Life in Spain for a Scotsman!

Having spent the first 24 years of my life living in Bonnie Scotland, the time eventually came for me to leave the nest. Growing up near Edinburgh, Scotland certainly has its perks but the miserable weather, the somewhat problematic drinking problem and the familiarity in itself soon became tiresome. So with that in mind, off to sunny Spain I went with no understanding of the language, no knowledge of the culture and without ‘Moving to Spain’ ever being on my to-do list. Luckily, I was moving there with my girlfriend who happened to be the polar opposite on all three of those points. So without further ado, here is my summary of my life in Spain so far!

The Language Barrier…

As I already mentioned, my grasp of Spanish didn’t extend particularly far past “Hola” before I moved out here. I’d always wanted to learn another language but had always lacked the motivation and the aptitude for picking one up. I had studied French for most of my high school life and had barely learned anything. One thing I commonly heard people say before I left Scotland was “It’s always easier to pick up a language when you live in the country”. Of course, this may very well be the case for anyone who socialises at a normal level but for someone who deals with social anxiety 24/7; it’s a little trickier than that.

…with a Scottish Accent

That being said, I’ve started to learn the basics. Duolingo and Rosetta Stone have been useful enough for a basic understanding. I have the good fortunate of living with my girlfriend who speaks Spanish practically fluently. So whenever I encounter something that just doesn’t make sense to me, she’s only an elbow’s nudge away! Of course, that isn’t the only language barrier. In Pamplona, most people who do speak English have learned it in school but even when they’ve had real world experience with the English language; it’s usually accompanied by an English accent. My Scottish accent isn’t even that strong as far as I’m aware. Yet many people have told me my accent is impossible to understand. One hilarious moment was having a group of American’s question whether I was speaking German or English.

Employment

Since finishing university, it had always been my plan to do a TEFL course and go to China or Japan or just somewhere far away from the UK to teach English. So with only a month or two between me deciding to move to Spain and actually moving, I managed to squash in a TEFL weekend. The weekend itself was incredibly helpful but I went all out and paid for the 140+ hour course. Meaning I still had 120 hours online stuff to complete. My plan for work was to spend the first couple of months living off my savings while I complete the TEFL course and then give private English lessons after my initially optimistic teaching assistant application was turned down on multiple occasions.

Of course it’s one thing to have a plan in your head and it’s an entirely different thing to act on it. As much as I want to eventually get around to finishing my TEFL course, I stumbled across a different way to earn money that would also not require a grasp of the Spanish language: freelance writing. I won’t go into huge detail about that as I’ve written another post on it already. However, what started off as hugely unsuccessful and extremely frustrating turned out to be my pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. I’d always wanted to write and I am now earning more than I was working part-time with Costco in Scotland.

The only real issue with this is that the work isn’t necessarily steady. I have two projects for this month that will earn me enough to cover my time so far in Spain but what about next month or the month after that? I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

Things to Do

Pamplona itself is a decent size with what would seem like a relatively large student population. I just moved here from a small town which basically comprised of retirement homes, charity shops, churches and pubs. So anything near to a club would be an improvement. I was shocked to discover that actually Pamplona doesn’t have a great deal to do. We’ve been to numerous bars and a couple of the clubs and it just seems a little dull if I’m honest. One of the clubs did show potential but in order to get to the good music (in my opinion) you have to worm your way through a sweaty, testosterone-oozing mass of “lads, lads, lads”. You step outside and there is vomit left, right and centre.

I mean maybe this is the point in my life where I just put the drink down, forget the clubs, buy a pipe and do my crossword puzzles in a rocking chair. While the pipe part doesn’t sound so bad, I’m not quite ready for the rest. I guess I had the impression that Pamplona would be a bit more ‘hustle and bustle’. I mean this is the city where once a year people literally get chased by bulls down the street.

Surrounding Area

There certainly seems to be plenty to do in Spain itself. My girlfriend has repeatedly suggested we go to Barcelona for a weekend. We have plans to go skiing after Christmas in the nearby mountains bordering with France. As well as that, I’ve been dying to see some cave art, like that mentioned by Graham Hancock in his book Supernatural: Meetings with the Ancient Teachers of Mankind. It just so happens that the Cave of El Castillo is only a 3 hour drive away from here. So I definitely want to get around to doing that at some stage. We’re also not that far from the North Coast of Spain so there are a huge number of sea-side towns to visit.

Weed

As a partaker in the consumption of marijuana, I was relieved to hear that there exists a sort of loophole in Spain whereby it’s legal to own, smoke and even grow weed in the privacy of your own home. You’re not allowed to sell it or grow it where members of the public can see it but other than that you’re safe. To me, that translates as “it will be easy to get hold of weed” when in fact, it’s easier in Scotland! It doesn’t help that Pamplona is a very traditional city. Places like Barcelona have weed clubs where people go and smoke together whereas Pamplona still butchers bulls for sport and entertainment.

Pros

For starters, when I arrived here at the very end of September it was 29oC. To put that in perspective for anyone not from Scotland: the highest temperature EVER recorded in Scotland was 32.9oC and that was at the start of August. Average maximum temperatures for a Scottish summer are between 13oC-15oC. The weather in Pamplona stayed in the 20s up until about 2 weeks ago where it dropped to between 9oC and 12oC. Not to mention that the total number of days it has rained would fit into one week. While for Scotland the total number of days it rains per week is 7! So yeah, the weather is certainly a plus.

Another pro is the food. I’m somewhat of a fussy eater but going out for pinchos is great for me. There is always a meat option so I’d never go hungry. Following on from food is the drinks. I don’t mean soft drinks (we’ll get to that in the cons) but the alcoholic drinks. In Scotland, if you order a vodka and coke, you get this tiny measure that’s not even slightly more than what it’s supposed to be. They chuck a slice of lemon in and pour some semi-flat coke into the glass. When you’re at a club or bar here, each drink is like a work of art. The measures themselves are like twice that of Scotland, you get a lime rubbed round your glass and squeezed into it with some mint or other additions. I couldn’t believe how refreshing a drink could taste.

While it being a traditional city can be a downside, I love walking around old buildings. There are a lot of sights in Pamplona to explore such as The Citadel which is a huge fortress that was built in the 16th century. People also seem a lot more cheerful and friendly here. That could just be due to the weather, and I don’t think any place is free of its grumps or angry teens but certainly everyone I’ve met so far has been extremely welcoming and hospitable.

Cons

To keep things balanced, there is also a cons list. One of the few cons is one that’s very close to my heart: Irn-Bru is only brewed to its original recipe in Scotland. So even if it existed out here (which it doesn’t) I wouldn’t be drinking the same drink. I’m also an avid cinema goer which isn’t an option for me here as I don’t speak enough Spanish to watch the films I want to see. I recently watched a disturbingly poor quality version of Thor: Ragnarok just so I wouldn’t have to worry about spoilers (not that that ended up being an issue, you’ll probably see a blog post about it soon enough).

My Personal Goals

I guess the root of all my problems lies more with me than with Pamplona, Spain. Now that I have a taste for writing, it’s all my mind is really focussed on. So completing TEFL is on the shelf, learning Spanish is still on-going but has certainly stepped away from 1st position on my priorities list. I have so much that I want to accomplish and do, yet I can’t have time and money. So I need to either sacrifice time into work in order to fund trips to Barcelona, skiing, ETC. My other option is accepting that I can’t really afford to go anywhere but I’d then have more time to concentrate on my Spanish, focus on expanding my personal writing and creating some sort of following on that absolutely nonsensical social media platform they call Twitter, and perhaps pick up some extra skills along the way.

The simple option, of course, would be to get a job that involves learning and speaking Spanish. The issue with that being that my ability to socialise is about as high as my ability to speak Spanish: Meaning that the two combined together would lead only to disaster. Yes, I would probably learn as I went but until that point I’d be a flaming hot ball of anxiety, slowly melting into a puddle.

To sum it all up, Spain shows a lot of promise. It might not sound it from the content of this post but I’ve a realist and I’m only expressing myself in the way I feel is most honest. I’m not trying to sell the idea of moving to Spain but neither am I trying to convince people not to. While there are still things for me to see and do here, Spain has not been thoroughly enough explored yet.

I’m thinking of doing a post based on the idea of moving to Scotland. Not for myself of course but for those thinking of doing so. If that is something you think you’d be interested in then let me know!

Be sure to follow me here and on Twitter: @BakedHaggis

Alternatively, if you’d like to take a look at the work I’ve been doing on a Pompeii travel blog, you can check it out here: http://discoverpompeii.com/blog/

Similarly, if you want to see my first guest appearance on someone else’s blog, you can find that here: http://jerseygirlgonecaribbean.com/cambodia-temples-beaches-history-lessons-cameron-madden/

 

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My Adventure: The Good, the Bad and the Unforgettable

So having made it back home, all be it rather reluctantly, I figured I may as well update those of you who are interested on my recent trip to Thailand. I’ll admit that it wasn’t as much a trip to Thailand as it was a trip to Cambodia but I’ll get to that later. Ultimately there were some high points (in some instances quite literally) and some low points but I have survived. Don’t worry, I’m going to try to avoid simply writing about every tiny little thing I did. I mean I could discuss the temples i’d visited or the complete shock of visiting the killing fields or any number of things but instead I want to focus more on the experience and the emotional ups and downs that were part of the journey. Anyway, here we go…

So as I already mentioned, my trip to Thailand was rather short lived. My first day there was a bit overwhelming and if I’d written a post on that day it would have been largely negative. Ignoring the 14 hours of travelling, the lack of food, the tiredness, dehydration or the fact that it was more than 30 degrees hotter than where I’d left, I was in pretty good spirits when I landed. I liked that I was on a little adventure and looked forward to kicking it all off. That didn’t last too long though as I quickly got crammed into a train to the point that I didn’t even have space to pull my phone out of my pocket but getting off only added to my general discomfort: even with google maps I was incredibly lost and had 6 hours to kill before I could check-in to my hostel. I won’t write about every single day of my trip but I feel like I need to take you through this one as it was quite an experience. I got talking to a very nice local man who gave me suggestions of what to see and where I could go to kill some time and who ultimately bargained with a tuk-tuk driver on my behalf. He had suggested that I visit the ARC reservation centre (or something similar) where I could ask about booking buses and other such things. I didn’t realise it at the time but this was somewhat foreshadowing for how my day was to go. Arriving at this place, I was greeted with an open door which I immediately walked away from as I had zero interest in booking anything right there and then. Instead, I chose to walk to my hostel which was about an hour away. Along this journey I met another friendly local. He began telling me all these things I could see such as the lucky Buddha or the Standing Buddha, both of which intrigued me. He then started telling me about this fabric shop that for one week was allowing members of the public to go in and see how everything was made, he also recommended a tourist information as they apparently would help me see what else I could do in and around Bangkok. This man waved down a ride for me and for only 30 baht (less than £1) he would drive me to all these places. So I went to the lucky Buddha and then the standing Buddha and even though I was supposed to have two stops in between, I told the man that I wanted to go straight to the Golden Mount which was pretty near to my hostel. Apparently that wasn’t really an option for me and I was practically kidnapped to this random factory shop which in actually was a suit store. Suffering from exhaustion and dehydration, my brain was not at its most functional and it didn’t really click what was going on so on I went into this “fabric factory” with no idea what to expect. What I got was a man trying to make me a suit. He gave me a nice cold bottle of water and started asking what colour of suit I wanted. I tried my best to explain to him that a) I was clearly very confused as to what this place was and b) I really had no interest in buying a suit. Of course “no” doesn’t mean no in such instances and so he kept selling and kept selling. When he did finally realise that I was never going to part with my cash, he went off in a huff. He didn’t say goodbye, he didn’t even say he was done talking to me, he literally just wandered away; taking that as my cue to leave I went out and continued my Bangkok tour. The next stop was the tourist information and once again, despite my protests, my driver insisted that I go and get “free information”. I was beginning to wise up a little at this stage and as I entered the tourist information, I knew what to expect. In fairness, the women here were actually pretty helpful and were a lot more understanding about the fact that I’d basically just been kidnapped and brought here and really had no intention of buying a tour to the jungle or a waterfall right there and then. Leaving, I was ready to head to the Golden Mount but nope, my driver insisted we visit a 2nd suit shop. This time he was honest with me and explained that if he takes customers to these shops he gets a fuel coupon and he assured me that it didn’t matter whether I bought a suit or not. Somewhat sympathetic and in all honesty just too tired to argue, I agreed to go to this place. I was however beginning to lose my patience and as I walked into this shop and had the man explain to me that their suits were amazing quality and super cheap, I told him the truth: “I have absolutely no interest in buying a suit right now. I’m not going to bullshit you because I don’t want to waste your time but I’ve only been here a day and I’ve been taken to two of these shops under false pretences and if you don’t mind I’ll have a look and see if there is anything I like but I’d be buying it another day.” Apparently honesty is not always the best policy as I was quickly thrown out of the shop and my driver did not get his coupon. He then reluctantly drove me to the Golden Mount and I gave him like 50 baht because I felt a little bad since he was after all just trying to earn some money. I’d never even heard of the Golden Mount (mainly due to the lack of research I’d done before this trip) but as I ascended the steps, I couldn’t help but feel that I was doing some sort of test. I hadn’t eaten since the start of my 2nd flight which had probably been about 8 hours ago at this stage, I definitely hadn’t drank enough water and I was carrying everything I had with me on my back. Each step made me feel more and more light-headed and by the time I reached the top, I really couldn’t appreciate how wonderful it all was. It was just too warm and so I made my way back down and decided it was time to get to the hostel before I fainted. Other than going for food with a Canadian guy from my hostel and then being shown around by a local woman, that pretty much sums up my day. I’ll admit, at that point 3 weeks felt like an eternity and in all honesty I didn’t think I was going to be able to do it. I would feel that way another two times on my trip.

Just to get the negativity out of the way, here are the other two times I doubted I’d survive the rest of my time in SE Asia: the second time was my final night in Bangkok. We’d been out on the infamous Khao San Road until everything closed and had then stayed up at the hostel for another couple of hours. We had to get up at 7 for a “9 hour” bus journey to Siem Reap in Cambodia and at 5 or 6 in the morning everyone in our room was awake because some guy had come back drunk and pissed himself in the bed (I’m still not sure if he was on the top or bottom bunk). At this time I felt awful: I was tired, a little nauseous and the thought of being on a bus soon just filled me with dread. I remember wondering if my whole trip was going to be like this? Should I just book flights home and call the mission a failure? I felt better in the morning but I still remember the feeling well. The third time I felt this way was for a much more valid reason: After staying on Koh Rong I made my way across to Koh Rong Sanloem with plans to attend a jungle party the night before the full moon party. I missed what sounds like the best party ever because I started being as violently sick as a person can be: Barely making it out of the room, id fall down the 4 or 5 stairs and just collapse to the ground as I threw up in the bushes, practically dragging myself in the dirt up the rocky path that led the 100 or so yards to the toilets. Most of the time I’d be done being sick by the time I made it there but every single time I’d be in extreme physical pain as my body contracted as if I were being dosed with high voltage electrical shocks. When I did end up in the toilet I’d be so nauseous and light headed, the world spinning around me as if I could suddenly sense it spinning through space, that I’d be physically unable to walk back to my room. On one occasion I had to actually ask two random girls if they could help me. I wouldn’t wish it upon anyone and that was without a doubt the most ill I have ever been in my entire life!

So for those of you who read my previous post (and for those of you who haven’t) you’ll remember that I had a few major anxieties related to this trip, 3 in particular: 1) The social aspect. I wasn’t sure how well I’d cope being forced into social situations with lots of new people and having to live in small rooms with strangers. 2) The food. As a VERY fussy eater I had no idea how well I’d deal with having less access to my usual diet and it worried me that I might literally starve to death. 3) Spiders. Without a doubt spiders are my biggest fear and given what I’d heard about surrounding areas, it concerned me that I might have to deal with what would be giant, potentially man-eating spiders. So how did I cope? Surprisingly well actually! The only time I had any real issue with spiders was on Koh Rong when we were staying in little thatched huts that basically just had a mattress and a mosquito net inside. Walking past the toilets at one stage I noticed a massive spider on the wall which didn’t make me fully confident that I’d be able to enter those toilets the rest of the time I was there. As I reached my room just after this moment, one of the guys I was travelling with proceeded to point out that a pretty big spider had just ran under the bed. To top it all off, after a night on the beach that ended with me being drunk and high, I walked back to the room with the same travelling companion only to notice a massive spider on the net. If I had been sober, I would have freaked and probably wouldn’t have slept but that night I slept like a baby! After that, I wasn’t too bothered about spiders. I trekked through the jungle without any anxiety, I slept in the huts without worrying about any night time spider attacks, I even hung clothes on the hut walls and managed not to be overly concerned about the very real possibility of spiders crawling in.

The next issue was of course the food which I did try to get over as early as the flights. On each flight we were given an option of three meals and both times I went for something that I wouldn’t have eaten normally. I’ll admit that my first meal in Bangkok was French fries but after that I tried various street foods and ordered stuff in restaurants that I’d never tried before. Did I try every single thing? Of course not, there was still some foods that even just the sight or smell of made my stomach churn. That being said, I tried snake which I hadn’t expected at all. Did it taste bad? Definitely not, I actually seemed to be one of the few people who enjoyed it. The texture however was a little off-putting. I’m not sure all the chewing gum in the world could have prepared my jaw for how long I’d have to chew that snake for before I could swallow it. While I did try new food to begin with, Western influence is very prevalent and in some places it’s easier to find steak and chips or a cooked breakfast than it is to find a local meal. When you’re hungry, sometimes a little hungover and often feeling a bit lazy it’s all too easy to simply eat at your hostel rather than go hunting for some food that you may or may not like. There is one food that I did go hunting for though: a happy pizza…but more on that later. So spiders, check. Food, check. How about the social aspect?

Really my first hurdle to jump was the flight itself. In the past I’d had anxiety attacks not from the flying but from being crammed into a small metal tube with strangers who ultimately invade your personal space. The last time I’d been on a plane I’d taken propranolol and even though I’d brought it with me on this trip, I never had any need of it. So I view that as a mini success. I’ll admit that meeting new people wasn’t super easy but it also wasn’t difficult either. At the end of the day everyone is in the same boat and nobody really wants to sit on their own the entire time, not even me, so once you get talking to someone you pretty quickly feel like you’ve known them for a long time, especially if you truly connect with them (this does have its downsides though which I’ll discuss later). I met some people on this trip that were just incredible and I’ve never been surrounded by as many like-minded individuals in all my life. Being able to start a conversation about something rather controversial back home might raise a few eyebrows but out there it was encouraged. Sharing different opinions was just seen as part of the experience and as someone who loves to voice his opinions, I couldn’t have felt more at home. Nobody wanted to discuss football or who slept with who at work or whether we should go to the same pub or club that we spend all our time in anyway. Instead people wanted to talk about drugs, politics, religion, entire philosophies about life and the universe. I was travelling with a friend who arrived on my 2nd day in Bangkok and before the trip I hoped it would stay just the two of us for the entire duration we were travelling together. By the end, I can’t imagine how horrific that could have been. We amassed this group of wonderful individuals from all around the world who we travelled with at different points of our journey. It might sound a bit clichéd but they felt like family or like I’d known them my whole life.

In the nature of trying new things, I had my eye out for any new experiences that may be offered in Thailand or Cambodia. Considering I’d stopped off in Abu Dhabi where the penalty for bringing drugs into the country is literally death, I wasn’t sure how Thailand or Cambodia would handle the concept. On Khao San road I experienced “laughing gas” for the first time which to me was a bit of a stupid drug. I’ll admit, I had a lot of fun and probably bought 8 or 9 balloons while there but it felt a bit like a tease. As someone who has partied with MDMA, I found that laughing gas momentarily gave you the feeling of coming up: you get pins and needles in your extremities, your head goes a little fuzzy and you find yourself feeling a little euphoric. For someone who has never taken drugs I can see the attraction but for me it was a bit like being promised sex, getting a lap dance only to find out that that’s it over or being promised pizza, watching it being made and then being given a crust. Like I said though, it was fun just not that fun. It’s very obvious why it appeals to the tourists, especially on Khao San Road. While in Siem Reap, I encountered some wonderful people (one of whom was a doctor) who before we all left for an 8 or so hour bus journey had informed me of one major area that was rather lenient in Cambodia: pharmaceuticals. Now I’d never taken Valium and my only knowledge of it was based on US films so the idea of taking some had never really crossed my mind until it was explained that taking one before a night bus journey would help me sleep, something I have great difficulty doing while travelling. For $1 I got 10 10mg Valium pills and as we all got comfy on our beds on the night bus I broke mine in half (following the advice of my new doctor friend) and sure enough, I slept pretty well initially. After two hours we stopped for a toilet break which it turned out I was in desperate need of and after getting back on the bus, I decided to take the other half. I’m not sure how much everyone else took but when we all woke up, we’d already been at our destination for 45 minutes and the driver simply hadn’t told us. I did this another two times on my trip, one time where it had been essential as I had a “12 hour” (turned out to be 16 hours which was a common theme with Cambodian travel) in what seemed like a single night bus bed with a fairly large Cambodian gentleman. I do however see why Valium users have a problem with addiction. I binned mine before my flight not because of security but because I knew that it would be all too easy to take one whenever I was struggling to sleep or if I needed to relax. I’m not even sure what the risks are but it’s something I don’t plan on taking again anytime soon. One thing I wouldn’t mind taking again soon, however, is a happy pizza. I’d missed out on trying one in Siem Reap because despite searching I just couldn’t find anywhere until the day we left. Luckily, by the time we got to Kampot I was travelling with several people who were also very eager to try one. Finding a place wasn’t a problem and so we ordered a pizza and I also ordered a happy shake which didn’t taste too bad but involved more chewing than a typical shake does. A couple of hours after consumption none of us seemed to really be feeling anything. We were told that the happy pizzas here weren’t prepared properly and that Siem Reap did them better but having eaten at around 10, I found myself playing snap at 2 in the morning with one of the other happy pizza triers and we were both definitely very high. I remember lying on my back just looking up at the stars for an incredibly long time. I mean I do that normally so that isn’t an indicator of whether I’m high or not but the thoughts that were going through my head were: I was picturing all these different stars and what sort of planets they might have and whether there are little aliens on these planets that are also high and looking up at our star, wondering the exact same thing. There is a star on the shoulder of the constellation Orion known as Betelgeuse which gives off a red colour and could literally supernova at any minute. While looking at this star I was imagining what it would look like and how I’d react if it happened right now. There were even times I thought I saw the stars move which was probably more due to tiredness than anything else. So my experience with happy shakes and pizzas is definitely something I’d recommend and would repeat without hesitation. The one thing I would be less confident in repeating would be smoking the weed down there. While on Koh Rong we stayed at this lovely little hostel where the thatched huts and spiders were located and they sold big joints at the bar for $3.50. I hadn’t smoked weed in a while and this was before the happy pizzas so one day I bought one and decided to smoke it pretty early on in the day while we chilled at the beach. Only one of the girls I was travelling with wanted to partake so we shared this joint and decided to kick back and relax. I knew after just one toke of this joint that it wasn’t going to be all fun and games but by the end I basically knew how it felt to be a vegetable. Of course the rest of our group chose this moment to inform us that we’d be walking round to the next beach to get some food. The journey itself is a bit of a blur but I remember sitting at the bar ordering garlic bread which was the driest thing I have ever eaten. I rarely get paranoid when I’m high and I’m not even sure I’d describe this moment as paranoia so much as just confusion but while at the bar these two girls sat to my left, pretty close to me, while all my group was on my right. My bottle of water (which is of course as important to me then as air itself) was to my left. I’m fairly sure one of the girls drank from my bottle which threw me down this rabbit hole of asking whether that bottle was mine? Should I drink from it again or just buy a new one? If that isn’t my bottle then where is my bottle? I then started to think they were trying to steal my bottle from me because they thought it was there’s when in fact it was mine. It was a lot to deal with but after a nap on a hammock I felt a little better. That was until I learnt of the hour long walk to another beach we were about to do. The distance itself seemed bad enough but as we walked we ended up clambering over rocks (which I usually love) and walking through the jungle. It was all a bit much and eventually we had to get a boat from some sketchy hotel we’d come across and I didn’t actually feel completely there on a cognitive level until we arrived at our final destination. Maybe it was just strong weed, maybe it was because I hadn’t smoked in a long time or maybe there was something else in it but without a doubt that is the most high I have ever felt in my entire life and it’s certainly the longest lasting high. After the first hour or two it was enjoyable but I just didn’t think I could cope to begin with. I didn’t make things better for myself that same evening when after enjoying a happy hour and returning to our beach to drink, I decided to once again smoke a joint. This time I didn’t even smoke half of what I’d smoked the day before but combined with the alcohol it left my lying on the beach clinging onto the world as if I could fall off. I couldn’t walk or talk or function at all really but we had stayed up to see the glow in the dark plankton and my friends helped me up, practically carried me to the water and then left me there in awe as I pulled my hands and feet through the water. The sight was truly incredible as it gave the illusion of a sort of green, static electricity. The walk back to the fire which was probably only 75 yards away felt like a marathon but at least I’d seen the plankton.

Of course there were other new experiences out-with the drug category and possibly my favourite of these was the Thai massage (no they did not include happy endings, get your mind out of the gutter). I went for three in total, all a little different but all left me feeling pretty relaxed. A Thai massage is not what you’d expect it to be: if you want a soft, pain-free experience then I suggest you try something different because about 50% of the time you’ll be in pain. I actually witnessed a grown man practically sobbing after receiving one, much to the entertainment of the women that worked there. Despite the almost constant pain, I still found myself drifting off a couple of times while receiving one of these massages. You wear these comfortable pyjama-like clothes and it’s usually dark and the atmosphere just invites you to sleep. Maybe some people would find it difficult to drift off while having a grown woman walk across your spine or twist your limbs into unnatural positions but that didn’t seem to be a problem for me. Strange that I can drift off under such circumstances but can’t sleep on a bus or plane without taking drugs. Another new experience for me was receiving a henna tattoo which is basically just a temporary tattoo that is done in a substance similar to permanent marker. I had been told they lasted around 3 weeks but mine was completely gone in less than 2 and had already begun to fade in less than 1. I had been tempted to get a less traditional symbol such as the Assassin’s Creed symbol or something similar but instead I went for a sun with the eye of Horus located in the centre. Regrettably I never thought to take a photo of it and by the time I did it had already started to fade. Even after letting it dry for several hours, I woke up the next morning with about 3 different versions of it imprinted across my body as well as several on the bed. I had also gone to a tattoo parlour on one of my last days, picked out what I was going to get and then had been told it would cost $80 which was just ridiculous. Really the only reason you’d get a tattoo over there (apart from a traditional bamboo tattoo) is because they are cheap. You know that it might not be a work of art and you know it might not be 100% safe which is why it is usually cheaper. While I did consider the idea, I decided that I wasn’t going to spend that amount of money on what could potentially be an awful tattoo. One final experience that I’m certainly going to miss is the bum gun; what’s the bum gun? Well, the bum gun is quite simply a hose that you use to wash your asshole after taking a shit (to be blunt about it). At first I was hesitant but once you’ve grown used to it, you never want to go back. It’s cleaner and less time-consuming. If I could install one in my bathroom I definitely would. I know plenty of people who refused to use it while over there and I was part of that group initially but I have seen the light and switched teams. If you are ever in a country with such an incredible piece of bathroom technology I recommend you give it a shot. Be warned though: in some places the water pressure is drastically higher and you can get quite a shock when you basically use a water cannon to try and spray you asshole!

Overall it was certainly an experience and one that I would love to repeat. I considered quitting my job several times just to stay out there for a few more weeks but realistically that just wasn’t an option for me. While I wouldn’t change a single thing about this trip (apart from maybe the getting ill incident that caused me to miss an incredible jungle party) if I were to go on a similar trip I think I’d avoid party hostels for at least most of the journey. I mean they are insanely fun and a great way to meet people but going out to drink every single night is not only expensive but also pretty damaging. I also found that while I still managed to explore the temples and such, I would be tired or even just hungover in general and perhaps didn’t appreciate them or experience them to the fullest. I also think that if I were to do it again I’d want to set out with a group of people initially and travel with them for the duration. Why? Well partly because travelling with one person is always going to lead to tension just due to the stress. As an introvert, I need time to myself in order to recharge and that’s something you just don’t get while travelling around hostels and so I know myself well enough to notice it stressing me out. However, the biggest reason I’d prefer to travel in a group to begin with is because travelling alone or in small numbers leads you to meet new people. Is that a bad thing? Of course not, as I mentioned, some of the people I met on this holiday are some of the most wonderful and like-minded people I’ve met in my entire life but it all has to come to an end sooner or later and given that you’re meeting people from around the world, it is unrealistic to assume that you’ll see them again. I mean who knows, maybe I will see them again but you know it isn’t guaranteed. I’ve gone to funerals without crying, I’ve watched sad films without crying, I visited the killing fields and listened to a man discuss “the killing tree” without crying, in all honesty I actually don’t remember the last time I cried but saying goodbye to these people certainly had me close to it. When I said goodbye to the first group it was unlike anything I’d ever experienced: how could I meet these incredible people and then have them leave my life forever? I’d only known them for a few days but somehow it was like I’d known them my whole life. Saying goodbye to my final group as I left for Bangkok was truly painful. At first it didn’t really bother me: I said goodbye, hugged everyone, shouted some things as I walked away and it wasn’t until I was driving past them in the van that was to take me to the bus that I suddenly felt it: emotional pain, like the scene from Indiana Jones where a guy literally has his heart ripped from his chest, watching it beat in front of him. When I think back to that moment I still feel the exact same way and I’m not sure how often someone could repeat that moment before it started to take its toll. Does the positive emotions and experiences outweigh the negative ending? I’d say it does but it doesn’t make the goodbye or the memory of it any easier.

Journey into the Unknown!

For anyone who reads my posts regularly (which may be nobody) you’ll be aware that while my posts are usually rants (hence the name of my blog) that convey my opinion on some trivial matter such as a film or game series, I tend not to reflect on my own personal life.

Today I have decided to go out-with my usual post-type and share with you some insights into my mind and current life plans. Usually I try to introduce the topics I plan to cover but this is mostly going to be off the top of my head as I’m writing so we’ll just see how it goes.

 

I’m mostly going to discuss a trip I’m about to take but I feel like in order for you to understand my concerns and fears I need to invite you inside my little bubble of a life just to highlight how far outside my comfort zone I’m about to go. These pieces of information may seem rather random right now but I swear it makes sense in relation to this post. Let me briefly describe to you why I never really go out and experience life to the fullest:

For starters I have awful social anxiety…I’m not even sure if it’s limited to social situations, maybe I just have anxiety in general, but certainly a key component of it is social. It can sometimes takes me months before I feel comfortable talking to someone in a normal capacity so typical day-to-day situations tend to involve me going out of my way to avoid social interaction with strangers.

For a very long time I was unable to get a job because most jobs involved social interaction and the thought alone made me feel ill. I started having anxiety attacks in exams which soon spread to other situations (to be fair, I was at uni at the time and most of these situations also involved me being hungover so I think it was my mind associating feeling nauseous with certain situations). Suffice to say that several times while at the cinema I would spend most of the film trying to convince myself that I didn’t need to get up and leave which as a movie lover (possibly addict) was incredibly disappointing. I have improved a fair bit but perhaps that’s a discussion for another time. On top of my social issues, I am also one of the fussiest eaters you will ever meet. For as long as I can remember I haven’t eaten any fruit or vegetables which as you can imagine, limits my diet quite a bit. It’s not like I eat everything else either, I basically have the diet of a 15 year old that has been left to fend for himself.

To add to my already limiting characteristics I also have a phobia of spiders but not just your run of the mill phobia, oh no, I am absolutely scared to death of the little bastards. Let’s just say that I’ve fallen out of a lot of trees as a result of this highly irrational fear. You can therefore assume that I will not be visiting Australia any time soon (in fact Antarctica is looking all the more promising). I do understand that Australia really isn’t that far from Thailand and that I’m most likely walking into the real world equivalent of the Forbidden Forrest with its nest of extremely large spiders.

Again, I have somewhat improved on this over the last few years but if a spider is bigger than a thumbnail (for example) then chances are I won’t be able to deal with it unless it’s on the floor and I can drop a very heavy book on it. So this should hopefully paint a fairly clear picture as to why I have the time to sit at home writing blog posts about Star Wars, Assassins Creed, drug laws etc…now let me share with you how I’m about to be catapulted out of my comfort zone.

I’ve been working for the last 6 months and recently realised how badly I need a holiday. As someone who lives in Scotland, I’ve never ventured outside of Europe and even my trips out of the UK have been to areas where the lifestyle is pretty much the same e.g. Italy, Rome or Spain. My initial thought was Egypt because out of everywhere in the world, that is where I want to visit the most. I had looked at flights and hotels but quite quickly came to the conclusion that if I went to Egypt alone I just wouldn’t experience everything there was on offer.

I’d go look at stuff but not really immerse myself in the culture. Luckily, a friend of mine was planning a holiday to Thailand and some of the surrounding countries. I’d personally never even considered visiting anywhere near there for a whole host of reasons (primarily the spider issue) but when given the options of going there for three weeks or waiting months, taking time off work and ultimately going nowhere and doing nothing with my time, I felt that the first option was the one that would be most beneficial. So I handed in a holiday form, it just got approved yesterday and my flights are booked to head out on my adventure.

I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t considered not going at least 15 times today alone but you have to understand that I get cold feet with every single decision I make. Committing to any sort of party, event, holiday, anything will be followed by my brain giving me a list of reasons why not going could be the better option. Obviously the biggest ones that come to mind are things like giant spiders (or even just small spiders…really any spiders at all), the language barrier (but even just the social aspect with or without there being a language barrier), and of course the food. I’ve read that places like Bangkok are incredibly sociable cities and that the nightlife is amazing but I can’t imagine that being the case for someone who struggles to start and hold a conversation.

So why am I going? I feel such a trip could be make or break: No matter what, I’m going to be forced out my comfort zone so it’ll either push me to evolve or it will snap my psyche and leave me in the foetal position on a foreign continent. One of the biggest comforts (which is also somehow one of the fears) is that I’ll be just under 6,000 miles away from home. I’m going to feel like Sam and Frodo leaving the Shire. Strangely enough, one of the best ways for me to motivate myself in any situation is to relate it to a game or a film.

I guess it’s sort of my coping mechanism that also acts as an incentive. Different games/films make me want to do different things, for example: Far Cry 3 makes me want to try skydiving or get a tattoo or explore new cultures; 127 hours makes me want to explore and climb, to find adventure where I can, even if I’m doing it alone; Warrior makes me want to go to the gym…you get the idea. We will of course ignore the fact that the first two exams have pretty horrific outcomes for those involved and should really be adverts against exploring rather than what I use them for. So in order to prepare myself for this “adventure” I have started playing Far Cry 3 again (which happens to take place on an island in the area I’m visiting, although whether it is based on a real island or not is beyond my knowledge).

So why am I writing this post? I guess the same reason that people talk about their problems: it’s therapeutic. If I share my fears with random strangers on the internet then in a sense I’ve acknowledged that these fears are indeed real but that they shouldn’t hold me back from enjoying life. I mean we only get one, right? So what if a giant, face-eating spider jumps out of a tree and proceeds to chase me down the road…I should just look at it as life experience or inspiration for my book.

I mean if I stay trapped inside the boring little town where going to the pub to watch football is the highlight of everyone’s week then how am I ever going to look back on my life with fondness? Another way of looking at it: what if the Animus from Assassin’s Creed becomes a real piece of technology and someone tries to look back on my life (not that I plan on having children but that’s not the point). All they would see is me sitting at home watching films or reading. Would I rather they see that or would I rather they watched as I walk with elephants or visit ancient temples?

If I survive and make it back to bonnie Scotland then I’ll be sure to update this or write a new post which shares me experiences. If this is my last post then just assume that I died either by being killed by a spider or trying to escape one!

Are We Simply Thoughts An Alien Is Having?

So I’m currently working on a book and even though I’m still in the very early stages, I’m definitely beginning to make some progress. Rather than force ideas, I tend to just let them come naturally to me and then I see if I’m able to work on them. For example, if I go to bed earlier than usual, I’ll put some headphones on and listen to a playlist (which has since been named “Creativity”) and just see where my mind takes me in relation to my characters and events. When something interesting begins to form, I follow it in my mind much like Alice and the White Rabbit, leading myself down the proverbial rabbit hole.

Without going into too much detail about the book itself, I will mention that there is a religious group that has formed largely based on misinformation and corrupted ideas/beliefs. I’m still working on their overall belief system and while it’s almost fully formed, it’s constantly changing and evolving.

While listening to a particularly inspirational piece of music by Ludovico Einaudi I had this rather bizarre train of thought involving a collective consciousness, different planes of reality seen through different dimensions and grand beings that come together in a way which nobody could ever truly understand, like giant, multi-dimensional jigsaw pieces. While I’d love to talk more about this thought, it is not actually the topic of this entry today: instead I want to discuss the thought that followed.

As I mentioned before, I tend to just get in “the zone” as it were and let my mind and music guide my thoughts. I find that I now have music that applies to certain events or characters within my book and that while listening to it I’m able to quite clearly picture what is happening. It’s like having a film in my head that shows scenes where the music fits: much like the infamous music played during Darth Vader’s arrival in Star Wars.

My characters are still largely undeveloped in terms of personality but their actions are already beginning to define them within my mind. Anyway, while I was continuing on from my dive into potential additional religious beliefs I realised just how insane the human mind can be: Within my mind I’d created this new world that doesn’t exist anywhere else and without my mind it would simply fade from existence. When I close my eyes I can look around this world, I can see the characters that I’ve created and even when I’m not entirely sure what they look like, I know that they are there. It’s like I can see the space they should be taking up. I can watch as my characters interact with each other and with the world around them.

Even more than that: I can travel through both time and space to any moment, anywhere. With a simple thought I can watch different events happening in different ways with different people at different times. These characters aren’t always moved by my thoughts, sometimes they simply act, much like characters in a film.

At this point, I found myself wondering: ‘Is this all that god is?’ I began to wonder if we are simply an idea, a creation that is simply floating around inside the mind of a being greater than our level of understanding. How is any god deemed a creator any different to exactly that? We can never prove or even really investigate whether or not anyone other than ourselves has consciousness. So are we each just the main character in some higher beings created world? Simply a thought that is following a path that it’s been set on?

I remember a comparison that I always found interesting (I believe it was brought up by Alan Watts but that could be wrong) where he questions whether the rest of the world and everyone else in it actually exists out-with our interaction with them/it. He compares this to a video game. When you are playing a video game (take Assassins Creed for example) you can’t see the entire map all the time but as you travel from one side of the map to the other, the area renders and essentially comes into existence. Are there characters at the opposite side of the map from you walking around the streets of Rome? No. But as soon as you move near enough to them, they come into existence and begin to carry out whatever function they were put there to complete.

Once you leave that area they simply fade from the world until they are needed again. You tend to have differing types of characters in this comparison: you have the main/playable character who would of course be you in the real world; you have the story-related non-playable characters, who would be the people you interact with; then you have the secondary non-playable characters who are more like drones, who simply go from one spot to the next to perform whatever task makes them fit into the world.

I don’t believe in a god or gods (I’d actually describe myself as an anti-theist) but I thoroughly enjoy thinking about such matters, especially those that are out-with the typical structure of the modern gods. I feel like IF we were created by higher beings, they wouldn’t have created us simply to sit and watch as we tear ourselves to shreds, they would have created us for a purpose that we just can’t fully understand because it takes place in a dimension not available to us (which is what the religion within my book believe and in fact use to justify any immoral act they may commit). I’m being careful not to turn this into a religious post because its purpose is simply to show that insane ideas are just as likely to be real as any current religion.

This is of course much shorter than any of my other posts but it seemed like an interesting topic to bring up. I’d love to hear any opinions or even any other bizarre ideas that could potentially be a reality. Discussing crazy theories and ideas is incredibly enjoyable. I might make another post in the near future to introduce my fictional religion and the belief system it embodies as well as a brief look at their origin and how that relates to the rest of my book.