Friday, September 24, 2010


I’ve just spent what began as a tedious hour in my local shopping mall (do we call them malls over here?). It was full of Stuff and it got me thinking. This is a rare occurrence so I thought I’d put my thoughts down on paper. I immediately bought some Stuff – a pen and a notebook.

The mall had so many shops selling a mountain of items. There were clothes, shoes, jewellery food, kitchen utensils, and furniture, not to mention the clothes and shoes. There were toys novelty shops, picture shops, newsagents, coffee shops and shops selling shoes and clothes – have I already mentioned these? Further along I found jewellers, cobblers, bookshops, phone shops, electrical appliance shops, travel agents, music shops, amusement arcades, computer hardware and software shops, and department stores – these were mainly clothes and shoes with a scattering of perfume, music, books and furniture. In addition to this there numerous clothes and shoe shops – but I think I already mentioned that. And as I wandered along in my usual state numbness (this is what shopping does to me) it just hit me – this is all just Stuff.

Does it really matter if your shoes cost $90 or $130? Are you going to get $40 of extra wear out of the more expensive brand? And if so, how are you measuring that? Can you judge whether they’ll be $40 more comfortable? No matter how you look at it, it is all just Stuff. A $100 watch, a $10 T-Shirt, a $1000 suit, a diamond ring, a $35 book, a $30 compact disc, a $25,000 car, the new $200 hiking boots with $20 socks, or the cut-price gold necklace for $199.99 – it is all simply Stuff, no matter how you try to justify it. It seems the human race is addicted to Stuff and will do all it can to collect it. We really like the best Stuff and compete with our neighbours to get it. My Stuff is better than your Stuff!

However, the problem with collecting Stuff is that there is always more Stuff being made, so we need to buy more Stuff to keep up. Companies bring new and improved Stuff each year. Computers are overtaken within 6-months of their purchase, the washing machine is outdated after two-years, cars need to be replaced every few years, each year a new colour or clothing style is ion fashion and there is yet more Stuff in the shops. We can never have enough.
Where do we put this Stuff? Our houses are getting bigger, but that big, so we sell it, throw it away, or just let it pile up in the attic or garage. It seems we quickly get bored with our Stuff and need different Stuff. Life is full of Stuff.

I often ask myself why we need all this Stuff and I can’t really find a reason. I don’t think we do need all this Stuff. I certainly don’t begrudge people wanting a more comfortable life – why would I? I want a more comfortable life, but I don’t think accumulating Stuff will give it to me.

We seem addicted to shopping, always wanting shops open for longer, but how much do we need? To be able to buy more Stuff we need to earn more and therefore work longer hours and want the shops open later – it seems like a vicious circle. Perhaps if we didn’t have an obsession with Stuff, we wouldn’t feel the need to work ourselves into the ground to earn more to keep up with the ever elusive and mystical Jones’. Unfortunately, it seems that our economy is built around the purchase of Stuff, and we are bombarded with overt and covert advertising to remind us to buy more Stuff. This will keep the economy going and people in jobs.

We now need so much Stuff that it is being made overseas because that makes it cheaper. We can’t afford a lot of expensive Stuff, so we need it to be cheaper and will happily buy the cheap Stuff, and convince ourselves it is good Stuff, even if it falls apart within a year or two. The good quality Stuff is still made, but it takes time and skill, which makes it expensive – we’ll stick mainly with the cheap Stuff. Good quality Stuff is therefore becoming scarce. This has a perverse irony. Good quality Stuff is built to last and, while it is more expensive, it will probably outlast numerous poorer quality competitors, leaving the poorer people eventually spending more on four or five cheap models than the cost of one good quality model. We encourage this through our purchase of cheap Stuff. It will lead us down a path of perennial mediocrity.

So there we have it – a world full of Stuff; an artificial means of keeping the economy going and food on our tables. So after a while I asked myself, while temporarily disorientated at yet another meeting of wide aisles of shops, when Adam Smith was philosophising, did he envisage a world where we were subservient to the economy? I always understood the economy was there to serve society and make it work by distributing wealth and services. All this Stuff and our desperation to purchase it, led to me to wonder whether we have got it all wrong and are simply on a treadmill of never-ending economic slavery for the simple purpose of making and buying Stuff. This was indeed food for thought.

After an hour or so walking through the mall I was well and truly stuffed and needed some fresh air. I am not ashamed to say that I felt an overwhelming feeling of escape and relief as I exited through the doors and out into the sunshine. I was no longer surrounded by Stuff, and it felt really good.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Salute the Adventurer

The rescue of round the world sailor, Abby Sutherland, has been making the headlines recently, attracting the usual debate concerning whether we would should pay for her rescue or not. Some time ago, Yann Elies, competing in the Vendee Globe round-the-world race was also the subject of some uncharitable commentators highlighting the monetary cost, and before that there was Tony Bullimore and others. However, many fail to see that there are costs should these people be discouraged from their adventures, costs to society as a whole.

Those, particularly in Australia, that criticise the cost of such activities should bear in mind that many would not be living where they are today unless someone with an adventurous sprit had not boarded a boat and sailed into the unknown. While a comfortable and sedate experience is what many people long for, the human race would stagnate without those who try to push the boundaries in all sorts of fields and endeavours. There are indigenous races that may rue, and with some justification, this adventurous sprit, and one cannot begrudge them this opinion, but exploration and competition appear to run in the blood of much of the human race.

Those that wish for the quiet life have every right to seek that experience, but they should not begrudge assistance to those who seek more active and physically challenging experiences. Just as some follow the suburban dream and conventional career paths, others dream of scientific discovery, sporting achievement, sailing the ocean, climbing mountains, or perhaps even going into space. These people often provide inspiration for others and so contribute something that can’t be measured in dollars.

And what about the cost? Why do we accept that the world should be run by accountants? Does the financial cost of something always have to be the deciding factor? And is the cost that is often quoted real? Where navy ships are concerned, are the navy sailors not paid irrespective of whether they are at sea? Perhaps they get paid more at sea, but how much more? Is the fuel not going to be used at some point or another in the year- if not this voyage, then another? So what is the real cost of a rescue that wouldn’t otherwise be expended? I would hazard a guess that it is much less than the figures that are often quoted.

So what is the cost discouraging these adventurous people? Will we start to get generations who are inward looking and caught in a spiral of ever-decreasing inventiveness? I’m serious; we see the same in research – people discouraged from pure research because it has no immediate commercial or practical application. That is very short-sighted because this very research is often the foundation of many new ideas that have great benefits to humanity. Just recently a plant species has proven to be useful in combating cancer, highlighting the benefits of funding basic botanical research. The same is true for adventurers, they inspire people to do things, and they show what can be done with determination and application. Sure, some come a cropper, falling through the ice in the arctic, getting knocked over in the Southern Ocean, or getting into trouble climbing mountains and needing rescuing, but I hold no grudges that my taxes go toward their rescue. I am a lot more worried that my money goes into subsidising tax breaks for investors, politicians expenses, the private education system, and many, many more things that systematically siphon money away from more needy areas and cost far more than the one-off rescue of an adventurer.

The cost of discouraging adventure and risk is a bland and timid society. We are already letting the economy run our lives, rather than using the economy as a tool for helping society. We are not here to serve the economy, the economy is there to serve us, and I think we can lose sight of this sometimes. I won’t go into the GFC, but making money for money’s sake has not proven to be a great idea, it has cost us trillions of dollars. Don’t worry about a few million dollars spent on rescuing adventurers, when we condoned financial practices that have sent countries broke and major institutions to the wall. Where is the sense of perspective here? Why is this even an issue?

I applaud those who still find ways in which to be adventurous and challenge the elements. They remind us that humans are a curious and dynamic animal that seek out new experiences. We need to keep climbing mountains, sailing the oceans, exploring deep caves, the sea floor, the deserts, and the universe. The alternative is that we become a risk-averse race that crawls along, afraid to take chances and nervous of challenges, always worrying about cost.

Why should everyone be chained to their job? Why criticise those who choose to push the limits? In the long-run, their spirit of adventure benefits all of us, shows that the world can still be a wild and wonderful place, and reminds many of us of the origin of the cities and countries where we live today. People got on boats, or camels, or horses, and went out into the wide blue yonder to see what was there. I am grateful to them for that and sleep soundly in my bed each night knowing that there are adventurers out there who dare to dream.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Across the Nullarbor by Train in 1993

Perth in winter was quiet. In 1993 there were not a great many occupants at the Francis Street Youth Hostel. This is where I had stayed when I arrived in Perth; it had a nice feel to it. Ross and Linda ran it, and they made the hostel, in my opinion, the best place for backpackers in Perth. They were friendly people, and Ross was making improvements all the time. There was a chance to work for your rent as well. I had no hesitation in returning. The weather was overcast and the temperature a chilly 18 degrees Celsius (that is chilly for Perth). It also rained a fair bit.
Life quickly became just a little bit tedious. There were only so many pubs, museums and galleries to visit; even playing on the kid’s toys at SciTech lost its lustre after a while. How many times can you mime in front of a blue screen to John Farnham’s Pressure Down song? Quite a few, if you want my opinion, particularly when there are fake guitars and drums to play. We needed a visit to the pub after that!

Then, on the spur of the moment, I decided to visit Sydney. I had met some people just after I arrived and they had all gone east to stay in the Glebe Youth Hostel. A friend of mine from Plymouth University was also in Sydney. I took the train to East Perth Station to see when the next train to Sydney left. It was sitting in the station and I was reliably informed that it was leaving in two hours.

After buying a ticket, I had only ninety minutes to get back to the hostel, pack a bag, check out, and get back to East Perth. In such times, the gremlins ensure that the local trains are running late. I waited for what seemed like an eternity before a train came to take me back into central Perth. Ross was nowhere to be seen when I wanted to check out (I think I might have left a note saying I would be back in three weeks). I need not have panicked; the train was half-an-hour late in leaving and I made it with fifteen minutes to spare. Next stop Sydney! Actually, it was Midland just little bit further east, and then Kalgoorlie, and then Adelaide etc. I’m sure you get the idea.

Some of you would be asking, ‘Why take the train when you can fly?’

The answer is simple. I had a lot of time to spare, at least four weeks, and I enjoy travelling by train. For many years, travelling on the Indian Pacific had been a dream of mine, and I was now in a position to make it happen.

I have always liked riding on trains. There is something quite relaxing about the smooth motion, and ease by which you pass through the countryside. This was no exception. To aid matters I had managed to get on the same carriage as a group of medical students from Adelaide, who had been to a conference, or something. I could not quite make out where they had been, because wherever it was, they had been celebrating for a few hours.

Being sociable sorts they wouldn’t hear of me not having a drink with them. Well, all right then, twist my arm if you have to. We partied on into the night before, one by one, calling it quits. Fortunately, we had two seats each, the carriage only being half-full. This, and the anaesthetic effect of the beer, meant that we all slept.

I woke up somewhere east of Kalgoorlie, staring up at my feet. There are only so many ways to sleep on a train seat, and the flat torso, head on armrest with feet and legs vertical against the window, is an accepted method. It also leaves a significant ache at the base of your skull. After some considerable effort, I managed to get myself into a sitting position and consider my hangover. The glare from the desert outside was not helping.

Once enough of us were conscious and able to function, we played a game. It was very similar to the game kids often play in the car. You know the one. I-spy. However, there are only so many times you can you can say, ‘I spy with my little eye, something beginning with S,’ and get the same volley answers.
‘Sand dune.’
‘Sandwich. I got it from the restaurant car.’
‘OK then, but we were looking out the window.’
‘Oh. Right. Slightly singed tree?’
‘Only kidding. I was looking at the sand dune.”
That exhausted at least ninety-percent of all possibilities.

The day’s games became less and then died out altogether. There is only so much you can do to pass the time, and most people gradually withdrew into their own personal method of dealing with the endless hours of travel. My own method was to sit and stare out of the window in a semi-trance, hypnotised by the endless landscape that refused to stop passing by. In places it was so flat that I fancied that I could see for fifty kilometres. I think it is only possible to see about five because the curvature of the Earth, but I was in my own little world.

The Nullarbor Plain, for that is what we were trundling across, is famous for not having any trees. It is Latin for no trees. The train line has a straight stretch of four hundred and seventy-eight kilometres that crosses this unique landscape. It is also very flat, except for the occasional patch of sand dunes.

The promotion for the train says that you will be able to see a great deal of wild of wildlife. The plain is a limestone plateau covering about 200,000 square kilometres. It stretches over 1000 kilometres at its widest point. It used to be an old seabed that has since been uplifted and is riddled with caves. Some of them are huge. Cocklebiddy Cave in Western Australia is one of the largest, being over six kilometres in length. Most of it is filled with water, but that hasn’t stopped intrepid cavers from seeing how far they can go. The record is just over six and a half kilometres. Nobody knows how much further it goes? This limestone tableland eventually reaches the Southern Ocean and terminates in cliffs that fall straight down to the water, some 70 metres below.

Another reason I remember Cocklebiddy is from when we drove over to the east from Perth, when I was about eight years old. We stayed in a small motel and were kept awake all night by the breeze blowing off the land towards the sea. I don’t know who decided to call it a breeze, it was a howling gale that rattled all the windows and shook the walls. Loose bits of galvanised iron bashed against other galvanised iron in a symphony of metallic screeching. As you can see, it was burned into my memory. The flat plain provides not protection, so this wind just blows as much as it likes. I preferred cruising past in the comfort of the train. The train also arrives in three days, while driving across would take at least a week.

The promotion for the train says that you will be able to see a great deal of wild of wildlife from the window. This is probably true, but only if you haven’t become totally vacant, focused on a speck of dust on the window, and are now dribbling in a catatonic state.

There are eagles and other birds of prey that occasionally glide majestically by on their thermals; there are wombats, kangaroos, emus and even camels, but I can’t remember seeing many. The Eyre Bird Observatory near the Western Australian and South Australian border has recorded somewhere in the region of two hundred and thirty different species of bird. I only wish that I could have spotted some of them.

The day dragged on.

And on.

And on.

It was, however, comforting, even out here in the middle of nowhere, to have the traditional unexplained stops and then periods of trundling along at only just above walking pace. There is probably a good reason for this; hot tracks, perhaps a train coming the other way, but it seems that it is company policy wherever you are in the world not to tell the passengers what is going on.

The train occasionally passes old towns, or just abandoned stations like Forrest, a lonely wooden building that has been left to suffer the tender mercies of time. We stopped in Cook, named after the sixth Prime Minister of Australia, Joseph Cook. This was a welcome chance to get off the train and stretch our legs. It was hardly a town at all, just a collection of three or four buildings next to the railway with a dirt track heading off into the flat tableland. There are four people who live here, the rest moved when it ceased to be an important stop once the railways were privatised and support operations moved elsewhere. It was very quiet. Adelaide seemed a very long way away.

We managed to arrive in the South Australian capital on the second morning. The usual contortions had resulted in the usual ached and pains so I took the opportunity to get off the train for a couple of hours and have a really good fried breakfast. A short tour of Adelaide was offered, but why would I want to get on a coach? just I had been cooped up on a train for a day and a half, and had another similar stint ahead of. Was he mad?

The day passed uneventfully enough. My medical mates from Adelaide were now safely home and the carriage was much quieter. Late that afternoon we pulled into Broken Hill. This is where the journey became even more of a drag.

I had managed to get a seat in a non-smoking car, because of the scarcity of people on the train. My ticket, the only one left when I bought my passage in Perth, was for a smoking car. I had been able to ignore this restriction up until now, however my luck had run out.

I moved to the smoking car and spent the rest of the day sitting next to an old guy who smoked like a chimney. He did apologise, but that did not help very much. When I left England, I had not realised how many people smoked. I played cricket, and one of the clubs I played for had developed a grey haze by about eight o’clock on a Saturday evening. A lot fewer people smoked in Perth, and I now found that sitting in the smoking car was making my eyes sting.

Consequently, I spent at least half of the third day standing in between the cars staring out of the window. Sydney could not come soon enough.

After yet another night of gymnastic sleeping, this time with only one seat and a carriage full of smoke, we pulled into Sydney early on the third morning, some four thousand three hundred and fifty-two kilometres after leaving Perth. I was exhausted and crawled into the first taxi I could find, mumbled, ‘Glebe Youth Hostel,’ before I passed out.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Helicopters - don't you just love'em

Helicopters. It is about time I discussed them. I cracked my helicopter virginity in the Kimberley. There is something quite exhilarating about these fragile-looking machines. When the side doors are removed and you are skimming along some twenty metres above the tree line, the breeze blows across your face and you are king of the landscape. Even in the cooler dry season, the air is warm and pleasant as it funnels past. As you are hurtling back to your campsite for a well-earned meal and the sun is dropping, casting a soft liquid light across the faded green trees and giving the outcropping of the Drysdale River escarpment an orange and purple glow, it is difficult to think of a better place to be.

This is all very well, but when I grabbed a lift back to Kununurra to catch a bus to Alice Springs I found at what it’s like to be in a small helicopter being buffeted by powerful winds at 9000 feet. This is an altogether different experience. Thankfully, my pilot (I’ll call him Dave) had re-attached the doors for this flight.

As I clutched the seat and tried take in the magnificence of the Cockburn Ranges and Pentecost River, Dave motioned for me to put on my headphones. My nervousness was undoubtedly obvious; I presumed he was going to put me at my ease. And look, I’m sure that’s what he intended. Our conversation went something like this.
‘Hey Pete, you’re looking a bit nervous’
‘You can tell can you?’ I would probably have grimaced at him.
‘Not half, but you should know that we’re safer up here than we would be flying just above the trees.’
‘Is that right?’ I know I did not sound convinced.
‘I’m serious. If anything goes wrong down there we’d be crashing into trees in a second. Up here, we might drop like a stone for a while, but we’d auto-rotate and probably land safely.’
‘Well, there are no certainties, but I’m pretty sure we would.’
‘I’ll take your word for it.’
‘I could demonstrate if you like. I’ve had to do it a number of times.’
‘Exactly how many?’
‘Oh, a few.’
‘Well don’t feel you have show me…I’ll take your word for it. No really, I will!’

He laughed at my last response. Bastard! Anyhow, we made it to Kununurra and I stayed overnight before catching a bus south.

It proved to be an eventful evening. I met Byrne, the owner of Ellenbrae Station. We had a few beers, and a few more, and a few more after that. I got to know the locals quite well in a short time. I crawled back to the motel. The next morning I was up at 5:30am and on the bus by 6:30. I didn’t feel at all well, but at least the bus was air-conditioned! It was another fifteen hours to Alice Springs.

Now, back to helicopters. There are two types of helicopter pilot. The first one, lets say his name is Simon, is a trained professional. He maintains his machine with care and flies conservatively. When you point out your next sample site to him, he does a few circles, decides the where the best landing site is, and puts you down within a hundred metres. You know he has radioed back to base and people know where you are.

The second type of pilot is also a trained professional but probably has post-traumatic stress disorder from his time in combat. We’ll call him Wierdo (these pilots all have disturbing one-word nicknames like Mental, Gorilla, or my favourite, Psycho!). He has a slightly different approach. Once you point out the sample site, he will yell, ‘Geronimo!’ fling the tail rotor out quickly in both directions to lose speed, and then drop like a stone into a clearing that he’s fairly sure is big enough for his helicopter.

He may take a few small branches with him on the way down. Wierdo is also occasionally forgetful, and when you point out the flashing red light on his control panel, is liable to say, ‘Fuck! Looks like we’re out of fuel mate. Don’t worry, we’ll auto-rotate down if we run out before we get home. I’m pretty sure I told the office where I was going today.’ He is easily spotted at the mining camp by his constant nervousness, borderline alcoholism and propensity to talk about
I was blessed with both types of pilot.

Oh how I looked forward to another Wierdo or Psycho when it was time to go out stream sediment sampling once again. Surprisingly enough, it was the ‘Simon’ style of pilot that produced most of my dramas.

One day I was out sampling with Geoff, and we had just been dropped off for our first sample of the day. It was about 8:00am and when watched the chopper leave. It took us half an hour to locate a suitable trap site for heavy minerals where picro-ilmenites (indicator minerals for diamonds), or even diamonds, may drop out of the river during times of flow. The half hour was usually because after we had identified the site, the endless circling of the pilot had severely disorientated us and we were no longer sure which way the now dry stream would flow. You can’t easily find trap sites if you don’t know this.

About forty-five minutes after we had been dropped off we had sieved a forty-kilogram sample and were waiting in the shade to be picked up and taken to our next site. At nine-thirty we made jokes about being forgotten. At mid-day we began to get seriously worried about whether the helicopter had crashed and we would be left out here for days. We had maps, but it would be a long walk back to camp, a very long walk (we’re talking a couple of days or so) over extremely tough terrain. After visiting a nearby gorge to escape the heat for a while, where we dipped our toes in some soothingly cool water, re-filled our water-bottles, and startled some freshwater crocodiles, we went back to our improvised landing site (clearly marked with pink flagging tape) and thought seriously about getting ready to stay here overnight. In the bright side, it was a very beautiful and peaceful place.

Thankfully, a helicopter did come to pick us up. It was a Wierdo behind the controls. How exciting! We went off to pick up Tony and Joe, via a plummet and grab stop, and made it back to camp before dark.

Now, seriously, despite my somewhat flippant description of the pilots, not one of them ever put me in any danger. They did leave my stomach behind a few times and make remember my slight fear of flying, but the feeling that comes with travelling in a helicopter is addictive and I would do it again without hesitation. In fact I already have in my current job.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Morning in the Bush

I'm currently writing a book...maybe one day it will be published. It is, among other things, a ramble through my days as an exploration assistant. we go with a little excerpt.

Do you know what a summer morning is like in the Australian bush? If you don’t, then let me describe it for you.

It is cool. The sun is not yet above the horizon, but the sky is a soft blue colour infused with white. It is perfectly still; branches hang limp. There is a sweet smell in the air, a cool damp aroma that comes from the vegetation. It’s as if someone has doused the country with air freshener. Condensation clings to leaves and the makes the soil moist underfoot; it also carries the smell into your nose. The chorus of birdcalls that greeted the first light of dawn some half and hour ago has ceased. There is only silence.

This is as peaceful as it gets anywhere in the world, as serene as you can be. Soon the drilling will start and it will be time to work. You’ll have to wait until tomorrow to experience this again.

That is one the lasting memories of my two years working as a field assistant in Western Australia. I worked in the East Kimberley and Northeastern Goldfields. Of course, I also remember the days when it was over thirty degrees at 7am and steadily rose to over forty-five degrees, sometimes with high humidity. There were the days when I was covered in sweat mingled with red dust, producing a facemask that cracked every time that I smiled. Some days I drank five litres of water in the middle three hours of the day, and wondered why I had chosen to do this work.

On balance, I prefer to remember the sunrises, the peace and serenity of the bush, and the lovely waterholes of the Kimberley. However, these can get boring after a while, so I’ll also talk about the other stuff!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Another song...lyrics only.

Wasting Time

There’s so much I have to do, apparently
The endless jobs that must be done
According to some unwritten law
That he who dies with the most tasks done
Has won

But I’m just sitting here wasting time
Strumming my six-string and writing lines.

Hey you, in your Armani suit
How rich do you really think you’ll be?
Working twelve hours each and every day
With an house and family
You never see.

And I’m just sitting here wasting time
Watching the sun set and drinking wine.
There’s no such thing as wasted time
When I’m playing my six-string and drinking wine
The only wasting I do
Is at my desk until the workday’s through.

Why would you want to waste your life
Chasing status, youth and gold?
You can keep your career and high flying jobs
I am going to taste each day as I grow old
Outside the mould

So I’m just sitting here lost in time
The sun and wind on my face and feeling fine.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Now correct me if I'm wrong but...

I thought the economy was here to serve the needs of society, and not that society was here to be subserviant to the needs of the economy.

Maybe I'm just strange, but that appears to be how we live now.

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Promised Land

It's time for something different. Yes...time to publish some song lyrics...I'm afraid you'll have to imagine the world-class music that goes with them!

The Promised Land

He arrived in San Francisco, back 1849
Came round the Cape Horn searching for his fortune
Followed all the wagon trains, running from his life
Climbing over mountain trails to where there was a fortune

He’s a gold prospector
Burning in the mid-day sun
His water bottle empty
His nuggets all hard-won
Digging in the dirt
With bloodied, blistered hands
A Frisco 49er
Searching for his promised land.

Left his golden dreams, buried in a riverbed
Went back to San Francisco, still without his fortune
Found himself out on the street, reduced to eating bread
Came across a pack of cards. Time to win his fortune.

He’s a desperate gambling man
Choking in the blackjack hall
Down to his last dollar
Waiting for the cards to fall
Through weary, bloodshot eyes
He’s bluffing with an empty hand
Drinking with the local whores
And dreaming of his promised land

Sleeping in an empty doorway, he’s a man who’s all alone
Sheltering from a vengeful wind, ten thousand miles from home
A shadow of his former self, he’s pawned everything he owned
Now huddled tight against the cold, dreaming of a golden road.

He’s a man without a home
A nomad with a wandering soul
Searching for his life’s big break
Waiting for Fate’s dice to roll
Haunting all the streets and docks
His dreams now turned to sand
Believing each new ship that comes
Will take him to his promised land.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Tips for enjoying life No. 1

Have you ever just sat beneth a tree, closed your eyes and listened to the wind rustle through the leaves above? I recommend it.

A glass of red wine helps too!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Travel: Snowman Trek (Part VIII Days 19 - 21)

Day 19

This was a shorter day as we trekked along the undulating plateau. We were treated to a sparkling clear day and magnificent views of this barren landscape as well as a clear panorama of the surrounding mountains. The landscape can only be described as severe, with jagged mountains and shattered scree covering slopes in every direction, caused by the freeze-thaw action of water. There were more lakes and streams, many of which were in streambeds far bigger than their current volume required – an indication that during the snowmelt vast quantities of water tumble across the plateau before thundering down to the valleys below. We also came across small glaciers that were carving their own valleys. At this altitude, even the 100-metre or so climb to the two passes we went over, including Loju La, felt difficult, however we persevered and eventually reached our camp at Jichu Dramo.

(View from Loju La)

(View across the plateau)

Day 20

Today we climbed over the highest point on our trek, Rinchen Zoe La. This pass is recorded as anywhere between 5360m and 5600m, so I will settle on 5450m and hope that is somewhere near the right answer. Below the pass was a milky white lake full of sediment from melting ice. We spent a while at the pass getting photos and generally enjoying the ‘peak’ of our trek and looking at Gankar Pussum, at 7561m the highest moutnain in Bhutan. Then it was down, a long walk past some lakes with some occasionally boggy areas to walk across. We descended a steep-sided valley and found a campsite on the flat valley floor at about 4400 metres. The additional oxygen down here was immediately noticeable after the best part of three days over 5000 metres. The dinner that night was very enjoyable as we celebrated the biggest pass of the trip. We had just one pass left to conquer and that was a comparatively modest 4655 metres.

(View of Gankar Pussum)

(Lake on the way down from Rinchen Zoe La)

Day 21

Our yak herders had already left early, racing to get the best campsite for the next night as there were limited choices. They left at a run! It has snowed in the night and we had a cold start, but it did wake us up. We carried on at a more sedate pace, descending below the tree line and down towards the valley floor. As we reached the bottom by the river, the valley became extremely narrow and steep – a real v-shape. It was like walking between two walls. We found a pleasant, if somewhat muddy, clearing where we had lunch. It was used as a campsite by yak herders and had copious amounts of yak dung lying on the grass.

(It was cold in the toilet tents this morning!)

After lunch, which was a good opportunity to rest weary legs, we carried on and found ourselves climbing up the side of the v-shaped valley. This was a tough climb that took us about 3 hours. It was a winding path up through the forest that gave us magnificent glimpses of the valley falling away below us. As we neared the top of the climb, the slope eased and we were treated to a sheer rock face rising at least 100 metres above us. Then it was up alongside the waterfall, a very steep and demanding section, and then over to the lake where our campsite was situated. A short half hour walk around the lake and we were there. Our yak herders had won the race and we had the best site. There was a light dusting of snow on the ground and snow-capped peaks above. In the evening light, the lake was a magnificent blue against the mountains and sky, and was framed by the rising evening mist from the valley below. It was a cold night, but tomorrow was the last pass.

(Evening at Tampe Tsho)