Archive for June, 2012

Tour of Borneo, Sabah, Borneo 27 April – 1 May 2012-06-14
June 20, 2012

ImageFirst tour of the Asian circuit for me and I was only out of Antarctica for about a week before heading off to this race with, again, Plan B (Perth, Australia).

Tawau was the starting point, with the race being basically 5 days from Tawau to the capital, Kota Kinabalu. 

Id never been to Borneo, so I was stoked to go (I got corrected by Malaysians, apparently if you call it Borneo, they don’t know where you mean, you need to say ‘Sabah’ which is the northern state of Malaysia’s claim of Borneo, Sarawak is to the south). 

Heres the race details:

Stage 1: Semporna – Tawau 102.8km

Stage 2: Tawau – Lahad Datu 146.6km

Stage 3: Lahad Datu – Sandakan 181.8km

Stage 4: Sepilok – Kundasang 214.8km

Stage 5: Kota Kinabalu

For the first stage, I went in the team van –which would be normal for any soigneur – to get a head to the next hotel etc.. but as we left AFTER the race started, I doubted our chances.. and true to form, no, we could not beat the peloton, so nothing was achieved.   It really seems to be the way, first stage is always a bit of a ‘fest’ at all the races I go to.  (unless its 2.HC).  And when you have a driver who insists he speaks English, but infact, is only ever saying ‘yes’ to anything you say (question or not) your realise that its going to be a long race.  This is how our team van, ended up behind the peloton, ready to pass the commissaries car – my driver had, very kindly, asked a police escort if we could go ahead to the hotel.  Obviously, I didn’t understand that question or answer and it took a lot for me to persuade my driver – James Bon, NOT to go past the commissaries car and to get back into the convoy, with the vans. 

That was the stage where Pure Black went 1, 2 and 3 in the sprint – not a good day, for me, to be working with an Australian team!! Yes, I wanted to jump sides!!

It didn’t take long for me to start feeling ill on this tour, and sure enough – day 4 and 4 I was bedridden (as much as I could be) with a chest infection, fever, head cold.. the whole shebang.  Now, now I know the importance of taking it easy when I leave Antarctica after a sheltered 4 months (without much interaction from the outside world).  Boy, I crash landed with that illness – thanks race doctor for giving me some antibiotics and the likes! 

So that’s where my race ended!! Sick in bed, doing not much at all!! L  I still saw the countryside, sitting in the van going to the next hotels and the two stages I was in the team car, (2 and 3) were great viewing.  Actually, there were quite a few riders suffering, im sure it was the brutal heat.  At some points, there were heavy showers that let loose, that was probably a god send if you’re on the bike.  Grim while its happening, but a relief to be cooled down.

This was another race where no food was given to us in the vehicles, for the stage.  Big deal? Well, not if you can buy food, that you eat, at the start of the stages, but … hmm we were living on peanuts and that soon got really unexciting! 

The hotels were nice.  The countryside was .. green.  I think it was a little different to the mainland, maybe not so predictably palm trees. 

Kota Kinabalu was a lot bigger than I expected it would be!! But, the airports literally in town, so it was only five minutes to get there from our swanky hotel. 

This race was in April, I’ve done a lot since then, so I cant recall every little detail!! But, the important ones – would I go back? Yes.  Food at the hotels? Good!  And a good turn out for the racing.  Well done Tour of Borneo, see you next year!!

 

MG

 

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Tour de Singkarak 2012, West Sumatra, Indonesia
June 15, 2012

Yes, the Tour of Singkarak, 2012.  I guess I may have known it was cursed from the start – I went to Padang, Sumatra, two weeks before the race to relax, chill and investigate – but I barely did any of the three.  Had some of my worst sleeps ever, getting to sleep late, so waking up late, so not seeing much, and when I did, I lost interest pretty quickly.  Except for the gym, that wasn’t a bad experience at all.  Local, packed (in the evenings) and cheap.  You know you’re adapting to the heat of south east asia when you can workout with no air conditioning, but it’s a bit gross having everyone sweating bullets on the equipment.  And the music, Ive never heard as loud, or louder, in any gym, even in a class!  But I don’t mind that either.

My digs were fine – local owned and operated, it was a guest house x homestay.  For the first few nights, I went ‘cheapest option’, which was a single room up on the top floor, with only the big balcony as company.  Not bad, but with only a ceiling fan, it proved too hot and I cracked and went down a floor to a big, double room with air con, fan and an ensuite. 

I had two meals in a big, local restaurant. It was seafood, not my usual choice but I wasn’t going to be fussy (I hate the smell or possibility of a smell, of non-fresh seafood), and the restaurants situated across the road from the sea itself.  First feed, with a couple from Singapore who were at the same lodgings, was good – prawns cooked in coconut oil with garlic (though I couldn’t taste the oil, I think it was palm oil), and an iced coffee, which they got right on the 3rd go.  Were in the land of ‘added sugar’, and when you don’t eat a lot of sugar, you get plenty of sickly-sweet and nasty surprises!! Second time I went back to eat at this place, I was alone.  I decided to get the prawns again, and the crab.  One young waiter had a hold of the crab at my table, to tempt me. It was an easy sale! Why not.. and yes, id go for ‘randang’ style (not too spicy).  Prawns came out first, they were ok.  Crab came out second, and what came to mind was that saying of someone having a face like a ‘smashed crab’ – that’s nasty!! This poor crab had been destroyed!! Its top shell was still intact and used as a garnish, but that was a guise for the fact that what little meat was originally in this innocent crab, was now obliterated throughout the hideous sauce, and the underside of its body, quartered, so that I had the miserable task of trying to get tiny scraps of meat out of cavities. $15 AUD to top off the scene of this ‘food crime’.  What a waste of a crab!!

A better discovery was being taken out, by the owner of my homestay, for ‘Kopi Luwak’ – a local delicacy – coffee yes, but the beans have been through the digestive system of the ‘luwak’ (civet in English) cat, collected from the dung, and then processed as per usual.  It’s expensive, but not so in Padang – a third, apparently, of what you pay in the likes of Jakarta.  It was tasty, earthy, ‘dirty’, coffee like… I rated it!! (pity I waited so so long for the warm milk. First small jug contained sweetened condensed milk, no good!  Second go was cold milk, no good! The third go they managed, warm milk.. albeit UHT, but that’s about the extent of milk in Indo) 

So aside from some city wanderings and the likes, I didn’t do too much in spending my time, and before I knew it, it was time to move to the race hotel.  Another bike race loomed…. So lets start the Tour of Singkarak…

My second time at this event. This year was a different Padang hotel – it was so new there was still traces of ‘builders’ throughout – dust, filings, shavings.. brand spanking new.  And why so new?  It’s a rebuild after the big earthquake in 09 – when the old hotel was shaken to the ground, on top of the wedding of 300-400 that was taking place in one of the conference rooms.  No one survived.   It didn’t feel eerie but its massive, ginormous, and the rooms were nice.  The next two nights, we were in Sawalhunto – and that accommodation was very basic, but, I didn’t mind it.  Its kinda unique having the whole team under one roof.  What made it seem worse though, was the fact that half our team couldn’t start the race.  Yep… An Indonesian team including 2 Australians and a kiwi, and that was the problem right there.  You cant have a ‘mixed’ team in an Asian 2.2 event – but the even bigger problem, we weren’t a mixed team, we were a club team! With the support of the Indonesian federation… late to bed that night and a crap sleep, and trying to sort out that big old mess the next day, before the race started at 2pm, but, it wasn’t to be.  We got our three Indonesian riders started, thanks to being able to take the Indonesian rider who wasn’t allowed to start with the team that he was with – an Australian team..

Yeah, the accommodation.. I remembered one of the hotels from last year, but the rest – well, that’s the thing with tours, sometimes I can’t always recall details like where I stayed, days can blur into one!  And I had one shocker on this tour – I cant sleep in a mouldy room, or one that so filled with air fresheners that im sneezing and scrathing within 30 mins.  So that day, I booked in over the road, where the race police were staying, and they paid for me! (I wasn’t there when they did but.. my room was covered).  The balcony was insane! I could have executed and annexation from up there!  

The racing… well I saw very little of it!  Pretty standard for any soigneur, but I wasn’t even going to the starts. My team were incredibly low maintenance, and I just went where I was directed.  We had a rider do really well in Indonesian class, and some healthy stage finishes.  What more can I say, they raced, there were crashes, some rain, mist and yes, the famous ‘Kelok 44’.  Here’s what the race looked like on paper:

Stage 1 – Sawalhunto 78km

Stage 2 – Muara Sijunjung to Harau 124.5km

Stage 3 – Payakumbah to Istano Basa Pagaruyung 102km

Stage 4 – Anai Resort to Bukitinggi 157.7km

Stage 5 – Padang Panjang to Singkarak 149km

Stage 6 – Pariaman to Painan 143.9km

Stage 7 – Padang Circuit 99.3km

 

The food.  Hmm Lots of rice, noodles and processed ‘goods’.  Before you judge me for sounding like I’m judging the food, I remind you, I can only go by the experience that I had.  And although some of the hotel food was ok, yes, I struggled to find plain things (that I like) like, chicken!! (sounded good on the menu, but came out smothered in some sweet, sickly sauce).  Plenty of ‘food in a box’ which can be normal for lunches at a race, but we were getting it for breakfast and, one night, for dinner also.  And in Sawalhunto, where ‘dinner in a box’ was the offering, I went out to the ‘flashest hotel in town’ with the two Aussies.  We waited around 2 hours for our meals.  I got a whiff of seafood as he put my prawns on the table – NOT doin it! And my ‘New Zealand T-bone’ was a New Zealand disaster! Couldn’t eat it.  It tasted old, it had been cooked on a very low heat… but yes, I remember, theres probably not a huge amount of people coming through this town, to eat steak and prawns… well, maybe you adapt the menu..

Which doesn’t detract from the people.  Indonesians are very warm, friendly and open – and they (apparently) don’t see a lot of white people in Sumatra, hence, they almost fall off their bikes / drive into gutters etc when they see you, a foreigner, wandering.  If you don’t like being ogled (I don’t) then being here can be hard work! 

 

Would I go back? Hmm im not keen to go back to that race, no.  For various reasons. I had had a feeling not to go, ha!  Could have been hanging in Thailand instead! Anyway, another bout of character building, done and dusted!Image

 

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IRAN, Tour of Azarbaijan
June 10, 2012

Iran, for my third time!  How lucky do I feel!  No, no unsafe, or scared but LUCKY!  Irans a trip, for sure, but I always get so excited about heading over again.  This year, we ran out of luck in that the Tour of Tehran was canned, so, we only went for one race, the Tour of Azarbaijan.  Lesson learnt – for less than two weeks (I was there ten days) you can get a visa on arrival for half of what we paid at the embassy, and the guys that did that breezed through.  So, although we got interrogated at KL airport (and that was strange to, 6 of us checking in, and 2 of us had to wait to speak to some official dude who was representing Iran.  What did he want to know? How much money we had.. and ‘Oh!! You already have visas? No problem’… um yeah, that’s what weve been saying all along for the past 10 minutes?)  anyway, apparently because of nuclear tension (do they make weapons or don’t they) then Iran has been cracking down on visitors.  ‘Especially’ Australians – well! I said as I flashed my passport in this dudes face, that’s ok then, cos Im a kiwi! Hehe So,2  of us had to run to passport control, through security and then down to the gate, with minutes to spare!  Don’t like that sort of pre-travel stress!

We were flying with Air Asia again, have to admit, theres nothing wrong with the airbuses they use for long haul, seats aren’t too crammed, the meal was ok.. however, within seconds of getting on the plane there was ‘Iranian confusion’ – and older guy infront of me was annoyed that there were bags in the overhead locker above him and what about if his wife wanted to put her bag up there and then use it during the flight – the result, about 5 guys all in on this problem.. the result? Old guy sat down again, hed let it slide.  I moved from behind him to an empty seat opposite him – I got a lot of smiles from him and his wife, during the flight.

Arrived in Iran, head scarves on and time to disembark.  Flew through customs, got our bags ok and thought id had two of my besties come to the airport to meet me – and I managed to quickly get a sim card, we were hurried on to our next stop, the bus station. No surprises there, we were going to be put on an overnight bus bound for Tabriz.  One surprise – we got to the bus, got onboard and then were ‘told’ we had bought one too many people from what we booked, what?!?! Problem solved, the jump seat next to the driver!

I have to admit, I don’t like that drive, cos its so long, but a herbal sleeper helped and I saw the sunrise through the window, which was a nice touch of scene setting for arrival into Tabriz.

We had to change from our big bus, at the bus depot on the outskirts of Tabriz, to a smaller, local bus – complete with dirty interior, ripped seats and a driver that smoked in the bus… but it wasn’t for long.  The hotel was another big race hotel, with the standard huge, gilded lobby.  Actually the rooms were pretty good to, and bed was welcomed, until I got the phone call telling me I was needed for the technical meeting.. WHAT?! Im not the manager this year!!! So, I was woken up so got up.  Met our French manager Yves, and his trusty side-kick, our French mechanic Angels.  Off to the meeting we went.  I flagged the mangers meeting later in the day, I was so ready for sleep it was beyond belief – after the opening ceremony, which is never a quick affair.

We met our team interpreter at lunch time, Golamreza, whose English was amazing and he proved to be such a great guy to have on the team.

And the rest of the week was a blur of stages!! I was in the van, not the managers car, so I didn’t see much of the action – except for day one, when the vans ended up stuck behind the race, and then cat and moused their way along the roads, behind the convoy, but at one point we WERE the convoy – time to listen, slow down and get back behind the race!! That stage they had a rescue helo following the race, its by far the biggest, most impressive looking rescue helicopter Ive ever seen! Amazing!

Mid way through the tour was National Womens day – a day to celebrate monthers , women, girls, sisters etc.  There was 3 of us ladies on the tour this year – myself, the manager of the team from Paraguay and a lady from Taiwan who owns the helmet company that was a sponsor of the event.  We were all presented, in a small, private ceremony, with a box of local chocolates and a handmade bag.  Wicked! Thanks! J

Azarbaijan is windy, and this tour there was little resplite. Some days it was amzing what the winds got up to.  Wowsers!  Makes the notorious Tour of Southland look like a sea breeze.

The Laleh Hotel in Sarein, I remember from the year before (and maybe in 08 as well?) and I received the warmest welcome ever! They definitely remember me from last year.

Stage 5 finished at ‘Sahand’ which was basically a 3000m summit finish, at a ski field! And we us soigeurs arrived, it was snowing!  No ones prepared for that in a summer race – we were huddled inside the ski lodge drinking tea and chatting.  A wait of about 3 hours till the riders started trickling in.  Trickle in they did, some collapsed at the finish line (the climb was around 30km), but for others, they made it look easy, however, those of us at the finish line stepped in and helped each rider after they crossed the line by pushing them up the road to their cars.  Its where I ‘did a calf’, I still don’t even know what I did, exactly, but I had gone up to the line for my rider, and as I went to walk him up the road, something ‘pinged’ in my leg and I couldn’t walk on it!! It was also my introduction to kinesiotape (thanks race doc!) which blew me away!!  Big  fan now!

So, for the last stage, I was at the hotel.  Along with OCBC from Singapore, they were all out of the race, so, we set off to explore the Tabriz bazaar – the biggest, and oldest from the Silk Route, apparently.  I have been before, but its still amazing to see!  And it was a nice way to spend a morning.

So the racing.. yeah, well, like I say, I didn’t see a lot of it! Dukhla Praha were mega strong, of course Azad and TPT from Iran were strong, my guys rode well… some good racing!! One stage, they were sitting on 26km an hour, because of the wind!  I told you it was windy!

This year, much to my astonishment, we were not put on a bus the night the race finished, for that arduous drive to Tehran! Yes, we got to sleep in the hotel!! We were leaving at 8am the next day, but that was more like 9.30 am local time.. J and it took 12 hours to get to Tehran.  Apparently the driver wasn’t even sure where he was taking us?  But, it was to the airport, to deliver our Frenchies and the OCBC team.  And it was as we dropped them off, that I got a phone call from a friend in Iran saying that we did NOT have a booking at Azadi Sports Complex, for accommodation… L  anyway, thanks to some quick thinking and a few phone calls, we got beds at a hotel not far from Azadi, that was the race hotel for Tour of Tehran the year before, SCORE! (thanks Alireza and Ali).  And so began my two nights in Tehran.  Welcome nights sleep that first night, and then a day with Alireza the next day, choice! Actually, we didn’t do a hell of a lot! Coffee, money exchange and then lunch! That evening, I was picked up by another friend, Zara, and we drove back to her house.. yay! A was finally going to get a night in an Iranian house!  The drive back was interesting, never, ever, EVER underestimate the traffic you may encounter in Tehran.  The place is massive, its beyond belief!  Part of the trip took us down a ‘strip’ of road that is renown for being a ‘pick up’ spot!! Seriously! And it was so entertaining, we did two laps!! You drive with your windows down and the offers come a-flying.  Especially with me, the foreigner, in the car, who doesn’t wear a regular hijab (I have my own system of head-scarfing).  I haven’t laughed so much in so long!

It was a late late night.  What a beautiful family – mother and three 20 something daughters.  We had an Iranian feast for dinner, at around midnight, and it was nearer 2am when we all went to bed.

The next day was a late start, but we did go out for lunch, which was beautiful – and in a restaurant that I went to last year with a different friend! Talk about feeling like a local!

Which brings me to a couple of things about Iran.  Yes, I have to cover up.  For me, I make my own system though, which means a scarf tied over my head, as opposed to under the chin and t shirt with thai fisherman pants, but I drape a pashmina over my shoulders.  Works so well for me!  But yes, causes a bit of a stir – especially this year, apparently a pair of my pants was too short and I was disrespecting security.. umm ok.

And he food, WOW is all I can say about Iranian food. They really have it good! And it shows, in the distinct LACK of obesity, which I really noticed.  They have their complex carbs, but theyre not staples in the diet, and theres plenty of meat (lamb and chicken) and good fats – butter, cream (the cream is just divine), oils.. im sure they even have less processed foods available than some other places Ive been to. And Iran is all about home cooking, mother cooks (generally).  Iv always found some of their cuisine a bit ‘samey’ before, but not this time. This time I was almost counting down the times to eat LAMB!! J

And that took me close to the time I needed to get a taxi to the airport.  I went back to the hotel to meet the other guys from the team who were leaving with me.  That was an uneventful trip to the airport, followed by an uneventful check-in and an uneventful departure!!

Rock on Iran, see you next year – in’shallah!!

IRAN, Tour of Azarbiajan
June 10, 2012

Iran, for my third time!  How lucky do I feel!  No, no unsafe, or scared but LUCKY!  Irans a trip, for sure, but I always get so excited about heading over again.  This year, we ran out of luck in that the Tour of Tehran was canned, so, we only went for one race, the Tour of Azarbaijan.  Lesson learnt – for less than two weeks (I was there ten days) you can get a visa on arrival for half of what we paid at the embassy, and the guys that did that breezed through.  So, although we got interrogated at KL airport (and that was strange to, 6 of us checking in, and 2 of us had to wait to speak to some official dude who was representing Iran.  What did he want to know? How much money we had.. and ‘Oh!! You already have visas? No problem’… um yeah, that’s what weve been saying all along for the past 10 minutes?)  anyway, apparently because of nuclear tension (do they make weapons or don’t they) then Iran has been cracking down on visitors.  ‘Especially’ Australians – well! I said as I flashed my passport in this dudes face, that’s ok then, cos Im a kiwi! Hehe So,2  of us had to run to passport control, through security and then down to the gate, with minutes to spare!  Don’t like that sort of pre-travel stress!

We were flying with Air Asia again, have to admit, theres nothing wrong with the airbuses they use for long haul, seats aren’t too crammed, the meal was ok.. however, within seconds of getting on the plane there was ‘Iranian confusion’ – and older guy infront of me was annoyed that there were bags in the overhead locker above him and what about if his wife wanted to put her bag up there and then use it during the flight – the result, about 5 guys all in on this problem.. the result? Old guy sat down again, hed let it slide.  I moved from behind him to an empty seat opposite him – I got a lot of smiles from him and his wife, during the flight.

 

Arrived in Iran, head scarves on and time to disembark.  Flew through customs, got our bags ok and thought id had two of my besties come to the airport to meet me – and I managed to quickly get a sim card, we were hurried on to our next stop, the bus station. No surprises there, we were going to be put on an overnight bus bound for Tabriz.  One surprise – we got to the bus, got onboard and then were ‘told’ we had bought one too many people from what we booked, what?!?! Problem solved, the jump seat next to the driver!

I have to admit, I don’t like that drive, cos its so long, but a herbal sleeper helped and I saw the sunrise through the window, which was a nice touch of scene setting for arrival into Tabriz.

We had to change from our big bus, at the bus depot on the outskirts of Tabriz, to a smaller, local bus – complete with dirty interior, ripped seats and a driver that smoked in the bus… but it wasn’t for long.  The hotel was another big race hotel, with the standard huge, gilded lobby.  Actually the rooms were pretty good to, and bed was welcomed, until I got the phone call telling me I was needed for the technical meeting.. WHAT?! Im not the manager this year!!! So, I was woken up so got up.  Met our French manager Yves, and his trusty side-kick, our French mechanic Angels.  Off to the meeting we went.  I flagged the mangers meeting later in the day, I was so ready for sleep it was beyond belief – after the opening ceremony, which is never a quick affair.

We met our team interpreter at lunch time, Golamreza, whose English was amazing and he proved to be such a great guy to have on the team. 

 

And the rest of the week was a blur of stages!! I was in the van, not the managers car, so I didn’t see much of the action – except for day one, when the vans ended up stuck behind the race, and then cat and moused their way along the roads, behind the convoy, but at one point we WERE the convoy – time to listen, slow down and get back behind the race!! That stage they had a rescue helo following the race, its by far the biggest, most impressive looking rescue helicopter Ive ever seen! Amazing!

 

Mid way through the tour was National Womens day – a day to celebrate monthers , women, girls, sisters etc.  There was 3 of us ladies on the tour this year – myself, the manager of the team from Paraguay and a lady from Taiwan who owns the helmet company that was a sponsor of the event.  We were all presented, in a small, private ceremony, with a box of local chocolates and a handmade bag.  Wicked! Thanks! J

 

Azarbaijan is windy, and this tour there was little resplite. Some days it was amzing what the winds got up to.  Wowsers!  Makes the notorious Tour of Southland look like a sea breeze. 

The Laleh Hotel in Sarein, I remember from the year before (and maybe in 08 as well?) and I received the warmest welcome ever! They definitely remember me from last year. 

 

Stage 5 finished at ‘Sahand’ which was basically a 3000m summit finish, at a ski field! And we us soigeurs arrived, it was snowing!  No ones prepared for that in a summer race – we were huddled inside the ski lodge drinking tea and chatting.  A wait of about 3 hours till the riders started trickling in.  Trickle in they did, some collapsed at the finish line (the climb was around 30km), but for others, they made it look easy, however, those of us at the finish line stepped in and helped each rider after they crossed the line by pushing them up the road to their cars.  Its where I ‘did a calf’, I still don’t even know what I did, exactly, but I had gone up to the line for my rider, and as I went to walk him up the road, something ‘pinged’ in my leg and I couldn’t walk on it!! It was also my introduction to kinesiotape (thanks race doc!) which blew me away!!  Big  fan now!

 

So, for the last stage, I was at the hotel.  Along with OCBC from Singapore, they were all out of the race, so, we set off to explore the Tabriz bazaar – the biggest, and oldest from the Silk Route, apparently.  I have been before, but its still amazing to see!  And it was a nice way to spend a morning.

 

So the racing.. yeah, well, like I say, I didn’t see a lot of it! Dukhla Praha were mega strong, of course Azad and TPT from Iran were strong, my guys rode well… some good racing!! One stage, they were sitting on 26km an hour, because of the wind!  I told you it was windy!

 

This year, much to my astonishment, we were not put on a bus the night the race finished, for that arduous drive to Tehran! Yes, we got to sleep in the hotel!! We were leaving at 8am the next day, but that was more like 9.30 am local time.. J and it took 12 hours to get to Tehran.  Apparently the driver wasn’t even sure where he was taking us?  But, it was to the airport, to deliver our Frenchies and the OCBC team.  And it was as we dropped them off, that I got a phone call from a friend in Iran saying that we did NOT have a booking at Azadi Sports Complex, for accommodation… L  anyway, thanks to some quick thinking and a few phone calls, we got beds at a hotel not far from Azadi, that was the race hotel for Tour of Tehran the year before, SCORE! (thanks Alireza and Ali).  And so began my two nights in Tehran.  Welcome nights sleep that first night, and then a day with Alireza the next day, choice! Actually, we didn’t do a hell of a lot! Coffee, money exchange and then lunch! That evening, I was picked up by another friend, Zara, and we drove back to her house.. yay! A was finally going to get a night in an Iranian house!  The drive back was interesting, never, ever, EVER underestimate the traffic you may encounter in Tehran.  The place is massive, its beyond belief!  Part of the trip took us down a ‘strip’ of road that is renown for being a ‘pick up’ spot!! Seriously! And it was so entertaining, we did two laps!! You drive with your windows down and the offers come a-flying.  Especially with me, the foreigner, in the car, who doesn’t wear a regular hijab (I have my own system of head-scarfing).  I haven’t laughed so much in so long! 

 

It was a late late night.  What a beautiful family – mother and three 20 something daughters.  We had an Iranian feast for dinner, at around midnight, and it was nearer 2am when we all went to bed. 

The next day was a late start, but we did go out for lunch, which was beautiful – and in a restaurant that I went to last year with a different friend! Talk about feeling like a local!

 

Which brings me to a couple of things about Iran.  Yes, I have to cover up.  For me, I make my own system though, which means a scarf tied over my head, as opposed to under the chin and t shirt with thai fisherman pants, but I drape a pashmina over my shoulders.  Works so well for me!  But yes, causes a bit of a stir – especially this year, apparently a pair of my pants was too short and I was disrespecting security.. umm ok. 

And he food, WOW is all I can say about Iranian food. They really have it good! And it shows, in the distinct LACK of obesity, which I really noticed.  They have their complex carbs, but theyre not staples in the diet, and theres plenty of meat (lamb and chicken) and good fats – butter, cream (the cream is just divine), oils.. im sure they even have less processed foods available than some other places Ive been to. And Iran is all about home cooking, mother cooks (generally).  Iv always found some of their cuisine a bit ‘samey’ before, but not this time. This time I was almost counting down the times to eat LAMB!! J 

 

And that took me close to the time I needed to get a taxi to the airport.  I went back to the hotel to meet the other guys from the team who were leaving with me.  That was an uneventful trip to the airport, followed by an uneventful check-in and an uneventful departure!!

 

Rock on Iran, see you next year – in’shallah!!

Antarctica – Guide to Living and Working There.
June 9, 2012

Hello again, and not from Antarctica – iv been back out for a month now, but, considering the questions I get asked, I wanted to do an updated story on the ice, and in particular, how to get there if you want to work down there, as opposed the $20k AUD, and up, tourist options! (ok, that’s a rough estimate, but all the tourist trips to Antarctica Ive looked at are not cheap! Considering most of them go from south America to, you would have to get there first as well, so factor in the cost of flights!)

So, to work there, how to get a job? Come on people, we don’t ask this in 2012 – it’s such an easy answer, THE INTERNET! That’s right, most, if not all countries stations in Antarctica have websites, and particularly Australia, New Zealand, USA and England, have job links within those sites. 

I have been once with New Zealand and 3 times with Australia, for both, selection included psyche and medical testing.  Australians take it a step further – they flew me to Sydney (from NZ) for a ‘Selection Centre’, where they will have around 30 hopefuls together for two days, in a room doing all sorts of ‘tasks’ – which identify who gets on with who, beliefs, adaptability, reasoning, honesty etc, and all the while that this is going on there are employees from the Antarctic Division head office making and taking notes, on each of us there.  Quite scary! That weekend culminates in a dinner, with free alcohol, and that right there can stop a dream in its tracks! 

 

What’s involved in the medical test?  Medicals have certain things they include, regardless of the vocation, and for Antarctic summer staff, it will include eye sight, hearing, heart rhythm, breast check for women, smear tests (depending on when your last one was) BMI testing or ‘Body Max Index’ (that score has to be under 35), blood tests, (including HIV as were all ‘walking blood banks’ while we’re down south.  So newly done tattoos will mean you cannot give blood for transfusion if there was a need).  This year, my medical included fasting blood test – also, theres about a 6 page questionnaire to fill in.

 For winterers, the testings a bit more detailed.  Prostate, MRIs and some other tests – I’m not sure of all of them, I’ve never done a winter, but its imperative folk are in good health as problems down south are the worst nightmare, potentially.  Why? There’s no way to get someone back out to Australia again.  Well not easily anyway.   I wouldn’t say it was impossible (and would more than likely involve a US army plane, if it was available) and that would take work – preparation of a runway etc, and that takes time.. All the Australian stations have doctor’s and clinics with gear for dental work, a surgery, a recovery room – and they take some amazing doctors down south! 

 

So, why do we go? No, it’s not to work in a hotel, or for tourists.  ‘Stations’ in Antarctica are all there for scientific research purposes; we’re there because scientists go there.  These stations range in size from a dozen over summer to up to 1100 (McMurdo Station, American, just near New Zealand’s Scott Base).  The two big Australian stations (Casey and Davis) house around 100 people each for summer, down to the low 20s or so for winter. 

 

What people are needed to run a station? Tradespeople! They’ll send chefs (me), plant operators, diesel mechanics, plumbers, electricians, AGSO’s (air ground support who work at the Wilkins runway and the station ski ways), crane operators, stores person, station leader, carpenters, boiler makers, general trades, doctor, meteorological staff, IT guys, radio operators, operations manager.. yes, trades folk!! All these jobs are listed on the Australian Antarctic Division website – the length of stint, the pay, whats requried etc. 

 

So, I cook there – and I get asked so many questions about the food in Antarctica. So I’ll answer those and dispel the myths now!

Do we eat penguin? No

Do we see polar bears? No, they’re only in the north pole

Do we eat fresh fish? No, you cant just go fishing for dinner!!

How often do we get food? Resupply is done once a year, by ice breaker, for each station (Australian stations are Mawson, Davis, Casey and Macquarie Island – Wilkins Aerodrome is a temporary ‘camp’ only set up for summer months when the airbus is flying).  Some fresh fruit and vegetables come ashore – cucumbers, lettuce, tomatoes, pears, sweet potatoe, lemons, limes, cabbage, carrot.. those need to be eaten though as they don’t last long.  Potatoes, onions, apples and fresh eggs come by the pallet load as they last a lot longer.  Sometimes, bad luck will strike for a winter chef and they will have to destroy eggs or apples, for some reason they go off / rot / don’t last.. the eggs are double oiled to help prevent spoiling, this coating prevents air getting into the eggs.

There’s massive freezers full of vegetables, ice cream, egg pulp and meats, seafood and poultry – crayfish, scallops, mussels, squid, fish fillets, salmon (whole and fillets), prawns etc fillet steak, sirloin, ribs, back straps.. all the cuts of meat from lamb, pigs and beef – even some whole pigs and lamb for the spit roaster.  Turkeys, quails, chicken – whole, breasts, legs.. Bacon, sausages, cured meats / salami, hash browns, and more flours, seeds, dried fruits, herbs, condiments, sauces, pastas, rice etc than you could shake a stick at! Really, we eat well down there, all things considered!

Huge array of amazing cheeses, coffee beans for the big ass coffee machine – with powdered milk L actually, its not too bad!  I can still make a mean latte with that milk!  And we make our own yogurt, which is easy and fast.

 

What do you do as soon as you arrive?

Health and safety laws are alive and well in Antarctica also, so, we do a tour of station and its surrounds, and before anyone can go into the ‘field’ they have to do survival training, which is compass work, map reading, and sleeping in a bivvy bag – getting familiar with the things that are in our assigned survival packs.  Those packs are to be carried every time you go off station.  And then there’s the travel training – hagglunds and quad bike.  Not everyone gets trained in driving a hagglund (tracked vehicle) but will get the quad training, unless you don’t want to – like me! I don’t trust myself on a motorbike!  But I do agree, it looks fun! 

 

What do we do in our spare time? 

Well, we all work 5.5 days a week (chefs work 5 days a week) – for tradies they do an 8-5pm day, chefs is anywhere from 9-12 hours (hence chefs have  2 days off). There’s ‘Saturday duties’ for tradies to do on a Saturday.  1-2 hours of doing whatever you’ve been rostered on for – setting up the mess for Saturday night dinner, cleaning cold porches, vacuuming, rubbish sorting..  and on a daily basis, there will be two people rostered on to help the chefs in the kitchen, and two to clean the bar / pool table / lounge area. 

 There’s a bar, a pool table, library, cinema.. with the Australians, they don’t sell liquor, so you need to buy your own before departure and have it packaged up for passage on the ship.  Its administered, once on the ice, according to the same drinking recommendations in Australia (x amount of spirits or wines per week).  So all the personal alcohol is kept locked in a room, known as ‘Fort Knox’, and its open once a week!  There’s also the hugely popular home brewing happening on station, they’ll even go as far as designing beer labels, hoodies, stubbie holders etc! 

There’s a fully equipped music room, gyms, skis, walking loops, ‘huts’ dotted at various locations if you want a weekend away, quad bikes to take out.. or, someone to natter with on station, always!  Its like being in a big back packers hostel!

 

How long does it take to get there?

That depends on which station you’re going to.  Mawson and Davis, travel there is on the ice breaker, and it’s around 3 weeks to Mawson and 2 weeks to Davis.  Casey has two arrivals – flights (Australian airbus to McMurdo, then US Hercules over to Casey), or the icebreaker, which takes a week.  I’ve done a mix of both.  The flights are always great, an aerial view of the ice!, but the last two times I’ve come home on the ship, and actually this last time, I went down by ship also.  We were so lucky, it was very smooth sailing on the way down.  Can’t say the same for the way home, although this year wasn’t as brutal as last year.  Its hard work in the rough weather!  If you’re lying down, you’re concertinaing up and down your bunk, if you shower you need to hang on to the bars bolted onto the walls, walking up and down the corridors is like being really drunk and things like the chair your sitting in will slide up and down the floor with the movement of the ship as well.  But, I got to experience my life long dream of being on the southern ocean!! (and its better with seasickness pills inside the body!)

 

What’s the coldest I’ve felt? -47 C, which includes wind chill.  Out of the wind, it was -35 C, when I was doing my survival training at Scott Base.  As soon as the sun went behind Mt Erebus, that was it, it was killer cold! But in summer, yes, you can go outside in a t shirt and shorts.  Plus the station is warm, its never freezing inside – and we all get issued with Antarctic clothing before we head south. 

 

All summerers who go south with the Australians will get presented with a certificate when they get back to Australia – a thank you and recognition of your contribution and effort, to their efforts. Nice touch! I’ve now got 3 and they’re going STRAIGHT to the pool room.. haha   J