Friday, 14 September 2012

2.8 hours later

6th September 2012

Bristol, UK

"Your goal in the Zombie apocalypse is simple: survive."

On a late summer's evening in the West Country, hordes of blood-thirsty zombies descended upon the streets of Bristol to deliver yet another hair-raising round of "2.8 Hours Later" as part of igfest 2012: the city's 5th annual street games festival. Programmed by Slingshot - who also designed the zombie game itself - the festival took place between the 5th and 8th of September with the aim of providing a completely fresh outlook on the concept of outdoor gaming. Showcasing an eclectic range of street-based games designed by international artists and designers alike, the festival is a celebration of mass social interaction employing the diverse urban landscape of Bristol city centre as its setting.

Having managed to scrape a pair of tickets with a friend for their best-selling zombie-survival game, I was unsure of what I had got myself into as I arrived at the St. Nicks meeting point early evening on Thursday 6th September. Looking around the narrow, stall-lined avenue, the event had attracted a sell-out crowd with large groups of fancy-dressed punters nervously stood about, anxiously discussing what horrors lay ahead. Splitting into groups, the first wave of 'survivors' were asked to huddle around a highly animated game representative who explained the premise and rules that would govern this most unusual of evenings. It went as follows: the world as we know it has come to an end. A destructive virus has destroyed the population of planet earth by turning its inhabitants into soulless, blood-lusting zombies and as 'survivors' of this chronic epidemic, lost in the smouldering ruins of an apocalyptic Bristolian future, it was our task to reach an evacuation point that promised shelter and safety. In order to reach the end of the game, we were all given maps and the night progressed by moving through a series of staged locations using co-ordinates gained from other 'survivors' we would come across throughout the night. These survivors were played by very, very convincing actors who really brought the game to life in the most disturbing of ways. The zombies themselves were littered in and between these staged locations and could potentially be hidden anywhere, resulting in a surreal situation whereby streets I have known my whole life suddenly became steeped in potential peril. If caught by a zombie at any point during this survival dash then a simple tag system came into play (no actual flesh eating thank god), as a simple tap on the body meant you had to stop and let the zombie mark you with the infection using an ultra violet pen. This mark would later be analysed at the evacuation point meaning you could continue playing as a 'carrier' even if you had technically been 'infected'.

After joining forces with a couple who were looking to expand their post-apocalyptic survival team, we were told the first set of co-ordinates and after finding it on the map, headed off into the new dystopian world which had replaced our once familiar city. Arriving down by the archway at the bottom of Broad street, we were met by a terribly distraught young woman dressed in blood-stained scrubs. Clutching a photograph of a man in her hands, she thrust it forwards pleading us to try and find her husband who had gone missing. Taken aback by this crying woman, the game became a reality and from then on the pace of the night never lifted. Telling us that she had last seen him at the old police station, a new set of co-ordinates were given and off we went in search of our next clue. Walking past a highly appropriate 'See No Evil' graffiti mural, which depicted blood pouring down a high office block, we headed down Nelson street until the foreboding, blackened stone fa├žade of the abandoned police station loomed before us. Entering through a rusted gate, a small staircase led us down into the dimly lit prison cells where our first 'encounter' of the night took place; the first in a series of enclosed, claustrophobic 'levels' where the tension and drama were cranked up to dizzying heights. Hearing a scream from down the hallway, a surge of adrenaline pounded through my body as we nervously tiptoed past the dormant jail cells. A low pitched groan then reverberated off the prison bars as we rounded the corner to come face to face with a ferocious zombie who stood in front of the exit door, covered in blood and drunk on rage. A few others had joined us by this stage and seeing no other option but to make a dash for it, we all bolted towards the door he guarded; side-stepping the murderous lunges from the groaning corpse that swayed blindly before us.

Pacing through the centre of Broadmead with the rest of my group afterwards, high on the buzz of surviving my first ever zombie encounter, we kept turning corners to find staggering corpses down every avenue. Not wanting to attract their attentions, we backtracked several times finally reaching a large loading bay behind a row of closed shops just off The Horsefair. In this clearing, surrounded by a gang of drugged-looking zombies, stood a mad scientist dressed in a blood-stained white coat who was waving a glass vial above her head. Sensing our obvious reluctance to approach, the eccentric woman attempted to soothe our concerns by stating that she held an antidote in her hands which acted as a repellent against the undead and that she would only reveal the next set of co-ordinates if we came closer. Having no other choice but to trust her questionable chemistry, we edged forward while constantly keeping an eye on the swaying zombies around us. With the co-ordinates of the next location revealed, the scientist closed the vial without warning which seemed to stir the zombies from their slumber as they suddenly roared into life, grabbing anyone that was not quick enough to react in the mad frenzy that followed. Panting heavily in an adjacent alleyway after the ambush, I looked around for the other members of my team who I had lost when everyone had scattered from the zombie attack. Fortunately they had not gone far and we soon regrouped, checking the map to see that the next location would be the old derelict bank on Wine Street. Arriving at the bank as the sun bid farewell to the day, we were greeted by a maniacal stream of giggling that cackled from within the building. Opening the loading bay door tentatively, a hysterical man introduced himself as the 'banker' whose lunatic disposition and hysterical ramblings proved to be highly disturbing. Pointing to a red line on the floor, he ended his nonsensical tirade by ordering us to follow it as apparently it led to the exit. Leaving him to dwell in his own insanity, we proceeded to follow this red line along gloomy corridors towards a stairwell which brought us down into the basement vault. Entering the underground room, utter anarchy ensued as we discovered a frantic zombie woman snarling at us through the bars of the vault. A sneaky manoeuvre by our new friend Steve, goaded the manic zombie from the doorway she was protecting, allowing us to quickly dash to the relative safety of the street outside.

Darkness had now fallen upon Bristol, stoking new fears in the shadows that formed across the city streets. Using a street light to trace a route towards the next location, we set off across the Victoria street bridge before cutting down an alleyway towards an old church that rested at its far end. Spotting a zombie about 50 metres off, we quickly darted through the iron gate before he saw us in the hope that hallowed ground would protect us from the evil creatures that lurked outside. Wandering in through the large Gothic doors, small shrines displaying missing person posters had been left at the entrance; illuminated by the dying candles that flickered across the walls of the small vestibule. The church itself was submerged in darkness although the figure of a man could just about could be seen in front of the altar ahead; his elongated silhouette bleeding towards the stained glass windows that hung above. Seeing us enter, this manic figure turned around and invited us to come forward although a sick desperation seemed hidden in the invitation. Approaching him one step too far, the 'carrier' leapt forward in a blind rage but was thankfully pulled back just before he reached us by a sturdy chain that shackled him to a heavy wooden pew. Having been bitten, this man was in the process of turning into a zombie yet still held on to a few remaining human faculties allowing him to communicate with us. Ordering the congregation before him to kneel down on our knees, he gave the next set of co-ordinates that would lead us into the latter part of the game...

Charging on into the night, the co-ordinates that the mad priest had given us forged a path towards a series of empty buildings that stood dormant at the entrance to Temple Meads train station. After being called over by another survivor, we were shown into the stairwell of a particularly quiet building whose inner silence contrasted greatly with the hustle and bustle outside. Creeping up the winding stairwell cautiously, we approached a doorway at the top which led into a dark corridor where the only light came from the rooms that led off it. From one of these rooms, a small shrill voice greeted us and we entered to find a bizarre, eccentric-looking lady stood at its centre. Requesting us to come and see her blood-stained kitchen, a surreal tour around her hiding place followed until she gave us a new set of co-ordinates and directed us back into the corridor towards the exit stairwell. Heading down this staircase led to what was, for me at least, the most intense part of the night. Reaching the bottom, a metal door led into a large room filled with columns and more importantly, two dazed looking zombies that snarled at one another in the corner. Carefully tiptoeing through the door, muffled sobbing could be heard coming from a glass-sided stairwell to our left and upon closer investigation we found a very distraught woman who told us her leg had been badly broken. Sensing a potential ambush in her cries for help, we hesitated in stepping forward but with no other options we entered the narrow stairwell and approached the young lady. Suddenly all hell broke loose as a huge roar surged up from the staircase below and before we knew what was happening, a rabid zombie lurched out of the darkness towards us. A manic few seconds drenched in wild panic followed as we beat a hasty retreat; closing the door just as the zombie slammed his head against the glass partition; snarling and hissing before our very eyes. The moment of safety was short-lived though as the other zombies soon rushed over, charging at us from our exposed rear. Avoiding a swipe from their claret-covered claws, the group disbanded in every direction, fleeing through the series of columns towards the exit. Clambering down a final set of stairs in leaps and bounds, I wheezed in the cool air outside while my heart thumped furiously within my chest.

With only one location left, we plodded away from the bright lights of the station and headed towards the industrial-looking area behind Temple Meads. Stumbling through these dark lanes, we finally came upon the big top that marks the newly developed 'Temple Quarter Enterprise Zone' where we discovered more zombies on the gravel square. Deciding to give them a wide berth, a short walk led to our final survivor encounter of the evening. Dressed like some sort of apocalyptic Willy Wonka with a dilapidated leather suitcase full of play dolls before him, the underworld dandy leered at us through his crooked spectacles while his gold teeth glinted in the moonlight. Frantically asking the way, he replied in a guttural drawl, 'I don't have any information for you but my friend does...', lowering his face from view and holding up a small hand puppet that instructed us to cross "The Bridge of Vipers" and then "run like the clappers" to the safety of the evacuation zone. Following the path down to this curiously named bridge, an incredible scene unfolded as a gang of inebriated zombie hookers - the Vixens - tottered in high heels along the metallic crossing which had been lit by photogenic beams of light from below. Managing to reach the other side in one piece, we navigated our way through a few final darkened streets before coming across the evacuation zone which could be seen in the distance....the only problem was that a large gang of zombies blocked the way. Combining forces with another group, we all charged down the street, ducking and weaving through the flailing limbs until finally reaching safety. A brief screening process followed our arrival where each survivor was analysed for ultra-violet infection bites. Those unlucky enough to be branded with the mark were given a zombie makeover to complete their transformation. Emerging from the tents, a zombie disco was in full flow where a few beers rounded off the night with a good old fashioned 'thriller' boogie. 2.8 Hours later was a deeply disturbing but exhilarating experience that I definitely won't forget in a hurry....until the next apocalypse rolls around of course....

This review was published on:


Zombie attack!

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

snapshots: see no evil 2012

18th August 2012

Bristol, England

"See No Evil is an international art project based on Nelson Street in the Bristol City centre. It brings together a selection of the world's best street artists to create a huge outdoor gallery."
The once grim, dull and sterile office blocks that populate the area are brought to life with a splash of colour and several stages of music for a few days each summer. The beautiful thing about it though is that even when the party is over, the huge murals remain on their concrete canvasses all year long. 
Welcome to Nelson Street.
The Ghostly Musketeers.
For 2012, the organisers pulled out all the stops showcasing a much larger festival-style gathering.  Tiny alleyways connect the labyrinthine area together with hidden art lavishly splashed around ever corner.

The event was a testament to the liberal attitude of the Bristol council who allowed a large area of the city centre to be closed down for one big party, relaxing drinking laws and supplying an unobtrusive police presence.
Several of the buildings in the area opened up their doors and put on workshops for people to have a go producing some of their own art.
Ship Shape & Bristol Fashion.
One trippy little dude.
The more attractive side of Nelson Street. No graffiti required.
A record 50,000 people came to Bristol over the weekend to enjoy the elaborate art displays, homegrown Bristol music and a few ciders in the sun of course.
Swagger straight from 1975.
Break-dancing contest in full swing. 
See No Evil Block Party had acts playing from midday to 9pm.

Organic street art.
For me the rooftop party at Froomsgate House was the place to be. Trapping the sun nicely all day, the best house djs in Bristol played to a rammed crowd at the Crack Magazine Hear No Evil stage.
Such as Kowton...For one of his final tunes he played Andres - New For You.  Big tune for a big day in Bristol.
35 individual pieces of art were on display across a wide range of buildings.

A great day turned into a great night down at Timbuk2 for young biggles.....
See No...
A multitude of walkways connected the party together with sneaky little stages squeezed into the various nooks and crannies.
The Nelson Walk.
Growing bigger every year, See No Evil looks like it will join St. Pauls as the place to be every summer. 

Sunday, 29 July 2012

snapshots: harbourside festival 2012

22nd July 2012

Harbourside, Bristol

Pero's Bridge welcoming the crowds to Bristol's 41st annual Harbourside Festival. 
Getting down mid-afternoon, I took a seat on the cascade steps which  plunge down into St. Augustine's Reach to enjoy Bashmema finish off her set by playing out Nina Simone's 'My Baby Just Cares For Me' to a sun-worshipping audience.
Down by the water; under the stars.
Millennium Square in full swing. The crowds reflected into the clear blue sky.
Four points of view.
The Millennium Square mime troupe.
After venturing down the slope to the Loyd's Amphitheatre, I came across a sign which directed me to the 'Happy City stage' where a motley crue by the name of One Shot got Bristol dancing to some Funky Dub Reggae. On the same tip as Gentleman's Dub Club minus the animated frontman.
The boats of Bristol harbour.
"Give I a cider!" - 6pm.
In his element.
The Rozzers patrolling Queen Square.
(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Harbour.
In flight.
Banging a djembe in Queen Square.
Walking home. A Cotham sun set.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

the end of it all....

1st July 2012

Bristol, England

           "Once a journey is designed, equipped, and put in process, a new factor enters and takes over. A trip, a safari, an exploration, is an entity, different from all journeys. It has personality, temperament, individuality, uniqueness. A journey is a person in itself; no two are alike. And all plans, safeguards, policing, and coercion are fruitless. We find after years of struggle that we do not take a trip; a trip takes us. Tour masters, schedules, reservations, brass-bound and inevitable, dash themselves to wreckage on the personality of the trip. Only when this is recognized can the blow-in-the-glass bum relax and go along with it. Only then do all frustrations fall away." - John Steinbeck

            So after three continents, twelve countries, eighty six blog posts and two hundred and forty seven days of travelling through sun-scorched deserts, humid jungles, squalid slums and windswept valleys on a variety of buses, bikes, cars, trains and planes, the finishing line of this terrific world marathon has finally been reached and I find myself back home. Predictably I'm finding it quite hard to adjust and digest everything that's happened to me since last October, although thankfully this blog does allow me to break down the months into manageable memories that help me reflect upon the ambitious path I have trodden since India. The trip, as Steinbeck so eloquently puts it, did indeed ignore my tentative pre-planned steps back in Delhi and instead thrust me upon an uncertain trail filled with terrifying but exciting new experiences. Although it's true that things calmed down once I had got my bearings, there have been many other times since then where I have been forced back onto that wild pathway and although I often feel uncomfortable when there, I relish these moments as I learn the most from them. I remember being sat in my room during the final weeks leading up to this trip, frantically taking notes of things that I apparently must see and do in each country. Although I'm sure a lot of what I read subconsciously informed later decisions, ultimately it was not really necessary as the real excitement and freedom granted by travelling independently is only truly exercised by occasionally throwing both caution and guidebooks to the wind and allowing fate to decide your next step. Some of the best experiences I had during my travels did not come about by reading the lonely planet but by taking a gamble and stumbling upon them unexpectedly. The key thing to acknowledge is that there are so many opportunities that pop up on the road but they are often only accessible by accepting that you can't control when or how they will present themselves. All you can ultimately do is to make sure you prepare yourself properly before leaving and then once on the plane, open your mind and let whatever happens, happen. 

Thanks for reading.


final days in rio

8th - 13th June 2012

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

            Turning to the final chapter of my story, I awoke mid-afternoon on the 8th June 2012 to find myself pulling into the central bus terminal of the exhilarating, beach-bound metropolis that is Rio de Janeiro. Excited by the thoughts of ending the adventure with a bang in this world-famous carnaval city, I left the station with my new found Swedish friend Maya - who had been sitting next to me on the 24hr coach from Puerto Iguazu - and hopped on a local bus towards the golden sands of the iconic Ipanema beach. Maya had already booked a dorm room in the stylish barrio (neighbourhood) and she suggested I tag along to see if the small hostel had any more beds available. Having once again forgotten to pre-book anything myself, I decided to join her and after searching for the address she had written down for the hostel, we finally stumbled across the "Girl From Ipanema" guesthouse which had tucked itself down a small alleyway around two blocks back from the beach. Luckily, I managed to nab a bed although it did set me back an extortionate 50 Reals (£15!) - quite a shock to the system having enjoyed £5 beds for weeks in cheap-as-chips Bolivia... After checking in at the front desk, I went for a walk with la chica con el sombrero rojo down to the glowing beach where we sat and watched the last light fade from the sky. Lying back on the fine white sand, ferocious waves crashed into the beach while people sat behind us in the promenade bars enjoying the warm evening with their glasses of caipirinhas. This was it, I had arrived!  Rio de Janeiro is probably one of the most beautiful cities on the planet and as a final stop on my long journey, I feel that I definitely saved the best until last. Over the past eight months I have been lucky enough to visit many of the world's major metropolises: Delhi, Bangkok, Saigon, Sydney, Buenos Aires and La Paz have all captivated me in their own mad way and Rio, I'm glad to say, was no different. The lucid energy and dazzling atmosphere of the "Cidade Maravilhosa" struck me the moment I stepped off the bus and my excitement reached new levels when I caught my first glimpse of the outstretched arms of Christ the Redeemer who perched magnificently on his throne up among the clouds. I spent a few days in the barrio of Ipanema wandering along the cosmopolitan roads of the affluent area by day and kicking back in the numerous beach-side bars by night. On the Friday evening a few of us from the hostel jumped in a taxi and headed over to the notorious Lapa street party which takes place every week beneath the iconic white archways that span a vast central square. Getting out of the taxi, we ran for shelter from a monsoonal deluge which had started to tip down from the heavens and although everyone was soaked within minutes there was little that nature could do to dampen the spirits of the caipirinha-chugging weekend locals who danced into the downpour until finally seeking refuge in the Circo Voador mega club that lurked between the glistening archways. Here is Lapa by day:

The famous white Lapa archways.
Lapa Town.
Besides the archways the other thing Lapa is famous for is the Escardaria Selaron. The mosaic steps of Chilean born artist Jorge Selaron attracts thousands of tourists to the edgy neighbourhood. 
Location of Rio within Brazil.

                  Wanting to see a bit more of the city, I decided to leave Ipanema and headed over to the adjacent neighbourhood of Copacabana on the Sunday as I found a charming hostel by the name of Pura Vida  for just 20 Reals (£6)  a night. A former home to an extravagant Polish ambassador, the new owners had preserved the ornate architecture, chandeliers and wooden interiors which adorned the grand-looking building making it a very pleasant final place to rest my head before heading home. Walking the 100 metres down to the beach on the Sunday morning, I strolled along the geometric mosaic waves of the Copacabana promenade while legions of joggers and rollerbladers filled the main road which had been closed for the day. Stepping down onto the beach, I headed towards the jutting rock of the Arpoador which connects Copacabana with Ipanema while the sun sank behind a congregation of clouds in the sky. The beach itself was no less busy than the road as volleyball players dived across their sandy courts while surfers jogged towards inviting waves and teams of footballers whipped balls across their yellow pitches. Stopping for a beer at one of the small promenade bars, I looked down the length of the beach and saw the Pao de Acucar (Sugarloaf) rising imperiously in the distance; the small cable cars could just be seen ferrying people back and forth between the two famous oval peaks that jut out into the Atlantic. Here is Copacabana:

To have such an incredible beach so close to a major city is one of Rio's Ace cards. 
Extravagant sand castles line the promenade.
Pao de Acucar . The Sugarloaf
Final night on Copacabana.
              Losing myself in the hustle and bustle of this exciting city, I suddenly realised on the Sunday evening that only four days remained before I was due to catch my flight back home and I had still not fulfilled my primary objective in Rio. On the Monday therefore, I set off from the hostel mid-morning with my sights set firmly on the top step of Cristo Redentor. The world-famous Christ the Redeemer statue which stands elegantly atop the 700 metre high Corcovado mountain, took nine years to build and at 130ft high it is actually the fifth largest statue of Jesus in the world weighing in at a phenomenal 635 tonnes. I had been thinking about this statue for awhile and in my head had built it up as the symbolic finish line for the whole trip. It wasn't just another tourist attraction for me, it was a fitting conclusion to my journey. Now the weather, it has to be said, was not fantastic during my stay in Rio and although I often awoke to find a clear blue expanse occupying the sky it frequently descended into clouds and humid rain by mid-afternoon. As I trundled along towards the base of the famous statue on the Monday morning in a local bus from Copacabana, I noticed a gang of ominous clouds which had started to impose themselves upon the clear day. Arriving at the base of the Corcovado mountain, the sky was still valiantly holding on to a few of it's remaining blue ribbons but as I boarded the small train which shuttles people up to the statue, I groaned as the gentle patter of rain started to drum upon the roof of the carriage. After a brief ten minute chug to the highest station, I exited the train and saw that the blue sky had gone and been replaced by a blanket of grey clouds that were grower darker by the second. Looking up towards the sharp peak of the mountain, Christ the Redeemer loomed above me with his outstretched arms as I paced two at a time up the final set of stairs to the end of my journey. Nearing the top, I brought my foot down upon the final step and in doing so, closed this particular chapter of my life. Walking along the pathway to the far balcony, the city of Rio de Janeiro spread out before me and although the rain had since started to lash down in a manic fervour, I stood and looked out over the last eight months of my life; letting memories of light seep across the final page of my story.

Thank you Rio. Thank you world.

It's time to go home.


First glimpses of Criso Redentor.
Catching the train to the top of the Corcovado.
The final symbolic top step of the Corcovado. 
Christ the Redeemer.
Bye bye Rio.