Year: 2004

Sydney (1/2)

ohfrommanlyferry A classic picture of the Sydney opera house from the ferry.During the opera house tour, I saw the famous staircase that leads nowhere. I was struck by the innovative nature of Australians.The opera house was paid for by a lottery fund, and not taxes, so nobody paid towards it that didn’t want to.
A view of the amazing botanical garden from the steps of the opera house.I liked the way the skyscrapers in the background contrasted against the plants and trees. viewfromohsteps
 me_leaves There are signs around the botanical garden, saying please walk on the grass.The point is that they wanted people to actively visit and enjoy the park.It was amazing to be there at lunchtime and see people taking time out from work to have a picnic.
The opera house from the Harbour Bridge.Circular bay has the opera house, the rocks, the botanical garden and several nice shops and bars.Its one of the most vibrant places I have ever been.  ohfrombridge
 me_roo  On a trip to the blue mountains, we visited a campsite where Kangaroos run free.
I caught the ferry to Manly island.It was named that, as the first explorers saw some local abo tribesmen, and described them as very “Manly”.I loved it here.  manly_bay1
 manly_path There was a six mile walk along the shore in manly, and as I am not much of a beach person I walked the whole length of it.There was a fantastic view.
Frank outside the opera house.Although I am comfortable travelling on my own, it was great when he arrived.There are pictures of Frank all over this web site, he is my closest friend, we have travelled all over the world together and I would trust him with my life (I actually have done several times !).  frankfrontoh
 bills Back home in the UK, we have a cookery program called Saturday kitchen.They feature an Australian Chef called Bill Granger who runs an internationally respected restaurant called “Bill’s”.I decided to actually go there whilst in Sydney.I was blown away to be actually sat in a building which I had seen on TV from the other side of the world.
Although its hard to qualify, the scrambled eggs at bills are said to be the best in the world.Scrambled are my favourite eggs, and I couldn’t miss the opportunity. It is made using cream, and tasted delicious.The T shirt I am wearing, is one of 6 I bought in Australia, as they were so inexpensive, it was easier to buy new clothes, than wash dirty ones.  john_breakfast
 me_rock In the blue mountains.The rock formations were stunning to look at.Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t very good on that day, and I ended up buying a coat to keep warm.
An Emu in the blue mountain zoo.An international symbol of Australia.Of all the places I have ever visited, Australia was the most beautiful.I will definitely return there !.  emu

Alice Springs (2/2).

Img_0131 The aborigines didn’t like people climbing Ularu (although no one was specific about why).As an alternative, there was a circular walk around the base of the rock, which we did early on when it was cool.

The scenery and views around the rock were breathtaking.

I decided to climb Ularu. I was clear about this from the beginning, nature put it there before men and religion existed and it was meant to be climbed.Unfortunately, Frank didn’t agree and I walked it on my own. It was unusual to be anywhere near a mountain without Frank !

Good news was that my expensive cross trainers and hours of fitness paid off, and flew up it even though it was very steep.

me_ularu Me at the top of Ularu.I was lucky to find some people from Perth at the top to take my picture.
Ularu at night.We had a glass of wine, and watched the son set over the rock.

I got chatting to a few off the people on the Safari and made some friends.

canyone2 On the 3rd day of our trip, we visited Kings Canyon.The walk wasn’t particularly hard, but it was very hot.

This is a view of the Canyon. It was like a sheer wall, and is very popular with rock climbers.

Its a bit hard to see, but at the bottom of the Canyon is the Garden of Eden, a really special place with clear water which I sat in for half an hour relaxing.

We had such a good time, that when we got back we all went for a night out in Alice Springs.I had Kangaroo steaks, and we all got loads of pitcher’s of beer.

I have spent to many weeks of my life with holiday makers, it was great for a change to be surrounded by travellers and people with a taste for adventure like me.

girls Julia, Sonja and the Anouk holding a 4 pint pitcher of beer.

Alice Springs (1/2).

 olgas The Olga’s.I went on a 3 day Safari around Ularu and the desert around the red centre.

The heat on the trip was stifling, and we had to get up at 4am each day.

Valley of the winds.As we completed the walk around the Olga’s, we came to the valley of the winds, which is sacred to the aboriginal people. valleyofwinds
 wild_camel There are Camel farms all over Australia, and approximately 400,000 Camels live wild.I had to use the zoom on my Camera to capture a picture of this camel.
I thought it was amazing in the desert, but I had to drink at least 4 litre’s of water each day.I knew when I was dehydrated, as my appetite would go, I would feel tired, and then get headaches.I had always imagined doing a long distance walk in the outback, but I discovered the amount of water you would need to carry, meant traveling without a vehicle was practically impossible.  me_olgas
 tent Whilst on the safari, we stayed on a camp site in tents.These were unlike any tents I had ever slept in, as they were built like nuclear air raid shelters.The Kings Canyon cattle station where we stayed on the 2nd night, actually had a pool, which we made good use of.
Our guide Darren cooked these chicken meals on the coals off the fire.He asked if anyone knew how to light I fire, and I couldn’t miss an opportunity like that. I have never seen wood so dry.It wasn’t necessary to use kindling, as a piece of wood the thickness of a broom handle could be lit with a match !.I had the fire roaring within about 10 minutes, and everyone in the camp complimented me on my fire lighting skills (I neglected to mention to them, that I had been trained by some of the UK’s finest Bushcraft instructors !).  chicken
 frankandtone Frank and Tony outside a hostel in Alice springs.I stayed mostly in expensive hotels while on my trip. I actually found that sometimes, the more money you spend, the less atmosphere you seem to get.I am glad I did a “James Bond” on this trip, but next time I am going to rough it a bit more.
Quad biking in the desert.Not like in the UK. No 25 minute safety brief, the instructor hands you a helmet, asks if you know the controls (and looks unimpressed if you dont).Then says simply “try and keep up with me” and off we go.

An amazing experience, the highlight of my trip was hitting a ramp and having all 4 wheels leave the ground.

That feeling of being airborne was incredibly exhilarating.

 me_camel This is Mo, the Camel I got to ride whilst in the desert.The camel driver was explaining that Camels have a reputation for being bad tempered, when in reality they associate emotions with memories.This means that if a camel is shouted at in a field, it will always be ill tempered in that field.I had always wondered about this, as I cant actually believe that an animal can be “nasty”.I also found out why they are called the ship of the desert. They rock as they move

Lisbon – the cheapest capital in Europe and home of Vasco De Gama (2/2).

street We wander back through this enormous shopping arcade street.As we stop for lunch and drinks, I’m still struck by how competitively priced this is, compared to London, Paris or Rome.
 An innovative approach to policing, they had Segway’s.  police
 elev_santa_justa  The Santa Justa lift.
We decide to visit Belem.Its a bit away from where we are (Lisbon is quite fragmented) so we get a taxi.

This is a statue of Vasco de Gama we passed on the way.


 disc Monument to the discoveries.A major attraction of Lisbon, was Vasco de Gama.

Although circumstances could be more different, I really identified with his thirst for adventure.

On the waterfront, this structure, is the Monument to the discoveries, and features all of Portugals famous explorers including VDG and Henry the Navigator.

 There’s an African connection.De Gama navigated to the Cape of Good Hope.

Next to the monument is a large round are showing an enormous compass and places around the world.

It was a gift from South Africa.

 botgarden It’s a nice day, and we wander into the Botanical gardens.There’s a sign saying the bank that was sponsoring the Gardens has gone bankrupt, so the place is a bit overgrown and there looking for volunteers.

I wandered down this avenue with these beautiful tree’s.

 This greenhouse was closed, but otherwise a genuinely lovely spot and amazingly quiet considering just outside were most of Lisbons major tourist attractions.  bot_gard_building
 bot_gard99  I wander deeper into the interior and find these trails where I stop, rest and contemplate thing (like why cant the price of beer be cheaper everywhere in Europe).
Archaeological museum and nearby the Maritime museum, the thing I really wanted to see.  museum2
 church  People queuing to go into Jeronimo’s Monastery.
Everyone else wanted to stay outside and enjoy the weather, so I went into the Archaeological museum on my own.There were some interesting things inside, and it only cost about £2.  mus_art2
 chapel The entrance to the Maritime museum.The site was previously a chapel where sailors went to be blessed before embarking and an uncertain future.

Walking through these doors was an enchanting experience, I imagined what it must have been like 500 years earlier.

A statue of Vasco De Gama inside the maritime museum.  vasco
 map People I go walking with sometimes say Ordnance Survey maps are no good and lack detail.De Gama would have navigated with a map like this one !.
None of the original boats still exist so there were modern models to look at.There was a section showing how “discovery” boat changed over time.

Initially with triangular sales of the fishing boat kind.

Then the same kind of boat and sail but “square rigged” at the front and finaly this kind of Gallon, which is fully “square rigged”.

 sam_sword One thing I hadn’t realised, was as far back as the 1500’s, the Portuguese were trading with the Japanese.Here, a Samurai sword they brought back.
And just for fun, a Royal Barge.  barge
 dan_waterfront Dan sits out on the waterfront.In the centre of the photo is the enormous Christ the King statue.

To the left the Vasco De Gama bridge. 6 road lanes and 10 miles long. The longest suspension bridge in the world.

There was a nice Marina there, so we stopped and had some lunch and a couple of drinks.  mariner
 tdb Torre de Belem. Originally, would have been a quarter of a mile out to see, but the land has been reclaimed.Probably the site most people associate with Lisbon.

And off home, until the next adventure.

Lisbon – the cheapest capital in Europe and home of Vasco De Gama (1/2)

 castle_wall I’d heard great things about Portugal’s pedigree as a discovery nation while at school.When Simon Calder recommended Lisbon as the cheapest capital city in Europe, a trip had to happen.Like my most recent adventure in Bucharest, it was  a budget project.
As we sit in Manchester waiting to fly out, I eat my Boots lunch deal (still the best value at airports).We arrive at Lisbon Portela Airport.It was one of the the biggest (and emptiest) airports I’ve ever landed in. airport.jpg
 aquaduct Wanderlust magazine did some research into travel mishaps like theft and turning an ankle.They found that when visiting a place for the first time, these things are 98% likely to happen in the firsts 24 hours.For this reason, we took a taxi rather than public transport from the airport.

Might not sound like “budget” thinking, but it usually costs more to put a mishap right, than it does to just avoid it.

On our way, we get to see the Aguas Livres Aqueduct (which means Aqueduct of the Free Waters), completed in the 1800’s.

We arrive at our hotel, the VIP Berna. As we arrived, 2 other taxi’s arrive behind us, with people from our flight.My guess, they used the same tools as me, and found the cheapest flight/hotel combination.

I didn’t think of it at the time, but I should have gotten to know these people, they were kindred spirits.

The hotel was spotlessly clean and in a 70’s style, which gave it rather quaint feel (did I just write that !).

Didn’t take long to unpack, as we all brought carry on luggage. I decanted my possessions into a stuff sack (I would need my daysack empty for carrying around in the daytime).

I setup my phone charger, put my torch next to my bed, ate the Steak slice that Glenn bought me and headed downstairs.

 bin I get into one of those lifts, that you only seem to find on the continent.You’ll know the kind I mean, if you’ve ever been in one. As you stand in the lift, the wall along one side moves up or down, depending on which way your going.

I was horrified to see this warning sign showing what happens if you transport a wheely bin, and put it too near the wall !.

A blessing was how cool the place was inside.Throughout the trip, baking heat was the norm, and this place was an oasis.The hotel had complimentary Wi Fi, which never seemed to work.On the plus side, had a friendly bar, and when we tipped the barmaid, she seemed genuinely delighted.The price of lager, is usually a good cost-of-living indicator in most countries.

Pints were about the same as Chester. We were in a European capital city so very good value indeed.

In the afternoon/evening, we stay local, get used to the environment and get something to eat.

 bullring1 In the morning we head out to start exploring.Within just a few minutes I’m struggling to find our location (which is pretty unusual)standard practice in this situation, is the same as mountain navigation.You find a landmark on the ground, then locate it on your map (or guidebook).I realise what the problem is. The nearest landmark is the Bullring. Its listed in the guidebook as “further afield”, and isn’t listed on the central maps.

No problem. I work out its South towards the city and roughly where we’ll enter the centre.

Twenty minutes walk later. I’ve located our position on the map of Baixa and then cherry pick the sights we want to see.

Heading for Rossio Square, we pass Rossio station.The station is a Romantic recreation of Neo-Manueline facade (that’s why it looks 16th century, but actually completed before the start of the 19th century)underneath the station is a 2.5 kilometre tunnel, one of the greatest feats Portugese engineering.I wanted to see it, as I like the idea of modern tech, hidden behind a traditional facade.  station.jpg
 square Rossio in Portugese, means roughly “commons” in English.After the earthquake of 1755, the city of Lisbon was expanded to lower areas bellow Lisbon Castle hill. The idea was to create an area for the common people.In the centre is the column of Pedro IV with fountains in front and behind it.Its the main meeting place in the city so everyone goes there.

Among them a youth with long hair and a tan wanders around.

He bares a striking resemblance to Dan from our group. We nickname him Danos after the similarity.

Dan points out that its a Greek sounding name, and were in Portugal.

Staying in Baixa, we visit Praca da Figueira. It sounds quite grandiose, but it actually means Square of the Fig tree’s)unoriginally a hospital, it was demolished after the earthquake and used as an open market.Sadly there’s no market there now, just coffee shops and the usual social fayre.In this picture, you can see a statue King John I a noble knight born in 1357 (although the statue was actually put up in 1971)

You can also see Glenn, a noble Knight from Mickel Trafford and to the lower left of the picture, a chemical toilet.

 arches We visit our 3rd square in only an hour.Praca do Comercio (know locally as palace square) forms a “U” shape facing out towards the Tagus river.
Lisbon’s town planning department really go for the whole “man on a horse” thing.This statue faces the Tagus and is dedicated to king Jose 1.In the background of this picture you can see the Triumphal arch that forms a gate into the city.  jose1
 waterfront Just south of the square where it meets the river is Cais das Colunas (Columns Pier).From here you could see out across the bay to the 25 de Abril Bridge (the longest suspension bridge in the world) which links Lisbon with Almada.You can also see the Cristo-Rei (Christ the King) monument.

In times past, this was the main entrance to the city for dignitaries, hence its elaborate Marble design.

These days its extremely popular, and you have to wait quite a while if you want a seat here.

We decide to walk up the hill (not sure how this ended up happening, the guide book suggests taking the tram to the top and walking down). This place is a maze of narrow winding streets and alleyways.  alfama_tram
 alley Once the wealthiest part of the city, these days its run down, but has loads of character.Although there are no Moorish houses still standing the area still maintains a Casbah feel.

I’d been told the Taverna’s are a great place to socialise in the afternoon, but we were there in the morning, and this wasn’t a stag do.

It was obvious within a few minutes, that there was no point trying to navigate around Alfama, so we just followed roads to see where they led.

The alleyways are called Becos (and are everywhere) with washing strung out between the compact houses.

Compared to these, the chinese Hutongs are palatial.


I’d read that a new influx of younger residents had led the creation of trendy shops and bars.

We found loads of shops selling crafts and bric-a-brac.Here, a gallery of pictures, all created using coffee.

 sao_vicente At one point, we “trip over” 1 of the 2 must see buildings in Alfama.Sao Vicente de Fora.

It means Monastery of St. Vincent outside the walls and is a 17th century church and monastery.

The building is done a a Renaissance style know as Mannerism (whatever that means).

And just a few minutes later, the other one, Santa Engracia.

In 1966 while the country was a dictatorship, it was turned into a National Pantheon.

You probably haven’t heard of any of the people who are interred here, but there are cenotaphs to Vasco de Gama and Henry the Navigator.

 oldquarter_rooftops At the top of the hill, there are views over Alfama towards to Tagus estuary. Although very built up, there’s also lots of green area (which we couldn’t see while walking up) where local people grow vegetables.

Quite sensibly, someone has setup a cafe right near this spectacular spot.

Its called the Portas do Sol, which means Suns door.

 castleview1 Leaving Alfama, we head for the Castelo de Sao Jorge, located on a hill overlooking the city with an observation terrace.
 The castle was rebuilt in the 40’s but some of the original derelict buildings remain.  cit
 castle2 A nice building, but looked like something out of Hollywood.
We’re lads after all, and its a castle, so we wander around exploring.  castle_stairs
 castle_ruins  There are some archaeological sites within the walls of the castle. You can google them if you want to know what they are.

Munich – return after 20 years (2/2).

arch We spent the following day exploring the town.Here the Siegestor arch the gateway to the old town.
Further into Marienplatz (which means St Mary’s square) is the Town hall.I loved this building although it was really hard to photograph. rathaus
 church It can’t be a city tour without at least one church so here it is, the Frauenkirche Cathedral.
We decided on a half day tour (it was winter so trips to the Eagles nest weren’t running and Neuschwanstein was a whole day thing). Throughout our tour – The rise of the 3rd Reich, there seemed to be a strong alcohol theme.”This is Munich”, replied our guide Roland. “Everything here is about Beer” 🙂  roland
 meeting In his early days, Hitler had apparently been sent under cover to investigate political meetings for the army.The yellow building in this photo is the site of the first one he attended.It was here he realised he liked what he heard and could use it to his advantage.
The site of Hitler’s first rally. held at the Hofbrauhaus.On stage, with a 10 point plan.Most of the people present were just there to drink but with little else to do but relax decided to listen in !.  beerhall_meeting
gallery Haus der Kunst, the Nazi’s first monumental structure.Art Gallery in a brutalist style (ironically, although the Stalinists were the complete enemy of the Nazi’s, their architecture was almost identical).
Jewish memorial to victims of the holocaust.On the site of the original synagogue. Destroyed Nov 10th 1938 when all synagogues were destroyed during/immediately after, Kristallnacht.  flame
 chancellery Bavarian state chancellery.The building wings on either side of the building were destroyed during the war.When they were rebuilt, they were constructed from glass to symbolise a new Germany and transparent government.
 Bellow ground level, in front of the Chancellery, The Munich war memorial. It remembers German soldiers who have died in war.  soldier
whiterose The White Rose movement were against the Nazi’s.Caught and treated in a brutal fashion, brother and sister Hans and Sophie Scholl were executed.
Feldenhalle.People were ordered to salute the symbol and would actually walk around and out of their way to avoid it.  odeonsplatz
 hit_office Our tour finished here.Hitler’s office, 2nd floor, 3rd from the end.Its here that he met Neville Chamberlain and arranged the  Munich agreement.

Chamberlain returned to the UK announcing Peace in our Time.

Less than a year later Germany invaded Poland and World War II began.

From these pictures, it should be obvious that we had a superb time (and we did).However, Munich is right next to the Bavarian Alps, and to be honest, it was freezing a lot of the time.We visited a sports shop, where Dan was able to buy some gloves and this spectacular hat.

I hardly ever make a mistake when packing, but on this occasion I wish I’d brought more warm clothes.

 hfm_antlers  For a bit of fun we visited the Hunting and Fishing museum.Wasn’t terribly good but it was warm.
Inside though, some of the displays were half finished.Not at all what I’d expected to see in Germany.  hfm_rundown
 munich2 I had this photo knocking around from my first trip to Munich.The helpful staff in the hotel, told me where it was. Somewhere called Konigsplatz (Kings place). The Propylaea gate built by Ludwig the 1st.Lee, David and Caz.
And in the present day, the same building with Glenn and Dan.  ob2
ob1  Me standing in front of the state museum of classic art in Konigsplatz.
Not long before we go home.We find a beer hall and eat some traditional Eintopf stew.  beerhall
 bmw_ent It normally has to be booked weeks in advance, but due to a cancellation, we managed to get on a tour of the BMW factory.No camera’s were allowed so no photo’s to show you, but it was amazing, with staticaly charged paint which jumps towards the car while being printed and hundreds of robots.

From here, a taxi to the airport and home.

Munich – return after 20 years (1/2).

op_me Inspired by James Bond films where our hero turns up at the airport and says “get me the next flight to …” I was inspired to see Europe and went Interailing.Most of the places on the trip, I’ve visited a few times since, but once place that left a mark and didn’t get any attention was Munich.So I rustled up a few friends and off we went.
I absolutely love Germans. Across the whole of Europe, they’re easily my favourite nationality.I’m fascinated by their sense of organisation and it always amuses me when German friends get annoyed by being stereotyped as hyper efficient.On arrival at the airport, this virtual booth promises to answer your question.I thought the picture on the screen of the smartly dressed tourist assistant was designed to catch my eye and then I’d need to type a question on the keyboard.  booth1
 booth2 But no.We press the button and a real person appears in hi definition 1080p video, speaking perfect English.We asked for details of our train, what time and where. She answered all our questions, wished us good evening and we headed off towards the town.
Our hotel had been chosen by Glenn.It was superb and the service excellent.Only problem with nice hotels, is that the cost of the room, is only the beginning. The price of everything else goes up as well.In this case, beer was £6 per pint.We headed out and I was delighted to find the famous Augustiner (listed in my guidebook) just across the road (more about that later).  lads
 underground  Next morning, after the best breakfast I’ve eaten in years (they must have kidnapped someone from England to make the scrambled eggs that good !) we head out for the day.The Munich underground, wasn’t as modern as I’d expected although the carriages arrived exactly on time.
Our first stop was Olympia park.It was the place that totally inspired me on my previous visit to Munich. Back then, it was 20 years old, and now 40.It was insightful to see, as back home there had been numerous discussions about London’s Olympic facilities, and what would happen to them once the Olympics were over.  op_pool
 op_lake Considered revolutionary for its time, it included large sweeping canopies of acrylic glass stabilized by steel cables.The lake in this picture was frozen but in the summer, people canoe in it.
 The view of Olympia hill.A man made hill that overlooks the stadium (the landscaping of the site, cost 20 times what the actual facilities cost).  op_hill
 op_hilltop1 A view from the top of the hill.A plaque says that the hill isn’t naturally occurring.It was constructed from bomb destroyed homes in Dresden.
For 33 years, Bayern Munich played regularly in the Olympic stadium.In 2005 they moved to the Allianz Arena, which they share with TSV 1860 Munich.  op_hilltop2
 tower  The swimming pool and behind it the Olympia tower, 291m high.It was closed to the public on this visit, but previously I’d stood on the viewing platform with Dave, Lee & Caz.
Our next sight was the must see BMW welde (BMW world). Not to be confused with the BMW museum, it features displays and things for children.One thing I’d love to try. You can buy a custom BMW and pick it up from here and drive it home (wherever that is in the world!). They will actually organise your trip home, hotel reservations, restaurant bookings the lot.  bmw_welt
 bcar One of the attractions.A bubble car is driven up and down every hours by an immaculately dressed blond women, chauffeuring young children around in it.
Through the window, the BMW worldwide headquarters.7000 people work in this building mostly working on new innovations and ideas.Before leaving, we were lucky enough to have a tour of the BMW factory and got to see some of the ideas brought to life.The bowl to the right of it is the BMW museum which we’d visit next.  bmw_mus
 bmw_walkway The BMW museum was both spectacular and immaculate.Glenn commented that he had been in hospitals that were dirtier.
Inside they had classic cars, racing cars, motorbikes and aeroplanes.  bmw_car1
 bmw_plneng  Dan and Glenn looking at a section on engines.
Specific things are featured (however subtly) on every BMW model, be it a sports car or a 4×4.One example, is the twin “kidney grills” on the front.I’ve seen them a hundred times, but never really noticed before.  bmw_desdetails
 bmw_clay  A massive section on car design featured several concept cars and most interestingly, this clay car.They don’t wast money designing the new shape of a car, casting it in metal and then putting it in a wind tunnel.Its much quicker and cheaper to do it with clay and put that in the wind tunnel.
I was convinced the bar across the road from ours was the “proper” Augustiner (said to be the best beer hall in the city).Many ale houses masqueraded as the Augustiner and I was taken in.This is the actual one in the centre of town.  aug1
 aug3 On the inside, its bigger than a cinema and packed to the rafters.
The imposter, near our hotel.Although I felt dirty and used, I quite liked the place, so we continued to drink here on the way back to our hotel each day.  aug2

Tour of India and Nepal – The Trisuli Centre.

 bus We set off in our bus for lunch at the Trisuli centre.The vehicle had no power steering, and I wonder to this day, how the driver (who slept in the vehicle at night) managed to drive it for so long without passing out.
We travel along the Pokhara – Kathmandu highway.A view of the Marsyangdi River as we drive high above the valley. river
 directions1 A road was blocked due tan accident and we asked these friendly children, at the side of the road, for alternate directions.Earlier some other locals had given directions, in return for a lift on the back of our bus (they hung onto the ladder at the back, at one point it looked quite scary).
We arrive at the Trisuli Centre for lunch.Ethical travel very popular at the moment, the Trisuli centre was an area of natural beauty, which had been renovated environmentally through donations made by the Adventure Company.  jeep
 garden  A short walk from the Cafe, was this beautiful Oasis, with a stream, a quiet garden and this bridge.
 Nearby, some very old Tree’s reminded me of the kind I had last seen at the Angkor Wat.  roots
 tree1  I glanced at this tree, and hardly noticed anything inside.
 On closer inspection, the dead leaf, turned out to be this butterfly.  tree2
 meroots  Me standing in front of one of the old tree’s.
We crossed this amazing bridge.Himalayan Encounters who organized the Nepalese side of our tour, are the largest white water rafting company in Nepal, and most of their work, is done on this river.

I didn’t go on this trip for “summer holiday” experiences, but this really was, one of the most beautiful days that I can remember.

 canoe  On the far bank, were Canoes, and some of the tented accommodation, used by the rafter’s on expedition.
You can see that this outside frame, around the tent, provides shade from the heat.Wherever we were, our guide always seemed to find the best place for shade, I learned over the week to watch and copy him.

The tents actually had beds inside, this would hardly be rough camping.

 construction  For Bushcraft enthusiasts, a close up of the construction of the shelter.

Tour of India and Nepal – Pokhara.

lake Pokhara is a remarkable place of natural beauty, situated at an altitude of 827m above sea level and 200 km west of Kathmandu valley.The serenity of the lakes and the magnificence of the Himalayas rising behind them create an ambience of peace and magic.

A popular staring point for treks including the anapurna circuit.

In the centre of the Phewa Lake is the Barahi temple features a two story pagoda.

 Pay to use toilets are quite common in many countries, but this was the first time, I had seen one that used a “sliding scale” pricing system.  tolet
 arrival Phewa Lake is the centre of all attraction in Pokhara.It is the largest and most enchanting of three lakes that add to the resplendence of Pokhara.

We hired 2 boats, and headed across the lake to visit the world peace pagoda.

As we arrive, we walk up the hill, to the world peace pagoda.The hillside villages we could see, reminded me of Italy.

It was a special moment for me. Okay, it wasn’t a proper trek, but it was still hill walking, and to be doing it in the Himalayas’ for the first time was significant.

Realising this would be a special photograph, I put 2 pillows into my rucksack, so it kept its shape.

There is nowhere else in the world where mountains rise so quickly, within 30 km, from 1000m to over 8000m.

 wppagoda The world peace pagoda is situated on the top of a hill on the southern shore of Phewa lake.It has four images of Buddha facing in four directions.
As we walk back down the hill it starts to get dark.We met this “walking haystack” coming the other way.

I gave him a little money for agreeing to be photographed. He misunderstood and tried to give me some Marijuana !.

An interesting institution of Pokhara is the British Gurkha Camp in the north of the city.

It has been established as a recruitment camp for Nepalese as Gurkha soldiers. About 370 are selected annually in December out of a pool of over 20,000 applicants. About 140 eventually join the Gurkha Contingent in Singapore while the rest join the British Army.

 armwrestle In the evening, we head into town for an evening out.I decided to have a T Bone steak. Delicious.

Our guide takes us to a bar/club called Paradiso It actually had vintage motorbikes and all sorts of memorabilia.

Once the ale started flowing, everyone reverted to type.

The arm wrestling competition begins in earnest.

Devi’s Fall known locally as Patale Chango (Hell’s Falls) also know as Devins and David’s is a lovely Waterfall.The water from the Phewa lake converges into this small area and the force of natural energy is spectacular.

Legend has it that a trekker by the name of Davy, was washed away by the Padi Khola and mysteriously disappeared down into an underground passage beneath the fall.

 mntmuseum2 But this was the Himalayas’, and I wasn’t here to see waterfalls.I desperately wanted to visit the world mountaineering museum. Our guide said it wasn’t on the itinerary, but arranged a private taxi to take me (he was able to give the driver specific directions, as its very easy to get lost).

The museum was enormous in size, had all sorts of authentic artefacts, pictures and articles.

Some photo’s and diary entries by early explorers and mountaineers.To Celebrate 50 years since the accent of Everest, another section said the world owed grateful thanks to the following

Tensing Norgay Sherpa (first ascent of Everest).

Edmund Hillary (first ascent of Everest).

Two other interesting additions were:

Babu Chhiri Sherpa
longest time on the summit (21hrs on the Summit of Everest).

Appa Sherpa (The plaque said 12 times Everest Summitter (he has since done it 5 more times)).

 bcrubbish Not everything in the museum was pleasing.A whole series of displayed showed some of the things that had been discarded in the mountains.

It was pointed out, that metal canisters like these would have taken more than 400 years to biodegrade.

There were dozens and dozens of fantastic mountain photographs.Many of them, were taken by one of my Heroes, Doug Scott.

I actually have a copy of the same picture hanging in my home.

 jacket This Jacket was said to have been worn by Morris Herzog.The French team, were the first mountaineers to climb above 8000 metres and Summit Annapurna

At the time, nobody knew what would actually happen to a human being at that altitude and they were subjected to medical experiments for years afterwards.

I have read Annapurna several times. In an era where politics, prejudice and money seem to contaminate every worthwhile endeavour, one quote from the book has always stayed with me.

When selecting the people for the trip, 20 men were selected. Herzog said simply “these were the best mountaineers in France. Nobody said otherwise even in private”.

My Taxi driver takes me back to Pokhara, and I ponder what to do with the afternoon.It was here that I got the first hint of what Kathmandu would really be like.

I mentioned, that I wouldn’t rent a mountain bike today, but would rent one in Kathmandu to see it. He replied that riding a bike there, would be suicide. It was then I started to think that maybe Kathmandu wasn’t like Chamonix or courmayeur !.

I rented the bike, and had a great ride around the village and part of the lake.

 trips Pokhara was the ultimate adult playground.There were dozens of places where you could organise treks/trips/white water rafting/mountain biking. All the main Treks around the Annapurna ranges are run from Pokhara.

There were also tours running all around the region, and even an overland trip to Lhasa.

This previously couldn’t be done “on the fly” as it would involve travelling into a Chinese special administrative region.

I wondered around to meet up with my friends, and saw Kingsley was having his head shaved.There were also loads of Cyber Cafe’s, bars and stuff like that.

It was here that I bought the excellent Jane, a torch, as astoundingly, she hadn’t brought one with here.

 carpweave We visited a Tibetan refugee camp and had a tour of their carpet factory.From 1959 to 1962 some 300,000 refugees came to Nepal from neighbouring Tibet, which had been annexed by China.

These camps have evolved into entire settlements.

Because of their different architecture, prayer flags, gompas and chorten, these can easily be distinguished from the other settlements in the area.

I quite fancied buying a rug, but they were pretty expensive.

I saw this sticker on the window of the tea house.The Panchen Lama is the one of the two highest ranking lamas (together with the Dalai Lama) in the Gelugpa (Dge-lugs-pa) School of Tibetan Buddhism (the school which controlled Tibet from the 16th century until the Communist takeover).

There is a controversy about who is the true present (11th) incarnation of the Panchen Lama: the People’s Republic of China asserts it is Qoigyijabu, while the Tibetan Government in Exile maintains it is Gedhun .

Choekyi Nyima was arrested at the age of six years by the Chinese in 1995. He then became the world’s youngest political prisoner.

 rcamp I wandered around the village market and bought lots of presents.At one point word went around the stalls, that an idiot on a buying spree was “in town” .

I commented to one of the stall holders, that although I only had 1 wife, I had enough presents for 3.

We woke early in the morning to watch the sunrise over Sarangkot.I went into the hotel reception to pay the bill.

It was then that I realised the the hotel staff, actually slept on the floor in reception.

It was humbling to see that the people who had worked so hard to take care of me, cook my breakfast and stuff like that, but didn’t actually have a room of there own.

 teahouse The best viewpoint of Pokhara is Sarangkot (1600m) to the west of the city.There was a small tea house, and I had some hot chocolate.

The the most stunning of Pokhara’s sights is the spectacular panorama of the Annapurna range that forms its backdrop.

Stretching from east to west, the Annapurna massif includes Annapurna I to IV and Annapurna South.Although the highest among them is Annapurna I at 8091 meters, it is Machhapuchhre, which dominates all others in this neighbourhood.

The famous fishtail mountain is considered holy, so you need a permit to climb it.

Unfortunately, there was too much cloud, so this picture didn’t really work out the way I would have liked.


Exploring North Africa with Survival School.

arrival We finally arrive in North Africa, where the three land rovers we will used during the next 9 days await us.

Standing next to me is my mate Pat, who I had met on a previous survival school course.

I had been looking forward to visiting Morocco. I had been told that many of the people in the country, lived as people lived in the bible (which is a bit strange, since the majority of them are Muslims !).

 After a few hours travelling through Morocco, and seeing the sites and sounds of that culture, we stop for refreshments at a roadside Cafe.

Mint Tea.

The 2 main peoples of Morocco, are the Arabs, the the Berbers. The Berbers are traditional Nomadic people, and were/are considered the warrior class of that country.

Our guide and drivers were Berbers and as Muslims, joked that the mint tea, is called Berber Whisky in their culture.

 insidelandy A view from inside our land rover.

There were only 4 people and a driver to each Land rover, so it was a lot more comfortable than I had expected.

On the first night, we find some brush land, half a mile back from the road, and bivvi out.

Later the next day, we stop to take some pictures, while travelling over a mountain pass.

 oldman We arrived in the Old town of Meski. The town was moved about 40 years before, and previously resided in an old Kasbah, which is walkable from the new town.

Meski is a real desert oasis, and our guide Mohamed, had his son Ahmed gives us a tour of the town.

Everyone in the town has some land assigned to them, and here, an old man of 70 + is working and laughing, even though its 7:30 in the evening.

In the centre of the town, was a public swimming pool, where all the people went during the evening.

There was a cafe next to it, where people were drinking, and playing pool.

Unfortunately, the light had gone, so I have had to enhance this picture, that’s why it looks so grey.

 headdress We visited a small shop, to by some souvenirs.

Most people bought a desert headdress, and wore them throughout the course.

Here, Sylvie (who was married to Mark, a London Zoo keeper, ace bushcrafter and animal expert – also on the trip.) poses with her newly bought Headdress.

I embarrassed myself at bartering by having my first offer accepted enthusiastically. When I dropped my price by 5 pounds, the seller was still delighted.

I was obviously offering way to much, but I paid what I thought it was worth and have no regrets.

Our guide Mohamed was a chef and owns a restaurant in Meski,

here he cooks a delicious meatball tagine for us at his restaurant.

 mesky1 That night, we bivvied out at the old fort, about a quarter of a mile from the new town.

In the morning, me and a few of the lads go exploring.

 The place was right out of Tomb Raider and I loved it there.  mesky2
 well Ahmed came over to give us a tour of the old city.

Here he shows us the well, which was the sole source of water for the whole town.

Being in the deserted town, was a special kind of adventure for me.

The sun shining on the town, from outside the city walls.

 oasis A view of the Meski oasis, from inside the deserted Meski Fort.

Several clay channels run to some of the outlying fields, so that more vegetation can be grown outside the Oasis.

As we continue our journey to the Sand Dunes, we stop by the road for refreshments.

Here I am photographed next to one of the longest roads I have ever seen.

 dunes1 A picture of the sand dunes at Erg Chebby.

During the afternoon heat, the only place to be, was in the shade, but in the morning, wandering around the dunes gave an immense sense of calm and peace.

 A few of the team walk around the sand dunes in the early evening.

Walking along the ridges was the only practical way to cross sand dunes.

Walking up and down them, no matter what your fitness, was exhausting.

 mebd Me standing in the black desert.

Only about 20% of all desert is made of sand, most of it is made of rocks like this one.

You can get an idea of the size of the desert and feeling off isolation from this picture.

Some of the interesting people I saw in Morocco.

Here a person earns a living, simply by fixing bicycles and repairing punctures.

 football  Some children play football, barefoot, in the black desert.
Me standing at the top of the Dunes.

One of the strange things about desert, is that when you are wandering in the dunes, there is a sense of isolation, but back at camp, There was none.

There was only one tree, in our camp, and as a city dweller, it was strange to feel “on display” and have no “corner of your own” I got over it after a few days, but its one of the extra experiences you get from being in the desert.

 sunset  The Sky before last light.
As we were travelling out of the desert, I saw some nomadic Berbers, who live in the desert, miles from anywhere.

Having lived isolated in the Dunes for just 5 days, and seeing how hard it was, I had nothing but respect for these people.

 mecamel On the way back, we are treated to a delicious hotel meal, and a camel ride to the high Dunes.

Here, the Berbers help Pat, mount the camel for our trek. The white camel in the picture, is the one I would ride.

Once at the top of the high dunes, we bivvied out.

In the morning, we watched the sunrise, and then travelled down to the hotel to have breakfast.

I had dried bread for breakfast each morning, and when I went to the toilet after 8 days, I thought I was going to damage myself.

 Casting shadows in the Dunes.  shadows
 dancefire  We relaxed for the last 2 days. Since our background is UK bushcraft, a forest provided the ideal place to do this, and we were able to light fires/carve spoons and just get our own space.
After 2 days of relaxing, we had a night in a hotel just near the border (the Moroccan border we crossed, was like the bar in Star Wars !) and made our way back to Gibraltar for our flight home.

We briefly stop at the side of the road for a team photograph.

Although the desert craft of the Berbers is unquestionable, there photography isn’t, and they manage to cut me out of the picture (maybe it was something I said !).