Top of the south adventures (Gregs guide)

9 November, 2014

Hey friends,
To help you plan the big 40th birthday party trip, here are my collected thoughts on road tripping around the top of the south island:
First a map showing my two suggested possible routes, and most of the bigger destinations (click to see it in full detail):

Top of the South Map 2 routesFirst lets cover the red route (total distance is 1041km)


Christchurch

The biggest town on the south island, probably where you will fly into. Its most famous for the earthquake and the crusaders.
Its worth stopping here to see the impact of the earthquake on the city, take a drive through the CBD and stare in wonder at the wide empty open spaces – and visit the shipping container shopping centre and other objects of interest. Also take a drive out into the suburbs (head for Avonside Drive), to see what happens when an entire suburb is abandoned to nature!

Avonside drive (from ODT)


The other thing that’s worth doing in Christchurch is the International Antarctic experience – its even as cold as the Antarctic inside there!
antarctic centre

A lot of people go from Christchurch to Akaroa – a small “french” settlement just outside Christchurch, I havent been there, but people seem to like it.
Akaroa

Hanmer Springs
A delightful spa town – in the NZ style, lots of hot pools and good eating and resting places. If you want to go jetboating while in NZ and you are not getting to Queenstown, this probably is the place to do it.  There is also lots of other outdoor pursuits to enjoy in Hanmer, think of it like a scaled down Queenstown.
Hanmer Springs

Between Hanmer and Murchison is a secret set of free hotsprings, called Sylvia Flats, its marked on google maps, if you want to visit them, the hot springs come out of the Boyle River, so you have freezing cold mountain streams and spots of boiling hot water, its a real kiwi experience, just remember to bring mossie repellant!
Sylvia Flats

Also check out the Alpine Fault Wall at Springs Junction (geologists and rock lovers fun).

Maruria Springs thermal resort, is a small japanese style thermal resort tucked at the bottoms of some mind blowing mountains and could make an alternitive overnight stop.

Maruria Springs
Murchison
The traditional halfway spot between Nelson and Christchurch, the town is developing as a bit of an outdoor pursuits destination, but otherwise just a place to stop and fill the car, and the family.
Molesworth Station Road
If you are interested in getting off the beaten track, and don’t mind a bit of dust – then this might be the detour for you, this is a dirt road that runs through New Zealands largest farm, from Hanmer to the South of Marlborough, its NZ high country at its finest, and its relatively undiscovered, it is a 2wd drive road, but its no autobahn! Have a look at photos of Molesworth station and you will see the beauty.
Molesworth

Lake Rotoiti and Lake Rotoroa.
Two beautiful mountain lakes and accompanying villages, Rotoiti is the more developed as a destination – and the best place for some hiking/tramping/rambling/swimming.
Lake Rotoiti
The lakes have walking tracks around them and into the surrounding mountains, from half hour walks to the two day return trip the clearest lake in the world, known as Rotomairewhenua or Blue Lake, its a two-day hike from the park boundary or, for an aerial view, there are scenic flights with Reid Helicopters. Once you get there, you cant actually enter the water, but you can gaze at in wonder, or google it to see how clear it is.
Between Murchison and Lake Rotoiti, is the area where I did most of my tramping with school, known as Matakitaki Valley, if you want to do some challenging hikes through dramatic, isolated, unspoilt scenery, this my top pick. Let me know if you are keen and I will help you out with specific details.
Matakitaki
Nelson
My home town, famous for its sunshine and good food, wine and beer, its a good base for exploring the top of the south island, you should visit the local museum to see how the town was formed, and the Greg Newman memorial rooms etc, also the World of Wearable arts, is a slightly odd museum of strange and eclectic clothing/fashions, that are gathered from an annual competition that was originally held in Nelson. Nelson has some great swimming beaches, in town Tahuna is nice and shallow and good for kids, a bit further out of town, Rabbit Island is another popular swimming destination. In NZ swimming in rivers is just as popular, so in Nelson I would head to one of the many swimming holes in the nearby Maitai Valley.
Maitai Valley
The best beers is either at Macs on Main Road Stoke, or at Founders Bewery, in the Founders historical park near town.
From Nelson you can visit the many vineyards spread between Nelson and Motueka, there is good food and drink spread all over the hills.
You can also catch a boat over the to the Abel Tasman national park, its a good option if you have limited time, rather than driving over to the park, then catching a boat from Kaiteriteri. Either way, your boat will probably leave from Kaiteri, some do leave from nearby Marahau as well.
Richmond
The Fresh Choice Supermarket in richmond has the best selection of NZ beer in the country, its worth visiting, just for that reason!
Fresh Choice Ricmond
Motueka
Its a good place to buy pot – but that’s about it. Actually that’s not true, you can charter a plane to fly over the Abel Tasman, its amazing!
Abel Tasman National Park
Catch a boat into the park (from Kaiteri or Marehau) and then walk out – take your swimming trunks, food, and lots of sun block, if you can stay longer, do, even when its busy in the middle of summer, its still not really busy, the beaches are the best in NZ (IMHO).
Abel Tasman
Kahurangi National Park
I personally think this park is more interesting than the Abel Tasman, if you like the outdoors, this is the dictionary definition of it! Amazing peaks, lush sub tropical greenery, definitely worth at least a day walk – let me know if you want to do it, and I will point you to some tracks.
Kahurangi

Takaka and Golden Bay
We spent our early years in Takaka and I think its one of the best parts of NZ, its still relatively untouristy, so it has a real proper kiwi feel – if you know Byron Bay or Kynsna, then you can picture the kind of place.
Golden Bay
The bay has loads to do, you could easily spend a week here, from beautiful Golden Sandy beaches, to mountain top hikes, to exploring caves, the famous pupu springs, old gold workings, the massive sand spit, entering the Abel Tasman from the quieter side. There is tons to do. Its a 2.5 hour drive from Nelson, over a very windy road, but that road is right through Lord of Rings scenery, with Harwoods hole (a massive sink hole), one of the many great walks on the Takaka Hill enroute, also look out for Parafanta snails, the massive land snails that inhabit the area (and I mean massive).
Up the Cobb valley, you can get to the edge of the Kahurangi national park, go fossil hunting and see one of the most famous bush huts in NZ, Asbestos Cottage (4 bunks), home of Annie and Henry Chaffey, who lived in the isolated hut right up till the 1950s.
Cobb Valley
On the very west of Golden Bay, there are more lord of the rings scenery, dramatic beaches and rugged coastline, you can also enter the start of the Heaphy track.
Marlborough Sounds
They look like fjords, (but technically they aren’t), but they are very dramatic none the less! Windy roads and beautiful steep hills dropping straight into the water, amazing scenery, plenty of good swimming and fishing, famous mussels (try green lip mussels at the many restaurants that specialise in them stop in Havelock, at the start of the sounds). Everyone has their favourite bit of the sounds, mine is Double Bay in Queen Charlotte sound, a lovely little sandy bay, where you can swim, pick oysters off the rocks for dinner and camp over night (it has a toilet).
Double Bay

Spend a day driving between Havelock and Picton, along the side of the sounds, dropping into little bays for a swim.

Blenhiem

Its a great place to go wine tasting – and get into a fight (well maybe that was just my teenage years), no joking its a very boring town, but there is plenty of good wine to be drunk – but a do a bus tour of the vineyards, or ride a bike, don’t ttry drinking and driving – you wont last long!

Picton

It only exists because the ferry to the north island stops there, its not worth a stop in its own right.

Kaikoura

See you there!

The Blue then Red loop (total distance is 1173km)


Again leaving from Christchurch, then

Arthurs Pass National Park, across to west coast:
Arthurs Pass
One of only four crossing points for the southern alps, beautiful scenery, highlights of this section include Castle Rock limestone formations, cave stream  – a one hour expedition through a cave, with a stream, awesome mountain scenery – this section can also be done on the breathtaking Tranz Alpine train, and you can pick up a rental car on the west coast.

Then North on SH6

Check out the Point Elizabeth walk just north of Greymouth. A one-way walk of a few hours, but the person who drives to the far end gets to hang out at an awesome pub on a stunning beach.
Point Elizabeth
This coastline is continuous stunning windswept coast and rugged beaches (and baches), think “The piano” without Harvey Kietel nude.

Check out Barrytown, if you are interested in knife making and greenstone/jade carving lessons

The famous Punakaiki pancake rocks and the Pororari Gorge kayaking.
Pororari River
Then Buller Gorge – takes you back onto SH6 and rejoins the red route south of Murchison
Buller Gorge

Books to read;
The Bone People by Keri Hulme – won the Booker Prize in 1985, set on the West Coast
The Exiles of Asbestos Cottage by Jim Henderson – about the Chaffeys, living up the Cobb valley.
Outsiders by Gerard Hindmarsh – explores the stories of some real characters living in the remotest parts of NZ
The Plumb Trilogy by Maurice Gee – a big book – but an amazing work of historical fiction


We’re back!!

11 October, 2014

Day 14 of our Singapore adventure! And we thought it may be time to re-start the blog.

We returned from Brasil to London at the end of 2009. After almost five years, one cat, one child, one house purchase… Cath’s work gave us an overseas posting offer and using our usual decision making criteria of “why not” we packed our growing bags and headed off to Asia. Singapore to be precise.

IMG_5620


Day 14 – and I wish that all my project status reports could read like this. The RAG status is “Green” with only a grey hue, representing the pollution in the air. But going on to my positive things…. So far we have achieved:
–         1 Employment Pass and 2 Dependent’s Passes in the air conditioned comfort of the Ministry of Manpower (even as a woman I get to register here)

–         1 house rented, with a new pool, 4 bedrooms, 4 years old, on the East Coast. Real Estate agents work hard here (and long hours). We have been blessed to have been recommended a lady who knew her stuff.

IMG_5679

–         1 bank account, with internet banking, an ATM card and self-decided PIN number in – 45 minutes!!!! Absolutely, freaking, amazing. Imagine?????

–         And Cath has started work. In 2 hours with a new laptop, new blackberry, security pass, desk, working chair (bonus!) etc….

–         Reggie the cat has arrived, safe and sound, the shift to an apartment and the jetlag has been interesting for him, but we are hoping that he is treating it like a long holiday!!!

IMG_5738

All in all, big thumbs up. I’m constantly wondering what is the catch?

But the biggest joy is seeing our daughter adapt to a new country. For months I agonized with having to dress her in layers of clothes, worrying about her stepping outside the front door and running onto a busy road, wondering if a restaurant “allows kids”, wondering if we can get onto a tube with a pram etc… I love London and I love the many friends we have made in London,  but having kids in London – it’s hard work.

Singapore welcomes children. From the unrequested non breakable plates / cutlery in restaurants, to the people (of all generations and gender) wanting to touch / play / entertain our daughter with genuine fondness and to watch Josephine swim everyday has made it worthwhile already.

IMG_3201

Oh – and yes – it’s hot. It’s 33 degrees. At all times. Did I mention 33 degrees? This  won’t change. You just gotta deal with it.

So next week, we get to head back to Australia and New Zealand for a mini break…. and work for Cath …


2012 in review

1 January, 2013

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

4,329 films were submitted to the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. This blog had 25,000 views in 2012. If each view were a film, this blog would power 6 Film Festivals

Click here to see the complete report.


North Korea is a time machine.

2 May, 2012

As part of our trip to China for Nick and Catherines wedding, we decided to visit North Korea. We booked a four day tour, which turned out to be one day getting in, two days there and one day getting out. Only about 1800 tourists visit North Korea in any year, this isnt because its hard to get to, its just that no one wants to go…

Inside the secretive state

But we thought, we should go and see if we could find out what one of the most secretive states in the world was all about…

Before we left for North Korea, we did some reading, so we knew a little about the regime, the cult of personality, the famine, the lack of electricity or infrastructure, the 3 inch height difference and 10 years less life expectancy compared to south korea, the  long running blockades and sanctions, the surveillance,  the disappearances, the labour camps, the ongoing starvation, the isolation of country whose main supporters have turned their back on them, the fifth largest army in the world and it’s megalomaniac leaders, but none of the words or books we read prepared us for the experience we had in three days in the DPRK.

Day 1

The moment we crossed the river we stepped back in time, from showy and shiny China with all it tacky glitz and glamour, straight back to landscape that was more iron age than Internet age.

We caught the international train from Dandong, meeting our first NK security agent in the departures lounge! He was an overly friendly chap with a fantastic set of gold teeth, who spoke 5 languages, casually chatted to us, them after confirming what we did for a job and why and where we we going in DPRK, disappeared into one of the station offices, and didn’t get on the train.

Trundling across North Korea

As foreigners we were put in the first class sleeper carriage and we werent allowed to walk into the “real” section of the train, the 3rd class carriages. But that wasnt such a bad thing as we had two bunk mates, the first a North Korean business man, who imports Aussie wine into NK. The second a one man NGO machine, a guy who grew  in SK, but now lives in the USA, his one man charity runs program’s in both china and NK.

We knew that it was a 9 hour journey with no food on board, so we bought a few snacks, to keep us full, but both our bunk mates bought enough to feed the NK army!

First the business man opened his bags, beer (from Japan), coffee in a can from Singapore, biscuits and cakes from china, and two whole dried squids (from the nearby harbour), so we started of our trip with a toast and a dried squid leg! A truly surreal start to the day.

Mr NGO spoke pretty good English, so he translated for us, the NK business man was keen to know our industry, and once he heard we had lived n Brazil, he wanted to know if we knew any Argentinian wine growers he could buy cheap stock off!

He was well known to all the train staff and immigration and customs officials, probably because he stuffed something into each of their pockets when they stopped by at our berth. He was a great bloke who smoked outside and only snorted when absolutely necessary!

Mr NGO was also a real character, he was doing gods work in mysterious ways, baking bread and making feminine  products in two charity factories in NK.

We had read on a blog somewhere: do You know what NK stands for? Answer:

Not Known, because every day in NK you don’t know what is going to happen, or work, or appear, or disappear! Wise words I think.

The border controls were amazing, smiling helpful people, going through the many processes and forms that their great leader and his government require.

On the way out, we also spotted these customs blokes burning some dodgy material on the train platform and i like a junior james bond snapped off a shot of them:

NK border guards

Ok, we have no proof that this is anything dodgy, but it was a very strange thing to do!

They checked our electronics goods, flicked through our iPad and it’s contents, turned off our phones, stuffed them in a Manila envelope and wrapped that in half a ton of sticky tape and handed them back to us, apparently we can open them when we get out.

Can i phone a friend?

Our customs agent also checked that neither our camera or our IPad had GPS functionality (not that well though) and read all our magazines, not surprisingly  he was more interested in Caths trashy celebrity magazine, than my copy of the New Yorker!

He quizzed Mr NGO over his laptop and had a good poke around, checking out his files and going through his stuff.

He  reappeared half and hour later, shut the door smiling, and had a chat with Mr NGO, he got him to reopen his laptop, then plugged in a memory stick and copied 500 songs off him!!

All done with a lot of laughter and good humour.

Border controls and customs took approximately 3 hours, which we spent drinking beer and meeting the strange collection of tourists on our train, some East Germans (told you it was time travel), a Finn and a Belgian, all as you would expect nice friendly, curious people! Both the Finn and the Belgian were satisfying long held desires to visit NK, but neither of them could convince their wives to come with them, so they were both travelling alone!

Then after just three hours, the train was hitched to a much larger domestic service and we trundled off towards Pyongyang. Trundle being the key word here.

Here are some shots we got on the way into Pyongyang, i think they pretty well sum up the condition of the counrty side we passed through.

First sights:

the socialist paradise

NK train station

Every inch of land was used for food production

A child out collecting, and one “classic” tractor hard at work

One of many villages we saw on the way to PY, with a new seasons growth just starting to show

It is worth noting that upon arriving in PY, we were told by our tour guides that its not considered polite to take photos of folks from NK, so we stopped taking anymore without their agreement, but these ones we got before we met our guides.

For those of you not up on your NK history and politics, the country has been run since the end of WW II (after the Japanese lost) by a father, his son and as of last year, his son, the three Kim’s. There is no political parties, no Internet, one TV station, one radio station, a small mobile phone network, but no phones and not much else.

There is no private enterprise, no shops, no bars, no restaurants, no signs, no ads, no graffiti, just slogans extolling the genius of the three Kim’s. It’s pretty hard to imagine or comprehend, but we must be clear here, this is not a dynasty, because as good socialists, we know that dynasties are inherently bad, this is just a co-incidence that the socialist party elected three people from the same family to lead the country!

The country side reminded us instantly of Rwanda, there is different attitude to farming when the farmers are hungry, every spot of land is used for food production, we were told that the average farmer eats 300gms of food per day and earns 50c (US) per month.

No one has their own land, so all work is for their local collective, but the collectives are just big enough, that the farmers can’t link effort to output, so everyone just does the minimum. Thus the continue to be poor and hungry.

Here is a photo of Greg enjoying a “typical meal”, clearly we didnt go hungry while in NK.

The tools and vehicles were from another age, mangy cattle pulling plows, hand planting and steam powered trucks. Here is an old truck, converted to run on steam, with a fire and boiler built into the back tray

The roads were totally empty, not just quiet, but totally empty, with virtually no private vehicle ownership, the only traffic was trucks, buses, military vehicles and the odd new shiny, big expensive 4x4s (say no more, say no more).

We arrived at the station and were met by our guides, all tours have two government appointed guides and one driver, ours picked us out of the crowd and led us to our car, then onto our hotel.

It’s one of three hotels that tourists can stay in, but people are hesitant to confirm just how many of the three are actually open at any time!

Our hotel, on Alcatraz Island

So at the hotel, which is on a island that you can’t leave – We ran into a couple of the other passengers off the train and joined them for dinner and beers.

The dinner was suitably surreal, like the rest of the hotel, someone has visited a nice hotel and had a nice silver service restaurant, then repeated that over a bad Skype line to someone else who wrote it down in, then translated it and sent it to someone else who tried to recreate it here in sunny North Korea!

The 47th floor of the hotel has a revolving restaurant on it, so we settled in for what has to be smallest three course meal we have ever eaten, we were of course revolving around the whole time, but as it was dark and virtually none of the buildings in the capital had electricity on, so all we could see was darkness!!

It’s worth noting that the NK folks only refer to it as Korea, as they don’t believe the separation of the two states and they always refer to everything in terms of “the great leader” or the “the great president”, as in:

Can you see that building there? The great leader designated that building…. Etc etc etc..

The main square of PY, including the library and square where the big parades roll by. The new housing towers on the right of the shot are complete, on the outside at least..

Anywhere we went, that one of the three leaders had previously visited, we were given another enthralling story about the great leader and the wisdom they imparted while at that place, apparently the leaders are famous for imparting practical advice and philosophy to places they visit, one of my favourites was at a park we drove past in a small town. I pointed out what a nice park it was, apparently the great leader had also visited the park, and told the workers…… Wait for it….. You know this is going to be important….

That they should build more parks like this in NK…

He was clearly a genius!

Some more impressive feats by the countries glorious leaders included, Kim 1 composing several operas while fighting the Japanese, Kim 11, knowing how much his people like fireworks, created software that for the first time ever, allowed the release of  fireworks to be controlled by a computer, then Kim 111, upon finding out that Kim 11 had died on a Saturday, decided in his wisdom (which he gained from his father) not to announce the death to the NK people until the Monday, so that the people would not have their weekend ruined.

Now I realise that Kim 111’s achievement pales in comparison to his dads and granddads, but he has only been in power for six months!

They also don’t let you touch the local currency, you can pay for anything you need in Yuan, USD, EURO etc, it’s as if they need hard currency!

Prices are dirt cheap with two beers in the hotel bar costing just £1.40!

But as usual, the bar experience was just weird, the fridge had Heineken, strawberry milk and something else with just Korean writing on it. So of course i tried to order the mystery Korean drink, the bar man said ok and got it out of the fridge  but he couldn’t explain what it was,  but then the waitress refused to bring it to me, telling me it wasn’t for sale, despite there being 12 cans of it in the drinks fridge!

Day 2

We got picked up at 7am by our guides, both of whom were awesome, friendly, helpful, well informed.

We headed directly south to the border with South Korea, we were heading for the demilitarized zone, and hopefully to spot the American imperialist occupiers preparing for an invasion!

The trip down was amazing, directly south, about 150km, it took us three hours though, because though the roads were massive and wide, with virtually no other traffic, the condition of the roads was terrible, so we continually swung from one side to the other as we avoided the potholes and the small teams of workers filling in the potholes with the most basic tools.

The main road north/south across North Korea

One of the many “widened” bits of the road, roughly the size of an airport runway perhaps??!?!?

We weren’t really sure what we in for with the visit, we got the usual bizarrely biased version of the events, but to be honest by now (like all the tourists we met) we had already learned to tune out when the propaganda began. But we didn’t realise that we would go right to the edge of the border, in the middle of the DMZ, where peace talks where conducted.

The DMZ, from the goodies side, looking at the baddies side

Leaving the DMZ

We learnt that the peace talks were conducted between the NK army and Imperialist Americans, no South Koreans were present, just those evil imperialists….

Here we are, smack in the middle of the DMZ, with two NK army guards making sure we dont defect to the south!

Inside the DMZ, note the list of official participants on the wall extends beyond just the “imperialist americans”

Guarding the border of North and South Korea, the concrete line represents the actual border between the two countries

From there we went to see some old stuff, from pre revolution Korea, then some historical village with some rather odd collections of historical artefacts.

We also visited a stamp shop, full of NK stamps and post cards, we bought some post cards to send home, of course it’s well known that any post cards that don’t contain complimentary information about the country are not posted, so we made sure that ours we gushing with compliments, for the glorious country and even more glorious leadership! But of course its not as easy as just posting your postcards, when I went to the post shop in our hotel to post them (of course we could not go to the post office)! But the hotel staff wouldn’t post them until I told them my room an number and name, do,please let me know if you got yours!

We then got to see the American armed spy ship that was captured by the great NK people’s Navy, the small naval boat with a single 30 calibre machine gun was clearly something that NK is very proud to have captured, the 15 minute “informational” video that explained the story of the USS Pueblo was one of the funniest videos I have ever scene, I am sure it was the inspiration for “Team America World Police”.

The extent of the armory on the USS Pueblo, one rear facing 30 cal machine gun

Here is the full video for your informational pleasure

Whilst captured, the US imperialists tried to add a little humour into the whole affair. Whenever they were photographed, at least one of the crew would do “the bird”, this small gesture of defiance led to some smashing phots:

You can read more about the digit affair here:

The digit affair

For dinner that night we had Korean hot pot, the restaurant of course only had other tour groups in it, and there aren’t many tourists in the country (like 2,000 people per year) so we were getting to know the other tourists on our circuit. The food was great, the restaurant was in the embassy district, we could see the embassy’s of Iran, Syria, Romania and Switzerland, which was only as odd as the rest of the country! We dubbed it the”Axis of Evil Avenue”.

As with every evening there was a power cut while we were eating, which was a good thing, as it relieved us of the constant presence of north Korean TV – as well as pictures of The Great Leader and The eternal president, every restaurant room had a tv in it, with the only NK tv station blaring loudly at us. A weird mix of montages of war footage, homages to the countries leaders and eastern European opera performances….

To try and explain the level of propaganda we heard is pretty hard, It felt to me like a 6 year old kid telling lies, you know they are doing it, you can tell by their delivery that they know they are doing it, but you both smile and nod. What was impressive about our guides was that they stuck to their guns, repeated their Governments version of any story, and refused to be drawn into questioning what they had been instructed to say.

You can never be too prepared for an impending invasion by those pesky imperialists..

We constantly needed to remind ourselves that we were guests in this country, and that we chose to visit here, knowing all that we knew of the regime. Our tour guides were doing a great job of telling the official story that they have to tell, so it wasnt really  up to us to correct things according to the version of history that we were taught. But there was an awful lot of tongue biting and leg squeezing as we resisted the urge to correct what were often ludicrous stories.

Like father like son, and son of son… all geniuses!

As a tourist in NK, you are not allowed to go anywhere without your guides, you cant get hold of the local currency, and even with your guides there is a very small list of approved restaurants and shops that you are allowed to stop in, so for a beer, there are very few choices. It wouldn’t really matter if you could leave the hotel on your own, there are very few shops or restaurants, and we only saw one pub the whole time we were there.

Traffic control, NK style

This was highlighted one afternoon, when we asked our guides to stop at a shop for a can of ice coffee, instead of stopping at one of the official government food stores, we took a 15km detour back to the place we had just eaten lunch, to buy one from the hotel restaurant! Despite seeing at least one counter on the road that did have them.

Our  hotel had two bars, one with local beers, so at night in the sanctuary of the bar in the roof top revolving restaurant, we debriefed with other tourists over cheap beer and plenty of laughs. We all shared the same frustrations, we were being lied too, from the morning to the evening, which is fine, we are tourists and we know what we are in for, what was annoying, frustrating and ultimately saddening was that these same lies are repeated to the citizens of NK, they are bombarded with the need to be prepared for an impending invasion from the imperialist Americans from the south, and the never ending stories about the wisdom of their three leaders.

Day 3

A full day in Pyongyang, we started off with another random breakfast, this time including raw onion and hot water, but at least from our 46th floor restaurant we could see it was clear and almost sunny.

Our guides picked us up and we went sight seeing for the day around the city, we saw towers, monuments, buildings, parade grounds, parks and many other odd things, all except one were tied into either the great leader or the eternal president.

Mural outside parliament

There is definitely nothing wrong with the fundamental ideas of the north Korean ideology, where as the Russians had the hammer and sickle, the DPRK has the sickle, for the farmers, the hammer for the merchant class and the calligraphy brush for the intellectuals. The great leader and eternal president was at least smart enough to bring all the groups of society into his vision.

Monument to the founding of the workers party

The idealogy is based around something called juche, which means that man is his master of his own destiny, and no one is his master.

So far so good, it’s all pretty decent human stuff, we are all equal and need a balanced society to achieve happiness, sadly the implementation of this ideology has fallen far short of its ideals.

So, we visited the juche tower,  then the memorial to the founding of the party, then the massive memorials to the eternal president and his son the eternal leader (or vice versa, I still can’t tell which is which). For the record the massive statutes were definitely not solid bronze, they looked more like spray painted fibreglass, but we decided not to raise this, as there were constant streams of NK folks laying flowers and bowing to the dudes. Which we did too (through very gritted teeth).

Looking back across PY from the library towards the monument of the juche idea thingy…

Kim 1 and Kim 2, with their ever present admirers

Some lucky young kids enjoying all the fun of a school trip to visit the two Kims

Then it got interesting, we visited a massive nationally library, got to see the books, the teaching rooms (with classes running in English and maths), plus the music room (with tapes of music from all around the world). They tried to find us a tape from new Zealand, but sadly I am not sure what language they found, but it wasn’t kiwi! Like everything else it was elaborately stage managed, all the way down to computerised, electric book delivery system, which wasn’t computerised and wasn’t even electric, with a mysterious hand pushing the cart through a hole in the wall towards us with a randomly selected set of books, huckleberry finn, Shakespeare and a sailing manual!

book delivery, NK style

We also visited the humble house that the eternal leader grew up in, it was definitely humble, I don’t know what more I can say, but when a country lies about so much, you start to doubt even them most simple things, did he really live there? was it really the families noodle press? Did he really have two brothers? Is any of this even remotely true? Looking at the thousands of ordinary Koreans who were queuing for hours to see this distinctly suspiciously humble site are going to be mightly pissed if the find out any of this is a lie!!!

We also drove down the street of 50,000 families. Housing like everything else is owned by the state, you dont get to buy your house, it is given to you by the state, and if you dont like, you lump it! We were told that everyone in the state lives in the same quality and size house, which sounds great, but we are not sure if it is true.

the street of 50,000 families

Like home ownership, the ownership of vehicles by private individuals is also against the rules, so the roads were virtually empty most of the day.

Rush hour (around 9am) in Pyongyang city

We saw a massive fun park complete with rusting rides and machines, we were informed that the park was only closed for the day as  the workers needed a day off….

Then we got to do the most “real” thing of the whole trip, we rode four stops on the PY metro system.

The “fireworks” station, all the stations we saw were beautiful

We also visited the museum of the great war, their version of the war was suitably entertaining, apparently NK defeated the Imperialist Americans and signed a cease fire while they had the upper hand. The NK troops did it all single handedly, with no support from either Russia and China (despite rooms full of Russian weapons) and the imperialist Americans seemed to be invading on their own, no mention was made of the UN mandate of the other countries involved (not even the South Korean army got a mention).

A gentle reminder of Kim 1’s role in the war

North Korean tank (dont even think its a russian tank, you damn imperialist)

Then we went to the children’s palace, I suppose it’s a socialists idea of an after school club, with room after room of kids playing instruments, doing takwondo and every other after school thing a young socialist could imagine, we went from room to room and the kids put on an amazing show in everyone.

Kim 1 regarded the accordion as the peoples instrument and encouraged its use. Surely this is one of his most evil tortures imposed on his country

I am really not sure what this “instrument” is…

Hilariously we headed to NK’s “tourist shop” we got to the pottery section – and surprise surprise – the electricity went off – AGAIN!

Then we headed for dinner, another tourist only place, this time for a lovely Korean duck BBQ, cooked at the table, delicious stuff!

We headed back to Alcatraz, in time for a final fitting of Greg’s new Kim Il Jung suit (coming soon to a BBQ near you)!!

Or is that Greg Kim Jong Ill’n?

Then up to the roof for more beers and another debriefing sessions with our fellow tourists. All of us where shell shocked at the end of each day, amazed at what the NK citizens lived with.

The next day we traveled backed to Dandong, China, the border crossing was again full of searches, numerous bribes and the customs officials burning something ceremoniously on the station platform. I never thought I would be glad to return to the relative freedom and liberty of China!

Despite the fact North Korean businessmen who filled our Dandong hotel and its bars and restaurants, who spent their evenings drinking and eating like kings, the average North Korean citizen people are the most isolated people in the world, with  no access to independent news, a state media that is sadly comical, no private tv or radio stations, they are unable to travel or even make phone calls outside the country, they are not allowed personal email addresses and have absolutely no access to the Internet at all. They are a country who has no idea about Facebook, wifi, Wikipedia or any of the things that we take for granted.

Thanks to the ideology of their leaders (and i am sure the long running international sanctions) they are dirt poor, poorer than any other we have seen on our travels. They also looked hungry. We saw women pick weeds from the side of the road – we knew they would be used for cooking. Of course we were not allowed to take photos of this – for a country where people are told they have nothing to envy – they sure had a lot to cover up.

But whats most depressing is how sad they seem, we have been to plenty of countries where people dont have much in the way of material wealth, but you still see kids playing in the streets, and a smile is always returned, but in NK, a smile is returned with nothing, people look worried, then look away, and for us, each time that happened, the feeling of sadness grew.

The country is looking backwards, the battle for independence from Japan, the battles against south Korea, the USA and the UN forces were all amazing events and they can definitely be proud of some of them, but that was nearly 60 years ago, but the leadership has continued to make these events the sole focus for the country and to justify their repressive regime.

I think that until NK starts to look forwards, nothing will change and that’s really sad for the people of North Korea.

We travelled to NK with Young Pioneer Tours, they were great, cheap and always helpful and quick to reply to any questions we asked:
Young Pioneer Tours


KIWAYU BEACH RESORT

11 September, 2011

So after four great days on safari near Mt Kenya, we made the seven hour cross Kenya journey including cars, 2 flights on 8 seater planes and a grass landing to get to Kiwayu Safari Village. So much fun!!!

The Kiwayu airport terminal and shuttle bus.

Kiwayu beach resort is everything we wanted it to be. Quiet, very quiet.

The beach at Kiwayu

6 hours by road to the nearest shop, no running water, generator electricity, but thanks to a phone executive who fell in love with the place – the best wifi I have seen travelling in Africa! The resort is right on the beach.

The resort at Kiwayu

It used to be a safari site as well, however with poaching this sadly ended in the 70s. All that is left are some pretty cheeky monkeys and the friendly locals.

We arrived mid way through the afternoon, and were greeted with a team of resort workers who soon wrestled our bags from us and took them straight to our banda’s.

Mums bag being delivered!

Our Banda

The view from our banda

We then gratefully devoured huge bowls of fresh pasta with tomato sauce and basil – just awesome. This set the scene for many of the other culinary delights that were yet to come. The resort used to be owned by an Italian family who entrusted the running to his daughter and son in law George.

The place is now run by George, a softly spoken gent I suspect from deepest darkest Surrey who has found the way to live! Like all cool people in life, George use to be an Insurance Broker.

The resort consists of 18 banda’s, most of which have a capacity for 2-3 people. There are no walls, no windows and no real floors on the banda’s. Each have to be re-made every 10 years and the team from the local village take the opportunity to re-model them each time. From the main bed, there is a direct, unobstructed view on to the beach. The toilet / shower is attached to each of banda’s and remembering there are no windows, walls etc, let me say “showering” in the open, was an interesting, er-hum, “liberating” experience.

Our magical bathroom with ocean views from the shower and toilet!

Our walk to dinner became a hop, skip and a jump as we literally had to dodge the thousands of crabs scutterling across our path. Our head torches soon became essential apparatus for any night time endeavour. I have never seen so many it was like the sand had changed colour.

Speaking of food, our first dinner consisted of piles of lobster and sparkling Rose – being allergic to most things in shells, the team were fantastic in preparing awesome alternatives for me, including the freshest turbot with ginger, herbs & coconut rice. With flambéed bananas to end, we were given yet another reminder that life was pretty bloody good!

The restaurant and lobby

The bar

Sleeping at night was difficult at first. You become accustomed to walls, windows, a defined space that is only yours. To hand yourself back to nature and into the arms of moonlight and stars was difficult. It was hard to put my mind at rest for what was out there, but soon the sound of the ocean came swirling in and I found myself woken by sunlight.

Our bedroom

Our days consisted of walking along the beach, heading to the island (just 10 minutes in a speedboat), walking through the village, lounging on day beds, reading and sharing each other’s company. We also devoured endless amounts of fresh pasta, lobster, crab, prawns, salads, cheeses, fresh sorbets, fruits. Not too mention cocktails, bubbles, wines, cold beer, coconut juice etc …

The sun room at the back of our banda – just perfect!

In summary, it was a terrific place, to just get away from it all. Thoroughly enjoyed and no doubt will be recommended to friends and family.

NOTE: We were at Kiwayu between 31 August to 3 September. On 11 September it was reported that a British woman was abducted and the husband were killed. Our thoughts go to the family and to George and his family.


So…

2 April, 2010

It’s been a while, but we are back!

As most of you know, we packed up our life in Sao Paulo and moved back to London in August 2009.

Now 8 months later, we are almost settled back into England, we have survived more than a few cultural shocks and life is settling back down into “normality” again and this means we finally have time to update our blog with some of our recent adventures…..

But if you are still looking for updates on the experiences of people moving to Sao Paulo, then I can point you a couple who I think are carrying on where we left off, a couple with kiwi connections have just arrived in Sao Paulo and are blogging about their experiences:

The Brazil Move

So keep watching this space as we catch up with the last 8 months!


Leaving Town Sale

20 July, 2009

Well, all good things must come to an end, and after 18 fun months in Sao Paulo, we are suddenly moving to London.

Therefore we have the following items that we need to sell, if we weren’t leaving town, we wouldn’t be selling any of this, but the voltage is wrong for our destination. All of it is good working condition and relatively new.

Save yourself the pain of touring the shops and malls, buy everything you need to setup house in one swoop!

The items are available right now, from our house in Vila Nova Conceicao, if you are interested in any of them or you want to offer me a price for all of them, please send me an email at greg.newman@saphr.com or give me a ring on (11) 8439 9532

Washing Machine      Cost    R$1078           Buy it Now for    R$800

10 months old, Electrolux 10kg Turbo Rapido 110v, like new, does everything you need a washing machine to do!

Microwave Oven Cost    R$379             Buy it Now for    R$300

10 Months old, Electrolux 28L 1000Watts with grill function 127v, perfect for microwave lasagna!

Wet dry vacuum cleaner     Cost   R$280 Buy it Now for    R$200

2nd hand, Electrolux Wet/Dry 1300watt 110v, you spill it, this thing cleans it!

Large Fan Cost  R$200 Buy it Now for    R$100

2nd hand Arge Twister, 110v, powerful big fan, perfect for those balmy summer nights.

Toaster             Cost R$100        Buy it Now for $50

11 months old, Black and Decker, perfect for well, toast!

Iron & Board Cost       R$120 Buy it Now for    R$80

18 months old, Black and Decker Vapor Xpress 570, 110v and ironing board bought from the door to door sales guy, not a thing of beauty but does the job!

2 Cacti Cost       R$80 Buy it Now for    R$40

Age unknown, big fella is over 2 metres tall, little fella is at least 1.25 but catching up fast, 2 good looking happy and healthy cacti.

Our beautiful house is also up for rent, if you are looking for a large (340sq Meters) house with a swimming pool, 3 bedrooms, 2 sala de festas, 3 dining areas, large separate office, 7 bathrooms and maids quarters in Vila Nova Conceicao for around R$5,000 a month please let me know and I will put you in contact with the real estate agent.

Our super cleaning lady is also looking for a new job, so if you are looking for a hard working, honest, cleaner who is also a great cook please let me know and I will pass on her details to you.