Costa Rica in 24 hours, Panama, Mexico, Belize, Guatemala – how behind are we?!!?

Day 50 – Wed 27th March

Arrived in San Jose on the bus from David, very long, seemingly random and disorganised, border crossing – it seems a miracle that we managed to get through and back on the same bus – there seemed to be a lot of different queues, with occasional instructions to queue somewhere else, a bit of sniffer dog action, followed by more queueing and instructions to go ‘over there’ (very helpful). Happy to say that we made it, finally! Hotel in Costa Rica is nice, they give us a free welcome cocktail – looks like a version of a Tequila Sunrise, only sweeter, Keir has a beer, so I drink his cocktail too :)

Comic border crossing, followed by a fleeting visit to San Jose, Costa Rica.  We came, we slept, we caught the flight out of there.

Day 51 – Thurs 28th

Breakfast and then Mexico! Taxi driver tries to augment the fare by 13% because we want to pay in Costa Rican money – beware all, that everyone seems to give you their own version of the USD to Colon exchange rate – we find that despite the $77 dollars in fees and charges that Interjet charged us for the fare, we still have to pay another $58 to the Costa Rican airport, and we only get a packet of crisps and water on the flight; clearly this is why it was cheaper than the alternative airlines!

The usual money withdrawal issues at the airport, nothing worked apart from the Kalixa, lucky we brought 5 different cards…

Another fabulous hostel, Hostel Mundo Jovial Cathedral, right in the centre of town, and with a gloriously cheap bar on the top floor, less than £1 for beer, it is like University all over again :)

Felt like a whirlwind 48hrs, but suddenly we are 100’s of miles further North, sitting in the hostel bar overlooking the main square & Cathedral sipping chilled beer at 90p a bottle…. Have I died & gone ot heaven..?!

Day 52 – Fri 29th

Good Friday in Mexico City, we are delighted to find that most things are open – except the laundry, unfortunately – spent the day looking around the city, there are many beautiful buildings here, and the biggest square in the world (I think, don’t quote me).

We joined a free hostel walking tour to Chapultepec with Fernando from our hostel, followed by cuba libres and quesadillas with some lovely new people – I am happy to say that food is delightfully cheap and it doesn’t seem too difficult on my meat-free, wheat-free diet… Fernando also treated us to free tequilas in the hostel bar, a good day!

Tequila

Cool day in Mexico sitting seeing a castle (not… a fancy chateau in reality built for the one & only Austrian Emperor of Mexico!) & meeting cool people – Simon & Melodie in particular.

Day 53 – Sat 30th

Off to the Frida Kahlo museum in Coyoacan today, a long queue (unfortunately all the Mexicans are on holiday too), but interesting, as was the barrio in general. Then we made our way to the Aztec canals at Xochimilco for a ride in a Mexican gondola (tajinera), surrounded by Mariarchi bands, plant sellers, food venders and other assorted tradesman – I wonder if you could do all your shopping whilst water-borne?

Decided we were too lightweight and knackered for a very late night of drinking in Condessa – maybe tomorrow…

Frida you can keep, but the area (Coyoacan) was very pretty… & not surprisingly very expensive by Mexican standards I believe.  Tajinera was mad, fun – like Desperadoes goes waterborne… Mariarchitastic.  Place was full of drunk Mexicans partying & enjoying their Easter break – great fun.

Photos: Mexico City & Xochimilco

Day 54 – Sun 31st

Started the day by getting up early and having a row with the breakfast staff due to their utter rudeness and inefficiency – good Spanish practice – cheered up in time to see some of the museums around town.

Nice day chilling around the city & trying to prevent Tracey going Nuclear on the staff… even if they did deserve it! J

Day 55 – April 1st

Another early start, hooray! Caught the metro and then took the bus to Teotihuacan to save ourselves the $40 of a trip, I think the whole thing cost us $8 and luckily there seemed to be few people around. The site is very open (and super hot!), headed straight for the 32m Piramide del Sol, am hoping that my breathlessness is altitude related rather than simple unfitness…

Got back to the hostel for a desperately needed free shower and met up with our Mexico City resident and Angel Falls friend, Aron, who had just arrived back from Venezuela (very poor timing on our part!). Then zipped off to catch our overnight bus to Oaxaca, not so good, am not feeling so great, I suspect that I shouldn’t have eaten the lunchtime salad…

Tracey tours again proves to be a winner – getting us to the great Teotihuacan for thruppence ‘apeny.  My great plan to go straight to the biggest pyramids first avoiding all the overweight American tour parties’ works & we have them almost to ourselves.  The place is like two great pyramids placed on the surface of the moon. Hot, huge & hungry by the end of it.

Dinner with Aron, Simon, Melodie & friend was a lovely way to finish the day & Mexico City. We weren’t expecting much of Mexico City but ended up really enjoying it.

Photos: Teotihuacan

Day 56 – Tues 2nd

Well, I am glad we travelled ADO GL as I had a slightly unpleasant moment during the trip and was glad I only had to kneel on a nice clean, women only, bathroom floor during my bilious attack… Arrived super-early in Oaxaca, still feeling ropey, luckily our new room was ready for an additional nap. Managed to rouse myself with the prospect of sight-seeing about 1pm…

Oaxaca is beautiful with a lovely square in the centre, it also seems to be the world hub of wooden spoon selling activity, I was afforded the opportunity to buy more cucharitas (wooden spoons) than I could possibly ever use from a wide assortment of hopeful women and children within 10 minutes of arriving. Really, I DON’T NEED ANY!

The town was not only nice, but my saviour. The rather expensive wheeled rucksack, that I’d carefully researched & bought, crapped out on me when one of the wheels effectively fell off. Poor design as I politely pointed out by Email to the seller & producer of said product.

Managed to find washers, spacers & the correct size of Allen key &, along with my trusty new Swiss army knife (thanks Mum/ Dad, repaired said bag. I am feeling very manly today… what else can I fix..?!

Photos: Oaxaca

Day 57 – Wed 3rd

Monte Alban today, more ruins, more relentless lack of shade – though perhaps complaining about the heat when it has been snowing in London is a tad churlish… another overnight bus tonight…

Interesting ruins – far more amenable size than Teotihuacan.

Photos: Monte Alban

Day 59 – Thurs 4th & Fri 5th

San Cristobal de las Casas. Another cute cobbled street town with pretty colonial buildings. We really came here to see San Juan de Chamoula in the mountains, but it is also the Mexican centre for amber, plus turquoise & lapis lazuli it seems, who knew?

Took a horse ride up to San Juan with a monosyllabic teenager, perhaps we should just have plucked a random person from the street; I am sure they could have told us more about the town than our guide. Still, I suppose the budget nature of the trip meant that the agency needed to use child labour in oder to make a profit… The church in San Juan was amazing (sadly not allowed to take photos inside), the locals have merged belief in the catholic saints with their own religion, the walls are lined with saints in glass cases, the floors strewn with pine needles and candles, fabric hangs from the rafters and the people sit on the floor cleansing each other with herbs next to the odd sacrificed chicken. It was really amazing to see, though I cannot help worrying about the fire hazard…

Took the bus to Palenque and arrived very late, Keir’s rucksack wheel has broken again, he is not happy…

~~@@@@####XXXXX!!!!! Screw has come off the bag & axle has collapsed…. Caribee… you make rubbish rucksacks!!! Town was nice, but nothing to write home about… so I won’t! :)

Photos: San Cristobal de las Casas

Day 60 – Sat 6th

Had arranged to meet Melodie and Simon to do Palenque today, but we arrived somewhat late owing to my urgent need for breakfast, which turned out to be slightly ironic as they were staying in the same hostel as us… oops! We also bumped into Maaret, the Finnish girl we met in Oaxaca, staying at the hostel, I think everyone must stay be here!

Palenque was amazing, I think it is my favourite, more interesting buildings and a lovely jungle setting  … Another bus tonight, this time Merida…

Palenque ruins – fantastic jungle setting – best so far to date & great fun climbing around them & through tunnels with Simon & Melodie whilst talking in a mixture of French, English & Spanish. Liked the hostel & town as well – not very picturesque but fun.

Managed to get more washers, axles, nuts & bolts at a bike shop – who wouldn’t even except any money… so kind of them. Repairs are a bit Heath Robinson, but they’re holding together… idiotic design by Caribee… all they needed was a metal washer to spread the load around the axle point… cheap  cost saving.

Photos: Palenque

Day 61 – Sun 7th

Arrived in Merida, another attractive colonial town, very, very late due to the bloody ADO bus turning up an hour and a half late in Palenque, I am sorry to say that I became a little tired and emotional around 1am when it still hadn’t arrived.

Got to our lovely hostel (Nomadas) and signed up for a free cooking class to learn how to make corn tortillas. Apparently we use a maricona, ha ha, that is a bit too close to maricon, must be careful with that one :)

Loved the hostel in Merida – lots of cool people, nice pool & close to town. It was recommended by Simon & Melodie… think we owe them one.

Photos: Merida

Day 62 – Mon 8th

Decided to try a free yoga class today at 7:30 (I must really be feeling guilty about lack of exercise), then we headed off to Uxmal. Amazing site and I don’t think we saw more than 6 people the whole time we were there, now I am not sure if I prefer Palenque or Uxmal, though the former is much cheaper to get in! Very traumatic getting home though, we were told the bus was at 5pm, then someone told us 5:30…; at 6:15, after a massive row with Keir, I asked the hotel to call a cab, he told me the bus comes between 6:30 & 6:45. ******* hell.  Finally got home, both in foul moods.

Uxmal was beautiful – had the site to ourselves. V hot though. The Mayans in this part of Mexico carved the sculptures out of soft limestone, rather than made them out of Stucco, so they have survived in a far better state. Lots of geometric designs as well as carved faces & corner stones.

Massive row with Tracey on the way home whilst we waited for ever for a ‘Mañana’ bus.  My fault, so I’m grovelling for Britain… Brownie points at an all-time low… :(

Photos: Uxmal

Day 63 – Tues 9th

The plan was to go to Chichen Itza today, but unfortunately Keir’s navally trained cat-iron stomach has succumbed to what is locally known as ‘Montezuma’s revenge’. I decided it might be better for him and everyone else if he didn’t ride on a bus sans toilets for an hour and a half… Looked at some shops and re-planned instead :)

Spent the day laid up in bed… not sure if it’s ‘Montezuma’s revenge’, deli beli or Tracey’s Kismet…?!

Day 64, Wed 10th

Keir is feeling better, so Chichen Itza today! Dumped our bags in the free luggage storage (very handy to know that you can leave your big rucksack for free!) Very touristy, lots of hawkers and a few more people than we saw at Uxmal , but not too bad. No climbing on temples and no going inside though, disappointing. It is beautiful, but definitely not as exciting as Uxmal or Palenque.

Keir, in an unusually keen moment of research, had discovered that there was a cenote at Ikkil, a couple of kilometres away, so we snuck out and went there – it was gorgeous, a perfect circle cut out of the earth with a deep pool to swim in – before returning to Chichen for a late afternoon bus to Tulum.

Ikkil Cenote was the highlight of the day… v cool in both senses of the word! What made it even better were the little waterfalls dropping 10-12 metres into the pool on your head and the fish swimming around you.

Chichi was over hyped & full of tourist tours.

Ikkil Cenote near Chichen Itza (1)

Photos: Chichen Itza

Day 65, Thurs 11th

In a lovely hotel for a change, nice little bungalow rooms with a central garden and VERY noisy birds!

Decided to hire bikes to ride to the ruins north of the village – nearly acquired brakeless bikes by mistake; which, given my last experience at Fontainebleau when I managed to fall off 3 times, with associated grazes, would not have been advisable – Keir may have rescued me from certain death, and probably saved a few innocent bystanders too!

Tulum beach is stunning, we popped down to the sea for a quick dip half way through our visit –  much too rough to swim, but so beautiful – before riding off to the beach proper for a slightly smoother swim and a cocktail. I think this is the prettiest beach I have ever visited, and the bar had swings :).

Tulum was a lovely place – great little adobe hut bungalow that had birds tweeting from dusk ‘til dawn… think Tracey might get the shotgun out if they start too early!

Ruins were small, interesting & postcard picturesque… had fun jumping the waves on the beach.

The beach we rode to afterwards was sooo chilled – expanses of soft, white sand with pretty bars & cold beer in the dunes… have I died & gone to heaven?!

Photos: Tulum 

Day 66, Fri 12th

Last day in Tulum due to my relentless itinerary, so took our bikes down for lovely breakfast at Azafran and then to the Gran Cenote about 4km away, this would not have been so uncomfortable if my seat didn’t keep sinking and tilting down at the back… Luckily it was worth it! Not the perfect round sinkhole of Ikkil, but a wider area where we could swim through the cave (and bats) and see some little turtles, fab.

Nipped back for showers and check out and then caught the ADO bus to Chetumal and the chicken bus to Belize almost immediately afterwards. After congratulating ourselves on our good fortune we reached the border only to be told we had to pay departure tax to leave Mexico, now I had read about this, and supposedly it should be included in the airfare if you fly in. After some heated discussion, during which our luggage was chucked off the bus prior to it making a hasty departure, and the conclusion that we would not be able to prove payment (nor indeed pay, now that all of the banks were shut) the man let me write a letter explaining that we had paid and let us through. More excellent Spanish practice for me then! Walked across the border to Belize and got picked up by another bus to Orange Walk almost immediately – lucky!

Lovely day until the border crossing – but Tracey did a great job in arguing her point in  Spanish… all those years of practise arguing have finally paid off… Mum, Dad & Karen will be so pleased! J (think I’ve just lost all my Brownie points again!).

Day 67, Sat 13th

Trip to Lamanai, more ruins?, well this was supposed to be a spectacular boat ride, so, we thought it would be fun; it was nice, but not as incredible as the guide books had led me to believe. The river trip was pretty, the ruins too, and we saw a few howler monkeys and assorted birds, but it was not as spectacular as the Angel Falls boat trips, so I guess we are now ruined out and spoiled!

Enjoyed the boat trip… I would say that, I’m a sailor. Ruins were interesting but not sure it was worth the money nor the hype.

Day 68, Sun 14th

A lovely 4am chicken bus, in that ‘ish’ way that only developed countries seem to have. It came at 4:40. Actually not too bad as at least we were at the right bus stop, this seemed far from certain at the time, the bus came, and it was dirt cheap. We even managed to sleep a little as were lucky enough to get the seat near our luggage – just as well due to us having a tour at 8:15 and the bus arriving in San Ignacio at 8am… So, of course we were met by the dopiest receptionist in the world who didn’t have our booking, then gave us a room where he couldn’t find the key, finally someone else took over. (saying he wasn’t the sharpest tool in the box was an understatement!) Luckily our guide was late.

So, today’s tour was the Actun Tunichil Muknal cave tour, I will let Keir tell you his ATM meaning… (google will reveal all…) with the interestingly named Carlos Panti. The tour was incredible, I cannot rate it highly enough, if you are In Belize, just do it, it is expensive, US$95, but we got to swim, wade and climb our way through a cave into a room with Mayan artefacts (and bones) that was pretty much as the archeologists found it. Carlos was a fantastic guide and it was really special to be able to walk into a place with 1000 year old relics. Sadly no cameras allowed after some tourist managed to smash a skull by dropping one, you’ll have to look it up on Wikipedia…

Are we mad, it’s 4 in the morning & we are standing on the corner of the street – where the hotel told us to wait for the through bus?  2 people have already told us it’s in a different place…

Fortunately they speak English here… so I can do the asking…. We are indeed in the right place as people start to gather… but ‘dis is Belize man, de bus don cum til later mun’… which indeed it did.

Cave tour was fantastic – one of a kind. Not sure you’d be allowed to do anything like this anywhere in the world. Carlos was deeply passionate about his history & conserving it… as well as a bit of a wag; so muchos fun!

 

Day 69, Mon 15th

And so to Guatemala…. Cabbed to the border and grabbed a colectivo for Qz30 (@£3) from Melchor to Flores, 50 miles for £3, take note London Transport! This was a super-quick border crossing, the cab took about 15 minutes and the actual border formalities about 2, there was hardly anyone there (if you are doing this, the colectivos stop at the first right-hand corner, and if you take that right there is an ATM 10- 15 minutes walk from there).

Flores is cute, set on an island (with a bridge) in Lake Peten, and it has tuk tuks. I wish we could stay for longer :)

Seem to be on a constant bus trip at the mo…. Like Flores though… more water….

Day 70, Tues 16th

Tikal, it is 100 degrees, but thank god there is shade. Pretty amazing, though we cannot climb up about 50% of the pyramids, that is actually ok, we were knackered at the end. Do temple IV first and the central plaza last, it was the most exciting bit to explore. We met a nice girl called Wysteria (unfortunate, but is it any worse than Tracey?) and saw some coatimundi (cross between & ant eater & a squirrel) and an oscillating turkey, bootiful.

Got the overnight bus to Antigua, Spanish lessons start tomorrow at 07:40!!!

Tikal was beautiful – very pretty & very extensive without being over large.  A combination of impressive restored pyramids & overgrown ruins that were still part of the jungle.

By the end of the day though we were exhausted & ruined out.  Poor meal there in a rubbish restaurant slightly ruined it (no pun intended!).

Day 71, Wed 17th

Well, that didn’t go according to plan at all… the Linea Dorada bus worked perfectly, but the so-called hour long ‘shuttle’ to Antigua that we bought ‘to save time’, turned out to be a colectivo that had to wait 2 hours in Guatemala City for another, very late, bus to arrive. So, we waited from 5:30 until 8am and then we left for Antigua…. great.

Spanish lessons started late, but at least we managed a couple of hours. I now realise just how much I have forgotten…

Antigua is very pretty, more churches, of course :)

Direct shuttle, my #rse!

Still, got to Antigua & hostel seems nice & started Spanish lessons… slightly scary!

Amabilia, my teacher is lovely… & fortunately, very patient.

Day 72, Thursday 18th

Spanish again today, Keir starts earlier than me, which means I get to have nice breakfast before school, this is good.

Had a free supper at school today, free Cuba Libres AND a free salsa lesson – lots of spinning, and a bit of sweating on my part – I really must be unfit…  Met some nice Quebecois Canadians, an interesting South African and a few Americans. I drank too much rum…

Not surprisingly, Tracey negotiated to start later (not that she mentioned it to me!). So, I’m up at 6.45 & hurry off to school whilst she lounges around in bed & has a leisurely breakfast!

We seem to have changed our location but not our situation…!

Enjoying Spanish lessons; having done French at school is a help & a hindrance… good with understanding the words but bad for the pronunciation.

Day 73, Friday 19th

Lessons in the morning, then lunch with kids from a local school, where our school is somehow helping…. Have done our good deed for the day :). Shopped around for transfers to Lago Atitlan tomorrow, and cake.

Dinner in Av. 5 Norte, which seems to be one of the more interesting streets, we were suitably entertained by a fantastic guitar-playing singer, lots of great Latin music, some Reggae and some Frank Sinatra – not sure the last was entirely successful, but his voice really suited the other two and anyone who covers “Chan Chan” is alright in my book.

Guitar player cool, school’s great – looking forward to a weekend round a reportedly beautiful lake.

More waterfalls?

Day 39 – Sat 16th March

Despite all Tracey’s hard efforts to sort out the Angel falls trip we admitted defeat & decided to catch an early bus to Ciudad Bolivar & try again when we got there. This was an all-day bus trip – fine for me with a good book, but Tracey was fidgety as ever.  Arrived, to be met by man who tries to sell us trip to Angel falls, no river trip but flight.  Agree a price & we get dropped off at our Posada – Amor Patrio – which was ok & on historic square, but with no locks.

All the restaurants appeared shut but Tracey managed to sweet talk a restaurant owner into opening up for us – great meal too; we tipped him heavily.

Since our attempts to book an Angel Falls tour are still proving unsuccessful, the latest being that we have to turn up to pay cash in Euros – er, you mention this now and think I brought Euros with me?!? The price seems to have doubled in Bolivares, thanks so much for your help Backpacker Tours! We decided to just GO to Ciudad Bolivar to try to arrange something, the dry season is not helping…

A man met us at the bus station trying to sell us a tour, have suspended cynical response to book, Keir really wants to go!

Day 40 – Sun 17th

Meant to be off to Angel falls early but cock up with their admin meant that we were now going Mon & the river was high enough to take a boat trip to falls – Hurrah & Huzzah!

Spent day looking around Cuidad Bolivar…saw the one horse!

Early rise for trip again, to be met with complete confusion, and attempts to charge us US$1300 for the trip we agreed for US$900 yesterday, suddenly all becomes clear when we realise the black market exchange rate for US$ is 3x the official rate – take note, my friends, bring dollars with you! Eventually agreed a bank transfer for less than either price for the trip sans boat (no water) with a flight over the falls – joy, I get to rise at 6am tomorrow too!

Early impressions of Ciudad Bolivar being a cute city are dashed within 20 minutes – there is a nice square, it is very small – we did check out the Orinoco though, it is sadly rather un-photogenic apart from the lightning (too) fast leap of the pink dolphin we spotted there.

I also learned from a local that the ‘universal’ hitchhiking gesture means something rather different in Venezuela, ha ha.

Day 41 – Mon 18th

Cool light aircraft flight to Canaima which is beautiful tannin stained lagoon fringed by numerous waterfalls.  We had a fun boat trip to falls, a swim & then a hike behind waterfalls – a fantastic experience. The highlight so far.

Angel Falls! And it has changed back to a 3 day tour with boat, I am made up as this is what I really wanted, am still slightly dubious about the company and expecting something to go awry, but all seems good – Keir and I get our own private plane, flown by the lovely Josan, out to Canaima, accompanied by several bottles of Coke, Lemonade and assorted packets of rice (no chickens). Some of the waterfalls are ex-waterfalls right now, but Jesus (our guide) took us to some others, we had a sort of swim, and walked behind Hacha Falls – pretty cool. Celebrated with an extremely expensive Cuba Libre in the only bar on the lake.

P1300545

Day 42 – Tue 19th

The trip up to the falls was very Apocolypse now – was hoping be able to do some pushing of the canoe up the rapids but the river level was slightly higher  & our boatman was unbelievably good… still not sure how he managed to drive the boat straight up some of those rapids…?!

The landscape was very stark &hugely impressive… the Tepui (rock plateau’s) just rose out of nowhere – very ‘Land that Time Forgot’.

Breakfast, then boat trip today, almost 6 hours, but no pushing! These guys are really good! Saw the falls, very high and not very strong – not a patch on Kaieteur really – but pretty, and there was a nice spot to hike to for a swim with a view.

Camp is very basic, no lights, no showers, no flushing toilets…. Had a moonlight bathe with Keir and our new friend Aron, the boys found it very romantic ;).

Amazingly managed to sleep in a hammock, despite Jesus’s lovely stories about tarantulas – happy to report that there were no spider incidents, just extreme cold.

Day 43 – Wed 20th

Boat trip back the next day was quicker, but equally as beautiful.  Very glad we did the trip – was definitely a great experience.  The Falls themselves were majestic, not a huge amount of water, but the beauty is in the trip itself.

Met some lovely people on the trip – Aron in particular gave us the low down on just about every country in Central & South America. Hopefully we’ll catch up with him in Mexico City where he lives.

Flight back was uneventful but gave as a great view over the country – much of which was very stark with thin green veins of tree lined streams ribboning the countryside.

Missed a picture of Aron wearing all his clothes for breakfast, including waterproof jacket with hood up, priceless.  I think he may have been even colder than me…

Pictures: Angel Falls & Canaima, Venezuela

Day 44 – Thu 21st

Early morning taxi to pick up the bus our Posada owner had assured us was leaving at 0930 to find that there weren’t any that day at the company she called the night before & confirmed with…. The next one didn’t have any going either…. Finally we found one going 45 mins later than planned.

This was easily the most uncomfortable journey to date – broken seats, no aircon, crammed in…. I knew my day was going to go any better when the biggest man in NATO sat next to me at the back of the coach & wallowed over me…. A hot, sweaty 6 hrs & not in a good way!

Arrived at Puerto la Cruz with no accommodation & scarce money, but quick bit of negotiation by Tracey sorted out a room & a quick illicit trade of dollars… cushtie!

I think it best to view the bus trip back to Puerto la Cruz as an experiment in weight-loss, I have never sweated that much in the sauna, an effect unfortunately negated by the $5 chocolate covered ice cream I was forced to eat in order to cool down.

 Day 45 – Fri 22nd

Tracey checked our flight again in the morning to find that it’d been moved back by nearly 12 hrs.  Taxi to the airport was booked so we checked in & spent the day wasting time in nearby Barcelona .  That really summed up Venezuala – nice people but poor organisation & indifference.  Not on my ‘To do again’ list.

Panama – now that’s a completely different story…

Avior airlines – I am far from happy! At least Keir agreed we could leave the airport and go into town this time, I don’t think he could face 11 hours of me being as bored and annoying as I was in Sao Paolo!

The fact that the flight was actually delayed beyond the ‘new’ time would only have exacerbated matters – fortunately a nice man in the airport shop responded to my cheeky request to use his wifi and this kept me mildly amused.

Nice new hostel in Panama City, at which we arrived EXTREMELY late. Got drunk on half a bottle of red wine to get over the trauma – where has my alcohol tolerance gone?

Pictures: Barcelona, Venezuela

Day 46 –Sat 23rd

Mamallena’s Hostel in Panama City felt like the first real hostel we’d stayed in – lots of backpackers & beers!

Went & got our onward bus tickets to Boquete near the Panama/ Costa Rica border and then  up to see the Miraflores lock on the Panama canal – impressive bit of engineering (Adam, Dave & Martin would have been dissecting it for hours…. No elevators though Ad!)

Saw a couple of yachts make their way through & then, as we were catching the bus back, saw an enormous liner squeezing its way through.

Late afternoon was spent walking through the old part of the city – Casco Viejo. It was a little bit like Havana in that beautifully pristine restored buildings were alongside crumbling slums.  A lot of time & effort is obviously going into restoring this quarter though to attract the tourist dollar.

Panama City is very different to my expectations, if I had any (?), skyscrapers combined with old colonial buildings, some newly restored, some crumbling ruins. Interesting.

Actually, interesting is a good word for the ease with which one might catch a bus – we wandered for around half an hour being directed from place to place to bus a bus card so that we could catch the bus, before yielding to the temptation of a cab -so it seems you have to take a taxi to get to the bus station to buy a ticket for the bus…. Then, of course, the bus we actually needed was one where you just paid the driver, for Christ’s sake!

Pictures: http://www.flickr.com/photos/74052983@N00/sets/72157633118605886/

Day 47 –Sun 24th

Arrived early in Boquete, after the overnight bus from Panama City.  Immediately felt very relaxed & chilled. Boquete is a beautiful highland town near the border with Costa Rica.  A backpacker centre for hiking, watersports, etc.

Birdsong fills the air 24/7 & it’s a perfect temperature.  We stayed in a different Hostel Mamallena again having liked its sister hostel in Panama City.  This one was even better – a converted wooden house right in the centre of the town.

Had an energetic walk up hill & down dale to see a beautiful garden – it was closed (doh!!) &  a nice meal out in the evening.

This may be one of the best hostels we stayed in, friendly staff, perfect location and fantastic room with private bathroom – hooray! (The need to convince ourselves we are slumming it sometimes means otherwise).

Had a fabulous, huge breakfast at Café del Encuentro. Yum.

Day 48 –Mon 25th

We had to re-organise our itinerary at this point as the ensuing Easter break meant that travel between countries was getting all booked up.  As ever, my Travel agent – the beautiful Miss Tracey Cox – came up trumps by getting us flights direct to Mexico city from San Jose, Costa Rica. So went into David to book our onward bus tickets to San Jose.  Timed it wrongly so we arrived as the ticket office shut for lunch – bum!  That meant the afternoon trip to the hot springs was out.

Met a very nice Englishman, Gary, who owns the laundry – amazing what talented people you meet in such remote places.  Boquete was full of Americans – either backpackers or retirees – who come here for the cheap cost of living & for the lovely climate.

Managed to see bugger all of Boquete again, apart from the inside of another very hot bus! This was a local one, so I guess aircon was out, however even the aircon buses don’t seem to actually use it??! Maybe there has been a successful backlash against the freezing temperatures I was led to expect by Lonely Planet et al…

Day 49 –Tue 26th

Last day in Boquete so we decided to do an organised tour to do all the things we hadn’t managed to do over the previous 3 days – hike to some waterfalls, canyoning & visit to the hot springs.

In light of our unsuccessful attempts to experience the beautiful scenery and multiple activities that Boquete has to offer, we decided to bite the bullet and pay for an all day tour, a quick hike to some bloody freeeezing waterfalls – Keir & I were the only two foolhardy enough to try it – followed by a slightly warmer river at the canyon, I was too chicken to jump in, and when I missed the photo opportunity of Keir mid-jump, he refused to do it again for some reason… Finally some super-hot hot springs and another monkey! This one an affectionate, yet impertinent, spider monkey called Cheetah, who decided to sneak up on us while bathing in an attempt to abscond with our water…

 

To Trinidad & Beyond…

Day 33 – Sun 10th

Kaieteur falls – We hey! Reputedly the highest single uninterrupted drop falls in the world (Angel falls is just the highest with a few bumps on the way down).

Flew out to the falls on a Cessna 820 ‘Caravan’ – saw the falls from the air then swooped down onto a mountain top runway – got front seats so I could see him fly… brought it all back to me… (Uncle Albert moment there!) .

This is impressive- Looks like a table where the table top of hard rock pours a mighty sheet of water down into the ether.  The rock has been worn away underneath so this projects out 20-30 foot enabling the water to drop, uninterrupted into the gaping chasm below.  Ignore the words – just look at the pictures.

Even managed to see the elusive Golden tree frog hiding in the water of the Bromeliad – cute little buggers.

Spent the afternoon chilling in a hammock on Baganara Island in the middle of the Essequibo river – this is the life!

Hooray, Kaieteur at last, even if the bloody tour company wouldn’t take me to Orinduik falls too. It was amazing and powerful, was torn between the urge to get closer and the fear of falling over the edge – totally worth doing. In contrast, Keir seemed strangely eager to hunt down poisonous frogs that might leap out at him from a giant bromeliad – a different idea of living dangerously, perhaps?

Baganara afterwards, great food, but the promised swimming not really possible in the 5ft by 15ft space they had roped off – despite my lifelong inability to swim more than a couple of short lengths – never mind, I contented myself with a gin and tonic instead  :)

Kaieteur

Day 34 – Mon 11th

Early flight to Trinidad & Tobago L. 

Pearl’s guesthouse was ok – rotten floorboards everywhere, covered in linoleum to cover the decrepitude. Friendly staff though & got all our washing done – almost like a ‘make & mend’ afternoon.

We were hoping to head to the Mangrove swamp trip that afternoon & then the Pitch Lake the next day, however admin slowed us down & we had to make a choice between the two – pretty birds won out…. As ever!

Another shockingly early start, 2:30am!!! Interestingly, the banging and generally awful music blaring out from the clubs opposite is still going, this reminds me of the ‘apres ski’ club we considered, and swiftly declined, in Sweden.

Got flight, to new (filthy) hostel – at least they had excellent wifi, washing machines we could make full use of, and helpful staff – more than I can say for the complete waste of space at the Ministry of Tourism, who seemed unable to even impart details of how to get around the city she lived in…

Post MoT, wasted an hour waiting for a distinctly absent bus before meeting some nice old ladies who directed us around the corner for the maxi-taxi, which came and took us to the ferry port in seconds -how bloody frustrating – must chat to more octogenarians, clearly

Day 35 – Tue 12th

Spent the morning rushing round the town to get the major sites in before heading off for a Mangrove swamp tour – just managed to see them all before hopping in a maxi taxi which dropped us off on the side of the dual carriageway. A quick vault over the central reservation,  a dash across the road & we made our pick up in ample time.

The tour around the mangroves was very chilled – highlight was watching scarlet Ibis’s heading home to roost at sunset on an isolated island. At a distance they looked like hundreds of ‘fluttering scarlet butterflies’ – beautiful.

Pearl’s has a kitchen – poached eggs, hooray! Though I was absolutely starving whilst haring around the few sights that Port of Spain has to offer, and may have been a bit snappy with Keir….oops. The birds were amazing – beautiful colour – if a little quick and distant to capture on camera. Similar difficulties with the sleepy silky anteater, you will have to take my word for it.

Trinidad

Day 36 – Wed 13th

Up early again to catch the ferry to Güiria in Venezuela – more sea time…but no pay.

Tracey befriended an old lady (Elsa) next to us & her grandson (Javier) who was in Trinidad training to be a professional footballer – didn’t get to teach him any of my silky skills… his loss obviously!

Fortunately our new friends looked after us when we got to Venezuela & helped us change money & get a coach to Puerto La Cruz.  All the info that Tracey had carefully gathered from a hundred & one different sources turned out to be incorrect- so a last minute call from a cheap telephone shop sorted out new accommodation for that night & cancelled the old one. Tracey’s Spanish was starting to pay dividends!

We bought Elsa & Javier lunch to thank them.

Arrived at 1 in the morning in Puerta la Cruz & quick taxi to our hotel – no wifi but a bed & shower… we both crashed out for what was left of the night.

In accordance with my new plan of befriending the locals, I met a lovely Venezolana lady called Elsa on the boat – amazingly kind and helped us massively, even lending us money to catch the bus – thanks Elsa & Javier!

Bloody bus got in 2 hours late though, and no internet at hotel :(, at least we didn’t have to break in…

Tracey, Keir & Elsa Keir, Tracey & Javier

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day 37 – Thu 14th

Changed from this most basic of hotels to Hotel Neptuno on the waterfront – bit better quality with at least decent WIFI.  Nice breakfast & spent the day looking around & doing admin.

Fresh melon juice without added sugar? It seems that a rise type 2 diabetes is a common trend through South America and the Caribbean, I wonder why?

Day 38 – Fri 15th

Still trying to sort out trip to Angel Falls & accommodation but as this seems to be taking a while, we ended up doing a trip in the afternoon to Cumana & the Araya Peninsular in a Por Puesto (shared taxi – old 70’s Buick/ Chevy). Trip across & back was fun in a Tapaito – basically a long, thinboat with 4 ruddy great big engines strapped to the back – like a marine version of a rocket ship!

Saw the most expensive fort the Spanish built overlooking some salt flats –however, bit disappointing as we didn’t really have much time there due to the journey plus an overlong wait for lunch.

Looked quickly round Cumana & headed home.

Fun trip to Araya, Puerto la Cruz is not that interesting, involving small, multi-engined boats, jeep-style busetas, and a quick current dragged swim – these must count as new methods of transport !

Suriname to Guyana

Day 24 – Fri 1st Mar
Spent the day exploring Paramaribo – a nice Dutch fort (even Tracey liked it; which might explain how I actually got to see it this time!), beautiful wooden cathedral built in 1885 – apparently the biggest wooden structure in the world), plus lots of run down wooden houses… Tracey acted like a Japanese tourist – as Flickr will no doubt show!
At last we have found a place that’s cheap & has a large selection of different types of food due to the racial melting pot that Suriname is (Afro Caribbean/ Hindi/ Amerindians/ Maroons, etc).

Whilst relaxing by the pool later Tracey struck up a conversation with a lovely American lady (Phyllis) who was in Suriname on a Peace Corps job. It turns out we were all off the next day to see the turtles laying their eggs; we joked how funny it would be if our paths crossed on our tours…

I am still a little nervous about safety in Paramaribo, but risked taking the camera out for the gorgeous church, no incidents.

 

Day 25/ 26 – Sat 2nd / Sun 3rd
Hopped into the transport the next morning fresh for our tour to Galibi to see the turtles & who do we find ourselves sitting next to… Phyllis, with her two friends Kim & Talitha.

Had a great trip up country, a quick boat trip across into French Guiana to St Laurent du Maroni to see the deserted prison there & then up the coast in a motorised dug-out canoe. Felt very ‘Apocalypse now’ sliding past the dense vegetation.

There was a poor example of a zoo at the other end (lots of small wooden prisons) but the zoo keeper & our guide’s (Halley) enthusiasm with the animals was infectious. 3 hand reared monkeys stole the show as the jumped from shoulder, to tree to head constantly bickering & playing with each other out in the open. There were also some cute Ant Bears as well just running around, but you had to keep clear of their sharp claws.
It was fantastic getting so close up & personal with the animals & the village obviously needs the money to survive, but some of the animals were in piteously small cages. Supposedly the money we all donated as an entrance fee is going towards bigger & better facilities for the animals; but time will tell…

Darkness saw us head up river & we managed to see 2 Green (aka Soup or Kepi) turtles laying their eggs. Quite amazing when you consider that these huge (1.35m & 250 Kilos) animals drag themselves up the beach, dig a nest, lay their eggs, cover the nest then build a fake nest next to it before heading back out to sea; a process that can take over 3 hrs! They go into a trance when they start laying & you can go quite close without disturbing them – as long as you don’t use flashes or make a lot of noise. Halley was very protective of them & we spent a minimal amount of time around them.

Funnily enough, having spent all that time going up the estuary to find a turtle, when we got back there was one nesting literally right next to the village!

We’d recommend Halley as a guide to anyone.

I think Tracey loved the female company for the weekend – the girls were often lagging behind talking about things that would generally only get a grunted reply from me!

I know the trip was all about the turtles, but highlight of the trip for me was those pesky Minkeys!!! Even went back to say bye before we left.

Had great fun with the minkeys and our new friends, I even managed to squeeze in a small amount of shopping . The turtle laying it’s eggs was really amazing, I hope the pictures worked, hmm, dark and with no flash…

Day 27/ 28 – Mon 4th / Tue 5th
Highlight of Mon was going to the Paramaribo ‘Hash’ – Scooter boy & Wimpey would have been proud of me. Had a good run around in the heat with Dave (a friend of Talitha), whilst Tracey & Talitha gossiped their way around some way behind us. Whilst I got away without an initiation ceremony as an experienced Norfolk Hasher (Scooter Boy – back me up on this one), the Hash master wasn’t to miss out on his fun as Dave & I had made the unmitigated mistake of coming out in new trainers… so we both drank half a pint out of our sweaty trainers!

We rushed back from that to have a lovely meal with the entire crowd from the Galibi trip – some real friends made there.

Last bit of sight-seeing on Tue… in particular the mosque & the Synagogue sitting right next door to each other & sharing their car parks when required… if only other countries could take note…

In my own inimitable fashion I turned up at the hash in completely unsporty clothing having put everything else into the laundry this morning. Talitha told me we were walking the hash, she lied. Oh well, have now proved that I can run in a dress and sandals…

Day 29/ 30 – Wed 6th / Thu 7th
Trip to Brownsberg nature reserve & Stone Island – a hairy trip up slippery mountain tracks in a front wheel drive Toyota van… I thought that we were going to get stuck at times.

Nice hike, beautiful scenery, animals & waterfall (but no bathing); saw the rainforest in its natural element (i.e. the rain!) & narrowly avoided being bitten by a venomous snake whilst I looked at the frog it was hunting!

We had marked our 3rd anniversary together (even I can remember that one!) , after a bottle of wine in celebration, we went to bed early by the light of fireflies, to awake early the next morning to see sunrise over lake Brokopondo from our lodge steps.

Trip was slightly spoilt by a huge admin cock-up by the organiser which meant that the guide didn’t know we were on a 2 day trek with an overnight stay at Stone island… lots of unhappy calls finally sorted it; a refund when we got back… however the guide (Elton – who was disappointed to find out his namesake’s real name was Reginald Dwight) was really wonderful in helping to sort it.

Met a Canadian that was even higher maintenance than I am on the trip, good to know I am not the only one! Trip and guide was great, food at Stone Island was stone cold (presumably not an intentional comparison), but we made up for it with a bottle of wine . The place is really beautiful, lots of grass covered huts and a lake full of standing bare tree trunks, took a million pictures of the dawn.

An interesting ride back with the driver drinking Parbo beer and watching DVDs on the passenger sunvisor – clearly there are differing views on health & safety here.

Day 31 – Fri 8th
Finally left Paramaribo in Johnny’s taxi’s minibus at 4.30 in the morning. Sorry to see the back of it, the town was fairly run down but the people were friendly & the atmosphere was typically Dutch & relaxed.

I think Johnny is some ‘Hunter S Thompson’ character on a Fear & Loathing road trip… the country flies by in a 150 Km/hr blur, only pausing for occasional speed bumps. We finish the 4hr trip by screeching to a halt at the Ferry to Guyana only narrowly missing a rival minibus that he cut up in the last 15m to the Ferry! Lots of loud arguing & questioning of parenthood go on whilst we wait patiently for the slowest passport queue in Christendom… I’m sure I’ll rue those words later on…

Quick ferry across into Guyana & we pick up Champ taxis at the other side; aka ‘Fatman’ to everyone (HBJ boys – this is where he ran off to after managing the Blue Jays!).

After 5 minutes in the taxi it becomes apparent that Fatman can’t drive… he alternates aggressively between accelerator & brake, honking anything that moves… even imaginary pink elephants that appear before him…. Damn we are back in ‘Hunter S Thompson’ land again – it’s ‘Rum Diaries’ this time.

The man doesn’t seem to have any spatial awareness & seems to take an immense age for his fat cranium to calculate the rel. vel. between vehicles, so we are constantly arriving at the overtaking point as some huge juggernaut meets us coming from the opposite direction.

My suspicions are borne out at our first drop when he attempts a 3 point turn using a wooden bridge behind us (this is not a difficult manoeuvre – even Bignoseo could do it!); only for him to miss the bridge completely with one wheel & drop the minibus onto its shocks…. We are now suspended over a drainage ditch with one back tyre free-wheeling.

Obviously a fast exit ensued, followed by a complete farce as everyone came out to watch as we tried to release the minibus from its impending doom. The Fatman continued to be a complete buffoon ignoring our many explanations & attempts to release his vehicle.

Picture the Keystone Kops scene, another traveller & I are down in the bottom of the ditch using bit of wood to try & jack the minibus up & get wood underneath the back wheel for purchase whilst ‘Fatman’ defeats our every effort by sporadically putting his foot down & jetting this wood off into the small river/ sewer. Eventually, after much gesticulation & foul language from yours truly, he gets the idea that I don’t want him to touch the accelerator, let alone remain on this planet any longer, & I get everyone to push the vehicle back onto firm footing whilst we jack it up from below.

We finished the journey in the same madcap fashion & then the ‘Fatman’ has the audacity to give us his card…?!!! I’m about to explain to him about driving tests, glasses & where he can put his card when he mentions that he knows our new landlady…. Obviously discretion being the better part of valour, I offer him my heartfelt felicitations, suggest he gets the underside of his vehicle checked & assure him that if we need his services again we will call!

Another interesting drive, the highlight of which is my sitting in the middle front (extra high) seat of a minibus with nothing to hold onto while the driver assures me I don’t need the missing seat belt and then proceeds to driver at 120kmh by elbow whilst trying to light his fag, a couple of unprepared birds fall victim to his unrelenting quest for speed… I am fascinated to note the drive gets hairier with Fatman driving us at the other end, but at least the avian casualty rate was lower. Sadly I didn’t get a picture of Keir pushing the van.

Day 32 – Sat 9th
Spent the day seeing all of Georgetown’s sites… so what to do with the afternoon….!

Dragged Keir around the whole of Georgetown in an effort to see everything before it got dark, and rather more edgy. Saw another very nice wooden church, this one apparently the tallest wooden structure, there are some nice wooden houses too, but not much else to see. Went to the big hotel (Pegasus) thinking we could get some decent cocktails, sadly that did not appear to be the case – overpriced drinks with surly service – I think the barman took exception to my questioning the lack of real strawberry juice in the strawberry Margarita… where is Gabriel when you need him?

From Ilha Grande to Suriname

Day 19 – Sun 24

Bloody wifi is not working, arse, only one computer at the hotel and it moves at a snails pace as I had to apologetically explain to the queue after seeming to hog it for half an hour, and all I wanted to do was to check in for a flight and check my email for Kaieteur falls trips!

We found a beautiful walk involving forest trails, a bathing pool, a waterfall (more bathing and cooling opportunities) and 2 beaches, it reminded me of the lovely walk Helen took us on in Trinidad, Cuba. And we saw more sagui minkeys! There were 3 sitting on a branch right next to us – I wonder if I can fit one in my pocket …

Ate and then met our new friends for far too many caipirinhas, Jesus they are strong, I had 3 and a Spanish measure G&T and have only hazy (but good) memories of most of the evening.

Today was definitely the best day to date.  Trekking through forest, swimming in ice cold pools & waterfalls, finding beautiful beaches & then getting uproariously drunk with our new friends – splendid!

Ilha Grande

Day 20 – Mon 25

Woke up feeling terrible, am reminded of Withnail’s immortal comment;  ”I feel like a pig shat in my head”. I should definitely stop drinking.

We found another walk today, not as nice as yesterday’s, there were a distinct lack of cooling down spots for the first 2 hours, but then we found a little pool followed by the most beautiful beach at Dois Rios, freshwater rivers at either end of the beach feeding into the sea, definitely worth it. We saw a bigger monkey on the way too, too quick for the camera unfortunately.

The 2hr trek up a mountain in the midday sun with a hangover definitely wasn’t a highlight, but the beach definitely was beautiful & lovely with the mix of salt & fresh water from the rivers – be great to sail round here…

Day 21 – Tues 26

Off to Paraty today, another Easy transfer, much better this time, but what the last driver lacked in caution, was overcompensated by this one, arrived late to find that no-one would answer the door to the hostel. I had to break in through the window, I think I may have missed my vocation!

Found a nice place for a not very cheap dinner, how overbudget have we gone in Brazil, I wonder?

Transfers are definitely crap; sent us to the wrong place even though I pointed out on the map that it was the wrong address.  Wheeled rucksacks definitely passed their test as they bounced over heavy cobblestones.

Had fun boosting Tracey through a window I managed to lever open to get into the guest house – those formative years in East London are starting to provide dividends!

Beautiful town that gets washed through by the spring tides so the streets become mini rivers – they then have to sweep away all the mud.  We’ve just missed one but saw all the resulting silt.

Paraty

Day 22 – Wed 27th

Another bloody Easy transfer, at 11:30am, hardly worth going really. Managed to hare around town in 15 minutes, it is tiny, but beautiful, I am sad that we did not get to do a jeep or schooner tour, there are hundreds of little islands within an hour of Paraty apparently.

The lightening tour showed that we were right not to stay too long here, but would have been nice to sit & chill in the laid back atmosphere.  Historic centre house (not Hostel; as we were constantly redirected to that on!) left a little bit to be desired… rickety staircase upto a huge attic room with a roof that leaked… I was itching to get my tools out.

I am not recommending Easy transfers, we went via Ilha Grande where we had to get off that bus and hang around for about 40 minutes while an utterly disorganised rearrangement of transferees took place – it really shouldn’t have been difficult… at least we got to see all our Ilha Grande friends again and the driver did get us to the airport in plenty of time – sadly nowhere to eat a non-meat and gluten smack at Santos Dumont, have had a very healthy meal of crisps and ice cream again L

Easy transfer – easy money… idiots. Driver kindly ensured we got to the airport on time but their organisation was poor.

Day 22/23 – Wed 27th/Thu 28th

Arrived in Belem early in the morning, unfortunately could not find the hotel we had booked and when we started driving around the back of some dodgy garages with burnt out cars Keir took matters in hand and got the driver to take us to the Ibis – a relatively posh night for us with an extensive breakfast, eggs!!! Got the flight to Suriname and found every single ATM was temporarily out of order… we eventually managed to get a small shop to change enough dollars to get us to town, though we have no bloody way to check the exchange rate, oops, not very prepared…

I’m sure the Hostel would have been great had we found it… but outside the front door wouldn’t have been. To be fair we were due a dud; Tracey’s done a great job organising everything but it’s always a bit of a gamble until you get there.

We learnt a lesson to be better prepared when we arrived in Suriname having not sorted out a bit of currency & checked out the transport options from the airport.  No harm done- apart from to the wallet but we are now starting the country hopping.

Zin resort & Hotel looked to be another interesting choice when we pulled up – but how looks can be deceptive. Nice room with shower & aircon, very friendly staff (Marischa/ Sing) & owner, a bar & good food plus a pool to boot… think I’ll spend the rest of the year here!

Our pool seems to be a hang-out for all the Dutch interns who come over to Paramaribo… & often end up staying.  All I can say is BINGO, Ding Dong!

week 3 – the last of Brazil

Day 14 – Tue 19th
Caught the Ferry to Niteroi to add one more means of transport  – was hoping to catch the Hydrofoil but they didn’t appear to be running it. Then spent the rest of the day walking around Centro in Rio looking at the beautiful, faded grandeur of their architecture; had coffee & the obligatory ice cream in a beautiful coffee house (Confeitura).
Most unexpectedly walked into the Royal Portuguese library to find a room that could have jumped out of any of the Harry Potter’s – beautiful décor, rows of books in a vaulted room…. Just the type of library I see Tom & I sitting in… Leather backed chairs, open fire talking of Lions, Tigers & scary monsters & getting terribly, terribly drunk!

I have to say that Centro was a lot less scary in the week, we had accidentally ended up taking that route on Sunday to see homeless people wandering around and starting fires in the street… am feeling a lot more safe and at home in Rio now, it doesn’t feel any less safe than London, though we are still being wary…

Day 15 – Wed 20th
Sitting at breakfast when a fruit crashed to the floor next to us & then the trees were awash with these cute Sagui minkeys – Tracey obviously reached for the camera & photographed them to death. Sagui monkeys
Bit more touristy stuff in the day & then, bye bye Rio then as we headed off on our first overnight bus trip to Ouro Preto – a beautiful UNESCO protected town back up in the hills built during their gold rush.
Glad we saw Rio but can’t say that I was blown away by it.

Bit of an exaggeration there, actually made Keir photograph them due to me loading pics at the time , but they are the cutest animals I have ever seen – Kirsten, they are cuter than quokka, though probably naughtier too!

Day 16 – Thu 21th
Thumbs up on the overnight bus trip – nearly full reclining seats & fairly comfortable.
Ouro Preto- was built up hill & down dale; lots of cobbled streets, churches (can’t move for them) & beautiful buildings. Stayed in a converted school & we were about the only people in it.
Highlight for me was a tour around a small, disused gold mine by the campest Trannie you might meet (apart from Kirky of course!).

Stayed in a cool labyrinthine pousada called Vila Rica with a very nice host, due to my poor sense of direction I managed to get lost several times on the way to the room… I am a bit churched out now.

Ouro Preto Pictures

Day 17 – Fri 22nd
Up early & only just caught the Train to Mariana…. Story of our life… it’s obviously Tracey fault… I mean I’m always on time!
Meant to be a cho cho train, but a diesel – slight disappointment, but the trip was suitably rickety with spectacular views.
Mariana was pretty, with one spectacular looking church & a particularly nice square we had lunch around but the train was the real reason to come here.
Overnight bus back to Rio to pick up transport to Ihla Grande – a beautiful island just South of Rio.

The train was a beautiful old one with wooden carriages, though I too was disappointed at the lack of steam. Mariana is a pretty town, though not too much to do other than MORE churches, the journey is definitely worth doing 

Mariana Pictures

Day 18 – Sat 24th
Met a lovely lady at the Che Lagarto hostel where we picked up the transport to Ilha Grande who let us have breakfast there & use the free Wi Fi – restores your faith in humanity.
The last sentiment was rather spoilt by the late & lousy transport taking us to Island – an hour and a half late, drove like a maniac, no time for a lunch break & couldn’t pick up any money at the ATM before we got on the ferry… easytransfers.com – I don’t think so!
One good thing was we met some wonderful people in the minibus & now have some good new friend – Tobey, Mike & Cailey, Nadine & Kristoff, Harry & Bleunie.
For all Tracey’s girlfriend’s – Tobey (Welch) lives in London, will be appearing on my Facebook shortly & gets 4 stars…! Enough said, sure you can invite him out to some of the many events you are all organising now that Oberfuhrermeister Cox is on her travels…

Staying at the Overnativa in Ihla Grande, we have a room with a balcony and a fridge – hooray! Unexpectedly we get breakfast too! We had a lovely dinner on the beach after I persuaded Keir to share some Bahian shrimp moqueca with me, yum.

week 2 (ish)

Day 8 – Wed 13th

Said goodbye to Olinda and caught a flight to Salvador. Our new hostel is a dump, oh well…

Day 9 – Thurs 14th

Well, dump, or no, we are perfectly located! Though I seem to have sustained about 15 mosquito bites overnight…

In Pelhourino, the historic centre, beautiful, but apparently dangerous – someone waved us away when we tried to go down a slightly deserted street in Salvador – nice of him to tell us, but now we are completely paranoid… Saw 2 amazing churches and took the Lacerda elevator to the lower city (another mode of transport :)). Found a lovely restaurant with garden and live music to have our Valentines meal in, this must be my most exotic Valentine location….

What do points mean… prizes! I’m sure I’ll lose the valentines points before long!

Day 10 – Fri 15th

Cool, we found a funicular! Not that it went anywhere interesting, but nonetheless… Tried some of the Bahian cuisine, Curuca (I think), some kind of shrimp porridge with okra, strangely gelatinous, but tasty, Keir hated it. We also had some weird tapioca thing, like a findus crispy pancake, but white and floury, alarmingly the frozen Birds Eye version is nicer…

Day 11 – Sat 16th

Off to Rio very early, we are now budgeting so that we can see the turtles in Suriname, so airport buses all the way, good in Salvador, not so great in Rio, as we still had to take a taxi from Centro and it ended up more expensive than taking one from the airport, I think our driver ripped us off. Our new pousada looks cool, though perhaps its cleanliness leaves something to be desired, and we are devastated to learn that the tram is no longer running, it used to be on top of the old aqueduct too :(

Day 12 – Sun 17th

We decided to get some breakfast, which turned into lunch, and then see Christ the Redeemer. Got there at 11 and apparently no free trains until 5! Keir is hoping to see a football match tonight, so decided to go to Sugar Loaf Mountain instead, which needs 2 cable cars – hooray! Expensive, but amazing views, Rio really is beautiful. Met some Canadian cruise shippers, it seems 5 cruise ships turned up today and that is why we couldn’t get on the train – bastards.

Cable Car to Sugar Loaf Mountain (23)

Was going to meet up with a friend of Gareth’s to see the Botofogo/ Flamengo game tonight – rushed back from Sugar Loaf to pick up the details on facebook ; got lost on the way & our bloody receptionist had popped out & locked up reception so that we couldn’t get into our room for 20 mins…. By then it was too late to make it across town to meet up….. arse… a bad review on tripadvisor is looming for this place!

Day 13 – Mon 18th

Booked the train for Christ at 9 on the internet and just made it! In a carriage with another cruise ship, wow, how many of these guys are there? The statue was cool, had the obligatory ‘arms out’ photo taken by Keir and photographed more stunning aerial views. Then caught the bus to Ipanema beach (a long, hot and sweaty ride – not in good way ;), def taking the metro back, it is air-conditoned!). After Ipanema, and an abortive attempt to see a fort (do you think Keir will suspect I am sabotaging his attempts to see them?), Copacabana. Arrive back at pousada for a ginger cachaca to find we are both rather burnt, despite the factor 50. Ginger genes – Keir is worse than I.

Missed the football…. Didn’t get to see a fort…. It’s almost as if some invisible force is preventing me from seeing the things I want to see…..?!

Salvador pictures: Salvador

Rio pictures: Rio

Day 1 – Wed 6th:

Oops, Keir nearly missed the plane due to an recalcitrant money exchanger – first way around the world is running J.

After a day of travelling and boredom in Sao Paulo airport, we finally arrive in Olinda. I am desperate for a caipirnha, but Keir falls asleep. I decide I am not mean enough to wake him up just to find me a drink…

Day 3 – Fri 8th:

Spent a couple of hours being entertained by the camp boys  opposite, each of whom appears randomly, every 15 minutes or so, with a different  fancy dress. I am a bit jealous, we are at the biggest fancy dress party ever and neither of us has a single outfit to cobble together. Well, maybe just me – Keir seemed keen on going out in his pants and sunglasses – maybe those boys will lend me something if I loan him out?

They clearly possess a fancy dress wardrobe that effortlessly outstrips my own…  (Which is no mean feat having spent the last few weeks packing it all away for Tracey into storage!)

 

Those boys even out camp Dougy, Kirky & Matt… & that’s going some!

Olinda is divided into different areas called Blocos & had fun finding some blocos and following them around. Each Blocos puts on a parade consisting of musicians (think drums & brass section), whirling dancing dervishes & huge 15’ dolls.

It’s bloody hot; those poor bastards inside the big dolls must be roasting.

Day 4 –Sat 9th:

2 days into carnival and already I am sick, I guess the high alcohol content in a caipirinha is not high enough to kill the bacteria in the ice… Bugger; I am going to have to find something else to drink.

Fortunately the beer is ice free but ice cold… chilling out & taking it easy dipping in & out of the carnival – it’s relentless.

The streets are rammed and the Midnight Man has not appeared yet, apparently that starts the carnival proper… the fact that it’s 11 O’clock & the midnight man is quite punctual might explain that…

Day 5 – Sun 10th:

Ah, trumpets at 6:15 in the morning, perfect. Luckily I have earplugs. Am I being curmudgeonly?

Surely they realise Tracey doesn’t rise until the sun’s over the yardarm… must have a word with these rum johnnies…

Amazingly the streets are clean again, ready for another day of carnival. The atmosphere is really amazing and everyone is in a good mood, despite their presumed hangovers. I am not hungover, still a bit ill, but definitely better than in Morocco!

 

I thought it was busy yesterday, but things have definitely ramped up; lots more of the big dolls on parade and you really cannot move in the street today… Obviously an ideal moment to run out of cash and take an unsuccessful trip to the ATM! 30 minutes to do a 10 minute walk, now wringing with sweat and down to 12 Reais, lucky I am still not feeling well enough to eat properly as we can only afford corn on the cob ;).

In true sympathetic spirit, Keir agrees not to spend our last few pennies on beer.  (Not how I remember it… could anyone see me willingly agree to that…?!)

Day 6 – Mon 11th

Post breakfast meeting with Obama, Che Guevara, Freddy Krueger, Michael Jackson and Chucky – supposedly all figures important to Brazil in some cultural way..?!?

30 different Giant dolls all collected together at the top of a vertical, heartbreak, hill for an early parade.

Keir felt more diminutive than usual. (I know how Frazek feels now…!)

Managed a quick lift on a dump truck – another of the 80 ways ticked off :)

Keir had always enjoyed going to the dump, but his enthusiasm reached new levels...

Dumptruck

More pictures: Olinda, Brazil

 

Itinerary

Hi all,

Sorry for the late posting, here is the itinerary (as good as it gets at the moment) for anyone who might like to join us at any point!

1.     South America

a. Brazil

i.  Olinda:              Wed 6.2.13 to Wed 13.2.13

ii. Salvador:          Wed 13.2.13 – Sat 16.2.13

iii. Rio:      Sat 16.2.13 – Tues 19.2.13/Wed 20.2.13

iv. Ouro Preto:     Wed 20.2.13/Thurs 21.2.13 to Fri 22.2.13

v. Ilha Grande:   Sat 23.2.13-Mon 25.2.13

vi. Paraty:           Mon 25.2.13 – Tues 26.2.13/Wed 27.2.13

b.      Suriname

  • Arrive:           Thurs 28 Feb
  • Depart:         Tues 5th or Wed 6 March

 

c.       Guyana

Arrive:           Wed/Thurs 6-7 March

Depart:         Tues/Wed 12-13 March

 

d.      Venezuela

Arrive:           Thurs/Fri 14-15 March

Depart:         Fri 22 March, flight to Panama City

 

2.     Central America & Mexico

a. Panama

Arrive:  Fri 22 March

 

Not sure yet, but will try to make Guatemala for holy week (week before Easter). Spend 6-7 weeks in Central America and Mexico

 

b. Guatemala – 1 week

c. Mexico – 2 weeks

d. Belize – 3 days

e. Costa Rica – 3 days

f. Nicaragua – 3 days

g. El salvador – 3 days

h. Honduras – 10 days

i. Panama – 1 day

j. SURFACE (BOAT):  PANAMA – SAN BLAS ISLANDS (boat) – CARTAGENA, 4 days

 

3.     South America

a.       Colombia

Arrive:  10 May

Depart: 30 May

 

b. Ecuador

Arrive:  31 May

Depart: 18 June

 

c.       Peru

Arrive:  19 June

Depart: 3 July

 

Transfer to Bolivia via Lake Titicaca – 4 days – 3.7.13 to 7.7.13

 

d. Bolivia

Arrive:  7 July

Depart: 21 July

Surface to cross into Chile near Salar de Uyuni 20.7.13

 

e.      Chile/ Argentina

Arrive:  22 July

Zigzag across Chile and Argentina

1.9.13 PUERTA ARENAS- SANTIAGO

5.9.13 SANTIAGO-EASTER ISLAND

 

4.     Pacific Ocean

a. Easter Island

Arrive:  5.9.13

Depart: 9.9.13

9.9.13 EASTER ISLAND-PAPEETE

b. Tahiti

Arrive:  9.9.13

Depart: 10.9.13

 

5.     Australasia

a. New Zealand

          Fly to Auckland 11.9.13

Ferry to South Island 19.9.13

26.9.13  Flight to Melbourne

 

b. Australia

i. Melbourne – 2 days, to 28.9.13

ii. 6.10.13 ADELAIDE-AYERS ROCK

iii. 8.10.13 AYERS ROCK-CAIRNS

iv. 12.10.13 CAIRNS-HAMILTON ISLAND

v. Whitsundays for about 4 days to 16.10.13

vi. Fly Hamilton Island to Sydney 16.10.13

vii. 4 days in Sydney

viii.  20.10.13 SYDNEY-SHANGHAI

 

6.     South East Asia

a. China

i.      Shanghai – 2 days

ii.      Fly/ train to Beijing – 4 days

iii.      Train to Xi’an – 3 days

iv.      Surface Xi’an to Chengdu – 2 days

v.      Train to Vietnam around 31.10.13

 

b. Vietnam – 10 days to 10.11

c. Cambodia – 2 weeks to 24.11.13

d. Laos – 2 weeks to 8.12.13

e. Burma? – 1 week to 15.12.13

f. Northern Thailand – 1 week to 22.12.13

g. Malaysia – 2 weeks to 5.1.14

h. Java & Bali – 10 days to 15.1.14

i. Borneo & Sarawak –2 weeks to 29.1.14

j. Philippines

2.2.14 MANILA-HONG KONG

4.2.14 HONG KONG-LONDON

 

Our First Post

Fluffy animals will be prominent as we travel

We might meet a koala at some point

So this is it. We’re off around the world. We’re not sure how we’ll survive… or if we will! But we’re certain it’s going to be a great adventure. And, through the medium of this little bloggie, and your own smartphone or t’interwebs connection, you’ll be able to keep up to date with our latest goings on as we travel AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 WAYS!

- Keir and Tracey