“Alcohol, drugs, violence, and insanity. Everything you need in proper travel writing but almost never get” – Jake Needham, author of THE BIG MANGO and seven other bestselling Asian crime novels.
Once Vanya books his ticket to South East Asia for a grunge fix, it’s a haphazard journey on Garuda’s turf in Indonesia, Cambodia, Thailand, and Malaysia. He seems to stumble into danger spots, drawn in inexorably, and tries to take it in his stride.
In GARUDA’S TRAVELS Sins & Redemption the author hooks up with an unhinged Balinese to explore Java’s sex trade in a Surabaya cemetery and pops in to say hello to Dolly, Surabaya’s red light district before it’s shut down forever. He goes island hoping to Lombok and east again to Sumbawa where he and the Balinese search for treasure in the Pompeii of the East. Just follow the power lines, says his Balinese side kick, so they don’t get lost on Tambora’s volcano slope.
There they discover an overgrown digging site that archeologists had set up in search of the demise of the villages that lived on the volcano’s slopes. They find some treasure of their own — eighth century Chinese porcelain and 200 year old calcified rice. The year 1815 was known as the summer without sun in Europe and the birth of Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein. It was the same year that Tambora exploded, leaving a pocked mark crater that can be seen from space.
He witnesses a few historical moments too. Admittedly he prefers to be in an aircon room watching HBO and getting live news feeds of these breaking events on twitter. He is a reluctant traveler. He gets up late, addicted to energy drinks, and hates flying. It’s remarkable how he managed to write a book, let alone travel. Dengue is a good friend of his — he has a close shave with death in Bali — and throughout the book, the recurrence of the mosquito borne disease pops up all over the place. It’s an integral part in the surreal and at times, unhinged nature of the book.
A month crawling on the boarders of Southern Thailand, he attempts to understand a dirty little war that over a decade has killed over 6000 people. The first two weeks were spent at the border town of Kalok. Bird watching at a peat swamp was his cover.
He returned to Southern Thailand a week before the end of Ramadan on his second trip. Trouble was brewing, and he was warned to be very low key. Instead of reading news feeds, on his trip to Betong, he’s broadcasting them. A car bomb has gone off a block away from his hotel. He’s out on the streets documenting, and watching out for the second bomb that never came.
Then the next day he’s scampering for his life — he believes either the military or the insurgents, or both, are after him. Maybe he’s just paranoid. Or maybe not. Two people were killed and 40 badly injured. While in Betong, which is on the Thai- Malaysia border, he also has time to visit a Malaysian communist insurgent tunnel. He gets lost and has a panic attack. He’s not sure what is worse, getting lost in a rat’s warren of tunnels or being a potential target of a lethal car bomb.
In Indonesia while looking for buffalo racing, he’s stumbled on Shiite refugees in Madura. There he is suspected of being CIA by Indonesian secret police but thanks to his trusty Balinese driver, manages a clumsy escape. It must be noted that the driver informed authorities that he was journalist which only fueled the paranoia of the Indonesian authorities.
Garuda’s Travels is journey of self realisation — can someone be really this dysfunctional and live to tell the tale? He’s hot from the grime and the mud and the dust, and willingly dives in the scrums where ordinary people live against the odds. He travel’s with a Chief Editor some of the time – a case of the blind leading the blind. Redemption can’t be too far away.