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Friday, 11th September 2009

MSMAS YuDansha returns after travelling the world ...

MSMAS YuDansha Catherine left April 29 on the 2215 flight to Bangkok with her boyfriend Nic and returned 11th September....

 

 

I will leave Catherine to write this 'last entry', followed by a precis of her entire trip !!

Well, last diary entry for us! Quite sad for us, probably quite a relief for you!! After a much needed few relaxing days in Uxbridge and visiting family, Nick’s Uncle drove us to the airport in Toronto for our final flight which would bring us full circle and back to London Heathrow!

What a trip it has been! The flight home gave us both chance to think about what we’d done, the places we’ve seen and the things we’ve done. It’s been an amazing last few months and a trip that we will both always remember and with a smile too!

From Heathrow, we spent a few days up with Nick’s family in Milton Keynes which was brilliant! It was so good to see everyone again, eat some of the things we’d missed the most and just stay in one place longer than a few days!! From there it was back down to Sussex and the small matter of trying to surprise my Dad and Brother for their respective 60th and 30th birthday party! They had unfortunately both guessed that we’d be there, but they didn’t know when and as we left it until about 4 hours before the party to turn up I still think it was half a surprise!

We’ve both been very busy since we’ve got back trying to sort everything out; Nick’s been through the rigmarole of buying a car, I’ve been trying to look for a job and we’ve both been trying to settle in to being back!

It is very odd to be back in reality and not in our little travelling bubble! Everything is so familiar, after almost 5 months of having constantly changing surroundings which you’ve never seen before and are unlikely to see again it is very odd to be familiar with everything again. But also a really good feeling! We both said while we were away, we weren’t homesick, we didn’t want to go home……we just wanted friends, family, and our houses to come out to us!

We did have so much fun on the trip and have raked up quite an impressive list of doing stupid things! Like jumping out of a plane (skydive), off a bridge (bungee), running off a mountain and hoping a small piece of tarpaulin will work (hangliding), almost drowning in the Ottawa river (white water rafting), cycling down an extremely steep mountain rather quickly (downhill mountain biking in Whistler), almost breaking leg on the slopes (snow boarding) and the list goes on! Can’t say we didn’t do much while we were away!!

Since we’ve been back, people have asked us what the best bit was or where the best place was. That’s such a hard question to answer. The places are so unique and incomparable to each other! A day snowboarding in New Zealand was fantastic and so was a day lying on a beach in Rio?! The two are completely different and it depends on what you want to do – but picking one place is very difficult indeed!

One of our ideas about the trip was that it would give us an idea of where we wanted to go back to one day. The trouble is there are few places we wouldn’t go back to! And it’s given us lots of ideas about other places in the world that we would like to visit! We spoke to so many people on the trip who can recommend different places, so the list looks like only getting longer one day!
Anyway, we hope you’ve enjoyed reading about our little adventure, it’s helped us to write it down and I’m sure we’ll have a giggle reading back over some of the entries! We hope that we will see all of you very soon if we haven’t done already!

I guess this is rather a sad moment, the end of the trip and the end of the blogs. As they say all good things must come to an end, and I guess this is it………………..

Thanks for reading, and I guess we'll see you on our next trip!!

Diary :::::

30 Apr ~ Bangkok, Thailand

In Bangkok now and it's very very hot!!  Stayed in a lovely little hotel last night and just moved over to the one where our big tour goes from.  The driver's here are all nuts.  Lanes don't mean anything and neither it seems does indicating, honking the horn or any other road rules!!

The street vendors are relentless.  I even got beat up by a 6 yr old last night whilst trying to have a quiet beer as I didn't want to buy a dead flower for 20 baht!!  Nick's been asked if he wants a suit approximately every 10 minutes now. 

Life is completely different here it seems.  Although there's still recognisable brands like boots, 7-eleven, tesco and burger king!! 

The next 30 days or so might be a bit quiet on our front.  We're on a big 30 day tour through Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos so we don't know when we'll next have access to internet.  But we'll definately write as soon as we do!....

May 1 ~ Depart Bangkok, Thailand

May 2-3 ~ Siem Reap/Angkor, Cambodia

Really roughing it @ http://www.angkorst.com/

A long bus ride to Siem Reap (4hrs) to cross the border on foot with this process taking up to an hour or more. After the border formalities are complete, continue on to Siem Reap. This section of the drive is on mostly unsealed roads and it is very bumpy!!! Although its only 160 km in length, it takes about 5-6 hours. The scenery is spectacular though and there's an immediate contrast between Thailand and Cambodia. Angkor, the former capital of the Khmer Kingdom, is one of the wonders of the archeological world. Rediscovered at the end of the last century by French explorers, this vast ruined city is becoming one of the most popular sites in Southeast Asia, like the magnificent temple of Angkor Wat, the enigmatic Bayon within the walled city Angkor Thom, Ta Prohm, Preah Khan and Banteay Srei.

May 4-5 ~ Phnom Penh

http://directrooms.com/asia-cambodia/hotels/townview-hotel-phnom-penh-7075-pictures.htm

Journey by local bus taking in the spectacular scenery to Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia. Sights to visit include the National Museum and adjacent complex of the Silver Pagoda and Royal Palace. After 1975, when Pol Pot and his henchmen grabbed power, Cambodia was thrown into an abyss of unspeakable violence and mass-murder. Millions of Cambodians perished during this time. Witness to this genocide are the Killing fields of Choeung Ek and the Tuol Sleng prison. A Tuk Tuk can be hired locally to take you there, or explore town or go shopping at the famous Russian Market.

We are now about 5 days into our booked tour and it has been an amazing few days. We started out in Bangkok which was a nice gentle introduction into Asian life. The first day of our trip we got a private bus across the Thai/Cambodian border. It helped so much being part of the group, we paid a few dollars here, a hundred baht (40Baht=1pound)) there and were across the border in just over and hour, not 3 like it normally takes - and we paid the right price for the visas too. Defiantly helps to know the right people!
 
There was an instant difference between Thailand and the lesser developed Cambodia, much more poverty, but also a different landscape - much flatter and more agricultural. We have been on two major trips already. On the first we went to see Angkor Wat, which is a series of temple built in the 11th Century and were only recently rediscovered in 1850, covered in jungle. It was a really amazing day and the intricate carvings on the rock that took place so many centuries ago was amazing.
 
Today, we went to see the Killing Fields and Security Office 21 which was the prison that was used alongside the Killing Fields to detain and torture thousands of Cambodians.  A lot of them were executed purely as they were intelligent to know the answer to 1+1?!  It was a crazy place and beyond words to describe really. It was a really moving visit, quite shocking of the level of genocide that was committed only recently (70's) - the numbers are totally shocking and hard to comprehend. It is definitely something that I won't ever forget - seeing the pagoda built in memory of all those 20,000 innocent victims that were killed there.  The skulls lined up inside it was very upsetting. We also saw some of the mass graves that had been exhumed, and there was also bones and clothing poking through the ground where not all the graves have been exhumed - extremely upsetting.  I managed to hold it together until we saw a tree called the killing tree.  It was used by the executioners to kill children - i'll spare you the exact details, but I lost it a bit then and had to walk away from the group.  The mindset of those people is absolutely beyond me.
 
Tomorrow morning we leave for a couple of days on the beach before heading north towards Vietnam. The trip so far has been excellent, very well organised, easy for us, and no hassle! We are very pleased we booked it!  I can imagine having a lot more hassle and a lot more expense if we were going it alone here.
 
Other than that we have tried lots of new foods, some nice, some not so nice - Nick even tried a deep fried tarantula leg!!! He said it didn't taste too bad! All in all the food has been excellent, and cheap - our guide knows the best restaurants in all the towns. I think we have adjusted well to the weather, it's still extrememly hot, so we go through loads of water and deoderant!!
 
May 6-7 ~ Sihanoukville

http://www.sihanoukville-cambodia.com/sihanoukville-businesses/new3/occheuteal-beachside.html

A 3 hour drive to Cambodia's southern coast and the beaches of Sihanoukville. Relax on the sand whilst having a massage and eating fresh seafood, or join a boat trip for snorkelling and lunch on an uninhabited island.

May 8 ~ Mekong Delta, Vietnam

4/5 hours to the Cambodia/Vietnam border. After completing the necessary formalities, we will continue on to Chau Doc in Vietnam, a 45 minute drive, arriving mid afternoon with time to relax and adjust to the change of pace. A trip up to Sam Mountain on motorbikes to watch the sunset, a boat trip through the fish farms, or a walk through the local market for a taste of life in the Mekong Delta.

May 9-10 ~ Ho Chi Minh City

http://www.huynhanhhotel.com/index.php?id=7&lang=en

We arrived in Ho Chi Minh City yesterday evening, and after a bit of "freshen up" time we all headed out for some dinner.  Of the group that started all together in Bangkok, 3 of the people are leaving today - so it was a goodbye party as well as a hello party for 4 new people who have joined the group here.  We went over to a bar for a few drinks with everyone which was good!

Today we visited the Chu Chi tunnels built by the local guerrilla soldiers to evade the Americans.  It was amazing.  The total length of the tunnels was around 250km at one stage!  They did everything underground - sleep, eat, make weapons, uniforms, hospital, cook - everything.  And they've widened part of the tunnel so tourists can go down there!  We went down for about 40 m and it was incredibly hot, dark and very claustrophobic!!  I can't believe some of them lived down there for almost 30 years!!

Anyway - after that we visited the war museum which had a very moving display of photographs taken during the times of conflict here.  Some atrocities can never and should never be forgotten,   But all the same it is tough to see what human beings can and have done to each other.

Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). Saigon’s central market, everything from bolts of brocade to flanks of beef. Saigon’s stately French colonial post office, one of many French-era buildings that add grace to this modern metropolis with an overnight train to Nha Trang.

May 11-12 ~ Nha Trang

http://www.hotels-in-vietnam.com/hotels/NhaTrang/viendonghotel.html

Explore the local shops and markets, sit on the beach soaking up the sun or visit nearby historical towns. Optional activities include a boat trip to nearby islands for snorkeling and scuba diving. On May 12 an overnight train to Danang.

May 13-14 ~ Hoi An

The night train last night was definately................interesting.  It was very old, very rackety, very noisy, dirty and the toilet was a squat toilet pretty much straight onto the tracks - lovely!!!  Anyway, I think we managed to sleep for about a few hours tops.  So pretty tired now!  But as it's so early, only half the rooms are ready so we can't even go and relax yet as there's 4 people to a room and only one bed.  The trips not that cozy!!
 
Here for 2 nights which is nice, but then we have another night train which is not so great!  Might try and find something to eat in a bit, we get another room at 9.30 so then it'll be time for shower and a sleep!

From Danang, it is only a short drive to the picturesque port town of Hoi An, once known as Faifo, was an important trading town with strong south Chinese influence and connections.

A walking tour of this living museum which includes the Museum of History and Culture, the Tan Ky house, the Japanese bridge, the Fujian Assembly Hall and lunch at a riverside restaurant to sample some of the local delicacies. Hoi An is also a shopping mecca for tourists in the region. Tailors can produce virtually anything overnight, with clothing, silk lanterns, lacquer ware and many other crafts abound.And for sun worshipers,Cua Dai Beach is 4kms from town.

May 15-16 ~ Hue

A 3 hour drive to the north of Hoi An is the city of Hue, over the Hai Van Pass and past Lang Co beach.

Staying in the bamboo hotel?!  It's got another longer name, but can't remember how to write it!! 

Doing a tour in the morning of the citadel and the forbidden purple city, should be better in the morning before it gets too hot!  The humidity is bad here - both of us are very leaky all the time!!  God bless air con!
 
Anyway - taking advantage of the free internet here, but can't hog it for too long so best go now.
 
We've got another long (13hr) night train tomorrow night heading up to Hanoi and Halong Bay which should be awesome!!

See also www.getjealous.com/nickandcat for a few pictures on there....

Upon arrival in Hue, once the imperial capital, tour the Citadel which also contains the Forbidden Purple City, modeled on the Forbidden City in Beijing. Badly destroyed during the Tet Offensive in 1968, significant restoration work has since occurred. A true highlight of Hue is the surrounding countryside. Traveling by boat along the Perfume River visit Tien Mu Pagoda and the tombs of two of the Emperors Minh Mang and Khai Dinh.

Late afternoon May 16 board an overnight sleeper train to Hanoi (approx 13hrs).

May 17 ~ Halong Bay/Bay Chai Harbour

http://www.visit-mekong.com/halong-bay-hotel/

Arrive in the early morning to bustling Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam for transfer to a private bus for a 3 hour drive to Halong Bay.

Thousands of islands rise dramatically from the waters of Halong Bay and, to further their beauty, intricate caves have been hollowed out through these limestone karst formations. The aboard a sailing junk to enjoy a seafood lunch before visiting some of these islands and caves. Perhaps a chance to take a pre-dinner swim, before transferring to the mainland for an overnight stay.

May 18-19 ~ Hanoi

http://www.ngocmaihotel.com.vn/

Upon arrival a visit to Tran Quoc Pagoda, the Temple of Literature (Van Mieu) or Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum and Museum. The Mausoleum houses the remains of Ho Chi Minh, the founding father of the unified Vietnam (the mausoleum and museum is closed October-November) or a walk through Hanoi's Old Quarter – a maze of street, each one traditionally devoted to a different product or industry. In the evening an option to attend a performance at the famous Water Puppet Theatre and sample some of Hanoi's amazing eating venues offering all kinds of delicious Vietnamese food, one of the world’s most delightful cuisines.

May 20 ~ Pak Xan, Laos

Today a long travel day (approx 12hrs) through spectacular mountains before crossing into Laos.
Pak Xan is a sleepy town with a great local market. The pace of life is dramatically different from Vietnam. Arrive in the evening with a chance to have dinner and enjoy a cold Beer Laos.

May 21 ~ Vientiane

5 hour drive to the capital city where there is a wealth of cultural delights to discover - on foot, by bicycle or, for the less energetic, by tuk-tuk. Visit Laos' most important national monument, Phat That Luang, or meander down the dusty riverside tracks to find villages full of friendly children, dogs and chickens. A visit to Vientiane's vibrant, colourful morning market (which incidentally is open all day!) is worth it to find plenty of local treasures. A great way to round off the day is to enjoy a spectacular sunset over the Mekong at one of the many restaurants along the riverbank.

May 22 ~ Vang Vieng

3 hour drive north to beautiful Vang Vieng. This quiet town is set along the Nam Song river amidst rice fields and limestone karsts. Explore some of the caves by bicycle, or float down the river in a tire tube stopping off for a cold drink and zip line ride at one of the numerous bamboo bars. In the evening, soak in the beauty of Vang Vieng as the sun sets over the river.

May 23-25 ~ Luang Prabang

Bus from Vang Vieng to Luang Prabang (approx 7 hours) which has a magical feel about it. Nestled in the hills of northern Laos on the confluence of the Mekong and Khan Rivers, it is studded with ornate temples and French colonial architecture. A visit to the Royal Palace Museum, which has remained untouched since the royal family departed in 1975, is sure to impress.

An option to hop on a songthaew to the beautiful Kuang Si falls, where pale turquoise waters cascade over limestone formations or a 3/4 hour walk through the countryside to the falls.

May 26-27 ~ Pakbeng/Chiang Khong

2-day journey by boat up the mighty Mekong River to Chiang Khong. The journey is relaxed, so as to experience the slow pace of village life and the breathtaking scenery along the river to dock at the small town of Pak Beng to spend the night (approx 8 hours). The standard of accommodation in this trading port is basic but comfortable.

The following morning re-board the boat and cruise leisurely up the river before arriving at the Laos/Thai border and crossing in to Chiang Khong in the late afternoon (approx 7 hours).

May 28 ~ Chiang Mai/Overnight Train

Leaving Chiang Khong early in the morning to drive to Chiang Mai (approx 5 hours) with the afternoon to explore and in the evening to board a fan cooled overnight train for Bangkok (approx 12 hours).

May 29 ~ Bangkok

Arrive early in the morning to Bangkok, Thailand's capital city to explore The Grand Palace, Wat Po, National Museum, and Jim Thompson's House or a trip along the Chao Praya river and through the canals (or Klongs) to give a different perspective of daily life in this busy city.

May 31 ~ River Kwai for 3 day stay @ http://www.samsguesthouse.com/

June 2 ~ Back in Bangkok @ www.roofviewplace.com

Wednesday June 3 ~ Depart Bangkok, Thailand for Sydney, Australia ...

Finally made it to Australia ~ it took about 24 hours in total...

Thursday June 4 ~ Melbourne @ www.hometravellersmotel.com.au/

They left the hotel in Bangkok around 1pm (Thai time), to the airport and managed to check in early, which was good!  The flight was fairly uneventful, and the Captain told them over the PA that they were making really good time and would land in Sydney a bit early!  The next thing, Sydney airport was closed due to fog and now diverted, to Melbourne!!  They thought that was great as that's where they were heading, but then told that due to government regulations, no one was allowed off the plane at Melbourne as all to come through Sydney..

They sat at Melbourne airport for a few hours being re-fuelled and waiting for to take off due to the massive back log!  Then had to fly all the way back to Sydney, which took a couple of hours, get off the plane, collect bags, go through customs and security, before doing it all again in reverse to get on another plane back to Melbourne ~ crazy ~ but eventually got in around 1 in the afternoon, extremely tired after only sleeping about an hour in total..

Melbourne seemed a really nice place and they both liked it there!  Although very cold, (being used to temperatures above 30 and 40 for a month, and hearing how nice the weather was at home), 15 degrees is suddenly very chilly!  On first day, took a train out of the city to a National Park for a 7 km walk up a mountain, plus 1000 step walk which is aptly named, so does not need a description!! 

http://www.travelpod.com/travel-photo/darrenstravels/12/1222044000/thousand-steps.jpg/tpod.html

Next, took a tram into the city, and walked around for pretty much the whole day!.  Went to the famous market, took a wander through Chinatown, walked by the Rod Laver arena and Olympic Park and visited the Shrine of Rememberance.

Booked tickets to an 'aussie rules game' at the MCG, which should be awesome, and then Sunday Sizzle at the hostel, so dinner's sorted!!  Also onto the 'Neighbours Tour!!

Then depart on way to Sydney, will probably stop somewhere on the way as it's a long old drive!!

Melbourne was a really nice place which we both really liked!!  We managed to do quite a lot of stuff like a nice walk up a mountain in a national park, spent a day in the city, saw an aussie rules game at the MCG and did the oh so cheesy neighbours tour!!

The aussie rules game was awesome, we didn't know what was going on the whole time, but the crowd pretty much let us know!  We decided on the way there which team we would support "Go Hawks!" and we did a bit of cheering when we knew what was happening!  I never really realise how big the field of play is (it's played on a cricket oval), so I knew it was big, but seeing them run around on it is another thing!  And then another thing was how violent it is - but only off the ball!!  It's funny to see these big guys facing up to each other and have a bit of a barney!

What can I say about the neighbours tour.......it was awesome!!  They took us to the set first where we saw the outside of greasemonkeys and Lou's garage!!  It was so very fake!  I have no idea how they make it all look so real!  Then we went to the actual street!!  It was a lot smaller in real life!  The houses aren't the same numbers as in the show, but it was really odd seeing them all!  And then Stingray walked up!!!  Even though he's been out of the show for so long, he still hangs around to come and say hi to people like us on the tour!!  So we had a few photo's and then got an autograph too which was good!!

After the tour we got a bus to Canberra.  In true Kins style, something had to go wrong and the bus broke down on the way out of Shepperton!  It was a night bus as it was, so at about 11.30pm, we stopped and had to wait for the mechanic to come out - tell us he didn't know what the problem was and call for another bus!!  So about 2-3 hours later, we all had to get on a different bus and carry on the journey!!  So we arrived in Canberra after a 12 hour bus ride at about 9am.  Being so early, we couldn't check into our hostel so spent the day wandering around the city.  It's an odd place and so very very cold!!!!!!!  I'm not sure if it's because we were used to the Asia climate or whether at 2 degrees it was just flipping cold!!  The city was built purely to house the government, so the government buildings are awesome, so we had a look around both the old and the new buildings.  The hostel had a spa and a sauna (incredible for a hostel!) so we made full use of those whilst we were there!

The next day we took a tour of the Australian Institute of Sport, which was awesome!  It was a basic tour and they showed us most of the facilities like the arena, gymnastics arena, volleyball courts, strength and conditioning gym, old pool and the $17 million new pool!!  It had a viewing gallery all along the it under the water so coaches can go and analyse the athlete's stroke from under the water line!!  Crazy and it's fitted with loads of cameras and magnetic timing gates!  We couldn't go into the Sport Science labs which sucked, but it really got me excited about the prospects of working within elite sport!!

Thursday June 11 ~ Sydney @ http://www.stayatbase.com/base-backpackers-sydney-hostel/

We had another 3 hour bus journey (uneventful this time!) to get to Sydney and we arrived about 9. We had a nice lay in this morning and a lazy day strolling by the harbour bridge, the Opera House and the botanical gardens!!  Very nice indeed!!  Tomorrow we're heading out to do some walking and then maybe heading out to the blue mountains the day after that!

Thursday June 18 ~ Byron Bay

Not sure if anyone is aware or not, but Australia actually does have a winter, and it is nasty!! Since we last wrote we have traveled around a fair bit and we're currently staying in Byron Bay.

Byron Bay is a cool little place that seems to have a mix of hippies and backpackers with some trendy shops and boutiques & plenty of surfers and VW Campers! We got here early this morning after taking the night bus up from Newcastle. When we arrived we went down and watched the sun come up over the sea and were planning a day napping on the beach with maybe some boogie boarding before a few beers later on! Then it rained. Its stopped raining now as we are inside, but I am sure that by the time we want to go out it'll start again - British luck.

Newcastle was a strange little place too. We had intended to spend one, maybe two nights there as the town doesn't really have much to offer! We ended up spending 4 nights there as the hostel was so good, and everyone was really friendly, this meant that we missed out a couple of places but managed to chill out for a bit which was really nice! We did a Hunter Valley wine, cheese and chocolate tasting tour which was pretty good! We went to about 5 wineries, one brewery, one smelly cheese shop, and one chocolate shop, all included some free tasting - brilliant!! We ended coming back with our 'wobbly boots' on!!

We also got to get up close and personal with some koala's at the Blackbutt Nature Reserve (yes we got the obligatory photo next to the sign)!! As it was raining there was almost nobody in the park which meant instead of bringing the koala's out onto a box for feeding and petting, we got to go in their enclosure. It was pretty cool and made Cat's day I think!!! They're soooo soft!!

Apart from that we didn't really do too much in Newcastle - it was one of the residents birthdays so we had a party for him, and in true Irish style there was plenty of beer and wine flowing! The next  was written off due to the terrible effects of the 4 litre wine box that we demolished - ouchy a lot!!!

Before Newcastle (and no they don't speak in geordie!), we were up in the really very cold Blue Mountains. You know its bad when the hostel comes with electric blankets. Made even worse as the place looked like the place out of the shining - "here comes Johnny". It was also eerily the same hostel that I stayed in last time I was over in 2004, and hadn't changed a bit!!! Not even the door codes!!
We did some bush walking in the Blue Mountains - mostly to try and keep warm, but the views were pretty spectacular too!! The first day we went into the forest (at the bottom of the 500m cliff) and walked for a few hours before getting the sky car back up. There was a train that went at 52% incline but we didn't fancy that! The second day we thought we'd tackle the 'Giant Stairway' - no problem getting down, but getting back up we realised how aptly named it was, especially after the 5km walk/jog that I thought would be fun! Oops!

Tomorrow we head up to Brisbane for a few nights before we fly to our 6th country! That'll put us over half way through our countries, and almost half way through the trip. It is really flying by! We're going to run now as it has been sunny for almost an hour!

June 24 ~ Depart Brisbane, Australia for Christchurch, New Zealand ...

Arrived safe and sound in New Zealand.

After a long, sleepless night in Brisbane airport eventually caught flight to Christchurch, caught the bus into town and stayed in a nice hostel with own room.

Now in Kaikoura and went Whale watching, incredible! http://www.whalewatch.co.nz/

Saw not 1, but 4 whales!!  and got a good tail shot when they dived down again too!!  It was brilliant!  Also saw some seals and a massive albatross whose wing span was as big as the boat we were in!  Crazy!
 
Off to Picton tomorrow (25/6) http://www.picton.co.nz/ and then further on South towards Franz Josef. http://www.newzealand.com/travel/destinations/regions/west-coast/west-coast-towns.cfm/nodeid/53.html

At Picton took out some of the hostels mountain bikes to try and ride some of the Queen Charlotte Track - it's the main track in NZ for mountain biking. Unfortunately the bikes were awful and had no gears and were pretty 'loose''- needless to say they did not get too far!!

After Picton went and stayed at a town right on the edge of the Abel Tasman National Park. It was really pretty, and did a hike and sailed a catamaran back! The scenery is stunning, words really cannot describe it. Even on a 7 hour bus journey it is amazing the whole time. Straight out of Lord of the Rings, massive snowy peaks dropping straight into glassy lakes, coupled with sunrises and sunsets to die for!!

Moved on down the West Coast from Abel Tasman and stopped at a tiny town called Barrytown (pop. 40) where there was the option to carve bone or make your own knife. We chose to carve a bone necklace, although Cat would have much rather stayed and made her own sword at the knife making place!!

Also had a bit of a party in Barrytown, with the whole bus cross-dressing for the night - quite funny!!

Next stop was Franz Josef, and a day hiking on the glacier - complete with crampons!

It was bloody brilliant!! They got right up onto/into the glacier, Nick even managed to jump through the ice and soak himself up to his knees! Once again words (or at least my words) cannot describe how beautiful the glacier was. They got to squeeze throughsome pretty tight crevices, such good fun!!

After Franz, they had another party night in another small town. Taught the group the coin game and got everyone pretty drunk! Now in Queenstown, where they planned to do a skydive on the way here, but will have to do it going north! Today went and tried snowboarding, no injuries - woop!! It was really good fun and we both managed to go down the beginner slope on our own without too many falls!!! Yesterday we went to the spectacular Milford Sound. It was a long drive but the cruise was well worth it, see the photos on facebook in a few days!!

Took a 'sky dive' the day they left NZ, Cat says "it was fantastic" ~ they are both totally fine, but only told us aftre they had done it !!

July 13 ~ Depart Auckland, New Zealand for Santiago, Chile ...

July 14 ~ Finally arrived in Santiago after an 11.5 hour flight!  Met at the airport and got a taxi to the hotel. http://www.rivierahotel.cl/habitaciones/habitaciones.htm  It´s seems a nice city so far. Met up with the rest of our tour group early for dinner and they too seem nice.

Santiago is Chile’s largest city and capital, with internationally recognized vineyards and Andean ski resorts very close by. Explore the many museums and parks, and visit the vibrant neighbourhood of Bellavista to see some handicrafts and trendy cafés. Day-trips include a trip to Valparaiso and Viña del Mar, Chile’s premier beach resort, and to Isla Negra, Pablo Neruda’s seaside home.

Although Santiago covers an immense area, the central core of the city is relatively small. It is a roughly triangular shaped region, bounded in the north by the Río Mapocho, in the west by the Via Norte Sur and in the south by the Avenida del Libertador General Bernardo O'Higgins (more commonly known as the Alameda). The apex of the triangle is the Plaza Baquedano, where O'Higgins forms a junction with two of Santiago's other main thoroughfares, Avenidas Providencia and Vicuña MacKenna.

The centre of this triangle is the Plaza de Armas, the chief plaza of Santiago, bounded on its northern side by the main post office and on the western side by the cathedral. The streets between the Plaza de Armas and O'Higgins are wall-to-wall shops, restaurants, snack and fast food bars, cinemas, expensive hotels and office blocks. The Presidential Palace, La Moneda, is on Avenida Moneda, facing the Plaza de la Constitución. Near the Plaza de Armas is the National Congress building. One of Santiago's main parks, Cerro Santa Lucía, is in the triangle facing O'Higgins. The other main park is Cerro San Cristobal, or Huelén, in the Mapuche tongue. It is a large hill that rises dramatically from the plain to the north of Avenida Providencia. Between this avenue and the mountain, on either side of the Avenida Pío Nono, is Santiago's 'Paris quarter', the barrio Bella Vista. There are many beautifully landscaped parks and gardens, artists' colonies, and impressive views over the city, including the snow-capped peaks of the Andes (when the weather and thick smog permit).

July 14/17 Pucón

After a full day exploring the capital city we will board a night bus bound for Pucón, in the Lake District. This is a Mecca for outdoor enthusiasts, with activities galore. Some of these include a volcano climb, hiking in one of the many national parks, rafting, mountain biking and skiing/snowboarding (in season).

There are few areas in the world that can match the Chilean Lake District for scenic grandeur. South of the Rio Toltén and sprawled across the provinces of Valdivia, Osorno and Llanquihué, you'll find everything from snow-capped mountains to deep blue and emerald lakes, smoking volcanoes, forests and glaciers. This is a favourite vacation ground for domestic tourists, visitors from across the Andes, and around the globe.

The region’s architecture is unique in that older structures are wooden and resemble central European homes and churches of the 19th Century. This is due to the significant number of immigrants, largely Germany, Switzerland, Austria and some Italian, who settled here over the last half of that century. The regional cuisine also reflects this, with many restaurants specializing in kuchen and other baked delicacies. Seafood dishes abound in this region. Of particular interest to visitors is the curanto Chilote, a hearty seafood stew that’ll leave you ready for a siesta.

Villarica is one of the chief resort towns of the Lake District, with impressive views of the active Volcan Villarica. This is a beautiful place to hike, boat, or to sit back and take in the beautiful scenery and reflect on your trip so far. Pucón, the nation’s outdoors and adventure tourism capital, is located on the eastern end of Lago Villarica, opposite the town of Villarica. We spend a couple of days exploring the area, where there are endless options for outdoor pursuits like kayaking, rafting, hiking, mountain biking, wind surfing and horseback riding.

Approximate Distance: 789km
Estimated Travel Time: 10 hours

July 18/19 Puerto Montt/Puerto Varas

A trip further south brings us to the city of Puerto Montt. This is Chile’s most important southern port and it is the gateway for explorers going further south into Patagonia. Take a day trip to the island of Chiloé and sample the seafood!

In Puerto Montt there are still many reminders of its German influenced past. Germans settled the area in the mid-19th century and many houses are of northern European design, faced with unpainted shingles, high-pitched roofs and quaint, ornate balconies.

Though timber houses make up a large share of Puerto Montt's housing, the pioneer image has long since faded. The large cathedral in the main square, built in 1856 entirely of redwood, is the oldest building in the city and one of the most important reminders of the city's early days. Now, it is the gateway to the southern end of the Lake District, and for the Chilean Patagonia.

Approximate Distance: 340km
Estimated Travel Time: 5-6 hours

July 20/22 Bariloche

After a beautiful journey through the mountains of upper Patagonia we will cross over into Argentina and arrive at Bariloche. Situated on the beautiful shore of Lake Nahuel Huapi, Bariloche is a year-round playground for skiers, hikers and outdoors enthusiasts of all types. A popular resort town for Argentines, the spectacular surroundings of Bariloche offer loads of outdoor options, like hiking, biking, paragliding, lake tours, and skiing/snowboarding (in season). Bariloche is also famous for its quality and quantity of chocolate. So wander around the city, enjoy the landscapes and eat chocolate!

The urban centre of the Argentine Lake District, San Carlos de Bariloche in many ways resembles alpine resorts of Europe. During winter ski season the town fills to capacity with jovial Argentine and Brazilian vacationers whose favourite pastime seems to be eating and drinking. Their gusto is understandable; Bariloche has some of the best food in the country. Sample a beefy parrillada, or a variety of fresh salmon or lake trout, then work it off during a day hike around Cerro Catedral or while practicing your salsa at one of the town's salsotecas.

Approximate Distance: 400km
Estimated Travel Time: 6-7 hours

July 23 Nightbus

A long bus journey carries us out of upper Patagonia and to the Argentine capital of Buenos Aires.

Approximate Distance: 1640km
Estimated Travel Time: 21 hours

July 24 Buenos Aires

Known as the ‘Paris of the Americas,’ Buenos Aires is a vibrant city full of life. Visit the districts of La Boca, Recoleta, and San Telmo or catch a tango show at one of the many famous tanguerías. Wander the pedestrian walkways and see some dancing in the streets. Whatever you do, Buenos Aires is sure to leave lasting memories.

The capital city of Argentina, Buenos Aires is the ultimate cosmopolitan city. Travellers find that it has more in common with the cities of Europe than the rest of South America. Nearly 40 per cent of Argentina’s 33 million citizens live in Greater Buenos Aires, and the Porteños are justifiably proud of their home. The city is comprised of a number of distinct neighbourhoods, some of which have become top tourist draws. For many, the highlight of their time in the capital is a visit to San Telmo for the weekend antiques market and street artists’ displays. La Boca was originally settled by the successive waves of immigrants that contribute to the capital’s unique character. Its brightly coloured walls and buildings draw Porteños and tourists alike. Posh Recoleta, with its cafés, museums and cemetery, is a pleasant place to spend an afternoon.

During colonial days, Buenos Aires was the seat of the Viceroy of La Plata. Almost completely rebuilt since the turn of the century, the heart of the city is the Plaza de Mayo, with the historic Cabildo (Town Hall), where the Independence movement was first planned, the Casa Rosada (Government Palace) and the Cathedral, where San Martín, the father of Argentine independence, is buried.

When you are done exploring, settle your weary feet and enjoy a drink in one of the many sidewalk cafés and restaurants, and you will begin to understand the contemplative Argentine way of life. Buenos Aires will be your last chance, while in Argentina, to try the succulent bifé and parrilladas, so dig in and enjoy!

Cat says: "We´ve made in to Buenos Aires finally, after a 20 hour bus journey!!  There was a bathroom on board and we did get a snack, followed by a 3 course steak dinner and then breakfast!!  Only in Argentina would you get steak on a bus!
Pucon was very relaxed and the horse trekking was awesome!!  We were out on the horses for about 4-5 hours trekking through the beautful Patagonian mountains!  It was a little scary as we were all galloping after lunch and for Nick and another girl (who hadn´t really ridden a horse before) it was probably a scary insight to the world of horses! We stopped for lunch after crossing over a river, and then made our way back through rather thick bushland in places!  It was a lot of fun and we all enjoyed ourselves, despite being a bit sore the next day!!
After Pucon, we made our way down further to Puerto Varas.  It was a very sleepy town, set by the side of a pretty lake.  There wasn´t much going on when we got there as it was raining really hard, but we braved the elements to have a look around.  The next day we caught a local bus and headed out to Puerto Montt, where they have the local fish market!!  What a sight!  The fish was being gutted fresh off the boat right in front of us!  Brilliant!  We stopped for lunch in one of the small restaurants there, but unfortuantely I think we ordered the wrong thing as it wasn´t as good as we expected given where we were!  We took a stroll into the main town, but being Sunday, everything apart from McDonalds was shut!! We brought some fresh salmon from the market and cooked it for dinner, which was pretty amazing!  So fresh!
From Puerto Varas, we made our way over to Argentina and to Bariloche, which again was absolutely stunning!!  Set against the backdrop of more amazinginly beautiful mountains!!  There was an option to go snowboarding which we were very interested in, but we decided against it because of having gone in NZ and also because of the insurance costs etc!!  Jen went and said it was amazing, but we chose to do something we hadn´t done yet.  Car Jacking!!  Well, kayaking really, but the Argentinians all pronounce it as car jacking which is amusing!  We got picked up from our hostel and driven to a lake about half an hour away.  We kayaked on the lake for about 2 hours before we stopped for a well deserved snack!  We were given a hot cup of tea which wa most welcome as it was absolutely freezing!!!  To give you an idea, we got out of the kayaks for 10 minutes to have the tea.  In that time, the water on my jacket had already frozen and turned to ice!!  The gloves on the paddles were also frozen when we got back in.  Brrrrrr!!!  The kayaking was good fun, apart from the cold!  The guides were nice, although the 3 other guys we went with were Argentinian and so they all spoke Spanish the whole day which got confusing!
Since being in Argentina, we´ve obviously been sampling some of the countries finer cuisines!!  Like massive, juicy steaks, large bottles of red wine, venison, trout, and of course chocolate!!  Oh yes!!  We had a bit of a dodgy experience with some pate which meant a few days feeling under the weather, but all is good now and we´re hoping to sample more culinary delights tonight!!
So, the plans for Buenos Aires are to see the sights, sample more steak and perhaps catch some tango shows!!  It´s Jen´s birthday tomorrow, so I think tomorrow night might involve some more good food and perhaps a few celebratory drinks so we can show these tango folk how to really move!!  Lol."

July 25 ~ Depart Buenos Aires, Argentina to make way to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil ...

Cat says: "We have now left Buenos Aires and are in a smaller town called Rosario which is further North.  We had 3 days in the capital and they were very very good indeed!!  On the first day we did a city tour which took us all around the city into various neighbourhoods and showed us some of the cities main attractions.  It showed us the varying aspects of the city from the vast wealth and style to the shanty towns - hard to believe it´s the same city.
We saw the pink palace where Evita gave her famous speech, and we went to visit her grave in the infamous Recoletta cemetery where the aristocracy have built family tombs of enormous size and which are very ornate indeed.
We took a day to explore the San Telmo antiques market where we spent ages wandering along the streets lined with stalls and performers.  We had a lazy lunch whilst taking in a tango show which was excellent.
And then we come to the food..........it was incredible!!  The steaks over here are just to die for (if your a steak eater that is!!!!).  We had one steak that to prove how tender it was, the waiter cut it with a spoon??  And then on our last night, as a special treat to celebrate Jen´s birthday we went to a very very nice restaurant where we had to wait about 40 minutes for a table.  But they did give you glasses of champagne whilst you wait and even a drive around the block in their stretch fiat 600 series!!  Very random.  The steak we had there was argueably the best steak we have ever eaten (thanks Dad!!), the wine was great and there was so much food we couldn´t finish it all and we really did try!!
On Jen´s actual birthday the group we were travelling with all decided to go out for a big night on the tiles!  We had a recommendation for a big club in the posh neighbourhood, so we tried it out!  It was called Amerika and used to be a gay club, but now it´s a mixture of all sorts of people! It was an all you can drink kind of place, but the South Americans don´t seem to need to drink to have a good time!  In England, you´d expect to see lots of really drunk people and lots of agro, but here there were just lots of people having a good time!  We arrived at about 1am, trying to get into the South American lifestyle of eating and starting the night late!  We left at about 5.30am and the club was still filling up, so goodness knows what time it shut!
All in all, Buenos Aires was great and we all really enjoyed it there…"

Now on to Iguassu Falls, Brazil at the Hostel Bambu http://www.hostelbambu.com/

Aug 3 ~ Arrive in Rio !!!  http://www.riohostel.com/index1.html

Aug 5/6 ~ Ilha Grande..    http://www.chelagarto.com/hostels-in-ilha-grande.php

Aug 7 ~ Ipanema....    http://www.riohostelipanema.com/

Aug 10 ~ Hollywood, Los Angeles    http://www.bananabungalowus.com/hollywood/index.html   

Aug 15 ~ Depart LA for Vancouver, Canada...

Sep 24 ~ Depart Toronto, Canada for London Heathrow & home !!

Sep 25 ~ Arrive LHR T5 @ 0655hrs...

Los Angeles, California

 

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