A Travellerspoint blog

Stats all / Review

We thought it would be rude not too finish off our blog with a stat round-up and also answer some questions (in an attempt to reduce the number of boring travel stroies that we will inevitably tell!)

Favourite country = R: India P: Brazil
Favourite city = R: Singapore P: Cartegena
No. of photos in total = 27,218
Biggest delay = 3 days (flight Auckland to Santiago)
Biggest delay after departing = 2 days (Boat Manaus to Belem)
Biggest challenge = R: Climbing a volcano in Chile P: Everything!
Best beach = Jacuma, Brazil
Most expensive beer = £7
Cheapest beer = 7p
Best beer = James Squire Porter, Australia
Best bargain = Croissant the size of Richard's face in Mancora,Peru (5p)
Worst rip-off = Taxi from Hanoi bus station to city centre (20USD not much by the sounds of it but 10 times too expensive for Vietnam)
Best hostel = This old place, Xingping, China
Worst hostel = Chau doc, Vietnam (mice poo in bed, nuff said)
Funniest moment = Pauline falling flate on her face in the street in Ushuaia, Richard trying to drive a scooter in koh samui
Best experience = Seeing a tiger in the wild, India.
Pairs of sunglasses lost = 3
Times richard's sister had to drive around the car park in Heathrow when picking us up to find a space = 6
Tune of the trip = On the Road Again - Willie Nelson
Most drunk = Bamboo Island, Cambodia resulting in multiple vomits
No. of Malaria tablets consumed = 602
Length of Richard's hair = 7 inches

Also, here's our official traveller's point stats (Although the number of days feature isn't working correctly!)

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More of my travel stats on Travellerspoint.com

Posted by millfred 11:00 Comments (2)

Final destination

Jacumá to Rio de Janeiro Day 358 to 365

sunny 29 °C

Number of churches in Ouro Preto = 35
Average age of men strutting their stuff along Copacabana in nothing but speedos = 65
Number of breakfast courses consumed at all you can eat buffet = 4 (bit of a poor show considering what was on offer)
Number of hours feeling sick after too many pancakes for one of the courses = 8

Our days in Jacumá were hectic, sunbathing, swimming, eating ice-cream and drinking caipirinhas. Hard life. We had to leave eventually which was devestating but the knowledge that we would soon be in Rio and homeward bound spurred us on.

En-route to Rio we stopped off for one night in lovely Olinda, a colonial town on the coast......
Then flew to Ouro Preto (sorry environment but it was much cheaper to fly than to bus, plus the bus would have taken 40 something hours and the plane took 2!) Ouro Preto is in Minas Gerais and famed for it's mineral rich land. We tried to find a gigantic emerald to bring home but alas, failed. We spent a couple of nights there just milling around, it has more churches than we have ever seen in one city, apparetly a way to show of the wealth of the people when they became rich from mining gold and all sorts of precious gems. Very impressive but it makes for difficult navigation of the town as they all look very similar and are all perched on hilltops that look much the same as the last. We got lost. Alot.

Our final nightbus (wooooo-hoooooo) took us directly to the Cidade Maravilhosa and we have now been here for 3 days. Sunbathing I hear you ask? Nope, it's been raining since we arrived! It still looks amazing (what you can see of it beneath the immense cloud cover) and we are very much enjoying the finalé to our adventure. Rio is a great place to end up. We met some great people in our hostel for our first two nights and had a lovely view of the sea, but keen to rid ourselves of the hostel lifestyle, we checked into a posh hotel on the main strip in Copacabana. When we arrived with our backpacks, I think they were getting ready to offer us directions not check us in!

It turns out that the gods are still smiling on us as our last day has been bathed in glorious sunshine. We hit the famous statue of Christ the Redeemer in the morning and then the beach in the afternoon, which is where we´ve just come from. Hope we don't miss the plane and this blog title isn't a bad omen!

We are keeping everything crossed for a smooth(ish) return to Heathrow tomorrow. Strike problems may leave us stranded on the tarmac for a few hours upon landing but we have become accustomed to waiting around for transport this year, and nothing can dampen our homecoming. We are too excited. Which leads us to our final blog paragraph although we'll be posting a mini review, more photos and stats.

So the cheesy bit. We have had the time of our lives this year. We could never have imagined everything that a year of travelling would bring and we couldn't have survived if not for the support and encouragement of our friends and family at home. Thank you for being there for us and reading our blog! Thank you for being pleased to hear from us, whatever the hour and at least pretending to be interested in our stories (of which there are loads more to come!) and thanks for doing those boring housekeeping jobs that we couldn't from the otherside of the world. To friends and family who we've met along the way, thank you for feeding, housing and entertaining us at various locations world-wide. It wouldn't have been half the adventure it has been without you. And to new friends acquired, thanks for providing a welcome distraction from speculative conversations and inventing two player card games.

So oscar speech over, we hope you'll all feign an interest for at least a couple of days more when we'll have this all wrapped up.

p.s. We are very much looking forward to taking further advantage of people's hospitality upon our return as we are officially homeless until Febuary. Any offers of homestays can be posted as comments - many thanks!

Posted by Po Gallon 29.11.2011 17:15 Archived in Brazil Comments (5)

Angel of the North

Venezuela - Brazil Day 334 - 357

sunny 30 °C

Days slept in hammocks in Venezuela and Brazil= 12
Consective days with at least one meal containing rice, beans and coleslaw = 12
Height of Angel Falls = 979m
Overall 'blob' games tally = Richard 6 Laura 2 Pauline 0

Something we had been looking forward to all year was the trip deep into the wilds of Venezuela to see the world's highest waterfall. Angel falls didn't dissappoint. But first we had to survive the 'death plane'. The only way to get to the small town that allows access to Canaima National park is to fly in one of those tiny 6-seater planes that look like toys. Richard was excited, I was terrified and Laura said she was dreading it more than an operation! It all went off without a hitch, and Richard was over the moon to be coined 'co-pilot' in the front seat next to the pilot while the Gallon sisters cowered in the back next to the luggage. The views were spectacular (once we'd dried our eyes!) and the landing, although a little unconventional, as smooth as you like. I say unconventional as we landed just to the right of the run way in order to avoid the skeleton of last weeks plane that hadn't landed so smoothly!

Now pro's at hammock sleeping, after a few rounds of risk with our group the 3 of us had no trouble dozing off in the camp to get an early start for the trek to the main draw. We'll let the pictures do the talking on that. It's the skyscraper of waterfalls for sure, I did my scientific test as in, if you have to crane your neck, then look up again to see the top, its a skyscraper. After a sweaty ascent, we cooled off in the pool at the foot of the mighty falls and took the mandatory 'cheesy' group pics. On our way back to Canaima from our camp the canoe got stuck on the rocks and the boys got stuck and nearly stranded pushing us free. Further down the river we had to get out and walk a stretch to avoid dangerous rapids, a luxury they hadn't granted us up stream due to lack of time, white water rafting in a motorised canoe is scary.

There are several amazing waterfalls in Canaima too and our tour included a closer look at Salto el Sapo. We got to walk behind the curtain and got totally soaked, not all of our group made it passed the underwater stage but we wont mention any names!

Almost at the end of our time in Venezuela, we returned to Ciudad Bolivar then took a night bus to Santa Elena, on the border with Brazil. Out of season and out of Venezuelan Bolivares there wasn't much to entertain so we settled for pool, cards and cold beers. We met a Scottish traveller who didn't pay for his beers (no stereotypes please) and who dealt cards according to Laura 'like an amateur'. He went on to beat us at every game we know - typical! Next day we took a taxi to the border and so began our Brazillian adventure. It started badly when, too engrossed in our game of blob at the bus station and oblivious to the fact that Brasil is 30 minutes ahead of Venezuelan time, we were politely called to get on the bus as it was rolling out of the station. It soon picked up when a very handsome man (one tooth, half a T-shirt and an impressive belly) took a shine to Laura and chatted to her most of the way to Boa Vista.

Manaus was our first real Brazillian stop off and we all liked it almost immediately. It's a bustling city with plenty going on and cheap! Our hostel was about a sixth of the price of the rest of Brasil and the pay per kilo restaurant across the road helped us to settle in. Despite liking the place, we all decided it would be a shame to miss out on an Amazon Jungle trip so we put our trust in Eule and set off into the wilderness once more.

After boating to the 'meeting of the waters' where the light brown Solimoes river meets the dark Rio Negro and the Amazon truly begins, we took a motorised canoe to a floating lodge which would be our accommodation for the night. Whilst chilling in the afternoon we got a treat of sorts, spotting a rare sloth bear practically drowning in the River. We (or in truth one of the brazilians) rescued it and we dropped it off back on the river bank. After that start we went piranha fishing again but this time Pauline's luck turned and Richard was the only one of our group to catch one. Our guide, Joshua, showed us all how it's done hooking what must have been a 25-30lb catfish. After dark he also talked us through the features of an alligator after he dived into the reeds after it. Bit of a show off really! The next day we headed further into the Jungle and set up our hammocks to spend a night in the true rainforest. Whilst the rest of us spent the time worrying about tarantulas, Laura became obsessed with the stick that was used as a wedge to hold up her hammock. Convinced she was going to fall to the jungle floor in the middle of the night she was constantly asking 'do you think my stick will hold', much to our amusement, whenever the wind (or Richard) gave the hammocks a swing.

Back in the relative safety of Manaus, we put Laura on her plane to Rio 'by her own' and headed for our boat journey down the rest of the Amazon to the Brazilian coast and Belem. Sold as a 3 nighter, it turned into a 5 night slog, arriving roughly 2 days late! It was a true test of mental strength since it was packed full of people and fish and the entertainment was limited to tubby blokes dancing under the on-deck showers. We even resorted to inventing prison-style schedules to keep us going (shower 7am, lunch 12.30pm, exercise 3pm etc)! Still the river dolphins, sunsets and child pirates, who hooked there small boats to ours to save some rowing time, helped to break the monotony.

Arriving in Belem was a relief even if there wasn't much to see there. We switfly moved along the coast to Sao Luis and after spending two hours trying to find a hotel that wasn't falling apart and had a room that had been cleaned we settled down for one night and then moved on again. In what we hope might be our last night bus (wouldn't be surprised if you can hear us shouting for joy from here!) we decided to go all the way to Recife (24 hours) and then up the coast a few hours to a small beachside town called Jacumá. So that's where we sit now having enjoyed 3 days of pure relaxation on possibly the best beaches we've seen all year, not to mention a few too many caipirinhas and huge breakfasts that Richard won't forget in a hurry.

Only 8 sleeps left on foreign soil. We plan to be in Rio by Saturday so we have time to take in the sights before BA kindly fly us home next week. I hope it's bigger than a cessna!
.................................................There are new photos in the gallery, it just wont let us publish them in this blog.........................................

Posted by Po Gallon 21.11.2011 20:26 Archived in Brazil Comments (1)

Two gallons go a long way

Day 310 - 333 Colombia to Venezuela

sunny 34 °C
View World Wide Wander on millfred's travel map.

Average age of a police officer in Colombia - 16
Number of arepas (fried corn cakes) consumed - 35
No. of passport checkpoints crossing from Colombia to Venezuela - 9
Price of petrol in Venezuela - 8 pence per litre
No. of murders per day in Caracas - 26
No. of Piranhas we caught fishing in Los Llanos, Venezuela - 7

So our first experience in Colombia was getting ripped off! We arrived with a handful of dollars from Ecuador and after being advised not to change them at the border because we would get short changed, we ended up getting short changed at the local bus station! You'd think we'd be wise to it by now.

Our spirits picked up, however, in our first destination of Pasto. Whilst, only a one night stopover, a gent in the street offered to pay our bus fare (about 50p!) bacause he was so happy to see tourists visiting. After politely refusing we moved swiftly through the rest of southern Colombia, stopping in colonial Popayan, which was neat and tidy but with not much to do and onto Bogota, the capital. We hit the town on Friday night to sample the apparently famous Septimazo, when the city's inhabitants come out to party on the streets. Unfortunately we seemed to be too early and unfashionably late after heading out at 6pm and then again at 10. All we saw was a drunk guy singing on a kareoke machine to four people in one of the main plaza's! The next day the sights got a little less bizarre although the Police Museum was strange enough. Escorted through the four floors by one of the typically juvenile officers felt a bit formal and it wasn't much 'cop' to see one exhibit showcasing a modern british police uniform that you could see anyday at home.

Moving onto now 'safe' Medellin, the home of former drug baron Pablo Escobar, we found a typical 'aussie' style hostel decked out with pool, bar, home cinema, table tennis table etc. Due to this and the constant afternoon downpours most of our time was spent watching 'flight of the conchords' repeats or getting too competitive 'one on one' on the a basketball court. We did still get out sightseeing which is more than we can say for most of the other backpackers who had been there for weeks!

A freezing (air-conditioned) night bus further on we finally hit the caribbean and Cartegena. Pauline had been looking forward to getting here for ages due to being an avid fan of 'Romancing the Stone' only to find out that none of the film was actually shot here! Even so, we 'forced' ourselves to go out for dinner in one of the picturesque plaza's and even pushed the boat out for a bottle of wine, probably spending 3 days budget in the process! Desperate for a taste of Caribbean beach we headed east to Taganga only to find that the place was less than idyllic, packed with local tourists and you couldn't sit on the beach without hiring a deck chair! Scandalous. A good atmosphere around town was then drowned out by a torrential downpour that left our hostel flooded. Can't win them all eh!?

The next day we packed up and headed for our penultimate country, Venezuela. It promised a lot, a rendevous with Pauline's sister, Laura, (hopefully putting an end to our 'exciting' discussions about what to put in our sandwiches the following day!), beautiful beaches and the highest waterfall in the world. So far it's delivered but before we got there we had to negotiate the border crossing which the foreign office 'advises against all travel to within 80km'. Determined and oblivious to the fact it was Sunday we took a bus to the border town only to find there was no onward connection. We were left with the only option of taking a share taxi (beaten up cadillac with a Jaguar badge and a boot that didn't close) for the 3.5 hours across the border to Maracaibo. After an hour and a pot hole too many the headlights failed and we we're left crawling along in no man's land. A monotony of police checks later we arrived and then jumped straight on a night bus to Caracas. After a night spent in a 'safe' area we picked Laura at the Airport and not wanting to hang around because of it's repution, ventured a relatively simple route (4 buses, 2 metro's, 8 hours) to the coastal town of Puerto Colombia. One note however from the third most dangerous city in the world, I did manage to sample the best doughnut I´ve ever had. Bursting at the seems with caramel and just the right side of crispy!

Finally we found a caribbean beach worth the travel. We spent a day soaking up the sun, chewing on belly pork (available beachside, mad!) and collecting about 20 bites from sandflies on each leg. To further entertain, Pauline initiated another of her famous drawing competitions. It backfired on her however when she suggest a catchphrase theme and all she could come up with was ´Calamari´. Funny, we´d never heard of that catchphrase! That night and with Laura´s funding we let ourselves loose on the town. After sharing 3 quid bottle of vodka with our new norwegian friends we sampled the local brew of Guarapita. The thick passion fruit liquor was all the more weird as the unlabelled bottle was purchased via a barred unsigned door in a back alley. Illegal maybe?

We left Puerto Colombia on Laura`s first night bus and headed for Merida in order to visit the animal paradise of Los Llanos. After being signed up for a tour we headed out with guide Juan and fellow tourist Simon. After 12 hours in the back of a jeep, getting lost in the savanna (home to caimans and anocondas) on the way, we arrived at Campamento Rancho Grande and met our host family led by Ramón. The accomodation was basic but the location right on the river bank, amazing. On the way Juan insisted on sufficient ´refreshment´, we all thought he meant water but infact he meant beer! He was good at drinking it too, but not so proficient at paying!

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The place was as hot and humid as we´ve had and our first experience sleeping in hammocks turned out to be a blessing, much cooler than a bed. We´d never seen so many insects however and the floors were crawling with beetles, crickets and cockroaches.

The next day, watching Laura embark on her first horseriding experience and just mounting the animal on our first morning was as entertaining as it gets. She was bricking it though and there was death in her eyes when Juan decided to give her horse a slap on the arse to get it moving a bit faster! Safe and sound back at the ranch we set out on an afternoon Jeep safari and after 15 minutes were face to face with a giant anteater, attempting to lasso a group of caimans and just failing to catch an anaconda.

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We also saw pink river dolphins cruise a few meters past our dinner table, capybyras, iguanas and a shedload of rare birds. Day 2 saw us head out on the swamp by boat and then piranha fishing where Pauline embarrassed everyone else by catching 4 before any of the others got a sniff.

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We´ve since headed out onto our second Venezuela tour and into our final country Brazil but as I´ve already rambled on a bit here it´ll have to wait till next time.

Posted by millfred 03.11.2011 20:26 Archived in Venezuela Comments (3)

Scoffin' toffee and taters on the equator

Day 290 - 309: Lima to Colombian border

sunny 16 °C

Weight of toffee bought in Baños = 4kg
Time spent in the hottest thermal bath = 3 hours (too long for Pauline who nearly fainted from sulphur exposure!)
No. of fruits eaten in Quito that we'd never tried before = 20
Days without rain in Ecuador = 0

Sorry it's been a week or so longer than usual, treat 'em mean and all that.
We've spanned 3 countries since our last update, moving quite quickly as always so there is plenty to share. We spent a few days in Lima and almost didn't want to leave. We enjoyed popcorn, movies and Spanish practice with Anna, the super friendly owner. We toured the Historic old town and struggled through a spanish guided tour of the Spanish Inquisition. As usual, time to move on came too quickly.

Onwards up the coast and inland a bit to the mountains. We stayed in Huaráz for a couple of nights and were happy to back in the countryside. Unfortunately our usually adept decision making let us down and instead of going it alone into the mountains, we took a tour. Big mistake, huge! Tours in South America are never quite what you sign up for, this 'trekking' tour consisted of a 45 min walk around a no doubt stunning glacial lake, then 11 hours or so being ferried from factory to shop to village and asked to buy things. Disaster. We shouldn't have caved in to fear. A friend we met in Lima had gone to the mountains alone, missed the last bus and had to sleep in the forest with nothing. That scared us a bit but in hindsight, it would have been better than the tour!

Next stop, Trujillo. Named after Conquistador Francisco Pizarro's home town in Spain, this place is brimming with history and the best croissants in the world, don't know if these things are related. We disembarked yet another night bus feeling tired and crabby, so what better thing to do than head to a chilled out beach town and take stock. Huanchaco was just what we needed. No option but to sleep for the first few hours since a power cut had rendered the whole town closed for business. The sea was still a little wild to brave here so we passed the time playing rummy and drinking cheap beer. When we left Trujillo, I finally got to taste the infamous Papa rellena. We'd read that these stuffed potatoes are popular all over south america but i'd yet to find a veggie one. Well there is a quite rotund, almost friendly lady somewhere in Trujillo with a place in my heart forever.

On to another beach-side town that would be our final stop in Peru. Mancora is well geared for the tourists and boasts one too many 'too cool for school' travellers for our liking. Here we braved a dip in the Pacific. Me for all of 20 seconds before I fell off the 'shelf' and panicked. The sight of the gigantic beached (and headless) sea lion type creature just meters down the beach leaves you wondering what else lurks beneath the surface too, not inspiring swim material.

From Mancora we bussed it over the border to Ecuador. There were pretty noticable changes within what seemed like minutes. Thousands of banana plantations and in general the landscape shifted from dusty desert to lush green mountains. The only dampner on our arrival were the incredibly winding roads and 5 or 6 hours of feeling very very sick! Cuenca was to be our first stop, we found a good hostel and shacked up in a cosy triple with our new bus buddy Selena to save cash. As soon as she told us she was heading to the Galapagos though, we ditched her out of sheer jealousy. Cuenca was nice but after a shooting incident (Pauline shot in the chest by a stray stone from a grass strimmer!) we took a bus to the local national park. We were surprised at the relative luxury in the refugio, although glad to find abandoned blankets. The area around there was really beautiful and we followed a basic route around a few lakes. Simple enough you'd think for two fairly experienced travellers, well anything can happen when I'm at the helm and we did indeed get lost. Just had to drink our coffee a bit faster and avoid the over zealous llamas to get back before dark.

In Baños we biked around the mountains to Puyó but had to cut the 60km trip short due to torrential rain and Richard running out of toffee. The bus driver was't too happy to let two drowned rats on his bus for the return journey. Baños was also home to the melcocha as mentioned and we became experts in wandering past the shops and getting free samples. After biking we spent an afternoon in the thermal baths there (hence the name) and were the only adults with a beach ball and playing dares to see who could stay in the freezing pool for longest.

Our final destination was Quito, although slightly rushed in the end, we loved it. We stayed with the lovely Espinoza family in their home-stay and were treated like family. After the first of many amazing breakfasts we found out that from the roof terrace you can see Vulcan Cotopaxi. Richard was chuffed finally getting to see it in real life having had a picture on our wall for the last two years. Whilst there we also visited the Mitad del Mundo or middle of the world where the Equator cuts through Ecuador and one of the continents largest markets in Otavalo. I had to use all my mental strength to resist packing a puppy in my backpack when a lady offered it as a present after his mam had died. The real highlights of our stay in Quito were meeting new friends, teaching them the delights of blob, getting beaten by the novices (you know who you are) and improving our Spanish with the ever patient Zoila, Jorge and Raquel. We also celebrated 10 months on the road with a Canelazo - the local sugarcane based firewater.

Another sad goodbye but onwards we go to our 19th country! Pics to follow soon ran out of time and we are lacking the creative spark to think of a title so the best suggestion will get selected!

Posted by Po Gallon 06.10.2011 13:38 Archived in Ecuador Comments (1)

The Pecan Brief

Day 270 - 286 Cuzco to Lima

sunny 16 °C
View World Wide Wander on millfred's travel map.

No. of courses (food) consumed on the Inca trail = 38
No. of potato varieties cultivated by the Incas = 2000
No. of pisco shots 'necked' in a minute = 5
No. of own goals Richard scored in a 5-a-side with kids all under 11 = 2

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We survived the Inca trail! It was amazing and well worth totally blowing our budget for. The views were phenomenal, so green, lush and steeped in history, we felt very special to be there. Yes, there are plenty of people to share the experience with, as in it's pretty popular, but that didn't spoil it for us. Especially since our trekking group was great and everyone got on really well. We had two sets of honeymooners (crazy!) and a good mix of nationalities and good banter. We all helped each other along and it was lovely to all make it to the sun gate together and take in that stunning first sight of Machu Picchu which signaled the end of our slog. The 4 day trek wasn't as challenging as we had feared but the lack of oxygen at altitude and the millions of 'gringo killer' steps take their toll. I (Pauline) did suffer a little from altitude sickness apparently due to my incredible ability to sleep too deeply. An oxygen boost and a bit of special treatment were required on Day 3 morning but having missed pizza for lunch that day (devastated), I pulled myself together in the afternoon and made up for lost time during our last supper. Richard would need to write an entire extra blog just to cover the food on the trip. He's still talking about it now. We don't know how they do it but the porters are unbelievable, they literally run passed you to set up camp, carrying at least 4 times more than you and they even give you a round of applause when you finally catch up with them at camp. Cute but a little embarrasing! We ate so much and it's all really really good food, as the only vegetarian I was very well taken care of, I could name several restaurants in Liverpool that could take a few hints on Vegetarian fare from these creative peruvian (very carnivorous) guys. The chef even baked us a cake on our final evening, it really was 5 star camping. Special thanks to our guides, Elistan and Saul, they were legends, so enthusiastic, caring and knowledgeable, they helped make it the experience of a lifetime. So wearing our loud and proud 'We survived the Inca trail' T shirts we enjoyed a final guided tour of The Lost City with Elistan then made a bee line for the exit as the day trippers crowded into Machu Picchu. It was a bit much battling the crowds so after soaking up the culture until lunch time, a few of us had some well deserved beers by the river in Aguas Calientes and reminisced about the trip.

After a couple of days recouperating and challenging our fellow trekkers to pool back in Cusco, we carged off back to Bolivia to see more of Lake Titicaca. We'd had to rush through it en route to Cusco so we decided to make the short (ish) hop back to Copacabana as we'd heard that music and passion were always the fashion there. I can't remember who told us that, Barry someone I think. It turned out to be a fine pit stop to take in the World's largest high altitude lake.
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We day tripped to Isla del Sol and walked the length of the island. A little rushed in the end to catch our boat back to the mainland. Although the views there were beautiful I was more interested in the baby donkey i'd spotted on the beach! Apart from the lake itself, the highlight here for me was the fresh Trucha Frita (trout), the porridge in a bag went down well for the breakfast obsessed Richard and the glasses of cream topped with beer (not the other way round!) were a meal in themselves.
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On a sad note, the rubbish at the shore was a big dissapointment. It's a theme that has followed us everywhere we have been (except Oz & NZ) but it doesn't make it any easier to accept.

Back accross a border crossing that was by now all too familiar and onwards to Arequipa. Peru's second largest city doesn't feel too overwhelming. We found a lovely hostel and were much happier on our second day when we downgraded our room for a more managable price but were still able to take advantage of the great facilities on offer. We chilled out in the TV room and watched some live tennis and dvds, a real luxury in our hobo lifestlye. We met some lovely fellow travellers here and got some great tips on where to go and we finally had a breakthrough in our so far fruitless quest for short term volunteering.
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Traveller not Tourist is a relatively small charity set up by an English Woman to help support children in Arequipa who's families have moved there in search of work. They run an afterschool club and an orphanage and they have a 'volunteer for a day' project as well as opportunities for longer term stays. We helped out for the day and spent the morning cleaning up the afterschool and painting the outside walls as well as organising the donated library books. When the children arrived in the afternoon (literally running to the doors) we helped a new volunteer teacher get to know her new class and then played games down at the playground. Great fun and really rewarding, the children aren't guarded at all and they welcome any newcomers that have a bit of time to get to know them. Oh and we got another free t-shirt, bonus!

Next stop was Ica and the small town of Huacachina. Literally an Oasis in the desert surrounded by gigantic sand dunes, Huacachina is a strange place. We had been told about the wine and pisco tours and the sandboarding trips here and decided not to miss out. We had a fun filled day and crammed both trips in to one day. In hindsight we should have done the wine tasting last, but at least it made falling off the boards a little less painful, although our bruised arms claim otherwise. Absolutely great fun but a little dangerous (sorry mam's). The pisco tasting was only marginally less dangerous since they were serving up big shots of different types of pisco at each bodega and we hadn't had any breakfast! Fair to say we were speaking Spanish more freely with Ricardo (our guide) than our usual morning banter, and we had to smuggle some crackers in the car between visits.

To rest our battered bodies we spent a few days chilling at the beach in the sleepy fishing village of Paracas. Part of a national park, this part of the Peruvian coast is awash with birdlife and we got up close and personal with some gigantic pelicans on the beach. We owe a lot to a lady with a basket of delights here too, for she introduced us to our new favourite treat. Pecans with caramel covered in chocolate, they are divine!

We are now into our final quarter and just about ready to come home. But first, we are really looking forward to Ecuador and Colombia and we are too excited about meeting our special guest in Caracas in less than 5 weeks!

So, onto Lima! ¡Viva el Peru!

Posted by millfred 14.09.2011 20:56 Archived in Peru Comments (5)

To recline or not to recline...?

The dilemma facing long-haul travellers across the globe

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The decision to take a long-distance bus notwithstanding, a dilemma faced by many a traveller including ourselves is how to cope with the posturing and politics of reclining seating on buses, trains, planes and even ferries.

I have travelled on many a bus with so much space between the seats that this is a non-issue. However, as is the case with most, if you are faced with a confined space between your arse and the seat in front ( made all the worse if you are 6 foot plus ) then the journey can turn into a trial for both body and mind.

So what is the correct strategy for dealing with this difficulty? As far as I have mapped out in my mind during many laborious, nocturnal trials there are a few options.

Initiate the recline - Sitting at the front? Then you might have no option, but this is hardcore if your anywhere in the middle.
Recline and recline again - Sensible, but how patient are you going to be on a 16 hour slog.
Don´t recline at all - Big risk unless your a pygmy (is that PC these days?). DVT anyone?

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Then, what about the etiquette of consulting with your fellow passengers? A potential mine field especially if there´s a language barrier. Do you confront your recliner ahead, ask permission behind you or just pretend to stare out the window during your own or someone else's movement. Illustrating the gesture that the person infront has already reclined can be difficult to master.

An additional complexity, if you have plumped for a more horizontal approach is how far do to take it? Fair enough on a lot of transport you'll be limited to a couple of centimetres but with the business class option now within reach of some penny pinchers, your view of the air conditioning unit above can be significantly improved.

My personal thought is that timing is everything. If its a standard day bus venture then matching any reclination from your fellow strugglers is probably ideal. However if a meal is involved and you push it to the limit, the (sod's law, portly) amigo behind is likely to find that seeing his meal beyond his chin is nearly impossible. It's important to add that this scenario can also be beneficial if, as in Pauline's case you rarely take precautions and prefer to store mushroom foo yung in your ponch. Careful consultion is clearly necessary at this time.

Night time can open up other possibilities. Under the cover of darkness, (often pitch black when your in the middle of nowhere) most feel safe to let go of their inhibitions and hit full reverse.

So, after debating this, mostly in my own head but also with the long suffering Pauline, I have to question how we have ended up with this dilemma. And as is often the case it's a money issue. If you can afford it you won't have the problem but because fully flat is out of most people's reach, economy carriers are going to take the sardine approach as far as they can. Hence, the design and layout of seating recognises a need for maximum occupancy over comfort.

As with most things in life best laid plans can come unstuck (or stuck in this case) and even with a strategy (if you have Pauline's luck) the chair with a broken reclining mechanism will always find you. Either that or some lass with a bag of fish will lump it on your lap redering any thought's of comfort defunct.

Posted by millfred 12:38 Comments (1)

Dorm Wars: Return of the Tosser

Day 246 to 269 Asuncion to Cusco via Bolivia

sunny 15 °C
View World Wide Wander on millfred's travel map.

Height of the second largest Christ statue in the world (Cochabamba, Bolivia) =40.4m
No. of hours on spent on Bolivian buses prior to Uyuni = 65
No. of hours in Bolivia in total prior to Uyuni = 240
Height of 'second' highest city in the world (Potosi, Bolivia - Lonely planet claimed it was the highest but apparently there's one higher in China) = 4692m
Height of highest capital city in the world (La Paz, Bolivia - finally a first!) = 3760m

So, just to tie up loose ends. The 'chop' that I was heading for in Asuncion is the local brew and a really smooth tasting lager. We had a chilled out time in Asuncion and it was well worth popping into Paraguay if only for a short time. Next stop Bolivia and the first of 5 night buses in the space of 10 days. In all likelyhood I'll need a reconstruction of my tail bone when we return! Pauline says she has more 'cushioning'! Obviously, I'm keeping quiet on the subject.

After a 24 hour journey we arrived in Santa Cruz. The next day after generally doing nothing touristy (going to the cinema and eating ice cream) we eagerly awaited another night bus to Cochabamba. After getting all excited at our luxury seats due to shelling out for Bus Cama (nearly fully reclining seats) we were left scratching our heads when turfed of the bus by the police due to protesters barricading the road out of the city. Weirdly, after plenty of gesturing from the other traveller locals, they decided a smaller bus (with cardboard walls and breeze block seats) would be allowed through the blocade. Unsurprisingly we were stopped at the blocade. Only after bribing the protesters and having to pay extra for petrol (apparently) were we taken on a route around (dirt track, potholes and no street lighting hence further bum pain!).

The highlight of Cochabamba was mainly the cheap pizza restaurant we found, oh and the statue of Christ towering above the city that's bigger than Rio's and only second to one in Poland!
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We did get chatting to professional gambler, Rui, in the restaurant but no worries Pauline didn´t get dragged along into his world. The next day we took another night bus to Sucre which was no more comfortable. The city however, was a pleasant suprise. Cracking colonial architecture and great food made our stay all the more pleasant.

Moving on to Potosi was less of a mission, only a 3 hour day bus this time. The difference there though was the altitude. Just for punishment we chose a fourth floor dorm room and we were in heart attack territory by the time we got to the top. The hostel was a friendly place with a great brekkie but ruined by a group of intruding gallic blokes who arrived in the middle of the night and checked into our dorm. All eight of them seemed to have a cold and a 'tos' (cough in spanish, hence the title) and kept us up half the night. This might not have been so bad had it not reminded us of an aussie 'tosser' who kept us up in Puerto Iguazu with the worst cough i´ve ever heard.

Our arrival in Tupiza was a little startling. We are more than accustomed to the odd delay, especially on nocturnal transport, so when we were turfed off the bus at 4am (3 hours earlier than thought), we were a little dazed and confused. Luckily for us, a wisened hostel owner had his door open and lights a blaze to attract us from the deserted main (only) street and after brief negotiations and greetings we were tucked up in bed in no time. Tupiza was an inspired stop off and soon became on of our most memorable destinations. The main reason was our Wild West horse riding experience which is now firmly in our top 10. The pictures just about do the scenery justice and we felt like Butch cassidy and the Sundance kid for sure. This area is allegedly where they met their makers in the end.
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Discovering train tracks and a real life train station was a delight as we couldn´t face another night bus. Change of transport secured we headed off for Uyuni on board the Expreso del Sur. Another late night arrival and this time not such a welcoming hotel, FREEZING! Enough of an excuse for Pauline to stay in bed all day under the covers while I wandered the streets in search of snacks! The next day we joined forces with a Spanish couple and two Uruguashos and toured the amazing Bolivian Salt flats. Our compadres were great company and further helped us with our growing spanish vocabulary.
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More clichéd 'perspective' photos in the gallery. We had a great couple of days and the scenery was unforgettable. Shame about the plastic rubbish creeping in to such a precious area though.

Back on our preffered method of transport we railed onto La Paz via Oruro. Hassle free journey and we were glad to have spent time acclimatising first as La Paz truly is breathtaking. Unfortunatley, or fortunatley depending on your view, we misunderstood directions to the best viewpoint in town and ended up taking the local bus way past it. We like to think we found a better photo op though, what do you reckon?
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We are now in Cusco having crossed the border in a bit of a rush to keep our appointment with the Incas. We loved Bolivia despite travelling a bit fast through it and it making our skin drier than a Llama's fart. We plan to pop back after Machu Picchu and explore Lake Titicaca and surrounds. We are so excited about the Inca trail which starts tomorrow. Our backpacks are full of coca leaves so we'll be fine!

Posted by millfred 25.08.2011 21:20 Archived in Bolivia Comments (1)

¡Somos Celestes!

Day 222 to 245 Chile Chico to Asuncion via Patagonia, Buenos Aires and Uruguay

sunny 12 °C

No of countries in view from the river bank in Puerto Iguazu= 3 (Argentina, Paraguay & Brazil)
No of Argentina stamps in our passports = 6
No. of photos taken at Perito Moreno Glacier = over 300
No .of times Pauline fell over on the ski slopes = 0
No. of times Pauline fell over on the street returning her ski's = 1
No .of people crammed into the Centenario stadium in Montevideo for the Copa America victory parade = nearly 100,000

So we exchanged pleasantries with the military border staff to venture into Argentina for the first time. To our disgust, however, they confiscated half a garlic bulb and an onion even though we´d declared them. Gutter. Our first major destination was the town of El Calafate and its nearby tourist attraction of the Perito Moreno Glacier, one of only a few in the World not to be receding, apparently.
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It has to rank as one of the top sites on our trip so far and we spent a few hours standing in the same spot just staring at it. Eventually, in classic global warming Antarctica style, a bit did fall off and made a racket echoing around the valley. Our stay in the area was made all the better by getting 3 nights for the price of 2 at the hostel. (loving the deals again eh Pat!)

Next we returned to Chile and Puerto Natales but this time missed out the major tourist draw of the Torres del Paine national park due to too much snow and Pauline´s tonsils. We then bussed it onwards to Punto arenas and Ushuaia – or the end of the World as the signs remind you of at every turn! This is as far south as we got and may ever get to be honest. We had a great time here and even managed to fit in a days skiing. We would have felt less like backpackers had we not been wearing the same naff bodywarmers we´ve had all year instead of even slighty trendy ski gear! Pauline was delighted though as it was Richard who stacked it all day long. His own fault for being a snob about the quality of the skiis and boots and opting to snowboard instead. Although Pauline still managed to steal the limelight with the most spectacular fall of the day. 6pm, on concrete, wearing shoes while rushing back to the ski shop carrying all our gear, stupid pavement!
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After much deliberation and discussion with the locals we found out that flying from Ushuaia to Buenos Aires was our only credible option taking into account the extreme weather conditions, money and time. A bit of a shame since we had planned to visit a small Welsh town on the Atlantic coast heading north, we could already taste the Welsh cakes and Bara Brith but it wasn´t meant to be. Still, 3 hours in the air was a lot more comfortable than 3 days by bus. Landing in BS AS was oh so exciting for me and I couldn´t physically restrain myself from a quick burst of "What´s new Buenos Aires?" in the arrivals lounge. Again, still surprised Richard hasn´t done a runner yet.

A freak reunion with our Mexican amigos on the 45 bus enroute to our hostel was a welcome surprise. We dined out on a meat feast Asado (just the boys) and an amazing pizza for me and caught up on the Copa America latest. We spent 3 days in the capital and managed to fit in a fair bit of sightseeing in between napping. The essential 'Evita' hotspots were taken in including the recoleta cemetary where she was finally laid to rest, the Casa Rosada from where the Peron's addressed the Nation and the museum documenting her life and controversies. If anyone is interested, the tomb next to the Duarte family is empty and for sale, no idea how much for but I would be interested to find out. We saw lots of imressive French style architecture and marvelled at the amount of art on show everywhere and took full advantage of the many parks to chill out in. Pauline even found time for a brief tango in La Boca. Classy shoes!
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Overall we enjoyed being tourists in a bustling South American city again, feeling more like we were on a weekend break somewhere in Europe.

Apologies to the very proud Porteños though, I think we preffered the buzz in Montevideo. That was largely thanks to our good freind and original Spanish teacher Diego and his very welcomming and interesting house mates Rasa & John. It was so good to catch up with Diego after nearly 4 years (I think) and we can´t thank him enough for his hospitality, generosity and tireless enthusiasm for showing us around the city. Our visit coincided with the final of the Copa America and we watched the final between Uruguay and Paraguay in the Esplanada de la Intendencia along with what certainly felt like the entire population. It was amazing (if a little scary! - flares and fireworks all over the place) and after The sky blues won convincingly we joined the masses and crammed in to the Centenario stadium (which hosted the first ever world cup in 1930) to welcome the team home from the final in BS AS.
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We waited for the champions to return until midnight and entertained ourselves by joining in the Mexican wave and chants. But after our beer ran out and rival fans of the city´s two teams started belting each other, Diego and his friends decided we should bail. A good decision we discovered the next day as the team didn´t arrive until 3am.

After the capital we wanted to experience a bit more of Uruguay before moving on. We spent a day in the port town of Colonia de Sacramento which was a bit posh for our budget but very lovely non the less, beautiful lighthouse, cute cobbled streets and a nice beachy coastal walk. Oh and a really good pie shop! Then we bussed up to Salto and spent an afternoon soothing our aching backs in the hot springs there. Lovely but with one major pit fall, it´s winter in Uruguay and although not cold by English standards, way to cold to get out of a hot pool and have to walk about 400 metres to the changing rooms!

Quick summary of the last week then. Iguazu falls, unbelievable. Heavy rainfall had forced the closure of the main draw, Garganta del diablo, but what we could see was immense and kept our jaws thoroughly ajar all morning. The water was a rich browny red colour in parts due to the loose soil caused by extreme logging, which only seemed to add to the other worldly look of the series of gigantic falls.
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Not to mention the volume of water rushing through, far higher than usual again because of the rain. A bus ride through Brazil (20 mins) dropped us in Cuidad del Este in Paraguay which immediatley felt very different to the other SA countries so far visited. To Pauline´s delight, it turned out to be Cuidad del Pringles due to the tax free contraband on sale everywhere. No time for shopping though, we headed out of town to visit the worlds second largest dam. A joint project between Paraguay and Brazil, the Itaipu Dam is still clouded in controversy since its creation in the 70´s flooded a series of waterfalls apparently more impressive than Iguazu and caused all manor of environmental issues. This info wasn´t freely available on the tour we ventured which had only postive press for the impressive structure. A sight worth seeing despite the problems, not least because of the stats it provided us with!

We are now in the capital, Asuncion, and having witnessed the world's funniest food fight, we´re now heading out on the town where Richard's going to get the 'chop'. Full explanation next time!

Posted by Po Gallon 05.08.2011 17:27 Archived in Uruguay Comments (2)

Overheard: Travel Talks

Our favourite soundbites from around the world.

We thought it would be interesting to share a few of the funny things we have said or we have heard other people say on the trip. We hope you find them slightly amusing too. Here´s some from the two of us first...

Richard to friend of his Uncle on the phone: 'Its Richard, Gary and Lee's niece...' - Dopey!

Pauline: 'Is the IMF Australian?' (INTERNATIONAL Monetary Fund, Doh!)

R: 'It would be awesome if we could get some dairylea for the street yams.' - Beijing Geek

Conversation:

P: 'Do you want some moisturiser?'
R: 'No thanks, I've got my own.' - A freebie I might add.

P: 'We're on the periphery of Mortal Combat!' - At the end of a 'small' dispute on the streets of Beijing

P: 'I couldn't kill a no-legged cow.'

P: 'I've just done a self-portrait of you' - Slip up by the maestro herself when drawing in bus window condensation.

R: 'Quick let´s commandeer that picnic table' - One of several free in a deserted campsite.

R: ' Can you focus on the driving please Pauline?' seconds later... R: 'Check out that tractor coming out of the sea!' - During a road trip on the Coromandel Penisula, New Zealand.

P: `Excuse me sir, where do I pay for the food and drinks?´ Business class lounge receptionist: ´You don´t madam, it´s complimentary. You can pay me if you like´ spot the backpacker!

And here´s a few from some people we met or overheard:

Heman (Our host in Chennai) to Richard: 'I must show you the toilets.' - During a trip to a posh cinema.

Chinese tea scammers in Shanghai to Richard: 'You have big nose.' - No shit.

Radio Presenter on Triple J in Australia to his colleague: 'I'm not talking to you cos you punched me in the nob!'

Staff member at Taupo Bungy, New Zealand: 'Forget the duct tape, i'll get a harness for the bear, it'll be safer!' - After Richard had requested that Pauline´s soft toy mascot come along for the ride.

Hopefully there´ll be plenty more to come.

Posted by millfred 09:35 Comments (0)

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