Author Archives: Katy Hadcroft

Her name was Lola, she was a showgirl…

We arrived in Rio de Janeiro excited but slightly apprehensive as it was our last stop before flying home. We didn’t get too much time to dwell on it though as when we walked into our hostel we bumped into some friends from Bolivia, Chris and Zoe. It was their last night travelling before their return to England, so we had a few caipirinhas with them before they left. Our hostel (Bossa in Rio) was really nice and had a great happy hour, so we quickly made some new friends while acclimatising to the sweltering hot weather.

View from our hostel

View from our hostel

We were in Rio for five days but had a lot to squeeze in during that time, so the next morning we were up early and headed to see one of the big attractions, Christ the Redeemer. We went with an Aussie couple called Nathan and Kate. Christ reminded us of Big Buddha in Hong Kong and although it’s a very impressive and symbolic sight, it was the views that won us over. As with all these sights, it was full of tourists but we managed to elbow some of them out of our way for some great shots of Rio.

Christ the Redeemer

Christ the Redeemer

The afternoon was spent wondering around Leblon and Ipanema, some of Rio’s more affluent neighbourhoods. We had planned to watch the sunset from Ipanema beach as apparently it is amazing but unfortunately after about half an hour of watching the beautiful people on the beach, the weather suddenly turned and huge rain clouds came over ahead. We ran for a bus in the pouring rain and made the most of our hostels happy hour instead.

The bad weather continued the next day so we took a walk to the Santa Teresa steps, beautifully tiled stairway by a Chilean artist. It was raining so we took a few pictures and had a quick lunch before heading out for the afternoon.

Santa Teresa steps

Santa Teresa steps

We had booked ourselves onto a favela tour with a tour group called ‘Don’t be a Gringo, be a Local’…quite apt. I was really looking forward to having a walk around a favela within the relative safety of a tour. We were taken to the biggest and most famous favela in South America called Rochina which houses over 69,000 people. We started at the top which provided amazing views over the whole favela and Rio and then slowly made our way down through the narrow lanes.

Rocinha Favela

Rocinha Favela

On our way down we were treated to some live Samba by some of the local kids. They were part of a Sunday school and had been encouraged to do something for money rather than just beg so they had put together a small band…if you can call it that…some old plastic tubs and saucepans. Some of the younger kids joined in and started dancing for us. It was all very sweet and obviously planned for our visit so we rewarded their efforts with a small donation.

Samba

Samba

The favela is like a city of its own, it has its own hospitals, schools, shops and even internet cafes. This particular favela has not been pacified yet but is starting to go through the process. Most of the favelas in Rio have now been pacified, which basically means that the drug lords have been kicked out and they are now run and supported by the police. Most favelas have seen massive improvements in terms of sanitation and some have cable cars or lifts being built (not for tourists but for the locals).

Rocinha Favela

Rocinha Favela

When we came out of a particular bad lane, having walked through sewage and god knows what else, we were greeted by four massive police men carrying machine guns…not a sight I expected but apparently all part of the pacification. Our guide told us that the majority of local people have welcomed the change and are working with the police to improve their living conditions. It was a truly interesting experience.

Rocinha Favela

Rocinha Favela

The Aussie couple we met, Kate and Nathan were great fun and one night Nathan let us into a big secret. He had arranged for Kate’s sister to fly into Rio and travel with them for three weeks and Kate had no idea. Alice was arriving during happy hour so we settled down for a few drinks and when she walked through the door, Kate’s face was a picture…what a brilliant surprise!

We celebrated Alice’s arrival by heading out to the infamous Lapa street party. The whole neighbourhood came alive with live music on the streets, cheap caipirinhas and an amazing atmosphere. We watched some of the locals strut their stuff and show off their samba skills and I decided to have a go. Well, I can tell you that samba is one of the hardest dances I have ever tried. It obviously has a rhythm but I couldn’t find it so I sort of jumped around on my feet trying to wiggle my bum at the same time…not a pretty sight according to Sam!

Lapa Street Party

Lapa Street Party

It was a great night and we managed to come home with our camera and wallet still intact. One of the couples we were with had their iPhone stolen from their pocket unfortunately, and it’s notorious for theft and muggings.

Lapa Street Party

Lapa Street Party

Feeling slightly worse for wear the next day we headed to Copacabana for a walk along the famous beach and possibly a dip in the sea. Unfortunately the weather didn’t co-operate so we settled some lunch followed by some Havaiana shopping much to Sam’s delight. We returned to Lapa later that night for some more samba and the strongest caipirinhas I have ever had. They were served in pint glasses and were very cheap.

Copacabana Beach

Copacabana Beach

Sunday was a bit of a wash-out unfortunately…two nights out on the trot were taking their toll so we had a lazy day in the hostel. By the evening we were feeling much better so a group of us headed out to a local restaurant which was recommended by our hostel; Bar Do Maneiro. It was a great little place which offered traditional Brazilian food at a reasonable price. We each shared some bean and meat stew, which we later found out was made with pigs ears, tails and other meat delights. It was delicious though and I am glad I didn’t really know what I was eating. We also ordered the fish stew which was delicious and we couldn’t resist ordering a plate of crackling…Mmm. It was a great last night for us.

Bar Do Maneiro

Bar Do Maneiro

We packed our bag for the very last time, careful to protect the three litres of cacacha we’re bringing back and headed out to our final tourist spot, Sugar Loaf Mountain. We had wanted to go up for sunset as the views over Rio looked incredible. Because of the changeable weather this wasn’t possible so we headed out around lunchtime and had a couple of hours soaking in the amazing views, even finding a couple of loungers to relax on.  We also enjoyed watching the planes come in as they have to bank quite sharply over the water in order to land on the short runway of the local airport.

View from Sugarloaf Mountain

View from Sugarloaf Mountain

Although we had a lovely day, trying to get Sam to smile in any of the photos was hard work. He is definitely not looking forward to coming home so he was a bit miserable all day. I had fun though and even though I wish we could continue our travels together, I am excited to be coming home to see all my family and friends.

Sugarloaf Mountain

Sugarloaf Mountain

What a city and country to end our 15 months of travel…a definite must see for you all and one that we’ll be coming back to. We’re now at Frankfurt airport waiting for our flight to London and the only thing that is keeping us going (apart from a Starbucks coffee) is the thought of eating bratwurst and ordering some champagne!

Coming soon…the round-up of our trip

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Having a Grande time in Brazil

After two flights, a quick bus ride through Rio and a further five hours on a bus we were finally in Paraty; just another ordinary travel day. We’d been told that Paraty was a must see and we were not disappointed. It is a picturesque seaside town with cobble stones, colonial buildings and has hundreds of surrounding islands.

Paraty streets

Paraty streets

We booked a boat tour of the islands for one of our three days and had a great day taking in the various islands and beaches. Being typical travellers, we opted out of the lunch option on the boat (v expensive) so instead enjoyed our packet of peanuts and beer whilst everyone else on the boat tucked into fresh shrimp and salad…it wasn’t our best decision.

Paraty boat trip

Paraty boat trip

The rest of our time in Paraty was either spent on the beach, walking around taking pictures of the beautiful cobble stoned streets or drinking Caipirinhas…when in Rome! Paraty is one of two places in Brazil that produces cacacha, the spirit used to make the famous Caipirinha. We found a Cacacharia and immediately started sampling the local stuff which is so much nicer than the cheap cacacha you see everywhere else.

Beer O Clock

Beer O Clock

We could have stayed longer in Paraty but we’d booked our transfer out and our next stop was Ilha Grande, a beautiful island that has been in our plans since the beginning. As this is our last few weeks, we decided that we were done with buses so booked a transfer which would take us door to door for the remainder of our trip, including Rio. The boat dropped us right in front of our hostel on the island and we were excited to dump our bags and start exploring.

View from our room

View from our room

The hostel (Aquario Hostel) was a bit of a let-down unfortunately. We had a nice room, overlooking the sea front but the staff were a bit moody and the whole place just felt a bit shabby and dirty. Oh well, Ilha Grande is a big island so we spent our days out on the various beaches and our evenings in town doing you know what…drinking caipirinhas.

Happy Hour

Happy Hour

On our first night we met another English couple, Laura and Philip and we decided to book a boat trip together. We chose a smaller boat (max 15 people) which took us to a couple of beaches, a couple of snorkelling sites and included a BBQ lunch.

The beer man

The beer man

The only disappointment that day was that there was nowhere to buy drinks so all we had was warm water. That was until a local man in is kayak arrived with iced cold beers just as we were about to sit down for lunch. Talk about timing.

A relaxed Sam

A relaxed Sam

One of the main things to do on this island is a beach called Lopes Mendes. Everyone we had met told us that we must make the effort to go to this beach. There are two options; the first is to walk there and what they describe as a relatively easy 2-3 hour trek, the second option is to get a boat there.

Jungle boogie

Jungle boogie

As we were in holiday mode, we had discussed getting the boat there and back but then I woke up one morning and it was fairly cloudy and I had one of my moments of madness and suggested that we should walk there. I have never sweated so much in my life. Sam kept telling me was a good thing but I just kept wishing we had paid the £10 and got the boat.

Beach number one

Beach number one

The walk started badly as we took a wrong turn and ended up walking an hour in the wrong direction. Once we were back on track it took us a further 2 ½ hours of fairly tough climbs in incredible heat…not what I would call relatively easy. Sensible as ever, we walked it in our flip flops!

The walk took us through some quite thick jungle but then opened up onto smaller beaches along the way. When we finally reached Lopes Mendes it was really busy but we could see why it was a must see. A beautiful white sandy beach as far as the eye could see stretched out in front of us and this was one of the best beaches we have seen in South America.

Lopes Mendes

Lopes Mendes

Unfortunately the weather wasn’t great so the pictures do not do it justice at all. We found spot to collapse onto, grabbed a couple of beers and just relaxed for a few hours watching the surfers. Of course we got the boat back and we ended the day slowly sailing back to the main town.

Poser

Poser

Our last day on Ilha Grande was spent on the beach, fearing this would be our last beach day for some time we sweated our way through it. It was so hot that we were constantly in and out of the sea, playing frisbee and I think Sam walked up and down the beach about 20 times as it was too hot to lie still. Sounds terrible I know. Last stop Rio.

Caipirinhas

Caipirinhas

As always, in case you’re interested, there are more images available via the RSS feed on the blog, or via the following link:

Until the next time…

Brazil…the beginning of the end

From Uruguay we travelled across the border to Brazil with three lovely (and mad) Irish girls, Maeve, Cliona and Mary, who we’d met in our hostel. The journey started with a bit of drama…Cliona had left one of her bags at the bus station containing hundreds of dollars, and it was unlocked…oh. After some tears, frantic phone calls and a very helpful local lady at the border, she was eventually reunited with her bag seconds before we had to leave on our connecting bus (lucky).  Disaster averted. This was our last overnight bus (whoop!) so we thought we’d travel in style and treated ourselves to cama seats (full recliners). Once on board we sat back, relaxed and enjoyed a dinner of dry chicken and plastic tortilla.

After a good night’s sleep we were finally in Brazil…our last country of this trip and which takes the tally up to 21 visited in 15 months. We were both really excited about Brazil as we had heard such good things from fellow travellers. However a depressing thought was at the back of our minds…just four weeks until we have return to a cold and rainy London.

Hostel views

Hostel views

A few weeks before Brazil we decided that we wanted a stress free month so we booked as much in advance as we could including hostels, transfers, buses and any flights we may need…more time for the beach. Our first stop in Brazil was Florianopolis (or Floripa as the locals call it), a large island with over 40 beaches, famous for its amazing surf and a chilled out vibe.

Barra de Lagoa

Barra de Lagoa

Happy with our hostel choice, we quickly admired the sea view from our window and headed out to explore the small fishing village of Barra de Lagoa. We were starving after our 14 hour bus ride so treated ourselves to an amazing seafood lunch, prawns three ways; breaded, in garlic and grilled, fish in a prawn sauce and crab cakes. It was great to be eating fish again after all the red meat in Argentina.

Mmmmm, seafood

Mmmmm, seafood

It was still a bit out of season so for the first few days we pretty much had a beach to ourselves…it was heaven. In the evenings the hostel offered free caipirinhas in the bar which were delicious and a great way to meet people or just admire the amazing view from the balcony.

View from our room

View from our room

The Irish girls were staying in a different hostel so we arranged to meet them on the beach for Sam’s birthday. They had bought him a Brazilian flag sarong which was great and his only birthday present. Before you ask where his present was from me, let me remind you that he spent £150 on a football ticket not so long ago…that was his birthday treat!

Girl's night out...and Sam

Girl’s night out…and Sam

In the evening we headed out for another delicious seafood dinner and Sam got to enjoy his birthday with four lovely ladies. We ended the night in an English bar called the Black Swan and were joined by a few more people…more girls, one of which asked Sam if I was for keeps (rude). I evidently had far too many caipirinhas as I can’t remember a thing, but I do believe Sam said that I was.

The next few days were pretty chilled out and involved applying sun tan lotion, playing frisbee, eating acai berry smoothies and relaxing in the hostel bar. I have to say the acai berry things have been a real highlight…they are absolutely delicious and apparently very healthy (bonus). They blend frozen acai pulp with bananas and serve it with chopped bananas and granola on the top…it’s like a frozen yogurt type thing and makes a great (and cheap) alternative to lunch…see…healthy!

Acai

Acai

We discovered (well Sam actually) that the Black Swan would be showing the Arsenal match on the Saturday so of course it was decided that we would go into town and watch it. What a dull game it turned out to be but luckily the rugby was on at the same time which kept us more entertained. After a few buckets of beer we headed back to our hostel and straight to bed…what lightweights we have become.

Our hostel was always very busy with lots of people coming and going and we got chatting to a couple of Irish lads, Tom and Darra and an English girl called Candy and immediately hit it off. We spent our last few days and nights hanging out with them and even had a mini beach party when the Irish girls joined us for their last night.

Beach party

Beach party

Florianopolis was a fabulous start to Brazil…we’re tanned, healthier (thanks to the acai) and really looking forward to seeing more of Brazil.

As always, in case you’re interested, there are more images available via the RSS feed on the blog, or via the following link:

Until the next time…

Ice Ice Baby

After a comfortable two hour flight we arrived in El Calafate, located in the heart of Patagonia and home to the amazing Glacier Perito Moreno, the main purpose of our visit.

We splashed out on an airport transfer which meant being dropped off at our hostel door and were pleasantly surprised with our hostel choice, especially considering we’d gone cheap and booked a dorm room.  We quickly dumped our bags, chatted to the hostel owners about the various tours on offer and had a quick walk into town to check prices etc. We decided to book our tour through our hostel and settled on a mini trek across the glacier which gave us three hours on the ice…perfect. The hostel owners even lent us there walking shoes as apparently trainers wouldn’t have been good enough.

Laguna Nimez

Laguna Nimez

We then checked the weather as it can be quite changeable and decided Sunday would be a good day…forecast clear blue skies and very little wind.  We had two free days to fill in a very small town. We spent one afternoon walking around nearby Laguna Nimez which is a wetlands sanctuary, so great for bird lovers (which we aren’t)  but it was a nice afternoon. Until, we were followed by a pack of stray dogs on heat which made me feel very uncomfortable. We took refuge in a nearby Dinosaur museum and tried to explain to the owner that we just needed to hide out for a minute but he didn’t understand and instead tried to sell us a tour. We would have done it too but he was asking for $10 each to literally walk around a shed of dinosaur pictures…no chance! The dogs disappeared; we made our excuses…no money etc…and quickly headed back to our hostel.

We had one afternoon in the local pub watching Arsenal lose to Norwich…the less said the better. We then spent our remaining time organising our last two months, booking hostels and remaining flights we might need. It was a pretty depressing task to be honest but we have managed to book some amazing places (on our budget anyway) and we now have a lot to look forward to. We rewarded ourselves with some home cooked (well by the hostel) Patagonian lamb stew and a bottle of red.

Stunning view from the bus

Stunning view from the bus

Sunday finally arrived and after a very early breakfast we were picked up and on our way to Perito Moreno. The glacier is located about 80km out of El Calafate in Parque National Los Glaciers.  Before I tell you about our experience, here is how the Lonely Planet describes it.

Few glaciers on earth can match the suspense and excitement of the blue-hued Glacier Perito Moreno. Its 60m jagged ice peaks sheer off and crash land with huge splashes and thunderous rifle cracks, birthing small tidal waves and large bobbing icebergs. What makes this glacier exceptional is that it is advancing – up to 2m a day – and constantly dropping chunks of ice off its face.

For once the Lonely Planet has got it spot on…we had the most incredible day and the glacier was AMAZING! We started with a view point so we could take it the sheer size of the glacier before boarding a boat which took us right in front of the wall. After about ten minutes on the boat we were greeted by our guide for the day (who was great) and told that we would walk about twenty minutes towards the glacier, get our crampons on and start our trek across the ice.

Perito Moreno Glacier

Perito Moreno Glacier

Whilst waiting for our crampons we had our first ice falling experience of the day. None of us were able to catch it on camera but the noise it made and then watching the ice fall was spectacular. Apparently the day before there had been a huge piece of ice fall and we were experiencing the after effects. At this stage we couldn’t wait to get on the ice. We were taught how to walk properly with our crampons on and after a few minutes it became very easy.  It’s a bizarre feeling walking on what is basically a block of ice but we were assured that the glacier was stable and to just relax and enjoy it.

On the glacier

On the glacier

Our guide took us up as high as we could go without having to start ice climbing…probably a good thing. Along the way up we had to walk over crevasses and gorges, had our photos taken by ice lakes and just got to enjoy the glacier from a totally different perspective. About half way down we were rewarded with a glass of Jameson’s whisky on the rocks…courtesy of the glacier and got to relax and take it all in for ten minutes or so.

Cheers...I don't mind if I do

Cheers…I don’t mind if I do

After handing back our crampons and with our feet feeling 100 pounds lighter, it was time for lunch. Well I’ve eaten sandwiches in worse places…our picnic table looked right over the glacier and the whole setting was just stunning. Whilst I was unpacking everything Sam was busy taking photos and was in the middle of a panoramic shot when the biggest chunk of ice fell so unfortunately he didn’t catch it on film but look at the photo carefully and you’ll see the ice falling.

Spot the iceberg

Spot the iceberg

Once lunch was finished we got back on the boat for the final part of the day. We were taken to a series of walkways which are purpose built for tourists but provide amazing views of the glacier wall. We had about an hour, so we headed straight to the walkway nearest the glacier and sat and watched, waiting for more ice to break off.

View from the walkway

View from the walkway

We were just about to leave when we started to hear loud cracking sounds. Camera at the ready we waited…and waited until a big piece of ice broke off and crashed into the water, creating a massive tidal wave. Fortunately this time Sam had the video ready and pressed record at just the right moment. What a truly amazing day, one we will never forget and a definite highlight of our 13 months travelling so far.

Next stop El Chalten; Argentina’s trekking capital and home to the incredible Fitz Roy mountain range. I know some of you are thinking…Katy and trekking is not something you hear often in the same sentence but Sam somehow managed to persuade me that it would be a good idea and nice way to end our time in Patagonia. It’s only two hours away from El Calafate so we arrived by lunchtime, were greeted by a park ranger and told about the various walks we could do…some long and some smaller easier ones, obviously more my style. It was at this stage that I started to feel a little out of place amongst all the proper trekkers in their smart outfits and walking poles…there was us with our trainers and alpaca hats!

As Fitz Roy is the main attraction we decided we would definitely do this but probably just as far as the mirador which is about a three hour round trip. You can go as far as the summit which sits at 3441m but this was definitely not on our agenda. We had arrived on a beautiful clear blue day and the ranger kept telling us how lucky we were as the weather can change very quickly and that the following few days were forecast to be cloudy and very windy.

Fitz Roy

Fitz Roy

We quickly checked into our hostel, had a bite to eat and began our trek up Fitz Roy. As much as I moan about trekking, this particular trek was stunning. The scenery was just beautiful and with the Fitz Roy range as a back drop it was a constant reminder as to why I was struggling to breathe.

View from the mirador

View from the mirador

We made it to the mirador in record time…55 minutes instead of the advertised 1 hour and 30 minutes. I’m not sure who was more surprised, me or Sam! Anyway at this stage I was still feeling pretty perky and the view was just amazing so Sam talked me into the doing the next stage, a one hour walk to the base of the summit climb. I think it also had something to do with Sam offering to take me for a steak dinner that evening…he obviously knows me far too well! I reluctantly agreed and off we went.

Lago Capri

Lago Capri

The next stage had been advertised as reasonably flat which is another reason why I was so easily persuaded…well it wasn’t  The terrain got harder to walk over and the wind suddenly picked up so it was time for the Alpaca hat to make an appearance. It was all worthwhile though as the views just got better and the closer we got to Fitz Roy the more impressive it became. We’d run out of water by this stage so took our chances and filled our water bottle up from the steam …mistake? Well we’ll soon find out! When we eventually made it to the end we rested our legs, drank our stream water and shared a packet of peanuts…very romantic!

Not a bad spot for a rest

Not a bad spot for a rest

It was time to head back as the temperature was dropping. Sam kept assuring me that it would all be downhill so it would be really easy. I think he’d forgotten that I had just walked the same trail as him so I knew it wasn’t all going to be downhill. I’m not sure how many of you realise this but neither of us have proper walking shoes, Sam has the same pair of £30 trainers he set off with 13 months ago and I have a pair of £10 Pan trainers bought in Thailand. Well it was at this stage of the walk that I really wished I had invested in a decent pair of hiking boots.

Alpaca hat time

Alpaca hat time

There wasn’t much I could do except carry on through the pain and by the time we were about half an hour from town I had totally lost my sense of humour. Sam said he’d never seen me looking so grumpy and fed up. Anyway we managed the trek in 5 1/2 hours, bang on time…not too shabby for a novice trekker wearing crap trainers. It is time to say goodbye to the trainers now though. I don’t foresee and certainly haven’t planned any more treks, well nothing that my flip flops can’t handle. I don’t expect any more cold weather in our remaining two months so it’s goodbye and good riddance Pan trainers.

A walk in the woods

A walk in the woods

I was so exhausted after our trek that I couldn’t even be bothered to go out for Sam’s bribe of a steak dinner, instead we settled for home cooked Chorizo risotto and of course a bottle of red. Our last day in El Chalten, as forecasted was overcast, cold and rainy so we had a day of recovering and enjoyed the view from our hostel.

Another amazing day in Patagonia

Another amazing day in Patagonia

As always, in case you’re interested, there are more images available via the RSS feed on the blog, or via the following link:

Until the next time…

Red Red Wine…

The Chile / Argentina border crossing was very simple and the most thorough we have come across. A customs officer took Sam’s bag and asked to take a look inside. He immediately found the frisbee and started asking us what it was for. Rather than try and explain in our broken Spanish, Sam demonstrated by throwing the frisbee to another officer who became very excited…surely they have seen a frisbee before? A quick game followed before we had to get back on the bus…funny.

So we were finally in Argentina and on our way to Mendoza. I couldn’t have been more excited. Since the day we left the UK I have been dreaming of rare steaks and amazing Malbec wines. We were actually both feeling a little worse for wear as we’d had a few too many the night before, so our first night in Mendoza was surprisingly a dry one.  We made up for it the next day by ordering the biggest steak we could find (and afford) accompanied by a bottle of their finest Malbec (within our budget). This was followed by a Cabernet Sauvignon dinner back at the hostel.

The next few days followed the same suit with the odd home cooked meal thrown in and occasional beer just to mix things up a little.

A popular thing to do here is biking around the vineyards, and our hostel offered us free bikes for a day if we booked for four nights…perfect. We’d heard a lot about a bike rental company called Mr Hugo, and I was really looking forward to a nice romantic bike ride through the Maipu wine region taking in the sites and sampling some of Mendoza’s best wines.  Instead we were faced with an 8km bike ride down a very busy main road taking in the dust from the trucks zooming past and freezing because we’d chosen the one day it wasn’t sunny!

Where to begin?

Where to begin?

We visited three vineyards, each very different. The first was a small and very old family run winery which produced only 40,000 bottles per year and only sold their wine in Argentina. It was a really interesting tour and their reserve Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon wines were delicious…a good start to the day. The next winery was a bit different, producing double the quantity as the first but we weren’t offered a tour. We each choose three wines to taste and rested our legs for an hour or two. The last winery was very modern looking offering a self-guided tour and was in an amazing setting; just a shame about the weather. Again, we each choose three wines to try and sat back and enjoyed the view. We ended the day in a beer garden and slowly made our way back to Mr Hugo’s trying our best to cycle in a straight line.

Wobbly cycling

Wobbly cycling

We decided to switch hostels after four days as our hostel was quite dull and expensive. So we moved to Hostel Lao and into a dorm room (more money for wine). After a reasonably heavy night with Ali and Matt (who we met in Chile) we decided that we had better try and have a dry day.  It was going really well until the hostel introduced ‘free wine night’ and as most of you will know I’ve never been one to turn down free wine.

I really wanted to experience the wines in as many different ways as possible. The bike day was great but I really wanted to experience the pairing of wines with food. I found a winery with great reviews offering a five course tasting menu with wines for about £60 a head…a bargain back in the UK but on our budget Sam took some persuading. I had also emailed a friend, Ben who works for a wine merchant called Jascot’s in the UK to see if he had any contacts over here. Anyway it couldn’t have worked out better. The day we were meant to go for our fancy lunch, our hostel was offering a BBQ with as much wine you could drink for about $20 and we received an email from Ben detailing our visit to the La Chamiza vineyard including a tour with their Agronomist and a tasting with lunch with their wine maker…result! So we quickly cancelled the booking with the other winery and joined in with the hostel BBQ.

The BBQ was amazing and included huge hunks of steak and pork, chorizo and blood sausage (surprisingly delicious) accompanied by copious amounts of red wine. It was a great day and a great way to meet everyone in the hostel.

In preparation for our visit to La Chamiza I managed to persuade Sam that I needed some shoes and possibly a new top (or two).  So that’s exactly what we did…shop! I managed to squeeze in two new nail varnishes and a pair of sunglasses too…hurrah! After the BBQ we decided that we’d have another attempt to have a dry day but it didn’t last long as the hostel owner Mike (from Derby) persuaded Sam to go out and buy some empanadas for us all and give him directions to the nearest wine shop…here we go again I thought.

Empanada party

Empanada party

Our day at La Chamiza was amazing. We were picked up from our hostel by Ramiro, our host for the day, and driven about 40 minutes out of town to one of their vineyards. We were met by their Agronomist who is basically a specialist in soil and looks after all the vines. We were shown around their premier vines…exclusively used for their top wine, Martin Alsina Malbec. Ramiro translated and told us about the growing process and the irrigation system which is a very organic irrigation system of using the water from the mountains.

La Chamiza Vineyard

La Chamiza Vineyard

We were then driven back to town for a tasting of their top end wines which included the Polo Professional wines, the Legend wine and finally the amazing Martin Alsina Malbec. We went to a restaurant called azafrán and were shown into their tasting room or wine library which was just beautiful and included ponchos in case it got too cold. We were greeted by their wine maker, Martin who guided us through each wine and provided us with tasting notes. Then a series of tapas style dishes were served which was the perfect accompaniment to the wines and made for a very relaxing tasting.

Tasting room at Azafrán

Tasting room at Azafrán

Not to go on too much about it but the Martin Alsina Malbec was possibly one of the best wines I have ever tasted (and I have tried a few). It has even won the ‘Best Malbec from Argentina’ award over the last few years so it’s a wine that they are deservedly very proud of and a wine I feel very privileged to have tried.

Let the tasting commence

Let the tasting commence

We have had an amazing week in Mendoza but it’s time to move on and give my liver a rest so tonight we head South towards Bariloche on what I hope will be our last overnight bus of this trip.

As always, in case you’re interested, there are more images available via the RSS feed on the blog, or via the following link:

Until the next time…

Getting high in Bolivia

We arrived to Bolivia’s capital early in the morning and were luckily shown straight to our room at the hostel we’d booked and offered breakfast…good start. Sucre was a nice surprise with clear blue skies every day, beautiful buildings to look at and a fairly lively night life. We had booked two nights but ended up staying seven.

Sucre's Cathedral

Sucre’s Cathedral

We had good intentions of finding somewhere cheaper to stay but our hostel (Case Verde) was so good that I managed to persuade Sam to stay. When you get an amazing breakfast, a swimming pool and a fully equipped kitchen to use for only £19 per night who’d want to leave all that to save a few quid? Anyway by extending our stay to seven nights it meant that we got a discount…bonus!

There is not much to say about Sucre as we didn’t do much at all. Our days were spent reading, swimming, cooking and drinking local red wine. We took advantage of the kitchen and cooked every night…well I cooked every night while Sam watched. We enjoyed lots of local red wine which was actually pretty decent and only £2 a bottle. Or it could be that it’s been such a long time since I have had any decent wine that any wine now tastes good to me!

We made a few friends whilst there and even dragged ourselves away from the hostel for a night out. It was really good fun and included several bars, a club, and we ended the night in a local karaoke bar. At 4:30am we realised that bed was a better idea than singing an Islands In The Stream duet, and so we headed home. Needless to say we felt pretty rubbish the next day and didn’t move from the comfort of our hostel. It was a much needed cheap and relaxing week but it was time to move on so we reluctantly bought our bus tickets to Potosi.

The main square in Potosi

The main square in Potosi

According to the Lonely Planet, Potosi is the highest city in the world at 4070m above sea level. Not true. Sam was determined to prove LP wrong, and after some searching it turns out that there are several higher cities, the highest one being in Peru. We’d been warned that it was very cold there and that the altitude made even walking up a small hill very difficult. However, when we arrived it was lovely and sunny and perhaps because we’ve become acclimatised to the altitude, we didn’t really notice the thin air. Potosi was once the richest city in the world due to the local silver mines, and the centre of town was very pretty with some impressive buildings.

The silver mines are still open and one of the things you can do here is take a tour and go into the mines. We had met a lot of people who had done the tour and said it was amazing and others who had refused to do the tour because it was dangerous and quite harrowing. Even as we were getting ourselves kitted out in miners gear, I still didn’t know if I wanted to do it.

As far as I got into the mine

As far as I got into the mine

We were a group of four and once we’d all been kitted out and bought a bag full of goodies each to give to the miners, we were on our way. As we stepped into the mine shaft all I could think about was the Chilean miners from a few years ago and my mind just went into overdrive. We’d walked only about 30m in and that was it for me…I couldn’t go any further so I decided to turn back. It was the point of no return as going in any further would have meant stopping the tour for everyone. As Sam was brave and completed the tour, it’s only fair that he should write a little about it…

Hearing all of the stories from people who had already visited the mines was not really enough to prepare me for the experience. Upon entering the mine (and waving goodbye to Katy), the temperature dropped to near freezing. The tunnel also got much narrower and the ceiling much lower. Walking through one foot of water in the pitch black, we were then told to watch out for the trolleys exiting the mine. They would be carrying up to two tons of material, and could be very dangerous. I didn’t really see how I could get out of the way as the tunnels were so narrow at that point, but thankfully soon after they opened up a bit.

Miners (and gringos) at work

Miners (and gringos) at work

As we ventured deeper into the mine, it got much hotter. Wearing a scarf over my mouth didn’t help, but this was essential. There are numerous noxious chemicals present in the mine including asbestos, mercury, arsenic, phosphorous and silica dust. Most miners die of silicosis pneumonia within ten years of beginning work in the mines, so I didn’t fancy taking my chances. Since the mine opened in 1546, over 8 million people have died there.

Sam looking the part

Sam looking the part

As we got deeper into the mine, we met some of the miners at work. Most start work at around 04:00am, and work until 17:00pm. We sat with two miners just as they we about to get back to work after having a break. Coca leaves is an essential part of work there, as food isn’t generally consumed in the mine due to the chemicals in the air. Instead they chew coca leaves mixed with ash, which suppresses hunger and gives them the energy to keep on working.

They told us about how miners used to spend six months down the mines at a time, and that they worship their devil (Tiá) as God doesn’t exist down there. There are several statues of Tiá where the miners can provide offerings including alpaca foetuses, cigarettes, alcohol and coca leaves.

A tight squeeze

A tight squeeze

Some parts of the mine were very claustrophobic, and involved crawling through very tight spaces. It was probably a good job that Katy didn’t go any further in. If she freaked out at 30m in, then it could have only have been worse a 3km in with temperatures at around 45°.

We were in there for about one and a half hours, and it was an experience that will be hard to forget. It also makes our normal working lives seem much more bearable, even after not working for almost a year.

Sam

We’re now in Tupiza, a small town in the very south of Bolivia and also known as the wild west of South America due to its amazing landscape of rainbow coloured rocks, hills and canyons. Even at 2950m above sea level it’s very hot so naturally we booked another hostel with a swimming pool.

Back in the saddle

Back in the saddle

I managed to persuade Sam to get back in the saddle and what better place to do it. We went out for three hours and cantered along the dry river, stopped at a canyon for a quick break and I had great fun watching Sam bob up and down on his horse. I think three hours was enough for both of us as it was really hot and Sam was soon feeling the pain. He did very well again and even had a mini gallop at one stage…definitely not intentional but once one horse goes they all go.

The wild west

The wild west

It was a great morning and we had hoped the afternoon would be spent around the pool but unfortunately it had clouded over and then we had a big thunder storm. Instead we settled for a late lunch of local empanadas with a peanut chilli sauce, which were delicious…think Cornish pasty but much nicer.

It’s been a great place to relax and enjoy some sun, and yet another very different place to add to Bolivia’s long list.

As always, in case you’re interested, there are more images available via the RSS feed on the blog, or via the following link (we’re slightly over our monthly quota, so more will be added in due course):

Until the next time.

Dunes, treats and exotic meats

Everyone we had met who had been to Peru, told us that we must travel with Cruz del Sur…the best bus company in Peru…and the most expensive. So when we were booking our bus ticket to Lima, we ignored all the advice and decided to go with a budget option instead. Never again! After three tuk tuks and a five hour bus journey to the middle nowhere, where we were the only gringos in sight and everyone looked like they wanted to rob us (maybe I’m just paranoid now), we finally got on our bus to Lima. It was at this point that I threw my toys out of the pram and said ‘no more budget buses Sam, its Cruz del Sur all the way, whatever the cost’…surprisingly he agreed with me!

Whoop Whoop...it's the sound of the police

Whoop Whoop…it’s the sound of the police

We had booked what I thought looked like a nice hostel in Lima…private room with en-suite in a good area (Miraflores). When we arrived however, the place looked like it was falling down and the very damp private room didn’t have an en-suite. The owner was very apologetic (and a bit mad) and ended up offering us two nights for the price of one if we stayed there. Never one to pass on a bargain, we agreed to stay. That night we treated ourselves to the biggest Domino’s pizza I have ever seen, and ate it in bed whilst we watched a film on the lap top…bliss.

After two nights we left the run down hostel and checked into a much better one which even had cable tv and our own kitchen. We had a great few days doing absolutely nothing. We went to the cinema to watch Batman, watched some of the Olympics and ate far too much blue cheese, pate and bread. We also managed to buy another camera which makes it our fourth of the trip. Hopefully this one will last the remaining four months.

Nazca Lines

Nazca Lines

We decided to break up the journey to Cusco by stopping at a small town in the middle of the desert called Nazca and its famous Nazca lines…anyone heard of them? No me neither. Small history lesson for you…the lines were discovered in 1939 when a routine ancient irrigation flight found them…like graffiti or giant carvings in the desert floor. Nazca is now a UNESCO World Heritage site and people flock here in their thousands to get a look at these lines. The idea is that you take a small plane and fly over the lines but of course this was too expensive for us so instead we went on a tour which took us to an observation tower where we could get a glimpse of some of the lines. As Sam has mentioned in previous blogs, it takes a lot these days to impress us and unfortunately this was not one of those times. I was however impressed with Cruz del Sur…blankets, pillows and breakfast all provided and very comfy seats.

Sand boarding show off

Sand boarding show off

Another thing to do in Nazca is sand boarding. We signed up for an afternoon which also included a visit to a couple of burial sites and pyramids. He also showed us a mummy of a child that was sacrificed. It was a bit of a strange thing to see just in the middle of the desert. In most other countries it would be in a museum rather than just left out in the open. The guide then took us out to some sand dunes which were stunning and then decided to have some fun by driving the sand buggy up to the top of a dune, stopping at the top so we tilted over and then at full throttle going down…scary but great fun.

Eating sand

Eating sand

Then it was time to actually try sand boarding. We started on some smaller sand dunes going down on our bellies just to get comfortable on the sand. The sand boarding part was really hard…well I found it hard but Sam seemed to pick it up quite quickly. I had a couple of try’s and then spent the rest of the time going down on my belly…much more fun. Some of the dunes were really steep, and we were taken to higher and higher dunes as the afternoon went on. We ended the day with a very cold journey back through the desert to the town with our clothes full of sand…literally everywhere and even now Sam is still emptying his trainers of sand.

Landslide

Landslide

We met another English couple in our hostel who we travelled with to Cusco. Again, another Cruz del Sur bus but this time with luxury seats, dinner and breakfast provided. We had a fairly uneventful journey until about 8.30 in the morning (by this time we’d been travelling for 12 hours). We were woken up with breakfast and the bus abruptly stopping. It looked like a traffic jam but we soon found out it was actually a landslide just up ahead. We all got out to have a look, take pictures etc…whilst getting bitten to death by mosquitos and hoping we’d be on our way soon. No such luck…it took five hours to clear the road and with no air-con and sat in the sweltering heat it wasn’t a very pleasant five hours. We eventually arrived in Cusco around 3pm, checked into our hostel and unpacked for Sam to find that his kindle was missing. We phoned the bus company just in case he’d left it on the seat and someone handed it in but there was nothing. We actually think someone took it out of his bag whilst we were out stretching our legs. Surely our luck has to change soon!

The road to Cusco

The road to Cusco

Cusco is 3400m above sea level, and it’s really noticeable how much the altitude affects you. Just walking up a short flight of stairs can leave you puffed out…at least that’s what I am blaming it on. Even though we were knackered and upset about the kindle we’d heard about an English pub serving roast dinners on a Sunday. We enjoyed only our second roast dinner in almost 11 months, washed it down with a local beer and had an early night.

Guinea pig anyone?

Guinea pig anyone?

We’ve been in Cusco for five nights which is probably a bit too long really but it’s a nice place to walk around and very touristy which is actually quite nice once in a while. We’ve been busy sorting out our insurance claim, getting all the relevant documents printed and scanned which we’ve now sent off so fingers crossed we get a bit of luck there. We have also enjoyed some local specialities including Alpaca and Cuy while we have been here. The Alpaca (Llama) was very tasty and a bit like veal and was served in a black pepper and aniseed sauce. Last night we finally got around to trying Cuy…roasted guinea pig. We had to pre order it as it takes about one hour and half to roast and it came with roast potatoes and stuffed bell peppers. It was ok, not my favourite meat to be honest and there wasn’t a lot of it but the little we did have tasted of lamb. As you can see from the photos, they serve it whole…head, claws…the lot, which makes a great picture but doesn’t make it easy to eat.

Street llamas

Street llamas

Today is our last day in Cusco and we decided to go on a free walking tour of the city. We’d been told by a few people that it was really good so decided to give it a go. The tour lasted about three hours and included a gastronomy tour which I especially enjoyed. We visited the chocolate museum where we got some free samples as well as a chocolate tea…nice. Then we were treated to another local speciality…Causa which is layered potato, avocado and chicken or crab in mayonnaise which was absolutely delicious. At only 75p for a slice, we’re going back later for more. The gastronomy tour also included a Chinese restaurant where we had Chinese cookies, an ice cream parlour and a bagel shop. Not all local food but nice none the less…and free! The tour ended with a short hike up the hill to a point where we had amazing views over the city. The tour was a great way to see a bit more of the city and I can highly recommend it to anyone visiting Cusco. It’s just a shame that we didn’t do it on day one.

Cusco skyline

Cusco skyline

As always, in case you’re interested, there are more images available via the RSS feed on the blog, or via the following link:

Until the next time…

A Colombian Caribbean coach trip

When we arrived at the Ecuador / Colombia border crossing we had no idea what to do or where to go. We must have looked like proper gringos with our South American phrase book in one hand and the Lonely Planet in the other. We joined the only queue there was and hoped for best. Fortunately it was the right queue and we managed to get our exit stamps relatively quickly. It then took literally two minutes to cross into Colombia. Well for me anyway…Sam got asked 100 questions about why he was visiting, where he was going etc…but eventually they waved him through. We did find ourselves in a familiar situation where we had no Colombian money so we changed what dollars we had left with one of the many dodgy Colombians hanging around the border and made our first stop an ATM.  With no hostel booked and night travel not advised our cab driver took us to what he called an ‘Economical hotel’ which ended up being a godsend at only £10 a night and right next to the bus station.

Our plan was to get up to the Caribbean coast as quickly as possible as we’d heard it’s the nicest part of Colombia. From there we were going to go to Venezuela, however after hearing how expensive it is we’ve reluctantly decided to give it a miss. This means that we will have to double back through Colombia and Ecuador to reach Peru. I’m sure some of you are wondering why we don’t just fly, but flights in South America are ridiculously expensive, so our only option is more bus travel…fun!

Popayan town centre

Popayan town centre

En route to the coast we stopped in a couple of places; Popayan which is a small Colonial town, very pretty to look at but not much to do. We then took a 12 hour night bus to Medellin, a large bustling city to the West of Bogota. We could have taken a Pablo Escobar tour which included trying on some of his old hats and meeting his brother (doubtful) but at £20 each we decided that we wouldn’t be missing out on that much. Instead we took the metro across town and had a walk around down-town Medellin…not that nice to be honest and weirdly full of statues of fat people. There were lots of people selling everything from a phone minutes, i.e. use their phone for so much a minute. You could also pay to get weighed on what looked like bathroom scales and there were lots of people selling home-made juices just walking around with them on trays like they were a waiter at a party.

Medellin cable car

Medellin cable car

We did go on a cable car though which provided great views over the city and across the poorer areas. I also managed to get my hair cut whilst there…a real treat for me and I felt human again for a while. The last time I had it cut properly was in Laos (Jan) and Sam attempted to trim it in KL but that was a bit of a disaster to be honest. We were in Medellin mid-week so there were no wild parties or salsa nights happening unfortunately. Although I am sure the latter wasn’t a problem for Sam…I think it would take a small miracle to get Sam on the dance floor salsa dancing (watch this space).

One thing that has struck us the most here is how expensive bus travel is. A typical 12 hour bus trip is about £35 each (over a day’s budget) which is why we have been trying to travel through the night…save on accommodation. This however, brings along its own risks and the stories we’ve read about armed bandits and bags being stolen have made these journeys somewhat nerve-racking. My bra has become our new wallet and Sam’s socks have become the hiding place for our passports. The buses are also freezing cold, for some unknown reason they crank up the air-con (maybe to keep the driver awake) and Sam finally got to use his sleeping bag on our last bus…after 9 months of carrying it around. My alpaca jumper and socks seem to be sufficient so far…I just need a nose warmer and I’m all set.

Colombian window-licker

Colombian window-licker

Our latest bus journey of 14 hours brought us to the city of Cartagena on the Caribbean coast. Our first impressions…mental! As soon as we stepped off the bus and into a battered looking taxi we were faced with chaos everywhere. The lonely planet (yes we do read it sometimes) describes Cartagena as ‘a fairy tale city of romance…the most beautiful city in Colombia’. We soon realised that this was only true for a very small part of the city…the old town. Behind the ancient walls, lies the beautiful old town with any stunning squares, flower-decked balconies and boutique shops. We spent a few days in Cartagena just walking around, taking pictures and of course enjoying a mojito or two along the way. Outside of these walls was nothing but high rises, dirt and chaos.

Santa Marta sewage outlet

Santa Marta sewage outlet

Continuing our journey along the coast, our next stop was Santa Marta where we were hoping for some nice beaches to chill out on for a few days. Not so. I think I had a certain expectation of a Caribbean coast and unfortunately so far Colombia has not lived up to it…the beaches are dirty and with a big old port stuck at one end of the beach and a sewage river through the middle, they are not very pretty. Instead we spend a few days chilling out in our hostel and enjoying the blistering heat from our roof terrace. We were back to cooking our own meals as well, so it was good to get a change from fried food. Not exactly what you want to eat when it is 36 ° outside, but you don’t really have much of a choice in South America.

View of Tanganga

View of Tanganga

We quickly moved on to a small fishing village called Taganga further along the coast. We’d heard that the beaches were a bit nicer and it was also the gateway for Tayrona National Park where we plan to spend a few days before heading south to Bogota. Taganga is famous for its cheap diving so we signed up for a couple of dives as soon as we arrived…probably our last dives of the trip. It was great to be back in the water but sadly the dive sites themselves weren’t the best. Our first dive was ok but the coral reef was either dying or dead so there wasn’t a huge amount to see. The water was freezing as well so for our second dive we both decided to wear hoods (a first for us).

Diving in Tayrona National Park

Diving in Tayrona National Park

The second dive was more like a drift dive as the current was really strong…at one point I thought we had lost Sam so I had a mini panic and grabbed the dive master but soon realised that Sam was just above me laughing at me panicking…nice. Sam was excited to see a flying gurnard and we also got to see a giant green moray eel poking its head out of the reef wall. Another highlight for Sam was watching me (and taking photos) trying to get back in the boat…there was no ladder or step so the idea was to pull yourself up and over. Well I have zero upper body strength so our dive master had to pull me over and I landed flat on my stomach…so much for chivalry and Sam helping me. Included in our dive package were some underwater photos so we finally have a few to share with you.

Jungle trek

Jungle trek

After a few days of hanging out in Taganga, it was time to head into Tayrona National Park. We’d heard nothing but good things about it and were told that this was where all the amazing beaches were. All we had to do was to decide which was the best way to see the park. The Lonely Planet recommends a route which involves a few hours of walking but with many beaches along the way to stop off at or stay. However, we’d met with a group of people the night before who were taking a boat to one of the remote beaches but this is all they would see but they would avoid the park fees so we were torn between the two. In the end we decided to take the books advice and go with the recommended route…even with the two hour trek.

Cabo San Juan

Cabo San Juan

The bus dropped us off at the entrance and we spent the first hour walking through some very nice jungle with some people we’d met on the bus. We came to the beach called Arrecifes which we’d been told not to swim in as it was too dangerous. There were several cabins, camping sites and restaurants here so we stopped off for a drink before heading further into the park. The beach itself was huge…very hot sand and just a shame that we couldn’t have taken a dip. We followed the trail further into the jungle and passed several beautiful beaches on our way to Cabo San Juan, where we would be spending the night.

Caribbean sunset

Caribbean sunset

We spent the afternoon lazing on the beach and it was wonderful…I know it’s only a few months since we were last on a beach but I have missed it so much. Our bed for the night was a hammock about 50m from the beach…sounds idyllic but the reality of sleeping in a hammock is being is a very uncomfortable night’s sleep. The evening was very relaxed…a nice meal and enough beer to help us sleep. The next day after a few more hours on the beach we followed the trail back to the entrance but this time we stopped at all the beaches along the way, had a dip and played with the frisbee. We eventually got back to Taganga around 7pm and managed to meet up with the group who had taken the boat…they all had a good time but I am so pleased we chose our route. The beaches were the nicest we’ve seen in a long time and the first we’ve seen in Colombia. I actually felt I was on the Caribbean coast.

As always, in case you’re interested, there are more images available via the RSS feed on the blog, or via the following link:

Until the next time…

A breath of fresh Air

Finally I had found my bit of luxury on Gili Air, a beautiful little island off the East coast of Lombok. Our bungalow was fantastic, just a stone’s throw away from the beach and a pool to use at our leisure…heaven and just what I needed. We had a very lazy few days most of which started with breakfast on the beach, followed by some swimming and ending with a few Bintangs and local seafood BBQ.

Gili Air

Gili Air

We had breakfast brought to our room on my birthday which was a real treat and then spent most of the day snorkelling where we saw lots of turtles and many fish. We had already decided to eat at what looked like the poshest place on the island, a restaurant called Scalliwags. After a few pre dinner cocktails, we headed to the restaurant where Sam had not only booked us a table right on the beach but had somehow organised for some flowers to be put on our table too, although they weren’t real but lovely all the same. I was really looking forward to having some wine but when I saw that a bottle of Jacob’s Creek was £35 (yes the Jacob’s Creek that you can buy for a fiver in Tesco) I just couldn’t bring myself to order any so I settled for a Mojito instead.

My birthday night

My birthday night

Of course it wasn’t just my birthday that day, Arsenal were playing too which meant that the laptop accompanied us to dinner… very romantic. Unfortunately it wasn’t a great result for Arsenal and the laptop was eventually packed away. Soon after, the heavens opened so we swiftly moved inside to take cover. Suddenly Happy Birthday was played and a cake (choc brownie) with a candle bought over to our table which was a lovely surprise. I think they were hoping that I would order a dessert but apparently Sam had told them that if I didn’t to bring something over anyway.  It was a great birthday with lots of lovely messages and emails received throughout the day…a birthday to remember for sure.

Our next stop was a place called Senggigi on the east coast of Lombok. We’d heard that it was a small town but quite lively and worth a visit. We had two nights here which were both spent in the Happy Café as there was a live band on each night and served pretty good sushi. There wasn’t much to do during the day so we had a wonder around, walked along the beach and booked our bus ticket to our next stop in Lombok.

Beach in Kuta Lombok

Beach in Kuta Lombok

We’re now in Kuta Lombok (not to be confused with Kuta Bali) and it’s a very quiet and relaxed town. We came here really because we needed a few cheap days and figured it was easy to keep it cheap just lazing on the beach. It also means that we’re back to cold shower and mosquito nets. Well we’re three days into our five night stay and it’s been overcast and rained a lot so we’ve had no lazy days on the beach so far. I know you’ll probably have no sympathy for us considering all its done is rain in the UK for the past few weeks. We did manage to take a bike (scooter) out yesterday and explore some nearby beaches and villages.

Kuta attracts a lot of surfers so we headed out towards one of the surfer beaches to watch them, which involved a few steep hills and plenty of pot holes. Anyway we didn’t make it as half way up one particularly steep hill, we started to slide backwards. I was shouting at Sam saying ‘what are you doing…brake’ and he was shouting that he was, but we kept on sliding backwards and were eventually rescued by a bush. The result, a small cut on my foot and Sam has a burn blister on his leg but no damage to the bike. I think we’ll just give the surfers a miss. On route to one of the beaches we managed to take a wrong turn and ended up on a rickety old bridge. It probably wasn’t meant for driving a bike over but we persevered and managed to avoid the nails sticking out and various wood slats missing to find that at the end we couldn’t get off. We noticed some locals laughing at us who eventually came to our rescue and practically had to lift the bike off for us. So all in all not a successful day on the scooter.

A bridge made for walking, not scooters

A bridge made for walking, not scooters

On our first night here we found ourselves in a place called the Full Moon Café as they offered free WIFI. We were having a drink and checking emails etc…when one of the barmen came and asked if we could help him set up a Facebook account. So Sam got to work and helped him out. We took his photo for his profile picture and by this point all the staff were gathered around our tiny laptop fascinated by what Sam was doing. They had their own laptop but needed help setting up the accounts. At one point when we had finished, we noticed them all gathered around their laptop laughing and Sam even joked that they were probably hacking into our accounts. Well they weren’t thank god and when Sam went over to have a look, one of the guys was filling out the security question about ‘who is your favourite author’…his answer was ‘chicken’. Lost in translation I think but it was very funny.

We’ve had company for most of our meals here…young children selling bracelets who just won’t take no for an answer.  It’s all very sad really especially when you see their mothers standing watching and encouraging them. If it was just one or two I might be tempted to buy a bracelet from them but there are too many. Cambodia was the same unfortunately.

We’ve just moved hotels yesterday as we’ve managed to find a cheaper room with a pool which is nice but it’s still raining so whether we get to use it remains to be seen.

Its Sunday now and its still raining but more importantly its the big day…last game of the season. We’ve checked out various bars and it looks like we’ll be subjected to either of the Manchester games but we’ll have the laptop to check other scores. I have a horrible feeling in my gut but all I can do now is wait for a miracle.

#COYW and #COYG

As always, in case you’re interested, there are more images available via the RSS feed on the blog, or via the following link:

Until the next time….

Monkeying around in Borneo

On our last night in KL we got caught in a torrential down pour which supposedly got rid of the mosquitoes. Wrong. After an uncomfortable night’s sleep due to the heat, I woke up with about 50 mosquito bites on each leg so I wasn’t feeling very peachy. Still we were on our way to Borneo so things weren’t all that bad.

Kuching sunset

Kuching sunset

We got a nice surprise in Kuching when we checked into our hostel. It was basically a three bedroom apartment with a lounge and kitchen. We had booked a private room (the other two being dorm rooms) and found that we were the only ones staying there, so for three nights we had a sofa to lounge around on, a small kitchen to chill out in and for the first time in six months it felt a little like home. All for just £9 per night.

Kuching is a small city in the Sarawak province of Borneo and we were surprised at how modern it was. We had a walk around the centre and along the river front where we witnessed some really weird storm clouds. We were about to go on a boat trip down the river before it absolutely chucked it down. Instead we sheltered in a nearby café and enjoyed some iced coffees whilst deciding what to do with our two days. We decided on Bako National Park and the Semenggoh Orang-utan sanctuary.

Proboscis monkey

Proboscis monkey

So the next day we made our way to Bako National Park. After a later than planned start we found the bus we needed and were eventually on our way at 10am. The bus took about an hour followed by a twenty minute hair raising boat trip to the entrance of the park. We registered at the main office (in case you get lost) and then saw a Proboscis monkey hanging around in a tree. For those who don’t know, the Proboscis monkey has a big nose and I think they’re pretty cool, although Sam thinks I look like one; RUDE!

We then started on the Lintang Trail which was 6km and would apparently take 3.5 hours to complete. We were immediately taken aback by the beauty of the rain forest with the trail mainly being roots and climbs over fallen trees. It was nice to feel like you were actually trekking through the jungle rather than walking on manmade trails. After a steep climb and scorching midday heat, we were pleased to find some flatter terrain and cool breezes near the top. I think I even jokingly said ‘I wish it would rain’. Not a joking matter it turns out.

A bit wet

A bit wet

The heavens opened and we got absolutely soaked, the trails turned into rivers and we still had about 4km to go. At first I didn’t find it very funny until suddenly out of nowhere a man wearing only his white see-through Y- fronts came passed and mumbled something about it being very wet. I wish we had had the camera ready as it would have made a brilliant photo but none the less it cheered me up. Once I had got over being wet I enjoyed the rest of the walk.

We made it back in time for a quick drink and a walk down the beach before catching the boat back to the bus. And whilst we sat on the air conditioned bus absolutely soaked and freezing cold, the semi naked man had got into his nice dry clothes and looked very smug about it. Who had the last laugh there then? We ended the day with pot noodles laid out on the sofa whilst we watched a film.

The next day we were up and ready to go by 7am as we needed to catch an early bus to the Orang-utans so as not to miss their feeding time. We’d been told to get there early before all the big tour buses and to stay on after the tour buses had gone for a chance to see Richie, the big alpha male.

Richie, the alpha male

Richie, the alpha-male

Just hanging around

Just hanging around

When we arrived, Richie was already out eating a ton of bananas but we were told he wasn’t in a very good mood, so we had to hang back until it was safe to go closer. We probably saw about twenty orang-utans that morning swinging from the trees, playing and eating their breakfast. It was an amazing experience to see them up close and I think we took about 300 pictures in the end.

We were back into town in time for lunch where we enjoyed some delicious Kolo mee (BBQ pork and noodles) and dumplings from the local Chinese food stalls. As it was our four year anniversary we treated ourselves to a local speciality, layer cake and enjoyed a large slice of blueberry and chocolate cake with a mug of coffee. I would have preferred a bottle of red wine but Sam said we couldn’t afford it L

The next day we left Kuching and took a flight to Kota Kinabalu in the Sabah province of Borneo. We hadn’t originally planned to spend any time here but this is where my friend Lucy and family are staying so we squeezed in a couple of days to see them. We’d always planned to go into Brunei and found cheap flights from KK, so after one night there we met Lucy for a quick cup of tea before heading off to Brunei.

 Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque

Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque

I didn’t know what to expect from Brunei. We’d heard mixed reviews about the place and a lot of people had said there wasn’t much to see, so we were a bit apprehensive and worried if two nights was going to be too long. The first thing we had to do was find a hostel, as we’d looked online but they all seemed so expensive so we decided to chance it and just turn up. Unfortunately Brunei is not the sort of place where you should just turn up as there are very few hotels to choose from (especially in our budget). We managed to find a travel agent at the airport who was able to help us with a couple of options and call through for availability. After a 1km trek down the highway we found the bus stop and we were on our way into Bandar Seri.

We eventually booked into KH Soon rest house which was a bit of a dump but the cheapest we could find (£22 per night). The first thing that struck us about Brunei is how clean and quiet it was. We had a walk around, watched the sun set over the Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque and enjoyed a take away pizza whilst watching a film on the laptop. There is a serious lack of entertainment mainly due to the fact that it’s a dry country so the usual bars and cafes don’t exist.

Ulu Temburong National Park

Ulu Temburong National Park

The next day we went to Brunei’s Ulu Temburong National Park and the only way to get there was by boat which was a trip in itself. The boat (locally known as a flying coffin) took us along winding rivers and rapids with amazing rainforest views. We finally ended up at the National Park’s entrance, registered and began the steep climb of roughly 2000 steps up to the canopy walkway.The walk itself wasn’t actually too bad (a sign I am getting fitter maybe) and the canopy wasn’t quite what we expected. I think we both thought of a rope type bridge through the forest but instead we were faced with purpose built scaffolding structure which consisted of ten towers with bridges linking them. Not quite in keeping with the beautiful rainforest but the views from the top made it all seem worthwhile. Although I am not sure they were meant to lean as much they did in the wind, and the spirit levels on the top were a bit of a worry. After we had finished our walk along the tree tops we were taken to see a waterfall with the promise of a swim but when we got there it was barely deep enough to paddle.

Kota Kinabalu seafood court

Kota Kinabalu seafood court

We flew back to Kota Kinabalu the next day and had arranged to meet Lucy and co in the local seafood food court for dinner. The kids (and Tom) were fascinated by all the fish in the tanks including eels, prawns and crabs and then we had the difficult decision of what to eat.  In the end we had a kilo of prawns in soy and garlic sauce (delicious), chilli seawater crab, soft-shell crab, steamed red snapper, Singapore noodles and fried rice. Far too much food for all of us but we just about managed.

The next day we had arranged to meet them all on an island nearby for a day of sunbathing and snorkelling. They were going from their hotel in the marina and we took the budget route on a public boat. It was a great day even though Sam got a little burnt (he’ll never learn) and the kids had a great time swimming and snorkelling in the sea.

Mamutik Island

Mamutik Island

We waved them all off on their boat around 4pm and waited for our lift back to the mainland when the heavens opened. At first it wasn’t too bad but about five minutes into the trip we couldn’t see further than about 1m so we had no idea of where land was and the rain was so heavy and sharp that I started to get a little bit worried. To make matters worse, we had a crazy boat driver driving really fast into the storm whilst shouting random things and his friend practicing what looked like Tai Chi on the back. I couldn’t even see at this point as there was just too much rain and I had visions of the boat getting lost at sea. All Sam could do was just laugh uncontrollably.  We finally saw land and I began to breathe again…disaster averted.

After saying goodbye to Lucy and everyone this morning we had a brief flight to Clark Airport in the Philippines. We now have a five hour wait in probably one of the worst airports we’ve been to before we fly to Cebu. Borneo is definitely somewhere that we would like to come back to, and we feel that we didn’t have enough time here. It’s somewhere we would highly recommend, especially the West coast.

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Until the next time…

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