“The wisest are the most annoyed at the loss of time.”

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Ramadam Kareem!

Have you ever got back from your holiday, unpacked, washed and ironed the filthy laundry, settled down and then wondered; what on earth to do next?

Why, we’ve only just got back and we’re off again!

It’s time to pack our trusty backpacks and make our way to the airport – England here we come…

As usual, we’ve researched this trip and found that temperatures are set to ‘soar’ in the UK to 30 degrees Celsius or thereabouts. Not to worry, we’ll pack a light sweater or two and look forward to some  refreshments from the local alehouse. A beer and a pint of prawns me thinks. And, we will definitely be making our way to our favourite Sarth (sic) London establishment for what is undoubtedly the finest food that money can buy. Pie, Mash, Stewed Eels and Liquor. Should you be unfortunate enough not to know what I am on about, then poor old you. Have a look at this scrumptious delight. Blinkin’  ‘andsome.

Food of the gods!

Food of the gods!

So, it’s off to dear old Blighty for fun, food and fine wine. It’s no good complaining that we are off on yet another adventure but haven’t yet started reporting the last one. Some things just cannot wait.

Oh, alright then, a taste of India…

On route to somewhere unsavoury

Tuk Tuk – Auto-Rickshaw Mayhem

We flew to Kerala in the South of India, known as ‘God’s Own Country’ by the locals. We travelled into Tamil Nadu and back again, went to the Southernmost tip, looked out to Antarctica and documented pretty much most of the journey in photos and video. To quench your thirst for our adventure, here’s a little something we put together.

http://youtu.be/lueaj46hD2E

Please don’t be impatient by flicking through the progress bar at the bottom of the youtube video. Sit back and relax, take fifteen minutes out of your stressful day to enjoy our journey, second by second, as it happened. There’ll be more when we return. Much more but until then…

Engerlund, Engerlund, Engerlund!

Two Pie, Mash, Eels and Liquor, if you please!

Sutton’s finest.

TTFN

“A good traveller has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving.”

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Namaskaram,

We survived!

Having shortly returned from the Indian subcontinent, we are ready to tell stories of wonder, wandering and wet afternoons. We have been to the coast, to the top of mountains, through tropical forests, across tea plantations, along backwaters, up rivers, down canals, through mango groves, visiting towns, villages and cities; by aeroplane, bus, car, cycle-rickshaw, auto-rickshaw, train, houseboat, speedboat, canoe, punt and even on the back of an elephant. Yes, Really! On the back of an elephant we traversed the side of a mountain to aid our passage to wherever it was we were heading next. Not sure exactly where that was but I’m sure the elephant will remember – guffaw!

Oh! Nelly the elephant packed her trunk, etc, etc.

Oh! Nelly the elephant packed her trunk, etc, etc.

We ate curry for breakfast, lunch and dinner. We saw things that some people would not believe. We saw other things that even we did not believe. In fact, there is so much to show and tell it’s difficult to know where to start and what to include. With over two thousand digital photographs and more than an hour of video footage, it will be a marathon just deciding what to put in and what to leave out. Suffice to say, we’ll try to give you a taste of the adventure we had with a little something on youtube to entertain.

Right now, we’re just about recovered from the hectic pace and the thousands of kilometres travelled. And, for those of you with a caring soul, nothing bad happened to us. There was no food poisoning, no rumbly in the tumby, no great desire to sit for hours upon the porcelain seat, no fevers, breaks, scrapes or knocks – just a great time experiencing a fantastic country and it’s amazing people.

Instalments seem the best idea to tell you all about it so let’s get started…

The world is full of massive things in motion and little creatures often get hurt.

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Ramadam Kareem!

As we try to stuff the unstuffable into our rucksacks, we consider our lot. The things we have done and those that we are about to do. Most of those things are nicey, nicey jolly-dee things but some are downright foolhardy, if not dangerous in a fatal sort of way. Isn’t that what ‘adventure’ is all about? And, if you’re thinking our adventures aren’t ‘real’ adventures – like they’re not free climbing up the sheer side of a mountain or crossing the desert on a bicycle with only a can of cola as sustenance, then read on. Bear in mind that we have in our party one with very short legs who doesn’t yet appreciate all those aspects of life threatening danger (that’s why we often send her in first to ‘test the waters’) not to mention another who often sees  life threatening danger when there really isn’t any, and caution then becomes an even greater danger. Of course, in order to keep you entertained as you sit there in your luxury lounges sipping your low alcohol lagers and dodgy new world wines, the writer has, in the past, been slightly guilty of a little literary licence here and there. Not so much that anything is fabricated. Not so much that we make things out to be more dangerous than they actually are. Just enough to keep the theme merrily rolling along and enough interest inserted in the hope that these blogs get noticed and are subsequently turned into a best-selling book.

Recently, if you are a regular  ‘follower’ of The Flock on the Rock, you will recall some our many trips to Salmah Plateau. Our private retreat where we get high (above sea level, silly!) and engage in some camping fun and games; barbecuing mayhem, star-gazing and generally mucking about. If you need reminding then you can have another look at this blog from a while ago:

January 27 2013 – “We travel, some of us forever, to seek other states, other lives, other souls.”

Salmah Plateau at 1500 metres, Camp #1 Jan 27th 2013

Salmah Plateau at 1500 metres, Jan 27th 2013

Or relive the danger with us

on

http://youtu.be/lVwqirX5RKg

And if you ever thought that it was no more than a potter to the top of a mountain and back again, then please read on:

Not so funny now then!?

Not so funny now then, is it?

“The pitiable condition of the road…roadside protections are missing….sharp curves and dust on the tracks…”

This is the route we take to camp on the mountain and visit the remote villages atop. There is only one route up and one route down. These are the routes reported here.

Yep, when we face danger and write to tell you about it, we really do face danger. Always venturing where others might fear to tread.

Right then, we’re off to India.

Hope to be back, Insha’Allah.

“We owe a lot to the Indians, who taught us how to count,…”

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Marhaba!

In case you were concerned (were you?) we are safe and well. The ‘great’ cyclone that we were expecting and warned about never materialised. Apparently, it blew itself out somewhere mid-ocean so we didn’t suffer any adverse weather conditions whatsoever. A ploy, me thinks, by the bottled water companies et al!?

Just to let you know, this week we head off to pastures new. Nothing permanent, we hope, but a vacation (holiday), well deserved and eagerly anticipated. We’re popping next door but one (next door is actually Iran) to India.

From here to there and back again...

From here to there and back again…

This will be our route and we hope to be doing some trekking stuff with right proper adventure things as well. We have purchased the necessary equipment, large rucksacks and Australian ‘Cattleman’ hats. With trusty Swiss army knife in pocket (not on the plane of course!) we are all prepared and itching to go. Ah! ‘Vaccinations’, I hear you cry. Well, as we have been living here for some time we (stupidly) believe we are, sort of, immune now. Anyway, prevention is better than cure so we have spent our pocket money on mosquito repellent, cover-up clothing, mosquito netting, mosquito wristbands, snoods and anything else we can think of (including fresh garlic, lavender, citronella and lucky gonk – Yep, we honestly have) to keep the pesky blighters away.

“Cruise along Kerala’s beautiful backwaters, wander through spice fields, explore tropical forests, visit ancient palaces and relax on idyllic beaches for a blissful family holiday.”

That’s what the blurb says. Naturally, I will be reporting the truth, no matter how distasteful it may be to them or us.

It goes on to say:

Take the family away on a relaxing holiday in southern India. This south-west corner of India is a tropical paradise filled with Hindu temples, hill stations, pretty villages, lush green forests and tranquil backwaters. The adventure starts in beautiful spice-scented Cochin and drifts gently through Kerala. Make friends with a rural family over a meal and learn about local cultural traditions. Get up close to the glorious elephants that the region is known for and return home relaxed after a houseboat cruise. Finally, enjoy the Indian Ocean’s beaches to end this unforgettable getaway in style.

  • Be amazed by Shiva’s bedtime rituals
  • Cruise through Malabar’s beautiful backwaters
  • Enjoy Cochin’s easy-going pace
  • Explore wildlife rich jungle
  • Go on a nature walk in search of monkeys
  • Relax on pristine golden-sand beaches
  • Visit a local family for lunch
  • Watch the sunset on a harbour cruise

 

Now, what to do with the kid…?

We depart as Ramadan starts so we’ll be missing the start of the holy month. Well, we were here for it last year so we are excused.

Wish us well.

Cancel the milk and papers – BACK SOON!

Insha’Allah

…Water, water everywhere, Nor any drop to drink

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HOLD THE FRONT PAGE!

Muscat: Tropical storm Nanauk is expected to hit the coast of Oman between Ras Al Hadd and Ras Madrakah on June 15.

DON'T PANIC!

DON’T PANIC!

Bit of a windy one headed our way. We’ve taken all proper precautions by battening down the hatches, keeping fresh batteries in the radio and panic buying bread, water and anything else that was left on the shelves (including dental floss and haemorrhoid cream, bizarrely enough). The drinking water is safely stacked in the lounge, 100 bottles of Jebel Akhdar’s finest spring water, locally sourced from the very mountain we were atop not so long ago.

The cyclone heading our way may not match the great cyclone ‘Gonu’ of 2007 or the great pretender of 2010, ‘Phet’ but it is guaranteed to be jolly lively with very high winds and severe flooding. This bad boy has been given the name of ‘Nanauk’ (although that could be a lady name?). As usual, we look on the bright side and have prepared the backgammon board for the long haul should we become stranded.

And if we get the chance to take some snaps we’ll let you see what it was all about. This Sunday coming we should be in the thick of it. It’ll start Saturday and finish on Monday according to meteorologists. Come to think of it, it is blowing a hooley as we speak so hang on to your brolley’s;

“Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more…”

‘Tis more exciting than the world cup, me thinks?

Stay safe. We will,

Insha’Allah

“Courage and grace is a formidable mixture. The only place to see it is the bullring.”

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Marhaba!

We were invited to the home of an Omani friend to sample their particular way of life. Their farm in the country (desert) was very rustic but nice and homely. In fact, it was the summer residence of our host and at that time the entire, extended family were arriving for a weekend visit or an entire summer stay.  We watched the Indian farm workers wash themselves under a rustic style shower at the end of the farm drive, their flimsy sarongs leaving very little to the imagination. We gazed upon the simplicity of their cooking utensils, pots and dishes drying in the sun. Then, having been shown the crops and some animals, we sampled the delights of some freshly soured milk before we entered the home of our host to experience how an Omani really lives. Traditional homes have little or no furniture, seating and sleeping is arranged on a rug with some cushions propped against the walls. Upon this particular wall to wall rug was laid some plastic sheeting and an enormous, communal bowl. Placed centrally to the seated diners, a mound of saffron coloured rice steamed and freshly picked dates were scattered at our laps. Chicken and goat pieces, having already been cooked in sumptuous sauces, were poured onto the rice. The aroma was amazing and the taste something to die for. Traditional curry in a traditional Omani home, seated with the finest of Omani hosts – it really doesn’t get any better than that.  At least for me it didn’t!

Now, in a traditional Omani home the genders do not mix. There are separate living rooms for men and woman to relax in. Eating together just isn’t tolerated. As the men folk, boys and I gorged ourselves on the sumptuous fare, the wife and child, having already been whisked away to have henna tattoos and a gossip with the girls, were about to be served the same meal as I was enjoying. Now, I did mention their strict vegetarianism but apparently, chicken is not classed as meat here so when you stateno meat thank you”, that generally means chicken is alright so plonk some on my plate please. To make matters worse, the rice had been cooked in a chicken stock. Doh! Unbeknownst to my good self, the wife and child had also been shut in a separate room to the other women ( an odd arrangement that we still haven’t figured out) to enjoy their meal with no ‘meat’. Some carefully rearranged rice gave the impression that some of their food had been consumed when, in fact, the strict veggies could not touch a morsel. They managed to sustain themselves on a citrus slice (which was actually meant for cleansing the hands – and I still haven’t had the heart to tell them!). I can honestly say that, at the time, I genuinely believed they were enjoying themselves just as much as I was. I had no reason to think that they too were not on a tour of the village, visiting the communal wells still in use – several that require the whole village to attend to the drawing of water from huge constructions and vast wells; a drive down the coast to see a local beach wedding, the bride and groom running ecstatically into the crashing waves as hundreds of well-wishers sing, dance and play the bagpipes on the shoreline.

1. get married 2. go swimming

1. get married 2. go swimming

Then a drive to the local bullfighting arena; a stop at local shops to visit some relatives of our host; a visit to his new build holiday villa that will be available in a couple of months (start booking now!); a tour of the local chicken farm and the “chicken cutting shop”, which was closed on this occasion. How on earth was I to know that during all of this, a sad and lonely mother and daughter were sat in a closed room desperately trying to re-arrange rice and chicken to look as though some  of it had been eaten. No! It’s not a laughing matter. However, one does chuckle, ever so slightly, at the very thought of it.

Our family unit was later reunited for a trip to the local bullfight. We decided not to visit the local zoo as this will require some careful planning, mind adjustment and a fully charged camera. The zoo is often reported but not for the best of reasons. It is privately owned and has a reputation of having somewhat dubious conditions for the animals but more on this another time.

Bullfighting in Oman is not like the classic bull fights of Spain. Here, quite literally, two massive bulls, well, fight. In a minimalist bull ring,  some 60 to 70 bulls are matched against one another, head to head with sharpened horns, to battle it out for… well, we couldn’t actually find out what it was all for but there must be some reason to it all. As there is no gambling allowed and no entrance fee to pay, it seemed that the only reward was the accolade of being announced the winner but even then  we couldn’t see how that was decided. We were told that a winning bull could command very good stud fees and so, that was all there was to it. The spectacle was more of a local tradition, a get together to hear the news and talk BULL.

Bullfighting 'Omani' style

Bullfighting ‘Omani’ style

As usual, with no Health and Safety to cramp your every desire – you could sit where ever you liked and if that meant you wanted to get up-close and personal with the bulls, then there was nothing  stopping you. I’m not sure how much a couple of big bulls weigh but I suspect that when they head in your direction, no one and nothing is going to stop them.

right old Ding-Dong

right old Ding-Dong

The dirt flies up, the screeching of the ringmaster through a megaphone with an annoying siren, the snorting of raging bulls…

getting out of hand

getting out of hand – if you haven’t already started, please get to your feet

Closer and closer they came and if you think that much weight can’t move so fast that you couldn’t get out of the way if you had to…think again!

BIG BULLS - INCOMING!

MAN DOWN!

From the relative safety of our low level concrete stand (which would not prevent a bull from charging up and over if it wanted to) – we laughed out loud at those who suddenly regretted that ring-side seat.

 Over a period of a few hours, we watched magnificent animals battle it out, locking horns, pushing and shoving, impaling and sometimes, just sometimes, causing the crowd to up sticks and run away. We chomped on sweet Indian foods, cracked our sunflower seeds and generally added to the rubbish pile that had accumulated over several weeks.

If you’ve never watched a ‘real’ bull fight then here it is, a treat just for you. At this local bull fight in the village of  Barka, we filmed a few of the fights. Not a matador to be seen. No swords. No banderillas. No fancy dancing or waving of red tea-towels. No shouts of ‘torro’ or ‘jole’. Just, RAGING BULLS GIVING IT LARGE!

http://youtu.be/VhyH-uSjAb8

Just click on the link or copy and paste it into your browser. Enjoy!

All in all, lunch fiasco apart, it was a most pleasant and interesting day. There was cock-fighting on offer too but we thought we would save that delight for yet another time.

As we sit here and plan just what to do next, we can guarantee that it will be something quite unexpected.

Oh yes, the weather. Well, the car gauge was showing the outside temperature as being 52 degrees Celsius the other day. That’s 125 degrees Fahrenheit  in old money. Phew! What a scorcher…

TTFN

“Chasing angels or fleeing demons, go to the mountains.”

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Greetings from the Middle East!

There now, you wasn’t expecting that, was you? I do believe this is the very first time you have been greeted in English. Does this mean something, something prophetic maybe? Who knows – who cares – who knows who cares – who cares who knows! You get the drift?

In order to escape the blistering heat, topping 42 degrees regularly with a mild 37 degrees at night, we decided on the spur of the moment to head for the cooler air of the mountains. Only 142 kms away is the highest mountain range in Oman – Jebel Akhdar. We’ve been there before so we knew what to expect. To add some interest to our trip, we thought we would try to find the famous rose gardens of Oman, from the roses of which the even more famous rose water is produced. With the usual full tank of gas (110 litres at 15 pence a litre, a none too shabby£16 to fill up), a six pack of spring water, four packets of ready salted crisps and the portable DVD player, we ventured South-West to take the cool mountain air and sniff a dog-rose or two.

It wasn’t too long before we peaked at 3000 metres above sea level and sent forth the child, to the very, very edge,  just to make sure it was safe for the rest of us. No, really, we sent the kid out to the very edge – Look!

Standing on the edge - of reason!

Standing on the edge – of reason!

Yup! That truly is a sheer drop downward, past the village perched on the ledge below, into oblivion and a jolly bumpy landing I would think. Once all was deemed to be safe and secure, we took a look for ourselves and marvelled at the view.

The view

The view

The village on the right has the terraced gardens where one would expect to find the roses. From where we stood, it looked as though the flowering season was well and truly over but we decided to take a closer look seeing how we had driven all that way and risked the life and limb of the kid to discover the darn place. We hopped into the battle-bus and drove a little way along some treacherous tracks. The village of Al Ain stood before us in all its ancient charm. In fact, ancient though it may be, it is still inhabited by a thriving, although somewhat insular, community. Were it not for the ‘Real Madrid’ woolly football hat being sported by a local youth, one could quite easily believe that a sharp bend in the space-time continuum had transported us back five hundred years or more. Traditionally built houses kept the sun out and the locals in.

Step right this way...

Step right this way…

 

The 'lived-in' look

The ‘lived-in’ look

 

We wandered round this charming village and happened across the famous fields of rose bushes which still had, to our delight, the very last blooms of the season. The scent was, well, negligible really but it was pretty to look at and worth the trek. There were pomegranate trees beginning to fruit, a fine walnut tree also in fruit and a view across the valley to die for (not literally, of course).

But what is in a name?

But what is in a name?

Talking of views to die for…The peak in the background is exactly where we stood earlier; right there on the outcrop. Amazing, eh?

The air was pleasantly cooler, some 25 degrees with a gentle breeze blowing for good measure. Now, it’s not like we’re tourists or even new in country, possibly a little bit bonkers but that’s by-the by. We should have known better for the sun beat down it’s nasty UV rays to redden our faces and even cause one of us to bear a striking resemblance to a Panda once he had removed his sunglasses. Not at all funny and we really should have known better. I mean, it’s nothing to risk our lives in precarious places and bizarre situations but to risk severe sun-burn, now that is just complete and utter madness. The eldest of the two females was lambasted for not applying sun-screen as well as failing to mention the strength of the sun’s rays or the possibility of shade giving head-wear. Indeed, publishing a photo of said sunburn would be downright hilarious but I will not grant you that pleasure. No Sir, not today. It might be alright to ridicule the subjects of this blog, but certainly not the author. The pain of second degree sunburn, the comical resemblance to a bamboo eating bear and the risk of that other problem that too much sun can cause, is all too much to endure. The last thing on my current wish list is ridicule. No, no, no, no, no!

We wandered and took in the sights and smells of the village. Goats immediately sprang to mind and they often sprang out on us too.

Home, sweet home

Home, sweet home

Pathways led this way and that, up to higher ground, on to other villages and then down, down, down to the terraced gardens of vegetables that support self-sufficiency as much as it can in the 21st century.

Up, up and up some more..

Going up

Having taken in our fill of scenery, we turned and headed for the nearest hotel and a well-earned lunch by the pool. You see, it’s not all derring-do in rough-tough adventureland. We often resort to the most civilised of activities.

A rainy front approaching from the east...

A rainy front approaching from the east…

After a satisfying fill of something savoury, we posed for an eager, young photographer and then pointed the car North-East as dark clouds began to form. After all, there was work the next day and all that ridicule to look forward to.

Still on holiday - FOREVER!

Still on holiday – FOREVER!

Until soon.

TTFN.