Day #38 07.02.16

Back home in Cheltenham today and this afternoon I got myself up to Leckhampton Hill for a run around. It was a beaut of a day (SUNSHINE!) and after spending most of this week cooped up inside feeling like shit I needed to get outside.

It’s amazing what a run around with a view and green stuff does for the soul. This picture shows a happy face to be up there and outside. I’d spend the majority of my time outside up a hill if I could. One day.

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New Zealand road trip: part three.

Queenstown to Milford Sound (and back again). Via Glenorchy.

After another night in Queenstown, recovering from the night before after a couple of beers turned into a Big Night Out, I finally headed out towards Glenorchy for the next bit of my roadtrip, this time with a bit of company with Johnny, the Irish guy I’d met in Wanaka and then again in Queenstown. Him in his campervan, me in the ute.

Driving to Glenorchy is pretty special. A road that hugs the side of the mountains along Lake Wakatipu, snaking in and out and round and round. You can’t go particularly fast, but you wouldn’t want to, because you’d miss it all. There was a bit of low cloud when we were driving up so we didn’t get the full in-your-face-blue of the lake, but I quite like it when the cloud hangs around the top of the mountains. It’s pretty and reminds me of my Dad telling me to make sure I take lots of pictures of the land of the long white cloud for him.

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Glenorchy itself is a tiny little village with not a lot there. People go there for all the walks around and nearby (it’s the start of the Routeburn track). We did the Glenorchy walkway to see the black swans (they seem so much more exotic than white swans), then spent a few hours just sat on a jetty in the sunshine staring out at the lake and the mountains. Just doing nothing but talking about everything and anything; like you do when you are getting to know someone. It was a most wonderful few hours and one of those moments where there was nowhere else I would have rather been.

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We headed up to a DOC campsite at Lake Sylvan. I can’t remember whether I’ve mentioned the DOC (Department of Conservation) campsites before. If I have, then sorry. Great little places, cheap as chips (About $6 a night) and always in some of the most beautiful scenery going. Not a lot of facilities, but that kind of enhances the experience. Makes it more authentic. And really makes you appreciate the small things.

Like a shower.

This campsite was pretty cute, some great walks on the doorstep and of course, this being New Zealand, mountains in the background (forget land of the long white cloud, it should be called land of the many mountains).

After a little walk to the lake (renamed Dead Dog Lake due to a piece of wood that looked spookily like a, erm, dead dog) and making friends with a bird called Ray, we had the first night of cooking on the little stove that Johnny got in his campervan. Well, when I say cooking, I mean Johnny heating up a tin of beans and making a cup of tea for us. But, as it was more than either of us had done so far when on the road, I’d say it counts as cooking (pretty much like the time Marsha ‘cooked’ tea for me in Queenstown – definitely counts).

This was probably my favourite night of camping. I’m not sure why, but as I sat there eating my bowl of beans and drinking tea with no milk, it just felt like a pretty perfect evening.

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A lot of the area around Glenorchy was filmed for Lord of the Rings, and the area on the right as you drive up to Lake Sylvan is actually Isengard, not that I’d be able to recognise it mind you. But still, nice to know I’ve actually been there. After a sunset over the mountains, it was back for a night and a beer or two in Glenorchy then onwards to Te Anau to start the drive to Milford Sound.

It takes a couple of hours to drive along Milford Road from Te Anau to Milford Sound but it’s recommended to take your time as there’s loads of places to stop, and DOC campsites galore. We had another perfect night at Henry’s Creek campsite where we played our made up game (sticks and stones) on the edge of the lake until the sun went down then laid and star gazed at the amazing New Zealand night sky for hours. Anyone that’s been to NZ will know about the stars. You can stare at them forever yes? One of life’s simple pleasures. This whole week was about enjoying the moment and the simple things in life. No wifi, no TV, not many other people. Wonderful.

Mirror Lakes, Mistletoe Lake, Lake Gunn nature walk, the three-tiered Humbolt Falls, the Homer Tunnel and The Chasm were all stop offs on Milford Road. Marvels of nature; more massive mountains, waterfalls, forests, weird rocks, and wildlife. The drive was just incredible, my favourite driving day for sure. It was just spectacular.

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The end of a days driving was Milford Sound, and the heart of Fiordland. The best way to see it is from the water, cruising through in between all the amazing mountains and sheer cliff faces, waterfalls metres high tumbling out of the rock to get out into the Tasman Sea and back again. We saw seal colonies sunning themselves on the rocks, and dolphins gave us a show a few times, even swimming along with us in front of the boat for a while, just 10 feet below us. A rare treat and it felt really special to have experienced it. Beautiful, beautiful creatures, I was close enough to be able to see all the different markings and how they glided along in the water, jumping out every now and then. Mum, you would have absolutely loved this.

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Another stop at the Totara DOC campsite on Milford Road (purely because it had my name in it) where we saw the most amazing sunset over the river that ran through it.

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A fitting end for the last night of our roadtrip together before Johnny went onto Wanaka and I went back to Queenstown for a few days before the last part of my roadtrip.

A bit of a ‘this is what we did, where we went and what we saw’ blog post but, well, this week has a lot of personal memories that I guess I don’t really want to write down and share. It was one of the best weeks on my road trip with a fab person to spend it with and I have a whole host of wonderful memories that I’ll cherish forever.

 

I’m still here.

Just in case you were wondering. Yep, still here, just not had much internet. I’ve been in New Zealand about 5 and a half weeks now, and most of that has been on a road trip around the South Island. I’ve been spending a few weeks camping in remote spots, climbing mountains, getting drunk, eating Ferburgers, walking in the rainforest, being hungover, watching stars, driving a ute with my favourite tunes blasting out, making friends, making jewellery, enjoying a cuddle or two, playing sticks and stones, getting sprayed by waterfalls, cruising with dolphins, watching seal pups play in the river, sitting on the beach, seeing a glacier up close and getting soaked in the rain.

It’s been a blast, but there’s still a few days left of my road trip. I’ll blog in more detail when I get a bit of downtime, but in the meantime, here’s a few photos. I have many, many more where they come from. Seriously. I have about 3 million photos of mountains, lakes and streams.

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Great Ocean Road.

Talking about Great Things, I nearly forgot to blog about the Great Ocean Road. Near Melbourne, it’s a 150 mile stretch of road to the West of Melbourne. It was built by returned soldiers and dedicated to soldiers killed in World War 1, making it the world’s largest war memorial. It’s also incredibly scenic, which is probably the main reason why people go.

There’s loads of different ways you can visit. Hire a car or a campervan, Camp along the way. Stay at hostels, B&B’s or hotels. Drive it all in one day, just stopping off every now and then, or take your time. Or take a tour. Do a google search and there’s millions of tour companies offering trips. I decided to take a two day tour with a company that my friend Moz went with about a year ago. They do the road back to front compare to a lot of tour groups, so they don’t hit all the spots at the same time as millions of other buses. Perfect for me, who’s not a huge fan of organised tours or being herded along like a sheep.

There’s not a huge amount to say about the GOR. It’s one of those things you have to do. It’s beautifully, stunningly scenic, and filled with wildlife. I saw kolas, emu’s, echidnas and roos in the wild, as well as all the funky birds in Oz (you know, the ones with the cool hairdos). If you’ve ever driven Chapman’s Peak Drive in South Africa, it reminded me of that (CPD is classed as one of the most scenic drives in the world, and I was lucky enough to do it back in 2011).

Rock formations, amazing beaches, rainforest, wildlife, the lighthouse from ‘Round the Twist’; it was all there. I think photos can show more than I can try to explain.

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Runs around the world #12

Kanchanaburi, Thailand

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Home to the Bridge over the River Kwai, Kanchanaburi is in the central plains of Thailand, about 80 miles west of Bangkok. It’s unfortunately made famous due to the Thailand-Burma railway and the thousands of prisoners of war that died in awful, harsh conditions building it (and the subsequent film The Bridge over the River Kwai). Go a little further afield, however, and you are greeted by some stunning scenery, countryside and rivers. The weather has been a bit changeable over the last couple of weeks so after a day spent on a train and a bus and not much exercise, and a break in the rain, I decided to chuck the runners on and head out for a much needed blast.

After a short run dodging the traffic down ‘Bar Street’ (one of the main streets that is full of bars, guest houses, shops, people and traffic) I ran across the River Kwai (although not over that bridge) and out of town, away from the people, the noise and the tuk-tuks, cars and scooters.

A peaceful silence filled the air, and the humid air filled my lungs. It was hot, again, and very humid but I think I’m getting used to running in it. I wouldn’t say I enjoy it but I don’t think about it half as much, and just enjoy running while I’m out there.

I ran along the road and out into the countryside where palm trees lined the edge of the road and ponds were filled to the brim with water lillies. With mountains in the distance and the tropical sights, sounds and plants, there’s no escaping I’m a long way from England. But yet strangely, I feel so at home here. I didn’t feel out of place, or like a tourist attraction, or that I had two heads. Because one of the best things about Thailand is the people (the other is the food). They are lovely. Really, really lovely. Friendly, and welcoming and full of smiles. They looked at me bemusingly, but not overly curious. It felt like I was doing something that perhaps happened every day and wasn’t out of the ordinary, which was a wonderful feeling, and not one I’ve had in many other places I’ve ran in. I was greeted with waves, smiles and shouts of “Hello!” from all the Thai people in their homes when I ran past, which I returned with “Sa-wat-dee Ka” (hello in Thai). I was also joined by a couple of loud, shouty barking dogs who decided to chase run alongside me. I shouted a grateful “Kob Khun Ka” (thank you) when their owners stopped them, the Thai lady clearly delighted that I was speaking in Thai. They do love it here when you try to speak a bit of their language, I’ve had so much fun, especially in food places, learning new words and having a bit of banter. In fact, I got more odd looks from other Westerners when I ran the last part down Bar Street.

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I ran 4 miles in total. Not a great deal, but enough for this run. My legs were feeling it, as the day before I’d cycled about 25 miles and a couple of days before that I’d pulled one of my quads climbing up a cliff face on Railay beach. So, 4 miles wasn’t too shabby, kept my legs moving and gave me that lovely running high.

One of my favourite runs so far I reckon. Not quite enough to make the top spot (that’s still Hong Kong) but it’s up there. One that made me smile both during my run and for a good while afterwards. Good times.

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Koh Jum-jumbalaya.

Island life part 2 was spent on Koh Jum, a little island on the Andaman Coast. It was recommended to Nick by some friends as somewhere small, quiet and pretty, away from the tourist crowd. Sounded right up our street so we thought we’d check it out. It’s still low season here in Thailand so a lot of places are closed on the smaller islands so we knew it was going to be pretty quiet, but that’s pretty much what we wanted so we got all packed and ready to leave Bangkok to head south.

I was sad to leave Bangkok again, it’s an awesome place and I was suprised how much I ended up loving it. But, new days, new adventures. I can pack my bag in about 5 minutes now; everything has a place and I know just what goes where. I could probably do it in the dark or with my eyes closed by now too. My packing has changed quite a bit since those first few days. I remember repacking a few bits in my mum and dad’s hotel room in London before I left to go to Heathrow and thinking how I had it sussed. Oh how it has changed. Some stuff I’ve ditched, loads of stuff has moved round and I have a few new bits. It’s weird how normal it is now for me to have my entire life in one bag that isn’t even full. Took a bit of getting used to but now it’s totally normal. As is wearing the same clothes all the time and constantly looking for ways to make my bag lighter. As I said to my family last night when we had a catch up, it’s going to be like Christmas when I get back having all my clothes and shoes to wear. I’ve forgotten what things I actually have. Although Dad, that doesn’t mean you can throw them out and I won’t notice. I WILL. Trust me.

So, we hopped on an overnight bus from Bangkok, and arrived in Krabi at 5am after a bumpy and [fairly] restful 11 hour ride. We had to wait an hour for the sun to come up and the Songthaews (shared taxis, like a pick up with two benches in the back – great little inventions) to start running. One songthaew later, we had another hour wait in Krabi town to get another one to drop us off in Nuea Khlong where we had a two hour wait. One last songthaew and we were ready to get the longtail boat in a place called Laem Kruat. Which we just missed by minutes. So, a one and a half hour wait before the next boat which took 45 minutes to get to Koh Jum, where we then had to get a motorbike taxi. Suffice to say, by the time we got to Woodland Lodge, we were pretty shattered and a bit fed up of travelling. A plate of fried rice, a nice cold beer and a swim in the Andaman Sea later and oh yep, we were feeling much better.

Koh Jum reminded me a lot of Koh Mak, in that it was an island, in low season but there was quite a different feel about the place. There are no cars, and the island only got electricity about 4 years ago. It’s a predominately muslim island, so there were lots of women in the most prettiest headdresses I’ve ever seen, and it felt less like a resort island and more a place where people lived and worked amongst the tourists. And speaking of tourists: there weren’t any. Well, apart from me and Nick, and a couple called Jo and Robbie who were permanent long term travellers and regulars on Kho Jum, this time staying for 6 weeks. So, for nearly a week, we pretty much had the place to ourselves. No one else on the beach, in the sea or on the roads. We were the only ones staying with Ray and Sao at Woodland Lodge so it felt like staying with friends. Sao was the most amazing cook and we never ordered off the menu; we just told her what we liked and she’d cook up a storm for us. Mainly street-style food, including my favourite; Pad-ka-prow. Minced pork cooked with holy basil, garlic, chilli served with rice and a fried egg. I now know this is what I had after my second run in Bangkok. It’s amazingly delicious and I could probably eat it every day. Well, I did on Koh Jum. At least once a day. It’s so hot and spicy and tasty and….yum yum yum. Oh, and there was no wifi. Which was great. Just great to switch off for a bit.

The first day we had a few beers at night, which turned into a few more beers. Laura, my best friend, got married this day back in the UK so we had a few beers to celebrate. Ended up more than a little tipsy and so, what better thing to do than to go onto the beach to look at the stars. I decided this was a perfect place to play Twizzles. This is what me and my friends at primary school used to call spinning round in a circle, arms outstretched looking up at the sky then trying to walk straight. Can you guess what happened next? Yep, I fell over into the sea. So of course, the ONLY thing to do was to go for a swim. Fully clothed. In the bit of the sea with all the rocks. I only shredded my leg a little bit. It’s healing nicely now. It was HUGE amounts of fun, and something else I’ve never done. Until now. New experience? Check.

I’m very sad I missed Laura’s wedding. But, I made sure she had some messages and bits from me on her special day, and I rang her in the morning for a quick chat. We’ll have another celebration together when I see her next year so all will be good. Cheers dude!SONY DSC Koh Jum was also the place where my beloved Merrell flip flops met their demise. The comfiest, most brilliant flip flops I have ever owned. Now, ok, they were on their way out, granted, but, I wanted to be the one to decide when to throw them out. Instead, a wild dog decided to take matters into it’s own hands (jaw) and chewed one of them to bits. Just one. It left the other one perfectly intact on the front step of our hut. Like some kind of Godfather-style reminder perhaps. Maybe I looked at it wrong the day before or something. It was a sad day when I had to put them in the bin. SONY DSC Koh Jum village was quaint, small and pretty. After negotiating mosquito alley (a track through the jungle where we literally got covered in thousands of mosquitoes), we had fun chatting to the locals with the small amount of Thai we’d learnt so far, and also found some kind of peanut-sugar-brittle type thing which was basically a small package of peanuty-sugar-goodness. All for about 20p. SONY DSC

But one of the best things about these few days was the sea and the beach. Now, I’m not a big beach person. I’m not a sunbather and struggle with not doing a lot. I’m not hugely fond of the sea per se (Jaws has a lot to answer for) but I do like a bit of swimming. And even better if there’s someone to help tell me what’s on the bottom and to keep an eye on me as I can’t really see much without my glasses. So, we swam every day. In some of the biggest waves I have swum in (it was a stormy, windy day), in torrential rain (amazing feeling and sounds) and bright sunshine, the sea was always warm and getting the right bit of beach meant no rocks or sharks. Always a bonus. These will be really special memories for me. And of course, the sea comes with a beach and a beach is always pretty. To look at, to walk along and to watch the sun go down. And we weren’t disappointed by the sunset one night. The whole sky lit up with oranges, reds and yellows behind big fluffy clouds, sending sunshine rays in all directions, all reflected off the ocean. I do love a good sunset. I think the African sunset is still my favourite, but this was pretty impressive, and a pretty stunning picture to sum up island life.

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Runs around the world #8

Mcleodganj, Himachal Pradesh, India

My last run in India was in Mcleodganj (pronounced mac-cloud-gange), the place I was in before heading back to Delhi. My favourite place so far; it’s a small place in Northern India where the government of Tibet, led by the Dalai Lama, is in exile. A friendly place, the town is centered around two bustling main streets where indians, tibetans, travellers from all around the world, buddhist monks and nuns in maroon robes, cows, dogs and cats all mix delightfully together.

Although in India, there’s a heavy Tibetan influence with an abundance of prayer flags, maroon robes, temples and stupas both in and around the town, as well as the main streets being packed with tibetan restaurants serving the best momos (dumplings) around.

This was my favourite run here so far. OK, granted, it was mainly because when walking the day before I found a flat route. Well, I say flat, there were still some slight gradients as it’s up in the mountains, but, compared to the other runs I did in India it was as flat as a pancake. And oh, how a flat route made such a nice change. It’s what I’m used to. Lincolnshire is flat. I was nearly bursting with excitement to go running as soon as I found that route, I couldn’t wait until the next morning when I would go. I felt like a kid at Christmas. I wonder if I have a running problem?

Anyway, so, flat also meant I could run a bit longer, as it wasn’t so tough on my legs and lungs. So, I set of with the view of just running as much as I could, no set plan, time or distance. It was a there-and-back route. Not strictly my favourite, and I know some people hate that (Steve :P) but at least I’m not going to get lost. So, I just ran there and back and there and back again, as much as I could until my legs didn’t want to go any more. Because, I’m losing fitness. I’m losing the ability to think (and choose) “I’ll go for a ten mile run today” as I don’t know whether I can. I’m having to fit runs in as and when time, location and conditions allow, and can’t be too choosy. I don’t know whether I can run 10 miles any more; probably not, I haven’t done it for 2 months now.

So I was chuffed to run 5 miles. It was nice to know I still could do a (kind of) long run. Well, longer than 3 miles anyway. I was happy with that. Like I said, I can’t be too choosy so I’ve got to take them where I can.

It was an mixed run. It was great to get out there, and the scenery was just amazing again. In early morning sunshine I ran down the road out of town, the forest covered mountains on both sides of me, sometimes passing monks on their morning walks. I could see the Dalai Lama’s house and the town in the distance, perched on top of one of the mountains like a toy town the further away I got. It was hot though, and I was slow. I’ve slowed down, I can see by my times, which I guess is probably only natural given that I’m running a lot less and shorter distances. But it frustrates me. I know I can, enjoy, and used to run faster, dammit. Halfway in I needed the toilet. Running does this sometimes. Runners will know what I mean. I couldn’t wait, it was giving me a stomach ache and I wasn’t about to abandon the first flat run I’d had in a month. So, I had no choice but to go in the woods. Luckily there are lots of big rocks and leaves. And not many people around. What is it they say? All part of the experience. Not one I’d be wanting to repeat if I can help it though. My legs sure felt the last mile, and it was an effort to keep going as long as I did, but my stubbornness and need for rounded numbers meant I wanted to hit that 5 mile mark as a minimum.

And I did, and bloody hell did it feel GOOD. In fact, not just good but Amazing. Fantastic. Euphoric. Brilliant. You get the idea. In fact, just writing about it is making me smile. You see, there’s no such thing as a Bad Run. Because, even if the run itself is hell on earth, that feeling you get when you finish outweighs it every time. Especially if it’s been tough. Those little endorphins being released are like little drops of magic.

Pure magic.

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