Warning! Email in facsimile language...
Hi all - just a quick (by my standards!) update since a few of you have been asking ........& thought I was still in London during the bombings - that I didn't even know happened!!
Finished work on 4 May & defn not bored - spent 10 days in Scotland doing the West Highland Way Walk over 8 days & a week in Belgium to escape deportation! It was a mission convincing immirgation I was not intending to stay in the UK when I re-entered, after 1/2 an hr of sweet talking......or confusing them with my waffling - they gave me another 6 mths, insisting that would be it & I was NEVER allowed back in! Stayed with Roger in Winchester for a month, preapring for our Kazakhstan trip & my Russia trip.
Kazakhstan - did a 23 day tour with a group of Czech guys, 14 of it was hiking in the Tian San region (crossing into Kyrgyzstan territory). We had to carry all our equipment, incl tent & food - plus stuff I never owned before like crampons, harness, caribiners, walking poles, snowaxe, headlamp & various ropes :-) It's one of the most challenging things I have done......& the longest I have gone without a shower! We reached altitudes over 4,000m - I really struggled on day 2 at 3,200m & didn't think I was going to make it, but it's amazing how quickly the body adjusted. We had great weather the 1st week but was hit with everything else the 2nd - rain, hail, snow, lightening & thunder.....even a couple of small avalanches.....where we sent up camp on the snow at the base of Kant Bas Tau peak! The Russian guides told us not to worry, it was far away.......yet we could see & hear it. We were told the weather could rage between 30-40 degrees in the lowlands (Almaty) to -10 in the mountains but we were lucky it did not get that cold, had to be prepared tho! One of my most memorable days was when we came across some nomads, the Russians were afraid we would be robbed so told them we were trainee American soldiers (apparently there was a US army base nearby) coz they're afraid of Americans! Later that day we had to cross a river, the water had risen & was flowing very rapidly........who should be conveniently waiting for us??? Yep the nomads on horseback!! They wanted USD 1 per person to take us & our backpacks accross, then there was some talk of them bring some local food products to our basecamp that night. It was a win win situation as we were sick of our instant dried food that we just added water to & they made some money. The scenery was stunning & towards the end of the hike we stayed in a dacha (holiday house) where there was an outdoor sauna - that was an amazing experience. We also had a couple of relaxing days after the hike which included rafting & rock climbing - very primitive, bare feet & attached by rope in a V shape so the Russian guide was assisting you at the bottom.......should we fall! Almaty (the former capital of Kaz) is suppose to be the most modern & developed city of Central Asia - but it's not very touristy at all, had no access to English news so when I finally found an internet cafe & logged on, I wondered what all the fuss was - am I ok?! I didn't even know about the London bomobings. Hardly anyone speaks English, I found this particularly hard when everyone left, took it for granted that the Czechs could speak Russian & English so was doing all the interpreting for Roger & I. I would have liked to stay longer in Kaz & visit a smaller town, but realised if I was having trouble there it was going to be harder elsewhere so decided to head to Russia ealier. Tried to get a train to Moscow, part of the Trans Siberian journey that would have taken 3 days, but there was no availabilty & my visa was about to expire so I ended up paying for a flight.
Well I thought Moscow would be a bit easier - WRONG! Coz I arrived earlier than expected, I didn't have any accomodation booked, nor did I have a guide book with me, but I did have a English Russian Phrase Book for Tourists (that was written for the 1980 Olympic games!) that one of the Russian guides gave me & a map of Moscow which Roger's work colleague lent me. I made it to the city centre just before the public transport stopped for the night & found an internet cafe & started searching for accomodation. Found one but was advised it was not safe to walk, tried to get a cab but they were going to charge 5 times more than the price I was told it should cost so spent the night in the internet cafe :-) The following morning I made it to the Hostel, to be told it was full! Insisted I had my own sleeping mat & bag so just need floor space, they agreed to give me the couch - but there was a no show & I ended up with a bunk bed - nice! Tried to sort out my registration, but no luck, was told several things - basically not to worry coz it's a Moscow jurisdiction, only a problem if I get pulled over by the police. Since I was planning on leaving Moscow & returning on 6/8 when I was meeting my friend I decided it wasn't important coz it was witin the "3 business day rule". Anyway, I got a text from Tanya (Roger's Russian work colleague) who told me her sister lived in Moscow & to contact her - so I did. We ended up meeting & I never left Moscow, told her about registration, she said it was more trouble than it's worth & if I get fined by the police then just give them some bribe money! Met per parents & spend the w/end with them in their dacha in the countryside about 1/2 hr from Borodino, where Napolean fought (& lost) in 1814. I was very well looked after.......& fed :-)Meeting them & staying with Oxana was defn a highlight of Moscow. It's been hard work, everything is so complicated, they do things very different here, there is no customer service, they are not particularly friendly, welcoming or helpful. I avoided doing the touristy stuff coz I'd made plans with Kathy (BNZers - Stu's sister) & it was nice just hanging out with Oxana, learning about each other (country, culture etc).......practising our Russian / English! Also did some further planning for my upcoming trips.
Now Kathy has arrived & we've been busy - checking in was a drama. She's already booked & paid for 2 people for 3 nights, but they couldn't find us - despite having the confirmation & reference! She had to pay another night while they sorted it out. Wouldn't check me in coz I wasn't registered - but I was still allowed to stay. The following day they found her reservation, but siad she hd to sort out the refund with the booking agent. Kicked up a fuss re my registration, told me to go to police stn, of course I didn't coz I'd heard the stories of corrupt policeman so waited till Monday & got the NZ Embassy involved. Anyway, we've been to the circus & ballet, it was nice but not as spectacular as I'd imagined. Red Square, Kremlin, St Basil & tomb of Lenin was across from the Hotel we were staying at so we got to see our fair share of the main sights. Now we are visiting some of the Golden Ring cities before making our way to St Petersburg. It's so nice to be out of Moscow!
Ok, that's enough.......for now :-) I am fine & having a great time. Will email again with more adventures. Hope this finds you all well. Would love to hear your news so do write!!
Take care, love