Before i Forget : Simon Jones's blog

December 2008

GeneralWednesday, December 24th, 2008, (11:12 am)

Merry Christmas everyone, wherever you are. It’s already Christmas day here in New Zealand!

I’m a little behind on my travel posts, but stay tuned for new posts soon. Until then, enjoy your day!

Photography and TravelSaturday, December 20th, 2008, (2:27 am)

I’ve often looked at pictures in magazines of people strolling along white beaches beside impossibly turquoise water under a perfect blue sky and wondered, with somewhat envious eyes, if I might ever get to see a place like that. I suspected that such places only existed in the enhanced world or travel brochures and torturous office calenders. I now know that not to be the case, because I have been to one such place. I’ve been to paradise, and it was just somewhere along the path I’m taking on my long way home.

After a night flight from Los Angeles it’s still dark when my plane lands at Rarotonga airport in the Cook Islands. Any sleep I might have gotten was insignificant in terms of rest, but as I peer out of the small airplane window I can make out the silhouettes of palm trees on the backdrop of a Polynesian dawn and my excitement extinguishes any tiredness I might have had.

As we walk down the steps of the plane, like touring rock stars from the 1970’s, a singing man greets us. It’s not screaming fans or even ladies with those flowers to put around your neck, but nonetheless when compared to the usual snarling immigration officer, this is easily the warmest welcome to a country I’ve ever had.

With my onward flight to Aitutaki was not leaving until later that afternoon I decided to leave the tiny airport and take the short walk to the Aquarius hotel for breakfast. Once there I discover that the owner, Cameron, comes from the same place in the UK where I live. He’s a friendly guy, chatting and offering me cups of tea. Our geographic familiarity might have contributed to Cameron’s friendly and generous nature as he allowed me to use the hotels facilities to freshen up, though something tells me that such generosity isn’t all that uncommon in these parts anyway.

Oddly enough my first task after breakfast was to walk to the local police station to take my driving test and obtain a license that would enable me to rent a scooter while I was in the Cook Islands. The test consisted of riding a scooter around the block with a policeman following close behind on a motorcycle. “I’m pleased to tell you that you passed.” He tells me as we circle back to the police station, and as I pay my $25 (NZD) for the plastic license I wonder if anyone has ever failed.

I spent the rest of my time in “Raro” riding the scooter through the rain that had unexpectedly descended on the island like bank robbers in a morning heist. I didn’t see much of anything really, a few beaches here and there, but mainly the shelter of a bus stop that protected me from the rain.

A fellow traveler had referred to Rarotonga as “Rainytonga” and it was living up to that name. “Aitutaki is different. I promise it won’t disappoint you.” He said, and as I sat in that little bus shelter soaked to the skin I hoped he would be right in that regard too.


On my arrival in Aitutaki I had to hitch a ride on the back of a pickup truck. I was supposed to have been collected but there was some kind of mixup with the arrival time, but this was no big deal and in fact only seemed to add to the relaxed pace that was already clearly a way of life here. I held the packages and the pickup driver took me to right to the door of where I was supposed to be, and even helped me with my luggage!

I set my bags down, then looked around. “Slow down sweet freind” read a nearby pained road sign. The misspelling obviously hadn’t worried anyone but either way I was happy to take the advice. Slow down indeed, I thought to myself. That’s exactly what I planned to do.

Aitutaki sits on a breathtaking turquoise coral reef lagoon made up of 14 mostly uninhabited islets that are surrounded by beautiful palm-fringed white beaches. It is no exaggeration to describe the place as a paradise that is largely unspoiled and as yet undiscovered by the sun seeking masses. It’s a quiet and unpretentious place where the locals smile and wave at you as they pass on the street.

I spent my first night in the Amuri Guest House run by a friendly local couple and popular with backpackers. Following that I stayed in a treehouse on Matriki Beach. To wake up to the sound of waves and be able to just walk right out onto the beach from my treehouse was just pure bliss.

While I suspect some visitors to Aitutaki probably don’t stray far from the beach, I just had to explore. I trekked across the main island on my rented moped which I nearly crashed horribly while foolishly trying to climb to the highest point on the island on a track of lose coral rock and sand. Not wishing to meet my death in paradise I decided to park the bike and walk to the peak where I sat and watched the sun set.

On another day I ventured into the jungle like forest. Locals had assured me that there are no creatures in Aitutaki that can harm a human more than the occasional mosquito bite.

Snorkeling in the lagoon is a must. I took a lagoon cruise on “the yellow boat” which stops to allow guests to snorkel and explore the reef. It was just awesome swimming around with fish that I’ve only ever seen in tropical marine tanks. I even found myself face to face with a scary looking Moray Eel!

I rented a kayak and ventured out onto the lagoon to explore some of the uninhabited little islets. This was just magical, if a little hard work. I made my way from island to island and didn’t see another soul for the entire time. Each islet I went to was beautiful but completely deserted. I suspect this is why they were chosen as locations for the TV shows Shipwrecked and Survivor.

A few times I felt like pinching myself because I could hardly believe that places like this were real. The colors were so rich and vibrant and the beaches so perfect and unspoiled that everywhere looked like the picture of paradise.

I met a whole host of travelers on the island ranging from backpackers to honeymooners, marine photographers to a family who had left their jobs and lives behind them to travel the world! Every moment and every turning was a picture postcard. I took a staggering amount of photographs, but often would simply just stand still and soak in the beauty.

I could have happily stayed in the beach treehouse and enjoyed the serene pace of Aitutaki for much longer. What little rain there was would simply glide over the island in minutes, it was perfect from start to finish, and while I might have only spent just four days there, those four days were simply unforgettable.

Aitutki (Wiki)

Photography and TravelMonday, December 15th, 2008, (9:51 am)

It’s a warm and sunny afternoon when I emerge from the terminal at San Francisco airport on the first stop on my ‘Long Way Home’ trip that will take me around the world. Feeling like a true traveller I jumped on a bus to take me just north of San Francisco to the home my friends Erin and Jon. It had been a long day already, but I had that spring in my step that you get when your excited about the road ahead.

The lady next to me on the bus seems as excited as me when I told her this is my first stop on my trip around the world. Saying that seems to really engage people, there’s something about the idea of going around the world that seems to draw people in. “It sounds wonderful.” She tells me, and as I say the words I’ll admit it felt kind of fun being someone who was embarking on the kind of adventure that others get excited about.

Hanging out in the Third Street AleWorks brew pub with friends

When I met up with Erin and Jon it wasn’t long until we’re sitting in a brew pub called the Third Street Aleworks ordering food and winter ales with the curious name of ‘Bad Santa.’ They tasted real good, so good in fact that I was drinking them like a Welsh Rugby player despite the fact that I rarely drink.

Pretty soon we were joined by other friends, Matt, Panda, and Heady Nuggs, with others on the way. We were getting noisier as the ‘Bad Santa’s’ continue to flow like waves to the shore, and it quickly became clear to me that this was likely be a long night, and as it turned out, that was to be the last moment of clarity I had that day.

Two pubs, several ‘Bad Santa’s,’ and a game of Shuffleboard later we were standing outside in the crisp Californian air talking about going home. The beer had warmed my blood and relaxed my muscles, and as I watched my breath like smoke in the air, I thought to myself that the ‘Long Way Home’ had gotten off to a great start.

San Francisco

We had planned to spend the next day in San Francisco, the weather was perfect for a trip to the bay. However, I was laying on the floor of Erin and Jon’s little house now understanding why the ales I had drank were called ‘Bad Santa’s.’ I could move, but only very slowly, and only as long as it didn’t involve getting off of the floor. Our plans to go into the city were postponed until the next day.

I always seem to be time poor when I’m in San Francisco. I’m left feeling like this is a city I would really enjoy if only I could spend enough time there. Nonetheless we did take the time to walk most of the way across the Golden Gate Bridge, make a visit to the de Young Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco in Golden Gate Park, and watch night fall over the city from the famous Alamo Square.

The Golden Gate Bridge

Houses on Alamo Square, San Francisco

Back in ‘Wine Country’ where Erin and Jon live, we did a little wine tasting and spent time just hanging out with their friends at the local brew pubs where I enjoyed the fine beer at a far more pedestrian pace than that of my first night.

Life in Northern California

My last evening in Northern California was spent at a nearby beach watching the sun disappear behind the crashing waves of the vast Pacific Ocean. It’s funny how the wonder of a sunset never seems to grow old, every one is unique and beautiful and seemingly able to hold your gaze for the longest time.

I stood and watched, listening to the waves, mesmerized by the amazing show that while ending for us was just starting somewhere else in the world.

A Californian Sunset

The City of Angels

The next day I left Erin and Jon and made my way to Los Angeles. My original plan was to spend time there, but in the end it was just a brief stop before I took to the skies again.

I’ve never been particularly nervous about flying, but this time there was a hint of nervousness in my excitement, like how I would imagine a diver might feel ahead of a particularly high dive. Maybe it was just the thought of flying through the night over the ocean, or maybe it was the sense of leaving the comfort of somewhere so familiar. Whatever it was, as I flew into the darkness over the sprawling city of angels I looked out of the window and hoped that some of those angels might find a little time to fly with me.

Everything west of here is virgin territory for me. In a sense this is where the adventure would really begin. My next stop on this journey home will be the tropical Polynesian Cook Islands in the South Pacific.

The music I listened to on my iPod as I left Los Angeles

TravelFriday, December 12th, 2008, (11:41 am)

I’ve often been known to drive the long way home just for the pleasure of the journey, but when my friends Phil and Kerry-anne invited me to spend Christmas with them in New Zealand I didn’t realise it would lead to the the longest long way home of my life.

The long way home.

On Wednesday I set off on the longest trip home I’ve ever embarked on. A journey of some 26,246 miles around the world that I’m calling the ‘Long Way Home.’ I’ve given the trip this name because I’ll be heading west the entire time and I won’t be back home until I’ve gone right the way around the world!

Photography and TravelMonday, December 8th, 2008, (11:40 am)

In flight

Early last year I wrote a post called ‘In Flight (Part 1).’ Part two has been a long time coming, but this seems like a good time to share with you some of the sights I’ve seen from the window seat of my travels in aeroplanes.

I love to travel by any means, but there is just something special about heading into the skies and looking at the world from a different angle.

I can still remember how excited I was at the prospect of my first ever flight. I was just a young boy and the flight was from London Gatwick to Naples International Airport in Italy.

In preparation my parents took my brother, sister and I to the airport so as to familiarize themselves with the procedures and complications that might arise from having three excited kids in tow.

Both my brother and sister inherited that kind of forward planning and preparation. I, on the other hand, adopted a more relaxed ‘let’s see where the road takes us’ approach to travel.


I’m a window seat kind of guy, and while that might mean that I have an impossibly cramped situation, it’s somehow offset by the pleasure of being able to watch the world go by beneath me while trying to pick out familiar landmarks.

[Above] Way back in 2003 the sun actually shone on Manchester. It might very well have been a clerical error some kind, but nonetheless I was above the city to capture this rare and momentous event which local teenagers are now telling their children about.

[Below] It always seems that you fly impossibly low over London as your plane circles waiting to land at Heathrow. It almost seems as though the skies above London are as busy as the streets below. In this picture you can see Tower Bridge and to the right of it the Tower of London, home to the Royal families Crown Jewels.

Tower Bridge in London with The Tower of London to the right

The Golden Gate Bridge

[Above] The unmistakable sight of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. A stunning landmark, but also a morbid mecca for those who wish to end their lives.

[Below] Downtown Portland, Oregon.

Downtown Portland, Oregon

Rocky Reach Dam and North Wenatchee, Washington

[Above] Last year after flying over the Rocky Mountains I was curious to identify a dam in the picture above so I emailed the Water Survey of Canada to see if maybe they knew where it was.

Joe McElhinney was good enough to forward my email to the Pacific & Yukon Regional office of the WSC in Vancouver whereupon Lynne Campo and her colleagues at the WSC kindly identified the location as the area of the Rocky Reach Dam on the Columbia River about 7 miles upstream from Wenatchee Washington, U.S.A.

“It is about 20-30 minutes out of Seattle heading east. There is a website of the Rocky Reach Project giving the project background, construction, construction costs, development history etc.” She told me.


[Above and below] Somewhere in southern Utah. As I looked down upon mile after mile of the spectacular and arid landscapes of Nevada, Arizona, and Utah, I noticed the apparent roads or tracks and wondered who might live in such a place and why. When one thinks of the USA, I doubt this amazing landscape is what comes to mind.


[Below] Taken earlier this year on my way back from my trip to India, this picture is looking out accros the dunes of Turkmenistan to Iran.

Looking over to Iran from the dunes of Turkmenistan

The Caspian Sea and the Kazakhstan shoreline

[Above and below] The Caspian sea and the shoreline of Kazakhstan. I’ve seen that strange cloud formation before of the Dutch coastline. I think it might be known as a roll cloud, though I can’t be sure.

Strange clouds roll up to the shores of Kazakhstan on The Caspian Sea

Clouds over the Ukraine

[Above] These clouds could of course be anywhere, in this instance they’re hanging over the Ukraine.

[Below] This was a quite incredible sight. The sun was setting and the plane I was on was between two sheets of clouds in a space that felt completely disconnected from the world to me.

Closer to God?

So tomorrow I’ll be taking to the skies once more. This time flying to California, the first stop on an adventure in which I will circumnavigate the globe, albeit from a window seat.

The romance of flying might have somewhat diminished, but for me the marvel of it all still remains. The opportunity to look at the world differently for a while is never wasted time as far as I’m concerned.

I know I could watch a movie, do a little reading, or use my laptop to catch up on work, but I never want to get to the point where I’m too busy or wrapped up in life to take a few moments to just sit back and observe it for the wonder that it is.

Caged birds never sing

In Flight (Part 1)
Waving at planes
One Such Moment
It’s Seven Thirty

GeneralTuesday, December 2nd, 2008, (8:00 am)

I know you’re time poor, I get that. But even if you don’t leave a comment I hope you’ll be able to find 20 minutes or so to watch the video below; a beautiful story of a young Amerasian girl told by photographer Rick Smolan.

I’d never even heard the word ‘Amerasian’ before I watched this video. Wikipedia defines an Amerasian as a person born in Asia, to a U.S. military father and an Asian mother. Smolan had never heard the word either until, in 1978, Time magazine sent him on assignment to South East Asia to photograph some of the 40,000 abandoned children fathered by American soldiers.

Unhappy with the article that Time ran with his pictures, Smolan returned to South East Asia to spend more time on the story. He had found that because the Amerasian children looked different to their peers they were often traumatized from the effects of bullying and being seen as something of an outcast in their communities.

In the course of his travels he met a bright young 11 year old Amerasian girl from Korea called Un-sok Lee who was being raised by her sick grandmother. Smolan became very fond of Un-sok but was unprepared for a telephone call from his Time magazine editor telling him that Un-sok’s grandmother had died and left Un-sok to him in her will! The story that unfolded from there is both beautiful and uplifting, and well worth 20 minutes of your time I’m sure.

Rick Smolan’s talk at TED
Be Inspired : Sir Ken Robinson
Be Inspired : Ben Saunders