My latest travel memoir is available now for pre-order!
Never Pack an Ice-Axe: Tales From a Travel Writer’s Life publishes on 10 June, but if you pre-order now you can be among the first to read it.
Here’s where you go to do that:
Amazon UK – https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B095XJXZMV
Amazon US – https://www.amazon.com/dp/B095XJXZMV
And to whet your appetite (actually, wrong choice of words, as you’ll see), here’s an extract from a chapter called ’A tale of two satays’, set in Bali.
HEAD DOWN A toilet on a palm-fringed Indonesian island – to get all Dickensian on you, I’d say that qualifies as the worst of times, the season of darkness, the winter of despair.
I’d whisked in on an overnight flight, grabbed a taxi at Bali airport and arrived at nearby Kuta Beach just as the sun was setting. Dropped my bag in the guesthouse – cabanas ranged around a small pool – and crossed the road to the nearest restaurant for some chicken skewers and rice.
Plan was – early night, shake off the jet lag, check out Kuta and then decide where to go next on my first trip to Bali.
Plan was not – throw up noisily and energetically, shiver and shake on sopping mattress, and emit strangulated whimperings that carried in the night air.
“Is that a monkey?”, said bleary-eyed tourists in neighbouring rooms. “And why is someone waterboarding it? What secrets can it possibly be hiding?”
It was as quick as it was merciless. One minute, laying down the Lonely Planet guide and switching off the light. Bit full from the meal, very tired, a little woozy from the flight. Next minute, sat bolt upright, hello, what’s this? Nurse, the screens!
By three o’clock in the morning, I was a regular visitor to the tile-floored bathroom. I became familiar with the feel of forearm on porcelain, and when the hand-towel was sodden I wiped my face with a vomit-flecked T-shirt. Between bouts I lay flat on my back under a lacklustre ceiling fan that pushed thick, hot, soup-like air around the room. I’d do a bit of moaning to pass the time and – brought up on ER and Casualty – check the time between contractions which, who knows why, I thought might be useful information for someone.
I made the toilet just in time…
By four o’clock, an interesting new development, as explosive diarrhoea made its appearance. Hello, we’d been waiting for you. With George Clooney shouting “Code Brown! Stat!”, I made the toilet just in time. It sounded like a bucket of snails being tipped down a well, accompanied by an eye-watering aroma that must have seeped out of the bathroom’s louvred windows because every dog in town started yelping.
“I think the monkeys must have escaped,” said concerned guests, all now wide awake, “and they’ve set the dogs on them. I see the sewage truck has broken down too. And who on earth is tipping snails down a well at this time of night?”
By now, I was no longer overly troubled about which end it was coming out of. Only that it either stopped or I died, I’d take either option. Sweat pooled and dripped. I took tiny sips from a bottle of water, cramped up, dashed to the bathroom and gambled on an orifice. I growled, retched, groaned, gagged and snivelled, in no particular order, with the sounds echoing around the bathroom.
“They’ve recaptured the monkeys everyone. Poor little feckers are being probed with a cattle-prod now.”
At some point in the night, all those episodes of ER paid off as I remembered that, having sat through fifteen seasons of it, I was basically as good as any doctor. I knew exactly what to do. I ran a few inches of tepid water in the bathtub and climbed in. This finally brought my temperature down, and I lay back on the bed on top of a thin cotton towel and shivered while the water dried on my skin. Close to dawn, with the air the coolest it had been all night, I fell asleep.
When I woke up, the sun was high and guests were splashing in the pool outside, asking if anyone else had heard the overnight noises from the monkey-torture clinic. Aussie backpackers in Billabong boardies slapped past my cabana, giving the bathroom window a wide berth. A guesthouse maid knocked on the locked door at one point, tried the handle and then retreated. I’d need to be getting together a huge wedge of rupiah as a pre-emptive tip – danger money really – before I even thought of letting her in the bathroom. I stayed on the bed, sipped more water and just about kept it down.
The next morning, I made it as far as the little covered terrace attached to my room, which overlooked the courtyard and pool. I was repulsed by the thought of food but at the same time ravenous – like John Hurt must have felt after starting dinner with the crew of the Nostromo and then suffering the whole alien-out-of-the-stomach episode. Hungry, but then again, under the circumstances, not hungry. What would John Hurt order, I asked myself? I picked up a menu from the plastic table, flagged down a passing employee and plumped for jasmine tea, fingers of dry toast and a boiled egg.
The day unfolded as I moved from hot terrace to cooler room and then back again at dusk, as insects swirled around the light fittings. I stood weakly in the shower, then sat on the bed and read about Bali in the Lonely Planet guide – “A mood, an aspiration, a tropical state of mind.” Well, if they said so.
It took me three days to recover enough to leave the room properly.
Never Pack an Ice-Axe: Tales From a Travel Writer’s Life – the new travel book by Jules Brown