Gran Canaria – adventure at the SportPesa IT conference

OK, so for full transparency:

I normally write about the places I visit, and since this website is called the adventures of an ordinary person, I do it with a personal slant (ie halfway through watching Swan Lake in Moscow, I left and went for a drink in an Irish Bar with an Australian Lawyer that I’d met. That’s what an ordinary person would do).

On this occasion, my amazing employer, organised a series of workshops and meetings called the Island SummIT, a meeting of all the IT teams from around the world, at the Baobab resort in Gran Canaria.

So, I was away working (as you’d expect me to do) but just like me, I found opportunities for adventure here and there and made the most of the oportunity. Therefore, this isn’t really a full article about the Island, rather an example of what you can do on a work trip with a bit of imagination.

Above is a picture of me “sailing”.

It seemed easy. We were flying from Manchester, and flying home to Liverpool.

Outbound, no problem I thought, I’d just get the train from Chester to Manchester Airport.

Big problem. A Virgin train, transporting people from London to Leeds, broke down. So in Llandudno, they were punted onto my train to Manchester and told to change there.

They had massive bags and there were hundreds off them. Result: it was like a bus in the 3rd world. I’m not talking, so busy you couldnt find a seat, I’m talking so busy 3 poeple were standing in a space for 2.

But the hell is over after 90 minutes, I arrive at Manchester Airport and meet up with my collegues (who are also my friends).

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On the flight, I find myself sat next to 2 young people, who could only be described as “love birds”. We make polite conversation, and I listen to Brian Tracy, 21 ways to be more productive, and jot down some ideas in my notebook (and I mean an actual notebook with a pen, not my laptop, which stays in my bag.

We arrive in the hotel, and I can’t believe it. I normaly travel to collect experiences. I stay in the simplest accommodation that will allow me to do this, and try to save money where I can, as the money I’m spending today, could finance the next trip, etc.

But, I’ve always wondered what it would be like to stay in a fabulous resort, and now I’m going to find out.

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The staff are amazing, professional, helpful and nothing is too much trouble.

Once checked in, I make my way to my room and I can’t believe how big this place is.

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It takes me a full 10 minutes to walk from my room to reception, and from one walkway on the 3rd floor, I see one of the hotels SEVEN pools.

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In the morning, I wake up. I have a balcony, and the view isnt amazing.

There’s a basketball court, what looks like a car park and some wastland.

I dont care, I’ve always said, you dont live on the outside of a house, you live on the inside. The room I’m in is massive, has a desk for me to work at, a sofa to relax on and a very comfortable bed.

bath

Best of all, when I go into the bathroom.

It has a separate bathroom and toilet, and there is even a telephone handset in the toilet.

I’m not interior designer, but I decided to photograph this bath. I’ve put on a bit of weight lately (although I have a plan to fix that in summer) but honestly, I could have fit in that bath 3 times.

But this is no time for indulgence, I’m on the company’s “dime”, keen to represent the UK office in a positive light and just like in my private life, learn as many new things as I can.

island_summIT

Our first morning. After a breakfast that would humble a king, its time to start work.

There are several talks, workshops, meets and greets and the like.

Obviously, we are the fastest growing gaming company in the world, in a competitive market so I can’t discuss a single thing I saw and heard.

But, it was fascinating, I met loads of cool people and it was ace to see how they’d found solutions to some of the same problems we’d been experiencing in the Liverpool office.

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With lunch and the days activities over, everyone heads back to their room to get ready for the evening.

I don’t. I’ve spent hours researching the area and things to do (Time spent in reconnaissance is never wasted, Rommel – The Dessert Fox).

So, I head for the beach and set off walking.

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But I’m not here to sit by the ocean.

Actually this is an area of outstanding natural beauty and I wander around exploring the sand dunes.

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There is a cordoned off area, with a real oasis (La Charca) and some unique bird and animal life to see.

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After 2 hours, I wander into the town. I see this guy, who constructs the Last Supper from Sand each day (I give him a couple of Euro’s, it seems wrong to photograph his work and not reward him somehow).

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Further along, the famous lighthouse. I’m normaly the first critic of beach holidays, but even I have to admit, the view, the air, the sea contribute to what is, an amazing expirience.

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Wandering back to my hotel, this picture shows half its length.

As a Rohan customer, I’ve got a series of adaptable outfits to cater for every evening. A form shirt, and were off out for a Curry (probably the best one I’ve eaten outside Rusholme).

hackathon

The following day, and its back to the action.

A series of talks by various people from Dubai, Kenya and Bulgaria and one incredible talk about a system called Erlang.

Everything I love about IT.

30 years ago, Ericsson designed a programming language for their phone system. It had to be able to make hundred of thousand of connections. They needed to be reliable and consistent (as theyre phone-calls, if an email is a minute late, fine but phone conversations dont work that way) and it needed to be hyper secure (it could for example be used for a “global” switchboard for the UK NHS phone system, so confidentiality would be a must.

But, voice over IP and various other things happened, it never took off, and was forgotten about.

Incredibly, 30 years later, cutting edge web developers are using it, as all of its qualities are ideally suite to transaction based websites.

So, something written 30 years ago and forgotten is born again.

With the formal part of the meeting over, I wander to reception.

I think the picture captures the scale and grandour of the hotel.

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I decide to wander around the hotel and get a feel for it.

There’s a pretty cool bar near reception and it has this incredible view.

I get a pint of the local beer and relax.

But I can’t relax too much.

The formal part of the meeting will be closed of with a Gala dinner, which I’m really looking forward to (I’ll get to relax and chat to the friends I’ve met in meeting and workshops).

The problem is, despite being loaded with Rohan clothing for every kind of event, I’ve no formal evening wear.

So I improvise. The excellent Meg at work, who is a keen Everton fan, helped me to purchase a football shirt. I hope it will work for the evening (well, it has SportPesa printed on the front of it, so lets see what happens).

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We have drinks in the VIP area, and a few people start asking about my top.

Forced to do what I always do in situations like this (and honestly, the only thing I can do) I tell the truth.

I explain:

I have no interest in football whatsoever and I’m not an Everton fan (although I’m sure theyre a fab club)

My heroes are mountaineers like Chris Bonington and Doug Scott.

But…  I work for SportPesa. We work at the top 1% of the technology industry, and the people I work with are amazing.

So, I wear my football shirt because I’m proud to wear the SportPesa logo.

The dinner and meal are fantastic. I got to bed about 2am, and I’m exausted.

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In the morning, I’m up and off exploring the Dunes again.

The company have arranged “a water based event” but the details are limited.

A bus takes us to the coast then I see it.

They have hired this incredible Catamaran (I’ve never sailed in one before so its amazing).

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But this isnt just “sailing” we have our own DJ and a free bar.

In the same way that I’ve built shelters and slept out in the woods to see what is like…

It’s amazing to be on a Catamaran, relaxing with a G&T, living like Rock star or premier league player, just to see what thats like.

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We sailed out to meet some other boats and there was the option to go Paragliding or Jetski-ing.

I did’t do either, I just relaxed on the boat. I can only remember a handful of times in my life that I’ve felt so relaxed.

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The slight low point, is when we pull into port and the food is served.

Its paella and seafood which I dont like.

I’m so relaxed, I hardly care.

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The DJ starts banging out gangster rap.

Not to everyone’s taste, but I personally love that stuff. The dance-floor is full (dance-floor, on a boat).

Our trip nearly over, were heading out to sea, to watch the sunset.

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What an amazing end to a perfect day.

Bus takes us home, a few drinks at the hotels panoramic bar, then its off to bed. Completely shattered.

turt

The next day is free.

I have a lie in until 8am. As I wander towards breakfast I see that there are some turtles.

chester

I wander into town, and see the main Casino in the area is called Chester – the name of the city I live in 🙂

bike

I pickup the mountain bike I’d arranged to hire from Free Motion.

Extremely professional, I get this amazing hybrid bike for just 21 Euros for the whole day.

They even give me a recommended list of places to visit and a map (and comment that they have shops in every town, so if I dont want to cycle back, just leave the bike in one of the other shops and get the bus home).

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Baking hot day, but the freedom and simple pleasure of riding a bike.

I peddle in one direction to an oil refinery and then head back and ride to Play del Ingles.

I’m glad I did.

When I told some friends I was heading to Gran Canaria, they’d warned me some part of it were like Blackpool.

I’d dismissed that (after all, the place we were staying was like acapulco).

When I got there, there were bins with vomit in them, gangs of what I can only describe as hooligans, and when I locked my bike up and went in a german bar, they would let me in, as “your English, you wont enjoy it”.

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On the way back, I saw adverts for disbled carts, which were everywhere. At least someone was having fun there.

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So, back to Meloneras. I lock up my bike and go for a walk along the front.

I dont recall the name of this hotel, but everyone of the rooms on the front had its own personal pool.

I don’t know when at the moment, but one day, I’m going to stay there.

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Cycling up and down, a friendly Italian couple offer to take a picture of me.

lads_pool

Exhausted, I had back home. A minibus is coming to pick me up the next morning at 4am, so I need to make it an early night.

I get a couple of drinks around the pool with some of the lads and as I sit there, I realise just how lucky I am to have experienced this amazing week.

last_supper

But, I’m a simple man.

For my last meal, I’ve found a chinese restaurant.

I go over on my own at 7pm. Because I’m early, I’m the only customer and I have spring rolls, beef and mushroom and some delicious red wine.

I wander back in a really good mood. Perhaps I should have more trips away, that aren’t projects and where I just relax and unwind 🙂

Recent visits to London.

flags

An amazing friend at SGS (Matt) suggested I get on the Virgin train mailing list. I initially resisted thinking I’d get all sorts of rubbish in my in-box.

Although that’s partially true, he pointed out that each year when they have a “sale” I’d get to know about it first.

London is an expensive city to visit, but with a 2.15 hour journey from Chester, you can travel direct at 7:15am, come home at 18:15pm and have an amazing day, with the transport only costing £11 each way.

Best of all, if you organise yourself over multiple one day “hits” you can save the cost of accommodation and evening meal (the latter can be substituted for a nice sandwich and a bottle of wine on the way home).

Above, some flags on Regent Street.

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Greenwhich (pronounced Greenwhich) was a place I’d heard great things about.

One of the best things to see there, was the famous Cutty Sark.

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In it’s day, one of the fastest trading ships in the world. With a minimal crew, it could transport Tea and other delicacies (we now take for granted) from one side of the world to the other.

Bellow decks, we watched this video about the ship in its heyday.

The man in this yellow coat, kept getting in the way of my pictures.

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Here he is again.

Looking down the ship, from the high place at the back (which I’m sure has a Nautical name, that I don’t know).

Anyway, this is what the captain would have seen looking forward from the ship as it was sailing.

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The ships name, carved in original oak.

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The ship itself is mounted on struts, and they have a nice cafe there where we have coffee and cake (It’s London, so costs a fortune).

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From here, we head up the hill to Grenwhich observatory.

From there we can see this amazing view of London and the Millennium Dome (now called the 02 arena).

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Outside the Royal Observatory.

At one time, people would travel from all over London to set their clocks by the one in the picture.

The site was chosen by Christopher Wren, and King Charles II created the position of Astronomer Royal.

There is also a very visible “time ball” that can be seen from a distance by Mariners. At 1pm each day, it dropped, and they could set their clocks from this.

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The prime meridian, longitude 0′.

Every place on earth was measured east or west of this line, and this is where Greenwhich Meantime takes its name.

The building itself is called Flamesteed house, after its first occupant.

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On of the telescopes used at the observatory. Very difficult to photograph.

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4 of John Harrison’s Sea watches, H1 to H4.

A joiner by trade, he designed a clock that could keep its time one a moving ship (something that even Sir Isaac Newton said was impossible).

Once out of sight of the shore, a clock was essential to work out the exact location of a ship and at a time of growing international trade, it saved many lives due to the avoidance of shipwrecks.

ship_clocks

Each ship had a special clock, normally stowed bellow decks. officers and men on the ship would set their own clocks and watches from it for practical purposes.

As technology progressed, the ships clock was no longer needed and in this room they had hundreds of the returned clocks.

4phones

A selection in the museum about the 4 people who voice the speaking clock.

You could hear each voice by picking up the phone and they selected relevant handsets from the time period of the speaker.

hp

Hewlett Packard is a name familiar to anyone who who works in Information Technology (I have a HP Elitebook on my desk at work).

Here, a nuclear clock, actually made by HP.

rock

In another part of the museum, were shown “the oldest thing you’ll ever touch”.

A 4.5 billion year old meteorite. Formed at the same time as the Sun and the Earth.

test

Lots of cool AV stuff, including this simulation for planning to put a satellite into space.

You get to make various decisions and video’s of people in your team, brief you on various things.

At the end, a BBC news thing tells you if your mission was successful.

yuri

In a small garden outside, we end our trip with some coffee next to this statue of Uri Gagarin.

queens_house

Another museum, called the Queens house (picture taken in the great hall).

Basically, a very nice old building where there are loads of interesting old paintings (it took me 2 hrs to get Nikki out of here !).

armada

The one I was interested in.

The Armada portrait of Queen Elisabeth I, which her hand on a globe, and ships visible out of the window.

gmoth

But it’s a day out after all, and we have a few drinks in the Iconic Gipsy Moth where I learned a few more words of cockney.

We head to the “Battle Cruiser” for some “Britney Spears” – to the “Boozer” for some “Beers”.

nikki_entrance

We look across the Thames, and I can see Canary wharf (the outside of the building was used in one of my favourite Dr Who episodes).

In the background, you can see the entrance to the Greenwich foot tunnel.

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Inside the tunnel.

It was originally built to get workmen from one side of the Thames to the other, so they could start work.

And with that, my tour of Greenwich is over.

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Train advise wasn’t the only thing  got while working at SGS.

A fab woman called Catherine (who ran the legal department) told me about a TV series called W1A.

It’s basically a fly on the wall documentary about the BBC. Some of the parodies are so extreme, that I wonder how senior management allowed them to make the series.

Anyway, each episode begins with the “head of values” arriving on his folding bicycle outside New Broadcasting House, W1A (where the series takes its name).

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I really wanted to see it first hand (and standing there, it’s a spectacular building).

ei

I’ve spoken before about the British museum, how much I like it, and how on every trip to London, I make a point of popping in, even if only for 10 minutes.

This time, there was a tie-in, to some of the trips I’ve got planned.

In March next year, I’m going on a cruise to Antarctica. We’ll take in various places, but 2 of the highlights for me, and places I NEVER thought I’d get to see are the Falklands and Easter Island.

Interesting then, only about 2 of the Easter Island “heads” have ever left the Island. This one is in the British Museum.

emarbles

Later this year, were going on a sort of back packing, Greek Island tour and spending some time in Athens.

I’ve been previously, but I’m looking forward to seeing the Acropolis museum now it’s finished and half of the Parthenon sculptures that will be on display there.

The other half of the sculptures (sometimes called the Elgin Marbles) are on display in the British museum and in the picture above, you can see them laid out on display.

lion_hunt

The Assyrian Lion hunt.

In Assyria, Lion hunting was considered the sport of Kings.

Shooting down these beautiful animals with arrows from a moving chariot isn’t my idea of sport. Artistically however, they tell the story really well and capture the tension of the event.

A sort of 645 BC face-book post if you will.

bt_tower

The BT Tower.

Until 1980, the tallest building in London and the UK.

I always remember it from the Goodie’s, when a sort of kitten climbed up it.

At one time, it had a rotating restaurant there, and I’d always wanted to go. I didn’t and now its closed for good, the message is clear…

Grab adventure when its present. You don’t know how long it will be around.

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Tower Bridge, which many tourists confuse with London Bridge.

On a previous trip, I found out, you can go inside on a tour.

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Walking along, inside the main crossbeam.

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The view from the crossbeam, showing the Thame’s, the Walkie Talkie and HMS Belfast.

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As you walk back across the other crossbeam, it has a glass floor, which can withstand the weight of an elephant.

The view was incredible, but I wasn’t going to walk across it.

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Walking down the staircase, its really Victorian looking.

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I was amazed to learn that up until 1974 the bridges operation was powered by steam (this is one of the massive steam engine’s, and just goes to show that the Victorian’s could build almost anything and make it work).

Today it’s powered by electro hydraulics.

thames

The bank of the river Thames.

Many of the crime drama’s I watch on tv, begin with a body being found somewhere like this.

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On the crime theme, New Scotland Yard, know and respected internationally for its outstanding detection and police work.

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I always celebrate remembrance Sunday, even when I’m away from home.

My freedom to travel and seek adventure was bought with the lives of people who fought for freedom and I’m constantly grateful for that.

In much the same way, the relative safety and security I enjoy at home is down to the police force here in the UK. That has a price sometimes too, and here, the eternal flame at NSY, dedicated to officers who have lost their lives in the pursuit of their duties.

pans

There are some things in London, I really like.

Here for example, a guy has laid out a selection of pots and pans and plays them like a drumkit for the entertainment of passers buy (and they in turn, but a few coins in his hat).

protest

And there are others that I don’t like.

Outside the house of commons, people protesting (for those reading this in other countries, freedom of speech and the right to peacefull protest are enshrined in law and sit at the very centre of everything that makes us British).

On this occasion, some native Burmese people highlighting the leader of Burma, San Suu Kyi, and the persecution of the Rohingya people.

No, they aren’t actually complaining about the persecution, they arguing for it to continue.

I remember reading once that freedom of speech, means in practical terms sitting politely while someone else says things that make your blood boil.

That’s what happened to me. Using our freedom of speech to safely campaign for the persecution of others is an outrage, I had to bare in silence.

commons

And to finish, we did an amazing tour of the house of commons.

It was easily one of the most interesting tours I’ve ever done, and incredible to stand in the chamber where Tony Blair, Margaret Thatcher and Winston Churchill have stood and changed the fate of the nation.

Unfortunately, for security reasons, I wan’t allowed to take any pictures. Very disappointing.

So, if you haven’t been to London recently, why not give it a go (its only £22 return after all 🙂

New Job & Adventures in Liverpool.

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Apologies for not updating the site recently.

Its been a busy few months. Mainly because I started a new job in January, which is fab, but very demanding on my time.

I’ve decided, in this blog entry, to say a bit about my new job and some of the exciting things I’ve done in Liverpool.

My adventure season normally starts at the beginning of March, I’ve been on 2 walking weekends already this year, and I’m off to Iceland this afternoon.

gear

So, on the 2nd of January, I return from India (and the end of my sabbatical, which included Andalusia and Namibia).

With one day to prepare, unpack my stuff and get ready, I start my new job on the 3rd of January.

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And what a job.

I’d be working with state of the art technology in a new data centre (I know there’s more money in development, but the truth is, I love computer infrastructures).

Best of all, I’ll be working on the 9th floor of the Liver building right on the waterfront in Liverpool.

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I had a legal meeting in Liverpool about 3 years ago, when I was working for a company in Warrington. Afterwards, I had a couple of drinks in the city and remember thinking how much fun it would be to work here. Now I do.

Best of all, I get to work with an old friend, Mike Delafield. We’ve done loads of cool projects and learned loads of clever technical things (which obviously I can’t discuss the details of).

We sometimes go to a pub called Ma Boyles after work.

jst

In a previous job, I used to get 2 trains to travel from Chester to Ellesmere port. Main problem was I couldn’t read, as I’d get distracted and end up missing my stop.

Now, I get one train from Chester and it gets to Liverpool in 40 mins. I’m also able to start at 8am, which means I can get home in the evening at 5:45 which presents loads of opportunities in the summer evenings.

From James street station, I walk along this amazing underground tunnel to get to work.

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Las Vegas?  Dubai?  that’s nothing, I’ve travelled with my company to the Isle of Man !.

orange

I still help out in support sometimes.

All the people in the office are really friendly and after I helped someone, I was delighted to receive this “thank you” Orange.

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Sportpesa are the shirt sponsor for Everton.

There are lots of charity initiatives, and the other Friday we could pay £1 and wear a football shirt of our choice.

I was going to buy a Manchester City shirt in support of my brother and Frank, but at £70, too much to be worn once.

Instead I wore the Australian rugby shirt I bought in Cairns.

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The view out of our window showing the Port of Liverpool Building and the Mersey.

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While I’ve been working in Liverpool I’ve made the most of the opportunity.

Right near my office, is the Albert Dock, where 30 years previously my life would change forever.

I literaly sailed from this exact spot when I did a month long adventure trip with Fairbridge Drake.

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The Terracotta warriors are on display in Liverpool so one lunchtime I went over to see them.

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In a building nearby, they have the longest Lego bridge in the world.

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After work, we went to the Royal Court to watch Council Depot Blues.

Hilarious, and the music was really good.

scouse

A local dish I’d heard a lot about.

I decided to visit Philpotts for lunch and try some “Scouse”.

It was actualy really nice.

cinema

This picture is a bit rubbish, but its just before the start of The Black Panther (cinemas can get a bit upset when you start pointing camera phone’s at the screen during a performance).

At the cinema in Liverpool 1, I got my first experience of an IMAX screen. Expensive, but completely imersive (so just as well, the film was really good).

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Finally, a trip to the Liverpool Philharmonic to see Bill Bailey.

One of the most innovative comedian’s I’ve ever seen, I howled laughing when he pointed out that a bird called a “lune” had featured heavily in the Manchester music seen (seriously, it was true and I couldn’t believe it).

As I said earlier, I’m off to Iceland in about 3 hours, so thanks once again for reading, and:

Near and far, the search for adventure continues.

Delhi & Agra 2017

Comming towards the end of my sabatical, I’d just returned from an amazing trip to Namibia.

So what next…

Well, Nikki and I like to get a way at Christmas (although usualy places close to home like Cyprus or Malta). India looked a good fit, but its somewhere I’d been before and Nikki hadnt.

But with a bit of tweaking, I could create a trip that would suit us both.

map

I found a trip called Mughal Highlights with the adventure travel company Explore. It looked a perfect fit.

On my previous trip, I’d travelled west to east from Delhi to Varanasi (and ultimately Kathmandu).

I found a trip with loads of new things to see, yet lots of must see sights for Nikki.

Delhi and Agra would be duplicated from my original trip, but I saw almost nothing of Delhi the first time and Agra, and the Taj Mahal are always worth a 2nd visit.

Packed and ready to go, with my “new” sandals (which, due to it being winter I never got to wear), Tilly hat, first aid kit and emergency repair kit. Last but not least, the ubiqitous chocolate limes.

Off all the trips I’ve been on, the flying expirience was the worst by far, due to a series of what I can only call bad luck.

We arrive at the excelent Manchester airport at 5am. Drop our bags and then we can get some coffee and nice breakfast. But whats this, theres a problem with the “machines” we have to stand up and queue for an hour and 40 mins.

The delay means we have to rush through to get our plane. Some nugget in security has tried to bring an iron through security which holds things up further.

We get to the plane, which is delayed. On landing in France, we run to get our flight to Delhi, desperate not to miss it. Then once on the plane, the pilot keeps us on the ground for 2.5 hours to give other people a chance.

Ok, so at least now were on our way to India.

We land, have the farcial thing of some sort of annoying paper imigration form (that could have been issued with our visa. We have to find all sorts of details, find something to lean on and write it out (and its midnight and were exausted).

Then some sort of amatuer security thing with finger prints. Which meant from Landing it took nearly 3 hours to get out of the airport.

Which meant that the transfer we’d booked had already left and we had to get a taxi. The taxi drive gave us some rubbish about a big tip to feed his family. I threw the money at him and went into our hotel.

Oh, did I mention I had a really bad cold ?

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No matter, we’ve arrived. A hot shower, comfortable bed and some sleep.

In the morning, we had some breakfast and then decided to go out exploring (the tour didnt officialy start until late afternoon and sitting around isnt for me).

New neighourhoods are sprouting up all the time in India. In this case, the New Friends colony, split into areas like zone G where we were staying.

On our orientation walk, we come across this sign.

Later, our tour begins and first thing is our guide Abi. I won’t bore you with the details, but simply put, he was an amzing guide.

An early introduction to the contrasts of India.

We travel on the underground, and I see the woman only carriages I’d heard about.

The platform and carriage are bright, in good working order and spotlessly clean.

We ascend into the old town.

You can see the difference, it was filthy and squalid.

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The best way to see this part of the town, is by cyclo.

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Abi pointed out that the technology boom in India was great, but getting hold of a good electrician was still a challenge (as you can see from the high quality electrical work in this picture).

The Jama Masjid mosque.

You can see a lot of smog in the background, but the building itself was spectacular.

I had to pay a bit to borrow some flip flops (and pay someone to keep an eye on my shoes).

Nikki had to wear this sort of dressing gown thing.

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Walking from the mosque, we pass the famous Red Fort.

A Mughal fort, befitting a tour called Mughal highlights. A world heritage site, the Prime Minister hoists a flag here every year on indipendence day.

And then onto our air conditioned bus.

The Airforce building has aeroplanes mounted outside.

I imagine it’s so people can find it more easily and if they arrive at the wrong place and find tanks, they know theyre in the wrong place.

The Qutb complex.

<say something historic about it>

Quwwat-ul-islam arch. All thats left of the building constructed in 1193 and in the background the Qutb Minar tower.

Driving around once it goes dark, we get to see the Governement building from a distance and The India gate, a momorial to 70,000 Indian soldiers who died in the first world war.

We finish off the evening with a few beers and a delicious curry.

It was the most expensive meal we ate on the whole trip and cost about a tenner.

I guessed it would be expensive, as it was above a Lexus dealership.

The next day we do a quick visit to Hamayans tomb.

Another Mughal building, it was spectacular to look at, I just wish there had been some sunshine.

Like the Taj Mahal, it was symetricaly perfect.

truck

And then were off on our way to Agra.

We passed these 2 people sat on the top of a truck, with a quilt over them to fend of the cold.

They were really friendly and waved at us.

taj1

Get cleaned up in our hotel, then its out to see the Taj Mahal.

taj2

I’d seen it before, but just like last time, I was left speachless.

music

In the evening we eat some Thali food and are entertained by musicians.

ent1

The following day, up bright and early and were off to see the Agra fort.

I was really looking forward to this. Thing is, the Taj is amazing, but all you can really do is look at it.

This thing is A FORT and I’m basicaly a boy in a mans body.

ent2

Inside, were introduced to a local guide and expert who talks us through the various parts of the fort and their history.

af1

Half of the fort is closed off, as it’s still used by the Indian army (Parachute Brigade), even to this day.

grass

Diwan – I Kas, the hall of private audience. Originaly used by Akbar and great and later by several of his descendents.

af4

The Throne of Jahangir. Made from Belgian marble.

When the “British” attacked, they fired a canonball, which hit the throne, bounced off and made a hole in the wall nearby.

af3

Shah Jahan Mosque.

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The battlements of the fort, showing high walls, a moat and a gap between the outer in and inner walls where Tigers roamed.

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And were off on the road again.

Namibia 1

Standing on the Waterberg Plateau

Early in my life, I was inspired by the Adventure fiction novels of Wilbur Smith.

One of my favourites, The Burning Shore, takes place in Namibia.

Namibia is quite an expensive place, and would require 3 planes just to get to it, and 3000km driving in a truck to see it all, but I knew it would be worth it.

Above, I’m standing in front of the Waterberg Plateau in the mustard coloured Rohan jumper I’ve been wearing a lot this year.

Arriving at Namibia airport

We arrive at Hosea Kutako International Airport after travelling for nearly 30 hours.

The airport is 45km from our first stop, the capital Windhoek.

We needed to change money and buy sims for our phones. I would have preferred to do it later, but these sorts of things are best sorted out at the airport and I was pleasantly surprised by the professionalism of everyone who worked there.

A taxi ride, and we arrive at the Safari Hotel, a really large hotel complex that was used as the start and end point for expeditions run by several companies like Explore (who we went with).

It was a bit out of town, so we decided to have a dip in the pool and relax at the bar for a few pints (you can guess which one of us did which).

I tried to stay awake as long as I could to combat jet lag, then off to bed around 11pm Namibia time and a deep sleep.

View from the Independence Memorial Museum, looking down on the Alte Feste (Old Fort)

We’d arrived early and our tour was due to start at 6pm that evening, so we decided to head into town and do some exploring.

The Alte Festa (or Old Fort) is the oldest surviving building in Windhoek and built by the Germans during colonial times.

Inside is a statue called The Rider. Quite controversially, it is a symbol of German victory during the Herero/Namaqua war in 1904.

Outside the Independence museum

The newer Independence museum, has a statue of Sam Nujoma, Namibia’s first president, holding a copy of the constitution.

I thought the building looked a bit like a coffee machine. It was built by North Korea and stands on Robert Mugabe avenue.

Revolutionary propaganda

Inside, lots of propaganda stuff.

Reasonably interesting, but mostly pictures of people and some shocking paintings of massacres.

Only thing was, if you didn’t actually know what event it referred to, there was no text there to tell you.

A major visual display, didn’t work and I found the section about life before colonialism, where everyone lived in peace and harmony a little bit unlikely.

But otherwise, an interesting museum which focused more on politics than facts.

Bow and arrow and other San artifacts

Far more interesting to me, was the Owela museum, which had details about different tribes and how they lived.

Of special interest was a section on the San people. Up until something like 1940, people were not only allowed, but actively encouraged to “shoot Bushmen and wild dogs on sight”.

They can live comfortably in a desert where most people would be dead in 10 hours and have lived the same way for the last 20,000 years.

A wikiup inside a museum

I find shelter building fascinating, and in the past I’ve had a go at building a Wikiup.

This one in the museum was built by 2 local woman who were featured in the exhibit.

Fallen Meteorites outside the shopping centre

We continue wandering around, and find the Gibeon meteorites.

In any other country, they would probably be in a museum. In Namibia, they’re next to a shopping mall on Post Street.

We decide to get a taxi back. Our driver (a young man) invites us back to his car. It has no seat belts, I sit in the front, Nikki sits in the back with his 2 “girlfriends”.

As the car careers off at speed there is some sort of African rap screaming out of a cd player and an open pocket knife on the dashboard (no keys are used to start the car …)

But, despite a terrifying journey, he gets us back to our hotel and says a smiling thank you as we pay him. You don’t get things like that happening when you travel with Thomas Cook.

Later, once the official tour begins, our guide points to the area where we got the tax and said “don’t go walking around there”.

An itinerary map of our Namibia trip

Our tour meeting begins at 6pm sharp and were introduced to our Explore guide. Wendy was South African, very tall and incredibly well organised.

Our driver Shepherd from Zimbabwe, was quietly spoken but having driven across deserts and mountains for 20 years new his job inside and out.

A detailed itinerary is supplied. We’ll travel over 3000km by the end of the trip.

We have dinner, get a few drinks and retire to bed.

Inside our bus with Wendy at the front

In the morning we see the bus that will take us across Namibia. The seating was raised so we could see things more easily and underneath in the hold, were tables, chairs, shovels and just about everything you’d need for an adventure.

At the front of the upstairs cabin, it even had a freezer and places to charge phones and laptops.

And with that, we load our bags, stock up on water and head for the Zebra River Lodge.

Truck stop, preparing for lunch

We travelled 284km on our first day. Driving on tarmac roads for part of it was fine, but once we got onto the open tracks, it was really hard going.

We had lunch on the trail most days.

Typically, Wendy would cook an amazing lunch, served on a big table near a tree to provide shade.

The food was excellent (vegan and lactose intolerance aren’t widely acknowledged in Africa, so she did really well to cook for everyone without incident).

It was nice to sit on a comfortable chair in the bush and have a can of lager afterwards.

Our room at the Zebra lodge

We arrived at the Zebra River Lodge around 3:30pm and are shown to our rooms.

Our accommodation on the trip notes had been described as basic, but I found them all to be the lap of luxury like the one above.

Zebra lodge weaver bird at its nest

In the afternoon, I sit on the terrace and watch this Weaver bird construct its nest. I’m not normally into Ornithology, but some of the birds I saw in Namibia really were fascinating.

I’d see something even more fascinating the following day.

Zebra Canyon at Sunset

There were a number of interesting trails and hills nearby.

We went walking for a couple of hours.

Pouring rain outside the Zebra lodge

But this is Africa after all.

Twenty minutes after we get back, the gorgeous sunny day is transformed as torrential rain and then hail batter the hotel terrace.

Nikki celebrating her birthday with the Zebra lodge staff singing

We had dinner on the terrace later that evening. Wendy had realised it was Nikki’s birthday from her passport and laid on a really nice cake. All the kitchen staff came out and sang happy birthday 🙂

Enormous birds nest

Today we’d be doing a 360km round trip to a place called Sesriem and the start of our real adventure.

We stop at the Sesriem gate and get some coffee. With time to wander around, I find this.

Believe it or not, this is also a Weaver nest.

A bit of a sort of apartment block idea, it has multiple nests inside. It’s possible for a chick to grow up, find a mate, find a chamber inside the nest and have her own chicks without ever leaving the nest.

Walking through the desert

We have to use local jeaps once we get to the main area. Not well organised at all, and we are standing in baking heat.

After much faf, and superb organisation by Wendy, were off careering through the soft desert sand.

Were going to see one of the worlds most incredible sights – The Deadvlei in the Namib desert, the oldest desert on earth.

Sossusvlei sand dunes

As we disembark, some people decide to go off climbing sand dunes. I enjoy a flat walk-in and get my camera ready.

Deadvlei salt pan

Deadvlei is a salt pan surrounded by the tallest sand dunes in the world.

Inside it’s really quiet and serene, and the dead trees growing everywhere make it quite spooky.

After 40 minutes, we head back. A pretty amazing experience.

High sand dune with an Oryx sheltering under a tree

As we drive back along the desert highway, we visit “Dune 45” although that sounds like the name of a local nightclub in Newton Heath, it actually relates to a very popular sand dune which is 45km from the Sesriem gate.

It’s very popular with Japanese tourists as its right next to the road and easy to get too.

I took this picture of the dune, with a tree at the foot and an Oryx relaxing in the shade. I think it’s probably the best photo I’ve ever taken and I’ve even had it framed and put up at home.

Inside Sesriem canyon

We wander around in the Sesriem canyon.

Sesriem means six thongs. Six thongs of rawhide rope would be tied together and a bucket fastened to the end.

It would then be lowered down into the canyon to collect water.

Our accomodation at the Zebra River Lodge

Back to the Zebra River Lodge.

It had been a really long day, so something to eat, bottle of wine and off to bed.

The open desert

Up early today and were heading for Swakopmund where we’ll be staying for 2 nights.

I just put this picture up to show you the view we saw for most of the day.

Honestly, in a whole hour you’d see nothing but desert.

The small town of Solitaire

We stop off at the famous “town” of Solitaire.

A bloke and his wife bought some land, built a cottage and then a few other things. The wife’s brother joined them, but then the wife left.

The two of them ran the “town” together. It’s on a main highway, so the bakery is very popular (I had a Viennese whirl, I really didn’t think I’d get to eat one while I was in Africa!)

They also have old farming equipment and cars (like the one above) which are painted in nice colours.

Best thing I liked about it was they actually have an air strip, and wealthy people can fly in and get cakes.

Namibia 2

Me standing next to the Tropic of Capicorn

We stop briefly at the Tropic of Capricorn.

People had put loads of stickers and rubbish on the sign, so it was a bit difficult to read.

Kuiseb Canyon, where the heroe's of sheltering desert lived for 2 and a half years

As we drove through the desert we reached this interesting area.

Many of the people on the trip had been reading The Sheltering Desert by Heno Martin.

In the book, 2 pacifist geologists refuse to fight in the 2nd world war. Faced with the option of internment, they run away and live a Robinson Crusoe existance for the next 2 and a half years.

This is where they lived.

Dolphins at Walvis Bay

We arrive at Walvis bay where Manfred De la ray and Shasa Courtney have their first fight. Neither realising the other is his brother.

Although that didn’t happen in real life, like many of the places I saw, it featured in the stories I’ve read, and they brought books read 30 years earlier to life.

Flamingo’s are fairly common in this area and as a special treat, there was a family of Dolphins as well.

Swakopmund beach with a confusing sign,

We continue on to Swakopmund (in what was German south west Africa).

We’re staying in a sort of hostel called the Dunedin Star (a ship quite famous to the area).

The beach has this interesting sign, that says “swimming at your own risk” and then 6 things you aren’t allowed to do (one of which is shooting!) but most interesting is no swimming. A contradiction?

Staying here for the next 2 nights, we have a free day the following day and there’s loads to do here.

Our guide with a map of Namibia drawn in the sand

The next day starts early with The living desert tour.

About 30 of us piled into 4 off road vehicles. There were 4 staff who rooted around in the desert to find interesting things to show us.

The basic idea is to show that although the desert looks like a dead place, it’s thriving with plant and animal life, with a wealth of interesting rocks and minerals.

A brief explanation with a sand drawing of Namibia and the places it borders.

Our guide explained that although Africa is known for the big 5, in the desert, we look for the little 5.

Originally the little 5 were Chameleon, Sidewinder snake, Lizard, Cartwheeling spider and Gecko.

The challenge was to see if we could find all 5 during our morning in the desert.

The tour was very environmentally concious and they had stopped seeking out the cartwheeling spider, as it takes 3 days for it to rebuild its home in the sand.

A Chameleon

Instead, it was substituted with a Scorpion. We got to see them all including the Chameleon above.

Railway line leading off into the distance

An absolutely brilliant experience I’d highly recommend if you’re visiting.

As we drive back, we pass this disused railway line, that seems to go on for ever.

Animals in the Swakopmund museum

Back in town, we get some lunch (one thing I love about Africa, is they are unapologetic meat eaters).

Then we look around the Swakopmund museum.

Loads of interesting things including lots of stuffed animals (not to everyone’s taste, but I found them fascinating).

They also had some old equipment that the early settlers would have used. Once again I’m reminded of the burning shore and a cart of the type Lothar De La Ray used in the desert and a Mauser carbine used in a major plot development.

Landrover from the 1950's

I read once, that 85% of all the Land Rovers ever built were still driving.

This one had been donated to the museum, originally shipped from the UK in the late 40’s.

It still works.

Model ship built by a POW

This 1:6000 model of the German cruiser “Nurnberg” was built by Konny Zander whilst imprisoned in an internment camp.

Built from jam and other food tins with melted down toothpaste tubes as solder.

It took him 7 months to make, and all the parts are moveable.

Inside the Tug restaurant

We had intended to visit the Snake museum, but after so much travelling in the truck, decided just to wander around and explore in the sunshine.

We reached the pier and walked to the end. Nikki’s birthday “event” had been fab, but we hadn’t really celebrated on our own.

One of the best restaurants in the town is called The Tug and located at the start of the pier. We decide to have dinner there.

An artistic Pate "installation"

The food and service are superb and the building itself amazing.

Above is a fish pate I had as a starter. A simple dish, turned into this visually stunning creation.

start

The Burning Shore, takes its title from when Centain (the main character) is washed ashore on the Namib Desert. When I read the book the first time, I never thought for a single moment that one day I’d stand there.

And it was amazing, a place doesn’t earn the name Skeleton Coast by accident, the normal odds of survival here with no equipment and water are practically none existent (but it would have made a pretty dull book if she’d died 🙂

Here we arrive at Henties bay, on the skeleton coast and see the Ziela, a fishing boat run aground in 2008 and left for scrap like so many other here.

Cape Cross Seal Colony

This website is named johnsunter.com, The adventures of an ordinary person.

So, I tell it like it is. I think it’s perfectly ok to tell the truth and not everything is for every traveller.

In my case, I found the Cape Cross Seal Colony rather boring. Once you’d seen the first 5 seals, the others were rather mundane and they smelled horrendous.

Walking in the Brandberg mountains

Our next destination is Damaraland where we’ll be staying at the White Lady lodge hotel.

But first, we’ll be doing a bush walk, to see the famous white lady cave painting.

A scorching hot day, but trekking through the Brandberg mountain range was one of the highlights of the trip for me.

White lady paintings. Bushmen paintings dating back at least 2000 years

There are over 1000 cave paintings in the area, but the main one to see is the White Lady (probably because its the most accessible).

Considered academic opinion is that the White Lady is actually a male shamen panted in ritual white, carrying a bow.

Opinions vary on the age of the painting, but the consensus is around 2000 years old.

Our cottage in Brandberg

Our cottage at the White Lady lodge. Typical of the kind of amazing accommodation we used on the trip.

The area was quite spread out and it was possible to rent golf carts and go exploring.

Unfortunately we didn’t have time to do that, so we headed for the main hotel complex to relax.

The swimming pool at our hotel

Although I shy away from “beach holidays” that doesn’t mean I don’t like to sit out in the sunshine at the end of the day.

It’s normally Nikki who goes for a swim, I usually find somewhere with lager.

Our food this evening was a barbecue that Wendy and Shepherd cooked by the pool. The steak was cooked just right and one of the nicest I’ve ever eaten.

Have a steak barbecue while watching the sun set.

As the evening progresses, we wander off in small groups to watch the sun set.

Warning about feeding animals

Once it got dark, we headed indoors. I saw this interesting sign on the bar.

Reading with Alan

We’re now moving to the safari part of our trip and the next morning drive to the Etosha Safari Lodge.

Extremely comfortable. So comfortable in fact, that instead of joining an afternoon visit to a Himba village, I decide to stay behind and relax.

I was assisted by the hotel’s cat, Alan.

I had been re-reading The Burning Shore (I’d read it 4 times previously). As I sat there, I came to the end of the book. Quite a special moment, that’s a bit difficult to describe.

Some Himba tribal ladies

As it was, I’d see some Herero ladies the next day, in their spectacular clothes.

They were selling souvenirs and crafts.

Horendous carved animal

I stupidly purchased some sort of hyena/leopard/giraffe carving of Frankenstein design.

As our truck left, they must have howled laughing at the stupid westerner who’d paid good money for this monstrous thing!.

Desert Elephant

We head out towards the Etosha national park (one of the highlights of the trip, considering the trip itself is a travel highlight in its own right).

Before we get there, we see this desert elephant at the side of the road.

Namibia 3

A pictorial book of animals in the Etosha national park

Nikki got me a book with pictures of all the animals in the Etosha national park and I had great fun ticking off all the one’s I saw.

lion

Although all African animals are special, it’s the cats you really go there to see (and that means getting up early).

The park rules around viewing the animals were very strict.

The truck was only allowed to go a certain distance from the animals and when an American group in their own vehicle got too close the park rangers intervened.

The waterhole viewing point at Etosha National Park

After the luxury of our previous accommodation, we’d now be staying for 2 nights in the state run Safari Lodge in the park.

The surroundings were superb and it was an excellent base to explore the park.

The service levels however were another matter. They didn’t cater for vegetarians for example, and simply buying tickets for a night safari was like getting tickets to the FA cup!

I visited this waterhole to view animals and didn’t see a single thing (although it was a nice place to sit).

Cape Starling, Etosha

Another lunch cooked at the camp by Wendy and while relaxing (which means while I was having a beer) I saw this colourful Starling waiting to snack on our leftover food.

In our jeep on night safari

We head out on a night Safari.

A lion at night

We saw loads of animals on the night safari, my favourite was this Leopard.

A jeep with built in accomodation

Breakfast time in the camp the following morning and I go for a walk around.

Some people were unlucky enough to have tents, but we had a chalet.

I would have traded a night in our chalet for a night in this vehicle I saw, which had a sort of roof top shelter for sleeping in.

A group of Zebra

During one of several game drives in the park, a dazzle of Zebra (yes, that really is the collective noun for Zebras).

Giraffe, Etosha

And the ubiquitous Giraffe – the lighthouse of the bush.

or

Not as exciting as the cats we saw, but the Oryx really is a beautiful animal.

After an amazing few days in Etosha, it’s time (sadly) to leave.

But we haven’t seen the end of wild animals.

Cheetah Conservation Foundation.

We visit the world respected Cheetah conservation fund, a sanctuary with literally dozens of Cheetahs.

The park is run mostly by volunteers and their main source of income is providing dogs for local vilages who bark at Cheetahs to make them leave the livestock alone.

This means the local villagers don’t need to shoot the Cheetahs and the system works for everyone.

Cheetah Sanctuary

The Cheetahs were spectacularly beautiful animals.

Cheetah Sanctuary

Unfortunately, if a cat finds its way to the centre, before its parents have taught it too hunt, the professionals there are unable to assist.

So in this case, the Cheetah will be fed raw meet which it will eat in a bowl.

Nikki standing next to a giant termite nest

We head to the final stop on our journey, the strangely named Waterberg rest camp.

Here Nikki finds the largest termite mound we’ve ever seen.

wbmap

Great thing about the park was the area was full of trails and it was nice to wander around on my own exploring.

Exploring the Waterberg Plateau 2

A sort of overgrown rain forest, with wait-a-while vines.

Dik DIk at the Waterberg Restcamp

A Dik Dik.

A fully grown antelope, that’s the size of a dog. They were wandering around the camp and weren’t frightened of me at all.

They have one central area where we all congregated for drinks and later dinner.

The climb up to the Waterberg Plateau

In the morning, were up early and heading up to the Waterberg Plateau.

It took 45 mins to an hour to get up there, but it was well worth it.

A view of the actual Waterberg Plateau

The famous waterberg Plateau.

The view from the Waterberg Plateu

The view from the top, all the way to the Kalahari desert.

The Waterberg Plateau and German Graveyard.

In the morning, more exploring of trails around the park, then breakfast and were heading back to Windhoek.

Joe's beer house - a popular bar

Back at our hotel, we get cleaned up and head out for the groups final evening together at the famous Joe’s Beerhouse.

The beautiful government gardens

Nikki and I have an extra day booked, so the following afternoon, we have an organised tour of the town.

Above are the government gardens, with statues of various revolutionary leaders.

Corrugated steel buildings

The tour included a visit to a township.

I was surprised that most of the building were made of brick and had schools and hospitals nearby.

I realised that my idea of a township had come from a book based on townships in the 1930’s and 40’s. Our guide explained that things arent like that now and what I was talking about was more like a refugee camp.

But actually recently migrants to the area only have houses made of tin and a stand pipe for water when they first arrive.

Dinner on our last night in a place called 'NICE', Windhoek

Our final evening in Namibia and we decide on a top notch meal and wine.

A place called NICE – Namibian institute for culinary excellence, which trains young chefs

Inside, the service food and wine were superb. An evening for reflection and a lovely end to an amazing trip.

Tour advert showing Ronda bridge (which is actualy in Spain !)

But I had to end with the picture above.

As we got into a taxi to go to the airport, I saw this sign on a tour bus, offering all sorts of day trips.

I almost asked him to take us to that bridge 🙂 except I knew his couldn’t, as its in Andalusia in Spain and a bit far away from Southern Africa.

Still, top marks for marketing.

I’ve been to a lot of places, but Namibia really was amazing.

No update for 2 months !.

roony

Late last year, I had 2 months off to work on my house/repair bikes/maintain Nikki’s car/work with Nikki’s dad on the garden and Travel (I was lucky enough to do numerous trips in the UK and visit Andalucia, Namibia and India).

I spent Christmas day in a jeep looking for tigers in India and actually flew home on New Years eve. Once home, I had 1 day to get organised, then started my new job.

My new job involves me working for a software company in Liverpools famous Liverbuilding. Superb, as 3 years ago, I sat in All Bar one, with Steve from Phonak and I remember thinking how much I’d love to work in Liverpool.

The rewards as you can imagine are significant, but people dont give those away for nothing.

Loads of exciting new things to learn, but no free early mornings or lunch houres and when I’m home, I’m desperately trying to set up my old routine and get my house in order/meet up with friends and stuff like that.

I’ve turned the corner, but I just wanted to take a moment and thank the readers of this website.

Each year, I try and make it better then the one before. Last year I succeeded, I must have done at least 1000 exciting things, but the irony is, while your doing those things, you don’t have time to write about them.

For the first time in it’s 17 year history, johnsunter.com hasn’t been updated in a whole 2 months. I’m working to fix that and updating pages on Namibia and other adventures as we speak, but in the meantime thanks for your patience.

Near and far, the search for adventure continues…

Seeking adventure in Andalucia

Me standing in front of the bridge at Ronda

After receiving a brochure from Inntravel, I’d been reading about adventure holidays in Andalucia Spain.

Then I realised Nikki’s sister and brother in law have just bought a new house there which they’re doing up.

So, a chance to catch up with family, see their new house and find some adventure.

The Rock of Gibraltar

Lyn and Vic work out of Gibraltar, so we flew there, and I was delighted to see the rock once again.

Having lunch in La Linea

We cross the border into Spain and have lunch at La Linea.

It’s late October and the difference in weather from Chester is obvious. Warm with lots of sunshine.

Driving on the motorway with the roof down

From here, we jump in the car and drive to Algodonales where Lyn and Vic live.

I dont think I’ve ever driven on a motorway, with the roof down, so this was a first for me.

Outside Lyn and Vic's house in the Andalucian mountains

We arrive at their house, which is high in the mountains.

They also own a camper van (I hope to own one one day and explore the UK and Europe, once I’ve retired – see what happens).

View throug living room showing mountains and a reservoir

Inside the house, there are spectacular views of the hill side and the Zahara El Gastor, a reservoir where water sports are popular.

Its late afternoon by now, so we spend the evening having a barbecue on the balcony and I get to see Saturn through a telescope.

Pa Yoyo cafe and cheese shop

In the morning, were heading out for adventure, but first stop off for some essential supplies.

Tasting different sheep and goat's cheese inside the shop

In the UK, we normally have sandwiches when we go out walking, but for this trip, its been decided that well have picnics.

We stop at the excellent Payoyo cheese shop and purchase some sheep and goats cheese (which I’d never tasted before).

Overlooking the town of Grazalema

We arrive at the town of Grazalema. One of the famous white villages of the area.

It’s a sort of Chamonix of the Grazalema national park and the first point on the days mountain walk.

Map of the Grazalema national park

As you’d imagine, in a country the size of Spain, the national park is proportionally massive compared to the UK.

lunch1

But before we head into the mountains, we have a stop for coffee.

Walking in mountains with perfect weather

This mornings amazing walk, is only about 4 miles, but starting off high, has spectacular views and scenery.

Mountain view, down through a forest

The highest point on the trail, looking back.

View down a valley

After we reach the top, we loop back around and get this view down the Puerto del Boyar.

One of Andalucia's white villages

With our first walk complete, its time to relax (it is a holiday after all !).

Andalucia is famous for its white villages and we were delighted to visit our 2nd one of the day, Zahara de la Sierra.

med_fest

Not only that, but when we arrived, there was a medieval festival taking place.

The whole town had been transported back in time to 1483 to celebrate the Moros Y Christianos (the reconquest of the Kingdom of Granada by Castilla.

I like to be festive, so couldn’t resist joining in (when I say joining in, I dont mean costumes or any of that rubbish, I found a table and had a drink).

Map of the Via Verdi bike trails

After breakfast on our 2nd day, It’s been decided that we’ll rent some mountain bikes and do a section of the Via Verde trail.

There are over 6000 km of trails in Spain. Originally planned as a railway that would link even the smallest village, it ground to a halt during the civil war.

But the actual route’s are mostly complete and with tunnels and viaducts make superb cycling trails.

A car parked over 2 spaces

I read once, that a patriot is someone who loves his country, and a nationalist is someone who hates everyone else’s!.

I’m neither, though I do sensibly recognise differences between European nationality like Germans who are organised etc.

I’d been told that “Spanish parking” was among the worst in the world. I can’t comment on that, but the picture above says a lot.

Holiday bicycles

We arrived to pick up our bikes.

The bikes were modern, in excellent condition and they had a full workshop to effect any repairs.

Other thing I noticed was the 4wheel bicycle “things” of the kind I’d not seen since a family holiday in Rhyl when I was 10!.

A cycling trail

We were issued with bikes, a simple map (pictured above) and to my surprise, no helmets.

I asked about tools and spare inner-tubes. They explained that the trail is fairly flat and interspersed with roads. If we have a puncture, just call them from our mobiles and they’d send someone to help.

Thankfully, not needed the whole day.

We set off and the scenery and weather, quite the nicest I’ve ever cycled in.

One of the long tunnels on the trail

The route has lots of tunnels. Quite exciting and reminiscent of the Monsal trail.

Having a picnic on the trail

There were a few cafe’s and nature exhibitions along the way. I stopped a few times, as the heat was baking hot (but that didn’t take away from the fun)

After a few hours, we stop for our picnic. A civilised affair, with red wine.

Me on a bike with wearing cycling gear

As well as tunnels, the route features some viaducts and I was able to stop and get this picture.

I was glad I took my specialist cycling clothes. It was baking hot and jeans and suchlike would have had me heading for home within an hour.

The days cycling complete, we head for home (we gave the bikes back, obviously 🙂

rond1

On the third day, an injection of culture is needed, so we head to an amazing place called Ronda.

A very popular tourist attraction, the bridge is an iconic symbol of the area.

Originally founded in the 6th century, Ronda has a population of 35000.

Spectacular bridge in Ronda

I’m neither geologist nor architect, but basically, Ronda was a town split between 2 sides of the El Tajo Gorge.

To make day to day living even viable, they built the spectacular Puente Nuevo bridge.

Bridges and walkways leading down to the lower levels of Ronda

We wander around the old town. It really was a fantastic place and due to its hight, had multiple levels.

Having lunch outside in a busy street

After lots of exploring, we decide to stop and have lunch.

Ronda's ancient Arab baths

Although the town was packed with tourists, there were a few places where you could find peace and quiet.

The Arab baths were such a place, and had a fascinating video explaining the many rooms in the baths and what they were used for.

Ronda also features a bull fighting ring – we didn’t care to visit.

Steps leading down

Casa del rey moro was fascinating.

It had a nice garden with Peacocks, but a walkway that led down to the bottom of the Gorge.

Dark wall with light showing through openings

Further down the steps, this room with amazing lighting effects.

Bottom of the steps on the waters edge with some other tourists

And at the bottom, the place where people could collect water or catch a boat somewhere.

Some houses and shops underneath a rocky overhang

We leave Ronda and drive to a place called Setenil.

Faced with a similar problem to the people of Ronda, the people of Setenil chose an alternative and simply built their town inside the Gorge.

Some houses on each side with a rock "roof"

We walked around the town and had coffee.

This was my favourite spot. Houses had literally been built around the rocks.

We head home and in the evening have dinner in Agodonales.

The Vinyard at Chinchilla wine

Day 5 of our trip, and in the morning we visit a local Bodega.

Chinchilla wine’s had been widely recommended so we decided to go along.

The owner of Chinchilla wine giving a talk on wine production

They showed us the vineyard, how the wine was made and then a wine tasting session with some Tapas.

We met an interesting chap from Finland. A wine importer, he’d brought his family along for a holiday.

A long, windy road heading high into the mountains

In the afternoon, we head for Sera de la Lijar.

You can see from the roads we drove on just how high up it was.

Paragliders launching from high in the mountains

The top of Siera de la Lijar is popular with Paragliders.

View showing hills and a lake from high in the mountains

Lyn had worked out a route for us to walk.

It was late afternoon and I was feeling a bit tired so I just sat and enjoyed the view.

Train stopped at Ronda

Our last day, and its sadly time to head home (but adventure can be added to any scenario).

A train runs from Ronda back to La Linea near Gibraltar.

Inside a Spanish train

It’s a 2 hour journey. There’s a monitor showing the progress of the train, and very comfortable seats.

A storks nest on top of a telegraph pole

The telephone lines running next to the trainline have become a home for local storks.

Back at La Linea, were picked up by Lyn and head across the border to Gibraltar.

Enormous floating hotel and small yellow "dolphin" boat

Back in Gibraltar I get a look at the famous (or infamous to the locals) Sunborn hotel and Casino.

Next to it, something I intend to do next time I’m there. The Dolphin boat, where you can go out and see Dolphins.

Inside Bianca's having drinks and dinner

I saw most of Gibraltar, last time I was here, on a superbly organised tour by Lyn.

On that occasion, eccentric thing I wanted to do was a have a drink in the famous Bianca’s, a sort of expat Mecca.

But it was closed for refurbishment.

This time, it was open, and we were able to relax and meet some of the people who’ve made Gibraltar their home.

Overall, a fantastic trip and I hope this provides inspiration for anyone thinking of going there. And special thanks to Lyn and Vic for providing accommodation and acting as tour guides.

Mountains, nostalgia and Jack the Ripper.

Me standing in the mountains.

Loads of cool and interesting things have happened over the last month.

Among, them an amazing achievement I set my sights on in my 20’s. It’s had extra focus over the last 2 years and with the assistance of a real friend I was able to complete it (more about that later).

I’ve also met up with an old friend from Fairbridge Drake and anther from IBM.

Three characters from Ripper street standing in a dark alley.

I’ve mentioned before the advantage of being on the virgin train mailing list and why everyone should be on it, so I was delighted once again to get a return journey to London for £22.

I always try to have a theme to my adventure projects and a simple list of objectives to add focus.

The theme for the early part of the day was a tv program (which has now finished) called Ripper Street.

The entire cast of Ripper Street, standing in an old fashioned street in Ireland.

Featuring 3 amazing characters and the work of “H” division, it was set around the streets of “Whitechapel” at a time after Jack the Ripper.

It dealt with many relevant topics of the era and showed the harsh grim reality of life in that place and time.

The main plot “meet up” area’s were Leman Street station house (the old name for police station) and the local public house, The Brown Bear.

Studio set showing the front of an old pub.

But of course that part of London no longer looks that way and instead the whole thing was filmed in Ireland (the pub above is just the frontage of the Brown Bear, its only about 5 feet deep).

But the actual historical places still exist in London. I enjoy walking anyway, so worked out a 2 hour route that would allow me to soak up the atmosphere of London on the way.

A 70's building which is now a closed down police station.

After a wander along the Thames I arrived at Leman Street Police station.

It seems to be closed down now, and at the entrance, it says “If you need a police officer call -xxx”.

Outside the Brown Bear pub in Whitechapel.

More disturbing the nearby pub.

I had set my heart on posting a picture of me drinking a pint in the Brown Bear.

It appeared to have closed down, although a first floor window was open so someone obviously lives there.

Disappointed, but loads of other stuff to do, so I’m off on my way.

Outside the Anchor pub on the bank of the river Thames.

To cheer myself up, I head for the south bank and have a pint at the Anchor.

This pub has special significance as it’s featured in the original Mission Impossible film (at the end where Ethan and Luther have a pint by the Thames and Luther tries to talk Ethan into staying in the IMF).

A view across the river thames.

I head back to St Pancras station to meet up with my friend Nadiah. I’m quite excited, as although we communicate regularly, we haven’t met face to face for some time.

We originally met on the Fairbridge Drake Hambros Cruise (FD had 12 centres across the UK and each centre got to pick 2 trainee adventurers to take part in a month long trip that involved sailing, mountaineering and canoeing across France and Spain).

The world felt so small and limited to me when I was 20. Nadiah was an incredible woman who never seemed fazed by anything and capable of doing whatever she put her mind too.

Someone who showed me what the world could be and quite simply, I dont think I would have achieved half the things I have without meeting her.

After some quick refreshments at the station, we wander to the British Museum and see the Elgin Marbles and the Rosseta stone (I consider it a privilege to be able to see these things and its great to be able to share those experiences).

But there’s so much to talk about and the time flies. Before I realise it, I’m quite hungry.

We wander down to the bank of the Thames where we find a quiet spot and have a picnic.

OK, this is johnsunter.com and we always tell the truth here. It wasn’t actually a picnic, I bought some sandwiches and stuff from Phillpots.

Me sitting with my friend Nadiah.

We find an atmospheric London pub called the George. A chance to escape the hustle and bustle of London and relax.

It was great chatting to a someone who new me such a long time ago and surprising how little we’ve changed.

Reflecting on life in my 20’s and comparing all the things I said I’d do to how my life actually is :).

Nadiah heads home and I wander back to Euston, get a bottle of red wine for the journey and with a sense of nostalgia, listen to 80’s music all the way back to Chester.

A hospital scene on stage from the production "The Royal" in Liverpool.

Although obviously proud of Chester’s new Storyhouse theatre, Nikki and I still love to go out for the evening to Liverpool (if you can just block the train home out of your mind).

The Royal court theatre is somewhere we visit a lot and this time. They were showing a production called the Royal, about Liverpool Royal hospital, which is being closed down and moving to a new more modern hospital.

The play is very topical, as the real Royal hospital is closing down at the time of the production.

A crass comedy, but really connected emotionally with the audience and and incredible scene with a wrecking ball.

Oliver, Jess, Dale and I sat at a table having dinner at Mogli in Liverpool.

A few evenings later, and I’m back in Liverpool again.

I meet up with my old friend Oliver (who I worked with at IBM), his lovely wife Jess and his brother Dale.

Their wedding in Las Vegas some years ago was my first trip outside Europe. They now live in Chicago, so I try to catch up with them whenever they’re in the UK.

Instead of our usual meet up destination in Manchester, we decide on something different and I suggest Liverpool. He’s due to arrive before me, so I recommended a visit to Liverpool museum.

I could use lines and lines of text describing the museum, what’s in it and how superb it is. Instead I’ll simply say this: As a Mancunian, I’m embarrassed we dont have a museum as good as that. Go and see it if you get the chance.

After a few drinks in All Bar One, we went for a curry. I’ve always enjoyed modern fusion food, but Mogli was on another planet altogether, with small dishes served in a Tapas style and names like “Gunpowder” Chicken.

Work the next day, wished them a safe journey home and I promise I’ll get to Chicago at some point even if its only to taste authentic Pizza and have a go on your boat.

My friend Matt, walking up a hill in Snowdonia.

Years ago another girl I met through Fairbridge Drake (Jane Smith) gave me a picture of a place called Crib Goch in Snowdonia.

My mum took a liking to it, and had it framed where it hung in the living room for over a decade. When I got my first and subsiquent houses it came with me and hung in a place where I’d see it every day.

Crib Goch is one of the most challenging walk/scramble routes in Europe. A knife edge ridge, that rises 700m in the first mile. An iconic challenge for any young adventurer.

Problem is, I’m not so young any more. As Jon Lennon wrote, life is what happens while your busy making other plans. The picture stayed on the wall and CG drifted down the to do list.

Well, I was still mad keen to do it, I just needed near perfect weather and someone daft enough to come with me.

Enter “millennial” Matt from work. It would be his 3rd Crib Goch ascent this year alone !.

The view looking back from Crib Goch, high in the mountains.

We set off and in no time at all, were really up high with some of the most spectacular views I’ve ever seen in Snowdonia.

Me eating a sausage roll.

A very “seat of the pants” project, so in all the excitement forgot to take a packed lunch.

I did however have my emergency sausage roll. I offered half of it to Matt. He declined.

Climbing up the craggy path to Crib Goch.

Open and craggy.

Overtaken by the moment, at one point I’m climbing 20 feet up a rock face un-roped.

From the H&S courses I’ve taken recently, I realise I’m taking an unnecessary risk.

I resolve to take it easy, most accidents on this mountain occur either due to ice or people climbing “steps”, becoming complacent and then getting injured.

Looking across the ridge at Crib Goch.

And up across the tops. What an incredible experience.

Lots of people on the top. A queue was forming. I was surprised to find that many people were much  slower than me.

We head back, and the anticlimax is walking back, down the Llanberis path (perhaps the dullest mountain trek in Europe).

Connecting with my inner “yoof” I took Matt and I for a slap up, all you can eat Macdonalds.

My Trekk bike, parked in my living room.

A few random things now.

You can see I bought this really cool rug to park my bike on.

It even has a bicycle logo at the bottom in case you didn’t know what it was for.

My friend Monika holding up a trophy.

My friend Monika on the left.

A fab girl from the Czech republic who spent time in the UK looking after Children and learning English.

We met through the Chester and District walking group and are still in touch on Facebook.

She won a prize in some sort of competition (probably running or cycling, I dont know which as it wasn’t in English, but congratulations anyway Monika 🙂

A forest scene in the Snowdonia national park.

A weekend later and were back in Snowdonia.

It amazes me that you can get a private twin room, in a perfect spot In Llanberis for only £32. We had booked 2 nights and dinner reservations at the Peak restaurant.

The picture above is what it should have looked like on Saturday and Sunday when we went out walking.

Unfortunately, it didn’t look like that at all. It was the worse weather I’ve ever seen in that part of Wales.

The battlements of Cearnarfon castle.

So bad in fact, that we had to do the tourist thing and head for Caernarfon castle.

As castles go, its one of my favourites.

Caernarfon castle viewed from high on the battlements.

And from a higher vantage point looking the other way.

A display in the Welsh Fuseliers museum, showing a Parang, some medals and some hats.

After wandering around for an hour or 2, we visited the Welsh Fusiliers museum contained in the castle.

I couldn’t believe how many theatres of war the regiment had fought in – everywhere from Burma and Bosnia.

A notebook on my desk with a to-do list on it.

Speaking of military things and history.

I was sat at my desk at home the other evening, planning some things to do (with obviously a glass of wine in attendance).

An old page or writting, showing Monty's plan for D Day.

I glanced at the daily Telegraph website and read this article about Monty’s plan for D Day, which was written on one page of A4.

I’m not pretentious enough to compare them, but I was struck by the co-incidence.

Me giving a travel talk at the Globetrotters.

Nikki and I were at Chester Globetrotters again on the 16th of October.

This time, instead of compering, we gave a talk about our trip to Burma.

The Grosvenor museum lecture theatre had over 60 people there and our talk ended to rapturous applause.

I still haven’t completed the Burma pages for johnsunter.com, I hope to have it done in the next week if you interested in the content of the talk.

Inside the Albion pub, showing memorabilia from the 2nd World War.

Afterwards we went for lunch to a place I haven’t been in years.

If you’ve never visited the Albion pub in Chester, your in for a treat.

It is literally a snapshot of how a pub would have looked during the 2nd world war.

Pam and Dave with drinks, sitting on a leather settee.

Speaking of eating and drinking, I’ve started going to a pub nearby called the Cornerhouse.

The picture above is my 2 friends Dave and Pam, after they’d been to see the film: A man called Ove.

I’ve always said, my 2 favourite films of all time are Gattaca and The Counterfeiters. I’ve now added A man called Ove to that list and the Chester film society are showing it on April 10th next year.

The Cornerhouse did a wine tasting the other evening and Nikki and I attended. The wine was nice but they did an amazing platter with different kinds of cheese and meat which was even better.

Overall, a smart new venue and like the films, Cornerhouse has been added to Brewhouse and The Coach house as my 3 favourite pubs in the city (and they all contain the word house in them 🙂

Some brand new Merrell trainers in a box just opened.

If you’ve met me in the last 10 years on any kind of adventure, I’ll probably have been wearing a pair of Merrell cross trainers.

For hills, there’s no substitute for proper walking boots (I prefer Saloman Quest 4D).

For every other environment Merrell Moab Ventilator, are in my opinion the best outdoor footwear you can get, from pub to canal towpath to forest and desert.

Recently, Merrell have launched Moab 2. The jury is still out on the new addition, but the brilliant news is that the “normal” ones have fallen in price.

I had 2 pairs delivered from Amazon for £100 (almost half price).

If your on the lookout for cross trainers, now is the time to buy.

A Fray Bentos steak and kidney pie, straight out of the oven.

Just for nostalgia, I recently bought a Fray Bentos pie.

For lazy cooking, they can’t be beaten.

Inside an art gallery showing a display of Pop art.

Wandering around Chester recently, I visited the Pop art exhibition in the old library.

If you haven’t been I highly recommend it.

A re-creation of wartime trenches.

In advance of my trip to Namibia, I’m reading The burning shore by Wilbur Smith.

A book I originally read almost 30 years ago and I imagined myself in the Kalahari desert.

But then I realised at the time that it was somewhere I would never see – well I’ll be standing there in 3 weeks time, so the lesson is never give up on your dreams.

The book begins on the Western front during the first world war.

I recently went to visit Cheshire military museum. They have all sorts of interesting things there, but this recreation of the trenches, brought some of the scenes I’d read about in the book to life.

A man sitting on a chair with 2 children. Looking thoughtfull as they ask him "Daddy, what did YOU do in the great war"

Another interesting thing was some propaganda pictures they had on display.

Article titled "what Germany said in 1914" describing what Great Britain will be like after they lose the war.

I should mention that I wanted to remain in the European Union and I’m proud to say I voted to to stay (In the words of Mal Reynolds from Firefly: I may have been on the losing side, but I’m still not convinced it was the wrong side).

Anyway, on the subject of our European neighbours, I saw this critique of Britain from 1914 !.

A parody showing how to draw pictures of Owl's.

Finally, I thought I’d finish with something a bit funny.

I had a book a few years ago, that showed how to draw animals (and which after a dozen attempts proved to me, that I’d never be any good at drawing).

My friend Andrew Ganley (a psychologist I met while working at Prestwich hospital and who I’ve always called “Ganders”) posted this on facebook.

Thanks once again for taking the time to read this. Near and far, the search for adventure continues…