We’ll fly the friendly skies

My only real requirement of a journey from London to Auckland, apart from cost, was avoiding changing planes in Manila. I was quite happy transiting in China, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, Perth, Dubai, Singapore or practically anywhere really, although the less changes the better – more changes = more opportunities for luggage to get lost. However, when I came to book my flights (only a couple of weeks in advance), the best option was Thai Airways, naturally flying through Bangkok. Two 11 hour flights with a 4 hour wait in between seemed pretty OK to go all the way to the other side of the world, so I booked it.

Since having two unwelcome surprises using booking agents (an unexpected charge, and then a complete inability to book luggage), I’ve always booked my flights direct, on the airline’s website. Thai Airways booking was very simple, I picked their cheapest fare class on the flights that I wanted and paid – no extra questions about luggage, food or travel insurance. This seemed simple and refreshing until I realised I actually wanted to take some luggage, and to at least know about the food. And come to think of it travel insurance might have been useful too. I discounted the last part and bought some at World Nomads, to cover the whole trip. A little investigation on the Thai Airways website revealed that everyone gets a checked baggage allocation of 30kg, and a closer look at my ticket showed this too. Food remained something of a mystery, but since I was going through Bangkok, I’d be fine!

Thai Airways can’t be held responsible for the operation of Terminal 2 at Heathrow, and it isn’t that bad anyway – it’s a western airport, so everything is extremely expensive, security lines are long and the check in area is crowded and a little vague. On the plus side they had a post box. It didn’t look real but I’m still hoping my letter arrives.

I’ve been on a few budget long-haul flights, so I was fairly open minded about what a £500 trip to New Zealand might be like. Flying China Eastern a few years ago had been like flying short-haul, but with decent food thrown in. Flying from Bangkok to Denmark last year with Norwegian Airlines had been a bit more luxurious, but they charge extra for both baggage and food. I prefer a bit of a view, and I was lucky enough to be sat near the window, and (it turned out) even luckier that nobody was in the window seat! The flight took off a bit after 10pm and dinner materialised not long after – and wasn’t too bad. After having a bit of a snooze across my two seats, I woke up to breakfast, pretty much the standard airline breakfast. We arrived on time into Bangkok, which is a well organised airport. They do insist on security for transit customers, as if we might have gotten hold of something dangerous on the plane, but otherwise there was no aggravation.

4 hours is a bit of a long wait, so the gate wasn’t open for the Auckland flight yet, but when it was, there was a toilet and water fountain to use, and no additional security to contend with.

I’ve found that one the second flight of a 20+ hour journey, unintended sleeping occurs, and you lose track of the time. It’s not really a bad thing unless the passenger next to you draws on your face or braids your hair or something, but means I don’t have much to say about my flight to Auckland! It left Bangkok, and 11 hours and two meals later, I was touching down at Auckland and explaining the contents of my baggage at immigration. And then at biosecurity. And then at X-ray. It doesn’t matter who you fly with, you can’t take the fruit into New Zealand!


The Wheels on the Bus

England is recognised as an expensive country to travel in,  comparing badly even to Australia. A rail journey of a couple of hours, bought on the day of travel, can cost hundreds of pounds – as I write this, I can quickly look up the face-value of a one-way ticket bought on the train from London to Manchester is £169. But there is an alternative – both National Express and Megabus run reasonable services, particularly centred on Englands extensive motorway network. Services aren’t as frequent or as fast, but a bus to Manchester tonight, is only £20 with National Express, and as low as £10.50 with Megabus.

Ten years ago, when I worked in London and lived in Leeds (don’t ask), rail tickets booked 10 weeks in advance were reasonably priced (still are, if you don’t mind getting home after midnight), but Megabus were running double decker city type buses for a little as £1. Obviously these were a bit basic and had no toilet, but they did make a stop at some services on the M1. Usually. They also overheated and had to cool down on the hard shoulder, and didn’t really have any luggage capacity outside of the seats and aisles. I wondered if this was still the case, so last month we took a trip to London on the Megabus.

Megabus remains something of a fringe operation at the Nottingham bus station – the bus is assigned a gate, but the driver leads you to the bus from that gate. Our bus was also a European one, with European electric sockets, and the driver on the wrong side – which made for an interesting experience on the motorway. As the toilet didn’t work, we were transferred to a different bus along the way. Despite all this, the bus was reasonably comfortable (by British standards) and was less than half an hour late, which anyone with any sense would allow for. At £5 per person, it was also much cheaper than the train, with the same ability to drop you in the city centre. Megabus has no agreement with Transport for London however, and is prohibited from dropping off passengers anywhere except Vistoria coach station – meaning you potentially sit for an hour as the bus crawls through London, and then pay for a ticket on the train to get back to somewhere you’ve seen from the bus window. When the Megabus costs £5, and the train from Victoria to Baker Street costs £4.90 (or £2.40 with an Oyster Card – get one, they cost £5 and pay for themselves almost immediately!), it’s worth considering another option – National Express.

National Express buses waiting at Penzance bus station. The logical place to expect them to wait…

National Express do have an agreement with TfL and make drop offs in North London, potentially saving you quite a lot of time, and possibly money as well, they aren’t always more expensive. As no Megabus was going back to Nottingham at a convenient time, we used National Express and had a very similar experience to the one on the way down.

This week, I priced a trip return trip to Penzance from Nottingham at £112 by train, and taking about 9 hours (although only 7 on the way back). National Express offered it for £50 return, taking 15 hours  – but involving an overnight journey. I was quite interested to see what an overnight trip would be like, and also how a bus could possibly take 10 hours to drive from London to Penzance, so I bought a ticket.

The blue light is easier to sleep through

Nottingham to London was uneventful, apart from the inevitable deterioration of driving standards as soon as we got south of Milton Keynes (SUVs driving slowly in the fast lane, everyone else hogging the middle lane, frequent undertaking, failure to indicate…) and we arrived at Victoria on time. Departing Victoria, we took a scenic drive long the River Thames, before heading to Heathrow Airport to drop off one passenger and not collect any. After this, the reason for the drive taking 10 hours starts to become apparent, as the bus visits Bath, Bristol, and every possible stop between Exeter and Penzance, following the railway line isn’t the most efficient route for a bus. Nonethless, it arrives by 9AM, and you have the whole day available to you – much like the overnight train (which I suppose I could have used, though the ticket for that was £48 for the London-Penzance section alone, and doesn’t include a sleeper berth).

So how was it travelling for 10 hours at a time by coach in England? Not that comfortable – the roads are actually quite rough for a big coach (I’ve found a car ride on that route a lot smoother), and the bus stops frequently enough to prevent getting any real sleep. The seats aren’t the most comfortable either, and are smaller than on most trains. It isn’t as noisy as an aeroplane, and is fairly easily drowned out with headphones, but trains are a lot quieter. Would I recommend it? It’s survivable – if you can afford the train, it’s faster and more comfortable, if you can’t – this is a useful option.


Since returning to England, I’ve discovered “split ticketing” – see http://www.splitticketing.com, which is the concept of buying the cheapest possibly combination of tickets for your journey, rather than simply a ticket from A to B, priced at whetever the train operator thinks they can get away with. The last trip I plan to take before leaving England (more on that later) is from Nottingham to Wellingborough. Splitticketing.com advised the purchase of two tickets to do this, and I was able to buy them myself, without having to pay commission to splitticketing.com and get a cheaper journey. That £169 journey to Manchester I mentioned at the beginning: only £79.40…

Welcome on board

It’s not a hill, it’s a mountain

I’m currently between projects (ie neither working nor travelling), which gives me relatively little to write about, except for revisiting previous topics and reaching further into the past. So, in order to break up a run of posts about trips that quite obviously took place a while ago, I’m reaching back to the beginning of our first extended backpacking journey, around…Japan.

The image of Japan
The image of Japan

As first time international backpackers, we visited places where everybody goes (Tokyo, Kyoto, Mount Fuji, Hiroshima), where quite a few people go (Miyajima, Kagoshima), and one place that less people seem to visit – the Tateyama-Kurobe Alpine Crossing. OK, so a quick search on Google reveals that there are backpacking blogs that go there, but it doesn’t feature in the ones I tend to read, and there weren’t many Europeans or Americans there, compared to the hordes in Tokyo and Kyoto. It may have helped that we happened to stay in hotels rather than hostels at each end of the crossing…

A popular attraction - but not one to drive to.
A popular attraction – but not one to drive to.

Anyway, the crossing effectively started from Matsumoto for us, our first stop was Shinano Omachi  (by train), in order to catch the bus to Ogizawa. This bus is the first part of the crossing, and although it’s just a bus, it provided some excitement, as we spotted a monkey! From here, you go by trolley bus through the Kanden tunnel, burrowed through Mount Akazawa-dake. I should point out here that if you visit the website for the crossing, you’ll see that it is mostly laid out for going in the opposite direction, but, this being Japan, it made no difference – turn up at the right place and the right time (check the timetable) at either end and it will work perfectly (probably). One of the attractions of the whole thing is the numerous small journeys on various forms of transport involved, which for me, as someone who likes to ride the public transportation systems of international cities as if they were a fairground ride (London, Sydney, Tokyo, Geneva, all very good for this), being able to do it in an alpine environment is great. As we board the trolley bus, that’s number 3 (train, bus, trolley bus)!

Let's go for a walk.
Let’s go for a walk.

The bus arrives at the Kurobe Dam, which you can walk (4) across to the Kurobe Cable Car (5). At this point, the Japanese terms for some of these things diverge slightly from what I might have expected. Their cable car is more of a funicular railway – my idea of a cable car appeared later. The cable car/funicular stops at a lookout, 1828m above sea level, and there is snow here. There’s a lookout, before the journey continues by ropeway (6) (I’d call it a cable car!) to Daikanbo. This is on the side of Mount Tateyama, and you travel through the mountain on another trolley bus (7) through the tunnel to Murodo, which, at 2450m, is your highest point for the day. You can go off to explore (or have some food here), we managed to get slightly lost in a blizzard and see some alpine birds.

The ropeway; now that's what I call a cable car!
The ropeway; now that’s what I call a cable car!
Better than your average chairlift
Better than your average chairlift
Got a bit lost taking this picture
Got a bit lost taking this picture
Found these birds sheltering under a bush near Murodo
Found these birds sheltering under a bush near Murodo

It’s all downhill from Murodo, but the fun isn’t quite over. The bus (8) goes down a steep and windy road, pushed through 18 feet of snow, down to Bijodaira, where they’ve got one more “cable car” (9) for you, to take you down to Tateyama station to catch the train (10) to Toyama. Despite going through two high levels tunnels, making all those changes of transport, crossing a dam high up in the mountains, and braving a blizzard, it was on this train, that one of us managed to lose their hat.

Probably the best bus journey ever really.
Probably the best bus journey ever really.

The one disappointment for me, was that although Toyama has trams, I had booked a hotel to stay in that we could walk to from the train station, and there was really no excuse to go on one. The disappointment was somewhat offset by dinner, because Toyama is where we discovered Yoshinoya!


If you go down to the woods today

Originally, there were two plans for our visit to Gujarat – 1. See the wild Asses, and 2. See the wild Lions. Both are pretty much unique – the Asiatic Lion only lives wild at Sasan Gir, and the Asiatic Ass only in the Ranns of Kutch. On paper (ie in our calendar and calculator), that remained our plan until we started making our arrangements – while we were in Jodhpur. Three reasons presented themselves for reconsidering seeing the Lions – 1. Cost (which was high in Gujarat anyway), 2. Time (the logistics of the Lion trip sounded like they would likely involve lost days) and 3. The state of the Lions themselves. Two years previously, in Tasmania, we hadn’t seen any Platypuses in the wild, but there was a Platypus house at the end of our route around the island, so we went in for a guaranteed look at some. In India, our (virtually) guaranteed sighting of a Lion was at Neyyar Dam in Kerala. If you go there, you’ll see why it’s (virtually) guaranteed – everyone gets into the armoured van, it drives through the air-lock type gates, and the Lions are sitting thirty yards up the road. Perhaps it isn’t exactly like that every time, but I bet it isn’t usually too different. The Lions look pretty unhealthy and the whole thing is a big disappointment.

Lions at Neyyar Dam
The kings of the jungle

Considering all of this, and the impossibility of ever being sure, in India, that the time and money quoted for anything will be sufficient, we decided to prioritise the wild Asses. We’d need to both places from Ahmedabad anyway, so we headed there overnight from Jodphur and straight out to Little Rann without stopping. We actually managed to achieve this, despite a misunderstanding with the booking leaving us stranded in Dasada. Some amiable locals helped us contact the safari operator to arrange a pickup – fortunately it wasn’t busy!

No lions here
No lions here

Our first day in Zainabad was the last day for another English couple, actually an Anglo-Indian couple, who had already been to Sasan Gir. They described an army of jeeps in the forest, backhanders for extra time, and woozy looking Lions with bleeding head wounds at the end of the allotted time – just as we had feared. They tried to say ‘I wouldn’t tell anyone not to go there’ but couldn’t really bring themselves to. After that, we threw all our resources into the Little Rann excursion and took a little extra time on the beach in Goa.

By slowing down a bit, we probably increased our chances of seeing scenes like this
By slowing down a bit, we probably increased our chances of seeing scenes like this

I don’t think safaris in India are always like this – I’ve heard good things about trips to see the Rhinos in the north east, and the wild Asses trips were awesome. Despite the lack of Tigers, the treks at Periyar, in Kerala, are great too – but I’d like to hear from anyone who has been to Sasan Gir – someone tell me it’s awesome!

Ecolite Walking Trainers

Once upon a time, I planned a 7 month trip around Asia, and then threw away my completely knackered walking boots.  Luckily for me it was still September and a reasonable amount of stock was still on sale at discount prices in the outdoors shops in Sydney. Many of these are neighbours, in a nice, convenient line on Kent Street.

A couple of months wanderings in Tasmania finished off my old boots
A couple of months wanderings in Tasmania finished off my old boots

I knew from my recent experiences destroying my walking boots, that swapping a pair of shoes between arid and humid climates, grinding them around concrete streets, and squeezing them into the limited leg room on budget shorthaul flights is the fastest, most efficient way to wear them out. With that in mind, I was looking for a pair of shoes that would need to last a year or two in solid condition, and therefore didn’t want to pay much more than about $130 for them. I was hoping to be able to wear them for 7 months in Asia, then for 6 at work on Mt Ruapehu, and then for a few months after that, wherever I happened to be.

Upper slopes of Mt Ruapehu
Not flip flop territory

After a reasonably diligent search of the row of outdoors shops (I don’t like shopping), I found the Ecolite’s. Specifically, the Ecolite Crossfit Hiking Shoes. They’re still on sale at $100 online.

$100 was well inside my budget, and the Ecolites felt tough and comfortable. They’re quite a large, heavy sort of design, and the lady in the shop explained that Ecolite was a more basic brand, and that for someone with no problems with their feet or their knees or joints, they would be fine. I was having a painful back at the time, but I figured wearing decent shoes like these would be an improvement over anything I currently owned (which was a pair of KMart deck shoes and some KMart dress shoes ), so I coughed up the $100.

(January) Riding Camels in the Rajasthan Desert
One of the final outings for my favourite KMart deck shoes!

I tested them out a bit on a few sections of the Great North Walk (which runs up the NSW coast from the Sydney CBD to Newcastle) and they continued to be OK, so I felt confident about taking them off into the wilderness. Their first trip was South Australia, where they were taken up a couple of mountains in the Flinders Ranges, on arid days when the temperature was in the mid 30s. After a bit of abuse in the cabin of a flight from Adelaide to Perth, they were then ground into the concrete of the Perth CBD for a couple of days, and then taken up Mount Bruce in the Pilbara. This was another desert situation, with the temperature up near 40 degrees, and my shoes being ground into the rocky ground, with the dry sand getting into every available opening and generally draining the suppleness from my new shoes. Then I went swimming in them. I hadn’t planned to go swimming, I was only planning to wade, but I lost my footing and had to tread water until the bag (containing such essentials and car keys and camera) could be taken off me. After that my new shoes didn’t do too much work for a while.

Taking the bull by the horns
Testing waterproofing. I went next!

To remedy any damage that WA might have done to them, I locked them in a pressured, air conditioned airliner for about ten hours, and then took them on a series of walks in Taiwan, ranging from dry mountain air conditions, to humid cities, to actual rain and mud on the north coast. More of the same type of humid plain/dry mountain type of air was encountered through a trip round Kerala, which didn’t seem to do any harm, so we switched back to the deserts of Rajasthan. A couple of weeks of dry desert passed by without any problems, so we visited a salt pan in Gujurat. We spent a couple of days there, and mixed with the sea air in Goa, I’d expect some salt to have had the chance to attack my shoes, but they showed no real deterioration yet.

The sunsets on the wild asses of Little Rann
A dried out salt pan didn’t seem to harm the Ecolites…

40+ degree days in Hampi, coastal humidity and mountain dryness again in Sri Lanka, sweltering jungles in Borneo and sandy beach towns in the Philippines passed by with no problems. Even on Mount Ruapehu, alternately being bent at the toe joint for hours under my desk and then pushed through gritty filled, icy snow – my Ecolites remained water resistant and intact.

(September) Our season was failing, see the amount of exposed rock, but we still managed to get out and have a good time occasionally.
…neither did 6 months in the snow and ice.

Finally, over a year after their initial purchase, I flogged them round Indonesia for a month, before grinding them into the tarmac in Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok, Copenhagen, Amsterdam and Newcastle. They eventually arrived in Cornwall on New Years Eve 2016, and I noticed some cracks. These (predictably) were at the toe joint, and seemed to have breached the aqua shield, meaning they were no longer waterproof. The soles were still fine, and the uppers still firmly attached, but I decided to retire them and get a new pair for my next adventure. If they had one major flaw, it was their size – if you’re looking for a pair of hiking shoes that won’t take up too much space in your bag, you probably won’t want these ones. Otherwise, I recommend them!

Didn't look so big...
Might have been the air travel that finally killed them – they went on an average of 1 flight each month during the time I owned them!


The Eye of the Needle

Or “stick a finger up your ass and you’ll see what I mean”, as the sailors in Das Boot put it. I think they were referring to the narrowness of the straits, rather than the general feel of the town! Today’s post is one from the archives, as it were, all about the time I took the opportunity to go to a disputed territory, sitting at the border of Europe and Africa, looking out over where the Mediterranean meets the North Atlantic, guarding British interests for over 300 years: Gibraltar.

We got the opportunity to go to Gibraltar on the cheap, on account of a friend of mine being moved there by his employer, with an incentive to stay for at least one year. He did, and we went and crashed at his place for five days. I think accommodation in Gibraltar is otherwise quite expensive, and you’d otherwise be well advised to stay in Spain – many people visit from Malaga and Tarifa. Tarifa would have made an even better base for us, but would have lacked the social angle. As it turned out, the buses weren’t that expensive anyway.

Africa, another world, but not that far away
Africa, another world, but not that far away

Gibraltar is a compact place, gathered around its most famous feature; the rock. Before you even reach the small crowd of hopeful taxi drivers waiting to take you to ‘top o’ the rock?’ though, you’ll walk across the runway that your plane landed on, in order to leave the airport. In Gibraltar, the airport operates like a railway station, and the road traffic is held up at the level crossing when a flight is arriving or departing. No space wasted, no space to be wasted.

The view from the top
The view from the top

The day we arrived, we headed straight up that rock – though not all the way, just for the views and to see the famous residents, the Barbary macaques. More of an African beast, these monkeys seem to have been living on the rock since before it was ceded to Britain, and superstition has it that if they leave, so will the British! They’re very bold and curious, and will be all over you if you go up there with food (ask my friend who unwisely picked that moment to unwrap a Cadbury Twirl…), and are a menace similar to that of the Kea in the New Zealand alps. Retract your aerials!

Top o' the Rock?
Top o’ the Rock?
We're on their territory!
We’re on their territory!

On our second day, we ventured a little further, visiting the beach. Gibraltar has a good beach called Catalan Bay, with good waves rolling in off the North Atlantic (they’re obviously taking a bit of a diversion as the beach faces east!), and a hospitable climate, even in April (at least it felt hospitable to people living in the north of England). The problem for us is that it was on the other side of the rock from where we were staying. I can’t remember if we looked into the existence of buses or not, but on paper, it seemed walking distance and you don’t get rich by writing cheques, so we hoofed it round there on foot. It was only a few kilometres, but it wasn’t a pleasant walk, much of it was dockyard, building site or road without pavement, but we made the best of it and spent the afternoon getting ground into the sand by the Mediterranean surf (I think the Atlantic was helping it somehow), sunbathing, and avoiding small, angry dogs.

I wouldn't go for the beaches, but if you're there; I'd go to the beach - at Catalan Bay.
I wouldn’t go for the beaches, but if you’re there; I’d go to the beach – at Catalan Bay.

After seeing the rock, the town, and the best available beach – as well as doing a bit of shopping in La Linea (La Linea de la Concepcion – walking distance, just over the border), we were ready to venture a bit further into Spain for our fun. Everybody seems to go over the border into La Linea to do grocery shopping as its so much cheaper, unless they’re feeling awfully lazy! After a bit of research, we selected Tarifa – where they would be having an Easter procession, this being Easter Sunday. Despite not wanting to go to Algeciras, we went there anyway as you have to change buses there.

Tarifa is a bit of legend on the Mediterranean backpacker route – especially the slower moving one! It’s fairly simple to get there from Gibraltar – you walk over to La Linea, find the bus station, catch a bus to Algeciras bus station and from there take the bus to Tarifa. The bus station isn’t far from the centre of Tarifa.

Welcome to Tarifa!
Welcome to Tarifa!

The Easter procession was pretty laid back and seemed very traditional, with an effigy being carried through the streets and everybody turning out to watch. I’d hoped we’d be able to see something typically Catholic in Spain at Easter – and I reckon we did. After the procession finished, we wandered the town and came across another possibility.

The procession
The procession
Another possibility
Another possibility

After observing the ferry to Tangier in the port at Tarifa, we wandered round to the booking office and got some prices and sailings from them – to see if we could match it up with the bus times and make a day trip from Gibraltar. This turned out to be easily done, and the ferry company has a little scam going – if you go on their tour, which includes transport, then you get a cheaper ferry ticket. We assumed this would be we’d be taken to a bunch of shops and restaurants, but at least we’d see some of Tangier and get a bit of background and context while we were at it. The idea of going to Africa was floated and executed in under 24 hours!

The Tarifa sea front, on Easter Sunday 2011
The Tarifa sea front, on Easter Sunday 2011

Next morning, we were back in Tarifa for the ferry. The visa to Morocco is currently free (I don’t think we paid back then either) and is processed on the boat, with a real stamp in your passport before you even land; essentially, pre-processing. From there, we got taken around Tangier on an extremely predictable tour  – commencing with holding the reins of some camels  – photos 1 euro.

This photo didn't cost 1 euro - I took it myself. The selfie stick has probably takenva bit of a toll at the Tangier camel petting place.
This photo didn’t cost 1 euro – I took it myself. The selfie stick has probably taken a bit of a toll at the Tangier camel petting place.

After camels, we got a guided walk through the souk and bazaar, which included a very good lunch (Chicken Tagine and Cous Cous – I don’t like either of those usually, but I did in Morocco!) and a trip to the carpet store. Far from being an intimidating or pressure filled situation, it was good entertainment. Everyone in the tour group was accosted separately by a man who claimed to be the owner of the shop, and offered a carpet at an unattractive price. None of us were up for it (despite something I may have said at the time), so each of us was then accosted by a second individual, who told us not to listen to the first, assured us that it was in fact he, who was the boss, and offered us a better price. Those who looked remotely interested met a third man, who was a bit more reliable looking, and the price started to come down quite quickly. The single carpet which had been initially offered at 200 euros in the beginning, was now part of a pair, which, if bought together, would cost only 10 euros each. Shipping to anywhere in the world would be easy and cheap. We’d gone off the idea of buying a carpet however, if we’d ever had one, and the transaction didn’t occur. The rest of our walk through the souk was shadowed by an amusing drum salesman, who refused completely to believe that I didn’t want to buy a drum, slashing his price down to 0, and then raising it again when I didn’t bite.

Wanna buy a carpet?
Wanna buy a carpet?
Wandering around Tangier
Wandering around Tangier
Looking back at Tangier from the ferry port. I think the more expensive part of town is up on the hill...
Looking back at Tangier from the ferry port. I think the more expensive part of town is up on the hill…

The ferry back to Tarifa and the buses back to Gibraltar went without incident – I even learned a little bit of Spanish from the bus driver!

Back in Gibraltar, with one day left – we had to get up that rock. Taxi drivers swarm, cable cars trundle all day – but none of that was for us; we walked. Climbing was a bit knackering, but hardly anyone (if anyone at all) was doing it. That’s probably because we used the “secret path”  – ie the Mediterranean Steps (ask anyone). This requires a bit of determination and a “moderate” level of fitness. You know if that’s you – don’t you?

A gentle introduction to caves on the rock – explore for yourself

After checking out some caves we found, we headed for the caves and tunnels that everybody visits.

St Michael's Cave
St Michael’s Cave – where we caught up with our friends the monkeys again

Admission to all the caves is currently £7.50, which includes a ride on the cable car, should you choose to accept it. We may have dodged the walk down and used the cable car, I mysteriously can’t remember that part. After St Michael’s, we entered the Great Siege tunnels, which burrow on for ages into the rock, occasionally affording views out over the town. There’s a lot of historical stuff still in there, but it’s a cave, not a museum, so you can still wander about and explore. I’m not sure how long people spent in there at a time, but they must have gotten pretty sick of it!

Another view from the top; somebody's window on the world back in 1782!
Another view from the top; somebody’s window on the world back in 1782!

However we got back down to the bottom of the rock (without being worked over by a troupe of monkeys) doesn’t matter – the important thing is that we did, and that meant we could head out for a bit of dinner and a few San Miguels on our last night. We’d actually been out for tapas and few San Miguels pretty much every night, so I only mention it here because it was the farewell dinner. Going out in Gibraltar is somewhat more expensive than going out in Spain – or at least in La Linea, but it’s important to savour the local delicacies. So I had fish and chips and pint – Gibraltar is part of Britain after all!

Goodbye from the Macaques - they seemed more reflective on our last day.
Goodbye from the Macaques – they seemed more reflective on our last day.

Get on your Boots

Been neglecting this blog a little bit the last couple of weeks. True, I haven’t been travelling anywhere new – I’ve been in western Cornwall, doing admin, and attending to the mess I left when I went off travelling over four years ago. Unlike organised BeMyTravelMuse or the many straight-out-of-college/university travel bloggers (no offence meant, it just means there isn’t a decade of clutter to deal with!), I left a pile of unfinished projects and an ongoing life behind when I left – “neatly” packed into a few different places. Now I’m cleaning some of it up and selling it on Ebay! Wanna buy a DVD recorder? As well as that, I’ve been on plenty of walks (check out my new instagram feed!) and done some shopping.

Showing their age, 8th November 2014 on the Hillary Trail, West Auckland
It was time for some new hiking boots, although my Ecolite hiking trainers have been doing very well…

Living in Australasia (not a cheap place to buy outdoors equipment), I’d been holding off on buying any of the more expensive items, and I was pretty disappointed to find, back in England, that quality has actually declined with a number of manufacturers. It took a lot more research than I expected to become confident in the purchase of any new stuff. Nevertheless, I’ve now gotten hold of a pair of Berghaus Explorer GTX hiking boots (review / purchase) , and a Mountain Warehouse Peru 55 litre backpack (review / purchase). We’ll see if they live up to expectations.

III became IV became GTX. Same same but different/
III became IV became GTX. Same same but different/

Away from home, the things I missed (aside of family and friends) were decent fish and chips (not so common outside the UK), long evenings (in summer obviously), decent pubs (proper British pubs, though the one in Bodalla was a very nice stand in – as was the Welsh Dragon in Wellington), decent beer (to be consumed in the decent pubs) and Saturday afternoon listening to the football. It’s great to be back. It’s winter, so I’m just making do with the beer, the fish and chips and the football at the moment. Sometimes all at the same time. Chocolate is also a lot cheaper.

Hiking boots aren’t the only boots that have been active lately though, I’ve also been down an old Cornish tin mine. My Wellington boots didn’t quite cut it, as the water was close to knee height, but it was better than wearing old trainers! We delved into four levels of a mine that open right on the cliff path (with an experienced person, don’t go diving into any holes you might find if you come here!). In the most interesting one, we slid down a diagonal stope (where the tin was extracted, but which also joins the levels) from one level to another, something of a leap of faith, as it involves coming out a different way to the one you went in. I get a little bit anxious deeper into caves (especially if I have to remember the way I came and especially if the roof and walls are close around me) but I managed to distract myself and keep fairly calm. The levels tend to slant to one side and appear like the space where two enormous rocks have fallen untidily against each other. Much of the mine also contains piles of waste rock, some of which appear to be load bearing, and best not touched. Some of the mine is old enough to have been dug out by Tudor miners, working in rags, with candles, hacking out rock and tin with picks and shovels, probably working 12+ hour days. I haven’t decided to plan the rest of my life around the opportunity to get underground, but I wouldn’t have missed out for the sake of a few slightly uncomfortable moments either – it was awesome!

"Descending" the stope - ie sliding down it!
“Descending” the stope – ie sliding down it!
Not a lot of space down there sometimes!
Not a lot of space down there sometimes!

Not sure of the procedure for visiting Rosemergy, but nearby Geevor is open for business (and visitors): www.geevor.com.

Lastly, I’ve been indulging in a little medical tourism. Being a medical tourist in your own country is a bit of an odd experience, but if you’ve been away a while, that’s what it feels like. Having done so, I can advise that Britain isn’t a good place to do it. Leaving aside the opticians, who are very competent and competitive, we found the rest of the experience dissatisfying. I started by going to the dentist. The NHS waiting list is three years, so I was seen privately, and the resulting dental bill will be $500NZD for three fillings and a clean. Next I went to get an immigration medical – involving blood tests and X-rays. This is for New Zealand, as mine has expired and I wanted to keep it up to date, I’m intending to move there in the next three years. There are only five places in England that provide this service and they are at private hospitals. The cheapest I found was £321, and I had to travel three hours to get there. “The system” was down when we arrived, and they said we might have to come back to complete the tests. About the time we mentioned the possibility of abandoning the whole thing (we hadn’t paid yet) it miraculously came back up, but that was probably a coincidence. Other than that, it was fine. Compared with the cost and general experience we had obtaining these medical certificates in Melbourne and Wellington however, it wasn’t that great. Do it somewhere else if you can!

And what about the future? Well, we’re about to complete the consolidation project here in Cornwall and relocate to our other base in Nottinghamshire for a bit more of the same. Less stereo equipment and more ladies shoes will be heading toward Ebay. We also plan to travel around England a bit (probably by train – good for Instagram but hard on the wallet), so I can give my new backpack a bit of a test, and I’m working on some travel/migration angles – despite the beer, the fish, the football, and even the weather – I don’t plan to be in England by the time those long evenings kick in!

Goodbye Cornwall, I'll be back.
Goodbye Cornwall, I’ll be back.

The adventure that never ends