Friday, August 31, 2012

Kyrgyzstan

I had a day and night in Istanbul on the way from London to Kyrgyzstan. I thought London was busy chaos but man Istanbul was crazy! As I only had a short amount of time in the city I got a hop-on-hop-off bus and saw most of the sights, the most spectacular for me was the Blue Mosque.
Blue Mosque

From Istanbul I caught my flight into Central Asia, first stop Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan, arriving at 2.30am, ouch! Bishkek has a big US Airforce base for access into Afghanistan so there were heaps of military aircraft and personnel. I met up with the rest of my tour mates and we looked around Bishkek. The backdrop to the city is the 4800m+ Kyrgyz Alatau Mountain range which we could just see through cloud. Remnants of the Soviet era remain, a large statue of Lenin, which used to be in the main square and then was shifted to the back of the building and replaced with a statue of the local hero Manas.

Lenin statue in Bishkek

We then headed off for three nights camping. Overlanding is a mixture of camping, homestays and hotels. We have had some amazing camping spots, one in the mountains where we did a hike and the next nights by a river bed in a local farming area.  The scenery reminds me so much of home, especially Central Otago.

"Kristina" our truck at the camp site

Camp site on local farm land, with farmers gathering hay by hand
I am loving the overland experience, we have a great group of people, some of whom started the journey with me in Bishkek, others who started in Beijing and are going right through to Istanbul, 96 days in total! Camping has been fantastic, despite not being hardened to sleeping on the ground, and its surprising how cold it gets at night...I have been sleeping with puffer jacket and polar fleece on, but in the day its 30deg plus! We are on a cooking roster, which is more of an outdoors version of Master-chef, as it is a competition between groups to see who can come up with the most gourmet meals. I never thought I would have french toast for breakfast whilst camping!

We had a wander around the local village and had a look in the local school. We even bought eggs and fresh milk for breakfast and got to see a game of "goat polo" where they kill a goat, cut off it's head and legs and then play a game on horse back where they have to put the goat in a old tractor tire. Its more like rugby than polo, as they were tackling each other whilst riding and trying to wrestle the goat away, pretty vicious stuff. The winning team got to keep the goat for dinner! It was the village on our side of the river v the village on the opposite side. Things got pretty heated before they even started with a fight breaking out!

The goat being slaughtered
Goat polo in full force!
We have Al and James as our group leaders, they also double as mechanics, keeping the truck going. The truck is our home for the next four weeks and carries all our bags and camping equipment...fully self sufficient. I mistankingly called it a bus on the first day and was told that its very bad form to refer to it as a bus!
Al and James changing the oil!

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Asian Adventure

During the weeks after I knew that I would not be able to compete in London I decided that since I was on this side of the world, and didn't have any pressing reason to be back in NZ, I would tick a few things off the travel bucket list!

I have always wanted to travel from Europe to Asia overland, specifically via the Trans-Siberian railway. However, the only way I could get a Russian visa was to go back to Wellington, so I looked at other routes that didn't include Russia. After lots of hunting on the good old www I found a trip through the "Stans" following parts of the ancient Silk Road, specifically through Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan, with overland adventure tour operators Dragoman.

The tour goes for a month and we travel by 4WD bus and get to experience home stays, yurts and some nights camping out along with travel through deserts and hiking in the mountains. It's going to be an amazing adventure!

Normally when I pack my bags to head overseas I have two massive bags stuffed with running shoes and a variety of spikes, a whole lot of lycra and a javelin, so heading off tomorrow with just a backpack and my sleeping bag is going to be very weird but also liberating!

My first stop is Istanbul for a night and then on Saturday I fly to Bishkek, capital of Kyrgyzstan, where the group meets to start the tour.

At the end of the tour I will head off on my own to western China where I will travel by train to Beijing. From Beijing I then plan on doing a week tour through North Korea before heading back to NZ via Singapore.

I can't wait for the trip of a lifetime and have to keep pinching myself that I am actually starting it tomorrow!

Stay tuned for tales from the Silk Road...Internet cafe availability permitting!

Friday, August 17, 2012

London Olympics and Paralympics



Gold medal celebrations at Kiwi House
On Sunday the London Olympics finished with the closing ceremony...wow what an amazing couple of weeks. Kiwi House was a huge success, the only glitch being a small BBQ fire that destroyed the fantastic outdoor area! Luckily no one was hurt and we were able to re-open the indoor part the next day. We had such huge support from kiwis living in London, visitors and athletes, and the staff and volunteers did such an incredible job to make it all happen. Being a part of the crowd watching live on the big screen when NZ athletes were competing was amazing, and the noise whenever we won a medal was deafening...not sure how the people in the surrounding offices managed to do any work!

The NZ Medals Board
One of the highlights of Kiwi House was visits from the medal winning athletes, the biggest of which was the rowing crew. All the athletes were amazing, posing for photos with supporters for hours (and treated with a beer and a pie after!). One of the most emotional moments was when Val Adams came down the day after her comp. Naturally she was disappointed with silver but the crowd at Kiwi House were still so proud of her and it showed in their overwhelming reception. One of the themes of the NZ Team was "when were you most proud to be a New Zealander?"...for me it was in that moment.

I kept our medal tally blackboard up to date - it was amazing to be able to write up our 100th medal since NZ has been at the Olympics and even more amazing to be able to adjust the board to reflect Val Adam's gold (even though Kiwi House had officially closed at the time!).

Usain Bolt and Yohan Blake doing the 100m victory lap



Another highlight of the Olympics for me was being treated to two nights of athletics at the track. I can now say that I have been privileged to see the "Usain Bolt Show" in 2008 and 2012 in both the 100m and 200m events. In 2008 I saw his 100m victory and world record whilst actually standing on the track near the finish line (we had just finished the heptathlon 800m). This time I was almost as close, sitting one row from the front in the best seats in the house. The atmosphere and noise in the stadium was incredible, especially whenever any British athlete was competing. I also got to witness the most incredible 800m race where David Rudisha of Kenya ran a world record.

Holly training in Swansea



The Olympics have finished and Kiwi House is closed and I am now up in Swansea in Wales at the Paralympics NZ Camp with Holly Robinson (Javelin thrower), Raylene Bates (coach) and her husband Craig, and the Paralympic Swimming Team. I am here until Saturday training with Holly and helping out where needed. I think every able-bodied athlete should try and spend some time with the para athletes, these guys are incredible and it puts some of the things I struggled with at training into perspective!  The Paralympics start in London on the 29th August, the NZ team has 26 athletes competing in Athletics, Swimming, Shooting, Rowing, Cycling and Equestrian. Check out paralympics.org.nz for more details.