7 shots

1) The soul balm calm of sunset on the massive Zambezi river. With a beer. And hippos.

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2) Justice the game reserve guy at Chobe saying that if a lion charges us, he would “handle the situation”. Despite not having a gun. Moments later, we happen across a lion and its cubs eating a baby elephant carcass. Justice seemingly unruffled.

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3) Loads of water crashing into a massive crack in the earth. Seriously cool. And very wet. And worth the US$30 park entry fee.

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4) A friend of a friend taking me up over Zimbabwe in this rather dodgy looking micro light. You can usually only do this tiny propeller plane thing in Zambia for about US$150, so was very lucky to fly up on the Zim side for the price of a tank of petrol. And to survive.

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5) The very UK civil service style immigration communications; complete with a ‘mission statement’ and ‘client charter’, complete with regal picture of ‘his excellency’ Cdr. Robert Mugabe. I very much liked the social media feedback mechanisms on this poster in Zim/Botswana border control.

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6) The greenness. And the elephants in the road.

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7) Realising this strange protected beautiful bubble of a place is virtually on the axis of four countries. Safe, friendly, expensive. Loved it. Miss it already.

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Enter Zimbabwe

As I fly into Zimbabwe on the SA40 from Jo’Burg, I read a passage in this book called ‘Africa Trek’. which talks about border crossings. The author is saying that you can tell a lot about a country by the mood at the border. And if he had to categorise the mood at the border of South Africa and Zimbabwe, it would be ‘sad’.

I’m wishing I hadn’t opened this darn book. ‘Sad’ is not what I’m hoping for when I touch-down at Victoria Falls. If anything, I’ve been feeling optimistic. In Cape Town, South African after South African has been telling me how beautiful Zim is, and how things there aren’t as bad as they have been in recent years. But here’s this passage, and it reminds me how much trauma and breakage this place has seen.

The twist to and the reason for my ‘enter Zimbabwe’ tale is that my mum grew up here. Back in the late 1950s, my intrepid grandfather couldn’t resist the idea of journeying for weeks on end on a boat to this relatively unknown and vast continent, putting his engineering skills to the test on a new power station in the tiny village of Munyati, 270km from the nearest city of Bulawayo.

And so my mum and my uncle grew up with strange accents, their childhoods packed with giant animals and wild landscapes and running around barefoot until the soles of their feet were like leather, seemingly miles from the struggles over rights and justice playing out all across this epic land.

Those tales were told to my brother and I from our earliest days, and so, Zimbabwe has always existed in a kind of mythical stasis in my head. Over the years I’ve met many other children of that Rhodesian generation, and we’ve recognised in each other a similar heritage of both awe at our parents’ fantastical upbringings, and a kind of time-travelling shame at the wider political environment in which they lived.

And yet, as the plane touches down, I fill up with sensations of connection and nostalgia; the kind usually reserved for a long-overdue homecoming. I practically run to the tiny terminal, excitedly joining an ordered queue as we file into Victoria Falls’ passport office, commenting on the humidity of the middle day. My fellow travellers are from all over the world – China, Japan, Germany, Australia. I’m here alone, but I don’t feel alone. I see my name on a taxi board and soon drive off down a clean new tarmac road; lush green forest on either side and, above the tree-line, the billowing spray of the Falls, ‘the smoke that thunders’. Within an hour, I’m on the mighty Zambezi river, the sun setting behind palm trees as families of sleepy hippos bob around in mercury waters beneath a sky of fast flocking birds.

This journey into Zim felt professional and ordered, calm and warm. No doubt, we’re in a protected space here, a long way from Harare or Bulawayo, or any number of towns and villages beyond international view. But it is a better entry than I could have hoped for, and a more emotional one too.

So if I were to pick one one word to define this border crossing, I’m not exactly sure what I would choose. But ‘sad’? I don’t think that’s it. Not here, at least.

Why travelling isn’t about seeing the world

Have you noticed how different people respond to stress? For some, they get jittery – speaking fast and waving their arms, battling through the discomfort of a difficult situation by spinning around and doing more stuff with a spirit of wired wild gusto.

For others, (and when I say others I really mean me), ‘they’ do the opposite. They get quiet, overly-thoughtful, cramped into themselves as if the overwhelming task list or difficult situation were actually shaped into an physical box around their bodies. For these people, stress and overwhelm makes them retreat from the world, until it actually feels smaller. Room sized. Not full of action and opportunity and big African skies and deep turquoise seas at all.

Which got me thinking about why we travel.

I could wax lyrical about this for paragraphs and paragraphs, but what it comes down to is this.

Most of the time I don’t think the reason we travel is to see and explore more of the world. I think we travel to break down the temporary prisons we create in our own heads. We travel to remind ourselves of the way things really are beyond that made-up world of ‘shoulds’ and ‘oughts’.

Travel is a kind of therapy. It forces perspective. It deftly dodges unwanted responsibilities. At it’s best, it can put you into the kind of lost and wild situations in which you can get back to yourself. Your bigger self. Your freer self. The self that sees through it all. 

When I was in Oregon last year, after a particularly difficult few days, I left my apartment, hired a car, and drove. I drove until I hit the beach, and when I did, I stopped the car. I watched the waves and waited. I was listening for something, inside me, which would tell me which way to go – north to Astoria or south towards San Francisco. I waited for about 20 mins, until somewhere, deep in my gut, a ball of energy appeared, expanded, and travelled up my torso. Out of it, a thought came. Not one of those heady brain thoughts. One of the deep instinctual ones. I started the engine, pointed the car in the direction this instinct was telling me to go, and drove.

For what ever reason, it’s that kind of behaviour that we have license to indulge in when we travel.

Which begs the question, if this is all about breaking out of mind traps and acting on deep instinct, why do we wait until we board a plane to give ourselves permission to experiment with this kind of freedom? Can’t we do it right here, right now?

And on this ordinary Tuesday night, sat in my bedroom with my work bag stuffed with papers and to-do lists at my feet, in a world made up of turquoise seas and big African skies, it’s that thought that I’m going to focus on tonight.

Top six things to do in Norrebro

Norrebro is the Shoreditch or Williamsburg of Copenhagen. By day, it’s coffee shops, second hand clothes and furniture stores. By night, it’s students cycling between basement bars and sprawling out of indie cinemas, not to mention being the home of some of the best restaurants in the city’s very foodie food scene.

But as is often the way with off-centre neighbourhoods, finding and navigating its hidden gems isn’t always straight-forward. Here are six pointers on enjoying this part of the city.

1) Try the best coffee in the world

The original Coffee Collective up on Jaegersborggade is renowned for its precise and professional approach to coffee. And as well it should. Set up by two-time World Barista Champion Klaus Thomsen and World Cup Tasting Champion Casper Engel Rasmussen, the claim that this is the planet’s best brew doesn’t sound too outlandish. When we were there, creating a single coffee took one barista several minutes to perfect as he carefully poured a tiny trickle of hot water over ground beans, making sure that every granule got an equal amount of attention. These are people that take their coffee very seriously. And very tasty it was too.

To try for yourself, follow this map.

2) Find Hans Christian Andersen’s grave

The Assisten Cemetery is the Danish story-teller’s final resting place, keeping eternal company with Soren Kierkegaard and Niels Bohr, among a few hundred other somewhat less well known folk. On a sunny day however it’s more of a public park than a cemetery – a place where lovers cuddle up on benches and mothers run after their wayward toddlers. Indeed, the manicured hedgerows surrounding each grave plot makes them feel like mini gardens in their own right. In an area that’s known more concrete charm than natural beauty, it’s a little oasis that’s worth a visit on your way up to Jaegersborggade.

3) Eat salted caramel liquorish

Now there are other streets in Norrebro than Jaegersborggade, and we’ll get to those in a moment, but for now, let’s take a second to talk about caramels. Karamelleriat is Denmark’s first handmade sweet shop, where opposite the till two guys roll long lines of squishy liquorish through some kind of old-looking metal machine after cooking up the concoction in a copper pan over an open fire.  The result, they say, is deep, intense flavour lovingly crafted using ancient recipes. We just thought it tasted gorgeous, but to find out for yourself, hop on your bike and follow this map.

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4) Bar hop on Blaagaardsgade and Elmegade

Aha, a different street! Blaagaardsgade and Elmegade are closer to the centre of town and, while in the day time they may not look like much, by night the pavements are packed with bicycles as a twenty and thirty-somethings crowd cosy into its lower-ground floor bars. We liked Escobar on Blaagaardsgade – a kind of rock/metal bar where big baked bean cans are used for lampshades and a stuffed seagull is stuck to the ceiling, accompanied by a useful sign in English telling us ‘don’t feed the bird’. For a more classy experience, there’s Malbeck Vinoteria on Elmegade for a candlelit little table vibe, or for every beer you can imagine there’s Olbaren (with a red neon sign saying ‘Ol’). And if you need a survivors brunch the next day, just go to The Landromat Cafe. Where else in the world can you get pancakes, scrambled egg, hummus, pineapple and greek yoghurt on a single plate?

5) Discover the next Noma

Speaking of food, Noma’s reputation as the best restaurant in the world has sparked a dining renaissance in the city. An army of ex-Noma chefs have now set up their own ventures to rival Reni Redzepi’s stalwart, with two of the best back up on Jaegersborggade. On one side of the road you have Relae, set up by ex-Noma sous chef Christian F. Puglisi, and then over the road you have Christian’s other venue, Manfreds & Vin, a small wine bar with around nine tables for two and an open kitchen. We tried Manfreds and the food was, frankly, incredible – we loved the chef’s-choice lunchtime tasting menu, which included small plates of fresh cod, poached eggs, roasted brussel spouts, and cabbage with nuts and sauces that made what seemed like very ordinary ingredients taste pretty extraordinary. It was 250KR (around £25) per person, and well worth every penny.

Find Manfreds here.

6) Visit the cinema

We were in town for Copenhagen’s International Documentary Film Festival, which meant we spent a lot of time traversing the city hunting down its indie cinemas. Two of the best were in Norrebro. First, the Empire Bio on a pretty side street of Guldsbergade has a couple of medium sized screens and a lovely cafe, with a big lobby to house the pre-film buzz. Then on Norrebrogade itself you have the more makeshift Theatre Grob, where the audience shuffle through the small bar and into a blank blank studio to watch movies sat on rows of fold down chairs raised by temporary scaffolding. Way more character than your usual Odeon.

To get to Norrebro, go to Norreport metro and walk over the massive canal (lake? river?) on Norresbrogade. Elmesgade is about a ten minute walk from Norreport, and  Jaegersborggade is a further ten mins walk away. Or you could just stay in Norrebro itself – we really liked Kerstin and Mario’s place which we found through AirBnB.

Why Monocle radio is the saviour of travel-starved global citizens

It’s Friday night and I’m sat in my dining room. I’ve just finished a bowl of homemade spicy parsnip soup, the kitchen still looks like a grenade has hit it, and my blood pressure is steadily returning to normal after a too-hectic week; soothed by the prospect of the food and friend filled weekend ahead.

But this isn’t an ordinary Friday night. In fact, something pretty exciting has happened, which is making this night an entirely satisfying and wholly atypical evening. Yes, this is the Friday night that from this day forth will be remembered as the night that I discovered the Monocle 24 Radio app.

Right now, I am listening to its long, languishing documentary on the Toronto brunch scene. While the scratchy audio sounds like a dispatch from an intrepid journo reporting war-torn insights from across the barricades; the story being told – of bearded /scraggly-fringed media-types gathering together over eggs and bloody marys in cafes decorated in street art and playing The XX – is as familiar as my own Sunday plans in London most weekends.

Next, we cut into a steady, relaxed conversation between a British journo and a Québécois cheese affineur on what makes a good comte. And now some designer is explaining how he turned his studio into a pop-up restaurant selling Mexican street food, where customers are treated to limited edition designed t-shirts once they finish their meal.

Monocle radio

I can’t tell you how happy this is making me. As anyone whose perused this blog will know, one of my great loves is travelling somewhere totally new, exploring the city, and then scouring its neighbourhoods for the kind of arty-ish cafes that are in no small way dissimilar to the places where I spend too many comfortable hours not 15mins from my house near Broadway market.

Now, you may think this is a little pointless, or perhaps even a little ‘affected’. “Travel the world only to find places just like those you visit at home? You’re no better than those people who don’t leave their hotel without knowing the location of the nearest McDonald’s,” you might think. And to be fair, you would have an excellent point. I am quite conscious that at times my travel preferences reflect something of a cliché – someone who with no trace of irony would happily call themselves a global citizen while also going nuts when they find a spot in the backstreets of an unlikely town that has solid wifi, indie electro music and serves soya lattes.

The thing is, I’m not sure these two things are mutually exclusive. I don’t want to stay in my London comfort cafe zone. I want to explore. I want to see how people live and work and relax and party. I want local people to have me round for dinner at their place and feed me their favourite meal; listening to their favourite music. I want those uncomfortable moments when I have virtually no idea what’s being said, or what I’m eating, or how the hell I’m going to find my way back to my Air Bnb ‘home’.

But I also want to know that wherever I am in the world; from NYC’s Lower East Side to the central drag in Ramallah, that there are people there who are just a little bit like me. Who like the things I like. Who relax the way I relax. And not because I want everything to be the same everywhere like in some anti-globalisation horror story, but because I really like being reminded that whatever country you’re in and wherever you’re from, people aren’t really all that different.

Which is why I’m loving Monocle 24. I’m over-worked and travel-starved, and London in all its cloud-covered glory is starting to feel like a bit of a fortress. I’m itching to be somewhere different on the unspoken promise that it might get me back into a more optimistic and enlightened perspective that’s seemingly full of possibility.

But it’s Friday night, I’m tired, it’s cold out, and I have to clean up my kitchen. So thank god there are radio stations like this one to plug into for a few hours – reminding me that there are a whole world of as yet unvisited places out there serving my favourite hot beverage where I’ll feel oddly at home.

Monocle 24 radio is the latest classy content production from Tyler Brûlé, whose Monocle magazine has been described as “a meeting between Foreign Policy and Vanity Fair”. Check it out here

The Path to Peace in the Middle East? A Documentary Review

In a packed cinema in Tel Aviv, the screen is filled with the image of Adriaan Vlok, South Africa’s former Minister for Law and Order, washing the feet of a grief stricken mother whose son’s death he ordered (one of the “Mamelodi 10“), during the Apartheid years, while saying “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry for what we did to you people.” The women next to me hands me a tissue, and I turn round to look at the audience behind me, noticing that I’m far from the only one struggling to maintain their composure.

Photo Credit: Erez Laufer

This is day five of the Docaviv film festival and the Israeli premiere of One Day After Peace – a documentary following the journey of Robi Damelin, an Israeli peace activist, who is investigating the South African Truth and Reconciliation process after her son is killed by a Palestinian sniper in the West Bank while he was serving at an Israeli military checkpoint. Her aim is to see whether this process, which has been applied after conflicts in Ireland, Rwanda, and in Canada and the United States (between the state and Native American populations), could one day work in Israel and Palestine. She is also wrestling with her own grief, seeking a meeting with her son’s killer in the hope that by understanding why it happened she might gain some closure.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) process, we learn, is a radical one. Perpetrators of violence and killings from each side of the conflict are invited to testify before a commission (and often the families of victims) and speak honestly about the events of the time, focusing how it happened and who was involved. They do not need to apologise – although some do – and families do not need to forgive – although some do that too. What they do need to do is speak honestly and acknowledge what happened, on the record, without omission. In return, they receive amnesty from prosecution, while the involved parties hope this process will end the cycle of violence.

The film makes it clear that the process isn’t perfect. Damelin speaks to victims like Shirley Gunn who was initially framed by Vlok for the bombing of Khotso House, who feel the TRC didn’t go far enough, as well as perpetrators who rejected the process and faced prosecution because they felt their actions were justified; “it was war, it was necessary”. Damelin also journeys into Palestine, meeting and bonding with mothers of Palestinians killed in the conflict, while facing the criticism at home for doing so.

The main message of this film however is that for peace to come, this kind of process is absolutely essential. As one of the men who testified before South Africa’s TRC says, “it is painful to touch a scar, but sometimes you need to touch it so that, slowly, it can begin to heal”.

However, we are also left feeling we are a long way from that kind of resolution in the Middle East. Robi’s son’s killer agrees to meet her, but makes it clear that he thinks she is crazy to want to reconcile with him. And Robi herself admits that Truth and Reconciliation can only come as part of a genuine peace framework, which is currently sorely lacking.

Seeing the reactions to this movie in the Tel Aviv Cinemateque however provided some pause for hope. On Bishop Desmond Tutu’s final words – that the TRC is based on the premise that it is possible for people to change, and that one day that change will come to Israel and Palestine – the cinema erupted in applause. As Robi herself took to the stage, this applause turned into a standing ovation.

Peace may be difficult to imagine, but this brave and inspiring film puts the process in a global, historical context that helps us glimpse what might be possible. It happened in South Africa after nearly fifty years of Apartheid and 200 years of white rule. It happened in Rwanda after nearly a million Tutsis were murdered in just 100 days. So, as the audience left Cinemateque 3 and walked back into Tel Aviv’s streets, we were left with one challenging question; if reconciliation can happen there, under those circumstances, then why not here?

This post was originally published on the Urban Times on 8th May

Why you need to look out of the window

So I’m on this flight from London to Tel Aviv. It’s a budget affair and frankly I don’t think I’m the only one whose adrenaline levels have gone through the roof in the fight to get on the plane, squeeze my somewhat oversized ‘hand luggage’ into the overhead locker and bag a coveted window seat.

As soon as the stewardess gives us the required permission, everyone unfolds ipads/laptops and plugs in ear phones, killing time til we touch down. I’m one of them. I’m looking at the clock and wondering how many episodes of Sherlock I can squeeze in before we actually reach Ben Gurion.

At some point over Turkey – and a good 4.5 hours into the flight – I look out of the window for, I think, the first time since take off. This is what I see…

1. The one that looks like snowy mountains

2. The one that looks like dinosaurs

3. The one that looks like a flying saucer

4. The one of the sunset

We were flying! Like, ABOVE THE CLOUDS!!

Is this not frickin’ incredible to us anymore? What’s WRONG with us?!

That is all.

Around the World in Street Art: My 7 Super Shots

Last week the Kit from the lovely Seek New Travel blog tagged me to participate in HostelBookers 7 Super Shots.

So here are mine. I’ve chosen a bit of a street-art/graffiti theme and stuck to the suggested titles in only the very loosest of ways.

1. A photo that…takes my breath away

This shot was taken in early 2005, a few months after George Bush had defeated John Kerry in the US Presidential race. It was my first time in the USA and I had hired a monster of a car to drive down Highway 1 from San Francisco to LA. I’d never driven on the right hand side of the road before, or driven an automatic, so large portions of this trip were spent with me trying to navigate roads while not veering into the wrong lane while pumping the Chemical Brothers on full blast. Driving through the university town of San Luis Obispo I came across this stop sign and had to pull over the car to take a photo. As someone who thought Bush was a total imbecile, it was great to come to the USA and see that a whole heap of Americans thought so too.

2. A photo that…makes me laugh or smile

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I found these patterns and paintings down several of the laneways in Jerusalem’s Arab quarter. They instantly made me smile – they seemed so fun and colourful. I asked one of the guys selling coffee next door to this one what they meant, and he told me they were there to commemorate that someone from that house had embarked on the Hajj – the pilgrimage to Mecca which all Muslims are required to make once in their lifetime. I loved that this was an example of ‘graffiti’ being used to celebrate a religious tradition.

3. A photo that…makes me dream

What you can’t see in this shot is that I’m staring at the London Olympic Stadium directly in front of me. I had honestly thought that at this point – July 2011 and a year before the Games – that the stadium would still be long off completion. But it wasn’t. It looked sorted. I was impressed and happy. Meanwhile, behind me is one of Stik’s biggest projects; a huge huge stick man painted on the floor of what was a bit of no man’s land in Hackney Wick. I was there with my friend Heather dancing the night away at a local art and music festival – I don’t think it’s on this year because of the Games.

4. A photo that…makes me think

I was working on a UN event called ‘Cartooning for Peace’ in 2006 when I first heard of Palestinian cartoonist Naji al-Ali, whose work regularly featured the image of Handala, a barefoot child with his back to us, silently watching what’s going on in his homeland. In 1987 al-Ali was gunned down in London; Ismail Sowan was arrested for his murder although it was never clear whether he was acting for the PLO or Mossad – both of whom he admitted working for as a double agent. The image lives on however – it’s painted here on the Palestinian side of the Separation barrier near Bethlehem.

5. A photo that…makes my mouth water

Slightly tenuous, but I was starving when I took this photo. I had just climbed to the top of Lycabettus Hill in Athens – everyone had told me there was a cafe at the top, but no one mentioned how expensive it was. By this point my stomach was really grumbling, but I liked that someone had bothered to draw the words ‘Antifa Hooligans’ on the stone slab – I remembered someone telling me once that this was an anti-fascist football song of some kind. The view was gorgeous, and here I was thinking of anti-fascist football songs. With a rumbling stomach.

6. A photo that…tells a story

This mural is right around the corner from my house and was painted way back in 1985 based on the Hackney Peace Carnival two years earlier. I love it because it has loads of energy – something which the area still has in bucket-loads. Here, Ray Walker’s mural show the community coming together against the bomb and the threat of nuclear war. There are a lot of things Hackney residents come together on here in 2012, but CND isn’t usually one of them.

7. A photo that…I am most proud of (aka my worthy of National Geographic shot)

I’m not sure it’s so much this particular photo I’m proud of – it’s not like the composition or even the subject matter are particularly unique now. I do however like it for personal reasons. While at uni in Bristol we saw Banksy stencils and artwork pop up all over the city, so it was great to see how, ten years later, similar images of resistance and satire were finding themselves on the Separation Barrier between Israel and the West Bank. Quite a long way from the rat stencils he printed outside our local Somerfield.

And now it’s your turn…

Over to you:

>;;;;;;;;;;; Mums Do Travel

>;;;;;;;;;;; LIVE SIMPLY, TRAVEL LIGHTLY, LOVE PASSIONATELY & DON’T FORGET TO BREATHE

>;;;;;;;;;;; Taste of Slow

>;;;;;;;;;;; Hectic Travels

>;;;;;;;;;;; Kendall in Paris