Saturday, 9 December 2017

The Search for the Pink-headed Duck commences

24th - 25th Oct 2017 Lonton Village arrival

Very weary from the seventeen plus hours of beating and pounding administered by our ancient train we were very relieved to be shown to our lodge in Lonton village opposite Indawgyi Lake at about 02.30am. On first appearances, everything seemed fine, basic but clean but then we were informed that the accommodation had no bathrooms or shower units apart from the rickety hut with a squat toilet, a ‘hold on for your life’ loo and an outdoor bucket shower next to the main road.

Outside appearances can be deceptive, all facilities 'al fresco'

This wasn’t exactly what we had been promised. If we had been told it would have been a different matter and to be honest Pilar and I have been accommodated in a lot worse conditions. It seemed, as we were to find out, the rooms we had actually paid for were across the road at the Indaw Mahar Guest House.

Our intended Lodge that had been occupied by the Germans!

It appeared that we had been downgraded to make way for the German Ambassador and her team who were arriving in five days to open a newly constructed Flora and Fauna International (FFI) education centre on the shores of the lake. The Germans were invading and we might have to fight them on the beaches for our rooms!

After a few heated words with the organisers of the expedition, we were assured that if we could stay just the one night in our current accommodation we could relocate in the morning. We caved in out of sheer exhaustion, brushed our teeth and crashed into spent oblivion.

(Tourist map of Indawgyi Lake)
25th Nov 2017 Search Day 1

After an average night sleep and a quick breakfast of sorts, we threw our bags over our shoulder and crossed the road to our luxurious, pre-booked residence for the next 5 days.

What can I say about Indaw Mahar Guest House without sounding spoilt, bitter and cruel? Well to honest, it left a lot to be desired and I will leave it at that just to be polite. At least we had a shower and toilet, of sorts.

Our guide, the ever smiling and chilled Lay Win had organised our first exploration of the famous Indawgyi Lake. We were to make the hour crossing to the very northern point of the lake and then another hour through the Indawgyi river marshes.
Our mode of transport was a locally made wooden longboat with a motor at the stern. The longboat was approximately 30ft in length and looked as stable and watertight as a long sieve. Errol and I again exchanged all knowing looks, no words were needed. Jungle Pili or Pixie, as Errol had nick-named her, held back and prepared her camera for any comical mishap while the rest of us climbed aboard. Myself, Errol, Richard, Lay Win and finally Pilar slipped and stumbled our way on board and took positions. Our initial fears were totally unfounded as we took off north across the lake; the water was like a shimmering pane of glass.

For the first time, we could see the jungle bordering the shores. Deep shades of greens and browns blanketing the hills interspersed with small villages, pagodas and temples. The religious shrines, rich with hues of red, blues and gold all magnified in their brilliance by the shimmering morning sun. As the morning wore on the heat started to rise and only the air rushing past us stopped the temperature becoming uncomfortable.

One of the many pagodas along the shores of the lake

“Where are the resident water birds?” asked Errol

I had noticed the same thing and already it was apparent all was not right with the ecosystem we had come all this way to explore. We were both expecting and eagerly anticipating a rich and diverse spectrum of bird species. All we were seeing were a few Small Cormorants and snow white Cattle Egrets, a Pond Heron here and there, common and adaptable species found on most freshwater systems.

The naturalist in me started to look for more clues as to exactly what was happening here.

“Errol, look at the water,” I said

We looked over the side of the longboat and saw an obvious problem. The water was thick with blue-green algae everywhere we looked. Visibility was no more than one meter in the water column and it was a green, lifeless void. We also found small dead fish every meter or so floating on the lake surface with no visible trauma or other cause of death. It appeared the lake was turning acidic and the life-giving oxygen was being starved out of the system, I've seen similar conditions even in my local lakes back home!

Looking both port and starboard blue-green algae in the water and not a 'duck' in sight

The most dominant species of plant was the beautiful Water Hyacinth which was floating in rafts across the entire lake, some were small and some of them were huge tapestries of lilac and green. I started to examine them as we glided past, looking for amphibians and invertebrates, the usual species of dragonflies, pond skaters and frogs that you’d expect on a healthy lake…..nothing.

Myself, Errol Fuller, Richard Thorns, Lay Win
The lake itself, to the untrained eye, is serene and picturesque; the jungle forest also looks vibrant and healthy. But both Errol Fuller and I agreed it is all an allusion. The jungle is second if not third growth, harvested for its hardwood and animals long ago. What is left is the occasional old, towering tree, usually, its survival is because it had happened by chance to have started its life on a steep hill or in a swampy area, both of which are difficult to cut and extract a tree of such size without modern and expensive equipment. The rest of the growth is made up of bamboo, young, fast-growing trees all smothered in a blanket of climbing, clinging vines and ivy. Sure you’ll find animal life in and around, species that have adapted quickly and that are resourceful. But nothing like the biodiversity a true, old growth pristine system can support.

My personal opinion is the water habitat and its biodiversity is heading toward collapse. Of course, this needs to be studied further with scientific vigour applied, this opinion I have come too is my own personal observations. I did test for the ph levels in several places in the open water and the marshes and the initial results confirmed my hypothesis.

The population on the shores is much larger than we had expected or had been lead to believe. These poor people, after coming through years of oppression and hostility, are trying to take advantage of the new gold rush: tourists. The little town of Lonton is all shops and basic restaurants to cater for the growing list of international visitors and scientists. The shops sell alcohol, sweets and junk food and locally source meals, mostly cooked in palm oil. If you’re a meat eater, your meals are running around and living with the population in the street: pigs, chickens, cows, dogs are everywhere. Not that this bothers us in the slightest, in fact, I could often be found rubbing a sleeping pig’s belly while kneeling in the powered, grey dust that covers just about everything.

The problem arises when you consider that all the water used for this growing civilization comes from and goes back into the lake. Cooking water, washing up water, toilet and shower water, all full of chemicals and bacteria. This and the slow depositing of layer upon layer of rotting vegetation, raining through the water column from the drifting reed beds are turning the lake acidic. Another problem is that historically this lake has been fished by the locals to sustain their families. But now with the rising demand from an expanding marketplace, the fisherman are depleting the fish stocks, fast. Not only are they fishing with traditional method, nets, lines and wicker traps, but they are also utilising modern technologies such as electrofishing, this probably explains the dead, floating fish we saw on the lake. This once pristine Eden and possible home to the Pink-headed Duck is being attacked from all sides and it’s losing the battle for existence.

The big question is, does or could the Pink-headed Duck still uses this lake?
Did it ever actually live here, or was it a very occasional visitor?

You’ll have to read on to find out these answers and you might be surprised at our conclusions.

Approximately one quarter across the lake and not that far from the shore side village of Lonkauk, rising out of the silky water is the famous ‘Shwe Myitzu Pagoda’ or as most tourists prefer to call it the ‘Floating Pagoda’. I believe it is home to a small group of devote Buddhists Monks.  To my cynical eyes, it looks like a wedding cake designer’s worse acid trip. Obviously beautifully crafted and designed with no expense spared. Layers upon layers of gold conical spires with extravagant ornamentation contrasted and framed by rich red borders and frames. The gold faced Buddha is housed in a glass-fronted room gazing out, unblinking for eternity across the waters of the lake.

‘Shwe Myitzu Pagoda’ the 'The Floating Pagoda'
 Above the doors, written in English and Burmese are the words RUBY DRAGON. I would imagine this is where the tourists hand over their dollars for the privilege of being in the presence of the golden one. The significance is mostly lost in my ignorance, but once again I’m reminded of the extraordinary wealth that can be spent in the name of religion while the local people live in squalor and ignorance. I wonder how many children could be given an education and a chance to build a better future for themselves with the money spent on such a structure. I know one thing for sure, no matter what flavour of God we talk about they all seem obsessed with money and gold. He might move in mysterious ways but I bet he has an accountant!

Right, after offending another deity and again securing myself an eternity in a fiery hell (I hope they have cable TV so I can fry while watching David Attenborough), I’ll get back to the expedition.

Our purpose for crossing the lake was to go up the Indawgyi River, through the reed beds, keeping an eye out for our quarry to arrive at ‘Chaung Wa’ village where we wanted to interview one of the local villagers as to a suppose sighting he had six years previously (more details to come regarding the interview).

Typical fishermen's hut
The reed beds along the river system were tall and dense. Scattered along the water line of the river were fisherman shelters, on stilts, made from bamboo and dried and woven reeds, primitive but functional, somewhere to sleep, eat and shelter from the searing sun.

For such a large habitat the species count we observed was disappointingly low. I observed and photographed common species such as White Throated Kingfisher, Pond Heron, Cattle Egret, Little Cormorant, White Wagtail, Little Grebe, a lone Purple Heron and one of my favourites the Purple Swamphen. What was really alarming, not a single duck, not a Mallard or Pochard, in fact not a quack.

Little Cormorant
In the skies above the marches and reed beds circled a number of Brahminy Kite and a solitary Hen Harrier. We also saw migrating Amur Falcons circling way above all other birds, specks against the blue sky. The Kites are common in S.E. Asia and I never get bored of seeing them. The snow white head of the mature Brahminy Kite contrasts strikingly against the chestnut body and wings. What exactly they were hunting I was unsure, probably fish, snakes and small birds but from the look of things, pickings were scarce. They seem to have filled the niche left by the many Vulture species that have been decimated by the widely used veterinary non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug, diclofenac, during the last decade. 

Brahminy Kite
Black Kite

The population of vultures has crashed via a slow painful death because this drug been injected into livestock. These important scavengers fed on dead livestock. Vultures die from kidney failure within days of exposure animals with diclofenac-contaminated tissues. Many species are now on the edge of extinction. Have we learned anything? The simple answer is no. The ban may now be in force across Asia but now the drug is being used on the African continent and with the same devastating results.

Eventually, after an hour navigating the river through the reed bed, we started to see habitation along the river banks. Houses built on stilts, livestock roaming free along the banks, the fisherman in their longboats mending nets or using the river as a highway to deliver food and fuel to the village. Children, barefooted and in modern but ragged clothes greeted us with shouts, waves and broad, white-toothed smiles.

“Hello mister, hello” they all cried, we felt like arriving celebrities.

Not everybody was so friendly. Women bathing in the river or pounding clothes, beating out and endlessly rinsing to wash out the muck and grime gave us unforgiving glances from underneath sweaty brows. A pang of guilt gripped my heart.
These people cling to a moment by moment existence with no chance of reprieve and hear we were loaded down with expensive technology looking for a duck which would mean nothing more than the next meal for them. A sudden dose of reality and perspective is a humbling and lonely tune played with a conscious heart.

A local greeted us and pulled our longboat onto the shore, sliding it into the mud. We disembarked unsteadily and walked the few metres into the centre of the village. There were stalls surrounding the village square selling everything from locally grown fruit and veg, raw spices, lots and lots of sweets and water bottles filled with two-stroke petrol. 

Everything was happening at half speed and surreal in the village. There was no haste or rush to be seen, no hard sell and certainly no customers for the colourful and varied wares. We had needed special permission to visit this remote village of fishermen because it was in the zone where the KIA still operated. But all seemed relaxed. Feral cats slept in the baskets, dozing alongside strangely named cleaning products, sleeping away another hot, dusty day just like most of the villagers it seemed.

I did make a purchase, a large bottle of chilli sauce, it seemed the thing to do and can be a lifesaver if the local meals fell below culinary standards. Ok I’m an addict….but I can give it up, if I want, honest.

Interview Chaung Wa village 

We convened in the town square bar consisting of half a dozen tables, some wooden benches and a scattering of plastic chairs. Richard made enquiries with the head man of the village about a fisherman he interviewed during a previous, solo expedition who had claimed to have seen the Pink-Headed Duck in the local reed beds some six years previously. Out of nowhere a guy arrived and introduced himself. It turned out that the individual was not the original interviewee but someone who had been there at the same time as the mentioned interview. He was now claiming to have also seen the duck some nineteen years ago. Why he failed to mention this previously was beyond me, but we questioned him anyway, I listened to Lay Win translation of the conversation as I recorded the whole interview on my Nikon D800. We also handed out some laminate species I.D. and contact cards I designed offering a reward for information to the existence and whereabouts of the PHD. I expected more enthusiasm if I’m honest, especially as these people claim to have seen the duck in the local waters.

After a cold Mandalay beer, we left with handshakes and goodbyes. Richard seemed enthused and encouraged, myself, Pilar and Errol were however underwhelmed, to say the least. Lay Win said nothing, just his normal serene self, smiling warmly; he’d been here before chasing pink ghosts.

As we were about to leave the village, a platoon of heavily armed government soldiers marched through the village. They smiled at us while brandishing their bullets belts and AK47’s, and strode on past, where they were going we had no idea and we certainly were not about to inquire, it was a sudden and sobering reminder of exactly where we were.

we didn't ask questions, a true reality check

The journey back through the marshes was uneventful, we saw the same species sporadically and the hour across the open waters of the lake have again confirmed the peril the lake was in. We were treated to a beautiful, golden sunset that turned the skies a burnt umber as the sun dripped and slid below the hills surrounding the shores.

Pilar of the lake

perfect end to a long day

The team
Back at our palace (lodge) we all showered and made a hasty dash to the local restaurant that Lay Win had arranged for us. With some translation issues, Pilar and I were served fried watercress, fried peanuts and white rice. Richard had some form of a spicy meat dish and rice and Mr Fuller started his diet of chips and beer, explaining that we were all going to regret not following his dietary lead, the chips had been cauterized to near death and therefore safe to eat. Time would tell if he was right.

Our starving team wolfed down our meals with a couple of cold beers and made arrangements for a dawn start and the second day of our search before hitting the hay. 

Saturday, 4 November 2017

Hell is a train journey from Mandalay - Pink-Headed Duck Expedition 2017

23rd Oct 2017 Train from Mandalay to Hopin

After a sleepless night, I kicked doors at 6am and greeted my intrepid explorers with the warmest alarm calls I can conjure from my caffeine tightened larynx.

A quick shower to wash away the film of sweat that clings like a wet blanket, some choice threatening words while doing a little repacking, stretching rucksacks to their limits, we all convene for breakfast. I’m starving so I fill up on white toast, water melon, papaya, banana, orange juice and lots more coffee. I not sure when I’ll get the chance to fill the rumbling void of my stomach again.

The taxi booked for 7.30 am fails to arrive; both myself and Errol share knowing looks from beneath our sweaty brows. We had a bad feeling about our arrangements when they were made; some call it intuition, we call it experience.

Thankfully it’s no problem to hail a bright pink taxi and our driver appears to have drunk more coffee than I have. No speed limit or safety restriction stood in our way as we weaved through the city. If we had of crashed I think we would have survived. We were all crammed and crushed tight into the cab with our entire luggage, we weren’t going anywhere and the law of inertia wouldn’t have applied to us, I’m sure.

At Mandalay airport, we were greeted with a shocking level of efficiency. Not only were we cordially invited to skip the lengthy cues, when at the check-in desk our fears about excess luggage went unfounded.  With all our camera equipment, I was at least 5kg over, maybe more. We had discussed off loading items into either Errol’s or Richard’s meagre holdalls but we needn’t have feared, we glided through like visiting royalty and before we knew it we were in our comfy seats inside our Air Asia jet.

Errol Fuller - John Hodges - Pilar Bueno - Richard Thorns Bangkok Airport

The flight to Mandalay took just under 2 hours, no problems to report, in fact quite the opposite. The stewardesses were immaculately attired and very healthy (nudge, nudge, wink, wink).

On the last 30 minutes of the flight into the city we saw below us miles upon miles of flooding from the monsoons. My spirits dropped temporally, if we’ve timed our expedition wrong our search in the lakes and marshes of the north will be much more difficult.

Flooded plains of Mandalay

From the airport, we were hustled into a people carrier and spent the next hour sweating and bored being delivered to our accommodation, The New Nylon Hotel. New it certainly was, sparkling in fact and obviously recently finished, sparkling marble floors, high ceiling and hard wood furnisher everywhere. Our rooms were spotless and everything worked, first try, most unusual and a very pleasant surprise indeed.  I have only one critique of our temporary residence. The architect who designed this place has put our electricity sockets at least 7ft high on the walls, I’m not joking. To make matters even more bizarre, our kettle had a lead no more than 10cm, why? I can’t even start to understand or answer that. Not being a quitter I constructed my own Tower of Babel consisting of tables, bird books and a peddle bin with our kettle perched and lead stretched on top. Our kettle reached its two-pinned, electric nirvana; we had coffee for the morning, happy travellers.

Our residence for the night - The New Nylon Hotel, Mandalay

Outside in the city of Mandalay the chaos, grime and general decay reminded me very quickly that we were definitely NOW in S.E. Asia. We spent a confused hour pounding the dusty; smog filled streets searching for a pair of suitable and fashionable Wellington boots for Errol Fuller and a bank to exchange currency. We succeeded in finding the said banking establishment but unfortunately because it was three in the afternoon they couldn’t help … don’t ask!

A fashion God, Errol Fuller and his newly acquired wellies

What was confusing was that while being told ‘sorry we don’t want your currency and you certainly can’t have any of ours’, looming from behind the cashier desk was the largest pile of money I’ve ever seen. I’m not kidding, stacks of cash in piles across all the desks at least a metre high. It looked like a scene out of the Al Pacino movie Scarface and at this point I wish Al Pacino had of walked in off the street, coked up to the eyeballs and armed with large weapons to bring an end to our frustration and persuade the bank manager to change some damn cash for us; “come and meet my little friend!!”

Back at the hotel, Richard went to work on the manager and we did get some currency exchanged. While we waited we quenched our dusty throats with a cold Mandalay beer whilst discussing the finer points of theological and evolutionary principles with a certain ‘Mr Fuller’, with a large portion of his sardonic wit thrown in for spice.

 Pilar's first Myanmar selfie and first Mandalay cold one
The glamour boys

At 6pm we had our arranged meeting with our representative from SST and met our guide and interpreter, a fresh faced Lay Win. The meeting went well and we discussed search location and schedules as well as a few theories I have to the behaviour and approaches to searching the inhospitable habitat of the Pink-headed Duck.

In the evening we ventured out and dined at a very nice restaurant Richard had previously frequented (Ko’s Kitchen). Again, Pixie (Errol’s new name for Pilar) and I had spring rolls and a green curry, delicious. Stuffed and content we left the restaurant at approx 11pm and Errol commandeered a taxi, complete with the driver’s wife in the trunk; she was perfectly alive in case you’re confused, she just tags along in the evening for a ride, apparently! By midnight we were all tucked in bed, a long day of travelling lay ahead tomorrow.

Was it the heat, the fatigue or the fine cuisine? It's a mystery - Ko's Kitchen

24th Oct 2017

After a hurried breakfast and arrangements made by the GWC for Richard for a radio interview for a Canadian Radio Station, we were collected by our guide Lay Win with our mini bus and driver to take us to the train station.

Today we have to embark on a 17hr+ journey north to Hopin and from there we have a good 90 minute drive to Indawgyi Lake, our base camp for our expedition and search for the Pink Headed Duck.

Waiting to board, Mandalay Station

A selfie from Pilar as we leave Mandalay Station

Lay Win had arranged sleepers for the four of us, shared of course, we’re not spoilt. All I can say about the train is I’ve been on worse. The beds were firm and unforgiving but the alternative of sitting out the journey on old and broken bench type seats was not an option.

Pilar snapped Errol Fuller and I testing the firmness of our bunks

Shortly after departure our on-train meal arrived. Steamed rice and fried watercress with garlic, it was bloody delicious, a good start.

Richard Thorns and I discussing the finer points of flower arranging after our meal

The miles drifted by in a green blur, flood planes carpeted with rice paddies. Every mile or so a golden temple would loom out of the emerald scenery, towering above the poverty of the people, many of them children toiling in the fields under the hot sun, reminding them of their place in the universal scheme of things devised by their silent but ‘loving’ Gods.

"Train I ride, sixteen coaches long"

One of the smaller temples taken from the moving train

As is my usual practise on such a lengthy journey, I while away my time bird watching out of the window. Between us we spotted, Drongos, Kingfishers, lots and lots of Egrets, Pond Herons, the acrobatic Green Bee-eaters and the stunning azure blue Roller, as well as a large and beautiful selection of butterflies, many species new to my butterfly nerd eyes.

The miles rolled on and on, station after station filled with hawkers and peasants all trying to extract our crumpled money from out pockets. It’s very humbling to see such poverty in the second decade of the 21st century.

One of the many stations stop offs along our route with hawkers selling their wares through the train windows

What was obvious is the unwanted title that Myanmar has for being the poorest country in South East Asia is well justified. These poor people after decades of repression and exclusion from the outside World have paid a terrible price. Basic sanitation for most of the population is just a luxurious dream. I saw children, starving dogs and pigs digging through rubbish heaps for anything to sustain them. Yet across the landscape, towering above them are giant monuments of golden luxury, pagodas and temples glittering, to be seen to every horizon. Personally, I do not believe ‘any’ God would want such a disproportionate privilege heaped on his people for the sake of the absent deities’ ego.

Typical scene, I have no words

We also trundled past the largest wood yard and processing plant I’ve ever seen. Thousands upon thousands of hardwood trees staked like a giant’s ancient matchstick collection stretching out in all directions. A whole jungle destroyed to make planks of woods to be fashioned into kitchens, wooden floors and furniture. As our train rolled past this huge tree graveyard we saw lorries cuing up to bring to their final resting place glorious giants that were recently the homes to countless species, rare primates, exotic birds and a myriad of reptiles and invertebrates, many of which had most likely never been gazed upon by human eyes. Was what we were seeing the final gasp of a once pristine habitat? My heavy heart sank.

A small snap shot of the Jungle grave yard

The one thing that does come through from seeing these small but beautiful people is the gleam in their eyes and the warmth of their smiles. The troubles and often crushing oppression does not seem to dim their souls. We have a lot to learn if we care to open our hearts and minds and reclaim our humanity from the materialistic, modern World I come from.

The air outside the train was thick with moisture although the sun was fierce. Clouds of dragonflies raced each other and often flew in through the windows to check out the weary travellers.

As day dissolved into night, the sounds of the tropics permeated the air, frogs and cicada song harmonised over the dominant click, clickerty click of the train and we were treated to a beautiful setting sun dipping beneath the distant hills, bathing everywhere in a soft, golden warmth. Sleep was taken in short naps, rocked and bounced at times violently in our berths by the motion of the locomotive.

I'm waiting for the light

Our beautiful star before darkness

Our old train finally pulled into Hopin station at 2am; we were all ragged and exhausted but very relieved. Our guide, Lay Win, had our driver patiently waiting for  us and all we had left of our journey was an hour and a half drive to Lonton, on the shores of Indawgyi Lake.

Lay Win our always smiling, incredible guide

It had been another very long day but tomorrow our research begins and this is why we are here. Duck, if you’re here I’m coming to bring you into the 21st Century along with your forgotten country.

Sunday, 22 October 2017

Monsoon Nights in Bangkok - We've arrived

New Road Guesthouse, Bangkok 03:00 23rd Oct 2017

21-22 Oct 2017 Bangkok

02:50 in the foyer of the New Road Guest House, Bangkok. Raining hard outside, it's the end of the monsoon season and the weather grips the humid night. We've a very early start to catch our plane to Mandalay, Myanmar where after a day layover in the city we catch a sleeper train, heading north where the real adventure and search for the Pink-headed Duck starts.
Don't you just love the skills of strangers with your mobile phone camera?

We had a hectic day yesterday. Our long-haul journey was tedious, uncomfortable and none ending but is what it is. We flew from Heathrow – Oman – Bangkok. The first leg of the flight was a disaster for Pilar and I. We had horrible, cramped seating. My TV didn’t work (only 9hrs looking at a movie of choice……..with no sound!) To top it all, the meal Pilar had booked online with the airline did not materialise. Our #Vegan delights had not made it onto the plane. 

Apologises on behalf of the caterers were forwarded and we were presented with a large ball of sugar and syrup with some form of eggy goo in the centre as a consolation, err, no thank you. 
Silly o'clock, another airport

Exhausted after our 18hr flight we land at Bangkok for stormy skies. After collecting our bags and catching the Sky Train and a taxi we arrived tired but excited at our guesthouse. We were several hours too early to check in, so no shower or sleep was waiting for us until at the earliest 14:00.
Pilar Bueno outside our guest house upon arrival

Fighting off the fatigue and humidity we ventured into the suburbs of old town #Bangkok, searching for sustenance but most of all coffee. Errol and Richard found a McDonalds, I know, I know, they needed their Maccy fix and chowed down on something gross, haha. The coffee and O.J. tasted like heaven. 
Old Town Bangkok

Pilar, Errol, Richard, searching for food downtown Bangkok

Errol, Richard, John riding the McDonalds coffee wave

At 3pm we had an appointment with a journalist from the associated press who wanted to film interviews with us all. Thankfully that gave a little time to check-in our very reasonable and cleans rooms, freshen up and go over a few points of interest with the journalist before filming started.

The light was poor and the rains were threatening again. But nevertheless the hour filming went without hitch and all parties seemed happy with the results. When edited and live online I'll post a link. It should be across the news networks with a few hours, keep your eyes peeled on the news stations and let me know if you spot us.

Not really related but while talking with the journalist he told us he was covering the official funeral of the late King of Thailand, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who passed away October 16th, 2016.

I had no idea that he hadn't been cremated yet. A full year of official mourning but now the country and especially the city of Bangkok is gearing up to see him off with what I expect will be a very emotional event. We'll be long gone and probably knee deep in mud and muck inventing new phrases of hatred and expletives aimed at the swarms of bugs that await us. I know where I’d prefer to be, and I certainly won’t be wearing black, more like ‘Wellies and Combat Jungle Chic, it more my kind of madness, better get my hair done.

After the interview, we freshened up again and headed out. We trawled the streets for a suitable eating place, somewhere not ‘too street’ as Richard and Errol had more refined palettes than Pilar and I, who are used to eating from the street stalls. 

Richard Thorns, Errol Fuller, John Hodges 
'The Search for a decent Thai Restaurant'

We eventually found a restaurant called, imaginatively ‘The Thailand Curry House’. Advertised on a board outside was the deal clincher, a veggie set menu. Pilar and I had Vegetarian Spring Rolls, Red Thai Curry and steamed rice. I even broke my sobriety of 2017 and partook in a cold Singha Beer, which I confess was bliss. The food was superb and the stories, adventures and sparkling repartee from Errol Fuller (he does a superb impression of his friend Sir David Attenborough) kept us entertained. 
The Team - Richard Thorns, John Hodges, Pilar Bueno, Errol 'Attenborough' Fuller

Finally, at the 8pm we gave into fatigue, beer and food and on autopilot head back for the bliss of bed and long overdue sleep. Poor Richard was nodding off in the restaurant.

Sitting here writing at 3:30am, wide awake and waiting for 06:30 to come around so I kick the team out of bed, I regret the single beer I had. I can feel its chemical wizardry still in my system, yuck, time for coffee!