Saturday, March 31, 2007

The Black Stallion - Harmony

Monday March 26 2007

This morning the clouds were hanging low enough to obscure the near mountaintops and it was cool - yea! I'm Wearing fleece - no complaints here!

Trevor wanted to put his black stallion Cherox Egyptian Harmony out in a pasture with a mare. I rode with Trevor on the 4-wheeler as he ponied the black stallion
down the paved road, up a gravel road on his property and into a paddock with a mare who was waiting and ready for her black stallion. Boy that's a good looking horse. He's not very big, 14.2 hands, and I am a great sucker for black horses (and he's true black, doesn't get a cover - blanket), but he's really well put together, and he's got terrific manners. He and his uncle had their eye on this horse from Australia, and bought him a few years ago. He throws some nice horses, and they aren't all small like he is. He trotted along behind us, then we sped up and he galloped right along. Even when he had a paddock of horses whinnying at him and trotting alongside him, he bellowed at them, but never altered his course in following us.

Back at the house, Andrew showed up to help Trevor continue cutting up the huge 100-plus-yr-old tree they had to cut down before it split and fell on the road and his house. I, meanwhile, could take Picksy out for a 10 km walk down the road. If Trevor was positive he wanted to trust me with his Nationals horse - sure! I could do that.

Trevor caught him and saddled him up for me and turned me loose, and Picksy and I did the 6-mile strolling loop down the road past the neighbors' farms. It was still overcast, slightly cool, but no wind, very comfortable, and very lovely to be out in the Kiwi countryside riding (again) a Lord of the Rings horse! It took us two hours, what with having to stop on the way up and fill the tank up with grass a couple of times.

When we got back the boys were almost done with their work for the day, Andrew still chain-sawing away and Trevor hauling the trunks and branches away with the tractor. I brushed yesterday's sand and sweat off Picksy, then turned him loose in the very front yard. Then I sat out on the porch with the computer to keep an eye on him, had an ice-cold beer, and kicked up my feet. The boys stopped their work and Trevor fixed Picksy's feed while Andrew started the grill.

We had yummy barbeque (Trevor's home-grown cows) out on the porch into dark. The low clouds were still around, but no precipitation, and it was very silent. You could only hear distant traffic if you listened real hard (Trevor groused at it and I said "You need to move further out into the country!") and a bull bawling. Andrew's sausage dog launched herself off the porch several times to find scraps Andrew threw her.

Andrew left, and another neighbor farmer stopped by - neighbors are always popping in on Trevor - and they talked sheep and cows. And a bit of horses. Vince didn't have horses, but Trevor's world revolves around them, so there's always talk of horses in the house, no matter who you are.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007



Saturday March 24 2007

OK, so it wasn't Shadowfax, or Brego, or Arwen's gray horse (who is actually on the North Island with his owner Jane Abbott, with some other Lord of the Rings horses, where I was hoping to have time to visit), but he was one of the hundreds of extra horses, (literally 200 or 300), one who became well known and was in many shots, in many of the close-to-the-camera shots because he was such a good pony, and he was probably the only Arabian there. All the horse armor was too big for little Picksy - the face plates would hang down almost to his chest - so they had to cut some things down to his size.

I told Trevor I had to get a picture of him with his Lord of the Rings horse, who's in the paddock off the porch, (and pet him), and he said "You're going to ride him!" What!? I (and the Raven) were going to get to ride this famous anonymous Lord of the Rings pony!

Dell Dancer, or Picksy, is a very laid back Arab gelding, about 15.2. Trevor brought him up for me, took his thick rug off (most endurance horses in training seem to wear these heavy blankets), massaged him all over, his fingers working out this one spot on his left croup that always has a little knot in it. The Raven met this famous unknown Lord of the Rings horse, Trevor saddled him up for me, held him while I got on... and Picksy just stood there. I walked him around a bit - very easy going - no need to ride him a while to get used to him - and we waited for Trevor to saddle his half Arab black gelding.

We headed out the drive and down the paved road toward the high peak, for a mile or so till the road turned to gravel. It's out in the country so there's little traffic. Trevor's mount didn't have front shoes, so we moved to the grassy shoulder, and Trevor started trotting, then moved right into a canter. Picksy followed eagerly along behind, and the canter turned into a gallop. Picksy galloped right along behind, then suddenly leaped in the air and looked underneath him, to see what it was he jumped over, and we ended up on the road, pulling up beside Trevor, who was pulling up because his stirrups were too long and he didn't have complete control. We walked along another mile or two, past Marie and Murray's house, and came to a locked gate. Trevor's a friend of the guy who owns the whole mountain top, only he couldn't remember the combination to the lock. Picksy ate grass while Trevor tried to open the lock; he called a friend for the combo, tried a few more times, then finally remembered it. We passed through the gate, followed the road down and up a gulley and around a corner, then started trotting up the road. We left the road at a curve for an uphill slope on grass where we turned the horses loose, and they attacked it at a gallop. We climbed higher and higher, then turned up another grassy hill, which was really a mountain, and we hauled ass up it! Trevor was leaning forward over his horse's shoulder and I leaned forward and threw Pixie the reins. The cool strong wind was blasting us in the face, big floating thistle seeds were hurling our way like storm-blown snowflakes, and Picksy's mane lashed me in the face as the horses leaped and launched their way up this steep mountain. The Raven and I were galloping on a Lord of the Rings horse up a mountain in New Zealand! Yeehaw!!!

The horses slowed to a walk the last 50 yards along the road to the top, huffing and puffing. We had a view spread before us of the entire south of the South Island, it seemed, from up there. The wind was howling and cool, and we didn't stay long before we turned around and led the horses back down. We hopped back on at the gate, and walked most of the way home.

Trevor's going to ride Picksy in the 160 km at Nationals in two weeks. How many horses can say they were a star of Lord of the Rings, and are competing in national FEI endurance rides? And how other Ravens can say they rode a Lord of the Rings star and an endurance star?

Cosy Dell Arabians


Friday-Saturday March 23-24 2007

Hand off the endurance rider...

David and Sandie Marshall picked me up at 9 PM Friday from Linda's and hauled me down south with them... they were taking a couple of horses down to Oamaru to family friends, where we were staying the night, picking up Nolene, and taking her down to the funeral of a long-time old-school Arab breeder Brian Ross; I'd be dropped off with another endurance breeder and rider Trevor Copland (Brian was his uncle), and David and Sandie and Nolene would pick up a horse or two to haul back home. When you drive long distances in New Zealand, you might as well take care of as many things as you can.

Trevor's Cosy Dell Arabians is just outside of Gore, on the bottom part of the South Island, just at the foot of the Hokonui Hills. We arrived at noon, just as Trevor was loading up a beautiful black Arabian stallion that he was taking to the cemetery, as a tribute to his uncle. I went with David and Sandie to the neighbor's, "just next door", several miles down the road actually, where David and Sandie were buying back a gray gelding that they had sold to Marie several years ago. We went in for tea, as you do everywhere in New Zealand, and it came up that Marie, and Trevor, had been extras with their horses in Lord of the Rings! How exciting for me! Trevor would be quizzed extensively on that later.

We picked up the horse, hauled it back to Trevor's and turned him in a paddock for the day, then headed for the funeral reception. It was packed with friends and relatives of Brian. There I properly met Trevor, and he told us about the black stallion at the cemetery: when the hearse pulled up, the black stallion stood up tall, screamed 3 times, and then stood there quietly during the service. What a nice accolade to Trevor's uncle! He also told me, "Make yourself at home. There's food and drink there, so if you go hungry, it's your own fault!"

Back we went to Trevor's farm, which is surrounded by rolling green paddocks of horses and cows, chickens, a few caged dogs (all dogs in New Zealand must remain kenneled or chained up unless working), and deer fencing, which meant Trevor probably raised deer, and probably some sheep also.

When Trevor returned we discussed my plans... priority of which was riding! Maybe a trip up to the top of the mountain that you could see from his drive, and a trip to the beach, the "most beautiful beach in the world to ride on," and the southern-most beach you can ride on. Twist my arm!

Then on to the important stuff: Lord of the Rings! I'd seen a photo of Trevor on his horse in costume in the house. I thought he'd be all macho about it, "Oh yea, I was in Lord of the Rings," all snooty been-there-done-that, but his eyes lit up, "Oh man, it was brilliant! I went for 3 days and stayed for 3 months!" Trevor really didn't care that it was a huge movie production that could be the biggest production of all time, or that he'd be working with some famous actors. He and his horse just went and had a great time.

Dell Dancer (Picksy) - who he'd only ridden 4 times to break him in before he answered the call from Lord of the Rings - became quite popular because Picksy took everything thrown at him - standing still while horses galloped away from and straight at and past him, standing still on a mark for 4 1/2 hours while all kinds of commotion and filming went on around him, carrying a huge whipping flag when no other horses would get near it, galloping in a line of 200 horses, no kicking, no bucking, no bad behavior. The makeup people would have to keep passing through the piles of horses to touch up make-up and costumes, and most of them were a little intimidated, not knowing horses, so he'd take them on little rides when he had free time to get them used to horses. Picksy took everything in stride. Not bad for a barely-broke Arab!

The horses got the hang of their job: whenever Peter Jackson would say "Rolling - 3 - 2..." Picksy (and the other horses) would wake up and perk up and inflate for the cameras... "1 - action" and chaos would happen; and when Peter said "Cut" the horse(s) would deflate till the next take.

One of the actors (must have been David Wenham - Faramir, or Karl Urban - Eomer, and it sounds to me like it was Eomer) copped an attitude when Trevor told him he had to gallop down this hill faster because he was holding other riders up and screwing up a particular scene. The "bloke" (honestly, I don't think Trevor knows the names of the actors that he worked with) told Trevor that Trevor couldn't tell HIM what to do. Anyway it turns out this bloke admitted he was scared, that he'd never galloped a horse flat out, (not to mention downhill), had just learned to ride in Wellington for the movie. So Trevor gave him some coaching, had him gallop uphill (easier) to get used to it, and after they did that, the bloke found he enjoyed it. He trusted and listened to Trevor after that, and he gained great confidence in his own riding.

Trevor also got to be one of the black riders (!!), got to fight Orcs, got to do lots of horse and battle scenes, as did Picksy, got to die once or twice, was one of the Rohirrim when they surrounded "that guy" (Aragorn) and "the wee little dwarf" (Gimli) and "the blond guy that shot the arrows" (Legolas). He was right in the thick of the filming because he held Eomer's spear. In this scene where the Rohirrim galloped up to and surrounded the three heroes, the "wee dwarf" was scared when Trevor galloped down to him and skidded to a stop right in front of him, because his horse's (not Picksy on this day) bit broke and was hanging out of his mouth. They did another take or 2, (Trevor stopped his horse by his breast collar each time), and Gimli was so flummoxed by the bit hanging out of this horse's mouth that he couldn't concentrate on his lines.

Trevor remembered everything as if it happened just yesterday, when it was about 5-6 years ago already. He could have talked on for hours and I could have listened for hours! His stories were just as fascinating as the documentaries that accompany the extended versions of the movies, which included a good piece on the horses and riders - which I don't know that Trevor has ever seen.

Now who would have guessed I'd be a guest of a Lord of the Rings extra horseman!

Okay, peel me back to the present and endurance...

We hopped on Trevor's 4-wheeler and took a tour of his 300-acre farm that's been in his family for 4 generations. He's got 3 Arabian stallions, the gorgeous black one, 14-year-old Cherox Egyptian Harmony; a gray one Whitestone's Silver Flame, (24); and a bay one Ralvon Outback (5 or 6), bred by the renowned Ron Males of Australia. It's a little early to turn the stallions out with the mares, though the gray and bay stallions are already out with their bands. Here, with seasons opposite to the U.S., they want to drop foals about mid-Nov through January (official birthdays for all Arabs are Aug 1).

We went from paddock to paddock, up and down hills, horses here, cattle there, deer there, the different species mixing together at will. The horses and deer don't mind each other, and Trevor's stallion Harmony likes hanging out in the middle of a mob of deer and will play with them. The deer are raised for meat, though the market is down now. Wool is good right now only for keeping the sheep warm in the winter (no market for it), so they are mainly used for meat.

Trevor knows all his breeding backwards and forwards, what he's got, what direction he's headed. He really doesn't like to take in outside mares to breed because it really is more of a pain than anything else. He'd rather foal out his own mares and sell the foals. His uncle Brian got into breeding Arabs, and did a bit of endurance, as such, as it was back then. He just loved to produce foals, and he always gave people a great deal, either on the breedings or the foals themselves.

Trevor's been around horses all his life, got into endurance about 8 or 9 years ago. He's broken in horses here in New Zealand, in Australia, and the UAE, (he likes the challenge of the problem ones) and this season he's got 18 of his own young ones to break in. He makes it sound easy (and I think that's because he's a good horseman)... I'd like to watch his methods.

There's a strip of coal running through his land that he reckons will eventually get sold to the government... in which case he'd get a good bit of money "to buy a bigger place for more horses." But that would be selling what's been in his family for so long, and where would he find such a perfect place? This spot gets the best weather, he can raise all his horses on grass - no hay or hard feed (grain), and the youngsters develop good balance running up and down the hills.

If that isn't enough, it's just a great place to sit on the porch and live and breathe horses in New Zealand!

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Mt Horrible



At 11:30 Linda and I loaded up Abigail and Savannah, and hauled them a few miles down the road toward Mt Horrible. The name has to do with the Maori wars before the Europeans came. I thought it was going to be in the big mountain range quite a ways away, but it turned out to be a little hill, barely distinguishable from the surrounding rolling hills and farmland, until you got to it and went up it. It was a nice uphill climb for the horses, and we trotted all the way up. I rode Abigail, a very nice mare, smooth and responsive, that will be going to the Nationals in two weeks and doing the 100 km.

New Zealand has adopted the FEI endurance rules and goes by them for all their rides. Here horses must do 2 novice 40 kms, then 2 novice 80 kms before they are qualified for open rides (as do riders). David and Sandy Marshall one day held an 80 km ride, and two 40 km rides, one in the morning and one in the afternoon - you could bang out your 40 kms in one day for a horse. This is Abigail's 3rd season of competing; she's done enough 40 and 80 k's and is ready to move up in distance.

Linda is a resolute trainer - it's always business for the horses on a training ride. Straight ahead, carry on, stay the same speed, which is 10 km/hr, (about 6 mph, just what we do in the US) on sand, grass, pavement, up hills, down hills, or on the flat. If you must spook, do it while carrying on. There's no stopping to smell the roses, or horse poop, like Stormy likes to do. (Of course, Stormy doesn't trot 10 km/hr either.) In the rides Linda's horses start out going their well-schooled 10 km/hr, and the pace picks up every loop on the ride, according to the horse's condition and ability.

Linda said she'd let me lead at the speed I wanted to go, since I was on the leader of the two horses, but heck no! I wanted to know what she did, not me try to guess what was best. We walked the horses a mile or two till we got to where the road started climbing, and we took off at a 10 km/hr trot, all the way up to the top. Most of the time we trotted on the pavement of the country roads - you can find some grass shoulders to trot on, but it's deep grass, with what underneath you aren't sure, so sometimes you're just forced to trot or canter on roads. Fortunately there wasn't much traffic, because here, as on the North Island where the Horse of the Year endurance ride took place, people don't appear to slow down much for horses. We did wear bright yellow safety vests to attract more attention from motorists though I doubt that makes a difference to them. We passed farms of sheep and cattle, and a few goats, rolling green hills, with the mountain range to our north-west, and the sea to our right. The horses broke a little sweat in the cool overcast day, but they powered right on up the hill. At the top, we turned around and powered right back down the pavement, 10 km/hr, stopping for a few pictures (the Raven came along again), and slowing to a walk on the downhills when it had sprinkled just enough to make the road a bit slicker. Abigail was a fine, smooth, fun and willing ride and it will be fun to see how she does in the Nationals.

Back home, after lunch we went out and cleaned another paddock of 10 bags of pony poo. We were supposed to go meet the neighbors - Morgan horses and Icelandic pony farms, but we ran out of time. Rebecca and Monica showed up, and without Linda we took 3 horses out. I rode Razzy, Linda's HOY 7th place endurance mare. She's a crabby ol' mare, the boss of the herd, will kick at anybody, and pin her ears at you when you saddle her, but she doesn't really mean it. She's a really nice horse, a lovely ride, very light and all business. We spent about an hour and a half riding in a big circle (circles? I was very lost) from the house. Almost all the ride was on the pavement, and when we'd hear cars coming, we'd pull over to the side as far as we could, because on a whole, vehicles do NOT slow down for horses. Which I find bizarre, as this is and always has been a farming community, and what with that and the Kiwis being so friendly, you'd think they'd have the common sense to slow down for people on horseback. Razzy was handling everything just fine, but Monica and Rebecca were on younger horses. Once we heard a truck coming up a hill around a corner towards us, and we motioned him to slow down. Well, Mr Cranky Truck driver wasn't so happy that he had to stop. "You shouldn't be out on this road! This is the third time I've had to stop for horses!" (Is that such a horrible thing?) The girls had a discussion with him, explaining that the horses were young, there really isn't a horse path near here to ride on, and the law says to slow down for horses. "Really?" He had no idea. The girls told me there was even an advertisement on TV to make drivers aware of slowing down - really, isn't it common sense? People must slow down for school buses - hopefully that law (common sense) happened before some young child was killed. So will a horse rider have to be killed before people learn to slow down for horses? I hope not. Less than half all the vehicles we met slowed down at all or moved into the other lane giving us more room, and I figured those were parents of young girl riders! We've been really lucky in the states, especially in the desert, where nearly all the motorbikes and 4-wheelers slow down for horses, and a good number even turn their motors off. I just find it quite puzzling here.

We got back just at dark, turned the horses out to their grain, and Linda had an amazing meal of potatoes and sausage and marrow (a kind of squash) and silver beet (like a spinch-kale) waiting. Rebecca stayed for dinner, and she showed me some scars on her ankle - a horse had flipped over backwards on her (a mare in heat who didn't like being disciplined), badly broke her ankle, cracked her femur, a couple of ribs. She had 6 hours of surgery, was in the hospital two and a half weeks, and was back riding as soon as she could. It happened only 6 months ago!

Ah, what we obsessed riders go through to get back on our horses...


Tuesday March 20 2007

Linda Pullar, my host here on the coast of the South Island in Timaru, has 19 horses, a big farm on a hill, and boarding pastures down the road - 10 acres all together, with a view to the South Pacific Ocean not far away. Timaru is the birthplace of Pharlap! He was bred and born here, and sold to Australia as a yearling. Linda rode as a young girl, got away from horses as she raised her 3 daughters, then as one of her young daughters developed an interest in horses, she got back into them also. Linda started endurance about 10 years ago. For her it's a business; she doesn't let herself get attached to them. Her goal is to bring horses along and sell them overseas to pay for next season's endurance. She teaches lessons, and she also runs her own business of producing phone book covers, selling advertising space on them.

After arriving at Linda's home at 11 AM Tuesday, I was desperate for a New Zealand adapter for my computers and cameras. I have one European adaptor, and a "Universal" adaptor, the Universe of which apparently does not include New Zealand! Linda loaned me her car and turned me loose, and I drove into town to find one. This wasn't my first attempt at driving on the left side of the road - I'd done it across South Africa 11 years ago... but I kept telling myself, "GAUCHE!" which is left in French, which was the word Carol and I kept yelling at Leonard in Napier-Hastings as he sometimes forgot that he was supposed to be on the left instead of the right. The roundabouts would be confusing enough if they drove on the right side of the road, but I escaped them unscathed. I also had to parallel park on the left side! And the steering wheel is on the right, for an added challenge. I was also very careful not to get Linda a parking ticket and skip town.

All went well, I found an adaptor quickly, and stopped at McDonalds, not for food, but for an ICED Coke. I had to ask the lady to fill the cup with ice. "More ice?" She looked at me as if I were daft. "Yes! Fill it up with ice!" And I got a half cup of ice with my coke, which I greatly enjoyed. You can't get a cup of ice in any hotel or grocery store or gas station anywhere. I think nobody in New Zealand ever craves a cup of ice with their drinks. Oh well, I guess I'll stick to my lukewarm water.

Back to the farm, a bit of work for me on the computer because I am so far behind, then I went out to help Linda pick the horse poop out of the lower pastures. We scooped it into a cart pulled by a 4-wheeler, then bagged it up (8 bags!) and took it to the bottom of the drive, where she leaves it out for people to pick up at $2 a bag. There's an Honesty Box down by the poop, where people mostly leave their $2 when they pick up a bag. I don't think there are too many places where you can do that. The Bedouins might be that honest.

In the afternoon, Rebecca and Judith came over to ride with us. We headed down the road a mile or two to Linda's other property where she boards horses, and we took 4 out for a short ride - Monica drove up and joined us. My mount Babe, a Thoroughbred bred off the track, wasn't used to going out in a group, so we spent the ride walking, making sure she didn't get too excited. But that was fine, because it was still the Raven's and my first ride in New Zealand! More trails to ride tomorrow!

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Epic Journey to the South Island

Monday-Tuesday 3/19-20/2007


Change of plans... instead of travelling around New Zealand for a week with Steph before she took off, suddenly she would head back to Auckland then jet off to Paris, while I'd stay on in New Zealand for a month. I found out from Paul Jeffrey (who's working with Steph and, and is a New Zealand endurance rider/breeder) Saturday evening that he'd arranged for me to leave early in the morning to catch a ride with some endurance people to and around the South Island until the Nationals on the North Island in 3 weeks.

This involved some slight panic in packing, sorting computers and programs and procedures out, keeping the Spaniards awake (again!) long into the night, before waking off little sleep again to catch a taxi to the Horse of the Year show. I'd be hitching a ride south with David Marshall and Sandy and their son Trent, getting handed off to endurance rider Linda Pullar, who'd take me down to Timaru to her farm for a few days before handing me off to other riders. Okay - sure!

After spending Sunday wandering around absorbing the horse show again, I helped David and Sandy load up their float (trailer) and 2 horses, and we hit the road at 4:30 PM. When the North and South Islanders compete on the other's islands, it involves lots of slow driving on 2-lane winding roads on both islands and a 3 1/2 hour ferry ride between Wellington on the North Island and Picton on the South Island. I rode for a while in the truck cab with Sandy and huge grey-blue-eyed Trent who stared and stared at me ("who are you and why are you in my truck?") and grinned his cherubic grin ("I don't know why you're here but you're alright"). For the first couple of hours the wind was blowing a gale and with that and a few hills to climb, Sandy could drive no faster than 40 mph much of the way. After a stop for petrol I switched to riding in the float with the horses - I snoozed on the bed facing the two beasts.

When the float stopped I woke up completely disoriented; when I stepped out in the dark we seemed to be in the middle of nowhere, unloading the horses and talking to someone. Turns out it was a sheep farm near Levin, (was a lovely place when I saw it in the morning) where Linda Pullar was staying the night with her cousins and resting her horse overnight. David and Sandy would snooze briefly then continue driving to Wellington where they'd board the ferry they were booked on at 2 AM. Linda was booked on the ferry the next day at 1 PM. I crawled into a bed in the house and passed out, and woke up the next morning, surprising the cousins Marie and Peter and their visiting family Max and Judy, who graciously welcomed me there. Linda and I loaded up her horse Razzy (they finished 7th in the HOY Endurance ride) and left at 9:00 AM, driving down to and near the Kapiti Coast and the green Tasman Sea, and arrived in Wellington at 10:30. We drove into downtown Wellington, where the ferry was right there on the water - oh my, the Raven and I were in Wellington New Zealand!

Linda's was the first float to line up for the ferry, and we had time to go grab a cappuchino at the train station and people-watch. By the time we returned to the ferry, many other horse floats had pulled up, all from the Horse of the Year show, headed back home to the South Island. One hunter-seat lady had her big gray warmblood out stretching his legs on the ferry dock. He dropped a load right by our float, and one of the ferrymen asked us if we'd pick it up. Sure mate!

We started loading onto the ferry at 1 PM, and it was a bit of chaos. We led the way in, driving in forward, making a half-loop on the parking deck and having to back up against the back wall to face out. Linda would have backed up, but she was a bit worried about backing too far into the wall, so she asked one of the ferrymen to back it up for her, assuming he'd be able to just back it right up. Well, backing a horse trailer was not his specialty. He went back and forward (first time he put the SUV in neutral, which I brought to his attention), back and forward, hitting the brakes hard, getting yelled at by his foreman (3 of them were yelling at each other), and meanwhile 2 other trailers are backing up into the slots on either side of us, and one lady was also getting yelled at. Our poor driver just didn't have a knack for backing at all, and he mumbled "Not really having a good day today, coming to the end of our 48 hour shift..." as he hit the brakes and got yelled at to move forward and try it again. Linda was looking a bit terrified for her horse, and I was a bit petrified also in the passenger seat, but was afraid to tell the guy I'd back it up for him, but then, maybe he was pleading for someone to offer just that! After 5 minutes of pandemonium, the foreman finally yelled "STOP!" and the driver practically leaped out of the car. Poor Razzy! She took it well, but then, what could she do, stuck in a horse trailer.

We offered Razzy a drink, then left the parking garage (where other horse floats, and travel trailers, and a double-bed 18-wheeler were rolling in and backing up) for the upper decks, where we went to the back of the ferry, facing Wellington. It was a beautiful pleasant sunny day - hopefully it would not be too windy, because I just found out it was a 3 1/2 hour ferry ride, and the crossing could be so rough at times the ferry was cancelled. And here I am, prone to getting seasick at the slightest rocking of the boat (very annoying!), with my seasick pills buried in my suitcase which was buried in the bottom of Linda's boot, on the car deck where people weren't allowed during sailing. I snuck a seasick bag into my pocket, and made sure I knew where the toilets were just in case I was going to embarrass myself later.

I didn't! We had a wonderfully calm passage, about an hour getting leaving the North Island - getting out of the bay at Wellington and around Cape Terawhiti, about an hour crossing Cook Strait (one fellow passenger said "This can be one of the worst crossings anywhere, when the wind travels up the Strait just right"), and about an hour along the South Island, cruising some channels into Queen Charlotte Sound (Totaranui), where the passage narrowed at places to where you could almost touch the islands on both sides. I went to the front of the boat through some of these and got wind-blasted (it wasn't freezing like ferries usually are, but I was glad I had a good jacket on). It was beautiful, the islands rising out of the water looming over us. We chatted with some passengers, one couple laughing at my pictures of the Raven. They had their own Ragdoll (in the car downstairs for this passage) who travels around getting its picture taken. I saw a good bit of logging - plenty of clear cuts on the steep hills, some forest replantings, many 2nd growth forests. Some of the islands had little cabins on the shore, accessible only by boat. I guess if you were marooned here for a while, it wouldn't be such a bad thing.

We pulled into the little ferry town of Picton on at 4:30, and were on the South Island (!!) and the road by 5. Razzy was very relaxed, (Linda offered her water again before we drove off the ferry) so Linda decided to drive down the road a ways before stopping to let her off to stretch her legs. The road wound around the forested (many logged) hills, and eventually we came to a flat agricultural valley - corn and fruit orchards - before moving into grassland hills - lots of sheep and cattle. The road after reaching the grassy hills became winding again, and it swirled back and forth, around this way and back around that way, on and on. We had stopped in Ward and let Razzy out for a few minutes in a big grassy park, walked her around for a while and gave her water, then loaded back up. The road then took us to the coast, and the road got more winding, like highway 101, the US west coast highway. Beautiful with the waves breaking on the rocks and reefs and shore right below us in the evening sky, but so winding - it must have been so tiring for Razzy (and David and Sandy, who also lived down this way). And narrow - always a 2-lane road, only a few places now and then where a passing lane was available. We were headed for Christchurch, where one of Linda's daughter lives, where Razzy could be turned out overnight for a rest again and we could have a good sleep. It got dark, and eventually the road left the coast - and here was where it got REALLY winding! 15 mph curves, around one way then the other. On and on the road went, and then on and on some more. Linda was well awake (and used to the drive), but I had to close my eyes now and then. Linda said we'd stop for coffee... but now it was 9 PM and all these sleepy little towns were asleep. There wasn't a great amount of traffic on the road, but a fair amount of 18-wheelers. We finally did come to a place where we filled up on petrol, and she got coffee and I got sandwich and the mango-mix pure juice that I've quickly become addicted to. (No ice available anywhere!)

And the road went on and on... and at last the lights of Christchurch appeared in the sky. We drove around the outskirts and near 11 PM pulled into her daughter's farm, where we unloaded Razzy, threw a second heavy canvas blanket on her (we wouldn't blanket our horses at all), and turned her out into a paddock where, I'm sure, after 13 hours on the float with a short break, she passed out, like we did, sneaking into the quiet house, and going right to sleep. I think I took my shoes off before I passed out on top of my bed.

Tuesday morning Linda woke me at 7 (I might've slept till 7 the next morning if she hadn't), and I wandered to the living room where Esther and Arthur and baby Thomas were having coffee and breakfast. We loaded up Razzy (took her blankets off, because even though it was cool right now, it would get warmer, and put on her 4 shipping boots), and left at 8:30 AM. From here, Christchurch down to Timaru, highway 1, was straight, and often 4 lanes, and no wind, (though this area was known for wind), so we were able to cruise right along. On the North Island, the area around Hastings is known as "The Fruit Bowl of New Zealand" - rich in agriculture: apples (bursting off the trees right now, reading for picking), oranges, peaches, grapes (many wineries), veggies. This area of the South Island is flat plains well watered by the big river drainages - the Rakaia River, the Rangitata River - coming from mountain ranges fingering off the Southern Alps (Ka Tiritiri O Te Moana). It's rich in dairy cattle, hay, corn, and horse farms. We passed farms of Standardbreds, draft horses, Thoroughbreds, also some alpacas. We passed numerous fairgrounds and racetracks on our journey - flat Thoroughbred racing and Standardbred harness racing appears to be quite popular in New Zealand.

We stopped for petrol again, cappuchinos and yummy pastries, and arrived in Timaru on the sea (South Pacific Ocean) about 2 1/2 hours later around 11 AM. So, in total, that was approximately 19 hours of travel for Razzy in the horse box. (David and Sandy live near Christchurch, so maybe 2 hours less travel time). I guess that's not so different from hauling from southern California to Idaho for a ride, stopping once or twice along the way, but I'd call it quite the grueling trip. The Kiwis' North and South Island Championships alternate between islands every year, as do the Nationals. Horse of the Year is always in Hastings on the North Island, so this long trip is made 1 to 3 times a year. Not so bad, I guess. The South Islanders will be turning right around in 2 weeks and heading back to the North Island for the Nationals, which will be not quite as far as Hastings.

As we drove up the drive to Linda's house, her 3 endurance horses (who'd stayed here on the South Island and done a local ride the same weekend) kicked up their heels and ran alongside, waiting for Razzy to unload and join them. We turned her loose, and they galloped up and down the lane a while. Then we threw a bale of hay out in the upper pasture and let the horses out there, and they all took to tearing around, tails over their backs, sprinting back and forth, skidding to stops, leaping in the air, and taking off together again. I'd say they were happy to be reunited to tell their ride stories!

NZ Horse of the Year Show Weekend

Sunday March 18 2007

HOY Show

Saturday about 2 dozen endurance riders mounted up and headed over to the main jumping stadium at 1 PM for awards and a bit of a closing ceremony. They all entered the stadium to the always-played tune “Stand Up For The Champions” (the same tune that Namibia played over and over when Steph was there last year - it's a catchy tune that sticks in your head) and trotted around the big jumps as the announcer talked about the endurance ride. Then all the riders lined up in front, and the BC winner was announced – the gorgeous chestnut Highlander ridden by Lois! The team placings were announced (winners were the Kiwis), and everybody had a good trot ‘round the stadium again.

The group of us got some lunch and sat in the beer tent; Paco and the Raven (who came along to enjoy the festivities) got on well. Paco said the chef d’equipe of Spain thinks that Ravens are good luck (well of course!), so Paco figures the Raven helped him win his medal. Paco wants a Raven if I ever stumble upon one again (don’t think they are made anymore). I said I’d bring the Raven to Spain… because it looks like I may be going to Spain for a ride this summer.

Then we had a day to play at the showgrounds with the thousands of other people here. It appeared to be a very successful and popular 54th Horse of the Year show. My eyeballs were popping out all over the place at the magnificent horses walking all around me. You know how I always want to touch things, well, I wanted to reach out and touch all of them that walked by me! But I figured that wouldn't go over so well.

There was so much to see! Some fantastic dressage, more jumping, driving classes, and those oh-so-fun mounted games (I want to do this!) on crazy ponies. We missed the cross-country, but we stumbled upon trick riders in the main arena - these guys and girls were crazy! A path was roped off outside of the jumps, and these trick horses sprinted flat out around this path while the riders flipped over both sides, upside down, hanging off the side, 2 riders at once, one backwards, one upside down. When the riders would be waiting to take off, the horses couldn’t stand still; they’d be wheeling and rearing and spinning and leaping, till they shot forward, heading for that first corner, ears flat back, racehorse-sprinting, leaning into the turns (usually with a rider hanging backwards off the side), dirt clods flying up in the air. Texas cowboy music was playing in the background, like the Yippee-Ay-A song, and the announcer was hollering into the microphone like it was an old Wild West Show. He said the horses were headed for the meat market before they were saved and recruited for this trick riding. One of the girls fell off when her saddle slipped - she ran after the horse and he was resaddled (while another horse and rider sprinted around), and she jumped right back on and did her death-defying hang off the side of the runaway horse (saddle firmly in place this time). They were pretty excited horses – they'd rear and bounce on their hind legs till they were turned loose to run, and when they’d sprint the circle path, instead of making the fourth turn to go round again, they’d go straight ahead and crash into their waiting buddies. One especially hyped up horse, leaping and spinning, made his way to the front of the crowd, and suddenly calmed down to do his trick: he went down on his knee and rolled over and played dead. The rider climbed all over him, laid down and rested on him; 3 young girls from the audience were brought out and sat on him; the rider laid out full length on top of him, and the horse never twitched, till he was asked to get up, at which point the rider jumped on, and he amped right back up and took off like a shot, tearing around the ring again. Crazy horses and riders! My favorite was Charlie, who had some draft horse in him – he ran as hard and as fast as he could, but it wasn’t such a fast death sprint. Charlie was more my speed – maybe I could have stayed on Charlie’s back! The Raven had a great time watching them.

Sunday was more entertainment, the same classes, different classes, and the exciting Mounted Games; and then there were Clydesdale riding classes, pulling classes, show classes. Stand on one corner, and watch big warmblood jumpers on one side and pony jumpers on the other; draft horses pulling sleds on the other and paint show classes on the other.

There were also shops of everything Horse you could imagine or want: riding clothes, raingear, hats, helmets, Zilco tack, show gear, saddles, hoof products, vitamins, feeds, magazines, leg boots, cool vests, horse blankets, Dick Wicks (I am not making this up - they make magnetic blankets), photos, paintings, drawings, tea samples, elecric fences, trailers, adopt-a-grayhound, solutions and advice for your problem horses...

Seeing all this magnificent horseflesh, and missing Stormy, I naturally wondered about shipping him on over to New Zealand next year and entering him in and winning some of these classes. He already knows how to wear the ribbons he'd win, as he's carried trail marking ribbons before and thinks he looks pretty cool with them fluttering off his neck and breast collar. Now we'd just have to pick the classes we'd want to win.

Hmm, wouldn’t that be a kick if Stormy and I could look as good as some of these great horses doing dressage... Stormy can bow his neck real good, that's half the battle, right? Although I think he'd have to do a little more than eat with his neck bowed in the arena. I think we'd both have to work too much for dressage - Stormy’s dreadfully lazy (he’s convinced he’s retired from everything but eating), and I just stink as a correct rider. Plus, to think of the years and years of walking and trotting and cantering in an arena… nope, couldn’t do it (me or Stormy). I’ll just enjoy watching it and appreciate the years the riders and horses have put in. Maybe we could enter the Clydesdale riding classes... Stormy's not quite as tall, but after a good summer and spring, he can easily match their roundness. The Clydesdales were about Stormy's speed - slow motion. But that was only because they're big, and Stormy's slow because he's lazy. High stepping, the big draft horses leisurely wound figure 8's around cones and turned wide corners through ground poles. Stormy would make the same big slow and wide turns because he's lethargic. The Clydesdales did have beautiful big feathery legs, which Stormy doesn't have. I know Stormy could win all the halter classes - he's obviously The Most Beautiful Horse On The Planet. He knows how to pose (for a camera), and he actually does know how to stand still. But, on second thought, he HATES to be groomed, and all those horses looked shiny and polished, and not one extra long winter hair on them. And on third thought, those horses looked very trim. Stormy wouldn't be able to suck his gut in. Guess we'll skip the halter classes too.

Those Mounted Games (the most popular event on Friday) looked the most fun! I'd have to get a pony for that, because Stormy would just refuse. I don't think he can sprint anymore, and he sure can't turn on a dime. I don't know if I could stay in the saddle myself, leaning halfway out of it to pop a balloon or spear a bucket or ring at a gallop, but one day I want to give it a try! I'll just leave Stormy at home wearing his Most Beatiful Horse on the Planet ribbons in his unkempt mane, bowing his neck to eat another bale of hay.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Kelt Capital Horse of the Year Endurance Ride 2007

The van carrying our riders was supposed to leave at 5:15 this morning, giving our riders plenty of time to get to the venue at 6 AM, for the 7 AM start. Leonard and Carol's alarm didn't go off, so they woke up at 5:35, and were in the van with hopefully everything they needed at 5:40. Steph and I caught a ride with New Zealand vet Kate, and with Dr Bala and his wife at 6 AM.

There were about 35 starters in this FEI CEI** 100km ride; a team of South Africans, a team of Kiwis, and a "world team" which was Paul's team of himself (a Kiwi), Leonard (Belgium), and Paco and Cecilia (Spain), and the others riders rode as individuals. The ride would begin on the showgrounds in Hastings, ride through Cape Kidnappers (wonder what the story is behind that!), cross the Tukituk River twice, through apple orchards and residential areas, and finish in downtown Havelock. The ride started in the main stadium, where 35 riders and horses warmed up around the show jumps as the sky turned pink in the east. An announcer was broadcasting the start over the grounds. At 7 AM a police car led a rider with a flag and the rest of the field out of the grounds and onto the trail (road) for the first 4 km of a controlled start.

From there, Steph and I caught a ride with Mel, another vet, and Nel, vet Kate's assistant, attending her first endurance ride, to the first vet check, 33 km down the trail. We followed a lovely winding river valley through mostly bare hills, then wound our way down to a beach - a long private beach of heaven! Maybe the owners have their own endurance horses, as there were quite a few horses tucked back here in paddocks and on the hilltops, or maybe they were just friendly horse people or just people lending their place for a vet check and riding. It looked like there were cabins to rent also, and if you had a horse to ride, miles and miles of private beach to gallop along in the surf. It was quite beautiful - the water was blue green with white waves along the shore, an island out to the south, towering ocean cliffs to the north.

Crews pulled in to set up for "strapping" (which is what we Americans would call "crewing"), and it was like a big relaxed picnic atmosphere, although I'm sure tensions mounted with some camps as their horses came in. I wouldn't know, because I hiked down the beach a ways and planted myself to wait for the horses as they'd take off down the beach on their 2nd loop. The trail went right along the beach for a couple of miles for this one part of this one loop, before the tide came in.

Damn, here I was, stuck for the morning on a gorgeous white sand beach in New Zealand! I picked a stunning spot for photos (well, just about every spot was stunning), and I waited, with what sounded like geese or ducks or maybe herons making noises over the dunes just out of sight, and the breakers WHOOMP-crashing as they came in. And when the first riders started coming, oh man, the shots I had were so great I could barely hold my camera still enough to get them, without jumping up and down for glee, standing there (in New Zealand!!!) shooting them, me!! The only thing better would have been galloping along the surf myself, but that will come later. J

A few riders pulled at this first vet check, but about 30 came by me, several of them smiling and waving to me as they passed. When Paul and Paco and Leonard and Cecilia rode by, near the back of the pack, all the men were serious and stern-faced, concentrating hard on what they were doing (Leonard said he never saw me standing out there, 50 feet away from them), but as Cecelia passed she broke into a huge grin and waved at me. She was having a blast, looking around and enjoying every minute of her ride in beautiful Kiwiland!

As I passed the time between horses just soaking up the beauty of the place, the white sand, blue-green water, the distant cliffs, the mist over the beach, the sharp hills rising 100 yards inland (with horses grazing on the very top), the waves crashing, the beauty of the horses galloping by along the water, I was thinking, The only thing that would make this any perfect-er would be some dolphins leaping in the surf.

Watch what you ask for - not ten minutes later, I see dolphins out in the water!! I thought I was hallucinating at first, because how could I have just conjured these dolphins up, but there they were, dolphin fins breaking the surface about 100 yards out in the water, dozens of them, maybe 50, maybe 100, strung out in a long line, heading north along the beach just like the riders. Several riders saw them also, so it wasn't my imagination! Gee, what else would I like here in New Zealand? How about Viggo Mortensen or Lord Aragorn galloping down the beach towards me? Be careful what you ask for J

The horses returned to this private property area after a short loop for another vet check, then they went out for another longer loop, returning back here again for their final vet check. A few more horses were eliminated, and Paul's group was slowly picking off horses, moving up in placings. They also spread out a little bit according to the horses' abilities; Paul left the last vet check headed back to Havelock a few minutes ahead of Paco, who was a few minutes ahead of Cecilia. Leonard followed a bit after that.

Yesterday at the vet-in this gorgeous chestnut gelding caught my eye: Highlander, ridden by Lois Hosking. At the first beach vet check today, this same chestnut caught my eye again, a big poser! He galloped by me in 6th along the beach. He stayed up in the front of the pack all day, and came in the top 3 in the last vet check here.

After our riders left on their final loop home, Steph and I hitched a ride with (I think) Vicki Scheffer who was crewing (sorry, "strapping") for her husband Graham, into the little town of Havelock, where the horses would finish in a little town park. Barricades were set up along a mile or so of a busy street, and policemen were out directing traffic while waiting for horses to come in. Townsfolk started gathering in and around the park to watch the finish. Ron the announcer was set up and was talking about the riders, the sport, and what would be happening; by extensive radio communications (throughout the whole day, and many checkpoints), we were informed when riders were approaching. It was quite a festive atmosphere, pony rides in the park, kids climbing trees, bike riders, families strolling about, wiener dogs joining the festivities.

The first rider to come in was Jenny Chandler on a pretty gray, but she did not pulse down in 30 minutes, so she didn't get a completion. The second across the line, Kylie Avery was then declared the winner, and my favorite chestnut Highlander was moved up to second! Lois was quite happy, and Highlander looked quite good trotting out. All the horses had to wait for a van ride back to Hastings, so while they hung out waiting for the other horses to finish, Kylie's horse was attacked - by little girls! He stood there while half a dozen little girls at a time petted him and snuggled with him. Sometimes there were 12 hands on him at once, lovingly touching his skin, or heads resting on his shoulder. He attracted grownups too, and one elderly woman had her picture taken with him and Jenny. Either he was really too tired to care, or he didn't mind it at all, but I think he kind of liked all the girl attention he was getting. The little girls probably dreamed tonight of having their own endurance horse and winning a ride like this one day! Future Junior riders!

Paul ended up finishing 4th or 5th. Paco followed a while later, and Cecilia finished a bit further back, still all smiles, elated to be here and to have finished the ride. Unfortunately Leonard did not finish - his mare refused to cross the Tukituk River the second time. They'd all balked the first time across as a group, but finally made it through. Here Leonard was alone, and he tried everything he could think of, even waiting for the next two horses, but she wouldn't do it, so he withdrew, and got vanned back. Three of the South Africans finished (Steph knew them from her visit to South Africa and Namibia last year), including her special friend Villa Botha, who was also thrilled and grateful to have the chance to ride, and finish here. Two juniors started and finished. A South African rider was the last to finish a little after 5 PM, all by herself.

All day people had been friendly, and I got several invites for places to stay, sure, come ride with us, and anything you need, just let us know. I'll be taking some people up on this!

Steph and I, and Dr Bala and his wife Magis, and vet gang Kate and Mel and Nel wanted to call it a day with a coffee from the coffee shop (I had already visited two!), but both were closed, so we were forced to go to a pub. Really, Dr Bala and his wife wanted coffees, which took about half an hour to get. We figured the pub workers must have had to go buy an expresso machine, or run open one of the closed coffee shops to make them. Magis said it was worth the wait once it arrived. Steph and I wanted a New Zealand beer, and so made the mistake of ordering the first tap we saw that said "New Zealand" - and ended up with a shocking first swallow. Cider! It was cold, but didn't hit the spot! Next time we will read the fine print more closely - or just drink more coffee!

And so ended the Kelt Capital Horse of the Year Endurance ride. If everything went well, it will become a permanent discipline of the Horse of the Year event. Maybe next year I'll be on a horse!

Land of the Long White Cloud

OMG - NZ! I can't believe I'm in New Zealand!! In the native Maori language, New Zealand is known as Aoteraroa, which is usually translated into English as The Land of the Long White Cloud. When I landed in Auckland, in the north of the North Island, It was indeed cloudy, and windy, sprinkling, and COOL! An immediate short flight an hour southeast to Napier/Hawkes Bay, landed me where it was COOLER, and spitting rain! No whining here! I sucked in great lungfuls of the cool drier New Zealand air! I hitched a ride with a man Ron, who knew nothing of my arrival, and who was picking up Dr. Bala (veterinarian for the King of Malaysia's stables, would be head vet for the Horse of the Year Endurance ride) and his wife.

I happened to end up at the correct hotel in Napier where Steph had just arrived (she flew in a day early, and stayed in Auckland a night). The Palm City Hotel was the gathering place of a group of endurance riders who would be riding in Friday's 100 km endurance ride as part of the Kelt Capital Horse of the Year. It's a multi-disciplined horse show, and international endurance has returned for the second year. Some of the riders would be: Leonard from Belgium, with Carol, (the same two we were with in Malaysia last week); Paco from Spain, with his wife Esther; Celia from Spain and her husband Thomas (Steph and I got stuffed into their 2-bedroom hotel room because of a booking oversight). There were also four South African riders due, among New Zealand and Australian riders, 34 total.

Napier looked and felt like a sleepy little coastal town, much like coastal towns in Oregon. I heard the very green Pacific Ocean was very near, but I'd have to see it in the morning, because it was an early night for me.

And I saw the green Pacific the next morning; we drove alongside it for a while on the way to Hastings, where the Horse of the Year events were already underway at the Fairgrounds. Actually, we drove and drove, (Leonard drove, and he's used to driving on the right side of the road in Belgium, and here the Kiwis drive on the left…), and finally we realized we might be lost. We stopped to ask for directions twice, and finally ended up at the Hastings Fairgrounds an hour late. Paul Jeffrey was taking his 3 riders out for a ride on his horses; they quickly saddled up and took a spin - around and around the small warm-up grounds where we were parked because they couldn't go out on trail -the first part of which was in residential areas.

The Raven came along today, rode in the van with us, met with and talked to Paco, made friends everywhere, ate with an endurance horse, and got his own miniature horse ride.

Meanwhile, I wandered around the grounds watching all the people and horses and events. Horse of the Year - what a great concept. What a fun show! Big horses, little horses, ponies, tiny horses. Dressage, big Clydesdales pulling a wagon, (scaring many horses tied to trailers), jumping, Mounted Games (!!! What fun!!!), endurance, horses everywhere doing everything. The horses in Malaysia were on the thin side - I guess you would want that in a terribly hot and humid climate - and they were all kinds of shapes and sizes, some Arabs, lots with Thoroughbred blood. Now here in New Zealand at this show - here were some good looking horses! I sure like to ride Arabs, but my favorite are the Thoroughbreds and Warmbloods. Just dang good looking horses. Many were almost as handsome as Stormy J. Good flesh, good size, good shape. I lust after the Mustangs, love looking at the Thoroughbreds, and like riding the Arabs.

It was a beautiful, sunny, partly cloudy, cool, bit windy day. I even happily wore my fleece jacket on and off when I was in the shade! No more rain - the skies cleared and the grounds seemed to have nice footing. And oh my god, I am in New Zealand!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

The endurance horses all vetted in, and the riders went to their meetings while Carol and I snuck a little bit of shopping in between picture taking.

The endurance ride begins tomorrow at the quite decent hour of 7 AM, and the weather prediction is nice weather, not so hot and humid!

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Malaysian Conclusion

What is it that makes a country wonderful? It's the people. Malaysia is just that because of its wonderful people. Everywhere people were kind, friendly, always had a genuine greeting or a smile. You got the feeling that they really did enjoy meeting and visiting with you and having you, a foreigner, in their lives, even if it did disrupt them. Of course, the good food doesn't hurt either.

OK, so I did whine about the weather, but that's a matter of your preference. Even a lot of Malaysians said it was dreadfully hot and humid. Steph loved it. I whined about it a lot and came near to heat stroke once or twice. (Wah, wah!) However, there was an awesome rainstorm that dumped on Kuala Lumpur my one afternoon there. I'd just gotten back to the hotel after a wilting long walk, and it started raining - and I mean RAINING! A big, fat, luscious life-giving deluge, a downpour that is frequent in the monsoon season, which this is not, a deluge that refreshes you physically and spiritually. I stuck my arms out our 6th floor windows and soaked it up (I stopped short of running outside and standing in it). I hadn't seen rain in maybe 6 months, and it's been years since I've seen a long heavy serious deluge of sheets and torrents like that. It purged the city of its traffic noise, and it knocked big leaves off some trees that with the breeze floated upwards before spiraling down. It didn't smell as good in the city as it does in the real outdoors, but it still smelled refreshing, cleansing.

It went on for maybe 20 minutes (with one bolt of lightning and thunder!) before you could see it passing on out of Kuala Lumpur. In the distance you could clearly see jungle hills with low clouds floating on them. Now, a good soaking every day in Kedah would have quieted my bellyaching about the heat, if just briefly! I'll just have to come back during the monsoon season.

It seems not too many people smoke here. Not too many people walk here either - everybody either has cars or one of the abundant motorbikes.

It was great meeting and mingling with riders from all over: Holland, Indonesia, Belgium, Malaysia, Qatar, and to hear their languages and accents. Of course it also makes me feel dumb (as it always does) that I don't speak anything other than English when everybody else easily converses in at least 2 other languages.

As for the good food - I had dinner three times a day. Thai or Chinese or Malay food for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I was sure I'd gain weight here what with all I ate but alas that did not happen!

The fresh fruit juices were in a class altogether extraordinary! Apple, watermelon, guava, starfruit, orange, MANGO, coconut - all fresh squeezed right where you ordered them from. (And on ice!!!) Made you weak in the knees when you sipped one of those on a hot day (which was every day!)

As for the method of eating… well, where you normally might be used to a knife and fork and spoon, or at the least a knife and fork, here you traditionally get a fork and spoon. You can conveniently eat off one or both, and you use the spoon to cut like a knife. And you always get whole pieces of chicken with the bones, so good luck with cutting the meat off with a spoon. You can always eat with your right hand, which some people do, but it can get quite messy. (Also hard to get the meat off chicken with just one hand, if you can't bite it off) I used my fingers in India all the time, but here in Malaysia I tried to master the spoon-as-knife technique. I didn't always cut so well, but I could shove spoonfuls and forkfuls in my mouth almost simultaneously!

And so in closing, I would recommend Malaysia to only a few travelers. Sure, I'd like to share it with some people, but I don't want it spoiled by hoards of tourists. I don't want the lovely country to change at all!

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Malaysia Tourists Prologue

Malaysia Tourists Prologue

With all the Kedah endurance ride stuff over, some of us foreigners were going to have a special treat of spending a day and night on Penang Island in a new hotel.

Steph's plans changed to where she'd have to miss Penang and fly straight to Kuala Lumpur. I'd go on to Penang (no complaints!) and fly to KL late Monday morning as scheduled.

She left early Sunday morning from Alor Star; Shah came by the room around 10:30 to tell me I'd be getting a ride to Penang with the "Dutch team" at 12:30 and to bid me farewell - as of now he was off duty! I thanked him, told him we really appreciated everything he did, we really enjoyed having him to work with. Boy are we going to be spoiled anytime we go somewhere else! I gave him an endurance net Tshirt - don't know if he'll wear a bright blue, but I know he'll appreciate the gesture. I think Steph inspired him to learn to ride horses!

I got a call downstairs from another liaison officer Neermal at 11 AM asking if I was ready to go now. I was, and when I got downstairs with my big suitcase (on which I now had to unzip the expandable zipper, from too much shopping!), the Dutch girls Barbara and Jeanne were already packed up in the car… and had no room in the trunk for my big(ger) suitcase! A little problem. No way we could squeeze the driver and Neermal, and us three and all the suitcases in. So, Neermal and our driver were immediately on the phone to tackle the problem, arranging for another driver.

While we waited, Neermal suggested we go by the White Coffee house for ice blended hazelnut white coffees, since it was kind of on the way… no complaints from here on that idea either! The other car arrived just then, and my suitcase got its own limo transport. The coffees were a wonderful cool treat for the hour or so ride down to Penang!

Instead of the heavily congested 4-mile bridge across to Penang Island and Georgetown, we took the ferry. We got out of the car and stood at the front of the ferry - a lovely breeze blew over us! It wasn't too warm, though it was certainly still not cool! It was just a 5-10 minute ride; then we had to wait on the other side because the suitcase car had to wait to catch the next ferry (about 5 minutes later). We were driven to this fancy new hotel along the waterfront (a bit of a muddy beach in front - the tide must be out). We checked in at the front desk - whoa, a pretty huge nice modern international hotel.

I went up to my room... up and up, to the 10th floor, and WHOA! It was a HUUUUUUUUUUGE room with a front view of the waterfront! Yikes! Did they make a mistake? Was somebody like me really supposed to be staying in here? I was afraid to spread out all over the floor like I usually do! The bathroom was bigger than my travel trailer back home! And much more elegant! Boy, Steph was going to be sorry she missed this!

No time to rest, since it was now almost 4 PM; had to get back out to see some of the town. I met Neermal downstairs, and we waited for Barbara and Jeanne. Neermal had to leave so she pointed out to us where to go for shopping. Of course I was thinking of a local market, of which there are one or two here in Georgetown that I've read about, and I think Jeanne was thinking of that too, but Neermal steered us to... you guessed it, the huge modern mall next door.

We went inside anyway because Jeanne wanted to buy some blank DVDs - Help me! Disneyland meets casino meets Mall of America. Eight floors (the 7th just for parking), thousands of people, announcements just like at Disneyland (in that same deep expressive happy voice!), noise and more noise. It was just missing the Ding-Ding-Ding-Dings of casinos. You had to wait in line to get on the escalators! There was a movie theatre in there too, and one of the movies playing was TONIGHT WE DINE IN HELL. Okay!

Finally Jeanne found DVDs, and after looking at the price of a scarf that was something like 90R (I paid 14R for mine in Alor Star), Jeanne said, "I think we want a real market." Yes! So we escaped the mall, and went back to the hotel to ask about a local market. (Barbara went upstairs to catch up on sleep.)

The boy at the front desk answered, "I think you should go to the mall." "We've been there. We want a local market." "I think that it is too late, it is only in the morning. Morning you try." Then he added, "I think that it is Sunday, no market." OK... we left figuring the boy just wanted us to go shop at the mall!

So Jeanne and I just decided to go walking, and we headed down the waterfront the other way, east. It was, as usual, hot and muggy, though we had plenty of shade from huge trees on both sides of the street. Some of the trees had naughty noisy crows in them, maybe the hooded crows that are all over this part of the world. There were a lot of young people out and about - it's the school holiday. Not too many traditionally Muslim-dressed people out; this looks much more like a holiday island, with plenty of tourists. We walked and walked, and finally turned to make our way back. We had found a local food court area that Neermal told us opened at night, so we planned to meet downstairs at 7, and we'd try to find Leonard and Carol, and Otto (all arrived before us), and Rohanna to come with us.

But before that, of course I had to run to the Starbucks next door on the outside of the mall. I ordered a double expresso over ice. My mouth was watering for the cold drink, I was dying from the heat… "I am sorry, we have no ice." Well, I tell you, I was just floored! "What, no ice?!" "No, no ice, sorry." I was so stunned I didn't know what to do - had my heart and mind and soul set on an iced breve (after adding my own thick cream, like the delicious Starbucks we had at the KL airport a week ago), that the thought of a hot steamy cup of strong coffee, no matter how good it was, filled me with horror. But of course not so much horror that I'd pass it up.

So I agreed to the double shot of expresso, and I was thinking at least a big cup I could fill up with cool heavy cream, and maybe I could leave it in my room's fridge to chill a while, when out came this teeny tiny cup of concentrated thick motor oil with a little whiff of coffee in it. It was about the size of a thimble, and there was no cream, no half and half, only weak milk, and the cup was so small, no more than a pinch fit in it anyway!

I took my miniature Starbucks concentrate to a table, and sat down. As I sipped from my hot thimble of coffee, I spied some people with big cups with ICED DRINKS in them, so maybe the girl just didn't understand me, or maybe they just don't put shots over ice. Being that it was so hot outside, and my expresso was very hot, I didn't want to hang around and stretch this imbibing adventure any longer than necessary. So I gulped down my liquid (two swallows) and left, and by the time I got up to my nice room 5 minutes later I was already getting caffeine-loopy. Great!

Jeanne and Barbara and I met downstairs at 7, and hadn't connected up with anybody else, so we went down the street to the food vendors. Oh my, there was so much to choose from, much that I didn't recognize, it was quite overwhelming! The place was packed too - I can see why it opens in the evening, because it would be way too hot to hang out during the day. But now, getting dark, it was a busy hangout. Barbara got some prawn mee (noodles), and Jeanne and I finally decided on chicken satay, prepared over a hot fire by a young smiling polite Indian boy.

We walked around afterwards, taking about 10 minutes to cross the insanely busy streets, stumbling across this fresh seafood market/restaurant, and I mean fresh - you ordered your fish or crab, and the boy fetched your live specimen right from the tanks. Alaska crab, shrimp, fish, geoducks, you name it.

When we got back to the hotel, we ran into everybody else - Rohanna had arranged for us all to go to dinner. We three were full, but we enjoyed the company of Carol and Leonard and Otto and Rohanna, so we all caught taxis to this traditional Malay restaurant that Leonard and Carol had already had lunch at today.

I was full, but I sampled a few dishes, two of which were killer salads - made with shredded mangoes or apples, onion, lemon grass, diced chilis, and lime juice, with some kind of sharp vinegar-y dressing - to DIE for! Plus fresh juice - apple, mango (!!), coconut straight from the coconut, etc. And the food was so cheap!

And here Rohanna gave me the news that Steph had changed her flight to New Zealand back to tomorrow, and was trying to change mine also; my 11:30 AM flight tomorrow from Penang to KL was now at 5:40 AM! (Or was it 6:45 AM… there was some confusion over that). So I'd be getting up at… 4 AM?? Yikes! So I passed up a night of partying (which I would have done anyway :) to get to bed, which didn't happen till midnight. I asked for a 5:30 AM taxi (I decided to bet on the later 6:45 AM flight), and a 5:15 wake-up call. I dug my alarm clock out of my suitcase to set for back-up, because I didn't quite trust hotel wake-up calls... which was confirmed when I got a wake-up call at 11:30 PM.

So, it would be off to KL early in the morning off little sleep, and find out when I got to the airport whether I'd be immediately continuing on to New Zealand, or if I'd get to stay in KL a day...


Saturday, March 10, 2007


The Raven got to come along to the Closing Ceremonies and experience Royalty! We all sweltered once again in the afternoon heat. Well, maybe Steph did not suffer - on the ride to the venue, she said, "I wonder if the hotel has a hot tub or Jacuzzi?" AAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHH! I about incinerated in my car seat. And me, I was all dressed up in black, head to toe!

The whole shindig started a half hour later than scheduled, then finally the first of the dignitaries arrived: Prince Rashid of Qatar. Rumored to be the handsomest man on the planet, and I'm not sure I'd disagree. The Raven got a little peek of him as he walked by, but I was afraid to stick him right in front of the Prince - didn't want to offend and did not want the Prince to covet my Raven!

Time ticked away in the heat - seems things were delayed even more, (I saw Prince Rashid check his watch once), which wasn't that bad, even though I was cooking, because there were plenty of nice Malaysian people to visit with (have I mentioned how nice and pleasant everybody is?). I used one of the programs (with Steph on the cover) from one of the bags (with Steph on the cover) in every chair for every visitor to fan myself with hot air. It was very hot, even for the Raven.

Finally the others began arriving: the Saudi Prince, the Sultan's brother, the Sultan and the King. When I saw many of the people greeting the King with folded hands and a little bow, like a Namaste greeting, I wasn't sure that sticking the Raven in the King's face would be interpreted as a respectful greeting, so the Raven waited till the King was past to pop up and send a greeting.

After the National and State anthems, I had to excuse myself to a back row, because the sun was just beginning to grace our row. Really, I don't see how those horses and riders did it! After speeches, the presentation of awards to the top 5 placings in each ride were ceremoniously given. People cheered and clapped when the names were called; the winners walked up to the stage (respectfully walking on the side of the yellow carpet), and received a prize from either Prince Abdullah, Prince Rashid, the Sultan, or the King.

After more speeches, the Royalty walked back out past us on the yellow carpet, stopping to greet people along the way. The Raven watched from the safety of his bag, and then took a last look at the stage before we left.

And so concluded the Raven's first mingling with Royalty!