Where the bloody hell are you?

I’m still in Auckland!

There has been so much happening since January, when I first arrived in Auckland, it only just feels like I have finally settled down and have some sort of routine back in my life. It is quite scary to think that its May already and I have been a Kiwi for 4 months and over a year now since I left my home and my whole life.

I reflected on Monday 9th March this year and thought back to saying goodbye to Mum, Dad and Tim in the Brisbane airport and flying to Bali with absolutely no idea what was going to happen over the 12 months that I planned to travel.  It was hard. Travelling solo for this first time, especially after a massive personal disaster was the hardest thing I ever done. Memories lingered with me most of the way around the world. News from home was heartbreaking on occasions. And being alone. Being alone was the hardest. I made some wonderful connections and friends whilst travelling but they never really took that feeling of being alone away.

After travelling through Bali, Singapore, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, China, Tibet, Nepal and India I travelled home for one month (July) before departing again for Africa. “Phase Two”, as I called it, was where my journey really started.

As much as I loved travelling through Asia; when I landed in Cape Town, South Africa I knew what I was doing; I had been practicing those previous months for that moment. I didn’t have any crap holding me back in Australia and I wasn’t wasting another opportunity for anyone.

After two months in Africa I travelled through eastern Europe (Croatia, Slovenia, Hungry and Poland) followed by basing myself in London for November and December. The worst time (weather wise) to arrive in London.  I was lucky to find part time admin work, so worked a few days a week and explored London as much as I could.  Including short trips to Portugal and Belgium.

Somewhere between Christmas 2014 and New Years 2015 I flew from London to Hong Kong to Auckland to see what destiny had in store and because I had absolutely nothing to lose.

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New Years Years 2015

I was very lucky to find a job within my first week and of all places I ended up working in the Mayor of Auckland’s office. The position was Diary Assistant and basically I had to book and organise all of the Mayor’s business meetings. It was a really interesting role – I had never worked in politics before and I did enjoy that full on, go, go, go aspect of it. Your day is based around what happens in the newspapers that morning; what a councillor has said; what the residents are angry about or what has been leaked to the media and thats a pretty exciting culture to work within.

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The Mayor

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Stunning views from the Mayor’s Office

Also earning money was an amazing feeling again. After being an unpaid backpacker for 10 months to get that first pay check was bliss as my long service leave payments from my previous job had run out a long time ago! I am certainly at that point in my travels where my savings are dwindling and I need to base myself somewhere for a decent amount of time and save again. No matter what anyone says you can’t keep travelling forever!

There are still so many places I want to travel to – the big one is South America – and my plan is to work hard, save hard and set a date to catch a plane. However I must admit being based in Auckland (and not Australia) is pretty cool – technically I am on a working holiday and I am using the weekends to get out and explore as much as I can.

There was certainly one highlight from working with the Mayor and that was meeting with John Key, Prime Minister of New Zealand.  He was such a lovely, genuine bloke.

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Pam, Hana, Hani, the PM, myself and Kate

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Another work perk…trying on the freshly signed Black Caps jersey prior to the World Cup

About 3 weeks ago I moved into a little flat in the uber cool suburb of Ponsonby or Herne Bay. It is apparently Auckland’s Hippest Strip according to I Love Ponsonby.  I love Ponsonby because it takes 15 minutes on the bus to get into the city; 10 minutes walk to the yummiest and funkiest cafes and restaurants and 2 minutes walk to a small beach where I can’t hear anything but the waves.

Work hasn’t been the only thing I have been up to in Auckland…

When the weather was warm and sunny earlier in the year, hanging out at either Mission, Kohi or St Heliers Beach were always a great option.  Prior to moving to Ponsonby I was living in St Heliers which was a 10 minutes to the beach.  Mission Beach and St Heliers are excellent places for a Saturday morning brunch or an cheap Indian curry on a Tuesday night.

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 Kohimarama (Kohi) Beach with its spectacular views across to Rangitoto 

Enjoying brunch and the view of St Heliers beach 

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Cricket!  Every weekend (well at the start of the season anyway!) I played WAG whilst watching the Ellersie Cricket Club in action.

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The Hauraki Gulf is the stunning bay in the backdrop of the Auckland skyline.  It is also one of the best places for an Aucklander to take the boat out for a spot of fishing.  On a good day, when the sun is bright the water gleams crystal clear.  There are so many islands and coves in the bay that there are good opportunities for spear fishing and snorkelling and on my first boat trip I did see two small sharks!

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Tawharanui, about one hour north of Auckland, is a another perfect spot for a picnic and a bush walk.  It is a mixture of white sand, rolling waves (with dolphins playing!), tropical forests and green pastures.  All things Kiwi!  So far, one of my favourite places.


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 Another day trip from Auckland is Muriwai Beach, on the rugged western coast of New Zealand.  The waves are pretty awesome on the west side and it was good fun boogie boarding which I hadn’t done since I was a teenager.

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And there has been plenty of other good times in between…

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Dinner atop the Sky Tower

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Silo Park within Wynyard Quarter; there are food trucks, markets and a movie projected onto the silo during Summer

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The views from the top of Mt Victoria across the harbour in Devonport

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Australia vs New Zealand, Eden Park

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Mosquito Bay with its stunning black sand

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Dressed up for a wedding

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Mt Eden ~ the highest volcano in Auckland city at 196 metres high 

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Tiritiri Matangi Island

Tiritiri Matangi Island is a sanctuary in the Hauraki Gulf about 70 minutes ferry ride from Auckland. The island was settled originally by Māori, however when Europeans arrived it was destroyed by cattle grazing and was over run with rats. Hardly any birdlife or vegetation was left.

However over 280,000 trees have been replanted by volunteers and the island is stunning once again. Even the little spotted kiwis do live there – I wasn’t lucky enough to see one however!

I travelled over with “the Kiwi” and a friend visiting from South Africa. We had a great Sunday – the weather was hot and sunny we bush walked along the beaches where the pohutukawa trees (or Christmas trees due to their bright red blossoms) line the coastline. Then trekked into the lush vegetation before making our way onto the other side of the island. I saw and learnt about a few of the native birds living on the island – the saddleback, hihi or stichbird, whiteheads, red-crowned parakeets and robins.

Our picnic lunch was spent looking across the Pacific Island without anyone else in sight. Million dollar views!

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The day was not complete without a swim! The water was stunningly, clear and warm and there was no better way to cool down.

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You can check out the mind blowing views of Tiritiri by clicking here.

Z

A long weekend to Portugal

Well now that I am officially a “Londoner”, one must jump on a plane and fly 2.5 hours to the sunniness that is Lisbon, Portugal.

Flights were cheap-ish, by Australian standards anyway – about $180 AUD return. However I am still waiting for these amazing £30 flights from London to make an appearance that I keep hearing about.

The city of Lisbon is beautiful with its narrow and twisting cobblestone streets. Many a time I rolled my ankle navigating the pavements, though no major damage was done. It is very busy with the streets full of cars, buses and trams. A Portuguese taxi driver will have no qualms holding his hand over the car horn until the car in front moves an inch. I had the pleasure of riding a creaky, bumpy tram to the Castle de Jorge and a funicular up one of the more steeper streets to give my butt and thighs a break!

Due to the steep streets the view points in Lisbon are incredible – looking over the top of so many orange tiled roofs is very pretty. There is a lot of graffiti or “street art” over the building walls but this does add to the quirkiness of the city. You can turn around a little dark corner into a wall of bright spray paint and stairs leading to a green park.

Outside of Lisbon the landscape is pretty and life is a little slower. One very beautiful place was Cabo da Roca – the most westerly point in continental Europe. It was so peaceful and the sun felt so good. It has been an awful long time since I have really seen a bright, blue sky and a warm sun.

The photos from Portugal can be viewed here.

Until next time.
Z x

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Two scammers down…a million to go – my first day in India

I’ve been been in Delhi, actually outside in the open air, for about 8 hours in total and already I’ve been scammed!

After a mammoth 15 hour sleep (I was obviously very tired and I’m still suffering Delhi belly) I decided to brave the 46’C heat and head out for a bit of exploring. My first stop was Humayun’s Tomb, a mausoleum built in the mid 16th century. Humayun was an Emperor and after his death his wife commissioned the building of this magnificent building.  It was only a few minute journey from the hostel.

As I entered the complex I paid 250 rupee (about $4.50) and was given a ticket and the security guard pointed me in the direction of the tomb. “Oh this is lovely” I though as I walked through the brick archways and looked upon a pretty white washed building. I wandered around the green grassy park and looked inside the tomb. However something told me this wasn’t the actual tomb of Humayun. Thats okay I thought, I’ll keep walking further down the path and check things out there. However the security guard at the gate waved me back so I walked back to him. He asked if I enjoyed my tour and asked for the ticket back. I was a little confused – is that Humayun’s Tomb I asked him. Yes, yes thats the tomb. Well I thought, okay, no worries, smaller then what I expected but okay. I gave him back the ticket and walked out. However something just didn’t seem right and I got my Lonely Planet book out and had a quick flick through – it said that Isa Khan’s tomb is the first building on the right hand side – the one I had walked in to. So I turned around and walked back to the ticket counter and asked the man who sold me the ticket if that was Humayun’s Tomb. Yes, yes he told me. I questioned him – is it Isa Khan’s tomb? No, he lied to me. I challenged him – what is further down that path – why can’t I go down there? No, no that area is closed off. Luckily for me a tour guide walked up behind me and gave me a hand – he confirmed that Isa Khan’s tomb was the one I went into and Humayun’s Tomb was further down.  I said I was going back in and I wanted my ticket back. Sourly he gave me another ticket and let me back in.

As I walked further down the path and yes Humayun’s Tomb was open and was there! The tour guide explained the ticket counter man and security guard sell the tickets for the full price, trick the tourists into looking at only one tomb, ask for the ticket back and then re-sell the ticket over and over again making the profit!

The “real” tomb is beautiful with a large white dome and a pretty orange shade that stands out behind the hot blue Delhi sky. The tomb is located on the roof of the building which also provides a view of the grounds.

The gardens surrounding the Tomb are green and leafy and a nice place to enjoy, especially with the ponds and channels of water.

As I came back through the gates I walked over to the security guard – oh he thought he was so funny and gave me a big smile.

On the way to the Tomb I had been dropped off by the hostel but now I had to get a taxi or auto rickshaw back to the hotel. Easy enough as there are always hundreds around waiting to pounce. It was my first time however so I was interested to see what the deal was. The first man at the exit nabbed me and I showed him on my map where I wanted to go – he offered a fair price (about $1) so I said yes and jumped in the back of his auto rickshaw. Well…then it started. Maybe he could take me to a few shops before I go back to the hotel. Maybe I was hungry and needed to go to a nice restaurant to eat. Or what about he pick me up in two hours time and he take me on a city tour, he does do a cheap price. Normally a friendly no does the trick but he was very was persistent. I actually had to be extremely firm with him and tell him to take me to the hotel only – no detours and I was no interested in anything else.

Later on this afternoon (I spent the heat of day in the hostel and went back out about 5pm) I went to Connaught Place to walk around. A man followed me for blocks trying to talk to me and all I can do is ignore him even though his pleads “Miss, miss, I only want to talk”. Delhi is just full of men and they all stare, the trick I have found is to avoid all eye contact and keep my sunglasses on.

I went and had an drink at a Starbucks. I was enjoying people watching when two gentlemen sat beside me. They started up a conversation…where was I from…have I been to India before and the biggie are you travelling by yourself. My responses were I was from England (they didn’t pick up on the accent!), yes this is my second trip to Delhi and my friend was sick back in the hotel room. The conversation was getting a bit too cosy for my liking – which hotel was I staying out, where was I going tomorrow. I sucked down the last of my drink and excused myself. They also decided they need to leave so I pretended to check my phone while they left and I watched them walk to the right. I gave it a minute and walked to the left. But there is no rest for the wicked. The older man came up behind me and let me know ever so kindly that he had an art gallery just this way and he would really like to show me around, I don’t have to buy anything. I told him no and kept walking while he followed behind. The younger man then called out and followed after me while I kept walking. Maybe we could catch up for a drink and he gave me his card while introducing himself.

Ah India. My poor Mum is going to have a break down reading this.

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Isa Khan’s Tomb

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Humayun’s Tomb

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From the roof of Humayun’s Tomb

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Roof of Humayun’s Tomb

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Humayun’s Tomb

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Humayun’s Tomb

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Humayun’s Tomb

The monsoons open in Chitwan

You may have never heard of Chitwan National Park but its actually a World Heritage-listed park and classed as one of the best wildlife viewing reserves in Asia.  Chitwan is also only a 18 minute flight south west from the craziness of Kathmandu and is currently where I am sitting – on the front verandah of my bungalow listening to the birds and cicadas.  Its such a great change of pace from the last few weeks where beeping horns and touting men have dominated.

It was kind of like a long weekend for me – I flew down to Chitwan on Friday morning, I’m spending the weekend sightseeing and then I fly back to Kathmandu and onwards to Delhi (on Monday).

I have arrived in the monsoon season, which means temperatures have soared to about 45’C and the humidity is high!  The season sees less tourists which is great for me because there are hardly any people in the jungles and the resort is near empty. Because of the heat all the activities are planned for early morning and late afternoon.  That means I can relax in the air conditioned cottage…except for when the electricity is cut, from 1pm to 4pm!

Electricity black outs or “load shedding” are normal across all of Nepal, including Kathmandu.  The electricity is rationed across certain parts of the city and villages due to lack of fuel to run the power stations.  Most restaurants and hotels have their own back up generators but many smaller shops shut down over their 3 to 4 hour cut.

It was a very successful animal sighting trip considering the weather and I saw seven One-Horned Rhinos which are classed as one of Chitwan’s Big Five.  I love the scientific name of this rhino – Rhinoceros Unicornis – maybe all those sightings of unicorns have been true!  In the wild they are glorious and gigantic!  About the size of a car, their body looks like a jig-shaw puzzle, with their front and back ends locked together to the mid section.  I saw five of these monsters, including one super-cute baby rhino, on the jeep safari which goes deep within the jungle.  In the back of an open air ute myself and the other passengers bumped along the rocky roads travelling through lush, green jungle, open plains of sweet, tall grasses and along the flood plains of the swiftly flowing Rapti River.  Also on the jeep safari I saw numerous birds including vultures, peacock, heron, stork, crane, cuckoo and kingfisher.

Macqaque (ugly, nasty looking monkeys with the very short tail) and langur (much prettier monkey with a black face and long, slender tail) were swinging from the trees through the jungle and usually with them are deer – including the red spotted deer, sambar deer (the largest breed and very muscular) and the barking deer, that actually sounds more like a cross between a growl and an elephant.  The deer and monkey work together – the monkey alerting the deer to predators.  Wild boar was also a common animal lurking in the forest.

In addition to the jeep safari, I also had a great guide from the resort who took me on two four hour private treks through different parts of the park.  The first day we set out along the Raphit River near the resort and walked through the jungle and came across an abandoned resort.  Once upon a time resorts and lodges could be built within the National Park.  However the Government is now pushing for all of this accommodation to be shut down and relocated outside the boundary.  Its such a shame to see a once glamorous resort hidden eerily behind vines, branches and leaves.  The doors on all the rooms are securely padlocked and the stone pillar gateway now leads to nowhere.

We trekked through small villages and local homes and I saw the privately owned elephants chained by their hind leg under their shelters.  There are three types of elephants in Chitwan – privately owned, government owned and wild elephants.  The same issues seem to exist in Nepal with elephants as they do in Cambodia.  Elephants just love to eat and love to roam and this basically means they get up to mischief and destroy crops and eat farmers out of house and home.  Therefore local villages capture the elephants, attempt to domesticate them and then chain them  during the night-time and allow the elephant to eat in controlled areas with their mahout.  Some of the privately owned elephants are also used to cart tourists around through the jungle and also for the absolutely delightful (note sarcasm) elephant bath time “experience”.

I got to witness this first hand.  I’m going to name and shame – Chinese, Indians and Americans (who should know better) that think its an unique experience to wander down to the river and assist the mahouts to wash their elephants.  Sounds lovely doesn’t it…poke, prod and push your feet into the elephant’s head as your climb onto it’s back full of beat marks; pose with the peace sign as your friends take your pictures; wait as the mahout starts screaming and shouting and whacking the side of the elephant commanding it spray water from its truck over you; explode into fits of laughter; wait again as the mahout start ranting once more for the elephant to sit/lay down in the water; elephant does not wish to sit/lay in the water; mahout gets angry, climbs off elephant and uses a hook, yes a hook to grab the elephant’s ear and painfully force it to lay in the water; tourists fall off; more laughter erupts – what a fantastic experience; who is next!

I just stood there dumb founded looking at these people wondering if they actually saw what was going on or whether they are too wrapped up in “tourist touting traps” that they are too stupid to see.  What makes me even more angry is that Lonely Planet recommends this as a “Don’t Miss”.

The government owned elephants are more of a breeding facility, where again, the elephants are chained when not roaming with their mahout.  It was an absolute thrill to see an elephant baby and it actually walked right next to me.  The babies aren’t chained and are allowed to roam as they usually stay near their mummy.  It was like a little ball cuteness, much like a puppy, happy, flapping its ears, ambling along with a little jump in its step!  Even the army officers it was having a game with couldn’t resist cracking a laugh!

There was one fantastic elephant sanctuary where instead of chaining the elephants a large and I suspect a very electrified fence has been installed.  Therefore the animals can roam in a small paddock which does have a nicer feel to it.

The following day I woke about 7am to the heat once more but also to distant thunder.  My guide, Bush Tracker, and I trekked deeper into the jungle, this area was more grassland, so there were large Sal hardwood trees, which are timbered for housing and furniture building.  Along the walk Bush Tracker pointed out the type of poo on the track which included wild boar and rhino.  We also stopped to look at a tree that had been scratched and clawed by a tiger to mark his territory!  This made me slightly nervous as it was so quiet in the jungle and I hadn’t seen any other trekkers.  Bush Tracker also only carried a stick which would have been interesting!  That distant thunder continued to grow deeper and closer during our trek and the sky between the leafy gaps was an angry black colour.  It wasn’t long and the monsoon rain started to fall over us.  It was cold and refreshing but the sweat still out shown the rain!  We continued to trek until we reached the cliffs that lead to the flood plains where a rhino was grazing happily.  The thunderstorm by this time hit hard but it didn’t stop us – it was great fun as we slid down river crossings and then trudged back up the other side in the sticky mud.  We sought refuge in a tree house further down the track, which is used as a viewing point of the river.  After the rain stopped we headed off again and spotted deer and wild boar who had come out to play before making our way back to camp around lunch time.

The Chitwan is a magical place but it does have it fair share of issues most commonly poaching of rhinos, tigers and elephants.  As alarming as it is to see army officers roaming the villages and jungles of Chitwan with machine guns they are doing an excellent job as rhino and tigers numbers are increasing.  Sadly I didn’t get to see that elusive tiger, but you never know…a tiger may have seen me!

Photos of Chitwan National Park

Mt Everest – Top of the World!!

The long awaited photos of Mt Everest.  It was truly an amazing experience that words cannot describe!

The weather may not have allowed us to climb to Base Camp 1 but it was still thrilling to be in a snow storm.  And in the end I saw it with my own two eyes!

Mt Everest

This is Tibet…

I need to admit that I booked this tour for a couple of reasons – The Great Wall of China, travelling via train through remote China, seeing where the Dalai Lami previously lived and of course Mt Everest!  I knew Tibet was controversial but not to the extent I have experienced and seen with my own eyes.

There is so much more I want to write about Tibet (mainly the controversial if I’m being honest) because it has really affected me, opened my mind and realised how lucky I am being to live a free life in Australia.  However at the same I time I don’t feel it’s my place to do so as I have only whisked through the country and looked in as an outsider (or perhaps a Westerner?).  Tibetans have lived through the events of the past 60 odd years and I think its their story to tell.  However I hope you still enjoy my “revised” version of events.  If you ever get the chance to travel to Tibet – go for it – its a once in a life time experience.

Lhasa (18 May to 21 May 2014)

I stood in Barkhor Sqaure in Lhasa in the shadow of a cold brick wall, it’s 8am.  The warm sun was rising over the white washed walls of Jokhang Temple.  The air was fresh and cool and I pulled my jacket closer around me, my nose running and my eyes watering.  Looking left I see the large prayer flag tower quietly flapping in the morning breeze.  The large incense burner gathers momentum and thick smoke billows from its spout.  The cobblestone pavers across the Square lead to small shops with colourful lanterns dangling from their entrances.  Behind the buildings rises a ruggered mountain range – dry and barren yes, but against the backdrop of a crisp blue sky, stunning.

It is quiet and peaceful but I hear two distinct noises – sliding along the cold cobblestone ground and jingling from the spinning prayer wheels.

Pilgrims stand in front of Jokhang Temple and “prostrate”.  This involves standing up-right before moving to a kneeling position, the arms are swung forward and placed onto pads to assist the arms to slide forward, creating the sliding sound that is so common.  The arms are brought back to the sides of the body, the knees lifted and the pilgrims swiftly move to their feet and upright.  This is a constant, ongoing movement.

Barkhor is used as a “kora” or pilgrim circuit.  Pilgrams walk clockwise around the Square, completing laps and laps of Barkhor. The women with their long, dark hair braided and plaited and wearing heavy skirts, the men shuffle with bowler and cowboy hats.  Most carry their sacred prayer wheel which is also swung in a clockwise movement, creating a jingling noise as the wheels are spun.

Barkhor Square and Jokhang Temple are the pilgrims’ mecca of Lhasa, possibly Tibet.  It doesn’t matter what time of the day or night pilgrims come to “praise”.  The dedication and their belief in Buddha is unbelievable.  They hold their religion as the first priority and it certainly shows.  Walking from an alley side street for the first time into their circle is incredible – you get swept into their flow and follow at a steady pace behind the pilgrams.

The Potala Palace, former home of the Dalali Lamas, sits thirteen stories high, overseeing the city of Lhasa.  The combination of altitude and steps makes the climb into the Palace quite a feat.

However there are some beautiful views looking below.  It was quite an experience to walk through such an incredible place (construction commenced in 1645), even if it does seem a little empty due to nobody living here anymore bar a few monks.  The Palace is maze of steep stair ways, dark rooms and carpeted hallways that lead to incense-filled tombs of previous Dalali Lamas.  Money (mostly fake notes) have been tightly squeezed into window sills, cracks in walls or simply thrown in front of Budda statues as an offering.

The journey to Nam Tso Lake was a long day, travelling for 12 hours.  The road weaves through the Tangula Range which rises to over 7000m in some parts.  Along the way I saw the nomadic tent camps of the people living in this area.  They burn yak dung inside the tent with a stove to keep warm and cook.  They herd their sheep and goats and move as required.  The lake itself it a gorgeous turquoise colour and with the snow capped mountains in the background – stunning.

The weather in Lhasa has been warm and sunny during the day and sunscreen is a must as the sun burns.  So even if I have jacket on and there is a slight breeze, the sun is still nasty.  Altitude sickness is slightly affecting me – walking up stairs is a challenge due to the puffing but apart from that I am fine – no headaches or bleeding noses.  I have had five days in Lhasa to adapt to the change in altitude.

Samye (22 May 2014)

Travelling about five hours to the dusty, little town of Samye, hidden high in the mountain ranges – about 3600m, the views again are incredible.  I like to think as Samye as the town of dogs!  There are so many that roam the streets – most are friendly enough, although there was one nasty dog fight.  Most of the dogs appear to be strays (or live outside a restaurant!) but its nice to see most are well fed on scraps.

While in Samye I visited the oldest monasteries in Tibet – built around the 7th century.  It has been invaded many times but the first floor of the monastery is still fairly well original.  The monks inside were chanting as I entered.  Some monks beat drums and blew horns while others chanted in a sing song trance.  The accommodation I stayed at was within the monastery so that was an experience only being a few steps away.  Most of the accommodation is slowly getting back on their feet after the 2008 riots when Tibet was closed to the outside world and tourism basically ceased.  Maintenance was a huge issue in nearly all of the accommodation on the tour – there were issues with door handles breaking off, windows not locking, bathrooms leaking and no hot water.  Most owners did as much as they could to solve the problems but with no incoming money for several years they are still struggling.

In the afternoon myself and a few other tour buddies climbed to the top of Hepo Ri Hill.  We met a stray dog who followed us all the way up and all the way back to the hotel.  The walk shouldn’t have been hard, but due to the lack of oxygen high in the mountains, I puffed the whole way up because I just can’t suck enough oxygen in that I’m used too.  The altitude just gets you – even a few steps up and I’m out of breath, usually its a quick recovery once I stop, but its a crappy feeling!   Its feels like I am so unfit and it just makes normal, daily life a struggle!

Gyantse (23 May 2014)

A big drive today from Sayme to Gyantse which took 10 hours in a bumpy bus.  The scenery was spectacular as we climbed up and up and up the Kamba Pass (over 4700m).  The drive kind of reminded me of those television shows on the world’s most dangerous roads – we hugged the corners tightly and peered over the edge of the drop, whist being overtaken around corners and trying to avoid broken down trucks!

The peak of Kamba Pass was incredible.  There are two views – one back towards the mountains and the other towards Yamdrok Tso Lake.

The road then leads around the massive Yamdrok Tso Lake took hours and hours to drive.  We stopped by the shore to wash our faces with the water.  The Tibeatens believe this lake is one of the four most holiest in the country.

To bide the time on the long drive I snacked on grapes and mandarins that I bought in a local fruit stall, which is a lovely change to bananas that I have been living on.  Also I listen to music and nap.  I have been dubbed the best sleeper on the tour as I can sleep through anything!  We also pass around chocolate biscuits and mini Snickers bars when a sugar fix is required!  There is a great vibe on the bus and we all chat away and scream out when the bus hits a massive bump!

We currently have a game going, where each afternoon we place bets on what time we will arrive at the hotel.  We each nominate a time and put 1 Yen into the kitty.  This came from our tour guides, Jane and Pama, telling us we are only travelling for 9 hours and it ends up being a lot further!  Its all in good fun though!  No-one has won as yet…but there is still time!

Toilet stops have become another excellent topic of conversation.  I am very glad I got over my fear of squat toilets because everywhere (except the guest hotels I am staying in) has squatters or drop dunnies.  And unlike Australian drop toilets; where you look into a black hole, here you can see EVERYTHING!!!!

One of the travellers, Sarah, created a “flush rating system” when visiting toilets on the side of the road or in a restaurant.  Someone goes first and comes back and gives a rating from one to five flushes.  A five flush is if there is toilet paper, hand soap and paper towel (but its still a squat toilet).  One flush is a timber shack, its flilthy, you can see everything and its smells!!  We actually enjoy the stops on the side of the road, where you can hide behind a tree, its the cleanest way to go!!

Funny story – poor Lisa accidentally dropped her prescription sunglasses into a drop toilet!  The owner of the toilet had to go underneath and collect them!  I bet he wasn’t happy!  Surprisingly they came out fairly unscathed considering!

Gyantse to Shigatse (24 May 2014)

I spent the morning in Gyantse and checked out another temple complex called Pelkhor Chode, built in 1414.  The group and I then walked the back streets of Old Town – amazing!  Truly what I had pictured of Tibet.  The streets are dusty and the houses are simple and white washed, most are displaying prayer flags on their roofs.  Cow and yak dung are laid in the front yard to dry.  Cows are tied up to the front doors of their houses so milk can be accessed easily.  Its a simple life.  There was one little chubby boy up on the top of his house calling hello as I walked by.  As I walked to the side of his house I saw his cat sitting on a ledge.  I called to him “kitty, kitty” and pointed.  His little head ducked off, the next minute the cat was pulled from the ledge and he reappeared waving the kitty’s paw to me!

The drive to Shigatse was only about three hours and we made many stops due to running ahead of schedule.  In Tibet, they have police checks, similar to how New South Wales have speed checks on the truck drivers.  However here the driver has to get out of the vehicle and hand a pink piece of paper to the police. The time is written on it to track the driver’s progress.

Shigatse is another town of dogs, although this time the dogs aren’t as healthy.  I witnessed a dog get his paw run over by a small tractor, nobody cared about the yelping the poor pup made and I felt utterly and completely helpless.  The dogs have terrible bleeding wounds and sores on them, some have convulsions in the street.  Its just heart breaking, I hate seeing these animals in distress.

Shigatse (25 May 2014)

SICK!  The sniffles and coughs that my tour buddies have had over the past few days have caught up to me.  I woke up with a sore throat and with possibly the flu.  I decided to miss out on the day’s activities and spend it in bed sleeping and taking Nurofen, which seems to be doing the trick.  I’m not going to head out for dinner tonight, I don’t want to make anyone else sick, so today is just a rest and recovery day.

Shigatse to Sakya (26 May 2014)

Thankfully I woke up a lot better today but still fluy.  I also had a terribly bloody nose this morning, I assume from the altitude.  The bus left Shigatse at about 9am and arrived in the very small village of Sakya at about 1.30pm.  Pama, the local guide, won the bet today!  He was only 2 minutes out of his guess so the group kindly gave him the winnings from the last couple of days.

The countryside changed again today and now it is barren mountain ranges and dry fields.  Shepherds follow their goats and sheep around the sides of the road, with a big stick.  The goats and sheep aren’t skinny but there isn’t much to eat apart from a few weeds.  The animals are very mangy looking – most of their wool is tangled and some have patches missing.

Farmers still use bulls and horses to plough their small plots.  The sturdy animals trudge along the soft soil with the plough over their backs while the farmer directs them the right way.  Sometimes the wife (I assume) follows behind and throws the seeds.

The bus stopped in on a tiny village beside the road and the group was allowed to go into a family home.  Downstairs was the storage room – mainly for the dried yak dung which always has a pleasant odour!  Upstairs there is an outside area that then leads to a separate room for the kitchen, bedrooms, lounge area and bathroom/toilet.  The lounge area surprisingly did have a TV but a dirt floor that has been packed down.  Dirt is warmer then concrete and cheaper then timber.  The house is surrounded by a large brick wall where the yak dung happily dries away.  Chickens roam free and baby calves munch on grass in the paddock next door.

Once arriving in Sakya the group visited the monastery in town and then climbed up a hill to visit a nunnery.  The combination of altitude and being sick has really knocked me around.  Even sitting here typing this I can’t actually take a deep, full breath each time I want to.  I have to take small, baby steps and walk in such a slow pace otherwise I feel so breathless.

The nuns were chatty and happy and the group was allowed to take photos of them and inside the nunnery.  I was however a bit taken back when a nun spotted “Peanut”, an elephant key chain my Mum gave me before I left, and she wanted it right or wrong!!  There was no way I was giving up Peanut but I did give in and give her another elephant key ring I had purchased in Laos.  I was truly shocked!!  I thought nuns lived a life where possessions meant nothing?

The next day saw an early start and a biiiiggg drive to Mt Everest with lots of exciting events!

Watch this space!

I finished this blog in Kathmandu, Nepal.  I’m sitting in a little cafe and have just had something to eat for the first time in about 40 hours.  I have no idea what I could have eaten that made me so ill.  The hotel even called a doctor to visit me.  However being a bad tummy bug meant he caused really help.

I have decided not to join the last few days of my tour, which runs from Kathmandu to Delhi.  The first part of the tour finished and all bar myself and one other person would have kept going.  I am in the midst of organising my own plans which includes travelling to Chitwan National Park on Friday and then flying to Delhi, India.  I am feeling very confident and happy in myself that I can set off travelling solo again after travelling with a group since the end of April.

Photos of the beautiful land that is Tibet are here.  Be warned!  There are about 180 of them!

Photos – Beijing, China to Lhasa, Tibet – “Train to the Roof of the World

Hi Everyone

Here is the link to the photos for this post.  Have been very busy travelling through Tibet – have travelled a 12 hour day and a 9 hour day today.  The landscape is amazing and have seen lots of snow covered mountains!

Wifi hasn’t been common in the guesthouses I’m staying in, so I may not blog again until Kathmandu on 31 May. The weather has been pretty good so far.  Its warm to hot during the day but at night time its very cold.  The sun has some sting in it considering I am currently 3600m high!

Next Tuesday I will be at Mount Everest and will stay overnight at the “Tent City”.  On Wednesday I will climb to Base Camp One!!  I have my thermals ready to go!!

I have to admit I will be very, very sad to not see the State of Origin next Wednesday!  This will be the first time in a very long time.  There are two “cockroaches” on the tour with me so we are going to try and find a Aussie Bar but I don’t like our chances!

GO QUEENSLAND!!!!!!

Photos 🙂

Beijing, China to Lhasa, Tibet via the “Train to the Roof of the World”

I arrived in Beijing, China on Monday, 12 May 2014.

This is the first place I have travelled to where I am very much out of my comfort zone!  Its a concrete jungle with a few streets lined with large trees.  Some of the structures are new and shiny filled with glass making you believe that China is a rich country.  Other buildings are old and showing their age and worn and torn.

The Chinese are a funny bunch of people – extremely loud, talkative, pushy but at the same serious.  They are not sure of me and look me up and down with caution.  I feel I am the only Westerner in Beijing and I guess in a city of 21 million people I’d be hard pressed to see a group of Westerns all at once.

The language barrier has been one of the most challenging parts of my time in Beijing.  I ignorantly believed that most people would have an understanding of the English language.  The hotel staff, taxi drivers and grocery store owners have very poor English but I’ve found my way around by lots of hand gestures, pointing and using a map.

Two things I have learnt about the Chinese culture; their favourite pass times is making a large “harking, throaty” noise, followed by projecting a lovely lurgy near your feet and slurping is acceptable; and this noise must be made when drinking tea or soup.

Monday was spent sleeping and doing my laundry.  Tuesday I decided to go out and look around.  I firstly went for a look around the “hutongs”.  I used a cyclo rider who took me on the tourist route.  The hutongs are narrow alleyways that lead into courtyards that then lead into someone’s home.  This is the way many Chinese live and there may be a few families living in one courtyard, a whole neighbourhood or just a family of three.  Generally you enter the courtyard via large red doors and there is usually a set of stone lions sitting either side.  Once you enter a courtyard, there are separate rooms for a kitchen, dining room and bedrooms.  Sometimes in the courtyard there is a tree.  One thing you won’t find inside the courtyard is a toilet – there are public toilet blocks everywhere in the hutongs and this is where everyone goes.

A lot of the hutongs are being demolished by the government to make way for high rise apartments that can fit a lot more people in them.  Also a lot of the older generations are being forced to move into these apartments as its too difficult for them to get to the bathroom in the dead of Winter. The younger generation don’t want to live in the boring hutongs; they want nice units in the city centre closer to work.

I climbed the Drum Tower and gazed out over the smog and watched the drumming performance.  In the ye old days the drumming was used as a way to tell the time – the drums were beaten every hour.  Next I walked to Bell Tower and my entrance fee included a tea tasting session, which was very enjoyable.  My favourite was the jasmine and they also had a lovely fruit tea.

Next I caught a taxi into Tian’anmen Square – the worlds’s largest public squares.  The amount of people crowded into the square was very full on.  It was just hectic.  To be honest it really didn’t do much for me – its just concrete and looks very communist.  There are security cameras everywhere, police and army with rifles everywhere and security checkpoints everywhere.

Nearby the Square is the Forbidden Palace – again the largest palace complex in the world.  I walked through it but didn’t go inside. The line to buy tickets was long and by this stage I was over it!

Wednesday morning I travelled by taxi to the Beijing Zoo to see the Pandas.  They were beautiful!  I saw three Pandas in their enclosures outside and then two in their enclosures behind glass.  They just love to eat and sleep.

Thursday morning – I tackled the Great Wall of China.  It’s a two hour drive from Beijing, mainly because the traffic is ridiculous.  I took the cable cart up to a section of the Wall and was just blown away.  Standing on the Great Wall of China is a pretty incredible feeling – I mean its so famous – everyone knows about it – but there I was standing on it!  It was such a lovely day too – a bright blue sky and warm weather.  I walked about two hours up and down steps and trudged up the slopes – its by no means an easy walk!  The views were also spectacular over the mountain ranges.

Thursday night, 15 May 2014

I boarded the train for a 48 hour train ride that can only be described as a journey of a lifetime.  There is a reason why it’s called “The Train to the Roof of the World”.  Its been full on and crazy but at the same time mind blowing and an amazing experience.  The train climbs steadily over the two days to a height of 4500 metres.  It travels approximately 3500 kilometres in distance – the width of Australia!  And surprisingly there are only nine stops.  The countryside has been extremely diverse.   I have seen snow capped mountains, the Gobi Desert – which is dirt and hillside, cities that span for kilometres and kilometres in the middle of nowhere, cropping land – wheat, vegetables and some rice is grown, land that looks like the wild west of America – tumbleweed and sand dunes; paddocks with goats, sheep and yaks; the biggest lake in China and also the Yellow River.

The train is in good condition and is nice and clean.  Each cabin has six beds.  In my cabin, there are two people from my tour on the top and bottom bunk and I’m in the middle.  On the other side, there is an elderly Chinese man down below, a snorning middle aged Chinese man next to me and a Chinese girl in her twenties up top.  The bunk is not high enough to sit in, so I can lay down or I can sort of sit up.  I’ve also just been sitting on bottom bed or sitting on the fold down seats in the hallway. There are no doors or curtains, everything is open plan.

Altitude sickness is taken quite seriously on the train and can pose some serious side effects.  Each bunk has its own oxygen outlet and a nasal oxygen cannula is also provided.  I tarted taking attitude sickness tablets 24 hours before hand.  As I write this, its Friday at 8pm.  We have been travelling for 24 hours so far.  At 2am tonight, we arrive in a city called Ge’rmn, where doctors board the train for any emergencies that may occur on the last leg to Lhasa.  I also need to drink plenty of water and keep hydrated.  One of the side effects of the tablets I am taking is feeling pins and needles in my feet and hands which is occurring now.  Its sort of painful in an annoying way and comes and goes.

Friday, 16 May 2014 (all day in the train)

Last night (Thursday) I slept really well and didn’t wake until 10am.  I’ve passed the time today (Friday) by visiting the other people in the group in their carriages, reading a book I purchased in the train station, writing my blog (there is no internet access however) and doing some exercises in the corridor much to the delight of the passengers.  I got my Thera-band out and just mucked around with them to stretch out my sore body.  I ate some bread for lunch and snacked on lollies and a banana.  Then I went down to the dining carriage at about 6pm for a meal of rice, potato and carrot.

We have also had a choir session in our cabin with a few random local people who just came into our cabin.  They sang the American national anthem, Jingle Bells and Waltzing Matilda plus a few Chinese songs.  Anything to pass the time…

The Tibetans love us Westerns on the train – there are only 12 of us on the whole train of about 200 so I get lots of looks as I am walking by.  They love to stop you and ask for your photo.  They get even more excited when you ask for a photo with them.  They also get a kick out of you saying hello to them in Chinese, they return a hello and a big smile.

There is one young Chinese girl who has taken a fancy to me.  Her English name is “Sweetie” and she is in the cabin next door but comes to visit.  She can speak a little English.  I tried to find a book shop in Beijing, but had very little luck finding any English books.  When I arrived at the train station there was at least six bookstores.  I went to every one of them and none of them sold any English books.  Then at the last shop there were two English language books – The Catcher in the Rye and The Great Gatsby.  The Catcher in the Rye had Chinese at the front of the book and then English at the back.  The Great Gatsby came in a sealed pack – one book in Chinese, the other in English.  This afternoon I asked Sweetie if she would like the Chinese version of The Great Gatsby.  She was absolutely gobsmacked and so grateful.  She keep looking over the book and touching and feeling it and thought for a few moments before saying “I feel so honoured that you gave me this book that I will read it with so much joy”.  I then had to write my name inside the book for her and she wanted to take some photos so she could share them with her sister who “just won’t believe it!”.

I had to conquer one of my fears whilst being on the train – can you guess what it was?

A squat toilet!

There is one Western style toilet on the whole train and its in the first class sleeper section which is locked.

It actually wasn’t too bad, however I won’t go into anymore detail until I’ve totally dealt with the situation (and had serious counselling!).  I can report that 24 hours into the ride, that area of the train really sinks plus people can smoke in this area too which is disgusting because there are no open windows.  Its like a death trap going down that end of the carriage now.  Yuck!  There are no showers on the train, so I have been wearing the same clothes since Thursday 8am.  There is no point changing cause I’m sort of in a “stinky comfortable-nish”.  And with cigarette smoke, people coughing on you and just being in everyone’s space – whats the point.

Update – Its nearly 10pm and the lights go out at 10pm (there are no personal lights in the bunk – so I went and brushed my teeth and went to the toilet.  People have clogged the sinks with noodles and hair and there is no water left.  But that’s okay I always have my water bottle and baby wipes.

In all honestly I might complain or make a joke of it but three months ago if I did this, I would have been in tears, upset and in a foetal position booking the next flight home.  I really don’t think there is any way I would have survived by myself.  Now, as much as its gross, it really has become normal and not washing your hair or having a shower every night really just doesn’t bother me much.  I see this as an incredible experience and not one to waste wishing I was back home with all my luxuries as they will always be there.

Saturday, 17 May 2014

It took me a while to fall asleep last night but when I did I slept deeply, waking late again.  I had survived the steep ascent to 4500 metres without any side effects or needing any oxygen.  The landscape has changed again, there are very few cities, only a cluster of villages set against large snow capped mountains.  The mood on the train is a lot quieter today – everyone must be tired or mesmerised by the scenery.

At about 12pm (the train is running an hour late) we stopped in a village called Nagu.  We were allowed off the train for about 3 minutes.  The fresh air felt so nice.  It was cool outside – I only had a t-shirt and gym pants on and felt chilly.  However it was extremely fresh and I didn’t have any difficulties breathing – the air seemed the same and not hard to breath.

Excitement rose in the train about an hour before Lhasa – everyone started packing their belonging up and saying their goodbyes.  It was an awesome feeling to get off the train – fresh air and a shower was so close I could smell it (or I think I could smell myself!).  There was a little process for passing through the train station and officially into Tibet – passport checked were done and police and army stood on guard with their guns.  Finally I was free to enter TIBET!

Today (Thursday 22 May) I am departing Lhasa to travel through Tibet.  Stay tuned for the Lhasa edition 🙂  Photos to come later due to FB issues 🙂

Bye,

Zoe