Travelling Man

Recently dug up this air-mail letter and a series of others from an old family friend, Tony, who used to run with the Tipton Harriers. In the 1970s he went off to explore the other side of the globe, travelling through Asia and sending these densely-descriptive missives back to the UK.

It's a shame that Blip never existed back then; although there's no photographs, this site would have been the ideal kind of showcase for Tony's entertaining travelogue, which I've been reading avidly these last couple of days. In this entry, sent from Banaue on the 29th of March 1976, he describes how his Tipton charm aided him first in befriending Sarawak headhunters and then, by the sound of it, half the female population of the Philippines.

Sorry about the delay in this month's epistle. We've had a rather hectic schedule since I last wrote from [Papua New Guinea], hence the delay. The day after I wrote, we regretfully left fascinating P.N.G. and flew over the border in a decrepit DC3 to Indonesian West Irian. Stopped three days in Jayapura after our flight from P.N.G (these names won't mean much to you unless you have a map, I'm afraid). Then another flight to unlovely Jakarta, [South East] Asia's most oppressive city. Had to spend two nights here and were woken with unfailing regularity at 4am by the nearby mosque. Indonesia is predominantly Muslim and the speakers call the faithful to prayer five times a day. They don't give you a chance unless you've had ten pints of Guinness the night before.

We took a trip from Kuching north to Sibu by express boat. Very noisy and fast but effective. From Sibu we went up the dirty, brown Rejang river to Kapit. Stopped several days contemplating which of the many long-houses to visit. Eventually we took a boat up to one of the Iban long-houses. Better known as Sea-Dyaks, the Ibans have a bloodthirsty background and only thirty years ago were still practising headhunters and pirates. We took gifts to the people; mainly cigarettes, booze and sweets.

They were beautifully tattooed. Here, it's an art form, and nothing like the rubbish you see in England. The men had strange "Beatle haircuts", a fringe at the front and a pigtail at the back. Some had tattoos on their knuckles including the head-man. Each tattooed knuckle represents a head taken in battle and some men had all eight knuckles tattooed. We ate, seated on mats on the bamboo floor, everyone helping themselves from the dishes. Afterwards we were entertained outside on the verandah by four girls playing gongs and drums while some of the children danced individually. Several boys danced as well, slowly and gracefully, but we learned that the men and women never dance together. Baz and I each had to give a short, individual dance greeted by laughs and wild applause. We slept with the head-man and his family in their own room. Rather an eerie feeling sleeping on the floor next to the very old head-man with his tattooed knuckles. As expected, we didn't sleep too well with a pig grunting below, a catfight, a couple of dogfights, and the old people intermittently snoring. After visiting these people, I sometimes wonder who the savages really are, we or they?

We had a flight booked out to Manila. The Philippines are really good. The people are very friendly, especially the girls. With all the Americans here (who are, for a change, very popular) the girls all go for white men in a big way. Even for Baz and myself! We stopped at Baguio where fruit is incredibly cheap. However, the BIG news from the Philippines is San Miguel, the Manila-brewed beer. It has to be THE cheapest in the world. A 320cc bottle (just over half a pint) costs a mere 6 pence from the local supermarket! If you want to drink it in a bar or cafe, it's about 8-9 pence. It's strong, and for 50 pence you can get well and truly plastered. Before you rush to your travel agent I'll remind you that the fare is around £500 single! Suggest you scrap plans for the Comrades Marathon and come out here instead where the beer flows like water and the girls are amongst the most beautiful in Asia!

It would make an interesting Blip adventure to follow in Tony's footsteps, if only lack of money wasn't such a permanent obstacle. Then again, by now all those Sarawak headhunters probably have their own McDonalds and are dancing Gangnam Style after their evening meal. Being able to Phileas Fogg your way around the world doesn't seem half as romantic in an age when all you're likely to find on the far side of the globe is the same shit you were trying to get away from.

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