Antarctica – Guide to Living and Working There.

June 9, 2012 - Leave a Response

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

 

TOUR OF AZARBAIJAN, IRAN 11-16 May 2012

May 21, 2012 - Leave a Response

Im freshly back in KL after a 3rd time to the Tour of Azar in Iran.  I love going there!! NO, I never feel unsafe, NO theyre not unfriendly people, NO we didn’t see any signs of unrest, NO no signs of hating the west… seriously, it’s a trip! Iranians are some of the nicest folk Ive ever met!  Really! Collectively – theyre so warm, friendly, interested and theres a MASS of Iranians that speak English.  The start list this year was:

Tabriz Petrochemical – IRAN

Syria National – SYRIA

ASC Dukla Praha – CZECH REPUBLIC

Konya Torku – TURKEY

OCBC – SINGAPORE

Start – PARAGUAY

Bavaria Regional – GERMANY

Urumia Medical Uni – IRAN

Astana Track Team – KAZAKHSTAN

Team Plan B – AUSTRALIA (who I was soigneur with)

Andalucia – SPAIN

Azad University – IRAN

ISD Lampre – UKRAINE

MES Kerman – IRAN

Specialized – GERMANY

Uzbekistan Suren – UZBEKISTAN

Holland Regional – HOLLAND

Ardebil – IRAN

Briaspor – TURKEY

Flying to Tehran from KL is great – cheap (airasia.com), frequent and only 7.5 hours.  We arrived at 10pm local, and this year, we were taken pretty much straight away, to the bus depot (thank god I had friends who met us – me and the six riders, as their car was needed to take two of us to the bus depot) – and that was it, left at midnite, bound for Tabriz in Irans northern ‘Azarbaijan’.

We were at Sharyar Hotel this year – and I pretty much headed straight to bed – via catching up with some familiar faces.  As I expected, I got a phone call about 2 hours into my sleep telling me I needed to be at the licence control… umm NO im not manager this year!  However, I was awake, so I got up and got the licences.  Went downstairs and met our manager and mechanic – Yves and Angels, frenchies and absolutely top guys! I did go to licence control (and got reimbursed from TPT for the power bars I took them – for those rumour-mongering that I wouldn’t get repaid…)  I flagged the managers meeting for more rest.. met our interpreter – Golamreza. A dude and with really really good English!

Stage 1 Tabriz to Urumiyeh, 141km.  stages started at 10am.  And, were accompanied by the ever-present Azar trait.. WIND!  I remember this road from other years, especially the bridge we crossed.  This year, I was in the team van, as opposed to the team car, so out the back of the race. The plan was, (as per usual) the vans would go ahead of the race, but, we didn’t leave so early before the start and got so stuck in traffic, that was not  going to happen.   I remember Urumiyeh as well – the city of Kurds!  Same hotel as last year, same view from my room of the bazaar over the road.. I like this hotel!  After dinner, Reza went for a walk with us into the town. The bazaar wasn’t open ,but the streets provided enough entertainment – between me and my different dress / hijab styles and blonde aussie boys, we were definitely worth staring at! Bought some walnuts!

Stage 2, Urumiyeh – Shabestar (then transfer to Tabriz back to same hotel) 174km

I woke up paying the price of the long travel time getting to Iran and then Tabriz – a migraine L  loaded up on pain killers and decided to have something to eat.  Bread, cream and honey.  For someone that doesn’t usually eat bread, Iranian bread was dam fine!! And it made me feel a lot better!  I spent the stage lying down in the back of the van trying to sleep.  Unfortunately, it was a few hours of waiting at the finish line before the transfer to the hotel.. ugh!  Early night, no massages given, just crashed out and slept right through to a new day..

Stage 3 – Tabriz – Miyaneh, 155km

Felt heaps better today, yay!! And the finish was close to the hotel.. actually, it wasn’t a hotel, it was a branch of Azad University!  And the accomm was pretty sweet – a 3 room in an apartment!  Bit of a fuss when I turned up – about 5 men took on the duty of getting one of the rooms into a one bed, so that I wasn’t sharing with males.  (also gave me room to do massages in my room).  Didn’t  go to dinner tonight, wasn’t hungry, chilled out instead..

Stage 4, Garachaman – Ardebil, 194.7, (transfer after to Sarein)

Not too much to see on the drive, but I did get flashbacks of the road nearer the hotel! Parts of the course that was a team time trial last year.  I liked this hotel, ‘Laleh’ and got a bit of a heroes welcome cos they remember me!  Time to chill for a bit before the boys arrived.   Unfortunately, I sent the driver and interpreter off to drive back to the finish (25km) and they never got there on time, stuck in traffic.. oh well, got it sorted.  Lunch and dinner were nice, and after dinner lots of race people were chilling out on the lobby furniture, wifi-ing, drinking tea…

Stage 5, Sarein – Sahand (3000m) 188km

Left on this stage with no realisation just what the 30km hill climb entailed! Bit of a murky, misty foggy day, and as we started the hill climb, there were parts where we thought we were on the wrong road – narrow, rough, dirty road.. but no, it was the way.  Nearer the top of the climb, it was snowing!! And at the summit, was a ski field and ski lodge – warm tea and toilets for us swannies and van drivers to use and hang out in, for around 3 hours.  For the finish, we all went back to the finish line. The snow had stopped but the wind was freezing!  I did think about putting my compression socks on (best thing for when youre wearing birkenstoks and thai fisherman pants!) but I didn’t.  the finish was exciting, Andalucia, easily.. but later riders were coming in absolutely buckled!! There were ‘helpers’ (interpreters, swannies etc) helping riders when they got to the line –someone would go either side and push the riders up to their team vans. When my first  guy came in, I stepped up to help and as I went to start fast walking him up the hill something in my right calf gave out and that was it, I couldn’t walk anywhere!! It felt like a huge electric shock!  So, I hopped up the hill with the help of one of the interpreters.  The race doctor saw me – ice gel and bandage and a promise to see me later at the hotel.  I think it was a micro tear of calf muscle, and it was my first introduction to ‘kinesio tape’ which blew me away! Il never pooh poo it again!!! We were back in Tabriz for the night..

Stage 6, Tabriz – Tabriz, 75km.

So, I didn’t go to this stage – I opted for a trip into town with the OCBC guys (even though I was limping).  It was fun going out – the bazaar in Tabriz. The oldest and most famous from the silk route – and though Ive seen it before it was great to go again.  And unlike other years, this year, we were not put on a bus straight after the tour to do an overnight trip to Tehran, SCORE!

Next day, we got the bus for Tehran.  There was our team, Singapore and some journos.  We were leaving at 8am, just after 9am we were pulling out from the hotel.  12 hours later, we were at the airport dropping off everyone except the riders from my team and me.  And then I got a phone call from a friend – we were not booked into Azadi stadium.. ARGGH! However, some phone calling and we  got accommodation at ‘Bostan Hotel’ which is near Azadi and was one of the race hotels for tour of Tehran last year.

So it ended up I had one full day in Iran and then most of the second day.  Got to spend time with two very special friends.. happy! Only wish id stayed longer in Iran and that the Tour of Tehran had been on.

The flight home was almost empty, SCORE!  Took a herbal sleeper though and got some sleep..

Thanks Iran, you rock, and next year, I have a plan to get me looking more like a local. I will win the hijab battle!!

OH! AND I CANT sign off without mentioning Iranian food… i miss it already.  Cream, full fat yogurt, olives, nuts, chicken and LAMB!!! i miss the lamb, its all i want when im there! There is a distinct lack of obesity in Iran – compared with the West, and I reckon its the quality protein and saturate fats, for sure!  Half the amount of processed crap compared to say Malaysia.  Interesting..  AND Iranian pharmacies.. wow, theyre amazing. if you want it, i think you can buy it, whatever ‘it’ may be. For me, Diclofinac suppositories (for migraines) up to 100mg, and less than $2 for two boxes (ten suppositories) – sure as heck beats a doctors appointment, a prescription and only 50mg dosages in New Zealand!

Livin Low Carb Interview – Jimmy Moore interviewing Phoenix Gilman

March 26, 2012 - Leave a Response

greetings,

I felt compelled to write after listening to another of Jimmy Moores great podcasts today, with Miss (Mrs?) Phoenix Gilman.. and inspirational low carb / paleoithic, healthy, personal trainer.. author.. shes awesome!! (I say paleoithic, but I recently heard Prof Loren Cordain refer to the fact that that is one of the fundamental differences between paleo vs low carb in that dairy plays no part in a paleo lifestyle… i like dairy!).

Phoenix has a new book out – Diet Failure, The Naked Truth.  She has a naked picture (or near enough) of herself on the cover and she looks amazing!!! Is she an exception? Shes adamant that anyone can look this great, feel this good etc.  Interesting, because I was quite frustrated with my RELUCTANT WEIGHTLOSS, again, after a gym workout today. 

Phoenix is a personal trainer, and mentions how she puts her clients through two (yes, only two) workouts a week!! I love that. I mean, im definitely pro weight training, intervals, low / no cardio.. Shes the walking, living proof of that working. LOVE it. 

So, I have done some thinking and I think… I am in the process of undoing years of destruction – from chronic cardio, to ‘poisoning’ from soy to the total health muck up of eating vegan / vegetarian.. And I have been doing very low carb – lots of meat, some cream, coconut oil.. I did kind of blow that out the window last week (what was i thinking bringing chocolate to my room ‘for the trip home’?!?!) and i had some stresses, (think im premenstrual), however, im back on track today!! iv had a fantastically good atkins style day and i feel il slip back into that mode asap – of feeling so sated and satisfied.  and its really gonna be about maintaining that to, here i was expecting id be like a text book model (or like EVERYONE else who seems to shed heaps of weight in two weeks of low carb, not fair!) but, maybe the rebalancing of the body that comes with eating RIGHT will work in its own time, and this is a lifestyle choice..

im thinking i will buy her book – shes all about the connection of ‘seratonin with insulin’.. hmm thats a new one!

rock on!

🙂

LCHF Update

February 25, 2012 - Leave a Response

Greetings,

Ok, so heres the deal.  Still holding onto excess weight? Yes.  Still stressed about it? Yes.. etc. BUT, two days ago, the penny dropped and I thought, to hell with it, Im going to go hard-core.  Even after one day I was so stoked!! and todays been day two.  Feel like I ate more today, but its probably because I didnt eat that much – its a day off for all today, including us chefs, so its been an eggy, cheesy day for me – oh, and I had a coconut oil and protein powder smoothie for breakfast..

So what did I change?  Coffee. I was inlove with mochas – a teaspoon of milo, decafe (or a half n half, or full strength) and milk, but, yesterday i tried a long black with a shot of cream in it, HEAVENLY!  I do love the bitterness of coffee.. Today though, Ive just come from an afternoon trip out and about, and dove straight in on a decaf… mocha!! Feel guilty? Not too bad.  Was it to die for? NO.. its classic me, to give in, however, i made it a longer extraction, which = less milk, see! 🙂 We all know milks got carbs in it..

But, I scored some chocolate this arvo, while I was out at one of the huts here (in Antarctica) for tomorrow – my carb day.  I plan to let loose and do what I need, but I also plan to go extreme low carb for as long as possible.  Im hoping to see ‘the change/s’ that i hear about, read about, see pictures of etc – in others! I want that to!!

I think Ive really come to realise, only recently, just how easy it is to eat ‘hidden carbs’, theyre everywhere!! So I think back to my paleo breakfast in Thailand – frozen berries defrosted over night, with cream and maybe some greek yoghurt – carbs!! Eeeeek!! I know berries are low GI but what IF I really am gonna notice a difference with NO carbs, or less than 50gm a day?! I mean, my doc suggested it ages ago, or that maybe it was what I needed.. hmmm well, we’ll see!  Im excited, I want results now, for sure, but Il wait it out and stay motivated – although motivation is definitely NOT lacking!!

On a random note.. I dreamt about a sort of ex last night, and right before I woke up we were hugging, and he whispered to me ‘I love you’…. dam!! thats a fine dream right there!!

🙂

SLEEP

February 25, 2012 - Leave a Response

Ok, so, Im happy now because – Im sleeping again!! Easily!! 95% of the time!! How? Why? When?  Well, it was about six months of trouble sleeping, and Im here in Antarctica, where it can be hard enough as it is (24hour sunlight) and I had a brainwave to call a hypnotist.  I found a couple on Google, the first two, no answer, then I got a dude in Adelaide.  What I didnt realise, was that it goes against the law, for a hypnotist, to treat someone over the phone, whom, theyve never met.  Which was me, with this guy – dam!  But, he gave me a couple of options, including buying the ‘Sleep Better Without Drugs’ programme by a Dr. Morawetz – so buy it I did.

Had to wait for a flight to come in, to deliver it, but, it came and it delivered.  Well, ok so Dr M studies sleep and has done for years.  He is a hypnotist also.  I ripped the package open and skim read the book that came with three cds.  I put the discs onto my ipod, and that night, i listened to the relaxation piece – theres only one of them on there, and its 20 minutes long.  So along side all his advice (dark room, get up if you cant sleep after half an hour of going to bed, dont drink too much before bed etc) and BANG! i was asleep.  Actually, I do recall using one of my herbal sleepers that night to, but after – nope, clean sailing all the way.  Dr M’s advice is to follow his programme for ‘4-6 weeks’, but after five nights, I wasnt even listening to the relaxation part!! I am so blown away!! And happy!

I believe my problem was adrenal / hormone related.  I really do.  And now, being able to be asleep by 10.30pm, Im ensured Im getting that important time for my adrenals to rest and recover.  I think we really, really underestimate stress – in all its forms and types.

Im pleased to say, Im NOT addicted to caffeine again and infact, with my current extreme low carb, im now on decaf long blacks, with a shot of cream in them – divine!! Do you know how many carbs are in a teaspoon of milo (enter, my much adored mochas – which Iv ditched also)!

Rock along, sleep well, and if in doubt – purchase ‘Sleep Better Without Drugs’ – its amazing!

Mags 🙂

Low Carb in Antarctica

January 2, 2012 - Leave a Response

This is going to be a brief post – im in bed writing, iv had one of my herbal sleepers… so il fit in what i can, before i sleep.

speaking of sleep, god its something you miss when you cant get it easily! However, lately Ive had a good run, yay!! Im in a smaller room this season in Antarctica, with no window, and I think thats heavenly!  Theres only two out of four rooms occupied in my corridor, and we have a fire escape at the end of a short hall – which equals a door we can open, and a small balcony outside! Lets in mega sunlight, keeps the rooms cool and is generally just uber cool to hang out in!

So, I got a darker shade of red / brown this week on my ketone sticks – 3rd in line from the bottom.  THATS exciting! Perhaps the scariest part is, how easily it can come back down again, to show that there are indeed carbs hanging around in my body.  So, aim is to get it back into a darker color again AND to keep it there.

Whats the deal with being low carb / paleo in Antarctica?  Yes, all our food is frozen or tinned – there are some fresh food stuffs, but nothing to get too excited about because a) it doesnt last and b) its not organic either.  Im hot for frozen berries, which i defrost over night, for breakfast – and I add things like chia seeds, ground almonds and for fat / moisture cream (UHT though, and not organic) or greek yogurt.  The yogurt packets have only just made an appearance after resupply.

This year, the eggs are locally sourced and free ranged (local to Tassie that is), which im STOKED about!  How cool!  Lunches can be anything, meats, soup, green veges if theyre about, likewise with dinner.  I have loads of Quest protein bars and various protein powders – some whey and some vege – NOT soy, but ‘yellow pea’ – none of my protein powders have soy in them, yay!!

All our nuts have arrived – double YAY!  it was a long three weeks waiting for them to come up off the ice breaker.  We have them all – walnut, almonds, pistachio, brazil……… and seeds to.

And PLENTY of water!!!!! I have had up to 6 litres in one day, but try to have 4 per day.  Last couple of days, I havent had that much, so tomorrow is going to be about the drink!

Yeehaa!

LCHF

October 28, 2011 - Leave a Response

So, Im still in Thailand – gymming, relaxing and generally enjoying life.  skinny? not yet.  happy? mostly.  feel like LCHF isnt working? sometimes.  Find LCHF not so easy to do in asia? yes.  and so it goes on..

Im still not sleeping that well, even with the prescribed pregnenolone – I had high hopes from that stuff.  And as for the herbal sleepers from my chinese doctor in KL, bloody expensive but boy do they work!  Never ceases to amaze me!  But why am I not sleeping?  Coming back around in the circle – adrenals.  So this weekend, I pick up some more adrenal ‘medicine’ – tablets again (although I rate the cortex liquid i used last year) however, the pills contain some cortex so… and Im waiting on my second lot of hair analysis test results.  I thought that would strip me of weight really fast, but Im learning, for some of us out there, LCHF doesnt happen as fast as it does for others, and i think thats really unfair!   😦  But, a day at a time, the ups and the downs.  And life goes on.

I was going to stop dairy, but Iv just been shopping and bought more cream – frozen berries, lots of almonds and some cream, a good filling meal option.  And what is with the nut situation in SE Asia?  Its not easy to find plain, unsalted, unhoney-ed, unroasted, untoasted etc nuts – really ,its not!   But the baking section in a supermarket usually has something plain.

Thanks to my legend ‘Jimmy Moore’, i found a great website today ‘www.eatlikeaswede.com’ (and developed a certain crush on a certain man in that site, but i wont say more than that!) check it out though, its awesome.

So as my friends are all out of town (eeeek) i wont be enjoying my saturday night ribeye at my favourite restaurant here, ugh!  Got to hang in there until next weekend, when we reunite, and the night before I leave Thaiand – Antarctic bound.

until then, eggs, butter, cream… come on down (to my plate!)

West Sumatara, Tour of Singarak

September 2, 2011 - Leave a Response

Im in Sumatara, my first ever visit to Indonesia, and its not quite for rest and relaxation.  Im back in my ‘other life’ – managing and massaging for a cycling team from Australia, and we’re here for the ‘Tour of Singkarak’, West Sumatara.  The race is a week long so I’m ready to experience as much of Indonesia as energy and practicalities permit, in that short amount of time.

The good thing about the bike racing world is, though our days are long and busy, we get to see places and countryside that, Im sure, I wouldn’t get to otherwise, and, we’re exposed to perhaps more cultural display than your average backpacker, with race organisers vying to put on the ‘best tour yet’, so that competitors can go home and rave about what they saw, heard, ate, and how good the racing was.

Our flight from KL was direct to Padang (one hour flight time) – where our first couple of nights are, and where the race begins, beachside.

Padang airport and my first error – forgetting I needed to buy my entry visa before I went through passport control.  However, its easy and cheap to buy ($25USD for one month, and you need to pay in USD) and I was pointed in the right direction, to a small booth just inside the doorway.  I got my visa and then I was able to take my place back at the front of the long, long line.  Second error – the bag carousel is right there as you enter from passport control, and there are uniformed employees who will bring you a trolley and then get your bags – and they want to be paid for it, but they wont tell you that.  (I mean DOH.. of course they will.. but Id been up since 4am  and this really was my first experience of this sort of help!) Plus, the other reason I ‘fell for it’ was because, I was also met by race officials, and I thought these luggage guys were part of the organisation to!

We’re taken to our hotel, given breakfast, two locals to help us and then a bit of time to relax, before all the ‘official’ stuff began.   Breakfast wasn’t much of by way of representation of  local, let alone Indonesian cuisine, which set the standard for breakfasts the rest of the week.  Such is the hotel world.

My very first impressions of Indonesia?  Smiles, Blackberry phones and cigarettes!  Young and old, inside, outside, upstairs, downstairs… they all seem to be smoking!  There’s tobacco advertising, billboards, posters.. its like stepping back into the 80s!

And the cuisine – in this part of Indonesia, they use lots of spice.  Salads that look like they have small pieces of red pepper and green beans in them? They don’t, those are diced chillies.  Thick hot curry sauces, rice, eggs, fish and chillies!  (and none of the spice was taken out, or reduced, for the visitors, even those who are racing every day – I even joined an Australian team one night for a meal at Pizza Hut, such was our craving for non-spicy, western style and then a simple eat and go affair.)

Every night, dinner was out, many times at the local mayors house for whose city we were staying in, and many times, I didn’t go, not enough energy! Dinner always included local entertainment but even for bike riders, its preferable to be able to eat nearby to the accommodation, and then sleep.

But, I did see some of the dancing and singing!  The opening nights dinner had various groups performing, to welcome us – clad in colourful dress with lots of gold.  Reminded me of what I’ve seen, culturally, in Thailand.

Aside from the opening stage, beachside, every other day took us from one city to the next.  The countryside was stunning, lush, green, palm trees, rice paddies and beautiful blue skies with big, shapely white clouds.  And the support for the race was amazing – the roads were lined with people, taking time out of their day, to watch the riders and vehicle convoy speed by.  I cut back on my water during the stages, as it was hard work finding a clear spot for a toilet stop – there was that many people.  (not so easy to pee readily, in a Muslim country!)

 

 

The first stage is a race around Padang – beach and ocean views for most of the circuit.  The opening ceremony was big! Colour, music (loud, Arabic dance music – we’re in an Islamic nation), dancing, local, live music, traditional dress, red carpet… and heat. The sun and the heat was merciless.   (have to hand it to the organisers though, there were team tents set up at all the stage finishes, with cold water, food and chairs inside for each team – and of course, avid, cigarette laden, locals, closing in for photos and autographs).

 

One of the highlight towns for me was ‘Sawalhunto’, a small town with a European feel, surrounded by lush, green mountains, plus, probably the nicest hotel for the trip, with a small balcony overlooking the street below.  Every time I stepped out onto my balcony, there was a throng of locals nearby, to stand and stare at this white apparition (aka ME) before them… )  but, that balcony had a definite ‘Parisienne feel’ – and I’ve never been to Paris!

The next morning, we had a transfer by steam train to the stage start.  This ‘old girl’ steams her way through lush forest to the start, around 4km.  We were told we all had to ride the train, so, I boarded a bus, to get to the train, with about 40 other riders – and we were taken straight to the stage start, and arrived just as the train was arriving. Oh how disappointed the locals and organisers were that we didn’t get to ride on the train! Through no fault of our own though! Not sure what happened there!

 

We had a stage finish in the coastal spot of  ‘Gandoria Beach’, Pariaman  and boy was it hot! SO hot! It was hard to walk, my clothes were sticking to me so much.. However,  the drive into the beach was stunning.  First we had a few km of narrow, twisting, turning streets with houses sitting right on the roads edge. Then the road opened up and we were along side the beach, of white sands, framed in palm trees with an expanse of blue ocean right out to the horizon.  Picturesque is barely fitting of a description.  It would definitely be somewhere for me to go back to.

 

Bukkitingi, which means ‘high hill’ in Indonesian, is one of the larger cities in West Sumatra, with a population of over 90,000.  I get the feeling its more famous for its ‘Lembah Harau Valley’ about one hour out, a spectacular natural playground of steep, vertical rock faces, waterfalls, greenery and a river.  We had a stage finish there one day.   The lead in was a narrow, winding, tight-fit road (yeah, there was a kinda bit accident near the finish!) and each side of the road was hemmed in by these sheer, vertical sandstone rockfaces going up and up for at least 1000m in places.  Nearby is ‘Bonjol’, where the line of the equator is officially marked.  Actually, there’s a lot to do in and around the valley – rock climbing, rafting, museums, paragliding, all easily accessible from Bukkiitngi.  I did get a wander into the town centre.  Wasn’t a hell of a lot to see, but I must have been a sight to behold, because I was getting majorly ‘ogled’ at!  (West Sumatara is not known for its tourism, not like other spots of Indo)

The stage that took us from Pariaman to Bukkitingi included the famous ‘Kelok 44’, a mountain pass over ‘Puncak Lawang’ that has 44 switch backs – yes, 44!  And I much preferred doing it in the car than having a crack at racing a bike over it!  The drive up gives stunning view of Lake Maninjau – formed after a volcanic eruption around 50,000 years ago.

 

Another highlight was Singarak Lake.  Yet again, the road took us right alongside the waters edge and the view is stunning.  The lakes located between Padang Panjang and Solok, is 21km long and 7km wide, and houses an endemic species of fish – ‘ikan bilih’ , now harvested (not sure of how you ‘harvest a fish, and I never found out) so there’s enough to go around, however, I’m not sure that we sampled it though as I get the feeling its pretty special.

 

Im going to sum West Sumatara up again – green, lush, rice paddies, palm trees, plains, mountains, amazing cloud formations, heat / hot, hot, HOT (food and weather), smiles, smoke (cigarette smoke), blackberrys (the phones, not the fruit), beaches, colour, music, mosques and friendly, friendly locals.  As we passed through towns enroute, where the locals were out in force, Id lean out my vehicle window to wave and this gesture was extraordinarily received.  Cheering, screaming and waving.  And the cuisine – eat the rice, cos of the spice! Unless, you’re a ‘low carber’, like me – eggs a’plenty, and meats and fish – but be warned, the sauce they are served in are not going to be even mildly mild.

West Sumatara is home of the worlds largest flower, the Sumatran tiger, Malayan sunbear and the bornean clouded leopard – to name but a few of the exotic sounding local species’.  Maybe a localised safari is on the cards to check things out on a more upclose and personal level!

 

The Great Wall Of China – Part 2 of 12 Hours in Beijing

August 9, 2011 - Leave a Response

My second day in Beijing, and I had a flight back to Malaysia scheduled for 4pm that afternoon.  I was hell bent on seeing the Great Wall (whichever part I could!) and after some question asking, plus the fact that I had an international flight later that day, I decided on booking a private car, through the hotel, the night before.

And I booked him for an early start – at 7am, we set off for the wall.   Apparently, there are three good viewing options from Beijing, and I was headed to a part nearest to me,  the ‘Mutianya’ section in Huairou district – north of Beijing, one hours drive away from me (at the airport hotel).

The Mutianya section of the wall was restored during the Ming Dynasty (1368 – 1644) with the original from the Qi Dynasty (built 550-557).

We arrived at 8am and there was a throng of stall holders setting up for a days selling.   One woman got me on the way past, waving an ugly t shirt in my face, which I declined, she promised me whe would remember me, and that Id buy said t shirt on my way out  (she did remember, but I didn’t buy).  My driver took me up to the booking office – and that this stage, Ive still not even grabbed sight of the wall.  I had two options for heading up from that particular part – to walk (around 2 hours) or take a chair lift (about 5 mins) – my driver was going to wait two hours for me so I paid for the chair lift.  Wow! It’s a 550m trip up, climbing the whole way over thick green forest.  It was peaceful, I was the only person on a chair.  And it wasn’t until we crested over that first big hill section that I finally saw my first glimpse of the wall.  There it was, ahead of me!  It was daylight, and I knew there was a sun somewhere above me, but it was barely penetrating the thick mist, fog, low cloud, greyness  and smog but what an amazing silhouette of the wall.  Talk about breathtaking!

I disembarked at the top, and set off. I didn’t even really look at the map Id been given with my ticket – where the chair lift ends is one of the middle towers, so my plan was to head left, and then double back and go right – believe it or not, there was not time! My two hours seemed to fly by.  This Mutianya section is said to be 2.5km long, it looks longer, but its amazing how slowly you seem to travel along it.

I entered into one of the ‘towers’ – the way to get onto the wall from the chair lift. It had two levels, and you go upstairs to get onto the wall.  The staircase was very steep more like a thickset ladder, and made from metal, it was black but left horrendous, sticky, brown stains on my hand after touching the hand railing.  The towers are not so big, but are completely barren, devoid of anything, but yourself and history.  I stepped out onto the wall and set off.  It was wonky, leaning downhill to the right, and it was hard to walk, but it did soon right itself.  I had a lightweight jacket on but not for long. I felt like I was really high, but was only around 530m.  But the air was dense, warm and heavy – you could almost feel the moisture in it, but infront of and behind me, the wall snaked its way away, disappearing into the heavy mist and hills.  Atmosphere!

Ive made my way along what I estimate to be about half of the section, through half a dozen or so smaller ‘towers’ (they’re situated about every 100m) and a couple of bigger ones, getting plenty of photos on the way, and taking in as much as I can.  The views from the wall are just amazing.  Green, rolling mountains, that heavy misty are, and a snaking wall across the tops of some of the climbs.

I get to a cable car, which Im going to have to take back down, cos when I look at the time I’d been almost two hours.  I had to buy a ticket for the return journey – my other options are to walk down or double back and take the chairlift or go on a luge – none of which I have time for.

Where the cable car ends, is the start of the souvenir stalls, and in China, the sellers are a lot more ruthless than any other country I’ve been to – I have to pry one woman’s fingers off my arm, so desperate is her sales plea. The walk down to the carpark is short, it takes about five minutes, and much like any markets the world over, all the stalls sell the same things and all the stall holders want a sale.

I find my driver and show him my unused portion of my ticket down – for the luge.  He insists, I go back to the ticket office and get my money back, I insist, he comes with me to do the talking, and I’m pleased, because the ticket girl pays me back, but it comes with reluctance and a choice exchange of words between her and my driver.

 

Whichever way you get up to the wall, if you have the time to see it all, you’re going to be doubling up on your steps, to get back down again.  Id have loved longer – and would recommend turning right when you start on the wall, and then doubling back, going left and taking the cable car down.

 

On the way back to my hotel, my driver tells me, we can stop at a local hand craft factory, not my usual thing, but I figure, what the hell.. sure! Actually, im pleased I did – what I got is a crash course in the ancient art of handmade Chinese porcelain and it was really interesting!  Its about a 6 stage process (and a dying art) to get the final products.  What a craft!  I bought some of the best souvenirs ever – hand crafted chopsticks!  What easier thing to carry than those!

Kuala Lumpur

August 1, 2011 - Leave a Response

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia

 

Kuala Lumpur, or KL, which translated means ‘muddy confluence, estuary or city’ (the ‘muddy’ goes in front of each description) is the largest city in Malaysia – its also the capital, and even though I had only a week there, it left a good impression.  Perhaps, after nearly three months in Thailand, the biggest thing to strike me is how clean KL is, infact, the whole of Malaysia is very green and generally seems ‘tidy’, especially the city, for city standards.  Tall, beautiful, clean skyscrapers, clean streets and organised with its free flowing traffic, taxi ranks and energy.  Let there be no mistake, Malaysia is on the ‘self-proclaimed’ up-and-up, even including itself in the lucrative ‘medical tourism’ market.

 

KL was a stopping off point before our trip back home to Australia.  After some quick research in LP and on the internet, we decided to stay in ‘Chinatown’ – it sounded exciting, authentic and interesting – and thats one distinct aspect that is truly Malaysian – its blend of  peoples, culture and the bringing of the two together.  I picked a small hotel called ‘Chinatown Boutique Hotel’, it was clean, tidy and recently renovated.  I was warned through my sources that the entrance was hard to find, but the taxi driver had no problem. Theres a gaggle of street stalls right outside the door, and the entrance is down a short alley way, but the building is really, very hard to miss.  It sits on the outer edge of Chinatown itself – over the big intersection right outside is Starbucks, McDonalds, Nando’s…. Go within the ‘Chinese limits’ and your food choices are a little more authentic – with an array of eateries, restaurants and, of course, street vendors.  There was a guy right outside our door who had, amongst other delights, toads. Big and fat, they resembled the Queensland cane toad, only with lighter skin, and no, we didnt!  Actually, we were after something with lots of fresh vegetables, and a nice protein – we ended up eating at Nando’s one night, a restaurant in a hotel the second night (with an impressive buffet) and on the final night – we tried a restaurant that, although incredibly basic, served up a great meal.  You choose what you want off the menu, and it arrives bubbling and steaming table side, in small clay pots.  After four months in south-east asia, I wasn’t going so hard after ‘street food’ – so I was happy with the choices we made.

 

I loved Chinatown.  It’s a hustle and bustle of activity that goes on day and night.  Be warned – the street sellers are some of the most ruthless I encountered!  Unluckily for them, it was the end of my trip so I was over the harassment – I actually had some good bargaining clout and didnt once feel pressured to buy something only to walk away and wonder why I had!   There was the usual assortment of items – bags, belts, dvd’s, watches, glasses… I reckon it was more hardcore there than anywhere in Thailand – even MBK!  Seriously, stall after stall of exactly the same things and everyones got a bargain! Tucked in behind these fronts though, are some great surprises, which for me were, foot reflexologists and a Chinese medicine clinic with amazing acupuncturists – who teach their trade as well.  I had two sessions, with two different practitioners, for around $10AU all up!!   And the reflexology was a treat, its all throughout Malaysia, they really have a thing for it – its offered everywhere, so soak it up when and if you can!

 

Our first full day we set off for that most famous landmark – the ‘twin towers’.  Neither of us clicked when the driver told us we probably wouldnt get to the top, but on arriving, we saw… he was right, there was no way in hell we could get up to the top!  The deal is this, each day 1800 ‘passes’ are handed out for people to travel up to the top of the towers.  We arrived not long after 9am – and they’d been out of tickets for over an hour!! So, if you do want to head up there, you literally need to be standing at the ticket kiosk (along with the other 2000) waiting for it to open.. However, theres always the ‘KL Tower’ which has better views anyway!  Its about 5 mins by taxi from the twin towers, there was no queue and the views are a 360 degree panorama of the city.  You pay to enter in the lobby, take an elevator to the top and then get given a personal headset to use on your way – theres a commentary that takes you around the top. Im a little too impatient to wait for and  or listen to a recording.  Really worth the trip up though – and from up here you’ll really see how beautiful a city KL is.

 

The airport at KL is nice, no doubt – but its situated an hours drive from the city itself, so be warned!  Also, its illegal for a taxi driver from the city to tout for custom at the airport, so go with the taxi rank that is situated at the airport.  Which is unfair, because it meant out taxi driver that took us back to the airport had to then return to the city with an empty car – not very environmentally friendly either..