Self Indulged Online Magazine #4

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Photography by Sandra Herd





+ WIN one of two Lonely Planet China Guides with “Where’s Dave?”


Well here it is, as promised...Issue 4, proudly brought to you from China with the help of our sponsors. 1 Cover, Lonely Planet, Kata Bags & Manfrotto. If I said putting this issue together on the road was easy I’d be’s hard to ISSUE #4 write and process the travel photos when you’re busy actually travelling but a few days stuck in a dark room in Beijing has allowed me to sit down and put the following pages together. I hope you enjoy them and forgive the fact that all images have been processed on an 11 inch laptop! So the plan is to keep going. To update the blog on a more regular basis and to share the images and travel tales as we go. We have not one but TWO China Lonely Planet guides to give away this issue and if you’re travelling through China this really is the fountain of all knowledge. Check out the Where’s Dave pages for your chance to win. If you’re heading to China anytime soon I have a few tips of my own that might help you out; 1.Wear a scarf. You can cover your nose and mouth when things get a bit wiffy. Which unfortunately is quite often. 2.You can get around the Great Firewall of China by downloading a VPN for approx. 10 Euros. Just Google VPN and pick one, once you sign up you’ll have no problems accessing Facebook or Twitter. 3.Stay away from the ‘sportsdrinks’ particularly if you’re in Taiwan or Hong Kong. Check out why HERE 4.Stand well back from watermelons....they explode! 5.Don’t plan any trips to Tibet until AFTER July and even then double check the dates. It has just been closed to foreigners - linked to celebrations marking the 60th anniversary of China’s rule over Tibet. Dammit!!!!! 6.Just come. It’s easier to get around than you might think. I ask each hostel to write my next destination in Chinese so I can give it to the taxi driver. I feel like a kid with a note, “If lost, please send me home to........” Finally I’d like to say a HUGE thanks to my Mum and Dad who are ‘cat sitting’ and sorting out my mail, my sister who is sorting out everything else...and to Dave for his undying patience and suppot for this mag.



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Written by Sandra Herd Photographed by Sandra Herd Designed by Sandra Herd Produced by Sandra Herd Edited by Sandra Herd Research by Sandra Herd Self Indulged takes no responsibility for links leading to external content. By reading this publication you are agreeing to click on external links at your own risk. The links have been included soley as a source of information only. If anything in the magazine offends you... please don’t read it.



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Once again my inbox has been filled with well wishes and emails from around the world. Next issue I’ll have to allow more room for feedback and comments but for now here’s a few for “Wish you were here”, including one from someone I managed to upset...oops! Please feel free to send in your travel tips for future issues and don’t forget to tell me where you’re from. Please send all emails to:


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“Jazz hands. Quick! Show them your jazz hands.” I shook my open palms with as much enthusiasm as I could muster, I even managed a freaky jazz performance grin in the hope that my dazzling smile and dazzling hands would have the desired effect...and it worked. The group of rabid monkeys who had been congregating on the path up ahead saw our empty hands and slowly backed off. We were hiking up Mt Emei in China’s Sichuan province. It is one of the four Sacred Buddhist Mountains of China and at 3,099m, it’s more than 1,000m higher than the other three sacred was also the one we had chosen to climb.


The ‘Sea of Clouds’ at the top of Mt Emei. A great spot for sunrise photos if the weather is wasn’t! SELFINDULGED 9


It was the start of our second day and we’d been dazzling the monkeys with our jazz hands for most of the climb. At the start of the journey up the mountain, we’d met an American couple coming back down the first set of steps towards us and they warned that the monkeys were up ahead. Now, normally Monkeys wouldn’t worry me but when the couple got nearer to us we saw his arms and they were covered in bloody scratches, their backpacks (which they said they had left behind and retrieved later) were covered in mud, both of them were carrying piles of small rocks and were quite visibly shaken. They said they had set out early that morning and were mobbed by the monkeys who were obviously hoping for an early breakfast. We’d already passed a small group of Chinese tourists who were with “Monkey Guides” and they were encouraging the monkeys to come down from the trees on the mountain to be fed...probably not the best idea given that these creatures obviously get cranky when no food is forthcoming, and they have fangs.

technique was employed and neither human or monkey was injured as we continued up the path. And it was a long path...upwards. Maybe more research should have occurred at the start of this little jaunt. We’d been staying in a hostel at the base of Mt Emei and, instead of taking the tourist bus to the top, Dave, myself and a Dutch girl we’d met at the hostel decided it might be a nice idea to walk up the mountain instead. We didn’t do any research at all. We didn’t know it was a five kilometre climb up 68,000 stone steps to the Golden Summit. We did know there was a bus. We chose not to take it. The bus would have cost me 90RMB and taken 2 hours. The walk cost me part of my sanity and took 2 days of my life that I’ll never get back! Stupidly, we’d trusted the young and fit Australians who told us it wasn’t too hard and now we were suffering the consequences with no option but to keep going. We were too far up to go back down and there was no nearby road, bus or cable car to relieve us along the way. Just more steps going ever upwards and no-one else in sight. The humidity was high and the views non-existent as we climbed up and up through the trees and clouds.

A few had actually followed us earlier and one had grabbed the backpack of a hiker we’d befriended but had eventually let go – she had previously been bitten by a Monkey in Bali and knew the pain (and added inconvenience) that comes with having to have a string of rabies shots. She We’d spent the night at the Magic Peak Monwas terrified of the monkeys up ahead. astery, our map had offered little guidance in We thanked the Americans for their warning terms of time or distance so when we arrived and scavenged for stones as we carried on up the at about 3.30pm we decided it would be foolish path. I was ready to stone them to death with to keep going and asked for a room. Our first my little pile but Dave decided he would offer choice was a cheap dorm room as there would his stones up instead of food, fooling them into be three of us sharing. Usually I opt for a douthinking he had handed something over. Nice ble room with ensuite but the Monastery ofidea in practise but what happens when the ra- fered no such luxury and with someone else to bid beasties realise you’ve passed off a stone as consider we didn’t want to force her to pay the a snack...I didn’t want to make them cross and extra money for a triple room just because we have the whole tribe descend in a monkey may- were being soft. The three of us sat there for a hem bloodbath. Just as we were debating the few minutes in the freezing, dark dorm room for plan of attack we met another couple who quite a few minutes in our now cold, sweat drenched calmly said, “Just show them that your hands are clothes. Our new found friend was as soft as empty and don’t carry any plastic bags and they we were and we happily paid the extra Yuan should leave you alone” and so the Jazz hand


The start of the journey at the bottom of the mountain. 12 SELFINDULGED



The inside courtyard of Xianfeng Temple, (also marked on the map as Magic Peak Monastery -1752m) where we slept on the first night. We thanked Buddha for the much needed electric blankets. 70 Yuan per person for a triple room. The cheaper dorm option was dire. SELFINDULGED 15



to upgrade to a triple share room with electric blankets. The shower rooms were separate to the main building and to get to them you had to walk by a pungent ‘drop’ toilet block...basically open sewer. I could’ve cried. There were no demands to be made to ‘management’ on the mountain for better accommodations as there were no other options. Take it or leave it, and we had to take it. I consoled myself with the thought that sunrise on the peak overlooking the Sea of Clouds (when we eventually got there), would make it all worthwhile and then I stripped off in the cold dank shower room and had a wonderfully hot shower.

glimpse the Golden Summit, it was so sudden it was almost an anti-climax. Within minutes we had found a hotel on the summit. I was elated. We were here, we were staying and I could get up for sunrise and walk for five minutes to get the Golden Summit sunrise shot. We dumped our heavy load in the Jin Ding hotel room (it was a proper hotel with free shampoo, a comb, free toothbrush and matches – I would have much preferred a clean toilet but hey, I got a shower cap) and virtually ran to the summit.

Greeted by beautiful scenery and Buddhist music, we bathed in our achievement. The fact that The following morning I reminded the others, on we wouldn’t have to hike in morning to get the a regular basis, that we could’ve...and should’ve sunrise spot made it even better. caught the bus. After about seven kilometres, we But we never got ‘that shot’. At 5am we awoke stopped to eat our pre-packed lunch at the Tem- and climbed the steps in the dark with all the ple known as Elephants’ Bathing Pool. There’s a other Chinese tourists. But the sun never rose... small hexagonal pool in front of the old temple at least not spectacularly. It went from dark night and legend has it that the Bodhisattva Saman- to gray daylight, the thick expanse of cloud rolled tanhadra once washed his elephant in this pool in, obscuring the view and eventually obscuring before heading up to the temple at the peak of the Golden Buddha itself. the mountain and thus the Elephant’s Bathing Pool was born...but, whatever....if we’d caught Where was my reward for hiking up 68,000 stone the bus, we would have been at the top by now, steps? I was bitterly disappointed. and we wouldn’t have hours of uphill hiking still We could’ve taken the bus. to come. Dave had made peace with the mountain. I continued to moan and then suddenly, after hours of stone steps, blood, sweat and tears (ok, the blood was a scratched mozzie bite and the tears were more of a ‘welling’...but the sweat was real) we began to see more people on the trail. Smart people. People who had caught the bus up and were already walking back down. Within half an hour we were smack bang in the middle of tourist central and I had never been happier to see 10,000 Chinese tourists. Dave had a mild panic attack while his serenity was broken and even considered hiking the rest of the way...I made a bee-line for the cable car -the wonderful machine that would hoist my weary bones the final leg of the way. And to our absolute delight it deposited us right at the summit, we could 18 SELFINDULGED

The Golden Buddha located on the Golden Summit is a statue of Puxian, cast in copper, and plated in gold. SELFINDULGED 21

1, Pandas really ARE the cutest bears in the world

2. Flushing the toilet is ‘optional’ ...apparently!

3. You take your life in your own hands everytime you catch a bus to a mountainous region. Actually’s everytime you catch a bus. Period.


10. The only time pedestrians have right of way is....never

9. Dirty fingernails (your own) will become a way of life.

8. Sichuan hotpot is HOT. Particularly when you rub it in your eyes!


4. “Jazz hands” will keep rabid monkeys at bay.

5. If you hear someone hoiking up a lung.....hone in on the culprit and then stand well back.

6. In a country of 1.3 billion, when you want 7. XieXie(pronounced to take a ‘landscape’ cher, cherr – kinda) photo, 1% of the and a smile will get country’s population will either be in your you a long way. Means “Thank-you” shot or asking if they can have their photo taken WITH you.




HOTS WHERE Huanglong. Yunnan Province WHEN Best time to visit is Spring & Autumn. We visited in summer and were disappointed by the lack of water in the lower pools. The colour in the top pool however was still stunning and we were glad we’d made the effort to see this place. HOW We organised a trip as part of our visit to Jiuzhaigou. You will need the best part of a day and can catch the cable car up and then walk the 3km back down. Entry Fee is RMB200 Cable Car is RMB80 to go well spent! WHY Described in China as ‘a fairy land on Earth’ Huanglong scenic area was included on the UNESCO world heritage list in 1992. The blues in the water are almost unreal and most would believe it is the work of Photoshop...but not so, it is the work of Mother Nature at her finest.


F E N G Pheonix Town H U A N G



s soon as I saw the photograph of it I knew I wanted to go there.

I glimpsed it for the first time in a small gallery placed randomly in a row of stalls at Zhangjiajie national park. There was a photograph on the wall. It was a night shot of what looked to be an old town suspended above the water on stilts, lights reflecting in the river below. I pointed and asked, “Where is this� and soon a map was produced with explanations in broken English. It was Feng Huang, the Phoenix Town. It was only four hours out of Zhangjiajie city by bus and for 65RMB, the hostel could arrange the bus tickets for us. Job done. SELFINDULGED 25

The bus dropped us in a gravel car park, we had no idea where we were or where to go and were pounced upon by drivers offering to take us to the hostel for exorbitant prices. It was hot and my bags were heavy and I was happy to pay the inflated price of 20RMB (about three Australian dollars) just to get to the hostel. We were only visiting Feng Huang and we were wasting time arguing over the equivalent of fifty cents. Looks can be deceiving; this ‘ancient town’ is a Chinese tourists dream. Our hostel was right next to the water but there are many Chinese guest houses actually on the water. It was early afternoon when we finally arrived after a very bumpy bus ride. We ditched our bags and headed out for a walk along the Tuo Jiang River. The locals were washing fruit, fishing and doing their laundry by the riverside while the tourists dressed up in the local costume and had their photos taken by the water. The back alleys were filled with restaurants (and I use that term loosely) with the ‘fresh’ produce stacked outside the front, the evenings fare, still alive and on display for all

to see. Catfish, turtle, sea snake or snail (a speciality of this region) swimming and wriggling in big plastic tubs. Chickens and guinea pigs, pig faces and trotters, a delectable feast of anything that walks, crawls, swims or slithers. Nightfall saw the whole place come alive. Outdoor food stalls were set up, some food covered, most not – the flies were having a field day. The woks were sizzling, the place was buzzing and the sound of Chinese karaoke was carrying out across the river. Feng Huang translates as ‘Phoenix’, the mythical bird that rises from the ashes. Apparently so called because ancient legend says that two of these fabulous birds flew overhead and found the town so beautiful that they hovered there, reluctant to leave. I could have been one of those birds, I didn’t particularly want to leave after just one night but we’d squeezed it in at the last minute and one night was all we could we made the most of it. We ate, we drank, we explored and finally, we dressed up in the local costumes like all the other tourists and had our photos taken by the water.... we walked away with ten embarrassing photos and big grins on our faces.


The ancient town of Feng Huang comes alive at night. SELFINDULGED 29

The view from the restaurant window across from the YHA in Feng Huang. 12 SELFINDULGED 30

Where’s Dave? Every issue we show you a photo of Dave and it’s up to YOU to tell me where in the world he is. Have a look at the photo opposite and email your answer along with your name, full address and contact number to

All correct answers will be collated and a winner will be drawn on the 20th of September 2011. Two winners will be drawn and for the first time we are accepting entries from anywhere around the world. Please note the prize will be the ‘English’ version shipped from the Australian Lonely Planet office!*


ISSUE 3 CLICK HERE Answer: Dave was on the Great Wall of China FOR Congratulations to Melissa Cook of NSW. You’re TERMS KATA Backpack is on it’s way! & CONDTIONS * Image for illustration purposes only. Competition open worldwide however, the guide book will be in English.

E: l’ U L C nera

‘ge The ination he t t des red in u u o feat ...but y s a e w issu be very t s la d to nee ECIFIC SP SELFINDULGED SELFINDULGED 23 33


Monkey Forest


WHERE The Stone Forest, Kunming. Yunnan Province WHEN Best time to visit is anytime. Although the paths may be wet and slippey in WInter the scenery would still be spectacular. HOW Catch a bus from Kunming East Bus Station. Cost is 25RMB one way and it takes about 1.5 hours. You can do a day trip or stay for the night. We stayed in a hostel opposite the arrival station and paid RMB200 for a yearly membership (the alternative was to pay RMB175 for one entry and we wanted to go back inside the next day). You can also stay in a hotel inside the park however, these cater mainly to the Chinese package tours and may be fully booked. We heard there was a way to ‘sneak’ in for free and discovered this on our last day DOH! Opposite the China post office there is a side street which takes you into the back alleys, if you follow the main pathway you will end up by the Stone Forest lake inside the actual park... for free. They do have CCTV camera though so on your own head be it! WHY It’s a labyrinth of stone pillars and walkways quite unlike anything you’ve probably ever seen before. Get away from the tourists and get lost in the maze!



t o n s i y r u x u t l s e y b e Wh h t s y a alw ption o 14 36 SELFINDULGED


The view from The Hump Hostel rooftop terrace in Kunming.


hen I told friends at home I would be travelling through China as a backpacker, staying in hostels and yes, carrying a backpack, the most common response was something between horror and pity.

I’ve now graduated to a ‘flashpacker’(a term I don’t often use but one I seem to have been labelled with) and the hostels in China (as a general rule) have grown to meet the needs of backpackers and flashpackers alike.

Backpacking? At your age? Really? Can’t you afford to stay in hotels? The truth is, here in China, I wouldn’t want to.

The difference?

The hostel network has grown here immensely over the past six years. I was in Beijing in 2005 in a double room with a leaky ‘s’ bend. When we complained about the fact the toilet was leaking all over the floor, the manager kindly fixed it with a plastic bag and a roll of tape....but things have changed a lot and not just in Beijing.


According to the reliable backpacker’s fountain of knowledge, Wikipedia; “Flashpacking is a neologism used to refer to an affluent backpacker. Whereas backpacking is traditionally associated with budget travel and destinations that are relatively cheap, flashpacking has an association of more disposable income while traveling and has been defined simply as backpacking with a bigger budget.”

Flashpackers also tend to be older (in my mid-thirties I definitely fall into that category), carry lots of electrical stuff and lots of chargers to go with that stuff. iPods, iPads, Cameras, laptops the whole kit and caboodle. I carry my camera gear and lots of chargers too. I check into a private room with an ensuite (with the added luxury of a Western toilet – there are some sacrifices I just won’t make), pay between 80 to 200 Yuan for a double room (about $10- $30 Aussie dollars, depending on the province) and spend the money I’m saving on accommodation on all the other great experiences that China has to offer. But it’s more than just the savings. It’s about meeting other travellers, swapping stories at

the bar and learning the best way of getting to a destination/which train to catch/how to get a visa quickly/ which restaurant has the best hotpot/how to pronounce Zhangjiajie (ok – I haven’t actually mastered that one yet), all this information is imparted freely and without the bias of a hotel concierge. What’s more, in China, there’s no guarantee that the hotel concierge even speaks English. So here in China, luxury may be craved - a hot bath, a roast dinner - but for the next 2 months the benefits of the hostel environment win out over the luxuries I’ve left behind everytime. Besides...the beers are cheaper in the hostels and I’ll have my hit of luxury when I get to Langkawi - there’d better be chocolates on the pillows.




HOTS WHERE Xingping Guangxi Province WHEN Sumer is OK but very, very hot and humid. Spring and Autumn would make hiking and bike riding a more pleasant experience. If you go in Summer be prepared to be hot and exhausted....constantly! HOW Even from Guilin you have to go through Yangshuo to get to Xingping (pronounced, Shingping). By bus or by bamboo raft it’s your choice although the bus is much cheaper. WHY Xingping is old. It’s like Yangshuo but without the tourists. If you really want some quiet time in a beautiful location, head here first and save Yangshuo for after.



Someone call the Stig! Call the BBC!

Call Jeremy Clarkson! We’ve found the ultimate Top Gear challenge in a place whose name I have no idea how to pronounce but with a road of 99 hair raising bends, just begging to be closed for a day and handed over to the man in the white jumpsuit.



I’m talking about Tianmenshen Mountain in the bus and BOOM, were delivered into the Zhangjiajie (yep, good luck with pronouncing throws of ‘tourist central’. Thousands of tourthat!) ists posing for photos, eating sweet corn on sticks and ice-creams, posing for photos and In the middle of the city you can spend a dashing up and down the dreaded 999 steps whopping (by Chinese standards) 238RMB like demons possessed. to ride the longest cable car in the world to the top of Mt Tianmenshen for an experi- Most of you who have read other issues will by ence you won’t soon forget. Once you get now know that heights, and particularly high off the cable car you can get an open seated steps are a bit of a problem for me. I’m kind of ski lift up to the Monastery or you can walk OK if they zigzag but when they go straight up, the path of the overhanging walkway which and steeply, I have a melt-down. I was looking snakes it’s way along the contours of the side through my 300m lens at the people nearing of the mountains. It seems the Chinese just the top and could see some of them practilove to build walkways in the most impos- cally walking on their hands and knees. With sible of places, far from the perils of the no- words of encouragement from Dave I grabbed torious wooden planks nailed into the side of on to the hand rail and started tentatively up Mt Huashan ( in Shaanxi Province), this walk the first few steps. Then the handrail disap(once you get over the initial fear) was actu- peared (Who builds a hand rail with gaps in ally quite a pleasurable experience, even for it??) and I panicked and, much to the amuseme. ment of the other Chinese tourists around me, headed back down. My support team (Dave) We initially wanted to see “Heaven’s Gate” now a distant blob, running up the steps withthe hole in the mountain that is the main out a care in the world. Show-off. attraction but we ended up spending most of the day on the very top of the mountain I sat happily at the base of the steps watching walking around the overhanging pathway the hoards pose for their photos and grinning and taking in the spectacular scenery. We did as a huge grey cloud floated through the gapa whole circuit which took most of the morn- ing hole obscuring the top of the mountain ing. Just after lunchtime the cloud rolled in and making for some cool time-lapse footobscuring most of the views and signalling it age...yep. I captured it. See how creative I can was time to catch the cable car back down be when I’m not running up steps. to the halfway point. From there we would jump on one of the buses (included in the ini- So. tial ticket cost) for the ride up the pale brown I propose that the Stig drives from the botribbon which we’d seen zigzagging through tom up to Heaven’s gate and Jeremy catches the mountain from our earlier cable car ride. the cable car. Once there they BOTH have to Supposedly 99 bends (most of them hairpin) climb the 999 steps to the top and the winto get the foot of the 999 steps that will lead, wins! you up to Heaven’s Gate. One careless move by the bus driver and there’d be a bus load Now, where do I find the phone number for of tourists quite literally knocking on heaven the BBC? door! Half an hour of motion sickness later (The Stig would’ve done it quicker) we stepped off 44 SELFINDULGED





Two men pause to have their photo taken at the bottom of the 999 steps. Tienamenshen.







OTS WHERE Yangshuo Guangxi Province (Impressions light show) WHEN The light show is currently running everynight and is a production put together by the same guy who did the 2008 Beijng Olympic opening ceremony. It’s all in Chinese but features over 600 performers on the Li River with the stunning Yangshuo limestone mountains lit up in the background. HOW You can get to Yangshuo from Guilin...approx 17RMB for a one hour bus ride. The ticket for the show are between 160 to 200RMB but it is an awesome experience. WHY Because Yangshuo is awesome. Yes, it’s full of Westerners on the aptly named ‘West St’, but it’s also a very beautiful and ‘happening’ place to hang out. Head to Monkey Janes hostel to pick up a huge inner tube and then sail down the Li River with a cold beer in hand. If you’re lucky a bamboo raft will pick you up and, for a few Yuan will take you back up river. SELFINDULGED 53



OTS WHERE Zhangjiajie National Park The ‘Avatar’ Mountains WHEN Beautiful with every season although the steep walkways would be treacherous in Winter! HOW Bus from Zhangjiajie city... only about 40 minutes and 25RMB. Entrace fee is 245RMB however, there is a hostel actually in the park. You can stay there and explore properly...there is NO way you could see all of the park in just one day. WHY Because these are the mountains that James Cameron based his Avatar ‘Hallelujah’ Mountains on. Make sure you also check out the Bailong elevator.


f l e s

INDULGED’S The www is a huge resource of cools sites and info especially when it comes to travel and photography. Each issue I’ll be featuring 6 cool websites that I use/like or have recently discovered. Think your site should be here? Send me an email.



CLICK ON THE IMAGE TO VISIT THE SITE. HOSTELWORLD An absolute must for anyone using the hostel network. Very quick and easy to book and you’re invited to leave a hostel review after your stay to help other travellers.


I’d like to meet this guy and shake his hand. The amount of info he offers on his site is fantastic...and all free. If I travel anywhere by train I always check Seat 61 first.


You’d be crazy to travel anywhere without getting travel insurance first. We found 1 Cover to have the best deal when it came to RTW extended travel. Even my cat is covered if something happens to her while I’m away.


This is a great resource to look up destinations around China. Photos, info and prices are all listed when you type in a destination.


Specifically the photography section. All sorts of tips and info is available if you want to learn how to take better travel pics.


A chinese man showed me this cool site. You type in your message and hit translate and instantly your words appear in Chinese...or any other language that you choose. Very cool. SELFINDULGED 57



WHERE Dwarf Empire! Kunming. WHEN As far as I know the show is on twice a day during peak season and the Dwarf Empire is open all year. HOW Best to organise a private driver from your hotel or hostel....could be tricky to find it otherwise. WHY Um....well. Why not? This community of small people have been savvy enough to earn a living dressing up and putting on a show. The tightrope walk was pretty cool, the rest of the show was kind of like watching a very bad school play. Everything about the place is bizarre and through Western eyes, ‘politically incorrect’. But, before you judge, realise that by visiting the show you’re supporting a community of people who, in China, would have no other means of supporting themselves. And no, they don’t live in the tiny houses...although they do hangout there between shows.

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Issue 5 will be coming to you from the road (hopefully). Can’t say where ‘cos we don’t know where we’re going! Due out on the 1st of October 2011


“There are no foreign lands. It is the traveler only who is foreign.� ~ Robert Louis Stevenson