It was a relief to finish the viva and to find out that we all passed with minor corrections. I said my goodbyes and headed to Heathrow. I had a few hours wait but sat in the bar which is a great way to pass the time. Both flights went really well and were on time. There was just enough time to change planes in China without rushing so perfect. The food on both planes was fine and I watched films most of the way.
Once I arrived in Tokyo I collected my bags and followed the signs for the trains then asked at an information stand. Bought my train tickets and away I went. Of course, it was rush hour and unbelievably busy. I had to stand on all trains the entire journey which was very uncomfortable after long flights and no sleep with heavy bags and no idea if I was going the right way. I eventually got to the station that I was meeting Steve so took the station free wifi and WhatsApped him. We got a taxi back, dropped bags and went for a beer.
The reason that I flew after the viva rather than the Friday was so I could spend 2 weekends touring with Steve and then work on my corrections while he went to work in the week. It worked well and I did all my corrections other than the Autocad ones because my new computer still doesn’t work so I brought my old one which doesn’t have it.
The first weekend, we were staying in Atawara but moved to Atsugi on the Sunday. Our new hotel was even better than the first and they even had, wash and blow dry toilets. I have to get one of those at home. Steve has a hire car but he had little choice in what he got which was called a Toyota tank. They seem to choose names that wouldn’t work in England. There are others called, cube and box. Also, some cars have a yellow number plate. These are cars that have less than 600 cc engines and do more than 120 miles to the gallon. Don’t get stuck behind one. The traffic is a real problem in Japan because there are so many people live here and they all have plenty of money so have cars. You spend most of your life sitting at a red light or moving between them. When joggers come past you its impossible to catch them up. That’s probably why there are so many motorbikes here. Especially Harley Davidson’s.
Both Saturdays I was here, we went to Tokyo and had Korean for lunch (Kimchi Jiggi). The first one we found a temple and walked along the river, while the second the Imperial Palace. There are massive spaces around the palace considering the density everywhere else. Sometimes walking along the street in a queue with one going the opposite way like conveyor belts. If you need to cross one of these, good luck. They have 7 eleven chains which are everywhere so handy. We buy most of our beer there and the potato croquet’s, when they have them as they are delicious. They even have little cars to help with deliveries for old people. That’s why Steve likes them so much.
The first Sunday, we packed and drove to our new place but couldn’t check in until 2pm so walked around the shops in town. The largest department store is called Mylord with about 7 floors and buildings on either side of the road with a walkway between them. We ate local food in a small restaurant and checked in. We chilled in the room with beers until the evening when we met up with Justin from America who designed the facility that Steve works on. It’s a full size rolling road wind tunnel for Toyota and is expected to take 18 months until completion. They have Toyota, Nissan, Mazda and Honda which are probably the four largest companies here. The second Sunday we had a drove to Mount Fugi and parked at the base camp. Ben, Steve’s oldest son and his friend Tristian climbed to the summit last year. It takes about 8 hours and gets quite cold at the top. We were lucky as its been cloudy and raining all day until we reached the camp when the clouds disappeared and the sun came out for our pictures. Base camp is 2400 meters and the summit about 3800 meters so the air will be getting a little thin at the top. On our way home from Fugi we headed for Hakone open-air museum which I fancied from the internet. Because of the terrible traffic, we arrived 2 minutes after the doors closed. In fact we arrived while people were buying tickets but by the time we had parked it was closed. Shame, we still had to pay the 500 yen parking ticket. They have all sorts of things around a trail such as the Picasso museum and many other artifacts. Maybe next time.
The 45 km journey home took about 3 hours but all around Hakone there are brown sign places and its full of tourists. Also it’s a bank holiday in Japan on Monday so everyone goes somewhere on the Sunday. The main event for me in Japan was how nice the people are. Especially in Gina bar. It was the first bar that Steve took me to in Atsugi and he knew Tomoki at the bar and the barmaid. Everyone was so friendly from the beginning so we ended up there every single night after, even when we went for the Tokyo trip. The first night we were there they had a band practicing so we all had such fun. They practiced again the following Friday so one of the barmaids said she would cook traditional food for the three of us then. It also happened to be the last night I would see Tomoki because he was away for the bank holiday. That’s why it was party night and it felt like my last night then. Although it’s a drinking bar (with food), its so friendly and people come with their families regularly. The singer in the band brought his wife and daughter Hannah on the Friday as it was her 10th Birthday. It seemed that everyone that came in wanted to come to talk to the crazy English people so we got to know almost everyone. Even Ken, a local, bought Steve and I, expensive bottles of Saki for presents on my last night. The other barmaid also cooked us traditional food on Sunday which really was my last night. Everyone wanted to buy us a drink but we did manage to buy a complete round for everyone. Mind you, the Master wouldn’t let us pay at the end of the night, saying he had lost our bill. This little Gina’s bar is probably the best local bar I have ever been in and trust me I have tried a few. I have never met such a crowd of lovely, fabulous people as these in my life. I will be back!
Thanks Steve, you have been a great host and I have enjoyed every second. Its been great to catch up with old and create new memories. Even if you cant answer my stupid questions. I’m only joking!
Its hard to believe we have done a year since the last away day. Anyway, we had another great day again this year. All the exercises were different to the year before. We had a slight problem with the grouping. The Cranfield group was group 3 but Dileep was put in a different group where they had 7 members. We had 5 and all other groups had 6. Seemed like an easy problem to solve, but it wasn’t.
Our first exercise was a 4×4 off-road trip. Great registration. We each took a turn driving around the course with everyone else in the back. It was fine driving in the front but a little bouncy in the back without seat-belts.
The bow and arrow game was great fun but exhausting. You get 2 points if you hit someone on the opposite team and they are out. If they catch the arrow, they get 2 points and you are out. If you knock one of the targets out in the middle you get 5 points. You only start with one arrow each then you have to recover arrows from wherever you can which means going in the open. Obviously getting the targets gives you the most points but its more fun hitting each other. As I got hit the most – I probably had the most fun. I’m a bigger target than the others so the opposition cut their losses. But at least I got a short break. The arrows weren’t sharp but had a big rubber golf ball thing on the end. It still hurt when it hit you up the bum. Reminded me of some hospital treatment I once had.
The bucket game was good fun. We all had to wander around an enclosure and find buckets and take them one at a time to stack up in a pyramid. You were blindfold and one of your team (Katherine) guided you with her voice with the correct colour bucket to the correct place to make the pyramid. We seemed to win most of the tasks except the one where we had to make a shape on the ground with sticks. Sounds crap – it was, that’s why there are no pictures.
In the last function, we had to assemble a go-cart from the parts. Once assembled, we raced them between teams. They had to be pushed and there was no steering or brakes. They had a couple of ropes at the back so you could manually brake when you got to the end before turning around and racing back. I was turnarounder at the end so I didn’t have to run. I did run the first time but couldn’t keep up. Turnarounder was a very important job because you had to get the cart dead straight or you would run out of your line. This is what the team with Dileep as driver did and ran across our lane. Course they had 2 more pushers than us and we ended up crashing into them. Poor Dileep ended up with a broken finger, but he didn’t cry.
Hes not too hot at selfies. Not with that hand anyway.
Once our day was over, we came to the main event. The evening at the pub. They drove us from Oxford to Cambridge where we had a BBQ at a very nice pub with pretty settings. Shame it rained most of the evening but we were undercover with free drinks so we didn’t mind. Another excellent day thanks to the EPSRC. I hope I can get next year because I wont be seeing the Cambridge team or the Cranfield team so much as I have just accepted a PhD at Nottingham University. More about this later but I’m all set to start another new life back in the area where I was brought up. It should leave me with plenty of opportunities to catch up with old friends and look after my Mum. I’m in Japan on holiday at the moment and start at Nottingham upon my return so I imagine the next blog should be about Japan. See you later, just off for Saki and Sushi.
The weather forecast was electric storms for the duration but each day it was sunny spells and hot and the forecast had changed to be electric storms starting the following day. It didn’t start until our last day on Friday. We were glad of the aircon in the venue for the euspen conference in the end. Our first challenge was that the conference was being held in a building near the ports which is a 15 minute walk from the main bus station and Venice. The accommodation (Jolly Campers) we were allocated was not actually in Venice and was therefore not covered by the 3 day pass we were bought for transport. Jolly Campers did provide a shuttle bus that dropped us near the port but it only started at 9 am and last but 9 pm which was not suitable for us mostly as the lectures started at 8.30 am and finished around 5 pm but we also had dinners and other functions so could rarely catch the last bus. Also, you had to buy tickets in advance.
We started our week with a welcome drinks session that was in Venice but unfortunately, we arrived too late for the workshops we had chosen in the afternoon. The welcome session was great and helped everyone adjust and start to network a little. To find the event, Saurav our course director, used google maps while taking pictures of the journey with his selfie stick. Once the event had closed we all scooted off to find a suitable venue for us all to eat in a restaurant. Many people that know me will know that I’m famous for saying, “There are no restaurants in Venice”. I say this from previous visits because most are really tiny cafés with many seats outside. The only real restaurants are the ones in hotels. I can categorically state that I was wrong, there are very many really good restaurants in Venice and we found one with an internal courtyard to accommodate all 15 of us. Four Mres from Cambridge, eight from Cranfield, our two lecturers, Saurav, Claudiu and lastly Adam, who did his Mres at Cambridge and transferred to Cranfield for his PhD. Adam is a great guy known by most at Cranfield for his hard work, knowledge and helpfulness. He is finishing his PhD this year but may still be around next year on another project. You can find the full team of Mres students here, https://www.cdt-up.eng.cam.ac.uk/directory/mres-students. We were spread over two round tables that paid their bills independently. We enjoyed our meal but were a little surprised when the bill came. Although we hadn’t requested, bread sticks and bread rolls came out and we hardly ate any of it. This turns out to be standard all over Venice, they always add a cover charge per person including, bread, place settings and napkins etc. They sometimes also include a service charge. Unfortunately, many of our table had left, paying for what they had first which of course didn’t include their share of this charge. As we had to pay for the bread rolls, Katherine being a vegan, struggles sometimes to find suitable food, took these rolls in her handbag on top of the receipt. It was hilarious when the waiter asked for the receipt to check it, to watch Katherine taking the bread rolls out of her bag in front of the waiter to get the receipt. This alone, made it worth the charge!
Being our first return journey at night with no transport tickets, we did well negotiating a bus journey and 45 minute walk to eventually find “Jollies”. We even managed to get the last drink in the bar to replace fluids. The following morning, I was down for breakfast around 7.30 which was a sparse buffet breakfast but adequate and free. As long as we have hot and cold drinks and a small snack we are happy. It was a very long day Tuesday at the conference but also really enjoyable and informative. There were also people we had already met on the CDT program from other events. euspen gave everyone a small rucksack on registration that had various goodies inside, including a program that listed all the presentations with times and a few lines about each paper presented at the conference. Prof Richard Leach, from Nottingham University, whom I had been for an interview with for my PhD presented five papers at this event alone. Now I understand how he has managed to be involved with over 250 papers prior to this event. He is a legend and certainly “the man of the moment”. Euspen also included a usb stick that included all these papers. What a great start.
Breaks, followed presentations, that followed breaks until it looked like we would have time to walk to the bus station to convert our travel card barcode onto a real card and maybe even take a couple of pictures of Venice. However, there were some awards that we felt it would be rude if we didn’t attend followed by short talks from all the exhibitors at the event. To get the most from talking to the exhibitors, it seemed we should listen to these also. Two of our group walked to convert the travel cards taking our barcodes with them so at least we could use them from now. We had already missed almost the entire first day of the transport but we had them anyway. Once these talks were finished euspen had laid on a student networking dinner that didn’t finish until 10 pm. This was very nice but we felt that we should at least have seen Venice. Once we realised there would be no time we arranged to take the following afternoon off because we had not been invited to the formal dinner that evening anyway. Following the hour long lunch was one of two, 2 hour poster sessions where we could read the posters and ask questions about the owners projects. There were two from Cranfield resenting posters, Rita (an Mres) and Adam just finishing his PhD. We explained to them what our intensions were but they had to be by the posters for both events and they agreed to meet us following this session. We could all then attend the important final poster session where the votes were counted and prizes awarded.
We had a wonderful time around Venice, starting by getting the boat to Murano where they have made glass since at least the 1400’s. In fact this is where Galileo bought his glass that he made the first telescope with in Venice. I had missed it on all of my previous visits but finally made it there. The glass is very expensive but beautiful and probably the best that money can buy. However, these days it’s likely that most of it is first imported from China. We visited the Murano glass Museum which was expensive but enjoyable. Not sure why the museums in Venice are so expensive; it’s a shame as I fear many people do not go in because of costs. We walked to the nearest ferry port and returned to Venice main island – next stop St Marks Square where we were to meet Rita and Adam following the poster thing.
On previous visits, the square has been so packed I have not enjoyed it there but this day it was reasonably clear with people feeding the pigeons. People think that pigeons are fat but they are not, they just have very large breast muscles that allows them to be the only bird that can manage a vertical take-off. Dileep turned out to be bird man and every time he put his arms out they seemed to land on him. Dileep only likes the girl pigeons landing on him. He is from one of my favourite places in the world, India and so is self-funding. He works incredibly hard without complaint, doing everything we do plus manages a 40 hour week working in a local petrol station. He also never misses an opportunity to pitch for funds towards his PhD. Remember the course fees for international students is two to three times as much as for home students. He cannot get funding from home without first returning to India for two years before he will qualify. Anyway, we met the other missing students and split up because the Cambridge guys had been invited to the formal dinner and had to head back. There were a few missing because Venice flu seemed to hit our group from day one and some were in the rough early stages in bed. The remaining Cranfield students agreed to walk to the Rialto bridge which is probably second on the list to St Marks Square. We were starving and settled for the Rialto Restaurant right next to the bridge. Man, now we were living, I had a huge 1 litre jug of beer and the food was very good and not as expensive as most places. Its so expensive in Venice as its almost all tourists and they don’t have to impress because new tourists will be along all the time. Once finished we started the long walk back to the bus station followed by a 15 minute walk back to Jollies. They had a pool party on that night that finished at 11.30 pm. Sounds good but we are living in caravan rooms that are semi detached and can hear every noise outside. Once the band had finished they seem to play music until 1.30 am most nights and my neighbour always rose at 6 am. This shakes the caravan around so much you can’t possibly sleep so it was late nights and early mornings every day. Still this meant that I was always one of the first down for breakfast.
Thursday was another long day but the main event was the poster competition and were pleased when that finally came around. We asked Rita many difficult questions which she was very able to answer and of course we all voted for her. Adam was magnanimous in encouraging everyone to vote for her even though he was entered himself. I asked Adam for his poster number so I could vote him second but he wouldn’t let me as any votes for second and third are effectively voting against your first place. The announcements; third place was awarded, then second and finally first place out of around 250 posters. Rita’s real name was announced (Junguo zhao) and her face was a picture – she was so shocked but the roar that went up was incredible, everyone was going mad. Yahoo, well done Rita! Her parents are going to be so proud and well-done Adam for his part in this victory and honour. This is the event that Saurav won when he did his Mres, not all that long ago and now he has over 40 papers published. The event finished around 5 pm so we all left for dinner following Tommy from Cambridge who had eaten at an impressive place a short walk away previously. Unfortunately, it was already full by the time we arrived there so we headed off, eventually finding a larger restaurant in a square with enough spaces to accommodate us all. They pushed lots of tables together so it all felt quite medieval.
On Friday we had a choice of three industrial tours but again the logistics didn’t really work as we were so far out. Fortunately, Jollies had an eight seater minibus that we booked. They only had one so we had to do two trips. As it started raining at 5 am our first group had to stand in the rain until the others arrived. Different minibuses arrived for tours one and three but a full sized bus turned up for our most popular number two. Number two was an excellent tour around a university. They split us into 3 groups and each was let around five departments. It all worked so smoothly and run by intelligent people. As usual Dillep took the opportunity of asking for PhD funding. The university had some great equipment and were working mainly on trouble shooting for industry, solving any problems that arose by trying to understand the problems. Understanding is the only true way forward – there is no point just being lucky to find a solution. If you truly understand something, you can design whatever application you like from it, if you were lucky you only have one solution.
The afternoon was free and again we wandered around Venice, but this time without the aid of google maps so we kept finding dead ends. We headed towards their Natural History Museum but they wanted 24 euros each. We found two other museums but again, as students they were too expensive. We eventually found ourselves at the Rialto bridge again and crossed back onto the normal side where we ate at the restaurant last time there. This time we used google maps to find the famous bra bar that my friend Evonne had told me about in a Facebook comment. It was literally two minutes from the bridge. We had a drink there but prices were quite high – even for Venice. Following this drink we set off to find the others who had eaten at the restaurant we couldn’t get in previously. They had already left but amazingly we bumped into most of them walking by a market. Strange how these coincidences happen, with all the people in Venice how we should meet this way. We all went for a seat in the shade in a local park following Tommie’s expert guidance once again. By now the rain had stopped and the sun was back in force.
We were not all on the same flight home for our return, the Cambridge gang were flying back from a different airport to Stanstead while we were at Marco Polo to Gatwick. Today they has a staff strike at the airport that ended at 5 pm and our flight was at 9.50 pm. However, we spent most of our time queueing because of the backlash. Again, when we arrived at Gatwick we must have taken a couple of hours to meet at baggage claim. We finally set off finding the minibus for our return but the M25 have overnight roadworks and is down to one lane at 40 mph. We got to the M1 to find it was closed between the M25 and Milton Keynes so had to drive around the houses to get back to Cranfield. By the time I got home it was just past 3 am and I seemed to be developing a sore throat. The dreaded Venice flu, so I took a lemsip before going to bed. Awoken by a phone call at 8.30 am, I still felt tired but two more lemsips seemed to keep the cold at bay. What a fantastic trip which was also educational and interesting and we all managed to get several contacts for our PhD projects which I will talk about in a future blog once I have accepted my best choice offer. Only two weeks away from our next conference in Edinburgh. Where am I going to find the time to finish my Mres thesis properly?
Gondar was a dead loss as far as the Internet goes, I hardly got online at all. We had a walk around the palace or castle which was really good because our guide was very good. We had some lunch at the famous Master Chef which was just down our street and got our guide again to go to the church. It is supposed to be the most decorated Ethiopian church and I believe it. In the church grounds was an amazing variety of birds. We saw huge ravens, vultures and lots of really colourful pretty birds. We had a drink at our hotel and caught a Bajaj to a hotel at the top of a hill called Goha with fountains and an alga pool. Back down to the other guide book recommended restaurant called the four sisters for dinner then home to bed. An early start in the morning as we were picked up at 7.30 am to go to the airport to fly back to Addis. We were both pretty knackered by now as we have had a demanding ten days. Once we landed, we walked around to the international airport next door to check ourselves and our bags in so we didn’t have to drag them around all day. Also it should make it easier when we go back to fly to London. The taxis wanted 300 birr just to go to town so Georgina rang her friend at ETT travel and they sent a car for us. The car took us around the red museum then for lunch at the most expensive Chinese I have eaten in. They wanted 625 birr for chicken soup and there are 37 birr to the pound. Following lunch we both started to feel wiped out and asked to be taken to a quiet place for a drink that wasn’t so expensive and he took us to Ghion hotel with nice grounds. Once there he saw we were knackered and offered us a complimentary apartment what’re we could have a nap and relax before our journey home. We couldn’t get online but it’s a place to relax and wind the hours down until they pick us up at 10:30 pm tonight.
Very thorough check in we had to put bags through twice and both inspected. Flight was less than an hour and our bags brought to door. Someone had Georgina’s name on a card and took us to our hotel, the Top Twelve hotel. Best rooms so far with proper shower and balcony. We went to a restaurant called Ben Adana which is very unusual and the food divine. I had spiced Ethiopian shepherds pie and salad, yum! We went to the office to pay for tours and guide Tady which was very expensive and around the churches, finishing at St George’s cross. Amazingly, we bumped into Mateus, the German and so arranged to meet for dinner at the Seven Olives Hotel. I couldn’t resist the peppered steak.
Last day at Lalibela and even more churches to see. There are eleven all together in town but we rented a minibus this morning to visit another one about 40 km away. Of course lost of walking up hills for probably an hour, then we had to walk on a rough floor with no shoes on again for ages. It doesn’t seem to affect the others like me because I have more weight on mine and they are covered in
blisters. Back to Lalibela to the museum which was quite interesting. We tried to have lunch at our hotel but they only had a three course special so we went next door to the Paradise hotel for cheeseburger and chips which were really nice although a little pricey. The afternoon was spent seeing the other churches around town that are
chiseled from the rocks. I’m churched out now, they all look pretty much the same to me. Another priest blessed us with his gold cross so we should be ailment free now. We had to go to our favourite restaurant to watch the sun go down with a drink and then the Ethiopian shepherds pie. What a place!
Saturday was a bit of a washout as they took us to the airport so early we spent most of the day there. Also we hadn’t paid for the hotel until we left so that left us both without much money. When we finally
set off the journey was only 30 minutes and a car was waiting for us. The hotel is a family run one and it’s ok but not as nice as some of the others we have stayed in. We dropped out stuff and walked a while to find five ATMs but none would give us money so we found a little dirty hotel for lunch and shared a pizza. When we walked back the ATMs were working. I didn’t feel very well so went to bed at around 5pm. I woke every hour for the toilet so suspect it’s something to do with diabetes. The church wailing started at 10:30pm and is still going at 7am when I finally got up. Although frequently waking, I slept for most of the time.
We left Mekele around 9 am and visited a church that was cut from solid rock on our
way to Aksum. Although the driver went quite fast we did not get there until after 1 pm and our hotel was almost full, only suites left so I rang Gerry and he came over. There was a new one opened 6 weeks ago called Serina hotel so that’s where we are. It’s literally next to Gerry’s shops and house. I used to work with Gerry, years ago at Mertech. There were four of us in the office, Chris was exactly ten years older than me and Gerry was exactly twenty years older than Jim. When Gerry retired he came to live here in Axum Ethiopia as he married an Ethiopian lady while working here years ago. They have seven kids who all live in Luton. Unfortunately, Gerry’s wife died of cancer a couple of years ago. He supports six Ethiopians with food, shelter and clothes. He is building quite a few houses so they all have somewhere when he dies. He also has five really nice shops next to his house. We went to his house for traditional coffee then had lunch then went out in a Bajaj to see a few sights. We saw the Ethiopian equivalent of the Rosetta Stone plus a highly painted church. Although they are mainly author ax Christians, there are similarities to Islam. Like the wailing they seems to be constantly coming from the churches. Georgina and I had dinner at the nice hotel we couldn’t stop in then had an early night. I woke as usual at 4am but found that I could use the Internet because nobody else was. Finally got some postcards sent off. Tomorrow we will be visiting the sights with Mr Gerry. Back to sleep for me now for my second sleep. See you in the real morning.
Mr Gerry did us proud, we had seen all the sights by 4 pm and that included a 2 hour lunch break and traditional coffee back at his house. Aksum is to the Christian church what Mecca is to Islam. The Muslims have been trying to build a Mosque here but they have been told that when we can build a church in Mecca, then they can build a Mosque here. I particularly liked the museum, the old fella that looked at our paperwork guided us around and he really knew his stuff. U fortunately, we couldn’t take photos inside. There were two tombs actually inside the museum that were being excavated slowly. One had already been done and lots of the artifacts were dug from this tomb. In the evening we started by getting a Bajaj to the Yeha hotel where we had several drinks. We even finished off the two bottles of red wine that I had carried up and down the volcano. We then got a Bajaj back down into town and stopped at the Antika Cultural Restaurant where we both had fish goulash. It was a bit like the Chinese dish crispy shredded beef but fish, very tasty but then again was the local beers. We had one final beer back at our hotel and then to bed to sleep it off. In the morning we packed and got a Bajaj to the Central breakfast cafe in town that we had spotted in the guide book. I had my usual egg sandwich, tea but a fresh mango juice. Georgina had the more traditional full which is spicy beans with eggs on the top with bread. Our taxi hadn’t turned up so 15 minutes later we ordered another one to the airport.
We were picked up at 9 am and taken to the travel agent where they paired us all up into our land cruisers. We had Elizabeth from Virginia but living and working in Chad. They gave us a list of stuff that we should take as its an extreme trip. It was on the internet but we didn’t have enough to read it, or time. I asked the driver to stop at a shop to get a towel as I hadn’t brought one. It took ages but eventually found on for 300 Birr, a out £8. We set off and it wasn’t long before we stopped for coffee and we could sort of meet the people from the other four land cruisers. They are numbered 1 to 5 and we travel in convoy. I was surprised that the roads were tarmacked. In fact they were tarmacked most of the way. We stopped for lunch, a sort of pasta and rice dish with vegetables. They are fasting here at the moment and don’t eat meat. They offer tuna to go on your pasta which always adds a little flavour. It was many hours travel before we reached our camp but then we set off to the salt flats to watch the camel trains come by. Incredible, mile after mile of salt flats and we could travel as fast as on the roads. We set off again to the surfer fields but by now the temperature was 44 C in the shade. And guess what? There aint no shade. Also the heat was reflected from the salt. There was a long steep climb to reach the surfer fields with the pungent smell the whole way. I haven’t brought a hat so used the yellow towel that I bought in Mekele over my head. By the time we reached the duller I was feeling I’ll with overheating. By the time I got down again I was feeling sick so he put the aircon on and I stayed in the car. The next stop I missed by Georgina took some pictures for me. We then moved on to a salt pool and people put there feet in. It really turned out to be an unusual day. Then we drive to the salt lake and I had a paddle. By this time the sun was going down but not the temperature. We sat in between two cruisers in the shade to wait for the sun set. Out came the wine an Ouzo. It really was turning out to be my kind of trip. This is when you get to know the people with you, when the drinks start to flow. Wine finished and sun set we set off back to base camp for dinner and more ice cold beers.
We are sleeping under the stars tonight in the open air. They have some wicker beds and a blanket each. I used mine as a pillow until I woke up cold then used my towel as a pillow and put the blanket over me. I woke between 3am and 5am but then slept until 6am when we got up for breakfast. The biggest challenge is that there are no toilets anywhere. You have to walk off and squat. Bloody nightmare. I had to go at 3.15am which is quite normal for me and has the advantage that it’s dark. It’s also a disadvantage as you have no idea how good is your aim as its not something you practice often. Today we had a long drive of about 8 hours to get to the volcano. We had quite a bit of off reading which was fun, especially the sand part. When we got to a station they insist you have a guide to guide you through the lava field. It was unbelievable. 30km over lava like Lanzarote, I wouldn’t have believed it possible if I hadn’t done it. Once at volcano base camp we had dinner and waited for it to get dark. The plan was to ascend the volcano in the dark so it’s cooler and sleep on the rim. Get up at 4am and go to look at the lava. They didn’t think I could make the 11km hike so booked me a camel to go up on. Cool ehh! Climbing an active volcano on a camel at night. The walkers set off but they had a real job getting me onto the camel. Someone had to fetch a chair to stand on. Once on I was completely unstable and it’s really high up. I was gripping on for grim death and though I would never make 4 hours on it. Twenty minutes later the camel sat down and refused to go any further. I had to walk the entire way up in the dark without enough water and no torch as I had given it to George. I was the last one up by over an hour. Twenty to midnight when I got there. I got a bed and went to sleep. Four am as promised they wake us up to collect the beds and pack the camels while we went to see the lava as it was smokey at night earlier. I didn’t go as I needed my morning routine. This was a challenge climbing over volcanic rock to look for a suitable spot. This is what my nightmares are made of. Suitably packed up we set off in the dark again. It was only 30 minutes or so before I could switch my torch off that I recovered from George. I was completely exhausted by the time we got to base camp with the bottoms of my feet covered in blisters. I can hardly walk at all now. We had breakfast at base camp before the long treacherous drive back. I couldn’t face breakfast only having water an melon. I like there breakfasts normally, eggs with onions and spices, pancakes etc. What a three day trip! I have never been on anything like that before. The towel was the best 300 Birr i have ever spent, i used it as a blanket, to sit on, to keep the sun off me and as a pillow. Pretty much the only thing i haven’t used it for yet is to dry myself as i haven’t washed for three days. I didn’t even take my clothes off either. Quite surprised i couldn’t smell anybody, perhaps we all smelt as bad and we didn’t notice? Tonight we will meet Mateus, a Fat old German that took a shine to me and always sits with me for food and drinks. He has been off immense support to me as he gave me a hat and water on the way down the volcano. We went out for dinner with him when we got back. I had peppered stick and chips, but i am glad to say it was a typo and was wonderful. Georgina had fillet fish and fresh vegetables and chips and Mateus had fish goulash that he really enjoyed. A few bottles of beer and all in a posh restaurant for about £10. Tomorrow morning we will travel to Aksum to meet Gerry.