Category Archives: General Info

August 10th 2012 – Home – Around the world in a year and a day

So here we are back home after circumnavigatiing the globe!! Fourteen countries, 9 planes, 2 trains, countless buses, 1 campervan, 4 hire cars and a lot of treking, it’s nice to be sitting on the couch with a glass of wine and a choc-ice πŸ™‚ Here… is a quick summary of the journey…

South Africa

Currency: Rand Language: Afrikaans, English, Ndebele, Zulu….and at least 7 others!

Best bits: The Cape of Good Hope and Gaansbi Great White Sharks
Worst Bits: The poverty and injustice of the Townships

Table Mountain, South Africa

View from Table Mountain, South Africa (click to enlarge)

Singapore

Currency: Singapore Dollar Language: English, Malay, Chinese and Tamil.

Best Bits: The Marina Bay
Worst Bits: The heat and humidity

Singapore

Marina Bay, Singapore

Malaysia

Currency: Ringgit Language: Malay, English and Tamil

Best Bits: The Cameron Highlands
Worst bits: Grubby Georgetown on the island of Penang

Malaysia, Tea Plantations

Malaysia, Tea Plantations

Thailand

Currency: Thai Baht Language:Thai

Best Bits: Chang Mai City, Pai, and Elephants
Worst Bits: Bangkok

Elephant Nature Park, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Elephant Nature Park, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Cambodia

Currency: Riel and US Dollar Language: khmer

Best Bits: Angkor Waat, The coast, and the People
Worst Bits: The history of brutality and the casualties of the wars

cambodia

Siem Reap, Cambodia

Vietnam

Currency: Dong Language: Vietnamese, French, English

Best Bits: Hoi An, Halong Bay and the reefs of Natrang
Worst Bits: City pollution and the buses

Vietnam

Hoi An, Vietnam

Laos

Currency: Kip Language: Loatian

Best Bits: Everything, especially the Elephants, Louang Prabang and the Mekong River
Worst Bits: None

Laos

Northern Laos

Australia

Currency: Aus Dollar Language: English

Best Bits: Wildlife and Landscape
Worst Bits: Too expensive, the campervan experience

Australia

Australia, Hot as hell… but no swimming for fear of death.

New Zealand

Currency: NZ Dollar Language: English

Best Bits: Everything, especially the diverse landscape and Hobbiton
Worst Bits: None, the place is beyond perfect.

Our favourite... New Zealand

Our favourite… New Zealand

USA LA and the CanyonLands

Currency: US Dollar Language: English

Best Bits: Moab and Kanab, Utah
Worst Bits: Los Angeles and Las Vegas

USA

Canyon Lands, USA

Guatemala

Currency: Quetzal Language: Spanish

Best Bits: Antigua and Rio Dulce
Worst Bits: Guatemala City and Guns

Antigua, Guatemala

Antigua, Guatemala

Honduras

Currency: Lempira Language: Spanish mainland, English and Spanish Bay Islands

Best Bits: Utila Island and the reefs
Worst Bits: San Pedro Sula and La Cieba

Utila, Bay Islands, Honduras

Belize

Currency: Belize Dollar Language: English, Creole, Spanish

Best Bits: The Belize Barrier reef
Worst Bits: The chaos of Belize City

Caye Caulker, Belize

Caye Caulker, Belize

Mexico

Currency: Peso Language: Spanish

Best Bits: Palenque and San Christobal, in fact all of the Chiapas and Oaxaca regions, and the music.
Worst bits: Getting ripped off in Acapulco and noisy night music.

Mexico

Colourful Mexico

USA Florida

Currency: US Dollar Language: English

Best Bits: The Keys drive and Key West itself
Worst Bits: Expensive diving and a bit crap (maybe thats just the weather that day though)

Florida Keys

Florida Keys

And as a final note… I just wanted to say that we visited all these countries safely (sensibly) and without fear (well, maybe a little in Honduras) and without ANY injections… we got bitten to bits but we’re alive and well with no ill effects or anything. The people in all (most) of the places we visited were very friendly and helpful and we learnt that manners and a good smile can get you everywhere.

If you decide to do a similar thing, do your research and keep your eyes and your mind open to all possibilities and you will have an amazing time. Thanks to all of you who followed our adventures and here’s to the next one! Safe travels… Cheers!!

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August 8th 2012 – Parasailing and Diving the Keys

Well this is something that Jane has been wanting to do for years… I on the other hand prefer to preserve life not to test it to see if it’ll break. Although I must confess I loved every minute of it… a precursor to a Skydive??? I don’t think so!!

We got strapped in at the back of the boat, and the minute they released the line we shot up on our thousand foot line. Its a fantastic sensation to be dangling from a parachute while being pulled across the bay by a boat – and the view was spectacular, we could see for miles down the keys, and though we were on the Gulf side of the water, we could see the Atlantic to the east. You can just lean back on your harness and enjoy! Coming in to land was just as much fun as the boat guys landed us deftly on the back of a boat (they dipped our legs in the water first for a laugh) but we landed perfectly! Great fun – I’d recommend this to anyone.

Parasailing

Parasailing Key Largo!!

Afterwards we went to the pub and sampled the Key West brew, well more than sampled actually. As a rule we never drink on an afternoon, but the bar faced west, the sun was going down slowly, and the mood was chilled after all our parasailing excitment…and the beer was great. So just this once we broke our rule and had a boozey afternoon…

Lager

For some reason lager was going down like nobody’s business… go figure.

We booked a dive/snorkel trip as we wanted to get out on the water and see the reefs, but it didn’t turn out so well. The water was too rough – so the previous afternoons drinking was probably not a good idea. Anyway, the weather at 7am was wet but warm and the water looked calm enough in the bay side, so off we went out to the ocean side for our dives. As soon as we hit the ocean side the difference in the swell was immediate. We had been told that there may be 3 foot waves but we didn’t expect 6 foot swells. The captain decided to abandon the original dive site, as he said he could probably make it over there but couldn’t guarantee safety. So we did 180 and moved to a different site.

Diving

Me “suited up” for a crap dive

We geared up for the dive (minus wetsuit as the water was 27 degrees) and jumped in. The water was indeed warm, but because of the rough sea I was constantly fighting the swell. And to make matters worse the swell had made the visibility really bad so you didn’t really see a great deal. I’d had enough by this point and headed back to the boat 10 minutes early, to find Jane in the the throes of sea-sickness (she never gets sea sick). And within 30 minutes of being back on board after the first dive I too was hurling over the side. This immediately put me off a second dive and I just lay down waiting for it all to be over. It was still an interesting morning with a good captain… but to be honest they should have cancelled the dives, and the fact that they sent Jane out to snorkel alone with up to 6 foot swells…well not professional.

We hit the edge of a storm on the way back and got soaked by lashing, and very cold, rain, but it was cool to experience – the beginning of the hurricane season – it was great to get back to the resort and have a hot shower.

Amoray Dive Resort

Amoray Dive Resort

We are getting ready to leave for home. it feels really odd to be packing for the last flight…the Keys have been great, a good ending to a fantastic year, but this is sign off time, see you all back in Britain!


August 6th 2012 – Turtles and Tanks, The Florida Keys

Driving the Keys is easy – you can’t get lost – its just one road through a handful of islands (about 150 miles long) joined by bridges. Most of the way you can see water on both sides, what they call the bay side leads out into the Gulf of Mexico, and then you have the Atlantic on the other. It’s pretty cool. From Key West, at the very tip, we headed back up through the Lower Keys to an area called Marathon, where we had noticed on the journey down that there was a turtle hospital. It was well worth the visit.

turtle

This guy was brain damaged and swam in circles – they are hopeful of full recovery though.

They do great work here, and we met a lot of turtles! There’s lots of different reasons why a turtle may need help, but the main reasons are injuries from boats, ingestion of plastics and fish hooks, and pollution, which causes a type of cancer. Basically, besides the odd shark attack, (we met one with only one fin left – he is now a permanent resident) its humans that cause the damage, and so its fitting that humans give up thier time and money to redress the balance.

turtle

This turtle has an On/OFF switch on its head πŸ™‚

Most of the turtles get re-released, but the average stay is about a year – injuries take a long time to heal, and those that have the tumors removed need to be observed for a year to make sure that they don’t grow back. And then there’s the permanant residents – one of them has been here for 23 years – all of these have the same injury, comically called ‘bubble-butt’ which means that they can only float on the surface, its impossible for them to dive. Its caused when they have serious impact by a boat, which damages the shell and creates oxygen pockets through the tissue of the shell – there’s no cure, so they would starve in the wild without the ability to dive for food. They have a good life here at the rescue center, in a large, natural, tide-fed pool, and they are huge! We fed them catfish pellets, and it was great to get close to them.

turtle

This guy has a collapsed lung, which is why he leans to one side.

Our next stop was on the island of Islamadorada – and a museum on the history of diving. It might sound a bit nerdy to visit a dive museum, but this place was fascinating, with exhibits going back to the 1700’s – equipment and diving bells straight out of a Jules Verne – all polished brass and copper! “Steampunk” if you will. Did you know that humans were diving in the 1700??? Amazing.

Dive Museum

Did you know that we’ve been diving since the 1700’s ?

Diving Bell Suit

Deep diving contraption (there’s 3 of these in this museum)

Assorted helmets

Assorted diving helmets

It surprised us just how long we spent in this place, especially the section on deep sea life – you don’t have to be a diver to interested in the bizzare creatures at the bottom of our oceans, and the equipment it takes to access them.

Fish tank

Me and my mate posing for the camera πŸ™‚

It was late afternoon by the time we surfaced and we found ourselves in Key largo, near the mainland, before we found somewhere to stay for the night, but as this is where I intended to do some diving before leaving we’ve settled in for a couple of days. Going to check out some dive places tommorrow.


August 4th 2012 – Key West, Florida

It felt good to be driving a car again! We drove straight out of Miami (neither of us are interested in the city) and headed south towards the Keys. As it was getting late in the day we decided to stop at Florida City on the mainland, the last town before heading out to the island keys. We found a great motel and then walked out for food (back to super-size portions and masses of meat with everything), then went to buy some water in Walmart. This shop is better than telly, you could walk around for hours being entertained by the locals πŸ™‚

The next day we decided to travel all the way to the end at Key West, about 150 miles, just to get a feel for the place and check out what there is to do. It was a great drive on concrete bridges, over miles and miles of calm, crystal clear waters – the keys are amazing !

The Drive on 7 Mile Road

The Drive on “7 Mile Road”

We spent two nights here in a pretty decent motel not far from the main hub of the town – a road called Duval Street. This is a funky place with art galleries, restaurants and music bars vying for space along the main drag. No dance music crap here though, each bar has either a full rock band or just guys on acoustic guitars, it’s pretty cool.

The Strand

The Strand – A typical building on Duval Street

There’s an upmarket marina lined by boardwalk Seafood restaurants – but we are staying off the Gulf water Corexit-soaked fish and prawns for now, and have found a great Cuban eatery – where the food is impressive – the whole Cuban influence is massive here, from the grub to the drinks and cigars (Cuba is only 90 miles away across the water) and of course there’s the ever famous Key Lime Pie – which is absolutely amazing!

Cuban Restaurant

Cuban Restaurant

On an evening there’s free entertainment down on Sunset Square, right on the most Weastern edge of the dock – the usual street stuff – jugglers, sword swallowers, and one guy, Who was not so good on the Banjo, but was getting the most tips because he had cleverly taught his dog to collect the money and put it in the pot. All this while you watch the sun go down πŸ™‚

Shipwreck Treasure Museum

Shipwreck Treasure Museum

Key West Marina

Key West Marina

Earnest Hemmingway came here to write and fish, and the white clapboard houses with porches, old wooden docks and tree lined streets, make it easy to imagine what the place must have been like back in the 50’s – this is a really nice place. Tomorrow we are going to take a slow ride back up the keys and find a new place to stay and check out a couple of places we saw on the way down.

But we leave you with the lastest water toy to be found on the keys….


July 31st 2012 – Teotihuacan, Mexico

We joined a couple from lima. Peru and a family from Venezuela on a trip to Teotihuacan, an ancient city of pyramids just outside of Mexico city. Our first stop though was a really interesting place where they grow cactus to make Tequilla and Mescal. Me and Jane were given our own English speaking guide, and she showed us some fascinating stuff. She took us over to a giant cactus, which had the core cut out to allow the cactus juice to pool in the centre, and this is what they ferment to make the alcohol, lethal stuff! The worm that they put in Mescal bottles also lives in the cactus (apparently very good to eat). Then she took a hold of one of the cactus barbs and stripped it back to create a perfect needle with thread (fibers from the plant) already attached. Then she pulled off two perfect sheets of paper from inside the stem, and finally she showed us the centre of the leaf which was a fibre that she herself uses to make clothes and bags – oh, and you can eat it too. Clever plant or what?!

cactus

They make the alcohol from this one!

They also have stone carvers here that work mainly with Obsidian (a black natural glass) but a few other types of marble type stone too. Some of the work is amazing, mainly copies of ancient Aztec and Mayan artifacts (if you buy them, bizarely, you get a certificate of authenticity so that you can get it through customs – no-one leaves Mexico with a real artifact!) It was a genuinely interesting place, where we got a few free shots of Tequilla, and tried the disgusting Mescal, and bought the only Obsidian piece we could afford – a key ring:)

carvings

Mayan priest carving wearing Jaguar head (in marble)

The next stop was the Pyramids, and even though we have seen a few archeology sites now, this one turned out to be a real surprise. Its a massive site in an great setting, with the third largest pyramid in the world – and you can climb up to the top of it!

The first area of the site had some really cool carvings of jaguars, snakes and sea creatures, which were in amazing condition (they don’t know how old the site is but its pre Aztec) covering a stepped pyramid just beyond a huge amphitheatre.

stone jaguar

Carvings at Teotihuacan

Further up a long ceremonial walkway is the Pyramid of the Sun, (the biggy) and we climbed to the top for amazing views over the valley to the mountains beyond. Its a killer of a climb but well worth it!

Pyramid of the sun

Pyramid of the Sun

Another long walk, past a lot of stone platforms and structures that line the way, took us to the Pyramid of the Moon – and this gives the best view of the whole site – which is easily over a mile long and an awesome sight from the upper platform of this pyramid. What’s really cool about this place is that there is a lot of evidence that the whole place, every pryamid, building, walls and floors where all painted in bright colours, it must have looked pretty impressive… actually it still does.

Ceremonial walkway

Ceremonial walkway – taken from the Pyramid of the Moon (click to enlarge)

This is more Janes thing than mine, but I have to admit that Teotihuacan is worth seeing, in fact the whole day was very enjoyable, even if we did have to go to a church on the way back – Guadalupe Basillica – one of those places where five churches have been built, right next to each other because a “vision” occurred back in the fifteen hundreds. Yeah right. But heres a pic if you’re interested (I’m not)…

churches

Churches of Guadalupe Square

Our last night in Mexico was spent on Garibaldi Square, just outside our hotel, drinking beers and watchng the mad mexican world go by. I paid for a group to sing for Jane – it was hilarious, a guy in a red poncho and sombreo singing a love song to jane, with trumpets, guitars and backing vocals! Her face was a picture. Not sure I’m forgiven for that one… but what a laugh!

Mexico has been great, and it feels like we have been here much longer than a month as we have packed so much in, but it feels good to be heading for Florida tommorrow…..our last stop!


July 29th 2012 – Mexico City

Getting out of Acapulco took some doing. We arrived at the bus station at about 7.15am, for a 8am bus. When we approached the guard on the door to the buses, he told us our bus was not in, and to cut a long story short, he let our bus leave without us, the authorities on agreeing it was not our fault, left us waiting for four hours, while they discussed the issue, before telling us we would have to pay for another ticket – apparentantly no-one in all of Mexico had the authority to re-issue another ticket without payment. Luckily Jane stayed polite and calm, as I would have floored the arrogant bastard who was dealing with it – I kept quiet and let Jane deal with it. So we paid another Β£50, and got on a bus right about the time we should have been arriving in Mexico City. On the positive side, it may have been the most expensive bus in Mexico, but it was the most comfortable πŸ™‚

They have a great taxi service here – a bit expensive – but really safe. When you arrive in the city you approach a booth, you tell them the district, they take payment and give you a ticket. A porter takes your bags and puts you in a registered taxi, the driver gets the ticket but no money. I think it was developed to stop tourists getting mugged and ripped off, and it really works – I like the fact that I don’t have to second guess or worry about the system, and lets face it we had been ripped off quite enough that day πŸ™‚

Our hotel is nice, on a place called Garibaldi Square and about a 5 to 10 minute walk from the center. Going out at night is a no-no though. The first night we ate in the hotel, but walked out into the square in the dark – its was a bit edgy, so we retreated. During the day things are fine though – once we get past one small area where we run the gauntlet of grasping druggies and alcoholics. The centre is actually a real surprise – with some amazing buildings, such as the National Ballet Building.

The National Ballet

The National Ballet, Mexico City

My personal favourite has to be the Post Office though – it wins hands down for one of the most jaw-dropping architectural acomplishments I’ve seen. If you describe it, it sounds over the top, but maybe a photo will do the trick…

Post Office Mexico City

Post Office (Yes it is), Mexico City

This is not a bad place to walk around – big wide pedestrian streets, lined by massive old Castillian Spanish buildings with arched walkways to keep you out of the sun – saying that its much cooler here, about 25 degrees, thank God. There are loads of good places to eat and get a decent coffee, and plenty to look at, but for Jane its all about getting out to Teotihaucan, the Aztec City of the Sun, so we booked that today. Its the last thing we do before leaving Mexico….

Tiled Building

Tiled Building, Mexico City


July 18th 2012 – Oaxaca City, Oaxaca, Mexico

There was only one option to get to Oaxaca City and that was by night bus, so we settled ourselves in for the 12 hour journey, that actually took 14. The extra 2 hours had as much to do with our driver stopping for coffee and midnight dinner as much as the mountain roads, but I suppose we should be grateful that he was interested in staying refreshed and awake for the trip πŸ™‚

Our hotel was a 10 to 15 minute walk away from the centre of the city, but it’s really nice, with great staff, and lets face it, a walk always keeps Jane happy for some strange reason. I’ve nearly knocked myself out about three times on a stone roof beam, but as Jane thought the room was ‘just gorgeous’ I was willing to live with the concussion πŸ™‚

The city sits in a fantastic setting, totally surrounded by tree covered mountains, and because its so high up the weather is perfect – mid to high 20’s by day and about 18 Celsius at night. This is a really beautiful place, with massive Churches and Basillicas at every turn.Β  We walked up to the Planetarium hill, where there is a huge roofed auditorium that looks out over the city – the view is pretty good.

View over the city of Oaxaca

View over the city of Oaxaca, Mexico

Basilica de la Soledad

Basilica de la Soledad

The best thing about this place though is the people, they really know how to enjoy themselves. Nearly every day there’s a parade, with groups in traditional dress, carrying lanterns and playing and singing to live music, and when they are not parading they are practising in one of the many squares. Its cool to sit and watch groups of young people go through thier routines, or make posters and banners for some event. In the main square there are lots of balloon sellers and every young child seems to have some type of balloon to throw around. Every day and night is a buzz of activity with family and friends meeting to eat and socialise.

Oaxaca balloon sellers

Oaxaca balloon sellers

Zocalo Catedral at night

Zocalo Catedral at night

We are really enjoying Oaxaca City – even I don’t mind all the walking as the streets are really cool, and there is always a really good cafe, like the Lobo Azul (a revolutionary hang out) to have great food and coffee, or you are never far away from fresh squeezed orange juice from one of the street vendors, or someone selling homemade fresh fruit tartlets (Mmmmmm).

Oaxaca Street

A Oaxaca street

Our next stop is the Oaxaca coast to the west, where we will look out onto the Pacific Ocean, before heading to Mexico City, so we say goodbye to Oaxaca CityΒ  – Mexico really has been amazing so far!