Year: 2020

That was the week that was.

My desk at home.

This week, I was just going to write about a few things that have happened, piqued my interest or stuff I just generally thought worth mentioning.

The picture above has been my place of work for the last 3 months. I have to say that it’s very comfortable working here, and since I have a USB C dock, each evening, I can disconnect my work laptop and then the whole thing runs on my own personal laptop without incident.

I also have the desk light linked to Alexa so I can turn it on at will with the command “Alexa Desk On”. I have a soft phone and an incredible plantronics headset, so I can answer any calls in 3 rings. I even have a high definition camera for meetings.

I have 2 clocks on my desk, UK time and Mumbai time so I don’t disturb our supplier’s when they’re having their “Tea” (Tea is northern slang for dinner, if you don’t understand, ask someone from the North of England what “Egg and Chips” is).

Model MI 24 Helicopter - Former Soviet Union.

During the week, I’ve tried to keep my lunch hours as dynamic as possible (on the days when I don’t simply go out to buy Milk).

In the example above, I put together this model Mi 24 helicopter. Used during the days of the Soviet Union, reminded me of when my brother and I used to play Gunship on the Commodore 64.

My old bathroom setup.

At primary school there was a teacher who was an absolute monster. I was sat in my chair aged 6 and needed to go to the toilet. I knew if I asked I would be shouted at and made to cry so I just sat there… and poo’d myself.

The children sat near me must have realised, but were so terrified, they said nothing. So, after about 20 minutes, I just got used to it.

That’s a bit like my bathroom.  I never really liked it, but just got used to it.

new_br

One advantage of lock down (if you can call it an advantage) is that it’s given me time to undertake things like routine house maintenance (which would normally be lower down the list than organising a trip to somewhere exciting or reviewing/preparing  outdoor gear ready for trip).

I decided to completely re-do my bathroom. Paul the Plumber was recommended in a local utilities handbook that was put through my door.

The price was higher than I’d expected, but I looked at some of his work online and realised it was perfection (I won’t use poncy word’s like “artist”, but this guy knew what he was doing).

So, after setting up a tray in the kitchen with chocolate biscuits and a brew kit, I left him to it.

The tilling, plumbing, installation and other work are perfect (there are other simple jobs that still need doing, but that’s down to me). In every way I’m delighted.

When I wake each morning (thanks to Alexa), the first thing’s I see are my pictures of Nikki and a large photo of the world from space. But, the first room I walk into each day is my bathroom. Now a vibrant environment and a superb start to the day.

Paul the Plumber can be contacted if you live in the Cheshire area and need similar work doing. I couldn’t recommend him more highly.

Me out riding my bike.

Speaking of maintenance, upkeep and repair, I’ve had problems with my bike.

Which surprised me, considering I’ve spent a lot of money on a full service and had several of parts replaced.

I’ve been riding along, and the bike changes gear on its own. So I’ve basically had 2 gears, the lowest one and the highest one (which has done wonders for my fitness).

Turns out, after a gear “installation”, the the cable can stretch and this is what’s happening. So I’ve got my bike booked in for Sunday with Bike Factory and it should be good as new after that.

Artichoke, one of the best Gastro pubs in Chester.

Saturday 4th of July – English pubs can legally open after 101 days and the world restarts (and probably stops and restarts again, in about 6 weeks, but for the time being…)

I’ve booked a couple of my favourite Gastro pubs for meals, but I’m still unsure how booking works, if you want a pint.

I mean I can book a table for 6pm next Thursday to go for a pint. But I don’t know if I’ll feel like going for a pint then – it’s largely a spontaneous activity, that’s why it’s fun.

See what happens. Artichoke (pictured above) are open from the 9th of July and can be booked at: Artichoke bookings.

barbers

Also on Saturday, if I possibly can, I’ll try and get my haircut, although I think it will be reminiscent of the scenes when the Taliban leave a town and the local men fall over themselves to get their haircut.

James Bond - No Time to Die.

The new James Bond film, No Time to Die looks fantastic.

I had a seat booked for the first showing in Cheshire at 10am several months ago. I’d booked the day off work and the seat had cost the best part of £30.

It was cancelled and put back to November 12.

In younger times, my brother and I would go to the cinema every Saturday in Manchester. Sometimes (well, more than sometimes) I’d be skint and David would pay.

I’ve told my brother that we’ll watch it together in Bury (where he Live’s) in the best seats in the house… and I’ll pay.

In the meantime, I found this article that shows all the shooting locations from the film.

Walking around Cheshire during Lockdown.

Normally, I’d do an average of 3 hill walks a month and it would be around the Clwyedian’s or Snowdonia in North Wales or the Peak District in England (basically  places you can get to in an 1 – 2 hours).

That hasn’t been possible so Like a lot of people, I’ve been exploring walks and cycle rides, close to home.

OK, this is johnsunter.com and we say it like is. The Cheshire Planes, are as flat as a snooker table, so trail walking is a better description.

That being said, I’ve found some amazing routes and places.

On one occasion, we went for a bike ride and stopped for lunch at a car park in Delamere forest. I’d not been there before, but wandering around, I realised there were several trails. When we got home, we consulted our maps and worked out a 10 mile route from there, which we did the next week.

There are nooks and crannies of fantastic walking all over Cheshire I’ve found, so I have to conclude that there must be similar in most of the UK, if we just go looking.

A fantastic sign in a York park, condemning litter.

But, one thing that made me fume, was the amount of litter and rubbish I found in some otherwise beautiful spots.

The old adage, if you can carry it there, you can carry it back, doesn’t seem to fit with some people.

Scorched earth is a phrase we use in IT, when we wipe an environment clean and start again. What do some people think happens when you you light a throwaway barbecue on grass ?

Even “Doggers” who, having watched someone perform a sexual act on their wife in a car park, are decent enough to take their cans of Stella home !.

I’ve been cycling and seen Sofa’s dumped at the side of the road on country paths. The only funny thing, is the sign above, which is posted in parks in York and I wish I could meet whoever designed it.

TV series Naked and Afraid.

My sister was telling me, that my niece Poppy, has become addicted to a tv series called Naked and Afraid.

Not my sort of bushcraft, basically, 2 strangers are literally naked (with improvised clothes from leaves) and have to survive for 3 weeks in some far flung place.

They can tap out at any time and go home and I was surprised to see that it’s run for 11 seasons !.

ak

I was delighted to find, that poppy is interested in Bushcraft now.

Since they have some woods nearby, they go out for walks, look for tracks and build lean-to shelters.

I sent over some Bushcraft tools like a flint and steel,  a mess tin, some army rations (a so sort of modern Adventure Kit of the kind I got as a Christmas gift).

A lit camping stove, that burns sticks.

Another thing I sent over (which is one of the best bushcraft bargains out there) is this  Outad Stove.

This is one I lit in my garden. It burns dry twigs, so its running costs are basically nothing, there is no gas canister to get rid of and no fuel needs to be carried.

"dad" in a Yellow Tiger Moth.

Nikki’s father died in January. He wasn’t my father, but I called him dad, and nobody seemed to mind.

A charming little old man who always stood up to greet me and shake my hand, despite being around 90 years old.

But intellectually he was a giant. Engaging in conversation, his knowledge, memory of facts and figures and ability to process information was mesmerising to watch.

He had worked as an aeronautical engineer. 997mm wasn’t the same as as a meter and if you made that mistake in front of him, you wouldn’t make it twice.

Charming and lovely, but at heart, things were either right or they weren’t and there was no middle ground (as someone who’s struggles a bit with flying, I’m delighted that it’s people like that who build aeroplanes).

When we had dinner with John and Sheila, if a waiter made a mistake and apologised, that was fine, but if they tried to pull the wool over eyes John’s eyes, they were put in their place immediately (and he wasn’t sexist, both Men and Women were treated equally).

In short, he lived life on his terms. When we scattered his ashes at a park he used to enjoy visiting I decided to buy a plant (not what I normally do, but I was in a reflective mood on that day and open to new ideas).

The "dad" Rose in my garden.

I’ve watered that plant, tended to it, moved it around so it was in the sun, and replotted it (Nikki has helped, she knows about plants). But nothing.

Now, after several months (on the top left of the picture) it’s starting to flower. The Rose has decided to flower on its own terms when things are just right, and won’t be rushed or badgered.

Exactly like Nikki’s dad 🙂

Once again thanks for visiting johnsunter.com. Near and far, the search for adventure continues.

Why it’s called adventures of an ordinary person.

A selfie I took, walking in the Dolomites

Welcome to the first Friday morning blog post.

I thought this week, I’d start at the beginning by talking about the website’s origins and why it’s tag-lined: the adventures of an ordinary person…

I guess it’s pretty obvious why the web address is johnsunter.com 🙂

chester_waterfront

Originally from Manchester, I’ve lived in Chester for 20 years (choosing to move here is one of the best decisions I ever made).

When I first arrived in Chester, Facebook didn’t exist. I wanted my mum (who sadly has now passed) to be able to see pictures and read about my exploration of my new home town.

A chap I worked with called John Lyons gave me the domain name johnsunter.com as gift and I learned html so I could do my own pages (which more often than not, featured the inside of a new pub 🙂

I put up random stuff like pictures of the lawn I’d mowed, my office at work and stuff like that.

About 18 months later, my life fell apart and I lost almost everything (no sob story, this is the good part).

Sleeping bag on the floor, my life in tatters, 2002.

With my life in tatters, I was sleeping on the floor in a practically empty flat. I decided I’d dedicate myself to the pursuit of adventure and I drew up a list of activities to complete which I called my blue list (I dislike bucket list).

Around  3000 activities, 1000 of these, we’re place specific (if you want to read the New York Times in Central Park, or Drink Chinese beer on the Great Wall of China, you need to be there, whereas learning 6 ways to tie  a tie can be done anywhere 🙂

I’d write about my experiences good and bad and explain how I organised and executed those adventures.

fn

Later, I joined a community of miscreants that drank in the Fortress and Firkin (which then became the famous Frog & Nightingale). It became the focal point of my evenings and weekends while at home. As a sideline I posted stuff about this on johnsunter.com in between adventures with things like scores from a pool match and this week’s featured drinker !.

My first Bluelist was completed in 2009.

Sir Ranulph Fiennes, one of my heroes.

As my travel adventures continued, it struck me, that as an ordinary person, I was doing the kind of things that “experts” normally did.

My reasoning was that off course, Ray Mears can trek through a jungle, and Chris Bonington can cross a glacier. They are my heroes.

However, I’ve done both those things and lots more.  I thought others, frightened off or nervous of some trips and activities might gain inspiration from my adventures. After all, I’m an ordinary person, if I can do it, and explain how, then anyone can do it can’t they ?

That’s where the tag-line originally came from, but there’s more.

my_house

We all know someone who inherited money or sold a house or whatever and travelled around the world.

What about living a life of adventure while maintaining a relatively normal life as well. Thing’s like buying and maintaining a house, spending time with friends and family, meeting someone special and finding a job you enjoy doing. Plus still having time for hobby’s, going to the pub, cinema etc.

new_bathroom

Friend’s might consider it disrespectful if you missed their birthday in Liverpool so you could live in the woods for a week with just a knife and a fire-steel.

How would a partner feel that you couldn’t’ see her that weekend because you were watching Swan Lake in Moscow ?

Would your boss be happy that you were taking your 4th short holiday of the year to stand on the Great Wall of China ?

Financially, could you do all those things and still pay for upgrades/repairs to your house.

It is possible and this whole website is proof of it !.

photo3

Don’t forget, you can’t see the world and be in the countryside all the time, so I usually have a picture of somewhere exciting on my desk at work. I also fill my house with nice pictures like these.

Two organisations that have helped immensely on my journey are The Chester and District Walking Group and the Chester Globetrotters.

In terms of goals, I’m 15 countries away from 100 and membership of The Travellers Century Club.

Once again, thanks for reading. Near and far, the search for adventure continues…

Re-launch of johnsunter.com

z7

Today, I’m re-launching johnsunter.com

Lots of out of date and incomplete pages going back almost 3 years have been fix during the lockdown (a marathon project that’s taken over 150 hours) – details of these pages can be found here.

From now on, I’ll be updating the blog every 7 days, with a new blog entry to read every Friday morning.

I know a lot of people have told me they get a lot out of my blog. I’d like to thank you for coming back again and again, and hope that you’ll continue to do so.

Near and far, the search for adventure continues…

Summary of new/updated pages.

ind_page

This is a list of the pages that have been updated during lockdown. The website has needed a major update for the past two and a half years and it’s finally complete (to illustrate, it takes 4 – 8 hours to do a page correctly).

I’ve been to other places as well, Athens, Meteora, the Dolomites and loads of places in the UK., but these are the significant trips that fell by the wayside due to work commitments, and busy evenings and weekends.

Sri Lanka – Feb 2020

 Sri Lanka Sri Lanka – Long weekend.

Ukraine – Kiev and Chernobyl – Aug 2019

 Kiev on Indepdendence day.  Kiev – On Independence Day.
 Chernobyl 1 Chernobyl 1 & the ghost city of Pripyat (1/2).
 Chernobyl 2. Chernobyl 2 & the ghost city of Pripyat (2/2).

Northern Ireland by overnight ferry – May 2019

 Northern Ireland 1 – Troubles, Game of Thrones & Ulster Fry (1/2).
Northern Ireland 2 – Troubles, Game of Thrones & Ulster Fry (2/2).

South America Tour – Feb 2019

 Santiago Santiago – First trip to Chile and the Andes.
 Easter Island 1 Easter Island 1 – Somewhere I really thought I’d never see (1/2).
 ea2_sml Easter Island 2 – Somewhere I really thought I’d never see (2/2).
 Life on a cruise ship. Life on a cruise ship – Backpacker in the lap of luxury.
 Patagonia 1. Patagonia 1 – Adventure wilderness (1/2).
 Patagonia 2. Patagonia 2 – Adventure wilderness (2/2).
 Falkland Islands 1. Falkland Islands 1 – Small Island in the middle of nowhere (1/2).
 Falkland Islands 2. Falkland Islands 2 – Small Island in the middle of nowhere (2/2).
 Montevideo. Montevideo – The birthplace of corned beef.
 Buenos Aires 1. Buenos Aires 1 – First trip to Argentina (1/2).
 Buenos Aires 2. Buenos Aires 2 – First trip to Argentina (2/2).

Indonesia – Sept 2018

 Indonesia by train 1. Indonesia by train 1 – Jakarta & Pangadaran (1/3).
 Indonesia by train 2. Indonesia by train 2 – Yogyakarta & Seloliman nature reserve (2/3).
 Indonesia by train 3. Indonesia by train 3 – Mnt Bromo, Permuteran & Ubud (3/3).

India – Dec 2017

 Delhi & Agra 2017 Delhi & Agra 2017.
 kr_sml Karauli & Ranthambore.
 Jaipur. Jaipur – Pink city and Sharpe’s Fort.
 Udaipur. Udaipur – The home of Octopussy.
 Mumbai. Mumbai – New Years Eve.

Namibia – Nov 2017

 Namibia 1. Namibia 1 – Windhoek, rain, into the Sand Dunes and old cars (1/3).
 Namibia 2. Namibia 2 – Tropic of Capricorn, the living desert, the Skeleton coast & wild elephants (2/3).
 Namibia 3. Namibia 3  – Lion, Cheetah & small animal spotting. Incredible day trips to Europe (3/3).

Myanmar & SEA – Nov 2016

 Bangkok catch up with Frank. Bangkok 2017 – Start SEA trip and catch up with Frank.
 Luang Prabang 1. Luan Prabang 1 – Adventure playground (1/2).
 Luang Prabang 2. Luan Prabang 2 – Adventure playground (2/2).
 Yangon. Yangon – Myanmar.
 Bagan. Bagan – Myanmar.
 Mandalay. Mandalay – Myanmar.
 Inle Lake. Inle Lake – Myanmar.

Life on a Cruise ship – Backpacker in the lap of luxury

intro

To celebrate a joint 50th birthday, we were looking for a special trip.

I normally do overland trips, but we decided on cruise around South America.

life_onboard

It offered several advantages:

1. As the cruise started in Santiago, it would allow us to see Easter Island before the cruise started (one of the most incredible places on earth).

2. We’d be able to visit the Falkland Islands, which is practically impossible otherwise.

3. Multiple stop off’s in Patagonia.

4. Chance to follow the footsteps of great explorers with things like the Beagle Channel and the Magellan straits.

But how would this work, I’m a backpacker at heart (although I do wear Rohan and carry state of the art technology, it’s where my roots are).

Would a poncy G&T cruise ship work out, or would I feel out of place and just hide in my cabin ?. Time to find out.

bus_stop

After visiting Santiago, spending a few days in Easter Island and back to Santiago, it’s time to join our ship.

The ship leaves from Valparaiso, which is 120k from Santiago. Princess cruises offered to do a pickup, but it was £100.

Instead, we got 2 local buses and it was about £3.

first_sight

Arriving at Valparaiso port, it felt quite industrial, and lacked a certain romanticism I was expecting.

With plenty of time to kill, we head up the hill. It gave a commanding view of the harbour and there was a superstore selling everything from soap to electric drills in case you’d forgotten anything for your trip.

Back down the hill, we found a nice cafe and I relaxed with a cold beer.

emb1

We arrive to be checked in. None of the “party at Buckingham palace” I’d expected.

We queued like refugees, the only positive thing is it had a roof so we were in the shade.

emb2

Sensibly, all bags are scanned through security, we’d be re-united with ours later.

We got to the check in desk. Our passports were handed over and we were photographed.

Then we each got a special card. I was really impressed. The whole boat is cash free, if you want something, you use the card and its put on your bill to be paid when you disembark.

Not just that, but when you leave or enter the boat, you swipe the card and it knows if you’re onboard or not. Also security see your picture on a monitor when you swipe, so if someone has stolen your card while ashore, they won’t get far.

upclose

At the dockside, some of the 900 balconies.

I’d done lots of research/reading on the Crown Princess, but to see it up-close was incredible.

shipyard

I found a picture of our ship in dry dock before commissioning.

The Crown class cruise ship, Crown Princess.

Maiden voyage in 2006, a complete refit in 2018.

With 18 decks and a length of 290 metres, she’s bigger than the Titanic.

room1

Were shown to our our cabin and our bags are already inside. Not massive accommodation, but plenty big enough for us and very comfortable.

It would also allow for an entirely different kind of travel. Instead of sitting on a bus for 4 hours, we’d travel while we slept.

room2

Quite a large storage area, a spotlessly clean bathroom, a small sitting area, a desk and chair , and a balcony, I thought they’d done really well with the space available.

We like each other’s company, but it was a long trip. Sometimes, with 1 of us on the balcony reading and the other working at the desk it felt like we had 2 rooms.

Our concierge Geordie introduced himself. he’d take care of our room and provide room service etc.

He told us we would need to attend a safety brief in 30 mins. He was charming and friendly, but the safety brief clearly wasn’t optional.

safety_brief

There are 8 muster point on the ship and we presented ourselves at the Explorers lounge.

A demonstration of how to put on a life jacket and what to do in an emergency, then a quick chat about cruising for those that hadn’t done it before. The ships compliment is 3080 passengers and 1200 crew.

There were guests from lots of different countries (we put up our hand for UK) and staff on the boat are from 54 countries.

Our compère said I’m from Brazil, my colleague is from Argentina but we all get on fine. Why ? because we never discuss politics onboard.

You’re on holiday and free to do as you wish, but our advise is worth considering seriously for the well-being of all onboard.

plaza

With the briefing over, the launch party begins by the pool on the top deck.

I’m really excited to see what this floating city has to offer, so I head off exploring.

main

The Piazza, a 3-story atrium is the main hub of the ship. All the hustle and bustle of the ship can be experience as well as various shops, a coffee house and a wine bar we would come to know well.

back_of_boat

A pool at the back of the boat, showing the wake. Most of the pools were open to everyone, but this was 1 of 2 that were for adults only.

scenery

We had a balcony, but the view from the top deck was incredible (your 165 feet above the water), especially when we were travelling around Patagonia.

In terms of preparation and equipment, it was the strangest sort of trip. On Easter Island, were were wearing shorts and T Shirts, travelling around the Cape Horne, softshell trousers and a down jacket.

shop

One surprise for me was the massive up-selling philosophy I wasn’t prepared for.

It seemed to me, we’d paid a small fortune to be on this boat, in the lap of luxury and all that remained was to enjoy it.

In reality, the money you’ve paid for the cruise is just the start so far that they’re concerned. Here’s one examples, the shop sells chocolate bars, deodorant & sea sickness tablets.

There is nowhere to buy books and internet is expensive, so you might almost think they want you to be bored and spend money 🙂

pool_cinema

The Calypso reef and pool on the top deck.

In the evening, they would show films. We’d normally wander around the top deck once it got dark, but to watch films, we normally went back to our cabin.

piano

I’m always open to new idea’s and it’s strange some of the new things youre prepared to try on holiday.

On sailing days – when we were at sea all day (there were 5), I’d go to Horizon court (all day buffet dining), get a mid-morning coffee and sit with it in the Crooners Piano bar.

He played every day/evening for 14 days and I really enjoyed his music.

ipool

The Neptune’s reef and pool had nothing of interest to me from a water perspective, but as a culinary experience, the complete opposite.

On one side, Prego Pizza station, that cooked fresh pizza right in front of you. You could choose from one he’d just made, or he’d make exactly the pizza you wanted.

On the other side, The Salty Dog grill, serving burgers, hot dogs and chicken burgers just to your liking with every kind of sauce.

OK, certainly not health food, but I’m on holiday, this stuff is completely free, so why the hell not.

map

A map was posted and updated each day by the pool which showed a nautical chart and our progress.

I visited it each morning, to see where we were/where we’d been. I’m not sailor, but this was adventure on the high sea’s and I was totally engaged.

art

On sailing days, they were big on activities. But these activities usualy involved trying to sell you something.

So there would be 20% off all jewellry, an art auction and special promotions at Gatsby’s Casino. All of no interest to me, so I just did my own thing (and I really regret not taking more books, see stuff bellow, advice for cruising).

But where it did get on my nerves, was when I visited the gym. I just wanted to have a go on an exercise bike and as soon as I walked in they started selling me a personal trainer or acupuncture. I just got sick of the hassle and left.

But there were lots of other things to do as well like quiz’s and Spanish lessons, Motown afternoon and nightly Cabaret.

talk

In the Princess theatre, there were talks and lectures about the destinations we’d visit.

The talks were top notch, with humour, relevance and the genuine charisma of the speakers.

One of the talks, showed the difference between cruise ships and ocean liners. It mentioned the average age of cruise ship guests was 47 (with number of mobility scooters on board I thought they should try adding 25 years to that number :).

darwin

One talk I really enjoyed was about Charles Darwin.

Darwinss discoveries – How a voyage to the Galapagos shocked the Victorians by Angela Kelly.

Later, I got to follow in his footsteps on my tour of the Beagle channel.

tango

In the evening, lots of Cabaret, singing and othe activities. One I really enjoyed was a Tango demonstration by Fernando and Cecilia.

I was also a bit surprised at the evening dress code. Each evening was either formal or informal and the dress code was as follows.

Formal:

Women: evening gown, cocktail dress or elegant pant suit.

Men: Tuxedo, dark suit or dinner jacket and slacks.

Informal:

Women: Skirts, dress, slacks and sweaters.

Men: Pants and open-neck shirts.

Generally though, they were pretty relaxed about dress, and common sense prevailed, people didn’t walk into the restaurant in swimming trunks or anything silly like that. I was just frustrated that the one time my Rohan evening jacket would have been useful, I’d left it at home.

me_night

In the evening relaxing on our balcony.

droom

Dining options were to say the least, extensive. We spent most evening in the Michelangelo dining room.

Sometimes on a shared table with a chance to meet new people, other times just the 2 of us.

In terms of quality, it was the sort excellent food I’d normally eat as a special treat on my birthday. But every night!.

Baked potato soup was my favourite starter.

sab

Although all food was included with the cruise, some speciality dining options were available at additional cost.

We decided to try the Sabatini Italian restaurant, which was £30 extra for both of us.

An incredible experience, 5 courses, our table had its own exclusive waiter with an assistant for drinks.

Across the room we saw that Captain Manfuso and his wife were there as well. We enjoyed it that much, that we did it again a few nights later.

crown_grill

The Crown Grill steak house was another speciality option we tried.

It was £50 this time for both of us. They had a vegetarian option for Nikki, my steak was superb as I’d expected and the sommelier recommended a nice red to go with it.

This was living like James Bond.

kitchen

We had an interesting talk and tour on the ship’s kitchen.

Suffice to say, it can cater for over 4000 people so it was enormous.

Broken down into small teams and units, every kind of cooking utility and spotlessly clean.

Here, a cake with an ice sculpture prepared for a guests wedding anniversary.

whouse

So where did we drink. I found the Wheelhouse bar to be quiet most of the time with plenty of space, so I sat with my kindle and a bottle of Bud.

At £8.50 a bottle, it was expensive but I wasn’t there to get drunk, just to relax after all.

winebar

Any trip with Nikki is going to involve a winebar.

We spent most of our evening here trying nearly every wine they had. The staff were very friendly and we soon settled in.

winestore

We saw the winestore on our tour of the kitchen.

It’s value is never less and $1,000,000.

early_bed

The last night of our cruise.

Sat at the wine bar at 10:30pm, most of the Piazza is empty.

sunset

The following morning, watching the sunrise from our cabin.

My final memory of our cruise. Although sceptical at first, I really enjoyed that trip.

Conclusions: my recommendations for cruising, what would I do differently.

jew

  • Get active – With loads of food options and every opportunity to relax, you need to get organised. Dismiss the sales people and spend at least an hour in the gym each morning. Alternatively, there is a running track on the top deck, or just go for a long walk.
  • Treats – If you like chocolates or sweets, take your own, they are fantasticaly expensive onboard.
  • Kettle – Hot drinks can be delivered to your room, but a better option is to take your own travel kettle, some plastic cups and in my case lots of sachets of nice hot chocolate.
  • Coffee – You normaly have to pay for coffee from the coffee shop, but in the buffet, it’s free. If you take one of those cups that keeps coffee warm, a fill-up at the buffet will set you up for mid morning.
  • Books/Films –  When you’re collecting firewood, work out how much you think you’ll need and double it. Take a kindle loaded with books and use the same forumula (and at least 1 paper book, technology can fail). A laptop loaded up with tv & films you’ve not seen is also usefull.
  • TV – One thing to note, is that the tv in your room is “locked”. The old trick of connecting your laptop to a hotel TV with HDMI lead won’t work here. They had some excelent films for free that we really enjoyed.
  • Plan each day. “Patter” magazine is delivered each evening. It has “news” and the following days activities and talks. Lots of stuff going on so go through it and mark the things your interested in. Take it with you the next day when your wandering around the ship.
  • Formal clothing – Next time I’d take a formal jacket and some darker shoes (the shirt and polo shirt I had was fine, but desert boots didn’t work that well in evenings.
  • Lectures/Talks – Attend every lecture you get the chance too. No matter how much you’ve researched your destinations, there’s going to be something interesting in there.
  • Find your place – Initialy, cruise traveling is amazing but Cabin fever can set in. Find somewhere you are comfortable and make that your place.
  • Go ashore – Not to sate the obvious, but some people like cruising for the boat expirience alone (we met people doing their 32nd cruise). Try to remember it’s a vehicle for adventure travel so spend as much time onshore as you can.
  • Where to cruise – Some places are well suited to cruising like South America and the Caribean, but remember you usualy you get 1 day in each and you only get to see the outside of a place.
  • Stairs/Lifts – Try to use the stairs and burn some calories. Be carefull of lifts, when the doors open, people can fly out on mobility carts and if they hit you, it will really hurt.
  • Wifi – Expensive @£1 per minute. Each morning I’d connect and quickly read bbc news, while email, whatsapp and facebook were downloading. Disconnect, read and send replies. If you do this each day, it will keep costs down.  Best wifi options are bars in Port.
  • Comunication –  They have an app you can install on your phone that allows you to message friends onboard for free. It also has a map of the ship and lists activities for the day.
  • Calls/Texting – Unlikely to get a phone signal for most of the trip. Don’t be  too connected anyway you’r on holiday.
  • Health/Medical Care – Don’t get on the ship, without insurance. Sick bay has an operating theatre and everything you’d expect to find in a hospital – but it’s all chargable so only use in a crisis. For non urgent, use your first aid kit and local pharmacies when in Port.
  • Laundry – They offer a pickup and return laundry service, but we used the coin operated washing machines, which were much cheaper.
  • Flowers – A bit of a daft one this, but the first night of our trip was valentines. The cheapest flowers I could find were £120. So I got a magician’s wand think that turned into flowers. It went down quite well, and entertained the other guest’s at our table. Cost £7

Buenos Aires – First trip to Argentina (1/2)

intro_ba

Our cruise comes to an end in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

When I was 13, the UK was at war with Argentina over the Falkland Islands.

In the community I grew up in, “Argentina” was mostly footballers with std’s and everyone else was looked a villain from a cowboy film.

30 years later, my common sense told me this couldn’t all be true, so I was quite excited to arrive to see what the place was really like.

clock

After a well organised disembarkation from our boat at 7am and were wheeling our bags from the port towards our hotel.

On the way we see the Torre Monumental clock. Originally named the Tower of the English, it was a gift from the British Government using imported British “Red” brick.

After the 1982 war, the name Tower of the English was changed and everyone refers to it as the Torre.

pdowntown

Arriving at our hotel, our hosts are friendly and helpful and we’re shown to our room.

We’d left the boat quite early, so decided to dump our bags and head out for some breakfast.

hrs_tv

We find somewhere for breakfast and tuck in.

But what’s this on the tv ? There seemed to be some sort of March with horses going on somewhere.

hrs1

We realised to our surprise that at that moment, the horses, security and all the regalia were passing the cafe outside where we were sitting !

security

We carried on exploring and could see a number of protests taking place. Something was happening and this part of the city was being locked down.

Various road and streets were closed by the police and security services with barriers being erected. People with riot shields started appearing!.

I won’t lie I was a bit nervous, and we briefly considered going back to our hotel.

But if we headed in the other direction, I reasoned we could carry on exploring and keep out of trouble.

hrs_pal1

We had planned to join a free walking tour that started at The National Congress Building.

We worked our way around various closed road and eventually to our destination.

hrs_pal2

Only to realise, that the horses etc, were all converging on the Congress Building (it was the final destination of their Parade, we found later that the President was addressing the occupants of the building in some sort of capacity).

With our tour cancelled, time for plan B. My guidebook to Buenos Aires listed 10 must see sights. Theatre Colon was one of them so off we went.

col_outside

Constructed 1908 it symbolises the Golden era or Buenos Aires.

A time when “wealthy as an Argentine” was a phrase often used in Paris and New York.

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Tours have to be booked well in advance normally, but we were lucky and booked onto one starting an hour later.

It was quite expensive, but they had a nice wine bar in the waiting area, so we tried some Argentine Merlot.

col_stairs

The tour begins, and we head upstairs for our 90-minute tour.

Nothing short of Palatial (as you’d expect, it ranks among the worlds top 10 opera houses).

Italian marble, French stained glass, Venetian mosaics.

col_stage

Inside the main auditorium.

Performances are pre-booked months into the future. It fills up every night, as it has done for over 100 years.

col_seats1

The view with the stage behind me.

I was struck by the lighting and how atmospheric it was.

col_speaker

In the ceiling, what looks like a light actually contains a powerful speaker.

This contributes to its world renowned,  near perfect acoustics.

col_seats2

I got to hear them first hand, as some joiners were preparing the stage and the sound of hammering and sawing reverberated throughout the arena.

pm

We wander towards Plaza de Mayo, the Political, spiritual and cultural centre of Buenos Aires.

It’s here that the people danced after World Cup victory in 1986.

cas_ros

Casa Rosada – The Pink house, the President’s official offices (unlike the White House, the President doesn’t actually live here.

Eva Peron addressed the people from its Balcony’s.

cabilda

The Cabilda, in its classic colonial style.

Once used as a local town hall, but today used as a museum of the May revolution.

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La Catedral Metropolitana, the main Catholic church in Buenos Aires.

cath1

There were queues for everything, but we were able to get inside the Cathedral and that choice was rewarded.

cath3

Further inside, the Mausoleum of General San Martin.

Guarded by statues representing Argentina, Peru and Chile.

banco

Banco. Well, it’s a big bank.

More seriously, its associated with the economic riots in 2001 which were part of the “Argentine great depression from 1998 – 2002.

Corral policies were instituted which stopped people withdrawing cash from banks and pensions were not paid.

Rioting and protests started almost immediately, President Fernando de la Rua resigned, replaced by President Adolfo Rodriguez Saa who resigned less than 12 days later.

In total it cost 39 civilian lives, 9 of which were minors.

gen_bel

Monument to General Belgrano.

It’s a name that’s well known in the UK as the Argentine flagship, sunk in the Falklands War (controversially at the time, but Prime Minister Thatcher has since been vindicated by a book written by it’s Captain Hector Bonzo).

But actually was General Belgrano. Described as an economist, politician and military leader, he was involved in the independence of Argentina.

lm

Les Madres – The mothers. I borrowed this image from a Guardian article.

Between 1976 and 1982 many people were “disappeared” by the Military Junta.

Their mothers and other relatives protest peacefully in the square, seeking information about their loved ones.

pira

Piramide de Mayo – constructed in 1811, it’s the oldest monument in Buenos Aires.

We leave Plaza de Mayo and head for another of the top 10 tights.

rec

Cementerio de la recoleta.

Nicknamed city of the dead, it houses mausoleums and graves of generals, presidents, celebrity and Eva Peron.

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It’s so large and elaborate that there’s even a map to find your way around.

gy_scn2

You can see why it’s called the city of the dead. Everything is in rows side by side in streets and avenues.

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One of the more elaborate mausoleums, but it has to be said, there are hundreds just like it.

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The thing that most people come to see – the family mausoleum of Eva Duarte de Peron.

She died of Cervical cancer in 1952. Even in death she was a threat to some people. Her body disappeared for 3 years, afterwards she spent time buried under a false name in Milan.

She was finally returned to Argentina and interned in her family mausoleum in 1976 , but not with her believed husband Juan Peron.

gy_ev2

She was (and still is) revered by the working class people of Argentina, who she called the Descamisados – The Shirtless ones.

I remember some of the people visiting were playing Evita on their phones. Up to the individual how they deal with grief, but I found it intrusive.

The inscription translates to: Eternal in the soul of your fire.

gy_angel

A sobering morning.
Many of the mausoleums date back to the 1800’s but this one is dated 1970 and it caught my eye.
Iliana Crociati de Szaszak was only 26 when she died in an avalanche in Innsbruck, while on her honeymoon. Shown with her beloved dog, Sabu.

Buenos Aires – First trip to Argentina (2/2)

drinks

After the seriousness of the Cementario, it’s time to remember that were actually on holiday.

A nice cold  beer and a snack in glorious sunshine.

tree2

Nearby, the famous Jacaranda tree.

A bit difficult to see in this picture, but this thing is enormous.

A strategically positioned statue appears to carry the tree.

psurgery

We wander down this street. Looks perfectly normal to me.

Turns out, it has more plastic surgery’s than any other street anywhere in the world. Buenos Aires is the world capital of plastic surgery.

In many countries, it’s not uncommon for some company’s to offer private healthcare, inclusive in your employment contract.

In Buenos Aires its highly common to have a plastic surgery allowance in your contract of employment !.

underground

Buenos Aires is an enormous city so travelling around is easier on the underground.

a9

With upto 7 lanes in each direction, the Avenida 9 de Julie is probably the largest single road of any big city in the world.

An entire city block wide, pedestrians need to cross 3 sets of lights to get from one side to the other.

The main spectacular sights of the city are either on or next to the Avenida (including theatre Colon, which we’ve seen already).

ob

The Obelisk. Constructed in 1936, by German company Siemens in just 31 days.

On the site there had previously been a church where the Argentine flag had been raised for the first time.

It has Inscriptions on all 4 of its sides,and you can actually go inside (there are windows at the top).

french_emb

The famous French Embassy.

Said to be one of the most beautiful buildings in Buenos Aires, construction of the Avenida required it to be demolished and rebuilt elsewhere.

The French government refused. So the Avenida was move to facilitate this.

epbuilding

Ministry of Public Works is the only major building positioned directly on the Avenida.

It’s famous for this picture of Eva Peron.

museum_of_f_debt

Museo de la Dueda Extema, museum of foreign debt. My guidebook described it as:

“Tucked in the basement of the city university’s economics building, this sober yet absolutely vital mini-museum tracks Argentina’s roller-coaster 20th century economy through 2001 loan default with sensational montages”.

It did indeed explained the financial crisis but was all in Spanish so we left after 3 minutes.

water_comp

Palacio de las Aguas Corrientes – The Palace of running water.

It’s literally a water pumping station, but it’s elaborate beauty, marks it out, even in a city of amazing buildings.

plaza_san_martin

Plaza San Martin.

A popular square where local people go to relax and have lunch.

kavanagh_building

The Kavanagh building built in 1936.

Considered a pinnacle of modernist architecture, and my favourite building in the whole city.

Wandering further around Lavelle square and the green space around it.

juan_lavalle

General Juan Lavelle who the road is named after.

pal_just

Palace of justice, where the supreme court sits.

iemb

In 1992 a suicide bomb ripped through the Israeli embassy, killing 27 people.

One wall of the building still remains as a backdrop. The rest of the site has been converted into a memorial park.

ep_mus

The Evita museum.

Although not very large it had many artefacts and possession and told the story from the young girl in the countryside to the wife of the President of Argentina.

ep_dress

Unfortunately, you weren’t allowed to take pictures in the museum, but I found these on the internet.

The show her evolving dress style throughout her life and career.

Other parts of the museum carry on her legacy, and help women in trouble, across the world. There was a room with harowing anonymous essays written by people who’d been helped by the initiative.

evita_misc_box

I like to buy small souvenirs when I travel. I put them in my house to remind me of the places I’ve been.

I purchased this small music device (you turn the wheel and it plays the music to Evita).

As we sat in the cafe for coffee I started to play it, Nikki thought it was a bit naf but I really liked it.

botg_sign

Time to get outside.

The 860-acre Reserva Ecológica Costanera Sur, hidden behind Puerto Madero’s glitzy skyscrapers, is an abandoned development that’s been left to “rewild”.

walkway2

It stretches for miles with these rough tracks and paths with tree’s everywhere. After wandering around a big city for days, just what I needed.

bush

Thousands of different types of tree’s and plants.

map

Considering the size of the area, this map wasn’t the most detailed I’ve every used, but we managed to see everything we wanted to.

rplate_intro

Next to the park, the River plate, famous from the battle.

hot

Great to be out in the open air, but really warm and I was exhausted.

We stopped briefly for a sit down. I fell asleep and had to be woken up by Nikki.

jungle

The wetlands and swamps within the park.

snake_warning

I don’t speak any Spanish, but this sign in the window of a small museum was pretty clearly saying watch out for snakes.

Daft thing is, it tells you how to identify the snake by it’s pattern.

Surely a better strategy is to avoid “all” snakes 🙂

local_bbq

Lots of locals visit the park, here some children were playing with a ball while their parents prepared a barbecue.

botg_city

As we leave the park we get this “Crocodile Dundee” shot featuring Puerto Madero in the background.

pm2

Puerto Madero is a newly developed area with lots of skyscrapers housing multinationals companies.

It also has exclusive apartments.

pm1

But on the other side, has this docklands style front with nice cafe’s and bars.

pm_boat

Out in the dock, we admire this classic sailing ship.

pm_drinks

We relax next to the water with some nice wine.

Were due to fly home early the next day, and there’s just one thing left of on my must do list.

I’d already done my research on the internet so I know which restaurant to go to.

pm_steak

Our final meal of the trip at estaurant Ill Gatto (which in Italian, means The Cat)

No expense spared on 3 courses and wine.

Just what I wanted, a perfect Argentine steak eaten in Argentina.

last_night

We wander along the waterfront.

We’ve been away for 3 whole weeks and now it’s time to head home.

Patagonia – Adventure wilderness (1/2)

intro

Still on our cruise around Cape Horn, we visit Patagonia.

But when you’re on a cruise ship, you stop at destinations and you usually only get to spend a day there. Not to state the obvious, but it would be hard to see much of Patagonia in 1 day.

pat

So, I’ve taken several day trips and put them into 1 section. What you’re about to read is made up of day visits to Puerto Montt, Puerto Chacacabuco and Ushuaia (Tierra del fuego). I’ve also included the Amalia Glacier, cruising around Cape Horne and a catamaran trip through the Beagle Chanel.

We had been deliberating a 1-day trip to Antarctica that they offered for £3000 each from Punta Arenas. In the end we decided not too. Not only expense, but I really want to see Antarctica, and when I do it will be for at least a week, so its on the special AHP (after house paid for) list.

As it was, it worked out for the best, as we didn’t visit Punta Arena due to bad weather.

coach

In Puerto Montt, we signed up for an official tour, organised by Princess Cruises. They are expensive (comparatively) but the argument is always made that on an official tour, if something goes wrong, the cruise ship will wait. We found later, that this is flawed for 2 reasons.

1. Independent tours, know how important it is to be back on time, they’ve been doing this for years, have backup vehicles etc so the odds of getting stuck are pretty slight.

2. The idea that a cruise ship with 3000 guests and 1000 crew will wait in port and pay 100’s of thousands of pounds to delay the trip and stay overnight for a coach with 40 people on it is a fallacy (the staff told us this). If the coach breaks down, they’ll just put you on a plane to the next destination anyway.

We did both official and independent tours and found them all to be informative, interesting and very professionally run.

vis_centre

Our first stop is to visit the Petrohue waterfalls. We arrive at the Vicente Peres Rosales National Park and  are taken to a sort of museum. You could book canoeing trips and treks. They also sold souvenirs, but best of all coffee, so I had a look around and drank some coffee.

sign

We head outside to explore the park.

wander

They have obviously staggered coach parties so for about half an hour, there were only our group there.

There were lots of well-worn trails to explore.

view1

Once out of the trees I got to see the kind of beautiful untouched wilderness that makes Patagonia so popular as an adventure travel destination.

bridge

We cross a bridge and getter a better view of the canyon and the Petrohue river.

bridge2

And the main thing we’ve come to see, the Petrohue waterfall.

Nothing like as powerful as the things I’ve seen in Iceland but impressive all the same.

The other thing that needs to be said is how clean the water was. If you’re good enough at bushcraft, you could live out here indefinitely.

space building

Heading to Osorno Volcano, up the V-613 highway we see this sort of  bar/restaurant with a space age feel to it (and unfortunately closed).

coach

Considering your driving up a mountain, the journey is very comfortable.

ccar

A sort of Ski resort at the top.

And then the big reveal. Were not actually going to visit Volcano Osorno.

We’re going to visit Mnt. Calbuco, which offers the optimal viewing point of Volcano Osorno.

nikki_uphill

You have the option to walk to the cable car and stand on the top of Calbuco, but with the time we had, that didn’t seem a good idea

Instead, we wandered around exploring. The peaceful country air and the mountain silence were a welcome change from a busy cruise ship shared with thousands of people.

hilltop

After an hour, we’ve still got 45 minutes, so we head to the restaurant and have some glasses of Chilean Merlot while looking at the view.

sorno

The view.  Across a sea of clouds, Osorno volcano. A spectacular sight.

town1

The final stop on our trip, Puerto Varas on the shores of lake Llanquihue.

town2

Puerto Varas was colonized by German settlers and is known for it’s German traditions, beer, seafood, natural scenery and luxurious hotels.

fire_station

We’d seen a talk the previous day on Puerto Varas and been told about this fire station.

Now disused, it’s the oldest building in the town.

col

Much had been made of traditional German beer, and I was looking forward to trying some, but the town was full with coach parties so at that moment, every pub was packed.

I managed to find somewhere with free space at the bar. I couldn’t really relax in a pub that busy, so I only stayed 10 minutes. I still can’t remember which beer I had, but it was very nice.

coach_station

Nikki wanted some coffee, and we found that the coach station sold café and it practically empty.

I took this picture of the waiting room. In these times, when everyone throws things away, they had re-used old coach seats as waiting room benches!.

beach_view

From the shore of the lake, the perfect cone of Osorno Volcano and the snow-capped peak of Mnt. Calbuco

Back to our boat, another day of exploring complete.

arr

Our next destination – Puerto Chacabuco on the Aysen Fyord.

This time we’d chosen an independent trip and glad we did. It was nice to meet the local people and know that we’d contributed in some small way to their livelihood.

The port was busy and noisy (as I suppose ports are) so we decided explore.

domes

We were told to walk up the hill and meet our tour group at the “white domes”. Although they look like they’re for farming or suchlike, they are put there by the town council and stalls inside sell local arts and crafts. It was still an hour before the tour was due to start, so we went in search of refreshments.

lob_sur

There is only 1 hotel in Puerto Chacabuco (and it’s 5 star !).  The Loberias Del Sur is where a lot of science and research expeditions begin and end. Nothing so “David Attenborough” for us, we had some coffee and bagels.

boats

Our tour begins (2 comfortable mini-buses) and we visit the town of Puerto Aysen.

We stop at the town. We told to have a look inside the visitors centre and it’s possible to get a free map.

pa_map

I have a look around the visitors centre and collect my map (picture above) and then we just drive off. To this day, I’m unsure what the point of that exercise actually was.

scenery

As we drive along, we get this incredible view of the Simpson River.

waterfall

A highlight of the day was the Cascada Velo La Nova waterfall.

waterside

The great thing was, with 2 minibuses we were able to stop in a lot of places where a coach couldn’t.

We disembark and have an hour wildlife trek in the Parque Alken del sur by the Simpson river.

bridge

The Presidente Ibáñez Bridge. At 210 metres, it’s the longest suspension bridge in Chile.

walk

It’s getting to late afternoon. To see how the locals actually live, we visit this working farm (where they grow all their own vegetables).

lunch

We all sit down for our Pangal lunch. The atmosphere is amazing and all the food is grown on the farm or localy sourced.

It’s 1 bottle of delicious Chilean Merlot between 2. But once it’s gone, a replacement is only £5 a bottle !.

roast

The pork barbecue in the outhouse, where our food was cooked (although there was lots of other stuff and vegetarian options).

dancing

Traditional Chilean Huasos dancing performed by a farmer and his daughter.

Huasos are Chilean cowboys. I’m not normally big on traditional dancing, but it was a really relaxing environment and I thoroughly enjoyed myself.

animals

After 2 hours of fun, we head outside to see the Lama farm.

Not at all what I’d expected, but an amazing day when I got to experience what it would be like to live in Puerto Chacabuco.

Patagonia – Adventure wilderness (2/2)

nikki_lake

Phase 3 of our Patagonia adventures and we visit Ushuaia and Tuera del Fuego.

dock

As our boat pulled into the port, you could see the Patagonia mountains in the distance.

sign

Ushuaia is the closest port to the Islands Argentina call the Malvina’s and which they claim as occupied unlawfully by the British. The staff on the cruise ship very diplomatically referred to location to Port Stanley, avoiding causing offence to either nation.

As we pulled into port, the ships tannoy said not to wear any overtly British clothing or symbols so as not to cause offence to the local population.

I don’t normally travel with a bowler hat, so that presented no problem for me. I’m proud of my country, but I’m an adventure traveller, I don’t go to other people’s countries looking to make a point.

This sign was the first thing you saw as you walked along the causeway (I’ve put it up, as I’ve shown similar signs with the opposite view on my section on the Falkland Islands). It was also obvious, that someone had tried to vandalise it.

arc_cru

On a more adventure travel note, this is the main port for ships visiting Antarctica, so the harbour was completely full.

bus

Wandering around, it felt a bit like Blackpool.

view

And looking out to Sea, superb views of the Beagle Channel and the mountains beyond.

belg

We found this sign, about the sinking of the Argentine ship General Belgrano on the 2nd of May 1982.

323 men died after a torpedo attack by HMS Conqueror. The site is now designated a war grave.

town

We carry on wandering, the place is quite colourful and the people were certainly friendly, even though they could tell we were English.

ev

A remembrance garden to people who were “disappeared” by the Argentine Junta, and in the corner a section dedicated to the beloved Eva Peron.

mem

Finally, this memorial to people killed during the Falklands conflict.

After a sobering moment of reflection, we head to the meeting point to join our first tour of the day Tierra del Fuego National Park.

alakush3

Our first stop is the Rio Lapataia river.

alakush1

Overlooking it, the Alakush visitors centre – the familair museum, cafe & souvenir format.

bn_goos

Our guide spots this rare, Black Necked Swan on the river outside.

po_end_otw

In Zaratiegui bay, the post office at the end of the world.

They call Ushuaia the town at the end of the world, as its the most southern place in South America.

lake2

On the bank of the Acigami lake.

walkway

The lake was very popular, and even had this “1 way” system to reduce congestion.

trail

A 40 minute countryside walk with our guide.

Not many animals to see, but she tells us about the history of Yaghan people, the original indigenous people of the region.

highway_end

We stand at the end of the Pan American highway.

Running 19,000 miles from Prudhoe bay in the United States to Ushuaia.

sa_for1

A 45 min walk through a sub Antarctic forest.

sa_for2

With views across the beagle channel.

More of a fast hit tour than the ones were used to with lots of “see for 10 minute” sights. But I suppose that’s the only way a half day tour of all these things can work.

Main reason we’d picked the half day tour, was to fit in a boat trip to the Beagle channel. So back on our bus heading for Ushuaia docks .

intro

What we call The Beagle Channel is basically, the straits between Chile and Argentina its 150 miles long and 3 miles wide. It was made famous by Charles Darwin is something I’ve wanted to experience all my life and I could hardly contain my enthusiasm.

cat

We board our Catamaran.

A group of older Americans were sat near us. One chap in particular was really loud. I realised his hearing aids hadn’t been configure properly.

He couldn’t hear himself accurately, so was shouting all the time. I thought for a moment about offering advice, and then thought better of it.

beagle

In Nao Victoria Museum in Punta Arena, they have an actual size replica of HMS Beagle.

Their exploratory mission was so isolated, that the first captain committed suicide. He was replaced by Robert FitzRoy on the 2nd voyage of the Beagle, but this time took Charles Darwin who had funded his own passage.

cabin

A recreation of Darwin’s tiny cabin, which he shared with 2 other people.

It was so small that he had to remove a draw from one of the cupboards so he could lie down to rest and recover from sea sickness (which affected him frequently).

It’s in this cabin where the ideas of Evolution through natural selection and his first book On the origin of species were formed.

And his most famous quote (which has inspired me throughout my life) “It is not the strongest of the species, nor the most intelligent  that survives, but the one that is the most adaptable to change” must have been coined.

fboat

We cast off. At this point, I’m very conscious, that were in the “footsteps” of Charles Darwin.

The Beagle Channel, the Straits of Magellan and the Drake Passage are the three navigable passages around South America between the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans.

bino_wine

Nikki prepares her binoculars and I get a glass of red wine (ok, were embarking on an adventure, but no reason not to enjoy ourselves while were doing it).

scenery1

One of the little islands (which actually, are just rocks) and the mountains in the background.

lhouse

Les Eclaireurs lighthouse. Sometimes called the lighthouse at the end of the world, an iconic symbol.

little_island

We visited so many Islands, that I lost track. The one I do remember, is this one, Sea Lion island.

nikki_outside

We pull up on an island loaded with wildlife.

Nikki decides to leave the sanctity of cabin and the smell is atrocious.

lone_seagul

Time for our Catamaran to head back. Retracing the steps of one of the definitive explorations of all time.

My lasting memory, this Island with just 1 seagull on it.

ag1

Some parts of Patagonia, we were able to see from our Cruise Ship. As we sailed through the Bernardo O’Higgins national park we got to see this incredible sight.

me_deck

But it came at a cost -we had been told the night before, that we would pass by the Glacier around 6am in the morning.

I’ve never known a trip where one minute I’m wearing shorts and next a -10 down jacket. But it was that cold !.

ag2

A bit closer, the Amalia Glacier up close.

ch1

Another famous location, the Cape Horn, located 56 deg south and 67 deg west, the meeting of the Atlantic an Pacific Oceans.

But there’s not actualy anything there, we only knew it’s significance, as the bridge (using GPS) were able to tell us where we were.

ch3

That’s what causes most of the confusion. Next outcrop along, there are buildings and the like.

This is actually a Chilean Naval Station and Lighthouse, manned all year round. But, even though you can visit it, it’s not the Cape Horne.

ch2

Elsewhere on the rock, is an  albatross shaped monument to the 800 ships and 10,000 mariners lost at sea in this region.

I’d love to get a Land Rover and spend 2 weeks exploring Patagonia. But since I haven’t won the Lottery, nor sold a Kidney, I think I’ve seen a lot off cool stuff, in 3 days 🙂

Indonesia by train 1 – Jakarta & Pangandaran

intro_boat

For only the 2nd time in my life (the other one ending in a fantastic trip to Namibia) I found myself with time and resources for a trip, but I just couldn’t decide where to go.

To be more specific, I’ve always had lists (if you saw my bedroom wall as a small boy, there were lists of things everywhere).

In this case, many of the places on travel lists, were either already booked, in hand for future years or I’d costed them AHP (after house paid for !).

So, I resorted to reading through a brochure. A train trip across Indonesia looked interesting. I’d had no previous plans to visit the place and since I knew so little about it, seemed quite exciting.

indomap

The 1500k journey would take us from Jakarta, by train and minibus to Kalilbaru, where a boat would take us on to the Island of Bali.

As usual on tours like this, we arrived a day early. You need to be rested and ready to go, when a trip like this starts, so the obvious options are:

  1. Fly business class, and arrive 3 hours before the tour starts
  2. Arrive 24 or 48 hours early, to acclimatise and get some rest

1 or 2 extra nights in a budget hotel are far cheaper than business class, so we always pick option 2.

nat_mus

We arrive in Jakarta, get some rest and then visit the National Museum.

It had too many interesting things to show here (ranging from canoes to dinosaur bones).

tuctuc

Three wheelers (or Tuc Tuc’s as they were originally known in Bangkok, and now practically everywhere else) are a cheap and quick way to get around.

monas

The National monument.

A symbol of Indonesian independence from the Dutch.

The park it’s in was enormous.

old_town

We wander around the old town.

Our organised tour included formal visits to all these places, so we just used the time to relax and find somewhere nice for coffee (were on an Island called Java after all :).

tourintro_dinner

At 6pm, our tour begins in the hotel reception.

Although I’ve already filled in my insurance and NOK details onto the web portal I end up being handed a form and told to fill them all in again (this happens on every trip).

Although everyone in the group has been told how much the tip kitty is and in what currency, half the people have to go back to their rooms to collet the money etc. (this also happens on every trip).

Enough of my moaning, our guide introduces himself, gives an overview of the trip, and then takes us to a local restaurant to try a local version of Thali (which washed down with cold beer, is quite delicious).

market

Up early the next morning, and we start our city tour with a trip to the local antique market.

None of the antiques are too my liking, but I find a useful knife sharpener in the hardware stall.

temple

After an uprising against the Dutch by the Chinese, they were moved to an area just outside the city call Glodok.

Here we visited the Dharma Jaya Toase bio temple.

can

Wandering into Fatahillah Square in old town Batavia.

The Si Jagur is an old Portuguese canon with a sort of rude thumb arrangement at the back.

col_rest1

Across the square, the exclusive Batavia café where we have lunch in Colonial surroundings.

col_rest2

Cafe Batavia had this strange urinal in the gents toilets with a full length mirror.

port1

Sunda Kelapa port.

They only allow smaller ships now, which travel between local Islands.

port2

Standards of health and safety fall a bit short of what we’d expect in the UK, as shown by this “ladder”.

port3

And this unusual way of transferring people from dock to boat !.

mos

One of the most incredible sights I’ve ever seen, the Istiqlal Mosque.

As the largest Mosque in South East Asia its 4 stories has and the size of a football pitch.

cath

And just for religious balance, a picture of the Cathedral Church.

Italian

Jakarta was quite a modern city. Although our hotel wasn’t in the centre of town, we managed to find this nice Italian Restaurant with an excellent selection of wine.

train

The following morning, and it’s time to leave Jakarta.

The train is spotless, the seats comfortable and there’s even a film on the screen for those who don’t have anything to watch on their tablets or phones.

Best thing about it ?. It’s a train, so I can read without getting motion sickness as I would in a car or minibus.

train_view

And the view out of the window.

tow

After an easy five and a half hours on the train, the next leg of our journey to Pangandaran is by minibus.

Although air-conditioned it was another three and a half hours and very tiring.

Moral lifted briefly, with this amusing scene of a man on a bicycle, holding onto the back of a lorry and being towed home.

pang_map

We finally arrive. The peninsula is beautiful, but we’ve arrived late and its about to turn dark.

So we go straight to our first activity a tour of the Penanjung Nature Reserve.

 

ant

Pangandaran is 80% secondary rain forest and I’m really looking forward to a couple of hours in “proper” nature.

The park was about to close, but they let us in all the same.

tina

Near the entrance, these beautiful friendly animals introduce themselves to Tina.

tree

A bit deeper inside the secondary rainforest, I see the sort of tree’s common to the Daintree rainforest in Australia.

trail

Trekking along through the trails. After hours in a minibus the sense of exploration and adventure was a welcome relief.

cave

We wander into the mouth of a cave, where lots of bats and small creatures live (quite difficult to photograph in the dark unless you work with David Attenborough).

As we continue through the cave, there is an opening at the other end, which leads out onto the beach.

beach

We wander back along the beach to our hotel.

light_car

After getting changed and having dinner, Nikki and I wander around the town.

Not much going on unfortunately, but lots of local tourists, were driving around in these pedal cars with music “blasting” from phones.

Surreal.

beach_morning

In the morning before breakfast, we go for a walk along this beautiful beach.

tsu_sign

But all around were these Tsunami Signs – our guide said to make sure at any given time, we knew which direction to run to reach high ground.

Didn’t seem particularly dangerous to me, but thousands had died during the Tsunami so it made sense to take it seriously.

veg_market

A visit to the village to see local culture and commerce.

The vegetable market. I only really like potatoes and I’m frequently criticised for my lack of variety.

A stall holder took his through her entire selection. There were over 30 kinds of vegetable. I’d lost interest after 4, but I kept quiet so others on the trip could immerse themselves in the experience.

shark

In the fish market, they even have Shark.

vil_tour

We wander into the main village.

There’s a special celebration today ! Several young boys are being circumcised.

Were asked if we’d like to join in. Err, no.

rice_crackers

Away from the disfigurement, were shown how palm sugar is made and see these rice crackers drying in the sunshine.

pupet_man

Wayan Golek puppetry is very popular in Indonesia.

The puppeteers have to make their own puppets, and this chap gave us a demonstration (he even had 2 apprentices).

He gave a brief demo of a scene from the Ramayana. In a “fight scene” he made a loud clicking sound, did some background music with symbols (while still operating the puppets).

nurses

A school in the village where nurses were trained.

The nurses were thrilled to meet visitors, but unfortunately, only females were allowed inside the school.

Also, the nurses weren’t allowed to be photographed, so our womenfolk got this picture with the Director of nursing.

green_boat1

The final excursion of the day, a bot trip up Green Canyon.

green_boat2

As we got further into the canyon it was right out of Dr Livingston.

We finally stopped and people were allowed to disembark the boat and swim the remaining 200 metres up the canyon.

me_rock

It sounded like a fool’s errand to me, so I relaxed in the boat.

People sometimes see pictures of me relaxing and think I look bored. I’m not, its just when I relax, I relax my face as well.

green_swimmers

Meanwhile, the swimmers reached the top of the canyon and took this picture.

Daft buggers.