2007/08

In case you missed Series 1 of our adventures, our updates are re-published here!

Our Route was:

South Africa

Australia

New Zealand

Fiji

Hawaii

West Coast North America

Peru, Bolivia, Chile, Argentina, Brazil

New York

 

South Africa – Update 1

ahh, its too hot!

This will be a quick update as this interweb shop is hotter than the sun and the internet is actually rubbish – hence the lack of photos. Hopefully they have better action in Australia so will upload them then.

 Right, a quick summary:

Landed last Monday – stayed in Blouberg or ‘Table view’. This should be renamed ‘Cloud view’ as this was all we could see of the mountains across the bay! Tuesday drove down to Gansbaii, stopping at Hermanus to watch the Southern Right whales jumping about in the bay. Nice hostel in Kleinbaii, home of Great white shark diving. Got onto an afternoon trip – Sea choppy as hell, managed to hold onto the steak pie they feed you for about 2 hours until the women in the cage next to me started to hurl. I promptly got out of the cage and followed suit at the front of the boat! Quite a few sharks about – got better photos from the top deck of the boat anyway – will upload some when out of the third world. Next to Plettenburg bay – very nice, there for the Bungee jump off Bloukrans bridge, bloody massive – 216m! Wasn’t nervous until got to the edge of the bridge and felt that hurricane Katrina had finally crossed the Atlantic and hit bloukrans river gorge. Died down a bit for my jump though which was awesome! Zoë did well also, thought she would feebly fall off the edge but managed a proper jump into the abyss!

From there back to Stellenbosch for some wine action on Sunday, again, very nice place – ran up the hill by the train station to see sunrise over the mountains – fantastic, went back the next day with Zoë to take pictures but now ruined by more chuffing clouds! Yesterday arrived in SimonsTown A.k.a Boringtown – which is why we decided not to stay there tonight as planned. Went down to boulders beach yesterday to see more penguins and then onto the Cape of good hope. Walked to some shipwreck along the coast, spotting Rare African Black oystercatchers, African beach ducks, The extremely rare White nosed beach goat and several baboons. In Sea point now – hopefully the clouds will not reappear so we can climb Table mountain tomorrow. Planning to leave at 4am so I don’t melt – haven’t discussed this with Zoë yet though.

 Hope everything is good at home and you’re all enjoying your dark winter mornings mwah ha ha. Will send more news when get to Australia. Mate.

 Ben and Zoë xx

South Africa – Update 2

Left Simons Town (home of the SA Navy so not boring at all!) and drove round the coast to Sea Point, swam in the ocean pool and chilled out for the afternoon in preparation for our ascent up Table Mountain. Got up quite early (not 4am though!) and drove to the cable car station car park and walked round to the start of the Platteklip Gorge walk. Was really hot already so wishing we had got up early, but made good progress and got to the top in 1hour 20 mins, better than the 2hours 30 mins they says it takes! Met some stupid ill prepared people on the way like silly Americans in their jeans and suede deck shoes, and a couple of old ladies with absolutely no water! Ben got a lovely bit of sunburn after not applying properly, but the views were awesome so worth it.

Next day moved round the coast a bit, had rung a couple of hostels who were full then found one which had rooms, and when we got there we found out why! It was horrible, next to a mental hospital with barbed wire al over it, was last decorated in the 60’s and didn’t even have a kitchen, so we left and managed to find somewhere newly opened further up the town. Afternoon spent in the Aquarium on the waterfront, and trying but failing to book a tour to Robben Island where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned.

Friday we went into the city centre to the gardens and the SA museum and planetarium, and had ostrich for tea, mainly sold Ben on the idea because it has an excellent fat to protein ratio so is very good for you! Saturday we went to Kirstenbosch botanical gardens in the foothills of Table Mountain, v nice, then stopped at Hout bay and saw a whale in the bay and some seals. Back to get changed and then treated to a very nice dinner by Ben’s ex colleague & his wife who were over here, Ben even had fish, he is improving! Relaxing today & getting ready to move on to Sydney tomorrow. So nice not to be going back to work after the usual 2 weeks away ha ha!

Not really missing you all, hope you’re missing us,

Zoë x

Singapore – Update 1

Well, we were supposed to be in Australia by now but due to a large number of incompetent people in Africa, we’re in Singapore instead! Quite a nice airport to be stuck in though I suppose! Basically, our Cape Town flight was cancelled. The replacement flight was ‘delayed indefinitely’ – so cancelled then – and we got to Jo’burg 30 minutes before our Sydney flight left. We sprinted through the airport from Domestic Arrivals to International departures – me carrying both 14kg bags. Got about half way before arms were coming out of sockets so nabbed a trolley and had some fun sprinting the rest of the way driving the trolley like a maniac through the airport! By the time we reached departures we were both rather knackered and not in the mood to be met by incompetent staff! No-one seemed to have any idea how we could get on our flight – No-one actually seemed to have any idea what they were talking about full stop. Eventually resigned ourselves to having to stay in Jo’burg for the night – BA put us up in hotel – probably the nicest place we’ll stay all trip! Good free all you can eat dinner and breakfast this morning which I obviously took massive advantage of!

So, now on our way to Sydney – slowly – leave Singapore in about 2 hours for another long flight, maybe it’ll be on the A380!

Australia – Update 1

We eventually made it to Oz via Singapore, and had a good few days in Sydney, such a cool city. It did rain nearly every day though! But brightened up by the end of the week. We went to the Opera house of course, and did the tour inside and learnt about all the design problems with it and the proposal to sink one of the theatres a few metres into the ground! Walked through the botanical gardens, went to Manly which was lovely, and back on he ferry at night to see everything lit up. We walked over the bridge, and up the lookout but decided not to d the bridge climb in the end, its impressive enough from the lookout! Met one of Ben’s friends for drinks at The Rocks area – (lots of old school pubs and Irish folk!). Had a day out to the Blue Mountains too on the train, then walked about 6km through the rainforest type tracks through the eucalyptus to all the lookouts and back up the steep hill to get the train back from the next village-a good day out but we were exhausted the next day! Dragged Ben round the Maritime museum too and got a private tour of Kay (Cottee?)’s boat The First Lady – the one she sailed round the world single handedly in, as a volunteer happened to be there showing people round. Went to the fish market to for the biggest fish and chips we’ve ever eaten! All good. We’re in Byron Bay now preparing to go on to Brisbane shortly and see some aussie animals hurrah.

Australia – Update 2

So we’re in Byron at the moment at a hippie/alternative hostel type place where everyone has deadlocks and you sleep in a tent on the edge of a little swamp! Or you can sleep in a big tepee or a converted London bus! We went to the trivia quiz last night, and didn’t win the prize for being clever, but my name got drawn out the hat for free diving. It was supposed to be for a course but we don’t have long enough to hang around till it starts etc so we swapped it for a snorkel trip for us both to a reef this afternoon which was good – the reef is only about 5 mins from the shore so no sea sickness for Bennie, and there were loads of fish and a turtle which swam really close to us and we followed it around for a bit and watched it eating. You’re not allowed to ride them though! The one we saw was quite small, but there was also a huge Leatherhead turtle a few metres from the boat as we got back on so it was a good afternoon. Off to Brisbane tomorrow and trying to plan our next couple of weeks, contemplating a canoe trip/camp adventure a bit further up the coast. The weather is lovely now, all sunny but breezy so perfect (well Ben thinks its too hot but he always does when the sun comes out!).

Australia – Update 3

Last update was in Byron bay I believe – from here we got the coach up to Brisbane – not sure how long we were going to stay. Checked into our hostel over the road from the coach station, seemed ok – few eegits around. Went for a wander to look at some contemporary art then back to hostel. Our suspicions of the place being full of Irish idiots were soon confirmed – we were sharing a room with three of them who seemed intent on being paraletic and swearing very loudly at each other when they returned home at various hours of the morning. Needless to say we got the first bus out of Brisbane the next morning and headed to Noosa which is 10 times better. Really nice hostel and town – good tip Nynke! Spent the next three days chilling on the beach and doing a bit of walking through the National Park. Have just returned today from our canoe trip but I’ll tell you all about that when get back to our hostel as the internet rates in this cafe are daylight robbery!

Australia – Update 4

Another quick update as off on our Whitsunday’s sailing trip in about an hour. Ridiculously hot at the moment – hopefully it’ll be cooler on the water and hopefully the forecasted thunderstorms tomorrow won’t sink and kill us all!

The Canoe trip from Noosa was really good – canoeing up the Upper Noosa river to camp on the first day. Spotted a couple of snakes and loads of toads – up early on day two to paddle up the river to the Caloola sandpatch. Bit of a trek through the forests and then across the sandpatch – great views – then more walking down to the beach through some pretty dense rainforest – perfect for snakes – didn’t see any though. Back up the sandpatch and through the forest to our boats – all absolutely knackered and still an hour or more paddling back to camp to do! Luckily it was getting dark so not too hot by now. Packed up camp early next morning to paddle back to ranger station and then to Noosa for much needed showers! Then up to Rainbow beach for our Fraser Island trip. The Irish chumps from Brisbane had turned up at our hostel and were on the Fraser island trip the same day as us but we kept our fingers crossed and they were in a different group to us – Team Barsteward/Bimbo as the rest of their group consisted of Northern English tarts wearing belts and not much else! We had a good group – Team Fabulous. Bossed the 4×4 driving thanks to E-boy until I had a go – was the first one, and probably first group to get stuck in sand! dug and pushed us out and then headed up the coast to Indian head. Spotted a few Sharks – Tigers or Bulls from the top and a couple of stingrays too. From here, headed back down towards the shipwreck of the Maheno and set up camp. I wandered off to take pictures not realising quite how long the walk through the soft sand would take – when i got back it was pretty dark and everyone else had finished dinner! Cracked on and played some drinking games and did some fire breathing – should of had a go, was afraid of setting fire to my beard though, maybe when I’ve shaved it off next year sometime. Aaah run out of time – will finish this update and add more in a few days, assuming I make it back alive.

Australia – Update 5

The second day on Fraser Island – Zoë bossed some 4×4 driving up to Cathedral beach for supplies before we headed back down to Eli Creek. The boardwalk was closed for renovation but you could still walk up the creek – Pretty refreshing and tasted good too! Got to top then attempted to swim back down – bit shallow in places but could still pull yourself along to get back into the flowing bit – Just like the water flumes at Centreparcs! From here we drove up to Lake Mackensie – bit cloudy so no picture postcard photos today, still pretty nice though. Decided to drive inland through the forest up to Lake Wabby rather than go along the beach. Had a look from the lookout but was spitting so piled back into the truck after a few minutes. Drove onto beach and parked up next to a few other groups and set up camp. Already starting to rain a little so put up the Tarp on the truck and built a little shelter / dance-tent. Cooked a massive amount of steaks and cracked on with some drinking games. Properly stormy by now so tents were soaked, inside and out! Played some more games – still getting wet due to all the holes in the tarp – slowly joined by other randoms as our truck was the only place with any action! Did some Dingo chasing as they constantly invaded our camps for food – think they’re pretty used to humans now – running at them with a big stick screaming didn’t always work! Eventually dried up a bit and a bigger crown gathered for more games and drinks etc.. so up quite late. Zoë and I slept in the van with 3 of the others due to the flooding! Up the next morning and weather a lot better. Ignored the ‘safe driving times’ and drove through the surf to the walking track to Lake Wabby – unlike all the other groups who spent 20 minutes walking there! Walked through some jungle – Plenty of massive spiders all sat on their 5 metre wide webs! Walked across a big sandpatch to Lake Wabby – bright green due to the surrounding tea tree. Had a swim – made it across the lake and back – and in a straight line too! Chillaxed on the bank for 20 minutes not realising I was being fried alive by the sun! Walked back to truck stopping for group photos then drove back to ferry and then hostel. In the afternoon I went up to the Carlo sandblow for the sunset. Nearly fell off the cliff as I scrambled down the 45deg bank towards the beach. The soft sand suddenly went rock hard so couldn’t dig my feet in and ended up sliding down on my arse towards the edge! Stopped just in time and eventually managed to crawl on my hands and knees back up to the soft stuff to get some grip! Had a few more cider and reds that evening – no blackcurrent so had to use rasberry cordial instead! Left Rainbow beach the next morning after some lounging and a quick trip to the beach. Got to Hervey bay in the afternoon. Had about 5 hours to wait for our next bus so set off to explore. Hervey bay we discovered is actually pretty big with not much there! Hours later we were knackered and a bit fed up so got the bus back to the coach station – Dominoes and Subway for dinner before catching our coach up to Airlie beach for the night. Pretty full bus but I ended up sitting next to some dude from Kidderminster! He was a couple of years older but we worked out we’d probably been to First school together! I spotted the drivers sleeping shelf at the back of the coach so snuck off here so I could lie down for the night – not sure it was a good idea as my neck was then used to stop the rest of me going through the window every time the mentalist coach driver went round a corner on two wheels! Arrived in Airlie beach a little sore and went to hostel – Baking hot up here. Went for a walk into town and to find the Vic Hislop shark Expo we’d skipped in Hervey bay due to lack of time. Could tell it from the entrance foyer it was basically about some Aussie chump who went around killing Massive (20ft and 2tonnes+) Great whites and Tiger sharks for fun / because ‘they’re evil monsters we need to rid the world of’! Curiosity got the better of us so went in anyway to see if there was a good reason he hunted sharks – there wasn’t – think he’s been stopped now though.

Next day was our Whitsundays trip – had booked a small boat as had enough of partying for now. First day headed out to hook island and did some snorkelling near caves cove. Was better than at Byron bay – water a lot calmer and loads of coral and fish. Still not a massive fan though – breathing with my nose still blows the mask off and the beard doesn’t help with sealing either! So the only way I can do it is by pinching my nose with one hand and swimming with the other! Did about an hour here before sailing up to our mooring for the night. Good food on the boat and a few mugs of wine – good people and crew on boat, no chumps which is good in such confined spaces! Up early the next morning and headed off for more snorkelling. I skipped the first one as too hungry. We then sailed to second spot while eating breakfast. I skipped this one too as now too full! Were here for a while though so when others were back I joined them for another dive round the corner – bigger fish here and a bit clearer too, still not my activity of choice – get hand cramp pinching my nose for an hour! After this we sailed over to Tongue bay where we could walk through to Whitehaven beach. The sun came out just in time – really good views, especially from the cliffs round the corner. Relaxed here for a while before sailing on to another little bay for the night as the sun set.

Returned home yesterday – back on land minutes before a massive thunderstorm hit! Didn’t do a fat lot yesterday – once the storm passed it was ridiculously hot again! Today we planned to visit the Barefoot bushman wildlife park on Jock and Monique’s advice. Had missed Featherdale and Australia zoo also as tight for time so looking forward to this. Kind of struggled to find information about where it was / how to get there – websites a bit rubbish and phone number no longer in use. Went in to Tourist info after a while to be told the park had shut down! Bit miffed – especially Zoë who’s been eager to hold a rabid koala with its disease infested claws since we got here – Maybe on Magnetic Island which is our next stop. So haven’t done much else all day instead – I went for a run this morning before 6 again so slept half the afternoon and then we’ve taken shelter from another huge thunderstorm in this internet place. Tomorrow we head to Townsville and Magnetic island for a few days before moving up to cairns. We plan to go on to Cape Tribulation for a few days before returning to Cairns at the weekend ready for our flight to New Zealand!

Hope everything is going well at home and you’re all preparing for Christmas – we’re not in the spirit at all yet due to the weather although the Christmas trees and decorations are starting to appear everywhere now! Would be good to hear what’s going on at home!

Australia – Update 6

So we went to Magnetic Island for a couple of nights. Stayed in a hostel in Picnic Bay which is really quiet, in fact the whole island is pretty quiet really just a handful of shops in each bay and that’s it. But there was a Koala sanctuary so I finally got to hold a koala, a non-rabid one i think! There were a few different animals they had which you could pet – a baby croc with his mouth taped up, a lizard, carpet python, a cockatoo which would only let women pat him, and the koala. You had to stand with your arms in a certain way pretending to be a tree, and the koala would sit in your hands and put one arms over your shoulder and one hand on your boor, then they took a photo of you. The koala was quite soft and fury, but a bit smelly as its mating season mmm.

We did a couple of walks too, one up to the lookout in Picnic Bay for sunset, and another to the Forts – some old WWII guns and buildings – where we also some some rock wallabies and one had a baby in its pouch awww.

Then got the coach up to Cairns for a night, and now in Port Douglas which is a posh touristy town in northern Queensland. Have hired a car for tomorrow to go up to cape tribulation rainforest areas. Its really hot up here – 33 degrees, and pretty humid too so we’re lounging around quite a lot as its too hot to do much else! Will be going back to Cairns on Saturday for a bit of diving for me, and photographing or something for Benni probably!

Australia – Update 7

The Final Australia update!

Planned to go out sailing in Port Douglas – its free every Wednesday at the yacht club – but a big thunderstorm arrived an hour before we were due to go out so only a couple of boats went out and no room for everyone. Walked home as it was getting dark which is when we discovered that Port Douglas is home to Trillions of Giant Mosquitos that love sweaty English people! Picked up our hire car the next evening after spending most of the day anywhere with aircon and drinking a lot of iced coffee! Drove to one of the free BBQ stations that are all over Aus and cooked hotdogs before the sun went down and we had to run for cover as the mozzies came out in force! The next day we got up early and headed to Mossman gorge before all the tourist buses arrived. Had been raining so Mossman river was thundering and rainforest still dripping wet. Apparently you can swim in this creek but looked a bit grotty so we didn’t bother and left for Cape Tribulation. Stopped at the Daintree rainforest centre where we saw about 2 birds – rubbish pigeons as well, no cassowarys or anything exciting! Continued up coast for picnic and then all the way up to Cape Tribulation beach before coming back a bit and walking one of the tracks to Myall beach. Stopped on the way back at the ice-cream factory to sit in the gardens and eat random ice-cream: soursop, blacksapote, wattleberry and passionfruit!

Saturday we headed back to Cairns and explored a bit and did some shopping – Sunday we were up early as Zoë went diving at the Great Barrier reef – I’ll let her tell you about that in another update. I walked down to harbour with her – 7:30 ish then went for a run – about 2 hrs later than normal and consequently nearly died of heat exhaustion. Ran to the Whitfield range and did a short run up the hill overlooking the airport – Didn’t need my common sense officer present to tell me the alternative 7.5km track up the big hill wasn’t a good idea! After I eventually got home a few hours later I tried to hire a mountain bike to go up to Smithfield where they had the 1996 world championships. None of the bike shops would hire me anything better than some steel hunk of junk so didn’t bother in the end – not too fussed as would have been pretty hard going in the heat! Chilled out for the rest of the day then got taxi to the airport at 4am the next day, Cheerio Australia!

New Zealand – Update 1 

Flew into Auckland yesterday, bit cloudy and knackered from our early start so didn’t do anything. This afternoon we went back to airport and flew down to Christchurch. The views were worth the airfare alone, coming over the mountains and Canterbury plains was amazing – a taste of what’s to come over the next few weeks! Have wandered around Christchurch today looking for camping gear – good city – within 10 minutes had passed 10 Proper sports shops – that sold actual sports equipment, not just reebok classics like the UK! About 6 good camping / outdoorsy shops, and 3 proper bike shops! Picking up our hire car tomorrow before heading down to Mount cook on Thursday probably – with probably several hundred photo stops on the way!

New Zealand – Update 2

Bonjour. While I’m waiting for the 486 running windows 3.1 to download my photos I might as well tell you all what we’ve been up to!

We spent a couple of days in Christchurch buying camping gear etc.. Got a tent from Cash converters, only after checking out several of the ones in the pile. We liked the look of one so just to be sure set about erecting it in the middle of the shop. Good job we did as it was a mismatching inner and outer so chucked that and found another to put up! Then bought some second hand gear from some stranger we met in a shop and a few bits and bobs from the cheapo shop. Headed out of Christchurch towards Lake Tekapo and stayed here for the night, a bit drizzly so chickened out of trying out the tent on our first night! From here we drove down the road to Mount cook and did some walking around Tasman Glacier / lake and some other little trots into the countryside. Bit rainy still so didn’t go on any proper long hikes, stayed in Omarama further south that night and pitched our tent. All worked out ok – woke up the next morning to sunshine but the best thing was the big Trampoline they had in the play area! Bounced around on that for about an hour before breakfast then went for a drive to Lake Benmore and had a poke around the power station in our Orange Helmuts before heading off to Queenstown. Got there late afternoon so had a quick look around then drove up towards Paradise to find our Campsite at Lake Moke. One of the Dept of Conservation ones they have everywhere here, so very basic but usually in the middle of nowhere and about $5 each to camp. Nice drive up through the hills and through some sheep stations to a remote lake in this valley-nice. We went into Queenstown the following day and went up to Bob’s peak in the Gondola and then rode around on the luge track at the top for ages – so much fun! Did a bit of shopping in the afternoon before heading off to Te Anau in the fiordlands. Headed up towards Milford sound on the Milford road looking for a campsite – all looked ok but wet all the way. Stopped at the last proper accommodation but pretty pricey and the rain had now stopped so pressed on and camped at Cascades creek. Pitched our tent and started cooking which was when it started tipping it down again! We made a makeshift kitchen which involved me standing on top of a picnic table holding our 10’x8′ Tarp over Zoë while she cooked by my feet! Rained all night but our tent held up ok! Left early to get on the first trip into the Milford Sound. The Milford Road is awesome, photos don’t do it justice – miles of winding road through the mountains while hundreds of waterfalls plunge down hundreds of metres above you next to the road – was very difficult resisting the urge to stop every few minutes! Had a good trip on the Sound – raining for most of it but just added to the atmosphere of the mountains and all of the waterfalls. Saw a large pod of Dolphins on the way out and then another one on the way back in! Took our time driving back stopping now and then at various lookouts and rivers then drove all the way back to Queenstown. Found a good hostel – they all seem to be pretty good here – Australia has a lot to learn from the South Africans and the New Zealanders! Have been doing a lot of driving so far and looks set to continue if we’re to see all the things we want to, could have done with an extra couple of weeks in NZ. Up to Lake Wanaka tomorrow before continuing on to Fox / Franz Josef Glacier area. Have missed loads of detail out of the above but you get the idea – NZ is wet but brilliant. Adious.

New Zealand – Update 3

Am loving NZ, could very easily live here and become the outdoorsy type! I have even succumbed to the tramping fashion and bought some of those hideous zip-off leg trousers as they are (i hate to admit it) very practical for the weird weather here which goes from warm to chilly in minutes. The national pastime seems to be tramping (what we would call hiking/walking!) so have been trying to do a few of the walks, but not attempted any of the big ones so far, maybe on the north coast!

Lake Wanaka was beautiful – did a tramp up a hill for good views. Then visited puzzleworld to have a go round the maze and the illusion rooms which entertained us for far too long! Also visited a local vineyard, which was really strange as there were all the vines growing but with snow capped mountains in the background and a ski area just up the road! Apparently the snow doesn’t usually come that far down the mountain to affect the vines, but we obviously checked by sampling them all and bought one to quaff which is very yummy. Camped again at a DOC campsite with a fab view of the river and mountains. All good – apart from the sandflies which plague you everywhere on the west coast it seems! at least no rain so we slept well, especially on our new thermarest type rollmats. Drove up to Fox Glacier today, with several stops on the way for Benni to take photos. The driving is quite a pleasure as everywhere is so picturesque and the roads are practically empty. But rather unnerving for poor Zoë when Ben decides to drive down the middle of the road so he can look out of the window all the time! I think I’m looking at the road more than he is! But its fun mostly, especially when nothing’s coming and you can take the racing line round the corners!

This afternoon was very exciting we went heli-hiking up the Fox Glacier! They take you up in a helicopter to about half way up the glacier and land on the ice! Then you get fitted with crampons, and have a hike about the glacier. The guide took us to some ice caves and tunnels that you can walk (or slide!) through, and he cuts steps into the ice with a big ice axe. We all had walking sticks with spikes on but no axes for us unfortunately! Was really strange to be on the glacier, but see trees on the mountainside above you and streams and waterfalls running through the glacier – why doesn’t it melt?! Then you have a helicopter ride back out the valley to base. All in all it was fantastic. Would love to have helicopter lessons if I was rich!

What else, oh yes thought I’d convinced Ben to shave his horrible beard off, but it appears to only be coming off in stages – the chin has gone first – check out the glacier photos – its now a weird mexican/amish/drug dealer affair, and is drawing glances/stares from members of the public! (and unfortunately a few comments from other traveller types that makes him think it looks cool). Help.

We’re staying in Fox overnight as we have our Skydive booked for tomorrow!! So will post another update if we make it down safely! Ben has done it before and assures me its very safe. At least as you’re strapped to an instructor they’re not going to take chances with their own lives!

New Zealand – Update 4

A bit to catch up on, i think our last update was before skydiving. Well skydiving was better than bungy jumping! It was a bit cloudy when we got up so ben didn’t think we would be able to jump, but we got to the airfield and there were two dodgy looking guys hanging round and said the cloud was only a thin layer and that above you could see the top of Mount Cook and that we could still jump. It wasn’t exactly a big budget ham it up operation – just the two of us and the jump masters. They got us to put our overall-suits on and went through about 5 mins of instructions about what to do when getting out, free falling and landing, and that was it we were ready to go! No big safety video or anything, but I suppose no chance to build up the nerves either really. We went to the plane, which was the smallest plane I’ve ever seen with the pilots seat and room for the 4 of us to squash into the back. We were strapped to our tandem instructors – me to some adrenalin junkie looking guy called Faisal or something, and Ben to the old park bench drunk looking chap called Greg who had clearly been doing it since before i was born. The pilot jumped in and looked about 14 years old which wasn’t helping my nerves. Ben had done a couple of jumps before so appeared fine but I was quite scared. We flew up into the cloud, and through it to see our first view of Mt Cook which had eluded us from the ground so far in NZ! it was very bright and snowy and quite atmospheric with the cloud skirt around it. Flew past it a few times and got some photos (we were allowed to take our own cameras up with us on a shoestring around our necks which i thought was unusual!) and then it was time to jump. I was going first, so got the goggles and hat on and the door opened to the deafening rush of air which is so loud its frightening by itself. But no time for messing about, I swung my legs out and dangled off the edge as instructed, and then we were off! Apparently you do a backflip as you come out of the plane but i think my eyes were shut, but then opened to see us falling towards the cloud layer, which probably helped the nerves as you couldnt see how far away the ground really was! The free falling didn’t feel awful like the bungy jumping, but felt like I couldn’t breathe properly as the air was rushing past so fast! We went into the cloud which was all moist, then out the bottom and Faisal pulled the parachute which opened (thank goodness) and we started floating. I think i actually preferred the parachuting bit of just floating around enjoying the view. Not sure I’m much of an adrenalin junkie like ben who enjoyed the freefall. We were then allowed to get our cameras out from where we’d tucked them in our jumpsuits, and could take snaps & videos while we did some turns and stuff in the air. landing was a bit nerve-wracking too as we seemed to be coming in too fast, I had my legs straight out in front, then Faisal pulls something and we skidded onto the ground on our bottoms! Got the chute out of the way and saw ben coming in to land with a big smile on his face. All the way back to the office in the car he was enquiring about jump courses, oh what have we started?! Hopefully he’ll have forgotten by the time we get home?

It felt really peculiar then to just drive off and carry on with our day, but obviously we did and drove up to Franz joseph glacier for a little look, then on up the coast and inland towards the north. Next major stop was Abel Tasman park.

We decided to do a day tramp and got a water taxi to Tonga Bay on the stupid little tin boat that was being thrown around by the massive rolling sea. The sea really is rubbish. Got to see some fur seals with pups off the coast off Tonga Bay before we were dropped off and started walking. Stopped at Bark Bay for some trail snacks and some photos for me (Ben) while Zoë tried to choke a beach duck to death by hand-feeding it peanuts. Carried on and walked to Torrent bay where another tin boat picked us up for the return journey but luckily the sea had calmed down a bit by now. Drove over Takaka Hill up to Golden bay for the night. Intended to go sea kayaking here the next day but when we woke up we decided to chop it, can’t remember why – laziness I think. Hung around here for a bit before driving over the hill to Nelson where we had lunch and onto Havelock for the night. Found the YHA which was in an old converted school house – pretty nice and we had the whole place to ourselves! Went down the road to try a few Green lipped Mussels and ended up having a huge plate full and a load of cheesecake, mmmm cheesecake.

Got to Picton the following day & found a hostel for a couple of nights as the weather forecast was rubbish and we wanted to relax for a bit – was a good choice they had hot chocolate pudding with ice cream every night at 8pm yum. Did another tramp on Christmas Day with views of the Queen Charlotte sound, then the hostel had a BBQ where they provided the sausages & burgers and everyone brought a dish of something which worked out really well. Ate far too much & watched a rubbish film with a glass of wine – pretty much like home really! Planned to walk the Queen Charlotte track on boxing day but when we woke up we decided we couldn’t be bothered and went back to sleep! Had a little explore of the wine region around Blenheim instead but not many of them were open for sampling. Next day got the ferry over then to the North Island and as we were short on time drove straight through Wellington and up to National Park where we intended to do the Tongiriro Crossing. Arrived at the campsite pretty late so pitched tent in the dark and then as we didn’t have time to cook dinner, had breakfast instead.

Woke up early the next morning to rain and lots of cloud, packed up, had pasta for breakfast, mmm pasta, and went to find a bus to take us to the Tongiriro crossing, but after looking at the weather forecast – rain, heavy cloud, no visibility, 50km/h winds we decided it would be a bit rubbish and Drove up to Taupo instead! Wandered around one of the thermal areas & saw the smelly craters with eggy smoke rising out of them. Did a bit of browsing round the shops too, all the towns in the North seem much bigger than the South island. Visited another thermal wonderland in Wai-o-tapu that was even more smelly but more exciting colours & lakes and a geyser that they set off every morning by putting soap powder in it. ben looked mighty strange with toilet paper stuffed up his nostrils and bandana across his face most of the day because of the smell. Am getting used to all the strange looks we get everywhere – if its not the beard (which has now reduced to two huge sideburns!) its the outfit or something else! (BenI’d like to point out the only looks I got when I had my moustache were ones of admiration because I looked superfly. Since I was pestered into removing it people give me strange looks because I now look like Monkian out of Thundercats.)

Up to Rotorua next which also smells, but only a little bit. Went mountain biking in the Whaka forest where they have excellent trails all through the woods. I stuck to the ‘intermediate’ while Ben bossed a couple of the ‘advanced’ ones at the end. Really nice forest so was worth the effort. Dragged Ben to a sheep show where they have different breeds of sheep you can pet and ben compared hair do’s with them, and watched the demo sheep dog trials and sheep shearing, and I got to go up on stage and milked a cow by hand! New Years Eve we didn’t make it up to Auckland so spent it in Rotorua – went down to the lake front where they had a big stage with live music and fireworks over the lake.

Auckland is our final stop in NZ. Visited the museum which was excellent, and a couple of the old volcano mounds for views across the city. Wandered round the art gallery too and couldn’t believe how these ‘modern artists’ get away with some of their ‘installations’ like the obligatory lamp turning on and off, and what looked like a 9 year-olds design technology project of a house badly made from hardboard and painted white. Drove out to the beaches yesterday & sampled the fish and chips on the promenade, and went over the harbour bridge at night for photos across the water of the city & the sky tower all lit up.

Off to catch our next flight now to Fiji, its a hard life……

Fiji – Update 1

We’d planned all along to spend our 3 days in Fiji lazing around on the beaches, except we’d anticipated they’d be white with azure blue oceans lapping shore. Instead we arrived to almost constant thunderstorms and flooding and have been holed up in Nadi for 3 days! Popped into the town where the locals encouraged us to buy some tat, and some drugs for me, the 3rd time since we’ve left home – I must look like the type. And have pretty much lazed around for the rest of the time, bit of polynesian & fire dancing etc.. in the evenings for entertainment. Food is pretty good too – have discovered that the mango here tastes exactly like carpet showrooms which was quite weird. Going to Hawaii tonight via a rip in the fabric of space-time which will allow us to have another go at Sunday 6th January, maybe the 2nd time will be more fun.

Hawaii – Update 1

Left Fiji at about 11pm on the 6th, arrived in Honolulu at about 7am on the 6th so get an extra day travelling, woohoo. When we left Fiji we had nowhere to stay in Hawaii but the desk clerk in Fiji had made up an address we could use to get into the USA. We landed and decided to check it out anyway and it was an ok hostel so checked in here for a couple of days. Wandered around Waikiki and the biggest shopping centre in the world , apparently, successfully avoiding the urge to blow our travelling budget on bargain American clothing! Went to buy food where i met the first weirdo of the day – ‘Paul’ who was on a lot of drugs probably, who apparently was an oncologist and wanted to buy all our food for us in return for cash so he could buy dinosaur food for this gecko he had in a tin. Managed to lose him eventually and legged it back to the hostel but it wasn’t long before we met weirdo number 2 – our roommate Frank. He was from Canada and reminded me very much of those guys you see in films who act a bit simple but are really serial killers. The fact that one of our roommates was ‘missing’ made us a little concerned too! Made it through the night without being killed though and went to Pearl Harbour the next day, had a mooch around USS bowfin submarine and out to the USS Arizona memorial before returning to waikiki to watch the sunset on the beach. Planned to travel up the North shore the next day but couldn’t hire a car for less than 80bucks a day so decided to fly to the Big Island instead!

Picked up our car in Kona which was about 20ft long and probably weighed about 3tonnes. Luckily the speed limit on the roads matched the speed limit of the car – about 25mph. Again we had nowhere to stay booked but had a guide book so just kept trying the different places along the road as we headed south. Running out of options when we arrived in a one horse town at about 9:15pm. The owners of this hotel had already left for the night but some mexican dude who was coming down the stairs overheard our conversation with another guest and offered us his room for the night as he was leaving to go see his Bro (dealer?). We took the key and he was off. Thought about it for a while as seemed a bit dodgy and maybe he’d return later in the night with his posse and rob us blind or something. Decided to give it a whirl though, brought all our stuff in from the car, wedged a big chair behind the door and went to sleep! No signs of robbery by the morning and our car was still there so went on our way! Stopped at Kealakekua Bay for breakfast where we watched some kayakers and a load of spinner dolphins jumping out of the water doing flips and spins – hence the name. Then to one of the nearby coffee farms to try some Kona coffee and had a little tour too.

Next stop – Hookena beach for a swim and then onto Puna’luu black sand beach, the biggest on Hawaii. Pretty quiet, only a few people about plus a couple of big hawksbill turtles just basking on the beach with all the tourists! Camped here for the night by the ocean and drove to Volcano National park the next day.

Annoyingly an earthquake in June last year had stopped the lava flow from Puu’oo going into the sea which we’d been wanting to see – supposed to pretty cool at sunset, walking along the shore with all this flaming lava dripping into the ocean. Spent the day walking across Kilauea iki crater – a mile long crater that in 1959 was a 400ft deep lake of lava – now solidified but still smoking in places. Lunch in nearby Volcano village – excellent food and despite massive portions we felt it’d be rude not to try some of the puddings too. Enjoying the American food so far and eating like Americans too – the back seat of our car is full of bags of doritos, cookies etc.. I’ve lost a bit of weight since leaving home but expect to put it all back on in the USA!

Despite a lack of lava entering the sea we drove down to the shore in the evening to walk around all the old lava flows to see where they’d covered all the roads etc.

Drove around the park again the next day – walking around the massive Kilauea Caldera and a crater within still smoking but again no lava – apparently it’s only visible from the sky at the moment as it’s heading east towards some residential area a few miles away! In the afternoon we headed up to Hilo but had missed the proper summit tours of nearby Mauna Kea as they leave early afternoon. We decided to go up ourselves anyway and set off up the saddle road between the two massive summits – mauna loa and mauna kea. It wasn’t long into the drive that I noticed that our 1/4 tank of fuel was disappearing a bit quicker than normal, probably due to the continuous slight incline, and by the time we reached the bottom of the mountain 28miles later the fuel light was on and we were running on fumes! Crawled the final 6miles up to the observatory at 9200ft and parked up. Watched the sunset above the clouds before spending the evening stargazing through the big telescopes and listening to talks on the constellations etc.. Didn’t fall asleep during this one unlike every time we’ve ever been to a planetarium – the plummeting temperatures and the lack of oxygen make it a little less cosy! Then when we couldn’t feel our hands or feet any more we headed off, creeping down the mountain back to the road so as not to burn out the brakes as many people do apparently and then back to Hilo. Luckily as the road was pretty much a gentle gradient all the way down I only needed to touch the accelerator once – so much fun, like a 28mile long Bmx track with loads of corners and little hills. Made it back into Hilo and to the gas station just in time though!

Hawaii – Update 2

In Hilo we also went to the zoo to see the white bengal tiger and the squirrels (!) and a thing called a bearcat which we’d never seen before and other strange collections of animals. Then on to the Rainbow waterfalls to watch the crazy locals jumping in off the rocks. We were going to swim but it was darn chilly and couldn’t face it. Explored some more waterfalls up the road, then started on the road up north. Stopped off at yet more waterfalls – Akaka falls, for lunch & photos as it was a pretty big impressive one. In the local town we perused the shops and I bought a new sarong so that i could give Benni my old one as he insists on taking nothing to the beach then wants to sit on mine. Also had lovely ice cream and Benni had the 2nd best pudding he’s had – a rather traditional banana split. He has now discovered, despite protesting for years that he doesn’t like puddings, that he does, and compares everything to the best cheescake we had in South Africa. people always said we’d ‘learn things about ourselves’ – not sure this is what they meant??!

Went over to the west coast of the island and had a beach day, although it was a bit disconcerting that they’d built a huge sand berm wall thing to keep out the high tides they were expecting so you couldn’t exactly gaze at the ocean without getting up. Oh well, to compensate we snuck into the Marriot resort that was right behind the beach and used their huge infinity pool and loungers! When we got back to our campsite i insisted on moving our tent further away from the sea because of the high tides everyone was talking about. Don’t think we would have got washed away in the end, but the thought of it and the noise of the crashing waves would have kept me up all night anyway! Next day we packed up our ever growing luggage and flew to Maui.

We picked our new hire car, which unfortunately was a PT Cruiser one of those things that looks like a hearse and doesn’t have the same boot space as the huge thing we’d gotten used to before which was so big it had arm rests and a third seatbelt in the front! Very American, although still dwarfed by all the trucks and monster trucks that all the locals drive. Anywho, we set off round the shops looking for our camping gas (as you cant fly with it) and buying more junk food. Hadn’t booked anywhere again, so drove round one of the towns looking for somewhere to camp. Not many proper sites on maui so Benni was trying to convince me that camping on a playing field next to a beach would be fine, but when we got to the car park and waited in our car for a few minutes to check it out, neither of us felt safe enough to get out so promptly drove back to find the proper national park campground. We found the right road, and drove along to where the toilet block was, although in the pitch black it was getting tricky to see everything. Got out to look for other tents, and found it was clearly the sort of toilet block men go to for other nocturnal activities other than urinating! Noticed then that the same trucks were cruising around flashing headlights, so we tried to drive off sleathily without accidently inviting anyone over. Found the ‘proper’ camping site a bit further up the road. Still looked slightly dodgy, but with nowhere else to go except the car we pitched up and went to sleep. Woke up to find it was more of a local site for local homeless people rather than tourists, and they were all intrigued by us and our amazing folding cups. So we hastily set off for the scenic Hana highway which wasn’t actually all that scenic and had a hideous number of tight turns and one lane bridges that again invoked panic in me the passenger while ben looked out the window. Stopped off at a few waterfalls and things as you’re supposed to and eventually got to Hana. Camped at another of the national parks, and in the morning had a swim in the Pools of Oheo before winding our way back up the same road. Rewarded ourselves with coffee and chocolate brownies, then set off to find the camping permit office to try and book some nights at their sites. It was shut when we got there, so had a free swim at the pool next door, and got us some permits. Drove to Olawalu camp as the national one shuts for two night every week (to keeps out the long term travellers i guess) and set up shop on the site which feels like a hippie kind of Glastonbury site with showers that don’t have doors and a man that grows his own bananas that you can have for breakfast. Drove to Lahaina for a browse around art galleries and to stock up on cheesecake.

Yesterday was a beach day, toured round a few looking for a good spot and settled on one up north, and today beaching bumming again in Ka’apilana where al the posh hotels are lined up on the shore. in Hawaii all the beaches are public owned so anyone can go on them and sit next to the Hyatt and posh vacationers which is quite fun. The waves are rather massive sometimes though – poor Benni got slam dunked by a huge wave this morning as he was trying to body surf. Good job he was only about 10 ft out to sea as he cant even swim properly. Then straight after we got out we got stopped by some people filming an advert and did our cameo – ben had to say “we want to do lots of things on our holiday” and me “so which beach has the best activities?”. Its going to be on some American channel so we’ll probably never get to see it, but hey we’re famous!

We’re now sitting in the Westin hotel pretending to be guests so that we can use their free wireless, and I’m just about to go jump in their lovely looking pool with waterfall. Ah the life of a budget traveller!!

Hawaii – Update 3

We went on a Whale watching trip the day after our last post – up pretty early as first trip of the day. Loads of whales around – followed a mother with calf and pursuing male for a while before finding a bigger group and saw plenty of fin slapping and then a massive breach by one of the big males – got fully clear of the water about 100yards in front of our boat! Whale fact of the day: the somethingorother muscle in their tails is the strongest in the animal kingdom – only takes 2 flicks of their tail to propel all 40tons clear of the water! Couple more beach days and also took a trip up to Haleakala Volcano, pretty cold with the windchill at the visitor centre at 7000′ so by the time we got to the top at 10023′ it was absolutely freezing! Took a few pictures but had to cancel our plans for a hike as Zoë caught a sudden bout of fatigue and I got altitude sickness – both probably related to the sub-zero temperatures! Drove down and went to a ranch for lunch to eat their delicious home grown cows then some wine tasting before back to camp.

A couple of very stormy nights in the camp but our tent survived unlike many of the americans who pitch their tents without poles and use big rocks instead of tentpegs! Zoë went snorkelling to Molokini Crater before we left Maui: Its the best coral in Hawaii apparently, and the visibility is great so you can see a lot of different fish and also saw a sea turtle (although it was asleep on the bottom so couldn’t ride it). But wasn’t as good as the coral in the Whitsundays in Australia. Had a nice barbeque lunch too, and saw some more whales breaching on the way out so a good morning.

Flew back to Oahu for our last week and drove straight up to the North Shore. Did a bit of walking and relaxing on beaches watching the dozens of surfers up at pipeline and sunset beach before moving round to the east coast. Stopped in at the Mormon temple as our guide book said they had some good gardens you could wander round. However we got roped into a presentation by one of the missionaries who was nice enough but rather deluded. Very expensive looking setup they had and from the pictures of their other temples around the world they’re certainly not short of money! Managed to escape without being converted to Mormonism and went to find somewhere to camp down the coast. Found a nice little beach park near Kuoloa ranch which we visited the next day and did a little movie tour around the Ka’waa valley where they’ve filmed scenes from Jurassic Park, pearl harbour, Lost etc.. Visited the Byodo-in Temple down the coast but then as weather a bit miserable took shelter in a cinema for a couple of hours. Saw the rest of the east coast beaches the next day but although they all had white sand and turquoise water the hurricane strength winds coming off the sea didn’t make it possible to lounge about! Checked back into a hostel in Waikiki for the last couple of nights as had enough of camping in the gales for the moment – spent half a day shopping and then went down to the Waikiki Gun club where for the equivalent of about £9 you could have a go with a few of the guns in the range. Stuck with the basic stuff – no Magnums or Glocks – the little guns give enough of a kick! Zoë was confident of beating me for some reason so was quite easy to persuade her to bet on it – cheesecake the prize. I soundly whooped her though, don’t think she watches enough movies otherwise she’d have known girls can’t shoot straight. Our last day was more rain and wind so spent the morning in a couple of galleries and museums before dashing up the Diamond head crater at the first sign of clear skies for some nice views of waikiki and the coast. The end –

Landed in LA yesterday afternoon, picked up our hire car and then Zoë successfully managed to navigate us from the airport through downtown LA and into Hollywood. Still in a mild state of shock. Plus it’s freezing here – we thought California was always hot! We’re staying behind Manns chinese theatre on Hollywood boulevard, as we passed on the way to the hotel we saw that there was some red carpet happenings so went to check it out after we’d parked up. Saw Matthew Mcconoughey, Kate Hudson was due along too but far too cold to stand around with the autograph nutters waiting so went to a mafia place down the road for pizza and cheesecake. Today Hillary Clinton and Barrack Obama were here all afternoon having a debate but went exploring LA instead – LA is surprisingly quiet – subway is virtually empty and no-one on the streets, hardly any traffic downtown, weird!

Will be in LA for a couple of days probably before heading up to San Fransisco so will post any more action news soon.

North America – Update 1

Spent the day in LA viewing some of the sights, like the Disney hall, which looks a little like the Sydney opera house, and the Cathedral of Angels which is pretty ugly on the outside but lovely inside. Discovered everyone in LA is uber helpful. As soon as we would get out our guidebook on the subway or in the street people would ask where we were visiting from and suggest places to go etc, could just imagine what would happen if you did that on the London Underground! Saw some modern ‘art’ at the LA contemporary art museum which wasn’t really that modern, or that arty.

Headed up the coast then toward San Fransisco. Stopped off at Santa Monica to see the original muscle beach, with some buff types strutting their stuff on the parallel bars etc. Stayed overnight near Malibu so Ben could look for Jennifer Aniston walking her dog on the beach, but didn’t catch a glimpse of any real celebs, just some of their massive mansions on the hills, and Britney wasn’t home (think she’d been committed by then?!). Continued north and called in to Santa Barbara on the way, which was very upmarket and had a lovely high street. Apparently Brad & Ange were there the day after us for a film festival which we’d seen everyone queuing up for.

The pacific highway is a lovely route up the coast, all beaches until you get to the northern bit of Big Sur which is rocky coastline and unfortunately extremely wet so no hiking. But we did see some elephant seals on the beach at dusk. I’ve never seen such huge things, as i kept telling Ben in proper tourist mode. The beach was packed with the mothers and young pups, and the males were having fights over the females and making a real racket. (check out the photos & video on facebook).

Stopped off in Santa Cruz also which still has an old fashioned beach front fairground & amusements. Strolled along the pier to see the sealions basking on the pier rafters, and caught a bit of the Superbowl game which every American seemed to be watching – the only people on the pier were us tourists! The next day we made it up to San Fransisco.

Had a couple of days in San Fran touring the sights. Did the usual tourist things like riding on the old trams and the ‘crookedest’ street, and walking the golden gate bridge at sunset. Got the boat over to Alcatraz where they had a good audio tour of the prison which is how it was left in the 60’s (apart from a bit of graffiti from the indian occupation in the 70’s), including stories of the ‘great escape’ and the gun siege. Ben also dragged me round more

modern art at the SOFMA, but at least it was free that day. Some quite interesting stuff in the Iceland exhibit, and some of the usual nonsense by 4 year olds (or so it seemed). Did catch an amusing talk on some of the pieces by the museum docent who explained how to interpret modern works, including the famous blank white canvas series.

Wandered some of the arty neighbourhoods and people watched a bit. And visited the Exploratorium which is a science hands on type centre. I had to drag Ben from when it closed and they started turning out the lights while he was still playing with the exhibits and proclaiming that it was the best place he’d ever been to.

Just had a couple of days in Yosemite, which is very winter wonderland with all the snow. We braved it out camping next to the river just outside the park where it at least wasn’t snowy, but I was glad of my alpine sleeping bag!

Hiked to mirror lake for a view of the huge half dome cliff, and also to the Yosemite waterfalls and snow fields. El capitan is the most famous cliff face in the valley. We weren’t exactly expecting it to be so cold so only had one wooly hat and Ben’s mountain biking gloves between us. So I got the wooly hat and put socks on my hands as gloves, and ben got the gloves and wore his bandana! Felt distinctly less dressed than all the Americans in their snow shoes and ski outfits, but not as bad as some in their jeans and trainers!

Today has mainly been driving as all the passes over the mountains are closed for the winter, so had to take a rather long way round to get over them and across towards Death Valley. We’re near Mono lake now which is beautiful but also snowy so I’ve put my foot down against pitching our tent in the snow (Ben thinks it would be romantic, I just think it would be freezing!) So I’m sat here in a motel drinking coffee waiting for ben to come back from taking photos of somewhere else he’s seen on a postcard. Tomorrow we should be in Death Valley- from snow to desert!

North America – Update 2

Bonjour. Last update was in Mono lake – very cold! Got up the next day before we left to take pictures of the lake – lasted about 10 minutes outside the car before I couldn’t feel any part of my body, was apparently -7C I discovered later! Packed up and began our journey to death valley. Stopped en route for a final bit of snow fun – tubing down a big luge track thingy at Mammoth mountain, pretty good fun, Zoë found each ride hysterical for some reason! Ploughed on from here and soon got to the desert. Pretty long boring roads with not much to look at as you come into the valley. Found a campsite and pitched up. Forced to pitch our tent the American way due to the rock hard ground – using big rocks instead of tent pegs! Out in the middle of nowhere but didn’t encounter any desert critters, rattlesnakes, scorpions etc.. Woke up the next morning baking hot, bit weird to go from -7 to hot hot heat within a couple hours drive! Spent the day exploring death valley – marble canyon and the mesquite sand dunes first. Got a free airshow from a couple of F16’s from Nellis AFB flying around overhead then up to Rhyolite ghost town. Not much left, couple of old buildings, one made out of bottles, plus a bunch of pretty random sculptures too. South next and drove around other desert features – all looked pretty similar, a bit rocky and deserty! Set up camp and went to the ranger station at furnace creek for good astronomy talk and some stargazing. Everyone also got to see a ridiculously fast streak of flashing orange lights above the hills in the distance – Area 51 action! Stopped at Badwater the following day for a wander round the salt flats before continuing to Vegas!

Checked in to the Circus circus as pretty decent price for a place on the strip – huge room! Chillaxed then decided to walk down the strip to find somewhere to eat. 40mph winds were blowing through though and as vegas is still basically a giant building site surrounded by desert the streets were like being in a sandstorm! All the big metal mailboxes and newstands were blown over into the road and one of the big screens outside the mirage had been ripped off too! Eventually reached New york new york, via most of the casinos on that side of the street – all huge and very difficult to find your way out of! Had a good dinner but no gambling action as both knackered! Next day Valentines day. Went to see the bodies exhibition at the Tropicana, pretty good then wandered around the casinos gawping at how ridiculously extravagant they all are! Saw several couples who had obviously just got married inside the Venetian, Just wandering around the shops in their wedding dress and suit as if it was any other day! Went out for dinner at the Bellagio – awesome food – then to planet hollywood for a magic show, also pretty good, no tiger involvement though. back to the hotel and got involved in some gambling action. Managed to quadruple my money in about half an hour. Lost half of it again mucking about on some of the other rubbish but still quit while we were ahead!

Another day of driving today – stopped at the hoover dam briefly to look over the edge and be relieved of $7 for about 15minutes parking! Arrived in Flagstaff where we’re staying for the next couple of nights – the freezing temperatures foiling our plans of camping at the grand canyon rim so will have to do a couple of day trips from here. Less than a week left before the final leg of our trip! The final leg is 2months long but still pains us to think that our adventure is 2/3rds of the way through now!

North America – Update 3

Spent a couple of days in Flagstaff – very cold and snowy again so lots of relaxing indoors and eating! Went up to the grand canyon from here, Pretty spectacular and looked good in all the snow. Did a lap of various viewpoints on the shuttle bus before returning to get our car for the bits that weren’t covered by the winter shuttle. The canyon was quite spectacular, but difficult to get any perspective until you looked over the edge and saw these tiny ants on the trekking routes way below. Decided not to try and hike down as a lot of the routes were still icy and we didn’t have any crampons, and wouldn’t have got to see all the other view points. Drove to the eastern side for sunset, which made the canyon glow orange in the light, but was also absolutely freezing cold so didn’t hang around for too long once the sun went down!

Spent the next day driving and set up our tent for the last time in Joshua tree National Park. Palm Springs next where we did a bit of shopping and lounged around in the park for the afternoon before returning to LA the next day. Lots more laziness here, sitting about drinking coffee with our donuts in the hotel for most of the first morning before going down to USC for a mooch about and to buy some USC stash. The campus was pretty nice, a bit european feeling with all the pedestrianised streets and those old fashioned bikes with baskets on the front everywhere. Saw a student with one of those little dogs you put in a handbag and dress up in sweater outfits, and some rich looking kids. Ben bought some weird shiny purple shorts from the shop, where you could buy just about anything with the USC monogram, including doggie outfits, sweatbands, chess sets and number plates! All the students were busy ordering their graduation gowns and big sovereign type gold rings that were oh so American.

In the evening we went up to the Griffin Observatory to watch the lunar eclipse. A local astronomy club had all their telescopes out and you could view the moon (well when it wasn’t in shadow) and saturn and mars. The displays inside about space and stars and planets were brilliant, and it was now me who had to be dragged out at 10pm whilst exclaiming it was the best place I’d ever been.

On our last day in LA Ben opted for going to the MOCA (museum of contemporary art), while I opted for a tour of the stars homes! Got driven about Bel-Air and the hills behind sunset strip to gawp at all the massive houses where the likes of Snoop and Brit have houses. All accompanied by a commentary from the driver on where the celebs crashed their car or got busted with Divine Brown. An amusing couple of hours, even if we all felt a bit stupid with our noses pressed to the windows at every turn. Ben enjoyed his ‘art’, apparently I wouldn’t have appreciated the playschool fingerpaintings etc. Had a big nosh up at the Cheesecake factory (mmm cheescake) before catching our flight to Peru.

Spent a couple of days in Lima, wandering around the old historic centre and visiting a couple of the districts. The driving is chaos and the city is quite hectic and busy – crossing the road is like running the gauntlet, so glad our hostel was lovely and we lazed around watching DVD’s in our room every evening! yesterday we flew into Cusco. Due to the altitude took it easy yesterday, just reading on the terrace. Today walked into the central plaza and mooched about purchasing colourful Peruvian wooly gloves and a hat in anticipation of the cold on the trek. Contemplating buying some alpaca stash too as its so lovely and soft and dirt cheap, so if your birthday is in the months following our return then you know what to expect!

Tomorrow we meet our tour group and then set off for our trek and Machu picchu the day after. So have just gorged ourselves on pizza and chicken and chips in case of unexpected famine en route. Not sure how frequently we’ll be able to get access to the internet for next couple of months, so hasta luega!

South America – Update 1

Buenas Dias!

Currently in Bolivia, 2 weeks into our dragoman tour already! After our last update in Cusco we met the other members of our group – 17 including the 2 guides, all good folks. Started our 4 day trip through the Andes early the next morning, first with a couple of sites around Cusco, glad we bought our waterproofs the night before we left! Arrived at our village in the mountains late afternoon to find all our tents etc.. already erected by the crew. Sat down for our dinner not knowing what to expect but the 3 course meal was very good! Straight to bed in preparation for our long hike on day 2.

Woken by the cooks at about 6 with cups of coca tea at the door of our tent, Zoë and I were glad of our super-warm sleeping bags! Another good meal before meeting our cooks, llama herders and guides and some of the village urchins. Set off slowly on an initially steep climb up the side of the mountain. Was only about 20 minutes before we were passed by the locals carrying their own bodyweight in tents and cooking equipment! We plodded slowly onwards, luckily the weather was pretty much perfect for trekking, overcast and cool but no rain. Took us several hours to reach the pass at 4400m. Stunning scenery all the way – rivalling New Zealand with waterfalls and streams cascading down the mountains. All feeling pretty tired as we went over the pass and down the other side. I started feeling particularly rough, more due to a lack of food than the altitude I think but the lack of air didn’t help. Eventually got to the lunch spot and then an easy couple more hours to our next campsite. Spent an hour at the village planting trees for the locals with their “traditional inca tools” which were rubbish, Reckon they’d just hidden the real spades when they saw us tourists coming!

Another slap up meal before bed – the next day was supposedly even harder trekking!

We were expecting a 5am awakening but that came and went and at 6.30 we were eventually brought our tea and breakfast, the plan it seemed had been changed due to the storms over the pass at 4800m. Instead we walked for a couple of hours down towards Lares. We were all a bit disappointed as although we were already a bit knackered and the 1200m climb would have probably destroyed us, we felt we were being forced into the easy option. Arrived at a Thermal spa shortly after midday and after lunch lounged around in the piping hot pools with the locals. Next day we packed up and were driven to one of the classic Inca trails where we walked again for a few hours before being driven to Ollantytambo where we were back in a hotel for the night. Wandered around the ruins here for a while before a big dinner in the town. Up earlyish the next morning to catch the 7am train to Aguas Calientas, the gateway to Machu Picchu…

South America – Update 2

We arrived in Machu Picchu about 9am but still not very busy. Due to the rain all the other tourists were wearing garish ponchos which looked a bit stupid but it was still a pretty stunning view. Took plenty of photos while our guide went through the history etc.. and walked around the site for a few hours. Started to get quite hot and with all the steps to climb we were glad when the tour was over! Had a bit of lunch then decided to climb Waynu Pichu – the mountain in the back of the photos for a different view. It was pretty steep and due to the altitude and rubbish “steps” it was pretty hard work! Got to the top in about half an hour though for a really good view over the citadel and the surrounding mountains. Once we’d had a look round and got our breath back we made our way down which was just as hard work as the trek up! Was starting to rain pretty heavily now so we went back to the town to meet everyone else for the train back to Ollantytambo. En route we were treated to some dancing by a weird man in a white balaclava and taxidermy baby llama tied to his waist. And if that wasn’t enough the train crew then did a runway show modelling the latest in cable-knit alpaca sweaters! None of us were impressed enough to buy any though, although I would have done if the balaclava had been on offer! Once the train had landed we got a very long bus journey back to Cusco for some much needed rest!

Had a day in Cusco to do laundry and last minute shopping before heading off the next day to Puno on Lake titicaca. We were picked up the next morning by some Bike taxis and taken to the harbour where we got boats out to the reed islands. People still live out here but its now very touristy and the locals put on a little play with mini huts, boats and people to accompany the guides explanation of how the villages work etc.. For example if there’s a dispute amongst the villages, the person who wants to leave the village just saws off his bit of island and tows it to another part of the lake! After the tourist theatre we were invited to look around the villagers huts and the girls encouraged to dress up in Peruvian dress! And of course then buy the handicrafts they whipped out the second they saw us coming! We went to another island where all the women rushed out to meet us and started singing some song, which we later realised was twinkle twinkle little star! The singing didn’t really encourage us to buy any more tat though so we got the boat back and after lunch got back on the bus for copacabana. Bus journeys aren’t bad so far, a bit tiresome but lots of card games keeps boredom at bay. In copacabana we visited the Isla del Sol for the day. A short tour where the location of the Lost city of Atlantis was pointed out, hmmm, then we escaped the tour guide who kept telling us that he was a local hero and very famous (because he could speak pidgeon english) and trekked for a few hours to the south end of the island. We had the opportunity here to drink from the fountain of youth – some murky stream coming our of a wall. Surprisingly none of us were that bothered about eternal youth to risk E-coli / plague.

Our last night in copacabana was pretty quiet. After being pretty disappointed with the more upmarket tourist restaurant we went back to the local tents by the beach and had some fantastic trout ( I hate fish so if I thought it was good, it was very good!) and chips fresh from the lake (the trout, not the chips). The next morning we packed up to leave copacabana but before we did we drove to the local square where we getting our truck, and us, blessed for the journey ahead! Apparently this happens every weekend so we stocked up on flowers and firecrackers and decorated the truck while waiting for the priest. After a while he showed up in traditional priests gown and NY Yankees baseball cap and threw holy water over the truck and us to give us a safe journey. After we let off the champagne and the firecrackers we were on our way!

After a few hours we saw why it was important to get the truck blessed – our “ferry” crossing over the Lake! We were loaded into a little boat while we watched our leader Franz drive the 14tonne truck onto the most rickety excuse for a boat you’ve ever seen. Apparently about 10 years ago, one sank with a dragoman truck aboard, which is why the passengers all go on a separate boat! Luckily it made it over safely and we were back on the road to La Paz! Arrived in La Paz late afternoon and went out for a good meal and then several drinks in the local pub/clubs as a farewell to 2 of our group who were leaving the trip in La Paz. The next day was free to wander the streets getting stocked up on cheap stash. Zoë and I didn’t have much stamina though and gave up shopping at 11.30 to have a 3 hour siesta! Dragged ourselves out for a very good lunch then some last minute shopping before meeting up with some others for our curry in the star of India, traditional “British Indian Curry House”. No Tikka Masala but the other stuff we had was very good and very spicy! The next day was our mountain biking down the worlds most dangerous road but that will have to wait till next time!

South America – Update 3

In La Paz the must do attraction is cycling down the most dangerous road in the world! Its apparently the most dangerous as its mostly single car wide and gravelly surface and has a rather steep drop on the side, and of course the Bolivian drivers are crazy. So of course we all jumped at the chance to do it. Started off from the 4000m top in the icy chill and the first bit was tarmac, then onto the fun gravel stuff. Fortunately our company was quite good and made us feel quite safe checking our bikes over all the time etc which we were glad of when we saw some mickey mouse company with one of their riders in thermal shock because of the cold, and silly plastic ponchos on that had caught round their wheels! We all made it down ok which was pretty impressive considering the waterfalls and rivers and boulders we had to cycle over. And the best bit was we didn’t see a car coming up all day so no worries there. Finished the ride at an animal sanctuary with a big pasta buffet and hot shower hurrah.

Journeyed on to Potosi when i went down a mine to check out the Health and Safety situation. It was how I imagine mining in Victorian times was! 14 year olds at work, they do 12 or 24 hour shifts without drinking or eating and just chewing coca leaves, no proper supports against collapses, naked flame gas lamps on their helmets etc. We had bought some gifts for the miners which included dynamite and detonators, and bought some extra which our guides set we could set off afterwards. So we then had a lesson in making an explosion – roll up one stick of dynamite into a ball, push in a detonator and fuse and cut the fuse short cause you cant be bothered to wait, pop it in a bag of amyl nitrate, place on the ground, light it and run really fast! We made two and they shook your insides when they exploded, awesome! And all for only 15 bolivianos which is about 1 pound.

A day trip from Uyuni was to the salt flats which I think are the highest in the world. Had a jeep convoy through the processing area where they dig out the salt, and then through the incredible vast white landscape to an island covered in cacti. We climbed to the top for excellent views, then got down to photo taking where because of the lack of perspective you can take pictures that make it look like you’re climbing out of a wine bottle or sitting in a glass or being chased by a toy dinosaur. Will try and upload some photos soon.

Had a couple of days then mainly driving through Bolivia on the bumpiest roads ever. Had some good stops though at a weird rock site where the formations looked like parrots and lions (if you squinted and use your imagination!) Also stopped off at some smelly geysers, and two lakes one with flamingoes and the other all green. Spent a night at a refuge en route where we had a massive bonfire and birthday celebration for one of the group. Eventually got to Chile where the customs kept us for 2 hours searching our bags and the truck, but finally allowed us in and to our camp site. Having been at really high altitude for weeks we are glad to be down at 2000m and be warm and able to breathe properly!

Yesterday night went star gazing at some french guys house where him and his wife give talks and point out star constellations and let you look through their fancy telescopes at stars and even Saturn. Then they give you hot chocolate and discuss black holes and relativity etc until 2am. Today we”re off to Moon valley and some sort of swimming hole, then we continue tomorrow to the Atacama desert for some bush camping.

South America – Update 4

Holla Chicos, Been a while since our last update, been quite busy! Zoë wrote the last update in San Pedro de Atacama, our first stop in Chile. Before we left here we spent an afternoon floating around in some super salty pools in the desert, for once I didn’t sink like a stone! From there we went to Moon Valley, walked around the barren landscape for a bit then sat and waited for the sun to go down. Slap up 3 course meal with Zoë that evening, still only 6 quid! Bush camped the next night in the middle of nowhere, bit of campfire action and a giant hand but no other excitement, then on to the coast the following day. Zoë and some others went on a boat trip to see otters and seaguls. I’ve seen otters and seaguls before so stayed behind and chillaxed on the beach. Early night for me, everyone getting their drink on but still suffering with a bit of Bolivian Belly, have determined I must be allergic to Spag Bol as always feel rough the next day!

Next stop was Vicuna for the Easter weekend, still camping but on a proper campsite now, with pool and everything, although no hot showers, can’t have it all! Here for a couple of nights, lots of lounging in the sun eating Easter Chocolates and a tour of the big Pisco factory – not much in the way of freebies although the booze in the shop was super cheap so stocked up anyway! I went for a run round the vineyards, the first time in about 3 months! Returned to a massive BBQ, ranks 3rd in the list of best meals since travelling! Back by the sea the next day but as Easter Monday most restaurants closed so stayed in with Pasta and sauce, watched Blood Diamond and then new Lost.

Made the most of our kitchen in the morning and made scrambled eggs for ourselves, cornflakes for pudding then hit the road. Visited Pablo Naruda’s house by the sea, poet I think, none of us were paying much attention, all looking forward to the vineyards later! Arrived at Miramar first, very grand country clubby with good tour out the back and then onto the vino, all rather tasty and really nice setting. Went next door for more of the same before continuing on to Santiago where we spent a few days. Ran around the tourist sites on the second day, climbed San Cristobel and visited the Cemetery which is like a little town with all the mausoleums etc..along the streets. Didn’t do much else, lots of good eating, drinking etc.. to say farewell to those who were leaving the trip here.

Got to Pucon a couple of days later, very much an adventure sports type place with the main feature being the smoking Villarica Volcano that overlooks the town. Decided to leave climbing it till the second day and did a bit of kayaking around the lake, plus white water rafting for Zoë. It was an early start for climbing the volcano the next day, all onto the bus at 4am. Drove up to the ski station only to be told that it was too cloudy to reach the summit and although we could climb for a couple of hours we wouldn’t see anything and was therefore pointless! All rather miffed as could have done it the morning before when the weather was perfect all day! So all back into the van and back to bed for a few hours. Pretty lazy day instead, ending with a trip to the Thermal springs for a soak, not that our muscles needed it after our lack of hiking!

Early start the next day, in the dark as Zoë had managed to blow up all the electrics for the hostel in the middle of the night. Luckily there were gas cookers so could still knock up a vat of porridge before we left. Lots of driving through amazing scenery, Lakes and Mountains everywhere and crossed the border into Argentina, arriving in Bariloche late afternoon. Quite similar to Pucon back in Chile, lakes, ski resorty place, all very alpine. Nice little cottage to stay in too, reminds us of the cotswolds! Zoë went Paragliding the next morning while I resisted the urge to go and eat tubs and tubs of dulce de leche – a rather tasty toffee-ish sauce made out of condensed milk . Did some hiking in the afternoon before getting stocked up on Chocolate Fondue at La Marmite, a restaurant we chose purely because of its name and bags of chocolates from the many chocolate shops in the town.

Back to camping after Bariloche in a National park, more great scenery and super clear skies at night. While everyone went to bed I stayed up with the Park cows to take photos of the stars, so cool being able to see the rest of the galaxy in a big arc over your head! Early start again the next day, 5am so a few more photos and then hit the road. Long driving day, lots of snoozing and arrived near Puerto Madryn just in time for high tea! A proper welsh tea house with massive pots of tea accompanied by first cheese sandwiches, then bread and jams and then cakes. And more cakes. And then some more – 7 each we worked out!

From Puerto madryn we took a day trip to the Valdes Peninsula – the only place in the world apparently that you get Killer Whales coming onto the beach to take seals. Unfortunately we arrived about an hour too late and missed a massive attack. Had to settle for seals lounging about, plus some penguins and a couple of inquisitive aardvarks!

Once back in Puerto Madryn a few of us had decided to leave the trip temporarily and take an overnight coach to Buenos Aires. The coach was surprisingly comfortable, 3 meals, 3 movies and well reclining seats meant the 18hr journey was well worth the 30 quid! Arrived in BA at about 3.30pm so could still cram a lot into our Saturday night. Found a place to stay and then happened to bump into 2 of the others who had taken a coach the day before. Good job too as they told us the Kevball at La Boca was on that evening instead of the Sunday afternoon as usual. Rushed back to hostel to sort ourselves out, we’d missed all the organised trips so made our way to the stadium on the bus, cost 1 peso (16p). Got ourselves some tickets – only 24pesos so about 4 quid and went and sat in the same stand as the others who had gone with their hostel and paid 140pesos, over 20 quid, chin up! Good crowd, all bouncing about waving their arms like dictators which was a bit weird but good atmosphere, especially when Boca scored and everyone hanging off the fences went a bit mental. Ended 1-1, lucky they didn’t lose – we’d heard the hardcore Boca fans have a habit of rioting / shooting tourists if they’re in a bit of a stroppy mood. Managed to leave the stadium and negotiate the streets of La Boca without being killed though and walked back through the city. Went out for our first taste of legendary Argentinian steak. The food didn’t disapoint, perfectly cooked, massive steaks all round with some pretty good wine to go with it. Left at 1.30am, people still queuing to get into the restaurant, the night still young! Off next to a Tango place – we’d got a tip about a local one rather than the overpriced tourist shows. Drove to what seemed like Uruguay it took so long but arrived at Club Sunderland eventually. inside was packed with locals all dressed up to the nines in sequined cocktail dresses and sharp suits. Looked like a mafia wedding except it was in a big sports hall, reminded me of the MDC for those that have had the pleasure! Good dancing, its where all the pro’s go after their shows apparently to dance the rest of the night away! the others went on clubbing after but we were feeling our old age and called it a night at 4 and off to bed! Mooched round the sunday flea markets the next day eating Freddo ice cream, dulce de leche flavour of course and then out for dinner for more meat. I ordered what I thought would be a fantastic meal, tenderloin steak stuffed with ham, cheese and sundried tomatoes. I got however a large ball of fat wrapped in veins which was literally inedible, back to the first nights restaurant tonight instead I think! Wandered around the colourful streets of La Boca yesterday and through the city to Recolletta cemetary, where Eva Peron is entombed in one of the big family mausoleums. Bit of shopping yesterday, unfortunately we are now victims of crime for the first time since we left, Zoë’s daypack being half-inched from the hotel luggage room. Luckily not too many valuables, just a lot of hassle trying to deal with the Police and replace Clothes which Zoë doesn’t seem to mind, lots of shopping to be done here!

That’s about it for now, heading to Cordoba tomorrow and then onto the Estancia for a few days, riding horses around ranches etc… yeeehaaa. Not long left now, see some of you in about a month!

South America – Update 5

the end of South America…

So back to Buenos Aires, i was forced to shop all day to replace my stolen clothing, which was quite pleasant really! Had another couple of nights out eating steak and drinking, and a nightclub experience in an old theatre with balconies which reminded me of the Dorchester in wolverhampton for those that know it! Ben managed to fit in a trip to the zoo while i was shopping. Left BA and journeyed to Cordoba although we only spent about an hour in the town centre wandering around the square. On then to the Estancia – a cattle ranch really but most of them do a roaring trade in horse riding holidays. We camped at one of the old family houses and had two days of horse riding to look forward to. The first morning got introduced to our horses and kitted up, then off for a plod along some tracks to a waterfall. Ben got a nice little black horse, mine was a bit grumpy and kicked and bit the other horses if they got too close to him, so spent most of my ride plodding along on my own telling the others to keep away! Unfortunately the rain started on the second day and after 2 hours of sitting on a freezing cold horse we all declined to ride home and got a ride in their vans! It was all compensated for by a magnificent barbeque on the last night, lots of red wine and some gaucho entertainment in the form of singing traditional songs, dancing and games.

We had a couple of long driving days next before arriving in San Ignacio de mini, home to big ruins of an old Jesuit mission. Mooched around here and the town for half a day and then onward to Puerto Iguazu. The next day we visited the Iguazu falls, Argentinian side still which gets you up close to all the falls and very wet on our boat trip! The Falls are amazing, our photos don’t really do them justice, particularly the Devils Throat, mahussive volume of water going over the edge, actually really hypnotic if you stare at it for a few seconds!

The next day was my birthday so extra dulce de leche on my breakfast cakes! Only a short drive over the border and into Brazil where we went to a helichopper place. All went for a flight over the falls which was awesome – the previous day in argentina was miserable rain all day but now the sun had got his hat on for perfect views of all the falls from the air. Walked around the National Park on the Brazilian side of the falls afterwards, not as close to the falls here but get a better view I thought. A few quiet drinks in the evening, I’m too old for massive boozefests now!

Woke up the next day to torrential rain which was to continue on and off for the next few days. Luckily we were on the truck driving so didn’t miss out on anything due to the weather. Arrived in Parati on the 21st where we stayed for 3 nights. Nice old town, cobbled ankle breaking streets and lots of nice restaurants and cafes everywhere. One of the best places Zoë and I found was a stall by the edge of town that made these delicious footlong deepfried pastie things, ate there two days in a row despite there being dozens of other places to try! Didn’t do anything too energetic in Parati, lots of good food and caiprihinas, plus everyone stocking up on havaianas before the prices go up in Rio! Went on a boat cruise around the nearby islands on our last day, a couple of snorkel spots and little tropical beaches to swim too although I didn’t actually bother getting off the boat for the entire 5 hours!

Next day was only a few more hours drive and arrived in Rio! Said goodbye to our faithful truck, Elle, whose done about 16,000km in the last 3 months! Bit of a mission trying to find our hostel in Copacabana as hadn’t written down the address. Bloody Portuguese we’ve discovered is bugger all like Spanish, just as we were getting half good at it we’ve got to learn everything all over again! Got there eventually and spent the afternoon lazing around before a final slap up dinner with our truckchums. Today we’ve been up Corcovada to Christ the Redeemer and then a wander around the botanical gardens. We’ve all managed to get tickets today for Sundays Cup final at the Maracana, Flamengo, vs. Botafogo; local derby, cup final, 0ver 100,000 people, should be fun! A bit of samba, Sugarloaf and lazing on the beach to come also before leaving for New york new york on the 29th – one week left!

Rio, New York – The final chapter..

Howdy, Been back a week now but thought I’d cheer myself up and write about travelling for the last time!

Back in Rio we caught a ferry over to Niteroi for a wander around and to visit the Modern art gallery, designed by Oscar Neimeyer- looks like a spaceship – but no modern art on show, will have to wait to New York. Decided to Go up Sugarloaf mountain that evening- got up for sunset but cloud kind of spoiled the view, Was a bit better on the interim mountain so sat and relaxed there for a while before going back to Copacabana for a massive Dominoes Pizza!

Discovered the Panini press at our hostel breakfast bar the next morning so sat around for what seemed like hours gorging ourselves on banana and dulce de leche toasties. Despite having half an hour till we had to leave for the football, Zoë forced me down to the beach to do a bit of sweating, burning etc..Got ready for the big match and then met everyone else in Ipanema. Got a taxi over to the Maracana and were all dumped out of the cab in the middle of the crowds – luckily in the Flamengo area which is what we had tickets for. Everyone was going a bit mental already especially when a bus load of Botafogo supporters drove past! Asked some heavily armed policemen where we should be going so we didn’t walk into the wrong end and get chopped up. Found the right door and got some seats, went off to queue up with the children to get some facepaint and sat in the sun with a few beers. As the stadium filled up it became clear we outnumbered Botafogo about 3 to 1 so picked the right team – ok match, we won 1-0, obviously the crowd went insane and started letting off a lot of pyrotechnics! Successfully left the stadium and got a taxi home without getting murdered, phew.

Our last day we just mooched around the city, went to see the cathedral and took the tram up to Santa Teresa and back. Zoë spent the afternoon on the beach while I looked in every bloody shop up the 2 miles of Copacabana for a Flamengo vest, only to find it in the shop round the corner, grrr. Went out for dinner for some nice fish to spend our last Reals and then packed our bags, early night as up at 3:30 to go to the Airport!

Good flight to New York – TV’s in the seats again at last! Got a taxi over to Brooklyn, Robbed blind by the taxi driver but a bit too tired by now to kick up a fuss – Very nice hotel, should be for the price we’re paying! Went to explore Brooklyn – found all the nice restaurants on 5th Avenue and duly stuffed ourselves with massive burgers on the cheap, good ol’ weak dollar!

Our first day in Manahattan was spent first at Ground Zero and then up to the Guggenheim. Very good exhibition by Cai Guo Qiang, plus I caught Jennifer Connolly off of Blood diamond eyeing me up inside! Although this was probably because she was worried for the child she had with her as I looked like a gaunt auburn sasquatch by this stage of the trip. After Zoë dragged me out of the building I realised my watch was an hour too slow so we had to leg it over to Grand Central to meet my Uncle and Auntie. Went down to Chinatown for some good seafood – not my usual cup of tea but surprisingly good! Over to Times Square next and then the biggest piece of Cheesecake I’ve ever eaten – I’d been waiting for some proper New York Cheesecake for 6 months and it didn’t disappoint!

The next morning was a bit lazy so arrived too late in manhattan for the Circle line boat trip. Went instead up to the Natural History Museum – very good Planetarium! Zoë dragged me away from the dinosaurs after a couple of hours and walked through Central park to 5th Avenue. Not much shopping, both starving so over to 9th avenue for more massive portions of coffee, burgers, fries and cheesecake! Had started to rain now so took shelter in the shops along 34th street on the way to the Empire state building. Thankfully the rain stopped after a while at the top so could get some good photos – wasn’t happy about having to leave my tripod at the entrance after lugging it around all day specifically for night shots of new York!

Friday we got up in time for our boat trip, now a bit cloudy so not great views and then to the Museum of Modern Art – Some good stuff, Some laughably bad nonsense – left just in time as half of New York arrived for their Free Friday evening tickets! Walked back to Brooklyn over the Bridge and out for a boozy dinner for our last night before back to reality! Tried to do a bit of shopping On Saturday before we left but ended up first in a ghetto in Brooklyn full of pound shops, and then wandering around Manhattan looking for the shops we wanted. Pretty unsuccessful so went back to Brooklyn to have a final Cheesecake and Burger session before our flight!

Well, it’s all over, its been fun – hope you enjoyed the photos etc.. I’ve got over 11,000 to sort through so that should keep me busy while I avoid getting a job! Can’t think of anything poignant to say but I can thoroughly recommend quitting your job every October and going South for the winter!

THE END

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