From Pudong to Pandamonium…

Day 254, Sat 19th Oct

No hanging around here then...

No hanging around here then…

A day spent traveling from Sydney to Shanghai. Caught the Maglev (train on magnetic rails) from the station in Shanghai (another way round the world!) & it took just 8 minutes due to 301km/ hr!  V impressive…Nice 10 hour flight to Sydney, where I managed to read a very good, completely random bookswap, Jo Nesbo thriller for the entire journey. Got to Shanghai – fortunately managed to talk the Chinese passport officers into not stamping one of my rapidly dwindling unstamped passport pages, whilst only knowing a single word of Mandarin – before catching our first ever MagLev train; very cool. Arrived at our lovely (and cheap) hostel, after a slight getting lost detour, and tried out the rooftop bar; it would have been rude not to…

 

 

 

Day 255, Sun 20th Oct

Shanghai - View of Pudong

Shanghai – View of Pudong, Pearl tower on the left…

A day spent sightseeing – the old buildings on the Bund facing the new skyscrapers in Pudong. The sight was impressive but nothing special in my opinion.

The Bund was a nice walk and I enjoyed seeing the skyscrapers across the river – we had to wonder if the idea for the Pearl Tower came from an Ann Summers store… Most of the older buildings on the Bund are very European in style.

Had a huge meal in the restaurant across the street – it is nice to go out to eat again after all that home cooking in Australia!

 

Day 256, Mon 21st Oct

Suzhou

Suzhou

A day trip to Suzhou – the Venice of the east. V pleased with ourselves as we sorted out our own train tickets & headed out there without recourse to any travel agents, etc. I’m not sure it lived up to the reputation but it was very beautiful & we had a lovely day ambling around there. We were hoping to cap it off with a boat trip around the town walls at night, but there weren’t doing it on the low season.

Suzhou was touristy, but stunning, lots of beautiful gardens to wander around, and walks along the canal flanked by cafes and restaurant stalls. Met some Chilenos on the way so had a bit of Spanish practice too!

It was a shame we didn’t get to do the boat, but we got some nice pictures of the river at least, and it was good to see some of the locals practising their Tai Chi to music – at least that is what I think they were doing, perhaps it was some kind of dance practice…

(looked like Whigfield to me…. “Saturday night, da da da da de da da da, ooh baby…”)

Suzhou at night

Suzhou at night

Suzhou

Suzhou

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day 257, Tue 22nd Oct

A chilled day on my birthday visiting the French concession before catching the overnight sleeper to Beijing. I’m not sure we really got to see the best of the French concession, but it was a nice amble. Lovely to receive all the birthday felicitations now I reached the grand old age of 45… is that middle aged now..?! :-)

I am feeling terribly guilty about us being in a shared train sleeper compartment for Keir’s birthday, he did say he didn’t mind, but I would have! French concession was ok, not sure we really saw the bits that we should have seen, but we found some nice little cafes and boutique stores – a bit like the back lanes at High Street Ken.

Shanghai, China

Day 258, Wed 23rd Oct 

Beijing - Temple of Heaven

Beijing – Temple of Heaven

 The overnight soft sleeper wasn’t too bad… so good in fact that I had to wake sleeping beauty (Tracey) up as we approached Beijing. Dropped the gear off at the hostel & straight out to see the Temple of Heaven Park – cool introduction to Chinese architecture – Pagodas, etc.

Blissful 12 hours of sleep on the soft (it wasn’t) sleeper, sharing with a very sweet Chinese mother and daughter who did not speak a word of English – we had fun trying to communicate with the book for a bit, but eventually resorted to smiling and nodding – before arriving in Beijing at about 7am. A bit of a mix up (caused by me as it turned out) meant that we had to stay all 3 nights in Beijing in different places, not great, but this hostel, Springtime, is one of the best hostels I have ever stayed in – more like a hotel!

(Hilarious, Rod & Tracey had been conversing for a couple of weeks at least about different months! It was only the day before we arrived that they realised & a quick bit of re-organisation ensued on both fronts :-) )

Temple of Heaven Park was interesting, probably took too many pictures though :-)

….Again! :-(

I see no ship...

I see no ship…

Day 259, Thu 24th Oct

We spent a fantastic day at the Emperor’s Summer Palace; the original Disney fun park! The dowager Empress Cixi apparently spent the entire Naval budget on upgrading the park in the late 19th Century…. The only thing Naval to come out of it was a beautiful marble ship fixed permanently alongside the lake.

Beijing - Summer Palace (190)The Summer Palace was beautiful, the touristy little canal town was very cute too – sort of a mini Venice – I liked this place better than the Forbidden City or the Temple of Heaven Park, AND they had a gigantic rubber duck floating in the bay

(what a surprise there then…!).

Day 260, Fri 25th Oct

A mad dash around the Forbidden City – brought about by our usual inability to get up, protracted breakfast, and the fact that we had arranged to meet up with my 6th form friend Rod, who now lives in Beijing and who I have not seen since his wedding 6 years ago, at midday – it was never going to be a realistic undertaking…Forbidden palace was a must see; it was impressively grandiose but a little Spartan inside for my taste & we were battling through the crowds.Rod then took us to one of the hutongs (alleyways) for lunch – luckily he does speak Mandarin – the bell tower (not very exciting, would probably give it a miss) and drum tower (better as we got there just in time for the drum performance) and the Llama temple. The latter was pretty spectacular, especially the 23m gold Buddha carved from a single tree(there was even a ‘record breakers’ plaque from Norris McWhirter testifying to that!). Lovely afternoon with Rod, particularly for Tracey as they haven’t seen each other for years but also for me as he’s a bloody nice chap! :-) Then off to meet Rod’s wife, a heavily pregnant Judie, for a drink and fabulous dinner – lots of lovely food for me and I am sure Keir will mention the duck!Judie was absolutely lovely & made us feel very welcome.  They obviously took pity on the poor, destitute travellers & kindly took us out for dinner.  We (the Royal ‘we’ obviously) had Peking duck in… Beijing (Peking in old money :-) ) & it was delicious!Day 261, Sat 26th Oct

Rod, Judie & Kai

Rod, Judie & Kai

Woke up at Rod and Judie’s and met their cute little daughter Kai, a very precocious 2 year old, who fortunately seemed to like her replica of the giant Summer Palace rubber duck; one that was fortunately not quite so large, and somewhat fluffier…

Had some lovely fruit and yoghurt for breakfast (treat!) and then took our leave, and Rod & Judie’s driver, off to the Great Wall at Mutinyu.

Kai was very cute & once her initial reticence at seeing us had worn off, was very talkative – especially after T had given up the ducky (T was secretly hoping to keep it!). They even had dogs & a cat as well…. So I was in heaven :-) .

The great wall of China

The great wall of China

Today the weather was just spectacular and The Great Wall looked phenomenal, we obviously had to do the cable car and toboggan as well as the wall! Then a long drive back to town for our overnight to Pingyao – hard seat :-(

The wall was really impressive; the way it snakes around the contours of the hills was beautiful, particularly with the autumn foliage.  The toboggan was fun, but we had an old lady holding everyone up… like Driving Miss Daisy.       Beijing, China

Day 262, Sun 27th Oct

'Can I have your autograph please...?'

‘Can I have your autograph please…?’

Arrived in Pingyao at 5:30 after not much sleep; the seat, whilst not as hard as I had feared, was extremely upright with no reclining facility. The actual boarding of the train was an experience in itself though – they sell standing room too and EVERYONE seemed to have a large amount of luggage to accommodate. Keir and I decided to sleep in shifts over the 12 hour journey (luggage protection), but it was difficult to be comfortable and we were both pretty grumpy at that point, had to take a nap on arrival :)

We eventually made it out for some exploration, and a very good (albeit London-priced) breakfast in Sakura café. Pingyao is an old walled city and is virtually untouched - not too much of the over ‘restoration’ that we saw in Beijing – so we bought a ticket to walk the city walls and some temple visits. It is very photogenic, though pretty touristy with all of the shops.

'Elderly route'... it's reached that time in life...!

‘Elderly route’… it’s reached that time in life…!

Train was a nightmare, but a real experience – unfortunately we have to do it again in another 48 hrs. The Chinese loved the fact that 2 Guilos had been stupid enough to take the train! Pingyao was marvellous – surrounded by intact city walls & full of old shops & buildings… actually started to feel like we were in China for real.

Day 263, Mon 28th Oct

Wang Family Courtyard

Wang Family Courtyard

Day trip to the Underground castle today – interesting tunnels, but not as amazing as the fort we visited in Cartagena – and the Wang Family Courtyard.

The latter was just incredible; a mini-walled city with over 100 courtyards and lots of different avenues to explore – the Lonely Planet comment of it getting a bit samey almost made us miss this, but it was amazing!

Off on the train to Xi’an tonight, another hard seat :-(

Wang Family courtyard was beautiful; something like over 130 different courtyards in a mini, deserted, town surrounded by city walls – another castle!.  The underground castle was interesting but not a patch on the Wang Family – fun running around the tunnels beneath the village though.

Pingyao, China

Day 264, Tue 29th Oct

Arrived in Xi’an with a very cricked neck and having achieved approximately one hour of broken sleep. Not ideal, but we decided we would never have time to visit both the Terracotta Warriors and the tomb of Emperor Jingdi if we had a sleep first. So, off to the Jingdi tomb, which was frankly a bit disappointing. If you are visiting Xi’an, I probably wouldn’t bother, but maybe we are just spoilt now…? Interesting seeing the tomb of emperor Jingdi – lots of terracotta figures etc, that have been part excavated & then covered or encased in glass so you can walk above & around them.  I think that we’re a bit spoiled now after all those Incan/ Mayan/ Aztec ruins; this was meant to be a Lonely Planet must see… I don’t think so.

Terracotta Warriors

Terracotta Warriors

Day 265, Wed 30th Oct

Terracotta warriors today – a lot more impressive than the Emperor Jingdi tomb! Then we caught our (thankfully) soft sleeper to Chengdu. 16 hours, a hard seat would have been disastrous…

Our cabin companion was a nice young Chinaman called Alex (or Lu in Mandarin). Hundreds of life sized warriors; all individually sculpted with different likenesses. Now this is impressive & they’ve only excavated a small part of it.

Xian, China

Day 266, Thurs 31st Oct

Arrived in Chengdu around midday. By the time we got to the hostel (a not quite so clear metro trip as we had experienced elsewhere; none of the maps showed anything other than Chinese!), it was a bit late to shower, breakfast AND make the trip to Leshan. Sadly the much vaunted high speed rail link is still not in existence and the 2.5 hour bus is the only option… Pandas definitely have to be in the morning and the man at the hostel told us we could do both in a day if we started early, so easy day then :)

I swear these bloody fences are getting higher

I swear these bloody fences are getting higher

Day 267, Fri 1st Nov

Up at 6 for 7am breakfast, which failed to materialise due to the missing chef, though one of the other staff turned up around 7:15 and very kindly made us coffee – and in Keir’s case, toast. So, a little later than planned we grabbed a cab to the panda breeding centre.

This really was a highlight. Keir spotted a giant panda early on, and after that we saw 1 year olds, 2 year old, 3 year olds, and some little babies of 3 months trying to crawl :-). The red pandas were also super cute, and super curious, they particularly liked Keir’s feet for some reason – a highly questionable form of masochism…

The giant pandas were as cute as you see on TV; quite playful. But to me the highlight was the red pandas – they’re like a very small bear with a racoon’s tail.  We could walk through their enclosure & they were quite unafraid & bold – running around our feet. T loved the baby Giant pandas – little bundles of fluff crawling around their little baby playpen. As she put it; Sooo fluffy (name that film…?!) & cute!

We headed back to the bus station for Leshan with what we thought was plenty of time, but despite Keir’s repeated requests for a bus to the Buddha, we ended up on a town bus to Leshan, necessitating a further bus, with no idea where we were going. Finally reached the area 3 hours after leaving and ran around frantically trying to find the boat to see the giant Buddha – except there were no boats for 45 minutes as we were the only people who wanted to go! – this was somewhat at odds with the internet advice I had read, indicating queue times of up to an hour – so, we decided just to pay and run into the park for a view and some pictures, and we did run! 10 minutes later we were back on the bus to Leshan, then Chengdu and an extremely tight run to the airport. Just made it, phew.

Buddha ended up being a bit of a farce; everyone else was queuing up to climb down the 250m from the head to the feet, whilst we just ran up & took a couple of pictures from the top & buggered off again.  That being said; amazing sculpture – the ears alone are 7m high… make’s Noddy’s mate’s look tiny in comparison! Keir seemed delighted to find that our Guilin hostel had put us on the 5th floor; no lift :-(

Deep joy… slightly lost my rag for a second…. Until I got a beer down me… :-)

Chengdu, China

Going Down Under….

Day 237, Wed 2nd Oct

Enjoyed Melbourne – a free old fashioned tram around the centre & lots of little alley ways with cool shops. T was desolate that she couldn’t shop properly… god help London shops when she gets home – particularly with her new, improved bartering skills!

Had a lovely day in the intermittent sunshine and showers following the Lonely Planet walk – a bit crappy on the phone as you cannot really page back to see what everything is – and Melinda’s (from the Santiago meeting) suggestions of places to go – it is a real shame that she and Locki do not get back to Melbourne until we leave.

Melbourne, Oz

Day 238, Thurs 3rd Oct

Up early to pick up the car for the Great Ocean Road drive today – I would have liked to spend more time in Melbourne, can see why people like to live there – lots of places to stop en route, but we had to get all the way to Warrnamboul, several hundred kilometres away, and did not have time to fully enjoy the available walks on offer, unfortunately.

We did manage to see a kangaroo with baby (from a distance), a couple of wallabies near Split Point Lighthouse, some vibrantly coloured parrots or lorikeets (not sure) and 2 koalas at Kennet River, a nice mini rainforest walk at Mait’s Rest and just make the 12 Apostles (unusual and beautiful rock formations) around sunset! We had to miss out on a few other sights though due to the night-time drive – with associated animal hazards – to our hostel :(

Back behind a wheel again – after 7 months of being transported everywhere, T has me chained behind a wheel almost permanently now! It was cool initially in NZ, as I like driving… but the vast expanses & perpetually long roads of NZ have worn me down; I do hope the Great Ocean Road drive isn’t the same!

The one that got away...!

The one that got away…!

Well, what do you know, a really enjoyable day. A full smorgasbord of sights & animals – Koalas (v cute – T wants one!), parakeets (the most stunning birds I’ve seen to date), wallabies (by the side of the road) & kangaroos (we had to take evasive actions as it kept hopping back & forth across the road).

Another day in paradise...

Another day in paradise…

 

The scenery changed through-out the day with lots of nice surprises – the rainforest walk was gorgeous – felt like we’d gone back in time 1000’s of years to when Oz was first formed – when Abo’s roamed the country & Australia used to win at rugby & cricket!

Day 239, Fri 4th Oct

We were both so tired and groggy today that despite making it out of the hostel about 10:15, we didn’t actually leave the town until 1; the need for coffee and wifi were pressing!

Another day with not enough time to see everything, but we started with Tower Hill Reserve, a quick peak climb, an emu with 2 week old chicks, and a koala who kindly came down from his tree and then demonstrated climbing over the obstacles put there to deter him from getting into another.

Another little known place, but a great highlight. An old volcano crater with lakes & islands in the centre full of wildlife & fauna – seeing the Koala up close actively climbing trees & obstacles was amazing.

Melbourne to Adelaide - Tower Hill Reserve (11)

Made it to Mount Gambier Lake just as sunset hit and then nipped to Umphaston sinkhole – now with no water, but turned into a beautiful park – for the possums that come out at night. Very cute, though possibly the baby emus just take it!

The blue lake was, funnily enough, still blue at sunset. The late running (T neeeeded coffee! :) ) meant that whilst we missed seeing some things, we arrived at the sinkhole in time for dusk & the possums – a very beautiful memory. Nurse Tracey managed to patch up a poor Aussie (with a very much younger Thai bride (!?) who caught his head on a rock).

Drove another 2 hours to Robe for tonight’s accommodation – Nampara cabins. 2 bed place with kitchen, fabulous.

Another night drive avoiding wildlife, deep joy! The cabins were absolutely lovely; clean, well equipped with plenty of space.

Day 240, Sat 5th Oct

A bit of a lie in & then had to find a café for Coffee & wifi.  The town was fairly pretty, but not as picture perfect as the tourist info suggested.  The drive was long & boring; only made more interesting by the car ferry. We had planned to get a beautiful omnibus horse drawn tram in Victor Harbour, but we arrived late & they finished at 3p.m. on a bank holiday weekend – what are these Aussie’s like?!? Haven’t they ever heard of making money?

The plan today, to get to Victor Harbour for the horse-drawn tram, failed. Another 1pm start due to frantic last-minute wifi planning of Ayers Rock – who knew you had to book everything several days in advance, or that it was Labour Day weekend for that matter? – and a fantastic coffee in the town. Too late to book trips now apparently, so had to book a car for Ayers Rock, oh well, it will be probably cheaper anyway :-).

Got to Adelaide about 8, another fabulous hostel, Hostel 109, though it did take about 2 hours to access the free wifi, I guess everyone else was doing that too! Oh, and fortunately found out that the clocks go forward AGAIN tonight – lucky that, we might have missed our flight…

Tracey cooked up another fabulous meal at the Hostel that went down well with a bottle of plonk.  Free internet was a blessing, apart from the fact that you couldn’t access it through wifi – a real pain. Central & South America seem worlds apart from Oz/ NZ in terms of free wifi…

Great Ocean road drive – Melbourne to Adelaide, Oz

Day 241, Sun 6th Oct

Off to Ayers Rock today, where we have to stay in a dorm due to the exorbitant price of a private room in the YHA equivalent – over AU$200??! – but luckily we are in a 4-bed dorm and our roomies are a very nice, young, French couple, Fanny & Renaud.

We decide to try Ayers Rock (Uluru) tonight for the much vaunted sunset, however I have no idea how they pick these sites to drive to, all we got was the rock in shadow and I wanted colours! About halfway through our viewing experience Keir read that the sunset is only good here if there are clouds in the sky. Damn, will have to try again tomorrow…

P1440739Wasn’t looking forward to the dorm experience but T at the last minute mentions that she booked a 4 bed dorm & then the French couple we are sharing with are lovely.

Sunset at Ayers Rock was ok, but we chose the wrong site – needed some clouds in the cloudless sky to make it work – doh!

Day 242, Mon 7th Oct

5 a.m. – what are we doing up at such an ungodly hour… oh yes, sunrise at Ayers rock then off to Kata Tjuta park to do the Valley of Winds walk & then Kampa gorge.

Sunrise was ok at the rock (again, I don’t think we were in the right place) but much more beautiful as we drove towards Kata Tjuta (as we were arriving on the correct side for sunrise).  The supposed 4hr tramp through the valley of the wind was despatched in under 2hrs.  Very pretty, & the flocks of zebra finches around the watering sites were a highlight.

The Kampa gorge was quite a short walk but again nice.  We were then headed back to the hostel before 11:00 where I promptly had a 5hr siesta – now that was nice!

P1440650Finally we got ourselves in the right position for sunset – very beautiful as the light slowly fades & changes. We decide that was enough & knock the idea of getting up at 5 again for sunrise – relief!

Didn’t quite make the planned position to see Kata Tjuta at sunrise, due in part to the queue of motorists trying to access the park just before sunrise and their apparent need to have a conversation about it with the gatekeeper. We saw Uluru, but not a great position again – what are these guys thinking is a good view?

The ‘4 hour’ Valley of the Winds walk was nice, but not spectacular and there was an unfortunate lack of wind, the kind supplied by Keir was not what I had in mind…  we were both struggling to stay awake during the drive back, so after a much needed ice cream stop decided a nap was the only option – an epic nap in Keir’s case – before our last attempt at an Uluru sunset ( this time, a vast improvement).

A nice evening eating dinner and chatting with our French roommates

Day 243, Tue 8th Oct

Up & packed & then a short hour walk around Ayers rock seeing Malia Gorge & another culturally sensitive area. Very beautiful to see it up close, due to the redness of the rock, the wind formed caves & waterformed, now dry, waterfalls. But, boy was it hot & the swarms of flies were hugely annoying.

Another little walk with what seemed like an infinite number of flies – no moisture, so they try to continually fly in your eyes, up your nose, in your mouth – I think I snorted another few  - whenever I stopped waving my map in front of my face, one would make a kamikaze dive for my nostril, lovely.

An afternoon flight to Cairns… now this looks a lot nicer – tropical & green.

Tonight was our first time couchsurfing – where people offer to put other ‘surfers’ up for the night gratis. A great idea; you then spread the love by doing the same for other people.

Leah had kindly accepted our request & we rolled in to meet her & her dog –Betsey. Leah kindly knocked up a delicious curry & we soon polished off a bottle of vino.

Met Leah and a couple of German couchsurfing boys who hadn’t managed to leave due to car problems. We were very happy when Leah offered us an ad hoc curry :)

Ayers Rock (Uluru), Oz

Day 244, Wed 9th Oct

Bit of a lie in, admin in town & then off to the tablelands around Cairns – looks so remarkably like parts of Britain.

A day for wild life- cute turtles, crayfish, birds & even a platypus. Saw some beautiful waterfalls; saving the best until last – Millaa Milliaa falls where we had a swim at dusk & the place to ourselves. :)

Around Cairns - Milaa Milaa Falls (1)The boys lent us their map to visit Millaa Millaa and the environs – the usual late start meant that we didn’t quite make it all the way to the boulders we were supposed to see, but the falls, and the stops on the way, were beautiful.

Day 245, Thu 10th Oct

We bid adieu to Leah & headed up the coast to the Daintree – a part of Oz where ancient Tropical rainforest meets beautiful beaches.

A quick stop at Mossman gorge & walk – pretty but not worth the stop… call that a gorge…

First thing we see when we enter the Daintree – the famous, but elusive Cassowary bird, just walking across the road.

Day spent exploring forests & beaches. The day was almost ruined when, on the way back, we came across an upturned car with a lady trapped inside – supposedly dead. As we were second on the scene, we rushed off to get help – no mean feat in that unpopulated area.  Fortunately, by the time we got back the emergencies services were there & she was conscious & swearing (being Australian!).  They eventually cut her out & the air ambulance flew her off for a full check-up.  We arrived back to our accommodation very late & very hungry; Tracey saved our culinary bacon by knocking up a lovely bangers & mash.

The Daintree was gorgeous, rainforest meets beach, though sadly the sea was a no go area due to crocodiles!!! It was hot too, a swim would have been nice… The ice cream we had heard rave reviews about, was wonderful; so may flavours to try made it hard to choose! Passion fruit and ginger was definitely a winner.

Our hostel, Crocodylus Village, was not one I was expecting great things of, having seen Leah grimace when we mentioned it, but it was lovely – I suspect it is normally a lot busier though and perhaps that would rather change the vibe… but it was quiet and we loved it! Oh, and we saw a Cassowary (large, dangerous bird that has been known to attack and kill humans) on our first day!

Day 246, Fri 11th Oct

Woken up by the sounds of the rainforest – lots of bird & beasts.  The forest cabin was lovely & we could have easily spent a few more days there; but we had a plan… & Miss T was keeping us on that schedule.  Cool beach walks & jungle treks (with another Cassowary sighting – yes, 2 in 2 days!) made up the rest of the morning before we headed back across the ferry & back towards Cairns. We took the long route via Kurunda & Barron gorge before arriving back in Cairns at our very nice hostel.

The reason why the Cassowary is sooo elusive...?!

The reason why the Cassowary is sooo elusive…?!

Barron’s falls and gorge was a lot more impressive than Mossman strangely. Cow Bay beach also lovely (though not crocodile free apparently), and we got to try one last flavour of ice cream today :). We randomly saw another cassowary too, fortunately it was minding its own business…

Cairns & the Daintree, Oz

Day 247, Sat 12th Oct

Early morning rise for another flight – this time to Hamilton Island in the Whitsundays.  A ferry between the gorgeous islands to our hostel in Airlie Beach; & it felt like we were back in Magaluf! 

The hostel & town were full of drunken people (& stag do’s) of varying nationalities & in various states of clothing.  However, nobody had the imagination (nay stupidity) to be wearing morph suits! :)

Despite the tone of the place, our room is nice & they have a lovely swimming lagoon that everyone chills around.

Airlie beach was not exactly my first choice of accommodation for our Whitsundays stop, but since we are lacking Bill Gates’s financial resources and the only affordable alternative was in ‘caretaker mode,’ we had little option. My worst fears were raised when I saw that tonight’s hostel entertainment was a wet t-shirt competition, but all the noise and ‘action’ seemed to be restricted to the bar area and the hotel bit was absolutely fine; a couple of drunken lads shouting at about 2am, but I was so knackered that I barely woke up!

Day 248, Sun 13th Oct

A well-deserved lie in today followed by a chilled day catching up on admin & having a swim in the lagoon.

We meant to go for a nice walk in Conway National Park, but as we didn’t get around to leaving the hotel until about 2:30, it ended up a bit late… had a nice swim at the public lagoon – beautiful outdoor pool – and after long deliberation arranged our trip to Whitehaven beach tomorrow, lots of companies to choose from, but we have decided to give Ocean Rafting a go…

Day 249, Mon 14th Oct

A great day trip with Ocean Rafting out to Hook Island for some snorkelling, plus Whitsunday island to chill on the famous white sands of Whitehaven beach.

We saw some nice fish & turtles but the coral was the real deal here – fantastic shapes & colours.  The prevailing wind meant that we were snorkelling in a not often used location, so that may have been why.

Whitehaven beach was absolutely heavenly – even the sand wasn’t hot (don’t ask me why) with the sun beating down on it. The photos are gorgeous but even they don’t do it justice.

Almost paradise...

Almost paradise…

Great trip on a fast raft, and we met a lovely English girl called Claire. The snorkelling was fabulous, the most diverse and undamaged range of coral that I have ever seen – and I thought Roatan was pretty amazing – and Whitehaven beach is definitely up there for best beach I have ever seen. We were trying to decide if San Blas was better… I think the low tide and swirling sands at Whitehaven may just take it.

Made dinner with Claire and snuck a bottle of wine into the hostel – I understand the no alcohol rule after being around for stag party central at the weekend, but we are not 19 for Christ’s sake, I think we can have a bottle of wine with our dinner!

Whitsunday Islands, Oz

Day 250, Tue 15th Oct

A day spent traveling to Sydney.

Said goodbye to The Whitsundays and arrived at our hostel in Sydney a little after 4. After we had settled in there was little to do but shop and cook some dinner – eating out in Australia has long been deemed by us as ruinously expensive and for special occasion only ;)

Day 251, Wed 16th Oct

A day spent sightseeing – saw the obvious ones; the bridge & opera house.  But it was the ‘Rocks’ (old part of town) & the Botanical gardens that were the hits.

Sydney (43)Took a stroll through the Botanical Gardens and around the sights of the CBD whilst trying to evade the local populace on their lunchtime run around the parks – feeling very guilty about lack of exercise – and unsuccessfully trying to find gluten-free cake (as solace).

Sydney is a beautiful city, I can see why people would like to live here, at least at this time of year, not sure about the summer though, it was hot enough today and spring has only just begun!

Day 252, Thu 17th Oct

Headed out to Bondi beach to walk along the coast to Coogee – lovely day made quite eerie by the red sun caused by the smoke from the forest fires. We didn’t manage to get in the water as it was absolutely freezing, but the scenery was lovely… NZ still takes it though (don’t tell the Aussies!).

Sydney - Bondi to Coogee Walk (14)Bondi beach is huge, but the water looked far too choppy (and was far too cold) for the intended swim! Got some fantastically moody pictures of the cemetery  en route to Coogee, we were trying to work out why the sky looked so odd, we only found out on the bus ride home that there were several bush fires burning, it was pretty bad and seems to have got worse since we left.

Day 253, Fri 18th Oct

Headed out to Manly on the ferry to meet our friend Marga (who we met on the boat through the San Blas) & spent a chilled day with her just catching up.

Tracey & Marga, Manly Beach

Tracey & Marga, Manly Beach

Beach number 2 today, as suggested by the lovely Marga – great to see her again and find out about the rest of her travels after Cartagena – had some lovely, albeit Aussie-priced (£17!) gluten free pizza – I am still trying to pin down my food intolerance issue – before ferrying back to the hostel to pack for tomorrow’s flight to China.

Sydney, Oz

The Sounds & the suburbs…

Day 224, Wed 18th Sep

Woke up the next day feeling surprisingly chipper. A beautiful day’s drive down through the wine country (with a quick detour for some wine tasting – for medicinal purposes of course) down to Kaikoura.  The drive was spectacularly beautiful, but the highlight was stopping a Ohau springs where we found a small pool under a waterfall where baby seals swam 500m up a small rocky river to play in the pool. The fact they do it is amazing, but what I want to know is how they actually found it in the first place…?!

Up for the ingloriously common 10am NZ checkout and off to Kaikoura for whale watching tomorrow. Our wine stop-offs meant no time for the Kaikoura peninsula walk I had planned then forgotten about – oh dear – another early morning tomorrow then…

I enjoyed the seals at the Ohau stream too, but sadly my pressing need for the bathroom – Keir having driven past the only garage in about 100 miles – drove us to an early exit…

Kaikoura, New Zealand

 

Day 224, Thurs 19th Sep

Up at 6:30 for breakfast before our peninsula walk, then off to see whales – or one whale twice, in this case – one was fine for me (though not the Canadian lady on our trip, it seems), my last attempt to see them ending in extraordinary painful coldness, the necessary donning of a fleecy crew boilersuit, and non-sight of a whale in Reykjavik – I hope we have a decent picture. Thank you Mum & Dad for paying for us :-)

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Double thanks from me to Alan & Lyn (A.K.A Mum & Dad No.3!) as I got to piggy back on this trip. Whether it was one whale or 100 whales it was still a priceless memory.

Drove down to the Banks Peninsula via another wine tasting – vital for the procurement of an oeno-related gift (for the rest of us normal people – she means vino!)  for our hosts to be – arrived 6ish.

Keir’s friend Bill, father to his godchild(ren), has a sister (Helen) on Banks, who has very generously volunteered, not only to put us up for 2 nights, but also to cook us a meal tonight. We will arrive bearing gifts, including Sea World rubber stamps for the kids (this could either go very well, or horribly wrong as they stamp every bit of wall space in the house!), Tahitian biscuits and BOOZE of course (Bill had advised me that Keith liked beer…. Of whatever variety! :-) ).

As ever, the hospitality of the Ross’s (Ne Hillier) knows no bounds – whether it be the UK or NZ!

Helen, the more gorgeous of the Ross siblings (sorry Tom/ Billy Ray – but you know it’s true!) had invited us to stay; obviously looking to wheedle all the tawdry truth about Bill out of me.  Don’t worry Bill; Mum’s the word! :-)

Sorry Bill; it took 1 bottle of wine – apparently ‘Blab’ is now the word!

Had a lovely meal with Keith & Helen, obviously involving copious amounts of booze, & we fell into a satisfied slumber.

Banks Penisular, New Zealand

Day 225 Fri 20th Sep

Helen & Keith are absolutely lovely, as are their kids, Eva and Ben, cats, Mouse & Murph, and dog, Milly. We feel truly at home.

(Milly is a black lab & beautifully trained whilst the cats are like living chocolate – beautiful & sooo friendly – I want some!!!)

Decided to take the scenic route to Akaroa, via an unanticipated single-lane, very bendy, cannot see more than a foot in front of you, dirt road; it was breathtaking, in more ways than one… (Especially if you are having to drive it after the navigator led you up the swanny…!)

Akaraoa was cute, but it is tiny and there is not much to do apart from go to a café and take a walk – both of which we did on arrival – unfortunately my choice of footwear left much to be desired so after a couple of hours slipping and sliding along mud-paths, and the missed opportunity of a stop at the closed, but beautiful looking, Tree Crop Farm, I was ready to return to Banks.

A lovely evening drinking wine and eating about 100 rice cakes with cheese (courtesy of Barry’s Bay cheese – expensive, but good – on the way to Akaroa) with Helen & Keith.

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Helen’s enthused me with the Americas cup – Team NZ good, Team Oracle – bad! So, up early to watch the race… points go Oracle’s way… not so good.

 

 

Eva (the little Lamb) & Ben (Carriage No. 2) are in the school play tonight so very excited about the first night’s performance; Finger’s crossed.

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Loved the Bank’s peninsular – lots of beautiful views & fantastic anchorages full of yachts… I want one!

Day 226, Sat 21st Sep

Got up late (considering the kids knocked on the door at 8) for a wonderful cooked breakfast of poached eggs, mushrooms and beans – by myself unfortunately, due to said late rising.

Off to Oamaru today, a Victorian town south of Christchurch, with a steampunk culture and PENGUINS!

P1430175Immediate stop at the info centre to book our penguin tour for this evening and to have a quick go on the Penny Farthing, then off to the free yellow-eyed (Hoiho) penguins at Bushy beach. We found one hanging around said bushes and saw another swim to the beach before deciding against it, before I decided I was cold enough and that it was time to go for the non-free Blue Penguin viewing.

The blue (Fairy) penguins were ultra-cute, only 12 inches high, but NO photos :-(. It was worth it for the premium seats though, we saw about 30 and a few were hanging around their little huts when we walked back through the enclosure. We then nearly ran one over in the car park whilst giggling at the ‘penguin crossing’ sign. Mercifully our last minute spot averted that potential trauma!

A lovely wake up call  with the kids coming in & Milly, the dog, giving me a kiss.  Tracey grunted, turned over & went back to sleep!

Another poor day for Team NZ – they effectively won the Americas cup but the non-sensical rules meant they ran out of time about 3 mins away from the line… How can you have an Americas cup race that has a minimum average wind speed of 5kts, but when you have an average of 9kts of wind the whole race there isn’t enough time to get around the course… the fact the Americans made the rules,  their  yacht was very poor in light winds & the TV companies had only programmed 2 hrs for 2 races obviously had nothing to do with it… made a joke of the whole Americas cup. P.S. I will accept Kiwi nationality if offered. :-)

Had to bid a sad farewell to Keith, Helen, Ben & Eva & head south to Omarua – a real gem of a town that hit it big & then time stood still as the prosperity moved elsewhere. Some lovely buildings in varying states of decay/ renovation &, more importantly from Tracey’s point of view – Penguins!

Had to explain, patiently, that Penguins wouldn’t like the weather back home & that the pond wouldn’t really be big enough for them.

Oamaru, New Zealand

Day 227, Sun 22nd Sep

A morning wandering around the market and cafes of Oamaru this morning, including interesting visits to a couple of steampunk shops, some beautiful and intact Victorian buildings, a sweet shop, and the Steampunk HQ museum. I think we might have a steampunk party when we are back – I quite like the tagline of ‘tomorrow as it used to be’.

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‘Steampunk’ – Evolution inspired by Victorian whizzardry & invention.

Then off to Dunedin for food and the not very good, but visually stunning, film ‘Mood Indigo’ – I confess it was my choice, but it was  Keir that did not let me Google the review first…

Is that my fault, again…?!

Day 228, Mon 23rd Sep

Nice sunny morning in Dunedin, which we completely failed to make the most of, with a nice trip to the Chinese Garden and drive to the Otago peninsula. Unfortunately our rather tardy start meant that it had completely clouded over, and then rain set in, before our planned walk. Oh well, a lazy early evening then!

A chilled, but forgettable day…. What did we do again..?!

Dunedin, New Zealand

Day 229, Tue 24th Sep

The drive towards Te Anau was beautiful as we decided, en route, to go via the Catlins mountain park right down on the southern tip of the island. Lots of windy roads, occasional dirt tracks & stunning scenery. Arrived, as planned, to see sunset over the lake at Te Anau… however the sun disappeared behind the mountain long before sunset… doh!

Stunning drive to Te Anau, which took most of the day, to arrive at our motel with unexpected kitchen – great, I was expecting nothing more than a kettle, and being slightly skint due to the non-South American prices, that saves us from a pot noodle :-)

Day 230, Wed 25th Sep

Up early for an exceptionally long drive to Milford Sound (2.5 hrs) & then back through Te Anau to Queenstown (Another 5 hrs).  Beautiful drive to the sound through misty mountains & fog bound mountain plains.

Te Anau & Milford Sound (12)

The trip on the boat was also quite stunning with waterfalls dropping off the steep mountain sides into the depths of the sound. Amazingly, we were the only people who hopped off our boat to do the trip to the underwater observatory & therefore we had a private viewing of the unique coral systems & fish life in the lake.

The long journey to Queenstown was punctuated by beautiful stops & the Kiwi constabulary issuing me a $120 speeding fine. T decided that silence was the best form of punishment & I arrived in Queenstown, like driving Miss Daisy, with my tail between my legs.

The hostel here was very friendly, but we were staying in what looked like a converted shed in the garden – washing & toilet facilities were all inside the hostel… T was not impressed!

Milford Sound was gorgeous, as was the early morning drive with all of the mist – a road fortunately not closed for day of travel. About halfway through our boat trip the remaining mist cleared and I managed to take a few extra photos :-). Drove on to Queenstown via a couple of nice walks to find the hostel – rather than holiday park – that I had booked, had places us in an outside cabin, necessitating the donning of a full outfit, shoes, key, and walk through the hostel for my night-time loo visit. Ironic as I chose not to book the extremely well rated holiday camp on the basis that I would have to go outside for the bathroom – why do none of the hostels have rooms with bathrooms in NZ anyway?

Te Anau & Milford Sound

Day 231, Thu 26th Sep

Weather looked changeable so we had a day’s drive out to Glenorchy (beautiful but quiet) & then Arrowstown (stuck in time with clapboard houses & old ruined Chinese shanty town). Saw ‘Rush’ in the lovely little picture house there – a fantastic film if you haven’t seen it about the ‘James Hunt’/ ‘Nikki Lauder’ rivalry in F1 in the 70’s.

Queenstown (15)Glenorchy was nice, but Arrowtown nicer, unfortunately I think much of the Glenorchy drive relates to the scenery – slightly poorer for the overcast weather. Loved Arrowtown though, and Keir’s choice of film (I did Google this one) was great, the cinema is also very nice, like the little boutique ones you find in London.

Day 232, Fri 27th Sep

We had planned to hike up the mountain & do the ‘Luge’ at the top – a luge like run down concrete tracks in carts – then ice skate.  However, torrential rain meant plan B came into force & we reversed the day’s events, with a little bit of shopping jammed in for T as well.

Why we don’t have these luge things back home is beyond me – they appeal to all ages; had great fun bombing down the runs, cutting inside & outside of T, Mums, Dad’s & kids whilst screaming at the top of my lungs – particularly fun having watched ‘Rush’ the day before!

A nice morning turned into a very wet day due to our late rising again – I tell you that all of these early morning travel days can be worse than work – but salvaged by an hour on the ice rink (no falling over, at least not by us – I think Keir actually only went round twice though!), a nice walk up the mountain and the LUGE. Really good fun, but we got up the mountain so late that we only had time for 2 runs and a glass of wine before approaching dusk forced us to walk back down again.

Queenstown, New Zealand

Day 233, Sat 28th Sep

This was meant to be a gentle drive to Fox glacier through the beautiful scenery of the Haast pass with multiple stops for breath taking views.  However, after a 2 hr drive we stopped in Wanaka only to find the pass was shut – indefinitely – due to risk of a landslide.  A quick re-plan by T turned & we now had a 6 hr detour on our hands! :-(

We arrived in Arthur’s pass at 1930 after a 10hr drive much wearied, but strangely buoyant that we’d coped with everything Mother Nature had thrown at us.  We even had an unexpected arrival committee of 2 ‘Kea’s’ – alpine parrots – who landed on the car roof when we arrived & were sticking their beaks into everything they could as we unpacked the car.  T wanted a picture of the 3 Keir/ Kea’s together; I’m not sure what she was going to entitle it, but I heard some mutterings about ‘Dumb & dumber’ or a ‘Who’s got the biggest beak competition’…

My best laid plans were rather scuppered by the Haast closure – though since a couple of Canadians were swept off the road in a landslide a week or so ago in that spot, we were quite understanding of the caution shown there – manic re-plan ensued; we will go to the glaciers tomorrow, but it means 2 days of long drives for Keir. Sometimes not being able to drive is a good (albeit selfish) thing.

Day 234, Sun 29th Sep

Another long drive today down the mountain to the coast, then south to see Fox’s Glacier,  Franz Joseph Glacier & Lake Matheson, before driving all the way back up to Greymouth. This would then bring us back on track with the plan after the Haast pass detour.

A day of almost perpetual rain, with occasional bursts of sunshine.  We got as far as the car park of the lake & Fox Glacier but had a walk in the rain to see Franz Joseph.

A quick detour to see the Hokitiki gorge meant that we arrived into Greymouth slightly late & knackered. However, we had a very warm welcome from the Hostel owner how ransacked the place to find us a copy of the ‘Hunger games’ to watch whilst we ate dinner.

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Disappointing that we could not really enjoy the glaciers or the Hokitiki gorge due to the weather, and running out of time again, but I guess we have been pretty lucky so far in New Zealand and the West Coast is the most subject to wet weather…

Fantastic owner at Neptune’s Backpackers in Greymouth spent about an hour looking for The Hunger Games for us while I was cooking up a storm in the kitchen and drinking more wine – I may have to cut down on this alcohol thing, Keir has started buying cider as well as purportedly sharing the wine, but he does not seem to be doing much of the latter…

Arthur’s pass, Hokiti Gorge & Frans Joseph Glacier, NZ

Day 235, Mon 30th Sep

Dropped the hire car off & then caught the train for the trip back through Arthurs pass to Christchurch. Beautiful sights though the train window – so much more relaxing than driving.

Managed a quick walk around Greymouth before our train ride – pretty spectacular and well worth the NZ $99, I am not sure if I would have paid the international price of $199 though; book it in New Zealand if you are going!

Arrived in Christchurch for another late supermarket run and supper. Met some nice British girls, Sara & Kirsty, in the kitchen and shared some travel info whilst attempting another rice dish – maybe I will actually be a decent cook by the time I get back? I live in hope, I think Keir does too…

Greymouth to Christchurch, NZ

Day 236, Tues 1st Oct

Spent the day wandering around Christchurch, checking out the cardboard cathedral (not all of it, to my disappointment) and the re-start mall. It is really sobering to think how much was destroyed in the earthquake and how many people lost their lives, but also great to see so much regeneration and positivity here. We did not have much time unfortunately, transfer to the airport for Melbourne at 6pm!

Christchurch has a nice vibe, despite the horrendous destruction from the earthquake, everyone is very positive & new buildings/ developments are sprouting everywhere like budding shoots.

Our new hostel, Pint on Punt, is like student digs, the room is fine – if a little dirty – but no soap or toilet roll in the bathrooms and a lot of dirty saucepans lying about. Not great, lucky it is only for 2 nights!

Nice pub downstairs & a comfortable bed are the only things going for the hostel – a little care & attention & it’d be a great place.

Christchurch, NZ

The day that time forgot… (Wed 11th Sep)

Day 204, Thu 29th Aug

Arrived in Mendoza (wine country) at 2pm. Back to a nice warm climate! Signed ourselves up for free wine tasting at the hostel that evening and then went for a walk to explore the different plazas around the town.

The tasting was so enjoyable that we completely forgot about eating dinner until 10:30, mad dash to find somewhere still open… I guess they do not eat as late here as we hear they do in Buenos Aires…

Mendoza appeared lovely, especially after 3 glasses of wine!  It was built around a number of squares; the blue tiled ‘Espana’ being our favourite.

Day 205, Fri 30th Aug

Decided to do our vineyard tour of Maipu on bicycles today – it sounded like a bad idea to me, I am not known for my cycling skills at the best of times and attempting to ride on the main road half-cut seemed like a disaster waiting to happen. Swallowing my fears, we embarked (a bit late) on our journey, had a full tour at the first vineyard with the option of 4 glasses of wine – I very sensibly only had a few sips, leaving the remainder for Keir :-) – then off for an olive oil and (yuckily sweet) chocolate tasting.

We had a fabulous lunch in the cerveceria (a very tasty off-menu salad) followed by a (failed) attempt to go to the big winery. At this point I had drunk very little and actually fancied a glass of wine – a desire unfortunately thwarted when we found we had missed the last tour and couldn’t join in half way through; bloody bureaucrats. Decided that I was far too uncomfortable to cycle another 2km to a different winery, so we jacked it in and returned to Mendoza for dinner before our night bus to Santiago :-)

Highlight of the day was having a go on a Tandem bicycle (another way around the world :-) ) plus the lunch in the beer garden – out in the countryside surrounded by nature & lots of birds – of the feathered variety!

 

A bicycle made or two... but who's in charge...?!

A bicycle made for two… but who’s in charge…?!

The main road through Maipu isn’t particularly nice, but once you get out into the countryside it’s worth it.  On the bus home we found that you needed their version of the oyster card to buy a ticket, which obviously tourists can’t buy anywhere sensible, so T appealed to the bus & a very nice lady was our saviour & helped us out!

Mendoza, Argentina

Day 206, Sat 31st Aug

A beautiful border crossing over the Andes… T usually hates daytime buses but the Andes was so beautiful that even she couldn’t grumble.  The old, disused, railway ran alongside for most of the way hinting at past splendours… we’d have happily taken it if it was still running. :-)

Just on the Chilean side of the border crossing was a ski slope – we gazed on enviously!

Top of the world Ma!

Top of the world Ma!

Arrived in the Brasil area of Santiago to stay in our new hostel – lots of quirky design and decoupage – and went for a daytime walk around the slightly ‘edgy’ streets. Street art and nice old buildings – it felt just like home. We found some great little restaurants and bars around Constitucion in the slightly more upmarket areas too.

The architecture through-out Santiago was really interesting & quite cool – there were so many beautiful buildings just slowly crumbling away… I was itching for the DIY tools… :-)

Another way around the world was ticked off when we found some pedalo’s in the park – childish but fun.  T even let me drive… & provide most of the pedal power of course!

I might be steering, but we know who's in charge...

I might be steering, but we know who’s in charge…

Day 207, Sun 1st Sep

Another walk today, around the Italian quarter – it did not seem particularly Latin, more akin to Brick Lane in fact – before meeting up with Eleanor and Tom, the English couple we met in Honduras, to take them up on their very kind offer of lodging in their flat for a few days. The flat is on the 22nd floor of a Canary Wharf style tower block in the suburb of Las Condes – where we were greeted by a beautiful sunset.

 

Fantastic dinner at a French restaurant nearby, possibly the best cooked slab of fish (Halibut?) that I have ever tasted, followed by crème brulee.

It was fantastic to meet up with Tom & Eleanor again. Since we last met in Honduras Eleanor carried on travelling & we’ve been following her blog avidly & were looking forward to catching up with them both to see where they were going to settle next.

One good thing that came out of the Maipu wine tasting was a bottle of ‘Reserve’ that we’d picked up to thank them for our stay.  The idea was that they’d be able to celebrate their return from the Amazon, where they were off to take some mind bending natural drug, Ayahuasca, in a Shaman ritual in a couple of weeks (T was obviously very interested in joining them!). However, in true English style, they put aside that they were meant to be following a strict alcohol free diet & opened the bottle straight away! :-)

Santiago, Chile

Day 208, Mon 2nd Sep

Valparaiso here we come; 2 hour bus ride & we were in the land of pastel shaded corrugated iron houses stacked on hillsides forming a smorgasbord of colour.

The trip to our fantastic hostel  was livened up when a car coming in the opposite direction hit a pothole & it’s wheel literally snapped off of its axle… the taxi drivers only comment was that ‘that way will be blocked for a while…!’

We dropped our gear off & hit the town to join a tour to see the sites; we even added another method to the ’80 ways’ when we hopped on an electric trolley bus.

A glorious day in Valparaiso today. We decided to join a tours4tips to get to know the city – our guide Marcia was great and made the whole thing fun for us – including hopping on the 1947 trolley bus, the funicular, and sneaking into a stunning, but seriously rundown, turn of the century apartment block; I recommend them highly.

Day 209, Tue 3rd SepValparaiso, Chile (70)

We wandered around Valparaiso, up to the cemetery & then into Pablo Neruda’s house on top of one of the many hills. This appeared to be another house, like many others, each floor stacked on top of each other like cardboard boxes. However, inside it was delightful. Neruda, a famous Chilean poet (I hadn’t heard of him either!) was very nautically focused & this was reflected in the décor inside.  Fantastic views from every floor as well.

We made our own list of things still to see today. Neruda’s house was very cool, 5 stories of little rooms perched on a hillside with incredible views. The museum de Bellas Artes was also very nice, though we had only 30 minutes before our bus and were interested in the Arts & Crafts house rather than the art; it was not quite as stunning as Voewood (in Norfolk), but definitely worth seeing.

Valparaiso, Chile

Back to Santiago for dinner with Eleanor, Tom and a couple of other friends that Eleanor had met on her Central & South American trip, Locki & Melinda, who had announced their engagement mere hours before… we were not sure they were going to show!

 

Day 210, Wed 4th Sep

Last day in Santiago started with a lie in, domestics & then quick visit to an artesenal (for that read cheap touristy things) village & monastery.  Dinner courtesy of Eleanor ended a chilled day before the off tomorrow.

Managed to wake up at 11 today, breakfast at 12, oops. Lots of rearrangement of New Zealand plan needed due to feedback from Keir’s friend (thanks Bill :-)). Made it to bed at 1, we have a 4:45 wake up for our flight; why, oh why do we do this to ourselves?

Day 211, Thu 5th Sep

Up exceedingly early to catch our flight to Easter Island. I didn’t even notice the flight go by, as I was plugged into the on-demand films – sheer bliss.

Dropped off the gear at our hostel, which looks nice, & spent the day looking around the main town – Rapa Nui – in the sun.

A nice, but hugely expensive, meal rounded off the day… everything is imported, so the prices reflect that.

A bit of a disaster on the plane for me when the meal I was told was vegetarian, and checked twice, turned out to have bacon in it. Way to go LAN – apparently it is necessary to confirm your vegetarian meal request 48 hours before the flight, just in case – one assumes – you have changed your mind since booking. I was VERY upset. I can only imagine what sort of scandal might have ensued had I been Jewish or Muslim…

Arrived in Easter Island at lunchtime, having lost another couple of hours, it is a beautiful, sunny day, though apparently they are expecting rain L

Day 212, Fri 6th Sep

What started out a blustery day hiking round the west part of the island ended up as a pair of drowned rats as we walked the last hour back in torrential rain!

To be fair we had equipped ourselves with the right wet weather gear so heads & torso’s were dry & we saw some fantastic things along the way. 

We started well when I befriended 2 stray dogs who then decided to join us on our hike all the way round.  We saw numerous moai (giant ‘heads’) on ahu (platforms).  Even better was the lava tunnel that ended suddenly at the cliff face with 2 vertical openings high up overlooking an angry ocean… we didn’t get too close to the edge!

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Another lava tunnel was a huge crypt-like place with banana trees growing at one end where the roof had caved in.

All in all a great, but exhausting day – we probably walked near 20km. Getting rid of our new canine buddies proved difficult…. I even walked them back to their homes, but one followed us all the way back to our hostel… I want a dog!!!

BIG walk today, with 2 complete soakings and our canine guides. I still haven’t seen any large moai though; they are all a lot smaller than I expected…

Day 213, Sat 7th Sep

A long lie in followed by a walk to the top of the volcano (extinct).  Got drenched again in a ‘scattered’ shower – according to the forecast (I’d hate to see what torrential rain looks like…, oh yes – we walked in that for 45 mins yesterday!)

Was worth the climb as the crater is filled with small lakes & one side has views over the ocean – very beautiful.

A genius on the dance floor at work...!

A genius on the dance floor at work…!

An evening at a traditional Easter Island dance ended up with them requiring a little lesson in how to move those hips… I kindly volunteered… yeah baby!

Disappointingly started raining cats and dogs just as we reached the volcano lake, we had to fight to stay upright. The evening ‘must do’ cultural performance would definitely not feature on my Top 10, but Keir enjoyed being on stage; bloody show-off :-)Day 214, Sun 8th Sep

The uncertain weather meant that we’d cancelled the scooter, in favour of hiring a car.  However, we woke up to beautiful blue skies – typical.  Our hostel manager (Hostel Avatai – v nice place) kindly re-arranged said scooter & off we went at 11 for a tour of the island.

The Maoi workshop (Rano Raraku) where we saw unfinished giant statues half carved out of the volcanic rock was the highlight to me along with the beautiful beach at Anakena. 

We even managed to finish the day with only one slow speed mishap on the scooter that left us both slightly muddy but with only pride dented. :-)

The two other unforgettable things about Easter Island apart from the culture – the cost (ouch) & the windy weather!

BIG MOAI today, beautiful weather certainly made the whole trip more appealing and the Island look very beautiful.

 

Keir kindly tipped us into a muddy puddle, but luckily we were en route to the beach at that point and did not have to wait too long to clean up. Fortunately our little accident was at about 1mph, a bit less damaging than my last cycle accident!

Oh, and EXCELLENT lemon meringue pie at the café on the main strip, I wish I could remember what it was called, maybe ‘slice’ something?

Day 215, Mon 9th Sep

The final day was a day of glorious weather; we decided to head back up to Orango to see the volcanic crater lake in brilliant sunshine & a reconstructed traditional temple site.  Then we headed for a long walk round the airport seeing other archaeological sites – a gentle but relaxed day.

A surprisingly lovely Japanese meal at the ‘Chinese’ (?!) restaurant that our hostel owner had sent us to used up the last of the currency before we headed off to catch the flight to Tahiti.

Another beautiful day with muchos photos. The village we had missed on our last volcano excursion was really interesting and we topped it all off with a fantastically unexpected Japanese meal at Konaki, just a few minutes walk from the airport. A midnight flight, not so great, but at least we get to sleep a bit before arriving in the early hours.

Easter Island, Chile

Day 216, Tue 10th Sep

Arrived at 0200 in the morning, a quick sleep before we rushed off to catch the ferry to the island of Mo’orea, followed by a bus to… anywhere with a beach & snorkelling please!

A passenger & bus driver duly helped us out & we ended up at the Hilton on a day pass – perfect; great beach, facilities, sun lounger, cocktails (for T) & food… a lesson in how to spend your only day in Tahiti. :-)

Saw the most futuristic yacht back in the harbour in Tahiti on our return – Abramovic, eat your heart out!

Stumpy's next command...

Stumpy’s next command…

Arrived, slept, got up early and ferried over to Mo’orea, not having much of a clue where to go, but my small amount of internet research had suggested getting out of Tahiti and onto the other island asap. Rescued by a nice French guy who sent us up to the Hilton for a very expensive, but sort of worth it – given the included lunch and snorkelling equipment – day pass.P1420273

Back to Tahiti for a swift tour and gorgeous sunset, then incredible desserts by the waterfront. Keir seemed extraordinarily happy with the size of his coffee ice cream sundae.

Tahita & Mo’orea, FRench Polynesia

Day 217, Wed 11th Sep

Another early flight, this time to Auckland. We crossed the international dateline & suddenly the UK went from being ahead of us to behind us as we lost a day (?!)… bye bye Wednesday!

Damn, I thought our flight was 11:25, but that is the arrival time :-(. Up at 5 again.

Day 218, Thu 12th Sep

Auckland hostel seems really well situated.  Brunch in Ponsonby followed by an afternoon morning spent walking around the town; not very inspiring but a few nice sights.

Arrived in Auckland, having lost Wednesday on the plane. We are staying at Freemans, a nice hostel between Ponsonby and the city – the owner very kindly introduced herself when we arrived and made sure that Keir’s photo driving license and rucksack wheel had arrived (Caribee: a thoroughly disappointing rucksack, but great customer service).

Felt a bit rough and it was raining, so we ended up falling asleep with no dinner.

Day 219, Fri 13th Sep

Caught the ferry across to Devonport (just like being back in the Navy!).  Loved this place; very sleepy & quiet with lots of Colonial style houses.  Saw some old forts with ‘disappearing’ guns & lots of old tunnels – perfect.

Dinner in Ponsonby was a perfect end to the day.Auckland - Devonport Island (7)

HUGE and fabulous breakfast in Ponsonby (bubble & squeak, yum) – I was absolutely ravenous after missing my supper! We tried a rather uninspiring Lonely Planet walking tour of the CBD, there basically is not much to see, followed by a lovely afternoon in Devonport with a nice glass of gewurtztraminer and dinner with saffron gin cocktails in Mekong Baby :-)

Day 220, Sat 14th Sep

We caught the shark bus (a very excited T) to Kelly Tarltan’s – a fantastic aquarium where you can see penguins, rays & sharks right up close.  Sounds quite tacky, but it was amazingly fun, interesting & educational – gets a Stumpy ‘tick in the box’!

The weather caught up with us in the afternoon so we only managed the Auckland museum which was again surprisingly interesting before we had to rush off for dinner & then a mad rush to catch the late bus to Rotorua.

Hostel was great in having everything ready for us when we arrived at 2300 – we collapsed into bed.

Auckland - Kelly Tarlton's Sea World (1)SHARK BUS!!! Then a fantastic interactive aquarium trip, including a photo op in a shark’s mouth; easily the highlight of my week. Well, maybe the moai on Easter Island too…

Auckland, New Zealand

Day 221, Sun 15th Sep

A walk around thermal springs, mud pools, then a trip around the lake on a paddle steamer followed by the circus & a visit to the thermal spa (with 7 different pools)…. You can see that Tracey organised this one!

Having decided against further ‘cultural experiences’ we decided to forgo Whakarewarewa (shortened to, and pronounced Faka… to our amusement) and wander around the free Kaurangi park instead. Had a nice day riding on a paddle steamer, seeing black swans and geysers and spent our hard-Whaka-saved money on dinner instead.

Rotorua, New Zealand

Day 222, Mon 16th Sep

Arrived in Wellington after an overnight bus (terrible – S American buses were so much better?!). A quick breakfast then the ferry to Picton in the South Island where we picked up the tiny Jap-crap hire car.

Said hire car turns out to be amazingly easy to drive (even after 7 months without being behind a wheel) & we head on the scenic coast route to Motueka for the Abel Tasman park. Stopped in Havelock for some mussels & chips en route – I love NZ south island already; such beautiful scenery.

Hostel is very nice & we pop out for a quick curry before bed.

Uncomfortable overnight Intercity bus dropped us in Wellington about 7am, where we discovered that the train station and the usually safe option of the backpackers opposite had nowhere to store our baggage while we explored, damn . After some breakfast discussion, Keir decided to stay where he was while I explored for a couple of hours.

Wellington - Cable Car

Unfortunately when I finally managed to open the ferry booking on the cable car, I discovered I had a mere hour to get to the port rather than 1.5 hours and had to effect a hasty turnaround at the top of the hill. Shame, Wellington seemed nice…

Wellington, New Zealand

Very pretty journey to Motueka, with numerous quick photo stops, before arriving at our hostel. No time to try the hot tub though :-(

Day 223, Tue 17th Sep

Boat drops us off in Bark Bay at midday after taking us all the way up the Abel Tasman coast to Totaranui & back.  A 25km hike then ensued across beautiful cliffs bays & forests.  To be fair we blitzed it; London walking kicked in & we did the supposed 7-8 hr hike in 6 hrs including a stop for lunch & backtracking so we could see Cleopatra’s pool – supposedly a must see.. but just a nice river pool.  Walking across Torrent’s bay a low water was cool & the feeling as we had a hard earned chocolate/ liquorice stick when we got back was heavenly… have a feeling we are going to feel it tomorrow! Billy ray/ Helen – thanks for insisting we did this. :-) x

A lovely boat ride (including tractor drop off) and walk in Abel Tasman today. We decided having a Magnum to start us off at 10 was necessary for the additional energy – well, I did – and started out. Lots of nice forest with beautiful beaches and bays, it was a little like Tayrona National Park in Colombia, but with absolutely freezing sea, must be bliss in summer. Knackered; I really must get to the gym…

Abel Tasman National Park, New Zealand

From whine country to wine country

  1. Day 170, Fri 26th Jul

Overnight bus to Puno from Cusco & then straight onto a boat out to visit the floating Uros islands.  Amazing islands built completely from reeds & that float on Lake Titikaka. They were a little bit touristic but we dropped our stuff off & headed off to the Taquile, on the slowest boat possible.

Very steep climb up to the village but fortunately I don’t seem to be affected by the altitude. We were greeted by beautiful views across the lake while we watched local dancing.

We returned to the Uros island of H’Anan Pacha for the night – no running water & about 7 woollen blankets to keep us warm… alongside all our thermals!

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Oops, I had forgotten that we were going to arrive in Puno sans shower and then spend a night on a floating island… lucky we have baby wipes.

Uncertain what our island lodging would hold, I had been unable to book the one I wanted for our revised dates, we decided to do a Uros and Taquile tour, including a short ride on one of the reed boats, cool.

The actual lodging was cute and they had very kindly given us 7 blankets – well needed, but so heavy I could barely move all night – unfortunately this merely augmented the trauma getting up in the morning before the sun had warmed up.

Day 171, Sat 27th Jul

A lovely sunrise after an absolutely freezing night – a great idea of Tracey’s to do this (majestic, stunning views) but that’s one experience I won’t be repeating!

Bus to the border & to Copacabana, Bolivia.  P1380520

A bit of misunderstanding at breakfast meant that I got 4 slices of bread and no eggs, rather than the reverse. My second attempt at communication resulted in the removal of said bread and the cook starting to attend to his other morning duties – while Keir made exaggerated sounds of enjoyment eating his fried egg sandwiches. Persistence and hunger forced me into a 3rd try, finally winning 2 extremely crispy eggs, hooray (ish).

Lake Titicaca, Peru

Managed to get off the island about 9 and spent a bit of time at hanging around a nice café in Puno before our bus to Copacabana, Bolivia, and a nice fondue (one can only cope with local fare for so long) in the conveniently close, and highly rated La Cupola restaurant – though sadly their fabled book swap selection was pitifully low on Spanish books, I may be destined to cart my massive hardback book around for a while longer…

Day 172, Sun 28th Jul

Headed off to Isla del Sol, visited & hiked one end of the island to another.  It does feel like standing on the top of the world – the island felt very Greek in look & feel.

However, whilst warm in the day, yet again it was freezing at night – T & I had to share a single bed to keep her warm (& me conversely awake!)

Took the boat roof-top transfer to Isla del Sol, another Titicaca island, today. Lovely journey, where we managed to chat to half the boat, followed by an interesting tour of the ruins on the island and a 2 hour trek to the other side – I am deeply glad that we left our big bags at the Hotel, but wish I had managed to pack slightly lighter nonetheless – the tried and tested combination of high altitude (3,800m), burning sun, and uphill walking is still not feeling any better for me. Keir, as usual, is fine.Isla del Sol (35)

Found our hotel – beautiful view, very romantic, but sadly with twin beds – this is why I hate booking on the phone, I always forget something – never mind, it was so bloody cold, we had to share a single bed just to keep warm.

Isla del Sol, Bolivia

Day 173, Mon 29th Jul

Bolivia - Copacabana (1)Woke up for sunrise & another slow boat back to Copacabana.  An easy day, ending with sunset over the lake; quite priceless.

Sunrise was nice, though we have still to beat Stone Island in Suriname. Managed sunset in the same day, from the top of the hill in Copacabana, I particularly liked the possibly suicidal dog considering whether or not to jump…Bolivia - Copacabana (12)

 

Copacabana, Bolivia

Day 174, Tues 30th Jul

Another early breakfast, and off to La Paz today – an entertaining journey entailing us getting off the bus to catch a small boat across the lake, while the bus drove onto a barge for its own crossing, fortunately there were no mishaps with said journey as I was not keen to try diving for any potentially waterlogged suitcases; the water is bloody cold!

Crossing from Copacabana (3)Coach ferry was very cool; the barge they use is only just bigger than the coach, so it obviously can’t cope with the weight of passengers as well.

Arrived in a very polluted, but sunny, La Paz. Our new hotel is very central, but possibly with the most bizarre décor I have ever seen – lino on the walls and in the shower? – Still, it is cheap, clean, well-equipped and we have an amazing view from the 4th floor window in our room. :)

Day 175, Wed 31st Jul

Off to Tiwanaku today, more pyramids(!), though these pre-date the Incans by 1,000 years. Unfortunately, we decided to do a tour – based on the fact that it was cheap, convenient, and would save us taking 2 buses – it took almost 2 hours to pick people up from around La Paz and get out of the city. I was in a bad mood before we arrived – I mean, for Christ’s sake, why not have ONE or even TWO set meeting places for everyone to get to, this is not fun for anyone – but the site was interesting enough, despite conservation giving way to reconstruction…

Sadly the site was not the end of the tour though; first up, lunch in a shockingly cold restaurant (still high up), which we decided to forgo in the attempt to find a café with seating in the sun; followed by the site museum, which whilst small, seemed to unduly fascinate the tour guide; it took us 10 minutes to look around and she was still going for another 45 minutes, also freezing…

Finally got back to La Paz for a very necessary, hot, pre-prandial, soup to warm us up.

Tiwanaku was on my ‘must see’ list so v pleased to have seen it. Ignored the painful tour, the grumbling going on alongside me, & just enjoyed the view.  The interesting thing about this place is that the stone is almost diamond hard & it was cut & shaped with laser like precision when they only had stone chisels to cut it… go figure…?!

Some of it had been suspiciously reconstructed in a ‘perfect’ manner, but there were enough of the original ruins to be suitably impressed.

Tiwanaku, Bolivia

Day 176, Thu 1st Aug

Mercado de Hechiceria, La Paz (1)Last day in La Paz, a bit more wandering around checking out the llama foetuses – apparently they mean good luck for your new home – undoubtedly imparting a very special room fragrance too.

T was a little put off by the Llama foetuses :)

La Paz was ok; nothing to write home about though… so I won’t!

La Paz, Bolivia

Day 177, Fri 2nd Aug

Day bus to Arica, 8 hours, hmm. Nice view of Lake Chungara when we got to the border, and some pretty scenery, but I have to say that 8 hours are best done at night; sleeping, preferably.

Quiet reading time, watching the view… I, on the other hand, quite like day buses… :)

Oh, yes, and I am starving, this being one of those great buses that serves food on board and that does not stop to let you buy any. Of course it is like airline food, apart from it all contains meat, or bread, or both :(

Day 178, Sat 3rd Aug

Birthday day! Wake up to many Facebook messages and emails – thanks all.P1390134

We had a lovely walk along the coast, booking a restaurant, ascending the bluff and looking for the somewhat difficult to find, Chinchorro mummies museum; the reason we are here. Finally found the museum, but it was disappointingly similar to Chauchilla and they have sent the clay masks to a different museum; damn.

P1390144Free yoga lesson in the hostel, and then we leave, suited and booted (or in a dress and new earrings in my case), for dinner at Maracuya – a restaurant that has fantastic reviews online. The staff were great, friendly, helpful, and had even put a special floral garland on our table, unfortunately the wine was terrible… At first we thought it a little sharp, but it seemed to get worse as we drank it, yuck; we questioned the waiter about the wine, he replaced it. I am sure the second bottle was corked. So, we left after one tasty, but not very hot, course, and returned to the hotel with the thought of changing into something more suitable for the salsa club; it was 10pm and closed…

After wandering around wondering where everyone was, we eventually we found the shopping mall food court seemed to be the place du jour, so we decided to have some cocktails instead. The salsa club was open at 1am, but sadly I was too tipsy to dance :).

It was actually a nice day for me, despite the meal. Keir seemed more upset than I was.

The best laid plans of mice & men…. :(

Day 179, Sun 4th Aug

A day wandering around Arica before our overnight to Calama. It is COLD and grey today and I liked it much better in the sun…

Arica, Chile

Day 180, Mon 5th Aug

Huge breakfast in Calama, the only choice being 4(!) eggs or chicken, then a bus to San Pedro de Atacama. It is nice and hot here, but we are high up again, so it is freezing at night again!

Supposed to go on a star tour tonight, but there are clouds. Unfortunately we both managed to fall asleep one minute before they told us it would go ahead, oops. We did try to make a dash for it, but after the time it took to wrap up super warm, we missed the office closing time… will have to try again tomorrow. Decided to book a trip to El Tatio geysers as 4am tomorrow before finding a ridiculously expensive place to have a drink in – London prices – and all because they lured us in with a fire.

San Pedro is nice, but painfully overpriced… takes the gloss off of it.  To add to the bad taste, my rucksack’s wheel broke again; this time losing the bearing….

Day 181, Tues 6th Aug

Up at 3, regretting the tour decision. A sentiment reinforced when the bus didn’t turn up until 5 – one hour of waiting outside in the pre-dawn freeze – and we had just been considering going back to bed…P1390203

After a mini nap in the bus, we made it to the geysers. Beautiful, but excruciatingly cold – and this even after our hostel landlord took pity on me and lent me a jacket – the steam from the volcanic fissures looked amazing against the sunrise. After a fair bit of viewing and shivering, we paused for a coca tea and chocolate bar (nice breakfast :)), before nipping off to the thermal baths; which were unfortunately not quite thermal enough!

When T says cold – we’re talking painfully cold… & then we decided to strip off & hop in the luke-warm thermal springs…. Madness!  If it was cold getting in, imagine what it was like getting out! :(

San Pedro de Atacama, Chile

Day 182, Wed 7th Aug

Up early again for our trip back to Bolivia via the National Parque Alvaroa and Salar de Uyuni, a huge salt flat in Bolivia. Typically, as we were in the middle of breakfast, this transport arrived on time, but our landlord kindly sent them off to pick up everyone else first :). 17 people on the minibus, but we were split into 3 groups at the border, we are with the family Mars – luckily we have already bonded, albeit in a frequently misunderstood French/English/Spanish amalgamation of words – Keir is happy he gets to practise his French.

Parque Eduardo Alvaroa - Laguna Colorada (13)A few nice stop offs, including a natural thermal bath substantially warmer than yesterday’s, and then it is time for lunch – this is where things went a bit wrong, as apparently Colque Tours ‘forgot’ to send a complete lunch. We had cold rice, potatoes (they count as a vegetable in the Americas) and carrots, but the remainder of the meal failed to materialise. There were some harsh words – in many languages – especially when one of the other guides managed to ‘find’ some chicken for his guests. Obviously chicken was not going to work for me, but I altruistically argued for some for the table anyway (to the detriment of the volume of avocado & tomato we were about to receive), food eventually arrived, but in the main not the parts of the chicken that any Westerner would choose to eat…

We visited a few more sites and then arrived at the ‘basic’ hostel. As in, bring your own loo roll, no showers and hire a sleeping bag for added warmth. Soup for dinner for me – apparently the veggie request had not filtered through either – and then froze all night in the dorm, despite the sleeping bag. Had fun playing cards with Los Mars though.

Lucked in with the Family Mars; but the 1st day was a little bit of a let-down organisationally… food poor, car sick (had to use another battery to jump start it after lunch) & hotel was basic… & I mean basic… T managed to nab the only available sleeping bags which kept me warm at least!

At least we got to swim in a warm thermal spring overlooking one of the lakes in glorious sunshine. :)

Day 183, Thurs 8th Aug

Another day in the National Park, saw vicuña, some more lagoons, had a 45 minute stop to dig out one of the other jeeps… (entailing Keir taking charge again) & a salt hotel for the night. Much more comfortable, though this may be related to the 2 shared bottles of slightly sweet Bolivian wine and Keir warming my bed up for me.Parque Eduardo Alvaroa (35)

You would think if you were driving off into the wilderness (desert & snow drifts) that at least one of the 4×4’s would have a tow rope & all would have gear to dig themselves out of said desert & snow drifts…. Nope… & they didn’t seem to know what to do…

So, after snapping our bit of rope (we had for skipping – don’t ask?!) trying a tow, I ended up under the vehicle digging out the snow after I got them to jack up each wheel.  After putting rocks under each tyre & laying a path a tow using the luggage straps eventually worked…

Hotel was cool though & view over the salt flats in the morning quite splendid.

Day 184, Fri 9th Aug

Unfortunately the information regarding the showers being warm only at night failed to filter through to us. I believe our driver/guide is slightly useless… Narrowly avoiding pneumonia, we set off for the last day across the salt flats to Uyuni – a lunar landscape of saline whiteness.

Dropped off in Uyuni at lunchtime to try to buy a bus ticket and have some lunch with the Mars family. Saw some Rhea (emu like birds) too :)

Isla de Incahuasi (Fish Island), Bolivia (38)Isla Pescado was quite cool- little island full of giant cactus in the middle of endless white salt flats… check out the pictures; but even they don’t do it justice.

One the way back we also saw the graveyard of the steam trains…. All that ingenuity & construction gently mouldering away majestically in the desert.

Parque Eduardo Alvaroa & Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia

Day 185, Sat 10th Aug

Arrived at the border a 5:30, with a nice British couple we met on the bus.

Vainly attempted to find coffee in a nice warm place before giving up and waiting at the border for Bolivian immigration to open – I kind of like the way, that even though they are late, they refuse to open up before finishing their breakfast… An interesting morning involving the casa de cambio favourably miscalculating my Boliviano to Peso money change, and a sharp, swiftly resolved, interchange with the man overcharging me 25% of the ticket price to get to Tilcara on the grounds that he had to pay the man bringing me from directly outside the ticket booth to buy a ticket. I don’t think so, amigo.

Chilled afternoon in Tilcara.

Another overnight bus & early border crossing – we are getting quite good at these now.  Hostel is quite nice although room needs some DIY – it’s freezing inside.

Day 186, Sun 11th Aug

P1390923Decided to go for a nice walk through the Quebrada de Humahuaca, after the usual failed attempt to start out at a self-imposed early hour, we ended up walking in the midday sun again instead… Lovely walk, though of course I huffed and puffed my way up, we might be lower than Lake Titicaca, but all of this travelling up and down has left me no better accustomed to the height…

Nice walk up to a waterfall with Tracey huffing & puffing alongside me :)

Day 187, Mon 12th Aug

A morning walk to Pucará – fortuitously with free entrance this morning – to see the ‘fort’. Except, it was not really a fort, more an ex-village. Nice short walk, this one. Then off to get the bus to Salta so that we can figure out whether or not we can do the very expensive (though possibly with tourist leaflet discounts) train through the clouds.

A bit of a Disney style reconstruction but nice views & interesting architecture.  Tilcara was a nice little town but had fun finding restaurants for T again… they like their meat in Argentina!

Tilcara, Argentina

Reached Salta about 7, just in time to check in and go out for dinner. The manager was playing The Cure, a good sign, and it seems warmer here, though Tren a las Nubes is apparently only running on Saturdays now – I guess that settles that then – we shall have to spend the money elsewhere :)

Liked Salta; T got us a great room in the Hostel, & town looks really quite nice at night… feels like we are back in civilisation again….

Day 188, Tues 13th Aug

Cold and grey today, so binned the cable car for now and decided to do the church and museum things instead – inside definitely best. Fascinating, if macabre, exhibition at the MAAM covering Incan child sacrifices found at the top of a 5,000m+ mountain, it included one of the 3 child mummies found. Because of the cold and preservation the scientists have been able to ascertain all manner of information about the Incans, the health of the children and how they were sacrificed, a bit grim, but they seem to have had an interesting relationship where people were not really ‘dead’ and that the most precious people and possessions were sent to the gods.

Interesting belief system; the children were alive when they were mummified after drinking a sleeping draught of chicha….

Day 189, Wed 14th Aug

Sunny again, cable car, hooray! Well, this was after Keir had spent 2 hours on the phone trying to sort out his Nan’s bank account and I had practically frozen to death in the kitchen at the hostel. Had a nice view of the city, walked back down the mountain and had a nice lunch before the very long 5pm bus to Resistencia…

Get her on a cable car & she’s happy for the day… Not sure if she mistook it for a fair ground ride…?!

Salta, Argentina

Day 190, Thurs 15th Aug

5:30am Resistencia, excellent. Freezing and dark, but figured we may as well hang around the bus station until we can book the bus to Paraguay tomorrow – another 5 hour bus during the day, nice.

Traipsed around the centre trying desperately to find a café that offered something other than coffee and croissants for breakfast, before finally locating a rather expensive, but excellent Italian café with omelettes – still probably cheaper than the Starbucks breakfast we were forced to have in Lima – then off to see the some of the 500 sculptures scattered around the city. A nice walk, with nice weather, but most of these sculptures are not exactly exciting, perhaps we should have gone to the park outside of town instead…?

Gentle walk in the sun; great idea to cover your town with statues… note to organiser; next time have some quality control…!

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Resistencia, Argentina

Day 191, Fri 16th Aug

Next bus Asuncion. It is of course a shame, that the one thing we thought might be fun here – another train ride, but with actors playing out a farce – is no longer running, but never mind; we are only here until Sunday morning, it is hot again, and the hotel is a nice place with a tiny pool to sit around. At least this is what I do. Keir seems more intent on catching up on every episode of CSI he may ever have missed.

Nice hotel & the ability to kick back, catch up on CSI/NCIS whilst T uploads photos…. Sounds like a plan to me!

Day 192, Sat 17th Aug

Quick look around town and then pool lounging and more CSI for Keir…

JJJ (I know she’ll make me pay at some point…!)

Asuncion, Paraguay

Day 193, Sun 18th Aug

Up early, luckily breakfast is just about open, to make the 7:30am bus to Foz de Iguazu. Another 5 hour bus during the day, I am very much looking forward to NOT being on a bus for a while… Our hotel in Foz, Pousada Caroline, is one of the best we have stayed in during the entire trip; we have a kettle and a JACUZZI bath, which I immediately take advantage of while Keir watches yet more TV. I practically have to drag him out of the door to get some dinner, and this is despite the prospect of steak.

NCIS actually! Paraguay looked a beautiful country from the windows of a bus. Shame we couldn’t see more of it.

Day 194, Mon 19th Aug

Up early to go to Iguazu Falls today, very excited. The waterfalls are incredible, and I have taken far too many pictures again. This is exacerbated when we decide to visit the Parque de Aves afterwards – also very good, lots of parrots, flamingos and strange birds that I have never seen before – I recommend it highly. Then back to the hotel to grab our cases and get the bus across the border to Puerto Iguazu in Argentina – very quick border crossing despite the need to catch a second bus after Brazilian immigration.

Iguazu Falls, Brazil (22)The falls were impressive – a definite high for us both.  The bird park was also fantastic, although full of too many tourists (often Brazilian) who don’t know how to treat animals… kept bugging & trying to touch the birds in the open cages.

Foz de Iguazu, Brazil

Day 195, Tues 20th Aug

OK. So the Argentinian side of the Falls is better, MUCH better. If you are going to do both sides, you should definitely do Brazil first, but really, you could just do the Argentine side. Amazing!

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Agreed, you get above the falls & under them as well.  The camera can’t really take in the full width & splendour of the falls.

 

 

Puerto Iguazu, Argentina

Day 196, Wed 21st Aug

Flight to Buenos Aires went smoothly and we arrived at Gavin (George’s dad) & Amber’s flat in San Telmo around 3pm. The lovely Mirian showed us around, gave us the keys and all the info, and finally we could just relax, make tea and go shopping for some food – it has been a while since we cooked and eating out every night does get a little dull after a while – especially when you are not eating meat or wheat and thus have a choice of 1 or 2 dishes – unfortunately our first cooking experiment was not 100% successful… we may have forgotten how. I guess the apple crumble was not bad, but a finer ground cornmeal would have been preferable to the polenta topping we wound up with.

The flat is wonderful; his bedroom has a beautiful red ‘rose’ stained glass window – it’s delightful & the whole place is done out in a very modern manner (white walls/ furniture).  Finding restaurants that can cope with T ‘s diet has been the bane of our lives over the last 6 months (there’s nothing that poor T can do about it unfortunately), so it was very nice to have a go at cooking ourselves & then sit & watch ‘Mad Men’ series 1 curled up on the sofa together – sheer bliss.

Day 197, Thurs 22nd Aug

Down to the main issue we have to resolve, our visas for China, difficult to obtain apparently and necessitating flights out, booked hotels and potential letters from Chinese friends inviting you in. By the time we had booked some cancellable hotels on Booking.com – I mean really, I am organised, but having to plan exactly where we are going to stay 2 months before arrival is a bit much – we realised that we would never make it to the embassy before the 12pm closing time shown on the internet. Tried calling, no answer, and have already had all attempted emails returned as the addresses are wrong. Damn, we will have to get up early and go tomorrow.

Decided we should go out to eat Indian tonight instead of another failed cooking attempt. Nice cocktail, then wine in the café bar, where I managed to get drunk on 1 glass again, but drank 3. Hmm

Right, we are ready for the Chinese embassy – a morning spent printing all the necessary flight & hotel bookings. I started planning China nearly 3 months ago, so will be pleased when we can get the visa nailed down. Lot’s of domestics done today but the first look at BA is that we like it.  The area we are in (San Telmo) is very bohemian.

Day 198, Fri 23rd Aug

Up at 6:45 and on the tube at 8:15, just like going to work. Apart from we made it to the Chinese embassy only to find that the internet had lied, they are open 9-12:30 Monday to Thursday and not open to the public at all on Friday. Not happy. Fortunately there was a very nice man at the embassy who gave us a telephone number that did answer; it was good to learn that all internet info is correct in Chinese, sadly not a language I am able to speak, and I am sure there are many Chinese people requiring visas from Argentina… The lady seemed unkeen that we apply in Argentina, but relented to the point of telling us we could try on Monday and advising us to get a letter from a friend as well as all of the hotels etc…

Not happy was an understatement from T – spitting mad is nearer the truth!

Particularly after we’ve walked for about 45 mins from the supposed nearest tube station to get there.

Still, after a long walk back, & seeing some of Buenos Aires, T had managed to stop spitting feathers. We resign ourselves to having another go on Mon.

Day 199, Sat 24th Aug

Very lazy, lovely lie in with breakfast in bed, cooked by the lovely Keir, this morning :). Unfortunately this meant we did not leave the house until after 2 and the sunny start to the day had morphed into a slightly cold and overcast one – our planned walk was quickly halted for a coffee shop break and warm up – but we eventually managed to pull ourselves together for a small bit of sightseeing!

Met Gavin & Amber’s friend Mercedes for some tango tonight, we have not yet managed a lesson unfortunately, but we went to an amazing Bodegon, Los Laureles, a little out of town and met some more of her friends Mirta, Lissandro, Cheryl and Gabriela – a lovely evening, despite no tango skills we were able to take advantage of a couple of jives they played.

Buenos Aires (2)

Thought that I’d earn a few brownie points with breakky in bed for T as she wasn’t feeling too great – I can only lose them later on!

Lovely chilled day & great evening at the Bodegon. Slight shame that we couldn’t remember any of the Argentinian Tango we learnt in London, so just had to sit & watch, until of course, a bit of rock’n’roll came on & T & I had the dance floor to ourselves. We left to a round of applause… which is always nice!

Day 200, Sun 25th Aug

San Telmo market today – another lie in and then we had a wander, lots of beautiful old soda siphons plus the kind of vintage clothes and crafts you would find in Brick Lane. Disappointed that I cannot buy anything, though I did buy Keir an early birthday hat.

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Moroccan food tonight. Out, not in :)

Market was very cool; but not as cool as my Indiana Jones hat!

Day 201, Mon 26th Aug

Fingers crossed – Chinese embassy – round 2!

…and we are off to the Chinese embassy again… a shaky start when the girl told me she could not give me a visa if I was not Argentinian or resident in Argentina, but my reference to a phone call on Friday seemed to instantly make her reconsider and hand the matter over to a second member of staff, who after asking many questions and searching every stamp in our passports seemed satisfied. We were told to pay ARP 525 for both of us and come back tomorrow, we are relieved but still keeping our fingers crossed….

Coffee and amazing chocolate mousse cake to celebrate. Yum. Then off for a quick look around Palermo and Recoleta cemetery (very cool), and check out the possibility of a day trip to Colonia tomorrow.

Cooked, drank wine and watched some Mad Men DVDs that were conveniently supplied with the flat.

Day 202, Tues 27th Aug

Up early again, embassy trip number 3, super-quick collection of passports, plus thank you’s to our new friend the embassy man – I am sure the only reason we even got seen was that phone call we made on Friday (though it may be Rod’s very kind letter of invitation too!), then a mad dash across town to buy our ferry ticket before 10:45. Just made the deadline, to be told that they had sold out today; deeply annoying.

Figured we would try Buquebus just in case, but since their prices were double(?), decided we would book for tomorrow instead – potentially stressful due to the 19:15 bus we have booked to Mendoza, but this is the last chance to see any of Uruguay – fingers crossed we get back in time…

We hey; visa’s sorted – well done T for her perseverance!

B#gger, we rushed across town to make the ferry only to be told it was sold out – another afternoon of sight seeing.

Day 203, Wed 28th Aug

More sea time on the ferry across to Colonia – a lovely, sleepy little town that’s fairy unchanged over the last 100 years.  Just mooched around the cobbled streets & had a nice lunch in a cool café.

And then another night bus; this time to Mendoza – wine country!

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Colonia was pretty, and we had a lovely warm day today – despite the sudden onset of a heavy cold – we obviously mis-timed our visit to BA as it was also about 10 degrees warmer there, and we are leaving tonight, damn. Spent a lovely day wandering around, having coffees in café’s and visiting the lighthouse. There is not a lot to do here, but on a sunny day it is glorious, plus it gave us the chance to replenish our dwindling dollar supply :).

Back to flat to finish the clean up before our bus to Mendoza this evening.

Tracey, Keir, and the Chocolate Factory

Day 157, Sat 13th July

After a well-deserved big breakfast, we had a quick look around Loja before our night bus to Peru – it will be nice to stay somewhere for a few days!

Loja – not a lot to recommend…!

Loja, Ecuador

Day 158, Sun 14th July

Arrived at Finca Santana, just outside of Chiclayo for a couple for days of horse riding and Moche ruins. Desperate for some decent food, we headed into Pacora in an attempt to find a restaurant, finally locating a basic eating house with plastic chairs and the football on – not exactly what I had in mind…. Managed to convince the lady to cook me fish and Keir bravely decided to risk the set meal, stoically pushing the chicken foot and a few items of unknown, but presumably (hopefully?) avian provenance, in his soup to one side while he ‘enjoyed’ the remainder of his soup. I think he would say that it was an ‘interesting’ lunch. Pacora (1)

Chicken foot (& other ‘sweetmeats’) soup was interesting… not sure we’ll be going back there!

Ranch is basic but lovely – lots of horses, dogs, cats, ducks, chickens, etc… inc. lots of little cute babies animals for T to coo at!

Day 159, Mon 15th July

Off for a 5 hour horse ride to the Moche pyramids today – good, but dusty, fun. I am actually feeling much more comfortable on a horse now, but I think it is just that these Peruvian Paso horses are so nice to ride. Andrea (the owner of the ranch) kindly cooked us lunch – fish for Keir! – thus saving us from the dubious pleasures of sourcing another meal from the town. Flushed from our lucky escape, we decided to go into town in the hope of getting a drink, this turned out to be rather more difficult than expected, and we returned home with 2 bottles of beer and a bottle of sweet red wine, not great, but I made a valiant attempt to drink half a bottle of the latter before slumping into a mildly dejected slumber.

Pacora - Moche Pyramids (14)Horse riding was perfect – the Paso horses do a very long version of trot which makes sitting trot very comfortable. T did really well on the horse, the ride was lovely – the pyramid was a pile of mud basically, but with great views from the top.

Nice to be around animals though & Manuel, Andrea & her daughter Joceline were lovely. They are building a new house, so I gave them an hour or so hod-carrying mud bricks… good to do some physical labour.

Day 160, Tues 16th July

We went to the Museo de Tumbas Reales in Lambeyeque to see the contents of the Lord of Sipan tomb today, sadly not allowed to take pictures, but the museum was pretty amazing (and this from someone who is not a fan of such institutions), it almost made me wish I was an archaeologist.

Nipped into Chiclayo afterwards for some much needed delicious food (con cuba libre), to wait an hour outside  Banco de la Nacion for the pleasure of paying for our Machu Picchu ticket – I was extremely grateful to the entrepreneurial lady selling freshly squeezed orange juice in the queue – pay for Keir’s Nazca flight, and buy our bus tickets for Lima tomorrow.

The museum was cool, the gold & copper work was amazing.  The queuing later, less so… but then it was all for me, so can’t complain!

Day 161, Wed 17th July

Another horse ride today, an Incan pyramid this time, then off to Chiclayo for our very posh overnight bus, kind of like flying first class, but cheaper and without the bar…

Pacora - Rancho Santana (15)A lovely outing through the fields to an Incan fortress – 6 concentric walls up the side of a hill.  The difference between the normal geography & the irrigated fields was just amazing… a desert with green oases dotted around the horizon. Loved the horses… reminded me of what I’ve been missing. T was again a trooper, although her thighs & knees were starting to become a bit sore.

Pacora. Peru

Day 162, Thurs 18th July

Narrowly avoided heart attack when we discovered that we had arrived in Lima, but that our rucksacks had not. Fortunately Civa managed to locate them in a different Lima bus terminal and sent us off in a cab to fetch them; very, very relieved.

Amazingly, and contrary to my memories of the place, Lima was free of garua (smog) today and we had a lovely sunny day!.After an extraordinarily expensive breakfast in Starbucks – we were desperate – and a mini-self-conducted tour of the city (especially liked Monasterio de Santo Domingo), we finally managed to get into our hostel for a shower, see the fountains in the park, and have a fantastic, if not particularly cheap, dinner in Tanta.

 

The first loss of luggage was a little bit tension inducing! :) Especially as it was on one of the most expensive bus rides we’d taken. We were amazingly phlegmatic about it; I was just waiting for T to go nuclear on them but all was resolved very quickly.

Lima was quite nice, but not a ‘wow’ city.

Lima, Peru

Day 163, Fri 19th July

Breakfast and then Nazca – another 8 hours on a bus – hooray.

More bus time & more reading time for me… I’ve read about 70 kindle books (inc Lonely planets) since we started. My way of exiting from reality & taking some ‘me’ time – T not greatly happy when I do this. :)

Day 164, Saturday 20th July

Arrived in Nazca to find that we still did not have Keir’s flight time in the morning, not ideal, decided to set the alarm for 6:30 and figure it out… alarm went off, found we had a mail from Aerodiana telling us to be at the airport at 7 – helpful. After some moodiness and terse emails back and forth, Keir left about 7:30, to return 30 minutes later for his passport. Oops, I had forgotten to mention that…

After the flight we took a taxi to Chauchilla cemetery to see the mummies with hair :), then blogged, ate, and caught the overnight to Cuzco. It is supposed to be very cold, have all my spare thermals with me!

Nazca - Chauchilla Cemetery (1)

Can’t say that I was at my happiest re the flights – they weren’t greatly organised… but we managed to sort it out. I’m pleased I saw the Nazca Lines but I wasn’t blown away by it. Still, another S America ‘must see’ ticked off! (T will kill me for saying that!!).

Nazca & Chauchilla Cemetery, Peru

Day 165, Sunday 21st July

So much for cold, I had a burning hot radiator at my feet half the night, with intermittent 5 minute intervals of high level cold breeze to cool me down. Strangely the front of the bus was a lot cooler… Finally arrived in Cusco at 2pm, for a little look around in order to establish that my favourite jewellery and clothing stores are still around :) – shame I cannot buy anything. Cusco was lovely and sunny, but our hostel is freeeezing! Great dinner in Marcelo Batata, cool black & red décor too.

Another night bus, another city….

Actually Cusco is very nice, compact & beautifully sunny.  T doesn’t seem to have packed the clothes to cope with a ‘warm in the sun, cold in the shade’ type environment (quelle surprise!)… Lots of grumbling going on…

I’ve now had Alpaca steak (v nice) but have yet to try the Guinea pig – maybe in the next few days.

Day 166, Monday 22nd July

Slept really badly and felt sick all night, a bad sign as we had to get up at 4:45am for Machu Picchu; yuck.P1370900

Made the Vistadome train, very comfortable, and the views were stunning, but sadly my thought were more concerned with sleep – obviously I felt in the perfect state of being for the one hour hike to the sun gate, at altitude, and in the burning sun. However, I really should not complain, it is such a beautiful site, and it was pouring with rain 90% of the time I was here last time. To add to the niceness, I got to stroke a very fluffy baby llama :)

Both had a bad night’s sleep but Machu Picchu made up for it. Beautiful sunny weather, stunning mountainous peaks, gaping chasms & amazing Incan architecture…what more can you want? Apart from dancing girls & beer on tap, of course.

Incan stone work is just amazing; not quite sure why it has such a ‘jigsaw’ style construction, but all the pieces (some of which are huge) fit together with almost laser like precision – no mortar required here. Roll on reconstructing my ‘castle’…!

Happy we made this ‘must see’ site, but even more happy that we did it by train & not the 4 day trek – b*gger that for a game of soldiers!

Day 167, Tuesday 23rd July

Finally, a lie in!  It was slightly disturbed by being woken up at 4 in the morning by a returning tour group. A gentle day of sight-seeing & wandering round Cusco (even turned down the opportunity to see another fort… obviously unwell :) ) rounded off by visiting the restaurant that T has been talking about since even before we started the trip. I’ll let her describe it, but it met all expectations (including cost!). :( P1380038

Walked up to Sacsayhuaman to find we had to pay 70 sol to get into that and 3 other sites that we were not really interested in seeing, decided to save the money for a chocolate making course on Thursday instead. I felt inexplicably suffused with excitement for the rest of the day.

Took Keir to Fallen Angel in the evening (well, I didn’t exactly pay, but…), as good as I remembered. The décor, drinks and food are all fabulous, and it is still cheap compared to London, shame we are not on a London budget…

Day 168, Wednesday 24th July

A day trip out firstly seeing an Incan ‘laboratory’ at Moray where concentric terraced steps go down 150m into the ground. The combination of the evaporation from the limestone geography & differing altitudes of each terrace means that they each have unique micro climates suitable for growing particular types of crops. A quite impressive site made more enjoyable by the lines of 100’s of Peruvian school children lining the terraces practising an Incan ceremony. P1380074

Then we headed to the Salinas salt flats where 100’s of small pools of naturally salinated water evaporate in the dry season to create natural salt… the photos don’t really do it justice; you suddenly turn the corner of a dry, barren & dusty landscape to be confronted by this sight – check out the photos.

Maras, Moray, Salineras, pub quiz; which we bizarrely managed to win, despite being the smallest team competing… I am unsure if this was an age-related phenomenon, or just lucky guesswork. In any event we scored a bottle of Argentinian (rather than Peruvian) wine, which we nearly lost when wandering insouciantly into the backpackers hostel brandishing it, oops, I forgot that we couldn’t bring booze in, luckily the man was very nice and suitably impressed with our achievement!

Day 169, Thursday 25th July

The highlight of today was going on a chocolate making course… I won’t say anything else (as T will wax lyrical about this), but it was great fun & most importantly – chocolate with high percentages of Cocoa are good for you – FACT (as a certain Bignoseo might say!). You heard it first from me – so start stuffing your face with 70%+ dark chocolate… I know that we already are :) .

P1380224Oh yeah! Mum, I am going to buy you a chocolate making course, you will love it! So, the Choco museum, where the lovely (and very amusing) Gladys showed us how to grind cacao beans, sing whilst whisking and (rather alarmingly) got me to volunteer for an unknown activity which entailed her donning a pair of latex gloves and then unnecessarily walking behind me…, before finally letting us loose on the molten chocolate and moulds. There was much licking of bowls and surreptitious consumption of chocolate ingredients involved. Highlights included Keir singing a Sugar Hill Gang classic and the Aussie Lilia explaining to our German contingent, Pacul, the meaning of a suppository. Priceless.

Cusco, Peru

Middle Earth

Day 139, Tue 25th Jun

Arrived in Popayan after an overnight bus from Bogota; quick breakfast, then a bus to Pasto.  By the time we got there in the late afternoon we’d been travelling nearly 24 hrs…. :(

OK, so I am not recommending Flota Magdalena, unless you are 5 feet tall. Pasto hostel also not great, due to choice of soft bed or firm bed with no loo seat – I mean come ON! How much does it cost to put a loo seat on? Or supply toilet paper on the bus for that matter? – there are clearly some major infrastructural issues in Central & South America…

Day 140, Wed 26th Jun

Up in the morning for a bus to the border, then a colectivo to Tulcan & a bus to Quito – arrived there early evening. Another whole day of travelling… looking forward to a few days in one place.

A surprisingly good (large) breakfast – I may have to go on a diet at this rate – before our bus(es) to Quito, then dinner (more food!) and plan for our Galapagos negotiations tomorrow…

Day 141, Thu 27th Jun

Tracey had fortunately booked a nice hostel (Tambuca) smack bang in the middle of all the Galapagos tour firms – a day was spent checking out all the firms for the best offers.

Received an amazing offer on an 8 day cruise on a 1st class boat leaving tomorrow, but sadly too expensive :(, I guess we have another day of office visits tomorrow… I am not sure why I am disappointed, I have already done an 8 day cruise on a posh boat; and after all, how many times do I actually need to go to the Galapagos?

Day 142, Fri 28th Jun

Last night’s nice meal has left me a bit crook this morning; in the day of finalising the trip to the Galapagos.  Tracey has refined in down to 3 options – one going tomorrow, one going Sun & one going Mon.  All are within a couple of hundred dollars of each other but with different itineraries.

I think that T wants anyone apart from the tour starting Sat as she has her heart set on going to the huge all day market in Otovalo… unfortunately we end up choosing that one (huge shame…!) & have to run around buying the flights & extracting huge fortunes in cash from the bank to pay for it.  This only leaves a small amount of time to see Quito proper & buy in supplies (crisps & rice cakes).

Finally chose the boat (last 2 spots) and then spent the rest of the afternoon trying to book the flight to go with the trip, sadly meaning that not only am I going to miss Otavalo market, but also the cable car and the inside of the Compania de Jesus church; AND we are returning to Guayaquil so no Mindo or Cotopaxi either – I will have to come back to Ecuador, clearly. Keir took me on a whistle-stop last minute tour of Quito, then we cabbed it to the big supermarket where I managed to find rice cakes AND lovely dark chocolate, ate some immediately despite the imminence of dinner, yum. Dinner at Fried Bananas, or maybe it was Platanos Fritos… – fantastic food and G&T, the quesillo with honey was fabulous.

 

Day 143, Sat 29th Jun

Up extremely early again & before you know it we are in the Galapagos & on our yacht – the Floreana.  We arrive in Santa Cruz with an Austrian couple (Lukas & Hanna) & quickly are ferried out to join the rest of the crowd – Melissa, Jess, Charlotte, Sandra, Karen, Fiona, Susanne, Christina, Hampus, Damien, Roger, Lucas, Hanna & Margot

We are quickly into the tour & seeing giant tortoises & walking through lava tunnels (or in my case sliding on my arse!).  T obviously couldn’t resist the photo opportunity in the dead tortoise shell… quelle surprise!

I am starting to wonder if I will be capable of a lie in ever again, maybe this is what happens to other people… Anyway, off to the airport with a couple of nice Canarians, waited in the wrong queue for 30 minutes before realising we had to go through pre-check in check in first, but made the plane finally!

Yate Floreana - Sandra, Charlotte, Fiona, Lucas, Melissa, JessicaMet our new, completely European crew, including Karen who lives in Bethnal Green, plus our guide, Fabian, and made early acquaintance with Ricardo the Colombian barman – excellent caipirinhas :)

Galapagos – Santa Cruz Island

Day 144, Sun 30th Jun

The yacht moved overnight whilst we slept (well, some of us slept…I’m sure T will have something to say about that!) to Floreana.

A day of seeing birds, boobies (of the ‘blue footed’ kind unfortunately!), more lava tunnels & some rays mating.  There’s a tradition of posting some cards in an old barrel of a post box for other travellers to pick up & deliver. We took some to deliver in Argentina & Australia as the UK would have taken too long.

Then it was time in get in ill-fitting wet suits & snorkel around the Devil’s crown – really cool – not so much in the fish & rays we saw but swimming with turtles & more amazingly sea lions…. You can keep the rest; these babies are the fun ones to play with. :)

In celebration we went through quite a few caipirinhas at sundowners & muchos bonding was done that night!

Floreana today, the highlights of which were seeing a penguin (albeit in the sea and looking like a duck) and some snorkelling – lovely, but I do not remember it being this cold when I went in September! I also acheived the astonishing feat of losing my snorkel before we even started… Keir very kindly gave me his. Due to the female heavy crew there were many wetsuit fit issues, poor Charlotte and Sandra had to double upon men’s suits and Fiona miraculously squeezed into a Thai size medium, basically the right size for a 12 year old. Since the volume of food is truly enormous, and I have little self-control, I was glad that I managed to score a European Medium.

Galapagos Islands – Floreana

Day 145, Mon 1st Jul

Another night move & we wake up in Espanola.  A day of birds, iguanas, sea lions snoozing on the beach & some more snorkelling (T’s freezing again & goes as blue as the boobies).

We see a blow hole… another chance for T to pose…

Espanola - Punta Suarez (169)An afternoon cruise to San Cristobal & an offer of an evening ashore… T & I elect to crash out at 8 in our bunks… we must be getting old!

Ah, Espanola was one of my favourite islands, I had forgotten how beautiful it was.

Galapagos Islands – Espanola

Day 146, Tue 2nd Jul

A morning of walking about San Cristobal & seeing the interpretation centre – I could have missed this one.  But the afternoon was snorkelling again off Isla Lobos… best time yet… we saw the usual turtles & fish but had an amazing time following marine iguanas swimming & then playing with sea lions. The latter are so agile & poetic in water that it’s like watching a marine ballet.  The highlight was watching 2 sea lions chasing iguana’s underwater, nipping their tails & generally just toying with them.

Unfortunately the interpretation centre was not quite as exciting as it could have been, and nor was the viewpoint that we walked up to, but the snorkelling was once again great fun once you got over the cold; As I couldn’t, I missed the sea lion chasing iguana moment, but at least I was warm at that point :

Galapagos Islands – San Cristobal

Galapagos Islands – Isla de los Lobos

Day 147, Wed 3rd Jul

The morning sees us waking in Santa Fe.  A morning hike saw more iguanas – yellow this time – then time for the final snorkel. Rewarded with the sight of a white tipped reef shark – very cool & fortunately only about 5’ long!

The afternoon was spent trekking on Plaza Sur which rose up to a cliff-face packed with birdlife.  Albatrosses & frigate birds glided across the skies whilst tropic birds darted around trailing long white streamer-like tails behind them. 

A fairly boozy night for the group rounded off a lovely trip.

Damn, I missed the shark too, what the hell was I doing?

Galapagos Islands – Santa Fe

Galapagos Islands – Plazas Sur

 

Day 148, Thu 4th Jul

Woke up early for the last trip; a dinghy ride around Caleta Tortuga Negra – a hidden mangrove swamp.  A morning of rays, leaping sharks, sleeping sharks, turtles & lots of birds – a fitting end to our stay.

Glad we did the Galapagos, but 6 days was enough – I saw enough booby’s (blue footed variety) & iguanas to last a lifetime. J

It reminded me heavily of the Farne Isles off Northumbria – apart from the weather of course!

The highlights were all underwater – in my case watching the sea lions chase iguanas.

Disappointingly no Blue Footed Booby feeding time today, not sure if it is the wrong season, or we arrived too late, but it was cool seeing the sharks and baby rays. Managed to change our flight for an earlier one and arrived about 3pm in Guayaquil for some frantic, yet failed, attempts to arrange whale watching tomorrow.  Too long and too expensive; decided to leave tomorrow and spend an extra night in Baños instead.

Day 149, Fri 5th Jul

At last, a lie in after an evening of trying to organise a whale watching trip. Eventually we decided that it would take longer to get to the whales than to actually see them. So a quick reshuffle of plans & we were off to Baños. Arrived in the evening & had a lovely meal at the Hood café where Tracey was eyeing up their book exchange longingly.

Great food in the ‘hood deciding what new, random activities we could try tomorrow. I am STILL looking for the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo or The Hunger Games in Spanish – surely someone has them!

Day 150, Sat 6th Jul

Wow – Baños  is beautiful – a green paradise surrounded by vertical mountains.  We can actually see a waterfall just out the back of our hotel.  Organised canyoning (absailing & sliding down waterfalls) & ziplining for the following day & hired bikes for the afternoon. Things were going great, we’d seen a couple of waterfalls & caught a small ‘cage’ cable car across a chasm already, when Tracey decided to do a ‘superman’ over the handle bars of her bike! 

Amazingly she survived with a few bruises & hurt pride but not any major damage.  We took refuge in a café when the heavens opened & decided to call it a day & catch a bus back; whilst she put on a brave face, I could see that T wasn’t too keen on riding in wet conditions.

As soon as we dropped the bikes off, the rain obviously stopped & the sun poured through instead.

Ok. So today I learned that not only should one never use the front brakes when going downhill, but that it was also inadvisable whilst cycling over water – fortunately I was not in the road for this one. After thoroughly soaking myself, crying briefly, and limping around a bit, I tried to redeem myself by getting back on the bike (in a drier spot) and cycling to the next waterfall.

Attempt made, decided that a cup of coffee and a truck ride home sounded more fun that cycling in the pouring rain with a bruised knee…

Day 151, Sun 7th Jul

IIMGP6231t’s raining outside & we’re off to play in waterfalls for a few hours – deep joy, combining the 2 things I’m not great with – water & heights.  It actually was good fun, climbing down canyons then abseiling down through waterfalls.  T was a trooper – even with all her bruises & being freezing cold. We even managed n almost vertical zip line down one waterfall.

The afternoon’s zip lining was cancelled due to the wet weather – neither we nor the instructors were too keen on doing it in the rain. We could have easily stayed in Baños longer, but that night saw us taking the overnight bus towards Lago Agrio & an Amazon adventure!

Canyoning was great, met some new people, had fun, looked stupid, got more bruised and wet, etc. Managed to avoid any rain swept zip lining and had a fabulous meal in our new favourite Hood restaurant instead :)

Day 152, Mon 8th Jul

After 4 buses (including a missed bus stop), 16 hrs & a further 3 hour boat trip we arrived in Samona Lodge, deep in the Ecuadorian rainforest. We were straight out on a boat trip heading down river – heard a lot of birds but didn’t see much.

Tarantula in the boatDespite my reservations about any trip advertising itself with tarantula pictures, I found myself on a boat with one. It may not have been so bad if the little scrote of a boy didn’t keep ripping its shade off and generally goading it into movement, thus causing both Margot (who we bumped into again) and I to shriek wildly and stand up whilst the boat was moving, narrowly avoiding both a capsizement and a spider attack, before finally reaching the lodge.

Day 153, Tue 9th Jul

Day 2 in the Jungle – No sign of Ant & Dec fortunately, but off on a day march through the jungle followed by a paddle in the canoe back. I was lucky enough to see Great Otters – they disappeared when they heard the rest of the group arriving – & we saw a multitude of spiders, ants & other insects. The infamous night march saw a whole multitude of scary insects & spiders (lobster cricket & scorpion spiders being amongst the scariest).

The lodge itself hosted its own menagerie of creepy crawlies (cockroaches & tarantulas) & scary monsters (a 4’ Caiman lived under the huts)!

My early brush with wildlife notwithstanding, we saw few animals today. Some monkeys, followed by assorted spiders and other insects that I was not eager to see! The spine lobster was weird though, it looks like a lobster, whilst being a cricket – this would be a cunning disguise, were it not a land insect…

Day 154, Wed 10th Jul

Day 3 in the jungle – A long trip down river to see the local shaman & make yuca bread – T was most interested in the latter!

On the way back we were lucky enough (if that’s the right word to use!) to see 2 Anacondas basking in the trees – one baby & a big muther… that is the right word to use!

By now we were used to hearing the famous words of Ron our guide – “Just stop, be quiet & listen to the music of the jungle”.  That usually meant that again there weren’t any birds to see & we’d just have to listen to them instead!

I was kept away by lots of rustling in out cabin, whilst I did find lots of cockroaches & the massive tarantula perched above our bed in the corner of the room (I didn’t tell Tracey!), I didn’t find the source the noise.  Our food seemed to be ok suspended from the ceiling…

P1370209Had fun learning to make yuca bread, even if it takes far too long to bother ever doing it again, and getting bitten by sand flies – notwithstanding the fact that in the jungle there is NO SAND in the jungle

Day 155, Thu 11th Jul

The final day in the jungle saw us awake very early for a morning bird watching trip. The source of the previous night’s noise was found- something had eaten through 2 layers of plastic bags suspended from the ceiling & then the crisp packet itself to the salted crisps.  Nothing else was touched in food bags – it must have been a most discerning of animal/ insect. :-)

We saw a few birds in the morning but the highlight was the pink-bellied river dolphin playing in the lagoon – absolutely beautiful watching them jumping & larking about.

0930 saw us catch the boat trip starting the long trek south through Ecuador towards Peru.

Pink dolphins! This saved what was a fairly uneventful, yet spider-heavy, jungle outing. Interestingly enough, with the caiman under the kitchen, toads on the table, and tarantulas in the roof, there seemed to be more animals in the camp than in the jungle.

After a very thorough search of all pockets and pouches, to ensure that we did not accidentally port any of our new friends to the city, we returned to Lago Agrio for a night bus back to Ambato, then Cuenca, then Loja :(

Day 156, Fri 12th Jul

3 buses & 35 hrs later we arrived in Loja, Ecuador for an overnight stop before the next day travelling into Peru. After much searching for a restaurant (they often shut by 2000 through-out Central & South America) we found one & had had the biggest & best steak of the trip so far… roll on Argentina!

Now I just want to say that it was not 35 hours straight, Keir is exaggerating there, but there were indeed many buses involved. Beautiful scenery around Alausi and then south from Cuenca to Loja – it was a shame that I could take photos, but I have concluded that pictures through glass whilst moving rarely do the view justice – lovely

Forts and Fortitude

and another thing…

Forgot to mention that Captain Jack treating us to a last orders medley of Muddy Waters, The Rolling Stones, and The Beatles “Rocky Raccoon” in the bar with a guitar was amusing… in a good way.

Day 112, Tue 28th May

A slightly frustrating day, we decided to head to a beautiful beach only for the heavens to open up 10 mins after we’d got on the bus. A 3hr round trip with half an hour cowering, under shelter, at the bus stop.

Dull, wet, admin day. There is nothing but forts to do here!

Day 113, Wed 29th May

Planned to kayak over to see the fort on the other side of the bay; ok, well I planned to & Tracey grudgingly agreed… J

However, the skies were a bruised shade of purple & we kept waiting in vain for it to clear up… so a day of domestics & not much else… relaxing though.

The weather forecast put us off doing anything and then it didn’t actually rain, still, a lucky kayak escape, I suspect! Bruised? I think that Keir is channelling the late Richard Griffiths…

Colon & Portobello

Day 114, Thu 30th May

So, the day we leave Portobello it’s gloriously sunny… typical!

An easy transfer back to Panama & preps for sailing – in Tracey’s case that’s a trip to the salon.  I get the shopping & booze detail!

Now, I am sure you can imagine the likely mishaps surrounding a trip to the hairdressers and associated wax clinic in Spanish… suffice it to say, that whilst cheap, wonky was not what I had in mind, in either location…

Met our South African friend (from Antigua) and his wife for dinner, an enormous, and fabulous, seafood risotto in my case, and a couple of bits of ravioli for Keir, he accepted it manfully, but I took pity on him and gave him some of mine :)

Day 115, Fri 31st May

A pick up at another ungodly hour… in fact the driver couldn’t find us, so we sat for 45 mins at 5 in the morning.  A 4hr drive up hill & down dale in a 4×4 until we are boated out to a beautiful catamaran (the African Queen) anchored off some beautiful Caribbean islands… all white sand & palm trees.

My comment that the original ‘African Queen’ sank at the end of the story didn’t go down to well…

Afternoon spent snorkelling whilst our passports were supposedly stamped by Panamanian immigration… they weren’t in that day!

Then we moved anchorage to another beautiful spot between 3 islands… few other yachts around, but we just chilled & Cap’n Rudy bought fresh crab & lobster from the locals for supper…

More snorkelling whilst supper was made. Lovely set of people on board, so all is looking good for the trip.

supperBarely any sleep and it is time to get up again, so after almost an hour waiting outside, during which time the driver woke up all of the hotel staff trying to find us, we set off for the sailing adventure along a bumpy road to the Comarca, then a quick boat ride to the Catamaran to meet Rudy and Jamilie, our captain and cook, plus our new shipmates for the week, Marga, Jen, Yax, Babek, Alex, Jordan, Devon and Maria.

 

Day 116, Sat 1st Jun

Moved the next morning to a tiny anchorage between 2 islands & surrounded by reefs.  Great snorkelling all day – loads of fantastic fish & unspoilt coral.

Check out the pictures, words can’t describe how beautiful the islands are.

P1340562

Then we moved further up the island to make a bonfire ashore for supper. 

Night spent Yo-Ho-Hoing around the fire whilst drinking Rum (& a few tinnies) & spinning a few dits (stories) – standard sailor practice obviously!

Snorkelled, watched the sunset, had fresh fire cooked on a bonfire for supper. What more could we want?

Day 117, Sun 2nd Jun

Moved to the final spot between 4 islands (including 1 that was literally 1 palm tree surrounded by white sand; no bigger than a five a side pitch).

This really is a Pirates of the Caribbean set… just waiting for Keira to appear out of the waves!

Tracey not happy as I bagged the window berth, but still made no difference…. Hot, still, sweaty night for both of us…

More of the same today, beautiful snorkelling and Keir and I swam over to an island all to ourselves (for a few minutes, at least). I love it here, if only the cabin had air-con it would be perfect!

 Day 118, Mon 3rd Jun

A day & night of sailing (motoring as there was no wind) across the ocean blue… for that read endless rollers & some very quiet shipmates as we all tried to stave off boredom & seasickness.

The night time was particularly spectacular as, in the distance; we could see beautiful lightning storms off the coasts of Panama & Columbia.

So today is the not so nice bit where I feel sick for the whole day, going to the loo or the shower whilst doing 6.5 knots was a major mission, and this after 3 or 4 Dramamine – on the plus side I slept a lot :)

San Blas Islands

Day 119, Tue 4th Jun

Arrived in Cartagena midday & time for a quick swim of the beach before disembarking. 

Booked into the 3rd Mamallena hostel we’ve stayed at now & met Stuart – the owner & inspiration for all 3.  Rather interesting conversation as Tracey had left a Trip Advisor review that was none too complimentary about one of the staff in the Panama City Mamellena! 

Stuart was great about it though & was amazingly helpful (not sure if it had anything to do with Tracey’s previous review!? :) ).

Feeling sick all morning again and then mercifully we reached Cartagena. Rudy stopped the boat for a final swim while he and Jamilie made us a last crab supper – I am going to miss their cooking and all this fresh seafood – then we motored into Cartagena proper, bringing half our crew to our hostel, the other half ended up there later, it must have been a good choice! Lots of animals in the courtyard, we have a tiny and not very well kitten, a parrot, rabbit, extremely protective dog (of the kitten primarily and then the rabbit!?) and another cat or two roaming around, lovely.

Cartagena - Hostel Mamallena (1)

Day 120, Wed 5th Jun

Spent the day exploring the old town of Cartagena – absolutely beautiful & surrounded by fortifications… something for everybody!

Cartagena is beautiful, and despite my fears of rain the weather is beautiful. Keir and I had a wander around all the old churches, a museum and the odd shop, then off to a fabulous Indian at Ganesha with Jen, one of our new friends from the boat.

Day 121, Thu 6th Jun

Visited the Mud volcano – a giant termite mound with a warm mud pool at the top warned from the bowels of the earth.

Looked around the Naval museum & the museum of fortifications in the afternoon… surprisingly Tracey wasn’t interested in these & went out & did her own thing!

Lots of history of pirates, buccaneers & gold… The English featured heavily! :)

However, Admiral Vernon was reportedly repulsed by the locals who were led by a one eyed, one armed & one legged Spaniard… not the luckiest man in Nato!

Cartagena - Mud Volcano (10)Today we got up early and then drove around for an hour and a half picking up people for the Mud Volcano, before finally exiting Cartagena. Whilst ascending the rickety ladder up to the ‘volcano’ with about 30 other people I began wondering why I was there. Miraculously it seems that there is always room for one more, and we finally got in – of course none of us could move independently as you cannot touch the bottom, and we spent most of the time laughing maniacally and being pulled around by here-to-fore unknown strangers, Keir kept trying to put one leg down only for the other knee to pop up – very funny and definitely worth it.

I then made the foolish mistake of objecting to one of the ladies hosing me down after my mud bath, after which I was unceremoniously washed anyway, coughing and spluttering while yet another bucket of water was poured over my head and an overly thorough wash job was done of my unmentionables, while my face was still covered in mud. Now everyone is aware just how bad that bikini wax was…

Went to Café Havana for a little salsa dancing in the evening – great fun, at London prices, ouch.

Day 121, Fri 7th Jun

Looked around another fort (Castillo de San Felipe de Baraja) – the biggest fort in South America. Tracey, amazingly, loved this one; probably because it was criss-crossed with tunnels that we explored.

Another fort? Surely not. Actually this one was kind of fun as we ending up walking around semi-dark tunnels for an hour before getting so far into the depths of the earth that our feet got wet; we concluded that a torch would have been a good plan…

Cartagena

Day 122, Sat 8th Jun

An early Bus to Santa Marta & on to Taganga where we sorted out some more Diving.

Another horrendously early morning, but at least we made it to Taganga at 10:30, had time to organise a dive for tomorrow, book a flight to Pereira (coffee country) and find out about getting to Tayrona; not bad! Oh, and we have a gigantic rabbit in the backyard of our accommodation, he is very fluffy, but Keir won’t let me bring him inside :( Taganga (1)

Had a nice meal in Café Bonsai where the drink of the day was mojito slushie, pretty good, so I drank 2, plus half of Keir’s. The white wine was unfortunately appalling, perhaps we should have avoided it.

Day 123, Sun 9th Jun

Another 2 dives – visibility wasn’t so good & it was fun getting in & out of the boats in a swell. I suppose we were spoilt with Roatan…

Taganga - Diving - Underwater (2)

Kind of a weird day today as I was out on a boat ready to dive while my grandparents ashes were being scattered over a different patch of water over at Leigh-on- Sea. It seemed fitting that we were all on the water somewhere.

The dive itself was ok, Keir is right, after diving in crystal clear water in Roatan, and snorkelling in the San Blas, anything but perfect visibility is a bit disappointing.

Day 124, Mon 10th Jun

Headed off late to Tayrona National park.  Bit of fun actually getting in the park but a beautiful walk/ forced march (as we were so late) along the coast, swimming in beautiful coves & a bumpy speed boat ride back to Taganga.

So much for setting off at a reasonable time today… we finally made it to Tayrona at 1:30 with the knowledge that the last boat might leave from the end point of the 2 hour walk at 4pm, not so great for our anticipated cooling down dips on the way! The walk was actually very nice, I saw a monkey in the first 5 minutes, we found a man randomly selling ice cream halfway along and went past some beautiful beaches before having a quick swim in La Piscina and San Juan del Cabo before the rather rough boat ride back – I had unfortunately read something on Trip Advisor saying that it was not worth staying in the park, but we came across so many lovely camps that I wish we had!

Taganga & Tayrona

Day 125, Tue 11th Jun

Morning flight to Pereira & then bus to Armenia & Salento. This is the Zona Cafetera … where all the decent Colmbian coffee comes from.

Flew to Pereira after being stung for an extra $20 at the airport for not checking in online, bastards. Then a bus to Salento in coffee country (as recommended by the lovely Jamilie from the San Blas boat). Our new hostel is not high on character, but the warmth of the welcome, spacious room and well-equipped kitchen more than compensate, we decide to stay an extra day.

Day 126, Wed 12th Jun

We picked up a Willy’s jeep ride (I’ll leave the puns to Tracey) to Valle de Corcora & an all day trek up the mountain & down through beautiful valleys – & played  Tejo in the evening. If I was to bring one bit of Columbian culture back to the UK it’s this!

Basically you through heavy lead weights at folded bits of paper containing gunpowder…. When they hit, they explode! There’s a scoring mechanism, but who cares… hurling heaving objects at explosive materials whilst drinking beer… what could possibly go wrong!!! :)

After riding the Willy’s to the Valle de Cocora for possibly the nicest hike/walk I have ever done, I was rewarded by a giant cock at the Finca Alcaide and numerous waxy palms. No, really!

WWII Willys (6)Salento - El Valle de Cocora (16)

Met Jen (bumped into her in the supermarket yesterday) and a couple from our hostel, Tony & Laura, for a game of Tejo – throwing rocks at gunpowder – and my first taste of Aguadiente (the local spirit). I found that the 2 combined remarkably well as I got more bangs than anyone else, came second my first time ,and first on our second round :)

I wonder how long I can keep up the double entendres?

Day 127, Thu 13th Jun

A little bit of exercise in the morning – fun at altitude

By Christ I am unfit, an attempted 30 minute run ended after 20 minutes when Keir decided to stop to admire the view, I simply could not go on and had to hobble back panting like an old lady. Of course I hate running, it was hot and at altitude, but it was nonetheless pathetic; I need to come up with a different plan, perhaps involving the skipping rope that we bought last month for fitness purposes and then shut in the rucksack after using it once as a washing line…

Day 128, Fri 14th Jun

A trip around a coffee Finca in the morning – best bit being adopted by a mongrel dog who followed us all the 5km to the farm, around on the tour, & all the way back.  Tracey wouldn’t let me put him in my bag!

Salento

Afternoon trip to Cali & arrived early evening where we crashed out; exhausted.

Salento (43)Breakfasted, packed up, and nipped down the road to La Finca de Don Luis for a tour of the coffee farm accompanied by our new dog guide, who adopted us, walked us there and then dropped us back off at our hostel. The tour was interesting and great practice for my translation skills, followed by a nice cup of home-grown coffee and banana.

Arrived in our new hostel in Cali too late for the free salsa lesson. Damn.

Day 129, Sat 15th Jun

Went out & saw the sights of Cali – not particularly inspiring & done in about an hour, Then Tracey made me Trek miles across the city to a café that supposedly sold the best lemon meringue pie in South America…. It didn’t have any & was horrendously over-priced. I was obviously amused at this; Tracey’s reaction is best not printed!

A night out salsa-ing at Zapateca – great fun, although the locals dance in a completely different way.

Dragged Keir around the limited number of sights in Cali, disappointedly with no Lemon Meringue Pie. Did the free, exhausting, and fanless, salsa lesson and then went dancing in a non-Cali style in the evening. Managed to dance despite an extremely expensive and STRONG G&T, maybe I am regaining my alcohol tolerance…?

Day 130, Sun 16th Jun

Inspired by the previous evening we had a 2 hour Cali style Salsa dance class. Great fun, but we failed to make it out again dancing that night & crashed out.

This inability of ours to consistently stay up late is a bit worrying, and we only came to Cali for the salsa.

Cali

Day 131, Mon 17th Jun

Spent the day travelling to Tierradentro along a very bumpy road – I understand now why they call some roads the ‘trampoline of death’ – we spent half the time airborne!

We were dropped off with a final 2 Km uphill hike to the village – deep joy.  It really is a one horse town.

Amazingly enough Keir took the travel today very well, he didn’t want to come to Tierradentro and the prospect of several hours in a bumpy bus with a possible 2km trek with luggage at the end was never going to be popular with him. I think the combination of stunning views and peanut M&M’s did much to alleviate the tension. I hope it is worth it!

Day 132, Tue 18th Jun

A beautiful day hiking 14km up & down the mountains visiting all the Tombs – we are talking 1400m upto >2000m high. It was fantastically beautiful but knackering!

OK, so definitely worth visiting Tierradentro, the walk was beautiful and we saw some incredible tombs, some still with visible decoration. Keir agreed that I was right to insist :)

Tierradentro

Day 133, Wed 19th Jun

Up early at 5.15 for a whole day of traveling to St Augustin… well, that comprised of being crammed in the back of a Camioneta (4×4 with a hood on the back) bumping all the way  to La Plata,  then a minibus to Pitolito & finally a taxi to St Augustin.

Arrived exhausted early afternoon in Casa de Nelly’s – a lovely hostel built of wood with a giant aviary outside with parrots, budgies & tortoises.  2 dogs & 3 cats made up the menagerie so I was in seventh heaven! J

Viewed loads of ancient statues at the Parque Archaeological.  Amazing views from the top of the hill – Columbia really is beautiful.

P1350568

Another incidence of ‘there is always room for one more,’ 10 adults and assorted children in the back of the jeep for a couple of hours… I have to say that the connections (and the children) were great though, 3 buses and no more than a couple of minutes wait for any of them!

Day 134, Thu 20th Jun

Walked to 2 more sites Chaquira & El Tablon – pretty, but nothing spectacular.

Then another overnight bus, again, to Bogota.

Rain cut short our planned hike to the remaining sites, but we decided we had seen enough statues and went for a drink instead :).

San Augustin

Day 135, Fri 21st Jun

Booked into a Hostal Casa Quevedo in the square of the same name, then straight out exploring the old city. Saw the gold museum – Tracey was happy looking at lots of shiny things!

A quick recorrido of Bogota old town today, the highlight of which was definitely Iglesia Museo Santa Clara, a beautiful church near the presidential palace. The gold museum was actually not that exciting, despite reports to the contrary. It is COLD here though, had to go out looking undoubtedly ridiculous as wearing practically all my clothes; mercifully there were no mirrors and I hid the camera…

Day 136, Sat 22nd Jun

We are lucky enough to have a friend living & working in Bogota who kindly asked us to stay for the weekend. So we met up with Hank who had arranged to take us on a private tour of the President’s palace – fantastic. A real peek behind the curtains of power that only a lucky few ever see.

I haven’t seen the whole family since Hank & Tamara’s wedding 8 years ago, so it was lovely to catch up with Tamara, Valentina & Samantha.  Valentina’s now grown into a beautiful young lady, like her mum, & Samantha’s an impish 6 year old. :-)

It was lovely being in such a warm atmosphere & actually staying somewhere luxurious – couldn’t get Tracey out of the sauna!

They took us up to a restaurant overlooking Bogota to see sunset – a beautiful sight.

P1350780The palace was pretty interesting and meeting Hank and family was great – Tamara is a great cook and Valentina very kindly gave up her room for us so we had a couple of luxurious nights in a nice en-suite with gym and sauna downstairs – we had better start preparing them for a slightly lower standard of living when they visit us in London!

P1350803

Day 137, Sun 23rd Jun

Up early &, in Tracey’s words, off to catch a ‘Choo Choo’ train to take us to see the Salt Cathedral.

The steam train was delightful; the underground ‘salt’ cathedral was impressive in size & magnitude but a little bit repetitive in content.

A lovely day finished off with dinner out with Hank & Tamara.

I think the salt cathedral I saw in Poland was nicer, but perhaps I have just been spoilt with seeing so many amazing things… the train was cool though.

Took Hank and Tamara out for dinner to thank them for our stay and I had a great shoshito sake cocktail, kind of a Japanese mojito… somehow I managed to restrain myself from having more than one…

Day 138, Mon 24th Jun

Tracey went off to do a little bit of retail therapy with Tamara (I don’t know who was more worried – Hank or I!), before we had to say bye to all the family & catch the night bus south again back towards Ecuador.

Tamara very kindly took me underwear shopping – all these random laundry trips are playing havoc with my wardrobe – it was very strange to shop from an armoured car, nipping into a shop and then being driven to next one. It was definitely novel, but I can see why they are looking forward to being back in the UK; no browsing possible!

Bogota

From one dive to another…

Day 88, Sat 4th May

Thought we would try an afternoon dive today to cement our knowledge, but it is pretty rough on our side, so decided to have another leisurely breakfast and do a yoga lesson, except I managed to be in the bar when it started. Oops.

Tom left today, so we took Eleanor out to dinner to cheer her up, found a lovely restaurant called The Flying Dog at the Oasis Roatan, run by a lovely Scottish lady and her husband, this is undoubtedly the best meal we have both managed to have on the island, food does not seem to be a strong point here; the cocktails are better :)

Another day of chillin & domestics; nice meal out with 2 gorgeous ladies – it’s turning out to be a great day :-)

Day 89, Sun 5th

Managed to get a 9am fun dive in on the other side of the island today and saw the smallest seahorse you can imagine, and a large transparent spider thing which turned out to be an arrowhead crab – not all underwater creatures are that appealing…

Eleanor still here as the boat she was due to leave on had apparently left without her! Bizarrely it later turned out to have still been there, though apparently invisible as none of us could see it… Found another amazing restaurant called the Lily Pond, and the owner turned out to be inventor of the rather good Zack Attack cocktail – Vodka, lime and coconut milk – I don’t know the quantities sadly, will have to experiment… Gabriel – do you want to have a go?

The fun dive cemented our PADI knowledge & T loved it – so a great result. Saw lots of amazing sea life & had a trip around half the island to get to the site – wonderful.

Spent the afternoon over at West Bay chilling on the beach & beating Tracey at Giant Jenga… then letting her win at Giant Connect 4 (honest Guvn’r – otherwise she would have had a tantrum!).

Got back in time for Sundowners at ‘Sundowners’ bar – poetic really… going to miss this island life.

Day 90, Mon 6th

5am alarm for the ferry back to La Ceiba and onward transport to Copan – it seems our next door neighbours are up to and had very fortunately already booked a taxi, thus saving us the problem and half the fare.

Got the posh Hedman Alas bus through to our favourite city, San Pedro Sula, and then onto Copan. I have to say that the ride was very comfortable, but for some reason every stop was rather lacking in food options; come on guys, we have to eat, and preferably before 3pm!

Arrived at our hostal in Copan and went for some food at La llama del Bosque. Cute town, useless waitress; 15 minutes to bring Keir a beer and then another 30 for the food, and there was no-one else in the restaurant L

Travelled, drank beer… bed.

Day 91, Tues 7th May

Went to the butterfly garden, which frankly had fewer butterflies than you generally see in the woods, low season apparently… then to Macaw Mountain -which was great, but sadly marred by Keir mentioning, and then forgetting to pack, the insect repellent – I sustained 17 bites in the course of an hour and had to spend the afternoon shopping to take my mind off the itchiness.

Am in the dog house,  again!

However, I loved Macaw Mountain& we saw some beautiful Kingfishers as well. Copan town is quite nice & pretty; glad we came.

Day 92, Wed 8th May

Copan Ruinas today, the most expensive of all of the sites we have been to, $15 for the ruins, $7 for the museum and another $15 dollars for the tunnels, we decided to eschew the latter is a display of protest against the outrageous fees – we are not in London for Christs’ sake.

Got to the park early when the macaws were still around, and it was quite glorious to see them in this setting. Unfortunately, Keir is complaining of man flu this morning, I was hoping the macaws might perk him up, but after breakfast he started behaving like a recalcitrant child and lying down on the benches of the museum… took him home (thus foregoing the opportunity of the remaining ruins). Actually, as Keir refused an ice cream, he must really be feeling ill, hopefully a nap will help…

Copan Ruinas (16)Did Tracey mention she was bitten 17 times yesterday…. Because she has today… constantly. And we all know whose fault that was…

Feeling knackered, Man flu has knocked the stuffing out of me after a bad night’s sleep. As Tracey  has failed to understand that Man flu is almost on a par with child birth, I’m getting no sympathy from Obernsturmführer Cox who’s suddenly got a renewed enthusiasm to see every ancient stone in Copan ‘Bloody’ Ruinas.

One brief moment of light was seeing the Scarlet Macaws out in the wild, literally flying around us – magical.  We kept both Scarlet & Hibiscus Macaws at school when I was a kid, so to see them in their natural environment has ticked off one of my bucket lists.

Copan Ruinas, Honduras

Day 93, Thu 9th May

All day travelling to Suchitoto via Guatemala – numerous border crossings & usual extortion of immigration taxes… & therefore usual battle of wills between T & said officials… entertaining to watch!

Lonely planet said that Suchitoto comes alive at weekends – which is why we’ve come all this way & planned to arrive for the weekend.  Hostel owner, who apparently is shutting up shop after we’ve booked in cos he has ‘woman’ problems…?!, tells us that the only bar still open shuts every night at 9… Bugger… Lonely planet has been telling us porkies!

Had a lovely walk down to the ‘dry’ waterfall (Los Tercios) with our fellow hostellers who’d been abandoned by the owner as well & then we had a lovely dinner out with one of them – Nina.  Can’t believe how much travelling she’s done around Central/ South America/ SE Asia on her own – v impressive. Made our little jaunt seem fairly insipid in comparison!

Lonely Planet – what the..? There is really nothing happening here at all – Los Tercios was nice, the people were nice, but not really a place you would choose to visit unless you have a major interest in the FMLN – it was lucky that we met some other similarly duped travellers really…

Suchitoto, El Salvador

Day 94, Fri 10th May

My tour manager (T) has done a quick re-org & we head off to San Salvador, after initially getting on the wrong bus! Lots of shouting & shooing by the locals who sensed that we were going in the wrong direction & actually got off in exactly the right place to get the correct bus… definitely luck over judgement!

Supposedly San Salvador is one of the most dangerous places in Central America – after San Pedro Sula – but we’ve been there already – twice!

Had dinner out – crappy Chinese- & then a few hours restless sleep before the 02:30 a.m. bus to Nicaragua.

Losses cut, quit exit made. We should have gone to Juayaya instead though perhaps that too would not have been as advertised.

Day 95, Sat 11th May

Not a great night’s sleep, but the bus can drop us off at León, rather than carrying onto Managua & then coming all the way back – believe me, it makes a difference after half your life on a bus!

Again T’s amazing organising skills (are you missing them by any chance girls?!) have come up trumps & we arrive in Leon on time & hop in the pool at our Hostel – bonus.

Ticabus, well, it was okay, but no toilet paper(??!) which meant that the bus loo was really not in a state for me to use even 1 hour into the journey, meant that I had to maintain a state of extreme dehydration for much of the journey. Oh, and the surprisingly thoughtful question from the bus conductor, of whether I was vegetarian, prior to buying me a ham and cheese croissant from Burger King as that was all they had. FRIES, man, FRIES! All I have to say is why bother asking?

Still, a welcoming dip in the pool assuages most discomforts. Except those involving a close shave with drowning, I suspect…

Day 96, Sun 12th May

Up early to go Sand boarding down Cerro Nergo – an active volcano. When I say Sand boarding, it was actually tobogganing, or in my case, going very fast & coming off a cropper. I looked like Sooty & Sweep combined by the end of it!

 T’s descent was more sedate, but the scariest bit was the journey there & back on the back of motorbikes slipping & sliding across the sandy paths… squeaky bum time for me… I was just glad to get back in one piece!!!

I enjoyed the motorcycle ride far more than Keir, clearly. Though being in the front undoubtedly helped, Keir looked like a chimney sweep after his combined fall and motorbike tailgating, hilarious. I thought the volcano boarding would be scary, but it seemed difficult to pick up any speed, probably for the best…

Leon, Nicaragua

Day 97, Mon 13th May

Up early again to see the view from the top of the church before catching the transport to Granada. Loving this place already; much prettier than Leon & it has a nice vibe.

Last morning in Leon, went to see the roof view from the beautiful cathedral, I loved clambering over the roof; it reminded me of roof walking in Canterbury :). Keir seemed less keen. I forgot that he doesn’t really like heights….

Day 98, Tue 14th May

Day spent sightseeing in Granada – it’s a lovely old colonial town; very happy here.   Tracey is doing a bit more Spanish.  I managed another lesson but it wasn’t much cop, so Tracey’s volunteered to teach me… what can go wrong..?!

Lot’s more churches…. I didn’t realise there could be sooooo many!

Nice hostel in Granada, at the back of a shop which randomly sells Banksy t-shirts and other East London paraphernalia – like a home away from home :). Granada is very pretty. Managed to squeeze in an afternoon Spanish lessons entailing interesting conversations around gay rights, child abuse and domestic violence, not very cheerful I will grant you, but very interesting to find out about Nicaragua’s social issues and clearly my Spanish MUST be improving!

Day 99, Wed 15th May

Day started well with me in the pub watching the Gooners dispose of Wigan whilst Tracey had a Spanish lesson.  Beer at 9 in the morning is never a bad thing!  Roll on the Geordies on Sun & that should put Spurs Champion League aspirations to bed… at least I hope so, otherwise I’ll never hear the end of it from JJ, Gary & Frazek.  There won’t be a stone I can hide under where they won’t seek me out & remind me!

Boat ride in the afternoon around the local islands – managed to sneak another fort in!  Lovely little wooded islands, one with monkeys on (Tracey’s happy!), that a lot of the wealthy families of Nicaragua have bought & developed. Could see us with a little island….Bond style of course; with a little henchman (job for you there Frazek?!) & the obligatory cackling villain… step forward Odd job; I mean Gary!

Fabulous breakfast in Kathy’s waffle house (again), followed by Spanish, boats, islands and monkeys. It is a shame that the lake does not look very clean on the Granada side, it would have been nice to cool down with a swim.

Day 100, Thu 16th May

Another day of sightseeing topped off (for Tracey) with a ride in a Horse drawn carriage… she’s been nagging me about it since we got here!  The carrot was that I would get to see the fort… it was shut (15-love to Tracey – I won’t forget).

Granada (46)

A final Spanish lesson – I have to say that the Guatemalan accent is MUCH easier to understand than the Nicaraguan – religion and the early life of my teacher today… Then on to negotiation for the caleche ride (with both Keir and the driver), finally managed to get into the iglesia San Francisco while it was open – my fourth attempt – and it was…ok. Oh well, I enjoyed the ride :)

Granada, Nicaragua

Day 101, Fri 17th May

Up early the next morning for the chicken bus down to Rivas, followed by a taxi then ferry across to the Isle de Ometepe; an island created in Lake Nicaragua by 2 huge volcanos.

The lake is almost an inland sea – it’s huge, & has quite a large swell when the wind gets going – as we found out on the way across… with all our gear loosely strapped to the roof of the ferry.

Island was beautiful & after another chicken bus around the island we arrived at Finca del Sol, Santa Cruz.  Bit of a hike up the extremely long, rocky uphill drive… but the room was well worth it – beautifully decorated adobe hut with an en-suite – Tracey broke the budget for this one.

Christiano & Sheri have built a beautiful eco lodge complete with sheep & dogs… absolutely lovely.

Nice dinner at Coco’s with miniature parrots, dogs, cats, pigs… the whole 9 yards.  Literally yards from miles of sprawling black & white sanded beaches.

Yes, I know, early morning again with no time for breakfast… some hot bus rides, a ferry, which was actually just a very small boat, and then the bliss of La Luna cabin Finca del Sol, this place was a treat, but beyond expectations, it may even be nicer than El Tortugal….

Finca del Sol

Day 102, Sat 18th May

After advice from Christiano & Sheri we gave up on the hike to the volcano top lake (no water & clouded views) or the San Ramon Waterfall (no water in dry season) & opted for the hike to the Jerusalem waterfall. This did involve me riding a motorbike up to the start of the trail. Tracey had the option of going on the back of my bike or the guide’s (Alexis). She wisely chose the latter; I’ve always maintained the saying that ‘4 wheels good & 2 wheels bad’. This was borne out by my biking skills & Alexis eventually took pity on me & said we could dump the bikes early & walk.  Can’t say that I was too upset!

Hike was hard, hot, & the eventual waterfall was quite puny… but, that was the exercise for the day.  The rest of the day was lazily spent on the beach playing in the fresh water lake – a real bonus… beats salt water any day. The funny thing is that it was really shallow & all the horses & cattle kept wandering down to the beach to grab a quick drink. They seem to spend half their time either on the beach or wandering around the roads.

It really does look like paradise here. :)

Paradise it was not at 3 in the morning as I stepped out of bed onto an Army of Ants… ouch!  These buggers can bite!  They’re everywhere, it’s an Ant Invasion (cue Adam ant)! 

The famous ‘Cleaner’ ants had obviously heard that Tracey was in town & decided that she needed a little help… a huge task, even for thousands of ants!

Slightly disappointing trek to the waterfall as we had thought we would be able to get in to cool down, but apparently it is also the towns water supply. Sorry town, but I had to put my feet in it – Keir fortunately did not immerse his.

Keir woke me up in the middle of the night shouting about ant bites, we then spent an hour paranoid about them getting into the mosquito net – I was reminded of that Army Ant film I saw as a kid – fortunately these ones merely bite rather than devour you…

Day 103, Sun 19th May

Got up early & headed down to Little Morgan’s (Grandad would be pleased) to watch Arsenal try & secure a Champion leagues spot.  Another 9 O’clock beer, covered in flies… but at least everyone is happy (apart from certain North London rivals – boo hoo).   I’m ecstatic & so is Tracey (no more football for the summer).

Would like to say that we breezed it… but as ever, the Gooners kept me on tenterhooks until the final whistle. If Wenger doesn’t get the cheque book out over the summer & bring in some real quality I will personally come back & shoot him! 

With the management merry –go-round of all the top teams (no, that doesn’t include Spurs Steve – they’re not a top team), I think next season may be our best bet of actually competing & winning something.

The other sad bit of news for Spurs fans was Bale’s last game & goal for the Spurs… I bet on either Real Madrid or Bayern next season… :)

Afternoon was cool as we hired bikes & headed over to the Ojo de Agua (a beautiful fresh water swimming hole) for a swim followed by a beautiful dinner at the Café Campestre; a lovely place about 30 mins walk from our place in Balgue.P1340063

Fortunately the ants are mostly cleaning the outside of the cabin now so took the opportunity to do some much needed exercise, I am at risk of not being able to do my clothes up, I blame Granada – that very nice breakfast place, and the rather nice lime cheesecake I found at Margarita’s.

Followed the morning workout with a bike ride (!?) to a swimming hole and then a further cycle to check out the restaurants in Balgue. I seem to remember riding my Grifter was a lot easier than this… mortified to be caught walking my bike up the hill by a bunch of backpackers, it must be the gears.

Isla de Ometepe, Nicaragua

Day 104, Mon 20th May

A day spent walking miles along unspoiled stretches of beaches before catching a 10hr overnight ferry to San Carlos… Tracey got the bench to sleep on; I got the floor!

Lovely walk to Santo Domingo along the beach, after a 10am check out – now this is one thing I would change about Finca del Sol – tasty lunch and then a lift from Cristiano and Sheri to the port for the overnight ferry, which was of course leaving an hour later than we were told. Met some nice people during the wait. The overnight was not so bad as Keir gallantly gave up his spot on the bench so that I could sleep full length, well almost, I guess a few people did trip over my feet :).

Day 105, Tue 21st May

Arrived at San Carlos at 6 in the morning; time for a quick bite to eat then another boat – a slow boat – down the Rio San Juan to El Castillo.  This one was for me… a fort built by the rapids to stop pirates (Henry Morgan, William Dampier, etc) sail up river & ransack Granada – which they did a number of times.  Horatio Nelson (not Goatblower, Mr Cuckson) took this fort then had to depart it rapidly as his troops succumbed to Malaria. The river was said to be full of bloated English bodies being ripped apart by the Bull sharks. The aforementioned sharks still populate the river & the lake, but in fewer numbers after 50 years of commercial fishing. I can’t say I was too keen to swim in the river!

Well, El Castillo is certainly a one horse town – no internet (about the first place we’ve come across so far) & lots of empty restaurants that sell either chicken or fish.  Tracey wasn’t greatly amused.  It either must be hugely different in the major tourist season or this is just turning into a ghost town. 

Checked out the fort with some friends we’d met on the boat down – about the only other tourists in town – & then the cemetery before getting back under cover before the rains came… & boy did they come!

Rainy season has certainly started with a vengeance!

Luckily the lack of things to do in El Castillo was offset by hanging out with the guys we met on the boat, Uzoma and Nicole. Saw the fort, got wet, had some fantastic Pineapple juice in Borders and managed to see the fort in one day. We are here for 2 though, and there is very little to do apart from visit the Indio-Maiz biosphere – normally a great option, but it will entail another early morning and a lot of mud – we decide we are not up for it.

Day 106, Wed 22nd May

A day chilling, do the domestics & wandering around town.  I managed to get a game of football with some locals – jumpers for goal posts.  The boys will be happy to know that I kept up the great English presence in the game by opening up the scoring… The boys will be even happier to know that this was at the wrong end!

However, a little bit of footballing magic from the aforementioned & we ran out 2-1 winners before bad light stopped play.

I know this will sound high maintenance, but it is rainy, there is no internet, nothing to do, and I am a little bored. After a thorough search of every eating establishments in town, some of which have no food, chicken only, steak only, or are not open, we end up in Borders for brunch again – it was not that it was a bad option, but none of the eating establishments are particularly budget friendly and it would have been nice to try somewhere else…

Try some old fashioned travel research, completely fail to do yoga with Nicole and only manage to paint my nails instead. Then it dinner-time, chicken or fish?

El Castillo, Nicargua

Day 107, Thu 23rd May

Up at 4 a.m. for another day of travel – Boat back up the jungle river to San Carlos, another boat down the Rio Frio to Los Chiles & then 2 further buses to reach San Juan – capital of Costa Rica.

Trip was uneventful apart from the first boat breaking down after 10 mins mid river.  Dad will be pleased to know I whipped out the Swiss army knife & once the driver had used it to replace a faulty fuel pipe that was sucking air into fuel system we were on our way up the rapids again.

Another very long day of travelling, 2 boats, 2 buses, 12 hours of travelling and then we reach Costa Rica, where it is also sadly raining, I knew we would have to pay for the 3.5 months of sunshine L

Day 108, Fri 24th May

Spent the day sightseeing in San Jose in the rain. Met a lovely couple – Ozzie & Margel with the latter’s son Samy – who we had lunch & saw some sights with. They kindly sent us off to the cinema to see Star Trek (in English with Spanish sub titles) to get out of the rain – Tracey managed to jam in a bit of shopping in the Multiplex Mall.

2300 – an overnight 15 hr bus journey through Costa Rica back to Panama City… my what fun!

Another rainy day, but we saw the lovely theatre and then Margel took us to the museum for children after lunch, I was disappointed to learn that it was too late to play – of course the bureaucrats who frequently prevent me from having fun would have undoubtedly told me I was too big/ tall/ old to go on anything anyway – but it was a really interesting building set in a former prison, and we also saw some art, of varying levels of skill. Then Star Trek (it was great, didn’t realise how much I had missed the movies!) and the 23:00 bus; it is going to be a long one…

San Jose, Costa Rica

Day 109, Sat 25th May

Arrived in Panama City late afternoon, dumped our gear & grabbed some food – that’s about all we could manage. Found that the train for our next leg didn’t run on a Sunday – so we’ll stay here tomorrow then.

A very nice man on the Ticabus actually got me a McDonald’s salad rather than a chicken burger, this put me in a great mood, well needed due to the 2.5 hour border crossing at 4:50am… clearly we arrived there far too early as no other bugger was there. I miraculously managed to sleep for the majority of the other 13.5 hours, all of these early mornings are clearly wearing me out.

Day 110, Sun 26th May

A day just spent chilling – Tracey found some nice (but expensive – as ever!) restaurants for brunch & dinner.

Well, as my former colleagues, and many of my friends, have realised by now, whilst I may be great at picking good restaurants, cheap ones are not my forte …

Day 111, Mon 27th May

Cool train ride alongside the Panama Canal to Colon, followed by a chicken bus to Portobello – originally the jewel of the Spanish empire where treasure ships departed the new world for Spain.  That’s until the good old English (Sir Francis Drake then Admiral Vernon) kept destroying it so much that the Spanish decided to send the treasure back the long way round via Cape Horn (S Africa) to avoid them.

Keir looks pleased at visiting yet another fort…

A small sleepy town with lots of forts (I wonder why we came here….?! :)) on the beautiful Caribbean coast.

Spent the afternoon exploring ruined forts – happy days… at least for me.  Dinner at Capn Jack’s – a hostel restaurant run by a cool old sea dog who seems to be perpetually drunk…. I can see my future laid out before me…!  :) :)

The train to Colon was nice, not the best train I have ever been on – obviously the Orient Express, thanks Mum & Dad – but it was a beautiful ride along the Panama Canal and assorted lakes (actually it may have been one…). I have seen 3 forts today, I wonder if that is a world record? Possibly not for Keir…

The Big Blue

Day 74/75, Sat 20th / Sun 21st

Up early again & off to San Pedro on Lake Atitlan –‘ a beautiful lake’, surrounded by volcano’s with lovely chilled villages much loved by the Hippy brigade as a centre of mystic powers…

Well, the transfer was 4hrs, not the 2.5 stated, the lake has risen by between 4-9m due to a storm 4 years ago & most of the beautiful beaches & waterfront areas are under water.  The village was a bit of a shanty town with some nice bars/ areas here & there. Got to say we both felt that it was a bit of a let-down.

However, disappointment & disaster were staved off when we decided to go for a solar bath (the thermal ones were now 3 feet underwater) at twilight. It was decidedly romantic; just us in a heated stone bath, surrounded by jungle plants in twilight looking over the lake. The fireflies came out to play whilst we sipped our wine & pontificated on the delights of Lago Atitlan. A bit of food, drinking & dancin’ after rounded off a lovely evening.

Even the 4hr return trip the following day couldn’t erase the memory of a wonderful night.

Lago Atitlan – reminiscent of 1970’s Spain as our new friend Anna pointed out, I had to agree, even if that gives away my age.

Luckily Keir and I managed to assuage our disappointment by a lovely outdoor hot bath, with accompanying red wine, some very pleasant (and cheap) meals and a quick jaunt on the lake at the end.

Day 76, Mon 22nd

Back to school WITH Amabelia cracking the whip!

Decided to conduct my own tour of Antigua’s ruins before and after school and sans Keir, who is more sensibly sorting out his company tax. I like this place.

Antigua & Lake Atitlan

Day 77, Tues 23rd

Final long morning of school before the long afternoon schlep to Semuc Champey.  Another bout of misinformation from the transport people who sold us a direct transfer; you  actually have to go to Lanquin then the hotel come & pick you up.  After Tracey gave them what for we left for a 5 hr trip. After an easy 45 min transfer we arrived at the Hotel El portal right next to the entrance to Semuc Champey.

More Spanish row practice for me, I was delighted to note that a week at school had left me somewhat more fluent whilst tearing someone off a strip, thanks Gladys! And while I am complaining, don’t use Otitrans for your transport, useless, insufficiently apologetic, lying bastards.

Never mind, I met a lovely Swedish girl called Jenny on the shuttle and saw some of her wonderful pictures of China.

Day 78, Wed 24th

Semuc Champey (6)Semuc Champey – gorgeous, turquoise limestone pools for swimming in, and next door to our hotel, hooray! Spent a lovely morning doing the hike up to the top before rewarding ourselves with a leisurely dip in the different pools, we even had one to ourselves for a while. Lovely, and well worth the pain of getting here and having to spend 2 nights due to morning only transport options. Take note Semuc dwelling entrepreneurs.

 

Met a nice English couple, Tony & Laura, after dinner and compared travel tips whilst sampling the local beverages :)

This was an idyllic place, the river disappears into a chasm at the top of the limestone gorge & runs underneath these series of turquoise pools before re-appearing below the pols, whose water re-joins it via a little waterfall.  It is deep enough in parts to dive in, whilst other areas are shallow enough just to lie in & watch the multi-coloured fish nibble your toes.

Very chilled overlooking the river in a picturesque setting.  Cabins look picture postcard perfect, but very thin walls so had to politely ask the very drunk Americans to move the party back up to the bar area before Tracey appeared with the sawn-off…!

Semuc Champey

Day 79, Thurs 25th

Another transport confusion between Semuc and Lanquin – for Christ’s sake, they are an HOUR apart, you would think that the locals would think to distinguish between them! – we took the hotel truck (seated again, rather than having to stand in the back, the deference shown was gratifying, however perhaps I should worry that all this sun is making me look my age …?).

Arrived in our new hotel near Fronteras, Rio Dulce, at Lake Izabal. Now this is a beautiful lake, and a lovely hotel to boot – El Tortugal, if you are ever there - had some lunch and headed over to El Castillo, you know how much Keir loves a castle!

El Castillo - Rio Dulce (19)Tracey kept saying that we should go through Rio Dulce to do the river trip; well, what do you know, she was right but the bonus is that the Rio Dulce is also very nice.  We are staying in a beautiful hostel/ marina right on the water’s edge with a few yachts moored around us. It really is perfect; I have a view of Castillo San Felipe which we take a walk up to that afternoon – Tracey really didn’t have much choice! :)

It’s a tiny little fort that was part customs house & part fort to protect against the pirates who frequented the area many moons ago.  It’s small enough that we could even dream of owning something similar… even Tracey had to agree it was lovely.

Plans are back on track for El Castillo Wingrove when we get back….!

Day 80, Fri 26th

Decided to take the local transport to Finca el Paraiso today, a natural pool with a hot waterfall to warm it. Amazing, freaky waterfall, though I have to confess that on this particular, 30 odd degree day, I would have preferred a cool one…

Waterfall was freaky, but cool; and not in a temperature way!

 The countryside around the lake was beautiful.

Started chatting to a Canadian chap at the hotel, who very kindly showed us around his catamaran – v nice – thanks Clark.

 Clark’s Catamaran was beautifully decked out – think we’ll have to hire one for the next Sailing trip… Caribbean anyone?

His son is an ex Booty who’s moved into acting now; hopefuly we’ll catch him in something when we get back to Blighty.

Rio Dulce

Day 81, Sat 27th

…and we are off again, this time to Livingston. Made some more English friends on the boat and hung out with them for lunch before getting boat number 2 to The RoundHouse hostel, which turned out to be halfway back to Fronteras, oops a bit of inadequate research there, however it was a really beautiful stretch of river, so I didn’t really mind doing it again.

No wifi, or internet at the moment at the hotel, but the owners were fantastic and made us feel very welcome (as well as plying us with alcohol), sat down to a nice communal supper with the other 3 guests – lovely evening talking shite at the bar. Shame we have to leave tomorrow…

The fact we cruised past the Roundhouse on our way down river isn’t an issue really as we got to see Livingstone for lunch… about as much time as you need really.

Loved the Roundhouse – you can only get to it by river taxi. The owner Chris is a trained carpenter & has built most of it himself… could have happily stayed here a couple of weeks giving him a hand & picking up tips…

They had just let their cook & cleaner go, so poor Dani & Chris had to do everything, but it felt like being part of the family.  Lots of dogs & cats… heaven.

Day 82, Sun 28th

Unfortunately no-one is running the full or partial transport, so, today is the fun, let’s see if we can get to Honduras on local transport, day…

Caught the hotel boat at 8:30 and just got the last 2 spots on the public boat to Puerto Barrios, which left as soon as we got on (lucky timing!), 30 minutes, 125Qz. Walked up the main road at Puerto Barrios and jumped onto a colectivo which arrived a few minutes later, and took us through to the Honduran border – all fine so far, apart from the boy on the bus trying to rip us off for too high a fare, little scrote, I stuck to my guns :).

Despite the famed CA4, free border crossing between Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and El Salvador, it seems the Hondurans have decided to add a US$3 tax anyway, arse, I had just told the money changer at the border that I didn’t want to take his lousy L18 for a $ rate. Humble pie duly eaten.

Paid our tax and got accosted by a taxi driver telling us we couldn’t get to San Pedro Sula before the last bus left for La Ceiba, lying toerag, we walked up and caught the bus straight away, another 1.5 hours and we arrive at Puerto Cortes for the express bus to the World’s most dangerous city (apparently) of San Pedro Sula, another rapid departure – these connections are amazing!

Got to SPS bus station, thankfully this is not the gangland hangout so we seem to be fine – after some initial confusion with Viana (very expensive) and Diana (cheap, but direct) bus, we managed to get our ticket to La Ceiba, with 40 minutes for some unhealthy lunch.

We finally reached La Ceiba at 20:30 – Hotel Estadio – how the hell did this place get 7/10 on Booking.com? I am pleased to say that I managed to bring down the average by my rating of 4. Not recommended unless you are an entomologist, in which case you might be fascinated by the teeming insect life in the bathroom… La Ceiba not great either, everything shut by 9???! Went to bed a bit fed up and hungry.

The day of transport pain wasn’t as bad as we thought… speaking Spanish (Tracey) definitely helps.

As Tracey said, the taxi driver at the border was hilarious… giving us the whole ‘next bus isn’t for 3 hrs’ whilst we can see the bus getting ready to depart 300m up the road!

Hotel at Ceiba was one of the very few dud ones we’ve booked – very friendly staff, but it was a real shit hole – dirty, insecst & mold in the bathroom & the electric shower didn’t work properly… Tracey showed me the reviews… there must be a lot of undiscerning travellers out there.

The previous place – Roundhouse – was cheaper, cleaner, had no direct main electric & water but beats this hands down.  The town didn’t feel safe walking about in the evening… so, discretion being the better part of valour, we went to bed early & hungry.

Day 83, Mon 29th

Up early again!??? For the ferry to Roatan and our lovely private cabin at Hotel Chillies – OK, so not quite as lovely as El Tortugal, and we do have termites in the bathroom, but we also have a porch with a hammock, and they have a very nice garden. Happy.

Very cute cabin in a beautiful garden out back full of wild life, dogs & cats…. The beach is 2 mins walk from our cabin door to waterfront!

Saw a beautiful baby ray whilst paddling in the surf!

Loving this life!

Day 84, Tues 30th

Today we learn to dive with Native Sons – a morning of PADI DVDs and then we start some confined water skills in the bay with all of the EXTREMELY HEAVY kit on – blimey, 54lbs of stuff, I was hobbling like a bent over old lady, couldn’t even stand upright.

I couldn’t half-fill and empty my mask without semi-drowning, much saltwater swallowed :(

Can’t say I’ve ever been the happiest in water, but today went well. T had some slightly squiffy moments, but bravely puled through.

Met a lovely English couple (Tom & Eleanor) who are holidaying here from Santiago in Chile were they live.  Both have done some pretty amazing things to date & hopefully we’ll catch up with them later in their travels as they are also moving to Malaysia in the autumn.

Day 85, Wed 1st May

Got up this morning to learn we are going to do our first AND second Open Water dives, I must confess that I thought this would be a slightly gentler learning curve.

We found out that Dan, our instructor, was having the 4th day off – hence the movement at pace… but best not to spend too much time thinking… just do!

First dive was beautiful, though my ears started hurting immediately and I had real trouble equalising the pressure; the reefs here are among the best in the world. I am not enjoying the ‘skills’ quite so much.

By the second dive and associated skills I hated it, managed the half mask flood, but full mask flood and manual BCD inflation sent me into such a hyperventilating panic that I kept feeling like I couldn’t breathe, didn’t want to go back down. Did another confined water session after lunch, still unable to breathe – I really wanted to give up and go to bed – Keir calmed me down enough to manage a couple of the techniques, but felt thoroughly miserable and very sorry for myself by the end of the day.

Enjoyed today & it’s all coming together. T had a bit of a difficult day & at one point it looked like she might give up.  But, very proud of her, as she conquered her fears & completed the day.  Hopefully a good sleep will go a long way to making her feel a bit better.

Day 86, Thurs 2nd May

Woke up, got up, in bad mood as I hated diving so much yesterday, but decided I would try. And today… it was amazing. How strange! Was able to equalise after Keir told me to hold my nose higher up, managed to do all my skills, including mask removal and replacement, at the bottom of the ocean, and I was fine. I even managed a swim through controlling my buoyancy with my breath (well for most of it, I did accidentally pop up at one stage…:P).

Afternoon tests and exam (I will leave that one for Keir), and we are qualified Open Water divers, hooray! Time to celebrate with some frozen strawberry Margaritas!

T was in a foul mood this morning – I could see that she didn’t really want to go back out again.  So, I followed the tried & tested route of completely ignoring that & chivvying her back out into the water again.  Amazingly, it worked. Today was a completely different kettle of fish; I was had some difficulties clearing my ears but we both breezed thought the skills (clearing masks at depth, etc) & T had a wonderful scuba.  Saw turtles feeding, loads of fish, lobsters, etc.

We had to do a swim back to shore in either flippers & snorkel, or normally.  T elected for the former, whilst I elected for the latter, but the buggers made me swim the same distance (300m) back into shore as T.  The great thing was that as we swam, we saw a large & beautiful spotted Eagle Ray swimming in the bay & the wreck of a small submarine (more of that later).

Did our exam in the afternoon – it’s the first exam we’ve ever done together… & what do you know, we both passed, but ‘el stupido’ out pointed the Honours graduate 3 -1… I am indeed a god… or maybe just a minor Deity!!!

T has many more names for me; but let’s not go there!

Dan Ashworth, instructor extraordinaire, useful carpenter & bloody nice chap – thank you!

Day 87, Fri 3rd May

Finally a lie in is possible, and what happens? I wake up at 8am. There is no justice in this world… Good breakfast at Café Escondido whilst watching the hummingbirds though :)

P1330132

A day just chilling, a trying to sort out the next few day travelling. Had a bit of a dance & boogie later that evening – we’ve still got it… whatever that might be…

We had a very generous offer of a beautiful 7 bedroom villa to use for a pittance, but our aggressive itinerary means that we can’t take out any more time to effectively use it.  We are going to try & hire a scooter to pop up & see it, meet the lovely caretaker Heather then head off to do a zip line canopy tour.

Roatan, Honduras