Hello from Sao Paulo! After all the illness and virus-y stuff I went through the two weeks before I was supposed to set off, I really didn`t think Id make it!
But...I am here! Spent two nights here already, so kind of got my bearings of the local area but seeing as Sao Paulo is the 3rd or 4th biggest City in the world, its fair to say in three days I doubt I will see much of it! The first night I got here, I was shattered from the flights (1.5 hours to Amsterdam & 12 hours to Sao Paulo) so had some food and a couple of drinks and hit the sack. Yesterday I went to an art Museum in the Centre of Sao Paulo and had a walk around. Its a huge place, I only walked down one road and that took me about an hour! Went for a mexican just down from my hotel last night, was nice and the owner spoke English...phew!
It`s a bit lonely being in such a huge city by myself with hardly anyone speaking English, but I`m getting by, using my Spanish as Portugese is fairly similar! Got one night left here and I may go to a few bars to see what goes on there and taste the local drink - Caipirinha! Then I`m off to Rio De Janeiro early tomorrow morning on a bus. Its about the same distance as Manchester to London, takes about 4-5 hours and is about 20 Pounds, not bad.
Well I`ll keep it short for now and let you get back to work,etc! Enjoying it so far, its such a different place and way of living to back home but not seen any violence or crime so far, so thats good! Next time I`ll speak to you, it`ll be in Rio I hope...CARNIVAL!!!
P.S. Please leave any messages you like, I will try and get back to you or answer anything in my next diary entry!
Well here I am in Rio. And why am I inside writing on the internet to you lot?! Well, because it is pouring down basically! Got here on 1st Feb, met up with a lot of other people here, been introduced to lots of them and forgotten most of their names! The bus trek was 6 hours from Sao Paulo to Rio, bit long but was on an executive bus, so had reclining seats and managed to sleep quite a bit.
Got to Rio and it was baking hot, its like 35 degrees here in the sun, which is fairly warm! Been out for a few beers with different people, some of them are spending months travelling round different places, two guys are spending 18 months or so doing the whole world, blimey! So loads of interesting people and stories!
Yesterday we had a fairly early morning, we were off out at 8am to Sugarloaf Mountain and Corcovado (I think thats spelt right!) Sugarloaf is the very odd shaped hill in Rio with amazing views over the city and sea. Was a couple of cable cars to get up there, Mum you would have loved that! Got some good pics that will hopefully be online in a bit! Then after an hour or so having a wander up there, we went to one of the modern wonders of the world - Christ the Redeemer! That was one of teh major things I was looking forward to in Rio and it was so amazing! I suppose words wont describe what it is like up there, hopefully my pictures will. The statue faces over the city and apparently looks after the inhabitants of Rio. Whether thats true or not...who knows but its definitely an impressive sight. Its 30m tall and weighs over 1000 tonnes! Have a look at the pics anyway.
After all that fun a few of us went to watch football last night at the Maracana Stadium. Thats the one that held 199,000 people in the World Cup when it was in Brazil 50 or so years ago. Its only 105,000 capacity now and it wasnt full for the game as it isnt the proper league season yet, its like a state championship. But Botafogo vs Vasco de Gama is a Rio derby and a huge game for the fans, so there was still about 40,000 there and they didnt half make some noise! The game was brilliant, Botafogo went 2-0 up with one goal being especially good, in the 1st half. Then Vasco came back to 2-2 secongd half and looked like it was going to be a draw. Then, last min penalty and red card and Botafogo went 3-2 up and ended up winning. Was a great game and such a good atmosphere. For those of you who watch Bolton and think Mark S is loud, you have heard nothing compared to the rants we heard last night! Some of them are quite passionate lets say and vent their frustration loudly!
Anyway, thats it for now. Tonight we are going to the Sambodrome downtown to watch the carnival. Not sure if you can catch any of it on TV but its definitely interesting to watch! Think its on until 6am tomorrow...should be a bit of a late one!
Have fun back home and I will catch you soon! X
Wow, what a difference a couple of hundred miles makes with the weather...it is HOT! We left Rio on Thursday morning and had a good few hours of driving on the truck. First day on the truck was quite hot, sweaty and tiring...so I was falling asleep on the guy next to me who I had just met! Nice way to introduce yourself! We have a good group of people, a real mix of ages, sex and nationalities, so its really interesting getting to know people.
We are in Parati at the minute, camping and slumming it in tents where as in Rio we were in a hotel. Its good because we do everything ourselves, cook, buy food, clean etc. Got some basic shower facilities but its definitely one of them you wear flip flops in there! The weather is great here, its a coast town, very quaint and old, cobbled streets and that. Very different to Rio and Sao Paulo. The scenery here is amazing, there are hills and forrests everywhere, lovely beaches, like something out of the film The Beach!
We were on a boat trip yesterday around the coast where there are so many little islands with houses or restaurants on and small hidden beaches that are so quiet and beautiful. The sae is so clear and very nice to get in to after a bit of sun bathing! The local drinks have been going down quite well so far...probably a bit too much! Its a sugar cane drink called caipirinha, like mojitos but with sugar, sugar cane alcohol, lime and ice. Thats it, so its pretty damn strong...one and you can definitely feel it!
I am struggling getting photos on here so I am putting them on facebook, so keep an eye out on there. Hitting the beach in a while, get some rays and then tomorrow we have an early start, up at 6 and setting off on a few hundred mile drive all day! Off to the Pantanal to see some anacondas and pirahnas!
Catch you soon x
So....the sun is still shining and the tan is getting better! Sorry, I just have to rub it in that the weather is so good here! Since Rio we havent seen much rain at all and hardly any clouds either, so it is baking weather!
Since last time I wrote, we did a couple of days driving across Brazil, long days on the truck and camping by the side of the road with no facilities! Its pretty interesting as there is a massive mix of people...some used to slumming it and some who wont stop moaning. No surprise to say that the whiners are women! But its good fun, spent pretty much three days in the same clothes and no showers, it all makes it good fun!
So we arrived in the Pantanal which is the biggest wetlands in the world, something like ten times bigger than the Everglades! We were told we were staying in a hostel there but it was more like a farm in the middle of nowhere. But it turned out to be absolutely brilliant! They had all kinds of wildlife living there, hawks, emu style creatures, angry pigs, etc! So whilst we were there we did a few activities that you dont do everyday! We did pirahna fishing, canoeing up a huge river arm full of cayman (similar to crocs!), horse riding (that hurts!) and we actually jumped into the river we were pirahna fishing in for a swim! Bit nerve wrecking but good fun! No-one got bitten and I nearly caught a pirahna but i yanked the fishing line too hard and it flew off across the river! Them things are deadly though, they grow massive and the teeth are bloomin sharp! Apparently a decent size group of them could finish off a human in just a few minutes! Yikes!
We did a couple of safaris as well to see some wildlife, one at night and the other during the day. Both were pretty good and the main aim was to see jaguars there as there is a big conservation program they have but we didnt see any unfortunately. We did see some large cats (osolotes I think), wild pigs, huge rats (capybaras), cayman, stalks that were 2 metres high and loads of different birds. It was great to see all this in one place, it was so peaceful, no car noise or plans overhead, just insect and wildlife noise. Very tranquil!
We are now in Bonito, North of Paraguay which is another ecosystem place and we are going snorkelling tomorrow to see some fish and maybe snakes! Apparently the river name is Anaconda River translated...so that should be fun! Them things grow up to 6 meteres long! The town is quite strange as there is a really nice hotel opposite out hostel but just down the road there are little huts that people live in made of corrigated iron, cardboard and anything they can find basically. Extreme poverty and wealthiness just 100 metres apart! Fell asleep in a hammock the other day, them things are awesome! Not slept in one at night yet but I may have to buy one and put it up in the lounge at home, theyre brill! Also ate cayman last night as well as huge rodents! The cayman was nice, wasnt too sure on the capybara. Just couldnt get the thought I was eating a huge guinea pig out of my head!
Got a long drive in a couple of days down to the border of Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina where we go to see some huge waterfalls and cross over into Argentina, so I get to use some Spanish as this not being able to speak Portugese is not very good for buying stuff! Hope you are all well back home and enjoying the weather! I´ll get a beer in for you! Enjoy and I will speak soon. x
Well, no sooner had we got in to Argentina, we have left already! I didn´t realise we´d be spending so little time there but it was only 5 days in total, which isn´t much considering we travelled across the width of the country! I haven´t updated this site in a week or so as we have been travelling a lot and I don´t want to spend all my time in these slow internet places!
Anyway, since we left Bonito, we headed towards the border of Argentina and Paraguay and the town of Iguacu. Here there are some really impressive waterfalls that seperate Brazil from Argentina from Paraguay! We spent three nights at a campsite there but it was a pretty good one as we had a pool and a decent bar on site so it was a good laugh. One of the days we went to the Brasil side of the falls, where you can see all of the falls from a distance (i think there is about 270 odd or something!) and its a really great view of them from a distance. The next day we went to Argentina for the day and spent the day on that side of the falls. From here it was a great view up close and personal, so got some great pictures from both perspectives which hopefully I´ll upload soon. After that we went back to Brazil for a last night at that campsite and left the next day for Argentina proper! So technically I have been to Argentina twice in two days and have the passport stamps to prove it! The falls were great and we did a boat trip right underneath them and got drenched. Hopefully I´ll be getting a dvd of it and I soaked my camera taking some pics!
As we were spending so little time in Argentina, it meant a lot of time travelling on the truck, so it was a good job we had plenty of late nights in Brazil so we slept a lot onthe truck! Plus we were camping again on the road through Argentina...literally by the side of the road! We had a campfire one night and a couple of drinks in the bush, was good fun. The weather was still great into Argentina and my tan is coming on a treat! The food has also been good on the trip, as we shop and cook forourselves on the truck and eat in petrol stations or by the side of the road. Its amazing how many hiding places there are on the truck for food, gas cookers, pots, pans, the lot! Im actually quite enjoying the camping, jolly good fun!
We arrived in Salta a few days ago and spent two nights there, although I dont know the dates and days as its so hard to keep track with no papers or news! We had a couple of large nights in Salta, it had good nightlife, epsecially on the saturday when we got back at 8.30am, said hello to the people just getting up for brekky and hit the tent sack! Salta was pretty good but not loads to do during the day. We were going to go white water rafting but it got cancelled so we´re doing it later in the trip. It was quite a modern town in places, like the bars etc but then the taxis were sheds and some of the buildings were falling down. So cheap for taxis, 1 pound for a couple of miles!
Now we are in Bolivia, we crossed the border yesterday and got to our hotel late yesterday afternoon. It was a relief for some the people in our group who have been moaning about camping and when I saw the beds, I too was a little relieved! Hot water, showers and a comfy bed! The worst we have had it so far is two nights, three days without a shower, wearing the same clothes and smelling. Its great! So we´re just over the Bolivian border in Tupiza and it´s a million miles from anything we´re used to. They are so undeveloped, the main road from Argentina into Bolivia is a dirt track that is only just wide enough for two cars to pass. We have climbed slowly up to 3000 metres andyou can definitely tell we are at altitude! I went up two flights of stairs in the hotel when we arrived and I was out of breath! Maybe because I have been drinking quite a lot but I still blame it on the altitude! It is so cheap here i actually feel quite guilty! We went for a meal last night and one guy paid for us all...it cost 7 pounds for 5 of us, thats including drinks! The food isnt great i have to admit but it is still so cheap in comparison to the western world. Just gotto keep buying water to try and stop altitude sickness. So far so good, its just walking around thats the killer at the minute! Bring on Macchu Picchu!
Well thats all thats going on at the minute. Still loving it and having a great time. The group is great and getting on really well with quite a few of them. We´re heading to La Paz (highest capital in the world) soon and North from there. Spoke to Mum today and she said it was 5 weeks until Im back in work...cheers mum! Happy Birthday dad, forgot to say it on the phone and thats the reason I rung. I blame the altitude! ;) Good to see Bolton are through in Europe but got hammered by Blackburn. Ah well. Hope all the guys had a good time without me in Madrid...Im sure I was missed!
Right, Im off for pizza for 80p, a litre of beer for 50p and a comfy bed! Will catch you all soon and look out for more photos on Facebook. Keep on sending me messages! Over & out.
Cant believe there are earthquakes going on back home when Im away in South America, something not right there! Ah well, loads still going on here. Tupiza where I wrote my last entry was pretty boring to b honest, I think it was just a stop off for us on a long drive from Argentina. It was a small town and it looked like quite an inbred place too as there were some very odd looking people there! But it was still great to experience their way of life and see how different things are for them compared to us. We had a fairly easy days drive after that to Uyuni, where the largest salt plains in the world are.
Our hostel there was really nice and actually started off as just a pizza restaraunt! Its a famous pizza place and became really popular so the ybuilt a hotel with it. Strange but it was full of travellers. And the pizza was very nice! We had a great day there where we went to the salt plains, which are 12,000km squared! When I get the photos up you will see how large they are, in every direction it is flat and very white! We also went to an old burial grave, saw some flamingos and went to a train graveyard for sunset. Got some good photos of that too, just need to get them uploaded (tínternet is a bit slow out here and often doesnt like photos!) At the salt plains, we stopped to talk to the workers there and give them some sunglasses at is so bright in the sun. I had a go at shovelling some salt and its tough work, especially as we´re over 3,000 metres above sea level! Its quite strange how quick you can get out of breath! Had a couple of good nights out in Uyuni too and met other travellers. The drink is so cheap here it is hard to say no to a night out. Think a detox may be in order when I get home!
We left Uyuni yesterday and arrived in Potosi late afternoon. Potosi is the highest city in the world at nearly 4,100m above sea level. It is a really famous city and used to be bigger than Madrid as it has a massive source of silver, zinc and other minerals. When the Spaniards arrived a few hundred years ago, they set up this city as a massive exporting place and brought lots of slaves over to work in the mines here. We went down the main mine this morning and it was definitely an experience! We entered the mine at over 4,200m above sea level and had the chance to do a bit of work there. I was only digging for a minute and I was shattered and really out of breath. How them miners stay there for over 24 hours sometimes is beyond me. Plus they get paid under 3 pounds for 60kg of minerals they extract....its madness. They say that in 300 years, around 9 million people have died in the mines and from working there. Im so glad it wasnt 9 million plus 1 today! They did a few explosions for us and we tried some of the alcohol they drink in there...its 96%! Had not even half a cap full and it blew my head off! Great experience but shocking at the same time.
In Bolivia, they are one of the worlds main producers of Coca leaves, which Coca Cola use in their drinks and also cocaine is made from it. The coke is so cheap out here it would be rude not to! Ha, just kidding Mum! We have been chewing the leaves which gives you energy and helps with the altitude, its not very nice but it does help a bit. We bought loads for the miners this morning as well as biscuits, cigarettes, alcohol and water. Not surprised their life expectancy is 10-15 years after starting in the mine, they chew cocaine ingredients, drink super strong booze and smoke coca cigarettes! Saying that, they work in better conditions than 200 years ago when the slaves would spend 6 months at a time down there which is plain human torture. 2 hours down there and I was ready to leave!
We´re setting off to the highest capital in the world tomorrow and spending three nights there. Got a few activities lined up, should be good fun. Then we´re on to the second leg of the trip to Peru and the Inca Trail...cant wait!
Catch you soon x
Well, we have nearly finished our tour of Bolivia and it definitely has been interesting! It is such an under developed country in places and so cheap but then there are some places with huge cathedrals and lots of wealth, it seems a little strange at how big the poverty gap is.
So we went to La Paz after Potosi, which is the highest capital city in the world, has the highest golf course and highest football stadium in the world...so you get the idea that it is high! I still wasnt suffering any effects from the altitude although some people were and there was a bit of illness going around. Think one of the guys got dissentry or something, so the doc said and people have been suffering from dodgy stomachs. I think its the water and food here, the locals have strong bellies where as us travellers are weak! La Paz is a huge city and has lots of mountains and great scenery. So, to get the best out of both of these, we went and did a bike ride down one of them! Not sure of any of you have seen the pictures of the Worlds most dangerous road...but thats what we went down! 64km, first 30km on tarmac and then on to gravel which was a little scary, especially as there were drops of 400m to our sides! I will be bringing photos home of our trip but if you want to have a look at a slideshow of random pics, search for gravity assisted biking bolivia on google. They have a slideshow that has some great pics on.
This was the highlight of my trip so far, it was such a good day and was pretty cheap too, only $75. Only thing was we nearly missed it as our truck broke down on the way to La Paz, so those who were doing the biking decided to make our own way to La Paz, which was 550km from Potosi. We jumpe on a night bus and made it in time for the biking. It was so cheap, only 50 Bolivianas, which is about three pounds fifty! Bargain! So glad we made it as the biking was great.
When the truck broke down we were a little stranded for a few hours and we were just milling about outside bored. It was pretty cloudy and even drizzling a bit and I was in just a t-shirt. Sheesh, that night my face and arms werent half burnt! I hadnt thought about sun cream as it wasnt sunny but I think at 4000m above sea level it doesnt matter, so now I have a peely forehead and nose...definitely a good look! And I thought Id make the whole trip without getting burnt! Ah well. Then after the bike riding we went to an animal sanctuary for food and drinks and got bitten to death by mosquitos and sand flies. Taken some vitamin B though and that seems to have kept the itching to a minimum. Theyre pesky things them flies!
We left La Paz yesterday morning and it was only a short journey to Copacabana (different to the Rio one!) which is right on Lake Titicaca...an absolutley enormous lake at 4000m above sea level. Apparently it used to be part of the sea, which is weird to think about but supposedly true. Its a nice little place we are staying in, the hotel is great, as they all have been but unfortunately I have seen the bathroom more than I would have liked since yesterday! Not sure how I got it but I got a dodgy stomach although Im shaking it off now with some antibiotics. Quite a few have felt like that, think we are just not used to the water and food. Had to miss a trip to an island today but apparently I didnt miss out too much and I watched some football on TV! Having a break from the booze too as we are doing the trek in a few days, so want to be on top form for that.
We leave Copacabana tomorrow morning for Puno which is in Peru and leave Bolivia behind. Hopefully these antibiotics work and Im fit as a fiddle for the Inca Trail!
Speak soon x
Sorry I haven´t been around for a while, been trekking across the Andes on the Inca Trail! Having a great time, doing loads of walking, camping, not showering and being a proper traveller! The company we have been using have been great, really looked after us and made sure we have been having a good time. Been as high as 4800m above sea level and thats tough going when you´re trekking uphill! Some of the group have been struggling doing it but us young lads are breezing it and its not as tough as I was expecting. Looks like some of the gym work I did before I left paid off! Although a month of drinking beforehand took the edge off slightly!
So we left Bolivia behind a week or so ago. I really enjoyed Bolivia although it wasnt a country before this trip I wanted to visit really. To see their way of life was quite eye opening and definitely makes you appreciate what you have at home in the way of comfortable living, drinkable water, clean clothes and decent food. Fair enough it is dirt cheap but they still have a good few years of developing to do before they get anywhere near our westernised ways. It was still enjoyable though and some of the scenery there is amazing. The bike ride was definitely a highlight of the trip as well as the salt flats in Uyuni.
Puno in Peru was our first stop and I was still feeling slightly dodgy although it wasnt painful. The bites subsided and the burnt skin peeled off! We went to see our first Inca ruins here, which were pretty good and quite interesting (I will upload pics when I can!). The building techniques they used were quite similar to the Egyptians, God knows how they moved them massive blocks so far and built with them, some of them weighed 40-60 tonnes! Then we went to the Uros Isles in Puno which are floating reed islands and pretty dam amazing. There is a community that have lived there for centuries since the Spaniards invaded South America and they fled to Lake Titicaca to live. There is a massive amount of reeds growing in this section of the lake so they made islands out of these and started up a community. Its got quite touristy now and they have stalls set up there selling things and talks on how they live. Its good to see they make a good living out of it but a bit sad to see they have sold out to tourism totally. They do everything with the reeds; cook, build, make boats and houses, its amazing. Got some good pics from there, check them out on facebook when I eventually upload them! We were only here for a day and a night before setting off for Cusco but we still managed a night out! We met up with another one of the groups who are doing a similar trip to us who we have seen along the way and had a good night out (obviously I wasnt drinking on antibiotics!)
We arrived in Cusco last weekend and this was to be our base for trekking the Inca Trail and Machu Picchu. Its a really nice city, one of the nicest we have been to so far and obviously we went out to check the nightlife out! Its a pretty big city so loads of places to go and we met up with the other group again. We had a free day before setting off on the inca Trail so we went to one of the local markets and had a good look round there. Some of the stuff they make out of Llama and the local raw materials is amazing. If only I could buy lots and bring them home; I just cant fit them in my rucksack! Maybe I´ll sneak a few things home! Its still pretty cheap in Peru but not as cheap as Bolivia. The economy is slightly better here and theyre a bit more developed. Cusco has a real Spanish feel to it with the architecture and that, you can tell it was one of the main places the Spanish settled when they invaded.
So Im most of the way through the Inca trail now, done 4 days of walking and visiting Inca ruins. Its really interesting learning about the Incas and how they lived and then fled when the Spanish came. They had some strange beliefs but impressive at the same time. The walks have been good, quite challenging at times but I´ve done them all and not struggled too much. The sherpas are amazing though and almost run the mountains and valleys. An example is we stayed in a village one night and left the next day, forgetting our football and ending up 3 hours away in another village. We mentioned it to a guide and before we knew it one of the guys (he was about 40) ran back to the previous village, got our ball and ran back...it had been snowing the previous night too! Unbelievable. The food has been great, soup for starters and lovely mains followed by dessert and loads of hot chocolate and tea! Missing Tetleys though! We are doing Machu Picchu tomorrow, hopefully the weather will be ok, but as I mentioned, it has been pretty bleak most of the time, raining and cloudy, even snowing one night! We had to cancel one of the treks as it was too dangerous to tackle the snow. We´ll see if I can get some good pics of Machu Picchu...keep an eye out on Facebook.
Gotta love you and leave you, another 5.30am rise tomorrow, need my beauty sleep and energy for the trekking! Hope you are all well. I would say I was missing you...but I´m ahving too much fun (just joking Mum)!!!
Time is definitely going far too fast! Cant believe it has been 10 days since I last wrote on this thing. Last time I wrote, we weregoing up Machu Picchu the day after, one of the new 7 wonders of the world. It was awesome! It was an early start and a train and a bus ride up there but it was well worth it with the views at the top. Still struggling with getting pics up as it takes so long but watch this space. We had a guide up there who knew loads about the site and how the Incas lived and were eventually driven out by the Spanish. Wont bore with you details on here but ask me if you want to know more when Im home! The whole trek for the week was great, well worth all the walking we did and Id definitely recommend anyone to do it.
We returned to Cusco after all the walking, was good to get back to a real bed, a shower and a change of clothes! A few of us went for a massage which was so good after the walking...so good I fell asleep towards the end! Wasnt aching much afterwards and we had to go out to celebrate finishing the trek, so had another good night out in Cusco. The 24 hour challenge was quite messy! Sadly this was the last night out for us all as a big group and we lost 11 people before we departed for Chivay, so was emotional for some of us! We were only stopping over in Chivay as it was half way inbetween Cusco and Arequipa and there was a great spot for spotting condors nearby. We went really early in the morning to make sure we got them waking up and going on the hunt for food. I think theyre the biggest flying bird in the world but dont quote me on that! I didnt think theyd be so good to look at but when we were there, they woke up and started to soar above our heads. Im pretty sure some of the larger males had a 6ft wingspan and they were only flying a few feet above our head at times. It was pretty damn amazing!
We had another long drive day after that to Arequipa where we were going to spend Paddys Day. Not usually celebrating this, I decided to stay with the group to Arequipa but some of them stayed behind in Cusco to go to an Irish bar...didnt really appeal to me! Arequipa is a pretty big city but didnt really have much to do apart from try another local delicacy...this time guinea pig! We went out for a meal and ordered three guinea pigs for starters. What we got was road kill! The WHOLE little animal came out on a plate, deep fried, head n´all and didnt look too apetising to be honest- But we all tried it and it wasnt too bad, just like dark chicken really but didnt quite taste as good. Of course a few of us tried the nightlife the 2 nights we were there and it was pretty good, 2 late nights and a lot of rum was drunk!
Next we had ANOTHER early start to drive to Nazca, where the Nazca lines are located. For those of you who dont know what they are, they are huge lines in the rock or sand in the desert that make up pictures of animals and people that can been seen from the air. No-one really knows how they were really made or why but they are pretty cool to see from the air, as we went over in one of them tiny pedal planes! Again, got some good pics that should be online soon. I think some of the locals believed it was aliens who did the lines...that would explain how they got the detail right from up high hundreds of years ago! We also went to see some pre-inca tombs that day which were pretty eye opening to say the least! They were in the middle of a desert near Nazca and apparently date back to around 2000 years ago. They are brilliantly preserved there because of the heat and lack of rain...it only rains 2 hours per year on average! Slightly better stats than the North West of England! Some of the stuff they found there had been destroyed by looters a few years previous but some of the bodies still had hair and skin, which was bit freaky to see after 2000 years! Bet they werent expecting a load of gringos staring at them after 2000 years when they were buried 6 feet under all that time ago!
Last time I wrote I was tired, it was late and my brain wasnt working, so sorry it cut off short! Had so much to write about it got me confused! Easily done after so long not using my brain! So, after the scary 2000 year old mummies, we called in at a local distillery of Pisco, a Peruvian drink made from grapes. They make some sweet wine as you´d expect but also some very strong liquer by fermenting the grapes and then distilling them once. The tour was quite brief and a little worrying, there wasnt much health and safety going on... grapes all over the place! Ah well, we got to taste some after the tour and they were very generous! We had a few shots of the sweet wine which was nice and then 4 shots of the stronger stuff of different flavours. To be honest I couldnt tell the difference, they all tasted like meths (thats for you Mum & Dad!) We were supposed to drive then to Huacachina where there are masses of huge sand dunes and do some sand boarding down them but when we arrived there was a double booking and it was late. So we drunk instead! We were sleeping under the starts that night... just a sleeping bag, so thats my excuse for having a drink, I needed the help! The place was cool, it had a small pool and a bar, so we were happy. We had a bbq and then had a few drinks and me and one of the lads went out for a wander to a local ´club!´ It wasnt very busy and we got speaking to a couple of local girls who said there was a better place elsewhere. So we jumped in a car with them and headed 15 minutes away to this little town and had a few drinks with them. Now I know a few of you expected me to come back with a Brasilian wife but I have to disappoint and say there is no wife. But one of the girls there was the hottest girls Ive seen and I tried to persuade her to come back with me but she politely declined! Ah well, it was worth a try!
The next morning we woke up at 6 to go and do the sand boarding early on. It is definitely up there with one of the best experiences so far. We got taken up the dunes in sand buggies and the guys driving them are mental! We were going up and down near vertical slopes pretty damn fast! It was good fun and then we got the chance to board down some dunes. Typically, when they asked who wanted to stand up, numpty here volunteered and ended up crashing twice quite badly! Both times I landed on my backside and then my head followed! Im ok now though, just a bit of muscle ache and a bruised bum as a souvenir! One of the fellas on the tour got some good fotos so will hopefully have them soon. We set off on another drive North through Peru, had brekky on the way and were going to ´the poor mans Galapegos´ or the ´Sh#t Islands´as some call them! We went by boat for half an hour to these islands that are just off the coast where millions (Im not exagerating!) of birds and penguins live as well as huge sea lions. They are famous for their fertiliser, hence the name! Trust me it absolutely stunk and apparently its the most expensive fertiliser in the world. They leave it for 7 years and then some poor souls have to go and collect it. I hope theyre paid well! Also saw some dolphions briefly jumping out of the water but didnt want to get my camera wet...so no photos!
During the trip we have decided to change our itinerary, so we spend more time in the Amazon jungle. That meant that night we went to Lima, the capital of Peru but only for 12 hours rather than a few days. I can see a city centre anywhere but not the amazon, we all agreed. So one night in Lima and then off on another drive to the coast! We hadnt seen the sea since Brazil and Parati, so was a nice change of scenery again. We stayed in Huanchaco for a couple of nights and we were going to do some surfing but didnt have the chance. What we did see was a huge city called Chan Chan made entirely of mud bricks; some of you may have seen it on TV. Its pretty impressive to see how these people lived around 1000 years ago with nothing to use for shelter and basic living but mud! The buildings were weathered as youd expect but some of it had been restored to show what they looked like as well as bits of original architecture. They had everything sorted too, which way to point the buildings and surrounding city walls so the sea breeze didnt get in, natural water sources and paintings on the walls. What was more impressive was the place we went to after which was one of two pre-inca temples. They were huge things, again made all from mud blocks...millions of them! There were still some original art work all over the walls and pictorals describing the rituals and sacrifices they had. If anyone saw that Mel Gibson film Apocalypto, it was similar to that... pretty breath taking. I truely confirmed my love of hammocks as well here as both nights I had a tent to sleep in but chose a hammock instead, theyre brilliant!
Huanchaco was our next stop on the North coast of Peru and more chance for surfing! We set up tents on the beach and again, had a bar right on hand, so another night of food and drink was had, the food is really good here. We had a free day the next day so three of us went surfing in the Pacific, bloody big waves! We had an hour and I was very sceptical we were going to learn anything but I managed to stand up three times on waves, once for about 10 seconds and the others briefly before I went head first into a large wave! It was great fun apart from me injuring the instructor with the board and breaking one of his fins! Oops! We had a BBQ on the beach that night and a few more drinks followed by a slightly restless night as I was sandy, bit burnt and very warm!
Today we drove over the Peruvian border in to Ecuador and even though they are similar countries you can sense the change. People in Peru were so nice and always waving at the truck. Some people seem a little less happy here but Im judging before Ive had the chance to find out properly. Only a week left of my travels and its back to the real world. In some instances it seems ages since I left for Sao Paolo but in others it seems to have flown by. Hopefully the last week will drag, we have Banos, a town we arent supposed to go to as there is an erupting volcano there and then the Amazon for three days...cant wait!
Catch you soon x
Well, its time to say goodbye. Gutted the trip is over, had such a good time and met so many cool people that I dont want to come home. Not that you guys back home arent cool...just that Ive loved South America a lot more than I thought I would, especially this side, like Peru and Ecuador. After spending three days in the Amazon, I dont think I´ll see a spider or a snake and be scared ever again! The things you see there are amazing...ants that are as big as your thumb and tarantulas wandering round in our room and it not being weird! Colin, the guy I was sharing with wasnt the most calm when it came to spiders and snakes so he was a little spooked!
So we went to Banos, the town with the smoking volcano that could erupt anytime now and spent two nights at this strange little place there. It was owned by a Scottish guy who moved out there 12 years ago and before that worked for Dragoman. He loved Ecuador so much he moved there, bought a piece of land and set up a hostel type thing. We were the only people there so it was pretty cool...we took over the place! The first night we had a few drinks in the afternoon and it soon descended into carnage! It was Colins birthday the next day so that was our excuse for cracking open three bottles of rum and two bottles of vodka! Sheesh, we were dancing on tables, swinging from the roof and generally being quite drunk! The owner was the one who started it all off too! The next day we had a free day but there was an option to do Canyoning or rafting, so we all decided to do canyoning, which was brilliant. It was like walking down a small canyon, abseiling some of the way and spending a lot of time in water! Abseiling down a waterfall is a lot harder than it seems, very slippy! Along the way people have had the chance to upgrade and sleep in rooms when we were supposed to be in tents. And everyone upgraded on this part of the trip and slept in rooms apart from me and Col. We were supposed to put a tent up but we didnt bother...the hammocks were far too appealing! So another 2 nights in a hammock, I love the things!
After Banos was the Amazon for three nights which was really cool. We did a couple of walks throught the rainforest and saw all kinds of insects, animals and flora and fauna! The amount of living things there is breat htaking and each living thing there is intertwined with something else. The ants that I mentioned were amazing, they were huge and very poisonous! Along with pretty much everything else there, you couldnt touch anything! We went to a museum to see how some of the tribes lived there, hunted and ate. Whilst we were there a spider dropped on one of the guys and he shook it off to the floor. When we asked the guide what it was, he explained it was a baby tarantula! A couple of us had a hold of it and a play about which was pretty cool until the guide said its mum was probably about somewhere...so we scarpered! We built a raft one afternoon from logs and rope and then sailed it down the river back to our lodge which was pretty cool. Until we got stuck in a whirlpool and couldnt get out...that was a wee bit scary! We also went to see how the locals lived in a small village on the edge of the river. That was definitely an insight, to see how they cooked and survived just living off the land. They had a school there and they were pretty civilised in the way they lived but it was still far from what we are used to in the modern developed world. I wish we had gone to see one of the tribes, but theyre dangerous and usually shoot anyone they see with blow pipes and poison darts! We had a shamen one night who came and did some ritual healing on people, not sure if it worked or not!
Now we´re in Quito and the trip is officially over. What a bummer! But I still have 2 days here, we´re going to a big market tomorrow. If you´re lucky you may get a souvenir from me. If I have any money left! Well I suppose I will sign off now and go and do something productive, its taken me an hour to write this as I am slightly suffering from last nights antics! Bit of a heavy one! Will catch you all soon and bore you with more tales and stories from my trip!
Hasta luego! x
So, here we are again....
I am currently sat in Alison & Martin`s very nice house in Ottawa having spent just over a week travelling and this is the first time I have had chance to sit down and write an entry! It`s pretty warm here, apparently the pool thermometer says it is 22C! They have just had the pool uncovered and it`s been filling up the past couple of days, looks tempting in this sunshine but think the water is just above freezing! The hose pipes filling it up still froze last night so don`t think I`ll be diving in anytime soon! Millie has been in, she soon got straight out though!
Anyway, back to the beginning of my trip. I started out going down to London to fly out from Heathrow and stay at Andy & Zo`s place the night before for a `few goodbye drinks!` Uncle Stu was ahead of the game as usual and had already had a `few!` Had a good night with them and then flew out to Reykjavik the next day. I know a couple of Icelandic guys there, Armann and Bjarni, so was staying with them for a few days and they were to be my personal tour guides! The first day we had a bit of a road trip out to a lagoon at the bottom of a huge glacier about 400km from where they lived. They filmed a James Bond & Batman films here, was pretty spectacular. We didn`t have the best weather for it but was still amazing to see. Was damn cold though! Unfortunately the boat trip they do there wasn`t running as it was too cold. On the way back we stopped at a few waterfalls that were pretty spectacular and the land around Iceland is unbelievable, it`s just all lava that has gone solid to form their island, it`s just a series of volcano eruptions that form it. We ate Icelandic horse that night and it was really good! Definitely recommend it!
The next day we were doing the Golden Circle and the weather was a lot better for this, really sunny but still bloody cold! The Golden Circle is basically three big natural attractions close by not far from Reykjavik. There were the countries original settlement plains where they had their parliament, a very impressive waterfall (that looked incredibly cold!) and the natural geysirs. Was a good sightseeing tour and got loads of pictures that are on Flickr (under www.flickr.com/nickwadeson). That night we had Icelandic lamb, which was again brilliant! Unfortunately the next day Bjarni had to go to a funeral so I booked to go and walk on a glacier with a tour company. This was pretty amazing, seeing the sheer size of these things and how far and quickly they move. I never really understood glaciers before but seeing how they carve the landscape and the effect they can have is great. Again, there`s more pictures of these.
On the last day before the airport we did a bit of sightseeing around Reykjavik and the surrounding towns. It`s amazing, I never realised that Iceland was so huge, bigger than the UK! There are only 300,000 people that live there too, with 200,000 living in Reykjavik, so the rest of the island is just empty! Bizarre considering there are about 55,000,000 in England alone! They aren`t in a good way financially either, the economy is a mess, but I won`t go into that now, pretty boring for those not interested! It is still pretty expensive for tourists, I was paying 4 pounds for a beer! But it used to be double that as their exchange rate has been crippled! Good time to go if you`re thinking of it! We also went to The Blue Lagoon there, which is a natural geothermal spot, so the water is really warm naturally. There are also natural minerals that form there and the stupid tourists like me put it on their face and have pictures taken, like you can see from my pics! It is supposed to be good for your skin, so I was told. Maybe it was just to make me look stupid!
I then flew to Toronto in Canada for the next leg of my trip. It is a huge city and was a bit daunting at first to jump on public transport but I found some really nice locals who showed me how to get to my hostel! I stayed right near the CN Tower and that is pretty large! The hostel was OK, a dorm of 10 people and not huge, so was a bit interesting! Only 15 pounds a night though, so can`t complain. I went to the CN Tower the first day, which used to be the tallest building in the world but has just been surpassed by a tower in Dubai I think. Anyway, it`s high! Got great views of the city and Lake Ontario, which is blooming huge too! Looks like the sea, can just about see Niagara Falls mist from the top. I also went to a local brewery too which was pretty good, mainly because they kept refilling my free samples afterwards and spent a good while there!
Went on an organised trip to Niagara Falls the next day and that is again a really spectacular waterfall. Got some great pics from a tower they have there. There is a really tacky town just next to the falls which is so Americanised but good fun to have a wander round! The prices were a bit extortionate too! The Falls are almost unbelievable as to how much water goes over them per second! We did a winery tour too and went to Niagara on the Lake, which is a British Loyalist town, really nice quaint place!
I decided to leave Toronto after a few days there, it`s just a huge city like any other and after doing the sights, booked a bus to Alison & Martins place in Ottawa. So had a wander around Ottawa centre today, saw the parliament buildings and a few museums/galleries but it`s a very small city compared to Toronto, which I quite liked, it`s a lot more relaxed here. I`m planning on going to Montreal next, practice some French and see what`s going on there. Think Martin is planning a bike ride for us tomorrow, so good chance to work off some of this brilliant food and beer I have had! Exercise will be rare on this trip I sense, need to do as much as I can!
Will speak to you soon....
So, I have just had my first slip up of the trip, but not a major one so don`t worry! I got up at 7.30 this morning (after being out until 3.30 last night!) to get a train to the USA and the Adirondack National Park. I got to the station at 9am, train was at 9.30am but it had been cancelled and was a bus service instead. But there weren;t enough buses, so now I have to wait until tomorrow! Ah well, one more day in Montreal it is!
Anyway, I spent four nights at Alison & Martins in Ottawa and had a great time. A double comfy bed, nice food, lots to drink and good weather! Shame I was to early to catch the official pool opening, think I missed the hot weather there this weekend! Got to use the hot tub a coupel of times, which was great with a few beers! Me and Alison had a wander around the city, saw some sights. On Sunday we went on a bike ride around the city, all three of us and that was good to do; a bit of exercise and got to see quite a lot of the city. Monday, me and Alison were supposed to go to a museum but when we got there, they were all shut! So I saw them from the outside and their car parks...not quite as good!
I left on the Greyhound bus for Montreal Tuesday morning and it only took 2 1/2 hours, so checked into the hostel and headed straight out for a bar to watch the soccer! First game I have watched here actually and it was Liverpool Arsenal, 4-4, great game! Then Tuesday night went on teh organised bar tour from the hostel and met quite a few people on that who were on their own, which was pretty good. Wednesday I went up Mont Royal, which is a park here up a large hill with good views over the city and lots of people running, made me feel guilty I haven`t done much exercise since going away! This Mont was where the name Montreal came from apparently, so there`s a history lesson for you! I met up with a guy from the bar tour in the afternoon and walked around the city all day, so my feet were killing! I was tempted to go to the Hockey game that night but tickets were about 70 pounds, so not quite worth it! Plus Montreal got hammered 4-0 by Boston in the play-off series, so they`re out now! Watched it in a bar anyway, bit cheaper! And met some locals, so a good day all in all.
Yesterday me and this same guy went to a museum that had an Imagine exhibition on, the John Lennon and Yoko Ono one, it was pretty good and we managed to somehow get free entrance to the rest of the museum too, it was fine arts, so I`m not just out drinkign all the time! We didn`t finish it yesterday, so may as well again today seeing as I am here an extra day! Not the end of the world, it`s not too bad here, so will get the train to The Adirondack Park tomorrow and do some hiniking and hopefully canoeing! Let`s hope for good weather!
Hope you are all well back home, sorry I can`t email everyone individually, would take ages but hope this keeps you updated. I`m sure I`m not missing much anyway!
What a difference a train ride makes! I`m sat in someone`s house at the minute writing this, whilst they`re all out taking a walk! Sounds bizarre them letting me sit in here but it`s perfectly normal around here. The couple who own the hostel I`m staying at live right next door, so they just said if I needed to use the internet or anything, just pop in, the doors are never locked. Robin, the owners wife told me today they don`t actually have keys to their doors, so trusting!
So, I got here, eventually, by train on Saturday and it was a really warm day. The train ride was pretty decent, quite slow and we had to stop at the border to get passports stamped and check for illegal immigrants. Looks like I slipped through the net! The journey came right down the side of a lake and there were some great views. Shame the windows were dirty and couldn`t really get any good shots. I arrived in Westport, NY mid-afternoon and got a ride to Keene Valley, where I had read that they have some of the best trails around the high peaks here. The town of Keene Valley is basically 400 people, which triples in peak seasons (basically all summer and all winter, just not April when I`m here!) and it`s a really quaint, small community where everyone smiles at you on the street and asks how you are, etc. The hostel is at one side of the village and the convenience store at the other, I walked it in 5 minutes! Like I said, the hostel is right next to the owners house and I`m the only one in there at the minute, so I`m like one of the family! Peak season they can fit around 20 or so people in, so it`s pretty luxurious for me at the minute, my stuff is spread out, I have 2 bathrooms to choose from and a large kitchen to use...great!
Saturday late afternoon, I went for a quick walk in the forst behind the hostel, was pretty warm and uphill, I soon got a sweat on! That night the owners had their parents and siblings round, so they invited me to join them for a few beers around the fire, which was pretty good. Sunday I asked them about a good hike to do up one of the peaks here (there`s 46 in total!) So I set off pretty early, managed to do Snow Mountain and Rooster Comb before 2pm so attempted to do another but it was a bit higher and icy up there, so turned back for home. Sunday evening the family asked if I wanted to watch a film with them (think they felt sorry for me on my own!) and we watched Get Smart, pretty funny! Had an early night because I was doing a high peak the next day!
Yesterday I made myself a packed lunch and set off up The Three Brothers and Big Slide Mountain, with stabilisers in tow (basically chains to strap to your feet to walk on ice!) It was a pretty tough hike and the guide books said it`d take 7 hours, I did it in 6! Was pretty tricky in parts, bit icey but I managed it fine. Was a good hike and there were some great views along the way. Will put pics up ASAP. I rewarded myself with a couple of beers, a nice shower and an early night! Today I went to Lake Placid where they held the 1932 & 1980 Winter Olympics, had a wander around the town but there wasn`t much on as again, it`s in between seasons. Saw the ski jumps there and the ice hockey rinks, as well as Lake Placid itself. But it was quite quiet so only spent a few hours there.
So tomorrow I`m hopefully setting off for Philadelphia where Mark is at Uni, see what there has to offer (it used to be the original capital of the USA apparently) Then we`ll probably head to New York to see the sights for the weekend.
Speak to you soon! x
Well, it's about time I caught up on this thing, seeing as I haven't done an entry for over a month! It's going to be a fair old catch up!
So, let's go back to when I left The Adirondacks and headed for Philadelphia. I was meeting Mark on Thursday 30th April in Philadelphia where he was studying for a year. I got the train down and met him about 10ish at night, so we naturally went straight to the local bar and had a few beers and caught up on what we'd both been up to. He only lived around the corner from the train station, the bar and city centre in general so he was in a good location. He had an exam the day after (that's how Mark prepares for this things!) so wasn't a late one! He went to his exam and I caught up with uploading a few photos. In the afternoon we had a wander around Philly, saw some of the historic sights there (as it used to be the capital of the States. There's the old Parliament buildings and the liberty bell, which is apparently quite a huge thing for the Yanks, but was just a bell really! It was even cracked! We went out that night with a few of his friends and experienced true Philly night life! That was an interesting night, we went to a club where we were the only white people...a little scary at first but they were fine, we didn't get shot or anything!
The next day we had a nice fried brekky and got the Chinatown bus to New York City. It's not far from Philly so wasn't a long trip, 2 hours. The bus was slightly rickety, but what do you expect for $10!? The weather was quite nice when we got there, so what did we do? Went straight to the bar to watch Bolton play Wigan! What a bad decision that turned out to be! We drew 0-0, was a boring game and missed some good weather! We went back to our hostel, which was 2 blocks from Times Square, got changed and headed out for some food. I really liked NYC from 1st impressions, I had heard varying reports but seemed really cool from that first afternoon. We had food and then a few drinks before heading to the nightclub Pacha there. It was a good night, we stayed for a while but not ridiculously late as we had a big day of sightseeing the day after!
Unfortunately, when we woke up the next day it was raining outside! We weren't going to be beaten by the weather so we donned our jackets and off we went! We got a free ferry to Staten Island off Manhattan which went past the Statue of Liberty but it was a miserable day so the views weren't great! It was a good view back of the city skyline but shame we couldn't see that tops of the buildings! After that we walked to Wall St and shook our heads at some of the banks down there! It's not actually as big as I thought the street but still some impressive buildings there. Not far from there is the site of Ground Zero and where the WTCs once stood. Having never seen them 'in the flesh' I wasn't sure how big they were but judging by the gap they left there, they must have been pretty large! Quite weird to see so many people taking photos of a construction site. The surrounding area and buildings don't tell any tales of what happened there, they're all fine or have been reconstructed, so a bit strange all in all. We had a wander up past Times Square and to Central Park where the Guggenheim is and the Met Museum. We didn't go in as we were being cheapskates but they were pretty cool buildings anyway. Mark knew quite a bit about their construction and architecture, so was interesting to find out a bit about them from him. It was raining all the time we were out all day so wasn't the best weather for being a tourist but was still really good to see all th sights. We had a Mexican meal that night and a few beers and headed for home quite damp!
The next day was rainy again, so another reason why watching Bolton wasn't a good idea, we missed the only decent weather! D'oh! Still, we had another stroll up to and through Central Park, got a hot dog (which is apparently the thing to do whilst walking through the park!) I found it a bit tricky and managed to spill mustard down my pants...a great look!We saw the hotel from Home Alone and also I think the bridge where he meets the bird lady but I wasn't too sure about that one! We walked down 5th Avenue where all the expensive shops are and then Mark was back off to Philly, so he went and I went down to Brooklyn Bridge. A lot of people walk halfway across Brooklyn Bridge, take a few photos and then turn back. It was pouring down and pretty damn miserable but I decided to do it and near enough had the bridge to myself (apart from cars on a different level of course!) I walked all the way across in to Brooklyn and pretty much got lost! Ah well, at least it took up some time, I got the Underground back to the hostel and watched United play in the Champions League. I was bored of being soggy! I ended up chilling out in the hostel watching James Bond and got talking to a couple of people there for the rest of the night.
It was still raining the next day but out I went again, went to the Empire State Building but didn't go to the top as the visibility was really bad. They were doing some renovation inside too, so wasn't too impressive all in all! Was still cool to see. Apparently the best place to go up is the Rockefeller Centre, as you can see the Empire State Building and the rest of the city skyline, so went to do that but again the visibility was too poor. They did say it was supposed to brighten up later that day, so thought I'd go back later. I had another wander around the city, saw some of the districts, took a few photos and then went back to the Rockefeller Centre to go up. I was in luck and managed to get decent views from the top, although it was still cloudy and a bit rainy. Have a look at the photos at www.flickr.com/nickwadeson. I was having an early morning the next morning to meet up with the people on my Trek America trip, so chilled out for the rest of the day in the hostel.
I really enjoyed NYC, from what I had heard before, you either like it or hate it so I went with no expectations. It's a nice place and I'd definitely like to go either at Christmas time or when the weather is decent so I don't have to wear a waterproof jacket all the time!
So I met up with the others who had booked on to the Trek America trip in New York, we filled in a few forms, had a little chat and then loaded our bags on to our travelling home for the next 3 weeks. I had booked a trip from New York to Los Angeles, taking in the Southern States, so was looking forward to it. The first day we set off for our 1st destination which was Washington DC. Again I didn't really have any expectations for DC. The weather wasn't great when we arrived and was raining, so we set up camp in the rain and hoped we had picked tents that didn't leak! I was sharing a tent with a guy called Seth from Wales who seemed like a nice guy. Think we had luck with our tent as it didn't leak much that afternoon! Jen, our driver, cooked us some food that night, tacos and introduced us into the camping lifestyle (some for the first time) and showed us how everything would go (smoothly hopefully!) That night we went in the van to Washington Centre and did a tour of the monuments at night, which was really good apart from the weather! It was still raining and some people were a bit moany about it but we carried on and I really enjoyed all the monuments and sights, they're really into them over there!
The next day we made breakfast and went into DC for an early start. We had a free day to do whatever we wanted, so I made a decision to break off from the rest of them and do my own thing. I wanted to go to all the monuments again during the day, see the Mall and the White House. So I did these first and took more photos! When I was around the side of the White House, minding my own business, in my own world, I got stopped by a security guard and told to stay there! I wondered what the hell I had done until I heard sirens and saw the convoy of police cars and motorcade approaching me. I was stood right next to the entrance for the White House, so was tempted to reach in my pocket for my camera as I didn't know who it would be but the security guard was watching me like a hawk and if I had reached into my pocket suddenly, God knows what he would have done! Them Yanks are too gun happy! So I decided against it and left my camera in my pocket, then when the cars had gone in the entrance, asked who it was and it was Michelle Obama! I did see a woman in the back of the car but it was blacked out, so I assume that was her. Gutted I didn't't get a picture!
I then went off to the Holocaust Museum in the afternoon as I was really interested in that but had limited time. I did the main exhibition there and a couple of other things but didn't see it all unfortunately. I just learnt that just recently some 88 year old mad guy went in there and shot a guard dead. Bit crazy what some people will do. After that I went to the Natural History Museum which was really interesting, could have spent all day in there but unfortunately didn't have time. It was fairly decent weather all day there apart from the odd shower but really enjoyed the city. That night we had a couple of beers at camp and headed to bed, we had an early start to Tennessee the next day.
The itinerary had been changed by Jen our driver as she thought it would be better to get through to the West Coast at that time of year due to weather and activities, so we trusted her and went along with her! It was her fourth year driving for Trek anyway! So we headed for Tennessee from Washington which is a pretty long drive, about 470 miles I think. It wasn't too bad a drive and we found a nice place to camp by a lake that night. We were only there for one night and driving straight out again the next morning but it was a great little spot by this lake. We played a bit of frisbee, american football and had a few beers after one of the cooking groups made food. It worked similar to Dragoman in South America, where people were split up into groups and bought and cooked food for us on different nights. It was another fairly early night as another long drive say was ahead of us. However, Jen did tell us that there was sever weather warnings and possible tornadoes in the area...great! Just what you want to hear when you're camping by a lake in a tent! Apparently the site had a tornado siren so we were to run to the nearest toilet block if we heard it, very re-assuring!
The next day, after a very peaceful nights sleep I may add, we set off for Memphis where Jen was born and she told us we were still camping that night but in one of her friends' back gardens! So we stopped just outside Memphis (after another 400 miles driven that day) and bought some beers and a huge 2 litre bottle of Jack Daniels (well we were in JD making country!) and headed for the party house. They had done balloons and all sorts of decorations for the house when we arrived, so we quickly put up the tents in her back garden and began the drinking! It was a mad night, with people on guitars, getting locked in bathrooms and Captain Freedom! That's all I will say on the evening, just check out the pictures for evidence! What a night!
The next morning was blurry to us all but we had to get up and hit the road again to goto New Orleans. I don't think any of us were feeling particularly great on that drive down but the prospect of going to New Orleans was quite an exciting one, so we were all in good spirits (excuse the pun!)
We drove to New Orleans that day and we saw some of the devastation that is still evident on the way into the city. We were staying right near the city centre but in an area called the French Quarter which wasn't hit by the floods that did most of the damage. It is such a nice area there, the architecture is great, all the buildings are Spanish (it was once French but got destroyed in fires) and have balconies on the first floor. Very quaint and different to anywhere else I've seen. We were told however to be on our guard at all times and not to walk alone after dark as it was still a city hit by crime following the hurricanes. People still had no homes and had turned to crime to survive basically. Ignoring that, it seemed a great city and the weather was nice down there, quite muggy but really warm. We went out that night for some food at the local gumbo shop, which is usually fish and rice but they did serve meat. It was really nice food actually and good to eat after the night before! We then hit Bourbon Street, which is notorious as a party street in New Orleans. It is legal to drink on the street there and it's lined with bars & clubs. We bought hand grenades, which are some concoction of alcohol and green liquid! The tasted pretty good though and wherever you bought a drink there, you could walk out of the bar and into another with this drink, no problem. Seemed a bit strange, but when in Rome...! We stayed out for quite a while and went to a bar that had a bucking bronco. It was $5 for 3 gos on this thing so me and a few of the girls bought tickets. The girls were up first and the guy seemed to enjoy keeping the girls on the bronco for quite a while and shaking it around. So did the guys watching! But when I got up there, it didn't seem he had the same desire for me to stay on so he promptly threw me off 3 times in succession quite violently! Ah well, it was still a bit of fun! I'm definitely no cowboy though, that's for sure!
The next day we had a free day to wander around and see the sights, so me and Seth got a ferry over the Mississippi to Algiers, a small historic town there and wandered around. We definitely sweated out some of the night before! We went into the centre of the city, had a look around some of the shops and then at 3pm we were meeting one of Jens' friends for Crawfish. We weren't too sure what this was but New Orleans is famous for fresh fish so a few of us went along and met her friend Joey. We met at a pub and sat in the beer garden with a couple of beers and then apparently at certain times across the road they get deliveries of fresh crawfish just caught. So we headed to this small fish market/shop and ordered 2lbs of crawfish each, a few potatoes, some corn on the cob and a head of garlic! This is all cooked together in spices and served hot. It was definitely an experience trying to eat these things! We were allowed to eat them in this beer garden and we were given a lesson by Joey how to get the meat out. Apparently, it's twist the tail until it cracks, then pull it off. Then pull the head off and suck out the juices! Then eat the meat that remains, which was actually really good. We all gave sucking the brains out, which were yellowy in colour and was a little disgusting, but as I said, when in Rome.....! The whole meal was really nice and very spicy. The beer helped with that!
That night, after the crawfish, we went to Preservation Hall near Bourbon Street to see some live jazz. I had never seen live jazz before and when we went into this room, it was so tiny, they could only let so many people in. It was $10 and I had to sit on the floor but I was right under the saxophonists saxophone! It was so good though, they were an amazing band. The drummer had played with Ray Charles for a few years and the saxophonist had owned his sax for 59 years! Was an amazing experience in such a personal atmosphere, was definitely worth the $10! A few of us then went on to another 'locals' bar away from the touristy Bourbon Street and they had more live music there. Music is a huge part of New Orleans and the people we met were really friendly. Was definitely a place I'd go to again if I was in the States. Highly recommended!
We drove into Texas and headed for Austin, which is the capital of the state. It was a fairly long drive, so we got into the campsite early evening, set up camp and the cook group started cooking. I decided it was a good time to try out the pool and spa they had, so a few of us went there for an hour or so. It was pretty decent that campsite, so the facilities were pretty good. We had a nice meal and had an early night, it was in order after the late nights we had been having! We went into the centre of Austin the following day to do some sightseeing again. A few of us went off to see the centre and the capitol building there, where they make and pass laws and bills. We were told everything was bigger and better in Texas, or so the Texans thought! But the capitol building was huge, bigger than the national capitol building in Washington! We went in and they let you wander around, even into the senate room ,where they do all the serious stuff but on a gallery on the second floor. It was bizarre in there as they were being all political and serious until who should walk in but Ronald McDonald! There he was fully dressed, make up on and he takes a seat with all these suited types. People were having photos with him and everything, it was crazy! McDonald's were apparently defending themselves in Texas about giving profit back to the State. They supposedly have 1900 restaurants in the state! So I asked a guy in a suit what all this was about and he explained a bit and then invited us downstairs where they were giving out free lunch to the senates and representatives. So we went down there, wandered into this room that was full of people wearing suits etc and here was us wearing shorts and vests/t-shirts! We got a free McDonald's salad and drink, had a chat with Ronald himself and enjoyed the bizarreness of the USA! Weird!
We then went to the University of Texas which has a large campus in the city and a tower in the middle of it you can go up and look out over the city. They only allow people up to the 27th floor, where there are windows and no gaps for people to jump from after a few suicides there! But we went all the way to the 29th floor I think it was and were promptly asked to leave...oops! It was a good view of the city from there though. After this we went to a natural spring which starts just outside the city centre and runs into a river and lake system there. We were able to hire 2 kayaks, one with 3 lads in and the other with 3 girls in. Needless to say we tried tipping the girls in the water but we only succeeded in throwing ourselves in a couple of times, useless! It was quite strange kayaking in this setting, with trees and water all around us but we could see the city skyline just above the trees. That was a relaxing afternoon activity! We headed back for the campsite, had food, got ready and then went to a bridge just outside the city centre where millions of bats live. At sunset everyday, they all wake up and head out down the river to catch mosquito's all night long. They say there is up to 1.5 million bats that live there, so you can imagine them all flooding the sky, it was quite a sight! Bit tricky to get pictures of as they move so fast but was good to watch. After that the group went into the city for a few drinks and a night out, which was good fun. We learnt how to play beer pong (a version of ping pong but involves beer and cups rather than bats!) Great fun!
The next day we set off from Austin on our way through Texas. This state is huge, it's over 800 miles wide, so was going to take us a while to drive through! We stopped in San Antonio on our way and saw the site of The Alamo. I wasn't too sure what this was beforehand but it's quite an important symbol to the Americans. It was pretty interesting, with a museum and some of the original buildings still there showing what happened with the fighting between the Americans and Mexicans. They also had a strange little river walk nearby, with restaurants and shops lining this river, it was very nice. It was almost like Venice, not that I've been, but that's what I imagine it to be like! We only stayed a couple of hours and were back on the road again heading towards Fort Stockton, which would be our campsite for the night. Quite a few of the sites had pools, so we always took advantage of this and had an evening swim whilst our food was made...sounds perfect to me!
The next day was Carlsbad Caverns which was a couple of hours drive from Fort Stockton. It's an underground cave system with lots of stalagmites and stalactites, rock formations, etc. So we all set off on the walk through these caves and I soon got left behind as I was reading all the notes & signs, whilst most others couldn't be bothered! So I took my time through the caves, took a load of pictures and after a couple of hours it was time to leave. I found everyone sat outside waiting for me as they thought it was pretty rubbish but I quite enjoyed it! Think they were waiting for me for an hour or something, ah well! We stayed at another campsite with a pool that night, so again we had a swim and one of the cook groups did a BBQ, which was really nice. The campsite gave out free ice cream too that night, some sort of social thing they do every week, as people actually live there most of the year! They had a Nintendo Wii too, so all the oldies were playing bowling, was very funny! And to top off the day, we went to a drive-in movies down the road and watched State of Play there. It was just like in the films when you see them roll up in the car and watch the film on a huge screen. There was a shop selling popcorn, sodas, etc, was true American stereotypical stuff! Brilliant!
Taos was our destination today, was another few hundred mile drive to there but we were getting closer to the West Coast, so drive days were getting shorter as everything was in closer proximity. We arrived early evening and had the choice here to upgrade to a dorm or camp. As happened in South America, I refused to upgrade, so I was camping, along with 3 others, so we had tents to ourselves. It was our groups turn to cook for two nights, so we chose fish, veg and potatoes, but cooking for 14 is pretty tough, especially when you haven't got great equiment to work with! But it turned out OK and taught us not to be so adventurous in the future! We just chilled out that night, had a chat with a few others staying there and then headed to bed as we had white water rafting the next day. Jen warned us it may get cold that night but I really wasn't expecting it to be so cold! I woke up numerous times in the night to put more clothes on, it was so damn freezing!
It was an early start to get to the rafting place and we'd booked a full day, so was going to be good fun. We got kitted out in wet suits, life jackets and helmets and shown the ropes. We were told we'd come at the best time as the water was at its highest and there was going to be some good rapids, class 3 & 4, where 5 is the highest possible commercial rapids! We were told one rule to remember...never fall out! We spent a couple of hours in the morning getting used to class 2 & a couple of class 3 rapids and generally practicing for the afternoon where the big rapids would be. They provided lunch for us, which was pretty nice actually and lots of it. Energy for the afternoon! So we set off for the big rapids in the afternoon and had an absolute blast out there, some of them were pretty damn scary but luckily we didn't lose anyone overboard! It was a great day, only done white water rafting once before and that was when I was 12, so had a great laugh! Well worth the money. After that we went around Taos, which is only a small town but quite quaint and individual architecture. We also went to a bridge that we had gone under that day and it's one of the highest bridges in the USA, so took a few photos of the river from up there. We cooked again that night and made pasta with sauce, a lot easier than the night before, that's for sure! A few drinks at a local bar topped off the night and I went to bed in my tent, fully dressed and prepared for another chilly night!
We had a short drive in the morning this day to head to Monument Valley, which isn't too far from the Grand Canyon. There was some amazing scenery on the way to Monument Valley, roads that stretched for miles and some great rock formations. It's quite hard to describe as they''re almost not real looking, it's quite strange. But we arrived in Monument Valley early afternoon and met up with Jimmy who was to be our local tour guide. He is a Navajo native Indian and had lived in the area all his life, like generations before him. He had a jeep and gave us a tour of the valley, or just a small part of it as it is fairly huge! There were some crazy rock formations there and I'm still unsure as to how they were created but they sure do look amazing! I got some great photos there, so check them out on Flickr. He took us to this one hollowed out cave like rock and sat us all down and played some traditional instruments for us. It was a surreal experience, again quite hard to describe but one of those that puts goosebumps on your arm! After a few hours on the valley floor, we headed back to our van and then drove to a traditional Navajo home called a Hogan. We were staying there for the night and were cooked a meal by some local Navajos. It was similar to Mexican food, with beef and some spices in like a tortilla burrito. It was really nice and a good way to end the day. We were sleeping in the Hogan as well but some of us decided to sleep outside under the stars, as it was quite a nice night. The only thing was that the wind picked up a bit and blew quite a lot of sand our way, so when we woke up in the morning, we had sand everywhere! It was good fun though!
We had a very early morning the following day as we were watching the sunrise in the valley with Jimmy again. So we got up whilst it was still dark and met Jimmy in the valley. He had brought his instruments again and we sat in a great location to watch the sun rise over the horizon whilst he played traditional Navajo songs. Again, it was a once in a lifetime thing and was great to experience. We grabbed some quick brekky and set off for the Grand Canyon along some of the straightest, longest roads I have ever seen! So much so, that we stopped at one point to take photos of us in the road at the exact spot where Forrest Gump was filmed, when he stops running after a few years! We arrived at the Grand Canyon mid-afternoon and on the journey there, Jen had got us to draw a face on a paper bag. We found out what this was for when we parked up in the Canyon and we had to get out of the van and put these bags on our head! We then linked arms and she guided us to the edge of the Canyon and on 3 we took off the bags. It was a great idea, as we didn't get to see the Canyon gradually walking up to it, it was all in one. There were quite a lot of people watching us do this too and taking photos of us, so our faces must have been a right picture when we took the bags off! It was amazing and something that I don't think any of us could have imagined really. We only spent an hour there and then set off to our campsite. We set up camp and then had a wander around the local village we were staying in. It wasn't in the park but just outside, as it was too expensive in the park itself. We had some food and then went back into the park to watch the sunset over the Grand Canyon. To say I saw the sunrise in Monument Valley and then set in the Grand Canyon in the same day is pretty cool! Jen had bought some champagne for the sunset, so we sat on the edge of this huge hole, drinking champers and watching the sunset. Can't get much better than that really!
The next day we had a free day in the Canyon and Jen had discussed some routes for hiking, so a few of us decided to do a big hike to a point called Plateau Point out in the middle of the Canyon. It was a 12 mile round hike and was downhill first, then back uphill on the way back, so was a back-to-front hike! It was also really warm so we took plenty of water and food. It was an amazing view on the way down, we could see where we were walking to at all times, so had a point to aim for! It was fairly easy on the way down but we still sweated an awful lot, so stopped for water break all the time and drenched our t-shirts to stay cool. We reached Plateau Point in good time, only one of the group didn't quite make it and turned back. We thought we may have reached the Canyon floor at that point but we were wrong, it was still so far down to the river that ran through the Canyon! Got some amazing photos again from that point. I also nearly dropped my glasses down the Canyon but they got stuck on a ledge so I went to get them...couldn't be losing a pair of $3 sunglasses could I?! We set off back for the top and soon realised how difficult it was on the way up compared to down! We were quite lucky with the weather as it clouded over slightly, so wasn't quite as hot as it should have been, but was still warm! We made it 3 miles back up to our starting point but we were stopped at this point, along with everyone else on the trail as a mule had fallen off the track and died! So they had to close the trail and wait for a helicopter to come down and pick it up! We had to wait nearly 2 hours on this trail whilst a helicopter flew in and picked this dead mule up so we could carry on! It was quite funny, obviously not for the mule but it's apparently one of the only times it's ever happened, typically when we were there! But we managed to get going again and made it to the top but we were slightly late for being picked up, so we had to wait again to get a lift back to camp! It was a great day though and one of the best on the trip so far. I probably took too many photos but they're all on Flickr, I may not get the chance to go again!
We relaxed that evening after our food and a few of us went bowling in one of the local hotels, which was pretty good fun. We had a few beers around the campfire to celebrate a good day and then hit the sack for a well deserved rest!
The next day we were crossing into another state; this time Utah. Apparently this was Jens favourite state in the USA due to it's hikes, different appearance and general vibe, so I was looking forward to the next few days. It wasn't too far a drive, only a few hours to the campsite. On the way we stopped to pick up a fancy dress outfit for the night; we were having a T party, where we had to dress up as something beginning with T. We went to a charity shop and there were a limited amount of options I could think of, so I went for the safe Transvestite option! I bought the most horrible flowery dress I could find, as well as a horrific pink hat. I teamed this with a Hannah Montana wig I found in a supermarket and I thought I would fit the bill pretty well!
We also stopped at Lake Powell on the way to the campsite, which is a controversial man-made lake, created by flooding Glen Canyon using a dam. It was basically stopping a river running through a huge canyon and creating this massive lake. We went swimming in this lake and it was so bizarre swimming out towards the middle of it thinking how much water was below me and how crazy it was diving in to a canyon head first! The water was slightly cold but not too bad once you're in there. It was only a few of the guys that got in, the girls just sat and watched; very boring! Apparently there is more shore around this man-made lake than up the West coast of the united States! That gives you an idea of the size of it. We got dry and went down the road to Horseshoe Bend, which was a short walk down a path and lead to an amazing view of a rock formation that has been formed by a river of thousands of years. It was what I learned about in Geography all them years ago, about the creation of an ox-bow lake, apart from this stone was obviously too strong and it didn't erode all the way through, hence creating this impressive rock with the river in a horseshoe shape around it. There are some good photos of it on my website.
We set up camp at Eastons campsite (named after the owner Easton funnily enough!) and cracked open the beers ready for the night, It was like a ranch style campsite, so the girls went off horse riding whilst the guys stayed behind and cooked a BBQ meal (and drunk beer!) Also they had a 'party barn' there, which was basically a barn with a pool table, stereo system, disco lights and a dance floor; pretty cool really! We all get ready in our costumes and there were some pretty funny ones, quite good considering no-one spent that much! The BBQ food went down well and the beers were flowing quite freely! We made a punch that we all chipped in for, some vodka, rum, fruit juice and fruit, all brought together in a dustbin! Tasted really nice actually! So we took the coolers and bin into the party barn and partied the night away! Some got far too drunk far too early and it wasn't that late a night really! The next morning was the first time we didn't have a strict time to be up and packed up and it showed when midday rolled around and no-one was particularly bothered about taking the tent down and setting off! We eventually left the site about 2pm and went straight to McDonald's! I hadn't had a McDonald's yet in my time in Canada and the US but this morning seemed like a good time for the first!
We didn't have a long drive to our next destination, it was a couple of hours to Zion National Park which is also in Utah. We set up camp for the last time and I don't think any of us were that sad to see the end of the tents after 3 weeks! It was our turn to cook once again, so we set up for food and made a curry, which was really nice, if i may say so myself! It was a bit of a wasted day all in all, we didn't really do much and we topped it off at night by watching a film on the bus; Team America. It was a relatively early night that night!
We had a very early start the next morning, we were up and ready for 7am to go into the park and do a hike in the morning before the trails started getting busy. It wasn't as long a hike as the Grand Canyon but it was quite an exciting one. It was called Angels' Landing and was a steep few miles up a rock with chains to hold on to as the path sometimes got as narrow as 3ft in places! Me and one of the Danish guys TB split from the rest of the group and hammered it to the top. He was scared of heights and was a little nervous in places, as you could see straight down a few hundred metres to the ground! But we did it in pretty good time and the views from the top were amazing. We could see both ways down the canyon from the top of this rock, it was really worth the early morning to get up there whilst it wasn't busy. On the way down the trail started to get a bit crowded and as it was one way in quite a few places, we could see why we set off early. It wasn't even peak season for hiking, so can imagine it would be hectic at certain times. We got back to ground level in good time, about 11am and headed further into the park on the free bus there. We saw a couple of other huge rock formations and rivers, did another short walk and had lunch. It was a nice day, so no problems with the weather. We then headed back to camp and a few of us were thinking about doing tubing down the river from our campsite. This is where you hire/buy an inflatable tube and float down a river, through some fairly tame rapids but when you're on a rubber ring, it's quite bumpy! Four of us decided to do it and we went for the cheaper option of buying rubber rings from a shop rather than hiring the bigger, stronger ones! We were pretty confident we wouldn't make it the 2 miles down stream with all 4 rings still inflated and with no punctures! We jumped in and the point we got in was quite still, so we floated for 100 metres or so before our first rapids. The river wasn't too full, so the rocks were just below the water level. When you're going down with your bum through the hole of the ring, it's sensible to lie as flat as possible so not to end with a bruised backside! It was great fun though and took us about an hour to get down 2 miles. We stopped at regular intervals to re-inflate the tubes and wait for a straggler who had caught on a rock! The rapids were only class 2 for rafting but when you're on a flimsy rubber ring, they seem a lot bigger! I got wiped out on one of the rapids and lost my ring downstream but retrieved it with the help of one of the guys! We were being followed by a group who had hired the big posh rings, they looked like thrones floating down the river! I bet they didn't really feel too many of the rapids and rocks but we felt every last one of them; it was brilliant fun! We had to get the bus back to camp and it was quite funny us 4 walking on to this bus, dripping wet with 4 big rubber rings under our arms! We looked like big kids but we had a good time!
We had food that night, after relaxing in the pool at the campsite, which was actually colder than the river! Then we went down the road to watch a local band at a restaurant/pub. It was a great setting for it, the huge rock formations were in the background, the had cold beer and the band were pretty good too! They played a lot of local stuff, not really country but verging on it but it was a good night. We walked back to the campsite and on the way it was discussed who was the quickest runner out of us all, so of course we had to have a foot race to judge it! It was only 50 metres or so but after bets were placed, it was a close call but I won the race! Quite impressive after a few beers and no exercise for a couple of months! I can just hear you all think "they must have been slow!"
I enjoyed Utah, the hiking was good and the landscape was very different to a lot of the places we had been to so far. It was mostly sandstone, so the rocks were orangey in colour and looked quite different to the Grand Canyon or other national parks. I know why Jen liked it so much as one of her favourite states to visit.
Sunday morning was spent doing a big camp clean up after breakfast. As the tents were going away for a while, we had to make sure everything was OK with them and all our camping equipment. So we all had jobs to do after checking our tents. Ours was pretty good, no leaks along the way and we hadn't managed to break it in a drunken state, so all was good. Some people weren't so lucky with leaks and damp patches when it rained but I'd say that was more down to them not putting the tent up properly, usually the girls! We had to check through all the cutlery, dishes, pans, etc etc to make sure we had everything, clean the trailer where our bags and camping stuff had been stored. Everything was washed thoroughly and put back where it should be, so took a couple of hours to do before we could hit the road again.
Our destination today was Las Vegas! Again it wasn't such a long drive, a few hours across in to Nevada. The weather was great, it was scorching hot and all looked good for Vegas Baby! We had a stop outside a petrol station for a lunch break where we finished off most of the food we had left in the coolers as we weren't needing it after today. We could see Vegas shimmering in the distance as we approached it and it was literally surrounded by nothing, just desert and emptiness! It looked like a mirage in all the heat but it got more and more real as we approached. It's actually a pretty big place there and apparently was one of the fastest growing residential areas in the US before the global recession hit it like a shovel in the face! Now it's been hit really hard, with a lot of foreclosures and buildings stood half-built. We went around the ring road and into the city from the quiet end. We were told before hand where we were staying and when we arrived, it was quite funny! There stood the Hooters Casino & Hotel, pretty large, right opposite the MGM Grand! We were about 400 metres off the main strip and in a good location. We had the luxury of being 2 people to a room and a queen bed each, so was a bit different to being in a tent! We had a couple of hours to do nothing, so me and Seth went down to the pool but it was around 4pm so most of the pool was in the shade; no sun! At 6pm we were meeting the group to go to a Las Vegas buffet, which are a popular thing to do there so we got ready and headed down to meet everyone. We went across to the MGM Grand and had the buffet there, which was amazing! It's a bit expensive but you can literally eat as much until you die! There was so many options I struggled to choose what to have, so I just went up a few times and filled my plate with crab legs, all kinds of fish, steaks, Chinese, pizza, pasta, salad, veg, potatoes and anything else you can think of to stuff your face with! It was really good food; probably a bit good as we all stuffed our faces until we couldn't eat any more. And then there was dessert! Again, so many choices! We had our fill of food and more, then went back to the hotel to relax after eating so much! A few of us decided to go for a walk down the strip to check out some of the free shows outside the casinos, like the lights at the Belagio and there is a volcano that erupts outside the Mirage! We had a wander for a couple of hours and saw most of the strip and how crazy it was! There is one complex that was being built there that had to be stopped halfway through due to the recession. Even Vegas has been hit by it all! Not that you'd think that with how many people were wandering about on the street and if you went into a casino, they floor would be full of people gambling!
The day after was never going to be the most eventful, seeing as we had 3 pools at the hotel and lots of warm sunshine to take advantage of! So Seth, Jen and I spent quite a few hours by the pool, chilling in the sunshine, drinking pina coladas and eating Hooters fast food! Pretty relaxed all in all. About 4pm the sun disappeared behind the hotel, so we decided to get active and go and do something. We hadn't gambled yet so Seth, TB and I had a walk down the strip to watch one of the shows outside a casino and have a bit of a gamble! We were too early for any shows so we went to Treasure Island, one of the large casino/hotels there and played some roulette. Seth apparently had a system he'd be thinking about (he did Double Maths at A-Level, so I trusted him!) where you gambled $1 a time on a 50:50 chance, like red or black, even or odd, etc etc. If you win, you put another $1 on but if you lose, you double your money and so on. So he had a go with this system and he was doing pretty well from it, so I had a go to and it seemed to be working, TB meanwhile had a go on the slots and lost, then blackjack and lost and he lost on roulette too! Luck wasn't with him that day! All the while we were getting free drinks from one of the waitresses, so we took advantage and had coronas! All it took was a $1 tip each and she waited on us hand and foot! Was bloomin' awesome! Seth meanwhile had managed to make quite a bit of money but then went on a losing streak which meant he lost it all and his original stake of $40! Oops! I was still following the system and managed to come out $35 up, which isn't too bad, seeing as most people leave in the red! There was a show we'd heard about called Sirens of the Sea outside Treasure Island and it was a pirate show, so we joined the crowd to watch it. It was quite risque, basically girl pirates against guy pirates, dancing quite sexily and wearing not much! They had two full size pirate ships set up outside in this 'lake,' one of which 'sailed' quite a distance. Then they had a battle with guns, canons etc and quite a lot of pyrotechnics, it was a very well done performance and all for free! We wandered back to the hotel, had a bit of food on the way and got ready for our big night out in Las Vegas! Jen had booked us a limo and it was picking us up outside the hotel. We all got dressed up, hair done, make up, best frocks (and that was just me!) and got in the limo for an hour and a half tour of Vegas. We stopped at the Welcome to Vegas sign and then Old Vegas, where the original casinos are. It's on a smaller scale then the new strip but there are a lot more flashing lights, it's known as Glitter Gulch! There is a show there on Fremont Street where they have a light show on the roof, pretty amazing! Got some good photos of that on Flickr. We could go into this one bar there and buy these lethal drinks, which I decided against but most people had one. We had taken drinks in the limo anyway, so I was drinking them, including a home made bottle of southern comfort and sprite, that was enough for me! The limo then dropped us at the Belagio and we watched the fountain and light show out there with a few drinks and some had cigars, yeuch! Everyone was getting quite merry by this stage and a few wandered home to bed but most of us stayed out. We tried getting into one of the clubs in the casino but we weren't allowed in such a large group so we decided to go to a bar in New York, New York, another casino there. It was an Irish bar with live music and by this time most of us were a bit drunk! It got a bit hazy from then on until we ended up leaving the next morning, so I'll just use the old saying of whatever happened in Vegas, stays in Vegas!
I got woken up at 9.50am by Seth telling me we had to leave in 10 minutes! I managed to gather everything up in some sort of random order and drag myself to the bus! We set off for LA on our last road trip together, all quite hungover and tired! It was only a few hours to LA and I think I spent most of it drifting in and out of consciousness! We arrived at the hotel in LA where most people were going their own way and doing their own thing. A few of us hadn't got hostels booked so we decided to crash at the hotel in whosever room had free floorspace! There was also another Trek group finishing in LA at the same time and it was Jens husband who was leading their trip. So we met up with them and most of us went out for a few drinks together that night. We played a bit of pool, had a few beers in a couple of bars and I got talking to a couple of locals at the bar. One girl lived just down the road and said they were going to the beach, so me and Seth decided to join them as everyone else was going home to bed. It turned out she was a fire hula hooper and she took down her equipment to the beach, along with a bottle of red wine! This night was going to get interesting! She lit the fire hoop and did a couple of minutes with this to some music she had taken down and she was really good! It was quite bizarre being down at the beach at 2am watching someone fire hula hoop to music drinking red wine, but I wasn't complaining! We spent about an hour at the beach and this was probably the only time I'd get in LA on the beach, so made the most of it!
Our first day in LA, we had to say goodbye to quite a few people who were leaving, like Jen & Seth, so that wasn't the best start to the day but it was always going to happen! We planned on going to Hollywood that day, set off quite early and catch the Champions League Final on the way. However, as I was doing the trip with the two Leicester girls and the three Danish guys, they were useless at getting ready on time and we took ages to set off. It took an hour to get to Hollywood from where we were staying, so we missed the first half of the final and just managed to find a random restaurant that was showing it down a side street! It wasn't the best of games and United didn't really turn up. Ah well, they can't win everything! We then carried on to Hollywood, met up with the girls, who didn't want to watch the football and had a walk around. We saw the Hollywood sign and did the Hollywood Walk of Fame, with all the stars on the pavement. It wasn't too impressive really and not really too glamorous but it was worth seeing. My favourite was the Village Peoples star! Anyone can get one it seems! The day was a bit more relaxed than on Trek as we were in charge and the others were so laid back it was difficult getting them to hurry anywhere! We got another two queen bed room that night for 6 of us; a good way to save money!
As we had heard there wasn't much in LA we had decided on the trip to hire a car and drive to San Fransisco for a couple of days. As there was six of us, we had to get an SUV or a mini-bus, so we went for the SUV. It was a 7 seater Chevrolet Tahoe, quite a big car! I was the only one over 25 so I was designated driver, which I didn't mind as I hadn't driven for a while, kind of missed it! So we picked the car up fairly early-ish and set off for Yosemite National Park, which isn't too far from San Fran. We had been told that the best drive from LA was up the coastal road and there were a few sights to stop off at on the way. Unfortunately the weather wasn't the greatest, slightly overcast, so we were a little unlucky with that. It was a great drive up there, real windy roads and it got quite high at times. This meant we were in the mist a few times and couldn't see much but when we did get a view, it was amazing out towards the Pacific Ocean. We stopped at a beach where elephant seals gather and there were hundreds of them! Most of them were sleeping and lazing about on the beach when we were there but a couple wriggled about and were throwing sand on themselves, looked pretty funny! We then stopped further up the coast and had a walk out to a waterfall that flows down on to a beach. It was pretty spectacular but it was really chilly and windy there, so we didn't spend too much time admiring it! We were back on the road again and I was feeling a little tired but we ploughed on towards Yosemite. We drove until about midnight, when I couldn't go any further and we were only 80 miles from the Park, so we found a hotel and again, got a two bed room for 6 of us. I enjoyed that nights sleep!
The next morning we woke up early and had our free breakfast, making sure we had plenty to eat! We set off for Yosemite and it only took us an hour and a half to get there and get in the park. It was only $20 for a car, so pretty cheap for one of the best National Parks in the US.As it was so huge, we were only doing the valley part but we'd heard it had the best walks and scenery. We stopped at a couple of points on our way through, taking photos of waterfalls and rock formations. If anyone has heard of El Capitan, it's a huge rock face that climbers climb over a couple of days, sleeping on the rock face overnight!.Jack Osbourne did it on one of his adrenaline junkie programmes. We went to the Information Centre to find out what was best to do if we were only spending a day there and he told us a hike and then a drive to do to get the best views over the park. The hike was a good one, not too long but went past two pretty large waterfalls where we got very wet going pretty much under one! We had lunch at the top and then headed back down, which was the easy part! We met up with the girls, who had lagged a bit behind and got back in the car to drive to Glacier Point, a great view point over the National Park. It was about an hours drive up there and tiredness really hit me going up, so we took a bit of time out at the top so I could wake up a bit! But the views out from that point were well worth the drive; it was amazing! We then set off for San Fran as it was a few hours drive, so we stocked up on food and hit the road again. We arrived about 10pm in San Fran city centre, we approached over one of the bridges and got a great view of the city skyline. Getting a hostel with a parking space was a bit of an issue but we managed it in the end and got a couple of rooms this time, so I had a queen bed to myself, which was well deserved after all the driving I did! No surprise that I went straight to bed and sleep that night!
The car had to be back at 9am the next morning and one of the girls had been bitten by a mosquito and it had swelled quite badly, so I got up to take her to the nearest hospital and then drop the car off. It's quite interesting how the US work their health system...or don't work it to be more frank. She was charged $400 just to see a doctor and then there were other charges on top for any drugs she may be prescribed. Luckily her travel insurance pays for that but it's crazy to think that the US citizens have to pay such a figure just to see a doctor, whatever may be wrong with them. I think Obama maybe changing that but it explains why there are so many poor people dying on the streets around the US. Crazy! After all this, I went back to the hotel and back to bed, I was still tired! We went for some brunch about 1pm in a nice little french restaurant round the corner from our hotel. There, I discovered I liked Chai tea, it's pretty tasty! We then set off on a tourist walk of San Fran, doing the steep roads, the harbour and a tower that gave great views of Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz. Again, the weather wasn't great, it wasn't cold but it was just a bit overcast, so much so that we couldn't see the top of the bridge. We spent all afternoon wandering around and it felt a lot better than being in LA, not sure why but the vibe was a lot better. We went to a local diner for food that night, booth tables, juke box, junk food and milk shakes, it was good fun! We went to a couple of bars that night for a few beers but it wasn't a crazy late night, we were still a bit tired from driving and hiking!
I was off to the airport the next day as I was flying from San Fran back to LA to get my flight to New Zealand. It worked out about the same price as getting a bus down but a lot lot quicker! So, goodbyes were said all around and off I trapsed to discover a new continent....!
Well, again, it's been bloomin ages since I wrote on here, it seemed so much easier in South America than here! Maybe it's because it's a lot more expensive to use the internet here and I'm tight! Ah well, here goes...
I arrived in Auckland from LA on the 3rd June, after setting off from LA on 1st June! I went over the time line so my 2nd June didn't exist this year! I'm owed a day from someone somewhere! The flight was really good considering it was 13 hours. I had requested extra leg room and I got it, plus 2 empty seats next to me; bonus! Air New Zealand are really good with the drinks and food, plus comfy seats so had no trouble sleeping for a few hours. I got into Auckland about 6am so had to jump on a bus to the city centre and find a hostel. I picked the first one I saw and jumped straight into bed, slept pretty well for a few hours and then had a sort out of my stuff. The first few days in New Zealand I spent wandering around Auckland, which is the biggest city here and catching up with stuff on the internet. After the rushing about and hecticness of the USA, it was nice to chill out a bit. I went to the Auckland Museum which was all about the Maori history and the history of the country as a volcanic island. It was pretty interesting as museums go and spent almost a full day in there. I also did a free city orientation tour run by a company called Stray who I was thinking of using to get about NZ. They took us to Mount Eden, the largest volcano in Auckland, the Sky Tower which is a bit similar to the CN Tower in Toronto, the Auckland Harbour Bridge, where a few people jumped off doing a bungy! It was 40m high but looked a bit higher when we were up there! I decided to leave that for another day! I met a few people on that tour and we went out at night for a few drinks and to see if anyone was doing the same trip as me. I also climbed Rangitoto which is a volcano off the shores of Auckland and is the most recent volcano to erupt there. It was pretty large and a good walk for half a day. Great views of the city. I liked Stray so decided to do a 3 day tour with them to the very North of the island to Pahia, Bay of Islands and Cape Reinga. We did a dolphin spotting boat cruise but unfortunately didn't see any dolphins. Apparently its rare not to see any but typically, we didn't! We also went to some sand dunes up at the very north. They weren't quite as big as the ones in Peru but they were still pretty impressive and shifting constantly. The tour bus we went on could drive on the beach too so we drove along a beach called 90 mile beach (which isn't actually 90 miles!) That was quite cool, especially as he was telling us about people getting stuck when the tide comes in! A few of us did a pub quiz one night and ended up winning it, so got a $50 bar tab for the night, which surprisingly didn't last that long! We went to a bird rescue place too where they had a kiwi bird, which are becoming quite rare here and they're not often seen in the day. They also had some harrier hawks there which are very impressive birds of prey.
After a week or so generally relaxing, I had got in touch with a couple who lived in the suburbs of Auckland) it was about 45 mins away by train but still classed as Auckland, as it's the 4th largest city spread in the world!) The deal was I went to stay with them and did 5 hours of work a day, 5 days a week in return for my food and accommodation. So I went to their house and stayed for 5 days doing tasks such as gravelling the driveway, painting their house, shifting firewood about (as they don't have central heating here!) using a quad bike which was great fun! They were a really nice couple in their 40s, no children but had a few cats, dogs, cows, rabbits and God knows what else! The people in NZ are a lot more trusting then back home as they lent me their car the 2nd day I was there to go and drive off somewhere and enjoy their country. They also lent me their good camera too, it wouldn't happen back home! I drove up the Coromandel Peninsula and got some great photos of the scenery there. The food was great too, they said make myself feel at home and helped myself to tea, food, snacks, whatever but I did cook them paella one night, which went down quite well I think! Generally they were very nice people and I had a good time doing some physical work and seeing how the locals lived.
The next week I went to stay at a farm north of Auckland which was run by friends of the couple I stayed with. It was a huge farm, 1000 acres and they had hundreds of cows. I thought NZ was really famous for sheep but there's actually more cows than sheep I'm sure! I think dairy farming is more profitable than sheep farming now, so many have switched to dairy. It was the same set up there, that I did 5 hours a day for a bed and food. We stayed in little wooden huts there, I had one to myself with a double bed so it was quite "luxurious!" They had little heaters so it was relatively warm! I did things like milk the cows, herding and controlling the cows before and after milking, helped knock down a wall for an extension to their farmhouse, mowed some huge lawns and tried to keep things tidy. But it was impossible as it was such a madhouse with so many people staying there and coming and going, so needed a few people every day to do it! It was also good fun staying there, learning how a farm operates and getting to know some other people that were doing the same thing as me. They were really mad on motorbikes there but I haven't ridden one before so thought it best to give them a miss, didn't want Mum hearing about an accident!
After spending a few more days in Auckland, I had been in NZ almost a month and hadn't really gone very far, so decided to book on to the Stray bus, which is a hop on, hop off bus type mode of transport. Basically you can jump on and off wherever you want and its valid for 12 months, so a cool way of getting about. I started that at the end of June and got quite a few decent people on the bus I was on, which is always a bonus! Our first port of call was Hahei, where there is a hot water beach and Cathedral Cove. I can't remember what films they used Cathedral Cove in but they did! I had bought a pair of trainers that day too to start running, as travelling, drinking and eating rubbish food doesn't do a lot for the fitness levels! So did a 25 minute run back along the beach, was quite tired after that, to say the least! We went at night to the beach to try and dig down for hot water but the tide was being funny and all we could manage was to stand up to our knees in the sea, dig our feet in the ground and only a couple of inches down, they got burnt! It was quite strange being in the freezing sea yet a few inches down was boiling water...odd! We had a bbq at night with the whole group which was pretty nice, although a little chilly outside for a bbq! Ah well, that's what you get for going to NZ in winter!
The following day we drove from Hahei in the North to the North West and a place called Raglan. This is quite a famous surf spot apparently as they have the biggest breaking left hand waves in the world or something like that! Unfortunately, as it was quite cold, not many people wanted to do surfing so there was only one guy who braved it in a wetsuit! But I went down to the beach with him and whilst he tried out the waves, I went for a run along the beach. Two days in on the trot proved a little tough after doing nothing for ages, so my calves felt it a bit on the hard, wet sand! Ah well, a half hour run can't be bad for you! The hostel we stayed at had a sauna outside so a few of us went in there when it was getting dark and we stayed in the warmth for a good 40 minutes or so! A couple of us made spag bol for tea and then we headed to a barn they had converted there which had sofas, a music system, ping pong table and we provided the beer! It was Canada Day apparently, so the one Canadian we had on the bus bought 2 crates of beer to share, so we had a couple each, played some ping pong and had a chat for a few hours. It wasn't a late one but was good fun all the same. They even had a flying fox (their name for a zip-wire) there so we had a few go's on that before bed, which was interesting in the dark!
We set off for Waitomo the following morning, which is home to the Waitomo Caves. Here we had the chance to do some canyoning inside the caves or go black water rafting down some small cave holes! Seeing as money seemed to be flowing out of my bank account too quickly, I decided to give this a miss as I had done something similar in South America last year. Most of the group did the cave trip so a few of us went into Waitomo Town to chill out there before we carried on our trip. I decided a third run in three days was a good idea...how wrong I was! I did another 25 minute run and felt not too bad straight afterwards, a little achy but nothing unusual. I did some shopping, used the internet and it was time to pick the others up at midday and carry on to Maketu. My legs started aching a bit on the journey but thought it was just tiredness from the 3 days. We arrived in Maketu about 5-ish and we were staying in a traditional Maori Marae, which is their meeting house and full of tradition and rituals. So we had to be invite4d in, challenged to see if we were there in peace or for war and then finally allowed to enter once they knew we were friendly! It all involved dancing and chants, similar to the Haka the All Blacks do in rugby. We had traditional food that night, fish, meat, corn, potatoes and veges, it was all very nice and lots of it! After food we were treated to a show or a concert as they called it, although it wasn't on such a grand scale! A Maori family dances and sung for us, then performed the Haka. It was pretty interesting to see their customs but then we had to join in, which was quite entertaining! The guys were shown how to do the Haka and the girls a traditional dance with pom-pom style things! We had about 15 minutes to be taught the Haka and some of the lads were useless, so when it came to performing it, they were rubbish! I pretty much got it and there is a video on Flickr of us doing the Haka! Don't think any of us would have scared an advancing army or opposition rugby team anytime soon! We then slept in the Marae for the night on mattresses and duvets they had for us. Had quite a good nights sleep unsurprisingly!
The next morning my legs were killing from the running and I could barely walk from them being so tight! To add to that, I'd got a bit too much into the Haka and had bruised my thighs from slapping them so much! It was all good fun though! We had a short-ish drive down to Rotorua that day and some of us had decided to jump off the bus there and stay a couple of nights, as Stray didn't stop for the night usually. Rotorua is a geo-thermal spot, with bubbling hot pools all over the place and a lovely eggy smell drifting around the town! It's not quite as bad as I expected but if the wind is blowing right, it can get a bit over-powering at times! There were a few parks to wander around and admire the random pools of bubbling mud but the town itself wasn't large at all. The hostel we stayed at had natural hot water pumped in, as did most of the houses there and they used some of this to have a hot pool that a few of us used that evening. A few of us made food and then relaxed in the hostel, watching a film and had a couple of beers. The next day me and a German girl had a walk up to this living thermal village, where people had been living for years, pretty much right on top of hot pools and geysers. They ran a tour around the village for a couple of hours and explained how they lived and used the hot water to their advantage, cooking in it and also bathing in it, which must have been a little warm! There was another little show/concert they did with traditional song and dance. I then decided to go and see a guy in the village who did Ta Mokos, which are traditional Maori tattoos. I had been thinking of getting one done for a while and wanted one with meaning behind it. I know Mum and Dad wouldn't be too happy with this but after speaking to the guy for an hour or so about the meaning behind them and how they are totally individual and different, I decided to get one done. He wrote down all I had said to him in that hour and then told me to come back in a couple of hours, once he had chance to design the Ta Moko on paper. I went back and saw the design he had done for my shoulder and loved it, so booked in to have it done the following morning. I was a little scared about this, as they are pretty permanent, so wasn't too easy a decision! We had a very chilled out evening as a few of us went to a spa like place with various hot pools in and spent a couple of hours chopping and changing the pools we were in as they were all different temperatures. Not sure why but it was full of Asians, strange observation I made whilst there!
I headed to the village again the next morning for my appointment with another of the girls from the bus. She was having a tour of the village, as well as wanting to see me in pain I think! He had said it would take three hours to complete, so it was an early start as we were leaving at midday. As they don't have central heating in NZ, he put a little fan heater on and wrapped me in a blanket before starting. He drew on the outline in felt pen to begin with from the drawing he had done the previous day and then got the needle out to start. I had heard it is like a scratching feeling but I'd say more a cutting feeling from my experience! It wasn't too bad in general but the top of my shoulder hurt the most, was a few winces I must admit! The girl I went with kept popping her head in to take photos and laugh at me but the 3 hours seemed to get fairly fast and he had it done in time for us to leave. There was quite a bit of blood and he wrapped it in plastic to keep it clean and sterile. We went back to the hostel to get our stuff and hop on the bus again to go on to Taupo, just a little further South. I know a few people will read this and not know why the hell I got a tattoo, but I have the piece of paper with all the meanings on and everyone who has seen it really likes it. It's not a generic one from a book, it's an individual design that means a lot to me, so I'm pretty darn happy with it!
A lot of the driving we were doing was through pretty sparse landscape but with good views of mountains and lakes, so even long drive days weren't too boring. We stopped at various places along the way, with walks to do and various Lord of The Rings sets and scenery to go and see. Taupo wasn't too far away and we had a nice hostel to stay in. We checked in, sorted a couple of things and then the driver of our bus drove a few of us down to a river that we could all jump in. It was raining a bit and pretty chilly but this river was naturally hot, so made sitting in a river in the middle of a park seem a bit more appealing! Bet it looked odd to anyone walking past in their raincoats, gloves and hats but I bet we were warmer than they were sat there in our shorts! I had to keep my shoulder out of the water though, to give it chance to heal and scab over. Sounds lovely I know but had to wait 3/4 hours before washing it so it healed properly. Had a shower back at the hostel and it was pretty sore to touch but washed it all and was a little worried by the amount of stuff that came off it, but he said that would happen! I wrapped it in cling film for the night and tried to keep it out of anyones way or avoided being slapped!
Again the next day we didn't have too far to go; just down the road to Tongariro National Park, which had one of the best day walks in NZ. Unfortunately, the weather was pretty poor when we were there so no-one could do the walk or any skydiving if they had wished to. We did a shorter walk at lower altitude and also had a drive to one of the local ski fields there; it was the first time we had seen snow up-close in NZ. It was a pretty low key day all in all, finished off with another hot pool relaxing session in the early afternoon. We stayed in a lodge rather than a hostel that evening and the food was good but not expensive, so I treated myself to a steak and some red wine by a big open wood fire; lovely! We had a fairly longish day the day after, as we were heading down to Wellington at the tip of the South Island and where we were to catch the ferry over to the South Island. We stopped on the way down at Ohakune and the sole reason for this was to look at a huge carrot they had there! I think this may have just been to break the journey up a bit but this carrot was huge! It wasn't real of course but there is a picture of me hugging said carrot on Flickr! Anyway, we ended up in Wellington about 4ish and went up Mount Victoria there which had great views over the city. It's known for its strong winds in Wellington, as the wind is funneled between two mountains either side of the city and we certainly felt the chill up there! After checking in at the hostel three of us wandered off around the city for a bit of a see what was going on there and it seemed a nice city centre, lots of shops and cafes/bars; it generally had a good vibe. I was staying more than one night in Wellington to go and see friends of my Grandparents who lived just outside the city. So that night we went out for a few goodbye drinks to most of the people who I had been with all the way down the North Island. We played a bit of Bingo in the hostel bar and had cheap rum and cokes! The following day I was up and out getting a bus to Marie & Mike's house which was about half an hour away, not that I really knew where I was going! I had to ask a little bit at the other end but managed to find their house and got to know Marie's Mum and daughter before Marie & Mike arrived home from work. They made a nice meal that night and I chatted to them about my travels and life in general, it was quite a nice break from hostels and city life! The next day I had a bit of a lie in and had the intentions of going out to see more of the city but ended up staying in talking to Marie's Mum, watching The Ashes highlights and drinking tea! I did manage to go out for a run but turned into a bit of a mini marathon! I did ask a friend of theirs which way was best to go for a 5km run but it ended up being more 10km+ and almost killed me from unfitness! It was a nice run though, down by the coast, as most of the runs I have done have been; there's always plenty of scenery to see whilst running here! We had some more good food that night and then Mike asked if I wanted to join him on his weekly trip to the pub with his friends. Of course I couldn't be rude, so went a long for a few beers and had a chat with a few locals who liked to call me Pommie! It wasn't a late night as Mike had generously offered to take me to the city the next day as the ferry was leaving at 7am! I made it in good time, rung home for a quick chat and then hopped on the ferry to the South Island. It took 3 hours to get across there, didn't expect it to be so long but the scenery was good for the last hour as we went through some impressive fiords/sounds (not 100% sure which they were!) into the harbour at Picton. And yes, I did sleep for the first 2 hours so not too sure what the scenery was like! So, it's on to the South Island....
Unfortunately, I did write a huge entry here consisting of a few thousand words but it seems the blooming site has gone and deleted it all! So, I will update it again soon, but it may well be a lot shorter than the last entry as it quite annoying having to write it all again!
So after 2 months in New Zealand, it was time to move on Down Under to Australia. I flew in on the 1st August and had fortunately met someone in Toronto that lived in Melbourne and she had kindly offered to pick me up from the airport. It was an early flight, so was only about 7.30am when I landed, even more generous on her part! She picked me up and we headed from the airport for a look around Melbourne. We went to St Kilda, a beach town just outside of Melbourne City Centre, went to a cafe and had some breakfast and tea! It wasn't the warmest there but it was technically still winter and Melbourne is far South Australia. Although, they did have extremely hot weather in the summer previous, with the bush fires and 40 degree plus heat, so it definitely gets warm at times.
After having a drive around the Grand Prix circuit there (it's mainly public roads they use) we headed to the city centre to find me some accommodation and throw my stuff in. I found a hostel that was pretty central and cheap, so booked in for a few nights. I had a wander around the local area by myself that afternoon, trying to get my bearings and had a shop for some food. Melbourne is quite a European style city, with lots of cafes and lane-ways with boutique shops. Did you know, it has the biggest population of Greeks outside of Greece? Bet you didn't! Most people who I had spoken to said they preferred Melbourne to Sydney too, so would be interesting to compare both cities. My plan was to stay in Melbourne for 2 weeks and then head on up to Sydney where I Uncle Stu had lined up a job for me.
The City offered quite a good service that I took them up on one of the first days I was there. They ran a free walking tour of the city with a guide, so there was me and another couple who had a wander around Melbourne for a few hours with a German ex-pat who had been out there for years. He showed us various hot-spots and gave us some tips on places to go and see. He showed me a great Chinese food place that was pretty cheap, I ended up visiting it a bit too often as it was so cheap! We went past the court house in Melbourne towards the end of the tour and we were met with loads of paparazzi! They weren't there for us but we hung around and asked what was happening, when a few cars and a police van pulled in with some suspected terrorists on-board! You may have heard about it in the news a couple of months ago, they were caught with explosives and plans to blow stuff up in Sydney I think it was! So we hung around there for a while and watched them get escorted into the court house! Not everyday you see some suspected terrorists! I went to Melbourne Museum a few times whilst I was there, as I had got a student card from the guy who had booked my flights in the UK, so student access was free! They had a Pompeii exhibition on which I paid to get in to but the rest of it I could wander around at my own pace and go back the next day if I wanted, as it was free! It was a good museum, with lots about the aboriginal people and the brief history of Australia since it was discovered. I carried on the running whilst I was in Melbourne too, so headed out to The Tan, which is a gravelled pathway around The Botanical Gardens there. It seems quite a lot of people use it as their running track as there were loads doing the same as me. I took my jacket out with me a couple of times as it threatened to start raining but on the whole it was too warm to wear a jacket and most others were in vests/t-shirts. I still wasn't feeling very fit and needed to do more running!
I had heard the Great Ocean Road was a must see thing in my time in Victoria too, so I went along to a tour operators and asked about a trip that ran along the road, as it would have been too expensive to hire a car by myself and drive it. So I ended up booking a 3 day trip on the Great Ocean Rd and back via The Grampians, which is a mountain range in Victoria. They also ran Neighbours nights at a local pub and tours of Ramsay St. As I used to be a big fan of Neighbours, I thought I couldn't come all this way and not see it, so I booked on that as well! I went on the Neighbours tour during the day with a mini-bus full of other British people and had a look at the studios, Ramsay St, Erinsborough High and other sights! It was all good cheesey fun! There are photos on Flickr! Then that night I went to the Neighbours night at a pub in St Kilda, where there were others off the tour and about 150-200 people in total! I'm pretty sure 99% were from Britain, there was one Aussie! It again was decent fun, they had a quiz, which we didn't win and Karl Kennedy's band , Waiting Room, played. They were actually very good and did quite a lot of popular hits, like Kaiser Chiefs, etc. A few beers later, a few people I'd met went on to another bar or two before returning home about 4 or something. I had to be up at 7 or something ridiculous to go on the Great Ocean Rd trip, so didn't get too much sleep that night!
There was about 13/14 of us on the trip to the GOR, in a mini-bus and it was quite a bit of driving. I was in the front with the driver, so was chatting to him quite a lot of the way, he was quite an interesting guy, as most of these trip leaders are. I wanted to catch some zzz's but thought it may have been rude to do that in the front, so stayed awake chatting! Most of the others meanwhile were snoozing in the back! There was a family of 4 Americans, a Japanese, a few Germans, an Irish girl and a few others that elude me. But surprisingly I was the only English person! Out-numbered for once! The first few hours weren't so interesting, just motorway driving but then we got further West, we headed towards the coast and there were some great little walks, beaches and coves we stopped at. Unfortunately the weather was against us and it was raining most of the way there. We stopped at the start of the GOR and there were a few facts about how many people built it, how many died and how they used man power only! They physically chipped away at parts of the road, some on very narrow ledges, hence quite a few perished for the cause. It's 243km long, so took blooming ages to build and complete but it's a great drive. I can imagine it's even better with sunny weather, we had rain and clouds for most of it! But still got some good photos. We stopped overnight at a campsite along the GOR and all chipped in to make the food that was provided in the cost of the trip. We lit a fire, had bought a few beers and chilled around the fire for a few hours at night. There were some pretty interesting people to chat to, definitely a variety! The beds were in dorms, it wasn't such a late night for us all and I was quite glad, having only had 3 hours the night before!
The next day we spotted a few koalas in trees, they're bigger than I expected! The guide was telling us about the problems they are facing with koalas and the eucalyptus tree leaves they eat. Apparently they are eating too many of the trees leaves in certain areas and there isn't enough to go around, so they're trying to re-locate the koalas to different areas or they'll starve. The eucalyptus is a very fire hazardous tree and the leaves burn very easily, another reason some of the koalas get in trouble. Struggled a bit to get any close up shots and they're surprisingly mobile up them trees! We carried on along the GOR, stopping again at a few places to go on a walk or take photos. The Twelve Apostles is one of the popular places to stop on the road and it was an amazing place. Shame the weather was cloudy but still looked pretty spectacular. One of them collapsed recently and there was never 12 in the first place but still, a great example of what the ocean can do to rocks and land over so many years. Trips like this would have made me want to do Geography at school! We stopped at other sites along the way like London Arch (which used to be London Bridge until it collapsed!), Loch Ard Gorge and the Blow Hole. All were pretty amazing and again, showed just what nature can do over time!
After a day's driving and walking, we stopped to buy a few more drinks for the night and headed towards our accommodation for the evening. We stopped a couple of times on the way as our accommodation was in a very small village in the middle of nowhere, so had a lot of fields around it. This was a great place to see kangaroos and there was a lot of them about. They're really funny to see in real life, as they're pretty large and move in the strangest way, hopping about! They get some good distance with them leaps! We then went past our accom and up a mountain that was just behind the hostel. The sun was going down and we were going up there for the sunset. We just about managed to catch it and saw the sun set over a huge green and mountainous area just outside the Grampians. It was a great setting and a really nice sun set. Don't know what it is about the sun setting but there is something about it that is quite amazing! To me anyway! We headed back down the mountain to our hostel, chucked all our stuff in the rooms and helped make food again for tea, or 'dinner' as I've come accustomed to calling it now! The food on the trip was generally very good, with breakfast, lunch and dinner provided, snacks, fruit and as much tea as you could drink! There was a huge open fire in the hostel and as it got a little cold at night, it was great to sit around, have a few beers and chat to some of the others on the trip.
The next day, we continued on our trip, finishing the GOR section and heading further inland to the Grampians. Considering Australia is generally flat, these were a great big set of mountains that stuck out like a sore thumb in the middle of the flat surrounding area. The rock was sandstone but not as orange as the rock we'd encountered in parts of the States. We had made sandwiches that morning for our hike that we were to do for a few hours over late morning/early afternoon. It was nothing too adventurous and couldn't be too long as we had to drive back to Melbourne the same day but was still a good hike, with a few tricky parts and some great ledges to go and stand on! They were for you Mum & Dad! It took about an hour and a half to reach the top of our hike, we had lunch up there, had a mooch around at some interesting rock formations up there and took some photos. Again, the weather was a little disappointing as it was overcast but it did clear at times to reveal miles and miles of vast nothingness around us! We set off back down the route towards the bus so we could then set off on our trip back towards Melbourne. There was some time on the route back to stop at a vineyard and do some wine tasting! Having got the taste for red wine, I tried quite a few, they were good drops! I still can't really taste the difference though, quite a while before I become a pro wine-taster! We made the long journey back to Melbourne and arrived back around dusk, which was still fairly early at 5pm. It was a good trip all in all and worth the money to do it with a group rather than on my own.
After that I spent a couple of days doing not much at all, going for runs, the library to use the internet and generally lazing around! I had booked to leave Melbourne via train to Sydney as I was due to start work at some point, and quite looking forward to a bit of structure to be honest! The last day before I was to leave, Dorothy, the lady I had met in Toronto earlier in my trip was doing a trip to Yarra Valley which is up towards the border between Victoria & New South Wales. She asked if I wanted to go along, so seemed rude not to! Along with another of her friends we drove up to the Yarra Valley, which is about 2 1/2 hours from Melbourne and first went to a small town just outside the main vineyard region. We went to an amazing bakery there, had a pie and a wander around before heading on to the vineyards. We also stopped at Ned Kelly's final shoot out location, where he was killed. I don't know much about him but they had a huge statue there of him and he looked a crazy character! We went on to a cheese manufacturing place, where you could taste the cheeses, they had loads to choose from! They also did different chocolates which were pretty tasty too! We had a little wine there and then on to an olive place, where they had different olives and oils to taste. Then it was on to the main tasting session at a big vineyard there. There are apparently quite a few vineyards in the area due to good growing conditions but this one was huge and had a large tasting hall! So we spent an hour or so there, trying different wines, me pretending I know what I was talking about but really just swigging lots of red wine! Sod spitting it out, what a waste! I wasn't buying any, being on a budget and not really having any need for bottles of red wine but the two others did, by the case load and we happily made our way back to Melbourne then! I fell asleep on the way home; belly full of food, wine and a warm day all contributing to it I think! It was a good day out and a nice way to end my time in Melbourne & Victoria.
I was dropped off at the train station in Melbourne to jump straight on to a train to Sydney overnight. I thought it best to do this as I saved myself a nights accommodation and didn't miss a day due to travelling, as it was 11 hours to Sydney. When I spoke to the guy at the ticket office to pick up my ticket, he was a pretty nice fella and changed my carriage to a much quieter one, so I could get some shut eye overnight! There weren't beds or anything but there was only 5 people on that carriage, so after a couple of hours reading, I tried getting some sleep. After drifting off a couple of times, I decided the best option was to head to the floor with my inflatable pillow and get some zzz's that way! It worked and managed to sleep for about 6 or so hours of the journey until it came light and we arrived in Sydney...!
So, I arrive in Sydney. The Opera House, the Harbour Bridge, an iconic city throughout the world. I was quite excited to be arriving here as I had work planned and was looking forward to earning some money rather than spending it! I had stayed in a hostel in Melbourne that had a sister hostel in Sydney, so I thought that was a decent place to start. I jumped on a train from the bus station (after asking various people where I was going!) and plodded down some streets with my bag on my back until I came to where the hostel was. It didn't look like much and wasn't in the centre but thought it would do for a while. It was pretty warm already and it was only 9am! Being August it was still technically winter but there wasn't a cloud in the sky, how good was this?!
I checked into the hostel and they put me in an 8 bed dorm, which when I walked in looked like a bomb had dropped! It's always quite interesting opening that door and discovering what creatures you will be sleeping in the same room as! It seemed like it was all guys apart from one bed which seemed to have a heavily snoring woman in. Turns out it was a guy, a bit of a freaky, long-haired one! The girl on the hostel reception was really friendly and told me a few of the longer-term residents were heading out to Bondi Beach at midday as it was going to be a hot one. I made a call home to speak to Shep as he was getting married and it was the reception. I got to speak to quite a few of the boys back home, which was great. Glad they had a good doo and sounds like Shep was made up with it all. Congratulations again Mr & Mrs Shepherd!
So, that afternoon, I tagged along with a group heading down to Bondi Beach and had my shorts & vest on (although the Aussies call it a singlet, oddly!) Being mid-winter, the beach was just full of tourist poms drinking and getting burnt! Quite a funny site and it was quite windy too, so didn't feel as warm as it should have been! But not a bad way to spend the first day in Sydney! The hostel regularly held social events and was pretty good on that side of things as it meant you got to mingle with the others in the hostel as much as possible and got to know people pretty well, even if you were a loner, like me! So they did BBQs on the rooftop, a free wine & cheese night (which was actually boxed wine & cheddar, not as glamorous as it first appears!) and nights out in pubs/bars. As I am treating this part of my trip as a saving exercise, I tried not to go out too much but did indulge in a few nights!
I had the first week as my tourist time in the city and wandered around, took photos, sussed out the city and generally did not much! I went to meet the guy Uncle Stu had put me in touch with for work and arranged to start work in the second week. It was working with him in an office, dealing with online sports media, so sounded pretty interesting. It was only for a month to begin with and I had only planned on staying 2 months at most, so sounded a good deal for the time being. I'm not going to go into great details with my time in Sydney, as I have mainly been working, so haven't got loads to write about! I started the job and was doing bits of marketing along with odd jobs that Alex (my boss) needed doing for him. It was pretty interesting getting to know about Aussie Rules Football and Rugby League, the competitions and the media rights, etc.
Socially, I had met a girl at the Neighbours night who was heading up to Sydney to work too, so met up with her a few times for drinks. She knew a couple of friends from home who were out too, so met quite a few people and had a few friends to go out with! The people from the hostel were alright, but most of them were a bit too keen on heading out every night to get hammered, where as I was trying to save money and not get drunk on a week night! I started up my running again and found a great run down Lady Macquaries Chair, which is one of the best vantage points of the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge. I was managing 3/4 runs a week for a while, so was feeling fairly fit! I only survived two nights in the 8 bed room with the loud snoring guy before I asked to be moved, so I got moved to a smaller 4 bed dorm with people who were working and staying there long term. It was a great move, as the room was loads quieter and had nicer people in! It wasn't so much tidier, but that's what you get when you live in a dorm for a long time!