The 27th of September marks World Tourism Day and the theme for 2016 is accessible tourism.

Souvenirs are a part of every traveler’s journey, from the traditional fridge magnets and sew on flag patches, to some of the stranger mementos we gather along the road…

Zambia (2014) – Toilet Receipt

Toilet breaks in any country are rarely experiences you want to remember, particularly at bus stops in Africa.  I cannot imagine an instance where I would need to prove I visited the toilet.  What manner of dire circumstance could I be in where I would need a receipt for my toilet visit?  I really did go you know!  And in the instance in which I did need it, would a receipt suffice, or would further evidence be required?  If I ever do find myself in such a conundrum I really hope I am in Zambia.

From the officious people of Nyimba District Council
From the officious people of Nyimba District Council

Nepal (2015) – Happy Birthday

From all the time I have spent travelling, it took until 2015 to have my first birthday overseas.  My birthday usually falls just before the AFL Grand Final (sometimes on it) and while a St Kilda supporter would usually have no reason to save the weekend, it’s as close as Melbourne comes to a Holy celebration.  In the month of September Melbourne is abuzz and after our long miserable winter, it’s one of the best times to be home.  However, in October 2015 I found myself in Ganesh Than, Nepal, as part of an earthquake rebuilding program.

In the middle of the afternoon we stopped work on the reconstruction of the local school.  The children, who were learning in their makeshift classroom, a tarpaulin strung up between a few trees, filed down the hill with their teachers in tow.  One by one I was presented with handwritten ‘Happy Birthday’ messages and then humbled with the Nepali version of Happy Birthday, which pretty much consists of those two words over and over again.

Happy Birthday from Nepal!
Happy Birthday from Nepal!

Fiji (2005) – Turtle clock

For as long as I can remember I have had a fascination with turtles and tortoises.  My collection of trinkets started as a child and has grown into, well, some would say an obsession.  In every country I try to find at least one souvenir turtle or tortoise, a unique piece to add to my collection, which currently sits somewhere in the vicinity of 500 – 600, I stopped counting a long time ago.  Fiji, therefore, is one of the most dangerous places for me to visit – dangerous for my budget!  Me entering a Fijian gift shop is like Veruca Salt in Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory – I want it all!  I want it now!  If money and luggage restrictions were no barrier I would have returned with shipping container.  Of the many I added to my collection, including a club, brain fork and wall hanging, my battery powered clock continues to run, more than 10 years after coming to back to Australia with me.

Still keeping time
Still keeping time, not island time thankfully 🙂

Malawi (2014) – Wooden Bowl

Nhkata Bay, east of Mzuzu, was the number one recommendation for my trip to Malawi.  It is now my number one recommendation to you.  An amazing slither of a country, Malawi is devastatingly beautiful, a lake coastline that feels like the ocean, warm tropical heat and lush green hillsides.  In Nhkata Bay, tourists seldom leave the backpacker accommodation, the kind of dwellings where weedy middle aged German men with dreadlocks who have smoke copious amounts of ganga live for months and develop first name basis relationships with all the staff.  Even less of the mzungu crowd try to enter the local prison.  Inspired by Rusty Young’s ‘Marching Powder,’ I asked at the front gate of Nhkata Prison whether I could take a tour.  I was informed that no such tours existed however I could return the next day for the market, where prisoners who learned skills inside such as woodwork, sell their wares in preparation for their release.  And so I did return the following day and from Menok, who was due for release in four months time, I bought a wooden bowl for KW2000.

Malawi: Wooden Bowl made by inmate Menok
Malawi: Wooden Bowl made by inmate Menok

Cote d’Ivoire (2006) – Boxing Glove Keyring

The 10 days I spend in Cote d’Ivoire in 2006 were an amazingly transformative experience.  The boy who entered the Ivory Coast from Takoradi, Ghana was not the man who stepped foot into Liberia shortly after.  In the midst of slum accommodation, incredible African hospitality and a simmering civil war, was a 3 day bus ride.  A journey of only 500kms was stretched into 3 painfully long days and nights – nights spent sleeping on roadsides and in bus seats and days broken up by security checkpoints.

In the middle of day 2, our rickety old bus was swimming along the Ivorian jungle roads, roads which Tim Burton could have designed, with roadside trees lunging towards the vehicles, their branches brushing the roof and sides.  As we passed a truck, the inevitable gush of wind blew our bus to the side and smattering of branches concluded with the implosion of the front windscreen.  The passengers in the front recoiled in fright and a chorus of abuse rang through the aisles.  The driver, his ego in a similar state to the windscreen, pulled over to assess the damage and discarded the smashed windscreen to the side of the road.  A small boxing glove in the colours of the Ivorian flag lay amongst the rubble.  I quickly snatched it as we were ushered back aboard.  When I returned home months later the boxing glove took pride of place hanging from my rearviewmirror, reminding me always to drive safely.

Cote d'Ivoire: the bus trip from hell
Cote d’Ivoire: the bus trip from hell

Philippines (2003) – Monkey Skull Headdress

At the time, as an unseasoned traveller, this headdress embodied pretty much everything I thought I would encounter when travelling the world.  It spoke of all the otherworldliness that foreign countries seduced me with – voodoo style animal remains, native mysticism and indigenous culture.  My most endearing memory of this piece is the lengths I went to to keep it in tact.  It wasn’t the kind of souvenir I could wrap in newspaper and bury at the bottom of my bag.  It lived in a San Miguel Ginebra box, carefully protected with newspaper, for the 2 months from purchase to arriving home.  On every bus, taxi and jeepney trip it sat on my lap, offered all the protection of a newborn child.  When I returned to Australia, it was obviously something that had to be declared, but $60 and several laser beams later and it was mine for good.

Philippines: The infamous monkey skull headdress
Philippines: The infamous monkey skull headdress

Tanzania (2010) – Picture Frame

After two years living in Tanzania I collected more than a few souvenirs (mostly turtles) and definitely exceeded my luggage restrictions on the way home.  One of the most precious possessions I have is this picture frame, given to me by Elizabeth, a friend and participant in a program I managed to support young mothers in education.  Elizabeth dropped out of secondary school in 2008 to give birth to twins, Grace and Gladness (pictured) and then returned to complete her secondary education in 2010.  Her husband, who missed the first 2 years of his daughters’ lives returned and now lives together with Elizabeth, Grace, Gladness and Israeli, their son who was born in 2011.

Tanzania: Coffee bean picture frame
Tanzania: Coffee bean picture frame

Jamaica (2007) – Bracelet

Winifred Beach, in Boston Bay, Jamaica – a secluded, picturesque Caribbean setting of white against blue and a green background.  Of course such a setting inevitably draws tourists and their dollars, which in turn attracts touts, like moths to a flame, eager to separate the white men (and women) from their dollars.  In Kingston this separation is attempted with a minimum of tact or showmanship, however in Winifred Beach I was won over, ‘Ey marn, ya buy dis bracelet ‘ere marn, give den ya woman and she ne’er leave you marn, ne’er leave ya.’  At the time I had no woman and was on high alert after Kingston, yet somehow his pitch, though probably recited a thousand times, sounded mystical, genuine and powerful.  The bracelet was duly purchased and to this day has never been passed on.  It sits tucked away and the words still ring whenever I look at it.  It is still waiting, for that one woman who I will never want to leave me.

Australia (2002) – Paperweight

Another tortoise from the collection, this time from Central Australia.  My first trip to the ‘red centre’ was as a child in 1986 and our family returned for another holiday in 1995.  In 2002 I made my first trip as an adult, driving from Melbourne through Adelaide and Coober Pedy.  The artwork from the Northern Territory is incredibly diverse, from rock paintings thousands of year’s old, to the famed dot style paintings on canvas and wood, to basket weaving, iron sculptures and modern art.  This paperweight is hand painted on wood by a local Alice Springs artist and although it will never hold a place in a museum, it’s another important piece to my turtle/tortoise (obsession?) collection.

Tortoise paperweight from the Red Centre
Tortoise paperweight from the Red Centre

Mexico (2006) – Blue Demon

A far cry from the polished world of WWE, the Arena Mexico felt in desperate need of renovations (or demolition), the crowd were a heaving mass of grown men, chugging cheap Mexican beer and the entertainment took themselves far less seriously.  When it comes to Lucha Libre, there is only one name to know, Alejandro Munoz Moreno, or more affectionately, the Blue Demon.  Debuting in 1948, Moreno wrestled for an incredible 41 years, retiring at the age of 67.  His blue mask is known throughout the world and on that night in 2006 I became another devotee of ‘Blue,’ though have rarely had another occasion to wear his mask.