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Letters from the road
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.
           
      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: Monday, 23 May 2016 8:46 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, 22 April 2016 1:01 AM NZT
Monday, 4 April 2016
The Three Capes Track
Topic: Australia
The Blade and Tasman Island photo P3270078.jpg

 

      The Three Capes Walk an environmentally, friendly, culturally acceptable, eco experience,costing $500 in the lowest socioeconomic area of  Australia. You can read more about it here if your into the copy writers dark arts. A friend of mine was keen to try it, I like walking ( even more after I have done it) so what's to loose. I sent the cash off, booked the flight, and pretty much forgot about it till the evening before the flight. 
      A quick scan through a multi part brochure mentioned lots of antechinus, Isoodon obesulus affinus, and Pseudomys higginsi, running around the place, but nothing about how easy they where to catch, and what sort of wine to serve with them. Looks like we will have to carry in our own food. Em suggested freeze dried rations to conserve weight, I've never had a decent freeze dried red yet, so I offered to cook. Sort that out when we get there. Otherwise, pack, sleeping bag, tooth brush, and cup seemed to round out the rest. 7am flight, pick up Em, off to Coles, to buy some food, then on to Port Arthur.
        Here we got on a boat with our other 48 travellers, We would get to know them quite well over them next four days. The best way to start walking is a nice hour and a half long boat trip about the local sights. Unfortunately this couldn't last forever, and we eventually ended up at our start point on the beach. The walk is divided into four days, with stays at three purpose built lodges. The distances aren't huge, and the first day was only about 4km up onto the plateau. We arrived there to find a beautiful lodge with a great view back towards Port Arthur. There were people lounging around in deck chairs, and kids running up and down the deck. Think Eco Club Med. Our "Host Ranger" introduced himself, and showed us to our rooms, a two bunk setup, with a bench and places to hang your belongings. After a brief talk, the gist of which seemed to be don't do anything while you are here, we settled down to cook dinner. Most people had gone the freeze dried route. We had, Entree, Chicken Pad Thai, and Self Saucing choclate pudding rounded out with a cheeky little red. I forgot to take my Atomic coffee maker in my last minute packing so it was a tea nightcap. The kitchens have good led lighting, and most importantly for the kiddies I phone chargers. Most people seemed to head off to bed about 9, but I generally stayed up a bit longer reading, being the last to turn out the lights about ten. 
          Our fellow travellers were a general cross section of people from seven to seventy, and the only group missing seemed to be blokes between the ages of fifteen to thirty five. After breakfast, we would pack up and head towards the next hut. Em and I were normally the last to leave about tenish. We would quickly catch up with the families and spend the rest of the day leapfrogging each other along the track. The tracks where feats of engineering. They were gravelled, stone steps or boardwalks, and very easy to walk on. The park was very dry , so we had to carry water for our lunch time cuppa's. The walk follows the cliff tops around the park so there is no shortage of spectacular lunch spots. We would get in about 4 and relax in the lounge/kitchen waiting for our obligatory "host ranger" talk, then chat, play cards or read till dinner time. One hut even had a basic shower to use.
       The walk is called the Three Capes, but it actually only goes to two. In a yes minister style the track to the other cape hasn't been funded yet. We could see Cape Raoul for the first couple of days but that was about as close as we got. Our third day involved walking out to Cape Pillar and back, a trip which only need a day pack for lunch. Day four was to Cape Hauy, another walk which let you ditch the main pack for a couple of hours. Finally we made it to Fortescue bay where our bus was waiting to take us back to Port Arthur. The promised coffee shop wasn't open but that's life.
       All in All a great walk, spectacular scenery, great accommodation, and good company. Not having to sleep in a tent was a bonus.
 
You know the story click the above pic for more photos.

 


Posted by bondrj at 12:12 AM NZT
Updated: Monday, 4 April 2016 10:26 PM NZT
Sunday, 28 February 2016
Life on Mars
Topic: Undefined

DC 10 photo 800px-Continental_Airlines_DC-10_2.jpg

Travel in the 80’s                                                                                             

 

       Let’s get in the wayback machine kiddies and regress to the ancient time of 1983. Don’t bother packing your phones, I pads, and GPS’s they won’t work here.

      Where are we going? Flying is expensive. For the princely sum of $1520 in low season you can buy a cheap round the world ticket, if you have $ 2000 you can drop that down to only two stops, SIN, DXB before you get to Europe. To give you an idea of what this is worth a first year apprentice makes about $65 a week. Other options are take the boat or go overland, both viable options. My flight is MEL,AKL,HNL,LAX,LHR,AMS,JFK,YYZ,YVR,TPE,HKG,SIN,MEL, with a stopover at every one if you want. Air New Zealand to London, Continental to NYC, Air China to Taiwan, Cathay to Singapore, and Singapore Airlines back to Melbourne. For your cash you will get a wad or two of very thin paper tickets, guard the carefully, you are going to need to hang on to them for the next year. Lose them and you’re stuffed. Right were off to the airport. You paid a lot of money so there's none of this check your own baggage stuff.  You’ve paid for it , it's all included . You’re going for a long time so your first stop will be the airport bar with all your single mates.  A couple of hours of Tequila slammers, it's a perfect start for a long trip overseas. You’ll probably have a huge backpack because your going for long time,  most this will be junk you’ll throw out at the first airport  . No metal detectors at the Gates, no one would do anything as silly as asking you to remove your shoes,  actually no security at all, just someone checking your boarding pass with a clipboard,  and you can take your pocket knife on board  if you want to. Finally we get on the plane,  this will be a DC 10 or a 707 workhorses of the 80s sky’s. Planes don't go that far without a fuel stop so our first stop will be Auckland.  Unfortunately airline space was just as valuable as it is now  so your seat won't be any bigger, people however are generally skinner, politer and better dressed .  There will be an in-flight movie, shown on a large screen at the front of the aircraft .  You may have even scored a seat where you can see the screen. If you don't like the movie there will be a couple of channels of disco  for you to listen to.  Remember to take a book  as e-readers haven't been invented yet, and the touch screen on the seat in front of you will be a headrest.  Just a headrest.  Airline food  will be pretty much what you're used to matter of fact,  I think  some of the airline food I've eaten recently  is leftovers from the 80s they still using  . The back of the plane will be hidden in a grey fog. This is the smoking section. If you are lucky enough to be sitting here, you will get off the plane with a two pack a day habit, and lungs of a ninty year old.  The best thing is  the bar will be open as soon as the wheels are up, none of the silliness about not drinking. Flying is about indulging, you are with the Jet Set so the idea is to get as many cans in as we can  before the next airport.  Stand in the space next to the doors, and a smiling Stewardess will bring you a 6 pack for you and your new mates to consume without even a mild look of disapproval. Slip a few into the backpack for when you get off. Next stop Honolulu, a couple of hours to go through customs, get a six month visa, and refuel the plane, then on to LA.  If things go smoothly it will only take 18 hours. 

      Hangover and tired  you get off the plane in a place you’ve never been before, first thing change some cash with the thieves at the airport, then find somewhere to stay.  Of course you have your youth hostel card, an essential bit of travelling gear for the time.  Find a Payphone and punch it full of quarters, and dial the number,  it doesn't work.  You ask a helpful local why you can't call  the number . They look at you like you're an idiot. After asking 10 different people  you find out that in the US  you need to put a 1 in front of the telephone number if it's not local.  Local means about 2 blocks in every direction.  When  you've got onto the youth hostel, hopefully you will find they have a vacancy.  Rock down there, give em the cash,  and settle in for your first night sleep  with 20 of your best friends in bunk beds  .  Backpackers haven't been invented yet so in the morning you'll be expected to do  a small chore like clean the loo’s or  vacuum the floor, this keeps the price down for everybody  .  They’re great places  to get a bead on what's happening, people sit around and actually talk to each other rather than staring blankly at their I thingy.  In youth hostels drinking and communal meals  were the norm, and the sexes were divided at night into separate rooms. The doors generally got locked at 10 o'clock at night,  which no-one ever manage to return by, so you'd always leave a window open so you could sneak back in or 2 or 3 o'clock in the morning  after a big night out on the town  .  The other thing about youth hostels  what they tended to kick you out  by 10 o'clock in the morning, after you done your chores, no late starts.

     Before we jump on the bus to start our next  journey, we'll need to stock up with cash, this will involve a trip to a bank,  and some travellers cheques.  This is the 80,s and cash is King. Oh and buy a guide book, Lets Go, or Frommers if your rich.       Before you start your journey  you might want to purchase several large pieces of paper  with squiggly lines drawn on them.  Known as maps these things are vaguely helpful in locating where you where you want to go. Unfortunately they are useless at telling you where you are.  They’re generally either way too detailed or not detailed enough. They never seem to make one that’s  just right, and you can’t change the scale by dragging two  fingers apart on them. The other option  is asking directions,  this is always a bit hit and miss,  and the best option is ask several people. Combine the answers  to give you a general idea which direction to head, and  narrow down by asking more people along the way. Works better if you speak the local lingo. For memories you will have a large heavy film camera with maybe a couple of lenses if you are serious.  Photos are expensive so you don’t take many, quite often only one of a particular location, take time to get just the right shot. A fair bit of knob twiddling, and guess work goes into getting the exposure just right. I use slide film, this will when processed give you a little inch square picture surrounded by cardboard that you could project on to a wall, to send all your friends to sleep back home.  The main problem is  you have to  then carry the rolls of film around  with you  until you get them processed,  then you have to do something with the photos you have  like post them back home. Only once they are processed will you have any idea whether you have any photos, good or not. Slides are good because you could send them to  a local lab, and put your home address on the return slip. They will then pay the overseas postage to send them back home for you. Many people  give 2 or 3 rolls of film  to a friend to take home, who then loses  them thus losing 3 or 4 months worth of your memories.

         Once you've got where you going you may want to communicate with your loved ones. The easiest way was by a letter,  there was a thing called an aerogram  which is a very lightweight sheet of paper with a prepaid stamp on it.  You write in with a pen filling every square millimetre, and if you're really sneaky you stick a photo  that you have in between hoping to get away with not having to pay the extra postage  . Lick the glue around the edges, stick it together then write the address on the front. The other option is phone calls, these are really expensive  even if you have bought a thing called a phone card.  You dial in a local phone number, then a 24 digit number,  then you're calling code, then your home number,  which if you have all done perfectly  may give you  5 minutes of talk time for your $15 bucks US.  If your parents are nice they might let you ring home reverse charges once a month. If you go somewhere like Mexico  forget it, the post doesn’t  work, the phones don’t work, and nothing else works either.  You will just ring your parents before you leave  and tell them “don't worry if you don't hear from me the next 3 months”.  “I'll ring you when I get somewhere where I can make a call”.  On the good side the folks won’t  get a lot of stupid requests to send stuff to you. No helicopter parenting here.

       The good thing about third world countries, at least hotels are cheap,  in the first World  you do a lot of camping, sleeping under Bridges, sleeping in cars,  on friends couches, and  studying youth hostel guide  hoping that when you got there, there is going to be a bed available for you.  For entertainment  you will have a book  which you will swap regularly  with other travellers. It definitely broadens  your reading  styles.  If you're really high tech, you might have a Walkman,  and 10 tapes  of music  .  You get sick of these these really quickly,  as this runs to about 10 hours of music, which is pretty much a standard Greyhound bus ride  .  Batteries generally last a couple of hours and you know when they were dying as your music starts getting slower and slower.  If you're a really well organised, and you knew where you going to be sometime in the future  you could try post restaurant  .  This meant that people can send mail for you,  to a post office,  and they will keep it behind the counter  for about 6 weeks.  You have to get there within the allotted time frame or they will return it back home.  This is great as you can get letters from home,  and perhaps another couple of tapes  for the walkman.  When you really want the complete home fix you can rock up to your embassy. They will generally have a guard out the front,  you wave your passport them to get past the queue of visa applicants. All Embassies have a reading room full of newspapers that are at least 3 weeks old , and you can spend a couple of happy  reading, and catching up on all the local `stuff from home.  This will make you a bit less homesick. 

       When you get home after a couple of year your friends will all be married or engaged, and the dog won’t know you. Don’t worry after a couple of months they will all be single again, and Fido will be your best friend.


Posted by bondrj at 3:11 AM EADT
Updated: Sunday, 3 April 2016 9:50 PM NZT
Tuesday, 2 February 2016
The Mother Road Route 66
Topic: North America

Cadillac Ranch photo r6639.jpg

 

              Route 66 the Mother Road, a 2448 mile highway that wanders towards the sun, sand, and Californian girls.  Hundreds of people from all over the world head here to drive through fields of peas and corn for days on end, on a road that technically no longer exists. Somehow this has become the best known bit of bitumen in the world.  It’s September 2009, Chris and I hired a car and headed off to find the soul of America. Apparently It starts Chicago Illinois right beside the Big Lake, and ends up in Venice Beach California next to Pamela Anderson.  We had hired Chevy PT Cruiser, and driven it from Philadelphia, on the other great American road, the Lincoln Highway. Topped up the tank in Chicago, were wearing sunglasses, lets hit it.  Straight off to the suburbs.  Frank Lloyd Wright, America’s most famous architect had family home in Oak Park just off the route.  I seem to remember his house as a unremarkable family home in a nice old neighbourhood.  Enough time wasted, lets go .  We got a couple of miles before we hit  a huge pot hole, and I mean hit.  Four lanes of traffic, and nowhere to go.  Bang.  They must have been a bit of concrete reo by sticking up in the hole, all the sudden our tyre developed a slight leak, being lazy bastards we decided not to fix this,  and just punched  the nearest  Eurocar  dealer into the GPS .  When we got there he wasn’t interested in changing it either so we just swapped cars.  Our new ride was a very nice 6 cylinder Chevy sedan, much better than the PT Cruiser, it had a boot that we can put our luggage in, and a v6 which was much  zippier.  Next Stop Joliet Illinois  made famous  by being  the first  stop in the Blues Brothers movie.  The old prison no longer operates   but the prison gate that Jake Blues  walked out of  still look the same as I did  in the 70’s . Obligatory Photo stop. We pretty soon got into the swing of things cruising along and looking at my route 66 guided book that my brother had bought me.  Every 20 or 30 miles would be a gas station Dinner or other place of interest.  The first couple of we got out and had a look at, then we would mostly just do a rolling stop and take a picture out the car window.

      Chris was convinced we could live on American fast food. I knew this was impossible.  I kind of like Mexican food, but Chris was convinced that it was all made of a hundred percent napalm. His view of a bowl of Mexican Chilli, it could eat a hole right through the back of your head from the other side of the room. Hence, no Mexican.  Breakfast was at whatever dinner we could find. These are the hidden culinary gems of the U.S., Eggs, “Just say scrambled”. I never understood the complexity of ordering eggs in the States. Bacon won’t look like bacon but you are in the middle of nowhere. Hash browns, always good. Gravy, grits, and, anything else leave to the locals. Coffee will be like Crude Oil once the light aromatics have been removed. Add sugar and milk to taste, and then hide your cup at the far end of the table so they can’t pour more crude in while you’re not looking. Lunch, whatever untried weird fast food outlet we stumbled across. The food was uniformly grey, greasy, and plastic, and don’t order the upgrade. A 72 ounce cup of Pepsi should really last you a life time. Dinner, hit the nearest bar. Steaks and ribs are no brianers, wash em down with a beer and you can’t go wrong. This worked well until somewhere around Oklahoma. We pulled up at a place to find a family of 300 pound wilder beasts, feeding on a whole hog, three of them where under ten. I asked how the good lady of the establishment was going, and got the reply “Blessed, Where all blessed”. These are code words for “DANGER”. We got the chicken tenders and a chicken sandwich, me forgetting a sandwich is a burger in this part of the world. The chicken was deep fried in Corn Fructose Syrup, and covered with a inch of bread crumbs, it all seemed bereft of chicken. Both meals looked exactly the same, thank god we had 72 ounces of industrial grade cleaner to wash them down with. If your waitress greats you with the words “I’m Blessed”, RUN. The next day we ate Mexican.

 Our days became a routine, drive, eat, drive some more. US Route 66 is no longer a major high way,  and most towns have long since been bypassed by the interstates built  in the 50's and 60's. Soulless hotels and fast food joints, live beside the interstates. Around about 5 o'clock in the evening  we would punch accommodation into the GPS, and look at the list of options.  We would generally try and find something off the highway that suited our budget which was pretty minimal.  As it was 2009, the U.S. banking system, and the world economy was collapsing around us.  Places like “Down and Out” budget motel seem to attract our attention first.  We would pull up, give it a quick look from the outside, looking for things like bullet holes and crack dealers. Any more than three of either we would move on.  Next we’d to talk to some guy through a grill  about the price .  Somewhere around $29.40 seemed to be pretty typical.  The next question before we handed over the cash was “is there a bar around here” .  Generally there was one of the other side of the road or just down then just down the hill.  All the essentials being established, we will would move into a luxury room. Air conditioner,  fresh towels and clean beds . Off to the bar to get a meal .   American bars are great, generally full of locals  who haven't been further than 50 miles in either direction out of town. A few Harley’s and pickups parked out the front. All you had to do was open your mouth, and before you knew it some helpful local was explaining the intricacies of deer hunting, tank collecting, or American football .  After an hour you generally had trouble buying a beer, I cannot remember what happened most nights after that. Bars were always a great place to find out what the local must not miss things, and where the best breakfast around was .  The local museum is another good option, though after talking to the locals for ten minutes they will probably want to continue the conversation in the local bar. You got the same info both places.

  People always asked where we were from, and why we were there. I'D tell them we were driving route 66 and quite often they would say I’ve always wanted to do that.  The fact that they had a car and lived on “66” already did not seem ironic. Towns with names like Normal, Lincoln, Lebanon, and Springfield rolled past with regular monotony. There is a Springfield and every state of America, and we went through most of them .  At Springfield Missouri  we found a cowboy bar  which was great fun . Wet tshirt contest ,  bull riding , and $1 beer  what more could one want .  Eventually the peas and corn started to fade and the desert started .  It was around here we picked up a hitchhiker.  He was a 40ish bloke on the side of the road  who  gave us some handy hints on how to survive in the states when you have no money .  As soon as he got in the car he offered us some deer back straps off a bit of fresh roadkill that he picked up  the night before and barbecued.  He headed east with his girlfriend in her car and  was headed west alone now the relationship soured. Over the next six of hours, with only a stop at the famous Cadillac Ranch, he kept us occupied with stories . Did you know American government is suppressing the facts that  you can re grow your brain cells if you snort enough meth. You have to hit it hard but it works apparently.  More is better than less he was a firm believer of this fact . He had once held a job  for Los Angles for 20 years in  the California Lands Department  but had to run from aliens, or something else just before he got his pension . He had a son in the army,  another somewhere else  but didn't really see them that often.  Back west he mostly lived at his elderly parents at parents house .  Someone had given him  ten bucks, so he went  to the local casino to  get some chips, and 2 free meal vouchers  by becoming a member .  I know a smorgasbord will keep you going all day especially if you put a bit in your pockets .  You go gamble $10 worth of chips - red and black, and get your cash back,  after a couple of days  you can either go to the next casino, or continue trip .  He offered to put us up in California  but we wanted to take a bit of a side trip to visit some friends. We dropped him off near Amarillo Texas with a six pack of beer and some biscuits . He said he had a few friends at the bus station they could fix us up with whatever we required but we passed that one .  He was actually a really nice bloke. 

      Somewhere we passed an Indian reservation selling fireworks.  Chris stopped to buy the biggest box he could find. At Taos New Mexico we caught up with our friends who own an ice cream shop on a ski field, and spent great couple spend a couple of days with them. Taos is a beautiful place up in the high desert miles from anywhere and it was nice to have a break from the driving.  Their little daughter now believes that Australians always turn up with a  boot full of explosives then proceed to let them off for about half an hour in the middle of the night, even the neighbours were very impressed.  By now we really are in the middle of nowhere, Petrified forests and Giant Craters become the sights.  Before we left Oz I had warned Chris that we weren’t going anywhere interesting. Once we got to the middle of nowhere intresting he suddenly asked me “how far is Sturgis”.  “Its in South Dakota three days drive from here, and it doesn't happen till August.” “What about New Orleans” .  “ Three days drives drive from here in the wrong direction Sunshine” .  “I told you I was taking you to the middle of the way you just didn't believed me” .  Fortunately it’s only a day’s drive to the Grand Canyon and Las Vegas, that's a bit more touristy. We get to Phoenix  and turn off 66 and head north. Chris's happy because at last we seeing something that’s not flat highway. The Grand Canyon is just that, and  we spend a couple of hours just looking at the canyon and the views, before  jumping in the car for Vegas .  Arriving at Las Vegas late at night is not a great thing to do,  as the hotels jack their prices up after lunch time.  The only casino room we can find is $500, but we find a dodgy hotel for $80 and settle in for the night.  The next morning Chris wants to go,  but I say give me a chance to see we can get a cheap hotel somewhere else . I wandered down the street for some milk, and see an office that says  free hotels and sightseeing. In side is this lovely woman that you actually organizes accommodation for people coming to see time share apartments. It is Las Vegas, the economy is crashing, and everybody's trying to sell properties before the shit hits the fan. She's pretty busy but she had a good chat to me and tells me that the internet specials of the day of the Bellagio for 40 bucks. A pretty good price she tells me, you just have to turn up before lunch  and ask for the internet special. On the way out she opens the boot of her car which has about ten thousand vouchers in it and hands me a couple of “two for one” meal or show specials. Catch the magician at Hooters if you guys want a really good show. I say thank you and we had off the Bellagio and move into a luxury that we've been looking for the whole trip. It’s stinking hot and I head to the pool with lazy river, and rent $5 inner tube.  As I float around in circles, I look at downtown Las Vegas being built next door,  5 high rises and a billion dollar casino  they all to lock up  but none of them are finished. All being built on imaginary cash that has disappeared over night. That's what my friend and everybody else in Las Vegas was trying to get rid of I thought. I look at the guys working on the buildings and think there is still a lot of pain to be had here.  It came true Las Vegas was one of the hardest hit with property prices dropping 60%, I hope my timeshare lady survived it.

    We spend the next couple days living it up  seeing magicians, or  heading off for the all you can eat breakfast, and staying there long enough to have the all you can eat lunch at the same time. Our hobo friend would have been proud of us. During the day we walked around the casinos just checking out what's happening  or go down to Fremont Street. We think about hanging out at Thunder Down Under the all aussie male strip show at the Excabalur but decide we probably wouldn’t survive. After a couple of days It’s the weekend and prices go up so we head on our way. Just out of town we go to the gun store and shoot machine guns for an hour or two. I get a free “ I don’t dial 911” t-shirt on the way out. 

Its only 5 hours across the desert to Los Angeles.  We take off through the cactuses, and head to Barstow. It’s a town attached to a huge military base with no redeeming features, but we find a good Irish bar playing country and western. WTF?  At least I got some decent ribs. I take on the driving, Chris's never really got the hang of driving on the other side of the road, and it's going to get a bit more hectic from here on in.  The Los Angeles freeway system has more traffic than I’ve seen in a long time.  Finally we get to Tammy’s place  in Long Beach .  She has a work supplied unit,  and  her friend is just moved out so she's managed to score it for us for a night.  We spent time catching up  and drinking. By the time it gets late I’m hungry. The only place open is “IN and Out Burger” It's really simple you can either get a burger a double burger, cheese burger or double cheeseburger, cake or lemonade. That's about it. Unlike most fast food they’re good. On the way home I take a wrong turn and briefly end up on the wrong side of the road. At least there was only one car coming, a cop car. We get pulled over.  I'm sorry Mate I'm used to driving on the other side of the road, and we just got here.  He lets me go, thank god for the accent.  After a couple days with Tammy we head into a L.A proper and bunk near the beach.  Grauman's Chinese theatre, the Walk of Stars, Santa Monica Pier and Venice beach . I play tourist guide.  I ask Chris what he wants to eat for his final American meal, he floors me by saying Mexican food . We find a good little restaurant around the corner we’re the only people  in it . The lady there  tells us  about their life  and the Californian bureaucracy .  We have a great chat  and she mentions  that she couldn't talk like this if there were any other Americans in the bar . We pay her and give her the obligatory  tip which she returned saying thank you I had a great night I really enjoyed having the conversation, it was a pleasure. Final night in Los Angeles and we get tip for dinning in a restaurant, I couldn't finish on a better note than that .  I told Chris how was going to take him to the middle of nowhere to see the little country towns, and  real Americans. Lots of people come here and go to Los Angeles and New York, but you've got to see something that that they will never see.  We hand in the car and catch the new subway to the airport,  thanks for the ride guy’s you’ve been good to us .

 


Posted by bondrj at 11:35 AM EADT
Updated: Sunday, 28 February 2016 11:25 AM EADT
Tuesday, 22 December 2015
The worlds most boring place.
Topic: Asia
 photo 11855792_930080170382846_8647546275548074218_n.jpg

        Brunei Airlines has the cheapest tickets to Europe from Australian. There are only a couple of downsides to them. One is two "stop off's", and the  other is to have to go via Brunei.  Brunei is relativity clean and modern, everything works, the airport is new, and customs are efficient. There are lots of signs saying future retail space, leaving plenty of room inside the terminal to sit and watch the future retail space. My hotel was cheep, clean, and included a good breakfast. A airport shuttle was included in the room cost to and from the airport, this also took me to the night market, where you could get a good feed for a couple of bucks. All good aye.

            The only problem is it is the worlds most boring place. There are no Bars, no girls and no booze. I'm sure North Korea has a more exciting night life. The weather ranges from hot, and steamy, to wet, hot, and steamy. Apart from the odd shopping centre, the other main attraction is a large gold domed mosque viable from everywhere, and it's only visitable during non prayer times, which is hardly ever. No photos inside please. There once was a fun park, apparently it closed down year ago because no one knew what to do there. Advertising seems to be limited to large billboards of the King. A rather cool looking dude in his forties, who the billboards inform us is actually sixty seven. If you want a quite holiday ( only interrupted by the odd call to prayer) here is one place I can definitely recommend.

 Click the pic for more Hylights

 


Posted by bondrj at 9:46 PM EADT
Updated: Tuesday, 2 February 2016 12:24 PM EADT
Wednesday, 4 November 2015
Dubai, It could have been the worlds most boring place
Topic: Middle East

 

 

      It's a nice day in the 1950's, your the Sultan Dubai, and you've got a problem. You own 50 million acres of sand and not much else. Not a problem drill a hole in the sand, and find some oil like everyone else.  The only problem is when you drill a hole you just get more sand, and now you have a real problem. How am I going to keep up with the neighbours.
       This was Dubai in the 1960. With a thousand mile wide beach.  It could have be in the world's most boring place but instead it's actually kind of cool. From a place that basically had nothing  they built something pretty magical. Dubai is kind of like a "pimp my ride project" on steroids. Ring up 50 of the worlds best architects, build stuff and they will come. And I have. 
     I'm in Dubai breaking my trip home. I've been through the here before but I've never stopped over. I'm looking forward to  checking out the place. I've arrived at  Dubai at 3 a.m. I get through customs and find the Starbucks, first time for everything. After a couple of coffees, and 5 hours reading my book, I head to the Subway. It's Friday, holy day, I have to wait another hour till ten for the subway to start running .Finally the prayers to stop, and I head to my hotel .
     My hotel  is conveniently located beside the ski field.  Hold it a sec you say. It's 50 degrees outside and they have a ski field. Don't worry the Ski Field is in the Mall, they have 50 shopping mall's here and they have to do something pretty outrageous to get noticed. The Dubai mall is the worlds largest, but it doesn't have a ski field. Mine does. They even have their own month long shopping festival here. If shopping was an olympic sport, the locals would be assured of a medal. I check in to my hotel. and after a quick power nap, and a swim, I head to the mall. It's but  a short hot walk from my hotel. Fortunately the mall is  air conditioned like everything else  in Dubai. The train is  air conditioned, the walkway are air conditioned, cars, buildings,  even the bloody bus stops are air conditioned.   For a place that has to import everything but but sand, this pretty impressive.  The sides of the freeways  are covered in grass, amazing what you can do with sprinklers running 24/7.  Spectacular buildings are popping up everywhere, growing 24 hours a day.  The malls have every type of designer shop ever invented, and fast food. After a junk food fix I head to the Burj, it's the tallest building in the world  at 830 metres high.  By the time I get there it's 11 p.m, but that's ok. That's the time all locals come out to play..
     During the day everyone hides from the heat, at night it's totally different  it's cool, the locals all get out, and hang around the cafe's,  they smoke there a hooker's,  drink coffee,  and pig out on Middle Eastern sweets, while chatting over the days events.  To get to the Burj  you jump on the subway,  then hop on a mile long  moving walkway. It takes you to the Mall of Dubai. It's only after walking another mile through shops selling solid gold crap, that  you actually get  there. Pay your $50 bucks,  hop on 1 of the 124  elevators,  and head to the 148th floor  to be greeted  buy a spectacular view.  Of course I did none of that,  by the time I got through the mall it was getting late  so I just wandered around the lake and restaurants at the bottom. 
       The next day the choice was  go skiing,  look at some sand hills, or  go to water park.  My friend recommended the water park, so I decided to walk there. Funnily  it was hot, and I didn't see anybody else walking in the entire 40 minutes it took me to get there.  Thank God for the air conditioned bus shelters  perfect to have a break and cool down. 
      The water park is called Wild Wadi, and it lives up to its name. It's on Jumeirah beach beside the 7 star Sail hotel, and has the third best view in the town. It has  every sort of waterslide you could imagine, and  even better It has water Jets that push you up the slides. No climbing steps. You don't  even have to climb up the steps to get to the top of the rides. There is a wave pool,  a lazy river,  50 different  types of water slides,  a couple of raft slides  you can go on with four  your closest friends, and for the adventurous, a ride where you step into a shower cubicle.  After a countdown the bottom drops out of it, and you plunged straight down  at 100 miles an hour  before  heading into a 90 degree bend  and ending up in a pile of spray at the bottom. The experience is very much like being flushed down a giant loo. More than a few big strong blokes took one look, and headed back down the stairs. After 6 and a half hours of being blasted by water jets, I don't think I've ever been cleaner in my life.          
              As my plane flight is leaving at 5am , I headed back for a quick meal and a couple of hours sleep before getting up  in the middle of the night. Unfortunately the rugby world cup was on the telly,  plenty of time to sleep on the plane. I hopped a cab back to the airport, and grabbed a pumpkin spiced latte. Not really but I could have, Mr Starbucks personally I don't see whats wrong with coffee flavoured coffee. After 3 months away home is calling.
 
The first five pics are from Wikipedia click here for more.

Posted by bondrj at 2:49 AM EADT
Updated: Tuesday, 2 February 2016 12:25 PM EADT
Friday, 25 September 2015
Yacht Therapy
Topic: Europe
Ist photo IMG_0326.jpg

 

        A few years ago I went sailing around the Greek Islands with some friends. Unusually I can't have made to much of a pig out of myself because they invited me back again, or more like I invited myself back again. This years target is the Dalmatians in Croatia. Boats and weather are unpredictable beasts, so Mick and I fly into Split, about in the middle of Croatia. After a couple of locating texts we  catch the bus up to Zardar to meet up with our “crew”.  

       Fitzy and Kate run Loki. She is a beautiful 48 foot Swan (yacht ), with one, sometimes two, of everything you need for comfortable cruising. They are great sailors, and have spent the last couple of Aussie winters sailing around the Med. The eventual aim is to head back to Oz sometime in the future slowly. Mick hasn’t been on a yacht before, so he is surprised to learn that (1) sailing is more expensive than motoring. (sails cost lots of money), (2) every where you stop some one wants to charge you for the pleasure of stopping there, even more so if they provide no facilities at all, and (3) yachts have no head room and lots of bulkheads. This last one he never really quite cottoned on to, even after many lessons.

         Our days moved into a routine of breakfast, go explore the island we are anchored at, or sail to the next, swim ( weather permitting), drinkies on deck, go ashore, and check out the local dinner options, eat too much, repeat next day. Northern Croatian Islands tend to be green, have pleasant little villages, and a couple of good restaurants. They are conveniently staggered a couple of hours sailing from each other. Alas it was all over to quickly, we headed off on the ferry to Slovenia , letting the crew return to there usual peaceful life one again. Thanks for all Guys.

 

More photos you know what to do

 

Kate is a great photographer and has a blog click here to see some better pics, and catch her side of the story.


Posted by bondrj at 10:22 AM NZT
Updated: Tuesday, 2 February 2016 12:17 PM EADT
Friday, 11 September 2015
Snails and Frogs in cheese sauce Merci.
Topic: Europe
The Good photo 20150910_092143.jpg

 

          “ Don't eat all the the French food , leave some for me”one of my friends commented . I like to eat. Most people who know me, know that. Don't share a pizza with me. You'll lose. French food on the other hand, I can take or leave. So can the French, their largest employer is McDonalds. I mean, who puts artichokes on pizza, or aubergines, or fruit . Take something, pour cream and wine on it, it's a casserole. Pour wine and cream on it, it's still a casserole, not a completely new dish that the chef expects to be awarded the “legion of honour” for. Chilli, one decent pod would probably kill all the native French with in 200 km., Curry, No Merci. They have something called curry sauce, it's a bit like English Summer, the same word, totally different meaning. Think of luke warm cat puke, French curry sauce. I tried to buy some liquid stock to cook a brown stew with. I went to Carrafoure, Intermarchie and, Cassino, nothing but walls of stock cubes. Yes I know you can make stock from scratch, somehow I don't think they do. Next, French people, chips are not a vegetable, nor a substitute for. Every meal does not need melted cheese. Two different types of melted cheese do not cancel each other out.

          Its not all bad. Bart Simpson called them cheese eating surrender monkey's, personally I don't think he emphasised the cheese eating enough. French cheese is the best, even the goat cheese is almost eatable. The standard supermarket has 4 aisles of the stuff along with 4 aisles of wine, proportionally correct as far as I’m concerned. They do great steaks, and they don't over cook them. The Menu, the midday workers lunch, is generally great value. Starter, Main, dessert, and a glass of wine for 15 Euro's. Winner. Cream, cheese. and wine casserole can be great, but not as a complete diet. Immigrants have bought their own cuisine. They have good Vietnamese pho. Kebab shops exist in most big towns. If you ask nicely you may even find the Kebab bloke has some Illegal chilly locked in the safe out the back, beside the Kalashnikov. With a bit of care even the pizza ain’t bad, if you avoid the artichokes. Me, I'm hanging for a vindaloo.


Posted by bondrj at 8:46 AM NZT
Updated: Sunday, 14 February 2016 1:30 PM EADT
Saturday, 29 August 2015
Mad dogs and english men.
Topic: Europe
The Hill photo IMG_0119.jpg

       Over the years I've had many offers to try a spot of bike riding in Great Britain. I've easily managed to resist the temptation. If I’m going to fly to the opposite side of the world to get on a bicycle, it better be sunny, warm and dry. None of these things do I associate with the English summer. It isn't called a green and pleasant land for nothing. For some reason this changed after watching Michael Palin walking from Liverpool to Sheffield. What could be more pleasant than strolling along an old canal in the sunshine with a pub conveniently located every couple of hundred meters. Better still, do it on a bike, more time to chat to the quirky locals at the pub stops. The stars all align. My cousins want me to drive them around Europe, I'm being forced to fly to Heathrow, and I've forgotten about the English definition of summer.

       This may come as a surprise to some of you but sometime I do have to work. A thanks here to the Australian Tax office for giving my life meaning. So I passed the planning off to my brother Mick. “Bike, Pubs, Canal, Liverpool to somewhere close to Liverpool”. Over the next couple of months I got regular emails with things like bike hire, and suggested route in them, which I skimmed the headers of, and then replied that’s fine. He even managed to sucker our friend Cath, to coming along. And thus I found myself at Euston station with a ticket to Liverpool, and a nagging thought in the back of my head that perhaps I should have read a few more of those emails.

      I arrive and catch up with Cath and Mick at the station. We have a nice hotel booked in a converted mill in the middle of town, Cath has borrowed her sister’s bike. Just a` little summer rain to great us. Did you know the Beatles and Cilla Black where born here? Not that you can move more than ten feet around town without being reminded. Liverpool is a wonderful town with lots of bars and great old buildings. It's industrial history is everywhere, from the imposing East India` Building, to the old dock warehouses now turned into trendy flats and cafe's. We avoid all this and go for a dodgy Indian buffet in the back streets. The next morning we wander off to collect our renta bikes, it's only raining slightly.

Mick has also persuaded two English couples who we met in Cuba to come along as well. This is a stroke of genesis, not only may they have some idea of where we are going, Andrea has taken up the mantel of master logistics planner. I learn that we are ridding the Trans Pennine Trail (TPT). A two hundred mile trek that does follow some canals (without pubs), and climbs the Alpe D' Huez of England. First day, a leisurely fifty miles, the basted didn't put that in the header. We head off through the town bike trails down to the river. The sun comes out, and a brisk tail wind springs up. We ride along the Manchester ship canal ( to big for pubs), then duck on to one of the many abandoned rail lines that criss cross the area. All around us are remains of mighty Victorian industries. Coal pits, canals, train lines,and huge viaducts, all abandoned. A small note here on English bike paths, they are perfect except for the local councils love of putting obstructions on them. Every Kilometre, especially at the top or at the bottom of a steep hill there seems to be a narrow gate which you have to weave your bike through. A lot of time and effort has gone into making these extremely difficult to get a bike through, add random large rocks placed in the middle of the path, and you have made your signed bike path the most impracticably way of getting from “A to B” on a bike. Our track mainly avoids towns, but being Tom and Andrea's local they manage to find us a nice pub for lunch. Only 20 miles to go. After lunch continue till we hit Manchester. Only 4 miles to go. We ride around the Mersey and lose the trail. Only 4 miles to go. We leave the Mersey and hit the streets. Only 4 miles to go. Eventually we get to Tom's house where we are staying for the night. Only four miles to go becomes the standard distance measure to anywhere from now on. A few beers, a quick shower, chuck our washing in the machine,off to the local curry house for a non dodgy curry and some reds. Life couldn’t be better.

       After a fab breakfast, we head out on our next leg. Tom brings out his riding secret. One hundred millilitre shots of condensed beetroot juice, this is the gear Lance Armstrong was on. For the next four days every time I go to the loo I think I have bowel cancer. The ride is only forty miles across what poses as a mountain range round here. Fortunately we are in the Costa del Sol of England so the weather is perfect. A few stops and a couple of hills and we find a pub for lunch. The trail continues rising slightly along an old line with great views as we rise above the valleys. John and Burnie, our other couple become our de facto leaders, John blazing the trail, and Burnie keeping an eye out for the pubs. Eventually we can see the top of our days ride, Its only about 4 miles down hill on the other side. There is a 3 mile tunnel through the hill. Great. Unfortunately it's full of high voltage power lines, put there after the line closed. We have to push (not ride) our bikes up a goat track another couple of miles to the summit. Eventually we get to the top, roll back down to the other end of the tunnel, only to find we need to ride back up the main road to get to our hotel for the night. It's worth it, beer and good grub await at the end. We all sleep well.

      Day three. Selby only another leisurely 50 miles. Who organised this again.. I arrange to meet a mate, John at the end. Weather good as you would expect. Cath's sister has stuffed up her flights, and she has to leave us at the end of the day. That’s her story anyway, “Liz make sure she buys you a bottle of wine”. The trail is meant to be pretty much flat from here but some how we get lost and go down a steep hill. It takes us a hour to find the trail again. We ride another 4 miles to Bently train station . Three generations of the same family under 40 pushing prams, and a lack of trains are the only remarkable things about the place. Much to Cath's disgust we have to ride 4 miles back into Doncaster to get her a train out. She escapes while I try to find a loo in a Brit Rail station. We give up and check into the local motel. Total distance 37 miles. Bummer I missed John Stoddart for a bit of chat about the cricket which the Aussies are loosing along the track. Thank god for small mercies.

        Day 4 50 miles, weather ominous. Trail flat. A good days ride past old airfields and along canals again. A bit of a Cuban tail wind ( straight in your face ) has sprung up. Lunch in Selby and I finally meet John for that chat. He joins us for the afternoon but heads back when the clouds arrive. We have a bit of trouble finding a place to stay so end up doing 60 miles for the day. It's starting to rain as we pull in to South Cave for the night but the food and beer is good

       Day Six. 15 miles. Weather crap. The English summer has arrived with a vengeance. I get out the rain coat. Mick and I only have 15 miles to Hull. The others are foolishly going on to Hornsea. Another 15 miles. The track is good and we stop for a cuppa at the Hummber bridge which we can barely see through the mist. Soaking we finally get to lunch, and afterwards bid our English friends goodbye. They struggle along a muddy track for the next couple of hours but arrive in the end after a couple of punchers. I jump on my bike to ride a couple of hundred meters to to the car hire place. I've go a flat. It's close enough I'll walk.

      We drive 200 miles back to Liverpool, through the mist to return the bikes, and spend the night in Southend reliving a bit of faded English glory, Basel Faulty would have been right at home at our “Prin of Wales Hote”. The Letters had fallen off the end of the sign. G n T, full English Breakfast, and a view over the mud where all available though. Back to Hull next morning to return the car, we arrive right on our 24 hour time slot. It's like ground hog day.

 Thanks to Mick and Andrea for the planning, Tom for the bed, and the rest for being silly enough to come along.

 

Click The pic for more photos


Posted by bondrj at 10:52 AM NZT
Updated: Sunday, 14 February 2016 1:31 PM EADT

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