Thursday, December 29, 2011

My first windsurfing video

click on this link to see how I spend my summers. you don't get many better days than this down at Coros.


Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Coronation Xmas

The culmination of my year is the annual camping trip to Coronation Beach. Coronation is my local windsurfing spot, and is only a mere 15km north up the beach from where I live, but it feels like a million miles away.

The world comes to us over summer, as Geraldton, and Coronation Beach in particular, is a fixture in the lives of many international wind and kite surfers, who travel here every year for our consistent wind and waves. Visitors who don't know, when they venture down the hill to see up to a hundred sailors out on the water often ask if there's a competition on. No, we explain, just a lot of people having fun. And us locals like to enjoy our time up here at the beach as well.

I brought the camper up 2 weeks ago, and initially I commuted to work daily, returning for an evening sail, but for ten days over Xmas and New Year I get to camp up here full-time and go sailing all day. It's a great time to just chill out with mates, spend lazy hours swimming, sailing and drinking copious cups of tea. Communal Xmas dinner, washed down with cold beer and a few glasses of red, after a day of wind and waves is what it's all about.

The solar setup is working fantastically, in fact there is little need to rotate the panels to the sun as there are so many hours of sunlight here that my battery stays topped up easily. Lights, fridge, shower and computer, with no concerns whatsoever. I've had all the men, and some of the women, come over to check out my handiwork, and leave suitably impressed, some even requesting advice.

The most fun we've had so far this holiday is filming with our Gopro video cameras. Kate has two cameras and I have one, so we have been having a whale of a time chasing each other around on the water trying to get the money shot. I've managed some nice aerials and wave riding footage and with Nicky on the kite filming with the third camera we are hoping to put together a fun little film. Stay tuned!

The Bradley kids arrived last night, and will stay a few days, though I had to ring home this morning to order more food, snorkelling gear, boogie boards, and Carter's toothbrush and thongs. And games, and jumpers - it can get cold here at night when the wind's blowing a gale till after midnight. They've timed their stay quite well, as it's looking like hot troughed out weather for the next couple of days. This is perfect for just lazy beach days, which I'm not averse to after 6 days straight of sailing. A little recharge of my batteries is in order.

And I've a little video editing to do….

Monday, December 19, 2011

A necessary evil?

Backpacker ghetto.

A location, often in a large city, but it also can be a small town or village which has taken on this role. It is usually only a small area, bounded by a few blocks only, but with a very high percentage of cheap hotels/ backpacker hostels and small restaurants, cafes and bars. And lots of tourist agencies selling bus and train tickets, local tours and more.

Within said location the population is almost exclusively foreign, except for those working in the businesses which flourish on the trade. The customers can be easily identified by their frequently revealing clothing, or lack thereof, their dreadlocks and fisherman's trousers, their tattoos and hair braids. The cafes and bars seem to be overly inspired by rastafarian themes, with reggae music blaring out into the street from midmorning till the wee hours. There are five or six tattoo parlours, knockoff CD and DVDs for sale on every corner, and there's usually a yoga studio or two. The breakfast menu always includes banana pancakes and a selection of smoothies, and the day menu offers pizzas and hamburgers for those times when the local cuisine becomes all too much. There's usually a few local dishes on the menu, but they've been modified greatly to suit the tastes of a much less sophisticated clientele. And there is always beer, unless it's run out. Of course there are other, unmentioned, substances for sale, it is merely a matter of asking and a young man will be sent off on a motorbike to source you a supply.

It's heaven on earth. A place where you can be surrounded by your own kind, eat food you understand, spend your time in an altered mind state, and not have a care in the world. All around you are cute young things who are only too happy to let it all hang out, have a wonderful time, sex, drugs and rock and roll. Bliss!

These places exist all over the world but my experience is primarily Australasian: Khao San Rd (Bangkok), Kuta Beach (Bali), Koh Phangan/Samui/Tao (Thailand), Chiang Mai (Thailand), Gili islands (Lombok Indonesia), Vang Vieng (Laos), Cairns Esplanade (Australia), Goa (India), Airlie Beach (Australia) and Yangshuo (China) just to name a few. Some come and go, like Tuk Tuk on Lake Toba (Sumatra, Indonesia) which is a mere ghost of it's past glory in the 90's, and Dahab (Egypt) which has succumbed to high rise and the middle class tourism of divers and windsurfers. But others go from strength to strength, becoming bigger and bolder and more foreign with the years. Thailand, the most visited SE Asian country in the world probably has the monopoly on the backpacker ghetto, although I suspect Mexico and Central America have their fair share as well. And then there's Vang Vieng….

I am not a fan of backpacker ghettoes, but I can see their usefulness. Foreigners arriving in a new locale like to know where they can go to find reasonably priced accommodation, food they can eat without burning their insides, and people who speak their language who can help them with travel plans. And most importantly, where they can meet like minded fellow travellers to have fun with! These ghettos bear no resemblance to the people or culture of the country or city in which they are located. In fact their resemblance to each other is almost uncanny. A piece of familiarity the world over.

A backpacker ghetto's usefulness is in its familiarity. It isn't home, but it's a place where you don't have to feel pressured by the local social norms to cover up from head to toe in blistering heat, where you can relax and not attempt to speak a foreign language all day, where you know the bar will have beer and your favourite banana and mango smoothie, and you'll have an endless supply of new friends to party with. You never feel lonely in a backpacker ghetto, you're amongst your own kind.

The spread of these places across the planet means it is almost possible to travel from one ghetto to another without stepping outside into the actual culture of the country you may be travelling in. Thailand in particular has almost made this seamless, with private minibus services between tourist hot spots that make taking government buses quite redundant. So much easier than schlepping out to a bus station and trying to understand all that squiggly script. East Coast Australia from Sydney to Cape Tribulation - a breeze!

I am not immune to the advantages of the ghetto, but for me it's a chance to relax, recharge batteries (literally and metaphorically), and contemplate my next adventure. I'm also not a fan of the western food on offer, as it isn't food I'd eat at home anyway, so I'll usually venture out a few blocks back into the real world, find a street stall frequented by lots of locals and tuck into whatever the popular cuisine is. I really do miss noodle soup for breakfast...

The problem with the ghetto, is that some people feel so at home in it, they manage to travel the whole world without often leaving it. No real fault of the ghetto after all. It's really just a place that employs a lot of locals to look after poor bastards who are far too scared to get out there and really see the real world. Without the coterie of their own crowd. Without a common language. Or the benign palate of banana pancakes and gado gado.

You know the best bit about the ghetto? It's become a tourist attraction. Seriously. Khao San Road for instance is a very popular place for young Thais to go and have a laugh at the dreadlocked westerners trying to be hippies and buddhists for a gap year. Yep, we've become such an entrenched part of that city that the locals want to see what it's all about. Perhaps it's cross cultural exchange, but I don't think so, not from what I've heard. It's pure voyeurism.

Fancy that, go travel the world and become a tourist attraction. A cliched one at that. No thanks.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Were we a front?

March 1989. A fledgling democracy movement is spreading its wings. In less than 3 months time tens of thousands of young students and pro democracy demonstrators will be brutally gunned down by the Chinese Army in Tienanmen Square, the rest will be rounded up and imprisoned, the ringleaders tortured and summarily executed. But today that shameful episode in Chinese history fails to rate a mention.

Our Chinese tour company was China Youth Travel Service, government sanctioned, with most of our guides being recent university graduates with good English language skills. But there were only 3 participants: Mum and myself, and Alex, the sleazy geologist from Perth. In China we had a national guide, "Michael", and in each location we had a driver and local guide. And Alex only joined us for 10 days, so for the final 8 days mum and I had our own private tour. Not bad hey?

We wondered about that. Why did the trip go ahead with such a small group? It was an expensive trip, especially in comparison with the cost to travel independently, and perhaps everyone was making enough of a cut anyway? But mum's theory, made later, after the June massacre, was that we were a front, a way for our guide to legitimately travel without drawing the attention of the Communist Party spies. It certainly explains the all night meetings with "other students" wherever we went. And the number of times we had to wake Michael up in order not to miss our plane. I often wonder what happened to Michael, whether he died alongside all those others on that fateful day in June, or ended his days in front of a firing squad or maybe managed to gain asylum overseas....

The train from Hong Kong to Guangzhou was uneventful. It was packed with Chinese taking consumer goods - electrical equipment mostly - to the mainland, and then they bought up all the duty free grog and cigarettes on offer as well. We spent the trip watching the scenery change from washing hanging off the balconies of every tenement block in densely populated Kowloon to modern apartment blocks in the New Territories, also heavily festooned with laundry. Once across the barbed wire and sentries at the border the land changed to intensive cultivation, interspersed with shoddy half built houses which increased in number and shoddiness as we approached Guangzhou. First stop lunch, our first experience of authentic Cantonese cuisine, and our first experience of the sheer horror of the Chinese communal toilet.

For the benefit of those who are yet to experience this wonder of Chinese ingenuity, Chinese public toilets have door-less partitions approx 2 feet high with a long gutter running the length of the establishment. You go into your partitioned area, straddle the gutter and squat down to do your business. You try not to look at everyone else, because yes, you can see who else is busy crapping, and whatever you do, you don't look down. That's where the overwhelming stench comes from, where all your and everyone else's excretions for the last two hundred years is fermenting away, a few feet below you. Plus the ones that didn't quite make it! If you are extremely lucky someone regularly hoses it out, but more often than not, luck is not on your side. As a general piece of advice, it's best to go to the toilet BEFORE a meal, if you get my drift...

Those squat jobs still exist all over China, particularly in rural areas, where they'll hang over an irrigation channel so your waste contributes to the next crop, but in the big cities they've installed a lot of nice normal loos, even Eco loos, and almost all hotels have western toilets. Here's my favourite: it was pristine, and when you stood up it bagged your crap, blasted a bit of cold air around and made ready for the next user. Not sure all that plastic was environmentally protective though....

Toilets aside, the joy of China is indisputably its food. Our days revolved around it. Sumptuous breakfast followed by some sightseeing, followed by a huge lunch of countless different dishes, a bit more sightseeing, then time to stuff ourselves yet again. It was difficult to work out where we'd fit in time to actually see some sights, as our guides were always making haste to get us to the next restaurant. We would taste a little of every dish, they were all so delicious, but we were bulging at the seams! We did once have a tense moment over one of the dishes, after spying dog meat in the market.

Even with all those meal stops, we managed to spend 3 days cycling in Guangdong Province, along quiet roads with little traffic, where we were a very new sight for the locals. We visited Seven Star Crags, where we took a boat trip through an underground river, played the black market and got to buy and let off an obscene amount of rockets and firecrackers. Then we went back for more! Kids in a candy shop, only a little more explosive...

Following our leisurely bike interlude, mum staying firmly rooted in the van, still wheezing away in the dank humid weather, we flew to Guilin, home to the mist shrouded karst scenery immortalised on numerous tacky Chinese paintings the world over. I believe Guilin has changed a lot, so here's a panorama I scanned and edited from some original photographs taken from one of the hills above the river.

Next we take a ferry to my first backpacker ghetto: Yangshuo.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Let's start with something easy!

I'm 24 years old. I've never been overseas before. My only travel experiences as a child and young adult have been road trips in Australia. I'd stayed with friends and family, I'd done a lot of camping, I'd frequented quite a few backpackers' hostels between Sydney and Cairns and I'd even done a few weekends in budget holiday cabins. I'm feeling pretty nervous.

Alongside me is my mum, veteran of two odd years travel back in the fifties, when she'd taken the boat to England, worked a few jobs in London in order to travel through Britain and the Continent, then spent a further year working in Canada. Mum's not fazed at all.

I was leaving Australia to travel the world, with no return date. I had a one way ticket to Hong Kong, then onto Bangkok. There I planned to find a cheap ticket to Kathmandu, where I would join an overland tour to London. But first on the agenda was China.

Yes China! Mum had wanted to visit China back in her journeying days, but back in the fifties China was closed to the outside world. Then in 1979 she opened her doors to the West, and a steady stream of international investors and tourists began to arrive. Travel was difficult. The trains were rundown, the road system was almost non existent, the planes were Russian and the Chinese Communist government continued to restrict where tourists could and couldn't go, where they could stay, and what currency they could use. By the time we arrived in 1989 there were less restrictions, but it was still a very difficult thing to navigate the bureaucracy and get where you wanted to go.

For all the above reasons we decided to book a tour, using a tour agency based in Sydney, which arranged guides, accommodation and transfers. For 18 days we were to join a fully supported tour to visit Guangzhou, cycle through the Guangdong Province countryside, fly to Guilin and travel down the river Li to Yangshuo, visit Xian then on to Beijing. After 4 days in Beijing seeing all the sights, we were to add on a further 10 days of self guided travel. Aside from our accommodation and transfers, we'd find our own way around for a further 4 days in Beijing, 2 days in Shanghai, and a couple of days each in Suzhou and Hangzhou. Then we'd fly back to Hong Kong and mum and I would head our separate ways.

China back then was really hard work. Very few people spoke English and Caucasian tourists were a huge tourist attraction. Chinese people have little concept of personal space so they touch you anywhere, and take your possessions to inspect and pass around to their friends whilst laughing and talking in a language you don't understand. We felt like prize zoo exhibits in a very cramped enclosure, and when we left China after a month we were so glad to leave. It was only when I returned to China in 2008, to a very different place indeed, that I realised I had in fact been deeply traumatised by that initial visit, and was kicking myself that it had taken me so long to return. China today, although not as easy as places like Thailand, is a fairly easy place to travel in, now that most of those past restrictions have been lifted. And although the cityscapes and people's clothing have westernised, China continues to be a place of amazing beauty, fascinating history and friendly people. Though a lot less "in your face" than back then.

The morning we leave Sydney my mother develops her first ever asthma attack. She boards a plane feeling wheezy, short winded and very unwell. And when we arrive in Hong Kong she throws her cigarettes away forever. My first job is to get us to a hotel, because we've been delayed in Melbourne 5 hours, and we arrive in Honkers at 2am. No friendly tour agent to meet us at that time, so we jump in a share taxi and make our way to HK Island via the tunnel and a drop off in Kowloon. I'm on red alert. My mum's wheezing like a steam train and that flag fall was 30HKD when I'd heard it was only 6.50. So when we get to our destination I refuse to give our man more than 50 dollars (plus tunnel toll) and successfully avoid my first overseas scam. But at the time I thought even that was a ripoff.

Later that morning I find mum a local health clinic and doctor, get her loaded up with antibiotics and puffers, leave her back at the hotel and head out to purchase a new pair of spectacles. I'd heard that optical services were cheap in Hong Kong, so I took my prescription in and a few hours later picked up my new purchase. And I did all this within 24 hours of arriving in my first overseas country. But it was only Hong Kong after all.

Back at the hotel mum's getting cold feet and thinking about going home. Well she is having a rather hard time breathing! But her daughter's a doctor and assures her that she'll get better with medication and time, and this trip has been so lovingly planned. We agree she probably won't be doing any cycling, something I later discover was never on the cards anyway. She acquiesces to the bullying of her able bodied travel companion and joins me in meeting our one other tour participant, a geologist from Perth called Alex. He's a nice friendly guy, and over the next 10 days becomes increasingly desperate to win my affections. Mum and I unfortunately gang up on him, poor chap, as he really wasn't my type, and far too old at 42. "Yuck!" I'm only just out of nappies remember!

From Hong Kong, we take the train to Guangzhou, where we are met by our Chinese tour guide.
That's the next story.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Tales of past travel

I'm in a quandary at the moment. I'm not really sure whether I'll have enough money to pull the plug totally next year, so have been thinking about probably staying in the workforce a little longer. No doubt the uncertainty in the financial situation worldwide makes me somewhat jumpy about the viability of living on investment income for the next fifty years, but hopefully within the next six months we'll all know whether we are totally up shit creek without a paddle, or not. I'm thinking the smelly option myself...

Realistically though, when I travel overseas in developing countries (I do like a good euphemism) I have an uncanny ability to live off the smell of an oily rag (don't mind a cliche or two either!). I'm continuously surprised when I read other people's travel blogs to realise that my comfort requirements whilst travelling are extremely low. People post pictures of "the worst ever room" they stayed in, and I look at it and am reminded of that wonderful Python sketch involving the Yorkshiremen: "Luxury!!" And I also appear to be in the less than 0.1% of the western population that can not only eat it, but adore Durian! Ok I'm weird, get over it..

But I wasn't always so easy going in the travel department, and I'm also totally able to lush it up when the situation arises, though I'm not sure I could ever totally stomach first class air travel unless someone else was footing the bill. I prefer to travel on the cheap because it gets you much closer to the people and culture in which you are visiting. But there's the crux, I don't do it 'cause I have to, but 'cause I want to, and I don't mind the discomfort. Then again, I love camping and sleeping out in the great outdoors. If you have never slept out under the stars in the Aussie outback in a swag, then put it on your bucket list.

Since all this technology hasn't actually been around all that long, I've got a lot of back stories of travel that I wrote in journals, and took pictures of using a film camera, with only 36 pictures per roll. Yes that's right, back last century!!!

I thought I might start to revisit them, pull out the old diaries and write about my travels from back then. On this blog. Sort of a blast from the past while I'm waiting for the future. Plus I've got to do something to keep myself amused whilst I'm camped up the beach if the wind doesn't blow. You bet I've got a 12 volt charger for the computer!! And there's mobile coverage on top of the sand dune, so internet's possible as well!!

In 1989 I left Australia and went travelling for almost 2 years. The first place I went to was China, then through Thailand and Nepal and overland to Europe, including the Middle East. I went to Petra before Indiana Jones! I remember this because when I saw him hooning up the siq on that horse at the end of the movie I was so jealous. We'd tried so hard to get the locals to let us loose galloping their horses through that narrow passage and they'd flatly refused. The rich American actor got to do it, not fair!!

When I got to the UK I bought a bicycle, and aside from the time I spent doing a little work around the NHS hospitals of England and Scotland, I spent the remainder of my travels on that bike, touring Ireland, Scotland, England and finally the European continent. The latter was in the summer of 1990, not long after the Berlin Wall came down, and I got to visit the east before the crowds and the cynicism set in. It was a truly remarkable time.

So I'm going to delve through my personal archives, scan some old pictures, and start blogging again about past travel tales. I hope you enjoy them.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

This one's for you mum

Just a quick few shots of the camper being aired prior to being packed and taken up to Coronation Beach, possibly next weekend. I've almost finished the painting - well all that I'm going to do this year anyway - and the wiring is finished and happily solar charging as I write this. Mum hasn't been over since the overhead power lines were removed, so she hadn't seen the unobstructed view.
I've just put up the shade sails this week: the big one to protect the house from the afternoon sun, and the smaller ones for the vege garden. Bit of a mish mash, but they do the job.

Another hot weekend forecast....

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

We need to talk about Hazel

No, Hazel has not recently killed off the family next door and must contemplate her remaining senescence in doggy jail, but I haven't mentioned her for a while, and I've noticed that friends I haven't seen for a while also fail to mention her.
Hazel and I are kind of inseparable. She's been my furry best friend since she was a mere 8 weeks old   and now she's heading into her fourteenth summer and slowing down alot. Hazel used to come out on my bush trips, in those seven years when I travelled around the Murchison two weeks a month providing mobile clinics. She was as much part of the team as the rest of us, and probably taught an entire generation of young aboriginal kids that dogs could be friendly and fun. For a post about her younger years, click here.
But these days she hangs at home and she has a bit of a routine going. When I leave for work she's often still sleeping on the bed, but then she heads next door to lie on the sofa in the sun most of the day. The kids say she wanders back home a bit after 4:30pm, so that she's there when I get home just before 5. Then she makes a big fuss, as only a Staffy can do, and expects to be taken for a walk. But a walk these days is more a slow meander, hence why I now find other ways to exercise that don't include walking the dog!
The reason we are having this talk is because Hazel has now got to that age when everyone expects she will be no more. When you've had a doggy companion for years, when so many people associate you with your dog, they start to get a little circumspect, fail to ask how Hazel is, you know, JUST IN CASE..
Thing is, I notice it, so I make a big effort to inform everyone that Hazel is still alive and kicking, if rather lethargically so.
Hazel has some pretty bad arthritis in her legs, meaning she can't jump up into the car, or onto my bed. Solution: I sold the bed and have moved to sleeping on the much lower futon bed, and she gets lifted in and out of the car. I now sleep so much better now that I'm not woken by a whinging canine wishing to snuggle up on the doona. She also has to watch herself going up and down the stairs, something she fails to do on occasions when she gets overexcited over a visitor or an impending excursion. Then she falls down the stairs. Not funny! You'd think she'd have learnt by now....
Hazel has always had a neurotic streak, and got quite depressed when I went overseas for 7 months despite being lovingly cared for by Cate, my housesitter. Recently I noticed that every time I hosted couch surfers she gets all shaky and starts wetting herself all over the house. I can only assume that she associates strangers arriving with luggage with me leaving her. Poor dear, I think she deserves my undivided attention so I've ditched hosting for the time being.

But she's generally pretty happy, if the sound of gentle snoring by my feet is any indication. She loves her beach walks, groans her appreciation of a good belly rub, and still loves accompanying me everywhere in the car. And I'm sure she'll enjoy spending her fourteenth summer camping up at Coronation Beach next month.

I have a spot in the backyard I've earmarked for her final resting place, but I think we've still a while to go. As long as she can still get up and down those stairs, keeps up her appetite, and bugs me to go for a walk I reckon she's not in too much pain.

She's just given me the hurry-up bark and is now doing the deep sighing that precedes the whinging that means she really would like to go for a walk soon! OK, we're off for a gentle meander down the beach, ciao!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

I'm a bloody genius!

For all of you following my foray into 12 volt electrics, thanks for following along. The battery has been secured, the wiring has all been done, and as I write this the battery is being charged successfully by my new solar panels. And today you get pictures!
This is the CTEK dual charger, with the battery housed in the box underneath. This charger cost about the same as a smart solar charger but has a few bonus extras. The red cable that you can see on the left hand side attaches to an Anderson plug coupling which connects the trailer to the car's alternator (I haven't got the car cabled yet), allowing me to charge the battery whilst driving along. The charger itself is a five stage charger, which means that it is fast and very efficient at getting the battery charged almost up to 100%. Many chargers are unable to charge batteries fully due to the small voltage differences at near capacity, thus reducing the actual amperage available to be used. However, with this sort of charger, combined with an AMG battery, I'm able to achieve 100% capacity when fully charged. The CTEK uses MPPT when solar charging, meaning that this also is highly efficient. My only disappointment with the CTEK is that it just has a few lamps to tell you charging is happening, whereas a small digital display telling you how charged your battery is would have been nice.

The cable crossing across the bottom, and you can see it again in the lower right corner, is the cable attached to the solar panels. I gained a new skill this week, as I had to join the panels together with some hinges, so I learnt how to use a hand rivet tool. Piece of cake you say! Not totally I say, because the hand tool is quite large for a small handed girl, and at one stage I managed to catch a bit of flesh in it. Ouch! Bruise now fading..

The small black square towards the top of the picture is a cigarette lighter socket, so I can run a light, or a 12 volt shower. This circuit is directly connected to the battery without a fuse.

The red and black cables disappearing off the bottom of the picture are the cables which connect the battery to the fused circuit box up the back of the trailer. I still have to mount the board onto the sidewall, but this is what it looks like. At present I've only got two loads running off the circuit board, the fridge and the triple cigarette lighter sockets. As I only want to run a couple of lights, that's all I need at the moment, but I've room to add more if I want.

Here's what it looks like all connected up. And right now it's happily charging up my battery. And yes, it all works brilliantly. Aren't I the genius?

Now that the electrics are done, I just have to finish derusting and repainting the trailer, a job I hope to have finished by the end of next weekend. It's not that difficult to fit in an hour or so before work each morning putting a coat of paint on, but the use of noisy power tools to remove rust at 5:30 in the morning might be a bit un-neighbourly, so that's left to the weekends.

But the wind is now blowing from the south, there's a bit of swell out there, so it's time to hit the beach for some windsurfing.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Why go to Perth when you don't have to?

Geraldton now appears to be big enough that you can actually manage to find what you want without the 900km round trip to Perth. In fact, it turns out that for solar stuff, prices are very competitive, plus I've got somewhere local to go for advice. Especially when the steam starts erupting from my ears once the brain totally overheats. Nah, it's not that bad.

Trouble was, I'd left all my ski paraphernalia in Perth, and I really had to go pick it up soon, as Lil and Hans' place ain't exactly a mansion and that stuff sure is bulky. But then, due to good ol' Facebook, one of my friends messaged to say she was in Perth and very kindly schlepped over to pick up my gear and bring it home. All I had to do was venture south to Wandina and retrieve it, thanks Sharon you're a legend!

So, back to the local suppliers, where I managed to procure two 85W panels and a 120Ah AGM battery, all the required cabling and connectors, plus a few weird tools as well.  And when I bought the wrong sized fittings (yet again!) I only had 10km to drive to exchange them. Big advantage!

Back at the ranch I began the serious job of designing and making a "state of the art" battery box which fits snuggly in the front toolbox, and drilling appropriately sized holes for the cabling. Seriously, do not underestimate the amount of mental concentration involved in nutting out just where and how all this stuff fits together, developing a game plan so that you buy enough - not too little or too much - cable, and that you run your cable through before (yes before!) you connect the end lugs.

And then you notice that there's another little job that you just might think of doing before you put the cabling through....

Yep, good old camper trailer maintenance. The trailer has a fair amount of surface rust - kinda goes with the territory when living on the coast - and I figure it'd be a whole lot easier if I touched up those areas where the cabling is going BEFORE everything is tied down and sealed.  This is a job I started last summer, but it went on the back burner for the year so there's a wee bit of catching up to do. But I'm pretty handy with the drill and the wire brush attachments these days, so with safety gear donned, it's not such a bad gig.

Then the wind blows. Really blows. Like 30 knots plus, and a 3.5m swell. And I gulp down lunch and head up to Coros for a wild session in maxed out conditions. Clean waves, a 3.5m sail that keeps me in control, and when I get airborne (frequently) I seem to float for ages before landing. And I get some sweet rides with 2-3 bottom turns per wave, not bad given the power of that wind! Awesome fun, but today I'm knackered. Totally.

It's blowing 30 knots again today, but as much as I think I should get back out there I just can't hack another session, so I'm wimping out at home writing this blog. I'd rather put another coat of primer on the trailer and fire up the drill for some more rust busting!!

The wind looks a bit more reasonable for tomorrow, more around the 20-25 knot range, though the swell is dropping.

I may lose my "Nugget" pseudonym with this kind of talk, though after yesterday's session Kate decided to change it to "Hell-chick". I think I can safely keep the latter even if I take a day off...

There goes another gust - is that a roof top flying by??

Monday, November 7, 2011

Solar challenge part one

It's November. A mere six weeks till Hazel and I take the camper on it's annual pilgrimage to Coronation Beach for a month of chilling out, windsurfing, and catching up with friends. You'd think I would have got my act together, but what with working full-time throughout September and October I now find myself scrambling to get the solar project finished in time. Here's hoping.

Last year I got so pissed off after flattening my car batteries yet again. My 60 Watt solar panel just isn't enough to keep the batteries charged while running the Engel fridge as well as some lights, so I did a massive amount of research and resolved to get my camper well and truly wired. And to do it myself.

Step one was research, which I talked about in a previous blog, then a trip to Perth to discuss panels, batteries and cables with the guys at the 12 volt shop. I bought a connection box and some sockets, but put off buying the big ticket items until I'd planned just exactly where everything would fit. Which is what I did this weekend. With help from a friend we discussed where and how to drill holes for the cables, how to secure the batteries, and other such mundane things. I should have headed down to Perth to finish off the shopping, but instead I measured up and headed out to the local stores to sort out the load wiring first.

This really taxed me. Getting the right sized cable and connectors might have helped, but no, even though I had written down the right size, I stupidly bought the wrong sizes, so had to go back into town and do some swaps, netting me a 90 cent refund! Then I drilled a big hole for the cables, wired up the connection box to a 3 socket outlet, and also rewired the external Engel connection, which had never worked since I bought the trailer. Not surprised really, given the original wiring setup. Cutting and crimping wire isn't difficult, but the right sized crimping tool makes all the difference, something that took a little getting used to via a few over squished connectors that had to be trashed. Thank goodness they aren't expensive, and at the end of the day I'm very happy with the results.

Next step is a trip to Perth for the batteries and some thick cable, and some more solar panels. Wiring up the batteries, solar regulator/charger and panels should be fairly straight forward, though I may need to get a professional to crimp lugs on some of the cables. Then I'll just have to mount the connection board, secure the batteries and I'll be done.

Sounds easy right?

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Love is in the air

I'm head over heels in love.

I'd been thinking about dumping my old flame for some time. Even though fashionably dressed, strong and invincible looking, he was showing signs of age and really slowing down. It was torture waiting for him to get going, in fact any time I wanted just a quicky it wasn't worth the effort. I thought I caught a whiff of the rotten smell of corruption, but when he started flashing at me, or anyone who went near him for that matter, it was time to let him go. I've thought of sending him to rehab to see if they can get him back to normal, but sometimes it's just time to cut and run and find oneself a nice new buff young thing.

Being on the lookout is one thing, taking the plunge with a new love is quite another. I'd liked what I had with the old guy, he was comfortable, knew what I liked and what my favourite things were, but I wasn't happy about his weight. You know how it is, how he's slim and groovy when you first meet him, but after a year or two the gloss fades and he lets himself go. And all around there's these new kids on the block, with their funky looks and come hither attitude, it's pretty hard to resist the temptation.

I stood on the sidelines for a while, watching the hubbub of others falling in and out of love with these cute new boys, and asking people what they thought. There's even websites you can go to for advice, how about that? But in the end I had to decide which young man was for me, and hope I'd made the right decision.

It's early days. We're just getting to know each other, and he's been trying to get the ex to give up a few of his trade secrets (like what my favourite things are), but the ex is being a bit protective and not giving in too easily so I may need to stay on friendly terms with the ex for a little longer. But my new babe is just gorgeous, he's super slim, got amazing staying power, and I reckon he's a keeper.

He's a bit different to the guys I've had before, uses different methods to get to the action, but that's OK by me, I'm flexible. He's also less disease prone, doesn't need to take vitamins and shit to stop getting viruses and that, and he just looks so good. People look at me with envy when he's on my arm, they all want to touch him too.

He's good with photography and videos, which means we're well suited, and will make a perfect travel companion, to share my adventures with. I'm enjoying cuddling up with him in bed watching a movie, or listening to some music, and just chilling.

Yep, I'm in love all right, with my MacBook Air!!

Friday, October 28, 2011

At long last the wind blows!

It's almost November and today I got my first proper sail of the season. Southerly gusting to 30 knots, very small swell, quite a few tea baggers as well as a good crowd of local and international windsurfers. And there's a few more days of that wind yet to come. Can't say the swell forecast looks very promising though.

I got a couple of good ramps for some big air, and managed to grab a few bottom turns on the very occasional clean wave. But it was very choppy and the waves were almost non existent. If it wasn't my first day out it would have been very average indeed.

Best thing about the windsurfing here is catching up with friends. Lots of locals that I don't see the rest of the year, but also those from other parts of Oz and overseas who come to our little piece of paradise for the warm water, consistent winds and, ahem, waves. We have actually had some pretty massive swell recently, it just hasn't been paired with a ripping southerly. Unfortunately the elements don't always make our dreams come true.

My ribs are still giving me grief. My waist harness takes all the strain right through that part of my rib cage that I walloped with a rock, and the pain is pretty intense. May need to take pre sailing analgesia! And just grin and bear it.

Doesn't exactly put me in the mood for attempting loops though...

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Sourdough and stickydate pudding

It started about three weeks ago when I decided to have another go at making sourdough. For those who don't know, sourdough is made by creating a starter from flour and water that ferments from natural yeasts in the flour and you feed it every day, a bit like a tomaguchi (remember them?). After a week or so, the starter is fermenting nicely, and doubles in size within 24 hours of feeding, smells like overripe fruit and is full of bubbles. Then it's ready.

Next step is to combine your starter with more flour and water, and a little salt, then allow it to prove through some gentle stretching, folding, shaping and resting, over the next 5-6 hours. Then in what is turning out to be the hardest part, you transfer the gluggy mess onto a pre heated ceramic tile in your oven, having quickly slashed the top to allow the bread to "spring" and sprayed the oven to get steam happening. And then you wait for the magic to happen.
So far, I've made one loaf that I'm proud of. It looked both good on the outside, and the crumb was light and edible. The rest? Well flat and dense might be the most apt description, but some were still edible, usually after toasting first. Ho hum, practise makes perfect.

In the middle of my sourdough epiphany, I also signed up for the Oxfam Gather to Grow Campaign. This involved hosting a meal for friends, who were asked to donate what they would normally pay for a nice meal out. The money will go to the East Africa Food Crisis, which the federal government has agreed to match, dollar for dollar, any donations to registered charities like Oxfam. I had sixteen takers, of which 3 were kids and 3 were coeliacs. So the meal needed to be gluten free.

I decided that I wasn't yet ready to tackle gluten free sourdough, but the main course was easy. After my success with roast lamb for a crowd in NZ, I ordered up a couple of large baby baa legs from the local butcher, and proceeded to slow cook them over 4 hours in oven bags, using a combination of my oven, the kettle barbie, and the gas barbie. This provided me with more temperature options and more space, as I also had alot of veges to roast as well. And the whole meal was ready by the time the final straggling guest arrived at 7:30.

I'd set up tables on the verandah, having some friends do a mad dash, musical cars type escapade to get a large tabletop delivered and tables set, whilst kind of watching the semifinal between the Wallabies and All Blacks. I've been in NZ when the ABs lose a big game, and with the recent oil spill disaster, the Christchurch earthquake, and a really shaky economy, I was actually pretty happy that New Zealand won. That country really could not cope with another catastrophe. Seriously, losing the World Cup for NZ will be like 5 Christchurch earthquakes all at once. Then again, I may be underexaggerating...

The lamb, if I say so myself, was delicious. It fell off the bone, and melted in your mouth. And the veg were just right. Yep, the compliments were flying. And then came dessert....

I make a really good tira misu. Seriously. I've never had tira misu in a restaurant anywhere that's as good as mine. I use genuine ingredients: mascarpone, sponge finger biscuits, strong espresso coffee, Kahlua, and not too much sugar. And people loved it - the non coeliacs that is! But TM wasn't enough, and I still had to please the gluten free crowd, so I made a mulberry tart, using gluten free pastry mix and home grown mulberries, topped with double cream, which apparently was yummy too.

Inspired by a bad dessert experience in NZ, and a cooking show on Friday night, I'd just found a wicked recipe for sticky date pudding. So I decided to cook it, double the recipe quantity, which involved getting the ingredients all ready pre dinner and baking it on the fly whilst we were all hoeing into the lamb. Sticky date pudding is OK warm, but it's awesome hot, straight out of the oven. Somehow I got the timing spot on, and well, the silence was deafening. In between the oohs, the aahs and the scraping back of chairs in the mad dash for second helpings that is. With all that butter, cream and sugar, you bet it was awesome!
By the end of the night my wonderful friends had helped me raise a grand total of $750. Kate apologised profusely for all those snide putdowns she's been making for at least 3 years regarding the infamous post windsurfing session roast dinner disaster, and others were overheard using nice words that included lots of superlatives. If my Fiji friends had been there I'm sure there would have been some "best evah!"s.

I have to do this again. A great dinner with friends, and we raise money for a cause. Everybody wins. And I get to eat leftover stickydate pudding all week....

Monday, October 3, 2011

God forbid I have to talk to the locals!!

Hey guys,

My girlfriend and I are looking into traveling in Sumatra for most of Jan and Feb. We are just interested in knowing if there will be a steady flow of other tourists for us to meet. We get along famously but meeting other people is important to us. We are not worried about spending some time alone but it would be preferable if there is always a good chance of meeting other tourists. If it helps we will probably spend most of our time in places such as....

          Thanks in advance! 

Last year I posted a thread on Lonely Planet's Thorn Tree forum about my impression that many people seem to go overseas with the intention of travelling within a well insulated bubble of other westerners. In fact, I would hazard a guess that the vast majority of so called independent  travellers rarely seek to engage with the local population aside from purchasing goods at a market, taking photographs, or participating in a conversation with a fellow passenger. In fact, even the latter is rare, due to the custom of the western tourists sticking together, making it near impossible for a genuinely friendly local to get a look in.

Due to various scams, that sadly exist in high numbers in heavily touristed areas, many travellers develop a complete mistrust of the local people. Personally I think this completely unfair, as outside tourist areas the local people are invariably extremely friendly and hospitable, and are just as interested in my culture, as I am in theirs. Painting everyone with the same broad brush means missing out on some fantastic experiences. Like being invited to people's villages, into people's homes, being taken sightseeing, fed meals, shown sights not in any guidebook; the list goes on. And all for free.

How do I do it? Firstly I'm open to the experience. I'm not looking for a free ride, but I'm showing

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Things I hate about travelling

Having described myself as a travel tragic, I need to be honest and say that, well, some things about travelling just suck. Here's my list of pet hates about travel:

1. Transit days

Sure the journey is supposed to be more important than the destination, but in my mind the journey has a start and an end point, and that point isn't when I walk outside my house with a packed bag and head to the airport. No matter how hard I try, I just can't build up enthusiasm for the drudgery of multiple airport transfers, overnight stopovers, bad airplane food and sleeping overnight in airport lounges to get to my destination. I do my research, I know which airports have what facilities, where the best spots to sleep are, and where to get the bus into town from, but those days are just grim. It's only when I get to my budget room with fan and shared bathroom in some flea-pit in the city of my destination that I can breathe a huge sigh of relief, relax, and head out on the street to start my adventure.

Maybe I just hate airports.

2. The crying poor

When I travel I like to see and experience what life might be like in the countries in which I travel. So I travel cheap, take local transport, sleep in basic accommodation, eat at street stalls and walk everywhere (you find so many more treasures round hidden corners when you walk). I totally acknowledge that I am perceived as rich by those people in developing countries who live on a few dollars a day and never in their lifetime will have the chance to have leisure time, like a few weeks holiday or the opportunity to travel overseas. Sure some of them treat me like a walking ATM, but far more of them show me what real hospitality is. I've been invited to share meals, stay the night, driven around sightseeing, bought presents, all by people materially so much poorer than me, yet so much richer in their hearts.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

A makeover

Thought I'd play around a bit with the blog's appearance. This is mainly influenced by me doing some serious trawling through other people's blogs and thinking mine could be a bit easier to navigate. Like a better link to my photo page on Picasa, and a more interactive way of linking to older posts.

I'm a slow learner on the tech stuff. I'm not stupid, just lazy. Anyone with a good looking website has either paid a professional to do it or has spent alot of time making it look good. Sometimes I wander over to Blogger Help but mostly I find their advice a bit scary, especially when it suggests adding code in somewhere. That stuff looks like it could blow up my OS, yeah I know it won't but what if it does? OMG I've got a phobia to computer code!! Wonder whether that's got a name yet? Luddite and technophobia are too broad, I'm just scared of the funny language with the << and >> all over the place. I've mastered emoticons though ;) And a few weeks ago I learnt how to SMS using interpretive text. OK, maybe I am stupid....

Anyway, I did pop over there yesterday and discovered Dynamic View. This was after I discovered I could put page links at the top of the blog and could then post the photos link there as well. I'd also spent about 2 hours trying to make something interactive on the pages through some rather tiresome cut and pasting of web links, when I finally discovered Dynamic View. If you haven't noticed, I like Dynamic View. I hope you do too.

Go on. Click on the link above and see what happens.

No, your computer will not explode, I promise.

Friday, September 16, 2011


There's been a bit of soul searching going on this week for me. About 2 years ago I made the decision to retire when I hit 50, which is still a while away, and go travelling. Although my job is challenging and fulfilling, I'm also totally over spending my working life having to make what are often quite stressful decisions about

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Wading through the jungle

6 weeks away from home. My meteorological predictions were completely disproven this year, because whilst we weren't getting much precipitation over in NZ, it's been raining regularly back in Geraldton and the plants have been growing. Alot. So much rain that the driveway is covered in 2 foot high weeds!! And the vege patch? It's a jungle!!

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Wanaka Photos link

Have been taking the occasional photo, mostly off mountain, of some of the scenery around Wanaka and antics back at the hostel. Video footage up on the mountain needs to be edited first so stay tuned, but here's the link to the photo page.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Not quite out for the count

Now mum when you read this please do not get upset. Shed a tear or two but I don't want to hear any of that advice along the lines of maybe I should give up a sport where one minute you're having a lovely time and the next you are careering over the edge of a cliff and rolling down a hill into a rock. OUCH!!!

After my collision last week I took it easy for a couple of days, hit the swimming pool for some self managed hydrotherapy, and then got back on the slopes. Kel and Janet are here for 9 days, so I joined them at

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Goddess wipes out snowboarder **BREAKING NEWS**

It was fast, it was furious and that fucking snowboarder should learn not to traverse straight across a minor slope at such speed. There I was skiing leisurely down the left hand side of a wide slope, small turns, minding my own business when out of my right peripheral vision comes scooting an out of control snowboarder right in front of my path. Nowhere to go, I just plowed right into him, toppling him ass over tit, losing my ski, bending my pole and leaving me with a rather sore right shoulder. Bugger!!!

With a lesson booked for 10 that morning, I was just warming up, but now I was down for the count.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Powder maketh the goddess......fall over!!

I arrived in a blizzard, then after 3 weeks of fairly benign weather a huge cold front hit NZ again and brought most of the country to a standstill. Roads and schools were closed, the garbage trucks failed to turn up and news reports said that up to 3/4 of the country was under snow. Even snow flurries in Auckland, pretty impressive stuff. And powder fell in the mountains, yippee!!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Goddess on ice

After a wonderful 2 weeks of fantastic snow conditions we are now experiencing some rather nasty freeze-thaw weather combined with high winds which have turned the snow fields rather icy. Bad memories of the top of Thredbo come to mind... but never fear, more snow will arrive soon enough and I can stop freaking out at the grating noise of skis skidding across what feels like a skate rink.

The good news is that after a week of really hard work and the combined efforts of Guenther and Heidi I can now find an edge on my skis and actually make it across the rink, down the steep slopes and carve my way somewhat stylishly into the queue line without making a complete arse of myself, or land on my arse for that matter! Let's just say things are on the up.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Ski goddess gets her legs

After 12 months off snow, and 11 months bloody hard work in the gym, Monday morning dawned to overcast skies and the chance to see just how the legs would cope back on the steeps of Treble Cone. After picking up the newly tuned skis it was onto the bus, driven by the irrepressibly French ex ski instructor and erstwhile photographer Thierry, who had sent me a Facebook message a few days prior to tell me the snow was "good". Good?? It is awesome!! Top to bottom cover, in fact well below the access road, of lovely soft, even dare I say it, powdery snow!!

The Ski Goddess Arrives

After a more than usually traumatic day of travel I arrived in Wanaka last Sunday evening. Here's a recap of the adventure to get here.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

These guys are amazing

I am not naive enough to believe that Le Tour de France is completely clean. This is afterall the premiere race in the world, and it has a very dirty history of drug abuse for the purpose of getting athletes over the mountains and trails for a period of three weeks. But I do believe that the public expects the tour organisers to do everything they can to make it as clean as possible, and drug cheats will be ostracised. As a result I think it very unlikely that the majority are using perfomance enhancing drugs, but I don't think it is 100% clean, there's just too much money riding on it (pun intended).

Sunday, July 17, 2011

The internet is a cruel thing

I am green with envy. Too much salivating over the webcams and posted videos of Treble Cone's opening day when a pristine white mountain got shredded. If I didn't have this access to all that information I'd be none the wiser and would just be looking forward to my ski trip without all the extra excitement. Frankly, the anticipation of skiing for six weeks on a well covered mountain when I'm seriously ski fit is almost killing me.

if you want to know what I'm talking about,

Sunday, July 10, 2011

2 weeks to go

After anxiously perusing the webcams, weather forecasts and ski forums for the last few weeks, it is extremely refreshing to now see beautiful white snow covering the mountains rather than brown tussock. The mother of all storms has hit the south island of New Zealand, and Treble Cone has received over a metre in 3 days! In order that this new snow doesn't just slide down the hill in an avalanche, the punters need to wait for it to pack down and for the ski patrol lads and lasses to deem the mountain safe. But with gale force

Saturday, June 25, 2011

It's on its way!

I don't know anything about weather, but have been anxiously perusing the NZ weather sites for any signs of impending storms and snow. With only 4 weeks till I become a ski goddess again I'd like to see whiteout rather than brown grass on the ski resort webcams. Soon, very soon!!

I've noticed that WA rain cycles seem to coincide with big snow dumps on New Zealand's southern lakes region, where I go when I ski. When I say coincide, I mean we get a big mob of rain and a few days later

Sunday, June 19, 2011

It's a cucumber

Another lovely week has gone by in Chez Drummonds. The unknown self seeded plant turns out to be not a zucchini, but a cucumber. Am very happy about that, but am still transplanting more tomato plants which have also self seeded, shall be a spring of cooking tomato puree methinks. Might try drying a few too.

We have had a nice mix of a bit of rain and a bit of sunshine. Today we had a planting day down on the sanddunes, with a reasonable amount of locals turning up to help out. 1300 seedlings planted in less than 2 hours, a few sandwiches and drinks, and I still managed to go for a one hour run in the arvo. And scoff half a bottle of red wine and toast marshmallows over the fire.

The fitness regime has been notched up. With 5 weeks to go I'm in intensification stage. This is about increasing my aerobic fitness as well as doing some very ski specific exercises. I'm pretty sure the whole ski experience this year will be well within my comfort zone for the first time ever, but now I'm addicted to the endorphins I just can't stop. I know it won't be a struggle this year, but I can still see room for improvement.

Of course, it's got to snow first......

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Trip preparation

Let's face it, half of the joy of travel is the planning. Deciding where you want to go, and what you want to do when you get there. Deciding what to take with you, whether to prebook or just do things spontaneously. Deciding on your budget, and saving up for it, or living life on the edge with limited funds. Everyone does it differently, some plan down to the minutest detail, others just jump on a plane, boat, bus or train, or stick out a thumb, and see what opportunities arise. Some people do some pre-travel research, others prefer to arrive with no preconceptions whatsoever.

My trip preparation depends on the trip.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Taming the behemoth!

I did it!! Aided with great valour by my neighbours Rhonda and Alan, the bougainvillea has at last been heavily pruned. I say valour, because we are all nursing hundreds of scratches and puncture wounds from those beastly thorns. Despite long trousers, long sleeves and heavy duty gloves I have wounds under my fingernails and even in one of my ear canals!
But the beast has been tamed.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Garden notes

I swear at this time of year if one closes ones eyes for more than a minute, the veges double in size. After spending the summer months just surviving the daily wilt, plants at this time of year take on a vigour suggesting some sort of performance enhancing drug. Sure I've dug the beds over a bit, added some manure and blood and bone and the rain has been falling steadily and frequently for a couple of weeks. It's such a joy to behold lettuce growing in such abundance, squash flowering and fruiting, and the snow peas making their way up the climbing frame. It's gratifying to see that the lemon tree has transplanted well, an unplanned for necessity after the old tank bed it is in has now rusted beyond repair and needs removal.
The water tank stand, part two, has not been a success.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Fitness blues

I have been toying with running for quite a few months. Some of you may remember that I used to have a very negative attitude towards people who ran and have had to humbly swallow my words as I have begun to engage in said activity.

From the treadmill, I have now progressed to the real world, helped along by a few too many trips to Perth in the last 2 months and a need to keep fit whilst spending far too many hours in a car. So from my first 20 min run in the real world, I've progressed to 40 min runs most mornings this week.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Couch potato

I blame it on the Kindle. A few months ago I decided to buy one, then proceeded to trawl through the websites that allow you to download ebooks for free. Alot of these books are quite old, and amongst them I've found some great travel literature. I'm thrilled to have found Alfred Russel Wallace's book, which means on my next Indonesian trip I'll be able to take it with me. It and the other few hundred books I've so far loaded.

I've also found some great travel literature from China, much of which I've had to borrow through the local library. Having discovered Peter Fleming (he's Ian Fleming's younger brother) I've had a wonderful time reliving his rather superficial forays through Russia and China during the early to mid 1930s. He has a wonderful way of writing about the people he meets, especially the other westerners, mostly missionaries, and what he has to say about travel wouldn't seem out of place on an internet travel forum. Having travelled overland through the Stans and Mongolia to Peking, he then joined force with a Swiss lass called Ella Maillart (nickname Kini) and they attempted an amazing cross country trip in 1935 skirting north of the Tibetan plateau trying to reach Kashgar then on to Srinagar in India, all the time avoiding/ misleading the official authorities as foreigners had been denied access since civil uprisings in Xinjiang had occurred in 1933. Seems nothing much has changed!

The best thing is, both Peter and Ella wrote a book each about their trip. Both were travelling as "special correspondents" for European newspapers, both essentially had sweet talked editors into paying them in order to fulfil their individual desires to travel. Both were fiercely independent solo travellers, but they had no trouble getting along well with each other. And so I sit there with both books in hand, reading alternate chapters from each of them, and feel like I'm having a lovely chat with two intrepid travellers, recounting a fascinating trip.

It sure makes the travel we do these days seem like a walk in the park. Very few roads, railroads were still being constructed, and the Communists were fighting the nationalist government of Nanking. And we think negotiating the local buses is being adventurous! Ha!

Must get back to my mates Kini and Peter.....

(For those interested the books are: News from Tartary by Peter Fleming, and Forbidden Journey by Ella K Maillart)

Friday, May 6, 2011

Waves in May

Well it's actually pretty normal to get more swell in the autumn and winter, but it isn't usual to get a seabreeze. Good old climate change, wreaking havoc with the normal weather patterns...

So there I am, pretty well recovered from my injury, have put the gear in the garage till next season and have commenced the major garden chores. My mind's off windsurfing now, and into major garden renovations. In fact over Easter I resurrected the tank stand and this weekend I fill the tank and see what happens. Hopefully not another catastrophe!

I get home at lunchtime and look out on big rolling swell, whitecaps and rattling windows. That means only one thing: time to go windsurfing. Ring Kate, load the car and head out to Coros for an awesome session with the girls. Only 6 windsurfers and 4 kiters out, all mates, no ringins from elsewhere and any wave you want all to yourself. Awesome!! Got seriously worked on a huge mast high wave that broke over me just as I headed up into the top section after a sweet deep bottom turn. Rollercoaster of whitewater and breathholding and a very long swim to retrieve the gear. But still back for more.

Days like today are to be savoured, especially when you aren't expecting them.

Happy days...

Monday, April 4, 2011

Travel pangs

My couch surfing profile describes me thus: "I'm both a travel tragic and a homebody. One goes into hibernation while the other takes centre stage. At present there's a little conflict happening, but we are trying to reach an amenable compromise." It's actually a pretty accurate assessment of my conflicted attitude to my life.

My recent injury, thankfully on the mend though it shall be a week or two more until I have full movement and strength back, saw me spending a little time at home loaded up with pain killers and very little to do besides elevate and rest. So I started reading and internet surfing, and well.... travel sites are a favourite troll for me. And before I knew it, I'd let the cat out of the bag.

In a little over 3 years I plan to retire and go on an extended travel extravaganza, for maybe the next 10 years or so. I'm restrained from doing it now by 1. money, 2. Hazel, and 3. a work commitment to get an Aussie trained doctor in the practice before I leave. All three of these considerations are well progressed, but it's a bugger waiting (yes I do feel a wee bit guilty about looking forward to Hazel's demise but it's nothing personal - unless she manages to live to 16 and then it might get tough!!) and beginning to plan for my escape is a pleasant distraction. Only it's torture!!

Those of you who may have followed my travel tales will know that I fell in love with China, having visited her the first time in 1989 with mum a few months before Tianenmen Square, and a second time in Dec 2008 when she well and truly got under my skin. It's an interesting phenomenon that can't really be explained as it's more a feeling than anything else. A compulsion to return and delve deeper, explore further, learn more. And let's face it, you can't knock the food! (and I am afterall my mother's daughter!!)

So I have been doing my usual research: a mixture of travel guides, internet searches, travel writings of those who've passed through, and forum trolling, and have decided to continue on from where I left off on my last trip. I'm fascinated by the ethnic minority tribes of Asia, and have decided to dedicate my next trip to travelling through the Tibetan regions of China that don't involve the ridiculous pandering to permits and high tour prices that visiting the "official" Tibet requires. Mind you, anything can change in 3 years. Including my fancies...

My trouble is I don't like to do stuff the easy way. I'm looking at how much of this trip I can do by foot, crossing 4000m plus mountain passes with a pack on my back and staying in small villages with locals, employing local guides as needed, and taking local buses otherwise. Visiting out of the way lamaseries and enjoying the splendid scenery that western China has on display. And enjoying yak butter tea - yes I really do like it.

I may be peaking just a little early, but beginning the plan for the great escape can't begin too soon I reckon, even if I do need to put a new roof on the house and landscape the backyard if I'm ever going to rent the place out. Yep, that couchsurfing profile sums me up perfectly, it's just a matter of compromise....

(an explanatory note: my mother is an unabashed sinophile, tai chi expert, taoist enthusiast, bonsai afficionado....)

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Collision course

After over 20 years of windsurfing, the last 15 almost exclusively in waves I had my first ever full on collision. It was, of course an accident. Continuously on wave breaks you cross paths going in and out, but generally wave rules prevail and the person coming in gives way to the person going out through the break.

Unfortunately I struck a newbie, a very nice chap from New Zealand, visiting for a few days on hire gear, who was having his first experience of wave sailing and was pretty terrified of the whitewater coming at him when he had to contend with me coming in as well. A game of "chicken" ensued where I turned to get out of his way, he turned the same way, down wind, up wind about 3 times before I made a big down wind turn at exactly the same time as he did and WALLOP!! I got hit at velocity by his board and kit. I had about half a second to realise I was about to be history and then something very hard and painful whammed into my right side and I was in the water, trapped under the gear trying to find my way back to the surface.

Luckily I've been in enough sucked down situations before so I didn't panic, made it to the surface and was immediately grabbed and held up by my very upset attacker. I was in alot of pain, from my right arm, and am eternally grateful that Mike only thought of me and completely abandoned his kit to keep me afloat and get me back to my board and kit where we could assess the damage. My arm had swollen up immediately, with a huge golf ball like swelling just below the elbow, and although I was in alot of pain it appeared I could move and grip things. But I couldn't sail back in, so Kate came to the rescue and sailed my kit in with me holding on at the back and being body dragged. Others rescued Kate and Mike's kit, and when I got to shore others again helped with ice, Panadol and derigging my kit. It's a great community of windsurfers and kiters we have here, I am really grateful to them all.

After lying down in Kate's camper for an hour or so, the Panadol and ice seemed to have worked their magic and I drove slowly home to Drummonds (yeah I know I probably shouldn't have done that) and then got Rhonda next door to drive me in to the hospital for an Xray. And somehow, I managed not to break anything.

I've also a huge bruise and swelling on my right thigh, but aside from being unable to straighten my arm or lift anything, I'm fine. Poor Mike, who was absolutely horrified about hitting me, has a bingled board and a broken boom. I lent him my old spare boom and insisted he keep sailing, and they popped in later to return it and see how I was. That was when I learnt that he and his mate were complete newbies, but hopefully now they know the wave rules they'll know that the person coming in gives way, so they don't have to as well. That way collisions can be avoided!!

I am so glad I'm not back in plaster......

Saturday, February 12, 2011

No more jelly legs

It's hot and steamy here in Geraldton, and we've had an appalling six weeks since Christmas with very little wind and almost no swell. However I can't really blame the conditions for my lack of progress on the forward loop front - as I haven't really been trying hard enough, and nor has my partner in crime Kate so we're not doing a good job of egging each other on either. But there's still time this season, if only all these cyclones would just settle down and stop buggering up the weather!

It is now six months since I began on my get fit oddyssey, and it's a mere five months till I jet off again to The Land of The Long White Cloud to indulge in my ski goddess persona. At which time I hope to be super fit and totally capable of conquering that mountain without getting jelly legs by noon. So how am I going so far??

Firstly, I am indeed a fully fledged gym junkie. I go to the gym Monday to Friday unless there's decent wind, in which case Wednesday and Friday get ditched for some wave (or lately: flat water cruddy chop) action. I use a heart rate monitor and diligently keep myself in the right training zones so I can improve my fitness and endurance, as well as doing interval sessions for strength and endurance. And I find exercise programs to target the sort of improvements I need for skiing all day - there's some really cool ones I found on the internet involving balancing on Bosu balls which I did with my personal trainer and had us both in stitches. Let me tell you, there's a massive difference between a squat or lunge on stable ground versus trying it balanced atop half a gym ball!! Then add weights for even more hilarious fun!

I'm actually totally surprised at myself for keeping it up so long, and for now being totally addicted to burning calories. I do try to keep it interesting, helped out by having a personal trainer who keeps coming up with new ways to torture me on a weekly basis. But there's something in all that endorphin stuff - it sure can become an obsession. So on weekends, I rest, unless there's wind of course!!

I have also totally changed my diet. It's been a long term aim of mine to eat a really healthy diet, and my current intake is fairly simple. I now eat almost exclusively whole foods, which allows me to indulge in some wonderfully fresh vegetable dishes and salads, along with copious amounts of meat, nuts and seeds. I have become a wee bit of a food Nazi I have to admit, but I'm still chilled enough to be able to eat out and indulge in beer and wine so I'm not totally whacko..... yet....

My body has fundamentally changed. I've lost centimetres from everywhere, meaning at some stage I am going to have to start buying new clothes that fit me, but in the meantime I'm just throwing out the "big" clothes and shimmying back into those dresses I used to look so good in 10 years ago. Yes it's nice that everyone notices when you've been working so hard at it.

You know you're fit when you have a race with the kids next door and you manage to keep up with them, if not beat them. And you're not even puffed!! Then, in hushed voices they exclaim with incredulity that you can run really fast!! Presumably old fogeys like me don't usually put on a spell of sprinting like that in front of impressionable teenagers, let alone almost beat them. Just wait till I shock them by doing just that!! Work in progress....

You know you still have a way to go when the young chappie at the gym puts you through a punishing training session that leaves your legs sore for days. Jelly legs sore. You unkindly inform your usual personal trainer that she's a "puddycat" in comparison, which means from now on I'm in for more punishing and more pain.

If I can get to July with legs of steel and fitness to boot I'll have achieved my goal. If I can ski top to bottom down the powder bowl or cloud nine I'll know it's all been worth it. Who would have thought a broken arm was all it needed??

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Fried brain

After my two weeks or so up at Coronation I have decided to get serious about updating my camper trailer to include some electrical components. Currently I run my fridge from a dual battery system in the car, topped up with a solar panel, but there are a few problems with this.

Firstly, the fridge sits in the car, in the sun, meaning it has to work harder to keep things cool. It's in an insulation bag, and I've also given it an extra foil reflecting blanket (an old windsceen shade), but the fact is it's a pain to have to keep walking to the car for fridge supplies when you are camped up in the same place for weeks.

Secondly, my solar panel, an excellent quality Solarex 60W, is far to inadequate for the task of keeping my auxilliary battery topped up, especially if I run a fluoro light as well. Which means I flatten my battery in 2 days, not good for even a good deep cycle battery.

Thirdly, and the most important factor, my cabling is far too thin for the job required, meaning I lose most of the voltage before it even gets to the battery from the solar panel. Not only that, the cable connecting to the fridge also loses voltage, meaning the fridge cycles more often, for longer, draining more power. And I paid to have that cabling put in!!

Apparently this cabling mismatch is not uncommon. Whilst researching solar panels on the internet, I've come to the conclusion that pretty well every one of those portable setups being advertised at ridiculously cheap prices on ebay and elsewhere comes with cabling too small for the job. Which means built-in inefficiency from the outset. But now I'm onto it I shan't be fooled!

So after more research - including talking it over with friends and acquaintances, buying a book specific to the topic, looking for info at the hopelessly inadequate local library, and of course hours trawling through internet sites - I rang the 12 Volt Shop in Perth to have a chat with some real experts. And they suggested going even thicker again on the cabling!!!

The cabling problem arises because the descriptions of cable size are not uniform. I need 4 B&S cabling, which is 25sqmm copper wiring, not size 4 autocabling, which is 2.5sqmm of copper. BIG DIFFERENCE!! Guess what I've got??

The reason the cable has to be so thick is because of the distances it must travel to power or charge things. From the battery under the bonnet to the car fridge is approx 4m, which is 8m conductor length. And there's similar distances again for the trailer. Less resistance in the cable over such lengths means less voltage drop. The bigger I go the better. And who knew you were getting a tutorial on basic 12 volt electrics?

So I've decided to both upgrade the wiring in the car - probably by a professional - and completely wire the trailer with it's own standalone system that can be charged by either solar when camped for long periods, or the car alternator when travelling or if solar is inadequate. And I'm going to do the trailer myself.

Most fortuitously, I've found a charger that is both a top quality solar regulator and a voltage step up charger, meaning that I can get very efficient battery charging all in one unit. It's about the price of the solar regulator I was looking at buying, but without quite as many monitoring functions, but does 2 jobs in one. Am very pleased with this find, and it's not even Chinese!!

I've worked out my power requirements - the fridge, some simple fluoro lights, a water pump and occasional battery/laptop charging - and worked out what size battery I need and how much solar wattage is required. And the 12 Volt Shop chap told me I was spot on!! I have built in a fair amount of redundancy, and have allowed room to expand so I'm pretty well ready to start spending.

But not quite yet. I've just been forced to buy some new sails, after my 4.5m kind of disintegrated on me last week, so I am holding off on any big purchases - like solar panels and batteries - for a month or so till my bank balance looks a little healthier. And I've a trip to Perth in March for a conference, so I think I might hold off till then and have a real proper chat with the guys in the shop before I purchase my cable.

So after putting this down in my blog for posterity, having drawn a bunch of circuit diagrams, saved squillions of articles on my harddrive, and effectively fried my brain (I'm even staying awake at night thinking through circuitry options!), I'm putting the paper bits into a little manila folder and packing them away. It's time to let all those ideas coalesce and for me to do something more immediate.

Like the laundry!!

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Calling All Women (by Ruby Dee)

Calling all sisters. Calling all Righteous sisters. Calling all women. To steal away To our secret place. Have a meeting Face to face. Look at the facts And determine our pace.
Calling all Women. We want to reach – first and second And Third world women Come together!
Women in and outside the power structure –

Working women, Welfare women, Women who feel alienated and isolated Women who are all frustrated Women who have given up – women – women Questioning women – women

Unpolarized and unorganized. Ostracized. Tired of being penalized Come help us start to bridge the gaps Racial, cultural, or generation We want some action and veneration.

These men, these men they Just ain’t doing it. They’ve had hundreds of years Now they ’bout to ruin it.

Kitchen, office, ex-prison women Old and young and middle-aged women Make this scene

Oh yes, and bring your lunch!

Problems, problems common problems That we make and cause each other Sister, daughter, old grandmother Female child you can bring your little brother

Take the subway, grad a cab Saddle your mule Bike it, limo Take a choo-choo, fly Or pick ‘em up and lay ‘em down.

Socialism, capitalism, communism Feminism, womanism, lesbianism Here-and-now or futurism We just can’t afford a schism

We got to get together or die.

Now is the time for an evolution Let’s all search and find a solution For how we’ll make it to the next revolution

Or die.
Oh yes. And don’t forget your lunch!