Our round the world trip

This is our blog for our little trip round the world. We decided to quit the jobs and take off round the world while we still can, and there were plenty of places we wanted to see.

As you will see, we take in 5 continents and the trip is pretty diverse. We first head to South America and visit Peru, Argentina and Brazil for 2 months. Then on to Africa for 2 months where we travel overground from Cape Town to Nairobi. Then we head to Asia to visit China and Hong Kong. Then on to Oceania where we spend 2 weeks in Papau New Guinea before heading to Australia for 3 weeks. And finally we have a month in Hawaii before we head home to the UK for Xmas.

You can navigate the site by using the links at the top of the page which will take you to the relevant continent. Once there we (well mainly Genna as you'll tell from the copy...) will be doing a brief intro to where we are, our top 5-10 things we've done there (where you can click on the title to read more about it) and then some photos & videos of what we got up to there.

If you want to contact us while we're away you can email us and we'll pick them up when we have internet access - not sure how sporadic that will be though. Also if you want to comment on any of our pictures you can write comments on the picassa galleries at http://picasaweb.google.com/103811496376280051285.

See you in 222 days,

Alex and Genna.

Where we're going: Home | South America | Africa | Asia | Oceania | Hawaii

China and Hong Kong

We spent a month taking in the varied sights and sites of China. From market trips to ancient abodes, visits to community projects and monasteries, we had a new experience every day. Not always a great experience (the food was crap, the people were quite rude, the company wasn’t great) but it was definitely different and there were some beautiful sights along the way. Here’s our top moments.

1. Emei Shan mountains, staying in monasteries, avoiding monkeys, and soaking in hot springs

We were a bit nervous about the prospect of what had been described as a “difficult mountain hike” to a quiet monastery half way up a peak where we were to stay for one night before hiking back down. Particularly when we were told we would also need to take a stick to beat the monkeys away. However, things started to pick up as soon as we arrived in the Emei Shan area. We were taken first of all to Baoguo Monastery at the bottom of the peak where we were to stay overnight before getting up at dawn to begin the walk. The monastery was absolutely stunning and was our favourite place to stay in China. It’s still used by Buddist monks who woke us up at 4am chanting but has some guest rooms just behind a room full of twelve gold Buddhas. We met by our excitable guide Patrick, who could not do enough for us, including bringing us waterproof macs, bamboo walking sticks (to be used to hit the monkeys if they tried to attack!) and egg sandwiches made by his wife (yuk!). The weather in the morning was atrocious rain which did not help our mood. We firstly took a bus to the top of the mountain (3500m) where we’d hoped for an awesome view…but the visibility was so poor we gave up. We drove half way back down the mountain to 1000m where there was a completely different weather system, bright sunny and great views. After one of the only good meals we had in China (yummy beef with chilli and pork vermicelli noodles) we began the hike. It was beautiful. Rope bridges over crystal clear lakes, mountain walls around us covered with pretty trees, monkeys in the trees playing, pagoda’s, waterfalls and carvings everywhere we could look. The hike was about 4 hours of steps curving up and down but was quite manageable. Halfway through the stone path and steps turned into bamboo planks which was a bit disconcerting and reminded me of Indianna Jones, but thankfully it didn’t last long. We reached a pretty bridge over a river and stopped for a rest…mainly because we had reached the point of the hike that was 1200 steps straight up. We managed it in 20 minutes with a lot of huffing and puffing. At the top, next to the monastery is Betty’s Hard Wok Café. Betty knew we were coming and had prepared some ice cold beers for us to celebrate. After a quick drink we arrived at the monastery – another beautiful and peaceful place to sleep other than the big crazy monkey that our guide Listen had to keep away from us with firecrackers. The toilet block was rustic, open air and looked across the huge valley beneath us. Another quiet evening, monks chanting and noodles at Betty’s by head-torch light. We got up in the morning for banana and chocolate pancakes at Bettys (what a treat) before doing the walk down. It was really peaceful and quiet on the way back and the highlight of the trip. After we got to the bottom we headed over to the local hot springs and spent the afternoon sitting in hot water and Jacuzzi jets. To add to the opulence the springs had amazing bathrooms with clean showers and hairdryers. Given we’d be travelling without bathroom luxuries for so long, it was the cleanest we’d felt in months and a real treat.

2. 10km hike up and down the Great Wall of China

This was an amazing but bloody tough hike that took 4 hours but felt a lot longer. We took a private bus to a lesser-known section of the Great Wall. It was 3 hours from Beijing, but we spent the time well with Jay trying to teach us basic Mandarin with little success. We chose to come to China to see this iconic destination and it didn’t disappoint. This part of the wall was almost tourist free and completely empty in some areas – and stretched across the hills and mist in front of us for miles. A little intimidating when we knew we had to cover a lot of the hills and turrets in the distance ahead. Some part of the walls were unrestored from the Ming dynasty so we had to climb, scramble on hands and knees or hike alongside it. We finally made it with our legs shaking and had to climb down hundreds of steps to reach the road back. With a real sense of achievement, we drove back to the hotel collapsed on the bed and fell asleep.

3. Shopping spree in the Xi’an Muslim Quarter markets

Despite trying to live on a budget, we had a great afternoon shopping in the markets in the Muslim Quarter of Xi’an. Screw sightseeing, we saw local food and crafts and haggled our socks off. It was a lot of fun and a great way to interact with some of the locals.

4. Seeing month old baby pandas in Chengdu panda breeding centre

One of the things we were looking forward to most before the trip was the visit to see the Panda breeding centre that we’d seen on a BBC documentary. Despite it being a drizzly day the Pandas were out in force, although, as we were told, they really are lazy little buggers. All they did was sit around and eat bamboo, but it was still great being so close to them. We also got to see loads of the month old baby pandas in the incubation and breeding lab. We weren’t allowed to take photos of them though (despite our best efforts – the security guards were all over us), but everyone in our group was trying to think of a way of smuggling one of them out in their backpack…

5. Riding bikes in Yangshuo, Li River boats, Impressions Light Show, practising calligraphy

Yangshou is a picturesque countryside area in the South of China. The weather was a lot hotter and sunny here, and the landscape is lush green farms with huge mountain crags all around. We took a boat trip down the Li River and saw the view that was so good that the Chinese drew it on their 20 Yuan note. We went to see the light show (like a Chinese Opera) directed by Zhang Yimou who you may know as the director of the fab film Hero and the Beijing Olympic opening ceremony. The cast had 600 people and instead of using a stage, they used a huge lake with mountain backdrop. Before the show began it was pitch black so we couldn’t see the view, but with the first bars of music, they used enormous floodlights to light the ‘stage’ and the crowd had a huge gasp when they saw how stunning it was. The next day was the day of the infamous bike ride. Genna hadn’t ridden a bike in about 20 years, so had been a little concerned that the only practice she’d had before the trip was going in circles on her mum’s driveway. She bravely mounted her pink bike Alice and we all rode off together. The route was through the countryside farms and on dirt paths only big enough for bikes, and then broader roads. We rode past cotton fields and paddy fields, often seeing farmers hard at work. We ate lunch in a local villager’s house eating food they’d grown in the region (taro root is really nice) and then cycled back. The problem on the way back was that we rode on the main road which was very flat and easy to cycle on, but was full of Chinese drivers, roundabouts, mopeds, other bicycles and crazed pedestrians. Not the easiest place for Genna’s first cycle. After screaming a few obscenities at the people who got in her way, Genna made it safely back to the ranch with only a bruised bottom to show for her efforts. On the last day we got up early for a calligraphy class and were taught to write 1-10, our names and Chinese greetings. It’s harder than it looks.

6. Beijing: Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden city and Huling school for learning disabilities

We jumped on the very cheap and clean Metro and spent a great day visiting some of the most famous landmarks in Beijing, starting with Tiananmen Square – the home of Chairman Mao’s tomb, the scene of political struggles, and statues commemorating China’s workers. Its huge, – the biggest city square in the world – it had an enormous queue of people waiting to pay their respects to Mao’s body, and was full of guards (so we weren’t allowed to ask any questions about its history or politics whilst we were in the vicinity). We then entered the Forbidden City through the huge gates. This had previously been the home of Emperors and concubines, and was very well preserved with pagodas, palaces, stone gardens and even some of the bedroom furniture. After nosing round, we then grabbed a bus down to a hutong and visited a school for those with learning disabilities that Intrepid support. After more dumplings than anyone can possibly eat, we watched the kids perform a show for us. We expected singing and dancing, but were not expecting the rave moves, breakdancing, a matador show or magic tricks. It was very funny and very heart warming. We spent the rest of the afternoon wandering round the hutong seeing some typical Chinese sites – crazy styled hair, little dogs, Hello Kitty mopeds and card games.

7. Beijing: Summer Palace, Temple of Heaven, Wangfujing Street

China is full of very pretty temple sites. We visited a few like the Summer Palace - monuments set around a huge lake where you can sail on pedalos and dragon boats. Lots of willow trees, bonsai, water lillies and lotus leaves. The Temple of Heaven is also a very chilled out park with temple pagodas and very old trees. We also spent time on Wangfujing street – effectively China’s Time Square – and headed to some street markets that sold funny nic-nacs and street food, including scorpions on sticks and seahorses on sticks. Funnily enough we weren’t hungry. Genna bought a Mao army hat though which you will see in some of the photos. Given we’d just got engaged we did some window shopping in Tiffany’s and the jewellery and watch stores in the very upmarket malls. Didn’t buy anything there though!

8. Yangzi river cruise and the Three Gorges

We’d been warned that the boat we were going to get down the Yangzi river was very rustic, but it turned out to be like a mini cruise ship with a luxurious cabin (well for our standards anyway). We spent 3 days sailing down the river through the Three Gorges with stunning scenery, and got onto smaller boats to explore the mini gorges. Being a cruise, the staff also put on an entertainment show at night which was hilarious. Dance routines (the Chinese really can’t dance), fan dancing, singing (they’re enthusiastic but not great at Karaoke either), and games. Very surreal. We also visited the Three Gorges dam site – a very controversial project. The Chinese government decided they needed to keep the water flowing down the river to Vietnam and Cambodia for farming during the dry season and hydro-electricity, so built an enormous dam. That meant flooding the valley and relocating thousands of people to new towns built on the mountain tops, which are now suffering from landslides. They drilled into the mountains so much it’s the equivalent to drilling to through the earth. It’s a very interesting political issue but not such an interesting place to visit. We bought a six pack of beer on the way back to the boat for £1.40. Yay for China.

9. Terracotta Warriors

We visited the three pits where, a few decades ago, local farmers accidentally found thousands of Terracotta warriors that had been buried to keep guard over Emperor Jing’s tomb. Many are still buried and being uncovered by archeologists. Some they intend to keep buried until they have worked out technology to keep the paint colours from eroding. Interesting to see and nice to meet one of the farmers that originally found them – see photo!

10. Chengdu Ancient Street

After seeing the Panda breeding and conservation centre we then had a free day in Chengdu. Jay, our intrepid local leader, told us of a few places to explore and interact with some locals. So we headed off to Ancient street where we were told there would be a few alleyways with a couple of shops and food stalls. When we got there we found lots of people milling around, plenty of little stalls making ornaments, lots of tea houses, ice cream parlours, street snack stalls, people in traditional dress, and lots and lots of chopstick shops. We decided to visit one of the tea houses and people watch, and we must have been there for 30 minutes before we saw our first westerners. We sampled some of the local teas (I had apple, jasmine and healthy jelly and Genna had Chrysanthemum tea) and then had some local food, and thankfully as we were in the Sichuan region, we finally got some flavour. It was a great little area full of little alleyways, streams, stalls, bewildered locals, Hello Kitty memorabilia (seems to be all over the place in China) and colourful decorations. Well worth the visit.

11. Fengdu Ghost City

We visited the Fengdu Ghost City where the ghosts of all Chinese people are said to go when they die. They take three tests to see if they will then go to heaven or hell. We took some of the tests as we wandered round the temple area that is attributed to the King of the Underworld. We passed! These included standing on a stone for 7 seconds (meaning we’re good), climbing 33 steps with our breath held (giving us immortality), and crossing a bridge in 9 steps (meaning we’ll be together in the afterlife). We arrived at the top temple to see some pretty gruesome scenes of Chinese hell.

12. Climbing the biggest stone Buddha in the world in Leshan

We visited the biggest stone Buddha in the world, which is carved into the rock face of a mountain and stands at 71 metres tall. As was becoming the norm with China, in order to see something we needed to climb about a million steps. Once we got to the top of the path there was a huge queue to then climb down another section to get to the feet of the Buddha, so as we only had 2 hours at the site (and we were both very fed up of climbing up and down steps by that point) we decided we’d head to the viewing platform and take our pictures from there instead! It’s huge – his smallest toenail is large enough to accommodate a seated person. We decided to have a little wander to explore the rest of the site, and followed the signs for the exit. We then got lost as the exit we were heading to was the other side of the site. We did, however, stumble upon some hidden fish ponds, pagodas, a fishing village and lots of amused locals at the two out of breath, lost, knackered westerners trying to ask for directions back to the meeting point. With 20 minutes to go before we were due to meet up with our group, and finding that Alex’s phone didn’t work in China, we headed back the way we had come, hoping that they hadn’t left without us. Luckily we got there just in time, only to find that someone else in the group was missing and we had to wait 45 minutes for them to turn up.

13. Hit and miss Chinese food

Amazingly the Chinese don’t seem to know how to cook Chinese. The Peking duck in Peking (Beijing) was shite. Lemon chicken had no flavour of lemon, but was covered in illuminous yellow unidentified liquid. We found the food either had zero flavour… or they put weird flavours together. Lobster and cheese flavour crisps. Cucumber flavour crisps anyone? No? You surprise me. Thank god for the flavoursome Sichuan food, dumplings (we had a dumpling banquet with 17 types of dumpling, some in the shape of ducks and chickens) and Hong Kong Cantonese cooking. The Yangshou duck in beer was really good too, shame about all the bones.

14. The joy of 17 hour overnight trains

Richard Branson, all is forgiven. Virgin trains truly are wonderful. Well maybe that’s a bit too generous, but after spending 4 nights on overnight trains in China, we’re almost looking forward to getting the train to Coventry at Xmas. We had 4 overnight trains, ranging from 14-17 hours. This time was spent in a little cubicle, no bigger than an average sized bathroom in the UK, which then had to sleep 6 people and all our luggage. Three bunks were on each wall, and you had to use a step ladder to climb up. Needless to say Genna fell off on the way up at least once. To say it was cosy is an understatement – especially when some people don’t get the concept of manners, personal space etc. And I’m not just talking about some of the locals we had to share with here. I think by the time we’d done our third overnight train, we were well and truly over having to spend time with certain people in our group, so we just lay on our bunks and caught up with films and the Sopranos on our iPhones and ate pot noodles. Thank god for technology, otherwise there may have been a couple less people arriving at our destination than there should have been.


Civilisation at last in Hong Kong

Hong Kong is a well-developed international city with a great metro, fantastic food, shops and some historic sights to see. We stayed with Alex’s friend Angela, who made us feel completely at home in her flat in Tai Wo (what a treat to be in a flat again!). We found salt and vinegar crisps (honestly that was hugely exciting), Marks and Spencers Percy Pigs, and Argentinian red wine from one of the vineyards we’d visited. Food was so much better. We had better Peking Duck than we’d had in Peking, the best curry Genna has had in years (and Genna is a pretty good judge of curry), great sushi, dim sum, tempura, delicious noodles at last, Japanese pizza and fab Cantonese dishes. We spent time visiting the Giant Tian Tan Buddha, the Npong 360 cable cars, the peak by funicular tram, and the light show with the sky scrapers on the skyline turning on and off their lights and lasers in time to music. Staying out in the New Territories meant we got to see some of the ‘real’ Hong Kong as it is for the locals, so we wandered round the markets, malls and restaurants in this area. However, visiting Paul in Central, the glamorous international ex-pat area, was also fun and gave us our first champagne since we got engaged. Thanks to Paul and his friends for spoiling us so much after both England and Ireland got trounced in the rugby. We also enjoyed a relaxing reflexology foot massage, so good we almost fell asleep, got Genna’s hair cut in a trendy salon where Miss Hong Kong cuts her hair, and went engagement ring shopping. It felt like having two weeks back in the real world.




Hawaii was the original inspiration for our trip away. A gloomy winter whilst watching the last season of Lost was enough of a prompt for us to fantasise about getting shipwrecked in Hawaii… so we decided to make it happen, and planned a trip around the world with at least a month on our idyllic island. We landed in Oahu (the island they filmed Lost on) in November and spent 5 weeks travelling around Waikiki, the windward shore, and the north shore to see the whole island. We also jumped on a plane and hung out in Kauai for a week (the island they filmed Jurassic Park on). It was a great combination of relaxing on beaches balanced with lots of sightseeing. It’s fitting that we spent our last month here and we won’t forget it in a hurry. Now who wants to buy us one of the amazing houses we saw nestled on Lana’kai Beach?

1. Flying in a helicopter around Kauai – the JURASSIC island

Kauai is the island on which they filmed South Pacific and Jurassic Park, and it really is full of forested mountains, valleys and dramatic shorelines. It’s incredibly beautiful but impossible to navigate on foot or wheels – even if we could drive you can only access about 20% of the island by car due to the hilly scenery. We chose to spend a week here in a beach resort, taking it easy with the biggest decision of the day being whether to get in the cold pool or the hot tub. However, it didn’t feel right to not venture out to the mountain slopes…so we chose to do it in style and hire a helicopter. We spent an hour flying round, just the two of us and our pilot, listening to some Hawaiian tunes. We flew into some incredible valleys, alongside the ‘Jurassic Park’ waterfall, into the Pacific’s version of the Grand Canyon and along Na’Pali coast where green mountains lead right to the sea. We even saw a whale in the sea beneath us as we flew, along with surfers and jet skiers in the enormous waves. It was a really fantastic experience and one of the highlights of the trip. Unfortunately, Alex now wants to buy a helicopter.

2. Life on the beach – renting an apartment in Kailua

We had visions of a laid back trip to Hawaii and the sleepy beach town of Kailua certainly delivered that. We rented a condo (a little 1 bedroom cottage) on the road next to the beach and settled in for a week on the Windward coast. It seems that we have good taste as this is the town the Obama’s use for their winter breaks (the Christmas White House was just down the far end of the beach). The beach itself was fantastic and much better than any in Waikiki. It was long, with soft sand, dunes, and breaking waves. It’s a kite surfing hot spot so there was plenty to watch as they flew through the air doing acrobatics on their boards. It also had some fantastic food. We enjoyed the BEST pizza at Bob’s, the President’s favourite snow ice (‘the Snowbama’) where they have his photo on the wall duly eating one, great burgers from Ted’s and the best Thai we’d had since we’d been travelling. We also loved walking down to Lana’kai, the next town along just over a small hill. The beach was quieter and there was the chance to see fishes in the sea and turtles would regularly come up for air. It was a great spot to catch up on our reading, build sand castles (or sand turtles) and relax. The houses on the sea front in this town were spectacular beach properties. We would like one please.

3. Getting LOST in Hawaii – Kualoa Ranch

Fine. We’re geeks. But we love LOST and had decided to come to Hawaii after watching it so naturally we needed to visit some of the filming locations whilst we were in town. Of course we decided why break the habit of a lifetime, and naturally decided to do it in style. We hired a hummer! A bright yellow one too. We set off on the ride down the windward coast with our knowledgeable Lost geek driver/guide. Soon after we’d set of he started to point out a bunch of shooting locations that we’d unwittingly walked past in the weeks that we’d already been in Hawaii. We saw the downtown locations that they’d transformed into England, Korea, and Oxford University. We drove past Penny’s boat, The Searcher, which we didn’t see move the entire time we were in Hawaii. He also pointed out areas of jungle where they filmed scenes right next to the main road and Locke’s dad’s house. We’d been re-watching the series to celebrate being in Hawaii so a lot of the sights were very familiar to us and easy to guess. As we went further up the coastal road, we soon came to the house that Sayid had built in South America which doubled as fisherman’s house in Korea. Just behind that was the pier that the submarine docked at and where the Jack, Kate and Sawyer were held with guns by the Other’s. Next was the main highlight of the day, Kualoa Ranch, a cattle ranch that the family rent out for movie locations. We drove round the area and went off-roading in the hummer. We saw several ‘hatches’, another pier, the top of the submarine, the hydrogen bomb tower, Hurley’s golf course and a whole bunch of sites. The movie locations were from 50 First Date’s, Pearl Harbour, Godzilla (we stood in a footprint), and Jurassic Park (we sat by the logs where they saw the herd of dinosaurs running before the T-Rex turned up). The valley there was one of the main locations for Lost, and they pointed out a bunch of different angles and views they used. It was truly beautiful. We had great fun re-enacting some of the scenes with smoke clouds and camper vans and the photo results are very convincing! It was the vision of Hawaii that we’d had in our mind’s eye when we planned the trip, so it was fantastic to spend a fabulous day here, and to drive past it on the bus regularly throughout our 5 weeks on the island. Genna decided her new job should be to run the ranch...or to marry into the family that owns it if Alex doesn’t work out.

4. Celebrating Genna’s birthday in style at the Hilton Hawaii Village

Genna was lucky enough to celebrate her birthday in Hawaii. After breakfast in bed, we both checked out of our motel and wandered down the road to check into the Hilton Hawaii Village for a day and night of luxury. We were promptly upgraded due to the birthday/engagement story that we’d spent the last few months pedalling (successfully) to get free stuff. We headed straight down to explore the three pools, swim and relax. After a quick change into slightly more glamorous beach wear, we sat down by the pool for the Rocking Revue – a music, hula and fire show familiar to any of you who’ve seen Luau’s on TV. After a lovely Mai Tai, the show climaxed in an incredible fireworks show, timed to our favourite Hawaiian tune ‘Somewhere over the Rainbow’. We went for an incredible Italian dinner, a real treat for Genna as it’s her favourite food and she’d missed good pasta whilst we’d been travelling. It was a brilliant meal and a wonderful day. We spent the next morning having our last swim in the sea and pool before heading back to Waikiki and getting ready for our flight home.

5. Celebrating our anniversary watching Miss Hawaii hula at sunset

We had to mention our favourite evening out, at A House Without A Key. This open air bar was part of a very posh hotel right on the seafront in Waikiki. We headed down on our anniversary evening and got a great table at the front where we promptly starting drinking some Prosecco. Uncle Tall’s trio began singing us Hawaiian classics, playing ukele and double bass, and crooning away as only Hawaiian’s can. As the sun began to set over the sea, we saw the silhouette of outrigger canoes doing their nightly sails. Then Miss Hawaii came out and began dancing for us. It was a very chilled evening, really beautiful music and utterly romantic. It will be a fantastic memory to remind us of what we loved so much about Hawaii.

6. Riding a submarine over 100 foot beneath the waves

One of the touristy things they offer in Waikiki is the chance to ride in a submarine in the sea, viewing sunken planes, ships and of course the fish! We couldn’t resist the chance to ride in a submarine so decided to sign up. We caught a boat out to the sea, where the sub started to bubble up and rise from the deep. After climbing down the hatch ladder we sat down in our seats facing out our porthole. Soon after the crew began the descent to the deep! Apparently only 1% of the population have been 100ft beneath the waves but we made it to 112ft. We saw more turtles and lots of fish swimming round the sunken air plane and shipwrecks. It was a short ride before it was time to surface again, but a nice day out!

7. Seeing the whole island of Oahu with Cousin Ted

Early on in our trip we decided to take a circle island tour so we could get our heads round where we were on Oahu and work out where else we wanted to stay. It turned out to be a really nice day out. We were told to call our driver Cousin Ted as everyone in Hawaii considers everyone else family. He was very charming and told us stories the whole way round. If we got to an empty location, he’d say that everyone else had made room for the good looking cousins. He even sang us an island song – ‘Just Hang Loose’. In addition to Ted himself, we saw the main sights of the island, drove the coastal road from Downtown, Diamond Head – a volcano crater, Hanuma Bay – a snorkelling spot, the Blowhole – where the sea spurts up through a hole, and the beach where they shot From Here to Eternity. Then we drove to a high point on the island called Nu’uanu Pauli which was the site of an ancient war amidst the rainforest. We kept driving up the windward coast and saw more beaches, a Mormon temple, Sunset Beach and Ted’s Bakery with surfers practising for the Vans Triple Crown starting the next day. On the way back we stopped at Dole’s Pineapple plantation and ended up having Thanksgiving dinner that night. The food was probably the least pleasant part of the day. What are yams anyway?

8. A moving day at Pearl Harbour

It didn’t seem right to come to Oahu without visiting Pearl Harbour (especially as it was the 70th anniversary of the attack while we were there), the historic site where the Japanese bombed a fleet of moored American battle ships, which garnered their involvement in and ultimately the end of WWII. We were warned it would take half a day to see all of Pearl Harbour, but we spent a full day there and only made it to 75% of the sites. We started with the best known location – the Arizona memorial, a white stone monument placed in the water over a sunken battleship. The ship claimed the most lives, and they left it and its crew on the bottom of the Harbour as a permanent memorial to those who died. It’s very moving to visit as you see the wall engraved with all the names of those who died whilst listening to stories from survivors of the attack on headsets as you are guided around. The ship still leaks oil, which they say is like the tears of those who lay beneath the waters. Prior to the visit, we’d watched a short movie compiling the events that lead up to the day, as well as two exhibits which provided more detail, as well as some very moving tributes to those who’d died written by relatives and friends who’d visited over the years.

Next, we went to climb aboard the USS Missouri battleship, active during WWII and right up to its more recent action in Desert Storm. We were shown the point on deck where the Japanese leaders signed the surrender treaty, effectively ending WWII. There was also a point where a kamikaze Japanese pilot had flown his plane into the deck in an attempt to sink the ship. We got lost whilst trying to leave, climbing up and down ladders to and from the bridge, but eventually managed to leave with an hour to spend aboard the Bowfin.

The Bowfin is a moored submarine, which was one of the most successful in the fleet. We climbed down to experience what it had been like to man it during the war. Horrifically claustrophobic is my guess. We crouched (yes, even we had to crouch) through the cramped cabins looking at torpedo launching shafts, bunk beds, officers cabins, the mess, and many buttons, wires and valves that looked very important. Half way through, when you are thoroughly in the middle of the boat, they play the noises that would have been the soundtrack to the sailor’s lives under the sea to remind you just how unbearable it would have been. It was at that point Genna had to make a swift dash to the exit for some fresh air. We were also impressed that they’d filmed some of the LOST submarine moments aboard and particularly enjoyed playing with the periscope.

It was an interesting day out, which was made even better by us jumping off the bus on the long ride home to take ourselves out for a Lobster supper at Red Lobster (another geeky film reference). Dining on very tasty surf ‘n’ turf and lobster pasta was a lovely bit of luxury to end the day on a high.

9. Surf contests & cycling on the North Shore

We’d spent a bit of time visiting the sights of the North Shore already but wanted spend more time up there. Unfortunately we couldn’t rent a condo as the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing was being held whilst we were in Hawaii and rooms where scarce, but we managed to visit up a few times to get some of the chilled out North shore vibe. We spent a memorable day there practising Genna’s recently acquired cycling skills. The bus ride up to the North shore was great as the coastal road drives you past Kualoa ranch and a lot of beautiful beaches. Once we’d reached Turtle Bay Resort and the peak of the island, we hopped off to rent some bikes. We cycled round the resort grounds whilst we got our balance. The resort was where they filmed Forgetting Sarah Marshall, was where Lindsay Lohan was currently staying, and was the home of the famous Banyan tree that appeared in a lot of the scenes of Lost to help the cast hide from polar bears. We cycled off down the roads and cycle paths, stopping first at the legendary Ted’s Bakery for a plate lunch for energy. We headed further down to Sunset Beach and then Banzai beach (known as Pipeline for its enormous long waves). We sat on the sand and watched the surfers tackle the waves or wipe out. Unfortunately it started to rain – it was only the third time it had rained whilst we were in Hawaii but yet again we were out and about to experience it (and got soaked to the skin). We stopped by Ted’s again to shelter and to taste the Chocolate Hilapua pie they became famous for. Worn out, we got back to Waikiki covered in mud and rain, ready for a bath and hot dinner.

10. Snorkelling with turtles in Hanuma Bay

We’d done a lot of snorkelling in amazing locations and whilst we’d heard from our friend Ali that the snorkelling in Hanuma Bay was awesome... we weren’t sure if it would stack up to the Barrier Reef or Papua New Guinea. Luckily for us, it was great and a fantastic final snorkelling adventure for our trip. The current was quite strong, but as the coral was very shallow it was really easy to just stand up and take a break. It was actually so shallow we got stuck in a sandbank in a clearing in a the middle of a reef – not able to see a way to clear the coral as we swam out. Eventually we just went for it, trying to swim without moving any limbs so that we didn’t knock or damage the shallow coral. We saw a lot of big colourful Parrotfish, Butterflyfish, Pennantfish (Gill from Finding Nemo), and Triggerfish (known as humuhumu nuku nuku apua’a in Hawaiian). We also came literally face to face with a Green turtle as we were in very shallow water and almost swam straight into him. We tried to back away and give it some room, but swam behind it for a short while before finally giving him some peace. It was lovely to be so close to one though. The weather was a bit tricksy though as we’d just got out the sea to warm up and dry off on the beach, when the heavens decided to open and wash the salt water off us. At least we were already wet.

11. Realising we’re crack shots

Having watched Sons of Guns, we couldn’t leave America without having a go at shooting. We got a deal at a gun club and nervously took up some loaded weapons to see if we were any good. We were both crack shots. Genna was scared of the kick of the handguns, but loved the rifle so she focused on that and got every shot in the bullseye (just as a sniper would). Alex enjoyed the Glock and Magnum (.44 especially - Do you feel lucky... Punk!) and after he tired of hitting the bullseye, decided to use them to go for headshots (boys will be boys). Not at all homicidal. It was a bit of a rush and quite fun, but we were both very glad to leave the guns at the club and return to relative safety on the streets outside.

12. Chilling in Waikiki

Whilst Waikiki is a typical tourist town that doesn’t really show you the true heart of Hawaii, it’s also a great place to base yourself to explore the island, book sightseeing trips and to generally have a lot of fun. Here is a quick summary of some of the things we enjoyed. Huge omelette breakfasts, constant access to fresh brewed coffee (percolator’s and cup refills are everywhere), traditional American diner’s, banana bread from the local bakery, hula shows popping up everywhere, cheap Mai Tai’s and Blue Hawaiian cocktails in Happy Hour, eating dinner at Hula Grill with tiki torches and the sunset over the sea, chilling out reading a book on Waikiki beach, body boarding in the surf, pink lemonade, browsing shops particularly Sand People and Ross Dress For Less, eating Mahi Mahi and tandori Opah (so juicy), shopping on Black Friday at the Ala Moana centre, eating at the Top Of Waikiki rotating tower restaurant, playing with dogs on the beach and spotting a cart of them being wheeled round rather than walked, having a sea view room opposite the the Duke statue covered in Lei’s, awesome Mexican food at Cha Cha Cha’s, street performers, saving $100 by shopping at the Aloha Stadium swap meet market, eating great pizza and Otto’s Mexican chocolate cheesecake in Chinatown, making our own t-shirts at Blank Canvas, seeing the Hawaii marathon runners staggering around, seeing the thanksgiving day parade - complete with Pearl Harbour survivors, mastering The Bus and its awesome transfer system that lets you ride another bus for free and generally constantly being amazed by the laid back and welcoming style of the Hawaiian people.

The not-so-good: mega over attentive American waiters that expect 18-20% tip for basically being a pest throughout your meal, getting harassed by stall owners every time we took the short cut through the International Marketplace and generally getting bugged by American people and Japanese tourists who all thought we were Australian.

13. Riding the Trolley around Downtown Honolulu

Little wooden trolley’s drive tourists round the main sights of Honolulu, Waikiki and Diamond Head. We jumped on board and caught the main sights. As usual we somehow managed to strike it lucky and visited I’onali Palace on the last king’s birthday and saw a traditional ceremony with conch shells being blown, brass bands playing and ceremonial singing and dancing. Back on the trolley we browsed at Hilo Hattie (Hawaiian shop), went to the top of Aloha Tower (used to be the highest point on the island), saw fish in the harbour, visited Congress, went through Chinatown, and stopped off at a department store for browsing. We finished the day with cocktails at Moose McGuillyCuddy’s – a cheap but yummy American sports bar that became a bit of a home away from home for us. The next day we took in the Diamond head loop of the trolley, driving past the million dollar houses to the peak of an old volcano for great views of the bay. We decided to head up to an antique Aloha shirt shop called Bailey’s which was an amazing treasure trove of Hawaiian shirts, antique toys, Elvis heads, Marilyn statues and other kitsch treasures. Alex decided to treat himself to both shirts Magnum had famously worn in his TV show and immediately began wearing them around town. Literally everyone wears colourful clothes in Hawaii though so it was the only way to fit in. We headed back to Chinatown for some noodles and wandered round the markets, stopping by a few Lei shops to see them thread the fresh flower necklaces.


Peru is a dramatic country of temperature extremes, mountain ravines, elevation, and ancient communities. As the first stop on our trip, to us it was a mix of excitement and exhaustion (most of the time we were struggling for breath and enjoying the less than glamorous side effects of altitude sickness). We’ve experienced hiking, more hiking, stunning vistas, llamas everywhere, taken planes, buses and boats, drank cerveza, Pisco sour and Coca tea, eaten potato and rice on every plate, tried Guinea Pig and Alpaca, seen Inca ruins, stayed with local communities to help with farming, were regularly forced to wear unflattering local dress with impractical crazy hats, have been held up by riots (and still have the bruises to prove it), and generally had a hectic but fun laden experience and insight to how this very different country lives. Here are our top moments…

1. Machu Picchu.

As the reason we chose to visit Peru, our expectations were high. But it really is as beautiful and impressive as we hoped it would be. Just much bigger. After getting up at 4.30am, we caught a bus up the winding mountain road in pitch black. We climbed up the final hill to get to the gatekeepers cottage in time to see the empty site start to fill with light as it broke over the nearby mountains. Then spent 4 hours exploring the terraces and temples before us. A pit stop in the crazy town of Agua Calientes, set in the tropical base of the mountains along a rail track and raging river, helped us refuel with pizza, beer and a lounge in the natural hot spa waters the town is named after. Not remotely anti-climatic and a great time to visit given it is the 100 year anniversary since it was discovered by Westerners.

2. Colca Canyon.

We spent 3 days and 2 nights in this region and it rates high for a few reasons. It was the first time we went high into the Andes and saw the gorgeous Incan terraced landscape, the first time we stayed with a local family and experienced home life for many Peruvians, the first time we saw Llamas and Pequenias, and the first time we met traditionally dressed people and were soon forced into the local garb ourselves. We spent day one driving through the Andes, up to 4900m at the highest point among the snow on the mountain tops, desperately sucking on Coca sweets to attempt to stave of Altitude sickness (this failed). We wallowed in the natural hot springs in Chivay and watched local dancers demonstrate routines which involved whipping and strange masks. Went to Condor cross and saw 11 condors flying overhead, before arriving at our home stay in Sabayo. Our house mama soon dressed us up with the help of her very clever 11 year old daughter, and set us to work collecting firewood and playing football with the local kids (who needed to be picked up every time they scored). With limited knowledge of the Quecha language, our iPhone proved very useful to keep the kids amused. Globalisation has even reached these highlands though as when I asked for a local song, the little kids chose to perform Justin Beiber’s “baby baby baby”. Surreal. After a freezing cold night and a trout salad breakfast, we hiked up to caves with 5000 year old carvings. A fun few days despite the throbbing heads.

3. Ballestas Islands.

This day was so much fun as we crammed loads in. We started in Pisco and got a boat out to the Ballestas Islands, a series of offshore craggy rocks covered in seabirds, pelicans, penguins and sealions. It was slightly alarming when the speed boat stalled after 10 minutes and the driver attacked the engine with a hammer and putty. But we were soon pounding the waves on a real rollercoaster boat ride. We then drove to a Pisco vineyard to see the making of this local delicacy before a serious tasting session starting at 14% proof pisco and going up to 43% alcohol. It was so tasty we had to buy a bottle (it didn’t last long). The next stop was a natural oasis called Huacachina in the middle of sand dunes where we had a welcome pool stop for a swim. Then off driving through mountain ranges to view the Nazca lines, a series of animal images sketched into the ground by either an ancient community or aliens. I’m guessing the first. Then dinner with more Pisco Sours and imaginatively named cocktails such as Andean Orgasms and Sex on the Nazca Lines. Clearly slightly delirious that day I thought we had our first spotting of a condor in flight… later to be told it was a plane. Nearly.

4. Cusco.

A really pretty town high up in the mountains. Beautiful churches, incan buildings, cobbled streets, funky art district and great food. We were really ready for a city break by the time we got here and it didn’t disappoint. Alex was pleased to visit the highest Irish owned Irish bar for a Guinness and I was pleased to do some shopping (I hope you like our hats). Had a lovely time chilling out, watching films, playing games and taking it easy. Bliss.

5. Lake Titicaca.

Of the two days here the first was brilliant and the second not great, hence its position at 5 on the list. The good stuff was visiting the Uros reed islands and the communities that live on them, sailing in their elaborate reed boats (they sang twinkle twinkle little star to us for some reason) and then staying with a local family another 2 hours into the lake in a beautiful coastal farm town called Karina. Our house mama here had a constant crazy, high pitched giggle, which made her hilarious to be around. After cutting maize with scythes, we played volleyball on the beach. Very pretty and peaceful. The next day we felt ill, visited a disappointing island which involved an hour hike up hill and 500 steps down, got caught up in the Puno riots, got whipped by a protestor, had to rush into taxis and get to a coach before the town locked down into roadblocks and fires. A little Peruvian drama.

6. Amazon Basin.

After the breathlessness and cold of the highlands, the heat and humidity of the Amazon was a real body shock. We stayed in rustic thatched cottages on the river bank amid tropical trees, sounds of crickets, and colourful birds. No electricity and an early sunset meant we were heavily dependent on candles and head torches from 6pm onwards. Again a 4.30am wake up to begin our 11km hike in the jungle down to an Ox-bow lake to see River Otters. We saw monkeys, spiders and a Coral snake (the 3rd most poisonous snake for which no antidote exists. Great.). Hiking in searing heat, in wellies, wearing coats, trousers and hats to cover all skin, meant we were ready to jump in the cockroach infested freezing cold shower by the end. Beer o’clock. Alex braved the night hike. Basically another jungle hike in the mud, across river bridges with just a head torch for light, to find tarantulas. I preferred the night Caiman hunt – getting in the boat and using the torch light to spot caimans in the water. Exhausting, dirty, but a real experience.

7. Ollytambo and the Sacred Valley.

We visited inca ruins and local communities in this dramatic patchwork ravine. The highlight for us though was Ollytambo. A cute little town that still uses the Incan water systems and walls. Spent time people-watching on the main square (mainly saw a lot of dogs wearing t-shirts), walking round the terraces, and eating at the fabulous Hearts Café. This was set up by Sonia, who left the UK for Peru at 76, and founded this great restaurant to give jobs to local people and money to projects for women and child protection. She was lovely too.

8. Arrequipa.

Beautiful town with a stunning main square, cathedral, nunnery and rooftop bars. Went to Chi Cha (posh Peruvian restaurant) to try Guinea Pig wraps and Alpaca curry. Yum.

9. Lima.

It’s a shame Lima is last as I actually like this city a lot, but it’s just testament to how many great things we’ve done. In Lima we enjoyed watching the surfers from Lovers Park, visiting Barrancos Spanish neighbourhood, eating cebiche, and the monastery which featured the Peruvian version of the last supper; Jesus eating Guinea Pig with his disciples. Asta la vista.


The Iguassu Falls are the most beautiful natural wonder I’ve ever seen. This was Genna's second trip to the waterfalls and it didn’t disappoint. We flew into the Brazilian side (the falls are on the border of 3 countries – Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay) and stayed in a campsite in a lovely cabin for two. We decided to spend the day on the Argentinian side and crossed the border. The Iguassu Falls are the widest waterfalls on the planet – a system of about 10 tropical falls over a wooded mountain into a huge river. First we visited the ‘Devils Throat’ - a wooden walkway out to the mouth of the waterfall where 1.3m litres of water falls over the precipice every second creating a huge roaring spray. We then took the higher and lower circuit walks to view the whole site. After about 3 hours, we reached the river at the base of the falls and decided to take a speed boat trip. We climbed aboard, taking a plastic sack for our valuables and were told to put our shoes in too. Next we noticed everyone else coming into the boat wearing plastic ponchos and in some cases, only their swimsuits or bra and knickers. Interesting. We were wearing our usual shorts and t-shirts but as a precaution, Genna decided to put her jumper in the plastic sack provided. And very pleased she was that she did. After a nice gentle boat ride around the base of 4 falls, the driver put on an enormous plastic mac suit and asked if we wanted to get closer. The Brazilians behind us began to scream “Agua, Agua!” and he set us off at speed towards the main fall. We proceeded to get drenched. First under the main fall and then 3 others he chose to drive us under, before revisiting the main fall. Our main memory is ice cold water, laughing hysterically and the screams of “Agua, Agua!” behind us throughout the experience. Afterwards, soaked, we walked back to entrance and waited for 2 hours for our minibus to arrive and rescue us.


Genna loves Brazil. Having spent a fab month there with Karen nearly 7 years ago, she was keen to see how it had changed and to explore places we didn’t get to the last time round. Plus it was to be our last stop before Africa, so we were keen to chill out on the tropical Brazilian beaches and do nada. So we did. And it was fab.


1. Sightseeing tour

We spent our first full day checking out the most famous sights of Rio. We started at Cordovar to see Christ the Redeemer. It’s a little more luxurious than last time as it’s now got a lift and escalator to take you to the top. We got there in time to see a little blue sky over the massive statue of Christ before the clouds set in. After the obligatory ‘pose like Christ’ photos we headed back down the huge hill to Santa Teresa. This cool town is the bohemian centre with colonial buildings littering the hillside, lots of craft shops and bars, and a small yellow tram that runs along the main road. After our first Caprihinia in Brazil, we drove next to where they stage the main part of the Brazil Carnival parade. Here we were shown the large monument that was designed based on a woman’s bottom. Apparently Brazilian’s love the humble bottom and thought it was only right to have a statue marking its importance to the country. Next, onto Lapa to see its arches and colourful tiled steps, where there is a tile for every country in the world. Finally, we ended the day at Sugar Loaf. We took the two cable cars all the way to the top for sunset to see the Rio landscape at night.

2. Copacabana beach

I don’t care what they say, Copacabana beach is much cooler than Ipanema. It’s the perfect beach to see all the classic Rio sights – guys working out in speedo’s in outdoor gyms, playing volleyball but with their feet not hands, kids playing football on the beach (very well), girls wearing tiny bikinis, tourists drinking juice from coconuts, birds flying overhead, sand sculptures, tightrope walkers, rollerbladers and skateboarders. Its fab and a great place to sit, have a beer and people watch. Alex was very pleased to find a football team wearing Liverpool shirts and decided to watch them play until the match descended into a brawl. It’s also a good place to buy Havianna’s (we accidentally bought 6 pairs) and to visit the legendary Copacabana Palace Hotel to see how the non-backpackers live. When we were enjoying a drink there we saw about 5 brides preparing to get married … and one very naughty boy who thought it would be ok to dive bomb in the pool next to one very unfortunate bride-to-be. I was ready to go and give him a wallop but luckily his mother intervened and did it for me. It was a cool place to spend a few days and we had monkeys in our hostel garden too. Yay.

3. Ipanema

Ipanema is the posh end of Rio beaches. We visited the packed Garotta da Ipanema, the bar where they wrote the song, ‘The girl from Ipanema’, Devassa for award winning beer and the lovely Hippy Market for a little souvenir shopping.

4. Cook in Rio

We were lucky to spend a Saturday morning in Simone’s colourful flat, learning to cook traditional Brazilian food and cocktails. We were the only two in the class that day, apart from Simone’s daughter, so had a fantastic hand’s on experience. As one previous student had written on her wall, Simone IS the magic ingredient. Full of cheeky Brazilian character, she had us laughing throughout the lesson. Luckily we remember enough about the coconut cocktail and passionfruit caprihinia to practice them at home.

5. Santa Teresa

To end our time in Rio we chose to stay in the artists’ neighbourhood in a hill under Christ the Redeemer. The hostel was beautiful, the bedroom was bigger than my flat and the view from our room, our private balcony and the roof terrace was a 180 degree view of Sugar Loaf and Christ. We got the chance to experience getting round like a local, using the favela combi van to get up and down the hill. We also caught the yellow tram, over the Lapa arches to the main square to visit the artists’ open house festival - once a year they open the doors of their workshops to show how they prepare their art.


1. Historical centre

After a stunning bus ride down the coastal road to Paraty, we finally reached the seaside town just before the heavens opened and gave us a thoroughly good shower on the 10 minute walk to our hostel. After the weather settled, we saw that Paraty is a really cute little town on the coast. Its tiny, maybe only 5 blocks wide, with cobbled streets and pastel painted houses, small churches and with its seashore filled with brightly coloured fishing boats. It’s also full of friendly stray dogs that follow you everywhere – we had several that spent the whole day walking round with us. We walked to two local beaches where we could sit and eat seafood on the sand. Paraty also has a lovely Italian restaurant Divino, which serves great pasta in its garden whilst two guitarists serenade you with love songs. Very nice indeed.

2. Boat trip(s)

The best way to see Paraty is by boat. The azure coastline has 40 little islands offshore and local boats take you out for the day to sail round them. We stopped at a few tropical beaches lined with palmed trees, before heading to a cove where we could feed a shoal of fish and then snorkel with them. We also fed a monkey/capybara thing that appeared from the bushes. We stopped for a calamari lunch, where the local crazy granny set off their version of fireworks for us to enjoy and then played us the tambourine. We chilled on the roof of the boat all the way back to Paraty bay. It was so good we had to rent a boat a few days later to repeat the relaxing rooftop ride round the bays.

3. Trinidade

We caught the local bus an hour down the coast to a beach area called Trinidade. We should have known the day would be a little chaotic when the bus driver drove us there at rate of knots up and down huge, unpaved tropical hills. The area had three recommended beaches. The first we found was empty, beautiful but very windy/wavy so we decided to walk round to the next one. The next was beautiful with a forest running round it and large rocks in the bay that the waves broke onto. We perhaps should have settled at this idyllic beach. Instead, we decided to see if we could find the third one. Alex saw what looked like a little sandy path leading into the shrubs… so of course we decided to follow it. From that point on we basically had 2 hours of near death experiences (perhaps a slight exaggeration but it was quite stressful). After climbing up a forested hill path in our flip flops, we met a Brazilian tour guide who explained we were in fact climbing uphill to a waterfall. We decided to turn around to climb back down. He offered to guide us, but unfortunately didn’t like my slow and steady pace. As such, he told me to take of my shoes, grabbed my hand and ran me down the steep path back to the ground. Poor Alex was also instructed to scramble down barefoot – and had to try to keep up with the crazy man who had dragged me off. After getting our breath back, the crazy man decided we needed to go to the next beach that we’d been trying to find. Unfortunately, this was through the sea, over another forested hill with steps cut into the tree roots. And again, he wanted to run this barefoot whilst holding hands. After 20 minutes, we got to the other side. Yes the beach was lovely, but it had been scary to get there and I demanded that we enjoyed some time sitting on the beach, despite the Crazy Brazilian wanting to take us to a natural swimming pool over another hill. After a break, Alex and I decided to see if we could make it to the natural pool ourselves and wandered off in the direction the others had taken. This meant walking past a bunch of rocks into the sea. Buoyed by the fact that we’d seen about 20 people make this walk that day, we felt confident as we strode into the sea. That confidence evaporated as we found ourselves fully dressed, waist height in the water, being knocked against the rocks with our electronics dangling into the water. After a short wrestle with the waves, we turned around and headed back to the beach, back over the hill to the near deserted pretty beach that we should have stayed at originally. We nursed ourselves back to happiness at a beach bar that had 3 playful puppies whilst watching the sunset.

4. Parati-Mirim beach

We still wanted to have a quiet day on the beach, so headed this time to the more sedate Parati-Mirim. We wandered along the coast down to a small stretch of beach that was deserted apart from one family who were fishing. The perfect place to rest, sunbathe and swim with the fishes (and what looked like a sea snake). More beers, friendly dogs and a thoroughly nice (calm) day.

Ilha Grande

We took a boat to Ilha Grande, about an hour off the coast. A huge forested hilly island, it only has one small town, no cars and no ATMs. Our hostel was on the beach and our room was the one we’d seen on the hostel website – we threw back the shutters and found ourselves over the water looking along the boat filled bay and beach. We spent a chilled week, having candlelit dinners on the beach, resting, shopping, and organising the rest of our time in South America. We arranged two boat trips whilst we were on the island. The first was to Lopes Mendes beach. After sailing round the tip of the island, we were dropped at a beach a ‘short easy walk’ from Lopes Mendes. We began the 30 minute hike, into the jungle with monkeys in the trees overhead, over a big hill and then down to the shore. I’m now very used to walking round jungles barefoot. The beach was huge though, with surfers in the waves. The enormous 45cm pizza we had back at shore also made up for a day without food. We also took a boat trip to Lagoa Azul aka the blue lagoon. Whilst not exactly a lagoon, it was a cool section of clear green/blue water by the coast where a turtle and huge shoal of yellow striped fish were swimming. We jumped in the cold water and spent an hour snorkelling with them, and attempting to take underwater photos of us with the fishes. Whilst most are not suitable for public consumption, a few of us with a huge starfish have made it onto the photo wall. Ilha Grande was a really peaceful place to rest, not spoiled by a few rainy days. In fact, sitting on the wooden deck of our hostel over the sea, watching the storm was pretty cool in itself.


We decided to come to Argentina for Alex’s birthday for 3 reasons. 1) Everyone we know who has been to Argentina has raved about it. 2) Alex’s favourite wine is the Argentinian Malbec. 3) Alex loves steak. It turned out to be a great choice. Argentina was a great antidote to the rustic Peru experience we’d had. It’s cosmopolitan, sophisticated, and an excellent gastronomic centre. Seriously, if any of you like red wine and steak you HAVE to come here. Read on to find out why.

Buenos Aires

1. Buses

The trip began in Buenos Aires but it’s worth mentioning the incredible bus journeys we took to and around Argentina. The prospect of a 16hr bus journey used to fill me with dread, but by the end of the trip (and 3 such journeys) I started looking forward to them. Here’s why. Comfy lazy boy seats turn into flat beds. You have your own personal TV screen and movie menu (plus an excellent Latin American version of ‘Heal The World’ – basically their Live Aid featuring Shakira of course), get pre-dinner whisky or sherry, 3 course dinners with wine and post dinner champagne. Not bad for the cheap option of getting around.

2. Palermo (and steak)

We began our stay in the Palermo area which is basically like New York’s East Village. Lots of boutiques, restaurants, bars, roof terraces and cool places to chill filled with beautiful people. Great wine shops too where they give you lots of samples for just walking through the door. The highlight though was the incredible food. You may think this silly considering we were in one of the most beautiful cities in the world…but seriously, the food was outstanding. About two hours after we checked into our room in Palermo we went on the hunt for steak and wine. Naturally. We found it in Lo De Jesus. A sweet wooden bistro on a street corner. It served the BEST rib eye steak (2 inches thick, hardly any fat and the size of my head), the BEST fillet (two fillets, each the thickness and size of bread rolls, cooked in a Malbec reduction) with garlic fries and a smooth Malbec to accompany it. Yum. After good but rustic food in Peru and no wine for a month, this meal was incredible and stands up as officially the best steak we’ve ever had (and we’ve had a lot of steak – for the 3 weeks we were in Argentina we had steak on about 15 days). Another restaurant, La Cabrera, was a great dining experience. The trick here was to serve about 12 small dishes of sauce and veg alongside the steak you order (1 cut is big enough to share between 2). Interestingly, I found apple sauce to be the best steak accompaniment and Alex loved the parsnip puree. I could go on forever but imagine you’d actually like to hear about the city itself.

3. Receleto

Being typical travellers, we decided to spend the day doing the Lonely Planet walking tour of Receleto. This is the fancy colonial area of BA. The best site was the beautiful old cemetery with huge sculptures and statues marking the graves and is the home of the grave of Evita and several Presidents. A huge metal flower in the park that opens and closes with the passing of the day was quite cool too.

4. Evita museum

You can’t spend long in BA without getting curious about the life of Eva Peron. We headed to the Evita museum to find out more. Housed in a beautiful building, previously a refuge opened by Evita, we saw artefacts from her life – including many fabulous dresses. It gave a positive spin on her life; lots of good work for women and kids interspersed with only a bit of swindling money from the State. I think that was more likely to be the husband though. I spent the rest of the day singing “Don’t cry for me Argentina” much to Alex’s delight.

5. San Telmo

Having picked up our Canadian friend Dane, we travelled together on his recommendation to San Telmo. We stayed for 3 nights in this older bohemian region, with lots of once beautiful colonial buildings that have slightly fallen into disrepair and been taken over by artists. Cobbled streets, antiques shops, markets selling old toys, cool graffiti and the fab El Federal café which keeps its old school air with bottle lined walls, wooden counter tops and an antique till. The main square includes the Presidential Palace where Eva Peron made her speech to the masses from its balcony. As is our luck, there was a protest demonstration on when we got there, so we took a sharp exit to find a bar instead.

6. La Bomba de Tempo (aka drum night)

We picked up Dane and a random little Colombian chap and headed out to this recommended drum night, not quite sure what to expect. It was a bit like Vibe Bar in Brick lane – a bar with a big cobbled square where huge beers were sold, and then a warehouse with a stage on which a 15 strong percussion troupe played under the direction of their conductor. It was really amazing to see how the conductor just used finger gestures to get them to change rhythm, speed and fade in and out. Made even more enjoyable when we turned round from watching the stage to see our Colombian friend throwing himself around in what I can only presume was some primitive dance form. We filmed some for you to see.

7. Sabor a Tango

When you go to BA, you have to go see some Tango. We went to a Cena show which basically means you have dinner in the theatre and then watch dancing, singing, traditional music and some kind of lasso-ing routine performed by what looked like Wagner’s brother. The dancing was great with incredibly fast flicks and lifts, the singers delivered a rousing version of “Don’t cry for me Argentina” much to my delight and also, randomly, “My Way”. A good night.

8. Cook with Teresita

Teresita is a lovely Argentinian lady who welcomed us into her home to learn how to cook empanada’s. We made corn and beef empanada’s from scratch, kneading the dough and chopping the ingredient. Surprisingly, the fried corn were our favourites. Alex was top of the class with his knife skills. We sat back and enjoyed them with Malbec and Torrontes, and still had 6 left over to bring home as a doggy bag. We bumped into the 1978 Argentinian football captain on the way home too. Those of you in London, expect us to practice our skills on you when we’re back.


1. Hostel Lao

Mendoza has to be one of the highlights of our entire trip. This was partly because we felt so at home in the wonderful Hostel Lao. Run by Mike and Celeste (a Derbyshire lad with his Argentinian wife), we had a beautiful room, a hammock and flower filled garden, two dogs, free wine every night and incredible asado’s (BBQ’s) 3 times a week where the whole hostel got together to eat, drink and party – adding to the family atmosphere. A lovely chilled place, fun (mostly Irish) people and singing to the early hours when the free vodka came out (according to Maricio vodka is the “second worst thing to come out of Russia after Chernobyl”). Led by Dane on guitar, I particularly am proud of our group rendition of “In The Jungle…awimbe-way” and Dane’s Rihanna and Coldplay medley. Alex also had the joy of having “Happy Birthday” sung to him in 5 languages and having to give a birthday speech (to heckles of “that’s not a speech, I want you to make me cry”) at the asado the night before his birthday. The only downside was the serious hangover we had for Alex’s birthday where we could only manage to stay in bed and watch ‘The Goonies’. It was good craic though.

2. Wandering around Mendoza town.

Despite going to Mendoza to experience the wine tours, it was a few days before we could as they shut for the weekend. This gave us the chance to experience the local town. It felt really peaceful after the bustle of Buenos Aires. Set around a main fountain and market square, with four smaller squares on each corner and a huge park at the far end, Mendoza was lovely. We had great meals including Chateaubriand at the local’s favourite restaurant Don Mario, and finally some decent pasta at Anna Bistro. The Park was huge – we know as we accidentally walked round the whole circumference of it only making it to the lake and Regatta about 6 hrs later, having been followed by a friendly rabid dog more most of the hike. The Modern Art museum was hilarious. Located under the main square, which is odd in itself, it was full of work that can only have been done by blind children. We’ve included two images that were sellotaped to the art museum’s walls in the photo section. These are not rare examples – the entire gallery was full of it. Very funny.

3. Mendoza Wine Tasting: Clos de Chacras day

And so begins the four consecutive days of wine tasting. We started gently with a 6 course lunch at a boutique winery, where each course was paired with 1 or 2 glasses of wine. It was Michelin style, delicious and the wine blends were particularly good. Feeling in the mood, we walked 20 minutes to another vineyard for a tour and tasting. It was very traditional with huge carved oak barrels in its cellar and bottles of 1970s Malbec which unfortunately we could not taste since we didn’t have the £2k required to do so. Managed to taste 4 wines before we caught the local bus back to the hostel. Not a bad start.

4. Mendoza Wine Tasting: Navarro Correas day

Day 2 of wine tasting. It began at the amazing Navarro Correas winery which was modern and sleek compared to the day before. We did the tour and then spent more time being taught wine tasting techniques by the handsome tour guide. Despite having taken wine classes before, he taught us several new things. We learned a lot about the process of creating and enjoying great wines. We then experienced Bodega Cecchin, a local family owned organic vineyard still presided over by the granddad who was just a tot when his family opened the doors. We discovered we preferred wines with additives and headed to the third vineyard for our next tasting. Then onto the 4th for a huge wine laden lunch, which started with a mezze that filled the table, followed by stew, pasta and ice cream. They certainly don’t go hungry here. After drinking from 10am to 5pm we should really have had a quiet night. However, another asado at the hostel meant we were back on the wine after a cat nap, drinking until 1am when we sensibly put ourselves to bed whilst the party was still raging – only to be woken by police sirens a few hours later when the party went slightly awry.

5. Mendoza Wine tasting: Pulenta day

No sleep and a bit too much to drink the day before was not going to ruin Day 3 of wine tasting. The posh tour! We began at Pulenta estate where we conducted the tour whilst drinking Sauvingon Blanc at 10am. It was a lovely estate with an experimentation room where they painstakingly test different variants in a lab environment. Fascinating and the only vineyard we saw that takes the blend development so scientifically (they’re very rich and can afford to). As a result, the icon wines we tasted were great. Next stop Bodega Ruca Malen which is a big operation with machines to do the grape sorting. Another 6 course lunch overlooking the vineyard with wine pairings that included a sparkling white - quite rare for Mendoza. Finally, Kaiken vineyard (named after a type of duck) where we were shown grafting techniques for 100 year old vines and had a tasting of yet again more icons. All in all, a special day that was worth the extra money.

6. Mendoza wine tasting: The Vines of Mendoza

On our last day we decided to go to a recommended wine shop in Mendoza and try one of their wine flights. This would mean we would taste 5 Malbecs in a row to learn more about the differences between the vineyards. And they were all so different! We then added in a glass of our favourite Malbec from the tours we’d experienced so far as well as a glass from a very expensive vineyard we’d not visited, Achaval Ferrer. It was great and really interesting to learn so much about more about Alex’s favourite wine. We headed back to Hostel Lao for our last asado and Latin American drinking games. At the end of our Mendoza experience, we decided we could live here but would have to face the danger of becoming alcoholics. Probably a good time to leave.



In the Jungle

Rihanna and Coldplay medly

La Bomba de Tempo


We set out on an immense journey in Africa, travelling nearly 10,000km from Cape Town to Kenya on overland truck, bribing our way through borders when necessary. We travelled through 8 African nations rich in natural beauty, culture, wildlife and tradition. From the lush vineyards of South Africa, the striking desert of Namibia’s skeleton coast, the iconic animals of Botswana and the Serengeti, the water-lilies of the Okavango Delta, the beach villages of Malawi, the dramatic rocky landscape of Zimbabwe, the spices of Zanzibar and the warm welcome in Kenya. This was a true adventure through the sweeping countryside of Southern and Eastern African, dotted with villages, whilst camping under the vast African sky. Some of our favourite moments are captured below.

1. Getting engaged at Giraffe Manor (Kenya)

Giraffe manor is a beautiful mansion house in the grounds of a giraffe sanctuary, where the animals wander around for the guests to feed and cuddle without fences or ropes keeping you apart. This overnight stay came at the end of 45 days camping in the bush and was a well-deserved moment of luxury: with a GNT on arrival, hot water bubble bath, huge room overlooking the giraffes and amazing Italian food and wine. Alex took the opportunity to pop the question after a lovely day enjoying the facilities and eating a candle lit dinner in the garden overlooked only by the warthogs and giraffe wandering by. Rose petals in our room and Prosecco to enjoy last thing before bed and with breakfast topped off the celebrations. We woke to hot chocolate in bed, fed the giraffe who poked their heads through the windows of the breakfast suite and were shown how to ‘kiss’ them by putting a pellet in your mouth and letting their lips, or tongue if you’re unlucky, collect it. It was a magical place to stay that we will always remember.

2. Tracking rhino on foot with Ian (Zimbabwe)

We spent our favourite day with Ian, a fascinating local guide with a huge knowledge of all things African, who showed us some of the amazing sights of Zimbabwe. The fun packed day began with a great jeep ride past the rocky boulder outcrops that dotted the vista. We climbed up to some hidden caves where San Bushmen painted scenes of animals and hunters 35,000 years ago using blood, bile and urine which are amazingly still sharply visible today. Ian’s description of life for the Bushmen, both then and now, was fascinating – made more so by the fact he’d lived with the rare tribe and spoke in their click’s language. Ian pointed out that pretty much every plant we went past was lethal – Zimbabwe seems to be a good place if you want to bump someone off! We headed to a local village where we were met by Mr Pounds, the chief, dressed in leopard skin and ostrich feathers. Ian translated as the chief laughed his way through the story of the leopard mauling him (scars still visible) before he killed it and turned it into his robes. An amazingly jolly 79 yr old man despite the fact 5 of his 10 children had died from HIV leaving him to raise 13 grandchildren as his own. After dancing with the family (Mr Pounds once danced for the queen) we went on to hunt for rhino. Ian took us to Motobo game park where the signs strictly say that there is no getting out of the vehicles. After about ten minutes we parked up, climbed out and went looking for rhino following tracks and droppings. Ian didn’t have any weapons on him, but did give us strict instructions not to run in any situation, to lie flat if there was a problem, and in the worst instance, to try and climb a tree. After searching for a while, Matt (one of the vets on the trip) spotted the rhino called Swaziland in the distance. We crept forward and got within 10 feet of the 6ft tall giant. Quite a breath taking moment! Ian later told us about the problems of poaching in Zimbabwe, the depletion of rhino numbers from 2000 to 200 between the 80s and 90s, and the shoot to kill policy they have for poachers which regularly ends in shoot outs. A day of amazing stories and amazing sights!

3. Seeing the big five (and 4 leopards) in the Serengeti (Tanzania)

We visited the Serengeti in the last week of our overland tour, so by then had driven through countless game parks, taken many game drives and seen most of the African wildlife. The Serengeti however stands out as the best wildlife experience of them all – we saved the best til last! After waiting for 6 weeks to find a leopard, on our second day in the Serengeti 4 came along at once. I’ve always thought Leopards were rather like buses. This meant we completed the big 5. One of our favourite moments on the trip was finding a pride of lions, including a male lion and baby cub, asleep under a rock. We watched them prowl, think about hunting, roar and play together within a few foot of our jeep. Other memorable moments include a cheetah walking alongside our jeep, a mother cheetah enjoying a fresh kill with her 2 cubs, and watching 3 hippos climb out of the water and trot along in single file underneath a hot air balloon. Camping in the Serengeti in the bush scrub with no fences or guards was quite an experience. Going to the toilet has never been more terrifying, and the sounds of lion’s and hyena’s going past our tent at night was unforgettable. As we heard Jade put it half way through the night after hearing sounds of the animals next her to tent, “What. The. Fuck. Was. That!”.

4. Snorkelling in Zanzibar’s corals, white powder beaches, spices and Stone Town (Tanzania)

Snorkelling in the turquoise crystal clear waters of Zanzibar was like a scene from Finding Nemo. Not a bad way to spend our 100th day of travelling. Sailing on the dhow, swimming in the warm sea, eating on the shore, and lazing on the white sand was all idyllic. It certainly made up for getting there by travelling on the ‘vomit comet’ ferry, which thankfully was not as choppy as we had thought it might be. We enjoyed our first double bed since Brazil (a gorgeous wooden carved bed) in Stone Town, only 2 months and 9 countries later. We also explored the fish and meat markets, visited the site for the largest slave market in Africa, tried shark, saw Morgan Freeman’s brother or doppleganger, visited the first house to get electricity in Africa, ate with a family at their home and watched boys climb tall Coconut tree’s to fetch us some fresh juice. The spice tour was an interesting trip around the plantations which contained many spices and fruits we’re used to as well as many that we’re not but then got to taste (I can still smell the stinky Dorian fruit). Plus Liverpool beat Arsenal 2-nil whilst we were there, which apparently Alex says is important.

5. Climbing the rocks at Spitzkoppe bush camp (Namibia)

Spitzkoppe is the moment that we think off when we look back to our trip. It very simply captured the spirit of our adventure in Africa. We arrived after a long drive in the truck at a bush camp (no toilets or facilities). A very simple stretch of soil underneath some beautiful huge orange rocks. We climbed up the slope with a can of warm beer, sat down and watched our crew chop wood, watched Mash dance as he cooked our supper and listened to his African tunes pumped out the truck’s stereo. Sunset came whilst we chilled and watched, and then danced down the rocks to the African beat. An awesome moment.

6. Visiting the slums and orphanages of Nairobi (Kenya)

After chilling at the Heron Hotel for a few days and the opulence of Giraffe Manor, we then spent two nights staying at a nunnery arranged for us by the very helpful Jill Sowerby. Our day started with breakfast with 50 nuns, a slightly surreal moment. We were then picked up by Jill, who runs the HotCourses Foundation in Nairobi – a foundation Alex was involved in helping start when working at Hot Courses 8 years ago. She first took us to Kibera, the largest slum in Nairobi which was featured in Comic Relief when Lenny Henry, Reggie Yates and Samantha Womack moved into the slum and Lenry Henry was moved to tears by what he saw. We visited the Lea Toto children’s project where we helped the children write letters to their sponsors who donate money for school uniforms and education, including the little girl that Neil sponsors. We walked through the slum to visit one child’s house, a temporary tin shack no bigger than our front room where 7 of the family lived. The oldest daughter ran the household after losing both parents. Only 1 of them had found work to help pay for the rent (!) and electricity for the lightbulb hanging from their roof. We were then joined by some little children who proclaimed Alex to be their Mzungu (white person) and who delighted in coming to shake hands and then run away. We donated some rain coats and sleeping bags and walked back through the winding streets of Kibera with little kids hanging off our fingers. Despite the poor conditions we saw (crammed tin settlements springing up alongside an active train track and open sewers running down the streets) it was a happy place full of smiling kids and an emerging local micro economy. Jill drove us to the other side of Nairobi to visit Maureen, the little girl Alex has sponsored for the past 7 years. It was quite a surreal moment to meet her after all this time and to find out that she has been struggling of late which is partly due to some difficult circumstances at home. After giving her the blanket we’d used whilst camping and a little pep talk, Alex made a decision to try and write back to her from various locations round the world to help with her reading and writing. Jill then drove us to the final location which was Nyumbani children’s orphanage for ‘total orphans’ (e.g. no family at all) who have been infected or affected by HIV. We were nervous to say the least as we had expectations of what this might be like. But when we got there, we saw children laughing and playing in a beautiful playground surrounded by family homes where 14 kids stay with a house mama, forming a village of kids. It was an incredible happy place. The facilities are great and improving all the time – they’ve just built a laboratory there which will be one of the leading blood labs in the whole of Africa. It was a privilege to visit and meet some of the children who have brilliantly happy outlooks despite having had to deal with so much in life at such a young age. It’s hard to capture all of what this day meant to us in a small paragraph but we hope to give you a feel of what it was like to have seen the best and worst of Nairobi.

7. Cuddling a seal on a dolphin cruise at Walvis Bay (Namibia)

We took a boat trip on the Skeleton Coast to view dolphins and seals at Walvis Bay. We didn’t realise that there would be seals round the boat before we even boarded, which were used to the boat leaving the bay and getting some fish. As we sailed off the seals jumped alongside us and, before long, a large seal called Spotty had made his way on board. Our captain fed him some fish and asked who wanted to sit down and have Spotty climb on their laps. Genna was one of the few to say yes! She sat down with a towel over her legs and Spotty bounded on to her, feeling much like a wet dog. After a big hug, Spotty got back into the sea. We sailed on seeing Oyster farms, watched dolphins bounce along next to the boat and viewed a seal colony with seals playing in the sea alongside us. Oysters and champagne on the ride back to shore finished off the trip nicely.

8. Canoeing the Okavango Delta alongside hippos (Botswana)

We clambered into our Mkoro for two (dug-out canoes made from tree bark) and our poler standing at the back pushed off with his stick. The canoes were rocky in the water and were barely a few inches from the water’s edge. This was to be our transport to our camp on an island in the middle of the Okavango Delta, just over an hours ride away. It was really relaxing to sail silently in single file through the reeds and water-lilies to our camp… or it would have been had the water not been crocodile and hippo infested! We watched the hippos at a safe distance and carried on our ride. Later on, we went out for a sunset ride and saw the BEST sunset of our trip whilst bobbing around in the water. We camped in a bush camp – nothing but us and the ground around us. Around our campfire, our guide Chapman told us that several lions had been seen here recently and to expect hippo round the tent at night. He was right and they sounded like they were right next to us. The next morning we headed off for a game walk, wandering round the bush silently in single file again, spotting zebra, baboons, leopard tracks, hippo nests, and termite mounds. Mash made us an astounding lamb shank with wedges and apple crumble on the campfire to top off a lovely couple of days. The Mkoro polers danced and sang for us, causing Brazilian Freddie to jump up and dance when they sang his name. As always when Genna is in a canoe and in danger of toppling out, two spiders jumped in with her. Thank goodness flip flops work very well as a swatting weapon.

9. Learning to carve with Norman (Malawi)

We spent the afternoon in Chitimba Malawi, sitting on Norman’s farm that he shared with his 3 wives. He and his 11 year old son, watched by other local kids, taught us how to carve wood in a mask and name plaque. In less than 2 hours we went from having two blocks of wood to having two pretty decent carvings that the rest of our group thought we’d bought rather than made. It was very relaxing watching the chickens catch mice, being jumped on by their puppy and hearing about their life in Malawi. Having said that, Alex was put to shame by the 11 year old boy who was clearly much more talented with a chisel.

10. Hwange with Andy, your typical Zimbabwean guide

Andy was a brilliant guide. A big, gruff, bearded, bear-like Zimbabwean man who swore a lot, called a spade a spade and told lots of stories, every one of them ending up in him shooting or killing someone or something. He took us on a game drive round Hwange, driving whilst studying the tracks on the road. We saw cheetahs rolling around, elephants, hyena and vultures eating at an elephant carcase, giraffe drinking next to a croc, disco donkeys, hippo, kudu, sable, jackals and rhino. On a night game drive with Andy, he proved just how much he hates Baboons by constantly driving the jeep off the road to chase them. We turned off the jeep lights and motor next to an elephant eating on the side of the road and sat in pitch black listening to it eating and its stomach gurgling.

11. Carving bow and arrows with the legendary San Bushmen (Namibia)

After driving an 18 ton truck down a sand road as fast as possible to reduce our chances of getting stuck, resulting in most of us hitting the ceiling, beer bottles smashing, and Tabitha ending up in Tim’s lap, we reached the San Bushmen living museum. Members of the tribe collected us and walked us to a village to demonstrate hunting techniques, poison plants, jewellery making, how to make fires – all learnt from their ancestors. Alex and the boys made bows and arrows and had a shooting competition. Boys will be boys.

12. Climbing Dune 45 at sunrise (Namibia)

4.45am start. Tent down in the dark. Helena the truck managed to start after being broken for a day (just as well as we’d got up so early). She made it through the desert to Dune 45, one of the largest sand dunes in Namibia. We jumped out and started to climb. It turned out flip flops were not the best footwear given the sand was as cold as ice. We managed to get half way up before giving up and watching the sunrise. Meanwhile the crew worked on Helena and Mash made us banana pancakes to warm us up for when we had climbed back down. Postcard perfect view of orange sand dunes, blue skies and the sun and moon over bare African trees.

13. The discomfort of riding Elephant back safari (Zimbabwe)

In Zimbabwe we mounted Lundi the elephant and went on a game walk through some rivers and grassland. It was very uncomfortable and doesn’t feel that secure! After climbing off and learning how to use our legs again, we fed her peanuts whilst sitting on her knee. Her trunk works like a hoover and sucks them down or tries to pick them out your hand. We touched her tongue which felt like a wet fish. She is very nice though and lets us cuddle her.

14. Taking a sunrise boat ride to illegally enter Angola

We get up early and board a boat made out of two canoes with planks going across between them to make a platform, on which they’ve placed some dining table chairs. We head off down the river. We’re camping in Namibia, but the other side of the river is Angola. We go down the river for a while, watching women wash their things in the river, kingfishers fly by and the fishermen are out to check their overnight catch. After a while, our driver takes us to the Angola bank. We hop out and illegally enter Angola. Feeling naughty, we hold a small cardboard sign and take some photos before hotfooting it back onto the boat and the safety of Namibia.

15. Seeing elephants and rhino at Etosha waterholes (Namibia)

Our first camp in the middle of a Game Park felt really exciting. We spent the evening sitting next to a beautiful lit water hole where we watched elephant and rhino drink only metres away from us. Jackals ran round our tents and we watched a huge fire come alarmingly close to camp (thankfully it’s an organised fire to burn off the old grass before the rains come). It’s also the first night camping where we hear lions round the tent at night. During a game drive on the next day, we stop at a waterhole for lunch and watch a herd of over 40 elephants play in the water. We all laugh when a tiny baby excitedly runs along and falls over. Having stayed out too long, we have to peg it back to the camp before dark to avoid getting fined. Whilst we’re speeding along Genna spots our first cheetah and has to scream for the truck to stop so we can watch it. Amazingly Dave gets us back 5 minutes before the fine, to a big round of applause. This was the coldest night camping we had – ice formed on the inside of the tent and Genna put her coat over her face to try and catch her warm breath in the night.

16. Struggling to breathe at the Cape Cross seal colony (Namibia)

We visited an amazing cape fur seal colony on the Skeleton Coast where thousands of seals sat on the beach together. We walked on a small bridge right over them, watched them fight, suckle their young and swim in the waves – so many they looked like an oil slick. The only problem was the stench which was so bad we both wore headscarves over our faces.

17. Mash’s cooking

Mash was the chef for the truck. He made the best roast potatoes I’d ever had despite only having a campfire to cook on. He was an extraordinaire with potatoes but also baked birthday cakes, meals like shepherd’s pie, lasagne, lamb shank, curry and chapatti as well as traditional meals like ugali all on a budget of about £7 a day per person for 3 square meals, with no equipment, in a pot on a fire. We all helped with the cooking and his stories of life in Kenya made our trip. The best part of everyday was when he called out, “wash your hands”. We miss him. As well as Mash’s cooking we tried to taste the local foods, in particular game meat such as Warthog, Kudu, Oryx, Springbok, and Ostrich. Genna also took a shine to Mash’s Kenya jumper which Mash gave her at the end of the trip, and nearly made her cry. In fact the only downside to Mash was the terrible football team he supports…

18. Having our fortunes told by a witch doctor on a village walk (Malawi)

The two of us were taken on a walk through the village of Chitimba by Dickson, our guide. We first visited a local school where the facilities were shockingly basic. They had 6 teachers and 6 substitutes to 1000 pupils. The classrooms were bare and crumbling, with birds living in the ceilings, no desks or chairs, and no paint on the walls. We then walked to the free health centre. The only doctor there, Kent, showed us round. There is only one nurse helping him tend to his catchment of 6,000 people. He sees 120 people every day and works 7 days a week. The government hadn’t sent him any supplies for 4 months, so we had more malaria tablets in our backpacks than he had. There is no opportunity to sterilise anything so they just boil everything. He was working hard to try to help people even though it looks like his funding to have further education and training has been denied by the government. Whilst depressing, it was good to see this real side of life in Africa. We finally stopped by the local witch doctor’s house. He came dressed in bells into a room and danced to drums, making us dance in turn with him. He showed us his love potions and then told each of us our fortune separately. It seems we will be having long and happy lives and two of his predictions have come true already.

19. Sitting on the roof of the truck to watch the sunset at Fish River Canyon (Namibia)

After an afternoon in an outdoor pool, we got out the safari seats – seats that open out onto the roof of the truck. Genna and I climb (and it is a climb) up to sit on them. Then Dave heads off on the drive to Fish River Canyon. It’s very fast and we hit trees on the way! Jade described it as going so fast her eyes were watering, but there was so much wind the water was rolling back into her eyes. We get to the immense canyon and walk round the top, looking at the horseshoe river in the middle. We climbed back onto the roof of the truck next to the edge of the canyon, poured ourselves a GNT and watched the sunset.

20. Visiting the elephant orphanage and Out of Africa in Nairobi

In Nairobi we spent the morning at the elephant orphanage, watching baby elephants up to the age of 5 being fed their milk, play in the water and push the spectators for fun. In the afternoon we visited the Karen Blixen museum. This was at the lovely home she’d had in Africa under the Ngong hills, where she’d based her book Out of Africa and where the film had been shot. We later met one of the extras for the film who told us stories about Meryl Streep (lovely) and Robert Redford (a prima donna who only wanted to be shot from one side).

21. Luxury game drives and boats at Chobe (Botswana)

We arrived in a very luxurious camp which was exciting in itself! We got up for a very early game drive where we saw our first lions. Back to camp, Mash had prepared banana pancakes for us and shepherd’s pie. We headed out for an afternoon game trip on a boat. We got very close to hippo’s, monitor’s, and crocodiles but the best part was watching elephants cross the river with their trunks wrapped round the elephant in front to keep together. Back to camp for burgers and chips.

22. Chilling in Diani after flying there in a tin bath with wings (Kenya)

After the intensity of the previous 50 days in Africa we decided to go to the coast to chill for 6 days in a beach resort. Unfortunately to get there we got into a plane that was so small you couldn’t stand up, only 5 of us boarded, and we were buffeted around in the thermals for 1.5 hrs. Thankfully the resort was beautiful. We had a sea and pool view room, free cocktails, and gorgeous weather and felt very spoiled for a couple of backpackers.

23. Camping on Kande Beach and snorkelling in Lake Malawi

After a 4am start and 16 hours on Helena (including 4 border crossings) the day before, we finally arrived at our campsite in Malawi. And we weren’t disappointed. Set on the shores of Lake Malawi, Kande Beach was a great little camp with a bar with pool table (where Alex cleaned up), live sport (so Alex got to watch the first couple of games of the season) and plenty of activities available. One of the activities was snorkelling in Lake Malawi where there were rare species of fish to see and the opportunity to snorkel in fresh water rather than in the sea. Another new experience. Kande beach was also the birthplace of one of the favourite catchphrases of our Dragoman trip. Another overland firm staying there decided to have their fancy dress night at Kande (see no. 25 for ours) so we could hear the phrase “to the bar Mother Fuckers” used all night. Jade then perfected it and used it whenever we felt a drink may be needed on the rest of our trip. She was also going to record it as a ring tone for all of us, but that hasn’t happened… yet.

24. Beers under Kilimanjaro

After 5 ½ weeks of camping and long days we arrive at Marangu old hotel grounds. That morning we got up at 5.30 and were feeling grumpy when we went to set up our old broken tent and found that we’d been left with the old, crappy mats. Both of us had a little moan and decided that a drink away from the group was in order. Luckily for us the grounds of the hotel were nice and we could go and have a bit of time to ourselves, and more importantly, we could do it with a couple of beers. Eventually Dave (our leader) came to join us and had a beer with us. Then he got up and pointed to where Kilimanjaro was covered by cloud and we could actually see the peak of the mountain. This was only the 2nd time Dave had seen “Kili” on his travels, and there is only about a 20% chance of seeing it normally. Mash then cooked us Chicken and Chips, and all seemed right with the world. It goes to show, that bitching and moaning sometimes leads to good things.

25. Fancy dress at Chitimba

As neither of us being particularly keen on “forced fun”, it’s fair to say that neither of us were massively up for the fancy dress night. Especially as the draw for who bought for who was random, so it meant we couldn’t buy for each other. However the draw was kind to us. Genna got Jade who we knew had a great sense of humour and I got Nat, the Dragoman trainee who was crying out to be stitched up. We got to a random little market town to buy outfits, and after a good hour and plenty of haggling we managed to get suitably horrendous items of fancy dress for the two of them. Jade got a very unflattering, baggy, floral dress, and for Nat, we got a purple and pink jumpsuit. Happy with our purchases we headed off to camp to hand over the outfits. It was then that the reality that everyone else was probably as mean as us hit hard, especially when the first couple of outfits to be handed out were loin cloths to the boys. Genna got a horrendous brown flowery skirt, white eagle frayed top and little pop socks to wear with flip flops and Alex got a little green see-through skirt, skin-tight bright orange t-shirt (complete with shamrocks, to replicate the Irish flag…) and chainmail belt. We rocked them as best we could and laughed at the cavemen and Nat in her Abba jumpsuit, Jade with a drawn on mono brow (very Susan Boyle) and most of the guys dressed as women.

26. Wine tasting & camping in a South African vineyard

Our first night camping was ace. Partially as we’d been nervous about what to expect as neither of us had been camping for a while and we expected pretty poor facilities in Africa. We had driven up the coast road from Cape Town to a vineyard with a stunning view of mountains. We put up the tent with a little help from Tom and then had the pleasure of a wine tasting run by the vineyards owner. Unfortunately the South African’s like their wine very sweet, but the Pinotage was nice – so nice that we had to buy two bottles of it. A very drunken night ensued which included the whole group doing a Springbok shot. This involves making Springbok ears, jumping round and eventually you are supposed to show your white bottom before drinking the peppermint Amarula shot down. A fun way to get to know everyone.

27. The friendly people

The people in Africa are the friendliest and nicest we’ve come across. This was clear from the moment we arrived and were greeted by the officials in Cape Town airport with “Hello you lovely people. Welcome!” Everyone we walked past in Zimbabwe was grateful for our tourism $ coming to their country and thanked us saying “We hope you like our beautiful country, thank you for coming”. Trying to post things home to England after some serious shopping in Swakopmund, we found we needed to get a box, brown paper, bubble wrap, sellotape and some help to pack it all up. We went to a different shop to ask for each item, and every shop we went into gladly gave us what we needed – so much so that they ended up packing the box we’d got in brown paper themselves and wouldn’t even let us help. From taxi drivers who’ve told their colleagues that we’re their friends and need to be looked after, to contacts who’ve been willing to collect us from airports or drive us to ATMs, or make dinner reservations and even hotel bookings for us, the people have gone out of their way to help and make sure we’re having the best time we can.

28. Random African moments viewed from Helena’s window (T.I.A)

Driving across Africa in a big orange truck, you see a lot of strange and wonderful things out the window. Women and children carrying the strangest things on their heads including wheelie suitcases (why not wheel it?) and in one traffic jam in Dar Es Salaam we saw a man weaving through the cars carrying an aquarium on his head full of water and live fish. They also sell strange things on the side of the road, from coffins which we saw all over Tanzania to cooked rats on a stick that kids were trying to sell us as we drove past. We drove through towns with literally one shop, past villages of wooden huts, and through huge cities like Harare so the view was constantly changing. We also pulled up when we saw a nice spot to stop the truck and made an impromptu lunch on the side of the road. We’d pull out the tables, chairs and food boxes and Mash and the cook group would cook away. This included some very random locations – next to the signpost marking the Tropic of Capricorn, before a bridge we’d hope to cross but that was still being built as it was broken where we got surrounded by kids and had to hand out balloons, in the middle of the bush where we couldn’t see any building or person for as far as the eye could see. As Dave put it, T.I.A. This Is Africa and you have to expect the unexpected.

29. Getting wet at Victoria Falls

On our walk down to Vic Falls we were stopped by a guard and told to take another path as there were two elephants blocking it. We looked up and he was right! The waterfalls were great. Double rainbows and lots of spray which meant we had to walk round in huge raincoats looking like idiots. We watched some people bungee from the bridge over the rapids. On the walk back we came across a warthog family on our path. Nice day out (but not as impressive as Igassu Falls!).

30. Trying firewater at Rainbow Camp

One of the rites of passage of our trip was to down a shot of firewater at Rainbow camp. This is 96% proof vodka. Nowhere near as bad as Poteen and not even as bad as Grappa, in fact Alex quite liked it. A few of the others seemed to struggle with it though, especially if you drank as the barman said – swilling it round your mouth for 5 seconds and then inhaling through your mouth as you swallow it.

31. Beautiful campsites in the countryside

We were expecting African campsites to be pretty basic and not great places to stay. However, during our Dragoman trip we managed to stay in some spectacular settings throughout the African countryside including vineyards, the banks of Orange river, alongside Springbok in the middle of the wilderness, next to floodlit waterholes, on the beaches of Lake Malawi, the shoreline of the Indian Ocean, in National Parks, in the foothills of Kilimanjaro and in the grounds of farmhouses.

32. The Zimbabwean ruins and Harare

Whilst we had a great time in some parts of Zimbabwe, visiting Harare was a low point. A busy, loud, messy city, full of people everywhere. We stopped for lunch, spotted Mugabe and his motorcade driving to the airport and then waited to leave. The Zimbabwean ruins, though very important to Africa, where also a disappointment having recently visited the incredible Incan ruins in Peru.

33. Deciding to take a walk in the midday sun in Sousslevi

Helena the truck broke down every day for the first 5 days we were travelling on her, so when we reached Sousslevi in the Namibian desert, the crew needed to do some urgent work on her. That meant we had a spare day whilst they waited for parts to arrive. We decided to take a walk to a nearby lookout point, only an hour or so from the camp. What we didn’t realise is that it would require walking through the desert with no shade in the heat of the midday sun. We got to the lookout which was a small canyon with catfish in the stream at the bottom, saw sand dunes ahead and decided to walk back to camp. The burning hot sun was really affecting us, moreso because our malaria tablets have the side effect of making your skin more sensitive to the sun. After trying to cover our heads with T-shirts, we finally got back to camp, downed water and some drinks and jumped into the freezing cold pool. We decided not to underestimate the African sun from that point on!

34. The Painted dogs

What a disappointment. We were excited to visit a centre that cares for the very rare endangered African wild dog known as Painted dogs due to their markings. When we got there, we walked along a rope wooden bridge for about 15 minutes, climbed down into a caged area and saw one dog shaped lump in the distance. It could have been stuffed as it didn’t move once. That was it. As we walked back to the truck Hiscke saw the bright side – at least it would give us something to be our low point when Tom would ask us round the campfire that night for the day’s highs and lows.



Papua New Guinea & Australia

Papua New Guinea

Papua New Guinea was everything we expected from a South Pacific island paradise. Hot, stormy, so laid back its almost horizontal, palm trees, crystal clear sea and unexpected wildlife. We heard about a lot of dramatic events whilst we were here – there was a plane crash on the way to our resort the day after we flew here, a 6.5 earthquake off the coast after a few days, a recent shark attack, and the chief of one of the villages we visited died the day after we went there. However, despite the drama (and the reputation PNG has) we only experienced a lovely, quiet, laid back place, friendly and welcoming people and great scenery. If you like birds, butterflies, flowers, WW2 history or snorkelling, PNG is the place for you.

1. Visiting villages with Busybee

One of the things we were very keen to do whilst in PNG was to visit a local village and meet some of the people to see how they spent their days. After (very) briefly toying with the idea of doing this ourselves, we contacted a tourism company who offered a few trips like this around the area. And we’re so glad that we did.

Our guide was called Busybee, and he is a bit of a local celebrity, with everyone at the resorts knowing him, every person we passed on the roadside waving to him. Every time we stopped the jeep anywhere, people would come to say hello to him. Once Busybee found out Alex was Irish, he started telling us of the time that he was Pierce Brosnan’s personal driver when he filmed the movie Robinson Crusoe in Papua New Guinea. He apparently still sends Busybee a Christmas card every year and is a very nice man.

Busybee was full of local knowledge, stories, advice and was described PNG as “going from yesterday to tomorrow without stopping in today”. He was also very keen for us to try the local habit – chewing the betel nut. This is a nut mixed with mustard (some kind of bark) and some lime (crushed up coral) which is meant to give mild head rushes, but also turns bright red in your mouth, tastes disgusting, foams and starts to drip down your chin. All very attractive, and you can see the pictures of Alex trying this for yourself. Genna wisely decided not to.

We visited a local village called Hobe to be shown round their gardens with medicinal plants and wood houses and met the chief, were taken to a lookout point to see miles and miles of the Island (including an old Japanese fox hole in the side of a cliff face), and finally onto the sulphur creek, next to which Man Friday was buried in Robinson Crusoe. We fed the eels and turtles that were swimming in the sulphur cave some meat whilst we drank fresh coconut. All in all a fun and informative day, and Busybee became a bit like our personal driver for the next few days, greeting us whenever we popped into town and trying to help us whenever we told him about our sightseeing plans. He is our favourite Papua New Guinean.

2. Snorkelling off Pig Island

We’d heard that snorkelling in PNG was among the best in the world, with lots of little islands, coral, and some sunken WWII artefacts. Having done some great snorkelling in Brazil and Africa, we were still really impressed with the coral off Pig Island! We were collected by Busybee (of course) and taken to our boat driver who was wearing a David Beckham t-shirt. It was as good, if not better, than any other snorkelling we’d done. The water was clear and shallow, with a smooth white sand beach leading into the water with the really colourful coral reef literally a metre off shore. We spent 1.5 hours swimming amongst the tropical fish – including a few clown fish living in anemone which Genna called Nemo, and some huge bright blue star fish.

Unfortunately we didn’t see any sunken WWII planes or ships, and have been told that many of them have been moved now or you can’t see them anymore. There was apparently a sunken Japanese fighter plane off the jetty of our last resort, but the water was a bit too cloudy to see it snorkelling. Maybe next time…

3. Staying overnight at Billia island village

We wanted to try and have an authentic stay on an island rather than just spending our time in the resorts of Madang, so we headed out to an island 15 minutes boat ride away called Billia island. It was a beautiful island with lots of palm trees, lush green grass, chickens wandering around, lots of birds in the trees, small hut houses with very friendly families in them, children swimming off the beach, some children fishing naked off little boats just off the shoreline. All very National Geographic, but great to see in person.

Our home for the night was a little hut raised on stilts in the middle of some palm trees, which had a bedroom and a little kitchenette with gas stove. We also had an outhouse with a toilet and shower in it. We even had a couple of little geckos to keep us company and the sound of 5-10 cockerels underneath our hut, crowing throughout the night. Someone should tell them they’re only meant to do that at dawn. It was a really nice way too see more of the real PNG and spend time with some more of the locals…but probably the worst night sleep we’d had in a while.

4. Madang and its surroundings (“the prettiest town in the South Pacific”)

When we were researching where to go in Papua New Guinea, we were keen on a few options: island hopping round New Ireland and New Britain (for the full Robinson Crusoe feel), Tufi (for snorkelling and diving), the Highlands (for the “real PNG” – although there was the threat of being eaten and tribal warfare breaking out at any minute), or Madang, which offered a bit of everything. We’re glad we picked Madang in the end as it did indeed have a little bit of everything we were looking for. We had some great snorkelling, we chilled on islands and beaches, we visited some villages, and had personal tours from Robinson Crusoe’s driver – well Pierce Brosnan when he was playing him anyway.

We saw elements of the authentic PNG way of life that we’d read about – visited a museum with WW2 relics and traditional ritual head dresses, saw a ‘tribe’ in costume doing a dance on a village green watched by locals and no tourists, saw lots of people carrying machete’s, and were even pointed out a group of men with bush knives who were apparently out to get ‘revenge’ on some other tribal group…but found the local people to be very friendly (they actually say “Good day” to you as they walk past like in some 18th century novel), caring and unbelievably laid back.

We stayed in some resorts in some lovely grounds with jetty’s into the crystal clear seas, palm trees full of coconuts outside our door, orchids lining the pathways, idyllic islands just off the shoreline, and got upgraded a few times. On one of the roads we walked along there was even a World War II relic Japanese Machine gun preserved and facing out to sea. We saw hornbills, tree kangaroos and crowned peacocks. Not to mention the 7,000 bats that live in Madang that you see morning, day and night flying around (they’re really big too!).

It really was the South Pacific tropical paradise we had hoped it would be.

5. Getting in and out of Port Moresby in one piece.

One thing we were told about PNG was that it’s beautiful and the people are very friendly. Except for Port Moresby – the capital. Unfortunately in order to come to PNG, and in fact, get around, you need to at least fly in and out of Port Moresby. It has been described as one of the most dangerous cities in the world. And in fact, even the airport has been the location of some shootouts, and hijackings in the last couple of years.

However, we managed to land safely, then head to a nice hotel overlooking the airport with a bar, restaurant and pool and spent the day there before we had to fly out to Madang. We were safely in our hotel in Madang when there was a very strong tropical storm. We woke the next day to find out that a plane bound for Madang had crashed and killed all 15 passengers on it. A lucky escape! That night, there was 6.3 magnitude earthquake just off the coast, but luckily it did not produce a tsunami, although the waves were noticeably rougher the next morning.

All in all we were lucky in PNG that many of the things we’d been warned of either didn’t happen, or happened after we’d got to places.



Australia is ‘sensational’. We were really happy for our trip to change from ‘proper backpacking’ into a more traditional holiday for a well-earned rest. We landed in sunny Cairns, flying in with great views over the barrier reef. We enjoyed two weeks of sun and spectacular snorkelling before heading south to stay with Genna’s friends Katy and Pete in Sydney for another week. We met the local wildlife, spent as much time as we could on the reef (whilst worrying about sharks), enjoyed Aussie BBQ’s, fish ‘n’ chips on the beach and delicious brunches. Here’s what we got up to.

1. Sailing in the Whitsundays

We predictably decided to book a luxury catamaran trip on the Whitsundays, and yes it was the most expensive trip we’d read about. There would be just 8 of us, 4 couples, each with a private cabin and bathroom on a luxury catamaran with a hostess preparing gourmet food for us and a skipper getting us to the best spots. It was fantastic. We got the bus down to Airlie Beach and had some drinks on the marina whilst we waited for the boat to set sail. There were three couples - Canadian, French Canadian and Belgian, plus ‘T’ the hostess and the skipper Kyle that we were to call Princess Kylie – a nickname he’d earned because he’d got chilly when sailing and put on a jumper. We were shown our cute cabin with window in the bathroom under the water, so we could see the fish swim past. We sailed out through Unsafe Passage and moored at Sawhill Bay. We had a few beers whilst getting to know the others, and T treated us to Brie, Garlic Fish, Salad and Smoked Salmon.

The next morning, we had some pancakes before setting sail to the famous Whitehaven beach. We settled down on the ‘trampoline’ to sun bathe on the front of the boat … where we promptly got soaked as soon as we hit some waves, bouncing around. It was like being on a wet rollercoaster and was really funny. We got to Whitehaven beach for lunch and found a spot with no-one else around. We agreed it really was one of the most beautiful beaches in the world! We spent some time swimming (in wet suits as it was stinger season) and sun bathing before Genna had to act as wedding photographer for one of the couples who were on honeymoon. They’d brought their wedding outfits to the beach for some great snaps. As we got the dinghy back to the boat we went past sting rays and turtles. We sailed over to the lookout point for views of the shifting sands in the water, and decided to moor there for the night. We spent a lovely evening with wine, Tuscan chicken, roast spuds and Greek salad…and just the sound of the waves.

The next morning we set sail for Hook Island to try out a few snorkelling sites. We were keen to see if the Barrier reef here was as good as Cairns. Princess Kylie was as good as his word as Mackerel Bay turned out to be our favourite snorkel spot in the Whitsunday’s and there was no one else there at all! Whilst it felt quite deep (15m), there was a huge reef which made it less than a metre depth to swim over. An enormous school of tiny silver fish went past us and moved like a wave around us – it was great. We spotted a turtle on the coral and swam with it over to his other turtle friend, where we also spotted two more. We sailed off to another snorkel spot called Manta Ray Bay. Here we were told we’d see bigger fish, around 1 metre in size. There was a high school of yellow tailed fuseliers, with a Giant Trevaille, Batfish and Humpfaced Maori Wraisse. They’re big! After playing with them for a while we decided to call it a day, and got on board to watch the sunset before our steak dinner.

We were up early on the final day for a morning snorkel at Blue Pearl Bay. This was a really shallow reef with loads of colourful fish in a bit of a feeding frenzy around us. Giant clams, parrot fish, humbug fish and corals – snorkelling was a lovely way to end the trip. We sailed back to Airlie Beach and had a picnic on the esplanade before catching the bus back to Cairns. If you are planning to head out there, we’d thoroughly recommend the Whitsunday Getaway catamaran with Whitsunday Adventures, found above Brambles bakery – the only bakery in Airlie Beach. Check them out.

2. Snorkelling on the Barrier Reef

We were very excited on our second day in Australia to get straight out on the water and visit the Barrier Reef. We took advice and booked a small boat charter run by a local family which would take 30 of us to the outer reef for some snorkelling before visiting Michelmas Cay, a small spit of beach in the middle of the sea. We got on board and got kitted out with fins and snorkel gear whilst having coffee and muffins. After just over an hour sail we reached the outer reef. For some reason, it was a surprise to Genna that it was actually in the middle of the deep blue sea. We were encouraged to jump in with our snorkel guide who would point out the best bits. We took a deep breath and jumped into choppy 14m deep water in the middle of the shark infested sea. There was quite a current too as we floated 10 metres away when we weren’t paying attention and had to swim back to keep up with our guide Antony. After we got over the initial shock and put our faces into the water, we could see some fantastic coral and fish life. The coral was huge and seemed to go on forever. We swam over bright coloured mounds of brain coral, stag coral, spaghetti coral and anemones. We saw lots of brightly coloured parrot fish and Antony dived down to pick up a sea cucumber for us to handle. It was at that point he suggested we swim over to Shark Bay to see if we could spot any sharks or manta rays. We had little choice but to follow him, whilst not so silently cursing him. Luckily for us we didn’t see any and swam back on board. After a drink, we took a glass bottom boat over the reef to see if we could spot any sharks but still no luck. The divers who came back to our boat though confirmed that they’d seen reef sharks on the dive that morning.

Feeling slightly braver, we set off to Michelmas Cay. It was a stunning location for a snorkel. Turquoise clear calm water, off a white sand spit covered with sea birds. We got off at the beach and walked into the sea with our snorkel guide. As soon Genna put her face in the water she saw a sting ray next to her that then buried himself in the sand. We swam in very shallow water with lots of coral and fish, including clown fish, parrot fish, more sting rays and lots of bright coloured fish. It was fantastic, so much so that we were the last two still snorkelling when everyone else had boarded the boat. We sailed back to Cairns Marina and treated ourselves to a bottle of wine and a mezze at a Greek Taverna to help quash the hunger that had built from spending a whole day in the water. We later learned this fantastic restaurant was owned by Peter Andre’s brother.

3. Hanging out in Cairns

We were warned by everyone to get out of Cairns as soon as we got there as it was not worth seeing. Well, maybe we have bad taste, but we loved it. It had everything we needed for a holiday in Oz. We had a lovely low key friendly hostel with free fire twirling nights and very helpful staff. It’s a small town centre so not too huge to wander around and very easy to navigate on foot without needing to drive. Best of all its got a huge marina and esplanade water front with a free swimming pool and BBQ area that is really lovely. All the bars are half inside and half outside as the weather is so good, giving you a real feel of outside living. Good seafood too! Plus it’s the jumping point for tours of the reef and up/down the key sites on the coast. It felt nice and tropical too as the main trees we had to walk past to get to the waterfront were full of enormous fruit bats – making it feel like PNG. We had a great time chilling out in the pool, getting boat trips and planning our weeks in Australia. Great!

4. Cape Tribulation

We spent a day in Queensland checking out the beaches and rainforest of the northern coast. We booked a safari on a truck (as we’d got so used to them in Africa) and got to sit in the cab the whole day which gave us the best views! We drove down the Captain Cook Highway along the coast, seeing Mossman, Palm Cove, Double Island and sea kayakers on the way. We stopped for a crocodile boat cruise on the Daintree River but only managed to see a couple due to the cloudy weather. We then drove up past the Alexandria range and Noah’s valley (where they discovered 13 of the world’s 19 original flowering plants … the only place on the planet where they still grow) for a rainforest walk. We stopped for an Aussie BBQ where there were wallabies and kangaroo’s that we could feed. Then we drove up the 4-wheel drive Bloomfield track, through the rainforest to Emageen Creek for a freshwater swim, tropical fruit and traditional Billy tea with damper bread. We managed to spot 5 Cassowary in the wild, large emu birds that are now a protected species close to being endangered. We headed off the Cape Tribulation, a large beach where the rainforest meets the sea. After some tropical ice cream we drove back, being told all about the sugar cane farms we passed, the 400-people towns we drove through, the correct way to build a house to survive the cyclones and the people and dogs that had been eaten by crocs (one only the week before). Another really interesting day.

5. Sydney aquarium, zoo and Darling Harbour

We spent lots of time wandering around Sydney – walking from the Central Quay harbour area, through the Rocks, the main CBD, down to China town and out to Darling Harbour. Lots of ground covered!! After some Chinese cuisine (only ok) we hopped on a little toy train to ride round the harbour and ended up at the aquarium. There were two great underwater tunnel exhibitions – one with a playful sea cow and the other with lots of sharks and rays. At least we managed to find some sharks in Australia! One of our favourite days was spent at the zoo. We hopped on a ferry to cross the harbour and then got the cable car up a hill to the top of the zoo, getting a bird’s eye view of the animal exhibitions. We spent lots of time in the Australian walkabout area where we met some wombats, Tasmanian devils, more Cassowary, wallabies, kangaroo and of course, the cute koalas! We had a one-on-one experience with the koala keeper and the koalas, which kindly woke up and wandered around whilst we were there with them. They have enormous furry bums! After the obvious photos were taken, we headed off back round the zoo to see the rest (getting lost from each other in the seals and penguin section). We spent other evenings going for Thai in Newtown with Katy and Pete, and hanging out in their lovely flat in Surrey Hills. Sydney is not too shabby.

6. Bondi to Bronte – sculpture on the rocks

We’d read up on a recommended walk along the coast line from the legendary Bondi beach to Bronte beach, taking in a cliff top cemetary, sea views and Aussie beach life. We were really lucky that when we got to Sydney, there was also a free art exhibition being held along that very walk called ‘sculpture on the rocks’ with unusual freestanding sculptures scattered along the coastal walk. As you can see from the photo’s there were some great installations, including a tap running into the sea, a skeleton climbing a ladder, and a huge stag. After the walk we stopped for brunch (of course) and then took in the beach, checking out surfers, life savers and mixture of tourists and locals sunbathing. On the way home we visited Paddington market, tried a famous Aussie meat pie and walked back to Darling Harbour for drinks on the marina.

7. Wine tasting in Hunter Valley

I think our 3 weeks in Argentina may have made us wine snobs, as we weren’t particularly impressed with Australian wine or the vineyards we visited in Hunter Valley. It was a nice day out though. We got picked up early and drove over the Harbour Bridge and up to the valley, a very pretty landscape with rolling green hills, farms and vineyards all around. The view was the best part. Unfortunately we found a lot of the wine not to our palate, and the staff of the vineyards were nowhere near as knowledgeable as those in Mendoza. The first vineyard we visited was very nice though – a boutique vineyard called Blueberry Hill which only sells its wine from its cellar rather than to other retailers. The Merlot we tasted there had come from the same vine that had produced an award winning wine in ’96 – ‘the best Merlot in the world’ at a New York wine event. It was tasty, and they had a great rose and Chardonnay too. However, it was downhill from there. A lot of the wines were very sweet, and not very smooth. We visited 3 other vineyards, a wine shop, a chocolate shop for a tasting and much to Genna’s delight, a shop called ‘the Smelly Cheese Co.’ which gave us a feta tasting (Feta & Pesto and Feta & Sun Dried Tomato were both yum!). The day was slightly sullied when on the ride back to Sydney, three Aussie girls were hammered on the bus and ticked all of the drunken idiot boxes – they cried, they were singing loudly and they were sick.

8. Manly ferry and beach

One of the things we were told was a must-do in Sydney was to get the ferry to Manly and spend the day on the beach. We got on the old boat and set off for Manly and saw some great views of the Opera House, Bridge and harbour despite the annoying Japanese tourists who decided to try and ruin everyone’s pictures. Once we got to Manly we headed straight to the beach and walked past the Cenotaph which was slowly gathering people as it was 11/11/11 – Remembrance day. There were a few Australian sailors in their uniforms mixed with some veterans and some curious tourists. We spent a couple of hours on the beach watching the surfers, paddle boarders & groups of young teenagers awkwardly trying to flirt with each other, before heading to get some traditional Fish and Chips (yummy barramundi) to eat by the beach.

We headed back to Circular Quay and had a glass of champagne at the lovely Opera Bar, under the Opera House, while people watching and trying to decide if the over-dressed group of girls were on a hen night, waiting for a performance or if this was just the fashion in Sydney. It turned out it was for a wedding though and Genna gave us the run down on what was suitable, who couldn’t walk in the heels and who “really shouldn’t be wearing that”.

9. Fitzroy Island

We caught an early ferry over to Fitzroy island, about an hour away from Cairns. We took a 20 minute hike inland to climb over to Nudey beach on the far side of the island. The views were great, stunning blue sea and a white coral beach. As per the name, there was actually a naked man to greet us when we got to Nudey beach. We were the first there but as the crowds began to join us he thankfully put some shorts on so Genna didn’t have to avert her eyes for too long. We walked round to another beach and a huge Gorana lizard made us jump as we tried to take a picture of the shore line. We did some snorkelling (more parrotfish) but got too much sun! Headed back to Cairns feeling a little sunburnt and sorry for ourselves.

10. Getting lost in The Rocks

The Rocks is an area of Sydney very close to the harbour bridge, which was one of the slum settlements back in the day, but has been gentrified to a cool neighbourhood with shops, cobbled streets and pubs. We took a walk in the Rocks on two different days in Sydney, and both times got lost on the winding streets. Once we bumped randomly into one of Alex’s friends who lives here whilst lost… so it wasn’t all bad. We found what’s been called ‘the best pub in Sydney’ – The Hero of Waterloo. This pub is very old school with pews inside and a tunnel underneath it to the harbour. Legend says that if you fell drunkenly asleep in the pub at closing time in the olden days that you would be taken down the tunnel and would wake up on a ship at sea as a sailor. As you can tell, that didn’t happen to us. We ended the evening with a lovely meal in a courtyard Italian restaurant being serenaded by two old Italian men with a guitar and a harp.

11. Finally getting some new clothes in Jay Jays

Having packed lightly to cover all the continents and climates we were to visit, we finally decided to treat ourselves to some new clothes. After 6 months we’d got sick to death of wearing the same clothes every day and wearing them into the ground, we needed some retail therapy. We hadn’t much fancied some of the prices or more importantly fashions elsewhere on the trip but luckily for us when we got to Cairns we found a Billabong factory sale with 50% off, an outlet shopping centre and a great little shop called Jay Jays. This would probably be the equivalent of a Top Shop or Blue Square back in the UK. Genna treated herself to a few vest tops, the obligatory Little Black Dress, some new swimsuits and some shorts – mainly so that she’d stop wearing Alex’s (the shorts that is - his swimsuits don’t suit her!). As we were in Australia, Alex also decided to embrace the local fashion and bought a couple of wife beaters (vests/singlets). We were now dressed like all the other beach bums in town. Would we still be able to do up our backpacks when we left though?


Papau New Guinea & Australia