A Travellerspoint blog

Walking with the Inca's and Christmas and New Year in SA

What will my first Xmas away from home in 31 years be like?

sunny 32 °C
View Round the world in about 365 days!! on machine's travel map.

Well I have been a bit poor with the blog lately, I am not going to beat around the bush! I have simply been having too much fun!

Anyway as I write this I am sat in Sao Paulo airport and only have 4 more days of my trip left! With this blog entry I aim to bring you up to date until just after the new year!! Thats means you will have Colombia, Brazil and Buenos Aries to look forward to!! I will be writing this when I get back and have nothing much better to do as I will be penniless for months paying my visa card off…..

On my last blog entry I had just summited the 6088 meters peak in Bolivia! My next stop was Peru! I got on the bus in a dull La Paz and everything was fine till we reach the Peruvian boarder. When we got there as the boarder had been shut due to the elections the previous day there was a massive queue! Nothing I could do about it but stand there just like everybody else, us British do enjoy a good queue I guess…. I also had problems on the Peruvian side, I was travelling alone at this point and my Spanish was not good to say the least (though after three months of it I actually do surprise myself now), a police officer spotted me a mile off and asked me to follow him, as we walked down a small corridor and into a little room, I thought the situation not good…. Once inside the room, the legitimate police officer asked to have a look in my bag and asked me if I had anything I shouldn't have, obviously I didn't have anything! Once in my bag he went straight for my money belt, he had done this before! He took out a wad of English money that I had for emergencies and started to count it, in a flash in what only could be described as a well orchestrated Paul Daniels magic trick I was pretty sure he had slipped some up his sleeve! Remember this was a real police officer with real truncheon and gun… On realising what he was up to I grabbed the money back off of him and actually started to look up his sleeves, I just remember thinking that he could just take all the money off me if he wanted! I then looked underneath a bit of paper on the table and there is was, the once pristine 20 pound note folded up, I just picked it up and shook my head! He obviously knew he was totally in the wrong and just waved me onto get my passport stamped! For me this story just shows how corrupt Peruvian police are and how easy it can be to be in a situation which you know is wrong but there is nothing you can do about it! I would make sure I stuck with other people as I cross boarders in future...
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After the traumatic boarder crossing I arrived in a wet Cuzco, here I would spend a couple of days chilling out before I went on my 4 days Inca Trail trek! Cuzco was nice, it had great restaurants, great nightlife and I was lucky and had some good weather! Ever since I first realised that South America was going to be a stopping point on my trip, the Inca Trail in Peru was a must on my todo list! The trek is over 4 days, involves camping and is rated in the Watson book of hiking trail as moderate in difficulty. The trail takes in what can only be described as breathtaking scenery, then the morning of the 4th day you are blessed with sunrise over the lost Inca City of Machu Picchu! I had a really nice group, here are a couple of group shots, plus one of Gabby, Paula & Milo, my two Ozzy nurse amigas and my Sweedish amigo MIlo!
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After the trek we had a couple of good nights out in Cuzco! Mamma Africa's most night!!
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I then left Cuzco on a night bus to Huacachina in the Peruvian desert, though this wasn't any normal night bus! This time I was going full cama, this basically means ultimate comfort in buses, almost 90 degrees bed, food and more importantly loo! Got there the next morning and hooked up with a couple of friends that I had met in La Paz & Cusco, just so happens another couple of Ozzy nurses (Angie & Sarah) and a English girl Jen! Was only in Huacachina for a day we mainly sunbathed and climbed the sand dunes, the ladies didn't stop complaining about climbing the sand dunes for weeks, though it was their idea…..
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After Huacachina it was quick stop over in Lima, where we would meet a couple of Jen's pals, find the best supermarket in the world (free samples galore) and have a drunken night on the town! Apart from that not much to report about Lima, its an OK city, though a bit dull whilst we were there! The surf looked quite good though! Here you can see Jen, Sarah and I enjoying a fruit salad in our dorm…..
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After saying goodbye to Jen, Mark and Di, they were heading back to the UK! Angie, Sarah and I got a bus to the coastal town of Mancora!! It would be here that we would spend Christmas! The bus journey was probably the worst to date and was mainly due to an abundance of screaming kids and all their associated battery operated toys, you can imagine how happy I was to be awoken (even with ear plugs) by the sound of the wheels on the bus go round and round at 6:00am!! Still we made it to Mancora and was happy to find the all year round sunshine as promised! The next few days were spent eating good food, sunbathing by the swimming pool and generally getting drunk! We stayed at the LOKI hostel there and whilst it was a nice hostel and the girls didn't take over the room too much... With food and booze onsite with a tab system…… It is never a good concoction and didn't give you much determination to move from the premises! Still we managed to eat some of the best lobster I have ever eaten in Mancora for a measly 8 pounds and also found my a new addiction, churros with dulce de leche! Churros are basically finger donuts with a kind of milky caramel sauce, any girl want to find a way to the Machine's heart then here is the recipe http://buttersugarflour.com/2008/11/churros-with-dulce-de-leche-sauce/, failing that I am sure my Ma will have a bash at em..
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So Christmas was nice, very different but nice, first time I have laid out in the sun and swam in a pool during the Christmas period, normally its xmas jumpers and rain! We even had Christmas lunch, which was good but was missing the Yorkshire Puds! I did protest to the owner of the hostel and stated that I would make them for him, but unfortunately their ovens will not get hot enough! Poor effort! As for presents I got zilch, we were going to do secret santa but never really got it sorted, still I am looking forward to going home and opening all the birthday and xmas presents that I have missed out on, god knows I will need the pants and socks on my return!
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Boxing day we took a night bus to Guayaquil, Ecuador! From here I said goodbye to my Ozzy mates as they were heading to Colombia for the new year and I took a bus to the coastal town of Montañita! Montañita is a party town / surf resort, many Ecuadorians, Colombians and foreign tourists flock here! But why you ask? Mainly because of its beautiful beaches, picture postcard sunsets over the ocean and also cocktail alley! After a couple of nights in the roof of a hostel on the seafront with about 20 others laid on the floor with a grotty mattress I managed to hook up with some people I knew from Mancora! We managed to get a house and fill it with 15 people, it was a pretty sweet setup, we bought cheap rum (£3 a bottle), we played our own music and then went down to cocktail ally and to various clubs. Durins the day we lounged in hammocks, laid on the beach and swam in the ocean, the waves were unbelievable! The only downside of our location was that it was in a lush green area that obviously attracted the mozzys, we were eaten alive at times!
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Whilst in Montañita took the opertunity to do another couple of dives!! Diving wasn't world class but never the less good!
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On new years eve everybody goes to the beach and burns paper mache models and sets off fireworks, there is certainly nothing organised about it and I am surprised that people don't get hurt, but still a lot of fun! In Montañita we made loads of new friends and in particular people from Colombia and Ecuador, everybody was just so friendly I guess! Montañita certainly goes down as one of the hi-lights of my trip!
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We got stuck in Montañita for a few extra days than planned as the buses were full, though to be honest were weren't exactly complaining! I had now met a group of people who were pretty much doing the same route as me so we stuck together, safely in numbers and all that!!! We eventually headed to Quito the capital, though to be honest we didn't really do much in Quito as it was just another big city and the next day we started our journey to Colombia!
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As this point it was the 4th January, 2010 and I am going to leave it their for this blog entry! I need to give Colombia and Brazil the time and effort it deserves and that can be done from rainly, cold, dull Leeds! Until the next blog, chow my amigos!!

Posted by machine 07:07 Archived in Peru Tagged living_abroad Comments (0)

Beaches of Chile, to the deserts of Argentina and Bolivia

My first month in South America…

sunny 30 °C
View Round the world in about 365 days!! on machine's travel map.

After 12 hours on a flight from Auckland I landed in a pleasantly warm Santiago, the capital city of Chile! The first thing that struck me about South America was how little of the queens English people spoke, I had been told that learning spanish was advisable to get by, but in true Jamie style I thought I would learn the hard way….. Nearly one month later my spanish is getting better and I can ask basic questions and understand a bit, but its actually a big regret that I didn't learn good spanish before I arrived! Still its now firmly on my todo list for my return to the UK!!

Santiago was a nice city, but didn't have that much to do, unless you wanted to go out partying…. So after a couple of days of seeing walking to lookouts, eating completos (basically a hot dog, served with ingredients such as avocado, diced tomato and mayonnaise), making friends with the locals and chilling out in the hostel overlooking the historic Plaza de Armas I moved on!
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My next pin on the map would be the town of Valparaíso, after a short (4 hours) bus journey I found myself in a fairly large seaside town. From the water Valparaíso begins to increase in hight rapidly and is basically built on a hillside, to help with these hill the Chileans have built ascensores. The ascensores are like very small wooden boxes, almost sauna like looking and pull people up and down these hills, if anyone has ever been on the Scarborough Cliff Railway they will know exactly what I mean! Though I seem to remember my old man being too tight to pay for us to use the lift and we always had to walk up the steps to the Grand Hotel, I am sure he always put a positive spin on it though..

Whilst only in Valparaíso for a couple of days, I managed to get to the beach resort of Viña del Mar further up the coast, it was just coming into their busy season and all the bars, tat sellers and cafes were just getting ready! As I was there mid week the beach was pretty quiet, except for the odd surf caster and person relaxing reading their books. I am assured that come the weekend the place is transformed by young Chilean's frolicking on the beach.
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Early on a Wednesday morning I managed to squeeze into the ascensore with my backpack and headed towards the bus station, I soon realised that I was pushing it for time. Not wanting to miss my bus I tried to flag down a taxi, things were not looking good, until I saw a guy cleaning his taxi! In Jamie spanish I explained that I wanted to get to the bus station and used the word rapido several times.. To add insult to injury as I sat in the taxi my top button of my shorts popped off! Fortunately I managed to save the day using a plastic bag, the thought of running for my bus with my pants half way down didn't fill me with joy! After all the it seemed to do the trick and I made it 2 minutes before the bus left, panic over!
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The bus was heading to Mendoza, Argentina on the eastern side of the Andes. As we climbed higher and higher the road got more windy till we eventually got to the boarder post. At the boarder post it was actually snowing, all I can say is spot the English person on his holidays, wearing shorts on t-shirt in the snow! On arriving in Mendoza you will be pleased to know that it was shorts weather and the plastic bag was still holding up well!!

After getting a bus to my hostel I was greeted with a 16 person dormitory that you couldn't swing a cat in, still it was somewhere to get my head down! There were two dutch girls in my dorm and as they were girls I thought they might have a needle and thread…. On asking the question they politely told me perfect English that neither of them had one, I then mearly mentioned that oh thats a shame and that was going to ask them to perform the repair! In which one of the girls gave the reply, YOU BASTARD! From that moment I knew we would get on like a house on fire and we would be great friends.

Argentine is famous for its steaks and vino, I must say we made sure we sampled as much as possible. After a night out in Mendoza we got a local bus to the wine tasting region and hired bikes to explore the local wineries! After visiting a couple of the vineyards we got settled at one with a great terrace, playing good music, excellent nibbles and superb rose! A couple of bottles later Martine (one of the Dutch girls) really didn't want to do the 10km ride back to Mr Hugo's where we hired the bikes from, after a quick conversation with the owner of the vineyard we found we were in luck, he was going back into Mendoza for an art exhibition, would give us a lift and arrange for Mr Hugo to pick up his bikes! By the time we had finished the vino and he had shut up shop, the bikes had gone, we don't actually have one photo between us actually on bikes….. Still good time had by all! Here are Martine, Sam and I enjoying the vino!
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That evening he invited us to the gallery, free booze, we didn't have to be asked twice!
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After our last lazy day sat by the pool in Mendoza we got the night bus to Salta. I have become accustomed to taking night buses and the Argentinean night buses are very comfy, it was about 1:00am and I awoke to what I can only describe as the sound of death, it was a really loud noise that sounded like ice falling out of a cool box and then onto someones lap, which then caused them to give the highest pitch screech from a bloke that I have ever heard! What had actually happened is a stone had either been thrown or had somehow bounced up from the road to the second level of the bus and smashed the window! After I realised everybody was OK I started to think about the sound that the guy made, it was like nothing I have every heard before. I analysed it for a while, I realised that this guy must have thought he was going to die, I mean you wake up and the window is caving in around you and you obviously think you are in some accident and you are going to die! Was that the sound of death? I think it was pretty close to it, though I would like to think in a similar situation I would be more inclined to go down fighting rather than screaming like a biiiatchh… Poor guy, he was quite embarrassed I think!

In Salta we mainly partied, drunk more good wine, ate the best steak I have ever had and went gaucho horse riding! The Gaucho horse riding was good and the horses were not brain dead like the last trek I did in New Zealand, its a similar kind of riding to what I had done already, though the owner of the ranch called cowboys (western style horseman) gays!!! Who was I to argue with a stumpy, balding, slightly plump gaucho?
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The two girls Sam & Martine were pretty much doing the same route as me, so we stuck together! To be honest, they might not admit it but they needed me!! Next stop San Pedro, Chile, in the desert!! After the 8 hours or so on the bus, we were officially in the Chillian desert. San Pedro was a really nice place and underneath all the dust there is a really nice desert town with lots of character. San Pedro was quite expensive, but what do you expect in the desert? During our 3 days there we would go star gazing, sand boarding, visit moon valley and go for afternoon strolls in the desert.
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The main reason for heading to San Pedro was to book a Salar De Uyuni trip, this trip would take us three days and would involve taking a 4x4 though desert, salt lakes, geezers, volcanic mud pools, seeing flamingos & llamas, staying in local villages on route and ending up on the famous Bolivian salt flats.
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The trip was impressive to say the least, maybe with exception for the drunk drivers (which I will talk about soon). There was three vehicles from the same company following each other around stopping at the various sights, that said our group was a bit weird!! It was the girls and I plus a young French boy and his 63 year old granny. Granny was an old battle axe, she snored and farted at rate that would be picked up as a large scale tremor on the richter scale and she also seemed to love the coca leaves!!
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Many Bolivians chew coca leaves and whilst it is where cocaine effectively comes from it does not have the properties of the class A drug that is mentioned in our newspapers everyday, I tried it the once, it tasted like… well chewing leaves and stained my teeth, I didn't have anymore coca leave from Granny!! Mum just for your reference and to assure you that I am not going to become a druggy have a read of http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coca.
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So back to the drivers… one afternoon they kept disappearing and leaving us in villages waiting. At one of the villages the children told us what was going on, thats the beauty of kids they cannot keep a secret! They mentions words like cerveza and chikos, which basically translates to beer and girls! Sure enough when they came back they were drunk as skunks, I said that I wasn't having it and the Frenchy who spoke good Spanish explained that we would drive, he wasn't having any of it, probably thought he would loose his job…. I said fair enough and put up with it, after all he probably did this on every trip!

It wasn't long on the sandy tracks when he made what I would consider a serious mistake and could have easily lost control, bearing in mind his driving had been very good before! I lost it, told him to stop and basically told him to get out of the vehicle and I would drive, I had not made it 30 years on planet earth with all the stupid stuff I have done, to be killed by a pissed up Bolivian in the middle of the salt flats! He was drunk and obviously wasn't too happy about it, threatened to leave me there or take me to the Bolivian boarder, he was using words like gringo, saying I was in his county and being quite abusive! Maybe it was because I didn't understand what he was actually saying or maybe it was because I didn't want to end up in a Bolvian jail for ripping his drunken 20 year old ass out of the driving seat, but I managed to keep myself composed and told Frenchy to tell him he had one more chance and to drive carefully!! He got us to the lodge in the end and I was in my opinion the bigger man and used the word amigos and shook his hand! What else can you do in a country like Bolivia?
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The trip ended in the town of Uyuni, we stayed there for two nights and marvelled at the women wearing bowler hats, generally ate slightly better food we had all been craving and planned the next stage of our trips! It was time to say goodbye to the Dutch girls, but there were 8 of us from the trip that were heading in the same direction Potosi!!

On a Monday morning we got on a very basic local bus to Potosi, this bus had everything, a drunken guy laying on the floor, hospital patient and even a nun! It was almost like been on transport in India!

We arrived in Potosi in the rain, the highest city in the world! Potosi was a nice, but hilly city, it had all the bustle of Bolivian city, but at a staggering 4200 meters, was pretty high!! The highlight of Potosi was going into a real working mine, these mines are not for the faint hearted! The miners work 12 hours a day in appalling conditions and for very little money! Each year many miners die in accidents! Before we visited the miners we stopped at the miners market to buy them gifts, dynamite, soft drinks and coca leafs! Certainly don't think you can easily get these items in Leeds market!!
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After Potosi numbers dwindled a little as people went in different directions, but we were still left with 5 of us that got the night bus to La Paz!! We were visiting La Paz during election time, La Paz the capital of Bolivia is quite a party town, but not unfortunately not during election time….. To be honest this did not matter as I was preparing myself for what would be my greatest physical achievement to date, summiting Mt. Huayna Potosi, a glacier covered mountain at 6088 meters!!!
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Day 1: From La Paz to “Huayna Potosí” base camp Lodging in our Refugio. Practice mountaineering techniques in the old Glaciar. Return to hut.
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Day 2: In the afternoon ascent to high camp 5200 mts. Lodging at Refugio II. After dinner we then tried to sleep for a few hours, none of us really slept very well!!
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Day 3: At midnight we would climb in the dark to the summit (ice climb), descent to base camp!
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As you can see from the pictures it was a truly amazing experience, only 50% of the people who attempt it actually summit the mountain, in fact one person from our group had to turn back as he thought his chest was going to explode! I can honestly say this is the hardest thing I have done, our guide was pushing us hard as he wanted to get back to La Paz to vote, I would have to stop and get my breath back about every 5 minutes!! Apart from the lack breath and a slight headache I didn't really suffer from altitude sickness, that was until later on that evening back at base camp. I had all the symptoms shivering, tingling fingers, hard to breath and loss of appetite!! The altitude sickness eventually went away but it took a days rest in La Paz and probably another couple of days after that to get back to my former self!

So now I have summited a mountain over 6000 meters I can honestly hand on heart say that I will never do it again, it was amazing but I don't think I should ever put my body though that ordeal again!! Though I must say, from the start failure was never an option for the machine :-)

Next stop Peru, the land of the Inca's……..

More photos at;
Chile http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=357071&id=650820432&l=4dc23be505
Argentina http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=357051&id=650820432&l=b7a916b735
Bolivia http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=357072&id=650820432&l=c7b750a238

Posted by machine 15:12 Archived in Bolivia Tagged living_abroad Comments (0)

Camping it up around New Zealand

Fires, sun, sand, snow, sea, volcanos, driftwood, great scenery and new found love's….

sunny 16 °C
View Round the world in about 365 days!! on machine's travel map.

I landed in Christchurch the South Islands capital city and was greeted with slightly colder climates and a good friend I met in Chamonix, Nova! She was out on a years working visa and we were planning to see the South Island in her beat up car the Galaxy!

Nova was not alone, she had a couple of dogs, Butch and Posh. These dogs were working dogs and belonged to a cowboy dude Scott who Nova was helping out by hand rearing some calfs! Scotts place would be my home for the next few days, in fact his front room floor would be my bed and I helped out feeding the calfs and around the house to earn my keep! The days were crisp and the nights cold….
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Scotts main job was breaking in young horses, in particular troublesome horses. It was Scott and Nova that helped me to find what I think could be a life changing hobby! I didn't need much persuasion (in fact I was chomping at the bit, you could say) and it didn't take long before I was up on a horse. Whilst i have never been on a horse before I always thought I would one day ride a horse, first impressions I loved it! The feeling of being in control of something that could quite easily bolt at any minute and has the more strength in one hind leg than your average human (source: Jamie's book of facts…..), is quite terrifying and exhilarating at the same, I guess it appeals to my nature in that I like the thought that whilst you have lots of control over a well trained horse, you can never be in total control of such a magnificent beast.

I wasn't long before I was walking, trotting and even cantering on Nova's friends 14 year old horse, Buzz!! Buzz was a true gent, looked after me well and left me with a taste to experience more horsey based activities during my travels….
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After a final feeding of the calfs we left Cust on our tour of the South Island. We would start by visiting various landmarks along the way and would do some 2500 KM's in a big circle. Some of the hi-lights of the trip were the fantastic views from the Otago Peninsula, swimming and seeing a New Zealand Sea Lion on Victory beach and finding my second new love of the trip, fishing…..
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After a couple of days of camping in non authorised campsites on pretty cold evenings we decided to look into doing some WOOF'ing! WOOF'ing stands for Willing Workers On Organic Farms and is a way for travellers to do 4 hours of work a day in return for food and lodgings, the idea is that you get involved in farming and the life style block way of living. Most of the WOOF hosts are trying to become as self sufficient as possible and usually operate a small farm with a range of animals, crops and vegetables. In general they all do it as a hobby and sustain their lifestyle by the primary means, hence the help of WOOFers is usually greatly appreciated. Our hosts Ian and Nat we great, we helped them build a new compost heap, chicken coop, mend fencing and they provided us with a much needed warm house and great food.
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By this point I had now bought myself a fishing rod and a assortment of lures, hooks and various other paraphernalia and a day wouldn't pass where we wouldn't try and catch us some tea! Nova managed to catch some as yet unidentified squidgy sea fish on our first night, which might I add tasted shocking. After a bit of sea fishing we picked up a licence and then put our efforts into river fishing, after a couple of days and a couple of visits to various fishing shops en-route, I had success whilst staying with our WOOF hosts. Typical in the two days we didn't need to catch fish I caught a perch and two brown trout, though one of the trout I threw back in as it was too small. Both Nova, Ian and I ate the the fish that I caught and tasty they were too! Those of you who know Nova will know she is a vegetarian, though she will eat fish that I have caught, you work that one out because I couldn't :-)
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After a few days at Ian and Nat's we set off for the Catlins and visited Nugget Bay, Cannibal Bay, McClean Falls, the most southerly point (Slope Point) and eventfully ended up in Te Anau!!
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We then ended up having a night out in the town of Te Anau and gave some support to the local band that plays there. We actually pitched up our tent in the dark that night and didn't see the NO CAMPING $500 FINE sign right next to where we camped…. Whoops….
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That afternoon we drove to Milford Sound, for the geography buffs out there Milford Sound is actually not a sound but a fiord, basically a sound is calved out by river erosion, where a fiord is calved out by glacial erosion. It brought all the memories of Mr Lovedays and Mr Pikes geography classes from the respective middle and high schools flooding back! After another evening of illegal camping in Milford the went out on sea kayaks and got up close to the massive 512 meters deep U shaped valleys and truncated spurs!!
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We then headed to Queens Town, had another drunken night out before visiting the Fraz Josef Glacier and heading back to Cust!
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As you can probably tell from the pictures, one of the main hi-lights of the South island was the ease in which you could find a place to camp, which was peaceful, beautiful and with ample firewood nearby! I think only one night we ended up on a grass verge in the middle of nowhere and it honestly wasn't that cold more most of the time…..We camped around 10 or so nights and had a raging fire going every night, for those people who have been following my Africa travel tales may recall I am at my happiest in front of a good fire and some of my happiest memories of the south island all have a fire associated with them!
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When we got back to Cust I would end up WOOFing for a week and half for lady that Nova had previously WOOFed for. I can honestly say that my time spent with Irene, Michael, their two dogs Golli and Raider, their three horses Buzz, Gypsy and Tippy, their 4 doves (which was actually 3 at the time of leaving, maybe Irene can let me know if the missing female has returned?) and their beautiful house was some of my happiest memories of New Zealand. Irene and Michael were great and made me feel at home, I had my own room, Irene cooked great food and in return I rode her horses, mowed lawns, did the odd bit of weeding and they also got the odd bit of IT support from me.
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Back to their animals, the two dogs I used to take on lovely long walks around the local countryside. One evening I asked Irene why Golli was named Golli, baring in mind that Golli is a small little black dog, Irene just smiled and said why do you think? Just an example of how political correctness has not gone mad just yet in New Zealand, most people my age and above should remember the Robinson's Golliwog jam?
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Their three horses, Buzz I have already spoken about, Gypsy a 4 year old and Tippy a 2 year old miniature. For most of my time I rode Gypsy, she is a beautiful horse and a lot younger and far more sensitive than Buzz, though I treated her like the new lady in my life that she was and we got on just fine. Only one fall in the round pen whilst I was getting her into a fast canter and that was more of a bail on my part. On a sunny Sunday afternoon I went out with three local ladies on their horses, successful managed to calm down a stressed Gypsy (once you see a horse flair its nostrils and not want to go where you want to lead her, you realise the power they have), lead her through water she didn't want to go through, jump logs and even get control when she bolted because two ducks flew out of the bushes. I was that afternoon I decided one day I will own my own horse, on my return back to England I will be looking for people to share the responsibilities and become a fellow cowboy or cowgirl...
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I spent a bit of time helping to train young Tippy with the long reigns as Irene would like to get her pulling a cart, must admit it did make me think how much petrol I could save when just pottering around my local area…
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One of the things you find about people in NZ is that many of them have skipper licences, along with a gun licence, fishing licence and various other licences that are either unavailable in England or reserved for the rich. Michael was no exception and had been sailing for many years, on a glorious Saturday we went sailing in his boat in Lyttelton not far from Christchurch. We had a great day and will put sailing down on my todo list for when I am a bit older maybe, I think I have my hands pretty full with snowboarding, diving and horse riding for the moment. Though I am sure Paul (midlife crisis) Wake would love a sailing partner and no doubt will invite me for a sail some time….
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I then sadly left the South Island and headed towards Wellington where I would hire a car with an English girl from Leicestershire called Jo who was also wanting to see the north island and see pretty much the same things. We would have the car for nearly 2 weeks and would see some amazing places and meet some really nice people along the way. We did attempt to camp a few times, but only managed to find a suitable spot once and it was a very cold night on that particular camp, so it was back to hostel life...
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Our journey would take us to do what is called as New Zealand's best one day hike (or tramp as they would call it) and in all honesty it was a really good hike, there was much more snow on the trail than I was expecting and I got to see my first ever active volcanic area! On certain areas of the hike streams were running warm water and if you sat on the floor it was noticeably warmer from the thermic activity.
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We would next stop in Taupo where I would fish (unsuccessfully), throw ourselves out of a plane and have a good night out on the tiles! You did hear correctly, I did my 3rd skydive of my lifetime from 15,000 feet, thats a free fall of about a minute, I think this would have to be classed as my best to date, mainly due to us having a crystal clear day and me knowing what to expect! On the way down he put us into a massive spin and when the shoot had opened he also let me control the canopy I made us go horizontal and even collapsed the canopy! I am pretty sure that I was coming out with some pearls of wisdom on the way down, though the final DVD doesn't really reflect that, I will try and upload it for your amusement!
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We then headed to Rotorua and travelled along the thermal highway, this road is literally surrounded by hot natural spas, mud pools, geezers and also has the stench of rotten eggs (sulphur) round every corner! All this thermal activity is due to the Taupo Volcanic Zone.
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The next day we found ourselves doing a really nice walk to Cathedral Cove, it was a smashing day and I had actually been wearing shorts for most of my time in the North island! The weather was warming up nicely! Throughout NZ I did loads of little walks and trails, they were all beautiful and have cracking scenery, I honestly couldn't mention them all on here, it takes me long enough as it is!!! I often say that some of the best things in life are free, call me a tight Yorkshireman, but its true and you are never more than a stones throw away from a walking trail in NZ!
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Later that afternoon we dug our own hot water spa's at Hot Water Beach, this is basically a beach where at a certain point two hours before and after high tide you can dig a hole and it fills with warm water!! About 2 feet from our hole was a patch where the water must have been almost boiling! Here you can see Jo and I, though Jo had to abort hers and come and gatecrash mine… That evening we drove back through the Coromandel peninsula and had one of the best sunsets I have seen thus far in New Zealand!
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The next day was a bit wet and dull, I was due to pick an old friend up from Auckland and we were going to explore the Northern Cape! We had a lazy afternoon in Auckland and picked Jess up from work in the centre. Some of you may remember Jess, she used to work at Ramsdens during the summer and moved over to NZ to further her studies. She is doing well and if you haven't heard from her then you will be pleased to know that she is coming back home next March!

After an evening in a very nice hostel that reminded me of a much bigger version of my Grandma's house we did a nice hike around Whangarei and even even had a swim in the falls! Throughout all my travels I always take every opportunity to swim, no matter how cold it is… I must admit the fact that NZ has virtually no deadly animals means I am much more willing to jump into the water, I am not so sure I would be as willing in Australia!
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We spent the afternoon at the remote beach of Matauri Bay, fishing and enjoying the sunshine. The fishing was't going too well in the North Island, I thought I had struck lucky in Matauri Bay….. Until I realised it was a starfish….
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That evening we headed further north, we ended up in a hostel again! The North was still proving hard work to get camping spots, maybe I had just been spoilt in the south or maybe it was just that people value their land much more? The next morning we set off to Cape Reinga which is about a far North as you can get by car. Cape Reinga is where the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean meet and what a cracking day we picked to go, was windy but not a cloud in the sky! The scenery around Cape Reinga is amazing!
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On the way back down we stopped off to see the sand dunes and went to see 90 mile beach. You can drive all the way along 90 mile beach (named so because believe it or not is 90 miles long) if you have a 4 wheel drive car, not wanting to get stuck in the sand we settled on a quick drive onto the fairly solid bit of beach and I showed my male prowess and entertained the ladies with a couple of well executed handbrake turns! You can take the machine out of Crossgates, but you cannot take the Crossagates out of the Machine!
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Whilst I have been travelling a few people have asked 'What's all this machine business about?', so maybe its best I explain. Well from memory it goes a little bit like this… On my second ever snowboarding trip to Chamonix some years ago I was the one who managed to trip the light fantastic every night and still managed to get out on the slopes, where as certain other members of the group ranged from poor to very poor.. That said a certain Mr Walker I believe came a very close second. The story then goes that I started calling myself 'The Machine', certain of my friends will claim its a self proclaimed nick name and yes I guess it is. But as the old saying goes 'theres no smoke without fire' the name has stuck and many people still use it to this day! Now I have cleared that up I will get on with the rest of my NZ tales! Oh in fact one last thing, just wanted to say congratulations to Matt 'I have got the morals of a junk yard dog' Walker and Rach on becoming pregnant and giving Bradley a brother or sister!

Being a Saturday night we thought we would go to the biggest town nearby, Paihia! Whilst it wasn't the most liveliest place in the world we did manage to catch some live music, went to a dodgy club and was blessed with the Rascal and Bonkers, one of my favourite travelling tunes. I don't know why the Rascal seems to be following me round the world, no in fact I do know why, cos it rocks the dance floor, the song is seriously loved by many nationalities and in many countries and I can personally vouch for it! In Paihia I managed to upgrade from a starfish to a massive octopus, though not knowing how to kill it humanly or cook it for that matter it got thrown back, I reckon it was about 70cm in diameter! On the Sunday morning we organised a horse trek, whilst the horse (Houdini) I was on was no Gypsy and was pretty much bomb proof. We did go through lots of mud and water so it was slightly different to the trek I had done before, though it did leave me adamant that anymore horse trekking that I undertook in future would be much more rough and ready!
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After saying goodbye to Jess, Jo and I drove to a hostel not far from where we would be getting on a boat to dive on the world class Poor Knight Islands. Here I am using the hostels trampoline and banging out a forward summersault the night before…
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After an early rise we found ourselves on a boat skippered by Dan heading to the Poor Knights. The islands' name is said to derive from their resemblance to Poor Knight's Pudding, a bread-based dish popular at the time of discovery by Europeans.. We did two dives, one went ever so slightly wrong, in which I thought my number was up and the other was a great cave dive.

So to the first dive, it was meant to be a guided dive as it was the first time any of us had dove in cold water, but when underwater Jo's mask was filling up with water so the dive master asked me to buddy up with the 4th person in our group. Anne had her PADI, I had my advanced PADI and we both were happy with the situation! Anne and I were exploring the kelp beds and seeing what we could find in the dive site know as Cove Bay. After about 10 minutes I checked my air thinking I should still have loads left, to my amazement I was getting low on air, on further analysis of my dive gage it showed me that we were at 36 meters, I was qualified to 40 and Anne was only really qualified to 18, that said I had only ever dived to a maximum of about 16 meters!! As it was meant to be a guided dive I didn't really take much notice of orientation as we descended and obviously we had gone the total wrong direction!! I found Anne, checked her gage and it was reading the same! We turned round and headed back, but I underestimated how long we had probably been at that max depth for and it wasn't getting any shallower, at this point I wasn't still particularly worried. I then checked my gage again and my air was going fast, to give all you non divers an idea at 30 meters I would actually use three times more air than on the surface, this is due to the air been more compressed from the pressure of the water above us!

I signalled to Anne that I was nearly out of air and that we need to go back up to the surface, as we rose I realised that I was desperately short of air and certainly wouldn't be able to do my safely stop, which is a stop at 5 meters for 3 minutes whenever you dive more than 18 meters. I kept my eye on Anne all the time then she seemed to stop, I was virtually out of air and was still at about 20 meters down, I couldn't go back down to see if she was OK! The only saving grace was that I knew she had been breathing less air than me and was certain to have more time, though I didn't know if she was in any other difficulties! After waiting for a few seconds I knew my air was very low, I started my accent again and could feel how hard it was getting to breath, luckily when I did my qualification we had simulated an out of air situation and I knew what it felt like, though certainly not nice situation to be in when you are under water! I as soon as I could see the surface I inflated my BCD (basically a life jacket), I am pretty sure that by that time my tank didn't have many more breaths of air left in it! I now found myself in a position of waiting for Anne to surface, after what seemed like an eternity she surfaced and luckily we both lived to tell the tale!

I don't think anyone will really ever realise what went through my mind during those few seconds where I thought my number could have been up. I would like to think that all the training I had done helped me to do the right things and not to panic or maybe is was a greater force somewhere watching me and it was decided there is still a few more years left in the old dog yet, I would like to think former was true! In all fairness appart from getting far too low on air and not doing the safety stop all was good and we suffered no long lasting effects other than a slight headache and that could have just been down to the cold water! My second idiom of the blog 'once bitten twice shy', Mum you will be pleased to know it was a lesson well learnt and it certainly won't happen again.

The second dive was a bit less extreme at a max depth of 20 meters inside Riko Riko Cave, the biggest sea cave known to man. On this dive we saw Carpet Sharks, Scorpion fish, Moray Eel and a Jason's Nudibranch to name a few!! Here is Jo after our second dive!
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The next day we spent a very nice afternoon on black sand Piha Beach which is not far from Auckland and even got a couple of hours of surfing in!!
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Later that evening we drove to Auckland where I would spend my remaining days camping in my tent in Jess's back garden inbetween a lemon tree and a grapefruit tree! Jess whilst I remember I made sure that the lemon tree got plenty of fertiliser during my stay, after all why traipse all the way into the house in the middle of the night when you have a perfect toilet in the garden :-) Should be in for a bumper crop of lemons next year!

I had about 4 days in Auckland and had a couple of very good nights out, played golf and generally got ready for the next part of my journey, South America!! I must thank an old work colleague Arron for showing me a good night out round Auckland, it was great to see you, Catherine and meet the kids! Also I would like to thank Jess & her chap Ash for putting me up and showing me round Auckland! Ash we must get a round of golf in when you next come over to England! Here are a couple of snaps from my last night out in Auckland, I can assure you that I will never drink shots again and we all had stinking hangovers the next day….

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New Zealand once conjured up visions of hobbits, rolling hills and sheep! I now think of New Zealand as a country with great beaches, magnificent fishing, sailing, wild camping, volcanos, extremes in landscape, where they call corner shop dairies and last but not least my new found love of all thing horse related! NZ is a terrific place, with amazing people and opportunities to do different things everyday! Just a pity its so far away from what I class as home, England!! Whilst I may have said goodbye to New Zealand I am positive I will be back, whether just for a holiday or in a camper van in my old age when I have finally retired!

Next and last stop on the Jamie's groovy trip of the world, Chile, South America…..

I can only upload a certain amount of pictures to my blog and there are lots of New Zealand, if you are hungry for more have a look at the following;
South island - http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=334917&id=650820432&l=2ef6669fea
My time WOOFing - http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=342273&id=650820432&l=f7b579ad4e
North island - http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=347263&id=650820432&l=05f6c8386b

Posted by machine 14:45 Archived in New Zealand Tagged living_abroad Comments (0)

Tales from the land they call down under

Where the beaches are plentiful and the sun quite often shines

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View Round the world in about 365 days!! on machine's travel map.

I landed in Sydney on a glorious, but very early saturday morning and was picked up by my good friend from back home Gunny, I had not seen Gunny for about 2 and half years, so after an emotional hello we went back to bed for a few more hours kip! When we eventually got up we made breakfast, in true Gunny style he had what was very nearly English bacon, certainly the best I had tasted since leaving England and English recipe beans to boot! You can take the Gunny out of England, but you cannot take the England out of Gunny!

Gunny lived in a area of Sydney called Coogee, I had actually been here many years before during my first visit to Oz back in 2002. Nice part of Sydney with a good beach and a couple of good boozers, including the Coogee Bay Hotel (CBH), which is famous for been the biggest pub in the Southern Hemisphere! God knows why Gunny choose this location!

As it was a lovely day we trotted down to the beach and gave a surprise hello to a slightly hungover Danny and newly wed missus, Gemma! Danny later informed me that he thought Gunny had got talking to one of the local beach bums when he first saw me, though to be honest he never has been the sharpest tool in the box!! With Dan's comments in mind it wasn't long before I treated myself to a hair cut whilst I was in a country with hair dressers that I trusted, only a slight trim you will be pleased to know….

After an afternoon reminiscing and catching up with my old friends I moved my stuff to Danny and Gemma's house where I would have my own room, this was a luxury I had become accustomed to been without! I must say that both Dan and Gemma were very good hosts and looked after me well, though Gem I never did get that Sunday lunch with Yorkshire puddings and Gemma also kept feeding me up on chocolate...

That first night we spent celebrating Gunnys girlfriend Amelia's (yes all those of you that know Richard, that is not a typo! He has actually netted himself quite a catch) birthday in the palace pub. Between all my friends from back home they had managed to meet lots of other like minded people and I wasn't long before I was getting on well with them, I was trying to think of a saying that would sum up this sort of situation, but could only come up with shit attracts shit, but that doesn't quite get the message across in the right way….. or maybe its does :-) Thinking about it I think thats not even a real saying and could be a Matthew Walkerism...... By the way congratulations to Matt and Rachel on news of their pregnancy!

I would have nearly three weeks in Oz, for the first few days I took the opportunity to catch up with some business I had to sort out back home and generally lead an almost normal life but on the other side of the world and with a 9 hours time difference from England! I would goto the gym, do shopping, clean up the house, make cakes and many other things that probably are not not very interesting blog topics, I suppose I am just trying to emphasise that it no longer felt like I was backpacking! Though to be honest I could hardly afford to step out of the house, Australia certainly isn't a cheap place with the pound being so weak, a schooner of beer, thats 425ml, not even a pint is about 5 quid!!

One of the main reasons for having a longer time in Oz was that one of my friends Phil was coming all the way from England for a two week jolly! I think in hindsight he wishes he had a bit longer, but still was good to see him. Phil arrived on the Thursday and all four (Dan, Gemma, Gunny & I) of us picked him up, Gunny and I had been on the beach followed by the CBH all afternoon and were a little inebriated so say the least. We were also in the dog house also we were meant to be cooking for Dan and Gem and instead had to be dragged out of the pub to pick up Phil, not without getting a pie and mash from the world famous Garlo's I might add! This was the first day of Gunny's two weeks of holiday from work and he was already getting me into trouble!
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That night we went to the Kings Cross area for another one of our friends birthdays from back home, Jo! Jo is over from England on a working holiday. We topped up our alcohol levels a little bit more and talked about the weekend to come, celebrating Jo's birthday up in Terrigal in a swish pad we had rented out.

The next morning another one of my good friends from back home Noel also arrived in Sydney, Noel is moving over to Oz for the foreseeable future so it was really good timing. Love it when a good plan comes together!
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On a sunny friday we set off on the 90km or so drive to Terrigal, as you can see the pad we stayed in was pretty nice to say the least!! The idea of the weekend was to make the most of the house, soak up the sun by the pool and celebrate Jo's birthday in style. We were really lucky with the weather, bearing in mind that Sydney was in middle of spring we were having days where the temperature was getting into 30's, not bad really! We did have an incident where we got caught in a rip tide down at the beach, I wasn't too worried as I got my gold swimming badge at the age of 10, but a couple or the guys had a bit of a fright, just goes to show you how dangerous the Ozzy sea can be!
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Though we were in this plush pad my sleeping arrangements had gone distinctly downhill, both Noel and I being the gentleman that we are offered to sleep on the floor as there were not enough beds for everyone, OK it was because we are tight yorkshire man came and were happy not to pay full whack for a bed. We ended up sleeping on the top floor of the apartment, we woke up at the crack of dawn next morning boiling hot, partly due to it having no curtains and also virtually all the walls were actually windows, from that morning on it was labelled as the green house! The second night I slept underneath the staircase to try and get away from the daylight and Noel slept underneath the glass table…… though he did get woken up in the middle of the night by a bird that had sneaked in and started shitting all over him, bird of the feathered variety, of course!!
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After getting back from Terrigal we had a few days and nights of Manly beach, obligatory opera house visit, drinks in Bondi, watched bizarre red sand storms & playing the odd game of poker! Gambling is massive in Oz, I played poker a few times and actually found myself really enjoying it and can certainly see how people get addicted. Don't worry Mum I am not going to gamble away the house, the extent of my poker playing was confided to 20 dollars one night at the rugby club, 9 dollars in the Melbourne Crown Casino and M&M's. This leads nicely onto our next road trip, The Great Ocean Road (GOR)!!
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On another splendid sunny Friday morning we grabbed a taxi to the airport and headed to a not so sunny Melbourne. The rest of the day was spent looking round, couple of hours in the casino, food and drinks in st. Kilda all whilst it rained! Whilst in Melbourne we were meeting up with my old college friend Phil, who has also literally just emigrated to Australia and would joining us on the GOR. Another really good opportunity to see a good friend that I had not seen for nearly a year and if I were not to see him in Oz would probably not see him for another 2/3 years. Anyone would have thought this was planned……. Couldn't be further from the truth….
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After a our night out in Melbourne we picked up the the mini van and hit the road, no sooner had we left Melbourne the rain started! It rained and rained, when we eventually got to the ferry on the Mornington Peninsula it just about stopped raining, so much for the scenic drive down. Still sprints were still high so we had a few games of poker to pass the 45 minute ferry crossing and ate skittles.
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We would have two nights on the GOR which would be spent at Lorne and Port Campbell, I had done the GOR back in 2002 so I thought it was rather nice to see all the attractions but in much stormer and far moody weather than my previous visit. We saw all the main highlights which included the lighthouse from going round the twist, Bells Beach, the setting for the great old time classic Point Break starring Patrick Swayze, the 12 apostles and some of the most stunning ocean scarred scenery I have ever seen. Whilst on the subject of Patrick, it was only about a week after his tragic death and you can be rest assured he was in all our thoughts during our visit to Bells beach.
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We spent our Saturday evening in the Lorne Hotel and experienced a genuine local yokel evening complete with dodgy band, fight and Gunny betting all his hard earned cash on some silly game called Keno and the greyhounds! This time next year Richard Gunn will be at gamblers anonymous, fact!
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Back in Sydney my time was coming to an end so after a day chilling and 'surfing' on Bondi we all had a nice leaving meal in Darling Harbour and early the next morning I got my next flight to Christchurch, New Zealand for my next adventures…….
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What did my time in Australia mean to me? The answer to that is that is meant a lot, it was like home from home as I had so many good friends from back home there Gunny, Gemma, Danny, Phil, Jo, Noel and Phil 2, all made my visit memorable and homely. Sydney was also the new people that I met virtually over night and enjoyed their company immensely, there are too many to mention but I am sure they all know who are they are. Australia is the place where the sun nearly always shines, the waves nearly always leave you for dead and the scenery is literally jaw dropping. Sydney for me was a nice break from all the trauma of travelling and enabled me to have an actual home for a few weeks, some of best days I had were just pottering around the house with Gemma (who is also now pregnant, lets hope is gets it genes from the Banks side), watching Ellen and eating chocolate!

So whilst I left Australia having to say goodbye to many good friends and that in itself made it hard, many of them will be back home by the time I get back and many of them are making goods lives for themselves and I couldn't be more happy for them! Bon voyage, until the next time!

More pictures of Sydney & Terrigal at http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=334113&id=650820432&l=d1e4aa9401
More pictures of the Great Ocean Road at http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=334126&id=650820432&l=097a0300c3

Posted by machine 03:32 Archived in Australia Tagged living_abroad Comments (0)

South East Asia on a shoestring or should it be flip flop?

Back to the warmer climates and cheaper prices

sunny 35 °C
View Round the world in about 365 days!! on machine's travel map.

As soon as I landed in Singers I am immediately welcomed with a wall of humid heat. I make my way to Sam's, the hostel we are staying in. Waited around for my brother (Mark), seems he was doing the good old tourist thing and treating himself to a few cocktails over on Sentosa island. Mark had taken voluntary redundancy from the bank he was working at and managed to get himself a new job straight away, he had a bit of time to spare before starting his new job so came to meet me for a few weeks!

Here I am having a 20 quid Singapore Sling in raffles...
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After an emotional hello we set down to business and decided where to goto next….

STOP THE PRESS……. As I write this I am nearly 2 months behind with my blog and I am certainly not getting as much time to work on my blog as I would like, therefore I am just going to stick with the nitty gritty facts and get caught up with things!! I know some of you maybe disappointed and I am sure others will rejoice in the fact that I will not be rattling on about so much rubbish!

24 hours and one drunken reunion later in Singers, Mark and I boarded a flight to Kuala Lumpur and spent the evening looking round the various night markets and having a couple more beers, was a pattern emerging? Mark was literally like a pig in shit when it came to the markets and all the clobber on offer, didn't take him long before he was filling his bag with fake Mont Blanc ties and Tiger beer t-shirts…
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KL was a nice city and whilst certainly not as clean as Singapore is well worth a visit! Whilst in KL we went up the Pertronas twin towers, ate some good curries and generally got ourselves ready for some beach time! As Mark was with me for three weeks and I had already spent some time in South East Asia before, I was more than happy to let Mark decide what he wanted to do. Mark likes his beaches so beaches it was!! Good job Malaysia and Thailand have some cracking beaches to offer!
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After a short but sweet visit of KL we boarded a night train to Penang, the sleepers were of really nice standard and if it weren't for the two guys snoring I think we would have had a great nights sleep! The train arrived in the early hours and we soon found ourselves checking into another cheap and cheerful hostel, due to his recent redundancy package Mark had the idea that we might stay in slightly better accommodation than grubby hostels. I said I would be happy to do so if he paid, being the tight Yorkshireman that he his, that was never going to happen, so hostel life it was for us……
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Penang had a few nice temples and a cable car ride up the side of a mountain to offer, I also introduced Mark into some more street food! I think he was actually starting to enjoy the backpacking life.
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After a good night out on the tiles in Penang we got the ferry across to the island of Langkawi and checked into the Gecko guest house! We spent three nights in Langkawi and mainly frequented the laid back bars, hitting the beach and I even got back into a bit of running on the beach with the help of a couple of girls Rachel and Holly! One thing I have really noticed whilst I have been away is that its hard to exercise, sometimes its enough hiking and walking around, but sometimes you just want to just break a good old sweat and doing so reminded me of just how much I really enjoyed it! By the way, that doesn't me I have let myself goto pot, my 30's are treating me very well, if I do say so myself! Whilst we were in Langkawi Mark celebrated his 29th birthday (won't be long before he catches up to me), we spent the day by the beach, ate sea bass for tea (sorry evening dinner) at a very nice restaurant, had a few drinks at bar Babylon on the beach and also found ourselves at the local nightspot The Sun Ba!
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We then got the ferry over to the Thai boarder port of Saturn and then a bus up to the Thai town of Krabi. Krabi was a nice town with some great street food, whilst as nice as it was we didn't stick around too long, Mark was looking forward to some more beach action on the island of Koh Phi Phi.
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We got the ferry across to Phi Phi and ended up staying in a really nice bungalow resort, as Mark has been to the Maldives and various other far flung beach resorts he is hard to please, but I think for the money he was pretty happy with the accommodation with its air con, fancy bed sheets and fridge in the room. Though I must admit the resort was the sort of place that would attract honeymooning couples, if we weren't brothers we could easily been mistaken for a couple of sausage jockeys (no offence intended) on their annual jaunt away! Still I have not really been to a island as pretty as Koh Phi Phi before and it was a pleasant change from grotty hostels and as r kid was paying this time, who was I to complain? There were no roads on Phi Phi and you could only get around by long boat, basically old wooden boats with a Toyoto Corolla or such like engine stuck on the back with a big propeller, the long boats would cost me big in the end, but more about that later!
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Phi Phi had been hit hard by the 2004 Tsunami, though to look at it you would not think so! Whilst the area we were in was a really nice beach resort, the main town centre was like something from Ibiza with touts trying to get you into bars and clubs, its own street jam packed with brothels and 1000's of drunk tourists drinking copious amounts of Chang! Therefore whilst on our first night a Paradise Pearl Beach Bungalows and after just finishing dinner and realising that whilst Pearl Beach was a paradise, it was about of banging as a nunnery! With that in mind come 8pm we were on the last long boat over to the main town, come 8:15pm we were drinking our first rum bucket, come 2:00am we were heading back to Paradise Perl on a long boat whilst under the influence of numerous buckets, come 2:05am I found myself up to my neck in sea water as I failed in my attempt to exit from the long boat with grace. As the water in Thailand is about a constant 30 degrees and I was on the shore, it did not worry me too much until I realised what I had done! The night would turn out to be a very expensive night as both my iPhone, small digital camera were both soaked in salt water and I was minus my brand new Berkenstock sandals…. I had left my old, rather tatty but well used Berkenstocks in Singapore as I had arrange for r kid to bring some new ones out for me, so only a few days ago I had two pairs, now I had zilch!!
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We has three nights on Phi Phi and apart from the incident it was a great place, we even managed another night out on the tiles on the last night!! Though that night we had to walk all the way back to Paradise Pearl as the water was too low by the time we set off back! If I remember rightly Mark was non too happy as we walked through jungle, beaches and rocky terrain! All I could do was walk, laugh and mearly state that this sort of stuff is character building and also may I add very good exercise!
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The next stage in the Watson brothers travels was to board a boat to Phuket, we would then be flying to Koh Samui that evening. During our last night in Phi Phi we met a guy with his son and daughter (Rick, Brittan & Shannon), all I can say is that Rick was a legend and has spawned a couple of cracking children (though who are not children now, obviously), we all got on well and decided that we should hit the beach near the Phuket airport! I think we all agreed it was one of the best airport waiting lounges that we had been in.
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That night we had a look around Koh Samui, if I am honest, it didn't do much for me. Most of the bars were full of Go-Go Girls and the streets were filled with old white men driving around on scooters with young pretty Thai girls on the back! The next morning we made a bee line for the ferry over to the party island of Koh Pang Yang.

Koh Pang Yang was also quite a nice island and is famous for the full moon parties, we were about a week too early for the full moon party but the beach on the evening was still very much a party atmosphere. We met a couple of Irish lads who were a good craick (as they would put it!), after an afternoon on the beach we got on the beer in the true Irish style. One of the bars in Koh Pang Yang is situated on mushroom hill, I don't know where it gets its name from but, lets just say its sells these mushroom shakes… Whilst I would usually prefer a good old strawberry shake to a mushroom shake we thought, whilst in Rome and all that…. A couple of shakes between us later the shakes were starting to take effect, Mark and the boys headed home and I saw in the sunrise with a few people I had met! I won't go into the nitty gritty of the evening, but a lot of what I thought was quite weird stuff went on involving dogs digging, other people helping the dogs to dig, colours moving in the sky like I have never seen before, Bruce Parry in the Amazon has nothing on Koh Pang Yang……
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After a fairly quiet second day in Koh Pang Yang where everybody was feeling sorry for themselves, in fact I was the only one that made it down to the beach that day, we decided that we would get the boat across to the next island Koh Tao.

In Koh Tao I started a course to become a PADI certified scuba diver, Mark sat by the pool and had a mosey around the island and I read books, watched DVD's and generally learnt how to dive. We would be in Koh Tao for 4 nights, as I was diving most days I chose to take it easy on the booze, after all I had learnt my lesson with the sea sickness whilst cage diving in South Africa! It was in Koh Tao that I fell in love with diving, the feeling of freedom as you actually breath under water, the feeling of almost weightlessness is a thrill that I have only ever found in snowboarding before. The last night in Koh Tao we kicked back, enjoyed a few beers with people from my course / hotel and even visited one of the islands clubs! I now had a real taste for scuba diving, could I keep it up?
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Mark's days in South East Asia were numbered, one morning we got a boat to the mainland and then a 6 hour bus to Bangkok, I had been to Bangers before 8 years ago so was looking forward to seeing how it had changed. From what I noticed Thailand in general had changed lots, the exoticness of travelling in a far away country has slightly been taken away from the country. What I mean is that when I was last in Thailand I remember getting old crappy buses and old crappy fishing boats, they have all now been superseded by fast ferries, air conditioned executive buses and other services and amenities that remind me of a tourist infrastructure like Spain, Bangkok was no different! Bangkok and especially the Koh San Road has been developed a lot, though if I am honest it has still managed to maintain some of its 'charm'. With its street stalls selling food, fake cloths and its little bars and cafes the Koh San Road is certainly not a bad place!
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On the way up from Koh Tao we met a really nice chick called Sandra, she had actually been at the same dive school as me and was leaving on the same day as Mark. Whilst in Bangers we would have a few bevvies, listen to some Thai guy in a bar complete with guitar, dodgy English, singing good old acoustic classics, had our dead skin on our feet eaten away by Doctor fish and even managed to hit a couple of night clubs!
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After an teary goodbye Mark and Sandra went for their flights and I gave some thought to my next destination.

After much thought, the next port of destination would be Cambodia. I would fly from Bangkok to Phenon Pheng the capital of Cambodia. Phenon Pheng felt like a cross between Thailand and India, certainly far less developed than bordering Thailand. I ended up meeting an oldish Scottish guy called Graham, who I somehow ended up in a tuk tuk with and somehow ended up sharing a room with! He was a bit of an oddball but thats nothing new me attracting weirdoes, he was quite a nice chap really, knew a fair bit about Cambodia and thankfully didn't snore! We had a curry, walked round the night market and generally took in the city!
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Whilst in Phenon Pengh I bought myself some fake Birkenstocks, which I was happy with and even thought that they might be a great replacement for the real thing! You might think that this was to replace the ones I lost in Phi Phi, you would be wrong I had gone through a record number of 2 more pairs of Havaianas since I lost the Berkies….. One pair lost in Koh Pang Yang, probably on mushroom hill somewhere and another pair in Koh Tao lost on the beach somewhere. I was not having a good time of it, the fake Berkies unfortunately didn't cut the mustard and the soles wore down after less than 24 hours of use! I asked Phil my friend from England who I would be meeting in Oz a few weeks later to get me a pair to bring over. Moral of the story, you get what you pay for!

Early the next morning I visited the Killing Fields, this is where the mass graves of all the people that were executed during the Pol Pot regime. That afternoon I jumped on the bus for a 6 hour journey to Sihanoukville, this is where I would get my second dose of scuba diving! This would be in the form of the dive centre that a friend (James) I met in India had recommended.
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After one night in Sihanoukville we got an old fishing boat (this was more like the travelling I had become accustomed to) over to the island of Sam Leom, whilst not intentional I would end up spending 7 wet but happy days on the island. The island itself had a population of about 50 people who mainly lived off the land and sea. The dive school had built a couple of very basic dormitories on the boat pier and had employed some locals to cook 'food' in the kitchen. I call it food but seven days of rice for breakfast, dinner and lunch did take its toll, I am slightly exaggerating, but not much, seriously!
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I actually was only meant to be on the island for 4 days, but ended up getting stuck on the island due to a bad storm. None of the dive boats or fishing boats were going out! They say that every cloud has a silver lining and whilst it was mainly rain cloud over the island of Sam Leom I think the silver lining came in the form of the group of people doing some coral conservation research diving. Being the dive schools only client on the island the research team adopted me. I can honestly say that Miriam and the gang gave me many hours of amusement, especially as I was on the island for their Saturday night piss up! Here is young Alex getting 'Harry Pottered' after passing out in the communal area! Moral of the story, no matter how drunk you get always make it to a bed….
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Whilst on the island I managed to take my dive count up to 12 and also passed my PADI advanced scuba diver! On a very dull Tuesday morning we got on the boat for the 2 1/2 hour journey back to Sihanoukville. Once in Sihanoukville I decided to plan the next part of my trip, I wanted to goto Viatnam maybe Laos, but knew that I really did not have much time. With this in mind I decided to go and meet my air hostess mate Kelly in Singers for a night out and a promise of a nice dry, posh hotel room and seeing the great weather they were having in Sydney I moved my flight to Oz forward a few days and cut my time in South East Asia slightly

Whilst in Shanikoville I took the bold move of having a shave, with hindsight it was well overdue and was getting a bit wild as you can see from some of the pictures!!
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Landed in Singers and was greeted with a rough feeling Kelly, she had been out the night before even though she was explicitly told her that she needed to be feeling bright eyed and bushy tailed for my arrival! Bad kelly! Still we had a good night out with a few people from her crew, tasted some of the great food court food of Singapore, had beers in Chimes bar, cleared out the mini bar and even managed to hook up with some of the Quantas crew that would be on flight QF7, the flight that I would be taking to Sydney the very next day. To give Kelly and her work mates their due, she did try and do her best to get me upgraded on the flight, I mean where better than having a few beers with the people that would actually be in charge of the cabin and the first officer in charge of actually flying the aircraft? Despite all their best efforts it seemed we were destined to fail, unfortunately I looked a bit of a scuffy (though actually a lot better than a few days ago as I had shaved) bastard, as one of the cabin crew from QF7 put it, fingers crossed for the next flight! :-)
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After a lazy day feeling sorry for ourselves in Singer, Kelly and I said goodbye and I went to catch my peasant class flight to Sydney..……..

To summarise South East Asia, lovely place, smashing beaches, great food, fantastic people and jolly nice to catch up with r kid!! Slight pity that its got far more touristy, but I am pretty sure you can still find some hidden gems! Also I just scratched the surface, plenty more to go at!

Next stop Australia...

More photos of Singers & Malaysia at http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=322111&id=650820432&l=ccfc9a4ff2
More photos of Thailand at http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=322129&id=650820432&l=ba3226eeb
More photos of Cambodia at http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=324970&id=650820432&l=0eb798666b
More photos of Singers with Kelly at http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=328833&id=650820432&l=2f2253fd8d

Posted by machine 02:06 Archived in Thailand Tagged living_abroad Comments (0)

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