This is categorically the last diary entry of our trip. It's now 5PM Bangkok time and we fly home this evening at 11! After Angkor Wat which was amazing we took a bus to Bangkok and have been there ever since. 12 days in the same place has been a complete shock to the system but has helped us to properly relax which has been a novel experience. I must tell you about a conversation I had with a small girl (about 8) at Angkor. There are hundreds of kids flogging tat outside all of the temples and one of there tricks is to ask where your from and then recite a barrage of facts about the said country and claim to come from there eg
"UK, 4 countries, England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, capital London, population 50 Million (clearly old textbooks), I from London, you by my t-shirt." After several of these exchanges I was getting a little bored, over lunch a girl comes up and starts with the now familiar line
Girl: What Country you from?
Girl: pause I don't know that one I forgot
me: It's Quito (1-0)
Girl: Oh yes I remember, now I ask you one, you get the answer right I go away and leave you alone, if not you buy my bracelet
me: go on then
Girl: What's the capital of Madagasgar
me: pause, pause er I don't know
Girl: You buy my braclet, you buy my braclet (Game Set & Match)
So I now know that Antananarivo is the Capital of Madagasgar and Anita has 2 wooden braclets.
Our time in Bangkok has been pretty much uneventful compared to the rest of the trip and has consisted of Shopping, Drinking, Sex Shows and Lie Ins. It's pretty much been exactly what we needed and we're looking forward to getting back and seeing everyone, if not going back to work. Thanks for watching and see you Friday!!
Quick one, here's a photo to ammuse anyone who's been to Asia and bemuse those that haven't. It was taken from the wall behind a loo.
Oh my goodness so long since we've last wrote good job we've got a decent excuse we've been soooo busy enjoying ourselves in
Vietnam and Cambodia.
Our week on the beach in Mui Ne was very relaxing and the Bamboo Resort was gorgeous. Unfortunately the weather was often
overcast but the fact that we got brown (yes that's right Bill and I the English Roses we are) through the cloud tells you
how hot it was and would have been had the sun come out. The best part was swimming in the pool while it was raining but
still wonderfully hot- very cool not something you would do at home.
From Mui Ne we caught the Open Tour bus to Saigon (whoops sorry Ho Chi Minh City if you are speaking to the officals).
Arriving in Saigon was a real shock to the system after the relative non existent activity in Mui Ne. Saigon is the
commercial capital of Vietnam and as such is just manic with western businesses trying to be the first ones in to the opening
country. Neon lights are everywhere, KFC is here (although not McDonalds yippy), even sex shops are present and the clothes
available are fantastic. The city is hectic and the millions of mopeds make it nigh impossible to cross the road without
praying for safety. In fact the only way to do it as we discovered was to join them and get on a moped taxi. The sights you
see of people travelling on the mopeds and cyclos is just hilarious. The best I've seen so far is a family of 4 on a moped
with a plate of sheet glass in front of the driver which he was carrying. Bill's success was a family of 7 (yes I said 7)
crammed into a single seat cyclo.
We thoroughly enjoyed Saigon apart from the upsetting visit we had to the War Remanent's Museum. You sometimes forget
looking around what a horrific war torn history Vietnam has. However it really wasn't that long ago when they were fighting
the Americans and as such the War Remant's Museum and other war related sights are very anti-america but when you see the
photos of the atrocities that occured in the War (on both sides I'm sure) it is so destressing. The worst thing for us was
the realisation that the tortures and how the American's treated prisoner's of war was reminisant of the pictures we see
coming through from Guatanom Bay - some lessons are never learned unfortunately.
Other sights we saw were the interesting palace where the Viet Cong rolled into with the tanks in April 1975 to declare a
united indepentant Vietnam. The great 1920's Post Office (very strange visit on the schedule but a great building), the
Notre Dame Cathedral and a visit to the Cu Chi Tunnels.
The Cu Chi tunnels were just mind boggling. During the War the VC built over 260Kms of underground tunnels around Saigon
where they lived, hid and fought from. The tunnels went down to a depth of 10 metres underground and at points were only 70
cms wide. The tunnels were incredibly successful as the Americans could never find the entrances to them (they were under
the water in the river and the VC swam to them) they were also heavily bobby trapped. They had one of the tunnels for you to
try I went down but couldn't go through it was too scary Bill only went 30 yards of the 100 yards you could do but came up
very shaken and said they were terrible and tiny. A realisation how passionate and patriotic people can be during wars to
put themselves through this type of experience.
At the Cu Chi tunnels we were amazingly allowed to try shooting live ammunition guns - LIVE AMUNITION can you imagine what
the HSE would say in England. Of course this opportunity could not go amiss and Bill and I along with a few other innocent
tourists trotted along to the shooting range (Mums don't worry this was run by the Army). Arriving at the range we were
allowed to chose the guns we wanted to try. I went for the historic AK47, others went for hand guns, but Bill!! No Bill has
to go for the Daddy of the guns a MACHINE GUN - only him. I don't know if anyone has ever tried firing a real gun with live
ammunition but they are loud, with a capital L. We were given head gear but even then the sound is terrifying and nearly
bounces your ear drums into next year. Bill stood at his stand looked back at me, got final instructions and then pulled the
trigger. About 3 seconds later it was all over, target completely missed but he had had a great time. I went second with
the AK47 and nearly put my shoulder out with the kick back, again target completely missed but wow a wierd experience.
Obviously associations with guns are awful and I'd never want one or probably ever want to do it again but equally it is kind
of cool thing to do once.
The only other noteable event of Saigon to mention was the run in I had with a rat. Coming out of a restaurant the largest
(size of a cat, no correction size of a dog) ran straight over my left foot and remember I'm travelling in a hot country so
this was a bare, sandal clad only, foot I could feel the little paws. It would not be too dramatic to say that I screamed
and nearly fainted on the spot. Bill being the sympathetic husband rushed to my aid, in fits of laughter, I got my revenge
though when I went on about if for the next 3 days!!!!!
After 4 nights in Saigon we left to go to Cambodia through the Mekong Delta - question, anyone remember what a Delta is from
Travelling through the Mekong Delta on a mixture of different types of boats for three days moving towards the Cambodian
boarder was pretty cool. Along the way we saw the face of Vietnam povety with the coregated stilt houses out over the water
where they have no running water so wash, cook and even drink the same water where they use their drop toilets and put all
their rubbish into as they have no refuse collection. The first river we went along beside these shanty towns is called The
Black River due to the colour and pollution of the water. The rubbish in the water is beyond comprehension and the fact that
people sustain themselves using this same water is upsetting.
After you get out of the Saigon area you see floating villages where families live on boats and tie up as communities where
even markets are held and business is done from boat to boat. There are also fish farms where families live in houses that
are anchored to the river bed and can be moved around in order to protect the fish that are in cages hanging below the house.
The farmers take care of their stocks through the floor of their house. I think one of the most memorable moments though
was travelling towards the boarder on the last day from Chau Doc and seeing the people living by the water (very similarly to
those in the Amazonia Jungle) waving at you madly as they bath and wash their hair in the water. Can you imagine 40 people
coming into your bathroom to see you naked and washing - not sure I'd be waving or calling the police!
Vietnam is a wonderful country and is definitely up there as one of the most see places. It is a country that is recovering
from a war torn history and has a depleted economy with incredible povety but it has the most lovely people and it's natural
beauty will ensure its future. We do however believe that its natural beauty will also contribute to it's massive tourism
pull and in 2/3 years will be quite different. If anyone wants to go and see Vietnam how they expect it to be with children
on the back of water buffalo, girls cyclying with their white silk dresses and old men in conical hats then now is the time
to go I can't emphasise that enough.
Over to me then (Bill)
Getting of the boat we were met by the usual hoards of taxi, moped and tuk-tuk drivers. We
managed to bargain a taxi driver down from 5$ to $3 easily and then after a bit to $2.50 which
still seemed a little steep, but we had all our bags and couldn't be bothered with all the
hassle. After getting to the hostel we asked what the price should have been and the answer was
$3, oops felt a bit guilty about that and was glad I'd given him 3 bucks in the end.
first 2 things we learned about Cambodia where
You don't have to bargain anywhere near as
hard as in Vietnam or China to pay a sensible price.
Dollars are easily the real currency of
Cambodia is actually more expensive than you would think.
The currency thing is actually quite freaky the Riel is the official currency and there are 4000
Riels to the dollar, but anything over a dollar is priced in dollars. So if you buy something
for $7.50 with a 10 dollar note you will get 2 dollars and 2000 Riels change as the lowest
denomination of US money in use is a dollar. That we can just about cope with, but sometimes
you'll get 1 dollar and 6000 Riels, trying to make sure you've got the right change is not as
easy as it should be, fortunately Cambodians seem significantly less inclined to rip you of than
many other places we've been to.
On the first afternoon we wandered around Phnom Penh and marvelled at how upmarket some of the
bars and restaurants were, apparently most of these were set up not aimed at smelly travellers
like ourselves but at other westerners working for the UN and loads of NGOs set up to assist
Cambodia's recovery, I can't vouch for their success in that regard but they have driven up
prices and provided some rather nice drinking venues.
The next morning I went to the site of
the former S21 which was the Khmer Rouge's interrogation centre. I won't go into the details as
I'm sure most of you who read this do so to get away from work not to be depressed, suffice to
say that a secondary school put to use for incarceration and torture by 14 year old guards
isn't the most uplifting of places. Anita, quite sensibly stayed away and instead lounged
around in bed and nipped into town for a quick game of internet Puzzle Bobble. Actually finding
Puzzle Bobble again (I think we last played it in Fylde JCR) may well be related to the lack of
recent diary entries.
The next morning I went to the Killing Fields which is where people were taken to from S21 to be
killed, it's close but that was actually more difficult than S21, walking around you can't avoid
stepping on human bones.
Anita again decided to give that a miss, although this time she did
get up and actually do something, she went of to the National Museum to soak up a bit of culture
and see some of the statues that have been removed from Angkor Wat.
Angkor Wat was our next
stop (and we're still here so I've almost caught up phew!). Up to now we've had 2 days at Angkor
and it really is one of those special places that is like nothing else. So far we've compared
it to Ancient Rome, the Acropolis and Macchu Picchu, and all are right in some extent but it
looks like none of them. It's such a visual feast that there's not too much I can say and the
pictures probably won't do it justice (and this internet is so bloody slow I definitely can't be
bothered to upload any for you. I will tell you that sitting on top op of Phnom Bakheng looking down on Angkor Wat at sunset the day after walking around the Killing Fields leaves you with some quite maudlin thoughts.
Bill & Anita
Can you believe it we arrive at our dream hotel resort in Mui Ne, Vietnam for a week on the beach to enjoy the gorgeous sunny weather we've been having everywhere else and it's cloudy. I'm sure there are loads of you now cheering with this news but may we remind you all that we've got 5 weeks left on holiday so ha ha. Actually though we are a bit surprised by the weather and do hope it will improve, it is hot just not sunny. In fact definitely hope it improves because otherwise I will continue to look like a patchwork with brown arms below my t-shirt sleeve and white shoulders.
We are however still loving Vietnam and enjoying travelling in this country. Following the difficulties you face in China with language, hygiene etc Vietnam is positively easy - although amusingly the public toilets have gone from squat toilets to merely peeing on a floor with a slight 2 degree tilt (takes some skill as you can imagine.....) Contemplating writing a book on traveling toilet habits when I get back with techniques and everything.
Vietnam is clearly a country on the edge of cashing in on tourism but at the moment it is still beautiful and traditional with daily images that could have come straight out of a book - girls wearing their silk dresses over their silk trousers, everybody in conical hats, mopeds just about everywhere, farmers tilling their rice paddies with water buffalo and carrying their goods on their shoulders with baskets and branches of wood tying them together.
Hue lived up to expectations with some excellent Emperor temples and tombs with the very scenic perfume river running through it. I personally wasn't overly impressed with Hoi An, although we did only stay a day here so I probably can't comment too much. One thing we did do in Hoi An though which was excellent was we went to have some clothes tailored. We'd read about this in our guide book and decided to have a go (I seem to remember Richard and George did this as well) and it was superb. They made up a full three piece suit for me plus a top, dress and coat while Bill had three shirts and a jacket in less then 24hrs. The tailoring is perfect and we are definitely going to have more done in Bangkok. Oh forgot to mention it's all dirt cheap out here. We are struggling to spend 25 pound a day between us and that's with a 3 star type hotel.
Anyway going to go now as the 'internet experience has kicked in', everyone on the Dragoman knows what I mean and everyone at home can have it explained later.
Having wasted the last diary entry on the joys of the chinese banking system I've got a lot to cover in this one so I'll just keep it short and sweet. Kunming was cool, literally, its altitude means that it doesn't get too hot and it's known as the city of eternal spring. We spent our time there just enjoying being in a Chinese city as it was our final time there about the only thing worthy of note was that I had my hair cut, which turned out to involve a hair wash, a bizzare head, eyebrow and shoulder massage then a cut then another wash. To be honese I didn't really enjoy it and spent the entire massage laughing at how ridiculous it was, give me the barbers any day, although at a quid this was considerably better value for money. Oh I almost forgot the best bit every morning from 10-11 the hotel tv showed an episode of the A-Team.
Hanoi is a great city it has a mediteranean feel and is very very hot and very very cheap, last night we ate sitting on the pavement not in a continental style but in a very asian style. The seats were tiny plastic affairs approxiamtly 10 inches high and we sat with our knees around our ears eating crinkley chips and roast belly pork with not another white face in sight, it was gorgeous and we got change from £1.50. Yesterday we went to Halong Bay which was beautiful we spent 4 hrs cruising around the bay on a junk and walking through the limestone caves with bizarre stalagtites and mites, given the wonderous, UNESCO recognised scenary you can't help but wonder why they think a 2 foot high electric fountain will top the spectacle off.
Tonight we're off on another night bus, not sure this one will have flat beds like the last 2 though, to Hue and then on to Hoi An before settling down on Monday for the week on the beach we promised ourselves. If anyone feels like being even more envious please click here.
We are currently in Hanoi after a hellish 24 hour journey from Kunming China, however the entire of this entry will be dealing with the process by which you change Chinese money into dollars before leaving the country (you need Dong in Vietnam that can't be bought in China).
1)Go to the biggest Bank of China and check that they will sell you dollars for RMB.
2)Go to the cash point and withdraw some money.
3)Get a ticket from the bloke standing by the ticket machine.
4)Wait for your number to come up.
5)Go to the counter to find out that you can't change money without the ATM reciept, which you've just said no to, and your passport that is at the Vietnamese Consulate getting a visa added.
6)After much discussion establish that even though they saw you take the money out of the ATM they need either the receipt or the original conversion slip you were given when you changed money entering the country.
7)Return the next day having retrieved passport from consulate and found conversion slip from Hong Kong Dollars at the bottom of a bag.
8)Get a ticket from the bloke standing by the ticket machine.
9)Wait for your number to come up.
10)Go to the counter to be told that the slip you got from Beijing Airport is actually from the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China and therefore you must go there to purchase Dollars.
11)Go across the road to the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China.
12)Get a ticket from the automatic machine.
13)When the ticket woman comes back try and establish that you're in the right place.
14)Together with ticket woman barge to the counter in front of someone currently being served and establish that you need to go across the road to the Bank of China.
15)Patiently explain that you've already been to the Bank of China and that they can't help you.
16)Agree that in that case you need to go across the road to the other branch of the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China.
17)Go across the road and get a ticket at the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China.
18)Miraculously your number comes up immeadiatly.
19)Go to the counter to be advised that you should go next door to the Bank of China.
20)Breath, Breath, Breath
21)Find someone who works in the bank who is both helpful and has a reasonable
grasp of English.
22)Slowly begin to relax.
23)Establish after several phone calls that there are 4 branches of Industrial and Commercial Bank of China in Kunming that can do currency exchange but at 3 of them the person who does currency exchange is on holiday.
24)Find out that the only one that can do currency exchange today is a taxi ride across town away.....
25)But as it's only a small amount of money you could do it with one of the money exchangers outside the Bank of China.
26)Ask is it safe?
27)Get the fantastic answer yes and I will help you.
28)Go with the bank woman to see the money changers, establish a rate of 225 US$
for 1890 Yuan.
29)Watch in bewilderment as the money changer gives the bank woman a passbook and a 6 digit number scribbled on a piece of paper.
30)Go into the Bank of China with the woman from the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China and enquire about the legality of this process.
31)Be told that it's technically illegal which is why the money changers don't go into the bank themslelves.
32)Get a ticket from the bloke standing by the ticket machine.
33)Wait for your number to come up.
34)Go up to the counter and withdraw 225 US$ from the passbook dollar account, typing in the 6 digit pin for confirmation.
35)Place the dollars into your pocket.
36)Go outside and give the passbook to the money changer woman.
37)Go around the corner with 2 other people to find that the rate has gone up slightly to 1900 Yuan.
38)Pay the money and accept that you will never ever ever understand China.
Another long time without updating the diary, but this time we've got a valid excuse we've been so far outside civilisation that we haven't been able to access even the censored Chinese version of the intermaweb. The trip we took through Sichuan was incredible we saw a completly different side of China, it was amazing to see such incredible poverty and friendliness in the same country that has the modernity and rudeness of Beijing.
For anyone who doesn't know (and that included both me and Anita last month) Western Sizhuan contains some autonomus Tibetan adminitistrative areas but becuase they are not excerting a demand for independance these are not subject to the restrictions enforced in tibet proper. I'll let Anita fill you in on all the details.........
As said it was an amazing week which was made so by our guide Lee and our driver Mr Tang. We met Lee, or more precisely he met us, in a teahouse in Chengdu which he frequents to find and offer his services as a "Cultural Interpreter" to tourists. It was with some caution that we engaged in conversation with him but he is recommended in the Lonely Planet and other guide books so we gave him a chance and it was one of the best things we did. His enthusiasm and knowledge about China was infectious and we decided to go with him for a 6 day tour of Western and Southern Sichuan.
Western Sichuan borders Tibet and is a stunning place with beautiful scenery, mostly gorges, high passes (about 4850m) and grasslands. Many mini adventures were had getting past the numerous landslides that happened on the roads and if truth be told a little bit of praying by me when we had to drive past active landslides full pelt to ensure we didn't get pushed off the road. Don't worry Mum we're still alive!
As well as the scenery this bit of Sichuan is known for it's mixture of Chinese minorities mainly Yi and Tibetan people. Both minority groups are interesting but the Yi people in particular are a very poor minority as a whole and we had a number of humbling experiences sitting talking with them in their shacks on the floor with nothing more than bamboo mats as beds. I for one have never seen poverty like this and yet even then they wanted to share a drink with us. The problem with this kind gesture is they all drink 56% rice liquor so we didn't indulge too much - I guess they think foreigners are a bit pathetic.
We also encountered an entire Yi family sitting and drinking on the road side.
Other special occasions were meeting a Living Buddha - I guess anyone not involved in Tibetan Buddhism wouldn't know that you have Living Buddhas but you do and this one amusingly sat in his robes, very wise but with a mobile phone and a lolly in his mouth - made us chuckle in a respectful way of course.
We also went to a Buddhist Nunnery there we sat with about 10 nuns in the kitchen cooking for the other nuns in prayer, the bread was a little bit salty - understatement of the year. They were all exceptionally kind I think we were as much of a strange experience for them as they were for us (we were seriously of off the paved road let alone the beaten one) we showed them some of the pictures on our camera and took some of them which they found fascinating at the end I got a wonderful hug from one of the nuns. Outside the nunnery was a poor village where one of the families invited us in and we entertained them with a video we'ld taken of the pandas. We diodn;t post a panda picture before so here's a gorgeous one.
Another picture we forgot to post is one that shows just how big the big budha is.
We also went to see a Sky Burial - umh I guess I hear you say what is that? Unfortunately as I was to discover to the shock of my English sensibilities it's when a privileged person dies in the Buddhist community in Tibet and is buried by being cut up in slabs, bones grounded and then fed to the vultures. I'd never seen anything like this and to be fair didn't see much at the time as I found it difficult to watch - even Bill will openly admit to going white and feeling ill for a good hour afterwards. Apparently they do this in India as well as it's a very clean way of disposing of the body but there is no way to deny that it is pretty gruesome. Fortunatly there wasn't a convenient death of anyone elligible for a Sky Burial so we were content to sit in a tent with the monks and watch the video!!
A week after setting off from Chengdu we arrived in Lugu Hue a beautiful lake which boarders the Sichuan and Yunnan Province and has one of the few remaining matriarchal societies. We then went from their to Lijang which is a bit like Blackpool for China accompanied with pissed people jumping into streams. A very different place to the rest of China but interesting to see nevertheless.
We are now in Kunming and it is actually my birthday so we've splashed out on a rather gorgeous hotel - accompanied with a western toilet.
Oh must tell you this although if you have a delicate stomach do not read on. Went to the toilet in the usual shed by a restaurant
to take a pee and whilst doing so heard grunting. To my horror the
long drop fed the pigs in the back ahhhhhhh we'd just eaten pork so I
spent the rest of the day brushing teeth and spitting. Afterwards I
remembered that our leader of the Dragoman tour had had a similar experience and Lee informed me that this is common in China and not considered revolting but I'm sorry for me it was not good.
As you can see Bernice toilets are evidently a big thing for Bill and I on this trip!!
Anyway I could go on for hours because we've done so much and all I've picked is a few highlights but until next time everyone take care, especially with things like they are at the moment in England we miss you all and love most of you.
Bill & Anita
The 5* cruise was absolutely brilliant, it was relaxing to get away from the continual pushing and shoving of China for a while (I bet you all feel incredibly sorry for us don't you). After getting on the boat and marvelling at how upmarket it was, I spent a good hour trying to come to terms with the fact that we were actually on this kind of boat while "roughing it around the world", in case you hadn't figured by now we've been doing nothing of the sort, our 1st excursion was to the 3 gorges damn. I was amazed at just how much of it is actually finished, having heard so much about it several years ago and nothing much since I think I'd assumed it must have run into difficulties but actually it's well on it's way to completion. 14 of the 26 turbines are already functioning and generating electricity and they've already rellocated 80% of the 1.5 million people that need to be moved. The gorges themseles are quite magnificent, you can forget all that claptrap about the views being spoilt, the water had already risen about 40m and has another 30m to go which has very little effect on how big a 1000m cliff appears.
The best excursion though was on the 2nd day when we went up Shennong Stream initially we were a bit dissapointed not to be doing the excursion to the 3 little gorges which we had read was the highlight of the trip, but it appears that as the water level has risen more and more of the tributuries have become navigable and this one has recently been opened. Without having done the little gorges I obviously can't compare but Shennong Stream was beautiful we were rowed up a narrow gorge in a boat about 1.5m wide with the cliffs shooting up from a stream that was no more than 10m wide. Anita went absolutely crazy with the camera and took about 100 photos in the space of 2hrs, whether or not she actually saw anything that was not through a view finder I'm not sure.
The rest of the cruise went by without incident apart from an incident in the evening that I'll leave Anita to fill you in on later and an horrendously expensive last day when we both managed to pick the most expensive piece of artwork on display and ended up with a traditional picture and several snuff bottles!
After the cruise we got the bus straight up to Chengdu as none of the guidebooks said there was anything worthy of not about Chongqing apart from the heat which has been stiffling for about a week now. Chengdu is famous for a couple of things one its one of the last bastions of tradditional tea houses in China and two it's the home of Giant Pandas. The pandas are cool and not 1/2 as boring as I was expecting it was all I could do to prevent Anita from snatching one to take home. The teahouses are a great place to sit back with a book and an endless cup of tea whilst watching the world go by. It was during an afternoon of doing nothing that we started talking to a tour guide and ended up agreeing to take a jeep with him out across Western Sichuan for a week, its a bit of a change from our schedule but it sounds fascinating, by all accounts Western Sichuan is populated by a variety of indiginous people with tibetan origins. We set off tomorrow which meant that today we had to go and visit the Big Budha at Lehsan, I can tell you without a shadow of a doubt it's absolutely massive!
Another change of plan we've had recently is we've moved Laos to the end of our trip and will be going to Vietnam straight from China, this is due to absolute turd transport links going south and good ones coming north from Thailand something we would have known had we done any research before leaving England. Anyway I'll leave you now to go for a beer and drown my sorrows as Anita has kindly pointed out that tomorrow she'll be able to tell me "You'll be at work next month!" boo hoo.....
For those of our friends that were on the Dragoman tour with us Datong is very like Coca in style (so in effect crap) as it is the town that produces a third of all China's coal but they do happen to have two of China's more famous sites there. Number 1 the Cloud Ridge Caves, Caves that house the oldest Buddist statues in China, nearly 1500 years old in fact. We weren't really sure what to expect and walking into these caves to see 17 metre Buddhas staring down at you with gold faces and little Buddhas carved all around it was just jaw dropping. One of the Buddhas was so big his ear lobe was over 1 metre long, as we said everything in China is huge and we weren't wrong.
After the caves we visited the Hanging Monastrey. When you first see the Hanging Monastrey you are agahst. This Monastrey is 1400 years old, built entirley of wood which has never been repaired, clings precariously to the rock face 50 metres up from the ground. But the most amazing bit is that the Chinese have built a staircase up to it and instead of the 19 quiet monks that lived there they now allow hundreds of tourists to trample all over it. Bill and I didn't think we were scared of heights but even we went a bit pale when we saw the definite gap between the rock and the wood! - we didn't hang around lol.
After Datong we travelled overnight on the train to Xian which is a cool place very chilled out. Yesterday we went to see the Terra - cota army and I showed my usual level of intelligence by asking what they were made out of ? Bill nearly collapsed in hysteria and denied knowing me. I won't go on about the Terracota army suffice to say it was one of those great moments that we've already had more than a lifetimes worth of on this trip so far.
While China is an amazing place it is also a totally bizarre one. No-one speaks the same langauge as each other AT ALL. They have the most foul toilet habits which mean that you only go about once a day and then while holding your breath. You don't get toilet paper at the hostels or posh hotels so you have to plan for that eventuality! They all stare at you as if you're head's going to blow off and you end up eating some really strange food. So far we've had grasshopper and chicken's knuckles. Also 'mystery meat' is a common occurance here so we work on the principle if we like it don't ask. Bill however has shown a level of ingenuity that I didn't know he had by working out what Pork is based on a couple of the characters so its pork only for the next month.
Moving on tomorrow to a place called Yichang where we pick up our Yangtze River Cruise. Managed to swing an excellent deal on a 5* cruise liner as we've booked so late and it is low season so we are expecting it to be rather nice. Just to ensure you're all jealous and don't think we're slumming it too much heres a nice picture of our boat
Also in Xian we went up the Drum & Bell Tower, here's a video of me having paid an extorcionate 33p just to hit a poxy little drum
We've also decided that there are a number of bored people out there as we've had over 20,000 hits on our website since we've left but still makes us feel popular so keeping coming.
Right then where to start, it's been a week since I last wrote so there's a fair bit to cover. 1st of all Hong
Kong didn't really excite either of us, we spent an inordinate amount of time sitting in coffee houses checking
email and generally doing absolutely nothing. If we'd come straight from South America it'ld probably have seem
really relaxing but having been through Miami and Tokyo it didn't really cut the mustard. Having said that the
cityscape particularly in the evening and from the peak was amazing, and we did get through more bottles of wine
in 3 days than we had in the previous 3 months so it was far from a complete loss but it's definetly not made our
ever growing list of "must return to places", sorry HK.
On to Beijing then, we'll that's at least what we tried to do but when we arrived at the airport we found that
they'ld moved the flight forward an hour, so instead of arriving 1.5 hours before the flight and having time to
get some chinese money etc etc we had 30 mins and were led running through the staff security checks and just
made it the plane on time. We then of course proceeded to sit on the tarmac for 40 minutes until we were closer
to the original time than the new one. Anyway at least it gave us time to scour through our guidebooks and find
out if we could switch our Honk Dollars at the airport, thankfully although the guidebooks all say changing money
is a pain its actually relativly easy.
Beijing is brilliant we've had 5 days here and we still don't feel like we've done it justice, there's at least
another 3-4 days stuff we would quite like to do. There are 2 things that have jumped out at us in our time here
and that's the language barrier is very real, getting anything through is very difficult the language is just so
different. Even in Japan although we couldn't read anything we could get by with reading the english bits of the
phrasebook and do
Where is, please, thankyou etc but in China we've been doing some serious gesticulating. The other is the size
Beijing is ridiculously big, all roads have at least 3 lanes each way, plus another 2 each way for bikes.
Crossing the road takes about 10 minutes and a lot of guts, lights green or red mean absolutely nothing.
Whilst in Beijing we've done Tiananmen Square, which again is just huge, it has 3 seperate subway stations and
needs them all, we went to see Mao's body which to be honest looked a little plastic but not bad for a bloke
who's been dead for 20 years. The attitude of the Chinese to Mao is pretty much a worshipfull one which is a tad
strange given some of his achievements. We've also done the Forbidden City, the Summer Palace and the Great
Wall, all of which were breathtaking, believe it or not the "worst" one of the lot was actually the Forbidden
City. One thing we have found is that western women are a novelty and Anita has been photographed several times,
we first noticed this when walking through Tiananmen Square and a Chinese woman ran in front of us while her
husband took a photograph "of her" clearly focusing on us. We quickly recognised this tactic having used it
extensivly in South America to get photos of the indiginous women in national dress. Since then it's happened on
the Great Wall and in the Summer Palace, now we know what's going on Anita has started to pose for photos with
them and secretly I think believes she's actually a celebrity. Personally I'm betting it's like that episode of
the Simpsons and Anita looks like the logo for some brand of washing up liquid. One thing that has surprised me
about Beijing is how hot it is particularly considering how far North it is, I was that surprised how hot it was
that I checked the map to see exactly where it was and was shocked to find it's actually as far North as Madrid,
so much for my genius geography.
Anyway tommorrow we leave on the train for Datong for a couple of Days and then on to Xian
Can't believe we are over half way through our trip, soon we'll be back in grey old England (although disappointingly I hear from my Mum that you've sneaked in a heat wave - that is not allowed to happen). Anyway we are currently in Hong Kong having had a few nights in Tokyo before arriving here.
Tokyo is a surreal place, it is the cleanest most orderly society that I've ever been in, they even have this novel approach to the underground where you stand in line to get on and let people get off first - bizarre found it very strange behaviour to be so civil.
However the coolest thing about the place is that they actually have heated toilet seats where you can have music played to you and adjust the temperature if necessary. Also you can be really touristy and play the extra loud flushing noise over and over again - or maybe that's just me!
You do however have to rely on your wits (which caused us a few problems, as we don't have many) in getting around as no one speaks English and of course they use a symbolic language so nothing is familiar, the old hand gesturing came out in good force.
In many ways Tokyo is what you expect, it does have the large building with the neon lights, the electronics, lots of men in business suits and beautiful shops and women walking around in full Kimono outfit but in other ways it's really different. For all the wealth in Tokyo the average house is the size of an American 2 berth car park. The houses are built on the roadside so there is not even a kerb and yet they still refuse to build high risers.
Our accommodation though was truly amazing. We stayed in a Ryokan which is a traditional Japanese hotel with rice paper walls and beds on the floor. They even ask for you to wear slippers around the place and cotton kimonos. Very amusing when they presented Bill with size 6 slippers for his size 11 feet - thought we'd be visiting casualty when they sent us upstairs for our room. Also thought he might be arrested by the police for indecency when he sat in his cotton kimono crossed legged on the floor for dinner and breakfast.............
Anyway now in Hong Kong for the next 4 nights getting our Chinese visa and visiting the sights before flying up to Beijing. Anita
Anita never ceases to amaze me, when asked to summarise our trip to Tokyo she goes into great detail about toilets and queuing habits but ommits to mention the 2 most important facts about our visit...
1st and most importantly forget Dance Floor Megamix, Japan has the most awesome drumming game in the world where you get to smack huge 2 foot wide drums in time with the music. Despite my prodigous lack of musical ability I could actually do this by ignoring the music and watching the little lights on the screen, Anita thanks to being distracted by the rhythm that I couldn't hear finished a poor second.
2ndly We found out that some git in Quito skimmed Anita's cash card and 5 hours later emptied the entire account with a duplicate card from Portugal, anyway not too much of a panic now the bank have agreed to re-imburse us just a right pollaver with forms and the like.
I don't know women and their twisted priorities Bill
Help, please Help we desperatly need money all donations gratefully recieved. Yesterday was by far the most expensive night of the trip. We went to see the Florida Marlins against the New York Mets baseball game which was brilliant, much more family orientated than South American football. After the game we went to watch the Miami Heat in the play offs on TV. You would expect that the live game would have been the expensive bit but thanks to a few friendly Americans we managed to spend substantially more on booze than we'd spent on tickets for the basball. Thanks to our fervent support WE won both games. Tomorrow we fly to Tokyo but as this is our 1/2 way point and the internet is fast here in Miami were posting some photos of the highlights of our trip to date.
Easter Island - Anita with a big head. Heaviest souvenir in the world.
Bolivian Salt Flats - Best sunset ever.
Inca Trail - Relief at the top of dead womans pass, Standing at Watchman's Hut and it was definetly worth it, our illustrious leader sporting an outfit I didn't expect to see in Peru!
Jungle Trip - Me eating ants, Anita showing poise and calm whilst holding an anaconda and a poisonous dart frog
Galapagos - A nesting blue footed boobie, a preposterous looking frigate bird, sharks circling to attack me, a mocking bird on a cool beach and Anita with a Giant Tortoise.
Unbelievable, absolutely unbelievable. I just can?t get the superlatives to describe how brilliant the last 7 days in the Galapagos have been. Without a doubt it?s been the best week of the trip to date. If you ever have the chance to go then without a shadow of a doubt I wholeheartedly reccommend it.
Right then, now I?ve got the gushing out of the way I?ll try and explain the trip. We saw huge amounts of wildlife and it was all about 3 inches away, despite all being wild they have absolutely no fear of humans due to the complete lack of large mammals on the islands. We walked right up to blue footed boobies, albatroses, sealions, frigate birds (the wierd ones with big red balloons under their chin), iguanas a metre long, giant tortoises 200 years old and whole load of other stuff too. We also snorkeled with a million and one types of tropical fish, turtles, sharks, stingrays and sealions, waded with sharks and stingrays actually feeling both rubbing against our legs.
If we had to pick out a single highlight I think it would have to be swimming with a turtle, following him (or her) around for about five minutes as he came up to the surface a couple of times to breath, although playing with the sealions as they nibble at your flippers and watching the boobies court were also incredible. Anita?s favourite bit was when she sat down and had a sealion wander up the beach and plonk himself down between her legs and began to snuggle around them.
I haven?t written much but that?s simply because I don?t have the words to explain how special an experience the last week has been.
What a week!! Since our last entry we?ve been to the jungle, and I mean the proper jungle.
It took us 12 hours to drive to Coca which is an oil town in the middle of the jungle and
then 6 hours in a motorised canoe to go right into the heart of it and away from everything.
We had 2 full days in the jungle and saw a huge amount of wildlife and plants. I wont go
through everything just the higlights not least because I can?t remember the names of half
of the stuff we saw.
Before we left Coca we had breakfast accompanied by 2 wild monkeys who kept diving into the restraunt as soon as the waiter disappeared and stood on their hind legs whilst stealing left overs from the table next to us. In the jungle
(or was it a rainforest answers on a postcard please) we saw loads of different types of monkeys, a tarantula, falied to catch pirhanna, found a billion and one trees with medicinal uses and an absolute ruck more. The 2 highlights for me though were getting to hold a live anaconda and seeing a poisonous dart frog. Anita also held the anaconda, she was remarkably composed for the entire 5 eighths of a second before practically hurling it back at the guide. It was really cool becuase you could feel it tightening around your arm as it pulled itself up. It was only about a metre long, the power of a full grown one 8m long must be phenomenal. The poisonous dart frog is the tiny little colourful one that everyone has seen on TV. Our guide, Fausto, picked it up and held it so we could all get a good look.
Apparently the poison is excreted through their skin so it is only dangerous if it gets into
an open wound. eg from the end of a dart! We just thought this wasn?t something that people really saw except on TV and consequently felt very privelleged. We also ate giant rodent,
grubs and lemon ants along the way.
Today we?re in Otavalo at an Indian market and Anita has gone bananas buying all soughts,
this afternoon we?re driving to Quito where the trip finishes and then we?re back on our own again until we get back. We?ve both got mixed emotions about leaving the trip, it?s been very relaxing not having to worry about travel plans or organise anything but equally it?ll be good to be able to stop for an extra day or so whenever we fancy it. Overall though we can?t complain about the trip as we?ve seen an amazing amount, much more than we would have done on our own as we?d have kept stopping longer everywhere. Next stop is the Galapagos,
God life?s hard.
Well were to start with the last week Bill and I have had such an eventful time it?s unreal. After leaving Lima we drove to a place called Huanchaco by the sea in Northern Peru. Huanchaco is renowned for having the longest left rip curl in the world (still not sure I understand what that means) but it was great watching the surfers nevertheless, although Bill and I wossed out of having a go ourselves. From Huanchaco we visited the city of Chan Chan, which is the remains of the largest pre-columbian city in the Americas, the capital of the Chimu (AD 1000-1470) dynasty. Built out of mostly sand and sea shells it is huge and very impressive that so much of it is still standing. After Chan Chan we continued our cultural morning by going to the Moche temples of Las Huacas del Sol y de la Luna (Claire are you impressed with my Spanish?). Unfortunately a freak El Nino of rain for 17 days had destroyed much of this site but it was still breathtakingly beautiful. Great night that night for Bill and I as we went out to the local bar on our own and met loads of locals, including the 5th best surfer in Peru and lots of travellers, totally cool night.
The next day was freaky, we went to bush camp at the mausoleum in Sipan and to add to the fact that we were sleeping in a graveyard we also had a huge python snake to contend with in the campsite, needless to say did not sleep very well that night! ?Wouldn?t go out the tent to pee so had a painful night hey hey hey.
After Sipan we moved on to the beautiful beaches of Punta Sal, last stop in Peru where Bill went deep sea fishing and I laid on the beach drinking cold beer - umh I think I got my priorities right. In the evening we celebrated Bill becoming an old man of 29 by having a beach party, BBQ and the most massive chocolate fudge cake. He totally hated the attention, which made it all the more amusing especially as it was not by me but the truck leaders.
The highlight of this week though came yesterday when we got into Ecador and participated in the most terrifying experience of my life - canyoning.Oh my gosh I?ve never been so scared in my life clambering
down a canyon, abseiling, sliding into waterfalls, doing a flying fox
but the worst bit was jumping with arms crossed and legs first off a
10m waterfall landing in a whirlpool totally free falling. It took me
three attempts to do it and I cried at both the top in fear and the
bottom in relief . A once in a lifetime experience that?s for sure I
didn?t really get the adrenalin rush that I expected just glad to get
to the bottom but Bill was buzzing. However that?s what this trips
about new experiences hey, spent the afternoon recovering on a hammock
with a cold beer!
As said we are currently in Ecuador at a place called Banos and we are here
for two days and then we travel up to Coca to enter the jungle for 4
days.So far Ecuador looks a gorgeous place and the drive from Peru to Banos
was just breathtaking going through the banana plantations and then
driving up through the cloud forest just beautiful.
As you can proberbly tell life is pretty cool at the moment and totally loving travelling.
The last night in Cusco was very messy with everyone celebrating the fact that we completed the Inca Trail and the 24hr challenge. The next day we were all a bit worse for wear but drove on to a place called Chivay where the following day we were to watch the Condors soar in Colca Canyon. Unfortunately during the day I took a turn for the worse with a poorly tummy which meant I missed the birds but Bill still went and said the Condors were massive, some have a wing span of over 3ms. Chivay itself was pretty boring so apparently I didn?t miss too much and felt a lot better after a day in bed, travelling is pretty tiring at times. After Chivay we drove over to Arequipa, a gorgeous little town near the volcano El Misto. Arequipa is known for two main attractions. Number one it is where the mummy Juanita is exhibited which is the most perfect Inca mummy girl that they found in 1995 at over 6000ms - saw the Horizon programme on it just before coming away so felt very knowledgeable. Secondly Arequipa has a beautiful citadel within its main city which is a convent that until recently has been closed to the public and still houses nuns from the ages of 18-90. It is a beautiful place but obviously very pious even to the point that the nuns communicate with the outside world through double meshing and use a turnstile to exchange goods.
After Arequipa we drove to Nasca and had the most amazing day. Getting up early Bill and I flew in a 6 seater small aircraft over the Nasca Lines, banking sharply left and right to ensure we got a great view. It was absolutely fantastic, anyone that?s never been in a small aircraft should give it a go. After the lines we drove into the desert and went Dune Buggying! A totally crazy experience that involved riding in buggies with massive roll cages up and down sand dunes as fast as you can - totally felt like a scene out of Mad Max (unfortunately missing Mel Gibson). During this ride we also got the chance to do Sand Boarding, which much to Bill?s relief, he was pretty good at. Me, well I threw myself down the dune on my tummy, which was quite scary actually but only flew off once. It was a totally cool day finished off with Pisco Sours around the hostel?s swimming pool. Definitely what travellings all about. That night we camped by the on the beach in the Pascaca National Park.
Currently we are in Lima, capital of Peru, which while not the most beautiful city and quite intimidating at night time also has a lot going for it with some great colonial buildings. First night here was an experience that we don?t want to repeat, using the Rough Guide recommendations we went to a night club called Tequilas which much to our amazement turned out to be a huge picking up joint for prostitutes. Me and some of my friends were the only ?normal?girls in the place - needless to say we didn?t stay long. We?ve got two nights here and then we begin heading up to Ecuador but don?t get there for probably another week.
Well we?ve done it Bill and I have finally walked the Inca Trail and it truly is one of the most amazing events of our lives. We walked for 4 days covering 40km up and down passes which went as high as 4200metres (Dead Woman?s Pass). The scenery was just out of this world and at many parts we were walking in cloud forest with glaciers in front of us on the top of higher mountains.
The most surreal part of the experience was the 30 porters that accompanied the 20 of us on the trip. These porters are tiny, native men who look so fragile they could snap and yet they carried everything for us. Most of them carrying around 24kg strapped awkwardly on their backs. They also run the trail at some points so that you don?t over take them due to pride and many do not even speak Spanish as their first tongue. They were the cheeriest of people though and yet we could only imagine how tough this work for them was. Anita got very choked when the last evening they were invited into the dining tent to sing and play music for us in thanks for our tips. It transpired that they get through a lot of the physical labour by chewing coca leaves constantly which act as both a suppressant of appetite and also give them the feeling of strength ( we only saw one addict of these leaves whose face was contorted but they really do chew them all day) Bill and I had a go but either we didn?t leave them in long enough or chew enough because they didn?t seem to get us up the hill any quicker or easier!!!
Arriving in Machu Picchu on Tuesday having raced along for the last hour from the campsite we got to the Sun Gate at about 6.00am and just stood in awe of the site and its location. Anita got very emotional about the experience and it is totally understandable. This ?town?is perfectly preserved due to the conquistadors not finding it and destroying it and you sit over looking it imagining the Inca?s wandering around and working on the terraces. The most amazing part of the Inca?s legacy is their construction work. Unlike us they made their houses out of the rock formations that were already present never destroying the natural lines even using the fissions in the rock to create door ways and tunnels. It is hard to imagine the labour and love for this type of work. Their devotion to pacamama (mother earth) is everywhere you look from the setting in the Andes to the devotion they displayed to water and fountains.
Bill also decided to climb the mountain behind the town which was scarily steep and at some points he and friends were actually descending on hands and knees going down backwards. I personally preferred lying on my back on one of the terraces romanticising about the Incas.
Anyway on a less romantic note our butts are fantastically toned now due to the steps and Nick we now have "buns of steel". I tell you the physical exertion of this trail is intense and is not for the unfit of faint hearted. Very glad that we did all the exercising we did before we came away.
After finishing sight seeing at about 4.00pm we returned to Cusco at about 9.00pm to complete the challenge of staying awake for 24hrs. The only way to do this of course is to go drinking and dancing which we did and I tell you it was truly fantastic hugging everyone at 4.00am this morning before collapsing into bed.
Definitely recommend the Inca trail to anyone.
The 5th was an incredibly strange day it started by going to a market stall and purchasing a huge bag of coca leaves, some dynamite, some TNT, a length of fuse and a detonator cap. We then proceeded to wander around the mines inside Cerro Rico and see people mining in medevial fashion. They either dig with a hammer and chisel only or the more advanced spend 3hrs with a big chisel digging a metre long hole before shoving explosives into it. They work ridiculously long hours and chew coca all day to make the thing bearable. So as we wandered round we gave out the explosives and coca as a thankyou for talking to us. As you would explect these guys are serious drinkers, on a Friday they share a litre of 96% alcohol, which they drink neat, between 3 of them, then they go out!!! Anyway we all sat round a statue type thing of the Devil and drank some of this ludicrous liquid in a ceremony which involved lighting booze and making the statue smoke a bizzare cigarrete containing black tobacco, coca leaves, eucalyptus and cinnamon.
From Potosi we went to La Paz which has an absolutely amazing location. Although it?s 3500m high it sits at the bottom of a 500m deep canyon. the city fills the bowl and as you arrive looking down on it is breathtaking (& not just becuase you?re so high). We spent 2 days in La Paz and it?s a pretty cool town just for wandering around, there?s loads of cheap woven stuff so keeping Anita from spending huge sums of money was one of my prime tasks. We also went on a tour where the guide explained to us just how corrupt Bolivia is, the amazing thing is how openly corrupt it is. Driving licenses cost $50 with a test or $100 without. The cost to be a policeman is $2.50 a day which is paid to the chief and which the police collect in spurious fines. One word of advice to anyone thinking of visiting La Paz is to stear clear of strip joints they are very scarey places with large bouncers who are adept at seperating you from your money. At least that?s what the lads who got at home at 8AM are claiming. Anyway we?ve left La Paz and are now in Copacabana on the shores of Lake Titicaca, it?s like a miniture version of the real one in Rio with 2 green hills either side. This morning we walked up one of them to watch people spray beer over miniture houses and dollars and pray in the hope that the real thing will come to them, very strange. This afternoon we?re going out on a boat to Isla del Sol which tradition has is the birth place of the first Inca, should be interesting. From here we?ve got another day around the lake (on the Peruvian side) before heading up to Cusco. So by the time of the next diary entry we will have attempted (note not neccessarily completed) the Inca Trail. I must admit my main motivation will be the fact that Stu has done it and I?m not sure I could stand the ribbing if I failed, also it surely must be easier for people with normal size legs.Bill
On the 1st we set out to cross into Bolivia and also to get up seriously high in to the Andes. Everoyone spent the entire day drinking copious amounts
of water to help alleviate the effects it took us forever to get anywhere as we kept having to stop for a pee. We got up to 5000 metres during the day before dropping down to 3900 for the night, I can now confirm that the affects of altitude are real and not just a load of nonsense. It was definetly worth it as we saw some fantastic sights including green and white lagoons and countless flamingoes on our 2 day journey to Uyuni. Uyuni itself was brilliant for 2 main reasons - Number 1 a bloke called Ian split his forehead open falling into a bed drunk, thus removing the best drunk injury crown from me and Number 2 the salt flats are amazing. There?s 12,000 square KM of nothing but salt!! It?s white as far as the eye can see and just looks like snow or ice, very bizarre. We watched the sun set over them and it all lit up a gorgeous pallet of orange, pinks and reds. It was enough to render me speachless, something that was remarked upon by more than one person. Today we?ve arrived in Potosi and tomorrow I?m going to go into the mine that is still being worked as it was 200 years ago. Anita?s wussed out and is debating with the other girls whether to go to the the thermal springs or just relax in the town.Bill
What Bill missed out of the last note was just how bloody cold it gets sleeping in a tent next to a Glacier (not surprising admittedly but it was very cold). After thawing out we caught a flight up from Punta Arenas to Santiago and then from there across to Easter Island. Nearly indulged in air rage when realised that we couldn't see The Incredibles as the screen was broken so resorted to drinking red wine and sulking to pass the time instead.
Easter Island is the most unbelievable place mostly because we couldn't believe we were actually there and so far from home. In fact Easter Island is over 3790 Kms from anywhere and the biggest excitment for the locals seemed to be the delivery of tons of Dunking Donouts from anyone coming from the mainland. However it is a really beautiful rugged place which you can see in about three days.
First day on Easter Island we decided to continue our "fitness regime" and hire bikes to see the island - bad idea. Not only did we realise that we were knackered after about 30mins, obviously Argentina steaks and chips had taken their toll but also the sun was soooo hot that we looked a little bit like boiled tomatoes at the end of the day.
However seeing the moai is just breathtaking and sites such as Tongariki where they've been restored to their former glory is just aweinspiring.
It was strange looking at all the ones toppled face down you felt sorry for them as if they were real people, and that's not just me Bill felt it too.
The following day we realised our limitations - dumped the bikes and hired jeeps - sorry Nick.
After spending 3 full days on Easter Island we flew back to Santiago, at least that was the last flight for 7.5 weeks. TV now working although English langauage not ahhh. (more red wine plus more sulking)
Joined the Dragoman tour on the Friday 25th March, which is basically on overland trip taking us up to Quito in a massive Mercedes cement mixer which has been converted to a truck for 24 passangers. First night was spent socialising and getting very drunk which didn't take long considering we haven't been drinking for over a month.
No hangover, decided that hangovers are side effects of working and stress not alcohol consumption so will be not working ever again...
An early start saw us driving up north to La Serena where we camped by the beach which was pretty cool.
Following two days was travelling throught the Atacama Desert which is pretty desolate being the driest place on earth. Bush camped for a couple of nights getting through this which basically involves no facilities and peeing behind numerous sand dunes.
Leaving the Atacama Desert we've driven north further and arrived at San Pedro just beyond Moon Valley which is a cool place. A town for hippies which has many mud houses and people taking coca leaves a lot!!
Having known everyone on the truck now for 4 days Bill decided he could relax and not be on his best behaviour all the time so this morning he woke up with a big skinless patch on his forehead where he?d fallen over the night before whilst carrying Collette on his shoulders!! I of course was a wonderful wife and expressed huge amounts of sympathy (we?ll between laughing anyway).
It?s been a bit since we last wrote and we?ve done an absolute load of stuff. The reason I?ve not updated this recently is that we?ve been in the middle of nowhere and I mean the proper middle of nowhere not just somewhere like Gotham. From the Falls we flew down to Buenos Aires, not as simple as it seems. The flight was at 12:40 so we had plenty of time to get up leisurly and mill around before catching the local bus to the airport. All fine in theory until I looked at the ticket and realised that they don?t spell Iguacu with a Z in Brasil - that must mean we?ve got to get to the Argintinian airport. One frenetic taxi ride, one border crossing and several swear words later we arrived in time for the flight.
Buenos Aires was good we only had th one night there but managed to wander around eat a massive meal and get a really nice vibe from the place. Anita?s now added it to her list of City Break options despite me trying to explain just how far away it is.
From Buenos Airies (or as all the cool travellers say BA) we flew to El Calafate which is on the edge of the Los Glaciers National Park. The main feature of which is glaciers. We dived on a bus and went for an hours boat trip across the face of the Perito Moreno Glacier, an absolutely spectular trip.
We then had a walk around taking 8 billion photos before returning to El Calafate. The next day we got the bus to Chile, to the Torres Del Paine National Park which in effect is the same place but in Chile. It took us 2 hours travelling through absolutely nothing (well technically it?s called Patagonian Steppe) to get there. The only things we saw for the entire journey were llamas and these birds that look like emus but aren?t.
The park is all set up for camping and walking the hotels are ridiculously expensive and there?s only 2 of them, the roads only go round the edge of the park so to get any where you have to put your tent on your bag and yomp across country for 4 hours (like Joe would have doen had he actually managed to get into the army). They claim to have trails for you to walk along but in reality this means that every 100m someboday has painted a red dot on either a tree or a big rock! Here?s a quick summary of what we did in the park
Day 1 - 4hrs up and 4hrs down to the base of the Torres, fantastic views including soaring condors.
Day 2 - Sulked & moaned because it had rained so much in the night.
Day 3 - 6 hours with back packs up to the foot of Glacier Grey.
Day 4 - Sulked & moaned bcause the boat was too full to take us back followed by a 4 hour yomp to the nearest road to get the bus out.
Just finished a couple of days chilling Santiago and this afternoon we are flying out to Easter Island, when we get back we?ll be joining the big trip for 7 weeks so at least then I?ll have more people to offend than just Anita ;)
Just in case you were in any doubt 24 hour bus journeys are not fun. We took the bus from Rio to the Iguacu falls on the border of Argentina and Brazil. Besides learning that flying is a great invention we also learnt that technically Brazil is F***ing Big. The falls themselves are incredibly beautiful there are just so many of them the views are amazing. The best place to see them from is the Brazilian side but on the Argentinian side we spent a day wandering between them that was probably a better day all in all. Just starting to get the hang of this warm weather camping, despite Anita sabotaging my bag with food so that my hand practically got bitten off by ants (sympathy not laughter at this point please). However I am looking forward to a night in a hotel and a massive Argentinian Steak before heading down for cold weather camping by the glaciers.
Hello from Rio everyone. Finally got here after a 13hr flight, although
can?t complain too much as we were on the Copacabana beach enjoying the surf by lunch time. Had to laugh as we were the whitest bodies on the beach
and therefore a great source of amusement for the locals.
So far we?ve been up the James Bond cable car to the top of the Sugar Loaf Mountain and up the cog railway to see Christ the Redeemer - gosh he is big!
Weather has been mixed, which I suspect many of you will be glad to hear. Although very hot (in the low 30?s) we are experiencing today the biggest tropical
rain storm Bill and I have ever been in.
Rio is a fantastic city which is just buzzing all day and as for the people they are really beautiful, if not a little bit naked most of the time.
Never seen so much cleavage, although there are nice men for the girls to look at as well.
The photos are being a bit of a pain as they take ages to upload and we?ve got better things to do than sit in Internet Cafes all day. So they?ll go up as and when we can manage it.
Have not written for ages which is not a good sign for keeping this diary up to date when we are travelling however here is a brief and potted history (claire did I get this saying right???) of February.
When we left the house at the end of January we went to stay with my sister and her family for a week and then from there to my parents, then Bill's parents and then down to Cardiff to see Tim for a few days before returning to my parents. On Saturday 26th February we came down to stay with Anita and Simon in Twickenham to enjoy their free hospitality for the night (and they are going to take us to Heathrow tonight - again for free hey hey). Feel like we've spent the whole month travelling already.
Currently sitting in an internet cafe uploading the photographs of our 'very successful' leaving do so anyone that came go and check out the photos......
We managed to drag up 35 people (some of who are still unknown ie: long haired man found hanging about at end of evening) and visited around 14 pubs (exact number to never be known). Oh by the way Claire, Emily says thanks for getting her to the bus stop and staying with her till she got on - a very good idea judging by the state she was in!!!!
Here are a few do's and don'ts for anyone considering their own Monopoly game.
Do steal Mr Berridges brilliant board, rename the pubs and pass it of as your own work.
Do go to The Entertainer and purchase giant dice.
Don't allow anyone called Stuart to use them to demonstrate their footballing prowess.
Don't ask Anita for information on peoples sexuality.
Do join the posh casino before putting it on the board.
Don't allow people to turn up late as they then play catch up and this becomes dangerous.
Do get incredibly drunk and go home at 10:30 in a taxi.
Do have forfeits for every roll of the dice not just chance.
Don't fail to eat in Wetherspoons the next morning.
Don't go to the gent's and get lost.
Don't take it incredibly seriously and phone everyone up and abuse them as lightweights.
Don't leave siblings who have never been to nottingham behind.
Do say I'm only out for a few and then stay out until you chunder.
Anyone up for more themed drinking shenanigans contact Joe and ask about The Tram Crawl.
We're now off to watch the rugby before flying out at 9 this evening, assuming your using company time to read this (and I would if I were you) We're in Rio right now nah, nah, nah, nah.
It's started. Today definitely feels like the 1st day of
the adventue, we handed over the keys to our house at 11:45 this
morning and have been spending the day getting used to being homeless.
I think we've probably gone through every concievable emotion today,
exitement & nerves being the main ones. There were also a few tears although
obviously not from me as I'm much too manly for crying. I think the main thing that
hit home today was that we now have to go, it's much harder to back out when
somebody else is living in your house!
An absolute load of stuff has suddenly happened, just as it all seemed a bit far away
things started happening again. We've almost rented the house, it looks like someone will be in
from the 30th January which means we'll be homeless for 4 weeks before we go. It's a bit of a pain but
infinetly better than being homeless when we get back. Also after working like a navvy over Christmas
and New Year I've now booked the week before we go off from work, So this morning I had 6 mondays left and this
evening it's only 4. I've now bought the camera for our trip so we'll be posting a few photos in the next couple of days, this
will allow you all to monitor carefully whether we get fatter, thinner, balder, browner or whatever as we go round.
Before I go and get to work on whatever tasks the gaffer is going to give me next (and there seem to be millions today)
I thought I would explain
the thinking behind lending the car to Joe which has raised a few eyebrows.
I do not want anything to happen to the car while we're away but lending it to Joe
means that it will either be completely written off (and I'll have a big cheque to come
home to) or immaculate and untouched (Joe never having done anything by halves)
both of which are prefferable to having it back a bit the worse for wear.
The only thing I've got to worry about is that Joe doesn't put it on black (bugger
I knew there was a flaw in the plan)
Just a quick note to let you know that the all important leaving do and
have now been added to the schedule, take a look and let us know if you'll be partaking in any of them.
Well that's it the bill has finally been paid, we are officially going round the world.
So far we've paid for the flights, insurance and South American trip. I did ask Bill if he wouldn't
rather replace all the windows in the house but he insisted that we go travelling - shame I'm just going to have to cope I suppose!.
We've also completed all of our 90 odd jabs apart from Hepatitis A and Typhoid which we will have in January.
The last jab I had took so long to stop bleeding that I think it can only be because he's stuck a needle into
the same part so many times that he's created a hole (hey hey hey hope nobody is eating their lunch).
The house still needs a little bit of work on it, namely two carpets to replace the ones Bill damaged
painting (I tell you never give a man a job) but apart from that we're a okay to go and advertise it.
Worryingly we've agreed to Joe using the car while we are away (only guy that can afford the insurance)
am quite scared because he is a skin head who used to drive a Subaru and has a no fear of death.
Considered connecting the speedometer so that it sets of an alarm and cuts the engine when he goes
above 30miles per hour!!! But Bill said not to bother as he's going to keep Joe in his Deadpool for 2005.
We've now booked all of the accommodation we are going to before going away and they range from ?.20 per night
in Patagonia hostel, where we can sleep on the floor, to 5 star luxury in Rio.
Happy Christmas everyone speak to you in the New Year.
Blood pressure is on the rise as we try to understand visa information.
So far it is the most stressful thing we've had to do. Unfortunately
it seems that you can't get them before you go because they only last
from 3 months of issue and we won't be getting to China till after then.
After 2 days of confusion Anita suddenly had the brain wave to contact
Trailfinder's Visa Service and ask for their help.
Turns out that we have to get a visa for China in Hong Kong
and even then you can only get a 30 day one and need to extend it
when in China at an immigration office. Vietnam we could get in advance
but we would need to specify location and date of arrival which kind of
removes the whole wandering aspect so we will get that on route aswell.
It seems that Laos do not want visitors as it is impossible to get a
visa and you pretty much take a risk that you'll be allowed to stay
when you fly in. Cambodia is on arrival so that's cool and we don't
need one for Thailand if only staying 30 days. Once again Anita
saves the day - she's such a star!
Well the Spanish tape has finally been thrown in the bin and we've decided to invest a little bit of
hard earned cash in going to lessons. Last night was our first one at South Notts College in West Bridgford.
It is Holiday Spanish and last 2 hours a week from 7pm till 9pm. There are about 20 people in the class and
we have a lovely teacher Marina whose parents are both Spanish but she was born in England.
The course looks simple enough and should mean that we don't appear completely ignorant when we arrive but
Marina has told us that the Spanish in South America is slightly different but not to worry we will be understood.
Last night we learnt how to introduce ourselves and say good bye as well as numbers, names of letters and some
pronunciation rules. I have to admit that I feel more confident having Bill with me so when we speak to
partners we can speak to each other and only be embarrassed with each other when we get it wrong rather
than with a stranger.
The other news is that we have had a bit of a problem booking into Miami much to our amazement.
Anyway upon speaking to one of the hostel owners we were reliably informed that it is something called
'Black Memorial Weekend' which in essence is the largest urban beach party for black people in America!!!!
Only 350,000 extra people descend on Miami the days we go so that should be fun. Anyway finally managed to
book somewhere after a bit of a panic.
Had our yellow fever jabs today. Managed to embarass Anita by giving her a
"I've been brave" sticker at the doctors (thanks Mum) she's clearly not that embarrased though
as she's been wearing it with pride all day. Jabs were fine but annoyingly
got a completely different set of advice about rabies from what the nurse told us last
time, so that's another 270 quid down the drain! Somehow things suddenly need doing,
tommorow's going to be spent painting the spare room so that we can rent the house when
we go. If you ask me it's still a bit early but who am I to question the gaffer?
Some good news on the flights though we've managed to switch our flight from Buenos Aires
via Santiago to Punta Arenas to one direct to El Calafate (saving ?.50) but also making
our plans in Patagonia significantly easier and guaranteeing that we will be able to fit
in the Moreno Glacier.
Hola, Buenos Dias, Como estas? La hermana de Carmen. (Hello, good day, how are you? I am Carmen's sister)
Spanish lessons began today in earnest from our rented tape. So far we have only had one argument on how many
times to play the tape and I have had to insist to Bill that saying I'm Carmen's sister will not get us a
Wow have just come back from the Dr's where we've been to have our injections. Only to discover that
due to the number of injections that we need we can't have them all in one go. Also still in shock with
how much they are actually going to cost. Naive me just assumed that they would all be on the NHS - I mean surely
everyone needs to be given Japanese Encephalitis don't they? We were very lucky that we had such a nice nurse
to help us out even if we did turn up on a Friday at 5.30pm with a list of injections required the length of our
arm. She did get her own back though when she took pleasure in telling us that even with all the injections we
are going to require it still only covers us from about 5% of what we could catch - yippy bring it on.
Anyway so far we've had Polio (and be warned they do not give this on a cube of sugar anymore but in a cod liver drop).
Tetanus, Diphtheria and Meningitis A,C,W and Y. We then talked about Malaria tablets which we are going to have to take
for 6 months due to where we are going - great if the bug doesn't get you the skin rashes, hallucinations and sickness will.
However we soldiered on and I held Bill's hand and he held mine while we had the two smallest injections and we didn't even
get a sticker...
Have spent HOURS learning the art of internet building - and I thought my job was boring....
have inputted all flight details which took a while!
Just putting the website together, ready so that everyone can get used to using it before we go.
Already getting very excited, Anita's in bed sleeping off the after effects of last night. Bill