Paddling the Nile
The first ever paddle down the Blue Nile from source to sea. 5,000km through wild rapids, war zones, crocodile and hippo infested waters, disease, terrorists, guns, arrests; the works...
Newly married amongst the neon glow and dumpling vendors as we bumble our way trying to figure out the world's most populous nation at this exciting time in it's history...
The Great Canadian Bike Trek
23 years old and naive, I set off in the middle of Canada's barbaric winter perched on a woolskin seat-cover peddling solo from one side of Canada to the other...
Fields of emerald-green grass blanketing the rugged hilly coastline like carpet, slightly concealed by the thin layer of mist furnishing the coves that nature has carved out over many millennia. Filling the air around like a warm breeze is the gentle mystical sound of an unaccompanied tin whistle. Over the creek and valley, past the stony remains of a 600-year old cottage, amongst the violet-coloured heather sits a beautiful Celtic girl, her long straight black hair gently blowing in the wind and ample red lips delicately giving life to the silver cylinder creating the pacifying melody.
Dublin couldn't have been much further from my fantasy of the Emerald Isle. Although the grassy strip between the lanes on the motorway was a blooming green, the majority of the city, like London, was a dirty concrete and brick, covered by row after row of terraced houses.
Dublin is in a relatively nice setting with a harbour to the east of the city centre, which is bordered on one side by the Wicklow Mountains (although they are really hills) and Howth Head to the other. Running through the middle of Dublin is a river, The Liffey, which bisects the city north and south, and acts as a focal point for the old, colourful, character buildings that proudly brace its Quays in the compact downtown area.
Dublin, being Ireland's capital, most populous city and centre of commerce and industry is alive and a buzz, riding on the back of 'The Celtic Tiger' an economic boom unprecedented in a country that has had a long and grim history of persecution and poverty. Favourable corporate tax rates, an educated work force, European Union membership and strong ties with the United States has meant investment has flooded in, taking Ireland from being one of Western Europe's poorest nations, to one of its wealthiest, and unemployment from around 20% to under 4%. It has all happened within the last 10 years.
Walking around Dublin, a city of pubs and churches, one can feel the positive vibe in the air, with the largely youthful population adding vibrancy and colour to the Fair City, as does the friendliness of the locals of all ages, who wouldn't think twice about talking to a stranger.
The biggest cultural difference for me, was the pub culture, especially after having spent the last couple of years in North America, where drinking at bars is a heavily regulated pastime. No matter what one would be doing, whether it be kung fu or kite flying, it would always culminate at a wood-panelled smoky pub, filled to the rim, every night of the week.
As buzzing as the city was, and as friendly as its residents were, my first while in Dublin was a little rough. I had just come from a fantastic 6 weeks in the sunshine of my beloved hometown of Wellington, just in time to catch the beginning of the formidable Irish winter. I was working in the telecommunications industry; a profession synonymous for acronyms, so it was a case of coming to grips the abbreviations as well as the technology – a steep learning curve.
But what was hardest for me was the Guinness. Back home I was not a fan of the black gold, I would force it down every St. Paddies Day out of respect for the Irish, but wouldn't enjoy a drop of it. There was something different about the stout in its homeland, it was a smooth, creamy liquid, that warmed the soul on its journey down.
Arriving at the start of the lead-up to Christmas, there were many opportunities to celebrate the festive season, and in typical Irish fashion, with the celebrations, came the Guinness.
Guinness, if consumed in sufficient quantities, has a laxative effect. The side-effects of the alcoholic beverage were so unforgiving to me, I started carrying around a spare pair of y-fronts in my pocket, and my bottom became as familiar to the toilet seat as a baby boy to his mother's bosom.
The problem escalated to such a degree that I had no choice but to ring the Guinness hotline to find a remedy. After taking my name and number and a description of my dilemma, I received a follow-up call a week later to give me a pre-rehearsed unhelpful answer that they had never come across such a damaging side-effect, and advised me to see a doctor.
With the post-Christmas calm-down and my guts building immunity to the consequences of the black beer, the situation has improved - my pockets are empty and visits less frequent.
My commencement of work for Eircell, Ireland's largest Mobile Phone Operator, couldn't have been better timed to coincide with a department excursion to the exclusive Brook Lodge in the Wicklow Mountains. The outing involved a few flowery team-building exercises, an exquisite feast, followed by a big night of gulping Guinness, which was a fine way to get to know my new work mates, although some near-naked antics during a token haka with a couple of fellow kiwi compatriots also working for Eircell, probably didn't paint pretty first impressions for the team. To top things off, the following day we were shipped out to the bush where we were kitted-out with overalls and many rounds of pallets for an intense few hours of paintball.
Bruised and battered from the activities, back in Dublin, I was charged with the grim task of finding a residence, which has become fairly tough due to Dublin's booming economy and influx of inhabitants causing quite an accommodation shortage.
Fortunately, one of my newfound work mates, John Barron, knew of a girl who was moving out of her room, so without hesitation, I slid in to fill the void. My new home was hardly the lap of luxury, but it was a nice, red brick, three-bedroom, family home, across from a leafy park. My bedroom was barely large enough to accommodate the single bed, wardrobe, chest of drawers and sink (I still can't figure out why there is a sink in the corner of my room), but I managed to squeeze in my small collection of belongings. I shared the abode with Big Al, a smart and interesting character from Cork who had lived five of his years in Prague, and Ciara, also from Cork, who kept things spotless.
I had bought a new red bike and was settling in, and while shopping in the city with my friend Triona, I ran into a couple familiar faces from back home. My good friend Ronny, my old flatmate and teammate and his girlfriend Trish, had arrived in Dublin that day from New Zealand via a romantic stint in Rarotonga.
As I don't have any family in Ireland, Ronny and Trish turned out to be my dates for Christmas. After a Traditional Christmas Day nippy dip in Sandy Cove with Triona and Ronny, we went back to the hostel where Ronny, Trish and 5 of their friends were staying for an ad hoc Turkey dinner with people from all over the world and a guest appearance from Santa, who we taught how to fly.
A light flurry of snow helped tradition and the overall mood was very good for the festivities with the cultures coming together in harmony, although as the night grew later, and patrons grew drunker, a food-fight got a little out of hand, and a knife-wielding Arab-dude was ready to chop me up. Had it not been for some quick-thinking diplomatic work from Ronny, our cultural differences may have led to bloodshed. But by bedtime, after a Dijeree-do performance in the shower by some bogan Aussies, my Arab acquaintance and I were again best of friends.