Wow, just look at all my money......

Trip Start Apr 22, 2012
Trip End Nov 05, 2012

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Flag of Uzbekistan  ,
Thursday, April 19, 2012

For any of you who have not realised, most of my narrative to this blog is attached to the photos themselves.  If you look at the photos as a slide show you shoyuld get the comments.

So it is now over a week since I last managed to have an internet connecion suitable for writing up my blog.  We are staying at a $180 a night hotel in Tashkent, capital of Uzbekistan as a treat following a hard week or so of travel.  Also it was the one we knew about that had secure parking and you have to be at a hotel in order to register - but even that's not a simple thing.  More later.

Not sure how may photos I'll get to upload as despeate to have a good sleep in my King Size Bed and get my money's worth out of it.  Luxuriating in the air conditioning at the moment,  Is half past 8 in the evening.  As we have been heading eastwards al the time we have been rapidly losing an hour every few days as we enter the next time zone - BUT we have headed south now into Uzbekistan and because they don't observe summer time the clocks have actually gone back an hour - so an extgra hour today. When we go back into Kazakhstan in a week or so the thy will go forward an hour gain, and then as we enter China it will jump about 3 hours as the whole country is on Beijing time, despite the size of it.

I've driven 6,400 km since leaving home 3 weeks ago.  Since Saratov we have averaged 50 km per hour and driven 2,800 km in total i.e nearly 60 hours of driving over the last week.  The roads have been horrendous at times - they were bad enough in Russia with their pot holes but across Kazakhsan they are building a lovely new road - only fault is that this has necessitated huge distances of temporary road which are more like off road tracks at time, especialy as we got to the sandy areas near the Aral Sea.  The original road was probably bad enough but has been left unrepaired now and is used some of the time as well, and joy of joys, at times you get to use the brand new smooth tarmac of some of the finished bits.  The main problem was that we had a deadline to cross the country of Kazakhstan - an enormously wide country.   I always knew this it would be contentious as ther est of the group just wouldn't believe me that I had been told - repeatedly by the people who organised the invitations for our Business visa's for kazakhstan that we MUST transit between borders within 5 days if we came in from the west as there was no where that could register our visas.  It had to be Almaty, in the far east of the country - look on a map at how far Almaty is from it's western border with Russia.  It is no feasible to drive there in campervans on the horrendous roads at the moment in the 5 days, so we had to go south into Uzbekistan and get there within  days.  The others didn't want to believe it and persuaded themselves that we could get registered at the main police station in Ural (Uralsk - 2 spellings) that we passed by. 

But I'm getting ahead of myself a couple or three adventures we had before crossing the Ural river into Asia at Uralsk.  After we left Saratov in Russia we headed back the way we had already come into the town until we found the ring road and then a long drive around the city avoiding all the traffic congestion but not the dense fog that made visibilty poor for 10 minues or so before we crossed over the frozen up Volga river over a long bridge. In the early part of the last centuary the railway used to end at Saratov, and then the rain wagons and cariages put onto special train boats, taken over the Volga and then put back onto rails again the other side. Once over the river we were out in the sticks or 'boonies' and started to look for water to fill up the camper vans - Ivan and Luda use lots of water with daily showers and hair washing. After travelling so much in the desert Roer and I are both very frugal with water usually so as I have no chance of a shower in my camper, the toilet isn't plumbed in, and the water comes out in a dribble as being filtered through sooper dooper filters that take most things out including lead and other inorganic materials.

Luda said that where ther was a water tower in a village we would be able to get water from it - but when we deviated into a small village to investigate discovered that the pipe was too large for any fitings we had to get the water into the hosepipes and into the tanks.  The advantages of a Russian speaking member of the group were becoming apparant as Luda disussed the possibilities with a local who told up to go back to the centre of the village by the supermarket (!!) and go to the village boiler tended by a lady who said she used to own 2 cows, pigs, chicken and geese and make a 'good' living out of it in the days of communism.  Now she says the land which used to be shared out with all the village members is now owned by some rich person and prices have rocketed in value and now she cant keep any animals as she can't afford to pay for the food for them, so now she works for the village caretaking the village boiler house and is 'poor'.  She makes 5000 roubles but 4,000  is spent in rent, rates, heating and electricity  - the latter services are provided by the government and you pay a certain amount to them for unlimited heat - infact you have no on and off for it yourself you have to wait for the dates set by the government - so as it was now getting much warmer everywhere we had been in Saratov had been boiling because the date hadnt arrived for the heat to be turned off - reminds you of school days when you couldn't have any heat, how ever cold it was before a predetermined date.  After these deductions meant she was left with 1000 roubles - to put into perspective 1kg of mushrooms in the market at Saratov were 90 roubles,but potatoes were only 10.  She still managed to maintainn the boiler building and cultivate the surrounding land while wearing boots with a bit of bling - see photo- we have noticed how most of the Russian woman in town especially wear smart coats and jackets, plus high heeel shooes and boots whatever the underfoot conditions, and that a little bit of bling somewhere on the ensemble is usually evident. She also told us that until a week before there had been 3-4 foot of snow over all the surrounding area - since November time - 5 months in total.
Also at the boiler building - looked more like a seedy farm building were an assortment of three men and their dogs.  After all filligm up with water we decided we would investigate the supermarket - looekd huge fron outside but turned out to consist of a small room where fruit and veg was sold, a door which stated it was the post office in Russian but was closed, and a hall area where the vilagers could meet, with  photos of the president, the russian anthem etc used as decorations.

Stopped for the night about 150 km from the border between Russia and Kazakhstan at a derelict tiny fuel station with a muddy track to it but with a firm hardstanding base underneath it all - of importance as the land was so wet from all the melting snow.  I was sent to investigate a nicer looking spot the other side of the bridge but as soon as I drove on it knew that it would be impossible for the two larger campers - and was nearly too much for me as well.  Got bogged down as tried to drive back out an dhad to use 4 wheel drive and 'rock' myself out over about 5 minutes.  Opposite was a gravestone and cross with a seat and small table next to it to contemplate at.  Saw quite a few of similar ones to this along the side of the road.

Arrived at the Kazakhstan border mid afternoon - relatively quick and easy through both the Russian and kazakhstan sides - would have been easier still if I hadn't managed to have a 'small' accident at the Russian barrier allowing you to enter the border control area.  I was the last of the three campers and they only allowed 2 vehicles to go through at a time,  As I was debating whether I should drive through or not as I hadn't had a 'come on' wave from the border guard, the barrier came down leaving me about 6 foo in front of the STOP sign.  From past experience I know they can be very cross if you are not behind the stop sign so thought I'd better reverse back.  I'd onlyt got into the van about 2 ticks before - there were no other vehicles around then and we were at the top of a hill in the middle of nowhere.  Forgot to look in my reversing camera and st off backwards - CRUNCH and then a horn - 'S!!!!!' - and there was a tiny blue Lada right up behind me.  An older fat guy and a snooty business type younger guy.  The older guy came racign up to my window indicating big glasses circles around his eyes and gesticulating with hid finegrs that he wanted money.  The younger guy who was driving wouldn't look at me other than sideways and down in nose at me.  I offerered him some Euros but he refused to acknowledge I was even offering it to him - got a customs man to come up who acted in exactly the same way towards me - never spoke a word to me.  The others who were about 200 yards away and out of site heard that I'd had an accident with a ladder (Lada!!) but they wouldn't let Luda to come up and help me out.  Actually I think Luda's russian way of negotiating (very very aggressive) may have perhaps made things worse.  In the end I handed over 50 E to the old man who shook hands with me but the young man refused until I gave him a bunch of Roubles as well - then he also shook hands on the deal.  I was debating whether to admit my lapse to the others as until I caught up with them again, I hadn't realised that they had been told about it - no way I could hide it though when I examined my back door of the camper that evening - a very definite dinge and some blue paint - not easy to see at the time due to the dirt there though.

That evening, after entering a completely different countryside from the word go after leaving the border post - we came to an early finish when Ivan ran over the broken leaf spring from the suspension off a wagon.  It bounced off his retractable step and wrecked it so wont work now and also did some body work as well - expensive to sort out I'm sure.  A suitable spot to camp by the side of where Ivan had stopped to inspect the damage so we opted to stop there.  At either side of the raised up road there was a lake of water from all the melted snow - but there was a decent track over this ending soon after at fields,  First night we had been able to sit out  and enjoy a lager. As I've probably mentioned earlier I have a Porta Potty in the camper - new to me and trying to make sure I only wee in it rather than anything else. Been able to make use of lunchtime pit stops but not been a suitable opportunity that day as no cafes for us to stop to eat in. Decided after our episodes of '24' for the night that as it was pitch black and there were fields all around I would go for a comfort break behind the campers with my torch. Negotiated the muddy areas on the way out to a small line of short spindly trees. Minding my own business, communing wth nature when I suddenly realised that some bright lights and a big engine were heading across the fields directly at me - could it be a train? The road was the other way with a fair few trucks still coming past making a noise and with their lights on so a bit confusing. But instead of going past where I was (luckilly) hidden beind a three foot spike of a trunk it stopped, about 50 foot away from the camper vans. The lughts seemed to be directed on me - but that was paranoia setting in - the lights went on and off a couple of times, a guy got out of a large digger and wandered around and then got back in - all the time with the spotlights on - I didn't know what to do! - I could hardly just come out from behind the pathetic little tree like a startled rabbit - what do you say even if you can talk the correct lingo! - in the end backed out crouched down without the torch on going back towards the road so could then backtrack back to the campers - but there was the boggy water and mud to squelch thrpugh in the dark until I thought I could put my light on as the light wold get lost with the passing headlights of vehicles. I arrived back at the campervan upto my ankles literally in mud! Had to use a whole jerry of water and the washing up bowl to attempt to clean up my feet and my Crocs. The guy in the digger, making a real racket then proceeded to dig for about 2 hours in the pitch black immediately behind the campers - foin something with copper wires. Eion reckons he and his mate who joined him coul dhave been pinching the copper to sell it on. 

So next morning took us as far as Uralsk and a stop at the police station to be told to come back at 3pm.  So took the opportunity to explore the town, go to the internet cafe - for sopme reason the others thought 15 minsould be enough - did manage to look at my emails quickly and start to write up the blog but with no warning the computer ran out of the allotted 15 minutes and turned itself off before I'd saved it or anything.   Visied the museum which was a different experience - helped enormously by the fact that Luda could decipher the information on the exhibits.  Then went to 'CumCum' pronounced Sim Sim - means something like Abracadabra - from a russian story very similar to Aladdin's Lamp.

on the way back to the police station I visted the war memorial - a must for every Russian town or city.  This was certainly an impressive one - I found it a moving sort of place.  Was moving in other ways for a handful of older courting school children sat around the periphery of the park, a different couple to each bench, 'making out'. At the station filled some Russian forms in - well Luda did as they had to be in Russian rather than English - then sat around and waited - then Luda and Ivan went off to see the main man who then refused to register us - altgough the underling in the morning had said we could - the problem being the fact we have business visas and not the more normal tourist ones. We needed the business visas because we need to cross into kazakhstan three times on the trip over a fourfive month period. A tourist one woul be no use to us as we would have to reapply for another one to allow us to drive out of China in August and the Chinese agent said that they would not recommend doing this - no way in Beijing would you get one and also perhaps slightly less problematic in Sanghai - may well end up with no visa to get home with. Also told by the policeman that we had to be at the Uzbekistan border wthin 5 days - Luda decided this meant that the first day didn't count. I was not really happy with this but had to go with the flow.

The roads as I've already said tended on the rough and ready, shaking the vans and their contents - and their human inhabitants  thoroughly.  Going to have to go to sleep - it's 9.30 pm - will set the alarm for early tomorrow to try and finish this before we leave the hotel.  Still got insurance to sort out for this country - couldn't do it at the border - had to drive 50km without it in order to get to Tashkent to organise it. 

Can see likely to be minus any photos the rate I'm going as only internet available in the hotel lobby so can't leave the laptop downloading the photos over night which would have been a good use of time.  Costs $15 to have wifi in your room. Writing this up 'offline' in my room and sorting out which photos I want to pload onto the blog. will have to go back into the lobby to upload what I've written and the photos onto it.

Never enough hours in the day to do all the jobs - especially as only one of my in the car compared to the other two couples.  Really need to look at the book about Samarkand as we hope to drive there tomorrow.  Have done some washing so that is hopefully drying overnight in the bathroom, and I've managed to make three packhorse trips to the camper and back - so will need the same number tomorrow morning to pack up the camper again and put the lid down on it..

now 4.30 am, just woken up so taken opportunity to spend a few mre hours on the blog.  The hotel we are in is what you would expect for an international hotel - on the fourth floor (equivalent to 3rd floor in England) with lovely wide marle stair cases as well as lifts, two of which are on the outside of the building.  Been using the stairs as much as possible to get some exercise. have to walk a long way from the lift to the room as well.  For $160 a night don't get any tea making stuff so brought my kettle and tbags up from the camper - kettle is on at the moment. Not even a complementar biscuit or chocolate.

Back to the grotty roads of Kazakhstan and Uralsk.  After wasting half a day in Uralsk trying to register we were now faced with the daunting task of driving to the Uzbeckistan border as fast as possible.  Once the road is finished (due for completion in 2013) it will be a very easy drive - but how long for who knows. It won't take many winters to change the wonderful smooth tarmac to a rutted pothole and wavy mess if no maintenance takes place - or even with their rudimentary road mending skills evidenced on the old road.

The scenery was of open spaces and big skies.  Nature is around you and with not much to see at times you notice the birds - hawks from time to time, I saw one that had just swooped and picked up a small animal and was carrying it away in its talons.  We saw two v shaped flocks of ? geese
heading north and small animals playing chicken as they ran in front of the car across the road - and also running he risk of not only being squashed but also taken off by the sudden woosh of a pair of sharp talons and a hooked beak.  Perhaps they have perfected the art of running across a road in front of vehicles as being a way to get over the exposed road without a hawk getting them?  Also saw a small tortoise/turtle making its way across - head and neck outstretched looking around, had to swerve to avoid running it over.

The rolling grasslands changed to sandy and rocky desert and it was nw getting very hot.  Such a contrast to less than a week ago when we were in winter woolies, now in summer clothes.    Tuesday after leaving Saratov we drove 209 km but had a two hour stop to get water at the russian village and were delayed by getting behind a slow moving funeral for a long distance on the main road.   Wednesday, including the russian/Kazak border we managed 228 km with an early stop when Ivan ran over the leaf spring.  Thursday was only 140 km as we wasted most of the day in Uralsk.  Friday  was 671 km (!) from sunrise to sunset, stopping in a large parking area of hardstanding as their were two memorial stones for WW1 just inconspicuously to be found at the back of the carparking area.  Saturday the roads deteriorated as we hit the main road building area across the most desert bits of the country heading south-east now rather than strainght east, towards the original top right corner of the Aral Sea - except it's not there now as the Russian's deviated much of the water from the river flowing into the Aral Sea to produce cotton in the lands to the north of the Aral Sea. For the fishing village of Aral (Aralsk) this was disastrous as the lake began to decrease in size and also become very salty rather than freshwater. The waters receeded to about 50km away from the village and the fish all died. The land dried out and the wind is eroding the sandy land away, and due to all the pesticides etc used in the cotton areas and draining into the Aral Sea it is now a toxic mess being blown around. They have introduced flouders into the sea as they are salt water fish - a flat fish - but now restoration work is being carried out to cut off the southern part of the lake (used to be the fourth largest freshwater lake in the world) and allowing what water that flows into the sea to dam back into the northern end, and by also cutting a canal to Aral from where the sea is now - gradually they hope to bring the water back to the dry harbour of Aralsk. We were struggling for fuel by the time we got to Aralsk - there is really very little and what there was - two fuel stations we saw during the day had closed. Stopped at some point for Eion to put diesel in from his jerry cand and me to pump fuel from the spare tank fitted to the camper into the main tank. Impressed by the ease of doing this as I'd been worried about how this would go - not seen it in action, only a very brief conversation with roger with 2 mins to go before I left for the ferry at Hull.

Not realy much time to spend at Aralsk so couldn't make the 60 odd km detour to drive to the 'graveyard' of ships in the desert sand - but did manage to go down to the original harbour in the village where there is a memorial of brightly painted fishing boats.  Also visited the railway station to see the waiting room mural of tiles - wonderfully cool inside.  Really good to finally see Aralsk as roger and I should have passed through here on a train taking us from Tashkent to Moscow back in 2003 but due to a problem with our Uzbekistan visa then we were left on the Kazak side of the border unable to get to Tashkent to pick up our train tickets.  So after a couple of hours there we were back on the road again trying to get some more km under our wheels before sunset.  545 hard km managed and found a superb camp spot just off one of the roadwr deviations down a sandy track near to a salt encrusted shallow lake area, with a gushing spring into a water trough where the animals came to drink - seeing camels and horses roaming freely over the land.  From time to time will see Kazak men on their ponies galloping around the landscape.  Took advantage of the water to catch up with our washing - in the dark by the time we were finishing.  Visited by a car load of young children and a older man- the kids all holding posies of wild irises from nearby.

Next day an early start and more of the same but now once or twice a day have to negotiate a town - road takes you in but no signs and no obvious way t get out - a bit of a nightmare trying to find out way through the erratic driving of the townies, plus also regularly stopped by the poilce for a variety of reasons.  No fines but slow you doen.  eion was lucky - Luda talked a policman out of taking his licence off him for 10 days as he dsaid he didn't have his headlights on - he did have lights on but they are not his headlights and to be honest are a little dim, especially when covered in dust and dirt.  I had picked up a slow puncture in my left back wheel so we were stopping every 100km or so to fill it up again - unfortunately Roger's on-board fast compresor had stopped working (sorry Roger - it is definitely defunct) so were having to use Ivan's slower one that runs off the cgarette lighter - only the cigarette lighter socket he has for his camper is not the same as the one in either my van or Eions - I never realised that there wasnot a comlete universaltility of cigarette lighter sockets!  So means Ivan's van has to be in the correct place so we can reach the cord from his van to my wheel.  At the last stop to put air in the tyre I had forgotten to put my lights on again when we restarted - for about the first time on the trip - had realised about 3 minutes before we were stopped and Wion told off for not having his on - so could have been much worse if I'd been stopped without mine on as well.  Luda was able to argue that it was an oversight on Eions part - despite the fact that he DID have lights on.  Would have been disastrous if he had not given him back his driving licence!!!    Not really the time to get my tyre fixed and it's a bugger to change the wheel - so as putting air in regularly appeared to be doing the trick we carried on, managing only 447 km of very tough roads and towns to negotiate. Stopped by the army late this day and he said we must be at the border by tomorrow confirming Luda's interpretation that the 5 days really meant 6 days - didn't sound correct to me.
Thougt we now had 444km to do to get to the border so felt we would make it for mid to late afternoon no problems - the scenery started changing to lush greem pastureland and tree lined roads again.  A very quick change.  Got to where the border on the map is (eventually) but discovered can't take vehicles over here (at least with foreigners in - only allowed to walk over) and had to drive a furtehr 100km along bad roads now in pitch black, being overtaken by madmen in fast moving cars with dust and headlights coming the other way glaring into your nght vision.  Ivan was equally driving like a madman at front - don't know whether to admire him as aged 78 driving aq huge motorhome at speeds much faster than I wanted to drive at on a bumpy pot holed no proper side to the road - or to declare him a madman.  I was third man once again and was determined to stick close to Eions back lights. Was difficult at times to work out where the road actually went through the dark.  Seemed to go on for ever - and finally arrived at the border post behing a huge line of trucks at just past 10pm - with 2 hours to go to the deadline for getting there.  The border post had a very sleepy air about it, the truckers all gone to bed.  They had to open up the car section to allow us to go through.  Not a good time to try and process custos in the middle of the night - espeically when they then said we were a day late (not the time to say - I told you so!!!) and it took some skillfull shoutng and negotiations on Luda's part and a phone conversation with the main man to get us over this one - they had been tacking us all the way across the country I'm sure at all the police stops, and we had been given duff info by atleast 3 lots of policemen that we had the extra day - and also they are aware of how bad the roads arfe at the moment and how difficult it is to make the trip in 5 days - so got an apology rather than a fie.  Thanks for that Luda.
Once finally allowed out of Kazakhstan (they needed to se the Russian border crossing paperwork ratehr than the kazak stuff...) we then had the beurocracy of Uzbekistan to contend with.  Whereas it would appear that Kazakstan is still quite 'tight' with russia, Uzbekistan is very much trying to be completely ndependant of the mother country.  Was 2.30am before we got through the final police check point - except we didn't know it was really 1.30 am as the clock went back the hour at the border.  We exited Kazakstan on16th April, and by the time we got through into Uzbek it was the 17th but we were stamped in as arriving on the 16th as can't have a missing day on your passport.  Managed to find somewhere by the side of the road very soon after leaving the post and quickly all went to bed - been on the go since 7.30am - 19 hours in total.
Now, we were in Uzbekistan but no local money, no car insurance, a tyre that needed mending and 50km from Tashken which is where we were told we had to go in order to sort insurance and get money from.  Onto the main two lane dual carriageway, max speed 70km.  Green and so very different from what we have been seeing for the last 2 weeks.  We had been warned at the border that we needed to get the camers washed before we entered Tashkent so stoped off at a truck cleaning place where Luda negotiated getting them washed to 10 E each - and next door was a tyre mending place.  After my camper had been washed I drove it over to the tyre changer who wouldn't believe that I had a problemn as the tyre pressure was OK - but then I'd only reinflated it an hour before.  Took it off and tested it and discoverd a small leak - delved down and finally manage to extract a three inch nail that was lodged in the tyre acting as very effective plug - when he finally pulled it out there was a loud hiss as the air all finally managed to be released.  Very imprssive.  Quickly mended it and put the wheel back on the vehicle, and refused to take any Euros off me (no local money).  Finally got on the orad again after Ivan had tried to get his driving lights working again - must have got waterlogged as flickering dimly.  Hopefully they will dry out soon and work again - he is not a happy bunny of something goes wrong with the camper.  wo more police checkpoints to get through as we hit the busy and hectic outskirts of Tashkent- Ivan wanted to find a shopping centre to buy a gps for the country - he won't use a normal old fashioned map - and as it makes sense for Luda to be in the front vehicle to read signs and ask the way we then spent the next hour in a fruitless search to find a shopping mall - finally parked up and then went in search of a casjpoint to get some money out - not that simple.... Finally got to a bank that eventually would allow us to go down and change some money - I changed 150E worth and couldn't believe my eyes at both the amount of paperwork that was required to do this or also the huge wads of money I got back - all in 500 unit notes - see the photo of the wad.  How do people go shopping here - I needed my rucksack to put it all in!!  The others didn't have the necessary currency declaration form we got at the border with them so they couldn't get any money.  They did get talking to a very kind local who agreed to come with us to get us to a hotel if we paid for a taxi baxk for him - we all gladly  agreed to this.  I had the name of a hotel I had researched on the internet before leaving that had secure parking - so off we went.  So relieved to finally get into an air conditioned hptel and a chance for a shower etc.  Did offer a pool as well but when Liza and I tried to use it they said it wasn' in use at the moment.
Registration is requried - but the hotel will only register you for th enumber of nights you are staying here - but arranged for soemone to come in and if we pay $10 each per night they will 'fix' us to be registered for as many nights as we want.  As we have paid for one night at the hotel we will go through the proceedure with the girl who showed up tomorrow (which is now today as writing it the day after...) and also then we have to take a taxi and go off and sort out insurance for the vehicles.  Off to Samarkand then with the vehicles.

Went for something to eat (fially) about 3.30pm - I'd virtually not eaten anything for the last 36 hours - unlike th eothers I only have what is in the cab with e for the legth of a journey whereas they have a partner who can go into the camper van and get things as required.  Lovely food in a cafeteria style cafe recommended by a local as being good value.  Seemed expensive when they asked me for 15000 of the currency - that's 30 x 500 notes......  All stuffed after this and although agreed to go back there for evenng meal we were all too stuffed stil when the time came - and the others were all fast asleep as well.  Liza and I went for a wander across the road from the hotel where music playing and the foutains doing a colourful display in time to the music.  Cooler but still relatively warm in the dark.  Very pleasant.

So, just about caught up now - will go and see if I can upload somephotos now and also go online and publish this before I manage to lose it......  Then need to pack up, think about breakfast and would liek to have a quick wander around before it gets too hot - and have some breakfast - all before our meetuptime of 10am.  Npw 6.15 am.    

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Mum on

Managed to read the blog before leaving for holiday. You certainly are having a hectic time. Queen Victoria cruise ship more my line.

Trish Robertson on

Friend of Eion and Liza. What an amazing trip you are all having. The pictures show all the difficulties you are experiencing. Each day is certainly an adventure, what a lot of paper work you are having to do. Makes our upcoming trip to Europe seem like a cake walk. Keep writing up the blog and adding your pictures.
We are very lucky to live in New Zealand.



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