Darwin to Jabiru

We’re back in the land down under, where beer does flow and men chunder. Specifically, we’re now on a road trip in the Northern Territory. We’ll see sights unique to Australia, enjoy experiences unique to The Territory and potentially learn words from about forty different local Aboriginal languages.

The first port of call as we left Darwin is a common place here in Aus but no longer seen in the UK. Woolworths provided some vittles for the next few days as well as a short, sharp kitchen knife, something missing from otherwise well-appointed Airbnbs.

I also bought Darwin’s only flynet, for Liesel, just in case. It took some tracking down and the bad news is, it’s attached to a baseball cap. But beggars can’t be fashionistas, as they say.

As I walked to the ATM, a man asked me where the post office is. I apologised for being only a visitor and then remembered that actually, we had some stuff to post too. Oh well, it’s all in the bowels of one of our bags, now. It can wait a few more days.

The one disappointing sight in Darwin was this.

Homeless folks not welcome here

A row of three former flower beds by the looks of it, but now devoid of plants, just some rocks embedded on the otherwise flat surface. I think this is to deter homeless people from kipping there. It’s sited at the back of the Uniting Church which had so much else on offer to the community. Very sad.

As we drove out of the smallest Aussie capital, we passed by numerous termite mounds of various sizes. There seems to be no pattern to their location, out in the open, right up against trees, some in shade.

We enjoyed watching the birds of prey hovering and swooping: there must be some tasty titbits around. We couldn’t identify the birds sharing a carcass on the road, but they were like very large overgrown crows.

Humpty Doo is a lovely placename but we had no reason to stop there, with such a long drive ahead of us.

We turned off the Stuart Highway onto Highway 36. At least one sign said ‘A36’. And it was exactly the same as the A36 at home apart from there was much less traffic, there were no potholes, the sky was blue and there were termite mounds at the side of the road.

Highway 36

We stopped for a quick coffee at Allora Garden Nursery. Did I say quick? Make yourself a coffee and sit back, it’s a long story.

Probably not a real stuffed dragonfly

We entered the nursery, passing by some very kitschy garden ornaments and sat down in Estelle’s Café. There was nobody behind the counter so I gently rang the bell for service.

A young man arrived, let’s called him Bruce. What do we want? Two coffees please. I’ll have to get someone to make the coffee.

A couple of minutes later, a young lady arrived. I’ll call her Sheila. Can I help? Yes, we’d like two lattés please. She went behind the counter and looked at the coffee machine.

We then heard an announcment over the PA asking Estelle to come to the café. She arrived and made us our coffees. Very nice. We looked around at the various garden ornaments, including tigers and giraffes. There were some actual plants to admire too.

When we’d finished our beverages, I went up to the counter to pay. Oh no, we don’t have a cash register here, you’ll have to pay at the front desk.

At the front desk, we ended up behind an Australian lady who had fallen in love with a concrete dog and she just had to buy it. Bruce was there, politely wrapping it in several layers of bubble-wrap. Oh, but she did love this dog, as soon as she saw it, she knew she had to have it.

Another lady, Doris, cooee’d me to the other cash register. I’d like to pay for my two lattés please. Two lattés? Yes. Bruce, how much does a latté cost? I have no idea, sorry.

Doris then walked all the way back to the café presumably to ask Estelle or Sheila how much a latté cost. I don’t know if there was a correct answer because on her return, Doris suggested, $5 each, is that alright? Yes, just let me out of this place, I said as I threw the money at her and pounded on the counter. No, not really.

A big, 8-foot tall termite mound

The car told us it was 35° outside and we could believe it although we were much cooler in the vehicle.

We made a slight detour to go for a hike, a tramp, despite the temperature. We’re here to see nature, and that’s easier to do outside the car.

We never did find out whether Bird Billabong was so named because of the ornithological delights here or because it was discovered by a Mr or Ms Bird, thousands of years after the Aborigines first found it.

It was so quiet. When the birds and insects briefly ceased their singing and buzzing and chirruping, there was no sound. Nothing. Not even the wind rustling the leaves in the trees. The faint thumping sound was blood pulsing through our ears.

The gentle path to Bird Billabong

The path was well-defined and we made good use of the sparse shade. We also stayed in the middle of the path because… snakes. We stomped to warn them of our presence but the side-effect of this was that we scared the insects away too. The sad thing is: we’ll never know how many snakes we’ve deterred because they’ve legged it after sensing our vibrations. Legged it? Hmm, yeah, that’ll do.

This was a great walk for entomologists, so many butterflies, dragonflies, damselflies and other flies. If only there were a Shazam for insect identification. We heard but didn’t see grasshoppers.

A pretty and populous dragonfly

As I brushed something off my arm Liesel asked if we’d just walked through a spider’s web. It certainly felt like it, I agreed. We accelerated very slightly but neither of us turned round to see what gigantic, lethal spider we’d potentially upset.

There’s the billabong

One interesting thing we noticed was different kinds of scat. We told ourselves, kangaroo, wallaby, echidna, but definitely not crocodile, oh no, no, no, never.

Probably wallaby poo

The quiet, the sky, the solitude, all wonderful. Yet for some reason, while I was really pleased and excited to be here, it didn’t send the same shivers up the spine as my first visit to Uluru or Henbury did, all those decades ago. But there is something almost electric in the air, something very special, a connection with the first people here, perhaps, and with nature.

Odd splashes of colour emphasised just how green and lush the landscape was, after what was apparently a relatively dry Wet Season.

A butterfly enjoying some raspberry coulis

The flash of sky was too fast for my shutter finger. The bright blue dragonfly wasn’t going to be caught on camera that easily. But blue flowers certainly appealed to the orange butterflies.

Two butterflies sharing

It was terrific seeing so many butterflies here, and so many different kinds too. We lost something really special at home by using all those pesticides for so many years.

One more butterfly

The view over Bird Billabong from the lookout point was stunning. We sought out frogs sitting on lily leaves but suspect it was the wrong time of day for them. We stayed still and some birds did come a little closer but they know about the crocodiles that live here and were on full alert. I think we both hoped to see a pair of nostrils and a pair of eyes on the surface of the water, but sadly no such luck today.

Picture of lilies

Despite what the Lonely Planet Guide said, this was not a circular walk, so we retraced our steps back to the car park.

Ooh, just caught a glimpse of blue

We noticed other tracks. Certainly at least a couple of motor vehicles had driven along this trail. But there were also horse hoofprints. Unless of course the local crocs have taken to wearing horse shoes.

Out of the blue, a kangaroo hopped across the path in front of us, closely followed by a second. Well, that made the whole exercise worthwhile!

Then we saw a couple of small, beige birds up in the trees. Bugs are great, but birds and mammals, especially marsupials are greater. Sorry, bugs. The magpie geese were numerous, we saw them from a distance but they weren’t going to hang around for us. The rubbish, blurry black and white photos are now nothing but a memory.

Soon after rejoining the main highway, we saw an emu cross the road in front of us. Wow, a actual emu! And then another. We couldn’t believe our luck. This is when you need a dashboard camera on 24/7, to catch the things that I’m too slow for.

There was a kangaroo by the side of the road, eating grass, not necessarily waiting to cross.

Then another. Then another pair. And for the next couple of miles, we lost count of the roadside kangaroos. We knew that slowing down or stopping would be their cue to hop off into the bush, so we just kept moving.

They all looked up as we passed, but none of them waved at us. In fact, even the other drivers didn’t wave back at us. In the old days, driving in the Aussie outback, all drivers acknowledged each other with a wave. Not the Aussie wave of a fly being swatted away from in front of your face. It was more raising the forefinger of the right hand as you approached and passed by an oncoming vehicle.

Welcome to Kakadu National Park

Kakadu National Park is a name that resonates. It’s real outback Australia, old, old, Aboriginal history, rugged, Crocodile Dundee country. And here we are!

The speed limit in Northern Territory is 110 kph except where otherwise stated. We assumed this meant that any exceptions would be slower. No. We passed signs indicating a limit of 130 kph, that’s 81 mph in English money. No, we didn’t. The highway was dead straight, perfect surface, no potholes, no side roads but still, we’d seen animals cross the road. Yes, we let some other vehicles overtake us, but we were in no hurry. The road surface was quite loud, we realised. It has to withstand very high temperatures all year plus flooding for possibly months at a time. It’s probably a much more resilient and harder material than the cheap stuff British roads are made of.

There are many signs telling us we’re about to cross a Floodway with depth meters close by. This whole area must totally change at the height of the Wet Season, and would be interesting to see.

Most if not all of the creeks and rivers that we crossed warned us of the presence of crocodiles, and suggesting it’s best not to swim. But it’s so hot, I can see why people might be tempted to jump in the water.

We decided not to join a cruise to see jumping crocodiles. We know they jump naturally if they fancy chomping on a bird, but to encourage them to jump for visitors seems a bit risky. As Liesel said, one of the only advantages we have when running away from a croc is being able to climb a tree. You don’t want something like that jumping up after you!

Small bug close by or big bug a long way off?

Although we didn’t come across any flooded roads today, we did pass several areas of wetlands, just off the side of the road. I’m sure there are crocs lurking there too, so no, not really tempting.

Welcome to Jabiru

We were welcomed to Jabiru by a jabiru, a black-necked stork: in fact, Australia’s only stork, and we soon found our new place. We looked at the Bush Bungalow, the so-called ‘Love Shack’ that we’d booked online, the one without aircon, and we looked at another room, which did have aircon. Yes, we chose the latter. We needed some decent sleep.

We’re in one room in a block of six, and the receptionist, with her gorgeous east European Aussie accent, told us that we’d probably have the place to ourselves anyway. If not, we’d have to share the bathroom.

Our next-door neighbour was very friendly, and very nearly answered to the name Skippy.

What’s that, Skip?

We had a nice, simple salad and some nice crusty rolls to eat. And yes, we had a good night’s sleep, despite the AC unit being the loudest we’d so far encountered!

But we agreed that our decision not to rent a campervan on this trip was a good move. It’s fab country and the heat makes the place what it is, but neither of us sleep well if we’re too hot, and that just makes both of us cranky. Yes it does.

Pulau Perhentian Besar

To the Island

We left Kota Bharu after breakfast. One of the door staff and I had a nice chat about the place and he very politely didn’t laugh too much about brexit. As Liesel and I were about to climb into the people carrier, he asked for a photo of the three of us together. We didn’t need a picture of him.

We picked up a few more people from a couple of other hotels, and the mad driver drove us all the way to Besut in Terengganu, the next state south of Kelantan. I say mad, but there are probably more appropriate words. Such as Reckless. He used his phone while driving. He overtook several vehicles when there was no need and not really enough space. He put his seatbelt on as we approached a police station then took it off again after we’d passed. What an adventure.

The boat ride to the Perhentians’ Big Island took about 40 minutes. The pilot was very good, it was a nice, comfortable, non-scary ride. Still an adventure, but in a more positive way.

We passed by the other, smaller, inhabited island and were disappointed to see plumes of smoke. Yes, even here, the disposal method of choice is to burn the rubbish.

On the smaller island too, by the shorefront, there’s a mosque. On stilts. And close by is a telecom tower. I know it would be an eyesore if the tower were located on top of the hill, but there might be more reliable phone coverage too.

A boat not similar to the one we travelled on
Not a selfie, Mick and Liesel

Unfortunately, at high tide, the top end of the jetty is under water, so we had to wade up to the beach. Still, my feet needed a wash, so no problem.

Partially submerged jetty

There are advantages to being aged. The compulsory conservation fee is reduced for the over-60s.

There was another couple on the boat, and I think they’re from t’north of England, but so far, we haven’t asked.

Tuna Bay Island Resort

We’re at an island resort for a week with limited mod cons. The electric supply comes from a diesel-powered generator, which is less than 100% reliable. So, lights, the AC, everything can turn off with no notice. There is no phone signal anywhere, as far as we can determine. And the wifi, when it works, is only available in the kitchen, restaurant and dining area. Tap water is not safe to drink, so we’re using an embarrassing number of plastic bottles.

There’s a tree growing in the dining area

Our room is very cosy. And usually cooler than the bathroom. The other door doesn’t lead to Narnia but, if the neighbours choose to let us in, we can enter their room. No fridge, no cooking facilities. Very basic but that’s ok, a nice contrast to a luxury hotel. Our room looks out over the garden which is mostly sand covered with just a few plants growing there. The staff are very welcoming, friendly and helpful.

There are not enough sunbeds on the beach for everyone, and it was a little disappointing to see the old European trick of leaving your towle behind, staking your claim, and then disappearing for hours at a time.. Disappointing? Well, not really, we’re not that bothered. On the first day, we just pitched up in the shade of a tree and sat/leaned on the (almost too) hot rocks.

Sunset behind the other island

What’s That Noshing on my Laig?

The sea is remarkably clear here: even when it’s too deep to touch, you can still see the bottom. You can also see fishes swimming by.

I felt something knock against my leg, and again lower down then a third time by my ankle. I wasn’t scared, but I was concerned that we hadn’t been warned about the man-eating fish in these parts. At first, Liesel didn’t believe me: she thought I was making it up, playing silly peoples.

Then she felt the fangs of a fish just below her knee. Now she believes me. She is the proud owner of a rare fish hickey.

Liesel’s fish hickey plus knee-surgery scar 🔞

We swam out to a pontoon from where we could look into deeper water. Shoals of littles fishes drifted by and a single parrot fish. We’ll have a proper look later in the week, with snorkelling equipment.

The current is quite strong here, look away for moment and you drift a long way along the beach.

Walking in the Sand

I walked along the beach with bare feet but next time, with Liesel, we wore sandals. The sand’s ok, if a little hot in places, but the coral can be quite sharp.

The big surprise for me was seeing so many butterflies near the beach, some quite pretty ones too.

Make a bridge out of some old pipes…. go….
Stairway to… the top

One of the trees bore unusual fruit which I later identified as pandanus tectorius, or hala.

Pandanus tectorius

We went for a walk along the beach, past some jetties, fishing boats, by some rocks and we found a nice secluded beach where the jungle really did meet the sea.

Jungle, meet the sea; sea, meet the jungle

Despite the name, Shark Point, we didn’t see any sharks. In fact, the only fish we saw here were very small ones.

Fake turtles (unless and antil we see real ones)

The water was lovely and clear, we stayed in for a while, enjoying the alternating warm and cold currents. On the way back, we saw a couple of big birds circling high up, riding the thermals. Too far away to identify, but they may have been sea eagles. Oh, and a few crabs scuttled sideways into the sea.

6° north of the equator, midday: what a short shadow

As I was walking along the soft, white, sandy beach, I acquired an ear-worm which was quite welcome for a while but it can go now, thank you very much. Listen to it here, if you dare.

Little mermaid
The oldest swinger in town

The Girl with the Pocket Watch Tattoo

As Liesel and I discussed, it’s very hard not to sound pervy when you comment on how nice it is to see so much flesh on display here. It’s warm, and sunny, we’re by the beach, you don’t need to wear much. But some poor people are covered top to toe, and we feel sorry for them. We saw one young lady sporting a couple of tattoos. Liesel pointed out that one was a picture of a pocket watch, hanging from a chain. Well, thank goodness for that. Last night, when I saw her, from across the dining room, I thought it was something totally different. Thank goodness I didn’t go up to her and express my admiration for her sperm tattoo.

Local fishing boats

Jungle Trecking

We thought it was right and proper to go for a hike in the jungle. It’s a small island, so we knew we couldn’t get lost.

Jungle trecking

What we hadn’t really anticipated was how heavy a few bottles of water can be when you’re carrying them up a steep path, stepping over many, many tree roots and water pipes. And it was hot and humid and the sweat was pouring off us. All that’s ok. But then the mosquitoes arrived and we’d left the bug dope behind. Mosquitoes here carry dengue fever as well as malaria, so we erred on the side of caution. In any case, there was no birdsong, minimal insect noise, and really, this wasn’t fun. But the good news is, walking back, we did find the local massage parlour. I wonder if they’ll take you on when you’re all hot and sweaty?

Wheelbarrows

We haven’t seen so many wheelbarrows since we were in Dublin’s fair city, where the girls are so pretty, almost a year ago now. They’re fairly ubiquitous here at Tuna Bay Island Resort. Our luggage was brought from the boat onto land in a wheelbarrow, wheeled along the narrow jetty, even through the water, as the tide was in. All the housemaids, or cleaners, use wheelbarrows to carry their paraphernalia. It all makes sense, they’re weatherproof and easy to use. Where there are steps, they’ve built ramps in some cases. Quite a steep ramp and then, when you get near the top, the gradient increases sharply. Not the most wheelchair or buggy friendly of places.

And the award for “the most challenging ramp” goes to…

Inside Outside, Leave me Alone

When we’re not outside enjoying the sunshine and the beach, or even in the dining area, dining, we can probably be found in our slightly cooler room, reading books or attempting to solve puzzles. We have a wide variety, sudoku, cryptic crosswords, kenken, futoshiki, kakuro, slitherlink, killer sudoku and more. It’s a brilliant way to keep the Sun-baked brain active. The only downside to having limited wifi is, we can’t stream as many radio programmes as we’d like, and we’re limited to downloading podcasts, which are great, but there are very few music-filled ones.

People

Every day, some people leave and new ones arrive. It’s interesting to see the new people, like the first day of a new school year. There are lots of Europeans and oh yes, you can easily detect the Americans, they’ll be the loud ones shouting at each other. There are lots of families here too, which is great. There’s another child wearing a pair of squeaky shoes. We always know where he is.

One day, our friends from the north suggested we more our sunbeds because dead, sharp leaves were falling from the tree. Well, I thought, at least it’s not coconuts. A while later, a couple of members of staff came by and asked us to move. We did. One of them climbed the tree, straight up, no messing, and pulled off a couple of large, dead branches. They landed on the ground with a bit of a thud.

Looking up at a palm tree

Some other bark and debris fell down. And the ants all landed on me. Only little ones, but they had quite a bite to them. Like a girl, I ran screaming into the sea to wash them off. Sometimes, you just can’t be nonchalant.

Sunday Morning

Sunday morning at ten o’clock and it’s time for Mass. No, not Mass. Massage. That’s right. For the first time ever, I had a massage on the beach, under the shade of a tree. I thought it might be too hot outside but the breeze was nice and refreshing. The mssage lasted for two hours, which I wasn’t expecting. Also, it was the first time I’d been massaged by a male, a masseur. His hands were rough, I think he must be a builder in his spare time. It’s hard to remain totally sand-free on a slightly windy beach, but the exfoliation was limited in its scope. As soon as we’d finished, his attention was immediately taken by the next client. I found Liesel on a sunbed: yes, they’re easier to come by now than they were on the first day.

The days pass slowly, we agree that we’re glad to be here only a week, though. It’s time to enjoy some longer walks again.

Eerie blue light at around sunset

Singapore (Part 1)

We landed at Changi Airport and, for the first time ever, we were going to venture out into the wider city/state. Not the first time for Jyoti though: she’d lived here for a while as a youngster.

Sunset over Singapore, seen from the plane

The taxi took us to our new Airbnb and for such a small island, it seemed to take a really long time. Singapore is just a small red dot of an island off the southern tip of the Malay peninsula. Surely is should only take five minutes to reach anywhere on the island? But, it’s nearly twice the size of the Isle of Wight and that can takes a while to traverse too. I think we (I) were (was) tired from the flight with no sleep, desperate to be horizontal, push up some zzzz.

We finally arrived at our new luxuriously spacious studio apartment. Shirley, our host, met us at the door, and showed us round.

At last, all ready for bed, teeth cleaned, lights out, and what’s this?

Too many lights

It’s like Houston Mission Control over there, all the lights and LEDs from the TV, the wifi router and all the other electronic gallimaufry.

Jyoti makes no bones about the fact that she is here primarily for the food. Liesel goes bananas at the mention of food too. Finding somewhere to eat is as easy as pie. Our first breakfast was Indian: dosa masala. Huge. And a mango lassi. For breakfast.

Jyoti needed to visit the Apple Store in Orchard Road (there’s a long story here).

Jyoti back at Orchard Road

This is one area that she knows well from many years ago. The journey by train was easy enough and a good way to do some quick sight-seeing.

Singapore World Water Day Month
Coffee design: hope it’s not something offensive in Chinese

Following the purchase of probably the most expensive phone in this sector of the galaxy, we went for a walk, shops, lunch, and on to the National Museum of Singapore.

Lunch? For me, the most disappointing meal ever. The picture and description made it look good. Kaya toast is a local favourite. The toast and coconut jam was ok. The boiled eggs were yucky, runny whites, and the tea was too sweet, probably made with condensed milk. The picture on the menu still looks like two halves of a hard-boiled egg to me. The official description is ‘half-boiled’. Just serve up raw eggs and be open about it!

I consoled myself with a pineapple and sour plum smoothie. And later, an apple.

Information Office: leading edge technology here

The Museum was fascinating (and cool), the whole history of Singapura through British colonisation to full independence in 1965 and remarkable economic and cultural success since then.

One of the first maps depicting Cincapura
Rickshaw and old colonial house

In the evening, we went for a walk in the Botanic Gardens. We’re just one degree north of the equator here and I’m not sure the seasons match what we’re used to. The gardens were lovely, but there were very few flowers, not what you would call a colourful place.

Gymnastic acrobat in the bushes

The path was well-made and the only one that had cobbles and bumpy stones was named the “Reflexology Path” and I thought, what a clever bit of marketing.

We entered the area comprising the Singapore Botanic Gardens UNESCO World Heritage Site. I don’t know what’s wrong with the rest of the gardens: it’s not like they’re all weeds or something.

The Evolutuion area was interesting: ammonites embedded in the path, petrified trees and a small homage to Stonehenge.

Fossils on the footpath
Small Stonehenge and tall tree

There’s an area dedicated to plants used for medicinal purposes, another with aromatic plants, and a whole lot more that we didn’t have time, nor legs, to visit.

As we turned one corner, we saw a bird run across the path into the bushes. It wasn’t going to be a kiwi this time, obviously, but we thought it might be something exotic and interesting. As I watched, in the shadow under the bush, I realised the bird was feeding three chicks, clearing back the leaf litter, letting the little ones peck at their own food. Only when she emerged from the shadows did we realise how exciting our find wasn’t.

Chicken (a real one)

I know Jyoti’s only little, but look at the size of these leaves. we know where to go should we need an umbrella.

Small Jyoti, big leaves

I was sad to learn only recently that Dean Ford, the lead singer with Marmalade had died at the end of last year. I think their best song was Reflections of my Life. The lyrics include the following:

The world is a bad place

A bad place, a terrible place to live

Oh, but I don’t wanna die.

Yes, the world can be a pretty scary place. On our travels, we’ve seen signs warning us of earthquakes, tsunamis, snakes, sharks and now, today, this:

Beware of lightning and falling branches

We should have donned our hard hats for this garden, not our flimsy sun hats.

A very bright leaf

Back in the city centre (actually, the whole country seems to be city centre), we visited one of Jyoti’s favourite restaurants from 1947, Komala Vilas.

Komala Vilas

It was very popular, very busy and we had to wait a short while for a table. Dosa for breakfast, and now, dosa for supper. Huge things.

Dosas too big for the table and for the photo

We shared the three but, needless to say, none of us could finish. Trying to eat one-handed is a challenge: you’re not supposed to use your left hand while eating. Unless you’re using a fork, which is a handy get-out clause. I would have liked a knife too, I am British, don’tcha know, but a second implement, if available at all, always seems to be a spoon. The lady at the table next to ours was entertained by us, but in the end, we made eye contact and she smiled. Her husband, though, adept at one-handed eating as he was, was a messy pig. No, not pig, that’s inappropriate. He was a very messy eater.

We were in an area named Little India so it was no surprise to pass by a Chinese Theatre performance on the way back to the station.

Live action Chinese theatre

We returned to our luxuriously spacious studio apartment where we cooled down in the shower and retired to bed. You think my description of the place is exaggerated? Nope.

Luxuriously Spacious Studio Apartment – Official

We’d walked over ten miles today, far too much for Liesel, so we agreed to take it easy the next day.

9+((8+7)*((6!/5)-4-3-2-1))

We spent the end of 2018 in the company of Olivia Colman. She played Queen Anne in the film, The Favourite, which w\ne saw at the Deluxe Cinemas at The Tannery. Olivia is always enjoyable to watch but the story behind this film was quite sad.

More sad\nly, the strange typeface used for the end credits rendered them fairly illegible. I had to confirm later, via IMDB, that it was indeed Elton John performing his song Skyline Pigeon from very nearly half a century ago.

The light drizzle as we left made the decision for us: we went home rather than to an open air event. We stayed up to see the New Year in but I think we were all in bed by five past midnight. We’re definitely not the party animals we once were, half a century ago!

If you performed the calculation represented by the countdown in the Heading, I hope you felt suitably rewarded.

2019 began with Liesel and me picking up our rental car from the airport. It’s a Mazda 3, with a 1998cc engine, slightly more spacious than our Mazda 2 at home in England. It’s silver.

Our first drive, after picking up the luggage from Pauline’s house, was to Caroline Bay, Timaru, where we met Pauline and Andrew. They’ve joined us for a few days on our road trip. Where we go on South Island will largely be determined by the weather forecast.

We listened to the singer performing at the carnival, covering Adele, Duffy, and Dusty amongst others.

Caroline Bay Carnival is her real name

We didn’t go on any of the fairground rides but we did eat from one of the food wagons while admiring the slightly unusual cloud formations.

Spookulo-nimbus clouds

On the walk back to our car, we passed a war memorial, a sundial, gym equipment with instructions and The Face of Peace.

The Face of Peace

The memorial for John McKenzie overlooking the town of Palmerston reminded us of Glastonbury Tor as we were driving towards it.

Cairn for John McKenzie

We couldn’t drive through Dunedin without visiting Baldwin Street again: the steepest street in the world. I walked halfway up leaving Liesel near the bottom to take the pictures. I wouldn’t want to be a postman here, with a bike, with a trolley or with just the shirt on my back!

My failed attempt to walk halfway up the road

Our Airbnb tonight was at St Kilda, a nice little house just a couple of minutes form the beach. We all went for a quick walk there after supper, and watched the Sun set.

Sun, sea, sand, smiles and a super selfie

All the way on the road, we’d been comparing the countryside views with what we’d seen in Japan from trains. New Zealand is very green, whereas in Japan, you could travel several miles and not see any greenery between the buildings. The views were quite stunning too, sometimes resembling Scotland, sometimes Alaska, and often a children’s drawing of what hills should look like, nice and round.

The beach at St Kilda is top class. The sand is so soft and walking on it in bare feet sends good vibes the length of your body.

In fact, it felt so nice Liesel and I paid another visit before setting off for the following day’s drive. The sand was warmer now, but still just as soft and despite my best efforts, probably not the best ever exfoliation of the heels.

The dunes at the top of the beach were just like those near Hemsby in Norfolk, only much longer, steeper and higher. And harder to climb up because the sand was so soft!

Dunes at St Kilda beach

We were planning to meet Pauline and Andrew again later in the day, but we made a quick detour to Kaka Point and the Nuggets. Quick. We drove a long way off our main route, including a precarious, winding, narrow road towards the lighthouse at Nugget Point.

We walked along a continuation of this track right up to the lighthouse itself. Good old Google Maps thought we were still in the car, advising us to do a U-turn whenever possible.

We looked down upon some sealions that were easier to hear and to smell than to see. At the right time of day, we should be able to see penguins, but as they’re much smaller than sealions, we knew that would be much more of a challenge.

Nugget Point Lighthouse

The Nuggets are a group of rocks just offshore which I overheard some locals describe as a wonderful climbing challenge.

The Nuggets

Purakaunui Falls is (are?) a ten minute walk from the car park. By the time we arrived, P&A had been so they set off for the next destination. Liesel and I enjoyed the short walk and in the end, we had a good sight of the falls without other people obstructing the view with their brightly coloured clothes!

Purakaunui Falls
A not-so-good selfie
Who’s that hiding in the hollow tree?
Tautuku Beach seen from Florence Hill Lookout

The next Airbnb is at Mataura, near Gore. Although we’d wanted to spend some time in The Catlins, we found ourselves beyond, in Southland. It’s in the middle of a large plain, almost totally surrounded by hills, so we wondered whether it’s a large volcanic crater. So, the middle of the plains and we manage to find a b&b up a steep hill. The car is parked on a drive as steep as Klaus and Leslie’s in Anchorage. After supper, Pauline and I walked down the road to the nearest pub, The Falls Hotel. It was grim. We had a drink, but the only two other customers soon left us alone with the tattooed and not very friendly barmaid. Then of course, we had to walk back up the long, long, steep hill to our accommodation! The entertainment on the way back was provided by a couple of young boys with fishing rods, who had captured a baby bird. Pauline advised them to leave it under the bush for its mother to find.

It might be a lepidopterist’s idea of fun but when Liesel was in bed watching a video and I was in bed reading my Kindle, we were dive-bombed by millions of moths. They kept heading for the illuminated screens, bouncing off and hitting us on our arms and faces. Thousands of them. When I turned my screen off, Liesel then wondered where they were all coming from. Hundreds of the things. Trouble is, on the ceiling above my bed, there are several of those glow-in-the-dark stars, which attracted the moths who then bounced off the ceiling, onto my pillow. Dozens of the things. Eventually, we fell asleep and in the morning, we found no corpses in our room but several dead moths in the bath. I’m closing my window tonight.

These nocturnal adventures meant a late rise. But after breakfast, Pauline, Liesel and I went to Dolamore Park, just the other side of Gore, for a very pleasant walk in the bush. Walk? It was definitively a hike!

We’d decided on the Whisky Creek Track but due to inadequacies in the signage department, we missed the start of our walk and walked an extra, unplanned, hilly loop.

When we crossed over the creek, we saw a chicken by the water. That’s very unusual. A chicken but no ducks. From which we can only deduce, the chicken had eaten all the ducks.

It was a good path, not made up, but just cleared enough so you could see where you were going and not keep brushing against the vegetation. The path was steep in places, and I was so pleased that I could just keep going: that breathlessness issue I had last week does seem to have been just an off-day. I did run out of puff a couple of times, but only after a long period of sustained climbing, and it was easy to get my breath back.

There are no bears nor moose to worry about here, but it was reassuring to see this sign: no threat from cyclists nor daleks, either.

No cycling. No daleks.

The only problem I had while walking was one toenail digging into the toe next door. So I took advantage of a breather to cut off the offending nail. I also cut my fingernails at last, they’ve been too long for too long.

I did one thing today that I don’t think I’ve ever done before, ever. It comes under the heading ‘disgusting bodily functions’ so feel free to ignore the rest of this paragraph. I blew my nose gently, using an inferior tissue. Some of the snot missed, it formed a bubble which floated away and settled on a fern leaf where it popped just as I was getting my camera out. Very proud of my mucous bubble, temporary though it was.

We walked down to see the waterfall: this path was probably well constructed steps at one time, but some of the stones have now shifted. The man carrying both his children was very brave, we thought. The lady waiting at the top with her baby was probably doing the right thing. Her baby gave me a most beautiful smile.

Whisky Creek Falls

We also accepted the challenge of walking up to Poppelwell’s Lookout. Up and up. This path was even more winding and at places, we had to navigate mud, mud, glorious mud. We stepped over many tree roots too. And then, just as we were nearing the summit, we encounted the most scary looking yellow triffids you could possibly imagine: you don’t want to fall onto one of these maneaters.

Big scary yellow spiny vicious thing

Mr (or Ms) Poppelwell must have been delighted to reach this location, just as we were, to see a couple of park benches on which to have a rest.

The view south over the plains was wonderful and as ever, a photograph does it no justice. If only I could paint, but even then, how can one convey the scale, the distance and the majesty of the land before us?

Part of the view from Poppelwell’s Lookout

After a snack, we set off back down. And it did feel good to be walking down again, even if some parts were quite precarious.

Pauline slipped on some loose stones and the noise scared some kind of an exotic bird into taking flight. Well, a pigeon*.

*I have been berated by a wife and a sister. It was no ordinary pigeon. It was a wood pigeon, a kereru.

On the way back to the car park, Pauline told us to feel this tree.

A surprisingly cold-to-the-touch tree

Compared with all the others, it does indeed feel cold. What kind of witchcraft is this? How does a tree make itself feel cold to human touch?

Another quick snack back in the car, then a quick coffee in Gore. We arrived just in time: it closed at 5pm. In fact, the last couple of days, we’ve missed out on a lot of coffee because the places have closed really early, 4pm taking things to the limit. And to make things easy, we bought pizzas to take back with us, only to find that Andrew was baking a quiche and a potato dish for us. We tried not to feel too bad.

NZ very proud to have given votes to women very early, 1895

And in case you didn’t get it…

9+((8+7)*((6!/5)-4-3-2-1)) = 2019. Happy New Year!

Christmas in Christchurch

Christchurch, Christmas, crackers, cricket, Krakatoa! Crazy! Crumbs!

On Christmas Eve, we went for a walk by the beach, specifically to Monck’s Bay and Shag Rock. We’ve been there before but it looks a lot different now.

Pauline and Andrew sending out a secret nautical message

The sand is always shifting anyway, revealing different rocks at different times. The area has been occupied for a very long time, and there are still people looking for fish and shellfish on the beach.

A Fishing Life
A fishing boy

The ebbing tide left behind some puddles, but there was nothing of interest other than that the water was pleasantly warm on ones feet.

Islands of sky on the beach

Many of the houses on the hill above the beach have now been demolished following damage sustained during the earthquakes. The loose rocks have also been removed, so the area below is as safe as possible, with the help of netting and other restraints.

A crumbly hill – safe for now

One thing we like to see on a beach is a display of rippling muscles. Unfortunately, the ones we saw stuck on the rocks were spelled wrong.

Mussels and mussels, alive, alive-o

Pauline and I conquered Cave Rock on Sumner Beach, the remains of a legendary whale according to, er, legend.

Pauline on top of Cave Rock

We walked back to town where we had a very pleasant brunch and coffee. We passed the evening by playing 500, a fascinating game but the playing cards were by now becoming sticky. There’s a reason why you shouldn’t eat chocolate while playing cards and I think we discovered it. Good game, complicated, confusing and your (and your partner’s) fortune can turn on a sixpence. Whisky. Yes, we were drinking whisky too: Glenfiddich, to be precise! Slàinte mhath!

Merry Christmas! We weren’t disturbed by the sound of reindeer hooves on the roof and woke up for a gloriously restful Christmas day. Andrew collected his mother from the home where she now lives and we had lunch with her.

Actually, restful? Well, Pauline prepared most of the dishes and the rest of us took it in turns to help. It was all vegetarian and very tasty and of course, there was too much for us to consume in one meal!

We pulled crackers that were hand-made, from a kit, donned the paper hats and groaned at the jokes. Why don’t reindeer dance? Because they have two left feet.

Later in the afternoon while Andrew visited his son, the three of us went for a pleasant walk by the Heathcote River. It was flowing fast, but we saw a trout keeping amazingly still by ‘swimming’ upstream. There were a few cherry trees that were keeping the birds entertained as well as fed.

The Heathcote River

On the way home, we passed by a school where The Kids Are Samart.

Some Made-up Acronyms R Cringeworthy

I still felt sated and the thought of eating more for supper didn’t appeal… until it was actually placed in front of me! I ate plenty more, thanks.

We played 500 again, this time with Liesel’s playing cards, which weren’t at all sticky. There was no joker, so we had to use the 2 of hearts as a joker… just as well that only 43 cards are needed for the game, the 2s, 3s and two of the 4s being put aside. So we have a game in which, when there is a trump suit, the jack of the other suit of the same colour pretends to be that suit, and is of higher value than the jack of the trump suit, which is higher than the ace. But these can all be beaten by the joker which is this case was the 2 of hearts. I think we all ‘misremembered’ at one point or another, and played the ‘joker’ as if it really were a heart when it wasn’t. Well, all except Andrew, who had taught us this game and encouraged us to play. Just one more game. OK, then. Ah, just one or two more pieces of chocolate. Hmm, just one more glass of whisky. Cheers!

Boxing Day began cloudy and grey and not looking good for a cricket match. But what’s the worst that can happen? If it rains, they stop playing, we go home.

Pauline drove us to Hagley Oval, in the Park, to watch the first day of the second Test between New Zealand (Blackcaps) and Sri Lanka. Cricket can be a slow game, but we saw plenty of runs scored and lots of wickets taken. We tried to explain the game to Liesel and I think towards the end of the day, she wasn’t quite as bemused.

Selfie of the day

We were sitting on blankets on the ground, on a bank that surrounds the actual playing field. I knew that if I kept changing position and moving around, I wouldn’t get that thing where it feels like my leg is about to fall off my hip: that happened a lot when I sat on the floor to play with children, until I realised what was causing it.

Our view of the pitch

We had a picnic (thanks, Sis): bread, cheese, salad, crisps*, fruit and we bought coffees**. The most popular ‘food’ item purchased by fellow spectators was a battered hot-dog sausage thing on a stick, drizzled with what could only have been watered-down ketchup. Not a corn-dog, reports our food correspondent, Liesel, but something far, far worse. Apparently, it’s a New Zealand delicacy and it appears in the top ten items you have to try here.

In other food related news, the funniest, maybe coolest sight, was that of a young lady eating popcorn. With chopsticks.

Chopsticks technique scores 10 out of 10

* Hot chips were available too. Hot chips in NZ is just chips in the UK. Chips in NZ is crisps in the UK. Another little trick in the nomenclature to catch out the less wary visitor.

** The queue for coffees was so long, we had to give a phone number so they could text us when it was ready! And of course, we had to support Anchorage Coffees (not just because it was the closest vendor to where we were sitting).

Anchorage Coffee in Christchurch

The day warmed up but the Sun never really came out. There was a small patch of blue sky, but mainly we just had a pleasant day in the Land of the Long Grey Cloud, as Andrew described it.

I was no good at cricket at school, as determined by Mr George Watkins, the games teacher. Yes, the ball is hard and I’m a coward, so I usually ended up in the pavilion, keeping the score. That’s a job I could do now, if it were still a manual task.

The old pavilion at the Oval

During the lunchtime break, we punters were allowed to walk onto the pitch, not the wicket area, but the rest of the field. It became a temporary venue for many impromptu games of cricket mainly between fathers and sons.

A permitted pitch invasion

The announcer announced that we could buy tickets for subsequent days’ play on dub dub dub dot ticketek dot co dot nz. I thought, great, saying ‘dub’ is a lot faster than saying ‘double-you’, whereas in fact, you don’t have to say the ‘www.’ bit at all any more. But I did enjoy watching the painter and line toucher-upper at work.

Touching up the white lines

I was pleased to be able to walk up to one of the anamorphic ads that look perfectly square when you see them on TV. It must be an interesting mathematical challenge to paint it in exactly the right place. I wonder if maybe the task could be made easier with the use of laser beams or something.

Action on the anamorphic ANZ advert

I couldn’t believe the number of adverts. There are TV screens along the whole boundary, the boundary itself is an ad for a bank. There are even big TV screens in front of the sight-screens. When the batsman requests it, big curtains are drawn in front of these displays. After an hour of play, the players stopped for a refreshing drink of Powerade or something equally vile, according to the announcer.

The boundary: old rope and some recycled Toblerone boxes

All in all, a very fine day. Persons of a squeamish disposition should scroll to the next photo. There was one thing I saw that I will never be able to unsee. There was a guy sitting to our right, maybe twenty feet away. He was wearing a black cap, black shorts and a black vest. He was heavily tattooed. As I glanced over once, he leaned forward. The gaping hole in his vest, to the south of his armpit revealed, and I apologise in advance if this ruins your dinner, it revealed sidemoob in all its ugly glory.

The TV confirming the taking of another wicket

During the whole day, there was but one, half-hearted, Mexican wave.

The score at the end of the day’s play was as follows:

Blackcaps 178 all out, Sri Lanka 88 for 4 and unless something unfortunate happens, with the weather, say, it looks like there will be a proper result in the end.

It was a hard day, sitting in the park, in the sunshine watching cricket. Liesel and I were both ready for bed ridiculously early.

Early to bed, late to rise: the most annoying kind of sleep, the one with a three-hour gap of insomnia during which I can read but can’t bring myself to get out of bed and actually do something useful.

If I were a quadruped employed by Father Christmas to pull his sleigh but once a year, this morning I would be known as Mickey the red-kneesed reindeer. Yes, I have sunburnt inside knees from sitting cross-legged yesterday at the cricket for too long. Oh, and mainly because I failed to apply sunblock despite advice and pleas from sister and wife. I should know by now: ladies always know best.

Pauline and I went for a walk to the library and to the chemist where we purchased some aloe vera. “‘Allo, Vera.” It feels lovely on my lallies.

The Lotus Spa (this is not an advert)

This spa looks nice. The Sun was out, it was hot, but the wind became stronger and colder.

Meanwhile, in other news: this year’s Christmas catastrophe was in Indonesia, hit by a tsunami possibly caused by landslides following the eruption of Anak Krakatau. Their tsunami warning system has been out of order since 2012. It appears politicians and policy-makers everywhere look at a problem and think, “meh, it’s only poor people who’ll be affected” and proceed to mess things up. Grenfell, Windrush, Flint, etc.

Liesel and I are so lucky to be away from real life for a while: this trip was our Christmas gift to each other.

Speaking of real life, we all went to see a movie this evening: Vice. It’s the story of Dick Cheney, arguably the most powerful man in USA at one point. It’s a great film, well-made and the story is well told. But the story is just horrible.

Christchurch

A rainy day in Christchurch, it seems like it’s rainin’ all over the world. We’ve been so lucky with the weather during the last few months, so we shouldn’t really complain but this rain in Christchurch is just so ///wet/// and penetrative and persistent. We could have stayed in all day and looked miserably through the windows but we had to go out for reasons of health and beauty. I was forced to wear my actual waterproof coat, the weather was that bad! So, if you’re not interested in bodily or medical issues, just scroll down to the first picture.

It’s three months since my last visit to the dental hygienist so it was time to have another session of oral torture. She was very good, realy, a couple of sensitive spots, but mostly OK. She didn’t know my kiwi periodontist back at home.

I also visited the local GP to obtain a prescription for my next three months of medication. The limit of three months at a time seems to be universal.

Liesel was attended to from top to bottom. Eyebrowsn and eye lashes all polished up and then a pedicure which was different to the ones enjoyed in Alaska.

Liesel also wants a massage and/or some physiotherapy. Her ‘slipped disc’ / piriformis muscle issue is still not resolved. We didn’t walk nearly as far in Fiji as we did in Japan so that helped a bit, but those two days in Auckland reminded us of the level of discomfort that can be felt.

On the other hand, I feel pretty good. I’d like a massage but don’t feel I ///need/// one right now, but they usually find something that needs loosening up, in the shoulders or thereabouts.

Occasionally, one of my feet complains. It’s like there’s a length of string between the second toe and the heel that just doesn’t want to stretch for a while, so I have to walk funny, almost limping. Pauline said I always walk funny anyway!

That is the end of the medical news! Spoiler alert: there’s a haircut coming up soon.

Rain on the decking, in case you don’t know what rain on decking looks like

We bought some groceries and then hung around waiting for the rain to stop. And waited. And waited. We had coffee and tea and muffins. And waited.

In the end, we started walking home but just as we left the shopping centre in Barrington, a taxi pulled up in front of us. The driver dragged us in, kicking and screaming, and reluctantly, we took a ride home to Pauline’s house.

When my sister asked me a while ago what food I wanted in New Zealand, I suggested PIES! I have missed pies, with proper pastry, and I’ve missed proper, tasty, crusty bread.

Tonight for supper, we had a pie. It was fabulous. So pastry-y and tasty. There was a filling too, apparently, but the pastry… mmm.

While walking to The Tannery the following day, we were in danger of an attack of homesickness. (No, not really.)

Palatine Tce

Palatine Road is the main shopping street near where we now live in Northenden. And this poor old postman still has use of a bicycle. I think if he tried harder, he could really load it up.

Kiwi postie’s bike

It was a pleasant walk, not sunny, but at least it was dry. There are many areas around here that share their names with parts of London: Sydenham, Beckenham, Waltham, Edgeware, even a St Martins.

We always go for the low-hanging fruit. Well, Liesel does as she’s so short. But I think this is the first time we’ve been scrumping, for plums, in New Zealand. Small but sweet, and if any officers of the law are reading this, it was Liesel’s idea.

Small plum tree. The plums are small, the tree was quite big
Small plum or big fingers

One local sport seems to be fly-tipping. These guys parked across the pavement, forcing us to walk in the road, while they threw hundreds of plastic bottles over the fence. It might have been a legitimate place to dispose of the waste items, but what a bizarre way to go about it. They could have driven into the yard, just along the road a bit.

Let’s park on the pavement while we’re fly-tipping
The owner needs a p

The Tannery is a cute, little Boutique Shopping Centre in Woolston. There are bars and restaurants too. When we arrived, there were two girls performing but they soon disappeared, unfortunately: they were making quite a nice noise.

While we ate lunch, we enjoyed some classical music but as there was so much background noise, Shazam was unable to confirm it was by Mozart.

While Liesel went window shopping, I found a barbershop and had a haircut and a shave. The girl was from Greenwich, has been in NZ for twelve years and hasn’t lost her accent. Yet.

Pauline joined us after work and we had drinks at the chocolate shop.

The Tannery
Trompe l’oeil great tiles

In the evening, while Pauline was doing stuff in the kitchen, Liesel, Andrew and I played a game of Scrabble. Then, Andrew taught us a new card game: 500s. I don’t think I’d heard of it before but it was fun learning a new game. Especially one in which, under certain circumstances, the jack of clubs pretends to be a spade.

Friday was Pauline’s last half-day at work this year and to avoid meeting her just after lunchtime, Andrew drove us into town. He joined us for a short while in the Botanic Gardens and we continued after he left for home.

Very colourful Botanic Gardens
Southern hemisphere Sun dial
Invisible reindeer
Chaffinch
Diminish and Ascend by David McCracken, 2014
Waxeye

We continued our slow walk into the city centre.

Rubbish selfie of the day, in front of big bubbles

It’s all new to us of course, and I don’t suppose the earthquakes were at the front of other people’s minds. There is a lot of building work going on, but apart from that, Christchurch is a lively, bright, functioning city. It’s not as busy as usual because at this time of the year, many people go away, especially to Nelson at the north of the island. There are plenty of visitors such as ourselves, of course.

This building needs a lot of support and love
Cathedral and cairn

There is a great window display in the big department shop, Ballantyne’s, and plenty of other Christmas decorations, but it doesn’t ///feel/// like Christmas to me. I know it’s the middle of December, but this whole adventure of ours sometimes feels so unreal, it’s hard to add more excitement to it.

Christchurch Christmas tree and bauble
The Merry Mice of Dunstable House, window display

We took the bus home and arrived an hour before the rain. Pauline was in the garden pulling up some big weeds. I was not at all gallant, I didn’t offer to help. I would only pull up the wrong things.

Seaspray

That was a little bit scary and definitely a first for both of us. We were escorted to the cashpoint machine. And all because we needed tomatoes.

We never anticipated becoming involved with the Fijian criminal underworld yesterday while visiting some gorgeous islands.

We got up unusually early to join the bus at the nearby Mercure Hotel at 8am. We waited and waited, got worried because nobody else was waiting and no buses appeared. We decided that if we were still waiting at 8.30, we’d go in our own car. But finally the bus turned up, more of a people-carrier really. Fiji time. Fiji bus.

The ride to the Port of Denarau was short but sweet, and as soon as we arrived, we knew we’d have to come back to spend more time in the port itself. All those shops.

Counter clerks in Fiji do like using their staplers. They’ll never give you one piece of paper when three or four will do, all stapled together. And the boarding passes for the day’s boats appeared fastened in this manner, to a pamphlet.

We’d opted for the all-day Seaspray Day Adventure as it took us via a few islands to our main destinations.

Looking back at Denarau

Most of the young people chose to spend the day on South Sea Island doing young peoples’ things. Energetic activities.

South Sea Island

Treasure Island and Beachcomber Islands also look exactly as you’d expect south Pacific islands to look. Not as wild as in Robinson Crusoe’s day, there are now buildings and jetties and facilities. Transfer to these islands was on a small tender. After 90 minutes on the high speed catamaran, we transferred to another boat at Mana Island.

The Seaspray Day Adventure would be our home and base for the following six hours.

Mana Island – where you can stay overnight

There were nine of us passengers, guests, and seven crew. Not a bad ratio. While sailing, they played music for us, gave us champagne and offered drinks throughout the day. There was shelter from the Sun but mainly, we just gazed upon the sea and the islands. And just a few, fluffy clouds to break up the monotony of the blue sky. Liesel saw a turtle in the middle of the ocean, it came up for air and said hello.

Our lovely crew

Modriki Island was the first port of call for us. We went snorkelling. Liesel had a much better time than I did. I don’t know whether I’ve just forgotten how to breathe using the equipment or mine had a leak, but I took on board far too much sea-water. Liesel saw shoals of little blue fish, scissor-tail sergeants, an eel, a parrot fish but she didn’t find Nemo nor Dory.

I spluttered my way to the beach, had a quick walk and waited for the little dinghy to pick us all up.

Modriki Island

Then, it was lunchtime. Plenty of barbecued meat was on offer but the salads I chose were far superior IMHO. We realised we hadn’t eaten potatoes in this form, boiled, for a long, long time. Couldn’t get enough potato salad!

The neighbouring island is Yanuya. Here, we visited a Fijian Village and were welcomed with a traditional kava ceremony that was genuinely not just something for tourists. Kava is a drink made from the root of the kava kava plant, and it is quite bitter. But, in the end, not as bitter as I’d anticipated. And no side-effects.

There was a market area, where many of the local women had their arts and crafts for sale. Well, probably not their own work, the clue being that most of them were selling the same set of items.

The village itself was fairly deserted and the school was closed for the six week holiday.

Liesel trying out for the Rugby 7s

Like a lot of Fiji, the sunshine, the heat and the torrential rain has taken its toll on many of the buildings. The village is, apparently self-sufficient, but the drinking water is brought in on tankers.

How did that tyre get round the bottom of this mature tree?

There were a few signs of life, a couple of little children running around, the sound of faint music from a couple of house, but I think most of the adults were either working over in the fields or enjoying a siesta.

Laundry day
Recently installed solar panels
Yanuya Island

Some of the more adventurous and confident guests jumped in for a quick swim before our boat returned us to Mana. We disembarked onto a very hot jetty to wait for the fast catamaran back to Denarau.

Swimming

We wanted to visit a nearby Hindu Temple but on arrival, we realised, we couldn’t go in because I wasn’t wearing trousers. I haven’t worn trousers for ages, and it never occurred to us to consider the Hindu dress code.

Sri Suva Subramaniya Hindu Temple

We’re in Fiji for just a couple more days so we’re trying to eat as much of our food as we can before moving on. Liesel wanted to make salsa again and the only ingredient missing was tomatoes. The local supermarket didn’t have any and the guys outside were charging far too much for their produce. So, off to the big city, well, Nadi, we went.

Parked up, fed the meter, looked around getting our bearings, trying to remember where the market was located. A dark voice behind us asked if we were looking for something. “Ah, the market, it’s over there, follow me,” he said. So we did.

We crossed the road, turned right, turned left, went down a narrow street, turned into a narrower alley, turned right, walked up some stairs, passed a room where some lads were playing pool. I wondered why the market was upstairs, it wasn’t last time. We were shown into a room filled with Fijian works of art. All genuine Fijian craft, we were assured, no Chinese or Korean knock-offs. Compare this heavy wooden turtle with that cheap one from China, made from balsa wood. There were big masks, bangles, jewellery, ornaments, turned wooden bowls, all great stuff of course, but nothing that we could buy and carry with us.

Our guide was by the door, another man was ‘selling’ the wares, an elder turned up and lit a cigarette then asked if it was ok to smoke here.

In the end, we bought a small painting. It will go with our new curtains at home, we think! We didn’t have enough cash on us, and they didn’t use credit cards because their money isn’t put through the banking system.

Liesel and I looked at each other, wondering what kinda mess we’d gotten ourselves into.

Our guide took us to the nearest ATM, I withdrew the cash, paid him and he then showed us to the market that we wanted to go to in the first place.

Quite possibly the most expensive three tomatoes we’ve ever bought, ever, anywhere.

He then took us back to our car.

I think we may have had a close shave with the Fiji Mafia, but so far, we seem to have got away with it. If we wake up with a horse’s head in the bed, we’ll think again.

As anticipated, we returned to Denarau where we ate lunch, keeping a look-out for gangsters on our case. There was one suspicious character. I said, be careful, his bowtie is really a camera.

Merry Christmas: this tree is made from plastic bottles

It was a lot more overcast today, so we were lucky with our trip to the islands, yesterday.

The Port of Denarau

We drove home the ‘long way’, in order to take some photos.

Didn’t expect to see this
Sugar cane train engine
One of many roadside markets
Roadside goats

I went for a quick walk but the main road isn’t that interesting or photogenic, so I came back, changed into my swimmers, and spent a while in the pool. Yes, this Airbnb has a pool and it has an awning that isn’t entirely waterproof: it let the rain in!

Mick, coffee, pool, rain

There is also a small fish pond with a lot of large koi. They often come up to the surface and say hello too, when we walk by.

The rain was pretty half-hearted, but at least it did encourage the frogs to come out.

It’s raining frogs

So, salsa, rice and bhaji (a local spinach-like vegetable), crackers, crisps, rose apples, pineapple, mango, chocolate biscuits, ice cream and an apple all made for a very nice, balanced but wide-ranging supper.

Was my sleepless night due to lack of exercise? Too much coffee? Too much food? Concern about the local triads or other criminal organisations? I lay awake for ages worrying about this and in the end, I picked up my book for a while. Yes, of course I read it.

Our final full day in Fiji was filled with fun on the internet. This. And Liesel was booking flights and cars and things for the next couple of months. We listened to the radio: Cerys Matthews, Amy Lamé, Tom Robinson, Bob Harris Country and very little Christmas music, just the way we like it.