Three Rough Blokes on the Amazon January – February 2015

Three rough blokes were having a beer one day and Roger was saying how he’d like to do the other half of the Amazon from Manaus to the coast. The other two didn’t take much persuading so in January 2015 we met in Manaus, Cam flying in from a week in Guatemala, AJ arriving after a few days in Panama and Roger after the shot show in Vegas and a few days in Panama.

Check out the full story below.

Amazon 2015

Screen Capture by Snagit

Another look at Taipei

Monday 19 March 2018

Arriving in Taipei early afternoon, Sylvia went straight into a meeting while I settled into the Sheraton Hotel. It had been 15-plus hours since we boarded in Copenhagen. Things sorted, I took a stroll east along Zhongxiai West Rd several blocks heading south, passing through Daan Forest Park with its large roller park and other entertainment including a small open air concert stage. Along the way I passed a very orderly protest with a bunch of oldies all seated on stools behind a barrier while a guy squawked into a megaphone while a similar number of security guards looked on.

Striking a built up motorway I took a while to find a bridge over it to reach the river. As suspected there is a footpath along the riverbank. Alongside it there is also a cycling track. The area is well kept and quite a pleasant place for a stroll. Following the river for several kms with light fading I cut back across town towards the hotel This route took me through a Youth Park with lots of tennis and squash courts alongside a baseball pitch and other sports grounds; all is tidy and well kept. Next I came across the Botanical Gardens which are well laid out and very tidy. By now it was way too dark to take photos.


Tuesday 20 March 2018

I spent most of the day writing about Denmark. As the evening arrived Stan, who runs Taiwan and Hong Kong for Royal Canin invited me to join the crew for dinner at a very nice local restaurant. The area had once been a brewery and had been turned into an entertainment area, which even included a famous Russian character which Svet and Tatyana from Russia were quick to point out.


Wednesday 21 March 2018

One of the team had recommended a visit to the National Palace Museum. Apparently many of the exhibits were brought here by Chiang Kai-shek  and his crew, having being removed from Beijing prior to it being  handed to the Japanese in 1937. The city was handed to the Japs to preserve it from being destroyed.

I decided to walk and have a further look at the city – this town has really wide streets. Lots of the main roads have had a motorway built in the middle above the existing road. Like most Asian cities motorbikes are at the front at the lights, roaring off in front of the rest of the traffic as the lights turn green – surprisingly very few are blowing smoke. There are lots of bike lanes here but like in Auckland few push bikes use them.

Reaching the river I find a continuation of the cycle and walking track alongside it. Next to the track is a 6m-plus flood wall with remotely operated gates on the drains, which close during flooding to stop the buildings on the other side from flooding.  From here one gets a good view across the city with Tower 101 standing out in the distance. The suspension bridge along the river looks like a great piece of engineering.

A road tunnel took me under the hill to the palace museum. Its facade is impressive with large arch gates and a wide path leading up to the entrance.

The place inside is quite big, divided into many different galleries over four levels with a range of artifacts, some dating back over 5000 years. I always wonder when I come to a place like this whether these exhibits will still be around in another 5000 years or will they all be blown up by then. Furthermore, what will people be seeing of our footprint on the planet that far out.

Some items I found of real interest were some tiki-like objects around 3000 years old that are very similar to what the Maoris produced in NZ a hundred years ago. Also their stone axe heads were similar in shape to the Maori ones.

There is lots of Chinese art dating back 3 to 4 hundred years and lots of jewellery and ornaments, some dating back over 2000 years. One interesting piece was a banner or letter appointing a general to his command that had survived around 1700 years.

On the way home I walked across the suspension bridge, which from a distance had looked clean and neat but turned out to be a bit rough when one looked at the detail. Skirting around the west end of the local airport I came to a market street selling mainly produce. It was clean and tidy  with people just packing up from their morning sales. Even places selling fish out of these crammed spaces didn’t smell of fish. I am always impressed how in many of the worlds big cities people seem to be able to operate out of much smaller spaces than we are used to.

I arrived back at the hotel to meet Sylvia and her management team, as Stan the General manager for Taiwan and Honk Kong had had invited me to join in their team building activity. We were driven by bus to a place, dropped off, led into a building up a few floors and, after a debrief, 6 of us were thrown into two jail cells and tasked with escaping within one hour. The place was well set up with the often not so obvious clues spread around the cells. Once out of the cells there was a holding area we had to escape from and that done then bugger there is another room with laser beams to avoid, then safes to crack, yes and some more too. We had to get an extension of 10+ mins to complete it.

We then swapped with the other group who had been trying to solve a crime in another part of the building, finding fingerprints and names and other stuff to open a secret door and then yes there was more, lots more. We just cracked that in under an hour. I can highly recommend the escape house if a group of you are in Taipei looking for some entertainment.

After that we headed to a nice restaurant with nice views and great food for an entertaining evening where at one point each of us had to sing.  I’m not sure I will be invited back to sing again.

 


Thursday 22 March 2018

A few blocks down the road is Taipei Main Station. From there I caught the MRT out to Tamsui, a large inlet where the Tamsui river runs into the sea. I wasn’t expecting it to be such a nice area with clean streets, well presented shops and a relaxed feel about it.

Here I discovered another market street with vendors yelling to promote their products, produce well laid out and no fish smell from the fish stalls. Motorbikes wound their way through the pedestrians, not quite hitting people. Some pretty interesting stuff to eat too, lucky I wasn’t hungry.

Back down on the Main Street what looked like a float parade was heading my way – headed by four flower covered floats, a string of probably close to 100 black Mercedes, and little trucks with signage on them with a guy on the back playing a string or wind instrument. I found out later this was a funeral parade – people send a car or truck as a sign of respect to the deceased. This guy with his photo on one of the floats must have been very important as the procession went on for several hundred meters. Following that was another, much smaller funeral processionr.

I continued along the street as it brought me out to the shoreline. Lots of little cafe’s and eating places were scattered along the way. Several kms out towards the point I came across a resort area with a couple of large hotels, a marina and entertainment centre. This included the World of Chocolate. Sylvia, Victoria and Kirstie all have a liking for chocolate so I had to check it out. Yes – just about everything from a two ton cat to terracotta soldiers were made of chocolate.

I found a path along the coast heading back which lead me into some very derelict and rough looking houses. People tended to their small vegetable patches and smiled is I walked past using my one Chinese word “nihau”. Passing a military post with automatic 40 mil grenade launchers and .50 cal machine guns set up in the unattended pillboxes I asked the guard on the gate if they were waiting for the Chinese invasion – he smiled and nodded his head.

A thing that stands out in Taiwan apart from the thousands of stainless steel water tanks atop many buildings is the cages on many windows, particularly on older buildings. There must have been some really good sales people around a few years ago selling these things.

Getting closer to the station there were lots more people around enjoying the sunshine, shopping and generally hanging out in this lovely place with its views across the river mouth.

I dropped into a massage place and had a good hard leg and foot massage before heading back to the hotel for a quiet evening.


Friday 23 March 2018

Not far from the hotel is a large area containing the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial and two large concert halls on some manicured grounds.

As one enters the memorial there sits a large statue of the man, on each side a soldier stands stiffly at ease with his chromed M1 Garand with two bits of plastic tape holding the bayonet in place.


Heading down several flights of stairs there are three levels under the statue with galleries of various kinds. On the bottom floor is a huge hall telling the story of Chiang Kai-shek. Interestingly he did a lot of his military training in Japan and was exiled there early last century. Apparently in the early part of WWII the us were backing him in his fight against the Japanese but changed to back Mao Zedong who kept most of the major weapons supplied to fight Chiang in the cultural revolution. Interestingly there were a number of awards made to Chiang by central and south American countries such as Guatemala and Argentina.

In the afternoon we flew to Singapore for the weekend then on Sunday I headed to NZ and Sylvia to Japan. Our next trip is to the Commonwealth Games in Brisbane to watch daughter Kirstie race in the track cycling.

Very friendly Denmark

Friday 9 March 2018

My daughter Victoria and, now husband, Leighton got married at a stunning venue near Waikanae, NZ with a great bunch of people.


Sunday 11 March 2018

We flew home to Auckland for a few hours before catching the Emirates flight via Dubai to Copenhagen. Emirates used to be one of my favourite airlines to fly with but they too are dropping their standards, especially when it comes to on-board service.


Monday 12 March 2018

This evening we checked into the Babette Guldsmeden Hotel in Copenhagen. Sylvia headed off to a dinner meeting and I headed off to the hotel restaurant for a rather tasty meal of cod. The food and service in the hotel is excellent whilst the room, with its strange layout, is rather average.


Tuesday 13 March 2018

Having spent the morning catching up on some work I headed across the road from the hotel to what at first sight appeared to be a park. Kastellet (the Citadel) is one of the best preserved star fortresses in Europe, complete with moat. Built in 1626 it was part of the defensive system, which back then encircled the city. Still owned and occupied by the military it is now open as a park.

Heading out the other side of the fort I wandered down to the waterfront past a marina and along a very tidy wharf. Like many Scandinavian cities they love their statues here. A particularly famous one is the little bronze mermaid, who has been sitting on a rock waiting to get a glimpse of some prince through two world wars and for over a hundred years and is still waiting. In the intervening years they have also added a concrete one looking out to sea.

We are a bit lucky with the weather as this week it is between -2 and +2 which, the locals tell me, is warm compared with the past few weeks where it has been below -10. (Sylvia’s note: despite the “relatively warm” temperatures the biting wind made it feel bitterly cold – to me at least).


Wednesday 14 March 2018

I strolled down the road to the Osterport Station where I caught the train to Malmo, in Sweden, to visit my friend Erik, who is the International Sales Manager for Aimpoint. Luckilyy Erick had suggested that I bring my passport as on leaving the platform at Malmo two policemen stood checking everyone’s passports or ID’s. Even though part of the EU, Sweden has had to tighten up its borders after an influx of over a million unwanted refugees over the past few years. Gang violence, rapes and murders are on the increase, apparently caused in most cases by the large number of single, male, unemployed immigrants.

Erik picked me up outside a new shopping mall in Hyllie for the short drive to the Aimpoint factory. These guys make the best red-dot sights in the world. With the business having grown 10-fold over the past few years they are in the process of building a new factory and offices. I was privileged to have a tour through the factory, which is absolutely immaculate. Sorry no photos but for those interested you can check out Aimpoint.com


Thursday 15 March 2018

It’s slightly on the plus side of zero as I stroll with Sylvia and some of her colleagues down to the waterfront where the development program is taking place. From there I strolled around the waterfront coming across the queen’s quarters. Amalienborg consists of four large buildings surrounding a large courtyard. The queen occupies the one on the southwest side, the prince and his Australian-born princess the one on the southeast side. The one on the northeast is partially open to the public, showing off some relic-cluttered rooms from the past.

Young soldiers in their bearskin hats patrol in front of the buildings 24 hours a day. These guys are conscripts  doing their compulsory military service of between 4 and 12 months; this has been the law in Denmark since 1849. The young guard I chatted to (which is okay provided one doesn’t get closer than 2 meters) was keen to get this part of his duty over and get out in the field to do some running around and some shooting. Interestingly they seem to have adapted a way of holding their assault rifles by folding their arms, which helps keep them warm when marching.

At the end of the street that runs through the palace is Frederiks Kieke (church), a dome church 32m in diameter, built mainly of limestone and marble. Originally started in 1749 to commemorate 300 years since the coronation of a member of the house of Oldenburg, with a money shortage and the odd dodgy deal it wasn’t finally opened until 1894.

Not far down the road is a canal which is lined both sides with brightly coloured buildings, many of which are restaurants with lots of outside dining.

Crossing another canal I headed for Vor Fresers Kirke. On an island which was originally created as part of the moat defensive system of the city this church is rather unique. Originally built in the 1600’s, in the early 1700’s it had a spire added with an external staircase which actually goes nowhere; in fact it just gets narrower and narrower until one can go no further – the smaller you are the further you get.  Interestingly like many buildings in Copenhagen it is built of timber with huge wooden beams and columns as its internal structure. The outside if the spire is clad in copper. Inside there are a range of bells which are all linked to a thing that looks a bit like a piano but is in actual fact a bell player. At 80 plus meters tall there are great views from the top.

Most of the buildings in Copenhagen are brick or stone. This came about after a number of fires in the city. One in 1728 destroyed approximately 28% of the city, hence a law was brought in that all buildings must be clad in stone. As a result of that and many other fires there is little remaining of the original medieval city.

Back across the canal I came across the National Museum. One really good section in there was a walk through time line of Denmark dating back to the 1300’s, which outlined really well the history of the country with exhibits relating to each era.

Just across the canal I came across the Christiansborg Slot (the main Palace and parliament buildings) including a  large equestrian arena stables and indoor arena in the grounds. This is quite a big place. First I took a trip up the spire to enjoy some more views of the city. On the way out I tried to take a short cut through an arch and ended up in a shop to discover one could do a tour of part of the palace including the basement and the kitchen. I paid the money and headed first to the palace. Started in 1908 and finished in 1927 it is very similar to the Hermitage in St Petersburg with lots of huge rooms but in this case not much memorabilia as I presume much of that stuff was destroyed in a number of past fires. There have been palaces on this site since 1167. Many have been destroyed and rebuilt. At one time a ruler had stone masons pull down the whole building. This is the third Christiansborg. The first started in 1733 and by 1745 was the largest palace in Europe – it was destroyed by fire in 1794. The second completed in 1828 was destroyed by fire in 1884.

Next I headed to the basement. When they were excavating the footings to build this palace they discovered the relics of a number of previous palaces. The museum got involved and as a result the old relics were uncovered and the new building built over the top of them. There are two large areas under the palace where the old ruins date back to 1167.

Next stop was the huge kitchen with a great collection of copper pots. They are seldom used nowadays as on the odd occasion the palace is used for formal and ceremonial occasions catering is mostly brought in.

Last stop for the day was the stables. The horses are a big part of ceremonies here; as an example every new ambassador that takes up a post here is driven by carriage to meet the queen. The stables are neat and tidy and the horses in good nick.


Friday 16 March 2017

Its -3 as we head out in the morning. Sylvia heads to the final day of her program and I take a short stroll across town to yet another castle. Rosenborge Castle with its huge grounds was built in the early 1600’s by Christian IV. Built as a pleasure palace it became the kings favourite place. It sounds as though this guy was a bit of a hard case. Apparently with a colourful personality, lots of building projects and a few lost wars he made a bit of a mark in Danish history. By the 1700’s the castle was no longer used as a residence but became a place to store old fine objects and there are a lot of them. In fact parts of the place are quite cluttered; there is one room just full of china, another of silverware. Since 1838 the palace, or should I say part of it, has been open to the public.

   

Next stop, not far away, was the round tower, originally built as an observatory in the 1700’s with a spiral ramp turning 7.5 times and running almost to the top of the 42m building. Built on the end of a church of timber with huge wooden columns and brick cladding, one can access the upper levels of the church from the tower. There is a deck at the top with good views over the city.

Later in the day when Sylvia finished her program, we left the hotel, picked up a rental car and leaving the Island of Zealand we headed across the causeway and large suspension bridge to Sweden. It was an easy drive on the up the E6 (E meaning European highway). These highways are maintained by the EU and are always a pleasure to drive on. 300 kms up the coast we came to Gothenburg, where we checked into the Raddison Blu Hotel. I mention this as most hotel rooms are badly lit no matter how expensive they are. These guys have done it well – recently refurbished they had got it all right along with friendly staff and great service.


Saturday 20 March 2018

After a great breakfast we headed to the Stena Line vehicle ferry back to Denmark. It’s a clear sunny day at -8c with ice floating down the river as the boat makes its way west downriver past a huge industrial area with hundreds of what look like oil tanks and a huge container port.

In a little over 3 hours we arrive at Frederikshaven in Denmark. Rolling off the ferry first we headed north to the most northern point of Denmark where the Baltic and the North Sea meet. The local paint shop in Skagen, the town just south of the point must have run a really good special on yellow paint at some stage as just about every building in town is yellow. Just north of the town is the wind swept beach still has the remnants of the gun emplacements built by the Germans in WW II.  With over a million visitors a year this place is pretty popular even on this now only -4 spring day. We check out the beach as the strong wind does its best to force us back to the car.

As we head south the road takes us over to the west coast before heading back southwest. Soon we are again on an E road where the speed limit is 130kph, the traffic moving freely and people sticking to the right lane unless overtaking. The surrounding land is mostly farm land with the odd bit of forestry. We saw few animals as stock is housed indoor throughout the winter. There are generally large clusters of buildings surrounding houses where stock is wintered. In places where trees have been cut down they are stacked whole in piles on the side of the road, the reason I am not sure about. There are few hills here; the land is either flat or slightly rolling, which is not surprising as the highest point in the country is around 170m.

As we head further south we have to make a detour off the highway to get petrol as most service centres on the side of the highway only show a sign for charging electric vehicles but not selling petrol.  The detour takes us through some picturesque villages and past a lake until our visibility is obscured by heavy snow. Eventually we arrive at Vejle, a place famous as an early viking site with two large burial mounds and wooden posts representing where the original walls were back in the 900’s. There are two famous stone runes with inscriptions on them from that era. This town is also home to the oldest church in Denmark as this is where apparently the vikings and Christianity joined each other back then.

We stopped the night in a local hotel at the village of Jelling; I think the hotel was originally an old homestead . The food was outstanding and the staff friendly and helpful.


Sunday 21 March 2018

After enjoying our last European breakfast for a while we headed back to Copenhagen. Traveling on the E20 we crossed first to the island of Funen then over a 17km bridge with the worlds 3rd largest suspension bridge two thirds of the way across to Zealand. Denmark is the fourth largest country in the world when Greenland is included. The main part of the country is made up of more than 10,000 islands.

As we are greeted by a very cheerful  lady at the rental car company and again at the airline check-in we come to the conclusion that the people of Denmark have to be up there with the world’s most friendly.

As we board our flight to Bangkok sitting in front of us are two guys from Aimpoint on their way to Malaysia. I have bumped into Par and Erik (different one to the one I went to see in Malmo)  in many different places over the past few years.

 

 

 

 

 

Escape from Pearl Farm in the Philippines

Tuesday 6 February 2018

Having left Auckland at 1.15am via Singapore and Cebu we arrived at Davao City to be met by music, dancers and a bunch of women from the local tourist department. On the same flight were a number of Royal Canin associates from Indonesia. The Malaysia, Thai and Philippino associates are arriving on different flights to join this conference. These guys are part of the emerging markets and not part of Sylyia’s team; she is here as a guest for the week.

Bags are collected and put in a separate vehicle; we are loaded into black transit vans. An armed police motorbike escort takes the lead and clears the the traffic as we make our way to the marina compound, where armed, but not too alert, police guard the entrance.

Tickets issued we head down the long pier to board a motorised catamaran. A couple of armed police join us as we make the 45 min journey to Pearl Farm Resort. Two small coast guard boats move out standing off a couple of hundred meters. Two military helicopters fly past although I think unrelated to our journey. A big anti terrorist exercise was being conducted here this week

As we come ashore at the resort medallions are draped around our necks while a bunch of drummers punish the leather skins of their drums. The sun is setting as we settle into our cabin for the night. Sylvia heads off to an event dinner while I relax and read through the papers about the resort.

There is diving, fishing, snorkelling, jet-skis and tours in Davao City. Here I am thinking I am in for a couple of interesting days and looking forward to some long walks on the island while Sylvia attends the conference. I then read the Mars security briefing on the area. Davao area security threat is 4 out of 5. A state of emergency was declared in May 2017 and is still in place. A night market was bombed in 2015 killing 15; a resort 25 kms north of here was the target of the Abu Sayyaf group, who abducted four people, killing two. Three of the abducted were foreigners. Some years before that this resort was attacked in an attempt to kidnap tourists; three of the security staff were killed but no one taken. Interesting place to choose to have a conference!! When Sylvia returns from dinner I discuss action to take in the unlikely event something goes down.


Wednesday 7 February 2017

After breakfast I head to the reception to check out the activities. “As Mars have booked out the whole place we aren’t running any – you can however snorkel inside the nets”. What about a walk in the jungle? “too dangerous – you can’t leave the perimeter!” What about a walk through the village next door? “No, we won’t let you out the gate”.

I took a stroll to the gate at the north to be met by a soldier with a US M14 rifle. There are a bunch of these guys hanging out around the gate and the aqua sports centre.

From there I check out the perimeter expecting  a high fence with armed guards. There is the remains of a barbed wire fence that I could step over in one place. The remainder of the perimeter is just jungle with the odd path leading to our buildings and staff quarters. No sign of any soldiers or armed guards.

The resort has a beach front of about 400m plus an island about 500m away. The place with its beaches and pools is quite stunning and great for those who just like lying in the sun and doing nothing.

I stroll back to the north end and chat to the soldiers. There a Lt Col introduces himself and explains how it all works here. He has a force of 15 troops here as a reaction force; 4 on the island, the rest here at the aqua sports centre. Then the coast guard has two intercept boats some distance offshore plus other guys closer in. The police have armed police in and around the resort along with the local unarmed security guards to protect the guests. The Air Force is also on stand by. No one force seemed to be in charge. Could be rather interesting if the ASG desire to make an appearance.

All this is apparently normal practice when foreign guests are at any of the resorts in the area and what’s more it’s fully funded by the government in order to try and attract a few tourists.

The soldiers are a friendly bunch so I manage to fill in a bit of the day chatting to them. The guys with the M14 rifles tell me with pride that they are anti terrorist snipers. The other guys with the Philippino made M16 and small assault rifles are the rescue troops.

A two hour massage helped fill in the day plus a lot of walking up and down the resort to get some exercise. I could have hired a jet ski but was only allowed to run it up and down inside the nets – not a good look for the 180 people sitting paying attention to their conference speakers.

By the end of the day I found myself hatching an escape plan:

a) use my dry bag for camera and clothes, swim around the pier early in the morning to the local village and ask a local to boat me to the mainland 

b) sneak out through the jungle to the village and get a boat

Problem one: no local money. Problem two: Sylvia not too impressed with either of these plans!!

So as a last resort after dinner I went back to the reception to try the tour option again. Same story “we are not running the trips” but she did add “you need 8 people for the speed boat to make the trip”. I quickly turned myself into eight people by paying for eight. Trip booked and a driver at the other end to take me on a tour. Escape at last.

That night the cabin vibrated until 1am  as the conference attendees enjoyed a late night party.


Thursday 8 February 2018

After breakfast I jumped a boat across to the island for a look around. Another lovely spot where some of the attendees are staying in the Maulvi room villas with great views out to sea. One of the local leaf sweepers is proud to show off the new broom he has just made by taping the bristles to the shaft.

There are a couple or peacocks on the island keen to strut their stuff. Construction on a new building goes on behind woven walls. By the number of coconuts piled up around the island and the number still in the trees it’s probably wise to avoid the trees in a wind.

A bunch of armed police sit around a table under an umbrella not looking like they are expecting trouble. Two soldiers sit on a bench looking out to sea but keen to pose for a photo. These guys are not exactly alert so lets hope none of the ASG guys come racing ashore guns blazing.

10am and my boat is waiting so we speed of to Davao passing the many what-I-call spider boats with their long arms extended from which they drop nets to catch small fish. Many of the boats around here have out riggers made of bamboo.

We speed past many resorts making the trip to the mainland in under 15 minutes. There are also the villages with rusting iron roofs and often scruffy buildings where many of the always friendly and helpful staff from the resorts live.

Arriving at the pier I am escorted to the compound where a driver is waiting. We head out of the compound, this time incognito, just an ordinary bloke in the back of a car.

First stop was an ATM where two security guards with shiny stainless pump action shot guns made sure my withdrawal was a safe one. Next stop, hidden in the back of a scruffy gated area, was the museum. Although small with little in the way of artifacts it had the history of the area well laid-out.

Dating back to 2500 BC, the islands were ruled by both the Dutch and the Spanish from the 1500’s. In late 1896 the treaty of Paris ended the Spanish American war. After a period of turmoil the US arrived in 1899 and ruled the Philippines. In the 1900’s many Japanese labourers were brought here with some inter-marrying into the local population. As war broke out 16,000 of these people were interred and took their revenge on the locals when the Japs invaded.

Next stop was a crocodile park/zoo.  Like most I have seen not the nicest place to visit with many crocodiles lying around in stagnant water. A poor snake sat outside in a plastic bin and a tiger in a small cage. There was also a Binturong, which looked like a ready made rug, and a Palawan Bearcat in cages.

Next we headed west on a one hour drive to see the Philippines moneky-eating eagles, apparently the largest eagle in the world. There is a huge amount of roading infrastructure work going on in the area. I was really taken aback by the large yards full of trucks, bulldozers and diggers on the side of the roads.

We pushed on through the outskirts of the town, roadsides in a lot of places full of dilapidated dwellings.

We stopped to check out a tunnel dug by forced labour by the Japs during WWII. Originally seven kms long it is now a tourist attraction complete with shrine, but only 150m is open to the paying tourists.

As we headed further west I was amused at a variation of a tuk-tuk – well decorated side cars complete with roof attached to a motorcycle.

Arriving at the eagle park I had been anticipating standing on a cliff and watching eagles sore above like I have previously seen throughout the Americas. After paying the entry fee a security guard in his pristine white shirt, (in spite of the dirt and dust in this part of the world they all have whiter than white shirts) got me to step on a wet mat to decontaminate my shoes. Heading up the jungle path, past a crocodile enclosure, I came to the eagles. These huge poor bastards were in cages about 4m high and the same wide and deep where they could spread their wings but never fly. They were however doing their best to help with the survival of these great birds. People and company names were etched into the footpaths to recognise those that had contributed to the building and maintaining of this park.

Next stop was a place supposedly famous for its dark chocolate, gardens and caged birds. I had lunch at the restaurant, bought some dark chocolate for Sylvia and skipped the gardens and birds. The driver was waiting when I exited and asked if I wanted to go to the famous sweet factory. I skipped that one and we headed to a lookout above the city. With good views east over the city I took some pics before we moved on. One large building looked like it had had a fire.

Arriving back at the car the driver asked if I would like to take a drive through down town to which I replied yes. As we headed through down town he pointed out the mall I had photographed explaining how there had been a large fire there last December where 35 call-centre operators had perished last December.

Jam packed with traffic there were lots of side-cars and bicycle tuk-tuks with an umbrella for shade. We could do with a few thousand of these in Auckland to use the millions of dollars worth of cycle ways Auckland transport has built in the past few years.

Arriving back at the marina the speed boat was waiting to whisk me back to Pearl Farm. Sylvia was hard at work when I arrived back catching up on emails and reading work stuff.


Friday 9 February 2017

After breakfast we boarded the catamaran, armed police and coast guard boats standing off, for the journey back to Davao and then with armed escort to the airport.

On the boat I had a bit of a yarn to Jeremy, the manager for Indonesia,  Malaysia and the Philippines. He explains how he had asked his Philippine team to recommend a good safe place to have a conference. They had come up with the Pearl Farm, which to them was quite safe as this level of security is just normal because that is the way it is here to them. After the deposit had been paid the Mars security people started asking questions and you could say the brown stuff hit the fan blades. I felt a bit sorry for Jeremy.

In the end we all caught our flights, not a shot fired and no one kidnapped. I don’t think there will probably be a conference run in the Philippines again for some time. In spite of that all the attendees had a great time and most were oblivious to what went on in the back ground.

It’s pretty flat in Louisanna

Monday 31 January 2018

Landing in New Orleans I picked up a rental car and headed to Baton Rouge on I10 East. I had put Baton Rouge in Google maps. It placed me in a really rough area of the town – one house had razor wire around it and looked like a gang headquarters. As I didn’t have a lot of time to spare I continued on my journey, heading northwest up highway 419 to Pineville, a total journey of just over 350kms. It is dead flat all the way with large cotton fields and some other crops. The road is excellent and very wide with a speed limit of 70mph but the general speed seems to be closer to 80.

Reaching town I called in to see Mike, Joe and Mike, who I had met up in Texas last year. They had said if I was ever in the area to drop in. They are all US Marshals and based at the special operations group headquarters. Mike had gone home sick so Joe took me for a tour of the place showing me lots of interesting things including several shooting ranges.

Pineville has a population of around 14,000. It is only separated from Alexandra (population around 47,000) by the Red River, which is still used as a shipping river, running freight being transported several hundred kilometres up the river. Pineville also hosts a large national guard base where the marshals have their headquarters.

Joe had very kindly offered me a bed for the night so after a rather nice hamburger we headed to his place. Katie, Joe’s wife, was there to greet us.


Tuesday 30 January 2018

I hung out with them at the Marshal’s HQ and managed to catch up on a couple of stories between chatting to people. Joe’s boss, Eddie, joined us for lunch at a rather nice place near the river. The home-cooked, southern-style food was very tasty.

On the way to Joe’s place we picked up some steak, which Joe grilled on the BBQ, while Katie whipped up some beans and potatoes, which was all very tasty and enjoyed over a few wines and great conversation.

After dinner we watched Trump give his state of the nation speech, which sparked some interesting comments and conversation.

A little history on the Marshals service: Created by the first congress in the Judiciary Act of 1789, they were given extensive authority to support the federal courts within their judicial districts and carry out lawful orders issued by the judges. Today they are still tasked with supporting the federal courts and chasing down those wanted for federal offences. These guys are dedicated to tracking down and catching the real bad buggers in order to help keep the US citizens safe. There is a really good web site that outlines the history and evolution of the US Marshal service: www.usmarshals.gov


Wednesday 31 January 2018

After a good brew of coffee with Joe and Katie I headed off under the clear blue sky, crisscrossed with vapour trails from the many jets in the air, to New Orleans. It’s around -2C here this morning.

I headed down I49 to Lafayette, then east on I 10 east. Crossing the Mississippi River at Baton Rouge I saw what looked like the part of the city I should have visited on the way up. There are lots of trailer houses (transportable) in this part of the world.

East of the Mississippi the road heads over wetlands with some bridges being up to ten miles long, a great feat of engineering. In 1956 President Eisenhower signed the Federal Highway Act to create 41,000miles of “National System of Interstate and Defence Highways”. The primary reason was to evacuate cities in case of atomic attack, move troops around in case of invasion, plus make roads safer and reduce traffic jams. The building of these roads increased productivity throughout the country. Although some of the original ones were never completed there are now over 47,000 miles of interstate which account for 25% of all mileage traveled in the US each year.

Arriving in New Orleans I headed to the National WWII Museum, which Joe had recommended I visit. This turned out to be well worth the visit with several sections. First I went into an auditorium, where a combination of holograms and movie footage, curated by Tom Hanks, took us through the US war story. Next was the Boeing Hall with aircraft including the B17 bomber suspended from the ceiling. To one side there was a mock-up of the USS Tang submarine, which sunk 33 ships before being sunk. In the mock-up one experiences its last action and the sinking. 5 crew survived to be captured and tortured by the Japs.

There is a section dedicated to the road to Berlin and another on the road to Tokyo plus another general section. These are all really well done with lots of footage from the war playing along with stories from various individuals.

The day over, I checked into a hotel complete with record player and a a few jazz LPs. A stroll to the French Quarter revealed the towns only surviving cigar bar where I chatted to a few locals and enjoyed a relaxing evening.


Thursday 1 February 2018

I headed out for a stroll around the town which is gearing up for Mardi Gras. Bourbon Street is closed off in places as the road is prepared for the madness. I was here with a mate, Ross, for a printing trade show in the late nineties while the festival was on. Bourbon street was where it all happened. Packed with people, plastic cups of beer in hand, they partied hard while people threw strings of beads from the balconies to women each time they took off an article of clothing. We visited Pat O’Brien’s bar where the ceiling was lined with steins and pianists sat at two copper clad pianos playing anything people requested. The town doesn’t seem to have changed much since then apart from some work in progress to tidy up the water front.

All too soon it was time to head to the airport for the flight to Houston and then on to Auckland and then Christchurch to attend Sylvia’s niece Joanna’s 21st. Joanna had accomapnied us in Botswana last year.

 

Gettysburg to the Kennedy Space Centre

Friday 19 January 2018 – Carlisle

I picked up a rental car near Ronald Reagan airport and headed north through Maryland and up to Carlisle in Pennsylvania to visit Rian, Jo and son Liam. Friends from NZ, Rian is at the war collage in Carlisle. It has been a little cold up here with snow still on the ground. We spent the evening catching up with each other’s news over dinner and a wine or two.


Saturday 20 January 2018

Rian had recently studied the battle of Gettysburg ,which is only a few miles down the road. Arriving there around 9am we started at the place where the first contact was made. The national park office is closed as at midnight the US ran out of money as the opposing parties couldn’t come to an agreement to sign off the budget. But it’s nothing to worry about as it has happened many times before, once lasting 21 days.

Back in the day, General Lee had been riding north skirting around Washington with an army of around fifty thousand men, made up of regiments from the confederate states.

The first question I had for Rian was “how in the 1800’s did an army manage to feed that many men while on the move?” Apparently provisions were accumulated along the way through the use of foraging parties, who in this case were sent out to buy the necessary items from the locals. They must have had a wagon-load of cash with them.

Lee and his army were heading south with the intention of attacking Baltimore and a couple of other places. General George G Meade with his Union army of around 100,000 men, made up of regiments from the north had amassed and were riding up to stop him. To find him they were sending out reconnaissance brigades. It was one of these that made contact on the morning of 1 July 1863.

I have never seen so many monuments. Each regiment of around 300 men have markers showing their left and right flank, often less than a hundred meters apart, which gives one a real appreciation of the intensity of the engagement. There is even a monument of a tree from which a birds nest fell during the battle; a soldier picked it up climbed the tree and put it back.

The Union general in charge placed himself on a church tower to oversee the battle.

By the end of the day the Union troops, in spite of bringing in reinforcements, were driven back to the south of the town. In their path was an infirmary run by a church, where most of the casualties, of which there were many, were taken. Part of it is now a museum, which does a really good job of explaining what took place, but also a list rating the brutality of the wounds.

After the museum we stopped for some lunch at a local diner where the staff were amused by our strange accents. We then looked at day two and three of the battle. Lee, after the first days victory and in spite of the advice of his right-hand man, decided that this was the place to fight it out with the Union troops. With the Union troops on Cemetery ridge and spreading to the west several kilometres and the Confederate troops on Seminary Ridge engagements took place on the second day. It was on the third day that the confederate troops put in their major and final attack, charging across up to a mile of mostly open country into hundreds of canons and thousands of Union troops.

After losing this battle Lee and his army withdrew the next day and although there were a few other small battles this one pretty much ended the ambitions of the confederates.

Many of the three inch rifled canons, which held a variety of shot, are still on site along with the smooth-bore four inch canons, which bounced canon balls across the ground at advancing troops.

The largest memorial here is to the Philadelphia troops who made up around half of the Union army.

The casualties over the three days were horrendous and like the troop numbers the numbers vary depending on what one reads. There is one area of only a few thousand square meters where 4,000 were killed on day 3. From what I could establish over 6,000 lost their lives and total casualties were in excess of fifty thousand.

That evening I was invited to attend a function with Rian and Jo and mingle with a bunch of people attending the college from many different countries.


Sunday 21 January 2017

Before heading back to DC to catch my flight to Las Vegas, Rian and Jo took me on a tour of the war collage. The first officers were educated here in 1904 and it has been running ever since. Around 800 senior officers attend the collage each year. Each year of graduates have their names on a large plaque. Rows of these line the outside of the main building. In places a name has been ground off where it has been found later that someone cheated in the exams.


Monday 22 January 2018

It’s range day in Vegas, something I always enjoy as we get to look at and try out some of the latest guns and accessories. Fighter jets roared overhead almost continuously as we looked around the stands in the desert on an airforce range.


Tuesday 23 to Friday 26 2018

The shot show I have written about before. The days were spent catching up with old friends and looking at the latest gun related stuff. Not to mention going out for the odd drink in the evenings.


Saturday 27 January 2018

I had flown into Orlando last night and driven down to Vero Beach to visit Constantin at Windsor park. We met Constantin and Petra in Botswana a few years ago. Petra is in Germany on business just now.

Having spent last night catching up over a wine or two we had a relaxing morning. Jumping on a golf buggy, Constantin took me for a drive around Windsor Club. This gated community has a golf course, stables, polo ground and beach club among other things.

There is a range of houses here; some are huge, many face onto the golf course and others to the sea. We had a late lunch at the beach club relaxing by the pool.

In the evening we headed down to Vera Beach town to see Renke and Pamala, who were traveling with Constantin and Petra in Botswana.

They live in a large renovated house originally built in 1925. The beams in the ceiling still have the shaping axe marks in them.

We went to Pamela’s club, where we enjoyed a great catch up over good food and tasty wine, after which we adjourned back to their house enjoying a brandy or two before heading back to Windsor, where Constantin and I chatted into the early hours.


Sunday 28 January 2018

Eight odd miles up the road is Cape Canaveral and the Kennedy Space Center. Arriving about noon I took a wander around.

There is lots of interesting stuff here and various areas take one through different parts of the space programme including the Shuttle programme. There are lots of 3D venues and an i-Max movie theatre where a film takes one into the future manned trip to Mars with the Space Launch System. SLS. The plan is to land all the infrastructure to sustain man in advance, then put a large expanding capsule together to transport people to Mars and back, which is around a three year trip.

Next I jumped on the bus out to the launch pads. This was really interesting as the driver pointed out alligators in the roadside creeks. As we arrived at the rocket building shed some 160m high he showed us the giant crawler used to cart the rockets to the launch pads. Unfortunately I was on the wrong side of the bus to get any decent photos.

We then headed down alongside the growler road they use to take the rockets to the launch pad. The driver explained that under the special non-sparking gravel there is 18 feet of substrate under the surface to bear the millions of pounds of weight carried on the crawler.

Often watching rocket launches on TV I could never quite work out why there was so much smoke. In fact it’s not smoke – as the launch takes place they release thousands of gallons of water onto the tarmac to dampen the noise and prevent damaging the craft.

Space X launch site was closed as they are sending up a rocket on Tuesday.

Next we arrived at the Apollo Center. Disembarking from the bus we went into a theatre where they took us through the history. Below the screen is part of the original Control Center.  In the main hall an Apollo rocket is laid out in stages.

Another theatre took us through the moon landing with the moon lander descending from the ceiling towards the end of the movie.

This is a great place to visit and I could have spent longer here had it not been closing time.

Back at Windsor Constantin and I chatted over dinner and champagne before getting an early night in preparation for an early start tomorrow.

From a Castle in France to an Armoury in Leeds

Monday 8 January 2018

Having arrived at Château de Pondres late last night after 36 hours of traveling I had planned to go for a long walk today. Heavy rain set in which put paid to that plan. Château de Pondres was once a castle built way back; no-one seems to be quite sure when as the records were destroyed during the French Revolution. Someone has bought it recently and is turning it into a hotel. With ten rooms and another ten being constructed in the old stables down the paddock and some apartments it seems like a classic case of “How does one make a small fortune out of owning a castle? Start with a large one!” With its metre-plus thick walls, grand stair case and stone arched roof in the restaurant, it’s quite impressive.


Tuesday 9 January 2018

With the weather almost fine I set off down through the grounds of the castle in search of an old railway line. I had been told this had been turned into a cycleway and had walked part of it near Sommieres last year.  Finding it near a motocross course I turned right along the old line. The rails and sleepers had been removed but the thick gravel the sleepers lay on still remained. Heading north I soon discovered that this part of the line was definitely not a cycleway. Overgrown in places with blackberries and other foliage, I think it’s still in the planning stage.

Well built bridges took traffic over the line. In the ten kms I walked on the old line there was only one level crossing and that was by a station. Eventually I arrived at a town called Vic-Le-Fesq. As I strolled through the tidy, but deserted, streets I came across a lady getting into her car. With my best “bonjour” I tried to ask if there was a cafe in town; she didn’t have a clue what I was saying so I smiled and she burst out laughing, got in her car and left. Wandering the streets I eventually found a couple sitting outside a shop drinking coffee. With the help of google translate I managed a cup of coffee and a bit of a chat before strolling back, this time via the forest and roads to the castle.

We spent the evening dining at a rather nice restaurant in Sommieres which is one of the of the nicest towns in the area (and which I have written about previously).


Wednesday 10 January 2018

I took a dive north to Anduze, a cute little town set in between some hills. Following the GPS I ended up some distance down a one way street but although I was the only car on the road, as I reached an intersection front on to an old policeman in his car, it became clear I was going the wrong way. Now I could have just turned left and got out of there but Mr Plod, who had wound down his window and given me, I presume, a good dressing down in French – to which I responded with a smile “bonjour” and “no french” – insisted through sign language that I back up the several hundred metres of street I had come the wrong way down.

After a stroll around part of the town I headed to the city of Ales. Driving through what appeared to be an uninspiring city I headed into the hills following winding roads through valleys and up into hills and back down into valleys, making for an interesting and enjoyable drive.


Thursday 11 January 2018

Today at the end of her meetings Sylvia heads to Shanghai.  I headed out to look at the Colosseum at Nimes. Built around AD70 it’s been through a few battles, rebuilds and changes. Nowadays it is used for rock concerts and a couple of bullfights a year. Built of concrete and nowadays seating around 22,000 people it’s quite impressive. There are also good views of the city from the top.

A new road and a not up to date GPS in the rental car meant I missed the off ramp on the motorway to the airport in Montpellier, heading south instead towards Spain. It was another 40kms before there was another off ramp. Luckily I had time to spare as I still made the Montpellier to London flight.  Arriving in London I headed into Westminster to stay with friends, Chris and Haley.


Friday 12 January

I took a stroll over to Clapham to visit cousin Molly and her husband Murray. We enjoyed a long lunch at a local restaurant. Both now retired, Murray fills his time in as chairman of the local tennis club.

I took a different route on the way beck to Westminster. It is really interesting to see how much the areas surrounding London city centre have improved over the past 20 years. Terraced houses have been restored and are nicely painted, streets are generally clean and free from rubbish, and parks are tidy and well kept.

After dinner with Chris, Haley and son Callum we headed out to check out a couple of local bars, of which there are many just a short walk from their house. This was followed by a stroll just across the road for a photo of in front of the Queen’s place. Not too many people around at midnight.


Saturday 13 January 2018

We caught a bus over to the Tower of London. Although I have visited a couple of times before it is always on interesting place to go back to. At this time of year the guards wear a bluish coloured winter uniform rather than the bright red ones we are familiar with.

When I visited in 1984 I recalled the main tower being full of armour, swords and guns etc. There were rack after rack of them. Now it is more just glass display cases with a few items displayed. I asked an old staff member what had happened to all the old weapons. He told me that in the early nineties they had been moved to the Leeds armoury.


Sunday 14 January 2018

As part of a quiet relaxing day we took a look through the London museum. This place is impressive with a large collection of artefacts from all over the world. Particularly impressive is the mummy area. Here they have taken MRI scans of the corpses, still in there caskets and have often been able to identify how they died. One guy had been found preserved in the desert sand and was encased in a vacuole sealed glass case in the same state as discovered after lying around in the sand for around 5000 years having died form a spear strike to the back of his shoulder.


Monday 15 January 2018

Callum and I headed over to Pancras Station and jumped a train for Leeds. Leaving bang on time, but not as fast as the European trains (reaching just under 200kph) we were there in around three hours. A short stroll through what was once an industrial area alongside the river Aire revealed well-restored, mostly brick buildings, now providing residential accommodation.

The Leeds Armoury Museum is very well done with lots of weapons armour and associated articles on display.

First we headed into a lecture where one of the curators had a range of firearms laid out on a table. He took us through the the accidental invention of gun powder by the Chinese around AD 800 (they were actually trying to make an eternal medicine). The recipe was kept secret for a number of years as it gave a tremendous advantage to those possessing it for use in canons etc. In the 1300’s the recipe was sold to the Europeans and along came canons and hand cannons. In the 1600’s the matchlock appeared with a range of 75 yards. The flintlock appeared in the late 1700’s. This is where the “flash in the pan” saying came from as one in five shots didn’t work. After each shot was fired the operator had to put his mouth over the barrel and blow to clear any hot bits of powder out before reloading. Sometimes in the heat of battle there would just be a flash in the pan not picked up by the operator. As he whipped his lips around the muzzle “bang”. Rifling was invented and the projectile changed from a ball to a bullet through the 1800’s with paper cartridges, containing both powder and bullet, being loaded from the muzzle until in the later part of the 1800’s breach loaders evolved. Black powder created a huge amount of smoke, hence the troops wearing bright coloured uniforms into battle.

From there we toured the 5 floors of the museum, which included a crossbow shooting area.

As we were leaving we spotted what looked like a few guns in the stairwell. The five-storey stairwell is lined with weapons with a series of mirrors reflecting them for those that can’t look up.


Tuesday 16 January 2018

I took the train west to Malmesbury to visit Alexander, whom I had met at the shot show last year. Alexander sells military type guns to various people around the world and has turned the old farm buildings into his office and storage area. After a good catch up, lunch and a bit of gun  talk I trained back to London.


Wednesday 17 January 2018

I took a Virgin Atlantic flight from  London to Washington DC. As I walked into the terminal I was greeted by a friendly woman with a big smile who directed me to the check-in where another friendly person sorted the check-in. On the aircraft all the crew were friendly, smiling, attentive and keen to assist. They looked happy in their work. Maybe the big chief at Air NZ should take a flight with them so he could learn a thing or two.


Thursday 18 January 2018

I stayed with Mike and Paula in Virginia and had a good catch up enjoying a great meal at a great local Mexican Restaurant.

The Stunning Sounds of Fiordland

Kisbee Bay Fiordland NZ
Sunday 31 December 2017: Roger
Around 20 years ago friends Alister and Vanya bought a share in Preservation Lodge at what was once the town of Cromarty. For years Alister, a keen hunter, entrepreneur, former helicopter pilot and karate exponent, has been encouraging me to spend a few days at the Lodge. Finally the stars have aligned and we are on our way. My daughter Victoria, fiancé Leighton, long-time friend Don and his girlfriend, Ngaire, met us at Queenstown and drove us to Te Anau where we picked up a few extra provisions before heading to Manapouri airport where provisions, gear and bodies were weighed. With 3.8kgs to spare (we are going to eat pretty well on the trip) we boarded the chopper. Leighton and Victoria had shopped well, even preparing a laminated menu for the trip.


Airborne we headed across lake Te Anau and down South Arm, gaining a bit of altitude. We continued south and slightly west over some stunning country. The bush line ends at 300ft. The land above that is rugged, colourful and dotted with tarns and some amazing waterfalls. Apologies for the poor quality of the pics – it is hard to take pics through the window of a helo. This is some of the most stunning scenery I have seen anywhere in the world.


After about 40mins flying we touched down at Preservation Lodge. The lodge was completed in the early nineties on a couple of sections in the the long ago abandoned town of Cromarty.

A little history: In 1773 Captain James Cook rocked up here and made a detailed survey of the sounds. The first sealers arrived in 1792 but by 1820 they ran out ot seals. A whaling station ran at Cuttle Cove in the early 1800s but ceased in 1838. In 1860 a coal mining company was formed at Preservation Inlet but was unsuccessful. In 1879 the Puysegur Point lighthouse lit up, visible from 20 miles away. In 1885 Philip Ryan came as an assistant lighthouse keeper but got sacked as he spent most of his time looking for gold. He and two others prospected on Coal Island. Word trickled back about gold on the island and by 1890 some seventy miners were digging away. Lewis Longuet stumbled across a 20 to 30 ounce nugget on the beach one night, then it was all on with people pushing up the inlet searching for their fortune. The town of Cromarty, with a sawmill, a pub, a school and a couple of boarding houses and shops, was established in 1892 with the discovery of gold in quartz in the Wilson River. By 1900 the gold rush was over and people moved on.

Flying in over Revolver Bay we landed in front of the lodge to meet a rather surprised caretaker. Ralph wasn’t expecting anyone until 3 January. We got the fire going to heat the cylinder supplying the 8 rooms and headed to the lounge with all its memorabilia to enjoy a drink and yarn while Leighton and Victoria prepared a very nice meal.


Monday 1 January: Sylvia

The day dawned bright and clear with only a light haze from the sandflies. Roger had mandated a route march for everyone up to Wilson River to see an old stamper from the gold mining period in that area. After a delicious and nourishing breakfast we headed off just after 10:30am. Between Roger, Don and Leighton I think we carried three Emergency Personal Locator Beacons, numerous survival blankets, a hoochie, two full first aid kits, Roger’s trusty red insulation tape, lunch, and most importantly a big block of chocolate.

The first part of the track was a little steep, rising ~100m in about 300m to join an old wooden tram line that had been built in the late 1800’s to provide access to the gold that had been found in Wilson’s River. It was known as the Golden Site Battery. Unfortunately the mine was really only productive for a few years and by 1901 all work had ceased permanently. The tram line ran for about eight kilometres and took two years to build. All that remains today are a few sleepers, the odd wooden rail and the occasional iron rails that were used only on the corners. The rest has either rotted or been buried.

However, following an old tram line meant the gradient for most of the walk was fairly easy with only about a 200m climb over 8km, most through pretty secondary growth with lots of manuka bush and scrub. Despite lovely weather the track was pretty wet in places. Ngaire managed the whole walk in a pair of cheap shoes from the Warehouse, but Don’s fancy boots that he has had well-over 20 years didn’t cope so well – the soles started to peel off on the trip back and needed first aid treatment with Roger’s trusty red insulation tape.

Along the path we came across many different relics of the civilisation that once existed here. The first major artefact was the boiler of the sawmill that was established to cut the timber for the houses and the tram line.

At the end of the tram line the track again got a bit steeper as we descended about 200m in about 500m to get down to the river where the 10-stamper battery still stands proudly beside the river, now well rusted but still very prominent – it was clearly once a very impressive piece of machinery. A little further up stream we found remnants of a water wheel, a 400mm diameter pipe to power the water wheel and a few other bits and pieces of derelict equipment. To be honest I probably spent more time admiring the beautiful river and the forest-clad hillside, resplendent with flowering rata trees.

We retraced our steps back to Kisbee Bay where we enjoyed a delicious steak and chips meal, again prepared by Leighton and Victoria.


Tuesday 2 January 2018: Roger

Don and Ngarie stayed around the lodge for a restful day. Leighton, Victoria, Sylvia and I took the little boat and headed down the Otago Retreat to the old lighthouse oil store, originally the place where supplies for the Puysegar Point light house were dropped off, now a shelter where people can stay as they transit through the area. There is also a small cemetery there where the body of James Cromarty and five others rest, most of whom drowned in the late 1800s.

We followed the track, once a good road, around and over a saddle and around the coast to the lighthouse. The scenery here is stunning with the wild weather bending trees and sand blasting the cliffs.

The lighthouse area, once almost a village, is now just crumbling foundations. There is a very secure ‘do not enter’ shed, a tank-shaped weather station and the original lighthouse still standing, now with a solar powered light.

 
On our return our boat rested on the sand, left high and dry by the outgoing tide.


After dragging the boat back into the water we headed to the north end of Coal Island. There are hundreds of crayfish pots along the way. Apparently this is where the fisherman store and feed their catch until the price is right to sell them. The Southern Rata trees with their bright red flowers stood out on the bush covered island.


Coal Island is now predator free. Quite a few kiwis have been released here and bird life is plentiful.

 

We made our way back across the inlet to Kisbee Bay. The tractor was still on the beach, parked by the mail box, so I jumped on, started it up and backed it down the beach to collect the boat, only to discover it had no brakes. I managed to crash it into first gear in order to stop it heading into the water and joining the bulldozer that fell off a barge many years ago and now rests a few meters out in the bay. This place even has its own mail box. Not sure if NZ Post has a jet ski delivery service.

 

We had a relaxing evening, Victoria and Leighton preparing a rather tasty dinner.


Wednesday 3 January: Sylvia

We have been incredibly lucky with the weather here and today dawned bright and clear again. Don and Ngaire headed off in the boat to add to their catch from yesterday evening so we could all enjoy a meal of fresh blue cod tonight. Leighton, Victoria, Roger and I had decided to walk over to Revolver Bay, the next Bay over from Kisbee Bay. It was a beautiful, gentle walk through some of the nicest native bush we have encountered so far. Most of the way it was very flat, meandering along beside the river. Roger kept his rifle at the ready in case we happened upon one of the many deer that were evidently in the area based on their tracks. This necessitated us walking fairly quietly. Victoria was suffering from blisters after all the walking the last few days and so decided to do the walk in her flash jandals (Havaianas with diamanté embellishments). The sandflies alone would have put me off attempting that.

A couple of times we lost the track and had to double back but otherwise it was a peaceful, uneventful walk. Lots of deer tracks but no sightings although we had heard some roaring sounds and so were staying alert.

We stopped at Revolver Bay to take in the view and scan the opposite banks for deer. About 20 minutes later we started to head back and then discovered that the tide had been coming in all around us. Having made the whole walk in dry shoes for the first time since we arrived here I was quite disappointed, although I have to admit a little bemused, to have to wade through mid-calf-deep water for the first 30 metres or so until we got back to dry track – Victoria had to go bare feet as the jandals kept getting stuck.

Suddenly we heard the roar of a stag just ahead. Roger raced off, giving us the stop and stay quiet signal. We waited for the shot but about three minutes later Roger called us over – it had not been a stag at all but a large sea lion, swimming up the river. As Roger put it “it was the largest freshwater fish I’ve seen in New Zealand”. We were able to keep sight of it was we walked along near the river for a bit. It looked a bit like a WWI soldier wearing a gas mask as it raised his head and blew out of his nostrils.

We made short work of the walk back to the lodge. Ngaire and Don had been successful in their fishing ventures and we all enjoyed some quiet time in the lodge.


Thursday 4 January: Roger

Don and Ngarie took a stroll out in the direction of Revolver Bay. Leighton, Victoria, Sylvia and I took the dingy and headed along the north side of Weka Island to the Cording islands. We stopped at the first one and I jumped off to check out the caves. It is a bit too rocky to tie the boat up so after a quick look around the north side of the island and a walk through a tunnel I reboarded. We took a look on the south side from the boat then headed up into Isthmus Sound.

  

Part way up the sound we eventually spotted a small orange triangle that indicated the track to the Tarawera Silver smelter.
Apparently the smelter with its chimney running up the hill never worked properly and the mine did not produce much silver. There are the remains of the odd dwelling where these really tough blokes from the past lived in hope and hardship waiting for the day they may, but never did, strike it rich.

 

We pushed on up the sound, the dingy with its 20-horse motor managing 10 knots.

 

At the top of the sound we tied up the boat to where someone had once had a mooring. We pushed our way up through some ferns to a ridge which we followed a short distance. Soon we were looking down on the waters of Chalky Sound. We headed back, stopping on top of the ridge where we enjoyed a late lunch among the beauty of this old native forest.

We quietly made our way back down the sound to Kisbee Bay. Ralph, the caretaker, this time backed the tractor down and we loaded the dingy up for the last time. At the lodge we washed the dingy down and flashed out the motor before storing it in the shed.

The rest of the day we sat and yarned, partly to Ralph and wife Tracey, who are the caretakers of the Lodge just now. They have both spent a lot of time in this part of the sounds exploring and enjoying the tranquil surrounding of the sea and native bush. Ralph and a mate once walked from here back to Tuatapere, which took around 8 days. He had lots of stories to tell and loved panning for gold in various places.


Leighton and Victoria prepared a selection of pizza toppings and we set about making our own pizzas for dinner. Leighton, a Staff Sergeant in the NZ army, recently was awarded top instructor for the army and was also one of the three finalists for soldier of the army.


Friday 5 January: Sylvia

We were all up bright and early this morning, packed up, rooms cleaned and ready to go when the helicopter touched down just after 8am.

We had another stunning flight, up Edwardson Sound, then Dusky Sound, skimming over the mountains and up the South Arm of Lake Manapouri back to the helicopter pad at Te Anau Helicopter services. There were small patches of cloud so the navigation was critical but our pilot clearly knew his way around skilfully finding breaks in the cloud and small passes between the mountains that we could fly through. If anything it was even more spectacular than the flight in five days ago.

It was a bit sad to come back to reality and face the multitude of emails and messages that awaited us as we drove back to Queenstown, stopping briefly at a charming cafe in Mossburn for breakfast.

We said goodbye to the others and boarded our flight to Auckland and back to full on civilisation. We were certainly very lucky with the weather – it was cooler and wetter in Te Anau and Queenstown than in Fiordland and we are heading north into major storms. What a fantastic place to get away from it all and experience the history and nature of New Zealand. A huge thank you to Alister and Vanya for letting us use the lodge.

Barraco Lodge, Lake’s District, Patagonia

Sunday 24 December: Sylvia

We were woken in the night by the howling wind so it was no surprise that our helicopter transfer was again cancelled. After a more leisurely breakfast we headed back out with Catalina for the two hour drive to Puerto Natales where we met our driver for the ~2.5 hour transfer on to Punta Arenas for our flight to Puerto Montt. It was definitely sad to leave Catalina in Puerto Natales; we hope to see her in New Zealand sometime.

Our second driver spoke no English and my Spanish is very basic so it was fun trying to make ourselves understood. The landscape hasn’t changed much since we drove here four days ago but we did see a few pink flamingos in some of the lakes this time. Otherwise the trip was pretty uneventful.

We landed in Puerto Montt to another text message – yes, you guessed it! The weather is not our friend this trip and helicopter transfer cancelled again – this time I think it was visibility rather than wind but it meant another 2.5 hour road transfer. The best laid plans …

The drive was not overly pleasant, two and a half bone-jarring hours over rough, bumpy roads in a van with shot suspension. It was raining most of the way as we passed tree-line valleys and lakes with the odd tourist-looking lakeside town. Many of the buildings in this area are made predominantly of wooden shingles and have a somewhat olde-worldly feel. Unfortunately we couldn’t even take photos as the tinted windows in the vehicle didn’t wind down.

By the time we arrived at a jetty at the side of a lake I was starting to get a little concerned about where we were going to stay and the fact that there was no-one to pick us up didn’t make me feel any better. The vague response when I called the lodge didn’t help. Eventually a small dinghy showed up. Roger and I exchanged glances as they supplied us with ponchos, covered our bags and ushered us onto the dinghy. I probably was not very gracious to the friendly boatman who ferried us the five minutes across Lake Tagua Tagua, where we were met by a smiling gaucho with his bullock cart. My eleven hours of travelling grumps turned to giggles as we climbed on the back and the poor beasts hauled us up the very steep hill, egged on by the gaucho. At the top a warm welcome awaited, a roaring fire in our beautiful room and friendly, smiling staff.

After quickly unpacking and getting our wet weather gear out we wandered back to the main lodge area where they had prepared hot cocoa (with a dash of whiskey) and Christmas cake. This was followed by delicious crab claw appetisers and then dinner. Who knows what tomorrow will bring?


Monday 25 December 2017: Roger

We enjoyed a nice late start to the day with a great breakfast prepared by Maite and Carla.

Donning our warm gear we headed down the steep track to the lake edge where Boris and Alvaro had the jet boat waiting.

We headed up the choppy lake, the sprung seat bottoming and topping out as we bounced along.

Soon we reached the river mouth taking the left fork up the Rio Manso. In spite of being in flood and several meters higher than normal the water is a deep green colour. The area is surrounded by steep, bush covered hills.

There are a few dwellings along the way, all with a small boat or dinghy tied to the bank nearby. After thirty minutes or so we headed back, then turned up the Rio Puelo, also in flood. We wound our way upstream several kilometres, swerving to avoid the odd log. Boris pointed out where the nice beaches and swimming and fishing spots would normally be. On the way back we turned up a tributary known as Traitor River as it rises and falls rapidly, often trapping unsuspecting boats and horse trekkers.

Just below a large rocky area we turned back and stopped at a rather special farmhouse at around a hundred years old with an accompanying barn ~130 years old. We went ashore to be greeted by Carlos, the brother of Luisa, and her husband, Pepito, who live here. The only access is by boat, horse or foot. They run around 45 sheep (a couple had been eaten recently by a hungry roaming puma), 5 horses and 22-odd cows, which they milk daily by hand. They have a hydro-generator running but it won’t generate enough power to run a milking machine. They make cheese, butter, woollen shawls and other produce which they cart off periodically to sell. Pigs and friendly dogs roam around.

We were invited in for a brew which included mate, the local brew, which is passed around in a little silver urn, complete with straw. The wood stove in the kitchen was complete with a water heater surrounding the chimney. A large bucket of milk sat waiting for the rising cream to be skimmed off and turned into butter.

 

After a really great time with these friendly, hospitable folks we headed back down the river and lake to the awaiting bullocks where it was insisted we mount the cart to be hauled up the hill to our tranquil and more than comfortable accommodation.


Tuesday 26 December: Sylvia

We headed out with Alvaro after breakfast. Down the hill, across the lake in the dinghy to a small hut beside a large waterfall on the far shore of Lake Tagua Tagua where we started our hike up the valley. It was a fairly easy hike today, following a river up a valley. With the combination of snow melt and rain the river is high and we were accompanied by the constant thundering sound of water cascading down the valley. From time to time we got close enough to catch a glimpse of the torrent but most of the time we wound our way through bush that is not dissimilar to that in New Zealand. They even have silver ferns here.

There are a large number of flowers around – including one that I think looks a bit like a goldfish hanging from the branch.

After about 6.5km we came across a large patch of large boulders and just around a corner a hut opening onto a large lagoon filled with dead trees. Apparently a flood here many years ago washed a lot of boulders down, blocking the river and resulting in the lagoon. It was a stunning vista, complete with hammock, and a great spot to stop for lunch. About thirty minutes after we arrived a family from the UK, with four boys arrived. Like us they were thoroughly enjoying their time in Chile.

We headed off up the valley again and after about a km came across a log bridge with views towards a massive cascade. Around a corner the sign read “take a deep breath, you are entering pristine land”. With foresight Roger suggested it could just as well have said “take a deep breath, climb ahead” knowing we would have to wind our way up to the top of the falls. The path was very well done with ladder-type steps in all the steepest areas so it didn’t take us too long to reach the hut at Quetro Lagoon – the 10km mark, about 710m higher than where we had started. The hit again faced stunning views over a lake up into the mountains on either side.

The weather gods were finally smiling on us and Boris had arranged for us to take the cheats way back to Barraco Lodge. The Robinson 44 helo arrived not long after we did and we climbed aboard for the 10 minute flight back to where we had started about 4 hours earlier.

Barraco Lodge could best be described as a rustic hunting lodge. You have to be pretty comfortable with dead animal skins, antlers etc to stay here but the views are fantastic, the beds comfortable, the staff extremely friendly and the home-cooked food delicious. It is a very relaxing place to spend a few days. The three dogs here have been great – especially the young pup, Ono, who has taken a shine to Roger. Despite his gruff pretence it is clear that Roger quite likes animals and one of the dogs is quick to bring a stone for him to throw every time she sees us.

We had plenty of time to relax in the hot tub before Roger headed off around 7:30pm. He and Boris headed up the lake in the viper to stay at a friend of Boris’ place so they can get an early start boat hunting tomorrow.


Wednesday 27 December 2017: Roger

Arriving at Hajobino and Paulina’s house around 8.30pm last night we were greeted with the smell of the evening meal being prepared.  The house is new with some parts still to be completed. All the timber was was either harvested from their land or from logs that came down the river in floods.

Their son, David, Boris and I go and bring the sheep into a paddock close to an old shed for the sheep to take cover in should a roaming puma turn up during the night.

Paulina looks after their 120 sheep, some goats, cattle, pigs and chooks. Hajobino just goes fishing every day – lucky guy!! in all fairness he makes a living by taking tourists fishing. It’s all catch and release in these rivers where brown trout are often over 5kgs.

Paulina loves cooking and works away in the kitchen cooking on the wood fired Cross Industries stove with a big smile on her face. It is after 10 pm when Boris and I eat, the family eating after us as that is the custom here.

We are up at 4.30am, Paulina serving us coffee. Just after 5 we are on Hajobinas boat heading downriver. We pull into a bank and creep softly ashore. The river flats are made up of fields separated by patches of bush and scrub. As we stalk quietly across the third field Boris spots a bunch of pigs in amongst the cattle. As we moved around behind some bush to get in a position so as not to endanger the cattle the little buggers outsmarted us and disappeared.

Ten kilimemiters later we were back at the boat with no pigs but having seen some stunning scenery.

Back at the house Paulina had prepared a lovely breakfast which we enjoyed before heading of on another hunt, this time with Don Tite, Hojobina’s father’s, who lives just up the river, and two dogs who’s mission was to locate the pigs in the bush and chase them out towards us.

Another ten kilometer hunt and not a pig to be seen, however Boris did head shoot a hare at about 40m with his .22 Magnum. Back at the house I skinned and gutted it for them. The skin was kept for Hojobino to make fishing flys with.

While we were out Paulina had again being busy at the stove and a exquisite lunch was awaiting us when we returned. This was followed by a nap and at 5pm we were back on the river, this time with 4 dogs on board, heading back to where we had seen the pigs earlier. The dogs leapt into the water as we approached the shore.

Hajobino and Don Tite worked the dogs sending them into the trees and scrub while Boris and I waited on a mound. Not much happened for a while so Hajobine and Boris headed around the west end of the bush coming in from the other side. Soon the dogs sparked up making a hell of a racket as they chased a pig. Eventually a little porker came running out of the bush, a bit hard to see in the tall reeds. I took a bit of a sprint onto a mound and got a shot off just before he disappeared at full tit behind some scrub. At about 70 meters it had been a lucky shot as he didn’t come out the other side. Don Tite shook my hand and spoke excitedly in Spanish as we wandered over and inspected the prey.

Boris came back and joined us and soon the dogs sparked up again, this time at the west end of the bush. I moved down toward the noise and soon an adult sow came full tit out of the bush, dogs in pursuit. The first shot didn’t even slow it down. I got a second one off just as it was about to disappear behind some scrub and saw its leg go in the air as it somersaulted to its end. The Remington 308 Boris had loaned me had done the job well.

Soon Hojobino cane out of the bush carrying a porker the dogs had captured alive. Everyone is pleased as they have plenty of pork to serve at the coming festive New Years Eve.

Back at the house the big pig is hung from a tree and dressed and I get lots of pats on the back. It has been a great day out made even better by the hospitality extended to me by Hajobino and his family.

Arriving back at the lodge the tractor was waiting to cart the pig up the hill. I was actually allowed to walk up this time. The staff were gathered in the bar cooking pizza in the mud oven.


Thursday 28 December: Sylvia

Yesterday while Roger was out boar hunting I had a very quiet day, catching up on some emails and work, reading and generally enjoying the quiet and the pleasant views here. Today ended up being a similar day. With light drizzle most of the day and being due to fly home this evening we opted to again spend our time around the lodge.

Despite the drizzle Boris informed us that our helicopter transfer would still go ahead. Roger had rigged up a dryer over the fireplace to get all his wet hunting things dry and by the time the helicopter arrived just after lunch at 3pm we were all set to go. After a great start here at the lodge we were a bit disappointed with the lack of organisation over the last couple of days. The hunting was great for Roger but I didn’t really have anything to do yesterday and nothing organised again today. It may have been the weather but I think communications could have been clearer. Despite that we enjoyed our stay. Maite’s fantastic cooking and Carla’s warm personality more than made up for the short-comings.

The forty-five minute helicopter flight back to Puerto Montt was a significant improvement over the more than two-and-a-half hour drive to get there. Our pilot spoke limited English but good French and he and I managed a fairly good conversation all the way back. Despite a few wobbles from the wind it was a pleasant flight with great views over the river valley, fjord and lake we had passed on the way up. The fjord is clearly very productive with many fish and mussel farms evident. Colourful beehives for the landscape as we skim the tops of trees. We even caught a glimpse of the cloud-covered volcano that overlooks the largest lake in Chile.


Although I have been in helicopters several times it was my first time landing at an airport and I had a bit of a giggle to myself as we hovered along the runway and over the taxiway to get to our parking spot.

We are now waiting at the airport in Puerto Montt for our flight to Santiago and then on to Auckland.

Awasi Lodge, Torres del Paine, Patagonia

Tuesday 19 December 2017: Roger

Departing Auckland in the evening on a new LAN Airlines Boeing 797-900 we had a reasonably comfortable flight in their roomy, lie-flat business class seats. Landing in Santagio mid-afternoon on Tuesday we were met by a guide and a driver.

Kirstie, my youngest daughter, returned from here last Tuesday, she and her team mates having won a gold medal in the UCI track cycling World Cup team pursuit race.

As we drove the 30-odd minutes to the Hotel Luciano K the guide gave us a non stop run down on the town and surrounding areas. Situated in a basin about 120 km from the coast it is now dry and hot but not humid – the 31 degrees didn’t seem too uncomfortable. From September until March it rarely rains here. A number of severe earthquakes over the years have destroyed most of the old buildings so the architecture is quite bland; all modern buildings are built to withstand a 9 plus quake. After checking into the hotel with its colourful floors and antique concertina doors we took a stroll.

First stop was Santa Lucía, an old fort. The 69m Hill was first conquered by the Spanish in 1540 and used largely as a lookout. In 1816 a fort was built here with two castles, one facing north, the other south. With 12 guns each they gave the area good protection. It is now a nice park with lots of steep uneven steps.

It also hosted some good views over the city.

Next stop was the art gallery, which is in quite a unique building, similar in some ways to some old European railway stations.

We crossed the chocolate coloured Mapocho River, looking like one could dip a mug in, chuck it in the microwave and drink the steaming brew. A bit of research buggered that theory. It is only this colour when the river is low in the dry season: a combination of a couple of copper mines discharging waste directly and around 29% of the city’s raw sewerage being discharged directly into the river creates the colour.

Across the river there are lots of stalls and pretty basic large bars with the horrible smell of wacky backy drifting out from many of them. Graffiti in various forms lines the building walls.

Soon we came across a pretty little mall called Bella Vista full of nice shops and restaurants. We enjoyed a great fish meal at Puerto Bella Vista before returning to our hotel, the day over.


Wednesday 20 December: Sylvia

After a leisurely breakfast we were picked up and transferred to the airport for our three-hour-twenty-minute flight to Punta Arenas in the far south of Chile. Chile is the longest country in the world, bordered on one side by the Andes mountain range and on the other by the Pacific Ocean. At the bottom the country widens a bit. Apparently down south it was harder to determine the border with Argentina – further north the border is easily discernible: the Andes mountains. Down in the south the countries agreed to use rivers to define the borders. If a river flows into the Pacific all the land around it belongs to Chile, if it flows into the Atlantic then the land around it belongs to Argentina.

We landed in Punta Arenas in very high winds. I was not overly surprised, and in truth a little relieved, to receive an email on landing advising that the helicopter transfer we had arranged to our hotel had been cancelled due to weather and we would have to make the ~5-hour trip by car instead. The team from Awasi, the lodge we will be staying for the next four nights, had arranged the pick up, complete with a bagged lunch and even a little booklet pointing out some of the major sights along the way.

Our driver for the first leg to Puerto Natales picked us up and we headed off, driving past the rather rough looking Straits of Magellan and looking across at Tierra del Fuego. At a latitude of ~53’ we were a long way south and it was certainly much colder than the ~32’ we had experienced in Santiago. The first part of the journey was through very flat, vast open plains stretching to the horizon in all directions. Many of the stations we passed had cute little buildings at the end of their driveways – presumably for people to shelter in while waiting for the bus.

As we headed further north the ground developed a few more contours and we even came across some ‘forest’ – although here, as in Iceland, if you get lost in the forest all you need to do to find your way out is stand up. There are obviously strong prevailing winds here as the trees are all short, gnarled and bent over in the same direction.


We arrived at Puerto Natales and a lovely coffee shop where we were met by our driver for the last leg to Awasi. There was a great sculpture just outside the cafe that really captured our imagination.

As we headed towards Awasi we left the sealed roads behind and came across some stunning vistas with great massifs and lakes interspersed with wide valleys and rolling hills. The steppes are sparsely dotted with sheep, cows and horses – it can’t be particularly fertile land – as well as small groups of guanaco and nandu (lesser rhea). There were a lot of wild flowers and low shrubs and in some parts large swathes of lupins, similar to what I would see in the McKenzie country in New Zealand.


Awasi is nestled under a cliff with 14 chalets, each with magnificent views over the Torres del Paine National Park. On a good day you can see the towers the park is famous for, but all we could see on arrival was cloud.

We settled in and met Catalina, who will be our guide for the next three days. She explained a number of different excursion options and we settled on a few good walks before enjoying a magnificent meal in the restaurant and heading to bed. It had been a long day of travelling and we had agreed to a 5am departure in the morning to go looking for puma.


Thursday 21 December 2017: Roger

It is snowing heavily at 0500hrs as we board the Hylux. Catalina our guide is full of enthusiasm as we head down the hill into the plains. The early start is to allow us time to try and spot a puma on the way to our walk start point. We wind our way across the land taking a short cut through the Rio de las Chinas (Chinese woman’s river)

We stop at Bitter Lagoon scanning the surrounding hills for puma. Guanacos are looking relaxed grazing on the lush feed meaning there are no pumas near by.

A stop up the hill in the national park gave us a good view down the valley. A family of long-tailed meadowlarks picked their way through the grass. A scale-throated earthcreeper sat on a bush nearby. A rufous-tailed plantcutter snuggled into a bush.


Around 8am we parked up and began our stroll up the valley to visit the Torres del Paine, the three towers this park is famous for. Passing a hotel on the flats the track then wound its way up the side of a picturesque valley covered in part by miniature beech trees.

A bit over an hour into the journey we passed a campground with tents pitched on wooden platforms amongst the trees.

The track is a bit up and down as it makes its way up alongside the cold, ice-fed, boulder-filled stream. Rising about 400m over 10kms, then another 400m over the last km, the track zigzags up to the lake by the towers.

Arriving at the lake it’s snowing and a bit nippy. The towers are hidden in mist. Finding the best bit of shelter we could, we waited, hoping the mist would clear. Catalina produced hot lentil soup and vegetarian wraps while we waited.

After an hour of waiting, as the mist nearly cleared and then came back in several times, never fully revealing the towers, and with the temperature dropping, we headed back down the hill. Thirty or so minutes down the track we looked back up through the bush to see one of the towers the mist having cleared.

There were some good views up to the glaciers that seem to hang on the side of these hills.

A torrent duck sits by the stream as we cross on a swing bridge.

Bare patches of rock face revealed what looked like a multi-layered sponge cake, probably baked at a much higher temperature than the kitchen oven.

We pass a pack horse team heading up with provisions for the campground and its cafe. We have a good view  over the surrounding rolling countryside with its lakes and tarns as we head down to the last (max 2 persons) swing bridge.

It is as we approach the Hylux that we get the best views of the towers,

Back at Awasi Lodge we again get a view of the towers from our chalet. The lodge is made up of 14 roomy chalets, spread out amongst the trees, each with a view over the plains to the mountains.


A short stroll away is the dining hall, lounge and reception. We sit down for dinner and immediately a different waitress arrived at the table with two jugs; without asking she pours sparkling water for Sylvia and still for me. The service here is brilliant, the food amazing and the wine selection outstanding.

Marina the maitre’d, works here with her boyfriend of nine years, Enrico. They are both civil engineers by profession, originally from  Barcelona, but now working in lodges to see the world. They both worked in NZ,Narina as a Civil engineer for a roading company for a while. They also have a travel blog site: http://www.viajedemarinayenrique.blogspot.com


Friday 22 December: Sylvia

It was nice to have a later start this morning. We enjoyed breakfast in the restaurant and met Catalina at 9am. Today we had decided to head to Baguales, a large Estancia to the east of Awasi. The hour-and-a-half drive there took us through some stunning vistas and we stopped frequently to take photos. Large massifs appear randomly, breaking up the otherwise rolling countryside with their jagged peaks and crags. We also spotted some great wildlife including plenty of guanacos and nandus (lesser rheas) and even a grey fox. In several places condors soared overhead, rising on the thermals.

The drive took as through several Estancias and Roger stopped to explore an old wool shed. Once steam powered, it is now run on diesel.

Roger seemed to enjoy leaping in and out of the car to open the gates as we passed through the different stations – an opportunity to prove his manliness perhaps. Eventually we arrived at Baguales. This Estancia has provided exclusive access for Awasi guests and it was nice to have the opportunity to wander on our own without even any paths.

Having been fine and almost sunny during the drive, it started snowing as we headed out to explore the valley. We meandered along the river then slightly up onto the rolling hills, enjoying the many wild flowers and expansive views. Reaching turn-around time we spotted a large herd of guanaco and Roger was keen to get some great of photographs so split up to go around either side of them. They make a weird whistling sound when scared but we were able to get pretty close.

Arriving back at Awasi about 3pm we enjoyed our private hot tub, which had been heated up by fire while we were away. It was great to soak our muscles and warm up thoroughly – Roger took the opportunity also to enjoy a cigar and some chardonnay.

A massage each rounded out the afternoon before we met Catalina for drinks and dinner at 7:30pm. Catalina has been a fantastic guide, one of the best we have encountered anywhere. She trained as a speech therapist and then moved here with a friend. She is knowledgeable and friendly and we really enjoyed getting to know here even better over dinner.


Saturday 23 December 2017: Roger

At 7 am Catalina picks us up and we head across the plain passing the local Estancia (farm). The Gaucho (cowboy) has a large number of horses corralled in the yards. Like many farms worldwide they have branched out into the tourist world, this one specialising in horse riding and accommodation.

We again wind our way through the short cut heading to the lagoon hoping to spot a puma.

We see a group of people looking through a spotting scope. Pulling over we scan the distant hill and soon Catalina spots a puma, then two. They are about a 1km away. We drove back up the road and parked as the pumas headed down and crossed the road. Known as the Jackson Five, these boys hunt in a pack but are seldom seen. I was able to stand on the door sill and get a good view as the five of them crossed the road and disappeared into the black bush.

We arrived at Lake Pehoe just in time to catch the 9am ferry to the start of our stroll up Frenchman’s Valley.

Exiting the ferry we followed the track up the valley between two mountain ridges. The mountains on the east side are quite dramatic, revealing orange granite where the sides have slipped or been eroded away over millions of years.

The stroll was a little easier than Thursday’s, rising about 450m over 12 kilometres with only a short steep bit at the end. There is a camp site at the half way mark accessed by a rather rickety, one-person-at-a-time swing bridge.

Arriving at the top we hear loud, crashing bangs as ice carves from one of the many glassiers hanging on the hill. The wind is horrendous, gusting to a point it is hard to stand up. The views though are well worth the effort.

We headed another ten minutes up the track to a sheltered spot where Catalina produced tomato soup, wraps and brownies for lunch before we began the downward journey. We were about 15 minutes into the journey when we started passing other people from the ferry still heading up, Catalina has set a brisk but comfortable pace on the way up as she does on the way down.

Arriving back at the Refugio Paine Grande where we had left the boat, we enjoyed a beer, coffee for me, and hot chocolate for the girls, while we waited for the ferry for the return journey.

There are a variety of interesting but simple plant names in this part of the world; black bush, blue bush, fire bush. There seems to be only one bush with thorns and yellow flowers but it’s not called thorny or yellow bush but mother-in-law bush!! I can’t quite figure that one out.

As we passed the estancia on the way back to Awasi, the gauchos were letting the hundred or so horses back out to pasture for the night.

Hong Kong is not all Apartments

Wednesday 27 November 2017

We had arrived late last night and are staying at the East Hotel on the northeast side of the island, close to the Royal Canin office. Upgraded to a corner room we had a great view over the thousands of appartments in front of the hotel and across the harbour to Kowloon.

Last time I was here a long time friend of mine, who works at the local sports institute, had told me there are some good walks on the island. Heading up Mt Parker Rd I was surprised by the number of picnic spots and rest areas, most with good views back over the city.

About 20 minutes up the hill I came to a sign pointing up some steps tp Mt Butler. Some 500 reasonably steep steps later I was standing on top and taken aback by both the view and the amount of bush that extended out from here.

Interestingly Hong kong has the highst population density in the world at over 16,000 people per square kilometre. Apparently if the whole world’s population lived in this density the total population could all fit into Egypt; that would be interesting. With only a third of the country urbanised it leaves room for some big parks. From Mt Butler it looks like the population is tucked mostly into the bays around the island apart from one rather large block of apartments stacked up in a saddle.

As I was admiring the view a very energetic Swiss lady came bounding onto the summit from the other direction; it turned out she lived here and knew her way around. She suggested I might like to head over to the apartments in the saddle (Hong Kong Park View) along Wilson’s trail, over Violet hill and down to Repulse Bay, then get a bus back from there or walk down past the reservoirs and back up over the hill. I set off on what were mostly pretty good tracks, most of the steps in the early part – and there were lots of them – made of concrete. Heading down towards Repulse Bay they are all stone with a concrete water channel on one side. Reaching the bottom there is a large concrete drain running towards the reservoirs. Still having a bit of energy left I headed north along the east side of the reservoir. The track was more like a stream bed for a start but worked out okay after a while with good views up into the bush.

The reservoirs are well set up with the two upper ones feeding the lower one. They get massive rains here so I am sure they fill up pretty quick. From the reservoirs I got back onto the other end of Mt Parker Road which took me back over the hill and then to the hotel, passing  one strange looking double decker tram – something I had not seen before.

Pat came and caught up with us later that evening for a couple of drinks before we headed out to Mr and Mr Fox, a rather nice local restaurant for a rather tasty steak. Tomorrow we head back to Singapore for a few days.