Mazatlan, Tuesday 24/02/15

To get to the Grand Canyon I took the Greyhound to Flagstaff. It’s a cool place, with street art, wholefood stores and plenty of shops selling stuff for backpackers. I finally bought some boots for trekking, which I now have to carry around till I get to Peru and the Inca Trail, but they were a good price, lightweight and comfortable. My Ecco sandals have seen me through jungle, sand, streams, desert and mud, but I need better protection in the Andes.

I took this picture on a corner of the old town in Flagstaff.

(null)Route 66 was replaced by the Interstate Highway, but small sections of it still survive and I was on one of them!

Of course I have photos of the Grand Canyon. You can no longer fly over it, so reluctantly I took a tour to get there. The main advantage was the guide’s high-power telescope, to allow views of some of the details. However, she never stopped talking, telling us about meaningless facts and figures, so that I frequently had to slope off on my own to get away from her. During one of the few occasions she left our small group to our own devices, I sat and watched the ravens’ courtship behaviour, with soaring synchronised flying and tangled feet twisting and turning in the wide spaces.

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(null)I have wanted to see the Painted Desert since I was nineteen. I rented a car, which turned out to be at least as expensive as a tour, and drove for two hours along the two-lane Interstate, in almost a total straight line. The park itself has a road running right through and I was able to stop where I liked and walk among the mesas.

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(null)The pictures do not show the subtlety and variation in the colours, nor the expanse of the landscape, but it lived up to my expectations.

I had thought I would take the train to Santa Fe in New Mexico. There was only one train, which left before six in the morning and was quite expensive. I wasn’t sure about how easy it is to take public transport in New Mexico, so in the end I returned to Phoenix. From there I had to decide whether to go to San Diego or Tucson. Again, schedules and prices meant I headed on South. Before I left Phoenix, though, I went to the botanical gardens. There I encountered the Boojum Tree



And a Roadrunner (yeah, everyone went “beep beep”).

The Greyhound from Flagstaff to Tucson carried some interesting characters. There was a woman on the phone explaining that she’d just got out of gaol, another woman telling a total stranger all about her divorce and an old man from New Orleans who claimed to have been in a film with John Wayne. Add in the guy next to me making signs with his hands and muttering. The bus seemed like a scene from a Tom Waits song. 

In Tucson I tried to stay with a Servas host, but somehow that fell through. I found a good hostel in the end and took a couple of days getting to know the place. There is an alternative scene   on 4th Avenue and some interesting buildings on Congress Street.



I enjoyed the Museum of Art and the Historical Museum. The latter was full of relics from the old west. 



The lower of these two pistols is a Colt 0.45 (I think) that belonged to Wyatt Earp and was donated by his widow. 



This is the death certificate of Geronimo, whose long, sad story is recorded there. 



There were some good people to talk to back at the hostel and one of them, Jason, offered to give me a lift in his direction, to Nogales on the Mexican border. He was just starting out on an adventure in Mexico and we found much to discuss. All the best, Jason. 

It’s now 25th Feb. and I’ve been in Mazatlan for a couple of days now, after crossing the border on foot, getting my “tourist card” and taking a night bus to get here. I watched the sun coming up and saw a rainbow spot appear in the sky.





I’ve seen a hummingbird on hibiscus flowers and had my first Margarita, (and second and third), in Mexico. I’m not sure where I’m going next. 

One small thing: they have upgraded WordPress again, it looks nothing like it did before and it may crash on me.

Phoenix, Monday 16/02/15

My flight from Japan to Papeete in Tahiti meant I crossed the International Date Line. I left in the late afternoon and after ten hours arrived in the morning of the same day. Weird.

There have been a few disappointments in the last two weeks, but some great times too.

I had been warned about Papeete. It’s a bit shabby and dull. So I took the ferry to the nearby island of Moorea on the recommendation of a couple at my hostel. I had not done my research and this was a big mistake. There is nothing at the arrival point – no information, no cafe, no bus that I could make out. There were a few taxis, (but I didn’t know where to go), or a car rental. I was only going to be there for a few hours and the island has one road that runs in a circle, so I started walking – another mistake. I found a supermarket and bought a drink and a salty snack, but I was soon getting sunburnt, in spite of my hat and sunscreen. I was told off for taking a “private road” which had appeared to be an ordinary track by a river where I thought I could sit in the shade. Then I tried walking to the nearest beach, but after half-an-hour I was very uncomfortable. Luckily I spotted a taxi and flagged it down. The female driver was worried about me walking in the heat and suggested taking me to the Sofitel Resort, where there was a beach and I could get a drink. When she dropped me off, she declined to take any money. Sweet.

At The Sofitel the staff were charming – but this hotel was seriously upmarket. Here are a couple of pictures of the location.

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(null)So to make up for my day having a crummy start, I settled down with a house cocktail and chilled until it was time to take a taxi back to the ferry. All’s well that ends well – even if it was a bit expensive.

This is really the point about Tahiti, I think. Most of the tourists I met were taking island-hopping cruises. It’s obviously best to have plans and money to enjoy what the place has to offer and I didn’t have much of either.

Nevertheless, the following day I took a tour of Tahiti with a local guide. It is beautiful once you get out of the city.

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For the record, our guide described how his people settled in Hawaii and New Zealand and he was convinced they originally came from South America. Looking at him, I can see his point.

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Next stop, Venice Beach in Los Angeles.

(null)I had a good time wandering up and down the seafront, checking out the shops, the sounds and the people. Sat on the beach listening to the Steve Miller Band. Later it became overcast and started to rain, which obviously must happen sometimes, but please, not on my first visit to “sunny California”.

I was planning to visit my old school friend, Kathy, who is now an American citizen. She lives in Petaluma, North of San Francisco. Petaluma has been the location for a number of movies, such as American Grafitti, Peggy Sue Got Married and Pleasantville. It has some historic and period buildings.

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Though it’s the epitome of “small town”, it feels like an interesting and agreeable place to live.

Kathy and her partner Cindy had me to stay for a few days. It was good to be out of the hostels and with someone I care about. She is an artist, a writer and a fount of knowledge as well as being a good friend. She even took me to see a Redwood forest in an area that was not a focus for tourist trips, so we could enjoy the experience in peace.

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This was a complete contrast to my time in San Francisco. There were plenty of good things. I crossed the Golden Gate Bridge. The cable car to Fisherman’s Wharf is fun. .

(null)I sat inside as the seats outside were taken very quickly. The gripman controls the number of people getting on at each stop, as well as the starting and stopping of the tram itself. I noticed a group of English people who sat in the outward facing seats only to find that half a dozen people were allowed to stand on the step below them. Not only did this obstruct their view, but they were within inches of their faces. It amused me, as my travels have taught me that most other nationalities, placed in such close proximity to another human being, would begin to chat, as indeed I was doing with an Asian woman and her son inside. Instead, these four English people behaved as if they were on the London Tube and kept their eyes firmly fixed on some point in the far distance.

Fisherman’s Wharf is mainly seafood restaurants and is where you would take a trip to Alcatraz, which I failed to do. I did walk through Chinatown

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There are many interesting buildings in SF lining the extreme slopes known to me from so many American movies. This is Telegraph Hill, a convenient spot granting a prospect of the bay and city.

(null)And I this is the house in Haight-Ashbury where The Grateful Dead lived.

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However, though my hostel was secure and had very good facilities, it backed on to Tenderloin, an area that felt far from safe. My first impression of SF had been of a man without shoes but with several pairs of socks on, swearing and spitting at a woman who was sitting at the bus stop. As with many others I encountered in the city, he obviously had mental health problems. There are many homeless persons wheeling bags around, people openly dealing drugs on the street and a lot of shouting and quarrelling. I know that these troubles occur in all cities and that SF has tried to do something about them, which is why there are so many desperate people there, but it is impossible to remain unmoved.

The weather had turned bad and I was tired of the city, so I flew to Phoenix. Why did I take the plane? Well, there are trains and buses to take you around, but the schedules are frequently not acceptable. I’ve never thought it a good idea to be hanging around a bus station at two or three in the morning, whatever country I find myself in, and hostels usually don’t let you check in early in the day or late at night.

I arrived at the airport in good time and quarter of an hour after I arrived I received a text to tell me my flight was cancelled. This was the first time I had any problems with flights in the fifteen months I had been travelling, so I suppose it was due, but unexpected in the USA, particularly as there were no weather problems and no explanation given.

Anyway, I arrived in Phoenix a few hours late. Took the free Skytrain and the light rail towards my hostel without a hitch. Got talking to someone on the way, a situation which has reoccurred time and again – Americans love to talk. Stayed at a very welcoming hostel –
Camel Backpackers, named after the large rock, (I wouldn’t call it a mountain), to the East of the city.

I like Phoenix. It is big and spread out and there is no apparent heart of the city, but the space and the light appealed to me. There is public transport that gets you around, some interesting neighbourhoods and beautiful sunsets.

(null)I’m getting used to having to wait “like foreverrrr” for the signal to change to let me cross the road, (same story in Japan).

I went to the Heard Museum of Native American artefacts. There was a plethora of objects to admire, but I particularly liked the spirit dolls, or Kachina. These are often given by the men to the women and represent some aspect of themselves as well as a native spirit.

(null)This one, for example, is a storyteller.

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The best thing, though, was that I had stumbled on a Native American Hoop Dance competition in the Museum grounds. Representatives of many tribes, of all ages, Hopi, Cherokee, Navajo, a Cree from Canada and a young man from Hawaii, danced with anything from five to fifteen hoops, which were laid on the ground and picked up using only their feet. The dances represented a series of creatures and activities; an eagle flying, shooting an arrow from a bow, a turkey, riding a horse, all done using the hoops. The dancers body had to pass through each hoop and they were judged on speed and interpretation. It was graceful and astonishing. This is not a good picture, but it gives you an idea.

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I am now in Tucson and due to a sudden change of plans, beyond my control, I have to move to another hostel. In my next post I will write about my visits to the Grand Canyon and the Painted Desert!
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Papeete. Wednesday 28/01/15.

This was my view of the A-bomb Dome at the Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima.

(null)It struck me as deeply ironic that this iconic structure, famous for having survived destruction on August 6th 1945, should now be surrounded by scaffolding, while they perform a “safety assessment”.

It felt strange to be walking on ground where so many people had lost their lives. One of them was Sasaki Sadako, who died of radiation induced leukaemia. During her illness, she folded over 1,000 paper cranes, the Japanese symbol of long life and good luck. The Children’s Peace Memorial, dedicated to her memory, is surrounded by cabinets containing what must be millions of them.

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There are many memorial structures in the area around ground zero, but it was the museum which affected me the most. The history is probably familiar to most of us, but the remains of personal possessions were very touching.

(null)There were many exhibits of charred school uniforms and clothing. In this case, the dark areas on the cloth burned out and victims had the images of the patterns on their clothes burnt into their skin.

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Very often, we were told, adults and children somehow managed to make it back to their homes, before dying of their injuries a few hours later.

Whilst acknowledging their role in the war and the lies the people were told, (on both sides), to make them give their support at the time, the message here is repeated time after time – we should never let this happen again. The Japanese are very concerned about the use of depleted Uranium by the USA and UK during the Gulf Wars and the increase in birth defects there and in other places where it has been used.

I found myself alone and in tears, but as I left the building a lovely Japanese lady helped me to make an origami crane and though it’s not a very good one, I have kept it.

I spent the night in Hiroshima and went, the following day to Miyajima, a Shinto shrine on an island in the Seto Inland Sea. At high tide the O-tori Gate becomes partially submerged.

(null)There were more deer about, but these were more gentle than those in Nara.

(null)The main temple is lovely and there are pagodas and shrines dotted around the sacred mountain, Mt. Misen.

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(null)Some kind of Shinto ceremony was taking place, as there was a long line of men in black suits waiting to get in to the hall where priests in traditional clothing were officiating.

I made a brief stopover in Osaka, where I finally got to taste a proper Japanese vegetarian meal. There was melt- in-the mouth tofu with sticky Amber sauce.

(null)This was served with green tea rice, seaweed and wasabi. Delicious.

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I spent the next morning at Himeji Castle. It’s a huge place in a town a short “bullet train ” ride from Osaka.

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Like many sites in Japan over the winter, though, it was being repaired and I was not allowed into the Main Keep, which was a pity. I wandered through the West Bailey, which was extensive and was used for apartments for the ladies.

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I had time to go to the Modern Art Museum. It was packed with people earnestly discussing all the pieces. There was some really fine photography displaying both the Japanese love of nature and of innovation and experimentation. I’m pleased I went, even though it was a rather cold day, as this lady in the street clearly demonstrates.

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It was quite a long train ride to Kanazawa, North-East of Osaka on the coast. I only had one day left to explore it. I wished I had a lot longer. There are many things to see and do and most within walking distance, though there is a convenient bus service. I started at the market, which was mainly for crab and fish but had a good variety of vegetables also.

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Next I headed for the Higashi Chayagai district, which is the old Geisha area. You can get a feel for how discreet this way of life could be, as all the shops and restaurants were hidden behind shuttered sliding doors.

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Kanazawa specialises in fine arts and crafts, most particularly in gold leaf. At a bar the night before, this is how I was served free chocolate.

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As well as silk, lacquer ware and their oddly misshapen pottery, there was Mizuhiki string craft, used for tying envelopes or as straps for mobile phones, and Temari or decorative string balls. Most of this was costly but still very pleasurable to view. No windows, though, so I can’t call it window shopping.

Then I walked through the Castle Park to The Museum of Contemporary Art. The best thing there was an exposition of how some local architects were engaging with local communities since the tsunami, to construct low-cost, attractive, safe housing that people want to live in. An exciting new initiative.

There was also an exhibition of “Architecture for Dogs”, which was quite fun, and this swimming pool.

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Lastly, I went to the D.T. Suzuki museum, for a half hour of Zen Philosophy and quiet contemplation.

I would definitely recommend this destination in Japan. I would have also loved to visit me “snow monkeys”, which are not too far away on the route to Tokyo. I had run out of time, however, and only saw the winter snow from the train.

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One more night in Tokyo. I had wised up and I took a forty minute metro ride to a vegetarian restaurant.

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The next day I was on a flight to Tahiti and crossing the International Date Line. So I left Japan in the afternoon and arrived in Papeete the morning of the same day. I’m one day younger.

I liked Japan enormously. Things function well, from the toilets and trains to the packaging that opens easily, without having to use teeth or scissors. It is pleasant to have people bow and smile at me and I haven’t been treated like that since Nepal. The Japanese admire tradition but embrace novelty. Some things are very odd, (they have a radish festival and one for needles and pins), but that is part of the charm. I was made welcome and I would love to return in a different season, to enjoy more of its vibrant yet refined culture.

Tokyo, Sunday 25/01/15

I took the Tokaido Shinkansen train to Kyoto – clean, quiet, fast and comfortable- and checked in to what turned out to be the most luxurious hostel I stayed in – the Gion Ryokan Q-bey. The wooden cubicles, (not bunks) were large enough to take my bags, as well as having shelves, hangers, a light and wall sockets. The duvet was huge and fluffy. Best of all was the round ceramic hot tub, which I availed myself of the first evening. You booked it for an hour, were called when it was ready and given a towel too!

The next day I bought a one-day bus pass, costing 500yen, (about £2.80). This is what it looked like.

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There are temples and shrines everywhere in Kyoto. This one, Chionin Temple, was on the way to the bus stop.

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During the day I visited Kinkakuji Temple – the Golden -.

IMG_6034.JPG which had a rather nice garden and Nijojo Castle

IMG_6063.JPGwhich had even nicer gardens.

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The most memorable moment for me, though, was the rock garden at Ryoanji Temple. It’s a Zen garden, comprised of clay walls, fifteen rocks and raked gravel. Sitting on the veranda in front, I felt still and calm, in spite of the clamour of people around me. You cannot see all the rocks from one position. The little pieces of gravel all resemble one another, but the eye can pick out individuals and some sparkle like stars in the sunlight. The shadow of a bare tree rested motionless on the scene, though the breeze stirred the pine trees in the background. As I left, I found this bush beginning to bloom in January.

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Next day I went to Nara with a very friendly Canadian woman called Deepa. We saw Todai-ji Temple, a massive wooden structure containing the world’s largest wooden statue of the Buddha Daibutsu.

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We also saw lots of deer, considered by Shinto to be messengers of the gods, but in this case a little intimidating to the tourists. One of them ate Deepa’s map.

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Deepa was a big help to me. After a few days in Japan I was nearly starving. All the restaurant menus are in Japanese only and usually for set meals or Bento boxes. Everything in the supermarkets is only in Japanese too, so no recognisable ingredients. Twice I bought what looked like a vegetable salad, only to find a piece of chicken hidden away inside, (after I’d already eaten most of it in one case).
Deepa told me about Okonomiyaki, or Japanese pancake, which, with a little help from a translation app, I could get without meat or fish. It starts off as a kind of omelette cooked on a long griddle, then various bits are added.

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From Kyoto I went to Hiroshima. I will say more about that in my next post.

Osaka, 22/01/15

My first morning in Tokyo I went to see Sensoji temple in daylight. It is also known as Asakusa Kannon, because of the statue of the Bhoddisatva Kannon found on the site. Kannon turns out to be another manifestation of Quan Yin, in this case, a male. In style the temple is rather restrained, if highly colourful.

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There are many smaller buildings and a pagoda in the temple complex.

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The narrow approach to the main temple is lined with enclosed stalls and packed with people.

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Indeed, the whole area has arcades of specialist shops and curios. It was my first encounter with the plastic dishes they use to tempt the hungry shoppers.

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It was just a taster for my experience of Japanese love of style and colour.

Following up on that theme, I proceeded to Harajuku district, known for its flamboyant fashion. There is a broad street which resembles the Champs Élysées in the display of luxury shops, but the side streets are much more fun.

IMG_5935.JPG I didn’t see anyone wearing anything outrageous, but I suppose it may be because it is winter.

As it is close by, I went to the Meiji shrine. Most of the visitors were Japanese and carrying what looked like long fake arrows. I still haven’t worked out what these are really about, but there were also wooden slates with sheep on them, (because it’s the year of the sheep), on which to write wishes for the coming year and hang by a sacred tree.

IMG_6044.JPG(These were in Kyoto, but same difference).
You can get your fortune told by Omikuji. You shake a bamboo box with sticks with numbers on inside. One of them slides out of a narrow hole at the bottom. You take this to the counter and are given a slip of paper with the fortune which corresponds to the number. There are good and bad ones. If you get a bad one you tie it to a tree and hopefully the bad luck will remain.

Some things about Japan are disconcerting. I hadn’t realised that you cannot get a JR train pass in Japan, though I managed to buy an exchange voucher, (for a certain surplus fee), the day before leaving New Zealand. On the other hand, this really saves you a lot of money and hassle buying tickets and works for local and Shinkansen, or “bullet” trains.

I bought a SIM card. It was quite a bother to get it activated and then I found out it was for data only. After enquiries I discovered that non- residents are not allowed mobile phone calls. The SIM did come with an origami crane making kit, though.

I wanted to go to the Ghibli Museum, (Japanese animated film company, if you haven’t come across them).. It was a good job I googled it. I had to go to a Lawson convenience store and locate the Loppi machine. Tickets are by reservation only and you have to specify the date and time. You will not be allowed entrance later than 30 minutes after your designated time. Though I was following the instructions, one screen was in Japanese only. I went to ask the store assistant, who, typically for Japan, was charming, polite and helpful. We tried 12 noon – sold out. We tried 2pm – sold out. Last chance, 4 pm – hurrah! It worked. He seemed pleased for me. Then I paid him at the counter. This, too, you have to do within a specified time frame.

With most of the day free, I set off for the National Museum. There were some beautiful things, but displayed in a traditional way. The Samurai swords were dazzlingly finely wrought and sharp and there were some extreme types of armour, as well as the landscapes, kimono and calligraphy you would expect.

IMG_5968.JPG“Don’t stand so close to me.”

I thoroughly enjoyed the Ghibli museum. It is a ramshackle wooden house, crammed with diorama, clockwork models, books and bric-a-brac. You wander about, up and down spiral staircases and explore what it might mean to work for the studio. Everyone becomes a little childlike.

My last evening in Tokyo, I arrived back at the hostel to find all the guests and staff in the kitchen making mochi. This involves beating sticky rice with a mallet until it reaches the consistency of gum, a ritual known as mochitsuki and associated with the new year. We were divided up into teams to consume the results of the process with soy sauce, red bean paste, pickled radish, sesame etc. it was a very good way to get everyone mixing and talking.

In fact, it has been difficult to write my blog in Japan, because every evening in the hostels I have been talking with such interesting people until late at night. Japanese people stay in the hostels and ryokan and mix with people from all over the world.

I went to Kamakura and stayed in a delightful hostel.

IMG_6015.JPG An offer of green tea started the conversation going and I met two Japanese and one American vegetarians. There was a charcoal fire in the common room and a heated table with a heavy cloth surround, so you could keep your feet toasty warm underneath. We all slept on futons on the floor in the communal dorm and by breakfast the next morning we felt like family.

The large metal Buddha at Kamakura is not particularly inspiring.

IMG_5993.JPG Most people seemed more interested in the shopping opportunities, but I confess to being baffled by some of the items for sale.

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IMG_5996-0.JPGBack at the hostel they tell me the first pack is some kind of vegetable and the second is radish. No-one can explain why anyone would want to buy the objects below though, (for sale in a shop selling tiny glass figurines).

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Apparently you can even buy “toilet candy” in Japan, which you drink through a straw out of a tiny plastic, self-assembly toilet.

Japan, of course, embraced Zen Buddhism. A Chinese master, Rankei Doryu, established a Zen temple, Kencho-ju, in Kamakura. So I left the busy streets behind and walked up the hill to visit it. There are several buildings and gates made of wood.

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Mighty juniper trees were planted over 750 years ago from seed the Founder brought from China.

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There was hardly anyone around and the atmosphere was quiet and subdued. As I left the garden at the back and passed this gate

IMG_6013.JPGthe evening sun shone full in my face. Tiny scattered flakes of snow fell and glistened in the rays. I held my hand out, but it remained dry. A magic moment.

Kyoto, 18/01/15

Before I left New Zealand. I made it to the Bay of Islands, in the North of the country. All the tours etc. were way too expensive for me to consider and just as well, because I realised I had trouble with a tooth. Neither of the two dentists in the area were available, which meant a speedy return to Auckland.

I caught up with my new friend Anna, at her home with her beautiful family all around. I was sad to say goodbye again, but she recommended a dentist and I managed to get an emergency appointment. I thought I had an abscess under an old crown, due to the swelling, but it really wasn’t too bad as I have a high pain threshold. The female dentist was very kind and gentle while draining the gum, but said I should get orthodontic surgery and a new crown soon. I’ll see how long I can hold out.

My last two days in NZ I stayed with Nev, another member of Servas and a golfer. He took me up to the top of Mt. Eden, to look down over Auckland and into the crater.

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We went to visit some friends of his on the west coast and to Muriwai beach, noted for its black sand and gannet colony.

IMG_5900.JPG The gannets had chicks, from young and fluffy to almost fledged, so it made up for missing them at Hawkes Bay.

On my last day he kindly drove me to the airport. Farewell NZ.

The flight to Japan takes about ten hours and it’s four hours behind NZ, which means I’ve experienced a bit of jet lag, even though Air New Zealand afforded a comfortable journey. Mount Fuji was clearly visible on our approach. On the descent to the airport the sun was setting and throwing a rosy glow over low cloud around the base and snow on the summit. Picture perfect.

It took about three hours to get into Tokyo itself and I came out of the metro at the wrong exit, as I had not realised that you need to choose this on the platform. I took my phone out to check my direction andI must have looked a little hesitant, as a young man came up to offer me some help. He ended up walking me all the way to my hostel, along a narrow passage and past Senso-ju temple all lit up.

IMG_5953.JPGI couldn’t have wished for a better introduction to Japan.

New Plymouth 05/01/15

I am approaching the end of my time here and I’ve been thinking about some of my lasting impressions of New Zealand.

In the Maori culture, carving is of great significance, especially on their boats and around the thresholds of the Marae, or community houses.

As in many other cultures, weaving is a primary craft for the women, but here it is native flax and the “cabbage tree”, (see photo), that are the most utilised.

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In the South Island, as well as the snow-covered mountains, the lakes and coastlines, I was struck by the slate-blue braided rivers running along steel-grey gravel beds brightened by yellow lupins.

The museums, gardens and art galleries are impressive and there is a sense of fun and community.

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There are pianos outdoors in many of the cities, loved by children and talented amateurs alike.

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Yesterday I went to the Festival of Lights here in New Plymouth- free music, film and illuminations in the park nearby .

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Friendly people and extraordinary wildlife. What more can I say?
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Golden Bay, Tuesday 23/12/14 & Wellington 01/01/15

At last the sun has got his hat on!
Yesterday I got on a bike and cycled from Takaka, where I am now, to Pohara beach. First I stopped off at the Labyrinth Rocks, with narrow passageways through a limestone outcrop.

Having tried to download photos at this point, my WordPress app crashed. It then repaired itself and subsequently crashed again. So no photos for now until I’ve had some IT support.

Briefly, I loved Takaka. It’s small, laid back and friendly. There’s a real arty vibe, as well as wholefood and organic shops and restaurants. I would have gone barefoot, like many others, but it was so hot I would have burnt my feet.

Christmas was not so good, in a hostel in Nelson crammed with young people on the lash who did not talk to me. Later, though, I stayed with a NZ couple and also met up with a friend of Eleanor so I got to see the city and its surroundings, which was really great. Again, lots of different artists, potters, weavers, photographers etc. (some quite eccentric), and all very willing to talk and engage with us.

In Havelock I saw more glow worms on a night walk to a waterfall with people from the hostel, wandered round the bay and saw some amazing carvings at the Maori gallery.

I took a boat tour in the Abel Tasman National Park, in and out of various bays in strong winds followed by a short walk along the coastal track of native forest in the NZ drizzle. While waiting on the beach for the boat to pick us up, I got talking to a Canadian guy who works as an animator for Pixar. I was very impressed as I consider this a dream job.

Did not have much luck in Franz Josef. This is the site to see one of NZ’s glaciers but it was raining hard and everything was a bit grey. As well as walking to the glacier,  I tried the rather steep climb on the hill in front. Though I started in fine weather, it soon turned to rain and then I found myself walking through cloud. I caught the occasional glimpse of the ice.

Also took the trans-alpine train from Greymouth to Christchurch- weather fine, beautiful views.

I’m still having problems with my WordPress app. so will just publish this and hope to be able to get photos on again in the future.

Greymouth, Sunday 14/12/14

New Zealand surprises me with juxtapositions of a peculiar nature. Kaikoura has a stony beach facing the Pacific Ocean and is overlooked by snow-covered mountains.

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In Christchurch, however, the contrast was more poignant. They have not recovered from the earthquake of 22nd February 2011 and the scars are still in evidence. A few areas are bustling with cafés and boutiques

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while minutes away are scenes of desolation.

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Those traffic cones are everywhere.
Sometimes a quirky sense of humour relieves the picture.

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The old cathedral is crumbling away

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so they built a temporary one out of cardboard, (really).

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I spent a couple of days with a Servas host, Averil a taxi driver. Her house was damaged in the earthquake but as she does not live in the city centre it will be a long time before she gets repairs, if ever. Meanwhile they are building new, block-like buildings that change the feel of the city but comply with strict quake-resistant rules.

As a quick break, I took a day away in Akaroa, on the coast. This is a small harbour town on a peninsula across a pass to the East of Christchurch. It has a strong French influence- I stayed in a hostel called Chez La Mer and many of the street names are French.

IMG_5734.JPGThe architecture is typically New Zealand and very quaint.

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It took me a while to decide where to go next, but considering the weather, buses and hostels, I found myself spending four days in Wanaka. I’m very pleased I did. It’s beautiful.

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It’s small and laid back. I walked around the lake, sat in cafes, went to a very relaxed little cinema and generally chilled out. It was just what I needed.

I really wanted to see the fiord at Milford Sound, which meant a trip to Queenstown. This is a happening sort of place – lots of tourists, skydiving, bungy jumping, zip-lining. The sun didn’t go down till after 9.30pm, so also late nightlife. I had the good fortune to stay in a hostel with great views of Lake Wakatipu and arranged a day trip to the fiord.

The sun was out in the morning. We crossed the 45th parallel on the way to Te Anau and paused at the mirror lakes.

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As we approached Homer Tunnel, a 1.2 kilometre long passage through looming mountains, it developed into the now familiar cloud-swept terrain.

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While waiting our turn to enter the single track hole, we were entertained by Kea, who were not at all bothered by the rain.

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We passed through rain-forest to the boat and then along Milford Sound. Our spirits were not dampened by the rain either, as it meant there were more waterfalls to experience.

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At the far end is the Tasman Sea. If you go East you may reach Tasmania: to the South of fiordland there is only Antarctica.

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Christchurch, Sunday 30/11/14.

I have met some lovely people here. On the way to Wellington I sat beside an enormous young Maori going to study architecture and also got talking to a comedic mime, a Brit who was brought up in Malta.

In Wellington I stayed with another New Zealand couple who knocked my socks off with their hospitality. I met Lynn and Alex on a bus in Laos, when they gave me an email address and suggested I look them up. They live in a stylish apartment in the heart of the city. Lynn showed me around, fed me good vegetarian fare, introduced me to friends and generally made me feel special. Alex played good music on the HiFi and they both told me about all the countries they’ve lived in and visited and the concerts, ( rock, folk, what have you)they’ve attended. They are the most cosmopolitan people I’ve met and also very laid back.

I did all the usual things in the city – art gallery, museum, old church, botanical gardens . . . and found them original and imaginative. Wellington is easy to get around on foot and on a sunny Sunday Alex drove us up to Mount Victoria and around the bay, where we went beach combing.

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I hope I get to spend some more time with them – they’re great.

On the other side of Cook Strait lies Picton, on the Marlborough Sounds. This area was once valleys and rivers, but is now submerged beneath 40-80 metres of seawater. We crossed the Straits on a fine day under a mackerel sky.

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On the ferry I sat with a couple who lived in the mountains on the North Island and who were both into wildlife and conservation. The guy was another great traveller, with many a tale to tell and another journey passed in pleasant conversation.

I only had a day to spend in Picton, so I took a boat ride to Queen Charlotte Track for a 15k stroll. On Motuara Island, known for its bird life, in a nesting box we saw a Little Blue Penguin, which is both small and bluish. A highly coloured NZ Wood Pigeon let me get within a couple of metres and I also spotted a Shore Skink,

A boat then took us out to Ship Cove for the first part of the walk. This was the best part, as it’s one of the few areas where the original forest was not cut down and you can really appreciate the change in flora as you climb the heights above the bay. On the walk I met several Wekas, another NZ flightless bird. They are specked brown, look and sound a bit like broody chickens.

Out in the sounds we saw both Hector’s and Dusky Dolphins. Hector’s are the smallest and quite rare. Indigenous to New Zealand, they have a distinctive rounded dorsal fin.

Further wildlife thrills awaited me in Kaikoura, when I went out to “encounter ” Albatrosses. We saw many different species, but the Wandering Albatross has the largest wingspan. It is hard to describe the thrill of seeing these huge birds soaring just above the waves towards the boat, or the delight of watching flocks flying at eye level swirling around you and seemingly effortlessly keeping up with the jet-powered boat. We watched Dusky Dolphins leaping out of the water, as a couple of males were trying to impress a female. We saw fur seals on the rocks As we turned for home, a solitary Wandering cruised behind us for about ten minutes and saw us up to the harbour lights, before veering off and disappearing in the distance.