Friday, 9 July 2010

This post is probably going to be one of the shorter ones, since there really isnt much to say. I have already been home for a few days, but I thought a final blog was necessary to round things off. Our plane left at 4pm NZ time, so until then the day was spent trying to use up our remaing NZ dollars - they were used quite successfully, not so much on a Mcdonalds as we hoped, but on a lamb and mint pie which was the only thing being sold in the departures lounge. We just thought of it as 'beefing up' for the horrendous amount of flights we had to endure.

Flight number 1 - Christchurch to Sydney. This flight was only about 4 hours if I remember rightly. In true Emirates style, they fed us disgusting amounts of food - not that im complaining.
Flight number 2 - Sydney to Bangkok. G-d only knows how long this flight was, somewhere in the region of 11 hours perhaps? The only thing I did know, was that it was consistently dark for much of the journey, and would be dark for the next 25 hours until we were over Europe - bloody rotating earth.
Flight number 3 - Bangkok to Dubai. Again, sod knows how long this way. Theres only so much glee, simpsons, date night, worlds strictest parents, 2 and a half men you can watch on a ten inch screen before time completely loses meaning. Although once again, food was considerable, and quite good if I say so myself (but then I never really had a problem with plane food :P). In Dubai we finally found a Mcdonalds (you can tell im scraping the bottom of the barrel to find stuff to write here). Using British money of which I had, for some reason, copious amounts, they gave us change back in a mixture of US dollars and Arab money (not sure the exact currency). Anyhoo, much of this got changed back to GBpounds - a grand total of £4.20, well worth queuing up for :P
Flight 4 - Dubai to Gatwick. This flight seemed soooo much longer on the return journey than when we originally took it leaving Gatwick. 7 and a half hours, being fed constantly. Even an hour before we landed in Gatwick, out came the trolleys and we were handed chicken rolls and a muffin. Who was I to complain. Well im sure you all know how this goes. We landed, did the whole 'going through customs' shnizz, waited fecking ages for our bags (at this time my deodorant was starting to fail me so i needed a bit fo toilet time to 'cleanse'), and FINALLY we left baggage reclaim. Walking out the doors into the arrivals hall like the celebrities we were, abigail and charlotte met me there. Yes, they drove to Gatwick for me - either because im just SUCH a good person, or simply because they are also. After deciding that we are all just amazing, i said my goodbyes to Alec and Emily after 5 months, and....went out for lunch. Start as I mean to go on...

So ye, travelling done. Not sure when ill be going globetrotting again. Not any time soon but it WILL happen dammit. So until next time, this is me signing off xx

Saturday, 3 July 2010

The day of the fox glacier walk. It was titled the 'nimble fox'. I am neither of those things, so for obvious reasons I was slightly nervous about it. Though saying that. I had 'done' everest so 6 hours walking on ice should be a wakl in the park eh? Well anyway, after sliding over on the forst outside the tour place (not a good start), i met the other 4 people in our group, got some waterproof coats, mittens, boots and i deadly looking pair of contraptions called cramp ons that tie to the soles of your boots. With that, we left on the bus to the glacier.

The carpark was deep down inside the valley, between 2 towering cliffs about 200 metres high. In the distance was the terminal face of the glacier. It moves at 2 metres a day, so it is one of the fastest moving glaciers in the world. We approached the temrinal face then began scaling up the cliff face into the temperate rainforest. Similar to the himilayan landscapes, this one had no imagainable scale. The widths and heights of the ice and rocks looked insignificant.... until you saw a little speck of a person walking within them and you realised small looking rocks were 10 metres high, and the valleys were a good couple of miles wide. After a few photo opporutinites, drinking from a glacial stream and crossing a few rope bridges, we secured the cramp ons to our boots and took our first steps onto the glacier. A strange experience walking on solid ice - not just knowing that the ice was 150m deep in some places, but also knowing that if the cramp ons failed we would be sliding quite nicely into a crevass.

Anyhoo, ignoring that fact, we walked up a series of stairs that the guides had cut into the ice. Slightly dirty and brown and they are used constantly, they led up to a small ice peak on the lower section of the glacier. It was here we went off the beaten track. The glacier looked like a rough and stormy sea that had suddely been frozen solid. Huge swathes of clean blue and white ice curved up and around us. We navigated through valleys, tunnels and found a series of underice streams to drink from. The guide cut stairs for us as we went. Every day the landscape changes so paths there one day were gone the next. Although freezing, I could have happily spent a good few hours mroe exploring the hidden coves and alleys between the blue ice. Even the flatter sections had gentle ripples on, like a frozen ocean. Being one of the few glaciers that ends in a temperate climate, there was soemthing especially surreal about standing on a block of ice, surruonded by trees and shrubs. Looking up the glacier to the more unstable sections of ice, we could see the peaks of the mountains, and helicopters circling trying to land on them. We were told the ice we were standing on was anything from 50, to 500 years old, whilst furhter down below our feet it was well over 1000. We spent 5 hours walking the mounds and ditches of the glacier, before making our way down back to solid ground. It posed another question for me.... maybe i could take up a job as a glacier guide!! Only time would tell :D.

From fox, we went on to queenstown - the so called party capital of NZ. Well for one thing, it was definately the most beautiful. Sitting on the shores of a lake (which i cant for the life of me remember the name of), the town was surrounded by the Remarkables mountain ranges. Not especially high, but ti gave the whole town a swiss alps feel. Every where were shops advertising snow boarding and skiing lessons, and buses left regualrly from various points in the city, to the mountains. The waters in the lake were shockingly clear, even in the little winding streams the bottom could be seen. After a brief walk round the town to get my bearings, we went ice skating (obviously). The rink was small but it was very cheap. And there was a Brit who worked there who seemed very glad to see us. The week we were in Queenstown was the winter fest. We went to the Mardi Gras, got a few bits of food, so a few street performers, had a few drinks then went home for a quiet night. All very tame.... and cheap!!

Having very little money left, we had to make our own cheap entertainment - well excluding the gondola ride we went on. Taking us over 500m high onto a mountain that overlooked queenstown and the lake. Once again, the views were quite remarkable. For an extra 12 dollars we got the self proclaiming 'best buffet in new zealand'. And it had to be said, it was one of the better meals we have eaten during the 5 months, especially as the restraunt provided panoramic views of the lakes and the moutains. Feeling bloated and just plain unhealthy, i took a walk up a mountain to ease myself (as you do). Starting off as just a little wander, i ended up 950m above sea level on a mountain plateau, fiddling with my camera trying to achieve the ULTIMATE shot of both the Remarkables, the gondolas, the lakes and the town. The way up the mountain was especially hard as much of the tracks were frozen over with ice. Taking a good while to climb, as for every step up a slide back down 2. Luckily i had a stick with me to guide, though i dropped it at the top of the mountain.

Coming back down I actually walked very little. I slid much of the way and was relieved to finally get down to the road.

Our hostel was one of teh better ones we stayed in - not so much for the luxury or facilities, just because it was very well laid out. Instead of having just one large building, dorms and a single kitchen, it was divided into 20 small units across a garden. Each unit had 4 dorms (with 4 beds in), 2 toilets and a small kitchen sitting area. Called pinewood lodge, it was one fo the more sociable hostels we stayed in. We were un unit A, on the very very edge of the complex (almost not even in queenstown anymore). Convinced we had the worst unit, me and some others were almost convinced to ransack unit H, that had more couches, seats and a far better kitchen than us. In the end we simply couldnt be assed to go ALLLL the way down the hill to get to it.

Final night in Queenstown was a friday night. After watchign a snowboarding competition in the central square, we got burgers from Ferg Burger. The mere mention of queenstown has people recommending this place the world over, so we though 'final night, might as well TRY a ferg burge'. I ended up getting the mr big stuff. And i certainly didnt regret it. After running with it back home, we opened up the kilogram of meta, veg and bread and devoured them with very little chewing. Then feeling bloated, fat and covered in various sauces, we started drinking... adn drinking.... adn we ended up drinking some more around 'ring of fire'. Then we went to the shops, bought more alcohol and ended up crashing a party hosted by Unit F. Unit F....was... well a bit shit. It was less than half the size and had only 1 toilet. Satisfied that our unit was now looking very nice, we all had a quick bounce on the trampoline before heading into town. Arriving in town around 2am, most places were closed except some dodgy club in an alley way with strobe lights and shite music. We left soon another ferg burger (was NOT a proud night for me). Anyhoo, we once again ran home so we could keep them warm. Only losing a few chips on the way, we got home and gorged ourselves on more food that we didnt really need (but yes, they were GOOOOODDD). So feeling guilty that my diet was ruined, we placed all the alcohol by the counter, had a little tidy up and went to bed.

The morning was NOT a pleasant one. Up at 9 to leave for Christchurch, i packed up clothes, bags and food, said goodbye to everyone who were still in unit A (a lot of them were looking for jobs and the like), and Emily drove us to Christchurch. Goodbye mountain ranges, hello to (from what we have hearD) quite a boring British like town. We checked into a hostel just north of the town centre and started trying to figure out what to eat with the remaing food i have left - not wanting to go to the supermarket and spend.

So its the FINAL DAY of the travels. I have been thinking so much about coming home, that i suppose i am now in the back to reality mindset - thinking about cars, jobs, money and uni again... and of course FRIENDS (and to a lesser extent family :D ). After a brief talk about what me alec and emily are doing for our final night, i left the hostel for a little wander, map ipod etc. I saw the cathedral, the punting river, the red telephone boxes, the dry stone walls and gothic architecture, and immediately started to miss the slightly sub par cities of south east asia - which now seems an absolute age ago. O to have a bowel of chicken and noodle soup. After popping into various museums, sitting by various rivers and looking at statues and memorials, i left to go back to the hostel... which brings me right back to this moment. We still havent decided what our final night will consist of. There is a good steak restraunt nearby so we might go there. With 40 dollars left to spend, it will certainly be a cheap night, but might as well make it a good 'un.

Tomorow, we leave for the airport at 4pm, and 35 hours later (most of that spent on various planes) we arrive back home. Filled with feelings of dread and also euphoria at having to 'go back to life' so to speak. I have a friend meeting me at the airport who will ease me back into the north west london ghetto slowly..... with a good Samis shwarma...

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

We arrived in Hokitiki early in the morning to carve some jade. With our designs all sorted (I was going to carve a 'Chai'), we rummaged around for a good bit of jade to carve. We sketched our design on paper, cut it out and transferred it onto the chunk of jade where the basica shape was then cut out by a nice, if nto incredilbey smelly Czech guy who seemed less than enthusistaic when we said we were stuck on anything. After he showed us how to use the basic machine, we were left to our own devices. Sanding, cutting, filing, using a series of random tools and instruments, my Chai finally started to take shape. Alec was carving a sawllow for emily and emily was making a good luck symbol for herself. After a short lunch break, we went back for more carving, filing and general sanding. We smoothed the hell out of these bits of jade, and greased them until they shined. After putting the string on them, we were presented with little velvet bags to place them in. I will wear my Cha once im home, to ensure it doesnt get lost in some random windy New Zealand town. From Hokitiki we made our way to the township of the Fox Glacier. It is here where I will walk on the glacier, seeing the caves and valleys created in the 100 metre deep, moving blocks of ice.
We stayed in Picton for 3 days in a small hostel called 'the villa'. It wasnt the cheapest place, but they had free bikes, a small gym, a tv room and FREE APPLE CRUMBLE!!! We were won over instantly. Picton was incredilbey small so there wasnt much to do, but we still found things to waste away the time. I went for a little wander, ipod and map in hand, to the tops of some nearby hills to get to a number of viewpoints around the town. Picton had only 3 main roads so to be honest i didnt really even need a map - but then what would a wander be without one :D. Me and alec also rented bikes and rode down to one of the headlands. Picton is situated in the Marlborough Sounds. They were created when the earths crust collapsed in on itself forming valleys and mountains, and after the ice age these were flooded creating spectacular landforms - bays, mountains and hidden lagoons. Clear and fresh air (fecking cold though) meant you could see straight through the valleys. The water was crystal clear and in many places you could see the bottom. A stunning place during the winter, but during the summer it would rival areas like the Perhentian Islands.

From Picton, we moved down to Greymouth on the west coast. Situated on the mouth of the river Grey (obviously) Greymouth was another smallish town the lonely planet and various other travellers raved about. We stayed in what was perhaps the nicest hostel to date. Called global village, it was themed with african masks, reds yellow and blues, had central heating in every room and mahoosive great fire place in the lounge - not to mention a tv room with a vast selection of movies. I started my Greymouth experience with the Queen Charlotte Walk (i think it was called that anyhoo). I strated walking along the beach, quite happy that i had found a whole load of jade stones (which later turned out to simply be green quartz, but anyway), the 3 hour walk takes you along the hillside to a viewpoint which over looks the headlands, the bays and you could also see seals. There was also prmise of a pub nearby so thats was the incentive. I walked down a path not much wider than a metre, with trees and bushes curving upwards and over me. As I navigated through the temperate rainforest, up hills and cliff faces, I was pleased by the fact that there could potentially be a pub at the other end - I would get a burger and a cider I decided :D. After 2 hour of walking, there end was near. I climbed a few steps hoping the pub would be round the corner. I turned, aforementioned corner, and saw a small bench on a platform over looking the sea.... Yeh...... so.... no pub. Just a bench on an incredibley windswpet platform. I was far from amused. It was 4pm, getting dark and I had another 2 hours left till I got back to the hostel. I comforted myself with the thought of KFC. That made it all better. (With my immense self control I never got a KFC in the end - just a small sugar cake from the supermarket. Was a well deserved snack before my kilogram of pasta and pesto on the evening).

The next day I undertook a walk up ANOTHER mountain to ANOTHER viewpoint which overlooking greymouth and the river valley. Being a spoilt traveller who has obviously seen far more spectacular scenery than a normal guy should be allowed to see in his life, I was almost only slightly impressed by the views of the rolling hills, snow capped mountains in the distance, and the sea peaking up between 2 peaks. After a few photos, down I went back through the forest to ground level, where I walked to the flood wall. Greymouth seemed to have it all - earthquakes, fires floods etc. In the 80's a large floodwall was built to prevent flooding. The flood wall swept into the sea for a good 100 metres so I walked along that just as the sun was setting. True to form, it was another photo moment. I have always heard about scenery that could take your breath away, and even after a trek in the himalayas where the scenery was almost monotonously perfect, it wasnt QUITE enough to render me breathless. However, with the wind beating the livign shite out of the town and the jetty, waves smashed into the surrounding rocks sending spray a good 5 metres in the air up onto the jetty. As the sun began to set, the waves would eb lines of pink and black ominously approaching the shores, before breaking up in sparkling white on the pebble beaches. The southern alps and Mt Cook in the distance, all caught the sun as the snow caps glowed a little pink and red in the darkening sky. Although my core temperature was dropping far below recomended values, I couldnt pull myself away as the sun lowered, the sky turned orangges and yellows, silhouetting the light grey clouds, the mountains appeared to glow red hot in the sun, and the whitish spray covered the rocks - peeeeeerrrrfffecct. Anyhoo, after feeling quite content that maybe the earth is quite a nice place to live afterall, I began the long and cold walk back to the hostel..... for another kilogram of quick cook pasta with cheese.

From Greymouth we went to Barrytown, where we undertook the bizarre activity of 'knife making'. Strrongly recommended in the lonely planet, and on a number of leaflets we thought, why not - when in NZ.... make knives. We were greeted by Steve and Robin, in their front garden. After some general banter he showed us some old and dirty looking materials - a length of old steel, a rotty bit of wood and a shard of brass. From this he said we would make our knives. We had seen the photos of already made knives, and were unconvinced that ours would not look that good.

After forign the steel in a furnace and beating it sneselss with a hammer to get its shape, we sawed it down with a hacksaw and attached the brass handle guard with glue and brass rivets. With a jigsaw - never used a jigsaw in my life, we cut the wood to shape, glued it and attached it with mroe brass dowels before sanding the whole thing down to a handle shape. Applying a whole load of toxic materials to seal te knife, we had lunch, stroked some mini ponies, went on a 'huge' (not soe much huge, as just quite big) swing, and did some axe throwing. Lunch was sandwiches we made ourselves with a load of toppings Robyn took out her fridge. After eating lunch at her dining room table as she knitted in front of the tv, we went back out where steve was just finished doing the final shaping of the handles. My G-d did they look good. Almost perfect. John Lewis could not sell better knives. After a series of sanding and further polishing and varnishing, we had a glass of champagne and left. All in all, it was one of the most random days of the trip and VERY much recommended. A fantastic day with a knife I have used at every opportunity. The only thing left now, is to ensure it, in no way manages to make it into my hand luggage for the flight home, which is approaching imminently in 11 days. From Greymouth we will move in to Hokitiki for some Jade carving, off to the fox glacier for some glacier wandering, then to Queenstown....

Saturday, 19 June 2010

So it was crunch time. The 2 people in front of me had already fallen out, so out hung my legs 15,000 feet. Scrawled on the top slats of my bunk bed was 'when you cant find the words... indescribability will do'. I think that sums it up nicely. I was proverbial shitting it whilst trying to admire the view of the lakes and snowcapped mountains at the same time. Then no count down, no warning, out we went. Ignoring all instructions to keep my legs tucked in (as shown by the facebook photos) we ended up flailing a bit, did a little flip in the air before we got ourselves stable. Again I had a mixture of complete exhileration mixed with feeling of 'OMG im falling!!! What is wrong with me why did I do this?' Whilst I was struggling to breathe against the rushing 200kph air, whilst also trying to get some smiles in for the photographer falling metres from me (again you can the photographer failed to get my 'good side' which seemed to flapping in the wind'. We free fell for 60 seconds but it seems like well under 10. The free fall was a strange sensation, in the sense that once the plane was out of sight, it didnt really feel like falling at all, it just felt very VERY window - like when you stick your head out the window of a car, just with better views.

Then the parachute deployed and we slowed right down to perhaps about 20kph. My tandem master then 'made me more comfortable' but unhooking and unclipping a few things. I could feel myself sitting looser in the harness. Still at 5,000 feet this is NOT what i wanted, but it meant i could move around a bit more. He talked me through thee mountain ranges, the peaks, the valleys and the lakes. He pointed out to me to 2 coasts of NZ as we started to spiral slowly down to the landing post. It was when we were around 1,000 feet that the ground started coming towards us quickly. He spun in circles which flung my legs up in a feeling of weightlessness, then we braced ourselves to land. Legs up until tandem man made ground contact, then feet down and run to a stop. The parachute flopped down behind us, and that was that. Skydiving - DONE!! :D. I was and still am scared of heights, but the sheer scale of the dive, means you dont really come to terms with the true height until you have left the plane - by which time you have nothing to do but enjoy the ride down. It was the sensation of free falling, coupled with the views that made me think of going back up in the plane and doing the whole thing again. However, at 100 quid a go, it was not to be.

On an adrenaline high, we drove off to the canyon for alec and emily to do their bungee jumps. I did NOT do a bungee jump as I said, im scared of heights :P. Besides, with no tandem master there to push me off, I would probably end up standing on the platform until night fall, which would not be good for anyone. Alec and Emily also did the bridge swing, where they were suspended 70m above the river, then dropped. They swung down and back up on the trapeze, before being lifted back. I did something similar in thailand so i passed on this. However, we did do the flying fox.

The flying fox was basically an industrial size zipwire. Its a 1km length which stretches right across the canyon at some g-d awful gradient. We climbed up to the station where they strapped the 3 of us into giant sleeping bag like harnesses so we were suspended lying down - like air at alton towers. We were suspended about a minute, with the view of the steel cable descending into the 70m deep canyon in front of us. With time to think about what was happening, my heart was beating faster than it ever did on the skydiving plane. A few clicks of metal and pushed buttons, and we were off. A speed somewhere around 100km, the 3 of us flew straight into the canyon, under the bridge and back up. Arms outstretched to complete the 'flying' sensation. When the harnesses came to a stop at the bottom of the zipwire, and we hung abou1 5 metres from the canyon floor, we relaxed slightly, whilst also coming closer to flying than we ever would again. With that, we were slowly hitched back up to the mountain top station - this was more scary than going down due to the strange angle, whilst also seeing the ground getting ever more slowly further away. All part of the fun I suppose :D.

We arrived in Wellington later that day and stayed in a small hostel near the city centre. More a house than a hostel, with floral carpets and slightly discoloured wall paper - as travelling should be. A good, if not slightly strange bunch of people filled the hostel. many people actually lived in the hostel whilst they worked to earn for their next set of travels. Most of the 'live-ins' were british, all doing bar and cleaning jobs around the town before they moved onto other exotic locations. Whilst in Wellington, we had a road trip to see some sealions near the town of Martinsborough (a fecking stunning beach that would have been slightly more habited in the summer months). I also had a wander round Wellington, seeing the Te Papa museum which is basically a modern version of the science and natural history museum. Overall, cities dont really interest us, so we were only in Wellington 2 nights.

Early 8am start, as we returned the rental car and boarded a ferry for the south island. 3 hours of sailing through fjords and flooded glacial valleys. The sky was disgusting grey and overcast and wind battered the boat (and me standing on deck trying [and i mean TRYING] to get some good photos). It was still a smoothish journey and we arrived promptly in the incredibly small town of Picton. Assuming the weather has cleared by tomorrow, we are going to rent bikes and cycle round the area. The rumours about how much more scenic the south island is than the north, are living true. Picton is surrounded by rolling green hills. Little of the ground is actually flat. It has been promised it will only get better especially as we go further down south towards Queenstown...

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

New zealand, from what we have seen so far, is exactly like the UK, except the people are nicer, the cities and towns are cleaner and newer (albeit a hell of a lot smaller), the scenery is indescribable, and you can pretty much do any sort of extreme activity you want - from zorbing to skiing to parasailing rock climbing to sitting on your ass roasting in geothermal springs. All in all it seems to be a much more new and improved UK, with the added bonus of the fascinating maori culture thrown in for free. :D

With this in mind, it was white water rafting day. Our last day in Rotorua we were picked up from our hostel by the water rafting people. Full of the typical good humour and jest that all 'extreme activites' reps seemed to be, the driver greeted us with words of how we would all die and drown in the river. With this we arrived and got into.... 'ridiculous costume 1':
- swimming trunks first
- an oversized blue and red fleecey top
- a full body wet suit pulled uncomfortabley over the top of the already too big fleece
- a waterproof plastic mac that hung loosely over the wetsuit
- finished nicely off with a mahoosive life jacket

Once we had zipped, clipped, buttoned and velcro'ed on this flattering little costume, we were taken down to the river and shown the boat. There were 5 people in each boat. We were taught how to oar, how to sit, and what to do when we approached rapids and waterfalls. With this, we got in the boat, shouted a maori good luck chant and off we went :D The first few rapids were relatively tame, enough to row through. The water was freezing, as was the rain that fell. We tackled rapids and small waterfalls ducking, weaving and nearly falling out a good few many times - luckily no one on our boat did. As we pulled up to the 7 metre waterfall (biggest waterfall in the world to water raft off), our instructor took us aside and gave us a quick talk on how to deal with it. With this, he let go of the rock and we rowed towards the drop. About a metre from it, instructor man shouted 'down' and we tucked our oars in, and fell off our seats into the small ditches in the boat, holding ourselves in. The boat tipped off the edge, went vertical and landed bow first in the white water. After flooding and half plunging underwater, it soon righted itself.

We rowed away from the waterfall in time to see the other group tackle it. It was only watching them, that we realised how high it was, how delicate the boat was and how easy it would be the tip over. After praising ourselves for a few more minutes, we attempted the last few rapids, got some more photos taken and that was that. It was 45 mins in all and even though i couldnt feel my hands, it was absouletly fantastic. Obviously would have been a little better in summer when the river would be around 20c, but who is too complain :D With a mini adrenaline high, we were taken back to base were we commenced stripping off layer after layer after layer of waterproof fleecey life jacketness, bought the photos and that was that. - white water rafting crossed off the 'things to do before i die list'.

An hour and a half of driving (and sleeping) we arrived in Taupo. Sat around one of the biggest lakes in Australasia, Taupo is a fantastic place to spend those long hot summer holidays. Unfortauntely june is winter in NZ so it is cold, but with blue clear skies you can still see the snow topped mountains surrounding the lake. Taupo is also another home of extreme sports. It is the place where i would be falling out of a plane.... We got picked up to go to the Taupo Tandem skydiving school. We signed our life away on various forms and waited for the weather to clear. We waited and waited and eventually left to do another activity. We would return to it 2moz and luckily we did as the weather when we DID do it, was perfectly clear. Fecking cold, but we were assured this only helps to improve visibility - o well. So instead of skydiving we went jet boating instead. This is a boat powered by, well a jet, that shoots water at high speed out of its back. Im not sure how fast the boat went down the river, but fast enough to be one of the best jet boat rides in the world.

We arrived at the boating station and put on 'costume number 2':
- a big fleece to cover any clothes we were wearing
- a long black waterproof plastic jacket that went down to the knee and looked like something they wear in an abattoir
- another oversized life jacket tightened far beyond the tightness actually necessary

The boat would speed up and down the river, bouncing along the rapids, weaving in between rocks, trees and narrow canyons, doing 180 and 360 degree spins, throwing up water all around us. Wasnt as adrenaline filled as we thought it would be, but it was still a good way to pass the time. Definately something to try and something to remember. It only lasted 45 mins though which was a bit of a disappointment - as was us only being able to cover a short length across the river before it became to rough to go any further :(

Today it was time for the biggy - skydiving. Part of me was hoping the weather would be too bad to do it, but the other part was just wanting to get up there and fall out that dam plane. Luckily (or unluckily) it was the latter. Conditions were perfect for jumping. e were booked for a 10am and visibility was perfect from coast to coast - especially at 15,000 feet. We got into 'costume number 3':
- a large red and blue jumpsuit
- a series of chains, metal rings, and straps
- a plastic and leather hat designed to stop you banging your head and the cold of the wind
- plastic glasses that resembled those cooling specs you put over your head when you have a headache

After a worryingly short briefing where we were told how to fall out, where to put our hands and feet, and how we SHOULDNT panic, we were introduced to our tandem masters. I would happily do this over bungee jumping for the simple reason you dont have to open the plane doors and think 'shit im going to have to do jump this now...1....2....wait start again.....1......2....'. Because you are tied to someone who thinks nothing of throwing themselves out of a plane, whether you like it or not, once you are in the sky you are going OUT of that plane - sooner rather than later. Thus there is no reason to panic...!?! After havign some general abnter with our tandem people, we were led off to the plane - an almost ramshackle looking piece of yellow machiney that we all managed to cram into. FUll to the gills of yellow and red jumpsuits, cables, wires, clips and tubes, the plane left the runway and took off into the perfectly clear blue skies. Next time i touched ground would be after i would jump from a plane - i was NOT happy!!

Saturday, 12 June 2010

this blog might be a bit of a biggun as i havent updated it for a while - got the whole of singapore and the first few days of NZ to update y'all on. So here goes.... Singapore government are, to put it bluntly, dictators who steal vast quantities of money from its citizens. However, they are definately doing something right as it was by far the cleanest, most organised city we have been to. Prices of food and accomodation were rivalling those of the western world. The streets (as a friend from nottingham [manisha]) pointed out to me, were ABSOLUTELY spotless. Im sure manisha mentioned caning for littering or chewing gum in public or whatever. To secure funds to do this, not only was singapore the first place we have seen with speed cameras (not ot mentione actual road markings), in every car on singapores roads is a small card which is topped up with dollars. As cars pass under certain checkpoints money is automatically deducted from the cards - driving underneath it you can see your money disappear. As I say, it rivalled England in terms of cleanliness. Even the disgustingly practical ring roads and dual carriageways, were garnished with rose bushes, palm trees and hanging plants that covered the ugly metal central reservations. The skyline, like London, is clouded by cranes and scaffolding as countless new buildings are popping up -including a hotel/business centre/amusement park, which includes the worlds biggest public cantilever. Unfortunately i couldnt go up it as it opened a couple weeks later.

We got a free map and found our way to a niceish hostel a short walk from little india. With map in hand, I then went in search of..... well.... singapore. Little india, was obviously like walking through india. Incense hung heavily in the air, saris and wooden trinkets were displayed in every other shop, and those shops in between served rotis and curries to customers, on the typical plastic lawn chairs and tables lining the pavements. Add to this the gentle undercurrent of BO, traffic that refuses to stop for anyone or anything and men who tell you to go into their shop to buy a carpet/saris/dope/massage, and you have little India - the only thing missing was the piles of burning rubbish and the cows mating in the middle of the roads, but then im sure the dear singapore government would have something to say about THAT one!

Manisha pretty much got it spot on when she said the only reason anyone comes to singapore is because of the man made structures - the island has little natural beauty in its own. The central business district has the typical investmnet banking towers, filled with overpaid westerners who are taking advnatage of being away from home to cop off with some local woman/prostitutes. In front of the CBD, runs the river that is lined with the smaller shops and former chinese boutique houses, that marked the city's oringal function as a fishing town. Along with the shops are the countless bars selling pints for 9 british pounds a go. When i went out with manisha we found an irish pub that sold SNAKEBITE!!!! At 9 quid a go we only had one, but one was indeed, more than enough for me :D.

Stretching away from the CBD, there is little else to do except shop shop shop etc. With well over 500 shopping centres (think 500 4 storey brent x's), selling EVERYTHING one could ever want, even the best laid plans for the day went up in smoke as i would normally be lured into one of the shopping centres for an impromptu spending session. With the vast number of shopping centres opening onto the street - each vast shopping centre begin horrifically over air conditioned, as one walked down the road you found yourself constantly walking through gusts of air at 15 degrees, shifting up to 40 degrees, then rapidly back down to 15. It was as if not only singapore's buildings, but much of the streets were mechanically cooled also.

A couple of nights manisha also showed me the bar she hangs out in. Cheap drinks (by singapore standards) crowds of dirty old british expats grinding against local woman, and all the peanuts you could eat. So yeh, shopping, eating some of the nicest chicken noodle soup ever, riding the metro and meeting manisha sums up my singapore experience. That and i got a taste of durian. For a dollar i got to try the infamous fruit - the fruit which carried a $500 dollar warning should you be found eating it on the metro. Yes it didnt smell ideal - not exactly rotten meat, just slightly rotten fruit. The texture was like custard, with a slight greasy residue. Never had a fruit like it before, and although im sure if i ate it slightly more I would grow to appreciate it, I dont think I will try it again. Dipping into the bowel of manisha facts, she advises me that durian is either a love or hate, with some of her friends actually throwing durian parties. Apparently eating it in a confined space the smell takes days to get rid of. Whatever floats the singaporean boats :D

Anyhoo, singapore done, and with it the last glimpse of the daylight our shorts and flip flops will get. They have been shoved into the deepst corners of our bags. From here on out its NZ which is in mid winter at the moment. So goodbye tans and constant reliance on air conditioning - its back to sitting near radiators :P.

After a 7 hour flight to brisbane (me and emily nearly missing it due to a spontaneous stop to buy a slice of cheesecake and carrot cake), an 8 hour night stop off in brisbane (from midnight to 8am so no chance of any food as everything was shut) thena 3 hour flight to Auckland. We landed in auckland early afternoon - local temperature 16 degrees. Hmph, the 35 degrees of singapore was well behind us now. We are renting a car to work our way down NZ, so after picking it up, we begab our excursion to central auckland to find a hostel. We found a cheapish place called internatioanl YHA. Dorms obviously, but some of the cleanest toilets ever. We went to the shops to stock up on pasta, milk, bread and cheese and began the final month of our travelling :(. We were in auckland for a couple of days. We went to kelly tarltons underwater adventure place, which although aimed at kids, we got to see a 2 metre wide sting ray, sharks and penguins - aswell as seeing the auckland skyline. Following auckland we went down to Rotorua. Famous for its hot springs, mud baths and shooting geyers. We arrived and tracked down some steaming crators and some geothermal pools to swim in. 13 degrees outside, immersed in 42 degree water. It was bliss, and a sheer contrast to anything felt previously on this trip, mainly cos it has never been this cold outside.

We even managed to get in a night out in rotorua. Lavabar a short walk from the hostel is free admission for backpackers. The music, although not quintessentially cheesey, did us good, though the drinks were slightly pricey. This was only because the pound is fecking awful atm - the same with singapore. Formally 3 singapore dollars to the pound, it is now only 2 :(.

Next morning i was pleasantly sober, and i went for a customery walk round the town. It rained furiously but with all my valuables safely waterproofed the only thing i had to worry about was the sulphur smell that seems to constantly enuglf the town. Today however is the biggun... WHITE WATER RAFTING!!! A 45 minute ride down grade 5 rivers, with drops of upto 7 metres. Apprently capsizes rarely happen so nothing to worry about really. We have been advised that if we do capsize going over the falls, to get in the foatel position so the waterfall wont pull us under. Good thing to know i spose.... So thats todays acticity, along with driving to taupo where we will be skydiving... hopefully, if i have the nerve. Next time i write i should have done the white water rafting and also possibly thrown myself out of a plane at 20,000 feet. Here's hoping i'll be alive to write the next entry :D:D

Friday, 4 June 2010

The journey from KL to Penang was vastly more comfortable than most previous coach journeys. The bus was indeed VIP - big cushy seats that had foot rests. Even if the coach interior was green enough to make you think you were drowning in a sea of.... well something VERY green. A short bus ride and an even shorter boat ride later we were on the much complimented island of Penang. Apparently famous for its culture and food - with this we went in search of a hostel (me nearly getting run over in the process). We found a place that was slightly expensive but had air conditioning that could freeze water in the bottle, so we took it naturally. Only downside was the toilet and bathroom was down 2 flights of stairs. Anyhoo, we settled in and started to plan our route around the stifling town. It was then that something from KL came back to haunt me - wether it was the chicken noodle soup or the watermelon shake I had, I soon got into the rhythm of dashing down the 2 flights of stairs every half hour in a mad rush for the toilet. Through the evening and well into the night, the toilet rushes continued, preventing me from being anywhere outside a 100m radius of the nearest toilet. This followed nicely into the next day, when we went to see the Fort Cornwallice.

The fort was built on the land first colonised by the British. Originally built out of palm trunks, it was soon constructed in brick in a rough star shape to serve as the islands main wall of defence against attackes. For whatever reason (maybe they couldnt be assed to shlap from the mainland or maybe just because it was simply to hot), there never were any invaders, no battle ever occured in the fort and all the canons decorating the edges of the fort were rarely, if ever fired. Good times. After we wanders round the fort a bit, stroked a kitten, read some plaques, alec got shat on by a bird and we left back to the hotel where i had a date with the toilet.

Penang was a bit of a disaster. I would maybe feel different about it if I managed to do what i wanted but given the tummy situation, I did not want to risk being out of toilet sight. O well, Perhentian Island bound. A minibus journey that should have taken 6 hours took only 3, as the driver floored it over roads bumpy enough to throw us a good metre out our seats. Despite getting up at 6am to catch this bus, scraping and knocking various exposed screws and beams in the bus, ensured no sleep was to be had by any of us. We eventually arrived in Kuala Besut. From here we caught a speedboat to the island. The sky leaving the mainland was grey and depressingly overcast, but as we left mainland behind, and the perhentians came into view, the sky turned blue once again. With this, the waters turned clear and well before we reached the island, the tinges of white beaches decorating the islands base could be seen.

The boat dropped us off at long beach (the main beach). Failing to book ahead, we hadnt taken into account that it was one of malaysias MANY bank holidays. With this, after an hour of wandering up and down the beach in the midday sun, the only place with space available was a quaint little place in the dingey corner of the beach surrounded by a swamp. It consisted of 15 rotten garden sheds - with the insects to match. Mattresses were holey and again, full of insects and the mosquito nets were ripped to shreds. Holes in the floor were big enough to lose a foot down, and many of the huts had stairs missing leading up to the front door. And the less said about the showers (a tap high up on the wall) and the toilet (with no toilet seats) the better. We planned to stay on the island for a week, much to our frustrationg - and also much to the frustration of everyone else who too only staye dhere because no where else had room. 7am the next morning we got in a taxi (boat) and sped to coarl beach on the other side of the island where we managed to secure a vastly superior room for a fraction of the price. The articulate and ever optimistic british lady running the check in said we were 'FUCKING lucky to get it, very FUCKING lucky... we dont normally do 3 people rooms.... FUCKING lucky'. So we were very fucking lucky to get the room. A stones throw from the perfect water, perfect sand, palm trees and restraunts - a scene could not get much better.

Life on the island moved pretty slowly. I went for a walk on the path that led round the island and saw even more remote beaches, with nothing but short patches of isolated white sand and water clearer than a swimming pool. One beach had a tent on it but that was about it. Other activities included snorkelling, whcih the perhentians are apparently famous for. We boarded the boat early, me with my life jacket on looking like a little Belisha Beacon, and we were off. First stop was to shark point where we got to see......SHARKS!! Small and baby sharks but sharks none the less. The next stop was the turtle stop. We were shouted to jump out the boat into the water, where we proceeeded to stalk a turtle about more than 1 metre in length, as it swam indifferently at the bottom of the sea. Around 10metres deep, the bottom could still be clrealy seen. The best stop of the day though was the coral garden. We jumped out of the bottom oblivious to what was around us. It was only when we dipped our head under water we saw the thousands of coloured fish, swimming and weaving around us. Blues, yellows, silver pink and green clusters swimming unafraid as we flopped around in the water. The snorkelling guids then threw us some bread to feed the fish. They swarmed to the food, and in seconds whole pieces of bread were gone. Was like nothing I have ever seen before. Looking beneath the water to see nothing but the glittery fish and the light reflected off them - a perfect scene. Just a shame my camera had decided to finally give up the life. After 2 weeks of struggling with water damage, it died on me R.I.P.

We left the pure paradise of the perhentian islands at midday to catch the boat back to mainland. After a 7 hour wait in a nothing town called Jerteh (at the same time trying to rid ourselves of any remaining ringets), we boarded the bus - singapore bound.

Monday, 24 May 2010

We got our own private cab from ubud to lovina. He took us into the mountains where we could see the rice paddies and also views across the island to the volcano. My camera was still being slightly temperamental from the rain in Ubud. You can take photos on it, but cant turn the flash on or zoom in. Visiblity on was limited all day anyway due to the rain. It was drizzling much of the day. The cab pulled into the drive of the Billibo Beach Cottages. Unsurprisingly (as the rain began again) it was low season so we were the only people staying in the place - also meaning the cafe wasnt open so we had to walk half an hour into town. On the plus side, the cottages were only about 10 metres from the black sands of the beach. On the negetive side, because of the rains, the many rivers that ran into the sea had filled it with debris that had now washed up on shore - light bulbs and underwear to name a few of the items. As we settled in, the storm continued into the evening and pelted the resort. Thunder lightening, the whole shebang. It calmed down around 8ish enough for us to find a cheap restaraunt that did dinner.

In Lovina for 4 days, and the last 2 it didnt rain as much as in ubud and kuta. One of the staff said it was now turning into the dry season so the rains were easing off. Just in tiem for us to go dolphin watching. The tiny longboat picked us up from the beach at 6am, and together with what seem like much of Bali, made our way out a mile from the shore to see the hundreds of dolphins do their daily swim around the island. The boats of sunburtn westerners sat in large clusters, until movement was spotted on the surface of the water. All the boats charged into life and stalked the group of dolphins until they disappeared again. It went on like this for about half an hour and saw a few dolphin jumps, before the boat went back in.

I also tried my hand at Balinese cooking. I signed up for a cooking course, learnt all about the healing effects of various plants and herbs (more stuff for my mum to add to the shopping listr when i try my hand at cooking back at home), and also learnt how the make chicken satay sticks, snapper satay sticks, banana and palm sugar desert, and a coconut, chilli and water spinach concotion which all went down surprisingly well.

As our time in Lovina came to an end, we decided to try our hand as swimming in the, previously ominously opaque sea. A few days of little rain meant the waters were now crystal. This and with no waves whatsoever, it was like swimming in glass - with a perfect reflection of the sky above. First thing in the morning we left Lovina and headed back into Kuta where we would catch our plane, bright an early at 3am for Kuala Lumpur.

We arrived in Kuala Lumpur and tracked down a bus that took us into china town. After settling in, armed with my ipod and a map i began my usual wander around this new place. Walked to little india, through china town again (taking note of the locations all the 24 hour fast food eateries) before making my way over to the petronas towers where I would meet Terence, a friend from Nottingham. Leaving the KLCC LRT station, the towers loomed directly above me - some of the finest piece of architecture I have ever seen. I wandered through the parks and round the lakes at the foot of the towers, before meeting terence at the entrance to the tube station. He took me to one of the hawker stalls a short monorail ride away -then we moved across the street and ate in another hawker stall. Monorail back the KL, he showed me his flat then we ate in another hawker stall before taking the obligatory arty photos in front of the illuminated Petronas Towers. As it got late, We said our goodbyes and I made my way back to china town.

Next day, we visited colonial square. A random but much appreictaed square of grass in the middle of the city, surrounded by low, fake tudor houses. There were speakers and flags advertsigin 'colours of 1 malaysia 2010' everywhere and the view from groundlevel of KL skyline, looked as artificial as Las Vegas with its replicas of the pyramids, new york and the eiffel tower side by side. In the forgeround stood an ornate almost indian style, arched colonade that spanned the length of the square. A clock tower stood in the middle of this. Behind the clock tower, tudor houses and further back stood the business district with the telecoms tower, and the large neon signs of all the banks. I planned on coming back at night to take some photos of the illuminated skyline.

As it started getting dark I made my way back to the square to see what wasa going on. There was a band on the stage playing some 'local' music and throwing peace signs everywhere, tented stalls surrounded the square, and a whole load of seating had been set up opposite the large clock tower. As people started to slowly file into these seats, i thought i too would take my chance. After all the worst they could say was 'you have no ticket now leave'. So with that i filed in and claimed a front row seat to what ever was going on that night. As it turned out, 'colours of 1 Malaysia' was a celebration of the ethnic diversites of Malaysia. It was consist of a 2 hour parade made up of over 5,500 people dnacing in costumes representing different aspects of Malaysia - well worth leaving the hostel for. The ministry of tourism arrived at the beginning and worked her way down the front row shaking the hands of obviously foreign looking visitors. Obviously I looked foreign enough as she approached me and asked where i was from - remarking that next week she is visiting the chelsea flower shower - as you do. Marth stewart showed up soon after that (obviously) followed by the Malaysian king and queen. After 20 mins of tedious speeches, spoken in a series of languages none of which i understood, the dancves ran in and took their places. The event was began with fireowrks shooting from the colonades oand the top of the clocktowers. The dancers were all amateur from local schools and universities - all wearing costumes local to different parts of malaysia. It was a rush of colour and fantastic music - which sods law, my camera decided it no longer like to take videos that night so the random Mumbai woman next to me said she would email me whatever photos and videos she took. Dance were dedicated to the Chinese population, India, natives, to the homestay schemes, to the beachs of malaysia - complete with dancing fish, and also food - complete with kids dressed as bananas. Tribal dances celebrated the rainforest regions of Borneo. It was a mass of peacock feathers, waving fabric, bells, fur, make up, and tassles. The entire evening the audience was leant as far over as they can, understandbaly to get photos of the event. All the dancers were smiling and obviously happy, and the atmoshphere was electric - one of the best nights I have had so far during the last few months. As the parade came to an end, all 5,500 dancers gathered in front of the audience and broke the guniess world record for the largest synchornised dance routine. After further fireworks, sped up dance routines, more flashes of colour ans strobes, confetti and streamers raining down on the audience and dancers alike, and fireworks sprinting away from every building around the square, the parade came to an end. The audience were then given a go. The dancers went amongst the seating and dragged westerners down onto the parade ground and taught them to dance the native dance. With 5 12 year old grabbing my t shirt, who was I to disappoint - I danced the Malaysia can-can with the best of em. They danced around the westerners, involved them in line dances, and refused to let me leave te bundle. I just stayed and danced with the dragons and lions a bit more, before FINALLY managing to escape. Its easy to see why the Malaysians are said to be one of the most friendly nations in the world. I had a smile on my face the rest of the night, and much of the following day - that was until we really got stuck into the shopping buying shorts i dont need, t shirts i dont need, and a wallet which i dont need (but equally is a very nice wallet). After a day or so more in KL we left. Despite the fact our hotel was also a brothel (with small groups of foreign woman outside, asking passers by for massages - and then seeing those same passers by being accompanied by those foriegn woman into the hotel - normally the room next door to us...... and then us being made fully aware just how thin the walls in this hotel were) we were saw to leave KL. Our next destination was Penang. We would stay in Georgetown for 3 days before heading to the Perhentian islands on the east coast. Unfortunately we couldnt go to langkawi which other travellers have been raving about because of the recently starting monsoons. But hopefully the perhentian islands will be just as good.

Saturday, 15 May 2010

The sun rose over Bali that morning, and with it, big hopes of blue skies, white beaches and turquoise waters. Instead of sunbathing though I decided to have a wander round, see if theres more to Kuta than 24 hour fast food places and clubs that seem to pump out the same mix of heavy R'n'B followed by repeated renditions of black eyed peas 'I gotta feeling'. Unfortunately Kuta has very little more than that, though thats not to say one still cant find ways to fill the day. Away from the main roads, the 2 main tourist roads are poppies 1 and poppies 2. These and most of the other roads in bali are very narrow and are filled mostly with bikes ridden by over confident (and more than likely pissed) westerners wearing ridiculous novelty helmets. However, outside many of the shops, the streets are littered with offerings that the locals have made to the gods - these normally consist of small palm leaf baskets filled with odds and ends of food, flowers and incense sticks. Its a strange touch of religion amongst the hundreds of souvenier shops selling amongst other things, big wooden penis' (that have a bottle opener on one end), and t shirts which feature either well known brand names slightly adjusted to spell the words 'pussy' or 'fuck', or else describing some chauvanistic activity which a woman must do to 'serve' the man. Either way, few things sold in these shops one would feel comfortable displaying in the UK alone, let alone on the reserved and high class streets of edgware.

Anyhoo, i diverge. I walked up the beach, and took some photos just as the storm clouds rolled in. Unknown to us at the time, Bali would be the wettest and stormiest location yet on our travels. That night we ended up drinking heavily, hunting down happy hours bars which lined the streets of kuta. After spending an amount of money i still havent quite had the nerve to work out, we headed for home. It was around 2ish, everything was obviously shut and few of the streets had street lights. Me Alec and Emily al got seperated and whilst emily found her way back, me and alec (mainly me) got hopelessly lost walking the same road 4 times trying to find the turning. To cut the story short, i found it and went to bed, end of night. Done :D.

Next day none of us really felt up to much. It was a first of many beach days. We suncreamed up, got loungers and that was us for the day. Kuta boasts some of the best surfing waves this side of the world. The waves were higher than i have ever seen, but few were decent enough to surf on (in my humble yet very valid opinion). We waded out to the sea and let the waves simply rise us and drop us. Occasionally when a big waves came it broke over and on top of us but normally we just dived under those to stop us.....well... being drowned. Time went by fairly quickly as we rode the waves and we didnt even notice when it started raining. The day after went similar, except it was raining from the word go. It rained througout the day (didnt stop people claiming sun loungers and swimming in the sea), and we spent more valuable hours in the sea.

The time to leave the hedonistic paradise that was Kuta, had arrived. We were heading up to Ubud, which was in land and was aparently 'the real Bali'. I felt slightly relieved to be leaving Kuta, as the temptation for all the western food was very quickly becoming too much - and i didnt travel for christ knows how long on a plane and spend however much it was on tickets,, just to wake up to a mcdonalds cheese burger for lunch, shopping in marks and spencers and topman (yes those are here also) to waste the time before a pizza hut dinner.

Ubud was very much like luang probang in laos. None of the buildings were over 2 floors and many had thatched roofs. Many of the hostels were simply home stays and focussed around stunning green gardens filled with fountains and statues that made each one look like a shrine of some sort. We settled into the peaceful town and once again, i went for a wander. I found a lot of K marts (balis version of the 7/11) but no mcdonalds which I was slightly relieved for. We walked around the market, past shops selling hand carved bowels, wire elephants, every sort of necklace and bracelet, and more infamous wooden penis' - these ones were on keyrings and didnt even open bottles (shock). Ubud is apparently the art centre of Bali. Every other shop was an art gallery. Although most shops sold similar paintings, there were a few i picked out for when i am a big successful planner, which would sit happily in my central london apartment :D :D.

We went to the monkey forest, which is Balis biggest monkey reserve. We wandered around just as it started to rain, and rain, and pour. It had been raining and storming most aftenoons in Bali, but normally we were either on a beach or indoors. We were now fully equipped with bags and cameras walking through something similar to a rainforest. Emily went back taking much of our valuables with her, leaving me and Alec to see some of the most stunning tropical scenery to date. Vines hung low into the narrow valleys as rivers sped by below. Paths were built into the hillside so people and momkeys alike could wander round the area, but as the rain continued sheets of water poured everywhere. With the help of our map (the remains of) we found the main temple up a flight of stairs that looked more like a water feature at this point. The thick green canopoy did nothing to shield the rain and inches of water washed down the hills over our feet. We evevn got to see a group of monkeys who took advantage of the fact the guard was taking cover, to break open one of the banana cages and steel the contents.

We are heading to Lovina next, on the north of the island. Its got black sand, doplphin watching and diving. Its meant to be quiet and relaxing, a far cry from Kuta. Lets hope we dont bring the weather with us...

Sunday, 9 May 2010

After landing in kathmandu we had one day of relative freedom before the maoists strike shut down the city. The strikes lasted the entire 6 days we were in kathmandu. Cars were not allowed in the roads, so the only running transport was buses designated to take tourists to and from the airport. The maosists just seemed to sit for large periods of the day playing cars in the empty roads, spitting and making litter. For large parts of the day, most if not all shops and restraunts were closed and were forbidden from opening - the same all over Nepal though worst in kathmandu. The only sound on the streets was the occasional steel shop shutters being opened and closed to let staff in and out. The first day went passed with relative comfort. I set up camp on the sun terrace which overlooked the main road in Thamel. I met a few other lone travllers and we ended up sitting on the terrace for large parts (11 hours) of the day till the early morning. Shops and restraunts were allowed to open between 6-8 so there were mad rushes to the shop at the end of the road that sold western snacks and alcohol. Because there were no cars on the road, many restraunts simply did not open as they had no food to serve. In trhe bazaar across the road from our hotel, we found a nice cafe above street level. All the westerners were packed in. Around 7.45 we were told we had 10 mins left so we ordered milkshakes before we left. Then w eheard bangning on the back door and a large group of maoists shouting and yelling. The waiters looked incredibley panicked and told us we had to pay the bill and leave. As we did. The streets had an uneasy feeling about them - one which i had never felt before. There were shouting and chants coming from an unknown area, and bangs and the sound of smashng glass. We ran back to our hotel where the guard unlocked the gate (all hotels had gates locked after dark during the strikes).

A girl who was staying in our hotel was last to leave the cafe we were in. She was halfway through her burger when the staff forcibly removed her from the place. The maosists apparently charged in, and started screaming flipping tables and chairs over, threatening to trash the place unless they closes asap. Things like this happened all over Thamel. The bar next to our hotel had bricks thrown at it cos it was open slightly later than 8, and a chinese restraunt we were planning on going to had all its windows knocked out before we could. For obvious reasons the maosists didnt targe hotels, though there was obvious tension between them and the hotel staff, as threats were made to them whenever they went outside.

As the days wore on and mroe and more restraunts remained closed, we began to simply accept we would probably die in the Potala hotel. Food in the hotel was running low though every now and then they managed to get a delivery. We would all sit on the sun terrace and eagerly wait fpr 6pm, when shops opened and we could safely go onto the streets to look for the few places open to eat. Every now and then the maosits gave us a little show though. For half an hour or so they rioted through the street carrying flaming torches screaming, and then the next they all had drums and were chanting. We were waiting for the unicycles and tight rope walkers but they never came. Obviously they dont know how to put on a good show. Anyhoo, we would get back to the hotel just before 8 and the same group of people would walk through the streets with whistels, which signified to the shop owners it was time to shut up shop. Within minutes the bustling, and brightly lit streets became merely ominious dark alleyways - devoid of any kind of life excpet maybe a dog and the single rickshaw driver who lived outside our hotel, and despite the fact NOTHING was opened, coninuted to insist we come down from the roof terrace and let him take us somewhere.

Our nights were spent drinking on the terrace and listening to music - it drowned out the noise of the chating and scremaming maosists.

One day we decided we werew bored of the potala hotel and decided to go to bhaktapur (or something similar to that name) where the open air cremations were happening. It was meant to be like Varanasi in India but to alesser extent. We walked through the crowds of red shirts, litter and past all the road blockades and armed polieman dressed in riot gear, and sauntered down to east kathmandu. After being told a way we could view the ceremonies without having to pay 10 quid, we ended up scaling down some rocky hills and cliffs, manouvering round barbed wire and sliding down some steep slopes, until we came to the bank of the river. The river was stagnant, blocked solid with waste and sewage yet still had people washing and drinking from it. Opposite us were 9 stone platforms with piles of wood on each. The bodies, wrapped in a coloured shroud, were 'cleaned' in the river, dried off and laid on the wood piles. The shrouds were removed so we could see the bodies, then they were covered in hay and burnt. There were 4 cremations happening when we view it, though the smell of the river covered the smell of the burning bodies. We then moved onto see the Budha stupor before making back for home.

Another night of drinking and lady gaga bought us to our final few hours in kathmandu. We left on the tourist bus and got to the airport for 11am. We were to fly kathmandu-delhi, delhi-madras, madras-kuala lumpur, then kuala lumpur- bali. Each flight had about 3 hours between, for room for delays, except the KL-bali flight that was on a different day, requring us to spend a night in KL. Good theory in practise, but what we didnt bank on was the general incompentance of jet airways. Without explanation, our flight kathmandu-delhin was cancelled. We were assured a place on a flght 3 hours later, but when we told a small nepalese airport man we had 2 other flights to catch, one of which was an international, he simply remarked 'well then your going to miss it then arent you'. After Jim (a guy from our hotel who was also off to madras) yelled a bit, emily yelled a bit, and me and alec just pushed in the crowd waving our tickets in the faces of the airport personal, we EVENTUALLY got on a 4pm plane. Of course delays meant we didnt take off till about 5 so missed our delhi-madras connection.

After making a scene to some more jet airways personel in delhi, we eventually managed to get put up in a nearby hotel. It did mean we got a free nights accomodation and free dinner and breakfast so it wasnt all bad. Our flights from delhi-madras and madras-KL were also with jet air so were easily rescheduled. At 5pm we caught or flight and landed in madras around 7. A 3 hour wait in what was basically a plane hangar, followed by a 4 hour flight, we arrived in KL local time 6am. 9 hours waiting here, and we boarded a 3pm plane to Bali. Of course EVERY plane without fail was delayed by more than an hour for reasons we were never told, but we EVENTUALLY arrived in Bali. At 9pm, outside temperataure was low 30's. 24 hour KFC'S mcdonalds, starbucks even a marks and spencer and topman. Bali is by far the most western place we have been to - thgouh still relatively cheap for food. Our hotel is next to some markets giving us the chance to buy some more relative shit i dont actually need, but will buy because of the novelty. When it gets light we will hopefully get our first glimpse of the Bali beaches. We are in Bali for 12 days, and plan to visit 3 cities - all near the coast so we can get some beach burning action in (maybe followed by a night of drinking and late night takeaway). Be jealous people. Be VERY jealous....

Saturday, 1 May 2010

We arrived in Gorak Shep in time for lunch. It was here our guide assured us that the next few days would get MUCH harder and longer, as we were tackling base camp and the peaks. We settled into our lodge, grabbed some lunch and set off to base camp. Base camp was only 5360metres. We trekked along the worlds longest glacier over large scree and moraine piles (some terminology for you natural geographers out there). The mounds of rock and rubble dwarfed us and rarely could we get a true perspective of the landscape. In the distance we could see the rock piles we had to climb up and round, but in no way could we tell how tall or wide any of these piles were...... until we saw the little black dots of people wearing horrifically bright jackets, trying to scale them. O well - a long day it was. The trek to base camp was just under 2 hours as we struggled over loose rocks and then ice. After a final push up some loose stone steps, overtaking a bundle of yaks on the way, we arrived at base camp. The views here were pretty minimal. We saw the start of one of the large glaciers leaning down the mountain, and as the climbing season started to pick up, the first few tents were pitched from people intending to reach everest summit. We also saw the most expensive accommodation in the area - a heated dome complete with cinema and reclining arm chairs at a modest 35,000 pounds for the full package (not bad considering it only costs 10,000 pounds for the permit to climb to the everest summit :S). After some arty poses and photos in front of rocks, we made our way back to the hostel and settled in for an early night, as tomorrow we would be tackling kalapathar - a small peak that would give us a panoramic view of everest and its neighbours.

Up at 4.30am, armed with a torch, primark trousers, charity shop fleece and jacket, and a purple pashmina I bought for a friend but forgot to unpack from my sack before the trek, we tackled kalapathar. Steep, dusty and rocky, we had to break every 10 mins. At an altitude of 5200metres and climbing we grew very quickly out of breath and exhausted. Just when we thought the peak was in sight, more of the mountain reveals itself and ridge after ridge we climbed. As the sky started to lighten we could see how high we were getting, yet the sheer lack of scale in the landscape made it quite tricky.

As the landscape became steeper and the rocks became bigger, we soon found ourselves having to haul ourselves over icy boulders and rocks until...... the final peak was in sight. With a final push we reached the 5550metre rocky summit and waited for the sun to rise from behind everest. It was here the cold hit us. The tchibo snow boots failed their task at keeping my feet warm and the 2.50 pound gloves let in a draft. The water in our bottles froze and still we waited. As the crowd on the summit grew, we were given cups of tea from one of the other guides.

And then came the sun. It peaked round everest and shot one of those light beams across the valley - the kind of beams you see in movies that implies a 'heavenly force'. The line of light moved slowly across the valley and climbed up the mountain towards us with far more ease than we could ever attempt. The minute the sun hit us we could feel its warmth. After another small photo session, finishing our cup of tea that too was turning icy, we made back for the hostel for a watery (and definitely not oats as originally promised) porridge.

From Gorak Shep, with Kalapathar and Base Camp safely under our belts and stored eternally on our camera memory cards, we were Gokyo bound. However, first there was the little matter of the Chola Pass, which was the point at which 2 mountains joint. It was one of the only ways out of the valley to get to Gokyo. We left the frosty Gorak Shep and continued down the valley, walking alongside a meltwater stream for most of the way until lunch. After a 5 hour trek over 'flat' (or what the guide assured us was flat) land, over, under and round mountains and hilly rock outcrops, we arrived at our stopping place for the night - Dzong La. Although shown on the map, it was little more than 2 hostels (though one was as our guide put it 'out of order'). The hostel was small with only 10 rooms. We were aptly placed in wooden box room 101 - good times. The toilet was in a tin hut outside and was 4 wooden planks over a ditch. Lets just say the torch saved my life here on a number of occasions - electricity and running water? Who needs em!?

We had another early start the next day as we were to scale up to the Chola Pass. Our guide informed us that to do the pass later in the day meant having to contend with high winds which create rock falls, so its safer to do in the morning. It was only after finishing the pass he also tells us 2 guides died the week before and for all anyone knows they are more bodies buried underneath the rocks *sigh* and with that we began our climb.

A steep but stable ground at first, dropped into massive boulders which we had to use as stepping stones up the valley. Large boulders of scree and general debris that had slid down the mountain from the glacier above. Every step we had to test the rocks to make sure they were stable and wouldn't slide down the mountain, taking us with it. After many short breaks and back at a height of around 5200metres, we saw the peak of the pass. Without a set in stone path to follow round, we scaled the steep scree sides, holding onto the larger rocks for support as we tried to place our feet away from ice and unstable rocks. After a few slips and grazes, we eventually slide down and stepped off the scree pile, onto the actual glacier (more kodak monents here). A large pool had recently opened up in the glacier, so we climbed up the opposite mountain side around this, and dropped down onto the rocky peak (further photo moments and assuring people coming up the other side, that the climb going down will not be as bad as it was for us coming up).

We stepped over the edge of the pass and made our way down the few hundred metres to the valley floor. This side was far FAR worse than it was on the other side (and we were very grateful to our guide for taking us up the other side and down this side, and not the other way round). The drop was steep, the rocks all moved beneath our feet, and paths that had been carved out were so coated in dust even the best of walking boots (let alone the finest tchibo quality foot wear) slid down. I found myself having to grab on just to steady myself from tumbling down. Of course the porters wearing flip flops made little work of these walk, but to us uncultured westerners, we managed to make quite a meal of it. Weaving our way down the uneven hill, we soon understood why Sonam insisted we came early. Every so often the silence was disrupted by the sound of tumbling rock and dust coming from further up the hill. Another valuable word of his advice was to move QUICKLY and not stay on the same spot for too long - again we soon saw why.

We survived the Chola Pass (evidently) but the day was not over yet. Sonam said there would be a short 10 minute up hill walk followed by mostly flat until we reached the glacier. An hour of harsh up hill walking later, followed by some comfortable flat land walking (as flat as a former glacier valley can be) we eventually saw our destination - Gokyo, and the neighboring hill of Gokyo Ri. But first we had to cross the glacier. It was covered in rocks and general debris carved out from mountains, and the only sign there was ice beneath it, was where water had worked its way up to the surface in pools and exposed ice face - in reality the glacier was tens of metres deep. We stood on the valley edge surveying what we had to cross. Again the scaleless landscape distorted our view. The glacier could have been miles across or only metres. We had no idea until.... once again.... we saw a series of tiny little black dots scaling the wall on the other side. Shit!

We descended a 100 or so metres down onto the glacier and weaved our way round towering piles of ice and rock debris. A good hour on the glacier and then the painful and tedious walk out. The entire length of this journey we were being followed closely by an indian salesmen - carrying a bag of goodies on his back bigger than him'. He seemed to spit constantly throughout the journey, to a point where we were very tempted to push him back into the glacier as we left it - we saw this wandering salesmen in most of the places we ended up, until we reached Namche again days later (still spitting his little heart out and making a great deal of noise about it in the process).

Gokyo was a very expensive place and our hostel overlooked a 'holy lake'. Staggeringly blue reflecting the mountains around it. We settled in for the night, just as a party started to play out in the dining room. The songs which were blasted at 4am on the night bus from india to katmandu came back to haunt us, as it seemed the same cd provided the party. The 2 blonde western girls, understandably were the main attraction for the slightly old and overweight porters and guides who were stopped up in the hostel. Me and Alec were tired (and far too reserved/sober for a party) so went to bed early.

Sonam insisted we had a short lie in, so....up at 5am, up we went to Gokyo Ri to see the sunrise. Halfway up the mountain the sun rose, so we decided to start taking it slowly. Far more decieving than Kalapathar, ridge after ridge convinced us to summit was near, but after 2 hours of climbing did we eventually reach the top where we flopped down on the rocks and surveyed the view. Everest was a hazy shape on the horizon, the glacier we crossed, once again looked deceptively narrow, and sonam pointed out to us the names of all the surrounding peaks. After an hour of photos and poses, we descended down the mountain, took our last glimpse of everest, and began the hardest day of the trek - the 10 hour trek BACK to Namche. We were heading down the valley.

From 4800m to 3600m we arrived in Namche. We caught back up with the river we left far behind days earlier, we saw trees, green shrubs and yes...... RUNNING WATER (showers were still 3 quid so no this was not on the agenda). Blisters, aches, scratches and general pain were the norm as we walked round the mountains edge to get to Namche. Every corner we expected to see the town, but to no avail until around 5ish when we saw the first signs of life (and then we got stuck behind a party of yaks that sounded like an orchestra of jingle bells).

The natural deodrant I bought from katmandu earlier was now starting to fail me (its a green rock you need to moisten before you use and has only 3 ingredients.... it was also only a quid understandably). We got back to the Namche hostel and slumped down in the dining room. There was about 15 minutes of 'sitting and doing nothing staring into space' (the calm after the storm) before we headed to our room. After 12 hours of trekking, off came the boots (and much of the inner lining) and the socks and we surveyed our foot damage. On went the plasters and blister cream, and we staggered (literally) to dinner to have a large serving of yak steak and chips.

We had another lie in (though this was actually a lie in as we got up at 9am), had breakfast and wandered off to the bakery to get an apple danish. Later on in the day after lunch, we began the tedious journey back to Phakding, then back to Lukla. Our trek was coming to an end. The walk back to Lukla seemed to be far more up hill than i ever remembered, and the need for me to take a shower (its been 13 days at this point) was not only overwhelming me, but also Alec who walked metres ahead. We arrived at Lukla around 11ish, where our guide told us we would eb staying the night as there were no more 'Agni air' flights back to Kathmandu. Fecking fantastic!!.

With the luxury of running water (stone cold, but running nonethless) I washed my face and underarms, and prepared for a night in Lukla. Early start though as we headed to the airport to catch our plane. We checked in (the guards prodded our bags, nodded then threw them aside) and waited.....and waited......more....waited. A tea stall on the corner tempted us slightly, until they said the pringles were 4 quid...... we waited a bit more. Agni air has about 3 planes, and we were the 3rd flight - meaning the planes had to go from the city to Lukla and back, city to Lukla and back and on the 3rd return was our flight. However, due to lack of sufficient radar, and the fact the planes were tiny, any sign of bad weather and planes wouldnt run.

The clouds bunched slowly around the tops of the mountains and fell around the airport. After 4 hours of waiting in the airport for our flight, a guard told us the airport was closed. We went back to the hostel and waited for a further 2 hours before the rain began. A call later from the aiport told us no more flights would be coming. We settled in for ANOTHER night in Lukla.

Early start, we ran for the airport, checked in an waited. The sky was patchy, yet planes still flew (just). We waited and waited......and waited a bit more. We saw the second round of Agni air planes leaves for Kathmandu. Sods law, there was now bad weather in Kathmandu. So again we waited. We were SO close. Whenever a plane was heard, everyone would get up and rush to the window to see what flight it was. Some people were lucky. We..... were not. The following day were strikes so if we missed this flight we would be stuck in Lukla for 3 more days (minimum) and without a guide (Sonam was only paid till today). 2 hours after we were meant to be on the plane we heard it. Sonam grabbed our arms and dragged us down the stairs to the runway area. The agni air plane parked up and unloaded its cargo of wood and (broken) glass planes before we boarded. We werent safe yet. The clouds were getting thicker and we heard stories of planes being turned back midflight as it was not safe to land. The plane took off and we began our bumpy 30 min journey back to Kathmandu. After some tight turns and corners where we were all convinced we were heading back to Lukla, we saw our first sign of civilization - tarmac roads and CARS!! We landed in Kathmandu and got a cab to Thamel. The air was thick with pollution, horns and people spitting. As much as I would never plan on moving out of the city, for that instant I would have done anything to be out of it and back in the clean and quiet of the mountains. Stuck in traffic behind cows and rickshaws, we FINALLY made it back to the tour place, where we got our stuff together, said goodbye to Sonam and met back up with Emily in a nearby hotel.

Next day were the strikes and protests. Shops closed, people chanting, trains and buses not running. Hotel bound, I managed to find a small shop in which to buy some digestive biscuits and sat watching tv working my way slowly through. The next few days would be days of treats, chocolate and steaks (assuming the protests dont shut down the steak places).

In hindsight, it seems that political instability follows Alec and Emily and I around. As far as we know, Brits are still advised to steer clear of Bangkok due to the red shirt protests (which turned violent days after we left). Delhi is now on a red alert for a terror attack so we have been advised to steer clear (not that we need telling twice), and the strikes and protests in Kathmandu are to go on indefinitely. *sigh* watch out Malaysia here we come (if the airports are open in 6 days). Our mission now is to find an open tour place that will send us on our way on a white water rafting trip. We have 6 days left in Nepal, and there are only so many boxes of digestive biscuits one can eat through....
Its Himalayas time!!! We were due at the tour office for 5.45 prompt as the taxi had to take us to the airport to catch our plane. At 6am i was awoken by emily who said alec's alarm didnt go off. With that, on went the boots and the shorts and we ran with our packs across Thamel, the short distance to the office. Our guide, Sonam (whose grandpa was a true ghurka) was waiting for us. We got in a cab and off to the airport we went. We waited for an hour or so for the next plane and boarded. It was a small propeller plane with no more than ten seats or so. The flight was about half an hour where we got our first glimpse of some snowy peaks, before landing in lukla airport. The runway was no more than about 100 metres, with a mountain on one side and a sheer drop on the other. The plane landed and skidded into place alongside the small warehouse/airport.

After we got our bags together and had our breakfast (all food included in the price of the trek) we began our first day of walking. Lukla - Phakding. From the noise and rush of kathmandu, the mountains were strangely surreal. The houses were all made from dry stone walls and corrugated metal and it dawned on us (once the trek was over) that we went for 14 days without ever seeing a car or motorised vehicle.

Anyhoo, the trek to Phakding was relatvely uneventful. A 2.5 hour down hill walk over uneven ground and mud. Still hard, but then I just wansnt used to it yet. Our room was a wooden box (one of many we stayed in) within the guest house. Most mornings we were up around 7.30, breakfast then out just after 8am. We headed to the Namche Bazaar, which is the main town in the solukhumbu area. We collected our permits and headed down into the valley. The river was pure blue and was bridged at a number of points by small suspension bridges. All over the valley were the coloured prayer flags, tied to the bridges, trees and buildings. The final leg of the day, we climbed an hour up hill to our final altitude of 3400 metres. Namche was a small town perched on the edge of a mountain in a horse shoe shape. As was the norm, our hostel was the highest and furthest away building in the town, and after 4.5 hours we settled into our wooden box. Acclimatisation day was the next day - where we climbed the short 300 metres to the viewpoint - saw the highest airport in the world and got our first glimpse of everest.

We were warned that from now on, we shouldnt order meat, and that anything we see has probably been bought up the mountain either by the yaks or by porters who carried more than double their body weight on their backs. As we walked from Namche to Pangboche, we saw the first large party of yaks. Every animal wore bells around their necks, and most had sacks of everything tied to them. Feeling sorry for the poor animals having to navigate the ridiculously bumpy and steep paths, we then saw porters carrying 2m x 3m squares of plywood on their backs, windows, metal and sacks of potatoes so our pity moved onto them instead. Indeed the further up the mountains we got, the more expensive everything was, obviously because this was the only method of food transportation in the mountains.

We had been walking alongside the river for a few days until we got to Pangboche. We had the hard 4 hour trek out of the valley to around 4000m, followed by a 3 hour walk the next day to Dingboche at the dizzying height of 4400metres above sea level. Reminding me very much of the stereotype of yorkshire, (just without the yaks and surrounding mountains) dry stone walls divided the land, buildings were low, and every hostel was called 'Everest view' 'Namaste Lodge' or 'Sherpa Hotel'. Acclimatisation day here required us to walk up 'sidstone peak' (named just because we were so great :D ) at 5100. This was by the far the hardest yet. The hill was steep and our guide Sonam seemed to have an aversion to taking breaks. After nearly falling off the mountain a few times, slipping on dusty paths and loose rocks, we clambered our way to the top and admired the view. We could see the river far below us, and by now at this height, all the vegetation was low lying grasses and most of it a browny grey in colour. Despite this the views were (and indeed continued to be throughout the trek) absolutely stunning. We perched on the rocks on the peak of 'sidstone' for half an hour or so. Prayer flags were wrapped around many of the rocky outcrops and flapped in the wind, yet there was little sound up there. After stumbling down the mountain (literally) we settled back into the Dingboche and bought some cookies from a local bakery - it wasnt a slice of lemon meringue pie that i saw (but didn't buy) in a bakery in the last town, but was still tasty nonetheless :D

O well, another day another 4 hour walk. We left running water far behind in Namche, so all toilets were squatters, and teeth were cleaned with bottles of water, whilst standing over the aforementioned squatter toilets. Showers were nothing more than tin boxes outside, rigged up with hoses to high windows into which large nepalese woman poured hot water. We arrived in Lobuche just in time for lunch, as always, though stuck a lot of the way behind a group of yaks. The temperature was dropping rapidly as we approached 5000 metres. Nights were cold so the hostels normally lit the gas stove in the dining room after dark. Failing to heat up anything within a 2 metre radius of the stove, everyone pulled up plastic chairs and sat until the stove died.

We also got a small amount of entertainment whilst in Lobuche - Nepalese woman v yak. A selection of unidentified foodstuffs were left outside on tarpaulin in the sun to dry out, when along comes the yak. He sniffs around, has a look, decides its safe, then runs up the stairs and starts gorging. Out runs a large group of guides and sherpas who start throwing rocks and the yak gets the point and leaves. Although....shortly after it came back. Hiding behind a towel hanging on the washing, it waits for its chance. It sneaks up to the stairs and..... along comes large Nepalese woman with a yellow stick (the same kind of stick security guards used to beat street kids with in India). After stones and sticks still dont work on the yak, ignoring all the heavier bricks and plastic chairs, the woman goes straight for a pile of yak shit and throws that. The yak (now knowing she means business) runs off and doesnt return again until later that day to munch on a selection of sun drying goodies. After seeing the same woman peeling potatoes, me and alec decided its probably best not to have chips in this particular hostel. The yaks, despite the shit throwing abuse, provide a lot for these communites - yak fur, yak meat, yak cheese, yak milk, and of course yak shit that goes into the heaters in the hostel.

We have now reached the halfway point of the trek. A further 3 hour trek and we reach Gorakshep at 5190 metres. From here we will make our way to everest base camp and up kalapathar where we will see the sunrise over everest. Its late however, so im off to bed. If you really want to know how my svelte and athletic physique handles those particularly dreadful climbs, then wait for my next update :D

Thursday, 15 April 2010

So after about 12 days in India, off we headed to Nepal. Our Indian escpades have probably been the best and worst experiences of our trip. Its a country of opposites: extravagant marble and carved wood palaces within view of slums and beggar, big 4W drive trucks being driven by men in suits, surrounded by an army of small skinny men cycling rickshaws or dragging trailors of food behind them. One would walk down the street, and every 20 or so paces the smell of sewerage would be interrupted with the sweet smell of insence. It was a shame we didnt spend more time in India, as we never made it to Jodphur or Pushkar, and the very north and very south are meant to be better than the Rajasthan region.

Anyhoo, we had a train booked at 10pm to whisk us out of agra towards gorahkpur - a 13 or so hour journey. Not so bad we thought assuming the sleeper carriage isnt that full. Famous last words. The train pulled into the station, arms and legs flailing out of windows, and faces pushed against glass - and so began the worst day i have experienced travelling.

After pushng our way through swarms of people and their bags in the already narrow aisle, we eventually found our berth. The train was literally full to bursting. Space under seats and spare buks had already been taken up with bags so our bags had to stay on the seat with us. Within the next hour or so, people started to find their positions - on mats on the floors, propped up between 2 bunks, hanging out of open doors etc. We flipped the bunks down, Emily was on the top, Alec the middle and me the bottom. My bag was at the foot of my bed and my rucksack was my pillow. It was quite a cool night as the fans were all on and the windows were thrown open. We even had our own little audiences. I had 4 women wearing saris sitting on the bunk opposite me. Every so often they would stare at me and frown. Emily had 2 guys watching her on the opposite top bunk, one of which was filming her read with his camera phone. He then went on to download the photos onto his laptop. Where 'photos of blonde white girl reading book on train' have ended up now g-d only knows. Lets just hope they are on some tasteful website :P

However, as the sun started to rise, through 9am, 10am, 11am, the train seemed to stop longer and longer in the stations. This combined with the fact i couldnt stretch out let alone get out of my bunk for fear of stepping on anyone (when i went to the toilet in the toilet I was sure i kicked someone in the face) - also combined with the fact that there was a 3 year old girl who seemed to like running around and whacking her head with a plastic bottle - she then proceeded to jump on it. After 4 hours of cracking plastic, one find themselves very tempted to throw the afoementioned 3 year old girl out of the door. Around midday, the temperature in the train was somewhere above stifling. With repeated long stops in the middle of nowhere, very rarely was there a breeze to flush out the stale air. Sometime around 2ish, after lying on the cramped plastic bunks with minimal movement for about 12 hours now, getting hotter and hotter and running seriously low on water, me and emily went to the toilet. I was then sick and came very close to fainting. My eyesight was blurry and for a few minutes I could so very little. I had never even come close to fainting before so naturally i was a bit freaked. For the next 20 mins i sat by the open door of the train watching the Indian countryside pass me by whilst alec got me some water.

Unknown to us, the seemingly pointless stops had meant we still had 3 more hours left of this awful journey. Alec and emily folded the bunk back down to make the bench, and we sat reading and sweating, mainly sweating. When asked by one of the locals why we didnt go into the air conditioned car, we replied we couldnt afford it. Note to self: listen to the advice of the locals and never go in a sleep car again. After being both physically and mentaly drained from the 15 hour train journey, we EVENTUALLY pulled up on gorakphur. Here we got a 1 hour cab ride to the border town of saunnali, a rickshaw through customs and across the border and were dropped off at a tour place in NEPAL!! It then decided to hail it down. A bad omen or not, it bought the temperature down a couple nof valuable degrees so we were happy. We booked our bus to kathmandu and 10 mins later we boarded. Non airconditioned and leg room that would make even ryanaire shudder, we would be crammed in like this for another 9 hours. The roads were fecking awful. There wasnt a sinlge smooth patch of road between aunali and kathmandu. About 2 inches above my head i was the corner of the lugguage rack so every bump the bus flew over sent me flying into this luggage rack. There were also random bars, poles and loose nails sticking out everywhere to bump and catch yourself on - not ideal when you are being thrown in all directions - even more so when a fat guy who smells of curry insists on resting his head on your shoulder even when you had elbowed him enough times for him to surely get the hint. And for some reason, THROUGHOUT the night the bus driver insisted on playing generic bhangra music at full volume - of course the old bus speakers couldnt handle this volume so a lot of the time it was painful and scratchy to listen to.

Just to summarise - over the past 3 days we have eaten little, slept little, showered little/none, are covered in bruises and are generally pissed off with life. The minute we got to kathmandu at 6am, we slep through till lunch time, got up, had lunch at which point I came down with a fever so went to bed early....

The silver lining though, is the everest trek has been booked. 16th april, me and alec are on our way to the everest base camp :D.