Not much in the way of adventures for 2016 to share though I did work on improving my BASE knowledge and skills with two courses in Idaho USA followed by some jumps at Bridge Day in West Virginia. The good ole folks of Fayetteville close off the main highway over their New River Gorge bridge for the day so we can jump off it. Couple of pics in Gallery.
A very Merry Christmas to all and all the very best for 2017.
A very Merry Christmas to you. I hope 2015 has been a good year for all and I wish you all the very best for 2016
Many have been asking for an update. Time seems to have slipped by again as the last posting was mid 2013 after the Afghanistan trip, so here we go.
October 2013 saw a long overdue visit to some parts of Asia I had not yet seen. Thailand was first up and a few days diving around the Similan Islands. Nice warm water, great visibility coral reef diving. No big animals but the usual plentiful and colourful coral fish make nice diving.
A couple of days in Bangkok taking in the hustle and bustle of that city and then a train and bus journey to the northern city of Chiang Mai, and a few days of exploring that area.
Next was Vietnam for my buddy Val’s big birthday ride down the Ho Chi Minh trail. The team met in HaNoi, some bringing in their own bikes and some renting. A day sorting gear out and off we went south bound. 12 days of cycling with the first 6 down the Ho Chi Minh trail before heading out to the coast. HaNoi→Cuc Phong→Yen Cat→Pho Chau→Huong Khe→Phong Nha→Dong Hoi→(through the DMZ demilitarized zone around the 17th parallel which during the war separated the North from the South) → Hue-Hoi An. Fantastic roads for cycling and the friendliness of the Vietnamese was ever- present.
The 2nd part of the journey was more coastal and a bit more traffic to contend with though what seems chaotic at times just works if one keeps the pedals turning. Hoi An→Cho Gom→Quinhon→Na Trang→Da Lat→Mui Ne. 1100kms of great cycling ending in the beach town of Mui Ne.
Final day was transfer into Ho Chi Minh city or Saigon as some still refer to it, and a visit to the Vietnam war museum. Very sobering indeed.
A great tour, thanks team and thanks to Global Adventures of Christchurch NZ and their excellent Vietnamese team on the ground. Cheers to all.
The friendly and pleasant behavior of the Vietnamese was certainly a prominent feature and for a culture that was embroiled in war by western forces for years we did not detect one single display of animosity which is an indication of the makeup of these folk.
Some of the team headed home and a few of us continued on to Cambodia for a few days. We traveled by bus to Phnom Penh and spent a few days in that city. A visit to the Killing Fields and Tol Seung was very sobering but we lightened things up with some local kick boxing.
A great boat trip up the Sap river and huge Tonle Sap lake had us in Siem Reap with its temples and floating villages.
Great country and great people though it is clear Cammbodia has not fully recovered from the Pol Pot atrocities.
A couple of days in Kuala Lumpur and a great catch up with an old friend from my shipping days and a check out of the KL Tower…that will make more sense later.
Next was a week in Jordan. Rented a car and did a very quick tour of this great country. Northern town of Jerash, Madaba for Christmas, a swim in the dead sea, the Petra sights , Aqaba and Wadi Rum for a night in a Bedouin families tent in the desert. Of course the mandatory camel ride and visions of ole Lawrence of Arabia riding in.
A great country and very friendly folk.
Back to Amman and a flight into Beirut. Had planned on driving around Lebanon as well but a bit more restrictive with some small internal issues being exacerbated by the Syrian conflict.
Using Beirut with its friendly folk, great food and atmosphere as a base, I visited the Baalbek region with its Bacchus and Jupiter temples 30 kms from the Syrian border, the Phoenician city of Byblos, the Jeita grottos, Sidon and the Necropolis of Tyre.
A couple of car bombings while there but the Lebanese are resilient folk and just get on with life. Nice approach and everyone simply got on with partying in the streets on New Year’s eve.
Great place to see the New Year in.
Early part of the year was back to a bit of fitness with some training and triathlon racing in NZ, Spain and the USA. Had a crack at a couple of xterra events in the US which is the mountain off-road version of triathlon. Lake swim at altitude, mountain bike and trail run. A bit tougher than road triathlon and racing at altitude with the Colorado swim at 10,000 feet and the bike going up from there put the lungs to test.
It was also time to indulge in a sport from my past and make a few skydives at one of the Californian dropzones I did some jumping at back in the early 80s. Also had my first experience of indoor skydiving in a wind tunnel which was pretty cool.
Some mountain biking in the Californian Mammoth Lake Mountains and then down to Baton Rouge to catch up with my southern friends and some motorcycling. Cheers to all the team.
Next was a BASE jumping course in Twin Falls Idaho. Bit of a historical event as Eric who I had done my 1st parachute jump course and jump with way back in June 1981 in NZ fronted up to Twin Falls as well.
Great course with a great bunch of guys and 13 jumps over 4 days including a night jump all off the Perrine Bridge which is 485 feet above the Snake River.
For those that are not familiar BASE stands for Bridge, Antennae, Span and Earth. It is fixed object jumping and therefore typically from low heights.
Along with the jumps I did from Kjerag mountain (Earth) in Norway a few years ago and the recent bridge jumps that leaves the two slightly more testing objects of buildings and antennae. Maybe??
A quick trip to South America was next with two weeks in each of Ecuador and Peru.
A couple of days diving out at the Galapagos Islands was first up. Visibility was not great but did have one good sized hammerhead shark slide by. Turtles, sea lions, smaller white tipped sharks and some large dense schools of smaller fish provided the sights.
Hired a car and covered a fair chunk of Ecuador over the next week taking in Coca, Puyo, Misahaulli, Cuenca, Chordeleg gold town and a couple of days in the adventure activity town of Banos before heading back to the capital Quito.
Flight down to Lima to start the Peru leg. Headed straight to Cusco as the gateway to Sacred Valley and then Machu Picchu, one of the world’s 7 wonders.
Next was a flight into Puerto Maldonado and a few days in the Amazon jungle. A tad touristy so need to find something a bit more adventurous next visit.
Then onto the floating villages on Lake Titicaca at Puno, a flight over the Nasca Lines (another world wonder) and then some great fun hooting around the enormous sand dunes of Huacachina in buggies and some sand boarding.
Back to Lima to wrap up this brief visit to South America.
The Ecuadorian and Peruvian folk were fantastic and it was easy to move around both countries.
Some spectacular scenery which needs to be taken in from on a motorcycle next trip.
Will be putting a few pics in the gallery in the next couple of days for viewing.
Well folks, another year has flashed by and Xmas is looming. I wish everyone a Merry Christmas and all the very best for 2015.
Where has the first half of 2013 gone??
Early this year my Slovene friend Dusko Duswami emailed to advise he was planning a trip into Afghanistan and was I interested. That question did not need any pondering.
Dusko’s plan was to travel through Iran, Afghanistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan so I flew into the beautiful Iranian city of Esfahan on 24th April to join Dusko, his son Inan and Tina.
Some great sightseeing over the next couple of days from Esfahan to Qom and then onto Tehran to drop off Inan and Tina and meet the new team that were arriving from Slovenia.
We then headed south in the trusty Landcruiser and a 2nd vehicle driven by that well known Yazdi, Majhid.
Yazd, Kerman, Mahan, Minab, Bizharb, Bam, Shafiabad, Birjand, Nashtifan and Karat provided some fantastic sights steeped in history. Silk Road citadels, caravansaries and minarets over 1000 years old and Arg-e-Bam or citadel of Bam dating back to 550BC.
Bam had the huge earthquake on 26th December 2003 leaving 30,000 dead. There was massive damage to the mud/brick structures of the citadel but it was still easy to see what an impressive and magnificent structure it had been. Thankfully it is being restored.
A great trip down through Iran and as usual with Dusko we were always well off the beaten track. Fantastic sights, no tourists and best of all the Iranian people; they just do not come any friendlier than these folk.
The trusty cruiser was left at the Afghan border and we piled into a local van for the 100km to Herat. All our troops were relaxed but our Afghan driver was somewhat nervous and constantly looking in his mirrors. The first 30 km from the border supposedly has a Taliban presence.
The city of Herat was thriving and although there was a heavy police presence driving around in pickups mounted with machine guns and international forces 30kms away the city felt very safe.
The Afghan jewel of The Blue Mosque, The Musallah Minarets and the Citadel constructed in the 3rd century and used by Alexander The Great and other invaders were all great sights. But once again the main attraction was the friendly people.
A visit to the Gazor-Gah Shrine of Sufi poet Answari and sitting in a chanting room full of Afghan men paying their respects to Answari was a unique experience as was just walking around the streets of Herat amongst the friendly Afghans and their thriving little businesses.
I left Afghanistan thinking that if what is happening in Herat is replicated around the country then there is great hope for this nation that has been so embroiled in war.
Back into Iran and the city of Mashad before the border into Turkmenistan, a rather strange country built on gas wealth and under successive dictatorships since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Not far from the border is the country’s main city and capital Ashkhabad which is immediately striking with its superb looking buildings, huge and glamorous opera houses and multiple academies along with the cities manicured gardens. The city icon though is the gigantic Presidential Palace of the current dictator Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow who must have an ego the size of Texas with all the gold statues of himself around the city, portraits in buildings and a portrait in all the cities taxis.
30km outside Ashkhabad was a very different picture. The roads deteriorated rapidly with extreme potholes being prevalent making travel rather slow and bumpy in rural Turkmenistan. Apparently the good dictator closed all library and medical facilities in the rural areas and certainly everything we saw suggested the rural sector was severely neglected.
After a few hours of these fine Turkmen roads we arrived at the Dervasa gas crater that was formed by the Russians looking for gas in the 1960’s. Sufficient volume for commercial viability was not found so a match was struck and the crater has been burning ever since.
A good nights sleep under the stars then another long drive to Konye Urgnch, another important point on the silk road where Genghis Kahn arrived in 1220. Genghis couldn’t defeat the villagers so he diverted the Amu Darya River (one of the largest rivers in central Asia) and flooded Konye Urgnch to drown the villagers.
Across the border into Uzbekistan and the town of Nukus. Next morning it was onto Muynak and a walk down to the now stranded ships of the Aral Sea (lake)
In the 1960s the Soviets decided to increase cotton production in the area and diverted the Amu Darya which fed the Aral Sea to provide irrigation. These diversions have resulted in the Aral Sea receding 135km in the last 30 years and it is predicted to be dry by 2025. The stranded vessels were a sad sight.
Another long drive to Khiva and Ichon Kala (The Old City) constructed in the mid 1800s by the local Khan’s which ruled until the October Revolution in 1917, the end of the Tsarist autocracy and the birth of communism.
The back roads of Uzbekistan had us at the Uzbek/Turkmen border and then the long haul back to Ashkhabad.
Many thanks to Dusko, Jasminka, Ales, Meta, Marko and Neza for a great trip.
There are a few pics of the trip posted in the gallery. Thanks to Dusko for the team pics
Anyone interested in travel to such places should take a look at Dusko’s webpage http://www.overlanddreaming.com
Greetings and Merry Christmas to All
A quick recount after yet another year passes us all by. First up for me was the Coast to Coast multisport race from the west coast of New Zealand’s South Island across the country and finishing on the east coast. The traditional ‘touch-the- Tasman Sea’ prior to start then 3k run, 55k bike, 33k mountain run, 15k bike, 67k kayak and a 70k bike, finishing with ‘touch- the- Pacific Ocean’. A great event over 2 days and a superb effort by my support crew Phil and Val.
The next 6 months were in the USA, initially based in Southern California for some triathlon training and a very satisfying race in the ITU round in San Diego. Cheers John for the cycling coaching.
Relocated to Northern California and geared up for a beginners mountaineering course in Alaska. Met up with the group in Talkeetna and flew onto a glacier for 8 days of training. Great experience, great instructors and great group. Cheers guys and cheers to Bad Cook Ray and Mrs Bad Cook for your help. Following the urge to get back into flying aeroplanes created the next task. Bit rusty after not flying for 9 years so set to working through a US pilot’s licence. Many thanks to Yayoi for making her aeroplane available to me for flight training and cheers to Andy for the top instruction.
Also slipped across to Breckenridge, Colorado for the 3 day Brek Epic mountain bike event. The race webpage advised due to difficulty “not suitable for weekend warriors” but no mention about beginners, so with new mountain bike, we went forth. A steep learning curve but did finish with bike and body still intact. Fantastic trails at 12000 feet altitude and some stunning scenery. Great event.
Cheers for the help John.
Finished the North Californian tour with an Alcatraz swim. Great swim from the famous prison across the bay to the main land with the Golden Gate bridge in view when turning to breath. Team USAKIWIS were 4th when the times were tallied. Cheers Simon & Val.
Then it was across to Europe for a cycle race in Norway, cheers Geir, and then down to Berlin for a cold wet Berlin Tri.
Spain was next to catch up with the Spanish Gang from last years Tuk Tuk race. Cheers team.
From the south of Spain it was easy to zoom across to Tangier, Morocco for a quick visit. This country needs further exploring.
Back up to Hamburg for a Christening and the honour of becoming Godfather to two very lovely young ladies, Mary & Lucy. Thanks Svea and Ian for the honour though I did question their sanity in having a travelling gypsy adventurer as their children’s Godparent.
Next stop was New York for the marathon which unfortunately but quite correctly was cancelled due to the effects of storm Sandy. Nevertheless the Spanish Team organised by Nadia fronted to Central Park on the Sunday morning and joined several thousand others in doing their “marathon” around the park. Great atmosphere. Cheers Nadia.
That’s about it for 2012 folks. Currently back in NZ and working on cunning plans for 2013.
Hopefully everyone has had a successful year and all the very best to you all for 2013.
PS a few 2012 photos in the gallery
Small update on the Virgin Galactic adventure
I attended the opening of the Spaceport America near Las Cruces, New Mexico, USA on Monday 17th October.
A fantastic well organised event as one would expect from Virgin.
An early start with transportation to the spaceport and a superb breakfast served on the hangar apron as the morning warmed.
While a commentary of the aircraft and programs development was broadcast WhiteKnight Two with Spaceship Two attached taxied out and the pilots then treated us to some flybys.
Fantastic visuals of these futuristic commercial space flying machines against a clear deep blue sky.
We were all hoping for a demonstration of Spaceship Two being released and gliding back to earth but unfortunately this was not part of the days programme.
For some background on the VG Space programme click on the link on the right of my home page or google Virgin Galactic.
After speeches and lunch it was champagne all round as we were treated to the Bandaloop dancers who had abseiled down the glass front of the new Spaceport hangar.
The man himself, Sir Richard Branson, and his two children abseiled down to join the party and then Richard popped the cork from a champagne bottle and officially declared the Spaceport open, naming it The Virgin Galactic Gateway to Space.
Back to the hotels, time to scrub up and conclude a great day with a party courtesy of Aston Marton; and no, Bond didn’t make a dramatic entry. In fact he didn’t make an entry at all.
Met some great people which for me was one of the highlights of the event. From VG pilots who will fly us, other VG staff making the event happen, agents who book customers and of course other “future astronauts” as VG call us.
Some great life stories and very noticeable just how friendly and well grounded folk were.
Qualities that seem to personify Richard Branson himself.
So the question everyone asks; WHEN??
Latest hot goss is that testing will hopefully be completed end of 2012 and flights starting 2013. I’m still No. 279
What a great way to see some of India.
2000 kilometres from Mumbai to Chennai in auto rickshaws also affectionately known as Tuk Tuks.
Teams of 2 or 3 competitors in 14 Tuk Tuks competing over the distance with points for completing the days distance prior to flag drop, photographic challenges and best costumes for the day.
A great mix of competitors with teams from Spain, Ireland, England, Wales, Australia, Canada and the Kiwi team of Nick and myself. Great to meet up again with my team mate from the Polar Challenge, Paul Craig and his wife Jill.
Besides our fellow competitors the event was always going to be about meeting and mixing with the Indian people as the journey unfolded. A nation of friendly folk and the Indian hospitality commenced on arrival with 3 hours of smiling and politeness by the hopelessly inefficient immigration chaps.
The flag went up the morning of Monday 1st August in Mumbai and off we charged. No maps just town names and a final destination hotel for the day but with the incredibly friendly locals willing to give directions navigation was not going to be an issue though getting out of the Mumbai jungle was not exactly straight forward.
Competitors were soon to discover that the machinery supplied was not of a very high standard and that is being generous in description.
Teams were having wheels fall off and all sorts of components failing and we were still in the Mumbai city limits. It was going to be an interesting journey.
Event spirit was great though with teams stopping to help those whose Tuk tuks had come to a grinding halt.
Once clear of Mumbai the journey continued down the Arabian Sea coast. Mumbai, Alibag, Pune, Panchgani, Ratnagiri and into Panaji the 3rd largest city of the state of Goa.
Panaji was approximately the race half way point and included a lay day which was much needed for repairs.
Some teams were having serious mechanical issues and were not arriving at the days hotel until well into the night. Travelling at night on Indian roads with the ever present potholes, lights not functioning on the machines and Indian bus drivers did present some challenges for those unfortunate to be still on the road after dark.
The Welsh hit a nice pothole at night and that resulted in a very broken front end of their Tuk Tuk.
The Irish lads didn’t need darkness for excitement as they tipped their machine on its side coming down a hill and ended up over a bank and lodged in a tree. A few scratches to the lads, a few repairs and they were ready to go again. The Aussies managed to break the chassis of their machine!!!
Sorry to report that the Kiwi team did not feature in such excitement and with some preventative maintenance our machine only suffered minor failures.
Still repairs were effected each night and in the mornings teams sped off again for another day of tukking down the testing Indian roads.
The 2nd part of the journey was an eastward path. Penaji, Murudeshwar, Mangalore, Mysore, Bangalore, Vellore, Chennai.
Many teams were sourcing local repair shops to fix the breakages so generally a greater reliability was experienced in the eastward run to Chennai.
We all arrived into Chennai on Friday 12th and after 1200 kms the Spanish lads were deserved winners. Cristian and Gilberto had put a lot of effort into daily costumes and combined with completing each leg within the allocated time they had accumulated the most points.
Those Tukking Kiwis finished 8th.
Fantastic fun charging across India in a rickshaw with other teams and the stand out was the local people. The Indian folk are super friendly, super helpful and very colourful. Even with communications barriers they never became flustered in trying to convey directions. Just that ever present Indian head wobble and huge smiles.
Also very noticeable was how happy the general population was even though most are extremely poor with a very low standard of living compared to the west. Some of the western worlds folk with low motivation and expectations of handouts could learn from these people.
Another part of the event was visiting schools that had been constructed and were being operated by Indian Round Table divisions. These schools were for children from poor families who could not afford the Government schools and to put that into perspective it cost approx USD 10 per year to send a child to a Government school.
The Round Table groups are doing a fantastic job and the race organisers are doing a great job in raising the profile of these projects by having the event visit the schools.
Teams also made donations to these projects.
Of course another highlight was the great Indian food. When in the land of curries…
Check out some trip photos in the gallery.
So in summary;
Great people – both locals and fellow competitors
Different driving habits
Some Virgin Galactic space developments are looming so stay tuned.
Finally the fingers are tapping. It only seems like yesterday that I was travelling through parts of the Middle East and the Caucasus but it was the end of April that this episode began!!
Flew into Istanbul 29th April and had a few days checking this great city out. The muezzins wailing the calls to prayer over the loud speakers ensured an early start to each day.
A boat trip up the Bosphorus brought back memories of my merchant navy days as I had glided through these waters on bulk carriers 30 years ago.
Also managed to squeeze in a day trip down to Gallipoli. Being only a week after ANZAC day there was still evidence of the commemorations and walking along ANZAC Cove with the steep hills above brought home the difficulty those New Zealand and Australian soldiers faced in 1915.
We will remember them.
Evening of 3rd May I met Du and Tanja after they had arrived down from Ljubljana in Du’s trusty Toyota Landcruiser. Du who runs overland trips to some very cool locations was to be our guide/commander in chief for the next 3 weeks. You may wish to take a look at his website http://www.overlanddreaming.com
Next morning we headed south east out of Istanbul down into the Cappadocia region. A great couple of days in the Ihlara valley trekking around the canyon where the early Christians in the Byzantine period dug cave dwellings and churches into the hills to escape from the Romans.
Moving further south east we stopped in Sanliurfa for two great sights. The Golbashi – the sacred carp pond and two mosques where Prophet Abraham was born and the one of the great Caravanserai’s where the Silk Road travellers in the 10-15th Centuries stopped and rested on their way from China to Europe.
Further south to Nusaybin just north of the Syrian border and then along the border for 50kms with Syria just across the dividing river.
Onto the border crossing town of Habur and the cross over into Iraq or Iraqi Kurdistan as the area is known.
Iraqi Kurdistan is an autonomous region of Iraq and not recognised as a country by United Nations but many Kurds would like to have their own state.
A couple of days in the city of Duhok and some exploring of the region. Great taking in the local culture with a trip up to the plateau village of Amedi and the Yazidi centre in LaLish. At this point we were 60km from Mosul but were advised by locals not to venture there.
Back on the road to the Iraqi Kurdistan capital of Erbil where it was obvious from the refurbishment of the Ottoman fort and the very swish city centre that there was significant investment in the area.
Over the years Erbil has been a major trading route between Baghdad and Mosul.
Moving east it was across the border into Iran and a couple of days in the Orumiyeh region taking in the Iranian culture and then onto the fourth largest Iranian city of Trabiz where one of Du’s many contacts gave us a personal tour of the huge Trabiz Bazaar and a local mosque.
Then to the border town of Jolfa and an excursion up the Aras river valley. Across the river was the Azeri enclave of Nakchivan (little Azarbaijan) which is separated from main Azarbaijan by Armenia. Back down the valley past the Iran/Armenia border crossing at Norduz and up to the mountain village of Oshtabin for a view of rural life in Iran.
Jolfa was the main link for merchandise between Iran and the USSR, Eastern Europe and Scandinavia prior to the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Moving further east and across the border into Armenia and the city of Goris for some trekking around the hills and the old city caves. After travelling through the alcohol free countries it was time to toast the journey with a shot of good Soviet era vodka.
Next was Zorats Karer, also referred to as the Armenian Stonehenge, where there is a collection of vertical standing rocks which some believe is the site of an ancient observatory.
Onto Lake Sevan past Mount Ararat though they must have removed Noahs ark.
Lake Sevan was a beautiful lake and the presidential palace where Soviet leaders used to holiday graced the shores along with the sorry remnants of the Soviet holiday homes. Diesel tanks converted into lake side holiday homes must have been the hot ticket back in the 80’s.
Next stop the city of Yeravan and a Lada taxi up to the Memorial of the 1915 Armenian massacre by the Ottoman Turks. Back to the Yeravan and the impressive Cascading monument celebrating 50 years in the Soviet Union.
Moving north into Dilijan with its well preserved “old town” and then across the border into another ex Soviet state, Georgia and the very picturesque capital city of Tbilisi.
It was only 30 years ago that the ex Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze became the first president of Georgia as the USSR collapsed.
Further north up the Georgian Military Highway and a section of that road named the Shevardnadze Highway after, or maybe by, the countries first president. Up into the mountains past another very nice monument to a region being under Soviet rule for 50 years. Here Du managed to get the landcruiser stuck in the snow and luckily an old Soviet Kamaz, a 6 wheeled beast, was travelling the highway and was able to provide a tow so we could continue onto Arsha.
This highway is the main link between Georgia and Russia though there is very little traffic crossing the border due to the current relations between those two countries.
Back down the Georgian Military Highway to Gori and the birth place of Joseph Stalin.
It offered a great museum which incorporated the original house, or Dom, where Stalin grew up and also his well preserved personal train carriage.
The journey was now heading west and across the border and into north eastern Turkey.
Up into the mountains past Yusufeli and to the fantastic mountain village of Barhal for a couple of days of hiking and taking in the Turkish culture in this region.
The journey was coming to an end with a drive over the mountain pass to Trabzon on the Black Sea coast. A night in Trabzon and then a short flight back to Istanbul.
The common highlight of the 3 weeks was the friendliness of the people. They are very different cultures between the Muslim countries and the Caucasus but we met extremely friendly folk where ever we travelled. Just fantastic.
A great trip and to my Slovenian companions, Thanks Du, Thanks Tanja.
A few photos posted in the gallery. Just click on gallery then Middle East & Caucasus 2011.
After a couple more days in Istanbul it was then time to head to the USA. The Harley came out of storage in Milwaukee and a great ride down the country to Baton Rouge, Louisiana where I am currently based.
Next episode will be the looming 2000 km Tuk Tuk race in India so watch this space.
I hope the year treated everyone well. They do seem to be whizzing by!!
Merry Christmas and all the very best for 2011.
Some little projects are looming for me for next year so watch this space
A few photos from Immenstadt and Budapest now up in the Gallery