Update

I have been lacking in updates, but not in adventures, as my travels have taken me to some glorious places in the last 6 months.

I started this blog many years ago as an escape from a life I wasn’t very happy with, to serve as a reminder to do something “for me” every day.

5 months ago, I took the leap. I’d already kind of taken it last year, by quitting my job, but then I got a new one, and repeated the entire cycle once more. I wasn’t doing what I wanted to be doing.

This year, February 15th 2016, I finally bit the bullet and tossed caution to the wind, becoming a full-time conservation student (after three years part-time). On top of my studies, I volunteer in conservation labs at least 2 days a week, I am writing a minor thesis, I am about to start a 5-week internship in Taipei, I am planning field research in Indonesia, I just joined the editorial committee for a national conservation publication, and I am lining up a potential PhD project for next year. I network extensively, and have been building meaningful relationships with conservators and researchers in my field. I’m learning Indonesian and joining a traditional Javanese orchestra to develop my appreciation of the musical instrument I am researching.

Despite my fears, I am sitting just under a wave of debt that threatens but never quite grows beyond what I can manage, as I am work part-time in a book-keeping position and simultaneously juggle credit cards, small loans, student benefits, tax returns, and a kind donation from my grandmother.

I am, for the first time ever, doing only what I want to be doing. I am so busy, every day, and I am so happy. I can’t say it’s easy, but it is just so wonderful that every day, everything I do is for me. I don’t have to carve out a half-hour in my day to feel satisfaction at having done something for me — my life is 100% about me. Not so bad for someone turning 33 next month!

 

the real Camino

Looking for something else completely, a tiny red notebook fell out of a pile of papers. I opened it and discovered my Camino journal, from July 2012. It was only a few pages long — but I was surprised how much I enjoyed reading it. So I decided to “re-blog” it here, with a typed out, deciphered edition.

Monday 16 July —> Really First Day.

The night in Pamp(lona) was awful, 7-yr-old epileptic above me kept me awake till I moved to bench at 4am. Then got up at 7:20 (a grand ~2 hours of sleep) and walked 5km to the supermarket & back. Bus uneventful. Arrive RV (Roncesvalles) & decided to jump straight into walking as it was already 11am – 7.5h of walking to get to SJPP (St Jean Pied-de-Port). But got lost following an unmarked trail… +3km. Then decided to go back, get my sellio (stamp) at RV, try again. 2 more false starts (+1km!) then finally on my way. I had no idea how hideously steep the RV-Lepoeder section was – over 500m from 950m to 1450m, then back down to 850m at Orisson refuge where I am now – today’s kms:

5km + 7.75 + 8.09 + 4.87 + 1.09 = 26km

1:30 + 2:05 + 1:52 + 1:06 + 15min = 6:45h

I was so upset at the beginning about getting lost & adding an hour &4km to my already “tight” schedule. There may have been a couple of tears shed. But then I got my groove on and powered up that BITCH of a hill, as Camino’s slipped and slid down past me. one guy even called out “Bon Courage! C’est haut!” but fortunately I didn’t know just how high and steep it would be… Then once at the top, it was easy, had a light lunch (totes worth the 5km walk this AM, right?) and kept walking and walking… then just as the pain was getting too much to bear, around 25km, I found this refuge. No reservations no problem. So far only other people are 2 koreans, a lovely girl who has been so nice to talk to despite my predicition that I would speak to no-one. And 3 stamps today!

Tuesday 17 July

I slept a blissful 10+ hours — 9pm, out like a happy light. Must have been lots of people around but I snoozed blissfully. Woke up at 8 and didn’t start till 9am. Joyful happy jaunt to SJPP, paused for Orange/Carrefour/Sportshop/food then off again. Best feelings of being in countryside in July! Just like the Creuse when I was a kid on summer holidays. Wicked sunburn despite sunscreen and “tent” – love my Oxfam super-scarf so much! Need to apply screen every hour at least, twice in a 6-hour midday walk is pure stupidity really! Am in an “Expensive” 33 Euro hotel as no gîtes locally and my feet are very blistered. Everyone is nice. I’m so happy and tired and happy!

7.33 + 12.8 + 6.8 = 26.9km

01:45 + 2:46 + 1:38 = 6.09 h

It’s taken hours to work out the next two days of travel due to 2 different variations (4 possible routes). But I have decided to stick to my pace of 26km/day, if my legs hold out. Eating “Type A” has been ok (and economical too, helping me avoid temptation!) thus far. Supermarkets provide my staples: apples, carrots, babybel, crisps, “salades” (carrottes rapees, nicoise…), cereal bars, and a big tube of mayonnaise + any lingering veg/fruit I can find. Not sure how I am managing goodwise really, as 6h walk burns 1300 kcal (my normal daily intake!) and I’m not eating much more. Oh yes! Nuts and raisins help. Must get more tomorrow! Blister status: 1 on each little toe and 1 on the front sole of each foot. Yay. Also: Love my water bladder. I get my 2L/day easily. Thanks James.

view from my window = inspiration for his video game! [James used to play an iphone game where he would glide over rolling hills…]+ 3 stamps🙂

Wed 18 July. The tough day…

Oh well it wasn’t ALL tough. But definitely the toughest. Started at 8:40, and had to stop a couple of times to deal with the blisters on my blisters, but covered 11km by 12pm (not great but not AWFUL). Then at Stele of Gibraltar met a lovely couple and ate lunch with them, felt really positive — I’d not taken the shortcut at Larribar and was rewarded by the view and their company. They told me to take the shortcut from Olaïby to Arone as the “LR” (long route) was wicked. Sadly I got lost due to lack of signage, and then ended up taking the long way. Tried to do a short cut, met scary dogs… no phone… had several crying huffy panicky moments – blisters were agony but had to pull my shit together and just fucking WALK. So I did for hours… got to the gîte just in time, last bed, and also cos I shamelessly hitch-hiked the last km, in time for food-shopping. Yay! The lady at the gîte was SO lovely and I gave her my Taiwanese coin, she seemed really pleased with it (best 1NT I ever spent!). Talked to some nice (if very french) people. Not sure how I want to play tomorrow, easy 20km to Navaneux or push 25km to Abbeye? I think Abbeye. Wanna push forward but also torn that am not “enjoying” where I am because of worrying where I should be… à suivre…

11.2km + 11km + 7? 8? = 29km

3:20 + 3:14 + 1:30 = 8h

Late night notes. When I was walking I thought of how this was like caring for a recalcitrant toddler — my mind is the adult and knows that this must be done, but then has to coax, push, ignore the complaints, the “but it hurts I’m tired NOOOOO” of my body. Taking care of blisters is like working with an animal — a stupid, wounded one at that. I’m TRYING to help! But the stupid things keep slipping and pinchng and biting and refusing to cooperate or even stay still. Gah. Blisters SUCK. I need a pharmacy. All of the above reminds me of the conversation we had re: Nalia [my friends’ infant daughter] crying in the car, with Juan. It’s against nature to do these things, at least my softy body thinks so, and I can’t talk to it to explain, so sadly it just has to suffer till it understands.

Thursday 18 July [actually 19] HURTY DAY

Today was easy walking but SO painful all pleasure was impossible. Just staring at the road and wincing as my feet popped and crackled. Like walking on 2 lumps of ice shitty nails. ANYWAY. Got to Nav. by 12:20 and went straight to bed, lovely 3h nap in comfy clean sheets and duvet. Showers were “rain” but I went to supermarket and cooked pasta + sauce with grilled courgette, hummous with carrots, tomatoes and a big mushroom. SO happy to have a nice big vegetarian meal with so many colours and textures! Sharing a room with a German-Kurdish dad and his sons, discovering I actually speak decent Deutsch still — I think being in Spain has unlocked my linguistic skills. 19.6km in 5h. Total so far: 101.5. Lost my Opinel [penknife], boo, so got a nice blue one to replace it. Yay!

Friday 19 July [20th July actually… I love how it doesn’t even matter] Redemption?

So today was hard work. The pain has moved from my blisters (soles are ok but toes still fucking burn) to my heel, ankle, and long-time trouble-maker, my right knee + tibia. Shin splints? So yes, the 15km from Navaneux to Sauvelade were limping, miserable hours. It rained a little, just enough to justify the dreaded poncho, for the first hour. Then I called mama and felt a bit better, but also even more stressed as I’m basically falling apart physically and she is (unintentionally) putting a lot of pressure on me. Then I called Madaca to discover there were no beds available – hence my current location in Sauvelade. It turned out to be a blessing of course, as all unexpected decisions along the Way. Firstly, I more than needed to STOP WALKING. Second, it’s peaceful and fairly comfy. Third, the people (oh so very clicheed, but the support people provide along the Way is truly touching), the people I met and spoke with gently encouraged me (by the rigourous french standards) to do as the couple a few nights ago suggested and skip the next couple of etapes. In fact, to leave with the bag carriers and go straight up to Nagaro. A few calls later and I was set up with a ride tomorrow morning, and a bed in Nagaro tomorrow night. I will rest up, then walk two short etapes on Sunday and Monday, then meet Mummy and do Montreal and Condom with her – either 15km a day, or more if we feel like it! Perfect. I only wish I could call her to tell her the news. Today I listened to my ipod for the first time, and “Just a Ride” came on and of course made me cry but also reminded me of my own fundamental beliefs. I am not a catholic pilgrim but I am having my own “Way”,

you can’t help it, so many hours of daily introspection, it’s almost like a retreat, I guess that’s the point after all… I also have had to tell my story so many times, it forces me to generalise, simplify, find a truth that can be summed up in a few lines. Something I usually hate doing but that does need to be done, at the end of the day. So I’m learning myself that I do this kind of work, live that kind of life, have these kind of hopes, dreams, plans and beliefs. That James and I are together and apart. That I am a drifter. Continental drifter…

Today’s walk…

15.04km in 3:30 hours. Total 116.5km.

Reading Dickens’ biography… la vie est belle, finalement.

Sunday 21… yes there’s a day missing…

Yesterday I went up to Aire sur l’Adour (now it’s too late you finally learn how to say it) by taxi with 2 Belgians who then gave me a lift to Nagaro. Michel and Raymond were older guys, who had been walking for a week. I had a nice convo with Michel in the taxi, but it was a 20-30min conversation with Raymond which I found really compelling and moving. He told me to be proud of being “selfish” because “Il est plus facile de se sacrifier que de se realiser” and with the added reminder that “certains se realisent dans le sacrifice”. We hugged and swapped email addresses, I really felt a strong connection with him. It’s funny how the people I meet can all bring encouragement, love and support to each other… well not all of them, but I feel like when humans are left to themselves in safe, mutually respectful space, they do genuinely care and help each other…

Anyway, after a night in Nagarro (well first an afternoon, heavy with the mistake of eating a HUGE plate of steak and fries and apple pie and ice cream and coke (WTF) that left me heavy and sleepy) where I shared a room with Martine (who talked wisely about trust and long distance relationships)… I walked 6km to Haget. It’s a bit dull, and the weather is so perfect, but I need my feet to heal so I can enjoy walking with Mummy. The people here are less mindful but nobody can be everything to everyone.

Today: 7.45km, not sure of the time, maybe 2:20? good speed thanks to my healing blisters.

Mon 23 July – total 138km,

GPS refused to start today, but it took me 3h to walk from le Haget to Eauze, which is about 15km. I got to the gîte at 11am, showered, went shopping, ate lunch and napped, all perfect. Then visited the Eauze archaeological museum which has a fantastic treasure trove on display. At the gîte a woman expressed surprise (which I am used to for a variety of reasons) because… I was wearing a dress, and she assumed I wasn’t a walker. WTF? She is def one of the retarded type [ROSIE, NOT COOL!]. I bet she snorers. But otherwise the gite and Eauze are very nice… Sadly it’s Monday, so nearly everything is shut. Am debating another Monaco [beer and grenadine and lemonade] as it’s going to be at least 2 more hours till Mummy gets here and we get dinner. Just realised time was CRAZY good compared to yesterday. Twice the distance in only 40 min more!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

After this my maman joined me on the walk so I didn’t have any introspective writing to re-discover.

Loved re-reading this. One day… I’ll be back.

triple threat

Today I woke up at 6-something am and realised I had imbibed too much alcohol the night before. I cursed myself, as I had plans for today, Sunday November 1st — plans to do my first leg of the Indigenous Marathon Foundation virtual marathon, plans to go to Bikram, and plans to start the 30 day core challenge.

Instead I read Facebook in bed. I came across an article about turmeric being proven by 53 clinical trials to help with inflammatory and autoimmune conditions. I was intrigued, but wanted more scientific evidence (did you know there are many, many people out there who are obsessed with turmeric, in a very non-scientific way?). However this article in particular made me quite hopeful, as I am already on the exact same dosage and medication as the participants in the trial, and more than half of them were reportedly in remission by the end of a month of curcumin supplements. I probed a little further and this study was much more indepth and seems less effervescent in their analysis of the research but still agreed there seem to be positive results for people suffering from ulcerative colitis.

So I went down the road to the chemist’s and got me some curcumin (the active ingredient in turmeric) and I stained my hands and kitchen table all yellow distributing them in my pill box — it’s more expensive than my actual medication to take 3g a day, but whatever, I suppose it’s only for a month!

Whilst out and about, I saw a buy-one-get-one-free offer for Berlei’s super-cute, majorly supportive sports bras. I legitimately needed new running bras, as all my old ones are B-cups and turns out I am actually, incredibly, a DD-cup (a tiny 10DD, but a DD, nonetheless). So I got myself two running bras and felt it would be a gosh-darn shame not to take one out for a run.

Before I left I did the 30 day core challenge, since I was so psyched up. I then ran 3.25km, came home, grabbed my yoga gear and went straight into Bikram. Which was a mildly horrible thing to have done to myself, dehydrated and hungover as I was. But if I hadn’t gone to Bikram, I would not have come up with this most excellent meme:

 photo tg5r7.jpg

Of course, all this displacement activity is really because I don’t want to clean my house. I am hoping that Melbourne Cup Day will magically be Rosie-Cleaning-Day and everything will go all Mary Poppins.

some kind of update

I survived, somehow, an entire month, thirty consecutive days of work, in China. I have been back in Melbourne for fewer than 10 days and am only just starting to feel human, only to find out this morning that I’m heading back to China in 4 days from now. I wrote a really long post on the plane the other night, after watching Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon for the second time ever (the first time was in 2000, in French, let’s say my experience was a little different this time around, watching it in Mandarin and getting all the historical/geographical/cultural references). I’ll spare my heartache review, let’s just say: urgh, China.

I’m even more frustrated because my repeated trips to China are pushing back the date I can apply for citizenship and a student loan. But on the positive side, my gross month in China got me back into running!

I can tell my body isn’t crazy about a return to this running thing but it’s so far putting up with it enough that I’m going to keep going. I’m even running a marathon (only I have a month to run the total distance, which is nice and safe). I’m alternating with Bikram, initially because I hoped stretching every other day would help with the running. So far, the running is making me very tight and making me extra-inflexible in Bikram, so there’s definitely something happening.

We’re entering the final countdown! less than 2 months until James comes home from Afghanistan and then immediately turns around for us to fly to England! Followed by Iceland! Followed by Denmark-land! Followed by Finland! Followed by flying back to Australia and collapsing in complete exhaustion before going back to work.

I just realised this is a quintessentially Rosie post: Work too much; China; Running; Travel with James.

a week in Yirrkala

I’m pretty thrilled with my new blogging app. I foresee lots of blog posts!

Ok, so first of all I’m inspired to finally put up the pictures of my week in the Northern Territory, when I was fortunate enough to get to spend time in the Yirrkala Buku Arts Centre as part of my degree in cultural heritage conservation.

First night, driving to the township where we were staying. This is a blurry shot out the back of the van, where 7 of us were bouncing around (2 more up front).

First morning, inspecting a selection of sculptures that have just been sold and need to be shipped… not easy when you live far in the outback!

Learning how to pack them…

I love them, they look so sad! I wish I could find my notes on what they are and their meaning, I will have to come back and add in more details.

Break for lunch. I was staying with three other girls in government-provided shipping containers. It was very luxurious, we all had our own bathrooms and a/c units.

In-filling cracks using sawdust and glue.

(I have stolen some of my classmates’ pictures when I feature in them; this probably shows due to the sudden leap in size and quality. I haven’t asked for permission as I am loathe to raise awareness of this blog, but humbly beg your forgiveness if you are reading this now and spot your stolen pictures!).

Sanding down larger cracks so they are easier to in-fill.

Manini, one of the artists, taught us how to make the ochre-based paint, as well as the fine paint-brushes used for the delicate hatchings in Aboriginal art.

The brushes are made from human hair, and fine, strong, straight hair is very much a prized resource in the artist community.

After sharpening a skewer, the hair is wrapped around with fine thread. I pointed out it was like hair wraps from the 90s, but just about all the other students were born in the 90s, so they didn’t get the reference.

Here is my finished brush. I’m really proud of it (in this picture I hadn’t yet trimmed the skewer-end of the hair, it looks much neater afterwards).

Manini showed me how to practice hatching on my own forearm, to get a feel for the brush. I think this small aside, when she was helping me, was one of my favourite moments of the entire trip. I won’t make it cheesy and lame by waxing lyrical, but I don’t want to forget this either.

After our day of doing our conservator thang, moving and packing and mending…

…we got to go to the beach. We couldn’t actually go in the water because of the crocodiles and stingrays, but it was excessively beautiful. I’ll try to limit the number of pictures, but I took so many, I just couldn’t capture the magic in the light and the air.

The surface of the water truly was opalescent, shimmering like mother-of-pearl – so many greens and blues and yellows and colours I can’t describe.

Driving back to our digs… blurry snap, but I wanted something to remember how the red roads always look so intense against the green of the bush and the blue of the sky.

Sunset at what was later to be named by us as Optus Rock, the only part of Yirrkala where there was a signal for those of us on the Optus network.

The next day when I look at my picture folder, I almost exclusively have many, many photos of a series of artworks by the artist Wukun Wanambi. I fell in love with it at first sight — a series done on foil-laminated insulation foam, teaming with small fish. I don’t feel comfortable putting photos up as my studies have taught me that Aboriginal art and sacred patterns shouldn’t just be put up whenever you feel like it, wherever you want, without permission from the artist. But one of the series was nominated for a Telstra Aboriginal Art Award this year, so you can go look at a sample and read a little about it here. Anyway, I spent a lot of time assessing the condition of this series and photographing it, with a view to making it a research subject, but in the end it took me in another direction — Aboriginal art on Found materials, which I became slightly obsessed with and ended up writing two different papers on (hit me up if you want to read them!).

Back to more traditional materials in Aboriginal art, we were able to go bark-cutting. Driving out into the forest, looking for suitable trees, I naively hadn’t realised the tree dies after the bark is removed. Here is a barkless one from a previous expedition.

Target identified:

Removing the first strip:

Cutting around the bottom and top with an axe:

[the removing of the bark was documented by video, so I could capture the sound it makes as the bark comes away from the tree… but videos are even more of a challenge than pictures, sorry… ]

Inspecting the bark after removal.

Naked tree.

We had a few more barks to collect. I got to participate this time… I remembered being quite adept at swinging an axe back in 1994, when I used to amuse myself by cracking kindling (and mostly making a mess) in the woodbarn at home. It was NOT the case 20 years later.

Making an inelegant fool of myself.

Whilst the bark-cutting was happening, the grandson of one of the artists who had come with us, Charles, spotted signs of something interesting beneath the ground (he’d already spotted croc tracks on the road, I have to say that made me just a wee bit nervous).

He dug carefully…

Bush nuts!

We gathered a few more barks and a few more bush nuts, and then headed down to the beach to set up a fire. The wind blows in fiercely off the ocean and this helps get the fire roaring!

The barks are placed over the fire, with the outer rough bark down on the flame and as they heat up, the moisture evaporates and they slowly relax and flatten out.

Then you rip away the smouldering stringybark in strands. This is also great fun (that is me below with the white hat and the terrible posture and the iPhone tucked into my bra strap, mucho eleganto).

To my dismay I don’t have any pictures of the bush nuts Charles and his grandmother cooked in the embers of the fire… they tasted somewhat like hazelnuts.

The next day came one of my favourite moments as a budding conservator — we got to clean mold off a huge crocodile carcass that hangs in the Art Centre. I’ll try and keep the number of photos down; you’ll have to forgive me, it’s not every day you get to clean crocodiles and I personally just love seeing these photos.

Close-up of croc-in-my-face.

Same croc, different day:

Okay, last one.

The first “crocodile day”, I also met and fell in love with my first serious art purchase. It means so much to me, for a number of reasons, not least because I came to Yirrkala with a very limited understanding of Aboriginal art. I certainly did not expect to leave with a bark painting of my very own. As an aside, it took me several days to settle down after buying it; I lived in constant anxiety due to its inherent frailty. Bark paintings are notoriously ephemeral and I knew before I even purchased it that it has a limited lifespan. But I love it so much, that I hate to think of anything happening to it. And yet it had to fly back first to Cairns and then to Melbourne, in the hold of the planes as neither Air North or Jetstar would let me take it as carry-on. I was so scared it would get damaged, cracked, dropped, hurt somehow. Then once I got home, I inspected it twice daily in case my living-room’s fluctuations in temperature and relative humidity were making its existing cracks grow. Two months in and I’m much more relaxed (and the cracks haven’t shifted, I don’t think!). I am looking at it on my living-room wall now, and just as it did the first time I set eye on it, it brings me immense joy. It’s a crying shame I do not have a better picture of it yet, sorry…

All too soon our week was almost up. More walks on the beach on our penultimate night in town. I’ll spare you the multiple beach pictures, this post is already so long!

On the last day, I made this little basket whilst waiting around for things to get started. I learnt how to make random-weave baskets in Cairns (new post coming up soon on that, I promise, now I have all this photo-blogging under control!), and consequently I was keen on learning more about traditional basketry skills, still very much part of the Art Centre’s offerings.

One of the Yolgnu ladies (I think her name is Eunice, this is the frustrating thing about leaving it months before writing things up) was generous enough to come along to give us some insight. First she showed us how to gather fresh pandanus leaves, using this hooked stick.

You use the stick to drag down the topmost freshest leaves from the top of the tree. Then you give them a tug and gather up the ones you want. When I did this I ended up with little thorns in my hands and legs, but Eunice didn’t seem to notice them herself. There are no photos of me trying to do this gathering process, fortunately, as I sucked at it.

The others went for a dip in a water-hole certified “probably croc-free”. I am not a coward, I genuinely wanted to sit with Eunice and learn how to prepare pandanus leaves, but knowing I was thereby less likely to get attacked by a crocodile did make it more enjoyable.

Dear reader, it was really freaking hard. Eunice made it seem really easy, when she split the upper layer from the bottom layer of each leaf.

When she handed me one so I could try, I discovered there was no “top and bottom layer”, as far as I could ascertain. I started out happy and graceful…

Rapidly becoming frustrated… Eunice kindly said that these were not very good pandanus and that’s why they were so hard to peel, but really… I don’t think it was the pandanus.

There’s a trick whereby you grip and fold and press super hard… my wishy-washy hands (already offended by thorns) found this very difficult. I laughed at my uselessness as I shredded stem after steam. My classmate was also struggling, and we rapidly realised that there wasn’t going to be much weaving of pandanus today.

I offered my little basket to Eunice as a thank-you, and we laughingly compared it to one she was working on at home… ah well there’s always next time.

I think that brings me to the end of my Yirrkala trip. We flew out the next morning, and I came back to Melbourne with exactly 3 weeks to write my assignments before starting my new job!

Once again, the stark absence of Aboriginal artwork in this post is mainly due to the fact that I prefer not to post anything rather than risk posting something I shouldn’t without permission. I also am very grateful to the artists and their families who are glimpsed throughout this blog post, and have tried to limit pictures to preserve their privacy. It’s such an insane privilege to get to spend up in Yirrkala, to get to meet and spend time with these incredibly kind and generous people, who are so patient with us when we say and do foolish things. I mentioned above how much I love my bark painting, and among the many emotions I feel when I come home to it each evening, is that of gratitude for being allowed to learn about it and understand it, and appreciate it, and meet the artist, and carry it off home to Melbourne.

the perks of a job you love

I have a zillion photo posts to write, and I purchased an app that lets me drop and drag photos directly into blog posts so I’m hoping that resolves everything. It’s a bit messy and not quite what I’d hoped, so please forgive the disjointed nature of this post, hopefully it will improve once I get the hang of it.

This post is from a recent work trip, but I am unclear on confidentiality so I am just going to say it is in China and leave it at that.

Driving to the site on the first day, I’d been awake for most of the past 48 hours and was stinky and sticky, because our luggage got separated from us and I hadn’t expected to be on the go for 48 hours. But there’s nothing like steep mountains and winding roads to get me excited, and fortunately, you can’t smell me in this picture.

Many of the roads are very narrow and in order to prepare for the site opening (and a million coaches a day), they are widening the roads by literally just drilling away at the mountain.

Rather them than me…

 

This site has everything I love. Intense mountains…

Weird insects

And beautiful buildings.

But this was just on the first quick trip to the base of the mountain. Time to go back to the hotel and try and remember what it’s like not to stink.

We made a trip to the local shopping mall after dinner to find non-stinky clothes to wear until our luggage reappeared. I encountered this smooth operator:

It was actually operated by his dad, by what looked like a playstation controller, which I thought was pretty cool. I really wanted a photo with the two of them together, but his parents didn’t understand when I asked them and kept moving *out* of the picture.

Everything was happening at the mall that night. A “rock gig” was blasting on a stage in the middle of the mall. View from inside the lift:

I guess the mall is really the place to be. The music was really terrible, but I think people came for the novelty as they were Westerners playing/singing. I was more entertained by this sign on the lift (yup, 14 years of Chinese and I’m still amused by Chinglish.

Which is the perfect segue back to the site:

 

Even though I find even little mountains like this one fun (opposite our clients’ office)…

 

It’s these kind of scenes that get me really excited.

It’s a steep climb up, but the medieval “site planners” made it even harder, by thoughtfully providing steps… what’s not to like about steps, you may ask?

Well, these steps are about 50cm high, and on a slant, which means you pretty much have to crawl up them. Very clever for a medieval fortress, strategically speaking.

With a Rosie-The-Rambling-Hiker for scale:

I had thought I would give it a try, when I first heard about these steps. But once I stood in front of them, apart from striking a pose, I didn’t even entertain the thought. I actually clambered up just one step and it was embarrassing enough, as I struggled whilst my workmates watched and laughed at me. It is exactly like being in the giants’ abandoned city in The Silver Chair (from the Narnia books).

Luckily, there’s a sneaky secret passage that leads around the back up to the top.

View from the top of the steps (taken whilst shakily gripping the side of the wall with one hand — photos do not do this steepness of this scenario justice).

At the top of the steps is a pass, and in the pass is a guard whose job is to stand there from 8am to 6pm and call down to people telling them not to climb up the steps. He also told us we weren’t allowed to go up through the pass as the steps weren’t ready, but we had to, as it’s our job to get to the top, so he had to anxiously stand aside and watch us head off up the hill.

At first it seemed ok, nothing to fret about.

A little slippery without the wooden walkway, but as long as you hold onto the rails it’s ok.

Large amounts of water were pouring down the side of the mountain, making the 500-year-old steps somewhat difficult to navigate.

After a while, the Ming-dynasty steps dissolve into Song (possibly older, Tang has been hinted at) pathways hacked into the mountainside. The walkways aren’t complete by any means, but they’re our best bet for actually progressing up the extremely steep path.

More terrifying scaffolding…

Finally we emerged onto walkable steps again, where we could admire more ruins from the late 16th century (and earlier).

Here we had work to do, so there aren’t as many fun pictures, until later, when we paused for a tea break at the archaeologists’ hut (incidentally probably some of the best tea I’ve ever drunk).

There’s a chicken coop up here, presumably for eggs and dinner… it’s hard work getting provisions up that mountain and the archaeologists live here most of the time, so I imagine some livestock is worth keeping.

There’s also some adorable dogs, which my workmates told me were just wee puppies last time they came in June, and now are rollicking teens. I don’t know if they’ll be allowed to stay once the site is open to the public… I hope so, they were just so fun and sweet.

We raced down the mountain as night fell. It was very atmospheric; I love this photo so much.

That’s it for beautiful site visit pictures. I snapped one last mountain out the window on the plane… I’m really looking forward to heading back next week, even though the project itself is quite stressful. I’m so lucky to get to work in such a gorgeous environment!! And in the last couple of weeks I’ve been getting to do lots of research and writing on Chinese archaeology and history, proving for the first time ever that my 2006 BA in Chinese art and archaeology was not a complete waste of time! Only took 9 years to come to fruition…

biscottes!

No running? …I managed to hurt my foot. Plantar fasciitis. It’s ok, I will try again when I am back from China in September (!!). I can’t risk not being able to walk as I have a lot of hiking ahead of me.

In preparation for my trip, I tried to think of FODMAP-friendly stuff I could take with me. I wisely cut off my internet time-wasting websites for 24 hours this morning before I left the house, which meant when I got home at 8pm this evening, I couldn’t default to my slumped-in-front-of-my-laptop default (I use a Mac program called Self-Control, where you can set a blacklist of websites and then tell it how long you’re not allowed to access them for. It’s a life saver when working on essays).

So this evening, in the 2.5 hours I’ve been home, I:
– Washed and hung out laundry
– Made myself quesadillas for dinner
– Worked through 3 huge piles of washing up (some of it from the weekend-before-last)
– Baked FODMAP-friendly banana chocolate chip oatmeal cookies for my trip (I am not even going to pretend that they will last me longer than the flight, but that’s already a huge deal)
– Made biscottes (which the internet informs me are generally known as “Zwieback”” by English-speakers?). I was trying to think how I could transport low-FODMAPS bread to Guizhou (which is hot and humid) without it immediately going mouldy. I came up with the idea of turning a loaf of my favourite Alpine Sour Rye bread into biscottes, which as long as they’re sealed in an airtight box, should be ok. Dry rusks may not sound terribly appealing but they’ll be most welcome if my stomach gets upset from too many FODMAPs.

 photo 431dd191-276d-4031-96a1-eec7f6c08d3d.jpg

In case anyone ever wondered about how to make biscottes — leave your bread out for about 24 hours so it can dry out as much as possible first, then put them in the oven at 150 C for an hour (I’m tempted to put “or two” as I saw online to put them in for 1.5 hours, or 100 C for 3 hours — but I put mine in for an hour and they were perfect, if somewhat brown for the lower rack).