Though a straight line appears to be the shortest distance between 2 points, life has a way of confounding geography. Often it is the dalliances and the detours that define us. There are no maps to guide our most important searches; we must rely on hope, chance, intuition and a willingness to be surprised.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

We are ab-seiling... (so bad, soooo bad.)

(The Three Sisters - the best recognised site in the Blue Mountains. It's the blue haze rising up from the gum trees in the background that gives the Blue Mountains their name.)
In a bid to provide some consistency and predictability, I've pledged to update the site at least weekly now. Could be a difficult commitment to keep to... but at least this gives me a big incentive to 'do things' so that I at least have something interesting to write about each week.

That shouldn't be a problem from next month when I leave Australia and start travelling round exotic parts of the world again. Not that there aren't exotic parts of Australia... the Blue Mountains. The Blue Mountains are part of the 'Great Dividing Range' and were a huge geological obstacle for earlier white settlers in Australia. Effectively, the high cliffs and deep treacherous canyons on the Blue Mountains kept the first visitors to Australia 'trapped' in the coastal area around Sydney for around the first 30 to 40 years after Cook's arrival.
These days crossing the Blue Mountains is a whole lot easier, either by car or by train which takes just two hours to run the scenic route from the centre of Sydney to the heart of the Bluies. I took the train to Katoomba on Tuesday morning, returning the next evening. The hugely relaxing effect of the visit was out of all proportion to its short length.
(The bird-life in the Blue Mountains is a bit of a shock if you haven't been before. It's more like an aviary than a world heritage site. Multicoloured parrots, lorikeets and cockatoos are everywhere. If you can't always see them, you can certainly hear them...)

I got some great photos walking through the eucalypts on the first day. This was an enjoyable trek, though with the tracks so well marked out and with metal and wooden steps preventing any mishaps, it felt like I was missing the true wilderness adventure. So, on the second day, I got up at the crack of dawn for an abseiling and canyoning trip which I felt sure would in some way recapture the spirit of the original nineteenth-century explorers.

Abseiling is a bit like parachuting. What I mean is that (and I say this with profound apologies to my skydiving friend Robert) parachuting isn't a particularly challenging sport to learn... in comparison with surfing, for example. I could spend four hours of every day for the rest of my life bobbing about in the surf without mastering surfing. But a day or so on an airstrip and anyone can learn how to parachute - it's as easy as falling out of a door and hitting the ground, something I mastered within a few months of discovering the university union bar as a teenager. What does make parachuting 'difficult' is the fear factor. You have to overcome millions of years of evolution to jump out of a plane. There is a deep-seated and quite understandable voice in your head which will persistently tell you that what you are doing is suicidal. (It helps to be crazy to do skydiving - apologies again Robert).

(Above - we start off with a fairly modest descent! Below - but we soon progress to more pant-wetting challenges.)

And that's where abseiling is similar - it's not difficult to learn how to let the rope out or how to move your feet down the cliff, it's just a major challenge getting over the top of the cliff and letting yourself dangle 100ft above the rocky valley-floor below.

Anyway, that's my take on abseiling. And of course, it's the fear-factor that makes it so attractive anyway. As the day wore on we tackled higher and higher cliffs until in the late afternoon, after scrambling and swimming down through one of the more inaccessible canyons, we reached the ultimate challenge - a 30m abseil down the face of a waterfall.

What a buzz! All confidence and abseiling technique goes out the window when you have several tonnes of water pouring over your head every minute.

So that was a top pocket mid-week adventure. Today I'm back at work as the regular Opportunity International Staff are now back from their away-day and the office is open again. So just today and tomorrow at work and then I'm off sailing.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

"Visa-good, visa-good... his aussie visa's good!!!"

(Chest in time! After more than a month of uncertainty, John Howard is satisfied with my xrays and has approved my visa extension. I'm now allowed to stay in the country until the end of July. , though I'll be out of here by the start of June.)

I have more than the usual cause for a few relaxing beers this weekend. Just when i'd given up hope, the Australian Department of Immigration has at last deigned to approve my visa. I can now go ahead and plan for the next stage of the trip through Thailand, Cambodia, Nepal (possibly) and India without fear of being deported at short notice.

I'm glad I can leave oz in my own time. I've been involved in a couple of new projects with Opportunity International in the past week and it would be a shame if I didn't have time to finish those. The first is to write part of a brochure that will be published within weeks. I hope I can post a copy on this website. The other is a global competitor analysis and will take a few weeks to complete. Both projects support Opportunity's planned expansion in India.

I've been diving again at last. Because I don't have an advanced diver certificate I can't do any deep diving in Oz. This is kinda bemusing as they just don't care in central and south america where i dived a number of times below 40m - about twice my 'technical' limit - and I felt quite comfortable with that...

...then again, these pics might raise questions about my abilities. I was diving in a group with a friend, Roslyn, and a couple of other peeps. It took a long and unsteady walk over wave-swept rocks just to get into the water. It was only at this point that my tank started to come loose and fall into the water. Roslyn caught the comical efforts to reattach the tank with her underwater camera.

(Though this may look more like an unusual mating ritual between two creatures from the deep, our attempts to reattach the tank were eventually successful. The dive itself was somewhat less eventful. Visibility was v poor, made even worse by a huge grouper who insisted on following us about and getting in the way! I like the old fella though, a bit like an old-English sheepdog he was very curious and quite friendly.)

All the big news this week seems to be going on back in blighty. Even the always-naff Channel 9 news had coverage of the Scottish election result. Who wouldn't be interested to hear that it's the first time labour has come second in Scotland for 55 years and a notable shift towards independence just days after the 300th anniversary of the union. Interesting times...

Ok, I'm off to the beach. Dont even need to feel guilty about saying that as I understand the weather back in the UK has been top pocket in the last few weeks. Next week I'm going gorge-walking in the famous Blue Mountains, west of Sydney. Hope to get some top quality shots.

Been listenin to some good new tunes this week. If you're interested in a top-quality innovative dance album (sadly thin on the ground these days) try LCD Soundsystem:

(just click on the song titles to listen)

Or for Scottish alt-indie try The Aliens. Mostly made up of former members of superb Scottish alt-rock band The Beta Band. Much more conventional than The BB in some ways, but 'Astronomy for Dogs' is still interesting stuff.


I got this story the other day from my friend Kirsty in Belize. I just love this, as it is sooooo Belize. Kirsty writes...

On Tuesday I went to the First Caribbean bank, downtown in the busy commercial area to cash a cheque. First Caribbean is a branch of Barclay's bank. I walked in and made my way to the front of the Que, and then noticed that there was something a little strange going on. When I actually looked and realised what was happening, I was shocked. The lady at the counter informed me that they had lost the keys to the vault, and therefore had no money. In full view of everyone, there were 2 men, with crowbars trying to pry open the vault. Only in Belize!!! Of course, no one had thought that perhaps closing the bank while this was taking place was a good idea, I mean lets show everyone just how easy it is to break into a vault!