Thursday, 18 August 2011

Around the world in 199 days

Note: this will be the last post on this blog so please scroll down to read about Rio de Janerio and Philip´s final thoughts.

Most people travel to find out about themselves, rather than the country they are visiting. I was certainly guilty of that on my last world tour in 2007, so I wanted to do things differently this time and really try my best to learn as much as I could about the country I was in. Therefore I am not going to harp on about how I have changed as a person (also because that is what people expect if you have taken a ´gap-yaaar´) but I will try to come to some conclusions about the five countries we have visited over the past 199 days.

The old cliche ´hindsight is a wonderful thing´ is true when I look back at the route we originally planned for this trip. Going to Japan first was great as it immediately forced us into a diverse and vibrant culture, so different from our own. We had 2 weeks to see as much as we could and we really went all out to experience the ideals, values, people, beliefs and attitudes of Japan. We were thrown head first into travelling and we were also very lucky in that we left Japan a mere few weeks before the devestating earthquake hit. Likewise, Australia and New Zealand worked out well for us as we wanted to travel through Oz during their summer/autumn and be in NZ in the winter for the snow. They both worked well. However, it was a big mistake to think that we could add a trip to South America on to the end of our already large and demanding tour. South America is a huge continent; something we only realised when we started to plan our time here. By that time, with our diminishing budget adding to the pressure of planning, we realised that we had to shorten our trip and go home early. It is only possible to really experience South America properly if you do it in one stand-alone trip. It is not something to be attempted as an afterthought! Despite that, we have enjoyed our short 3 weeks in Argentina and Brazil, but we know that we will have to come back if we really want to get under the skin of all the countries on offer here. We both agreed that we would be very daunted with the prospect of another 3 months travel at this stage. Although we have enjoyed ourselves hugely, we are also tired, in need of routine and our own beds! I never in a million years thought I would say that.

So although I think we got the route/structure of our trip and budget slightly wrong, I firmly believe that we got everything else right. It is quite difficult to compare the countries, and experiences we had in them, against each other as they were all unique and special in their own way. However, for entertainment I will try to follow the lonely planet´s ´blue list´, in which they vote for a winner of any particulaur category. So the marks go to:

People - Australia. You simply cannot beat this bunch of lively, happy, friendly people. They are wonderful.
Scenery - New Zealand. It is stunning.
Food - New Zealand. With more Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir that I could ever ask for, and fresh, organic foods everywhere, it is without a doubt the winner.
Experience - New Zealand. We did loads of adrenaline fuelled activities there and we strived to do something different every day. There was always something on offer.
Challenge - Argentina/Brazil. Travelling in Japan, OZ and NZ was easy. Everyday in South America challenges your mindset, beliefs, attitudes and opinions.
Weather - Australia. Western Australia to be more precise.
Transport - Japan. Mega-efficient, clean and always on time. I can´t forget our 2 wonderful campervans though!
WWOOF host - Uralla wildlife santuary (kangaroos!)

I think that illustrates (in a basic form) what was great about each country. I think my earlier blogs have made it quite clear that New Zealand is a clear winner for me. If I ever have the opportunity to move there, I will be there in a heartbeat.

So..that concludes our fantastic trip around the world. I have learnt a lot about the people, land and culture of every country we have visited, but especially that of Australia and New Zealand as we were there for so long and had the wonderful opportunity to WWOOF with different people. I would recommend the wwoofing scheme to everybody as every host family can teach you so much. How would I have ever learnt about generators, feeding hens and trimming vines before now?

Travel is as much about the journey, and the people you share that journey with, as the destination. We have met fabulous people all over the globe, and I couldn´t have asked for a better, more relaxed travel-mate as Philip. He has calmed me down, made me see things rationally, looked after me and made me laugh for 6 and a half months. I think he deserves a medal!

Thank you for reading my blogs for so long. I hope you have enjoyed them and learnt things, as we have, along our journey. We now have the next part of our adventure ahead of us and will take our experiences with us into the future.

Over and out,

(August 2011)

Final Thoughts...

I´ve decided to make a guest appearance on the blog to share my thoughts on the trip as a whole now that we are at the end.

I´ll make this as brief as possible. Every place we have been to has been an incredible experience for me. The things we have done, places we have seen and people we have met have all been amazing in the true sense of the word. I was hoping this trip would help me work out what I wanted to do with the rest of my life and I can safely say it has. It may not be in the way I expected but then I guess these things never turn out that way.

So where was my favorite country? Well they were all great so I´ll have to broaden it to my favorite experience in each country.

Japan: The people in Japan are so friendly, considerate and helpful, I was really blown away by them. My Birthday experience in Japan was a real highlight too: climbing a hill to a viewpoint of Mt. Fuji then staying in a traditional Japanese room (thanks to Hana for that!).

Australia: Again, the people really stood out for me. Not quite in the same way as Japan but everyone you meet instantly becomes your friend and they will happily offer to put you up for a week in their family home after talking to you for 5mins! (true story!). The Kangaroo sanctuary was an amazing experience. Feeding and looking after all the ´roos was something I never thought I would do in my life. Not only that but meeting someone who has sacrificed running hot water, a flushing toilet and electricity to dedicate their life to helping orphaned animals was very humbling. Also, driving 8500km across Australia was pretty cool in itself.

New Zealand: Wow, what a place. I´m getting bored of saying this now but the people there really were brilliant. People will literally stop you in the street and ask if they can help you with anything... A far cry from rioting. The scenery really takes the biscuit here, it is like driving in a postcard. Every corner you turn there is a new vista to take in (about 1500 photos). House sitting in the Coromandel Peninsular was brilliant fun too, and Jae will remain a firm friend of ours in the future.

South America: I´m doing both Argentina and Brazil in one as comparatively we didn´t spend as much time here. Iguazu Falls is one of the most amazing natural wonders I have seen. I don´t know how they did it but the only way you could get closer to the falls would be to swim over them. That stomach dropping feeling looking over the edge into the oblivion is incredable and I would urge anyone to visit Argentina purely for the falls. Brazil is hard to describe as we have only spent time in Rio. The city is interesting and there is always a lot going on. The beaches are nice (but I´ve seen better to be honest), and seeing the favelas, Christ the Redeemer and sugar loaf was certainly worth while.

Well, I guess that´s it. I´ve had the best experiences of my life on this trip and can safely say I wouldn´t (nor couldn´t) have done it with anyone else. Thanks Hana :)

See you all soon
Phil xxx

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Rio de Janerio


We have come to the end of our time in Rio de Janerio, which is our final destination. We arrived on Saturday and have been staying in the famous Copacobana beach area (Im sure you know the song). When we were in the taxi from the bus station in Centro to the beach suburbs, we were rather overwhelmed by the sights, smells and sounds of Rio. It is a crazy city and there is always something to watch and gawp at.
The layout of Rio amongst all the hills and around the sea makes it quite a sprawling city, but it doesnt have as many inhabitants as I imagined. The population is around 6 million, whereas Sao Paulo is home to 70 million people! There are 22 favelas in Rio; 14 of which are now controlled by the police, and 8 still run by gangs and drug lords. It makes for very segregated living, with crime occuring often. We were warned by other travellers to be extremely careful here as thiefs operate everywhere, and we even heard stories about girls having their earrings ripped out in the street! Needless to say, we were wary on our first few days here, and have been really careful during our stay.
To be honest, I am not too sure why people think Copacobana is that great. As far as I can see, it is a large, dirty beach next to water that is not suitable to swim in. Moreover, the street it is on is lined with prostitutes at night time. Aberdyfi beach in Wales is more my scene! Having said that, the view of Sugerloaf mountain from the beacfront is quite special.
On Monday we did a full day city tour to get our bearings. We went to the top of sugarloaf mountain via cablecar, took the train up to Christ the Redeemer statue, saw the most famous football stadium in the world (although it was closed to prepare for the 2014 world cup), walked down the strip where the carnival happens, and took a look at a massive 1970s cathedral. We also enjoyed a Brazilian BBQ at lunchtime, and met various holiday makers from around South America. It was a fun day out and a safe and interesting way to learn more about Rio and Brazil.
We have spent the rest of our time in Rio mainly in Copacobana, due to the heat and the huge expense of the city. Food is the same price as at home and it has been around 30 degrees for most of our time here. We have really enjoyed having some sun after spending so long in Winter in the Southern hemisphere! It is hard to believe that it is actually still winter here. Our tour guide told us that in summer it can reach temperatures up to 47 degrees!!
It is hard to compare Rio to any other city in the world as it is so varied and different. I have enjoyed experiencing it, but it has been a bit of a shock after all the fresh air and open space in New Zealand. I am not sure if I would recommend it as a holiday destination to people who have the same interests as me. Probably not.
We are about to go out for our final evening meal in Rio, and of the trip as a whole. We have the day in the hostel tomorrow before we fly at 11pm. We will land at Heathrow at 2pm on Friday afternoon. We are both really excited about going home now and cant wait to see our family and friends.
We will both write a final blog tomorrow to sum up our world trip.

Bye from Brazil,

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Cordoba and Iguazu falls


We have reached Rio de Janerio today, ending our 2 weeks in Argentina.
After Buenos Aires we took a 12 hour bus journey to the second city. I much preferred COrdoba to BA as it was cleaner, more compact and there were more interesting things to see. We toured around the beautiful churches, cathedrals and Jesuit temples. We also had fun in the markets and various restaurants, despite then having to spend most of my time on the toilet!!
On Tuesday we embarked on a 22 hour bus ride to the north east. The bus was also 4 hours late so it was the longest journey of my life! However the overnight buses in south America are comfy and spacious..thank goodness! We arrived in the small town of Puerto IGuazu on Wednesday. PI is by the border of BRazil and Paraguay and is a rural and charming place. It was so nice to be out of the smelly polluted cities.
On THursday we went to the biggest and best waterfalls in the world; Iguazu falls. They were absolutely magnificent and nothing could have prepared me for the sheer scale of them and the volume and intensity of water. It was a wonderful day, and despite getting soaked, we decided that the trip to south America had been worth it just to have seen the falls.
Last night was another 24 hour bus ride into Brazil. We arrived at COpacabana beach in RIo this afternoon feeling very tired. I can't believe that this is our last destination and that we will be home on FRiday!

Check for the last blog later in the week.

Love Hana x

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Buenos Aires

Hola from Argentina!

We landed safely in Buenos Aires on Sunday night after an awful flight from Auckland. Never fly with Aerolinias Argentinas! We have spent the last 5 nights exploring this colourful city and practicing our Spanish (the phrase book is still vital!(

On our first day here, we did a tour around the city to get our bearings and an overview of the place. We went to the North, which is the posh part, and saw where Evita is buried and some wonderful churches. There are districts with expenisve shops and apartments, and the feel is very Parisian. The architecture is similair to that of an old European city, the difference being in the cleanliness of the place. There is litter and dog poo EVERYWHERE in Buenos Aires. When we are walking around, I spend most of my time concentrating on what I'm standing in!

The South side of the city is the poor bit. La Boca is famous for its football team, and people on our tour went to see the inside of the stadium, but we were told to stay on the bus because it was too dangerous to get out. The area felt a little dodgy but we didn't see any real poverty there, and I loved the colourful houses and watching the children playing football in the street.

After the tour on the initial day, we have spent the remainder of our days here re-visiting the areas we were shown, to explore them more fully. People warned us to be careful in BA, but I haven't felt worried here. Crime does happen, but we have been staying in the city centre and watching each others backs.

Our hostel has been pretty bad, and it is freezing at night time, but it is cheap. Transport and some activities are expensive, but in general, food and everyday living is much kinder to our budget than Australia and NZ. The people here are also friendly and helpful and forgiving of our horrific Spanish! The weather remains cold during the day...we have now been in winter since March!!

The best thing that we have done so far has been to experience a tango evening. We were picked up from the hostel and taken to a traditional tango house, where there was an open bar. We started with an hour long tango lesson...hilarious! We were taught the standard tango moves and can now do the square, ochos and tango pose, if that means anything to anyone. Afterwards we were served a 3 course dinner and watched a professional tango show. Having done the lesson ourselves made us really appreciate the skill and beauty of the dancers moves. It is a lovely, passionate dance.

Tomorrow we leave Buenos Aires and travel 10 hours on a bus to Cordoba, which is Argentina's second city. We will be there for 4 nights before leaving for Puerto Iguazu.

So, we have generally good impressions of Argentina so far, other than the dirt and noise of Buenos Aires, which is extremely daunting after all the space and fresh air in NZ. Also, the people here like to protest in the streets all the time, and it is pretty worrying to see thousands of angry people marhcing towards you at once! We have been sheltering in many a coffee shop when that happens!

Must sign off now. We are going out to have our final meal in the capital. Argentinians don't eat until 10pm at night!

Please forgive any spelling/grammar mistakes. My jet-lag combined with a spansih keyboard does not result in the best blog!

Hana and Philip

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Farewell New country in the world

It will be with heavy hearts that we leave New Zealand on Sunday. Our three and a half months here has been an incredible journey; we have met some fantastic people, seen jaw-dropping scenery, tried adrenaline fuelled activities and sampled some of the world’s best food and wine. I can safely say that it is the best country on earth. You can’t beat that!
The past week has been spent in Queenstown with Philip’s parents (Moira and Ian). It has been so lovely catching up and enjoying their holiday with them. During the week we have done some more wine and cheese tasting, been ice-skating, driven to Wanaka and walked around the lake, tried cross-country skiing, and experienced Queenstown’s best restaurants and bars! They have also very kindly put us up in a fantastic room in the Sofitel hotel, so we have been living it up in pure luxury! We all enjoyed Nordic skiing, which was extremely hard work, but worth it! I was terrible at ice-skating but very good at the wine tasting!
To celebrate our final few days in New Zealand, my birthday and Ian’s birthday, we have been skiing today and will also be going tomorrow. The snow has been falling heavily over the last few weeks so the conditions are perfect. The sun was shining today and it is nowhere near as busy as the European or Canadian resorts so we had a fab time whizzing down the slopes. I cheated on my poor snowboard and hired skis’ to see if I could still do it...luckily I could just about keep up with Philip! I am really looking forward to my birthday tomorrow which will be spent skiing, followed by drinks in the hotel and then a posh meal in a very swanky French restaurant. Perfect!
Unfortunately, Moira and Ian fly home on Thursday, and Philip and I will begin our trip back up to Auckland. We have 3 days to drive the entire length of both islands in the snow, so wish us luck! We will have to say a tearful goodbye to our trusty steed, Daryll. He has been an awesome campervan! We then fly to Argentina on Sunday afternoon, where we will spend the final 3 weeks of our round-the-world trip (as well as in Brazil).
So, this will be the final blog for New Zealand. I don’t need to repeat what an incredible country I think it is, but I do urge you to come here as soon as you can! The Kiwi’s are just as friendly as the Aussies, you simply cannot top the scenery, everything is priced fairly reasonably, there is heaps to do and the wine is unbeatable. As they say here, “Pretty choice eh?!”
Marks out of 10 for New Zealand:  11
Please let me stay!!!

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

In search of sun in the Southland....

We have been having an interesting time since we left our beloved Wanaka. First, we went to Queenstown to check it out before meeting Philip’s parents there next week. We had a great time walking beside the lake, eating Fergburgers and enjoying the lively evening scene during our 2 days there. However, we didn’t visit any of the attractions or do any adrenaline-fuelled stuff as we will do that next week with the Brierley’s.
Our next stop was Te Anau, which is the gateway to Milford Sound. It is a really small and quiet town with not much going on, but the drive from there to Milford was absolutely stunning. We stopped off at many lakes, gorges, waterfalls and scenic reserves, making our journey a long but enjoyable one. It rains most of the time on the West coast but we were lucky and saw the sound whilst it was dry, although there wasn’t much sun! We didn’t do a boat trip on the water because I did one 4 years ago and they are very expensive, but other people we met told us that we didn’t miss much due to the rain. We had a fabulous day there and it was interesting to compare the area to the Marlborough sounds, where we spent our time with the Hague family. I’m still not sure which one I would give my vote to.
After Te Anau we sauntered slowly down the coast to Riverton, which was a sweet coastal village. We found a small campsite run by a lovely elderly lady and plonked ourselves there for 2 nights. The shared lounge had a large log fire which we had mainly to ourselves, and we were situated at the end of a scenic reserve that offered fantastic views over the sea. The only downside was that the rain began to chase us again, so that by the time we left Riverton, we nearly had to build ourselves an ark.
We drove (nearly sailed) to Invercargill which was a complete dive. It made Southampton look glorious by comparison! Seriously, there was nothing to do there and it poured  and poured, so the less said about that day, the better. Unfortunately the rain followed us from Invercargill through the Catlins, which we were told was an area that would impress us. It didn’t. I’m sure that it is pretty on a sunny day, but as we were nearly drowning in blanket rain, we continued driving until we found Dunedin. And there we had some luck...
According to my Mum, Dunedin is the Celtic word for Edinburgh, so we were delighted to find Princes Street and George Street in the large hilly town. The place was full of Scots, whisky bars, Scottish place names and galleries. We had a very enjoyable day visiting the public art gallery (one of the best I have been to), the central museum, the cathedral, watching a Labour protest and doing a brewery tour. Speight’s (NZ’s oldest brewing company) is based in Dunedin, so we did a guided tour around the factory with tastings at the end. It was fascinating, but I preferred the Montieths beer (which apparently can be bought in Waitrose so try it!). Dunedin was refreshing and cultured and gave us a deserved break from the rain.
On Sunday we looped around and headed north to Oamaru, which is another coastal town. We were surprised to find a historical precinct there, complete with its own Victorian settlement. We loved wandering around the old buildings which now house arts, crafts and second-hand bookshops. It is the first historical place we have seen for a long time! We also visited the cheese factory and later that evening, we were lucky enough to see yellow-eyed penguins arriving ‘home’ for the night whilst we walked along the cliffs. They are lovely animals and made us laugh with their funny antics. They take forever to come ashore, surfing the waves until they are able to stand and right themselves on the sand. They then waddle slowly across the beach and into the shrubbery protecting the cliff face. They come in one-by-one so we were watching them for nearly an hour. Fabulous!
We left Oamaru this morning and came inland to Mount Cook. We saw NZ’s biggest mountain from Fox Glacier a few weeks ago, but there is no road connecting the two, so we have finally made it to this side of the mountain range. The rain has eased off over the past few days, to be replaced with snow. Lots of it. We had to attach our snow chains for the last 50km of our journey, but Philip took it slowly and we arrived safe and sound. It is absolutely freezing! There is only an unpowered camping site in the village so we are in a YHA tonight, which is an amazing change. We love Darryl but it is becoming extremely cold and living in a van for 5 months has started to take its toll....
We will be in the Mt Cook national park until Thursday, when we will head to Lake Tekapo. This area is simply stunning with snowy fields hiding beneath enormous, white mountains that are reflected in turquoise lakes. The lakes around here have large amounts of rock sediment in them, giving them an amazing blue/green appearance. We feel extremely lucky to be snowed in here!
Although our experience of the southland was pretty murky and bleak, we have had a fun week and I still love NZ more than ever. Nothing can put me off!
Until next time...