Introducing: NUBU Pharmaceuticals

Well here we are!

Firstly, I am so excited I can finally talk about this with you. Talk about this thing that has loomed large over my life for quite some time now. It has been such an adventure getting here, and it is great to finally be at a point where we can now start talking about all that we have achieved.  

The idea for NUBU Pharmaceuticals came to me while I was working at Newstalk ZB. As those of you that have listened to talkback radio will know, it is a rarity for everyone’s viewpoints to align on a particular topic. Perhaps as rare as unicorns? However, on this afternoon, that is exactly what happened. My radio co-host Kerre and I had decided we would discuss medicinal cannabis. It had frequently been in the news, mainly following Helen Kelly’s fight to access medicinal cannabis to ease the effects of her terminal lung cancer.

As a somewhat progressive issue, I was expecting the usual afternoon of, some for, some against. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Straight away we had people calling, texting, emailing, and sharing heart wrenching stories about family members and friends suffering horribly, with cannabis the only thing that eased their pain. Cannabis that, due to current regulations (or lack thereof), had to be sourced from the black market. Meaning upstanding citizens were having to become criminals to allay the pain of a loved one. 

Unanimous is not a word I can use to describe any other day of talkback that I have been involved with. But it perfectly describes that afternoon in early 2016. Everyone, literally everyone, that contributed to the show wanted the same thing. Greater access to medicinal cannabis products.  

This impassioned response stuck with me. And so, at a dinner that weekend at my friend (and now business partner) Will Douglas’ house, the initial conversations of what would become NUBU Pharmaceuticals began.  

Internationally, cannabis was having a re-birth of sorts. Countries one after another were legalising cannabis for medicinal purposes, states in the US were following suit even faster. Will and I figured this movement would eventually reach New Zealand, and if we started researching the business now, by the time it did, we would be well positioned to be at the forefront of the industry.  

And guess what? All of the above has happened.  

All those catch ups, all those emails, all those calls, to suppliers, consultants and industry experts, formed the foundations of NUBU Pharmaceuticals.

Back in 2016 there was only one medicinal cannabis-based (or CBD) product available in New Zealand, and that came with a price tag of $1200 p/m. Horrendously expensive by anyone’s measure, and without a doubt priced out of reach for the majority of New Zealanders.

Having seen similar formulas retail in the US and Canada for a tenth of the price, Will and I knew that we’d stumbled onto an opportunity. Not only from a business sense, but, (and more importantly), an opportunity to help the thousands of people throughout New Zealand who were already using cannabis for medicinal purposes, and the tens of thousands who potentially could. 

And although this no doubt reads like PR spin, an attempt at marketing and/or me trying to pitch my company in a certain light, it isn’t. Helping people is at the core of this business, and has been since day one. 

Accessible, reputable and clinically effective medicinal cannabis products to the New Zealand market has been the goal, and still is. And the exciting thing is, we are already having an impact.

Although legislation to allow the development of a local medicinal cannabis industry is but weeks away, there is a need for medicinal cannabis now. The same issues outlined on ZB that afternoon a couple of years ago, still exist.  

Will and I set out to find an international partner to work and start a conversation with, about the price of CBD in New Zealand.

We found that partner in MCG Pharmaceuticals – one of Europe’s leading cannabinoid-based pharmaceutical companies.

It is our aim to herald in a new era of lower costs, through competitive pricing and increased market accessibility. The wholesale price of CBD products has fallen by 20% over recent months and we expect this to drop further in the future.

Of course, NUBU Pharmaceuticals wants and plans to be a part of the production of medicinal cannabis products locally, and we are eagerly waiting the Misuse of Drugs (Medicinal Cannabis) Amendment Bill currently going through Parliament. 

We have spent the last two years working with local and international experts designing our future grow and manufacture facilities. Both are state-of-the-art. 

We wish to grow cannabis organically and sustainably – I could hardly have harped on about being sustainable and ‘going green’ for the last decade, to then turnaround and set up a business that did the opposite, huh?  

We are currently working through our organic certification, and hope to have that sorted so as our very first grow can be stamped ‘organic’. 

NUBU Pharmaceutical’s cannabis would be grown in a greenhouse, utilising the natural energy of the sun (as opposed to indoors under energy intensive lights), water will be recycled and recirculated to reduce our water consumption, and many other opportunities to reduce waste and recycle have been incorporated into many other areas of the business. Of course, as new opportunities arise to save energy, reduce waste and/or reduce our impact on the environment, they will be adopted. 

As a company, we see huge opportunity for New Zealand with regards to cannabis. As a country, so much of our expertise lies in the production of primary exports. There is no reason why cannabis can’t be yet another feather in that bow. And so, along with everything else that is going on, we have also been working on a number of export opportunities with local and international partners.  

I’ll be able to speak more about that in the coming months.

But there we go, you now know what I have been up to. I have been setting up a medicinal cannabis company. Who saw that coming? From radio to pharmaceuticals. Not exactly a liner career path, but hey, sometimes life works in mysterious ways*.

The opportunity to build a business from the ground up - in an entirely new industry, learn a whole new set of skills, and (and most importantly), effect positive change in peoples lives, really is a once in a lifetime.

As I said at the start, it has been an incredibly exciting couple of years pulling this together, and with the legislation to allow us to really get started just a few weeks away, the best really is yet to come… 

*and just briefly for those of you thinking, “why on earth would I trust a guy that used to work on the radio to deliver medicine for me?”, rest assured it won’t be me! NUBU Pharmaceuticals is made up of a team of experts from a multitude of areas, pharmaceuticals, business, cannabis, marketing, I am just one half of the equation that sat in house in West Auckland one Saturday afternoon in 2016 and thought it wise to start a medicinal cannabis company.

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Has dating actually changed?

HBI.jpg

 

Ahhh relationships. They are tricky wee beasts aren’t they? 

But they always have been. Yes, things are slightly different now, there are apps that can help a person find a willing participant for whatever fantasy they are in to, and sex (if you have no standards) can be obtained at but a moment's notice, but the art of dating and finding that special someone has always been a difficult task.

It has been interesting the last few days reading the articles, opinion pieces and social media comments about Heartbreak Island, and especially the mechanic that saw each contestant rank the others on the island based on a few pictures and a short bio. 

I thought about writing something on Tuesday morning, but decided against it. However now that the impassioned moaners have had their say and those jumping in to yell and scream (because they can) have ventured forth to find something else to complain about, I thought now could be an interesting time to have an actual discussion about it. And with that in mind, here we go. 

Firstly, very early in the programme on Monday night, I say how on Heartbreak Island ‘we are taking the world of online dating, offline’. I remember doing the line in Fiji, and I remember seeing it on Monday. 

This was obviously lost on a number of people as, guess what, the whole ranking thing, judging people on photos and a bio, that's how people date now! 

And for those saying it’s horrible, it is! But it is reality. Do you know how many times I have swiped right on someone (for those that have never used Tinder, right = yes I am keen) only to never get a match from them… Thousands! Well, maybe hundreds. I haven’t used Tinder that much. 

For those of us still in the dating pool, this rejection is a daily occurrence. Never used Tinder? Met your husband/wife in a bar? This will be completely foreign to you, and therefore perhaps I understand what happened on H.I on Monday is your worst nightmare. But you know what, for those of us still swimming in the pool, this is our lives! 

Is it right? No! I’m bloody awesome. I have an incredible personality, can cook and clean, have amazing family and friends, an alright career, and yet hundreds have declined me on Tinder because of the way my eyes are deposited in my face and the size of my ears in proportion to my nose! It sucks. But again it is reality, and you know what, it is nothing new! 

Let's cast our minds back to the 1980s when the internet and mobile phones weren’t a thing and meeting friends meant catching up with them at a certain place at an exact time - I wasn’t around then, but this is how I am told things worked, and when dating was done in bars.

Are all the people deriding Heartbreak Island meaning to tell me back then, and prior, if someone approached someone in a bar, no matter what they looked like, the approached would always take the time to delve deep into the approacher’s personality so as to find out whether or not he or she was a suitable match? 

Bullshit. 

The bar in the 80s worked the same as the dance hall in the 30s. The ‘hotties’ got the whatever or whoever they wanted while the ‘uglies’ or those deemed ‘not as attractive’ languished in corners. 

And so what is the difference now? There is no difference. People have been getting rejected since evolution began (or God put us here 5000 years ago, whatever you prefer). And so what happened on Heartbreak Island on Monday night is nothing new. 

It’s the time-old tradition of the beautiful being championed, while those deemed not as beautiful are… well, present. 

But, and this is kinda the point missed by many, no one on the island was dismissing Ella or Tavita completely, just their pictures, the way they had marketed themselves! 

In the same way so many have dismissed me - and will dismiss me in the future. Bastards! 

Which brings me to my next point, and one that has been thrown around online a bit the last couple of days. Should this sort of carry on be on TV? 

Many argue that no it shouldn’t, as it means ‘children’ or ‘young people’ are shown a world in which being beautiful is key to success, vanity is held in higher regard than intelligence and integrity. 

Sure, I see where you are coming from but, IT IS! 

The world does hold beauty above brains. It always has, it probably always will. 

Again, I don’t think it’s right, but that’s the way it is! 

And so the argument continues, even so, it shouldn’t be on out TV screens.

And then what? Kids grow up thinking that brains trump beauty every time only to get out in the ‘real world’, out from under Mum & Dad’s wings, only to discover the complete opposite? 

And it is this I would love to hear your thoughts on, what is best? Depict reality, or depict a lie? 

I don’t have kids so I can only look at my own experiences. If you think it took me to see a TV show to learn that beauty and popularity meant currency in this world, you are dead wrong. This was obvious to me at primary school. Probably kindergarten. This reality being depicted on a TV show wouldn’t have spoiled my mind as a kid, as I am sure it isn’t young people now. It will just be reinforcing an idea that exists all around us from the day we are born.

But enough from me, what do you think? 

Has dating actually changed? Or is it the same as it’s always been? And how about the realities of dating being depicted on TV, better to show real life? Or pretend it doesn’t exist? 

I look forward to reading your thoughts on my Facebook page

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Life Update #2: Heartbreak Island

 The cast of Heartbreak Island 2018

The cast of Heartbreak Island 2018

I feel like every time I sit down to write one of these I think and/or write the following: 

a. It has been a really long time since i've done this, bad Mark!

b. Why are you still not travelling overseas?!?

For those of you that have been reading my very intermittent rumblings, you’ll know 2018 was to meant to be another year galavanting the globe, visiting parts unknown (RIP A.B), and catching up with far-flung friends. 

However aside from a couple of quick trips across to Australia, I’ve just been in New Zealand.

Ha! 

Whoops, annnnnnnnd Fiji. Genuinely forgot about Fiji. Idiot. 

And of course that six weeks in Fiji filming Heartbreak Island. Hmmmm.

But before we get to that, the travel. 

The travel hasn’t happened yet as I have ended up working full time in a business a friend and I started a couple of years back. Well at least started investigating a couple of years back. A business that, in the last few months, has required my full attention. I can’t say too much more but hopefully that will change in the near future. We just need a couple more things fall into place, and then we are away! 

It is bloody exciting though. It is bigger than anything I have ever attempted to do before. And if (/when) it happens, it has the potential to change many, many people's lives. 

I’ll keep you posted. 

And now to Heartbreak. 

Well, here we are! I can’t believe it is about to be on TV! I can’t believe it is June and it’s all about to go down… Where has the year gone? 

Although I have had some ongoing Heartbreak work since getting back from Fiji, the whole experience really does feel like something from another lifetime.

Having being so engrossed in all of the happenings on the island for the entirety of filming, the world of Heartbreak being my be-all and end-all for those six weeks, it was odd flying back to Auckland to nothing. No job, well no full-time one. No more contestants (so no more gossiping about their every more). No crew.  It was (and I hate to use the analogy) like waking up from a dream. It took some adjusting. 

And so the last two-to-three weeks have been stranger still as I have found myself back in the world of Heartbreak, reliving that past life. 

It has been fun reminiscing. It’s been great seeing lots of Matilda again, and the crew that shot the show - the crew that are yet to get a break. They have been tirelessly editing the hours and hours of footage in preparation of the show going to air! You can’t even begin to imagine the size of this job. Multiple cameras filming 24/7 for six weeks… ugh! 

It’s also been fun catching up with just about everyone I have ever worked with in radio/print over the last 10 years to talk to them about the show and what to expect. 

It is so odd sitting in a radio studio and being interviewed though. Since I was 19 I have always been the interviewer. The one on the side of the buttons, not opposite. Great fun though. I am incredibly appreciative of all the support all my old colleagues have shown too. All very sweet. 

…cue next week when they start slating my performance on TV. HaHaHa! Do your worst I say, nothing will compare to talkback!

So to the show itself as I am now finally allowed to talk about it.

First things first, as it seems to have been the focus for many, yes the contestants do have sex with each other. But, this is a TV show for TVNZ2 at 7:30pm, you are not going to see that happening. Therefore, it is safe for your kids to watch. Even the uncut edition on Friday nights (TVNZ2 at 9:30pm), it is still going on TV. There isn’t full-frontal nudity (at least to the best of my knowledge) however there will be nods to who is sleeping with who and whatnot.

The show was incredibly fun to film and as I stated earlier was all encompassing (in a good way). Every one of the crew was hanging out each morning to find out what had happened overnight - whose relationships were fraying, whose were alight with… errrr, passion? 

And apparently during filming we were only aware of about 20% of what was happening. So much more has been revealed in the edit. One of the producers said to me recently, “You thought there was drama on the island, wait till you see it on TV.” And so, even though I know what happens, I know who wins, I cannot wait to see it. 

I did (finally) get to see episode one on Friday… and beyond the horribleness of seeing myself on TV (hearing myself on the radio I am used to, seeing myself on TV - not so much), it was great. 

So many laughs. So many awkward groans - some of the things that came out of the contestants mouths… I know some of them entered Heartbreak Island to find love, some for the money, and some (and have fun picking these ones out) to become Insta famous and live out the rest of their lives in the social pages. Only time will tell if they succeed, or live to regret their decision to participate. 

I’m not massive on regrets, but I do feel like a couple of contestants may walk away from this thinking they maybe shouldn’t have, or at the very least should've played things differently. You’ll see...

The lesson that was reinforced to me over the course of filming was that you really are best to be yourself. Pretending will only get you so far.

There will be laughter, there will be tears, there will be drama and (potentially most importantly) there will be real romance! It is of course entertainment but it is also an insight into the lives and the inner workings of a group of 20-somethings in 2018. For those not in that age bracket, it will give you a sneak peek into it, and for those in or around the age group, perhaps a moment (or moments) to reflect. And although the situation is very different from my day-to-day reality and no doubt yours, the same themes that criss-cross our own lives, criss-cross the contestants during filming. And so as crazy as it sounds, there will be parallels with your own life - no matter your age. How you deal and/or have dealt with love, rejection, disappointment etc. The show will be the spark for countless conversations I am sure...

Anyway, I am burbling now. For those of you that watch, I hope you enjoy and I look forward to hearing your thoughts - both positive and negative.

Heartbreak Island screens on TNVZ2 Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday at 7:30pm

Heartbreak Island Uncut screens on TVNZ2 on Fridays at 9:30pm and again on Duke on Sunday night at 9:00pm

ps Fingers crossed I get something else up on this blog before Christmas.

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Another World Right On Our Doorstep

 White Island from aboard White Island Tour's custom made vessel. (photo Tori Hayley)

White Island from aboard White Island Tour's custom made vessel. (photo Tori Hayley)

Photos: Tori Hayley

Last year Elon Musk (Tesla, PayPal, Space X etc), published an article about setting up a colony on Mars. He estimates establishing a colony of 12 people would cost around US$10 billion per person. Now I know his goal is to ensure the human race endures, and it’s about more than just experiencing something new. But I say to Musk (and anyone else thinking along the same lines), instead funnel that money into saving the planet we are on, and to tick the ‘experience’ box, get themselves to White Island.

New Zealand’s most active volcano, Whakaari (or White Island) is located off the coast of Whakatane in the Bay of Plenty, and is about as different or otherworldly as you can get here on planet Earth. This feeling hits you as soon as the island comes into view. The white smoke slowly rising from the island is your first clue, followed by the absolute barren landscape that inches into view as the White Island Tours boat moves closer to main entrance of the island at the southern end.

It is not a quick trip from Whakatane out to White Island, and the crossing of the Bay of Plenty did have some (myself included for a time) feeling slightly wobbly. I would definitely suggest you take some sort of sea sickness remedy if you are prone to it.

Upon arrival, we were decked out in hard hats, a life jacket and a ventilation mask, and then ferried to the island from the boat on an inflatable (not too dissimilar to that of the Surf Lifeguard’s).

Landing on the island looked and felt like some sort of evacuation in reverse. And given the stories about the trials and tribulations (sometimes ending in death) of those that have mined sulphur on the island over the years, and I guess the threat of an eruption, apprehension did tend to creep.

Nothing on the island has been left unscathed – the volcano is very much in control here. Even the stairs you use to climb onto the island bear the scars from an eruption in 2013. The mining equipment from the early 20th Century, having seen a few more, even more worse for wear

Once on the island your attention is pulled in every which way, it’s all familiar and yet not. The contrasts in colours are incredible, the white of the smoke and steam, the red of the iron covered rock, and the yellow of the sulphur up against the deep blue of the sea, and the cloudless sky.

The tour takes you slowly towards the crater, stopping at heat vents, bubbling mud, and fizzing streams. The ground is uneven and constantly changing. If you have visited White Island in the past chances are the White Island I saw is completely different from the one you did. It is difficult to fathom given the size of the thing but the crater that consumes such a huge part of the island currently didn’t exist until after an eruption in 2000.  

After the crater the tour winds its way to what is known as the ‘overall lookout’. Names aren’t complicated here; the lookout named as such because it gives you, yup, an overall view of the island. There is also Shark Bay, yes indeed you guessed it, someone saw some sharks there once.

After the lookout it is down to remnants of the sulphur mine, and big dose of perspective. Whatever it is you do for work, however much you hate it, your job ain’t got nothing on those that worked here in the various sulphur mines! The constant threat of death, decaying teeth, decomposing clothing, just general conditions you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy…. Or maybe you would? Sicko.

After exploring the sulphur mine, our group is taken from the island in the same way we arrived, lunch is handed out (featuring the most delicious NZ apple I have eaten in a very long time) and the boat takes us for a tour of the exterior of White Island before heading back for Port Whakatane.

More than content with the events of the day, and ready for the return journey (I had found myself a sweet spot at the back of the boat that meant I would have the sun in my face and the wind in my hair all the way home), the day went from awesome to ridiculous as we found ourselves cruising alongside a pod of not ten, not hundreds, but literally thousands of dolphins.

They were everywhere. I’m not sure what the next step up from a pod of dolphins is? I’m going to suggest a ‘school’. However, I don’t feel even that is enough. More like ‘schools’. I’ve never seen anything like it. But apparently, this is normal during the summer months in the Bay. For those of us that weren’t White Island Tours crew, we didn’t know which way to look? The dolphins were breaching the water, left, right, behind, in front, and for hundreds of metres around. You’ve never seen happiness sweep over a group of people so quickly. What is it about dolphins? Just magic.

So again, Mr Musk I reiterate. Save the planet we are on and visit White Island on a White Island Tour. You are hardly going to encounter thousands of the world’s most delightful animal en-route to Mars from Cape Canaveral are you?

ps click here to join my mailing list and never miss a blog post. Posts on recent trips to Melbourne and Sydney are on their way!

 

Saturday Night, a Cat, the Warriors, and $2 Chips.

 Alfie Hayes

Alfie Hayes

If you follow me on Instagram, you may know I live with a cat called Alfie. 

He is my flatmate, Erin’s.

Alfie is an indoor cat - although he has recently gained access to the backyard. But, having spent the best part of the first year of his life inside, even with the possibility to now go outside, he spends most of his time inside, near whoever is home, on his back, legs in the air hoping for a belly scratch. 

“Poor cat”, people often say, “He should be able to roam”.

And to be honest, for a time I did kinda agree. Buuuuut, what you don’t know, doesn’t hurt you, does it? 

Does Alfie miss the great outdoors? Roaming the streets with his cat pals, chasing mice and birds and reminiscing on their misspent youth? Doubt it. He’s never experienced it. And you can’t miss what you’ve never done. 

Which brings me to the Warriors game on Saturday night. 

Stick with me. 

Now I've been a fan of the Warriors since they began in 1995. Am I a die hard fan? One that watches every week without fail? Like that of my Dad and my Aunty? Nope. But if I am around, I don’t mind watching them play. More so than any other sports team this country has - sorry Rugby fans, just not that fussed. 

Anyway, while watching the Warriors on Saturday night I became aware of something that, although not the end of the world, has me a little sad. 

If you caught the game on Saturday you would’ve noticed the ref was unable to make a single decision himself and so after every try outsourced the final call to the video ref. 

Annoying at the best of times. But even more frustrating on Saturday as while waiting to see the video ref's decisions, learning (and then being reminded) that at KFC in Australia you can get a large fries for just $2. 

In Australia and only Australia. 

Bah! 

Talk about disappointing. I know we are constantly getting served adverts with no relevance to us by companies nowhere near us, but $2 large fries at KFC, don’t tempt me like that? 

It’s. Just. Not. Fair. 

And like if we were to let Alfie out into the big wide world to explore for a day, but then never let him back out again. I feel I have been shown a world somewhat bigger and better beyond my own, alas that I cannot access.

Well that is without a $250 flight to Australia. But for a large chips, well that would be a touch excessive, wouldn't it?

ARE YOU (OR SOMEONE YOU KNOW) HEADING TO MELBOURNE? YOU NEED TO CHECK THIS OUT.

 The NGV or National Gallery of Victoria. Melbourne, Australia.

The NGV or National Gallery of Victoria. Melbourne, Australia.

Very rarely do I land in a place and rush to a museum or gallery. Rightly or wrongly I decided very early on in my travelling career that I would leave the heavy stuff (for example the National Portrait Gallery in London, the Louvre in Paris - although I did make a quick visit once to see Mona Lisa, so incredibly small?), until dancing in clubs and walking up tall things was difficult. And so, as I am still dancing, many of the world's great museums and exhibits are yet to host me. 

However, recently whilst booking a trip to Melbourne I knew that during my time there I was going to have to visit the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) and the exhibition ‘Triennial’

Why did I know I needed to visit this exhibition?

Had I found myself involved in a discussion about the arts with a friend and he’d insisted I must go? No. Was I browsing the internet looking for an event of some kind to attend so as to scratch a cultural itch? I think given my opening paragraph you know that ain’t it. Was I encouraged to go by some arts programme broadcast on RNZ National? Or perhaps a podcast? No and no. No, I knew I wanted to go to the NGV for the ‘Triennial’, because I’d seen a million pictures of it posted on Instagram. Eh, life in 2018!

“It’s art for everyone”, someone described the exhibition to me as. And whoever that person was, they were right. If like me, you aren’t an art connoisseur, struggle to tell your Rembrandts from Bach (intentional), often utter the phrase “well I could’ve done that”, when looking at modern art, but aren’t opposed to a bit of eye titillation from time to time, this is the exhibition for you. 

On display are works from over 100 artists from 32 countries – even little old New Zealand. There is art (both modern and traditional), design, architecture, animation, performance, video, drawing, new technologies, literally something for everyone.

There are exhibits that will make you think; like that of Olaf Breuning’s various pieces which offer comment on modern life. Installations you can contribute to; like Yayoi Kusama’s ‘Flower Obsession’, where everyone that enters adds to the piece by placing a sticker of a flower somewhere of their choosing. Pieces that will leave you in awe; like teamLAB’s ‘Moving Creates Vortices and Vortices’, a fully immersive exhibit where your movements are tracked by sensors and the projections made around you are altered accordingly - so very, very cool. And pieces (and I think these were some of my favourites) made out of everyday items; like that of Dutch art collective ‘We Make Carpets’, who’ve made some incredible art out of everyday items such as pegs and sponges. There is even a piece entirely devoted to your sense of smell. Unfortunately, my nose was blocked when I visited, so I have no idea if Sissel Tolaas’ ‘SmellScape Melbourne_ PastPresentFuture’ was a winner or not. If you go, and have two functioning nostrils when you do, please let me know what you thought. 

‘Triennial’ is on at Melbourne’s NGV until April 15th.
Entry is free.

For more details check out the NGV's website.

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LIFE UPDATE

 Hanging on Kuaotunu Beach in early March. 

Hanging on Kuaotunu Beach in early March. 

And then all of a sudden it was March and I hadn't written a blog in three months!

Whoops. Bad Mark.

Firstly, how did it get to March? Where does the time go? I remember talking on the radio once about how time seems to go faster the older you get. Many agreed. I can’t even begin to imagine how quickly years pass in your eighties. Are years like weeks? Months like days? I joke. 

So a quick update of the first three months of 2018. 

Well the bulk of it was eaten up filming Heartbreak Island. As you are probably aware after wrapping up at Newstalk ZB in Jan, I flew out of NZ to a now no-not-so-secret location (the Herald told everyone) to film the reality dating show Heartbreak Island. 

Now my plan was to blog throughout the filming process, buuuuuut it was gonna be hard to do: 

a) without revealing the location of said filming

b) without giving away any details of the show

…and so I didn’t. To be honest, there wasn’t the time either. I had grand plans to get all sorts done while I was away filming. Not so. Although Matilda and I (I know she agrees), without a doubt had the easiest jobs on the island, it still took it out of me. Prancing around in front of a camera and looking pretty – well attempting to (I failed miserably on a couple of times, one notable example was when I put an oil-based sunscreen on my face and my skin broke out, can’t wait for that episode to air). In the heat of the tropics, turns out, it’s actually hard work. 

Hard work, but the most fun ever. Except when I got stuck in a toilet. But seriously, I’ve had some pretty awesome jobs since leaving school, but hosting Heartbreak Island is definitely my all-time favourite so far. Learning how reality TV is made was incredibly interesting, but being right in the middle of it and watching it unfold right in front of my eyes? Next level. 

I’m still unsure if it’s a positive or a negative just how much I enjoyed it. I guess it’s the voyeur in all of us that attracts us to reality TV, and the voyeur in me that had me loving every minute of hosting a reality TV show. I do remember thinking a couple of days into filming, ‘Why have I only discovered this now? Why haven’t I been doing this since I was 20?’ Ha! 

But better late than never, huh? 

So safe to say I cannot wait for you to see it. Obviously I still can’t say anything about what went on. But put it this way, I was engrossed in the going-ons of the island the entire time I was there, everyone in the crew was! Once it’s cut down and edited for your viewing pleasure, I’m sure you will be just as fixated. 

The things people did with cameras present…

So with Heartbreak Island wrapped I returned to NZ and… got drunk, slept and ate. 

When I quit ZB I figured I would just work through the summer holidays as come 15 Jan (or thereabouts), I would be unemployed and thus would have all the time in the world to relax, sleep, travel, whatever! 

However landing Heartbreak Island meant I worked at ZB until 5 Jan and was on the ground filming 8 Jan. There was no time between drinks at all. And so by the time filming wrapped mid Feb I was behind on so many things, but incredibly so on sleep and time with mates. 

And so that has been the last few weeks, catching up on all the life admin I didn’t do while I was away, and seeing friends and family.

There has been trips to music festivals (ahhhhh Splore I miss you already), the annual dress up party at my mum and dad’s bach (this year the theme was ‘L’. I went as a lamp, but Mum won best dressed as 'lost luggage’), and some travel - I am currently in Melbourne visiting friends and just hanging out. Yup, life has been/is tough. 

So what’s coming next? Well to be honest – I have no idea. Ha! 

There are a number of possibilities and so until one or a number of them land or fail, I don’t really know what my next move is. 

Of course the plan this year was to travel, and that will happen eventually (hopefully). Well put it this way, I will be out of NZ for the bulk of winter come hell or high water… Ha! But dependent on when the TV show goes to air, dependent on if this business that I have been working on for the last year and a bit gets funding, and a whole host of other things, will kinda dictate when and what I do next. 

It’s funny, I explain my current situation to people and many exclaim, “That must be stressful!”, but I actually love it. The unknown excites me. The fact that I have no idea what is going to happen next, where I am gonna end up, what on earth I will be doing in three months, let alone six months or a year, is bloody exciting. 

Tell you what though, how sweet is Melbourne? I could totally live here. It has been so nice catching up with friends from all over the world over the last few days and I had THE best coffee I have had in years this morning. If you find yourself in Melbs, and in the north, check out Barry’s. Honestly, so good. I got a long black and it was so flavoursome. I feel like had I had the tasting notes in front of me I would’ve (for potentially the first time ever), been able to whole-hearty agree with the description. Just amazing. 

ps click here to join my mailing list and never miss a blog post.... I know I have said this before, but I am actually going to start taking this seriously. None of this every couple of months rubbish. Promise. 

ANOTHER NEW YEARS FLYING SOLO

 A generic picture of fireworks to evoke thoughts of NYE.

A generic picture of fireworks to evoke thoughts of NYE.

It is New Years Eve eve and like a number of my more recent New Years I find myself alone. 

Sad? Nah, not at all. In my mind It's actually a positive. I think a bit of alone time at the back end of the year is actually a gift. To be honest though it’s been a couple of years since I have done the solo thing for New Year. Last year I spent the  period with friends at Rhythm & Vines, and the year before that having just arrived back in the country to start my gig with Kerre at ZB, with friends in Waihi. 

However this year is much like the years prior to the last couple, with me working through the Christmas/NY break on the radio in Auckland (thankfully only on one station this year), outside of work I’m pretty much flying solo. 

I mean I am not alone, alone, there are friends around, but with the flatmates heading further afield for their NY celebrations yesterday, I now have the house to myself and therefore the ability to socialise when and if I want… if I want. 

Bliss! 

And with this bit of downtime, this space to think, with work all but wrapped up for the year (I still have a bit to do on a couple of fronts), and a new year approaching, I’ve found myself (as I have in the past), reflecting on what has been and pondering what's coming next.

2017 has ben quite the year. Perhaps not as crazy as some previous, but riddled with incredible memories none the less. But as amazing as the past year has been (don’t get me wrong its had its shite moments too), what is really making me grin ear to ear as I type this is whats coming next.

2018 (given current estimates/current plans), really is going to be one for the books. 

I remember a few years back on New Years Eve 2012/2013 (I was hosting 12am-6am on Newstalk ZB New Years Day) being in a similarly contemplative mood at my friends Dermott & Kirsty’s house. I remember sitting at their outdoor table as the sun went down and writing in my journal that I was pretty excited about the year ahead; South America for 5 months, Glastonbury (again), and the countless possibilities in London and Europe post. 

Fast forward five years and I say pfffffft to 2013, as look what 2018 has in-store!

- Hosting Heartbreak Island (a reality TV dating show for TVNZ2) with Matilda Rice on a tropical island 

- Backpacking through ‘The Stans’ (Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan etc) with a couple of friends who are planning to travel the Silk Road next year

- A wee trip to the south of France with one Kerre McIvor 

- At least a portion of a summer in London with whoever of my crew is left there (so many have left)

- Hopefully a couple of months in Central America/Mexico and/or India/Asia while NZ is in the depths of Winter

- Maaaaaaybe a trip to Toronto in Canada to catch up with friends.

- A return to Burning Man

It really is all very exciting. And that's without mentioning the various business opportunities I am currently chasing, the crazy schemes I’ve been wanting to try but haven’t had the time to whilst working at ZB, and/or the long list of people I will be able to reconnect with once I am on the move again. You know who you are... CANNOT WAIT!!! 

Now granted not all of this will come off, but even if I manage to nail 50%, 25% even, It'll be an epic year.

As a somewhat positive person I am generally upbeat about life most of the time, but my current mood really is next level. I don’t think I have ever been so excited for a new year, ever! And not because the last year has been bad, as I said before it hasn’t, but because the coming year has the potential to be so fucking awesome! 

Baaaaaaah! I actually cannot wait. And I’m not going to have to. I’m off to Heartbreak Island next week! 

So thats where I am at at the end of 2017. Miserable, downtrodden, over it, my zest for life all but extinguished. Bah! I hope you are feeling similarly and like myself, have a number of things to look forward to in 2018. 

ps for those of you now worried I am going to spend NYE alone, don’t. Wheels are in motion, plans are afoot. I’m just currently trying to figure out how to see 2017 out in style and yet wake up in time AND be coherent for my four hour show on Newstalk ZB on Monday. I definitely won’t be on my lonesome when 2018 arrives. Promise. 

Still holding out hope for a pash at midnight… but we will have to see on that front. 

ps click here to join my mailing list and never miss a blog post.... with my departure imminent I am hoping to start firing out a blog or two weekly! 

Finally! I am allowed to tell you...

 Matilda Rice and, well, me.

Matilda Rice and, well, me.

Secrets. I hate keeping them. Especially secrets about things that are somewhat exciting. 

So with that in mind I am beyond happy that I can finally talk about this one. You have no idea how hard it has been keeping my mouth shut about this...

As you may have read in the NZ Herald this morning, next year (along with the lovely Matilda Rice), I am going to be the host of TVNZ2’s new entertainment show Heartbreak Island. 

What is Heartbreak Island? Its an original concept that will see a group of singles take up residence on a tropical island in the hope of finding love and winning $100,000. That’s pretty much all I can tell you right now, and to be honest, I don’t really know much more. 

Basically I got a call asking me if I wanted to host a TV show that was going to be filmed on a tropical island over 5 or 6 weeks, and without really thinking or asking any questions, I said yes! 

I mean, why wouldn't you? 

To say I was/am stoked is the understatement of the century. I cannot wait.

Gonna preempt a question now. No, this isn’t why I left Newstalk ZB. This wasn’t even on my radar prior to me handing in my notice. As I have mentioned to you previously, the plan next year was to go travelling again. This opportunity came along about a month or so ago. Was it fate? Luck? Good timing? I don't know, but I love whoever or whatever is responsible.

Initially when the producers were pitching the show to me I thought they were asking me to be on it, as a contestant - which I wouldn’t have been that keen on. But to host, to watch the action unfold before my eyes, oooooooooh yes, I cannot wait!

So there we go. Not only is 2018 gonna see my return to the world of travel, hopefully knocking off a handful of countries in this here world of ours, (and thus writing some interesting travel blogs for you to read along the way) it is also gonna see me co-host a primetime TV show on TVNZ. Waaaaaahooooooooooooo 2018! 

ps click here to join my mailing list and never miss a blog post.... promise to keep you as up-to-date as I am allowed re: Heartbreak Island.

YOU TRY AND HELP...

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Before I get into this, a quick FYI. I am writing about this online and haven't/won't be mentioning it on the radio because if I tell this story on-air the lady involved could hear, and I feel like it could potentially upset her (and I don’t want that). However in saying that I think it really is too funny to go untold. 

Back in early October Kerre and myself got a phone call from a lady called *Diane* who mentioned that she had bad arthritis and that therefore struggled to get her rubbish and recycling bins out sometimes (God knows what we were talking about and how we got onto bins, but we did). She went on to say she had people to do every now and again, but on some occasions struggled.

I could see Diane was calling from Auckland so I asked whereabouts, thinking if it was close to work/home I could nip around on the way home and pop the bins out for her. It turned out she lived in Mt Eden near Eden Park, which is literally ten minutes from my house, so I put her back to the producer and given collection day was tomorrow, said I would arrange to pop over after the show. 

The show ends, and long story short Diane decides she doesn’t need me to put the bins out after all. Turns out there isn’t much rubbish. 

I tell her to let me know when there is,  and I'll pop around and sort it.

The following Monday around 3pm I get a text on the work text number saying, “Still not much rubbish, don’t worry about the bins, Diane”.

I reply “No problems, maybe next week?” “OK,” comes the response. 

The week after it's the same again, still not enough rubbish to go out and the favour gets delayed yet another week. 

Fast forward to last Monday (the 29th) and finally there is enough rubbish to go out. A text saying as much arrives on the work text number just after 3pm.

The saga of Diane and her bins is now amusing me to no end. This marks the fourth Monday in a row where, whether or not Diane's bins need to go out, have enough trash and therefore if I am required to take them out, has become the focus of my Monday afternoon. More often than not part of the broadcast - and people accuse us of talking rubbish? 

“Perfect," I say "I have a meeting after the show but after that I will come and take them out.”

Diane (as expected) is incredibly sweet. She lives on her own in a block of flats down a long driveway. Has been there for 20 odd years and has spent most of that time listening to Newstalk ZB - listens pretty much 24/7, doesn’t miss a beat, LOVES Bruce Russell (who doesn’t), and is genuinely chuffed I have come to take her bins out. 

Anyway, mid-chat a women drives up the drive asking if it is my car semi-blocking the driveway and if I could move it as her son-in-law is about to drop some furniture off and my car will be in the way. I apologise and say that I will move it as soon as I have taken the bins down, say my farewells to Diane and head down the drive, only for the son-in-law to arrive, driving around my car and blocking me and the bins in. 

Hilariously it turns out I know this lady's son-in-law (and you might too), it was Ben Boyce from Jono and Ben. Small world.

“What are you doing here?” he asks, “Is that your Grandmother?”, “A family friend?”, “No”, I reply to all, explaining how in fact I have found myself here, which moves into what I’ve been up to and vice versa, and eventually wraps up with me offering to help him move the furniture he’d come to drop off.

With that sorted, Ben and his family left leaving the driveway clear so I could finally take the bins out… 

The bins now out, I find myself chatting to Ben’s mother-in-law about Diane, life, travel, Newstalk ZB, and she very kindly offers to bring the bins in for me (and Diane) once they have been emptied. Appreciative of not having to make a trip back, I bid my farewells and head home for dinner.

Tuesday 31st October (the next day). 

It was Mum’s birthday so in the evening Mum and I caught up and watched the new film Borg vs McEnroe - very cool, especially as I had never heard of Borg before and had no idea who won Wimbledon in 1980! Anyway, the movie wraps up, I say goodbye to Mum, check my phone and there is a text from Diane

“Someone has put my bins by my front door. Not a good look. Diane"

Now don’t get me wrong, the bins were kept by the garage, not the front door, and if something has a place, it has a place, but what a text! The tone!

And figuring I was going to have to sort it at some point and now was as good a time as any, I get in the car, drive to Mt Eden, yell "hello" through the door, and put the bins back where they were meant to be. 

“That’s what you get,” said my friend Cathryn in hysterics as I relayed the story to her down the phone as I drove home. “That’s what you get.”

And she’s right, why is it when you try and help the smallest things always end up being the most complicated? WHY? Pulling into my driveway and wrapping up my conversation to Cat my phone beeps and its another text from Diane. 

“Thank you,” the texts reads. “You need not have done it tonight. I appreciate your kindness. Diane” 

Ha! 

So she says.

HOLDEN 'EQUINOX' LAUNCH

 Kerre & myself at the launch of Holden's new 'Equinox' at Whoa! Studios in Henderson.

Kerre & myself at the launch of Holden's new 'Equinox' at Whoa! Studios in Henderson.

 

First things first, can I just say a huge thank you for all the kind comments, messages and emails following my 'leaving ZB' announcement, I have been blown away by the support. It’s been beyond amazing. So cheers.

I had a very cool night last night, Kerre & I went to the launch of Holden’s new Sport Utility Vehicle, the ‘Equinox'. Having never been to a car launch before, I had no real idea what to expect, but the promise of a five-course degustation meal following the presentation was more than enough to get me along… suit and all! 

The evening was very cool. Not only did we get to see the new ‘Equinox’, we got too see a few other models that Holden is bringing out over the next few years, including the new Commodore, which (as you'd expect) is one incredibly sexy piece of machinery. 

 The new Holden 'Equinox' on the left, and the all new 'Astra' on the right.

The new Holden 'Equinox' on the left, and the all new 'Astra' on the right.

Not only were there beautiful cars, but incredible people too. I met Stephen Donald for the first time (lovely), designer Tanya Carlson (also lovely), and legendary motoring writer Sandy Myhre (Sandy writes the blog www.wenchesonadventures.com). Sandy and I bonded over the fact we both drive late 1990’s Nissan Pulsars. Having often had the piss taken out of me by various people on the radio for driving a 'shit car’, it warmed the cockles of my heart to know that a woman that has been behind the wheel of some of the most beautiful cars in the world, loves, and has no intention of getting rid of her 1998 Nissan Pulsar. Amazing. Go the Pulsar! 

In saying that would I flick the Pulsar for any of the new Holdens I saw last night? In. A. Second. 

Cheers to Ed and the team at Holden NZ for the invite. And to the chefs at The Grounds at Whoa! Studios in Henderson, thanks, the food was deeeeeeelicious.

 

 

WHY I AM LEAVING NEWSTALK ZB

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I can't tell you exactly when I came up with my ‘40-year plan’, but I must have been around 15 or 16. The first inklings of the plan coming together after I appeared as a contestant on a TV cooking show called Ready Steady Cook. While watching TV after school one day I saw an advert seeking contestants for the show, thinking it would be a bit of fun, I applied, along with my friend Ryan. We both got an interview, and a couple of months later we found ourselves on the way into downtown Auckland to film an episode. For the show, Ryan and I would be pared with a chef and given 20 minutes to cook a meal with some ingredients ‘we’ (ahhhh the magic of television) had picked up from Woolworths. The show was filmed in front of a live studio audience and hosted by the one and only, Kerre Woodham (now McIvor).

Long story short, I fell in love. As far as I was concerned I had found my place in the world. And that was in front of a camera and with an audience hanging on to my every word. Ha! I’m pretty sure I said to Dad before we had even left the building, “When I leave school I want to do what that lady Kerre does.” Dad went on to explain that not only was she on TV, she was also on the radio. And so it must have been that night, for the first time, at the tender age of 11, I listened to Night Time Talk with Kerre Woodham on Newstalk ZB. While all my friends were listening to music on Mai FM, ZM and (at touch later in life) Channel Z, I was listening to Kerre discuss the news, politics, and whatever else came up with the general populace on ZB. And talk about becoming a habit of a lifetime. I listened to talkback from that point on every single night before bed. After a time I couldn’t get to sleep without it. The habit only coming unstuck when I left the country at 26. And not out of choice, but because there was no way of listening to it whilst staying in hostels in South East Asia. There were a few sleepless nights initially, but it was definitely for the best. It was a somewhat weird conversation to have when people stayed over, “yeaaaaah, I can’t go to sleep unless I have talkback on, sorry."  And yes, weird as a kid, and even more so as an adult. 

With a new career goal in mind (becoming a pilot was now on the back burner), research was done, people in the media spoken to, and it was decided to realise my dream of working on TV/on the radio, the New Zealand Broadcasting School in Christchurch was where I needed to head to once I had finished high school. 

And so somewhere between appearing on Ready Steady Cook, and getting into Broadcasting School I formed what became my ’40-year plan';

 

1. Get into the New Zealand Broadcasting School 

2. Graduate and get a job on-air at a radio station

3. Move into TV

4. Travel

5. Return to New Zealand and host Talkback

 

Looking back on this now it actually blows my mind that all of this 'plan' actually came to pass. It's crazy enough that it happened, but the bit that really blows me away is just how quickly I achieved what I set out to.

I graduated from Broadcasting School in 2005, I was working at The Edge in a part-time on-air capacity by 2006. By 2007 I had my own show on ZM. And by 2009/2010 (it’s starting to get blurry…) I was filming stories for TV2’s The Erin Simpson Show. 

Tick.

Tick.

Tick.

And then came the decision of a lifetime (at that point anyway), to throw it all in and venture out into the world. And as difficult as leaving ZM and The Erin Simpson Show was, it was the best decision I ever made. Not only did those four years floating around the world change me irrevocably, they increased my awareness on so many fronts that in a way, I believe, set me up to nail that final piece of the ’40-year plan’, and land a show doing talkback on Newstalk ZB

But why am I telling you all this? And why am I leaving ZB? 

Doing Afternoons with Kerre on Newstalk ZB (as you now know) was a dream come true. And it has been amazing. Yes there have been some trying times - in all honesty I don’t think anything can really prepare you for your first few months hosting talkback. It is like nothing else I have ever experienced, and/or ever will. But even through those first few months and without a doubt every day since, man we have had some fun. 

But as much as I do genuinely love the job, love Kerre (I don’t think there are words for how much I love that woman), love hearing from all the people I get to on a daily/weekly basis, I’m not done with the world just yet. 

I currently have absolutely no regrets. If (and I do hope this doesn’t happen) I die tomorrow, I’m actually not fussed. In my mind there is nothing more I could’ve done with my time on this planet. I really have had the most incredible life. And so I guess from having felt this way for so long, my worst case scenario is getting to a point where I do have regrets. Inevitable you might say, but I am going to try and stay ‘regret free’ for as long as possible. And although it would’ve been easy to stay on at ZB and continue on this path, it would’ve meant not realising so many dreams that have come about since I was a teenager.

If hosting talkback on Newstalk ZB was living 16-year-old Mark’s dream, I’m leaving to realise what the 27-year-old me (and the current version) wants. And that is (in short) to see Africa (I’ve only been to Morocco), to get to 100 counties by 35 (I’m at 63), finish off my Spanish (I want to be fluent and that is going to take a few months of full immersion, probably in Mexico), I want to return to India to learn how to be a yoga instructor, and spend summers with my friends in Toronto, Berlin, New York, and of course a few more in my beloved London. Hosting a talkback show Mon-Fri 12pm-4pm and doing/achieving the above is not really possible. And so, it was one or the other. 

Am I an idiot? Deranged? The stupidest fool that ever lived for leaving such a plum job to try and cross off a few more ‘dreams’? Maybe. Probably. But you know what? Playing things safe is boring, go big or go home I say. It is possible I may end up looking back on this decision and thinking, ‘you bloody idiot!’, but I doubt it. Like everything, this next phase of my life will either work or fail miserably but whatever the outcome, it's going to be one hell of an adventure giving it a go. 

And how am I going to fund this, you ask? Well the plan is to go full digital nomad. Blogging, travel writing (I have already locked in some stories with the New Zealand Woman's Weekly), some digital advertising/social media consultancy, and managing my various business interests remotely. My plan isn’t to leave NZ for good. I want to return for (at minimum) the summers each year. All things going to plan I will be back in the country each December to catch up with friends and family and (hopefully) do some fill in work on Newstalk ZB while everyone is away for their summer break. Just like i used to before I got the full-time gig with Kerre. 

So yeah, sad news in a way. The end of an era - that is if you can call a couple of years an era. But exciting times ahead. FYI Kerre and my last show together will be December 21st, but my last will be January 19th. I am going to work through Xmas and NY and take a break post. 

And finally, for those that are concerned, don’t worry, Kerre isn’t going anywhere. And I'm sure there will be an announcement around the future of the show in due course. 

As I mentioned before, the plan is to go full-time blogger (especially once I start travelling again). In preparation for this I have recently started a mailing list and would love for you to sign up. If you are keen, you can do that here.

WHAT HAPPENED AFTER I GAVE UP SUGAR

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I can't really recall why I decided to give up sugar. I guess I just got swept up in the hysteria around doing so and decided to give it a go. The countless stories from talkback callers, and the media in general, about how giving up the ‘white devil' has changed their lives. This run is my second attempt. I managed 11 days sugar free last month but succumbed to the temptation at a leaving dinner for my brother. He was returning to Europe the next day, so Mum, Dad, my brother and I went out for a family dinner at Eight at The Langham. I announced at the start of the dinner that I was now sugar free and therefore WOULD NOT be indulging in dessert. However that promise slowly faded each time I returned to the buffet and in the process passed the chocolate fountain. Of all the bloody things! How was I supposed to say no to a chocolate fountain? I mean, I am not without self control, but I couldn’t, and I didn’t. And so after a good few rounds of savoury I was gorging myself on chocolate cake, caramel slice, lemon meringue pie, and of course, litres of chocolate sauce. Bugger!

Buuuut, a surprising thing happened. Eating sugar again was just ok, but it was the mind blowing experience I was expecting. Prior to that first bite of chocolate cake dripping in chocolate sauce, the anticipation was real. But it never eventuated. And so I tried everything else that was on offer, thinking maybe the cake was just lacklustre. But no. Nothing hit quite like I was expecting it to. This is in no way a slight on the chefs/bakers at Eight, but more (I think), an insight into how I had mentally built up to joy of consuming sugar in my mind. 

Claire Turnball from Mission Nutrition once told me that it takes 12 days to reset your taste buds. So if you are salt fiend, try and go without for 12 days, and following that, you want for everything salty, or need to coat everything you eat in it, should be reduced. So at 11 days without sugar, maybe the reset had been completed. 

So anyway, after a relapse a couple of weeks back, I am now nine days into (what I have promised myself), is 30 days without sugar. It's funny, it wasn’t until a caller rung talkback on Monday extolling the virtues of his sugar-free life and explaining how his mood had improved, that I realised the same had happened to me. And although there was a wee relapse, if I look back across the last few weeks I am so much more even, mood wise, than I have been almost ever. I’m having ups and downs (of course, I am human), but not to the great extents I feel like I used to. I’m still no delight first thing in the morning, but the process of getting up and going to the gym has been easier of late, and has required a tonne less coffee! Is it all due to being (almost) sugar free? Perhaps. I don’t really feel like much else has changed. I am still working too much, sleeping too little, eating and exercising well (I’m pretty good with the latter two), so it could be?

Aside from the more constant mood, and saving $$$ on $1 mixed bags (oooooh I’ll be a millionaire in no time), I have lost a little bit of stomach fat. Not that I am in any way overweight or need to lose weight, but I have noticed a weeeeee tightening around the abdominal area. Which, let's be honest, is welcomed by most.

So there we go, my experiences after a couple of weeks (but in reality nine full days) of a diet with no sugar. FYI I am not avoiding fruit or anything with natural sugars, just those manufactured, wrapped in plastic type foods full of sugar. Those along with sauces that contain it, sugary drinks, and the delights in cafes and restaurants that look like recipes that could’ve come from one of Joe Seager's cookbooks, and therefore contain no less than 1.5kg of the stuff!

It will be interesting to see where I am at following the full 30? A ripped torso and completely zen like Buddha hopefully...

ps click here to join my mailing list and never miss a blog post.

LOOK A PEACOCK!!!

 Chana excited (but also slightly nervous), about our impending search for some wild elephants

Chana excited (but also slightly nervous), about our impending search for some wild elephants

If you read my last blog about Sigiriya, firstly, what an amazing human being you are (if you missed it, you can still be an amazing human and check it out here). And secondly, and in reality most importantly, do you remember from the photos the maaaahussive green expanse spread out around Sigiriya? Well most of that is a national park. Apologies, I can't for the life of me remember/locate the name.

Anyway, living in this expansive national park are herds of wild Sri Lankan elephants (Sri Lankan elephants are a subspecies of the Asian elephant). And they are kept inside the national park via an electric fence - and a minimal one at that. Think intermittent poles, as per, and a single, solitary wire. It barely looked as if it could keep me in, let alone a 5,500kg elephant.

Fun fact, it turns out NZ tech company Gallagher Group (based in Hamilton) makes electric fences to keep elephants and humans away from each other and have supplied these fences to Sri Lanka. Who knows if they supplied the ones around this national park? 

Anyway, Chana (my tuk tuk driver/good friend) had semi-promised he’d show me some wild elephants before we left Kandy but when it came to time to find them I think it is safe to say he had some concerns. Although he wanted to please, I got the distinct impression he had, in times gone by, found himself in some sticky situations with elephants. And thinking about it, tukuk v elephant could end very, very, very (to quote one Donald Trump) badly.

The problem was by the time we’d left Kandy, had lunch, a roadside tea break, stopped to see a cashew nut tree, eaten four or five roadside mangos, and I'd made it up Sigiriya and back down, the afternoon was fast becoming evening. This meant the heat of the sun was fading which meant the elephants were more inclined to play chase the tuktuk. 

In hindsight I probably should’ve been more worried than I was. Having only ever seen elephants in captivity, and therefore incredibly excited about the potential of seeing them in their natural habitat, the dangers surrounding this wee adventure didn’t cross my mind. Not even once.  

Being right next door to Sigiriya, we were in the national park and on the look out immediately. "Look a peacock," shouted Chana from time to time. "Yup, cool," I replied, trying to faint interest and act as excited about the situation as he clearly was. I finally told him that we had peacocks in New Zealand, and that they were quite commonplace after we stopped to look at the sixth or seventh one he’d spotted. “Oh," he said, obviously disappointed the peacocks weren’t setting my world alight. 

Much like I was at the top of Sigiriya, Chana and I were on our own on this winding road through the national park. In the 40 minutes we drove, we passed one lone car. One car, 18 peacocks, not one elephant. Bah! 

 I figured if there were signs saying they were 'Wild Elephants' around, they must be around somewhere?

I figured if there were signs saying they were 'Wild Elephants' around, they must be around somewhere?

Somewhat deflated and fast running out of daylight, Chana said it was probably time to get me to the bus station so I could continue north to the Trincomalee and then to Nirwellia Beach where I would be staying the night, and so we headed back towards civilisation. And then, just in the nick of time, we struck gold! A herd of elephants, maybe 9 or 10 (including a baby), about 300m from the side of the road, just chilling by some trees trying to escape what was left of the day's heat. 

Now I don’t have the best eyesight and I didn’t have my contacts in so I’d be lying if I said I had any real idea what the elephants were up to, but just seeing them sway about in the distance was nothing short of magic. Magic because I knew they were free. Nobody had put them thir for my viewing convenience. They had the ability to do whatever they wanted to do, whenever they wanted to do it. And right in that instant, where they were, was exactly where they wanted to be. Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t think the elephants in Auckland Zoo say, are mistreated in any way, but there is something extra special about seeing them in their natural environment, free to wander wherever, with the exception of course being outside the (potentially) Gallagher supplied electric fence. 

 The herd

The herd

We must have watched them for a good 20 minutes, the last 15 of which weren't particularly interesting as they walked behind some very tall grass. Reminiscent of watching the ocean move around the exposed part of a smooth rock (yay!), I was watching the grass sway around the peak of a number of elephants' backs. It was riveting stuff! I have some terrible footage on my camera. Minutes and minutes of tall grass swaying in the wind accompanied by my heavy breathing and occasional ’naaaaaawwwwwww’ as a piece of an elephant became visible through the grass. 

Chana then dropped me in town with strict instructions on how and where to catch the bus, and to be very, very careful in the north. I’m not sure if his concern was a hangover from the civil war (Chana is Singhalese, and most of the north is Tamil), or things really were more dangerous in the north, but either way Chana had concerns for me. 

Waiting for the bus I decided I would read the New Yorker magazine that my co-host at Newstalk ZB (and work Mum), Kerre had bought for me to read on the plane over to Sri Lanka. Opening the magazine it dawned on me... what Kerre had paid for the magazine (NZ$18.50) was pretty much what Chana would make on a good day in his tuktuk. It was one of those moments that reinforced to me just how ridiculously lucky, and awash with riches of every kind I am. 

Bus after bus pulled up, going to this place and that, most of which I had never heard of, and although they all appeared to have been on the road for a good few years, each one looked like a respectable ride. As this was my first foray into public buses in Sir Lanka, I was unsure what to expect. But as I said, things looked in order, there were seats, nothing appeared too crazy, I was yet to see any cages of animals board, or get off (ahhhh Laos & Mexico).

And then came a bus so packed to the gills that there were three people hanging out the front door and two out the rear. 'What do you bet this is me...' I thought to myself as one of the three men at the front yelled “Trincomaaaleeeeeeee," and thus the panic to get myself and my bags on-board began. 

“Yeeeeeeees," I yelled as I ventured forth, backpack over my left arm, right arm dragging my Kathmandu wheelie. Having barely made it onto the first step, the bus was moving again. My bag still on the ground behind me, I lurched backwards hanging onto the bus for dear life with my left hand. But within seconds there were hands all over me. Some pulling me up, others my bag, and before I knew it my wheelie bag went over my head into the depths of the bus, and I was pulled up onto the second step and into the ridiculousness that was my bus north to Trincomalee. 

Imagine someone is about to drop a nuclear bomb on your town, and there is just one bus that can get everyone left in your town to safety. There isn’t enough room for everyone, but whoever gets on/in the bus survives. Imagine how many people would squeeze into that bus. I personally don’t need to imagine because this is how full my bus north was. It was it jam-packed. Sardine like, as they say. There would’ve easily been 10 people in the doorway. I couldn’t see through the bodies to see the people sitting in the front seats, let alone the what was happening behind them.

It.

Was. 

Chocka.

And of course, as I was the only non Sri Lankan on the bus, all eyes were on me. A couple of stops after I got on, I found myself on the third step, back to the windscreen (yay, there were now only three sides available for sweaty bus patrons to rub up against), wedged between the door and the gear stick looking towards the back of the bus. Although in a new spot, focus had not shifted, all eyes were still on me but the stares had warmed. The ‘what the hell?’ looks had turned to smiles, as Bob Marley’s ‘Is This Love’, had started playing over the stereo and I, happy to recognise a song, had started mouthing along to the words. It was from singing along to Bob that got me my first interaction, a guy standing somewhere near where I imagined the front seat closet to the door to be, shouted out "Bob Marley". I smiled and nodded as I continued to sing, and in that instant, everyone's trepidation about who I was and what I was about, melted away and we were all instantly friends. 

The next stop saw a good five or six people get off and although this didn’t leave us with oodles of space, it meant it wasn’t nose-to-armpit any longer. Quite enjoying the breeze from the door and not really wanting to venture out of it towards the back of the bus I stayed put, which meant I was in prime ‘conversing’ territory for whoever was planning to get off the bus at the next stop. And so the chats began. I met, amongst others, a man who had been in Kandy for the day trying to locate a part for his car, a nurse, an electrical engineer, a teacher - most of whom had perfect English, and some who only knew a few words, but could barely hide their excitement at getting to use them. I chatted cricket (of course), rugby, New Zealand, and at great length, Sri Lanka, what to do, and of course my thoughts on it so far. In between those chats I also found myself the intermediary between the driver and the ticket guy, passing cigarettes from one to the other and back again. 

Completely random, on many levels bizarre, and given the speed at which the driver was taking every corner, and my proximity to the door, probably quite dangerous. But so much fun. I know for many people catching a public bus in Sri Lanka, having to stand for an-hour-an-a-half, and spending a good chunk of that time embedded in the sweatier regions of various random people doesn’t sound like much fun. But I loved it. Wherever you’re travelling, you gain instant respect passing up the air conditioned ‘tourist coach’, and instead catching local transportation. And once you have shown your willingness to do what the locals do, that you are happy or even excited to be doing so, they reveal all. It's the same the world over. I’ve had it happen in Thailand, Mexico, Colombia, China. If you open yourself up for experience, show you are willing to try, are interested to learn, people are more than happy to show you, to take you, to share their lives with you.

In that short bus ride north I got offered a place to stay, not once but twice, invited to a day at the beach with one man’s family, and advice galore on where to stay in Trincomalee, what to eat, other paces to visit in Sri Lanka and (most importantly) how much a tuktuk from the bus stop to my accomodation in Nirwellia Beach was gonna cost. 

There is a lot to be said for travelling with friends and family. Mainly if everything turns tits up, you have someone to look after you. But also if you go somewhere with someone you see all the time, once you return to wherever you are from, you can relive all those magic moments that happened while you were away, whenever you like. However, it’s my experience that if you travel with friends or family, rarely do you find yourself in situations similar to my bus ride north. For sure, you interact with locals, but not in the same way you do when you are travelling solo. Had I got on that bus with a friend, I would’ve talked to them. Without the friend, it was either the others on the bus or myself. I know it’s not for everyone, but I strongly recommend trying the solo traveller thing at some point if you can. It's such a difference experience. 

The bus came to a complete stop when it came time for me to get off, goodbyes and thank yous were shared left, right and centre. I was so high on life it was stupid. Chana and the tuktuk ride north, Sigiriya, the elephants, and then the bus ride. Everything was perfect. And for the umpteenth time in my life I was convinced that travelling was what I was put on the planet to do, FOREVER!

And from the warmth and love of the bus, I crashed into the cold, dank and dark streets of Trincomalee. After feeling like one of the people for a good hour and a bit, in a matter of seconds, I was a once again, a walking ATM. Yet another tourist, ripe to be taken advantage of. My only redeeming quality, the cash in my wallet. 

After way too long haggling, I did eventually get a tuktuk to my hotel on Nirwellia Beach. It cost twice what it should’ve, and en route I got the hard sell on everything; a different place to stay, a great tour here, a great tour there, buying weed, getting a hooker, and all at exorbitant prices (truth be told I don’t know the going rate for a hooker in Sri Lanka, but everything through this guy was NZ$100+, when comparatively, most nights' accommodation had cost me NZ$20-$30). The guy driving me was so money hungry I actually did wonder a couple of times if I was going to get to my hotel, or if he was just going to take me where he would get a backhander. And to be honest, what was I going to do if he did? I was in the north of Sri Lanka, no real idea where, alone, and therefore completely vulnerable. 

Luckily this didn’t happen and he ended up taking me where I wanted to go. And so I checked in for what was a very quiet couple of days on the beach.

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Sigiriya

Firstly let me start by apologising. Since I got back from holiday life has been heeeeectic. Lots of exciting stuff happening, which I will tell you all about once I have wrapped up the blog about the holiday. 

 Sigiriya (or Lion Rock) from below.

Sigiriya (or Lion Rock) from below.

The things you do for friends. 

Pick ups/drop offs at the airport, putting them to bed after they have had too much to drink (to be honest its been a while since I have had to do this), talking them through their latest break up (this on the other hand is rife at the moment), or in my case recently, foregoing a cruisey ride in an air-conditioned car from Kandy to the north of Sri Lanka, and instead, getting one of my friends to drive me for four straight hours in his tuktuk.

Idiot. 

Well that was my initial thought while I packed my bags at my hotel in Kandy. And this was only compounded at breakfast when I told the man that ran the hotel that i was staying at what I had planned for the day. He looked at me like I was a mad man. ‘A tuktuk, to Sigiriya? Really?’ Accompanied by a face that very much said ‘you are f@#&’ing nuts!’.

Don’t get me wrong, I love me a tuktuk ride. Zipping through the cars, trucks and bikes, the wind in my hair, some eccentric man waxing lyrically about breasts… If I had a dollar for every time a taxi driver or tuktuk driver in some far-flung country had talked to me about breasts, I’d have more than enough money to buy myself a pair. And from a good surgeon too! Not some rubbish after the fact you find yourself with one looking up, one down and then eventually featuring on E!’s Botched, sort of number. 

Anyway, I digress… I love tuktuks, they are one of my favourite parts of visiting Asia, but hours and hours in the back of one? I had my concerns. But as I alluded to I felt it was better to pay the money to my friend Chana (who drives a tuktuk), and help him and his family out, as opposed to give it to some random I didn’t know, who probably would’ve quite liked the money too, but with whom I had no relationship.

"Are you ready…?" yelled Chana as I came down the stairs. “As ready as I will ever be," I replied. And after a quick stop to pick up my washing, some water for the trip and Chana’s bank to pay off some of a personal loan (it had to happen before COB that day apparently), we were on the road. 

Of course the joy of having a driver is you can stop whenever you want.

Cup of tea? Why not.

Mango covered in salt and chilli - this might sound odd by you HAVE to try it. I feel in love with this combo in Mexico and was stoked to find the Sri Lankans are a fan too! 

How about to see a cashew nut tree? 

 A cashew nut tree.

A cashew nut tree.

…an odd request yes, but tell me, prior to seeing the above picture had you any idea what a cashew nut tree looked like? Didn’t think so. 

So yes, although it did take us a good three hours to get to Sigiriya, and this wee trip was no doubt the reason I had to visit the osteopath and get my neck and back re-aligned as soon as I got back to NZ, the journey was actually really, really fun.

As well as learning about where cashews come from, Chana and I also swapped stories about life and love, sung, danced and laughed about all sorts of stupid things. And as is so often the case, what I was initially a touch worried about, turned out to be a wicked time. 

Much like New Zealanders do with Queenstown and Rotorua, just about even Sri Lankan I had meet had encouraged me to visit Sigiriya or Lion Rock. So I arrived brimming with anticipation. Sigiriya is an ancient rock fortress. It was the capital of a Kingdom way back in 477-495BC. King Kasyapa built his palace at the top of the rock and his minions lived and farmed in the surrounds. 

But this is the crazy thing, the rock is called Lion Rock because King Kasyapa built a bloody great Lion head one end of the thing so it actually looked like a lion. Back in the day you walked up some stairs, through its mouth to reach the palace at the top. Unfortunately the lion was destroyed in a battle (very long complicated story that one), and now only the feet remain. 

 The old entrance to the palace and all that remains of the aforementioned Lion.

The old entrance to the palace and all that remains of the aforementioned Lion.

As I climbed the various stairs to the top of the rock, dealing with the full force of the wind, I did question the intellect of the King building his palace all the way up there, but once at the top, I quickly swallowed my words. The view. My God the view. Actually breathtaking. Just stunning. 

Of course back in the day of King Kasyapa things would’ve looked very different, but I think a couple of thousands of years of natural growth has been the best thing for it. Nature uninterrupted. I mean how often do you see it? The seemingly never-ending green eventually giving away to the blue of the sky interspersed with Mother Nature's icing, big fat fluffy clouds.

 Atop Sigiriya looking South East. Incredible huh? 

Atop Sigiriya looking South East. Incredible huh? 

I have found myself in awe a couple of times since arriving on the planet. Seeing the Taj Mahal in India, at Iguazu Falls in Argentina, when I learnt the American government was actually just printing more money to get itself out of the GFC, LITERALLY JUST PRINTING MORE MONEY! And atop Sigiriya. It really is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been in my entire life. 

Following a good amount of time wandering the summit, taking in the beauty, contemplating life and congratulating myself for all the choices I made leading to this moment, I bounced down the rock and back to Chana so he could take me to try and find some elephants. I know, as if the day needed to get better, but yup, after the incredible experience that was Sigiriya, Chana reckoned he could track me down some elephants before we headed north to Trincomalee

But that story, and the yarn about the ridiculous bus ride that followed soon after, will have to wait for another day… Promise it won’t be a month between blogs. 

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Kandy (Central Sri Lanka)

 Downtown Kandy

Downtown Kandy

If visiting Kandy in Central Sri Lanka TripAdvisor suggests visiting the following sights

1. Royal Botanical Gardens

2. Temple of the Tooth (Sir Dalada Maligawa) - a temple housing one of Buddhas teeth.

3. Kandy Garrison Cemetery 

Nowhere online, not on TripAdvisor not anywhere did it suggest befriending a tuktuk driver and spending however long you have in Kandy hanging with him and his mates. But you know what? It should.

After getting off the train from Colombo and meeting the family and friends of various people I had talked to on the train, I got a snack (on this occasion a steamed spicy chick pea number). And whilst eating it, turned down countless offers from tuktuk drivers to take me to my hotel. 

You see it being 2017 and all means you no longer have to haggle with tuktuk drivers to get places. Nope, there is an app for that. Well there is in Sri Lanka anyway. It’s called PickMe and it is Sri Lanka's answer to Uber. Uber is here too, but you can only order cars with Uber. With PickMe you can order tuktuks, small cars, normal size cars, vans, pretty much whatever you like.

Understandably the tuktuk drivers hate it. No longer can they charge three, four times the usual price because you are a tourist and know no better. Nearly through my chick peas I declined yet another ride from yet another driver only to have him ask how, if I didn’t need a tuktuk was I going to get to my accomodation? Good question. I then told him I  had PickMe, which took him like it had the others I'd informed by surprise as few tourists knew about it. He then went on to explain how PickMe was not good for the full time tuktuk drivers, as its arrival had seen their earnings drop. He said most of the PickMe drivers were people with good Government jobs that wanted to make some extra money on the side, and so were happy to accept whatever extra money they could. But the cheaper PickMe fares had had flow on effects for those that didn't work with the app. Long story short, he got me. Was it true? Who knows. But he got the trip. I got him to take me to my hotel and, I didn’t even haggle with him on price. It was only US$3. Anyway, surprise, surprise we got chatting and by the time I was at the hotel, I had been invited to watch the Federation Cup with him and his mates later that evening. 

And the rest, as they say, is history. I then spent the next three days with Chana and his mates, drinking by the river, playing football and touch rugby, and watching the Federation Cup. I know, I can’t really believe it either… Watching football. Who am I? 

 Saapu, Me & Chana drinking by a river somewhere in Kandy.

Saapu, Me & Chana drinking by a river somewhere in Kandy.

I did begrudgingly go to the Temple of the Tooth on my last day in Kandy as I felt kinda guilty I hadn’t really done anything ’touristy' since arriving, and it was the major attraction in the city. And guess what? It was crap. Temples, Churches and Cathedrals, i’m sorry but I just don’t care anymore. Seen one, you really have seen them all. Annnnnnnd, you couldn’t even see the tooth! It was holed up in a wall. So I paid $15 to see a wall that one of Buddha’s teeth is ‘supposedly’ kept behind. Bah! 

Outside of my temple visit my time in Kandy was fantastic. It really was just me and the locals 24/7. Well, me and an army of tuktuk drivers. I got taken to all their favourite places to eat, their favourite places to drink tea, their favourite places to hang. Each day at 5:30pm we’d meet at the local field and play football. I generally just sat and watched and played with their favourite street dog Cindy (although you’d think given the name it was a bitch, nope it was a boy), but one day there was a game of touch happening down the other end of the field, so I joined in on that. On a side note, rugby is surprisingly big here. There has been a tonne of cricket chat, but surprisingly large amounts of rugby chat too. They love Jonah Lomu.

Once it was too dark to kick the ball around we would then head inside to play Carrom (kinda like shuttleboard) and watch whoever was playing in the Federation Cup. We’d then hit the boys favourite late night haunt for Kottu (a Sri Lankan rice or noodle based dish), and the most incredible tea I have ever had. FYI I’ll do a post on the food here once I leave. And then following all that it was home to sleep before we did it all over again the next day. 

 The boys playing their nightly game of football.

The boys playing their nightly game of football.

I learnt so much about Sri Lankan life in these few days. I also learnt number of Sinhalese words, most of which I won’t mention as Mum reads this. And I also scored myself a nickname. Not a particularly original nickname I don’t think. But kinda fun none the less. My nickname is ‘Sudu’, which is pronounced ‘Sudda'. And means white. Any of the locals that overheard the boys yelling it at me, loved it. They thought it was hilarious. On a number of occasions I tried to explain that I wasn’t really white, but brown (especially after the sun I have seen). That I had friends at home that were well and truly white, and had Irish friends that are so white they are almost translucent (you know who you are...), but they didn’t care. In comparison to them, I was white. 

You know I don’t think I said boo to a single tourist my entire time in Kandy. I mean I love the Germans, the Aussies, and the Americans, but this is kinda the goal yeah? Experiencing local life. I’d be interested to hear what others did with their time in Kandy, what, if anything I missed out on. 

After Kandy the backpacker trail splits, with some heading north to the beaches in and around Trincomalee, and others east through the tea plantations of Sri Lanka, on what is meant to be one of the most incredible train journeys in the world. I decided to go north. And wanting to be a supportive mate instead of paying for a car or mini van to take me there, I opted for Chana to take me in his tuktuk. Three to four hours of solid travel in a tuktuk, how did it go? You’ll just have to wait for the next blog. 

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Colombo to Kandy by Train

Waiting for the train to Kandy at Colombo Fort Railway Station

As I mentioned on Instagram the other day, some of my favourite memories of travelling India involve public transport. My initial foray was riding the local trains in Mumbai. Hanging out/off the doors of the trains with all the kids. Ducking in and out to avoid other trains, air conditioning units, and various other items that could’ve seen us loose whatever was outside of the train at the time. I have countless other great public transport memories too. And so, with Sri Lanka being similar to India in many ways, I was excited about my first train trip here. 

It didn’t disappoint. Although my trip from Colombo to Kandy (in central Sri Lanka), was slightly more civilised than my trips on the local trains in Mumbai - I had a pre allocated seat for starters, the experience wasn't lacking. There were three classes available on the train. First, which included WIFI and A/C and to which I saw a number of backpackers get on. Rookies. Second, allocated seats, but no WIFI or A/C, just open windows and doors. And third, of which I imagine was like most third classes (I don’t know because I got a second class ticket), your run of the mill 'stuff ‘em in where and however you can’ type scenario. 

I had been told by a number of people the scenery on the way was breathtaking. Through the craziness of the city of Colombo, into the rural hinterland, through the jungle, and finally into the mountains to Kandy, it all sounded amazing. And so you can imagine how stoked I was, when by total chance, I got a window seat. 

Sitting opposite me on the train was a young Buddhist Monk. I think it’s safe to say he thought I was odd. I feel like we both spent a good amount of time trying to work each other out. Me wondering how he ended up a Monk, and why he was going to Kandy? Also, how many of those robes he owns? Him, probably where on earth I was from, and what a strange sight I was. This wasn’t the first time in Sri Lanka I had been looked upon with a ‘Whaaaaat the hell?!?' expression. The Monk had some cash though. He bought up one of everything that was offered up by the hawkers. He even purchased a ‘Wonders of the World’, colouring book.

I should only be nice really, a) because he is a Monk, and although one should be respectful of all life, I feel you should probably be especially respectful of Monks. And b), because while I was being all ‘artsy’ and taking the photo below, obviously unable to look behind me (or to the front), and therefore see where the train was going, he pulled my head and body inside the train so it wasn’t separated from me by an oncoming bridge. Thank you Mr Monk. Eternally grateful. 

The final part of the journey was the most fun though. As we approached Kandy and the locals got off at their respective stops, the train began to empty. This meant there was space in the exits. Previously all the doors were jam packed, at least three or four people deep. 

So it was towards the end of the trip that I finally got to relive India and hang outside the door of the train. However, my 'hang time' was rather brief. You see a lovely soul in the door of the carriage in front thought it was funny to spit each time I popped my head out. And thus the game went. I pop out. He spits. I see him spitting and pop back in. Only to wait until he’s not facing me and pop back out. 

Disgusting? Yes. But he only got me the once. And aside from not having more time to nail a ‘look-at-me-im-hanging-out-of-a-train' selfie. All was ok. 

Of course no train journey would be complete without some chat with some randoms. I can’t say I made any friendships that will last the test of time on this particular trip - best friends breathe a sigh of relief. But I did meet a lovely man who had been in Colombo to see his sister (and once off the train I also met his wife and three kids, also lovely), and Lakshitha Lakmal (see photo below), we didn’t talk huge amounts, but as you can see, a photo was taken. 

Arriving in Kandy after the intense heat and chaos of Colombo really felt like entering another world. Travelling there through the jungle, the mountains and the clouds, without a doubt added to that feeling. I loved the journey and the best bit is, Colombo to Kandy isn’t even the renowned train journey of Sri Lanka. That title goes to the trip from Kandy to Ella, through the tea plantations. Obviously, I cannot wait. But first Kandy and then north to Sigiriya or Lion Rock, what has been described to me as the 8th Wonder of the World. 

M

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 The photo that nearly cost me my head. Again, thank you Mr Monk.

The photo that nearly cost me my head. Again, thank you Mr Monk.

 Trying to nail a 'hanging-outside-a-train' selfie without getting spat on. Easier said than done.

Trying to nail a 'hanging-outside-a-train' selfie without getting spat on. Easier said than done.

 And finally me and my new friend Lakshitha Lakmal

And finally me and my new friend Lakshitha Lakmal

The day after the day before

I had a terrible sleep Saturday night (my first night in Colombo). The plan was to have a few beers at the hostel, and then head out into town to see what trouble we could find ourselves. What actually happened was, I had two beers in the lounge and pretty much collapsed.

It might have been the cricket chat that did it (on a side note, can someone please tell me what NZ as a whole thinks about Sri Lanka's cricketing style? Ha! I have been asked this more times that you'd ever believe in the last few days), or the fact that Xanax induced plane sleep isn't in fact real sleep, so by the time 8pm rolled around I had pretty much been awake for two days. But either way, the sleep wasn't good. I crashed at 8:30ish, waking at 11pm, 1am, 3am, and then finally again at 4am. At half four, the mind engaged, and with no sign of getting back to sleep due to Mr Pakistan's incessant snoring, I decided to head to the common room to do some reading.

...Mr Pakistan update. He went out on Saturday night and made a couple of friends. I didn't ask if anything else happened, but hey, friends is a good start, right? 

It turned out however I wasn't the only one awake. The mother of the man that owns the hostel, was already in the lounge drinking coffee while waiting for her hair to dry. Pleasantries were exchanged, I drilled her for information about where to go and what to see in Sri Lanka, and then (and I believe she instigated this, not me, honestly), we started talking politics. 

Safe to say this lady was not a fan of the last President. To be fair she did say he did do a lot of good things. But, filing his cabinet with family (apparently every minister was a brother, a brothers wife, or sister), and various dodgy dealings, including the mysterious death, via exploding car, of a famous Sri Lankan rugby player, who was 'the only thing standing in the way' of the Presidents son becoming captain of the team, was enough to see him and his party ousted at the last election. 

In world news, New Zealand PM makes headlines for pulling pony tails, and in Sri Lanka, allegations the President is somehow involved in the murder of a rugby player so his son could captain the team... 

As creepy as the pony tail thing is/was, I'll take that over the latter every day. 

I have since asked a couple of people about the allegation, and although all seem aware of the story, whether or not you see any truth in it seems to very much depend on which side of the political fence you sit.

It was also quite interesting talking to this lady about the civil war. My current POV on this (and maybe this will change), is the Tamil's, the people of the North, were completely out of line trying to split the country and gain independence. 

The Tamil's are originally from India. They were brought here by the British to work in the tea plantations, and as I alluded before, they wanted to split the island in two creating a seperate state for themselves in the North, leaving the Sinhalese to govern the south. 

Can I understand that want? Sure. But if you've only been in the country for a hot minute when compared to the Sinhalese, who've been knocking around these parts for millennia, I'm hard pushed to say you were fighting the good fight. But, as I said, this could change as I learn more about the situation. 

From what I am aware of though, and probably somewhat unsurprisingly, the whole thing was horrific. Twenty six years, tens of thousands dead, and as per, many of them civilians. It is widely believed 40,000 civilians were killed by either side in the last few weeks of the war in 2009. Just crazy numbers yeah? 

But with her hair dry, the church service she was planning on attending with her sons wife edging ever closer, and my stomach in desperate need of some food. That was where we left things.

With the temperature already at 20+ (and this is at 7am), I decided a swim at the beach was in order. And so I found myself a tuktuk and headed to southern Colombo for a swim at Mount Lavinia. 

M

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pps you'll see I am now running black text on white, don't say I never do anything for you, better? 

Season 1 Ep 1

 Just after landing in Colombo, Sri Lanka - June 17th 2017

Just after landing in Colombo, Sri Lanka - June 17th 2017

A few months ago on a random Tuesday evening, I got drunk. Very drunk. Smashed in fact. I had spent the best part of the previous two months working every waking hour available to me. Newstalk ZB during the day, managing my importing company and preparing to launch the food truck yeah naan, evenings and weekends. I was due a blow out, and an invite to some drinks at a friends house turned out to be just the ticket. 

I'm not a big weekday drinker. I've never really seen the point. I'm one of those horrible people that drinks to get drunk. I don't love the taste of alcohol. On the rare occasion in the sweltering heat I will yearn for a beer, but I've never really found myself dying to have a wine, or a gin, or a rum. I drink because I love the adventures come with drinking. Very rarely do you get home from a few drinks without a new friend, or a new story or two. Fun things happen when you drink. Or at least, that's how I feel. 

Anyway, on this fateful Tuesday night, smashed, I made a promise to a certain person that I would start a blog. Start a blog and write about my travels, the ones I have been on, the ones i will go on, and (her suggestion, not mine), my life in general. So here I am, making good on that promise. 

I have blogged before. When I first left New Zealand for my big O.E (Overseas Experience for those of you not from NZ), in 2012, I played the blogging game for a bit. There is a Tumblr somewhere with details of a few days, possibly weeks, of my exploits in Europe. From what I can remember, nothing outrageous, just my musings from life on the road. I haven't read it since, and don't really want to. Truth be told I kinda cringe thinking about it. I can only imagine the rubbish I wrote.

And so although that Tuesday night was months ago, and I have had ample time to start, I thought today, right now, would be the perfect moment to begin. You see I am back on the road again. Back out in the world. The wind in my hair and my most recent new music compilation blaring in my ears. And it feels so good. In fact it's beyond good. It's fucking fantastic. 

I landed in Colombo in Sri Lanka five hours ago. I left New Zealand (ironically), bang on 23 hours ago. Not even a day away from home and already, so much has happened. I've already meet so many interesting people. 

People often ask me if I am done with travelling having already spent quite a considerable amount of time and money galavanting all over. My answer is always no, and the last 23hours, the last five hours even, perfectly demonstrate why.

On my flight to Kuala Lumpur I sat next to an incredibly interesting guy called David who was on his way to Europe for an engineering conference. Not that I knew this to start with, as we didn't talk until a few hours before we landed in KL. But boy did we cover some ground in those few hours. Travel, life, love, politics, the future of New Zealand and the globe, it all got a going over. So much so a coffee was sought after getting off the plane, but had to be skipped as our connecting flights were at opposite ends of the airport and departing soon. 

We are going to catch up for a beer in Auckland when I get back.

My flight from KL to Colombo was less eventful, although still very enjoyable. The service you get on airlines not based in Europe and Australasia is just incredible. The food they served (a chicken curry), was not only delicious, like actually delicious, I got to eat it with REAL CUTLERY. Call me sad, but the sight of an actual metal knife and fork on a plane gets me excited. If Sri Lankan Airlines can do it Air NZ, why can't you? 

However since landing in Colombo it has been all go. I ended up sharing a taxi into town with a girl from the Maldives, who may or may not have been working as a hooker in Thailand until recently. We are now friends on Instagram, so I will try and find out for certain and let you know.

After checking into the hostel and then finding my bed in the dorm, I met a guy from Pakistan. This next bit is horrible. This poor dude is staring down the barrel of a life all alone, as he's gay, and obviously being gay in Pakistan is a big fat no, no. When I asked him if there was anything at all he could do, any possibility he could meet someone, any chance he could move abroad, he answered, 'no, but it is ok, this is life'. 

My heart broke hearing it the first time. Its just broken again typing it out. He is away from home and here in Colombo for a month. Today is his second day. He is obviously dying to meet someone (I think he might have thought that maybe I was going to be it...), and so we had a good chat about talking to people on Tindr, and what to do when meeting them in real life. And just in case he couldn't be anymore of an outcast in Pakistan, he is also an atheist. A gay atheist in Pakistan. I mean, the poor bloody thing. 

A tough act to follow, but shortly after Mr Pakistan had headed off for a shower, the German born child of a couple of now England based, Tamil refugees entered the room. FYI the Tamil's are the people of Northern Sri Lanka who the Sinhalese (the people from the rest of Sri Lanka), were fighting in the Sri Lankan civil war until 2009. This was his very first, and his parents (they left last week), first trip back to the country in 30 years. Their first visit since they escaped to Germany just after the conflict began. Man, the stories he had. 

All of this, and I haven't even begun to explore yet. All this, and I haven't told you about leaving my hat on the plane (I didn't get it back), the ATM chewing up one of my EFTPOS cards, the taxi driver, the guy that checked me into the hostel, the city, the heat, the food... 

This is why I love to travel. This is why I can't stop. This is why I probably never will. And now, given I have made good on my promise and started writing some of it down, you'll be able to (that is if you want to), share in my adventures too.

Till next time. Whenever that might be. I'm off to buy some beers and get drunk with my new Tamil friend. So no doubt a few more stories en route.

M

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