Thursday, October 29, 2009

Top 10 Natural Ways to Stay Healthy in the Tropics

Aaah paradise: warm weather, beautiful turquoise water and lazy days. But then after a while your head starts to itch, your feet start to peel and your ears hurt. This happens to the best of us but seems to hit first-time visitors the hardest. Don't despair because there are some really basic, all-natural ways to get on with the good life.

1) Coral cuts - lemon juice (yes it hurts like hell) while they're still fresh then scrub the wound hard with soap and water. Keep the cuts clean and covered, stay out of the water and change the bandage after showering every day.

2) Swimmers' ear prevention - after swimming in salt water always rinse your ears out with fresh water then dry them out with a towel. This gets the salt off and it's the salt that keeps the ears moist and causes infection.

3) Stone fish stings and centipede bites - apply the hottest thing you can handle immediately to neutralize the poison. I know a guy who didn't have to go to the hospital after stepping on a stonefish because he put his lit cigarette out on the puncture. Better a scar than long-term pain and possible death.

4) Foot fungus - soak foot in hot water with a cap-full of vinegar in it for about an hour.

5) Staph infections on the feet - soak foot in the hottest water you can stand with a cap-full of bleach in it till the water turns cold. Then clean off all the goop, bandage and keep clean and dry. This works great on any infections that can be soaked.

6) To get rid of head lice - saturate your head with olive oil and leave it on about 5 hours. This works better than any commercial lice shampoo even though it's messy and a complete hassle. A few drops of lavender, citronella, thyme and/or eucalyptus essential oils in the olive oil help too.

7) Cockroach infestations - put out boric acid anywhere domestic animals can't reach it then put out 'beer traps' - about an inch of beer at the bottom of a slick bowl. The roaches climb in, get drunk, can't get out and drown - swear to God.

8) Sunburn - aloe is great but Tahitian Tamanu oil works wonders if you can find some.

9) To keep away mosquitoes and noseums at a picnic - build a smoky fire. This is pretty effective but you have to keep at least semi-inside the smoky part for it to work.

10) Getting laughed at by locals for being afflicted with any of the above problems - drink the rest of the beer you didn't give to the roaches and open cold fresh ones for the rest of the crew. Laugh and enjoy.

Note: I'm not a doctor but these tricks have worked for me. If you squirt lemon in your eye instead of your coral cut, accidentally pour beer in your ear instead of water or do anything else stupid (or not) because of this list, I am not responsible.

Also the above photo is of my son Tevai, lover of centipedes.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Voyage to Pitcairn: The Good Ship Braveheart & Our Arrival

On Tuesday September 23rd, 2008, the Pitcairn-bound Braveheart picked me up in Mangareva, French Polynesia. Captain Matt Jolly was a pirate/surfer-looking guy in his mid to late twenties with a constant smile and an assuring presence. Also on board were an optometrist (who was visiting for three days like me), Jacqui Christian (a pretty, confident Pitcairner in her mid-thirties), the rosy-cheeked Pitcairn school teacher coming back from vacation, an older woman from the Warren family (who was instantly wary of me - the journalist - and hardly said hello) and her teenage niece who was coming to visit family; all were arriving from New Zealand. Three more young and hip Kiwi surfer-types made up the rest of the Braveheart crew.

The boat was much more comfortable than I'd expected. It's a sturdy 39-meter steel ship, freshly swabbed and with several cozy air-con bunks below. We got a tour, chatted with each other then, just as we began motoring away from port, went to the dining area for an early dinner.

"Oh no not spaghetti again!" laughed the school teacher. "They serve this every time because they know it comes out your nose when you get sick." Everybody giggled knowingly.

Now I get really, really seasick but I was determined to flex my strongest sea leg muscles on this trip. I'd taken some good seasickness tablets and decided that no spaghetti was coming out of my nose, no way. Still, the motion of the ocean was already getting to me and just the thought of barfing noodles made me queasy so I didn't eat much.

The sun was setting and the lagoon was calm so I went up to the control room hoping to chat with the lively crew. Matt got out a picture album and showed me some of the other journeys the Braveheart has made: Antarctica, the southern Tuamotus, Kerguelen Island and more. The crew is into surfing, climbing, fishing and a slew of other adventurous activities and it looked like they were having a ball manning the ship even through mighty 16-meter swells in the Southern Ocean. Suddenly my life as a Lonely Planet writer seemed very boring. Just as suddenly, we left the lagoon and the sea got much rougher. Within about two minutes I knew that I'd better get to my bunk or I'd be spraying spaghetti all over my new super-cool friends.

And that was it. For 36 hours I lay comatose in the dark listening to my i-pod and feeling like hell. I threw up once in the conveniently placed bucket next to my bed (no spaghetti out of my nose I'm proud to say), ate a few dry crackers with jam brought in by the crew and just meditated. When finally I felt the boat stop and heard some commotion I got up.

Up on deck the sun was just rising from behind Pitcairn, the air was crisp but warm, the sea dark but calm. The feeling of this moment is hard to describe. All I could think of was how the Bounty mutineers must have felt when they first saw Pitcairn and I wondered if they too first glimpsed the island at sunrise. Only the optometrist and I were on deck and we just smiled knowingly in silence. There we were, watching the sun come up at one of the most remote destinations on earth.

Friday, October 23, 2009

My Packing Technique - Or, I Suck at Packing and Have Bad Clothes

Back before I was juggling two kids and a travel career, packing seemed easy-peasy and generally took me about an hour if not less. I never forgot anything important. I'd be making mental lists a week or so prior and then, when the time came, I'd just throw it all in my pack and it was done. This method simply doesn't work for my scattered and overworked brain anymore; so much so that I can't remember ever having the kind of mental clarity where that would have actually worked.

I've learned this the hard way. The last trip I went on (to the US where I got to pack a great big rolling suitcase for a change) I packed in my old-style, quick way and I forgot my toothbrush for the first time ever. As a travel professional this is pretty lame, but it's not the worst thing I've ever forgotten. On business trips I've forgotten to pack business cards, my brief, my camera, my razor, and so on; once for a seven week research trip to Canada I forgot to pack a bra.

So for my upcoming trip I'm going back to a technique that rarely fails me. My beautiful new travel pack (that deserves a blog entry of its own) is now officially open on the floor in my bedroom. The one-week countdown to my three week research trip to Thailand officially starts today so I'm going to make sure all the clothes I want to bring are clean (I have to start this early because I live in the developing tropics and don't use a dryer). Meanwhile I'm making lists and tossing everything I might need in my bag as I think of them. The day before I leave I'll go through everything and remove about 80% - then I'll be ready to go.

The other thing I'm terrible at is travel fashion. When I'm on the road I look like shit. You'd think that by now I'd have some sort of technique for looking remotely decent in sweltering developing countries, some great gear-clothes that weather the hard-knocks, but I don't. The worst is that I run into women on the road all the time who look fantastic. On my last trip to Malaysia I traveled with a Chinese girl who was carrying a pack smaller than mine, was on a serious long-haul budget, camped everywhere and yet she managed to look like she stepped off the pages of a travel fashion spread every morning. I on the other hand had my two pairs of capris and three shirts that were on the verge of falling apart, were stained, stretched and faded making me look somewhere between a down-and-out Stevie Nicks and a sand creature. My Chinese friend felt sorry for me and gave me a pair of her capri trousers which, bless her, managed to make me look less like a street person for about a week.

So although I'm the 'professional' who should be writing articles on this stuff and dolling out tips, I just suck at packing. I've looked for articles on the subject and nothing helps. Perhaps it's just one of those innate talents you're born with, some gene that I lack. In any case, I'm always up for suggestions. Maybe somehow, someday, I'll pack a bag weighing 5kg that contains everything I need to live in the bushes and still look chic and polished. Till then, I'm just going to embrace the adventure of buying new toothbrushes in foreign countries and looking bad while I do it. I'll just smile a lot and that I've found, will get you through anything.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Audio Slideshow: Phuket Vegetarian Festival

In honor of the Phuket Vegetarian Festival that starts today and runs till October 26th, I thought I'd post this audio slide show of the pictures I took when I went to the festival in 2007. My husband thinks my commentary sounds too serious and dramatic (he wasn't at the festival with me) so he made me think that maybe my pictures aren't saying the "thousand words" I thought they were. The festival is very, very dramatic - I'd say the most dramatic event I've ever been too. Don't watch this slide show if you faint at the sight of blood.

Every year during the first nine days of the ninth lunar month of the Chinese calendar, certain southern Chinese Thais celebrate "Taoist Lent" with this festival. Besides abstaining from meat, participants make a procession through town, many piercing their cheeks with everything from needles and spikes to lampshades and machine guns. Others saw their tongues or flagellate themselves with sharp objects so they bleed profusely; some walk across hot coals. Meanwhile shop owners set up alters offering tea, fruit, flowers, incense and more to the procession participants who, in a trance-like state act as mediums of the Nine Emperor Gods. It's all done for the sake of purification and definitely qualifies as a religious frenzy especially once all the firecrackers start popping, making the streets look and feel like a crazed, smoky war zone.

For more info about this event go to - there are also Vegetarian Festivals in Krabi Town, Trang and a few other towns on the Thai Andaman Coast at the same time.

All the following photos were taken by me in 2007. What I don't have pictures of are all the fabulous vegetarian food stalls that open up during the festival. While I saw quite a few tourists during the procession I hardly saw any "farang" faces at these food stalls and they were great places to laugh and chat with locals. Lots of dumplings, soups and Thai curries - yum!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Voyage to Pitcairn Island: Trying to Get There

It all started with a Lonely Planet conference in Melbourne, Australia. As part of the schedule, our large group of about 30 authors plus some editors and staff were invited over to the Wheeler's house for dinner and soon I found myself chatting with Tony about some of the very obscure Pacific islands (such as Wallis & Futuna and the Austral Islands) that only he and I had ever researched. When I mentioned to him that I had fantasies of updating Pitcairn Island for the upcoming South Pacific book, his eyes lit up. Soon several of us were around a coffee table gazing at one of Tony's prized possessions, a replica of the Bounty carved by Fletcher Christian's great, great, great, (great?) grandson that he had bought when he stopped on Pitcairn years ago on a north-bound icebreaker ship.

And that was all I needed to get me going. Once I was back home on Tahiti I managed to talk the editor for the South Pacific guide into agreeing that it was high time someone went Pitcairn and that obvious someone was me. It worked, I got offered the job, but I had no idea how hard it was going to be to get there.

I looked for cargo ships and cruise ships; nothing. I looked online for sailboats looking for crew with even less luck. I did find one small vessel that was planning a rustic cruise to the islands but the dates were way outside my deadline. My break finally came when I contacted the Pitcairn home office in New Zealand and the secretary recommended I contact the Braveheart. The ship had been chartered by the British government to bring the school teacher back from holiday, two children visiting from school in New Zealand and an optician to check the islanders eyes. The cost was $5000 return for the 36 hour crossing from the already remote French Polynesian island of Mangareva. It took some needling to get the funds, but I did it and secured my ticket for passage and a three-day visit to Pitcairn Island.

Before I could confirm though I had get permission from the islanders to visit. I had to write a letter stating why I wanted to visit which would be reviewed at a town meeting on Pitcairn and then a vote would be made deciding if they'd take me or not. After some Internet research I discovered that Pitcairners hate journalists. Thanks to Cathy Marks and Dea Birkett, two writers who (within a few years of each other) spent a few months on the island and wrote scathing books about the twisted social set up on the island. Journalists were categorically refused. Luckily I knew that the islanders would probably remember Tony from his visit. My ex-father in law had also spent a few months living with a family on Pitcairn so I asked him to write me a letter of recommendation. It worked, I got accepted and was thus to become the first journalist to set foot on the island since the 2004 sex trials.

Note: all Pitcairn photos by Celeste Brash

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Video: Teahupoo Billabong Pro Surf Contest 2008

The ocean is so flat today that it's hard to imagine the surf ever getting this big! Honestly, I like it when it's calm like today since it's so perfect to swim in, but here's a video I shot of the Teahupoo monster when it's clacking it's massive jaws. Enjoy.

If the video doesn't appear (sorry but I'm not the tech person in the world) you can find it on LPTV.


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