A Travellerspoint blog

Chile, Chilly and too much Chilli

Day 206 to 221 Auckland to Chile Chico (via Los Angeles)

sunny 7 °C
View World Wide Wander on millfred's travel map.

No. of volcanoes in Chile = over 3000
Height of Vulcan Villarica = 2847m
No. of meals eaten in one day = 7 (technically 48 hours since we crossed the international date line!)
No. of meals in Chile without bread = 2 out of 34
Hours taken to cut and shave beard using swiss army knife and lady shave = 2
Beard length prior to cut = 2 inches
Total no. of dogs in Santiago = 1.25 million
No. of stray dogs = 260,000
Percentage photographed by Pauline = 70!

The far reaching ash cloud from the angry Vulcan Puyehue didn´t cause too much of a delay for us. We got 3 extra days to explore futher north of auckland and, thanks to Qantas´ very generous approach to expenses, got to stay in a posh hotel and have our meals paid for while we were inconvenienced. To top it off, we then got re-routed via Los Angeles, adding about 20 hours to our juorney but giving us the opportunitiy to pop out to Santa Monica Beach to stretch our legs!
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A pretty cool detour we thought. Oh and I nearly forgot, Qantas felt so bad about our delay that they upgraded us to Business Class for our trans-pacific flight. Needless to say we took full advantage of the complimentry drinks and lunch in the lounge before boarding, having just devoured a substantial buffet breakfast. The flight was an experience to remember for two grungy looking backpackers, lets just say we didn´t exactly ´blend in!´. We are still trying to get our heads around the time travel too. Our flights from Auckland to LAX then from LAX to Santiago both departed at 1pm on Monday 27th June. Weird indeed.

So we embarked on a new continent thoroughly refreshed. Santiago, although a little grey and rainy, was a good starting point. Especially since we met two Mexican friends in the hostel and toured the city together.
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We are all travelling together now and it´s great that they can help us with our Spanish. Our walking tour was rained off but our first taste of the South American favourite ´Pisco Sour´in a cosy pub was a welcome alternative.
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For the few soggy hours that we wandered around with our very animated guide, we picked up a few good snippets of info. Strange the things that stick in your head though. My favourite being the´Cafes con Piernas´ that were popular until very recently, kind of tame(ish) strip club for the businessmen of Santiago where they could get a coffee before work and stare at the waitresses legs! Apparently it´s died out now but I reckon there were some pretty shifty looking bankers around there!

The first thing you notice in Santiago are the street dogs, thousands of them. Friendly though and most in fairly good nick all things considered. I spent most of the time taking pictures of them which I will upload and name accrdingly, much to Richard´s disgust I imagine. He has softened slightly though.
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On one occassion when I got particularly upset at the sight of a very old and weary looking dog crossing the road Richard suggested we buy him some ham (along with some for himself!). Great, we can´t help them all but lets at least make this dog happy for a few hours. Ham in hand off we set to stalk him. We had just about given up and were nearing our cosy hostel when we spotted him limping off down a side road. We got his attention and dropped the ham right in front of him, he gave it a thorough sniff then buggered off! Not interested. You can lead a dog to ham.....

The plan was to head south to Patagonia so after the capital we went to Valparaiso and Viña del Mar. The former is a higgldy piggldy port town with loads of colourfully painted houses adorning the hillsides.
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I imagine it´s usually a fairly tranquil place but our timing coincided with the huge student protests that are taking Chile by storm. Mostly friendly we are told but we kept our distance anyway. Our only mistake was to go back to the bus terminal shortly after they had dispersed the crowds with tear gas. Strong stuff, it lingered for a while. Viña del Mar is a popular summer holiday spot for the Chileans, we found it a bit deserted being winter now and headed to the casino to mingle with the old ladies and Carlos & Abiel (our Mexican pals). You´ll all be surprised to learn that we didn´t gamble a single peso, the machines were too confusing!

An overnight bus brought us south to beautiful Pucon. The Villarica volcano dominates the scenery here and after fresh snow fall the previous day it was looking its best for us.
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I can´t say it was looking too inviting the next morning when we set off with our tour group to climb it. Richard, a freakishly fit German girl and two other men made it to the top, some of us didn´t quite make it and I managed to get seperated so had my own prersonal guide called Jorge. Richard got some amazing pics from the crater edge and later confessed to making some yellow snow (Biggest loo in the world?) as there was nowhere else to go. I hope it doesn´t trigger another eruption. It is actually still an active volcano but we were told it was pretty safe. The last major eruption was 1984 and it only flattened a few nearby towns.
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From Pucon we spent a couple of days in Puerto Varras, similar scenery to Pucon with the even bigger Osorno volcano hogging the limelight. There is also a very pretty lakeside view and old German style buildings, apparently there was a big German settlement here in the 1950s. Now we find ourselves a little further south in Chile Chico (a border town with Argentina). Back on solid ground after our Navimag ferry adventure from Puerto Montt to Puerto Chacabuco. During our 1 night voyage through the Chilean fjords we were invited to visit the bridge and by some freak timing coincidence, a blue whale popped up to say hello, twice! That was pretty spectacular, Richard enjoyed it nearly as much as the free buffet breakfast.
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We will pass through Chile again further south but Richard insisted on giving it a humourous send-off at this point by overshooting his hotdog and squirting half a bottle of Chilli sauce all over his pants! A trek through Argentina to come and the jury is still out on how far we´ll get, especially as there is new snow every day and the roads have seen better days, about 100 years ago i´d say. Still it´s great to be making progress towards the furthest south that roads go in the world. More on that soon. Hasta Luego!

There´s loads more photos in our album so make sure you check them out!

Posted by millfred 12:17 Archived in Chile Comments (4)

Kiwi come, kiwi go, kiwi stay by the looks of it!

Queenstown to Auckland Day 194 - 206

rain 14 °C
View World Wide Wander on millfred's travel map.

Chess score = Brazil 6 England 0 (Typical)
Weight of scroggin' mix (nuts, raisins, chocolate raisins and peanuts, chocolate buttons, smarties) consumed = 4kg
No. of meal breaks on the Franz Josef to Nelson bus journey (10 hours) = 6
No. of kiwi fruit for the equivalent of a pound = 15

After our day in Milford which was the highlight of our NZ adventure so far (did we mention the all you can eat buffet on board the cruise ship?) we decided to hotfoot it up to Franz Josef Glacier on the west coast of the sound island mainly because of the fear that we’d spend the rest of our budget on shotski’s (four shots of suspended in one ski)! We we’re joined on our bus journey and subsequent night-time glow worm hunt by brazilian chess wizard Felipe. The next day we tramped up to the foot of the glacier all the while amusing ourselves with the 20 questions Animal game (scraping the barrel, I know, but our lanky brazilian compadre is a vet so it seemed apt). Its was a great site even without shelling out for the guided tour.
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After a strenuous days hiking I thought I (Richard) would laud it up in the Sauna that was advertised by our hostel as a bonus freebie. However instead of a steaming paradise I ended up sweating for 45 mins in what resembled a garden shed with a couple of electric heaters strapped to the walls. (I couldn’t duck out of it after committing the manager to set it up for me!)

A longer bus journey awaited the three of us (Felipe in tow) the following day as we wound our way north to Nelson. What could have been 5 hours turned out to be 10 due to the insistence of the bus company to provide their drivers with a meal break every 40 mins. Its was like we were on a Café tour (most of which had a hunting theme to Pauline’s dismay) that also happened to take us to our destination. This would have been right up my street if I could afford it or hadn’t just pilfered half the items on the hostels free food shelf! To top it all our hyperactive driver (think Danny Devito in One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest) and his high pitched, village idiot, sidekick sitting behind him wouldn’t stop telling grandad jokes all the way. I had to restrain Pauline who turned to me with death in her eyes and commented ‘I think I might murder him’.

After all that the city of Nelson turned out to be a nice, chilled out stop. We checked in to ‘The Palace’ hostel (bit of a contradiction in terms maybe, but one of the best we’ve had) and were immediately offered the owner’s car to take on a day tour for free, even though we hadn’t yet paid for our room! This amused Felipe no end. We therefore hopped in the old Nissan estate the following morning (complete with our Portuguese linguist and another English traveller – Gurnam - who we hunted down after meeting her on the bus) and drove to the Abel Tasman National Park to walk the much hyped coastal track. After witnessing 3 hours of torrential rain we turned back.
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We thought we’d make up for the disappointment by getting a few free tasting sessions in at the area’s famous wineries but they we’re all closed. In the end we had to settle for a self made beer tasting in a local pub (I’m trying to make it sound better than going for a quiet drink alright!)

An early morning start took us back to the North Island and the capital Wellington on the ferry.
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Here we said our goodbyes to the kiwi fruit guzzling samba star. We spent an afternoon nurturing our minds at the vast museum as well as getting to know two old ladies after chancing upon an event where you had to hold hands with a stranger and chat whilst a blob of plaster hardened in between your paws. DSC_0054.jpg
Strange I know but it’ll all be part of an exhibition in a few weeks so we couldn’t resist leaving our mark here.

Heading north on the North Island we entered our next destination of Lake Taupo (an ancient Super volcano caldera) for one reason alone. Bungy. I decided to throw myself off a 47m high platform the next day and I definitely don’t regret it. It’s worth pointing out that I picked this site over the more famous Queenstown jump because I had a voucher for 30% off (my ma would be proud) but found it to be a more picturesque location anyway. Not that you notice on the way down. I did have another jumping with me, although it wasn't Pauline but her soft toy travelling companion Boss strapped to my arm!
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We’re now in back in Auckland and stuck because of some volcano erupting in Chile so the next blog might be all about supermarket arguments and hostel gripes. What’s that? Can’t wait. Until then folks.

Posted by millfred 14:54 Archived in New Zealand Comments (1)

# 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)

You can't be serious, you bloody peanut!

Day 154 - 174 Brisbane to Melbourne

No. of Greyhound bus journeys = 8
No. of Greyhound bus drivers without a moustache = 0
No. of everyday english words shortened and an 'o' added = infinite (e.g. Servo, Bowlo, Veggo, Bottlo)

Favourite overheard:

" You can't be serious, you bloody peanut" - Fan shouting at ref during aussie rules game.

So we're at the end of our Ozzie adventure and heading to New Zealand tomorrow. We were in Brisbane when we last 'blogged off' and have travelled down to Melbourne. Back in 'Brizzie' I (Richard) was forced to take part in the XXXX factory tour which included four beers as a taster. However, most likely due to a lack of english on the tour, three of us ended up with about 15 each when everyone else left! Hence I was a little late for my rendezvous with Pauline.
The day after next we were whisked off on another adventure with tour guide Jo who this time drove us to Lone Pine Koala sanctuary. Highlights included Pauline getting to hold a koala, Jo being chased by an ostrich as well as feeding and sitting amongst the kangaroos mimicking their porn star style poses.
Leaving Brisbane we headed south on the Greyhound again and stopped for the day in Coolangatta which was well worth it because we finally saw a pod of dolphins. We didn't even have the binoculars out scanning the waves tirelessly as on previous days. We picked up the bus again late afternoon to Byron Bay where we finished the night 'a la carte' with a cheese sandwich dinner. Classy! Byron had quite a hippie vibe going on and was a bit different to a lot of the previous stops. There was plenty to do and we took bikes up to the easternmost point in Australia (only to be overtaken by a retired german couple we met in the hostel) complete with lighthouse and, judging by the photography exhibition, the scene of some pretty rough storms and amazing wildlife. Not that we we're fortunate enough to see any that day. We did however witness a dramatic surfer rescue which at one point had seemed doomed. A couple had swam out to catch the best waves on the headland and got washed up onto the rocks. While one guy clung to the rocks and was repeatedly engulfed by the waves the lifeguard tried in vain to get close enough on their jetski's. In the end he got washed off but was also, fortunately, carried out by the tide during a brief lull and was dragged onto the jetski. Dramatic stuff. Later that day we watched the yearly triathlon which was a big event with some international stars (apparently!) and we're destroyed by the sea attempting to bodyboard.

Yet another night bus later (no sleep for me, plenty for Pauline) we arrived in Sydney and straight away hit the tourist spots of the Opera House and the Bridge, Pauline was delighted to prove the Teesside heritage of the Sydney harbour bridge. We then boarded a double or even triple decker train (counting the vestibules) to the suburbs to stay with the Skinners. Probably a good time to thank all of our great hosts in Australia, our stay would have been a lot duller, not to mention much more expensive, without your beds, meals, company and advice. We had a great time in Sydney and filled the rest of our few days with an extremely rough ferry crossing to Manly, a coastal walk from Bondi to Coogee and some people watching and window shopping in the lively centre.

On to Bulli to stay with Eric. The week started out action packed with regular picnics, walks and slightly scary abseiling, crab races in city pubsand failed attempts at waterfall leaps. We explored a bit more of New South Wales and even took a stroll along infamous 'Summer Bay' (home of 'home and away', for the more cultured readers). The rest of the week was a real chill out, for us more than Eric as he had to go back to work. We ate like royalty and had plenty of Aussie gold to quench our thirst too. Eric's truly Austalian pad was home to us for the longest time since leaving England nearly 6 months ago. It was really hard to put those backpacks on again but more fun awaited us in Melbs.

We stopped off briefly in Liverpool, NSW, mostly for the surreal feeling that using the internet in Liverpool City Library would bring. Then spent the day in Canberra. Certainly doesn't have a capital city vibe but was worth a look. It's easy to see why Melbourne and Sydney fought over the Capital City title, Melbs like Sydney is a bustling metropolis with plenty to do. Our hosts, the newlyweds James and Lauren were great and with them we experienced a real highlight of the trip so far, an Aussie rules footy match and The Melbourne Cricket Ground. We enjoyed the great food on offer here and overall in Australia it has been great to feel like normal people and not so 'backpacker' for a while.

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Nearly forgot, Pauline satisfied another 'must do' here and went on the official neighbours tour. More on that soon. SANY0109.jpg

Posted by millfred 11:42 Archived in Australia Comments (3)

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)

Stat's all Asia!

Day 1 to 139

sunny 28 °C
View World Wide Wander on millfred's travel map.

Total Days = 139
No. of Countries = 9
No. of beds = 57 (not including nights on trains,planes and automobiles)
No. of islands stayed on = 6
No. of times cooked for ourselves = 0
Cheapest meal in a restaurant = Plenty of freebies but otherwise 30p
No. 7-Elevens in Thailand = 5790 (half are in Bangkok alone)
No. Fireworks in Hong Kong's New year show = 31,888
No. 'Killing Fields' in Cambodia = 343
Height of Petronas towers in Kuala Lumpur = 509.01 metres (186x Pauline's height)
Southern most point in continental asia = Sentosa Island, Singapore
Current rummy score = Pauline 25, Richard 23
Current pool score = Richard 21, Pauline 18

Blogging from the free internet in Singapore Airport, signing off from Asia.

Bring on the barbies!

More stats and photies to follow, time to board flight no. 5!

Posted by millfred 20:23 Archived in Singapore Comments (0)

Happy Birthday Ella

Birthday wishes from around the World (ish)

xxx MillPo combo xxx

Posted by millfred 23:44 Archived in Laos Comments (0)

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)

The Million'dong'er Man

rain 19 °C
View World Wide Wander on millfred's travel map.

Last amount withdrawn from cash machine = 4 million dong (another country with inflation through the roof)
Cost of draught beer in Hoi An, Vietnam = 10p
No. of Laughing Cow sandwiches procured = 4 (quite popular in Vietnam)
Weight of Mulberry sweets consumed = 1kg

We are now 10 days into our journey through Vietnam and it's a great place to be. Beautiful mountains, beaches, rivers along with freindly people and above all cheap accomodation and great food!

We crossed the Cambodia - Vietnam border by boat along the Mekong River. The customs procedure was a bit of hassle. We had to endure a 5 minute boat swap with travellers going the other way then sit and eat noodles while our guide sorted out the details with the officials! Nice. The local people use the river for everything - transport, fishing, trading and even washing their hair.

Our first destination in Vietnam was Chau Doc. Our first accommodation, included as part of the Mekong tour, was a bit grotty (putting it mildly since my ma is subscribed to this). As if the gecko poo on the bed wasn't bad enough it had a stale stench, hole in the roof and looked like it hadn't been swept in a week. The response from the manager when I complained was "You can use my shoes" meaning his manky flip flops! We half made up for it that night by sitting in the poshest hotel in town and using internet for free for 2 hours. I think the receptionist thought all white people were guests! Later that night I (Richard) sampled my first Vietnamese cuisine - Shakin' beef which i'm guessing was a reference to the fact it was fairly raw and you could make it wobble if you tried hard enough!

After Chau Doc we went back to big city life in Ho Chi Minh (Saigon). Like all the Asian cities we've seen it was busy but had some smart colonial architecture and decent parks. We 'endured' the war museums which are hard going due to the visual portrayal of the victims of the Vietnam War but interesting too. We weren't much luckier with our hotel here having thought we'd found a bargain ourselves. The second morning Pauline was forced to go sit in the park at 8am after feeling sick due to the non-stop drilling next door. Apparently I mumbled a few words before dropping back off. We also got scammed in a cafe when sitting down for coffee's. When we came to pay the lady decided to show us an 'amended' menu where the price had pretty much doubled! It was much better to sit on stools on the pavement with the Vietnamese workers and drink good coffee for half the price.

Getting back out to the countryside and the Vietnamese highlands we took a sleeper bus to Dalat which was surprisingly comfy and I was slightly annoyed to get woken up in the end when we arrived.
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The place was chilled out and picturesque even though after the first day the weather took a turn for the worse and its pretty much rained ever since! On our first day here we happened to come across a gaming centre where I got hammered at pro-evo by the owner (since when was Ronaldo at centre back for Chelsea). The second day we joined the tourist trail and took a tour round some of the sights, the best of which involved taking a single seat toboggan down to a cracking waterfall.
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Not so good was the tapestry museum with its weird phrases written above every doorway like "Stage for children to argue". Bizarre.

For our next destination we took a day bus through the stunning mountains to beachside Nha trang. Our hotel standard seemed to have drastically improved and we even had a flat screen TV. Luxury! I think we got a few hours sunshine on the beach before the clouds rolled in.
After two nights we took another night bus to Hoi An were we sit now. This is another small, chilled out town with a reputation for tailoring, something Pauline couldn't resist as she picked up a pair of her own design Tiger trainers and made to measure jeans.
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I spent most of my spare change on extra food (Chocolate Werthers original and fried peanut pasties!). On the topic of food we even got the chance to cook our own dinner last night with a cookery course in one of Hoi An's finest eateries. We knocked up a fabulous Pho noodle soup with peanut sauce as the evidence below shows.
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So we travel to the capital (Hanoi) tonight on yet another sleeper bus hoping that its not too cold and wet up north. Not that we're getting soft or anything!

Posted by millfred 08:51 Archived in Vietnam Comments (1)

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)

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