Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Kyrgyzstan: The People

The people I met in Kyrgyzstan were incredibly friendly and at times quite curious. The Kyrgyz flag is red with a yellow sun that has forty rays, to represent the forty tribes that have called Kyrgyzstan home. Add to that the Russian influence, there’s quite an ethnic diversity about.

As for other foreigners, we didn't encounter that many. There's a really strong community based tourism community in Kyrgyzstan but it felt like we were still novelties as foreigners. People were friendly, curious even to meet us. The children fought for our attention but really very few people tried to sell us anything.  It was blissful in that regard.

From the markets and streets to the buzkashi field, here’s a few people I met along the way.


Photos of people is something I really struggle with. I’m seemingly always too shy to ask and an read I'd like to improve on. Maybe one day…

Do you have this problem? Which is your favourite photo above? .

Monday, 9 December 2013

Kyrgyzstan & its Magic Mountains

There are so many travel stories and moments and details I want to write about and share and for so long, I just haven't known where to start. Rather than staying silent, I might start at the start. Not Nepal or leaving London, but the trip through Central Asia. It was on this trip I decided I was ready to leave London. I resigned on my first day back in the office after this trip and despite all I’ve seen since, I think it was this trip that has had the biggest impact on me.

Kyrgyzstan hadn't necessarily been on my to see list for a long time before I went there.  When I'd first toyed with leaving London, going overland through Europe & Asia along the silk route was one of many ways I was considering. In a moment of haste after an average day at work, I paid a deposit on a trip from Istanbul to Beijing with Dragoman and then went on with my life. Soon after making that payment, I was offered a great opportunity at work (one that has made things many times easier back here in Melbourne) and realised I didn't want to leave London quite so soon. Rather than loose the not insubstantial deposit, I transferred to a much shorter trip that I could fit into my leave; Mountain Kingdom of Kyrgyzstan*.  I decided that a few weeks in Central Asia with a bit of free time at either end of the group tour would be perfect.

Despite having read up a little on the itineraries and things (things being the DFAT and UKFO warnings to make sure my travel insurance would be valid), I still didn't really know what to expect of Kyrgyzstan. Heck, it took a decent amount of practice to be able to spell the place.

A year on, I still don't really know how to explain Kyrgyzstan. It's up there as one of the most naturally beautiful countries I've been to. It's geography often reminded me of Switzerland and of New Zealand.  Snow capped mountains were seemingly always the backdrop, except for when we were up amongst them and they were the star of the show.  Crystal clear lakes reflecting the blue skies and a glacier or two as well.  It’d be worth a trip to Kyrgyzstan for the landscapes alone. And did I mention we were there during the autumn? So add rainbow coloured leaves to the crystal clear lakes and snow capped mountains.

And the sky. You so often read and hear about the African sky but I’ve got to say Kyrgyzstan’s was no less impressive.  Camping in the mountains and the valleys, we were covered by a blanket of stars.  Often, we’d spend a few hours after dinner lying down counting shooting stars. I saw more in one night than I’d seen in my entire life until that point (11).

As well as the beauty of the land, there were the people. The people I was travelling with and the people we met as we went. But that’s another story for another post. 
For now, I’ll leave you with some of the many landscape photos from this incredible Central Asian country.


*The route we took was slightly different, heading north into Kazakhstan due to instability and unrest in the Fergana valley, Osh and the Uzbek/Kyrgyz border. Our route was Bishkek – Alla Archa – Chong Keming – Karakol – Altan Arashan – Karakol – Tup Kol – Cholpon Ata – Chaek. We were greeted with some unseasonably early snow which meant not getting up to Song Kol and whilst that was a little disappointing at the time, that’s the nature of overland travel.
Also worth noting with overland trips, especially in this part of the world – it involves a lot of camping. Suits me to a tee, especially when you get to camp in such stunning places. Most of the pics above are taken from our campsites or short walks from them.

I’m not the only one that’s a fan of this trip though, here’s another review 

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Sunday Suggestions

{From Sundays gone by}

Happy Sunday! I’m heading down the coast for the day and I’m pretty excited about it. Life got a bit busy there, what, with adjusting to work again, setting up home and things. It’s only the last week or two I’ve hit my stride again. The pics above are from a Sunday spend wandering Point Nepean back in September. I haven’t been very present online during this time but I’ve been lurking around the internet, reading a plenty. Some of those things I consider well worth sharing.  For your Sunday reading pleasure, here’s some of them:

10 things I want my daughter to know about working out – “The planet looks different from a bike or a pair of skis than it does from a car or an airplane.  Out in the elements you have the time and space to notice details and meet people and remember smells and bugs and mud and rain and the feeling of warm sunshine on your face.  And those are the moments that make up your life.”
Or in my case, what I want my niece to know. I like to think my parents set a good example, and we were always out and about, but it’s only recently that I’ve focused on what my body is capable of and once more fallen in love with the outdoors. This article hits a really big nail on the head.

A scientific guide to saying no – as someone who needs down time and solo time, saying no can often be a big problem in my life. Recognising I need nights in alone is one thing but committing to it and maying it happen? Well learning to say No is the first step.

Have you chosen your calendars for next year?  I gave my folks one of these Vintage Maps one last year, and maybe I’ll treat myself for to one for next year. Or the Around the World one, or the London one. Or perhaps I’ll do something with my many photos and make one. Regardless of what adorns my walls next year, this humorous post on the New Yorker, The Man Who Invented the Calendar cracks me up. That extra R in February caught me out for years

Not new, and certainly not to devoted West Wing watchers (of which I’m slowly becoming one) but it turns out we’ve been mislead with an erroneous map of the world for years. I’m struggling a little to find a globe I like at a price point I’m happy with that is up to date – it’s incredible how many still don’t have South Sudan on them. Turns out South Sudan is the least of my worries, the whole world is out of scale.

This butternut pumpkin macaroni and cheese tastes as good as it sounds. Paired with good friends, good red and good chat, it makes for a great night.  If you’re feeling cheeky, send a link to it to your friends and suggest a get together. One might volunteer to host and cook it (thanks K). At least, that’s what happened to me.  And if you’re that lucky, be sure to remember these common sense tips to being a good dinner party guest.

I’m trying to get pen to paper on my Central Asia trip from last year currently (look out for Kyrgyzstan recap soon, with Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan to follow) but this piece on border patrol at Uzbekistan cracks me right up. Exiting the airport in Tashkent proved to be quite a comedy for me as I went from station to station, collecting paperwork, completing paperwork, exchanging completed paperwork for the next set of paperwork. That said, it’s all part of travel sometimes and things like that just remind me of how far from home I am, in the best possible way.

Blinded by the White of the Southern OCean’s Majestic Icebergs.  Antarctica seems like the traveller’s holy grail. It’s high on my list and the more I read and see of it, the more I need to see and read about it.  This blog series on the Guardian by painter in residence, John Kelly, is wonderful. He doesn’t try and hide his excitement and incredulity at what he is seeing.
Snow isn’t something I’ll be up close and personal with anytime soon but these incredible macro photos of snowflakes and snow crystals are mesmerising.

What’s your favourite thing on the internet lately?

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

32: Another year older

My 32nd year1

Monday marked my 32nd birthday. Today marks 12 months since I left London. I remember sitting down and writing my birthday post last year, a reflective piece and on where I’d been and what I’d seen. I’m not sure I even know where to start for this year.

Last year I celebrated my birthday and farewell at Disneyland Paris with a few of my closest UK friends. This year, I spend the day at work, followed by a wonderful dinner with my love. Another celebration last night as my family came around, made themselves at home and had dinner ready when I got home from work.

My 32nd year2

There’s a steadiness to my life now that wasn’t there a year ago. A year ago, I was embarking on the unknown. This year, I’m settling down again, saving up for the next unknown. I’m in a different place, geographically and mentally and I think the celebrations reflect that.

But aside from the low key celebrations, let’s not forget just how good my year as a 31 year old was.

My 32nd year3

It started in London and finished in Australia. It included Nepal, India, South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi, Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, UAE, Mexico, Cuba, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala and Belize. It’s probably the only year of my life that will be spent as carefree as it was, allocating savings to cold beers on tropical beaches and helicopter rides over UNESCO sites. 

It really was an incredible year. One for the ages.

My 32nd year4

Pics: It was actually hard to find a pic of me in each country I went to. So much so, there aren’t any for Rwanda, Kenya, UAE or Belize. They are from L-R, T- B

Heathrow Terminal 3 as I left London | paragliding over Pokhara, Nepal | Amongst the tea leaves in Kerala, India | Wine tasting near Stellenbosch, South Africa | Entering the tropics, Namibia

Waiting for sunset with friends in Swakopmund, Namibia, travelling the Okavango Delta on a mokoro, Botswana | Watching the Zambesi thunder over Vic falls, Zambian side | Canoeing the Zambesi from Zambia, looking towards Zimbabwe | Meeting brown house snakes at the campsite, Malawi

Wearing the lastest in palm fashions, Zanzibar, Tanzania | North and South, Uganda | Blending in with the buildings, Havana, Cuba | Taking in Lake Arenal, Costa Rica | Coffee tasting at a plantation, Boquette, Panama

Walking on rooftops, Leon, Nicaragua | Riding a wooden Ilama, Cerra Verde NP, El Salvador | Meeting locals, Guatemala x 2 | Home, or there abouts, 12 Apostles, Vic, Australia

Saturday, 12 October 2013

All Good Things (Come to an End)

And just like that, my funemployment will finish.

Reality set in this week when I paid the bond and rent on a great little flat, spent hours cleaning and assembling furniture and unpacking my belongings, both those I shipped home from my time abroad and those that have waited patiently for me in storage (at my parent’s farm) for the past five+ years.

This time off has been wonderful. The obvious highlight was the months of travel to destinations I’d long dreamed of. But there were other highlights as well.  Spending more time with my family than I have since I first moved out. Spending more than a few days a year with my niece and nephew especially. Seeing the extended family I didn’t always get to see on my fleeting visits home.

Falling in love with my home city all over again. I’d romanticised it from afar, especially during the dark winters but really, it is as good as I thought it would be. Better even. Exploring it with the new boy, a Melbournian I met in Panama. Revisiting favourite spots with old friends. Impromptu day trips down the coast, or road trips interstate.  The time to just be, to enjoy.

Being here as my best friend gave birth. Being around for the reveal, the shower and the birth. All of it, not just being here for a week a year.

A lot of the things I thought I’d achieve during this break, I didn’t. My photos aren’t sorted. My travel recaps are far from up to date. I didn’t loose that weight. But all in all, this break has been the best for so many reasons.

And with that, I start work back in the corporate world 9am Monday. 348 days after I left the working world, I will dust of the shift dresses and re-join it. I’m pretty excited about that as well.

{Photo at top was taken at Chitchen Itza, Mexico on my last full day in Central America. The next morning, I left for Melbourne via Miami and LA. Not sure when I’ll ever be that relaxed and tanned again}.

Monday, 7 October 2013

I Can See Clearly Now

Mostly unrelated photo but hey look, it’s me the day after my 30th birthday in Prague, wearing glasses.

It’s been just over a year now since I had my eyes fixed. At the time I thought I’d live with it for a bit and let you know my thoughts. A year on, much travel and some day to day life later, I’ve certainly lived with it and love it.

It was one of those things I always thought would be nice, you know, if I was rich. I’d never really looked into it on the basis it was probably beyond reach. Friends and colleagues around me had had it done and kept recommending it though. Then, on a sunny weekend in Dubrovnik last year, my travel buddy and colleague, P, mentioned she was getting it done that very next week.  I decided then to look into it.

After a few consultations, I had my treatment on Friday 21 September 2012 in central London. There are various treatment options and I went for the most expensive. My rationale being that if I’m going to play with my eyes, I’m damn well going to do the best for them.  As I mentioned a year ago now, I had LASIK (as opposed to LASEK) and opted for wavefront intralase.

The difference between LASIK and LASEK (from what I remember) is mainly to do with how the flap in the cornea for the laser work is made and the recovery time. With LASIK, it is done by lasers and reduces the post treatment recover period. The wavefront refers to how the sight corrections were done.  Wavefront is a pricier treatment where the corrections are mapped to the shape of my eyes, rather than a standard prescription across all of my eye.

I had my procedure on a Friday so I could recover on a Friday. After a several further tests and consultations, I was taken into the treatment room. The actual procedure really only took a few minutes but with all the checks and tests, I was at the clinic for around three hours. After the procedure and some recovery time (about half an hour), I caught a taxi home and went to sleep, wearing protective goggles to ward of any rubbing I might want to do. I was able to see clearly as soon as a few hours later although my eyes were watery for around 24 hours.

The consultations leading up to the treatment prepared me for what was coming but one thing that no opthamologist or friend mentioned was the smell of your eyes being lasered. Whilst passing, it was easily the worst part of the procedure.

Walking around London on Saturday before my 24 follow up appointment was incredible. I could see. Clearly. Further appointments followed at the 3 day, 7 day, 1 month and 3 month mark. There was a decently involved eye drop routine for a while (antibiotics, antiseptics, moistening ones) and some mild dryness in the eyes for the first week but it was incredible how quickly glasses became a thing of my past. It was at my 3 month checkup (held after 2.1 months as I was leaving the country) I donated all my old eyewear.

A year on and I couldn’t be happier. It’s made life on the road a lot easier. Whlist wearing glasses for work never really bothered me, I’d never really taken to contacts for extended periods (8 hours or more). Travelling would mean taking glasses (and a spare pair), prescription sunglasses (not very nice ones – I always struggled to find frames I liked that would take prescription and polarization), basic sunglasses (for wear with contacts) and contacts (for water sports or any sort of activity really). I find my eyes are more susceptible to glare and I’m quicker to put sunglasses on but I haven’t had any problems with night vision or anything.  All in all, I’m really glad I spent the money and did it.

Do you wear glasses? Have you ever considered laser correction or have you already had it? Any other questions?
It’s not a cheap treatment (it cost me £1,495 per eye) but when I looked into it, I found it to be a lot cheaper in London than Australia hence going for it when I did. At that time, I also needed a new prescription written for contacts, my glasses were two years old and my sunglasses five. ie. I was going to be spending a decent amount on eyewear within the coming months anyway. I used Optical Express as their locations were convenient and I was happy with them.

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Capture the Colour 2013 (#CTC13)

After seeing these posts around the travel blogosphere, I’ve decided to get in on the action.

Capture the Colour is a travel photography competition with some pretty sweet prizes from Travel Supermarket. Prizes aren’t my goal though, it’s about looking at your photos in a different way. And flicking through other entrants for constant inspiration.

Below are my favourite photos showing red, white, green, yellow and blue from the last year.

CTC Green Uganda
GREEN – Queen Elizabeth National Park, Uganda

CTC13 Bue Nepal
BLUE – Phewa Lake, Pokhara, Nepal

CTC13 Red India
RED – Taj Mahal Mosque, Agra, India

WHITE – White water on the Ala Archa River, Ala Archa, Kyrgyzstan.

YELLOW – Sunset on the Malecon, Havana, Cuba

The last year has taken in Kyrgyzstan, Kazahkstan, Uzbekistan, England, France, Nepal, India, South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi, Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, United Arab Emirates, Australia, Mexico, Cuba, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvadaor, Guatemala & Belize. It’s been one for the ages and choosing the pics for this post has been a trip down the best of memory lane.

I’m leaving it late to nominate five more but if you get a chance Daniel, Krissi, Brenna, Kay and Kyria, do it!

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Weekend Tales; Werribee Gorge

You might not know it from the photos in this post but we’ve just come out of Winter, and what an end to it we had? Glorious blue skies together with the occasional gentle breeze made for perfect hiking weather on Winter’s very last day.

This time we headed west of Melbourne to Werribee Gorge State Park. The state park takes it name from the basalt gorge and Werribee river running through it and provides a few walking options. We had decided ahead of time to undertake the 10km circuit walk but we both agreed we’d like to go back and do some more walks in the park.

Starting from Quarry Picnic Ground, it’s a 10km (4hours) loop back around. The terrain is varied, at times the paths are open and wide whilst at other times, you’ll be climbing rocks alongside the river, clinging to the cable they’ve installed to help you. 

Whilst the views from the top (especially the eastern and western lookouts) were great, my favourite part was definitely the cable assisted scramble along the rivers edge. My least favourite part was realising I hadn’t taken enough water. No fun at all.
{someone remind me to unclip my backpack before photos – argh!}

Not really at all near Werribee, Werribee Gorge State Park is just off the Western Highway, about 60kms away (take the Pentland Hills exit if coming from Melbourne).  Take plenty of water, some food and go and enjoy yourself.

There’s more information on the Parks Vic website including of shorter walks. All are marked with coloured route markers but having the park map (or a photo of it) with you could come in handy. It enabled us to see where we’d gone wrong.