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THE WANDERER

CONTENTS

WANDERER

The Wanderer is a new student magazine with simple aims. We want to provide a

space for entertaining and informative travel journalism, and we want to look good doing it.

It’s been clear from working on this first Oxford Student Travel

Magazine ● Issue 1 ● Trinity Term 2009 ● www.thewanderermagazine.co.uk

some remarkable escapades. Whether through independent travel, work placements or research projects, our contributors have produced articles in response to such diverse experiences as fighting forest fires in Indonesia, teaching classes of eighty children in Malawi and celebrating a religious festival with a group of Bolivian miners. Alongside these, sections dedicated to photography and artwork have allowed space for some beautiful and striking images inspired by travel. We only hope that the magazine is as much fun to read and look at as it has been to put together. At the same time, these pieces have been

chosen because they offer some insight

right and what we’ve done wrong, so

into the contexts surrounding a particular

please let us know your thoughts,

place or event. I think that one of the

feelings and emotions by emailing

strengths of student travel journalism

editor@thewanderermagazine.co.uk.

generally is that it can often give a fresh perspective on issues that tend to get

Finally, I’d like to say a big thanks to all

recycled as predictable formulae in the

the team who put this magazine to-

media. Our higher aspiration for The

gether, but especially to Matt and

Wanderer is that by publishing personal

Claire for giving up a lot of time to

accounts

formatting and design.

about

different

people

and

places, the magazine will provide a novel and challenging commentary on wider issues. As a new magazine, we are particularly keen to get feedback on what we’ve done

Lake Baikal

3

Over a mile deep, only 7 degrees Celsius and so clear that swimmers get vertigo. Eithne Bradley describes her visit to this geological anomaly in the heart of Siberia.

Mining on the outskirts of Potosi

5

Toby Harris spends a night with a group of Bolivian miners as they celebrate the night of the earth mother.

El Dorado: a portrait of the American South

7

Swapping the East Coast for Arkansas, Olivia Williams explores an unfamiliar side of America.

17

Scrap-Book from Borneo

19

21

13

Images from Cornwall’s coast as Daisy Johnson takes a break from the bubble. (Cover)

City to Sea

15

Moving from Seville to the Atlantic coast, Katie Jackson captures contrasting sides of Spain. (Right)

People’s Park

Letty Cooke and Sophie Harris talk to Dan Tyler, Advocacy Advisor for IRC, about the problems facing women in conflict zones.

Development Issues

23

After his own experience teaching in Malawi, Tom Woodword considers some of the difficulties with providing an education in one of the world’s poorest countries.

ew i v r e t n i n a Including Tyler, with Dan r for the 25 Adviso Advocacy nal Rescue Int27ernatio tee Commit

Leila Molana-Allen takes a tour of one of the strangest and most notorious prisons in the world. (Right)

Spontaneous Escape

Alice Mumford collects her thoughts and sketches after her rainforest field work in Borneo.

Interview

San Pedro Penitentiary

9

A film still taken in this Shanghai green-spot paints a tranquil scene from China’s largest city. (Right)

City to Sea Moving from Seville to the Atlantic coast, Katy Jackson captures contrasting sides of Spain.

15

San Pedro Penitentiary Leila MolanaAllen takes a tour of one of the strangest and most notorious prisons in the world.

9

Environmental Issues

Susan Cheyne gets caught up in the blaze of a forest fire in Indonesia.

How to…Inter-rail

Edward Anderson outlines his guide to getting round Europe.

Letter From Abroad

28

David Woolf reports back from the international community learning languages in Toulouse.

Contents

edition that Oxford students get up to

People’s Park A film still taken in this Shanghai green-spot paints a tranquil scene from China’s largest city.

17

2


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THE WANDERER

CONTENTS

The Wanderer is a new student magazine with simple aims. We want to provide a space for entertaining and informative travel journalism, and we want to look good doing it. It’s been clear from working on this first some remarkable escapades. Whether through independent travel, work placements or research projects, our contributors have produced articles in response to such diverse experiences as fighting forest fires in Indonesia, teaching classes of eighty children in Malawi and celebrating a religious festival with a group of Bolivian miners. Alongside these, sections dedicated to photography and artwork have allowed space for some beautiful and striking images inspired by travel. We only hope that the magazine is as much fun to read and look at as it has been to put together.

Lake Baikal

3

Over a mile deep, only 7 degrees Celsius and so clear that swimmers get vertigo. Eithne Bradley describes her visit to this geological anomaly in the heart of Siberia.

Mining on the outskirts of Potosi

5

Toby Harris spends a night with a group of Bolivian miners as they celebrate the night of the earth mother.

Swapping the East Coast for Arkansas, Olivia Williams explores an unfamiliar side of America.

17

Leila Molana-Allen takes a tour of one of the strangest and most notorious prisons in the world. (Right)

Spontaneous Escape

13

Images from Cornwall’s coast as Daisy Johnson takes a break from the bubble. (Cover)

City to Sea

15

Moving from Seville to the Atlantic coast, Katie Jackson captures contrasting sides of Spain. (Right)

keen to get feedback on what we’ve

into the contexts surrounding a particular

done right and what we’ve done wrong,

place or event. I think that one of the

so please let us know your thoughts,

strengths of student travel journalism

feelings and emotions by emailing

generally is that it can often give a fresh

editor@thewanderermagazine.co.uk.

perspective on issues that tend to get recycled as predictable formulae in the

Finally, I’d like to say a big thanks to all

media. Our higher aspiration for The

the team who put this magazine to-

Wanderer is that by publishing personal

gether, but especially to Matt and

accounts

Claire for giving up a lot of time to

about

different

people

and

places, the magazine will provide a novel

formatting and design.

and challenging commentary on wider issues.

A film still taken in this Shanghai green-spot paints a tranquil scene from China’s largest city. (Right)

Scrap-Book from Borneo

19

Alice Mumford collects her thoughts and sketches after her rainforest field work in Borneo.

City to Sea Moving from Seville to the Atlantic coast, Katy Jackson captures contrasting sides of Spain.

15

Interview

21

Letty Cooke and Sophie Harris talk to Dan Tyler, Advocacy Advisor for IRC, about the problems facing women in conflict zones.

San Pedro Penitentiary

Development Issues

23

San Pedro Penitentiary

9

As a new magazine, we are particularly

chosen because they offer some insight

People’s Park

El Dorado: a portrait of the American South

7

At the same time, these pieces have been

Contents

edition that Oxford students get up to

After his own experience teaching in Malawi, Tom Woodword considers some of the difficulties with providing an education in one of the world’s poorest countries.

Leila MolanaAllen takes a tour of one of the strangest and most notorious prisons in the world.

9

Environmental Issues

24

Susan Cheyne gets caught up in the blaze of a forest fire in Indonesia.

How to…Inter-rail

25

Edward Anderson outlines his guide to getting round Europe.

Letter From Abroad

26

David Woolf reports back from the international community learning languages in Toulouse.

People’s Park A film still taken in this Shanghai green-spot paints a tranquil scene from China’s largest city.

17

2


Lake Baikal FEATURES

THE WANDERER

“The point of Baikal is that it is strange, alien, beautiful” Eithne Bradley writes about her visit to lake Baikal in the heart of Siberia The pain was intense. I couldn‘t feel my feet, my arms were burning with cold, and as I looked down, I realised with a horrible swirl of vertigo that I was hanging twenty feet above the ground. And on the gently shelving pebbles, brightly illuminated, there was a sheep‘s skull, clean and whitely grinning up at me. It was unbearable, my breathing was constricted by the burning cold, my head spinning and terrified by the weird, clear depths that stretched below me. And I‘d only been in Lake Baikal for thirty seconds. It had been a long journey, by train all the way from Estonia, to this strange lake. Most of Russia was flat, green and dull, but on the fifth day I began to notice changes: as the train rocked over Siberia‘s plains, the light changed: the yellow cast in the sunlight cooled and opened out into a rain-washed light of strange clarity.

Features 3

I was drunk again on arrival in Irkutsk. The pair of Buryat women who were in the process of kidnapping their communal grandson had opened up the moonshine, and had a bunch of wild garlic leaves they were forcing me to eat with salt in between fiery shots. I was thrown off the train at 5am into a thick fog, and completely dazed, spattered with bits of leaf garlic, could not even find my way off the station platform. But this city – lovely, timbered and fairytale though it is – was not my goal. I was going a hundred miles north. Seven hours of being bumped around over the unpaved roads, as gradually the forest gave way to soft open fields of blue-grey grass under a matching sky. Seven hours of stopping off in Soviet

ghost towns to deliver post and find out if the inhabitants were still alive. Seven hours of remixed Buryat pop before we struggled over the peak of a bleak mountain pass, looked down, and saw the sea stretching right to the horizon, lost in a cold mist. It wasn‘t the sea, of course. It was Baikal, geological oddity of Asia: over a mile deep, seven degrees Celsius, and absolutely teeming with life. Unlike similar lakes, such as Tanganyika and Victoria, it supports life because it‘s too cold for the toxins, which make its sister lakes too acid for anything to live there, to react with one another. How very Russian. Meanwhile, a curious species of microscopic crustacean filters the water, which makes it so clear that vertigo is the swimmer‘s problem, as the lake bottom is often visible up to forty feet down. It is home to thousands of species found nowhere else, ranging from seals to fish and


THE WANDERER

FEATURES

RUSSIA Lake Baikal

invertebrates of extraordinary design, in order to cope with the cold. Weird species of fatty, blind-eyed fish turn up on the menu at Nikita‘s place on Olkhon Island, where we decided to spend a couple of days. Nikita‘s is a kind of pine-wood hippy commune overrun by dogs and feral children, where all the guests eat together at scrubbed board tables under traditional Russian folk sayings cut out of – yes, more pine wood – and nailed to the walls. Porridge, especially with local berries, turns up with depressing regularity, even at dinner. There is nowhere else to eat in this tiny village on Olkhon Island, unless you count Bounty bars from the post office. There is also very little to do of an organised variety, unless you really enjoy more bumping about on paved roads to go and see a sacred rock three hours away. But that is not the point of Baikal.

found it more unsettling: it is difficult, in a place so remote - so other - not to feel on the very edge of human knowledge – half in, half out of the wilderness, the spirit world. Speaking of spirits, on the last evening, we went down and sat on the shore with a bottle of vodka and a guitar. Russians and tourists of every nationality set about the only Beatles songs they knew. The moon rose, huge and bright, reflected on the black water. Gradually, people left until there were only four of us sitting round the embers of a fire, which was when a Buryat man, a stranger, joined us and without introduction, began to tell us a story about the Old Man who allegedly lives in the depths of the lake, controlling its moods. ‗The Old Man didn‘t like the Russians,‘ he said, ‗all wanting to find out everything. How can they think they can know everything? They all came from Moscow with depth-charges and plumb lines and nets. Well, I was on a scientific boat once when I was young. It was twilight and they were hauling up the nets, when we saw – what do you think it was? – a golden sphere, rushing about in the water. The Russians dropped the nets and shouted. I was happy, because the net fell back in, and all the fish escaped, and the Old Man was happy, because the Russians left. And when we came back to Olkhon, we found there were holes in the hull of the boat.‘ He stopped for a moment, and smiled. ‗Old Man wouldn‘t let the Russians look. And now look at the Russians, eh?‘

The point of Baikal is that it is alien, strange, beautiful. The light is indescribable: bluish, greyish, clear to the point of hurting human eyes. The high mountains rise up on the opposite side of the lake, utterly inhospitable, a wilderness. There is a mesmerising quality to the water and its reflections; I could have sat on the tall cliff beside Nikita‘s and watched the strangely still lake until only the moon lit it. When the moon sets, we are so far from the lights of a city that the galaxy above looks faintly pink, and there are so many stars that the sky seems frosted.

There is a sense here of being at the very edge, not only of the modern world, but of the human world, where the scope for the weird and dare I say it, the magical, is wider and clearer, like the sky. At every fork in the path, on every tree by the wayside, people have tied bright ribbons, the outward traces of the shamanist religion that the Soviets tried to repress, but failed. While sending head shamans to the Gulag worked in the Thirties, later the government found the nomadic Buryats resistant to collectivization and modernisation, so they gave up and left them mostly alone. Finding a shrine like this may be a sudden reminder of human beings, but I

The moon looked faintly golden as we made our way back over the cliff path. It was a fitting end to our time at Baikal, whose unruffled wilderness stretched out into the night, beautiful and inhuman, right to those hills, frozen and dreaming in the Siberian darkness.

Features

There is a sense here of being at the very edge, not only of the modern world, but of the human world

Article & Photograph: Eithne Bradley

4


FEATURES

THE WANDERER

Mining on the Outskirt 3.32am - stranded and dying on the night of the "earth mother" "Julio, I need bed. I´m not a Bolivian miner, I can´t breathe here. I´m so tired and I can´t breathe. We go? We go?" The swirl and song of drunken, incomprehensible conversation washes over me. "Toby, you´re a coward. Be a man." The veteran miner and guide pats me on the back lovingly, then, cheeks full of coca leaves, necks down another shot of "Whisky Boliviano" (basically 96% alcohol which somehow doesn´t kill you, mixed with water). He returns to his compañeros, telling a leader of another cooperative that he can help his men if he puts ladders in for tourists. Julio is an arrogant man who hates gringos so much he ironically named his tour company "GreenGo" but he speaks French, English, Spanish and Quechua and he knows every miner in this cooperative and many others. I stand up, shake my back. Fuck it, give me another shot - I´ll have a cigarette - start making an effort and asking these incredibly hardy people about their lives. Alcohol, fuel.

Features 5

La

Pachamama´s

There are two deities which the miners must appease and they operate in a duality. La Pachamama is the earth-mother, perhaps the only god I can kind of believe in - they must reciprocate for what they are taking from her here. Each cooperative is run on democratic principles, shares everything and provides pensions for the families of dead miners. No one owns La Pachamama and no one owns the metals still left in the mountain either, so this is a religious transaction intimately bound up with the financial transaction and both are taking place knee-deep in blood. That´s the reason for the other deity El Tio (the uncle) - the devil. This mine has a clay model of him which they respectfully douse with alcohol, just like the ground is made sodden with offers to the Pachamama. El Tio has a white beard and marble eyes, a version of the Satan of 16th century Spain who has taken his place in this logic system. He´s got a massive red dick. Pay respect to Satan and he´ll rape La Pachamama like the Spaniards raped this continent. Eight million corpses. Then the La Pachamama will give you tin and silver and zinc, and together they might just protect you.

It‘s pretty repulsive stuff, but I participate and throw away my ethics in order to get deeper.

We´re in a stony shack, crammed with miners on the edge of a mine 4.5ks up on the outskirts of Potosi. There is no food or water available. These miners have stayed here all night, but the rest of the cooperative is deep in the mine, sitting in the dark, cramped spaces where they work by explosions, pneumatic drills and by hand all day 00.47am womb

some kind of anthropology -

tortured

The culture/ethnology experience meter is spinning into sublime new states of joy and understanding. Somehow I´m sitting in silence around the offering the miners have made to the Pachamama, sharing coca and alcohol and cigarettes - they hold soft, solemn conversations - it´s warm down here too. The offering is on a blanket with a llama foetus in the centre, piled up with an array of fake hundredeuro notes (they don‘t trust the dollar), coca leaves, trinkets and wax - tonight they are worshipping, with a faith born from desperation, with a religion like no other... I´m so fucking stoked to be here, man! The first gringo ever? Julio thinks so. Better attempt

"¿Estas bien?" "Si...si" I, tentatively Bruce Parry style - attempt to offer coca leaves and fuck it up three times. Each time I am solemnly corrected but there´s a warm, fuzzy feeling in the air. Everyone is getting drunk. This religion isn´t cold, cruel and torturous like that of the priests of Urizen, bound by chains in their cathedrals and boardrooms, it´s different but "Julio, I want to talk but I have nothing to say. I can´t relate to these people." "Toby, tranquilo just sit. Think." I look around at the indigenous faces, lit by the lights on their helmets which lie on the dusty dusty rocky floor and try to think. 8.24pm - pre-game! "They want to know if you have any sisters!!" The shack is a bubbling hive of ass-slapping, coca leaves and slow drinking. "I do, but she´s only ten!" A bewildering array of crazy responses echoes back from the miners. It‘s okay, because ―she‘ll grow‖. Julio gets up, an old friend slaps his ass, then points at me when he turns around. Some sort of Andean trance is on the radio. It´s kind of good "Okay, fuck you!" I say. "Do you have any


THE WANDERER

FEATURES

ts of Potosi sisters?" "Yeah, yeah," someone says, "he does! He has two!" "Ah facil, amigo - they want my fucking passaporte!" It´s all a joke. All they talk about is sex. They question me relentlessly and I find myself understanding that the way in is via chauvinism. You a virgin, boy? This kid is! He masturbates all the time! You fuck any girls in Brazil? I say unspeakable things in reply. It´s pretty repulsive stuff, but I participate and throw away my ethics in order to get deeper ¡I´m sorry! But this white weakling attempting a feminist lecture at these group of men, each one working nine hours a day, six days a week, in horrible conditions without adequate food or water, to support their wives and children, all of them certain to die before fifty if they don´t get out of here? You try it. They tell me if I get too drunk and fall asleep they´re going to rape me.

Potosi

There´s a chorus of "Si!" and "¡Compañeros!", "¡Amigos!" - a rapid press of hugs and handshakes and proffered drinks and cigarettes spilling everywhere. Of course, the arrogantly intellectual Marxist thinks to himself, that statement is not completely correct, but this pretentious twat from Oxford has somehow managed to convey finally he is their comrade, their brother in the struggle contra-capitalismo, contraimperialismo, la lucha para democracia, socialismo!! We talk about MAS and I try to explain to them the mentality of their enemy, the United States. I am not a gringo apparently - only Americans. They of course don´t know too much about the English-committed genocides in North America and Ireland, the concentration camps we used first in the Boer War and again against the Mau-Mau uprising (and that was in the fifties)... I explain and they understand - they know - that around the world there are people also struggling against our mindlessly destructive enemy - the machine that bankers, managers and corporate slayers chain themselves to for the sake of gold. For the sake of El Tio´s curse. El Tio´s blessing.

I tell them they are an inspiration but I know that most of the tourists are there to vicariously soak up some pain and misery

3.35am - near-death revolution rave Three or four hours scrambling around the mines with four professional guides, visiting different groups of miners, had almost destroyed me. I´m not a healthy man, and the resulting high blood pressure actually helps with the altitude sickness, but by the end I was tripping and stumbling with fatigue, banging my helmet and dislodging the light every five minutes... But that was before, look at the time, we´re back in the shack again and it´s getting cold. No more fucking chauvinism - I need to try and communicate with them properly - Julio could translate but he would´ve mistranslated - not many opinionated individuals can translate politics accurately - in fact - none can. Their Spanish was thick with Quechua and their mouths packed with coca - mine was ruined by exhaustion - but I did it, managed to make a connection, with this set of words: "En Inglaterra, es muy mal estar patriotica, y en los Estados Unidos tambien, porque el imperialismo, si, pero, en ¡¡Bolivia es bueno estar patriotica!!"

I tell them they are an inspiration for workers in England but I know that most of the tourists who do the day trip are there to vicariously soak up some pain and misery. But there´s joy here, too. One miner makes me give him my email and I add www.socialistworld.net as well, too tired even to remember to put the Spanish address. He gives me his Bolivar football team scarf. He wants to kiss me, I can tell. 5.41am sleeeeeeeeeeeep The three other rooky guides Julio has taken along are utterly tabled, falling about the place as we stagger back to where our shoes are and then take a taxi back in the town. Finally, it´s finished. My head rocks with new levels of exhaustion, coca-high and alcohol. My lungs are fucked. That was the hardest night of my life, but it was worth it.

Features

There´s an offering here as well of a llama foetus, wax money, coca and trinkets, and the floor is sodden with alcohol. It´s a totally different vibe to later on. I had been invited to share this day with them for a few quids worth of booze and that night I took on that hateful persona to get in but enough of this, let´s get back to it.

BOLIVIA

Article: Toby Harris

6


FEATURES

THE WANDERER

El Dorado a portrait of the Ame Walking through Harvard Yard a couple of summers ago, a good-looking boy complimented me on my Sonic Youth t-shirt. His name was Ben and he was from Arkansas. Skipping forward several months, I was finishing off my gap year escapades back in North America. I hadn‘t seen Ben since we had said goodbye on the last night of the Harvard Summer School. I went to stay in his house in the little town of El Dorado, south Arkansas. Astonishingly, there was a tiny airport for El Dorado. I blinked and missed the runway, as our twelve seater tin-can shuddered to a standstill. The South is aggressively, dizzyingly hot in August; a state of affairs exacerbated, I think, by the ferocious air conditioning. The shock of bounding out of a glacial car or café, into the street, takes some getting used to. I had been to America several times before with my parents, but with them all I had seen were fashionable New York restaurants, the Lincoln Memorial and the museums of Massachusetts. I was therefore delighted to find myself in what I believe was bonafide, insular, Bush-voting Middle America.

Features 7

When Ben had described to me, as we sat having a milkshake in Boston the year before, how much unpleasantness he had encountered when he had campaigned for the Democrats in El Dorado, I hadn‘t really grasped what he meant. Chat to some people in Wal-Mart for a few minutes and it becomes obvious. They would rather be hacked to death with bayonets (which incidentally are widely available over the counter in El Dorado) than vote Democrat. Even though Bill Clinton is just about their only famous export, Arkansan people are reluctant to claim him as their own. I noticed their detachment from Bill, when I brought him up in conversation. I suppose it could have been Monica Lewinsky that made him a turn-off, or just the re-occurring keenness to move me on to the topic of the British royal family. Ben‘s mother‘s colleague looked at me with such sadness and confusion, when I broke it to her that I had met neither William, nor Harry.

The fact that I had not met these two eligible bachelors, I think made her feel sorry for me. When I told her that I was travelling on to Tennessee, she gave me the number of her nephew and told me that he would show me around Nashville in his car. I must have allowed my reluctance to show on my face. ―Don‘t worry, hun, he‘s a good Christian man‖, she reassured. There were incidents that confirmed parts of my dream-world El Dorado as one part Tennessee Williams play, two parts Jerry Springer, a splash of Michael Moore documentary and a dash of Louis Theroux‘s Weird Weekends. I love Tennessee Williams, so I was beside myself when a proud but faded Southern belle sprung from his narrative and kissed me on the cheek, smearing lipstick across it. Her name was Miss Marsha. Her beauty had coarsened but she still craved the affection of any man nearby. I never met her husband. As an all-round beauty expert, she offered enthusiastically to do something with my unglamorous, long, brown hair. I was terrified that with her charm and pushiness, she might override my protestations. I would end up with the starched bouffant towers that she had given her other Dolly Parton-alike customers. With my Wednesday Adams colouring, I fear she would have been disappointed by the result; less fluffy Southern sex kitten, more Amy Winehouse after a few days cold turkey. My Jerry Springer moment is hard to choose, for there were quite a few, but the most spectacular was in the cinema where I saw a proper all-American catfight. Unwittingly we had planted ourselves down to watch a film between two rival teenage gangs. The police were eventually called and when we went outside, there were two stragglers from fracas left, pulling at each others‘ hair extensions in the car park. I waited for that burly bouncer from Jerry Springer to come and call time out. If Springer would have had ample material, Michael Moore would have been in irate raptures at the ease of acquiring potentially lethal weapons. On my first day, we went to a thrift store. Whilst I was innocently perusing the stock, the proprietor asked my age. My being over eighteen, he offered me the choice of a crossbow or a bazooka from the wall above me. I could have walked around town that day


THE WANDERER

erican South

FEATURES

USA

El Dorado, AR

with a crossbow! It therefore should not have shocked me so much that, as we drove past KFC, Ben reminded me of a girl we met, whose boyfriend was in prison. The reason for his imprisonment was armed robbery in that KFC. The robbery had gone wrong and the cashier had been killed. It was depressing enough that anyone had been killed there, but the thought that he died defending the till of a KFC seemed bleak beyond belief.

Being gay certainly did not square with the ―rebel‖ or ―Dixie‖ spirit which is the Southern ideal, neither of course did being black. We went to a café for lunch and we were served by a boy who went to school with Ben and Will. He seemed pleasant, if a touch dim. I wasn‘t really listening to them catching up, but I looked up from my chips when Will asked the name of this boy‘s new dog. It was ―Nigger‖. Pleased at what he thought was an amusing name, he left us to our lunch. Having seen the Ku Klux Klan graffiti on the bridge outside town, I began to doubt that the graffiti was as outdated as I had hoped.

Of course, I haven‘t mentioned the kindness of many people I met, but when I have to summarise my experience in El Dorado, these are my overriding memories. Our familiarity with American culture can make it difficult to engage with some of its differences, but I would recommend a trip off the beaten track to explore this country in all its diversity. Article: Olivia Williams

Features

The kind of bigotry you see in one of those Louis Theroux documentaries on white supremacists or Christian fanatics, was in evidence in quite a few of the people I encountered. Ben, Will and I were standing by a statue in the town square, when a car drove past in the middle of the day and a guy shouted out the window, ―faggots!‖. I looked around. I looked at Ben, I looked at Will. I laughed in disbelief; ―do you know that guy?‖. They laughed in embarrassment, ―no‖. I was still confused: ―what? Why are you, why are we faggots? I don‘t understand‖. Apparently, it happened quite often, for their clothing and lack of beard, tattoo or enough brawn. I felt weird and indignant for the rest of the day.

www.buffwear.co.uk

8


FEATURES

Prison and cocaine in Bolivia: Leila Molana-Allen follows in the footsteps of Rusty Young and Thomas McFadden Backpacking in Bolivia this summer, I did something I had never imagined I would do – voluntarily had myself incarcerated, just for the fun of it. While stranded in the Peruvian mountains for three days due to bus strikes, we had heard stories about a prison where you could bribe your way in, and spend the day in a cocaine-fuelled haze. It was pretty tricky to get in, but we were determined not to leave La Paz without giving it a go. The prison is the notorious San Pedro penitentiary. Built on prime real estate in central La Paz, it faces on to San Pedro square, one of the

Features 9

THE WANDERER

capital‘s most illustrious postcodes. From the outside it looks like a gated community for the Bolivian elite. Only the guards stationed outside hint at what lies beyond the high white walls. Home to around 1,500 inmates, the prison feels like a small town complete with alleyways and courtyards. The accommodation is divided into eight sections of varying luxury – Posta, where we were, is the five and a half star section, built twenty years ago by drug lords who wanted better conditions, and could afford to donate a whole new enclosure to house just 70 high-ranking inmates. Wives and children live alongside their menfolk in San Pedro, free to come and go as they please. The children leave for school each day as usual, while the women go and meet friends in town. Many have commented that San Pedro is a somewhat cushy prison experience, and indeed, that the women and children who live there are far better off than those living in poverty on the outside.


THE WANDERER

FEATURES

BOLIVIA La Paz

Young used secret recording and photographic devices to document Mcfadden‘s story.

In San Pedro, money is everything.

Those who cannot afford a place to live are forced to sleep on the street, and spend their every penny on the highly addictive cocaine base smoked by most inmates. Or else they depend on the charity of the section‘s inhabitants and its elected delegate, who often have an apartment next to the chapel for the homeless as part of their own rudimentary welfare system. To earn the money to sustain themselves, inmates also have to work, and jobs range from owning a shop or a restaurant to running the lucrative tour business. The Bolivian government has officially denied that San Pedro runs on such a system, but since the release of Rusty Young‘s 2003 book chronicling the incarceration of British inmate Thomas McFadden, they have been hard pressed to contain the situation. Journalist Rusty Young spent three months living in San Pedro with Thomas McFadden, a Briton convicted of trying to smuggle cocaine out of La Paz airport, on the pretence of being his cousin, and later his lawyer. Together they wrote a book documenting the horrors and intrigues of the world‘s strangest prison. The hostel we stayed at in central La Paz was plastered with signs: ―Please do not ask us about San Pedro prison tours. These are illegal. We cannot help you.‖ Lying around everywhere, however, were well-thumbed photocopies of Young‘s book which were available from the main desk, and information on where to go, who to ask for, and what to expect was always available from those who had visited that day, coming down in the bar. We went to the side entrance, and, as instructed by yesterday‘s visitors, said we were friends of a certain Professor Plum, and had tried to call him but couldn‘t get through. The guards barely reacted, but told us someone would be along to fetch us soon – no tickets or forms. Just a faded stamp on the wrist, and we were in. All they asked us was whether we had any mobile phones or cameras – technology is banned for visitors since

While it was difficult to trust our hosts completely, we were told we had nothing to fear from any of the Bolivian prisoners who stared as we entered. They wouldn‘t touch us; we were worth so much in revenue that the guards would have no qualms executing any inmate who tried to harm a tourist on the spot. We are taken to the biggest (and priciest) apartment in Posta, and after climbing three stories worth of ladders, we find ourselves in a kitchen looking out over the rooftops of La Paz. This room belongs to Colonel Mustard, the resident big boss of the prison‘s narcotics pack. I ask him whether he feels lucky to have such a beautiful view. ―Are you joking? It makes it ten times worse. Freedom is so near, and yet still that step too far.‖ Mustard is the real deal – he has smuggled drugs all over the world, been on death row in the Middle-East, and negotiated his way out of it. And he‘s about to do it again. In a stroke o f e v e n handedness one might not expect from a developing county‘s legal system, if a case has not come to trial by the time the accused has served three years and three months, they are free to go. Locked up on a drugs charge he knows should see him convicted for 20 years, Mustard has played the system to perfection. He claims he only speaks one language – his native dialect – despite being fluent in several, and as the Bolivian government refuse to incur the considerable costs of finding and flying over a translator, the man who has imported illegal substances from most parts of the world cannot be tried; the Colonel will be out before Christmas.

We were worth so much in revenue that the guards would have no qualms executing any inmate who tried to harm a tourist.

Features

In San Pedro, money is everything. Convicts must pay a fee when they are incarcerated, and that‘s just the start of it. Cells are not assigned – having paid the admission fee for whichever section they can afford, inmates then go about finding an apartment to rent or buy.

Professor Plum, the Colonel‘s second-incommand, takes over. He‘s only in for possession, but clearly loves to bask in his boss‘

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reflected glory. ―Of course we love the attention. We‘re all arrogant pricks here; it‘s what we live for. What else have we got here? You guys keep us going.‖ Just as our attention starts to wane, another prisoner, Reverend Green, takes us on a tour of the section, proudly displaying his quarters, fully equipped with a camping stove, cable TV, and a tower of unmentionable DVDs. His is one of only four rooms in the section that has its own shower head – a huge luxury in a place where gangs stalk the streets, and every trip to the isolated public bathrooms could be your last.

Then Captain Scarlett begins his crack-induced soliloquy. Some of it seems obvious, while other elements stretch the bounds of credulity. But everyone sits silently and listens, knowing dues must be paid – no one‘s getting their hands on anything until we‘ve seen the show, and digested his life story. Lounging on his bed, and on the children‘s‘ toys scattered on the floor, we put on some music and pass around the straws, cards and DVD cases that are stacked in the corner. His charming girlfriend offers us all refreshments, and goes to make us sandwiches and soft drinks, even making special allowances for the two vegetarian girls. Then the cocaine is handed round – two good lines cost just over £1. ―You pay for the stuff‖ he tells us, ―but everything else is out treat. You‘re our guests here, and we‘re very happy to have you.‖ And I believe him. The two met at one of the parties thrown to help inmates meet women: there is a strong belief in some circles that a San Pedro inmate, and particularly a westerner, is a good catch. She deals for him on the outside, walking sizeable quantities of cocaine out of the prison (and the money back in) on a daily basis, for the backpackers who‘ve been to visit and can‘t resist getting their hands on just a little bit more, despite the obvious risks.

When they ask us whether anyone fancies ‗a cup of tea‘ — their code for cocaine — they make it clear it‘s entirely optional, and we‘re welcome to stay and chat for longer instead.

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In the courtyard I bump into Posta‘s elected delegate – like most of them, he is an expolitician, imprisoned for corruption, who‘s found a way to continue his livelihood on the inside. Next we go to see the isolation cells. Holes have been dug out at the top, and inquisitive heads poke through, keen to meet us. Green tells us most people are there for missing one too many early morning roll-calls, and can climb out to get food and go to the bathroom as long as the guards don‘t see them. The real solitary section, on the other side of the prison, is a different story. As the guards don‘t provide anything, if you don‘t have any friends to bring you food when you‘re in there, you starve.

Some of the purest cocaine in the world is made in laboratories deep in the heart of the gaol. When they ask us whether anyone fancies ‗a cup of tea‘ – their code for cocaine — they make it clear it‘s entirely optional, and we‘re welcome to stay in the main room and chat for longer instead. About half the assembled group decide to go, and we‘re escorted to another western inmate‘s apartment: Captain Scarlett. Two American girls who are already in there start shouting at our host, saying they‘ve paid and they want longer in there on their own – they are immediately asked to leave. ―Too many questions, they were making us uncomfortable. That‘s not how we do things here.‖

I spend the next few hours talking animatedly with his partner about the best places to go out in Brazil, and playing with his daughter, who seems healthy, happy, and utterly doted upon. Children and wives are actually surprisingly safe in San Pedro – there is a sense that they are the guardian angels of the place, and are sacred, not to be touched. Indeed, the inmates have their own ways of making sure it stays that way. As they all have televisions, they often know exactly who‘s coming to the prison before they turn up, and what they‘ve been convicted of. Rapists and paedophiles are not tolerated. In one of the more horrifying scenes from Young‘s book, McFadden relates how three young men convicted of raping and murdering a young girl are beaten and drowned in ‗La Piscina‘, the public swimming pool


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FEATURES

BOLIVIA La Paz

It‘s widely known that San Pedro is the place to go for ‗tea‘, as they call it, and is infinitely preferable to the secret Gringos-only bar ‗36‘, where beer is served with a line, and the coke is cut with so much speed you can‘t sleep for two days. You could always pick out the ones who had made that mistake the next morning, twitching slightly as they tried to force down their breakfast. But while some visitors obviously go just for the coke, for most the experience is about a lot more than sitting in room snorting white powder. It‘s difficult to describe what it‘s like to spend the day with people who‘ve done things you‘ve grown up being taught to condemn. Were these people evil, incredible or just insane? For days beforehand I felt slightly sick when I thought about getting stuck in there, and considered bailing out. But I was determined not to back out – I knew it would be worth it, and we‘d heard that the authorities were beginning to get uncomfortable and the tours would soon be shut down; this was probably our only chance. We were in so fast that I barely had time to process what was happening before I realised we were locked inside a third world prison.

The group of western narcotics smugglers who run the tours call themselves the ‗Seven Deadly Sins‘, each taking one as their moniker. The ‗entrance fee‘ is 250 Bolivianos, just under £20, and a far sight higher than McFadden‘s original price of just 20 Bolivianos; the price hike indicates the increasing danger for the inmates and guards as well as visitors since the government banned the tours several years ago after they were branded ―nothing but a cocaine shopping spree.‖ And what do the Sins think about McFadden and Young‘s best-selling book? They are very diplomatic, but it seems clear they don‘t approve, presumably because its release has made it far more difficult for them to continue running their lucrative tour business. ―He was here in his time, and we are here in ours. That wasn‘t our experience of this place, but things change.‖ It won‘t be long before San Pedro is making headlines again - Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt‘s production company have secured the rights to McFadden‘s book. They visited the prison only weeks before I was there, and are planning to release Marching Powder, starring Don Cheadle, in 2010.

Article: Leila MolanaAllen Photography: Rusty Young

Features

which plays a dark role in the prison‘s social justice system.

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spontaneous daisy johnson

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escape

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Photography: Katie Jackson

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ART

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People’s Park Ruobing Wang This image is a still from an experimental art film (“People’s Park”) which investigates how the inhabitants of Shanghai manage and utilize their limited green land. The film is being exhibited alongside work by other emerging Asian artists, exploring massive population expansions in places such as China, and the effect of migration on culture.

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ART

CHINA Shanghai

The exhibition “Jam: Cultural Congestions in Contemporary Asian Art” is at South Hill Park Art Centre in Bracknell, ending April 2009.

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Alice Mumford

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I N T E R V I E W

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with w e i v r e Int ler, y T n a D cy Advoca C R I r o f r Adviso rris a H e i h by Sop ooke C a i t i et and La The young woman in this photograph, Koffy Afa, is pregnant and has been abandoned by her boyfriend. Perhaps her feelKoffy Afa ings of rejection and loneliness are something that most of us can relate to. However, her situation is far more worrying. Not only has she been abandoned by her boyfriend but both her parents are dead and she is anxious for her survival. Unfortunately she is not alone. This photo was taken as part of a collaboration between the International Rescue Committee (IRC) UK and the American photographer and women‟s rights activist Ann Jones. A Global Crescendo: Women‟s Voices from Conflict Zones is an ongoing project which aims to give a voice to women in conflict zones, from Sierra Leone to the Cote d'Ivoire. The women were given digital cameras and asked to record their everyday struggles. It is a moving collection of photos which depicts the women‟s battle for independence within a largely patriarchal society. Dan Tyler, advocacy advisor for IRC, spoke to us about the impressive work that he and the charity do to help women within conflict zones . Given that, even in our own culture, violence against women remains a taboo topic, we wondered how IRC begins to tackle this commonly silenced subject. “That is the challenge” agreed Tyler. “One thing to remember is that culture isn‟t static. All the work that IRC does, from healthcare to long-term counselling for women, is community driven.” IRC does not impose any fixed solutions. Instead, the charity attempts to establish firm relationships with local people. “We don‟t preach or try and change local culture on moral grounds”, said Tyler. Furthermore, IRC recognises that in order to help the women within these communities it also needs to appeal to the men. For this reason, Tyler explained how the charity might approach the issue from a health or economic perspective, which would resonate with men as well as women. The enormity of such a task could seem overwhelming. Tyler told us how IRC copes with the bigger picture. “IRC works on two levels. For example, in the DR Congo we have both international and national staff. 98% of the staff is national”. This means that there are representatives of the charity already working on the ground, within the communities. “When there was an eruption of fighting in


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North Kivu, we were already placed,” continued Tyler. “Of course, there was an immediate emergency humanitarian response, such as the distribution of non-food items, shelter and assistance within the camps.” Nevertheless, IRC is careful not to neglect the long-term problems affecting women. “We run health clinics within a number of areas in DR Congo, providing services to women who are affected by rape, for example”. It is an ongoing struggle.

So, what can an ordinary Oxford student do to help? Actually, quite a lot. Violence against women occurs with alarming regularity. It is a constant battle to help these victims and to change something that is so deeply ingrained within their society. As Tyler comments, “It is an unspoken conflict that doesn‟t get the immediate donor attention it should. During the fighting in DR Congo, people were very quick to donate money to support the provision of food and shelter”. However, people often forget that while violence against women is something that happens in times of conflict, it also carries on long after the conflict has ended. “Women who have been affected by violence need long-term care, whilst lots of donors think only of providing short-term fixes”, Tyler reminded. Neither should we overlook the extent to which violence against women has much wider implications. The problem should be viewed as a breach of security. It impacts on economic development and stifles a country‟s ability to recover from conflict successfully. Anyone logging on to IRC‟s website (www.ircuk.org) can learn more about how IRC works with women within these conflict-stricken communities. After seeing Anne Jones‟s powerful photos, we would hope that people will be inspired to donate money to these longterm, but equally, pressing problems. An exhibition of her photos will shortly be coming to London to raise further awareness of just how difficult life can be for women within these communities: watch this space. Perhaps we have painted a rather grim picture of the situation of some women within conflict zones. But change is occurring. Tyler enthusiastically tells us of the success of IRC‟s work in Sierra Leone: „We found that people are talking much more about violence towards women whereas, ten years ago, this certainly wasn‟t the case”. Indeed, there is one photo in Jones‟s collection that particularly sticks in the mind. It is of a husband and wife working harmoniously within their family. „I The International Rescue Com- took this photo of a family living as I imagine all famimittee (IRC) is a leading interna- lies could‟, commented Zogba Juli„Th e tional relief and development or- enn e, ganization working with people woman and and communities affected by husband are conflict around the world. sharing the They work in over 28 countries household work, worldwide, aiming to save lives, and even the relieve suffering and rebuild communities, protecting rights and children are free to be children.‟ creating new opportunities. photo is 2008 marks the 75th anniversary This of the International Rescue Com- proof that, almittee. Its major operational though there is areas include responding to con- still a long way to flict in Georgia and disaster in go, change is possien’s Myanmar, as well as to continued ble. o: Wom escend unrest in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Middle East and Darfur.

Regulars

What can an ordinary Oxford student do to help? Actually, quite a lot.

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al Cr ones A Glob flict Z n o C from Voices

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TEACHING IN MALAWI „Do you understand?‟ I would ask. „Oh yes sah,‟ the class would chant back in unison. „Are you sure? I won‟t be cross if you say no.‟ „Yes sah.‟ Eighty little black heads nodded together and then bent over their desks, laps, or onto the floor to start the exercise I‟d given them; nothing too advanced, but still a way beyond a large section of the class. Dean Mzuzu was always the first to come to my desk, his eyes unrepentantly gleaming at the thought of the sticker he would receive for a flawless transcript. As soon as he returned to his desk, book in hand, the others would, without a hint of subtlety, charge to copy him. After the scrum had been dispersed, a trickle of new books would start to arrive on my desk, and the more I marked, the worse they got. The last ones, the most vocal at the beginning of the class, would always be the same. „You didn‟t understand did you?‟ „No sah.‟

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This is what I was confronted with when I went to spend three months teaching for Africa Asia Venture in Malawi, at Matiti Primary School near Zomba. With the education system that we‟ve grown up with in this country, it‟s hard to imagine the form that classes of eighty take. There is no room for discussion or individual input; no chance to take serious note of each pupil‟s achievement and improvement; no facilities to help inject originality. And the teachers that have been doing it for years have been driven by monotony into an endless cycle of rote learning. Kids in Malawi will only say what they think their teachers want to hear – hence their ridiculous claims to understand fractions when they obviously don‟t. Their education has left most of them almost entirely incapable of thinking for themselves. When I decided to give them underground science lessons (it‟s not in the curriculum, and in Malawi, the curriculum is sacrosanct) and asked them if they had any questions about anything – anything - they just looked at me blankly. Eventually, one of them ventured „What is the best seed to grow in dry conditions?‟ – the subject of their last agriculture lesson. It‟s hardly the teachers‟ fault. I cannot imagine the difficulty of having to walk into the same classroom

Malawi Profile Population: 14.3 million (UN, 2008) Capital: Lilongwe Life expectancy: 48 years (men), 48 years (women) (UN) Main exports: Tobacco, tea, sugar, cotton GNI per capita: US $250 (World Bank, 2007) Malawi is the world's 14th poorest country and is periodically hit by droughts, which are set to intensify as a result of climate change. Nearly 13 percent of the country's 7.3 million children have lost their parents or caregivers, many to HIV/AIDS. Map: Richard Strauss

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every day, trying to inject enthusiasm and originality into lessons, with so few resources and so many children to teach, especially given how little the staff are paid (about $600 per year) and how little credit they receive from a society that sees teaching as demeaning. Many of the problems result from the sudden abandonment of school fees in 1994 that added a million children to the school system overnight. The teachers brought on to meet these new students had rarely received more that two months training, many had not passed their secondary school leaving exam, and even last year, the general level of English was extraordinarily basic for a nominally Anglophone country. Despite all this hardship, the old cliché held true: I never failed to find anything other than huge smiles and kind gestures. Hitch-hiking through the beautiful and often desolate countryside to reach Lake Malawi for the weekends, the people we met were invariably helpful, and remained jolly even when one of the back wheels of a truck I was on came off on a side-road outside Zomba! Living in the school was certainly a challenge. Life without electricity and running water for three months sounds easier than it is; showers can be adequately replaced with wellrehearsed bucket routines, but being plunged into darkness at six every evening proved too much for the three of us, and „Jenny‟ the generator joined our house midway through week two. Undoubtedly the grimmest aspect of the trip though was the long-drop, which was invariably tackled with head-torch, anti-insect spray and air freshener, much to the amusement of our night watchman Mavutu who would pick up giant cockroaches with his bare hands and decapitate them with his machete. And whilst the teaching itself was often frustrating, ultimately there are few experiences I have ever valued more. Those few moments that we really managed to get through to our classes, or were able simply to have fun with them (PE lessons were a source of constant joy), became treasured memories. I can still see my friend running towards the house, bursting with joy because his class had all got full marks on their multiplication test. Sweets were distributed all round, and received with the Malawians‟ customary excitement – not for nothing is it called the Warm Heart of Africa. Article: Tom Woodword

MALAWI

Matiti


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FOREST FIRES IN INDONESIA I have now worked in Indonesia for 7 years and have seen first-hand the devastation caused by bad fire in very dry years. 2002 and 2006 were the worst. In October 2006 a fire started near the Setia Alam base camp. We had already been suffering from the effects of the smoke, no one had seen blue sky for 3 months. This is not an exaggeration – with the whole southern part of the island of Borneo covered in a pall of smoke, the sun was obscured permanently. However bad the smoke became (I developed asthma, as do many Indonesians), the fires never directly threatened Setia Alam until 27th October 2006. The origin of the fire is still unclear, though the Indonesian patrol team think perhaps it was started deliberately. Regardless, it quickly spread out of control, only 400m from camp. Within an hour of the alarm being raised, the Indonesian research staff and patrol team were out in the forest digging holes deep into the peat to reach the groundwater to pump up. The fire was about 1.3km from the river and this was the only way to reach any water source. Five days of round-the-clock firefighting ensued with everyone pitching in. The bore holes needed to be kept clean, hoses to be laid, the ground needed to be hosed down at least 3 times to ensure the fires were not still burning under the surface. We had a continuous relay of people bringing food and water to the team in the forest. Four separate bore holes were dug (now permanent) to combat the fire. This was hard, dangerous work, carried out with limited equipment, but it worked. It was incredible to see the devastation caused by a relatively small fire – 2km2 (200hs) gone in 5 days. While we were filming the devastation and the fire

fighting process we encountered a large male orangutan who had been in the area. Mozart was fine, feeding away when we found him. A few days later we were able to confirm that the gibbon group which lives in the vicinity of the fire were also all alive. However, if the fire had spread over a larger area, these apes would have been in serious trouble. It is only thanks to the incredible efforts of all the team that more forest was not lost. The situation is improving. Local fire-fighting teams are being set up with financial support from international and local NGO‟s. Education teams are making headway with combating some of the causes of the fires. But the international community needs to pay more attention to this threat and ensure that the burning forests are not ignored. Article: Susan M Cheyne Photo: Alice Mumford The Sebangau The camp is situated in the Sebangau National Park in Central Kalimantan, Borneo. The Sebangau is one of the deepest peat-swamp forests in the world, with the peat reaching over 17m in the centre. This fire was just one of about 44,000 blazing across Borneo from July to October 2006.

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The world‟s rainforests are under increasing threat from many areas. The most well known of these are logging (legal and illegal) and the clearing of pristine forest for biofuels. What is less well known is the threat to forests from fire. With much of lowland Borneo covered in peat soil, the area is very susceptible to fire, especially during the dry season from June-September. Through a combination of tree clearance and drainage of the peat from old logging canals, the soil becomes bone dry. When this happens, even as little as a dropped cigarette butt is enough to start a blaze.

INDONESIA Sebangau

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HOW TO...

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INTERRAIL

InterRail: Europe’s Golden Ticket When InterRail was born in the early 1970s, it was a different kind of travel. For one thing, it was only available to under-21s. For another, it was valid in mysterious-sounding countries like ‘ Yugoslavia’ and ‘West Germany ’. And it was also, believe it or not, only £27.50. 30 years later, InterRail has become more popular and (unfortunately) a tiny bit more expensive. But, judging by the hundreds of people who go each year, it is clearly just as enticing.

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There are now 30 European countries in the so -called ‘InterRail zone ’ and provided you stay out of Albania, Russia, the Baltic States, and the Ukraine, you can go just about anywhere in Europe (including Turkey). Depending on the length of your trip, you can choose to explore one country in depth (the aptly-named ‘One Country Pass’), or, if you want to do ‘the biggie’, you can go anywhere for 22 days or a month (the less-aptly named ‘Global Pass ’). The pricing system is something of an enigma but if you ’re looking at a Global Pass, you’ll need at least €300 – a bit more than the original £27.50.

son, you’ll struggle to find the hostels. Whichever method you choose, be sure to have a copy of the Thomas Cook European Rail Timetables. Updated twice a year (winter and summer), it is the only book of its kind on the market – unsurprisingly then, it is indispensible. More than once will it save your trip, and I speak here from experience. So, with that, you’re set. The fun part, of course, is deciding where to go. The marketing talks about ‘a whole continent opening up’, and for once the marketing’s right. When poring over a map of Europe, the number of routes at your disposal is truly uncountable and pinning down your destinations can be pretty overwhelming. My girlfriend and I planned our route as a round trip. We started in Paris, travelling over on the Eurostar and staying in a fantastic Montmartre hostel (Amélie, anyone?). Then we went south, through Dijon to Lausanne, Switzerland; then Rome, then Venice, then Slovenia. That was just a fortnight ’s travelling. After Slovenia, we spent four days in Budapest (a hellish train journey, not recommended), and then another week in Vienna and Prague before heading home. Our trip planner, a brilliant new website called TripIt (www.TripIt.com), estimates the distance at nearly 2,900 miles. It may be inaccurate, but it does show how far a little planning can take you.

It hardly needs to be said that a trip like this is worth a bit of research. Unless you have money to throw away, this trip could burn a rather nasty hole in your pocket. You can also waste Given the money, we’d do it all again tomorrow. time: 22 days spent chasing trains and hunting However, the money is a factor. Sure, you can live hostels is exhilarating, but hardly a ‘holiday ’. like a tramp for a month, but forget any romantic Moreover, although your train tickets are free, ideas you have – it won ’t be fun. So head east. the reservation fees are not, and night trains, Stay clear of the capitals. And find a friend. Not inevitable when covering long distances, are only is it cheaper but it is also safer, as well as even more expensive. Admittedly, it is in its more fun (although as one guidebook mentions, flexibility that an InterRail pass truly comes ‘ make sure it ’s not someone you ’re going to fall into its own; if you don’t go aout with’). Get toUSEFUL WEBSITES wandering at some point on the gether, grab a map, trip, you might be missing the InterRail <www.interrailnet.com> The official site and and start marking up point. But beware: in peak sea- point of purchase. those places you want to go. You’ll have a EuRail <www.eurail.com> An equivalent pass for nonwhale of a time. European residents, popular with Americans. Edward Anderson TripIt <www.TripIt.com> For the organized, a great way of planning your trip. HostelBookers <www.hostelbookers.com> The most useful site of its kind out there. (Hostels.com is a good backup.) The Man in Seat Sixty-One <www.seat61.com> A personal website with excellent advice on rail travel. DB Bahn <www.bahn.de> The best online route planner, though not as reliable as Thomas Cook.

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LETTER FROM ABROAD “We can't have full knowledge all at once. We must start by believing; then afterwards we may be led on to master the evidence for ourselves.” The man who wrote this, St Thomas Aquinas, lies nine hundred metres away from the bar, in Toulouse, in which we are gathered. Every Tuesday, at 8 o’clock, the congregation comes to chat with strangers in the hope of improving their conversation in either French or English. This is an evening where language is mangled, grammar garbled and the subjunctive discarded upon entering. To keep coming here each week, hoping that one might reach a level of fluency in a foreign tongue, requires a faith of which Aquinas would only have approved. Doug, a middle-aged Australian farmer, attempts to talk about his government’s agricultural policy with the Frenchwoman next to him. He is floundering after the first sentence. Frustrated by his inability to finish what he has started but bravely bumbling on, he finishes each ill-formed phrase with a “Oui?”, hoping that although he has entirely lost the thread of the sentence, his interlocutor, having been piecing it together along the way, will understand. The more lost he gets, the more his arms flap around, propelling his sentences less towards conclusions and more towards awkward fade-outs. To my left a gentle Peruvian man, who, having learnt English in Ireland, announces his approval of things by declaring them ‘top banana’ . He chats in amiable Spanglish with a student from Munich. Both have come here to speak French, but as is often the case with evenings like this, English proves easier. I cannot make out their conversation, as opposite me a young, confident French student named Nicolas is telling me about Toulouse: “They call it the pink city. Sounds pretty gay right?…Pretty homosexual.” His legs are spread wide apart as if to remind all onlookers that yes, he is a man, and yes, he does have a penis. He is keen to impress upon me the genius of Bill Hicks. “You know him?” he asks. “He ’s fucking amazing”. Nicolas tells me he is moving to Barcelona where he will be performing stand-up in three months’ time. Unbelievably, he is yet to learn Spanish but he doesn ’t seem worried.

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David Wolf writes from Toulouse about developing a foreign language among strangers

Nicolas may never have read the work of the dead philosopher buried 900 metres from where we sit, but like anyone with a hope of learning a foreign language, he is a believer. He has faith in the impossible notion that after three months of Spanish he will not only be able to converse coherently with people who have spoken that language every day of their lives, but will even be able to tell jokes that will make them laugh. And thanks to his blind faith, he might even perform that miracle.

Article: David Wolf Illustration: Jessica Benhamou

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The Wanderer - Issue 1