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.