Saturday, July 14, 2007

The end...?

Well I have finally come to 'the end' of my travels, and am back 'home' in England now... Have been back nearly 2 months actually. The trip that began as 'possibly 4 months', turned into 6 months, then a year, and then finally became just under 18 months in 14 different countries on three different continents. I was super lucky and had not one thing stolen - oh apart from about £200 due to some card fraud but that was right near the beginning of the trip. Also I was ill only once, and that was in the first month after eating fruit salad which I think had been fished back out of the garbage...oh and there was the time I was on a 14 hour bus journey and puked up a coxinha (fried maize thing with fish in the centre) in my lap...

Have I changed? Do I speak differently (like saying garbage!!) Has England changed? Am I employable? Well yes to that one, got myself a job in London. Will I ever stay in one place for more than a couple of years? Will I stay in England???????? What will become of my blog?? Here's a little list of the countries I actually ended up going to:
  1. Peru
  2. Bolivia
  3. Chile
  4. Argentina
  5. Brazil
  6. Uraguay
  7. New Zealand
  8. Australia
  9. Thailand
  10. Cambodia
  11. Vietnam
  12. Laos
  13. China
  14. Japan

Where next??!! I hate carrying my backpack even to the car from the house now, so I think I'm off the backpacking thing for a while, but I'm sure it's only a matter of time before I'm heading out to India, Africa, Canada.......!!!

Friday, May 25, 2007

Japan - Hiroshima & Kyoto


Got the famous shinkansen (bullet train) to Hiroshima. Yeah its fast, and on time, and spacious - could fit my massive backpack in the seat with me! And fell asleep almost immediately...there's something about the transport here in Japan; it just sends me to sleep! You see all the businessmen fast asleep on the Tokyo metro, well I was there with them dribbling on my jumper, and the same for the train to Hiroshima. Managed to wake up in time to change trains and get off in the right place, thankfully.

Arrived late in the afternoon so wandered around and saw the famous landmark of the city, the 'A-bomb dome' which is one of the few structures to have survived the atomic bomb ( dropped at 8.15am, August 6th, 1945 - I learnt it off by heart from the museum the next day). It stands out in particular because its actually a European style building, with a green dome on the top, and the rafters of the dome survived so it really looks like a skeleton of a building. They were actually going to pull it down at one point, but fortunately decided to keep it as a reminder of the bombing. And it would be so easy to forget or not realise that Hiroshima had had an atomic bomb dropped on it a mere 60 years ago, as it is such a lively and upbeat place, with a huge street which is an entirely covered shopping area. There are millions of bars and places to eat there - it's a really pleasant and enjoyable city. That evening I had the nicest Okonomiyaki which is a pancake filled with cabbage, beansprouts, pork, and the hiroshima speciality is to add a huge lump of noodles. I chose prawns as well, and it also has a fried egg on top, with some nice strong-flavoured sticky sauce, and sprinklings of parsley. What made it the best was mostly the place, as the chef cooked it directly in front of me on a giant hotplate, so I saw all the ingredients going in fresh. Had that with some warm sake. Lovely.

Next day went to Mirajima, a small island near Hiroshima with lots of temples to visit. Its famous mostly for some huge red torii (gates) which appear to be floating in the water at high tide, but which are in fact planted in the sand. Very picturesque. Apart from the huge groups of school children swarming around (they're ALWAYS swarming around, wherever you go!), there were also lots of pretty deer hanging around on the island, even sneaking into some of the shops. And right at the top on the highest point of the islands, there are monkeys too.

In afternoon went to the Peace Museum to earn more about the A-bomb dropping and its effects, and also interestingly the planning behind the dropping of the bomb. It seems to me like it was dropped more because millions of $ had been spent making the thing and they wanted to show that it wasn't money for nothing. Pretty sick. Not that I'd think there were any good reasons to drop it anyway. Though to be honest, I found it really difficult to imagine the whole thing happening. There were models of the city razed to literally nothing apart from 5 or 6 buildings still barely standing. But having seen the city as it is now, and with all the schoolkids running around screaming, it was so hard to imagine what it must have been like.


Stayed in a cheap (for Japan = 2000 Yen / 10 pounds / AUD$25) hostel, Japanese stylee, sleeping on the tatami mats on the floor on a futon. Met a German girl shortly after arriving, and we went to see the famous Kinkakuji (Golden Temple), which, believe it or not, is covered in gold. It really is a beautiful sight, with a lake all around it, and the pretty maple leaves hanging off the trees. The trees are so pretty here, it's as though each leaf has been handcrafted to perfection by Gepetto and brought to life by the Blue Fairy....

All the other sites were closed by the time we'd seen that, so we went SHOPPING! Oh how I miss shopping! And how this is the best place to start shopping again!

Today, to balance out the gorgeous sunshine we'd been having all week, it rained. It rained for at least 9 hours non-stop. But it didn't stop us going round 4 temples/shrines/stone gardens. My feet are still wet coz I haven't been back to the hostel yet (eek its nearly midnight!). Anyway, the rain didn't make it look any less beautiful. It seems all these things have been designed to look good in rain, shine or snow. And it didn't stop any of the million of Japanese tourists. Everyone had the same 100 Yen see-through umbrella. All templed out again now though. We got stopped about 6 times today by people wanting their photo with us, or children wanting to ask us where we were from and what our addresses were. My friend said she was from Germany, and a poor sweet child asked for clarification: "In America?" No, the Germany in Africa, actually. No we're not from the States! I can't figure out yet if it's expected as there are lots of Americans here, or if it's hoped for coz they like Americans?? It was quite embarrassing at first, then funny, being celebrities, then a bit annoying so we just kept busy and avoided eye contact.

After Kyoto, I headed up further north in Japan, to Aizu Wakamatsu and Matsushima...

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Japan - Tokyo

Finally got to Japan last week and done loads already. Spent first few days in Tokyo with my friends Naomi and her boyfriend Tomo. They helped ease me into the city starting off with a tour of the fish market at Tijuki (I think that's what it was called?!), and a brunch of mmmmm lovely sushi - I tried one which was just a load of tuna - higher and lower/normal grade arranged in a lovely rose shape on top of seaweed and rice. VERRrrrrrry nice. Never taken so many pictures of dead sea creatures in me life! That evening, we had a Korean-style BBQ with a bunch of kids on a school trip, and after that, we did what I've been wanting to do for, like, EVER, and we did the karaoke. Original stylee. We shopped around for the best price, and eventually took one where we got all-you-can-drink too, and were shown up to a tiny booth with a TV screen and touchscreen selector thing to select our songs. We screamed our hearts out and drank sour plum alcohol stuff for 2 hours, then time was up and our voices were gone so we got the last train back along with most of the rest of the city.

On the Sunday, we visited the park where all the funnily dressed yoof hang out, and there was a festival on called the walking of the three shrines (or something - sorry will look up the names of everything later!), so we went along to that, and saw lots of men walking around with no trousers on, letting it almost all hang many people there. And occasionally a load of men with no trousers on came along carrying shrines above their heads and chanting. We also went to a Ramen place as Tomo is crazy about those noodles and likes to try out new places he hears of. There was a queue outside this one when we got there, so that was a good sign. We ordered using a vending machine type thing at the front of the restaurant, and then gave the ticket to the waiter when we got our seats. Mmmm those noodles were lovely - (they beat 9p noodles anyday!) - they gave us a huge plate of thick noodles and I ordered the veggie one, which came with a bowl of meat broth with veggies and spices etc in it, and the idea was to dip the noodles in the mix...mmm don't think I've talked so much about food before on my blog. I really like Japanese food. Spoke to a guy whose been living here for a couple of months and lost 10kg on it even though he's been eating lots, so that makes it good too!

On Monday I tackled the metro/rail system by myself and found it not so difficult after all, and found my way to the Kabouki theatre, where there is a special set of 'plays' on this month, being the anniversary of when an emperor first deigned to watch a kabuki performance. Only males are allowed to act in these plays, and there are around f acts to each play, with each one lasting half a day. I managed one act of about 1.25 hours and kept nodding off the whole way through. It was very dark in there tho....and to be honest it was pretty damn boring, even with the English commentary. It was just 2 men acting all domesticated and inactive most of the time. The Japanese lady sitting next to me was really enthusiastic though and asked me if I was staying for the 2nd act at the end of the first...."Errr, I think I'll come back for the 3rd act, just need to get some fresh air first..."

But I had more important and exciting things to do. I've chosen the right time to come to Japan, as there is also a sumo tournament on this month (think there are actually only 3 big ones a year), so I went to see the big guys stomping around on the stage, throwing salt in the air, and wobbling and squating in preparation to heave, slap and push their opponents off of a tiny platform. There was a good crowd there. I had had the opportunity to have my own sumo wrestle with an old lady in the museum before hand with the aid of some origami wrestlers which we hand crafted then pitted against each other on a shoebox lid. I won hands down, beat her to a pulp. The real matches were suprisingly good fun to watch. So much preparation would go into each match, so much salt thrown into the ring, so much stomping, the odd slapping of fat bellies and the less frequent crow of impending victory from a cocky wrestler, then the fight would start and sometimes be over in a matter of 10 seconds. Other fights would last only a couple of mins or so but the crowd would go crazy.

So that was my first few are Hiroshima and Kyoto! Haven't got my USB thingy with me here to put the photos on, so soz about that for those of you who need the visual stimulation. Probably will have to wait til I get back to the UK.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Last Saturday in Sydney

My last ambition was to sit on the bull in World Square - yeah did it!

Last day!

Can't believe it's my last day in Australia!!

Took me 4 hours to pack my bag this morning, and its way too full.

Leaving work yesterday was really sad even though I've been there less than 3 months.

Its' a sunny day in Sydney, went to my usual the 3 Wise Monkeys last night and the band was brilliant with everyone going crazy for the last few songs. Nirvana's Smells Like Teen Spirit sticks in my head...!!!

My flights at 9.40pm and I arrive in Tokyo tomorrow at 6.30am, and Naomi (my friend who lives there, in case you don't know) tells me she has lots planned for me for the whole weekend.

Too much simultaneous excitement and sadness!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Monday, May 14, 2007

Surfin in Manly

Went surfing again on my last weekend in Sydney! The waves were massive this time though, and the board we hired was a proper one, not just a huge learner's one (which are easier to control in the water). So here are a few pictures of me only semi-standing on the board. I had fun trying though. More than anything, you have to learn love being battered to exhaustion by the waves....

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Surfin' dude

Well the waves may only have been 3 feet high at their biggest, but I managed to do about 5 million "Eskimo rolls" (and no that's not a skilled manoeuvre, that's when you crash and burn, man...dude). I also managed to stand up a few times though, and collect sore knees, bruises everywhere, scratched and achey arms, waterlogged ears, and general all over acheyness. Surfing is soooo cool I loved it! Together with being in a gorgeous location in the national parks area north of Sydney, seeing dolphins frolicking just where we'd been surfing at the end of the day, afternoon siestas, cheap jugs of beer and sangria at "surfcamp" and perfect weather, I had an amazing time.....only 10 more days left in Oz!!!!!

I did a really poor job on photos I'm afraid. No evidence of me myself surfing, but HONEST, I did do it!!

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Yoohoo I'm in Uluru!

Just came back from an amazing time in the "Red Centre", visiting Uluru (Ayer's Rock), The Olgas and King's Canyon. Had only 5 days away from Sydney, but it felt like weeks. Its such a huge contrast landing at Alice Springs coming from Sydney. I left behind the humid breezes of a busy high-rise-filled city centre, and landed 3 hours later in a roasting dry 35 degree desert, where the only building around for miles was the airport itself. The smell of the air too was of warm sweaty leaves, yum.

After arriving I went to the Desert Park in Alice Springs as my tour didn't start til the next day. Lots of interesting mini lizards (including a legless lizard, which isn't a snake because it has ears. Don't say I never teach you anything!), hopping marsupial mice, funny sounding birds, and of course more kangaroos and emus.

Then back at the hostel went and had few drinks with Sally who I'd met off the plane and was doing the same tour. At 1am got to bed a little drunker, then had to get up at 5am for an early start!! I forgot to change the time ( its half an hour behind Sydney time) and therefore woke up hlf an hour early too. Good job there was lots of driving so got lots of sleep on the bus. We went to Uluru first because if its too hot they don't let you climb up it. We were lucky it was only 34 degrees and the cut off point is 35, so about half the group opted to walk up the rock. The Aborigines say they prefer that you don't climb up the rock, so I was unsure what to do, and had been thinking about it for weeks before, asking Aussies what they thought. Some acted as though it was a ridiculous idea to even entertain and that the Abbo's heritage and wishes should be respected, and others didn't even think it was an issue. After hearing that it is forbidden to climb The Olgas (another bunch of rocks we visited), I decided to go ahead and climb. I think part of the reason they don't like people climbing is that many people have died climbing Uluru, because it is a dangerous climb, not just because its steep and there's not much to hold on to, but also because of the heat which causes people to collapse. So that's obviously not something they want to be responsible for. It is a really hard climb, especially in that heat. Took about 3 hours to get to the top and across a bit. The top isn't as flat as it looks in the pictures, it actually has lots of steep "valleys" or cracks to climb up and down, and there's nothing at all to hold onto at that point. I was also surprised to find trees and even shrimpy things and other strange water creatures in the puddles up there.
Camping in our swags under the stars was my fave bit. The first night I got to sleep easily, but the second, we stayed up drinking and talking about spiders and one of the rangers on the campsite/farm we stayed at found a python. We'd also woken up after the first night to find dingo tracks through our the second night every tiny sound I heard scared me, and I thought a redback was going to kill me in my sleep. Getting up at 5am to go and see the rock at sunrise wasn't so much fun either...
Our guide was really cool, telling us all sorts of stories about the Aborigines and plant remedies and rituals etc. Although he wasn't allowed to tell us some stuff because it was too "sacred". He did tell us about a cringeful disgusting ritual they do to boys when they become men, and also later in their life (when they become old men, I guess). I've put a picture here so you get an idea what it involves...
It was interesting seeing how little the landscape changes out there too. We drove for
about 5 hours each of the three days of the tour, and every time I opened my eyes to look out the window, it was the same sparse dry flat land. Although there were a lot more trees than I'd imagined there would be. There had just been a bit of rain the week before we arrived, and we were going at the beginning of winter, so I can't imagine what it must be like in summer with temperatures in the 50s!
By the last night our group had bonded quite well and we all had a meal together back at the hostel in Alice Springs, and many jugs of beer. Next day I flew back to Sydney to dark and dreary RAIN. I felt like I'd flown to London by mistake!! I'm gonna have to come back to this country and explore more (as well as all the other countries I still wanna see).

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

AFL again

Sydney Swans vs Brisbane Lions and this time "we" (Sydney) won hurrah 96-69 the score was. Was a good game, and a gorgeous sunny day. We were in the Sydney Cricket Ground this time, which was a lot smaller and "cosier".
There were also dancing zebras before the match began for some unexplained reason, apart from so the crowd could win prizes.

This time I went with my new flatmates Helly and Mari. They know some guys in the reserves team so got some free tickets in the members area. How nice to be so well connected! They're from Finland (Reetta and Paula do you recognise them - Mari is from Lapland too! Such a small world).

Monday, April 02, 2007

Moving again!

Well, had a disagreement with my landlords and they kicked me out...
Slight exaggeration. They wanted to put the rent up by $5 a week (2 quid).

Yeah that's not so much, but when you have bugs in your bed you wonder whether you're really getting value for money. So I went on a flatsearch, and a mere 2 days later, found a flat in the same building, for $40 less a week. HAHAHAHAHAHAHAAAAAAA! It was the first one I looked at too.

I moved in last night. It's a slightly more crowded flat, there will be 8 people in a 2-bedroom flat (the balcony has been turned into a bedroom for 2), but its lovely and clean, and they have REAL sofas, not some crappy fold up bed where the cushion keeps sliding off it and a couple of picnic chairs (that's what I had before). Its only for a few weeks too, seeing as I'll be leaving in 6 and a bit weeks. Now I'm sharing with a Bosnian, three Thai people, a German, and 2 more people yet to move in. Everyone seems very nice. But why does everyone think I'm German when they meet me???! Well, only 2 people have so far, but really why whould anyone think that. A couple of people at work thought I was Irish too. To be sure, why would they think that. To be sure.

Saturday, March 31, 2007

AFL game Swans vs Eagles

I went to see the Sydney Swans play the West Coast Eagles in their first match since last season. It was a biggie coz last year the Swans lost to the Eagles by just 1 point in the final. AND....they lost by 1 point again this time too. Great game though. The players are giants. I didn't know much about the game, but its easy to pic up the few rules they have, and by the second half it got really exciting as the Eagles had a big lead but the swans managed to fight their way back. It's a two hour game split into 4 quarters and points are won by kicking the ball between two rugby-style posts (6 points), and there are two shorter poles on either side of the main posts which give you 1 point if the ball goes through them instead. The ball is passed either by throwing, drop-kicking or hitting it through your hand like you might in volleyball for an underarm serve. And you can't run more than 15 metres without passing or bouncing the ball. It was a funny experience too as every five minutes random people would run on to the pitch, either to hand out drinks to the players, or, (we assumed) to whisper tactics to players and save the manager's voice.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Climbing and camping

Had a lovely weekend camping and climbing in the Blue Mountains. Went there back in the winter last year, its only about 1-2 hours drive from Sydney. This time it was a lot warmer, and we had perfect weather all weekend. There were 5 of us altogether in the end. We've been indoor climbing for a while - me just for a few weeks and a couple of times back in Brum, and decided it was time to get out in great outdoors. One of our group knew an instructor so he helped us with knots and supplying vitals like 'binas and ropes, harnesses and crippling shoes.

Arrived on the Saturday and went for a walk to the "Red Hand Caves", where Aboriginees about 1600 years ago left their hand prints on the walls of some small caves. Very pretty. But I was even more impressed by the kangaroos in our campsite! They were just lounging around, eating grass, fighting with each other, not worried in the slightest that we were invading their space.

Had a BBQ in the evening, and got quite overenthusiastic in throwing the wood on the fire, so it was burnt sausages and bacon all round yum. Then I learnt how to play Texas Hold 'Em poker and was doing quite well until I lost all my chips...

Then on Sunday, after a slightly chilly night where I dreamt I was flying on a sheet of ice over the ocean, we managed to get ourselves up and pack the tents early. Our instructor, Colin, was actually originally from Solihull! But he'd been living here since a child. Coz we were all relatively new to climbing, and pretty much complete beginners in outdoor climbing, he took us up the "easy" routes. Easy they were not! My fingers still have skin hanging off them and my knees look like I've been kneeling in fried beetroot juice (they're bruised and battered, ok! yes I know that was crap but I'm trying to be more literary). I think they were graded as 14, 15 and 22, whatever that means to climbers. He did concede that probably some of the routes had changed by handhold being knocked off and worn away over the years. Part of one of the routes was an overhang! I just wasn't strong enough. I also got really nervous, as Colin kept telling us about people who'd lost limbs and been dropped from great heights. Being outside seems a lot more real than climbing indoors. Especially when there are no cushions on the ground to ease your fall. Only more rock. And then there are lizards and spiders and probably scorpions and crocodiles hiding in all the nooks and crannies that you're supposed to put your hands in and cling on to with one finger. So by the end of the day the adrenalin had got to me and I was knackered.
It was a great weekend though - hopefully will get to do it again soon!
Pic of us round the barbie: Me, Allan (Oz/Hong Kong), Sebastien (Oz/France), Juanita (Oz) and Jessica (US).
Last pic is of me being helped up the "easiest" climb of the day by Colin!