Friday, 30 October 2009


Things have been so hectic since I got back from Oz so my blog has been a bit neglected. I was back at work the day after I flew back to London and pedro arrived back in the UK last week, he's straight back in Mark's garage, Dreamshack, so I'm sure he'll have the engine out and the oil leak cured in no time. Further investigation will tell but his theory is that I've bent the crank case when I hit something underwater fording a Pakistani river. anyway, more of that later meanwhile back to where I left off.....

I flew from Singapore into Brisbane where Tracey, my best mate from school days, lives with her husband Gary (aka Reg). They emmigrated to Cairns about 11 years ago and only moved into their new house in Brisbane a week before I arrived!

They were surprisingly organised...not a box in site...they were all hidden in the garage! I did however hear the occassional cry of "Where's....?" "I can't find.....?" etc Apparently Nelson the dog doesn't travel well, Tracey spent the 3 day drive from Cairns hanging out of the window to escape the smell of his farts! Reg found this highly amusing as he was in their other car towing the boat. Nelson seems to have settled into his new home now though.

In need of some rest, I spent a couple of days chilling out, walking Nelson round the bay, drinking copious amounts of wine and rum in the evenings and eating yummy aussie seafood!
I've been to Australia a couple of times before so as I only had 12 days I decided i'd rather spend the time catching up with friends and family than sight-seeing. Tracey and I did manage one day out though, we drove along the coast and took the ferry over to North Stradbrooke Island.
After a huge seafood platter lunch we figured we'd better walk it off with a stroll round the coastline.

Tracey insists she saw two turtles in this inlet, I couldn't spot seems every time I turned away they resurfaced, hmmm.

Big signs warned of weak cliff edges......

This didn't stop Tracey showing off her builders bum though!

I didn't spot the turtles, we did both see whales off this headland though! Unfortunately they were too far off shore to catch them on my poxy compact camera (my slr lies in a watery grave and the insurance didn't pay up quick enough for me to get a replacement before this trip) I was stoked anyway, I've paid for whale watching trips a couple of times and never spotted anything so to see them unexpectedly, just off the coast was amazing.
After a bit of shopping in the fab little shops on the island we had to floor it back in time to catch the ferry!

After Brisbane it was a (relatively) short flight down to Melbourne where my cousin Jodie and her husband Aaron met me at the airport. Jodie's going to hate this photo but she kept trying to escape the camera so it's the only one I have. If you look closely you'll see Aaron in the background preparing the traditional aussie barbie.
last time I saw Jodie she only had one baby, now there's three! Have you ever seen such cheeky looking monsters? Charlotte, Harley and Britney.
Britney was desperate for me to see her riding her pony so here she is at Pony club. They have four horses and on my first day in Melbourne i had the dubious pleasure of accompanying Jodie to the vets where her horse Cruize went in a stallion and came out a gelding! I'll spare you the photos!
Uncle Ted, my mum's brother, and aunty Carol. Really good to see them again after so long and mum was over the moon to see pictures of her brother looking so well.

The night before I had to go to Melbourne for my flight the children tried to feign illness so they could say goodbye. I placated them by agreeing to go to school with them in the morning.
Harley, Britney and Aaron's daughter Lauren.

Jodie lives in Toongabie which is a 2 hour drive from Melbourne, she drove me back in to town and I spent my last few hours before my flight with aunty Carol's sister Valda, her boyfriend and her son's Matthew, Robert and Nathan.
Last time Valda and the boys saw me I was in hospital with lots of tubes in me! They had come to the UK on holiday a few years ago. Towards the end of their stay we headed to Dublin for a few days where I collapsed and was rushed to hospital! It turned out I had Pancreatitis caused by gall stones...a LOT of gall stones (I told my doctor my stomach hurt!!) I was kept in for two weeks before being deemed fit enough to travel back to the UK for further treatment which wound up being five ERCP procedures and open surgery resulting in 6 months off work!!
With flights to catch it meant Valda and the boys had to leave me in hospital, catch the ferry back to Wales and drive the car, which I'd borrowed from a friend, back to London. They felt terrible about leaving me when I was so ill but really had no choice and my travel insurance were brilliant, they flew my mate Beth to Dublin to accompany me on my flight home.
All the same it was an emmotional reunion and they were very happy to see me back on my feet. Valda managed to dodge the camera though....I'll get you next time!!

Saturday, 10 October 2009

Thailand and Malaysia

After visiting Cope I was keen to get to Singapore as quickly as possible. I have to be back at work in London on 14th October which doesn't leave much time in Australia. So Thailand and Malaysia passed by quickly. I didn't want to waste time lost in Bangkok traffic so I took the ringroad, stopping for the night at Damoen Saduak.

The rooms in the guest house were dusty, dirty, had more cobwebs than the Addams family house and the bed sheet was a giant towel which was bizarre. The place had a kitsch wild west theme but was in a beautiful setting built over the canal and of course, near another gorgeous temple!

Damoen Saduak is famous for it's floating market on the canal. The guide book says it's not as "touristy" as the floating market in Bangkok. Of course the danger of guide books saying things like that is that it attracts tourists and the locals will cater to the tourists. Hence an abundance of tiger balm sales men and stalls selling tourist souvenirs. I have to confess to buying a few souvenirs and some of the beautiful silk scarfs.

A lot of tourists were hiring boats to "tour" the market which seemed like a bit of a con to me as you can walk round it all by the shore.
I bought some fruit from the boat ladies, just one condition, first I wanted to take a picture!

Just south of Damoen Saduak something rather special happened.....Pedro went round the clock!!!
00000 miles! Now if I want to sell him I can advertise him as "low mileage, careful lady owner, never raced or rallied" ;-)
At Hat Yai, a Thai town close to the Malay border, I faced a moral dilemma. These birds were for sale. I desperately wanted to buy one, set the bird free and then take the beautiful cage home for decoration, I thought they would look lovely with a trailing plant inside. Ultimately I talked myself out of it, figuring although I would have the satisfaction of seeing one bird go free, I would be encouraging the trade.

One of the more amusing juices available in Malaysian service stations!

Driving on to Penang Island I spotted a Volkswagon garage, Pedro wasn't sounding too great so we stopped in for a quick tune up and a carb cleaning.

White teddy enjoyed the surfing and I relaxed on the beach with a few Mojito's before a long, stressful drive to Singapore the next day leaving trails and puddles of oil behind us! The oil seal was replaced twice but didn't last long.

Due to the problems in China there is not enough time for me to drive around Australia, looks like I'll have to come back and do that as a seperate trip :-)
Pedro is now in a shipping container heading back to the UK. He wasn't allowed on the roll on/roll off ship because of his massive oil leak. I pointed out that technically he wasn't leaking oil anymore as it was all on the road, not in the engine. Unfortunately the shipping company like to be able to drive the cars on and off of the ship which would have neccesitated putting more oil in the engine....bringing us back to problem A. There's just no pleasing some people. I mean, the poor old car has just driven over 20,000 miles on some of the worst roads in the world!
Actually the shipping agents were wonderful; they made all the arrangements for Pedro to be shipped and got my flights booked so I was on my way to Oz next morning!

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

more Laos

From Vientienne I took a bus north to collect Pedro from the China/Laos border. A rock fall blocked our way so several of the guys got off the bus and moved the rocks. Sadly the Chinese transport company taking my car to the Lao border were not bright enough to use there initiative in this way. I received an e-mail from the Chinese tour company, who had already delayed us by over 3 weeks, saying that the transporter was stuck on the road because of a rock fall! It would be at least 5 days late! Border towns are usually pretty dismal, dodgy places so I decided to stay in Luang Namtha, 30km from the border, until it was time to collect Pedro.

Luang Namtha is a popular base for hikers, surrounded by rivers, paddy fields and a national park. Most of the other tourists I met on the bus to Luang Namtha were heading straight off hiking. As the tour company hadn't given me a definite date when my car would be delivered to the border I couldn't go on any hiking trips. Luang Namtha is a lovely, friendly town but quite small, after a couple of days walking around, looking at and sampling some of the gross food in the night market and buying bead bags and jewellery from the Akha ladies; I was running out of things to do.
Then I met Nicky, a kiwi girl, travelling through on her way to China. She suggested hiring motorbikes to explore some of the local Akha tribe villages. The only flaw in her plan was that I have never ridden a motorbike. So, I opted for an automatic model(the red one).
The Akha houses look quite flimsy, made from wood, reeds and straw. So it was quite surprising to see the odd satellite dish! Shortly after we set off it started raining. We parked the bikes under a tree in a village and were beckoned over by a local lady to shelter on her porch.
The family were lovely and offered us water. I was constantly amazed at how clean and smartly dressed the tribal people were despite their humble homes with no running water. The ladies clothes are beautiful and the men always wear sparkly white T-shirts!

When the rain stopped we rode on, arriving at a river, too deep to cross and with no bridge! We had to turn back, waving at the villagers as we passed through again. What a shame we couldn't speak each others languages, they could have told us "don't go that way, there's a deep river"

The tracks were pretty muddy and slippery and my first time riding a motorbike was quickly followed by my first time falling off a bike! This was just before my fall a little further up the track. I later realised that applying the Beetles off-road technique of gunning it through the soft stuff is entirely the wrong thing to do on a bike!

Eventually the day came when Pedro was due at the border so I got up early and took a bus from luang Namtha to the border town of Boten. I hung around the border all day but no Pedro. I had to find a place to stay in Boten and return next morning. Boten was exactly as I expected. Most of the hotels were full so I ended up at an over-priced Chinese monstrosity. I was kept awake all night by doors slamming and girls running around the halls screaming! I asked the concierge in the morning, were they prostitutes and completely un-phased he said yes. Apparently most of their customers are Chinese who come across the border to gamble in the hotel casino and use the prostitutes. The hotel and casino only accept Chinese currency so the Lao people do not benefit from this and the prostitutes are young girls from the local Lao tribes being exploited by the Chinese! It goes without saying I didn't like the town!

Pedro arrived at the border late the next but there was no way i was staying in Boten another night so I drove back to Luang Namtha. The guest house manager finally understood what i'd been talking about when i turned up with my car!

Next morning I went back to the border to finish the customs process then it was time to head south again. Arriving back in Luang Prabang I drove past a VW camper parked outside a guest house, well I had to stop! The camper lured me in, the gorgeous wood panelled room and massive bath sold it to me. A soak in the bath was just what I needed after my fall off the motorbike!
The camper turned out to be a bar so after a wander round the night market it was back for cocktail's and Lao Lao whiskey shots round the camper! Steph, a german lady I met in the market was clearly in need of a drink, she's been cycling round India and now Laos.

Worlds smallest Irish bar!!

The drive from Luang Prabang to Vientienne was stunning. How many times have I used that word in this blog! But it really was, I'll let the photos speak for themselves!

30kms from Vientienne there was an almighty bang and Pedro started running rough as old boots! I pulled over and took a look. Even with my limited mechanical skills the problem was obvious. Pedro had spat out one of his spark plugs. It was dangling on theend of the HT lead. The engine was far too hot to put it back straight away. Fortunately Pedro had picked a very pretty temple to break down in front of (although, as someone pointed out, you'd be hard pushed not to break down near a temple in Laos!) so I went for a look round while he cooled down.

I've never changed the spark plugs before and as it turned out I didn't do it very well as it popped out again about half a mile later. This time we were in front of a petrol station and the boy who worked there called his friend over to help me. The lads then invited me to have a beer with them. Their parents were a little confused to come home and find an English lady sitting in their front garden. Of course I drank mostly water with a few polite sips of beer as I still had another 30kms to drive into Vientienne.

Back in Vientienne it was time for Pedro to visit the Cope centre, of course everybody loved him and took his picture. I wrote about Cope in my last post but this time Rica and I were able to look around the workshops where the prosthetic limbs are made.

A diffused bomb on display in the Cope grounds. thousands of unexploded weapons like these litter the Laos countryside!

Donate to the Cope centre via my just Giving fundraising page at: