Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The Kiwi job interview!

On Friday afternoon, I called into one of the largest apple growers in the area to ask about a job. I met Steve and he asked me to come back on Monday morning and in the mean time I should get on the 'piss'. Monday morning came and I was in Steve's office 8am prompt. Question one of the interview, "So, did you get pissed at the weekend?" He was taken aback when I said no. "An Irishman not pissed on the weekend, thats a first!" I could sense the job running away from me...'Well maybe not, I'm English, from Liverpool', "Same fucking thing isn't it?" I got the impression Steve only employs pissheads and decided against telling him about my 3month abscence from the drinking scene. Instead I told him how cheap beer and wine are in South America and that I heard in Vietnam US$10 can buy you 100 beers. I was back on track, he offered me a job pruning apple trees, I should have started yesterday but rain has stopped play. I had time for a coffee in the staff room, equiped with pool table and a bar with beer on tap, I will soon be falling off the wagon I thought.

I remembered my job interview with Halifax bank, I realise a job in mortgages is totally different from working in an orchard, but I find it ridiculous that companies employ people to employ people! During my Halifax interview, in a group of 10 or so other candidates, I was given a task of being a handbag and 60seconds to talk about being a handbag. I wonder how long it took the 'HR' personel to come up with this interviewing process and how much money is spent by such companies. Furthermore, in light of the recent financial crisis and the bailout of such banks by governments, you have to wonder about the way things have been done or run in the past. I'd like these companies to fold, but that would only hurt the working class, the people who have no control on decision making and the future. So, instead I can only hope for a reduction in the big wigs and there expense accounts and the people who come up with the bulllshit idea of making Neil Gavin talk about his life as a fucking handbag ( excuse my Kiwi). I must ask my new boss Steve for his views on this. Like I said before, I know different jobs require different interviewing techniques but I prefer the honesty of the Kiwi approach, where a spade is a spade and not a handbag.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

My photo gallery.

I have set up a photo gallery on photobox.
Here is a link to the gallery


Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Gis a job?

After 15months on the road, it was time to get a job, well lets be honest it was a good run, even by my standards. We bought Kiwi Kenny, our campervan in Christchurch and headed north to the wine growing region of Marlborough where I had lined up a job grape picking with Jeeti, an Indian guy. After meeting up with him,I was far from convinced he was a genuine employer and so the job ended before it began, but good news arrived next day in email form. I'd written to several of the regions wineries and Cloudy Bay replied offering me a job as bird scarer! I didn't know what to make of this at first and checked it wasn't 1st April, no, still March. Excitement grew as I pictured myself as Worzel Gummidge chasing birds(the feathery kind) between vines. That afternoon I made my way to the vineyard and met up with Erika, I was offered and accepted the job which involved chasing birds on a quad bike but scarecrow attire was not neccessary.

It's 7am the following morning and there is an icy chill in the air as I climb from my toastie warm bed and step outside of Kenny. The warm glow of the sun is near but the surrounding hills block out the horizon to the east. To the west the stars melt away into the blue sky and what stars they were, I'm not sure I have seen such an impressive sky. I quickly heat some water for my weetabix and then drive the short distance to Cloudy Bay's Mustang vineyard, one of about eight of theirs in the area. I meet 'Kithy'(Kathy), read about health and safety and by 8am I'm sat on my quad bike ready to bird scare. I'm so overwhelmed by the natural beauty of the area that I have to pinch myself, this isn't work at all, this is pleasure. I set off on patrol up and down the long rows of vines, scaring a few birds but not many, the cold hits me again as between vines the sun's warmth is absent. Lunch time arrives in no time, I wonder if time will pass so quickly after a week of this.

Mid afternoon, and I sense trouble, I'm right the magpies have invaded, upto forty of them and I'm not talking about the polite, well mannered magpies we know and love, only interested in shiny stuff. No, white backed magpies are notorous grape killers and I break out into a sweat. Foot to the floor I give chase but, I get to within 20metres and startle them, one of them stays low between the same vines as me, its like a scene from Star Wars, honestly it is, I can almost touch him. Sensing my breath on his feathers and at high speed, he pulls off a Luke Skywalker style manoevre weaving between vines and is gone. Behind me, the gang have re-gathered and are laughing at me and making murderous swoops on the helpless grapes below. At the end of my first day, I have mastered driving at full speed whilst standing up, waving, clapping, whistling and barking like a dog, I believe if Alan Sugar witnessed this type of multi-tasking, he'd be saying 'you're hired!'. As I type this on my laptop, sitting in Kenny, a magpie has just landed on a wooden post, looked at me, took a shit and left. It's as though they know what my day job is...
Well, 4 weeks have passed and the bird scaring is over, for the past week I have been walking up and down the rows of vines looking for and removing broken posts. I finish the job tomorrow, I think. My boss Jeff, has less personality than a than a turd and I have had longer conversations with the grapes. Infact one day I was chatting to a grape and he couldnt contain himself, he thought today was the day he'd be picked, crushed, fermented, bottled and shipped somewhere far and wide and when drunk he lives life through the eyes of the drinker for a few days before he is no more. This particular grape believed in reincarnation and told me about his previous lives. He fondly remembered the good old days when he regularly found himself himself on a country estate in Europe and spent his final days viewing fine art, dining out and galloping around the paddocks. Then he sighed and reflected on more recent years, bright lights, loud music and often the inside of the toilet, followed by more drinking. He sighed and regretted the increasing trendiness of wine with the younger generation maybe this year would be different he told me, I wished him luck.

So, I have now bird scared on the dancefloors of the UK and the vineyards of New Zealand, regrettably I feel I was more successful on the dancefloors, much more.

Now, and then!

May 7th 1999, I stumbled off the Korean Air jumbo jet full of beer, whiskey and seaweed(the Korean idea of a snack) and jumped on a bus headed for the Captain Cook Hostel. A few months earlier I had decided that university wasn't for me and that a year in Australia was. Bodies were sprawled all over the place in the hostel, it had been a good night I could tell, I hoped tonight would be the same. I dumped my gear and headed down to the bar below, it was 9.30am, I had a schooner of lager and went in search of the opera house and harbour bridge. I walked down Oxford St the gayest place on earth, I thought I'd stepped onto the set of YMCA, Elton John couldn't have dreamed it any better, or should I say worse. I was shocked at the poodle walking poofs and Freddie Mercury look-a-likes, I pushed on looking for Mick Dundee's side of town.
After a days sightseeing and several schooners, I arrived back at Captain Cooks and the place had livened up. I had a friend staying there and he introduced me to most of the cool kids. I hadn't slept for about 40hours and now wasn't the time to try, 'another schooner please sport'. The booze flowed, I had drunk myself sober and was getting drunk again, I won a pool competition beating an Irishman called Glen. He wore a Celtic top which stretched over his ale gut and had short bleeched blond hair, quite a sight. He nicknamed me 'scouser' which was hilarious because he had a lisp and couldn't pronounce his 's', so he called me 'thcouther'. We drank bourbon and coke at the bar and he continually requested 'sweet child of mine' to be played. He suggested we headed to a bar in town where we might be able to make some money playing pool. I told him later and then burst into song, 'Poor Scouser Tommy', the whole bar of 50plus were silenced by my performance, I was surprised by this, at home such an event had become so regular that I was generally ignored, now I had a captivated audience. There were a few southern United fans in the bar and they shouted a few things back, I calmly suggested we should take this outside, they declined but had the last laugh a few weeks later when they won the European Cup. We moved on from our bar and hit Kings Cross and it wasn't long before I had my first encounter with an Ozzy bouncer. I did at least have time to pull my pants up before I was thrown from the premises. I managed to behave myself in a seedy lap dancing bar and was offered extras upstairs, on telling them I was skint, they informed me I could pay on credit card, "I'm not sure my parents would appreciate 1 x blow job on my Barclaycard statement, but thanks anyway love". I realised why the place was free to get in when I got my bar bill, I ran like the wind and ended up in a 70's club chatting to people who couldn't understand a word I was saying and so I chanted football songs at them instead, I didn't last long in that place either. It was around this time I realised I was alone, for how long I did not know, I didn't care, I was enjoying myself. I only have flashbacks from here on, I won some money on a pokie machine, smoked a joint with a Russian and found a mobile phone and called England on it. At some point I realised I didn't have a clue where I was and instead of jumping a cab, I wandered the streets. When I did find my way home, rather than entering through the door, I climbed the front of the hostel and through the window of my dorm room, it had been a good night. The next day before breakfast, I had a beer...

March 7th 2009, almost ten years later and feeling a bit tired but very sober, I step off the plane and enter Auckland airport. It's not Australia but it's close and I feel happy to be back in this part of the world again. Like ten years ago I have the intention of spending a year here and working my way around the country, but I have changed and arriving at the backpackers in Auckland city I realise how much. After checking in, I immediately inspected the toilets and the kitchen and was not totally satisfied that the cleaner was doing his/her job properly. I looked disgusted at the scattered empties left from the night before and frowned at the two 20 year olds having a beer, it wasn't even lunch time. It was when I was reporting back to Kerry that it dawned on me, aaaaaahhhhh!!!! I'm getting old. Only days before, Kerry told me I have alot of grey hair, and has started to call me the 'silver fox', now I'm inspecting hostels for cleanliness, I hve been spending alot of time in libraries too, I like people watching, I enjoy going for walks, I'm eating loads of vegetables and going to farmers markets, I just got really excited because I found an apple tree so I picked five apples from it, for free, I complain alot about the price of things, I have started writing, I wrap up warm when I go outside, I constantly tell Kerry to be careful when she's crossing the road, my back hurts, I go to bed just after dark, I haven't been drunk for ages, my bum feels soft and I enjoy talking to middle aged people, I find them interesting...So, what do you make of all that. I have changed havent I? But so have you. You're greyer than me, you actually have a library card, your back and knees hurt, you've been eating veggies for ages and you won't even stay in a hostel, haha.

Anyway, I realise I have changed but I think for the better, afterall where did my antics actually get me?

Since writing this I have taken up knitting!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Hillsborough 20th anniversary

20 years ago today(15/04/09), 96 Liverpool fans needlessly lost their lives in Sheffield at an FA cup semi final.
Gone but never forgotten, RIP. Justice for the 96.
You'll Never Walk Alone.


Wednesday, February 25, 2009

San Francisco

We arrived in San Francisco on Monday night after a long but scenic drive from L.A. and spent the night with a couchsurfer called Brenda. The recent weather here has been rain and more rain, so when we woke up yesterday morning to blue skies we had only thing in mind, the bridge. After dropping off our hire car, we caught the BART (Bay area transport) an excellent tube system to downtown San Francisco. We wandered aimlessly for a while and then were drawn up the steepest street which had old school trams running up and down, a great photo opportuntiy I thought, it was. By accident we stumbled upon China town and the smells were of course delightful, it was great to see the hustle and bustle created by ethnic communities in our western world. At this point I was already falling in love with San Francisco and its steep streets filled with characters and life. We passed over 'Nob Hill' and dropped down towards the piers and Fishermans Wharf, a mecca for tourists. Its funny, I don't actually consider myself a tourist even though thats what I am and so I get frustrated when I see hoards of tourists. I guess I can't always be off climbing isolated peaks. Fishermans Wharf was full of bars, reataurants and tourist shops and was really quite nice and immaculately kept, it was great to be near the ocean, I love the smell of fish and chips, the clattering of masts and the bird shit...

At this point the bridge seemed miles away and thought about catching a bus. We continued on foot passing alot of homeless and just bums with signs reading, 'why lie, I need a beer any spare change?', this is a common sign here in California and it seems to work, 'Kerry pass me that marker pen!!!'

We finally made it to the Golden Gate Bridge and walked across it taking in the great views of the bay. Along the way we stopped and chatted to some workmen, they told us that there is about a suicide a week on the bridge and that very morning someone had jumped which was really sad. The Bridge itself is a man made beauty and we loved it so much we walked back, well there was no choice really.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Road Trip!!!

After waiting nearly 2 hours to get my hire car, a standard economy car, I was given the keys to a black sports Mustang. As I cruised down the Las Vegas strip the smile on my face could have bridged the Mersey. This 4 litre engined beast was the fastest thing I'd ever driven and I was enjoying myself. I picked Kerry up in my new ride and we headed east on our road trip, passing the Hoover Dam.
Our main objective was to see the Grand Canyon, but after spending the night in snowy Flagstaff, Arizona, we headed a little further south to Sedona, land of red rocks, the scenic drive from the high mountains down to the red desert was breathtaking, but the temperature remained chilly. We camped in the valley on our second night and guess what, the rain came and made big puddles. At 2am we abandoned ship and jumped into the Mustang where we actually had a decent sleep. The rain in the valley was snow on the hills and lots of it. We gained elevation as we headed towards the Grand Canyon and were greeted with a blanket of snow.
Luckily, the roads were well ploughed and we did eventually make it to the Grand Canyon where we were able to see...nothing. It was the most miserable day imagineable but we remained patient and of course were rewarded. Occassionally the cloud broke and rays of light hit the red rock of the canyon below and then just before sunset the whole canyon revealed itself and I was blown away.

With great relief we headed out of the park and back on ourselves to find a place to stay. Meaning a place to park and sleep in the car. It wasn't hard, we parked around the back of a Holiday Inn and I braved the cold outside to boil some water for a pot noodle dinner, I'm sure Michael Palin didn't do this.
We woke early for sunrise at the canyon but the weather had other ideas, altough we did get a glimpse of the sun in between blizzards. On our last stop out of the park at a viewing tower, the weather was again kind to us and the canyon was again on full show. I loved the moodiness of the canyon in this light, a perfect blue sky day would have been to easy, and I left feeling that we'd been given special permision to see a great natural wonder.

We left the Grand Canyon very happy and as we headed east the weather improved instantly as we continued our road trip but the forecast was bad with more snow predicted.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Change of plan!

So, after 13months on the road, we're both really tired and the money is now getting short. So, we have decided to head... no not home, but to New Zealand, possibly in the next week or two. This means no Canada and certainly no Alaska. It also means not much more of the States. We had planned to head up the west coast to Seattle and then onto Vancouver but we have honestly just run out of steam. The states have been brilliant and we have managed to stay with friends and couchsurfed but it's still a difficult place to travel around and personally, I cannot be arsed anymore. So a much needed period of work will do two things, boost the bank balance and renew our energy and passion for travelling. I'm sorry this isn't a very funny or inspiring post but it reflects the current mood. We will now head to San Fransisco and cross the Pacific ocean downunder to New Zealand.

A few of my favourite pictures.

Here is just a few of my photos I have taken both on my travels and before I left. I hope you like them.

Camping under the stars.

Old car Havana, Cuba.

Red car, Havana

Heavy snow in the Rocky Mountains

The Mall, Central Park, New York.
A Peruvian child shyly watches us strangers pass by...

Amazing mountains surround us on the Santa Cruz trek, Peru.

Lightening in Nicaragua.

The Thames, London.

The Pier Head, Liverpool.

Park and ride, Havana.

Times Square, New York.

The Tower Bridge, London.

Rio by night, view from Sugar Loaf Mountain.

A tree trunk in the Rocky Mountains, Colorado.

The erupting Volcan Santiagito, Guatemala.

'Another Place', Liverpool's Crosby beach, home sweet home.

Sailing on the Beagle Channel in Tierra del Fuego.

Iconic London red bus and the city skyline

La Paz, Bolivia, the highest capital city in the world. A truly mind blowing landscape.

A Cuban grannie puffing on a huge cigar, what a character.

Above the clouds on a trek up a volcano in Guatemala

The three towers hide behind the lingering clouds in Torres del Paine, Chile.

Iguazu waterfalls seen from Brazil looking across into Argentina.

Hope you liked them, Neil.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Viva Las Vegas!

I guess I can keep this pretty brief, Las Vegas is basically the Blackpool of the States. It's all about gambling, beers, sex and big swanky hotels. It's not my cup of tea but I'm here so of course I'm going to enjoy myself. The main reason we are here, is to see Barry Manilow, no seriously, it's true. Kerry has been a fan all her life thanks to her mum, thanks Bena!

Right now, we are couchsurfing about 15miles outside of Vegas, which has been great. We are staying with Mike and his two kids, Jordan and Julian. It's been really relaxing after a week on the road and gives us some internet time as we have a ton of stuff to sort out. Tomorrow we'll head back into Vegas where we'll be staying in the Excaliber hotel for three nights and then its off to L.A.

On Thursday it was Kerry's 32nd birthday and we had loads of fun on the fruit machines, drinking and then saw a tribute show at night. The tributes were The Temptations, Justin Timberlake, Whitney Houston and of course Elvis, it was a great show. I'll leave it here for now and if anything happens in our last three days I'll update this.

Monday, February 2, 2009


Next stop, Boulder, Colorado and more friends to stay with, Drew and Erin who we met on a trek in Patagonia. We took the Amtrak, infact I started writing this on that journey. It took about 22hours but the train was fantastic, loads of leg room and a lounge carriage mostly made of glass with great views. We arrived in Denver and by chance saw the start of the 'stock festival', which is mostly just country folk either on horseback or walking cattle and shouting 'yeeeeehaaaaaa' but the locals seem to like it.

We headed to Boulder, a uni town, and spent a few days chilling with Drew and Erin, went cycling on the towns excellent bike trails and then last Saturday went snowboarding. We both took to it really well and Drew said I was a natural just before I fell over and hurt my back. Boulder is right on the edge of the Rockie Mountains, and there are some amazing places to stay up there but your talking 50quid a night minimum, so I decided to email a couple of places and ask 'do you need a hand with anything in exchange for food and a bed'. And so we ended up here http://www.allensparklodge.com/ which is where Im finishing this email, its a beautiful log cabin with hot tub and right now its snowing heavily outside. The owners Bill and Juanita are brilliant, we do very little here and we get alot in return. On Wednesday we went snow shoeing in the national park, in places there were 4ft of snow, in others there were 400ft drops and Kerry cried as she started to slide towards such a drop.
This weekend we have a group 'scrap bookers' staying with us, these ladies collect lots of photos and then during this weekend they will creatively cut these photos and put them into an album, one of these ladies is now sat infront of me snoring away infront of the fire, I think all the excitement has finally taken its toll.

We had a great time with Bill and Juanita in the lodge and they were very generous. We went saw plenty of Elk roaming the streets of Estes Park and tried a beer by the same name. We also had a great day out snow shoeing in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Our time came to return to Boulder and back to Drew and Erin's place. It was great to back with them and that following weekend we spent in the mountains at their friends place. I really loved my time in Boulder its my kind of place. In the town itself there are miles of bike paths separate from roads and it makes getting around, excercising and walking a real pleasure. This definately helps keep the weight off the locals in this already active town and the traffic off the roads too.

On our last night out in Boulder we hit the town and finished in what the locals called a 'dive bar', needless to say it was exactly my kind of bar. We had an amazing time in Colorado thanks mainly to Drew and Erin, cheers guys, hope to repay you some day.


From New York, we got a ride share to Chicago, meaning we just chip in with petrol and tolls, it was a fourteen hour drive, the last four of which in heavy snow but we made and headed to Joe's place just outside of town. Joe is a fella we first met in Ushuaia, the tip of Argentina, he was cycling most of the continent and then again in Bolivia, Peru and lastly Colombia, all by chance, and so kept in touch and he kindly invited us to stay with him during our stay in Chicago. Chicago was bitterly cold, with highs of minus 5 celcius and lows of minus 20 celcius. Our highlights here included having a coffee on the 96th floor of the John Hancock building- scary, having a real Chicago pizza(its more like a pie without a lid), going to see Dirty Dancing, "nobody puts Baby in a corner!" on Broadway, ice skating and a night out in the 'hood.

It was our last night in Chicago and Joe, a blues fan, found a free gig in the local paper. He gave us directions to meet him there and so we went off sightseeing downtown. At 8pm or so we jumped on the Loop train and headed to this bar called Gene's Playmate Lounge. After the first few stops leaving downtown, we were the only whites on the train, no problem, Joe said it would be mainly blacks in the bar. We get off the train and ask the ticket office where is this bar. She had no clue and told us we're in the wrong neighbourhood and we should head home. Well, not easily deterred, we headed on out to look for the bar and it did seem pretty edgy. Cars were slowing down checking us out and Kerry was getting a bit freaked out then I spotted the bar, both feeling relieved we headed on in. There was Joe sat having a beer so we sat down. Sure enough the only whites in a pretty quiet bar which had a kind of caberet/social club feel to it. Over comes the waitress to take our order and ends each sentence with 'baby'. And I ask if there's any specials and got a puzzled look in return, "you say what baby?",
'av yer got any in on offer?'
So, she's speaking jive and me scouse, neither of us really understanding one another but eventually I got a beer (there were no specials) and we had a laugh about it, so I spoke jive for the night as her scouse wasn't too good. Slowly the characters wandered in from the streets, an old boy in black suit, white polar neck and black trilby hat too cool to say hi, just a tilt of the head. He sits at the bar with a neat whiskey and lets the crowd acknowledge him and they come to him, you can tell he has power. Next through the doors is a cool kid in a fair coat, the band kicks off but only after giving shouts out to most the people in the joint, including us, 'friends from England' I play it cool too and acknowledge our host with a tilt of my head, like I'd seen moments earlier, I was getting with the vibe and actually feeling cool too, then I remembered I was wearing a Bolivian alpaca jumper with lamas that looked like reindeer circling, maybe I'm just not meant to be cool.
Our first singer was dressed like Michael Jackson in Thriller, black leather pants and shiny red shirt, most of the buttons undone, piano player in grey suit with a white scarf that looked like a pianos keyboard, then in walks Notorious BIG, a huge fella in grey suit, jacket down to his knees wearing a bowler hat. By now were singing the blues and people are letting there emotions get the better of them and shouting things like, 'yeah baby', 'I feel it baby', 'Alright brother'. Everyone was having a good time in there and most people said hi to us, and we left with most people saying bye too, I actually didnt want to leave, I felt like I was in a 1980's movie, it was great and a really different experience and on the way home Joe bought us a square burger.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Mount Pisco 5752m, Peru

When I started this blog, I had already been travelling for a year, so occasionally I will look back into the past and recall a few of the highlights from Latin America. This is one such occasion.

In 2005, I climbed Mont Blanc in the French Alps and got a taste for mountaineering. In the Cordillera Blanca in Peru, described as the greatest range outside of the Himalayas, I was presented with the perfect opportunity to climb a 5000m plus peak. As always with our budget in mind, I decided against $200 guided option and opted for the $50 unguided instead. I was joined by Vince, a New Yorker with aspirations of climbing Everest. I'd just finished a 4day trek with Vince, and despite his appearance ( he was a big lad ) he was mentally and physically weak, so I questioned his ability but I was glad of the company.

It was a 3hour uphill slog to our base camp, a mountain refuge at 4800m, Vince opted to hire a local guide to carry his backpack, a typical Vince move, and he still arrived at the hut exhausted. I was buzzing with adreneline and starred at my goal which stood majestically amongst its giant neighbours. It would be a 1am start, so despite my alert state of mind, it was bed by 7pm. It was the longest 6hours of my life, just waiting for the alarm, then it was time. By 4am, we were lost on a ridge above the refuge and we had no chance of making the summit. Dots of light showed climbers and the route we should have been on, and I watched in horror as a trail of 4 lights slid down the mountain, struggled up it and slid down it again. To the left a group of climbers were making better progress, I so wished I was among them. The black night sky was fading to the east and as we retraced our steps, we could see the refuge below in the distance. It was at this point Vince informed me that he wasn't sure I was capable of getting us to the summit. I was baffled and really had to bite my tongue, this guy just expected me to hold his hand and guide him to the summit. What a joke, I couldn't stand his presence any longer, he wanted his bed and so returned to base, whilst I figured out where we had gone wrong. The face of the mountain was now clearly visible and I could see the exact route avoiding the longer, steeper right side. I also identified where I'd gone wrong, it was an easy mistake, the descent onto the boulder field was steep and unmarked, easy to miss in the wee small hours.

Back at the refuge I decided to stay awake as long as possible, when I went to bed at about 5pm Vince and I had barely spoke and he was unsure about the morning. When the morning arrived, Vince stayed in bed with a 'cold', however nothing was going to stop me and so I set off, alone. I climbed and descended the ridge into the maze like boulder field. I looked around for the comforting sight of dots of lights, nothing, it was just me. The silence was deafening and I talked, sang and whistled my way to the snowline. Before I knew it, I was fixing my crampons to my boots. A light twinkled on the ridge I'd long ago left behind, there were no other climbers to team up with, I took my first steps on snow and ice for nearly 3years, this time it was just me. It was a steep start, around 50degrees, and I nervously made slow progress until the gradient eased. I was making my way up a crevassed face to a saddle some 300m above. I zig-zagged between open crevasses, being alone and unroped made this quite a scary ascent and more than once I asked myself 'what am I doing here?'. The answer is a complicated one, of course part of the reason would be a love of the outdoors and the mountains in particular. Also a love of photography meant getting to places as remote as this offers rewarding views and great photographs, but it was more than that, it had to be or else why would I be here alone risking my life.

It took me about 45minutes to reach the saddle, beyond, the mountain fell away and views of the mountain range were simply stunning. At this point I realised that had Vince been with me, I probably would not even be on the snow, he had two gears, slow and reverse. I felt brilliant, it was tiring but I was doing good now at about 5100m, three dots of light followed in my footsteps, I would push on, determined not to be caught. The next two hours were just a snow plod, steadily I pushed on up the mountain, my breathing was heavy in the oxygen starved environment. This was the easiest section of the route but also the toughest, the wind blew hard on my right side and my face was numb. The many millions of stars were reducing in numbers as the sky ahead lightened, the dawn of a new day was close, I longed for the sun to warm my frozen face but I also wanted to be on the summit for sunrise. I often thought I was close to the summit only to peak over a ridge and see the mountain continue to rise. Casually I walked across a snow bridge, if it gave way, the mountain would swallow me, I was too tired to care, it held, this time. The sun had risen behind my summit, its rays illuminated the highest peaks the area was more beautiful than you could imagine, I was too tired to care. Ahead lay the summit and one final obstacle, it was within touching distance now but I still did not know if I would succeed in climbing it. A steepening face was the problem, I gathered my strength and told myself 'nothing is stopping me now', off I went. Reaching upwards I smashed my axe into the icey face, kicked my crampons in and pulled myself up, as I neared the top, the face was just inches away from my face, it was steep but I was just metres from the top. One final push and I rolled and collapsed on the summit, gasping for breath, I was exhausted but I'd made it. The summit was basking in the morning sun, it had too tiers, I was on the sheltered lower tier. I was so thirsty but my water had frozen, I ate some chocolate but had no appetite. I had terrible pains in my stomach from trapped wind and was breathing heavily, unable to satisfy my bodies need for oxygen. My mind was already thinking about getting down, it would be difficult and dangerous, but I was happy. I didnt need to ask myself why, not now. The feelings I had answered that question, I had made it, I climbed to the true summit and raised my hands, I couldn't have felt more alive, I was on top of the world and had the summit all to myself. I took a few pics and sat back down to enjoy the sun, it was 7.30am. Kerry would still be sleeping, back home I would have been sorting mail at this time, millions of people on buses going to work, stuck in traffic and I was here, 19,000 ft in the sky, I was loving it. My solitude ended as three Slovakian climbers, one by one hauled themselves onto the summit. They congratulated me and I did likewise, I peaked over the edge of my descent route, at the bottom two crevasses lay either side of the route, I didn't like what I saw but I couldn't stay here all day. I readied myself, knelt down and dangled a leg as far as possible, kicked hard hoping for some bite. Slowly, step by step, I backed off the mountain, the adrenelin pumped around my body, I was terrified but totally focused. I think this is another draw for me, the feeling of nothing else matters in the world except my next step. Will it hold, will I hold or will I fall, I was so alive but so close to death. I was terrified but still enjoying myself. I made it off the face safely and speedily headed off the mountain. As the hours pass away and temperature rises, snow bridges melt and weaken, so it 's important not to hang around, alone and unroped, I was at greater risk. I litterally ran down the mountain in no time. In the light of day I noticed alot more cracks in the snow some as wide as three inches cutting deep into the mountain, hiding a crevasse, possibly! Was it foolish of me to tackle this alone? Yes, it probably was but the rewards were greater. The summit was all mine and the acheivement wasn't shared, it has now become a memory I can cherish and be proud off. Of course now I feel the need to go one better, I now my body can handle high altitudes and so my next mountain will be a 6000'er or possibly a 7000'er. Next stop the Himalayas. To be continued...

New York by night

If walking was our number one activity in New York, drinking was a close second. I quickly realised that the standard beers like Bud, Coors etc were worse than bad, and so reluctantly had to part with an extra dollar or two for a decent pint, with my favourite being Brooklyn Beer. Of course the huge Irish population in NYC meant that you could get a decent pint of the black stuff, but it weren't cheap, nevertheless I did indulge in my first pint of Guiness for a year, ahh cheers.

Roberto, a thirty something physcologist, spent his money like a student would, which made him a legend in my eyes, and saved us many dollars. For every night of the week he knew where the best happy hours were to be found. From $2 pints, $3 spirits, half price food, free chicken wings, free Bud with your meal and even free white wine at a chinese resraurant, yes Roberto saw to it that we had a merry old Christmas in the 'Big Apple'. One night, we met up with Roberto in Brooklyn and went to this little bar, it was $6 dollars a pint, but they had a special which included a shot of whiskey for the same price, yes please I said. So, 4quid a pint with a shot, its still a bit pricey for us backpackers but it's xmas in NYC, anyway they then bring out a huge portion of chicken wings and a massive serving of chow mein and guess what ...its free, we tucked in, and then some more, best 4quid we've spent. Anyway, later on Kerry goes to request a song, a cheesy xmas hit, and then later still another, well on the second time, a black women sat at the bar, takes the mic off the DJ and bursts out into a rap about Brooklyn, the bar and this girl from England who keeps requesting songs, it was brilliant and Kerry was delighted. A few nights later, on Christmas eve infact, Roberto took us to Indian restaurant called Royal Bangladesh. Every inch of the ceiling was covered with chilli lights, it was also a bring your own booze, so far so good. The final ingredient, the food, was superb, we had the works and it was incredibly cheap. After popping into a nearby bar on the way home, we arrived back at Roberto's place well oiled and so I changed into my party shirt, popped on my hat and danced around Roberto's until 4am. The photo above was taken at some point during that night.

Xmas was a quiet one but very nice, we both missed home so it was kind of good to get it out of the way. New Year was spent in Times Square of course, we arrived at 5pm when it was minus 4degrees and despite smuggling a hip flask in to numb the pain, it was overall a pretty painful experience. So its 11.59 in Times Square and minus 12degrees, they just played Imagine by John Lennon, then...
"10,9,8,7,6,5,4,3,2,1 Happy New Year"
Auld Lang Syne played followed by New York, New York.
12.05 we're quickly leaving Times Sq and heading to the curry house...
Was it worth it? NO, dont do it ever!!!
To top it off the curry house was closed and we had to settle for a slice of pizza, but after that with Roberto we got settled in a bar and had a good old sesh.
Before we left New York, Roberto took us to a Chinese restaurant which included all you can drink white wine, between us, we drank 5 and half litres and the bill was about 25pounds, if you go to New York, please go there, thats my advice.

Anyway, cheers Roberto for showing us New York by night.
Below, Kerry and I in Times Square for New Year

Sunday, January 18, 2009

New York, New York!!!

Sunday 21st December

I felt a huge sense of relief as we hit the tarmac on JFK airport, it had been a turbulent last twenty minutes, but we were finally in New York. Winter storms had gripped most of the northern states of America for the week we'd been in sunny Florida, but now as we taxied to our gate, we were greeted with twenty foot piles of snow. It was just what we'd hoped for, a white Christmas...

Travelling has various highs and lows, for many different reasons, but there are places you plan to visit which stand out above others and New York is certainly one of those places. I hadn't exactly been wishing my time away, but this was a moment I'd been eagerly waiting for. We were soon on New York's subway system, a quick change onto line six uptown and off we got at 77th St, Upper East Manhatten. We climbed the steps onto Lexington Ave and just stopped and starred, wow, New York was just how I'd imagined. Tall brick buildings with iron fire escapes zig zagging down each building, hustle and bustle, yellow cabs, long avenues with tall bulidings and snow everywhere, it felt like a film set. We headed to our friends apartment a few blocks away, passing bars and restaurants buzzing with festive cheer.

We first met our friend, Roberto, in Colombia in August and then again in October in Costa Rica. He'd kindly invited us to stay with him for a couple of days until we got ourselves sorted with a hostel. His apartment was great, very New York, and the best part was it was only a ten minute walk to Central Park. It was great to see him again, we had a few beers and filled him in on the past few months of our travels and then headed out for some chicken wings and a third pound burger, mmm...

After an early night we woke up refreshed and ready to see some sights. So we jumped on the subway to Brooklyn and walked back to Manhatten over the Brooklyn Bridge, a digital thermometer displayed -6 celcius so it was fresh to say the least but what a walk. The Manhatten skyline for me is a man made wonder of the world. As a scouser, I love the Pier Head area of Liverpool, as an Englishman, I love strolling along the South Bank of the Thames and as a traveller, its hard to find a better city walk than that of The Brooklyn Bridge into Manhatten. Although that same day we did find an equally impressive walk in the famous Central Park, they say the best things in life are free, well, they were right.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Welcome to the USA

On the 14th December 2008, having spent nearly a year in Latin America, Kerry and I boarded our budget airline and said 'adios'. It was the end of an amazing first part of our journey around the world. A couple of hours later we touched down in Orlando, Florida, welcome to America, a new chapter. Although, I heard more Spanish being spoken here and throughout our time in Orlando, than I did I Cancun, and infact we spoke only in Spanish as we passed through immigration and entered the USA. "Great, we're in!" we thought, "now what...". As is the norm whilst travelling we hadn't booked our nights accomodation but things are much more spread out in Orlando compared to Latin American towns. Anyway three hours later, mostly spent on buses, we checked into a fairly luxurious motel central to the regions attractions. Yes, you guessed it, Disney World.
Ever since Kerry missed a family trip to see Mickey, Donald, Goofy and co. she has wanted to come and play, and be a kid again. As for me, well before hand I thought, this really isn't for me but I was happy to be there with Kerry, however she was so excited about the whole thing, I was worried she might wet herself when she saw Mickey, Donald, Goofy and co.
So, everyone knows what Disney World is all about, I wont bore you with the details. I'll just say that my opinion of it being totally for kids and a big rip off was pretty wrong. There is no hard sell at all, everything was competitively priced and the place is as much for adults as it is children. The bottom line is we both had an amazing time and it was a great experience to be there so close to Christmas, it just added to that magaical vibe in the air. Cheers Walter.