Thursday, January 11, 2007

NZ photos

I have finally found an internet here that I can post photos. Since my last writing we spent a day driving along the coast, and a day hiking around Arthurs Pass. Now we are south of Christchurch, in a small coastal town called Timaru.

This photo looks southwest from the sheep station

View from the sheep station

Sunset from a side valley at the sheep station.

Sheep in the morning sun

Looking northwest from the sheep station

Arthur pass

Hiking up a mountain from Arthurs Pass

Resterant by the beach. Excellent seafood!

A goat in a garden

A cafe with a garden

All the cafes here have wonderful filo dough pastries. This one is mushroom asparagus. The other day, I had salmon, mushroom, and sundried tomato.

Where are we now-Archives

19 May, 2008

We are now under a smoking volcano in BaƱos, Ecuador. Somehow, this town strikes us as having a limited lifespan before being buried in ash and lava, or falling off of it's cliff perch over the Pastaza River!

20 April, 2008

Arequipa, Peru. We are getting ready to see some petroglyphs in the desert, which hopefully will not turn into an epic like the last ones we saw in Kyrgyzstan! I think we will have to worry more about heat then snow, though.

31 Jan, 2008

I am back in peaceful Laos, where I have seen an awful lot of the inside of a hammock! Soon, I will be in NZ, where I am looking forward to seeing family, traveling in style with my grandfather from Auckland to Naseby (in a rental car!! No buses!!), and then eating my mothers fabulous cooking. Tim has been freezing his fingers, toes, and ass off in a record cold Yengshou winter while he tries to get his stiff body to make graceful Tai Chi motions. I will take the heat, the hammock, and the refreshing cool swims in the Mekong any day!

January 19, 2008

Since my last update I have been on a whirlwind trip from Laos, through Thailand, and into Cambodia. In Thailand I rode on an elephant at an elephant hospital, and then rushed through Bangkok as fast as possible, getting on the Scam Line Express for a day long journey into Cambodia to see Ankor Wat. I still plan to update the blog with one more China post, and one about Thailand once I get my photos to disk.

January 2, 2008

Wow, 2008!! I am now in Laos, after 9 hours of buses and border crossings. The bus was delayed one hour behind a bus/truck accident. You would think the bus driver would drive a bit more carefully after witnessing this, but no-he had lost time to make up for! Laos is a wonderfull, laid back place, with soft spoken people and I am very happy to be away from the shouting and the frenetic pace of China. I talked to Tim on the phone before I left China and we found out that we both spent New Years eve in our hotel rooms watching the exact same telivision show!

December 25, 2007

Tim and I are now in Lijiang, China spending Christmas together, after which we will be separating our travel plans once again. After spending almost two weeks researching different martial arts schools, Tim decided he wanted to come back to China 'someday' and spend a couple months doing Tai Chi training in Yangshuo. In fact, he was so excited about it and talked about it all night so I finally said "there is no better time than now. Stay in China and join one of the schools!" After a lot of encouragement Tim has decided to do just that. I, however, am sick to death of China and am going to stick to the original itinerary of Laos, Thailand, and possibly Vietnam. We will meet again in about two months in South America, where we will be able to compare our different travel experiences.

December 14, 2007

I am now in Yangshuo, China, enjoying the traditional Chinese steep sided mountain scenery, while Tim has taken a different route and is at the Shaolin monastery-the birthplace of Kung Fu. We plan to meet again in the Yunnan province on Christmas eve. We spent the last five days in Shanghai enjoying the hospitality of a friend and site-seeing on his DVD player and movie collection! Sometimes when traveling, you have to take a break from all the running around!

28 Nov, 2007

We have spent the last three days in the cradle of Chinese civilization, Xian, looking at what almost every visitor comes to see-the Terracotta Warriors. They were amazing, but even better was another tomb about 40 km North of Xian. This one had the warriors in minature, many still in the pits along with pots, wagons, terracotta animals, and other interesting artifacts, which you walk above on a glass floored boardwalk. Tonight we head by train to Pingyou, a Chinese city that still retains the old architectural buildings.

21 Nov, 2007

We are in Xiahe, China, the most important Tibetan monestary town outside of Lhasa and home to about 2000 fuschia cloaked monks. The monestary is the most amazing that Tim and I have seen. It is a huge complex, with six schools as well as many temples, all filled with beautiful artwork, murals, tankas, and Buddha statues. Along the edge of the complex is a three kilometer pilgrims route, with over 1100 prayer wheels. The Tibetan pilgrims are dressed in their finest, most colorful clothing-coral and torquoise beeds, fur lined Tibetan coats, Chinese silks, red embroidered sashes and fuschia waist belts. Tim and I planned two days here, but have decided to stretch that into five, and I think we still will be disappointed to leave.

11 Nov, 2007

We are in turpan, China. Turpan is a city with a new, Chinese center and a surrounding old town with narrow alleys, mudbrick courtyard homes, and donkey carts. While we were in Kyrgyzstan we noticed that the people rarely smiled. In Uzbekistan the young and middle aged people were quick to give huge, gold toothed smiles, but the elderly people never smiled at us, and usually walked by as if they didn't notice us. In China, it is the old people, the headscarfed women, the grey bearded men, who grace us with huge, beautiful, toothless smiles.

1 Nov, 2007

We are now in Tashkent, using the first decent internet we have seen in a long time! Tomarrow we head into Kazakhastan, and from there the 3 day train to Uramchi, China.

On the train to Nukus, we were held "hospitality hostage" by the military men with whom we were sharing a 4 bed berth. We woke up at 8:00 AM and they immediatly began forcing vodka on us, before we could even have breakfast. You can not simply refuse vodka hospitality because they will yell at you, shove the cup into your hand, and give you no peace at all until you agree to drink. Once you have agreed, they will let their attention wander, and only then can you dispose of the vodka. I used many strategies to avoid the vodka, from setting down my cup, pouring the vodka into their cups, or into the trash in the hall.I tried once to pour it into my water bottle, but spilled it everywhere. Tim ended up drinking 5 or 6 shots of the stuff trying to keep their attention off me. Mercifully, the drunkest and most abnoxious of the culprits passed out by noon, and the others left to find new victims. When the passed out man woke up I was reading and had enough of him. Every time he opened his mouth to try to shove this or that on us (Vodka, water melon we had already eaten half of, sit by him and be social, etc.), I screamed at him "knigi, pashosta". Book, please. Tim practiced Chinese in the hall. Fortunately our second train journey was much more peaceful. We shared our berth with a man from Spain who has traveled for 5 years, and a quiet, youthful Uzbek man. Tim and I are hoping for the best on our journey to Uramchi. Three days under vodka house arrest would be a little bit to much!

23 October, 2007

We are now in Kiva, Uzbekistan. The museum in Nukus was very nice, with some interesting art. We are continueing to visit Mosques and other monuments.

One Mosque that we visited had a beautiful, old imam with a long white beard, robes, and a turban. He asked us if we had children, and we gave our standard response "later, Inshallah". We use this response because in many contries, the concept of a married couple not being a breeding machine is very foreign and unthinkable. Later, as we sat on the patio of the mosque, the imam came, sat next to me, and said a prayer for us. He then explained with a combination of Russian, English, and hand motions that my sins were washed away and now maybe I could become pregnant! He asked how many children we wanted, and to improve the chances of my understanding his question, asked in Russian "two or three?". I was shocked into silence, desperatlly thinking "no, please don't pray for two or three children" when Tim proudly spoke up. "Thirty three!" he said. Tim thought the imam was asking our age! It was the imam's turn for shock, but he recovered quickly and said another prayer, after which we fled the mosque. This is one prayer I hope does not come true!

20 October, 2007

Tonight we leave on an overnight train from Samarkand to Nukus, on the western side of Uzbekistan. In Samarkand we've learned that you have to bargain on everything from train tickets to lunch at a cafe. Everything seems to be negotiable, unlike Kyrgyzstan where there was little bargaining. We viewed many Islamic medressas (schools), mosques, tombs, and other buildings dating from the 15th to 17th centuries. The architecture and ceramic tile work is really amazing and the tomb of the famous ruler Tamerlane is decorated inside with over 2.5kg of gold leaf.

In Nukus we will look at 1000's of works of art that were saved from destruction by the curator of the museum during Soviet times. Many of the artists were imprisoned for their anti government views. After Nukus plan to see the cities of Khiva and Bukhara and other ancient ruins and arrive in Tashkent at the end of the month. We are still having problems with Internet access and may not be able to do another blog update until then.

13 October, 2007

We are now in Fergana, Uzbekistan after crossing the land border from Osh, Kyrgyzstan. Our Crossing was made easier, first, by our taxi driver, who escorted us through Kirghiz custums and paid for our toilet breaks after we had changed all our money, and then by an Uzbek expatriot who watched over us as we passed through Uzbekistan custums.

The taxi ride to Fergana was hair raising, with the taxi driver dodging obsticles such as other cars, pedestrians, and sliding between two cows while topping out at a speed of 165 KM/hour (about 100 MPH), spending as much time in the wrong lane as the right one. After arriving safetly, the driver hooked us up with an excellent homestay.

Ramadan has ended and this weekend will be full of colorfull celebrations and bazaars, with everyone dressed in their very best. Wandering the bazaars today by myself, I have already had a few interesting experiences. An old Uzbek man handed me his newly purchased broom and had me carry it for him. Several different fruit sellers gave me apples, pears, and slices of melon. When I stopped for lunch, a man refused to let me pay. Here is where it gets really interesting. He walked with me a bit, and when I went to use the internet he began demanding money for the lunch. He wanted about 3x what it cost, so I argued a bit, then ignored his repeated requests for the astronomical amount and left. He then proceeded to become my stalker. So I walked back to the restaruant, with him on my heels, asked the price of the items I had eaten, and gave him exact change. Sure enough, he had asked for to much. The meal cost 1400 sum. He wanted 5000. Well, he could not argue with me now, so he went away. All together, an amusing experience and overall pretty good odds-six kind people to one greedy person!

Sunday, January 7, 2007

Sheep stations and farmhouses in NZ

I have arrived in New Zealand by the grace of God! My flights were on Air New Zealand, operated by United, from LA to Christchurch. Problem was, apparently United forgot to inform Air NZ that I was flying with them, so when I showed up in LA, I did not actually have flights booked any further, just a computer print out of my supposed itinerary! Despite this, Air NZ managed to squeeze me into flights and I actually arrived one hour earlier than I had originally been scheduled! My luggage was not as lucky, and for a stressful 24 hours no one knew where it was. Finally it was located and delivered to our door within one hour of giving them a delivery address.

On arriving in NZ, my mother picked me up at the airport and we drove to a private sheep station located at the end of a road and across a glacier fed river that is only passable when the water is low. The station is on a high point just above the confluence of two rivers and has fabulous views in both directions of mountain valleys that look something like the Brooks Range of Alaska. The first day there, we hiked up a river valley. We saw wild pigs, red deer, originally from Scotland , and shamu goats, originally from the Southern Alps.

NZ had no mammals originally, except for bats, until the island was colonized and several species were brought over, so the current mammal population has no natural predators and must be hunted to keep them under control. On the sheep stations, the pigs are hunted by hunters using dogs and knives. Two or three dogs sniff out a pig and corner it, then bark to alert the others. Then two dogs, trained to hold the pig, usually by the ears, move in. The hunters then move in and kill the pig instantly by stabbing it in the heart.

The people here are very helpful. My mother was completely lost on the way out to the sheep station, and we had to stop at least half a dozen times for directions. Once, she knocked on a farmhouse door, and a women in the shower gave her directions through an open window. Then, on our way out, we had car trouble. An elderly widow named Mary opened up her garage and tools to my stepfather, David, to work on the van and then took my mother and I on a tour around the gardens, orchard, and through the 100+ year old farmhouse. She has lived in this farmhouse for 52 years, and raised 4 children here. The children's bedrooms were still equipped with two twin beds in each room, one room for the two boys and one for the two girls. Her son and his wife now live on the homesteads with her to help manage it.

Everywhere you drive, there are sheep. We saw one on it's back and David immediately screeched to a halt and jumped the fence to right the sheep. Apparently, the wool is so heavy that the sheep can not right themselves and will die if they are left on their back.

The food here is excellent, with lots of olive oil, chutneys, cheese, and pastries. Tonight for dinner we ate a many-course meal on fine china with good wine and great conversation with David's sister and Brother-In-Law. Tomorrow we move on to a French village on the beach, and then along the coast to the wine country of Nelson.

Having trouble uploading the photos, but I will post them later. Stay tuned.