Thinking & Feeling

“The world is a tragedy to those who feel, but a comedy to those who think.” Horace Walpole

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Borneo - Mount Kinabalu Climb - Part 3

Borneo - Mount Kinabalu Climb (via Mesilau Route)
Part 3 - Back to Laban Rata & Descent to Timpahon Gate

Part 1 is HERE
Part 2 is HERE

We got back to Laban-Rata at about 7:40am. We went in now ready for breakfast and had another hearty and tasty nutritious meal. We again bumped into Adam & Jordan who had decided to climb to the summit that day, having not done it in the 3-months they've been there on this trip. Being young and fit, and very much acclimatised to the environment they only started at 04:30am and were back down not long after us. Once we were done with breakfast, chatting and packing up, at close to 9am we headed off to start the big descent journey. Which everyone claims is the worst part.

We passed one set of German girls and their guide shortly after Pondok Villarosa, and then after that it was just worked carrying stuff UP the mountain we passed. These guys - some of them look no more than 15 years old - carry everything that is used to build, maintain and service Laban Rata up there on hand-made wooden frames with a strap that goes over their heads. Apparently they carry up to 60kgs! Porters carry 3x backpacks! We saw them carrying eggs, rice, bed frames, steel beams, and boxes of stuff. As we descended lower we started to pass other climbers who were on their way up the mountain. It became quite festive as the new gang would congratulate me and I'd wish them good luck and on their climb. One group told me I was 'winning the Amazing Race' and should ask for a prize at the end. Apparently I was the first person to descend and was right up front. I had no idea. Somehow being in the 'lead' spurred me on and I pressed on a bit faster. I was listening to music and was quite enjoying being able to get a bit of speed going.
The descent does start taking it's toll though as your legs are already tired and sore from the climb the previous day and the earlier summit, and then are taking quite a pounding with the continuous jarring of trudging down endless stairs. I got into a nice rhythm though and mostly enjoyed it, feeling that it really wasn't so bad. Towards the end you have to pass through a gully with some small rover crossings and waterfalls and a contour section with a bit of undulation. Near the end you actually have to climb up again to get up the other side of the gully towards the park HQ. By the last km I felt like I had had enough so by the time I saw the final stretch of jungle stairs, I was muttering about 'more bloody stairs' under my breath. Then the cherry on the cake is that as you reach the very end there is a very steep concrete staircase leading up to the 'gate' building. It's is just mean and evil to make everyone haul themselves up there! Anyway I bounded up the stairs like a winner and said 'I WON!' to which the warden dryly retorted, 'You are the last person back'. Hahahah. NOT. I verified my name on his list and then sat at the top of the stair case to wait for A & Linus, who arrived about 10 minutes later. It took us about 2:20 to climb down.

Once out the gate we were taken by shuttle the 4km back to the registration check-point where we got our certificates. We got 2 each, one for climbing to the summit and one for having done the Mesilau route.
Incredibly they do a 'Climbathon' race once a year where top athletes race from the Timpahon Gate to the Low's Peak Summit and back. The record is 2h36m. That is insanely fast considering the terrain and altitude and conditions. I have no idea how they do that!!
  Anyway we felt good after our climb and must not have looked too shabby either since an American girl asked us when we were climbing and we had to tell her we'd just finished!

Our driver collected us and we drove back to Kota Kinabalu where I dozed on and off. Back at the hotel we had a welcome and much needed shower and then walked down to the seaside night market where we shared a freshly caught and grilled fish, and bought ourselves Mt Kinabalu t-shirts. After that I went for a divine but painful foot massage/reflexology treatment before heading back to our hotel for a good rest. Until our 5am wake up call to start our next adventure that is...

I just need to note that the next day our legs were rather stiff, but manageable, and we'd have twinges in our calves and thighs when going up and down stairs and inclines. As I write this on the second day after my legs are actually SORE and I wince when I get up or climb up or down anything. My legs are definitely letting me know that they worked HARD and would like a rest now thanks. :)

Final thoughts are that it was a very memorable and enjoyable experience. If/when the boys would like to do it - in 2-3 years I'd imagine at about 14 & 16 - I would definitely be keen to do it again with them.

Thanks A, Linus, Mt Kinabalu, Borneo, and Adam & Jordan for a really awesome bucket-list experience. That was awesome! 

There is a nice description of the Mt Kinabalu climb, which describes the route and each rest area well, here:

Borneo - Mount Kinabalu Climb - Part 2

Borneo - Mount Kinabalu Climb (via Mesilau Route)
Part 2 - Overnight at Laban Rata & Early Morning Summit Climb

(Part 1 is HERE)

We had managed to get a rare and valued heated room with a hot water shower. Which was heaven on earth. Most people stay in unheated dorms and have access to only cold water. Honestly that must suck. I struggle in the cold and literally lose feeling in my hands and feet if I get cold. So I wasted no time getting my cold wet clothes off and having a HOT shower to warm up and then getting layered up. 

The trick here is to dress in layers and mostly in what you'll wear for the summit, so when you have to wake up in the middle of the night to start the summit climb you are ready, and also already warm. So I put on 2 pairs of socks, leggings, my waterproof pants, thermal t-shirt, second skin, another long-sleeve top and a beanie.

Once I was clean, dry and warm I headed down for a much needed and very yummy and enjoyable buffet dinner at 5pm. (Dinner is served from 16:30 to 18:30 here) Really the food was delicious. Possibly more so because we were pretty much starving by that point and would happily have eaten anything, but really considering the location and the fact that every single thing up there is carried up on someone's back the food is outstanding. It is tasty, varied, plentiful and really satisfying. One of the best meals I have had for a while actually.

Linus came to tell us that we could start our summit climb at 3am the next morning, and not 2am as most people do. Appparently this was because of how fast we had climbed the first day, and since the point of the summit climb is to reach the summit to see the sun-rise we had earned an extra hour of sleep due to being fast and fit. SCORE!! :)

A decided he was feeling tired and a bit ill still from the altitude so he headed to bed straight after dinner. I was still wide awake and a bit wired so I opted to stay downstairs and socialise, and I ended up meeting Adam & Jordan, 2 University of Montana Researchers who have been living on the mountain near Laban Rata for 3 months now. They are researching birds there. We had a really nice chat, and before I knew it it was 7pm and the place had pretty much cleared out. You are encouraged to go to bed early - and it's pretty much lights-out at 07:30pm as they encourage climbers to get enough rest before their super-early morning wake up.

So up I went to bed and tired to go to sleep listening to the pouring driving rain outside and hoping the weather would clear by morning. I did manage to go to sleep even though I woke up quite a few times during the night. Once because I was way too hot, and had to turn our room heater down, and also once or twice because my mouth was dry and I was a bit short of breath. Amazingly though I was awake and quite chipper at our wake-up call time just after 2am. After getting geared up and having a cup of coffee we headed down for 'breakfast'. We were advised to eat something but to keep it light and simple  so we each had a small bowl of oats. At 3am as planned we zipped up into our cold weather outer gear and head-lamps and joined Linus outside and got started. 
Thankfully the weather was still and clear and we could see the moon and stars. It was not that cold even. I remember thinking I didn't need my ski jacket after all! We got started on the climb which was more and more stairs. Linus told us to follow him and just go 'slow and steady', so I fell-in behind him and just started trudging along behind him in the dark and keeping his feet in the light of my head torch, staying at his pace, aware that the best way to deal with the altitude is 'slow and steady'. Still our slow and steady seemed faster than many other people and soon we were passing people. Many were having to stop to rest because and others seemed to just be struggling to breathe in general. Both A and I thankfully were feeling fine and just kept trudging, not really needing to stop at all. I only stopped to take my jacket and one of my long sleeve tops off, and then we kept going. I was watching my heart rate and it was at about 100-110 the whole time, normalising again within a minute or 2 if I stopped. So my body was coping fine.

After reaching the Sayat-Sayat check-point where you have to check-in on your way to and from the summit to certify that you made it, I decided it was indeed cold - at 3800m and in the dark this is not surprising. So I put my jackets and beanies etc back on.
After the check-point the terrain changed and we were now on the granite slabs and had to follow the roped route. Using the rope both as a guide and also as a climbing aid a lot of the time. It helps to haul yourself up using your arms to hoist yourself up and to reduce the reliance on your legs, which have already worked really hard! Linus was really great here gently encouraging us and giving pointers as to what to do and where to place our feet etc. He also helped us bypass slower groups and to keep going at our pace without being stuck behind people. Considering there are about 100-200 climbing it could get annoying if you have to keep waiting for people so it was nice being able to just follow him and keep going. Once we got to South Peak I got into a really good rhythm and just kept going. A and Linus were a bit behind me but instead of waiting I decided to press on. I had a last energy bar with me which I ate on the straight section up from South Peak towards the beginning of Low's Peak. As I started the climb up to Low's Peak I considered waiting, but decided to press on as I was feeling strong physically and mentally and was in that zone where you want to keep going while you can. Soon and without realising I had actually done it, I was suddenly at the summit! At 4095.2m!! I DID IT!

I think I got there at about 5:15am. I took a few photos there by myself and then sat nearby and waited while the dozen or so others did the same and then a few minutes later A and Linus appeared. We took some summit shots and then got out of the way so others could have their turn. We climbed down a short way and sat down to rest and wait for the sun to rise. The sky was clear with clouds on the horizon, and it was a bit breezy. So I soon started to get really cold really fast. My hands were so numb I couldn't use them and they stopped working, so when I tried to put my thick gloves on I couldn't. I couldn't work my camera, and my feet were numb too. We had some chemical hand-warmers with us, which helped a little but certainly didn't stop the biting coldness. You really do need warn gear for the top because it IS cold up there once you stop and it's made worse because you are wet from sweating and once that cools off you freeze.
We watched the sunrise for a bit but then all 3 of us decided the cold was just no fun and we wanted to head down and to try to warm up a bit. So we started the trek back down, passing many who were still on their way up. We paused to take photos as we went past South Peak and Donkey's Ears peaks now that we could see them properly in the day-light. Regretfully  I was still too cold to bother with clowning around or doing any jumping around shots. We carried on back down and Linus was great here he held my hand and guided me. The rocks can be slippery but he is very sure footed and having a firm and steady hand to grip meant I could focus on moving forward and not worry about stumbling or slipping. Soon we were back at the Sayat-Sayat Check Point where it was verified that we had indeed summited at Low's Peak and then we carried on to Laban Rata. It was interesting to see the ground we'd covered earlier in the dark. We needed to use the ropes again to guide and support us on the tricky and steep sections.

Next PART3.

Borneo - Mount Kinabalu Climb - Part 1

Borneo - Mount Kinabalu Climb (via Mesilau Route)
Part 1 - Getting there & Mesilau Gate to Laban Rata Climb

When A told me he was going to Singapore for a conference and wanted to extend his trip to pop over to Borneo afterwards to climb Mount Kinabalu as it has always been on his bucket-list and did I want to come along and join him? I thought he was a bit mad. Well actually he has climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, and done the Inca Trail in Peru and done a few other adventurous things so I knew HE could do it, I thought ME contemplating it was a bit crazy...

From Wikipedia:
"Mount Kinabalu (MalayGunung Kinabalu) is a prominent mountain on the island of Borneo in Southeast Asia. It is located in the East Malaysian state of Sabah and is protected as Kinabalu National Park, a World Heritage Site. Kinabalu is the highest peak in Borneo's Crocker Range and is the highest mountain in the Malay Archipelago.[1] Mount Kinabalu is also the 20th most prominent mountain in the world bytopographic prominence.[2]"

Anyhow somehow the decision was taken, it came together and I was signed up to do it! I bought a new pair of hiking boots (after trying out my old and very much abandoned boots and finding that they were falling apart after not being used for at least 5 years) with a voucher I got for my birthday. A bought me a suitable back-pack for my birthday and I finally bit the bullet and bought myself a proper rain/wind/snow resistant jacket. I love it. :)

To prepare myself physically I did some trail runs, and we did the one big long Table Mountain climb/run, and I also did the Lion's Head hike/picnic for my birthday (carrying loads of stuff in the back-pack). I also did my usual running. So I was pretty fit. Oh yes the night before we flew to Borneo I also climbed up and down the 14 floors of our hotel at 2am. Why? Because I chose that moment to decided I needed to cut off my laptop plug and 'borrow' the plug from the hairdryer. So I went to reception to get their scissors so I could cut off the plug and strip the wires! And walking there fro the 14th floor and back in the service stairway, in a cocktail dress after drinking too many Singapore Slings, seemed like a good idea at the time! I arrived back in our hotel room all out of breath at 2am. Really only I would do that!

So I decided I was pretty much ready. Or as ready as I'd ever be anyway. I was a bit concerned about altitude sickness fearing I'd be susceptible to it due to being a bit anaemic usually anyway and having both a naturally slow pulse and very low blood pressure. The combination made me feel I'd definitely be a likely candidate to struggle with altitude  I took some Solgar Gentle Iron for a week or 2 before though (excellent stuff it solved my anaemia issues in pregnancy within weeks!) and took some headache tablets along, and hoped that sheer strength and willpower would see me through. All the literature I read recommended a slow and steady ascent as the best (and only real) way to deal with altitude sickness, and if it is bad enough all you can really do to 'cure' it is to descend.

So after our Singapore trip (I will blog about that separately) where we actually very very nearly missed our flight, we flew off to the wilds of Borneo... 

We landed in the province of Sabah in Kota Kinabalu, which is a sea side town, on Wednesday night. After getting to our hotel and getting checked in and then heading out to have a very light dinner, have a look around the town and then getting back to prepare for the climb the next day, we got to bed close to 12am (another in a string of late nights, the rest much later than that)... so when we had to wake up at 6am to be collected for the big climb we were well rested - NOT!
We then had to endure a 2.5 hour drive to the Kinabalu National Park, where we ate a bun we'd bought the night before for breakfast. Which is at 1800m altitude  Then we had to register check-in and still drive around to the Mesilau Gate, as we had chosen to climb the longer, but more scenic and vegetation rich and terrain varied route. In the end we must have start the climb at about 10:15-10:30am. Not that most people stay overnight in the park to acclimatise to the already high altitudes and to be able to set off early in the morning - the gates open at 07:30am. So again, we had not slept much, drove from sea-level to 1800m just before starting the hike, and were starting 3 hours after the gates opened and everyone else (even those taking the shorter route) had set off. So the odds were totally in our favour. Oh yes and my legs were already tired from all the walking I'd done in Singapore. In fact my left knee was hurting the night before, so much so that I took and anti-inflammatory. Hahaha!

Anyway we met with our guide Linus (you HAVE to hire a guide for the climb), and set off in good spirits none-the-less. Due to the huge cost of everything in Singapore I had decided against buying many snacks to take. I did end up buying a jar of Nutella which had cost about 3x what it would in SA - but we decided not to take it in the end as our backpacks were already full and quite heavy and besides we were getting a packed lunch. In my experience there is never a shortage of food and on these package things you end up carrying more food than you need. So we set off with about 2x energy bars and a few sucking sweets between us, oh and I had an energy GU too. So after about 1km we ask Linus where our lunch was. Figuring he had it in his bag. His response was,'erm what lunch..?'. So after a few tiny satay kebabs the night before and a small bun that morning, we had to climb a mountain and had NO LUNCH! Oh great! Instead of letting it bother us though we decided we'd survive and could get buy with the few things we had and so we pressed on.

The Mesilau trail is very beautiful and although it is a work-out all the way - you are climbing a mountain of course - it winds through some beautiful lush forests which are a lot like Kirstenbosch. At one point you descend into a valley and then have to climb up the other side. While the main Summit Trail (Timpahon) is basically like a never ending staircase (much like a never-ending Lion's Head or Skeleton Gorge hike) Mesilau is more like the slopes above Table mountain with board walks, river crossings, exposed roots, slopes and then of course steps too. Oh the steps, they are many and varied, and many, and steep, and many, and more, and then they stop, and you turn the corner and there are more. Seriously if you have an issue with stairs, this is not for you. This climb is one big stair master workout!
The route is designed so that there are rest points every so often - generally every 700-1200m or so - called Pondoks. At each stop there is a toilet, tap and place to rest. It's a great way to pace yourself and most people aim to reach the next and then take a rest, have a drink, and something to eat at each. Due to all the climbing you get out of breath quite fast and even traversing 1km is quite an effort, made more so because you are ascending quite fast and are already at quite an altitude. In fact I found that first section of the climb to be the toughest. I was wearing my heart rate monitor and it was reaching 155 at times, which is very high for me!  So we stopped at the first and second pondoks, to catch our breaths, but after a couple of minutes each time we were ready to carry on. Poor Linus barely had time to light up his cigarette before we were ready to go! (Apparently over 70% of the mountain guides and porters smoke and it doesn't appear to affect their ability to climb as they do the climb 3x a week! We didn't get a porter and were carrying all our own gear.) we assured him it was fine for him to finish his cigarette but we didn't need to rest and without food anyway had no real reason to. So we pressed on and climbed and climbed.

We reached the spot where the 2 trails join at Layang-Layang and were feeling good. We had an energy bar each and pressed on. The vegetation thins out and starts to become more sparse up there with the change in rocks and higher altitude. Once on the main (much more popular) trail we started encountering other people. We started passing other groups and people stopped to rest at the Pondoks or just passing and panting on the side of the trail. We were still doing well.

At Pondok Villarosa at close to 3000m, A started looking a bit pale and saying he was feeling the altitude. By then I was doing fine and seemed to have acclimatised  My heart rate was doing fine and when I stopped it would drop below 100bpm almost immediately and then go right down to 55 if I rested a few minutes.
We stopped and had another snack, as he was most likely also suffering a bit from low-blood sugar as much as altitude (which he has previously struggled with anyway). By then we had put some warmer clothes on as it was getting colder and was also raining, so our back-packs had their rain jackets on and we had ours on too. The rain started coming down a bit harder so I decided we should just push on for the last km to the overnight rest camp at Laban Rata as fast as we could, so we could stay warm and dry and rather rest there. So on we went, past another 2 Pondoks and then finally at last at around 3200m altitude we arrived at Laban Rata just as the rain really set in. We arrived before 15:30, so it took us just over 5 hours to climb up. Which is apparently pretty fast - especially since we had taken the longer route.

Next... PART 2

Monday, 27 May 2013

Incredible India - Day 10 - Namaste India

After the slum tour, we had one more night in Mumbai, where we again went out onto the promenade for a run, worked out in the gym, had a sauna, enjoyed a swim in the hotel pool and relaxed with a beer.

Once again the hotel were fantastically attentive and anticipated our every want or need. They even delivered a compendium of games to the boy's room to give them some extra entertainment (as if they weren't already happy as much there!). The service at the Oberoi is truly first class and beyond anything I have experienced before (or am likely to again). It is fantastic hotel.

We had a last meal at a local road side restaurant near Churchgate Station and the boys went for some Indian haircuts.

We had a 1am check-out time as our flight from Mumbai left at 3am (ARGH). With that we were off having had a wonderful, crazy, colourful and I am sure never to be forgotten holiday in Indai.

Thank-you India. Namaste.

Sunday, 26 May 2013

Incredible India - Day 9 - Slumdog Millionaires

We decided we really couldn't only experience the opulent and bright side of Mumbai and also needed to see some of the dark & dirty of it too. So we signed up for a Slum Tour!

We booked via Reality Tours and met our group and guide at Churchgate Station, about 2km from our hotel. We then caught a train across the city to Mahim. Where we got off and walked into the slum of Dharavi .

Wow. It was an incredible experience walking around that huge slum, which is where some of the movie Slumdog Millionaire was actually filmed.

Here is some of what is written about the slum:

From the Reality Tours Website: "Visitors will see on foot why Dharavi is the heart of small scale industry in Mumbai. Through our tour through 'India's largest slum' visitors experience a wide range of these activities: recycling, pottery-making, embroidery, bakery, soap factory, leather tanning, poppadom-making and many more.  When passing through the residential spaces, you will undoubtedly feel the sense of community and spirit that exists the area. People from all over India live in Dharavi and a tour through its narrow alleys is quite an adventure- you will leave with an enlightened sense of the purpose and determination that exists in the area."

"On this tour, visitors will see why Dharavi is the heart of small scale industry in Mumbai. Many people know Dharavi as the 'largest slum in Asia', but there is much more to this historic area of Mumbai than poverty. Dharavi's industries have an annual turnover of approximately US$ 665 million. Through our tour visitors experience a wide range of these activities: recycling, pottery-making, embroidery, bakery, soap factory, leather tanning, poppadom-making and many more. Most of these things are created in innovative ways and in very small spaces!

When passing through the residential spaces, you will undoubtedly feel the sense of community and spirit that exists in the area. People from all over India live in Dharavi, and this diversity is apparent in the temples, mosques and churches that stand side by side. A tour through Dharavi's narrow alleys is quite an adventure, and you will leave with an enlightened sense of the purpose and determination that exists in the area.

  • Recycling area Old computers, parts and plastics come from all over the world to Dharavi to be recycled. See the recycling plants in which separation and melting of plastics takes place.
  • Rooftop visit There is nothing like the view from a Dharavi factory rooftop. The tin hutments that house so many human lives stretch on as far as you can see, and birds screech overhead in the blue sky. You will never forget this view!
  • Biscuit bakery Taste the tea biscuits that you can buy anywhere in Mumbai, hot and fresh at the source!
  • Popaddom making Watch the women of Dharavi make popaddoms, the essential appetizer of any Indian meal, by baking them on wooden baskets that are turned upside-down.
  • Visit to a resident’s house gain an understanding of how the incredible people of Dharavi live.
  • Kumbharwada pottery colony Watch artisans create all types of pots out of unfired, sundried clay.
  • Community centre The Community Centre, supported by funds from the tour, provides education in English, computers and other soft skills to the teenagers and young adults of Dharavi. Other activities take place here such as a library and indoor games. Visitors experience what matters most to Reality Tours... the men, women and children that make this dynamic community one of the most vibrant places in Mumbai."
From Wikipedia: "Dharavi is a slum and administrative ward in Mumbai, India. It is sandwiched between Mahim in the west and Sion in the east, and spread over an area of 175 hectares (1.7 km2). In 1986, the population was estimated at 530,225, but modern Dharavi has a population of between 600,000 and over 1 million people. Dharavi is one of the largest slums in the world."

It was an incredibly interesting, enlightening and humbling experience to witness slum life and to see how productive and hard working the slum dwellers are. They really are very industrious and innovative and resourceful, which was great to see. We were not allowed to take photos (out of respect for them) but had a wonderful and very fulfilling afternoon interacting with the people and I think it was a great eye-opener for the boys to. Making them grateful for what they have.

For me the most incredible thing we saw was how they make goat skin into any kind of leather you can imagine, including very real looking snake and crocodile skins, which are then made into belts, wallets and handbags etc and sold as the real thing. It was just too clever and funny! I wonder just how many people are wearing goat when they think they have snake or crocodile. LOL!

This was the 'nice' toilet at Churchgate station, where we were advised to go, because 'The slum toilets are much worse'!? Holy crap!!!!!
Dharavi Slum
With that our holiday and experience in Mumbai was all but over. All that was left was to enjoy a last night and the journey back home.

Incredible India - Day 8 - Hello Mumbai

Day 8: Having arrived in Mumbai on the Doronto Express from Ernakulam we hustled and bustled and jostled and pushed and shoved along side the locals until we had secured a taxi. After the relative calm and slow pace of Kerala, Mumbai was a bit of a culture-shock and attack on the senses. Everything was fast, busy, loud, in-your-face, HOT, smelly. We were pretty startled and dozy after stilling in the train for so long. We had booked into the Nariman Point Trident Hotel, which was a rather pricey but nice looking hotel in a good part of town. The price had horrified me a bit, but I couldn't find anything mid range and it was either cheap and very dodgy looking or very expensive. We decided Mumbai would be tough and crazy enough anyway and opted for some comfort. The drive there was long and the sun set while we drove. It was interesting to watch the city and people as we drove by. We finally got to the Nariman Promenade as the last light was going and got a gorgeous view of the ocean and city line.

The whole town was bristling with tension and it turned out it was because the IPL was on and indeed the Mumbai Indians were playing right there in Mumbai that night. So it was kind of mad.
Arriving in Mumbai
We finally arrived at the hotel after the taxi underwent a pretty through security check and our bags and ourselves had to be x-rayed and security checked on the way in too. It was mad. So we walk into the lobby of the posh and swanky hotel looking like hobos having just come out of the jungle and after our long train journey. Then at the front desk I was told that they had no room for us! NOOOOOO! Apparently the Mumbai Indians were staying there and they were booked full.

I was not very amused. But I kind of just stood there forlornly, thinking wtf do we do now..? With that she apologised and said instead they had booked us into the adjoining partner hotel. The Oberoi. I started protesting and asking whether is would be as nice etc. Andrew nudged me and quietly said 'Just take it!'. I would soon find out why.

We were walked over to the Oberoi - which made the Trident look cheap! - and oh my god the opulence and luxury is almost obscene.

We were taken up to our private suites (yes we had 2) and were introduced to our private Butler (I kid you not!) Georgina. She offered to help us unpack, but we declined because our bags and clothes were filthy having been roughing it for over a week.

We did let her show us how our room worked (there were quite a few controls) and also let her help us select a suitably comfortable pillow from the pillow menu (which had 5-10 options, I am not even joking!). I chose duck down, and A chose a selection to critique, including Goose Down, Buck Wheat and some science micro-fibre thing... :)
The Oberoi Hotel
The laundry fees were staggeringly expensive so we did our own laundry and hung it up all over the swanky bathroom - really classy. We also threatened the boys with death if they even thought about drinking or eating anything from the mini-bar!

Still there were enough toiletries, gowns and slippers etc, not to mention the bathroom TV to keep them very happy.

A and I went for a late night run along the Promenade to stretch our legs out after dinner. It was lovely and I really enjoyed it, there were a lot of people out and about on the Promenade and it was here that I got my first real taste of the Indian Men. Boy did they STARE at me as I ran. You'd swear I was a blond-big-breasted super model they way they stared. It was funny and kinda endearing at first. And I think because I was with A it was amusing and somewhat entertaining rather than irritating or scary, but I could see how a worn alone could feel quite intimidated and even threatened by it.

Massala Dosa Dinner

After our run we were greeted like royalty and offered bottled water when we got back to the hotel. I could get used to that! We then had a shower we took a walk and had a fantastic sleep.  in the big soft bed. Before waking up to a first class breakfast the next morning.

Originally our booking had not included breakfast, but in being bumped over to the Oberoi, breakfast became included (yes we checked 3 or 4 times before actually going to eat breakfast! The breakfasts cost about Rs1200!). The breakfast was delicious and the boys revels in being able to order pancakes, waffles, eggs, cappacinos.... well whatever they wanted. I discovered a delicious and evidently really cheap fruit which I LOVED called Chickoos or Mud-Apples. They are so yummy and taste like custard.

Anyway after breakfast we went for a walk around Nairiman Point and Colaba to check out the Gateway to India and see what that part of Mumbai was  all about. It was hot, and bustling. Again there was not a heck of a lot of shopping opportunities and nothing really cheap but I did buy a few scarves.

Walking in the Streets of Mumbai
Next up our Slum Tour.

Incredible India - Day 7 - Ernakulam & Doronto Express

After our overnight house boat experience we had a day to spend in Ernakulam, which is right next to Cochin. Salim collected us in Allaphuza and took us back to Ernakulam where we first went to the Kerala Folklore Museum to have a look at some of the history and art and artifacts of the area, then we went to the main market street and Jewish district where we shopped, looked at the old Jewish Synagogue and generally just walked around and took in the sights. There were some beautiful crafts and I especially liked the ornate brass and silver locks which were shaped like turtles, fish etc. They are stunning and some very cleverley designed with hidden features.

We looked at a book shop nearby which was selling books for Rs350 which was pretty cheap. I spotted A Thousand Splendid Suns and wanted to buy it (should have), but didn't. Instead we walked and walked and walked and walked. Pretty much all over Ernakulam. By dusk we were tired hot and sweaty.

We were catching the train to Mumbai at 9pm and had booked a, relatively pricey, 1st class cabin. I thought we'd get showering facilities on board the train but we were that hot and sticky we decided in the end not to risk it and A got a good rate at a cheap hotel to give us a room for one hour and the four of us dashed through taking turns to shower and clean up.

Funny I always imagined that you'd book a hotel room for 1-hour to get dirty, not clean, but there you go!

We felt much better once we were clean. Since we'd miss dinner time on the train we popped into a restaurant for a quick meal before boarding the Doronto Express. For our 24-hour train ride to Mumbai.

Well what an experience that was! All I can say is THANK-GOD we booked first class, because I do not even want to know what the other classes are like. I am by no means squeamish or finicky, but oh my word the toilets were gross. I am so so glad we'd had that shower before we got on the train because there was no where to wash and no where clean to be either. Our cabin was ok, once we'd wiped it down, so we just stayed in there. They gave us clean linen which was nice and made it comfortable enough. And then they fed us, and fed us and fed us some more. The food was surprisingly lovely. But as we were just sitting there or sleeping most of the time we weren't all that hungry, so there really was far too much food.

The boys managed to get into a groove and somehow we coexisted in that small confined space without arguing (much), or killing each other. I managed to sleep quite well over night and didn't even wake up when we passed through Goa in the early morning. Eventually in the late afternoon we arrived in the great city of Mumbai.

Next our Mumbai Mania.

Incredible India - Day 6 - Alleppey Houseboating

Following Day 5: We got up and had breakfast and then found that our private house boat had arrived.

We had a fully equipped 2 bed-roomed house boat. Basically you spend about 24 hours cruising Lake Vamanabad on one of these big beautiful floating boats. We had TV, a dinning area, lounge on the deck, and en suite bathrooms with showers and flush toilets. It was lovely.

We cruised for a few hours and then stopped on the banks to be served a delicious lunch. Then cruising on again for a few hours before stopping at the over night spot. All the boats have to be moored for the night.

We did some clowning around on deck, waving to passing boats etc. A dared the boys and I to moon the next boat that passed. In fact I think he bet us Rs1000 each to do it... (Really as if money was needed to convince us!) :)

The boys wanted to swim in the lake. I tried to protest but they prevailed and I relented  I means what's the worst that could happen (yeah I know they could have contracted a dreaded disease and died... oh well at least they wouldn't have been bored and moaning!). Even the boat crew were incredulous that they were swimming in THAT water. Although to be fair the locals and even the boat crew DO use the lake to wash, so really how bad can it be?

A and I got of the boat and decided to try take a walk around, but there wasn't very far we could go and when we spotted a large snake we thought it might be better to stay near the boat after all!

We played a bit of make shift cricket with the crew of another nearby boat before it got too dark and then we retired to our own boat for the evening. There was more yummy food and poker playing on the cards again.

Next morning we cruised up and down some channels, I did a bit of yoga on the front deck, and we chilled and relaxed, and finally reached our landing spot in Alleppey where it was time to get off and travel to Ernakulam which would be the focus of Day 7.

Itheko Slave Route Challenge Run 2013

We have done this race twice before.

Two years ago I did the 10km run, while Griffin and my sister Catherine did the 5km race. Last year I did the 10km and both boys did the 5km route.

It is organised by Itheko Running Club and is a relatively new race. It is not perfect and they are still ironing out a couple of logistical issues, but despite that it is a very well organised and well supported race, and it has a fantastic route and really nice vibe to it. It is different and interesting and I think pretty darn special.

This year A joined me for the 10km. So bright and early on Sunday 12 May (yup it was on Mother's Day) we got up and headed to the Cape Town Grand Parade in town ready for the 7am start. It was once again a beautiful perfect autumn morning in Cape Town.

Off we went. This route travels past and through many of the historical and beautiful parts of Cape Town. You start in front of the Grand Parade in Darling Street and run towards the Good Hope Centre and around the back of the castle. You then enter the back of the Castle and run through it and out the front entrance and across the moat. Then up into and around District Six before climbing up to to Roeland Street, where you run down to Parliament, and then up Orange street and then into the government gardens and along Government Avenue passing the Cape Town Natural History and Art Museums and then turning up Wale Street at St George's Cathedral. Then there is a little dog leg into Long street and down Bree street before crossing Buitengragt Street and heading up into the Bo-Kaap, there you take a side street up to the madly steep hill which goes up to Upper Bloem Steet. (I used to live in Upper Bloem Street when I moved back to Cape Town in 1996 and it is so steep my car couldn't get up that road and I had to take a longer alternate winding route up the hill!). It is  now dubbed 'Koeksister Hill'. It is REALLY REALLY steep. So steep that almost everyone slows to a walk on this hill and some have to stop to rest even. The support from the Bo-Kaap community is awesome though and they all come out to clap and cheer you on which is nice. Once you get around the bend at the top of the hill there is a nice reprieve of the contour road and there you can drink some Jive Cola and even have a Cape Malay 'Koeksister'.

After that the hard work is done and you just cruise down the winding descent past Beismillahs and then pound down Wale Street, left at the bottom into Adderley Street and Plein Street and then back down to the Parade. I managed to finish in a really good time, of just 47 minutes, but I do think the course was a little short as there seemed to be a marshaling fumble or 2 between directing the 10 and 21.1km groups. In future they really need to put sign boards up at the splits to make it more obvious and to put less pressure on the marshals. (A lot of people are refusing to return to this race due to this kind of error and it really is a shame because it is a fantastic race and well worth doing, and this minor issues is easy to fix!).

A finished a couple of minutes behind me and then we went back along the 5km route to find the boys, who seemed to be on a Sunday stroll and were not racing at all. We eventually told then we wanted breakfast and they'd better hurry up and ran off, pretty much finishing the race again and coming in with the sub-1:45 half-marathon pace-setting group. Which was fun. Once we were all done we walked up to TRUTH cafe for coffee and breakfast. It was a gorgeous morning in Cape Town and a lovely run. I'll be back next year!

Results are HERE

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Incredible India - Day 5 - Periyar Reserve and on to Allaphuzza

After our Day 4 adventures we had to wake up really early for us and check-out of the hotel, and be at the check-point in the Periyar Tiger Reserve by 7:30am. Once there we got a packed-lunch and guide (and had to wait ages for some tardy German tourists!) and then set-off on a hike in the Periyar Reserve. It is technically a Tiger Reserve and there are apparently Tigers around - in fact there is evidence of their presence from the scratching on the sides of some of the trees - but it is very rare to see them, since they are shy and mostly nocturnal too I think. We walked about 5km through this beautiful big and diverse forest. Seeing some red flying squirrels and a few monkeys on the way. The forest and trail were so pretty (although I realised it was very similar to our own Newlands Forest in Cape Town which is in some respects even more beautiful and lush. I am not sure if people realise just how much natural splendor we have on our own door steps and if they take full advantage of and appreciate it!?). 

Eventually we arrived at Lake Periyar, where we had a lunch break before donning life jackets and boarding our bamboo rafts. We'd opted for the bamboo raft tour rather than a motorised boat, or longer hiking trail as there are elephants in the reserve and had read that we'd have a better chance of seeing them on the quite and stealthy rafts compared to the disruptive noise of a motor boat or scrunching through the under-growth - not to mention that the boys would have rioted if we'd made them walk even FURTHER ;) - so raft it was. We were pretty glad we'd opted for the early morning excursion because although it was by now 9am it was really hot. A mid-day trip would have been pretty harsh. 

It was really pleasant and tranquil floating down the lake, passing tribal village people doing laundry on the banks and resting under the shade of nearby trees and going about their business, Then we heard some crackling, which sounded like tree cutters. There were loud cracking and ripping sounds. The rafts stopped and we waited quietly, and low and behold a short while later elephants emerged through the trees and started walking right down to the water. Right in front of us! It was amazing to see these awesome animals, right there in front of us. After a while a mom with 2 gorgeous little baby elephants came out. That was a treat to see. In the end we counted about 12 different elephants.

After a couple of hours on the lake we headed back to the pier, and our trek back. Half way back we stopped under a huge tree and were given fresh forest honey by our guide. It was delicious! We hiked on, returning via a slightly different route than we'd taken in the morning getting to see more of the beautiful forest.
After getting back we jumped into the car and hit the road to Alapphzha (aka Alleppey). We stayed in the Kayalorum Heritage Lake Resort in Allaphuza. It is a gorgeous place. We took the opportunity to cool off in the pool and do some chilaxing in the hammocks next to the Lake Vembanad with a cold beer of course!

Once we were refreshed and cooled off we decided to venture into town to take a look around and have dinner. We tend to always opt to get out and explore the local towns and environments and eat with the local people which we find more fun and interesting, as well as WAY cheaper than eating in the hotel restaurants. I also find you get better variety, more tasty and varied options and it just much more of an experience. So we walked most of the way into town and then caught a local bus - once we realised it was actually pretty far!

We checked out the nights market and had a yummy meal and finally headed back via tuk-tuk taxi.

Another interesting and fun-filled day. The next day we were going on our House Boat adventure!

Incredible India - Day 4 - Onwards through the Spice route to Thekkady

We left off on Day 3 at Anaerangal and the Tea Plantations.

Next came (obviously!) day 4.

After our second night at Camp Anaerangal we woke up and had another quite decadent elaborate and tasty breakfast. This time we got puttu to accompany the curry dishes. We know puttu in Africa as a stiff mealie pap porridge. In India it is a tubular roll of compacted rice, slightly sweetened and flavoured with coconut. I quite liked it.

After breakfast we got packed up and bid camp Anaerangal and it's lovely staff adieu and headed off in the direction of Periyar.

Griffin reading in the car...

It was a long and winding route through mountains, spice plantations, beautiful tea plantations and villages. There was much hooting and over-taking en-route as always, and once again a few stops to allow the boys to get out and walk and breathe when they felt ill in the back.

We stopped at one of the many many many Spice Garden Tours available on the roadside in Idukki, and had an informative and enjoyable visit there where we got to see all sorts of fruits and spices growing. Some of which we had seen before. But seeing the cocoa pods and cocoa butter was new for me and very interesting as was the Ayurvedic tour and seeing many of the herbs and spices and their various Ayurvedic uses.We also got to taste most of the fresh growing spices and it was really cool tasting the stuff right off the plant. Thing like Cardamom (of curse), Anise, Cloves, Coffee Beans, Vanilla, Cinnamon, Ginger etc etc.

Salim - who was born and raised in a small town near Munnar knew our tour guide and says he was at school with her. That was quite a coincidence, and they had a good catch-up while we were there.

  Our Spice Tour
 In the tree house at our Spice Tour

After the tour we popped into the shop and bought some spices, and then carried on our way finally arriving in Thekkady later in the afternoon. We took a walk around and checked out he cute monkeys along the wall lining the town and playing in the bamboo thicket. We also noticed some frankly HUGE bats lurking up at the top of the tall bamboo. I am talking bodies the size of cat type of huge. I mean I like bats, but even I was thinking 'holy crap!'. I would not want to have one of those buggers land on my head!!

Buying Spices

After booking our bamboo rafting tour in the Periyar Reserve for early the next morning we went to check into our hotel. We were staying at the Sterling Woods n Spice Resort. It was at the top of a small and very steep hill. We got checked in. In was an odd yet characterful place. One of those places which is so full of quirk and character that you can't really decide if it is charming or just really odd. Sadly the front desk service was not what it should be and the manager was incredibly difficult and helpful, not just to us, but seemingly with everyone he interacted with. It's a pity because I think it could and should be a really lovely place, but his reluctance and even refusal to help anyone or be in any way helpful or compromising is frustrating and annoying.

It was really hot so we didn't waste much time getting into the pool for a nice refreshing swim. And then we lounged about and rested a bit.

In the evening we took a walk up and down the town and looked at the markets and restaurants and eventually decided to eat at a 'Jain' restaurant, where we had a Thali for dinner. It was delicious and really cheap too.

Since we had and early start the next morning we got an early night - for a change. Next up day 5 and our adventures in the Periyar Tiger Reserve.

Saturday, 11 May 2013

Neighbours vs Cat WWYD?

We have a big male cat (he is 18+ months old). He is a big lazy softie. He is neutered. He is not into fighting or anything at all. He just plods around to find a comfy spot and then sleeps. When he is active he plays with Roxy. He is a mostly outside cat since he is Roxy's buddy and she is an outside dog. So 9 times out of 10 both sleep outside, often together.

Anyway, our neighbour has now started complaining about him - not that he sprays, fights, makes a noise or anything, but get this - that he sets off the alarm beam in their yard when he walks around. And I am pretty sure he is walking around on OUR wall since they have a few biggish dogs so I don't think he is strolling on the lawn, KWIM?

So the neighbour's request is that we KEEP HIM INSIDE. Like all the time. Or at least at night and then I guess when they are not home too..? Because else their alarm triggers too much and ADT doesn't like it.

I am thinking WTF! REALLY!?

It is just not feasible or practical to suddenly lock him up in the house... and really should this be MY problem? I am thinking they can either build up their wall so he can't stroll over or make their alarm system less sensitive so it is not triggered by a freaking CAT walking around. Besides he is not the only cat in the world there MUST be others around in the neighbourhood.

Would you feel obligated to react and try to control your cat? (as if a cat is in any way controllable anyway)

(And just for more context these are actually nice people so they are not mean, or unreasaonable in general and we have had no issues before. However their special needs son used to climb over to our side all the time and would make a mess, and/or throw our things over the wall into another neighbour's yard, or just walk into my house etc etc. He was sweet but a bit of a pest/ inconvenience and annoyance at a times. But I never asked them to lock him up or stop him from coming over... because he was just being who he was and I worked with that.)

So what would you do? What should I do??

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

If you seek it, you won't find

THIS song just random shuffled into my playlist, and I just had to listen to it 4 times... is so mellow, melancholic, dreamy, schmoshy... I can't stop listening to it. It has me a little mesmerised right now.

I LOVE IT for some reason. I also love his voice.

Your SOTD.

Richard Hawley - "Seek It"

I had a dream and you were in it
We got naked and 
Can't remember what happened next
It was weird
I had my fortune told
You said that I would meet somebody with green eyes
Yours are blue!

If you seek it, you won't find
The lovers' eyes so blinded by love
Blinded by love, blinded by love

In your heart lies longterm loneliness
It's ... like an unexploded hand grenade
Time ticks away
Over the hills there is a valley
In the valley there's a little tiny house unoccupied

If you seek it, you won't find
The lovers' eyes so blinded by love
Blinded by love, blinded by love

If you see your heart's design lay there
On a vandalized ... oh I sit with you anywhere
I had a dream and you were in it
We got naked, can't remember what happened next
It was weird
I've got a secret,
I want you to know if you could reach it
If you promise to close your eyes
It's all inside

If you seek it, you won't find
The lovers' eyes so blinded by love
Blinded by love, blinded by love