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The Pyramids

I chickened out of going inside the great pyramid

And I am glad I did.

For a few days I have been saying that I didn’t think I would.

There is a doctor from Switzerland on the tour who gave me advice about pressing the soles of my feet against the floor if I started to feel faint. He is very kind and helped me when I went all ‘collapsey’ at the valley of kings.

There are three American guys also on this tour. One said that if I tried to get out of going inside the great pyramid he would personally pick me up and carry me in there to save me from later regret. Another mentioned that if I keeled over and fainted he would find it amusing to carry me back out.

Very kind.

Thankyou.

But not today.

The pyramid is an impressive sight under any circumstances but when I got out of the bus and saw it looming up into the dark dawn sky I became very sure that I was not going inside that big-stone-thing.

So I officially chickened out.

The guard told me if I wasn’t going inside the pyramid I had to go and sit on the bus. I said I didn’t want to sit on the bus because it’s boring. So instead he told me to go and sit on one of the millions of huge stone blocks that build up the pyramid.

How awesome !

We had another early morning permit to get ahead of the crowds.

So as the guards paced below with their cigarettes I sat perched a little way up on the side of the great pyramid admiring a 180 view of the city lights of Cairo and the stars.

Yes I was lucky, this morning stars were visible.

What a sight.

It was silent too and the temperature a bit chilly.

But I think this morning I was at the most peaceful place in Cairo.

I don’t know all the stars but recognise the three stars of Orion’s Belt because they are so easy. They were hanging just overhead and quite brightly.

There is a theory that the three pyramids of Giza (Cairo) are precisely aligned with the three stars of Orion’s Belt. Sitting underneath those stars this morning, watching them almost dropping out of the sky, it is very easy to believe that someone sitting in this spot many years ago might have had the idea to do that. Besides, ancient Egyptians were really smart. They had precise mathematics and calendars and architecture. They were practising medicine, psychiatry and dentistry (including advanced forms of surgery like brain surgery) long before medicine was ‘ invented’ by Hippocrates in Greece. Pythagoras discovered triangles and angles but he studied with the Egyptians at Heliopolis (now Cairo) who were already experts in triangles

So it makes perfect sense that someone in ancient Egypt was smart enough and sufficiently inspired by the night sky to do that. There would have been no smog pollution in those days and the three bright stars of Orion’s Belt would have been impossible for anyone standing on the Giza plateau at nighttime to ignore.

Plus the Egyptians had mythology connected with the stars so it would have made sense and been entirely worth the effort.

I am grateful to them because thousands of years later I had the experience I had this morning, sitting there more or less alone, in the predawn breeze, on ancient solid stone, watching the light break across the sky and listening to the morning call to prayer rising atmospherically above the sparkling lights of the city.

Like a real life Arabian nights story.

Wow

I feel like I have totally “been to the great pyramid” and I didn’t need to go in it.

There was a dog too, black like the night, who came out of the shadows before I climbed up the pyramid, wagging his tail and licking my hands to say hello.

My new friend.

I am very happy.

Then we went to the Sphinx which was cool because I have read so much about it including an interesting theory that it isn’t a sphinx at all. Whatever it is, it is also very impressive and has a very silent and calm presence. There are noticeably different types of stones and bricks used which makes it look like it has been built / repaired by different people’s at different times.

Then we went on a camel ride alongside the pyramids and this was surreal. I wish I was more awake. By this stage the sun had truly risen and my eyes were truly closing after not much sleep. I was about 85% asleep I reckon. Looking up at three massive pyramids poking out of the sand I suddenly thought of Star Wars. As we lurched along slowly on the camels I was taking in their unusual physiques and strange noises (one blew his stomach out of his mouth to clean it then swallowed it) and I dozily decided that camels are very otherworldly and peculiar. With the city now out of sight it felt like were riding camels through one of the sets for Star Wars.

We were discouraged from taking ‘stuff’ with us for security reasons so I didn’t take a camera and don’t have photos of us all starring in Star Wars.

The cover photo for this post is a view from our hotel, an entirely different landscape.

There are weddings on today at Mena House. Very fancy. The Egyptian women look so beautiful in their dresses. We spent part of the afternoon lurking in the gardens watching everyone and deciding which dresses we would wear and which ones we wouldn’t wear, that sort of thing. Tonight we have our farewell dinner for the tour and then we all go home.

But stars will still hang over the pyramids and camels will still saunter alongside and one day I will be back, I am sure.

 

 

Postscript – here are some Star-Wars-ey shots taken by my friends husband who took his camera along and shared photos around later ( thankyou Guy)

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also turns out there was a professional photographer amongst the guards etc who were with us on the special entry permit so later I had the opportunity to purchase the Star Wars shot of the camel ride at the pyramids, and further below are some old photographs showing areas of water and cultivation around the pyramids which are not there now

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Luscious Luxor and Crowded Cairo

Gone are the clear skies and sparkling waters of Upper Egypt.

There are many cars in Cairo, many people and many residences.

No stars can be seen but the pyramids here are still aligned with them.

Did you know that in Egyptian belief the soul after death had to give their ‘negative confession ‘; I did not do this, I did not do that, ticking off a requisite list of did-nots, many of which are familiar such as I did not kill, I did not steal etc.

But first on the list was “I did not pollute the Nile”

… I did not pollute the waters which give life to my family and all generations to come

Air pollution in Cairo is a serious concern, I have just been googling it. But it is a world concern because Cairo is not the only city that has serious pollution.  Air borne pollution travels with the wind. Water pollution enters the ocean and travels with the currents. What point is there in banning smoking and promoting healthy lifestyles when you can get cancer just by breathing the air or by eating food grown with polluted water.

I agree with the ancient Egyptians, pollution has to be the first concern that affects everyone regardless of where they live or what they wear or who they vote for because pollution doesn’t care about any of the above. And pollution is an insidious thing because it increases and increases slowly but surely, and what we see now is going to be nothing compared to what the kids of today will see when they are our age.

Or maybe not. This new generation of kids are really smart and maybe they will find a way to reverse ‘our’ stupidity, but what an inheritance we have left them ….

Here is the view of the great pyramid from our front door. Today is a good day for taking photos. The air pollution is such that even though it is so big, and so close, you sometimes cannot see the great pyramid from here.

Spooky.

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We arrived in Cairo late yesterday. Before that we were having fun in beautiful Luxor.

Apparently Luxor has about 1/3 of all the historical monuments in the whole world. It is a lush cultivated area along the Nile, (current crops seem to be bananas, sugarcane and cabbages). We drove through villages with donkey carts and kids playing and fields of rich brown earth and fat green leaves irrigated by sparkling blue waters.

Behind looms the West Bank; dry desert mountains, the place of the dead, the place of silence, the valley of the kings.   On the east bank are palaces and temples of kings.  Even though many of their treasures now lie in foreign museums they are still incomparable and totally AWESOME.

They say Luxor used to be the tourism capital of the world.

Everyone comes here to walk amongst these ruins and marvel at them.

We have seen so much I will skip through it all quickly but let me know if you want more photos or info about any of it.  The most impressive thing about heiroglyphics is that they are carved out of the stone, in some cases the space around the image is carved away so the image is raised.  They were then painted with colours many of which have since worn off.  Imagine how they looked in their day …. they still look amazing now.  Such precision in the workmanship.

No new husbands or boyfriends, but standing out from the usual comments and invitations one man did ask under his breath “how many camels?” as I walked past which I thought was rather funny (but I didn’t stop). I have also given up trying to convince people I am not Egyptian. It requires too much effort. Now I just say “yes, Egyptian, living in Australia” – this response explains my accent and seems to avoid further questioning …. I wish I still had my guide from Aswan as people left me alone when I went anywhere with him.

A few more days here. The itinerary includes a visit to the pyramid and sphinx, and a camel ride.  I still remember my ride on Ali Baba the camel in Tangiers some years ago and I am unsure about whether I want to go inside the pyramid.  I got a bit overwhelmed by something or other at the valley of kings and didn’t make it past the reception centre.  How embarrassing if I went all woozy inside the pyramid and needed to be carried out.

Am thinking I might wait for the others between the paws of the sphinx … that sounds more like me

 

Sites we have visited include Kom Ombombo, Edfu, Abydos, Dendera, Hatshepsut’s temple, Karnak and the Temple of Man at Luxor.  We also were able to go inside Nefertari’s tomb which has just been opened and was truly  beautiful.

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Luxor temple and avenue of sphinxes at night

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Abu Simbel

 

We have travelled further south into Nubia, to Abu Simbel, a site which is 45km from the Sudanese border.  (Yes I thought of nipping over the border to see the ‘other’ pyramids but the paperwork would have been horrendous so it was basically a no)

Very cool though to do a bus trip through the Sahara desert (in the comfort of an airconditioned bus).  Our guide told us that if we travelled due west of the road nothing would stop us until we reached the Atlantic Ocean on the other coast of Africa.

It was a dreamy experience travelling through such an iconic desert as the Sahara, even just for a few hours. I now really understand why some cultures believe you need to travel to the desert to find your soul.  There is something about it.

here is an attempt to photograph a mirage,one that appears to have rippling water.

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There is no water there …

but there is at Abu Simbel

It is a site built 3,300 years ago by Rameses II, sometimes called Rameses the Great or Rameses the builder.  He was a legendary king of old, who fought many wars and subdued many foreign armies but who claimed to ‘rule by the feather’.   The feather was a symbol of ‘justice,’ briefly speaking, because it was believed in Ancient Egypt that after death your heart was weighed on a scale against a feather and that determined what happened to you next in the afterlife.  The pharaoh was a symbol of the concept of Ma’at, or balance, and had to maintain order in the land.  Ma’at is the goddess who did the weighing ceremony after death with the feather.

i read somewhere that the poem ‘Ozymandius King of Kings’ was written about Rameses.  There is also some speculation that he was the pharoah in the Moses story though other scholars say there isno evidence to suggest the Moses story is an actual historic event or that he was the pharoah in it.

I like the story that Rameses never went into battle without his pet lion with him.  You can see the lion featured in some of the artworks in his temple depicting his battles.

Rameses married a Nubian princess.

her name was Nefertari – which means ‘the most beautiful in all the land’.

He is said to have loved her deeply and built ‘his and hers’ temples for them both at Abu Simbel.

luckily these temples were discovered in enough time to rescue them from the dam.

They are huge, and so was the effort required to relocate them.

We went twice, once at night for a sound and light show underneath the stars and the sickle moon, and again in the early morning.

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Nefertari is credited with the first ever written peace treaty, between Egypt and their enemies the Hittites, the terms of which she suggested to her husband.

Nefertari is not to be confused with Nefertiti who came earlier and was not Nubian.

we were not allowed to take photos inside, so I cannot show you here,  but Neferertari is depicted as a tall slim graceful and utterly beautiful Nubian lady.  She holds a blue lotus which is a symbol of upper Egypt.  It is also the only known time a pharoah depicted his queen  as being the same height as him and therefore of equal importance to him.

Many of her beautiful valleys around the upper Nile are now drowned under the dam

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Here are some artworks of other beautiful Nubian ladies and adorable Nubian bins

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I didn’t realise there was something missing from my life until I came to Nubia and found it, an ancient part of my soul that I had forgotten I once had.   There is a timelessness here, a place to come to remember, and even though there are other ways to get to Abu Simbel I think that drive through the desert is part of it.

On another note, I haven’t accumulated any more imaginary boyfriends or husbands yet,  but I have a doppelgänger.  We have just checked into our boat cruise to Luxor and I am solemnly informed by a staff member that I was on this boat two years ago leading a tour.  He remembers me.  He is giving me that dubious   ‘oh yeah good one ‘ look every time I tell him it wasn’t me.

Just for fun this is me demonstrating what one looks like when their alarm doesn’t go off and they get a wakeup call and everyone is already on the bus waiting for them and they get ready in 35 seconds.

Funnily enough I was in deep sleep having a conversation with Russell Brand about something which escapes me now, but in this photo it looks like I have taken his hair style back into the waking world with me …

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Tomorrow our boat sails for Luxor.

 

Postscript – below is a photo that my friend took a short time later, my hair looks better ….

 

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More photos from Upper Egypt

I have fallen in love with upper Egypt.

Upper Egypt is so named because it is at higher elevation than lower Egypt ( where the river meets the sea ).

Despite all the people it is easy to shut it all out and feel peaceful and serene.

There is a grandeur to this place

It is like a queen.

At the suggestion of another guest at the hotel Philae I went to the Old cataract hotel to watch the sunset over Aswan. A truly gorgeous experience which I hope to repeat this evening. The hotel is positioned in a brilliant location for sunset watching

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I joined the tour and was overjoyed to see many old friends from other White Wolf Journeys adventures, it turns out I know most of the group and that is just lovely. It contributes to the peaceful feeling.

Our very first excursion was to the Temple of Isis at Philae.  For anyone who is confused Isis was the name given to a legendary queen of ancient times who was seen as an earthly manifestation of the supreme mother principle, or birthing principle.  Ancient Egypt referred to her as the Goddess Isis. Nothing to do with the same letters spelt in capitals which is a modern phenomenon in current affairs.

We had special permission to attend her famous temple in the early morning before it opened to other tourists.  To get there on time we left in that darkest hour before dawn when the stars are at their brightest.

The experience of walking through that temple beneath starlight will remain with me forever.  I have felt even more peaceful ever since.

Here is the dawn rising over the Nile waters at Philae

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And here are some photos of this very ancient temple including heiroglyphics depicting Isis

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As promised here is a photo of Hazem explaining the temple to us

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and another. I think my dad would have gotten on well with Hazem, they have very similar senses of humour

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Later we went for a boat ride on the Nile with a Nubian dancer and drummer who made us all sing and dance along and that was very fun, we made a lot of noise out there but still it felt peaceful.  That river flows so serenely.  Another stop was a temple to the ancient creator god Khnum who in legend had a Ram’s head and fashioned creation out of the Nile river mud with his potter’s wheel.   A very cool site on an island  in the Nile (elephantine island) not only for the atmosphere of ancient ruins but also because we saw archeologists at work in a fenced off area at the site

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As well as my imaginary boyfriend I now have an imaginary husband whom I invented to escape from a persistent guard at the KHnum temple.  As soon as he found out about my ‘ husband ‘ he immediately began trying his advances on another girl from our tour.  She and I discussed it later and we have decided not to tell Hazem because he will get very stressed and probably try to have the guard fired or something which will create just another thing for Hazem to worry about.  Hazem is doing everything he can to ensure our comfort and safety and is turning himself upside down and inside out in the process.  He is very genuine but manages to be funny at the same time.  We have all become fond of him.

Tomorrow we travel to Abu Simbel.

I will take my imaginary husband with me.

Here are some photos of artwork of beautiful  Nubian ladies and me trying to do another selfie.

See you at Abu Simbel!

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Photos from Aswan

I join a tour tomorrow which will go through the Egyptian sites.  I came early to get over jetlag and explore a bit of Aswan but I didn’t realise that by doing so I was causing Hazem a headache.

Hazem is our tour guide and operator.  Most of the tour haven’t met him yet because the tour starts tomorrow. I was not expecting to meet him until tomorrow either.

It it turns out Hazem has been worried about me coming to Egypt early and going  to Aswan alone.  He is very nice but stern-fatherly-concerned-edly-so.  He met me personally at the airport in Cairo, had my visa done, got me checked into my connecting flight, bought me a croissant and a cup of coffee, and sat me down to have a talk.

This is when I realised that I have been causing him a headache.

First issue was my choice of hotel for my four nights in Aswan.

I booked the Philae Hotel which is nice and cheap and has good reviews.  Hazem, it turns out, had concocted a whole story in his head, before even meeting me, about why I am coming early and going off to Aswan.  He thinks I am going there to meet a ‘boyfriend’, which, he tells me, is ‘okay’, and up to me what I want to do BUT, HOWEVER, I must be aware that he is probably not a very decent man otherwise he would not be asking me to meet him at a cheap hotel, and I should be very aware of this and consider this information carefully before I go any further.

I laughed and laughed

what an unexpected conversation after a long flight.

no Hazem, it is only me, no ‘ boyfriend’ , and I am staying in a cheaper hotel to save money

Poor Hazem was visibly relieved.

Now – onto the next topic

I had said by email that I didn’t need a guide in Aswan because I was just planning to wander around by myself.

Next headache for Hazem.

I was stunned to realise that in his role as tour operator he assumes that he is responsible  for my safety for the whole time I am in Egypt even though the tour hadn’t started yet, hence the headaches when i said I would just wander about Aswan on my own.  Hazem gives me advice that there are only two streets I am allowed to walk along, the Corniche and the Main Street of the souk, the rest I am not allowed to walk along because he will be worried.  I have to walk as if I ‘ know everything’.  I am not allowed to smile at anyone or ‘ look friendly’.   And, by the way , there is nothing I need to worry about as Hazem is going to organise this out of his own pocket but …. even though I said I don’t want a guide ….. I need to be aware that there will be one anyway checking in on me to make sure I am ok.   Hazem is arranging this to make sure nothing happens to spoil my stay.

My goodness.

I am going to be watched !

I am still bleary eyed after my flight but feel strangely like I have this surrogate father in Egypt who I didn’t know about till now

It is very sweet

imagine if I was meeting ‘ a boyfriend’ ………. can’t imagine what’s the guides instructions would have been in that regard, but when I meet him he turns out to be a big burly Nubian and I am sure that is no coincidence.

Remember it was the Nubian warriors who stopped the Roman army, and I read that Egyptian pharoahs employed Nubians as their elite paramilitary men.

Too funny.

Must admit I am very touched by these arrangements because both Hazem and the guide ( whose name is Muhammad) have been  very kind and respectful of my space and concerned about not trying to ‘interfere with my choices’ but I can’t only imagine what discussions must have been going on before I arrived.

Thank goodness there is no ‘boyfriend’.

Poor ‘ boyfriend ‘ !!!

No photo of Hazem yet, but don’t worry tour starts tomorrow so you will get to meet him soon.

Here is Muhammad.

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He is wearing an outfit called  either a gabbelli or gallebi which is a comfortable outfit for men in the desert while still giving full sun protection. They often add a turban.  He has been very nice asking me what I want to do each day and organising it which is handy because I don’t have to worry about anything or deal with language differences.  This photo is taken after I said I wanted to go to the botanic gardens in Kitchener Island so he arranged me a little  boat and negotiated the price and explained the whole ticket procedure at the other end and left me to it.

I may as well start with photos from that little boat trip.

The boat was driven by a little boy and his dad sat there supervising.

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Here are some scenes from the trip alongside the river.  Boats of all sizes, and one called ‘smile’.

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A boat with a party happening on it and someone overboard but clinging on

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Approaching the island with the gardens on it created by Lord Kitchener during the British era

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Some photos  from the gardens

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Me trying to do a selfie

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On the way back we passed The Old Catarct hotel which is famous because Agatha Christie stayed there while she wrote ‘Death on the Nile’.  That is why it is expensive and why I changed booking from staying there to cheaper hotel

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And here are my new digs, which I recommend by the way and would stay again, smart and clean and very nice kind staff

(that is not my car)

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And some photos from the souk ( market). Tomorrow the tour starts and the adventure begins . Stay tuned !!!

( by the way I have no access to work email while in Egypt only personal email if you are trying to reach me)

(also for some reason these posts looks much nicer in the blog site than in the email digests which tend to scrunch everything up – and I found and fixed the typos in the last post about Nubia)

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Nubia, the land of liquid gold

After Augustus Caeser defeated Antony and Cleopatra (ending Ptolemy rule of northern Egypt and Alexandria) he pressed on south hoping to take Nubia.

He wanted gold and war elephants, mercenaries and slaves, and control of the trade routes and precious waters that ran through the land of Nubia.

But the Nubian Queen did not surrender.

Neither did her warriors.

Eventually a peace treaty was reached in which the terms were more favourable to the Nubians than to the Romans (unusual in the times) and so it was that the ever expanding Roman Empire never reached further south than Aswan.

I am in Aswan now, a city on the Nile river in southern Egypt, and I have been learning lots about Nubia.

These days an international border runs through Nubia dividing it into the current countries of Egypt to the north and Sudan to the south. Ancient Nubia also included parts of what is now Ethiopia.

In those days southern Nubia was well watered, green and fertile. Heavy rains in the mountains ran off into numerous little streams which wound through the landscape creating pastures until they eventually joined together to form the mighty Nile river which plows on through the desert in its relentless quest for the sea.

On the flight from Cairo to Aswan you see the landscape from above. Wind blown Sahara sands stretch between one endless horizon and another, broken only by what appears from the aeroplane to be a little stripe. That stripe is the Nile river. It has a narrow green fringe on either side. Beyond that, nothing but desert.

Now we know why Egyptian culture centred around the Nile river. There was nowhere else to live. And we also know why Nubia was so powerful, because those fertile lands that surrounded the southern Nile river were the only practicable gateway between the North African settlements along the Mediterranean and the luscious lands of subSaharan Africa. All trade must pass through those lands along the river. Nubian lands extended to the sea enabling maritime trade with spice countries like India and China. So whomever held Nubia was very powerful.

One of the oldest maps is a map of a Nubian gold mine. The name itself is said to be derived from the Egyptian word for ‘gold’ . The land was saturated with gold and precious metals like iron and the Nubians were skilled metal workers. They were also skilled trainers of war elephants. They were also famed as mercenaries. They traded in slaves, exotic animals and produce from Africa, and precious commodities from the Arabian lands like frankincense.

Interestingly they also built pyramids. An article in the current National Geographic History magazine says there are more pyramids ‘ over the border’ in Sudan than in the whole of Egypt.  The article features pyramids in a Nubian ( now Sudanese) city called Meroe. I have read elsewhere there are obelisks ‘hidden’ by remote jungles of Ethiopia which are far bigger than any found in Egypt. So the question is who first started building these mysterious structures and why? Recently discovered in a remote area of old Nubian lands are remnants of stone circles much older and as accurately aligned as Stonehenge. So ancient history might be rewritten soon as we make more and more exciting discoveries. I am sure there are lots of intelligent people working on it.

Meanwhile I can’t help but feel sad.

It’s about the water.

So it is in these lands, and in all lands, that there is a fragile balance, and as the civilisation expands and grows more hungry it guzzles water, and that is where the scales tip and now those beautiful lands have become desert. From over use. The city of Meroe, once famous and said to have been so surrounded by pastures and running waters that it appeared like an island, gradually turned into a desert and was abandoned. Now there is no one there and the pyramids are surrounded by dust.

Get the National Geographic, it is interesting.

There is also great info online

Here in Aswan is the Nubian museum which is really well done. There is also a newly opened Nile museum which I will come to in a second, though I suppose they are connected. In an attempt to address the need for water a monumental decision was made to dam the Nile River. Because these plans were going to ‘drown’  a whole section of Nubian land and its ancient artefacts a UNESCO call for help was heeded by countries from all around the world who sent archeological teams to collaborate in the massive job of salvaging and moving as many precious relics of Nubian culture as possible before they disappeared forever below the waters of the dam. Much if these are now housed in the Nubian museum in Aswan. Even more incredible was the work involved to move two huge sites, Abu Simbel, and the Temple of Isis, brick by brick to higher ground. I go to these sites in the next few days but meanwhile I am aware of the famous and mammoth job done to label each brick and take such care to ensure that the whole site was rebuilt exactly as it was at its new location on higher ground. Even more amazing was that Abu Simbel in particular had been hewn into the rock and so instead of moving bricks they had to go one step further and ‘carve it back out ‘ of the rock to move it. Some of the statues in particular were so big they had to be carved into moveable size pieces to enable them to be relocated and then reassembled.

Aside from archeological teams there were simultaneously teams of builders and engineers creating the dam (Lake Nasser) which is a modern engineering feat of as much scale as any ancient site. The Nile Muesum shows you a lot about this.
Previously Egypt relied on the annual Nile flood to survive. They show you the system they used to measure the height of the flood. Ideally it would be 7 metres. A metre too low and it would not fertilise and water enough land and people would starve. A metre too high and it was a wash out and destroyed things and people died. The height of the flood also determined the amount of taxation for the year so it was very solemnly measured at specially designated sites along the river.

But we can’t win.

I have read that an unexpected effect of damming the Nile and reducing the nation’s vulnerability to the flood has been a gradual salination and change in Ph of soils along the river such that they are longer as fertile and productive as they once were. It has affected production levels of cotton, once Egypt’s signature export, and recently the Egyptian government has begun to import wheat which was traditionally grown along the Nile. A brilliant adaptation to the design of the dam allowed it to also operate as an electrical generator allowing all Egyptian homes to have electricity including air conditioning and televisions. The increased number of people staying indoors led to an unexpected population boom. It was really more of a mushroom cloud than a boom. So now the government has the problem of more people to feed but reduced productivity from the agricultural lands along the Nile.

Hopefully someone smart is working in this problem also.

It is after all just a little stripe through the desert which a whole civilisation clings to for survival.

 

Enough history, next post will have photos and some chit chat -should be up soon – if the Egyptian WiFi gods so permit …

Meanwhile here is one of me standing outside the Nile  Museum …. yes there is a hippo watching me …. no it’s not real … actually the whole entrance and facade is designed to have water trickling down and around it but the water features are all turned off at present to conserve water .

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Swimming with dolphins in Bimini -and other in between travels

Here are some photos and short captions from travels in between.  Soon I head off to a new desitination and I hope that when I get there I will be able to write again.

Meanwhile in September 2015 a friend and I went to Chartres cathedral in France.  It was the dark Madonna lured me there.   Here she is in her crypt ‘ sous terre ‘. I am not a big fan of underground-ey-things but I felt calm in there. I loved the decorations on the walls and the lighting and the Madonna statue I found to be very silent and dignified.  I did not have an overwhelming experience like in Loretto – here it was more serene.  Perhaps something to do with French cognac …

the  cathedral is built over a site more ancient, a sacred spring, which is still there, now made into a well within the crypt

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Then off to celebrate my dad’s birthday in Scotland with friends and one of his favourite things, Scotch whiskey

Just before I left I was given some ‘ practise pipes ‘ he had made while working with some South American musicians who were teaching him how to make them.  I like the practise ones because they are made with bits of things from around the house.  They are not pipes by Scottish definition – more Andean. I can’t play them but I took them anyway.  Here they are at the the fairy pools on the Isle of Skye and Staffa island in the Hebrides

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In may 2016 I went swimmingly with wild dolphins off the little island of Bimini in the Bahamas.  The water there is like crystal blue glass it is so clean and the area is protected from large waves and currents by the positioning of the islands so the waters are very calm and flat and ideal for swimming.

The company was called Wildquest and you will find them on Google as well a short on YouTube as they produce gorgeous footage of swimmingly with the dolphins so you can watch and feel like you are there.  This particular trip was in conjunction with Robbyne and White Wolf Journeys.

I was not confident swimming in the open ocean, regardless that it was flat and safe, and the staff were so caring and helpful and genuine and they swam with me without making me feel like an idiot until the very last day by which I had plucked up the courage and went in by myself.  But because of them I got to swim all the other days as well instead of staying in the boat.

We went out on the boat five days in a row and swam with dolphins every day. We also snorkelled along the Bimini Road which is an underwater archeological site currently causing arguments because it was apparently built before humans were ‘ smart enough ‘ to build roads.

We stayed in the Wildquest accomodation on the island which was simple but cheery and clean and the food really fresh and delicious. We were looked after so well. The only things we had to do was decide what we wanted for lunch each day and pack our own lunch box and help with the dishes twice.  And not forget sunscreen.  What a holiday. They say the sound the dolphins emit through the water is very healing and I certainly feel a new lease of life after going there.

here are some pictures including some cool shots taken of framed photographs reflecting the room in the background

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the under water photos were not taken by me

Soon I head off on more travels

 

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The story of where I was and why I was nearly uncontactable when my dad died

 

I have been asked many times about the strange story of being on a remote island in New Zealand when my dad died.  I am still trying to fathom this story myself, so it helps to write it down.  Plus it makes it easier to tell the story to others.

 

Last year a plan was made between myself, and Robbyne, that we would travel together ‘one day’ to a place called Great Barrier Island; which lies in the Ocean off Auckland, NZ.  We were both interested to see the island, because it seemed to beckon to us from across the waves, and neither of us had been there before.

 

It wasn’t an urgent plan, and we had no particular date  in mind.

 

Subsequently it transpired that this particular date in February suited well and there was a really cheap airfare and package deal for the island-stay, and it all came together seamlessly and affordably.

 

Robbyne had her daughter visiting so it worked out beautifully for her to join us.

 

 

I have travelled a lot in past years, but have always remained contactable and available for work.  This has taken a physical toll on me because I have been busy during the days with travel and activities, and then up late at night, sitting in my hotel room with a laptop dealing with emails from Australia.  No real time for recovery from jetlag and constant cramming of schedules to ensure that work requirements and deadlines were still met.  It is in this manner that I have been able to maintain my responsibilities but still fulfil my need to travel.

 

It is technology that has made this possible.

 

Many people have expressed concern, warning me about burning the candle at both ends, and the toll it takes on the body.  When you work for yourself you rarely get a rest.
Robbyne knows this. The nature of her work is the same.
Technology is draining, and whilst it is useful and essential, our human bodies still need a rest from it at times.

 

So an integral part of this plan was that both Robbyne and I would escape technology by going to Great Barrier Island, without phone reception, or wifi, for three days.
There we planned to rest, walk on the beach, swim in the pure ocean water, and be still.

 

The weather changed in the days prior to my departure from Brisbane and I ended up leaving my home at 2.30am on Saturday morning to drive ahead of a cyclonic system that was due to hit at about 3.00am.  The fear was that if I was not ahead of the storm I would not be able to get through to the airport.  I arrived at the airport at 3.33am and sat around waiting for my flight which departed just before 9.00am, secure in the knowledge that I was there, I was safe, and my car was under cover.  At about 10.30pm the prior evening I was still running around preparing my home for the onslaught of the weather, so I had precious little sleep.  The last few days had been very chaotic with me trying to fulfil all  commitments in order to be able to get away while around me people were panicking and preparing for the storm.  I was receiving loving, but conflicting, advice from all directions about my intended departure in a plane, and I was trying not to panic myself.   I kept coming back to my own place of stillness and every time I did, the consistent message was that I must go.  The cyclonic system was a great cleansing for our area, but it was not to prevent me from going to Great Barrier Island.

 

I flew to NZ and stayed two nights with Robbyne at her home on Waiheke Island.  I slept there on Sunday night, the 22nd.

 

On Monday morning, the 23rd, we left early and went to the ‘aerodrome’ on Waiheke Island.  It is a little grass airstrip on top of a hill, surrounded by fields and forests and vineyards, and very close to the coastline from where the sea stretches to the horizon. It was a beautiful clear, blue and sunny morning, and we were all in good spirits.

 

Our pilot arrived to collect us in an adorable little 4 seater plane.  There was only room for us and the pilot.  No other seats.

 

The little plane taxied smoothly along the grass airstrip and all of a sudden I realised that we had left the ground and were soaring gently into the sky.  It was a seamless takeoff.  Effortless.  Light and soft.  I felt weightless.  Below the landscape was beautiful.  Above the sky was immense.  Within was peace and happiness and a sense of gentle sunshine flowing out of the heart through the body.

 

I had never experienced such a takeoff before.  I understand this is how it is, in tiny planes, rather than large jets.

 

I remember suddenly asking Robbyne if this was how it felt when the soul left the body.  This feeling of beauty and weightlessness.  She said yes.

 

Half an hour later we landed, seamlessly again, on the even tinier little grass airstrip on Great Barrier Island. We stepped out of the plane and noticed a double rainbow in the sky. It was beautiful.  The sky was smiling at us.

 

We made our way to our little beachhouse and settled in.

 

The place was called “The Boathouse” and was perched on the hillside, tucked beneath Pohutakawa trees, with its own little track running straight down the hill through the shrubs to the beach below where the ocean was gentle, shallow, and crystal clear.

 

The Pohutakawa tree is considered by some to be symbolic of the “tree of life”.

 

It is a tree of great beauty and majesty and it likes to live along the NZ coastlines.

 

I remember noticing that we were sheltered under its branches and I remember feeling pleased by that.

 

We had bought supplies and planned to stay in that night with a cheese and crackers and fine NZ wine.

 

Then Robbyne became restless, and even though we weren’t very hungry she said why don’t we just go out to the little local restaurant and have a look and see.

 

As the three of us drove off in the car, her phone beeped, and it was a text message.  We must have hit a random wifi spot.  It was her husband (who had stayed back on Waiheke Island) telling her that my family urgently needed to speak to me.

 

Meanwhile in Australia my family had been frantically trying to call me and had managed to contact Robbyne’s husband who then spent all that intervening period of time trying and trying to call Robbyne and to text her, because I had not taken my phone with me.  Out of  many attempts, only one text miraculously got through.  We were truly off the grid.

 

We pulled over by the beach and thought we would ‘try’ and see if we could call internationally on Robbyne’s mobile which miraculously worked.

 

And so I heard the news sitting in a little rental car on a beachside road on Great Barrier Island, with two friends.  And on Great Barrier Island the three of us cried and cried and cried together, even Robbyne’s daughter who had not met my dad.  It was tragic, and for those moments time stood still.

 

Then Robbyne noticed that the sun was setting, and we all got out and sat at a little beachside park bench and watched the sun set, in a beautiful sky over a beautiful calm sea.

 

Later that evening I sat rather numbly while Robbyne and her husband between them made all the arrangements for my soonest possible departure, and her daughter tidied up the little beachhouse, and made it shipshape and ready for us to leave.

 

The pilot returned the next morning in our little plane and flew us back to Waiheke Island, where Robbyne’s husband was waiting with a sad face and a tray of coffees.  They drove me straight to the ferry and waited with me until it departed for Auckland harbour, from where I caught the bus to the airport.  There was only one remaining seat on the next flight to Brisbane, from where I drove straight from the airport to my dad’s house.  I think the total travel time from start to finish was perhaps 15 or 16 hours.  On the flight a small child  screamed hysterically and I wished that adults could do that too.

 

And so that is how I was miles away and more or less uncontactable on the very day that I was destined to receive a piece of news that was actually important.

 

The irony of this has not escaped me, and I will take some time to understand.

 

But all I can say for now is that I see it as a gift, that I was in an exquisitely beautiful place, with very dear friends.

 

There are some other beautiful things I want to mention.

 

As Robbyne and her husband worked to defy communication problems and get me home a sudden shower of rain poured down onto the roof and a wind from nowhere blew open the door, which was strange because the door was latched shut.  I was sitting right next to the door, and despite the wind, the door then stayed ajar and motionless, beckoning me out onto the verandah.  I knew it was my dad, so I stepped outside into the wind and the rain and the night, and I stood under the Pohutakawa tree, and said goodbye.

 

Amusingly her husband said the next day that he could have sworn that he heard someone stomping around in their kitchen that night on Waiheke Island.   He mentioned this in a different context and he has never met my dad.  But I laughed because I thought if his spirit was following my itinerary then he would have passed through their wonderfully designed kitchen and stopped to admire it.

 

February 2015

 

postscript – being unable to put thoughts together enough to write a euilogy for my dad, and meanwhile being asked (what seemed like every 5 minutes) to tell the story of where I was – because word had spread about how I couldn’t be found – I decided to read this at the funeral.   Well first of all, I decided to start typing and see if something came together, which it did as above, and when I finished I could have sworn I felt my dad standing behind my chair, reading over my shoulder, and nodding his approval to say  ‘very good’.

 

 

Interesting People

 (north island, New Zealand)
We have met some thoroughly interesting people over the last week of our journey and I thought I would write home about them so that you can ‘meet them’ too.
My camera keeps vanishing into the belly of our bus each day, along with the luggage, so I find myself without it all the time, and have no photos of these people and places.   But they will be all found on google, so you can look them up if you are interested.
The Sculptor
We stopped at the factory studio of a famous wood sculptor called Kerry Strongman.  This is where I bought the Kauri spiral necklace.  I don’t know if he made it personally, or whether one of his assistants did.  For the price, I would be thinking it more likely an assistant.  His pieces go for astronomical prices, and get shipped all over the world.  They are also of astronomical dimensions.  He takes large chunks of tree trunk, and brings them to life into the most extraordinary pieces of sculpted wood art.  They shimmer with life and each one has its own symbolism.  He had a statue in his studio of a beautiful kneeling pregnant ladywould be hard to squeeze inside a house it was so huge, but despite the size, it was full of grace and calm and simplicity and it really felt alive.  I would have loved to have it outside in a beautiful garden area and plant lilies all around it.  His pieces tend to go to museums and art galleries and to people who own huge properties, where sculptures of that size just blend into the surroundings.
He was telling us about his life, and how he travelled the world to discover his ‘self’ and his own belief systems, which have freed up the artist within him, so that he can now look at a piece of tree trunk, and see what spirit or song it carries, and then sculpt around it to bring the picture to life.  He said a watershed moment in his life was traveling to Italy, and going to some of the marble quarry sites, and reading some old texts written by (or about?) Michaelangelo.  He was saying that Michaelangelo had the ability to inspire artisans to look for the spirit within the stone and to carve around it to bring it to life in a visual 3D form.  He says that is now what he does with trees.
Standing there in his factory show room surrounded by huge sculptures and listening to him casually move around them explaining their beauty was certainly a bit reminiscent of standing in the gallery where David is housed, in Florence; except in this case the artist is still alive, and still taking commissions, and still creating.
The Forest Man
The business is called ‘Footprints in the Forest” and runs from Hokianga Harbour.  This man takes you into the Kauri forest.  He tells you so many interesting facts about the Kauri tree, and about the ecosystem of the Kauri forest, and he keeps it simple.  He shows you some medicine plants, some practical plants, and some pest plants.  We all had to scrub and wash the soles of our shoes before going into the forest.
The word Kauri is pronounced more like ‘Cody,’ (than ‘Cowrie’), and the syllables are said quickly.  He told us that ‘r’ is pronounced more like a ‘d’ in Maori language.
He also told us many legends connected with the Kauri tree, and he showed great love and respect for the trees, and for the forest.
I really loved the fact that we had to introduce ourselves to the forest before going in there, pretty much like we did at the Spider Rock canyon, by stating our name and our purpose for entering the forest.  The purpose being, in our particular case, to walk along the forest paths, and learn more about the forest, and to admire its beauty.
Before we approached the really big trees he stopped and addressed the tree from a distance in Maori language, announcing our presence and our purpose, and then he sang to the tree with a very strong voice as we walked towards it.  That was pretty incredible.  I loved it.
He also had lots of humour and played little jokes on us, and made us laugh, and told us some funny things about the forest.
I really recommend his business if you are in these parts.  He has such love for the trees, and such knowledge of them.  Strolling through the forest with him is so educational, he points stuff out casually and you don’t want to miss anything in case he does not repeat it.
The interesting fact about the Kauri is that it throws off its unnecessary branches as it grows.  This is how it gets so tall and straight.  It will always be the biggest tree in the forest, and no matter what the height of the forest canopy, the Kauri will grow until it reaches tall and proud above it.  So the really really tall massive Kauri’s become so tall because they are growing up through a higher forest canopy.
We went to meet the second largest Kauri tree, called “the Father of the Forest”, and then we went to meet Tane Mehuta, the largest Kauri tree, called “the Lord of the Forest”.  He is just too big to photograph.  People were liying side by side on the viewing platform, on their backs with their iphones, trying to get the right angle to fit the whole tree in the picture.  Fact is that unless you see the tree next to the other trees, and in the context of the forest, you really cannot grasp how utterly massive it is.
I hope I get these facts right.  The “Father of the Forest” is about 3000 years old, and the “Lord of the Forest” a bit younger, at 2000 years old.
The Kauri tree of New Zealand is similar in huge-ness to the Redwood trees of California.
The Water Shaman
This man was fascinating.
His early area of study was in geology.  Then he became a lawyer and began to argue against mining the hills in his home area, which are full of silver and gold, back in the day before that became a cool thing to do.  He has always felt that he had to be an ambassador for water.  His arguments against the mining were all relevant to its effect on water, on the streams and rivers and ultimately the ocean.  He was telling us anecdotes from his days turning up in court, against huge multinational companies, trying to convince a Judge why the cleanliness of water should be an important factor in the court’s decision making.
I can imagine he made quite a nuisance of himself, and by his own admission he did.  He described the fear he used to feel, and painted a picture of himself looking ridiculous with his little charts and diagrams trying to explain about water to the court.  He is such a living example of the maxim “feel the fear, and do it anyway” – because he just kept fronting up, despite threats and ridicule, because he knew it was his life’s purpose to be the ambassador of water.
Then he suddenly formed the view that he had no right to be representing water, because he did not yet fully understand water properly.  He decided that to be a true ambassador of water he had to learn about it as much as he could, just as a lawyer representing a human client must understand that client as much as they can.
So off he went, travelling the world, seeking out elders and wisdom keepers from all over, to ask them what they knew of water.
And along the way he learned many things, some of which he shared with us on our visit to his property.
His name is Michael O’Donnell, he is fluent in Maori as well as English – and also Old Irish.  He looks as Irish as they come, and can sing like an Irishman, and play all the instruments (some of which he has made himself).
These days he is a potter, and makes water vessels and other clay items.
He has also had an interesting thing happen.  The Maori elders who know him have started sending their troubled youth his way.  He talks to them about water, about air, about tradition, about the heart.   He says these young boys are so angry and lost and displaced.  He said what he talks to them about is so simple, but it is all that is needed to right the balance, and send them on their way.
I would like to go back and spend time with him.  Robbyne said she spent a whole day with him, studying clay, and listening to all his stories and discoveries from around the world about water.  I could sit there for a number of days, just drinking in all of the information and knowledge that he has to share, and listening to him sing the old Irish songs, and the Maori songs, and looking at all the amazing clay and pottery creations in his little workshop.  Plus he knows alot about the medicine plants.
The Storyteller
Just to be repetitive, this man was fascinating.
I am not sure his background, but he has alot of certificates up in his house, showing academic awards and a PhD, but I do not know in what area of study.  He is now involved in TV shows and documentaries and research.  He looks so COOL, like a wizard who has just stepped out of a storybook, except he is just wearing cargo pants and a collared shirt.  He and his wife live on a beautiful hillside property surrounded by gardens and streams, and with two Kerry Strongman sculptures.
He is a storyteller.
He and his wife welcomed us into their home, provided an evening meal for us, and we sat around on his own patio while he kept us enthralled with story after story.   A true storyteller can make you feel like you are right there, in the story, and that is what he did.
He has spent many years researching stories about the Waitaha, the tribe of people who lived in these lands before the Maori arrived.  They were rumoured to be a peaceful people, of diverse multinational origin, who had gathered together and travelled to NZ about 2000 years ago to escape war and blood shed in their various home countries and with the ideal of creating a community of tolerance and peace.  Which they apparently did.  But according to their own legends they were not the first ones here, there were various peoples and tribes before them.
So that is what he is researching. He has written books and recorded a documentary about this more ancient past of NZ.  In his researches he kept coming across a curious fact, lots of stories about ‘fairy people’ who were here before anyone else.  At that time he said he was writing a regular article for a newspaper (or magazine) and so in his column he started to mention these ‘fairy stories’ he was coming across, and then he said he started getting hundreds and hundreds of letters, all mainly from farmers and hunters, all containing stories about ‘little people’ or ‘fairy people’ that they had come across in remoter parts of NZ.   By his own admission, he is fascinated with the unexplained, but needs to prove it to himself first.
His current fascination is with this little device that he has imported from Europe.  He said it is the result of about 40 years of research by Italian scientists.  He did explain how it worked, but that bit went straight over my head.
Basically, he had it hooked up to a peace lily, and through the machine, the lily was singing to us.
I would never have believed it, except I was there, I saw it, and heard it.  And the song varied, and it was so happy and cheerful sounding.
He said that ever since he got his machine, he has become dedicated to researching it.  He has taken it and hooked it up to nearly every plant and tree in his massive garden, and recorded all the different songs.  He is now going further afield with his little machine, extracting songs from new plants and trees, and showing it to anyone who is interested in looking at it.
I just love how we had a peace lilly sing to us.
His name is Gary Cook, but he kept making me think of 21st century Leonardo da Vinci.  I kept remembering how people must have thought da Vinci was crazy when he drew the first sketch of a flying machine.  Now they are a fact of life.
We are now in Lake Taupo area.
We spent the late afternoon yesterday in the mineral springs here.
Guess who went down the waterslide and nearly got stuck inside it (because turns out it is designed for children).  Anyway all is well that ends well when it comes to adults being kids.  And at least noone had to pull the waterslide apart to get me out.  How embarrassing would that have been.

 

30 October 2014 – Taupo, North Island, New Zealand

 

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Boris the Brave

 

(south island New Zealand)
Here are some photos of Glenorchy, which is a little town in the mountain valley near Queenstown, near the lake (which has a dead giant in it, according to legend).
Known for stunning scenery, and adventure – and also being the site for alot of movies – including Lord of The Rings, The Hobbit, Wolverine, Narnia (the prince caspian one) and some others.
This is how it looks in winter – imagine in spring, with flowers and leaves and butterflies everywhere!
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check out the stars on the water!
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We went to a horse riding place – which is where I met Boris, to whom I was allocated.
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Boris is quietly famous because he was one of the horses for the “Riders of Rohan” –  in the Lord of the Rings (number 2).
Before he could get into LOTR, Boris had to pass a number of tests, including being able to gallop at top speed over uneven terrain and to gallop on command without stalling down a very steep slope (which is what the horses needed to do for the scene where the Riders of Rohan appear at the 11th hour with Gandalf to break up the siege at Helm’s Deep).
But the most interesting thing is that before Boris was finally cleared to be in LOTR he had to pass one last test – which was called the “Bravery Test”.   He had to demonstrate that he could keep his cool in the midst of simulated battle noise, people swinging swords, and being leapt at suddenly by huge NZ rugby players dressed up as Uruk Hai, (the super-size-warrior orcs).
So Boris was one of the intrepid galloping horses who passed the Bravery Test and got to be in LOTR.
Here is a photo of Boris’ famous bottom
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This property has an interesting history.  It is just shy of 400 acres and is called “Paradise”.
It was bought last century by a an incredibly wealthy person who was unusual in his time for spending alot of money on a large picturesque property – and to hold it for conservation.  He apparently chose to live on the property himself with no grid facilities, ie no electricity, plumbing etc and lived happily there for many years.
The story goes that after he had lived there for many years he suddenly got diagnosed with a terminal condition and had only a few months up his sleeve.  He was concerned about this beautiful property being sold after his death to someone who would build a resort city, due to its beautiful location.  So he went on national TV and announced to the general public that before he died he was going to sell his property, for the price of $1.00, but it had to be to the right applicant (ie someone who would continue to hold it for conservation).  He got thousands and thousands of applications, which he apparently reviewed himself, individually.  He shortlisted thirty odd applicants and personally interviewed them all – only to discover that he wasn’t happy with any of them.
So he went to see his lawyer who set up an ongoing trust for him and that is where the property now is.  There are some horses and grazing animals there to keep the grass under control but otherwise it is a wildlife reserve.  The horse riding company has permission to take their horses through there but the trade off is that each ticket sold includes a donation to the ongoing conservation.  Apparently Peter Jackson (director of LOTR) made a huge donation to the property and also paid for the property to have a proper road put in.  Peter Jackson also fulfilled an additional commitment which was that the filming sites for LOTR were photographed and catalogued before filming commenced, and after filming was over, people were employed to go through and return every fallen log and every rock and every other landscape feature to its original position so that the ecosytem was returned as closely as possible to how it was and any damage done by the filming was repaired.
You have to go on the horse ride because they tell you all sorts of gossip about the filming of LOTR and stuff that you wouldn’t otherwise know, like Viggo Mortensen doing every single one of his own stunts (including riding and fighting) and Orlando Bloom turning up months in advance for intensive horse riding lessons so that he could do the same.    One of my most favourite scenes in LOTR where Arwen is on horseback and she has Frodo, who has been stabbed and she is riding to get him to safety while the black wizards are following her and she keeps her cool and outrides them etc.  That whole scene was filmed by a female stunt rider.  Apparently the actors and stunt riders, after filming was over, were given opportunity to buy the horses they had used and Arwen’s stunt rider desperately loved her horse but could not afford to buy it.  So it went to auction where it sold and the stunt rider was very upset, only to discover shortly afterwards that Viggo Mortensen had been the mystery bidder at the auction, and had bought the horse for her because he knew how much she loved the horse and that she could not afford to buy it.
And more interesting gossip.  The horse riding company was allowed to continue to take tours through there during the filming of The Hobbit, but each person on the tour had to sign a confidentiality agreement and pretend not to look as they went past the film site – and there were security guards there who checked everyone’s cameras as they rode past and deleted any photos that involved the filming site.
I wonder what Boris thought of that.
lots of love from me, and Boris the Brave.
xxxx

6 July, 2014, Glenorchy, South Island, New Zealand