Friday, 16 May 2014

Homecoming


 
Me and my xedap (bicycle in Vietnamese) safely arrived in Wellington airport to be met by Dad!! 

The time has come and the time is now...! A very long-awaited time, the terribly precious time of home-coming! We had looked forward to it for so long, to tell the truth we'd looked forward to it even before we left home! We'd definitely looked forward to it as we took off from NZ soil last April, so nervous about our reception in China and really about all that would come to pass before we returned to this soil again. And we looked forward to it dreamily as we lay too weak to ride but too nauseus to eat in our stony campsites along the remote Panj Valley in Tadjikistan, feeling so very far from all home comforts and people. 

A beaut Pukerua Bay day with Anna's family, Andy, Dad, Anna and Mum. What a brilliant bright land and sea we have!
And then we actually got there! We woke one morning in our Ho Chi Minh city hostel, and 21 hours later we taxied along the tarmac to the Wellington Airport terminal, and to everything that is homely and familiar, to all our people and all our places (and some changes since we left too of course!).

A fun Wellington day with bro Andy

Ryan cooked us a good kiwi meal of roast lamb and vegies mmm mmm!
We had a wonderful five days in Pukerua Bay and Wellington, spending lots of time with my (Anna's) folks and brother Andy, just catching up, walking around the beautiful coast and roads, eating great food, sharing stories and pictures, resting, and enjoying being together! We also caught up with a good friend Ryan for a scrummy welcome home dinner!

Yes it was a bit of a head spin. Just in the way that everything seems quite normal on one level, while on another it simultaneously feels totally unreal and impossible to fathom, and even more so because it kind of feels normal...

It was a wonderful time, and we slowly settled in, our heads, hearts and bodies all gradually getting insync again. We noticed things: the brightness of the colours in the vegetation and the sky; the clean orderliness of our city streets; the casual dress code of kiwis; the return of our asthma and hayfever; the richness of our food; the speed at which we drive; the great clear feeling air.

Lunch stop on the road again, this time on Queen Charlotte Drive
We rode our bikes again for one last stage of our great tour, from Picton around Queen Charlotte to Pelorus Bridge campground and then on to Nelson. On the outskirts of Nelson my sister Katie met us on her bike, and we rode the final kilometres together to her place. We rolled over the 16000km mark with Ollie's front tyre worn to the point of showing an awful lot of its blue inner layer, my front hub needing regular and delicate finger tightening to keep it rolling but not too wobbly, our hearts so very very full with all the wonders of what this last year has been, our bodies suprisingly well, and altogether brimming with a huge thankfulness to now be safely and happily back riding in our own beloved homeland and amongst our favourite people!

The last kms with Katie!

The after-shot, in front of Katie's place in Nelson. Looking quite good really, with gear and bikes all cleaned up for Customs!


Here's something we've been hanging out for all year, fish and chips by the beach! With Katie, Jude, Alana and Angus.


It felt like we arrived in Nelson just in time to experience the last of the kiwi summer, with beaut sunny weather for walks, runs, trips to the park and the beach, having a great time with Katie, Jude, Alana and Angus.

Hanging out with a much-grown nephew Angus, who's showing off his best "happy face" for the photo!

A cosy evening with much loved family in Christchurch - Em, Lan, Ols, Mon, Anna and Dave. Special to be together!

Slowly making our way south down the island we got to Christchurch. We were super stoked to be able to cross over with Mon and Dave before they head away on their next great cycle journey through South America! So we had a fun few days with Em, Lan, Mon and Dave, as well as lots of time with Ollie's Grandpa Yeoman and some of the wider Yeoman clan!

A wee picnic by St Kilda Beach, some special time remembering our parents and grandparents and other much-loved people who are no longer with us, and lovely time just being together.

Then down to Dunedin, to Ollie's parents, my Grandad and Aunty Beth, many friends and most homely places.

On the bikes again, this time an Otago Harbour ride with Nat and Sel. We even found this great stone couch to have our Easter eggs on!


A wee running adventure up Mt Cargill in some good bracing Southern Ocean conditions!! With Miri and Andy! A wonderful return to a favourite hill!
A dinner for kings and queens! Much dreamed of food while we were away, it was wonderful to be back enjoying such treats!


Biking again! This time with Ollie's sister Hannah and her and Nige's four kids on the Queenstown bike trails.
Some super impressive biking demonstrated by the next generation! Go you guys!

It was a good time to come back. We felt very ready for it. A year is a very long time and it has packed a huge lot of experiences. "Our cups runneth over" so to speak. We felt like we couldn't fit very much more in in terms of wonderful new experiences, new places and people, and we were more than ready to return to life back here, to some stability, some routine, more chance to contribute meaningfully and be connected. And be home. We still dream a lot and love recalling the memories of our year. We sometimes read Ollie's diary entry from the day's date last year, setting us laughing and sighing over amazing memories.

Thank you so much to all of you who've been interested in reading our stories on the blog. Having the blog has been a wonderful part of the journey for us too, and knowing it has a wee audience has encouraged us to put some thought into processing and retelling aspects of our travels which in turn has ended up being very meaningful for us. Thanks for your curiosity, your love, your prayers. Those at home, thanks for such a lovely welcome home! We are truly blessed to have such people in our lives! And for those who've read this after meeting us along the road, thanks for the part you played in the journey.

Anna




And here is our wee home for now, our caravan and awning on a walnut farm near Bannockburn, Central Otago! I've got a full-time early childhood teaching job in Cromwell, and Ollie's relief teaching and looking for a teaching job.

Thursday, 15 May 2014

Crazy Beautiful World - Another fun short movie!


A short film celebration of our cycle adventure from China to Vietnam, via Morocco!


Monday, 7 April 2014

The final glorious pedal strokes




Bullet points

-After cycling for the last 12 months we decided enough was enough and we simply stopped cycling. Just like that we were finished!
-We caught a few buses and enjoyed a cruisy final week in Ho Chi Minh City in Southern Vietnam

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After dropping out of the Cardamom mountains near to the Cambodia-Thailand border we couldn’t help but question- What on earth are we doing here? With less than two weeks until our flight home from Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam we had ambitiously headed a few hundred kilometres in the wrong direction and now found ourselves needing to cross Cambodia and Vietnam’s Mekong Delta with little spare time to relax and enjoy the last days of our journey. So with that in mind we got stuck in and hammered out a couple of big days before wisdom prevailed and we opted for some public transport in order to get back on the front foot!
Classic Cambodian public transport
 Border crossings have always proven to be fascinating experiences, occasionally stressful, sometimes hilarious, often entertaining, always exciting. Re-entering Vietnam after two weeks in Cambodia was as big a contrast as any border we had ever crossed. Thatched bamboo housing gave way to concrete brick and tilt slab, quiet rural scenes were replaced by chaotically busy urban sprawl, empty broken and bumpy roads were soon smoothed and filled with the quintessential Vietnamese motorbike mass! Vietnam, when contrasted with Cambodia, suddenly seemed like a land of plenty.
Re-entering the wonderful chaos that is Vietnam!
 The plan was to gain some time by bussing to Can Tho on the Mekong Delta in Southern Vietnam, and to complete our year of cycling adventure with a crusiy four day ride up to Ho Chi Minh. The vision was a glorious final section, perhaps riding into the city with crowds of fans cheering us on as the sun set on another day and on our journey. In reality it all turned out a little different. We just stopped biking. We departed Can Tho, rode 10km out of town, got disorientated on an unmarked road, stopped into a café for a drink and a team meeting and decided to stop. We were pretty happy with all that the year had given us, we’d had a little taste of relaxation and we liked the flavor. We were happy to put the bikes away and have a holiday for our final week out of New Zealand. Just like Forrest Gump stopping running, we stopped biking. We turned back, rode the final glorious pedal strokes back into town, checked back into the hotel we’d just checked out of, much to the amusement of the staff, and entered into our new life of relaxation and luxury!
The cafe where it was decided the ride was complete.
 So instead of another bike ride our final week consisted of a wonderful boat ride exploring some of the floating markets and the myriad of canals around Can Tho, indulging in the vast array of fine foods available in Ho Chi Minh City and wandering it’s parks and museums and meeting distant relatives. Amongst all this we reveled in the celebratory vibes at the culmination of this very fine year spent exploring this landmass and the hugely exciting anticipation  of our return home.
Cai Rang Floating Market. Mekong River Delta.

Phong Dien Floating Market

Classic Mekong Delta produce and attire!


Canals near Can Tho

Ho Chi Minh (Saigon) by night.

Police in Ho Chi Minh are currently trying to clear all business from the footpaths. They confiscate any restaurant furniture found on the footpaths. In a cheeky act of resistance the bar owners have gotten one step ahead of the Police, the furniture was all taken inside, for those of us outside we were all offered a piece of cardboard to sit on!

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Carnage in the Cardamoms


Bullet points

-After 3 days resting in Phnom Penh we caught a bus north west to Pursat and from there rode west into the Cardamom Mountains.
-Riding via Pra Maoy and Ou Soam we traversed south through the hills to Koh Kong in the far south west of Cambodia.

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In the dull grey of the morning we ride slowly and quietly through this demolition site, speechless, both aware the other is deep in thought and shocked by the scene we behold. All manner of rubbish lines the roadsides, thousands of small stumps protrude from the burnt bare ground, charred logs lie scattered and wasted, some grand old trunks still stand but have been reduced to blackened lifeless remains. People squat under their little bamboo shacks, cooking breakfast over a small open fire, huge overhead lines run high above us, taking power from the many hydro electric schemes, and yet the local villages  are drip-fed only 3-4 hours electricity each day. What on earth has happened here? The place is a mystery, a horror, an apocalyptic-like scene. I find myself wanting to hear what the few chirping birds would have to say. If only they could speak my language and give me an honest account of historical events here. 

Deforestation near Pra Moy.

 Some of my questions were soon answered as I sat and read another chapter of ‘Cambodia’s Curse: The Modern History of a Troubled Land’ by Joel Brinkley. As it turns out, the worst of what happened here happened quite some years back. Many of us have heard of the Khmer Rouge and the atrocities they brought upon Cambodian people through the late 1970’s. What I’ve since discovered about Cambodia’s more recent history is almost equally appalling.

More deforestation. Pursat Province.

Deforestation and hydro-electric lake near Ou Soam

After being thrown from power after their short yet crippling four years the Khmer Rogue retreated to the region of Pailin, just north of our route through the Cardamom mountains. Left to their own devices and powerless to rule the country any longer they took little time in setting about gaining all they could for themselves, stripping the region of its rich forests and illegally exporting the timber across the border, mainly to Thailand. In a very short period of time Pol Pot and a small number of his buddies that he hadn’t already turned on became extremely rich men at the expense of large tracts of Cambodia’s forests, the lifeblood for people living in these rural areas.  This is all shocking but shouldn’t come as a great surprise that a man responsible for the death of around 2 million people would then go on and carry out further evil acts. What came as news to me though was the acts of the current Cambodian Government.

After the UN occupation of Cambodia in 1992 current Prime Minister Hun Sen shared power of the country with Prince Ranariddh. In a letter to the Thai Government they outlined that they were the only individuals allowed to approve timber exports and that all exports would occur through the Ministry of Defence! In reality what happened is that these two ‘leaders’ sold logging concessions to their fellow government officials, friends, and family, they pocketed the proceeds from the concessions and their mates ravaged Cambodia’s forests and pocketed the proceeds from the export sales. The local people who had forever survived by living off the forest were now left with no forest. So it was for much of our 260km journey from Pursat through the Cardamom Mountains to Koh Kong, there was in fact very little forest remaining. This area must have been an incredible place, the small sections of wonderful jungle we passed through with the sounds of tropical birds and gibbons a fleeting glimpse of what once must have been widespread across much of Cambodia.
Deforestation and overhead lines carrying electricity the locals can look at but can't have.

More dams under construction.

Typical village. Cardamom Mountains.
 The ride was a tough little adventure, packing in plenty of kilometres, plenty of gravel road and plenty of hills, with temperatures way too hot to be combining such things! Cycling in the heat on smooth flat roads has always turned out to be a surprisingly okay experience for us, the cooling of the breeze we generate always offers relief. Hill climbing on the other hand gets the body working so much harder and is so much slower that we don’t generate any air flow. Grinding our way up yet another steep climb with temperatures sitting around 40 degrees I swear I have never felt so unbearably hot in my life. My chest burned and my head felt about to implode! A new experience I hope not to repeat too often, yet at the same time strangely fun to widen one’s physical experiences in life! We arrived in Koh Kong pretty thrashed, happy we’d sidetracked and gotten off the beaten track, yet saddened and challenged to have witnessed such a beaten land. This was a side of Cambodia we hadn’t previously entered into.

Good gritty adventures.

Digging deep: Dust, heat and hills.

Thankfully some stunning forest filled with wonderful life does still remain.

Big country of the Cardamoms.

Final descent to Koh Kong.

Who would take these scruffs into their hotel??
 Further reading has revealed more of the awful situation Cambodians still face today. Corruption is rampant, engrained. People are being regularly thrown off their land as it’s sold to developers, it is not at all uncommon for activists and journalists to be jailed or even killed. Factory workers rallies are currently banned in Phnom Penh’s ‘Freedom Square’. Police have been paid cash bonus’s by interior Minister Sar Kheng for their work in controlling previous rallies, where beatings and killings have occurred. Many children must pay teachers a small sum on a daily basis before being allowed to enter class, the sick pay Doctors if they want to be attended to, drivers routinely pay Police a small sum if they want to avoid a larger fine. At every election time opposition party members are bribed and many are killed. These murders have repeatedly gone uninvestigated. Millions of dollars from international donors go missing every year. A tourist I spoke to was pulled over by Police and fined for not showing his drivers licence, the fine was $50 if he wanted a receipt, but could be reduced to $10 if he was happy not to have a receipt!
Hun Sen and his cronies from the Cambodia People's Party (CPP). Propaganda has lined the roadside from the first very kilometre we entered Cambodia. I think you do a little better in Cambodia if you have a CPP billboard in your front yard.

Does not apply if you are high up in CPP.
 For us Cambodia has been a pretty challenging experience, the insights gained from travelling and reading a relevant book simultaneously are quite profound. We have experienced beauty and kindness, and we have caught just a little glimpse of the devastation and oppression that so many Cambodians live under daily.  

Ollie

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Cambodia: A Week Meandering Down the Mekong


Bullet/route points:
-       We spent seven days cycling from the southern Laos border at Khong to the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh.
-       We stuck as close as possible to the Mekong River, following the Mekong Discovery Trail route from Stung Treng to Kratie, the west bank to Kampong Cham and then the east side to Phnom Penh.

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 We can only describe it as a magic time. A week spent by the slow-moving but life-giving giant of a river, the Mekong.


 After the long tarseal straights of southern Laos, we felt keen for some higher interest and slower pace riding, so we put aside six days to do a journey that most would do in three, from Stung Treng in the far northwest of Cambodia, down to Phnom Penh. We left the main road and wove a route on dirt trails, gravel roads, small sections of seal and even occasionally single track. 


Linking it all together we took ferries of varying sizes and styles, eight in total, as we crossed from east bank to west, and to some of the sizeable islands in between.

Waiting for the boat


Some were very small

On some we joined regular commuters

 The northern section of our route followed the “Mekong Discovery Trail”, maybe something like New Zealand's new Alps to Ocean Trail but with less signage, more sand holes and plenty of Cambodian flair! It is an eco-tourism/rural development initiative to encourage tourism in this poorer and less-visited part of the country. With some good online maps and descriptions copied into our notebook, we set out to enjoy! 

Riding out of Stung Treng

Approaching Koh Pdau

 We were able to stay the first three nights at homestays. These were associated with the Discovery Trail, and seemed a good way to support the local community, as well as have a very special experience ourselves.

We were given dinner, breakfast and if we wanted a packed lunch. We ate great feasts of rice, eggs and vegetables and even fish, all very tasty, and importantly for us, very sizeable!!
As we arrived at the village of Koh Preah to look for our first homestay, we found a welcoming and wonderfully organised system, with neat painted signs at the edge of the village informing us how the homestays worked and teaching us useful Khmer language phrases. We learnt that seven families take it in turns to be the homestay, and soon we were shepherded to the Community Chief, who then led us to our homestay for the night and helped us get settled in.

Our homestay in Koh Pdau village, easily located by the "My Turn" sign out the front!
With Saylom, the Community Chief of Koh Preah village, the two boys from our homestay and their cousin.
Probably the crux of the Trail was a 40km section that ran the length of Koh Rogniev Island, where the largest "roads" were ox-cart tracks, and numerous smaller trails headed off into the bush from unmarked intersections. We'd read some horror tales of lost cyclists before us, but had been told that the best strategy was to simply always choose the most substantial trail, and if that failed, to pull out the compass and head south! 

On Koh Rogniev

We had a wonderful time, weaving through the dry forests, sometimes drifting and foundering in deep sand drifts, and sometimes cruising sublimley on hard dirt single track! We felt quite remote for a while, seeing no-one, until the ice-cream man on his motorbike turned up! Sadness at losing remote vibes was well offset by a dreamy ice cream though!

Sand!


Ollie and the ice cream man! Ooo yeah!

Through this section the heat has really kicked in. 41 degrees the daily high, cooling finally to about 24 degrees about 4am. It has seemed particularly intense on the bright dirt roads, and definitely leaves me more tired! It became a routine to cool off in the afternoon by getting in the river. Trying to keep our heads out of the water for safety reasons, we felt more like wallowing buffalo than legitimate swimmers, but either way it was divine! 

Hot riding
A lovely shady spot under our homestay. Wonderfully well-designed houses for the climate.

The river at dusk
The Mekong Trail ended at Kratie, so from there to Phnom Penh we picked our own trail of small roads by the riverside. More wonderful riding, rural villages, friendly people - all pretty idyllic! Occassionally getting a little lost, it all eventually came together very well!

On the west bank of the Mekong

Slighty lost on a lovely concrete lane, south of Kampong Cham

Some of the super friendly children! Strangly though, they do seem at libery to run out of the classroom and school grounds at any time to see us, so maybe not really ideal!
Some of you have commented on our impressive browness - but let you in on a secret, it's not all tan!!
Very dusty, sweaty but happy we turned up at the ferry crossing to Phnom Penh. Incredibly, by staying on the east side of the Mekong for the final day, we could ride dirt back roads right until the ferry that took us across the river and into downtown Phnom Penh! A real treat compared with the usual tens of kilometres of industry and busyness to battle through on entering a major city. 

Chilled village riding 4km from downtown Phnom Penh

Phnom Penh ferry
Anna