Friday, 19 February 2010

That small world again

When we went to Nepal, KL spotted someone she knew on the plane. She had taught his son. They got talking and he shared with us that he was heading to Pokhara to the house he was building. We met up again last night and he shared his visions or his house and it's location. Amazingly enough the walk that I did to Sarangkot went right past his house. The photos on his blog are of the terrain I walked though.

His house has the best view I could ever imagine, I remember thinking this as I strolled on by, I suspect he was actually home at the time and could have offered me a much needed cuppa. KL and I are quite keen to go and visit. She was hoping to go to Nepal next weekend but apparently it's not a long one as we had hoped. I was planning a trip to Egypt, once again I'll have to wait. I will get there one day soon.

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Pineapple Lumps



Pineapple Lumps are a New Zealand delicacy. These truly remarkable pieces of sunshine wrapped in chocolate have to be tasted to be believed. I always bring some back with me as gifts and to keep me going when I need a sweet as taste of New Zealand.

This time I brought 6 bags back. Opps not enough. I took a bag to work, they proved popular. I gave bags to several friends and now I have a dilemma. While some of my friends have shared with me, opened their bags right in front of me and tasted, I really haven't had enough of a fix to let the last bag go. I've promised it to Sarah, she hasn't been home in a while. She's one of us, one who knows the true value of these tiny, tasty treats.

So far the Canadians who have tasted have wanted more (even considering moving to New Zealand to get a regular fix); the Welsh lass wants more (even going so far as to talk rugby with me); the Australian wants to set up a black market supply (as you might expect from an Australian); the American has left town (sharing may have been an issue). What to do, what to do. I suspect I may have to grovel to my family and get them to send out a carton. The black market idea just might be a flier.

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Back in Al Ain

And enjoying being back except for the brain numbing effected of jet lag hanging around and having to work today. I hit the wall yesterday about mid afternoon and managed to hang on until early evening before collapsing into bed. In my sorry state I phoned my phone provider to demand they fix my phone. It wasn't working you see.

Unfortunately it wasn't the person I spoke to who was stupid, it was me. I had gone to the provider to renew my phone contract before going to NZ. I thought that the people at the company would know what I needed, not so. It seems I paid for a new thingy that goes in the phone not a new thingy that renews my contract. Mmmm maybe it was my fault for assuming that from my poor explanation the men would know what I wanted or in this case needed.

Anyhow, all's well that ends well. I apologised to the lady I was rude to, after we had talked at cross purposes then worked out that the men at the phone company had given me the wrong thing. She gave me the instructions and hey presto my phone worked again. Actually her instructions worked too well. I wasn't sure it worked the first time so repeated the exercise. I now don't have to worry about renewing my contract for the next two years and am 100dhs lighter in the pocket.

The moral of the story, don't do things that require any sort of technical brain, any sort of brain at all when jet lagged. I'm hoping to get another good sleep tonight so maybe I'll be a little more functional tomorrow.

Thursday, 11 February 2010

It's a bit chilly out


A friend of mine commented that she couldn't wait to see my photos from my time in New Zealand, lovely, green, scenic New Zealand. I have to confess that the photos have been lacking. I had hoped to get out and about today with my camera but the cold drizzle has put me off. I tried to get some kid photos, I was pushing my luck so I just enjoyed their company. It's been too cold to get to the beach. My bikinis have stayed in my bag, forced to the bottom by the dragging out of the cooler weather clothes. I wasn't as wise as I usually am with my packing.

The photo, one of the few, is of the whole crew minus Kez having lunch at Ferrymead on Waitangi Day. Nick's there with his Orangina, who else can you see?

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Quietly does it

Nick came down from Auckland for the weekend. It was wonderful to have two of my sons together again, just missed having the youngest there too. When kids get older and have their own lives getting together requires more planning than I managed to put in for this trip. As usual our family gatherings revolved around food. Nick cooked the bbq, breakfast out and coffee excursions along with the usual banter and one-up-man-ship the lads engage in.

Sarah's looking ready to have her baby, Tim's impatient to be a dad and I can't wait for them to have this most lovely of experiences. I'll have to meet my new grandchild virtually and then be properly introduced when I'm back in July. As Kez said, at least then you'll be able to do things with the baby by then. Yes, that's true. I'm looking forward to being a gran, not sure how I'll go being a long distance one.

It's been good having a holiday, complete with sleep ins and catching up with friends. I'm feeling a little lazy, regrouping for the trip home on Friday. The very long trip, then work on Sunday. It's the long semester, the one with no breaks until the end of the school year in mid July. Then 6 weeks of glorious holiday, that's me planning my next holiday while still on this one.

I'm looking forward to hearing the travel stories of others. Hearing and seeing the photos from Egypt, Jordan, Turkey and the other exotic locations my UAE friends have visited. For now I best get moving. Without a car I'm having to walk where I'm going, not always the best option but I'm getting fit and enjoying being out and about, people watching as I wander and enjoying the summer weather. Even if I did wear my coat yesterday.

Saturday, 6 February 2010

A cool blog

Di introduced me to this blog, it's very cool. Oli is cycling from the UK to Brisbane carrying a cricket bat, Cycling to the Ashes. Instead of trying to explain what the Ashes are, here's the Wikipedia entry:

The Ashes is a Test cricket series played between England and Australia. It is one of international cricket's most celebrated rivalries and dates back to 1882. It is currently played biennially, alternately in the United Kingdom and Australia. Since cricket is a summer game, the venues being in opposite hemispheres means the break between series alternates between 18 and 30 months. A series of "The Ashes" comprises five Test matches, two innings per match, under the regular rules for international Test-match cricket. If a series is drawn then the country already holding the Ashes retains them.
The series is named after a satirical obituary published in a British newspaper, The Sporting Times, in 1882 after a match at The Oval in which Australia beat England on an English ground for the first time. The obituary stated that English cricket had died, and the body will be cremated and the ashes taken to Australia. The English media dubbed the next English tour to Australia (1882–83) as the quest to regain The Ashes.
During that tour a small terracotta urn was presented to England captain Ivo Bligh by a group of Melbourne women. The contents of the urn are reputed to be the ashes of an item of cricket equipment, possibly a bail, ball or stump.

I suspect he might be an avid cricket fan. Oli has some interesting adventures along the way but I thought this was a wonderful entry, thanks Di for sharing. Make sure you check out the rest of the blog, there's some good clips as well.

Friday, 5 February 2010

Towards Sarangkot




Here are some more of my photos from my big walk. One of my traveling companions and her home; the mob who mobbed me about to mob another group of tourists; and the view down the side of the ranges to the houses and paddy fields perched high above the valley. All the land is used, even the steepest parts are terraced and farmed either with hay for the winter months or with rice and crops.

Pokhara, Nepal




I headed to Pokhara by myself after the others had left to go home or on to other destinations. I had planned to meet some friends there and go on a 3 day trek, about all the time I had left but our phones decided not to work so I had a few days on my own.

The flight to Pokhara had me once again glued to the plane window looking in awe at the imposing Himalayan Ranges, this time the Annapurna Range with it's amazing triangular peak peeking above the clouds. I shared the plane with the same Indian family from Dubai (originally from Kerela) we had on our mountain flight. The Eid break gives us all a chance to see somewhere different and we decided that Nepal was certainly different.

I wandered down to Phewa Lake, a short distance from my small local hotel in Pokhara. It was lovely, not too many others there and I was inspired to walk along the path rather than take a boat across the lake to the peace pagoda. A wise choice I discovered later, it's quite a climb up from the lake. Sitting at a lakeside cafe I met an inspiring young woman. She was American, in her late 20s and had worked in Shanghai for a few years. She had travelled overland by herself through China and Tibet to get to Pokhara. An amazing journey, grueling and challenging, helped by the fact she spoke the language. I was envious when she told me she was heading to India for a few months.

Pokhara was a nice change from the bustle of Kathmandu. I talked to the hotel owner about a day trek, he arranged a taxi for me to take me to the top of a walk above the lake to Sarangkot then down to the lake. Sami my driver was a character. He had lived in Saudi and spoke some Arabic so we practiced on each other with some interesting results. He had to visit his parents place on the the way up the hill to drop off some supplies for his grandfathers 80th birthday celebrations. Did I mind?

Of course not. We wandered down a rough path passing an old lady coming up who greeted Sami with a big toothless grin. She was carrying a huge bundle of branches up this tricky path, obviously something she had done before. I got a little worried at one point as we wandered down, where was Sami taking me? I needn't have worried, we came to a house where I could hear the buzz of conversation as we rounded the corner.

The family were out in force. The big pots boiling over the fire as they prepared the feast. There must have been about 20 people there, including some lovely kids. I was offered some tea, milky sweet tea from one of the big pots. Nodding and smiling and saying thank you in Nepali I accepted. The old people were squatted down on the grass on a large mat preparing the vegetables and chatting to each other. I was given a chair. I was dying to get my camera out but felt like I would have been intruding photographing this festive family scene. Nope, I won't make National Geographic photographer of the year.

Sami was welcomed, I was welcomed. I heard him telling everyone I was from New Zealand. They nodded and the kids who could asked me about my self, about my home. Our stay was too short. We had to press on, I had a big walk in front of me. A walk a lot bigger than I had expected looking at the map.

I made it to Sarangkot OK. I had company along the way, school kids wanting to chat. School kids practiced in extorting chocolate and money from the tourists. I was amazed to see the children wearing English type school uniforms and seeing a smattering of schools through the trail I walked. My favourites were the small group of teenaged girls who wanted to know if I knew any boys in NZ their age, yep some things are universal. They gradually peeled off to their homes leaving only the one who wanted to be a teacher. We talked about this awhile then she went down a rough track to her house, a low stone hut down in the valley. I hope she gets to realise her dream.

The photo shows how far down it is from Sarangkot to Pokhara and the lake and yes, it is as steep as it looks as well. I started down the steps keeping in mind the instructions about taking care to take the correct path. Instructions that I didn't quite manage. I kept walking down and coming to dead ends, still miles above the lake. I was getting grumpy when I found the dusty road down and the man who lived in Australia and was visiting his home for the holidays. He gave me good instructions and off I went.

I was still feeling grumpy, a bit hungry but most off all a bit sore as I hit the trail down. I wasn't used to walking in the hills, it used different muscles and they were telling me I needed to rest for a bit. I was getting worried about darkness falling and the hotel owner sending out a search party, I could just imagine the headline, middle aged woman rescued in the Annpurna Range.

All was not lost, I heard a car and around the corner came a Toyota ute, 4wd and heading my way. I put up my thumb in the time honoured manner and it stopped. I jumped in with the three men, they were laughing at how pleased I was to see them. I was thinking, oh well I could die here but it's better than reading that headline. They had a discussion in Nepali, I suspect it was about how to frighten this odd New Zealander. We took the steep road down, they hammed up the driving I sat calmly and talked to them. They tried their best to scare me, nope I was enjoying the thrilling ride. I offered to take them dune bashing if they ever came my way.

I've never been so pleased to see a hotel in all my life. I took a long shower, had a bit of a lie down and then headed to town for dinner. The photos are of the boats on Phewa Lake, the paraponters from Sarangkot and the view to the lake from the top. See what I mean about being high up.

A slice of NZ summer

Cherries, you can actually get too much of a good thing, my tum is telling me this today. One of the reasons I was keen to come to NZ in February is the summer fruit. Cherries, apricots, nectarines yum. I bought a big bag of cherries yesterday and have scoffed most of them myself, without breathing, well while actually inhaling their sweet crispness which is so much better than breathing. The apricots are OK, not at all like the ones from the old tree in the orchard. Same with the nectarines but the cherries, the taste of sunshine.

Tomorrow is Waitangi Day, our national day. As always there is controversy, beat up by the media to sell papers and feed the righteous indignation of those who like it to be fed. Sitting in the quiet courtyard of Muzz's city apartment enjoying the early evening peace, I overheard his neighbours discussing Waitangi Day with this same self righteous indignation. I heard such ignorance, such racial slurs that I felt embarrassed, incensed. Ashamed to be part of this place, worried for the future.

I did hear a younger person reflectively deflecting some of the more outrageous comments. I did feel that I should poke my head over the fence to support her, I was very tempted but I was eavesdropping and I'm a guest in this enclave of dwellings so I sent her positive vibes instead. I turned the news on to check out what's been happening today and what should I hear but more of the same, sensationalising and stirring up of passions on topics around our national day.

While I knew this happened every year, during the time of the summer fruit and the kids going back to school after the long summer holidays, I suspect I had consigned it to my history. I've been away for the last few Waitangi Days and didn't expect to be here for this one either. I feel really sad reflecting on this when I've seen how others around the world celebrate their national days with parades, cars decorated with flags, fireworks, celebrations and preparations leading up to the big day. Everyone involved, proud to belong to that place even the smallest children from the safety of their fathers shoulders waving their flags. A happy day of pride and community spirit.

Is it a coming of age for Aotearoa to get to the place where we can all celebrate our day peacefully, without controversy? Or is it an indictment on our beautiful country that while there are 4 million people living here, there are estimated to be a further 1 million living in other parts of the world. As the StatisticsNZ website states: There is also the difficulty in defining our diaspora. Are the children and spouses of New Zealand-born included, for example? Yes, of course. The statistics seem out of date, from the 2001 census. I've heard the urban myth of over 2 million kiwis living outside Godzown. Why is this? It might be something to research, if anyone has I'd be interested to know.

On the plane back I met up with some of the many New Zealanders who live in Al Ain. Standing in queues and waiting for bags we smiled at each other, chatting in our jet lagged states. Excited to be seeing family. Talking to some a week later, they are looking forward to getting back to their other homes, to their lives where there are less demands placed on them than in their home country. We will catch up when we're home, probably on the same plane, sharing rides back to our other lives, at social gatherings.

Nick has an alarming amount of farewell parties to attend at the moment, friends heading off to further their careers in other parts of the world, our employed, bright young adults heading away to increase the cultural capital of another country, mostly the UK. They are joining other friends there, the estimated 50,000 in the UK swelling daily. The girl over the fence last night was sharing her visa stories, she's heading away too, very soon and I wish her well.

I hope some of these bright young ones come home someday, I know Kez won't in a hurry. He's settled in his own home in Brisbane with Sasi. Happy and settled achieving a dream I'm not sure would be possible for him in NZ. Student loans prevent some from ever returning, interest on their debt spiraling these out of control. This needs further investigation, may be a subject for a whole entry soon, a sharing of stories from those who are directly affected by this sorry state of affairs. It's certainly worthy of reporting given some of the stories I've heard lately, stories that make me believe there needs to be an urgent law change.

Well, a slice of NZ summer has turned into a rant, possibly inspired by a sleepless night and reading a very interesting book, part of the reason for a sleepless night. I'll review that here soon. For now I need to get ready. I'm meeting Sarah for lunch, it's a bit of a walk to her place so best get moving. I do miss my little red car sometimes although walking has it's advantages as I call in to see others on the way to where I'm going. Just for a rest mind.

Thursday, 4 February 2010

Christchurch



It's been nice being home and relaxing, a much needed holiday. I've been catching up with friends and family as well as enjoying the sunshine. I went to the beach a couple of evenings ago and got this photo. I hope it shows how chilly it was, certainly not swimming weather. Tim's offered me his surf board, not sure I'll brave the cold waters and colder easterly wind. Nick's coming down for the weekend, gave up the Wellington 7s to come and see me. I feel very privileged. The other photo is the lake out at Halswell domain by the quarry. A great place to walk, very peaceful.

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Revisiting Nepal





I realised as I was showing friends my photos last night that I hadn't done justice to my trip to Nepal here. It was an amazing experience, one that made me realise how very lucky I was, how very lucky my kids were, to be born into a country of plenty. For Nepal is far from a country of plenty. I can understand how Sir Ed Hilary took the place that treated him so well into his heart.

The people are amazing, they have very little but are generous with what they have. Generous with their time, their conversations, their pride in their place, their willingness to show tourists what makes Nepal special. And there's plenty that does. We went on a day trip to a temple high in the foothills, up an interesting road. An interesting road in that it was interesting to see rural Nepal and how the people live outside of the city and interesting in that nerves of steel were required when looking over the perilous drop as we bumped up the rough, mostly single lane road. Thank goodness for a skillful driver and his 4wd.

On the way down we passed through Baktaphor, the place of a very famous durbar square and many ancient temples. We paid a tourist tax in the way up to the square, an excellent idea to enable further restorations in this poor country. The square and surrounds buzzed with commerce, as does most of this country. Everyone has something to sell. We ran the gauntlet and managed a yummy curry and coffee in a small restaurant as we were just about to expire from lack of food and drink.

I was too busy looking in Baktaphor to take the photos I wanted, also many places were over run with tourists (of course we didn't fall into that category!) so good shots were lost waiting for people to move. The one above is of an ancient temple, an amazing stepped temple with the usual elephants guarding the steps. It was easy to imagine the old times when this place was teeming with Nepali people worshipping.

We moved back into Kathmandu to the Boudhanath Stupa. This was amazing, very inspiring. It was later in the day yet there were still many people walking clockwise around the stupa and praying. Pray flags flutter from the top giving the stupa a maypole effect. We walked around for a while, realised that we couldn't go against the tide, kind of like wearing shoes into a wharenui, so wandered off into the back streets. We got a little lost, ended up heading back to the stupa and continuing around, not having found a loo like we needed to.

On one of the back streets we came across the carpet carrying men. They were keen to have their photos taken, we obliged. There was much conversation and laughing as they looked at the photos Kate and I took. Kate's are wonderful and can be found at her website along with lots of other fantastic photos.

More on the stupa courtesy of http://www.sacred-destinations.com/nepal/kathmandu-boudhanath-stupa

Boudhanath Stupa (or Bodnath Stupa) is the largest stupa in Nepal and the holiest Tibetan Buddhist temple outside Tibet. It is the center of Tibetan culture in Kathmandu and rich in Buddhist symbolism. The stupa is located in the town of Boudha, on the eastern outskirts of Kathmandu.

Bodnath was probably built in the 14th century after the Mughal invasions; various interesting legends are told regarding the reasons for its construction. After the arrival of thousands of Tibetans following the 1959 Chinese invasion, the temple has become one of the most important centers of Tibetan Buddhism. Today it remains an important place of pilgrimage and meditation for Tibetan Buddhists and local Nepalis, as well as a popular tourist site.