Owls, sunrises and yarn-bombing

It’s been a busy few weeks. I haven’t known whether I’ve been coming or going at times and I have often thought I’d just quite like to spend a few days doing nothing. Still, the busy-ness keeps me from languishing and procrastinating or thinking too much about the sad events of earlier on in the year.

In terms of the challenges for my #50Before50 quest, I am making good progress in some areas and less in others. The wine drinking is coming along a treat and I have made steady progress with eating cheese and dining at Metro restaurants. One challenge I have not really tackled so far has been watching 50 sunrises. I happened to see three while driving to the gym before work but I feel a bit of a fraud counting these as they were incidental. And so it was that I managed to persuade my friends Jenny and Cate to force ourselves out of bed last Saturday to see the sunset from Te Mata Peak in the Hawkes Bay. The weather was not promising so we chatted on the way about whether it would count if we didn’t see the sun itself. We all agreed it would be fine as we weren’t about to admit we’d got out of bed at the unearthly time of 6.40am ON A SATURDAY only for it to not be allowed. Personally I would have been heartbroken. We needn’t have worried because it was totally amazing – just the best sunrise ever. Let’s remember I don’t really have a comparison as I have seen very few in my life due to my tendencies to be a night owl.

Sunrise from Te Mata Peak

If they are all as beautiful as this then the other 49 will be worth it but I now realise I need to be doing more than one a fortnight in order to get them all in… Ideas of great viewpoints from where to see them in Auckland would be much appreciated.

In other challenge news, I’ve found a cluster of tree trunks in my garden that will be great for yarn-bombing and creating a piece of tree art. My mate Mary suggested I ask people to help me by knitting some squares which I can then sew together and then stitch around the trees. I will embellish the pieces with buttons, ribbons and pom-poms and another friend even suggested I use old pieces of jewellery, beads and earrings. I am really grateful for all these suggestions as I really do totally lack imagination. I can’t wait to see how this artwork will unfold and morph over time into something totally fabulous. Nic my wonderful neighbour has given me some wool and Cate some more wool and a selection of needles so I’m all set.

Do enjoy the video where I wax lyrical about the sunrises…

Until next time xx


Well it’s been a long time but I’ve at last been reunited with a gong I bought in Vietnam several years ago. Hitting it with the stick and hearing the marvellous noise it makes has been a bit of an obsession for the last couple of days. It takes me back to being 6 years old and staying in this funny B&B with my parents. All of the children staying there took it in turns to sound the gong to signal breakfast in the morning. That is, until my brother hit it so hard that the stick broke and so the gong was no more. This is the same holiday where we, along with some new-found friends (who have remained friends for life) turned all the tortoises in the gardens onto their shells. I recall my father being angry when he found out about this and it has been with much relief that I found out from my mate recently that his tortoise can right himself. So maybe I am not a tortoise murdered after all. Phew.

Anyhow, it’s been a busy few days. I went to Sydney for work which was actually really hard work. People seem to think it is glamorous to travel for work and it I will admit I do largely enjoy it, I am very fortunate and it is great to see new places. But, by and large, it’s exhausting. But, I was lucky enough to stay on a couple of days and do this great cycle tour with Graeme from Bike Buffs. He’s an eccentric who plays music from his bike so everywhere we went we got strange looks, most people thinking it was great and doing a little jig, a few looking at us with contempt. He made us do some jumps off a wall while he laid down and took photos to make it look like we’d jumped off the harbour bridge. If only my eyes were open in my photo… The other fun shot involved him doing a pano. We started out at one end and once he’d panned past us, we had to run behind him and reappear in the other end of the photo. It’s a pretty cool shot even if I do say so and I can’t wait to try it out with some mates. If you get to Sydney, give this tour a go! It was great fun. We saw things we wouldn’t have seen otherwise, including Wendy’s amazing secret garden and, of course, it was pretty special to cycle over the bridge (twice).

While I was away, a few things happened at home – new deliveries, additions to the decor – but I won’t spoil the surprise of the video, even if I do appear slightly deranged at one point…

Until next time x

Not the most flattering photo* but fun nonetheless. * does anyone look good in hi-viz?
Opera House
Guess where?
Black wall
Ok, so my bed needs attention but how amazing is my black wall?

I’ve lost my marbles

Cheese and Thunderbirds!

Well, it’s been a busy week of cheese, restaurants, Monopoly places, wine, learning Happy Birthday in different languages and visiting Wellington for a top weekend with my friends. I persuaded them to help me knock off my first of 50 things to do in NZ so off we went on the Weta Workshop tour. If you have never been here then you must! It’s amazing. There was also the Thunderbirds Are Go tour which was just fantastic. I now fancy an alternative career as Lady Penelope.

The videos and photos speak for themselves. The videos are quite long but they do tell a tale! The first is full of excitement at my over-indulgent shopping… The second is equally unrestrained in my description of Weta.

The Doctors’ riesling, only 9%

Enjoy! xx

Cheese, wine and tumble dryer fluff

So #50Before50 has kicked off. I’ll be honest and say I am already totally obsessed with the challenge but, so what? Why not? There are far worse things to spend time doing and the focus is good for me. Just over a week since conceiving my idea, I have already ticked off 2.6% of the list. Yes, that’s right, I have spreadsheets, note books, notes on my phone and photos – all to document this adventure because, of course, not only am I getting older and forgetful but I also have the comedy show to do at the end so I need to gather material. There may even be a book in it. You never know… I’ve been posting my photos to Instagram and tagging wineries, cafes, cheese companies and so on, in the vain hope that at some point over the next couple of years I’ll be noticed. There will need to be some sponsorship for the children’s party and, perhaps people will become interested in what I’m up to and help out.

15 of the 51 items on my list have more than one element. For example, there are 50 cheeses, 50 sunsets, 100 wines, 50 places and things to do in New Zealand and one of those is to visit all 26 Monopoly board places. Therefore, altogether there are 861 individual things to do. I realise I already know 2 people called Helen Evans to whom to send birthday cards in 2020 and I can already say Happy Birthday in 3 languages. This week I’ve seen two sunrises, eaten one cheese and drunk 11 different wines. I’ve collected one handful of tumble dryer fluff for the cushion I am going to make. It all adds up.

Tumble dryer fluff
The first handful of tumble dryer fluff has been collected!

Next I will work on a timeline. Some of the things can be worked on right away; others need to be left until my 50th year or close to my birthday. Some of them need to be done in a particular order. I’d definitely much rather do the nude modelling after I’ve reached 50-something kg! Ditto for walking down the street after having my body painted. And there’s no point having the bra made until I’ve had the breast reduction. But yoga I can do now while the water-based activities will need to wait until the weather is warmer. As for the sunrises, a friend’s father pointed out that I can see one every day when I do the Lapland trip as the sun doesn’t get up until 11.30am. That was music to my ears!

The amazing thing about the challenge is that people are following my example and it’s catching on. My sister is now doing 40 things before her 40th birthday and she only has 10 months to go and one of her friends is also joining in! A friend and previous colleague is also doing his own #50Before50. I’m really chuffed. Of course my own challenge started after hearing about my friend Sonja doing her 30 things before 30. When I add the hashtag #50Before50 on social media, I see other people around the world doing wonderful things like climbing mountains and one even had a photo shoot with Annie Liebovitz. I don’t think I will be scaling those heights, but you never know… People have been really open to joining in and helping out. I wanted to photograph every bottle of wine which is easy at home or friends’ houses and even some bars, but it isn’t common to see the bottle at a cafe or restaurant. I’ve been asking waiters if they’ll bring me the bottle and everyone has obliged so far – one was working his first day and thought it was brilliant; one poured the wine with great aplomb and arranged the bottle with the candles and flowers from the table and another asked to follow me on Instagram. Mardi at The Nail Studio, who has been doing my nails for ages, was totally fine with choosing me a random colour for my manicure. She reassured me there are at least 50 colours available without me resorting to fluoro yellow and she’s even going to come to some dinners with me. I’ve found volunteers to come to my first Auckland restaurant from the Metro list, people have been nominating their favourite charities so I can add them to the charity list and friends have set about recommending places to do the yoga, surfing, flying a chopper or plane and so on. It’s almost infectious!

This week I was working in Hawke’s Bay and staying with my really good friend Jenny. She is one of the biggest hearted people I know. She took me under her wing very early on in my time in NZ and she has been one of my biggest supporters over the years. Jenny will definitely be reading this and she won’t mind me saying that she is perhaps not quite so adventurous. But, she’s been egging me on over the past few days with ticking some things off the list. She even stood in the middle of the road to get a photo of me under the Marine Parade sign in Napier as this is one of the Monopoly streets. We’ve been to some of our favourite restaurant haunts – Pipi’s in Havelock North and Mister D in Napier, along with Hunger Monger in Napier which was a new one for us. At every one people have been unfailingly kind and accommodating. As I go to the Bay several times a year for work and pleasure, I hope to do more of my adventures with Jenny and other local friends and I also hope to persuade her further afield. I’m sure she’s always wanted to walk the Inca trail…

Lest We Forget
Lest We Forget – the flower pot in Napier filled with poppies for ANZAC Day

Wines consumed (8 whites; 3 reds):

  • Cable Bay 2012 Viognier
  • Mission Estate 2016 Syrah
  • Gibbston Valley 2010 Pinot noir – I’ve been cellaring this one for years so it was great to open it at last and a relief to find it was totally sublime
  • Loveblock 2017 Sauvignon blanc – thanks to the lovely people at my local cafe Deco
  • Clearview 2014 Viognier
  • Vidal 2017 Sauvignon blanc
  • Julicher 2017 Riesling – thanks to the staff at Hunger Monger
  • Amisfield Lakes Hayes 2017 Pinot gris – drunk at my favourite Hawkes Bay restaurant Pipi’s where the waiter was super helpful
  • Mud House 2017 Sauvignon blanc
  • Peregrine 2017 Pinot gris – thanks to Rosie at Mister D in Napier who was fabulous
  • Te Mata 2017 Syrah – also at Mister D and consumed with my first cheese…

Not included on the list of wines is the Montana pinot gris I drank at a friend’s house. Turns out that despite this vineyard being one of New Zealand’s oldest and one which put NZ sauvignon blanc (and hence wine in general) on the international map, they have decided to import grapes from Australia! I guess this explains why they have reverted to using their Montana label which disappeared when they re-branded a few years ago as Brancott Estate. Each to their own but Australian wines are not included in the challenge so off the list they go!

Montana Pinot Gris
Montana Pinot Gris. Not a New Zealand wine, so excluded from the challenge!

Cheese eaten (1 so far):

  • Origin Earth Washed Rind – beautifully presented and accompanied by the most lovely homemade crackers and quince jam at Mister D
Cheese # 1
Cheese number 1 – Origin Earth Washed Rind, eaten at Mister D’s Dining in Napier

Nail polish colours (1 so far):

  • Denim Patch

Monopoly NZ places visited (1 so far):

People called Helen Evans to whom to send birthday cards in 2020 (2 so far):

  • My sister-in-law
  • The lady in the student office at the University to gets my mail by mistake

Happy Birthday languages (4 so far):

  • English
  • Welsh
  • French
  • Te Reo Māori

Sunrises seen: 2 so far

Not a bad start, even if I do say so myself. Do enjoy the video. I recorded it on Marine Parade but the wind from the sea caused havoc. The first bit is fine then it totally falls apart but that gives it the usual rustic charm…

Until next time xx

50 Before 50

It’s been a long time. It’s weeks since I arrived back from my cycling adventure of a lifetime but it’s been a surreal time. On the one hand, I’ve been constantly greeted by people congratulating me and saying I should be proud of myself. I am, truly. I think it is completely amazing that I not only managed to complete the trek but that I was able to raise so much money into the bargain. And I fell in love with cycling! I would never have imagined that would ever have happened to lazy old me but it did and I am so grateful. I have even celebrated with buying an e-bike on which to commute to work and do some of the shorter trips I usually take in the car. My ride home from the bike shop and my subsequent return trip to work a few days later were both scary and exhilarating at the same time. I still need to get used to cycling with traffic and in the dark and I have yet to refine my route but it has been brilliant. Special thanks go to Maurice at the Electric Bicycle Hub who was so helpful and to my mate Jon who put me in touch with them even though he has never cycled at all!

On the other hand, there is a huge part of me that wishes I could do the Sri Lanka cycle challenge all over again and pay more attention as some of the details of the places, the people, the sights, the food, the smells and so on are already fading. Then there is the part of me that really wants to do it all again because to some extent it was escapism and now it is over I feel a big hole in my life. And that big hole means I have time on my hands to mull things over, dwell on Tonya not being here any more, think about my life’s failings and generally be a misery to all those around me. I have had days at work where it has just been easier to state up front that I am feeling grumpy so that people have no expectations of anything else. None of this has been helped by my having a lot to do – at work, at home, everywhere around me. But, this is not me. I’m not this miserable, grumpy, depressive sort of person. I’m an optimist and I love that. So, it’s time to turn it all around. I truly believe that happy people are productive people and that you are the controller of your own destiny. While I’ve sat here in recent weeks bemoaning all these things I need to do, I could have actually been getting them done! So, in 2018 school language, it’s time for a reset.

Yesterday I met with a friend and colleague who is a very busy junior doctor. She apologised up front for not getting a research project finished which we are doing together. But her job is as busy as mine and she has been juggling loads of balls at work and in her life outside medicine. As we sat chatting, she reminded me of a challenge she had set herself in which she was going to do 30 special things in her 30th year. Her 30th birthday is nearly upon her and she has just a few things left to do from the list. One of them is to write a letter to our Prime Minister – how cool is that? Another is to drink a $100 bottle of wine. My advice here would be to drink the wine before writing the letter. Or should that be the other way around? She’s already completed things like sleeping in a fort, sampling all the drinks on the menu at her local cafe and having a spa day. So this all got me thinking – I could set myself a similar challenge.

In two years’ time I shall be 50 years old. It is so difficult to believe that my life keeps moving on at such a pace. Sometimes I feel that someone has pressed the fast forward button. How on earth did I get to almost 50 without really noticing? It sounds so old! I don’t feel 50. I don’t feel I look 50. While it could be seen as thoroughly depressing at face value why not just turn it all around? Embrace it. Celebrate it. Shout it from the rooftops. So, I am going to do a 50 Before 50 challenge. As 50 is significantly bigger than 30, I reckon it will take me two years so let’s make a start. I’ve thought hard about the list. I want to do things that take me out of my comfort zone; things that challenge both my mind and body; big things and little things; things that will benefit others while I have fun; scary things; fun things; odd and unusual things; things that I’ve wanted to do but haven’t got around to doing.

So here it is – my List. I’ve always loved a good list and so did my good mate Tonya. I have made this list for me, but recognised her in a few of the goals because we would have been 50 a few months apart and I’ve no doubt if she’d still been around that we would have done some of these things together. Some of the things are pure self-indulgence just for me but many of the things on the list are intended to be done with other people. I will be looking for recruits (or shall I say victims) to help me in these quests! Yes, there are 51 things on the list on purpose, in case one of them is not possible. They are in random order. Some of them need careful planning whereas others will be able to be done spontaneously. I am going to have just the best time ticking them off over the next couple of years. Some of the individual items themselves involve doing 50 things and I’ve not yet refined all of those lists completely so there is still some chance for suggestions. For example, I will definitely be looking for nominations for 50 charities to whom to make a donation.

As I cut and paste the list here, I do so with a huge sense of excitement. This is probably the first challenge I’ve set and designed myself. That’s not to say I didn’t take advice and some of the best suggestions came from my posse of friends and family. I can’t wait to get on now with tackling this list. I can’t wait to take the photos and tell the tales. I know you’ll all be egging me on just the same as always and it goes without saying that we’ll have a complete blast!

Finally, to Sonja – thank you so much for inspiring me. I feel it might be a turning point for me. I’ve bought you that $100 bottle of wine. You deserve it.

Enjoy x

50 Before 50

  1. Drink 50 white wines and 50 red wines from 50 different NZ vineyards
  2. Dine at all 50 restaurants on Metro magazine’s Top 50 Auckland restaurants list
  3. Visit 50 places or do 50 things I’ve never been to or done in NZ
  4. Go to a yoga class
  5. Cook 50 new recipes from my cookbooks
  6. Watch 50 films I haven’t seen before*
  7. Sign up as an Uber driver
  8. Get my body painted and walk down the street
  9. Tell 50 people I love them
  10. Carry out 50 random acts of kindness*
  11. Find 50 people called Helen Evans and send them all birthday cards
  12. Give $50 each to 50 different charities*
  13. Watch 50 sunrises
  14. Make an artwork out of 50 photographs of me, one from each year
  15. Knit a piece of tree art
  16. Climb a tree
  17. Make a piece of pottery
  18. Have a bra made for me
  19. Design a pair of shoes
  20. Sleep under the stars
  21. Hold a birthday party for 50 disadvantaged children
  22. Go skinny dipping
  23. Take part in a boxing match
  24. Donate a kidney
  25. Have a breast reduction
  26. Climb Macchu Pichu
  27. Go to Lapland
  28. Have a surfing lesson
  29. Try stand-up paddle boarding
  30. Have a scuba diving lesson
  31. Fly a helicopter or plane
  32. Go abseiling
  33. Paint my nails 50 different colours
  34. Do the Oxfam half trail walker (50km)
  35. Go clay pigeon shooting
  36. Learn to say Happy Birthday in 50 languages*
  37. Hold a comedy show
  38. Go to Antarctica
  39. Visit a Welsh tea room in Patagonia
  40. Find 50 people born on the same day as me and send them all birthday cards
  41. Go on an Air NZ mystery trip
  42. Hold a murder mystery party
  43. Get to 50-something kg
  44. Be a nude model for a life drawing class
  45. Build a den in my living room and hold a sleepover
  46. Eat 50 different cheeses*
  47. Have a professional photo shoot
  48. Drive a race car around Hampton Downs racecourse
  49. Make a cushion from tumble dryer fluff and recycled underwear
  50. Swim in the sea 50 times*
  51. Serve Christmas lunch at the Auckland City Mission

*suggestions welcomed!

Back cycling already

After Sri Lanka, it was on to Bangkok for a few days R&R. I had been to Bangkok some years ago and done most of the tourist things. I remember it being busy, throbbing, exciting, hot, humid, almost addictive but chaotic and hence a bit tiring. This time I wanted to relax a little more.

I’d only been in Thailand for a few hours when some of my Sri Lankan cycling buddies invited me to join them for lunch as they’d stopped off too. Weird, as we’d been apart less than 48 hours but I had missed them already.

Later I bought up with some great ex-pat friends from the UK who have relocated to Bangkok and whom I hadn’t seen for a few years.

We had some great meals and I spent most of my time in town being hardly able to move! It was lovely to visit their home (and their many cats!) and see how they have acclimatised to a new life in Thailand. I’m still not sure how they manage the constant heat though!

I also took part in a cooking class which was great but a bit out of the way and a total pain to reach.

Fortunately the cookery class leader put us on a canal boat home which was when I discovered there was an almost disguised canal stop right next to my hotel!

Perhaps the most surprising thing I did in Bangkok was get back on the bike for a tour of the canals and some lesser known temples.

Democracy monument
Democracy monument, Bangkok

We even went to an old Portuguese part of town – who knew the Portuguese had even need here?

Santa Cruz church
Santa Cruz church in Bangkok – a reminder of the Portuguese era

It was a great day as there were only two people on the tour and the guide was just fantastic. XgzzsmlXQoGpB5MbKc%QGwWe stopped here and there in some markets for some local fare and had a wonderful lunch along the klong.

At one of the temples, Wat Kalayanamit, we had our fortunes read by shaking a wooden holder of sticks until one feel on the floor. The number on the stick corresponded with a sheet of paper which told you your fate. Apparently someone will fall in love with me. I won’t wait with bated breath.

We ended up taking our bikes on a colourful long tailed speedboat along the klong onto the Chao Phraya river and back to our starting point.

Whizzing along on the Bangkok canals
Mahakan fort
Remains of the Mahakan fort in Bangkok

It was a completely different type of cycling of course but just goes to show how much more you can see when you get off the beaten track and you can cover so much more ground on two wheels. Am I becoming a cyclist?

After a lovely few days, it was time for the inevitable journey home. I had the most incredible time in Sri Lanka and Thailand and I will take some time to digest it all. My life these last few months has been a crazy whirlwind and at times I have felt like I have been on a treadmill which I just can’t stop. Now it’s time to get back to my usual life. People have said to relax. That’s impossible as my day to day life is usually busy anyway and now of course I have a backlog of things to do, but even getting back to baseline will feel like slowing down. So far I have raised over $13000 which means 68 bikes for underprivileged primary school children in New Zealand. I cannot believe how generous people have been in making my adventure even more rewarding it was already. I wonder what is in store for me next?

I will leave you with a video made while I was still in Sri Lanka to thank my mate Jean who was the stalwart behind the now infamous pamper packages – what a legend!


And so all good things come to an end. We set off for our final day of cycling and it was a lovely day, unspoilt by rain.

Last day
All great things must come to and end. My last day of cycling in Sri Lanka

We took some roads around the back of the Sirigiya rock so saw it from the other side.

Team shot
Our cycle venture comes to an end but time for our last team shot en route

It was a Buddhist festival and public holiday so a few places were busy with people visiting temples and celebrating.

Our last day was a Buddhist holiday. There were plenty of goings-on at the colourful temples along the route

Eventually we unceremoniously came to our finish line in a car park. It was a bit of an anti-climax really but I could hear my friends and family back at home cheering me virtually and my own voice silently saying “well done girl, you did it after all”.

All over rover!
What can I say? I am so very proud and Tonya would have been totally made up

It was sad saying goodbye to our cycle guide Eke and the drivers of the support vehicle Donal and Garmini. Eke had kept me sane when I felt I couldn’t go on and he was always looking out for me at the back.

Me and Eke
Eke our cycle guide. He deserves a medal just for looking after me!

Donal and Garmini spoke little English but on stopping for breaks they would rush forward with water and bananas and both of them were always smiling. I will miss these guys.

It was on to our next stop, a cookery demonstration by a well-known chef in a beautiful outdoors restaurant.

He made curries with prawns and beetroot. I’d had beetroot curry in India previously and it was a bit “so what?” but this was just something else, absolutely lovely and possibly my favourite food of the holiday. Our driver-guide Shan brought his family to meet us for lunch and it was lovely to hear their plans. They are currently building a house but they hope to relocate to Australia where Shan’s brother-in-law is a singer.

On to our last stop, at Negombo beach just north of Colombo and I fell ill on the bus. Initially I thought I would die of abdominal pain. Either that or give birth to a very surprise baby… I know I can be taken to a touch of the old melodramas but I am not joking. My fellow travellers were so lovely to me but I just wanted to reach our destination and lie down. This was not straightforward as our hotel, badged as a resot (yes, without the second ‘r’), was fully booked out for a wedding.

We only stay at the best resots…

We ended up in a nice new small hotel across the road which was fortuitous as we were able to drink out secretly-acquired alcoholic beverages on the rooftop terrace. As it was a public holiday, nowhere was able to sell alcohol but a quick trip to a bottle shop en route to the dodgy restaurant the evening prior had sorted us out. I managed to feel a lot better after my lie down and we met with representatives from Variety Sri Lanka who made an enormously generous donation to our cycling endeavour. Dinner was a seafood dinner out on by the resot and eaten beside the beach to the tune of a three-piece band. Service was interminably slow unfortunately but at least we had one final meal together before we parted ways.

The following day, I moved in to the resot which was not as simple as it sounds as this required high level, and quite frankly, exhausting negotiation but eventually they gave me a really nice room. Some of us took a tuk tuk to go to the town to look at the shops and after a quick lunch, we went out on a boat along the canals and lagoon in Negombo.

It is a predominantly Christian town due to previous European settlers and so there are churches aplenty and canals built by the Dutch.

St Mary’s Church in Negombo

It was beautiful out on the lagoon and we were able to sit on low stools in the shallow waters, drinking from coconuts and eating fresh fruit.

After a last dinner together and the rest of our drinks on the rooftop bar, it was time to say our goodbyes as the rest of the group was leaving and I had one final day before moving on to a few days in Bangkok.

After living so closely together for almost two weeks, it seemed strange. Each of us had some reason to be on this trip, everyone motivated by something special, unusual, unique, bizarre or tragic that had made them undertake this adventure. We came together as strangers but parted as friends. I am grateful to each and every one of these very special people for looking after me, looking out for me, comforting me on day 2 when I felt like I would not be able to carry on and inspiring me to continue with cycling. I have been on group holidays before, had a wonderful time but inevitably we have not kept in touch, despite all our best intentions and promises to the contrary. But I really get the feeling that things are different with this group. I really hope so anyway. And will we re-group for a cycle trip in the future? Who knows?

A blue balloon conquers the rain

Day 7 started off promisingly with some lovely cycling along back roads which are always so delightful with the local people being so friendly. We circled behind Sirigiya elephant rock and got to see it from the other side. Then the two usual events occurred – the faster lady got separated from the group and this was discovered at the same time as the heavens opened. Luckily this time we were poised to have a break and some tasty deep-fried snacks in a local bakery so we could at least take shelter and doubly luckily, the main group had gone the right way so only Speedy had gone wrong. Yes, the fast lady’s name was Speedy! How apt is that?

After replenishing our calorie stores and the whole group reunited, we were off on the road again, in the pouring rain. The difference between this and the previous wet days were that I was prepared. Out came by bright blue Costa Rican rain poncho, better than any rain jacket as it fits over my rucksack, tucks under my bottom and is of adjustable length as you just tie big knots in the plastic at the sides. So, long enough to cover some of my legs but not so long that it caught in the wheels.

And off I went, and I mean off! Yes, I was fast (by my standards at least). I led the group for the rest of the day and was first to arrive, albeit with not much of a lead, to our next destination of Polonnaruwa. I know that the others indulged me in this and could easily have all overtaken me one by one and left me for dust. But they didn’t and it was as if they had made a silent pact with each other that I should be allowed to do this and so do it I did. I cannot tell you how amazing it felt to not always be at the back and to be able to revel in just how much progress I had made in my cycling.

The ruins at Polonnaruwa were fabulous – palaces, temples, rock carvings, stupas and so on.

Bathing pool
A very elaborate ancient royal swimming pool at the ruins of Polonnaruwa

As usual, they were crowded with schoolchildren in their uniforms – usually plain white to signify a government school and brightened up by their colourful umbrellas. It has been just wonderful to see them out and about learning about their own beautiful country, its history and culture. They are always so happy and desperate to interact with us, their questioning always the same – where we are from and where we are going?

Wherever we went, it was fabulous to see so many Sri Lankan children’s out on school trips
How do the Sri Lankan ladies manage to look so elegant while I just look frankly a bit crazy?

During our tours, the sun came out and the rest of the day it was almost as if the rain had been a figment of our imaginations – except that our squelching shoes stood testament to us not having gone crazy.

Lunch was at another traditional restaurant with food on a lily pad leaf. This time we all sat along the side of the room, our bench seating facing out through a windowless window to the beautifully scenic vista beyond. Better still, this traditional restaurant served beer…

Lily pad lunch
Possibly the best lunch

Back at the hotel, I watched monkeys playing and fighting just beyond the balcony of my room, often running up on to the roof. I was amazed to notice that the view from the balcony was over plains with Sirigiya plainly visible in the distance. How come I had not seen this before? Easy – the constant rain!

Sirigiya view
Sirigiya had been visible from my hotel balcony all the time!!!

Inside my room, the best towel animal ever stood on the bed – an elephant complete with tiny pieces of leaf for the eyes and ridging on the trunk. Yesterday it was a swan and I’ve had all sorts of other animals in other countries but the elephant was just fantastic. I even photographed it from all angles in case I ever felt like giving it a go at home.

Elephant towel sculpture
I’ve had some towel animals in my time at various hotels across the world but none as fabulous as this elephant

We eschewed the by now obligatory buffet dinner for a local establishment. It was not exactly salubrious and we were the only guests. It was however fun. We took part in some terrible karaoke singing, except for our resident celebrity holidaymaker who did a mean rendition of an Elvis number. More importantly, we managed to persuade the restaurant manager, a man reminiscent of James Earl Jones, to help us make a video to my mate Anne. She said she would pay the rest of her sponsorship money if I persuaded all my fellow cyclists to wear face masks from Jean’s pamper packs. I had seven masks, one for each of us but two of the guests had been suffering with skin eruptions and so I made masks for them from some tissues, meaning that I had one each left over for our driver-guide and cycling guide.

Face masks
My cycling companions are the best. They even played along with my face masks capers, as requested (or was it demanded?) by my mate Anne

I think they thought we were bonkers but the video is hilarious. Once Anne has sanctioned it, I think it should be aired publicly…

Climbing in to bed, I noted that my bed had been turned down and someone with a sense of humour had pimped my towel elephant who was now sporting my own sunglasses and a frangipani flower in his trunk.

Elephant 2
My elephant towel got pimped while I was at dinner!

Sometimes it is the small things that make your day but this day was a continual flow of small things. I fell asleep still giggling.

Alas, tomorrow would be our last day. Weirdly, I was dreading the end of the cycling. Yes, I did say that…

Taming the elephant

I had long dreaded our climb up Sirigiya elephant rock.

Sirigiya elephant rock – I climbed this!

Touted to be 1200 steps and hard to very hard in places, it was actually eased by being very crowded with visitors such that while it was steep at times and some of the steps were quite treacherous, it was at least slow.

Climbing Sirigiya
The climb to the top of Sirigiya was interesting to say the least

Again, it was great to see so many local schoolchildren visiting on a school trip. We celebrated our climb to the top with a few more photos in our pink sarongs and took in the spectacular views to which no photos could possibly do justice.

Me in a giant banyan tree

Sirigiya viewThe land below looked like dense forest but the other thing of note was the obvious fact that more raining was imminent.

Back on the road, we were due a shorter cycle due to the length of time the climb had taken. The heavens opened, me sacrificing yet another pair of shoes to the rain and unfortunately we got separated again. The faster lady followed our minibus and went the correct way while the rest of us went with the cycle guide the wrong way. We had a long double back and consequently just got more and more drenched.

Lunch was in a traditional village accessed by a tractor powered by a handheld plough and a dug out canoe.

A canoe ride in the rain was not as much fun as it might have been

This transportation was quaint and vaguely interesting but meant a long journey during which we only managed to get wetter. Lunch was served on a lily pad leaf in a wicker basket and was very tasty indeed but did not last long enough for us to dry off.

Lily pad leaf lunch
The ultimate eco lunch – served in a lily pad leaf in a wicker basket

Then we were back in the canoes for a longer ride across the Habarana Tank, hampered by a head wind. But his point I was absolutely freezing and shivering as I had never shivered before.

Back at the bus some of us decided we had already cycled much further than intended today so we could be forgiven a quick trip in the minibus back to the hotel in the name of trying to dry off and warm up more quickly. Thereupon I indulged in another massage which was very lovely. Or at least, I think it was. It was in fact so lovely that I kept falling asleep and waking myself up with giant snorts. Please don’t tell Gary, Millennial back at home, as he has never forgiven me for doing this in the middle of (and the quietest part of) a Noel Coward play in the west end of London.

After this, it was the by now usual buffet and much wishing that tomorrow would be a dry day…