Fortunately we managed to take Mr. Hemmingway’s advice on this one, ahhhhhhhhh, and even had a couple of mojitos in one of his favourite drinking establishments in Havana, Cuba way back in June last year, when we were less than a month into our journey. The following is a summary of our whole trip from start to finish, so it’s probably going to be a bit of a long one, grab yourself a brew or a beer and settle in. While your reading you can click the links in bold type to read about that particular story in more detail.
“Most travel is best of all in the anticipation or the remembering; the reality has more to do with losing your luggage.” Regina Nadelson
We did lose our luggage once, well the Brasilian airline TAM lost it, but we managed to get it back 24 hours later. Panic over! Well, we should begin remembering our journey with the surprisingly delightful Mexico City, where we planned to stay 3 days, and ended up staying 5 or 6. Our trip was all very surreal during these first few days and weeks, it didn’t really feel like we had eight and a half months in front of us, we couldn’t quite believe it was happening. In Guadalajara we took a visit to a Tequila factory, which would have been an unforgettable experience if we hadn’t sampled so much product.
Our time in Mexico coincided with the 2006 World Cup, so movement within the country had to coincide with non-England playing days. Some of our time was spent between holiday resorts like Puerto Vallata, Acapulco, Cancun, Playa del Carmen, and Tulum, although we did spend more time in the not so touristy areas of San Cristobal, Merida, Palenque, Puerto Escondidio and Isla Mujheres where we went snorkelling with a Whale-Shark, which is up there with the best moments of our trip.
“All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveller is unaware.” Martin Burber
This was certainly true for us on more than one occasion as you probably know, but our first “off route” destination turned out to be Havana, Cuba. We heard on the travelling grapevine that flights to Havana weren’t all that expensive with Cubana Airways, it wasn’t until we got on board that we realised why Cubana’s 1956 second-hand Russian reject planes were so cheap! We spent a great week in Cuba, we also spent a fortune! It’s not a backpacker budget destination with that duel currency thing Fidel’s got going on.
After Cuba it was back to Mexico on one of those dodgy planes again, and then time to head south into Central America first destination the small nation of Belize. Our time in Belize was relaxing and the laid back Caribbean vibe was easy to settle into. I went diving in “The Blue Hole” and we did a bit of island hopping on our way down the coast. It was Belize where we bumped into Phill and Sue again, after meeting them during the England Vs Trinidad & Tobago match back in Mexico. For the next 4 weeks we travelled as a foursome through the next few countries in Central America.
Leaving Belize is a story none of us will forget in a hurry. After working out our next move the four of us decided that the best way to get to Honduras would be to take the “short” 2 hour boat ride from Placencia in Belize to Puerto Cortez in Honduras. Unfortunately the trip did not go as expected. Only 2 out of 3 engines were working and 8 hours later we were still on an overloaded boat with half the 65 passengers barfing over the side. To make matters worse, 3 miles from shore we ran out of gas, and drifted for another hour before being towed in by a passing fishing boat.
After the boat from hell, our onward plans were halted and we had to spend the night in electricity free Omoa, and I don’t mean free as in, we didn’t have to pay, I mean the whole town was out of electricity you couldn’t see your hand in front of your face which made finding accommodation even harder! It wasn’t helped by the fact that whilst looking we bumped into a huge Taranchula spider taking an evening stroll. Phill nearly jumped out of his skin as the little swine darted between his legs and was racing down the darkened street quicker than he could take a photo!
Still in Honduras we made our way to the famous Bay Islands, and the island of Utila, where Dolly, Phill and Sue learned to dive and I did my Advanced Open Water. We spent nearly two weeks on the island and then headed for the rest of Honduras in an “off-the-beaten-track” sort of way through the delightful of somewhat cut-off from the world, village of La Union, where Phill and I nearly lost Dolly and Sue over a game of football, fortunately England prevailed in the colour of Tangerine and it was on to Nicaragua.
Once we’d arrived in Nicaragua it was straight to the colonial lakeside town of Granada we Dolly and I ended up staying for a fortnight. It was a good place for cheap accommodation, excellent restaurants at prices that were literally cheaper than chips. This was also the town where we experienced a Nicaraguan Bull run, which turned out to be an amusing afternoon chasing bulls through the streets and watching young men tossed around like rag dolls by angry bulls who’d rather have been sat by the lake in the hazy sunshine thanks very much. After a quick canopy tour half way up the local volcano it was time to say goodbye as Granada was to be our final destination with Phill and Sue after 4 weeks together.
“I have found out that there ain’t no surer way to find out whether you like people or hate them than to travel with them.” Mark Twain.
Needless to say, we gave both Phill and Sue fake email addresses and thankfully we’ve never heard from them since. I’m joking of course, we’ve all become good friends and are scheduled in for a beer when we all get back to Blighty.
After Nicaragua Dolly and I continued into Costa Rica for 2 weeks, we spent a few days in Tamerindo on the Pacific coast before heading inland and to the Arenal Volcano, one of the most active in the world. The views were amazing especially at night when you could see the red lava rocks rolling down the side. A quick stop in San Jose then saw us on the Atlantic/Caribbean side where we had a little time to recharge our batteries before we arrived at our final country in Central America.
You can’t say Panama without mentioning the world famous Canal, we got there of course, but not before we checked out one of Panamas most stunning coastal towns, Bocas Del Toro. Bocas was a truly beautiful place with stunning beaches on the many islands. We shared our time here with Chris & Aja (who we met up with in 7 countries!) and Mark and Kim, who were doing the exact route as us, but in reverse. A great time to exchange notes! So of course on to Panama City, our final destination in Central America and a quick peek at the Panama Canal ahead of our 3 hour flight to South America.
It was an amazing sight to land in Quito, Ecuador, seeing this vast andean city between the mountains sends shivers up my spine as I type this! We spent just over a week in and around Quito which is situated a few miles south of the Equator. Mitad Del Mundo, (Middle of the World) is a small town right on the Equator and we paid it a visit to take part in some Equatorial Experiments. We headed south to Riobamba which is the home of Ecuador highest peak, Mount Chimborazo. We decided to join a bike tour down the mountain, definitely the most strenuous thing we had done thus far, discounting lying on a beach in Panama for hours and hours! A very tiring day. Leaving Riobamba was one of the most unique events of our entire trip as we boarded a train for the first and only time in eight months. Not only that, but we sat on the roof for over 5 hours, down a switchback railway known as the Devil’s Nose.
Vilcabamba was our final destination in Ecuador and one of our favourites. Since leaving Riobamba on the train we had stopped in couple of towns but moved on quickly as there wasn’t much going on in both Cuenca and Loja. Vilcabamba was a different story though, it was up in the mountains with fantastic scenery, surrounded by lush green forests snaked by rivers and valleys, very beautiful. To take advantage of this Dolly and I stayed high up from the town in a fantastic hotel with great food (Ecuador’s not so hot on food normally). To get a better view we decided to go higher even still and jumped on a couple of horses and rode off into the sunset, well not quite, but i did feel the more like a cowboy than I ever have in my life. Yeeha!
Peru held great anticipation for us as it was the home of Machu Picchu and the famous Inca Trail, that we had booked long before we arrived in Peru. We took three boring days in northern Peru before we got onto the gringo trail just after leaving the capital Lima. Dolly liked Lima, simply because we found a Starbucks. Our first stop on the trail was Ica, and the desert oasis of Huacachina. We met our Polish friends Jack and Agnus here and we’d end up bumping into them for the next few months. Huacachina offered sand, and lots of it, so there was plenty of opportunity for sandboarding and dune buggy rides.
Next stop the Nazca lines where we took a “pleasure” flight with Jack and Agnus. As it turned out I didn’t take much pleasure out of the flight hence the title of the story Chunder Flight INCA2006! After Nazca it was straight through to Arequipa, then to Puno for a look at Lake Titikaka.
After another overnight bus journey (we were getting used to them by now!) we arrived in Cusco, where we would begin our Inca Trail, it’s what we’d been looking forward to for quite a while. We made sure we arrived early by 3 or 4 days so we had a bit of time to adjust to the altitude and then we were off, on our 4 day hike to Machu Picchu. As well as the story and usual photos we made a special 10 minute video of our Inca trail as well.
Bolivia was next on our list and yet another overnight bus from Cusco to La Paz, We spent a few days in La Paz, doing a bit of cheap shopping and sending a huge parcel back home (this one actually made it!). The salt flats are one of the biggest attractions and tours in Bolivia and we made our way down to Uyuni to join one. We had a fantastic few days on the salt flats, even staying in a hotel made entirely of salt! I had another toe stubbing incident just to rub salt into the wounds! Literally! The end of the three day tour saw us taking a dip in the hot springs and crossing the border into Chile.
Unfortunately time was starting to turn against us at this point as we wanted to get down to Ushuaia in Argentina by mid-November to see if we could grab a last minute cruise to Antarctica. It was a long shot, as we’d heard of people getting some last minute bargains, but you never know. So as it happened we only had a few days in Chile, a few of those were spent in San Pedro de Atacama, a few in Santiago, and of course 24 hours on a bus!
From Santiago we quickly moved on to Argentina, and took the very scenic day bus through the Andes and into Argentina’s wine region of Mendoza. Mendoza was the scene for our first and only robbery (to our knowledge!) we were lucky and things could have been much worse. As for the rest of our time in Mendoza it was fantastic! We were starting to get used to the excellent Argentinian steaks and red wine quite quickly! Moving on swiftly though, we overnight bussed it again this time to Bariloche. A stunningly picturesque ski village heading into Patagonia. We couldn’t believe how beautiful it was here, just taking bus 10 minutes outside town rewarded you with pine trees and wild flowers with rolling hills and perfect snowy mountains reflecting in mirror like lakes, just stunning.
As if we hadn’t done enough buses we really set ourselves up for some punishment next! We went from Bariloche to El Calafate, the long way round. Between the Friday evening at 7pm and Monday evening at 7pm, we spent a total of 6 hours in a bed, 12 hours in El Calafate, sight seeing the huge Moreno Glacier there, and the rest of the the time was spent on buses. Phew, we were happy to finally get to Ushuaia and give the buses a rest for a few weeks and celebrate Dolly’s 33rd Birthday!
“When preparing to travel, lay out all your clothes and all your money. Then take half the clothes and twice the money.” Susan Heller.
Thats good advice, but what if you go somewhere really cold? surely you need double the clothes? and by now we’ve already spent half the money! But that wouldn’t stop us from trying our hardest to get a cheapo last minute deal to Antarctica. We were lucky enough to secure passage aboard The Antarctic Dream for a 10 day expedition to the Antarctic Peninsula. Without doubt, these were the best 10 days of the trip. We spent the whole time with constant “Wow” expressions on our faces as icebergs floated past us and penguins came for an inquisitive look at our wellies. I wrote a story for everyday we were aboard The Antarctic Dream, and on day 6 something happened that made the experience even more special! We got engaged!
Once we got back to Ushuaia we rushed to the internet cafe to tell all our family and friends the fantastic news! A final night in Ushuaia and then we jumped on a plane and a few hours later we were in Buenos Aires.
Buenos Aires was a great place to hang out for a week, we went to the cinema a few times, we eat more steak and drank more wine! and we even went to the Dentists! Oh and lets not forget the football! We went to see River Plate which was an experience in itself! So much passion in South American football, and it was a meaningless last game of the season! Dolly enjoyed the football as well, although secretly I think she preferred the shopping that BsAs had to offer.
In all our time away we’ve seen lots and lots of waterfalls, but nothing could compare to what lay install for us at our final stop in Argentina. Puerto Iguazu was huge! and it was a baking 42 degrees the day we arrived there. We had an afternoon walking around the national park that houses the falls and then had to retire to a local bar to get out of the heat and cool off by sinking a few beers!
By now it was almost mid-December and Christmas and New Year were just around the corner. Dolly’s family were meeting us in Rio De Janeiro and we had to get a move on and head for Brazil and the Atlantic coast. On our way up to Rio lay a couple of pleasant towns and sun soaked islands that would keep us busy for a few days, so we stopped in Paraty and had a few days in Ilha Grande, which is home to Lopez Mendez beach, easily the most beautiful beach I’ve ever been to. We shared our time there with Tom and Emma and they too were impressed with Lopez Mendez, we decided to stay on the island for a few more days before we headed to Rio to meet the family.
Christmas and New Year in Rio was an absolute ball! After not seeing Dolly’s Mum, Sister and Stephen for 7 months the emotional reunion was quickly over and usual family banter ensued. In the 12 days we spent together in Rio we managed to squeeze all the main sights, Corcavardo for the Christ Statue, Sugar Loaf, and of course, some of the beaches! Late afternoon on Copacabana being a regular fixture. One of my personal favourite moments was when playing footy with Steve on the beach when about to pass the ball back to me a wave lapped up the beach, tackled him and put the ball clean through his legs. Everyone and everything has got that Brazilian football spirit over there, it must be in the water. (sorry!)
Our friend Nikki flew over the Rio to spend New Year on Copacabana beach with us all, and of course it was another one that none of us will forget in a hurry! after a lovely meal in our flat we popped downstairs with the rest of Brazil it seemed like and joined in with the dancing, drinking and partying and saw the new year in in style! Eventually our time was up in Rio, and Dolly and I continued on our journey with only 6 weeks left to go, while the family boarded their plane and headed for winter.
Dolly and I had to head north quickly, we only had 4 weeks to cover the rest of Brasil and Venezuelan mainland as we wanted at least 2 weeks to relax and have a holiday! (seriously!) before we arrived home. Ouro Preto was our next destination and old gold mining town 400km inland from Rio. We spent a few days here and visited the mine ahead of another overnight bus back tot he coast, all be it a little further up. It was nice to spend a few days in Porto Seguro and Trancoso which were kind of resort towns but pleasant all the same, if a little over priced for our measly backpacking budget!
We had worked out by now that TAM, a Brazilian airline company had some quite good deals, in fact some of them actually worked out cheaper than an overnight bus! how does that work? Anyway, it did work! So we booked a series of flights over the next week or so that would take us all the way to Belem in Brazil’s far north eastern coast. So we made a stop in Salvador for a few nights and then took back to back flights al the way to Belem.
Belem is on the estuary of the Amazon River, which was to be our only reason for coming to Belem. We had this crazy idea that we would get a boat up the Amazon for 5 days, sleeping in a hammock all the way, for a quarter of the cost of flying, but 137 times longer. Hmmmnnn, well, suffice to day, we certainly had the experience. and our POW Amazon video will show you what we mean! I’ve never done anything like it in my life before, and I’m quite sure I never will. After a journey like that we can certainly relate to this….
“Travel has no longer any charm for me. I have seen all the foreign countries I want to except heaven & hell and I have only a vague curiosity about one of those.” Mark Twain
By this time it was getting toward the end of January 2007, and with only a few weeks left and a hell of a week just gone we shelved plans for a jungle trek in the Amazonian city of Manaus. It was time for relaxation and we both yearned for the end of bus journeys and to never see another boat or hammock ever again. Unfortunately we had one more bus journey to do and it would take us from Brazil to Venezuela.
Now Venezuela holds many charming sights and activities, Angel Falls being the number 1, we would have loved to have gone there but we were so burnt out by this point it really wasn’t an option. So straight to the coast it was, and after getting off our last bus at 3am in the morning we had a 4 hour wait at the ferry port, for a boat! yes! another boat, fortunately no hammocks and only 2 hours to the holiday island of Margarita. After a few days we were settled here, and it wasn’t long before we were in a little routine and visiting the same spot of beach everyday. Heaven. We managed to put up with that same spot of beach for 8 days before we flew to our final final final destination.
A week on the Caribbean island of Grenada was just what two weary travellers like ourselves needed. We found a place to stay almost immediately, not for from the beach and with a pool as well, we really were on holiday then. Fill the ridge with a few Carib beers and a few bottles of local rum and we were all ready to celebrate my 30th Birthday on the Island of Spice.
“No one realizes how beautiful it is to travel until he comes home and rests his head on his old, familiar pillow.” Lin Yutang
Right now, we’re exhausted, but ready for home. Just writing that rather large summary of the last 8 months has taken another 50% out of me! but I know it’ll all be worth it too look back in a few weeks time, months or years and see what we did, and just how much we really appreciate what we’ve done.