I slept really well last night and didn't even feel the chill in the air with the temperature of 5°C. We had a very pleasant drive through Saint John and along the coast down to St Andrews. We chose to spend more time in a smaller town and were pleased we did. The weather was glorious - in the late teens, with a warm sun and clear blue skies to lift the spirits! We loved the little seaside town. There were a number of beautiful murals painted here and there, including one on a massive water tank as we entered the town. It is apparently the oldest seaside town in Canada, celebrating its 400th anniversary this year! We treated ourselves to a lovely lunch on the the harbour front and soaked up the sun.
We used the restaurant's water to fill up our jerry cans and we made our way back up to the main motorway and on to the border town of St Stephen (also renowned for their chocolate factories - although we managed to resist).
We set off for the border and saw a pick-up with a dead moose in the back. Needless to say, as we're not pro-hunting, we weren't very impressed.
Just as we were about to turn left to cross the bridge for the US border someone drove passed us in a red bakkie (pick-up) and shouted Michael's name! We wondered who on earth it could be and I said it had to be our old friend Papa Mzungu. Sure enough, it was - we couldn't believe our luck. He gave me a big bear hug - it was so wonderful to see him. We chatted for a while and he had a mini-tour of Nyathi and we said our farewells. He invited us back home to have a big barbeque, but sadly we had to continue south...
We bought some beers and Michael a bottle of Glenlivet at the duty free store and crossed the border into the USA - no problems. We went off the main road along a dirt road into the forest and found a nice level spot to camp. With the sun slowly setting, I went for a nice long run and amused myself looking at my long skinny shadow bobbing up and down on the road in front of me. Michael changed the engine oil and filter, and I arrived back just in time to do the pumping to top up the gearboxes, diffs etc. We both had boiling hot bush baths and then watched a DVD and ate a salad for dinner.
Saturday - As we drove off, we noticed the engine was making a slight knocking noise, but we couldn't identify it. Maybe the broken exhaust where Michael gave it an experimental kick last night?
We had a leisurely drive toward Bangor. We saw quite a few semi-permanent yard sales happening at houses en route (they say one man's junk is another's treasure). In Brewer we got some good internet signal, so we pulled into an open area to park and downloaded emails. While we were there a guy called Joe Bush pulled up to chat. He was very interested in our trip and had actually done some research into buying a Unimog and doing a similar journey. He was interesting to talk to and was also an internet guru (much to Michael's delight), so when he invited us to join him and his family for a barbeque at his cabins on a lake about 45 minutes north near a town called Dexter, we accepted!
We followed Joe in his Toyota Landcruiser and soon became aware that the 'tinking' sound we had heard emanating from the engine first thing this morning was getting more pronounced. We stopped briefly to see if it was anything obvious, but of course not! We decided the final 20km to Joe's place wouldn't make much difference.
We got there OK and met Joe's wife Sandy (who now had two extra, unannounced guests for lunch), his sister Anne Marie and his parents Joe, Betty as well as aunts, uncles and cousins. The were all lovely and gave us a very warm welcome. The afternoon was spent grilling loads of vegetables and chicken and pineapple kebabs on the barbeque. We all sat down to lunch at long wooden tables and benches on the lawn overlooking the lake. It was fantastic. Joe and Sandy invited us to stay in one of the cabins which was empty and told us we could stay as long as we liked! We are in no hurry, as the autumn colours haven't yet reached their peak.
We got to see the ducks waddle up for their ritual feeding, including one nicknamed Busted, who has lost half of her upper bill - ouch!
Sunday - The weather was glorious today. Joe, Sandy and Anne went to church to hear a friend giving a sermon and we had a lazy morning reading. Then I went for a run and Michael did some engine diagnosis. He had been putting it off, trying to avoid the inevitable (he was pretty convinced it was the big end bearing making the knocking noise). When I finished my exercising stint he had taken the rocker arm cover off and we both tried to decipher what the noise was (spitting oil all over the engine in the process). He tested the tappets to discover they were very loose, although the adjustment nuts were still locked. The culprits were the rocker arm nuts which had worked their way loose. We were delighted that the noise disappeared entirely after they were tightened. What a relief! Now we could just enjoy Lake Wassookeag and our time with Joe, Sandy and Anne.
Anne and Sandy whipped up a great meal of leftovers from yesterday's lunch and we ate out in the sun. Michael and Joe had long, complicated discussions about quantum computing and all things scientific. Joe made a dollar or two from an internet venture (he started one of the first ISPs back in the early nineties) and he and Michael seem to have a lot of shared interests. Meanwhile the girls talked about travelling, Oxford (as Anne is about to depart to the Oxford to do a PhD there) and Sandy B's flying experiences (she and Joe both have PPLs) and the 6-month honeymoon she and Joe had, walking the entire 2,000 mile Appalachian Trail (they are madder than us!).
Monday - It was another stunning, blue-skied day today. Our highlight was Joe flying us in a Cessna 172 four-seater aeroplane. We drove out in Nyathi to the Dexter airfield and helped Joe to wheel the plane out of the hangar (the plane is owned by a flying club and is used by a group of members). Then we watched him go through all the pre-flight checking, which was rather fascinating.
Then he took us up for a forty minute flight over the lakes and forest of Maine. It was absolutely incredible. It has been classed as another highlight of our expedition. He was an excellent pilot, not only in terms of experience and expertise, but he told us a lot about the aircraft and all about the area we flew over.
The view was spectacular. We could see all the way to the White Mountains in New Hampshire in the west and the autumn colours were terrific (even though they haven't quite reached their peak yet). We also got a bird's eye view of the end part of the Appalachian trail, which highlights what a challenge it is.
Needless to say I took loads of photographs. We got to see Joe and Sandy's property from the air, which gave everything a different perspective. I saw the road where I went running too, which was great.
We circled the airfield before coming in to land and could see Nyathi standing down on the ground on her lonesome. There was a strong cross wind when we came in to land so it looked like we were coming in at quite an angle, but at the last second Joe levelled out and we made a neat landing. We taxied back to the hangar, Joe filled the plane up with fuel and then we cleaned her before wheeling her back into her spot in the hangar. Neither of us had ever been in an aircraft that small and it was an exhilarating experience.
On the way home we stopped at the supermarket and I bought supplies for dinner. I cooked a 'chilli stack' and fajitas for dinner, which everyone seemed to enjoy and it at least gave Anne and Sandy a break from cooking!
Tuesday - It was a bit windier and cool today. We spent a lot of the day reading, doing internet research and writing emails. Anne cooked us all pasta for lunch and afterwards we had a very stimulating debate about sexism and a whole lot of other hot topics. Michael thoroughly enjoyed having people to argue with (besides me :-)
Before I forget I must describe Joe and Sandy' place. It really is wonderful. They have 25 acres of property with a perimeter of woodland. There are six cottages, all of which face the Lake Wassookeag, with the pebble beach/shore just 20 metres away. One of the cottages is quite old (built at the turn of the century) and while it has more character than the others, it is harder to keep warm. The others all (I think) have three bedrooms, bathroom, kitchen and living area. There are five tennis courts and they have a pier and rowing boats. The property used to be owned by Dexter Shoe Company as a corporate getaway and now Joe and Sandy use it as a summer hide-away, for themselves, family and friends. Right now it is particularly beautiful with the autumn colours beginning to show through.
I went for an early evening run, which was definitely needed after all the eating we've been doing here. Then I sat in Nyathi with a cup of hot chocolate and started the serious search for various shipping alternatives for Malaysia.
Wednesday - It wasn't quite a cold as yesterday, but not as clear and calm as Monday. Today was meant to be our last day here, but as I stayed up until midnight last night doing loads of shipping research and getting lots of schedule information and telephone numbers, I thought it would be a good idea to do a session of phoning. I was going to use a local public phone box, but Joe kindly insisted I his mobile (cell) which saved me having to go into town! Then he realised that Sandy had also been using the mobile, so he disconnected the internet line for me so I could phone from the main cottage. I looked ridiculous sitting on the chair with a blanket wrapped around me like an old granny, but it certainly beat standing in the wind at a public phone box.
I called five shipping companies to ask for quotes and the most efficient people I have spoken to so far are PONL (who quoted me straight away at a base rate of $900) and K-Line who were extremely professional and committed to sending a quote via email. The others were not particularly enthusiastic. The frustrating thing is it looks like we will have to use a freight forwarding company to lock and load the vehicle in the container, as we can't deal direct with the shippers for that, so our costs are going to be higher!
Joe's folks came round for lunch and Anne cooked fantastic Cuban-style steaks marinated in ground coffee, cocoa and cinnamon. They were among the best steaks we have tasted - the meat was so tender and tasty! Then of course I pigged out on the squash which Sandy had cooked - all my favourites in one meal. Then Joe rounded it off with 'Moose-tracks' ice cream from a local Maine manufacturer. It was divine - vanilla ice cream, with chocolate-toffee swirls and small peanut butter chocolate chunks - mmmnn!
Today the weather was as close to perfect for autumn as you could wish for. The air was still and crisp. There wasn't a cloud in the sky and the reds, oranges and yellows of the turning leaves reflected on the lake waters - bliss! It encouraged our delayed departure, but we so enjoyed the day! We said our goodbyes to Joe and Anne at about 009h00 as they were off to Boston so Anne could catch her flight to the UK. Then we spent the morning slowly packing up.
I made a few more phone calls for flights and shipping and now it's a matter of waiting to see what comes through. I am concerned about freight forwarders - so far, I have only managed to speak to one person, the rest I have either been put in an electronic queue or have simply not been able to get through. Diane from K-line sent through the quote yesterday evening already with a base rate of $700 and she gave us a freight forwarders contact details.
We had leftover fajitas for lunch and then spent some time just sitting by the lake and feeding the ducks. Michael and I both got them to take the bread from our hands - it was great. We met Sandy's parents and then had to say goodbye, so we could hit the road. We had such a fabulous five days that it was sad to be leaving. On Saturday, Joe and Sandy will be heading back to their home in Tuscon for the winter and the cottages will stand snow covered, silently overlooking the ice covered lake (which I believe can be reach up to 4 feet in thickness - unimaginable for me).
The drive to the White Mountains was beautiful and we arrived in the area at dusk. We went down a little-used road which Joe had recommended and we slept the night in a clearing next to the road, just before the National Forest began. It was so peaceful and the water gushing in the stream below was wonderful to fall asleep to.
First thing, we put on the water to heat up and then we wandered down on the rocks along the river bank. The river was pretty cold, but the sun was wonderfully warm. We sat and basked on the rocks for a while and watched the crystal clear water flowing by. Then we went back to Nyathi to have a nice hot wash and get on our way.
The roads through the White Mountains were spectacular. The trees were a riot of colour from lemon yellows and lime greens, to deep reds and rusty browns - it really was beautiful. We decided we'd like to drive up Mount Washington, but when we got to the front of the toll booth line, the attendant told us we were too big. When Michael asked him what the size restrictions were he said a 160 inch wheel base. We told him we were only 150, but he still said we were too big. He'd made up his mind we couldn't manage it (of course he would know) and said we couldn't go. He offered us a reduced rate of $19 each to do a coach tour, but we politely declined.
Disappointed, we went back to the main road and continued our journey. The scenery was still so fantastic that we soon forgot about Mount Washington and enjoyed everything else on offer. I was quite enamoured with all the country 'fall displays' that people put on. Everyone from local residents to farmers and business owners put up displays of pumpkins and scarecrows to celebrate the season and the coming of Halloween.
We stopped in the town of Conway at an outlet village and I went on a bit of a shopping spree. While I didn't find the pair of running shoes I was after, I found lots of other things on sale to bolster my wardrobe when I get home! We battled to find a place to bush camp as the White Mountains National Forest only allows you to camp in designated areas (for a fee of $18 $2 each for a five minute shower). We eventually drove up to a rest area just inside Vermont and spent the night there.
We both had a hot 'bath' next to Nyathi this morning. Then Michael got some information on Vermont from the Visitor's Centre and I phoned Tania (a friend in the UK) for a chat. We took our time driving through the countryside. The autumn foliage was even better than we had seen in New Hampshire. The contrasting colours of the leaves on the trees and the rolling green fields was especially noticeable. I took myriad photos and I know they'll never do justice to the scenery.
We stopped off at Braggs Maple Farm to learn about 100% pure maple syrup and how it is made. Braggs Farm still uses the traditional method of tapping the trees and catching the sap in tin buckets which are emptied manually (as opposed to using plastic tubing which forms a network among the trees and fills a central tank). I now appreciate why it is fairly expensive - it is very labour intensive, from the tapping and sap collection right down to the wood burning fires and quality control to meet the exacting state requirements. 1 gallon of 100% pure maple syrup requires 40 gallons of sap (it only contains about 3% sugar in its raw form and over 66% once boiled down to the finished product). We also got to taste the different grades from Fancy (which is more refined and has a more delicate flavour) to Grade B (which is sweeter and darker in colour). Needless to say, we enjoyed ourselves and had to buy some for the road...
We stopped off at Sarducci's in Montpelier for lunch. Michael has a great steak sandwich and I had a very tasty chicken pasta. We spent a short while downloading emails in the car park and trying to find out about flights to South Africa, but had little success. We also called Richard and Nancy (whom we'd met in New Brunswick) to tell them we were in the area as they had told us to call by if we were near their home town, Warren. We spent the rest of the afternoon driving around and enjoying the scenery. When we got to Warren we gave Richard a call and he seemed so pleased to hear from us. He came down to the town to collect us and we followed him home.
We sat and had a glass of wine and some delicious Cabot cheese, while making friends with Liquorice (the dog) and Charlie and Delilah (the cats). Nancy had already booked a table for us at The Bass Restaurant, so we went there for our evening meal. The service was great and the food delicious. I had two starters - a salad and then lobster chowder and Michael had grilled swordfish. We spent a lovely evening eating, drinking and chatting about Austin Healeys (of which Richard is an original owner), travels and America.
We slept really well last night. The bed was super comfy. I went for a run first thing and it was pretty cold - I regretted not wearing my gloves. Richard suggested that we drive up to Stowe and do a small hike along the peak and then we could come home for dinner and we could leave tomorrow instead of today. We agreed it sounded like a lovely idea. So for a change Michael and I were 'chauffeured' and Nyathi got to stay behind.
Before we set off, Michael and I tried out Richard and Nancy's superb swing - it was exhilarating to fly through the air...
We stopped off at Cold Hollow Cider Mill to see them making apple cider (and of course to have a little sample). The boys had doughnuts too. Then when Nancy nipped in to get some water at a little store called Eidelweiss (I assume so named because the Von Trapps lived in the area) she bought the most delicious raisin and oatmeal cookies for the girls!
When we arrived at the bottom of the hill to pay the toll to drive to the top of Stowe Mountain, the wait was over 1 hour because there was so much traffic. Instead we went up in the cable car (for which Michael bought 5 tickets in a package deal ($49) because it was cheaper than paying for four at $54). The ride up was lovely, it seemed weird looking down at the ski slopes without snow cover, but the autumn colours were lovely despite some of the trees higher up having lost all of their cover already. The hike to the top of the mountain from the cable car station was pretty steep and the rocks were slippery and sometimes tricky to negotiate.
However, the view from the top was well worth the bit of energy expended. We could see Lake Champlain clearly in the distance and on the other side the mountains and valleys through which we had driven.
We thoroughly enjoyed our day and when we got back home we had a quick nap before going down to The Pitcher Inn for cheese and kir champagne in the lounge area. The atmosphere was warm and rustic and the fire gave a lovely warm glow to the place. The staff were fantastic and service very personal. We met the new manager, Michael, who was originally from South Africa. We swapped all sorts of stories and promised to stop by with Nyathi in the morning. We spent such a lovely time enjoying our hors d'oeuvres that Richard asked Michael to organise a table upstairs for dinner, instead of Nancy having to cook. Michael, Nancy and I all ordered duck, while Richard had veal. The food was exquisite, the wine excellent and the service remarkably good. Richard and Nancy really did spoil us!
We walked home briskly as it was about 5°C and we were feeling the cold a little (especially Michael and me).
I went for a run and remembered to wear my gloves as it was 5°C outside. It was really pleasant running through Warren and then along Route 100B next to the river watching all the leaves being blown off the trees. When I got back, Michael gave Nyathi a power wash. Unfortunately the Warren, Vermont 'sticker' which Richard had made for us got some water damage in the process. Nancy and Richard tried to entice us to stay for lunch, but we decided we'd better get on the road. We said our sad farewells, with oatmeal and raisin cookies and homemade pickles in hand as sustenance for the road - thank you!
We stopped off at The Pitcher Inn to see Michael and give him a 'tour' of Nyathi. We had a number of other people come and 'visit' and we took a few pictures outside the Inn.
We stopped at the Moss Glen Falls, which are right next to Route 100B. They were beautiful and the crystal water looked so refreshing surrounded by the dewy autumn leaves.
We made good time to our selected rest area north of Boston. We made a last stop at a supermarket in 'tax free' New Hampshire. I stocked up on some staples and tinned foods that I think may not be so easy to buy when we are in Malaysia.
We got an email back from Maersk Sealand quoting a base rate of well over $3,000 for freight, so we obviously won't be using them!
I made a lovely big salad for dinner and we watched a DVD before crawling upstairs into our cosy bed (heated courtesy of my little hair dryer - I've never yet used it for my hair on this trip).
We did not have a good night's sleep. With all the trucks running their engines and manoeuvring it was not exactly peaceful, so we resorted to sleeping with ear plugs. We spent a very enjoyable day in Cambridge on the north side of the river from Boston. We drove through the suburbs and headed for MIT (Massachusetts Institute for Technology). We wandered around the campus for a while looking at the very interesting and impressive architecture.
Then we walked up to the MIT Museum. They said we only needed about an hour to visit, but we got rather engrossed and realised we'd need at least three hours to do it justice. The museum is not very big and focuses strongly on development and work done through MIT, but we thought it was excellent. There was a large section devoted to Artificial Intelligence, Cybernetics and Robotics. There was a good display of intriguing holograms and lots of interesting Heath Robinson-like things.
There was also information on the development of strobes and flash photography as well as a history of the institution and it various roles over the years, all of which was very fascinating.
For lunch we got some delicious mango chicken and rice from a little restaurant called Thailand Cafe across the road from the museum. We sat and ate lunch in the car and caught up on emails. We got a quote back from Evergreen - perfunctory, machine edited, without so much as an introductory note, or explanation of the cost codes (although I was able to understand the base rate was $850), so I'll have to call them.
Then Jimmy Chin (one of the restaurant owners who happens to be from Kuala Lumpur) came over to chat and warn us to be on the look out for parking meter officers. He was really friendly and offered us drinks to go with our meal. When we had finished eating we chatted for a while and then took some photographs. Then he came out with a dozen cokes and a bag full of bottled waters and insisted we take them with us for the road!
We drove along the Charles River and saw a number of rowing teams out on the water as well as small yachts. The we diverted through the Harvard Campus, which was very beautiful, but finding parking was a bit tricky, so we didn't stop and walk around. We headed out toward a rest area marked both on our map and on the GPS, but it turned out to be a busy service centre with a drive through McDonalds and no suitable place to park for the night. So, we headed a bit further out and found a marginally bigger rest area with overnight parking spaces, but the motorway was pretty close and as a result it was rather noisy. I spent the night doing journal catch-up and it got rather cold. I was delighted to find that Michael had been kindly sleeping on my side of the bed so it was pre-warmed.
It got down to 0°C last night, so we certainly felt the chill. There was quite a bit of condensation on the roof this morning and in the top of the clothes compartments. My jeans were icy cold when I put them on and I didn't feel like venturing outside.
We had a fairly leisurely start including eating cereal and banana for breakfast and having hot cloth baths. We took the electric blanket out of the big black bag in preparation for a possible cold night again tonight. Then we drove into Cambridge and decided to park near one of the transport terminals and catch a tube into town and walk about. We pulled into a shopping centre parking lot and a guy drove up next to us and told us he'd had ea on the go in his workshop and we must come and join him. We did all the normal introductions and discovered his name was Mahmood Rezaei-Kamalabad and he was from Iran. So, to cut a long story short we went along to his workshop to politely decline his offer of tea (as we're not tea drinkers) but to have a chat and ask him to sign our guest book.
He was a very interesting and spiritual man. It turns out he is not simply a motor mechanic, but an artist too. He had a number of fascinating metal sculptures which depict the coming together of the different Judaic religions. They were most impressive, especially as he only used a standard cutting torch to make them, so he is clearly very skilled.
A friend of his, Andrew, who works at the Harvard library arrived while we were there and we all got chatting. They were both keen to have a closer look at Nyathi and when Mahmood was inspecting her underneath he noticed our disintegrated exhaust silencer. He offered to help us repair it and said that he had a suitable replacement piece of pipe for us, so, before we knew it we were at his workshop and he and Michael spent a couple of hours repairing it. (We didn't worry to put in a new silencer, so we now have a long straight-through exhaust. Nyathi sounds like a tractor at the best of times, so there's really not much difference!) Mahmood wouldn't accept any form of payment, he was very generous and it was most unexpected to meet someone like him in a shopping centre parking lot.
We decided to take a slow drive through Harvard Square, which was bustling with people and had a vibrant atmosphere. A lot of the university buildings are beautiful and rather stately-looking. Then we drove across the river and into Boston city centre. The architecture was interesting and we very much liked the look of the city, the parks and the waterfront.
We made the obligatory drive by Cheers Pub to see lots of visitors having their photographs taken next to the sign outside.
By the time we drove out of the city it was just after peak hour, but we actually enjoyed the slow pace, because we could take a better look at things. On the rather clogged motorway out of town (they're busy building a new bridge), I saw an enormous eye-catching mural of a whale family at play in the sea, it brightened up an otherwise drab environment.
We found (after our initial one was closed) a lovely big rest area on the opposite side of the motorway. We managed to find a nice spot in the truck area right next to a large grassed area with a tall bushy shrub. It was deserted when we first arrived, so we took the opportunity to rig up a shower area and enjoy a refreshing hot 'bath'. Surprisingly, the toilet facilities closed at 18h00, which seemed early to me for a rest stop which became much busier later in the evening.
We both slept quite well, despite the guy in the truck parked next to us running his engine most of the night. The good thing was there was no moving about, reversing, or revving! ??? We decided to get out the electric blanket, in case we have any more freezing nights.
The drive was very pleasant and the motorway was actually very beautiful with wooded scenery most of the way and lots of old, fairly ornate brick and stone bridges spanning the road. In fact, at one or two stages it was a little nerve-wracking as the signs before entering the motorway stated no commercial vehicles and a height restriction of about 10 feet. However, once we were on the motorway the bridges were lower than that - one just over 9 feet high and with the bikes and one or two jerry cans on the roof we made sure we kept as central as possible as we passed underneath. Of course there was no problem, but you can't help holding your breath the first time!
In the afternoon we stopped at a shopping centre and Michael went for a wander around, while I phoned the shipping agent Evergreen had recommended (Round The World Logistics) and I spoke to Jane who was very pleasant. I tried a few others - again with no success!.
We stopped for the night at a very busy rest area with a fuel station, McDonalds and a few other services. Luckily about 60 metres away there was a disused parking lot next to an old building and a n RV was already parked there, so we drove over to the other side of the lot and settled for the night. The great thing was that the houses in the estate below gave use a good wireless internet access, so we could search for camping options and info on New York etc. I wrote up a detailed quote request to send to all the freight forwarders and succeeded in finding contact details for about eight companies in the New Jersey area. I sent the email off, so again, we'll see who's enthusiastic.
Friday - I used the internet first thing to search for flights and ocean freight companies. I made quite a few calls after that at the public call box to arrange camping, get flight quotes and try to get hold of freight forwarders (to no avail). I managed to find a camping place in Northfield, New Jersey which was just west of New York City. They had space and we negotiated a price of $18 per night, as they are busy with renovations. I got their full address and to my dismay when I put the post code into the GPS I discovered there are two Northfields in NJ and the one where I had booked the camping was in fact way down the coast near Atlantic City!
So, we still didn't have accommodation sorted. I spoke to Jane from Round The World Logistics (she had already replied with a quote) and told her we'd try and pop in to see her to discuss the freight loading, clearing etc. They were about $300 cheaper than the forwarders who had been suggested by K-Line.
So, off we headed for Manhattan. Driving downtown was an interesting experience. It was enjoyable, but at the same time stressful. You have to constantly be on the look out for pedestrians, lots of the streets are closed off or only accessible with a permit and of course it's all quite narrow. We drove past the former World Trade Centre site. It is quite incredible to see the gaping hole it has left in the skyline. It was impossible to find parking anywhere in the financial district, so we decided to head out through the Holland Tunnel and find a place to camp in NJ.
We stopped off at the Chamber of Commerce in Elizabeth,NJ and the people there were remarkably helpful. They made a number of calls to help me find a camping site, searched on the internet etc. but sadly they came up with similar options to us. They also had shipping contacts and said they would get a name and contact details for someone at Geologistics, a freight forwarding /clearing company who often deal with Malaysia.
Before we headed south to camp, I decided to make one last call to Cheesequake State Park, near Matawan to see if they were open for camping. Hoorah - they were open and cost $15 per night to camp (no electricity, but showers) and they were closer to NYC than the other option.
We got some $1 McChicken sandwiches and fries (we were starving as it was the first thing we'd eaten all day and it was already 16h00) and headed for the park. I registered us for one night (so we could suss things out), but the good thing was that after a bit of driving about in the woods, we managed to find a campsite near some houses across from the park perimeter and we got internet access - so that was a bonus! Not so good, were the luke warm showers ,so Michael opted for a hot shower in the campsite instead.
Saturday - I went for an early morning run and for the first time got cramp in my left calf muscle - ouch. I had a luke warm shower and think I will opt for a hot one at the campsite next time. I made us some hot corn on the cob with butter for lunch and then we went for a ride up to the main entrance to register for a few more nights. We also needed to get fresh food supplies and rode about 6km to the nearest supermarket. We even bought some ice cream, wrapped it up in our jumpers, stuffed the shopping in the carrier basket and rode back to camp as fast as we could.
I made crepes for lunch and we had had them with maple syrup, banana and ice cream - scrumptious! We both felt so stuffed from our pancake pig-out (and doughnuts fro Michael) that we didn't fancy the chicken I'd bought for dinner. I wasn't that keen on cooking either, so I was happy. We sat and watched a DVD and got into our toasty warm bed.
Sunday - Today was our wedding anniversary. We spent a very relaxing day at camp. We were thinking about going into NYC for the day, but decided we just wanted to stay put! We read books, I did some diary writing and then we went and re-registered at the office. On the way back we stopped to look at an open air display of American War through the years. It was quite interesting and we met one particular gentleman who was a real enthusiast and expert and we spent quite some time chatting to him.
We rode back to the camp and some other campers came up to say hello. It turns out they were originally from Venezuela, Puerto Rico and Colombia. They insisted we come and join them at their camp for wine and food. We accepted the offer of wine, but I needed to cook up our chicken as we hadn't had it yesterday, so we declined lunch. It was most enjoyable chatting to them. I got to practice my Spanish and Michael too. They were very enthusiastic about our travels and even offered for us to park in their driveway if we need to. It reminded us again of why we loved South America so much!
I cooked up a tasty pineapple chicken casserole with brown rice and peas and we both stuffed our faces. Andrew and Angela phoned, so we chatted to them for ages - it was so nice to catch up on the exploits of their hen and stag weekends.
Monday - I made a few phone calls first thing and then we rode to the train station in Matawan. It wasn't the nicest ride, but OK. It was a holiday today - Columbus Day - the trains weren't very full and we could ride at any time and still pay off peak fares ($13.75 each return).
We arrived at Penn Station in Mid Manhattan. The first hour or two we spent in electronics shops with Michael negotiating for extra lenses for our digital camera. We got a wide angle and a zoom, plus some filters, which we have wanted for ages.
We spent the rest of the day wandering about the streets and taking everything in. We went to the Empire State Building, but the wait was ninety minutes and as I had already been up it once before, we decided against it. The security was quite tight and if you wish to use the toilets, you had to go through security first. We went into Saks on Fifth Avenue and watched a Columbus Day Parade which went all the way from 32nd to 79th Street! Needless to say we only followed it for about ten blocks. I had a glorious time wandering about in Tiffanys looking for inspiration for a ring setting for my emerald from Colombia.
We strolled briefly through Central Park and then made our way back to Penn Station. We bought The Economist to read on the train, I read the articles on the left pages and Michael the ones on the right. The ride back at night was interesting! I had a head torch on and Michael rode behind me with the red infrared light flashing on his bike. It was quite cold, but luckily it didn't seem as long as the ride there. We rode back to the a disused entrance to the park (which is a much shorter route and closer to our campsite) and I squeezed through a gap in the gates. Michael passed the bikes to me over the 6 foot fence and then he tried to squeeze through, but he wouldn't fit, so he had to clamber over the top. The people walking there dog across the road were eyeing us suspiciously, but he got over and we speedily rode through the forest to our campsite. It was a long, but very enjoyable day.
Tuesday - I went for a run, then spent the entire day on the phone and emailing to finalise the shipping details as well as looking for the best possible airfares and routes for us. So far, Flight Centre in the US have come up with $1,100 one way to Cape Town with a stop over in Johannesburg (for me), but I am still looking for Michael as he needs to back to the UK to get a new Irish passport issued.
It turns out the co-loader (Wells Fargo) whom Round The World has quoted for, were not prepared to let us drive the vehicle into the container and even if we wanted them to, they said they didn't want the job because it was a modified vehicle (talk about disinterest)! So, we are back to the drawing board on that one, but Jane seems to think she'll be able to find someone else.
By the end of the day I was so fed up with riding back and forth from the campsite to the public phone to chase everything up. I just want it all to be sorted now!
Wednesday - I think I may have found the best flight options for us. 1800flyeurope.com had a one-way fare from JFK to LHR for just under $200. Which will actually make it cheaper for me to fly with Michael to the UK before going to SA for the wedding. Michael spent quite a while doing flight searches too. He also spent ages sorting out our anti-virus software. We also spent ages looking for accommodation options on the RCI website (although we've had very little success in obtaining anything worthwhile, that I'm bound to wonder if RCI is worth the time and money)!
The squirrels were out in force today. They are very bold when they think we aren't about. Michael watched one climbing up on the the vehicle and over the windscreen protector, while he was sitting working at the computer in the passenger seat.
In the afternoon we went to a local Walmart to buy walkie talkies for Andrew and bought some fresh foods, including some steak for a braai (bbq). While we were out Jane called to say she has fortunately located an alternative co-loader, who sadly, is over $100 more expensive, but what can we do? At last, we'll have it all sorted and I can book the flights first thing tomorrow morning.
Michael dropped me off outside the park and I ran back to the campsite, it was getting a bit dark, so by the time I got back and started doing my other exercises the mosquitoes were out to feast!
Thursday - I booked the US - UK flights first thing this morning. Now all we have to do is sign a consent form they send through (as it's a one way flight and a UK credit card) and fax it back. Jane sent us the pro-forma invoice (although she is still waiting for a response and quote from their clearing agents in Malaysia). The cost to ship is $1856 - that's the most expensive so far on this trip.
I made bacon and eggs for brunch, which were most welcome. Michael played with the new camera lenses.
Today was my day for wildlife. While riding my bike down to the phone a deer darted out in front of me and sprinted away into the forest. Then, when I was speaking to Annmarie in Johannesburg about our upcoming visit I saw an incredible sight. While talking I was watching all the squirrels darting about in among the autumn leaves on the forest floor, when all of a sudden they all froze or darted for cover. I saw an eagle land on a branch in a nearby tree. It bided its time and a while later it swooped down like lightning and grabbed one of the squirrels - unbelievable!
Then later when I was on the phone to friends and family to let them know we were coming home to the UK briefly, I saw something rustling in the grass. It looked like a small black mouse. I absent-mindedly kept an eye on it and I couldn't believe it when it ran out of the grass and towards where I was standing. It was a small shrew searching for food and it found a solitary ant right next to the base of the phone box and ate it. It was such a cute little thing. I called some little kids over who were playing nearby and they were really excited about it - they even went to run and fetch their mum to show it to her. What can I say - I am easily amused.
I went for a run in the evening and then made us a big salad for dinner.
Friday - Today was a busy day. I was up early so I could phone the Irish Embassy to find out if we can do an urgent application if we come into the office in London. It seems not. You have to fill out a new application (they don't do renewals) and have it signed by a doctor, lawyer or clergyman and then when you take it back, you have to accompany it with proof of outward journey so they they can speed up the process (for a fee). So I asked to have the application forms sent out to Robyne's house and we'll have to sort it out on Tuesday.
We rode down to the station in Matawan to catch the train. My legs were killing me, I don't know why? Our timing was good. We disguised our head torches under the seat and basket and off we went. The train journey takes an hour and is very smooth, the coaches are clean and the scenery en route varies from down right ugly to sea views with yachts bobbing up and down. We saw a couple jet skiiing down the river in amongst the swamp plants - it looked fun, but very cold!
We had a busy day in New York. We bought a Metro one-day pass. I have to say that our impression was that the London underground is much cleaner, better organised and easier to travel on. Our first stop was downtown in the financial district. We wandered down Wall Street (a scenic diversion) on our way to RTW Logistics.
We met Jane, who was very friendly and helpful. We confirmed the final price (we still don't have a price for clearing on the Malaysian side) and went down to the nearest post office to get a money order. The largest amount they do is $1,000 so we got two and went back to see Jane. We agreed to wait and see what to do about the bill of lading until we have had a quote for clearing (we don't want to be locked in at any price).
We went to have a look at the former World Trade Centre site. It was quite eerie to see the gaping whole it left in the skyline. They have erected some interesting signs about the history of the site, as well as a role call for the casualties of the disaster (all of whom they rather dramatically refer to as 'heroes').
Then we went in search of a camera for Roger. As these things often turn out, we went to about 5 different stores and discovered the first one did have the best price. Unfortunately it rained for most of the day and with the wind it was quite cold!
We spent quite a while wandering through the streets of Chinatown. At first we were going to have lunch there, but we couldn't find any menus which took our fancy. We got to see some interesting foods though... whole (literally) cooked chickens, raw hearts sitting in big stainless steel pans, loads of rather pungent fish shops, herbs and medicinal stores and bright colourful fresh produce stands. We loved the atmosphere. It was bustling and vibrant. There were loads of people rushing about, squeezing past each other in the rain with umbrellas knocking against each other. On the outside of the buildings there was a maze of steel stairways painted in different colours. There were also lots of fascinating little stairwells which led underground to all sorts of places including florists, restaurants and video shops.
We both split up for a while in the evening before catching the train and I took the opportunity to wander around Macy's. It was fantastic and reminded me of Selfridges, but not quite as upmarket. Even though I was just looking I thoroughly enjoyed my hour.
Our train ride home was fun, we never stopped talking from the time we left until we arrived in Matawan. The bike ride was not so great. It started raining pretty much as we rode out of the station and let up about half way home. We got the bikes over the gate without too much problem. We switched on Nyathi's engine to get the heaters going and thawed out while watching a DVD.
Saturday - We had quite a productive day today. I did lots of diary work and redrew our route on the world maps on the side of the vehicle. Michael uploaded all the photos from the cameras and gave our boots a good polish.
We had one particularly bold squirrel today come in search of food. He came right up to me while I was packing up one of the trunks. Luckily we still had some nuts left from when we fed the prairie dogs, so he would take one and then rush off to bury it, arriving back about 5 minutes later for another.
We went to the shops and stocked up on some cooldrinks for SE Asia and also bought a set of suitcases, along with a few presents for nieces. I started sorting through the cab to see what we needed to take with us to the UK. We spent ages at the laundromat in the evening doing all the bedding, towels and lots of clothing, so everything we have is clean. While we were there an incredibly heavy thunderstorm hit us, preceded with lots of lightening and rolling thunder. We had pizza for dinner which was a lovely treat (AND I didn't have to cook dinner). Back at camp I sorted out the bedding and laundry while Michael got some hot water going. We had a quick shower and sat in the cab and watched Insomnia (which luckily didn't affect us when we fell into bed...)
Sunday - Another busy day today and our penultimate in the USA. It is amazing how long it takes for us to get all our goods and shackles out of their various hidey holes ready for packing. We are taking a lot of stuff with us because we intend to leave it in the UK before flying out to South Africa. We got all sorts of things we'll no longer be needing or just don't use, such as a rolling pin (what on earth ever possessed me to think I'd bake on this trip?), used guide books, other books we've read, but want to keep, likewise loads of DVDs as well as clothing and all sorts of things for other people too. I'm sure we're no where near our weight limit though! And of course we're packing for a winter season in the UK and summer in South Africa.
While I was busy packing and Michael was braaing steaks and baking yams for lunch a local couple (from across the perimeter fence) came to talk to us and have a closer look at Nyathi. They invited us for tea later on, but as we still had so much to do (especially as I had to put all the photos onto the website and Michael had to do all the GPS co-ordinates), we declined.
Our old squirrel was back again today and he was taking the nuts out of our hands. He soon cottoned on to the idea that it was best to take advantage of the food supply while it was around and he only ran about 10 - 20 metres away to hurriedly bury his food, to coming running back again. Later in the day we saw him foraging in the forest, perhaps he was relocating his hasty stashes! We also two little kittens today, but when Michael approached them they darted off in the opposite direction. We threw our left over steaks out into the forest, in the hopes that if they get hungry they'll find them.
Well, we're packed and ready for the night. All that remains to be done tomorrow is to load the bikes in the cabin area of the vehicle and we'll have to leave at 07h00 to go to the loader's yard to put Nyathi into her container for the 39 day voyage to Port Kelang, Malaysia. Let's hope all goes to plan...
Monday 18th October 2004 -We were up at 06h30, with Michael having only got bed at 04h00 after uploading the website. We were both exhausted and hoping everything would go smoothly. We packed the last few things and made our way to the loading warehouse in New Jersey without any problems. They had clearly not been particularly well briefed by RTW (or RTW's agent). They thought we were just leaving the vehicle there. However, after we spoke to the manager Billy and his colleague Don White, they seemed happy to help. Don let Michael drive Nyathi through the warehouse to the waiting truck at the bay on the other aide. We had to take the spare tyres off the back and the vice and work platform off the front, and finally, to let out loads of air from the tyres. Don was remarkably calm and said he'd dealt with more difficult cases than ours before. It was a really tight squeeze and at one stage I thought we would never fit in.
What we had forgotten about was that we now have the extra heavy duty springs and that increased our height quite a bit. Michael used the crawler box and pushed her right up against the front of the container and then we had to push with all our weight to get the doors shut up against the tow hitch. So the good news is that she isn't going anywhere.
The bad news is that RTW hadn't old us that the vehicle documents should have been sent in advance and that's where the fun really began! The woman in the know was in a meeting, so we left the 'original' vehicle papers with them for customs. Don arranged for his driver to drop us off at the train station and that was that. We both felt irritated about the documents, but there wasn't much more that we could do.
We got to the airport six hours before our flight. Thankfully, Virgin allowed us to check in early so we didn't have to lug our rather heavy luggage around with us (65kgs between us). Michael managed to sleep in the waiting lounge, but I didn't. The flight was very full and the leg room ridiculous. Michael could not straight-on in the chair, his legs wouldn't fit. Needless to say it wasn't the best of flights. We like Virgin service, but not their lack of leg space.