Friday, February 25, 2011

Christchurch Earthquake Feb 22nd. Resilience and Sharing.

Photo by Reuters

This morning when I awoke, I snuggled up to my wife Kay, and told her how pleased I was that we married.
"You're perfect for me. You're bossy."
"You're bossy too."
"You're more bossy that me."
"No, you are."
So it was I who made the tea and brought that to her, to share together in bed.

Then we started another round of phone calls.

We rang her sister in Christchurch, devastated by a second earthquake on Feb 22nd. We lay there, taking turns, saying little, just listening, letting her sister talk and get it off her chest. We heard about living in a house, with cracked and twisted walls, broken and uneven floors, liquefaction throughout the house, no power or water, cooking on a camping stove, having to clear up all the broken glass, washing in a bucket, peeing in a hole dug in the garden.

But today, at least she wasn't crying constantly.

Then we finally got a call from my younger sister, who I  have been able to know was OK through a Facebook contact with her daughter. I listened again as she got a lot off her chest. The terror of the quake. Taking shelter in a pantry doorway, being pelted with all the contents that leapt out at her to smash on the floor. How when it happened, her husband in his car had very nearly rolled over the cliff on the drive down the hill. The frightened dogs that had disappeared, for which they had searched, finally showing up at their door...with 4 others that had chummed up in a scared pack. All being taken in and fed until owners had been found. All my 6 sisters are like that, always loved and cared for animals.  The dream house they had been building over the past few years, cracked and twisted, probably needing to be demolished.

I could hear her sobs as we told each other "I love you" as we finally rang off.

Last night we rang our lifetime friends who live almost at the epi-centre, right on the side of the Heathcote Valley, in sight of the Lyttleton Tunnel. They're amazingly cheerful despite all the terror of being so close. T is just thankful the city shopping mall he was in at the time of the quake, did not collapse, and that all his family are well. His daughter's house is a write off, as if the first quake in September wasn't enough, livable only just...because there is nowhere else to go....

During each phone call, probably lasting some 30 minutes or more, we listened as Christchurch rumbled again and again...twice during every call! The aftershocks measured as high as 4.4 keep going on.

But I also listened to them describe the amazing coming together of their neighbourhood. Taking it upon themselves to check on elderly neighbours. Setting up 'Share' centres in some one's garage where any surplus of essential items you leave, and you may take what others have placed there that you need. Student volunteers turning up by the busload in a suburb and assisting anyone clear out their house. Loading their car up with neighbours containers and filling them at water dispensing centres. People coming in off the street offering to help clean out their house. Human kindness shining through, described to me over the phone.

I listened to them describe how resourceful they have had to become, despite the lack of sleep, and the deprivation of essential services. They're realising, and they're feeling proud of just how well they are beginning to adjust and cope. I listened as my sister-in-law remarked how resilient they have been. They're thankful no casualties were visited upon them or their families. They know other families are facing worse than they are. They're appreciating the offers of help they've had from friends,- cleaning up, food, money, or accommodation if they have to move out of  their shattered homes.

In times of disaster we have to concentrate on the neccessities of living from day to day. We are stripped of our need for what after all are the mere fripperies of our modern lifestyle. We are forced back to basics, relying on our skills to survive, to merely be able to cook a meal, or boil safe water over a camp burner. And we come together- neighbours we may never had much to do with suddenly become our best friends. Sharing whatever we can. Helping physically as well as emotionally.

So we ring our friends and family and just listen. They tell us it really helps.

We are sharing in our friends and families grief. There is hardly a minute when we are not thinking of them. So after another round of phone calls, we hug, and tell each other -
 "You're perfect for me. You're bossy."
"You're bossy too."
"You're more bossy that me."
"No, you are."....


How you can help.
A list of agencies to donate to is here-  earthquake-devastates-christchurch my earlier post, updated with new info.

Latest info-
145 confirmed dead.
200 plus people missing.
600 search and rescue staff  from NZ, New South Wales, Queensland, Japan,Taiwan and Singapore involved.
594 treated at emergency departments, while 1,000's have sought medical treatment.
600 general practitioners and nurses have volunteered their services.
22 people thought crushed under rubble in the iconic Christchurch Cathedral.
CTV building where up to 122 people are unaccounted for, including up to 90 international students at Kings Education language school which was in the building.
Christchurch's tallest building, the 26 storey Grand Chancellor Hotel is in danger of collapse, which will take down other buildings around it. This hampers rescue efforts nearby.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

{this moment} – A Friday ritual Fri 25th.

{this moment} – A Friday ritual. A single photo – no words – capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment.

A moment you want to pause, savor and remember.

“This Moment” is a ritual I found on Life inspired by the Wee Man adopted from SouleMama.

Photo by Getty Images


Travel Photo Thursday Feb 24th.

It's Travel Photo Thursday again and on Budget Travelers Sandbox Nancie has a great picture up for Travel Photo Thursday.  Check it out and follow the links to all the other bloggers posting up great travel photos as they join in also.
Since it's food and markets, I'll browse through our photos for something interesting. Be back soon to post it up!

OK. I found this - How to Deliver A Refrigerator in Vietnam.

Hanoi August 2001
Just tie it on the pillion seat of course!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Earthquake devastates Christchurch, New Zealand. Feb 22nd.

The 6.3 Richter earthquake that struck my home town of Christchurch, has caused much devastation and many lives lost.

The latest information is being posted regularly here-
Images you find here- the-latest-pictures-from-the-christchurch-earthquake/

At least 65 dead, others feared trapped or dead in collapsed buildings. People are leaving the city to stay with friends or relatives in other cities or towns. Full extent of missing and injured is not known. Many have had homes trashed, businesses ruined, or jobs lost. Army personnel are deployed, and specialist rescue teams are flying in from Australia, Japan , USA, and Britain.

The rescue work is dangerous as other tall buildings are in danger of collapse.

We have a lot of friends and family affected by this. Thankfully no casualties, but homes are trashed, and jobs affected. The ongoing effects of this upon their lives, already severely stressed throughout the after shocks of the September quake, will last months if not years.

I've prepared a list of agencies where you can assist by donating.

I am amazed at the great camaraderie that exists within the travel blogger fraternity, a true brother/sisterhood of amazing people I have had the joy of becoming part of over the past year. I know that you will all pass on, copy, or spread this post throughout your networks to assist in disaster relief fund raising.

We are personally donating $500 to this appeal.

Where to make a donation-

New Zealand Red Cross Canterbury

The Salvation Army

Global Volunteer Network

Street appeal at The Auckland University Students Association outside its Student Union Building .

These banks are collecting donations.
Any branch of ANZ Bank, - canterbury-earthquake-information/donation-information/

Any branch of National Bank,- canterburyearthquake/donations

Any Westpac branch is collecting for The Salvation Army. nz-earthquake-appeal
And here- earthquake

Any Kiwibank branch -
And let's not forget all the missing and terrified family pets- appeal

Only trained emergency personel are required at this stage.
Keep checking  here - Habitat For Humanity will probably organise house building or repair teams later on. This organisation has been instrumental in several disaster rebuilding volunteer projects around the world.

Beware of scam emails. Check out the legitimacy of New Zealand charities here-

Or let me know and I'll check them out.
Thanks everyone.  Please share this. Thanks.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Coffee Group meeting : Ethiopia Coffee Reminiscences.

Hiya everyone. I've invited everyone along to my blog today, to join me in a cup of coffee, and have a poetry reading while we partake. I was hoping to upload a video of myself reading my latest poetry effort, an undertaking that has taken up a lot of my creative time. But the mystery of this new technology has confounded me, so I will just have to post up the poem, and you can read at your leisure. My apologies.

Shoes have not been cobbled, the customers are ringing, and my wife has been wondering why the till is so bare. Business has taken a severe downturn while I perfect the art of composing a wee bit of prose. This has taken many hours of writing, re-writing, and re-writing..... But I struggled on, and crafted the following.

Coffee Reminiscences attempts to contrast our quick fix serve of coffee against the long, and drawn out affair in Ethiopia, ( the primary home of the coffee plant - Coffee Arabica,) where the serving of coffee is a ceremony undertaken with care and reverence to honour you as a guest.
You are my guests.
So remove your shoes at the door, go pour a cup, kick back and relax while we read some poetry.

This portrays my early wander to work each morning, with my dog, across our city centre car park where the aroma of coffee from Davie's Coffee Trailer  permeates the air. I resist the temptation, then stroll through the railway pedestrian underpass, glancing at the commuters who are enjoying a brew from the servery on the platform, and head over to my workshop where I make my own from coffee we brought back from Ethiopia.

I have been asked to speak at our local fund raising event for a Hospice, a project we both wholeheartedly support. I will be reading the following to up to 500 persons attending. So I'm practising on you, my honoured guests here.
Click on any photo for full size.
The car park with Davies' Coffee Trailer on the left.
Chill early morning, car park bare
Upon the air aromas
Drawing in, my nostrils flare.
The patient quad of customers
Await at Davies’ coffee trailer.

Railway platform, passengers gripping
Their hole in the wall quick fix.
Cubicle commuter tripping
Waiting for the 8.06.
Do memories come with each serving?

                     Savouring silky souvenir brew               
Mind wanders with aroma.
Cobbler’s last recedes from view
Sits woman near her burner.
Abyssinia, I feel anew.

No hurried serve; to honour bestow
Beans lovingly care roasted
Woman tends her brazier glow
Nor burnt, just lightly toasted
Steeped and served to cure your woe.

   The legend says a goat that pranced
And piquing shepherds ire
Taking beans from bush discovered
Was forbidden, cast on fire
Nature, the boy and monk rewarded.

This goat has been chewing coffee beans obviously....

Now nutty brew I slowly savour
Invigorating brain
Caffeine fix morning starter
I smuggled off the plane.
God please forgive this coffee craver.

So now as you rush for your cubicle
And grab another quick fix brew
Consider just how wonderful
Coffee Arabica’s history
Comes free with every mouthful.

Traditional coffee pots at Timbati Market


Friday, February 18, 2011

Coffee Group Invitation To All Friends And Followers.

All friends and followers are invited to a coffee meeting on this site on Sunday 20th February.

To RSVP please leave your attendance/ non- attendance note in the comments of this post. Don't be shy, but come along, post your comment telling me you'll be attending. You can then trot along here anytime from Sunday onwards, take a seat, I'll pour you a great cup of percolated coffee, and then I will entertain you.
Yes, there will be entertainment posted on this blog post on Sunday. I'm not going to tell you what it is yet, but I have been working on it for some few weeks, brewing it, letting it simmer, boiling it again, getting it to the peak of its perfection. And on Sunday I will bring it forth and you will be entertained.

All you have to do now, is register your attendance/non-attendance by posting yes/no in the comments at the end of this post, and swing by anytime again after Sunday. Don't let me down please. I'm trying out something new here by asking you to comment first, then I'll post up the entertainment.
How's that just for fun. But coffee will be served, your imagination will be titillated ( how I love that word ) and I will reveal my latest.

So place your comments now please.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

This moment- – A Friday ritual. A single photo – no words ....Feb 18.

this moment} – A Friday ritual. A single photo – no words – capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment.

A moment you want to pause, savor and remember.

“This Moment” is a ritual I found on Life inspired by the Wee Man adopted from SouleMama.
Here's my moment- 


Travel Photo Thursday : Feb 17 . Temples of Orchha, India.

On Budget Travelers Sandbox Nancie has a great picture up for Travel Photo Thursday.
"Myung Mai Market here in Chiang Mai. We were standing and admiring the beautiful light being cast through this umbrella when this shadow appeared and a wonderful photo opportunity presented itself."

Go and have a look at the photo, and like me you may be fascinated by how the light at a certain time of day, or the angle, or as it shines through fabric can create an unbelievable effect.

So here is a favourite photo from our India travel in 2006, taken on my old Sony Cybershot, at about 2 megapixels. I was following the group as we clambered along the riverbed in Orchha, across from the Orchha Resort Hotel where we stayed. Late in the evening, with the sun getting very low. As we walked, I could see this fascinating low backlighting become more pronounced behind the temples, so I waited until the last of our group were well in front then took the shot.
Low light photography can be difficult but sometimes reveal great treasures.
Check out the other linked Travel Photo Thursday sites for some more interesting travel photos.

Chhatris on the banks of the Betwa River by Jim McIntosh.

I think this has a ''Hobbit'' or Lord of the Rings feel about it.

We found this guy sitting on a rock later on.


Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Ethiopia: The Highway of Life. A few photos along the road.

In Ethiopia, life is carried out along the highways. Here's a few interesting pics. Just double clink upon them and you'll bring them up full size. Enjoy!

The drive from Addis Ababa. Green hills and farms everywhere.

A lot of construction in various stages of slowly happening, sometime.

Industry along the roadside.

Shops and markets spill out beyond the pavement.

The local taxi.

Donkeys carrying grain to market.
Camel traffic jam.

Keep out of the way of these horny beasts!

Even a few busted up tanks around.

Carrying the household fuel is an early morning task.

The donkeys seem to be overloaded.

Off to market, but time for a quickie....

Now that's a lot of camel butt!


Saturday, February 12, 2011

Wild Bush Vet : Stalking Lions at Pandamatenga.

This is an update guest post by Dr Clay Wilson, a bush veterinarian based near Kasane in Botswana.The purpose of stalking the lions, is to dart them, so they can then be relocated to an area away from farmer's cattle. Farmers shoot the lion, or may lace a carcass with poison to kill lions preying on their cattle. That is a very indiscriminate way of solving the problem, as the poison will also kill any other animal, such as hyenas, cerval, or vultures. To lessen the impact on wildlife, Dr Clay Wilson recounts his story of trying to dart the lions that have been getting at the cattle, so he can then transfer them to a wilderness area.

Stalking Lions at Pandamatenga, and Canine Distemper Virus Vacination fundraising campaign.

Lions attacking farm cattle.
I promised an update and pictures but unfortunately, all the action was at night and I was unsuccessful in my attempts. There has been a pride of lions attacking cattle in the farm community of Pandamatenga. Unfortunately communication was not established in time and a farmer shot and killed an adult lioness. The next day I was on scene. Walking though the bush of the farm we found many fresh lion tracks to confirm they were in the area. We also found 3 snares that had been set up along game paths. This really gets my blood boiling. What a horrible death for the poor unfortunate. A cow of the farmer had died acutely, I believe of some plant toxin, so we were able to drag the carcass behind my vehicle to put out fresh scent to attract the misfits.

Expensive operation.
During this process I got stuck in the mud 5 times, broke my brand new winch which I purchased to replace the last one that burned out pulling over a darted elephant. Also a cut through the sidewall. So far the bill for this expedition is P8000.00 for winch and P2200.00 for new tire and P600.00 of fuel. At dark after a dinner of sandwiches and drinks I provided for the wardens, I had with me P340.00, we were off to set ourselves up. It had just become dark and as we drove down the road out, the culprits ran in front of us. They were already in the cattle enclosure at that time. 5 wardens squeezed into the back of the car, one in front and myself. Between the wires for spotlight with red filter, predator calls and dart gun I could hardly move.

The predator calls from our loudspeaker, wailed out various different frequencies, including a Buffalo calf in distress, the sounds of Hyenas fighting over a kill, and lions roaring to announce their territory. Our field of view was very limited as the bush was very thick, and we could only see 30 meters. I hear a noise in front and on goes the red spotlight. A fully grown lioness was through the bush 20 meters away and coming in. At this time, I mixed up the tranquilizing drug ( P 780.00) into a dart ( P 250.00) in preparation to dart her. Once the solution has been mixed its only effective for 3 days. Gun out the window awaiting her to come to the bait. Another set of eyes also running towards us at full bore. A large hyena runs in attracted by calls, and there is a sudden and violent but short fight. These are legendary enemies. There goes that opportunity.

30 minutes later another set of eyes. On with the spotlight. Here come the 2 young lions running towards us. As soon as the light goes on they disappear. They have been shot at and chased before, and every night others spotlight them and shoot up flares in an attempt to scare them in. Cages have been set with bait, but these lions are smarter than most as they have learned the ways of man.

I instructed the farmer to hang the bait in a tree and call me when the lions hit it. We head home in early hours of morning. One and half hour drive. Many elephants on the road feeding and crossing so we need to proceed cautiously. It’s amazing how such a large creature is not visible, especially if he’s walking down the road with his back to you.

A very uncomfortable night.
The next day I receive a call the lions are on the bait. Once more I head out and this time I need to change my tactics. Unfortunately, I had loaned out my night vision scope to an anti- poaching unit and have not received it back yet. Sitting alone 20 meters from the bait with only a branch to cover me, and having spread carcass contents on my clothes to mask my scent, I felt very vulnerable. The plan was to hear the lions feed on the bait then dart them without any benefit of light. Fortunately there was a sliver of moonlight so I could make out outlines. I did not expect the mosquito population, and had not brought spray as the lions would have smelled me. It was extremely uncomfortable, and miserable for the 3 hours I sat there. Wardens were waiting at camp ready to load the lions in to cages we had brought with us to relocate them. The lions never showed up. To this date they have not come back. I guess they knew there was a new sheriff in town. I wish them well and hope they change their appetite from cattle to wild game.

Not such a dramatic story, but it gives one an idea of what I deal with and the expenses involved. I don’t even want to add those up. Now I am busy organizing the vaccination campaign. Thanks to donations I will be able to pay for these and execute the inoculations in 4 days. Lots of work to do there, but it is essential for prevention of virus spread. I’m sure I will be able to post pictures of wild dogs attempting to savage my hand.

Canine Distemper Virus Vacination fundraising campaign.

Last year we had an outbreak of Canine Distemper Virus in domesticated and feral dogs of Kasane, Botswana. In 4 years of service to the community I had not seen one case of this explosively deadly disease. I negotiated with relevant authorities for 9 weeks to try and get some support to vaccinate domestic dogs.
The main issue for me was that this is extremely contagious to the wildlife predator population.
Lions, Cape (painted) Wild Dogs, Hyenas, Jackals and Leopards are susceptible to this virus. In the interim during the negotiation, 3 cases in infection resulted in over 100 dogs that were affected and died. These corpses were thrown into the bush were hyenas scavenge every night, they subsequently got infected and took the virus to lions and other predators. Since sick animals go off to die it’s almost impossible to prove, as no carcasses were ever found or looked for. Kasane is a unique ecosystem in that here we live in direct contact with wildlife. There are no fences or boundaries to separate us. It of course means a lot of human wildlife conflict, but not a subject for this current concern.
 A fact is that this last past dry winter when the ONLY water source is the Chobe River and ALL animals have to come daily to drink, the predators live by the river. Prey at this time is easy to catch and there is no reason for the lions and other predators to leave the waterfront. For the first time in over 30 years I have been visiting Chobe, there were 4 months, where no lions were seen at the waterfront. To my mind the only reason for that was they died of distemper.
I am currently applying for grants and have full backing from the Parks department to research what lion logistics are in this area. This will include satellite collar monitoring and full blood work for presence of antibodies to various diseases. I know in my heart that they will be positive for distemper exposure. In the interim 2 new prides of lions have moved in to Chobe probably migrating form Savuti or even Zimbabwe. My PRIMARY concern is that I have to take immediate action and vaccinate all dogs in this community, as I did last year.
TIME is of the essence as I need to purchase vaccines from South Africa, and coordinate with all proper authorities to execute this vaccination. Dogs will be vaccinated with 5- in- one and also Rabies and dewormed. Tattoos will be placed in their ear to identify them for That was about $10 000.00 but that included blood works and all kinds of other expenses. I think I can get it done for about $5.00 /dog at an estimated cost of $5000.00

PLEASE THIS IS A SERIOUS ISSUE THAT CAN NOT WAIT TO BE EXECUTED. PLEASE DONATE WHAT YOU CAN SO I CAN GET THIS DONE. I HAVE NO OTHER SOURCE OF INCOME AT THE MOMENT AND NEED YOUR HELP. You can donate through my website or if you like, email me, and I will send you bank account numbers in USA and in Botswana to enable you to make a direct transfer. Let’s save suffering in hundreds of dogs and improve their quality of life and let’s prevent the spread into the wildlife population.

Donations may be made by Credit Card or PayPal here-Chobe Wildlife Rescue donation page

My Life…as a wild bush vet.

Dr Clay Wilson- Chobe Wildlife Rescue.

I have made donations before. Just recently I won a prize on Passports With Purpose recent fundraiser, and Ben and Carrie from purchased this for $200 which has been donated direct to CWR.
Thanks, Ben and Carrie.

All photos in this post by Dr Clay Wilson. Use on this site only.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Friday Moment : Feb 11.

A single photo – no words – capturing a moment from the week .. some time ago.

A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember....


Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Travel Photo Thursday Feb 10 : Here Be Dragons!

It's Travel Photo Thursday again so at budget travelers Nancie is still in Chang Mai, Thailand and posted up a really brilliant dragon photo.
So I'm a fan of shooting dragons too- the camera shooting style. Whenever I see a dragon I love taking photos of them.  They bring good luck!

This dragon was captured at The Summer Palace, Beijing, when we travelled through China and Mongolia in 2008. Started in 1750 the huge complex was destroyed by Anglo- French forces in 1880, but rebuilding commenced in 1888. It has been carefully restored.
It is one of the premier attractions in Beijing, where you can see the Marble boat (not really marble but painted to look as marble) and stroll through the beautiful gardens, enjoying wonderful views across the lake.

Click on any photo to bring them up full size.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

God Is Watching Over Us.

   On MatadorU travel writer forum, we've been discussing poetry. As an assignment, I submitted  "Song of the Tui"  and it was well accepted, promoting a discussion about how few travel writers are giving poetry a go. Now I did not set out to write poetry. Far from it. But I have come to the conclusion that often poetry can convey ideas, images and impressions where a narrative can be lacking, or without appropriate feeling. I guess the essence of what I'm saying is that poetry conveys 'soul'. So I'm re-publishing this poem I wrote when I started this blog. It means a lot to me, as it sums up a very personal experience at N/a'an Kuse' wildlife sanctuary in July 2009, where Kay and I met our daughters Emma and Elissa for 2 weeks as volunteers.
The animals written about are real; their stories related here are true.

 My trip review of Namibian Wildlife Sanctuary, N/a'an Kuse'.

I was wandering,
I was wandering alone
longing for roots of my own.
There was no place,
no place where I could roam.
Is there no one could give me a home?

N/a'an Kuse', N/a'an Kuse'.

I was shaking,
I was shaking with fear,
caught in this poacher's wire snare.
I was screaming,
I was screaming out in despair.
Is there no one, no one to hear?

N/a'an Kuse', N/a'an Kuse'
God is watching over us.

I was praying,
I was praying today,
please keep all my children safe.
For taking that calf for my family,
My life's forfeit, we're just vermin anyway.

N/a'an Kuse', N/a'an kuse'.
God is watching over
God is watching over us
Namibian Wildlife Sanctuary.

                             N/A’AN KU SÊ is San or Bushman for "God is watching over us."

First verse is written from the perspective of lions who cannot return to Etosha as the park reckons they (5 ) will upset pride dynamics in the park. These orphans, now fully grown, are living in huge enclosures at Na'an Kuse, as an alternative to them being shot. Why is there no room in the wild for them?

Second verse is for Big Mama, a baboon. She had already lost a foot in a poacher's wire snare. When she came to the Sanctuary, Big Mama had another snare partially embedded in her flesh around her belly. Soon after she arrived, she gave birth. Now Big Mama is undisputed boss of all 17 baboons. She's an amazing creature.

Third verse reflects the feelings of a cheetah mother, whose 4 cubs were caught in a farmer's trap. He incarcerated them in a pit under the trap, for 4 days hoping to lure her back in to kill her. When 1 died of pneumonia, he relented, rang the sanctuary and they came into their care. But mother cheetah had to abandon her cubs, or be shot!

Hope you guys like it. First poem I have ever written.

Sorry about no pictures of Big Mama, the baboon. We were too scared to even point a camera her way!
But a beautiful animal, completely in control of the baboon troop. And easy with us, as long as we didn't mess her around. She's an awesome creature, and I grew to admire her.

N/A’AN KU SÊ is Bushman for "God is watching over us."



Friday, February 4, 2011

This moment- – A Friday ritual. A single photo – no words ....Fri 4th Feb

My Moment-{this moment} – A Friday ritual. A photo – no words – capturing a moment. A simple, special, extraordinary moment.

A moment you want to pause, savour and remember.

“This Moment” is a ritual found on Life inspired by the Wee Man adopted from SouleMama which was introduced to me by Sarah-Jane

And can't resist this photo from inside as we fought off the triffids trying to get in the window-

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Getting the Crap Beat Out of You in Thailand: Muay Thai Training Camp.

Guest Post.
This week it is my pleasure to introduce my daughter Elissa, as my guest poster. Elissa is a woman that knows how to look after herself. She's not going to let anyone push her around, and here she tells of almost biting off more than she could chew, but she rose to the challenge and has gone on to competition Muay Thai bouts at home. I think it's marvellous that this sport encourages young women to gain a skill that gives them inner confidence and self esteem.
Needless to say, I don't argue with her anymore....

Arrival. By Elissa McIntosh.

My first moment of arriving at the Muay Thai training camp, Eminent Air Gym, Bangchak, Bangkok, is still vivid in my mind. After many long hours on the plane from Wellington, NZ, I was weary and the heat and humidity was almost unbearable. It was 32 degrees, mid-afternoon, and when we arrived at the gym, the Thai’s were in the middle of their second training session for the day. I don’t think there is anything more intimidating than watching an experienced Muay Thai fighter shadow spa. Muay Thai, like traditional kickboxing, combines kicks and punches, but also uses knees and elbows. To the untrained eye, it may look like a brawl, but for one who knows Muay Thai it is awe-inspiring – all technique and skill. It’s very graceful, almost like dancing, and it takes years to perfect.

We watched this young Thai fighter kick the heavy, leather bag. The way he swung his leg in a roundhouse kick was like a baseball bat – WHACK!! The perfect combination of power, speed, timing and technique. I stood there and wondered to myself – what the hell have I got myself into? My travel partner and I had been studying Muay Thai for about a year, but we both felt completely humbled  watching the Thai’s train that first day. They were a lot fitter and looked a hell of a lot tougher than us, and I had my doubts as to whether we would be able to keep up with them. I started to wonder if I should’ve just headed to Khao San Road and the coco bars instead. Right now I could be drinking cheap cocktails on one of the many beautiful islands…..instead of facing getting my head kicked in!

New type of traveller.
We were part of a new type of traveller heading to Thailand in their droves; bypassing Khao San Road and a drunken fight at full moon parties, and instead heading straight to a fight at a gym. A Muay Thai Gym. The success of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) has seen a huge resurgence in interest in mixed martial arts (MMA), and it is now the fastest growing sport in the world. Muay Thai is a crucial part of MMA, and if one wants to know Muay Thai – there is no better place to study than its birth place – Thailand.

Muay Thai is Thailand’s national sport. It’s everywhere. There are stadiums all throughout Bangkok and a wealth of gyms to choose from. Some gyms will teach you all elements of MMA, but most will focus solely on Muay Thai. But be mindful - not all gyms have Thai trainers. Because of Muay Thai’s global popularity, many foreigners now teach in Thailand. Personally, I wanted to learn from a Thai, as they start training the moment they can walk. If you want to be good at something, you need to learn from the best.

So I chose Eminent Air Gym, Bangkok. It had a reputation for being an authentic Muay Thai gym with all Thai trainers.

On that first hot afternoon, we were introduced to the owner of the gym, Mr Song Boon, and handed complimentary ice cold cokes. Mr Song Boon tried to make us feel very welcome and soon we started to relax a bit. He introduced us to the trainers, and their families, who also lived at the gym. We were introduced to the handful of foreigners who were training. They were from all over the world, including the USA, Germany, Italy, and England. All were male, but there was one woman, Melissa, from the UK. Melissa had been training in Thailand for over 3 years. We later learned that she was a champion, and had fought many respected Thai fighters. Melissa had also fought on the Queens Birthday, which is a huge honour in Thailand.

Mr Song Boon was very eccentric, but so warm and reassuring – it was soon obvious we would be doted on and taken care of. Mr Song Boon also owns a pool club and a couple of race horses, so there is always plenty to do on the day off (Sundays). Our accommodation was a small, but comfortable cabin a few short metres from the boxing ring. This ensured we were constantly battered with the sounds of the Thai’s training – something which is quite hard to describe. The Thais are completely uninhibited when training, and let loose the strangest growls and blood curdling screams whenever they strike the bags. Inside our room, we had 2 air conditioning units, 2 standalone fans, and 2 ceiling fans. Also, 2 fridges. We were provided with clean towels and room cleaning service daily.

Daily training.
Training commenced at 6.30am each day. We had purchased a package of accommodation, training and food, which meant that our meals arrived promptly at 10am and 5pm. The food was fantastic – traditional Thai food, and always more than enough to go around. The Thai’s had obviously learnt that us foreigners were big eaters, because we never managed to eat all of the food that was put in front of us.

My first training session well. Nervous, I tried to eat as much for breakfast in order to keep my energy up for the day. There is a shopping centre 10 minutes walk from the gym, with everything, including groceries, takeaways, and a pharmacy. We had been there the night before and purchased cereal and yoghurt. The Thai’s usually just roll out of bed and start training on an empty stomach, but I wouldn’t recommend this, especially if you are not used to it.

At 6.30am, the alarm sounded and suddenly the gym sprang into life. It was already very hot outside, but we were eager to prove that we could handle the training. Each morning started with a 6km run, up down the street, dodging stray dogs – some friendly, some not. The morning run is, apparently, optional. But, if you want to train with the Thais and gain some respect, you have to get up and run – every morning. This, as you can imagine, gets harder and harder as your training progresses and the injuries start to accumulate. Melissa advised that a certain Thai trainer had absolutely no time whatsoever for those who didn’t get up and run. Especially foreigners. So we ran. Every morning. No matter how sore and tired we felt.

After that first morning run, we went back to the gym and I had to change my clothes. The heat was so intense, I could literally wring the sweat out of my singlet. That’s why it is essential that one brings powdered rehydration drinks with them – take these during and after training. Also bring plenty of changes of clothes – shorts, singlets, and a good pair of running shoes.An ipod for those 6kms morning and afternoon runs is essential too. A first aid kit is also essential: on our first day, I accidently gave my sparring partner a black eye, so an ice pack is handy. Bring loads of deepheat – you will need it...and plasters....

Then after the run, it was weight training. We did this every second morning, with the other mornings filled with rounds on the Thai pads with trainers. A round of training on the Thai Pads is intensive hard work and a real cardio workout. So weight training is seen as somewhat of a reprieve. We were shown how to do each weight exercise by a Thai trainer who spoke very little English, but was very enthusiastic and attentive. We soon picked up the gist (idea) and were even complemented by the Thais – apparently we were “strong girls”, as interpreted by Melissa.

Completing the weight training, we were delivered fresh tea and coffee. We were told to take a rest, and that the next training session would start at 3pm – which was a relief, because it was apparent that the temperature would get up into the mid 30’s during the afternoon.

Siesta from midday. This would be our routine for the next two weeks: run, train, eat, sleep, run, train, eat sleep..... It’s really too hot during the afternoon to do anything other than sleep and because the training is so intense, you really don’t feel like doing anything else.

After my nap, I was introduced to my trainer. He turned out to be a real character. The first few rounds on the Thai pads, every time I would kick or punch, he would fall backward onto the canvass as if I had knocked him out. It was hysterical! And in between rounds, he would often clinch me, and throw me around the ring. I soon learnt to hold onto him so that we both came crashing down together, careful that I landed on top – this bought cheers from the other Thai trainers. In the Muay Thai clinch, the fighter who ends up on top, often scores the point with the judges! That is what I love about training with the Thais – they make it fun!

We did six rounds on the Thai pads, after which I was shattered, but feeling exhilarated. I had proven that I could train as hard as the Thai’s... well, nearly. After my six rounds, I was ready to call it a day. “You –the bag!” my trainer tells me. So I spent another 3 rounds punching and kicking the leather bags. The leather bags in Thailand are extremely tough compared to your standard gym bags. After that first session, my shins were so bruised I thought I would never be able to kick another bag ever again. My trainer saw me rubbing and cursing the bruises; and although he couldn’t speak much English, he quickly managed to communicate to me that I needed to harden up. I was not to show pain or fear on my face – a good lesson, but a hard one to practice. I limped off to my cabin and smothered my shins in deepheat. Months later, when I finally did step into the ring for my first Muay Thai fight, I recalled this lesson. Your opponent will take advantage if you are looking tired, and will certainly try and end the fight if you are in pain. That’s not to say the Thais don’t look after you – they do. For example, when it got up to 36 degrees one afternoon, they were constantly reminding us to put sunscreen on. They even suggested we run on the treadmills in the shade, as opposed to the street, to keep out of the midday sun.

At night, I hobbled to bed and was lulled to sleep by the sounds of the Thai family next door as they prepared their evening meal. There is always a lot going on at the gym and the gym has a welcoming family vibe to it. I fell asleep listening to the sounds of the Thais singing their hearts out along to MTV – something that they did each night, and would make me giggle. To this day, I miss hearing them sing at night. There are also a myriad of animals that live at the gym (Mr Song Boon’s wife loves animals). There is a beautiful rainbow lorikeet named Tee Gar, which just loves people. I miss waking up to him throwing his toys around his cage and demanding attention.

On your day off, Sunday, there is a wealth of things to choose to do. You can join Mr Song Boon in his pool club, or at the races. You can explore the markets, or take a taxi into Bangkok and spend the night in a luxury hotel. We chose to do the latter, and managed to find a great Thai Massage for just $20NZ an hour. This is complete bliss and a real reward after hard training. We also went to Lumpini Stadium, an absolute MUST for Muay Thai fans. One of our trainers was competing that night and so it was a real honour to see him fight, and win, in front of such a massive audience. Lumpini fighters are the best in the country.

After two weeks of training, my shins had actually toughened up, and I no longer bruised after kicking the Thai bags. And I am proud to say, that I got up and ran every single morning. And every day my trainer taught me something new. Whether it be a new technique; defence move; counter attack; or simply how to pay attention when in a fight (my trainer would suddenly say “LOOK!” and point over my shoulder. Naturally, I would look and then he would slap me around the ears. I soon learnt to never take my eyes off my opponent). We went over and over the same combinations everyday, and soon enough they became like second nature. As my technique improved, my trainer would praise me with a resounding “OOOWAYY!!”. I loved hearing that after each time I nailed a roundhouse kick OOWAAAY!!!!...... OOWAAAYY!!!

Great Sport.
I love this sport – it’s so challenging. I don’t know any other sport that pushes you so hard and, when you compete, where there is so much at stake. Yet it is so much fun to train and I can understand how for some people it is a way of life. It teaches you to be strong – mentally and physicaly. My trainer taught me many valuable lessons, including do not show your fear or pain in your face, never give up or back down, and always have complete faith in yourself. You are completely alone in the ring; you must have complete confidence in your ability. If you let doubt creep in, even an inch, then you will fail. That is why you need great trainers; they will teach give you the tools to face your opponent without any fear. I would highly recommend Eminent Air Gym. The Thai trainers are very skilled and although not all of them speak English, they are all friendly and enthusiastic about teaching foreigners. They make training fun and they cater for anyone from beginners to professionals. The accommodation and meals were fantastic, and the amenities – including a shopping centre, are all close by. There is also free internet access at the gym.
Another dedication to Bonnie. She may realise, I hope she does find her own inner strength.


Travel Photo Thursday Feb 3rd

Over at it's Travel Photo Thursday so here is our photo that helps illustrate a great time on our travels. This time it's kids-

Taken at the kindergarten in Anixab, Damaraland, east of Brandberg Mountain, Namibia. The kidergarten has been adopted by EHRA, Elephant-Human Relations Aid. I'll take some gear over for them in May.

This is the kindergarten, a drab, dingy block hut until the EHRA volunteers painted it up.