Travel Log, December 2003 – December 2004

 

3rd December 2003
Susana flew out via Madrid, Rio, Porto Alegre, arriving in Gramado a mere 30 hours later! 1 down, 1 to go.

31st December 2003
Roger followed, seeing in the new year several miles above sea level.  Having successfully met up with Susana, we then spent a few days exploring Gramado, Brazil.    Happy New Year! 

7th January 2004
To Argentina (following 22hr coach from Porto Alegre) and a whistlestop tour of Buenos Aires.  The Tango show was entertaining, lots of antique shops in the arty quarter, and a pleasant square in which to consume the local beer.

Then down to Trelew (Welsh settlement) from where we did day trips to:
- Peninsula Valdes, for Sea lion & elephant seal colonies, and some penguins.
- Punta Tombo for one of the largest colonies of magellanic penguins (200,000, though didn´t personally count them). Very cute little critters.

13th January 2004
Then coach (more hours) to Rio Gallegos (changing just after Comodoro Rivadaria) and swiftly on to El Calafate, arriving yesterday Mon 12th Jan.

Today did a trip to see the Perito Moreno Glacier.  Very impressive, rising 80m above the lake, and stretches across to meet land again (after years of people thinking it was receding).

14th January 2004
Just come back from boat trip to Upsala glacier and others (Spegazzini) - spectacular ice formations on the icebergs that fell off the glacier and are now floating down the lake! + video footage of bits falling off Speg. glacier.

15th January 2004

Was 6 hours delayed and dusty bus journey to El Chalten (N of El
Calafate) then 7 hour route march to see mount Fitz Roy (ascending 600m and back down again) before the sun set and we couldn´t see our way back!  Made it back to E.C. just - got torch out as it was getting dim, but didn´t need it in the end.

16th January 2004
Glacier trek on Torre Glacier, with beautiful views to Cerro Torre. On with the crampons and a bit of ice-climbing. Oh, and 8 hours trekking (4 there, 4 back). Now exhausted and catching flight to Ushuaia.

17th January 2004
Bus from Calafate (complete with 2 punctures), then fly to Ushuaia (southern tip - Tierra del Fuego) for a couple of days.

18th January 2004
Ushuaia shut, except for Naval museum (interesting).

19th January 2004 (Mon)
Attempted to book bus out of Ushuiaia. Earliest was Wednesday, but tickets only purchasable in person. Arrived at booking place to hear the guy in front book the last two seats. Booked bus for Thursday!

20th January 2004
Went to Ushuaia National Park. Some pleasant walks. Saw a couple of beaver dams and the destruction of trees surrounding them. The result of some escapees of an attempt to introduce the fur trade to Ushuaia. Tried some "Pan del indio" (fungus growing on trees, once used as staple food source by indigenous indians) - needed some ketchup!

21st January 2004
Finally succumbed to a cold. Spent a leisurely day resting, then to Museo al fin del Mundo.

22nd January 2004
Early start (5:00am!) to catch bus for Punta Arenas (Chile), via a couple of Argentine cities.

23rd January 2004
Bus to Puerto Natales (3 hrs). Hired tent & stove & jumped on a bus to
Torres del Paine (4 hrs) for 7 days hiking.
Arrived and managed to successfully construct nice purple & yellow tent
(it was cheap!).

24th-28th January 2004
Various treks along "The ´W´" to Las Torres, Los Cuernos, and along to Glacier Grey. Lots of climbs & descents so hard on the knees, but good for losing weight - am now about 5 stone lighter! Got thoroughly drenched one of the days, but dried out the next! Goretex boots? Could have fooled me!
Blown along towards park entrance by F6-8 winds, reaching campsite with shelter shortly before dusk!

29th-30th January 2004
Left park, arrived back in Punta Arenas for evening flight to Puerto
Montt, visiting Cueva del Milodon (where the remnants of a triple-size polar-bear-like creature - actually a pre-historic member of the sloth family - were carbon-dated to about 10,000 years ago. It was a cave. That´s it really.
The fur remains they found are now in the British Natural History Museum. Have a look for us will you!!!

31st January 2004 - Rogers Birthday 
In Puerto Montt. Spent birthday finishing off having the cold, which had been neatly suppressed during strenous trekking activity in Paine!
Checked out car hire.

1st-2nd Feb
Hired car & went to Chiloe Island, to the southern end of the PanAmerican highway (beats us as to why it ends on an island!). Culture on the island is slightly different to mainland Chile since the Mapuche indians kicked the Spanish out of southern Chile, but seemed to forget about Chiloe. Everyone seems to live pretty happily together now though. Went past nasty car accident, thinking ourselves lucky until a lorry backed into us while we were waiting for the ferry! No injuries, just a crumpled bonnet. Returned sheepishly to Puerto Montt to get a new car.

3-4th Feb
In our smaller replacement car (humph!) went to Lago Llanquihue then to Volcán Osorno, near Puerto Varas, and climbed up to the ice-cap. A bit of culture ensued where we happened upon a music festival so deigned to listen to the winner of a Chilean international singing contest. Following such exertions, headed for some thermal springs for a quick dip, via some pretty, small towns. Lots of cakes (Kuchen) for sale due to the germanic influence in the area. Returned car (intact this time) to Puerto Montt.

5-7th Feb
Bus to Pucón (most fashionable place in Chile - as proved by the difficulty in finding accommodation there, and the throngs of youngsters (relatively speaking of course!) on the streets during the early hours of the morning. Did a bit of grade 4 white-water rafting (good fun). Foolishly booked to climb up Volcán Villarica (to see some molten magma first-hand) on a saturday morning, but guide had a few too many on friday night and failed to show. Hired some mountain bikes instead and went on the hardest, bumpiest, dustiest tracks in the area. Oh - to a beautiful lake (Caburgua) with sandy beach, where we consumed lunch. Couldn´t sit down for days afterwards!

8-9th Feb
Delayed birthday present - recovery in posh hotel on border of Parque National Huerquehue, built around some thermal springs - private hot-tub & everything! Jolly nice time, what-oh! Then resumed punishment with overnight bus to Santiago, ready for flight to Rapa Nui.

10-14th Feb
Easter Island/Isla de Pascua/Rapa Nui - pick which language you prefer! The most remote inhabited island (over 2000nm to Pitcairn island, and 3000nm to mainland Chile) Arrived during festival time, so loads of local activities/competitions (carving, costume-making, painting, surfing etc.) going on & free evening concerts - all with strong Polynesian influence. Lots of fit women wiggling their hips for Roger and fit men wearing feathers and strutting their stuff for Susana. Ah, getting distracted - we also saw loads of carved heads (Moai) - some still fallen from the inter-tribal wars (17th century) - and some put back into place again by people like Thor Heyerdahl, so people like us could take some smart photos. Most impressive was the quarry where they carved the heads and extracted the stone. Over 300 Moai in various states of being carved/extracted, spread around the volcano crater. Many standing or half-buried in the ground. Dived a few times - water was crystal-clear, corals were pristine, fish-life was present but not excessive. Trumpet fish, turtle, puffer fish, trunk fish, tuna, to name a few. Top place. Even has a few sandy beaches to boot. Almost forgot - bums had recovered by now, so tried out a few more bumpy, dusty roads. It was just as well we got upgraded to business class (aircraft, not mountain bike) for the return trip to the mainland.

15th -18th Feb
From the pure airs and clear skies of Easter Island, we arrived in one of smog-capitals of the world. Bienvenidos a Santiago!
We took advantage of being in the wine-growing area of Chile by visiting the Undurraga and Concha y Toro vineyards (hic!). We then finally got round to seeing "Return of the King", fortunately in English with Spanish subtitles! Santiago appears to be one of the best places in South America for ice-cream so we did our best to reduce the stocks a little.

19th - 22nd Feb
Arrived San Pedro de Atacama to sample the delights of a remote settlement at 2400m - an oasis in the Atacama desert, complete with authentic water shortage, electricity cuts etc. However, being in the middle of nowhere, at altitude, dry, with clear skies, makes it one of the best places in the world for star-gazing. So we spied some distant galaxies through some rather nice telescopes that, unfortunately, wouldn´t fit in our backpacks. It just happened to be new moon, making the skies even clearer. Saw some more scenic landscapes (valle de la luna, valle de la muerte, oh, and the Salar de Atacama (3rd largest salt lake in the world)) and visited the altiplano complete with lakes and flamingoes, surrounded by volcanoes. Time for a bit of history (and a bit more dusty mountain-biking) with a visit to the Pukara de Quitor (see pic).

23rd - 25th Feb
Having spent a few days getting used to 2400m, we felt ready for the 4WD Toyota LandCruiser trip across the border to Bolivia via the customs hut, lakes, geysers and volcanoes, pausing (or gasping...) for breath at 5000m. We passed through some vast open spaces and spectacular landscapes, saw more flamingoes, some vizcachas (see pic), and vicunas (another flavour of llama). On the way our driver realised that one of the wheels was missing three bolts out of six, and therefore liable to fall off without notice. We spent merry 3 hours in the middle of absolutely NOWHERE, and caused a bit of a traffic jam as we asked every passing vehicle for help (both of them - see pic). We managed to cobble together a 4th bolt which made our driver, at least, marginally happy and successfully stopped our wheel from falling off. Saw some absolutely huge cacti on an island in the middle of a salt lake (Salar de Uyuni - we weren´t happy with 3rd largest - this one is THE largest in the world). One of the cacti was 1,200 years old, and pretty tall to boot, despite only growing at 10mm per year. Formations on the salt lake were very pretty - sunglasses required. Only one problem - Susana shrank (see pic). Stayed at hotel made entirely of salt (aptly named the Salt Hotel) but fortunately they gave us blankets that weren´t. Llama tastes good. Sadly, had to continue on to Uyuni.

26th Feb - 5th March
Bus to Potosi, then to Sucre (the other capital of Bolivia). Being in Bolivia now, some people had to stand for 6 hours.
Felt in need of some culture, so went to see a Bolivian play, which Susana managed to follow. Roger wasn{t quite sure which language they were speaking. Following this, enrolled in a week´s Spanish course to find out what went wrong. To prevent Roger from overtaking her, Susana also enrolled. To get a real taste of Bolivia, decided to stay with a Bolivian family. Great food and hospitality.
Discovered that just outside Sucre is the largest set of dinosaur footprints in the world (Bolivia seems to be quite good at this world record thing) - 15-80cm in length, depending on the species of dinosaur. The longest set of imprints was several hundred metres (ask Guiness) and made by a dinosaur with the nickname Johnnie Walker.

7th March
Failed to say goodbye to our most excellent Bolivian hostess, Angelica, on account of her dashing off to hospital to accompany her daughter giving birth, so family pic is without her!

7th –9th March
Bus to Potosi
Found world´s worst guide in Iglesia San Francisco – all the churches in Potosi are interconnected by tunnels but he didn´t think so. He also insisted that "the church was built in 1406" which, according to him, was after the Spanish arrived in the 1500s! Fortunately, a local chap also stunned in disbelief, gave us the real story once we´d left the church.
Had a trip down a mine to try to dig up some silver to pay for the hotel bill (see pic). We bought a stick of dynamite and some coca leaves from a corner shop (as you do!), and made some miners very happy. They have to dig pretty hard into the hill now since they´ve already extracted 70,000 tons of silver since 1545 (making the hill lose 500m in height!).
Back in the 16th century this was the biggest silver deposit in the world. Being optimists, they believe there´s another 70,000 tons to come.
The miners probably got through 40,000 tons of coca leaves while they were at it – they all had golf-ball sized lumps of coca leaves bulging out of their cheeks. The compassionate Bolivian government recently reformed their pension rights such that they now only get a pension if they are going to die within a year or two (technically, only when their lungs are 80% siliconized).

10th-13th March
Went to La Paz and left as soon as possible. Took a mountain bike ride from La Cumbre to Coroico, descending about 3500m over 62 km, taking 5.5 hours, and needed a new pair of hands by the end of it. 5.5 hours of braking takes its toll! In traditional Bolivian record-breaking style, this is apparently the most dangerous road in the world. We certainly wouldn´t want to be in a bus on it – it´s narrow, has sharp, blind corners, and room for 1 vehicle only, and was built by Paraguayan PoWs (so no wonder it´s not exactly a high quality piece of engineering). Oh, and it rained for 4 hours, so when we cycled through waterfalls, it made no difference!

14th-21st March
Spent 16 hours in a bus to Rurrenabaque and, given the roads, vowed to take the plane back. It was probably a good thing that we arrived at 5:30am (in the dark). Most tour agencies have cottoned on to the fact that tourists like the "eco" word, pretend they are eco-friendly, and promptly leave rubbish in a pile in the jungle. We opted for the somewhat more expensive option of Chalalan Lodge (www.chalalan.com), 5.5 hours up-river, in the middle of the Parque Nacional Madidi (reputedly the most bio-diverse area on the planet). It´s run by a local indigenous community who really do look after the place. (It had nice beds too). Wildlife was interesting and included various types of monkeys (howler-, squirrel-, spider-, cappuccino-), caimans, a tortoise, frogs, loads of birds and all manner of huge insects (cricketus maximus, antus giganticus and butterflyus enormus).
Went to a cliff where macaws live, as photographed by National Geographic in the March 2000 edition with its article on P.N. Madidi that went a long way to help save the park from a planned dam & hydro-electric power plant. Had some interesting conversations with Rosa Maria Ruiz – very switched on - who has been extremely involved in the creation of the park and various conservation issues. She took the Nat Geographic team all over the place for the article. She´s been working with a local community and they now have some lodges that we´d have gone to had they been open now (Serere - due to open April 2004, see www.madidi-travel.com).

22nd-23rd March
Renewed visa, since we were unexpectedly about to exceed our 30 day limit! Bolivia seems to have far too many interesting things to see & do.
Went to see the ruins of the first important and well developed Andean civilization – Tihuanacu (or Tiwanaku) – 600BC to 1200AD, once on the shores of Lake Titicaca but now high and dry. Interesting from an historical perspective, but some restoration work required!

24rd March
Morning trip to Suriqui, on Isla Paco, Lake Titicaca, reputedly the last remaining place in the world where they still make reed boats. In September. The rest of the year, it appears they make wooden boats for the area. Nice, but not quite what we had in mind!
Then a flying visit to Sorata, a picturesque town nestled in the shadow of a 6000m mountain, Illampu. Nice, but a bit cloudy and wet.

25th March
From Sorata back to the shores of Lake Titicaca (highest navigable lake in the world – wonder if Guiness has issued a special book devoted to Bolivia!) to Copacabana in a variety of ways: coach, minibus, boat, taxi, and finally a walk with backpacks to our hotel (last bit because the taxi ran out of fuel on the outskirts!).

26th March
Still at 3,800m, went to Isla del Sol where, legend has it, that the first Inca & sister appeared (as if by magic?). Nice couple of hours trek from one end of the island to the other, avoiding all the kids asking to have their pictures taken (for Bolivianos, of course).

27-28th March
Finally left Bolivia for the forgery-centre of Peru - Puno, where we quickly learnt how to distinguish real from fake 1 Sol and 50c coins. Went to the Uros floating reed islands where they still use reed boats (for transporting tourists) and clearly make them still, unlike "the only place they still make them" in Bolivia! Also went to interesting Temple of Fertility (see pic).

29th March
Train to Cusco - beats Connex SE trains anyday! Alpaca herds, small villages, and STRAIGHT THROUGH the middle of a market (Juliaca) - stall roofs literally inches away from the train windows (only knocked one down on the way through!).

30th March - 7th April
Cusco and surroundings. Lots of impressive ruins. Inca masonry very skillful - couldn´t even squeeze a credit card between the stones of the palaces/temples. Of course, commoners´ buildings weren´t as expertly done, but nice nonetheless. Roger was persuaded to go on a day trip to see several ruins on the promise of seeing "sexy woman" at the end of it. Turned out it was a place called Sacsayhuaman instead. Still very nice, but not what he was expecting (see pic).

The Inca Trail
Started with visit to porters´ village and a quick game of football with the local kids (who were fascinated with digital camera!). Bit of a dance with the porters & wives to extremely long songs on "traditional" guitars. Following morning the trail began. Felix, our guide, was excellent and had clearly studied a lot, reeling off latin names for all and sundry on the path (including black widow spiders and eggs... we won´t be lifting any rocks in a hurry!). The Incas certainly knew how to build a path - some parts were 5 metres deep of carefully stacked rocks, to get round a tricky part of the mountain. With more steps than you can shake a stick at (an extremely long one at that). We passed several (6?) Inca sites during ascent to 4200m and subsequent descent to 2400m, the latter part through some very atmospheric secondary cloud forest - trees draped in moss and epiphytes (bromeliads as Felix informed us), and hundreds of orchids in bloom. Stopped at some spectacular campsites and, to cap it all, we ended up at this really interesting archaelogical site. Think it was called, um, Machu Picchu... And the sun shone (see pic).

Following overnight stop at Aguas Calientes, took train then minibuses to Ollantaytambo & Pisac for more ruins and more terraces than you can shake an equally large stick at before return to Cusco.

8th-10th April
Overnight bus to Nazca, complete with imaginary dodgy local people, with "8am" flight the following morning over the Nazca lines which, after accounting for standard Peruvian delay, actually turned out to be nearer 10am! Shapes of spider, monkey, whales, trapezoids, hummingbird, dog, etc and all sorts of lines on the plains - only discernible when flying. Still noone knows why they made them. There are all kinds of theories: for religious purposes; pointers to sources of water; alien landing markings (the one that goes up and over the hill could be interesting...); shamanic symbols. Nearby are some of the best preserved mummies (from cemetry in ground) in South America (atmosphere is so dry here it hasn´t rained for 1000 years - apparently).

Bus to Lima (Royal Class ;-) )

11th-12th April
Lima. Empty due to Easter festivities elsewhere in the country. Probably the best time to visit!
Next: Goodbye Peru! Hello Ecuador! ... flight to Guayaquil.

13th-21st April
Now it was time to follow in Charles Darwin´s footsteps, so we escaped Guayaquil for the peace and tranquility of the Galapagos Islands, just one and a half hours away by plane (OK, so Darwin took a boat!).
Then we decided that maybe Darwin had it right, so found ourselves a smart boat ("Floreana", not "Beagle" since "Beagle" is now a very small research vessel about 20 feet long!) for 6 days & nights. Our route took us past red, white, black, and green sand beaches (though there wasn´t much green sand) and all kinds of creatures with sub-species unique to each island (not just finches).

For those interested, our route was via the following islands: Rabida, Santiago, Bartolome, Baltra, North Seymour, Santa Fe, Espanola, Floreana, Santa Cruz.
All the islands are of volcanic origin (the western islands are the youngest with still-active volcanoes). The vegetation is generally sparce with an abundance of cacti, some of which even grow into trees!

So, what did we see?
Birds with blue feet (blue-footed boobies - also known as the bird that can´t whistle - but certainly tries!); big lizards that dive into the water for food (marine iguanas); overgrown tortoises (galapagos (giant) tortoises), and penguins... at the equator?!!!
...and some more ordinary creatures: land iguanas, lava lizards, sealions, fur seals, bright red crabs, pelicans, albatrosses, and some magnificent frigate birds treating us as a taxi and soaring off the lift produced by our boat. Most of the animals had little fear of man, so came extremely close.
We snorkelled and dived, and saw no end of sharks (white-tip, galapagos, hammerhead (one!)), rays (eagle, sting, golden cow-nosed, manta-type), turtles (green/black), seahorses, batfish, loads of other fish, sealions and last, but not least, chocolate-chip starfish! The sealions were great fun, playful and came incredibly close - sometimes a little unnerving underwater!

22nd-28th April
Went to Isabela island (2 hours by twin-engined speedboat) for the world´s most tedious walk to see the 2nd biggest volcanic crater in the world - take a horse if you get the choice.
Amidst this hectic schedule we still found time for a few hours relaxing on some beautiful beaches.
Finally, we caught a flight back to Guayaquil to see what mainland Ecuador was all about, and jumped on a bus to Cuenca.

29th-30th April
Explored Cuenca and decided to leave as soon as possible due to too much and too noisy traffic (compared to Galapagos!). Being centre of panama hat production, we inspected a couple of hat-making places with expensive panama hats, before hot-footing it to Sigsig where, rumour had it, the hats would be just as good and cheaper. Nice little place in the mountains, with almost all the indigenous women in the village/town making hats whilst walking along the street! Found the local run-down factory selling lower quality hats for more money so returned to Cuenca, "cap in hand". Bought lots (4) of fine panama hats!

1st-3rd May
Went to Banos for volcano-viewing (Tungurahua volcano) and took mountain bikes to see some nice waterfalls. Good road (mostly downhill), not too much dust. Couldn´t see why people raved about Banos itself, but surroundings were nice.

4th-7th May
Headed to Quito (foiling locals attempts to relieve us of the contents of our bags on the bus), where there was an interesting and well-presented archeological museum. Had numerous discussions (thanks to Susana´s Spanish!) with taxi drivers over the cost of a trip, but later discovered the locals get the same treatment! Given the fame of nearby Otavalo´s market, we went to have a look (once the bus had stopped going round in circles in a vain attempt to pick up more passengers). And bought stuff. Foiled more locals´ attempts to rob the contents of our bags on buses. Had a look at a nearby crater lake from an extinct volcano (see pic) Cuicocha.

8th-11th May
Escaped the clutches of Ecuadorian mainland with all our possessions, except a couple of films probably when being hand-checked at the airport. Arrived at the american-influenced capital San Jose, Costa Rica, having finally got through the super-inefficient Miami airport. Spent a few days at museums etc., before heading for some greenery.

12th-14th May
Explored most aspects of Monteverde Cloudforest Preserve including canopy walks, whizzing from tree to tree down wires (see pics), butterfly farm, ranarium (frog house), serpentarium, orchid garden, hummingbird garden. You name it, they´ve got it! Also did night walk. Excellent guides throughout, and got to see several of the elusive, colourful, Resplendant Quetzals, sloths, monkeys, toucan(no ´s´).

15th-17th May
Headed south to the pacific beaches, to Quepos via various buses. Arrived Quepos, didn´t like the sewage so hopped on the next bus to Matapalo. Good decision. After 13 hours, arrived at paradise (with added mosquitoes): El Coquito del Pacifico, palm trees, pineapples, mangoes, cashew trees, iguanas, sloths, pool and bar. Right next to the deserted beach (which we galloped along on horseback - for a bit).

18th-19th May
Took a bus to Uvita, with intention of diving, on the boundary of Parque Nacional Marino Ballena (Whale), arriving in the only month that you don´t see humpback whales! Dive shop closed due to low season, and it was raining, so went back north to the very americanised Dominical (good for surfing). Dive shop open, but not enough divers for the trip to be viable.

20th-21st May
Still raining, so gave up and went back to San Jose. Checked weather forecast and decided to bring forward the flight to Honduras!

22nd-23rd May
Flight to San Pedro Sula, Honduras (via Miami), followed by bus to La Ceiba & flight to Roatan island (chosen as it involved 3 hours less wait than a flight to Utila island).

24th-30th May
A week´s diving at one of the cheapest places to dive on the planet, costing a staggering $15 per dive with West End Divers - new equipment, excellent service, excellent divemasters, excellent visibility, no or little current - the perfect place for macro-photography if only we had a camera with us! Hired one for a day, but no macro lens. Got kicked out of our hotel after 2 days (we´d clearly haggled too well - the owner "claimed" that someone else had booked the room for $25 instead of the $15 we were paying. Walked down the road a bit and found a fantastic spacious apartment (fridge, microwave, coffee-maker.. backpacking? Hmmm!) at Mariposa Lodge, haggled to $25. Oh, and hammock!!! Couldn´t fault it apart from the cockerel in the morning!
Weather: sunny, calm, winds gradually increasing through the week.
Beach: sandy. Water: bath-temperature. Thoroughly relaxed!

31st May-2nd June
Took the ferry to Utila island, via La Ceiba, to try to see some of the rumoured Whale Sharks. Best chance is when calm, when the boats can locate them via seagulls feeding on fish that feed on something that whale sharks feed on! Spotted 7/8 days previous week, but not "yesterday". As suspected, wind now too strong, waves too choppy, and we didn´t see any Whale Sharks! Utila Dive Center, reputedly a PADI 5-star resort, couldn´t have been more of a contrast with West End Divers: old, worn equipment,
divemasters still under training, and generalised chaos! Took two days of it and decided that with the weather not improving, we´d have to find Whale Sharks somewhere else in the world.

2nd-4th June
Left Utila for Honduran mainland, and headed for Copan for some Mayan ruins. Sadly missed out on a visit to Santa Rosa de Copan cigar factory - had to make do with sampling their wares instead.

5th-7th June
Departed Copan for Guatemala. Seven buses and 10 hours later, having refused to pay the unofficial "entry tax" into Guatemala, and visiting the ruins of Quirigua with impressive hieroglyphic inscriptions, we made it as far as Rio Dulce where we overnighted before continuing on the way to Flores for Tikal. Although tempted with a week on board a 46
foot sailing catamaran to the Caribbean, we resisted and continued on to Flores. Tikal was impressive with a few more temples unearthed since Roger last saw them (including Temple V which you can climb up ladders to the side. European safety inspectors would have a fit here, since there is nothing to stop you falling off the top (other than common
sense!). Lots of thatched roofs seemed to have sprung up all over the place, too.

8th-9th June
3 days in Guatemala is as much as we had time for, so off we went to Palenque by bus, then motorised canoe across the border, the bus again. Palenque retained the same charm it had last time for Roger with archealogists still at work excavating. The Mayans clearly had a good eye for scenic settings (or at least the queen did) - the nearby
watering hole was very nice (see pic).

10th-11th June
Back to the border with Guatemala (sadly it was easier to go to Palenque & back than do this all on the way!) to visit the Lacanja area, with a Lacandon indian to guide us through the jungle to some Mayan ruins as yet unopened to the general public. Authentic trek through jungle, across numerous wooden planks/trees over rivers to get there, with
interesting wildlife on the way. Following day included an hour´s ride on motorised canoe down the Usumacinta river until we reached Yaxchilan - a Mayan ruin utterly surrounded by jungle with the cacophony of Howler monkeys to add to the atmosphere. Thoroughly enjoyable! Next to Bonampak, with its very impressive murals, still in full colour after
all these years, though not quite in as perfect condition as they once were (see pic).

12th June
Having seen some Mayan sites, we thought we ought to stop by and learn a bit about the people that came before them: the Olmecs (1150BC-150BC). So we went to Parque Nacional La Venta in Villahermosa to see some rather large Olmec heads, and other stone sculptures, laid out in a park/zoo that had as many animals jumping through the trees as in cages (Not the jaguars, fortunately!). And, to save a few pennies on
accommodation, we took the night bus to...

13th-18th June
Merida. Based ourselves here for a few nearby excursions to: Uxmal (including Son y Lumiere - see pic), Chichen Itza and Mayapan. Given that it was hot and humid, and since our plans of spending a day or two on the beach at Playa del Carmen or Cozumel were confounded by the worst flooding in Cozumel´s history, we decided instead to round it off by cooling down with a swim in each of three cenotes - naturally formed
sinkholes in the limestone.

19th June
Arrived in Mexico city, and literally fought our way through the rush hour crowds and roadworks to reach our desired hotel, complete with all belongings!

20th-22nd June
Contrary to suspicions (website not updated for some time), we have not been kidnapped in Mexico City. Instead, we went to see the impressively enormous pyramids of the Sun and Moon (which according to recent discoveries should be Water & Moon), at Teotihuacan. These are by far the biggest we saw. Whilst wandering through the ruins, we were interviewed by a 8-year old Mexican girl (for her homework) who asked us, among other questions, whether we carried a bottle of water with us (Yes - must just be us foreigners that carry them!).

Went to the Museum of Anthropology where we found the vast majority of the missing stellae that had been "stolen" from Yaxchilan (those that weren't spirited off to the British Museum!), amongst many other interesting Maya and Aztec exhibits.
Despite its reputation, didn't see any crime occur during our brief stay there but did see the biggest flag we've ever seen, in the main square.
Celebrated England's 4-2 victory with the world's most tedious city tour-bus.

23rd June
Left Latin America for another flight on stingy American Airlines, getting fed 2 tiny bags of pretzels during our 7 hours of flying with them (via Dallas to San Francisco). Arrived San Francisco, famished, to discover that the USA is massively more expensive than any country we'd been to so far (shock!).
From a lovely spacious room with ensuite in Mexico City for about $15 a night we moved to $55 a night for a small room with shared bathroom down the corridor in a San Francisco YHA. Vowed to leave ASAP which, fortunately, was already in the plan. Fancied an ice-cream but, on seeing the size of the smallest one, instantly understood the states' obesity problem, and decided we couldn't cope with one between us! Had a nectarine instead, whilst observing Alcatraz.

24th-25th June
Went to Sacramento to visit Pam & Tim, Susana's friends, to be greeted with the news that England were out of Euro 2004. Still, they looked after us well for the next couple of days and fed us with some nice pancakes for breakfast in true North American style. They showed u around Lake Tahoe (nice picturesque spot) with big lake & waterfalls. Saw our first 'wild' chipmunk (see pic).
Experienced the delights of Nevada's casinos but failed to supplement our travel fund with any significant amount, so will have to forego 5-star luxury hotels in future.

26th June
Returned to SF and visited Golden Gate park (and were accused of being lost by helpful San Francisco-an).

27th-28th June
Boarded our last foodless, alcohol-less American Airlines flight (hooray) to Los Angeles in the morning, where we connected with our yummy Quantas flight and experienced a proper company's flight again. 14.5 hours later, and an extra day for crossing the date line, arrived in Sydney in the evening. Somewhat unhelpful shuttle-bus driver dropped us in the middle of the red-light district, nowhere near our hostel. Wandered the streets a bit with all our luggage, looking every bit as odd as the rest of the people in the area, until we found it!

29th June-11th July
Played the game of musical hostels, settling in the Travellers Rest, while hunting for a flat to lease for the next few months. Susana signed on to a few agencies to make the most of her working-holiday-maker visa. Meanwhile, we looked at several flats in various parts of the city deciding that we liked the sound of Woolloomooloo, so should live there (it's quite convenient too!). Submitted an application and should be moving in on the 14th.
Visited Sydney's Aquarium & Taronga zoo to see wombats, kangaroos, wallabies, echidnas and duck-billed platypus.

Took the opportunity to catch up with Nick (ex-LTSB) and some reasonable beer at last, along with some good old bangers & mash.

12th July-22nd July
Application approved, so moved into studio flat in Woolloomooloo (1-2km to Sydney City Centre, or CBD as it's called here). Went to a dive, surf, action show and entered Mike Ball's competition for a free 4-day scuba trip to Cod Hole (near Lizard Island, Barrier Reef)  and later discovered that Roger won!!! Didn't win the coffee maker though.
Visited a few of the white sand beaches (Bondi, Coogee, Manly) and finally discovered that the clear blue skies of Sydney weren't a permanent fixture - Sydney did the dirty on us, and some clouds appeared.
Meanwhile, Roger has turned into a budding chef, and does a mean pesto sauce (courtesy of HeCooks - a men-only class (free beer & wine provided), teaching him how to use a vicious-looking knife!).

23rd July-26th July
Hired a car and went a few hours north to Nelson Bay to catch the tail-end of the northern migration of humpback whales. Jumped on board a 60ft catamaran and managed to see a mother whale and her calf blowing into the air (well, their fins and some water going vertically!). As it was nearby, we did a tour through the wine-making Hunter Valley region (in a minibus so we didn't have to drive!) and sampled far more wines than our taste buds remember. We think they were nice... Did some walks through Koala habitat, where Susana displayed her prowess at spotting the “cute, fluffy, stoned teddy-bears”, as she put it.

27th July-6th August
Went to see a winter concert at a floating stage in the harbour - shouldn't admit it, but it was by Bjorn Again doing Abba stuff (hey, it was free!).
Not content with clouds over Sydney, we decided to give the blue mountains a try. Spectacular scenery, with the blue name reputedly caused by oil from the eucalyptus trees during summer. We think it was because it was so cold at night. Anyway, with such sheer cliffs to see, curiosity got the better of us, and we dangled ourselves off ropes for a closer look (…er, abseiled down some, that is).
Susana earned some money here and there to buy us some dinner.
STOP PRESS: Blue skies return to Sydney.

7th August-21st September
More temp work for Susana, and studying for Roger as he adds a couple of Java qualifications to his name. Various trips to national parks (e.g. Botany Bay, to see where Captain Cook landed), museums, cinemas - the kind of things normal people do, but in and around Sydney. Roger completed his HeCooks course without getting food-poisoning or chopping any fingers off. Had another couple of beers with Nick (ex-LTSB), and visited Canberra and Lukas (ex-karate, training for 2nd dan black belt, so didn't argue with him.). Had an excellent time being whizzed all over Canberra and surroundings, including a trip to Tidbinbilla - part of NASA's Deep Space Network monitoring stations (the other 2 are in USA & Spain) that track spacecraft across the solar system (www.cdscc.nasa.gov) including receiving and relaying 'That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind' from the moon.

22nd September - 30th October
Celebrated Susana's birthday with a trip to Sydney Opera House (inside - to see an Opera!) - saved on the taxi fare since it's within walking distance of the flat! In between Susana's work and Roger's next Java qualification (SCWCD) we managed to visit a few more places - drove a couple of hours south of Sydney to Jervis Bay for a long weekend, and even saw some wild echidnas (look like overgrown hedgehogs) and several kangaroos ('roos) one with a Joey poking its head out of mum's pouch. Enrolled into a photography course to gain some new tips - you'll be the judge of whether they were good or bad, though! Had lots of leaving drinks, went to Ragan's house-cooling party (she was moving out), and we moved out of our Woolloomooloo studio flat and back into the realms of backpacker lodgings again. Time to get back on the road - er, to the skies - again.

31st October - 6th November
Flew to Alice Springs to see what all the fuss about the red centre and the rock was about. Hired a 4WD Toyota LandCruiser for a couple of days to visit the West MacDonnels range with gorges and watering holes, Gosse Bluff comet crater (5km left) and then drove through some pretty bad dirt roads (though Susana reckoned they were quite good in comparison to some Brazilian dirt roads!) the Jurassic Palm Valley (through which the Finke River - oldest in the world - flows, mainly underground) 4WD essential! Next took a break from driving and let someone else do it by jumping on a 3-day tour with Wayoutback to Uluru (Ayers Rock), the Olgas, Kings Canyon and surrounds. Watched a lovely sunset whilst supping "Champagne" & sunrise - look out for forthcoming pic! Slept under the stars in "swags" (overgrown heavy-duty sleeping bags) around campfire.

For the bird-lovers amongst you, we've come across the following species, that we've classified by their call:
- "echo sounder" bird (think of WWII movies and destroyers hunting subs)
- "R2D2" bird (think of R2D2 in Star Wars having a conversation with someone)
- "Can't be bothered" bird (yes it does make a noise. Wa Wa Waaaaaaah - the last one tailing off as if it's all really rather too much effort to bother with the rest. Typical Oz!)

7th - 10th November
Kakadu National Park
Headed up north to steaming Darwin to check out Kakadu National Park and other interesting parks nearby. Finally twiddled our thumbs enough to get around to updating this website!
Boy, were we glad the air-con worked in the car. In the time we spent outside it, we got through about 10 litres of water between us per day! In between swigs, we had a look at some well-preserved aboriginal art (they had some very strange ideas, these people - see pic). We made use of the tent again in the "packed" campsite (just us and 1 other tent!)
- Everyone else must have realised it was a bit hot! Flicked off all the green-bottomed-ants (very weird) the following morning, and jumped on a boat up the strangely named Alligator River looking for estuarine crocodiles ("salties"). They look mean. Don't argue with them.
Finished off Kakadu with a visit to Gunlom falls - very picturesque spot so had a splash around (pic).

11th - 14th November
Had enough of the driving and decided to take some exercise by hiring canoes at Nitmiluk (Katherine Gorge N.P.) (see pic), where temperature in the sun reached 50C! Then headed for Lichfield N.P. making use of the 4WD capability to find ourselves a campsite to ourselves. Got a little worried at the sound of thunder and the thought of the state of
the track for the return leg... Fortunately, little rain fell, and we were able to make it back to tarmac and Darwin ready for our 26-hour coach to Broome (Western Australia), leaving the Northern Territories with a spectacular thunderstorm - so much lightning that it felt like
the strobe-lighting in a disco!

15th -18th November
Arrived in Broome to find that most of the Kimberleys range was inaccessible due to road closure (wet season started), so settled for a one day trip to the western edge. Learnt a bit about Broome's pearling industry, and decided that little else was going on here and headed for Perth.

25th - 29th November
Caught a flight to Melbourne where we met up with Di & Pino and headed towards Australia’s southern-most tip on the mainland, on Wilson’s Promontory N.P. After meeting Dave, Becky and Fleur we embarked upon 3 days of trekking with 15-20kg backpacks (tent included) through some beautiful rugged terrain, varying from scrub, forest to sandy beach. We managed to avoid treading on a few snakes before staying the night at a lighthouse, where the munching sounds of the resident wombats alerted
us to their presence once darkness fell. Then it was back to basics for the second night at Little Waterloo Bay campsite with water from the creek, and out with the camping stoves preceded with a 10 minute frisbee session in the somewhat chilly waters from the antarctic. Headed back 8 hours to the cars and civilisation via another beach and a few hills to keep the heart pumping.

30th November - 14th December
Tasmania - The great platypus hunt.
After becoming clean again, we took a flight to Tasmania (higher population density of platypuses there) for more trekking and a visit to Port Arthur - site of one of Australia’s first convict settlements (where people were sent if they didn’t behave in Sydney) and then got the body working again with a 5 day overland trek from Cradle Mountain
to Lake St Clair through some of Tasmania’s pristine wilderness. Stepped past a few more snakes (which quickly slithered away), whilst spotting numerous wallabys, pademelons, and an echidna, but still failed to spot any platypus. Susana’s urge to see over every hill ensured we scrambled to the top of Cradle Mountain, and then trudged
through the snowy tracks of Tasmania’s highest peak, Mount Ossa (1617m). Great views! Stopped by some lovely waterfalls before finally testing out the resilience of Roger’s panama hat with some low over-(or not!)-head branches. The hat passed with flying colours; Roger’s head grew a few lumps.

After a day’s break to take a look at the carnage caused by some dams built 30 years ago we needed more exercise, threw off the packs and spent 7 hours hiking up Mount Field West. Pristine wilderness again, with a mix of forest, scrub, and bog (with wooden tracks through many bits).Reached the top to find most of Tasmania’s beetles using the uplift there to start their journeys with a bit of height to discover some had hitchhiked on us on the way up.  Whipped out the camping stove for an evening meal on the shores of a lake for a spot of platypus-waiting, and were finally rewarded with a brief glimpse as one glided by on the surface just after dusk. Easier to spot in Sydney’s Aquarium, but at last we’d seen one of the elusive a ‘wild’ ones!
For our finally taster of Tassie, we took a 6-seater plane to the south-west (Melaleuca, pop: 2) where there is a landing strip, and a hut, and that’s about it for a couple of hundred kms. Labelled as some of the most remote wilderness in the world, we headed for the coastline and had an entire beach to ourselves on 2 of the 3 days we were there, with great sunny weaher for most of our time in Tassie (unusual, apparently!).

15th - 20th December
Back to Melbourne, where Diana took us to the Dandelong ranges for a view of Melbourne from up high, and some clay aboriginal sculptures. Then down to Torquay for some body-boarding and a visit to a surfing museum near the home of surfing in Oz. Dodged (or didn't) spray during a morning's sail with Di, Pinno, Fred & Nicky, whilst narrowly avoiding getting sunburnt! Spent our last 2 days in Oz with Roger's relatives Shirley & Jim enjoying a trip to the 'Shed' and stripping the rather full cherry tree bare.

20th-23rd Dec
... and so to New Zealand (via Brisbane) for The Great Kiwi Hunt!

After a brief look around Wellington (and a local asking us that if we saw a possum on the road please swerve - to hit it! Apparently NZ has so many they are a pest here and are out-competing the native wildlife - a slight contrast to Australia where they are protected!), we headed north for some volcanic activity along the spectacular Tongariro Crossing. The walk and views were interesting, but not quite what we expected - the snowstorm made things a little whiter and harder to see than those nice sunny pictures in other people's photo-albums! Fortunately, armed with windproof jacket, gloves, thermals and woolly hat (or beanie as they call them in this hemisphere) we were warm enough! On then for some underground action at Waitomo caves with abseiling, flying fox - 'tirolesa' for the Brazilians amongst you - (think whizzing down a wire hanging on to a pulley. In the dark.) and black-water rafting (floating around on a big inner tube) staring up at thousands of glowing lights - glow-worms (actually glow-maggots as our guide politely explained). Great stuff! And saw our first live kiwis of the trip running around behind glass.

24th-25th Dec
Up through Auckland and on to the treaty grounds of Waitangi where, on 6th Feb 1840, the Maori signed up to being a British Protectorate to help sort out some civil disorder (before the pesky French or Dutch beat us to it!). And there British Colonisation began. Then had a look at some of New Zealand's biggest christmas trees - the Kauri tree (actually not christmas trees, it just happened to be christmas day when we saw them). Some of these chaps have a pretty impressive girth (16m) and are pretty tall to boot (50m). We were impressed.

26th Dec
Went for a Boxing Day dive at Poor Knights Islands which Jacques Cousteau rated as one of the world's top ten apparently. We were impressed to see a large school of fish feeding at the surface - a large frothy white area ahead of the boat. There were plenty of fish to see, some *big* sting rays, and a cuttlefish to boot. Now it was time to visit some of Roger's relatives...
We called in on Paul & Lynn Pauling and whilst there, were treated to a ride on a 1912 Model T Ford, and a more 'modern' 1930 Ford. The Coromandel coast was next on the list (with half of Auckland it seemed) and Hot Water Beach where you dig a hole in the sand and toast your tootsies in the hot thermal water rising up. Or in our case, stand ankle-deep in the sea in front of the hundred or so blighters who got there first, and toast your tootsies while your ankles freeze! A very curious sensation.

27th Dec 2004 - 1st Jan 2005
Called on Gordon & Celia Stephenson, with the bonus of Lynn & Pete, Janet, Guy, Erin & Bronwyn, Paul, Pip & family and Keith (who'd brought over some tasty Rarotongan fish). Also learnt of Gordon's latest project to keep out the dreaded stoats and possums from protected areas and give the poor old kiwi a chance to recover. On then to Rotorua and Cosy Cabins (thermal) Campsite - fancy pitching your tent on a natural central heating system? - where Joe & Claire gave us some tips on which geo-thermal sites to visit (jogging Roger's memory from the family gathering a few years ago) and then put us up for the night in their cool motor home. Several bubbling mud pools, geysers, hot springs, steaming lakes and a Maori Haka greeting "dance" (think NZ All Blacks rugby team) later and we headed off back to Wellington to drop off the car and jump aboard a ferry to South Island ready to spend the last couple of days of 2004 in a charming house about 3 metres from a beach outside Picton, thanks to the hospitality of David Pauling and Lynn's sister (confusing, these Lynn's!) Raywn. The rain stopped for another day and we jumped on board a water taxi to walk some of the Queen Charlotte track with some nice views up and down Marlborough Sound (with thanks to the land-taxi service provided by Raywn & David!). We saw in the new year with some good New Zealand bubbly (never did work out where the cork landed) then headed down the east coast (west coast weather looked lousy) to Kaikoura for some New Year's Day whale-watching. On a sea-borne rollercoaster (catamaran on lumpy seas) at an exhilarating 30 knots, we successfully watched a few spurts, three Sperm whale's tails disappear, had a go on a hydrophone to listen to the whales' underwater clicking sounds and admired the acrobatic abilities of some playful dusky dolphins! Added to this we saw sealions basking on some rocks and albatrosses showing off their enormous wingspans.