Friday, 20 November 2009

Thank You and Good Night

So that’s it then.

3 continents, 8 countries and 164 days later and our travels are finished, having literally gone around the world.

All that remains is to thank everyone we’ve met and all those people who have been kind to us on our trip. Thank you to all the new friends we’ve made and good luck in your travels, present and future. Thank you also to everyone who has followed my blog – I’ll you both a beer..

My final and most important thank you goes to Dan, a better travelling companion a man could not wish for. Thanks mate.

Where next?


Japan then, first time in the northern hemisphere for 5 months, first time in a non English speaking country for 3 months and the first time we’ve spent £20 on a dorm room - ever.

More importantly, the final stop on our travels.

We kicked off with a few days in Tokyo, from where I wrote my last entry, before heading off round the country on a 14 day rail pass. Said rail pass cost us the princely sum of £350, compared to our 6 week coach pass in Oz which cost £200. At first glance a bit pricey but this does get you access to all but the fastest of Shinkansen “bullet” trains, (there is a class of faster train but this travels at the speed of light and costs more than a small car) also crucially, you are not subjected to horror of “She’s the Man” on DVD.

Alarmingly the pass itself is a small piece of silver card, emblazoned with the warning that the pass will not be re-issued if lost and therefore inspiring hourly checks that the damn thing has not fallen out of your bag, been left on a train and or spontaneously combusted.

Key stops over the two weeks were:

- Kyoto. Kyoto is the old capital of Japan and as such is blessed with a myriad of shrines and other historical sites. The shrines are striking places, impressive for their tranquillity as much as their architecture. At times quite humbling. It was also nice to be back in a country with a history that goes back more than a couple of hundred years and was not at any point conquered by the British!

Kyoto was also the first place that it became apparent that we were unusual (insert joke here ) by being backpackers, finding ourselves as the only western faces in our hostel. Luckily our fellow guest took us out for “Tempura” (deep fried something) making us honorary Japanese for the night.

- Nara. Notable for more shrines, the world’s largest wooden building and Dan kissing a deer.

- Hiroshima. Hugely evocative and not an easy place to sum up. However the modern day city was a vibrant, positive and fun place. From Hiroshima, we also spent a day on Miyajima island, where we saw a floating shrine (above) and inexplicably trekked up another mountain.

- Takayama. After all the big cities we headed into the countryside for a bit of R&R and a little place called Takayama. Our time there was relaxed, staying in a Buddhist temple, wandering about the town and playing chess in the park. All very Zen.

- Nagano. Notable as the gateway to the ‘Japan Alps’ and also because we intended to stay here but actually didn’t…

After 12 hours of trains we arrived in Nagano, where we thought we had booked a hostel. However on showing some locals the address, we were greeted by bemused looks and referred to the police. After a chat with a police officer , I say ‘chat’ - his English was as good as my Japanese, so more accurately “after jabbing my finger repeatedly at the address”, we established that our hostel was in “Nagano Prefecture” not “Nagano City”, with our actual destination requiring another hour on the train.

To add insult to injury having travelled 12 hours (13 with extra one) to trek in the mountains, it rained the next day, resulting in a somewhat less spectacular amble around the local shopping centre.

With that our 14 days were up and we headed back to Tokyo for the final few days of our travels. We spent these visiting a couple of museums, going up some tall buildings, attending the Tokyo Dance Music Festival*, souvenir shopping, eating raw fish and doing Karaoke. Only sumo wrestling eluded us in the generic Japanese activities stakes.

And that was that, we packed our bags for the final time and caught our flight back to blighty..


*This was essentially a bloke in a car park with some big speakers. As such, rather grand to term this a ‘festival’.

Monday, 2 November 2009

Cairns to Tokyo

We continued on our way up the east coast with a trip to Magnetic Island, where we were booked in to take our PADI Open Water diving course. Unfortunately our hostel had other ideas, neglecting to reserve us a place on the course. After a few choice words from us and several hasty phone calls from them, we found ourselves booked on an alternative course and upgraded to a $100 a night sea view lodge. Alls well that ends well.

The course itself was pretty dull stuff, with time split between the classroom, swimming pool and ocean. Obviously your time in the ocean - the “diving” part of the diving course - is supposed to be what all the fuss is about. Unfortunately, due to high winds stirring up the sea bed (check out the diving knowledge..), the visibility was terrible and made the experience akin to diving in a muddy puddle. Over 3 days and 4 dives I saw 1 fish and even that was brown. Disappointing.

Putting this behind us, we duly did our homework and passed our final “exam”, (unsure if anything multiple choice should really be termed an exam) thus graduating from scuba school and walking out as qualified “Open Water Divers”. This essentially means we can go diving on our own (like proper grown ups) and further, tell you how much nitrogen we have in our blood when we come back. Exciting stuff.

Diving certificates in hand we left Magnetic and caught our final greyhound to Cairns. We arrived in Cairns in the evening and booked ourselves on a dive on the Great Barrier Reef for the following day...

I found much of Australia to be a bit average, not bad, just nothing special. The Reef was the exception to this. Everyone’s seen pictures of the Reef and it was just like I imagined it to be, with life and colour everywhere. We saw countless fish of every shape and size and even a reef shark (above, not my picture!). Add in the freedom and excitement of diving on your own for the first time and scuba on the reef was easily my highlight of Australia. Genuinely something “special”.

The next day we flew to Tokyo to begin the final leg of our trip. A few days round Tokyo (lots of neon, subway trains and raw fish) later and we are up to date.

We start 14 days of rail travel tomorrow before popping back to Tokyo for out flight home. Suddenly going very quickly...


- No space at the Inn – upon turning up at our hostel in Tokyo: “Sorry sir the 8-bed dorm beds you reserved are fully booked...therefore we’ve put you in two en-suite single rooms. We hope this is ok?”.

Ok? Yes. Yes it is.

- Easy exam – the diving exam is not the most difficult in the world, for example:

Question 11 - You see a large and potentially dangerous marine animal. You should:

a) AGREESIVELY swim towards the animal, preferably shaking your fists

b) REMOVE your BREATHING APPERATUS and play dead on the ocean floor

c) STAB your buddy, thereby drawing attention away from yourself

d) Calmly and slowly swim away from the animal

I’m paraphrasing a little, but you get the idea.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Australia - Brisbane to the Whitsundays

Over the last week or so we have covered the same distance as we managed over the previous four, covering around a third of the east coast from Bryon Bay to the Whitsundays.

After the pleasant malaise that was Byron bay, we embarked upon a series of tours and coach journeys up the coast, taking in Brisbane, Fraser Island and the Whitsunday islands. As we spent so much time in Bryon, we had to cram this into a relatively short space of time, leading to a hectic few days. I’m pleased to report that having finished the tours we have a bit of down time, letting me write this by the pool before we head off again tomorrow. Difficult business this travelling lark...


- Brisbane is typical city stuff, nice enough with some interesting buildings, art galleries etc but nothing much to write home about. It does have an artificial beach, being inland and Aussies being unable to operate without their daily dose of sand. An artificial beach in Leicester would be quite something; however spending the past four weeks on and off Bondi et al removed much of the novelty value.

Fraser Island

- Along with the Whitsundays, Fraser Island seems to be “the” travellers thing to do on the east coast. Fraser is the world’s largest sand island and is inhabited by more dingos than people. The key selling point about Fraser is your transport, which takes the form of “self drive” 4*4’s. Practically, this translates to you being put in a big land rover with 8 other people, food and camping gear and driving yourself around the island for 3 days. No guide, no driver, just a tank of fuel, a shed load of pasta, 9 backpackers and a map.
The island itself is covered in forest, freshwater lakes and is all very pretty, if not quite as stunning as we’d been led to believe. That said, see the picture of the resident shipwreck above and driving a 4*4 at 80kph down a beach, while dodging landing aircraft is not to be missed. Great fun.


- A quick 13 hour night bus up the coast gets you from Fraser to a place called Airlie beach, from where you visit the Whitsunday islands. The Whitsundays are a group of 74 islands dotted around the southern reaches of the Great Barrier Reef. You get to the islands themselves by jumping on board a sailing ship with 20 other backpackers and sailing around for 3 days.
During this time your days are spent swimming, snorkelling and generally sailing around and your nights are spent on deck with a drink or two - beer if you are lucky, “goon” if not, more on this below.
Highlights of the trip were visiting Whitehaven beach, which is apparently one of the 3 best beaches on the planet and snorkelling on the reef. You can’t really go snorkelling on the Great Barrier Reef and not have it as a highlight..

That pretty much brings me up to date. We have another week or so in Oz during which we are taking our Open Water diving course, before finishing our Australian travels in Cairns. From Cairns we fly to Tokyo and from Tokyo home.
One month to go..


- A Dingo ate my baby – Dingos are wild dogs and roam freely around Frasier. One night, having got lost in the sand dunes we were circled by a dingo on the beach. This was a bit tense (dingos have been known to take toddlers) but passed without incident. In contrast two welsh chaps we were travelling with had a similar experience and legged it down the beach. No wonder they are only a principality..

- Fraser killed my camera – As I said Fraser is a giant sand island. As such sand gets everywhere, including zoom lenses on cameras. This has resulted in the death of my trusty Canon. After camera number one was stolen in Bolivia this leaves me facing up to buying camera number three. Not ideal.

- Sleeping arrangements – Over the past week I have shared a three man tent with a German couple and a double bed with Dan. Note that these are not confessions, but nonetheless also fall into the “Not Ideal” category.

- Goon – Goon is budget boxed “wine”, but with a twist. It s inexplicably cheap, that is until you read the box, which informs you that it contains fish and eggs. Additionally it steadfastly refuses to refer to itself as “wine”, presumably failing to meet the applicable trading standards definition. Nice.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Byron Bay

As I write this, its 10 days after we arrived in Byron and we’ve only just left. Its a small surf town with the accompanying laid back attitude and just kind of sucked us in. I’ll try to write about what we did in Bryon but if you are busy the words “beach” and “beer” sum it up reasonably well. That said we weren’t completely lazy, with highlights including:

- Surf School. We had a go at taking surf lessons with surprising success, both managing to stand up after an hour or so. I’m not sure you’d really call it “surfing”, as we were standing on boards the size of small beds, but not bad for novices.

- Sorting our lives out. 2 weeks into Australia and we still didn’t know what we were going to do. A long winded trawl round some travel agents later and we had spent the best part of $900 on trips to Fraser Island, the Wittsundays and a scuba diving course. Sorted.

- Nimbin. Nimbin is a tiny little place in the rainforest surrounding Byron and is famous for its “alternative” lifestyle. Without saying too much, the place is populated almost entirely by hippies and the bus which takes you there is called “The Happy Coach”.
Mum and Dad – probably best if you don’t Google Nimbin.

- Old Friends. Our friend Pauline came down to see us in Byron, cue much talk of Fiji and questionable boxes of wine. Always a pleasure to see a friendly face.

- Have I mentioned the beach?

I feel like I’m starting to get into the swing of Australia now. Byron was very chilled and allowed us to sort out the rest of our time in Oz. I’m a lot more relaxed and have things to look forward too rather than aimlessly drifting. It’s good to have structure sometimes - old habits die hard...


- Why pay more? We arrived in Byron late to find our keys left under the front door mat. Therefore if you don’t have any money for accommodation in Byron Bay, simply swing by the YHA around 10pm and pick up a key from under the mat. Easy.

Australia - Sydney to Byron Bay

Three and a half months gone and we have arrived in Australia, our penultimate destination.

Australia is the first country about which neither of us was massively excited. South America was always going to be an adventure, New Zealand was always going to be beautiful and Fiji was always going to be Fiji. Australia was basically on our list because it was next to these places and having made the effort to reach the other side of the world, thought we’d better pop over and cross it off the list.

As such we flew into Syndey around three weeks ago. We didn’t do a great deal for a couple of days, largely due still being on “Fiji Time”.

We got our act together with a visit to the Opera House (less impressive than I thought it would be) and the harbour bridge (more impressive than I thought it would be). From there we followed up with trips to Bondi Beach, which is nice enough but not worthy of the hype, and Manly, a small suburb of Sydney a ferry ride across the harbour. Manly was great, probably the best beach in Syndey and the ferry back at sunset was up there with the best of the 300 sunset photos I’ve taken.

Other highlights included a trip to the contemporary art museum and being taken for a $2 steak by a group of Norwegians we met in Fiji.

After a few days in Sydney we’d had enough of the city, so new Greyhound (coach) ticket in hand we set off for the “Blue Mountains” – by train. The Blue Mountains are literally that, apparently caused by the forest giving off eucalyptus vapour which gives everything a blueish hue. Nice enough place but having spent 2 months up and down the Andes and a month in New Zealand we have seen a few mountains.

We then nipped back to Sydney to catch our coach north. Should have been pretty mundane but we awoke at 6am to find the whole city bright orange, caused by a dust storm blowing from the west. It turned out that this was a very rare event and so a nice little bonus for us. Description can’t really do it justice so take a look at the harbour bridge (above) to give you an idea. I’ll also put my own photos of it on Facebook, albeit they are somewhat less impressive!

From Syndey we headed up the coast to Newcastle. Very uneventful place, the highlights of which were the hostel’s “events organiser” (bloke who takes you to a pub if you fancy it) who had “PSYCHOTIC” tattooed across his back and a trip to a wildlife reserve where we had our first sightings of wombats, koalas and Kangaroos.

Bored of Newcastle we jumped back on the Greyhound for the 12 hour ride to Byron Bay...


- Wombats - Wombats are brilliant. End of.

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Bula Fiji!

Fiji is exactly what you imagine it to be, sunshine (mostly), white sandy beaches and the friendliest people we have met so far.

We had 2 weeks in Fiji, which we divided into 5 nights on the islands, 6 nights on the “Feejee Experience” and our remaining days on the main island of Viti Levu.

Around 330 islands make up Fiji, of which we saw a grand total of 3. The smaller islands are true picture postcard places (see Dan in the photo above), with the majority of your time spent on a beach wondering exactly how you are going to go back to accountancy.

The “Feejee experience” is a bus tour around the main island and was a bit of a revelation, being full of interesting activities, lovely people and not being the quasi 18-30 holiday we expected. Highlights included visits to a school and a village, sandboarding and jungle trekking, as well as the obligatory trips to the beach. Highly recommended.

The final word on Fiji however has to go to our hostel in Nadi, the “Drift In”. The Drift is basically a family house, with a small dorm and a couple of private rooms bolted on, and was probably my personal highlight of Fiji. All guests are made to feel part of the family, with your breakfast cooked for you when you get up and your dinner on the table when you get home at night. During the evenings everybody sits round and drinks Kava (traditional Fiji drink - and a mild narcotic), has a chat and maybe even watches a cheeky episode of prison break with the neighbours who have turned up to say hello. On our final day one of the more eccentric neighbours, the wonderful Sarah – self titled “Big Moma”, turned up with her mini bus and drove us all (family and guests alike) to the beach for the day, where she and the family cooked us a barbeque while we messed about in the sea. Simply the most kind and generous people we have met on our travels.

We were made to feel welcome by everyone we met in Fiji and I’m sad to be leaving so soon. If the Australian people are half as warm Oz will be a pleasure, if not I’ll remind them about the cricket..

Vinaka Fiji.


- Deed Pole - Our “family” at Drift gave us Fijian names on our arrival. I was christened (phonetically) “Chone-ay” while Dan was the somewhat more embarrassing “Daniella”

- Fiji Time – Fiji runs on “Fiji time”. Nothing is ever rushed or worried about in Fiji.

When are we leaving for the beach? 10 o’clock - Fiji time. This means sometime before lunch, unless you’re tied then we can go in the afternoon, unless you have something to do then we can go tomorrow. Brilliant.