A Travellerspoint blog

The Last Post

sunny

So as we were getting towards the end of our travels, we decided that the best way to close the blog would be with a "best of" post.

In the past 6 months we have taken 9 flights to travel well over 35,000 miles, through 11 countries over 5 continents using 10 different currencies.

Best country
Cambodia - great food, friendliest people and amazing things to see.

Worst country
Vietnam - Some stunning scenery, wholly let down by the aggressive nature of the people. Sorry Nam

Top 3 cities
1) Hoi an - Vietnam - Vietnam makes a come back with this place, especially if you like having custom clothes made. 1 tailor per 17 people.
2) Cusco - Peru - Like an old European city, cobbled streets, artisan shops and great food and bars. If it was closer, we'd go there for the weekend.
3) Luang Prabang - Laos - Old french colonial town next to the Mekong river. Fantasic food, and great to ride around on push bikes.

(We should mention here that all three of these cities are UNESCO world heritage sites!)

Best accomodation
Golden Temple Hotel - Siem Reap - Cambodia
Our Christmas present where we nearly out stayed our welcome, rent free. Thanks Mums and Dads!

Worst accomodation
Any hotel in Hue, Vietnam - Damp and moody.

Worst journeys
1) 12 hour Sleeper bus in Vietnam - Ninh Binh to Hue - Kat decided this would be better than the train, it really wasn't. Tiny beds, chicken on the bus, messy loo and over packed.
2) 10 hour train in Vietnam - Danang to Saigon - Spent 10 hours picking cockroaches off each other and trying not to cry (Kat, not Henry).
3) Minibus from Vang Vieng to Luang Prabang, Laos - Broke down for three hours on a mountain then the disco death bus came to rescue us. Last three hours were spent bracing to avoid whiplash and praying we wouldn't fall off the edge of the mountain.

Top 3 innovative ideas to bring home
1) Countdown timers fitted to traffic lights, found in Asia and South America, stops people from falling asleep at the lights and gives Kat a better chance of not being run over whilst trying to cross the road.
2) Petrol pump controller, dial in exactly how much you want to spend and the pump cuts off when it reaches this amount. Stops you from spending 10.01 when you only have a tenner left.
3) Midday siesta, mainly from Argentina, they do it with style here. Stop work at 2pm and go home to bed, and then do another couple of hours work at 4pm.

(It was only Henry that even noticed the 1st two but I was particularly impressed by the 3rd.)

Top 3 things to leave where they are
1) Needless horn beeping - Asia (particularly Vietnam) and also found in South America. Just rude.
2) Phlegm spitters. Mainly found in Asia, usually over the age of 70. Often do it directly in front of your feet.
3) Bolivian Apathy. There are no ´go getters' here. Not that we found. Sometimes even selling you a bottle of water is too much effort and they will tell you to go round the corner to the next shop.

Top 3 annoying traveller nationalties
DISCLAIMER: These opinions do not reflect those of the authors, they are merely a generalisation based on 6 months travelling experience.
1) Israelis - Rude, childish, obnoxious and don't like to communicate properly with others. Turn your shit music off, this is a public bus and you're 30 years old.
2) English - No we did not go to St Marys, St Agustines or the Perse. Go and be a yuppy elsewhere. Sorry I'm not yet fluent in Vietnamese and no I don't want to join your yoga session.
3) Canadians - No I don't want to go for a run this morning, I want to eat red meat for breakfast and if you tell me once more how many mountains you've climbed this year I'm going to strap you to a chair and force you to watch back to back episodes of Two and a Half Men.

Top 3 best food
1) Thai Curry in Laos- Ex Pat Thai lady who gave you a menu but would only let you order what she wanted to cook. Your curries got bigger and hotter the more times you went. Yellow, red and green curries, the best food so far, hands down.
2) Traditional Beef Stew - Cambodia. Like an English cassorole with a chilli kick, from a little local cafe with a charasmatic owner. One of the nicest stews I've ever had. Sorry Mums.
3) AK47 burger, Cambodia. Kat didn't like this and the name is a little politically incorrect given the country we were in. Two massive beef patties full of spices and herbs in a baguette with cheese with proper home made chips, all for 3 quid (expensive for Cambodge!)
Cheeky number 4 - Argentinian steak. Can't have this list without mentioning the food in Argentina. The steak was cheap and melt in the mouth. In fact as we are writing the list goes on...BBQ snapper in New zealand that was still alive minutes before it went on the grill... when's lunch..?

Top 3 worst food
1) Calamari, Peru - Not so offensive as we were eating it, but made us both ridiculously ill for a week.
2) Papaya salad Cambodia - This was marinated in raw, rancid crab juice, a brown violent liquid. Made Henry preeettty ill.
3) Pizza and french toast Laos - The 'restaurant' was beyond grim. My french toast was warm bread dripping in some sort of old oil. Henry's pizza was the worst he has ever had and he has had a few. The salt and pepper had mites crawling out of the bottles and onto the table. We left without eating anything. The only time we have had to do this. We even ate a bit of Number 2...Not so hungry anymore.

Best animal experience
Trombone dog - Santiago. We were eating a massive parillada (BBQ) of different meats on Valentines day at a fancy restaurant and a very sad looking dog came slowly round the corner. He was a sausage type dog. As he walked a street artist started to play a trombone. The dog fitted perfectly with the music. He sat next to us looking up at us with huge eyes all through our meal to the point where passers by stopped and laughed at us. We have a beautiful photo of him.

http://i3.photobucket.com/albums/y90/diablohowes/IMG_6087.jpg

Worst animal experience
Bed bugs New Zealand. These cost us a lot of time and a lot of money in an expensive country. We tried everything to get rid of the little bastards, eventually the flight to South America killed them, can't take the altitude. Itchy, tiny, and EVERYWHERE.

Top 3 linguistic faux pas on products/signs
1) Chiang Mai shopping mall - trying to find the toilets we came across 3 signs, Male, female and 'Crippled'. Clearly a very un-pc translation.
2) Lima supermarket - looking for a sandwich filler we came across ´Fanny Tuna'. Appetising.
3) Cusco camping shop- buying a waterproofing spray. The instructions informed us that this spray is perfect for waterproofing 'shits'.

Top 3 oddest experiences
1) Ninh Binh Vietnam - Being helped up a mountain by a 100year old women. Asked if I was pregnant then put on a rock teetering on the edge of the cliff for a photo. Henry thought they were witches.
2) Meeting Ray the farmer in New Zealand and suddenly being his house guests for a couple of days, we weren't sure if they were going to feed us or kill us!
3) Cave tubing in Laos. To this day I don't know why I did that. Especially since I now know the size of the spiders that live in those types of caves.

We hope you have enjoyed reading our travels, sorry the blogs have been sporadic. Henry will make a website with all the photos on and we will post a link on here. Thanks everyone for your support over the last 6 months, it has been needed. We are both really looking forward to getting home, I want a proper cup of Yorkshire tea and a jacket potato with tuna mayo and Henry wants a homemade chocolate milkshake with a sausage sandwich (i could go into the specifications of the sandwich but they are quite detailed). See most of you in a couple of days and the rest of you some time in the near future!

Signing off,

Katie and Henry
xxx

Posted by HenryKat 09:52 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

Desert storm on a tea tray

sunny

We are slowing the pace right down until we eventually come to a stop at around 12 midnight tommorrow. We fly out of Lima at 8am Saturday morning and should be with our families by 6.30am on Sunday morning. We are both feeling pretty tired, its like our bodies have decided to give up after 6 months of carrying bags, ducking on buses and clambering over mountains. Henry's back is twinging and my skin is worse than it was when I hit adolesence. Yesterday all we managed to do was have an afternoon walk to Mcdonalds, our money is running low too so this helps as an excuse for doing nothing. In the evening we dragged ourselves out of bed and went to the 'Circuit Magico del Agua. This is a big garden with loads of fountains that are all lit up. That doesnt do it justice actually. The fountains are set to music and the water dances, different coloured jets springing up interacting with each other like ballerinas, all done through light and music. It was fascinating. They had a water tunnel that you can walk under and a water maze. In the maze the middle circle is dry but there are 5 of concentric circles made up of hundreds of jets constantly changing the pattern of when they turn on and off. Then there are other jets that squirt into the dry bits. There is sometimes a path that is opened up and sometimes you have to jump the jets when they are low. I managed to get to the middle but on the way out a jet got my bum as I jumped it. The Peruvians loved it, but most of them were just standing under the jets.

Before we came to Lima we were in Huacachina, this is a small town built around an oasis in a desert. We stayed at a hostel that was a bit run down but had a nice pool. In fact the whole place was a bit run down, full of drunken Israelis, no nice eating places or hostels. But really, really hot weather which we had been craving. We came there to sand board and dune buggy so we book ourselves in for that evening. The dune buggy was like a big go kart with some sort of engine that would be detailed if Henry was writing this, it had a roll cage and some vague seat belts. We were strapped in and the driver set off down the road at a rate of knots. Then he slid off the road and onto the massive desert that sprawled before us, tripping over the dunes and skidding over the sand lightning quick. You know when you are on a fairground ride that you like you scream because they're enjoying it, but then when you get on one that you think might break and you're actually petrified you are completely silent? The first 10 minutes I didnt say a word I just held my seatbelt in place and gritted my teeth. Then we stopped at a big dune and the driver got out. He pulled out a long board, no wider than a tea tray from the back and applied some wax. He handed one of these out to all the group and explained to lay down, hold on to the straps and keep your elbows in. There was a Peruvian couple in our group, the guy went first. He lay down on top of the dune and the driver pushed him head first down the huge mound. He wooshed down so quickly. Me and the girl looked at each other as Henry layed down on his tea tray. I was sure if we had been in England there might have been some sort of Helmet provided, or, I thought as I looked at the Peruvian's bare legs, knee pads at least . Henry was pushed down, then the Peruvian and then I was left at the top of the hill on my own. I figured the sand board thingy couldnt be any more scary than having to go down with the driver on the buggy so I lay down on my tea tray with my head poking over the edge of the hill, as he pushed me over the top he said 'don't worry you can control it with you legs...'

It was ridiculously fast and sand managed to wedge in the cracks in my teeth but it was great fun. Strangely with that surge of adrenalin I found myself screaming in the buggy too. The hills got higher, with bumps and jumps in them until we got to a sheer drop that we had walked to ourselves. The driver had told us to go down one hill and we'll find another at the bottom, but as is the nature of dunes, the hills had rolled and split. There was a shallow one with a lot of sand board marks but our boards had come out above a dune that had an actual lip and then a sheer drop. The peruvians had already tipped eachother the 180 degrees over the lip. 'Are you sure that this is the right drop Hen, there are board marks over there,' I was saying as my legs were kicking in the air and Henry was tipping me vertically over the lip, 'just control it with your legs...' I'm sure I heard him shout...

Sadly Henry was the last one and had to throw himself over the lip of the dune. . By the time he got to the bottom the board was a good few feet in front of him, arms outstretched clinging to it to carry him down. I thought he was trying a new technique or something. It wasn't until he joined the group and said, 'the board sort of started without me' that his stunt made sense. He had successfully thrown his board over the top but forgotton to follow suit. I think I've just worked out why his back's playing up now...

Posted by HenryKat 08:35 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

Birds Flying High

sunny

We left yesterday to do a lazy tour of Colca Canyon (you can walk it but we decided to bus it and slept through 1 of 2 optional walks). Colca Canyon holds the record for being the deepest canyon in the world, that makes it even more impressive than the Grand Canyon. As it had been compared to the Grand Canyon I expected it to be red. It wasnt. Come to think of it, Im not even sure that the Grand Canyon is red, I might be thinking of Ayres Rock in Australia, which is sort of the opposite to a canyon. It was however very impressive, a huge crack in the earth with clouds rising out of it and a fierce river that was so far down it looked like a muddy thread. We had to wake up at 5am to make it to the Cruz del Condors in time to see the birds flying. We saw 6 up close and 9 in the distance. Condors are huge vulture like birds with a wings span of anything up to 3 meters. The males have little red crests on their heads, and they have huge black feathers. We got some excellent photos as they swooped into the canyon. They are so heavy they have an unsteady flight as they balance on the thermal streams. To the Incas condors represent Hanag Pacha or the upper world. It is also believed that when you die it is the condors that takes your spirit to heaven. These birds do have a majesty to them even though they are not the prettiest creatures Ive ever seen. We are heading to Ica tonight and then on to the oasis which is Huacachina to do some sand boarding. Hopefully all our limbs will stay in tact before we fly home.

Posted by HenryKat 14:03 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

Aint No mountain High Enough

As we near our final week its time to bring you all up to speed on the last leg of our journey (although I hasten to add this is NOT our last blog post). Henry survived biking down the worlds most dangerous road in La Paz and I survived my day at the spa (not knowing quite whether or not its customary to take your clothes off can be quite tricky.) We moved on to Copacabana and the famous Lake titicaca. The magnitude of this lake creates its beauty and Copacabana is a cute, hippy town with many trips to the Isla del sol leaving from the banks. We took an afternoon trip which included a yomp up some Inka steps, this knocked the breath right out of me (shouldve given us some warning for the Inca trail but more on that later). From Copacabana we crossed the border into Peru and into Puno. Its a shame this is the first city of Peru that we saw because it is horrible, its smelly and run down and short of the trips to the reed islands theres really no attractions here. We took an afternoon trip to see how the Quechua people still llive on floating reed islands in the middle of the lake. They demonstrated how to build an island and showed us round their houses. Lots of diehard travellers thinks this is very touristy these days but I enjoyed it, its a very different way of living and is definitely bringing more money to the communities (some seemed to have sky tv?!). From Puno we moved on to Cusco, a beautiful city based around the Plaza del Armas where there is a big catherdral that looks stunning at night. We were spoilt with restaurants and shopping in San Blas, Cusco, lots of narrow cobbled streets with all clothes, jewllery and art hanging out of every window. We made a list of things to buy once we had completed the Inca trail.

An Honest Account of the Inca trail from the Perspective of a Not -so - reasonably - fit Individual

We met our group and guide (GAP adventures) for the Inca trail at a 3 star hotel, this was off to a good start nicer ccomodation than wed been able to afford to date but then we had shelled out a lot for this tour. The group seemed good, a honeymooning irish couple, another pair from Cambridge, some kiwis and a bunch of 18yr old lads oh and a 69yr old canadian. I figured my fitness level should be somewhere in the middle of the group. The first day was a sightseeing day around Ollantaytambo, we went into houses with lots of guinea pigs in them and saw some inca ruins (the steps nearly killed me bu i didnt think much of it). The second day we started the Inca trail proper, no more hotels just trekking and camping. Our guide Roger was a real character and had told us to take everything very slowly because of the altittude. I thought there should be a few of us plodding along at the back. The first day we walked around 11km over undulating paths, lovely scenery, we did some Inca rituals along the way but the group was like lightening and, it must have been the altitude, or my tiny legs but by the end of the first day I was in tears. You see the first day is meant to be the easy day and Roger had already had to drug me up the only hill there was. (Theres a plant that grows by the sides of the paths and when you rub it between your fingers it releases a pungent menthol like smell, if you inhale this is opens your lungs and helps with the altitude.) But the 2nd day is known for being the killer, you have to scale dead womans pass, thats 6 hours pure uphill and Im already at the back of the group trying to keep up. But Roger reassured me, we would take it slowly and he would be with me the whole way, him and his potions. The second day it turns out was gruelling but so rewarding. The scenery is stunning again and once you get over the psychological hurdle that you are not as fit as a 69 yr old nor the 3 year old peruvians who are wandering past you, its a really rewarding day. About an Hour and a half in i started with stomach cramps typical of altitude issues and Roger produced some smelling salts. Jeeez they were strong , Im not sure i had many hairs left in my nose but it got me another hour up the hill. I also had brightly coloured electrolyte drinks and coca sweets. So a mixture of tartrazine, coca, and sheer will power (along with an excellent guide and good company) saw me and Henry toddle over the top of dead womans pass at 4215masl. We were walking with Glen and Renee, the kiwis, at this point and they did a great job at keeping our spirits up. Me and Henry also helped each other, Henry started to feel it just before we reached the top, by that time i was high on all sorts ("iz all natural Kattie") and could reciprocate his earlier encouragement. 2 hours later and we were at camp.

Here is a good place to mention the porters, youngest 21, oldest 59. In our group. On the trail the oldest was 79. The record time to do the whole trail is held by a porter , he did it in 3 hours 45 minutes. The trail should take 4 days. The porters carry all the tents and food (including an oven) on their backs, and RUN past you on the trail. GAP limits the packs to 35kgs but some companies still carry up to 80kgs per person. By the time we reach camp our tent is set up with our sleeping bags and clothes etc inside, there is a bowl of hot water and soap for a quick wash and a mess tent erected for afternoon tea. The food was out of this world considering we were half way up a mountian. On the third day they baked a cake, fully iced, saying "Happy Moon", this was for John and Caroline who were on honeymoon. They all did a steller job we were so well fed. Oh we were woken up with a cup of tea in our tent too, the little bits of luxury made all the difference.

The third day was Dickensian in the sense that it was the best of times, it was the worst of times. In the morning we had another climb to do and today we were walking all day, 17 km, including the dreaded 3000 steps. In the morning it rained and rained and me and Henry slowly got further and further behind until even Roger couldnt wait with us and had to march on to find the rest of the group. (2nd cry came here). The floor was so slippy and i kept falling so i had to go so slowly. The pink poncho i had bought that looked fetching in sprinkles of rain simply didnt hold out in this torrential down pour and we were both soaking and cold and miserable. By the time we reached the lunch stop I was cold to the bone and really pissed off. I shared a hot bowl of water for my feet with Caroline and that made things a bit better and the sun slowly came out. In the afternoon we had the most glorious walk with Roger, the Austrailans, Megan and Sally and Renee and Glen. Roger loves orchids and we found at least 8 different types growing in the wild. We even decided to take the long way home, where we walked into this huge clearing across an Inca site, WinayWayna and a huge, double rainbow was arching across the sky. We did some good photos and were back in time for tea. It was a brilliant afternoon.

On the fourth day we woke at 3.45 to reach the sun gate in time for sunrise. By the time we got there (at times on our hands and knees due to the steepness) I was so exhausted I didnt want to walk anymore. There was no sun just a llama eating grass. Still half an hour to Macchu Piccu. By this point I was past caring about the site I just wanted to go home. When we got to Machu Piccu it was raining and cloudy but the clouds sort of hang and give it a really ehtereal feel which i liked. I was so tired I felt physically sick and although Roger gave a good tour I was finding it hard going down any steps because my legs felt like they were made of steel fibres. As the morning wore on and we were given time to explore as a group, my tiredness lifted and I realised that hard though it had been we had made it to this beautiful ancient site. We explored the nooks and crannies and got some good photos and felt very pleased with ourselves for getting there. It was a once in a lifetime experience and once is enough for me!

We moved on from Cusco to Arequipa where as many of you know we were incredibly ill, it has taken us a week to get over some dodgy calamari. But finally tommorrow we are going to colca canyon to see the condors fly!

Posted by HenryKat 17:06 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

Thats me in Bolivia, finding my religion

overcast

Even worse than waking up in the middle of night to find your Thai bus driver hurtling down the wrong side of a steep mountain road, is teetering on the edge of a cliff track filled with tumbled rocks in a beaten up truck half way between Uyuni and Potosi. Whover coined the catch phrase for the Oblivion ride at Alton towers must have ridden this road first for inspiration. It was here that I renewed my faith in Catholism, partly out of a ´when in Rome´ stance and partly out of a desperate hope that a couple of Hail Marys and few Glory-bes may save our battered carriage from careering off the edge and deliver us, Lord, to Sucre. But I´m skipping ahead , first of all we had to cross the Salt flats, and that, I feel, in itself may have had a little divine intervention.

We took a jeep, a driver and cook over 1000kms across desert, flood plains, salt flats and dirt road, up to 5000masl and back down. The first and 3rd day were ´getting there´ days and this meant we travelled for 12 hours stopping now and again for a lagoon or a specific part of a desert and taking photos of Llamaas or Vincunas. The Llamas all have decorations on to denote which family they belong to - this is often necklaces and earrings - which i think they may have been a little embarassed about. The hostels we stayed at were the most basic we´ve stayed in so far, the walls made of mud and stone and the beds made of concrete. There was sometimes electricity and you mostly had to wade through water to get to the loos. On the second night there was only one toilet that had a door, the other had a door frame but no glass pane in it. However this didnt stop one group´s tour guide merrily choosing this loo in which to have his morning sit down whilst I was trying to brush my teeth. The sink was directly in front of the loo and i caught his eye in the mirror. What are you meant to do in a situation like that? Ask him how its going? As I am my Father´s daughter I simply nodded at him, finished brushing my teeth and then collapsed in fit of giggles when I got back into the bedroom.

On the second day we saw some active geysers at 5000masl, despite a sign saying ´go no further´our guide took us right to the edge of the holes. It was like looking into a big bowl of Ready Brek fresh from the pan. Some were so fiesty they spat on our clothes. There were smaller ones popping up and fizzing all over the place. My guardian Angel was once more at work and i made it safely back to the jeep but i wonder how many groups have had close calls with those steaming crators.

On the last day we reached the Salar de Uyuni which is a salt flat 1100km squared. It was misty and bleak when we arrived and we ate a breakfast of pancakes in the salt hotel (made entirely of salt bricks). By the time we finished breakfast the sun had burned the fog away and there was a bright blue sky. The salt flats had a film of water on them, it being rainy season and all. This meant that you could get photos with a perfect reflection in them. We spent two hours running and jumpng and cartwheeling and twirling and balancing to get the most creative shots. Did i say we? I obviously meant just me. Then our guide got creative and played around with depth percetion, he got a good shot of me and Henry balancing on top of a coke bottle. The salt flats were just beautiful, vast and immaculately white, it made me briefly understand why some people might question if the world is truly round. But the tour was a challenging one, 12 hours a day of travelling at altitude in a jeep with 6 people is tough... I´m just glad i´m not 6 foot.

We travelled from Uyuni to Sucre, this is a UNESCO heritage site, not unlike Luang Prabang in Laos. The buildings are majestic and white washed. Yet only 5 minutes from the scentre the same rubble and litter that surrounds most of Bolivas´ towns persists. It feels somehow fake to be sipping cappucino and fine wines in this elegant city whilst there is such poverty on the doorstep. We went to see some dinosaur footprints that had been found by a cement company whilst quarrying for material. It was weird to see traces of herds of the different classes of dinosaurs. The walls of the quarry where they are visible are slowly diminishing as the company continues to dig up the material in and aound the fossiled prints...

An overnight bus took us to La Paz, a city with a reputation for petty crime and breath taking altitude. What the lonely planet doesnt mention is that it has a rough charm about it, lots of stalls, nice cafes and surprisingly clean. Our hostel has murals on the walls and has a friendly vibe. I spent the day having a manicure, pedicure, massage and facial whilst Henry hurtled himself downhill on a bike down the World´s Most Dangerous Road. Or was I not meant to say that he was doing that...

Posted by HenryKat 17:09 Archived in Bolivia Comments (1)

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