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This is the end…

After over 70,000 blog views in 113 countries, visiting 21 countries over 15 months and quite a few memories along the way, the time has come and our travels have ended. We’ve now been back in London for about a month and we’re depressed, bemused and discombobulated. It’s cold…too cold…far too cold.

It’s hard to put into words how much fun we have had. It’s also hard to pick out specific highlights. Lots of people have already asked us ‘what’s your favourite country’, and it’s really difficult to choose one over another.

So we thought we would write a quick summary of everywhere we have been and talk about what we liked and didn’t like. So here goes…

Beijing Tapas

Beijing Tapas

01 – China

Our first stop and still one of our favourite countries, China was an amazing place to begin our trip. We found it an easy place to get around with a very good train network. The people can take some getting used to, especially the constant spitting and coughing but on the whole they were friendly and very interesting to watch. Probably the highlight of China was the food, specifically dumplings, hot and sour soup, Peking duck and schezuan food. The Drum and Gong on a tiny hutong in northern Beijing provided us with the best food of our whole trip, hands down.

Hong Kong Peak

Hong Kong Peak

02 – Hong Kong

In Hong Kong we were treated to some lavish accommodation and wild nights out courtesy of Dave, Shiona and friends. With Katy as my guide we squeezed a lot into our two weeks there. It’s probably not the most accessible place for a traveller due to the cost of everything, but we both really enjoyed our time there. Even though it is a fairly small space, there is so much to do there outside of Central. You definitely need to explore to get the best out of Hong Kong.

Ha Long Bay

Ha Long Bay

03- Vietnam

Vietnam was by far the cheapest country we visited on our trip, and very easy to get around. Ha Long Bay was one of the highlights of our entire time away, and even though it is one of the ‘Wonders of the World’, it was peaceful and serene without hoards of people elbowing you out of the way. I was very ill in Saigon, and we had to miss out Hoi An and Huế due to flooding which was a shame. It was interesting to learn more about the ‘American War’ and visit the Cu Chi tunnels…especially when Katy got stuck in the hole.

Buddha heads, Bayon Temple

Buddha heads, Bayon Temple

04 – Cambodia

One of our favourite countries, and I’m still trying to persuade Katy to buy a hostel here. Hot, humid and packed with culture, great food and friendly people. The coast (if you avoid Sihanoukville) is idyllic and somewhere we would both love to visit again (to look for hostel locations). Bus journeys are an experience here, but we got what we paid for. We have mixed feelings over Angkor Wat, we loved climbing over all the ancient temples, playing with the local children and listening to them counting to 10 in about 5 different languages. It’s just a shame we couldn’t have had the place to ourselves for the day.

Road obstructions

Road obstructions

05 – Laos

Our most adventurous and unforgettable country of the trip saw us zip wiring through the jungle, tubing down rivers and motor biking for the very first time through the remote southern region. We had some travel partners in Seb and Sophie, who helped us see in the new year at a Laos bowling alley after bumping into them on a hellish bus journey. The transport and ‘Laos time’ was probably our biggest challenge but taught us how to be more patient. Our favourite Laos dish was the Laap, a spicy minced beef or lamb salad packed with fresh coriander and chilli…delicious. Laos is a fantastic country; cheap, beautiful and very friendly.

Bagan

Bagan

06 – Myanmar

Probably my favourite country of our trip, Myanmar is so different to everywhere else we visited. There is no western influence there at all, so no Coca Cola, Malboro etc…anywhere to be seen and that just added to it for me. It has a huge Indian influence, so eating biryani from a coconut leaf with your hands is all part of the experience. It’s a tiring place to travel around with a very bad and uncomfortable bus network, but it’s all worth the effort. Bagan is just the most amazing place I have ever been, and with so few tourists, visiting it almost feels like you have the place to yourself.

Koh Lanta

Koh Lanta

07 – Thailand

We spent just over 6 weeks in Thailand, 3 of which were spent on a beach on the beautiful island of Koh Lanta where we got to recharge our batteries. The food was a real highlight for us, especially the massaman, green and red curries. We liked the food so much that we took a second Thai cooking lessons whilst we were there. We learnt how to scuba dive which was amazing and also got to play with real life Tigers. Bangkok was hectic, expensive but great fun, especially when we met up with Dave and the HK football lads.

Petronas twin towers

Petronas twin towers

08 – Malaysia

Our highlight of Malaysia has to be the food. From the amazing tikkas and curries in Penang to the cream teas in the Cameron Highlands. We definitely indulged. The Grand Prix in Kuala Lumpur was a wash out but a great experience, and the music festival although fun was disappointing. We got to visit my Mum’s old school (now an army base) and found some photos of her in a local tea room. We didn’t have enough time in Malaysia which meant we missed the East coast…but there is always next time.

Central Mosque

Central Mosque

09 – Brunei

We had only two days in Brunei which to be honest was enough. Not a lot to do or see and it wasn’t helped that we couldn’t even have a drink to pass the time. We did however get see their National Park which involved a very funny boat ride in a coffin and a climb up on what can only be described as scaffolding to walk a series of bridges high above the trees…a fantastic sight but not very in keeping with the jungle. The food wasn’t very exciting which meant that we ordered in Pizza Hut on both nights we were there. Maybe the Sultan needs to invest a bit more into his restaurant scene.

El Nido sunset

El Nido sunset

10 – Philippines

With some of the best beaches and views I can remember, the Philippines will definitely be somewhere we will visit again. In fact we have already checked prices for 2014. EL Nido was simply stunning, and the diving in Malapascua out of this world. A definite highlight was diving with Thresher sharks and snorkeling with Whale sharks. The Philippines did see Katy have a mini breakdown though when she decided that she needed a holiday. It didn’t last long, especially once she had a beer in her hand and watched yet another amazing sunset.

Gili Air

Gili Air

11 – Indonesia

We have many highlights from Indonesia; the amazing diving, hunting for Komodo dragons in Flores, climbing the volcano Mt Bromo and relaxing on the beaches of the Gili islands. Bali was disappointing as it was far too touristy and Jakarta was just a massive concrete jungle. Some of the rooms we stayed in were basic to say the least, with sinks and throne toilets nowhere to be seen. It’s a big place and we barely touched the sides, so we’re definitely thinking of going back for another look some day.

Malaysian Tapir

Malaysian Tapir

12 – Singapore

Singapore was very expensive and saw us stay in our first dorm room of the trip. It’s a big city, pretty easy to get around but not really that much to see. We did venture to the zoo though where I got to see my favourite animal…a Malaysian tapir. Being on a budget we didn’t get to experience much of the glamorous side of Singapore and settled for street restaurants and the odd happy hour beer. It is a place that I could quite easily see us moving to, as there is a great expat community…and the weather is slightly better than the UK.

Sensoji Temple area, Asakusa

Sensoji Temple area, Asakusa

13 – Japan

So Japan beats Singapore hands down for being the most expensive country we visited…£12 for a pint of beer…enough said. The tube and rail network in Tokyo is immense and took some getting used to but we managed to take in most of the sights. The restaurant scene wasn’t that easy; secretive and expensive so we ate our fair share of pot noodles that week and of course squeezed in as much sushi as we could.

Sea lion

Sea lion

14 – Ecuador

Ecuador saw us swimming with sea lions in the Galapagos, climbing volcanoes, whale watching, learning Spanish (sort of) and watching a very uneventful European cup. We visited South America’s largest handicraft market which was the start of Katy’s alpaca addiction. We ate our fair share of almuerzos…a set 2 or 3 course lunch for $2-3 and tried our first of many empanadas. Our real low light of Ecuador was having our camera stolen on a bus near the Peru border.

Diving in Tayrona National Park

Diving in Tayrona National Park

15 – Colombia

Colombia was a nice surprise. We were expecting it to be bit dodgy but the people couldn’t have been friendlier and they couldn’t have put any more police on the streets if they tried. The big cities of Medillion and Bogota were average (we do tend to prefer places out of the city) but the real highlight for us was the Caribbean coast, particularly Cartagena and Tayrona National Park. We really enjoyed San Agustin where I rode a horse the first time and visited the ancient statues scattered across the countryside.

A room with a view

A room with a view

16 – Peru

Peru started badly with us getting mugged in Mancora. It took us a while to shake off the experience and probably ruined our time in Peru if we’re honest. It wasn’t all bad though as we enjoyed sand boarding in the desert, driving through the Andes, climbing Wanapicchu at the top of Machu Picchu. Our first half an hour on Machu Picchu was wonderfully quiet, serene and beautiful but it soon became overcrowded and just another disappointing tourist attraction. The food was pretty good and we became quite adventurous trying cuy (guinea pig), alpaca, Llama and ceviche.

Salt Flat Sunset

Salt Flat Sunset

17 – Bolivia

What a beautiful and extremely diverse country. We visited the highest city in the world, fished for piranhas and swam with pink dolphins in the Amazon, hunted for anacondas and capybaras in the jungle, rode horses across Bolivia’s wild-west and spent three days visiting the amazing salt flats. We had some of the best food in South America, especially the saltenas (empanadas) and enjoyed some very nice (and cheap) Bolivian red wine. The only downside was that we didn’t see a sloth.

View from Cerro Santa Lucía

View from Cerro Santa Lucía

18 – Chile

Arriving on a National holiday wasn’t the best start (you’d think we would have learnt by this point of the trip) and meant that we stayed in some very average hostels. Chile for us meant civilisation after being in basic Bolivia for a month so we took advantage of the wines (of course), being able to choose what and where to eat and paying for things with a credit card (a real novelty). We were there out of season so the snow had melted and the coast was just too cold.

Fitz Roy

Fitz Roy

19 – Argentina

What’s not to love about Argentina…amazing wines, steaks, beautiful scenery and the friendliest people we met in South America. A real highlight for us was of course the wines but Patagonia was simply stunning. Our walk across the Perito Mereno glazier was incredible and an experience we will never forget. Katy even enjoyed our trek to Fitz Roy. It’s another huge country with so much diversity. Patagonia although expensive was worth every penny. We had five weeks in Argentina, and that just wasn’t enough.

Just another beach

Just another beach

20 – Uruguay

Punta Del Diablo although out of season was a great place for us to chill out for a few days. We enjoyed walking in the national park and along the extremely long beaches (we won’t mention the cows as Katy is still having nightmares), some home cooked meals (not that we had a choice with all of the restaurants closed) and catching a little sun along the way. It was a place that I am glad we stopped in. We really enjoyed our time there, although I’m not sure we would go out of our way to visit there again.

Caipirinhas

Caipirinhas

21 – Brazil

As Brazil was our last stop, we treated ourselves to several nice hostels, meals and private transfers. The food was a real highlight, especially the rodizios (all you can eat meat buffets) and of course we drank our fair share of caipirinhas too. Florianopolis was beautiful and we really enjoyed chilling out there for a few days. Iguassu Falls was incredible and we especially enjoyed the Brazilian side. Rio was a great city to end our 15 months away and we celebrated with visits to the many sights including a very interesting Favella tour, a couple of Lapa street parties and of course many more caipirinhas along the way.


So there you have it. We want to thank everyone we met whilst away; you helped to make this an amazing trip for us and it wouldn’t have been the same without you. If any of you are ever in London, make sure you get in contact.

We also want to thank everyone at home for reading the blog and keeping up with our exploits. The blog has done really well with over 70,000 hits in over 115 countries. We even won a best photo of the week competition along the way.

World Blog Coverage

World Blog Coverage

So you don’t have to hear from us anymore. You’ll just have to buy us a drink when you next see us to welcome us home. I am still unemployed after all.

Until the next time…

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Wonder-fall Iguaçu

We spent nine days in Florianopolis, but we left wishing we had more time there. It was such a great place to relax and enjoy some sun that we didn’t really get to explore the island that much. We weren’t too discouraged however as we had more exciting things on the horizon.

After a short five hour bus journey, we found ourselves in Curitiba. It’s a city two hours from the coast that we were using as a brief stop-over before getting a flight two days later. We didn’t have much time and the hostel recommended a city tour on an open top bus…not really our thing but she somehow managed to persuade us it would be a good idea.

Curitiba Botanical Gardens

Curitiba Botanical Gardens

We started the tour with a quick trip the botanical gardens… not much to say about the gardens other than it’s a pretty place with a big greenhouse (or crystal palace) in the middle. After a brief walk around the park, we boarded the linha tourismo to begin our tour of the city.

Now I’m no expert when it comes to these buses, but it really wasn’t that great. Katy had been telling me that we would have headphones with an English speaking guide to talk us through the sites. We also thought we would be able to get on and off when we wanted if we saw anything of interest along the way. What we actually got was no headphones, a pretty poor route map and we were allowed only four stops along the way. Undeterred we tried to keep track of the sites by reading our leaflet which thankfully had an English translation.

Colonial Curitiba

Colonial Curitiba

All in all the tour was average, but we did get to see a lot of the city. Curitiba is a fairly nice looking city with lots of very expensive areas but there was nothing that stood out as a must see. The historical centre had lots of nice colonial architecture and churches, but after six months of seeing this in South America it all becomes a bit of a blur. It’s similar to seeing temples in Asia…after a while they all look the same.

The next day we were back on a plane to visit one of the seven natural wonders of the world, Iguazu Falls. The falls are situated on the border of Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina, but we were starting on the Brazil side in Foz do Iguaçu.

First class travel

First class travel

The flight was a bit comical, as the spaces between the seats were so small that I struggled to even sit down. The air stewardess just laughed at me as I tried to wedge my legs in. On the bus into town Katy kept on saying to me that she could smell soy sauce…I just thought the heat was getting to her. When we arrived at the hostel, we soon realised where the smell was coming from, and it was not good news. For the past two weeks I had been carrying around a bottle of soy sauce for Katy’s home cooked delights, and this had come open in my back-pack and covered half of my clothes. Most of the sauce had eventually soaked into the sleeping bag that I have carried around for 15 months and only used twice (now in the bin). On the bright side my bag is looking half empty now.

That evening we went to a Rodizio restaurant, which is a Brazilian style steakhouse. We helped ourselves to some salads and sides, and then a precession of waiters began to bring us meat…lots of meat, non-stop for about two hours. There were over 32 different types and cuts of meat to choose from, and we just didn’t know when to stop…so we didn’t  We tried pork, beef, rabbit, chicken and about ten different cuts of beef. But the meal finished on a high (for Katy anyway) when the waiter brought a full joint of pork with a huge bit of crackling on the side. She said “don’t bother with the meat; just give me the crackling”…in her best Portuguese obviously. It was a huge meal that was finished off with home-made ice cream.

Iguaçu Falls

Iguaçu Falls

We were up early the next morning with a meat hangover for our first visit to the falls. Originally we had wanted to do the Brazil side first, but our flight times the previous day changed so we didn’t have time. We decided to take a tour as it supposedly made it much quicker and easier to cross the border to Argentina. We had also been told that we could just get dropped off and make our own way around the various trekking routes at the falls and meet the group later for our lift back into town.

What actually happened was it took us nearly three hours to cross the border, which included a half hour stop whilst our tour guide disappeared with our passports into his friend’s house (to photocopy them no doubt). When we did eventually arrive at the park we were told that we had to stay with him. He refused to give us a meeting point, and when Katy kicked up a bit of a fuss about it he was quite rude to her in front of the whole group. As you can imagine this didn’t go down well at all.    

Iguazu Falls

Iguazu Falls

Our first stop in the park was Garganta del Diablo (the Devil’s throat), a walkway which takes you over the river and above the falls…amazing. We had to get a small train to the start of the trail and were accompanied by thousands of butterflies along the way. The walkway ended right above the main waterfall and I am sure our pictures do not do it justice but the sheer size of the waterfall let alone the thunderous sound it made was just incredible.

Stumble and Fall

Stumble and Fall

We got covered in the waterfalls spray which made it hard to take a decent picture and we also had to elbow quite a few other tourists out of the way but it was such a spectacular sight as tonnes of water per second pours over the cliffs and the mist rises amongst the jungle. They are taller than Niagara Falls, and twice as wide. Numerous islands along the 2.7km edge divide the falls into about 275 separate waterfalls, varying between 60 to 82 metres.

All Fall Down

All Fall Down

We continued our tour of the falls by following the upper and then lower trails each giving a very different perspective of the falls. We opted out of the boat trip which actually took you under the falls but it did look amazing and a lot of fun.

Piti-fall

Piti-fall

After a long day in the searing sun, we made our way back to our hostel still on the Argentinian side to meet our friend Candy that we met in Florianopolis. We enjoyed dinner and drinks and compared notes on our falls experience so far.

Delight-fall

Delight-fall

The following day we got on a bus for another trip to the falls, this time on the Brazil side. Most people try and see the falls from both sides as each side offers a very different view and experience. We’d been told that the Brazilian side was not as good but we were really looking forward to exploring this side especially as we were tour guide free.

Wonder-fall

Wonder-fall

It was another really sunny day, and thankfully the walkways through the jungle were much quieter and more relaxing then Argentina. It probably helped that we were not being herded around in a group, but we immediately preferred this side of the falls. The views were amazing, although you aren’t quite as close as you are in Argentina. We spent a few hours slowly making our way along the path until we reached Garganta do Diablo, this time on a walkway in front of it rather than above it.

Plenti-fall

Plenti-fall

As with most attractions like this, the experience is slightly tainted by the amount of people you are competing for space with. It was the same at Angkor Wat and various other places we’ve visited. This is just the price you pay for visiting such a unique attraction. Perhaps we planned badly and shouldn’t have visited on a Saturday…perhaps we shouldn’t have got a tour guide? At the end of the day it was well worth the effort to see the falls and we got to tick off our fourth natural wonder of the world.

Free Fall

Free Fall

With just a few weeks left we’re headed for the beach and trying hard not to think about cold and rainy London.

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…

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