« October 2001 | Weblog Main | December 2001 »

November 1, 2001

Tickets

Today we booked our onward flight tickets. We fly out of Heathrow on Saturday to Reykjavik and spend a few days in Iceland before flying onto Florida to go to the boat. We're still in Bristol, and after being re-united with my pc after four months I've been completely lost as to where to begin catching up with the website. Hence, apologies for the lack of updates, but I'll get into sorting through the 1000+ pictures and videos I took in Asia and get things up on the site as well as details on what I've been doing.

November 3, 2001

Trying to Pack

As usual I had great plans to get to bed early tonight as I have to get up at 04:45. As usual I ended up spending most of the night packing and watching tv. Maybe I should just go out to a club instead of bed...

Iceland tomorrow.

Waiting in Heathrow

We've been here in Heathrow airport for hours as we were told that due to increased security procedures we had to check in 3 hours before. Well, there was no extra security that we could see but the airport is packed as everyone sits around for hours waiting for their flights. On top of that we've just seen that our flight is delayed so who knows how long we might be here.

From the Plane

We're finally on the plane now & about 50% of the passengers are buddhists with shaved heads. Not many muslims though. As it's Icelandair, everyone has skiis under their seats instead of lifejackets. Now what's this they're saying about turning off electrical appliances..?

November 9, 2001

Back on Zamindar

We're now at the boat in Titusville, Florida and she seems to fine after being left alone here for so long.

November 15, 2001

Recap of China

Although it happened a month ago, here is the posting of the remainder of my journal from China.

We caught a minibus out of Beijing towards the Great Wall, but as so often happens in China, we later discovered that we'd been ripped off, and they had demanded five times the normal fare from us. The bus stank of exhaust fumes, but we soon realised that it wasn't coming from the other traffic but seeping up through the floor. Part of the exhaust pipe was obviously cracked and leaking directly into the bus - we looked around to see all the other passengers asleep! Nina and I tried to get some air through the window and opened it as wide as we could so that we could breathe through it. After what seemed like an eternity, we were relieved to get to the mountains where the Great Wall was, and we set off to hike up to it. We'd chosen to go to the section at Simatei, which, although harder to get to, is less touristed, and stretches across steep-sided mountains. It was truly impressive, and we spent several hours walking a section of the wall as it climbed up the mountainside, sometimes at a 70 degree incline. We caught a minibus returning to Beijing in the evening, and were given a truly frightening display of Chinese driving. Perhaps because there are so many of them, the Chinese hate to be behind anyone else, and so will fight to push onto a train first and run to an available seat before you. This also means that they are unable to sit behind another vehicle on the road and will immediately pull out to overtake even if there's another car coming or they are going around a bend. We had several near misses on our way back to Beijing, and on some occasions the oncoming traffic was forced to stop to avoid hitting us. Very few bicycles in China have lights fitted, but they still cycle them across the dual carriageway in front of cars in complete darkness. We passed a total of five accidents, which included a flattened cyclist and a bus which had driven into a crane that had been parked on the road.

When we got back to the hotel we opened our room to find it full of gas. Of course, we went downstairs and told reception (eventually, as we had trouble with the sign language for 'gas' and our guidebook didn't list the Mandarin for, "Our room is about to explode"). They came up immediately, failed to find the leak, and so opened the window, turned the extractor fan on, and told us that would sort it out. They initially thought that we were being unreasonable when we asked for another room, but eventually they did agree.

Many of the children in China wear trousers with an open slit in them, traditionally so that they could relieve themselves while their parents worked in the fields. Unfortunately, this isn't such an ingenious solution in a busy city such as Beijing where children suddenly stop to shit on a busy pavement, but it seems to be generally accepted. On the train to X'ian, Nina walked into another carriage to find a father supporting his child on the sink while it shitted into the waste bin on the floor.

We were lucky enough to be staying in a hotel called Redhouse with satellite tv (as well as the gas) in Beijing, and watched the US/UK strikes against Afghanistan on BBC World. Militant groups in Indonesia had been searching hotels for Americans, and British nationals were being advised to leave the country. With the hostility that we had experienced while we had been in Indonesia, I could imagine it and I was glad that we weren't still there. Seeing that many Islamic countries had started to demonstrate, and we were about to travel to a predominately Islamic area of China, we thought it a good idea to contact the British embassy in Beijing to find out if the travel advisories for British citizens in China had changed since the attacks. Unfortunately, however, they only seem to be employing Chinese to answer the embassy phones, and their grasp of English is not too good. I asked about travel in China since the attacks, but they replied, "Tax?", and put me through to an answering machine that I could leave a tax question on. I tried again, and this time they put me through to recorded information on how to get a visa to visit Britain. Finally, I gave up, thankful that I didn't need their help for something like a lost passport.

Iceland

Everyone looked surprised as our plane flew over Iceland and we saw the snow-covered ground below. Although it was the beginning of November, no-one's thoughts had turned to snow yet and most of the clothes that Nina and I had with us were more apt for a Florida winter than an Icelandic one. It was exciting to walk out of the airport into the snow, as we caught the coach into Reykjavik.

We were only in Iceland for 3 days as a stop-over with Icelandair on our way to Orlando to go to the boat. The coach dropped us off at the modern youth hostel where we'd booked a double room. Interestingly, the window had a stop built in so that it couldn't be completely closed, and we later found out that Icelanders like to keep their windows open all year round! We hadn't eaten and so we caught a bus into town and asked the driver to tell us when we got there. Strangely, everyone else got off and the bus carried on into the countryside until finally it came to a stop at a bus station in the middle of nowhere. The bus driver got up, looked at us as if to ask what we were still doing on the bus, and then realised that he'd forgotten to tell us where to get off. And so it was that we spent Friday night in Reykjavik sitting on a bus waiting for it to make it's next trip into town.

The following day, we walked to the supermarket to get some breakfast and were shocked by the fact that it was still -5c. The sun was just rising even though it was 10:00, but the ground was covered in ice as we slid our way down the road. That afternoon we braced ourselves, took our swimming things, and paid a trip to the Blue Lagoon which is about 40 mins from Reykjavik. It's a pool of mineral-rich, geothermal water with an eerie blue colour and clouds of steam that pour off its surface. From the changing rooms, you climb down into a pool of water that leads outside into the lagoon which is surrounded by snow and ice. It's a really incredible experience as you swim through the hot water and steam then climb out and walk through the snow to the sauna. Some parts of the lagoon are hotter than others, and occasionally you hear screams of pain as someone wanders into a particularly hot patch.

Iceland is an expensive destination compared to just about anywhere so we were glad to only be staying a few days. Trips out of Reykjavik are one of the big expenses and even travelling by bus is not a cheap way to travel. The following day we rented a car which came with full Icelandic insurance that covered everything apart from damage to the car itself or any other car, and so we set off into the snow covered interior very, very carefully. After about 10 mins of driving, the major roads ended and we found ourselves in the only Nissan Micra heading out of town on a snowy country road as huge four-wheel drive beasts flew past us. The snow was getting deeper and we wondered if this was a sensible trip to be making. We stopped to look at some Icelandic ponies standing in a field in the snow, and tried to take in the incredible snow scene that we were in. Our plan was to drive to Thingvellir, a valley where part of the Atlantic fault breaks through the surface, and then onto Geysir, where all geysirs in the world take the name from. After that we would carry on to Gulfoss to see the spectacular waterfalls there, and then return to Reykjavik. And we planned to do all of this in lots of snow without damaging the rental car!

It was a busy day, and an interesting refresher course on winter driving for me, but the Icelandic landscape was just incredible. The weather was clear and sunny, and we marvelled at the snow and ice formations, the volcanic geography, and the power of the geysirs. Although it took us all day to make the trip, when we got back to our room, we looked at a map and saw that we'd hardly covered any of the country at all. In fact most of the interior of Iceland is uninhabitable and can only be reached by four-wheel drive vehicles in the summer months. It got me thinking that the way to really see Iceland would be to go there in a 4x4 packed with supplies for a summer...

The following evening we flew out of Reykjavik, but en route we flew over Greenland, the skies were clear, and we had an amazing view. We looked down on icebergs floating near the coast, glaciers, and snow clad mountains and decided that we had to go there one day too.

We'd had a very enjoyable flight but came down to earth with a jolt as we arrived at US Immigration. Nina and I both have multi-entry US visas, which we had to sit through interviews to get, so you would think that getting into the States would not be a problem. Not so. We'd been up all night, and now they insisted on grilling us about what we were doing in the US, why we had been there four times in the last three years, etc, etc. I told them that I had a boat there, but they weren't even listening to my answers and told me that it was "suspicious" that I was spending "so much time" in the States. In the end they stamped my passport for six months, told me verbally that I had to leave in three months, and virtually told me not to come back to the US. I looked over to see an elderly woman from our flight, who was obviously on holiday, getting similar treatment and I wondered how the US expects to get ANY tourists if that's how they treat people. In all the travelling that I've done, I've never been treated like that by any country's immigration, and I have no desire to spend any more time in the US than I have to. America is not the golden land that everyone wants to live in... but I'd better stop before the men in the black van pay me a visit!

After customs, we had to go through another security check, which seemed somewhat pointless as we'd just got off a plane and anyone could have walked into the airport through the front door without going through security. We then rented a car and drove the 40 mins or so to where the boat is in Titusville. I'm always nervous coming back to the boat after I've been away from her for a while, and this time was no exception. A hurricane and numerous tropical storms had passed over her while I'd been away and I was anxious to see if everything on board was still ok. We drove into the marina, and I parked behind Zamindar - she looked fine. We then spent almost an hour looking around the boatyard for a ladder as she was out of the water and stands about three metres above ground. Finally, I climbed on board, opened the hatch, and breathed a sigh of relief to see that everything was ok.

Since we arrived, we've been cleaning and getting the boat ready to go back into the water. Taking care of a boat is a never ending job, and we've been held up for the last couple of days by a storm that's been crossing us. Right now there's a force 8 (30-40 knots) blowing outside and we've had tropical downpours all day - not perfect weather for painting. The boatyard is flooded and the boats anchored outside the marina are really getting thrown around in the waves. We're actually sitting here with the central heating up full inside the boat so it's not what you think of as sunny Florida right now!

Tropical Storm

I've just posted the above, and as I'm sitting here at the dock, the waves are coming right into the marina, throwing all the boats around and splashing up to where I'm sitting with the pc. The wind has carried on rising and is now gusting at over 50knots (67+ is a hurricane). I've just been around the boat tightening up all the supports that we're resting on so we should be ok, but there are people here standing on the dock because it's too rough to get out to their boats or it's just too uncomfortable on board. This is some of the worst weather I've seen here in Titusville.

November 20, 2001

Life in Titusville

Our hopes of getting the boat into the water quickly disappeared with last week's storm which treated us to four days of sub-hurricane, but still intense (gale force I think they call it on boats), wind and tropical, but cold, rain. This had the effect of stopping our painting activities mid-stroke and sending us inside to catch up on other, less challenging pursuits, such as email, as everyone I wrote to last week will testify. Our hope is to complete the anti-fouling, boot-striping, and polishing, and get Zamindar afloat again in the next week, and unfortunately there are not even any bars in the vicinity to tempt us away from this work.

Here in Titusville it's difficult to detect any panic about anthrax outbreaks or biological terrorism. In fact walking down the street it feels like any other day in 1950's America, which appears to be the last time that anything, especially the music, was changed here. It's a thinly-spread out road town with little reason to attract visitors other than the marina, which is the first reasonably priced place to haul-out a boat on the way north from the Caribbean. Most of the inhabitants either drive pick-up trucks and spend their weekends hunting, killing and fishing, or ride electric wheelchairs, weigh 200kg, and appear to be about 110 years old. The town is especially proud of its lack of any public transport system, which ensures that everyone needs their own pick-up truck and helps the country use 80% of the world's oil consumption every year. As the town was designed to be driven around, however, there are few places within walking distance for us and most days we get no further than 'The Coffee Shoppe', the local diner which we frequent, and I'm sure, have a reputation for under-tipping, there. If we're feeling especially energetic we may walk the 40 minutes to Subway, Taco Bell, or McDonalds to ensure that our diet remains properly balanced, but normally we reserve that for special occasions.

November 21, 2001

We now have Mobility

We now have mobility. Today we found a solution to our personal transport needs and we are now able to cruise Titusville in style. After a late breakfast in the Coffee Shoppe, we passed the local thrift store and spotted two yellow 1970's bicycles for sale in the doorway. They appeared to be in fairly good condition apart from the steering, gears and brakes not working, and the fact that they had flat tyres, but we soon negotiated the price down to $15 for the pair. Delighted, we carried our new transport back to the marina and set about re-building them. Many of the other yacht owners appeared to be confused as to why we were choosing to fix two bikes instead of BUYING A CAR as they walked past looking puzzled, and we sense that we are getting a reputation as 'the two mad Europeans'. Nevertheless, by this evening, both bikes were rideable and we enjoyed the satisfaction of a sunset ride around the local swamp where we were both eaten alive by mosquitoes.

Unfortunately, we made no further progress with the boat today, but a whole new realm of fast food options is now open to us.