Diary for Boogie On Tour!

The Beginning!

2010-06-27 to 2010-07-02

After the mayhem of the last few weeks at home getting ready for the trip along with many sad and drunken farewells we finally made it to Vancouver, and of course it is raining! We left a sunny UK with heavy hearts as we will miss our friends and family over the next year, but excitement aswell for the adventures that lay ahead. Having flown over the Rockies, we could see a little of what we have let ourselves in for and a led to a few worried exchanges. After all, they are only huge mountains we have to cycle over!

The first few days of Canada have been fantastic and we are hoping the welcome we have received typifies the people that live throughout this country. We stayed the first night at Rosanna's and Rob's in Coquitlam (the surburbs) having met Rosanna at a friends wedding only a month earlier. We hired a car the following morning and headed out onto the Sea to Sky Highway, with stunning views of, well, the sea, sky and high mountains. 'Immense' seemed an appropriate description of this area as we headed out to Whistler and then onto Lillooet. We camped a couple of nights around here and even saw our first black bear of the trip, thankfully from the safety of the car (for now). Originally we were to cycle this route but were very glad we changed this, as although stunning, the hills were horrendous and at one particular nasty 20km stretch our car overheated on the way up. On the way down our brakes overheated, although fared somewhat better than the car in front who's started smoking under the strain! I dread to think how our legs would have coped.

We returned to Vancouver to celebrate Canada Day and stayed at Helen and Matt's in downtown. They are friends of friends who we have never met but have looked after our bikes and let us stay on and off during the first couple of weeks. This generosity has been shown by everyone we have met so far and fingers crossed it continues. Next stop, Vancouver island for a week before the hard work starts.

Vancouver Island

2010-07-02 to 2010-07-08

Having got the ferry across to the island, again we were put up by some family friends, Paul and Nikki, who live just outside Victoria with stunning sea views. A few bevvies later and plans were made to extend our stay so we could go sailing on their boat followed by a fantastic, rollercoater Zodiac trip to view the killer whales. What an incredible show they put on for us aswell and as ever the photos don't do these incredible animals justice.

We headed up the island stopping at Tofino, on the West coast, before driving the whole way to Cape Scott Provinicial Park on the North coast. This was our first bit of backcountry camping, which gave it a definite edge, as we sang along the trail to avoid meeting the resident bear and cougar. We experienced a classic 'The Beach' moment, emerging from the dense forest onto one of the best beaches we have ever seen, let alone camped on. Due to the beauty of the place we stayed 2 nights and went for a 14km trek the next day. Our final night was spent at Englishman River Falls Provincial Park before we headed back to Vancouver for one more night and last minute preparations for the big cycle starting tomorrow. 4300miles to go!

The cycle begins: Vancouver to Kamloops

2010-07-09 to 2010-07-15

The Stats: 280miles cycled, 3972m climbed, 17404 calories burned, highest altitude 730m.

After months of planning, we are finally off on our bikes across Canada and what a start we have had. 5 days of cycling has taken us from central vancouver, along the beautiful Fraser Canyon and Thompson River to Kamloops where we are having a well earned couple of days off to recover and prepare for the next section. Along the way we camped at Mission, Yale, Lytton, and Juniper Beach Provincial Park near Cache Creek. On leaving Vancouver, with the heaviest bikes we have ever ridden we managed to find the Trans Canada Trail to take us out the city on quiet residential roads and through gravel paths along parks and rivers. This trail goes all over Canda and when completed later this year will be the longest network of trails in the world at over 22000 kilometres (www.tctrail.ca). We hope to pick this trail up every now and then along our journey but it does come with drawbacks with very steep gradients on gravel roads making it nearly impossible on fully laden touring bikes (Debs ended up dropping the bike and Westy wiped out on his- comically at about 2mph).

Having made it out of the city we ended the day on busy 2 lane highways before stopping in Mission for the first night. The second and third days led us into the Fraser Canyon, where the roads were smaller and less busy and scenery dramatically improved. This was the original Gold Rush region back in the 19th Century and passing through some of the small towns highlight this. We were now approaching desert where only small grasses and sagebushes grow, with temperatures touching 40 degrees and making any hills extremely hard work. However, day 4, saw summer weather unheard of in this very arid area. The morning temparutes had dropped over 25 degrees to around 13 Celsius, we had 3 hours torrential rainfall making cycling particularly miserable and fresh snow had fallen on the mountains (in mid July!!!). The afternoon improved and ended in style when Westy fell off his bike for the second time as we came into the campsite in front of 20 people luckily injuring only his pride. Having made better mileage than planned, leaving what we thought would be an easy, short last day to take us into Kamloops. How wrong can we be as after a little lie in, and a couple of hours cycling in drizzle and cool tempatures, we had our first bike issue of the trip. Not a puncture as you would imagine, but for the first time in our lives a broken spoke on Debs' bike. Our only option was to hitch a ride into town with the wheel to get in fixed and then return to the bikes to finish the cycle. I think we would have been stuck a long long time had it not been for our saviour Sharleen, who drove us everywhere we needed to and even waited for the spoke to be reparied to take us back to the bikes. What a legend!

So, we have just spent 2 days relaxing and letting our muscles recover before we push on towards Jasper tomorrow. The hills have been tough so far but are nothing for what we are to hit now as we approach the Rockies! Wisely, we have sent a package of stuff home that we do not need to bring the weight of our bikes down a little as we need all the help we can get.





Welcome to Alberta!!

2010-07-16 to 2010-07-20

Well, we're now into our second state  - Alberta.  We've been making great progress since Kamloops - we had our longest day after a proper hearty breakfast and cycled a whopping 137km(85m) to Birch Island, we were so ahead of time that we stopped for a couple of rounds of crazy golf in Little Fort (of course I whooped Chris both times).  After dinner we chatted with a lovely couple from Holland - Maria and Peter (now living in Saskatoon), we were trying to put the world to right over Hotmilk and anaseed sugar cubes that they shared with us, very warming and yummy.

Felt very weak and pathetic the next morning - legs probably not as happy as we were for our mamouth day previously, however we plodded on and reached our destination of Blue River.  We struck gold again as after dinner got chatting with some locals from just outside Vancouver, Elaine and George who offered us a beer and to share their campfire - lovely!!

The next day started sunny and bright but soon downgraded to miserable rain and thunderstorms all day - miserable!!  Camped for free that night - free as no facilities except for mother nature!!

And now we're in Jasper, so far so good with the hills, only a few gradual ones and so alot better that expected.....the worst is still to come but we're gonna take it easy through the Icefields parkway to enjoy all the stunning scenery around us at every turn!!  Took the Jasper tramway on our day off up Whistlers Mountain, sadly had to cycle up our worst hill to date for 4km to get to the start!!!! Ironic- our day off and now we do the worst hill!!  All good training though......

Cycling the Rockies: Jasper to Calgary

2010-07-21 to 2010-07-29

So far: 874miles, 10639m climbed (over the height of Everest), highest point 2087m, 43323 Calories, 15 days cycle, 6 days rest.

Having left Jasper, we cycled along the Icefields Parkway towards Banff, which is one of the ten best drives in the world. We haven't done them all yet, but what we can say is that it is stunning. All the superlative words in the world don't come close so look at the many many photos to get an idea of the scenery. We have also seen a lot of wildlife including Elk, Big Horned Sheep, Mountain 'Godly' Goats, Coyote but alas, no bears by the side of the road and no moose as yet.

The cycling has been tough with 2 especially grim hills (Tangle Pass and Bow Pass) but we struggled up them and generally it has not been as bad as we feared. We have met loads of people and there are a huge number of cyclists on this route. We slowed things down to 60km days to enjoy the scenery, where every corner gives another jaw dropping view. This has enabled us to cycle/camp alongside a family of cyclists from Quebec and Pedro, a Spanish cyclist. It has been great fun with evenings spent playing cards and attempting (but failing miserably) to slackline.

The weather has been great, apart from one day which was Westy's birthday (of course!). It rained all day, was cold and included the toughest hill of the trip. However, it was still a great day and very different to usual birthdays, being surrounded by mountains mystically enveloped in clouds.

We are now in Calgary relaxing for a couple of days at Bobbi's (a friend of a friend) who has been a star and even taught us a little bit of yoga to help the aching bodies. We now head off into the flat Prairies and the Badlands, where we hope the wind will propel us along and not against us like the 130km cycle from Banff to Calgary. We have also fixed our bikes having suffered a broken front pannier rack on Westy's bike and Debs' started to crack, plus our chains were 100% worn! Our first puncture also occured in odd circumstances while our bikes were on a balcony with noone on them- dont ask! Our next stop is Edmonton for some dinosaur stuff before heading onto Saskatoon.


Prairies, Badlands and Dinosaurs: Calgary to Saskatoon

2010-07-30 to 2010-08-07

1300m (2090km), 12155m climbed, 59882 calories, 22 days cycle, 8 days rest

After a nice lazy start with a bit of a hangover after late night drinks with Bobbi and her friend Kevin, we cycled along the Number 1 out of Calgary - seemed like the M25 with no shoulder - so was a little hairy to say the least....however we soon turned off and since then have been on lovely quiet peaceful roads all the way to Saskatoon.

We stopped a night in Drumheller and saw the Worlds Largest Dinosaur!! We also visited the AWESOME Royal Tyrell Museum - Drumheller is famous for having so many amazing discoveries of dinosaurs and the like - and they are still uncovering bits to this day....

We cycled through stunning Badlands Canyons and Hoo-doos and gradually pushed on with great milage being covered.....this is mainly due to not stopping many times, as each time we did, the Mozzi's from Hell pounced upon us and have tried to drain us of nearly every drip of blood!! Also, the scenery is somewhat different to the Rockies as you can imagine. We are in flat farmland and there are hardly any changes in the view; an occassional village/town, or gas/oil plant (this area is covered in the stuff- 'black gold') is about all we see. Were in not for our mileometers ticking over, you would struggle to notice you were moving at all. Although the scenery can be somewhat monotonous, the people are definitely the main highlight, being so warm and welcoming and several beers have been shared by our fellow campers. 

Our first 'wild camping' experience in a small village called Harris was somewhat cushioned by the fact that we were offered water from the grocery store, and a friendly neighbour Walter and his wife Lyla offered us shower, the use of their fridge, and fresh coffee in the morning!! Lovely - we're going to 'wild camp' in as many lovely villages like Harris from now on!!

Covered in terrible bites and tan lines after 7 days hard cycling we have arrived safely in to Saskatoon and will hopefully see a show at the Fringe ( smaller equvilant to Edinburgh Festival!). We capped off a great stay here by visiting Peter and Maria, a couple we met 3 weeks earlier in a campsite, and had a fabulous home cooked dinner at their wonderful house. Next stop Winnipeg, a mere 800km away.

Little Tent on the Prairie: Saskatoon to Winnipeg.

2010-08-08 to 2010-08-16

 So far: 2980km (1852m), 13417m climbed, 80573 calories. Longest day cycle: 180km (111m)

They call this region 'the land of the living skies' and we definitely concur with that. Not only are there insects galore including dragonflies, flies, wasps and mosquitoes that all seem to converge on you as soon as you stop pedalling but the skies literally are alive and it can change within minutes from a beautiful clear, sunny day with barely a cloud in the sky into a vicious black thundercloud with lightning, thunder and buckets of rain! It certainly makes you view every soft white fluffy cloud with more than a hint of suspision. We have also seen incredible stars at night whilst distant lightning storms are taking place miles away. This region is sufferring its wettest summer for about 50 years and a lot of the farmland has been flooded. About 50% of the land has not even been sown and there are concerns about how much will be harvested. In contrast to this, back in British Colombia, they have over 300 wildfires and we only just made it through in time!

On leaving Saskatoon, we have again headed through the flat Prairies passing barley, wheat, flax, sunflower and canola fields. A very last minute decision took us on a detour to go through Riding Mountain National Park, which was well worth it. It is set on an escarpment rising above the plains and is covered in forests and lakes. It was hard work getting use to hills again and we unfortunately did not see any of the moose and bear it is famous for but did view some more elk.

We have seen a large amount of roadkill along the way including racoon, eagles, deer, rabbit, porcupine and snakes. So it came as a bit of a shock to find a kitten still alive, although badly injured. We named her Mani (after Manitoba) and headed into Dauphin to see if anyone could help her, putting her in Debs handlebar cycling bag. Todd, the dog catcher, helped get her into the vets as they were closed and we camped on the lawn outside. Unfortunately the story does not have a happy ending, as the next day we found out she had a broken shoulder and would have to be put down.  Poor Mani, we'd have loved a cycling companion, but at least she was looked after and died peacefully instead of starving to death on the side of the road.

After 7 days of some big cycling days (averaging  79m/127km per day), we are eventually in Winnipeg. We have been alternating days between head and tail winds and what a difference they make, so we are trying to make use of any tailwinds by cycling as long as we can (this includes our biggest day of 180km / 111m). We have again met some incredibly friendly people along the way and camped on the lawn of Kim and Todds farm with use of showers in Esk, and even been offered a bed at Lynn and Marks in Wroxton (our first bed in 4 weeks, so very much needed). We are currently at Carol and her daughters, Tanissa, for a few days in Winnipeg, courtesy of www.warmshowers.com, a great website offering beds for touring cyclists. Last night we caught the end of the huge Folklorama festival and plan to relax and recover over the next couple of days.

We're going to be sad to leave our fabulous hosts in Winnipeg, we've been made so welcome in their home, and enjoyed spending the nights eating fabulous food and playing games and cards with them and their friends, really felt like home - massive thanks!


The halfway stage: Winnipeg to Thunder Bay!

2010-08-17 to 2010-08-24

2307m, 3712km. Cals 97535, 15736m climbed, Biggest Day is 210km (130m). We have reached the halfway point!

We have left the flat Prairies and entered the hills and lakes of the Canadian Shield in Ontario. Having had our first 2 days off the bikes completely in Winnipeg, we jumped back on to ride out of Manitoba. On day 2 we had our first major accident of the trip, with Debs falling off her bike as she skidded on wet railway tracks. She was very woeful and a bit shook up but thankfully it seems only a graze to the knee was the only physical damage, although her ribs and shoulder are still sore so may have suffered aswell. To help, we took a unscheduled day off in the lovely lakeside town of Kenora and had a few beers to speed recovery.

Back on the road, we cycled past beautiful lakes and lush green pine forests everywhere. As we entered Whiteshell Provincial Park, we even spotted our first Black Bear of the cycle trip. It was incredible to see these beautiful animals, even just for a couple of seconds, before it ran behind some rocks.

We have managed to do fit in some very long days aswell, including our biggest yet of 210km (130m). We ended up reaching the small town of Upsala as night fell but much to our disappointment and horror, found that we had to cycle another 10km to reach a motel. We were now in pitch black on a non existent shoulder, while trucks and cars thundered past perilously close to us. Our small, rather pathetic lights did not give us much comfort, and with no moon light, eerie low lowing mist over the trees and lakes along with our knowledge that huge moose, black bear and wolves roamed these parts, it reminded us a bit too much of a classic horror movie scene. Needlessly to say, this was not the most enjoyable last half hour of a ride and never have we welcomed the bright lights of a motel more. We even met the incredibly generous Pierre who offered food, water and beer to help calm our nerves.

We are now in Thunder Bay on Lake Superior relaxing at another fantastic host, Frank`s (another warmshowers.com). The last night was spent drinking and jamming with his friends into the very wee hours of the morning, which was fantastic (Westy obviously was ruining every song with his great singing). The scenery has been great and we have also stopped by to view the stunning Katabeka Falls just outside town.  It has been strangely enjoyable getting back into some testing rolling hills although the next few days to Ste Sault Marie are suppose to be very steep so we shall see how we handle them.

Lake Superior: Superior in Size, Beauty and Toughness

2010-08-25 to 2010-09-02

2769m (4455km), 20574m climbed, 117,214 Calories, 42 days cycle, 14 days off

Two things have surprised us about the Lake Superior section of the cycle over the last week. Firstly, its beauty is incredible and size is immense (it is the largest freshwater lake in the world). Secondly, the hills have been the toughest of the trip and much harder than the Rockies (see the stats below). They are huge, steep and unrelenting. We have had fantastic weather, which is great, but has meant that we have cycled through energy sapping 35 degrees heat and very humid conditions. For the last 3 days, we have struggled into huge headwinds and our pace has slowed to snail like speeds. We have not slept that well with the hot and sticky conditions (Chris declaring himself as a puddle!) and occasional gale force winds waking us up and nearly ripping the tent from the ground with us in it. All of this has really exhausted us and at times we have been a little grumpy with each other and Beautiful Lake Superior.

However, in contrast to these lows, it has been absolutely stunning with crystal clear water, beautiful blues, torquise, greens, glistening in the sunlight. At the end of a hot and sweaty day, the fresh water (no salt) provides the best natural shower ever. We have camped on stunning, deserted beaches with no one for miles, watching the sun set over the lake as we cook up our gourmet feasts. At the top of the huge climbs, the road drops down, and all you can see is lush green forests, the stunning lake with distant beaches lining the shores. It is so huge that you feel like your staring across the Pacific Ocean.

One particular night, we took a gravel road off the highway to find a place to camp on the lake. The path forked, and after flipping a coin to decide on which one to take, Westy noticed a large hare sprinting towards us and then off into the forest. It looked like it had been spooked by something and on looking up, he saw a huge black bear appear in the path less than 20m ahead, before it turned and ran away. For a split second, it looked like it was going to sprint towards us and his heart definitely skipped a few beats It was fantastic to see this huge, powerful and beautiful animal up close. It was also a huge relief to see it run away from us. After this close call, we struggled back up the pathway, deciding that it would be better to camp up by the road and ended up camping behind a huge semi at a not so idyllic construction site!

We are now relaxing for a very well earned couple of days in Sault Ste Marie, before heading East towards Algonquin Provincial Park and onto Ottawa. We timed it very well as it`s currently pouring with rain for the first time in 2 weeks, so ideal for admin day. Having discovered that Sault Ste Marie sits on the USA/Canada border, we just had to pop over to Michigan, USA for a few beers and a game of pool as its not everyday you get a chance to do that.

Rockies vs. Lake Superior
Rockies (Tete Jeune Cache - Banff): 6days cycling, 266miles (avr 44m),3610m climbed (avr 602m), highest altitude 2132m, Calories 13546 (avr 2258)

Lake Superior (Thunder Bay - Sault Ste Marie): 7days cycling, 461miles (avr 66), 4838m climbed (avr 691m), highest altitude 475m, Calories 19679 (avr 2811)

The end of the summer possibly: Sault Ste Marie (Soo) - Ottawa

2010-09-03 to 2010-09-13

3367m, 5405km. 51 days cycle, 16 days rest, 24823m climbed, 139887 Calories

We set off from the Soo well rested in the drizzly rain for Algonquin. Pretty flat in comparison with our previous stint which was a relief and with a good tail wind - whoohoo we’re off!! We cycled through some lovely farmland, and the shores of Lake Huron - nothing on Superior but pretty none the less!
The rather lifeless Sudbury proved to be an interesting campspot, as we found an idyllic industrial estate and parade of shops with patches of lovely soft grass. By complete good fortune, we had picked the one spot without any sprinklers or working street lights that came on as darkness fell. So we were dry but also totally hidden in the pitch black! Perfect.

We had met this lovely couple Dale and Winona outside Sault Ste Marie, and offered to take their picture by the welcome sign and so the conversation started about our trip. This one brief meeting led to some fantastic chain of events in the next few days as we had a feast of a lunch at Dales the following day near Hagar and were sent off with sarnies, fruit and cookies. He is a pilot flying the huge water bombers to douse forest fires and it was very interesting hearing all about his job. After one more night camping at a viewpoint overlooking Lake Nippising, we then made pushed on quickly as we learned that Winona was a member of the Northern lights Steel Orchestra and playing at Burk Falls Labour Day Fair. We set off at 5.45m through pouring rain (our wettest of the trip) on a busy 4 lane highway, - we were drowned rats by the time we got to Burk Falls but it was worth it!! The sound of the steel drums was beautiful, and it was great to walk around and enjoy this local event, with horse shows, and best duck competitions going on! We had a wonderful night at Winona’s, she offered us a bed, laundry, a bath (first of the trip) and a bbq chicken dinner.

We carried on cycling big distances so we could enjoy a couple of days at leisure in Algonquin Provincial Park. It was very beautiful, wet (its been raining for a week now) and we did a few of the short walks, which were great especially with the informative guides that were available. We had one hostel outside the park, camped at a visitor centre car park inside and had the final fantastic occurrence of our meeting with Dale and Winona. A colleague of Dale’s was stationed at Smoke Lake in the park, and having spotted the yellow Beaver Turbo plane, we found Sebastian who offered us a 3 bedroom lakeview cottage as an alternative to camping. Needless to say we were thrilled and even took his canoe out on the lake in the morning for an hour. The only downside of Algonquin was the lack of wildlife viewing and especially moose as we have yet to see one.

A couple more days tough cycling (at least the rain had stopped), including a night camped at Walmart, has led us to Ottawa and another warm showers host, Gen and Ben. We had a dozen or so huge hills on leaving Algonquin, which Westy really struggled with as his back gears had broke leaving just 3 gears and the back gear was stuck on the hardest one. His legs definitely ached after the monster hills and a 165km day. Our hosts here have been great, helped fix our bikes, and its been great having lovely dinners with them, a few beers and hearing about their 2 year cycle from New Zealand back to Canada. Incredible and makes ours feel extremely short in comparison. After a very rare couple of days off the bikes completely, we now head to Montreal and then onto Quebec!

Catching up with old friends and meeting new ones! Ottawa to Quebec City.

2010-09-14 to 2010-09-22

3751m/6024km, 57d cycle, 19d off, 27179m climbed, 154080 Calories

We are now in Quebec province, where there is a definite French feel to the region and it is very independent of the rest of Canada. We have had some great cycling since leaving Ottawa with some of the quietest roads and routes of the whole trip. We followed the Ottawa river, meandering through lovely quaint villages, barely seeing anyone along the way. At certain points, we were able to get off these countryside roads onto even quieter cycle paths through provinical parks. We also had a bonus of meeting a fellow cyclist, Telyn, who was cycling from Alberta back home to Montreal. We shared her last 2 days on the bike, camping in a closed riverside campground and it was great to have someone cycling the same way as us for the first time since the Rockies. We even were a huge group of 7 for a brief few miles before 4 headed to the pub and left us to push on a little.

In Montreal, we stayed with Louis’ family, who was one of the Quebecois kids we cycled with in the Rockies. It was great to see him again and meet his very musical parents and brother, playing cards and the hugely complicated Pokemon game. After a day off exploring the city, we headed one day further towards St Jean de Matha, to spend 2 days with the rest of the Quebecois cycling family we met in the Icefields Parkway, Veronique, Alain and Noah. We shared stories, laughed, played cards, had great food, met friends, saw a horse show and relaxed. We had a wonderful time and are possibly making plans to cycle part of UK with them next year! However, all the cycling we have done may be making us mad, as on a ‘day off’ we voluntarily wanted to cycle 50km up and down several hills, 3 over 12% and one 2km 20% monster hill. This was the steepest hill we have ever done, but with no weight on the bikes and after 10 weeks on the road, and a few Oreo cookies in our belliers, we laughed as we set off towards it, followed quickly by screams of pain and shouts of 'What the heck were we doing'. We made it up though, exhausted but triumphant, although feeling the front wheel lift off the road due to the steepness was certainly a worry. We would not have made it at the start of the trip and it does show the strength and fitness we have gained. We will need all of these reserves as the toughest hills are yet to come as we head toward Tadoussac for a spot of whale watching.

We sadly said our final final farewell to our friends and cycled 2 more days through stunning countryside and along the St Laurence river to end in Quebec City for a day off. Nathalie, another fantastic warm showers host has been brilliant and a couple of ‘quiet’ bevvies and laughter were shared. As we enter the last 2 and a half weeks of cycling, our toughest challenge and the mountains of the beautiful northern shore of the St Laurence await us. On top of that, the weather is definitely getting colder and wetter so fingers crossed its not too bad. Watch this space….

They weren't kidding! Quebec City to Fredericton

2010-09-23 to 2010-10-01

4187m / 6730km, 64 days cycled, 21 days off, 32789m climbed, 175481 Calories. 1 WEEK TO GO!!

We were told three things by people as we prepared to head out of Quebec City along the north shore of the St Lawrence. 1) It was very beautiful, 2) We would see whales, and 3) We would have the toughest hills of our trip so far.

On all three accounts, they were correct. We had stunning views, especially with the Fall colours beginning to shine now. The hills are on fire with yellows, browns, orange and reds. We saw loads of whales, including many Minke, Beluga (pure white), dolphins, and even a Humpback whale diving whilst we sea kayaked on our day off (Chris' belated birthday present from Debs). It was great fun and good to do some upper body exercise after constantly working the legs for 12 weeks, although we were aching for the next couple of days. Finally, we did have some huge hills, including some particularly nasty short sections of 20%. Having a fully loaded bike and still feeling the front wheel come off the ground was particularly worrying. We puffed and panted and slowly crawled up the hills, and in 250km had climbed over 3km including our biggest day of 1257m in 100km. As in Lake Superior, the weather also conspired to work against us with more headwind, and instead of heat and humidity we had pouring rain and freezing temperatures (max of 5 degrees during the day). For 2 days, it rained continuously and one day forced us to jump into a motel after only 50km due to being soaked, shivering and thoroughly fed up. However, it was worth it all to see so many whales, and enjoy the scenery when the rain had stopped.

From here, we crossed over on the ferry from Les Escoumins to Trois Pistoles, and headed out of Quebec into super friendly New Brunswick. We joined part of the Trans Canada Trail, which was an old railway line, so it was flat (thankfully), beautiful, colourful and very quiet. Perfect for cycling. We have followed the St Jean river, on scenic roads, where there are more bike chasing dogs than cars, and of course some more hills. The weather has surprisingly improved, and temperatures were incredibly nearing the mid 20s for a couple of days. We have also been astounded with the welcome in New Brunswick. Everyone wishes us luck, and we have so far stayed in a cabin owned by some pizza restaurateurs who gave us a "The Works" pizza on the house, a fellow cyclists home (where we were even treated to the biggest steak ever!), and now a friends house in Fredericton where we had a much needed rest day after some big cycling. We now enter the home straight, with only week left to go as we head to Prince Edward Island and finally Halifax, Nova Scotia.  It will be odd being off the bikes, and we will certainly miss the freedom although are looking forward to a break from constant pedaling aswell.



Canada Conquered!

2010-10-02 to 2010-10-08

Yes folks, we have finally made it to Halifax, after a mere 7500km and breezy 13 weeks and 1 day. Its been an incredible experience, we have seen fantastic scenery, wildlife, been astounded by the friendliness of everyone, met many inspiring people, lived through many high and lows although the highs easily outweigh the lows, experienced every kind of weather from heat and humidity, to rain and freezing temperatures, with a dash of thunderstorms, and fortunately the tailwinds have outnumbered the headwinds. We thank the many people who has helped us along the way, and hope we can repay your kindness in the future. We have found cycling such a great way to see a country, getting to meet so many locals along the way and really seeing, smelling and feeling the country. We would definitely recommend it as a way of travelling. An added bonus is some weight loss, along with being fitter and rock hard leg muscles. However, we would also state that we are thoroughly tired, and rather glad to be off the bikes at last. Fair play to all those cyclists who do many months touring or longer trips, but 3 months is a good enough amount for us.

Our last week itself involved a couple of long days from Fredericton to push on towards Prince Edward Island. We stayed on coastal roads on the south coast of the lovely island, meeting up with Genevieve (a friend of the family we stayed with in Montreal) for a couple of days. We enjoyed cycling some of the routes with her and camped in her garden for a night. We then made the final push into Halifax where we met another friend of a friend, Gary, who cycled across Canada 5 years ago. It was great to swap stories and he very kindly took us out for a very posh steak meal to celebrate. We were overjoyed with having reached our destination on the East coast but we couldn’t stop just yet. We had one final beautiful 70km coastal cycle to arrive in Chester where we are meeting friends and family for a much needed few days of rest. With a fair few hills and one of our strongest headwinds of the entire trip, it was as if Canada was trying to stop us from leaving. The last few kilometres seemed to take forever as our legs and bodies started to plead ‘No More!’ and we crawled into the house after just one more last hill (it was a mere molehill in comparison to some of them but felt like Everest). We have been very lucky with the weather in the last 10 days, enjoying an Indian summer, with clear, sunny days and temperatures reaching mid twenties. The rain was even kind enough to fall whilst we were not on our bikes or setting up camp. We now have a much needed relax in a huge house set on a beautiful cove with several family and friends who have flown over on their own holidays. It will be fantastic to see them, sharing our first ever Thanksgiving together before we fly onto Chicago and then Guatemala where the adventures continue (but without the bikes for now)!

Canada Facts, Figures and Cycling Tips


Canada is the 2nd biggest country in the world (Russia is number 1)
Distance cycled (not including days off): 4594m / 7384km (average 65m / 104km)
Time spent cycling: 13 weeks and 1 day (92 days)
71 days cycling / 21days off
6 days off the bike completely
36189m climbed (510m daily average)
190292 Calories (2680 daily average)
Most calories in a day: 4607m
Longest day: 210km (130m), 9.5 hours
Biggest climb in a day: 1257m in 103km (North shore of St Laurence, Quebec)
Hottest day: 40 degrees
Coldest: 1 degree
Longest period without pedalling: 10km
Slowest day on average: 8mph (12.9kph)
Quickest day: 14.3mph
Maximum speed: 43mph (69kph)
Average daily time spent on the bike: 5 hours 36 minutes

Most days without a shower: 4
Most consecutive nights camped: 11
Consecutive nights without a proper bed: 26
Random camp spots: Vets garden, construction site, industrial estate, Walmart
Best campsites: Old Woman Bay (Lake Superior), Waterfowl Lakes (Icefields Parkway)
Friendliest Provinces: Saskatchewan and New Brunswick
Longest time in Province: 25 days in Ontario
Worst roads ( bumps and no shoulders): Ontario

4 punctures each (Chris burst 3 valves- he hates Presta!)
Debs: 1 broken spoke, 1 cracked wheel, back tyre replaced, 2 new chains, new front pannier rack
Westy: back tyre replaced, 1 new chain, 1 new gear cable, new front pannier rack

Camping: 54 nights (59%), 36 nights free
Nights at Houses: 24 (26%)
Motels: 10 (11%)
Lakeside cottage: 1
Garage: 1
Hostels: 1
Cabin: 1
Number of different beds: 76

Tips for any potential future touring cyclists:
Brooks Saddle- Oh how we and our bottom love thy hard leather seats! Definitely get these, and we have the standard B17 model (male and female sizes). About 70% touring cyclists we have met have a Brooks (we give them a knowing nod- these guys are in the club- they know what they are doing).

Use www.warmshowers.com - have used 5 times and great to get free accomodation but much better than that is the interesting, inspiring and very friendly people you meet and the great nights you have along the way.

www.crazyguyonabike.com was very useful for reading fellow cyclists blogs of the areas you are going. Have trips from all over the world.

In Canada, once out the Rockies, we stopped using campsites, found smaller villages and camped on people’s lawn. Great way to meet local people and cheaper.

You Do NOT have to be super fit or a big cyclist to do this. We did average of 104km per day and this is a good amount but we started a bit slower to get use to it. We met people who were doing 150km and racing through, and others who had not ridden a bike for 10 years and started off at 40-50km. Start slow, ease yourself into it and you will find your legs and fitness getting fitter and stronger along the way. Try not to rush too much along the way, and enjoy the adventure! You realise how little you need to live and makes you appreciate all the things you take for granted - a bed, a roof, electricity, a hot shower, clean clothes, a cold beer. All the generous people you meet along the way definitely gives you hope for humanity and we have been astounded by how kind and trusting people have been. There will be good and bad days but the good certainly far outweigh the bad. You are exposed to the elements- heat, humidity, cold and wet, and tiredness is always a factor whilst hills and headwind can get particularly annoying after a while. Eat before you get hungry and it is amazing how much you do eat and lots of unhealthy stuff aswell - Yummy! Westy has still lost a stone and Debs half a stone. Finally, remember that the those bad days just make the good days seem even better.

Wind to Your Back!

The family Reunion and a well deserved break from the bikes

2010-10-10 to 2010-10-14

After our monumental cycle, we have spent a fantastic few days relaxing with many family and friends. Both sets of parents, Debs sister Nicki, friends Rob and Kirsty, and 3 others who completely surprised us showing up here, Terri (Debs and Nicki’s adopted Grandmother from California), and David and Jeanette (very close family friends of Debs). It has been great catching up with everyone, enjoying meals, drinks and generally relaxing in a very homely atmosphere. We have travelled along the beautiful southern shore of Nova Scotia and dipped our feet in the Atlantic Ocean, having first done so in the Pacific Ocean over 13 weeks ago. Being in our friends, Nicki Darby’s, house from work it has felt like home from home and we had our first ever Thanksgiving meal (this was our Christmas equivalent as we will be away for it). We watched DVD’s, chatted, shared a few bevvies and enjoyed several days off the bike for the first time since we started (no more cycling!). The weather has stayed fantastic; cold crisp mornings with frost on the ground, warming up with sunny afternoons and not a drop of rain. Of course, there has been one more set of sad farewells…but we’re glad to have been able to catch up and celebrate in style!! We missed everyone else - but we ‘cheersed’ you all back home!

We leave Canada in high spirits as one adventure ends and the next continues. Next stop is Chicago to meet Kev and his lovely wife Maria, Westy‘s friend from Sheffield University who he has not seen for over 8 years, so more celebratory beers will be shared!

Chicago Reunion

2010-10-14 to 2010-10-18

Having spent a great few days with family and friends, we left Canada to stop off in Chicago to see Westy’s friend from Sheffield University, Kev and his Columbian wife Maria. We had a brilliant time, catching up on old times, seeing the city and doing some touristy stuff including Navy Pier, a boat trip, visiting parks and beaches and meeting some of their friends. Luckily, our October weather has been exceptionally warm and of course, we had beers, wine and funny nights out, whilst visiting many delicious restaurants. Even though it has been eight and a half years since last seeing Kev, we quickly fell back into old times, whilst sharing stories of what has happened over the years and especially their wedding. With another happy reunion coming to an end, we now head off to Guatemala for the next stage of our journey.

Hola Guatamala

2010-10-19 to 2010-10-25

Buenos Dias todos!! We arrived safe and well with Spirit Airlines into Guatemala and were immediately struck by the beauty of this country.  The towns, and even the city seem to sit on precarious cliff edges plunging into the depths of the earth below.  The hills are so steep and windy that we were very grateful of our shuttle bus to Antigua rather than being on our bikes!

Antigua was to be our first stop for 2 nights, a lovely little town an hour outside Guatemala city.  We took a day trip to Volcano Pacaya and saw the crater that was left behind after this still active volcano erupted on 27 May 2010.  Chris and I know only too well what a nightmare volcano ash can do and this volcano was no different.  Many lives were lost and the airport we understood had to close for 3weeks.  Luckily tourism was back on track as soon as was safe to do so, and we got to walk by steaming volcanic rock, and as dusk came we could see the glowing of lava through little caverns - totally amazing!

Next stop was San Marcos, a little cute town on Lake Atitlan.  A very hippy feel town with massage treatments, yoga and body cleansing foot spas galore!  We tried the later - the photos will show nice clear water to start, then as the current flows through our body stimulating the liver to clear any toxins from the body, after the 30mins treatment the water was yukky dark brown!! Even bits of metal came out - not sure from where, and don´t really want to either!! We felt very pure afterwards so went back to the bar for a lovely rum and coke!!

The locals are super friendly, and we´ve been on many local shuttles or Chicken buses already!  As you´d imagine, they squeeze as many people on as possible and cost only a few dollars for a few hours of discomfort!  Trying to converse with the locals as you are hurled backwards and forwards towards them, i´ve now realise why they are all so short - it´s so they can travel with comfort, i´m not the tallest lass but my knees are scrunched up so much I will surely become the shortest before this trip is out! 

As we said before - the landscape is incredible, sadly there are also many roads full of remains of landslides, the roads are blocked bar a tiny gap to squeeze through, and detours have proven interesting, the shuttle gave in due to the weight at one point up a particularly steep hill with U-bends in the road....all bar 3 of us had to get out and walk so the van could make it to the top, we felt terrible yet secretly glad that we were trapped in the back so all those in front got out then that was enough to get the van going so we got the ride up the hill! 

Tomorrow we´re off to see some wonderful caves and waterfalls at Semuc Champey.....more later.

Encantamos Guatemala (We love Guatemala)

2010-10-26 to 2010-10-28

We arrived into Coban, which is an average town but the jump off point into the beautiful Alta Verparez region. We visited Semuc Champney, one of the most incredible places we have ever seen, where limestone seperates an underground river from stunning tourquoise pools. You can hike up to a viewpoint looking down on the pools and swim, jump and slide between the pools. We also saw Lanquin caves, which are still used today for Mayan animal sacrifices and they see it as a holy area. On our return, we were disappointed to find there was no shuttles so needed to walk 9km back in the pitch black Thankfully we had our head torches to guide the way, otherwise would have ended up in one of the many mud pools. It was a great experience under a starlit sky and fortunately we had Adonoios, a 14 year old boy from our hostal as a guide.

Moving north we have just been to see the ancient Mayan ruins of Tikal. Huge temples rise high above the jungle canopy and the guide was excellent with loads of information. He pointed out all the local flora and fauna including picking up a huge tarantula. Well, of course, we could not resist facing our fears and holding it, something neither of us have ever done before, although letting it crawl on our faces was one step too far! Other animals included crocodiles, racoons, turkeys, monkeys, rodent things, and wonderful birdlife including parrots and tucans. \the temples date from 900 BC to 900 AD and cover a huge area, with many still buried below the forest. 

We have had some fun nights with travellers along the way and are now head to Belize for a bit of beach and diving action!

Beach time in Belize

2010-10-29 to 2010-11-02

After 4 months, we have finally made it to a beach for a bit of much needed R & R and Caye Caulker has been the perfect place for it.  It’s a lovely little island, with sandy roads, the way to get around is by bicycle, golf buggies or bare foot.  We have met loads of travelers staying at a great little hostel, Yuma’s House Belize and there is a very Caribbean, laid back vibe to the whole place.

We booked ourselves onto a dive trip for the day after we arrived, another early start but well worth it.  A very bumpy 2 hour boat ride took us out to the famous Blue Hole, an amazing sight where a perfect round reef with a diameter of 312metres and plunges about 2 miles down.  At 40 metres (the lowest we could safely dive) we swam amongst stalactites which had formed when the cave was above sea level many years ago.  An amazing feeling seeing this great formation.  On our way up, we were joined by 10 or so 2-3metre grey-tipped reef sharks.  Chris chivalrously swapped sides with me so he was ready to protect me if needs be!  It was definitely a huge adrenalin rush and one of the best dives we have ever done.  The other two dives were great as well, as we got to explore beautiful coral, and see a great variety of sea life including eagle rays, stingrays, eels, and many many fish.

Of course, we had to celebrate the dives in style and with the whole island being out for Halloween and dressing up, we (Debbie mainly!) just couldn't resist joining in the festivities. We dressed up in the original costume of the red footed boobies (local birds from the area) and partied the night away with all the locals and travelers. Much drink was consumed, friends met and 2am swimming in crocodile infested waters to finish the night off. The island was one big hangover the following day, with very little being done or achieved. We had 2 more days to relax some more and party a little bit with loads of travelers passing through. After 5 days of hard core relaxing and fun, its time to move on, we plan to spend 3 days heading south on a beautiful sail boat.  Days will be spent snorkeling, spear fishing and drinking with nights spent camping on remote uninhabited islands. This travelling lark is very tough work!

Caye Caulker to Placencia and Cockscoomb Wildlife Sanctuary

2010-11-03 to 2010-11-07

After another heavy night of drinking games with the great crowd at our hostel, ending up at Oceanside club for Ladies Night where we chatted to over 30 British Army lads who were on a well needed night out after 4weeks jungle training, we bid farewell to Yuma’s Hostel. Debs having a second hangover in 3days taking her life total to 12, we went to meet the rest of our crew for a Raggamuffin Sailboat trip down to Placencia.
The day was glorious, sun shining down upon us and not a breath of wind - for those sailors amongst us, you’d know that no wind meant no sailing…..sadly we had to travel by motor, but it was still a beautiful journey through turquoise waters, and crystal clear waters where we could spot eagle rays and star fish as we travelled by. We stopped for a snorkel (this helped Debs recover from her terrible sea sickness which was self induced I guess!) Then headed towards Rendezvous Island. This was true Robinson Crusoe at it’s best, it was a private Island looked after by a local and his dog. It was tiny, about 8 palm trees and a dock. We relaxed in the shallows of the sea whilst everyone (bar Debs) enjoyed some of the many gallons of rum punch. As we started to set up our tents - in a very cosy manner (due to lack of space) the wind and the rain came - typically! The rain didn’t last too long, but the wind was relentless - nothing to stop it howling through us as we tried to put up the most complicated tents in the world. We succeeded as a team, eventually - though we had to re peg down many times due to the wind thrashing them out. As night fell, we ate dinner, spread out in different areas to try and shelter from the winds, rice and fish flying everywhere unless you were strategic about moving fork to mouth!! The fish was a freshly caught huge barracuda, expertly caught by Joris earlier within 30mins of letting his line loose off the back of Ragga King (our sail boat) - delicious.
We woke the next morning after a restless night for most as everyone thought they’d be blown away in the night, we slept well , I guess the tenting and winds from Canada had prepared us well! The wind was still blowing too hard, so we weren’t able to sail as the ropes and sails weren’t strong enough…we motored towards Tobacco Island, a larger island with a few bungalows and a bar - huge in comparison. We had a great night, sheltered from the winds by the coconut trees, so were able to play cards and drink the night away….rum punch anyone?? In the morning we bid farewell to George, a local resident of the Island who’d taken to the rum punch in a big way, he’d encouraged our drinking games all night, then was straight back on the punch in the morning - nice! We managed to get one sail up on the last day into Placencia, aided by the motor again, but it was pretty rough seas - warms splashes from the waves followed by cold winds….life at sea isn’t all that glamorous, still we had a great few days break from many a bus journey and had a good laugh with our fellow shipmates…good times had by all!
Carl, (from Reading who’d we’d sailed to Placencia with) Chris and I set off early the next morning for Cockscoomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary. We left our main bags at a Mayan Centre by the main road and trekked for 11km into the reserve. It was a lovely day, and perfect temperature for all our trails we followed. There were only a couple of other tourists in the reserve which we only bumped into in the evening. Was so nice swimming in non-touristy waterfalls, surrounded by awesome jungle and nature. We hoped to spot a jaguar (well Chris and Carl did) on our trails, alas we just saw fresh paw prints and scratch marks on trees - eek! As we watched the sunset from Ben’s Bluff over Victoria Peak (highest point in Belize - 3695ft) we psyched ourselves up for a 45min trek back through the jungle in the dark. Suddenly every twig snapping under our feet echoed through the very alive jungle. The noise of the bugs was deafening, thank goodness we had our head torches for a guide through the dense dark bush. We made it safe and sound back to base, only a little turtle jumping from a bridge we crossed into the stream below to make us jump from our skins! Pot noodles and a bottle of red wine to quench us after a good 22km trek! We left Carl the next morning as we headed south and he north, what a great set of adventures we’d shared together.

Finca Tatin to Roatan, Honduras

2010-11-08 to 2010-11-13

Next stop was back to Guatemala, stopping in at a lovely remote Jungle lodge called Finca Tatin, a recommendation from a couple we’d met in Coban. It was set on one of the little river ways near Rio Dulce, the only means to get around was by boat or kayak. We enjoyed a couple of nights here - having well needed and very belated massages. We played on the swing rope and dived into the river, kayaked through little Mayan river villages, and bathed in the Aguas Calientes - a natural hotspot in the river where there was a geothermal hotspot! There were very few tourists there, it’s a word of mouth lodge - and it kept it very special. We headed off early the next morning - destination Roatan, one of the Bay Islands off mainland Honduras. This was a long day - 12hours of travel, starting at 5am by means of several boats and long bus journeys - but we made it to Roatan and to our house for the next 4nights at 7pm! This house was a luxury, Burkes Place, 5mins walk from West End where all the action was. It was a 2bedroom house with living room, hot water showers (wow - treat) and a kitchen! No one was in the other room so we had this space and luxury all to ourselves for a bargain of US$20 a night (cheaper than our hostel in Caye Caulker!)
We did a couple of dives here, one was a wreck dive - our fisrt one ever. Was a purpose sunk ship for dive purposes, but the clearness of the water and the coral growing on it was amazing! There were loads of HUGE grouper fish swimming by us, and we even saw a huge 3metre moray eel out of it’s home swimming around - a first for us both!!! Awesome dive! The second as equally good - again the visibility was phenomenal, the coral and marine life were great - saw some scrummy huge lobsters and 3 turtles - WOW!
We bumped into Shuana and Steve - a great couple from Calgary which were on our Raggamuffin sail trip, so had a few beers with them!
We took out a moped the next day to check out the Island. We headed right over to the east coast - and covered a good 80km altogether, some of which on some terrible dirt roads, which we navigated expertly! Stopped by at an Iguana sanctuary, pretty huge ones to feed bananas to. We had a great chilled out couple of days, and nights spent watching a couple of movies and tv shows on our laptops!

Volcano Boarding, Hitching and the chilled out Corn Islands

2010-11-14 to 2010-11-23

On leaving Esteli, we decided to try something a little crazy and hitchike our way to Leon! It wasn’t really a money issue as the bus would have been $2 each, but we hoped to have an adventure along the way and we were not disappointed. Safety in numbers, we went with Garrett and Marshall, 2 young lads from US and Canada. We could not have asked for such a smooth and fun journey, with 2 pick up trucks and a semi articulated lorry where we just flung our bags and ourselves onto a huge empty trailer. Defintely the way to travel, laying down enjoying the sun (and a brief shower or two) and hanging on for dear life as we sped round the corners. Everyone was so friendly, would not take any money although we offered and we made it to Leon after a great 4 hours - not bad at all and sure beats the bus for a change!

Leon is a lovely colonial city with beautiful buildings. It is the liberal side of Nicaragua and has constantly been at war with the Conservative Granada throughout history. After wandering round, and looking at the biggest cathedral in Central America, we ended back at our hostel, Bigfoot, where several mojitos and rum and cokes were enjoyed over many games of Pool with fellow travellers. The next day, we headed off to Cerro Negro, an active volcano where you can walk up in a brisk 45 minutes and tobaccan down in a much swifter 45 seconds. We went along with Marshall and Garrett and used a great organisation called Quetzaltrekkers. They are a non profit organisation who only use volunteers, and all the money they raise goes towards helping local street kids. This already had us convinced to use them, but on top of that you get to go up the volcano twice (and thus slide down twice), a lunch included and a great free t-shirt, which was very much needed as we had no clean clothes left! Westy, Marshall and Garrett had a great race on the 2nd run, where Westy threw away a huge, almost unassailable, lead crashing near the end of the run. Debs raced down at the speed of an old, blind and arthritic tortoise (those who saw her on the tobaggan in Slovenia can only imagine); better safe than sorry were her words of wisdom! After another night of drinks and pool, we said farewell to the guys and headed for the airport to catch a flight to the beautiful Corn islands. The trip was an adventure on its own, in a tiny 12 seater propellor plane, Nicki would have loved this, followed by a very bumpy 30 minute boat ride.

We based ourselves at the smaller Little Corn, where we had 5 days to completely relax at the beachfront hostel of Gracie’s. There were no cars at all, and you could walk end to end in an hour. We did try one very different scuba dive where we went through a intricate cave system and lots of swim throughs. Chris loved it, Debs hated it and the extremely strong current did not help her as we had to navigate ourselves headfirst into a tiny hole to enter the cave with huge wave surges bashing us perilously close to the coral and then commando crawl along the seabed into an even smaller hole! We did get to see a stingray, eagle ray, and 2 nurse shark which were less than 2 feet away from Chris in the cave although he could not see it at all in the dark and murky water until it decided to whip its tail mere inches from him. Debs is happy to have done it but I don’t think will be trying another cave dive anytime soon. The weather for the first couple of days was pretty good, but unfortunately we caught the edge of a tropical storm for the last 3 days and were pretty much rained out. Still it was a very relaxing time, with days spent chilling in hammocks reading and evenings playing cards and drinking rum with Hanna and Rich, 2 Swedes we met on the journey across. The food was great with fresh fish, lobster and local delicacies. Westy did get the energy to go for a couple of runs along the beach (best place for any running although very tiring) and he also managed the impressive task of running into a palm tree - don’t ask! We now leave the Corn islands, and fly back to mainland before heading towards Southern Nicaragua.

P.S. Flora de Cana is the local rum here and is a match even for the fantastic Havana Club rum from Cuba! And sooooooo cheap! Happy Days indeed!

Volcanoes, Magical islands, and a spot of surfing

2010-11-24 to 2010-11-29

On arrival back into Managua we jumped straight into a taxi to Grenada. We have heard many horror stories of travellers being robbed at the Managua bus station and didn’t feel like chancing it at night. Granada, the rival to Leon, is another classic colonial city. It is very touristy but has a laidback charm about it and it sits on the edge of Lago de Nicaragua - the largest in Central America. With limited time to get to Colombia, we are slightly rushed so pushed on after a night towards Isla de Ometepe, an island right out of a mystical story. Rising out of Lago de Nicaragua, it comprises of 2 large volcanoes, joined by old lava flows. It is a beautiful island with lots of fauna and flora and hundreds of different walking trails. We based ourselves near the middle at El Zopilote, an eco-lodge growing and selling many vegetables and homemade oils and sauces. The first day, we walked an hour an half to Ojo de Agua, a scenic freshwater stream perfect for chilling and swimming, and passed little villages with very friendly locals. The next day, we climbed the dormant and smaller of the volcanoes, Maderas, which still took a very tough 9 hours up a steep and very slippery and muddy trail. We reached the Laguna that sits in the crater although were in dense cloud so the view was very limited but did add to the mystic of the island. We spotted several monkeys on the way down including the raucously noisy and impressive howler monkeys, and also had several falls on the slippery trail. Debs has been nicknamed ‘Bambi on Ice’ given her very unstable footing. The taller of the two volcanoes, Concepcion, is still active and overdue for an eruption having last gone in 1957, but fortunately we left the island safe and sound.

On the ferry back to mainland, we met a Swiss couple, Martin and Monica, on their tandem bike and chatted to them about their cycle adventures around the world. All of us headed towards San Juan del Sur, a touristy beach town, and we managed to have another successful hitchhike to get there. They were not far behind us on the bike though and we shared a few drinks in the evenings over games of cards and a classic game of Yahtzee! The next day we went to the beautiful Maderas beach and attempted a spot of surfing. We had a lesson although it did not help Debs too much as she preceeded to how her balancing skills by constantly falling off the board while laying on it - standing was way out of the question! Westy fared only a little better but did manage to stand a few times. It was a great day but definitely a tough sport and our bodies are feeling the pain with injured knees, arms and chests. We are now enjoying a day to completely relax before heading to Costa Rica. Nicaragua has been amazing and definitely one of the best countries we have been with so many friendly people, beautiful landscape and lots of activities.

A very brief visit to Costa Rica

2010-11-30 to 2010-12-02

After a long long day travelling we had arrived into Costa Rica and specifically, Monteverde, a toursity town set up in the cloud forest with lots of activites on offer. We arrived in the pouring rain and gale forece winds and the weather pretty much stayed the same until we left. On our day here, we visited the extremely informative and interesting Bat Jungle museum. Did you know, most bats have very good eyesight and are not blind? The bats in North America are being wiped out by disease, which will have catastrophic effects on insects populations increasing as bats eat a huge amount. Plants will not be pollinated and basically the whole world is going to suffer hugely! Bats are a closer relative to the monkey through DNA than we are. Finally, the UK has one of the best conservation systems in place for bats in the world and you can be fined £9000 if you disturbe a bat that has nested in your home. (so watch out) The amazing world of bats!

Following our bat experience, we then braved the wind and rain and did a very fun zipling course. You have 12 ziplines, 1 rappell, 1 tarzan swing and a 900m superman line. Debs only gave the tarzan swing a miss, to Chris’ delight who had 2 goes, but I don’t think Debs will be doing another Superman line having cried and screamed most the way across as she was buffeted by the wind. Chris, on the other hand, had great fun!

We set off on another huge journey to the south of Costa Rica and Puerto Jimenez, the jump off town for Corcovado national park. Having found we were unable to go directly with buses in one day, we headed to a supposed town where the road turns off. Arriving in the dark, there was no hotels within miles and only a closed restaurant and a garage so not quite the town we were expecting. Whilst we were considering our limited options available to us, we were saved by a friendly man and a son who gave us a lift the whole way to Puerto Jimenez- a complete bonus! However, we never made it to Corcovado due to the worse rainy season they have experienced in 20 years. This has meant, the rivers are too high for cars to cross and many tourists were not able to reach the park. Either that, or they made it in but could not get out and had to fork out 400 dollars for a boat ride. The final option was possible to get to the north of the park, but would have meant a 20km walk up and down with steep, muddy and dangerous paths aswell as crossing 20 waist high rivers all in the rain! We decided to pass on this and save the 130 dollars for a guide and off we went towards Panama with hopes for less rain and more sun! We will have to come back to Costa Rica one day and do it properly.

Coffee, Quad Bikes, Scooters and the Panama Canal

2010-12-03 to 2010-12-09

With an early start from Puerto Jimenez after our failed Corcovado trip, we headed off to Boquete, a beautiful little town in a Panamanian coffee growing region. We planned to have a couple of days here but ended up with four, enjoying such a lovely laidback feel to it, loads of activities on offer and even some excellent weather with little rain for a change. We stayed at a great hostel, Mamallena’s, and had several nights playing cards and sharing a few beers with travellers. Our list of activities included an excellent coffee tour where Mr Tito, the owner who this year came 2nd in the Panama coffee competition. We saw how the whole process worked, and marvelled at his home made machines made from spare car parts. Chris even finished a cup for the first time so it must have been special! We spent an afternoon chilling at a swimming pool, and took a scooter out through the hills one day (although the engine struggled so much on the hills, Debs ended up having to walk a bit). Our final day was spent on a very fun ATV (Quad bike) tour enjoying some hot springs along the way.

We left the beautiful mountain town and changed pace for a few days in the very Westernised Panama City. Definitely, the most developed city in Central America and with all the skyscrapers we felt like we were in USA. However, the old town where we stayed was a different world, and old crumbling colonial buildings were everywhere. We did a trip to the Miraflores locks, one of three locks on the Panama canal. There was a great museum explaining all the history in this incredible engineering feat. The locks themselves were well, big canal locks and we watched a ship pass through it. We later found out that this was the last ship before they were closed due to the huge amount of rainfall they have had lately. Quite a historical moment, as the last time the canal was shut was 21 years ago when the US invaded during the notorious Noriega reign. We followed this cultural moment up, with a visit to the cinema to watch the new Harry Potter film, and loved it! A last day in Panama wandering around and doing some shopping, we now leave on a 5 day boat trip to Cartagena via the beautiful San Blas islands. Fingers crossed the weather improves but its looking doubtful.

Romancing the Stone in Cartagena

2010-12-10 to 2010-12-12

Yes, for all the Romancing the Stone lovers - We came, we saw we witnessed the actual sights featured in the classic 80's movie!!
We gained a couple of extra days in Columbia due to the sailing trip from Panama down to Cartagena being cancelled due to terrible storms at sea! So we opted for a flight instead!
We hired bicycles for the day, and went exploring. We loved going down the streets of the Old City and along the Old City Wall, and along the beaches - but of course the higlight had to be the Fort!
Now, there was no need for getting a water taxi out to the Fort as indicated in the film, it is on land!! haha {what a critic!) However, as we walked around it we saw so many parts that would have been in the film, Chris even tried to scale the wall as Jack had done in the film inorder to rescue Joan!! I called from the gaps in the walls by the old Canons - yelling 'Help me Jack, Help me'.....then we took a walk through the underground tunnels - the very ones where the bady Brothers took Joan to find her sister in exchange for the Stone 'El Corazon'....totally amazing!! Never walked around such awesome filmset!! haha was great!! Chris coped with my ecstatic excitment very well!!
We discovered the best Cerviche in the world - served at a street stall under a giant Sombrero/cowboy hat!! will be our starter for the next few dinner parties!! Dinner - we satisfied our appitites even further by finding an Auzzie Fusion restaurant and had Cowboy beef pie with Cheesy mash!! Yum - not like mums of course, but hit the spot none the less!!
The next day we travelled to Taganga, lovely beachside town to relax before doing the Lost City Trek!

Finding the Lost City and how to make cocaine!!

2010-12-13 to 2010-12-18

After 5 days of hard trekking through beautiful jungle covered hills, crossing perilous crocodile infested rivers, and scrambling over slippery paths through cascading waterfalls we finally found the magical Lost City and boy was it worthwhile!! We set off from Taganga for a 3 hour journey through pouring rain with the last hour being on what was left of a off road track. The rain that has flooded most of Colombia in the past month, has taken its toll here aswell and we needed to walk several times so our legendary Toyota Land Cruiser (The car Top Gear failed to destroy) could pass. Last week, a car had flipped causing several injuries but fortunately we survivied the ordeal in one piece. And then something very strange happenned. Just as we embarked on our 65km trek, the rain stopped and the sun decided to show its face! We experienced lots of rain at night but not once whilst we trekked - pure luck for once!

We had a great group, great tour leaders, and truly spectacular hiking through the Sierra Nevada National Park. The many rivers and waterfalls helped cool us down at the end of a hard day - aswell as allowing Chris some fun jumping oppurtunities. It also tested Debs balance, where she spectacularly failed to stand up in most of the river crossings. On our 4th day, we scaled the 1267 steps to the ancient Tayrona ruins of the Lost City! Spectacularly located amongst the mountains and surprisingly large, we wandered around hearing the history of the place that was built around 600AD. We also chatted and had photo oppurtunities with the many paramilitary soldiers who were there to protect us from would be kidnappers!

 On our return, we made a small detour to a Cocaine factory! Ok, well it was a tiny shack set up for toursits, but very interesting as we learnt how they processed the drug and here are the list of ingredients. Ignorance may be bliss if you do not want to know....

800kg of Coca Leaves, 400 litres of gasoline, 10 litres of water, 1litre of Sulphuric Acid (yes, Acid), 3kg of Potassium, 4kg of Caustic Soda, and a touch of Aceitone (paint thinner) to purify it. At the end of this, 5% will still be made up of all those ingredients! Adding all these together at different times, over 10 days, you get a mere 1kg of the finished product and they sell it for 3000dollars (the products used cost 1000dollars)! Who would have known so much rubbish went into it and beware if you are caught with large amounts of the necessary ingredients (coca leaves excluded) - 5 years prison time awaits!

Well, we finally returned back to Taganga to have a well earned rest - Debs knees were rather unhappy about all the ups and downs but it was definitely up there with one of the best treks we have done! We ended our time in Taganga with a great night dive, seeing lobster, a puffer fish puffed out, eels, and lots of phosphorous plankton which sparkled whenever you moved. Very cool and we now head onto Tayrona National Park for some chill out time.




6 days to go....Merry Christmas one and all!!


Let it snow let it snow let it snow!! Jingle bells jingle bells jingle all the way, away in a manger no crib for a bed, hark the herald angel sing, glory tooo the new born king, silent night holy night, while shepherds watched their flocks by night....urm, well here it is merry christmas everybodys having fun...IT"S CHRISTMASSSSSSSS....the bells were ringing out for Christmas day ..lala la la la
So hope you like it!! I love and miss christmas so much!!! Hope you are all having a Cozy time - miss you all, miss the log fires and chestnuts roasting upon them!! Miss mince pies and mulled wine - though i've bought oranges, cinamon sticks and cloves so will be making some for us!! yum!!! Please check out the fun photos to show you that we will not let christmas leave us!!
Tinsel love and mistletoe kisses!! xxxx

We'll update a Christmas Special just after the big day!

Tayrona National Park and Christmas in Medellin

2010-12-21 to 2010-12-31

After a well needed day of rest after the Ciudad Perdida trek, we took the bus out towards Tayrona National Park with Scott and Sarah (fellow Lost City trekkers from Southern Oz).  We started out along a flat path through the jungle a pleasant change from the previous 5day trek we'd done!  We apparently praised the path too soon, the path took a definate deja-vu, as we had to sludged through almost knee deep mud at times!! The journey took just about 2hrs, but the end result was well worth it!  Beautiful long stretches of beaches surrounded by lush jungle, and huge giant granite boulders dotted along them.  We trekked through clambering over some of these boulders passing through some little coves until we reached our final destination of Cabo San Juan. 

We claimed our hammocks for the night, then settled in to a night of what was to be a fairly drunken affair.  A few others that we'd met on the trek were also staying in Cabo San Juan, and so we played cards and had a merry old night with our trek leader Miguel, and his girlfriend Angela, Ivonne, Katrina and Leandro.  The morning after the night before was a little sore for some, but a little R&R on a secluded beach 5mins from the main area of the camp sorted us out!  The water was a perfect blue, and lovely warm waves to play in.  Very Seychelles-esk with the beaches and jungle and granite boulders, just a mere difference of hammocks versus 5star luxury at a high cost!!

That afternoon we waited for a boat to take us directly back to Taganga, we couldn't face the walk back followed by a 16hr bus to Medellin, the boat journey was beautiful, showing off the Natoinal Park and many hidden huts on beaches waiting to be explored (next time!) We rushed to the bus station and caught the Copetran fancy bus with 5mins to spare, grabbing some cookies which would be our lunch/dinner/breakfast for the what turned out to be a 20hr bus ride!  The roads had been badly affected by various floods and landslides which have sadly hit Columbia in the the last few months!  Once the sun came up, we did get some spectacular views of the country as we passed it!

Medellin.....we re met up with Rich (who we'd met in Panama) in the supermarket a few mins from the Black Sheep hostel and immediately started discussing plans for what we were going to do for Christmas day!  Luckily, Rich too was spending his first Christmas away from home and also needed some home loving-ness so my enthusiasm was not wasted!  The next day, Chris and I set off to see the City, we took the cable car up to Arvi, an awesome ride out over one moutain surrounding Medellin.  We went over all the poor areas, and saw how the higher up we got, the more basic were their homes (although amazing views), sadly due to lack of time we dind't explore the National Park at the top, and just came floating back down again, taking in the immense beauty of a huge city dwarfed by the mountains surrounding it!

We headed into town and gathered together some suitable Secret Santa gifts for each other.  That night, we contacted Manuela, (the cousin of Maria, Kev's wife in Chicago, from Chris's Uni) we arranged to meet up for some drinks at the Strada, a cool local area with hardly any tourists around.  It was a messy night, as many shots were consumed by the boys and some of Manuela's friends.  Manuela gave us a wonderful proposal, would we like to spend Christmas Day with her and her family in their Finca just outside Medellin!!! Would we??...WOULD WE??? SI POR FAVOUR, GRACIAS!!!!! Wow, what an amazing offer!  We were extatic, we would still cook our English Christmas dinner as best as we could, surrounded by her friends and family, perfect, happy days! 

Christmas Eve, after doing our big shop (which was very trying seeing as the shop was heaving with last minute food shoppers like our good selves, plus I was dragging 2 very hungover boys with me!)   That night we went to check out the famous lights of Medellin which follow the river for about 2-3km!! Filipe, from Brazil joined us, and felt part of our gang when he found a man selling santa hats!! Ah how the joy of Christmas is so unavoidable with me around!  Rich took fancy arty shots of the water displays, I took videos of Chris slipping over and playing in the water!! Kids, so much fun! Filipe looked on, amazed at his trio of crazy kids that he'd chosen to spend the evening with!  The lights were spectacular, different displays all along, loads of food stalls with delicious dishes, simply perfect!

Merry Christmas Day, we set off in the morning after sharing our Secret Santa gifts and headed out into the country side, to a lovely town of Barbosa where Manuela's family Finca was.  We were heavily laden donkeys with all our goods for the days festive treats, and were welcomed with open arms by Manuela's family.  Angela and Maurice, her parents and Andrea her sister, and their springer spaniel Grajola!  Distaster struck when I discovered we'd somehow left one of our bags somewhere, possibley the train or the bus....nightmere, all the meat was gone, along with my bottle of gin!!  Luckily, the 25th December is a normal day in Columbia so all the little shops were open in town and we managed to replace the main ingredients of our dinner - phew!!

Everyone loved the meal, it was a long marathon cooking in stages as it was only a weekend home, so we had 2 hobs, and 2 mini ovens to work with (one was burrowed from their very confused 91year old grandmother - who didn't understand where these 3 English people were taking her oven!)  We had 4 little roast chickens, tons of pigs in blankets (all hand rolled expertly by Rich, and a mountain of veggies lovingly prepared by Chris!  We had sparkly wine and red wine flowing to enjoy the meal.....it was a huge success and super scrummy!!  

We were joined by some of Manuela's friends, Horacio y Elisabeth and Santiago y Maria Clara.  We spent the night dancing and singing and learning some Merengue moves, Rich tried to teach us the "Mop Dance", and we played silly games including the Chocolate game (for those not familiar - 1 dice, a hat, thick pair of gloves, and a scarf....you have to roll a 6 then get dressed up and try to eat as much chocolate as possible with a knife and fork)  this game went down a treat!! We had such a great night lasting till 4am, and we felt soooo lucky and privilaged that Manuela and her friends and family had taken us in for the day and made being away from our own familes so much easier, it was an amazing experience having Christmas with this wonderful family and her friends!

Boxing day was very slow and relaxed.  Maria Clara{s family had a finca 2 doors down and she had a swimming pool, so we played frizby in the pool for a few hours - another first experience for us!! After lunch, back with Manuela's family, we were driven back to our hostel where we said our sad farewells and final thank you's again!  We spent the night vegging with pizza in the tv room watching Starwars Episode VI.....perfect!

Birthday and New Year celebrations

2010-12-27 to 2011-01-01

After leaving Medillin, having enjoyed a very unique and fantastic Christmas with a Colombian family, we headed towards Salento, a beautiful little town in the middle of the coffee growing region. Debs celebrated her birthday with a 7 hour bus ride so not the most spectacular of days. However, we did go out to a posh restaurant in the evening and enjoyed some birthday bubbly and a Debs style decorated cake. We spent the next 2 days visiting a working coffee farm, enjoying the spectacular scenery and hiking through the beautiful Cocora National park, famous for its HUGE Wax Palms (the tallest palms in the world at over 60m).

We left Salento, having loved the chilled out vibe and headed south towards the busier city of Cali for New Year and the end of its world famous salsa festival. However, arriving on the last night meant that the queues were ridiculously long and disappointedly we did not make it in to show off our awful dance moves. However, we think we could still be queuing 2 days later or been trampled to death if we had stayed! New years Eve day was spent at a fun water park with a couple of great slides and several distinctly average ones. Drinking games helped get the night started and we celebrated in style on the roof of some locals apartment watching the fireworks while quaffing champers (or as close as we could find to champers, which to be honest was not very close!). New Year day was the usual inactive, hungover day and after 3 brilliant weeks in Colombia, we now head towards Ecuador for a 3 week project in the cloud forest. We also say a sad farewell to Rich, another Londoner we met and have travelled with other the last 10 days, enjoying some great times over the festive period. We may be out of touch for a while, as we learn about sustainable living, conservation and hopefully teach some English whilst improving our Spanish.

Conservation and Sustainable Living in the Ecuadorian Cloud Forest

2011-01-02 to 2011-01-21

Arriving into Quito at 1am after a 22 hour journey from Cali, we crashed at Rosa´s, a friendly Italian girls´ place who we met on the bus. Next day, we headed off to La Hesperia, a private reserve 2 hours West of Quito which we would call home for the next 3 weeks. That alone felt such a welcome change as we have been on the move constantly for so long, it was lovely to base ourselves for a long stay. The reserve is set in the beautiful cloud forest, a steep mile trek from the main road near the town of Santo Domingo. We had a great group of volunteers; Tory, Angie, Lonneke, Wendy, Sarah, Sammy, Molly and Rakesh and our days were spent doing a wide variety of activities.

We got to master our machete skills while clearing forest around bamboo trees and planting more bamboo for construction use, clearing fallen trees from paths after storms, and clearing and digging water trenches. Whilst perfecting our skills with the machetes, some self inflicted accidents did occur although luckily nothing too major. At one point, Tory had had enough and did try to accidentally slice Chris´ leg in half although ended up cutting her finger on his stationary machete! Luckily laughter and not tears followed! Along with clearing lots of fallen trees, we helped in the vegetable garden, planting many different kinds of veg, yucca, coffee and of course clearing the weeds. In the nursery we dug flower beds (harder than you think when we managed to get the machete stuck solid in a piece of wood) and planted many many Tangare seeds (native trees that grow up to 60m and are endangered – they have named the trust after these trees).

We learnt how to make bread, chocolate, coffee and pasta, whilst also improving our Spanish with lessons with Alexandra - the organiser of the reserve. The milk run in the morning always ended up with some comedy stories. One person every day took the donkey and mule, loaded with lots of milk, down the steep mile track to the main road to await the milkman (we even helped milk them ourselves). Inevitably they would spend more time eating, drinking or occasionally sitting than actually walking and we were always a lot softer on hitting them to get a move on than the locals. During our last week, the donkey had a major accident while she was helping Molly and Lonneke collect oranges. She slipped on the path and tumbled 30m landing on her back on a tree with 2 sacks of fruit still attached to her. Miraculously, the workers managed to get her out and she was unharmed apart from a few scratches - they are resilient things these donkeys! Once you negotiated the difficult task of getting them to the road, you were bombarded by the crazy family at the bottom as they helped you unload the milk. You HAD to fill their book in with names and ages of friends, relatives and pets and then battle with them as they tried to take bracelets, watches and other items of clothing off you. By the end, Debs and I apparently had 6 kids, 1 only a week old and the other 5 we left back in UK – very kind of us we thought.

Our last part of the project, and one of the most satisfying parts, was teaching 9 children (aged 3-5) at the local school Origami and English. This went very well and after our 4 lessons they had fantastic mobiles with brilliantly made dogs, cats, fish, penguins and flowers. On top of all of this, we enjoyed several beautiful hikes and the weekly game of football was always greatly anticipated. Debs enjoyed her first game of football scoring 2 goals, including one against Westy, celebrated in style of course. After all these intensely action packed days, the evenings were spent relaxing and playing a variety of card and board games.

We spent our first weekend on the reserve and went shopping in Santo Domingo, did some more hikes, took the milk down on the donkeys and generally relaxed. We took advantage the next weekend of an extra day off and headed off with Rakesh, Sammy, Sarah, and Tory to the stunningly situated Secret Garden Cotopaxi. We had an awesome weekend relaxing in the Jacuzzi, going horseriding across the Andean plateau, and having some drunken nights in the evening. A quick day was spent in Quito before heading back to the reserve for our last week of volunteering. After another action packed week, we bade a sad farewell to all our new friends having had such a great time. The only down side of the beautiful place was the constant battle against thousands of mosquitoes and black flies. Unfortunately, it was a fairly one sided adffair and we lost very badly - Debs legs especially are looking like some tropical disease instead of mozzie bites. That apart, we loved it and it was great to learn so much about how you can live sustainably, and help to conserve what is left of the planet. With all the natural catastrophes that have happened this year, with floods, fires, and landslides all over the world, it really shows how important it is to act now.

Next stop is back to Qutio to meet 3 friends, Ben, Chris and Em from London who have flown over to see us for 2 weeks of fun around Ecuador! We cant wait.

Friends Reunited

2011-01-22 to 2011-01-27

After finishing our 3 week project in the cloud forest we headed back to Quito to meet our friends from London, Ben, Chris and Em who have flown out to see us for a holiday. It was awesome seeing them again after 7 months away and lots of drinking and catching up on all the latest news followed. We had a quick visit to the Equator, where we had an interesting guided tour with several tests of how water swirls either side and on the equator. We saw how people’s resistance was less at the middle of the earth in strength tests. We failed in our attempts but witnessed an egg being balanced on a nail and found out that it is a lot harder walking in a straight line with your eyes closed on the line itself. All very interesting stuff along with information of how the old tribes of the area realised where the equator was due to lack of, and certain shadows on the solstices and equinoxes (very clever people). Final fact of the day: Ecuador is named after the equator as it was the first place where the equator was measured in the 1700s by a French guy. He ended up being 240m off the correct position (there are ancient Incan artifacts at the actual equator line, showing how they found the correct place thousands of years ago.  A special GPS devise was use to clarify the French Guys' finding which is how they discovered he was wrong but the Incans had been correct, amazing!)
After all these facts, we headed back to the Secret Garden Cotopaxi, where we had such a great time last weekend. Thankfully the others loved it as much as we did and after our first dinner we enjoyed another drunken night in the Jacuzzi. The next day we were back on the horses, going on a different route this time and Westy thankfully had a lot quicker horse than his pregnant one last time. In fact, this time his horse, Choco, was a little crazy and would not stop running including a few long gallops, with Debs following closely behind. We both loved this but did have to hang on for dear life a couple of times. Overall the ride was beautiful, going through forest, past Cotopaxi national park and a beautiful waterfall in the middle of nowhere. We all had a great time, even our friend Chris who fell off his steed as it started galloping behind Westy’s runaway horse. Fortunately only a sore wrist and small graze were the only injuries. The next day, we headed off to Cotopaxi where we hiked up to a very high 5000m (we were driven up to 4500m). This was the highest point Em and Chris had been, and Em especially found the height very difficult and suffered altitude sickness with a little delerium. The views were worth it though as we could see all across the valley, and we hiked up onto the snow and ice, slipping and sliding as we went; a little scary as the mountain swept rapidly downhill at times. Westy, Debs, Ben and Em enjoyed coming back down on a very fun, very bumpy downhill mountain bike ride. When the huge hailstones started to hit us, Em wisely got in the car, whilst we cycled on another hour all the way back to the hostal. It was a stunning ride with the only issue was any slight uphill at this altitude was incredibly hard work. However, great preperation for whats to come in 6 weeks or so…….

The overall stay at the Secret Garden was amazing again, with fantastic food, games by the fireplace and even a cricket game in the rain for Australia Day followed by a good ole Barbie! Next stop, Banos, a touristy town set among mountains and volcanoes with a huge array of activities to offer.

Banos and Beach time in Canoa

2011-01-28 to 2011-02-04

On arriving into Banos, we celebrated a new town with a few drinks and a lovely chilled day doing not a lot. This is a bit of a lie, as Debs and I actually had the most stressful day of our whole trip due to our bank locking us out of our account and deciding the only way to solve this was to come into a branch. Facing a 5 month delay until that and a severe lack of access to our money, we both suffered minor heart attacks but managed to speak to a friendly manager who sorted the problem. Huge relief was followed by several much needed drinks and a night out playing table football (and getting annihilated by the locals) and dancing the night away. Em and Debs were both ill and unfortunately Em’s last day was a right off after feeling sick. Such a shame as the rest of us went off for a fun river rafting trip on grade 3-4 rapids. A bit of sliding down small waterfalls and playing in the water extended the relatively quick trip. We had a farewell meal with Em, before saying a sad goodbye to her the next day. It has been fantastic to see her, although we wish she could have stayed longer than a week. Our final day in Banos involved Westy throwing himself off a 130m bridge on a bungee swing and everyone enjoying a much needed massage.

We left Banos on a generally horrific 11 hour night bus with very little sleep arriving into the beautiful small beach village of Canoa at 5am. The next four days would be spent chilling on the beach, eating great seafood, playing Frisbee, football and a spot of surfing and body boarding. A few drinks in the evenings topped off a great time here although the groups illness were not finished as we ate a lovely (but eventually dodgy) seafood meal with Ben and Debs suffering the after effects. We now say a sad farewell to Ben and Chris. It has been amazing to see some old friends while enjoying great times and we shall catch up with them and everyone else at home in only just over 4 months - wow, time sure flies when you are having fun!

Mamouth journey and an epic trek!

2011-02-05 to 2011-02-12

After bidding a sad farewell to Ben and Chris, we headed off towards Huaraz, Peru. It was by far our longest bus journey so far - just under 46hours in total!! Taking 4 buses, 2 taxi’s, a little walking and a flying carpet! Yuk, but we made it in the end, and arrived in the mountain town of Huaraz. We arrived at 6am, and found a lovely home stay to rest in, a nice change from the usual hostel get up. The home stay is run by 2 lovely brothers, and one is a mountain guide so gave us loads of amazing information with regards to the trek we wanted to do.
We set off on Tuesday, and took a stunning 5hour bus ride to the start of the trek in Vaqueria. Sadly both our cameras were in our main baggage so we have nothing but memories of this epic journey. We climbed and climbed and climbed over this mountain pass, really getting into snow lined roads, we had views of a perfect U shaped glacial valley, with lakes and waterfalls all around….just breath taking!
When we reached out start point at 3700m, we set off at about noon-ish, on the short 6km hike to our first campsite. It was a pretty easy walk, only taking 2.5hrs, not bad considering we had all our camping gear and food for 4days etc on our backs. We found a good spot by the river, and we stopped to take in the quietness of our surroundings, not one other person,, just a few horses, cows and lamas to keep us company! Whilst we were gazing around we noticed a few spots of rain so we hurriedly tried to get the tent out….too late…the heavens opened and we put up Captain Planet in the hardest rain ever. Terrible timing, the tent was soaked, as were our clothes and bags, almost a small flood inside! Typically, the rain wore off once we were changed out of our cold wet clothes, a small drizzle continued through the night so we cooked in our porch, using my trekking sticks to hold up the “front door”. An adventurous finish to an easy day 1.
Day 2, we got up quite leisurely due to only having 10km to complete. The sun was out so we dried the rest of our damp clothes from last night, and set off though the valley. The trek for today was to take us up to 4400m, so a big climb. The weather was in our favour for most of the morning, then after putting on sun lotion after lunch the temperature dropped dramatically. Then the afternoon rains came, due to the increase in altitude, the rain felt like ice and sadly we both made the mistake of leaving it too late before deciding to put on gloves and waterproof gear!! We found a giant rock to rest under whilst changing, our hands were totally numb and stinging with shooting pains from the cold - whoops, we just really didn’t think about the consequences of being that high. After 30mins or so we both regained feeling in the fingers and plodded slowly onwards and upwards. Leaving the lush green valley and river area for more rocky bleak terrain. We finally made it to our campsite, freezing cold, so hurried to find a good spot so we could get the tent up and get warm! To our horror, the campsite was by a lake and was totally water logged…we searched and searched for a space just enough for Captain planet, and finally found a spot on the pathway! It was lumpy, and partially on a ditch, but was the flattest we could find. Our home stay host Jesus had mentioned to us if we need any waterproofing ever, then to look for a leaf called Ichu, a strong long grass type plant which grows all around this area, we were in luck….there was tons of it! So, we set to it with our penknives and started to cut away at as much Ichu as we could, laying it on the ground to try to build up the ditch, and cover the muddy hole where our porch would be! Finally we were up and running, and in the tent changed into as many warm layers as possible. It had been a tough day, the toughest 10km walk we’d ever done - taking over 5hrs! Sadly, due to the altitude, we weren’t going to get warm, Debs slept with every layer of clothing she could find….3 on bottom half, and 6 on the top, a hat and her gloves! Still cold….darn it!
We awoke at 6am the next morning, after a not so great sleep, in order to make a good start on reaching the summit of Punta Union at 4750m before the clouds came in. It was a slow gruelling climb, very steep in parts, and walking on sheets of rock was very tricky, but we slowly made the 2km to the summit in just under 2hrs, and the views were awesome. We ditched our heavy bags and explored the rocky summit for the best views. The clouds were coming and going but we snapped away and got as many shots of the lakes in the valley we would later trek towards, the glacial lake below us, and the mountains engulfing us with obvious glacial remains on them! It was amazing, all the hard climbing was well worth it. After some well needed breakfast (dried stale Jacobs biscuits with butter…mmmmm!) We started our descent down the other side of the pass. We had a further 14km to do after the 2km we’d just done. So a big day ahead. We passed our first other tourist on the way down, couldn’t believe he was our first in 2.5 days, really lucky to be able to enjoy these views without the usual crowds! We wished each other luck and carried on down, the descent was pretty hard going too, Debs knees and ankles not loving the rocky uneven path. We finally made it to the valley floor, and started along the flat for the remainder of the day. This was through lush green pastures, full of cows and horses. We were nearly at the lake where we were to be camping, when we noticed how the little flooded parts of streams we’d been dodging in the rain got a little bigger, and we were stopped mid conversation with Debs exclaiming STOP - IT’S A DEEP ONE!!!! The little streams had suddenly become over a metre deep….we hastily tried to back track, not knowing which way to turn as the puddles were ankle deep, meaning cold wet feet…joy! We managed to navigate our way around the now rivers, and made it safely to higher ground!! We were joined by 4 friendly donkeys, who obviously thought we needed guiding and they followed us for a good 10mins, before realising we were good to head off on our own again and turned back!!!
We made it to camp, luckily nice flat soft unflooded grass, we were back to 3864m, so noticeably less cold than last night! We made a little shelter from our ground sheet and rope over some huge rocks, slightly less cramped than cooking and eating in the porch of the tent! Another great tough day completed…home straight tomorrow.
As we were packing up the next morning, we waved to 2 more tourists hiking past our campsite, then we ourselves headed off. Only 12km to do today, the first half was pretty swift as was mainly flat, continuing alongside the river, in the valley. We started to slow in the last 5kms as we started to drop steeply. This was a hard walk, a lot of uneven rocky path, passed some terrible looking landslides from the huge mountains above us. The mood was lightened at one point when Chris slid on a rock and slammed his foot into a huge pool of cow pat!! The spray went everywhere, looked like a cow pat explosion!! Poor Chris was covered all over - not great….pooohy!! Several wet wipes later we were back on track. Down down down down we went, finally, we saw an end to the mountainous narrowing now V shaped valley we’d been trekking through and we reached the village hugely relieved, tired and sooo very proud of ourselves!! We’d never done a tough, high trek carrying all our stuff before so really was an amazing achievement! Total trekked 43.85km, 1135m climbed in total. A truly epic adventure!
Two cramped buses, totalling 2.5hrs we were back at Jesus and Hansi’s home stay. We were looking forward to a steak dinner and a bottle of wine for the last few days to celebrate, however Debs took on a terrible chill with stomach cramps so couldn’t crawl from her shivering wreck under the blankets!! Chris cooked chicken and rice for our celebratory meal, not quite the dream, but we will get our steak soon!
Hopefully off to Lima on an overnight bus tonight, depends on Debs who was not well in the night, in the mean time, Chris is happily watching a couple of footy games on the TV!

Valentines Day and Sand Boarding wipe outs!

2011-02-14 to 2011-02-17

We arrived into Lima, a big cosmopolitan city in compared to our mountain town of Huaraz after an over night bus ride.  After a couple hours kip we hit the shops!  We were gathering a few more bits and bobs in preparation for the next Big Cycle!We stopped in at the Larco Museum, this had a huge exhibit of Incan Erotic pottery....we just wondered through the free gallery and saved the main museum entrance fee to go towards our Valentines dinner (pikey some might say, but well worth it!).  We took a stroll along the very fishy smelling coast/beach/pebble area of Lima's Playa, and tried to watch the surfers catch some waves, though due to unusual amounts of fog, it was a bit of a challenge.  We had a wonderful scrummy Romantic steak dinner, with an even more scrumptious bottle of Sauv Blanc...mmmm, followed by a few games at the arcade next door (Chris thrashing Debs at air hockey 20-4!)The next day we headed off on a 3hr bus ride to Ica, where we would head straight to the Oasis of Huacachina.  We stayed in a "Hotel" there, a real luxurious place with a swimming pool and a giant sand dune directly behind us!  Just 15mins from Ica itself, we felt like we were in the middle of no-where.  We booked in for a sand boarding tour for that afternoon, in the meantime we chill-axed by the pool and lead the life of luxury....The sand board ride started with a crazy local driver bombing it through the dunes, an unexpected roller coaster ride...I guess just to get our nerves up and running for what was to come.  Chris expertly-ish snow boarded down the first dune, a few tumbles but made it to the bottom safe and sound....Debs took the quicker but safer-ish option of going down on the board on her stomach....eyes shut and mouth trying to be shut in between screaming (to prevent a lesser amount of sand being swallowed)....The following dunes were higher and steeper more hair raising and Debs and Chris both had a few wipe outs....both consuming an unhealthy amount of sand, Debs loosing the button of her trousers (never to be found again) sand was everywhere, yuk...but great amusement was had by all! Next morning, we enjoyed a wine tour of Lima´s finest wine, followed by a tour of how Pisco was made.  Pisco is Peru´s national drink, made from grapes, but distilled in a different way making it to approx 42% proof!  By 11am we´d tasted 5 different Peruvian fine wines, and had 10mini shots of the various flavours of Pisco´s!  We were pretty tipsy to say the least.  We soaked this up with some local Peruvian food...much better.  We were amazed about how the grapes, along with avocados, mangos, olives, asparagus and various other fruits all grew perfectly in the harsh desert conditions.Debs trekked up the huge sand dune directly behind out Hotel, while Chris slept (passed out) after the morning´s samplings...she enjoyed a stunning sunset over the dunes, thankfully as the climb was a beast!Nest stop is Nasca to view the Nasca lines, one of the many archaeological wonders of the world. 

Nasca Lines...wow, and beautiful Colca Canyon!

2011-02-17 to 2011-02-20

We arrived into Nasca to find the flights were booked out for that afternoon, so after booking up a tour for the following morning, we enjoyed  a lazy after noon of playing games and having a couple of Pisco Sours ( a wonderful local cocktail of Pisco, Limon, sugar and whipped egg whites...mmm).  Randomly, Chris bumped into a friend from his Geography course at Sheffield Uni, Karen and her boyfriend Dan were also on a long 6mth trip....small world or what!!!  They told us of a fantastic talk on the Nasca Lines at the nearby Nasca Lines hotel where Maria Reiche, from Germany, stayed for the last 25years of her life.  She started studying the lines in 1946, after they were discovered by passing commercial planes by the pilots noticing some unusual figures and lines on the desert floor below.  The Pan American highway was built in the 1920´s, unbeknown to them that they were building it right though the middle of the lines in some parts...opps!  The hotel had built a planetarium in Maria´s honor to show how some of the shapes and animals, she believed related to many of the constellations, for example the Nasca lined shape of the Monkey fits in with the shape of the Plough concstellation.  Many of the lines seem to lead to water deposits, and many of the animals are water related creatures, possibly meaning the Nasca´s were helping future races to find water in the harsh desert environment.  The lines are carbon dated to being from 200 BC to 600 AD.  Maria died in her 90´s in 1999, after 45years work dedicated to studying all the shapes and lines which cover over 500km squared!  It was super informative, and made us very excited about what we were about to witness in the morning.We took off after a frustrating 3hour wait, and our little 6 man (inc pilots) plane started our bumpy ride.  A little wind meant quite a bit of turbulence, with the spectacular views below of various triangles, long straight lines going on for km´s (many lead to points where at summer and winter solstice the sun would rise and set!!), we also passed over a shape called the Astronaut, a Whale, the Monkey, Dog, Condor, Spider, Humming bird, Alcatraz, Parrot, Tree, and Hands....it was soooo amazing.  These lines and shapes, some 10cm deep, others just mearly the surface scraped so by removing dark stones and plants, you are left with a perfectly clear paler line.  Due to lack or water and erosion, the shapes have remained untouched and still clear even to this day.  Debs was nearly sick due to the rough ride and constant tipping right over from right to left to maximize the view, but it was definitely worth it!!

Next stop was a bus ride to Arequipa, we were glad due to the fact we were now on a day bus ride rather than over night. We meandered through the desert with the coast only a few km´s away. Then we started to hug the coast and it was a breath taking journey with desert mountains to our left and the ocean crashing in on our right, it was made complete with a stunning sunset. We arrived at Casa los Pinguinos at 2345hrs, and straight to bed to join our 2day tour to Colca Canyon.

The tour took us through some more stunning scenery as we headed towards Chavay where we were to spend to the night. We headed to some hot springs for the afternoon, then Chris sadly took his turn of being sick. Luckily this only lasted till the next morning, but he had to miss out on the uber touristy "cultural show, music and dance" that the rest of us headed to for the evening. The next morning was a 5am start, but this was to reach the Condor Crossing and Colca Canyon miradores before the clouds came in, and it was worth the early start! We had spectacular views of the canyon plunging over 3500m below us, with the Rio Colca cutting through below, and the highlight was definately the Condor spotting, at this time of year you are lucky to spot the odd one, and we had about 10 put on a fine display. Some were far below soaring through the canyon below, but we had a few very close passing beauties! The adults that we saw had a full wing span of about 2metres...amazing!!

A long journey back to Arequipa, a good chance to catch up on lost sleep (especially for poor Chris), then we had a speedy walk through Arequipa´s main square, and have a nice dinner before our over night trip towards Cuzco! These bus journeys over night are handy for making up on previous sleep deprevation!

Machu Pichu here we come!!!

Trekking to beautiful Machu Picchu and other Incan ruins

2011-02-21 to 2011-02-28

We arrived into Cusco and had a couple of days wondering around the city and exploring 4 great Incan sights just outside the city. We spent these days with Karen and Dan, who we had met in Nasca and then it was time to head off on the 4 day Lares trek. Using the same company that Chris used 5 years ago on another trek in this area, we again had a fantastic experience. Our guide, Eddy, and chef, Alagandro, were amazing and looked after us incredibly well. Very luckily, we had a fantastic group (so important on these multiday activities) and were joined by 6 Aussies, Jess and Jesse, Corey and Kate, and Andrew and Michelle. Being the wet season, we did of course, have lots more rain and with 3 high passes including a 4600m one, it was pretty chilly aswell. However, we all coped with the weather and altitude whilst walking at a very brisk pace (this was the first trek for many of the others and they had never been at altitude either so very impressive).

Having succeeded on the Santa Cruz trek in Northern Peru, we decided we would carry our clothes and sleeping bag etc, but were ecstactic at experiencing posh camping this time - all our tents were carried by horses, set up and taken down (by very clever horses), the food was out of this world and there was even a dining tent to eat in peace out of the rain. Unfortunately, the weather was fairly cloudy and wet a lot of the time, but the scenery was beautiful when it did briefly clear. We passed through many small Quechan villages and learned about their customs and lifestyle. It differs hugely to the Western world, with very simple homes but happy people, an all for one community spirit, with people helping each other out and sharing. There is a huge respect towards Pachamama (Mother Earth) and the Incan customs have remained.

 The huge amount of rainfall did delay our train ride to Aguas Calientes by a day, due to a mudslide on the track and so we drowned our sorrows in Ollantaytambo with several drinks and a very fun night: The early train the next morning was an oppurtunity to sleep off the hangover and prepare for the main event! And we were not disappointed; Macchu Pichu is truly spectacular, the weather was great for a change, and Eddy gave a very detailed tour of the ruins and Incan traditions. Climbing the very steep Huayna Picchu, we saw how the ancient Incan city is built in the shape of a Condor and enjoyed wonderful panoramic views of the surrounding mountains.

We now have a well earned couple of days rest in Cusco and celebratory drinks of course with the group aswell as meeting Karen and Dan, and Rich who we had celebrated Christmas and New Year with in Colombia. It was great to see them all again and we now head south towards Lake Titicaca.


Lake Titicaca: The highest Navigatable lake in the world!

2011-03-01 to 2011-03-04

We arrived into Puno on Lake Titicaca and dashed onto a tour to check out the floating reed Islands. We nearly didn’t make it as our boat broke down twice, and during an out of nowhere hail storm we had to change boats whilst adrift! These Islands are still inhabited by locals….just a weenie bit of a rip off tourist attraction, but very interesting. They are 2metres thick, 1 metre of roots underneath, and 1 metre of fresh reeds on the top which are relaid every 30days, the underneath just rots away. We had a nosey around a couple of basic houses, and had a lovely boat ride on - yes you guess it - a boat made purely of reeds!! We were seen off by some local ladies singing a few local songs, followed by “My Bonnie lies over the Ocean”, this was proceeded by 4 very cute kids serenading us with various songs, “Twinkle twinkle little star” in 10 languages….a true crowd pleaser!
The next day, we headed off towards Copocobana, crossing into Bolivia halfway. Still on Lake Titicaca, but away from the madness of Puno, and into a peaceful lazy lakeside town. The sun shone gloriously, and we whiled away the afternoon enjoying the sun, some card games and a few beers.
We chatted with a lovely couple from OZ Tristan and Laura, who were jealous of our sun lounging after exploring Isla Del Sol.
The next morning we had an early date with Karen and Dan to explore Isla Del Sol ourselves. We caught the early boat (a good idea especially as it was sooo slow it would have been quicker if we swam!) Starting in the North of the Island, we visited some Incan ruins, and a sacred rock which is in the shape of a Puma, also we tried to enjoy an ancient Incan Sacred table which a local was choosing to sell his authentic goods on, made for interesting photos!
We enjoyed a stunning walk for 12km to the South of the Island, the Lake had so many shades of blue it was incredible. Pachamama truly looked after us with the weather that day, hope it keeps up for La Paz.

Carnival in la Paz and cycling the World's Most Dangerous Road (WMDR)

2011-03-05 to 2011-03-07

We arrived into La Paz unaware that it was Carnival weekend, the streets were full of market stalls selling all sorts of decorations for houses and cars, balloons, flowers, fancy dress costums and masks and to Chris’ delight - some awesomely huge waterguns!! We’re talking a range from tiny fish pistols to semi-automatic!! The main carnival in the centre of La Paz was cancelled due to a very recent landslide making over 948 families homeless. Still, the party was going on, 7 of us got armed and ready - us, Karen and Dan, Maria, Dave and Anna (from Spain - staying in Maria and Dave’s hostel) our aim was to reach the Gravity Assisted mountain bike shop to book up a tour of doing the Worlds Most Dangerous Road (WMDR) for the next day. We had our waterproofs on despite the glorious weather, and with our water pistols filled (medium sized Toy story guns - not the AK auto’s that Chris dreamed of!) and cans of spray moose we set off for the main road to find Gravity. We were ambushed within seconds - I’m sure nothing to do with the fact we were Gringo’s! But little did they expect we’d fight back - oh yes, the 6 of us gave back as good as we got!! We purchased some eye masks within a few attacks, after having my purse expertly stolen by my jacket being cut open from the inside yesterday without any of us 4 noticing, we were playing it safe. Sticking as a team of 7 - we named ourselves Team Sputchland - as we were a mix of Spanish, Dutch and English!
We had a great laugh, absolutely covered in white foam moose stuff, soaked from the water fight which we definitely lost against some little kids with water guns as big as them!! We got to Gravity - looking a mess, and booked up for the WMDR - eeek!
Nervous - erm, well, erm - kind of, well no of course not - ish!! We arrived at our start point at 4800m - got ourselves suited and booted into the safety gear, and warm gear to protect us from the great speeds at which we’d be travelling (or just simply due to the height!)
The first part was all on tarmac, and part of the new highway removing most traffic from the gravel path we were to join later. Just before we joined the official Most Dangerous Road, we had an option to do an 8km uphill, Debs stepped forward with Chris, Dan, Ben and Henry (2 Ozzies on the ride) - the others (Dave, Maria, Karen and Steve our guide) sensibly stayed in the Van and got a ride up!! All the boys apart from Henry raced ahead being all macho and full of male pride blah blah blah...whilst Debs and Henry plodded gentley up the hill.  It was tough going, especially with the fumes from the trucks and cars on this main section....at the halfway point Henry jumped in the van, so it was me verses the boys.  Lacking in male ego, I let them race off again, this next section wasn´t as steep but was longer, but I made it slowly  but surely and proud to be the only girl and also not to have arrived at the top gasping for air (like the other boys had!!).

This was then we split from the new road to the "Most Dangerous" road section....the track was rough with loose rocks, and we had to stop and carry our bikes over a recent landslide, we rode through mystical waterfalls which were clearly bashing away at the remainder of the road!  We had a day of heavy cloud, was a shame (or was it??)to not see the 3000m cliff edges we were riding next to, but Debs felt it a good safety so if we were to cycle off the edge it looked like we´d just fly off into soft cozy clouds!! Plus having the views hidden meant we concerntrated on the road more!  We even had to ride through 2 river sections, It was an awesome ride, and Debs - to her surprise really enjoyed it!

We finished with a 4minute off road single track section, it was sooo steep but we both did it and frankly found it more scarey than what we´d just been down!!

Next item for us two hard core people is Huayna Potosi....only 6088m!!

Attempting to climb the 6088m Huayna Potosi, followed by wildlife spotting in the Amazon

2011-03-08 to 2011-03-17

We set off together with Dave, attempting to climb Huayna Potosi, a 6088m mountain in the Cordillera Real. This was something Chris was very excited about, having failed 5 years earlier due to illness and really really hoping to succeed this time. We set off in the cloud and the first day was fairly relaxed with just an hour walk to an area where we could practice ice climbing techniques and how to save ourselves if we find ourselves sliding down a particularly steep section of the mountain. We all enjoyed this, although it made us a little nervous, and got some sleep at the lodge before heading off on a 3 hour hike to the second lodge the next day. This turned out to be a 4 hour incredibly hard hike as we constantly fell waist deep through the soft snow (due to it being the wet season). Debs had a few paddies up here, but with some help from her newly added crampons, we all made it, all be it knackered at 5300m. We had trekked through clouds and snow, sleet and rain but did get some clear weather in the evening so see our magnificent setting. Then it was the summit day/night! We went to bed at 6pm in an attempt to get a few hours kip (we failed) before waking at 11.30pm to start the summit hike! Nervous, excited and pretty cold, we set off in the pitch black, and of course falling snow. Again, we struggled to keep ourselves falling waist deep but by 4am had made it to the first ice wall. Debs took one look at this, whilst watching several other groups climb it before us and backed out. A pretty sensible idea in the end, as it was nearly vertical at the start and then went into about 65 degrees. Also, the freshsnow would not grip the ice axes and lumps fell down on the climbers below. Just to add more difficulty, due to a quick swap of ropes so Debs could go down, it meant Chris and Dave had to climb the hardest ice wall they had done with only 2m gap between them, resulting in Chris standing on Dave’s hand, whilst wearing crampons. Fortunately no major injury was done and onwards and upwards we went, but alas… not to the summit. The newly laid snow, along with risk of avalanches meant our guides could not find the path up to the top. So at 5850m altitude and 6.30am, we slowly dragged our exhausted bodies down the mountain as the sun rose. The ice wall in the daylight looked 10 times worse as we descended it so probably a good thing that Debs had turned back earlier. Dejected, we made it back down the mountain as a group, and Chris ruefully knows he probably will not have a third attempt. However, it was great experience, we made it further than last time and were just unfortunate with the weather.

Our next trip took us to Rurrenbaque, in the Amazon Basin, where we did a 3 day trip in the Pampas (edge of the amazon jungle). We went with Dave and Maria, along with Slovenians Irena and Igor aswell. We had an awesome trip with a great guide, Luis, and managed to see a huge array of wildlife along the boat trips, from hundreds of birds including eagles, pampas condors, toucans, herons, owls, turkeys, parrots and macaws to caiman, capybara (biggest rodent in the world), several species of monkeys, sloths, turtles and pink dolphins. Everyone, except Debs who was on caiman watch, went swimming with about 20 pink dolphins that came within a few metres - incredible. The water was so incredibly high this year that only a tiny island of dry land remained in the region. In fact, a week before no trips could get out there due to the water levels so we were very lucky. For this reason, we did not see that many caiman, capybara’s and to our disappointment failed to find an anaconda, but you cant have everything! In the evenings we enjoyed several games of Settlers and Yahtzee, and the odd rum of course!

We have had to say some sad farewells aswell. After Rurrenbaque we had a final meal with Dave and Maria, and earlier, just after Huayna Potosi, we had a final drunken night with Dan and Karen. It had been great to travel with these 2 couples over the last 3 weeks and we will miss them as we head our separate ways until a reunion back in UK. However, the next big challenge awaits and as "Queen" sang: ‘I want to ride my bicycle, I want to ride my bike’. Watch this space…………………..

Back on the bikes: 5500km from La Paz to Rio (hopefully)

2011-03-18 to 2011-03-23

Yes folks, after 5 months backpacking, we have missed travelling on bikes so have bought some more for another epic cycle adventure from La Paz to Rio for the last 3 months of our year trip. We would like to thank Gravity Assisted Mountain Biking company, the oldest and the best biking company in La Paz, who sold us the bikes. Special thanks go to Derren Patterson, who we had been in contact for a couple of months and who sold us his bike. Also, Jube, who was one of our guides on the WMDR, has been fantastic setting up the bikes with new rims, wheels, brakes etc and giving us a crash course on advanced bike maintenance if needed in the middle of nowhere. So, after a few days of sorting stuff out, sending our backpacks home and ten pin bowling Bolivia style (a man had to reset our pins by hand), we were finally ready. Before we left we had a mini ceremony paying respects to Pachamama (Mother Earth) and decorating our bikes, Bolivian style, to pray for safe travels and good weather. And then we were off……….

There was definitely no easing into it after 5 months off the bike as we had to climb 12km out of La Paz to El Alto, the town by the airport. We rose from 3600m to over 4000m and trust us, the altitude makes a huge difference. The air is 3 times as thin here as sea level so really punishes the bodies and lungs on any small hill let alone a 400m, 12km climb at the highest altitude we have ever cycled. We plodded slowly and finally made it to the top after a gruelling 2 hours. After getting through the crazily busy town of El Alto, we were into classic Altiplano scenery, flat, generally barren land with hills in the background. The following 2.5 days were spent cycling the Altiplano, which lies between 3700 and 4100m. Pachamama has treated us well so far with dry days and lots of sun - almost too much as we have been burnt due to it being so strong at these altitudes. Life is very hard here, but the locals have been very friendly with lots of greetings, and waving aswell as quite a few bemused looks.

On our second night we arrived at a small little town called Konani, with several places advertising themselves as a hotel, residential or similar but amazingly not one place had any rooms. So after asking around, we ended up camping in the yard of the town’s church. We were fairly well hidden, and no-one bothered us until a truck load of workers showed up as we were eating dinner. Some of them were staying at the buildings near where we had our tent. Luckily they were very friendly and were fine with us camping there, and so we survived our first night of camping in Bolivia. That night, it poured with rain, but fortunately cleared to a beautiful day for our cycle to Oruro. After a 20km uphill climb, which we actually enjoyed, fresh in the morning, we had a fun downhill, before heading on the longest straightest road we have seen since the Prairies. Its pretty demoralising, plodding on a never changing road when your very tired and with a headwind (oh how we have missed them!) but we made it and are having a couple of days off to rest our aching bodies, and try and recover from some colds we have. We are hoping they will get better as we plan to cycle towards Salar de Uyuni (the largest salt flat in the world) and hopefully across it if the water levels are not too high. So fingers crossed and time to pray to Pachamama for some more dry days.

Epic Adventure cycling the largest Salt Flat in the world (whilst flooded)

2011-03-24 to 2011-04-01

Epic. Immense. Two words that we have come to use often on our trip and they suitably describe the cycling trip to and across the biggest salt flat in the world. Incredibly bloody hard work sums it up pretty nicely aswell and it was probably the hardest cycle we have ever done. In fact, we could only complete 13km of the salt flats in 3 hours before turning back as we were facing a potentially very dangerous situation! However, before we talk about the salt flats, we need to mention the bone-jarring 5 day journey just to get there.

We left Oruro and enjoying our last day on the paved Pan Americana highway with a slight tailwind, put in our biggest day in Bolivia of 120km stopping in Challapta for the night. This was the end of the heavenly concrete though, and we entered what we aptly renamed the road from hell! For 4 days we struggled on the bumpiest road we have ever been on, let alone cycled. At times, the bumps gave way to deep soft sand impossible to pedal through. Every bone, muscle and fibre of our bodies ached after an hour and a couple of tumbles added some nice scratches and bruises, especially for Debs after one particularly nasty fall. Our average speed along the road was an astounding 10kph so they were very slow, long days.

However, the positive note of this road was the sheer beauty, emptiness, and friendliness of the local people. We have seen no more than 5 tourists since leaving La Paz 10 days ago, and its a shame noone really comes here, as the scenery is spectacular. We camped wild twice along the way, and although we were not very hidden from the road, noone bothered us at all. On our first night, we even got to enjoy a sand storm, which covered everything we had. Oh how we love sand!!!!! There are very few towns or villages along the way and it staggerred us how empty this region is (far more so than the Canadian prairies, including longer straighter roads). After staying at a lovely hostal in Salinas which helped clean the sand off us and our bags, we saw the salt flats for the first time and enjoyed an hour cycle across a small section, with no water! However, this was too short lived as we then headed back onto crazy mountain biking territory and had to push through basically a beach esq road for 5km! In 5.5 hours we covered barely 35km. Yet this was to seem like lightning to what the next day was to bring.

We had finally made it to the main entry point of the biggest salt flat in the world, Salar de Uyuni, created when a giant lake dried up millennia ago. We started like a sprinter out the blocks at a staggerring speed of 6.5kph as we splashed our way through ankle deep water that covered the entire surface. The scenery was superb with the sun shining combined with the bright whiteness of the salt. The distant mountains were reflected in the water, and when we stood still, there was no sound at all - complete silence - an amazing experience!

Although, the water slowed us down, we encountered another problem with the hexagon outlines of the salt patterns being small ditches. This created a very bumpy ride and as they grew deeper we were unable to cycle any faster than 5kph whilst being very tiring work. Add in some breaks and we had covered only 13km in 3 hours. At this point, we even saw a snail backstroking through the water quicker than us, although possibly the sun and dazzling brightness had started to affect us. We sensibly decided this would be the time to turn round, as although we should have made the island we were aiming for (40km in total) we were facing an 80km ride the next day. Our ridiculously slow speed would have left us with a 20hour plus day until dry land, with no chance to camp or even lay the bikes down! Although we really wanted to complete the cycle, we also did not want to put ourselves in a very dangerous situation so sensibly headed back. Relief washed over us as we made the 3 hour plod back home. However, we were not completely off the hook as Debs picked up her second puncture in 2 days resulting in a 3km walk to the dry land. At least we were nearly home and not stuck in the middle of the lake. Knackered and broken, our adventure on the salt flat had ended but we were to experience another classic example of human kindness to lift our spirits, as we did many times in Canada. Firstly, the manager of the local salt hotel let us shower the salt off our bodies and although it was out of our price range, he pointed us to a cheaper option. He also gave us some great news that the weekly bus/truck was going to cross the salt flat the next day going to Uynui, exactly where we wanted to be (and we would cross it after all and not have to face a 3 day trek back along the road from hell). We also chatted to some tourists (the first we had seen in a week) and after hearing our story offerred to buy us dinner including a bottle of very much needed wine! Thank you so much Royce and the rest. That night we were so full of emotion, mainly relieve that we were safe and not stuck on an island facing a 20hour cycle to dry land!

So, was it worthwhile....definitely. It was a hard struggle, but being in the middle of nowhere, meeting so many friendly people, and spectacular empty scenery was truly great. Had we not tried, it would always have nagged us whether we could have done. Especially, as one reason we attempted this madcap trip, was we made a great Swiss couple, Monica and Martin who did it on a tandem 4 weeks ago. We would like to take our hats off to them and congratulate a truly brilliant challenge (how they did we just dont know!). Check out http://schlatter.bosshart.li to see their amazing 16month round the world cycle trip.

So, its better to have tried and failed, then not to have tried at all (someone must have said this at some point). We concur with this, as we put our bodies through hell, gave it a best shot and only stopped to avoid a riduculously self inflicted stupid, dangerous situation. We are very proud of what we achieved, and considering no cars are going across the salt flats at this time of year, we are not the only ones who could not do it.

Finally, we would like to say what a great job the bikes did. On crazily bad roads, we only sufferred 2 punctures on Debs bike, and a broken support on her back panniers, which is incredible, so thank you Jube and Derren from Gravity- what a great job you did. We now have a couple of days to recover in Uyuni after our truck ride yesterday. We have had enough of bumpy hideous roads so will train to Tupiza for a few days before heading to Argentina and continuing on the bikes.





Bienvenidos a Argentina…..Steak and Vino here we come!

2011-04-05 to 2011-04-10

It was a nice change to get on a train to Tupiza, sadly we missed all the scenery as it was during the night, but still - a heck of a lot better than on the bumpy roads.

Whilst in Tupiza we decided to do a day tour in the form of a Triathlon.  Don’t panic, it wasn’t as hard core as it sounds, we spent the day enjoying the stunning cowboy-esque scenery (infact, Tupiza is where Butch Cassidy and the Sundance kid had their final showdown), amazing, all the different colours of the rocks from various minerals. Plus giant cactuses everywhere! We spent the morning by Jeep, then stopped for a lovely picnic lunch by a river, before setting off on a 3hr horse ride where we sang Rollin’, Rollin’, Rolling…..Rawhide…..and ride ‘em up cowboy all the way (I’m sure not annoying our fellow triathletes Thierry and Chantelle from France!!) We felt like real cowboys from a classic Western film in the superb scenery and Chris and his stallion lead us into a few canters. The last part of the Triathlon was a 17km bike ride, all down hill!! We got driven to the top of hill which gave us spectacular views of the surrounding multi coloured hills, and all the hoodoo formations, it was a steep winding hill, a little too fast Deb’s likening! What a great day, and Deb’s is proud to say she’s done her first full Triathlon. The next couple of days were slightly less energetic as we lounged by the pool and read our books…..lovely!

We set off on a bus for 2hrs to the boarder of Argentina, we were ready and excited to be back on the bikes after a good few days rest and the knowledge that the bumpy roads were over! Having heard mixed reports on the crossing taking 6-8hrs, we were very happy to be through in barely 30 minutes We had our lunch and set off at about 1.30pm. We did about 40km, and knocked on a family’s’ farm who kindly let us camp in their back yard, our first taste of Argentinean kindness.

The Pan-American was lovely and smooth, and we rode with ease, aided by me tailwind! The next couple of day’s of scenery varied greatly, starting with open plains of nothingness, then entering into canyons with breathtaking beauty. We camped off the sides of the road as we slowly made our way towards Salta. Our great progress started to get hindered by a few bike issues. We both discovered broken spokes, 2 on Chris’ which we were unable to fix ourselves, and one on Deb’s which we were happy to be able to fix successfully! Deb’s weak tyres meant a puncture or 2 everyday! We stopped in the little town of Tilcara where we found a very helpful bike rental/fixer man Carlitos who sorted Chris’ spokes out. We set off again fighting agonisingly strong head wind ripping through the last section of the Canyons - the mountains either side helped keep our minds off this as they were 7 different shades of rocks - stunning!! The next morning, Deb’s had another puncture, Quelle surprise! Strangely we couldn’t fix it, we think our pump had finally given up working after all the over use of late! After an hour of failing to hitch a ride to Volcan, we slowly cycled the 4km, not an easy task on a fully loaded bike with flat tyre…the weather didn’t help either, it was our first taste of miserable rain for weeks, cold and wet we finally arrived, and got a bus to Jujuy further 45km away. That afternoon we got a well needed bike service - cleaning off the salt still lingering from the attempted crossing, and replacing Deb’s whimpish tyres for some super sturdy thick ones! We also finally managed to get some Argentinean Pesos - the Dad’s would have been proud of our economy drive as we’d had $12 to spend over 4days, and stuck to it till we could finally get money and buy some well needed wine!

We set off at 7.30am for our final push to Salta, only to discover 4km into our journey, to our dismay, a flat on Deb’s back tyre….we begrudgingly cycled back to the bike shop and they found they’d pinched the tube in fixing the new tyre yesterday…arrrgghh…finally we set off again and found the 110km cycle to Salta to be fantastic!! We had a few big hills to climb, but up through winding hills and jungle like forest we listened to all the sounds of the forest chattering around us, it was amazing. We stopped for lunch at the top and a motorbike tourer stopped to chat, Richard, lovely guy from Edinburgh, was on a group tour from Ushuaia to Alaska then to New York across Canada - all in 11 weeks (same time will take us from La Paz to Rio), we exchanged bike talesin different directions at VERY different speeds! We felt very strong and happy and had a great ride to Salta where we checked into a hotel and planned to chill for a couple of days and enjoy some good Argentina steaks and lots of vino!

Next off to Cafayete to do some wine tours for our 4 year anniversary gift to each other!

Salta to Tucuman with some incredible scenery

2011-04-12 to 2011-04-19

The scenery just gets better and better as we head south from Salta. We spent two days cycling towards the famous wine region of Cafayate, camping at a friendly locals house in the middle of nowhere along the way. Our host was very kind but the one downside was that our tent was attacked by several ‘savage’ kittens, whilst between the dogs barking all night and the cockerels taking over at 4.30 we got very little sleep. However, the next day we were treated to some of the best views of the trip as we cycled through the Quebrada de Cafayate, with truly astonishing colours and rock formations at every turn. We battled against a strong headwind whilst climbing up through the canyon. It was worth every ounce of effort though, and we celebrated with a day off in Cafayate, where we cycled around some of the local wineries. Torrontes, a white wine, is definitely the best one around here and several bottles were shared with Mattijas and Lisa, a Dutch couple we met at the hotel.

We continued through a beautiful valley for a couple of days which included our biggest climb in South America - a 30km, 1050m continuous climb from 2000m to 3050m. We actually enjoyed it and the hard work was rewarded with more great views and followed by a very fun (and easy) 20km downhill section where we didn’t pedal once. This took us into the touristy town of Tafi del Valle, and from here the scenery dramatically changed. We were ecstatic with the 1600m descent through another winding canyon but this time it was very green, almost jungle esq, as we followed a river whilst the road snaked through the lush forest. Towards the bottom, we passed a running and cycling competition going the opposite direction (uphill) and waved and cheered enthusiastically at the competitors finishing the final section. The last 50km on a 2 lane highway finished in Tucuman, a big city with not too much to do except that it has a big bike shop to give our bikes a good service, which are badly in need of some TLC after sufferring many problems in the last 10 days. Debs is currently just in the lead with 7 flat tyres and 4 broken spokes compared to Chris’ 6 flats and 4 broken spokes. Every day there is a problem or two and it definitely has made it rather frustrating, but on a positive note, we are getting quicker at changing tyres. Thankfully, there are lots of little Bicicliterias who have helped change many of the spokes along the way.

So after 2 days off here relaxing and doing some admin, we now head East across the ‘empty’ Chaco for several hundred kilometres, which we believe to be similar to the Praries. We hope the weather continues to be kind including some more tailwinds that we have enjoyed since leaving Cafayate and the bikes can reach Corrientes, which is our next major city. Finally, we have uploaded some videos from our South America cycle trip so check them out.


Tucuman to Corrientes: Radio stars and some interesting/dangerous wildlife

2011-04-20 to 2011-05-02

Yes folks, we are now radio stars having been interviewed by 2 radio stations about our epic cycle journey across South America but more of that later. Autographs when we return of course.

After leaving Tucuman we headed off on our journey across the flat, Prairie like Chaco area of Argentina. It definitely lived up to its name of the empty quarter as there really was not a lot here at all, except crops, the odd farm, and the even fewer village. After 5 days battling quite a bit of headwind we had made it to Charata on Easter Sunday, 500km along. Our legs were very tired and we decided last minute to have a couple of days rest to recover, and chill out. What a great decision it turned out to be, as we loved it here, in a very un-touristy town, with super friendly people and we were even asked to give a radio interview about our trip. Fortunately, Debs did most of the talking and we were not live, but heard the interview the next morning, on Radio Mocovi 800AM! A smaller radio station heard us, and on our last morning, we posed for a photo preparing to set off, and we went live for an interview for them aswell. It was all very random but pretty cool and we have noticed a few more waves and honks from passing cars as our fame spreads!

All through this region, the locals have been very friendly, maybe due to there being very few tourists, and we have camped at many people‘s houses whilst they offered us the use of their bathroom and the occasional very much needed shower. The roads have been a mix from very quiet to incredibly busy where there are some idiot truck drivers intent on forcing us off the road and blaring their horns as they approach inches away. Weather-wise, it has been incredibly hot and humid here and we are back in the land of millions of mozzies. We have also seen a fair bit of interesting wildlife along the way; loads of incredible birds including beautiful eagles, herons, owls, cormorants, rheas, many snakes (mostly road kill but a couple of huge ones have slithered out of our way seconds before we run over them), a tarantula trotting across the road, huge crickets and other insects and even awoke one morning to a scorpion chillin’ amongst our stuff outside the tent. Sweet dreams!

We have now left Charata, which has been one of our favourite towns in Argentina, and completed the last 4 day cycle towards Corrientes. For once, we had no spoke or puncture issues and entered Resistencia, experiencing our first downpour whilst cycling in South America. Not bad after 7 weeks, but we did truly get soaked for the last hour before finding a hotel and a hot shower. We are now enjoying a couple of days off at our first couch surfing host, Jeronimo, who has been fantastic, showing us the sights, taking us to the best restaurants and we even joined in the celebrations of his Mum’s birthday. A perfect stay and we hope we can meet up with him when he visits London with a group of his students in June.

Corrientes to Ciudad del Este and a brief visit to Paraguay

2011-05-03 to 2011-05-11

The final days of Argentina were met with end of the flat Chaco lands of the Wild East, and into some welcoming rolling hills. We were thrown into some doubt whether to continue through Argentina though the rainforest covered hills, or to go through Paraguay, our first choice. We’d been advised that it would be flat, boring and pretty dangerous. Curiosity won, with our thirst to taste the unknown, and to take the opportunity to visit another country on our year of adventure, so off to Paraguay we went. We had a pretty short day to start, as we were headed for Parque Manantial where we were to camp for a few days rest. Crossing the border bridge was a little challenging; after being told we could not cycle it, we were nearly turned away but finally they let us (and our bikes after a bit of a debate) onto a bus. We were warmly welcomed into Paraguay with many thumbs up and waves and questions about where we’d come from that we felt at home straight away (although Chris did very nearly get hit by a car within 5 minutes). Parque Manantial was truly a welcome heaven, lovely walks in the grounds, lush showers, and a pool to chill out by. We met a lovely Dutch couple, Henk and Marianne, who have driven a converted Toyota Land Cruiser over 400,000km around the world in the last 16years (check out their amazing blog, www……………..),. Chris was ecstatic as they took us in their car to a local fundraiser for the health centre, and we were faced with stalls upon stalls of meat being grilled and cake stands for afters - yum!

The next 3 days were spent meandering up and down the very English style rolling countryside, which made us think of home even more, and the friendliness of the locals shone around us. Our last night we camped in a local families garden, we were offered yucca to go with our dinner, and oranges from their tree for desert. The whole family sat round and chatted to us while we tried to pick up some gurani words (local Paraguayan lingo), a very special night. Just after a few days we sadly bid a farewell to the beautiful Paraguay, it’s hills, it’s beauty and extreme friendliness……a very unexpected pleasant surprise! We now head to our 15th and last country of the trip, finishing with some beach, surf and sun (hopefully) in brazil but first we check out some waterfalls!

The incredible Iguassu Falls followed by a bus for a change

2011-05-12 to 2011-05-15

No words can truly describe the incredible Iguassu Falls, consisting of 275 wateralls bordering Argentina and Brazil, so we wont try, and just say look at the many photos, multiply them by a 100 and you are somewhere close. They have to be the best waterfalls we have ever seen, and cant believe any better exist. If so, please let us know where!!

We visited both side of the Falls, and lucked out with a perfectly sunny day in Argentina and hundreds of rainbows made it even more spectacular. This is where you get up close and personal to them and several kilometers of walks lead you above, below, and around them and each corner provides another jaw dropping view. We unfortunately had a bit of rain on the Brazilian side but were still able to enjoy the fantastic panaromic views from here. Having been on the bike for a while and saving a bit of money, we decided to splurge on a 10 minute helicopter ride for an aerial experience. Although very expensive, it was fantastic, and just a shame you don´t get a bit longer as there is so much to look at.

In Foz do Iguacu we stayed at Fabio´s, our 2nd couchsurfer fo the trip, in no less than a poolhouse!! He was a fabulous host, taking us around town, and we enjoyed a couple of fun, drunken nights with him and his friend Carlos so thanks for a great few days guys. With time running out until we fly home (less than 4 weeks), we decided to get a 16hour bus from Foz to Sao Paulo. This saved about 1000km of cycling and we can now enjoy the next 3 weeks cycling the beautiful coastal road, Costa Verde, up towards Rio. We are approaching winter, but fingers crossed we get some beach weather along the way.


Big scary Sao Paulo to pure paradise in Paraty

2011-05-16 to 2011-05-26

We arrived in Sao Paulo after a pretty sleep filled 16hour bus ride from Foz do Iguacu which was going to save us a 3week cycle and therefore allow us to cruise up the coast to Rio in a well needed chilled out way.

Getting out of the city was a hair raising experience - imagine trying to cycle on the A2 coming out of London then multiply it by 10.….not a pleasant experience, the great need to concentrate was challenged when Chris’s pedal fell off!! Luckily we had a wide shoulder at this point, so it was quite funny as opposed to a death threat! We lacked the corrrect tool, so did the best we could and planned to stop in thr next small town.Successfully finding the required allan key,  we started to look for a hostel…..worryingly they were either full or very expensive, but Chris went on a final challenge and came back a happy man at finding a little place at a bargain price! However, we soon learned that the frequent arrival of some sheepish looking men - old and young, lead by some pretty dolled up women, meant that we had in fact checked into a whore house/hotel…this was confirmed when grabbing the soap and towel from the bed we noticed a complimentary condom…..yuk!! Chris found this all very amusing - where as I was totally grossed out and refused to sleep on the sheets and firmly locked myself in my sleeping bag, with ear plugs in to drown the various noises from our neighbours!!
The next day we started to meander more and more up and down into the mountain range of Serra do Mar, and after a fairly big hill we were rewarded with an awesome breathtaking view - 10 km below us was the beautiful deep blue of the Pacific Ocean - we hadn’t seen the sea in over 4months when we were in Lima, so we were so excited and so overwhelmed at the beauty of it and the surrounding mountains of lush rainforest and waterfalls all around us for miles!! 
The next week was spent climbing incredibly steep hills, but by reducing our daily cycle to 50km or less, then camping on the beach made it all very easy to cope with. We loved every day more and more, and the hills became gentler, each peak giving us awesome shots of the stunning beaches below….a few of which are rated as some of Brazils 5star beaches - wow….lush rainforest on our left and the gorgeous beaches on the right - really just a perfect way to finish our big adventure! We have also managed to cycle along some of the beaches, a new experience for us and a very fun one.
We have spent the last 4days in Paraty, a beautiful old colonial fishing town, with whitewashed walls, colourful doors and cobble streets. The Geko Hostel we’re at has been a luxury; great food, lovely staff, and we’ve spent the days chilling on the beach 5metres from the hostel, going on a lovely boat trip, visiting the best beaches yet at Trinidad and playing cards with fellow travellers Adam and Carly - and of course enjoying a few Caiprinha’s! Its the first time in nearly 2 months that we have been around fellow travellers so a very welcome change.

Next stop will be another chill out on Isla Grande…..it’s 90km to get there so it’s time to have breakfast at their beachside bar and discuss whether to take this in 2 or 3 days!!! Ahhhhh this is the life…….J

Paraty to Ilha Grande = more relaxing on beautiful beaches!

2011-05-28 to 2011-06-03

After a great few days chilling, we set off for our next holiday from holiday on Ilha Grande. We managed to cycle the 95km to Angra dos Reis in one day (our biggest for a long time) with the last 3 hours spent in torrential rain. The next morning we watched our fully loaded bikes nervously as they were procariously lifted onto the boat taking us across to Isla Grande, and 50 minutes later we were pushing our bikes along the sandy tranquil streets of Abraao. We checked out a couple of posada’s (B&B‘s) to stay at and on our way back to our favourite we were stopped by a loud, drunk English speaking man who went by the name of William Wallace! He offered his house to stay in, which was lovely and said he would be going away in a couple of days so we would have it all to ourselves. That clinched the deal for us, and he took us to a very local bar for several beers with his even more drunk friends. We managed to escape the ‘party’ by watching the very one-sided Champions League final with Tara and Mark, a lovely couple from Leeds before meeting Carly and Adam, the couple from Paraty, for a great meal and a couple of nightcaps!

The following we hiked 3 hours over several rainforest covered hills to the beautiful Lopes Mendes beach with spectacular waves crashing on shore and into rocks. It was such a contrast to the very calm weather and waves just on the other side of the island and it definitely was not possible to swim without a huge risk of drowning. We lazily decided on taking the boat back before enjoying another meal and some beers! Having quickly realised we had made a mistake by staying with William Wallace who ended up being crazy and an idiot we moved asap into one of the posada’s we previously saw. This was a huge relief and no longer did we feel like we couldn’t leave our room without fear of seeing him. We enjoyed a very drunken last night playing cards with Carly and Adam before they headed off to Rio and it has been great having a week or so with other travellers after such a long time meeting only locals. The rest of Ilha Grande was spent doing another short walk to some prison ruins, recovering from some hangovers, generally relaxing and enjoying some sensational seafood.

Unable to relax too much, we aimed for one final big trek up to Pico do Papagaio (Parrots peak), the second highest point on the island at 982m. Our first attempt failed due to spectacular stupidity (you know us) as we completely missed the huge sign for the trek and walked 2 hours in the wrong direction. So off we went the next day, and finally made it to the summit with amazing views of the inside of a cloud, which was a bit of shame! A remarkable event took place here but more of that in the next diary.

We now have only 2 days and 130km to cycle to complete our South America adventure as we head to
Rio de Janiero, our final destination and we cant believe our year is very nearly over.

Special Spectacular Diary extraordinaire - The Engagement of the Year!!


You may guess this by the end - Debs is writing this diary, lots of girly faffing needed!!
As you read on the last diary, we set off on our second attempt to climb to the top of Pico do Papagaio 982m. It was a pretty steep trail, through incredible dense rainforest, clambering/tripping over vines, and fallen trees - Chris valiantly ahead of me to clear the huge cobwebs, and bang his stick to scare away any unwanted creepy crawlies and snakes! We had been told the trail was very dangerous and that an Australian woman tried it on her own and got lost for 3 days and needed to be airlifted off the mountain. So, of course, we listened to this advice and then went up on our own without a guide. Up and up we huffed and puffed and finally made it to the top, pouring with sweat!! It was spectacular - well, it would have been if we had the same views that Adam had the other day, but it was cool and eerie being surrounded by fluffy white cloud. In the distance we heard howler monkeys barking away which echoed through the cloud.
After lunch, we started to pack up when Chris called me to the top edge of the rock gain, claiming that he could see Abraao town far below, thinking the clouds were only clearing for a second I rather dangerously rushed to join him. There were no views, it was all a ploy to get me to join him, taking me into his arms, wiped some mustard left over from my sarny from my chin, he smiled as he said what an amazing year we’d had and how he wants to spend the next 154years with me, before getting down on one knee, ring in hand - he asked me to marry him!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I know many if not all of you will not believe this, but I was speechless, I just stared at him, having dreamed of this question being asked so many times, I tried to work out if I was just imagining him looking up at me - now with a slightly worried expression on his face as I kept him in suspense….it wasn’t until he said he was really serious and I saw again that somehow he had a ring ready and waiting that I screamed YES and screamed so loudly that the villagers 982m below may have heard me and thought we’d fallen from the peak!!!
We skipped and tripped even more back down the mountain, me staring constantly at my beautiful ring (see many pictures), causing myself more unneeded reasons to fall over!! We celebrated in style that night with a bottle of bubbly and a lovely meal - ohhhhhh Engaged to be married!
Chris, the total romantic had been a very secretive busy boy……he told how he’d bought the ring 3months ago in La Paz, be that he spent several days sneaking off with excuse to find various sports on TV, searching for the perfect ring with Pacha Mamma on it as he noted I’d seen one and commented on it. To top this, he also was struggling to find a time to make a call to my parents and ask them permission - OH MY GOD!! How perfectly romantic. He’d been carrying the ring around waiting for the right moment to sweep me off my feet all this time.

Cinderella finally gets to marry her Prince……..The Beginning

The end of the incredible cycle (and the year): 3500km from La Paz to Rio!

2011-06-03 to 2011-06-12

Leaving Ilha Grande the day after the fantastic engagement, we set off for our last 2 days cycle and 130km heading into Rio! We had great weather and even some tailwind so thank you once again to Pachamama who has looked after us very well throughout the trip (minus a lot of headwind). Our penultimate day led us to a town 60km outside Rio, having survived a very scary road with lots of roadworks on. We were trying desperately to find a campsite or a pousada or anything to stay for the night but this was not looking hopeful. In desperation we tried to camp at the police station but they said that it was not safe due to drive-by shootings - this obviously put our minds at ease. Fortunately, we found the one pousada in town and it was one of the best rooms we have stayed with very friendly owners, amazed by our trip!

The final day saw us climb our last hill and then enjoy a cycle path along 40km of beaches. Perfect. Believing we were very near Copacabana, we had a relaxed lunch and a couple of beers. Schoolboy Error - we still had 25km to go and a cheeky steep hill aswell. Classic mistiming but we finally pedalled the last section into Copacabana, a mere 3500km and 11 weeks since we left La Paz in Bolivia. Its been an incredible adventure and we are so glad we decided to get back on bikes for the last 3 months. The scenery has been spectacular, some of the roads horrendous (Bolivia), the people very friendly, the hills tough, very little rain, lots of headwind, many crazy drivers, and a huge variety of wildlife including hundreds of birds, snakes, scorpions and tarantulas. We wont miss having to throw toilet paper in a bin or the constant piles of rubbish outside each village or town. But soooooo many memories, many more good than bad but even the bad helps make you stronger. We appreciate the kindness people have shown us, no matter how poor they are, and hope we can do the same to others in the future. We realise how little you need to actually live - everything fits on our 2 wheels - and what’s important in life. We hope we can find a simple, comfortable and happy life when we return to England, and enjoy the future with our friends and family! That’s all we wish for!

Having finally reached our end destination of Copacabana where we were kindly hosted by the fabulous Marciel (another couchsurfer), who fed us some fantastic Brazilian food, and living just 2 blocks from the beach we spent many days and nights playing frisby golf and enjoying some drinks with his friends and girlfriend. Of course, we ticked off the tourist sights, visiting Christ the Redeemer, and Sugar Loaf Mountain and chilling on the great beaches. We also did a fantastic tour through Rocinha, the biggest favela in Brazil. It was very well organised and we also picked up some paintings and jewellery made by the locals along the way, aswell as seeing heavily armed drug dealers who run the favela. For the final 3 days we moved to the Mellow Yellow hostel just round the corner, where Chris stayed 6 years ago. We met a load of English travellers and the nights were rather drink filled commencing with 2 hours of free caipirinhas. We ended the year on a high with a great night at the famous Lapa Street Party (it has to be done when in Rio!) and a couple of clubs, dancing into the very early hours.

Our final job was packing up the bikes to bring home and introduce them to our British roads….may they have a long and happy life with us! They have had their problems with several broken spokes and punctures, especially Debs‘, but we are safe and sound in Rio so well done Speedy Gonzalez and Karina. Thanks again to Gravity Assisted Mountain Biking, especially Jube and Derren, in Bolivia for getting them ready for the epic adventure. Thanks to all the people who have looked after us along the way and we hope to meet again one day. To all people considering a similar trip, we highly recommend it. You will get off the beaten track and really see a country, there will be many highs and a few lows with a lot of surprises! So go get pedalling…….

Home Sweet Home, here we come

Wind to Your Backs!

Westy and Debs
Our last update of a truly amazing year…….until the next adventure of course!


Here are some stats from the South America cycle trip:

3500km cycled
76 days in total including rest days
42 days cycled
Average: 82.1km per day
12,757m climbed
118,382 Calories
Quickest speed: 63kph
Biggest day: 122km
Biggest climb in one day: 1061m
Highest altitude: 4094m
Longest distance without pedalling: 20km
Buses taken: 4
Trains taken: 1

Broken spokes: Debs 13, Chris 8
Punctures: Debs 14, Chris 9