A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: Po Gallon

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 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 20:26 Archived in Brazil Comments (1)

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 13:38 Archived in Ecuador 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 17:27 Archived in Uruguay Comments (2)

# Never been this far away from home#

Auckland to Queenstown via everywhere in-between Day 175 - 194

rain 10 °C

Number of degrees below freezing at night in our camper = 5
Number of nights spent camping in NZ = 16
Number of other people camping in NZ at this time of year = 0
Number of cm snow in ski resort NZ = 0

We started our New Zealand tour in Auckland. Found a great hostel and we didn't exactly exert ourselves on arrival, we just took the opportunity to recharge our batteries. We took the ferry over to Devonport and strolled around some extinct volcanoes and enjoyed yet another coastal walk. A well established feature of this trip, we are map geeks at heart and like walking around the edge of countries. We soon learned how fast the weather can change over here and rain nearly put a stop to out tomato soup lunch break, just as Richard had a genius flask design idea, can't tell about that yet. Pauline found the perfect rain shelter in the form of a kid's puzzle shop. We nearly missed the ferry back!

From Auckland then we headed south in our oh so cool camper van. The Toyota 'Bongo' as it was named was far from luxurious but gave us licence to roam the beautiful countryside and stop wherever we liked. We paddled in thermal (eggy) pools and marveled and giggled at bubbling mud geezers in Rotorua, found amazing waterfalls and chatted to really friendly locals. Most of whom seemed to have visited the North East of England at least once and one who'd even played a bit of Rugby professionally in Newcastle. We have been bowled over by the Kiwi hospitality, not to mention the 'sweet iz' accent too. Most of all we just enjoyed driving on at our own pace, which in the bongo was usually about 50kph, if we were lucky, there are a lot of hills here!

To keep costs down, The Department of Conservation have been kind enough to provide us with basic but very very picturesque campsites. I say 'us' because we are yet to share a site with anyone else crazy enough to be sleeping in a camper/people carrier in winter! Honestly though, you couldn't ask for more beautiful surroundings. Although the picture perfect sunrises over mountains in remote spots still aren't enough to get Pauline out of bed before one hundred 'snoozes'. Richard is permanently on brekkie duty. We carried on down SH1, unfortunately it stands for State Highway and not Super highway like Pauline thought. Super would be a better word for it. We toured the national parks there stopping in both Kaimanawa and Tongariro. I'd like to say that those nights spent at one with nature have developed my adventurous side but to be honest I was mostly petrified after dark. Sheep look so innocent in daylight, but menacing in the moonlight!

We crossed the Cook Straight on a beautifully clear day and as we were slightly tied to getting the Bongo back to Christchurch on time wasted no time heading south. We did however find the time for a spot of wine tasting in the Marlborough Region, be rude not to. The campsites got even better and we enjoyed views of Cloudy Bay and the stunning East Coast from our beach front camp. This time we had company from real people as well as a nosy hedgehog. We spent the last day or so driving the 'Top Gear' esq coastal roads in Kaikoura and then arrived in Christchurch.

We weren't prepared for the extent of the damage there, it felt very strange. The whole of the CBD is still entirely inaccessible and the destruction caused to buildings and roads is all too visible. There is a very real sense of the loss and it seems it will be a very long time before the city and its inhabitants are ok. After a very small aftershock during our second night there, we didn't hang around.

Camper van number 2! We took our time heading South West across the South Island, following the old Gold trail. Didn't find any unfortunately! Highlights included spotting Yellow eyed penguins in Oamaru, cycling a section of the Otago Central Rail Trail around Omakau and stopping to meet the locals in the many tiny towns. Mostly drunk farmers.

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Now we are in Queenstown, tearing up the runs? I hear you ask, Nope. More snow in The Sahara we think. Disappointing but it's hard to be mad at such an amazingly beautiful part of the world. Crystal clear lakes and Mountains galore, and there are benefits to unseasonably fair weather. We have tramped (hiked in Kiwi lingo) the Routeburn Track and walked along the shores of Lake Wakatipu. Although we still have 10 days left, it's possible our New Zealand adventure reached it's peak today with a trip to Milford Sound. Wrong time of year for the full on 5-day trek so had to settle for a pretty long day trip. So much information en-route from 'Wayno' our guide. Right through the dramatic mountains and waterfalls to the famous sound. Breathtaking scenery to be seen on the boat-trip but the photo ops were almost forgotten when a pod of dolphins took the opportunity to play around in the slip stream of the catamaran for well over 30mins in the freezing rain. They must have thought we were all crazy for watching for so long but it was hard to turn away, especially since they had their youngest member in tow. Definitely one of the best days yet!

More pics soon... we forgot to bring the hard drive!

Posted by Po Gallon 02:05 Archived in New Zealand Comments (5)

Aussie Rules. How you going?

Cairns - Brisbane. Day 140 - 153

sunny 27 °C

No. of koalas seen in the wild = 2
Litres of goon consumed = 15
No. of kangaroos seen before today = 0
No. of kangaroos seen today = 10

Australia has definitely been the refreshing change we needed, and at times (when raining!) its reminded us of home. When it is hot it's a totally different kind of heat to Asia, it doesn't hinder breathing at all and we are comfortable walking more than a few meters without needing a rest and a shower!

Touch down in Darwin but only to change planes, our first real taste of Oz was Cairns two weeks ago. We had high expectations since we had heard only good things about the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef and we sure weren't dissapointed. My first impressions were that we'd accidentally flown over Australia and landed in America. Everything is huge. Australians don't do things by halves. Slowly though the Australianess creeps in. The Aussies are a very friendly bunch and being greeted favourably when entering a shop, walking passed someone's house and passing in the street takes some getting used to. The only thing that marred our enthusiasm to explore the country under our sandy toes was the realisation that the daily budget we had grown comfortable with wouldn't even buy us a bed bug riddled mattress here! A little adjustment was called for, and a keen eye for the reduced section in each shop. Living on a tight budget here is made much easier by being able to cook for ourselves, which after 5 months was a real novelty. Made even better by the 'free basket' usually found in a dark corner of each hostel kitchen. Here you can usually find some rare treats and staples, and some fellow bedragled backpackers who have spent all their money on 'Goon'. No danger of that with me and my shandy pants reputation, can't say the same for Richard. Some canny young Brits we met in Cairns put their cheap boxed wine drinking to the test and entertained us with karoake one night. Lets just say Danny Zuko featured heavily.
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No luck acquiring a camper van to head down the east coast, Easter weekend meant there was nothing available so Greyhound it was. Not such a big deal since the problems we encountered in previous destinations don't exist here. You'll never have to share your seat or crouch in the aisle for the duration. As opposed to no rules, there are too many. The drivers insist on listing all of the prohibited food and drink, it would be quicker to just tell us what is allowed! They also refuse to let you close the air conditioning blowers (even when its freezing) and tell you to direct it onto the people in front or behind instead! Where were these hardliners at customs when we were hoping to get on 'Nothing to Declare' with our smuggled instant coffee?

A few stops between Carins and Brisbane saw us sunning ourselves, eating easter eggs, playing fierce tournaments of table tennis and fishing on Cyclone Yasi torn Mission Beach.
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Swimming in the lagoon, avoiding young 'flashpackers' and playing cards in Airlie Beach and finally getting to swim in the Pacific from Agnes Water/1770. Until then we'd heeded the warnings on killer Jelly-fish. In most places they have stinger nets that you can swim in but as we discovered you have to get you tide times correct. We walked a really beautiful (that means long) coastal path in Airlie beach fully intending to cool off in the sea at the end. No net in sight... only some strange looking white boundaries guarding some mud, big dissapointment. When we eventually did get to go for a dip further down the coast, the sun decided to go for a rest but that didn't deter us, nor did the gigantic waves that nearly gave us concussion. The rain didn't even stop play in the middle of our 'skim ball' contest with our German companions Tina & Sven.
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It was fairly evenly matched since we split them up, both being well over 6ft we had to give ourselves a fighting chance!

Another hop on the Greyhound led us to a life of luxury here in Brisbane. Unfortunately our timing was thrown out in Cairns and we missed Richard's Aunty Lee, but we've thoroughly enjoyed the hospitality here and have our very own tour guide in the shape of Jo.
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So far we have spotted Koalas just around the corner
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and Kangaroos en-route to Lamington National Park. There we also fed the wild birds and I became the crazy bird woman as they seemed to be attracted to my bright jacket.
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Can't compete with their colourful feathers though. We had a great day on 'Straddie' Island looking out for dolphins, didn't see any this time but the weather was fantastic and we struck gold when we found a packet of lifesaver sweets on the path. Yes, we have stooped so low as to eat things we find on the street (they were genuinly sealed and obviously new,honest!)
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So far then we are loving Oz, the wildife is amazing and its all much more beautiful than I was prepared for, if only I didn't feel the need to check for red backs 100 times a day. We should take a leaf out of the Aussies book and chill out. There are more important things to worry about like how many cans of XXXX one can fit in the boot when visiting the 'drive through' bottle-O and how much the flamin' bananas are costing at the minute!
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Posted by Po Gallon 04:58 Archived in Australia Comments (1)

Who needs a seat on a 16 hour bus anyway?

Hue, Hanoi, Sapa, Dien Bien Phu (Vietnam) - A, B, C Luang Prabang, Vientiane (Laos)

sunny 15 °C

No. of all you can eat street buffets since last blog = 3
No. of games of blob = 3 (1 to Richard, 1 to Pauline, 1 to some dutch hustler)
No. of kilometres travelled in 48 hours = 1,935 (3 countries)

One night bus seems much the same as another these days but our trip up North was particularly comfortable and we disembarked feeling refreshed and ready to take in what Hanoi had to offer. Fast forward half an hour, I'm holding back the tears as Richard explores the street opposite to see if it really can be where our hostel is, that would mean it's hidden between the pig carcases, buckets of various livers, ducks hanging up to drain and all manner of tasty treats. As I look to see if Richard is heading back my way I turn to catch the last few desperate gasps of a chicken hanging over a death tub. All this after an unpleasant exchange with a bogus taxi driver. Welcome to Hanoi.

We have since heard that it's a great city, especially for travellers, and while I did see some glimpses of hope, I couldn't get the chicken out of my head. So Hanoi is not on my top 10 favourite places so far. Richard did manage to pull himself together and see some sights, although he was disappointed when an early start to go see Ho Chi Minh left another gaping hole in his 'sightings of preserved communist leaders' hall of fame, when he found the mausoleum closed. We didn't hang around in Hanoi but we did go to see the very popular Water Puppetry show. Wierd. Strangely very entertaining. It's easy to transport yourself back 100 years and imagine yourself watching the show in a remote Vietnamese village, and that, along with the music and skill involved made for a quite mystical show.

Onwards and upwards literally to the mountainous north of Vietnam. Or land of the travel sickness pills as I have renamed it. Absolutely stunning scenery and in Sapa you are right in amongst it. Layered rice terraces cut into the mountains, fog dusts the top of the hills and hangs around the town to create a very mysterious air. Oh and the bakery opposite our hotel did the best chocolate tarts ever, reason enough to stay a while. We chilled out there and although didn't challenge ourselves with any major trekking, we wandered around and got a little lost en route to a pretty cool water fall. Another million photo ops for me with baby animals at every turn.

To save time we decided not to head back to Hanoi, which also meant missing Halong Bay which was a real bummer. We can't see everything this time says the voice of reason. We embarked on the border crossing to Loas from Dien Bien Phu which the giude book describes as 'strictly for those with a sense of adventure and DEFINITELY not for the faint hearted and weak stomached traveler'. So armed with our cunning disguises (Richard's new moustache)
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and a borderline overdose on travel sickness pills of we set. 5am, DPB bus station, 1 bus, 29 tickets, 61 passengers. easy. Even the Vietnamese seemed to be amazed and laughed as the bus went by. And what does the driver do when a package is too big to fit on the roof I hear you ask? Politely refuse to take it? No. Try stuffing it in the boot then hold a pole against a tree and back up on to the pole until the boot will shut. Yes. Job done.

Our whistle stop tour of Laos was too brief but amazing and well worth the hours on the bus. After a night of card games in Muang Khua we ditched the mountain paths and overloaded buses in favour of a relaxing boat trip and had a great day and night in a little riverside town called Muang Ngoi. Swimming and games in the river then a lovely evening and yet another all you can eat buffet, meaning Laos was fast becomming Richards favourite food destination. Thanks for the company and new games to the ABCD gang (you know who you are!)

Luang Prabang is a really chilled out place and we recouperated there for a few days before heading south to Vientiane. We went to some beautiful waterfalls where you could swim and pose for 'timote' shots which Richard couldn't get enough of. Vientiane was the least capital like of all of the aisian cities so far, pretty queit and not built up all. We didn't have very long there but we did squeeze in a few hours of bowling.

Our journey south continues to southern Thailand, so we can make it out of here before the nation goes water crazy for their New Year celebrations. A brief pit-stop in Malaysia and Singapore then we'll be in touch from Oz. We have loved our time in Aisia but we are ready for a change, bring on the barbies and sharks!

Posted by Po Gallon 23:43 Archived in Laos Comments (3)

Expats, Sexpats and Deathpats!

36 °C

No. of motorbike crashes we saw (not involved in!) during the first 12 hours in Phnom Penh = 3
No. of people packed into one Volvo estate (included 3 hanging outside the open boot!) = 15
Cost of a 500ml bottle of lethal whisky = 50p
No. of times worn a seatbelt in 103 days = 1 (for all of 300m to the bus stop!)

We have now been in Cambodia for 2 weeks and it is fast becoming our favourite country so far. But before we reveal all about what we have seen and done here, we must tell you about the wedding of The Fitzgeralds in Krabi, Thailand (Richard's mates from Canada, if your not in the know). Oh and the hangovers that followed which left us wandering around Ao Nang wondering when we'd summon the strength to move back through Thailand to the border with Cambodia.

Krabi was a beautiful setting for the wedding and knowing that the venue was a posh resort left us apprehensive how our mis-matched outfits and Richard's 'Koh Samui tesco lotus' shoes would go down or if we'd even get in! One cocktail down and there were no worries, everyone was so friendly and the ceremony, happy couple, plentiful food & drink, sand-pit dance floor and fire throwing hunks (Richard's choice of words) were sensational! We had a lovely time, it was a very welcome change to our travel routine and the company was very gratefully received, especially nice to see the girls that we had previously met in Liverpool too. We hope the Fitz's won't mind us sharing a few photos of their special day with our blog fans (I know there's a few out there) back home. I won't dwell on the day after but being forced to get up at the crack of dawn with new people coming into our dorm we got a motorbike taxi to the nearest town and hot footed it to the nearest MacDonalds (sorry!). After yet another iced coffee (would be a stat if I could work out the total!) which took about 2 hours for the waiter to bring (and even then it was hot!) we decided we couldn't face the night bus to Bangkok, checked in to a cupboard and slept off the blue cocktails of the night before.

And here we are (after 25 hours of travel from Krabi to Siem Reap), so far Cambodia has been awesome (that's my new favourite word - Pauline). We have learned so much about the recent history which is so sad and yet the Khmer people are so welcoming. It seems that, unlike the Thais, they aren't yet pig sick of tourists. We started our Cambodia adventure with a slightly hodge podge border crossing from Aranya Prathet to Poipet . Our first overland, made even stranger by the 1920s style vegas casinos situated slap bang in the middle. A popular weekend destination for Thais apparently, I was tempted to try to double our budget but wait, who's that grabbing my collar? yep it's sensible Mr. Miller - Thankfully! So here is a rundown of our destinations thus far in this very dusty land.

Siem Reap - gateway to the ancient ruins of the Angkor region, and also a very charming town. We visited Angkor Wat at sunrise and whilst not overwhelmed by it, it certainly is an imposing structure and in an unbelievable state of repair considering it was built in the 12th century.
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The worlds largest religious structure and a very fascinating place indeed. More breathtaking in our opinion was Ta Prohm, a large temple site that has been all but demolished by nature. Gigantic trees have literally taken over, creating an amazing scene of destruction and beauty. Allegedly the set for one of the tomb raider flicks, this is a truly memorable place(pics). Siem Reap is also home to some of the world's cutest kids and on our bike ride around the ruins we encountered a few inquisitive souls who were happy to confiscate our sweets and water, and who could resist handing them over to these smiling faces.
We also visited the Landmine museum here which was a disturbing and sobering day. There is a lot being done by this little charity to rid the Cambodian countryside of landmines left from the Vietnam war and the Khmer Rouge, but it's a very long process and so many people have already suffered. Nevertheless, the children cared for by the charity are a testament to the courage and positive attitudes of the Cambodians we have met.

Battambong - We stopped off here on our way down to the coast. It was a fleeting visit but well worth it for a quick trip on its Bamboo train (literally a horizontal fence with wheels and a motor attached).
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Here we also racked up a few more frames of pool but Richard would rather forget about that particular score line.

Sihanoukville (Serendipidy Beach & Victory Hill) - was great for the sun , sea and sand but also a sobering affair with the amount of homeless people (most of which are amputees) trying to earn a living. During our time their we took a trip to the island of Koh Ru and stayed a night in a beach bungalow on our own private beach next to a deserted bar crawling with snakes (pretty weird).
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We also drank a poor excuse for whisky out of a bucket, we'll leave the next day to your imaginations.

Kampot - Another charming destination, mostly visited for access to Bokor National Park and the deserted hill station hotel/casino. This made for an interesting day trip including a very sweaty trek up the mountain. The highlight though wasn't the buildings, the park or even the sunset boat trip. Playing our new favourite game with the rangers stole the show for us.
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Phnom Penh - here we are now in the capital of Cambodia and the centre of the history of the Khmer Rouge. It has been a fascinating journey and very sad too. We visited the S-21 Museum and The Killing Fields because we felt we shouldn't ignore the past just because it's so hard to see and hear about. It is comforting that so many people here talk openly about the horrific truth and this is acknowledged as a safeguard to stop it happening again. We have managed to have fun here too and tonight is our last evening in Cambodia so we are going for a drink with some fellow travelers. We won't be drinking the palm wine again though, we sampled it last night from a street vendor and I can't even begin to describe the stench or tell you how bad it tasted. Richard managed a few sips and I just pretended to save face and not offend the guy selling it.

Sorry this is a bit of a long one, we have neglected our blog a bit but will be sure to report next week from Vietnam. We are crossing the border tomorrow via a short trip along the Mighty Mekong river.

A few blogs ago we asked if anyone had any questions we could answer as well as boring you all with the basics. Thanks to our first interviewers, Martin and Tess who asked if there is anywhere we have visited that we haven't liked so far? Yup, Nagpur in India, we only went there as an overnight stop and regretted it instantly. Dump. Sorry. But out of all the stops we have made so far I'd say it's a good stat that we only disliked 1 place. Please leave a comment if you want to ask us anything, we love to hear from you all.

Oh that reminds me, the sand art votes have been counted and verified and I can reveal that the winner is .... Richard Miller, Quelle surprise! I'd like to say a special thanks to my wives and only sister in Liverpool for their support. You know who your mates are! It's good job my mam can spot my lack of creativity a mile off! I should know better than to have a design related competition with Richard, must find something I can beat him at, watch this space!

p.s. Check the map for most recent pics.

Posted by Po Gallon 05:35 Archived in Cambodia Comments (1)

White men can't sunbathe - especially not in Thailand

33 °C

Price for all you can eat buffet for a woman = 295 baht
Price for all you can eat buffet for a man = 365
Price for all you can eat buffet for a ladyboy = 335

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We are nearly 3 weeks in to our adventure in Thailand and we love it. It is much easier than India and China for getting around and finding reasonable accommodation. I guess that's the compromise as it is also much more touristy and most other tourists are on package deals. The food has been amazing, the street food is great, fresh and cheap and we have had some delicious meals in cheap restaurants. Especially in Koh Tao where we could eat and drink for under a fiver while watching the sun set over the beautiful bay.

From the beginning then. Bangkok was what we expected, a bustling Asian city. Too many people, too much traffic, too hot and a bit smelly. But we loved it. India had prepared us well for this type of place and if you don't mind eating your noodles with an audience of street rats while counting the lizards on the wall, you're fine! I don't know how they prepare such tasty food from such rotten carts on the road side but they do. Officially no upset stomachs so far either! It was difficult getting used to the heat again after a chilly few weeks in China. Walk a bit, sweat a bit, drink a bit, sleep a bit seems to be my coping mechanism. A few other highlights in Bangkok; the water ferry's, much better way to get around, cheap and breezy if a bit brutal. You literally get 10 seconds to get on/off and if you don't quite make the pier, good luck getting any help (Not because the people are mean, just on a tight schedule I think). Pauline had a David Attenbrough moment in Lumbhini Park when a pigeon fell in the lake and some children tried to rescue it. The climax of the drama however occurred when a beasty monitor lizard hot-footed across the lake to gobble up the unfortunate bird! I (Richard) missed it all!

From Bangkok we caught a train North East to Chaing Mai and we had the privelage of air-con (shame it was set to -2 and I could see my breath all the way!).We went trekking in the jungle for 2 nights and 3 days.
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Great value for money we met hilltop tribes, went rafting, swam in waterfalls and walked.... a alot! Also included was an elephant trek along the rapids.
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An opportunity not to be missed we thought and since the elephants seemed well looked after and were kept together in a family I thought it would be ok. I (Pauline) kind of regretted it afterwards though and whilst it certainly was an experience I didn't really enjoy it. A funny moment was finding a big hole in the balcony of our hut due to the fire not being extinguished fully the previous night (classic mistake!).
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After Chiang Mai, we headed back south to Ayutthaya (the old capital) for some temple sight-seeing but the most interesting sight had to be a fairly big monitor lizzard crossing the road in front of us. After it waddled off Pauline scared the shizzle out of me by pretending it was back behind me after i'd turned around.

So after over a week in the Thai heat we decided we needed to get to a beach to relax. Ko Tao was a dream, small enough to be not too touristy. We got a bungalow right next to the beach and the only downside was finding a cockroach the size of Pauline's fist in it on the second night! We spent a day on a snorkelling tour which was great value and only spoiled by the realisation that we'd both got burn't (one more serious than the other!) while being on our stomach's all day.
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After two days on Ko Tao we took the ferry to Koh Samui (via Ko Phangan and hence full of full moon party go-ers) and to our dismay spent 3 hours (1 in a taxi) trying to find the beach bungalows we'd booked. We must have asked about 30 locals to no avail and when it started getting dark had to settle for checking into a different hotel. Koh Samui was a lot bigger and more touristy, so on our second day we thought we'd try to hire a scooter, which was a cheap way to get around. If only I (Richard) had ridden anything like it before and didn't ride down the street like fred flinstone, refusing to apply the brake! The lady in the hire shop decided for us it was best to take a raincheck!

We have now crossed the Thai peninsula to see the other side of the Andaman sea (from India) and are having a great time on the island of Ko Phi Phi. Tomorrow we go snorkelling again and get to see where the film 'The Beach' was set. I'll get well lubed up this time.

Finally, check out our beach artwork and leave a comment telling us which one is best. We'll try not to argue over the result!
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Picture 2
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Posted by Po Gallon 02:01 Archived in Thailand Comments (9)

Shanghai stick - Beijing bust

sunny -1 °C

We've been in China almost exactly a week and shared our time so far between Shanghai and Beijing. Both very modern cities and we are enjoying everything China has to offer. We had an amazing host in Shanghai, thanks Lara! We were totally spoiled and very well taken care of. Now we are on our own in Beijing and we've already blown our budget. There is so much to see and do here. We might actually have to stay here as there are 230 million people trying to book train tickets this week so they can get home for Chinese New Year. Terrible planing on our part and its going to be a very long walk to Hong Kong. It will be great to see some of the celebrations though when it all kicks off.

So what did we see & do in Shanghai? We had a fair few more beers than we'd been used to in India so the sightseeing wasn't quite as active as it had been. Our posh city centre pad was a very useful base and we enjoyed strolling around the French Concession, evening views along The Bund and some much needed cheap shopping to layer up for the cold weather here. We gatecrashed the drum & base scene there and were glad to find everyone really welcoming and not embarrassed by our not so hip outfits, we didn't pack for the night scene much.

Having spent 7 weeks in India suspecting regular rip offs we must have let our guard down in China. 24 hours in Shanghai and we fell whole heartedly for 'The Tea Scam'. Nearly a week ago now and i'm still furious. Apparently it's famous and our hosts felt bad that they'd forgotten to warn us. We returned from a successful shopping day with tales of our 'weird' experience which on closer inspection from our wise Shanghainese friends is a total scam. Hook, line and sinker. Luckily Richard's keen eye for our daily budget restricted their winnings from us but we still paid a fiver each on the worlds smallest cup of tea. We left the cosy tea house thinking we'd made some cute new friends - oh you fools!

As we have only seen big cities so far we can't believe how clean everywhere is. It's such a contrast to India and we are trying to get to grips with the culture and politics here.

Beijing is massive and very spread out. We are excited about heading out to The Great Wall tomorrow but can't decide whether to take the cheaper option and go to the touristy part or stump up to explore the more remote and less restored parts. Today Richard was in sports heaven when we visited the Birds' nest stadium and water cube from the 2008 Olympics. Yesterday was very cultural, Tian' an men Square and The Forbidden city. Interesting, but the guards had a very Russian feel so I was scared. We missed Mau's mausoleum though and Richard is quite intrigued so we may go back and stare at him for a while.

We've kept up with the beers here and our hostel is great for meeting people. After a few free drinks with the special buffet here we got chatting to some other guests. A young couple from Oz got a barrage of questions about Nieghbours but they seemed happy enough to humour me. Can't wait to get to Australia and go to actual Ramsey Street! I've go t a feeling the Kennedy's will be having a family meeting that day.

The food has been interesting. We ate like Western royalty in Shanghai but so far here its been a bit ropey. We are checking out a night market later and Richard is psyching himself up to try a scorpion.

So provided we find a way to get to Hong Kong for our flight to Bangkok, it's all good!

Posted by Po Gallon 18:25 Archived in China Comments (0)

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