Across Continents

Ken's Blog

First world visas

July 28th, 2010

It’d seemed prudent to look a little ahead, check the entry requirements for the Antipodean nations, and North America. First World. Didn’t think they’d be any issues. And, ordinarily, there wouldn’t be. And, with a bit of planning, there shouldn’t be. But it does reaffirm the need not to assume. And make sure you understand the often subtle distinction between having a visa, or a waiver in most cases, and actually satisfying the Immigration Officer on arrival that you’re not an economic migrant with aspirations to over-stay.

New Zealand’s fine, no visa required, just need to make sure I arrive with tickets for onward travel, and have evidence to show I am able to support myself whilst there. Similar story for Australia, but my online application for a six month visa faltered a bit when required to list countries I’d visited, and there’s a limit of ten. So – if you’re counting – got stuck at the Azerbaijan border.

I thought Canada a bit like New Zealand, with the addition of needing to show ties with the UK. Better find my driving licence. And have to show I’ll leave at the end of my visit. Hopeful a passport full of used visas will be convincing.

I’ve been to the US quite a few times on their Visa Waiver Programme, but that limits me to three months for all of North America, which isn’t enough, and I’d need to show a ticket for onward travel. Which I won’t have. Not until deepest South America. So proper visa required. And whilst all the rules and regulations, the application forms, are rather more extensive than those for Central Asia, shades of the UK’s own onerous requirements, they are at least very explicit about it. Which I like.

Might be making a few Consular calls in Hong Kong. Making sure I get a decent haircut first.


10Radio March 2010

March 2nd, 2010


Courtesy of friends at my local community radio station in Somerset, England – – you can catch up with my regular monthly on air chats with the Saturday Morning WakeUp team. Just click on the links below to hear the latest instalments.

March 2010



Alpine appeal

September 30th, 2009

Epinal was a fairly typical French town popular with tourists.  The river Moselle flowed gracefully through the centre, a multitude of flags adorning its banks.  Expensive cafes and brasseries in the historic part.  In the quieter side streets I came across the ‘maharaja’ Indian restaurant.  A more affordable option.  I fancied a change to my usual evening staple of cous cous and tinned fish.  The menu was familiar, but there were differences.  You needed a beer just to eat the chicken tikka masala.  They had Kingfisher.  Some things remained the same.

In the morning I followed the river south east into the hills.  Open fields, save on the wide river flood plains, were quickly being replaced by cool, refreshing conifer woods.  The houses were also changing, much more Alpine in appearance.  Huge stockpiles of wood for the impending winter.  They were always the same.  Logs cut lengthways, a metre or so long, neatly stacked, each layer laid perpendicular to its neighbour.  Signs on side roads indicating the need for snow chains.

I stopped briefly in Remiremont.  Firmly a tourist town, it still retained a modicum of Frenchness, but this had been fading fast as I had headed deeper into the hills.  The place had little to offer me so I quickly moved on, now following the river Moselotte towards the ski resort of La Bresse.  Wooded hillsides were being replaced by tree clad mountain slopes.  It was getting colder.

But for the name, La Bresse could have been in Switzerland.  The prices reflected this.  It was quiet.  They were waiting for the snows.  A few enterprising individuals were offering paragliding on the nearby ski slopes, but there appeared to be few takers.  A few wooden clad hotels advertised garaging for bicycles.  It was tempting, but I wanted to camp up in the mountains.  I continued my steady climb up the valley.


Testing times

September 6th, 2009

Pam Goodall – accomplished round-the-world cyclist – was right. A fiery start she said. Some would call it an epic. I’ll let you know when I emerge from the ’-stans’ next year. Wet I don’t mind too much, but riding into gale force winds on Dartmoor is not funny. Being blown over on the bike a couple of times smarts just a little.

Accompanied by good friend and, until recently neighbour, Peter, we eventually reached Bellever Youth Hostel just in time to drop the bikes off and join some of my old colleagues from work for dinner in Princetown. A kind gesture you might think – yes, but a lot more than that, given most of them live a couple of hundred miles away. I was very touched.

Day two of errr quite a few started rather better, the rain being closer to the vertical. We soon reached Plymouth and a chance for me to say farewell to my parents. And indulge in a little root canal work. No, really. Then off to catch the overnight ferry to Roscoff in Brittany. Waiting to board, there’s the sudden realisation that the adventure is about to begin in earnest….


Last times….

August 26th, 2009

It’s a strange feeling, suddenly realising you are doing things for the last time, for 4 years at least. Like filling up the car with petrol. Or having a very wet Wednesday at home in the cottage. Some things I’ll miss, others I won’t.

Despite myriad of things still to do – which I’m comfortable with as, being male, I find I do my best work when cornered – earlier this week I was pleased to be able to catch up with a few people in London. Lunch with Laura and the team at The Outward Bound Trust, together with meeting up with Pam Goodall and Steve Fabes. Pam has cycled around the world, and Steve, like me, is going to fairly shortly. I left Paddington station, returning on the train to Somerset, content that all was finally coming together, one way or the other.

Back then to my most favourite question of the moment – do I really need to do this before I go?


Counting down…

August 16th, 2009

Departure is getting close, the gripping realization that I’m running out of tomorrows. A welcome diversion to the ever increasing number of last-minute-things-to-do has been the media, a couple of radio interviews, session with a photographer and a couple of telephone chats with journalists. All new and interesting experiences.

I was most intrigued by radio. Fearing that I might have the face for it, my Dad gave me some sound advice – ‘Remember, it’s a dialogue, not a monolog’ – simply no idea what possessed him to say this…. I took along some examples of the kit, including my miniature Christmas pudding. One interviewer suggested it wasn’t all that small – ‘It is’, I assured her, ‘when you’re on 6000 plus calories a day…’

Sometimes you just need a break from all the preparations – and I’ve taken to re-watching some old ’Trigger Happy TV’ DVDs. Originally shown as a series on Channel 4 around about 2000-2001 and performed by Dom Joly, they’re a collection of comedy ’stunts’ filmed mostly around central London. And Porlock Weir, just down the road from my cottage. All very original, very clever. With a carefully crafted soundtrack. The various real-life sketches seem to capture a certain essence of the Capital back then, one I’m very familiar with as started living there at about the same time.


More haste less speed….

June 25th, 2009


Yep – bubble wrap – lots and lots of it in fact. It was very cheap, so much so I probably didn’t pay enough attention to exactly how big the rolls were. Until the delivery lorry arrived. Still, that’s my loft insulation sorted…..


Back in North Wales

June 10th, 2009

Photo: Peter Jenkins

A hectic but brief sort out back at the cottage, then a return to CycleWales’ workshops near Caernarfon.  A simple plan – spend 2-3 days consolidating my cycle maintenance skills, primarily by building an entire bike for my neighbour and good friend Peter.  And I mean entire – new wheels out of rims and spokes, preparing the frame with gruesome looking cutting tools, then assembling the whole machine.

If this strikes you as a bit odd – a diversion from preparations for a rapidly approaching departure date – you may be reassured to know that there is real method here.  Peter’s bike uses all the components from my old touring cycle, which generates some welcome funds for the expedition coffers.  But much more importantly, standfast the frame, a great deal of his new bike is the same as my expedition cycle – the gears and brakes for example – which makes the build a really great way to consolidate specific skills I will need out on the road.  It is also really humbling to be asked to do this by a good friend, a real mark of confidence in your new found abilities.

And a visit to North Wales is also rather fun.  Since I moved to Somerset a few years ago, Peter and I have completed a number of Long Distance Walkers Association challenge walks in South Wales.  We work well together as a team.  So no surprise then that we find ourselves in Caernarfon, in a rather curiously named hostelry.  The place, we were told, had been the haunt of students from a CycleWales course the previous week.  It was pleasant enough, the bar food a bit retro even if the pricing was contemporary.  But not somewhere you’d be drawn back to every evening for a week.   We were bemused.  Until a few evenings later when we returned to Caernarfon.  We drifted around the quiet streets, searching for a suitable establishment for dinner.  We soon found ourselves outside a familiar public house….

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