Is the journey really worth it?

Taking it slowly: Guatemala’s buses are about the spectacle, not the speed. Photo: Ben GroundwaterIt’s dark outside, pitch black, when the guy with the machine gun gets on board our bus and stalks down the aisle. He’s wearing a balaclava – you can only see the whites of his eyes as he scans the passengers, the gun held tight to his chest.
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A few seconds ago I’d been asleep. Now I’m wide awake, and seriously pondering the wisdom of catching the bus.

The guy walks past me, staring, the gun looking huge in his hands. It takes a few seconds to spot the insignia on his jacket: police. Phew. The balaclava remains a mystery, but we’re somewhere in the middle of southern Mexico and this is no time for questions.

The policeman wanders down the aisle of our bus, scanning passengers, not uttering a word, until, seemingly satisfied, he jumps out and signals us to carry on. The bus pulls back on to the lonely highway, past the roadblock, and continues on into the night.

This is a journey. It could have been quite a simple journey, with a few flights and a taxi ride, but I’ve opted for the more difficult, more interesting and probably more dangerous option.

I’m trying to get from Zipolite, a little surf town on Mexico’s Pacific coast, to Panajachel, a lakeside settlement in Guatemala. My circuitous route, booked with romantic notions of “It’s the journey, not the destination”, will take two-and-a-half days and include three taxis, two local buses, an overnight bus, a cycle rickshaw, a tourist shuttle, a boat, and a border crossing on foot. It will also include countless brushes with local Mexicans and Guatemalans, some spectacular scenery, some uncomfortable nights without much sleep, and a guy in a balaclava with a machine gun. But it’s all about the journey, not the destination, right?

That’s why I’m throwing my backpack into an old van in Zipolite, hoping to catch a lift down the coast to Puerto Angel, the nearest transport hub on this quiet coastline. There are only beach shacks and potholed roads around here, no towns of note until we rattle into Puerto Angel.

From there I’m jumping on a small local bus for the three-hour journey to Tehuantepec, a slightly larger city with a slightly larger bus station. And from there I’ll catch a slightly larger bus, too, one of the surprisingly comfortable intercity vehicles that crisscrosses Mexico, ferrying millions of people a day.

Or night, as it were, because this one is a sleeper, a rocket through the night, speeding me towards the Guatemalan border. The balaclava-clad policemen should probably make me feel safer, but in reality he does the opposite, causing a sleepless night of wondering what the big gun would be used for.

Still, I make it to Tehuantepec unharmed, the sun dawning on another glorious day as we pull into the bus station and unload the backpack once again. I could already be in Panajachel, of course, drinking a mojito on a hotel balcony. And I’m starting to think that would have been a good idea.

In Tehuantepec I’m headed for the taxi stand to make the short journey to the border. Taxis only go so far – I have to do the last few hundred metres on foot, passing the “Bienvenidos a Guatemala” sign before getting a stamp in the passport and crossing to another world. It’s noticeably poorer here, noticeably shabbier as I hail a cycle rickshaw and negotiate a price to the next bus station.

Things are about to get even more interesting. In Guatemala local buses aren’t just any old buses, they’re brightly painted riots of entertainment, often clapped out old things that have clearly had more money spent on their paint job than the maintenance of their engines.

I jump in one and we’re on the road again, this time on a cramped, four-hour journey to the mountain town of Quetzaltenango.

I’m staying the night in Quetzaltenango – there’s no other option. But this still isn’t my destination. The next morning I’m checking out of the hostel and wandering back down to the bus station to board a tourist shuttle, one of the minivans that offers a little more comfort and safety at an inflated price.

They’re not risk-free, however. A few of these shuttles have been stopped by robbers in the past, highway bandits who make off with the bounty of tourist wares. Today, however, we’re left alone on the twisting mountain roads, cruising finally into Panajachel and to the end of the road.

Except, I’m still not there. My hotel is on the banks of Lake Atitlan, which means I’ll need to take a boat to get there. And then, finally, I will have arrived. It’s a beautiful destination – but it’s got nothing on the journey to get there.

The writer travelled at his own expense.

Have you ever taken the more dangerous travel option? What happened? Would you do it again knowing the risks? What would you have done – jump into a small local bus for a four-hour journey or book a flight?

Email: [email protected]南京夜网.au

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Asylum seeker families threaten legal action over potential for Australian-born babies to be sent to Nauru or Manus

An asylum seekers family at Christmas Island.A law firm has asked Immigration Minister Scott Morrison to promise not to send 26 Australian-born babies and their families to offshore detention centres, threatening possible legal action if he does not.
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Maurice Blackburn principal Jacob Varghese said on Tuesday that a number of asylum seeker parents had contacted the firm from Christmas Island, seeking legal assistance to prevent their children from being sent to Nauru or Manus Island. Two of the 26 babies were born in Melbourne.

Mr Varghese said the facilities on Christmas Island were ‘‘not suitable’’ for babies, particularly newborns. But he said that the parents were concerned that their families, like others before them, would be removed with little notice offshore at night.

‘‘We’re told … they’re given five to 10 minutes to pack up their belongings and then they’re whisked off,’’ he said. ‘‘They’re sick of living in fear [that] every night they’ll go to bed and get a knock on the door.’’

Mr Varghese said the parents were worried about their babies, many of whom suffered heat rashes and mosquito bites in offshore detention.  Detainees on Christmas Island do not have direct access to medical staff and rely on security guards to seek medical treatment for themselves and their children. They feared the conditions on Nauru or Manus Island would be worse.

One of the babies was born with a congenital disease, which the parents were advised required surgery when he or she was six weeks’ old.

‘‘To date they’ve not been told anything of when [that will happen],’’ he said.

Changes to the Migration Act last year mean that people who arrived in Australia by boat after July 19, 2013 are classed ‘‘unauthorised maritime arrivals’’ and can be removed offshore. But the law is silent on asylum seekers’ babies who are born in Australia.

The firm is also representing Brisbane-born ‘‘Baby Ferouz’’ in a High Court case that will determine the legal status of such babies.

‘‘We say they cannot be [unauthorised maritime arrivals] because they didn’t arrive by boat, they were born here,’’ Mr Varghese said. ‘‘Accordingly, there is no lawful authority for the government to take them to Nauru or Manus Island.’’

Mr Varghese sent 26 letters to Mr Morrison on behalf of his clients on Monday, asking for a written undertaking that he will not remove the families until after Baby Ferouz’s case has been decided, by 4pm on Wednesday.

‘‘We’re very hopeful the minister will see the sense of this undertaking, there’s clearly a very important legal issue here to be determined in the High Court and there’s no reason these children can’t be kept here until that issue is determined,’’ he said.

‘‘But if the minister doesn’t give that undertaking we will be contemplating appropriate legal action.’’

Mr Varghese said it was unknown when the High Court case would be heard.

He acknowledged that the federal government could still change the law, even if it was successful: ‘‘If they want to make an argument in Parliament that babies should be locked up from the day they’re born, then let Parliament debate that and let Parliament decide it.’’

Mr Morrison said that he was aware of the letter but said: “As this issue is being considered by the High Court it is not appropriate to say anything further at this point.”

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Dozens of police in brawl at Downing Centre court

Ali Mehanna, centre, and two unnamed men outside court. Photo: Emma Partridge Police outside court. Photo: Emma Partridge
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Dozens of police officers have been involved in a brawl inside a Sydney court with a family on trial for brawling with police.

One officer was “smacked in the face” during the fight, witness and 2UE court reporter Leonie Ryan said.

A number of police cars circled the Downing Centre at lunchtime on Tuesday.

The fight broke out minutes after Adel, Hussain and Ali Mehanna were convicted of numerous offences, including affray, resisting arrest and assaulting police during a fight that broke out outside their Bankstown home on January 1, 2013.

Five Mehanna family members were facing police assault charges after the brawl.

Ali Mehanna, who was allegedly involved in Tuesday’s scrum on level four, kept screaming: “This is police brutality.”

Ryan said Adel Mehanna was inside the dock of the courtroom when he started screaming: “I’m going to f—ing kill you.”

Officers then stormed in as Corrective Services attempted to take him away.

“We walked out of court, we were standing outside the doors and all of a sudden we just hear screaming. We turned around and it was almost like a football match brawl,” she said.

“There were punches being thrown everywhere. It was just fists flying everywhere and screaming.”

She said one police officer was punched in the face before a man was tackled to the ground and handcuffed.

Ali Mehanna told reporters outside the court that his brother, who was arrested over the brawl, was the victim of an “unprovoked attack”.

“They provoked my brother as he walked out, they found a reason and then ‘bang’ they jumped on him,” Ali Mehanna said.

“There was officers outside of the courtroom, there was no need for officers to be outside of the courtroom and then as we were leaving there was six or seven of them.”

Family supporter Hassan Anthony kept repeating the words “police brutality”.

“They hit him [a family] to the face, they kneed him in the back,” Mr Anthony said.

“There was no mercy, all because they [police officers] are wearing the colour blue,” he said.

The case continues.

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Australian faces jail for coverage of same story that won Reuters a Pulitzer prize

Bangkok: Reuters’ international news agency has a won Pulitzer prize for exposing the violent persecution of Myanmar’s Muslim Rohingya minority while an Australian journalist and his Thai colleague face jail for their coverage of the same story.
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Alan Morison and Chutima Sidasathian will face criminal defamation charges in a Thai court on Thursdayfor repeating information in a Reuters report on Phuketwan, their small Phuket-based news website.

Thailand’s navy last year launched an unprecedented defamation case against Mr Morison, a former senior editor at The Age, and Ms Chutima for republishing one paragraph word-for-word from a Reuters story that alleged some members of the Thai military were involved in networks smuggling Rohingya boat people from Mynamar.

No action has been taken against Reuters, one of the world’s largest news agencies, over the story that was published in July last year. The London-based company has declined to comment on the case against Mr Morison and Ms Chutima, who say they are prepared to go to jail to defend media freedom in Thailand, where defamation laws are being increasingly used to silence criticism.

The Pulitzer board commended Reuters journalists Jason Szep and Andrew Marshall for their ”courageous reports” on the Rohingya, who in their efforts to flee Myanmar ”often fall victim to predatory human trafficking networks”.

Mr Morison, 66, congratulated Reuters for the Pulitzer, the world’s top award for journalism excellence, awarded each year by Columbia University. ”Jason Szep and Andrew Marshall have worked very hard recently to bring to the wider world the tragedy of the Rohingya that Phuketwan has been consistently reporting since 2008,” Mr Morison said. Ms Chutima was hired by Reuters to help prepare some of the company’s Rohingya coverage.

Stephen Adler, Reuters’ editor-in-chief, said in a statement he was ”immensely proud” of Reuters’ ”high impact series” on the Rohingya. ”For two years, Reuters reporters have tirelessly investigated terrible human-rights abuses in a forgotten corner of the Muslim world, bringing the international dimensions of the oppressed Rohingya of Mynamar to the global attention,” he said.

Mr Szep, one of the authors of the report quoted by Phuketwan, said from Washington he hopes the prize will focus ”greater international attention of the risks and presence of religious violence in Myanmar”.

The prosecution of Mr Morison and Ms Chutima is due to go ahead despite calls by the United Nations and rights groups for the charges to be dropped. Phuket public prosecutor Wiwat Kijjaruk told reporters last week there was enough evidence to proceed ”even though the two said they just republished an article from Reuters … they should have checked the facts before doing so”.

If convicted, Mr Morison and Ms Chutima could face up to seven years in jail.

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Coming to terms with my ‘mummy uniform’

“This the first time I’ve worn clothes day in and day out that are really, truly, comfortable” … Kiran ChugI’ve realised I wear a subtle variation on the same clothes every day; it’s my ‘mummy look’, you could say. Skinny jeans, Converse-type trainers and a t-shirt.
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I’ve had a uniform before. Working in an office in Wellington, it wasn’t long before I found myself dressing in black from head to toe, just like most of my colleagues. It suited the city, I felt, and black certainly dominated the clothing shops in the CBD.

Yet outside the office, I’d try to be more adventurous. I experimented with different looks and new trends, I wore colour, and spent a bit of time putting together interesting outfits to wear at the weekends.

Things have changed dramatically since then. I now pull on a pair of jeans every morning and pair them with a t-shirt and cardigan. I’ve bought myself a floral print bomber jacket to bring my look up to date, but it’s hardly an exciting fashion statement. Neither are the patterned trainer-style flat shoes I slip my feet into each day.

It’s taken a bit of time, but I’ve decided I like my new look. It’s the first time I’ve worn clothes day in and day out that are really, truly, comfortable. They’re all good quality and cut well, and they’re definitely what you would call safe. They look good and wash easily. And with a baby and a toddler to run around after, this is the stuff that’s important. I don’t want to be rearranging a low-cut top or hitching up hipster jeans all day. They also need to be practical and things I don’t mind getting splashed with mud or paint or baby sick.

I haven’t had much money to buy lots of clothes now that my maternity clothes are far too big, but I have spent a little on a few pieces that I can mix and match to wear together. I have three pairs of jeans: two are different shades of blue and one pair is red. They’re all the same style because I know it’s a look I like and it works for me. (And the high waist is necessary after two children!)

My t-shirts and jumpers all match all three jeans options, and my trainers and jacket all work equally well together too. When I’m rushing around in the morning trying to get the kids fed and dressed before my toddler’s daycare drop-off, I don’t have time to spend on sorting out an outfit for myself or trying on different combinations of things. With my wardrobe as it is now, it doesn’t matter that I’m time poor. Everything works together.

I’ve not completely given up on fashion. I still love it and I long for the day when it is practical for me to be more experimental with my look again. For now though, I make do with wearing a statement scarf and this helps add a bit of interest to what I’m wearing. So does the odd bit of bling I wear. (I might have given up on fancy clothes but I’m never giving up my bling.)

I don’t think I’m being a lazy dresser by choosing to wear the clothes that I put on each day. I still want to look good – I just also want to wear clothes which are practical.

The only thing I do really miss each day, however, is wearing heels. I used to wear heels all the time, but now putting them on is a rare occasion; they just aren’t practical for the park, the long muddy walks and the running around I do each day. I never thought I’d become a mum who lived in flats. I guess it’s just another one of the surprises that motherhood brought my way, and another one I’m more than happy to accept.

– © Fairfax NZ News

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