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The new me in 2009

31 December, 2008 Leave a comment
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Abel Tasman

29 December, 2008 Leave a comment

You wake from a snooze on the beach in 27degree heat… feel a little dozy… gaze out to sea… and.. what’s that in the water? It’s a couple of dolphins! and, just a bit to the left there’s a few more! No, there’s another, well, at least another 18.

I’m surprised at just how impressive it is to see a pod of 20 dolphins in the wild. Some playing, some just mosying, some ducking around the boats that have pulled alongside to watch this spectacular site.

The Abel Tasman park is simply superb. The huts and camping grounds are well equiped and maintained, the beaches perfect, and what makes it so much more enjoyable is that, because there is no litter, no deckchairs, no towels, no hotels… virtually no signs of human interference, you get a rare sense of natural beauty at it’s most unspoilt.

Waking in a winery

23 December, 2008 Leave a comment

Straw Lodge is great. Am sitting in the garden of our suite, the stereo has some chilled tunes and the view of pinot noir vines against a backdrop of mountains is only enhanced by birds twittering and the rain pattering down.

Nettie and Jane provided a tasty breakfast of local produce – the best I’ve had in 7 weeks of travelling – which lived up to last night’s dinner platter, again of local produce, which included hot smoked salmon, venison, turkey, their own olives, and both a rather good sauvignon blanc and the pinot noir.

Spending yesterday afternoon cycling round dirt tracks and roads to cellar doors so that some of the friendly winemakers can take you through what they make – and perhaps more interestingly, why they make it – is a great way to spend a holiday. Helped, by the good company, of course.

The NZ experience so far has lived up to expectaions. Seeing the Marshall in Grey Lynn, Auckland was great fun. Nice to have two semi-retired web professionals just mooching about on Waiheke island and trying the Cable Bay selection and cheeseboard. Then down to see the Law clan in sunny Cambridge. Ok, so it was pissing down for all of Saturday – but that didn’t stop us sorting the feng shui of home. You wouldn’t believe how much settling in with friends at their house, and sorting out the home office is a satisfying experience. It gave me a sense of adopted home for 36 hours. A good respite from constantly living out of a bag. And I got to learn about Ben 10 as well.

And, with little flutters of excitement building, getting an early morning bus back to Auckland Airport to pick up the girl. NZ1 delivers her safe and sound and hardly jetlagged.. and we head to Mollies. Awards galore, and when you get there, you can see why. A really special place and i’m so glad i picked it for our first day back together. Sumptuous, tasteful but not ostentatious, luxury.

Monday we flew down to Wellington and stayed in the Museum (not Te Papa) before getting the early morning ferry over to Picton and then a short drive to here.

It doesn’t feel like Christmas eve. Going to a couple more wineries this morning (Bladen, Wairau River and Seresin yesterday) and a chocolate factory. No midnight mass. No last minute shopping. No carols. No cold. No hurrying into a pub for a warming beverage.

No family and friends neither. Which I miss. But thinking of you all.

Feels like it’s going to be a happy christmas and a good new year.

Sunburn addles American brain

23 December, 2008 Leave a comment

Bladen winery is a lovely little place run by Dave McDonald and we were just tasting the Pinot Gris when an american couple joined us at the bench. Sunburnt, oh yes, on having a) not allowed for rolling up your sleeves and b) not allowed for the thin ozone here. BUT that still doesn’t forgive the perversion that ensued.

Ready? the conversation goes like this:

“You have to remember to put on the sun cream all the time” says she

“Well I never leave home with out a factor 50 on” says I

“Yes, my brother is complected just like you” says he

COMPLECTED?!?!?!?!?!

For the love of all things holy. The English language is a wonderful thing and primarily because of it’s ability to be flexible and adapted in creative ways. But this isn’t creative. It’s just lazy.

To create a verb out of a noun – probably called verbalisationary changeification by Children of Bush – is fine if there isn’t already a good way of saying it. But there is a good way. In fact there are several ways and perfectly decent grammatical structures that would have achieved the same end. But that would have required him to think for a moment rather than open mouth, let noise come out.

I didn’t bite, by the way. Nor did I laugh, scoff, point, or slap.  I was, admittedly, quiet for a few minutes while i tried to process what he’d just done and then decided that  another glass of wine was probably the next best step.

Gulliver’s disinfected boots

17 December, 2008 Leave a comment

A very long day… I got up on Tuesday morning, went out to Valparaiso on the Chilean coast and looked out across the pacific towards NZ. When I got back to Santiago, just had time to pack and have a beer with the expats before getting in a taxi to the airport.

It’s now 0600 on Thursday morning and I’m on the same day. Grabbed a few hours of sleep on the LAN  flight (decent food, good service, nice seat, nice neighbour… shame about the film selection. Hellboy 2 the stand out, del Toro is outstanding, can’t wait for his Hobbit) and now am standing at the Samsung shop’s online terminal watching israelis opposite me do web searches for hotels to stay in Auckland. Boots may have lava damage, but are now v clean after BioSecurity clean-up.

I have the luck of staying with the lovely Kate Marshall today/tonight and then rendezvousing with the equally lovely Adrian Law tomorrow (better golf, worse legs) … it’s so nice to have such welcoming friends.

Immediate observation on the Auckland Airport inhabitants: I have switched from a Mayan land of miniature, round faced people, to a Polynesian land of supersized roundfaced people.  One flight has turned the gulliver experience on its head.

Luxury in a spare room

13 December, 2008 1 comment

I write from a journalist’s desk in a swish (am now using that word all the time… it is Dad’s fault) part of Santiago, Chile.

At 5.45 this morning, I awoke Gideon and he showed me to the spare room / office. did i need anything? just a shower and the web. says it all, doesn’t it. Gideon has heroically allowed me to stay for a few days after a good word from the wonderful Ms Ford.

Christmas feels odd. Am missing pre-christmas drinks and huddling in a pub away from the rain. But I’m sure I will get enough of that in February.

My last few days were spent in the spectacular surroundings of Lake Atitlan. Pictures shortly.

I did not get my chakkras read – but I did very much join the metaphysical community which lives in San Marcos, across the lake from party town San Pedro. Suffice it to say that I have crystals in my pocket; did a whole 2 hours of yoga (tough); spent time chanting in a temazcal sauna with two americans (“it’s like going back to the womb, man”) and a belgian; and had discussion over breakfast of whether Mercury / Odin was indeed the wisest of the gods.

Of course, this international community of mediums, musicians and the odd mad man still have the web, mobiles and pirate dvds. so all is not lost.

Suspect Santiago will be a bit different.

Ginger insult as marketing tool?

8 December, 2008 Leave a comment

Well, it’s a new one on me… but apparently this beer was available down in

Ginger beer

Ginger beer

the west country. admittedly they are a bit backward there. Other beers on draught were Sambo Cider and Gollywog´s Gurgle.

Shylock’s pound of flesh was on the menu, and there was a Joey’s Spazz Special of the Day. 

The titian lady who forwarded this to me didn’t mention the name of the pub but suspect it was run by the Pub Landlord and was called something like Stupid Drunk Irishman’s O’Bar.

Spot any more? Send ’em in.

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In an octopus’s garden

6 December, 2008 1 comment

I’d forgotten just how fantastic diving can be.

A caribbean idyll. Palm trees, white sandy beaches, a jetty poking out into turquoise blue waters. And that’s just on the surface. The best bit is submerged. It’s too easy to hyperbolise – but there is a reason why people use words like “teeming with life” and “incredible abundance of colours”.

Fish that are 4ft long and rather interested in you. A hawksbill turtle, about 4ft and happy for us to sit and take photos till it got bored – and then moved away with remarkable grace and speed. And schools of all sorts of different fish – at one stage with thousands of tiny glass fish swarming round us while a couple of massive groupers just dawdled past. All this, of course, set against the backdrop of some of the most beautiful and weird plant life which live on the coral. And lobster. And fish that can change colour or change sex at will. Ones that are monogomous, ones that work on the hareem principle – but if the male dies the next oldest female turns herself into the lead male… and all of it an incredibly finely balanced ecosystem.

Something for you fact lovers out there: the oceans making up 70% of the earth’s surface (so why do we call it Earth?). Reefs make up only 0.1% of the ocean. BUT they support 25% of marine life. So you can imagine why they’re so special, and so protected. The Belizean barrier reef is 174 miles long and is second only to the Australian great barrier reef in size. Hunting Caye (pron Key) is the island where Reef Conservation International is based, in the Sapodilla collection of cayes right a the very south of the reef, equidistant from Honduras, Guatemala and Belize, but is in Belizean waters.

I’ve spent a week working with Polly and the rest of the people who’d also paid to come here on holiday and work as part of the conservation project to monitor and protect this reef. You fly to get here and pay them a rather modest fee – then you get everything paid for, including excellent dive training, all the kit, air, boat fees, accomodation and food… and of course some incredible dives. No-one knows the waters round here like Polly, boat captain Roland and the rest of the crew. More on the rest of the project details when I write it up for tiscali.

In short, the work is simple and enjoyable – when else do you get a chance to gather together the conch from the Stadium diving site (a huge sandy bowl surrounded by a bank of coral, hence the name), check their tags and measure their size, lip thickness, sexual maturity… ahem… and then swim off for a bit of pure fun diving to finish the session.

After 3 weeks in mountains, jungle, and cities seeing cultures modern and ancient, issues social and sacred, coming to English speaking country (well, creole… i can get 1 word in 5) with the Queen’s head on the dollars, and coming out to an island paradise to spend my time in another world… And, most importantly, to feel like i’m doing something worthwhile – something that, however, small, makes a contribution, makes a bit of a difference… well, it’s very rewarding. If the aim of a holiday is to get you away from the humdrum elements of your life, to give you perspective, space, an alternative to the norm… something to give you wonder and awe and fun, to delight you and tire you… and it can do this while giving you a justified sense of self worth? Well, now that’s a holiday.

Oh, and there’s no mobile phone coverage, no internet, and only one phone. Bliss.

Boat from Punto Gorda (from where I’m sending this) tomorrow over to Puerto Barrios in Guatemala. From there a long bus ride down to the South West of the country to Antigua and the area around Lake Atitlan for a few days before flying out to Santiago next Friday.

[ed: sorry for the hyperbole earlier – but i did warn you. perhaps all those jacques cousteau programmes when i was young have sunk into my dna]
[ps. for my godsons Oli and Seb – re: dougal the deep sea diver… it’s all true]

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