Travel Archives

Postcards From The Edge

A picture tells a thousand words, right? Well, let’s hope so. Because I’ve run out of words! I’ve been talking so much these last few weeks that I am literally losing the ability to expel new words from inside of me.

So what I’ve decided to do is dazzle you all with the photos we’ve been taking – ones that have missed the cut so far, and not made it onto Facebook or the blog. Partially this is because I don’t post photos as often as I should, and partially it’s because I take pictures of really weird sh*t that amuses me, and somehow it doesn’t seem nearly as funny five days later when I find the photos…

It’s a context thing. That’s my excuse.

So in celebration of that, I will attempt to give you a brief context for each picture. You may even gain some insight into the inner workings of my mind… in which case, BEWARE! It’s not a particularly wholesome environment in there…

Paperwork

I’d like to begin with a salute to the sheer amount of paperwork I brought with me on this trip. Having struggled to get into the US a few times before (see ‘Don’t Need The Whole Dog!’, for example) I needed to make SURE they couldn’t refuse us. So I bribed the boss at work in Perth for a letter saying we’d be coming back, I printed out bank statements, offers of accommodation from 200+ people, our schedule, our flights, our train tickets, the receipt for the car we were buying… even a screen grab of my Spider book at the top of the charts, in case they had any doubts about what I was up to here.
And you know what? The bastards didn’t look at a single page of the stuff. So I’m including this picture to illustrate the anguish I felt when I had to abandon all this in a nameless motel room, on the grounds that it was making my rucksack over a kilo heavier. DAMN IT!!! (The many hours all this took to create is part of the reason why the rest of this trip is so badly organised…)

Shower slimed

And this is what I mean by taking photos of weird sh*t. This is actually the results of a slight accident I had whilst taking one of my first showers in the USA. I slipped (I’m known to do that) – and I liberally decorated the walls in shampoo in the process. This amused me, of course, because I have the mind of a twelve-year-old boy. (It’s in a box in the car). What amused me even more is that I refused to clean it off, and left it for the cleaners to find the next day. I like to think I was giving them a laugh, too. Or spreading the love, as I call it 😉

What Road?

Next we have a road sign we passed on the way to Las Vegas. I know it’s the middle of the desert, but come on! Someone was taking the piss when he named this road. I can just see him putting it forward to his very bored superiors, and them cracking up over the thought of people trying to pronounce it…

Large Mantis

Next up is this rather large preying mantis sculpture, which we discovered on the far end of Fremont Street in Vegas. It’s over 40 feet long, articulated, and it blows fire from its antennae. Well, of course it does! This is, after all, Las Vegas. But the weirdest thing was being told by the giant mantis, in a Star Trek-style computer voice, to “Take lots of selfies, and upload them to Instagram,”. Whilst blasting massive gouts of fire from its deely boppers to reinforce the point. If you’ve never been commanded to take selfies by a 40-foot tall fire-breathing mantis, then clearly you’ve never been to Vegas…

Down Sign

Next we have a rather self-explanatory shot from my Amusing Signage folder. Does it surprise anyone that I have an amusing signage folder? Really? Anyway, this one had me in stitches – quite possibly because I was very drunk at the time – but I’d LOVE to know who decided that the direction ‘down’ was so confusing to customers that it needed pictorial explanation. Roo had to physically restrain me to prevent me adding, “No shit??” in biro. My poor stupid head is already abuzz with potential Facebook memes for this one… anyone else want to have a crack?

Bowl of Baby Heads

Here we have a photo I call ‘Bowl of Baby Heads’ – for reasons far too complicated to explain. Suffice to say, I found this selection of decapitated dolls’ heads for sale in possibly the best Antiques Store I’ve ever been in, in Astoria, Oregon. In terms of Halloween decorations, this is right up there with those severed limbs you can get for hanging out of your car boot – but personally, I’d just like to have this sitting around on the coffee table, as a conversation piece. Or stopper. Imagine showing in guests… I’ve never wanted a house-warming party so much in my life! Or a house, come to think of it.

Alas Poor Yorik

“Alas, poor Yorik!” What can I say? The frustrated actor in me just couldn’t help it.

Not Dairy

Next we have something far more scary than a bowl of baby heads! It’s the ‘milk’ they provided at a hotel buffet, for putting into my coffee. I damn near did it, too, before realising that it was ‘Not a Dairy product.’ But… WHAT THE BLOODY HELL IS IT, THEN? A closer inspection reveals it to be a concoction of soybean oil, corn syrup, three kinds of acids, four kinds of salt, and ‘Artificial Colors’ for good measure. So, much healthier than that awful cow’s milk crap people have been drinking for decades! Honestly, why do we even need dairy in our diet, when we can so easily replace it with man-made chemicals? Perhaps all those non-dairy folks have got the right idea after all. I mean, compared to the shocking and well-known side effects of drinking milk, what possible harm can come of replacing it with this?

Anyway. Because this blog has mostly been me moaning about or laughing at the general stupidity of this world, here’s a bit of relief from all that, in the form of one of Roo’s photos. Because they say you should always end on something cute. Well, assuming something cute will still let you, if you’re so close to the end…

Anyway! Enough of such nonsense. Here’s a racoon. Enjoy! And don’t forget to leave your comments in the box that’s named after ’em  😛

Love from Tony.

Racoon

Leaving Las Vegas

Right, where were we?

Next stop was on our grand USA adventure was Death Valley Junction. We checked into the only motel anywhere near there, finding it delightfully knackered and ‘quaint’. The ladies who ran the place were very friendly, but as we were leaving the next day they were reporting a guest to the police. An older man, staying in one room with a young girl – when the cleaners went in, they found her long hair had all been cut off and left in the sink… Definitely something strange going on there!

Death Valley Motel 1

We spent that evening exploring some awesomely creepy abandoned buildings over the road. This was an activity Roo called ‘testing the low-light capabilities of my new phone’ and I called ‘breaking into shit’. We’ve since agreed to call it ‘Urban Exploring’ – and to do lots more of it 😉 

Death Valley Buildings

In Death Valley we had a slight mishap. Roo wanted to get a closer look at Twenty Mule Canyon, so veered off the road onto what she thought was a lay-by. In fact it turned out to be a one-way 4×4 track, which we ended up following for 20 minutes, along a crazily twisting, narrow rocky track. Eventually we came to a steep slope down, covered in sand and gravel, bristling with hairpin bends between rough outcrops of rock…

“Uh… No friggin’ WAY!” we said in unison, and Roo managed to turn the car around and head back – praying the whole while that nothing would come the other way. As we made it back to the road, we noticed a VERY SMALL warning sign, suggesting this might not have been the best track to follow…

Warning Sign

By the time we arrived at Badwater Basin, the lowest (and hottest) spot in the continental US, the sun had already set. Which was probably for the best, as it was still 118 degrees F (48 degrees C) – at 8pm!

We walked out onto the salt flats, and I had to find out whether or not it really WAS salt.

Licking Salt

It was!

And it was rough, too – I even cut my tongue 🙁

Still – one hell of a beautiful, desolate place. Roo couldn’t help herself!

Badwater Basin Sunset

See? Told ya so 😉

Our next reader visit was Dave in Simi Valley, just north of Hollywood. Dave and his daughter (and her boyfriend) took us on an epic hike into the hills, looking for a hidden cave full of graffiti artwork, where sometimes there are giant ropes nets to hang out in.

Simi Cave

The ropes were gone, but due to a slight wardrobe malfunction, I did enough hanging out for all of us… particularly for Dave, who was walking directly behind me. He now sees my flabby white bum-cheek every time he closes his eyes…

Split Shorts

By the sight of mine ass, thou shalt remember me…

Sorry Dave!

The next exciting event in our lives was the arrival of our car – which we still haven’t decided on a name for! All suggestions gratefully accepted 😉

The car, a bright red Nissan Versa, cost us a staggering $10,000!!!

And no, before you ask – I don’t have ten thousand dollars. Not even close. So I bought this car entirely on a credit card, and am very much hoping that when we sell it, I’ll be able to pay the card off. Otherwise it’ll be beans on toast for dinner when we get back to Perth. For at least a decade…

Beepi Car

As we travel around the US, I’m planning on doing talks about my books, about writing, about self-publishing, and about traveling in general, to writer’s groups, university classes, in pubs… anywhere they don’t shut me up quick enough!

My first try was at Anacapa Brewing Company in Ventura, organised by Lily, one of my first readers. It was a rip-roaring success, with a sell-out crowd of almost ten people…

It was the perfect opportunity for me to practise my patter without the stress of a large audience. I promised to talk until people started throwing fish – luckily, they weren’t serving fish that night, so I managed to get through my entire act.

First talk

My notes guided me through, and were written several minutes before the talk on a piece of cardboard that Roo tore off a box. People sometimes ask how it’s possible to be so unbelievably crap at organising things, and now I can cheerfully point to Roo and say, “Well, that’s HER job…”

Speech notes

Yes – that’s the box from a Star Wars windscreen cover my speech is written on…

We had a pleasant stay in Ventura, running on the beach with Lily’s dogs. Evidently there’d been some kind of party there the night before – ever feel like you’ve just missed out on something truly weird?

Beach Chair

And there are these cool little tunnels under the highway. I REALLY wanted to come back an explore some of them with a head torch, but apparently the homeless people who live in them can be a bit rude to visitors…

Creepy Tunnel

And on that note, I’ll end yet another update! I’m struggling to find much time for blog writing, what with all the homeless people’s tunnels I’m invading (amongst other activities) – but I promise to get the next one up soon 😉

 

Catch you in a few days!

Tony

USA Trip Update no. 2!

Hiya folks!

It’s time for another USA Trip Update!

First up, I’ll admit I’m playing catch-up here. This trip has been so much more awesome, and so much more demanding, than I could have imagined. I’ve been hiding from Facebook lately, as even without posting anything I find myself drowning in over 200 notifications per day. I know what you’re saying! Somewhere there is a tiny violin playing just for me…

In all seriousness though, the mountain of emails and messages I put off daily is keeping me from my real job – which is putting off writing blog posts! So in an abrupt turnaround, I’ve taken a day off to do all of the above.

(Incidentally, Roo is also taking this day off. Only she gets to spend hers sunbathing by the pool!).

To make you all feel better, I will be drinking THIS intriguing concoction:

Cheap Booze

So don’t feel TOO sorry for me. And apologies in advance if this blog gets a bit weird by the end…

Anyway, to get you all up to speed with our adventures so far, here is a potted pictorial history of our USA trip to date:

Before we left, we had one absolutely vital task to complete – yes, you’ve guessed it! Like any seasoned traveller, I made damn sure my wife was completely rainbowed-up. This particular dye job took 5 hours to accomplish, and has received on average three to five compliments per day from random strangers. This is working wonders on Roo’s natural shyness…

Roo Hair Dye

Our first stop was in downtown LA. Actually our first stop was in the airport, where the cash machine refused to spit out the money it said it had given us… What IS IT with me and cash machines, anyway?

Downtown was a trip. Homeless dudes pushing shopping trolleys down the middle of the road, street bands drumming up a storm, homemade art markets on the sidewalk, and more people walking around at 11pm than I’d see in Perth on Saturday at lunchtime! We also got to visit an AMAZING book shop, called (ironically) the Last Bookstore. As the publishing industry falls to its knees, this could never have been more appropriate. But the shop itself was incredible, with sculptures made of books (like a tunnel, windows, and the counter itself) – and displays like the ‘Horror Vault’ and the shelves themselves, which were arranged into a labyrinth! 

Last Bookstore

Our first visits with readers Eliza and Sue saw us sneaking under the Santa Monica pier… (no-one obeys those warning signs, right?)

Under Santa Monica Pier

…and exploring the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Sadly we weren’t there when someone built a tiny wall around Donald Trump’s star, but we did find this conveniently empty one…

Tonys Star

I knew we’d be a bit stressed at the prospect of the tour stretching out in front of us, so I squeezed in a couple of days off over our 5th wedding anniversary. Naturally, we chose to spend them in VEGAS, baby, YEAH!

Our hotel/casino overlooked the famous Freemont Street Experience – well, actually our room overlooked an alley full of skip bins and what looked suspiciously like the Thunder Dome from Mad Max…

Alley View

The dome turned out to be a multi-million-dollar canopy which projects sound and light shows all night – I even had a go at zip-lining underneath it all, as a birthday pressie from Roo’s family (thanks guys!)

Fremont Canopy

This is what the canopy looks like! I sailed under it in the ‘Superman’ position, which was (according to Roo) “bastard impossible to catch a photo of!”

We spent three days in Vegas, and we didn’t gamble a dime. The inside of the casinos, though awash with lights and abuzz with a bewildering array of people and machines, still seemed kind of sad. Almost no-one in them looked happy – some wired with adrenaline and booze, some driven, some suspicious… I understand the mechanism of addiction by which gambling works, but I couldn’t figure out what made them all want to do it in the first place. It certainly wasn’t glamorous, despite the fact that all the croupiers were sexy chicks in their bras and panties… It probably says something about our budget that we ended up in the only hotel staffed entirely by strippers.

Casino Girls

We explored the famous Las Vegas Strip quite thoroughly. It hadn’t occurred to us just how far it was between the big casinos, and we ended up walking for five hours straight. We still only saw half of it, so had to come back the following night to check out the crazy castle and the fake Statue of Liberty…

Vegas Landmarks

And I’ll leave it there for now! My biggest fear (apart from going bald) is boring you nice folks with too much waffle. So next time I promise there’ll be thrills and spills… well, I’ve been drinking a lot of milkshakes, so there’s bound to be at least one of the two  🙂 

Until next time!

Tony

USA Trip Route

Hi folks!

It can’t have escaped your attention that Roo and I have, in fact, made it as far as America.

Us In VegasOh yes! We are here, in the big US of A, doin’ what we do best!

Which mostly involves screwing up relatively simple things, like using cash machines at the airport. Seriously – don’t get me started on this one…

So when it comes to complex things, like the buying, registering and insuring of motor vehicles… suffice to say, we were meant to be in it now. First they couldn’t process my credit card, and then they could, and then they couldn’t deliver in time, and then they could, and then they couldn’t again… to say nothing of the trouble we’ve had getting our phone to work over here.

But you don’t care about that! What you want to know is, where are we now, and where are we going? And those questions are easily answered by this short video  🙂 

For those of you who can’t be arsed watching us fanny around with maps the size of bed sheets, here’s the skinny:

We’ve started out in mid July, in southern California. Here’s how we progress from here…

Up to San Francisco by the end of this month, then on up to Portland, Oregon by August 5th. We press on up to Seattle for a week, leaving there around the 14th. We cross back down diagonally through Idaho around the 20th, arriving in Colorado around the 25th.

A brief stop in New Mexico is next, followed by a long drive across Texas, stopping in San Antonio and Houston. We make it to New Orleans by September 10th, and hope to make Florida by 16th.

We’ve got a sneaky little holiday scheduled in Miami around the 25th, after which we’ll be heading back up the East Coast through Georgia and South Carolina by the end of September.

October follows a steady progression north, through NC, Virginia, West Virginia and Maryland. A day or two off to explore New York, then we’ll be back on the road through Connecticut, Massachusetts (which I have finally learned to spell!) – and finishing our trip in New Hampshire around the end of the month.

Then all we have to do is figure out how we’re getting home…

Oh, and well the car, of course. A car which, at this point, we haven’t even got, yet…

AND THAT’S IT!

Me with US map

No, I’m NOT naked behind there. Or am I…?

Roo also wants me to mention that I now have a shiny now official MEDIA PAGE on my website. We’re trying to drum up media attention as we go, so any interested interviewers or other parties can be directed to this page: http://tonyjamesslater.com/home/media/ – from where they can download the awesome Press Kit that took me three days to create.

This is the definite downside to being your own boss…

Roo thinks the page lacks a little professionalism, on account of the octopus, but I’ll let you be the judge of that.

Oh, and before I go, I’d just like to say a quick, yet heartfelt THANK-YOU!!! To all of you, for following my travels, and for opening your homes to Roo and myself. It means the world to us (or at very least, the continental US) – and this trip simply wouldn’t be possible without you.

Roo and I will be blogging as we go, as will as trying to keep Facebook, Twitter and Instagram updated. If that sounds like a lot of work, that’s because IT IS!!! So hopefully you’ll understand if we fall behind here and there.

For anyone who fancies staying in touch on these various platforms, here’s the skinny:

https://www.facebook.com/TonyJamesSlater/

https://twitter.com/TonyJamesSlater

https://www.instagram.com/adventurewithoutend/

Please do get in touch however you want, let us know when we’re coming into your area, and if anyone hears of a newspaper that might like to interview us, a radio station that is getting desperate on even a late night TV channel that no-one watches – please send them our way!

That’s all for now! Catch you folks soon…  🙂

Tony (and Roo too)

USA Take Two!

Hi folks!

So, some of you may have noticed that I have a new book out!

Shave My Spider Cover

I know, I know. FINALLY! Yes, well, after taking me almost a year to write, ‘Shave My Spider!’ turned out to be a monster at over 180,000 words. That doesn’t seem to have deterred people though, and at the moment, over a month after its release, ‘Spider’ is still hanging in there at no.1 in all its Amazon categories.

Bestseller Screen Shot

Look! Proof! Because no-one believes me when I say this stuff!

Now, I don’t want to give any spoilers, but the book ends with my death Roo’s brilliant idea that we should go to America, visit some of our readers, and explore as much of the place as possible.

Aha! The eagle-eyed amongst you may recognise this proposal as the genesis of my now-infamous Secret Plan™ which I blogged about HERE.

And a damn fine plan it was! Alas, real life intervened in the most horrible way possible, and we ended up not making that trip. On the upside, we did get to spent five months playing with my two tiny nieces, Hazel and Holly!

Holly Hazel Combo

Hazel, ready for her digger lesson, and Holly wondering why she’s been christened Baby Spice…

And now, almost exactly a year after we originally planned to invade America, we’re almost ready to try again.

So – once more, this is my rallying cry! If any of you American types fancy hosting Roo and myself for a pair of nights, feeding us a bit, and listening to me waffle on about the adventures too boring to make it into the books – here’s what to do:

  • PLEASE DO send me an email! Last time it got SO complicated, with people replying on blog comments, Facebook posts, private messages and emails to 3 different addresses, that a strange, mucus-like substance started dripping from my ears… That’s almost never a good thing, so emails, please, to: Tony@TonyJamesSlater.com
  • PLEASE DON’T offer us a place to stay if you just want to eat us and wear our skin. You know who you are! Unfortunately I don’t, so this is bound to happen at least once…
  • This is where the plan gets so sneaky you could put a wig on it and let it run for president: I’d like to spread the word about my books in each place I visit. That way I might actually sell a few, and we’ll be able to afford to eat when we get back to Australia! So please let me know if there’s a local paper or radio station that might be interested in doing an interview, or a local library, book club or college that might let me do a talk. Eventually I’ll have to ask you to get in touch with them, because if I do it they call it ‘advertising’, and try to charge me for it… But for now I’m just keen to know what the options are  🙂
  • Also, let me know if there’s anything cool, unique or interesting we’ll be able to do/see/fall off/accidentally damage near you. Ideally not expensive attractions, as Roo and I tend to travel on a pretty minuscule budget. Likewise, fine dining is out I’m afraid – well, unless you’re willing to pick up the tab!
  • AND THAT’S IT! Once I have a big list of people and places, I’ll whittle it down by… ah… trial by combat? A day-long rock-paper-scissors marathon? Honestly, I dunno. I’ll figure something out. Last time it took me three weeks to do it – which coincidentally is exactly how long we have before our flight to LA…

I do still have a list of folks who offered to let us stay the last time I asked. You’ll all be getting an email from me to check that you haven’t come to your senses! Feel free to reply with creative excuses. I won’t mind – after all, you hadn’t read about our Asia trip when you made those offers…

Oh, and you might want to check your insurance will cover this visit.

Nah, I’m only kidding!

It definitely won’t.

😉

I look forward to hearing from you!

Best wishes,

Tony

An Unexpected Journey

Roo and I have been back in England for a couple of weeks now, and I still haven’t managed to write anything about our month in Wanaka. I guess because the memory is still so sharp; our time there was, to misquote a popular novel, the best of times and the worst of times.

Well, mostly the worst.

As many of you may know, the reason that Roo and I changed our plans at the last minute and flew to New Zealand was because Chris, my sister Gill’s husband, was starting to lose the battle against pancreatic cancer.

Chris Ice CreamIt’s hard to believe that less than six months ago I was writing a book about his wedding; he wore blue, insisted that I wore blue too, and looked like the happiest man alive as he stood next to Gill in the gardens of Polquhorn Fort in Cornwall, and said “I do.”

Gills Wedding

Gill and Chris – as happy as I’ve ever seen either of them.

And now… well, six weeks ago we laid him to rest in a wickerwork casket, in a narrow plot in Wanaka cemetery. Chris passed away on the 29th of May, aged just 38 – leaving behind not just my sister, but their two beautiful daughters, Hazel and Holly, aged 18 months and two months.

Even now, as I sit here writing this, tears are falling freely onto my keyboard. That’s been happening a lot lately; I might have to invest in some kind of rain cover for my laptop…

Anyway, it’s not like me to be so doom-and-gloom, and I’ve always prided myself on finding the positive in every situation. And here in Wanaka, the positive is impossible to ignore – it’s all around me, everywhere I look.

Because Wanaka is, beyond shadow of a doubt, one of the most beautiful places on the planet.

Wanaka Beauty

It’s beautiful alright – this is the view from our hostel. Which is in the centre of town.

Even Chris has a spectacular view. If I had to spend eternity contemplating one particular vista, well, I could do a lot worse.

Graveyard View

We laid Chris to rest overlooking the town where his girls live, and the mountains he spent his life on.

We’ve visited Wanaka before, of course. Back then Hazel was just a baby, and Wanaka was in the grip of a deadly epidemic – of drive-by knitting?!?!!? It’s still the town’s biggest mystery – no-one knows who is responsible, or when they will strike.

Knitted Tree

Random bits of the town are regularly discovered wrapped in colourful knitting. Truth!

That kind of says it all about Wanaka. It’s a placid place, like something out of a fairy-tale; stupendous mountains, incredible scenery, friendly folk, healthy and wholesome almost to a fault. People here don’t lock their doors. Even when they go on holiday. It would be a thieves’ paradise… except, there aren’t any thieves. Which is ironic, really, as it’s one of the most expensive places on Earth to live!

And the only downside? Well, other than a loaf of bread costing $5? The town is the central hub for three of New Zealand’s most popular ski resorts. So every winter, scores of penniless ski bums just like Gill and Chris show up, taking jobs on the mountains and living anywhere they can – three to a room, sleeping on floors, in vans, in garden sheds… and the town becomes party central for the next six months solid.

So, you know, major bummer  🙂 

Wanaka Dawn

They get plenty of snow here – this is the view we woke up to on our second morning in Wanaka.

Yes, it’s fair to say, I like it here. As for Roo, well… if you’ve read anything about our time in Canada, you’ll know that anything even remotely involving snow turns Roo into an eight-year-old.

Roo Kissing Snowman

Obviously I wanted to make a giant sculpture of a penis, and leave it in the middle of the park – but Roo demanded we make something she could kiss.

Gill and Chris had just bought a new house when we arrived, so we moved into it on their behalf. Predictably, I broke at least one thing per day, so that by the time Gill set foot in the place there was already a lengthy maintenance list…

Broken Shower

Welcome to your new house Gill! Here’s your shower door handle…

Broken Knife

I have no idea how I broke this knife. Just don’t know my own strength, I guess…

Broken Table

And I’m sure this table isn’t supposed to look like that… I also broke a shelf in the fridge 🙁

I try to take something, some message or life-lesson, from everyone I know who passes on. From Chris, I have taken a timely reminder of something which is all too easy to forget, especially for a struggling, self-published author.

Chris wasn’t about money, not in the least. He was happiest fixing skis, barely scraping by, and many times stated that life was not about abstract concepts like success, or the accumulation of wealth.

It was about fun. That was why he left a promising career in genetics to spend his life ski-bumming around the world, earning sub-minimum wage, and loving his life in the snow, and his growing family.

So the next time I find myself obsessively checking my sales, or carefully weighing out the financial cost of an adventure, I’ll remember this: life is too damn short to be stingy.

You never know, ladies and gentlemen, whether or not you’ll live to spend it, so take a piece of advice from me, and – posthumously – from one of the cleverest people I’ve ever known: enjoy what you’ve got, while you’ve got it. Money is only as good as the enjoyment you can get out of it, so squeeze every last drop of fun from those pennies! Because you never know when it’ll be too late.

Mum Sky Dive

Grab life by the balls! This is my Mum, doing her first sky-dive – at 62 years old. Apparently, it’s never too late!

Anyway, to conclude the tale, we all retreated to England to spend some time together as a family, helping Gill with the girls and hopefully giving her a safe space to grieve. It was a fairly daunting prospect – taking one baby and one toddler on a series of long-haul flights totalling over 24 hours in the air – but amazingly, we came through it all unscathed. It wasn’t until after we’d landed in Heathrow Airport that Hazel decided to projectile-vomit, Exorcist style, emptying her stomach of everything she’d eaten since we left Singapore. Made a fair mess of the landing gate, I can tell you.

Happy Holly

Baby Holly, on the other hand, rather enjoyed the flight!

But we did it! And now here we are, in England! Facing the same journey back again in just over six weeks’ time… Like I said – life’s all about the fun  🙂

And while we’re on the subject of fun, I’d like to take this chance to invite everyone else who is in England to a ski-event we’re holding in Chris’s memory. It will be at Hemel Hempstead Snow Centre on the 29th August, from 8-10pm, and we’ll be raising money for pancreatic cancer research. The plan is to try and make 1977 runs down the ski slope (Chris’s birth year), so we’ll need all the help we can get. Entrance costs £40, including 2 hours on the slopes, ski/snowboard gear hire and a meal at the restaurant. Non-skiers are welcome, and there’ll be a sledging slope set up for a bit of fun. Let me know if you fancy coming along! And for anyone who’d like to contribute without getting their asses cold and wet*, Gill has set up a Just Giving page – all proceeds go directly to Pancreatic Cancer UK:

https://www.justgiving.com/robinsonskichallenge

Hope to see you there!

*Snowboarders have to sit down at the top to fasten their boards on. This is why my ass gets wet, NOT because I’m so afraid that I pee myself – no matter what you may have heard.

Leaving Nova Scotia

So, the time has come to leave our little bolt-hole in Nova Scotia, Canada. We’re flying out to New Zealand, postponing our US trip slightly for personal reasons. We’ve really enjoyed our time here in the Bay of Fundy – home of the world’s highest tides, and… um… ah…

No, sorry, that’s it.

But man, is it ever beautiful!

Nova Scotia Cabin

When we arrived, the whole place was still buried under a thick blanket of snow – much to Roo’s delight. She set about building a snowman, then hollowing out a snow cave… you know, the kind of stuff that non-Australians generally get out of their system by age 10.

Roo Snowman

Meanwhile, I settled in to write about Asia. It was a little odd, filling my head with scenes of steaming jungles and sprawling concrete metropolises – only to look out of the window at the pristine snow every time a car drove past our cabin. Which happened roughly three times per day…

Nova Scotia Deer

We had plenty of other visitors though!

Most days, we took a stroll down to the beach – a rugged and dramatic location, the sand black beneath the white snow, and strewn with boulders and great chunks of ice. An awesome place for photographs; sunbathing, not so much.

Icy Beach

Overlooking the beach was (and still is) my favourite house in the area – a delightful little cottage with a bay window and panoramic views over the bay. Snow ramped up, covering the front door, and we could tell that no-one had visited the cottage in months. It was obviously a holiday home, and one I was rather jealous of.

Port Greville Cottage View

In a tantalising twist, we happened to be walking past it again a few days ago – just in time to spot a real estate agent, taking photos of the place. The owner had taken ill, and put it on the market; “Needs a bit of redecorating,” he admitted, “but it’s in great shape!”

Port Greville Cottage

The price? $98,000. That’s Canadian dollars, by the way – putting the UK market value at a tad under £50,000. (It’s HERE if you’re interested!)

“It’s the view,” the lady who runs the local shop told me. “Any house with a view like that shoots right up in price.”

She was right – a quick check of the estate agent’s website revealed a house on 7.5 acres for sale nearby – for $30,000 (£15k). That’s the price of a decent car in Australia…

And speaking of the shop, there is just the one; a tiny place that sells bread, milk, eggs… and not much else. Not much of those either, to be honest – in the last two months we’ve bought three cartons of eggs from them, all from the same batch. They expired shortly before we bought the first lot, and by the time I bought the last pack I had to point out to the owner that I was now paying full price for eggs that were two entire months out of date. She apologised, and nipped out the back – returning with a pack that was only one month out of date. Score!

The shop also has one of those Kuerig coffee machines that posh people have in their kitchens. This has become a bit of an addiction, and I make an excuse to go there every couple of days to buy one. But, other than that, we haven’t been to a single shop – groceries or otherwise – in eighteen days.

I think that’s a personal record.

So, yesterday we borrowed our landlord’s car, for the third time since we got here. It’s a knackered old wreck, squeaking and shuddering the 20km to the nearest town – but it’s still a lot better than walking.

Buried Camper

Nova Scotia winters are seldom kind to vehicles…

Roo and I flipped a coin for the driving privileges, and I lost, which meant it was my turn. My first, actually, and as Roo pointed out, I was badly in need of the practice. Roo and I will be sharing the driving on our US trip – so far that’s in the order of 10,253 miles, split evenly between the two of us! But so far, I’ve never actually driven in this part of the world. Or in an automatic.

It took me a while, getting used to that auto transmission – bunny-hopping down the road with one foot on each pedal, while Roo gently reminded me that I was still on the wrong side of the road. I suffer left-right confusion issues, which to be honest doesn’t stand me in the best stead to be a driver. Or a navigator. In fact, it begs the question, “What the hell good I am going to be on a three-month road-trip around America?!” I frequently find myself driving on the wrong side in England, and I’ve never had any continental experience to confuse me… just my crazy old brain, up to its usual tricks.

Left Right Hands

I used to do that thing where you make an ‘L’ with your left hand – until I noticed this…

So we made the first turn (there are only two turns on this 20 minute journey), and Roo convinced me to move over to the opposite side of the carriageway. I started to speed up, and amidst the myriad clangs and squeals of tortured suspension, I was sure I could hear the regular thud thud thud of a flat tyre.

Roo was also listening to it. “Might just be a stone in the tyre,” she said.

So we carried on.

Then we came around a bend in the road and saw, in front of us, a police blockade. One cop car, lights flashing, on either side of the road, and a handful of vehicles queuing through the gap in between them.

Roo and I exchanged a look of horror.

“Thank God you’re driving!” she said. Because her license had expired a month ago. The new one was still en route from Australia, and hadn’t arrived yet. This hadn’t stopped her driving on our last trip to town, but thankfully this was the first time we’d seen a police car in Nova Scotia.

“We still have a bit of a problem,” I pointed out. “This isn’t our car. We’re not insured to drive it. I don’t know if it’s even registered. Hell, I don’t know if it’s even roadworthy…”

It was a long, dead-straight road down the hill to the cops. No way out. I fumbled on the back seat for my jacket, groped in the pocket for my wallet, and gave it to Roo while I slid my licence out of it. Then my hand twitched; the license fell from my nervous fingers, clattering down the narrow gap between the passenger seat and the centre console – the single hardest-to-reach place in the entire car.

“CRAP!” said Roo, “You’ve got to be f’ckn’ kidding me!”

I pulled up behind the driver who was currently talking to the cop.

The voice inside my head was going, “SHIT-SHIT-SHIT-SHIT-SHIT!”

When it was my turn, I inched towards the cop, leaving an almost suspiciously large gap between myself and the car in front.

Just don’t hit the wrong pedal, I told myself. Don’t kangaroo the damn car right past the guy. That almost always looks bad.

The policeman was inspecting the tyres of the car opposite me, which didn’t bode well.

“Morning sir,” I said, as cheerfully as I could manage. Roo dug my license out just in time and I held it out before he could ask for it. This was because I was terrified he would ask – like every traffic cop in every move I’ve ever seen – for my “license AND registration.”

I had no idea where the registration was, or what it looked like, or if there even was any – and if there was, it sure as hell wasn’t in my name.

The officer was frowning at my UK driving license. “You don’t have a Canadian license?” he asked.

“Ah, no, we’re just on holiday,” I explained, “staying back there in Port Greville.”

The officer winced in sympathy.

Port Greville Beauty

Don’t know why he wasn’t keen – Port Greville may be boring, but it’s absolutely stunning!

Then he walked around the back of the car, studying something. He bent down for a closer look, then reached for his radio…

I was braced for a shout of “Step out of the VE-hicle!”

But it didn’t come. He just handed back my license, wished us a pleasant day, and let us go.

I don’t think I’ve moved off as carefully as that since the day of my driving test.

But we made it.

My fears of being stranded beside the road, several hours’ walk from our landlord’s house, with no phone to call him – and him with no car other than the one we’d just had impounded…

I was suddenly reminded of this moment:

Droids meme

“I can’t understand how we got past that trooper,” I told Roo, “I thought we were dead!”

Roo got the reference straight away, because Roo is awesome like that.

“The Force is strong with us,” she explained. “I just hope they’re not still there on the way back…”

* * *

Right well, that’s enough waffle from me! Next time I promise we’ll have Roo back, and you can look at some of her stunning images instead of reading my rubbish. 🙂

USA Trip Update!

Well, it looks like this USA trip is a go!

First off, I’d like to say a massive THANK-YOU!!! to everyone who replied, with offers of food, accommodation, adventures, and advice. Every one of you is fantastically awesome, as well as super-generous with your time, your food, and your bedding/garden/sandpit/daughter’s tree-house.

So, like they say on TV: APPLICATIONS ARE NOW CLOSED! (which doesn’t mean you can’t send me any. But if you do, I might cry.)

Couch Surfing

I also got sent some natty graphics! 🙂

To be honest, I was a bit worried I’d only get three responses, one of which wanted to put me in a dungeon and one of which was only interested in Roo staying over…

So it was quite a relief, as well as a bit of a shock, to receive almost 170 replies. WOOHOO! Again, thank-you SO MUCH, everyone!

It’s taken me quite a while to transfer all this information from emails, Facebook messages and blog comments, and to put it in some kind of shape that I can understand. By which I mean, a zonking great list which is currently covering the dining table. So if you haven’t heard from me yet… don’t worry! No bugger has. 🙂

Planning

BEWARE my pencil case!

Anyway, I’ve been struggling with the problem of how to organise the trip so that we can see the maximum number of people, and do as much stuff as possible. (NOTE: ‘Stuff’ is a technical term for the wide variety of activities we could potential be involved in – which so far includes an all-day wine festival, a police ride-along, urban caving and some SAS-style manhunt training…)

Now, several kind folks sent me a link to this map, which has been doing the rounds on Facebook:

USA trip map

It gave me a pretty good idea about how I should start, so I dug a bit deeper, to discover the original article it was based on. And that’s when I discovered why planning this trip is giving me a headache.

Apparently, finding the best (or most efficient) route between several different places, is a popular logic problem known as ‘The Travelling Salesman’ or ‘TSP’. It is classified as one of the hardest puzzles to solve, because of [some crazy-assed science stuff that I didn’t understand], and of course the exponentialismness (or something similar).

Here’s a quote from the article’s original author, Randy Olson:

“With 50 landmarks to put in order, we would have to exhaustively evaluate 3 x 1064 possible routes to find the shortest one. To provide some context: If you started computing this problem on your home computer right now, you’d find the optimal route in about 9.64 x 1052 years — long after the Sun has entered its red giant phase and devoured the Earth.”

Now, he’s a PhD Computer Science candidate who specialises in ‘biologically-inspired artificial intelligence and evolutionary processes’. So we can probably trust him.

What this means for me is, I’m still stuck in the planning phase – which, as anyone who’s read my books will know, is normally the non-existent phase. There’s a reason for this: I suck at planning. It was the same before my trip around Asia – I maxed out my library card, hiring at least two books for every country we were hoping to visit. And I never opened one of them.

Asia Planning Books

Okay, so ONE of these books DID get read from cover to cover. Anyone who can guess which one wins a lollipop!

I appreciate that so far this has been an update that hasn’t actually updated anyone on anything. Yeah, um… sorry about that.

To make you feel slightly less cheated, here’s a comedy sign Roo snapped on the way into Perth:

Amusing Sign

A few seconds later is said ‘…PRAWNS $14.99 PER KILO’, but for a while there we were seriously considering calling the WWF.

Now, there are a few things I can tell you:

1) I’m sorry to say that, unfortunately we won’t be able to see everyone on this trip. Even if we had six months instead of three, I doubt we’d get round them all. Of course, as with all good books, there’s always the possibility of a sequel…

2) If you are unlucky enough to have us show up at your door, we’ll probably be imposing for two nights. By my calculations (and by the Power of Grayskull) we’ll be spending a day driving between places, spending the night we arrive, and getting to spend one full day boring the life out of our hosts with stories they’ve already read about, before toddling along the following morning.

3) We’ve both always wanted to go to one of those crazy college parties we see in the movies – you know, where everyone drinks beer from those red plastic cups and dances on tables and stuff. It’s, like, the iconic pinnacle of American culture for us. Honest! So if anyone has any suggestions about how to make this happen, we’re eager to hear ‘em!

4) Talks n’ stuff: I’m really keen to talk (just ask Roo – she can’t shut me up!) – so book clubs, libraries, etc – anywhere who might be interested in having me over for an hour, please get in touch with them and find out if they’re interested! Obviously I don’t charge anything, and I’m not trying to sell books (though I’ll keep a box in the car in case anyone wants one). I’m less about actual ‘book signings’ than I am about giving talks, as very few people will have heard of me – a signing at a proper book store is likely to be graveyard quiet, and, well, that would be pretty awkward…

Paul Carter

This is Paul Carter, author of the funniest book I’ve ever read: ‘Don’t Tell Mum I Work On The Rigs (She thinks I’m a Piano Player in a Whore House)’. I met him at a book signing in Perth. His books have sold squintllions of copies, and a major Hollywood movie is currently being made of them. Number of people at the book signing? 6.

So, thanks for letting me ramble on again, folks! I’ll try to convince Roo to share some more of her stunning photos next time, to give you all a bit of a break. And by the time she’s done with that, I might actually have some real news to report…

Imagine that!

🙂

My Secret Plan™

Top SecretSo, by now one or two of you might have heard me mention my SECRET PLAN on Facebook. In fact, a few of you have already weaseled the details out of me! Let’s face it – I’m crap at keeping secrets, and I can’t keep this one any longer.

So here it is:

I’m coming to America!

In June.

This year.

To write a book.

But that’s not it. Not really. You see, from time to time, I get emails from my readers, saying nice things about my books. Well, some of them. I also get the occasional death-threat, but that’s been happening since way before I was an author, so I try not to take them too seriously.

The idea grew from my last visit to the US – which the hardened readers amongst you might remember from ‘Don’t need The Whole Dog!’ It was a pretty successful trip for me; I met the love of my life there (not that either of us knew it at the time), and I even managed to avoid falling into the Grand Canyon.

But I was flat broke back then, and this ten-day holiday was paid for by my Mum, as a reward for coming home from Ecuador with all my limbs still attached. I always felt that I’d missed out on seeing the real America; rumour has it that it’s quite a big place, and I’d been there – but only just.

Flash forward to the present day, and not a lot has changed. Well, I’m married now, and I write books for a living, and I found a frikkin’ GREY HAIR yesterday, for gawd’s sake – okay, so quite a few things have changed.

But I’m basically still broke.

However! As I said, I’ve been getting emails from readers. Loads of emails. I get like, one, maybe two, practically every other week! Well, what did you expect? I’m not exactly Stephen king, am I?

Now, amongst those emails, people often say things like, “If you’re ever in Ponca City, Oklahoma, you’re welcome to come and stay with me!” They say these things because they feel safe in the knowledge that I am never actually going to be in Ponca City, Oklahoma…

Until now. Because my Secret Plan is threefold;

1)   I AM coming to America;

2)   I AM going to write a book about it, and

3)   I AM coming to visit you all!

Blame Roo. It was her idea, after all. Honestly, I think she was just bored of sitting on the sofa, watching me type.

“We should do you a book tour, like the real authors do,” she said. “We could go to New York and LA.”

“I’d love to, but we can’t afford to travel in first-world countries. Not for long.”

“Why don’t we stay with some of your readers? They’re always asking… that’d make it cheaper. And that way we’d get to see the ‘real’ America.”

Hm… Not a bad idea, I thought. “The only problem is, I don’t think any of those people actually wanted me to come and stay with them. I think they were just being nice.”

“Well,” she said, “hard luck.”

And that was that!

So, anyone who has a place for us to stay – be it outhouse, tree-house, dog-house or bouncy-castle – and anyone who thinks they have a genuine cultural experience* to offer us (or who just wants to try something crazy) – let me know! You might not think it, but I’m always up for an adventure.

Walking on beach

Right then, here’s the nitty gritty:

  1. I can’t come to visit everyone. I wish I could, but the Powers That Be will only let Roo and I into the country for three months. We’ll get as far as we can, but that’s a big-assed country you’ve got there. Ain’t no way we’re going to see it all in one trip. Sorry!
  2. We’ll need a place to stay, but we’re not fussy – having lived for months in a tent, and slept on floors, benches, beaches and the world’s most uncomfortable van, we’re not expecting luxury! But we will need somewhere to sleep while we visit you, as the motels part of our budget will be spent on the nights in-between visiting people.
  3. Food is good! We’d appreciate it if you could feed us at least a little bit while we’re there. This is the perfect time to break out Grandma’s famous recipe for meatloaf, and we’re happy to help with the cooking – well, Roo is. I’d probably burn down your kitchen. And probably your neighbour’s kitchen too. But I’m a mean washer-up J
  4. SHOW ME AMERICA! I’m keen to do as much crazy, fun stuff as is humanly possibly on this trip. If there’s anything cool you can show me (or weird, unusual, exciting, traditional, different etc.) – please let me know! I can’t give you an example, as I’ve no idea what’s out there, but I’m less inclined to go to expensive, well-known touristy things like Disneyland, and more inclined to find interesting stuff to write about – secret places, experiences that not everyone gets to have… anything we can have fun doing, without breaking the bank!
  5. Media Is Also Very Good! Mostly this trip is about me meeting all my awesome readers, but the cold-hearted money-making machine inside of me hates to miss an opportunity. We might not be able to afford to eat by the end of this trip, unless I manage to get some books sold, and the best way to do that is to attract a bit of media attention. I know not everyone has a girlfriend/uncle/friend from yoga class who runs a multinational publishing empire, but if you’ve got a tiny local rag, and it’s a sufficiently slow news week, the story of one of your favourite authors** coming out to meet you might be worth a mention. I’d really appreciate it if you could do a bit of leg work and find out if there’s any interest before I visit, as it’s notoriously difficult to set these things up after I’ve gone 😉
  6. Books are GREAT! I love books. And I love book shops. I also love libraries, and book groups, and all those kinds of places. I’m happy to do talks (or just have tea!) at any of these places if they’re interested. Again, if you think there’s a local place or group that might like to hear me waffle about the topic of their choice, I’d love to include that in my itinerary. I’ve got to get a bit of practice at that kind of stuff before I end up on Oprah! (Hang on – didn’t she get fired?)

Having said all that, please don’t be put off! I really DO want to see you all, and I’m flexible (you should see me do the splits! It’ll bring tears to your eyes.) I just had to put this stuff here to save me writing the same bunch of questions in every email. I won’t automatically choose not to visit you just because you can’t afford to feed me! There’s always room to wiggle. And I LOVE a good wiggle.

And that’s it. As of now, I’m accepting suggestions! If you’d like me to come and visit, please drop me a line, by Facebook, email, or a comment on here. (I was going to allow carrier pigeons too, but that always ends badly.)

Please let me know if you have any ideas for things to do near you, and whether or not you’ll be able to help us out with them.

I do have a Wish List of stuff Roo and I would dearly love to do while we’re over there, which I’ll be posting at some point, but for now I’m open to every suggestion under the sun. And even ones that aren’t.

So! Thank-you to those of you who’ve made it this far. Sorry for the gigantic blog post, and rest assured that service will return to normal after this. Which means nothing for a whole year short, witty blog posts, and lots of Roo’s pretty pictures. I promise!

Meanwhile… stay happy! I’ll look forward to hearing from you J

Tony@TonyJamesSlater.com

 

* Watching Star Wars totally counts as a cultural experience.

** And while you’re waiting for one of your favourite authors to come and meet you, you could have a visit from me!

So, where were we?

Huashan SunsetOh, that’s right. We’d arrived at the top. Except, it wasn’t the top. It was the beginning of an immense, circuitous route which visited each of the five peaks of the sacred mountain; from the North Peak, where we were now, over the much-higher Central Peak, to the West Peak, where our hostel was, and to the notorious East Peak, where we wanted to go tomorrow. I forget what the other peak was called.

Mountain view

Now, where exactly was that hostel again?

Owing to the slight delay in our starting time, it was 7pm, and the light was already beginning to fail. It made for some gorgeous pictures of the valley below, and the lights of nearby Xi’an City were very nearly visible through the smog. But not quite. We gazed up at the ridiculous ribbon of the Dragonback Ridge payed out above us, and resigned ourselves to another epic stair-climbing session – but not before a brief comedy interlude:

Propergander DeskOh, yes! The bloke behind the desk clearly didn’t appreciate the irony, and I wasn’t about to tell him as he was armed to the teeth. Like all good Tourist Information officers.

And so to the stairs! Forgotten those, hadn’t you? Or blocked them out… Sadly, we didn’t have that luxury. Dragonback ridge followed the barest knife-edge of the rock, a path at times less than a meter wide, with sheer cliffs plunging down on either side. Not a great place to be drunk, I thought, or to meet anyone coming the other way…  At first I thought we were lucky with this, our lateness meaning most visitors had already left the area; but later on we discovered it’s a strictly enforced one-way system, as it is simply too dangerous to allow people to try to pass each other on the ridge.

Looking down Dragonback Ridge

Looking back down the Ridge was even more dramatic!

Beyond the ridge we came to an unexpected guesthouse, that wasn’t listed on any of our maps (Ha! Maps? We had a 2-inch line drawing on the back of our ticket. Labelled in Chinese.) The manager offered us a discount, but Roo and I had been in China long enough by this point to expect a scam of some kind. We pressed on, hauling ourselves up the ragged stone steps, until a gap in the foliage allowed us a glimpse of our destination.

“Bugger that,” I said to Roo. She agreed. The West Peak shone in the distance, the last rays of sun picking out a tiny building clinging to the slope facing us. It was bloody miles away.

So, steps retraced, we booked into the cheapest dorm, and spent the night with eighteen other people, packed in so tight I could feel tremors in my bunk whenever the guy at the far side of the room scratched his arse. We’d scored some free hot water from the manager to make our noodles; in China boiling water is always freely available, in hotels, on trains, in libraries… cold water, though, was an issue. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t convince the manager that it was safe to give me any. I had a bag full of water purification pills and a state-of-the-art UV steriliser in my bag, but still I spent two hours decanting boiling water from cup to cup until it was cool enough to pour into our plastic drink bottles!

Huashan Hostel

Gateway to the central peak… where a dorm-bed for $20 is a ‘discount’!

Then we settled in for some sleep. We didn’t get any of course, but what were we expecting, really?

It’s one of the eternal mysteries of the universe: how do people who snore like a drunken sumo-wrestler, always get to sleep before everyone else? Within minutes of the lights going out, a fat bloke two beds over started moaning like a water-buffalo with its balls caught in a barbwire fence. His vocal range was impressive; from squeaks to ecstatic sighs, he covered every noise the human body is capable of making – all with the volume knob set to 11. None of it sounded healthy. Every so often, he would lapse into silence for up to a minute, and I would have the happy thought, “At last! He’s died!”

But no. After an hour, I got up and shook him awake. He jabbered at me in Chinese, and I gave him my best pissed-off look, and went back to bed. He sat up, hacked and coughed for a few seconds, then spat a massive gob-full of phlegm onto the floor. And went back to sleep.

Huashan Hostel Dorm

Close Quarters; the 20 bed dorm maximizes the breathing-space-to-profit ratio…

I don’t think anyone else in that dorm slept. Three other people got up and woke him throughout the night, and each time he was snoring again before they climbed back into their bunks. One girl on the opposite side kept throwing her pillow at him. I spent at least an hour contemplating tipping him out of bed, and making some kind of scene so that the whole dorm could tell him what he was doing to them – but then, the faintest stirrings of light in the room made me realise than dawn was on the way. My alarm was set for 5:00am anyway, so it hardly seemed worth bothering.

At 4:00am the room came alive. All these people were eager to see the dawn, but they still had an hour and a half for that. I think they all just wanted to get the hell out of there, and a few stern words were directed at the snorer as the room emptied. This ended rather abruptly, when he stood up and pulled on a police uniform! It made me quite glad I hadn’t physically assaulted him in the night.

So, dawn it was – we ate our last instant noodles on the darkened deck, and slowly, feeling every step in leg muscles still burning from the previous day’s climb – we headed upwards.

As we went, we passed hundreds of people waiting to see the dawn; they thronged the path, making it more of a shoving match than a hike. There was no sign of dawn, as we moved up past them; nor would there be, as a dense curtain of vegetation shadowed most of the route. But hell, they were the ones who’d invested all this effort in seeing the sunrise. Let them stand wherever the hell they wanted! I was far more concerned with something else just up ahead…

Crowds on Huashan

Dawn is a rare sight in China!

As it happened, we did see the dawn. By not waiting for it, we’d already climbed higher than most by the time it arrived, and emerged onto the crest of a bare ridge. It wasn’t as impressive as the crowds suggested; even this high up a sacred mountain, we were still only an hour from the city. As a result, it was more of a smog-rise than anything else.

Huashan Dawn

The sun rises above the… well, let’s call them clouds, shall we?

But there were other benefits to being up early. After following a series of very helpful signs (WARNING: sarcasm), we managed to find our way to the East Peak… and THIS:

Huashan Plank Walk at dawnThe plank-walk, notorious around the internet as ‘The Most Dangerous Hike In The World’ ™ – is not actually part of the trail. It’s an optional extra that, sadly, now requires the wearing of a harness. I know! How rude. But Roo was having a few last-minute nerves, especially after seeing the metal rungs we had to climb down just to get there…

Rungs down to huashan plank walkSo, maybe the harness was for the best! It certainly gave us the freedom to have a little fun (more of which later…) And because we were the first there, we had the entire Plank Walk to ourselves! We spent about 20 minutes traversing slowly around the cliff face, alone with the spectacular view, and each other. We took so long that other people started to arrive; on the way back we had to pass several tourists, a particularly scary experience involving one party unclipping their safety straps while the other squeezes around them…

Huashan Plank WalkRoo on plank walk rocks

Hua shan plank walk

Ever felt like you were flying?

And then, the excitement was done. There were of course a vast number of stairs still to climb, as we hiked the circuit between the peaks – another 8km in total, that took us over four hours. Some of it was crazy-steep, some utterly-ridiculously steep. And then there were some…

Hua Shan Steep Stairs

Climbing Hua ShanSteep Steps on Hua ShanUnsurprisingly, I climbed this last one a few times too! I just can’t help myself. There’s a video of it HERE, if you’re interested (it’s the one that’s been floating around on Facebook). It wasn’t too difficult; a tiny old Chinese woman did it just after I’d finished. But, um, let’s pretend I didn’t say that. Yes, hero-type-stuff, this climb was… :0)

We were on the way down now, and I couldn’t help noticing the ongoing Disneyfication of the place that had bothered me on the way up. We watched a gang of workmen with hammers chipping the ancient stone steps into gravel – while another gang set the formwork to pour concrete replacements! I think the plan is, by 2015, to turn the entire mountain into a multi-storey car park…

Huashan repairs

“Hey, if we smash these crappy old steps into gravel, we can use it in the concrete for the new ones!”

Far more interesting – and amazing – was the labour they were using to facilitate their ‘repairs’. We passed porters on the way up – carrying everything from huge granite blocks, to vast lengths of metal reinforcing bars – on their shoulders! Having climbed the Soldiers Path yesterday, I could hardly believe these guys were doing it for a living – presumably several times a day – with at least thirty kilos of stone on their backs! Incredible.

Huashan PorterHuashan PorterFinally… at long, long last… we were done. Utterly spent! We’d never planned to hike all the way back down, as it would only be torturing ourselves to cover the same ground; instead we shelled out $15 each, to enjoy the view from the cable cars.

Cable Car view Huashan

As we follow the other cars down, you can just see some of the Soldier’s Path below us!

And of course, the bus ride back to Xi’an was fraught with the usual problems. Such as when the driver kicked us out at a random bus stop on the edge of the city, leaving us lost yet again…

But I won’t bore you with details. Instead, here it is – the video from the dreaded Plank Walk… with a twist! Enjoy!

(And please, let me know what you think in the comments!)