Friday, 4 January 2019

A postcard from Panama

I flew to Miami from London, had a one week stopover in the Florida Keys (nothing adventurous) then flew down to Panama city. I've been travelling around a bit here; seen some nice places. 

Casco Viejo (old town)

Typical building

View across to (new) Panama city from Casco Viejo

Normal traffic conditions - gridlock!
 After a few days in Panama city I caught a ferry down to Isla Contadora in the Pacific Pearl Islands

Approaching Isla Contadora

A deserted beach

Another deserted beach

A fish

Yet another deserted beach
 There wasn't many people there, probably because of the Xmas holidays. The island has 6 lovely beaches, which I had pretty much to myself. Did some snorkeling and found plenty of fish and a few corals.
I told these guys I was thirsty, so one climbed a coconut tree for me!
 I stayed a couple of days, but with no restaurants open I lived on tins of black beans & packets of plantain chips bought from the one little shop on the island; stayed in a cheap b&b where I was the only client.
Panama city from the Metropolitan park
 Got back to the city, did some hiking - the city is surrounded by parks - but it was extremely hot & humid!!

A critter in the park

 After a couple of more days in the city I took a trip up to the Carribean coast and the San Blas islands. These are a chain of islands in an independent nation ruled by the Guna Yala indians, they restrict access to the islands, but allow tourists to visit & stay in very basic accomodations.

After 2 weeks here in Panama at sea level I was getting a tan, but man it was hot! So I decided to go up into the hills and visit the small town of El Valle and spend the New Year there. It is set in the crater of a huge extinct volcano, so lots of waterfalls and thermal springs to visit, plus hiking around the hills. Much nicer temperature, around 25 degC as opposed to 34degC down in the city.

The hill is called La India Dormida (sleeping Indian)

Not quite ripe yet!

Endangered yellow frog of Panama 

Climbed to top of India Dormida - knackered!!

Mud pack in the hot springs
 I spent 5 days up in the hills, stayed in a quiet and basic hotel set in lovely gardens. Hiked every day, visited the waterfalls and hot springs, had a nice rest from the city. Also met some nice people to while away the time with.

Got back to the city to spend the last couple of days getting ready to move on to Costa Rica. I had to visit the Panama canal, spent some time in the museum there which was really interesting, watched a few boats transiting through, then back to my hotel to start booking flights.

Ship exiting the canal to the Pacific

Ships coming into the canal from the Atlantic
I've had a nice enough time here, met a few nice people, but I must say that in general the Panamanians are miserable as hell!! Mind you, they have this special toilet paper that is so thin that even when you fold it 12 times your fingers go through it (ugh) so maybe that's the reason why. :)

Monday, 3 December 2018

I opened the Christmas crackers early this year .....

A man walks into a chemist's and says "Can I have a bar of soap, please?"
The chemist asks "do you want it scented?"
The man says " No, I'll take it with me, thanks"

The police arrested two kids down our street yesterday.
One was drinking battery acid, the other was eating fireworks.
They charged one, and let the other off.


Wednesday, 21 November 2018

The Best and Worst of the Birmingham Bike show

Just my luck, I thought a mid-week trip up to Birmingham to see all the new bikes - including that Triumph Scrambler I've been lusting about - would be nice and easy, no traffic. Hah! Torrential rain and sheer bad driving saw the M25 closed due to accidents, and my 2 hr journey turned to 5 hours. I'll be honest, I was in a foul mood, then had to pay £30 to get in - no senior discount. But then I saw this little yellow Vespa and just had to cheer up!

Back in the day - feet turned out a must.

After a little look around I headed over to the Triumph stand, full of anticipation, ready to sit on that new scrambler and ask questions before ordering one. I was slightly underwhelmed to see the bike in the metal, the paint schemes were a bit boring and to be honest, it looks a bit of a big old lump. However, not to be dissuaded, I spent time looking around it and asked the Triumph salesman all about it - and he wasn't the slightest bit interested in talking to me.

Looking bored
So I wandered off and spent time looking at the rest of the show - but feeling a bit disappointed.

No idea what this was!

Moody lighting - to disguise the boredom?
 Then I came across the CCM stand, and those little bikes look good! Hand-built in Bolton, Lancashire, fitted with a little 600cc single made by Husqvarna, they were just so nicely put together.
CCM Spitfire

Cafe racer

Now thats what I call a fairing - two girls behind it having a chat

New Indian 1200 Flat Tracker

Weird styling from long ago
 After wandering around a bit more I found myself back at the CCM stand looking at their bobber. Now I like the idea of the bobber, having a great interest in old Americana, but the reality is that a giraffe-like Englishman just doesn't fit on one. But I sat on it anyway, and it was comfortable (ish).
CCM Bobber
 Then I met Reggie, a lovely little Lancastrian who works for CCM assembling bikes. We chatted for quite some time, and he showed me all over the bike, we discussed every detail. I got so enthused by his obvious love for the bikes and the company that I put a deposit on a bobber!!

So now I am in a bit of a quandary; the sensible part of me says cancel the order, either stick with the Tiger or get that new scrambler (even though the salesman was a twat). But the romantic in me says get the bobber, open-face helmet & zip around looking .... well, probably like a giraffe on a moped!

What do you think Sonja? You usually have the best advice for me.

Sunday, 28 October 2018

A postcard from Kazakhstan

So....Kazakstan. A big empty place. I believe the original inhabitants were nomads, travelling and living in Yurts. Then, fairly recently, oil was discovered in the Caspian sea. Now the country is coming into the 21st century..but slowly. As I found on my train journey down to Tengiz, the oil camp on the south-east shores of the Caspian sea, there's a whole lot of empty space.

View from a train - unchanging for 4 hours!

 When I got to the camp, there's also a lot of nothing, a desert with pipelines and refinery plonked in the middle of it.

Pipes sand and flowers!

Home sweet home ?
 The accommodation is pretty basic, but then we work 12 hour days, 7 days a week so there's not exactly a lot of free time.
Luxurious - no!!

 Any free time I got I spent playing with the local wildlife!

After a month in the camp I swore I wouldn't go back, but after a 4 week break I got asked to go back but stay in Atyrau, a city on the north bank of the sea. A lot more decent than the camp, I'm staying in a proper hotel this time and doing normal office work, so I can handle that for 4 weeks.

Renaissance hotel with mosque behind
 I actually get Sundays off, so make a point of getting some exercise by walking along the river bank. That's the Ural river, which (allegedly) marks the change from Europe to Asia - I have to say it all looks pretty much the same! There are the new prestige buildings built by the oil companies sitting alongside new 5 star hotels, just along from some pretty basic dwellings for the locals.

Europe on left bank, Asia to the right.

 As you can see, I've been lucky with the weather, its drifting through autumn now so the temperature is reasonable. They actually get extreme weather here, ranging from 35 degC (95F) in summer, to minus 35 degC (minus 31F) in winter, when this river freezes over two feet thick ice and the locals drive their cars along it!!
 My experience here has been reasonable, helped by living in comfort this time. I'm pretty sure the locals would be happy if we foreigners weren't here, but then that's the same in every oil town I've worked in - Aberdeen in Scotland being the worst!!!
Europe, allegedly

proud to be an oil town
 So only another 10 days and I'll be home to London. Then its a quick trip up to Hanover, Germany for a weeks' treatment, then home to start packing and organising my next trip. I've decided to blow half the money I've earned here on a nice long adventure to central America - the other half of the money is reserved for that new bike I promised myself! Happy days!