Friday, October 29, 2010

PTSS... A New Psychiatric Disorder.

There's a new Psychiatric disorder going around, and knocks a lot of good people over unexpectedly. Highly contagious, it transmits itself across gender, race, and border controls rapidly, and they've still got to come up with a cure for it. I'm a sufferer. PTSS (or as it once was- Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) for many people has come to stand for Post Travel Stress Disorder. And it is seriously debilitating, no known cure, apart from deliberately incurring more of what caused it in the first place...but Bank Managers are not sympathetic enough to even consider any more funding for such an expensive cure. You are on your own ... left to get over it with empty pockets and without treatment... Perhaps Gap Adventures new brochures might help.....they're due any day.

When I started this blogsite, I had two main reasons.

1.Relating our travel experiences in a manner to publicise wildlife conservation issues.

I've had an intense interest in wildlife, and had my earlier life not taken an unexpected twist, I'd probably have pursued a more academic career in a Biological Science field. That was not to be, and looking back it has been a great life and I would not want it any other way. The unknown horizon has always held my gaze, rather than looking back where I've been.
There's a war going on, carried on by well funded criminal syndicates , fuelled by the strong demand of Traditional Chinese Medicine for animal parts, Africa's wildlife is being stripped at an ever increasing rate. Elephant poaching for ivory is soaring, rhino are being killed at an alarming rate, and in other parts of the world, growing concern about the rapid decline in species, much of that because countries are being stripped of rare species and container loads being illegally shipped to China..And the not so rare, are now endangered.
Returning home after our Namibia wildlife volunteer project at Naankuse, it was my intention do do a bit to help. It seemed I could be most effective at setting up a blogsite, and writing about our travel experiences to highlight some of these issues. You'll note that most posts do reference a species that needs publicising, without being overly zealous and ramming these subjects down your throat.

2. Taking the best of our travel stories and publishing them.
I've bookmarked a couple of websites where items posted on this blog, can be collated and published in a real book. Hey, no need to be the world's greatest travel writer these days. Wonderful. I kind of like the idea of our coffee table having a glossy book by a distinguished author like myself strategically placed  in front our very impressed visitors. Visitors be is going to be a very thick book, we have been travelling since our first OE (overseas experience for all you non Australasians) in 1974 when we took off to UK and Europe.
 Reliving our experiences and the revival of those memories makes the project more enjoyable. Some of our adventures now seem more real, and others are there just wanting to jump out and lay themselves out across this screen. So many.....

This PTSS has got me contemplating and reflecting ...time for a rethink.
Over on Caz and Craig's travel site we've been discussing how hard it can be to settle into a mode after travelling. For Caz and Craig the transition from Nomad to 'normality' is difficult, perhaps unobtainable. It is an interesting concept, and a lot of us may not understand the problem. I can. Travellers will.

PTSS is a wee bit different. It is lethargy when it comes to anything to do with getting back into 'normal' life. OK, you get over the jet lag, but the syndrome has it's tentacles around every neuron in your brain.
It is a time of mixed up thoughts, loss of direction, running off  on tangents, and ...oh what was I thinking...lost it.

But PTSS is also a time of renewal. It's a time of finding a new trail out of that directionless meandering.  It's a time of a complete refocus !  And decisions. Setting your sight once again upon the horizon.

A sign of recovery ?

Hopefully...still some work to do though.

Travel for me, over the years has become more of an experience to learn and contribute, rather than sightseeing, or another photo opportunity. Nowadays there have to be better reasons.
I have been intending to travel back next May to volunteer again with EHRA here-
It's a project making a real difference in mitigating the human-elephant conflict  in Namibia and I support them from home by publicising Johanes and his volunteer team at every opportunity. I long to get back there.

However, the more I read of rhino poaching and elephant slaughters in Africa, the more I feel I need to re-evaluate the effectiveness of my contribution there in terms of costs and time. Could my dollars on airfares etc. be better invested in other methods to aid animal conservation there? And these ideas cropped up yesterday during a conversation  with my wife Kay, over our after work glass of wine while sitting in  our  courtyard, enjoying the warm spring sunshine. We were chatting together about travel plans for 2011. We always have plans! But next year there are none, just ideas, and there's a void in our lives at present normally filled by that next booking we've just made. In fact  we have often flown out of NZ on one trip , having already booked the very next.
PSST surged, took over my neurons again and I found myself suggesting we don't travel next year. How incredible...  I couldn't believe I'd said it.
Kay looked at me, and said she couldn't believe how in sync we are....she was thinking the same!
Then stated "I can't believe you're saying that.That's not the man I know".

PSST settled down, relaxed it's strangle hold , and a more enlightened mood evolved, and discussions took a more realistic track. We may not do a 'biggie' trip. We have little enthusism (at this time ) for another 8 weeks away. Kay may plan to join our daughter in Europe for a shorter time. Myself, I'm up  in the air...... and not on a plane either.

A wee digression- Blogging has opened up a whole new world for me, as I'm sure it does for countless others , otherwise we wouldn't be wasting so much time, talking to so few, about so little. It's enjoyable because we're learning, developing latent skills, and most importantly we are  developing friendships with many more like minded people. And the realization dawns that I'm not going to be a great travel writer, or have a site that earns big bucks , but that was not what I set out to do and I need to press that Reset button and get on track again, and be a good travel blogger, and use my site for the original reasons above.

So here's the questions for my friends reading this-

Do I spend a lot of time and money travelling next year to help in another wildlife project in Africa?

Or do I stay home and invest that money in a conservation project or projects that make a direct impact there?

Post your thoughts please?

PS- This is why? --
Elephants of Chad

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

My Land: How to really see New Zealand. High Country 4WD tours.

I'm starting a new topic series titled My Land. It is going to be about New Zealand as I know it.
We've travelled to many wonderful countries, but that all goes to deepen our appreciation of our own. A lot of friends keep asking why I don't write about our backyard, and that is probably because there are so many sources of info on the usual tourist circuit traipsed by travellers, so in the My Land series we'll try and highlight the less well known.
Make time when visiting New Zealand to get off the well worn tourist tracks and get out in our high country and see the scenery most tourists miss. The exciting way to do it is by 4WD vehicle, whether it's a quad bike, or 4WD vehicle, go where others just dream about. There is a full range of off road tours available at  Offroad Adventures website .

Our Guest Post is from Mike Chaney, a 4WD enthusiast friend of mine from down Christchurch way, who with his son, and other 4WD Club members, relishes nothing better than to explore our high country mountains, valleys and rivers. Staying on established tracks, and out of the stream beds when fish are spawning, or birds are nesting minimises any adverse impact on our eco-systems but brings people into contact with nature for enjoyment and education. And excitement!

Waipara Gorge trip                                 

Sunday21 March

This was never going to be “just a trip up the Wipra” for me. I’ve only had the truck a few months and the only experience driving it has been a bit of play and the Christmas trip up the Clarence. I must have been a bit eager as my son and  I were at the meeting point an hour early! (They did say don’t be late!) A bit closer to the departure time and there were 6 of us. 4 Toyotas, a Land Rover and what looked like a Land Rover but turned out to be a fine example of Kiwi ingenuity, a creation that had bits of most brands, a sort of UN of 4X4! There were 3 newbies and we were led by Linda.

Away we go. We are just under the bridge and someone is stuck in soft gravel! Well I have a brand new rope and some new hook thing on the back so I set a record for getting out, preparing to tow. I would have tackled anyone else coming close! We were soon on the way again. However, there was this gravel bank, just sitting there calling to us so we had to have a bit of a play. A couple of folk gave it a try from different angles, but the decision was made to head off up the gorge.

A nice gentle introduction to the trip through a bit of bush. Seems my angle of entry into a muddy bit was not quite right and the Prado developed a mind of it’s own. It was reminiscent of a Holden Station wagon on a gravel road! Still a little gentle pressure on the accelerator, (can’t remember who told me that) and we were all straight and back under control. This was a very pleasant trip. It had quite a few tests for those of us that had not really been off the road before. I had heard of “bonnet deep water” before and I will admit being nervous about it. Today was the day for my first go at it. You are down the bank and half way across and you notice the line of camera on the opposite bank. Then with what feels like a mighty whoosh and you are up the bank and up the other side.

A little further up the track we had a stop for a cuppa. The conversation was around tyre pressures, tales of successful/unsuccessful modifications etc. Simon was on his first run with this particular club and his most photogenic of Defenders Rovers attracted quite a bit of interest. While we were there a lone Surf caught up and passed. They (one time club members) joined us at the Gorge for the trip back.

There was one more significant river crossing, a trickily rock strewn beast. I got it wrong and suffered a few large “clonks” but most had little trouble. The destination was quite idyllic. The river has cut some amazing patterns out of the limestone. A few degrees warmer and the urge for a swim would have been irresistible. We had 30 or 40 large drops of rain and headed back. We must have hit “rush hour” as we came across a group of 4 racing type quad bikes heading the other way. I could only wonder at the aches and pains a rider would get riding over that sort of territory, you are thrown around enough in a truck seat!

I rode back as a passenger, and it is quite a different experience. If you are free to watch the others you note the different style. You appreciate that these cumbersome trucks are dancing across the rocks in the nimble style of a ballet dancer. You understand why independent suspension is important when you see the truck in front has 4 wheels at 4 heights!

This time we all got the rocky crossing right and all made bigger splashes than the other one. The advice over lunch to give the suspension a chance by going a bit faster was right! A much smoother ride.

All too soon we were back at the start point. We had had a great day. No disasters! Just a really enjoyable day out visiting a place that you cannot normally get to. Good company and a testing drive. I guess that is what the club is all about.

A few suggestions for tour operators.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Danger in Ethiopia.

This is one way to cross a river when the bridge has collapsed. Just climb in the bucket and off we go!
Health and Safety officers would have a fit if they saw this happening back home.

Rainy season in Ethiopia in August,and roads get washed out, or bridges just can't cope with the volume of water. Travelling on our Gap Adventures DEN  Ethiopia Explorer we'd hit a traffic jam and groaned at the knowledge there was no other route around, and a backtrack would take days. Traffic had backed up for miles on both sides of the broken bridge. We got out to take a closer look.

I forced my way through the crowd to take shots of the action going on. The concrete approach had collapsed because the torrent had scoured out behind the side abutments  severely weakening it, and leaving a huge gaping hole where the approach road used to be. You can see the support to the left end 
of the bridge has also been compromised and if that moved, the whole bridge could go.

An excavator was bucketing river gravel and rocks up from the riverbed, filling the trucks and they were
dropping the gravel on the bridge. Then the excavator would come up and push the river gravel into the hole to try and fill it up enough to create a temporary road across the bridge. But it seemed to me that if you piled more weight on that weakened end of the bridge, it could cause it to move and collapse. That was a huge hole behind the retaining abutments, and fill that up, get more rain, and the weight against that weakened wall could push it out. While the truck was dumping on the bridge, the excavator would load up with people and carry them across the river. Crazy stuff going on.
But cross your fingers guys and pray because we have to get across!

We sat in our Gap Adventures bus and waited, confident our resourceful guides would figure something out. Meantime, I fed the dog......
This scared  but beautiful looking dog wandered timidly along the line of traffic, scavenging any peeling, crust or food scrap thrown out the windows. You have to harden your heart to the plight of dogs in some countries. Here in Ethiopia their life wasn't as bad as many countries. Locals depend on their livelihoods from sheep, cattle and goats, and dogs are essential to help protect their animals, so they are looked after by a family. In many parts hyena and even leopard will be out during twilight taking down that stray sheep or goat , or maybe a child out at night. A dog for an alarm is very useful.
There's a curious relationship between some inhabitants of Harar and  spotted hyena, feeding them by hand for the tourists. I guess feeding them is better than having them attack their animals or even their children, and way better than killing them as a nuisance. Every animal has a part to play in this world. Hyena have a valuable role in clearing the countryside of animal corpses before diseases can break out. But like much of Africa's wildlife, numbers are dwindling as habitat loss, exotic diseases and predator competition pressures them. It was scary but at the same time heartening to see many indistinct shapes lurking in the gathering gloom as we travelled late during twilight some nights.

Biscuits, drinks and nibbles were coming in one side of our bus and I amused myself firing biscuits out the other side for my friend.The locals from the village 5 kms back were traipsing up and down the long line of vehicles making the most of their captive customers. It was a long wait.

Finally our guide returned.He had waded across , found a similar bus on the other side, hired it and we were to walk over. How? Across the bridge. One of the sidewalls of the approach ramp was still standing, a mere pathway a metre wide, above the gaping hole and the raging torrent.
We had noticed a surge of people with bags on their heads coming up the road, and at the same time bus passengers on our side were grabbing their bags and walking down through them to the bridge. Since the buses couldn't cross over they were going to turn around and head back. The passengers were continuing their journey by walking over and swapping buses. Armed soldiers were allowing this mass of people to cross over on top of the only remaining metre wide sidewall of the approach, one way traffic at a time. It was our only way over. Our newly hired bus awaited on the other side. Our guide had probably blown the Gap Adventures budget for this trip!

Grabbing our daypacks , our group crossed over, all the time I'm thinking  "Anytime this  bridge  could go."
"What about our main bags?" I ask.
"We'll go back for them"  our guide responded.
"We'll help." and with that, back over we go. I crossed over 5 times to make sure all our bags got through. Scary, but I was confident I'd be OK. Why? Because I had my custom made shoes on, with a really good treaded sole I had made especially for this Ethiopia tour. These are the shoes I custom made for my travels this year-The Extraordinary Taxi Ride In Western Australia and Ethiopia
BTW enter my competition! I'm trying to give away a pair! New and handcrafted. Drawn when this site gains 100 Google friend followers.

Gap Adventures operate small group adventure tours through Ethiopia. Please click on their advert on the right side of this blog. If you initiate your booking from that add and book online, this site earns a small commission. I guarantee that any money this site earns , less tax, will be donated to wildlife conservation. So hit that add !


Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Cobbler's Ghost: My Friend.

Here's a wee tale to kick it off for Halloween.

On our trip around Ethiopia and Scotland there were several weird happenings.

Under Edinburgh's Royal Mile, recently discovered, is a warren of covered over old cellars, streets and  houses. Covered over after the Black Death era, and long since forgotten, reopened about 1979 I think. Anyway, today walking tours take you under to explore this damp, dark, unlit labyrinth.
So we sign on for the Dungeons and Ghosts Tour and get shown around the hanging sites in the Royal Mile and then go underground. Our guide takes our group of 19 down and through several cellars, telling us about all the ghosts that have been seen down there.

As we walk into one of the larger cellars, I am not quite sure why, but being towards the front I walk in to the cellar and go to the far end and place myself in the very left corner...just because I thought I felt most comfortable there. Just seemed to me I should be where else. I'm now looking back at everyone else arranged in a semi-circle facing me, with our guide against the centre of my end wall facing back at them. I'm on his extreme right.

Anyway, he starts telling us all about the 3 ghosts that inhabit the room. When he gets to the last ghost story he turns to point dramatically at my corner, directly at me, and says "And in this corner there is a cobbler!"

Well.....Jimshu? I am a custom shoemaker. Go figure....

"He's a nice guy. Older, slightly balding and he's looked at all your shoes you're wearing. And he likes you all being here" Sure, I'd sized everyone up by then. And I'm quite nice... well often.

I'm straight faced, reach out to my left and hug this 'ghost' standing next to me, my arm around thin air as if hugging a friend. My wife is cracking up. I don't let on that indeed there is a cobbler right in the spot he pointed to:  me...and my new found friend.

Then we get taken into a room for a wine in another underground cellar and everyone by now is scared and start telling of their past encounters with ghosts. Now normally that would be an entrĂ©e for me to get going, but strangely I shut up and kept quiet and never let on that indeed there was a cobbler standing in that corner. In fact there were 2!

So how did I know it was the right place for me to stand ? All I remember is thinking to myself I would feel most comfortable standing there. That was where I, as a cobbler, should be.

My wife meantime is rearing to get going and tell the guide that she did see the cobbler standing there. Well she certainly did!  She still wonders why I didn't let on that I was in fact a cobbler.

Perhaps it was between me and my cobbler mate to share in? It was our joke. A joke between two old cobblers, who are really nice guys...we wouldn't want to scare anyone now would we?.

(We aren't cobblers really, that's a shoe repairer - the term for we shoemakers is cordwainers but people commonly refer to us as cobblers.) 


Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Our kids.... baby elephants at the David Sheldrick Trust, Kenya

Our safaris in South Africa and brief wildlife volunteer experiences in Namibia have left us with a concern and deep sense of frustration over the future of wildlife in the African continent .There is a war against wildlife ( it's genocide on an ever increasing scale!)  being carried out by very organised poaching syndicates, fuelled by the rising demand for ivory, rhino horn, and even lion parts by Asian countries, principally China. National Geographic.photogalleries,elephants massacre

So, having a passion for wildlife , and particularly elephants after my desert elephant experience with EHRA in Aug 2008, I figured that there is one thing I can do that will help make a difference, and that is publicise their plight. And I could do this by taking any opportunity to bring worthwhile organisations to the public, hence I started this blog. We have a lifetime of travel experiences, and hopefully by telling our stories we could build a site that not only promotes conservation issues  but may earn a few dollars that we can donate back where it counts. And anyone else can also.

Have you ever thought about adopting a baby elephant?
The  David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust near Nairobi Kenya rescues baby elephant and rhino and releases them into controlled wild areas wherever possible. Explore the David Sheldrick link and read some of the heartbreaking stories of baby eles being found suckling on it's dead mother's teat after poachers have shot and killed her,chainsawing off her face to release the tusks! Don't shy away from reading the stories on that site, most are of dedicated people working wonders in their care for these beautiful creatures. This is one of the succesful organisations working against great odds, purely on our donated money at the coalface of wildlife protection.
Think about getting involved, a small donation may save another baby elephant or rhino.

We have adopted two so far. There will be others.
Here is our first baby- Turkwel on the left having a mud bath.
And here is Shukuru  (left) playing with friends.

 I'm copying an excerpt from a recent newsletter from the Sheldrick Trust so you can all read about the highs and the lows in the valuable work these people carry out.

"Nursery:- The loss of Mawenzi on the 8th was a devastating loss for us all, since she had been with us for almost 2 years and was a great Nursery favourite who will be missed sorely. Two other elephant rescues during the month also proved fruitless – the first a 2 year old from Sagalla Ranch abutting Tsavo who died the night after arrival despite being on life support. The trauma of losing his elephant family plus capture proved too much for this baby who, deprived of his mother’s milk, was already too damaged to be able to retrieve. Similarly another 2 year old orphan brought into Tassia Lodge died as the Rescue plane was taking off, so the rescue had to be aborted.

Good news is that Murka’s body wounds are all now healed and the spear hole in her forehead is also healing well, although she is still unable to take water up into the trunk, even though she uses her trunk to feed. Obviously the suction ability of the trunk has been compromised by the terrible damage inflicted by the spear, but we are hopeful that Nature will work its wonders in this respect. She is out and about with the other orphans now, delighted to be out of the confines of her stockade, and much to everyone’s relief, behaving impeccably at the noon mudbath in front of all the human visitors. Having been so fearful and aggressive, she is now beginning to trust and love the Keepers, actually coming up to them and sucking their fingers. She is turning into a gentle and loving little elephant. Mutara adores her, and is never far from her, always there to comfort and reassure with all the makings of a wonderful Matriarch when older. Likewise Kudup, who is a very caring and loving Nursery member.
Makireti and Kandecha, the other recent arrivals have settled in well, both firm friends of Murka, all three elephants still grieving for their lost elephant family. However, Kandecha is now beginning to respond to the challenges from pushy little Chemi Chemi who never tires of making his presence felt amongst all the others. Kandecha can now give him as good as he gets, and is even beginning to enjoy playing pushing games with Kibo which is a sign of mental recovery.
Sities remains the darling of all the Nursery females, and is a mischievous and endearing little character who reminds the Keepers of Lempaute and Wendi. Tano is her best friend amongst the Nursery babies and Suguta seems to have won the position of her favourite Matriarch over and above Olare. Sities entertains the mudbath guests by running up and down the cordon so that they can touch her, and relishes scaring the African school children, most of whom have never set eyes on an elephant before, and run off screaming when she puts out her ears and gives them a mock charge! Kalama likewise has developed a special trick to attract the attention of visiting foster-parents in the evening. She puts her front legs on top of the stable door and invites attention by looking out over the top, encouraging visitors to fondle her face. Shukuru gets the prize for being the best sprinter – way ahead of all the others at every milk feed!"

So our little Shukuru is top sprinter. It 's fun getting these newsletters, and reading about 'our' babies progress. I've had up close encounters with elephants and gained an admiration for these creatures. Probably the most intelligent, most family sociable and sensitive of all land mammals.

This post is just to aquaint my readers with why this site was set up. Keep tuned in, we'll talk about a lot of travel to weird and wonderful places, and we'll look at a few conservation issues along our journeys. And if you too want to adopt a baby ele or rhino, let me know.Or follow this link-Fostering at Sheldrick Wildlife Trust.




Friday, October 15, 2010

A missing photo!

There's a photo missing from our wall. Our wall, with 2 photo frames hanging there by the clock which tick tocks away waiting for something else to happen. It has happened twice before..another nail in the wall... well actually my Hitachi vibrating concrete drill yammers away,then another Rawlplug banged in, another screw inserted, then another photo frame hung. So there's two now....there should be 3,but one is missing...... Strange,we didn't notice the third was missing until the second frame was hung... Somehow the third becomes a loss to us now, it's not being there in the past wasn't too much of a problem, we thought about it sometimes but it had sunk to the rear of our consciousness, but hanging that second frame up... I guess we'll have to search for it now. It's not being there upsets the trio.... the troika.... the whole! It's not being there now unsettles us....I guess we'll have to go find it!

Each photo is of a woman and child. The woman is my wife. My wife radiates immense joy, giving, completely caught up in the moment , the total wholesomeness and rapture that only a woman can display when she's with a child.
Hey, it's a man writing this! I just don't have the words to describe everything that woman is feeling at the moment captured in those  photos!

India April 2006. Soon after Savitri was in tears.She was overwhelmed.

One of my treasured photos. Possibly the greatest photo in our collection. Well any photo of Kay is treasured.....but that is rather special. I don't know how many photo competitions I've wanted to enter it into... but I don't , because it's already won all the competitions I could think of ! And it's better than that, because it wins a competition every day I see it hanging on our wall, by the clock. And now there's another photo hanging beside it.
Each photo is a record of finally meeting the children we sponsor through Childfund . Sponsoring these children stimulated our interest in their lives and their countries and so we planned travels to visit and meet each. In 2006 we travelled back to India to meet with Savitri. Read about that here-Savitri
And last August we travelled to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to meet Hanna, and her family. And we'll be posting a blog about meeting Hanna shortly.
Here's the second photo-

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Aug 2010. Meeting Hanna.

Now that there are two photos hanging there, we were chatting today about the missing photo. You see it's not that we lost it, or it got had never been there because we haven't visited our third sponsored child ! But now we've visited Savitri in India, and Hanna in Ethiopia, I'd noticed there's one missing....  Cirilio, a bright young boy 6 hours drive southwest of Dili, Capital of Timor Leste.
Today while walking our dog we were chatting about visiting Hanna and how we'd visited Savitri, and I said to Kay, that there's something missing at home, a photo.
"I've been thinking the same thing !" Kay replied.
Looks like a trip to Timor Leste.......


World Blog Action Day! Water!

Water resources for many poor people can be improved if they get just a little financial assistance!
This was the greatest day of our travels, a story of a little child and her family, sponsored by us through Childfund,and how the village badly needed a water pump, and the magnificent work of the Sisters of Carmel in Charadharpur, Jharkhand State, India.
For this rather than write a new blog,I'd like to refer all readers to this post -
The village pump. as it highlights how just a little assistance can mean so much to farmers relying on the monsoon to grow a crop once a year. But with just one water pump they can crop all year around. That one water pump made a significant difference to so many.

BTW, There's a bit more to the story I'd like to add.
In discussions with Savitri's father,translated by Sister Bernadette, we were told how they had set up a village fund, and would charge each farmer for drawing irrigation water from the reservoir they had all created, and that money would go into the fund.It was hoped that over time this would create a small fund from which other village amenities would be paid for. Education, clean drinking water ,better sanitation perhaps.
So by our funding that water pump, perhaps we helped make a lot of other things possible for the village!
Start Petition


Thursday, October 14, 2010

More Flowers for my Lady Readers.

I promised flowers from Mongolia for a few lady readers I've been following...the blog following type of following that is to say.....
    Sorry but they're wildflowers, but in a way they're nicer because they cost a lot more to go get them!

Enjoy these lillys from the Steppes.
                                                 And some wild Thyme to go with them.

                           Wildflowers don't care where they grow..Thanks Dolly, great song!.

                          OOPS actually in Beijing, ah.... but what the heck , they won't miss a few!

                                   Yep! I give flowers to  all the ladies I meet along the way!

So enjoy the flowers and sit back and listen to the orchestra serenade you!


Monday, October 11, 2010

No Visa! No Enter!

"Why you not have Visa! This visa not good! No visa, no enter!" The Mongolian border guard officer yells at me. Our group were imprisoned in our compartment, a guard placed on our door. This was serious stuff! Images of perishing in some forgotten gulag in Siberia flashed through my imagination. Then jackbooted guards in their WW2 era uniforms tramped towards us down the corridor. We were to be escorted off. Somewhere....

You ever have that heart sinking feeling when your dreams seem to dissolve into custard?

We'd always wanted to visit Mongolia, that land of horses, and an ancient people that set massive forces moving across the vast steppes to the create the golden age of the Mongolian Empire, stretching right across Asia into Europe. We'd finally got here, to have those dreams this cute little Mongolian Border Guard, all 5' 3"of her, on her spiky 6" heels with the nicest legs...I was thinking "I hope she's going to be our prison guard." Imagine being tortured by her in those 6'' spikey heels.

Can't help notice the shoes. I am a custom shoe designer after all. Gives me a good excuse to look at women's shoes. And legs come out of them....

My wife and I were travelling the Trans-Mongolian Railway. Starting in Beijing, 8 of us had headed straight through to Irkutsk to meet up with the rest of our Friendship Force group who'd travelled across from St Petersburg. We thoroughly enjoyed Irkutsk, a city astride the Angara river that flows out of Lake Baikal in Russia's Siberia. A few days of glorious weather exploring Irkutsk is a must for any traveller on the Trans-Siberian. Lovely ancient wooden buildings drooping at odd angles with the constant movement of the freezing and unfreezing of the permafrost, which just added to their character. We'd both enjoyed the Museum of Wooden Architecture an hour's drive out of town, and long walks along the river in the evening people watching, the promenading locals or young couples courting as they enjoyed a few hours of Nature's beautiful but short summer.
Lystvyanka on the edge of Lake Baikal has always been a place that had drawn me to it. We loved it. Little dashas and wooden cottages. The smell of smoked omul, the local fish delicacy caught fresh from the lake and smoked on the side of the road. Long walks from our hotel to the town along the lakeside. Well, we had to enjoy it. Russian hotels have a problem with finding enough food for 25 guests who don't bother to book in for lunch or dinner, and Russian hotel staff don't bother to tell 25 guests that you need to book in! Clash of cultures for sure.

But now our complete group were to retrace our tracks back to Ulan Bator, capital of Mongolia. We had spent 2 days and nights travelling up from Beijing already, but heading back was going to be just as interesting, and that was the problem - our most knowledgeable travel agent had not applied for multiple entry visas! Our single entry visa had been stamped on the way through.

But we had enjoyed the ride so far. We had coped without showering for a few days and made do with ‘cat washing’ in the cramped bathroom at the end of each carriage. Sure, we had to wait until another passenger had washed their dishes or coffee cup, or even their undies in the wee basin, but we’d packed plenty of antiseptic tissues and hand wash.

We had tried out the dining car, but found most of the menu unavailable, and egg omelets get boring for anything but a survival situation. Cup-a-soup, or dried meals and coffee, mixed up with the plentiful supply of hot water from the samovar fired up at each end of every carriage at least filled the belly. Actually, we ate rather well. Packs of chippies, snack bars, biscuits, etc we had brought with us, and hunter gatherer forays at each station for local produce helped supply enough of a feast. We still remember the box of apricots bought for $3 at Erenhot, each with the sweet tang of of the way fruit used to taste from our childhood memories!

Bedding was provided and we took silk liners. The pocket knife I packed was great for making up our own meals. Our thermo mugs were invaluable, cutting down on the number of trips to the samovar.

We shared cabins with another couple of our group. Ear plugs are a necessity. Nothing worse than sharing a room with a snorer! But a 4 berth compartment is the way to go as you’ll get to meet other interesting travellers.

Do stay on the train when you get to Erenhot /Erlian on the Chinese/ Mongolian border. Here they change the bogies to match the width of the other country's track gauge. It’s an incredible exercise. Each carriage is separated then lifted up in the air by 4 huge hydraulic jacks and new bogies pulled through underneath, then the carriage is dropped slowly down upon them. It’s a massive undertaking when 24 carriages are suspended in the air all at once.

But all that was in the past and our immediate concern was actually getting back into Mongolia. Those grim unsmiling guards escorted us off the carriage. Our friends, unsure of our return, snapped away, keen to ensure photographic evidence of our disappearance!

Communist era official buildings are amazingly cold, stark and threatening when you don’t want to be in one. But we were the Friendship Force, come to make friends with Mongolians and aren’t they known for their hospitality and friendliness? But you’ve got to have the correct visa!

I’m sure we can work this out and soon be back-slapping each other. But not before lots of toll calls, right up to the Minister of Customs and Immigration. Another $50 for a new visa and we were out of there.


Somewhere $50 went missing in the exchange transaction. That sort of got them grumpy at us again. But then the note was revealed under the mound of forms that had been piled high after the massive rubber stamping ritual! Luckily. Apologies all round and we were out of there.

Passing by that cute wee border guard, I remark “I love your shoes, lady."  Not the right thing to say. Daggers glare at me. She straightens up sternly, as visions of her incarcerating and whipping me with those spikey heels on flash through my mind. “Oh dear,” I think. “Jim, you’ve really done it this time, you're in for a good thrashing!”

Then a beautiful smile beams across her face and she welcomes us all to Mongolia.

                                    Naadam Festival, Ulan Bator ,Mongolia.Held every  July 11-13.

The Trans-Mongolian is 1 of 3 alternative routes for the Trans-Siberian .
Which are-1 Moscow - Vladivostok,
                  2 Moscow - Beijing via Mongolia,
                  3 Moscow - Beijing via Manchuria. Or reverse Itinerary.

To find out where to book go here- You'll also find route maps and heaps of good info.Take your time to read the tips on what to do, and what to take.Almost everything you'll need to know is there.

If in Beijing, you can book here-the international train booking office on the ground floor of the Beijing International Hotel.

Many tour companies operate small group tours of the Trans-Siberian/Trans-Mongolian.These can be very good value for the traveller who wants less hassle of finding their way around.Here are a few-

Gap Adventures-
If booking Gap Adventures, click on their advert right side of this page.Any bookings you make initiated from that advert link will earn this site a few dollars which all go to adopting orphan elephants at the .Every dollar this site earns goes to aiding Wildlife in Africa.
2 baby elephants so far.

This post appeared here-The Englishman Times recently as my Guest Post contribution.Check out The Englishman for heaps of exciting stories and info!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Ethiopia- Picking my jaw up off the red clay dirt!

Sometimes you stumble upon a sight so absolutely breathtakingly stunning that time stands still, all your senses frozen, your chatter cut off in mid sentence, just unable to take it all in !
Ethiopia did that for me- more precisely the rock cut church of Beta Giorgis at Lalibella.

Sure we dream about going there, we see the photos in all the travel mags for Ethiopia, read up as much as we can devour in preparation for the trip, endure horrendously long and boring flights, sponge rubber njeera bread, upset tummys, and crummy hotels that haven’t seen a plumber since they were built, but suddenly you’re actually there. And nothing has prepared you for it. Nothing could. Stunning!

These churches were not constructed, they were excavated. Commenced around early 1200AD, popular legend has it that they were built with the aid of angels. Hard to believe these were built with only hammer and chisels. Built by King Lalibella, to create a city of worship to avoid that long arduous journey to Jerusalem, it's now a World Heritage site worthy of being called the 8th Wonder of the World!

That morning we explored Lalibella’s western cluster of rock cut churches, starting at the largest Beta Methane Alem, spoilt somewhat by the steel scaffolding roofing structure built to protect it from the elements. Cut out of one city sized block of red sandstone it has 36 pillars outside and 36 inside all hand cut from the same rock. Connected to it by tunnels and walkways is Bete Maryam possibly the oldest of the churches. We clambered through those tunnels, and climbed their steep stairways.

Being living churches of the Ethiopian Orthodox, which is part of the Coptic Christian Church headquartered in Alexandria, we were blessed with the rich sound of worshipper’s massed singing resonating from the churches and echoing through the hand hewn gorges and canyons. And when people are in worship, singing their hearts out, prostrating themselves then standing erect continuously, we tourists should stand back and give them space, and show some respect! Rather than those with the big cameras poking their long lenses into their faces....stand back and use the zoom for pete's sake. Gross!

We explored so many churches
(Lalibella has 14 in 3 main groups) that it was easy to lose track of just which one we were at any time. As we breasted yet another rise, chatting away to our guide, I glance over his shoulder....and I was stunned into silence! I couldn't believe what I was seeing. I was finally here, and it lived up to every expectation I held. It was just incredible to take in the serene beauty of Beta Giorgis, the last church carved out of the rock, and therefore the finest example of rock hewn art of that period. Beta Giorgis is the Church of St George, the very same from our well known legend of St George killing the dragon, and we saw many illustrations of that scene in almost all the churches we visited. Viewing this church last and later in the day meant the sun was full on to it, highlighting the brilliant orange and yellow of lichens covering the ancient reddish stone.
My wife has just read this and remarked how she too remembers that moment, and just like myself being so struck with the power of Beta Giorgis.

Travelling in Ethiopia is not easy, lacking a well developed tourism infrastructure. For the independent traveller, there is a huge network of buses serving the locals needs and if you have the time and the ingenuity to figure out how to use them, you'll get to most places...eventually. Can't count the number of buses we saw being repaired in the middle of the road.
Most travellers to Ethiopia will find it so much easier to hire a guide and 4wd or join an organised tour. You've many choices from international group adventure companies- Gap Adventures, Intrepid Travel, Explore, etc. Or get on the net and google up the many locally owned tour companies if you want a more tailored experience.
However you do it, Ethiopia will reveal it's depth of history, it's colourful culture and people, amazing scenery and it will completely surprise you.

We spent 1 week independantly in Addis Ababa  visiting a child we sponsor through Childfund NZ  ,then  travelled Ethiopia with Gap Adventures.

The above post, written by myself first appeared as a guest post  a travel site for all those looking for inspiration, excitement and adventure!
Check them out!
I have posted more photos here as they are just too good not to publish!
Thanks Kass for making me relive this experience!


Saturday, October 9, 2010


This is a very important guest post by Dr Clay Wilson, a Wildlife Veterinarian from Chobe Wildlife Rescue, Chobe, Botswana. Read about his amazing and valuable work here- Wildlife Rescue
Check out Clay's article on the "Wild Vet Weekly Diary" Page above.
This article is about Clay's efforts in protecting the Chobe River,from over fishing which is affecting the whole ecosystem of the river and the area. I, and many others are helping this work by small donations, and by publicising his work.

Dr Clay Wilson writes-
On Monday 04/10 after long weekend of Independence Day with the help of an officer from fisheries we organized a fish antipoaching exercise. We went to speak with immigration, the Police and the new BDF commander to organize representatives from each to accompany us on your mission

The Namibians on the Chobe River have been setting their nets all the way across the river for years now commencing on the Botswana side. This indiscriminate and illegal catching of fish has severely depleted the population with an untold effect on the aquatic ecosystem. The Namibians are then selling their fish in Kasane which has created a market for them.

On 04/10 after 5:30 myself and 4 plain clothed wildlife officers went up the river to do a recconesance. At that time we counted over 21 nets. The operation was on.

On 05/10 after treating a wounded lion in the park it was time to go.

AT 5 pm as preorganized we met at Lhea to commence operation.

My own personal boat and 2 boats from a private citizen met at agreed point. We all congregated at The BDF camp. The BDf supplied us with one more boat and 4 armed soldiers.

We had a brief meeting to discuss strategy and at 5:30 we were off.

Myself, 2 private citizens along with 4 BDF soldiers, 2 immigration officers, and 12 wildlife officers were off by boat. Two officers went by vehicle on land to Serondella to collect nets as we went along.

At 6:20 we were on scene. 5 Namibian fishermen were found on our side of the river actively setting up their nets and were arrested by each boat in turn. This is the time they are there once all boat traffic has left the park. We rendezvoused with vehicle at Serondella were we dropped off poachers and began coming down river to extract the nets that were strung right across the river. After much hard work we managed to confiscate 41 nets and quite a few fish that were already caught.

It took 3 hours to pull all the nets and then we met back at river crossing just above Chobe Game Lodge to unload nets on to vehicles.

We arrived back at the dock at 10:15 took the arrested poachers to the police station and everyone was thanked for an excellent job. No one was hurt and it went according to my plan and management.

It was a very successful and rewarding exercise. I’m sure the Namibians will not be putting their nets over on our side for some time to come.

I strongly suggest that regular BDF patrols are organized on a regular basis to patrol this area at night. The new BDF commander was in agreement with me and is keen to do this.

I’m sure the fish poaching is just as bad further upriver from Serondella to Ihaha but due to the fact that rocks in river bed would prevent boats going up past this point I suggest that the BDF above this point utilizes the airboat to patrol this section of the river.

Regular patrols will stop this activity along with banning fisherman to illegally sell their fish in our markets should give a chance for the river to replenish its fish population and normalize again. I strongly suggest we look into possibility of creating fish farming enclosures in part of the river not frequented by tourists and breeding and restocking fish populations to help the environment to recuperate.

This exercise is a perfect example of how all different departments can work in conjunction in a positive and constructive way for the benefit of the whole.

We cannot continue to deplete this valuable resource and not think about tomorrow. The difficulty is that there are 4 counties involved with different regulations and cultures.

Many of you have stated concern for my health. It is much appreciated but I am an old dog that has learned a few tricks. All I can say is that “ you can be like most people and you can live your life in the trenches and duck your head but for those of you that stand up you are going to be shot at”.

Be aware of your surroundings and follow your instincts, be careful and meticulous and wear a bullet proof vest ….. And learn to duck………quickly

Friday, October 8, 2010

Flowers to brighten your day.

Recently , (well, actually now that I think about it,) since we have been travelling I have found myself fascinated by flowers in countries we visit. I'm blessed with a life that allows us to travel frequently and taking an interest in plants, trees, and flowers really does enrich our enjoyment and what we absorb from our trips. Travel costs so much these days so I have the philosophy to stop,observe and absorb anything that unfolds and reveals itself to me as we wander. Open your eyes. Look around you. The most pleasurable sights for you may be the simplest of Natures treasures laying there for the traveller who seeks,observes and listens.
Here's a few photos of Natures treasures I have taken along many travels, that I personally think are just as worthy as the great tourist sites we all strive to get to. And yet the greatest pleasures may just be the natural wonders of this world some of us may see as we travel from one tourist site  to another.
If you click on the photo, you'll bring it up full size. Enjoy!

                                                       India 2006 Flowers at Orchna.
                                                        Flowering Furcrea at our house
                                 Croton hedge, Robert Louis Stevenson Museum, Apia, Samoa.2010.
                                                   Flowers, Mysore, India 2004.
                       Rangoli, geometric artwork outside houses in Pondicheri, India, 2006.
                          Kay, my life partner wreathed by fushia , Killikrankie forest walk, 2010
                                                 Pitlochry, Scotland, riverside walk 2010.
                                      The geometric symmetry of Ethiopia's mountain Aloes.

                                       The magnificence of tree Euphorbia,Ethiopia 2010.

                                                                     Ethiopia 2010.
Yeah alright I'll remember it soon and post where it was taken......
But gorgeous!
Same place.I spokewith the girl in the image.She's a volunteer gardener and looks after the living statue!Hire her if you ever get the chance!

 ditto place....
Grassmere, Lake District England 2010
Canal trip, Black Country Museum, Birmingham,2010

Lake Grassmere.

Luss, Loch Lomond 2010

                 The simple beauty of lichen on a gravestone at Cille Choiril, Glen Spean, Scotland.

                                                  Purple pageantry of Ethiopia 2010.

Don't fall off this cliff while gawping at the view ! Ethiopia 2010.
                                                    Acacia blossom, Ethiopia 2010
Butterfly, Ethiopia 2010

Flowers at Blue Nile waterfalls, Lake Tana , Ethiopia

                                        Lichen air plants Lambert's Bay, South Africa.
My favourite photo from South Africa/Namibia tour, Fish River Canyon 2010, 1 lone flower of the desert.

                                                 Cacti blossom, Solitair, Namibia 2010
                                                   Cacti blossom ,home potted plant 2009.

Enjoy all these images.They're just flowers and plants I've photographed along the way.Simple pleasures too many people miss while the rush from tourist site to another.Slow down, observe, there are jewels along the way right at your feet!