Sunday, 20 December 2009

More Sydney - Catching up

The day after I arrived we had breakfast and went and did this coastal walk from Bondi to Coogee beaches. That was pretty cool, the beaches look pretty nice, there were a few smaller beaches here and there in between Bondi and Coogee.

Well, I think the best thing to do about my last two weeks is to summarise what I’ve done. I’m not really ‘travelling’ at the moment; it’s a bit strange being in one place for so long. I’ve got access to the gym up the road at the football/cricket ground (Sydney cricket ground, where I’ll be going to watch some cricket after new years). So that’s nice. Phil and Gaye are both pretty into going, so I’ll tag along occasionally, work out for about half an hour then get bored and lie by the pool/in the spa. Phil’s house was up for auction, he had a reserve on it that didn’t get met, but the auction was pretty fun as it happens in the house. He’s already bought a new place and wants to get close to the same amount that he paid for that.

After the auction, we decided to go out for lunch; we went to this Japanese place just down the road which was fantastic. Great food, and you’re sitting at one big table so we got talking to lots of other people too. The guy sat next to me flew a glider over the Berlin wall to escape, and Phil was saying he’d seen a documentary about it, so that was pretty cool! Anyway, we drank a fair bit, and next door was a wine place that was having champagne tastings, so we went and got more than our fair share of that stuff. Everything is a bit fuzzy after that but I remember waking up at 9pm on the couch by myself, Gaye and Phil had already given up and gone to bed by then. It was a heavy one.

During the week before the auction there was a visit on the house so we went to a pub down the road called the royal, which apparently my dad and uncle pretty much lived in when they were over for the ashes in 99. We had a fantastic meal there, I had seafood pasta which was amazing, and then we ended up having cheeses and more wine, and ended up getting back and crashing.

The area Phil lives in fancies itself as a bit of a trendy place. Those who know oxford, think Jericho. But it’s good fun. On the Friday after I arrived I walked down to darling harbour and met up with splash, who I met in Cambodia. He’s in Sydney working as a diving instructor now, so we had plenty of beers in a few places. Then I was on my way back but decided to sit down on these steps in darling harbour with lots of other people, and I ended up talking to this Swiss girl for a couple of hours. Now, I can’t remember her name, or even what we really talked about, but that was cool. So I wandered back to Paddington in a slightly tipsy state and crashed once I got back.

Last night Phil was away in Melbourne on business so me and Gaye decided to go out for some food. We went to the royal first for a beer and to figure out where we were going to eat, but on the way I we walked past this guy who was wearing the pads they put on drinks to keep them cool on his arms, and was pretending to be a wrestler. Anyway, we sat near to his friends and on his way back in he wandered over to us and sat with us for a while. He was completely smashed, Irish, and just pretty entertaining really. He’d been in Oz for 4 years, wasn’t really sure what the time was and kept on talking about the most random things. But that was good fun. Me and Gaye ended up eating at the place we went on my first night, but had some pasta instead of pizza. Again, the food was amazing. We were choosing some wine and I noticed one of them was from the Marlborough region in New Zealand, which I passed through. I met a lot of people who had been working in the vineyards in that region, and so found it quite funny that I was drinking the wine that these friends may have helped to make.

See now this journal just seems to be turning into me talking about food and drink! I haven’t really done all that much touristy stuff yet. We’ve been on quite a few walks, and seen some pretty awesome views around Sydney. But on sunny days, I think ‘oh it’s too nice to go the aquarium or the contempory art place or whatever, I’ll just sit on the top deck and read. And then on the rare occasion that it’s cloudy or a bit grey, I think, ‘oh it’s a bit grey, I might just stay in and watch a movie or catch up on this etc. I’m still planning on going to Wollongong to see a friend from Outward Bound Canada, but that’ll probs happen after New Year. And I might see Splash again. Plus I’m going to see the test match at the SCG after the New Year. And see more of the sights. All by the time I leave, which is January the 10th. So it might be a bit of a squeeze, but it’s been nice to be in one place for a decent amount of time, and not to be doing something every day.

This’ll be the last entry for a while, what with Christmas etc. We’re going up to Newcastle which is north of Sydney, and staying there with good friends of Phil’s. Christmas day – Pool, sun, BBQ, beers. Yes sir.

Monday, 14 December 2009

From Collingwood to Sydney

I'm getting really bad with this, i just keep putting it off and then i'm left with so much to catch up. But i know its worth doing because otherwise i'll forget half the stuff that has happened! So now im going back about two weeks, which is about when i arrived in Collingwood.

The place itself is pretty odd. Unique might be a better word. Back in the day, there was a gold rush in the area so the place was heaving, and had something like 30 pubs. Plans were drawn up in England to build it up into the capital city of New Zealand. But then the gold ran out, and everybody buggered off. Nowadays i has a population of about 300, and it really is the end of the road. There's nowhere to go but back the way you came. Anyway, i got to the hostel, and they were still cleaning so i went down to the beach. Had a little wander. There's an inlet that runs beside the town, and it fills up with the high tide. After i went back to the hostel, had some lunch and came back down, the tide had gone out. The inlet was empty and the tide had gone out an insane distance. It was all really flat so it all goes so easily. I had a wander down 'main street' which was basically a few shops, a pub and the place where they organise the farewell spit eco tours. This was the main reason i had come to collingwood. There's this big spit of sand at the top of the south island which is 6km long, has a lighthouse on and a whole load of wildlife. I was thinking of doing the tour the next day, but was planning on taking the cheaper option, and borrowing a bike from the guesthouse, getting a lift up there and then cycling back (it's a fair old ways). The hostel had kayaks that we could use, but we had to wait for the inlet to fill up again, and when it did at about 5pm i went off for a paddle with two german girls and an older canadian guy. They'd done the farewell spit tour that day, and said it was worth doing. Anyway, we had a bit of a paddle. The canadian guy was about 50+, and just really pissed me off. On our way down there he said he wanted to run over some safety things, because he's done lots of kayaking before. The thing is, it was an inlet, pretty flat. We were wearing life jackets, it was just ridiculous! He was also running over how you should paddle, and saying things like 'its best to go in a straight line because that's quicker'. Well done you. But beyond that, it was pretty good fun. We paddled a fair ways, and turned round, drifting back with the wind. I talked to the german girls, it was one of their birthdays that day, and her friend told me she had made some kind of secret dessert for her friend.

So there was only myself, the three i've just mentioned, and an older english guy who had just finished the heaphy track staying in the hostel as guests. There were 3 japanese girls who were working as the cleaners, and the english guy who owned the place. The evening was good, we all sat around the table eating the suprise dessert and talking.

The next day, every guest except for me left. This wouldn't have been such a bad thing, if it hadn't rained all day. So there was absolutley nothing i could do! It was just heavy rain, all day. So i sat around and read the book i was reading at the time, catch 22 (which as awesome). Ate a bit, the fat cat kept wanting to sit on me bu i think i was allergic to it. It was the laziest cat in the world. It just lay sprawled out on a beanbag all day.

So yeah, that really was all that happened that day. A couple of other people arrived, but beyond that, nothing! I'd already booked my bus ticket back to nelson for the next day, and the weather was still crappy so it was a wise idea to escape! The bus picked me up, there was only one person on it at the time, this japanese girl with dreads. She was awesome. She'd been doing some woofing around the area, as well as helping a guy out at his yoga place. She had been living in the area for about 4 months but had decided it was time for a change so was heading for the north island. We had to change buses 3 times, but we just chatted away. She jumped off at nelson airport, and i got the driver to drop me back at the bug backpackers. I got in and saw anthony, the owner, and was checking in. Went to grab my wallet, realised it wasn't in my pocket. Oh crap. Figured i'd left it on the bus. Anthony called them up and turned out i had. I would of been pretty damn screwed without at. So jumped on a bike and went to pick it up.

It was odd going back to the hostel, as when i'd left i knew most people, and knew most people's faces, at least. So the only people i knew when i got back was mark, rudi had had to move out to another hostel, and everybody else had moved on. The atmosphere of the place was still the same though. Two of marks friends he met in the north island were there, and they were awesome. A girl called molly who had been working at oxfam on the north island had just arrived, there was a new cleaner who was canadian. Etc. More great people. We sat round playing cards in the evening, which was a load of fun. I didn't really have plans for the next day, except maybe go back to the beach if the weather was good.

Well, it wasn't. It rained pretty much all day. But unlike collingwod, there were people around! Ha. So we sat around playing games most of the day. In the evening we rounded up more people and played a few big games of mafia, which is an awesome game i hadn't played since being at OBC. That was a lot of fun. Had a few beers too, pretty late night.

6 days before i had booked a train journey from picton back to christchurch, as laura had said it was a really awesome journey. I got it for $29 to, which is cheaper than the bus! So i got the bus to picton which took a couple of hours, had some food, jumped on the train. It was a 5 hour journey, with something ridiculous like 40 tunnels and 50 bridges. It carves its way along the coastline, through the mountains. Around the kaikora peninsula there are a whole bunch of seals just chilling on a beach as we whizz past. There was a viewing cabin at the back, which was basically open air. Lots of fun. Very windy. Good stuff.

I got in about 6pm and got picked up by dave and laura, we went shopping and had an awesome dinner. Dave had found a job, but it involved getting up at 4.30am to go to work though. After he finished work the next day we were going to go mountain biking. We went to pick up some good bikes from one of his friends, and were back late enough for laura to come too. So we drove the place, off we went. It was so much fun. Really great trails, winding through trees, ups and downs. Banked corners. So we did that and by the time we finished the loop, the sun was pretty much setting. In the evening laura went to bed fairly early because she was tired, but me and dave sat up, working our way through a fair few rum and cokes + black russians. Dave had chucked a bunch of music onto my ipod, including some kiwi reggae, so we listened to that, talked about the usual rubbish. Twas a good night.

In the morning they took me out to breakfast, to a place called the honey pot. It was amazing. I had salmon with eggs benedict on english muffins. Ohhhhhh. It was so good. After this we went to another great mountain bike place about 15 minutes away from the airport. This one was more twisty turny than the other, still a lot of fun as you'd see how fast you can get away with going into a banked turn bend. Probably not the best idea when i was supposed to flying in a few hours. Oh well! After this we went straight to the airport, checked in, they hung around for a bit, eventually i went through after deciding not to buy some rum in duty free.

The flight to sydney was short and sweet. Immigration was all good, i got picked up by phil and gaye, and got taken back to phil's place. It's in an area called paddington, which is just down the road from the cbd central business district) and harbour bridge. In fact, i can see i tout of the window as i type this! That's pretty sweet. Anyway, the firt night we went out to a pizza place just down the road, which was great. A few beverages in a pub that my dad used to live in when he was over here in 99. Phil is currently trying to sell his house, he's just moving 10 minutes away, but over here they often have auctions for houses. The auction is a week from this saturday. I'm staying in the basement, where he used to have tennants, but now there's just a bed and a few bugs. It's perfect though, it can only be accessed from outside and i've got my own key for it. So i can come and go from there as i please. I only really use it for sleeping as there's nothing else down there, but it's good stuff!

Still about 9 days behind, but that's all i have the energy for at the moment!

Thursday, 3 December 2009

At dave's house, trying to catch up!

So….not too sure where I left off. I think….I was heading to Picton? That sounds about right. So from Christchurch it was a 5 hour bus journey, heading north along the coast. We stopped in Kaikoura for a break, then headed on up. I had called the day before to reserve a dorm bed and a pick up from the bus station. So we got in at 9ish, it was a bit drizzly and dark, and the pick up wasn’t there yet. I met this welsh guy called George who was staying in the same place and waiting for the pick up too. The place we were staying at was called Tombstone backpackers, now things were a bit different to Asia in terms of choosing places to stay. Pretty much all the hostels are part of BBH, which is like YHA, and they produce these big leaflet books with every hostel in, along with a % of how good it is, as voted by BBH members, along with a paragraph of text about each place written by the people that own it. So I chose the tombstone place because it had 92%, and I wanted to know why it was called tombstone backpackers!

Well, it turned out it was next door to the graveyard. But it was a theme they ran with, the front door was in the shape of a coffin door, which I thought was pretty cool. There were other little bits and pieces too. Anyways, when we got picked up, the woman told us that the dorm rooms were full, so they had upgraded us. George ended up in a share room, and she showed me to my room, which I had for one night only, but at a dorm room price. I had a double bed, with en-suite, and a balcony overlooking Picton and the harbour. AWESOME. Oh I was a happy bunny! I was planning on milling about a bit in the common areas but I was sleepy, I had my own shower, a double bed, so I had a shower, got into bed and read for a bit, and then went to sleep! I had to be out by 10am the next morning so I shifted my stuff into my dorm room, but still rather happy after an awesome night sleep!

The morning was still drizzly, so I asked what was good to do on a rainy day. She was trying to push me towards doing a wine tour, but I wasn’t looking to spend a whole lot of money over these 2 weeks or so. Free stuff is good stuff. But somehow I ended up at an aquarium, which wasn’t all that good, although it did have seahorses, and baby seahorses, which was cool. I then wandered around the harbour; Picton is where the ferries from Wellington come in. There were a couple of walks marked on the map, so I wandered over and did them, the weather got better, and the walks gave awesome views over the harbour and the surrounding coastline. I bumped into George on the way up the walk, the only person I saw in when heading in that direction, but on the way back I must have passed 30 people, I guess they all rushed out because the sun had come out.

In Picton, they also have the world’s 9th oldest ship. Bit random. I mean, if it was in the top 3, that’s cool. Top 5 maybe. But 9th? It made me chuckle. There was always so much of that, wherever I went, if there was something that was in some kind of top 10, this was always a big deal. But like, insignificant stuff. Like the 7th oldest curtain. Well that’s just a made up one, but you get the point. So I had a peek at that without going in the museum, because after going to the aquarium I didn’t want to drop more money. In the evening I didn’t do all that much, talked to George a bit but everybody seemed to be keeping themselves to themselves or closed off. I didn’t really think about it at the time, but once I got to Nelson I realized that there was a bit of an odd atmosphere there. I think it was because there was too much to do there, so no-one just sat and talked to each other.

They had a TV room, games room, quiet room for reading, internet room. So yeah, it was ok, but not the best. To be fair you don’t need any more time in Picton than one day, so 2 nights at a hostel at the most, so people will always be coming and going. So after Picton I got a bus to Nelson, about 2 hours away heading westwards along the north coast of the south island. I got picked up by the place I was staying at, called the bug backpackers, and ended up staying there for 8 nights. It was such a great place. Firstly, Nelson itself was really good. Awesome beach with the mountains of Abel Tasman national park on the horizon to the west, a whole load of good walks and bike tracks, very cycle friendly city (the hostel had free bikes), there was the centre of New Zealand point, which was cool, the town itself was really nice, relatively big but not too crazy, it had this cool gothic church, I just really liked the place. Plus they get the most amount of sunshine hours in New Zealand, and it was sunny and warm pretty much every day I was there.

As well as this, the hostel was awesome. I met a whole lot of really great people, and we’d just sit round in the evening, drinking some beers, maybe playing some games. So there was Mark, who was working as a cleaner at the hostel for free accommodation for three weeks, he started just before I arrived. Rudi, this German guy who was working at a place where they make signs, and absolutely loving it because his boss treats him so well, and so different to how bosses treat you in Germany. There was also a German couple who’s names I can’t remember, an English girl who was in my dorm who was applying for work in a whole bunch of places, another English girl that came a couple of days in, who was on the Kiwi Experience bus but had chosen to go to a different hostel to the one they had taken her to. Think of the Kiwi E bus as the tuk tuk drivers, taking you places where they’ll get a commission. And a whole load more people who came and went during those 8 nights. One night I went to see the imaginarium of doctor Parnassus with mark and an Austrian girl who was a friend of his who he’d met originally in the north island. That was an awesome film. On a Sunday me Rudi and an Italian guy who had worked with Rudi somewhere, maybe on the vineyards, went into to town to see the market, but I t wasn’t happening (because it was a bit rainy) so we had some food, watched the highlights of N.Z beating England in the rugby. Just lots of good times.

It would be really cool in the evenings because quite a few of the people have been working and traveling around New Zealand, and so we’d hear stories of how bad it is working in the vineyards (screws up your back pretty good) or unloading frozen fish from boats in the harbour. But if anything, it makes me want to do it now. Maybe not straight away, but at some point. I’d love to come back and find some work in Nelson, I really liked that place. There was a great atmosphere in the hostel, they had two computers which you could use for the internet, but beyond that there was none of the other frills, so everybody just got to know each other, and invariably ended up staying much longer than planned. Plus there were hammocks, and so it was pretty easy just to spend a couple of hours just reading/snoozing. Plus the owners were awesome, Anthony is from Leicester, early 30’s, and just helps to contribute to the chilled-out-ness of the place. I loved it, it was one of those perfect moments in time, with the right people, at the right place etc. Although on my last night this German girl arrived. At first she was a bit loud, and we were like yeah…ok. She’d just come out of school (not uni) and had been doing some work on a dairy farm for a bit on the north island. But she just had too much energy. She constantly wanted someone to go get a guitar and play it. She wanted everyone to move inside because it was dark, but most people were smokers, and we were pretty happy sat outside. So yeah, it seemed like I had picked the right time to leave. She was a bit crazy.

I’d booked a day in Abel Tasman national park, which is further west from Nelson, which is ridiculously beautiful, with golden beaches and amazing views, loads of wildlife. It’s one of the famous walks, and takes 3-5 days to walk all the way through, but I was only doing half a day walking and half a day kayaking. I got transported first from Nelson to Motueka, and then changed buses to get to Marahau, which is the last place before Abel Tasman national park. After a bit of confusion from the people organizing the thing, they realized I was doing the walk part first, so a guy showed me a map, told me he’d be at watering cove at 12pm, and it’ll probs be about 12 by the time I walk there. Sweet, so as a join the trail, it tells me that its 13km away, about a 3 ½ hours walk, and I found this out at 9.10am. So I was a bit confused because the guy had told me I could take my time and that it wasn’t that far. So I went off at a decent enough pace. It was a nice walk, with some amazing looking beaches, and the way the rocks had been eroded, as usual, just looks crazy. While walking along the trail, I spotted a black rabbit just chilling out. I grabbed some snaps from far away, thinking it was just going to run off when I got close, but I got right up next to it and it didn’t seem to mind! It was another really sunny day, but most of the walk was covered by the vegetation, so it was a nice walk. And as I made my way along I realized that 3 ½ hours would be a pretty slow pace, and made it to watering cove a bit after 12. Sweet.

So there were a fair few kayaks there, and I wondered over to the guy who I was meeting. More people turned up via water taxi, and the people who had kayaked to this beach started their walk back to Marahau. So it turned out I was the only one who had walked to this beach for the kayak back, everyone else had cheated and taken the water taxi :D Before we started I got talking to two guys from Dudley (I could tell where they were from pretty sharpish!) who had just been in south America for 6 months, one of them had been trying to write his journal entirely in rhyme, but gave up quite often and just wrote it normally! They seemed like they’d spent a wee bit too much time together, they seemed to have gone a bit crazy! Plus the fact they had bought a station wagon which they were sleeping in, so they hadn’t really met anybody for a while. They seemed pretty excited about having other people around! So we had a bit of a safety brief/how stuff works from the guy, they were all two person sea kayaks and I managed to get the Dutch guy I was sharing a boat with to take the front, because then I could sit in the back and control the rudder with the peddles. Fun stuff :D

We had a pretty casual paddle along the coast, the wind was behind us which was nice. We stopped after a while on a beach and me and the 2 English guys were chatting to the kayak guy. He’d studied outdoor ed like the majority of people at outward bound Canada had, and of course he knew all about outward bound so that was cool. But he was just pouring sand on his feet, and we were telling him what a sweet job he has, how at that point he was being paid to pour sand on his feet! Because of the tail wind we tried to do some sailing, so we pulled out a tarp, rafted up, hitched the tarp to the bottom of the front of the kayaks on the left and right, and then connected it to the two paddles at the back which were raised, and tried to catch the breeze, but it died on us straight away! We just held it up anyway as the current was taking us where we wanted to go, so we had a nice little cruise for a bit, and a chat. We made it back to Marahau, back to the start sight. Had some cookies and waited for the bus. I was going back to Motueka for the night, and possibly staying for another if there was good stuff to do there! So I arrived in Motueka, met an English guy in my dorm who told me there was a bit of a day walk I could do, but beyond that not much. The hostel wasn’t all that great, but they did have the departed on DVD so we ended up watching that.

The next morning I was trying to decide whether to leave or not (while in bed) but I was pretty tired from the day before so decided to stay put for one more night. It rained all day. Boo. But I got stuff organized for the next day, a bus to Collingwood and accommodation. Yeah, it rained all day. I watched a couple of movies, caught up on my journal a bit, read a bit. There was an English girl who had a job in motueka and was staying in the hostel and I wondered how she kept herself entertained, because there really wasn’t anything going on!

Next morning I got on the bus to Collingwood, which is west again, in an area called Golden Bay. It’s a pretty remote and cut off area, with only one road in and out. It’s another famous area as you can start another one of the famous walks, the heaphy track, for nearby. At one point Collingwood was going to be the capital of New Zealand, this was during the gold rush era when Collingwood was thriving. But at some point, the gold dried up, people left, and now it has a population of a few hundred! I was staying at a place called Somerset house, which was the only backpackers in Collingwood! I arrived while they were still cleaning the dorm room so I went out for a wander.

Sunday, 29 November 2009

Adventures on the west coast of the south island, N.Z

* Apologies for any spelling mistakes, i've just gurgled all this down and haven't got the energy to check it!

So here we go again. Starting from the 7th, the day after the night at scotts beach. Woke up, had breakfast and packed up our stuff. Walk back to the car. We drive to oparara arches. From the car park it was just a short twenty minute walk to the arches. Pretty cool stuff, a huge 200ft tall arch, really wide, nature does some pretty cool stuff sometimes. We had lunch when we got back to the car park, then drove to another place nearby where we parked the car, then had about 1 1/4 hour walk to see some caves. The first one wasn't so great because it wasn't really accesible, but the second was was awesome, because it was called tunnel cave, and we could climb right through to the other side! One slight problem that we had was that we only had two headlamps, so two people could see where they were going well, while the other one had to contend with a bit of darkness! It was pretty rugged/cramped/fun inside as we climbed our way through, and at various points we would stop, turn off our headlamps and see gloworms on the walls, like little tiny stars! I was carrying my day pack through it on my back, it came out the other end a completly different colour, we got pretty dirty in there. It was a pretty rugged walk back to the main trail, and then bck to the car.

We decided to camp at the place we left the car the previous night, as it was a really nice site. Had some dinner, Dave destroyed me playing cards. Next day we drove towards westport, which was about 90km away. Stopped in a cafe and had some coffee. Then we drove about 15km outside of Westport, to cape foulwind, and di the hour walk along the coast to where a bunch of seals were hanging out/sunbathing. It's called Cape foulwind because Captain Cook had some bad times coming past this coast back in the day. Bless his little cotton socks. There's another place that Abel Tasman called murderer's bay after some men on his ship got killed after their first meeeting with the Maori, but they changed the name to something much nicer as murderers bay diesn't sound that much of nice place! So after the seals we drove back into Westport, had some fish and chips. Yummers. Really not a whole lot happening in Westport! We drive south along the coast to Punkaiki, the site of the pancake rocks. Basically, its a whole load of rocks that look like pancakes, because of the way they've been eroded, but scientists aren't really all that sure how it happened. There's some crazy waves bashing around, with a couple of blow holes that water comes shooting out of in a fine mist wen a big wave comes in. Pretty cool stuff.

After this we drove nearby to the start of the ballroom overhang track. It was a bit rainy, but we had an awesome dinner (mmm, spagetti) and jumped into the tent. Now, the book we had said that the walk to the ballroom overhang would take 4 hours, but the signs at the site said it would take two. But we planned to stay there overnight anyway, so we set off. To begin with it was an up and down bush trail, but then we had to follow the fox river and do a few river crossings. They wern't do bad, as the water was not moving quickly, the river was relatively shallow, but it was glacial water so it was freezing! The cool thing is that we can drink it straight form the river, without having to do anything to it. That's really cool. So after about two hours we made it to the ballroom overhang. It's this huge cliff overhang, about as long and wide as a football pitch. The cliff had been eroded away by the river hundreds of years ago. It was a really awesome sight. So below the overhang was a nice big area above the river. Because we were there pretty early, we walked along the rocks beside the river and picked up driftwood for a fire, and then sat beside the river and played cards for a bit. Then went back up to the overhang, got the fire going, played some more cards, had mac n cheese for dinner. Goooood stuff!

So the next day we walked out, but we decided to follow the river all the way back to the car park, instead of taking the bush trail. The water got a bit deep in some places where we were doing crossings, but it was all good. There were a lot more cars in the car park when w got back, with lots of people fishing for whitebait. We packed up the car, set off......nope. No we didn't. The car wouldn't start. Oh crumbs. The lights on the dashboard would come on, but the car wouldn't start. So we didn't think the problem was with the battery, but we found a guy with jumper cables and gave it a go....nope. We tried a rolling start. Nope. We asked the guy if we could use his phone to call the AA. He said there is no reception in this place. Erp. He told us there were a few houses over the bridge and up the hill, and they'd probably have a landline, so we wandered up there, but nobody was home. Erp. So we waled back to the car park, thinking that we'd talk to the doc (department of conservation) guy when he came back to his car. He was about to leave when we got back. Dave jumped in and he drove him to a friends house nearby where he called the AA, then drove him back. A tow truck turned up some time later, but the car on, drove us back to Westport. Told us his garage was very busy, the problem was probably the starter motor, and so it might not get fixed for a while. Crumbs. We stayed in a hostel, had a curry and thought about what we were going to do.

The next morning we trundled over to the car in the garage, to get our breakfast stuff out, it was grey and drizzly....and one of the mechanics wondered over and told us it was fixed! Turns out the problem was that daves car is fuel injected, and he drove a short journey across the car park the day before, which meant that the fuel that had been injected hadn't been used, so it was flooded, and wouldn't start when we came back. Apparantly it's something to do with dave's car being a nissan from 1993. Ha. So, feeling very relieved, we set off again! Headed south along the coast, while driving through Greymouth we saw a sign for a brewery tour, and figured why not! It was a Monteiths brewery, which is a well known brewery here, and they are staring to try and enter the market in England. Anyway, we caught up with a tour that was already going on, the coolest thing was seeing a 13,000 litre vat full of beer. Awesome. And then of course came the tastings in the bar. They have six different types of beers, and a cider. All incredibly tasty. They are just a small craft brewery so put a lot of care into the beers they make. The cider was amazing, there was a 'summer beer' which had a slight taste of ginger beer. It was alll gooood. So we came out feeling a little merry, so had some lunch before we set off again! We find a campsite quite close to the fran josef glacier, which we checked out the next day!

So yeah, Franzy Josef glacier! IT was pretty awesome. Huge glacier thats hanging out between two mountains. First we walked to a raised viewing point, then walked across the valley up close to it. Huge, awesome. It started to rain on the walk back to the car. We drove further down the coast to a place where we were hoping to kayak in a lagoon, but the guy told us it was too windy. But the weather had brightened up, so we did a 1 1/2 return walk up to an awesome view point where we could see for miles in all directions. That was cool. After this we headed inland, towards Arthurs pass, looking for somewhere to camp near the start of our next overnight trip. We found a small road used by a farmer that we sneakily camped on. More good times. In the morning before we left, we had to sort out our wet shoes. The last river we had been in had didymo, which is this bad thing in rivers which makes it unsafe to drink in some places. We needed to clean our boots so that we wouldn't bring didymo into this other river we were going into. One of the ways to clean the boots is to boil hot water and dunk them in. So we were sat by the side of the road, wearing our gear ready for a day of river crossings (looking quite trampy) and looking like we were making a tasty boot broth. Good stuff. We drove to the start point, packed up and set off at about 1130ish. We made it to the hot springs at 5.45. Long walk! First through some gorse, with some small river crossings, along a 4 by 4 track which was in the valley with huge snow capped mountains on either side, then through bush for a fair old while, around a lake, up and down a steep hill, and then we were on the Okarito river. This river was moving fast, with a fair bit of whitewater in places. So we made our way along the river, doing various crossins when we ran out of land to walk on on one side. Again, the water was glacial (freezing) and one crossing came up above our waists. That was a bit of a shock! A few times we had to link up and ford across, which makes it a bit safer/easier.

And so eventually we made it to the hot springs. There's an island beside the river, with a small flow on the other side. There were nice boiling hot pools, which you could adjust the temperature by removing a rock and letting in some of the cold water that was running by. It was a really nice campsite on the island, someone had gone to the trouble of bringing in this big painting all the way, and had hung it up on a tree! So we set up the tent, got some some beers chilling, and jumped in the hot pools. We didn't get out much after that. We had two dinners, read our books, drank some beer. Good stuff. Eventually we jumped out and jumped into the tent. The next morning was cold and grey. And i really wasn't looking forward to more freezing river crossings on the way back! I resisted the temptation to jump in a hot pool before we left, knowing the change in temperature wouldn't be much fun!

The route back we followed the river until it took us to the 4 by 4 track. Amazing views again. The walk back to the car felt quicker than the walk there! Back in the car, drove further inland, stopped at the beginning of a track where we knew there was a hut nearby. We were feeling a fair bit tired! There was a kea in the car park, which was wondering around being nosy. As we left it was on the roof of a rental car chewing on a roof rack! The hut was only 10 minutes away, and we were the only ones there. Had a nice dinner, read a bit more. I got onto a bunk in my sleeping bag, not really planning on going to sleep but it happened anyway! The next day we were planning on doing cave stream, but it was raining so we wern't sure how safe/if we might get trapped by rising water levels so we asked at the DOC office and they said it wasn't safe. Boo. So we headed back to Christchurch! The souther alps break up the bad weather, so the east coast is usually sunny and the west is rainy. As soon as we were through the mountains it was really hot and sunny! We stopped at daves favourite pie shop in a small village on the way back, and had two pies. Awesome. And we found out that New Zealand had qualified forthe football world cup! Coolbeans. All i've talked about really is the stuff that we did. Of course half the fun is just other stuff that happens. Me and dave did a fair bit of reminiscing about our days at Outward Bound Canada, we were constantly singing flight of the conchorde songs, and tenacious D songs too. Just having good times!

Back to Christchurch, unloaded the car, sorted some stuff out. We drove past the place where they filmed the battle scene in the first Narnia film, so we had a craving to watch that. We went and got some takeaway curry, sat down to watch it and found out that Laura had managed to download a version dubbed in Hindi! So we watched Lord of the rings instead. Very fitting :D

Laura started her summer job the next day, so me and dave did a bit of cleaning, tried to go play some crazy gold but the place was closed on Mondays. I sorted out my plans for the next day, heading North along the coast to Picton, and staying at a plac called 'Tombstone backpackers. Coolio. In the evening we watched some whose line is it anyway, and a bit of my hero. Good stuff.

And so from there i spent two nights in picton, eight nights in nelson, two in Motueka and one night in Collingwood, with one more to come. I'll be writing about these when i get the energy, it's a been a pretty mammoth entry!

Sunday, 22 November 2009

In Nelson, NZ (The beginning of the N.Z leg)

I'm going to miss out the last few days in Asia for now, i'll probably write it up at some point as it was a fun time, but now i've been in New Zealand for more than two weeks and i feel like writing about that for a while! Most of the stuff happened a fair while ago now, so things may be a bit jumbled, and i might forget some stuff, but i will do my best!

So, after a 9 hour flight to Sydney, and a 3 hour flight to Christchurch, i got off the plane, with grey skies and a cold wind. Damn. I thought it was supposed to be summertime! Dave picked me up from the airport. To explain, i'm not talking in the 3rd person. This is kiwi dave, who did the same job as me in Canada. He's at uni in Christchurch, and his last exam was the next day. We went back to his house, I re-met his girlfriend (Laura), who i had only met briefly in Canada four years earlier just before i left to come home! She's Canadian, but decided to follow Dave back to New Zealand and study at Christchurch as well! I had a quick powernap, we had some food, caught up etc. The next day i cycled into Christchurch uni with dave and used the internet in the library while he did his last exam. The campus reminded me a lot of Keele, it was very green.

Once dave had finished we had a jug of Tui beer (yay for jugs) at a bar on campus with a few of his friends, while finding out where people were congregating to celebrate the end of exams. We found out and wondered over to someone's house, stopping to buy some beer on the way. Then we sat in someone's garden with all the sofas etc outside and the sun came out! Woop. Half the people there were celebrating mucho hard, resulting in someone intentionally putting his foot throught a glass coffee table (which he had to do twice as the first time didn't work). So then there was glass everywhere, with another of the drunk guys not seeming to notice it as he walked around barefoot. A girl decided to start throwing everything out of the kitchen window in the backyard, which was a bit surreal, seeing kettle's etc coming flying out! But there were the other half of people who didn't go quite so crazy, so i sat talking to them.

Some time later we cycled home, had some food, Laura had her last exam the next day. So on the next day, me and Dave went on a bunch of errands, getting stuff ready for the trip. We were going down the West coast of the south island, going tramping (which is what they call walking, which is a bit weird.....but we did look like tramps most of the time...). So we were buying food etc. Before this we drove up to summit road, which was a a road on the hills above Christchurch, and gave awesome views down on the city below, and on the other side of the hills in Lyttleton, with the harbour. After we had bought all the stuff we needed, Dave took me to the Wonderbar. He had mentioned it the day before, and refused to even attempt to explain it, saying that i simply had to see it for myself. It was in Lyttleton, so we went in a tunnel through the hills. Once we were in Lyttleton, we tried to go to the Wonderbar, but it wasn't open yet as it was 4.30pm. Boo. So we got a coffee. My mum had told me the one thing i had to do in N.Z was to have a flat while coffee. So this was the first one i had. It was so damn good! I can't say i've had anything like it in England. So good. So we sat on a bench drinking coffee, then it was time for the wonderbar!

So, this place is difficult to explain, it's the kind of place you need to see yourself really. But anyways....we have to walk up a bunch of ramps down the back of a building to get in, and there's a sign saying 'nice people only.' Inside we go. So apparently it was built by some crazy german guy a while ago, which i guess could explain the oddness of it. So, fish bowls hanging above the bar with gas masks in them, dolls heads stuck onto lampshades, crazy german signs, male mannequin torso's hanging randomly, a sort of secret door to get into the toilet, which you have to pull on an iron to get into. A back room where occasionally they have some crazy shows, and apparantly the german guy was a bit of a swinger. So yeah, pretty crazy place. It's owned by someone else now, me and dave had some beer, played some pool. It's got a pretty awesome balcony looking out over Lyttleton harbour which was cool.

In the evening a couple of Laura's friends came over before we went to go watch the guy fawkes fireworks. Funnily enough both her friends were from England, one guy from Swindon. Ha. We drove back up to Summit road and met more of laura's friends up there, and climbed onto the rocks to have an awesome view of the fireworks in the city below. There was a display on Brighton Beach, which we could see, but not hear! We were above the fireworks, so it was a bit odd looking down on them but pretty cool!

After this we made our way back to Dave's house and got ready for the trip. I guess I haven't talked about this yet. We were planning on driving across to the west coast of the south island, through the southern alps, and starting as far north as we could, around Karamea, then working our way down south. Dave had been looking at a bunch of walks and stuff we could do up and down the west coast, as well as checking out franz josef glacier, the pancake rocks and whatever else we happen to discover along the way. We were planning on camping for the majority of the trip, and maybe spending the odd night in a hostel. So me, Dave and Laura packed up most of our stuff ready to leave the next day.

Eventually we packed up the car and set off. We were taking Lewis' pass through the mountains, which was awesome. Just completely crazy scenery, huge mountains dropping into valleys, snow on the peaks, rivers winding their way around. More crazy mountain roads like on the road to Pai! Although much of the road didn't have a rail by the side of it, so if you go over, there's no stopping, and it's normally a hell of a long way down! I think it works as an effective way to keep the average national IQ of N.Z at a pretty high level. We stopped somewhere along the road for a coffee (mmm, more flat white) and a pie. This was my first N.Z pie. Pies were something that Dave talked about often while we were in Canada, he seemed to be suffering from withdrawl symptoms! They really really like their pies here. Like, really really. So the first pie i had was steak and cheese, and it was gooood. We set off on the road again, stopped sometime later for a late lunch, sandwhiches that we made. We were joined by a Weka, the first time I had seen one, but definitely not the last! If you've seen my pictures on facebook then you've probably seen a picture of it. He was basically wondering round seeing if he could get any food from us. Laura was giving him a little bit but Dave kept saying 'your not supposed to feed the Weka's!! They are wild animals! Many of the other Weka's we saw on the West coast (many of which hung around touristy areas) were obviously very used to getting food from tourists, and were pretty friendly.

We made it to Karamea, which is a small town. We drove along the coast and found the start point of the heaphy track. We were only walking one hour to a beach called 'scott's beach', so we packed up the stuff we needed from the car (including pillows, a rare luxury :D) and walked to the site. It was a nice grassy site just up from the beach, and we were the only people there. Unfortunately we had managed to forget the stove fuel, so we couldn't cook on the stove. We were having sausages so we decided to have a fire on the beach instead, so we collected up driftwood from the beach, made a fire, cooked our sausages on sticks (with plently of sausage puns...such as 'oh no my sausage is deformed/burnt etc). We had them with rolls, drank some beer, sounds of the ocean, good stuff :D

Saturday, 31 October 2009

More pai, lopburi etc

So, continuing from where i left off. The day after the whitewater trip was spent doing very little, except looking after my wound, lying in a hammock, eating, etc. I also booked an elephant trek for the next day. So i woke up early the next morning, got picked and rode in the back of a pick up truck with an aussie woman who was a teacher, who was going to be riding the elephant with me. It took about 20 minutes to get to the elephant camp, where we jumped out, and got given some banana's to feed to the elephants. Fun times. If you held one behind your back the elephant would wrap his trunk around you and pull you in, then yank the banana from you with his trunk. At one point i tried to walk across one to another, with a banana in my hand, but the closer one just grabbed hold of me and the banana!

So then we attempted to climb on. The elephant bends one of its knees, which you step on, then grab the top of his ear, which is all cartilage, and pull yourself up! Not the most graceful of things. It actually feels really high up, and there is no platform thing to sit on like in some places. So you are basically just sitting on his spine, and he had short, prickly hair. So it wasn't the most comfortable of things! But it was fun. First we wandered (slowly) around the hills for an hour. He seemed to be misbehaving quite a lot though, the guy who was......uh....steering him? got angry with him because he kept stopping, to grab some vegetation to eat with his trunk, and to do some business, if you catch my drift. But often, nothing was coming out, so our guide just tried to hurry him along. We got back down to the road and were walking past the other elephant camps when suddenly he turned 180 and tried to set off in a run! Now, being about 8 feet off the ground, with concrete below, was a bit of a worry. So we just grabbed on and the guide managed to stop him! I figured he was a moody teenage elephant going through a rebellious phase because his parents won't let him stay out any later than 10pm....or something.

So after this episode we wandered towards the river, which was fairly wide, with the usual lovely shade of brown water. The elephant slowly creeped into the middle of the river, and then walked up it. Of course we were nice and high up so were not getting wet. Result. We got to a point where the 'driver' said do you want to get wet? Me, of course i did, the aussie didn't like the look of the river so opted out. For shame. I had been swimming and slicing my knee open in the wonderful stuff already. So she hopped of onto dry land, and me and the driver headed back out into the river. The next 5 minutes was basically my getting sprayed down by the elephant who was sucking up water with his trunk and blowing it out at me on his back. The driver was also on board, but was using me as a pretty effective human shield to stay dry. Then he asked me 'you want elephant shake?' to which the only answer really is, 'Yes?' in a kind of 'I'm Ron Burgundy?' style. He told me to hold on tight. So i did. The elephant lowered its head down, then swung from left to right and back again very quickly. Somehow i managed to stay on. The next time, i went flying. Curses. I clambered back up, and then we noticed something that looked like a dead fox drifting past us down the river. Mmm, yummy.

We climbed back onto dry land, and now i could sit right behind the elephants head which was 100 times more comfortable. We slowly wondered back to the camp and jumped off. Then we were told we could go jump in the hot spring baths, so I did, but the aussie woman seemed to have an aversion to that as well! So i lay there for about 20 minutes in this awesome hot water, depositing all the stones i'd managed to collect in my shorts after being thrown off. Dried up and got taken back to town.

I spent the rest of the day just relaxing. I've become addicted to this spicy glass noodle salad, which is insanely spicy but so tasty. So i fight through the pain, every time thinking i'm not going to have it again, only to go and have it again. Mmmm. And roti from street vendors. Banana and chocolate. So good.

I was walking back to my guesthouse that night thinking how much i loved Pai. It was so chilled out, in a great setting, i was eating roti, thinking, yeah, this place is cool. Then i see a thai guy just randomly walk up to another thai guy and smack him in the head, he then falls straight over backwards and whacks his head on the ground, with the other guy just walking off. The guy stood up, with blood streaming down from the back of his head, looked at me and just shrugged his shoulders!! A couple of other guys ran after the guy who punched him, but i never saw what happened once they caught up to him. Was a wee bit random!

I left the next day and went back to Chiang Mai, where i spent two more nights. Trying to keep things a bit more brief so i can catch up, i wandered round some more temples, some of which were stunning, one which had donald duck standing beside it, which was a little odd. I remember one awesome meal i had, red curry with duck, lychees, cherry tomatoes and pineapple. Mmm. Most of this blog just seems to be me writing about food. It's so good! Met a few peeps from Spain one night at the place i was staying and went and had some drinks with them. Fun times.

I decided i wanted to go to Lopburi, so i booked a train ticket, departing at 8.45am and getting in a 6.45pm. Supposedly. Well, i got a ride to the train station, and sat waiting for the train. At one point some crazy old thai lady came up to me and said something to me, her family followed behind her, one of which said 'she said you have a very nice smile.' This happens often, its odd. A train turned up at 9am, but it was one that was supposed to have been there at 6.45am, so i wasn't allowed on. Eventually our train turned up and we left at 10.45, two hours later than planned. The train journey itself wasn't too bad. The train was only half full, the first five hours were pretty slow going and mountainous but once we hit phitsanolouk we flew. Plus we got a free meal, which was pretty tasty. I hardly even realised that we'd got to Lopburi, it was about 8pm and i was feeling sleepy. I jumped off the train and tried to figure out where i was/where i was going. I didn't have a map and only had a rough idea of where the place i wanted to stay was, but after a bit of wandering i found it. I went for a bit of a wander in the evening, there really wasn't a whole lot going on. The lonely planet book had only used about half a page to talk about Lopburi, and there was one main reason that the people came here. For the monkeys!!

The next morning i went an found an internet cafe so i could figure out where everything was. I went to this old palace first, which was fairly interesting. It had a museum inside the grounds, which was again, fairly interesting. But after a while it was just one very old Buddha statue after another, and they do all look the same...i was eager to see me some monkeys! I wandered towards this famous temple where they reside, and once the temple was in view, so were the monkeys. The temple itself was surrounded by grass and a wide perimeter fence, but the monkeys weren't just inside the fence. Oh no. They were everywhere. Sat on parked cars, crossing the roads, running around on telegraph poles, swinging on fences over buildings like it was their very own jungle gym, which i guess it was.

I waled in through the gate, paid the admission fee and for this i also had a thai lady follow me round with a slingshot. These monkeys, they were everywhere. It was crazy. It's hard to get across how strange it felt! I bought a bag of nuts at the entrance, and you could feed the monkeys these, just hold them in your hands and they'd grab them! Most of the monkeys were just chilling out, grooming each other, climbing up and down walls, with the occasional fight breaking out, and the odd spot of 'boom boom' which those of you who've been to SE asia will know, and those of you who haven't, well, it's pretty easy to work out what it is, isn't it! I sat down at one point and a few of them started to climb on me, sometimes they'd try and get a bit bitey, but the thai lady would threaten them with the slingshot and they'd scarper! It was quite a small temple, and we went inside, where a whole load of bats where hanging upside down having a snooze.

Once i'd finished, there really wasn't a whole lot else going on in the place. I went back to later to just sit and watch the monkeys which was pretty funny, one of them had managed to find an energy drink, unscrew the cap and have a drink. I though to myself, this could end badly :/ But he didn't like the taste, so passed it round his friends, who also didn't like the taste!

This is where i'll be ending now, hopefully i'll get some time somewhere to catch up on my last week or so in Kanchanaburi and Bangkok, which have been pretty crazy, but now i'm off to New Zealand for a month, and i think i'm gonna be away from the internet for a while!

Monday, 26 October 2009

Pai (whitewater trip)

So....i left off last time on the way to Pai. It was about a 4 hour minibus ride. After half an hour i sawa sign saying that it was 91 km away, ah we'll be there in no time then! Ha. Epic mountain roads. Weaving our way up one and then down, with hairpin turns at every corner. It was pretty fun, but probably wouldn't be so great if you get carsick easily! I met an aussie girl on the minibus whose name i can't remember now. Anyway, we got into Pai and i set off in search of 'Breeze of Pai' guesthouse, and she tagged along because she had no idea where she was going. Pai itself is an awesome place, small mountain town thats grown in size because plenty of tourists come out this way looking for treks/whitewater. So, found the guesthouse, one of the nicest i've stayed in, for sure. Spent the rest of the day talking to a bunch of white water rafting companies to see who had the best deal/people signed up for a 2 day trip leaving the next day. Found what i wanted, ate some damn tasty food, as usual. Chilled out in a hammock by the river, reading, and watching them build a new bridge across it, which was pretty cool.

So then, two days of awesomeness followed. It was nothing short of amazing. One of the highlights of my trip for sure. We had an awesome bunch of people, there were 6 of us all together. Myself, 2 americans, 1 canadian, 1 dutch and our legendary guide Phoo. We basically spent two amazing days hitting some sweet rapids, and seeing a part of the world that is only visible by travelling along the river. We'd pass by huge cliffs, dense forest, with kingfishers flying around, and even some monkeys. The first day was bright sunshine for most of it, but then a light rain came. For some reason this just made me think we were in a rambo film :D It really did feel like we were in the middle if nowhere, which we were. Sometime after lunch we reached a bridge which we had to carry the boat around, but once we did this Phoo told us we could jump off the bridge into the tail end of a rapid. Sweet.

I remember Josh going first, then i jumped in. It was all good until i realised i'd taken a bit too much time to swim out of the rapid into the eddy i was supposed to get into, so i got sucked further down river than planned. And then, pretty stupidly, rather than just let it take its course i tried hanging onto some rocks near the side but where the current was still very strong. I was trying to hide in a small eddy behind one of the rocks, but the current was too strong, and i ended up bashing my knee pretty hard on one of the rocks. Phoo later told me this was the worst injuries someone had got when he has been guiding for 7 years! Oops. The cut was pretty deep, but luckily it was below the knee and above the shin so it wasn't the worst place to get it. Once we set off again we had a quick surf in the rapid we had just been jumping in. It was pretty beefy, and Phoo took us in a little more towards 90 degrees rather than 45 degrees, so we got hit by a huge rush of water. From this, me and the dutch guy in the back next to me, Tony, got catapulted out of the boat, but somehow upstream of the boat! Earlier in the day, Phoo had told us 'your paddle is your boarding pass, don't drop it!' Well, while flying out of the boat, i managed to forget this bit of information, instead swimming back to the boat and grabbing the safety line in the middle, and getting hauled back in, by which point tony was already back in the boat. It took me a few seconds to realise that i had dropped my paddle, but Phoo had already seen and we were setting off downstream to grab it! There was another rapid we had to get through, and eventually caught up with my paddle! I felt a little bit sheepish, i'd dropped my boarding pass! It was a strange rush of water that sent me and Tony out of the boat, Alex, Josh and Layla who were sat in front of us had ridden through it ok, and were suprised to turn back and see me and Tony no longer there!

So we continued down river, some more fun rapids, but no more getting chucked out! Phoo had this mysterious bottle, and earlier in the day someone had asked him what it was. He told us that it was his special medicine. Well, once we got to a calmer bit, he gave us all a lid-full. It was little bit of a mixture of special natural ingredients, mixed with a lot of his dad's rice whisky! It was good stuff. And so about half an hour after this, we stopped randomly on a shore, Phoo cut down some Bamboo, and kept chopping down this piece into a smaller and smaller bit. Eventually we realised what he was doing, he was making a shot glass! So we did another shot there, then a couple more before we made it to the camp for the night. It was about an hour before the sun went down when we got there, so we unloaded the boat, and checked out the camp.

It was all made of Bamboo. A couple of long rectangular perched huts which were for sleeping in, with mosquito nets etc, a big dining room/kitchen area, everything was cooked on fire. Once i got changed into my dry clothes, i went to Phoo to clean my wound. He asked me if i wanted to try some natural remedies. Sure! So he found some leaves which he translated as meaning 'smells like tiger'......i couldn't smell the tiger. But anyway, he tore up and squished the leaves in a cup, then put them on my wound. He was pushing this wad deep into my wound, so naturally i was saying 'argggg' a little. So then i held the wad there for a while. He went and got a banana leaf stalk, cut out strips from the fleshy inside of it, which he put over the green wad. Then using the harder, stringy part of the banana leaf he tied it around my leg to keep everything in place! Well, it definitely made it feel better, the water we were rafting in was brown, so probably wasn't the cleanest!

There were two guys who pretty much live at this jungle camp to cook food for the groups who stayed here. They made us a fantastic dinner, with chicken wings, some awesome veggie and pork dish, other stuff that i can't even remember now. There was more than enough, so we were all very happy and full. And starfruit for dessert. Awesome. We sat and chatted for a bit, at some point Phoo started to talk to us about Buddism for a while, and while it was interesting, it turned out to be something of a monologue that lasted for quite some time! So eventually we went off to bed feeling very sleepy. All we could hear were the sounds of the jungle, and the sound of the river. While eating dinner we could hear a frog making its mating call, it seemed to be lonely. For anyone that's been to this part of the world, you'll know of the women who walk around Bangkok/various big cities with those wooden frogs that have ridges on their backs. When you play the ridges with a stick, it sounds a little bit like a frog. Anyway, there are lots of these, everywhere, trying to sell you them. So we were laughing at the thought that one of these women was perched in the jungle playing a wooden frog, rather than it being real. I think it was one of those 'you had to be there' moments.

I slept pretty well, we cleaned my wound with stuff in the morning and sprayed some stuff over it to try to keep it waterproof-ish. We had an awesome breakfast, and set off again. Bright sunshine, there was no rapids for the first hour or so. Then we got to some more good ones. The biggest ones were class 3 apparently, with more rainfall they would become level 4, but it's hard to predict when the heavy rains would come and they only become level 4 for a few days here and there. We stopped for lunch, which, again, was really good. The rapids eased off a bit, and we got to the first place where we could do some cliff jumping. The first one was about 9 metres, with a tough climb to get up there. I gave it a miss, because my knee wasn't feeling to great with pressure on it. Alex, Josh and Layla did it, and fair play to them. A little bit further down river we reached another cliff, which was only around 6 metres, with a much easier climb. I knew i'd regret it if i didn't do it, so i followed the others up. Josh went first, and told us he'd touched the bottom, then Alex, who also touched the bottom, and then Layla, who, suprisingly, also touched the bottom. So then i stood up to the edge. It definitely looks a lot higher from up here! And so a few seconds later i jumped off, and didn't touch the bottom! However, on my second jump i did :D

So that was really fun. We were drifting closer and closer to the end point, admiring the amazing scenery for one last time. Once we got to the end point we tried to get some group photo's of us in the boat. We perched the camera's on a fence and then ran back to the boat. I managed to lose 2 flip flops in the mud/water while running back, but somehow Phoo managed to find them. We had showers, bought some beer and jumped in the back of the sangewethu (pick up truck with two benches on the back which is covered) and rode back to Pai, which was now 3 hours away! The journey back was fun, drinking and talking, watching the road behind us. It was another very twisty road.

Once back in Pai i went back to the Breeze of Pai guesthouse as i'd left most of my stuff there, and the others went nearby. We went and had dinner, and ended up going for a few drinks in a couple of places. One of them was an outdoor place called 'Ting Tongs' which was just outside of the main town, and had campfires and a pretty chilled atmosphere. So we drank, and wandered back into town, which was all closed up and empty by the time we came back, except for all the dogs running around. I swear, dogs roam round these places like they own the place, its hilarious. They take naps on the roads, and so people just have to go round them. Anyways, that's all for now folks. I'm still pretty far behind on this, i have about 5 days before i'm off to New Zealand, a few of those days i'll be spending in Bangkok, so i'll probably have some time to catch up a bit more!

Friday, 16 October 2009

In Chiang Mai (for the 2nd time) but not written all the way up to there yet...

I'm making this a bit easier by just adding little bits at a time instead of sitting somewhere for an ages trying to plug it all in! So this entry is the accumulation of several smaller sections!

So, would be the 11th of October. I was thinking about leaving on this day as i'd pretty much done eveything there was to do in Kanchanaburi. But i was enjoying my time there so i decided to stay a bit longer. I rented a bike and went to a floating a restaurant, had some lunch, drank some beer, read a bit. Then i cycled over to the bridge again. This time i went all the way across. I'd bought some food from a food stall, which was essentially just various meats deep fried and put on skewers, then covered in sweet chili sauce. A cat got a wiff of it, decided her liked it and so followed me all the way across. I couldn't think of a name for it, so i simply called it 'the cat on the bridge over the river kwai' .......or tcotbotrk for short. :D This is what daytime drinking will do to you. I sat on the opposite side of the bridge on a bank, watched people wandering. A saw a bunch of monks wondering across and taking pictures of each other. Little bit surreal! So then i was planning on leaving the next day. However i woke up in the morning and had a change of heart. I was going to go to Lopburi, which is a place with a few temples that is completly overrun with monkeys. But i'd already seen trouble making monkeys at Erawan falls so i decided to change my plans. I booked a flight to Chiang Mai for two days time.

So i ate one more time in Chaba restaurant before i left. They were pretty suprised to see me as they thought i'd left. I told them that i was going to Chiang Mai, and one of them said, 'i think someone else wants to come with you!' Apparently one of the girls had a bit of a crush on me. Bless.

So then back to Bangkok, back to Rambuttri village inn. There are a few tailor shops just out from the entrance, and a bunch of guys hang round wearing smart suits trying to make friends with you and to get you to buy a suit. Unfortunately they recognise me now, and their sales pitch is getting pretty far along! If i was flying from Bangkok straight back to home, maybe i would buy some ridiculous suit and wear it on the plane, and come out of Heathrow looking like a tool. But unfortunately (whilst also fortunatly) i still have a long way to go, and there is no way i'm going to lug around a suit when my backpack is already pretty full!

So on the 14th i flew to Chiang Mai, got a taxi to where i decided to stay. Wondered around a bit, in the evening i went to this night market, there was also a big stage there. On this night, there were a guy and a few girls singing, with these 4 girls dancing as backing dancers. It was pretty hilarious. 3 of the 4 danced like me, (read: not well) but one of them could. The other 3 just seemed to look at her with envy! I had some dinner then got a dragon fruit shake and watched the rather entertaining show!

Next day i decided to check out some of the temples, as this is mostly what Chiang Mai is famous for. I headed in the direction of the biggest temple, the city itself is pretty cool, it's surrounded by a square moat, so it's pretty easy to find your way around. Anyway, i was wandering towards the biggest one, checked out a couple of smaller ones on the way. The city just seems to be completely littered with temples, they're everywhere! So i got to the main one, can't remember the name. It has a huge buddha inside which fell off some transport hundreds of years ago, so they decided to build the temple around it. There was also a waxwork of a famous monk in the temple. I stood there for a good two minutes, convinced it was real, waiting for the eyes to move or something. Boy did i feel stupid :D On the way out of the temple i got talking to a local, he used to be a muy thai fighter, and had spent time in the army. Anyway, i thought this was one of those rare occasions where a local would come and talk to you without trying to sell you something. But of course i was wrong. He was a taxi driver, pulled out a map and told me he could take to these various places (outside the city and out of walking distance) for 100baht. Why not. I thought the price was a bit too good but i later found out why it was so cheap!

So he took me to a few temples outside the city. They were all pretty awesome. Very different, very interesting. Unfortunately my camera died part way through so i didn't get all that many photo's. I also met my first buddhist monk in one of the temples. Normally you see them walking around but they don't feel like the most approachable people, more out of respect. Anyway, one of the monks came up to me in one of the temples, he was from Phnom Penh. So yeah, that was a cool first!

Then my driver took me to the 'handicraft village.' At first this was pretty cool, he took me to a silk place, where they show you how the silk is made (with the silk worm in various stages of its life cycle). After being whizzed through the 'factory' you are led into a huge gift shop area, filled with lots of silk products. Yeah, no thanks. So this happened quite a bit. He took me to a silver place, a lacquer place, a stone place. Again, quickly whizzed through the factories and into the showrooms. So eventually we were heading back to Chiang Mai when my driver said 'i want to take you to these two other places.' He hadn't mentioned this earlier. He said something about getting a coupon for gasoline, i didn't really understand. So we parked outside this place that said 'private collection' and in I went. It was just another shop with various things in, all pretty expensive. The guy at the door asked me 'what are you looking for?' and i said i was just looking. He got a bit pissed off with this, and started looking outside at my taxi driver. He told me that he gets 50 baht for bringing me here, because supposedly drivers only bring people to this place who are actually going to buy something. I felt bad for the guy, so we talked a little bit. He was from Kashmir, and somehow we got talking about American foreign policy. At one point he said 'America is the terrorist, not these other places. I just sort of vaguely agreed, not wanting to piss this guy off more than my being there already had.

So i left and my taxi driver took me to the next place, and this time i knew what was going on when i walked in, so felt a bit more prepared. This time there were a few guys inside, all Indian. Again, 'what are you looking for?' I just said 'i'm just looking.' I wandered over to some handmade postcards, and one of the guts said '50baht.' He then asked me where i was from, and I said England. He then said 'you have nothing.' Um.....what? So he said it again. 'You have nothing.' Me being the diplomat said 'i don't understand what you mean?' So then he said:

'If you come here you have to buy something, people only come here to buy something.'
Me: So i'm not even allowed to just look?
Him: No, people come here to buy. You are costing me money, with my overheads, electricity'
Me: So you guys just turn the lights off and wait in the dark for customers?'

He didn't like this attempt at humour, and so led me towards the door. And then once I was outside he said 'thanks for coming.' Really? I just said 'yeah whatever.' So then i was done. The driver knew that i'd get some stick off them, so wanted to buy me some beer from a 7/11, but i wasn't even mad with him, i was on his side now. I was glad i'd gone in and pissed these people off, and that he'd got money because of it. He drove me back to my guesthouse, i paid my 100 baht and went back to my room, laughing at the day i'd had.

In the evening i had some amazing stonebaked pizza somewhere because i was craving for pizza, and then spent some more time at the night market where tonight there was some sort of show, like the kind of thing we used to have to watch in school. It was a play to stop kids from drinking alcohol and doing drugs. Of course it was all in Thai, but was pretty obvious what was going on, and pretty entertaining to watch. Then a band played, and people kept going up to the lead singer to put these paper chains around his neck. Towards the end of a song he'd have so many round him he could barely see, it was pretty hilarious.

The next day i got a minibus to Pai, and many a fun time were had. But i should probably stop this entry here because its a pretty big one!

Monday, 12 October 2009

(Still) in Kanchanaburi

*** Not completly up to date yet**** So, here we go again. When i left off i had spent one full day in Phuket, and was talking about wondering what to do next. Well, after writing the last entry things definitely took a turn for the interesting......amongst other new arrivals that day was this guy called andy. I was sat in the living room area downstairs, reading a book when he came in and started talking to a couple of people. Within about 5 minutes it was pretty clear that this guy was an oddball. He was endlessly talking about himself, things that happened to him. He was cutting over other people talking constantly, and acted as if he was some great oracle of knowledge. Within a few hours of him being there everybody was pretty aware of the fact that this guy was crazy. Anyway, i met a girl from London called Amy who had been traveling and working in Aus for a year, where she had met her boyfriend, who was now in Cambodia because he wanted to travel solo for a bit. So we were talking a bit while this guy wasn't around. The problem with the crazies is that it's quite hard to tell them to go suck a lemon, you know?

So Andy had asked Amy if she wanted to go out and find somewhere to eat, and then she asked me. So off we went, and we were both clearly thinking the same thing about this guy. She wrote a text on her phone and passed it to me saying something like 'i'm glad you're here, this guy is a pervy asshole!' So as we discovered for the next couple of days, he would pretty much just sit around the hostel getting drunk (usually starting at about 10.30am) and try to chat up girls. In the end it was pretty funny to watch, because he would fail, but yeah, the guy was crazy.

The morning after me and amy jumped on a sangewethu and went to the beach. Had some food, did some bodyboarding, managed to avoid getting burnt, so it was all good. This was on Sunday, the day liverpool were playing chelsea. The two new guys in my room who i met the night before were chelsea fans, and we picked up a couple of stragglers to go watch the game with us. Unfortunately, we were trying to ask this english guy if he wanted to come, he got a fair bit of abuse from crazy andy the night before for no reason, but he said that he was going to stay in the hostel. Crazy andy heard us and ended up coming. D'oh. As i said in my last post, Phuket town is more a place for the locals, there was a rumour of an irish pub somewhere so we went for a wander. We ended up finding a place full of locals, it was a liverpool bar and they were all liverpool fans, and were pretty into it! Unfortunatly liverpool lost 2-0, and the chelsea boys celebrated their victory by buying a bottle of whiskey, and playing 'drink alog with a really crappy steven segal movie that i can't remember the name of.' I don't really need to remember the name of it, do I? They are all the same, Segal kicks some ass and raises some hell. One of their rules was that they would drink for every crappy line of dialogue, so naturally they were hammered within about a minute, but it was fun to watch.

Another thing i mentioned in my last post was that i was thinking about what to do next. I'd enjoyed my time in Phuket, but for me the idea of spending the next couple of weeks on beaches didn't really appeal. Yeah i know there's more to it than that, but i wanted something a bit different. At the time i thought i was going to be able to bring my flights to N.Z forward a couple of weeks, so i would only have a couple of weeks left in Asia at this point. So i headed back to Bangkok, and then to Kanchanaburi, which is about 3 hours away from Bangkok on the bus, close to the border of Burma. I'd managed not to read about it somehow in the lonely planet book, but a bunch of people have told me about, and this is where i found out about Kanchanburi! The journey from Phuket to Bangkok was an interesting one, i was relying on everything working otherwise i'd end up in a bit of trouble at Bangkok airport. I was getting on the last bus of the day from phuket town to the phuket airport, and when i got to the bus station the first person i spoke to told me the last bus left at 6. Yeah, not so much. So eventually i found the bus, got to the airport. Flew back to Bangkok. With everything being correct, i'd land at 11.10pm, and hopefully be out in time to get the last airport bus to Khao san rode. Otherwise i'd be forced to get an expensive as hell taxi instead, or wait til 5.30am when the bus starts up again!

We landed about 10 minutes early, so i was thinking i'd get out in time no probs. It's a huge airport though so we jumped on the bus after getting off the plane, and that took about 5 minutes. Then walking to baggage claim which took more time. And so we stood at the baggage carousel waiting for our stuff to come. And so i stood there......and stood there....until i turned around and saw that i was the only one left standing there. Oh shit. A member of staff came up to me and asked to see my boarding pass, to see what flight i'd come in on. She told me to go stand at the carousel next to it, which had baggage arriving from Chiang Mai. And somehow, miraculously, round the corner came my bag. Phew.

So i spent two nights in Bangkok, and then left for Karanchaburi. Getting there was easy enough (by South east asian standards), and so i got into the bus station and then to my guesthouse, 'sugar cane 1'. I chose one of the rafthouse, which is moored on the water. Nice enough room. From what i'd heard, doing a tour is hugely recommended because the sights are very spread out, and so a woman from 'toi's tours' was waiting for me after i dumped my stuff in my room. I signed up for a tour to do erawan falls, hellfire pass, this viaduct place with a cave next to it and a train ride over it, and the river Kwai bridge.

It was about 3.40pm so i quickly went out and went to the thailand-burma death railway museum, which is directly opposite the allied cemetery. The museum was fantastic, and i learnt many things i did not know. Around 9,000 allied P.O.W's had died in the construction of the railway which was being built so the Japanese could have a safe land link from Bangkok up towards India. After the museum i went and wandered around the cemetery. It was about 5pm, the sun was setting and there was no-one else around, all the tour groups had been and gone. It was a very moving and surreal experience. I then checked out the chinese cemetery next door, which was nowhere near as pristine and perfect as the allied one, but different and interesting.

The next day, myself and 9 other people climbed into a minibus at 8am the next morning, and headed to Erawan falls. I was sat next to a german couple from Bavaria, as well as later meeting three people from Ireland and a couple from France. They gave us 2 1/2 hours for the falls which i thought would be way too much, but it turned out not to be enough! There are 7 main falls, and a trail that winds its way up and past them. The trail gets quite steep and treachorous the higher you go. Before entering our tour guide had warned us of the monkeys who lived there, who like to steal hats, sunglasses, whatever they can get their hands on! We went past them after the 3rd falls, but they were only just waking up it seemed as they were hanging out in the trees.

Our group split up as we swam in different falls. Very refreshing water, with fish nibbling at the dead skin on your feet. For some reason i plowed my way up to the top, it took two hours of quite slow meandering/picture taking/swimming, but i realized i had to be back down at the bottom for lunch at 11.30, and they were very keen for us not to be late! So i flew down. I don't think i really touched the ground. After 20 minutes i was sweating like crazy, ignoring the evil monkeys who were starting to cause some trouble lower down the falls. I got to the restaurant at 11.31, success :D.

We had a set list of things we could order, and i had sweet and sour chicken i think. They also gave us a whole lot of sliced pineapple and watermelon, and for the mains they brought out two pots of chili sauce to go with it. It was basically vinegar with very hot chili's (with seeds still attached) chucked in. Some bright spark decided to put some of the sauce, no chili's, on their pineapple. So i tried it too (with a chili), it was a very strange taste. Then we tried it with watermelon. I put a red chili on, then the girl sat next to me said 'you should put a green one on, for colour' i did, and the she found the fattest, greenest chili and put it on my watermelon as well. So by this point everybody was waiting to see my reaction to eating it. It was hot. For sure. But i resisted the temptation to drink so sat there and slowly turned the colour of the red chili's. Took it like a man. Quite a stupid one!

After this we went to hellfire pass, which was really interesting. Its a huge area of rock which mostly aussie P.O.W's had to carve away through using equipment that wasn't much use, so that the train line could pass through it. All these men were malnourished and many suffering from disease. It was called hellfire pass because at night it would be lit up by lanterns, giving it a very surreal look.

Following this were dropped off at a tiny train station, which had a cave nearby. The viaduct the track was on after leaving the station was built back in the P.O.W days, and looked very rickety. We jumped on the train at 4.30pm and rode slowly across it. Once across we thundered through the countryside, before getting off and rejoining our minibus, where we were driven to the river Kwai bridge. We only had 20 minutes here so it felt a bit rushed, but it was very interesting. You could walk across the bridge, and you could see where they had replaced the damage on the bridge caused by allied bombing.

I got back and showered, and eventually went to a place called tai-thai for dinner. I ordered thai red curry, always a mistake, it burnt my face off. Good times though. They had strange pictures of the top four premiership teams cartoon style in various different styles. For example, the man u players were gladiators. I wanted to punch them in the face. Yeah....

Next day i rented a bike from this place right next to my guesthouse. The most laid back man ever lives there. He was about to get in the shower when his wife went and grabbed him, he said 'you staying next door yeah?' Yup. Ok, here you go. None of my details, no payment upfront like normal, he was just 'here you go, have fun.' So i cycled down to the JEATH war museum, which was about a 10 minute ride away. Interesting place, mostly old photographs and news clippings. Worth a visit though. Then i chose one of the many floating restuarants just on the next street. Ordered deep fried prawn and plum sauce. Not too sure why. Everything came battered, including green beans and baby sweetcorn! Odd. But tasty enough. Then i cycled back past my guesthouse and north towards the river kwai bridge. Sat in a floating restaurant and watched the tourists wonder up and down the bridge.

So this website i mentioned earlier, travelfish, absolutely raved about this massage place called suan nanachaat. It's a massage place across the river run by a couple of brits. I was looking on their website and was getting round to calling them to book something, but i cycled past a guy wearing the company tshirt. So i stopped and sorted something out there and then. They pick you up and drop you off for free. Sweet. So the massage would come tomorrow. First, i found a restaurant a fair bit away from the main touristy strip. Most of the places just seem to be bars filled with expats, (all 50+ men) who i walk past every day and always seem to be in exactly the same places. Occasionally, with a thai wife nearby. So i was keen to wander and get away from that. So i found this place called chaba restaurant. Interesting setting, most of it looks like an english country garden with grass and paving stone path. I went for something i hadn't heard of before, having no idea what it was. Chicken penang. It was delicious. Tastiest food i've had in Thailand. I sat there for a bit writing in my diary when the staff started to talk to me. Shortly after i moved over to their table and sat with them. We talked about various things, such as family, work etc. Turns out they had been struggling for customers, because they are far away from the main tourist area, and not many people wander away from there. I felt bad because they had amazing food, and were really friendly. I told them i would be coming back tomorrow, and they told me if i brought customers they would give me a commission!

Also during this day i had arranged to go kayaking the next day, so at 9am the next day i rocked up at Kanchanburi travel centre where they loaded up my kayak and drove me a fair way upstream to the put in. If felt oddly like being back at Outward Bound Canada! So once i was in the water, i drifted downstream, the current being with me. Very peaceful, with a few speedboats going by creating waves. Eventually i got to the famous bridge, and paddled around that a little bit. The bridge after that was fun, the current flowed fast through it, and although there was no whitewater, it was fun to eddy hop from pillar to pillar. At one point i jumped out when i was in the middle on one pillar, sat there and watched the confused tourists speed by on the boats. Eventually i got to the pick up point. Went and had a shower, and some lunch. Then i got picked up by the owner of suan nanachaat and taken to the retreat. It's well away from all the commotion of the main area, in a very peaceful area across the river. I got there and said that i wanted a full body thai massage, not really knowing what this entailed as it was my first ever massage.

I got led to a changing room where i put on long thin flowing shirt and trousers. Then i was taken to the main massage area, where relaxing music was played. As i later discovered from the owner, thai massage is also known as passive yoga. So while many of the things done felt amazing, i was also put into various insane yoga positions by the masseuse, who would use her feet and arms to pull me about.

At first she started with my feet, which felt good, but then she popped all the joints in my toes! I started laughing a lot at this point, which pretty much set the tone for the whole thing. Then working on my legs, one at a time, often she would stop the flow of blood using her thumbs in certain locations, then release and work with the blood flow. Again, parts felt good, others hurt a little! The funniest part was my arms, where on occasion she would lightly punch me in the arm a few times. Again, i laughed a lot. I can get punched for free you know! What she did to my hands was amazing. But again, part of it involved pulling my fingers and hearing them click. She asked me to turn over and she worked on the back of my legs, and then my back. But then the really crazy yoga stuff happened. She'd put knees in places, elbows in places, and just pull me in various directions, usually until there was a 'click' from my body. Again, i was laughing a lot. It was crazy. By the end, i felt amazing, but it was a very strange experience. Talking to the owner on the way back, he told me that the oil massages involve no work from me. That sounds like a plan for next time.

And so in the evening i went back to the amazing restaurant i went to the night before, and this time there were 2 other customers in there! I felt happy for the staff. After talking to the chef lady who i met last night, i ended up going for a massaman curry, which was a sweet and aromatic thing with chicken, potatoes and veg. Amazing, again. They had a whole lot of some kind of fruit on a table next to the street, and they started to bring them inside, so i offered to help, and so did the couple on the other table! After this they gave us some of this fruit to eat, no idea what it was but it was pretty tasty! Then it started to rain, so i ran inside and sat down, and the couple asked if they could join me. Turns out they were both from different parts of France, had met in Austrailia where she had done the last year of her studies and he had been working. We sat and talked about everything, and drank beer. After a while the girl went to go talk to the staff who were sat at the bar, and me and the guy talked about more stuff. Then a little while later, the staff came over with shots of tequila and limes, they were sad that we were all leaving the next day! It was also the french couple's 2nd time at the restaurant, and they also raved about the food. Then the staff cooked some french fries and we all sat around and munched on them, enjoying the good times. Eventually we decided we should go, the french couple gave me a lift back on their motorbike, first time i had seen three westerners on one bike! At the moment the record that i have seen is 5 people on one motorbike, although often 3 of those will be small kids. Back to guesthouse, sleep.....