Monday, December 6, 2010

Productive weekend

One thing to be said about a wind free weekend is at least it means I have the time and energy to do other projects. We had a lovely cool two days which meant I could have a very productive time working on the camper trailer. First it gets attacked with the wire brush, then the rust kill, then a coat or two of red primer, then up to three coats of "hammered steel" finish. Not to mention a complete overhaul with a new stove setting and storage space created by yours truly out of leftover pieces of wood and detritus from my garage. My years of hoarding have borne fruit and my carpentry skills are improving if I say so myself! I may well vie with Rose this year for best camp kitchen, even if her fella owns the local camping store!!

The painting has done my head in though. Today I had a personal training session at the gym using the group fitness room, which is carpetted with a grey carpet flecked with red. There I am doing some seriously hard ab work, and I'm thinking that the undercoat is still showing through and another overcoat of grey paint is needed. Seriously.....this is the carpet I'm talking about.......

It's only two weeks till I take the camper down to Coronation Beach for the annual Xmas/New Year session, when I hope to get enough time on the water to crack those loops. I will, however, be jetting over east to spend the actual day with mum and any other siblings in town, but not for long when there's wind and waves to be had. Kate has chucked her job, so she'll be keen to put those loops to bed as well.

One more weekend to go....

Sunday, November 28, 2010


We are having a hot few days and the house is all closed up trying to keep that hot easterly wind from turning the inside into a sauna. With limited success unfortunately, but I can always chill out downstairs.

The garden is holding up quite well, though I'm planning to erect a bit more shade cloth and wind barriers to give those tender greens a bit more of a fighting chance. The Lebanese cucumbers are beginning to fruit so that's one more thing I no longer need to buy at the market.

The Farmers Market on Saturday is really going strong now. They are into their second year and there's lots of good produce available grown without sprays and chemicals, as well as grass fed goat and lamb which I'm now enjoying on a regular basis. Most meat you buy from the butcher here is grain fed, but these guys have planted perrenial grasses, which maintain their stock of Demara sheep and goats quite adequately without the need for chemicals etc. Bit more expensive, but not excessively so. Then there's the Vietnamese market gardeners, who are now selling all their unique asian veg that you just can't get at the supermarket. Like freshly cut kangkong, a leafy green that is scrumptious shallow fried with butter, garlic and chillies. I'm now finding out how to grow it - twice daily watering according to the lady who sells it.

I've been working on derusting the camper trailer, a job I am supposed to be doing right now rather than blogging away, as the surface rust is getting quite extensive and I'd like it done before I take it up to Coro camping over Xmas/ New Year. There's a lot of joy to be had with a wire brush connected to an electric drill working the metal back to clean, but it's a bugger doing the paint job. Oh well, must be done....

I have been dreaming again, encouraged by my recent purchase of some books on trekking in Tasmania, and have decided to plan to do the Overland Track in February 2012. My sister did it back in the 80's when it was still mud up to the thighs, but now it's better maintained, with boardwalks and more modern huts, which means it's not an extremely arduous journey like it used to be. But I'm planning a few sidetrips and a few peak bags, so it won't be an easy stroll. Just need to find a few like minded people to come with me.

Well I'm sweating too much sitting here by the computer. Better stop procrastinating and go and do something!

Perhaps a cool dip in the ocean at the end of the street....

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Loop practice, Day One

It transpires that whilst I was waiting for Kate to get back from Exmouth before beginning the loop challenge proper, sneaky Kate had availed herself of a new "how to" video and had been secretely practicing by herself. No accounting for the competitive spirit, as I said to someone today, I don't care who gets there first, just if we can motivate each other to keep trying.

Anyway, the new video breaks the spin loop down into four steps, turning the exercise more into a series of techniques to master, rather than the usual testosterone powered Nike inspired slogan, "just go for it"!! And mostly the technique is mastered in underpowered, off the plane speeds, meaning hitting the water doesn't hurt. For us two lasses, this is right up our alley.

Now both of us are very good sailors. We jump big ramps for big air, we ride waves down the line, including in cross-on conditions, and have no trouble keeping up with the lads. But the forward loop is the move that shows you've really made it, even if it's more about guts than technique.

When learning to windsurf, once you can get going with some speed you learn to use a harness and footstraps so that you can use your body as a fulcrum and conserve energy. But during this delicate stage of learning to "hook in" you get your first taste of the pain of being catapulted forwards over the handlebars into the drink, at speed! And sometimes you fall on your kit. Either way, it hurts. So you spend alot of effort making sure you don't get catapulted ever again. Yes, ever again!!

Then you progress further, you're gybing and tacking, then you learn to carve gybe and then you enter the waves. It's time to learn jumps, to work out how to turn on waves and ride them in and then it's time to start doing some fancy stuff. Yes, it's time to loop.

Back loops are harder technique wise, but nowhere near as scary to do. Most people master them before the forward loop. I've even done a couple myself, but neither was planned and I didn't sail away so they don't really count. But the forward loop, well that's about balls.

Remember the catapult you were never ever going to do again? Well a forward loop is essentially a controlled catapult, with your feet still strapped into the board so the whole kit and caboodle comes around with you as the wind flips you through it's eye and out the other side. At speed! Off a wave! Possibly at height!! Sounds scary doesn't it??

Kate's new video, however, makes it alot less scary, and today I had my first try of the off planing gybe in the footstraps technique which is stage one. And no, it doesn't hurt when you hit the water, it isn't even scary. I'm pushing my front arm forward, my back arm is sliding down the boom and sheeting in and I'm even looking behind me. And around I go, sans board, and land without pain on the other side of the board. It's a revelation!!

But it's important not to get too cocky, coz if you try too hard, and then try with a bit more speed, well it does turn into a catapult and yep, the slam of a helmetted head into the drink at speed gives the brain a mighty fine shake up. Whoa my head hurts!!

Time to give up for the day before I lose my bottle.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Coitus interruptus

I have an aquaintance who is keen to visit Western Australia to see our lizards. In particular he wants to see a live bobtail, , as his previous experience has only been flattened road kill, a not uncommon sight on most of our roads. I'd told him that bobtails are so numerous here in Geraldton that they live in our gardens in great numbers. But I wasn't quite ready to arrive home yesterday afternoon to find two young bobtails making out on my front doormat!! Unfortunately, the arrival of a large noisy 4WD within metres of their amorous activity caused a rapid rush for cover....

I'm very fortunate to still have quite alot of native trees and vegetation surrounding my house, which brings in lots of cheeky birds and even the occasional Bungarra (Aboriginal word for Gould's monitor) . Sometimes it can feel like a zoo!

The willy wagtails must be nesting as they've been swooping Hazel something rotten, but she just stands there totally ignoring them as they swoop and click within centimeters of her head and mouth. She used to have a wild old time running up and down chasing them but these days she behaves like a grand old dame and just pretends they don't exist.

I've discovered that Hazel has fashion sense. Well I don't quite know what to call it, but she is able to look at what I am wearing and know what activity will then occur. Like if I put my cycling top and knicks on she gets very upset and runs away next door or down to the beach because she knows I'm going cycling and she doesn't like that at all. But if I just put on normal clothes, or work clothes, there's no reaction at all. I'm still leaving her for the day, but she doesn't mind!! However if I put my swim wear on, she gets really excited because she knows we are going to the beach. There's little difference between swimmers and a normal bra and nickers, but she can tell immediately and begins making all sorts of impatient noises to jivvy me along. It's fascinating to see just how much association a dog can have to a visual cue - and how predictable I am....

We've had some spectacular windsurfing this season, nice 4.5m weather, rolling swell, nothing too big, and then we had yesterday!! Blistering winds gusting well over 30knots made holding on a challenge. But excellent for big air!! The weekend isn't looking too good with mostly easterlies, so I shall have to molly coddle the garden instead, and rest some tired limbs that haven't had a day off for 2 weeks between windsurfing and gym sessions.

I am slightly embarrassed to admit that I am now a fully fledged gym junkie, and have even started to run!! Now those people who know me may have been privy to my opinion on running: that it's a ridiculous way to bugger your joints whilst doing something totally unenjoyable. Like how many people running have you ever seen looking happy? Mostly they look miserable! So for me to swallow my words and start running is, well, humble pie.

It's actually my personal trainer's fault. I did protest, but since she's the boss during my PT session I had to aquiesce, and yes it is a good way to get the heart rate up. And yes it is addictive, all those happy little endorphins coursing through my veins.... So now I happily do a 15min run on the treadmill 2-3 times a week as warmup. Bloody crazy I am!!

Of course all this gym junkie business does come with great bonuses. I'm getting really fit, I'm losing weight and I'm getting so nicely toned I'm actually enjoying looking at my body again. No longer do I have those flabby "tuckshop arms", I've got discernible muscle! And my legs and bum: phwoar!!! Aah I do like a healthy dose of narcissism!!

Must go and admire myself in the mirror again....

Saturday, October 16, 2010

The heat is on

Mid October, mid west coast WA. Those big highs are in and the land is warming up fast. We've not had much rain this year (the eastern part of Australia has had its wettest year on record, but over here it's our second driest ever!) which means the garden needs some extra TLC, and the early erection of the shadecloth to finish off the spring harvest.

We had a cold winter, which probably explains the bumper crop of snow peas, but the early heat brought on the aphids, who unfortunately demolished the broccoli before the ladybugs and aphid wasps could do their work as friendly predators. I got a few flowerettes, but the rest got pulled out in disgust!

Working out what grows when is such trial and error, as the usual suggestions on the back of the seed packets or in gardening books just don't equate to this crazy weather we get here. There is no way we have the same growing cycle as Perth and the south west! The two cucumber plants I grew from seed sat at two leaves for about 2 months, then with the sudden warmth they've begun to grow and flower. Whereas the squash - same family - has had a lovely time in the cooler weather but now is getting awfully squeamish with this heat and curling up with mould and expiring. Some of the tomato plants have gone great guns, others are taking their time - it's nice to have an ongoing harvest of tomatoes anyway so I'm happy with this development.

It's asparagus time!! Oh how I love fresh asparagus. I'm also harvesting lots of yummy lettuce greens for awesome organic salads, and the chilli plants are fruiting madly, meaning I've almost got all the ingredients I need for an Asian feast. The kaffir lime is growing well, and I've lemongrass clumps everywhere, and I just purchased another curry leaf plant as my current plant isn't thriving at all. Apparently they like friends.. But the fig tree is fruiting, awesome!!

After the water tank stand disaster the backyard has been left somewhat neglected, resulting in huge weed growth in the deserted chook pen that I'm rather scared of clearing up. You see it's snake season, and the average slider around here usually packs a nasty bite of venom, so caution is the best policy. Pottering around in shorts and thongs isn't really recommended though I am stamping loudly to let them know I'm coming... So far so good.

The windsurfing season has commenced, with some ripping winds and quite a few nice days of rolling swell. My season was delayed a bit as I had to get strength and mobility back in the forementioned broken arm, but with all that time in the gym, I'm now stronger and fitter than I have been for years. And yes I'm still turning up for some gym torture when the wind doesn't blow. Kate gets back from Exmouth this weekend, so it's time for the great forward loop challenge to begin! I'm feeling sick just thinking about it....

Hazel has been unwell, with considerable pain and weakness in her left shoulder. She gets an XRay on Monday to find out if it's anything sinister, until then it's more anti-inflammatories and the most excruciatingly slow beach walks imaginable. It's heart wrenching to see her hobbling along, but she so enjoys her rolls in the sand and weed that I think there's more good than bad. She's still eating and happy enough but walking is a huge effort for her, poor thing. All that gymwork at least makes me strong enough to carry all 20kgs of her when necessary. No, she hasn't lost any weight!!!!

It's starting to cool down now, time to get an hour or so out in the garden before friends come round for dinner. I've just cooked BBQ pork, Chinese style with Char Siu sauce which I'll serve with rice and cucumbers. But now it's time to unfurl the shade cloth...

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Dreams, dreams, dreams...

After I returned from the big trip 18 months ago I knew I had let the travel genie out of the bag and there was no way that itch was ever to be suppressed again. So I hide it in liberal dosages of home improvements, work commitments and summer windsurfing, with the hope I can just keep it under control for a while, until Hazel moves on and I've trained up another few Aussie docs at the practice. But in the back of my mind is that in 2014, when I hit the big half century, I'm pulling up sticks and heading outta town!

Doing the tax return is a stark reminder that I have less than four years left to get my finances in order so I can live the dream of a self financed retiree (50 may be the new 30, but "retiree" sure doesn't sound anything but old does it?) and do what I like when I like. By then there'll be a big port at Oakajee being built and I'll be able to rent out the house here for a fortune. Certainly enough to live on whilst I swan around Asia for a while.

So I recline in the hammock dreaming about just where I'll go given no restrictions on time, or hopefully money. Although I've done my fair share of exceedingly expensive luxury holidays, I'm just as comfortable travelling solo on a very low budget. I'm able to juggle the best of both worlds: pay for comfort when wanted or needed, but mostly I neither crave home comforts nor resent not having them when it's not available. I'm very lucky that my personal needs are few - provide me shelter, food and water and I'm happy - and that wherever I am in the world I find it incredibly easy to feel totally at home.

Should I head around Australia again visiting those places that I couldn't go with a dog? Should I spend a summer at Gnarloo riding the perfect wave? Head off to New Zealand for a ski season then the summer tramping and cycling? Or back to the Indonesian Archipelago to explore further afield before heading off through the rest of Asia and beyond? Since all of the above are on the wishlist, it's just a matter of working out where to start!

But it's all mere dreams right now, thank goodness dreaming doesn't cost anything - more money for travel!!

Friday, September 10, 2010

The grind

I do love my job, but sometimes it just feels like an endless process to get from one end of the week to the other. And I only work part time!!

The real problem is that the adrenaline high from my ski trip has abated, and I'm yet to start the summer windsurfing season, so I'm in a bit of a dip at the moment. How to get out of it?

It hasn't been helped by the broken arm, though I'm now out of plaster and gaining strength though there's still a little healing left to do on what ended up being a rather more complex fracture than I initially realised. Although not displaced, I actually managed to break the bone both across and longitudinally which I reckon is a pretty impressive effort for what I thought was just a face plant and a sprained wrist!!

As threatened in previous posts I have finally joined a gym and got a personal trainer to torture me on a weekly basis. I've nicknamed her "the witch" so that she doesn't go too easy on me - I've told her I expect her to make me work hard so she can earn her moniker! Apparently lots of people go to gyms and are too scared to actually push themselves, even with a PT, go figure?? But thank goodness the 80s days of leotards are over....

I spend alot of time at work trying to encourage my patients to do more exercise. Many think that doing housework and walking around the house is all the exercise that they need, others don't even do that much!! Getting them motivated can be a real struggle, and I'm no different really. Although my fitness levels are much higher than most of my patients, I'm still not as fit as I'd like to be and carrying more flab than I'd like despite a pretty healthy diet. It took a broken arm to get me in a gym.

The scenario in my head:
  • go skiing for 2 weeks in NZ having done a modicom of exercise prior but nothing really regular, allowing fitness to lag somewhat.
  • have goal to get comfortable skiing off-piste (that's the lumpy, non groomed parts of the mountain for any non skiiers) on admittedly a rather difficult mountain to ski (Treble Cone).
  • get new skis - you beauty!!
  • on the third day skiing, take my new skis for their maiden run down a couple of groomed slopes then head over to ski down a rather difficult part of the mountain called cloud nine. Discover approx 2/3rds of the way down that I am not all that fit, that I am not quite up to this palaver and decide to slowly traverse across and down to the bottom - instead of just bloody skiing properly, idiot!!
  • this is where I come a cropper, being too careful - castigate self severely.
  • looking on bright side, at least it wasn't my knee, I could still ski with a broken arm, and the snow cover was pretty atrocious for off-piste skiing most of those two weeks anyway.
  • return home hyped up after two fun weeks feeling motivated to keep active. Hit brick wall realising my usual options are limited by arm in plaster - feel very sorry for self.
  • self flagellation at how I got myself into this stupid mess in the first place - if I'd been fitter in the first place I wouldn't have done what I did, broke my arm etc etc etc...
  • be honest with myself that I just have to bite the bullet and get significantly fit if I am to maintain the types of physical activities that I enjoy, particularly as I am not getting any younger ( too hard to ignore latter fact these days).
  • be even more honest with myself that I'll need a personal trainer to push me coz if I just join a gym I probably won't turn up.
  • take about 3 weeks to come to this realisation! That's alot of self pity and navel gazing in there, and that good old standby - procrastination!!
  • take action! And yes I've been turning up almost daily, spending at least an hour pushing my body doing all sorts of exercises, stretching well afterwards and then taking Hazel for long walks along the beach. You can almost see the halo....

So now that I've revealed my inner neuroses and you've all had a good chuckle at my expense, I'm off to celebrate a friend's 50th and stock up on carbs for next week's gym onslaught.


Saturday, August 21, 2010

Sweet sixteen

The call came last night. An anonymous number on my mobile phone that I didn't answer in time. Two hours later I checked the message bank. It was J, whose message sounded ominous. I knew deep inside before I rang her back that this wasn't going to be good news, and I suspected the worst.

M was the oldest, stubbornly post dates and refusing to be born despite curries, vigorous sex and all those other attempts to move things along, but at last she arrived to be named after her maternal grandmother. As a first child she bumbled along but at 13 months her development faltered and it quickly became obvious that something was wrong. A search for a diagnosis began, and the endless round of physiotherapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy and sign language, special schools and other interventions began. J and G struggled on, helped by J's mum and sister and a small group of dedicated friends. And into this family arrived two more kids, smart happy boys who fiercely loved and protected their bumbling big sister from the vagaries of a modern world.

Then M developed seizures, which took a long time and alot of medication to get under some sort of control. She entered her teenage years, with all the hormonal torment that entails, and the extra concerns that put on her parents. And she began to learn a new way to communicate, which was helping M to be less frustrated and dependent on others.

Last Tuesday she turned sixteen. A wonderful age, and she had a wonderful day at school and with friends before arriving home happy and heading off to bed. On Wednesday morning she was dead.

No-one expected it, (it appears she had a seizure), and it happened far too soon for J, who has only recently lost her dear mum, and her father a year or so before that. But M's life was a happy one, in a family that adored her, and had the financial means to provide her with good care. And M had a great capacity to do some really hilarious things, born out of her lack of understanding of acceptible norms.

Like lying on the floor open mouthed to let Hazel give her big sloppy pashes. Climbing up onto the roofrack of my 4WD and refusing to come down. This was during her climbing stage, I also remember her climbing up onto the shed and leaving a little warm brown memento up there. Finding my facecream and spreading it all over the living room floor like a piece of postmodern art. In fact she loved drawing, with anything, anywhere.

We'll all miss M, sweet sixteen, and endlessly kissed.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Deja vu

Last year I rediscovered my inner ski goddess, after a hiatus of more than 5 years whilst I'd engaged in scuba diving holidays on some of the most biodiverse tropical reefs of the world, not to mention my six and a half month sojourn through SE Asia. This year confirmed for me the incredible attraction of hurtling down a steep mountain only to climb back up and do it again! Bob described what keeps him skiing as that sudden acceleration at the start of a turn that's like a jet taking off. Others talk about making those first tracks in virgin snow, known as freshlines, for others it's the sheer joy of enjoying fresh snow, even better when it's powder, in a beautiful environment.

I'm not good enough yet to appreciate freshlines, but I do know what Bob means. But it's more than that.

I've been to New Zealand skiing 4 times. Twice I did a group tour visiting Mt Hutt, TC, Cardrona, Coronet Peak and The Remarkables. These are the mainstream resorts on the South Island, but there's also numerous smaller commercial and club fields that extend from Arthurs Pass right down to Queenstown that rely on rope tows, t-bars and the notorious nutcracker (I've seen the bruises!!) to get you up the slopes. It's also pretty common in New Zealand to do a bit of walking to get to the top of a run, and back country touring is extremely popular. But when I decided to come to New Zealand last year there was only one choice: Treble Cone.

The first two times I came to TC they still had the t-bar in the Saddle, and it was a long traverse to get over to the chutes. I have fond memories of my second trip when I took a private lesson with Thierry, now the Mon-Thur bus driver but back then my ski instructor, who taught me to stop thinking, keep my head up and just feel my turns, as he led me relentlessly down those halfpipes time and time again. Lara, my instructor last year, taught me to breathe. Funny little detail that one, but quite useful!

What has me wanting to return again to TC is:

1. obviously the skiing. It's steep, challenging and relatively uncrowded, mainly because it doesn't have much beginner terrain, which keeps the riffraff away. Too many times have I been broadsided by out of control snowboarders on the slopes of Thredbo and Perisher, such that I get a bit nervous around a group of them. I'm hoping this paranoia can be lifted by a few more visits to TC, where the snowboarders are awesome riders, and a pleasure to watch doing their thing.

2. location, location, location! That view over the lake, from anywhere on the mountain, plus the views over the back country to Mt Aspiring from the summit and from the view point at the top of the Matukituki runs, is priceless. You get to ski all day surrounded by spectacular beauty!

3. the coffee. Seriously, it's really good coffee...

4. the people. Every year I make a few more friends amongst the locals, who are incredibly friendly and justifiably proud of their mountain. Nancy, who I skied with a bit last year, was unfortunately away overseas this time, but I expect I'll ski with her again next year. And hopefully with my new friends from this year. I also like that everyone's a bit daggy, there's no fashion parade going on here, unlike the pretentious mob that frequent Thredbo Village. Peter (one of the Friday schooldads) and I spent a bit of time chuckling about this, only for me to find out later just what Peter did for a living!

5. the town of Wanaka. Small, quaint, quiet and friendly, with all the facilities I need, plus the best cinema in the southern hemisphere. Those cookies are to die for!!

6. great instruction. I've always had lessons at TC, and I've always had great quality instructors. And my skiing has improved accordingly.

I was explaining all this to one of my friends, who noted the similarity to what it was like visiting Geraldton every year on windsurfing holidays. For five years I came here every year, made more and more friends each summer, and then eventually moved here. As did every other windsurfer in Geraldton, we're almost all blow-ins from elsewhere!

But that's where the similarity ends. No way am I moving to Wanaka!!

Saturday, August 7, 2010

The secret to happiness

Well I'm not the Dalai Lama but I think I know one or two things about the subject.

I had an interesting talk with Jitka, one of the staff in the sports store I mostly frequent whilst in Wanaka, about friendliness. For sales people or people working in the hospitality industry it's part of their job, but for me it's part of my life. It's actually something I consciously do: I smile, I greet people, I make jokes with strangers and I try to genuinely feel compassion for my fellow beings. Now the important word here is genuine. I'm not being fake, I'm not trying to impress or play games, I really do want to be your friend, even if it's just to share a funny moment in time.

I started this habit some time after I left Sydney. In fact I remember that moment in time all too well when I flew back to Sydney mid windsurfing holiday to do a lucrative shift in Wollongong Hospital, spied the uptight drivers in their cars whilst I sat on a bus going somewhere, and said to myself: "Time to get outta this place". A few years later via 3 years in the NT, I'm ensconced on the beach at Drummonds, doing a job I am incredibly passionate about, and can't be happier. And when I return to Sydney for visits (not often!) my absolute favourite past time is to smile at people!!

Now this is what gets me: people are incredibly suspicious of people who smile at them or are friendly towards them. Obviously people who do this are either mad, on drugs, or crazy hippies. Or worse, emotionally needy! What people forget is that just maybe that person is happy, and wants to share a bit of it with you. Go on, try it right now, smile broadly and you just can't help but feel a buzz of the happy juices flowing.

Actually, there's some pretty good research confirming the positive effects of smiling and laughing on the psyche (I'm far too lazy to include links so feel free to google for them yourself). So it must be good for you! I've also found, learnt through my practice of meditation, that holding one's mouth in a gentle Buddha type smile (Mona Lisa does it too!), is as effective. And if you are feeling too stressed to smile? Just take a big breath, and let it out with the loudest deepest sigh you can make and VOILA!!! See how easy it is?

Another tip to happiness is the "live each day at a time" philosophy. If you don't spend time reliving the past or worrying about the future, but live in the moment, you haven't got much to upset you. Of course if you are hungry, have no job, no roof over your head or are in physical danger it might be a little hard to feel happy, but my travels to poor parts of the world reveal that probably what makes people most happy is their social wealth ie their connections to other people, not their material wealth. In fact, worrying about material wealth appears to be a recipe for unhappiness.

I'm going to add a caveat here, because I know those who know me may protest that it's easy for me to say these things when I am financially secure and have the ability to travel anywhere in the world on a whim, and engage in expensive sports like skiing, windsurfing and scuba diving. Sure, but that has never stopped me from being able to see the world through other people's eyes. I am incredibly lucky to have a huge dose of empathy ( I always cry in movies, and am sometimes moved to tears by the chaotic lives of my patients) which somehow allows me to learn from the many people I have met all over the world. And from the numerous couch surfers I host, who continue to enrich my life with their stories and experiences. Not to mention the incredible aboriginal people I work with and for, who have taught me a hell of a lot about social capital. One day I'm going to write about some of them.

I might also add that I am not always smiley and friendly. I can be a total grumpy bitch at times, but I'm working on it - that's where the meditation comes in. And I love spending time by myself, having never been a person who needs others around to make me happy. I never have got that idea, other people don't make you happy, it comes from within. And if you're happy, it feels great to share it.

Now I'm going to finish with an anecdote. Being a doctor, and an advocate of evidence based therapies, I just want to say that this is merely a story, a true one, to illustrate my point. In December 2008 I met a Dutch woman in northern Laos who told me her story. She'd been diagnosed with breast cancer, had the usual treatment, and a few years later it recurred, with spread all over her body and no hope of cure. Her doctors told her she had only months to live, so she and her husband went travelling with what time they had left. With so little time left, she made a conscious decision to live each day at a time. Every morning she got up and was thankful for being alive one more day.

Well day after day she did this, and began to feel better. So they travelled more widely, and she continued to feel healthier and healthier, and continued to live a day at a time. 18 months later she returned to see her doctor, who could find no evidence of the cancer that had ravaged her body. He was understandably amazed, and now that she was ostensibly cancer free, he could no longer give her a poor prognosis.

So here was her dilemma. With a limited future she had embarked on a day to day existence, now that that future was no longer limited should she plan for it? She actually asked my opinion on what I would do. I said I'd keep going, continue to live day by day and just enjoy the ride. She had, of course, also decided to do just that. And I'm sure she's still enjoying a quiet beer somewhere in this wide wonderful world.

So drink a toast to His Holiness, cause I'm pretty sure he knows a thing or two about happiness too!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Back in Paradise

It's hard to believe it's winter when you live here. After 2 weeks all rugged up, I returned to Geraldton, stripped down to tshirt, shorts and bare feet and went for a glorious walk along the beach with Hazel. This is the life!!The trip back was the usual horror: a walk through the rain from Wanaka Bakpaka to the busstop with too many bags and not enough hands, scenic bus ride to Queenstown Airport (gorgeous rainbows the whole way), quick checkin, board the plane, then spend three hours waiting on the tarmac as the wild winter front was blowing the wrong way for our plane to be able to take off. Found myself sitting next to Lauren, who had done the ladies' week course that I had had to cancel from, and spent the next six hours trying to work out where we knew each other from (both of us had found the other familiar on meeting earlier in the week) and discovered we'd both gone to the same kindergarten, though that isn't the connection. Strange world.

In Melbourne it was a mad scramble to collect luggage, clear customs and load onto the Perth connection. So sorry to the lady who I ran over with my trolley, it's bloody hard steering at speed at the worst of times, let alone with one arm in plaster. Huge sigh of relief once boarded, and 4 hours later arrive in Perth to be picked up by Lil and Hans whose home I crash in for the night. Next morning Hans drives me up to Scarborough to pick up my car. Scarborough has far too many stop signs and roundabouts, my god I was happy to get onto the open road and not have to do all those gear changes. Not painful, just plain awkward. 4 and a half hours later I am home at last and giving my girl a big cuddle.The garden is luscious, with lots of big juicy extra greenery which needs pulling out to let the other veges flourish. I always say Gero winters are more like English summers, warm days and cool nights, and glorious rain. Currently it's blue skies and temps in the mid 20s, but all the water tanks are full so there's been a bit of precipitation while I've been away. The broccoli is nowhere near ready, so I suspect that that'll be doomed by the warm weather and those pesky aphids, but I've buckets of Tuscan cabbage, bok choy, snow peas, tomatoes, beetroot, salad greens, eggplant and soon zucchini. Nothing like picking fresh produce straight from the garden to the kitchen!!I'm really chuffed to see that the fig has started to put out leaves, as I was worried I'd bought a dud. I am soooo looking forward to fresh figs next year. If I manage to keep it alive through the coming summer that is!! The mango, however, appears doomed, though the pawpaw is happily fruiting, and the mulberry, after being heavily pruned this year, is putting out lots of new shoots.

Great mirth at work on seeing my cast. I'd promised them I wouldn't break a leg - delivered!! Bertel says I'm too old to ski (like as if!!!) and dear Noreen brought me in a delicious Indian curry so I wouldn't have to cook. The best thing about a broken arm: no pap smears!! Fanny checks are an occupational hazard for a female GP, so the chance to get out of them for 4 weeks is fantastic!! Email to reception: please do not book me for any procedures, eg pap smears, Implanon etc. Yippee!!

Bad things about having an arm in a cast: I'm pretty helpless regarding doing any heavy work around the house. Came into sharp relief yesterday when I discovered my car tyre was flat and there was no way I could change it. Especially not on my brute of a 4x4! The boys at work helped out but it doesn't feel good realising that if that had happened on the drive up from Perth I would have been f$%^&ed!!

Am also upset that I can't get back on the bike. Certainly not the road bike, but might pull the mountain bike down and see if I can get my hand around its handlebar. My god, I might have to take up running, or join a gym!! Can still do some yoga though. Can't go swimming....

Should have called in sick and just kept skiing in New Zealand. At least I can do that with a broken arm!!

Friday, July 30, 2010

Meet Bob

Rest days do all sorts of wonders to one's muscles, along with a genuinely good deep tissue massage, so Thursday saw me back on the slopes having an absolutely awesome day churning down "Bullet" which is one of the many natural halfpipes in The Saddle. With lovely soft snow, and nice smooth sides I was soon making it top to bottom without stacking and ending up with a bucket of snow up the insides of my jacket. Can't say it was stylish, but it was lots of fun!! With my new-found confidence and bright red cast, I even headed off-piste, but that was a bit of a mistake, so I booked in for a lesson Friday as it was time to hone some skills. I appear to have reached a plateau in my skiing, somewhat similar to the windsurfing plateau one reaches at the gybing point (or my current impasse regarding forward loops!), where I am really struggling to finish off perfect carve turns, so I subjected myself to some good old advice from an expert.

Having received a recommendation to book a lesson with "Canadian Heidi" from a woman I met in the cafe, I fronted up at 10am to discover Heidi was off for the day. After an apology suggesting dire circumstances for whoever wrongly booked me, Mr Eye Candy introduced me to Bob Campbell, a fellow Vermont USA Instructor with the promise that Bob was "awesome".

Well Bob's a bloody legend I reckon. Knocking 70, Bob's blind in one eye with a hip replacement, and a veteran of over 40 years teaching. Not only has he been teaching skiing for all that time on weekends and school holidays, he's only recently retired from fulltime primary school teaching, including the last few years working with kids with behavioural problems. At a loose end after separating from his wife of 40 years, his colleague (Mr EC) suggested he come and do a season in TC.

Well lucky us! Bob's like the Pied Piper, taking the school kids on lessons every Friday (if you go to school in Wanaka, Friday is sport day, equals skiing in winter!) and has an incredible passion for kids and teaching. He has such a wealth of experience and for 2 and a half hours he was free to provide me with some help with my less than perfect carve turns. Not only did he have me working really hard on getting that pressure going through the terminal part of my turns, he had fantastic historical stories about the origins of the exercises, as well as great nuggets about boot fitting, ski tuning, orthotics and about making sure you " face the walley"! It was just the sort of advice I needed, although I can't say the legs were in quite the condition of yesterday!

But Bob's best nugget came late in the lesson, when he told me what caused the large mass of rock to form which is such a dominating part of the landscape when looking down from TC to the lake. Apparently it is the result of two glaciers, which merged at this point as they came down the valleys on both sides. The sediment of the glacial moraine was forced together then compressed by a few tonnes of ice, apparently forming the largest structure of its kind in the world. It amuses me hugely that it takes a curious American to discover this fact. God love him!!
So I've one more day left, in which I shall try not to injure myself, then it's back to the sunny west coast. Next year I'm determined to come longer, because I've got to get more time on the mountain if I'm ever going to master those turns. My god this is sounding so similar to my windsurfing obsession isn't it?

Talking about which, one more month till the sea breezes should start kicking in and then: well if I can break an arm and still keep skiing, I can bloody well do a forward loop right????

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

And the coffee's great too

Wanaka, in the southern alps of New Zealand, is spectacularly beautiful. Surrounded by mountains, many snow capped at this time of year, and bordering a large lake, you can't help but be viscerally moved by the serenity, the clear bracing air and the gobsmackingly gorgeous vistas around every corner. My trip in the bus every morning up to Treble Cone skirts the lake for 20km, crossing cute one lane bridges and with views over to Mt Aspiring. Then as you climb up the gravel road to the ski field, the view over Lake Wanaka opens up in all its splendour. I can't get enough of this place, just sitting having my morning latte in the cafe looking over the lake makes my day!!Today saw me having a rest day as it was time to check in with the doctor, get the official XRAY report and choose the colour for my new fibreglass plaster. Not surprisingly I went with red, but not before taking a few photos of the extensive bruising still present, and am now set with a rock-hard cast that just might see me pulling the brake off a little for my final three days of skiing. Might even let the boys in red squeeze me for a private lesson!! Mind you, those nut brown eyes could squeeze me out of anything!After a yummy baked pumpkin risotto for lunch, and one too many lattes, I headed out along the lake for a walk to Beacon Point. The views are stunning, including a chance to see TC from the Lake. Yep, that's why the view's so good back down again!So now I'm suitably chilled it's time to get a massage. Tomorrow it's back to the slopes!!

Here's all the rest of the photos

Sunday, July 25, 2010

"Ski with your legs, not your hands!" *

After breaking my arm on Day 3 I took one day off to allow the swelling to go down then returned to the slopes of Treble Cone with a massive XL mitt over the offending plaster to see if I could still have some fun. The thought of spending another day under an inversion (this is when a thick layer of cloud sits over the lake but it's blue skies and sunny up on the peaks) filled me with dread so despite some pain I headed up the mountain regardless. Now I fully admit that this is totally reckless behaviour, but I reckon my skiing is good enough now to at least keep me upright on the groomed runs. I also needed to see the guys at the ski school to cancel my lessons.I've always wanted to do a week long ski school with a group of like minded skiiers, but rarely come to the slopes during the peak ski season when these classes are held. The groups are usually small, and in particular they run ones for women, seeing as women ski differently to men. Bit like windsurfing really, us gals do things with style whereas the lads just use brute force!!

Anyway, this year TC had a ladies ski improvement week for the final week of July, which fitted perfectly with my trip and didn't clash with Neen's week with me either. Neen's now returned home to hubby and gorgeous kids so I'm back to shared dorms and working out ingenious ways to cook dinner with only one serviceable hand!! But the best laid plans....

The boys in red at the ski school have been fabulous, organising a refund, and encouraging me to get back on the slopes. I've had to play the helpless female a few times to ask people to tighten my boots for me, though I'm not sure that "helpless female" and "crazy woman skiing with a newly broken arm" are totally compatible statements! Who cares, I'm having fun!!

I've conquered the green slope (there's only one) and today discovered that "Main Street" doesn't seem to be as steep as I remembered it, so it may be time to hit The Saddle. The boys were right, who needs arms??

*Thanks Russ for the kind words of encouragement, and to everyone else who has written fun things on my cast.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Minor mishaps

After the freezing weather of late June and early July (we even had a frost in balmy Geraldton, shock horror!!) we at last got some rain and the water tanks are all filled.

Mishap number one: build a new water tank stand but don't cement the legs in. Load empty tank onto stand, fill with water and slowly watch the legs begin to sag. Accept the inevitable and clear the way for the big event. Some time in the night I am woken by a loud creak, and a heavy thump. Check out the damage in the morning: tank still upright though now on the ground, still full, at jaunty angle, but not damaged. Tank stand in pieces, neighbouring fence buckled. Noone injured. Lesson learnt: Cement the legs in next time!!

Mishap number two: last year I went skiing in New Zealand, where I rediscovered my inner ski goddess. So I booked myself another two weeks in the white stuff for this year, and even managed to convince a friend to join me for a week. Now the snow hasn't been that great so far, but Monday night it began to fall and we had a wonderful day at Cardrona in the soft stuff till the poor visibility forced us in to the cafe. Then yesterday we returned to my spiritual home at Treble Cone, with my brand new skis and a mountain covered in lovely snow. Neen went off for a lesson and I headed over to The Saddle to try out my new "Lotta Luv"s in the soft bumpy stuff on Cloud Nine. Almost at the bottom and I hit a small depression and well, stopped!! Thrown forwards my boots released and I face planted into some nice soft snow. Thank goodness for goggles and helmets.

But hang on a sec? My hand feels a bit sore, actually quite a bit sore. Must have sprained it. Shove a bit of snow on my wrist and get myself organised, clear the snow from my goggles, get back into my skis and get down the rest of the hill. Take chairlift up to the top of the Saddle, nursing what feels just a little worse than a sprain, OMG, could I have broken it? Decide to be sensible and ski back down to the base so I can visit the medical centre for an XRAY. No XRAY facilities, but on inspection there is some rather suspicious swelling happening around my distal radius. Me and the doc are pretty sure I've bingled it, so into a backslab I go, and an appointment is made for an XRAY down in Wanaka that evening.

And yep, I am now the proud owner of a nice POP cast due to a small distal radius fracture. More a buckle really, no displacement, though the doc has sent off the films to the orthopods as there's another line he's not sure about (I think it's just a blood vessel). But it has kind of cramped my style a bit. And made fitting into a ski glove an impossibility!

Neen also had a fall yesterday, and has a sore right shoulder, so between my left arm and her right shoulder we're a sad and sore pair!! But Wanaka is a delightfully pretty place so we aren't exactly bored, though I will be after a few days. Awesome sunset the other night too. So I'm now off to buy myself a mitt. Something that'll fit over the plaster and get me back on the slopes. As I said, only a minor mishap!!

Monday, May 31, 2010

That green time of year

You gotta love it when the rain starts falling and within a week or so everything begins to turn green. The farmers are busy seeding, and I've filled two of my new tubs with yummy soil and planted them up with veges. Now I just have to wait a month or two to start eating them!!

I can pretty well say that I have finished the landscaping and planting in the front yard although there's still some sort of paving to do outside the bifold doors but that can wait, so my attention is at last being drawn to the rear of my property. This area is affectionally known as "the bush" because it's remnant scrub that has evaded mulching by the council simply because it's on private property.

This bit of my block is on a sanddune, with a vertical drop of about 4m from the top of the property down to the house pad. The only reason the sand dune isn't flowing into my house is all that vegetation has kept it stable, so disturbing it will require some care.

I actually have some big plans for this area, including a pond, an alfresco area with pizza oven, and maybe even a japanese inspired zen garden. And that's only on the bottom tier! In line with my ideas of reuse, I'm thinking of terracing with old car tyres which are then rendered, and making seating from old windsurfing boards. And doing just a few more cosmetic renovations on the house.

I'll try and get some pictures up to illustrate the enormity of this task, then again, not as big a job as my plan to tackle that bougainvillea. Which, by the way, is flowering spectacularly at present and still the monstrosity it has always been. A very pretty failure that I can't possibly feel bad about....

Busy days ahead..

Friday, May 7, 2010

Recovering from my holiday

My Java holiday was a blast, but I have to admit that it was also at a pace I don't really enjoy. I like being in a place long enough to greet the regular vendors at the market, have a go at exhausting the local cuisine and know the becak drivers parked outside the hotel all by name. But of course there needs to be enough to do in the meantime, it isn't all about the food.

Talking about which, I only met one vegetarian on this trip, mainly because I met few foreigners and spent most of my time with local people. But a surprising amount of my meals consisted of rice, a vegetable curry, tofu and tempeh. Afterall, you can't eat goat, chicken, duck, beef, bunny rabbit at every meal. No I don't go in for western breakfasts whilst away, there are far too many excellent eastern breakfasts to trial. I reckon that Soto Madura in Sumenep was my favourite breakfast for this trip.

Somewhere in Java I picked up a headcold, which caused me some amusement in a minibus where my sneezes and noseblowing were causing a mild panic for the other occupants. With deaths from avian influenza having occurred only recently in East Java I could understand their concern, but I didn't quite have the language skills to explain it was only a cold, and anyway, I've had the jabs (ok, not for avian, but how could I explain swine flu?).

By the time I arrived in Bali I was on the mend, but my 3-4 days of relaxation seemed more like a rush to get all the christmas and birthday shopping done (I do hope my brothers have stopped baby making), catch up with friends, try and co-ordinate a birthday dinner, and still manage a massage or two along with the obligatory manicure and pedicure. I did get to have Durian on my birthday though, and almost die laughing watching my fellow share taxi passengers fail the taste/smell test!!

Bali is booming. Tourism is back to the good old days and the prices are roughly double what you'd pay on Java. Almost everything is imported so it's not surprising. The people are friendly, but it's more the friendly face of tourism than the genuine friendliness of a strange face in town. Not that us westerners are a strange face, and recently my fellow aussies have been making a bad face, with drunken brawls and generally uncouth behaviour. People are blaming the cheap airfares for encouraging the bogan element, but that's crap, bogans have been going to Bali for years, look at Chappelle Corby!!

I managed a week back at work before I succumbed to a secondary bacterial throat infection that had me bed bound on antibiotics. The speed and ferocity with which this lurgy floored me indicates I just might have overdone it, but my week in bed has restored my strength, and given me the chance to make a dent in my recently topped up DVD collection!!

Now it's time to go gardening!!

Friday, April 23, 2010

Leaving the best till last

My final destination in Java is Kawah Ijen, a colourful crater lake set amidst coffee plantations and remnant rainforest. It's quite a hassle getting there via a combination of bus, minibus and ojek, but not particularly difficult if you charter your own vehicle. I, of course, do it the hard way, but make a few more friends in the process. My trip begins with a bus from Probbolingo to Bondowoso, passing the massive coal powered power plant on the north coast before ascending through verdant green hills and down to Bondowoso. Here I must take another bus to Wonosari, where I change to a minibus for the climb up the potholed road to Sempol. There I negotiate an ojek to Pos Paltuding, where I take a room for the night.
The next morning I begin the walk up to the crater rim in the dark, occasionally passing sulphur workers carting baskets weighing up to 100kg of sulphur cut from the volcano vents. The track down from the rim to where the men are working is steep and treacherous and given my history of falling over during descents I decide to stay on the rim and just take a few telephoto shots of what looks like a hell of a job. There are 350 workers, each hauling sulphur twice a day, which they have cut from near the vents. They get 600Rp a kilo, thus making over 100,000Rp per day. This sort of money means it is a popular job, even if breathing poisonous sulphur fumes is the occupational hazard. They also try to sell sulphur souvenirs, some carved into animals, others natural crystal formations, to the hoards of tourists who arrive every morning to also view the spectacle. This really is a beautiful spot, with views right along the east Javan coast for miles in all directions.After returning to Pos Paltuding I pack my bags and begin my walk down to Banyuwangi, or at least to where I can get some public transport. The walk is brilliant, through tropical forest with tree ferns everyhere, birds singing, butterflies... I'm in heaven. From time to time I am passed by jeeps full of returning tourists, some stop and offer me a lift but I am having a far too good a time to take up their offers, this scenery is beautiful!Not long after lunch I emerge from the forest into plantations of coffee, large trees, and beehives. The road continues to descend at a much more reasonable gradient for a few more kilometres to Jambu, where I am hoping to pick up some public transport. This isn't the case so I soldier on to Licin. I have now walked 21km downhill, after my 6km round trip to the crater. I can safely say I am buggered!!
Here's all the photos.

A young boy offers to take me down to Banyuwangi for a ridiculously cheap price so we career downhill at a ridiculously fast pace. It is then that we pass all the Durian sellers. I was really looking forward to buying some Durian to finish off my stay in Java, but I stupidly didn't ask the boy to stop, so we continue wheeling on to Banyuwangi.

A word of advice to anyone turning up in Banyuwangi late afternoon. Best to stay the night there, as the buses crossing to Bali early evening are few and far between, with most of them not arriving till much later at night. Unless you are already on a through bus that is.

From Banyuwangi I took another ojek (now that's a funny story about the very friendly young man who stops to tell me in English that an ojek will charge me at least 50,000Rp to take me the less than 10km to the ferry port just after I've negotiated in Indonesian with another man to pay 15,000Rp for the trip!) to the port of Ketapang where I board the ferry for the short crossing to Java. For an incredibly narrow patch of sea it's a 2 hour crossing: one hour in real time and another as I turn my watch forward an hour as I cross the timezone. Going the other way you lose no time at all!!

I have had a glorious 3 and a half weeks in Java. Yes the place is incredibly crowded and the cities are loud, dirty and congested. But the food is varied and delicious, the people are genuinely friendly, incredibly generous and are mostly just getting along with their lives. And there are still some areas of genuine wilderness for those of us who like walking in the great outdoors. Yep, Java has been a revelation!

Before I have even left the ferry port I meet my first Balinese tout. I've been to Bali a number of times before, but after being ignored for weeks the touts in Bali really got in my face. Yep, Bali lives on its tourism, Java doesn't. So smile, ignore, and if you must, say sudah!! (means "already", as in I've already bought a sarong, had a massage, had a manicure, hired a car, seen the dolphins, etc etc ad nauseum). And enjoy that cold beer or three that wasn't so easy to find in Java.


Friday, April 16, 2010

How friendly can you handle?

I've just arrived in Surabaya, Java's second largest city, which has a very organised bus station, I'm impressed. After some lunch it's time to take my next bus. I enter the wall of bus touts asking me if I want to go to Probbolingo (I've just come from there), Bali, Jogja, Jakarta, Malang..... they are running out of options and starting to sound confused. I shake my head, smile and say Madura. There is shocked silence then they point me on. I am laughing as I board my bus for Sumenep.

A young man asks if I will sit with him as he wishes to practice his English. This is the first of many encounters with the locals who have got to be the most friendly people I've met anywhere. In fact they can be so in your face it can be overwhelming. Agus chats away, and even invites me to stay with his family. But he doesn't live in Sumenep, and I am keen to base myself in one place for a few days, plus I'm far too tired to be sociable. I continue on to Sumenep, check in to a hotel, and am asleep within minutes.My hotel is cheap, but super clean, and one of few hotels I've stayed in in Java that I can be absolutely sure they change the sheets between guests. Breakfast isn't included, but a cup of coffee awaits me each morning, and the staff are super friendly and helpful regarding usual prices for becak, and what's on around town. I head to the tourist office to visit the kraton, where I am given the full guided tour for the grand price of 15 cents. I also recieve a free brochure and 2 CDs, one with local Madurese music, the other with tourist information. I am also invited to accompany the tourist office boss out to Slopeng Beach to see a boat which is being built. Arrangements are made to meet at 3pm for the trip.A bunch of school kids have joined our tour, and they accompany me back towards my hotel, peeling off in ones and twos as they themselves go home for lunch. Just as I am almost home I am accosted by another man on a motorbike who wants to practice his English. I say accosted because after I had a very short conversation with him and indicated that I didn't wish to spend longer talking to him, he continued to follow me. In fact later as I headed over to the mosque he continued to stalk me, so I sought refuge in the women's section. Here I met a lovely lass Nur, who I later accompanied back to her family's small shop, still being followed by this incredibly persistent young man.At no time did I feel threatened by this man, it was simply a cultural misunderstanding. He wanted to talk to me and I didn't want to talk to him. He didn't seem to respect my right to say no, ignored my request to stop following me, and appeared bemused by my refusal to talk to his friend on his mobile phone. Even after I'd left Nur's shop he continued to shadow me, but my next destination was the tourist office for my trip to Slopeng, and after that I never saw him again.

Back at the tourist office we take a quick trip to the market to look at Batik, before heading out to Slopeng. Here they are building a traditional Maduran ship, in partnership with a Japanese organisation, which they plan to sail to Shanghai Expo 2010. They'd only been building for 20 days, and the model shows it will be one impressive ship when it's finished in 3 months time.Madura is famous for it's sate, so I find a nearby sidewalk warung to indulge in the local specialty. It is indeed delicious and the stall holder becomes yet another new friend. On my second night there, a fellow diner pays for my meal "because I don't have a husband". Poor chap feels sorry for me!!The local market is excellent, and becomes my preferred breakfast location, having found a nice place that serves Soto Madura. The nearby ladies selling roti are pleased as punch to see me returning, and the market people are keen for me to take photos of them. One lady in particular is a natural.My last morning I am picked up by the tourist office boss and taken to see Kerapan Sapi. This is the bull racing that Madura is famous for. Although the races are held during the dry season, they have practice sessions in Sumenep each Saturday morning at the local stadium. Kerapan Sapi is definitely a bloke's sport. Boys and men flock around the beasts, who are tied two abreast to a wooden "chariot" on which the driver holds on for dear life. Actually he hooks his foot around the chariot and holds onto the bulls' tails, somehow managing to whip them with a barbed stick. To make sure the bulls are even more in the mood for running fast, they tie a piece of leather to their tails that has little barbs on it to irritate the bull's anus. Not really a place for those with concerns about animal welfare... They do run mighty fast and it is quite a spectacle!I have been blown away by the friendliness of the Madurese people. Around Sumenep you'll find fine beaches, great food, pretty countryside, a huge vibrant market and the city itself is sleepy and peaceful. The guys at the tourist office seem to bend over backwards to ensure you see everything there is to see, and think nothing of giving you a lift there as well. I'm giving the place a big endorsement because it really does deserve more tourists. But just be aware, these guys are very friendly!!

After taking the bemo down to Kalianget I discover there is no afternoon ferry afterall, so I return back to Java by road. We take the ferry back to Surabaya, just in time for a spectacular sunset.I brave the bus touts a second time and continue on my journey to the eastern tip of Java.
Here's all the pictures.

Bromo, I will return!

It's really a piece of cake to get to Ranu Pani from Malang, though it does require a little patience and the ability to be squashed into a microlet with 20 other people and their possessions for a hot sweaty ride uphill. Not to mention the poor lady chucking her guts up...There's a bit of a transport mafia at Tumpang, I suspect led by the dwarf (should have asked him if he had any sisters looking for jobs as I know a midget bar in Bangkok looking for dancers!!) who try to convince me to hire an entire microlet for 200,000Rp as the others are full. I tell him I'll simply wait for the next one to be ready and go and have some lunch at a nearby warung. It is afterall the middle of the day and there is a lively market going on, so it is almost no time before I am being called over to be packed in like sardines with the locals for the drive up to Gubug Klakah. From here my options are limited to walking, hitching, or taking an ojek. I opt for the latter, after a little negotiation over price, and away we go. The road is sealed all the way to the crater rim, travelling through beautiful pine forests until we near the village of Ngadas. Here the hills are completely clad in a patchwork quilt of vegetable plots, and the locals are busily weighing and loading cabbages (thanks Neen!!) onto trucks. At the crater rim the road deteriorates a little as it winds around the top, with views down the caldera to Bromo ruined by low cloud, then descends on a good asphalt road to Ranu Pani. I left my hotel in Malang at 10 am, I am at Ranu Pani by 1pm.Ranu Pani is gorgeous, a quiet town beside a tranquil lake, with vege plots as far as the eye can see. The people are incredibly friendly, all very eager to greet me and some to stop and chat. The climb up Mt Semeru is unfortunately closed due to the bad weather, and even the walk to Ranu Kumbolo is closed. I have no choice but to continue my travels across to Bromo, but I'll chill out in Ranu Pani for an evening and tackle that tomorrow on foot.Up early to clear skies and a view of the mighty Semeru before I breakfast, pack my bag and head uphill. It takes me a good one and a half hours to reach the crater rim again, to find the view even worse than yesterday. The clouds engulf the entire caldera, I am not in luck. But the upside is overcast conditions definitely make walking alot more pleasant.The descent into the caldera feels like I am Dorothy following the yellow brick road, as the caldera is covered with heather and an assortment of purple, yellow and white flowers. I meet a sole horseman who offers me a lift, as well as a small but steady stream of motorcyclists, and the occasional truck or jeep. I am the only walker! Soon my yellow brick road disappears and the track continues as a black dirt track interspersed with large puddles. I'm really enjoying myself pottering along but am noticing that those clouds are getting lower and it looks like rain. No sooner do I hit the sand sea than the rain descends. I must really look a sight with my white poncho trudging across a black lunarscape!It's time for lunch, but there's nowhere dry to eat before I begin the ascent to Cemoro Lawang. I have to admit to being a little tired so decide not to climb up to Bromo but leave that for tomorrow. I find a tree to give me some shelter and devour my rice and tempeh before finishing the climb. It's actually not much of a hill, but I definitely needed that carb injection to get up it. I find a damp but cheap room with some pretty dire toilets and have a rest before checking out one of the more salubrious establishments in town for a beer. I also opt out of serious physical activity tomorrow and book a jeep seat for the Bromo sunrise spectacular!

So much for spectacular! Cemoro Lawang reminds me very much of Sapa in Vietnam, with cold misty weather but without a bunch of decent pubs, no market and no colourful ladies trying to sell me handicrafts. Come to think of it it's nothing like Sapa actually, except for the crap weather! And my sunrise spectacular? Well it wasn't that far removed from the view from the top of Fansipan, but minus the rain! Yep, total whiteout, nary a thing to be seen.The jeep tour continues with a convoy down the mountain to the Bromo carpark where a couple of hundred horsemen try to cajole you into purchasing a ride up the mountain. The price drops from 150,000Rp to 100,000Rp within 5 steps of my jeep, drops a further 50,000Rp within a further two steps, and if I walk a hundred metres to the Hindu temple the price is now 20,000Rp. These boys really are desperate for business, as they only get one chance a day as all the jeeps pretty well arrive at once. By 8:30am almost everyone has returned to their hotels and the place is deserted. Certainly was the case when I passed through at lunchtime yesterday.

The climb up Bromo is easy, as the final part is a flight of steps (the horses leave you at the bottom of them so you still need to climb yourself), and the view down into the steamy crater is pretty impressive. But the clouds keep obscuring the view, and entrepreneurial chaps circulate attempting to sell pictures of Bromo when it's sunny!I see no reason to dally in Bromo with it's misty weather and no fun pubs or colourful characters (I don't think the occasional man selling scarves and hats really compares with my adorable Sapa ladies) so I jump on the overpriced Colt to Probolingo. I am definitely going to return to Bromo, not just to see the sunrise for real, but because the sunrise is the main attraction, the park is very poorly utilised the rest of the day. There's some great landscape and trekking opportunities here and I do want to visit Semeru afterall. Yep, Bromo, I will return.

Here's the rest of the pictures.

I'm way ahead of my original schedule, and I'm not ready yet to hit Bali, so from Probolingo I'm off to explore a little bit off the beaten track. You could have heard a pin drop when I told the bus touts at the bus station my intended destination....

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Hanging out with a famous rock star

My arrival in Malang was not pretty. This was my first crowded bus and I wanted to get out. But the bus driver won't just stop along the road to let you off so I have to wait till we reach some preappointed spot before I can alight. Next I must jump on a microlet to make the journey back down the same road I have just travelled. Perhaps I have not had enough sugar today because I am fuming!! We sit in the microlet whilst the driver packs it to the rafters, plus a couple more, before we head off. I am travelling blind with little idea where we are going and at some point decide it's time for some fresh air and escape!

Now I am beside the road in a busy city, no idea exactly where I am as my map is woefully small, and I have no idea where the accommodation is. I am not ready to engage the services of a becak as I don't even know where I am going. I cross the road and head up a side street, get to a T-junction and am stumped, do I go left or right? I pull out my map again and contemplate which of those less than desirable characters sitting over there shall I ask? Then along comes my knight in shining armour. I look up to find a friendly man on a motorbike asking me if I am OK as I am looking very confused. I explain my dilemma - I ask him where I am and even he can't find it on the map - and he offers to take me to a hotel. I pluck a name out of the guidebook, Hotel Helios, and we go there, only to find it is full. I also discover that they only take foreign guests, so I am glad I'm not staying there anyway. We go to another homestay, which is also full, and at last find a third hotel which has rooms. The staff rarely, if ever, have foreign guests so I am a bit of a celebrity.

Nonot turns out to be a local celebrity himself. He plays in a popular heavy metal band (four albums out), has a music studio nearby, lectures in music at the local university, is a published songwriter and is the leader of the Malang Indie Community, a collection of a few hundred independent bands and musicians in Malang. Everywhere we go there are smiles and waves from the adoring populace....

Later I visit the studio, and then we head off to the government radio station where Nonot is helping a young band who are performing live on radio. I then become a minor celebrity myself as the sight of a lone foreigner in the studio audience means the girls announcing notice me and ask me my name and where I am from. Apparently it makes Facebook later that evening!!

The next day Nonot takes me out to see some nearby temples - I have to admit to beginning to get temple fatigue - and on the way home we have Durian. At last I am enjoying this great fruit again, I even take a quick sniff to try and work out why people don't like it. I still don't get it, smells like Durian to me! The following morning I negotiate the bizarrely lettered microlets into the centre of town to watch the locals feeding the pidgeons and old men playing badminton in the alun-alun, before wandering through to the bird market, not quite as colourful as Jogja's, and flower market. Then I find a small market to take more photos in before jumping on the wrong microlet back to my hotel. Luckily I now know where I am so I simply walk the rest of the way. A quick shower then it's time to make my way to Bromo via the back door.

Here's all the photos of Malang (forgot to take a piccie of my rock star friend but!).

More temples and how to ruin a pretty piece of scenery

My extensive research had told me about Mt Kelud, a tranquil crater lake easily reached by vehicle, which had erupted in 2007 leaving a steaming lump of ash where the nice pretty lake used to be. Since it was so easy to get to - admittedly on the back of a motorbike meaning one sore bum for me - I included it in my tour of the area around Blitar.

The approach from Blitar is through rice fields, green as green can be, and as we ascend we get sugar plantations interspersed with fields of pineapples. And the occasional bullock dray as well. This is rural Java at it's best, but I'm on a tight schedule to get back to the hotel before 1pm so I don't dally. The climb up to the crater is steep, but my bike today has more grunt than Dicky's scooter, so we make it up without stalling. Then it's an easy walk along a path and through a long unlit tunnel into the crater. And there is this big lump of steaming ash!! Seriously, it looks like someone dumped it there, more like a piece of environmental vandalism than the result of a natural phenomenon. A nearby stall has pictures and even a VCD of the three day eruption, but I've already seen it on the internet, so sorry guys... I have to remind myself that I am currently standing in the crater of an active volcano, and less than 50 metres from me is the evidence. No, they wouldn't let you do this in Australia!!Down the mountain we return the same way and detour to visit Penataran, the largest of the Majahapit kingdom temples, and quite unique as it is East Javan in its architecture and carvings. This place doesn't get the visitors it deserves, as it is no less impressive, although smaller, than Prambanam. Then again, it's not quite as easy to get to as Yogyakarta either. I really like Penataran, something about the place really appeals to me.I return back to my hotel in time for a quick shower before heading off by bus to Malang.

For Kelud and Penataran, click here.

Hill temples, rain, and altered plans

Candi Sukuh and Candi Ceto are two Hindu temples on the slopes of Mt Lawu near Solo. They are the product of the last remaining group of Hindu worshippers who were being driven out of Java by the encroaching Islamic kingdoms. And they are completely different to anything that preceded them.Candi Sukuh in particular is built more in the style of an Egyptian pyramid, with terraced sloping stone walls rather than the usual block stone walls. There also seems to be a return to more animistic motifs, and both temples play considerable homage to fertility rites. The stone lingga at Ceto leaves nothing to the imagination!!Dicky has taken me to these temples on the motorbike, which stalled a number of times trying to get heavy old me and my backpack up steep inclines, meaning a few small walks. But the downhill run is a breeze, and then it's off to the hill resort town of Tawangmangu where I will stay the night. But first we have Sate Kelinci, a particular specialty in the mountain areas. Yep, Kelinci means Bunny Rabbit, I can hear the gentle refrain of "Bright Eyes" as I tuck into what is quite succulent meat. "Eh, what's up doc?"Here's the temple photos.

I do hope Dicky got back to Solo before the heavens opened, because that evening it poured. Although the wet season is officially over, there is still alot of rain around, and anyway, I expect a bit up here in the mountains. But the consistent evening rain is making me rethink my plans to climb Gunung Lawu the following day, as I don't have either a sleeping bag or a tent and it doesn't look pretty. My mind is made up next morning when by 8 am the clouds are already gathering: I'll skip the climb and head further afield. I take a Colt up to the start of the mountain climb at Cemoro Sewu, and begin walking down the road to Sarangan, the hill resort for the residents of Madiun. I'm also now in East Java. The walk is lovely, there's very little traffic through this mountain pass, and the surrounding trees are covered in epiphytes and the birds are singing and all is right with the world...Coming in to Sarangan the forest clears to vegetable plots, and at Sarangan itself there is a tiny lake with more speedboats for hire than looks practical. Who said anyone cares about safety here?The next part of my trip includes a number of bus trips. First I take a colt to Magetan, then jump on the waiting bus to Madiun, but a conversation with some men at the station (this is where I'm glad of some local language skills) sees me jumping on a Surabaya bound bus instead to Nganjuk, where I hop on a Blitar bound bus. Although I have to jump buses in Kediri, I at last arrive in Blitar at 5pm. I get a room in a hotel and arrange a tour for the morning. That's next.

Here's the rest of the photos.

Gourmet food, Solo style

The train between Yogyakarta and Solo is a simple commuter train taking about an hour. There I am met by Dicky, the brother of my couch surfing hostess Popy, and taken home to meet the family. Ibu (mother) is one cool chick, who spends her days sitting in a cool spot in the breezeway watching the daytime soaps in between doing the household chores. Aside from attending gym three times a week that is! She doesn't speak a word of English so I am getting to practice my Indonesian instead. Dicky is studying law, and is in the middle of midterm exams, but he still has time to show me around during the day whilst Popy is at work.Popy works in a bank full time, then is a radio announcer on the weekends, so she's pretty busy. But that doesn't stop her being a fantastic host, taking me to all the best local restaurants to try the Solo specialties. Over the following two days I try many different dishes, from fried duck to a dish similar to gado gado, Nasi Liwet - rice cooked in coconut milk and served with side dishes, Nasi Gudeg which is another jackfruit dish, and a rice pudding with a salty sauce whose name escapes me. There's a great night food market at Galabo which has all sorts of offerings. I have Thengkleng Kambing, which is ex President Soeharto's favourite dish, an assortment of fried goat's bones with a small amount of meat and fat on them. The sauce, however is superb. Before that we'd eaten Pisang Owol, which is baked banana topped with chocolate sauce and grated cheese. Yes cheese! I'm yet to grasp this particular combination which is very common in many Indonesian sweets. It's actually very tasty, also very filling!!

Dicky's tour guiding duties commence after he has sat his morning exam. He seems completely unconcerned and Popy tells me he'd probably spend the time playing Playstation anyway! We go to the Kraton Mangkenegaran, a smaller but better maintained sultan's palace compared with the larger more dilapidated Kraton Surakarta. I particularly like the lovely tropical garden surrounding it, and spend a few minutes trying to teach the pet cocky a little aussie slang!We also visit a batik museum and factory, where I begin to get an understanding of the meanings around the designs, but the hellish workshop in the back of the plush air-conditioned museum premises shows that this is big business, where people slave away in appalling conditions and only get paid by the piece. Yes they are skilled artisans, but that doesn't equate with decent wages. Not that I can do much about it...In the evening Popy takes me to see Wayang Orang, which is the acting out of old Javanese tales, Hindu and Buddhist tales, a few songs and lots of ad lib and audience interaction. This acting troupe performs every day of the year, whether there is an audience or not, and are really very amusing. Unfortunately I fall asleep midway through so we leave early - and I paid all of 40 cents to see them too!!

The following day Dicky takes me up into the hills to see some temples and I get to try sate bunny rabbit. On our way we stop to take a quick picture of an Islamic school which has produced more than its fair share of terrorists....Here's all the Solo pictures.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Pleasantly surprised

Funny place Indonesia. Unlike anywhere I've been so far, this country continues to defy my expectations. Yogyakarta is well and truly on the tourist map, so I expected it to be trashy and full of insistent batik salesmen etc and basically a real pain in the arse. Admittedly I'd been advised to stay in the Prawirotawan area rather than in the main backpacker area near the train station, and I didn't venture north of the Kraton to where the bulk of the hard sell occurs, but aside from the usual becak drivers wanting fares I found Yogya hassle free.

Prawirotawan is quiet, and has a great local market at the corner of Jl Parangritis. There's a high speed internet cafe nearby, and a surplus of good local food outlets, as well as some higher class western restaurants for those so inclined. It's within walking distance of the Kraton, and best of all my homestay has a pool! I'm in heaven!! There's some quite interesting street art/ graffiti in Yogya, which I can enjoy whilst walking the streets. As usual I am looked at with incredulity for not only walking everywhere, but also for being female and alone. Somewhere along the way I am picked up by a guide, who explains things in a mix of mostly Indonesian with a smattering of English. To my great surprise I am understanding him quite well and he is a pleasant enough chap so I decide to let him show me around for the day as it certainly makes negotiating the labyrinth of the Kraton area a lot easier.We go to visit a puppet maker, where the young man making the puppet explains in incredible detail about the meanings behind the shapes and designs incorporated into the carvings. As if that isn't enough, there is further meaning attached to the colours it is painted, with different colours indicating different emotions. There are over 350 different puppets within a wayang kulit collection, which means lots to choose from if buying one. I buy two and am given a very flattering commentary on the good quality of my character for choosing those particular puppets. I struggle not to be cynical as to whether this is just sales pitch hyperbole, as the young man really is quite earnest! An explanation of the meanings of the puppets I have purchased will be sent to me by email.Next it's off to the Sultan's palace, where there is a display of dancing and gamelan to watch, before touring the museum full of artifacts and photos of the beloved 9th sultan, the current sultan's dad. The current sultan only has daughters, so I'm unsure who takes over next. There are some lovely large ceramic platters from China that I wouldn't mind absconding with, and the batik collection opens my eyes to the fact that some Batik is actually quite nice. I've unfortunately seen only crap stuff before, typical me, I only like the good (read expensive!!) stuff.... It's now noon, and rather than have something to eat I am taken to the bird market where there are not only birds for sale - I even saw an eagle - but lizards, snakes, dogs, cats, bats, mice, fruit bats, rabbits, guinea pigs and monkeys. Then there's ant eggs, crickets, caterpillars and worms to feed your new pet, though the mammals and reptiles are usually eaten for medicinal purposes. I am no longer hungry... After the bird market we visit Taman Sari, which is a vast water park designed by a Portugese architect for the Sultan's folly. It includes an airy spot on top of a hill, an ingeniously designed underground mosque, secret tunnels and underground canals that allow the sultan and family to travel in and out of the city by boat or foot undetected, and a very flash set of bathing pools. One of the pools is for the use of the Sultan's wives (the current one only has one) and the Sultan has a tower that he can sit in and look down on his ladies cavorting. Strange weird fact: in the corners of this pool enclosure there are two graves for the Sultan's horses!! Hmmm... It is now time to bid my guide fare thee well, and although he has offered to take me to see a wayang kulit show tonight I decline as I am planning to see the Ramayana Ballet instead. He decides to accompany me a little way in order to steer me into a picture gallery, where I am given a cup of tea and regaled with the story that this is a school of art etc etc. I have a look but am not interested so we leave and soon my guide is also finished with me. I give him a generous tip - I have afterall enjoyed his company - and bid him adieu and return to my homestay to enjoy a welcome dip in that lovely pool. But first I have the best Bakso evah from a little "kaki lima" - the name given to the portable street food sellers, meaning five legs - just next to the market. Yep, I'm enjoying Yogya. Here's more pics.

The Ramayana Ballet is alot of fun. I opt for seeing it at the local theatre rather that going out to Prambanam. I have seen the story performed in Bali, but this one is of course done differently and is quite funny at times. In particular, the band of monkeys are played mostly by kids of all different ages, including one who couldn't be more than 3 or 4 who completely steals the show. A great night out I can highly recommend. The pictures are here.The following day I hire a bicycle and take to the crowded streets of Yogya before finding the quiet canal path that takes me almost the whole way to Prambanam. The main temple complex of Pawon is Hindu, with individual temples devoted to various deities, but there is also a Buddhist temple, Candi Sewu, which is currently undergoing major structural repairs, complete with workers in no safety gear climbing the temples without ropes or harnesses and smiling happily for my camera.The Prambanam plain has scores of temples, both Buddhist and Hindu, with some only recently discovered. Candi Sambosari is one such temple only discovered in the 1980s when a farmer uncovered a carved stone and subsequent excavations revealed a temple which had been covered in a huge layer of ash from one of the many eruptions of the nearby volcano Merapi. I cycle back to Yogya, arriving just on dusk and enjoy a lovely cooling dip in the pool before joining a Dutch lass for dinner.

The Prambanam pictures are here.

Tomorrow I head to Solo.