Friday, 28 November 2008

Singing Tom's song

“I’m learning to fly but I haven’t got wings and coming down is the hardest thing!”

Well, that’s not strictly true…landing is easy…but landing softly on your feet and where you want to is another matter entirely.

It all started at around 6pm on Tuesday the 18th standing outside Adam Hill’s Frontiers Paragliding shop in the lakeside area of Pokhara having a pre course briefing.

There were 6 people on the course; me, my mate Bryan who had arrived that day from slough via Bahrain. Ricky a hyper active 25 year old media sales rep from Dartford, the couple Greg and Laura (Laura made the mistake on day 2 by saying to the rest of the group that she was quite gullible…Doh!!!!) and Francesca a “silver haired” youngster from Sussex. So not only where we all English but we all came from the south east of the country, so decent folk one and all!

The next day everyone was at the shop at 9am, which meant we were all on time and according to Adam that was a 1st. The next thing to do was fit heads and arses to helmets and harnesses. When all that was sorted out it was time to clamber onto the jeep for a quick blast across town to the training site, passing the Himalayan golf course on the way. The jeep parked on a small sliver of land 100 metres or so above the river Seti. From there it was a 5 minute walk down a dirt track to a small flattish piece of grass covered land where we would be spending the day.
Without getting too technical a paraglider is a big kite you hang under. The wing needs to be inflated via a series of interconnected ram air scoops which is achieved by air passing over the wing, inflating it and creating a low pressure on the top of the wing surface thus providing lift. When you are on the ground this means running forwards at speed. So yes, I spent the day running down the slope!!! Getting the wing into the air was in reality quite easy, keeping it in the air and under control was tricky. Keeping it in the air and under control whilst running down hill was trickier still. It turns out that the ditch was a nice place to lie in after tumbling through the low lying and prickly shrubbery when it all went “Pete tong”

On the Thursday morning we all went for a tandem flight from Sarangkot. Unlike my previous tandem flight this one was more educational. The instructor showed me what a wing was capable of doing and still being able to fly, which was nice and somewhat reassuring. In the afternoon we were back at the training site, this time round the corner at a slightly steeper slope. Because the slope was steeper it meant the wing came up quicker, so you had to react quicker and you still needed to be running downhill (which was steeper) all the time looking up at the wing and responding to what it was doing. Braking left and running right, braking right and running left, braking with both hands to stop the wing flying past you and dragging you along the ground…lucky for me I can roll quite well!

The 3rd day was the day when the reality of what we were doing came up and bit us all on the arse. It was time to go to the “training hill”. The launch site was 150 metres vertically up the side of a steep and imposing hill overlooking a wide flat landscape of freshly harvested paddy fields. The walk up the steep and narrow path was to be honest knackering. Help was on hand to carry the paraglider in the form of 9 and 10 year old boys. Who says child labour is a bad thing!!!
Standing on the slope with a paraglider laid out behind me ready for take off filled me with some apprehension. Looking down the hill and at the paddy fields below wasn’t the best thing to do. Having my inner voice screaming at me for being such a bloody idiot wasn’t much help in calming my already on edge nerves. However, looking only at Adam and not what was behind him made it possible. On the count of three Adam spoke the words “towards me Drew” and as I ran towards him the wing lifted up, I ran past Adam leaning forwards with my arms behind me like some kind of 3rd rate overweight unemployed superhero and approached the point of no return…and as my feet left the ground, something happened, something magnificent; a certain kind of bliss washed over me and within 2 seconds I was calm and my inner self was smiling. All I had to do now was crash…sorry I mean land…Argh!!!!!!

Question: what’s the difference between a paddy field and a normal field like you have in England?
Answer: about every 10 metres or so there is a little foot high mud wall or embankment which is there to keep the water in when the rice is growing.

Can you guess what happened? Yep that‘s right! I came into land just before a paddy wall and as the speed of the still buoyant glider needed to be ran off I did so…only my trailing leg got caught on the back of the wall………it was the 1st time I landed and then immediately went into a “judo roll”, it certainly won’t be the last!!!!

As the day progressed so did the students. Each glide down took around 2 or 3 minutes. This was enough time to practise “S turns” or 180’s and landing approaches. Once on the ground we all could practise the packing up of the glider or for 20 rupees have 2 young children do it for you. I think you can guess which option I went with most of the time! When that was all done it was time to walk back up the steep mountain track and do it all over again. The following day we returned to the same place and carried on with getting better with are take offs and landings.

On the 5th day of the course we all got just a little bit higher, about 650 metres higher as we changed locations and started to take off from a launch site a mile or so down the ridge from sarangkot. The road to sarangkot village is the same one I biked up before only this time standing on the tailgate of the jeep it was just the views that were taking my breath away. Once we ran out of tarmac it all got a little bit dusty. Actually that’s a bit far from the truth, it got very dusty (if you ever come here try and get a seat in the cab!). Sitting in the pickup section I wondered how the thin metal sheet roof had got all those little bumps in it. A few minutes later I was rubbing the top of my head and I had the answer…ouch!

Arriving at the stop off point we all climbed out of the jeep to be met by several very keen looking locals. I avoided the scramble for the bags by standing to one side and trying to get all the dust of me. Once those lucky enough to have bags started walking we followed them up the mountain path. 20 minutes later I was sitting semi collapsed at the launch site. This site is about 50m below the ridge line and on a good day (which is everyday!) you can see for miles. Looking down you could see the world’s biggest landing zone in the valley 800m below.

Now we were really paragliding and for the rest of the course we would be launching from here twice a day. On the 1st day the flights lasted for 10 to 15 minutes. This gave Adam plenty of time to get us doing drills on the glide down.

a) Pitch control: basically you make yourself swing forwards and backwards and then come to a controlled stop directly underneath the canopy.
b) Roll control: by braking left then right several times in quick succession the glider rolls left and right whilst you get shaken about till it calms itself down.
c) Weight shift steering: you grab hold of the harness and lean back and then tilt your body left or right depending on the direction you wish to turn towards.
D)”d” riser steering: this is what you do if your brake line fails.
e) 360 turns: this is a tight turn 1st one way then the next and when you stop turning you need to control the pitch of the wing.
f) Big ears: this is when you collapse the wing at each end by pulling on the single line “A” riser thus reducing your lift and airspeed.

All of these exercises were helping us all to build up our confidence in not only what the wing was capable of doing (without spinning out of control and crashing into the ground) but also getting us all used to how a paraglider flies through the air.

The flight plan was he same everyday. Launch then head towards the school across a small thermal area, then turn to the right and follow the gully down the side of the mountain passing over a second thermal area before ending up soaring up and down on a small ridge before heading over to the landing zone. For the 1st few days we were launching before the thermals became to strong, so as we passed over the thermal sites it was a bumpy ride. The glider would roll and pitch just like when we did it during the drills, so this time we all knew what to expect and more importantly what to do.
The last two days we were taking off when the thermals were a little bit stronger. On afternoon flight my mate Bryan became the object of envy as his flight coincided with “magic air”. This is when the valley releases all of its thermic energy in one huge valley wide thermal. The bastard just kept going up whilst floating in a straight line across the valley. In a few minutes he was 500 metres higher!
When we took of Adam was there to instruct us during the take off and whilst we were flying. For landing, Graham was on the ground to guide us in. The way we 1st learnt to land was the “S turn” approach. You flew downwind and perpendicular of the landing zone, making a series of “S” or 180 degree turns to lose height before making a 90 degree turn and gliding into land. On one of my flights Graham was talking me down; I had just done my final S turn and was waiting for Graham to tell me when to make my final 90 degree turn to the right. Imagine my surprise when he told me to make a 90 degree turn to the left. After a short pause for thought I raised my right arm up and pointed to the landing zone. Graham quickly got back on the radio and said “yes that’s right drew make a 90 degree turn to the right”. By the next day all of the other instructors and tandem pilots had heard about it on the grapevine and he got the ribbing he deserved.

The morning flight on the last day was my best one of the course. Soon after launch I hit a small thermal and Adam guided me in. I climbed up past the take off point and carried on till I was higher than the ridge. Coming out of the thermal I looked north over the ridge and saw the snow covered peaks of the Himalayas in the distance…it was glorious!!!

So there you go, 9 days to learn how to paraglide. My longest flight was around the 25 minute mark and I got over an hour and a half of air time. If you were to learn to paraglide in the UK it would take you several months and your flight time would be measured in minutes.
Frontiers paragliding: all the people at this outfit are top banana. Adam is a very skilled instructor who teaches you in a way that makes the rapid progression from walking to flying a non scary experience. If after reading this you’re maybe thinking about learning to fly yourself then frontiers paragliding gets my seal of approval and complete recommendation.

Check out the website for yourself

This afternoon the 6 of us went rafting. What happened on the river stays on the river…ALRIGHT!!!!!

p.s: Graham now knows how to tell his left from right, we are all very happy for him.

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

this is what happens when i get too lazy!

I’ve been hanging out in Pokhara for a while now; it’s a lot busier than when I first arrived! Mind you I am still being tracked down the road by the “Tibetan Ladies Mafia” who for some reason still want to sell me jewellery.
When I’m in the bar of an evening you can tell which group of people have come back from trekking and which have yet to go, just by the look of relief and sense of achievement that is on one set of faces

For the last week I have done absolutely nothing at all. Well unless you count lounging and sleeping as something, which I don’t. So it was time for some punishment!!! Definitely cruel but not that unusual

In the morning I got on my bike and started cycling uphill (which is pretty much all you can do from Pokhara) heading along the road to the Sarangkot turn off. Sarangkot is a place I’ve been to once before, it’s where the paragliders take off from and overlooks the lake and the town several hundred metres below. As such I knew how steep the road was and yet I still turned left when I came to the turn off!

I would like to say that I didn’t start off in the lowest gear possible but if I did that I really would be lying. It’s about a 10k ride to the not quite top, but it’s where the road stops so that was good enough for me!

Oh dear oh dear oh dear….you can spilt the ascent into thirds. The 1st third was quite frankly steep. Lots of little switchback hairpins, each one just a little bit steeper than the last. In between each one was a stretch of road that just went up. A couple of times the road flatten out to an easy 12% incline but most of the time it hovered around the 15%-18% mark.
The 2nd third was just a long crawl with sweeping bends that tighten up on the apexes. Passing along tree shaded tarmac with glimpses of snow covered mountains and fast flowing glacial rivers beyond the bark. As the ascent got higher the road got steeper. Coming round one bend I looked up and thought to myself “this has got to be a 1 in 4” which I believe is 25% in the decimal way of thinking. Personally all I was really thinking was “f##k me” as I lifted my sorry arse out of the saddle and pushed the peddle downwards. I have to admit I did stop a few times, just to let my heart rate get back below 130 beats per minutes and make apologies to my legs before continuing.
The last third…well that was easy (ish). By now my legs had warmed up. For some reason it takes my legs about an hour to get up to “racing” speed, which is a really annoying sometimes…like today for instance! Around one corner, oh joy of joys, the road went downhill for a few hundred metres. However joy quickly turned to pain as once again the road continued its relentless uphill journey. The final kilometre was a tale of two halves with the final 500 metres definitely making up for the relatively flat 1st 500 metres.

When the tarmac gave way to dirt I stopped, my head drooped and the sweat dripped of the end of my nose.

Easing myself of the bike I got a cool drink from the nearby shop. The shopkeeper chatted away and then asked if it had taken me 20 or 30 minutes to get here. I replied 20 minutes but only if you add an extra 60! Bloody cheek!!!!

Once refreshed it was time to get back on the bike, sing the uphill song* and descend. 10k of downhill fun and frivolity followed and as I passed the half way mark I started to brake earlier and earlier as my brake pads got hot and started to fade big time. Near the end I was pretty much braking all the time just trying to slow down enough for the multitude of hairpin bends which nestled on the edge of large life changing drops.

Yes I know I could have stopped and let the pads cool down but where’s the fun in that!

The uphill song

This is why I go uphill, go uphill, go uphill
This is why I go uphill, to go down again
Going down again, I’m going down again
This is why I go uphill to go down again

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

flat life

I’ve been hanging out in Pokhara for just over 3 weeks now. I have become used to the almost daily power cuts but when they happen just before the start of the championship deciding motogp race it can be frustrating! On the “Brightside” all the bars have generators…now that is what I call a good excuse for going down the pub!
There are 3 or 4 main pubs here and I have gravitated towards the Busy Bee. The bar is just the right height for my elbow! For watching football the Amsterdam bar is the best choice. I did go to the blues bar on a couple of occasions. However when a Kenny G track came over the sound system I knew then that they had lost my custom and that I would never return.

The apartment I’ve rented is relaxing and mostly quiet. The dog next door took an instant dislike to me but after showing it my Dog Behaviour Correction Baton or DBCB as I call it, it ran straight back into it’s yard and I’ve yet to see it again.

The Paragliding course starts in about 4-5 weeks and to help fill the days and to try and restore some lost fitness I have brought myself a mountain bike. This being Himalayan country the roads aren’t what you would call flat. Luckily I love going uphill!!!

There are 4 roads out of Pokhara:

1) North to Baglung
2) South to Tansen
3) East to Kathmandu
4) West along the northern shore of the lake

With the exception of number 4 they all involve at least one serious climb. The main road to Kathmandu is probably the easiest but it is also the busiest as well and best avoided.

Today I went south and after 90 minutes of uphill mostly 1st gear peddling I reached the top. The blast back down the mountain was cool. I love overtaking motorbikes on the tight corners and holding up the buses on the straight sections. The bike is okay, well after fixing it twice in 2 days (and it was brand new!) but it is not the trike!
One point that proves this fact is my sore arse!

Dogs in Nepal aren’t a problem when you’re peddling along the road…here buffalos are the main cause for concern!

Once my friend Brian read the email I had sent him I knew that he would be booking some time off work and joining me in learning to paraglide. He’s turning up a few days before the course starts! I feel that by then listening to cover bands every time I go to the bar will have lost some of its original appeal. If I can leave Pokhara early next year and am still able to listen to Radiohead’s Creep without flinching I will be more than happy!

What else….

Firstly things that are bugging me (a little bit)

• The supermarkets sell pasta but yet they don’t sell pesto!!!!
• At 1st not having a fridge was annoying
• Even after 3 weeks the drug dealers are still whispering at me when I go by
• There is no lettuce in Nepal…how the hell can I have a decent salad
• I’ve officially given up trying to find a cafeteria

Things that are making me smile

• The fact that I haven’t had to go to work for over 18 months
• My ability to be the “mother of invention”. Just by using two plastic bottles and a sharp knife I have created a perfectly good coffee maker!
• The monsoon season is over…finally!!!!!!!!!!!!!
• Seeing snow covered mountains peaks when I walk down the main street
• Topping up my suntan

Damn…I have a hard life!

Saturday, 13 September 2008

hanging out by the lake

The sky is blue, the sun is out, it’s warm and I don’t have anything to do! Welcome to the lakeside town of Pokhara. I’ve been here a few days and until yesterday morning I haven’t done much of anything…

The town itself is large but the tourist bit is small. This is nice because it doesn’t take long to get to all the restaurants and bars. The main draws of the place are the mountains and lakes and the fact that it’s the jumping off point for trekking into the Himalayas.

Yesterday (Tuesday) I actually got off my fat arse and went for a walk but it started out by me sitting down. The small boat glided across the calm waters of Phewa Tal heading to the other side of the lake where the trail to the peace pagoda started, which is perched high up on a mountain ridge. After an hour’s walk up moss covered steps I made it to the top, little bit hot, slightly sweaty and with a right hip that was starting to ache (am i falling apart?). The views were 360 fabulous and through gaps in the clouds I saw huge snow covered mountains looming large whilst still being 60 miles away.

Chilling out in the nearby café, a local pissed up alcoholic kept me amused with his rantings. Even though it was in Nepalese I understood every word!

Fully rested I took a different and longer path along the ridge, down the mountain and into a valley. Many steps and a few hours later I was strolling through paddy fields and by now my right hip had the company of my left knee in whinging…honestly I really am falling apart!!!

The main tourist season doesn’t start till October and as such it’s not hard getting a table in any of the numerous restaurants or bars. However, as it is only a few weeks away the local police are reminding all the bar owners that the local bribe season starts at the same time. The bar I was in tonight was told to shut at 10pm by the police, the night before it stayed open past 1am.

Thursday: today I did something new again! I ran down the side of a mountain and soared into the air on a tandem paraglider like an eagle. For the next 90 minutes I rose high into the sky on the billowing thermals as beneath my dangling feet 100s of metres below me was the very solid looking ground. Do you know what…I loved it!

In fact, I enjoyed it so much that the next day I signed on to do a 10 day paragliding course. As the course doesn’t start till mid November ( currently all the training take off and landing sites are being used to grow rice which they don’t harvest till then) I still have plenty of time to do nothing. Of course, once I am a fully trained paraglider pilot I’ll be spending December and January flying. So here’s the plan…I am able to stay in Nepal till I’m at least 39 years of age so it looks like I am over wintering here in Pokhara. This could become a theme in my travels; I mean everyone needs a break from the day job! I have already looked at one flat which I can rent for less than £30 a week. It’s a two bed apartment, so if anyone needs a holiday

Saturday, 6 September 2008

On the way to Pokhara

It takes several long hours by bus to travel from Kathmandu to Pokhara. If you’re like me and you have time on your hands it can take several days. There are a couple of places I want to visit on the way, the 1st being the village of Gorkha.

The bus took a leisurely 6 hours to reach Gorkha along the way I saw:

• One lorry that hadn’t gone around the bend but instead carried straight on, through the wall and down the side of the mountain.
• A lorry that was lying on its side in the middle of the river (and I have no idea how it managed to end up there).
• A bus (just like the one that I was on) and a lorry that had played a game of chicken which had resulted in a draw.
• A near head on collision with a car overtaking a lorry on a bend. Luckily our bus driver was able to stop just in time!

Oh, I also did see some amazingly beautiful scenery as well.

Scary thought number 749: just because a Nepalese bus driver thinks he is Lewis Hamilton doesn’t mean he needs to have slick tyres on his bus!

The village of Gorkha lies about 1000m above sea level on the side of a mountain ridge. On top of the ridge is the Gorkha Durbar. This place is a temple, fort and palace all rolled into one. There are two ways to reach the entrance:

1. Arrive by helicopter.
2. Walk up the 1500 steps.

Not having access to a helicopter or a pilot it looks like I’ll be walking up there tomorrow morning.

In the evening there was a village wide power cut that lasted for several hours. Having a meal by candle light can be romantic, if however you are by yourself in a restaurant of questionable hygiene it’s not!

The next morning I was up early (thank you very much resident hotel cockerel) and after a cold shower I was very wide awake. Walking through the oldest part of the village I reached the 1st of many many many steps. Because it’s still the monsoon season (although it’s only rained the once since I have been here in Nepal) there are still lots of clouds floating in the sky or in this case floating in the valley below me. It takes the sun a few hours to burn of the low level cloud, so as I was walking up the views across the valley were mostly of clouds…they were still glorious mind you.

Finally…...I reached the western gate to the palace/temple complex. According to the guide book photography is a big No No, well that’s no longer the case …which is nice! The temple structure is of Newari construction and is dedicated to Kali. That explains all the goats and chickens then! Yep, that’s right, animal sacrifice is alive and well (and then quite dead). Once a year a shed load of buffalo (quite literally) takes the long walk up the mountain but they don’t get to walk down again. Could be worse, they still could be doing human sacrifice!

By now the lowest clouds had disappeared and the views across the valleys opened up. Top place, top views!

The walk down was via another set of steps, mostly covered in moss, lichen and algae. So the pace was slow and careful with the occasional frantic arm waving that you do when you’re slipping.

The 2nd place to visit before I reach Pokhara is the mountain top village of Bandipur, straddling a ridge high 1200 metres above the valley town of Dumre.

The bus from Gorkha went as far as Dumre and from there it was an 8km ride in the back of an overcrowded jeep going up a very steep and narrow mountain road. Jumping out of the jeep it was a short walk down to the main street and the 1st guest house I saw. The guest house is compact but charming and for £2 a night I have a bedroom that looks out over a valley and all I can see when lying down on the bed are mountains and clouds. This is the 1st time in the Indian sub continent that I have come across a village as picturesque as this (imagine a small seaside Dorset village but without the sea and on top of a mountain instead).

I arrived at midday and I’ve yet to leave the hotel. I’m just enjoying the afternoon sun, the fresh mountain air, the complete lack of internal combustion engines and just watching the people go by. After all I have days to wander around, so where’s the rush.

During the afternoon I was reading a book by the Dalai Lama that I had brought somewhere in India. One of the chapter headings was “life as a free and fortunate human being”…now that’s a damn fine title for a travel blog book!

I get the feeling that this village is very typical Nepalese; a sign on the bedroom door states that if you are staying out after 10:30 in the evening you will be locked out!

Come the evening… I’m still sitting at the table where I have spent the afternoon, with the food ordered, the candle lit (in case of a power cut) and the beer cap popped its time to kick back and relax some more…and as the light starts to fade the stars come out!

The following day I was, like the locals, up at dawn. After a restful night under a warm blanket I had the refreshment only a cold shower can bring to look forward to. Well that and a huge pot of black coffee. Sitting outside sipping the sweat black nectar of life I watched contemplatively as the mountain mists made their way down the main street slowly swirling around the buildings.

Time for a little bit of history:

Bandipur was an important staging post on one of the main Tibet to India trade routes. The village grew rich and the merchants built fine 3 or 4 storey houses. Along the main bazaar each house had a shop on the ground floor with living quarters above on the various other floors. Only the finest bricks and wood were used the latter carved exquisitely and enhanced with fine detailed lattice work. The tracks, once compacted dirt, were covered with flagstones throughout the village and several small but impressive temples were also constructed. Good times don’t last forever and as roads replaced the tracks the merchants moved out and relocated to the new towns springing up along the roads. Bandipur lost her importance and as the wealth drained away it became just a poor little village on a mountain ridge. Due to the poverty people had to make do with what they had, that included the houses. So now, a few hundred years later the village has become a well preserved example of Newari village life, with authentic and mostly unaltered infrastructure.

There are only a few guesthouses and hotels here and a local village organisation takes a softly softly approach to the tourist trade, doing their best to keep village life the way its always been and trying to minimise the damage that overcrowding with tourist would do if left unchecked and ill informed. The people still seem to view, to some small degree, westerners with naked curiosity and novelty. So please come here because this place is astonishingly beautiful but just don’t all turn up at once okay!

In the morning I took a long and leisurely stroll around the houses and lanes of the village, with my camera in hand. In the afternoon, obviously after my siesta I went up to the old parade ground. It’s the largest piece of flat land in the area and was once used as a seasonal market place and archery tournament place thingy. On one side are 5 large and ancient fig trees said to represent five of the Hindu gods. At the far end are views across the valleys so I came back here for sunset and even more photos. In the evening on the way back to the centre of the village I saw a young kid about knee high struggling with a basket of firewood. Always the gentleman I offered to carry it for her, she was more than happy to allow me to do this but every time she saw a local she grabbed it off me and put it back on her back. When we came into view of her mother, standing on the doorstep of the house nothing in heaven or residing in the depths of hell would have been able to get her to release that grip on the basket. So for the last 50 metres I sat down and watched her stagger under the weight of the wood till triumphantly she crossed over the threshold of her abode. This just proves once again that a woman whatever her age is stronger and more determined than any man!

On the Wednesday, once again I was awake before dawn, lying in bed gazing out through the open window, watching the shadows retreat across the mountains as the golden light of yet another beautiful day marched across the horizon. Sitting outside by 05:30 I watched as up and down the bazaar people from each of the properties came out and started sweeping the paving slabs in front of them.
When I was half way into my large pot of coffee it started to rain. Damn, there went my plan for a days walking. Instead I spent the morning looking at over 400 photos picking out the best ones to upload at a later date. After lunch, several hours of sunshine had passed since the early morning downpour. By now I felt that the mud and stone steps would have dried out enough to attempt the Bandipur trail down the mountain…I was almost right!

The trail down is long passed its heyday but it is still in quite good condition. It was easy to imagine it full of traders, mules and yaks laden down with silks, carpets and other precious goods making their way slowly to India from Tibet. As always I was taking it easy and in several places taking little baby steps across some of the more slippery rocks and shiny compacted mud. Several times the vistas forced me to stop, sit down and contemplate the wonders of nature. As the mountain gave way to the valley slopes I came across a scene that I hadn’t seen since Iran. The unpolluted water course was a small mountain stream; crystal clear waters flowed over smooth rocks and pebbles, cascading down several small but abrupt changes in altitude. The fresh waters of the stream cooled my head and after a short while of repeating the mantra “damn I have a hard life” I continued into the town of Dumre where awaited transport back up the mountain to Bandipur.

Today is Thursday (I think) and I’m planning to leave tomorrow morning but only if my laundry is ready. This meant I only had one day left in Bandipur…maybe!

As it looked like being a nice day I thought a relaxing early morning stroll would suit my mood. I was walking along a dirt road just outside the village when a cheeky looking path caught my eye…as I strolled along it I came to the conclusion that it was a path less travelled and I was the 1st one that day to do so. How did I know this? Well all those big spiders, which are the size of a Marlboro fag packet, had weaved their webs across the path. At one point as I was watching my footing I walked right through one. Cue very loud girly screaming!!! The path snaked around the trees and along the contour lines before disappearing down the mountainside…as did I! An hour or so of very careful walking I appeared somewhere on the valley floor. Before me lay a patchwork of paddy fields, all of them differing in size and height from the ones next to them. Walking along the narrow field boundary walls (sometimes with a drop of several feet only an inch away) I was taking a roundabout route of moving in a certain heading whilst all the while the sound of tinkling water was in my ears as it flowed from field to field. Eventually I came to a shallow but swift flowing stream and once my shoes and socks were off I waded along it for a few hundred metres till a large waterfall checked my progress.

Helpful travel advice number 973: a lit cigarette is a good way to convince a blood sucking leech that dinnertime is over!

Once back on dry(ish) land I carried along what I thought was a goat path. Turns out it was actually a water buffalo path and I was in their way. Soon after that comically melodramatic episode I was back on a dirt road! I passed through a small hamlet where the local “all male heterosexual dance club” were having their lunchtime session. The track started to climb its way up the mountainside as I made my excuses to the club and left the hamlet.

It had been about 4.5 hours since I had started my “relaxing early morning stroll” and I was thinking that maybe it would have been a good idea to bring along some water. As I have had prior experience of dehydration and heatstroke (see a certain Italian blog) I knew that I still had a few hours to go before I would need to worry about it…but damn it was hot and I was thirsty!

90 minutes later I strolled tired but happy back into the village of Bandipur….

…when I finally left the village three things happened. One was cool, one was of great mental relief and the 3rd was annoying.

Cool: the owner of the guest house asked me if he could have copies of the pictures I had taken during my stay. When I was paying my bill I saw that he had already made one of them his pc desktop background.

Mental relief: for the last three days I had been trying to remember a word and failing miserably. Each day the level of my frustration climbed to new heights. When I was on the bus going down the hill to Dumre it came to me….business at the front, party at the back….it’s a Mullet!!!!

Annoying: when I got the bus to Pokhara I was scammed by a “helpful” local and ended up paying twice the amount I should of. I lost £2 so it wasn’t about the money!!!

Saturday, 30 August 2008


The flight from sweaty Varanasi was short but sweet. It was a case of climb up to 35000 feet count to 30 and then descend. Taxing to a standstill the pilot informed the self loading luggage that it was 28oc outside. Now, that’s as hot as London usually gets but for me it was nice and cool.
Getting the visa was the most enjoyable visa getting experience I’ve ever had. Usually when you get a visa (on arrival or before departure) there is always the thought at the back of your mind that they will say no. Plus you always get looked at like they’re the headmaster and you’ve been a very naughty 10 year old. At Kathmandu airport the lady looked a little surprised when I asked what the longest visa available was.
“90 days” was the answer “but it will cost you $100” she said.
“Sweet” was my reply as I slapped down a crisp $100 bill onto the counter.
I get the feeling that most people don’t plan on staying that long.

I got a free taxi to the hotel (always haggle with a smile on your face and lie about wanting to go some place else) and for NR400 I’ve got a nice quiet room on the 1st floor at the Hotel Encounter Nepal (this works out to be £3.20). They have even put a couple of pigeons near my open window to remind me of my life back in London, now that’s what I call attention to detail!

In the evening, finally over the illness that would of left a lesser man at death’s door I had a couple of Everest beers and some damn fine pasta with a proper cheese sauce!!!!


Adjacent to the hotel is a small Tibetan temple. At around 06:30 cymbals and drums were crashed and banged in that distinctly Tibetan way. I couldn’t decide which was a better way to wake up, this, or hearing an Imam calling the faithful to prayer.
Following a super hot shower (it’s been a while since I had one of those) I took my legs of the leash and went for a bimble. After about half an hour of walking I came to the following conclusions about Kathmandu:

1. Its cleaner than anywhere I’ve been in India
2. People don’t loudly clear their throats and then gob the results onto the pavement
3. It doesn’t have the smell of an open sewer
4. The drug dealers are pussies

I’m staying in the Thamel area of the city, it’s the main gringo hangout, full of cheap hotels, souvenir shops, travel and trekking agencies, shops selling all the trekking gear you would need, restaurants and bars. Now the city of Kathmandu lies in the Kathmandu valley and as with most valleys it’s surrounded by mountains. That means that there is pretty much no where for the air pollution to go. Still I’ve walked in worse, LA, Mexico City and Beijing spring to mind. Being a smoker my lungs are used to dealing with airborne
carcinogenic particles, so gave it no further thought.

My room has cable tv; this meant that I was able to watch the Moto GP, most of Everton v Portsmouth and all of Chelsea v Tottenham. I think you can work out where I spent the afternoon and early evening.

I am still uming and erring about doing a multi day trek. Part of me (90%) would love to spend 7 to 21 days wandering in the Himalayas miles from the nearest road. The depressingly sensible part of me (10%) keeps reminding me that its been 2 years since my hip last popped out and the next time is well overdue…and don’t even get me started on my knees!

Things that I have learnt on my travels number 184: a Momo, which is a Nepalese dumpling isn’t what I expected.

As it’s my 1st night in the city I went on a mini pub crawl. I started in the “Irish pub” which as everyone knows is always crap! (Sorry Elaine) After a beer and some momos I crossed the road and entered Sam’s bar. I’ve finally come to the conclusion that on some base level I scare white people. (Just ask my parents: why did they that day cross the road to avoid walking past me?) As I walked in, the flickering candles illuminated intrigue on the faces of the locals and with the westerners…well, you know when you are watching a nature program about lions and you see the look on a wildebeest’s face when it finally realises that from among the herd it’s the “one” the lions are going after…

Leaving the bar and heading back to the hotel down the dimly lit streets a drug pusher came up to me selling his wares. I used the old favourite of “third times the charm”.

“Hey man, would you like some hash?” he asked
“No thanks” was my reply.
After about 15 seconds he came back
“How about some brown sugar man! It’s really sweet; you know what I’m saying”
“Sorry but I don’t do drugs so I am really not interested” I responded.
Another small pause followed and he came up to me a third time. Before he could even speak I said
“If you ever speak to me again I’m going to punch you in the face, drag you from your rickshaw and stomp on your head till I get bored. Now…f**k off”

As I said…3rd times the charm!


Following another cool night (you have no idea how nice that feels) I was up, eager and almost keen. I went for a walk to the locally named monkey temple. Its official name is the Swayambhunath Temple but because of all the monkeys around the locals call it that instead. They could quite easily of called it the pigeon temple but if they had, would anybody go there?
The temple is perched on a small rocky outcrop a few kilometres from the hotel. I could have walked along the road but went through the houses instead. I definitely surprised a few locals along the way.

To get to the temple you have to climb 365 steps. The closer to the top you get the steeper and narrower the steps became. At the top you are met by a large pair of eyes painted upon a column which is mounted on top of a large stupa. Walking around the stupa in a clockwise direction (which you should always do) there are small shrines attached to it with prayer wheels covering the rest of the circumference. Various other temples fill the area along with several houses, most of which have shops on the ground floor. As I walked around the constant flapping of the myriad of prayer flags in the wind was oddly soothing. Like most days in Nepal there was a festival today and nearby a small group of people were off to one side preparing and cooking the faithful lunch. Group onion peeling is a bizarre spectator sport but as beach volleyball is on TV it doesn’t seem that weird after all.


Q: what’s better than getting out of bed out 08:30 in Kathmandu?

A: 09:30 of course!

Today, there was another festival in Kathmandu and it was taking place in Durbar square. The guy who runs the hotel’s travel desk offered to drive me there in his taxi. This is the same guy who last night was trying to sell me a 21 day trek to Everest base camp. So when I said that I would rather walk to the square I really couldn’t understand the disbelief that spread across his face.

The festival today was all about the ladies. It seemed that everyone was in the square. They come here to give offerings at a certain temple for the wellbeing and health of their husbands, lucky men! They were all in their best red saris, dressed up to the nines and dripping in gold. It’s at times like this that I know I’m going to end up a “dirty old man”.
An hour later I just had to leave because I was trying to find “the crossroads” and make a deal with the devil himself…self control be damned!

Walking back towards my hotel in the Thamel area I spied a massage centre. Now as my back, knees, hip (only one this time) and various other parts of my body were feeling worn out I splashed NR1400 on the counter and for the next 90 minutes succumbed to the pleasure of a shiatsu massage. The person doing the massage was clicking more of their bones than mine…is this supposed to happen?

Walking a little more lightly and maybe slightly taller I ended up in the oasis that is the hotel garden. Now was the time to get serious! About two hours later I had the plan for my travels around Nepal. I’m mostly going to be travelling around the middle bit of it for 40 or 50 days before returning to Kathmandu. Once back in the city I will know if my body is able to go on a 2 to 3 week trek, possibly to Everest base camp. Most other outdoor trips and activities are run from Kathmandu so I will be able to do it all from here.

I found out today that I have been left £10,000 in my gran’s will. Instead of using the money sensibly I will instead be wasting it on mountain flights, helicopter rides, live aboard dive boats, the occasional 5 star hotel and possibly riding a Harley from Chicago to LA along Route 66. I will of course need to get a bike license at some point, am I able to get a fake one in Bangkok?

(Getting picky: this evening I went to the famous Rum doodles bar, no I have never heard of it either. I ordered a mixed green salad and macaroni cheese. The last time I checked, carrots are orange, tomatoes are red and penne isn’t macaroni! Still it was a mighty fine feast that I only just about finished. I’m not one for leaving a cheese based product uneaten)


I’ve sorted out the bus times for the 1st instalment of travelling around Nepal, which I‘ll be doing on Friday or Saturday. Worryingly, the guide book recommends that you try and avoid the buses because they keep rolling down the sides of mountains and bursting into flames. Oh well, can’t be helped!


I had thought that I wouldn’t be adding anything more to the blog of Kathmandu. That all I would be doing is just chilling out and relaxing for two days…nah!

I had tea and toast for breakfast today, I’m not sure but I think that it was the 1st time that I have ever had that combination(obviously this is of no real interest to anyone but I thought I would mention it anyway).

Today I decided to go to the Bodha stupa, I could have left it till my next time in this city but felt that there was no time like the present.

It’s about a 6 km walk from the hotel by the most direct route, so I’ll say it was about 8 or 9 km’s instead. You all should by now know how I walk around! Why people take taxis is beyond me, you miss out on so much. I stumbled (literally, the roads aren’t the best here) into a local market, imagine Tesco but outside based around a square with no refrigeration. Mind you at least you know your chicken is fresh.

The approach to the stupa is via a noisy, busy and pollution filled main road. It’s almost hidden from view as there is only a smallish entrance. The stupa itself is about 10 times larger than the one at the monkey temple and sits proudly in a circular courtyard full of shops, cafes, hotels and temples. It’s a little bit of Tibet in Nepal…nice! Around the time of the new or full moon (I’ve forgotten which) it becomes full of believers of the Buddhist faith performing a ritual. Every time they walk around the stupa they build up credit in the karma section of life. I had a chat with a local monk and he mentioned to do it 108 times was a very good thing indeed. Not having all day, or being a Buddhist I gave it a miss. I think walking around it 3 times was enough for one already as blessed as me!

Upon leaving the stupa I decided to walk back to the hotel by a different route. This was fairly easy to do as I had no real idea of the route I took to the stupa. I was walking a while along narrow unpaved back streets that twisted and turned around the houses when the need for a cool drink and a rest felt like a good idea. For the following half an hour or so I was interrogated by a gang of kids, ranging from 3 to 11 years of age. Once again tattoos are a big source of interest as was my ying yang bell, all the while a couple parents looked on, mostly laughing. The questions children ask sometimes leave me at a loss on how to reply!

By the time I got back to the hotel I had the answer to “the question”. No way will I be able to go on a multi day trek! After an hour chilling out I was just about able to get of the bed. The ligaments and tendons that help hold my right hip in place do so but only just.

I have argued my limitations and they are indeed mine.

Come the evening…I was relaxing in a cool open air roof top bar when it started to rain quite heavily. Thankfully the bar has a sliding roof which meant my beer didn’t get watered down. However I would be stuck in here till the rain stopped or the bar closed…more tea vicar!

Tuesday, 26 August 2008

down by the river

Arriving at midday I had already decided on a hotel and was thus able to ignore the touts. Whilst having “the fag” outside the train station a head strong bull found its way to the bin blocked by my bags and me. Needless to say, I got out of his way! The rickshaw ride was long, not because of the distance (which was about a mile) but more to do with the traffic levels and the conditions of what passed for a road.

At the hotel I got me an A/C room for less than a tenner, which is expensive in India. I could have slummed for £2.25 a night but why would I do that here. The location is in the middle of town about a kilometre away from the holy Ganges River. I didn’t feel like staying in the old part of town as there ain’t no bars there. You can take the man out of the pub but not for too long!

Before a long siesta I went for a little bimble around the neighbourhood. For the 1st time in months no one tried to sell me drugs. I did get “followed” by a few cycle rickshaw drivers every hundred yards or so. You can cross over the road to escape them but then one coming in the other direction takes over. They are good natured if somewhat determined. Going healthy for a change (this is a lie because everyone knows that fags are packed full of vitamins and minerals which is why I smoke so many everyday) I ended up buying some oranges…all the way from the USA. This did strike me as odd and somewhat expensive!

So now it’s the evening and yep I am in a bar but it does serve food so you call it a restaurant if you like. After the shock of paying R200 for a beer in Gaya, I was happy to be here because Varanasi is in another state so it’s only R80.


Today I had a cunning plan:

• Get rickshaw to the gnats: this was easy to do

• Walk along the river bank from gnat to gnat: for this I would need scuba gear. As it is towards the end of the monsoon season the river is in full flood and therefore all the lower steps which run for several kilometres along the bank are underwater.

• Get completely lost: how easy was that!

So two out of three ain’t bad!

Jumping out of the cycle rickshaw at one of the more popular gnats I made my way down the steps towards the water’s edge. I didn’t get all the way as a middle aged man grabbed my arm and started to massage it. Now as a decent massage was on my list of things to do today I laid myself down on his cloth covered massage table for the next 50 minutes or so whilst he and his young apprentice went to work. Probing, pulling, squeezing and popping all took place. When he came to “click” my neck I thought….um…NO! I was lying on my stomach with half my arse on display to the world (as he prepared to work on my lower back) and it was with some reassurance that when I heard the words “nice arse” it wasn’t sarcastic and by the sound of the voice it was a kiwi chick, so that was fine with me.

In Varanasi old town the widest lane don’t accommodate an auto rickshaw, which is why they are banished from the area. The lanes and alleyways twist and turn and within minutes I wasn’t able to tell which way the river lay…fantastic. The buildings (numbering many maharaja palaces on the waterfront) are all close together and tend to be 3 levels high. So that makes line of sight navigation difficult. Another problem of walking around this place are the cows. Sometimes they chew the cud standing across the lane blocking it, or if it’s a wide lane you have an 18 inch gap to squeeze pass. It’s always the cows behind to have to pass and they know how to kick like a mule, and then there are the street dogs…

Despite the risks I spent hours walking around the place. A non goal orientated walk is what a bimble is and this bimble was a biggy. I didn’t bother carrying a map because I had no plan of going anywhere specific. Approaching lunchtime I spied a sign for the “brown bread company” café. It’s a gringo hangout but on the plus side they sold cheeses. Yes that’s right cheeses, i.e. more than one type. Upstairs in the café, legs crossed on the daybed my eyes were feasting on the menu. Cheddar, Edam, Gouda, local chesses made by people who know what they are doing, cheese with bits of onion, garlic or basil in them. I was amazed at my self control and limited myself to only 3 cheeses. What are the chances I’ll be back here tomorrow…100% if I can find it again.

After the long overdue cheese fix it was back to getting lost. Minutes later, mission accomplished. Sheltering from the rain with 50 Hindu men was interesting. They were all “freshly washed” in the holy Ganges River and felt moved by the experience. Shouting chants with hands in the air they were too busy to stare at the lone white guy…nice! Heading downstream following the river for once I came near the main burning gnat. In case you didn’t know the best place for a Hindu to die is here and afterwards for their body to be cremated and the ashes cast into the river. Personally I can’t understand why tourists come here to look. I mean if a bunch of Indians had turned up at my gram’s funeral I wouldn’t have been best pleased. Besides, it might put me off ever having a barbeque again.

By now my sense of direction had gone completely and I ended up at the northern bridge, which was a surprise for me as I had thought I was heading south! Turns out it was for the good because I got some great views from the middle of the bridge. Coming off the bridge I ended up in the Muslim quarter where behind half opened doors looms clacked in time with each other. By now seven hours of walking had passed and it was time to get back to the hotel and chill out. Just my luck to get the only map illiterate rickshaw driver in town.

My 1st full day here was definitely interesting. Although I did get severely castigated by a local family who I chatted to for 30 minutes for not being able to speak any Hindu.


Sitting in the Café Cheese for lunch again I came to the decision of where I am going to from Varanasi. It’s Kathmandu! I could spend 20 hours or so on a “luxury bus” or for ten times the amount of money I can fly. I think you’ll be able to guess which option I’m going for.

So, after four months in India I feel that if I stayed any longer I would start to get frustrated by the place. That said after a couple of months in Nepal I can always come back into India for a while. I’ve still yet to see the Taj Mahal or ride on a camel in the desert.

Before lunch I went on a boat trip up and down the River Ganges. Most people and brochures recommend waking up early and getting on the water as the eastern sun rises over the horizon to bathe Varanasi n the golden mythical light of dawn. I on the other hand decided that 10am was the best time of the day. The main reasons were:

• I wasn’t getting out of bed that early
• The sky is overcast in the mornings right now
• If I want a picture of Varanasi at dawn I can easily find one on the internet
• I’ve got imaging software that can replicate the effect if I really wanted to, which I don’t

That all said, this time of year isn’t the best for a boat ride. The fast flowing river makes the poor boatmen work hard on the oars when going upstream and they manage to find underwater obstacles to get stuck on as they hug the bank trying to row in the slightly slower moving waters. Also as most of the steps are underwater you only get to see half of it. After about 10 minutes of rowing upstream the can of coke I was drinking from was empty. I placed it next to my bag for disposal at a later date. Within seconds it was picked up and tossed overboard. “Holy water” was the reply to my bemused look.

As I was watching the coke can sink out of sight into the murky brown water a person floated past, face down in the water. It was alright as the person, who was wrapped in white cloth, was dead before they hit the water. I guess that some families can’t afford a cremation.

And lastly…how the hell did I wake up this morning with a cold!!!


It was my last full day in India so I thought I would go and do some shopping for nik naks and the like. Waking up in the early morning with a deep need to hug the toilet bowl put paid to that. I managed to get to the travel agent to book a flight to Kathmandu for the following day and the rest of the time was spent lying on bed, coughing, sneezing and generally feeling weak. I Think I have bird flu!

Saturday, 23 August 2008

It's all about a tree

Arriving at the town of Gaya at 05:30 in the morning after a night-time train ride left me feeling knackered! Outside, having my traditional fag, I was surrounded by at least 9 rickshaw drivers all touting for the early morning trade. I would hate to see what it would be like here in the high season!

Anyway, after the fag it was a 13km ride passing paddy fields, army barracks, small villages and the occasional cow to the village of Bodhgaya. This is the place where Prince Siddhartha Gautama sat underneath a tree and meditated on what it is to be human till he received the “gift of enlightenment” and became the Buddha.

The rickshaw took me to a hotel, where after a bit of haggling a price was agreed, and I could crash out on the bed with the fan whizzing around a full speed.

Later on in the morning it was time for an experience….

There are two ways of viewing this large village. You can either see it as a place where something wonderful happened a long time ago that changed the course of humanity and its history or you can view it as a tourist trap full of people ready to fleece as much money as they can out of you! To be fair it’s a bit of both, the temple areas are peaceful, undisturbed and tranquil but outside the temple gates the people wait…as I found out!

Walking from my hotel to the centre of the village a young man started chatting to me, wanting to improve his English….several hours later he was still following me around like a lost dog looking for his master. Now contrary to most people’s perception I am in fact quite polite but after having him watch me eat lunch, then hanging around outside the internet café for 45 minutes whilst I was online I had just had enough! Finally…he understood that I had had enough of his “company”. It was at this point that he started doing his tourist travel tour agent spiel about all the places he could organise for me to visit in the surrounding area on the following days. After pointing out the amount of time he could have saved himself by telling me this at the start of the day, followed by the words “not interested” he left me alone. (Harsh but fair I feel)

There are many temples here in the village, it seems that every country with a large Buddhist population has one but I was only interested in visiting one of them. The world heritage listed Mahabodhi Temple. The temple is built on the spot where Buddha became enlightened and a cutting of the original Bodhi tree which he meditated under is growing in the very spot of the 1st tree. The main temple is a huge 50 metre pyramidal spire surrounded by stone railings. The rest of the area is divided into quarters and each one is filled with small temple thingies and several trees. Nearby is a small pond or tank where once the Buddha sheltered. The thing that amazed me was that there were fish living in the waters because the colour of the water was the most vivid green I’ve seen in a while!

By now it was the middle of the afternoon and damn it was hot. I was sweating like a pig in a butchers shop….so it was time for a siesta.

In the evening after an amazingly good Thai green curry and two huge spring rolls I went back to the temple for some night time ambience and hopefully to get some atmospheric pictures (I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again I could really use a tripod sometimes). It was quiet and the heavy humid air was stirred only by the beating of a bat’s wing as they swept and swirled around the temple feeding well on into the night.

Walking back towards the hotel the beggars followed…..

The next day, after being informed that my laundry wouldn’t be ready till the late afternoon I was down to my last piece of clean cloth. It was a T shirt; still it could have been worse, it could have been just a pair of socks. Looking clean but feeling oh so dirty I wandered around the area of the village where most of the temples from other countries are to found. China, Thailand, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Tibet, Japan and Nepal all have their temples here and each one was reflecting their cultural and architectural differences.

Sitting down in the restaurant for lunch looking at the menu my heart did a little jump of joy…peanut butter on toast!!!! It’s the little things that sometimes bring the biggest smiles.

Later, walking along the mean streets of downtown Bodhgaya, I ended up by the river and saw the strangest site! On a small sand bar yards from the bank in the shallow Falgu River was a football pitch, complete with permanent goal posts…

Leaving the village of Bodhgaya after two nights was the right decision. Coming from southern India I found the people in the tourist trap too pushy. In fact, I remember chatting to a man in Trichy who warned that people in the north weren’t that friendly and he himself didn’t like to travel in that part of India.
The people are friendly but sometimes when walking down the street you end up feeling that all you are is a dollar sign. Lucky for me that I am blessed with the gift of (or talent for) complete indifference.

So now I am back in the nearby town of Gaya. I’ve a cheap and welcoming hotel near the train station with a small courtyard and an attempt at a sunken garden. Walking around the town I slowly realised that I’m being stared at more here than most place I’ve bimbled around. I know I am not the 1st white guy they have seen, so what’s the attraction?

During the rickshaw ride here I was joined by 8 other people. One was a young mother with her small child. The look on the kids face flickered between fear and awe and shortly I felt the now familiar feeling of a finger touching one of my tattoos and tracing the outline. Looking down at the kid I smiled, which as everyone knows scares them something silly! One day a child might smile back as opposed to tucking its head into the safety of its mother’s arms. At least the kid didn’t start to whimper or cry which is the normal course of events…guess I am just not that paternal!

I am not sure of the length of time I will be spending in India. The idea is tomorrow morning catch an early train to the town of Varanasi and after that head of to Darjeeling and then Nepal. However, I can fly (or bus) from Varanasi straight to Kathmandu. Is four months in India enough? Maybe it’s my desire for a cheese and ham sandwich complete with pork pie and a bottle of cider that’s clouding my thoughts or it could be that after 15 months of travelling not having a place “to belong too” is taking its mental toll?

Anyway back to today, after chilling out in the hotel courtyard reading a few chapters of Mahatma Gandhi’s autobiography I felt the need for a cold Monday afternoon beer. Turns out back in England it is august bank holiday Monday, which took me a while to work out. Popping to the local “wine” shop on the corner it turned out they only sold whiskey…damn. However, the café next door could serve me a beer although it wasn’t the most salubrious of surroundings. Its once white painted walls were covered in at least 30 years of smoke, grease and grim, I loved it!

Come the evening…

Beer and food were the order of the night, having a mostly one sided conversation with a drunk Indian who kept asking me

“Do you know who I am?” or “I know everything about you!”

Followed by me interjecting the sentence “I’m eating” wasn’t on the menu when I entered the restaurant. Have to say it was fun, especially when his less drunk mate at the bar kept pulling him away from my table only for him to race or more realistically stagger back to my table to continue the same three sentence conversation.

One thing that I have come to realise about myself is that I now smell different! Walking around all day under a hot sun makes me sweat. Triking under a hot sun this time last year all day made me sweat. The resulting smell is definitely different!!!