South America Part 8 (Road Blocks and Salt Flats)

If you don’t remember head back to Part 6 here.

The bus stopped again, the second unexpected stop, “not another puncture” I thought to myself. We all had to get off the bus again and the rumours were flying around, apparently there was a block in the road but confusion mounted when Jack and I scoured the road ahead we saw a lot of people on the side of the road but no block on the road. We regrouped with our bus companions and found our Columbian friends; they explained in more detail that the people on the side of the road were the roadblock there were some political protests in Uyuni and there aren’t letting buses in or out of the town. It 12 o clock at night we expected to be at our hostel at around 10. The conclusion was a group of people from the bus were going to walk through the desert at 5,000 metres high in the sky and very cold temperatures, at that moment in time Jack and I thought this would be a fantastic idea. How did you know the way? You might ask, and the answer is….we didn’t, we could see some lights in the distance and the plan was to head towards them. When we found the town we headed straight to our hostel. In the morning more about the roadblock situation was revealed to us and little did we know, it turns out we were being held hostage in Unuyi. The next few days turned out to be….eventful.

We were surrounded by rumours of what was going on the news seemed to be all coming from one guy….he was telling anyone who would listen about the unrest from the locals who had been promised land from the government only for it too be taken from them after moving to Unuyi, all very confusing. Despite my smiley demeanour and approachable personality sometimes I really don’t want to talk to people and today was one of them days I avoided hostel news man at all costs eventually hurrying out of the door of the hostel to explore Unuyi in the light of day.

My first impressions were that of complete contrast to all the other countries we’d visited, this was how I expected much of South America, run down old towns with people wearing traditional dress and no organisation, Unuyi was the first town that delivered on the somewhat stereotypical view of mine. Anyway Jack and I walked the streets with the aim of finding a day excursion to the salt flats, Unuyi being one of the salt flats excursion hubs so you must be thinking “Ross, why did it take all day to find a trip that almost every building in the town is there to provide” well read on……the same blockades that caused us to have an hour walk through a cold high altitude desert were also stopped excursions from leaving the town (we later find out that they were also stopping excursions coming back in) anyway we found a company that would do the trip and promised us that should we not get to the salt flats that we would not be charged, this seemed reasonable. We had some food whilst listening to some live music and went back to the hostel.

Internet coverage in this hostel was particularly bad so Jack and I were confined to sitting at the top of the stairs which as you can imagine was a bit of a thoroughfare, it was only a matter of time until the font of all local knowledge showed up, local news guy……it happened….he was with a Dutch guy and news guy shared the Dutch guys life story with us and then went on to tell us about all the horror stories he’d heard about people trying to leave the town, after all this nonsense eventually got to names and locations of where we live. We told him we were from Watford and a flicker of recognition appeared in his eye, Watford you say….how old are you? We knew people in common, not just in passing but this man had met my brother!! He was one of my brothers ex girlfriends Dad. Well it was all very surreal! The end, nah not really.

We’d planned an early night, but at around 10 o clock four Germans and a English girl entered our previously empty room much to our dismay. Germans, not known for their patience or reluctance to express disgust, were continuously moaning about what was admittedly a bad situation, but it was as if they felt personally aggrieved. Now wide awake Jack and I joined in telling them our story of how we made it to Unuyi….they wanted a drink we went out and found a building that was open and had a drink not sure we were even in a bar as right next to us there were two five year olds playing PlayStation. Jack got confused for a model by the Mancunian hippie, thankfully this was our last conversation with her BUT it was not the last time we spent with any of the Germans. I’m gonna profile them

Michael – talkative good at English and ironically aware of our hatred towards Germans

Ben – quiet good looking chap, but seemed like the kind of guy that would steal your bird if you went to the toilet

Michael 2 – most vocal about his disgust, had bed bugs earlier on his trip, was sure our hostel had bed bugs, quite moany in general.

I’ll try to keep their names as they are above for the remainder of the story…..

After two beers jack and I went to bed and were surprisingly not woken up by the Mancunian and Ben having sex the night before, we only knew because Ben was a dog and they were sharing a bed when we woke up.

Today was the day we were going to the Salt Flats….we hoped. Before we left we spoke to girl at our hostel who told us she couldn’t find a company to take her to a different city so she planned to walk, she wasn’t sure how far it was but she was just going to walk, we wished her luck then made our way to the meeting point. The 4×4 picked us up, it was me Jack and a Mild mannered Canadian man. The mild mannered Canadian man would soon change his tune in about 12 hours but we had a lot to experience before then….the first 15 minutes of our journey out of the town was plain sailing until we were set upon by about 5 young children who surrounded the car and then over the crest of a hill a rival 4×4 we tried driving off but the kids would hit the car with sticks and rocks. Our driver got out to speak to the rebels…..he got back in the car and turned around and followed the route back to the town….we were in convey with two other trips being shepparded back by the rival four by four but as soon as the rebel stopped following ……we went off route an experience that in other countries we may have paid for…..we were making good time through the desert but having to risk rougher and rougher terrain to avoid the protesters who patrolled roads and then eventually the inevitable happened one by one and in the space of ten metres each of the cars got stuck…..it was here that I saw the best and worse of human nature….

Here we are, all of us trying to get out the sand.

So, stuck in the desert there were three 4x4s all stuck in sand with apparently bald tyres. Everyone got out of their vehicles and assessed the situation, the verdict – it was bad. In some cases the tyres were half buried in the sand and any attempt to move was only making the situation worse. And it was here that I experienced the best of human nature….

The logic was to get the first car out the sand, so everyone went on a rock hunt, we were going to build a road. With almost 12 people looking for rocks and sticks and twigs etc it wasn’t long before we had a “road” in front of each wheel in the car and after many attempts and many people pushing cars in the middle of 30 degree heat one vehicle was free then after another 20 – 30 minutes the second car was free but the third car was proving more difficult another 30 minutes passed and we were no closer to getting the car out of what was rapidly becoming “sinking sand” and slowly but surely the will of the helpers was fading and quickly an elephant was forming in the room, mutterings of “well our cars free” ….and….”the people in that car weren’t really helping anyway” then it happened the passengers in car 1 slowly snuck off. Now I need to stress how much of a hinderance this was going to be for the efforts to release car number three. The first two cars took EVERYONE pushing to get free this was going to be a big ask, after an hour we did it “praise the lord (no religion necessary) it was done both cars were done and on their way to the famed salt flats, we caught up with the other car on the trip, they didn’t seem to be bothered.

I can confirm that The salt flats were both flat (you could see for miles) and salty (I licked the floor). After seeing what we were promised we got some obligatory pictures and headed back. It wasn’t underwhelming despite what my small description might make it out to be but remember we are talking about salt flats, what more did you expect apart from a very flat very salty landscape, on the day we visited it was kind of white ….also probably expected from the salty description, there were some “islands” where random cactus grow, the cactus were not flat (the were in fact categorically not flat) and neither were they salty (that’s an assumption I never licked them, a bunch of pricks stopped me) not like the bunch of pricks who wouldn’t let me out of the town of Unuyi, this was an actual bunch of pricks, if you’ve ever seen a cactus you’ll know exactly what I mean. If you haven’t seen a cactus, it looks a bit like a tree, except it’s smaller (although some of them were bigger) and they are green (but some were brown) and they were covered in spikes (but some of them were smooth) google it. If anyone corrects me about the plural of cactus fair play, can you proof read all the other posts and let me know what needs to be corrected?

Anyway, we left the salt flats and headed back to Unuyi. Anyone who is still reading this will know how difficult it was for us to get out of the town, well it was equally as difficult to get back in, we avoided the sentry points as best we could but inevitably we ran in to a group of protesters, they weren’t going to let us through until a Bolivian conversation erupted I can only imagine it went like this –

Driver: let us through

Protesters: no

D: please

P: still no

D: I’ll do anything

*a porn film might have gone a bit differently but this wasn’t that

Protester: hmmm I would like to keep our fire going it gets cold at night could we have one of your passengers to burn

Driver: No

P: please

D: still no, BUT I do have a spare tyre you can have that

P: oh yeah that works

We gave him a tyre and continued back to the town. Forgive me for judging this protester but the fact he sold his principles for a tyre leads me to believe that his heart wasn’t really in it for the cause and more just for something to do because he was bored and it pisses people off.

Anyway 10 minutes later and very close to the town, we were stopped again….we didn’t have anymore spare tyres. We did have a secret weapon.

For those avid readers amongst you, I know you all be thinking “you told me about a mild mannered Canadian man earlier in the post” he was getting increasingly less mild mannered throughout this journey, he was Canadian as I’ve mentioned and notoriously they don’t get angry just irritated. The source of his irritation was his baggage which he had left in the building that the tour left from, the man working in said building said he would be leaving at six, it was five past six already…..he was irritated.

Anyway back to the timeline, we’d been stopped and this conversation wasn’t going as swimmingly as the previous one, up steps Canadian Dave, and the best Spanish since “donde esta el hombre” Canadian Dave come out with this beauty “hey, hey, es problemo” *points at watch* “grande problems, jack tell them there’s a problem” Jack replied after some hesitant laughter “I think you got the point across” well would you believe it the Bolivian Protester was so concerned about Canadian Dave’s big problem that he waved us through. So we made it back to the building at half six, Jack and I were half hoping we’d find the building locked and see how many Spanish adjectives for “big” Dave could find, alas it wasn’t to be as the boss had stayed behind and Dave got his rucksack…..

Jack and I decided that the next day we were going to try to escape Unuyi even if it meant crossing the desert in blistering heat like the girl who hadn’t returned from earlier that day. So the next day we woke and got in a taxi and asked him to take us to the road block….this was our first mistake but thankfully Jack and I weren’t the one who paid for our mistake.

Phillipines and Thailand (Part 2) – To riches

We arrived in Bohol and our driver was waiting at the port. He was ready to take us to our accommodation. Baring in mind we had been living in relatively basic accommodation for last 7 nights it was a massive upgrade to move to the Positano apartments, it wasn’t as close to the beach as we were in Siquijor but it was only a five minute walk and it had a pool. We were living.

Carolina in her natural habitat

In comparison to Siquijor, Bohol is busy. There are more shops, more restaurants, more tourists…like us. We were staying in Panglao which is a small island off Bohol connected by a small bridge. A popular beach is “Alona beach” which has a strip of bars clubs and restaurants. We thought we’d check it out in the day.

Carolina had been keen to get her nails done, I think all the Salt water had got them in a bad condition. As we were walking to the town we were accosted by about 10 people “excuse me ma’am, massage for you, nails” etc so that was perfect For her, I followed Carro up to the massage parlour and in the shop there were more workers than customers and although Carolina was getting something done I was still feeling pressured in to buying something so I had to leave. I went for a few beers whilst Carolina was having the nails done. After they were done after about an hour and a half we went for some food before heading back to our very nice apartments.

The next day was our chance to explore the island on our full day excursion. This was the “main event” of the trip to see Bohol in all its glory. We got to go see some great views, see some wildlife and had lunch on a boat I loved it, I won’t lie though. I did fear for my life at some points on the trip. Our driver drove so fast, I know most of you will say I drive slow but our driver was going so fast there was no conversation between the other tourists, there would be the occasional side wife’s glance or an exchange of nervous laughter. Even with our driver at the steering wheel it took quite some time to get to our first destination. The Chocolate Hills.

They are weird little mounds

The chocolate hills are like loads of mounds of earth, they get so hot in the summer than the ground dried up and they look like chocolate hills. It was a wild view to match the wild ride to get there. After 40 minutes out Formula 1 driver came to pick up for the next stop.

The next stop did make me a little bit sad, there were some animals in a “zoo” a lot of the animals had enough space but some I did worry about. Ultimately though this stop was to see the Tariser’s which a super cute animals. Here is one for you

Very sleepy isn’t he

One of the final activities was a boat trip down the Lazi River, they served food and beer. A couple of the stops along the river and we were greeted by singers and dancers and all in all it made for an enjoyable afternoon. The boat held about 50 or 60 people our day trip was about 10-15 people, the people on our trip were most aggrieved when Carolina and I decided to sit on a different table. It was lonely on the table though, no one else could speak a word of English. Here are a few snaps from our river cruises

We spent about 3 or 4 days in these apartments and had a really nice time, our trip in Bohol was split in two though and we had plans to move to new accommodation. They day we were moving it was chucking it down, needs must, I suppose. Anyway then we were on to let three of the trip and again it was a step up in nice-ness (is that a word, I thing it’s a word).

We were going to stay in Bali Villas, it ms a complex of private villas each with their own pool. The building was basically new and although it was a bit further away from the beach the apartments were definitely an upgrade.

Our floating breakfast delivered each morning 🙂

It turns out being far away from the beach wasn’t really a major issue as the rain that started when we moved continued for days. Now it wasn’t “Ihla Grande” rain but it was a lot of rain so we spent days indoors. The apartments we were staying in offered a shuttle bus to the beach and we took a brief stop in the rain to shuttle down to the beach. Unfortunately as soon as we got there the rain began again and we took shelter in restaurant.

I thought I knew my girlfriend, it turns out…..I don’t.

In the restaurant which very slightly more upmarket than ones we would normally eat in, Carolina did something very strange, I’ll set the scene. The restaurant is about half full and there are tables with kids everywhere she just stood up and shouted “penis” quite loudly and nearby tables were looking over, I saw one mother cover her daughters ears and I’m sure I saw another one chasing her crying son out of the restaurant. Despite this mayhem the restaurant allowed us to finish our meal.

Due the rain there was no much left to do, so on one of our final nights we’d decided to go out and paint the town red. We went for a meal and took in some live music. We had plenty of drinks and Carolina enjoyed listening to the Filipinos sing, it seems the whole island has a repertoire of about 4 songs. Either way, it was a good night out. I thought I was the sober one of Carolina and I but it wasn’t until the following morning that I realised I wasn’t. I woke up still drunk bordering on a hangover and only had the floating breakfast to help me out.

Our trip was drawing to a close but we did have one final destination Bangkok.

Our journey to Bangkok was nice, the Covid-19 situation was worsening across the world and as a result less and less people were travelling which meant our flight were really quiet and we could spread out giving us some extra comfort. Nothing in comparison to the comfort we would experience in Thailand though.

We arrived in Bangkok in the early hours and got a cab to our hotel Aetas Lumpini, for our last full night we had booked ourselves in to a lush hotel. It was so nice, we had a massive room complete with a hot tub!

We didn’t have many plans for Thailand as we only really had one day so after we arrived we slept for a bit then headed out and just explored our local surroundings. We spent the morning out, then headed back to our hotel for the afternoon where we planned to use the pool, the hot tub and the restaurant before long journey home the following day.

The hotel was such a treat, we got to have cocktails round the pool…..only during the happy hour though and we felt like bosses in the presidential suite. it made the whole journey home a lot easier.

Here are some pictures of the hotel and some more of our time on Bohol.

South America – Part 7 (Highway To Hell)

The plan after Chile was to head back in to Argentina, to Mendoza.

The wine region, Jack and I were back in Argentina and almost back on the “the gringo trail” and you could tell, we were bumping in to more and more Brits

Jack and I booked ourselves on to a wine tasting tour where we’d visit a few locations and try some delicious Argentine Malbec, it was very backpacky but to disrupt that theme we booked in to a luxurious air bnb, for the expensive total of 25 pound a night.

We turned up for our wine trip and there was about 10 on our bus, we were given the history of the area and after about 39 minutes we were at our first farm, we sampled the products, not just wine but olive oil as well….who knew. Walking around our second farm our guide was much more chatty and started asking where we are from and things like that and when a boy and a girl in our group said “London” jack and I laughed out loud, thinking what are the chances of running to people from London. We struck up conversation where abouts in London “north west” ahhh shit no way, same, where abouts “Watford” ahhhh shit no way same, where about “well actually it’s bushey” ahhhhhh shit, same (jack said) where abouts and it turned out she lived near the Avenue. Buoyed by our new found friendship we chatted all the way to the third location essentially just name dropping mutual friends was about as far as the conversation got.

At the next location we met another wine tasting group full of young English guys, we got talking and it turns out they were from London too, like previous boys we’d met on our trip (think back to Ihle Grande) it turns out these were part of the Jewish community. We got talking to them about football, Tottenham fans, shock I know…… and we exchanged numbers and agreed to meet later that night. The rest of the wine tasting was uneventful, we purchased a bottle of expensive (looking) red wine and went back to our Air BnB.

At the air BnB we cooked a lovely pasta meal and cracked open the bottom of red. Our night was interrupted by the buzzing of the phone where our new found friend was trying to get us out.

The most exclusive air BnB

Had a night out with them after finally finding them (Mendoza is like a maze) then went back to our apartment as once again we had a very early coach to catch which is becoming a trend. In the morning we went to the coach station thankfully preparing for one of our shorter coach trips only 14 hours…..if I’m honest I can barely remember the coach trips but this one stood out, Jack and I upgraded to VIP which meant we got free wine and on top of that we played bingo on the bus with the winner getting a bottle of wine and guess who won…..ME. Jack and I got very drunk before falling asleep on the long journey.

Salta was a lovely city, Jack and I walked around for a bit and interrupted what seemed like a fairly raucous protest, or football march, or band march just something that made a lot of noise neither mine or Jacks Spanish was advanced enough to work out what they were actually saying. We stopped off and got some lunch and were FaceTimed by the guys, they seemed in errr somewhat “fun” state of mind and after our chat with them we went back to our hostel. We were only going to be in Salta for two nights then we had a 7 o clock coach journey. Salta was only supposed to be a stop off, just break up the journey of Mendoza to Bolivia and the first night went to plan, we had one or two beers on the roof top and went to bed. The second day followed the the pattern of the first and we wandered around aimlessly just trying to spend zero money…..as evening approached our plans of a quiet nice were slowly being replaced, the hostel were having a night on the roof and everyone was going and Jack and I refused numerous times but were slowly turning in to the killjoys…..I went out and bought some beers and agreed we would stay out until everyone left to go out in to the town, the beers I bought were obviously too much for me and Jack because it got to the time when people were leaving and we couldn’t resist. We went out and had a mutual agreement to come home at 1……We didn’t……We went out till very late and regretted it deeply when we had to make our 7 o clock bus ride, it was a good night and it was made all worth while when We both conked out on the front seat and slept until the Bolivian border.

The Bolivian border, OH EM GEE, my final country (you’ll be pleased to know) uhhh Bolivia that’s where the fun started and I think if I’m honest the reason I’ve been determined to finish this story, that same “determination” which lead to this taking more than a year to finish this blog. The Bolivian border set the tone for the whole country, or at least my experience of the country, this border crossing was the WORST border crossing….I wish I could draw a diagram to explain.

The border which took about 3 hours to cross, was not so much a border just a queue from one country in to the next. Once we crossed we got in to a little mini bus and told them to take us to the town. The mini bus was small, but not as small as the the town we arrived in. In the town we bought our bus ticket and went and bought some food from someone’s front room.

After we left the very small town we started our journey to Uyuni. We waited an hour and then boarded, the bus smelt of wet dog, then more people boarded. Jack and I were head counting and thinking we’d be leaving soon because of, you know, bus capacity but that is not how things work in Bolivia it transpires. More people were boarding and before we knew it people were sitting on our feet and on the floor in the aisle, it was like the trains in Delhi all over again.

Jack and I securely in our seat, we finally set off feeling ever so slightly bad for those sitting on the floor for the next 8 hours but little did we know that we would all suffer, eventually. We’d been prepared for a bumpy road and Bolivia is notorious for bad roads and drunk drivers, when the sun set it seemed to bring about the all these hazards in one go and after a few hours of driving in the dark and fearing for our lives at every turn the speed slowed and before long we had stopped. Jack tuned his Spanish ear just in time to hear the bus driver telling us to get off. Confused because we were only 4 hours in to our 8 hour journey, jack and I, being British, naturally done what we were told without question. Once the bus was empty we started speaking to the Colombian floor sitters (not a gang, just the guys sitting in the aisle) and they informed us that the bus had a puncture. We waited around in the cold night and waited for the drunk driver-cum-mechanic to change the tyre. Not at all worried that this drunk man just changed our bus’ tyre with still 4 hours left of an already perilous journey, we boarded the bus and continued our journey to Unuyi but unfortunately …..us and the bus never made it to Unuyi but I am still here to finish this story so don’t worry. And I will finish the journey and the story next time.

There was a lot of travel on this post and not many pictures…..which is never fun.

Phillipines and Thailand (Part 1) – From Rags

Me and Carolina were lucky enough to have a choice of anywhere on the KLM network as a destination of our holiday without paying for it, so we wanted to make the most of it and make sure we chose a destination that would have cost a lot of money to get too. We decided to do a bit of multi destination trip we went to a couple of islands in the Philippines and spent some time in Thailand. I really don’t how long this one will be so let’s see 🙂

The Journey

We had a long journey to get to Siquijor it consisted of Heathrow > Amsterdam > Taiwan > Manila > Dumaguete ⛵️Siquijor. It took about 3 days, it was worth it. This was right before Covid-19 pretty much shut down the travel industry so we did have a few concerns only a few days before we were meant to travel the Philippines weren‘t allowing people entering who had transitioned through Taiwan, we almost changed our entire holiday thankfully that wasn’t necessary in the end. I was prepared for a long journey and happily accepted it seeing as the flights were free.

We arrived in Manila at about 10pm and we didn’t have to be at the airport until about 4/5am so we decided to book ourselves in to an AirBnB conveniently located within walking distance of the airport. The trip since we left Heathrow had already been quite long and we still had quite a journey ahead of us so decided it would be best to get a few hours rest.

After a Filipino McDonalds and literally 4 hours sleep we were walking back to the airport refreshed and ready for leg 2.

Much shorter and slightly more fun, leg 2 would take us from Manila to Siquijor via Dumaguete. It also, aside from the short hop from Manila to Dumaguete, gave us a brief respite from air travel sooo 👍.

Very tired eyes on our transport from Dumaguete airport to Dumaguete port and it only cost about a pound for both of us

After the hair-raising journey on the back of a moped we booked our 7 pound tickets for the boat that would take us to Siquijor.

Siquijor

The most noteworthy parts of the boat journey were the very uncomfortable seats and a concerning leak that the staff were ignoring. Our journey had nearly come to an end after the boat it was just a quick cab (Tuk Tuk) to our hostel.

It was about 9 in the morning and our check in wasn’t until 12 but we thought we’d give it a try anyway….and it was an experience.

We were early so it wasn’t strange when we couldn’t find anyone at reception. It only became strange when I called the hostel and the guy who answered sounded drunk, when he appeared in front of us, he was drunk he confirmed it himself “I’m drunk as a motherfucker” he said. He told us our room was ready, then he couldn’t find the key then after 30 minutes of standing around he told us he forgot that he rented the room last night and so we’d have to wait. We decided to give him until 12 o clock to sort things out before looking for other accommodation. After all that’s when he was expecting us. We went and had a beer and some breakfast for a couple of hours.

When we returned to “The Good Vibes Inn” Magnus was in a much better frame of mind and had sorted the room out. Now we were able to check out our room and get our bearings in our surroundings it seemed like a really decent AirBnb. We went on to later find out that Magnus has recently split up with the Mother of his child who he was raising by himself and he was struggling with the running of the place. Our experience with Magnus was just badly timed all other reviews on the place say it’s really good.

The island is well picturesque and travelling around by Tuk Tuk means you go slow enough to really take in the scenery.

The next day I rented a moped and Carolina hopped on the back and we drove too Cambugahay Falls. When you arrive a man comes and helps you park your bike and then a group of people will approach you and ask to be your guide. You don’t need a guide but I found it really useful as there are issues with stealing and so the guides will also look after your stuff if your party wants to go all go in together, they’ll also act as your photographer, obviously this service isn’t free I gave 500 pesos which about £7.50 I think I over paid but they guy was alright so it’s all good. Any….the falls they are really fun. I took the opportunity to do some jumping

This was fun and there are loads of places to just chill out and take in the scenery. I don’t know why and I am sure I can google it but the water is a really weird blue colour.

After the waterfalls, we went back to our apartment and chilled until the night was upon us. We went to the sunset bar just about 50 metres away from our accommodation and sat down and had something to eat. There was an odd make up of the party next to us, 5 clearly middle aged men, who happened to be Irish, and 3 what looked to be Filipino woman who could have been varying in age from 14 – 70, we couldn’t for the life of us work out the dynamic but we landed on an assumption that we stuck with for most of the holiday. The conclusion that we had drawn were the three ladies were ladies of the night and that the man who had the youngest girl was a borderline peadophile. We saw these on many nights and there was bum slapping, talks of drinks at other bars and we were so disgusted by it that we stopped going to the bar that we often saw them in. We saw them again later on in the holiday, we might have misjudged these men.

There were a couple of recurring characters on this Holiday, you already know the drunk hotel owner Magnus and I’ve just introduced the Irish men, I’ll give a quick breakdown of a couple of others.

The island itself is small, think like the size of the Isle of Wight and there are only a few towns that attract tourists so the town we was in San Juan, is a busy town but it follows just one coast road so day to day, going to the shops or going out at night you become quite familiar with the surrounding and people. First off we had “feathers” we saw this guy almost every day and everything about him screamed, “I know more about travelling than you” just looked like one of those people that travel alone and just doesn’t do “the normal things” likes to get to know the locals and all in all pain in the arse, anyway we called him feathers cos dangling from his waist band was a set of feathers probably to ward off bad karma or something. Another man we saw quite a bit was someone we called “meme man” he was the spitting image of this bloke.

Old man Meme

As with all holidays there has to be a worse part and for Carolina and I, our third night on Siquijor was the worst part. There are a lot of dogs on the island, some owned and some strays and at night they can be very friendly and you’ll be having a much needed cocktail in the bar and they’ll come and say hi like in the picture below. Sometimes things aren’t so cute.

A little friend in our garden

We were having last orders in a bar not far from our hotel sitting outside and enjoy the warm evening and watching the dogs play with one another. It was always quite nerve racking watching them play as some people fly down the road then that night it happened. We saw a motorbike hit a dog and both wheels went over it, the dog sadly died after about ten seconds but it truly was traumatising watching it. What shocked me were how the other dogs reacted they went MAD and it just goes to show how social the animals really are. This was definitely the low point.

Did you even go on a Beach holiday if you didn’t google where the best sunsets are? For Siquijor that was a place called Paliton Beach. We heading over there by Tuk Tuk late one afternoon did some snorkelling, chilled out and listened to some music waiting for the sun to fall behind the horizon, a much needed highlight after the dog incident. It also cheered me up that we were twenty minutes away from where we normally saw Meme man and Feathers BUT we saw them both here. This was one of my favourite days and we got some great pictures

Meme man wasn’t our only run-in with a meme like situation Carolina was often coining the phrase “fucking mint” throughout this time and one night we were out buying something from a shop that was open quite late. The boy before us was a white guy, dreadlocked hair, surfer shorts, bracelets for days and an air of middle class ness to boot and as he thanked the worker bowing his head, fist folded in to his hand speaking not English. Now, this alone would be fine but this coupled with his general aura made him annoying and as we walked away Carolina made me crack up when she said “Fucking. gimp” I mean as I’m writing this I realise it’s one of those in the moments moment but it was in my notes so it’s going in the blog, simple. So deal with it. Quite frankly if you’re this far in to the blog you must know Carolina or I and so it might be a bit funnier to you…..who knows.

One of the days we were there we went to Apo Island a kind of nature reserve about a 40 minute boat ride away from Siquijor. The plan was to snorkel around the island and see some turtles. There’s a reef just on the island and there are turtles there, this was good. I think it was the highlight of the trip but couldn’t say for sure as the whole holiday was great. Anyway, we put our gear on and got told who our guide was then we got swimming. We got some mad shots of turtles and you really get to get relatively close, when a group spots a turtle it seems like everyone descends in it and I started to feel a bit bad although the guides do a good job and not letting people get too close the real joy is when you swim away from the crowds and get to see a turtle in your own small group, the guides let you get a bit closer. It was a bit of a shame really, in our group when had an obnoxious French lady who would not leave the turtles alone, at one point, desperate to get the most “instagrammable” photo I saw her flipper hit the turtle. Carolina and I got a bit sick of her but even with the French lady lurking about we still managed to get some good shots ourselves.

I’ll admit Carolina got a better picture than me but this was the best one from my collection

After the first swim we stopped for some lunch and met a lady who was from Harrow on the Hill, it’s so weird you go all the way round the world to meet someone who used to live ten minutes away from you. This lady was with an Australian and this Australian had HIGH standards. Nothing pleased her, she had been staying on an island for 3 days with no cell signal, relaxing beaches, paradise and yet she was so up tight nothing was good enough not the price of the coffee the journey time back to Siquijor and she was even skeptical about her hostel on Siquijor that she hadn’t even been to yet!!! Eurgh she annoyed me, luckily, although we saw her from a far a couple of times later on in the holiday she did not become a recurring character. Our swim back to the boat was cut short, the current was Strong, we could barely swim in it. I luckily found a rope of another bit and managed to pull myself close enough to ur boat to swim it. Some of our group, including Carolina, weren’t so lucky to find the rope and they were a minute or so behind me and the currents were getting even harder pushing the remaining people away from the ship. It got quite scary at one point when the guides and some of the scuba divers dived back in to help the stragglers….I mean I didn’t do a head count but I’m sure I heard one of the guides say “successful trip we only lost two guests” 🤷🏼

The strengthening current made the journey back “fun”. It was the choppiest not ride I’ve even on. We were dealing with big swells and there was a big window at the front of the boat so went we would reach the top of the wave we would plunge what looked like nose first down the other side of the wave. It was an experience, weirdly exciting and thankfully I’m still hear to tell the tale.

We had a week on Siquijor and we did miss out on some recommended trips such as the church in Lazi or the old spiritual tree. I think we maybe could of explored more but ultimately I was really happy with the trip sometimes if you try and fit too much in you’re so tired you can’t enjoy it. The good news is, we weren’t going home we were going to Bohul.

Going to Bohol meant another boat journey. We were tired of slumming it, we’d had a week of staying in an adequate apartment but knew that we were going to be living a bit more luxuriously for the next few days so we upgraded ourselves to VIP on the boat. It was during this journey we realised our embarrassing misjudgement we had made earlier in the trip. It was about the Irish peados. They were on our boat, now there wasn’t five of them now there was only two but still with the same three ladies. Old, middle and young. On the boat Irishman 1 sat with Middle, old and young sat together and Irishman 2 sat alone, it dawn on us this could quite easily, and probably was, an Irishman with his wife/girlfriend and her daughter from another relationship and Mother. Poor judgement call from us!!!!!

This got a bit longer than I anticipated I was just going to a “1 Parter” but decided to split it up so I’ll do the second part “too Riches” in August or September 🙂

Some more pictures of our time in Siquijor.

South America – Part Six (Eruption)

We’d booked our penguin tour the next day, which meant a day trip out with other people. Those people turned out to be Jon and Sophie and to be honest, I tried to rack my brains about the notes I’d written and I don’t remember much, I remember them being nice and I remember being squashed in a car with them. We went to the penguin sanctuary, first in the penguin museum then to see them in the flesh. What I liked most was how many penguins there were, there were literally 1000s of them and we could walk right up them I could reach out and touch one (but we weren’t allowed 😦 )

So close…

we watched them for ages they were so entertaining. Then we made our way back to the car after a few hours. Jon and Sophie followed us back shortly after. What made this trip even better was the knowledge that our driver had, he knew all about animals and birds and all sorts. On the way back to Puerto Madryn we stopped and looked at some elephant seals unfortunately the big ones were at sea but we still got up close and personal with some very lazy seals and it was still all very fun.

Sleeping or Dead?
Sleeping or dead?

We got back had a beer with Jon and Sophie then went to bed as we had yet another coach journey in the morning this time for a stop in Bariloche.

Bariloche was our last stop in Argentina, at least for about a weeks time when we went back in Argentina. Anyway we wasn’t there long we had intentions to do a bit of a hike in Bariloche but we didn’t. Bariloche is very German, that’s the best way to describe it it’s almost like an alpine Bavarian village.

Our hostel was like a war zone, first we spoke to a establishment hating Asian man, who in different circumstances would probably not be allowed to walk the streets, to give you a back story Bariloche harboured a number of Nazi’s who fled Germany during the end of the World War 2 and this guy may well have been fleeing some sort of war as well. His views were questionable at best and he was from North London. Nuff said.

As if we hadn’t had enough questionable views the lady who worked at our hostel Mira had Ill feelings towards isrealis. When I say Ill feelings it was prompted by Jack and I, who asked who the worst people to host are, she ranted for 10-15 minutes about how rude a lot of isrealis are when they come to the hostel she would say it was easier to put them in a room by themselves than make them share with other non isrealis, very strong views for someone who lives in Bariloche.

That night we went out for a drink in a local establishment we got very drunk despite having another coach journey the next day . During the night we got speaking to Miguel the Argentinian.

Here’s Miguel

What do two englishmen and an argie talk about when we get drunk….the Falklands. Obviously we weren’t born but we know enough about it to hold a conversation but what we didn’t know is how to have that conversation in Spanish and what Miguel didn’t know was to have that conversation in English. What ensued was a very broken English/Spanish conversation about a war we weren’t alive for. It all ended amicably and it turned out to be a great night. We woke up the next day and then made our way to Chile.

Our first stop in Chile was the Adventure capital Pucon, it was like Cuffley Camp on steroids, think of an extreme sport and they offer it here. Jack’s reason for stopping here was to climb a Volcano (Villarrica Volcano) I was less inclined to do this but after listening in to the salesperson I was sold, Jack and I the next morning were going to climb a Volcano.

This is one of my favourite pictures from the whole trip. Credit to Jack for taking it

We got an early night as we had an early start. Climbing this Volcano was not straight forward, if the weather turns you can’t do it, if you get to base camp and the weather turns you have to turn back of the Volcano goes off…..well I’ll explain that in a bit. Jack and I set off to the meeting point where there were two guides, a lady of 61 (Patricia) and a couple of other younger dudes. I had not signed up for a Hike, I had not come dressed for a hike but we were going on a hike! We even had back packs and ice shoes, I’ve never felt more cool. The drive from the town was about twenty minutes and on the minibus there was a tangible air of excitement. We arrived at our destination and got kitted up, Ross “bare grills” Tunnicliffe was ready for action. Our two guides talked us through the ascent it sounded ok and we had Patricia with us if anyone was going to give up surely it would be Patricia.

The first task was to get on the chair lift, no bar across your lap and no safety harness to stop you dropping 20 metres on to a Rocky mountainside but…this is the adventure capital of Chile so who needed that. After the chair lift they reckoned it was a few hours hike from here…..I should have learned, I was already knocking off the minutes thinking We’d do it in an hour or so. After an hour we stopped the guides told us that we were halfway. This was not so bad, but this is where we had to change to the ice boots. It was going to get a lot steeper and a lot more difficult from here, I scoffed, Patricia hadn’t even broken a sweat. We had our midway break then began, slowly my buoyant mood started to dissolve each step burned my legs, one of the guides had taken the burden of Patricia’s back pack and the only talk was to warn one another of the cascading rocks which would occasionally fall from above.

When they were only half way up they were neither up nor down.

The guides would occasionally ask Patricia if she wanted a break, she stubbornly refused, my legs were screaming (it was at this point that I realised this must be what Edmund Hillary felt like when he scaled Everest) we had a number of scheduled breaks and then we were at the top, I wanted to cry but we made it. According to the guides we had a fantastic day for it there was barely a cloud in the sky and the Volcano was bubbling away despite being high up a snow capped mountain the heat when looking over the top was nigh on unbearable. For a guy who initially didn’t want to do this excursion I had to eat my hat, one of the best experiences of the whole trip despite all the hard work it took of getting to the top.

We there were up they were up.

Now the fun bit, the sledge to the bottom ….we’d each been given a bumsledge and the instruction to follow the person in front, despite being no end of fun this was arguably more dangerous than the hike, there was no way of controlling the sledge and the only advice you were given was of you lose control whack your ice pick in the snow and try to hold on. This did not work but that kind of made it more fun and no one died on the way to the bottom hooray. We went down and had booked ourselves in for a sauna later that night, we deserved it.

Walking around the town you would occasionally hear a siren so at the hostel we asked what it represented and it was a three way warning alarm to warn of dangers in the town here is what we were told “one siren, this means a small emergency, maybe a small fire, two sirens and this more serious and you need to be aware of where you are, three sirens and you need to evacuate to high ground, but the whole of pucon is evacuating and smoke and lava will move faster than your traffic so if three sirens go off, you sit round the table with your family open your best bottle of red and wait” I stayed awake that whole night listening for the three sirens.

It was a short trip in Pucon but a diversion I’m hugely glad we took, after Pucon we made our to Santiago for a couple of nights. I thought it was a great city, we took in some rap battles, a massive football match which lead to a city wide party, karaoke and in our hostel there was a guy who didn’t stop playing Grand Theft Auto so you could say it was a mixed bag but good none the less. I was going to go in to a bit more detail of the city wide tour we took but I’m further behind than I need to be so I won’t. One of the nights out found us in a bar talking to two Yanks and a Brit, standard conversation the two yanks hated trump and the Brit was a remainer. The Brit had a very bad habit of mentioning his girlfriend more than was neccessary and coupled with his extremely camp approach lead Jack and I to come to the conclusion that he was Gay, not that this was in any way a problem just an observation that he may well have been over compensating.

After Santiago we made a short trip to Valparaiso a hilly coastal town in Chile. Despite being incredibly difficult to walk around the town itself was very quaint. Again I’m going to avoid detail here but aside from some mindfulness on the beach, my highlight was when a lady (let’s say of Patricia’s age) took a shining to Jack in a bar they were most forthcoming and her and her friend sat with us. We had a conversation in Spanish, I literally had no idea was going on I could tell they were being vulgar because occasionally a loud cigarette fuelled laugh would fill the air….that wasn’t the highlight….I know I know you’re thinking how can that not be the highlight, well the highlight cane when a homeless man started talking to Jack and I, one of the women kindly told the man that we didn’t speak good Spanish, the man then took offence and proceeded to SPIT at the woman and with that the waiter came out the bar and kicked the man up the bum and half way up the street, the man got up and started walking towards the waiter and a fight broke out which the waiter clearly won…..then minutes later the homeless man came running back down the street shouting what I can only imagine were obscenities…..so that was the highlight.

Santiago from above

Ohh also, sleeping or dead?

Sad, cruel life 😦

Sint Maarten – Champagne Trip, Sparkling Wine budget

I think this will be a short one, so you might actually make it through to the end. It’s going to be short because I didn’t write notes at the time and I’m having to rack my brains back over 18 months, despite the lack of detail rest assured that this trip was unique and I loved it, it also took me over the 30 Mark for my 30 before 30 challenge.

I wanted to get to 30 countries before 30 and so I used the “Been” app, I’m not gonna gloss over it this was a bit more flexible than using like a UN based list and it allowed me to register both Sint Maarten and Saint Martin as countries soooo I’m taking it.

Anyway SM is a Caribbean island split in to two, it has a French side and it has a Dutch side. As ever I won’t go in to detail about the location andabout why it’s split or whatever as that’s available on sites more educational than mine :). The Dutch side is seemingly more financially better off and the french side is still struggling with the affect of Hurricane Irma in 2017, both financially and structurally. Whilst there are some locations to stay on the French side most visitors will end up staying on the Dutch side. I think one of the things the island is most famous for is the runaway that starts at the beach, I’m sure you’ve seen countless pictures of people looking as though they could almost touch a plane or holding on to a fence as a big place starts it take off.

Our journey was due to be London to Paris, Paris to Saint Martin and the same in return, our long haul leg was due to be Business Class, if I was that prestige I obviously wouldn’t mention it was Business Class, this was going to be the first and maybe only time I experienced it! Unfortunately for us it didn’t turn out quite the way we had expected it on the way out there, as we had standby business class tickets, it turned out that business class was full on this occasion so we had two options travel in economy on the day or wait until tomorrow and risk it for Business class. We decided that it would be best to just get there.

Saint Martin airport is still badly affected by effects of Hurricane Irma and as a results it’s terminal building was a tent, the airport has since re-opened the terminal building I have found out and then upon leaving the tent our first experience of friendly, easy going, charming Caribbean people seemed to go as expected. The airport taxi driver charged me 15 dollars, I later found out it should have been 7. In hindsight this is my own fault, I didn’t do any research. Oh well, lesson learned.

We’d booked our accommodation through AirBnb, and were staying in Simpson Bay which Was the closest resort to the airport. We’d gone very early in the season which meant the area was quite quiet but there were a few bars open locally. Our AirBnb was on the beach front and as well arrived we were greeted by the cleaner of the apartment finishing her work and two German men in the sea who, it turned out, were our neighbours.

Through the gate and on to the beach!

We didn’t have much planned for the trip we were looking for a relaxing retreat and the pictures of the island looked great so the plan was to chill out, go to a couple of different beaches, drink, eat and come home properly relaxed and that’s what we did.

We made friends with Thomas and Philip the German neighbours and spent a couple of nights drinking with them. Which was very nice.

So to get from town to town there is a hop on shuttle bus service all over of the island, if you walk down a street these buses will beep at you and if you hail them down there is a set price and you can hop off any where on route. The difficulty in this system comes when your going to a resort further away, like you will be in Simpson Bay and want to get some where on the other side of the island and there is no bus that goes directly there you need to a find a bus going to a town on the way, get off there and find another bus, this is also how the locals get around and so it’s fun riding along with them. It’s a really cheap way of getting around and you do get to see a lot of the island and other than at the airport actual taxis are really hard to come across.

One of the days we were there we went to a place called Pinel Island, it’s a kind of nature reserve. Despite being quite busy on the beach the place is quite serene. There were a lot of iguanas and other lizards and once people started feeding them loads more came and it was enjoyable watching a lot of the tourists getting scared by the animals. As we made our way back from Pinel Island I was lucky enough to see a turtle which was great and then we had to go and look for one of the hop on and off taxis, Carolina and I started walking up the road and began to get a bit nervous when the road was all but deserted. Then a car pulled up to us, the window rolled down and said “where are you staying?” We said Simpson Bay (about 30 minutes away) and they said they’d give us a lift, we were so grateful and I think had it not been for Ron and his wife Carolina and I might still be hitching for a ride.

We went to Marigot a couple of times to have lunch which was a really nice town, I think it’s the capital of the French side we found a couple of decent restaurants and climb up to an old fort which gave real nice panoramic views of the town.

Marigot from above

On our trip up to the old fort we did see a bunch of people who were clearly doing community service, and despite some light behind the back car calling they were helpful and told us the best way up to the fort. It was noteworthy 🙂

One of the beaches we went to was called Grand Case, we had read that it was really good for snorkelling and it was a very picturesque beach. We made our way there via a couple of buses and aside from choosing a day with rubbish weather conditions the beach was not as we’d seen, pretty much the whole town had been battered by the Hurricane a few years before and as a result apart from a few upmarket hotels there really nothing there, I barely even stepped foot in sea. I can imagine it would have been really nice, on a nice day and lined with little local restaurants and bars. There was a huge amount of building work going on though so I think it will be fine in a few years!

Maho Beach is the one that a lot of people will have seen but might not realise where it is. Maho beach is the beach famous for aeroplanes taking off and landing next to it, giving people the opportunity to take pictures or hold on to a fence and get sent flying back by the Jet engines. Due to it’s notoriety the beach is packed all day every day, and every four or so minutes all the sun bathers get up and take a picture which I can only imagine turns out exactly the same as the last one. I suppose it really depends on what you go to the beach for but if it’s a chill out and a relax this probably isn’t the place BUT it does get one of the best sunsets on the island….which typically I didn’t take a picture of. You’ll have to trust me.

This trip was exactly what I needed at the time, I needed to chill out and I got that. We spent a few days in Phillipsburg which is the capital of the Dutch side and that is such a vibrant city, it’s also strange, basically the town only really opens up on days that cruiseliners come in to the city. Despite much of the town being closed there are some really fun things to look at and take pictures of

One of the more famous streets in Phillipsburg

Aside from some fun beaches and nice restaurants and great weather there is still more the island and that includes wildlife here are a few of the critters I saw.

We’ve spoke about Saint Martin after we got home and decided that we would love to go back there in the future maybe once the French side as completely recovered, so maybe we will do that.

After 7 days of some relaxation it was time to make our way home, in Business class. Our flight was delayed and we had to spend a few hours in an unconditioned, packed glorified tent, that was hellish but the flight was luxury. We boarded the plane last because we were standby they just had to make sure there was space and then took our seats. Our seats were huge and fully reclinable so essentially had a bed, offered a champagne before take off I’d never lived so well. In our welcome back there were slippers, face creams, blankets and the service was immense. Travelling in business class is likely an experience I may not get again, which is a shame because I loved it. I was trying so hard to stay awake as I didn’t want to fall asleep as I’d miss out on the experience my eyes failed me and I did fall asleep.

That was not the holiday over however Carolina and I did get to spend 10 hours in Charles De Gaulle airport before we caught our connecting flight back to London

All in all a very nice, relaxing and fun trip.

See told you it’d be short

South America – Part Five (Hiking and Biking)

We woke up the next morning, early so we could catch the coach and it was decided that there was nothing in El Chalten for us apart from Mount Fitztoy, serious hikers we are not, we would only stay a night then get a coach back the next day to give ourselves an extra day in Calafate to give Jack a chance to find someone to fix his phone. That was the plan

Whilst waiting for our coach, Chinese Rob, I told you he would make another appearance, appeared talking to people who were clearly too polite to tell him to go away he was helpfully giving people money saving tips and generally talking about subjects that people don’t want to discuss with total strangers at 7 o clock in the morning, as fate would have it he was on our coach. Oh and by the way it was Jacks birthday, the way he acted you’d never have known it.

We arrived in El Chalten where “all their water is drinkable” that’s literally the strapline and I took that literally so if I saw water….. I drank it, streams, rivers, taps, whatever, if it was wet it went down my throat. Anyway due to time constraints we had to climb Mount Fitz roy that day. To give you a picture The summit of Mount Fitz Roy can be reached by many different routes of varying lengths and difficulty some of which even include camping over night (do I need to say this is not the route we chose) Jack and I decided to take the mid length day route which meant taking a car for about 30-45 mins to a random path in the middle of nowhere and a driver pointing to path leading in to thick bushes.

Before I take you on the trek with us there was a noteworthy spot whilst driving through the rugged wilderness. Do you all remember Rob of two paragraphs ago, well his penny pinching ways had lead to what I can only imagine he was now seeing as a very bad idea, about 30 minutes out of town BY CAR and still 15-20 minutes away from any form of navigateable path leading to the summit Rob was there marching through the undergrowth alone. I wish I could help picture how arid and rugged deserted this area was, here is a picture to help but I have to stress the complete remoteness of this location


Imagine Rob strolling through this

There was a route from the town to the peak of the trek…..this was not it. Surprisingly this was the last we ever saw of Rob, I do hope he made it but I cannot confirm. Maybe in years to come there will be rumours of weary travellers bumping in to a wise old oriental man on the path to Mount Fitz Roy who fills you with knowledge of money saving coupons and energy saving tips I’ll keep my eyes open for stories.

Anyway jumping back to the beginning of the route and the one person wide path leading in to the forest with no map no signal no camping equipment, and the only guidance I had was Jack telling where to point my camara as he had no phone we embarked on our first Hike, appropriately dressed.

So Jack and I had become real travellers we were on a hike, first of what turned out to be a few. The plan was to climb (walk but I’m using hiking terms) 1200 metres to take a peek at the peak of Mount Fitzroy, it was about 2 in the afternoon a good time for trekking. It was a clear day and we had about 6 or seven hours of sunlight remaining.

The start of the trek was flat and ran alongside a fast rushing river, that you’ll now …was drinkable so there was no fear of dehydration. A little while in to the walk, the path became a bit steeper but nothing to put us off, our path took us higher up than the river and it was now about twenty metres below off the side of the cliff. This was our first picture break, remembering that I was camara man due to jacks phone issues. Jack, as it turns out is a diva when it comes to pictures. Waiting for the right lighting, photos with wind breaker on, the wind breaker off, leg up on a log then the leg off the log….literally all sorts until I captured the right one. I hate the think what it would have been like should it have been sunset…..I might still be there snapping away.

I photoshopped him in to these pictures

We went a little further and our route plateu’d somewhat which by then was a bit of relief and this is when we first started seeing other people each of whom looked far more prepared for a hike than Jack and I that being said Jack and I continued unperturbed by our obvious misjudgement in cloice of clothes. A few water breaks and picture breaks we finally got our first glimpses of the glaciers (on this walk) and they were well worth the walk. The first one we saw wasn’t the one we were on route to see. A quick aside from the narrative, these glaciers were different from the other one I describe these are smaller but feed in to lake and are impressive for a different reason.

We carried on following the path as was our only choice and were running in to more and more people they would say things like “nearly there” “only two hours left” “the clouds are coming over” or the equivalent in Spanish. Jack and I had both noticed the clouds neither of us had decided to admit it though. See with Fitz Roy you climb to a viewing point then LOOK at the peak, I mean there are Edmund hillarys amongst us who will climb to the peak but I was happy to leave that the the professionals, and there was a chance that if the clouds come over then the peak of Fitz Roy would not be able to seen from the viewing platform. With every passing minute the chance of bad weather stopping play became an ever more realistic possibility….we stepped up the pace and hit “base camp” this is basically a semi permanent tented village where the residents only ever stay for a day or two, maybe to make one with nature, I don’t know, but this is a village where Jack and I would be shunned, no wind breakers, clothes that aren’t from north face, don’t own a compass and haven’t drunk our piss from a water purifier so we hurried through tent town avoiding any contact with anyone….come to think of it ….most of my trip to South America was based around avoiding people…..anyway we made it through there was a small break out area. We rested up, then the saga walking tour come bounding down a particularly steep hill, picture it now there were Nordic walking sticks, massive camaras, denchers but they passed by with only one or two looking like tonight could be their last.

Whilst waiting for the over 80s walking brigade to pass I noticed a sign 1km left (approximate time 1 hour) “one hour” I scoffed, confidently I said to Jack “Jack we are for young men, you saw those people that walked past, this sign is obviously meant for people like them….one kilometre will not take us one hour” I am going to spoil the cliffhanger but that sign was wrong, we smashed it, 54 minutes. 400 metre climb. Kudos to the heavens waiting room collective how they even got up there to this day I will not know. I was half expecting to see a queue for a stanna stair lift half way up.

We made it, we were at the top the clouds had come over but we got 5/10 minutes before the peak was completely covered but that didn’t matter too much as there was so much else to see. Blue water, bluer than anything I’ve ever seen, massive waterfalls lovely landscapes I loved it. And I had done it all in chuck bass sweater a pair of sparkly trainers and leg warmers. Jack was off risking his life for the perfect shot whilst I got the pleasure of picturing it. We stayed around for about an hour then started our descent it took around two hours to get back to the town.

As I mentioned it was Jacks birthday so we had a beer ready to sleep and get an early bus back to El Calafete to give us an extra day to sort Jacks phone out. The withdrawal symptoms started showing, I would sometimes see him staring endlessly at his phone, just the black screen, plugging the charger in and taking it out again He was a man lost.

When we got back to El Calafete we checked back in to a different hostel, one more central. Then we set about trying to fix Jacks phone. None of the phone shops were open….so Jack set about on his ritual of charging his phone and then “the apple logo” just appeared, he was visibly shaking his phone come to life, notifications came flooding in and It so much weight come off his shoulders I swear for a second he floated in mid air.

Buoyed by this good news Jack skipped to the bus station to book our trip to Puerto Madryn. We knew this was going to be a long coach journey it would take mental preparation. The trip would consist of a journey to the city of Rio Gallegos then waiting around for an hour or so then 18 hours to Puerto Madryn all in all long.

At the bus station there was a man also trying to book a trip, this man of around 50-60 looked like the guy from Curb your Enthusiasm he had a baseball cap on and was clearly disgruntled at the service he was receiving, not helped by the obvious language barrier. He would speak in slow loud English and the woman would reply in Spanish. Rather than get involved and help, Jack decided he would watch. Eventually after the conversion went back and forth and not making any progress the man revealed he could speak Spanish “DONDE ESTA EL HOMBRE” he wanted to speak to the boss and his basic understanding of the lingo allowed him to ask for “the man” sexist undertones aside this was just ridiculous and there was audible laughter from both Jack and I. We didn’t stick around to listen to the conclusion because angry American was one wrong response away from declaring war on Argentino autobuses.

We were booked on to our journey, we had good seats at least and Jacks phone was working, which was a good thing because he was quoted as saying “I’ll die if I have to do that journey without a phone”. The journey began and all that is to be said from the journey is that there is a whole lot of NOTHING in central Argentina, commonly referred to as the most remote places in the world…..I’m surprised we didn’t see Rob strolling through the plains for Argentina. I felt like I was on a film set passing the same slide over and over but eventually we arrived in Puerto Madryn…..we’d done some landscape viewing and now we were going to see some wildlife.

Jack and I arrived in Puerto Madryn and took a long hot walk through the town to find our hostel, it was perfect weather the warmest we’ve been for a while, we were going to drop our stuff off and then head down to the beach. The first part we successfully did, our stuff was dropped off in a lovely private room which consisted of a weird shaped bunk bed. The hostel itself gave you everything a traveller could want a sun trap garden, hammocks, garden furniture and an abundance of beer stealing French people, but we will get to that. Anyway, we dropped the stuff of and walked to the beach but it was as if the weather gods themselves were looking down on us, Jack and I approached the beach and as we the clouds gathered above just like at the summit of the Mouth Fitz Roy trek and the closer we got to the sands of Puerto Madryn the darker those clouds got. By the time we stepped foot on the golden canvass we felt the first drop of rain, and that was that we marched back to the hostel to take cover and wait for the rain to pass by. Unfortunately the rain didn’t stop until the next day but that didn’t mean our day was wasted. Puerto Madryn is famous for lots of different reasons but it’s a great place to view wildlife so Jack I decided what animals we’d like to see most.

It was a tactical decision but the plan was that after a nights sleep we would rent bikes in the morning, to go visit some sea lions then the following day take an organised trip to walk amongst Penguins and elephant seals. When we woke the following morning we had our normal breakfast of bread and butter, then went to rent some bikes. Neither of us are Lance Armstrong and so we knew it would a struggle I mean we barely even knew the way, but we just had to “follow the coast” which it turns out is harder than it sounds. More challenging than the hills, was the terrain it turns out that mountain bikes might be good for mountains they are not good for gravel, every pedal stroke would get you about 1 metre it wasn’t very efficient but what we found much more efficient was cycling on the road which was about 10 metres on our right which we finally discovered after choosing the wrong track for an undesirable amount of time. We arrived at the Sea Lion viewing point a few hours after leaving the town. We viewed those Sea Lions he’d and which it turns out are much louder than I expected, I imagine they were huge as well but we were fairly far away.

Here are the very noisy sea lions

I think what’s good to point out now is, effectively the sea lions were half way (because we had to return) and we had drunk more than half our water…..problem…..our resolution…..drive faster home. We rode hard but it was so hot and the route was baron to say the least so on the journey back I became so dehydrated and there was zero shade, like seriously none. I mean picture the Sahara desert, now picture it drier and being yourself being on a bike, that was the situation we were in. By the time we got back to the town I had a banging headache we had to stop at a bar, a beer and a Coke did the trick I was back to being alive. I’m not sure Jack had ever done that much exercise but he was fairing up better than me. On the way back to the hostel we picked up a few bits to eat and a couple of beers which we stored in the communal fridge until later than evening.

Later than evening we went to get the beers walking through a group of French guys and girls, I opened the fridge and Jacks drinks were there almost freezing to touch and looking almost as appetising as that drink earlier after the bike ride so I looked in the fridge in eager anticipation and then I was brought crashing down when my bottle was gone, I was lower than the sea lions belly to the floor and then I heard over the giggling and frenchness “x cues meh ees diss urs” he was holding my bottle, open, the cool condensation dripping on the his thieving French hand. He apologised and thought that offering his warm unfridged beer would compensate for the crushing disappointment I suffered when I discovered that the beer I had been looking forward to for a couple of hours was being enjoyed by someone else not least this greasy frog. Needless to say I took his beer and then enjoyed a somewhat warmer than I’d hoped for beer.

Las Vegas – The best 30th birthday

I’ve been dying to write this one, I don’t even have notes to go off I am going to have to write it all from memory. It’s coming up to a year since we went so it seems like as good as time as any. Despite spending a lot of time drunk, one time in particular, I have almost full recollection of the trip. Those of you reading this who went feel free to comment with your favourite memories.

Las Vegas really needs no introduction, for years I had been told what to expect and I thought it sounded like a place I would love. I didn’t think it would be one of my favourite places in the world, it’s hard to say if it was because of the company, the location, the activities we did, Rose-tinted expectations or a combination of all of this. I’m not even sure how I am going to write this obviously with the Non South America related blogs I usually pick out one or two highlights and talk you through what I did. Vegas deserves a full blow by blow, so apologies this could get long. Get comfortable, I will try to include lots of pictures so it doesn’t feel like a news report.

One last thing before I start, when I am writing this I have a massive smile on my face and reminds me why I even bother writing these and have 10 people read them, it’s cathartic and let’s me kind of re-live memories.

Carolina and I had a couple of days planned in Los Angeles before heading to Las Vegas, this was a financial decision more than anything else, it’s cheaper to go to LA then it is to go directly to Las Vegas. We decided that it we’d spend a couple of nights here before driving to Las Vegas. Los Angeles is huge and a result we only managed to do a few things in LA in our short time there. We visited the Hollywood sign, or at least viewed it on a short walk from the observatory. We went to muscle beach and saw Hollywood Boulevard where we saw George Clooney.

Showing off my muscle….beach picture

We were staying in an Air BnB right in the middle of El Segunda it was walking distance to the airport, that was all well and good but it was not walking distance to anything else. Location aside it was such a nice apartment on a residential complex and the few nights we spent there were very comfortable.

Action shot on the pier

There were going to be a total of 11 of us in Las Vegas, my friends were arriving at different times from various locations. We met Sam and Sian one night had a drink at an Irish bar on Hollywood Boulevard (that was the night we saw George Clooney) and I got mugged for a dollar from an up and coming rap artist who forced me to buy his signed CD ‘to Russ’. They’d made their way down the west coast from San Fransisco to LA before making their way to Vegas the day before us.

The second night we met with Jack and Drozzy and went to a comedy club. WestSide Comedy Club. The first act didn’t really do it for me, I don’t think it did it for the rest of the group either, it was an Improv Group and it was all a bit stifled and frankly not that funny to me….loads of other people were laughing. Perhaps it’s the American sense of humour. Now, the comedy could have got better or I could have got more drunk either way as the night progressed things were much funnier and we were all cracking up by the end of the night. Apparently it’s the comedy club where epic rap battles begun, Carolina had met the guys from ERB years and one of the guys told her where to go In LA. We didn’t stay out terribly late, we had a long drive in the morning the four hours from LA to Vegas. We’d hired the car that day and I was driving us four in the morning.

We’d arrived and I was so excited.

The first casino we went to was Flamingo’s we chose this one because it was next door to Drai’s Nightclub which is where Nelly was performing that evening and we were going to try and get in later on. Before that all started though we had some gambling to do, now I won’t go through every bet anyone had but I remember Katie being the first one to walk away from a machine “up”. The rumours about Las Vegas were not all true and I am going to debunk one now, if you are gambling people do come around with free drinks, this is no way to get drunk the waiting staff do not come round nearly frequently enough and so your forced to attend the bar to get your groove on and that can end up being expensive!

Anyway Katie was up and we’d met Sam and and Sian and Jon and Danielle so it was time to go to Drai’s.

Nelly was good. The club was packed and we had to move around to find some space to breath. Once we had done that it was such a good night some of my friends made their way to front of the Dance floor and were within touching distance of Nelly, one (Katie) even claimed to touch his shoelace. With good music, our first night in Vegas, good friends what more can you wish for. The night drew to a close and I knew that Vegas was a place I’d love. On reflection I wish I had stayed closer to the stage with the guys but I don’t like being too far from the bar and I don’t like being too packed in so I had my enjoyment from a far.

See, they were pretty close

The next day after a few hours spent in the bill we headed to the Stratosphere, one of the first Casinos in Vegas and definitely the tallest. Famous for its views across the strip and spaceship shape, our plan was to head to the top get some pictures and ride the rides at the top of Casino. My day didn’t start off great, I dropped my phone the screen smashed and I had no access to photos, social media, banking it was a bit of a pain but I wasn’t going to let that ruin my holiday. When we got to the top which was high I got other people to take my pictures and I didn’t need my phone to ride the rides. I’m usually not afraid on rides, or if I’m not hungover I’m not scared of heights. The combination of the slight anxiety hangover and the rides being so high up did give me small palpitations but didn’t stop me from getting on them. Whilst we went up, Carolina don Alex stayed down in the casino and spent what I am told was a lifetime waiting for an old yank to check their IDs against a big book of authentic IDs. Once that was done they played wheel of fortune until we came back down, wheel of fortune quickly became Carolina’s favourite game. Before we left the Stratosphere we did see a new bride and groom, the bride was errmm “falling” or maybe even cascading out of her dress, some of you may think oh typical man to notice that, it was hard not to notice when the bride was shouting “look how good my tits look” to anyone who would pay attention.

Another day we went to a pool party. It was being held at a hotel/casino called Encore, just based purely on the exterior it was one of my favourite hotels. We spent the morning at the Villa having some drinks, Jon and Danielle came to join us and I think we left for the hotel at about 12.

The DJ for the day was David Guetta and unfortunately I didn’t get to see him perform, I managed to have a couple of hours in the pool party, where I enjoyed spending 70 dollars on a drink….that drink must have been worth the money because it wasn’t long before I sort of “come round” and I was outside the pool party being told I couldn’t go back in because I was too drunk. I was lucky enough to catch a glimpse of David Guetta before being too drunk to remember what I saw. As you’ll know my phone was broke, Carolina was holding all my money and cards I couldn’t get a cab home because i didn’t know our address which is why I couldn’t walk either. I was told I could re enter the pool party but I’d have to pay again I tried explaining that I’d love to pay again but all my money was in the pool party this fell on deaf ears with the bouncers, my only option was to sit around and wait for someone to come out. Jon and Danielle came out first and rather than panic my friends I just told them to go back to their hotel and I was sure someone else would come out eventually, thankfully about an hour later people came out of the pool party filling me with stories of the bits I missed and explaining how they spent the time looking for me. Despite being kicked out the pool party it was still a great day the weather was nice, the bits of the party I experienced were good and it was at my favourite hotel. All in all a good day and pool party is definitely on my list of recommendations.

The plan for the rest of the night was to return to the Villa and then rest up and go back out. We went to a club called 1Oak clearly still drunk from earlier in the day they wouldn’t let me in. My friends went in and I went and got a coffee, by the time I finished the coffee Carolina had come out. We decided to call it a night.

I owe an apology to Jon, Sam, Danielle and Sian as we I was supposed to drive a second car to Grand Canyon one day but i woke up feeling a bit worse for wear after the night before and so I had to bail, promising you drive the others the following day. Despite letting people down I was happy I didn’t go in the end and I shall expand on why….

I was happy because we went to a casino, and both Alex and I won we celebrated with lunch, winning at a casino happens to a few people but I won in the strangest fashion and you’ll think I am exaggerating!

Alex was playing roulette, we were all watching. Alex had played for about 30 minutes and was up by about 500 dollars and I kept telling him I said it will be “zero” soon obviously this is completely random but still….Alex said that the next spin was going to be his last whether he won or lost so I said “ok well if it doesn’t come in Zero I will put my Daily gambling limit on Zero” ….zero didn’t come in and Alex collected his money as I took his place at the table….right at the last minute I bottled it and took some money off zero but still left around 10 dollars on it, the ball span and as the wheel come to a slow the ball settled at the Zero number, we went wild as if I’d won thousands but it was just shock that I said it, called it and bet it and it all come in. It’s the most excited I’ve been over 300 dollars in my life. It paid for our lunch. (Well mine and Carolina’s)

No trip to Vegas, in my opinion, is complete without a trip to the Grand Canyon. It was absolutely one of the highlights of the trip. It’s about a four hour drive, which is quite pleasant because of the scenery, from Las Vegas. Get to take in a few stereotypically arid American towns along the way such as Dolan Springs home to Hot Dog restaurant to the stars “Hot Diggity Dog” which was unfortunately shut when we drove past. We must have looked a bit of a spectacle when we stopped to get petrol, all five of us in the car were completely flummoxed by the complexities of the American petrol pump, all five of us had a go trying to “fill our tank with gas” we even convinced ourself it was the pump until we changed pump and found ourselves equally perplexed….eventually 5 peoples efforts and 20 minutes of time spent petrol started coming out of our pump which meant we could continue our journey. I’m convinced that had we not worked out how to do it we would all be working full time jobs in Hot Diggity Dog, lost to the outside world and forgotten by our loved ones, as it was we got petrol and that didn’t happen….

I’ve digressed, The Grand Canyon, I mean I know all 8 of you reading this so I know you all know what it looks like. On my way there I knew what it looked like but my god it is massive. I couldn’t really comprehend how big it was when I was looking at it because there is no point of reference, someone needs to hold a one pound coin up constantly to give some scale. The only way you can really appreciate the size is to watch the helicopters and you can see how long it takes them to cross the Canyon. I’ve put some pictures below because I like them but until you go there you won’t be convinced by the size.

No scale, but it is large and beautiful

The Grand Canyon was a highlight and that is still the case even though it’s is home what I’m convinced is criminal activity. You’ll learn now that I am very lazy writer, the part of the Canyon we visited belongs to a Native American tribe, I don’t know what they are called I could look it up but I refuse to accept them as genuine they charged us nearly 60 dollars to “get in” and when I say get in I mean drive us from the car park to the canyon.

They say that it is sacred land but to be honest it all feels a bit like a scam, and I am fairly sure of you were prepared to walk across the desert you can reach the canyon and get just as spectacular views. Despite being conned for the second time on this trip the Grand Canyon was one of my favourite activities.

I can’t remember if it was the night after the Grand Canyon or another night be Alex had organised for us to go to Omnia Nightclub which is a club with a rooftop located inside Ceasers Palace casino. It was all organised a bit last minute and ended up being a great night. I don’t want to keep mentioning the price of things but the water in this club was 13 dollars but they played good music and had some great views over the strip, what started as an impromptu night started to get serious when we left Omnia, in a predicament of what to do we stood outside hoping plans would fall in to our lap, and they did.

A man approached us and said he could take us to a strip club, limo there and back, initially we turned him down thinking we could make other plans but with no one able to make a decision we called the man back over and started our negotiation. The deal was twenty dollar entry and you get a free dance, a drink and as stated earlier a limousine to and from the strip. We were sold and we agreed and waited for our limousine…..which turned out to be a mini van. When we got to the venue Alex enquired about the limo, they said we would definitely get one back to the strip. We had a few drinks in the strip bar and then ordered our limo……which came for one night and one night only we were ballers!!

Another night Alex, Drozzy and I headed to Fremont Street or Vegas old town. It was our last night and had we found this place sooner we definitely would have came here more often, this is where the wait staff do come round often for you to get drunk something we couldn’t really make the most of because we had an early start the next day but we had a few beers and played some cards. Headed back to the Villa where Grant and Carolina were sitting up the only two who hadn’t succumbed to sleep.

There was another comedic moment when we were all at the Villa, 7 of us and a few other boys towering over Six foot. A man clearly over the age of 50 and no bigger than Grant was trying to get in our back garden. We ask him what he is doing and there were clear communication difficulties and looking back I’m really not sure why we were so sceptical but we really and we really didn’t want to let him in our garden, we did though and it turns out he was the pool cleaner! Madness.

I think our fear had foundations in various conflicting stories from our Uber drivers telling us our area where we were staying was or wasn’t safe, to this day I am convinced it was safe.

I had the best time in Vegas and it might have even been the best holiday I have ever been on and I look forward to returning. There are so many other stories I could have told you, Ben the pool cleaner if you’re reading this why don’t you give us your version of events. Or if you came to Vegas why not share your favourite story….perhaps it was Droz ordering peach cobbler, or four breakfasts at the diner?

So anyway yeah that was Vegas.

South America – Part Four (Dancing on Ice)

If you remember, we’d come home from our day trip Uruguay on the last update.

After sleeping off the Uruguayian in us the next day we woke up excited for the day we had planned. Our good friend Cristian was going to take us on a tour of the wonderful metropolis of Buenos Aires. What struck me about BA was the size of the city, I’m so used to London being a relatively small city and being able to walk round it within a day and this was nothing like that. BA is so big, even with a full day Cristian was only able to show us a few things. Our first stop was the Area of Boca home of famous football team Boca Juniors. Boca as an area is quite eccentric multi-coloured houses and many people dressed up in traditional tango outfits. After an empanada, we decided that we would tour the stadium, not before a local forced Cristian in to paying him to “watch” his car. Cristian later told us if he didn’t pay the guy probably would have just bashed up his car anyway, with that knowledge we decided to split the bill with Cristian then made our way to the stadium “the chocolate box” or to us Spanish speakers “La Bombonera”

I was excited it’s always been something I’ve wanted to do, it would have been better had there been a game on but nonetheless i wanted to see the ground and the museum and just take it all in. The football ground didn’t disappoint, as to be expected it was decked out with blue and yellow everywhere, very bold. The ground itself is old with a lot of the structure still wooden but we had a guide take us round, visited the home and away changing rooms the home one having all the modern conveniences fridges jacuzzi comfortable seats in vast contrast to the away changing room which would not be out of place down the brookdene. The visit to the stadium was playing havoc with one of our group. Cristian is a fan of a different (lesser known) BA team…..San Lorenzo. Anyone would have thought Cristian would burst in to flames if he touched anything in the stadium judging by the way he cautiously walked around. -footnote: Cristian asked me to make it clear to anyone reading this that he did NOT enjoy the tour he is still loyal to San Lorenzo.

After the tour we exited the stadium on to a street with a lovely restaurant where Leo Messi was their mascot so the boys all had a picture with the mascot pretending it was me….all very funny modern day comedians!

That is NOT me in the Argentina top

We returned to the car to find it in good condition not smashed windows or missing tyres, Cristian pointed out an area we shouldn’t go to, you know, just to fill you with confidence about the city he then took us to a busier more like the cities of Europe we know and love, we took in the sights palaces, parliament, nice buildings just checking boxes ensuring we really were tourists. Had some traditional Argentinian lunch then said our goodbyes to Cristian but it wasn’t the end of our budding friendship as him and his girlfriend at the time Sabrina were planning on taking us out that night and we couldn’t wait.

We went to a tango dance class in a bar, most of us were up for getting involved one person chose to sit out and look like a misery, however he had the last laugh by the end of the night. The first task was to learn the first seven steps of the tango, for me, the most coordinated person in the group this was easy for the others it was not between Alex and Jack there were 4 left feet. Due to poor performance no one else wanted to partner them so they ended up partnering each other and come to think of it that was probably all part of the plan. The dancing ceased and we sat down to have a drink with Sabrina, Cristian, Jon, Alex and Jack the tipple of choice was a fantastic Chilean red, so delicious that it would be sacrilege to spill but a drop…..the conversation turned to Marvel films and at this point most non fans would know to shut up but not Alex he voiced his dislike of the films and that was it, I’d had it. I picked up a glass and threw the red wine all over Alex, staining his white cotton shirt “take that back” I screamed, holding back tears. Alex bold as anything said “you ruined my shirt” like that matters in the grand scheme of things. Alex only looked like he’d been stabbed in the heart but his heinous opinions actually stabbed me in the heart. It was the only time on any of the trip I considered my friendships with any of my comrades unlike Jon who likely questions it every day.

The night was not finished after tango though and Jon Alex and I headed off to another bar, a very odd bar, so odd that I can’t remember why it was so odd but let it be known that there is an odd bar in recoleta and I think other people enjoyed it more than me and my friends.

The next morning it was time to bid farewell to Jon and to Alex which we did in a manly way.

We went to the airport got on our three hour flight down to Patagonia where Jack and I finally became backpackers…..for a while then went back to being holiday makers.

Due to my notes not being as thorough as I’d like I’m probably going to mention now that Alex and Jack both got the back pack back just in time wear clean clothes for the final night in Buenos Aires.

To sum up the holiday with the guys it was really good to have them there despite them tempting to spend much more money than I’d hoped for in the same time but it was still well worth it even though no one would come to see Harry Potter with me at the cinema and at the time of writing I still haven’t seen it, so I’ll forever hold a grudge about that.

The numbers of participants on the trip had largely reduced we’d started with five and now we were two, we’d been on three hour flight and arrived in calafate.

We took a taxi to our hostel and were shown to our room. At first it looked like good news, we were alone in a six person dorm, then all of a sudden a French woman walked in, not only was she dirty looking she smelt as bad as she looked. Jack and I were not impressed but as all good travellers do we got on with it. In calafate the main attraction is the “Perito Moreno” glacier the fastest moving glacier in the world. We booked our trip for the following day and decided we wouldn’t socialise with the other hostel dwellers. The main reason for this was we were off the “gringo trail” these people here were proper travellers think Ben from Inbetweeners 2, Jack and I would have been treated as second class citizens because we hadn’t spent a week in a tent with nothing but a bottle of water and a stick, in fact we were the opposite of these people we didn’t even have hiking boots. After a joint effort in the kitchen Jack and I put together a wonderful meal finished it off and went to bed. Frenchie was not in the room at this point deciding instead to party on downstairs at around one o clock in the morning she barged in the room, and in her defence didn’t turn the light on like some people do, she then proceeded to get naked and get in her bed completely oblivious to the fact that she just woke us up. We woke up in the morning and to our relief she was covered by her blanket but the blanket was not smell proof, the lady kept us up most the night with a chorus of snoring, burping and farting. She can do what she pleases in reality but I’m just doing these updates to tell you my experience, and this experience was the faint smell of a French person whilst eating my breakfast. Glad to be leaving for the day we got on the coach to go the glacier, not only do we have to pay for bus but also to get in to the national park. Perhaps my scepticism gets the better of me here but it felt like the people only stopped the coaches and cars were getting through no problem so my advice if anyone goes is get four of you together and rent a car and go up there I have a feeling that you might get in for free.

Taking the bad experience of Patagonia so far in to account, seeing this Glacier was worth it. I would have even shared the room with Frenchie for a week just to see it. I was always under the impression that glaciers would be cold, obviously the glacier itself is cold but We were pleasantly surprised when we were walking round in glorious 20 degree heat. The glacier is massive and we got a lot closer to it that I thought we would. We watching it on the balcony for ages joining in with the plethora of “oooohs” and “Ahhhh” and cheering when chunks of Ice bigger than buses were crashing in the water from 30-40 metres high sending a wave of icy water to the shore it was most impressive and definitely one of my favourite excursions of the trip. You can walk round kilometres of balcony taking in different angles of the lake and glacier and get loads of cool pictures, loved it.

It really was a sight to behold! I loved it

Honestly I can’t do this glacier enough justice, if you find yourself in South America go to this place!

Camp, leg up, just to make sure my shoes were in the picture

I went back to the hostel that night very content, and not even a unwashed French Lady could dampen my spirits. I’d like to put a bit of a disclaimer here – the French lady was nice and pleasant just had seemingly bad hygiene issues which in close quarters with people you don’t know isn’t a great way to behave in my opinion but someone from France might see it differently who knows.

The next day we went to the bus shelter and booked our ticket to El Chalten this is where would embark on our trek up Mount Fitzroy we had two nights planned there, at the bus station there was a man who was clearly Chinese but had learnt English with an American tutor he was also booking a ticket to El Chalten and was willing to tell anyone about it, it turns out his name was Robert…..this isn’t the last you’ll hear of Robert. Later that day whilst sitting in the hostel after booking our coach Jack decided his phone was broke, it wouldn’t charge it wouldn’t turn on so like a backpacker from the early 2000’s Jack took to hostels desktop and stayed there for the rest of the night, I thought he was pulling an all nighter on Msn, but in all honesty I would have been the same anything to get out of interacting with Frenchie!

India – Part 2 (The Chills and Thrills)

Jumping all over the place with my posts just to keep all 8 of you guessing!! We are back to the sub-continent, back to India. In the last post, we got to Baga and experienced some horrible people. You’ll be pleased to know there are more horrible people in this post.

We need to cover off the southern part of our trip to Goa and then Mumbai. I’ll jump right in to it.

Our taxi journey from The north of Goa to the south of Goa, which took us nearly three hours, only cost about 30 quid, so cheap. As we got closer to our beach that we were staying on “Patnem” the taxi drivers vocabulary became very restricted it seemed he could only say the word “Patnem” he proceeded to drive round and stop at every person he saw wound down the window and he said “Patnem” we’d see another local 100 yards down the road and do the same again. It was quite amusing for us.

A particular highlight of the journey was a monkey which ran across the road, it went as quick as it came and we never got to take a picture.

In the south we were staying at a hostel/B&B called Namaste. It was idyllic, it was on the beach front and only about 20 venues on the whole beach. We each had a room and mine and Jacks over looked the ocean. We couldn’t wait to explore.

There is a clear difference in the “vibe” (please excuse my use of that word) between the north and south, I think the best way to describe it would be that the North is More like Benidorm in India and the south is chilled out and feels like one big yoga retreat, this is enforced by a bunch of people doing Yoga across the beach every morning. We even had a go ourselves

Us practising our Yoga!

Our days followed a similar pattern, wake up have breakfast on the beach, get a taxi to another beach and then come back have 5 minutes in the room before getting ready and going out and not forgetting to speak to Gary before going out to make sure he left some beers in an ice bucket for when we returned the the hostel later that night.

One night when we were sitting on the beach at about 2 o clock in the morning we were approached by two girls and a boy, they started sitting with us and being the polite guys we are we offered them a beer. Not willing to open beers for strangers with my teeth I told them they’d need to find a way to open the beers themselves, so one of the girls rummaged around in her dreadlocks and had a bottle opener weaved in to her dreadlocks…..I hope that paints enough of a picture of the kind of people we were dealing with. Now that we are all drinking together I tried to progress the conversation when I hit a stumbling block, I was met with the response of “woah, why do you need to know that let’s not get political” to the question “what is your name”. The conversation was not fruitless however when they told us the story of a backpacker who was killed last night walking the streets. Sounded like a urban legend but to save confrontation we decided to let them have this. After a few more beers they went on their way and we went to bed.

It really was Hippy central, that’s not a bad thing but it is a bad thing when you’re made to feel like the odd ones out because you’re on a two week holiday and not some trust fund paid for hiatus from work. Anyway the next night the beaches all suffered a black out so we started to head home from the beach, we couldn’t see where we were walking but knew the terrain underfoot had changed it went from definite sand to a harder more “crunchy” surface. I reached for my phone to give some light and found to all of our disgust that we had been walking on a pathway of spider crabs and we must have sadly and completely unintentionally killed a few. It was a weird situation there were hundreds just on the beach so naturally we were all like “what are they doing that’s weird” when a bloke from behind us chimed in “they’re dying man” thanks Random dude it was rhetorical. Horrible experience. As we continued to walk much more cautiously now the lights came back all of a sudden which meant the night could continue.

We are clearly approachable guys, as we were summoned by a girl who said “can I follow you” so we let her. It turns out the waiter at the bar she was in was being a bit creepy so we let her join us. She came with us for a few drinks then back to our hostel. It got late so we tried getting her a Tuk Tuk to which there were none available so we walked her to her hostel, her hostel was guarded by security. We had no trouble getting through security….he was very sleeepy! We then managed to get a Tuk Tuk home.

A day or so later we were sitting on a beach minding our own business when an aging club promoter approached us offering tickets to a silent disco. Being the absolute lads that we quite clearly are we said yes and planned for a big night out. First big night out since garlic naans at 4am, we were ready. The party turned out to be decent and we stayed out as late as possible and headed home around 12 or 1. It was only when we were leaving that we realised the Grant was no where to be found, he’s a big boy so we decided to head home without him, sure that he’d find his way back to Patnem beach. Jack, Alex and I were sitting having a beer a few hours later when my phone began to vibrate, it was Grant, he was asking whether I could meet him at the entrance of the beach with money. Curiosity got the better of me and so I headed there with money in multiple pockets. The situation turned out to be a lot less exciting than I had hoped and he just needed me to pay for his taxi, it was the second thing I’d given him that night. Grant is very coy about that night and his location for much of it but nevertheless I am sure it was a night to remember. We were leaving Goa the following day.

Checkout at Namaste Hostel was a bit weird, we needed to pay for our accommodation and the beers that we had nightly! We stood at reception and told them we were checking out and they took our keys and were like “bye” and we were like excuse me but we need to pay and they were like “yeah yeah yes very good sir” and we continued to stand there and were trying to push them along to take our payment because our car to airport was waiting for us….still they were like “yessir good sir” so in the end we had had enough and started to walk out the moment we turned to walk away we had workers around us telling us we needed to pay, happy to give them our rupees we went on our way next stopped Mumbai……

We arrived in Mumbai and got a taxi to Hotel Apollo in the Colaba region of Mumbai. We had a couple of planned activities we wanted to do afternoon tea at the Taj Hotel, we wanted to go to a rooftop bar on the top of the Four Season hotel and visit the “slums” we had three of four days to do this we knew it would be ok.

A personal highlight from Mumbai was our hotel, this isn’t a glowing review and I’m not slating the place either it’s a highlight because it was funny. The staff out our hotel outnumbered the guests it seemed, it was a 24 hour hotel but if you returned late at night the staff would be asleep in the corridors and would make half an attempt to get up and open the doors for you, we would tell them all to go back to sleep it was just a bit surreal being surrounded by sleeping workers. We had one staff member join us in the room to watch the cricket for half an hour and another man who told us his shift in the elevator was 12 hours but because he needed the money he was going to pull a double shift! I’ll end the blog with us leaving this hotel.

The Taj Mahal Palace

The world famous 5 star hotel was splendid and surprisingly cheap, the afternoon tea was only 15 quid. We weren’t their usual clientele, probably a bit too loud and more active than the 70+ aged residents none the less the staff were more than amenable to us, even topping up our plates with dishes they thought we’d like, just ask Alex!

We didn’t know at the time but afternoon tea was not the last time we were going to visit the Taj Hotel. We had to go there after our evening/night at the the four seasons.

AerFour Seasons

Aer is the four seasons rooftop bar. It gives some amazing views of the city and is a always a recommendation of mine when speaking about this trip.

We went to the Four Seasons twice. On night one we turned up and found out it was a “Red Day” which meant some bars, including this one, would not be serving Alcohol. So on the first night we had a very expensive non alcoholic cocktail and left, the highlight of the night being Alex and Jack wearing shorts and being forced to swap their shorts for some of the staffs Ill-fitted trousers before they were allowed to enter the bar! The lack of alcohol was the reason we ended up back at the Taj, one of the only hotels allowed to sell alcohol on the anniversary of Gandhi’s death (I’ll circle back to this).

The second night, in the four seasons, we all came appropriately dressed, picture this four young guys sipping on a cocktail in a relatively empty bar, relatively empty apart from another group of what looked like work colleagues. Anyhow the sole female in this group approached us and asked us in her American accent, guys are you staying here for a few drinks? Amazed that a girl would approach us, between us we managed a timid “yes” she told us she’d go and get changed and come back and have a drink with us. We spent the next hour deciding who had the best chance to get to know this lady and we hadn’t really come to decision when she came back done up clearly ready for a night out, we on the other hand weren’t so instead of having a drink with this lady we basically all just ran out on her we finished our drinks and was like…..bye. Not sure why we didn’t that really as we didn’t head home we went to an Irish bar in a local shopping mall. The bar man mugged me off for nine pound when he gave me a fake Guinness, I drank it and swiftly moved on to a cheaper beer. After a few more drinks we decided it was home time and as walked through the shopping centre we heard a band playing and so decided to check it out. There was about 100 people watching this band and no one was dancing or clapping or anything they were just watching, so I took it upon myself to get the party started and went up and danced, eventually I was joined by my friends and we got a couple of others up on the dance floor as well. The people who didn’t dance were now at least smiling, we then headed. Back to our hotel filled with joy as we walked past our sleeping hosts.

Grant must have took this picture! Or he refused to be in it but it’s at the top of the four seasons hotel.

Taj Mahal Palace – Night 2

After our unsuccessful night in the four seasons we Googled where we could get a beer and it turned out that proper posh restaurants were allowed to sell alcohol, so we headed to the poshest one we knew. We got there and had a few beers, not long in to the evening we detected some English accents sitting in some chairs near us. We decided to go and speak to the owners of the accents, which was 2 girls from Brighton or Bournemouth I cannot remember now. The girls were, let’s say forward, they were with a young local man who they told us was their “photographer”. At one point when the girls went to the toilet the man was showing us some of his star gazing shots on his camera, when the girls returned and saw us all looking at the camera they had clear looks of shock and worry on their faces and they immediately questioned us “what pictures did you see” we didn’t see any pictures of them but their reactions have always made me wonder what shots could have been on that camera. After a few drinks the conversation had become random and varied as it does under the influence of alcohol and so we were now talking about star signs. Grant, with no substantial proof to contrary, labelled star signs as “bullshit” to which one of the girls replied “that’s exactly what I expect a Gemini to say” Grants retort was “ok I am a Gemini but I didn’t say that because of where the stars were when I was born”. We let this clearly sexually driven conversation play out and there were tears and tantrums before we called it a night, not before planning another night out with the girls. This lead to the biggest tantrum, close to tears Grant banned us from seeing them again he said that if we go out with them he will not come up so the following night we pandered to his will. (And people say I bitch and moan when I don’t get my own way). In a running theme that was not the last time we saw one of the girls a few years later she showed up on Channel 4’s surreal programme “naked attraction”.

The Slums

Cos it’s called “the slums” you think bad straight away, i think it doesn’t really draw an accurate picture. The slums is essentially a glorified industrial estate but on the industrial estate people also live there. The reason I say it’s no so bad is because there are shops, schools and all the houses we saw all had satellite dishes. What I will say is a lot of it smells, it’s very cramped, the jobs some people have ridiculous I.e. separating smashed glass in to separate colours, and according to our tour guide they earn next to nothing.

In one factory we went in our tour guide said “it’s messi” referring to me, they all stopped and looked and eventually one person said “you are not messi” he was right of course, he then proceeded to go upstairs and fetched a Messi Argentina top and gave it to me, I thought as a gift, it was not a gift, as then wanted me to buy it….I did not. I think the slums had a major effect on Grant he did not seem to enjoy the day.

Anyway we had a great time in India it was definitely one of my favourite places to visit and we got a great send off from our hotel staff. At the top of this part about Mumbai I mentioned Gary from the lift on his 24 hour shift and the sheer volume of sleepy staff members well, we checked out and a fight almost broke out about who could take our bags down the stairs as we were taking the lift. In the lift we decided to tip Gary and he started stuffing the money in his pockets before we reached the ground floor. At the ground floor the doors opened and there must have been 10-15 workers all with their hands outstretched we started giving money out like we were making it rain conscious that we would run out of money before we got to the last person, thankfully we didn’t but it needn’t have mattered if we did as we were waved off by the herd of staff we saw them dividing up the tips, it became clear to us why Gary from the lift was frantically stuffing his pockets full of our money…..he wasn’t going to share!!!!


Gary – from the lift
The sleepy staff
The staff waving us goodbye

In the airport we saw a BBC news reader.

The end.