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Letters from the road
Thursday, 13 July 2017
The Dogs of Quito
Topic: South America
The dogs of Quito must be the happiest strays in the world. Whether just hanging around under the mince cart looking for scraps, or resting in the sun before seeking out another pat, they were universally chilled. I never saw a skinny, angry, or sick one in my couple of weeks here. his place must be as close to stray heaven as you can get.


I'm trying out a new image host so bear with me. Click this link for more puppy pics

Posted by bondrj at 12:01 AM NZT
Updated: Friday, 14 July 2017 11:51 AM NZT
Thursday, 6 July 2017
Photobucket is trying to extort $300 per year out of it's users by blocking third party display of pictures. Will have to find another option, till then the picture links still work, it just dosent look as pretty.

Posted by bondrj at 8:36 AM NZT
Updated: Thursday, 6 July 2017 8:39 AM NZT
Friday, 23 June 2017
Basílica del Voto Nacional
Topic: South America
 photo WP_20170622_14_44_05_Pro.jpg



    After Spanish school most days  I go for a wander around town. Ecuador being 98% catholic, as my Spanish teacher tells me, it's no surprise that there are a fair few churches around town. The Basílica del Voto Nacional of Quito isn't the flashest joint, that honour goes to the La Iglesia de la Compañía de Jesús a gold leaf covered monster in the center of town, but It's sort of on my way home if you don't mind walking up a big hill. Started in 1883 it still is technically not finished. The first couple of years were a bit slow relaying on donations, but then the government stepped in wacking a tax on salt to fund the construction. After all poor people gotta eat, and they need another huge church to add to the 15 they already have. Local rumour has it that the world will end when they finally finish it. For two bucks you can climb the tower. I get the feeling this was not in the original design. The path up to the tower looks like it was built by two old blokes for a box of beer. Wonky walkways, steep steps, and the feeling that the whole lot might collapse any minuet while your hanging outside the dome 150 feet up add to the sense of adventure. The steps would probably not pass a OHS audit in India. The view from the top is probably the second best in Quito bar the Teleferico cable car which goes to the top of a nearby mountain but seems to be always covered in cloud. I recommend lighting a candle and putting a bit of coin in the poor box as a bit of divine insurance before the trip.


Click the pic for more photos 

Posted by bondrj at 1:36 PM NZT
Updated: Friday, 14 July 2017 3:10 PM NZT
Monday, 15 May 2017
King Valley and the Winerys
Topic: Australia
 photo P1000575.jpg

    I used to organize bike rides until I found someone who was much better at it than I am. So after a couple of years of sleeping in backpackers on my rides, Brian and his partner Mandy decided to take it up a notch. Even better still they had the left field idea of stopping at winerys for refreshments during the ride. I know when I'm beaten. I humbly passed the batten to some truly worthy holders. Brian only does luxury , I'm sure he could sniff out a seven star room with spa on a rubbish dump. So when his Paige delivered the invitation to accompany him on his Captains Table tour of the King Valley winerys how could I resist. 

    Liz and Phil couldn't make it as Phil had just announced his retirement from public duties, but the rest of the gang where there with bells on. The reverend even had a word with the bloke upstairs and turned on the weather for us. First stop was Primerano wines where the owner put on the best selection of cheese, meats, and bread that I have ever seen at a tasting. On to Chrismont to check out their new luxury tasting house, pity it was at the top of a hill. Then on to the Whitty cafe for lunch, followed by Pizinni, and Del Zotto. After that we rode back to sample some of our purchases and relax in front of the pot belly before dinner. A big thanks to Brian and Mandy for the organization. Thanks also to the King river camp for looking after us, with a couple of great  home cooked meals and breakfasts.

You know the story Click the pic above for some more photos, or here if you have an I pad.

cheers 007

Posted by bondrj at 1:52 AM NZT
Updated: Friday, 14 July 2017 3:23 PM NZT
Monday, 23 January 2017
A Family Holiday
Topic: Asia
 photo P1000248.jpg

    When I last went on a family holiday it was 1967, it was camping at Rosebud, a suburban beach not far from where I live. I remember having fun. Fifty years later It's time to try it again. All I need to do is borrow a family. My friend lives in Canberra, her parents live in Ireland, her brother in Ukraine, they'll do. Even better still they have already organized it. All I have to do is buy an airfare. 

    Langkawi is somewhere in the middle of all of us, I fly from Melbourne, crash out in the airport hotel at KL, the head to my next flight and meet my friend. She hasn't slept, and I forgot to tell her my room number, no photos of this bit. Back on another plane for the hour long flight to Langkawi where we catch up with the rest of them. John has booked a luxury villa for us near Pantai Cenang. This will be our home for the next three weeks including christmas and new year.

    Langkawi was once the home of pirates, until the poms cleaned them out in the 40's. It was then a sleepy little group of island until the prime minister decided to build a tourist industry there in the mid 80's. Pro's it has good beaches, cheap shopping, and is duty free so scotch runs at about $15 a bottle.

Cons No pork products due to religious concerns. You can jump on the ferry for an hour long ride to Ko Li Pe Thailand if you need bacon that badly. We are located 5 minutes out of town, which is full of cheap places to eat. This is just as well as our self catering villa doesn't have much in the way of cooking gear. A good meal runs from about $2.50 at a noodle joint to about $35 at a fresh lobster place. Diving is big here. We take a couple of day trips out to the reefs to swim with the fish, and check out the eagles. Add in a trip to the cable car and you pretty much have it covered. 

    Most days we went into town for a meal or two, and a swim. I read countless books on my kindle, which is my kind of relaxing. Christmas we had a bang up buffet at a big hotel, and on new years eve we  snuck into another big hotel on the beach to watch the fireworks, dance, and drink B52 shooters. 

    It was all over too quickly. Thanks to my sponsors, Bob's bar, The Sun cafe, The Frangipani hotel, and the Muddiman Family.

Click the pic for more

Posted by bondrj at 1:26 AM EADT
Updated: Friday, 14 July 2017 3:49 PM NZT
Wednesday, 9 November 2016
The Mallee
Topic: Australia
Brim Silos photo 20161010_153200.jpg


          The Mallee looms large in the minds of Victorians. Large in area, but generally not in our consciousness. If you asked most people they would describe it as a lump of dry hot flat land somewhere out there (North East), covered in not much, except scrub and dust. Try the Little Desert National Park if you want to see what it used to look like. Technically it's an area where one type of tree Mallee Eucalypts lives, forty thousand square kms with 2 people per square km. Most of of them live together in two towns. We weren't  really going there, but somehow or Mick and I ended up there.
             Before 1900, hardly anyone lived here, there ain't many more now, I guess it's real haydays was the 20's to the 80's. At the turn of the century they built railroads, that enabled settlement and land clearing. The following years saw sheep and grain farming in good years or record droughts in bad years. Life here is hard, and by the 80's governments were cutting back on services which has lead to the hollowing out of many once busy towns. The place has always been boom and bust, and at the moment its doing both at the same time.   
           Quambatook, Sea Lake, Patchewollock, and Manangatang, quite often these places only have a Grain Silo, a rail line, and a well maintained war memorial. Whether they enlisted  for King and Country, an adventure, or just the only way out of here, their towns remember them. If you are really lucky there  will be a bakery and a pub. For some reason the Mallee seems to have the best Snot Block makers in the world. Otherwize Lake Tyrrell is an unlikely chinese tourist hit. Number two is the painted silos at Brim, Three climb the 43 meter My Wycheproof and you have pretty much covered the tourist attractions.
          Recent rain has enabled the local farmers to plant huge paddocks of grain as far as the eye can see. Now and again we would pass a machinery yard full of huge tractors, and new headers just waiting for the bank manager to approve the loan. If only it would stop raining, all they want at the moment is sunshine to ripen the wheat. The further you get off the main road we got, the more interesting stuff we'd find. Abandoned WW11 tanks, Old custom houses, bargain real estate, who knows what else is out there.

Posted by bondrj at 11:09 PM EADT
Updated: Friday, 14 July 2017 3:45 PM NZT
Tuesday, 27 September 2016
The Rock
Topic: Australia

The Rock photo The Rock.jpg   

 Ayers Rock (Uluru)

           Once upon a time I used to work for Ansett the now defunct airline. In the early 80’s we spent 9 months in the basement of their long demolished city headquarters turning it into a high tec computer centre.  We would rock up in the dark, leave in the dark, and spend all day in the dark. The only reason I mention this is that on the wall of our basement smoko room was one lonely poster of Ayres Rock. In-between whinging about the job, boss, and a myriad of other things over a cuppa, we’d look up at the big red monolith glaring down on us. One day Pete looked up and announced “when this jobs finished I’m going there”. I said Me too, and thus my first trip to Central Australia was organised. I’ve been there many times since and it’s still one of my favourite road trips. Up the Stuart Highway, through the empty desert, past  abandoned rocket bases, opal mines,  side trip to the rock, then on to Alice Springs. There is nothing like it anywhere else in the world. Thirty years ago we took a 4 wheel drive, lots of beer, and a .303 jungle carbine, not much trouble you can’t get out of with that combo.  This time things would be different.

My companions would be one 40 year old female, and her cat. Well the cremated remains of her cat at least. Sal had been planning a major expedition but only ended up with a week off between contracts, so I said I’d go with her and share the driving in the volkswagon. I worked till lunch time, told the guy’s I was leaving a bit early, and forgot to mention that I would not be back for a while. Race back home grab a couple of swags, socks and jocks, were off. The whole trip nearly started as a disaster as Sally left Frizzy on the roof of the car as we were taking off from home. He nearly ended up being unceremoniously spread up and down the western highway by a thousand truck tyres.  By that night we were in Adelaide drinking espresso martinis. Thanks Charlotte, day one,700km down.

The next morning, after breakfast at the central market, we started north. Quick stop at Ray’s tent city, to pick up a few bits we had forgotten. Lunch at Snowtown, perhaps I should of packed the .303, then to Port Au Gutter, for food and the last cheap fuel $1.06/litre. Here at a fairly innocuous intersection the road splits, and the real trip starts. Go straight Perth 2400 KM, go right Darwin 2800 KM, either way it’s going to be a long time before you see civilisation again.  The road so far has run through wheat country, it’s been a wet winter and the crops all are looking good.  After the turn you’re straight into the outback, no more wheat. Not much of anything actually, just 200km of two lane blacktop till Pimba, population not many.  I spent three days here once at Spud’s road house. I blew up a water pump on my car, and spent the extra day waiting for some useless idiot to actually send the part I ordered.  There isn’t much to do here, but Spuds has a bar, and a one armed mechanic who’s actually pretty good.  Just down the road five clicks away is Woomera, Australia’s own version of Cape Canaveral. In the 80’s it had just stopped being a closed town, and still had a pretty sizable population. Now it has a huge pub/motel, museum, and a rocket park, the place is just missing people. Quick photo stop, click, hit the road. Fortunately our next stop is only 400 KM away.

Coober Pedy is the self proclaimed opal capital of the world. You know you’re getting close when you start seeing 100,000 mole hills of dirt randomly placed in the desert. If you walked over to check one you would probably fall down an open mine shaft. It’s a great place to disappear permanently.  Unusually it’s raining, a rare event around here. Instead of pulling out the swags we take a room in the underground motel. It’s underground to beat the summer heat, not the rain. Apart from the rock walls and no windows it’s pretty much like any other hotel room.  Kilometres for the day 880, diesel $1.48/litre. 

The next morning we fill up and head to Ayres Rock, its only eight hours drive and another state away. A couple of nature stops, a photo on the Territory border, we’re there just before sunset.  Its still raining on and off, and the desert is as sea of wild flowers, and not the usual red dust.  The last time I was here it was 1983. There was 500km of corrugated red dirt road to the boarder, and another 200 to the rock. We camped under the rock, and spent the evening spotlighting the dingo’s looking for dinner around the campsite. The next day we climbed it. It took an hour and a half in the heat, and I remember it as bloody hard yakka. A bloke asked us how much for one of the beers from a six pack we carted to the top. “You don’t have enough mate”. Life this time is a bit different. It’s still raining so we book into the nearest camp, the $470 a night 5 Star Uluru resort a mere 15km from the rock.  We jump in the car, spend $50 at the park gate so we can drive 5km to the spot everyone takes their rock sunset photos from, stand there with 500 others snapping away for an hour while the sun sets. Been happening every night for the last 50 years. My effort is here. Only disappoint the resort buffet was booked out, we had 2 min noodles instead.  Total clicks for the day 750, diesel $1.78 a litre so I fill up from the jerry can I’ve bought with me.

The next morning its off to the Olgas, circle of the rock, look at the climb. To bloody hard. Fritz comes out for a photo, then a lazy 320 km drive to Kings Canyon. This is now a sealed road, and you can get a red at resort near the canyon. The place is full of Grey Nomads and their $100,000 4WD camper combos. Unfortunately the canyon now includes a new Euro experience style interpretive shelter and a barrier that prevents you seeing the most interesting bit of it unless you want to do an hour and a half walk around the rim. We just walked around the barrier, don’t know what the nomads did. Canyon Tick. Alice is only 330 km via the shortcut. The short cut is 100km of dirt called the Ernest Giles road.  At the start there is the standard 4WD recommended sign, then a few more. No worries.  My friend looks very worried.  Can’t say you have really been to the territory without doing some dirt.  An hour and a half later it’s back to the bitumen and 130 kmh. We meet my mate at the Gap hotel. He’s been kicked out temporally by the girlfriend, so we book into the casino. Only 4.5 stars bummer, but a good buffet breaky.  680km for the day, diesel $1.18/l.

Saturday is domestic day, buffet, Target for some board shorts, pool therapy, bit of washing, Todd Mall for the market. Wait till two to buy beer,  barbie , and then back to the Gap for dinner. 0 km and a few beers. Diesel, who needs it.

Sunday is a relaxed 270km drive, almost a picnic. Glen Helen return , via the scenic West McDonnell ranges.  Along the way we check out the swimming holes at Ellery Creek and Ormiston Gorge. At the height of summer they’re cold, it’s not summer, but I go for a swim anyhow. Against my friends wishes, I stop and help out the obligatory group of black fellas with a busted commodore. Their car now has 7 litres of sparkling spring water cooling it. That should get them another 30km. We do Standley Chasm for an ice cream on the way home.  My friend rings her work on the way back and finds out she has to be home in four days, three days early.  I fill the car back in town. $1.16/l. Not a bad curry for dinner.

You can drive Alice Springs to Melbourne in 2 days, it’s only 2300km. Frankfurt to Athens without borders. The basic theory is this, you point the nose of the car south and you drive as fast as you can, as long as you can.  Originally I was going to return through Oodnadatta and Marie but the rain had closed the roads in South Australia so it was back the way we came, straight down the Stuart Hwy. We have been carrying Swags and I was determined we were going to spend at least one night camping under the stars in the desert.  By sunset we had got 900km to Glendambo. They had a fire, beer and a bed. Outside it was raining, and freezing.  So much for the desert, but the road house was barely two stars with no breakfast. Almost roughing it. The next morning I put $20 of diesel in the car just to make sure I got to Port Augusta. $1.48/l

The last Day. The Territorians are smart, some places they have no speed limits, otherwise it’s 130kmh. South Australia is 110kmh, Victorians are retarded to 100kmh. That was pretty much the day, the closer I got to home the slower I had to drive, and the more it rained. We go back at 11.30pm.  Total 5800km in a six and a half days. Diesel $1.04/l.  Sal and Fritz drove back to Canberra the next day. 7126km in 9 days. That’s London to Kabul. The Rock tick.


Click the pic for more.


Posted by bondrj at 12:44 AM NZT
Updated: Friday, 14 July 2017 3:41 PM NZT
Saturday, 27 August 2016
Houndstooth 24
Topic: Undefined

A bit more practice photo DSCF2591.jpg


The Houndstooth is a traveling circus that turns up in town once a year. The main protagonists are upper elite who when not looking down on the meer billionaires below them, run mining companies, spy agencies, private armies, and compliant prime ministers.They meet under the disguise of a golf game to discuss the diving up of the small bits of the galaxy they don't already own. No one knows their real names as they only use coded pseudonyms to protect their identities. After many years under deep cover I am at last able to shine some light on the real masters of the universe. Click the pic for the full details.

Cheers 007

Posted by bondrj at 12:01 AM NZT
Updated: Friday, 14 July 2017 3:58 PM NZT
Monday, 23 May 2016
Journey to the end of the world.
Topic: Antarctica

Helecopter photo Hele.jpg


        One hundred blog posts, who would have thunk it. What to do for the 100th. Trip to the moon, unfortunately SpaceX aren't taking bookings yet. Love and lust on the backpacker trail, alzheimer's has wiped all those memories out. Surfing big waves at Jaws at Maui, *%#$ off, too chicken. The one trip that people always seem to want to know about is working in Antarctica. So here goes, from the memory vault, The great White Hell 101 faq.

    How did I get there? I had a friend Ricarda who was a Met Fairy who spent 1986 at Davis. I had come back from Europe, spent a couple of years working, and thought a bit of adventure while getting paid for it sounded like a dream job. About January every year there is an ad in the news papers.

"Men wanted for hazardous journey. Low wages, bitter cold, long hours of complete darkness. Safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in event of success."

    That is the supposed Earnest Shackleton version, unfortunately it's a hoax, the real one is much less glamorous, stating something like dumb arse tradies who are tired of earning too much cash in the mining industry are invited to apply to spend a year legally dead,chilled to somewhere near 0 deg kelvin. My memory might be clouded by experience but I'm sure it was something like that. Why not, Envelope, 36 cent stamp, post, wait. Some time later a bundle of stuff arrived in a big manilla envelope. A billion questions, Where have you worked, what have you done, references, documents, stuff. I assembled it all and headed back to the post box. More hurry up and wait. I get an interview, so I rock up to  Tivoli Court  in Bourke st. I'm greeted by Kav, Jen, and some plumber  bloke in a little office with a three dollar coffee table. The tell me that they get 500 applications, which they then whittle down to forty interviews, for fifteen jobs, which in reality are only five for a first timer, " You've done well getting this far" I'm told. I spend the next two hours answering questions, I'm told later that if you are out in half an hour you're not getting a call back. Kav asks most of the questions as he's the sparkie. A few wiring diagrams to look at, a fridge circuit, some thing about Kvar's and gensets, how do you fit off pyro, do you like to fight "No", are you in a relationship "No" do you like to drink" A little", do you smoke dope" I may have tried it a long time ago but I didn't inhale". One tradie later told me the story of how being a little nervous before the interview, he had a little smoke, and maybe another, then  just one more for the road, before blurting out the above answer, when hit with the question while off his face. You could get away with this in the days before drug testing. People who answered no seemed not to get a job. At the end of the interview Jenny says to me " these guys have asked you lots of questions, what do you think I'm here for? I later find out someone once answered, "I assume you're the tokin woman" , he chose poorly. The only thing I never got asked for in three in trips was my electrician's licence.
          Another six weeks wait,  I get a appointment for a medical and a psych test. This looks hopeful. Blood,urine, touch your toes, a finger in a surprising spot, cough, chest x ray.  The psych test. Three hours of multiple choice papers about guns and poems, flowers and cars, food and songs, none of it made any sense to me. I just answered "D" when I was confused like in High School, which was most of the time. The people who conduct this important test to make sure you are not going to go mad and kill everyone are the Australian Army. One percent of people have a serious mental illness. One percent of people who go to antarctica, have a serious mental illness. Either a lot of nutters apply, or they may as well throw a dart at the board. The chat to the army psychologist, really didn't make things much clearer either. Somehow I  must have passed.
      Wait some more................
      Then one day about the end of August, I get a letter, You have been selected to go on the 33rd ANARE. please attend Australian Construction Services at 235 Bourke St on the Tenth of September. Bring sensible shoes.I rock up, and am directed to a room slowly filling with people. About half the people find a seat and sit quietly observing the other half who are greeting each other with big smiles, and statements like "how the hell did you get back here". Eventually someone turns up and fills us in on what's happening. We are going to spend the first three weeks training in Melbourne, then we head to Hobart for another three weeks training, before getting on the boat south. I learn I'm going to Casey Station in Wilkes Land wherever that is. Most people are from somewhere out of Melbourne. Us Melbourne suckers are getting paid a standard public service tradies wage, everyone else is getting a huge living away from home allowance. I nearly starve over the next three, weeks while the others settle into the Vic Hotel in town. We spend the days putting up then pulling down a trial building in Port Melbourne, learning about weird stuff like heat trace and doing the odd training video. Finally we get to fly to Hobart for more training, or we should. Bob Hawke and the pilots are having a bit of a disagreement so the're all on strike. We are threatened with having to fly south in a hercules, but at the last minute we get our booked ansett flight. We get to the airport by bus and find the flight times have been changed six months ago but no one told ACS, dump the baggage , it will catch up, straight on to the plane. Great for everyone except one guy, whose parents and girlfriend have driven out to the airport to see him off. They park, we fly, they next see him 18 months later. It's the 80's so we get a full cooked breakfast served on the 45 minute flight to Launceston, then a coffee and snack on the half hour leg to Hobart. Most of us have never been to Tassie before. The bus driver that picks us up at the airport is really proud of Hobart's newest attraction in Glenorchy. He takes us out of our way to show us the almost complete 1st McDonald's store before dropping us at Woolmers Inn in Sandy Bay. At last I'm getting paid my living away from home rate at last. 
          We head out to the Antarctic Division for drinks, to meet up with the new station leader Joc, and the rest of the expeditioners. In the next couple of weeks spend our days doing fire and first aid courses, learning about our jobs, but mostly hanging around Stopeys, and the Sandy Bay Hotel killing time. Eventually they put us on the bus to Brighton. "Brighton Army Camp". We are to spend the next ten days here, learning about penguins, jollys, Belbin's Role Models, boats, Antarctic life, meteorology, map reading, hagglunds, performing tracheostomies with a ballpoint pen, crampons, and any other crap that someone who can string two words together can  think about to occupy ten days of our time. The Camp was built in the 40's to train AJ's and house Italian POW's, since then not much has changed. We sleep in 20 bed cold wooden barracks on thin wire mattresses 2 feet apart. Food is eaten in the mess, lectures are held in the drill halls,  drinking  in the camp bar. The only time we leave is to hike up a hill called Rocky Tom. Once there we cook freeze dried muck from expired rat packs in the rain, before spending a freezing night inside a polar pyramid on a thin camping mat. The next morning we look over at Mount Wellington, and there is snow half way down the hill. We hike back down to the penitentiary. It's not all bad, even though we are bored stupid, the food is good, the bar is open late every night, and there is method it their madness. They are testing us to see how we cope being cooped up together. On the final night we have a big graduation dinner.  They announce the deputy station leaders for the next year. Casey is called out and Orby slaps me on the back. I stand up and everyone cheers, only  to told it's not me. I'm not even wintering. For the next couple of weeks people come up to me and commiserate with me on my non selection. We are as ready as we will ever be. 
         From here we split up, some of us leave tomorrow evening, the rest of the winterers with the resupply mission in a couple of months time. All that is left is to get the bus back to Wollmers, then tomorrow on to the ant div headquarters where we will view a SOLAS video about how to spend ten days alone in the middle of the antarctic ocean with only a survival suit. This is because the ship we are on is not registered to take passengers, so we all need to sign on as crew so the government's arse is covered when it sinks. Formalities over we head into town for our last hours of freedom. It's Sunday, Tasmania, and absolutely nothing is open. We are the only people in town, you can tell us because we are all wearing bush shirts,  wool pants, or some other piece of daggy issue gear that sticks out like a sore thumb. The boat leaves from Macquarie wharf just across the way from Stoppies. It opens and by 5.00 we're all half cut. Up the gangplank with tearful goodbye's and people slugging bottles of champers with mates. Someone hands out streamers and we throw the other end down to the people on the wharf. The ship's horn sounds, the ropes are cast off and we slowly pull away while people walk down the wharf for a last glimpse of their loved ones. This is our new home for the next month or so. The lucky ones will only be on the boat for three weeks or so, the guys going to Mawson have a minimum of 6 weeks before they see land, round trippers ten weeks. The first thing we have to do is get off. As part of our SOLAS certification, we all have to abandon ship by squeezing into half the lifeboats onboard. The old timers stand at the back of the que knowing that they probably won't get on. This is a good thing. Fifty of us suckers get jammed into a windowless hole stinking of diesel for a 40 minute trip around the harbour. Beer and seasickness take their toll, I'll let you guess the rest. Once back on board we head out to the ocean.
       The IceBird commonly known as the Ice Bucket is a German Ice strengthened cargo ship. It has space for about twenty crew, but there are nearly 100 of us. This problem has been solved by bolting a 300 ton accommodation module above one of the cargo holds. We are all trusting our lives to a couple of old rusty bolts. Ewald the captain generally completes his regular crew with a couple of cute german backpackers picked up in Hobart who work in the mess. Like most of us they have no idea what they're in for. Mother nature has brewed up a nice little storm for us, and already there are a fair few faces missing at dinner time. Ushi's name gets misheard as Oscar. A stern german voice says "don't you call me Oscar", from then on it's Oscar. The next morning the few of us who are left standing head down to breakfast. Oscar is hiding in the corner with her head in the sink and a towel over it, "How's it going Oscar" the towel lifts and a feeble voice says "Not Good" the towel descends. Our rooms are all 2 bunk cabins, the lucky ones have an en suite. If you are on the top deck your bunk is getting slung about 40 meters from side to side in the rough weather 24 hours a day. We amuse ourselves by seeing how far we can walk on the walls between waves. There is a library, a TV with 60 well worn videos in the mess, the bridge which we can go up to when the boat is not in port, and a table tennis table down in the empty hold below the module which we can't access when it's rough. Oh and a bar that serves duty free for about four hours after dinner. We have no duties so the time drags. After a day and a half of really rough weather, the boat stops. Boats never stop. We sit still getting tossed around for and hour while the rumour mill goes wild. Finally the announcement comes, it seems we have damaged one of the helicopters we need to get off the boat, we're on our way back to Hobart to fix it. A day and a half later we are back at the dock and they open the hatch cover. In the bottom are four mangled copters. We head back to Woolmers with a hundred bucks and get told amuse ourselves for the next few days, but not  to leave the state. The pilots strike is still on, but the new Macca's is open, not that you can get near it. There are queues around the block. It's a bit hard to find 4 new helicopters, It seems we have smashed a fair proportion of the available ones in Australia. A few of us spend the next week having a government sponsored holiday around Tassie. We leave on Voyage 1.1 with three helicopters tied down with every snatch strap in the state. 
           We settle back into shipboard routine, which is mainly reading, talking, eating, trying to sleep,  watching videos, playing cards, walking up to the bridge, walking back down again. Boredom is a major pastime. I like to go out on the back deck at night to look at the stars and watch the phosphorescence trailing behind the ship. One day we do a tour of the engine room pretty much the only place we can't go by ourselves. The seas are so big that even from the top deck you can't see over the next wave when you're in the trough, when you get to the top you get a short glimpse of huge rolling waves as far as the eye can see before as sudden corkscrewing drop. I go see Pete and Kay who are stuck in their beds having a competition to see who can be seasick the longest. Some people love the place but never return because they can't face the boat trip again. Just when we've think we've hit the bottom the germans inflict their favorite meal, kesseler and sauerkraut upon us. For the next two weeks we slowly wind our way south. We cross the antarctic convergence where the sea temperature drops a few degrees in the space of twenty kilometers. The air gets colder and the bird life changes.There is a competition to spot the first iceberg, pick the lat and lon, win a six pack. We see the first one then 12 hours later another. Finally we start seeing pancake ice and bergy bits. The swell slowly disappears till it is calm as a mill pond.  King Neptune makes a special visit to the ship, and I line up with all the other first timers for my dot of red paint, shower of ice water, and drink of filth from the southern seas. The filth is basically Spag bol, parmesan cheese and bean shoots with the odd chop bone thrown in, nothing too fowl, but it does get some spectacular results, that why the King greets us on the deck. We are now about 200  nautical miles from Casey but the heli's can only fly about half that. The boat cannot just plow through the ice, so we have to send up the choppers to find leads through it. After another couple of days we finally get close enough to launch the first trip in. Stuff is happening in earnest now, and they want to get out of here as quickly as possible. The boat costs $200,000 a day, and if the wind changes they could get stuck here for a month.  We have stopped surrounded by ice. 
           The choppers fly in, in groups with enough spare seats so they can pick up everyone if one has to ditch. We       
  have all had our little chopper chat, I'll summarize it for you. If the fan stops you probably won't die but it may get interesting. Try hard not to walk into the fan at the back, or stick your head in the fan above you. Don't wear your hat, as it may get stuck in the fan. Basically it's all about the fan. It will take a couple of days to get every one and all the necessary gear off. I'm fairly low down the priority list, but I've already packed and weighed my bag. We each get exactly fifty kilos of essential gear to take with us. The rest will hopefully turn up in a couple of months time. I have 2 slabs of beer, and two bottles of port, 26 Kg's, and another 24 Kg's of non essential stuff like clothes. At last I get my turn, we waddle out in our survival suits and get strapped in. Headsets on the chopper winds up, and after a bit of a shaky start we lift off. About twenty foot above the deck we stop, and spend the next minute trying to get higher. No good, the pilot dumps it back on the deck and two blokes throw the doors open and grab the nearest heavy
looking thing.  I hope it's not the beer. This time we make it, and spend the next twenty minutes circling the boat while the others are loaded. From 4000 feet the place is spectacular, ice and icebergs as far as you can see. We all have our cameras out giving the place a good dose of Kodak poisoning. Finally after about 45 minutes we see the terrain in front of us starting to rise out of the horizon. I pick up a couple of black spots, then a little bit of colour. The bases buildings are all Green Blue, Yellow and Red but from the air they are just tiny specks in a gigantic white landscape. We fly over Wilkes an old abandoned american base before we land on the other side of the bay..

I get out, keeping my head low. I'm here.                                  
Click the pic for more                                   To Be Continued

Posted by bondrj at 1:41 AM NZT
Updated: Friday, 14 July 2017 3:47 PM NZT
Tuesday, 19 April 2016
You can choose your friends
Topic: Oceania

 photo P4170421.jpg



     You can choose your friends but  you cant choose your relatives. I had this thought in my head as I buckled myself  to Air New Zealand flight 836. Mick and I were heading to the shaky Isle's to catch up with a couple of branches of the family that hadn't seen each other in 100 years. This could be fun, or a modern day horror story, only time will tell. It all started when Mick was doing some family history research and contacted a potential distant relly in search of information. One thing lead to another, and the next thing we knew, well a couple of years later anyway, were off to a family reunion.

         First stop Wellington. The flight in was windy and wet, that's pretty good weather for here. My last couple of trips here are vague memories of misty lumps seen through the lumpy misty stuff. We grab a late lunch check out the sights and barhop till bedtime. The next day the sky is blue and the wind calm, this could be an omen. Our first meetup is that night, we tourist the day away, then head to the pub arranged for our meet. Trevor, Angie, Burt, and Bev, through the window they look like normal people . We drink beer, eat steak, and discuss the the big reunion in a couple of days time. So far so good.

    My Mum,s family's huge so the thought of adding another hundred or so relations  doesn't faze me.  We have always called my Fathers family the " dark side" just because their are so few of them, this might restore the balance a  bit. Mick has been writing the history of my fathers family for almost as long as I can remember. I've even read a draft, it's quite good. Not quite a James Bond novel in pace, but plenty of intrigue to keep you interested. During the process he contacted Suzanne, who forwarded him on to Trevor, who after 15 years of thinking about it organized this catch up. Apart from Mick my nearest relation is our Great-Great Grandfather. My Grandmother Mim was a living Great-Great Grandmother, so to me that's not that distant.

       The big reunion is in the center of the North Island. Most of them live at either end, and for us it's a good excuse to have a bit of a driving holiday at the same time. We go via Napier, stopping off to meet a bit more family on the way. Then on to Turangi where its all scheduled to happen. Turangi is a funny little place, sort of half housing estate, half holiday town, plenty of accommodation, on a big lake in a scenic setting. First activity is an informal walk around the lake, not the big one fourtunatly. We are not the only ones struggling to learn new names, as many of the others have never meet before, or at best infrequently.  We learn all the lake hikers are keen "trampers" probably not a great surprise in hindsight. The big do is spread over two events, a dinner, and a breakfast at a winery restaurant. Fortunately for me we all have name tags, and there is a big Family tree to help us all figure out where we fit in. Unfortunatly I don't,  I'm not on the tree, along with a few others who missed the last minute update. There are Waltons, Morpheth, Champtaloups, Walker's, and Bonds present along with many others from eight to eighty. One new member of the family who wasn't there was only 12 hours old, The biggest bunch are the Lovett descendants, some of which we quickly learn hijacked the family riches. Lamb Shanks and Hawkes Bay Red, how could things not go well. I eat too much, and probably don't drink enough of the good red, the desert was coffee tiramisu.

        At the 10 AM breakfast the next morning, a bit early for us, for future reference Mick gives a brief history of the Bonds, this he does dressed in a masons jacket in honor of the GGF who we learn was a keen member of the Lodge. We also hear of the other family branches, James Bond's had 5 daughters and 3 sons, many of whom moved from New Zealand within a generation. Eggs Benedict,  a group  photo, then all of a sudden it's over.

      We don't fly out for another couple of days so we head up  to Auckland to check out  the GGF's block of land which is now in the middle of the city beside the NZTV building. He was a bit of a churchie type, disinheriting any one who dared marry a protestant, so we drop in at St Mathews Church, his regular, and St Paul's where he's is buried out back under the new freeway apparently. From there it's on to the Bay of Islands, and my town "Russell" in the sunny north, this gives my high tech raincoat a good try out. On the day It's the only wet place in NZ. Washed we head back south for the flight out.

         To my new family. You all seemed like nice people, there were hints of one of the great aunts having a dark secret, but as no one seemed to know it, it was probably just she once kissed a protestant, or liked bingo. It was great checking out the family resemblances, and nice to know that not even the American contigent were voting for Donald Trump. You are all welcome to drop by in Melbourne for a cuppa anytime. A special thanks to Trevor Walton for organizing the whole shebang, and I'm getting the Aussie Lawyers to start scrutinizing those wills as soon as I get home.


Click the pic for more trip photo's or here for the reunion ones


Posted by bondrj at 5:25 PM NZT
Updated: Friday, 14 July 2017 3:51 PM NZT

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