Earlier this year, Andy finally quit the After Hours Clinic after over 4 years slavery there. This was to give time to pursue other things- such as Andy and Chris's 'Adventure Out' adventure tour business. To help with finances, Andy arranged to return to the UK for 6 months working, mainly at Banovallum Vet Group, where he used to do locum work before emigrating. Chris decided to come along as well, and arrange a job when he got there through contacts in English Nature.
Andy managed to break a leg paragliding 6 weeks before leaving New Zealand (see 'A Smashing time at the Mousetrap'), but this failed to stop him pressing ahead with plans.
The first stop on the journey was San Francisco, where they had arranged to stay with a friend on Russian Hill, in a beautiful house one block from the 'Crooked Street'. Rick was a fantastic host, introducing us to many people in the San Francisco area, and arranging plenty of entertainment and trips for us. San Francisco is probably America's most beautiful and interesting city, with lovely green spaces in and around the city, and a very liberal (for America!) attitude, and pleasant climate.
The most memorable trip was to Mariposa, near Yosemite, where we stayed with Richard Hunter in his log cabin in the woods. He took us out to Yosemite Valley, which is incredibly beautiful, and I suspect best seen early in the season like we did, before the hoards of tourists descend. The nearby redwood grove was totally awesome. Not only were the redwoods amazingly big (big enough to make NZ's surviving Kauris look small), but the other trees growing there (Douglas fir and sugar pine) were of similar grand scale, and over 200ft tall.
After San Francisco, Chris and Andy flew to Vancouver, and hired a new Ford Mustang to travel across British Columbia and the Rockie Mountains to stay with Chris's friend Chaz in Canmore near Banff. After only a few hours at the wheel, Andy managed to crash the Mustang by doing an illegal left turn (I blame the Canadian road markings- they have different meaning to UK or NZ ones!). Luckily it was still drivable, though the passenger door had to be banged shut from the outside!
Canmore is a town situated in a truly beautiful spot in the eastern Rockies, with 3000m peaks crowding the skies on each side of the valley. Although we were there in late April, spring had not yet arrived, due to a combination of latitude and altitude. It was rather strange to go from Autumn in New Zealand to spring in California, then back to winter in Canada! Snow was still lying on the ground, and lakes were still frozen over.
Chaz, Pam, and their 10 year old triplets made us welcome. Chaz is an old caving friend of Chris's, and now runs an adventure caving trip at the nearby Rat's Nest Cave. We didn't see the cave, due to Andy still being on crutches, though. We did see lots of other local attractions, though- including a lake fed by hot springs, where several species of tropical fish survive amidst the frozen wastes! We also walked up Sulphur Mountain (there is a cable car to the top, but the ride up cost money, and coming down is free). The sign at the bottom warned that it was a 2 hour walk, or up to 5 hours in snowy conditions. This was a sad indictment of the state of fitness of North American tourists- we completed the walk in 2 hours, with a lunchbreak, Andy on crutches, and deep snow for more than half the walk, causing Andy's crutches to unpredictably sink to the hilt!
The furthest east we got was to a dinosaur museum in the badlands east of Calgary, a four hour car journey from Canmore, but well worth it. The displays were fantastic, and it took all day to get round the displays. On the way back, we called in on another of Chris's friends, Ian, in Calgary, who coincidentally had just been on a caving expedition with a vet Andy knows. Small world!
After Canmore, it was back to Spring in Vancouver, and a short stay with Cathy Apleu, an old friend of Chris's. The weather here was quite different from the dry, pleasant Rockies more like April in England. As well as seeing Vancouver, we drove down to Seattle to visit Andy's old school friend Jeremy Kenyon, who had set up a software company there. Seattle is a quite beautiful city, and we had a wonderful view from a tower in the centre of the city, as far as the volcanic peak of Mt. Rainier, one of the highest peaks in the USA .
We flew back to San Francisco, and after a short stay with Rick, and a shorter stay in Los Angeles (a vision of urban hell! 13-lane highways, and almost 100% concrete cover!), we flew to London.
We stayed in London for a few days at friends Dean and Tracey's, whilst Andy bought a Citroen Dyane 6 (1982 vintage), then headed for Lincolnshire. Andy had arranged to work at Banovallum Vet Group in Horncastle for most of the summer (a practice he used to work for regularly before emigrating), and had been lucky enough to arrange accommodation with a local farmer David Cotton and his partner John McCavish in nearby Hemingby. (Coincidentally, we had met David and John briefly in New Zealand the previous New Year).
Chris, meanwhile, arranged a job with English Nature in Peterborough, as a project leader on a team preparing reports on UK Marine Special Areas of Conservation. (The European Union had required the UK government to do this). Anyhow, Chris quickly arranged to rent a tidy but soulless flat in a tidy but soulless suburb of a tidy but soulless city. (After 6 months of living there, Chris hadn't even seen his neighbours, let alone met them! This was typical of the strange reserve and lack of community spirit in Peterborough). Luckily, Peterborough is only an hour and a quarter from Horncastle, and on the way to London (where we spent a lot of time). Andy fitted in easily to work in Lincolnshire (some clients didn't realise he'd been gone 5 years). He was there all summer, except for 2 weeks at a nice rural practice in Ilminster, Somerset, and 2 weeks at MAFF (which changed to DEFRA whilst he was there) in Lincoln. The MAFF work was well paid (250 pounds a day), but highly bureaucratic! Luckily, there was no Foot and Mouth disease in Lincolnshire, so it was mainly killing BSE (mad cow) contacts, or checking up on pig units feeding swill. Andy just wishes he'd left a few more weeks free to fill with MAFF work! Kris came over for a month in late June, and we all went paragliding in Spain a fantastic holiday (see 'A Hitch hiker's guide to Piedrahita'). Chris and Andy also had a few other breaks, notably a long weekend in Lundy in September, and another long weekend in Amsterdam, just before leaving for New Zealand in November.
Lundy is a granite outcrop 3 miles long and half a mile wide, in the Bristol Channel. Chris and Andy had had to cancel a trip there 5 years earlier, so we were keen to finally see the island. The MV Oldenburg, a battered old passenger ferry, took us from Ilfracombe to Lundy. Just out of Ilfracombe, a pod of bottlenose dolphin joined us to ride the bow wave, and the boat tilted noticeably as the passengers all rushed over to have a look!
We arrived on Lundy in beautiful sunshine, and were met by the English Nature warden, a large, bubbly woman called Lisa (Lie-za), who showed us where the key to the snorkelling store was. (Chris had contacted her through work). Our accommodation was an old granite house (Old House North) right next to the Marisco Inn, which is the hub of island life. We'd booked this because the campsite was full- a good choice, as it pissed down all the next day!
We wanted to go and climb Devil's Slide, a huge (450ft) granite slab on the west of the island, which has a classic Hard Severe (HS) climb (about grade 16 in NZ language). But we had to wait till mid-afternoon, when our luggage was delivered. By then, it was cloudy, and by the time we were on the rock, a persistent drizzle set in. Still, it was a wonderful climb- a slab of wonderful friction, with a crux traverse under an overhanging wall right at the end.
Sunday, as I said, had atrocious weather. We walked around the island getting soggy, but seeing the wonderful scenery. A brief clearance as we passed the dive store prompted us to go snorkelling for a while- interesting, but I've been spoilt by coral reef diving, so I wasn't too thrilled! The above water scenery is more interesting, with its bleak, Scottish west-coast-like appearance, and old granite buildings. The old lighthouse is climbable, and we sat at the top in deck chairs making cell-phone calls (the only decent reception on the island!).
Monday was better, and we did a couple of rock routes at Beaufort Buttress, watched by a couple of curious grey seals. On Tuesday we were to leave late afternoon, and I looked forward to more climbing (the weather was beautiful again!). However, we were then told that the MV Oldenberg was trapped in the harbour by the unusual, northerly wind, and we were to be helicoptered off at noon. Damn! No time for more climbing! At least we made it back to Peterborough at a reasonable hour.
Our final trip of our big OE ('Overseas experience' to non-kiwi readers) was to Amsterdam. Chris and Andy took a cheap flight, with David Cotton (Andy's host in Horncastle), for a long weekend. We stayed in a guest house close to the centre, and engaged in some serious partying- so time for sightseeing was limited! However, Amsterdam is a fantastic city to explore on foot, and has some wonderfully liberal attitudes- a real breath of fresh air after the stuffy, conservative atmosphere pervading most of England. And, no, we didn't get hassled by drug dealers, or feel unsafe on the streets late at night. On the contrary, we found the Dutch much more friendly and approachable than the English, and enjoyed the laid-back atmosphere in the Coffee shops. We also encountered shirt-sleeve weather in early November- Amazing! Definitely a place to revisit.
Finally, an apology to all the friends I (Andy) failed to manage to visit over summer (You know who you are!). It was great to renew friendships with everyone I did see, and to catch up with family too. I'll be back next summer!