Riding from London to Paris with (almost) no training

A friends cycled from London to Paris recently with little training. As someone who has did this once on a hybrid it got me thinking what could you do to make the ride easier if you haven’t put the hard training kilometres in up front.

This is what I came up with:

It is (almost) never too late to train even if you only have a few days to go some sensible longish rides will do you good.

Consider getting a road bike if you have time to do a few rides and get used to it before you leave.

Get your bike serviced before you go. It’ll be less likely to break and will have less grit and new oil etc. A recently serviced bike is and efficient bike. Take the serviced bike for at least one good distance ride before you leave do find out if the service has caused any issues.

Pump your tires up properly every day. Hard tires are more efficient than soft tires.

On the ride never be tempted to race or go fast. Always start each day slowly for an hour.

Find other people who want to ride at your pace and ride in a close group with turns at the front. It’s a lot harder to be the first person in a group hitting the wind so taking turns shares the load. Getting behind a large person is ideal ?

Make sure you have good quality carbs for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Porridge and pasta are ideal. Snacks are a good idea too. You (probably) can’t overeat on the ride. Drink lots of water and isotonic (with salt) drinks to keep your fluids up.

If anyone is offering a leg massage definitely accept

Get as much sleep as you can each night

Don’t drink alcohol until you finish the final day.

Posted in london

Private Doctor in London

Turning 40 this year and discovering that I have a son on the way has made me think a little more about how long I plan to move about on this planet.

In June a good friend sorted me out with a medical screening with a London based private doctor at Blossom Medical Healthcare.

The good news is that I tested 100% healthy and I am good to go for another few years at least.

Tagged with: ,
Posted in london

Riding from London (Russell’s) to Brussels

Cam, Russ, Grant, Steve, Phil and I rode from London to Brussels for fun. Since we started at Russell’s flat in Balham we coined the ride “From Russell’s to Brussels”.

Kelvin and Louise kindly offered to drive a support van for us. Nothing happened between them and Steve has nothing to worry about.

The Route

London to Harwich (overnight ferry to Hook of Holland)
Hook of Holland to Amsterdam
Amsterdam to Breda
Breda to Brussels

The total distance was about 550kms but I’ll never really know as my Garmin 910xt stopped recording new route information after Breda. Note for next time, record each day as a separate ride. http://connect.garmin.com/activity/186271823

Day 1 – London to Harwich

Started the day with Steve getting a flat, followed by Phil. Steve likes to get the first flat on these long rides.

Great warm sunny flat ride all day to Harwich. Harwich has a Morrisons right next to the Port which was excellent for refuelling hungry cyclist prior to the ferry.

The overnight ferry was affordable, good quality, comfortable beds, brilliant showers and a it had a bar ?. Just what everyone needed after a long day in the saddle.

Day 2 – Hook of Holland to Amsterdam

Day 2 did not go well. Despite the ride being in June/summer the weather was shockingly wet and cold. Hardly anyone had the right cold weather gear to keep warm in the conditions. Luckily I had enough of my commuter cycling clothing so wasn’t too bad. Also the non-commuters had no experience of riding in snow and sleet so it was a bit of a shock for them. At midday we found a mall to hide in and drink lots of hot drinks for a couple of hours. Even luckier the mall had a cycle shop and the boys blew around three hundred euros on cold weather gear.

Day 3 – Amsterdam to Breda

Weather greatly improved but still not really summery. Spent the day getting lost. Amazed by the cycling facilities in Holland.

Day 4 – Breda to Brussels

Final day into Brussels followed by a massive team meal and session on the rums.

All in all a fantastic ride with good mates and lots of good memories.

Photos
http://www.flickr.com/photos/hubbers/sets/72157630008071968/with/7159342389/

Posted in cycling, travel

An old friend turns 10,000

Today on the way home from work my Cannondale Road Warrior 700 clocked up its 10,000th kilometre. In truth it has probably done a lot more than that with all the times the speedometer wasn’t working or was still in my backpack. On this momentous occasion I thought I would list out some data about the bike and list all of the parts I have upgraded or had to replace.

Name: Cannondale Road Warrior 600 2006 Hybrid Bike
Cost: about £750
Purchase date: Saturday 13th May 2006.
Evans data page: http://www.evanscycles.com/products/cannondale/road-warrior-600-2006-hybrid-bike-ec013130?style=60315#features
First appearance in blog: http://www.hubbers.com/index.php/the-road-warrior/
Total distance: 10,000 in 71 months. Averaging 141kms a month. This figure doesn’t include time when the speedo wasn’t working or kms on my other two bikes.

Frame: Optimo Road Warrior (light and quick)
Forks: Slice Ultra Si All-Conditions
Gears: Shimano 105 rear derailleur and Shimano FD-R443 front
Shifters: Shimano SL-R440
Chainset: Truvativ Elita GXP Triple
Brakes: Cannondale Thete all-condition brakes (still going strong)
Wheels: Mavic Aksium wheel set
Tyres: Maxxis Detonator (not worth the rubber they are made from)
Handlebars: Cannondale fire with bar ends
Stem: Cannondale 3-D forged
Saddle: Selle Royal Viper (super comfy)
Seatpost: Suspension Seat Post

Parts bought

Numerous brake pads
Numerous inner tubes (I don’t repair tubes I put a new on in and throw the old one out)
Pedals were shit so replaced with Shimano PD-M324 SPD MTB Pedals. Clipping in is about the best upgrade you can make to any bike
2 original tires (shitty Maxxis Detonator that caused about 5 punctures in the first three months cycling. Usually when raining)
2 Specialised Armadillo tires (also shit and cost me a days ride on the way to Paris with a ruptured tire wall)
2 Continental Contact tires (best tires I have ever owned, lost in a flat move and they don’t make them any more)
2 Continental Gatorskins (still on the bike and going strong)
Front and back gear shifters. One broke and it turns out you can only buy them as a pair
3 chains and cog thing at back
3 sets of cables
1 handle bar grips (wore the rubber out on the old ones)
1 front rim (the first one got a tiny bend in this accident http://www.hubbers.com/index.php/big-crash/ after about 3 months I had to replace it)
3 rear rims. 1 worn through on London streets with hard breaking. 1 died on the way to Paris. The replacement I got from decathlon was so shit it lasted 3 months.
1 front chainset for about 120 after I stripped the thread on a crank arm trying to save £10 in labour changing my pedals myself
Two cateye speedometers (one just died for no reason)
Several speedometer batteries

Complaints (not many)

The bottle holder was a waste of time
Screws on some of the components have rusted as the bike is now stored outside. Disappointing as the cost of non-rusting screws couldn’t have been that much more.

Overall

Overall the Road Warrior is a superb light-weight, durable, quick commuter bike.

25 June 2013

Service
K21 X9-93 chain
Shimano HG50 9 speed cassette
Shimano Ultegra 3700 Bottom Bracket cups
Continental Gator Hardshell Duraskin x 2
Shimano BR-4500 R50T2 Break shoes
Vavert lock on grip
Break cables

Cost 267.83

Posted in london

My first proper sprint triathlon

Yesterday I completed my first proper sprint triathlon (the one last year was done in relay).

My split times were as follows

Swim 750m 00:15:27
Transition One 00:03:21
Cycle 20kms 00:40:32
Transition Two 00:01:21
Run Lap One 00:13:33
Run Lap Two 00:13:22.

Total time 01:27:40

Full results here

The swim was really cold and I got a little lost by the end. When I got to the transition zone for the cycle I couldn’t find my bike. I remembered my race number and started looking at all of the numbers on the racks when the guy standing next to me said “hey aren’t you the bike next to me?” He was right I was standing two meters from my bike and couldn’t see it. Even then the transition took ages because I had forgotten to put my tri-suit on properly before the race so I had put it on then and there with cold weak arms before I could get on my bike

On the cycle I was all over the place and probably wasn’t with-it enough to be on the open road for the first 5kms but after that I really got into it and even overtook a few guys on racing bikes (more overtook me though). Also I finished with a fair bit of gas in the tank so I probably could have gone harder, especially towards the end. The run started like the ride with blood in all the wrong muscles and all sorts of niggling cramps but after a couple of kilometres I felt a lot better and was able to get into a rhythm.

Huge credit to Caroline who drove up to Milton Keynes with me for this madness and posted a thoroughly respectable 148.71 for her first triathlon. Especially when you consider that she only had seven weeks to train for the whole thing!

Advice for triathletes starting out

  • Mark your bike with a hydrogen balloon. After a freezing cold swim at race speed you will be disorientated and slow witted
  • Get Velcro shoes – laces will no be possible with freezing hands
Posted in Uncategorized

Adaptive Affinity have started threatening bloggers!

If your blog has received a threatening letter from Adaptive Affinity please leave details in the comments section below.

In 2007 I bought some business cards from Vistaprint. After that purchase clubprem.com and highstreetmax.com started taking money from my visa without my knowledge. Highstreetmax.com and clubprem.com are both owned by Adaptive Affinity. The total amount taken was £252.05. I did some digging on the internet and published my findings in this post http://www.hubbers.com/index.php/i-got-scammed-by-vistaprint-and-adaptive-marketing-and-adaptive-affinity-ltd-and-amazon/.

Well it turns out the honest people at Adaptive Affinity don’t like my blog post so they have threatened me in a nameless and unspecific way. what’s more they have threatened other bloggers with similar letters!

Does anyone have any suggestions on what I should do?

Adaptive Affinity’s nameless letter is pasted below.

Dear Sirs,

RE: DEFAMATION/LIBELLOUS STATEMENTS – I GOT SCAMMED BY VISTAPRINT, Adaptive
Marketing, Adaptive Affinity Ltd, CLUBPREM.COM, HIGHSTREETMAX.COM and
AMAZON!!!

http://www.hubbers.com/index.php/i-got-scammed-by-vistaprint-and-adaptive-marketing-and-adaptive-affinity-ltd-and-amazon/

http://www.hubbers.com/index.php/category/scams/

We are writing on behalf of Adaptive Affinity Ltd and refer to the webpage listed above. This web page contains a number of allegations regarding Adaptive Affinity and its partners that are inaccurate and defamatory in nature. It is our view the contents of the blog is causing and could continue to cause
serious reputational harm, not only to Adaptive Affinity, but other organisations to which it also refers.

The accusations made on this web page are simply untrue and no proof is offered to validate these claims. Here is a sample list of false and/or inaccurate statements made on this web page which warrant its immediate removal:
1. I did some further investigation…and found that the internet servers hosting http://www.clubprem.com/ and http://www.highstreetmax.com also hosts all of these dodgy websites also owned by Adaptive Marketing.
2. Strangely the call centre that I got through to in Jamaica were more than happy to refund all of my money in less than a week. (Adaptive Affinity’s call centre is in the UK and not in Jamaica).
3. Basically they steal as much money as possible and refund the people who kick up a fuss. I imagine most people ask for a refund at the end.
4. The following domains have been added since I wrote this post in September which means that the scam is alive and well.
5. Today I realized that I too fell victim of such scam and was ripped off by clubprem.com

These are but a few of the statements that have been made and there are many more on the page that are offensive.

The language used on the page, both by you and comments left by third parties is unacceptable and suggest to the ordinary user that the practices of Adaptive Affinity are unethical or at worst illegal. The entire web page in itself is an unfair attack on Adaptive Affinity and its partners. These are legitimate businesses with legitimate business practices.

Although the burden of proof lies with you to prove the truth in these statements made, as proof to you (and not for publication elsewhere) that Adaptive Affinity is a legitimate business we can confirm that less than
one half a percent of the millions of consumers marketed to and the many thousands of members enrolled in Adaptive Affinity’s membership programs complain about their memberships.

Adaptive Affinity has always followed high standards of responsible corporate practice. We regularly undertake quality controls to ensure our respective business practices comply with or exceed industry standards and applicable law. These practices extend throughout the organisation. We rebut the assertions made in this Blog and accordingly we request that it is removed with immediate effect.

As the primary publisher and the person who exercises direct editorial control over what is published we would like to point out that you are responsible for all the posting on your site. This matter can still be resolved without incident if you act very quickly to our satisfaction now. However, if you fail to do so, we reserve all our legal rights and remedies in respect of this matter. We also reserve all our rights and remedies (in respect of all relevant posts) if you are involved with any other posts about us or if there is any other publication made as a result of your posts.

Please respond to this letter by return and in any event within 7 days of the date on which it is sent with full details of the actions and the timeframe you will be taking to urgently rectify this matter. Your cooperation in this matter is appreciated.

Yours faithfully

Adaptive Affinity
Cavendish House,
369 Burnt Oak Broadway, Edgware.
HA8 5AW. United Kingdom
t: +44 (0) 8701 432 343
f: +44 (0) 8701 432 344
contact@adaptiveaffinity.com

Update 20 September 2010

Adaptive Affinity have also sent the same letter to my web host in the hope that they will stop hosting my site.

If your blog has received a threatening letter from Adaptive Affinity please leave details in the comments section below.
Posted in scams

New Zealand (1), Singapore (86) Malaysia (87) and Brunei Darussalam (88)

New Zealand

Expensive. While travelling I heard a couple of stories about how expensive NZ was. This correlates with my impression of prices at home where I though NZ prices compared to London prices even though I am pretty sure Kiwis don’t earn London wages. One Canadian couple moved to NZ to work and travel for six months and had to leave after three because they ran out of money.

Why do books in New Zealand cost so much?!?

Singapore (86)

Nice. Clean. Lots of shopping. Honest taxi drivers.

Dragon in Singapore harbour

Malaysia (87)

The Malaysia taxi scene isn’t quite as good. My first attempt to catch a cab got me a quote of 20 dingbats. The next was either 15 or 50. The third driver agree to use a meter and the final fare for a short drive was 4.60 (about a pound). Another taxi annoyance is that using the official taxi touts at the Sentral Train Station cost twice as much walking out to the road and flagging one down.

The weather here is something else. The average temperature is often well into the 30s and grown men carry umbrellas around to shelter from the sun. Thankfully when it rains it rains hard and that cools things down for a while afterwards.

I did an overpriced Han Travel day tour to Malaka from KL where the guide rather unfortunately started the commentary with the comment that Malaka is really a two to three day destination. Thankfully he was dead wrong. All of the tourist highlights of Malaka like the ‘old well’ and the ‘run down church from 1710′ can easily be seen in half a day. Met some cool people doing the tour.

Taman Negara national park was the next stop. Another tour but a much better one. Day one was a slow boat ride through the rainforest up the Tembeling River to Taman Negara National Park. Loads or wildlife to see along the way like eagles, wild pigs, lizards, a snake, monkeys, water buffalo and crocodiles. Thankfully we only had to get out and push three times when the boat got stuck on sandbars. The last time we go out and pushed all of the passengers had to walk across a small island while the newly buoyant boat took another charge at the rapids. At night we did a ‘night safari’ where we walked around the resort looking for wildlife. Basically that meant insects but a group two years ago saw a tiger and one last year saw a tapir. Our luck was in and we saw a deer on top of our collection of creepy crawlies. All things considered my day wading through crocodile infested rivers and walking through tiger infested jungles could have gone a lot worse.

Taman Negara National Park, Malaysia

The next morning we did a jungle walk trough cool jungle paths to scenic viewpoints and along treetop walkways. Not an overly hot or exerting experience but I still managed to drink 4 litres of water.

Sweaty Hubbers, Jungle canopy walk, Taman Negara National Park, Malaysia

Later in the day our group took a long boat up the river to visit a local tribe. This was probably the best tribe visit I have ever been on. The first thing they taught us was how to make fire from wood in under two minutes but the best part was when they showed us how to make poison blow darts and let us take target practice at a Scooby Do doll pinned to a tree (yes I hit it). After the shooting we took a tour of the village handing out unhealthy snacks to shy children. As usually happens at these things we all suffered from massive voyeur’s guilt from intruding on their lives and we headed to the river for a swim.

The river we stayed on only floods once a year. But when it rains it REALLY rains because in three or four days the river can rise as much as SEVENTY FOUR METERS! No wonder all of the restaurants are the floating kind.

After the rainforest experience I took my Han Travel organised ‘transfer’ to northern port town called Kuala Besut instead if catching a local bus. I spent the 8.5 hours driving around Malaysia picking people up and dropping them off. By contrast the bus probably got to the port in 3 hours. Oh and it probably cost me more! I would recommend people avoid Han Travel and travel independently in Malaysia.

While travelling I have met two English couples who are migrating permanently to Australia. They all had the feeling that England was going down the drain and Australia offered more. Good luck to them.

After the jungle I went to the Perentian islands for some diving. The island were beautiful and I dived with sharks and baby sharks for the first time in my life which was exciting.

From the Perentian’s I flew to Tamau in Malaysian Borneo via KL. I had started to worry that I was not famous any more as I hadn’t met anyone I know unexpectedly while travelling. I needn’t have worried as Robbie, a friend from London was on my fight to KL.

My first stop in Borneo was Semporna where I dived off Mabul Island. I only had one day so I crammed three dives in and I have to say these were three of the best dives I have ever done. Even the refresher dive off the beach was crammed full of colourful and interesting fish I have never seen before. A small golden travelli swam on the edge of my mask for the entire dive, which apparently means I will have seven years of good luck :)

While on Semporna I have been hanging out with the guy who owns www.malaysia.com. His life is pretty good he lives cheaply in KL, has a Malaysian girlfriend and travels around Malaysia taking pictures and writing stories while the money pours into his website.

One of my dive instructors was Alister Lee who takes excellent underwater photos http://alisterlee.blogspot.com and whose great grandfather was a head-hunter! Head-hunting is a Boeneo tradition where headhunters sneak up on people and slice their heads off before they know you are there so they die with a smile on their face. A good smiling head is useful for burying in the ground to make sure a bridge doesn’t collapse (so much for structural engineering and the laws of physics). Presumably a non-smiling one is just good for decoration in the living room chatting about how much fun you had beheading people when you were younger. The most prolific headhunter was some guy who had 32 heads to his name. He even beheaded his best friend! Talk about someone who you would never go around to their house to watch the rugby! At 32 however his village decided he might be insane so they beat him to death.

Diving, Mabul, Malaysia (Borneo)

After my brief diving adventure I spent a day in Semporna where I was lucky enough to be passing through town on the day of the Semporna Regatta. Highlights included a demonstration by armed water police raiding a fishing boat. Don’t ever do anything illegal on the water in Malaysia because they have cops on jetskis with machine guns! Other highlights included dragon boat races, tug of war rowing races and a display of brightly decorated boats that parade along the waterways with the most beautiful being crowned the winner.

Regatta Lepa, Semporna, Malaysia

Bus journeys in Malaysia often show a movie to keep you entertained. The criteria for these movies seems pretty simple. They must contain loads of graphic violence (but no sex) preferably with lots of flashy explosions. Also, the movies should be relatively unheard of. The quality of these movies seem to exist in a quality category just below that of ‘straight to dvd’ called ‘straight to bus’.

Next stop was the oddly named Sepilok Orang-utan Rehabilitation Centre. This place really interested me partly because I think orang-utans are magnificent but also because I wanted to know what drove them to drink. Perhaps it is because they are ginger.

Palms. Malaysia is covered from top to bottom in palms. They grow them for the palm oil which is used in a large percentage of foods you can buy in the supermarket. The first problem with having a country that almost exclusively grows palms is that it means that your country don’t grow a lot of other foods to feed your population. The other issue is that if the palms get attacked by a parasite that kills them that will wipe out you entire agriculture industry in one go. So then you have no palms and nothing you can eat. Oh yeah and they probably cut down rainforest to create the palm plantations. So there you have it a short paragraph on the shortcomings of palm cultivation exclusivity. In summary. Palms, bad for monkeys and all eggs in one basket risk.

Brunei Darussalam

Brunei Darussalam

I also visited Brunei Darussalam (88) where I had the good fortune to stumble into the very odd De Royalle Cafe for dinner. The entire menu is on differently sized laminated flip cards with one food item per card with each menu item on a separate card. When questioned further about items on the menu the waitress (gorgeous) and the owner (who had the wacky idea for the flip cards) had no idea what was in each dish. My favourite menu item was Jane’s Healthy Zip which contained icecream, chocolate and milk. It turns out that the owner isn’t as mad as he seems and is in fact a famous local reporter.

Got talking to some expats about one of the princes, who is attending a local school. Every day at lunch a limousine turns up with his lunch in a hamper. It also turns out that not all of the school is air conditioned so the entire schools schedule was rearranged so that all of his classes are in air conditioned rooms. In addition the principal was booted out of his office and it was turned into a private space for the prince with satellite tv and gaming consoles etc.

Brunei’s history goes a bit like this. They were just about to become part of Malaysia and then they discovered oil so they changed their mind and went on an audacious spending spree that still hasn’t stopped.

85 percent of people in Brunei ‘work’ in the civil service where ‘work’ practices are quite relaxed.

It feels like Brunei is a country of have nothings (imported labour) haves (people connected to the government and civil servants) and the SUPER MEGA HAVES (royals).

Posted in travel

MALDIVES (87)

The Maldives is the 85th country I have travelled to :)

Arrived in the mostly Muslim Maldives to the usual arrival-bag-x-ray where they hunt for anyone who might be carrying any evil alcohol. Anything found is confiscated. Boy I’d like to be invited to their Xmas party :)

First step since I have arrived a day early is to find a hotel. The SL airline magazine gave the Male Holiday Inn a good write up so I looked into that. $380 a night. I think I might try somewhere else :/

Males seems to have only nine types of vehicles, scooters, taxis (which are all full all the time), parked scooters, small pickup trucks, scooters, boats, scooters, bicycles and of course scooters. Almost every spot along the side of every road is crammed with closely parked scooters. The roads themselves are full of a never ending procession of more scooters, probably looking for a tiny space to park in. I remember once being told that there are not enough spaces for all of the passenger airplanes in the world to be parked at one time so some will always have to be in the air. Male probably has a similar problem with scooters which makes me feel sorry for the last scooter drivers who miss out on a park at the end of the day and have to drive around all night.

Motor Scooter madness, Male, Maldives

The other weird thing is that Male is tiny. It couldn’t take you more that 30 minutes to walk between any two points on the island. So why does everyone need a motorised vehicle when even the longest journey could only last a few minutes – unless you are looking for a park.

Also even though the roads are clogged with scooters and the speed limit is only 25kms there is still a Ferrari on the island, You have to wonder why though as it could never get out of second gear and it would easily take up six scooter parks.

Once settled in my hotel I took a walk around the tiny island and ran into a good friend from my party days in London called Smitty. I had no idea Smitty was here so this is a freaky coincidence. It’s a small world and sometimes I think I am at the centre of it.

The last time I saw Smitty was on the 4th of February 2006. How do I know the exactly date nearly four years later? Well I took this photo of him throwing up into a rubbish bin at Gloucester Road on the Waitangi Day Circle Line Pub Crawl.

Smitty um looking for something he lost

Smitty has just moved to Male to run food and beverages at the Male Holiday Inn (yes the hotel mentioned above). He is going to change everything here in a couple of months when they get the first licence to sell alcohol in Male in 28 years, To tourists only of course. Smitty has offered to hook me up with some diving etc with some contact he has at some resorts :)

Smitty also made the point that while he is working here he has to steer clear of the local girls. The punishment for a foreigner for sleeping with a local girl is a public flogging. Ouch.

Oh yeah and true to form, it’s raining

Over the next few days there wasn’t much to do. I tried several times to get my hotel to help me find some diving but everyone we spoke to could only help me dive from Male if I was four people. Sadly I am not four people. I even tried a couple of dive gear shops and at least one place that said they did dive tours and no one could/would help. Several said they would call or email but they never did. I also tried to book onto a scenic flight and a boat based island tour but neither was operating because the weather was so rubbish.

It seems to be that tourism here is all about the resorts and because Male is merely a stepping off point that there is no real tourist infrastructure on Male. Basically don’t ever come to the Maldives and try to do your own thing because you can’t.

On day three I managed to get out to the Sheraton Resort which is the nearest resort island to Male island. Smitty arranged for free transfers and a free stay on the island during the day. Normally resorts charge a fair amount of dollars to let people lounge around on their beaches all day. Even lunch which was a buffet was US$70. In the afternoon I went for a boat dive off one of the reefs here. This was probably the best dive I have ever been on with loads of eels, snapper, reef fish, a napoleon (a big ugly fish), lion fish and even a couple of curious turtles who came up to a meter or so to have a look at us. As usual my big body chewed through 180psi of air in a mere 50 minutes and I had to surface first. Huge thanks to Smitty without whom I might have come to this diver’s paradise and not been able to dive at all.

Sheraton, Maldives

For NY Eve I ate pizza and watched movies in my hotel room by myself as Male is dry. This might be my first sober NYE in 18 years. Different.

Maldives madness

There is a story about credit cards that I am meaning to to write here but haven’t gotten around to yet.

Posted in Uncategorized

SMILING SRI LANKA (86)

The flight to Colombo was good except we had a couple of different technical problems at Heathrow before we took off and then we seemed to spend an eternity driving around Heathrow looking for the runway.

Arrived to a glorious 31 degrees and took a cab with a driver called Mohan. Mohan had the art of gliding through Colombo’s overcrowded streets down to a fine art and even though we were often dangerously close to hitting other vehicles or even on the wrong side of the road Mohan never gave them impression that it was anything other than a relaxing drive in the country. He even found time to honk at every pretty girl we passed.

On the hour drive to the hotel we passed through several military checkpoints and three of them flagged us down to for a random inspection and Mohan had to show his licences. Even though the war has been won, security is still taken pretty seriously here.

Once I was showered I took a walk near my hotel to see some of the local attractions. It took a few attempts as several of the directions I took were blocked by armed police and soldiers because they were near to government buildings. Eventually I made it to a bustling market where dozens of traders wanted to know where I was from :)

The guy who brought the iron up to my room offered me the services of a nightclub hostess for 7000 rupees. When I said no he took that to mean the price was too high and started to negotiate. I carefully explained my price was NO and shooed him out of my room.

Later I hooked up with the other guests for the wedding next week and we went to an all you can eat traditional Sri Lankan buffet restaurant at a nice hotel, Followed by a night of dancing and vodka redbulls at a club where we hogged the dance floor because we were the biggest and the drunkest :)

At dinner it was mentioned that Sri Lanka has an election coming up. The current president, Mahinda Rajapaksa looks a lot like famous Maori comedian Billy T James. He must be bloody loaded because his poster are up EVERYWHERE in SL. Usually looking happy, with babies or pointing at things showing what a well balanced chap who gets things done he is. The other guy running in the election is the leader of the military who have just defeated the Tamil Tiger’s after 26 years of war. The good general has about seven posters. A local friend surprised me when she said that elections here are usually preceded by large bouts of assassinations as candidates try to get a permanent edge on each other. She suggested that was because that was all they knew after decades of war.

Travel weirdness: Sri Lanka seems to have crows instead of seagulls. If you ever thought seagulls made an annoying sound, Trust me when I say a crow with a bee in its bonnet is just as bad.

After Colombo I met a group of people who are going to the wedding who I will travel around central SL for a few days.

KANDY KANDY KANDY I CAN’T LET YOU GO

Our first drive took us through rural central Sri Lanka to the city of Kandy.

We woke up in the morning to see ginger monkeys called Edwards Monkeys climbing all over the balconies on the front of the multi story hotel.

Sri Lanka

Kandy Tourist Tip: If you get up first thing in the morning to watch the monkeys on your balcony don’t do it naked because the people on the balcony above you can see into your room.

PINNAWALA

Later in the day we drove to the Pinnawala elephant orphanage.

On the way there we stopped at a place where you could ride elephants. I had never done this before so I thought why not but once I was on the back of a big elephant started to feel pretty uncomfortable. Having seen elephants in the wild I know they are pretty raucous independent minded animals. Despite their size these ones were incredibly docile and almost looked depressed. Maybe that had something to do with the chains they wore or guides with sharp sticks. The second reason I felt uncomfortable was because the moment I got on the back of the elephant I realised that my legs don’t stretch that far apart. And to make matters worse once our elephant started walking it’s massive shoulder blades stretched my legs even further apart. Ouch.

The Pinnawala elephant orphanage has a large number of elephants who were displaced because of the war or other reasons. One of the saddest things I have seen in a long time is an elephant that had had one of it’s feet blown off by a landmine. It’s healed now and it could still just manage to hobble around but it’s enormous weight meant that it was very slow and it’s spine was visible and twisted. It’s can’t have been a happy animal.

A three legged elephant that stood on a landmine, Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage, Sri Lanka

Later we stopped by a tea plantation which I mostly ignored as tea is a sickly abomination that is to coffee what methadone is to heroin.

ADAM’S PEAK

That night we got up at 2am Climb Adams Peak to a Buddhist monastery. The climb itself takes about three hours and is well lit and the steps are pretty good. The second half is pretty much vertical and only three of our original party of six made it to the top. It rained lightly most of the way up with occasional heavy downpours. Luckily we were pretty near a shop each time it got really bad.so we could take shelter.

Somewhere near the top I was making a joke about what Elvis would be saying if he were alive today (probably “help help help let me out of here!”) and all of the lights on the whole mountain went out. After a brief conversation about whether anyone though to bring a torch which went something like this

“Does anyone have a torch?”
“No I thought it was lit all the way”
“I don’t have a torch”
“Well mine’s in my pack at the hostel”

So I apologised to Elvis and the lights came back on immediately. At the temple at the top I remembered to ring the bell extra hard to dispel the evil spirits of dead rock legends.

At the top there were loads of local people sleeping over including no small number of very old people who had all made the trek to the top. Did I mention we had three people in their 20s drop out?

Quite strangely a local dog tagged along with us on the way up. At the half way point he disappeared and another dog took over. On the way back down they swapped again at the same place and the first dog came back to handle the last of the journey to the hostel. We paid our ‘guides’ in cookies which the dogs liked but which probably aren’t that good for them.

UNAWATUNA BEACH

After Adam’s peak we headed to gorgeous Unawatuna Beach where we rested and relaxed for a couple of days before the wedding. The rest stop was well planned as my legs were sore as f*** for a couple of days. I had thought that commuter cycling would have prepared me for this a little better but it turns out that hill climbing muscle fitness is completely different to cycle muscle fitness.

At Unawatuna we did lots of nothing and not much else. It was awesome. My only exercise was when I got roped into pool aerobic with some 60 year old Dutch women. Lots of fun but you wouldn’t get fit doing it.

After Unawatuna we drove back to Mt Lavinia near Colombo for the stag do and other wedding activities.

DRIVING IN SL

Sri Lanka

Our driver for the first week was a real jerk. Actually he was also a lovely smiling SL guy who couldn’t do enough for you but once he is behind the wheel of his van he is an aggressive bullying jerk who constantly tailgating and honking at the next vehicle in front of us. Often we overtake people on blind corners or blind hills. Sometimes we have overtaken a vehicle which is already overtaking another vehicle. This double overtake isn’t unique to SL but they do seem to be world class at it. I doubt there are many quicker times from Kandy to Unawatuna on record than the one our driver did.

The only people on the road who are more aggressive than our driver seem to be the drivers of the several ton Lanka Ashok Leyland buses, some of whom seem to have only days to live and don’t want to waste any more time driving the bus than they absolutely have to. The worst of these by a long shot was a bus driver behind us on the after-dark arrival into Unawatuna. No matter how recklessly our jerk driver drove, no matter how many blind overtakes or flat out dangerous manoeuvres he took the bus would always catch up to about half a meter behind us and start sounding its huge bus horn trying to get us to move over. This went on for several kilometres with both vehicles hurtling past trucks, buses, cars, vans, tuk tuks and bicycles. No matter what our jerk-driver tried we could not shake the bus loose. It was like a scene from the Speilberg movie, Duel. What makes this story truly shocking is that the bas had to occasionally stop (well slow a bit while the passengers jumped) to drop off or pick up passengers! Every time it did we thought we might lose it in the heavy traffic but in no time at all there it was, on our bumper jamming it’s horn at us like we were Sunday drivers.

WEDDING ACTIVITIES

The stag do was awesome but I did see one of the worse things against nature I have ever seen as a tourist. When we finished dinner we were walking along the beach and a turtle crawled out of the ocean to dig a hole in the sand and lay her eggs in front of all of the flashy restaurants and huge booming clubs. Everyone (not me) was so drunk (okay I was drunk but I didn’t go near the turtle) and so excited they rushed the turtle and started taking flash photos from a couple of meters away. The poor turtle took fright and abandoned her hole and waddled back into the ocean. As a human you basically know that we are squeezing the other animals out of the places they have lived for millions of years but this was a particularly poignant example why animals don’t stand a chance. Not unless they develop a taste for vodka redbull and house music.

The wedding was a couple of days later and was an interesting mix of western and traditional Sri Lankan styles with colourful drummers and dancers. The food was amazing and later on after some beach clubbing until 4am we tried to go for a swim at the beach by the hotel only to be told by security that we weren’t allowed.

Sri Lanka

The next day I awoke at the crack of mid-afternoon, with a near complete set of memories which isn’t bad all things considered.

The day after the wedding there was some sadness as most of the pre-wedding touring party started to leave for the airport during the day. It’s not all bad though as we are all now firm facebook friends.

The day after that as I left the Mt Lavinia Hotel I counted no less than six weddings (but probably more) having their photos taken at 8am. One of the girls wondered aloud where they found six sets of make-up and hairdressers who were willing to get up at 3am to get everyone ready! Personally I wondered where they could find half a dozen blokes who were prepared to get up at 7.45 on a Sunday and throw a suit on.

Oh yeah and the day we left was the first day I have made breakfast at the Mount Lavinia Hotel. Actually it was the first day I was up before midday.

POST WEDDING TOURING PARTY

After the wedding I joined the post wedding touring party which included the grooms parents and some of his mates.

KANDALAMA RESORT

Today I am heading back to the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage and then to Duwala where we are staying in ultra luxurious Kandalama resort. The resort is on the edge of a man made lake and their web site goes to great pains to say how environmentally friendly they are. Our local friend said there is now way they could have built the resort where they have without massive bribes to the right people in power. That is one of the big advantages of living in a developing country – money really does talk.

Sri Lanka

Woke to timid black faced monkeys outside my room.

Up early to enjoy a swim in the so-called infinity pool. You can imagine my disappointment when I reached the far end after swimming just a few meters.

SIGIRIYA (LION’S ROCK)

Sri Lanka

Later we climbed Sigiriya (Lion’s Rock) which was once the home to King Kasyapa and his 500 wives. Incidentally King Kasyapa also killed his dad by walling him in alive and stole the throne from his brother. Eventually his bother defeated him in battle and he took his own life. Wikipedia doesn’t say what happened to the wives but presumably it turned out okay. These days it’s a nice climb to the top of a very big rock with some old ruins on top.

The weather was a bit average (rain again) so didn’t do much else for the rest of the day.

POLONNARUWA

After that I left the group who headed to the southern beaches and am heading out on my own to explore more of the ancient cities in central Sri Lanka. My driver turned up at 11 and turned out to be an agriculture lecturer who had pulled a sicky and was making a few extra bucks driving me around for the day in his personal car. Relishing my first safety belt experience during my time in SL I felt marginally safer as the buses rushed towards me on the wrong side of the road.

Polonnaruwa was the capital of Sri Lanka for 300 years starting around 1000 years ago. The ruins were really impressive and well maintained with a lot of history and the guide seemed to know his stuff. An excellent ruins visit even thought it rained most of the time I was there.

Sri Lanka

Travel tip: it’s considered rude in SL to have a photo take with your backside facing Buddha.

Travel tip 2: when visiting Buddhist site wear jandals because you will have to take your footwear off all of the time to go in and out of the temples.

Later I got my driver to take me to Dimbulagala which was basically some painted Buddha scenes in an average temple.

ANURADHAPURA

Spent most of the morning driving to Anuradhapura and then looking for a guide. The site was even more impressive than yesterdays with loads of temples, sacred trees, drogbas, tanks (the pool kind), pools and general ruins. My guide was pretty average and spent a lot of the tour trying to sponge my Oakleys off of me.

Sri Lanka

The roads are covered in dogs here. Today my driver ran over a dog that didn’t move out of the way. Not sure why as it was clear as anything it was in front of the car. Looking back watching the dog trying to stand was pretty yuk. Years ago I saw a similar thing happen to a cat in Egypt. The cats back was clearly broken and a 12 year old kid stepped out of a shop with a spade to put it out of its misery. If I were a better person I would have gone back with a tire iron and finished it off. I’m not though. I prefer my animal cruelty to come in cellophane packages.

Sri Lanka

Later in the afternoon I visited Mihntale which has a small series of temples on a hilltop where the first SL king converted to Buddhism after passing a wisdom test where he was able to correctly identify a mango tree Obviously the wisdom-bar was set slightly lower in ye-olden-times. My guide Bundu was my best guide so far and hardly spent any time at all talking about his poor family. I told him about the dog and he smiled wryly saying only westerners cared about dogs. Locals see them as pests. I guess you have to be pretty rich to give a shit about animals. Poorer people tend to worry about other things like food, electricity and education.

Bundu did make one classic guiding mistake though. The skies had cleared a bit so I could take a photo so he loudly proclaimed I was ‘lucky’. Two minutes later one of the monsoons (they get two here) hit so hard my umbrella ceased to be anything other than a brightly coloured accessory.

MORE KANDY

Kandy, Sri Lanka

After Anuradhapura I headed back to Kandy which we rushed through the first time. Kandy has a temple with one of Buddha’s teeth so is a pretty significant place for Buddhists. They also have loads of really huge ivory tusks so presumably the elephants think it is shit hot as well.

My one way taxi to Kandy from Dambulla costs almost as much as a full day with a driver. When I enquired why a couple of hours driving csot as much as a full day with a driver it turned out I was also paying for the drivers journey from home to the resort and then also his return home after dropping me off in Kandy. Taxis appear to work differently here than in the rest of the world.

LEAVING KANDY

The day I left Kandy there are blue skies in every direction. This was a massive improvement on all previous weather I had had in central SL which alternated between: very thick overcast (just peachy for photos), drizzle, light rain, medium rain, heavy rain, very heavy rain, monsoon rain and Auckland rain (the worst of all).

Also due to my complete inability to be charged anything other than foreign millionaire devil price I have decided to catch a bus to my next destination, Bentota, hoping not to get a fully crazed bus driver with no regard for human life.

Despite massive savings being made it is interesting to note that five minute tuk tuk ride to the bus station in Kandy cost more than my three hour ride to Colombo. Although once I had purchased a seat for my trusty Macpac (which wouldn’t fit in the overhead luggage compartment) the longer journey cost more. The long bus ride from Colombo also cost marginally more that the one minute tuk tuk connection at the far end. Totally feel that I am at least partially getting on to the foreign millionaire devil tourist price cash haemorrhage.

At beautiful Bentota beach I caught up with the post wedding touring party for some cocktails and wave surfing.

My last stop after that was a sleepy little beach town with a few nice pubs and restaurants called Negombo. The major selling point of Negombo is that it is close to the airport for tomorrow’s early flight to Male in the Maldives.

SMILING SRI LANKA SUMMARY

Sri Lanka is a beautiful county and I can’t recommend it enough to other travellers. You would never know that a war had just finished a few months earlier because everyone smiles so much. It was not uncommon to be riding in the back of the van to make eye contact with a local person and receive a huge smile. When you smile back (and it’s impossible not to) they smile even more.

My only word of caution to tourists though is about the pricing. Government run tourist attractions charge several times the price for foreign tourists what they do for locals. I can totally see the logic in this as all countries have limited resources and you have to make the most of what you have. The down side is that all other aspects of society have adopted this official policy and almost everything has a local price and a tourist price. At one hotel in Kandy my local friend Sam (the bride) booked my hotel and when I arrived they told me that they rate would jump because they had quoted me the local price and not the tourist price. At one hotel in Bentota Sam lost her room because the hotel was “full” but later in the day after I walked in and got a room it turned out that there were rooms left. My suspicion was that they were trying to get rid of her so they could give her room to a foreigner at a higher price (like me). This kind of skulduggery will always go on when you have one price for one group of people in society and one for another. Basically SL is pretty poor and is trying to make as much from each visitor as possible and this can end up costing you a fair whack at the end of two or three weeks here.

Tourist Tip: Use supermarkets where prices are marked and travel on local transport to keep costs down. Every person who comes to SL should catch a local bus at some point in time for the experience alone ;)

Sri Lanka

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Photos from back in time (New Zealand)

A friend in NZ recently sent me a picture on his mobile phone. NZ can sometimes be a little behind the crest of the technology wave because it is a smaller lower value market than some other countries like the UK.

One thing that really annoys me though is when NZ is 8 years behind the UK.

In 2002 when a friend in NZ sent me a picture text message their service provider would send me a text with information on how to download that picture from their website. Today (2010) I was sent a picture message from NZ and was stunned to realise that to get a picture message you still have to log onto a website to view the message.

This is the message I got today from a Runty showing off his new wife that almost no one has met.

Runty and Mrs Runty 2010

And while I was on the site I also found these pictures from 2007 and 2005 respectively.

Happy Birthday from Paolo 2007

Naturally they don’t mean as much today as they did when they were sent.

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