What’s in a Pound of Beans

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Wanting a change from the local cusine we made a big pot of chili with fresh chapati. It was wonderful to savour the luscious, almost forgotten flavours of home, but a quarter of the way into the bowl  Sharleen bit into something hard, then me, then Sharleen again.

What the heck?

We stopped eating and carefully looked through the chili in our bowls and found stones… lots of stones!  We thought how lucky we were not to have broken a tooth, especially here in Lindi where there is no real dentist.  It was with tears in our eyes that we came to the conclusion that the only thing to do was to throw out the whole pot.

The next day I was telling Mageni, our local program administrator  about the stones we found in our beans and without missing a beat she asked incredulously, “didn’t you remove them?”

Remove them?

Mageni explained that local merchants either don’t clean the beans they sell and/or they add stones to increase the weight.  She said, “everyone knows you have to remove the stones first.”

Somehow we missed that lecture!

Being curious I went to the market the next day and bought another pound of beans just to sort through them and see what extras I would find…

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A Walk to the Market

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We walk the 20 minutes to the local market daily, not because we have to, but because it’s an experience that challenges and rewards us in so many ways.  Describing our thoughts and feelings cannot possibly do the walk justice, so we will show it to you in pictures and let you experience the journey for yourselves.

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The start of the journey – Looking down the Village road to the beach

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Every evening the gentleman who occupies this home welcomes us to the village saying karibu hujumbo (welcome, are you well) to which we reply sijumbo assante sana (we are well, thank you very much).  Tanzanians still respect their elders and young Tanzanians will often greet us saying shikamoo, which literally means, I am beneath your knees.

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A typical side road leading to homes within the interior of the Village

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The Village well where woman wash cloths and get their daily supply of fresh water for the family. Cloths are laid out on top of the grass to dry.

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At the end of the road – looking straight, the Indian Ocean.

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At the end of the road – looking left.  The Village children love to greet  the mzungu (white people), so Sharleen started a routine with them where they greet each other in dance.  Children in the Village are not shown much affection by the adults, so this has become a special treat.  The dancing starts as soon as they spot Sharleen and goes on for as long as she can last, ending in a group high-five.

 

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The girls

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Just behind the girls in the picture above is Blue Monday, one of the local beach bars and guesthouses.  We come here many evenings to watch the sun set.

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The Blue Monday bar

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At the end of the road – looking right, the best part of our trip to the city.

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The road quickly become beach and the centre of activity

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The beach is shared by everyone and everything. This is our rapping Sheppard’s herd.  Most days you will find boys playing soccer, joggers, fishermen and people like us going to and coming from Lindi.

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These boats  are used everyday by the local fishermen

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Prime beachfront real estate

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Here is where we leave the beach to go into the city.  These are the homes of local fishermen and their families.

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Lindi’s waterfront.  The Chinese are rebuilding 7 kilometers of road in the city and this is one of them.

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We walk down this street, also being rebuilt by the Chinese.  It leads directly into the city centre where the market is located.  In Lindi there are no street names, directions are given using landmarks.

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As we walk down the street we hear children calling out hi, hello or mzungu from their homes.  The brave ones come out to see us and practice what English they know.

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The local upholstery shop that does boss custom bed sheets

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Lindi city centre – The roundabout

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The main entrance to the market.  The green Bijaji on the street is the main form of public transportation in Lindi and we have fallen in love with them.

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The local market.  Despite the fertility of the land the choice of produce is actually quite limited and this is one of the areas we are assisting farmers, restaurants and local businesses.

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And, the local butcher shop!  That’s a blog write up all on its own.

Working in Tanzania

We have been busy and are feeling every year of our age.  Last week we were in meetings with the Regional government and this week we traveled to four different cities looking at different businesses and speaking to District representatives.

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The team enjoying fresh papaya at Deborah McKenzie’s, aka Mama Kuku’s chicken farm

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Now that’s a cassava

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A good section of the highway we traveled on for 5 days

Traveling the roads in Tanzania is unlike anything we have experienced before.  We cover hundreds of kilometers over not much more than cow paths. I was saying to Sharleen many of the roads here would be considered advanced mountain bike trails in Canada.  Our bodies took a severe beating and ached continuously. What takes your breath away however is seeing pure untouched nature in every direction.  As we drove along the roads exotic birds burst out of the trees by the hundreds and we’ve seen baboons crossing the roads like casual tourists.  It’s really hard to describe.

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A typical farmers home

At one point we had to stop for a bio-break, but our Project Manager Washington Kubini said no, not here, absolutely not here!  He said this area of the forest we were passing through was known to be home to pythons, and to make it sound really dangerous he emphasized that they were big enough to swallow a person whole. But that threat was not half as scary as an odd but true story Gerry saw a few days later in the news about a man in Thailand.  While sitting on a toilet a python came up through the sewer, into the toilet and grabbed onto his manly appendage.  Apparently after a motivated tug-of-war the man is still in ownership of his appendage and the python has been taken away by the Thai authorities.  Hopefully this isn’t too much information, but it does make you think twice about taking a bio-break anywhere near where pythons are known to inhabit.

As a side note Washington told us that he had been teased throughout his childhood for having a white persons name.  He was quite surprised when we told him that in North America the name Washington would seldom be associated with being white!

You Can’t Make This Stuff up

One of our jobs in Tanzania is to help small and medium sized enterprises grow their business and create jobs.

Last week we were to meet with a Poultry farmer that sells 2,000 chickens a month. By African standards he is a successful chicken farmer and we were looking forward to meeting him.  We drove down a cow path in the middle of nowhere, passed by a mud hut with the family sitting in the dirt under the shade of a tree and came to a soccer field… no idea!  We then walked along a jungle trail to the chicken farm, where upon our arrival we found nothing, it had been deserted!   After a few phone calls are made the farm manager cycles in on a rusted 20 year old foldable bike in his flip flops, and we asked him what happened.

Supposedly the story went something like this.  The owner found religion and became a Christian fanatic and told the farm hands who were Muslim that they were too dirty to handle his chickens…like the chickens cared, so he fired them all including his farm manager.  The owner then hired his family to work the farm, but there was one small problem, the family knew nothing about raising chickens!  The layers stopped laying, the wife sold off the broilers, pocketed the money and ran off with a farm hand and the farmer concentrated on trying to convert Muslims.   Finally the owner realized his mistake and hired back the farm manager, but alas, it was too little too late.  The paradox of the story is that the last 200 chickens were purchased by the local hotel for a Last Supper.  As a result the farm is being closed down and all of this happened over a 9 month period.

Gerry told Washington that you can learn as much from a business failure as a business success, so he asked Gerry what the lesson was, to which Gerry replied, don`t become a Christian!  Washington is still trying to figure out if Gerry was serious or not.

Why is that man kicking his goat

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When we first came to Lindi we were in deep culture shock and depressed.  It’s certainly not for everyone.  At first I said to myself if I can last a year here it will be a miracle, but after the initial culture shock it’s really starting to grow on us.  The area is 3rd world; dirt roads, small stall markets, lots of flies and garbage, very undeveloped, but with a gorgeous coastline.

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Our home in Lindi

We live in a cute little house on a hill and we can glimpse the ocean from our front porch. We had to spend 20 hours cleaning it and three of the four sinks didn’t work. Life is very different in Lindi, but that’s part of why we are here and we often have to remind ourselves of that.

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The beach at Blue Mondays

We can walk down to the beach in about 5 minutes and will often have a beer at a beach bar called Blue Mondays.  It is a very scenic spot to watch the sun set and the stars come out.  Everything is still in a natural state. There is currently no tourism, but that will likely change. The city is safe and we can walk anywhere, people stare but you get accustomed to it. For the first two weeks we were a novelty, but now we’re accepted as just the Mzungu couple.

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A typical Lindi area home

 

A number of us walked into town along the beach one night. It was a full moon and a higher than normal tide so we had to cross two small streams along the way. To get across Sharleen had to hike up her skirt under which she wore her bathing suit bottoms.  The young boys will be talking about the crazy Mzungu in her underwear for weeks.

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Santorinis

All the expats meet every Friday night at a beach bar called Santorini’s, and one gal leads a yoga class once a week in a great spot overlooking the bay.  Next week is the Lindi 5km run for which we are volunteering non-running assistance, and there are always volunteers from various organizations coming and going.  There is a real sense of community. Last Sunday and Monday we were invited to peoples homes for dinner and this Sunday all of us are meeting at the one Italian restaurant in town.  We have been warned to order nothing but the pizza, and even that may take 90 minutes.

We are still trying to figure out where to find the things we need as every shop offers only a few items and there are few shops.  The newest and largest grocery store in town offers less than the average 7-Eleven. The house had very little in it so it has been a challenge to find what we need.  So far we haven`t eaten at home because we can`t find a pot to buy.  On the other hand you can have b-b-q chicken, seasoned rice, a vegetable dish called mbogamboga and a beer for 5,000 shilling or $3.00, so do we really want to cook at home!

We asked Steve, a volunteer who has been in Lindi for a number of years how long it took him to acclimatize to the culture.  He said he wasn’t sure, but one day as he was returning home from work he saw a man on the side of the road kicking his goat in the head.  As he continued home he suddenly realized that he had not even stopped to ask himself, ‘why is that man kicking his goat in the head’, and it was then that he realized he had accepted Lindi as his new home.

Zanzibar

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The Hyatt Hotel in Stone Town

Dar es Salaam is only a 2 hour fast ferry from Zanzibar, so we decided to visit exotic Stone Town, the historic spice and slave trading centre.  Zanzibar is an interesting Island and we’re happy we went; however, we again saw remarkable disparity between the rich and poor.

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One of many UNESCO sites being renovated in the manner Tanzanians call pole pole – slowly

It’s interesting there isn’t more tension.  We toured the historic slave and spice markets and then the Sultans Palace.  The guide told us one Sultan had 99 concubines.  No wonder the shortest war in history (45 minutes) was fought between the British and Zanzibar; the Sultan had no energy, time nor motivation to be away from the Palace for any length of time!  We also went to Prisoner Island (guess how it got its name) and saw a tortoise sanctuary in which one old fellow recently celebrated his 189th birthday.

 

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The Palace of Wonders

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Visual treats are everywhere 

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Returning to Stone Town from Prisoner Island

Swahili

SwahiliSharleen and I have been learning Swahili and although it is said to be an easy language to learn, the retired brain is just not accustomed to having to work that hard.  We now understand why doctors say learning a new language is a great exercise for the mind and an excellent way to fight dementia!

As an aside did you know that the Tanzanian day starts at 6:00 in the morning and not at midnight?  As a result, when a Tanzanian tells you the time in Swahili, the time they say is 6 hours behind!  For example, if it is 11:00 in the morning a Tanzanian will tell you that it is 5:00.  They read the time as 11:00, but they say it as 5:00.  It was a little confusing at first, but we’re already adapting.

 

Culture Shock

We were feeling the full effects of culture shock upon our arrival in Tanzania so we decided to refrain from making any comments until we had spent some time here. On our second day in Dar es Salaam, the capital of Tanzania it was a National Holiday so seven of us from CUSO toured the city.  Sharleen and I found the contrasts here greater than anywhere else we have been.  As we drove through a crowded shanty town where it`s common for 10 people to live in a one room shack covered by a rusted tin roof we saw that the Chinese were building high rise luxury condos next door!  Don’t know who will live in them, but they’re being built.

Dar esThe entire coast line around Dar es Salaam is beautiful beach and mangrove forest, but the majority of it is treated like industrial land; however, we did go to a beach resort where we felt like we could be anywhere in the Caribbean.  Again we drove through abject poverty and then as if crossing an invisible line we pulled into a parking lot filled with luxury cars and were greeted by a Masai warrior with his tribal weapon at his side working as the security guard.

UntitledDar es Salaam has 12 million people and 3 traffic lights… okay, maybe 4.  We’ve seen crazy traffic before, but nothing like this.  It’s a complete free for all.  It is the rainy season and there are no storm sewers so the roads turn into rivers rapidly.  During one rain fall it took us over an hour to travel 500 meters.  The only one on the road enjoying himself was the peanut vendor pushing his cart happily from one stopped car to the next.  Sharleen took advantage of the opportunity and bought a bag only to discover that they boil their peanuts here versus roasting them, they’re surprisingly good for soggy nuts!

CarThe roads are, to be diplomatic, terrible. Our driver lost his rear bumper as the backend of the car fell into a pot hole he couldn’t avoid and just minutes later lost his side view mirror to a motorcycle splitting lanes.  Dar es Salaam is not a city in which one should drive a new vehicle!

The other day we saw a fellow lying directly in front of our car in the middle of the road being kicked repeatedly by bystanders calmly taking their turn.  Supposedly he tried to get on the bus without paying!  Raymond, a volunteer from Uganda was in the car with us and said, “don’t worry, it is quite common here”.  I don`t know about the others, but that made me feel better!

Getting Ready for Africa

Burnout

After backpacking through Thailand, Myanmar, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines for 6 months and driving the east coast of Australia and both islands of New Zealand for another 2, Gerry and I hit the wall and experienced what is called travelers burn out. The point all travelers reach when the thought of getting into yet another bus, plane, train automobile or boat is physically repulsive!  At this point it is recommended that you find one spot to lay low, hang up the hiking boots and make like a vegetable.  Since our original plan was to visit Central and South America next, we decided to plant ourselves in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico and spend Christmas with our dear friends Bart and Pascal and the gang.

We stayed in a traditional Mexican hotel in the old city 5 blocks from the beach.  Our apartment was on the top floor where we had a kitchen and an outdoor sitting area, but what made it really special were the people staying there with us.  All of them were Canadian and American couples who many had been returning for over 20 years. There was Murdock and his wife who had traveled all of their lives and at one point sailed from Vancouver to New Zealand for the fun of it.  Richard who had quite the sense of adventure had spent many of his retirement years working for the Peace Corp in Eastern Europe. He was also remarkably fit and one day suggested that we take a hike along the coastline. The trail was not well marked and we got lost. It was tough going and despite our conditioning from hiking in New Zealand, Gerry and I were struggling to keep up with Richard who appeared to be having a casual stroll in his flip flops.  We finally found our way back and while enjoying a cold beer we asked Richard what he did to keep in such good shape and ultimately, how old he was.  Richard was 80! We are still stunned!

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Richard & Sharleen on the patio at our hotel

Another American couple we met spent 6 months each year RVing through Spain, Portugal and France and said if you love food, wine, culture and scenery they were great inexpensive countries to live in.

Puerto Vallarta was a great spot to regroup and figure out what was next.  One of my daily routines was to go to the beach and do a floating star in the warm Pacific waters. It brought me great joy to look up into the beautiful blue sky while bobbing like a cork.  My joy must have been contagious because I noticed each day a growing number of people joining me and doing a floating star too.

After a few weeks surrounded by the beauty of Banderas Bay our energy began to return and we got talking about the past year and what we enjoyed the most.  We both came to the realization that we had really enjoyed our work in Laos and thought that if we could repeat the experience we should do so. We contacted CUSO and were presented two opportunities, Jamaica or Africa.  After careful consideration we decided Africa would be a tougher posting and take more out of us, so if we were ever going to do it, it had to be now.  When we applied for Africa we were interviewed by the Program Manager in Tanzania and had our conference call in a broom closet at our hotel in Mexico.  It was the only quiet room in the hotel that had internet access.

Our Return to Canada

We were accepted and decided to return to Canada for a few weeks before departing for Africa.  We were homesick and really missing our family and friends.  We returned to Canada on the 17th of January and were scheduled to depart for Africa the first week in February.  However, due to a change in the Tanzanian government and the Visa approval process we didn’t depart until the 25th of April. Most of the time we stayed with Gerry’s sister and brother-in-law, Linda and Perry.   They were wonderful to us and we cannot thank them enough for their hospitality.  They tolerated us for 3 months when we were only supposed to be with them for 3 weeks. We also want to thank all of our friends who put us up, had us over for dinners and made us feel welcome as we waited, and waited and waited!  We have tremendous gratitude for our family and friends who gave us the strength to carry on and head out once again.

Trekking New Zealand

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Even if you’re not into trekking, plan to take at least one while you’re in New Zealand! Much of the country is best experienced on foot, the trails are exceptionally well maintained, clearly marked and you can walk at your own pace without ever feeling hurried.  Longer treks have regularly spaced alpine huts that are fully equipped for overnight stays, freeing you from having to carry unnecessary and heavy equipment, and you will never feel lonely or unsafe surrounded by fellow trekkers.

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Sharleen and I were uncertain of our physical capabilities, so we thought the one day 21 km Tongariro Alpine Crossing might be a little aggressive for our first trek.  As a compromise we decided to start at one end, walk until we felt we had spent half our energy and then turn back.  20151102_064957What we hadn’t counted on was the stunning beauty of the area and the excitement and curiosity of wanting to know what was over the next ridge.  By the end of the trek we had walked 26 kilometers and ascended over 3,000 feet.  The last few kilometers were the slowest and most excruciatingly painful steps of our lives,  but we would do it again in a heartbeat.IMG_6694

New Zealand’s geography allows you to walk a mountain pass one day and an ocean side trail next, and one of the best ocean side trails is Able Tasman.  IMG_6702IMG_6688

IMG_7073You can walk for days enjoying striking coastal scenery, camp on isolated beaches and then catch a ferry back to your start point, or you can make the journey by sea kayak.  Either way it’s a once in a lifetime experience. 20151118_160856

20151117_154659 There are also the spectacular Fox and Franz Joseph glacier treks, which we found fascinating as we followed the path of the their recession over the past 50 years.  Unfortunately their recession has been so dangerously rapid that they have become unstable and trekkers are no longer allowed to go to their face due to the danger of a collapse.

IMG_6823Once you’ve completed a few easy treks you’ll find yourself motivated to tackle at least one 4-7 day mountain pass.  Popular treks such as Heaphey, Kepler, Milford and Routeburn require booking your mountain huts well in advance with the Department of Conservation, and as we learned first hand doing so does not guarantee that you’re going.  Our trek was cancelled only hours before our departure due to 100 km winds and freezing temperatures.IMG_6762

In its place we did in-and-outs and Gertrude’s Saddle in Milford Sound  was one that holds a special place in our memories.  We started off in an alpine snow storm and within a half-hour were taking our boots off to wade across an ice cold mountain river.  After drying our feet and putting our boots back on we walked 100 meters only to learn we had to do it again. After completing the second crossing we lost the trail and thought the day was over before it had even began, but just as we were preparing mentally to give up we stumbled onto the trail again and with a whoop of joy carried on.  It was a wet and cold day, but strangely beautiful and appropriate.  At the end of the trek we lit a fire in an alpine hut to dry our cloths, have a coffee and warm our bodies.IMG_7066

IMG_7075The most unusual trek we did was a 90 minute long subterranean hike in an underground stream called cave stream reserve. There were moments of claustrophobic panic when in waste deep water we stopped just long enough to realize where we were.  Sharleen would point her headlamp into the water and ask what those long squiggly things swimming around her legs were?  Telling her they were eels would not have helped the situation so I just said, “nothing to worry about!”  Thank god the claustrophobia overruled her curiosity because all she said was, “okay”, and we climbed against the gush of water from another underground waterfall.IMG_6938

Perry the Penguin

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NZ-CatlinsThe Catlins is a rugged area on the South Island that features a scenic coastal landscape and dense temperate rainforest, both of which harbour many endangered species of birds, most notably the illusive and rare yellow eyed penguin.  Well I should have bought a lottery ticket the day we visited the colony because as soon as we stepped onto the beach we were confronted by one penguin that gave us a pretty convincing evil eye for disturbing him. Unperturbed however, we watched in fascination for an hour as he went about his business, and then we departed for Purakaunui Bay where we were going to camp for the evening.

Perry IIIAfter setting up we went for a walk along yet another stunningly beautiful beach making sure we kept our distance from, and from in-between the bull Fur seals and their cows.  At the end of the beach where the sand met the boulders we saw two gentlemen staring at something and walked over to see what was capturing their interest.  Unbelievably it was another yellow eyed penguin!  As we got closer however, we saw that something wasn’t quite right and at about 20 feet away we saw the blood on its chest.  It was just standing still on the sand in front of the boulders, in shock.  I said out loud we have to do something, but none of us knew penguin first aid and there was no cell coverage to make a call.

One of the gentlemen said in a pot induced slur, “it’s the birds karma man, it’s his fate dude”, in an attempt to salve his conscious.

perry the penguinWe watched for a few more minutes, feeling hopeless and useless and then the poor little fellow keeled over and did a beak plant against the bolder.  At that moment I said to Sharleen we can’t just watch it die, so let’s do what we can.  It was obvious it was cold and would not survive if left unprotected on the beach, so we began pulling grass from the shore and layered it around him to build a massive nest.  It cautiously watched us as we approached and worked.  Intuitively it knew we were trying to help and he  never once showed fear or aggression. As we were finishing the nest he actually stop shivering and closed his eyes.  We did what we could, said a little prayer that it would survive and left.

The next morning I saw a ranger walking outside so I quickly got out of our camper and told him about the penguin.  He said he would contact a conservationist immediately.  Ten minutes later a lady in a 4 wheel drive drove up to us.  She asked if I was the guy with the wounded penguin, I said ‘yes’, she said ‘hop in’, and we raced across the river and over the beach to where Sharleen and I left him the night before.  Jumping out of the truck I showed the conservationist where he was and within minutes she had him wrapped up in her fleece jacket and got back into her truck.  I said ‘go, I’ll walk back’, and off she drove.

An hour later she returned to say that the vet had our buddy stitched up, on antibiotics, an IV, he was stable and that he would survive.  She also said he was about a kilo light for his size, so they would keep him at the rescue centre for a few weeks to fatten him up?

Sharleen and I joked that after a few weeks at the spa for rehabilitating Penguins our buddy, which we named Perry, wouldn’t want to return to the wild.  In my best penguin imitation I would say to Sharleen,’ hey doc, my back is still killing me, don’t know if I’m quite ready to go yet!’

I got to thinking about the young man’s comment that it was Perry’s fate to die.  In Asia many people fall victim to what they perceive is their fate, yet fate is only a perspective. To the young man it was Perry’s fate to die, to Sharleen and I it was Perry’s fate that we should happen to come along and save him!

 

Coffee With a View

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Sharleen and I made it a goal to enjoy our first coffee in the morning and our last glass of wine in the evening sitting outdoors and admiring the spectacular beauty surrounding us.

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If there was ever a doubt that Sharleen is Scottish!

At times this resulted in us becoming the focus of much curiosity and attention.  One morning after 8 grey and rainy days in Milford Sound we drove out of the mountains and into a beautiful sun drenched valley.  I said to Sharleen, “coffee” and she said “absolutely”!  So we pulled off onto the side of the road, set up our  chairs in the Alpine meadow  and made a fresh pot of French pressed coffee.  As we savored the rich aroma of our coffee and absorbed the welcome warmth of the sun cars honked their horns and passengers waved enthusiastically as they drove by.  There are some moments so perfect that people recognize them intuitively and just want to share them with you in any manner that they can.

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Hello Miss Kitty

One Chinese couple stopped beside us and took pictures using what we have come to recognize in our travels as the ‘Miss Kitty’ posing technique.  It’s very popular with Chinese tourists and highly entertaining to watch.

 

Wine

Sheep and seals made this beach unique place to enjoy

 

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Minutes from Cathedral Cove

 

 

 

 

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