World Travels


PORTUGAL 14/9/2015 – 6/10/2015


Monday 14/9/015

Eager to set off for the drive to Bristol we left home at 11:00am, it was raining which lasted throughout the whole journey.
The plan was to leave the car for the duration of the holiday at Goblin Combe farm for a fee. We arrived and had to squeeze the car into a very full reception area. In time we were taxied to the airport, it was still raining.
We had a three and a half hour wait before we took off; unfortunately the plane was delayed due to bad weather.
We eventually took to the skies at 7:15pm only a half hour late. After the two and a half hour flight we touched down at Faro airport at 9:50pm, the temperature was pleasantly warm.

We took a taxi to our pre-arranged hotel which was called 'Stay Hotel', a rather plush establishment. After booking in we retired to our room & crashed out.

Tuesday 15/9/2015

We awoke from our slumbers at 7:30am; Ian made a cup of tea before we went down to breakfast.

Breakfast was a buffet & we were able to select from a large variety of fare, including cold meat, cheese, cereal yogurt & rolls all washed down with fruit juice & coffee.

We decided to hire a car for the duration of our holiday, so after returning to our room to pack our packs we jumped in a taxi to take us back to the airport where most of the hire car firms work from.

No problems with the formalities involved with hiring a car, we were given a VW Up, a small car.

Took a little while to accustom ourselves to the car & driving on the wrong side of the road.

It was time now to start our adventure.

We linked up with the N125 road & set off east, in a short while we spotted a sign for a National Park Rio Formosa so decided to take a look.

We spent a very enjoyable couple of hours wandering around. One of the features we saw was some abandoned irrigation equipment which was once used to draw water from a well to be stored in a nearby reservoir which in turn was used to irrigate crops.

We next came across a very interesting information centre adjacent to a wild bird hospital; we enjoyed our time browsing the well laid out displays which included bird skeletons & many aspects of flora & fauna which surrounds the local area.

We continued our walk which took us around a salt marsh where we saw a good many species of birds including Curlew & Black-winged Stilts. There were thousands of fiddler crabs which scurried into their lairs when approached.

At the west end of the lagoon is sited a now disused water mill.

Mills were built in low lying areas near the sea. Dams containing swinging gates were built along shallow creeks. As the tide came in, the gates swung open inwards, away from the sea. Water then filled the area behind the dam. When the tide turned, the gates swung shut, forcing the water to flow seaward through the millrace of the tidal mill. One disadvantage to tidal mills is that the time of the tides shifts every day. Thus the millers had no choice but to work hours dictated by the tides. These mills seem only to have been used to grind grain. There were never very many of them compared to water mills and windmills.

Having enjoyed all that the National Park could offer we left & found a small eatery where we enjoyed grilled fish, we had a shoal each.

After our meal we continued our drive east running parallel to the coast.

We had nowhere planned to stay the night. We stopped at a place called Tavira but we found nowhere here. We continued the drive to Vila Real de Santo Antonio, once again not a lot of accommodation, eventually however we found a hotel near the Rio Guardiana.

Wednesday 16/9/2015

We awoke to an overcast day with a SW wind blowing.

All good plans come to grief, last evening we tried to charge the various electrical appliances one has to have these days to exist; unfortunately we had brought with us the wrong power adapter.

It became apparent that I had mislaid the room key; we were convinced we had left it with reception last night.

Our hotel didn't supply breakfast so we had to eat out.

We wandered the deserted streets to find somewhere to have breakfast eventually found a suitable place where we enjoyed a ham & cheese toasty washed down with coffee. After our meal we wandered the streets of Vila Real de Santo Antonio looking to purchase a battery charger but as luck would have it just across the road from the cafe was a Chinese shop which had everything within, we were able to acquire the correct adapter for a very reasonable price.

As we left the shop I discovered the room key in a pocket I don't normally use - oh dear, we rushed back to the hotel to break the news we arrived to find the hotel owner was planning to change the lock during the day, apologies all round.

Vila Real de Santo Antonio sits on the Reo la Real de Santo Antonio, Guadiana which is the border with Spain. Our plan today was to catch the ferry across a very choppy river to Spain, we arrived in misty rain.

We followed the many tourists wandering around the narrow streets of Ayamonta, not enjoying all the people we decided to have a coffee & perhaps access the internet to obtain information a few nearby geocaches.

With GPS in hand we started our search; the route took us way up hill to a point which overlooked the town.

We slowly made our way back to the centre of the town which by now virtually deserted, siesta time.

The boat trip back was rough with the rain beating against the wind screen.

Back at the hotel we had our own siesta before venturing out in the evening for a pizza & a beer, which we very much enjoyed.

Thursday 17/9/2015

We awoke to a clear & sunny day.

We were moving on today so we had to pack our bags & said our farewells, before putting everything in the car, we nipped out for breakfast & used the same venue as last night, we had croissant & coffee. We ate al fresco; the sun was already quite warm

Leaving the town was fairly straight forward only taking one wrong turning.

In Portugal all the motorways charge a toll, we mistakenly found our way onto one of them, after panicking that we might have to pay the £1:80 we exited at the next take off.

We had a couple of vista breaks along the way, the first one was to walk down to a river bank, the river was quite large the width some 100 meters. The water was alive with fish some small & some quite large, many were jumping free of the water, the bird population reflected the glut.

Our next stop was a high vantage point overlooking a large river, cutting its way through deep canyons. From where we parked there were a few marked footpaths.

Our drive continued stopping at Alcoutim, there were a good many tourists wandering about. One of the main attractions of Alcoutim was a river beach. We wandered around a good while before spotting the small lane leading to the beach. We took time out to paddle our feet, the beach sand was immaculately kept with a few sun umbrellas spotted around.

We returned to the car.

Our drive continued stopping at a small village for a snack lunch.

The roads had been very quiet; the surrounding countryside was tinder dry.

Our planned destination for the day was Merton which sits high above the river Guardian.

We eventually found somewhere to stay, our room balcony overlooked the river & we could watch the comings & goings.

Not many choices as to where to eat in the evening, we eventually had a mediocre chicken & chips.

Friday 18/9/2015

Breakfast was had in a small busy cafe where we enjoyed the now usual ham & cheese toasty. Whilst eating, a mini bus pulled up outside & out jumped, or should I say fell out of the vehicle. They were a group of elderly folk having a day out away from the care home. Some of the gents took advantage of the situation enjoying an early morning glass of wine!

Nearby the cafe was a small amphitheatre, off which was sited a geocache, we found it OK.

Caroline had planned a day out exploring an abandoned nearby mineral mine. The drive took us across the river via a nice new bridge. Our target was the town of San Domingos; the road was good except for a deep ditch alongside, which meant avoiding oncoming lorries was interesting.

We arrived at San Domingos & Caroline posted a couple of postcards.

Only a short stroll saw us at the entrance to the mine which in its day produced a variety of minerals such as copper, tin sulphur & small amounts of gold & silver.

The site consisted of an open cast crater which was developed after a more conventional method of mining via a shaft was abandoned.

The open cast pit was now full of water which looked & smelled toxic, no vegetation grew either on the sides of the crater nor in the water. The smell of sulphur hung pungently in the air.

The spinal column of the mine was its narrow gauge complex railway system, which opened in 1862 and was used to transport ore to the port in Pomarao, located on the left bank of the Guadiana River.

Before the railway opened, ore was transported by mule drawn wagons.

The now ruined workshops were used to repair mine machinery & railway hardware

During the life of the mine around 37 locomotives were in operation.

After an enjoyable hour or two exploring we made it back to the car.

In the nearby vicinity was a lake formed by damming a river. Caroline's research revealed it was possible to have a swim here making use of an artificial beach, we arrived & were impressed at how clean the area was, the best thing of all, it was free.

We spent a pleasant afternoon in & out of the refreshing water, the beach was liberally populated.

Our drive back to Mertola was over a slightly different route that we had used on our outward journey.

Arriving back in Mertola we had a little time to spare, so we visited the river & ambled shore side. We ventured a little way upstream on a section of exposed river bed to gain access to a weir. Either side of the weir was two disused, unusual buildings; research later revealed they were water mills (azenha).

The hotel we were staying at had been built on Roman remains, the hotel owners had made a feature of the remains in the reception area.

We enjoyed a cold beer or two on the balcony before setting off for our evening meal.

We eventually left the hotel to eke out somewhere to eat, house martins were busy feeding in the warm evening skies.

We enjoyed a plate of salad each after which we found another venue for coffee where as it happened the start of the world rugby tournament was on the television.

Saturday 19/9/2015

Awoke to another sunny day, we could hear the sound of bells coming from a flock of sheep across the river.

We were moving on today & headed north, the roads as usual were very quiet, however as we approached Beja road works were causing huge amount of dust.

We arrived at a place called Evora which is a world UNESCO site.

Evora has an old city which is surrounded by a city wall. We decided to find somewhere to stay for the night which saw us driving through exceptionally narrow streets full of tourists. The main feature of the city was a cathedral, which was also thronging with people.

I was able to squeeze the car in a parking space whilst Caroline nipped off to find accommodation, she returned after having had no luck. We next left the walled city & decided to park the car near the main gate. After a lengthy walk we found YHA which had only just been opened, & were able to secure a room here for the night.

The afternoon was spent exploring an archaeological site a few miles away called Cromeleque dos Almendres.

We arrived & parked in a small dusty car park. A short walk saw us at the main feature, a large area which consists of some 95 rounded granite monoliths - some which are engraved with symbolic markings - spread down a rough slope. They were erected over different periods of time, perhaps with basic astronomical orientations. They were probably used for social gatherings or sacred rituals back in the dawn of the Neolithic period.

A mile down the road we went to see a lone Menhir some 10' high, we had to take measurements here to satisfy an Earth cache. Whilst we were here along came along four loud Americans (are there any other sorts?).

The road back was rather rough & dusty.

With time to spare we stopped off to visit a couple of caches near a now disused aqueduct.

Arriving back at Evora we rested awhile in one of the city parks to enjoy people watching.

Returned to the hostel, where we enjoyed a glass of wine before nipping out for our evening meal.

Eventually we set off to look for somewhere to eat.

The centre square of the old city was decked out with tables & chairs where it was possible to eat, we sat down & enjoyed pork fillet, washed down with a couple of beers.

Sunday 20/9/2015 (Our 46th. wedding anniversary)

Unfortunately I was made aware of our anniversary via a calendar reminder on the phone - oh dear, however Caroline came up trumps with a sweet card.

Todays’ plan was to visit the fortified village of Monsaraz some 20 km E of Evora. This ancient town sits on a lone hill heavily fortified with castle walls.

The town which nestles within the walls is typically Portuguese with its white washed buildings & very narrow streets.

At the west end of the town built into the fortifications was a bull ring some 50 meters across. The last bullfight was held as recently as the 9th. of September.

Sited at the west end of the town was a small building which was used as a retreat, it was somewhat dilapidated.

By the time we were ready to leave Monsaraz the sun was bearing down at an almost unbearable 35deg. C, it was a relief to make it back to the car & the luxury of air conditioning.

The area around Monsaraz is awash with Neolithic remains menhirs stone circles & the like; we took advantage to track a few down.

This area is also known as the wine cask of Portugal, fields & fields of grapevines litter the countryside.

Whilst hunting down a geocache we visited an isolated church on a high hill. Habitually we took advantage of taking a look at the associated grave yard. The area was beautifully laid out & obviously kept in pristine order with love & care.

Again hunting down a geocache once more we were able to see a number of Neolithic sites which had been saved from a huge nearby lake.

We visited the lake & sat a while to enjoy the ambience of being in such a tranquil location.

A passenger boat was tied up nearby, waiting for a walking group to board for a trip up river.

By now the sun was at its hottest.

It was now time to return to Evora, on route we stopped off at a huge natural rock known locally as the Valentine's Stone. Legend has it if a single woman should toss a stone with her left hand & manage to pitch it on top of the 12' high rock, the number of tries she had would be the number of years before she would marry. Caroline tried once but failed; I tried & managed to knock four of the resident stones to the ground.

The rural roads in Portugal are a pleasure to drive on with very little traffic; this reflects the population of the country which is only 10 million.

A light meal for us tonight, a bacon & mushroom pizza.

We made our way to the central square where we found a stage had been set up with a good many chairs, they were for spectators to enjoy an evening listening to a full philharmonic orchestra, and the seats were soon filled.

Monday 21/9/2015

After breakfast we visited the Roman ruins near the cathedral & were able to enjoy the visa north over the low lying countryside.

Moving on today, we returned to the car which was parked just outside the city walls, & moved it to within a stones’ throw of the YHA. Caroline went to retrieve our haversacks.

We had some problems leaving the city but once we linked up with the ring road things panned out OK.

We drove the comparatively quiet highways. The surrounding countryside was parched with spotted plenty of vineyards.

Having missed breakfast we stopped off at Estremoz.

There is so much marble around Estremoz that it is used everywhere; even the doorsteps, pavements and the cobble stones are made out of marble. This marble is even converted into whitewash for painting the houses.

We climbed high on a hill overlooking the town where we looked for a few geocaches. There was a small community here & church.

We returned to the town & found a small bakery to have breakfast, there were a few elderly men enjoying wine & cheese.

Our drive continued & we stopped for lunch in another small town.

We made progress through the countryside & eventually arrived at Veiros. There was the inevitable fort but unfortunately or fortunately it was closed.

Our planned stop for the night was to be the city of Portalegre; we arrived & managed to find a room.

After a rest we nipped out to find somewhere to have our evening meal, our wanderings took us to the local park where there was a large gathering of nursing college students involved in some kind of initiation ritual. It seemed new students were forced to be subservient to the more senior ones; the enrolling students were garbed in blood stained clothing & were made to carry out slave like duties.

At the south end of the park sat a large Chinese restaurant where we chose to eat. The establishment was spotless & we enjoyed a meal of fried rice & a couple of more beers.

Tuesday 22/9/2015

Awoke to a hazy sky & found a small cafe for our breakfast, the guy behind the counter was over stretched at times but handled things very calmly.

Our trip today was to take us to Portalegre. On route we stopped off at a small community with a brook running through. There was a geocaching trail alongside the stream; we enjoyed the stroll & the varied types of caches. Our route took us past busy allotments which had sweet corn ready for harvest. After our walk I needed to use a toilet so high tailed it to a local hotel.

We next moved on to Castelo de Vide, this town seemed to be a honeypot for tourists who arrive in coaches loads in their droves.

Caroline had lost a screw from her sunglasses so we found an optician to repair them; it was just after this I realised I had misplaced the camera, shock horror! In a panic driving like a ban-chi we retraced our route back the hotel thinking I had dropped it in the toilet. We soon arrived at the hotel where I enquired with the staff if they had found the camera but no joy. I returned to the toilet but nothing. As a last resort I checked my pockets once again & this time checked the leg pockets of my shorts & guess what, there it was what a prat!

Decided not to return to Castelo de Vide but instead to alter course for Marvao, this settlement sits on top of a very high hill. To access the town we had to zig zag our way up a narrow road.

A couple of hours were spent wandering the narrow streets & exploring the castle.

The local population now rely on the income from tourists to survive. Every garden was immaculately manicured.

The view from this high vantage point was incredible.

It was now time to start back, on the way we noticed a sign pointing the way to a barrage (reservoir). We decided to take a look, after a short drive we arrived at a somewhat depleted lake. Needless to say there were a couple of geocaches to visit one of which required Caroline to scramble up a steep slope.

We crossed the dam & seeing the road was quiet Caroline had a go at driving the car, she made a good job of it too.

We arrived back at 5pm.

After a rest we decided to visit the same restaurant as we used last evening, the meal wasn’t as good as last night, afterwards we had coffee in a rather up market hotel.

Wednesday 23/9/2015

We left our accommodation at 9am & stopped off at a small village for breakfast, we had a cold meat puff pastry sandwich & coffee.

Our next stop was the city of Tomar which tends to attract a good many tourists.

There is quite a big river that flows through the city, which is rich with fish. At the south end of the central park was an old water wheel in need of restoration, however it was still turning.

We took time to just sit & watch. An elderly gentleman arrived in a motorised wheel chair, carefully stood up & started to fish He must have fished here many times before. He tried & tried to set up the fishing line & I was tempted to go & help but Caroline stopped me saying his determination will win through in the end & it did.

We wandered around the old city narrow streets for an hour or so, we enjoyed a freshly squeezed orange juice & biscuit before returning to the car.

The next port of call was Fatima & the famous shrine.

We arrived & found somewhere to stay the night.

We decided to visit the world famous shrine built to celebrate the vision of our lady by three young children. The centre piece was the beautiful Basilica which unfortunately was under repair. One of Caroline’s dreams was to visit here as Fatima was the name of her house at school.

We were aghast at the scene that confronted us, near the Basilica was a makeshift worship place where many pilgrims were praying & shuffling around on their knees as penitence. Nearby was a facility where visitors could buy & burn candles, the heat generated was very surprising.

There was about an acre of ground in front of the Basilica where worshipers could congregate during major events in the religious calendar, some folk were making the trip across the parade on their knees.

Within the complex was a newly built church, we went inside & was surprised by the modern layout.

Thursday 24/9/2015

Awoke & said our farewells to our hosts.

Nazare was our target today, as usual we made a muck of leaving the city, and eventually we escaped.

We wended our way through rural Portugal, stopping occasionally to visit a geocache or two.

One of the villages we passed through had a busy market in progress, this was too much to ignore so we parked up & enjoyed an hour or so just wandering between the many stalls, which had fruit vegetables fish & sundries. We bought a roll & some cheese to have for lunch.

Back to the car & continued our journey. We stopped for lunch & ate our rolls on the platform of a nearby railway station; one train came through spot on time.

We eventually arrived at Nazare around 2pm.

Fate took a hand here & we found accommodation in a typical Portuguese home, the landlady made us very welcome but we had to endure her enthusiasm for cleaning.

After a well-deserved beer on the veranda we decided to explore this rather large seaside resort. The holiday season was almost finished, hence the lack of visitors.

The beach was huge nestling in a huge bay; the waves were crashing on shore with anger.

We walked to the end of the beach where it was less windy & sat a while.

Above us on top of the very high cliffs were massive rock overhangs which looked precarious, evidence of recent rock falls lay all around us.

Just offshore is a 5km deep canyon which has the effect of producing 30’ waves in rough weather.

After having a coffee & checking our emails we made it back to the room for a coldish shower before nipping out again for our evening meal.

The meal was certainly not up to standard the whole meal was swimming in oil, after complaining we were offered a discount & paid half.

We had coffee in another establishment & sat outside the cafe. Everybody’s peace was shattered by a drunken man loudly screaming; eventually he was led reluctantly away.

Friday 25/9/2015

Nazare is split into two halves one half sea side the other high on a hill.

We drove up to the higher half & located an old tree, where we had to jot down a few facts to satisfy an earth cache.

We found a small cafe for our breakfast & had the usual toasted sandwich.

Before travelling north following the coast we stopped off at Farol which is the community which sits just above the overhanging rocks we saw yesterday at the end of the beach. From this high vantage point we had views of the coast north. Below were a gathering of surfers waiting for the perfect wave. At the very sea end of Farol was a chap flying a drone. We were amazed at the distance it travelled & the accuracy which it was being piloted. There was a camera on board snapping a movie of the beach below.

We returned to the car, which was further than we thought.

We picked up the coast road travelling north passing through huge areas of pine forests. Beside the road at intervals were ladies looking for trade!!

Eventually we made it to Sao Padro de Moel.

The day was very windy so we sought a sheltered spot on to sit on the beach. There were a few fishermen working the surf on the beach. Swimming was out of the question due the huge waves & undercurrents.

We left for the drive back at around 4:30pm. We stopped on the way for a stroll in the forest.

After last night’s evening meal disaster we decided to find another venue. Our wanderings took us along the beach north & then in land a short way where we found a small cafe with a homely atmosphere & we enjoyed a meal of pork chops rice & salad.

Saturday 26/9/2015

Move on today.

Breakfast on route at Alcobaca & enjoyed a coffee & a bun in a small cafe.

We continued our journey through rural Portugal with agriculture being the main feature, vineyards, potatoes brassica’s & many varieties of fruit.

Eventually we arrived at a place called Caldas da Rainha, & decided to explore.

We had to park the car a good way from the town centre; we marked the site with the GPS.

Our wanderings took us to a new shopping mall with three levels but there was not a lot to interest us here.

As we started to make our way towards the town centre the fumes of the busy traffic was too much for us so we detoured.

On our way back to the car, we came upon a large municipal park with a boating lake; we enjoyed strolling around this green oasis. Noisy Parakeets were in the high trees. Ducks swam contently.

In a small nearby tree overlooking the lake sat a grey Macaw Parrot, seems he was a friendly resident.

We made it back to the car & continued to the port of Obidos an old city with a huge castle perched on a hill overlooking it. To reach the castle we drove on a road which took some interesting hair pin bends. We arrived at a small car park & had a few problems squeezing the car in.

We entered through the huge fort gate where we were confronted with the whole town within.

There is a path which circumnavigates the town high up on the fort ramparts; it wasn’t protected by railings which meant most of the way we were exposed to steep drops.

Being Saturday the town was awash with tourists, we joined them to wander the narrow streets. There are four or five churches in the town; there was a wedding taking place in one of them.

Eventually we left & had our packed lunch in a supermarket car park.

Our planned destination for the day was to be the small seaside resort Loutinha, there was a youth hostel here so we decided to give it a shot.

Our GPS helped with finding the YHA.

Unfortunately a large group of Polish teenagers were also staying here.

Finding somewhere to eat in the evening was to be troublesome, so we used the car to visit a nearby town where we found a place to have a chicken salad. We stopped off at a supermarket on the way back for a few supplies.

We had disturbed night’s sleep due to jollifications from our neighbours.

Sunday 27/9/2015

Awoke to a misty morning, had breakfast in house which was rather meagre.

We had planned to stay two nights here but due to the unsettled night we had it was best to move on.

We restarted our journey stopping at a place called Ericeira for a couple of hours. This town was very interesting perched high on the sea cliffs. Whilst we were wandering around a convoy of vintage cars noisily drove though the town streets.

We made our way to the water front & beach, plenty going on here. Surfers were bobbing out to sea waiting for the big one.

The sun was hot & we enjoyed the walk along the full length of the beach on a board walk.

Back to the car & moved it a short way to a vantage point overlooking the coast where we enjoyed a snack & views of the sea.

Our next port of call was to be Sintra a UNESCO site. We arrived & attempted to find somewhere to stay, we eventually decided to park the car & search on foot. We found a very agreeable guest house run by a rather pleasant lady with artistic tendencies. We were given a gift of apples & a miniature bottle of Portuguese port - a nice touch! The only slight problem was the main railway line to Lisbon sited only yards from our bedroom window, trains were operating every 10 minutes.

We had chance to relax in the garden & enjoy a glass or two of wine.

Our evening meal was had at a local Chinese restaurant, the food was very agreeable.

Monday 28/9/2015

The trains didn’t seem to bother us too much & we both slept well.

Enjoyed a rather good fresh ham roll for breakfast in a nearby cafe.

We moved the car 2km west to Sintra village.

Atop a huge hill overlooking the village is the vividly painted Pena Palace, which is a stark contrast to the soft greens of the surrounding forests.

The palace was the location where the Portuguese nobility spent their last night in 1910 before fleeing to Brazil in exile as part of the Portuguese revolution. In remembrance of this event the interior has been restored to how it was left.

The entrance fee was £8:00 for the pleasure of visiting the palace & its grounds.

We had planned a forest walk to the summit collecting a few caches on the way. After a lengthy walk we intersected a road & had another lengthy walk on the road with smug tourists driving past. Eventually we arrived at the gate to the palace gardens & enjoyed an hour or so wandering around the area, there was a lake with large carp fish, black swans & ducks. Some Maintenance & repairs were in progress. To rest our weary legs we sat a while beside a small spring fed pond & had lunch. The only people we saw was the odd lost tourist.

The afternoon started by joining the hoards of tourists who were making their way to the fairy tale palace gates.

We spent the next hour or so exploring the ramparts. From vantage points we could see the urban sprawl of Lisbon. There was smoke on the horizon from a forest fire.

At the very top of the complex was a chapel with a rather splendid stained glass window & a carved marble alter.

Our route back was fairly straight forward following a marked cobbled paved path, a bit testing for the old joints.

We eventually arrived at the village centre thronging with tourists. The temptation to have a beer was too much so we sat in the most prominent bar & ordered two large beers they came served in 18” high narrow glasses, a big shock came when we had to pay £6:00 each for them, it took Caroline a good while to get over this.

The traffic in the centre was very busy & was kept moving by two armed policemen.

To get over the beers we sat a while in the hot sun on the steps of a nearby church & enjoyed a snack of popcorn bought from a local vendor.

After finding the car with the help from the GPS we returned to the guest house where we enjoyed a glass of wine in the garden once again.

Our evening meal was once again had in the Chinese restaurant we used last night.

Tuesday 29/9/2015

The journey continues.

We packed our bags & nipped out for breakfast before the drive to the next port of call.

Our route took us towards Lisbon; the roads were getting increasingly busier. We needed to bypass the capital this was easier said than done. My theory was to make for the airport which was well signposted, Caroline insisted we turn off & make for the bridge over the Rio Tejo, the lady was right once again, why am I not surprised!

Lezira is the longest road bridge in Europe with a span of 970m; it took many minutes to cross.

Soon we were once again driving through quiet rural Portugal.

As we progressed we spotted yet another castle, the castle of Sesimbra. We stopped to explore, nearby was an information centre explaining how the castle looked all those years ago, to enhance the explanation there was a scaled model, as a bonus we were given a map of the local area.

Using the map we drove off to visit a vineyard, thinking we would be in for a sample, but no luck we did however see huge stainless steel fermenting vats.

Next on our list was Lake Albafeira, this lake is confined behind a sand bank at its west end, beyond the sand bank was the ocean. We spent a pleasant couple of hours in & out of the water. There was a strong wind blowing.

On the opposite bank of the lake was a good variety of water birds feeding on a multitude of small fish, also on the opposite bank there was a few people raking for cockles.

As yet we had nowhere to stay tonight so we set off for Sesimbra, which is the largest town in the area, however try as we may we found nowhere to stay. Time to put plan B into operation. We returned to Albufera & were lucky enough to find the perfect accommodation with all the mod cons all at a reasonable price, we even had a balcony where we enjoyed a beer.

Our evening meal was taken in the village & consisted of fresh mackerel, very good too.

Home to bed & had a quiet night.

Wednesday 30/9/2015

No real plan for today.

We had a later than usual start.

We had breakfast at 10am in a local cafe, enjoyed a very good ham & cheese roll & two cups of coffee.

Bellies full we set off for Alfarim & made for the very tip of the peninsular where stands the church Santuario de Caho Espichel. This church stands out for the beauty of its natural surroundings. Its original function was defence but in times of greater peace and security a sanctuary dedicated to Our Lady of the Cape was built. The church is flanked by a series of royal dependencies that provided and cared for the pilgrims that would head there. Built in 1701, the building is in baroque style and attributed to architect João Antunes.

At the very tip of the headland is a small building with the remains of two electric generators which presumably was used to power a light house.

There was a trail of geocaches which took us east along the cliff edge, views of the coastline below was breath taking.

We made our way along well trodden tracks which zig zagged through dry & arid wasteland which had growing surprisingly amount of varied vegetation including prickly oak, rosemary, & many unrecognisable species, however Caroline was able to name quite a few. The day was hot hot hot.

It was apparent that a good many of the tracks had been used for racing 4 by 4 vehicles which meant at times the track would be blocked off to discourage this activity.

We returned to a very hot car & started the drive back, on the way we spotted a road side sign showing the way to Praia de Foz beach. We thought it a good idea to have a swim on such a hot day, we set off towards the coast, as we progressed the road changed into a dirt track & continued for a couple of kilometres, eventually arriving at a small car park with a few cars parked.

We made our way down to the beach & found a quiet sheltered spot to sit. There was a very strong onshore wind blowing which resulted in the surf crashing dramatically onto the shore. There was a sprinkling of people enjoying the beach. We tried to swim but thought better of it due to the rough sea; we opted to cool ourselves in the shallows which in itself were a challenge.

Whilst here on a film crew turned up & started to film a young couple, the female was heavily pregnant.

A little way down the beach a couple of chaps were fishing in the surf.

We enjoyed a very pleasant afternoon.

We managed to return to the main road via a different route.

Eventually we arrived back at our room where we enjoyed a couple of beers & crisps, such is life!

We again visited the same restaurant as last night & enjoyed a bean & cockle stew.

Thursday 1/10/2015

Today was move on day.

We washed the dust off the car as the dust was highlighting scratches on the driver’s side, not of our doing.

Breakfast consisted of the usual & had it in the cafe we used yesterday.

Our destination today was Monchique which sits in Portugals highest mountains.

Our route took us though the large city of Setubal, we had problems navigating our way through the city streets, eventually we made it & started the trip south climbing into the mountains, the road was a challenge, hairpin bends most of the way.

We ate our packed lunch under a roadside tree.

We reached Monchique at about 2:30pm. This picturesque hamlet makes a lovely base for exploring the surrounding area, with some excellent options for walking, biking and canoeing. Set in the forested Serra de Monchique, the Algarve’s mountain range.

Found a super room with a veranda.

We had only just settled in when we heard the loud sound of an engine, we rushed to the veranda to see a helicopter taking off from a heli pad only a stone’s throw from the hotel. Sometime later the helicopter returned & unloaded a team of firefighters; apparently there was a huge forest fire a few miles away, a little time after this it took off again with a new crew of firefighters. Every time the aircraft took off it was meticulously checked by a mechanic.

Later on we saw on the news that most of the firefighters in the Algarve had attended the fire.

Our evening meal was average. On our way back to the room we passed the fire station, where there were many tired firefighters resting.

Friday 2/10/2015

We were awakened by the sound of the helicopter setting once again to the site of the forest fire.

Breakfast in house & enjoyed a varied selection of food.

Today we were to move on so we packed our bags & said farewell to our hosts.

The Serra de Monchique (Monchique Range) is a chain of mountains in the western part of the Algarve region of Portugal, about 20 km inshore. The chain's highest point is the peak of Fóia, at 902 m. we decided to visit. A good road winds its way to the summit.

We arrived at the top to find a huge array of radio & TV masts.

Views of the surrounding countryside was a little hazy but we were able to see the coast to the south. To get a better view I reached for the binoculars but was unable to find them, oh dear! After a comprehensive search of our bags no joy, it turned out I had them on my belt where the camera should have been, where was the camera? We assumed it must be back in the hotel room.

Trying not to panic out loud we continued to explore the summit area & were able to visit a geocache or two.

Eventually we made it back to the hotel room, good news they were on lying on the unmade bed.

We eventually started the day’s journey once again, decided to visit Silves.

On route we saw a sign pointing the way to a barrage (reservoir), we drove through fertile valleys & orange groves & finally reached a huge lake, by the sun was now very hot.

There were a couple of nearby geocaches to collect in the area, one of which required a rather difficult scramble, Caroline volunteered & soon had the cache in hand.

Decided to have our lunch near the water’s edge - a banana, crisps & a warm beer - whoopee!

We enjoyed the tranquillity of the area before re-joining our planned route to Silves. We arrived at 2pm. & parked away from the town centre & wandered off to find somewhere to stay, a lengthy search revealed nothing, intrepid as ever we drove across the river Arade & quickly found somewhere. We enjoyed a beer on the balcony with views of Silves across the river.

To find somewhere to eat in the evening we made our way over a Roman footbridge to Silves & found an eatery & enjoyed pork steaks, salad, chips & a bottle of wine, home to bed.

Saturday 3/10/2015

We had a rather unsettled night due to a noisy road outside our window.

Packed the car and set off over the road bridge.

Whilst driving through Silves we spotted a busy street market so we parked the car to take a look.

We bought a few treats including figs, cheese & grapes.

Breakfast was had alfresco in a nearby cafe & enjoyed ham rolls & coffee.

We returned to the car & drove off north east, soon joining the quiet rural roads of Portugal once again.

We arrived at the small village of Alte, this small community seems to attract bus a good many tourists who turn up in convoys of Landrovers. We made our way around the narrow streets edged with white washed buildings. In the doorway of one of the dwellings was an elderly gent, who, we found out later had been the village cobbler. He invited us in to wander around his home, which was stuffed to gunnel's with everything you could imagine from taps & typewriters to old dolls we enjoyed a good hour browsing. He showed us a meteorite the size of a large ducks egg which fell near his home, it was very heavy. There was no entrance fee to his museum, so we tipped him a few quid for his trouble. As we left a group of four were just starting their tour.

Following a nearby sign we made our way to a fountain, not that spectacular owing to the lack of water. One of the reasons we came here was to visit a couple of caches.

Back to the car & set off east. We had our packed lunch under a huge cork tree in a small park which was being refurbished with new picnic benches etc. Whilst we were eating a group of four Germans arrived to have their lunch. Near the entrance to the park was a tree bearing ripe Sharon fruit, we tasted a few, quite good.

We continued our journey to Salir stopping on the way for a cool beer & fruit juice.

Our planned stop for tonight was to be Loule a large city. On arrival we had trouble finding accommodation, which is usually the norm in cities, unless one is willing to pay the price.

We decided to continue another 2 kilometres further on where we were directed to a rather luxurious hotel with swimming pool. I waited in the car whilst Caroline went to see how much a night’s stay would be; we were delighted to learn the price was 30 euros.

We made ourselves comfortable even taking advantage of a swim in the pool. It seemed we were the only clientele.

Suitably refreshed it was time for our evening meal, we asked at reception was there anywhere nearby but was told not really, so we jumped in the car & drove to Loute. We left the car near the town centre.

As we started our exploration we noticed a coach was unloading its passengers who were all dressed in traditional costume.

It was Saturday night & we expected to see more people, eventually however we found somewhere to eat, Caroline had fried chicken & I had a plate-full of grilled mackerel which we enjoyed very much.

We made it back to the hotel room & settled down for the night.

Sunday 4/10/2015

Today was the day we returned the car; this is always a stressful time for us.

The car hire firm was situated at the airport which was only half hour or so drive away.

Took the car to the compound where it was checked over by an employee, all seemed OK. Armed with the form to say OK we went to reception to complete the formalities there which included the refund of the 500 Euros deposit which we had to pay at the beginning, in case of damage.

We hired a taxi to take us to the hotel we used at the start of our trip - ‘STAY HOTEL’.

The hotel was full to capacity, it was a good job we had pre-booked our stay.

Even though it was still morning we were able to move into our room right away where we enjoyed all the luxuries to help us de-stress from the car rental formalities.

Whilst we’ve been in Portugal it’s been uncanny the amount of people we’ve seen which resemble friends & family at home.

Late morning saw us popping out to explore the city of Faro. We made our way to the harbour having first marked the position of the hotel with the GPS.

Plenty of small boats moored in the harbour. We enjoyed a very pleasant stroll along the coastline east. This area is well known for its extensive salt water marshes.

We spotted a good few groups of people scratching around in the shoreline mud looking for cockles. We could hear the melodic cries of curlew in the distance.

Our wanderings took onto a rather shabby peninsular, there were ruined buildings festooned with graffiti on the end; beside the track was an area of abandoned salt pans.

Lunch time was calling so we wandered off to find a Tapas bar where we enjoyed a meal of jamon (thin strips of raw ham), Pastrami olives & cheese, this unusual treat was washed down with a couple of beers.

Our afternoon started with a ride on a small tourist train around the streets of Faro, this little road train was electrically driven, however the ride was very bumpy on the cobbled streets.

We returned to the room for a rest.

We struggled to find somewhere to eat in the evening, the city streets were deserted, eventually we found a restaurant, we were the only customers, that is until a tourist group of about 30 Germans arrived.

Monday 5/10/2015

We awoke to a dull & wet day - yes a wet day! in Faro.

We had a leisurely breakfast in house, plenty to choose from.

We returned to the room where Ian checked on the return flight times for tomorrow & almost passed out when the time was 10.15am today. Caroline rechecked data & all OK.

Not much planned for today so we started it with a visit to the local rural museum, this proved to be most interesting, explaining how rural Portugal operated in times gone by along with the tools used. There were a couple of bee hives constructed from cork; the whole experience was enhanced by being able to handle the exhibits.

What to do next, we thought we would catch a bus to a neighbouring town but the bus timetables were not convenient enough, as luck would have it we happened on the train station whose schedules were more acceptable. We bought a couple of senior tickets, & had time for a coffee in a nearby cafe before departure.

The train arrived a few minutes late; we boarded & enjoyed the half hour or so journey to Olhao. Along the way we saw more salt pans.

Olhao is a fishing town & we enjoyed wandering the sea front. Just offshore lay sand bars & islands which in the high season is possible to visit.

There were a good many visitors wandering about, the sea front was awash with eateries, we opted to eat in the town.

The afternoon started with a visit to the local church which was very ornate.

We had time to look for a couple of caches which made us a bit late for the train; luckily it was a bit late.

We were soon back in Faro where we enjoyed an hour or so sitting on the sea front in the warm sun, however there was a strong warm wind blowing.

Dinner was had at the same venue as last night but this time we had fewer friends.

Tuesday 6/10/2015

Home today so an early awakening, bags packed & breakfast in house.

We caught a taxi to the airport arriving an hour early.

Managed to spend our excess change on a couple of fruit drinks, which we had to consume before security checks.

Reaching the departure lounge only took a couple of hours.

Our flight was due to take off a few minutes early.

Touch down at Bristol airport 2pm.

Telephoned the farm where the car had been parked for the duration of our holiday, they promptly arrived & ferried us back.

The drive home was dogged by occasional cloud bursts; we eventually arrived back at 4pm - knackered.


Costa Rica 3/3/2015 - 26/3/2015

Tuesday 3/3/2015

A civilised wake-up call saw us with bags packed on our way to Plymouth. We arrived with a couple of hours to spare so we had a coffee.

The National Express bus No550 left Bretonside bus station on time, London here we come.

We arrived at Heathrow central bus station early evening & jumped on a local bus and with the help of our bus passes we were soon signing in at the Premier Inn hotel.

The hotel afforded us a warm friendly welcome.

Our allocated room couldn’t have been further from reception; the room was clean & comfortable.

A special treat for me was to enjoy a deep hot bath.

Around 7:30pm we wandered down to the eating area & chose the bar for our evening meal, we had a mediocre cod chips & peas.

An early start in the morning so it was an early night. We set the TV to wake us at the unearthly time of 5:30am., which would give us plenty of time to check in at the airport. Caroline woke at 1am concerned as whether the TV would wake us up.

Wednesday 4/3/2015

We were duly awakened at 5:30am.

Caroline had bought a couple of pots of porridge for breakfast which went down a treat.

The trip to the airport was on a local bus.

Take off time was 9:45am.

Check in went well & we were on our way.

Our chosen airline was American Airways & they looked after us very well. The service we received was excellent, if anything a little too excessive; it seemed we were being fed constantly.

9hrs. later saw us landing at Miami airport where we were to transfer on a flight to Costa Rica.

Immigration at Miami is notoriously long winded & lasted 2hrs.

One of the security checks was to scan hands for explosive residue, to my surprise I tested positive. After rechecking, this time by a supervisor the result was again positive. I was led away to a room where I was strip searched. Eventually the security team were satisfied that I didn’t pose any security risks.

The only thing I could think of for the positive reading was my habit of taking ordinance off Dartmoor, left there by the army, & traces of cordite may have lingered in my bag.

I eventually arrived at the other side of security where a concerned Caroline was waiting.

A three hour wait plus one hour for maintenance saw us at last on our way.

Touchdown was 8pm Cost Rica time.

We jumped in a taxi for the ride to our planned accommodation. After being warmly welcomed by our host we retired to bed knackered.

Thursday 5/3/2015

We woke up to warm sunshine & blue skies.

With nothing planned today we had breakfast in house, fruit, toast & coffee.

We hit the streets at 9am. & had chance to wander around a little.

Alajuela is almost a suburb of the capital San Jose & its streets reflected the same amount of activity.

Just off the centre stands a large catholic church, the roof had a huge dome made from galvanised iron. The interior was magnificent. Parishioners were busy preparing for a service; we sat a while to enjoy the serene atmosphere.

Eventually we left to continue our explorations.

We tried to snap a few photos but unfortunately the batteries were flat, this was to be a regular occurrence throughout the holiday, must buy some new ones when we get home!

Before we left home Caroline had made some tentative enquiries regarding renting a car. The name of the company was Costa Rica Car Rental which was supposed to be based in Alajuela. Try as we may enquiry after enquiry drew a blank. Finally frustration got the better of us & we jumped into a taxi which took us off to the Holiday Inn where a number of car rental firms were based.

Negotiations followed & we successfully arranged to rent an automatic Toyota Yaris. The car would be delivered to our hotel tomorrow 2pm.

What to do for the rest of the day? We decided to jump on a bus for a ride to San Jose; the bus arrived after a journey of three parts of an hour. We alighted & were subjected to the hustle & bustle of city life.

Costa Rica operates a two currency monetary system, American Dollars & Costa Rician Colons, we had to acquire both & also come to terms with both. One scam is when paying with Colons one may get change in dollars which was rounded up to suit the retailer, this scam also happens in reverse.

We tramped the busy streets, slowly making our way towards the National Museum, along the way were many street vendors selling all sorts of ware.

The museum was holding a very large & a very fine exhibition of ancient Jade, the largest worldwide. At the entrance we were faced with a heavy entrance fee of $15 each. After recoiling with shock we decided to give it a miss. I decided to try a little charm & a lot of bull shit to try & secure pensioners rates & was able to strike a deal for half price.

The exhibition stretches over five floors and we spent the next couple of hours browsing the many pre-Columbian specimens. It soon became apparent much dedication & trouble had gone into putting this huge collection together.

We left at 3pm & slowly made our way back through the very busy city streets. Thirsty stuff all this city life so we stopped for a beer on the way. It was fascinating to watch folk pass by.

The bus station was found with the help of the GPS, a god send in a busy urban environment.

We arrived back to Alajuela in time to have a short rest before popping out for our evening meal.

There are few eating houses here but eventually we found one. Caroline had a huge green salad & I succumbed to a fry up & fruit.

A stage had been erected a stones’ throw from our hotel. A band was playing which was the prelude to a beauty contest to find Miss Alajuela. We enjoyed the pageant, the girl we picked never made it to the final.

Friday 6/3/2015

We awoke to strong winds but still sunny & warm. Breakfast was fresh fruit, toast & coffee.

Today we had planned to visit the Volcan Poas National Park. Armed with instructions from the hotel owner we located the bus station quickly, had plenty of time to watch the comings & goings at the bus station. We boarded the bus at 9:15am & were soon making our way out of the city, gradually climbing towards the National Park.

As we travelled, we noticed roadside dwellings were not gated as they had been in the city.

The countryside & views were tremendous, plenty of homesteads/farms, all producing the essential fruits & vegetables for the local community.

We stopped at a roadside stall & bought some strawberries which were not the best, some were little sharp.

After an hour & a half we arrived at the National Park entrance & paid the $15 entry fee.

There were a good few visitors already here.

We set off up the metaled track which was easy to follow, after a little while we arrived at a viewing platform some 2740m above sea level.

It was truly amazing to see the volcano crater with a constant stream of smoke curling its way skyward. We enjoyed watching the show with the rest of the visitors.

Next we set off to walk the Sendero Boros trail; at last we had left the crowds behind. The highlight of this walk was seeing a hummingbird & a very small blackbird with yellow legs which was very reluctant to have its photo taken.

The jungle around us was very dense so there was no chance to venture off the path.

There were many bromeliads, lichens & mosses growing from the fertile volcanic soil.

Eventually we came to the lake of Botos & stopped for a while to enjoy the sun & views. We snacked on a few strawberries. Squirrels scampered around looking for tit bits.

We continued to follow the path further into the forest. Less foot traffic here & we had chance to stand & watch many birds that were too busy to take any notice of us.

Eventually we arrived back at the visitor centre.

It was around this time that the mist rolled in & it became very cold & it rained intermittently. We had to don our coats, hats etc. to keep warm. Just before the bus pulled out Caroline spotted a White Nosed Coti busy checking out the picnic area for a snack.

As we descended towards the valley the temperature lifted so we discarded our coats.

Arriving back of Alajuela we purchased a bottle of beer & some crisps to enjoy in the lounge area of our hotel before a shower.

Saturday 7/3/2015

Breakfast was as usual banana, pineapple, toast & coffee served by our somewhat dreary housekeeper.

After checking our emails we set off, later than usual 10am.

The plan for the day was to change dollars into Colons’ & check out the local market.

We had to take delivery of a rented car at 2pm. We strolled a while & found a park to sit in, the wind was again very strong (gale force). The tops of the tall palm trees were swaying violently. With help from the Lonely Planet guide book we made our way to the local market, we spent a pleasant hour or so wandering around the many stalls.

Plenty of produce we hadn't seen before, for example a kind of sweet paste made from a pumpkin type fruit.

Leaving the market we found another park to sit in. Near where we chose to sit was an elderly couple selling balloons, the male of the two had the job to blow them all up.

Kicking our heels to kill time we strolled off to the bank to change money.

It was now edging towards lunchtime so we returned to the now usual café & after some problems with the menu eventually enjoyed a SMALL snack.

We have to wait another hour or so before the car was delivered. It arrived almost on time & we went through the handing over procedure.

We drove off gingerly joining the busy city traffic, we chose an automatic transmission car to make things a little less stressful. Eventually we managed to leave the city of Alajuela, on our way to Sarchi which has the world's largest ox cart festooned in beautiful colourful designs.

The sun was very hot and very strong wind was still a feature.

Time now to continue our journey.

We returned to the car to find an obviously disturbed chap with a stick; we drove off hurriedly towards our final destination Zarcero.

We arrived and found a hotel, the one advertised in Lonely Planet was no longer in operation.

Reversing the car down the 1:3 driveway into a narrow garage was interesting!

After booking in it was time to find somewhere to eat.

A steep descent saw us arriving on the main street. We had to walk nearly the full length of the street to find somewhere to eat and found a Chinese café, we enjoyed fried rice with chicken & prawns very tasty but the servings were a bit excessive & we had to leave some.

Getting back to the hotel proved eventful, having crossed the road on the way out we started to climb up the wrong side of the valley & ended up after a very stiff climb at a dead end lane. We returned into the teeth of a raging gale. In time we arrived back in the town, it took us sometime to gain our sense of direction to return to our hotel.

Sunday 8/3/2015

We both slept well and awoke refreshed, it was still windy but there was blue sky. As the hotel was room only we prepared breakfast in our room from produce purchased the night before.

At about 10am we set off for the day wearing our jumpers!

Our first stop was a topiary garden in the square; many different shapes had been sculpted out of a type of fir. The garden had been setup in 1960 by a gardener.

We next visited the nearby church which by the time the Sunday service began was nearly full. We moved on at this point stopping for coffee at a not too friendly establishment.

We continued to explore the local countryside in the very windy conditions, it was all uphill and we passed some rather nice houses on the way. Further on there were  bigger establishments which were producing veal and green agriculture. We watched a few pretty birds feeding and egrets around the grazing cattle.

Around every corner was a different picture.

We eventually found ourselves being invited into a local festival celebrating horses; children and female adults were pretending to be horses and riding hobby horses. We thoroughly enjoyed watching this spectacle.

We left after a little while and were offered a lift back to the town centre by young couple.

We relaxed in the Topiary garden for an hour or so, many people offered us their good wishes.

A couple of hawkers were selling their wares, strawberries and ice cream.

On returning to the hotel we sat in the garden and were pleasantly refreshed by the number of different birds that were visiting the area. In time we retired for a shower and relax for a while. Our evening meal for me was a disappointment but Caroline seem to enjoy chicken nuggets

Monday 9/3/2015

Moving on today.

Breakfast, DIY in our room.

Packed & ready to go at 9am.

The exit from the parking area was again testing but we managed it unscathed.

The plan for today was to drive north for 20 to 30km to La Fortuna which is a magnet for tourists wanting to experience a rainforest.

We arrived at our destination around midday & found an adequate hotel.

We left the car within the locked compound & set off for a stroll around the town, we almost managed to find a cache holed up at the reception of a hotel.

Following the GPS we attempted to find another cache but this one eluded us having walked in a huge circle on roads, which I have a problem with pounding on a hard surface.

We decided to return to the hotel & use the car to venture a little further afield. We ended up at Parque Nacional Volcan Arenal (National Park).

To reach the gate to the park we had to undergo a very bumpy ride on a dirt track. We arrived hoping to enjoy walking around one of the prepared trails but were put off having to pay $10 each.

Decided not to bother & set off along the main track, eventually we branched off on a little used track & enjoyed the sounds & smells of the jungle.

We saw birds all unfamiliar to us, one in particular was strikingly beautiful, its bill was black & blue & it had a brilliant yellow tail, its call was very unusual, we enjoyed close views of it. It had to be said we probably would not have seen these birds if we had used the organised trail, probably too many noisy visitors would have scared the wildlife away.

Back to the car to find we were one of the last to leave.

Arrived back at our hotel 5pm.

We had a salad for our evening meal before retiring.

Tuesday 10/3/2015

Today we planned to drive around Lake Arenal, so after breakfast we set off, it was cloudy but warm and we retraced our route of yesterday and eventually crossed a road over the dam. We watched a group of girls set off paddle boarding on the lake.

We noticed the sign for the Mot Mot Jungle trail so we set off on the 2km drive on an unpaved road, noticing many colourful birds as we made progress.

In time the road deteriorated somewhat and turned into a mud track, after driving much further than 2km we decided we must have missed Mot Mot, we had however enjoyed the sights and smells of the country. We turned around and eventually found the not too well signposted entrance to Mot Mot; a young girl approached and asked if we wanted a ticket we purchased one and set off to explore.

At the side of the path we were treated to sightings of many different species of hummingbirds flitting from flower to flower. Further on we saw a family of turkey type birds also at the side of the track.

We next entered a Butterfly house and watched these beautiful insects flying around and feeding on the flowers that had been placed there for them.

We left and soon picked up a well-defined path into the jungle. It became very clammy and the noise of different insects was incessant.

We had the jungle to ourselves, no other visitors here! At times we had to clamber over fallen trees.

Once out of the jungle we found a fallen tree to eat our packed lunch. At our feet we noticed a procession of leaf cutter ants busy at work. Lunch over we left the jungle experience to retrace our route to the dam and continued on around the lake.

At one point we had to stop to let a whole troop of white nosed coati cross the road, people were feeding them from their cars.

We found a place called Toad Hall where we stopped for coffee. From our seats we were able to look down into a deep steep garden. Hanging in tall trees swaying in the strong winds were elongated woven birds’ nests belonging to Montezuma Oropendola birds which we had seen many times over the past few days.

We left Toad Hall and continued our journey around the lake.

We stopped at a complex resembling a Swiss community. A church stood on high. We decided to take a look and climbed to it. On the steps of the church we watched ants in a column each carrying a piece of cut leaf.

It was time now to return to the hotel. It rained a little on the way.

We both enjoyed our evening meal.

Wednesday 11/3/2015

Breakfast in house and off for the journey to Canas around 8am.

Our plan was to use the route north of Laguna de Arenal, so we retraced our route of yesterday for part the way.

Before we left La Fortuna we decided to top up with petrol. We cruised around the town until we found a gasoline station. I was prepared for self-service,  but was stumped as to how to open the petrol filler cap. A petrol pump assistant arrived on the scene and pointed out the latch trigger was just to the left front of the driver seat. We were able to fill up for about £20.

At last we are on our way and it wasn't long before the rain started. In a half hour or so we had reached the dam east of the reservoir.

In good time we had reached Toad Hall restaurant this was where we had enjoyed a coffee yesterday. Still driving in the rain we attempted to find a few caches and had about 50% success.

By the time we had reached Tilaran the rain had stopped and hot sun streamed down, however a strong wind still blew.

Had a tasty lunch in a local café, enjoying salad and chicken which was in a rather nice sauce.

We had chance to wander around the town but unfortunately the church was closed - so bang went the confessions.

There was a cache hidden in a graveyard. The hint stated the cache was some seven foot off the ground. We arrived at the gate to the cemetery and made our way to the GPS point and sure enough the cache was a nano magnet type and was secured to a roof beam of a shelter. Nearby were a couple of breeze blocks, so we used our initiative and used them as a means of reaching the cache.

All done and dusted we had now chance to look around the graveyard. All the graves were 3 to 4 feet high; presumably the bodies were rested in a cavity above ground level.

Back to the car and set off to continue our travels. Yet again, we had problems finding the right route out of the town.

The Lonely Planet had warned travellers’ with ordinary cars not to attempt the road from Tilaran to Canas as it wasn't made up, fortunately all was good and the road was now tarmacked.

Arrived at our destination Canas at 2:15pm and secured a room at the Hotel Canas, recommended by Lonely Planet, at last they had got something right.

A relaxing afternoon, the strong warm gale was still raging and did so until we went to bed.

Thursday 12/3/2015

We enjoyed a full breakfast at the hotel before setting off for our next destination Playa Coco. Due to major road works near the town it made leaving particularly difficult, it took us ages to find the route onto the Americana Highway.

Extensive road improvements meant we had to trundle along a temporary road surface for a good few miles.

Nobody seemed to take seriously the imposed speed limit of 30km/h, needless to say we were overtaken by all and sundry even huge lorries travelling at least 60 km/h.

We passed Liberia on its outskirts; Liberia is a very large city with its own airport.

Arriving at Playa Coco we soon secured a hotel alongside the beachfront. The beach itself is susceptible to strong rip tides.

We found a large supermarket and stocked up with a few supplies before returning to the promenade area to have lunch.

The afternoon was spent on the beach enjoying the warm water; plenty of pelicans and frigate birds were fishing out at sea.

Ian was convinced he saw a huge shark very close to the shore chasing fish which were jumping clear of the water to escape!

In the evening we found a rather nice Lebonese restaurant to have our evening meal it was recommended by the hotel. Finished off the evening at a local beach front Tico bar.

Friday 13/3/2015

Awoke to sound of grass trimming and a howling wind, which by now seemed to be usual in Costa Rica.

Breakfast was provided by the hotel and consisted of pineapple, mango, watermelon, toast and jam washed down with two cups of coffee.

Off for the day around 9am. Caroline had planned a short drive south to another beach and then north to Playa Hermosa (a cosy bay).

The trip south turned out to be less than useless having missed the turning, so had to return to find the right one.

We arrived and left the car almost on the beach at the road end. Armed with our swimmers we made a beeline for the ocean.

The sea close to shore was calm but further out was quite choppy, the water was a refreshing temperature and we lingered to cool down.

Needless to say we had a cache to hunt down at the far north end of the beach, up sticks and off we set for the walk to the end. The hint mentioned that we would need a low tide to reach the site, we managed to reach an alcove and set out to make the hint work. The scramble up into the trees was steep and rather treacherous. Caroline elected to make the challenging scramble, a good way up into the dry forest; she had problems finding the treasure. I checked out another possibility but also drew a blank. Eventually Caroline struck gold & signed the log book.

Time for another swim, by now the sun was very hot so we found a sheltered spot under a beachside tree.

An elderly couple were just preparing to hire a couple of canoes. Whilst we were swimming Caroline noticed the gent of the couple had lay victim to the outgoing tide and severe offshore wind he was struggling to return to the shore. The owner of the canoes set off for the rescue, however the task was too great so a local motorboat came to their rescue.

We ambled south along the beach dipping in and out of the sea and had our lunch under a palm tree. Lunch consisted of tomatoes and green oranges, which tasted delicious.

The afternoon was spent swimming and watching wildlife.

We saw a good few large lizards, pelican’s, curlew, a woodpecker and the now familiar yellow finches.

By the time we decided to leave the beach, the local surroundings were void of people.

We returned to the car after taking advantage of washing the salt off our bodies thanks to a nearby garden sprinkler

Saturday 14/3/2015

After a rather noisy night and not a lot of sleep we got up and packed before we went down to breakfast.

It was a shame to leave such a perfect place but C’es la vie,

Nicoya was our next port of call, so armed with a good idea of the route we set off.

The countryside was very dry and there was some evidence of burning in the fields.

It didn’t take long to arrive at Nicoya and we soon secured a hotel for the night.

As it was still early we decided to visit Barra Honda National Park.

We bought a few supplies and started the journey, it was now that the fun began, we somehow ended up on the wrong road which soon turned into a dirt track. We had to weather the storm for 5kms before arriving at the small town called Mansiono, it was then another 5kms to the National Park.

The entrance fee was $24.

A long very uphill climb faced us but with a little bit of cheek & some charm we secured a lift with a mini bus going the same way. After about 1km and a short walk we arrived at the Mirador, all animals and birds seemed to be asleep, too hot.

We passed a few groups of walkers returning from their jungle walks.

The whole park was tinder dry. Occasionally we heard the cries from a troop of howler monkeys in the distance, but no sightings.

The Mirador is 430m above sea level and was well worth the climb.

The views were fine over the plateau below towards the gulf of Nicoya away to the north and the Isle of Chiva offshore.

We decided to have our pack lunch here under the canopy.

Lunch over we started back stopping off at a deep cave called Terciopela where visitors were being lowered down - at a price of course, there seems always to be a price!

It was now time to start the long slog back down the track which seemed endless. Eventually we reached the entrance to the Park. Nearby beside a disused building was a troop of white faced Capuchin monkeys, ironically we had tramped all over the park in-order to see wild life & all the time it was so close to the start. We sat & enjoyed the spectacle of the troop feeding & drinking water from a pipe.

The drive back to Nicoya was much easier this time, as we found the right road.

Our evening meal was good and we enjoyed a Chinese meal.

To allow the meal to settle we sat in the Plaza and watched a drum band marching and playing loudly.

Sunday 15/3/2015

Move on today. Breakfast in our room cereal and a bun, yummy!

Before leaving the hotel we both noticed the offside front tyre of the car was not fully inflated, perhaps it had suffered as a result of yesterday's rough road ride.

Leaving the town as usual posed us problems, all three roads lead to nowhere, eventually we took the right turning and we were on our way.

We stopped off at the local service station to inflate the tyre and top up with water.

Our plan for today was to drive the 40kms or so to Playa Naranjo which involved using a ferry to Puntarenas across the Gulf of Nicoya.

The road was good and the day was red hot so we stopped off at a roadside cafe for mango juice, we should've asked the price before ordering!

Continuing our journey we noticed the fields hereabouts were planted with melons.

In time we arrived at the ferry terminal in order to jot down the sailing times, whilst we were there a local guy arrived and passed on the news that the ferry would not be in service for another two weeks. Apparently the landing terminal had been damaged due to the recent gale force winds oh dear! We were informed there was another ferry but it was at the end of a very long rough track and would require a 4x4 vehicle.

What what were we to do now? Nothing for it but to drive the 60kms or so to the suspension bridge spanning the gulf of Nicoya. The roads were good and we were soon stopped in the car parking area near the bridge scratching around for a cache which was missing.

The bridge itself had been sponsored by the Chinese (Taiwan). There was no toll charge.

We now had to link up with the Americano Highway and use it to drive down the east side of the gulf to Puntarenas, our initial target for the day.

Lunch was had in a Starbucks outlet, much to Caroline’s disgust! After a 160kms round trip we reached our destination Puntarenas which is situated at the end of a peninsula and is served by only one road. We almost drove the whole length of the road before settling on a hotel recommended by Lonely Planet.

This part of Costa Rica seems a little less loved than other parts.

We enjoyed a rather nice pizza (freshly made) and a green salad for our evening meal

Monday 16/3/2015

Another warm and sunny day.

Our first job of the day was to change some dollars. The bank cashier had problems with Ian’s passport and the transaction took well over 20 minutes to complete, by which time the queue had grown somewhat.

We made our way to the beach which was long with almost no people; however there was quite a lot of scattered flotsam.

We walked the full length of the beach where there was a landing pier for visiting cruise ships. Today was the only day of the week there would be none.

The sea was very warm and we spent a good while in and out of the water.

Approaching from across the bay was a ferry; we wondered whether it was the one we had planned to use yesterday.

We left the beach and made our way to the ferry port, many people were queueing for the next ferry. We needed a snack so stopped off at a small local restaurant and enjoyed their special, tacos and salad washed down with a few beers. Had chance to Skype Andrew to catch up.

The afternoon was spent relaxing on the beach, frequently taking dips in the sea.

Made it back to the hotel about 4pm and had chance for a shower and a snooze.

Our evening meal was had at the same venue as last night and we enjoyed another pizza with salad.

The stroll back to the hotel was a little uncomfortable through dimly lit streets - all doors were firmly secured and bolted.

Out of the shadows a chap appeared obviously high on something and started to follow us, we managed to shake him off and made it back to the hotel.

Sleep was fitful until the sounds of five gunshots rang out; Ian rushed to the window but was unable to see much. Soon after the gun shots, cries and shouts rang out through the streets, it wasn't long before we heard sirens.

Tuesday 17/3/2015 (Saint Patrick's Day)

Breakfast in room and we left around 8:15am.

After collecting the car it was time to find our way out of the town, on this occasion it was straight forward as there was only one main road stretching the whole length of the peninsula.

Our target for the day was to be Quepos some 70kms south on the coast. Good roads throughout saw us eventually arriving just before lunch.

We quickly found a suitable hotel and settled in. The only disadvantage was the car would have to be left in the street.

We left to explore the town which was clean and very friendly. Lunch was had in a bar and we enjoyed nachos and a couple of beers - we must try and cut down on the alcohol!

The afternoon began with a stroll along the huge boulder strewn shore.

Across a small bay was a small community and a beach. Caroline spotted a small ferry currently making journeys to and fro so we decided to take a ride, there were only three other passengers.

An interesting crossing with close sightings of pelicans and vultures.

Once we landed and strolled through the village. It was obvious the folk here were less well off than people the other side of the water. Their homes were shacks but everyone was smiling.

We made our way to the beach; the sea was fairly rough with 3’ waves crashing onto the shore.

The beach was clean enough with the odd coconut laying in the sand. The sand was dark in colour, a result of being tinted with volcanic dust.

The temptation to have a swim was too much for me so in I went; unfortunately I had no swimming trunks.

We made it back to the ferry and were taxied back.

Plenty of cold showers as the day was very hot.

A stroll in the evening to ascertain where to catch the bus tomorrow to Manuel Antonio National Park

Wednesday 18/3/2015

A restless night, we woke about 6:30am. had breakfast before packing a small day sack for the trip to the National Park.

Only a short wait before we were on the bus accompanying the many workers who serve the big hotels en route.

At the gates to the National Park we purchased tickets and were on our way joining the many visitors, some of which had guides.

We knew it was going to be busy as this is one of the most visited Parks in Costa Rica.

Those who had forked out for a guide stopped occasionally to have various wild life and plants pointed out to them.

We thought it prudent to get ahead of the crowds to limit the amount of noise.

We managed to catch glimpses of a couple of large iguanas, a monkey high in the trees, and few red backed crabs.

Taking note of a local notice board we decided to take the jungle path to the end Cathedral Point. Before we set off we noticed a sandy beach, the sea was fairly rough and only one or two people enjoying the water.

A fellow visitor told us where we could see a troop of white faced Capuchin monkeys, we took his advice and along with the monkeys we saw several large rat like animals with orange tinged backs we think they were cooties.

We set off along the boardwalk through the jungle towards Cathedral Point. We were soon on our own which was fortunate as we had a geocache to look for, however we overstepped the mark and had to retrace our steps by 100 or so meters. The cache was found attached to an information board sited on a platform. It was here we were treated to sightings of toucans in the trees.

We continued our walk to Cathedral Point where we had extensive views of the ocean.

Still keeping to the boardwalk & at times accompanied by a troop of white nosed coaties eager to grab a sandwich.

We eventually made it back to the beach which was by now busy. Waves were crashing violently onto the shore. A park ranger was shouting warnings to the visitors of the strong rip currents, advising people to move to a quieter part of the beach.

We enjoyed our time here in the sun watching people having a whale of a time.

There are showers available nearby further up the hill which in actual fact was a disaster for us, having washed the sand off we were left with a bag of wet sandy washing.

As we made our way back, a local guide pointed out a tiny bat clinging to the back of a banana leaf.

Just before we made it back we branched off to visit a waterfall, unfortunately no water only a small pool at the bottom of the drop. It must have been an impressive sight in the rainy season.

We eventually made it back to entrance of the park.

Near the entrance were many stalls selling souvenirs.

We had one more cache to find at a hotel and managed to find it fairly quickly.

Time now to return to Quepos, we only had a couple of minutes to wait for the bus.

A little shopping and back to the hotel to get rid of all the sand!

We had our evening meal in a simple café; the food was good we had rice with prawns and salad.

Thursday 19/3/2015

Today we move on.

Breakfast in room.

We were ready to leave at 9am. Before leaving we needed to draw money from a nearby bank. Had a very lengthy wait, at last Caroline was called to the counter. The cashier made us aware that drawing money from the counter would incur a handling charge of £23 but withdrawing money from an ATM outside would be free. Changing money at an ATM abroad is always worrying in case we should lose the card, but all went well.

Our planned destination today was the coastal town of Jaco some 45kms north, we were to use route 34.

The road was good and straight, we arrived mid-morning and started to look for somewhere to stay.

According to Lonely Planet, Jaco is the hub of prostitution in Costa Rica – things were looking up!

The centre of the town is a mile or so from the beach. Not a lot of suitable accommodation in the town so we set off for the beach, there were hotels here but being a holiday resort it had the usual atmosphere of overindulgence.

Caroline made her own decision and made it back to the car, she had almost reached it when she spotted a large brightly green coloured snake disappearing into a hedge.

We made the decision to continue our journey north looking for somewhere to stay.

We arrived at the sleepy town of Oritina, no accommodation here either so we continued. Alongside the road we spotted a sign advertising a hotel. We followed the signage and arrived at a rather run down establishment. The entrance had a huge archway straddling the entrance with the name of – Hotel Rancho.

We were greeted by an elderly gent who offered us a chalet for $30, we accepted.

The whole setup reminded us of Fawlty Towers.

We were taken to our chalet which was the only one which had been renovated.

We were pleased to find it was clean and airy.

It was lunch time so we drove to the nearby town and enjoyed chicken and rice washed down with a natural pineapple juice.

After buying a few supplies we return to Faulty Towers.

There was a swimming pool in the complex which a young man was cleaning before filling, so no hope of a swim here then.

We had a long chat with the proprietor. He told us he had only been here for 15 days; he was helping out an old friend who had just lost his son to cancer.

After settling in we took a wander around the grounds. A good effort had been made to bring the hotel back to life, but there was still plenty more to do.

We enjoyed exploring the area, bird song filled the air. We had chance to taste the juice from a strange Parrot shaped fruit, suggested by the next door neighbour.

Our wanderings took us to a bandstand type structure where we spent an hour or so just gazing into the nearby forest, not much to see but for a few non-descript birds and two rather handsome squirrels with orange legs.

After about three quarters of an hour the old man turned up with his helper to look for us, they thought they had lost us!

Back to the chalet which was much cooler than last nights temperatures. Sandwiches in house washed down with a beer or two. We enjoyed a good night’s sleep in the cooler temperatures

Friday 20/3/2015

We were awaken by a cacophony of bird song and enjoyed a splendid breakfast of scrambled eggs, fresh orange juice, toast and freshly made coffee. The young builder/handyman/waiter plied us with mangoes which were hard as rocks and another type of fruit which were very sharp.

As we relaxed after our meal in the tranquil surroundings we were reluctant to move on to San Jose.

Ian wanted to visit a zoo just west of the capital San Jose, so we left Faulty Towers at 9:30am.

The roads were getting more and more congested. After asking a good few people as to where the zoo was we eventually found it.

Decided to have lunch in a nearby café.

The zoo was really set up very well; most of the animals were rescued.

Ian managed to get a 50% pensioner’s discount.

We wandered around for about three hours, thoroughly enjoying ourselves seeing many of the animals and birds we had missed seeing in the jungles of Costa Rica. It was also good to see them close up; one of the highlights was seeing a Sloth.

Time to continue our journey and this is where the fun started.

San Jose traffic on a Friday night has to be seen to be believed.

Three lanes full of traffic with many motor cycles passing on both sides weaving in and out of the traffic. Huge American type trucks were also sharing the road with us. At one time a young chap jumped out in front of us at traffic lights and began juggling with knives.

Unfortunately we missed a turning and spent the next couple of hours trying to get back on the right road. Eventually we made it, by now we were driving in the dark which added to the stress.

In time the roads became quieter and were able to pick up the road to our final destination Orosi.

We were thankful to find a good guest house and settle in.

Our evening meal was taken at a rather nice place suggested by the guest house owner. Ian had fresh fish and chips and I had a Palmita salad.

Back to our room to crash out!

Saturday 21/3/2014

We had a sketchy plan for today; it was to take a road trip around a local manmade lake Cachi and planned to visit three caches on the way.

We had our breakfast in the communal kitchen, cereal and toast washed down with Costa Rican coffee.

Eventually we left for the day at around 9am and drove south-east. The sun was warm and bright.

The road we chose was initially good but soon turned into a track. In about 2km we stopped to look for a cache. We had a pleasant stroll between the steep hills, all of which were planted with coffee. We arrived at the predetermined spot where the geocache hint worked, but try as we may we drew a blank, so we left one of our own.

Off to the lake we thought. We stopped a cycling group to ask the way, but came away none the wiser.

From here things went from bad to worse and we just couldn't find the road to the lake, eventually after numerous tries we were on our away.

We had a very pleasant ride, passing through small communities and over one shaky bridge.

An upmarket hotel sits on the shores of the lake. The next cache was within the hotel grounds. We arrived to find a wedding breakfast in full swing. Undeterred we set about the task. Eventually we arrived at what must have been the cache site but no joy, so again we left one of our own.

A short stroll along the lakeside brought us into contact with the first mosquito population. The gardens were full of blooming tropical flowers.

Before leaving we tried to order a drink, but none of the staff seemed interested, so we moved on to continue the drive around the lake.

At the south end of the lake was a huge dam, some 200 feet high, we stopped to take a closer look.

Lunch in the car before continuing to the third and final cache sited in a park with the ancient ruins of Ujarras church, again no cache so left another. The park was busy with families having picnics.

Whilst viewing the church ruins we met a gent who made it obvious he wanted to chat. He had lived in England with this family for eight years; he worked in the Costa Rican Embassy in London. Conversation flowed well and we stayed with him for quite some time.

We returned to Orosi along the same route, and arrived back at 4:30pm.

Also staying at our guesthouse was a Canadian lady. She had been in Costa Rica nearly three months learning Spanish.

Sunday 22/3/2015

After a good nights’ sleep we awoke at 8:30am & had chance to chat to our neighbours who were a couple from Germany.

Breakfast over, we took a walk down to the centre. A prominent feature here was the Catholic Church; being a Sunday it was packed to the door with worshipers.

Today a religious Festival was to take place through the streets of the town. There were fireworks and bands playing.

Next to the church was a religious artefacts museum, we visited and enjoyed seeing the relics from many places including Guatamala.

Once the church service ended the congregation paraded statues on their shoulders around the streets, accompanied by a rather mediocre band.

In the central park a football tournament was taking place, the standard of play was high.

The town also hosts a thermal swimming pool, so we thought we would visit. Being the weekend there were many people taking advantage of the pool.

The rest of the day was spent in and out of the water, enjoying a very relaxed day.

Many families were enjoying picnics. Eventually we left about 4pm and walked back to the guesthouse which was only around the corner.

Occasionally throughout the day in Orosi, huge explosions boomed out, these were linked to the festival in the town.

Back to our room for a nap before venturing out for our evening meal, which consisted of a pizza in a very busy café.

Monday 23/3/2015

Today we had planned to visit the world-famous Basilica de Nuestra Señora de Los Angeles in Cartago, Costa Ricas most venerated religious shrine.

We hopped on the local bus to Cartago and we arrived in enough time see the city come to life. Most of the retail outlets were still shuttered.

We had two geocaches to visit today. The first was sited at the gate of the burnt out church Las Ruenes de la Paraclete. This ruined church was built in 1575 as a shrine to Saint James the Apostle and was destroyed by an earthquake in 1841. It was rebuilt a few years later and then destroyed by fire in 1910, what does this say about God! Only the outer walls remain, within which is a beautifully cared for flower garden.

Next it was time to walk the kilometre or so to the Basilica.

Some repair work was in progress to the front wall.

The building was majestic with a number of domes.

On entering the building we were in awe at its beauty, a magnificent altar and tabernacle festooned with gold stood in pride of place.

We were able to snap a few photos before the worshippers started to arrive.

The church had an immense inner space.

We lingered for quite some time drinking in the atmosphere.

As we were about to leave a funeral service was just about to take place, so we stayed a little while longer to witness the event.

The service went on for a long time, so we were left quietly.

Another cache was secreted in the grounds of the Basilica, not a great place for a cache. Whilst we were searching a security guard was keeping an eye on us.

We wandered about the town a little longer and had fish and chips for lunch.

Caught the bus back to Oriso and enjoyed a beer on the veranda and we managed to Skype Andrew.

After a rest we ventured out, after having had a long chat to fellow travellers who were also staying at the guest house.

As we had had a main meal lunch time we opted for a snack this evening of a couple of cheese and ham pies.

We took them back to the guest house to eat with a cup of coffee. The pies were rather dry.

Rain started as we went to bed.

Tuesday 24 March

Awoke to another warm and sunny day in paradise.

Sat on the veranda a while to watch and listen to the birds.

We packed our bags and went down to breakfast.

Today was the day we leave Orosi.

The car had been standing in the compound for a day. With packs in the boot we were ready to leave, that’s what we thought. Problem, could not start the car; Ian ascertained it was a flat battery, so I took a walk to the home of the guest house owner.

The lady of the house very kindly rang a few places to try and get somebody to jump start the car, but no luck, she also rang the hire company, who said it would be okay to get a local person to jump start the vehicle, they also said if there was still a problem they would send a mechanic.

The landlord was summoned by his wife and dug us out of the hole by jump starting the car. We were very thankful & said our farewells. The road out of the town was easy to find for a change. We had panoramic views over the Orosi Valley in the morning sun. Our route took us through the towns of Parisio and Cartago without any problems. It helped we had printed directions from the guest house.

We eventually reached our nemesis San Jose; once again we had huge problems navigating our way through the maze of one way streets to reach the car hire office.

In desperation we used the GPS which only works in straight lines so we ended up retracing our tracks many times. At one moment we were 274m from our destination; the only problem was there was an airport in the way.

In our frustration we asked a local gent the way, he said the route would be complicated so he offered to show us the way to intersect the main highway which eventually allowed us to escape.

At the car hire office the staff were very unhelpful. We related our problems of unable to start the car this morning but they refused to offer any compensation, they even had the nerve to charge us for the petrol; we explained we were not keen on stopping the car to fill up with fuel, in case we couldn’t start it again. Still adamant no compensation was agreed. We asked if they could ferry us to our hotel but they were unwilling even though we were one and half hours early. We said we would drive the car to the hotel and then they could retrieve it from the hotel, they saw the error of their ways and reluctantly agreed to take us.

We signed in and dumped our haversacks etc. in our room and went out fora well-deserved meal. The café we chose was the little place we had eaten on the day we arrived.

Bellies full we sat in the plaza near the cathedral and de-stressed.

Later we returned to our room for a shower and a rest.

Not sure whether we should venture out in the evening or not, eventually we did.

Bright lights coming from a corner bar drew us in; the atmosphere was raucous to say the least. Our main reason to visit was to have a beer and a snack. Primarily this bar was for drinking, so we decided to give the snack a miss. The bar was busy and customers sat on stools.

At one table was a noisy five some, the two females looked as if they were ladies of the night.

A rather loud lady a little worse for wear came over for a chat, apparently she had visited the UK and she particularly liked Glasgow and Liverpool, no accounting for taste! Whilst we were chatting a hand strayed to my thigh which took me somewhat aback. Her name was Loran.

We emerged onto the darken streets, all the buildings were closed and shuttered. We wandered around a little and eventually found a supermarket. We were able to buy a few supplies for the next day. In a corner were a few tables and chairs where customers could enjoy a snack. We decided to stay for a snack, Caroline had coffee and a bun, I chose sandwiches and a can of beer. There was a security guard prowling the store, I wondered whether he would frown on the fact I was drinking from a can in his shop, but all OK.

It was only a short walk back to the hotel; we sat a while in the cool dining area before bed.

Wednesday 25/3/2015

Home today!

A lazy start with a leisurely breakfast in the communal dining room. We supplemented our breakfast with cereal.

We had planned to leave for the airport at 10:30am. Our flight time was 14:45pm.

To while away the time we sat in the Plaza under a tree to avoid the hot sun.

Next to us was a couple of shoeshine boys, well I say boys they were both over 50.

The trade of shoe shining has taken a hit in modern times as most footware does not need to be polished.

Young children were feeding the squirrels & pigeons.

We changed the remaining Colons (Costa Rican currency) into dollars leaving just enough to get to the airport and pay the leaving tax.

We haled a taxi at 10:30am for the ride to the airport.

At the destination we went through the usual palaver getting to the departure lounge.

Our transit stop Miami brought its own excessive security procedures.

The seven hour flight to Heathrow was unsettled and tiring although we were well looked after by the cabin crew.

Touchdown was 9am London time.

Thursday 26/3/2015

Had to bring our bus booking time forward to 11:50am.

Four hours later we were home safely.

CROATIA 15/05/2014 – 04/06/2014

Thursday 15/05/14
Left home for a drive to Bristol. A change for us as we normally fly from London & use buses to get to the airport.
We started the journey at 4:15am. The roads were pleasingly quite & we made good time arriving at the farm where we had pre booked car parking for the duration of our travels.
We were ferried to the airport by one of the staff at the farm & arrived at 8am. Our flight was due to leave at 11:40am so we had time to have breakfast & half an hour on the internet thanks to the IPad.
On time & on target we took off at 11:40am. The flight was only 2hrs 30mins. We touched down at 3pm. Croatia time & caught a bus to the central bus station in Split. We emerged into the teeth, it felt very cold.
Locating our prearranged accommodation was to pose a real problem. After traipsing around the streets of the city Caroline noticed on the reservation form GPS co-ordinates, we duly entered them into the GPS & Bob’s your uncle we arrived at our destination at 5:30pm.
After settling in we popped out to explore & eat.
The old city streets are very narrow & it was very easy to lose our way, but thanks to the GPS we had no problems.
We found a suitable establishment with a friendly atmosphere for our meal. Prices were a little high, on a par with the UK. We both opted for a pizzas, when they arrive we were shocked by the size of them, one between us would have been more than adequate (something to remember for the next time).
We emerged once again on to the streets into the teeth of a strong cold wind. On our way back to our digs Caroline suggested we stop for a drink, we found a local bar, the air was full of cigarette smoke. We entered in conversation with the friendly barman, we sat at a small table & were joined by a burly man who had obviously had a drink or three. We spent the rest of the evening chatting with him.
Friday 16/05/14

We had breakfast in our room, & enjoyed muesli & milk in coffee mugs.

We were ready to leave for the day at 9:30am armed with a packed lunch.

Our plan for the day was to visit the highest hill in the city of Split called Marjan 178m high, known locally as the lungs of the city. It was all uphill. We passed an old Jewish grave yard & a couple of ancient churches on the way. The sun beat down & warmed us up. Views of the city from the high vantage points were spectacular. One of the outstanding features was a cathedral. In time we eventually reached the summit, where the Croatian flag was flying, standing close by was a huge white washed cross.

We had a geocache to visit here & it was found in the wall surrounding the summit structure.

Two more caches appeared on our radar some 500m away so we started our descent down the east side of the hill, this side of the hill was void of direct sunshine so the temperature dropped a few degrees. Our route took us through coniferous woods. On the way Caroline pointed out many varieties of fauna.

In time we reached sea level. The water was crashing on to the shore quite violently. A road hugs the coastline just above & running parallel to it was a small rough track. Many people were out jogging, the most we had have ever seen, most of them had frequent stops to perform a few press ups.

As we neared the city edges we heard the sounds of loud voices, we assumed the noise was coming from a sports venue. As we rounded the next corner we were confronted by a large group of students celebrating the end of school. Alcohol was being consumed in large quantities hence the uncontrolled excitement.

We continued our walk into the city & found a suitable bench to have our lunch, by now the wind was blowing hard & cold. Lunch over we found a sheltered alfresco bar & enjoyed a couple of beers which we sipped slowly. Nearby was an interesting feature - a large bronze hand fountain was sited high on the city wall, sporadically water would spurt from it a good distance into a ground level huge bronze cup. Many visitors were startled by it at first but were intrigued & snapped photos.

At the centre of the city stands the ruin of seventh century palace, so we thought we would take a look. We found it impressive & intriguing. Adjacent to the palace was the cathedral.

We continued our tour hoping to find a few city geocaches, it was then disaster struck, the whole data base on the GPS was obliterated for some unexplained reason – oh dear! Try as we may there was no way we could resolve the situation. Thank heavens we were travelling with an IPad & would be able to put pen to paper & record caches manually. Back to have a shower & work out a strategy. We had decided to have our evening meal in a nearby vegetarian restaurant. The meal was a huge success & we both very much enjoyed it.

After a wander around the old city streets we made it back to our room where we chatted to Andrew on the IPad.

Bed at 10pm with an extra blanket.

Saturday 17/05/14

We had breakfast in our room before setting off for the day at about 9:30am.

We weaved our way through the city’s narrow streets & happened upon a flea market – which we ambled around for a while.

The streets were busier today – maybe because it was a little warmer.

We made our way to the Fortress to collect the first cache of the day; it took a little while to assess where we should be, once in the right area we had a quick find.

Next we set off south to the bay of Bacrice, our route took us through a small park. Houses in this area had seen better days. The bay was very busy with plenty of people ambling & sitting, we joined them & sat a while. The water here was crystal clear but no fish.

In the shallow water near to the shore a couple of men were playing a local game of Klapa which involved hitting a small ball to each other trying to keep a volley going.

Gradually we made our way back to the harbour & stopped for a snack lunch. While we ate we watched ferries & boats coming & going in & out of the harbour. We had a couple of hours here & an ice cream. The sun now was very hot.

The sun certainly brought out the tourists filling all the bars/cafes on the Riva. After a very relaxing day we arrived back to our room around 4pm. Time for a shower & rest.


The evening started with a disappointment, we had looked forward to another meal at the vegetarian restaurant we used last night, we arrived to find it was closed – damn!

We started roaming the town looking for an eatery, it was difficult as we were in the new town & all the shops were closed. Eventually Caroline noticed a group of young people loitering outside a small café in a narrow alleyway, we investigated to find a packed venue, we squeezed in & enjoyed a thoroughly good meal, Caroline had pasta & cheese & I plumbed for fish soup & homemade bread.

A stroll after our meal saw us on the water front where an open air stage was set up. We were entertained by a rather good rock band, we enjoyed the festival atmosphere joining in with the young crowd swaying to the music. The lead guitarist was particularly good. Our spirits high we returned to our room stopping off on the way to have a beer.

Sunday 18/05/14

Today was the day we were to move on to Dubrovnik which is in the south of the country.

Breakfast in our room then with full packs set off in hot sun for the bus station.

The bus left on time.

We had good seats with all round views seawards all the way. The roads in general were good, much better than the roads in the UK.

The route wound its way southward around a multitude of tiny inlets, the beaches were pristine, access to the shore however looked difficult.

Just off shore are many islands most of which are uninhabited, a few however housed small isolated communities.

Tiredness caught up with us on occasions & some of the views passed us by.

Bosnia & Hercegovina have only one coastal access point; our route meant we had to drive through a 20 mile section. Our passports were checked in & out. We had a packed lunch which was fortunate, because the only currency here was either euros or Bosnian money, we had neither.

We landed in Dubrovnik at 2:30pm & promptly purchased an on-going ticket to our next planned destination Zadar, an eight hour ride!

Finding transport to our accommodation in Lapad (suburb of Dubrovnik) was difficult so we ended up walking the couple of kilometres around the harbour. Using the GPS we soon found our destination. We were warmly welcomed by the owner & shown to our apartment, which was clean & cosy.

A trip to the local super market to buy a few supplies for our stay in Dubrovnik, was inorder.

An evening meal of chicken breasts went down a treat.

Monday 19/05/14

I had a restless night, my sinuses blocked which made breathing a problem.

We had breakfast in house, muesli bananas & coffee.

With a day pack we set off for the day at 9:15am.

We had three or four geocaches to visit today, along the south coast. The route to the first cache took us past a hospital. In-order to access the cache we had a long detour, eventually we arrived at our destination only to find it was the start of a complicated multi (a trail of caches the position of each obtained from local information).

Onward to the coast, Caroline excited by the abundance of unfamiliar fauna.

The next cache was sited on the shoreline, unfortunately we took a wrong turn, before realising it we passed a small area of overgrown land, in the grass we spotted a large brown snake resembling our native Slow Worm. Later we did some research & learned it was a Glass Snake (pseadopus). Not sure whether it was dead or alive we poked it with a stick & it slid off into the undergrowth.

We were soon on the right path descending towards a beautiful cove; beside the track we found another cache. Eventually we arrived at a pebble beach & decided to have a swim. Many of the locals were reluctant to brave the water because of the temperature, we however found it refreshing. There was another cache sited in an offshore cave – a bit of a challenge! Getting in & out of the water was uncomfortable over the huge pebbles, it must of appeared to others on the beach we had a drink or three.

We continued our walk to Dubrovnik visiting a few more caches along the way. During our walk we came across a wire link fence. Hanging on the fence were a good many padlocks left there by loving couples aqs a token of their affections.

The coastline near the old town is spectacular with many secluded coves washed by crystal the clear turquoise water.

We found a secluded high vantage point to enjoy our packed lunch. All round views of the rocky coast & the magnificent ancient fort perched on a rocky cliff was thrilling.

The afternoon started with a visit to the old city of Dubrovnik. In 1992 the war between Bosnia & Yugoslavia (now Croatia) left the old city in ruins. which has now been almost rebuilt to its former glory. Hundreds of tourists were cramming the streets being led by their tour guides, ferried there by fleets of coaches. We joined in & enjoyed a unique tour of this spectacular old city.

Nearing the end of the afternoon we decided to enjoy a beer on the steps of a statue, there was only one other gent here. Long after he had gone we found a bunch of keys where he had been sitting we presumed them to be his. We handed them at a nearby café, leaving a note where the keys were left.

We caught the local bus back to our apartment to enjoy another beer & a packet of crisps.

Tuesday 20/05/14

No plans for today, had our breakfast in house as usual.

We had a couple of jobs to do before we set off for the day. One was to find where to catch the bus to the station tomorrow & the other was to buy a couple of postage stamps for postcards.

With both tasks complete we started ambling along the coast path west of the town. Along the way we saw the construction of new hotel complexes.

Eventually the path ran out & we were faced with a dead end.

On a nearby quay was a small gathering of people, we enquired as to what they were waiting for. It turned out they were expecting a pleasure boat to take them on a trip visiting three nearby islands – drinks & food were supplied. We thought it a good idea if we joined them. After some negotiation we managed to strike a deal with the captain as we had our own lunch. In time an attractive clinker built boat arrived & we all clambered aboard. Not knowing where we would end up we sat tight to let the day unfold. As we steamed seaward we had great views of Dubrovnik. A strong cold wind blew so we found ourselves a sheltered spot to sit.

We arrived at Dubrovnik; we were all set to disembark when we were told to stay fast as we were collecting a few more passengers.

With the boat fully loaded we set off to sail towards the first island Sipan. In time we arrived & tied up at the local pier, we were told to be back at the boat in an hour or so. We had chance to explore the immediate area around the bay & found a quiet spot to have our lunch to save us future embarrassment.

Eventually we returned to the boat & set sail to the next island Lapad (the biggest of the three). By now the sun was warm & the sea was thankfully calm.

We arrived at Lapad, it was here fellow passengers were to have their lunch, as a couple of outcasts we disembarked & set off for a walk to explore the island.

There were only a very few cars on the island, but we only saw dead ones!

There are four or five chapels on the island, as we progressed we were convinced we could see one across some overgrown farm land. We set off across land initially on a path which soon ran out. With the fear of snakes in the undergrowth we trod carefully. Wild flowers were in abundance. Caroline spotted a huge hornet type insect some three inched long collecting nectar.

In time we arrived at our goal & were somewhat disappointed to find an old shed instead of the expected chapel. Grapes seemed to be the main crop, the neighbouring fields full of vines. The only way out of our situation was by retracing our outward route carefully!

It was time now to make it back to the boat.

Last to board we set sail for the last island Kolocep. This island was a little more commercialised than the other two.

A large hotel took up most of the harbour front.

We were allowed a couple of hours here so we found a quiet spot for a swim; we were able to use the hotel facilities. The water temperature was refreshing & we both enjoyed our swim.

On time we all returned to the vessel to sail back to the mainland, we were dropped off where we had boarded.

Before returning to the apartment we had our main meal of the day which was a pizza in a local restaurant, then home to bed.

Wednesday 21/05/14

It was an early start for us today as we were moving on to Zadar.

We quickly packed, had breakfast before leaving for the main bus station.

We decided to catch a local bus to the station. We arrived at the bus stop before 7am & were the only ones there, passengers soon started to turn up, a bit of a relief really as we weren’t sure if we had read the time table correctly. The bus arrived at 7:10am & we set off making our way through the old city before arriving at our destination.

8am sharp we were on board the bus to Zadar, had to pay for our packs to be left in the hold, it seems this is the custom here. Our allocated seats happened to be in the very front of the bus.

The bus wasn’t full leaving room for more passengers on the way.

Travelling north on the coast road afforded us fabulous views of the many off shore islands nestling in the crystal clear Adriatic. High rugged mountains stood majestically to the east.

Traffic was light & only became busy near towns & cities. Plenty of road maintenance along the way.

We passed through Bosnia again & had to show our passports in & out.

Occasionally we had short breaks to allow the drivers to have a cigarette, at one stop we managed to buy a large packet of crisps.

We landed at our destination Zadar a couple of hours late. As ever bus stations seem to attract many accommodation touts, we declined their offers & hopped on a local bus to the centre of the city.

We tried to find accommodation in the Old City but it was obvious the narrow streets only accommodated tourist groups.

We decided to give the new city a go. It was looking grim & we wished we had taken up the offer of accommodation at the main bus station. In desperation we enquired at a local bakers stall run by a jolly lady. This brought a positive response, the lady offered to phone the landlord of a flat across the street. The landlord said he would arrive in short time to see us; he arrived on a bicycle & duly showed us his top floor apartment. I took an instant liking to him & we bantered a while to secure a good deal as the season proper hadn’t really started.

There was a super market nearby so we stocked up with supplies for the few days ahead.

Our evening meal was taken in the apartment after which we were glad to hit the sack.

Thursday 22/05/14

I had a somewhat troubled night with congested sinuses.

Breakfast in the shared kitchen, we had muesli, banana & toast.

A German lady was occupying the neighbouring room; she made a quick appearance to retrieve her washing from the washing machine. We had chance to talk with her & learned about her travels so far. She had a small friendly charming dog with her. She travelled by car to avoid confrontations regarding her dog.

We left for the day at 9:30am.

We had planned to visit three or four geocaches today.

Just inside the Old City wall was a fruit & vegetable market, all the produce looked beautiful, we treated ourselves to a few cherries. A plan was hatched to return early tomorrow morning to stock up for tomorrow’s dinner.

We roamed around the old city snapping photos of interesting attractions.

Eventually we reached the far end of the city & were confronted by the crystal clear calm sea. The occasional yacht sailed majestically by.

The first geocache of the day was hidden under a wooden seat on a wall, we had to wait a while for it to become vacant.

We continued along the sea wall, built into the wall was a unique sea organ designed by a Dutch architect. The principal of operation was to use the swell of the sea to wash into apertures causing an eerie organ sound to be produced – very clever.

Another unique feature nearby was the ‘Sun Salutation’, this wonderfully wacky invention relied on collecting the days’ sun energy rays to activate a light show at sunset, we were to return this evening to observe the spectacle.

We next turned tail & started back down the coast chasing a couple more geocaches.

In a park close to the Old City wall we uncovered cache No2 & enjoyed our packed lunch on a seat. The afternoon saw us joining the coast wall once again following it away from the tourist traps; here the buildings lining the shore were dilapidated. We managed to have a swim here, cold at first but felt warmer the longer we stayed in. After an hour here we continued our walk along the coast & happened on an old building only yards from the water’s edge, it was built in the 1500’s.

Time now to start our return to our apartment; we paused a while to sit in the sun at the head of the harbour, in the city.

Eventually we arrived back to our room & set about preparing the evening meal of Risotto & salad followed by a pastry filled with jam.

We set off for the Sun Salutation at 8pm giving us plenty of time to arrive at sunset.

The attraction consists of a 20 meter circle of toughened glass in which thousands of LED’s were sealed. As the sun sank over the horizon the light show began & very impressive sight. Soon quite a crowd gathered to enjoy the spectacle.

We returned to our room at 9:15pm.

Friday 23/05/14

The plan for today was to visit the island of Ugljan which is the nearest island to Zadar.

Huge ferries operate from the mainland to most of the offshore islands. We arrived at the dock side early & waited with the rest of the foot passengers when all the vehicles had boarded we were allowed on board. The voyage only lasted 25 minutes.

We landed at the small community of Preko & wandered off north following the coast road & cutting through headlands. The road was empty.

The population of the island is 7,500.

Our walk took us through an urban area, neighbouring gardens were full of crops – potatoes, tomatoes & grape vines. Eventually we arrived at the Olive Tree Marina where we chatted to a gent clearing the area outside his house. We continued strolling; saw many green lizards on the way.

We had planned to visit a geocache, but following the GPS the direct line would have taken us over almost impossible terrain, so we continued along the main road until we came to a small side turning which seemed to be taking us in the right direction, however it climbed very steeply & in the heat we both started to sweat. At the top was a mobile phone mast & jagged limestone outcrops intermingled with cedar trees. Getting to the geocache was very difficult which saw me scrambling over steep rocks; my energies were rewarded with finding the cache. Climbing down was worse than the climb up. We should have taken heed of the difficulty rating of this cache! We had our pack lunch on top & enjoyed panoramic views of the island.

The start of the afternoon saw us making our way back to the ferry terminal. We managed to flag down a local bus which saved us the long walk back.

Near the ferry slipway we found a pebble beach where we cooled off with a swim.

At 3:30pm we caught the boat back to the mainland. We had planned an evening meal in the apartment tonight so we bought a few supplies from the vegetable market & supermarket.

Arriving back at the apartment we treated ourselves to crisps & a couple of beers.

Saturday 24/05/14

An early start today as we were catching the bus to Pula in the far north of the country. We caught a local bus to the main bus station & after a tour of urban Zadar we arrived in plenty of time for an eight o’clock departure.

We were charged a £1:00 a bag to have our luggage travel in the hold.

The journey started by driving through the city streets, we hadn’t gone far when a young man realised he had left part of his luggage at the bus station. The driver reluctantly back tracked through now the busy streets.

Back on the route we used the coastal road to travel north; fortunately we were on the favoured side of the bus to take advantage of the coastal views. The road wound its way around many inlets. We drove alongside the huge gulf of Kvarner, its waters sparkling in the morning sun.

Throughout our travels in Croatia we had notice the lack of wild life & grazing farm animals, we assumed the animals bred for meat must be kept in sheds. Our journey continued through many small coastal towns which had access to the sea. A few small fishing boats were the only vessels we saw. There were quite a few commercial mussel farms, the shell fish hanging from ropes attached to buoys.

We had a short break near the sea & strolled a while alongside the quay, the clarity of the water was stunning; fish were plentiful & big enough to make a good meal.

We arrived at our destination Pula at 3pm.

Arriving at an unfamiliar bus station is always a little stressful, some of the stress here however had been taken out of the situation by Caroline who had jotted down a possible place to stay, lucky enough we also had the GPS co-ordinates to help us on our way. We caught a local bus to the city centre. More by good luck than good judgement we located our target apartment. Unfortunately the apartment advertised was already taken so we were shown another which was cheaper, we found out why later! The apartment was a good size so we agreed to stay six nights. After settling in we set off to find a supermarket/shop for a few supplies. We had our evening meal in the apartment after which we explored the city streets hoping to find a few geocaches. We managed to collect two, one in a small park with a fountain & the other at an old fort with views over the city.

Home to bed.

Sunday 25/05/14

Breakfast in our apartment & with a pack lunch we set off for the day.

A little out of touch, we thought today was Saturday the clue to it being Sunday was the fact all the shops & more importantly banks were shut.

Our wanderings brought us to a busy vegetable market; we bought a few delicious cherries & enjoyed them as we walked.

Following advice from the lady at the apartment we found the bus stop for the bus to Verudela, our planned destination for the day. The ride only took a short while & we were dropped off at the gates of a holiday complex with many chalets in a wooded area. Following our GPS we made our way to an old disused military building. We had to climb a wire fence to gain access; unfortunately Caroline cut her leg on the wire so emergency first aid was administered. We eventually found our prize.

Next we made our way to the coast & followed some visitors making their way down a narrow path to the rocky shore. As ever the sea looked great & inviting us to have a swim. Caroline was the first to venture into the water, unfortunately many sea urchins littered the rocks & Caroline managed to spike her foot – not having a good day Caroline! We noticed all the other bathers were wearing rubber booties to be safe. We enjoyed the warm sun here for a couple of hours before leaving to explore more of the coast. We arrived at a series of lidos provided by the numerous hotels here. We were able to have our lunch in the shade of a tree watching holiday makers enjoying the sea. We also enjoyed a few swims.

It was time now to walk back through the wooded holiday park. We arrived at the bus stop just as the bus arrived to take us back to the centre.

In the town centre we tried to buy some multiple bus tickets for our stay in Pula but these types of tickets had been stopped.

Standing near the centre of the city is a huge famous amphitheatre a honey pot for tourists.

Back at the apartment we enjoyed a wash & brush up followed by the inevitable couple of beers.

A treat for us this evening was to enjoy chicken kebabs & chips alfresco. Whilst we were enjoying our meal a large group of people dressed in traditional clothes marched by, occasionally they would break into melodic song bringing loud applause from fellow diners.

An evening stroll to let our meal go down saw us at a square at the centre of the old city, here a European election was in progress outside the town hall.

We continued our stroll with the sounds of hungry swallows feeding in the evening skies.

Enjoyed an ice-cream on our way back to the apartment, on the way we spotted the singers enjoying a meal, as we passed they gave us an encore.

Monday 26/05/14

Todays’ plan was to visit an area SE of the city known as Stoja.

A few jobs before we set off – change money, pay for three more nights’ accommodation & buy a few vegetables at the local market for tonight’s meal.

Had breakfast & set about tackling a few in house chores. Unfortunately Caroline had a mishap lowering the venetian blind, which resulted in the whole lot crashing to the ground.

We attempted a temporary repair but this was less than satisfactory & we had to leave the apartment with a broom holding everything up.

No problems with changing money or the visit to the market.

I managed to pay for our extended stay without mentioning the episode with the blind.

Before we jumped on the bus to Stoja we set off to find a cache some 800 meters away. Our route saw us following the old city wall. There were a number of locked doorways in the wall, one however was open & standing in the opening was an elderly gent who was selling mushrooms which he had cultivated within the deep dark catechisms beneath the old city.

The cache was located near a church which had ornate paintings over the main doorway.

We thought a good idea to buy some cello-tape in-order to repair the blind. We managed to source two reals at a small street kiosk.

We continued our exploration which took us to a Naval war memorial park, if it wasn’t for geocaching we were never have found this feature.

Next we had a short stroll to the water front where we sat & enjoyed our lunch.

The afternoon started with a stroll south along the coast eventually finding somewhere to have a swim. The sea was quite choppy & Caroline was a little apprehensive but went in anyway. We had a pleasant couple of hours here enjoying the warm sun. What a difference a day makes few visitors compared to yesterday.

We continued our walk south, enjoying the sea shore. A camping complex seemed to own most of the rights to the sea shore. We explored the site, at the centre of the park was a fort badly overgrown the only real visible feature was the moat.

Walking through the camping site we arrived at the bus stop & had a chance for a couple of beers in a nearby bar.

Caught the bus back to the city centre, the walk back to the apartment took us past the amphitheatre once again.

Caroline prepared a great evening meal from ingredients bought this morning at the market. I on the other hand had the task of repairing the venetian blind & gingerly reinstating it.

Tuesday 27/05/14

Today our plan was to visit a nature reserve some 10km SE of the city.

Breakfast over we caught the bus to the main station & waited for the No26 to Rt Kamenjak.

The ride took us off into the country through leafy fertile land, arrived at our destination Prematura in a half an hour or so.

The route to the national park was through a camping site at the far end of which a dirt track led us into the wild.

We passed a small cultivated area with some rare Oxen grazing. In a shed nearby was a flock of sheep sheltering from the hot sun.

Onward into the open which was full of wild flowers & butterflies, some of the plants had a medicinal smell.

Our wanderings took us to the tip of a peninsular & as we neared the coast we could hear the roar of rough seas crashing on the shore. We arrived & were confronted with fine views sea ward. In the distance there was a lighthouse perched on a small rocky island; further out was a larger island with signs of communal life. Lunch was had on the shore watching the huge waves crashing on the jagged shore.

The afternoon started with a walk south following the shore line until we arrived at a sheltered bay where we took advantage of a swim. Duly refreshed we continued our walk east. At one point we had to back track around an impassable rocky bay.

We had another swim on another beach which was frequented with naturists (mostly Germans).

All in all we had a good day enjoying the freedom to roam. We saw many unfamiliar plants & insects.

Arriving at the bus terminal a little early so we decided to walk to the next stop where we still had time for a beer.

Our evening meal was taken at the now usual eatery & enjoyed Kebabs. We had our desert of strawberries & yogurt in our apartment.

We both slept well, however we were awakened in the night by a huge thunder storm.

Wednesday 28/05/14

Not a lot planned for today, so decided to wing it. The streets of the city were wet as a result of over-night storms.

Caroline had read about a town some 10 kilometres away to the north, so we thought we would give it go. We made our way to the main bus station to catch the bus to Vodnjan; the fare was just over £3:00 which is on a par with home.

We arrived at a very quiet town & thought we had made a big mistake.

Unfortunately we had left our Lonely Planet guide book in our apartment, so we would have to rely on Caroline’s memory of what to see.

We made our way through the narrow cobbled streets; the dwellings on either side were obviously very old.

At the centre of the town was a magnificent huge church Saint Blaise, it was cathedral size with a 63 metre high bell tower.

We thoroughly enjoyed our tour around this magnificent building. There were four confessionary booths, seems the town was full of sinners. We took time out just to sit & enjoy the quiet. Apparently one of the unique attractions of this church was a collection of mummies which were curtained off behind the main alter. Amongst them was Nikolosa Bursa, his body is supposed to emit a bio energy in a 32 metre radius which has aided 50 miraculous healings. The bodies resembled dolls in glass cases (spooky).

Pitched in the towns central square was a marque selling coffee so we treated ourselves to a couple of cups. Caroline opted for an expresso & I tried the local brew which consisted of a very small cup half filled with an exceptionally strong coffee, it was served with a glass of water, locales drink it slowly sipping both water & coffee. I found the experience interesting & could see how it could get addictive. We enjoyed a sedentary break watching the few residents going about their daily chores. Had two more coffees & a doughnut bought from a nearby bakery.

Eventually we tore ourselves away to continue our exploration of the town. We wandered through the very narrow streets enjoying the tranquillity, a stark contrast from the bustling streets of Pula.

We happened on the community cemetery. The graves were very ostentatious with polished marble & photos of the deceased on them. We spent a good while here & found a secluded spot for lunch.

The afternoon started with the continued tour of the town, eventually we found ourselves alongside the main Pula road. There was a rail station here. Crossing both road & railway line we set off into the countryside. The air was full of perfume from roses & jasmine.

After a couple of false starts we were on our way. We came on yet another church in need of some love & care. To shelter from a rather heavy rain shower we sought sanctuary in the church. It was not open to the public due to major repairs. Working on the restoration was a well-educated gent who had been trained as an artist at university to carry out skilful repairs restoring all the internal carvings etc. He had calming classical music playing which gave the church a certain serenity. We chatted with him for quite some time. In time the rain stopped & we were on our way once again. Growing in the church grounds was a mulberry tree & we were able to taste the fruit.

Time now to re-track our steps to the bus stop for the ride back to Pula where we bought some supplies for tonight’s evening meal.

Thursday 29/05/14

Awoke early to find the ground outside was wet once again. We made our way to the bus station deciding to walk all the way.

Eventually the bus left Pula & made its way towards Porec.

Our route kept weaving from coast to country. We passed over a fjord which resembled a deep heavily wooded gorge. We arrived at our destination & decided to buy our onward ticket to our next planned stop Sibenick, unfortunately there was some confusion regarding no ticket sales on a Saturday. Lucky enough with a few harsh words we were able to obtain a couple of tickets.

Our planned accommodation was 1.7km distant & we had to walk there with heavy rucksacks! Thank heavens for the GPS once again which safely directed us to our destination. We were welcomed by a very accommodating elderly couple who run the establishment.

After a bath & a rest we nipped out to visit the nearby supermarket for supplies for the coming days.

Our hosts recommended a local restaurant for our evening meal, they frequently eat there with their family. Caroline chose beef goulash & Ian went for a rib-eye steak. We thoroughly enjoyed the food & left contented.

Our route back to the apartment was through a forest. We arrived & had an early night.

Friday 30/05/14

With a pack lunch in our bag we were driven to the centre of Porec’ by our host.

The challenge for the day was to attempt to visit a letterbox sited by Anne & Jerry Furneaux some five years ago. An evening on the Internet didn’t bring many answers as to where to start, however I did manage to download photos of Bruno Valenti's memorial plaque off which the letterbox was sited.

We drew a blank walking north from Porec’ as the clue stated. After exploring the four roads out of the city running north we drew a blank. As a last resort we asked the owner of a nearby restaurant if he knew where Bruno Valenti's memorial plaque was, lucky enough after a bit of quizzing he came up with an answer which meant us tramping another 4km along roads.

The road we took at times touched the coast.

A continual stream of tourists on hired bicycles passed us most had no clue how to ride them. Eventually we arrived at the right spot & after following instructions success was ours, needless to say we were the first visitors in five years.

It was time now to start back. I was determined not to walk on roads again so we stood road-side & hitched a ride to the city. The second car stopped & as luck would have it the driver was a resident & he was on his way to the city centre.

We chatted with a driver & learnt he was a retired Dutch Barrister.

We had lunch on a bench near the sea shore.

Another challenge for the day was to complete a multy geocache trail. The city of Porec’ has three towers which was the foundation of the city in the past. We had to visit all three to gain information to complete the challenge. We succeeded with the challenge but unfortunately we failed to find the final cache which was almost certainly missing.

We paddled our feet in the sea before we started the 1.7km walk back to our accommodation.

We arrived & enjoyed a beer or two in the garden with the lady who cleans the house. We met her son who was bright, we later learnt he had undergone a couple of major operations on his brain to combat meningitis. His mother had also undergone major surgery on her bowel.

We had our evening meal at the now usual nearby restaurant. We enjoyed an excellent meal, Caroline had homemade garlic sausages & I went for Hake in bread crumbs.

Saturday 31/05/14

Today was to be a long & trying day with 8hrs of travelling in a bus to our next planned port of call Sibenik in-order to shorten our final journey to Split.

An arrangement had been made by the apartment owners that the lady who cleans would take us to the bus station in the morning. To cover all events we planned the lift for 7am. So we arrived at the bus station in plenty of time for a departure at 8:15am.

On time the bus rolled out & we were on our way.

Using the same road we had arrived on which courses its way down the west coast of Croatia. Beautiful scenery accompanied us all the way with turquoise seas & off-shore islands.

We had to change buses at Rijeka, unfortunately due to a connection problem we had to wait 3hrs.

The city centre was a fully internet hot-spot so we were able to access the world wide web & the Geocaching site & learnt there were a few geocaches near-by. Whilst I kept my eye on the bus Caroline went off to search for the cache. In a flash she was back smiling having successfully bagged her quarry.

At 6.45p.m. we arrived at Rijeka. Now came the interesting bit, finding somewhere to stay. Initially we made our way along the sea front where most of the tourist traps were. It soon became apparent we were not going to find a room here. We climbed through the old town streets until we were high on the hill overlooking the city. Things were looking somewhat dodgy finding a place but determination won through & we found a clean apartment for two at a knocked down price of 260kn (£27:00).

Travel weary we popped out to find somewhere to eat, eventually we found a restaurant in the old city, after our meal we were offered a free glass of Schweppes (medicinal of course).
Home to bed.

Sunday 01/06/14

We decided to stay in the city today & visit a few of the sights it had to offer. First thing was to buy a few things in a local market & took them back to our room.

Breakfast over & armed with a pack lunch we were off for the day at 9am.

We decided to chase down a multy geocache which saw us visiting first a fountain with goldfish, terrapins & a mossy island. The next stage saw us walking through a herb garden. By now the city had woken up & the population were busy with their lives.

We visited the cathedral at the centre of the town, tourists were all over it. The cathedral was under repair.

We continued our explorations through the narrow streets of the old city. The cobble stones lining the streets were worn shiny.

As we climbed through the streets we happened on a grotto built into the rock. It had been built in 1925, unfortunately the associate church was closed, however we managed to peek a view through a window.

Still following instructions to the multy cache we visited a cemetery which was sited at the very top of the cities fortifications.

With all the data in hand we set off to locate the final stage of the cache. To get to the site we had long detour around restoration work, when we eventually arrive the site it was empty.

The day was now warm so we set off for the coast for a swim. The beach we found was a pebble beach & we had a few problems reaching the water with bare feet. The water was refreshing, not many locals were swimming, a bit too refreshing for them.

Lunch on the beach if we had remembered to bring it, no it was still in the apartment – oh dear.

The area around the beach had recently been refurbished & a new exercise area had been set up with new equipment, we had a go.

We decided to have a plate of mussels & a beer for lunch, we found a suitable café & enjoyed a fine spread.

We returned to the apartment for a rest.

Monday 02/06/14

Up early & ready to go with our day pack packed for a trip to Krka National Park. One of the main attractions in the park is an impressive waterfall.

On our way to the bus station we stopped off at a bank to change some money – doors open at 8am., with help from an efficient cashier we were done by 8:10am.

It was only a short walk to the bus station; we bought a ticket to Skradinski the nearest village to the National Park.

The almost full bus pulled out at 9am. As the journey progressed the bus gradually emptied leaving only tourists.

It was only a short distance from where the bus dropped us to the National Park. The price of an all-day ticket was £10:00 which included a boat ride to the waterfall. We were all aboard at 10am. & set sail. A very pleasant 20 minute ride brought us to a landing pier close to the waterfall.

We followed in the wake of a queue of tourists until we caught a glimpse of the fantastic huge thirteen tier waterfall.

We crossed a footbridge at the base of the falls, there were a good many visitors here taking photos.

A walking route had been devised which takes about an hour & encompasses the whole area. We set off by climbing alongside the falls & could feel the spray from the water on our faces, being so close to such a raging torrent was truly amazing.

In time we picked up the trail which soon led us to a small complex, with demonstrations of ancient crafts. A room was filled with bygone articles of family life e.g. pots & pans, a fireplace with pots pans & a small table & stools – a very interesting scene.

Another exhibit was a blacksmiths shop – one of the park rangers began crafting a horseshoe, I watched intently whilst all other visitors just took a fleeting glance.

Caroline enjoyed a display of spinning with the same result.

We continued the trail which wound its way on board walks over the waters above the falls. The waters were crystal clear & many fish swam therein.

We chose a spot to have lunch beside the water under a mature fig tree. Ducks swam nearby & frogs noisily made their presence known.

A most enjoyable afternoon stroll along the boardwalks until we returned to our starting point. Brave souls were swimming close to the shore below the falls.

After a doze in the sun we returned to the boat pier. We had only just missed a boat by a few minutes so we had an hours wait. We sat on the nearby seats & enjoyed the peace & quiet until the next boat arrived.

A very pleasant trip back arriving at Skradinski pier at 4.15p.m., we even had chance to have a coffee before the bus came to take us back to Sibenik.

Before our evening shower we enjoyed a beer & some crisps on the rooftop of our accommodation.

We set off for our evening meal – having decided to return to the same place as we had our mussels yesterday. After our meal Caroline said she would like a chocolate bar to finish off with – we called at a news stand – we found a 100Kn note (£10.00) – to celebrate we splashed out & had two choc ices.

Tuesday 3/6/2014 (My mums wedding anniversary)

We were moving on today – a little closer to the airport at Split, our chosen town to spend our last two nights’ in Crotia.

With bags packed we set off for the walk to the bus station arriving at 10.00a.m., as luck would have it the bus to Trogir – a UNESCO site, was scheduled to leave at 10.30a.m.

The bus left on time & was full – again we followed the beautiful Adriatic coastline & passed through many settlements on the shore which overlooked the crystal clear Adriatic sea. A few dozes along the way before we arrived at Trogir around midday.

We managed to find a room fairly quickly on the outskirts of the town - after dropping our bags we ventured out to explore our new surroundings.

We soon found a market selling all manner of fresh fruit & vegetables; I was able to buy a large bag of cherries yum yum.

At lunch time after some heated discussion it was decided to ditch our cheese sandwiches & sample the local food – I had a slice of pizza & Caroline had a cheese pastry. We ate our lunch in a nearby park, I ending up feeding the local pigeons with the pizza & cheese sandwiches, they seem to have enjoyed them.

With not a cloud in the sky we set about exploring the old city which sits on a small island linked to the mainland by a drawbridge. The streets of the old city were very narrow & lined with shops catering for the many tourists.

After a walk along the front & a sit in the sun it was time to visit the local supermarket for a few supplies.

Back at the room there were problems with the bathroom – no hot water so we both used the landlady’s facilities carefully as the shower door was rather precarious.

We relaxed in our room before venturing out for our evening meal. Earlier in the day we had noticed a restaurant which looked rather nice so we returned there to enjoy fish soup, sardines & salad with fresh bread.

We wandered around the area, with the many tourists, before returning to our room.

Wednesday 04/06/14

Today we had planned to visit the island off Trogir – so after a pleasant breakfast on the veranda – we set off for the walk to the bus station.

Had a little while to wait before the bus arrived – we were joined by a few other people going the same way.

The bus took us over the small bridge from the mainland & then over the drawbridge from the old city & we set off south climbing gently. This was definitely an island of apartments & hotels – they were everywhere.

We arrived at the far end of Okrug Gorriji & got off the bus – we were one of the last people to do so.

After leaving the bus we checked out a few local caches, however chasing down the second one proved to be more of an army assault course than a stroll in the country.

We started off on a faint track into the undergrowth. We were aware we may encounter snakes & we weren’t wrong, we had only gone a hundred meters or so when we caught a glimpse of large one which slithered off into the long grass, from here we were both very nervous!

We also saw many baby pheasants. A very large spider in its web was also seen. Plenty of zig-zagging took us eventually to the cache site – we were rewarded with fine views of the surrounding area & the sea beyond. From here we picked up a “good” path to the nearest water & stripped off plunging in to relieve our scratched legs & arms. Neither of us said anything we just enjoyed the cool, salty water on our wounds.

At about 1.30pm. we packed up & set off to find a place to eat. We hit a track quickly & made it back to the main road (where we had been dropped off earlier) – if only we had found this track to start with!

We found a very nice restaurant where we enjoyed mussels in wine & garlic accompanied with warm bread as a snack for lunch.

After we had eaten we relaxed on the sea front – seeing what others spend their day doing!

Had a bit of a wait for the bus to take us back to the city – but it came eventually – we were nearly overcharged by the driver – but we held our ground – much to his annoyance.

We returned to our apartment for crisps & a refreshing beer on the veranda before showering.

Our evening meal was taken in the old town at a place where there were a gaggle of restaurants, we were waited on by a pleasant courteous chap & enjoyed fried chicken.

We had a stroll along the sea front after our meal. People were using rented Segway vehicles careering up & down the promenade.

Many luxury yachts & cruisers were tied up alongside the quay, we enjoyed an hour observing how the other half live.

We returned to the apartment for the last night in Croatia.

Thursday 05/06/14

Today was the day we were due to fly back to dear old blighty. We had a leisurely breakfast on the veranda.

Our flight wasn’t until the afternoon so we spent the morning wandering around the old town. Alongside the quay was a street market where Caroline bought a few trinkets for home.

Spanning the canal was an arched wooden footbridge. Sitting on the steps was an elderly disabled woman who was asking for money from people passing, she was doing quite well until a passing gent tore her off a strip which resulted in her hobbling off into the distance.

Once we had crossed the bridge we kept with the canal until we reached a small beach, the sun was hot & I ventured out onto a small rickety pier, small boats were tethered here & were rising & falling in a slight swell.

We had chance to sit near the shore until it was time for lunch.

We started to search for somewhere to eat & ended up walking a mile or so towards the edge of the town but couldn’t find anywhere to eat. We turned about & started back, near the centre we found a quiet little café & enjoyed a pizza. Sat at the table next to us was an elderly couple & we struck up a conversation with them. They were from Hungry & were enjoying a sailing trip with a friend who had bought their boat a few years previous.

In time we left to make our way back to the apartment to collect our haversacks & bid farewell to our host.

We caught the bus to the airport which was only an hour’s ride away. Unfortunately the bus sailed right on by the stop, there was a hail of abuse & eventually the bus came to a halt leaving us with a long walk back to the airport.

At the airport we changed into warmer clothes in preparation for the weather in the UK.

We took off at 3pm arriving in Bristol around tea time. We telephoned the farm where we had left the car & in no time we were on our way.

The drive home was uneventful arriving at 10:30pm – tired.


CUBA NOVEMBER 2013


               

Monday 4th.

The start of a long, long journey.

Left home at 8am with full packs on our backs.

We caught the Plymouth bus, having had to pay a £1:00 as we were using our bus passes before 9:30am.

Arriving in Plymouth we made our way to the bus station, there was a queue waiting for the bus to Heathrow.

Caroline had put together a packed lunch of homemade bread rolls filled with tuna, to see us through the journey.

The day was cold & the wait for the Gatwick link bus was uncomfortable.

The shuttle bus to Gatwick uses the M25 as part of the route. We hadn’t seen so much traffic, streams of car lights were everywhere. It so happened the east carriageway was blocked by a nasty accident; emergency services were at the scene. The resulting pile up of traffic was about 10 miles long & increasing at an alarming rate.

We arrived at Gatwick south terminal & started looking for a local bus to the Ibis Hotel, where we were to spend the night. On arrival we were shown to our room which was clean & comfortable. After settling in we made our way to restaurant/bar. We enjoyed a glass of larger or two & a very tasty chicken curry. Close to our table was an elderly gent, we got chatting to him & learnt he came from Plymouth. His working life was spent running & owning a fruit & veg. wholesale business. In time we heard about his complete life story.

During the night I awoke with a gripping stomach ache – a good start to the vacation I thought. Morning came & I suffered with a bout of diarrhoea, so had to resort to taking a couple of Imodium’s to be on the safe side.

For the last week Caroline had suffered with a heavy cold & had managed to pass it on to me. I was somewhat concerned as I have in the past suffered badly with altitude ear. The cold was an extra worry.

Tuesday 5th.

The flight to Havana was in two parts having to transfer in Madrid Spain, the home country of Air Europa the airline we were using.

The second leg across the Atlantic was long & tiring.

Touchdown was at 7pm local time. First task was to change some money into CUC (the Cuban dollar).

As a treat, waiting for us, was an assigned taxi driver to ferry us to the hotel Caroline had booked from home.

First glimpses of Cuba through the taxi window was rather sad, most of the buildings were in a wretched state of repair after 50 years of neglect.

The hotel or casa particular as they are called here was welcoming & we were soon tucked up.

Wednesday 6th.

To combat the heat during the night all rooms were fitted with air conditioning, however we had the setting set to high & suffered with the cold.

Awoke at 6:30am., & switched on the in room television, reception was hardly watchable. Breakfast was served at 7:30am. & we shared our table with a couple of young German girls. An omelette was served, pancake, a selection of fresh fruit salad, bread & coffee or tea, this was to be the norm throughout our trip.

Our meal over, we hit the streets of Havana. The city is made up of a huge labyrinth of narrow streets flanked on either side by high almost inhabitable dwellings their occupants seem to spend much of their time sitting on their doorsteps watching & chatting.

We started our wanderings through the rabbit warren like streets.

Cuba frowns on the use of GPS’s so much so it’s one of things banned. However we managed to sneak one in & it proved to be invaluable as an aide to finding our way back to the casa.

Havana has water on three sides & sits on the northern coast.

A huge inlet sits on the east side & across the water we could see some 2 kilometres away a huge statue of Jesus. We continued our walk along the sea wall, the sea was angry & intermittently waves would breach the defences. Local fishermen were trying their luck.

A short sharp shower of rain saw us head off into the safety of the city streets for a while.

The streets of Cuba are filled with old American cars e.g. Chevrolet, Pontiac & Plymouth’s all left behind after the Revolution some 50 years ago. All are fuelled with leaded petrol hence there is a huge amount of pollution. All credit to their owners though, keeping them running.

Cuba has had a chequered history. The Americans took over in 1902, & then in 1962 the Russians arrived & sited nuclear weapons which caused all sorts of problems & almost started a World War.

Geocaching raised its ugly head & we marched off looking for one which supposedly hidden under the hoof of a horse statue, however it seemed to have gone missing so we snapped a photo to prove our visit.

One notable observation in the city was the distinct lack of retail shops. The occasional vegetable market was poorly stocked.

There are two working currencies in Cuba, the Cuban dollar CUC mainly used by foreigners & the well to do. The peso CUP which is used mainly by the locals, the value of which is poor. Shopping with peso offers great savings but it’s difficult for tourists to use.

In time we re-joined the coastal wall & kept with it until diverting to follow the GPS into the grounds of the splined Hotel National to hunt down another cache. At the front of the Hotel was a sprinkling of residents enjoying drinks & nibbles (bastards). Finding the cache had to be done surreptitiously so as not to be noticed, we found it quickly & signed the log book on a nearby bench.

The next cache according to the GPS was 2.5 kilometres away, so off we trekked through the city streets once again enjoying the sights sounds & smells. We arrived at the site & started our search under the base of a park bench; however this one seemed also to be missing. The park is called The John Lennon Park. Sat nearby on another bench was a bronze statue of the man himself. To prove our visit we asked the local park keeper to snap a photo of us with the statue, this wasn’t the first time this gent was asked to do this as he promptly produced a pair of John Lennon spectacles & put them on John.

Time now to start our return to the Casa with the aide of the good old GPS. We were desperate for a drink other than water but hostelries & the like are few & far between. Eventually however we did find a lady selling pizzas from her house window, close by was evidence of a bar. After purchasing a pizza we checked out the bar we ordered a couple of lagers. Sitting at our table was an elderly gent who was also enjoying a pizza. We bought him a drink & sat with him for an hour or so.

Suitably refuelled we continued the walk back, our route took us through one of the many city parks, we were approached by a lady. She told us that she was a teacher of Spanish & had worked for a while in England. We had a long chat with her. Our eyes were opened to some of the problems living in Cuba can bring. She likens her life as living in a prison, talking of which she had been incarcerated twice herself. Her crime was promoting anti-government propaganda. Her son had also been locked up for the same reasons. She gave us her contact details & added as she left sending & receiving commutations from outside Cuba is problematic. A bit like China.

At last we made it back to our room for a well-deserved shower & rest.

We decided to take the hostel owner up on his invitation to join more travellers for dinner at another one of his hostels. We were taxied to the location. On arrival there were two other couples just about to start their meal. With plenty of chatter we enjoyed interacting with other travellers.

We were driven back to our hostel & before we bedded down decided to sit for a while in the rooftop terrace. Whilst enjoying the ambience, a huge explosion suddenly rang out, thinking it came from the street we took a look over the parapet but no, it came from a cannon which is fired once a day from a nearby castle.

Thursday 7th.

After a good nights’ sleep we were refreshed & ready for another day in a hot & sticky city.

Breakfast in the hostel comprising of fresh fruit, yogurt, omelette, cheese, cucumber, pancake, bread butter, jam & honey all washed down with fruit juice mint tea or coffee.

We left the casa around 9am after arranging with the owner transport to our next port of call.

The day started with a stroll to the harbour in the warm sun. Plenty of offers for rides from men in their vintage American cars.

To avoid the hot sun for a while we gradually made our way to the Habena Vieja area (Old Havana) where we took advantage to sit under the trees in one of the many parks.

Eventually we returned to the harbour & decided to catch the ferry across the inlet to Regla. Before boarding however we had our bags searched.

Sometime in the recent past a group of dissidents attempted to hijack the ferry & make a run for it to America, needless to say the attempt failed.

The ride took around 10 minutes. Passengers had to stand, no seats.

We arrived with the sun still pounding down. Near the ferry terminal was a small Catholic Church, most of the ferry travellers were making their way to the holy place. We took a look to find people praying & leaving gifts for the patron saint of the ocean.

The main street of Regla shows signs of neglect as does most of Cuba. Retail outlets had very little stock on offer. We found this a little depressing, however everyone seem to be contented.

On our way back to the ferry we enjoyed an ice cream & stopped at the harbour. The shore was strewn with offerings left there by folk hoping for a long & good life.

We caught the ferry back & set off again for Old Havana. There were hoards’ of tourists ferried in on a multitude of coaches. To cater for so many visitors were many restaurants gift shops & bars. We stopped for a coffee in one of the many cafes, flamenco dancers were doing their stuff nearby.

We needed to change money so we made our way to a cambio de’ change (bank). There was a queue so we waited patiently. Our turn came & I had the job of conducting the transactions. All went well until I went to leave & the cashier called to me back as I hadn’t taken the cash. Pesos or CUP is used by the locals & it’s advisable to have some. I changed £20:00 worth the cashier checked whether I needed so much.

After more wanderings we made it back & had a chance to rest & sort things out for tomorrows’ travels.

Our evening meal was taken in a very nice restaurant; the meal was reasonable & good. Traditional music & entertainment was feature throughout the evening.

Friday 8th

The proprietor of the hostel volunteered to buy the tickets for our next port of call Vinales. Unfortunately due to popularity of the destination all pre booked allocated seats on the bus were taken, it was now left up to us.

An early rise next morning in-order to give us the best chance of getting a ticket. A taxi was arranged by the hostel owner Hoolio. To save on the taxi fare we were to share the ride with a young Isralian couple, but unfortunately they never appeared for breakfast leaving us to make our own way to the bus station. We arrived at 8am & there was already a lengthy queue & we took our place.

In time the young couple we were going to share the taxi with arrived & suggested we share a taxi all the way to Vinales. The cost of the trip would only be a few pounds more than the bus fare. Before we accepted the offer we needed to check out the deal. All seemed OK so we loaded our luggage into the massive boot of a fifty year old American Chevelet. Unfortunately I was allocated the front seat which was void of a seat belt! Soon we were aware of exhaust fumes leaking into the cab. A four hour very bumpy ride saw at our destination safely. We were dropped at the door of the Casa Particular (B&B) which had been pre booked by Hoolio.

We were warmly welcomed into the home of a Cuban family; our planned stay here was to be three nights.

After settling in we took advantage of our early arrival to explore the town. The first task we take on when arriving at a new destination is to purchase the ticket to the next port of call.

The town had a huge feeling of communal spirit; it seemed everyone knew everyone else. Horse & carts shared the roads with normal traffic. The lack of retail outlets was obvious again& we wondered how the population coped with everyday life.

A couple of cold beers went down a treat; Caroline opted for a Mojito the local cocktail which she had promised herself before arriving in Cuba.

Time to seek out a geocache. Through the streets we wandered with GPS in hand, until we arrived at a Casa Particular. The instructions were to ask the owners to use the cache which resides there.

We continued our exploration & eventually returned to our room for a shower & a rest.

7pm saw us setting off to find somewhere to take our evening meal. We settled down in a small eatery where we thoroughly enjoyed a meal of fried chicken, the accompanying vegetables were varied & unfamiliar but very tasty. Our table was on a veranda looking out on the main street & we enjoyed an hour or so people watching.

A short stroll saw us at the local catholic church where there was a bible reading in progress.

The town plaza is the evening meeting place for the youngsters & we sat quietly in the perfect evening temperatures. At 9:30pm things started to liven up a bit. At the corner of the square a night club opened its doors for a night of entertainment. We sat & enjoyed the spectacle. On the opposite side of the plaza a couple of young men set up their own entertainment which consisted of a couple of huge speakers powered by a computer banging out a catalogue of popular music. An elderly gent took the stage & danced energetically, it seemed he may have been on something! The Salsa is the national dance & a couple got up & gave a great performance.

Home to bed.

Saturday 9th

We enjoyed a splendid fruit breakfast, & then set off for the day. To enhance our planned banana pack lunch we found the only super market in the town to buy a few more things for lunch. Had to leave our bags at the door. I stayed to keep an eye on them. The shop supplies were meagre & clearing the credit card transaction took forever.

Apparently according to the Lonely Planet guide book there is a hop on & hop off bus touring the local area so we set off to find out more. Unfortunately the service was not running today as the bus was operating somewhere else.

Change of plan for the day ahead.

We found a trail leading north which seemed to be leading to a range of limestone hills, perfect we thought.

The route took us beside small dwellings & folk were all very friendly passing the time of day with us. Such a wonderful sense of community here in Cuba. We were soon walking between green fields. Produce growing included tobacco, peanuts, yuka (root veg.) & many more we were not familiar with.

Along the trail we were approached by a lady who beckoned us to her tobacco farm, slightly apprehensively we followed. The family greeted us & a young woman appeared & led us into a nearby shed. Still none the wiser we were asked to sit down at a table, then we were treated to a demonstration of rolling a Havana cigar, very interesting but it would have been more intriguing if we could speak Spanish. To show our appreciation we bought a couple of her cigars & bid her farewell.

Before we left the farm we had chance to take a wander around the farm buildings where the tobacco is hung to dry in the autumn. The fields were planted with young tobacco plants.

Back to the trail & strolled towards a valley. We hadn’t gone far when we happened on a farm stall stacked with local produce. An elderly gent arrived & showed us around & gave us a most refreshing drink of chilled lemon, which went down a treat. A small rodent type animal on a chain was close, the farmer fed it peanuts, & it was called Bobo. We bought a few things & continued to roam free, as the farmer owned all the surrounding land.

We reached a dry river bed then climbed towards the high peaks, the going was difficult, & the track was strewn with large loose slippery boulders. Eventually we reached a high meadow unscathed. We continued the climb until we reached a dead end blocked by a high sheer rock face. The only thing to do now was to retrace our steps back into the meadow. Bird song was prolific, most of which we hadn’t heard before. We took five to sit quietly to soak up the beautiful surroundings & had lunch. We were about half way into our meal when Caroline spotted a fully grown pig making its way up through the meadow. The animal passed us close by, close enough to see a blooded rope burn around its neck; presumably it had broken loose from a nearby farm.

Our meal over we descended into the valley once more where we met a farmer & tried not very successfully to tell him about the pig, he counted his stock & was happy it didn’t belong to him.

Our route now took us up the valley. We came upon a small muddy pool in which a female pig wallowed; her fourteen piglets were running around on the edge of the pool. There was a multitude of small green butterflies feeding on minerals on the mud.

Caroline spotted a cave high above the valley floor, so we decided to take a look. A set of steps led the way. In time we arrived at the mouth of a huge cave.

Sat at the entrance to the cave was a Dutch couple who said the cave was really a tunnel leading to the other side of the hill.

We walked the whole way until we emerged high above the valley once again.

A rough track wound its way down so we carefully followed it to the bottom & picked up the trail once again.

The sun was now very hot, but we enjoyed the walk back to the town.

We both agreed a cold beer was in-order so we found a friendly bar & quenched a roaring thirst.

Having had a tiring but enjoyable day it was time for a shower & a rest. Caroline slept for a couple of hours, she was feeling rather dehydrated.

We decided to take our evening meal at the Casa. We were served pork steaks, vegetables & salad. We followed it with grapefruit & honey. The portions were far too much for us.

At 8pm we hit the streets & made our way back to the plaza & enjoyed the musical entertainment once again. Whilst here we were treated to huge flashes of distant lightening.

Sunday 10th

We took breakfast at the casa. Our plan for today started with a walk up to Los Jaziminos – on the rim of the valley. As there appeared to be no hop on hop off buses going our way we walked the two & a half kilometres along the quiet main road; passing homesteads on the way. A farmer was tilling a field using oxen.

In time we reached the viewpoint which had plenty of tourists already there enjoying the fine views over the valley. We bought a couple of drinks & also enjoyed the views.

We next made our way back to the information office & enquired about a footpath back into the valley, the young assistant set us on our way. We passed through meadows with the odd cow tied up & old casas in a very poor state; access to these dwellings was over dirt tracks. Near a wet area we saw many species of unfamiliar birds.

The occasional horseman passed us as we progressed – we had to negotiate a rather wet & muddy section but managed OK. All the fields around were well tended.

As we neared the main road we passed a small homestead that looked rather rundown, the owners were sitting on their porch. The animals looked a little thin to say the least. On reaching the road we sat & ate bananas & biscuits. A young lad came along so we offered him a biscuit – he thanked us & quickly ran towards the homestead. Not long afterwards a younger child came down the path towards us; we gave him a biscuit after which he ran home.

We tried to hitch a lift back to town – eventually a tour bus stopped & took us back we gave the driver a few pennies.

On reaching the town’s main street we stopped for a drink before returning to our casa. We spotted a baseball match in progress in a stadium opposite, so we watched for a while.

Took our evening meal on the main street before returning to the plaza once again to watch the locals. Early to bed as we would have to be up at 6.15am in the morning.

Monday 11th

Breakfast was served at 6.45am – the usual egg & cheese plus plenty of fresh fruit & black tea. We squirrelled away four bananas & four shortbread scones for lunch.

Reluctantly we were leaving Vinales – a very friendly & pleasant place to stay without the trappings of capitalism.

We were aboard the bus at 7.30am – having been forewarned about the low temperatures of the air conditioning we armed ourselves with scarves & jumpers.

Our final destination was to be Cienfuegos (ten fires) via the capital Havana. The journey afforded sights of country life – ploughing fields with oxen, harvesting rice, we passed many marshy areas.

The roads were a delight to travel on – the volume of traffic almost non-existent. Plenty of stops for refreshment & toilet. A bit of a shock leaving the air conditioned coach into the high temperatures outside.

Four hours later saw us pull in at Havana bus station, here passengers alighted & more joined the bus. The drive to Cienfuegos took a further four & a half hours. We were glad to arrive at our final destination.

The usual gathering of people offering places to stay at the bus station & as usual we set off to find our own, as it happened by chance we found the very casa recommended by our previous hostel owner in Vinales.

After settling in we emerged onto the streets at about 5 o’clock & found a resemblance of supermarket so we bought a few supplies for tomorrow.

Not being too hungry we settled into a small café for a couple of delicious ham rolls & a couple of beers – being able to pay in the local currency we had a good deal & decided to have a second helping (all for about £2:50)

The rest of the evening we spent walking the streets enjoying the sights & architecture of the main square. We visited an art centre & were able to watch local children dancing (very good). Here we were also able to buy locally made crafts i.e. a beer can pressure cooker. A cigar holder & a bone letter opener.

Home to bed after passing a group of people playing chess on the esplanade, in the dark.

Tuesday 12th

Breakfast served at 8am – we joined two fellow travellers from Czechoslovakia & heard about their travels so for in Cuba. Afterwards we set off to access the internet – which went well after an initial hiccup (wrong room!).

Next we set off to explore the city – which was easy because all roads formed a grid system. We eventually found ourselves at the waterfront. People were very willing to speak with the usual “Hola”. As we hit the headland of the Punta Gorda we stopped for a drink in a small café & watched security guards arrive & take a quantity of money from the owners, before returning to their van under guard. We passed many parks with sculptures – there are plenty of fine artists in Cuba.

We continued out of the park & enjoyed a couple of hours under the bandstand overlooking the sea, an elderly couple were here their only income being money from collecting plastic bottles & cans for recycling. We were able to see across the bay to the castle - but no boats seemed to be sailing there today.

Away to the west the skies looked very dark, there appeared to be a heavy downpour taking place in the mountains.

As we made our way back we passed a couple of colonial houses that had been restored to their former glory – these were owed by the boating fraternity.

Caught a local bus back to the city centre & went to the bus station to check out the times of buses for tomorrow & purchase some tickets for our onward journey on Thursday.

For our evening meal we decided to use one of the restaurants recommended in the Lonely Planet – we were the first to arrive! Decided to try their famous mixed grill. We chose four “meats”:- fish, shrimp, pork loin & chicken. Caroline nipped out to buy a large bottle of water in the square & arrived back just as the meal was served. As we had only ordered one meal they willingly brought another plate so we could share. We tucked into the best meal we had had so far topped off with a glass or two of wine & a coffee.

Wednesday 13th

Our plan for today was to catch a local bus to the coast resort of Rancho Luna. After enquiring at the bus station we were ushered into an area to board buses & stood alone until we were shown the way to our vehicle, well – it was more like a cattle truck. We were honoured to be the first to board; perhaps it had something to do with us paying 25 times the going rate. It was now the fun started! The queue had grown to massive proportions & they all tried to board the truck at the same time, the vehicle filled within a few minutes, but still they boarded until there was no room to fit a cigarette paper between them. Luckily enough we had a seat!

The journey to our destination only took a half hour - thank goodness. At the beach we alighted with a gasp of relief & sauntered off to the beach. Golden sands greeted us & blue calm waters, it didn’t take long for us to change & immerse ourselves in the warm sea. We must have stayed in the water for a good hour – the sun shone down at about 90 degrees Fahrenheit.

The whole morning was spent in & out of the sea. Just before lunch we walked E along the beach, small crabs scurried into small sand holes they had excavated.

We had planned to eat in a nearby restaurant, plenty of fish being caught just off the beach so we plumed for fish lunch & a couple of beers which cost us £5:00. Whilst eating we were able to watch a chameleon lizard just outside on the step.

With full bellies we returned for another couple of hours on the beach. We were treated to a couple of spots of rain so sheltered under a beach umbrella.

Thought it a good idea to make our way to the bus terminal in order to grab a couple of seats – it soon became apparent this may be too far

At a nearby bus stop a young man waited so we joined him. Within three quarters of an hour there were seven of us waiting. Soon an outward bus arrived (fully laden) so we decided to get aboard – to secure a seat when the bus returned. We had a bit of a struggle to get on but soon our fellow passengers alighted & we were able to have a seat. On returning to Ranco Luna there were not so many people as the outward journey & we were soon back at the original bus station at 4.50pm.

By the time we had a shower & a rest most of the cafes in the centre were closing so we were only able to catch a snack of coffee & a couple of biscuits. As we walked back to the hostel we were invited into to see a craft exhibition in an old building. Also taking place was a rendition of music & guitar playing which was out of this world. The whole group was so immersed in their singing it was a joy to watch. The honour was all ours.

Thursday 14th

Today it was time to move on to Trinadad. With a few hours to spare until the bus left we took the opportunity to have a wander around.

Near the plaza was a street of craft stalls so we spent an hour or so browsing, managed to buy a few presents for the boys.

Off next to the pier & sat a while to enjoy the views. Nearby a film crew were filming.

Time now to return to our hostel to collect our bags, stopping for a snack on the way.

The bus left on time & we enjoyed the journey along the coast.

On arrival we booked a ticket to the next port of call.

The casa we tried first was full but the owner took us down the road to another casa which was close to the bus station. We were treated to a warm welcome by the lady of the house who gave us a glass of cold lemon.

After leaving our bags in the room we set off to explore Trinadad.

The streets were cobbled, which gave this town the feeling of a traditional Cuban town.

We accessed an ATM to top up the funds, no problems.

Wandering off we heard the sound of loud traditional music, so we thought we would take a look. The entertainment was for a large group of French tourists; we had a beer & watched the merriment.

The streets of Trinidad were thronging with tourists ferried in on a multitude of coaches. To cater for so many tourists there are a large number stalls selling souvenirs. All the stall owners were desperate to sell. A young woman tending one stall wanted to talk to us in English, her name was Damarys.

We returned to our room for a wash & brush up.

The evening saw us pacing the streets once again searching for somewhere to eat without giving in to the tourist traps. Eventually we found a restaurant in a quiet part of town. We were shown to a roof top terrace; the wind was blowing quite hard so we chose to sit near the bar in a sheltered spot. Cuban meals are far too much for our appetites so we opted for one meal of fish mixed grill with rice. The management had no problems with supplying us with an extra plate & cutlery. Making up the fish platter was lobster, Caroline not too impressed with the taste.

On our way back to the casa we stopped off at the town square which comprises of a steep flight of steps with many people sitting enjoying music from a nearby band, we joined in for a while. We watched a couple of chaps setting up a pizza stall on a street corner. The electricity supply was taken from a nearby electric pole via a 40m cable. The connection was made by twisting live wires.

Friday 15th

Breakfast was served in the courtyard, small birds fluttered about looking for tip bits.

No particular plans for today so we set off in search of the only geocache in the area. Following the GPS we had 700m walk. In time we left the tourist hustle & bustle behind & arrived on the outskirts of the town.

We arrived at the cache site but try as we may we just couldn’t find the prize. Reading previous logs we learnt there was a local keeper of the cache, we continued a fruitless search until Caroline spotted a young man across the road with a 35mm film container, he was tapping it on a nearby pole. So this was the keeper of the cache & he let us sign the log.

We left to start the walk back to the town when we came upon a lavish graveyard; most of the graves were family tombs. Above one, on a wall was a small wooden bird cage, cowering on top was a peregrine falcon desperately trying to gain access to the cage & its contents. Eventually the falcon flew off & began feasting on something. We went over to the cage to find a couple of small finches one had been decapitated. We passed on the sad news to the keeper of the grave yard.

Supposedly there is a hop on & hop off bus operating in the area which we could use to visit the beach at Acon Playa Peninsular some 17km away SW.

With some difficulty & false starts we arrived at the bus stop which happened to be just outside a rather up market cigar shop.

We had to wait for the bus at a very busy crossroads; the sun was really beating down. To gain relief from the sun we took advantage of the cigar shop & its air conditioning. Eventually we were told there would be no bus today; it had recently been involved in an accident. Back to the drawing board!

The only thing left for us now was to hail a taxi in-order to take us to La Baca a small coastal village some 4km SW. The taxi was an old American vehicle & obviously on its last legs. The driver had several attempts at starting it, eventually we were off. We picked up an extra passenger on the way who seemed to have a free ride. We were a couple hundred meters from our destination when the taxi gave up; fortunately it was downhill to La Boca so we coasted to the beach.

We almost had the whole beach to ourselves.

Flowing into the sea was a good size river.

The rest of the day saw us in & out of the sea.

At 4pm it was time to return to Trinadad so we used another taxi. During the journey we collected a couple more non-paying customers, obviously we were subsidising the local population. We wandered through the streets looking for somewhere to have a beer. On a street corner was an elderly gent making a crust by refilling disposable cigarette lighters.

Eventually we found a small restaurant & enjoyed a couple of Pina Caladas. We sat looking out on a cobbled street. Bars were fixed to the window so it looked as if we had been locked up. An American couple were also in the restaurant & they recommended the food here.

Whilst sipping at our cocktails a huge rain storm took over the town, rivers of rain gushed down the streets, everyone ran for cover.

As recommended we returned in the evening for a meal. The two Americans were sitting at the window seat table.

The meals were not special, I had fried chicken & Caroline had chicken supreme. About mid meal a musical trio came on the scene & started their rendition, we enjoyed the music until we were asked for money. The Americans pre-empted this & left before the music ended.

We left the restaurant & made our way to the central square where many people were sitting on the steps. We enjoyed the evening watching the locals dancing the Salsa. One particular gay chap made the most of the audience.

Saturday 16th

Breakfast outside in the morning sun before returning to our room to pack in preparation for leaving Trinadad later.

We had a couple of hours to spare which we used by having one last look at the town.

We visited the church & marvelled at the beautiful wood carvings.

The bank was closed so we took a visit to the internet café to catch up. One disturbing piece of news was hearing about the devastation resulting in an earthquake in the Philippines. Our immediate thoughts were with Mina, (a dear friend) who has just returned to her home country which is the Philippines.

2pm saw us returning to the bus station & after collecting our tickets we boarded the bus to Santa Clara.

The journey was uncomfortably cold, the air conditioning working overtime. Villages on the way looked poor.

We arrived at our destination at 6pm, by this time the daylight was fading. Arriving at a new destination is always stressful having to fight the touts enthusiastically competing for our custom.

We set off in the dark walking in the general direction of the city centre which was about 4kms away.

Caroline was frantically pouring through the Lonely Planet looking for somewhere to stay. A chap had followed us on his cycle & showed us a photo of his accommodation he was offering. In some desperation we accepted his offer. The next hurdle for us was how to travel the 3kms to his casa, taking into account that our landlord was on a bike. In quick time we had been offered a ride on a hose drawn cart. Galloping through the dark streets with the driver singing all the way was interesting. I looked over at Caroline who was hanging on for dear life. Through the back streets of Santa Clara was an experience & a little concerning as to where we were going to end up. All good & we safely arrived at our accommodation.

We settled into a clean spacious apartment & were given a welcoming fruit cocktail.

The hostel owner had a very good command of the English language & offered to show us somewhere to eat. He led us through the dark residential streets & stopped at an unmarked home. After knocking on the door we were welcomed in & enjoyed a very tasty meal. We opted for one portion which is our norm. by now.

To walk off our meal we made our way to the city centre. The central plaza was filled with hundreds of young people, loud music filed the air. It was apparent that this is where the young people of Santa Clara mingled looking to socialise. A lot of them were carrying a bottle of rum - a recipe for trouble we thought!

On our way back to the casa we came across a throng of more mature revellers dancing to 60’s music, we joined in for a while.

Bed 11pm.

Sunday 17th

An enjoyable breakfast at 8am.

We were both concerned about being unable to withdraw money from the local ATM. Time had come to try our luck, Caroline was in the driving seat & began the procedure, stressful silence ensued, this also happens at home. She followed the instructions to a tee with the resulting message ‘UNABLE TO COMPLETE TRANSACTION’. Another go resulted in the same conclusion – oh dear! The machine seemed to work perfectly well when accessed by the locals – oh dear again! We only had enough Cuban money to last another day – oh dear No3!

A geocache apparently had been placed in the Santa Clara city plaza. We took time to check it out. The GPS stopped at a huge forked tree. According to the previous logs the cache is frequently stolen, not surprising given its location. All that was left in the site was a visitors log no container! So we relocated the cache to a nearby tree with a hole in it near a monument to Marta Abreu, famous for being a benefactor for the poor before independence.

To seek out another ATM we struck off for 3kms or so through the streets of the city, using a map lent to us by our casa owner. Eventually we arrived at a Banco De Credico, the bank Lonely Planet suggests. This time success was ours & we filled our pockets.

Leisurely we set off north. Caroline saw a street busy with locals; we made our way towards the crowds to discover a busy street market. This was the first local market we had come across in Cuba. The next hour or so was spent wandering around all the well-stocked stalls, enjoying the sites sounds & smells.

All transactions were conducted in the local currency BCC, this resulted in a good few bargains for us.

Nearby & slightly off to the side was an old aeroplane which had been converted into a restaurant.

We took time out to enjoy a freshly made pork sandwich & a couple of beers before continuing our explorations. At the far end of the street were stalls selling non consumables, this was of particular interest to me.

We met a larger than life character who had a good command of the English language. We engaged in friendly banter with him, he told us he once lived in Newcastle; his middle name apparently was Geordie!

After leaving the market we continued north crossing over a small stream & a railway track, close to here was a park designated to the memory of the start of Cuba’s revolution. It all started with the derailment of a train using a bulldozer, this bulldozer is displayed in the park along with other revolutionary artefacts. This milestone in Cuban’s history was initiated by Ernesto Che’Guevara at the end of 1958.

The museum unfortunately was closed on Sundays.

High on a hill overlooking the city stands a memorial to the revolutionary leader Che’Guevara this was to be our next target. Before our climb to the memorial we bought a rather expensive bottle of water.

Work was in progress to the memorial. The view of the city was good.

We chatted to a couple of students one Mexican & the other Cuban studying theology at Havana University.

On the way back to our lodgings we sat a while with the locals in the plaza & watched a good few drinking rum.

Our evening meal was taken at the same eatery as last night. After roaming around a while we returned to the casa & enjoyed a very educational chat with the owner who related Cuban life to us some good but a lot bad.

Bed 10:45.

Monday 18th

Breakfast at the hostel.

Our host has kind enough to put our name down on the list for the bus tomorrow, arranged a taxi & booked our onward hostel in Varadero.

We wandered around the city, while browsing the shops; we noticed there was a good selection of goods on sale, the most we had seen throughout our travels in Cuba. We took a look around an art centre, great things on display. An elderly gent was fashioning murals from twisted electric wire; some of his work took a year to complete.

Stopped for glass of lemon before hailing a horse drawn taxi to take us to the statue of Che’, some 2 kilometres outside the city.

We chose the wrong day to visit. Mondays is the day the museum is closed, however we were able to wander around the complex taking photographs of the huge bronze statue of Cuban’s hero Che’ which stands some 18’ high on a 30’ pillar, guarded by the military. We almost had the whole area to ourselves & we were able to roam freely. We made our way to the resting place of Che’, seems the mausoleum is a sensitive area & we were asked to leave.

We visited a nearby gift shop/café’ enjoyed a couple of beers & bought a couple of presents. Our chosen mode of transport back to the city was with a cycle taxi, we felt a bit sorry for the driver.

After posting post card home we retired to the plaza to enjoy the busy atmosphere. Nearby was a group of young dancers who were rehearsing. Some of the moves involved rolling around on the streets. Crowds watching were enthusiastically clapping & singing.

We returned to our room for a shower & rest.

Our evening meal was had at the now usual restaurant & we enjoyed one portion of chicken in a salsa sauce washed down with a couple of Crystal beers.

With an early start tomorrow we thought we would have an early night. We settled our bill with Fadel who has an inexhaustible thirst for knowledge; he was so frustrated not being able to travel the world. We chatted an hour or so before retiring.

Tuesday 19th

Fadel had arranged lodgings at Varadero for us & an early morning taxi to take us to the bus station. On time & on target the taxi arrived. At the bus station our names had been added to the passenger list by Fadel, all we had to do was pay the fare of 11 CUC. We had time to purchase a couple of toasted ham rolls for our breakfast before boarding the bus for the 8a.m. start. We were prepared for the buses air conditioning today; we armed ourselves with jumpers & scarves!

We made good progress until ¾ ways through the journey when we ground to a halt. The driver & bus assistant lifted the engine lid to prod around a bit! Having determined the cause of the problem – the oil filter was removed & taken to the nearby bicycle repair man who seemed to fill it with oil from the nearby tractor. All the passengers by now had left the sinking ship. We found a sheltered spot under a tree & enjoyed the sights, sounds & smells of this Wild West town.

After an hour or so we were on the road again, arriving at our destination at 1pm. As promised the lady owner of the casa Fadel had provisionally booked for us was waiting. A 5 CUC taxi ride (!!!) saw us at her home. The rooms were clean & spacious – however the cost was somewhat over the going rate – she was not willing to negotiate for our longer stay so we decided to move on. Only a few doors away we tried another Casa – this one was the most relaxed house we had yet encountered in Cuba. After an inspection of the accommodation we were satisfied with the room. We were offered a wee dram (rum) & the man of the house joined us. We enjoyed a laugh even though we were unable to communicate verbally.

The room we had been given was still being used & needed to be cleaned so we took a stroll to the nearby north shoreline – the sight that greeted us was something in a holiday brochure – pristine white sands with turquoise blue sea & very few people!. We sat & watched. This part of the coast is little used compared to the east end of the long thin peninsular some 13 kilometres away – where high rise holiday complexes lie.

At 3pm we returned to the casa to collect our swim ware & returned to the beach where we stayed until the sun went down – the sea temperature was very warm!

Returned yet again to our room & rested a while before emerging on to very noisy streets – restaurants & cafes were preparing for the oncoming high season. The taxi driver who had ferried us to the bus station in Santa Clara had recommended a couple of places to eat in Varadero. We quickly found Lai Lai a Chinese restaurant he had told us about. We were the first customers & ordered prawn & chicken chop suey plus a plate of fried rice. As ever in Cuba the portions were enormous – we struggled & had to leave some.

There were two other groups in the restaurant, one of which was a German couple, just before leaving we struck up a conversation with them. The lady had lived for some time in America. During our talk we learned that the ordinary German people, like us in the UK, are having the same social problems e.g. mass immigration & overseas aide. The president Angela Merkel is not liked by the people generally but appears to the world stage as very popular.

Back to casa at 10pm. Air conditioning a bit of a problem – sending out fumes!

Wednesday 10th

We were given rather a large breakfast which we were unable to finish.

We met the owner’s daughter this morning – a young girl of about six who was being taken to school by the mother on her bicycle.

Left casa about 9am & walked west out of the town until we met the river/sea. Crossed over the bridge & set off to find the first cache of the day – which ended out being on the intersection of major roads. On this oasis were many lizards – which were making rather a lot of noise. We soon located the cache & logged it before setting off for another nearby one. This one ended out being in a private house where we were offered water to drink. We understood that her son (who has set the cache up) is in Germany – once again it was a pity that we could not communicate fully with the casa owner.

Our third cache of the day was some way away – we set off across open ground – passing some oil drilling machinery – until we hit more water & made our way to a long channel. The cache was rather difficult to find as it was a micro plastic container – but Ian eventually spotted it.

Now back to the city – catching the bus was a problem – none of them were willing to stop. Eventually one did – paying him now was not easy either. (Think that maybe these buses are only used by the hotel staff being ferried to the east end of the peninsular)

Soon back in town we decided to catch the hop on/hop off bus to make our way to the far end – paying 5 CUC each, hope to pick up a few caches on the way.

Some were easy to find – some a bit more difficult – we visited many parks as we explored. Eventually we decided to catch the bus direct to the east end of the peninsular. This area being where all the tourists come to stay in their “gated” communities with their own swimming pools, sheltered from normal Cuban society. On the returning trip we decided to sit on the upper deck & were able to have fine views on either side of the bay. It became obvious to us that much of the under developed mangrove swamps areas will very soon be taken over by more large hotels.

Arriving back at our resort we just had time for a refreshing swim in the warm water before calling in for a beer.

After a couple of hours’ rest we emerged from casa & found a restaurant for a meal – we ordered one meal (a large fish) which was rather bland – it arrived overlapping the plate!

Thursday 21st

We awoke to bright warm sunshine once again. Breakfast similar to every other day the only slight difference was we shared a tot of rum with the man of the house – bit early!

Our plan today was to visit the nearby town of Cardenas on a local bus. Trying to find where to get on posed a few unforeseen surprises, eventually we walked about 1km over the canal which joins the north coast with the other side of the peninsular. There are no obvious bus stops; we just had to keep our eye open for a group of people lining up beside the road. We joined one group & waited with them. Our transport arrived – which turned out to be a converted cattle truck. The journey to our destination shook us up a bit.

On the advice of passengers we alighted in the centre, paid the driver & started strolling the streets. What a difference from the tourist governed resort of Varedero. Cuban people went about their business as Cuban people do.

We thoroughly enjoyed our wanderings. These towns’ dwellings had been left to fall into disrepair really badly. We browsed one shop which was selling religious icons etc. & purchased a small stone carved head with a hole in the top – no idea of its use!

All the shops in Cardenas used the BCC currency so this gave us ample opportunity to spend ours. The day was very hot, horse drawn carts filled the streets, their pleasing hoof sounds on the tarmac was one of Cuba’s city sounds.

We had chance to check out the Cathedral – sat a while in the quiet. As we left we were asked by a lady for some money – she seemed to be begging.

Cardenas was once a seaside resort (!!!) so we decided to explore. All the city streets were straight & very long. Our trek towards the coast took a good hour. The first sight that greeted us was a cement works billowing airborne pollution in to the skies. Try as we may we found no sign of a beach only a rocky polluted shoreline. We were advised to circle an oil refinery to reach the beach on doing so we passed a rum factory – the smell of fermenting sugarcane filled the air. Eventually three workers offered us a lift to the shoreline – which took us about 10 minutes or so. The shoreline was again boulder strewn & not very clean. We met some young men who emerged from the sea; they had been snorkelling for conch shells. We walked with them for a little while passing some beach hut type dwellings which were all being lived in. All of a sudden these three lads stopped & started digging in the sand – uncovering a hoard of huge conch/shellfish which they promptly put in their bag to take home.

We continued along the seashore, the high tide mark was beyond the seaside dwellings.

We left the shore to start the return to the city we were soon offered a lift by a couple with a horse & cart, the ride took us through the local refuse tip where vultures were feeding.

Desperate for a drink we found a small shop/bar where a bedraggled local man sitting at one of the tables greeted us. We bought a couple of beers & joined him. Looks can be deceptive – it turned out the chap had once lived in America, driving huge transport trucks. He asked us about King Arthur!

Trying to find a bus back to Varedero proved a problem – once again most of the buses were private ferrying staff to the hotels at the resorts.

Our cattle truck arrived at last – similar to the one we had arrived on!

At our destination we had time to spend couple of hours on the beach before returning to the casa for a rest.

Our evening meal was taken at the Chinese restaurant; we left & stopped off for a cup of coffee on the way back.

Friday 22nd

Time to move on!

To start the day Ian was offered a glass of rum (purely for medicinal purposes the owner said!) to disperse the acid.

Just after 10am our taxi arrived to take us to our the next destination Matanzes

We travelled west along the coastal road for a while crossing over a very deep river gorge – our driver informed us he organises boat trips on.

After a little while we arrived at our next casa – which was rather plush. The young host showed us around & gave us a glass of squash to welcome us.

We rested awhile before we set off to explore this new city – our casa was on the south side of the river Yumari. It was a very busy city – everyone going somewhere – most of the shops selling similar produce.

With the local currency Ian bought a few fresh peanuts.

We set out to find a bank. We found on but there was no ATM outside so we had to enter & use the facilities which took a little while.

We decided to stop for a drink & something to eat in a rather nice café – fresh juice & a piece of torte type sponge. Plenty of other folk here doing the same.

Both the cathedral & the theatre were both being repaired so we were unable to visit at this time – what a shame as both were supposed to be spectacular.

Found internet café & caught up with news from home (able to see Louis in Japan!), reconfirmed flights home & our hostel in Havana for the final night.

Ian then suggested we set off to find the train station – where we hoped to catch a train back to Havana in a couple of days’ time. This was an eye opener – the station being set on the outskirts of the city in a rather run down area. The times of the train were exactly as mentioned in the guide book; this was to be our mode of transport back to the capital.

We caught a rather packed bus back to the city centre. Local people were very friendly & welcoming towards us, we experienced this throughout our trip.

At the case it was time for a rest & a shower before we emerged again & tried to catch a bus back to the centre – buses were few & far between in the evening. This was also the case with the restaurants but we eventually made it to one that was listed in the guide book & ordered one meal to share. The meal consisted of chicken, beef & shrimps covered in cheese (grilled) & olives served with rice & black beans. Rather nice! We finished off with a crème caramel & coffee.

Returning back from the east side of the city was not easy – we were not sure where to alight from the bus, eventually we did (maybe a little too soon) & had to walk back over the bridge – stopping for a while to watch the local fishermen, fishing with crossbows.

Saturday 23rd

A noisy night with a busy road outside our window, a constant stream of huge, old Russian lorries (left from an earlier era) pumping out huge clouds of toxic fumes.

Had to wake up the casa owner to start breakfast. She informed us the meal would be ready at 8.30am. To while away the half hour we took two wicker seats on to the patio outside to watch Matanzas wake up, had to abandon this due to the pollution. Breakfast was served on time which consisted of fresh fruit, rolls, scrambled eggs & coffee.

Near the city to the SE is a network of limestone caves (Caves de Bellamar), for 10cuc visitors can enjoy a guided tour. Bus No 12 passes our casa & as luck would have it this was the very bus to take us to the caves. However the bus wound its way through the city streets a couple of times before climbing away into the surrounding hills to eventually arrive at the caves. There is a car park & usual stalls full of tat for the tourists.  We had to wait until 10.30a.m. to purchase our tickets & were able to read all the rules for entry – no cameras unless paid for, no bags & a list of the usual no no’s.

Before we set off we were able to peruse the information centre. At the set time we formed a column with the rest of the visitors & started the descent down steep & lengthy flight of steps. Electric lights lit the way for us. Huge Stalagmites & Stalactites greeted us; we made our way through the labyrinth of tunnels enjoying the amazing sights. The guide - whom we had paid for - took a shine to us & explained the many names these features, we found out later he wanted an extra gratuity for this!

We eventually emerged at about 11.30a.m., the sun was hot so a cool beer was called for – being the only Europeans the first café tried to overcharge us – but we knew what the going rate should be

It was good to be in the country, so we took advantage of the clean air & freedom by strolling down a lengthy farm track - a few dwellings were spread on either side with the inevitable noisy & frightening dogs. We successfully managed to pass all civilisation to enjoy a kilometre or two stroll through the country, taking note of unusual sights such as very colourful butterflies, trees with a multitude of needle sharp thorns on their bark (to deter any chance of climbing). Caroline spotted a few red seeds lying in an open pod. The track lead nowhere except a farm field with a “no admittance” sign on the gate! The only thing left to do was to retrace our steps, which meant passing the angry dogs once again.

At the main road we continued our walk keeping to the verge back. We enjoyed fine views of the city & coast beyond.

In time we jumped on the No12 bus again which took us up to the Mirador – a high point overlooking the city where we & sat with the locals who were enjoying Saturday afternoon. Plenty of food & drink was available. People had brought their beautifully renovated vintage cars to show off their prized possessions. Music was blasting our popular music – many English songs. We enjoyed the ambience with a couple of beers.

A church stands at this high point – unfortunately today it was closed. We made our way along the ridge east & enjoyed extensive views. Vultures glided on warm thermals. At about 4p.m. we caught the bus back to our casa for a well-earned rest.

Tonight we had decided to eat at the casa; the meal was served at 7.30p.m. We started with soup & a roll, the main course was chicken in a spicy sauce with another soft vegetable (looked like a potato), rice & a green salad followed by some fruit. Fresh fruit juice was also available. Our young host coped admirably having to cope with her young daughter (who was rather clingy).

After our meal we stretched our legs by walking over the bridge to find somewhere to have coffee no luck though. We settled for a glass of lemon.

Sunday 24th

Breakfast at the casa before setting off for the day to see Rio Canimar. We had instructions from our hosts as to which bus to catch. The instructions were good & we were soon aboard a bus full of passengers. Our journey was to be 8 kilometres but we had no idea where & when to get off.

We slightly overshot our planned destination & had to re-track somewhat & were put on the right road by a couple of locals.

A well maintained tar mac road snaked its way down towards the river.

We arrived & were confronted with a large locked gate with a security guard in attendance. We were informed the cost of a river trip up the river which we thought to be over-priced, taking into account the trip would be cut short due to lack of customers.

We retired to a small gravelly beach nearby to enjoy the sun & tranquillity. We hadn’t been there long when a huge convoy of Suzuki 4 x 4 trucks arrived, each had on board tourists destined for the river trip. The river cruise only lasted a half hour & the tourists climbed aboard their vehicles & sped off to the next hot spot.

As we sat contented on the beach, the security guard approached us & offered the river trip for half price, we declined & enjoyed a beer.

A couple of young men arrived with a circular weighted purse net; one of them was showing the other the ropes. They had no luck however.

The beach we were on was almost directly under a high road bridge. The supporting pillars of which had a skirt of concrete around sitting on which were a few fishermen trying their luck.

As lunch time approached one of the lads shimmied up a nearby coconut tree & cut loose five fruit which came crashing to the ground. They were kind enough to offer one to us with the top cut off which we thankfully accepted.

Intermittently a military gun boat would speed its way up & down the river checking the area for escapees.

We enjoyed a swim in the clear water. There was a noticeable difference in the water temperature between the surface & deeper down.

As we were dressing a coconut fell from a nearby palm tree & almost hit us.

At about 2:30pm it was time to leave. Whilst walking up the access road we heard the strange bird call from a nearby tree. We spotted a rather large bird which turned out to be Cuba’s national bird a Tocoporo.

On reaching the main road we started walking back some 1km to hunt down a castle, however all that remained of the fortress was a rampart & a couple of large renovated guns.

The sea was quite rough. We sat a while on a beach with a family of locals.

Returning to the city turned out to be fraught with problems. Buses were few & far between & when one came along we boarded it & got off at the wrong stop hoping to find somewhere to eat. We eventually caught another bus which dropped us off in the city on the wrong side of the river, but at least we found somewhere to have our evening meal.

Caught another bus to the casa arriving at 8:30pm.

Monday 25th

After breakfast Caroline enquired as to where she could wash some clothes, she was shown an area with a sink & facilities to spin. The clothes were hung to dry in the court yard.

With our daypacks packed we set off to the east side of the city – catching a local bus part way.

Our plan today was to hike up the valley which the little electric train we were going to catch tomorrow will use. Finding a path into the country took a little while. We had to cross the river over a footbridge which was in bad repair.

Dwellings on this side of town were owned by folk who had very little – however all seemed to be coping admirably. Everyone we passed greeted us with a warm “Ola”. We soon reached an unmade road in time after walking a kilometre or so the presence of people became less & less. The condition of the houses alongside the track were becoming more & more basic. Electricity supplies were a bit dodgy & hap hazard to say the least – being twisted to make a connection to the main feed, which in turn was hanging from metal poles.

The usual noisy dogs came out to show us who was in charge!

Ian had developed a few blisters on his right foot – the result of poorly fitting footwear. The track was hard & unforgiving but we trekked on. In time we came to a bridge straddling a ditch full of green stagnant water – a breeding ground for mosquitoes. We enjoyed a sit on the bridge in the shade drinking in the sounds & smells of the countryside. A sprinkling of folk passed us by on various modes of transport: - horse & carts, horseback riders, tractors & the odd car.

Near the bridge we found a small animal track leading into a field, so we decided to take a chance & follow it. We crossed an open area & then had to unhinge a gate/fence. We made our way towards the railway line knowing that the daily train left Matanzas station at 12.09 pm. We thought it a good idea to wait the 15 minutes or so to snap a few photos. On time & one target the tiny two coach train trundled by on an electric rail.

Back to the bridge to have lunch – just a snack of biscuits, coconut & water. By now Ian’s feet were quite sore & he was reluctant to face the walk back along the track. I offered to change boots with him which helped the situation.

I noticed a dead snake on the path – a black & grey banded creature. We saw leaf cutter ants busy about their work & heard the distinctive call of the tocororo bird (Cuba’s national bird).

As we neared the town we found a spot beside the river to sit for a while in the peace & clear air. However time was going on & we set off again crossing the Rio by the rather dilapidated bridge. At the other end there was a small fenced off area – a sort of zoo – with a few flamingos. A young lady who was in charge informed us it was closed but she would be willing to show us around – we declined as time was ticking on & we were very thirsty.

Walking south for a block or two we came to the main Plaza & the most luxurious hotel in the town. So we decided to enter & had a beer & watched the staff mix every kind of cocktail for the many customers.

We left to catch a bus back but we were refused on the grounds of having a too large a note – we spent a good hour trying to break the 20 pesos note. We ended up buying fudge bars & a mango drink, by this time we were back at the casa.

After a rest it was time to find somewhere for a meal – once again buses were not frequent – so we ended up going to a Pizza bar for our evening meal. After this it was time to return to casa – what a busy day!

Tuesday 26th

As the train was not leaving until 12.09pm we had our breakfast, & left the casa to walk over the bridge to sit in the Plaza watching daily life.

Our taxi arrived at 11 o’clock to take us to the train station – where we were able to purchase a ticket to Havanna with no problems. We joined fellow passengers in the Victorian waiting room until it was time to board the train.

We pulled out of the station spot on time & for a short while we retraced our journey yesterday up the valley.

We seemed to stop at every station along the way. People alighted & were replaced by others all along the route – this railway appeared to be the lifeline of the whole community who lived in this valley.

The dreaded happened – we broke down the driver, engineer & ticket collector were all under the train. Our fellow passengers did not appear to be concerned – they just took out bottles of rum!

In about a half an hour or so we were off again arriving at our destination Casa Blanca at 4.15pm. A fellow passenger passed us some small change for the ferry over to Havanna. The money handlers at the gate tried their luck to charge us more! But we had been fore warned.

We landed on the other side of the inlet & quickly hailed a taxi which took us to our Hostel – he knew the road – but could not read the numbers! The hostel owner’s son took us to our apartment for our nights stop – where we showered & rested.

Time to go out & look for somewhere to eat – we ended walking in a huge circle without finding anywhere to eat – decided to eat in one of the high class hotels in Havana – La Ingleterre. This is an old hotel with plenty of mosaics & tiles adorning the walls. We enjoyed the ambience here & the meal was very good!

We left the hotel to the sound of thunder & lightning, & walked back to hostel. We were looking forward to a more peaceful night without exhaust fumes!

Wednesday 27th

Homeward bound!! A comparative lay in, cold shower & then off to the main headquarters of the Hostel for our breakfast. Nine places were laid – some guests had already eaten – we were joined by a young traveller from Holland who was just about to begin her trip in Cuba. She had many questions to ask us.

Having to vacate our room at 12 o’clock we relaxed a while before we went out to find somewhere to change money – this hopefully being the last time we would need to. The bank was a problem & we could not find a bureau de change so in the end decided to use an ATM.

A taxi had been arranged for 5.30pm to take us to the airport so we had the rest of the day to wander the streets of Old Havana with the hordes of tourists who had been ferried in on coach tours.

We took the chance to enjoy a beer alfresco, Au contraire! Suitably refreshed we continued on our way exploring Old Havana. We had a small amount of pesos left (silly money) so tried to find somewhere to unload it – we ended out buying a couple of bamboo pens.

To use up the CUC’s we ordered a couple of cheese & ham sandwiches at La Ingleterre & sat outside – very surprisingly we watched as a fracas broke out in the street – the first we had seen during the whole holiday – police were called & a dog handler helped to remove the suspect using handcuffs.

Our new taxi – yes new, arrived on time & promptly took us to airport.

We now had a 4 hour wait for our flight. We struck up a conversation with a couple in the departure lounge & spent a pleasant hour swapping travel stories.

Plane left Havana on time at 9.45pm, an uncomfortable night difficult to find sleep. Eventually arriving in Madrid where we were transferred to Gatwick. Another long wait (4hours) in cold & dark London – broken by visiting the Weatherspoon for an enjoyable meal & a couple of pints.

Last step – coach back to Plymouth – arriving at 5.30a.m.



JORDAN HOLIDAY 24/09/12 – 16/10/12

      


Monday 24/09/12, THE START

Left home at 8am. First shock of the day was the £9:20 bus fares!

Arrived Plymouth centre with time to spare. Took time to have a cup of coffee in Mc.Donalds, perhaps this is a taste of things to come!

By the time we arrived at the bus stop most of the passengers had boarded so we had to sit apart.

An uneventful journey to Heathrow & then on to Gatwick. Our night stay had been pre booked with Travel Lodge, the designated bus ferried us to the Lodge at the princely sum of £2:50 each, tomorrow we will use our bus passes on a local bus for the return.

The Travel Lodge was somewhat clinical but clean.

We had printed out clues to three geocaches in the immediate vicinity of where we were staying. Following a short rest in our room we set off with GPS at the ready. Out of the three caches targeted we only found one & visiting this one we had to dodge a very busy highway.

Our chosen airline was to be EasyJet so on our return to the hotel we stopped off at a local garage/shop for a few supplies for the flight tomorrow. We asked the shop owner where we could grab a bite to eat, he suggested The Three Bells Inn close by, we had to walk through the local grave yard to reach the Inn. The Three Bells pub was an olde worlde establishment. We enjoyed a good tasty meal washed down with a couple of pints of Doombar.

Bed at 10pm, bring on tomorrow!

Tuesday 25/09/12,

Awoke & tucked into a rather nasty sandwich & a nastier milk shake for breakfast which we had bought from the garage shop last evening.

At 10:20am we jumped on a local bus duly armed with our bus passes which took us to the airport. The pre flight checking procedure ran like clockwork & we were all seated on the plane at 12:50pm. All seats were first come first serve – good old Easyjet! We managed to secure two of the better placed seats near the front.

The flight time was somewhat extended due to the fact we needed to bypass Isralian air space! Touch down was 6:30pm UK time & 8:30pm Jordanian time.

Checking through immigration at the airport was also seamless. Caroline had researched for the possibility of using an airport bus to Amman’s north bus station, from where we took a taxi to the old part of the city known as Down Town. The taxi dropped us off in a dark & dismal area, fortunately the driver walked us to the hotel Arab Towers. We were pre booked in & safely tucked up in bed at 11:30pm.

Wednesday 26/09/12,

We were abruptly awaken from our slumbers at the god forsaken hour of 4:30am by the local mosque call to prayer. Managed to return to sleep until 7:15am. Breakfast was taken at the roof top restaurant, the view from here was breathtaking the whole of Down Town Amman (city of the seven hills) lay before us & the sun was already hot. We enjoyed a fine spread, omelette toast & coffee.

Our plan for the day was to visit some of the cities artefacts. By way of a step narrow flight of steps & contouring the hillside we were at the gates of the Citadel. To enjoy the ruins we were charged a entrance fee £1:00 each (this was the shape of things to come). The next couple of hours were spent exploring the main attractions which included the Temple of Hercules, the Umayyad Palace & cistern. The museum we found particularly interesting. There were many copper objects fashioned by the Romans.

Many students stopped us wanting to practise their English.

Next we made our way down another flight of steep steps, on the way we were treated to the distant view of a Roman Amphitheatre. The steps led us to a shopping area the centre of which was a Souq stuffed with very fresh fruit & veg. the busy atmosphere was spell bounding.

Lunch was taken at a local eatery (Cairo Restaurant), we enjoyed soup & lamb with rice – very tasty!

Lunch over we continued our exploration. The next area of interest was the Nymphaeum, in Roman times was a water fountain & a 600sq.metre swimming pool all this was under repair.

All ruined out we found an outlet to buy a couple of beers (very expensive) & return to our room along with a couple of packets of crisps.

Our evening meal was had in a restaurant across the busy road from our hotel. The eating area was on the first floor which gave us access to a good view of the street below. A fight broke out & a large crowd gathered.

Thusday 27/09/12,

Today we planned a trip to the east of the city to Iraq Al Amir via Wadi As Seer. We caught a taxi to Wadi A Seer & a bus to our destination arriving at 10am. The sun was already hot.

The taxi dropped us off at the gates to the Palace of the Slave. Entrance to the Palace was free! First job for us was to seek out a GeoCache which was supposedly hidden near a ruined wall, unfortunately we had left the clue at the hotel, all we had was the GPS number, in the event we failed to find it. An old Arab gentleman was loitering near us hoping to act as our guide. We found a sheltered spot alongside the north wall of the ruin & watched local farmers slowly working the land.

In an hour or so we started down into the Wadi (very deep valley) enjoying the sights & smells of rural Jordan. We hadn’t wandered far when we were invited in for tea with a Jordanian family. A very pleasant hour was spent trying to communicate with them. We were joined by a young lady who turned out to speak a little English, conversation now was good. We learnt the family consisted of Mum & Dad who had seven children, now all grown up & mostly still living with Mum & Dad. Four members of the family worked for the police.

We eventually left to continue or walk, having been invited back in an hour or so for lunch.

In blistering hot sun, we explored the rest of the settlement of small homesteads. Water is fed to the homes via a small leat which is free to farmers. Our wandering brought to the end of the road, here an elderly lady invited us in for tea but we made our apologies the best we could & started back. The sun now was very hot so our pace slowed considerably. Eventually we arrived back at the home for lunch. We were shown into the lounge having taken our foot-ware off. The room was furnished with ground level upholstered mattresses around the walls & strategically placed cushions to rest ones arms – very comfortable. In time we met the whole family, their children & together we relaxed. In time the matriarch of the family arrived with a huge plate of chicken & salad for all to eat. One of the daughters is a head mistress at the local school, she brought along a bottle of goats milk yogurt, her children are cared for while at work by mum. Not to outstay our welcome we made a move to leave at 2pm. We were offered a lift by the headmistress to the nearby natural feature a series of caves in the hillside. We spent a while checking them out.

With no bus in site to take us back to Wadi As Seer we started to hitch a ride, it wasn’t long before we were picked up & ferried to the town, from here we hopped on a bus to the capital, a taxi from here to our hotel arriving at 4:30pm having had a very interesting outing.

Having taken in a large quantity of food today we opted for a sweet treat (baklava) & a cup of coffee for our evening meal.

Friday 28/09/12,

Today we were travelling on to Madaba. We caught a taxi to the bus station, waiting here were a couple of ladies who intended to visit the catholic church in Madaba. We all boarded together & we were on our way. A 40 minute ride saw us at our destination. A hotel was duly found The Queen Ayola, we were welcomed by the staff with a refreshing glass of fresh fruit juice. With the packs safely in our room we set off to explore the city. Using a map from the Lonely Planet guide we began to visit all the sites of interest. First on the list was the Archaeological Parks No’s 1 & 2, here was a good many mosaics retrieved from the local surrounding area. Lunch was taken in a rather nice cafe in the centre. Our meal over we continued our explorations. First of the afternoon treats was a visit to the catholic church which contained the shrine of the beheading of John The Baptist. We were able to visit the crypt & climb the many steps to the bell tower, with health & safety matters non existent we were able to make our way to the walk way around the tower unsupervised! The view of the city was extensive. Our return to the ground was interrupted for a moment when Ian was tempted to give the bell a dong.

We emerged from the church into the searing heat, & made our way back to the centre where we purchased some fruit, we ate the pears immediately.

Following the Lonely Planet guide we made our way to a hotel which organised trips around Jordan visiting all the major sites. Having chatted with the proprietor & reviewing the price of the excursions we made the decision to hire a car for ten days in order that we could make our own way around the north & east of the country. The hotel manager organised the hiring of the car which would be delivered to our hotel in the morning.

Back to our room for a rest before venturing out for our evening meal in a rather up market establishment unfortunately we ordered too much salad!

Saturday 29/09/12

We awoke in a panic thinking we were late for breakfast but it turned out our clock was a hour ahead of itself, consequently we arrived for breakfast before anyone had risen. Eventually breakfast was served – a small square dish with olive oil & surrounded by hard boiled eggs & a dish of dried herbs, the procedure for eating the meal was to dip the eggs in the oil & then into the dried herbs before consuming, quite good.

The delivery of the hired car was organised for 9am. Eventually two guys arrived to hand over the automatic Mazda Laser.

With our day packs in the car we drove carefully towards the Dead Sea. Negotiating Madaba’s busy streets was testing & we were relieved to reach the open road which was comparatively quite. The roads were good, however at frequent intervals were sited speed bumps, at first we hit a few at speed which was interesting!

Travelling west we soon reached the east banks of the Dead Sea. Many big hotels here with work in progress. Swimming in the sea was reserved mainly for the residents of the hotels, however non residets could pay a fee of £15:00 for the privilege.

The advantage of having the car afforded us access to the sea shore a few miles south. We chose a spot but gaining access to the water was awkward but eventually we made it. With no one around we stripped off & in we went. The temperature was very warm, swimming was difficult owing to the density of the water. Salt crystals lay encrusted on the shore. Apparently the water level drops due to evaporation one metre ever year. The level of water in the Dead Sea is 391 metres below actual sea level!

In time we dressed & rinsed the salt off our bodies with a bottle of water & made our way back to the car which was unbearably hot, fortunately the vehicle was fitted with air conditioning. Next we set off south following the sea shore. Occasionally we stopped to view deep gorges (Wadis) carved into the desert rocks by long dried up rivers.

We visited the first Geocache in a car park along the way. Our journey continued south until we arrived at Wadi Mujib Biosphere Reserve. We stopped to check it out, however hefty charges deterred us. The whole area is a nature reserve. We asked permission to snap a few photos which was granted & we spent the next hour enjoying the huge gorge. We were able to cool our feet off in the river water.

We eventually returned to our vehicle & continued our journey south. We had a chance to seek out another cache. The site was in a very precarious area on a cliff overlooking the sea, sharp salt crystals made things more difficult. However our endeavours were not rewarded as we suspected the cache was missing presumed dead.

A pleasant drive back to Madaba & our hotel where we enjoyed a couple of very expensive beers in our room.

Our evening meal was taken in the same café as we used for lunch yesterday. The chosen food was chicken fahjas & a hotdog sandwich. A few spots of rain accompanied us back to the hotel.

Sunday 30/09/12

More confusion with the time, we’ll get it right in the end! After a very enjoyable breakfast we were off for the day. We had planned to visit Mukawir & the castle of Herod The Great. The rural roads in Jordan are in very good repair & we made good progress. The land away from the built up areas is arid & very dry, the only exception to this rule is the odd patch of green fertile land being farmed by farmers with access to water.

We approached our destination & the predominate feature was a standalone hill some 700 meters high capped with Herod’s castle. As ever there was a fee to view the castle in this case £1:50 each. The day now was scorching hot. We made our way down a steep flight of steps & connected with the track spiralling its way to the top of the hill. Renovation work was in progress along the way. I had brought with me an Arab head scarf but was unsure how to wear it. Seeing the workmen wearing the same head gear, I asked them to sort me out, which they did with skill. We thanked them & went on our way.

At the top we were confronted with the renovated ruins of the castle. Roman type columns & a deep cistern were the main features. For quite some time we had the castle to ourselves accompanied at times with the odd lizard.

With our visit complete we started down just as two busloads of tourists pulled into the car park.

Our descent continued until we were again near the workers. I mentioned to them that the scarf which they so kindly sorted out for me was making me sweat. One kind chap offered me a tissue which I duly wiped my brow with, after which I faked blowing my nose into it & handed back, there was an awkward pause before they all saw the joke & laughed, thankfully.

We wandered off the beaten track to explore a series of caves carved out of the hillside. We took five here to sit & watch, Caroline spotted a couple of birds on the opposite hillside they looked like choughs.

We eventually made it back to the car park where we had a chance to have a long chat with the ticket man.

We set off in the car & stopped at a town Mukawir where we had a tour of a local weaving enterprise, they were producing marvellous modern mosaics as well. Our journey continued & we temporarily lost our way, mistakenly we stopped some young lads from the local school to ask the way, before we could make contact, they aggressively put their heads through the window. One urchin tried & almost succeeded getting into the back of the car, a quick getaway resulted in the offending youngster falling out! We continued again taking a wrong turning & had to return having to face the school boys once again. One of lads stood in the middle of the road & stubbornly stayed there hoping I would swerve, however I kept a straight course & luckily he dived for cover at the last moment, avoiding an accident.

One of the highlights of the day was to experience the vistas of the deepest & widest Wadi in the country (Wadi Mujib), known as Jordan’s Grand Canyon. The views were truly magnificent, however the day was a little hazy. We had to take a geocache photo here to complete a virtual cache challenge. In view of the deepness of the valley only taxis can negotiate the crossing from one side to the other, buses would find the 18km journey difficult.

Clinging to the north side of the valley is the windswept town of Dhiban.

It was now time to return to Maraba & our hotel.

Our evening meal consisted of chicken & pasta served with a bowl of yogurt. 

Monday 01/10/12

We awoke at 7am & made our way to breakfast & the now routine hard boiled eggs, bread & jam.

Today we were to move on, the plan was to drive a 100km north along the Jordan valley. Israel could be seen on the west bank. As we progressed the arid countryside gave way to fertile green lands.

Lunch was taken in a town which resembled the wild west. Eating in the car seemed the safer option, after which we cautiously started to explore the streets. Many folk were busy shopping for fresh vegetables which was in abundance. We tried to buy a few grapes but the stall owner refused to take payment for them. As we continued we were inevitably approached by boisterous young male school children who were quite loud & rude, we made a hasty retreat to the safety of the car & continued our journey towards the Syrian border, we arrived & were frequently stopped by the army to show our identity documents.

Between Jordan & Syria is the deep spectacular fertile valley of Yamouk. Taking photos of the area was forbidden.

Our planned destination was to be Umm Qays which sits high on a hill, from which its possible to see three countries.

Fortunately we discovered a clean friendly B&B for 25JD’s, The accommodation had a communal kitchen & lounge, which we shared with a Canadian couple.

Our evening meal was taken in a local fast food establishment popular with the locals, (always a good sign).
Tuesday 02/10/12


Having had a good nights sleep we enjoyed a freshly prepared breakfast by the proprietor. We were served fresh warm bread, tomatoes, cucumber, cheese, jam, fresh fruit drink & tea.

The main tourist attraction in Umm Qays is a roman village part of which is a rather an interesting museum. The artefacts of particular interest were 1 foot thick stone doors & grain milling tools.

We were offered Turkish coffee which we enjoyed in the company of one of the museums keepers.

Within the grounds of the museum we hunted down a geocache the second part of which eluded us.

Working on the remains of the Roman Village was a Japanese team of archaeologists, one of whom was staying at our place of residence.

One of the sites the proprietor had suggested we visit was a place to swim near a village on the Syrian border. We found the village OK but nowhere to swim, after enquiring we were eventually shown a local spa.

On our way back we stopped at a pine forest & enjoyed a walk along wooded trails. A family were enjoying their picnic & very kindly offered us to join them, we politely declined. The wild life was sparse but we did enjoy our ramble.

We arrived back at our room at 4pm.

Caroline’s plan for our evening meal was to have it in a small restaurant near the entrance to the Roman Village however I wasn’t that keen as we would have been the only customers. Throwing caution to the wind we decided to take a chance, we were escorted to an outdoor seating area which was dimly lit & enjoyed fantastic views, the predominant feature were the lights of multiple settlements lighting up the night skies. We were served an excellent typical Jordanian meal consisting of the ever present hummus & ground up herbs, lamb Kafta with a bean stew accompanied with fasodyeh & rice all for the princely sum of £10:00. As we left we were given a Cornetto each to enjoy on the walk back.

Before bed we had a chance to chat to the Canadian couple who were sharing the apartment.
Wednesday 03/10/12


Moving on today, we ate our breakfast with our flat mates. A good spread & loads of tea. We settled up with the landlord & we were on our way. The planned destination today was Ajloun. The route saw us travelling along the northern border of Jordan. Once again we had to provide proof of identification at check points quite a few times. In time we found ourselves driving south down the fertile Jordan valley. At the appropriate turning we set off east. The countryside changed from the lush green fields into semi desert, the hillsides’ hosted many Bedouin tents, their occupants scratching a living from the arid land.

Our journey saw us slowly climbing until we reached our destination Aljourn. The city centre was hectic & driving was a challenge, we managed to squeeze the car into a parking space & have a walk around & enquired the whereabouts of a hotel we were directed out of the valley towards Aljourn Castle.

The hotel resembled Fawlty Towers in more ways than one. Some price negotiations & bartering secured us a couple of nights board.

The journey & heat of the day took its toll, so we opted for a midday siesta.

Suitably refreshed we started the afternoon with a short climb to the top of Mt.Auf (1250m) where a magnificent castle stands. Our plan was to explore the castle. After paying our dues we began the tour. Renovations were in progress but the underlying structure was in good order.

We had a secondary reason for visiting the castle, hidden within the castle walls was a geocache. Suspecting the cache was missing having consulted associated logs, we took along with us a spare. We enjoyed exploring the castle & could confirm the cache was missing. We sited ours outside the main complex in a rather suitable cave.

A local man was working with his donkey ferrying sacks of gravel for the builders.

Caroline spotted a strange oak tree & we were able to harvest a few acorns for future planting.

The evening started early with a drive to the city centre were we stocked up with supplies for our stay – beer etc. Wandering around the vegetable market was a thrill & we were able to procure a few bargains. Our evening meal was taken early, & as luck would have it we came upon a very busy eatery (always a good sign) & enjoyed a Kebab & chicken diner for the pricely some of £2:50.

After a busy day we opted for an early night. Our hotel room faced south over a far & reaching valley, lights of many communities sparkled in the nights sky.
 
Thursday 04/10/12

Awoke about 6:30am. Mist covered the castle & the surrounding hills. We went down to breakfast at 8am. & were served a fine fare of different foods, by the ‘director’! Asked for a top up of tea. We seemed to be only customers for breakfast.

Packed up a few things for the day & set off to find the Ajlourn Forest Reserve. After a few false starts we eventually arrived at the reserve. The cost of entry was an extortionate 8JD (£8:00) to walk the 2.5km through the forest! We decided to give it miss & set off on our own hike through the surrounding countryside.

We passed strange oak trees, similar to Chinese oaks. Carob & strawberry trees were also spotted, growing along the route between a limestone carpet. Eventually we picked up a goats trail & followed it to a nearby hillside, here we had a chance to sit & watch. A trail of ants were busy ferrying nest material to & from their nest. After a little while we set off back once again following our outward route. We noticed areas of disturbed ground as if someone or something had been harvesting some kind of bulbs.

Back to the car & drove off to visit three community workshops. The first of which was a school teaching Calligraphy, we were shown examples of work & had a chance to try ourselves. The next port of call was a small soap factory, but unfortunately we had just missed the production process, however we were shown examples of their work. The next & final workshop was a biscuit factory. The access road was a dirt track so had to walk from the metaled road. Lining either side of the track were many fig trees laden with juicy ripe fruit, I’m afraid to say we made pigs of ourselves & would suffer the consequences later. Eventually we arrived at a rather posh dwelling, it was here the biscuits were made. Again we missed out on the production process. We were offered tea & you’ve guessed it biscuits.

We next set off to explore the very pretty valley, & again we had chance to taste the tree laden fruits, had a feeling the toilet would call later.

Trees seen along the way were fig, walnut, pomegranate & carob. In very warm sunshine we wandered back to the car & drove back to the hotel where we enjoyed a cold shower & a rest.

During our slumbers we were disturbed by a very loud screech & bang, we both ran to the window to see the results of a serious car crash. In time one of the vehicles burst into flames. Emergency services were soon on site & quickly made everything safe. We found out latterly the only injury was a broken leg.

Our evening meal was again taken in the city centre at the same eating house as yesterday. As a special treat we nipped next door & bought a couple of squares of backlava. Very kindly a gentleman in a smart suit offered us a couple of small squares as a taster. Home to bed.

Friday 05/10/12,

Breakfast was the same as yesterday, hard boiled eggs, olive oil, bread, cheese & apricot jam.

Todays’ plan was to walk from the hotel into the surrounding countryside, however all good plans somehow go astray. We asked Basil (the hotel manager) if he could suggest an interesting walk. His idea was to park on the south edges of Ajloun & set off down the valley towards Kofranja the neighbouring town.

We set off in the car with Caroline quite nervous as a result of the car accident we witnessed last night.

Unable to find a walking path down the valley we ended up driving to Kofranja.

Somewhat disappointed with todays’ false start we decided to return to Ajourn Fort & parked alongside a huge roadside advertising board. We set off south west. Initially we had to use a minor road before we spotted a track across open country. We enjoyed the wild walk over limestone boulders & tors which bore evidence of water erosion from many millennia ago. We continued enjoying the unrestricted freedom which is so hard to come by in Jordan. In time we intersected a metaled road. Sited on the south side of the road was a large newly built official looking building, a high fence surrounded the grounds.

Our wanderings saw us at a small hamlet comprising of only three of four dwellings. In the grounds of the first home were a few magnificent Arab horses, a young lad was exercising one of them along the dirt track road. A couple of noisy dogs sprang out at us, this is always a worry having had bad experiences in the past, however we suffered no harm!

As we left the hamlet an elderly lady was standing in her doorway & very kindly invited us in for tea. The inside of her house was beautiful & had the smell of fresh milk, this reminded me of Caroline’s Grandma’s house in Ireland. The lady also resembled Caroline’s Grandma. We sat comfortably on a huge sofa & were offered figs & bananas accompanied with cups of black sweet tea with a sprig of fresh mint. We managed to communicate successfully with her considering the fact we had no idea of the language. Eventually it was time to move on & we said our farewells & set off south west into the wilderness against the ladies advice. The first section of the walk was over ploughed rocky fields & more limestone tors. The sun now was high in the sky so we sat under an oak tree for a while, a cool breeze kept us comfortable. With our horizons lengthening we struck off along the ridge over two small summits. It wasn’t long before we stopped once again in the shade of another oak tree to enjoy a fruit snack. We heard the sounds of goat bells & soon spotted a large flock plus a couple of shepherds with their dogs.

More unusual sounds now this time coming from the town of Koframja way off in the deep valley below. It was Friday the day of worship & three mosques were sounding off.

It was now time to turn about & start back. Along the way Caroline spotted a Carob tree & we were able to pick a couple of pods & sucked at them as we walked enjoying the sweet taste.

Our route back to the car was taken over the same outward journey & arrived back at the car at 3pm.

One last jaunt of the day was to try & locate a shrine, however we failed & had to give up after a lengthy drive down a rough winding track.

Home at 4pm to enjoy a well earned beer.

Our evening meal was planned at the usual eating place but we arrived to discover it was closed being a Friday. We found another venue but not so good.

Saturday 06/10/12

Awoke to a another very warm day. We had breakfast in the garden under a Jasmine tree, the fragrance was beautiful.

Breakfast consisted of the usual fair with the addition of yogurt. We watched a very large bee working the garden flowers. The bee had a unique method of collecting nectar by piercing the base of the plants pestle.

It was time to move on today, before the journey we drew some money out of an ATM which went without a hitch.

We left Aljourn east & then south east, along the way were many roadside stalls selling produce from small farmsteads.

Driving through a couple of large cities proved a challenge.

In time we linked up with the desert highway. There was almost a constant stream of huge trucks ferrying oil & other goods from Iraq & Sudi Arabia.

The desert was far reaching & arid. Nomadic Bedouins were camped here tending sheep & goats; we wondered how these nomads could possibly survive in such uncompromising settings.

Along the way we stopped the car to snap a few photos. Whilst we were stopped a couple of passing travellers stopped to enquire whether we were alright, apparently this is the custom in such harsh conditions.

Azraq was to be our destination today & we arrived in the afternoon. We found a hotel, the owner was pleasant enough & we soon settled in.

The next morning started with us finding breakfast. Bellies full we set off to explore this wild west town. The shops were stocked to the roofs, customers seem to be buying in bulk.

Our plan for the next day was to visit the wildlife wetland park so decided to take a preliminary look.

The day soon passed so back to our room for a rest & a beer.

The evening meal was had in a Syrian fast food joint. After our meal we found somewhere to access the internet, the place we chose was full of noisy youths who were filling the room with cigarette smoke.

We sauntered back to our hotel & sat a while in the so called lounge amidst a group of elderly men talking/arguing, the subject we think was politics.

Sunday 07/10/12

Another hot & sunny day. I prepared breakfast of boiled eggs, bananas & tea, Caroline also had a yogurt drink.

The Wetland Park opens its doors at 9am, so we arrived a little after nine. We were careful to leave our car under a nearby shelter out of the desert sun.

We duly paid our 6JD each. In the high season (spring) the entry fee is 8JD’s. We skipped the tour of the museum as we had already visited it yesterday.

In the spring the park is thriving with migratory birds stopping off to refuel.

Azraq wetlands was once a vast source of water being fed by underground springs. In days gone by camel caravans from Saudi Arabia & Iraq would stop to use the waters.

Modern times saw the water being pumped to the two largest cities in Jordan, Aamen & Irbid. This drain on resources left the wetlands a mere shadow of its former self. Conservation has now begun far too late I fear. Jordan’s water is now being fed from neighbouring countries, Saudi Arabia & Iraq.

A built up walkway has been installed which encompasses the lakes & park, along the way are sited information boards. We were promised sightings of water buffalo & many species of birds.

The exploration started slow & disappointedly so we were tempted off the official trail! Into the wastelands of the reserve. In the sand we could see tracks of buffalo, dog or jackal, birds & small rodents. The first birds we spotted were Hoopoes who were probing the dry ground for insects their plumage brightly coloured & quite striking. Our desert ramble continued for some distance when we heard the bellowing of a buffalo in undergrowth, very nearby! We glanced at each other in a cautious way as we crept away, then we just caught the sight of the rear end of a large buffalo. As silently as we could we crept away in the opposite direction. We both started to feel uncomfortable as we proceeded. From a distance we spotted something ahead just out of sight behind a low sand dune. We approached very cautiously to find the carcase of buffalo dried to a crisp. Caroline thought it wise to return to the official route, in doing so we had to cross a large open area of land, in the centre of which was a thorn bush with a large entrance hole to an animal’s den. Our pace quickened until we reached the safety of the walkway, we sat a while to just look & were lucky enough to see bee-eaters, coots, moorhens, egrets & a very striking king-fisher. The king-fisher was fishing expertly & perching on an observation branch, we spent a very enjoyable hour here before continuing our walk. The walk way crossed over one of the lakes. In time we came to a wooden hide, we made a bee line for it. What we saw from the hide was what made the visit worthwhile. We were treated to close sightings of the same birds seen earlier, best of all we had sightings of three buffalos feeding in high reeds on the far shore of the lake.

Our tour finished at lunch time & we ate it in the car.

We spent the afternoon exploring Azraq Castle. This basalt fort was the headquarters of Lawrence of Arabia during the Arab revolt in 1917.

The intense heat of the afternoon was energy sapping so we returned to our room for relief.

The evening started with a search for somewhere to eat. We were drawn to a restaurant which looked promising & enjoyed barbecued chicken chips, with a taboullah salad.

With bellies full we had an hour on the internet before sauntering back. On the way we were asked to frequent many small cafes. We were drawn to one small tea shop & enjoyed a drink with the owner, a Syrian man who related his life story – how he came to Jordan from war torn Syria using the “back door” as he put it. In four days’ time he was returning to Syria to visit the family he had left behind.

Monday 08/10/12

Today we were to make our way back to Madaba, we were on the road at 8:30am. & joined the constant stream of huge trucks.

We took time out to explore the dessert castle Qasr Amira. Before we could start our visit we thought it best to wait for a large coach load of tourists finish their look. This remote outpost had been beautifully restored to its former glory. Adorning a ceiling in one room were images of naked women, however time had robbed them of any detail!

Near the car park was a tent with Bedouins selling trinkets, I was able to buy a couple of rather nice unique brass pill pots, in need of some tender love & care I have to say.

We continued our journey along the main artery road which leads to the capital Aaman, the thought of attempting to negotiate the manic traffic there filled us with dread. Linking up with the road to Madaba was certainly a challenge, resulting in quite a few wrong turnings & at one point driving the wrong way down a one way street for about 100m or so, much to the delight of the locals, eventually however we were on our way. Once one manages to escape the confines of the cities in Jordan the rural roads are comparatively empty.

We arrived at Madaba & the hotel we had stayed in earlier in the tour.

With time to spare we decided to visit Mt.Nebo. We arrived to a tourist honey spot, not really our thing. Much refurbishment was in progress which restricted a full tour. Mt.Nebo supposedly was where Moses first laid eyes on the promised land. From a viewing station we enjoyed views across a misty Jordan valley to Israel in the distance.

Today we were to return the car, we were both a little concerned that things would go pear shaped & end up with some kind of scam, however all went well.

Our hotel room was very pleasant & had a balcony. Our evening meal was had at the hotel, after which we took a stroll around the town & had a chance to buy a couple of slices of backlava. We had to queue & whilst waiting a smartly dressed gentleman offered to pay. Backlava in Jordan can be bought in retail outlets specifically dealing with many variations of this sweet dessert. We stopped of at a coffee shop & enjoyed a drink with our backlava. Back to the hotel & bed after an exhausting day.

Tuesday 09/10/12

The plan today was to move on to Wadi Musa (the town closest to Petra). Our chosen route was to take a bus to the Anman & then another south to our destination. The last ten days we had enjoyed the independence a rented car afforded us, now we were plunged back into the teeth of the jackals. As soon as we alighted from the bus in Aaman we were pounced upon by aggressive bus touts all eager for our custom. Eventually after a number of false starts we managed to find a bus offering the correct fare of 5JD. Unusually we accepted the offer of pre arranging a hotel at the far end. We started our journey initially weaving our way through the mayhem of Aaman’s streets eventually linking up with main artery south, The Kings Highway. An hour into the journey I noticed the driver was starting to nod off, thankfully a coffee stop seemed to do the trick. In time we reached Wadi Musa & were dropped off at the prearranged hotel. The proprietor came out to greet us. Caroline wasn’t too impressed, the hotel was a hours walk from Petra, she had planned to stay closer. The manager promised free transport to the centre. After a tiny tantrum we decided to give it a try for one night. Sitting in the reception area were a couple of locals drinking strong coffee, we struck up conversation with them, one chap invited us to join one of them for a tour of the local attractions, all he asked in return was the price of the petrol. We agreed & were duly taken to Little Petra which is a smaller version of Petra itself. The drive took us past some spectacular scenery overlooking the magnificent complex of the ancient city. The sandstone terrain had been fashioned by fast flowing rivers which once carved their way to the Red Sea. We continued on to Little Petra some 4 miles further on, there was no entry fee unlike its big brother Petra which was £50 each!

Our exploration started with a walk through a dramatic deep gorge, the sides of which were hundreds of feet high. Carved into the red cliff walls were many ancient dwellings & Roman columns. At the end of the gorge was a flight of rough steps carved into the ground leading to another level. A lone Bedouin lady was playing a flute to accompany our passage, the music echoed off the huge cliff faces. We came to a point where progress was no longer possible, sat here was a beautiful Bedouin young lady selling a few trinkets. GPS in hand we started homing in on a geocache hidden nearby. The young lady commented she hadn’t seen anyone using a GPS lately & subsequently pointed the way. After a tricky climb we found the cache & duly recorded our visit. We returned along our outward route & made it back to our guide. As the sun started to dip to the west we were driven to a high vantage point over Petra from where we could observe the sun setting. Our new found friend set to & boiled some water on a small fire for tea. We eventually returned to the hotel & had our evening meal.

Wednesday 10/09/12 (Good Friday)

After breakfast we were driven to the centre of Wadi Musa. Many tourists were congregating at the entrance to Petra money in hand. We sat quietly & just watched, our attention was drawn to a ruckus between two traders. It resulted in quite a dramatic physical conflict, one of the participants was wielding a huge club, the fight spilled over into the confines of Petra. Police eventually turned up.

Overlooking Little Petra is a Bedouin village so we decided to walk the 5km along the road to take a look. The inhabitants of the village had been re-housed from their traditional tent homes. At the east end of the village was a recently installed solar power station with rows of solar panels facing south. We wandered back through the village & found a small eating house run by a young Egyptian guy, we had lamb shwarma & couple of drinks.

The afternoon was now very hot so we stopped to buy a bottle of water, a very kind shop owner offered us a lift back to our hotel. We arrived & had a chance to chat with the hotel proprietor who asked if we could make a few favourable comments on the internet site Trip Adviser to try & boost custom. We were able to access our emails after.

Tonight we had planned our own visit to Petra by candle light. The gates were to open at 8:20pm. A timing mistake on our part meant the chef in the hotel had not enough time to prepare a chicken dinner, he kindly made us an omelette instead.

We were given a lift to Petra & were promised a return lift later.

There was quite a crowd gathered at the gates, bang on time we were all let in. In a long procession we all made our way to the massive main gorge (The Sig) carved many millennia ago by a huge river. The way was lit by a series of candles protected in brown paper bags, which added to the ambiance. Plenty of excited chatter filled the air. The floor of the canyon was paved with cobbles to minimize erosion by the thousands of visitors. In a kilometre or so we arrived at the far end confronted by a huge beautiful building with columns either side carved into the sand stone, this magnificent structure is known as the Treasury which had been commissioned as a tomb for Nabataean King Aretas III. The name Treasury was derived from a story that an Egyptian Pharaoh lay his treasure here whilst pursuing the Israelites.

The whole area in front of the 100’ high Treasury was lit by a hundreds of candles. We were all asked to sit on the ground on mats & in due course were all given a small cup of sweet tea. A calming silence ensued as we enjoyed an Arab concert which lasted some half an hour or so.

We were advised to use torches on our way back to avoid tripping in the dark. There was an ancient leat cut into the canyon wall.

At the entrance gate our lift was waiting to ferry us back to our hotel, having experiencing a spectacular event.

Thursday 11/10/12

Today was move on day our destination Aqaba a 2 hour journey south. After an early breakfast we were driven to the bus station where we boarded a mini bus. Before leaving we had to wait for all the seats to be allocated.

The journey was through desolate arid countryside with the odd lonely Bedouin tent pitched in the wilderness with a camel tethered outside.

We arrived in Aqaba at 11:00am straight into the teeth of a gaggle of taxi drivers savagely toting for fares. We eventually ripped ourselves away having almost coming to blows. We sat quietly away from the crowd & worked out a route to the hotel.

The day was the hottest we had yet experienced in Jordan. Using the compass & Lonely Planet guide we arrived at our accommodation & checked in. Caroline took the chance of forty winks.

Refreshed we decided to try our luck in chasing down a couple of geocaches not far from the hotel. The first was supposedly hidden in the confines of the old ruined city. We searched for some considerable time & were about to give up when Caroline spotted a small plastic container hidden high in one of the ruin walls. We left here with GPS in hand to make our way to cache No2 which was only 600m away. We arrived at the site but no luck, almost certainly it was missing so we left a replacement.

The rest of the afternoon we spent checking out the local public beach. The sea was pleasantly warm. All the ladies on the beach were bathing with their burkas on, some even were wearing plastic swimming aide rings over their robes. There were no westerners swimming, it seems Caroline will find it difficult to find an area to swim. We strolled along the shore & in time returned to the hotel, by the time we arrived we were both exhausted from the intense heat of the day. Three glasses of water & a cold beer & we were once again ready to go.

Our evening meal was taken at a fish restaurant we had spotted earlier, we enjoyed barbecued fish salad & chips washed down with a couple of refreshing Seven Ups.

The city was very busy catering for Jordanians visiting for the weekend

Friday 12/10/12

After a rather noisy night we emerged from the hotel to try & find breakfast at an eatery just outside the hotel but all full up. We wandered off & soon found another spot to eat, the now normal ingredients humus, bean soup, pickles falatels & bread washed down with a couple of teas – getting fed up with this now!

After returning to the hotel we set off for the day south, following instructions from the proprietor, we used a local taxi to take us to a public beach some 10km away. After finding somewhere to change we were soon bathing in the warm Red Sea.

The spot we picked for our swim was quite dangerous, the sea bed was covered in razor sharp coral. Being a little unsteady on my feet I toppled over & tried to save myself which resulted in putting my hand on a urchin, the spines of which sunk into my hand leaving a series of painful black puncture marks which in time became very painful. In my haste to reach the shore & unknown to me I cut the ball of my left foot quite badly. Nurturing my injured hand it was only later I was aware of the deep cut to my foot. As a result of our misfortunes at swimming we decided to make our way to a local pier. After lunch we next set off south along the beach & found a perfect safe swimming area. This part of the beach was being used by families some of which were cooking their picnic over an open fire. We enjoyed a relaxing time in & out of the water. It was soon time to start our return however which started with hitching a ride with a passing mini bus. Fellow passengers were a group of Pakistani lads on vacation from their work which was laying a water main which would be used to import fresh water into Jordan. We arrived back in Aqaba & were invited to have drink with our new found friends.

We eventually made it back to the hotel where I set about nursing my wounds.

Saturday 13/10/12

An uneasy night for me, I was a little concerned about the cut to the ball of my left foot, which had bled quite heavily after the very short walk to our evening meal last night.

The old soldier that I am I got out of bed & set about preparing for the days events. Only a banana & an apple for breakfast avoiding having to descent the many flights of stairs.

Eventually we set off for the day the two main tasks were to draw money from the ATM & book the bus ticket for the trip to Amman on Tuesday. To accomplish these tasks meant a fairly long jaunt through the town. To assist my painful foot I thought it wise to take along a walking pole. With one hand on the pole & the other assisted by Caroline.

The withdrawal of the money was undertaken by Caroline with no hiccups. Before continuing on to the bus station we sat awhile in one of the green parks. Suitably refreshed we slowly made it to the bus station & duly booked our ticket back to the city.

What to do next, with my mobility somewhat restricted we opted for a cup of Nescafe at a local coffee house & Caroline read the newspaper she had purchased earlier – the Jordanian Times

After watching the day pass by we set off again towards the Hotel as Caroline needed an urgent toilet visit.

Caroline was eager to visit the magnificent large mosque which is sited directly opposite our hotel. We sat a while in the reception until the doors of the mosque opened. At 12.10pm we made our way through the huge metal gates & on through the immaculate grounds, which had huge areas of marble mosaic floors covered with wooded canopys.

At the door of the inner sanctum I removed my shoes, Caroline was about to do the same but was stopped by the custodian of the mosque. She would not be able to enter without a head covering.

I duly entered & was confronted by the huge room carpeted in a thick carpet – only a few devotees were here paying their respect. I sat quiet against one of the supporting columns & drank in the tranquillity. Fifteen minutes passed when a gentleman approached & started a conversation. He asked if this was my first visit to Jordan & where did I came from – when I answered England he commented that our two countries were congenial. I had been talking to the chief of the mosque. He apologised for not being able to allow Caroline to enter but she would be welcome to stand at the door & look in. As we stood at the door together we saw the man in white begin the calling to prayer via a microphone to the loud speakers. As we started back Caroline had chance to enter the ladies area, she said the room was very plain.

In blistering hot afternoon sun we slowly made our way to the N end of the towns public beach & enjoyed an hour or so watching the events of the beach. A camel & its handler came by touting for business.

Time to eventually return to Hotel where we enjoyed a beer or two on the veranda, taking in the superb views of the city & the sea beyond.

Sunday 14/10/12

We awoke to another beautiful clear day in Aqaba – took our time to leave the Hotel before setting out for breakfast – some homemade mini pizzas & a couple of cups of tea. These were very nice indeed.

As we returned past our Hotel Ian bought a set of prayer beads & I bought some dates for presents & some fruit from a local shop. Some of these things were taken back to the room before we set off for the day. We now knew what the going rate for a taxi to take us along the south coast should be – so we were able to negotiate until we arrived at the right price (2JD).

The taxi driver dropped us off at the same spot as yesterday & we set off towards the beach.

It was a little windier than the previous day & there were very few people on the beach – the numbers could be easily counted on one hand.

We enjoyed a few swims – but had to be careful not to stand on the coral reef which today was very close to the shoreline.

We watched many large container ships leave Aqaba harbour into the Red Sea – fully laden. More ships were arriving empty. The beach remained very quiet & we shared it with the odd Jordanian family.

We had to help rescue a plastic inflatable duck that had been taken by the wind into the sea. Unfortunately we were only able to rescue one of these “ducks” the other was off to Egypt!

We very much enjoyed our day on the beach – but were always aware not to go in too far because of the coral. The water was crystal clear – pity we had not brought a snorkel.

Further along the coast we could see oil being burnt at a refinery – somewhere near the Saudi border.

We left the beach at about 3 o’clock & were soon offered a lift for 2JD back to the city.

We enjoyed a couple of hours rest in the hotel before going out to eat. Not really fancying another Arab meal we opted to find a local Chinese restaurant – easier said than done. We started with a walk to & around the Hilton Hotel, where we were directed in another direction completely. Eventually after help from a pharmacist we were on the trail & soon were in a lift on the way to the first floor of a Chinese restaurant. We were greeted by a friendly Chinese lady & shown to a table.

There was a television on the wall & showing was the live attempt by Pheolix skydiveing from 120,000 feet from a capsule lifted to the edge of space by a helium balloon.

Our order was served & enjoyed by both – the meal being a welcome change from the bland meals we had been having over the last three weeks. We stayed a while to watch the climax of the skydive, which ended safely.

We enjoyed an ice cream on our way back to the Hotel.

Monday 15/10/12

Today was the day we were leaving Aqaba & making our way back to Amman.An early rise with a walk to the bus station. At 8:30am the bus left, we reached the main highway & started driving through miles of very desolate land. A huge new pipeline was being laid alongside the road in preparation to pump water from way down below ground level, as it will not be long before Jordan runs out of fresh water!

We arrived in Amman at 1:00pm at a little used bus station & had to wait sometime before we could negotiate a taxi for the right price. We eventually arrived back in Down Town & the Arab Tower Hotel from where we started our adventure three weeks ago.

We spent some of the afternoon wandering the streets of the old town.

The Arab Tower is one of the best hotels we have stayed in – at 25JD’s it was a bargain – all rooms were clean & comfortable with air conditioning & television.

Tuesday 16/10/12

Today was to be the day of our flight home to dear old blighty. The start would however not be until 3pm – so to fill our day we wandered the streets of Down Town Amman.

Caroline had an idea to find a new museum near the Nymphaeum – which was supposed to be opening this year. We made our way to the area & after asking a few people it was decided that the museum was not yet functioning. The day was really warming up by now & as we made our way back we noticed that most of the shops & stalls were not open as yet.

Not having to vacate our room until noon we returned to Hotel & Caroline had a last shower. With our packs packed & ready to go we took them down to reception for safe keeping & we once again hit the now stifling streets – by now the town was alive & thronging. Our plan was to find something to eat – preferably a pizza – our search was a long one by eventually we found a good little café & enjoyed a good snack.

Next we made it back to the Hotel, however we still had a hour or two to spare, as luck would have it we had a long chat with the lad in reception, who told us of his ambition to spend time in South America to learn Spanish.

At 3pm we hailed a taxi to take us to the North Bus Station – for 3JD’s he took us to the station – stopping once for drink of water. The journey was hair raising through the congested streets of the capital but we arrived safely.

The bus to the airport was waiting for us & the journey took a half hour or so.

Our flight was scheduled to leave at 6.20pm. The usual fight for an Easy Jet seat & we were on our way. A five hour flight saw us touch down at Gatwick at 8.30pm. London time.

We struck up a conversation with a young Iraqi who had been visiting his girl friend. He makes the journey nearly once a month & said this was beginning to have a toll on him.

Wednesday 18/10/12

We had to spend much of the night in the airport trying to sleep on the benches.

With a couple of bus trips later saw us home at last at 1pm.

TUNISIA, SEPTEMBER-OCTOBER 2010

Link To Photos on Facebook

Route


Tuesday 14.09.10. THE START – We were both nervous & excited as we left home at 9:50pm. & made our way to the bus stop, the short amble resulted in my suffering pinched toes, my chosen footwear were a little snug, to late now!

Plymouth bus station is at the best of times a daunting place, we arrived & waited for the bus to London.

The coach ride was uncomfortable so we arrived at Heathrow tired & weary – good start! Our flight was from Gatwick so we next hopped on the shuttle bus, which took a couple of hours to arrive. We had a five hour wait until our flight so spent the time wandering around the airport, a couple of pints of Abbots Ale helped things along.

The flight went well & we touched down in Tunis at 4:30pm. Next came the testing journey from the airport to the centre of the capital. We opted for a taxi & experienced a hair-raising trip, the driver constantly talking on the phone whilst weaving in & out of the busy city traffic. We arrived safely & started the task of finding a place to stay. After a few false starts we found an adequate lodge La Maison Doree’ £19:00 for two including breakfast. Exhausted we emerged onto the streets to seek out an eating-house. Our chosen venue was good & we enjoyed our first Tunisian meal, returned to our digs at 9:30pm for a long sleep.

Thursday 16.09.10. Today we had planned a trip to Sidi Bou Said, a coastal town perched high overlooking the Mediterranean. Our chosen mode of transport was to be the TGM, a suburban train line. We joined a multitude of commuters for the 25-minute journey. We left the train in very hot sun. Sidi Bou Said is a typical Tunisian town, most of the houses blue & white with ornate wooden doors. As we progressed we were aware of the soft sweet smell of Jasmine, which seemed to be growing in every garden. At the bottom of the cliff on which the town sits we could see a marina & beach, we had multiple attempts to reach them which all failed. We almost made it when we were tuned back by the Presidential guard who were protecting the area, as the President was in residence.

Eventually we made it, & spent some time on the beach. We sat under a rather dilapidated thatched parasol, having just managed to change into our swimsuits, a rather aggressive youth confronted us from nowhere asking for payment – dream on!

We eventually started our walk back to the train station & made short work of the journey following a main road. We again joined commuters on the trip back to the capital.

After a rest in our room we nipped out for our evening meal, the first scene which confronted us was a couple of policemen beating up a youth, the cries from the lad were gut wrenching & seemed to go on for ever.

We had a good meal at the same eating-house we used last evening, before returning to our room for the night.

Friday 17.09.10. The main objective today was to check the bus connection to our next port of call Tabarka. We needed to catch a tram to the bus station. We enquired with our fellow passengers as where we had to alight, which turned out to be two stops further than we wanted. Using the same ticket we jumped on another tram to travel back. This tram was very crowded & we felt vulnerable squashed between passengers. I was aware of a definite nudge into my backpack, so I swiftly checked the bag, only to find the camera had been lifted. Panic set in & I started searching likely culprits in the carriage but no joy. Upset we made it back to our room to recover from our ordeal. After an hour or so I decided to report the incident to the police. Arriving at the police station I was told to wait, after an hour or so I was seen & told me I should report the crime to the station in the district where the offence was committed, this development was one more than I was prepared to deal with so I gave up & returned to Caroline in the hotel. We then decided to cut our losses & buy a new camera.

The rest of the afternoon was spent wandering around the narrow streets of the Madina. Mile upon mile of stall crammed streets selling all sorts of tat designed primarily for tourists, we just enjoyed the atmosphere.

Saturday 18.09.10. Off to Tabarka – We left our hotel & after our experiences yesterday reluctantly caught a tram to the north bus station, we were relieved however to chose a new carriage with plenty of room.

Our four-hour journey started at 10:00am. We enjoyed a feast of unusual sights along the way, including cork forests, donkey carts, feral dogs, peaches & melons growing in the fields. The far most abundant crop was olives; line upon line of these fruit giving trees.

Hot & sticky we arrived at the coast & Tabarka. We quickly found a good clean typical Tunisian hotel with open courtyards. After a short rest we started our explorations. Primarily a port Tabarka also has a splendid sandy beach at its heart.

We enjoyed a good fish dinner in the evening before retiring for the night. A rude awakening in the morning from the nearby local mosque calling worshipers to prayer.

Sunday 19.09.10. Our plan today was to visit Ain Draham in the mountains; we packed our waterproofs just in case. We arrived at 10:30am 900m above sea level. The town was not much to write home about, there was a street market in progress & I was able to replace my T-shirt for 50p. The main object of today was to get a close look at the cork forests that this area is famous for. We linked up with a track to Coldes Ruins & saw us braving a couple of angry dogs; a couple of well-aimed stones did the trick. In time we came across a huge pile of cork recently harvested. As we wandered through the trees they were all bearing the scars of their barks being striped. Apparently the main use of the cork is now insoles for sandals.

Along the way we spotted a couple of large green woodpeckers. Using a compass we made our way to the top of a hill, here stood a couple of watch towers, unfortunately mist thwarted our views. Had lunch here in the company of some army ants & a very colourful spider. The afternoon started with a descent & in time the mist cleared affording us splendid views of the surrounding mountains. Eventually we made it back to the town & caught the bus back to Tabarka. We arrived & had a chance to take a swim.

Our evening meal consisted of the best Donna Kebab we had ever had, washed down with a lemonade, will we ever get used to the absence of a beer?

Monday 20.09.10. Our 41st. Wedding Anniversary – Today we just wandered north along the coast arriving at a couple of concrete ruined amphitheatres. The way ahead looked disappointing so decided to turn tail & set off south along the beach. The sea was angry crashing noisily onto the shore. Walking in the soft sand was tiring; in time we arrived at beginning of a string of holiday complexes. Sun worshipers lay like stinking fish on sunloungers; all were wearing wristbands to stop escapees. Our walk continued & we managed to have a couple of swims. Our return route was to be taken along the road passing the fronts of the holiday hotels, high fences keeping the inmates safe.

We rejoined the beach & eventually crossed a bridge fording a river, feeding here were some Plover, Ring Plover & Godwits.

Another delicious kebab for our evening meal, before sitting a while on a seat to enjoy the evening.

Tuesday 21.09.10. Our next port of call was to head south to Le Kef a bus ride of 3-4 hours, we passed through the large busy town of Jendouba, whose streets were buzzing with activity, street markets etc. After changing buses here we eventually arrived at our destination Le Kef at midday. Staying with the bus to the terminus was a mistake, which saw us having to catch a taxi to the town centre.

With the help of Lonely Planet guidebook we booked in at Hotel Residence Venus.

Chance now to check out our new surroundings.

Le Kef has a fort high on a hill overlooking the city.

We spotted an eating-house selling fried chicken & enjoyed a meal.

The evening brought a heavy thunderstorm; luckily we were hold up in our room.

Wednesday 22.09.10. Decided to visit the small community of Sidi Mansour, we set off west first along roads, which soon turned into dirt tracks, we now entered rural Tunisia with folk tending to their daily chores, farming & caring for animals. We climbed high onto a dramatic escarpment with a deep valley below. The sun was hot so we refilled our water supplies from a local shop. In time we arrived at a pass & enjoyed new views. We sat & had lunch watching the activities of an isolated farm below, the set up reminded us of the old ruined Teignhead Farm on Dartmoor.

Among the rocks we spotted lizards with colourful tails & dung beetles busy shifting dung. Our route back was taken along another escarpment, which brought its own rewards & fresh views. Eventually we arrived back to civilisation & had chance of a rare refreshing beer in a hotel.

Thursday 23.09.10.

First task of the day was to ascertain the cost & time of our bus ride tomorrow to our next port of call Gafsa. We succeeded albeit after a disagreement with a local taxi driver. We caught a local bus back to the town centre & wandered around some Roman cisterns.

Eventually we set off for the day making our way over scrub land south of the town, our plan was to explore the east side of the ridge visited yesterday.

We arrived at a small settlement & were warmly welcomed by a young woman who had a reasonable command of the English language & was eager to talk. She kindly invited us into her home for a coffee & a bun. We met her son who naturally was a little shy. The lady’s name was Lammia; she had been blessed with three children. Her husband is a builder & has to find work in the capital Tunis. As events developed we were taken to Lumia’s parents house who live next door, again we were made very welcome & given a refreshing lemon drink & home made cakes. We were able to have meaningful conversations, thanks to Lammia’s translation skills. Mum wanted us to take a gift, first she offered Caroline a silver bangle from her arm but Caroline felt a little uncomfortable taking it. Another gift was offered, this time a china fish moneybox, which we thankfully accepted. Throughout the remainder of the holiday I had the task of transporting the fish.

In time we said farewell & set off in blistering sunshine to continue our walk. Our route took us over ploughed fields climbing slowly to the top of an escarpment, where we had chance to rest in the shade of a tree to enjoy a fantastic view. In time we started back following yesterdays route, stopping off on the way for a couple of refreshing beers.

Our evening meal was taken at the same restaurant we used yesterday., We enjoyed the company of a couple travellers from Leeds.

Friday 24.09.10.

The bus ride to Gafsa left at 12:15pm. so spent a leisurely morning sightseeing, & had a chance to access the internet for an hour.

The Gafsa bus left on time & together with the locals, we enjoyed the journey through the arid countryside. Growing alongside the road were Prickly Pears & Olives.

A far distant glimpse of Jugurtha’s Table was had as we neared Kasserine.

Destination reached at 4:30pm. The two hotels we tried first were both closed. Eventually we were able to secure a room at Khalfallah Hotel.

Tired & hungry we set off to find something to eat, found a small café where we enjoyed a rather good portion of chicken & chips.

The evening was spent wandering along the Kasbah Walls which were floodlit. There are Roman Baths here & we came upon a deep cistern with a huge plug hole in the bottom.

After a coffee with some locals it was back for an early night.

Saturday 25.09.10.

Today it was time to move on to our next port of call Tozeur only 2hrs. away. The bus was due to leave at 10:30am. so spent the intervening time relaxing in the very pleasant central park. Near to where we chose to sit was an obviously gay man of European origin outrageously eyeing all the young, handsome men who passed by.

At 10:30 we were patiently waiting in the bus station for our bus, unfortunately however it arrived at 12:15pm. Much to the annoyance of all the passengers.

We arrived at Tozeur & started a long search for a place to stay. Luckily we secured a rather pleasant Hotel called Residence Niffer, B&B the cost £14:00 for two per night – bargain!

Some distance from our hotel is an area specifically for ‘proper tourists’. We had a long trek to get there which turned out to be an anti-climax. Everything there was designed to cocoon visitors from the delights of Tunisia.

Sunday 26.09.10.

Air conditioning had a big part to play in a long & comfortable nights sleep.

We hopped on a bus to take us 23km east to the town of Nefta. Near this town is a natural crater known as La Corbeille in which scenes from the epic film Star Wars was filmed, our plan was to seek this location out. After inquiring at a local tourist office, we were on our way. We had to pass through a street market, which by now was routine for us. In time we picked up a path running alongside a clear running leat. We followed the watercourse through palm forests until we arrived at the source – a huge natural swimming pool; a few lads were enjoying the water. The temptation was too much so I ripped my clothes off & dived in, very refreshing.

Our walk back to the town centre was via the ridge which overlooked the crater where filming took place all those years ago.

A pleasant bus ride back to Tozeur, along the way we saw road signs warning of wild camels.

Our evening meal was enjoyed at a quiet restaurant, we had couscous & lamb. Beer was again at a premium so had to make do with a lemonade, at this rate I’ll be temperate by the time we get home.

Monday 27.09.10.

Off to the Sahara today & the town of Douz. We chose a Louage for our means of transport. A Louage is a nine seater mini bus, which before departure has to wait until the bus is full which took a couple of hours. The journey was in two halves, the first leg over a causeway across a huge salt lake called Chott el-Jerid, midway the bus stopped in-order for the passengers to snap a few photos. Pools of red water lay near the road, this effect is due to the saturation of salt. The lake measures some 5000sq.km. The chosen stop also had a small gift shop selling trinkets, which included rock salt crystals & dried reptiles.

Eventually after one bus change we arrived at a very hot & sticky Douz. The bus pulled in at 12:15pm.

Finding a place to stay went surprisingly well & we were soon holed up in Hotel 20Mars. A cold shower helped us with the increase in temperature here.

Time to explore the town; most of the locals were resting out of the heat of the sun. We were hungry & by chance happened on a scruffy looking take away where we thoroughly ravished a couple of French stick rolls filled with tuna & a very tasty chilly sauce all washed down with a couple of glasses of freshly pressed lemon juice – best meal so far & all for 90 pence.

That night we were serenaded to sleep with the sound of a host of finches roosting in a Jasmine tree growing in the hotel courtyard.

Tuesday 28.09.10.

Daybreak was greeted with sound of the finches in the tree.

An exciting day today we had planned to visit the Sahara Desert. Obviously we opted to walk. The first section was along a metalled road. As we made progress things started to look more wild. In time we arrived at the desert edge, here was a settlement the inhabitants of which made their living from tourists, who wanted the desert experience, camel rides etc. We started off through the settlement & onto the sand, a few dogs made their unwelcome presence known. Groups of camels sat contently waiting for the coach-laden tourists to arrive. We did however join in the fun & had a short ride on a camel.

Our travels took us further & further into the wilderness, eventually we intersected a track, which we followed to another settlement called Elhsa. This community was a bit more nomadic than the first. Very few people here & we ate our pack lunch in the shade of a hut. We were aware we had come a long way, so we thought it prudent to start our return. The track seemed endless; occasionally locals riding on donkey carts would pass waving a greeting, some handed us fresh dates & a pomegranate. We trudged on in blistering sun; thankfully we had plenty of water. We must have looked like a couple of lost souls for an elderly gent pulled his donkey & cart to a halt & offered us a ride, eagerly we accepted & rode with him to his home. Kindly he invited us in where the lady of the household cooked us couscous & sweet mint tea, which we enjoyed sat on the floor. The eldest son who is involved with taking tourists into the desert had a reasonable command of the English language, so we were able to chat with the family. Bellies full we bade farewell & started the walk back to Douz.

A rest & a shower were thoroughly enjoyed.

Wednesday 29.09.10.

Unfortunately I had had a very painful & restless night having cricked my back yesterday; perhaps the camel & donkey ride had something to do with it.

Gabes was our intended destination today; I struggled to the bus station with a full pack wondering whether the back pain would subside. We started the 3hr. journey & were lucky enough to secure a seat with plenty of legroom.

We travelled over desolate dry arid countryside & actually spotted some wild camels, we could tell this as they were swearing!

Arriving at Gabes was uncomfortable, not only was the sun pouring down but the whole ambiance was not good. After a taxi ride & a kilometre walk we decided Gabes was not for us. We caught a taxi back to the bus station & set off for Matma our next port of call.

Matma is split into two halves, old & new, we arrived in new Matmata & had to make our way to old Matmata some 15km. further on, there were no busses, luckily a young man offered us a lift, which we accepted.

Scenery along the way would more suit another planet.

Old Matma is another film set used in two Star Wars films.

Most of the dwellings around the town are unique as they are dug into the ground, making living conditions cooler. Our intended hotel was one of these dwellings Hotel Marhala, we arrived at our accommodation & were taken to our room deep underground, conditions were a little cramped but clean. We left our packs here & started exploring. First job find something to eat, a freshly made egg sandwich from a local shop went down a treat.

The afternoon was spent wandering around this unique town.

The construction of Trogalite homes as they are called is centred on a huge 30’ deep hole in the ground off which dug into the walls are rooms to live.

We saw a good many tourist buses laden with visitors to exploring the area.

We made it back to our room & cleaned up with a shower some distance from our room. Whilst resting in our room we were visited by a number of tourist groups, we felt like animals in a zoo.

A good meal in the evening in a communal dining room, alcoholic drink was on offer but expensive.

Thursday 30.09.10.

Awoke to another hot & sunny morning, had a good breakfast before setting off for the day.

About 10km. north east of Old Matmata is a similar village called Haddej with all the attractions of Matmata but without the trail of tourists.

We waited for a bus at the edge of the town but had no luck – very little traffic, so decided to start walking. The day was already very hot. Small Gerbil type creatures were scampering in rocks below the road, we stopped & watched them for quite some time.

An electric cable ran parallel with the road supported on poles, suspended from the line was a dead falcon, it appeared the bird had been captive & its tether had tangled in the wire which had been the reason for its demise.

Onward & downward, a mini bus came along & we were able to get a lift the two or three kilometres to the turn off for Haddej. Our fellow passengers were all very friendly & we left the bus with them all waving farewell.

The road to the village was being developed with workmen laying a tarred surface. We crossed a bridge over a dry river course & made our way into the village. We watched a while as three women herded goats into a compound, it took some time but they succeeded in the end. We next found a sheltered spot for a rest, whilst here a young girl arrived with a couple of glasses of mint tea, she had been sent over by her mother, we responded & gave her a few sweets.

Some years ago a huge flood devastated this area & destroyed most of the Trogolite homes in the area, we wandered around to see the abandoned dwellings. A home underground is understandably a risky place to live in a flood!

Before we set off for our return hike over the mountains, we visited the local store & bought supplies of water, the young girl serving was also employed with weaving a carpet which was hung over a frame, she insisted I should have a go. Completion of the carpet would take sixty days.

Time now to start our walk back, we found a mule track generally winding its way in the direction of home. The sun was beating down & today was one of the hottest days we had experienced so far. We had many stops & drank loads. In the middle of nowhere was a small white-washed mosque & nearby a shed for slaughtering goats equipped with hanging hooks & a blood-draining gutter.

We hadn’t seen anyone along the trail. Following a compass we made our way slowly back. As we neared out destination we climbed a high hill, which overlooked Matmata all that remained for us to do now was to amble back to our hotel.

A pleasant evening we enjoyed a good meal & good company from a couple taking a break from sailing the Mediterranean, some have a tough life!

Friday 01.10.10

Up with the larks & we were eating our breakfast at 6:45am. along with a group travelling with Explore who also had a hectic day ahead of them.

We were travelling on today to Mahdia via New Matmata, Gabes & Sfax.

We were on the road at 7:15am. Strolling in the warm sunshine, the low light emphasised the glorious hills surrounding us. Children were gathered outside the school preparing for their day.

The journey was fairly tedious having to wait for Louage’s to fill. Arrived at Mahdia at 3pm. The town’s bus station is situated on the outskirts & the only way to the town centre was by taxi.

Our guidebook recommended the hotel El Medina. We wandered around the narrow streets searching for the hotel, an elderly gent offered to take us along; it turned out he worked at the hotel.

We were shown to our room, which was meticulously clean, there were Jasmine flower petals scattered on the bed.

Mahdia is situated on a peninsular surrounded by the sea on three sides. Strong southerly winds bombarded the south coast, which was quite uncomfortable, the north coast by contrast was tranquil.

Saturday 02.10.10.

Eager to start the day we awoke at 6:30am.

Breakfast was slow in coming. We sat patiently whilst the old gent nipped out for fresh bread & then slowly prepared the food, Faulty Towers came to mind, the meal was well worth waiting for however.

At 8:45am we set off for the day with our swimmers & a packed lunch.

We found a covered market buzzing with activity, produce on show were spices, fresh vegetables & all sorts of unfamiliar cuts of meat including complete bulls heads. Fresh fish was also in abundance many species we hadn’t seen before.

Our ambles took us east through a huge cemetery for sailors. We continued on to the end of the peninsular Cap d’Afrique. The Mediterranean was crystal clear & much calmer than yesterday. There were quite a few scuba divers hunting octopus amongst the rocks. Fishermen in small boats were also hunting fish using the purse net method. We eventually made it to the north coast., Ahead of us was kilometres of golden sand, so we kicked off our shoes & walked along the waters edge. In time we came to an area where sections of the beach were cordoned off in-order that the patrons of hotels would have their own private space. Laying on their sun-beds were the tourists who seem to have a rather sedimentary life-style, cooking in the sun all day, only returning to the hotel to be fed & watered.

Our beach stroll continued for a good way more before we decided it was time to start back. We opted to use the road, which ran, past the fronts of those huge elegant hotels. Surreptitiously we sneaked into one of the hotels & enjoyed a couple of beers.

This evenings task was to locate an Internet café. On the way we came across a small restaurant so we decided to give it a try. The proprietor warmly greeted us, explained his establishment had only opened yesterday. We enjoyed a superb Dorada Royal fish meal with concessionary soup & French fries.

We left the restaurant to continue our search for an Internet café, eventually we spotted one, however it was very busy & we were asked to wait a while. To fill the time we strolled the streets, during which we saw a very large group of young males waiting in an alleyway, we thought this to be rather strange. Having strolled a while we returned & watched the crowd of youngsters fighting their way to gain access to a door from which crates of beer & alcohol were being handed out, the young men then sneaking off to consume the beer in secluded spots along the shore.

Sunday 03.10.10.

Another early awakening, made our way to the dining room hoping for breakfast, unfortunately Basil was not available for service until 8:10am. To while a way some time we took a stroll to the shore, the sea was angry throwing high sprays of water onto the rocks. Eventually we returned to the hotel but still had to wait a good while before service.

Our plan for the day was to visit El Jem & the huge Roman amphitheatre. We had to wait a fairly long time for the Louage to fill. The ride took us forty minutes.

On arrival the sun was already hot. The road leading to the amphitheatre was lined with stalls flogging all sorts of rubbish. The sight of huge relic was breathtaking. We strolled around the complete circumference, which took twenty minutes. A sad looking camel sat forlorned on the pavement waiting to give rides to tourists.

Entrance fee was £8:00, which took my breath away. We started our tour & seemed to be the only visitors. A thoroughly enjoyable experience, & Caroline was particularly intrigued. We wandered through the labyrinth of tunnels soaking up the historic atmosphere.

This amphitheatre was in its time the third largest in the Roman world, 138m long & 114m wide, it has three tiers of seats towering some 30m high. The seating capacity was 30,000. It was constructed between AD230 & AD238. Many Christians met their end within its walls. Our visit lasted an hour.

Included in the entry fee was a ticked to visit a mosaic museum some half a kilometre west, this was to be our next port of call. In blistering hot sun we arrived & entered, the sight, which greeted us, was fantastic. The walls of the museum covered in murals meticulously constructed from tiny shards of coloured tiles. The mosaics were recovered from the houses of Roman dignitaries who lived in the area.

After an hour we emerged into the midday sun & made our way through the town. We saw live rabbits for sale intended for the pot. We continued & whilst passing a small shop Caroline spotted a small tortoise wandering along the pavement. Thinking it was lost I took into the nearest shop. I gave the animal to a couple of sniggering lads who immediately scuffed it under the counter, it was a butcher shop!

An early bus ride back to Mahdia because it was Sunday

Monday 04.10.10.

The town of Monastir is only a short train ride north of Mahdia along the coast, this was our destination for the day. Decided to forego breakfast as we had a train to catch.

The journey was taken in the company of many students on their way to school or university.

We arrived at Monastir at 10:30am. As we made our way through the streets we couldn’t resist stopping for a tuna (thon) sandwich.

A small sandy beach lies east of the town & we spent most of the day here in & out of the warm water.

On our way back & a little dehydrated we popped in at a local restaurant for a couple of beers, the waiter was interested in moving to the UK, I think we put him off.

On our way back to the train station we noticed the restored fortified Ribat, it was Islamic & built in AD796. This location was used in the making of Monty Pythons Life Of Brian film.

The train back was very full but as passengers disembarked we were able to secure seats.

Tuesday 05.10.10.

Travelling on to Kairouan today which is a very holy town, its claim to fame is hosting the Grand Mosque, the biggest in Tunisia.

We jumped on a Louage in the company of a loud but friendly group of men, unable to understand their conversations we were aware their chatter was good humoured. One of the men produced a bag of fig roll type biscuits & everyone tucked in. The bus was very hot.

Midday saw us at our destination, we were dropped off north of the town, & unfortunately we needed to be south so had a 2km. hike through narrow streets lined with gift shops, in sweltering sun to arrive at our intended Hotel Sabra. We had chance for a cool shower.

We made it back on the sun-drenched streets in the late afternoon. The centre of the town is within the confines of a high defensive wall. As we made our way through the narrow streets we saw a number small workshops employed in all manner of trades, e.g. hand made shoes & bed headboard carving.

We were accosted by an Asian looking guy who enquired whether we needed a guide, taken aback we refused. As it turned out he was joking & we entered into a conversation with him & his wife. We learnt they were on holiday staying in a hotel on the coast & today were on an excursion. They lived in Switzerland. The chat flowed freely & we seemed to hit it off immediately, eventually however we tore ourselves away to continue our exploration.

We made our way to the Great Mosque to make ourselves familiar with the layout for our visit tomorrow. Whilst here, by chance along came our newfound friends & we resumed our chatter.

Wednesday 06.10.10.

It seemed our hotel was very near a public bath; consequently we had a rather disturbed night.

Our plan for today was to visit a number of historical sights around the town, after which we would travel on to Nabeul.

We left our full haversacks at the hotel reception & set off on our tour.

The Great Mosque was our first port of call & arrived before the doors opened. In time we were allowed to enter & were the only visitors for a while.

The Prayer hall was immense, with 414 supporting pillars, all unique. A three-tiered Minaret stood majestically at the west end of a huge courtyard. At the centre of the courtyard was an ornate sink, which fed a series of underground cisterns.

Next port of call was Bar Baroula; this was a deep well, where water was lifted to the surface through a series of wooden cogs by a rather sad looking blindfolded camel. We were offered to taste the water, which apparently contains traces of magnesium, it was fowl.

By shear chance north of the town we visited the Mosque of Sidi Sahbi, once used as a school to learn the Quoran. We shared this experience with a couple of coach loads of tourists. Nearby there are two massive circular cisterns which were once fed from a 35km. leat & we had a chance to explore them.

On our way back to the hotel our last site of interest was a museum specifically displaying the works of an eccentric blacksmith whose work involved creating huge copies of everyday tools.

After collecting our packs we caught the bus to Nabeul, we arrived weary so on arriving at the Hotel Mustapha was somewhat of a relief. Had to wake up the chap on reception who almost threw us the keys to our room, which we had to find for ourselves. The designated room however overlooked a busy road so we were able to change it. The new room was shoddy but by now we were both exhausted so decided to suffer on.

An evening meal was difficult to find it seems the locals infrequently eat out, had to resort to fast food.

On our way back to the hotel we witnessed a disturbing incident. There are many feral cats in Tunisia whom roam the streets, one of these however came to a sticky end under the wheels of a car, it managed to run to cover but soon died of its injuries.

We eventually made it back & were in bed at 9:45pm. Almost immediately a thunderous sound, which resembled a Centurion tank roaming around the ground floor started up, this was to continue throughout the night. At about 11:45pm. We were rudely awakened by the sound of slamming doors & loud female voices. This commotion continued way into the early hours. It soon became apparent we had landed ourselves in the midst of a brothel. The disturbances continued until my patience snapped & in a rage I leapt from the bed like a wild Banchi, flung our door open, just as I did a young woman was emerging from the door opposite. I let fling a string of expletives, obviously the girl had no idea what I was saying but instinctively she recoiled into her room. Feeling a little better I returned to my bed & was pleased the ruckus abated, however we could hear business as usual being conducted down stairs.

Eventually sleep arrived & I dropped off first, in the morning Caroline informed me she had witnessed three cockroaches in convoy marching past my nose, on the way to who knows where.

Thursday 07.10.10.

Surprised we had survived the night we packed our bags ready for the off.

After breakfast we set about finding a bank to change money. Changing cash is no bother, unlike the paraphernalia involved with travellers cheques.

A return to the brothel to find the receptionist asleep on a couch, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to roughly wake him up.

The journey to our next port of call Kelibia only took an hour, northwards along the coast. The route took us past a series of lakes, on which amongst other birds Flamingos were feeding.

We arrived at our destination & opted for a taxi to take us to our hotel Pension Anis. What a contrast to last nights hovel, our room was spotless & the staff were extremely friendly. We had a shower & were able to catch up on lost sleep.

Suitably refreshed we emerged onto the streets of Kelibia into the blistering heat of 34°C. A long straight road east, leads to a fishing port, which we made for & enjoyed a wander around.

An enjoyable mixed grill for our evening meal. Before we retired to our beds we had time to sit on our veranda & watch the events of a small corner shop opposite.

Friday 08.10.10.

Today we were to visit a high mountain called Jebel Abiod at the end of Cap Bon, unfortunately for us there was no public transport, undeterred we set off walking out of the town towards El Haouaria which sits at the foot of the mountain. We had only been walking for a half hour or so when a car stopped & a French couple offered us a lift to our destination. We only managed short conversations with the couple as Caroline’s school girl French wasn’t up to scratch.

A busy market was in progress at El Haouaria, we managed to push our way through to find the start of the trail to the mountain. Eventually with the help of locals we were on our way. A metalled road winds its way to the summit where sits a collection of communication masts, out of bounds to the public. The road seemed endless; we spotted a few birds of prey circulating using the hot thermals. In May & June the skies here are black with these raptors on transit from Africa to Europe.

We arrived at the summit lunch time, so found a sheltered spot to enjoy our meal. We enjoyed views north of the peninsular at the end of the Cape, the Mediterranean was turquoise blue. In the distance through the haze we could just make out two islands Zembra & Zembretta.

After a wander around the windy summit it was time to start back, our chosen route was to be overland. We spotted the resemblance of a track form the summit & made for it. We both enjoyed an exciting hike encountering a couple of wild tortoises, a small herd of goats & a multitude of unusual wild flowers.

We were back at El Haouaria at 2:45pm. & after a couple of refreshing lemon drinks it was time to start our journey back. No buses were travelling our way so started walking once again. We had gone quite some distance before thankfully our lift arrived. A car with two young men stopped, one of which spoke good English. Very kindly they offered to take us to see the oldest olive tree in Tunisia 2,500 years old. The site was only a short distance off our route. It was thrilling to see such a unique tree, its trunk gnarled & twisted. The thought that this tree started life before Christ was mind blowing.

We arrived back at Kelibia at about 5:00pm.

A pleasant evening meal followed by a coffee in a packed street side café, the customers of which were enjoying football match on TV between Germany & Turkey.

Before bed we took up our usual vantage point on the veranda, this evening however we witnessed a crime. A group of youngsters managed to steel a box of bananas from the corner shop, I shouted out but it did no good.

Saturday 09.10.10.

We had planned to visit a series of lakes near the town of Korba, some 20km S of Kelibia. These lakes are famous for spotting migrating birds; it has to be said however the prime time to see them is in the Spring.

After enquiring at the bus station we learnt that there were no buses scheduled to take us to Korba. It was once again time to resort our own methods of transport – hitching.

To have any chance of a lift it was important to walk out of the town into open country. The first car we hailed thankfully stopped & offered us a lift to our planned destination. The journey passed quickly, Having interesting conversation with our host, who owns three companies specialising in software development. He asked us if we minded him stopping off at a town on the way to deliver a parcel, no problem.

We were dropped off at the lakes & near a causeway, which spans the water. The water levels in the lakes were low & very salty. We set off for the walk over the causeway & were very excited to spot a large flock of Flamingos; we watched them for quite some time. Also feeding in the waters were a few more species of wading birds, all taking advantage of this rich food source. At the far end of the causeway we could hear the Mediterranean crashing onto the shore. We made our way over sand dunes to the sea. The beach was pristine & deserted some 3km long. I spotted a lone male crossing the causeway, who made a direct line towards us, he arrived & shook my hand, we conversed a short while but his English was patchy. Eventually we left him for a stroll along the beach, In time I turned & saw the stranger making a telephone call, this caused me to smell a rat. In this remote spot Caroline & I were very vulnerable, perhaps the telephone call was to summon backup for a mugging, we would not have a chance. Thankfully my suspicions were unfounded & I watched the stranger return over the causeway & disappear.

We spent two or three hours enjoying the beach, in & out of the sea albeit a little choppy. Had our lunch on the beach, after which we returned to the lake & walked alongside for a while, we spotted a few large Grey Herons.

We needed to leave in good time to get back, so arrived at the bus stop at 2:45pm. Busses as usual seem not to be running, we were just thinking of setting off along the road to hitch, when a pickup truck pulled up & asked if we needed a lift, thankfully we accepted. There were two other passengers & a small child. We got chatting to the chap in the back & learnt he was a teacher. At his specified stop he took money out & paid the driver, both Caroline & I looked at each other wondering what we should do at our destination. Arriving at Kelibia we offered payment & the driver thankfully accepted the fare, apparently we had caught an unofficial Louage.

Sunday 10.10.10,

Today we decided to walk along the coast NE to a small community & the beach of El Mansourah. Our route took us alongside a very angry sea, which crashed violently onto rocks. Houses are perched near the coast path, most of which seemed to be shuttered for the winter. We battled our way on; fishermen were also battling the elements, precariously positioned on exposed rocks.

Eventually we arrived at our goal. The small beach was almost deserted, except for a few para. surfers, these were very skilled & rode the fierce waves expertly.

We surcumed to coffee at a local bar.

A run down Holiday Park was situated at the far end of the beach & we decided to take a look. The only people in the area were security personnel. We chose a quiet sheltered spot to eat our packed lunch. The afternoon was blessed with warm sun so we enjoyed it on the beach.

In time we returned to Kelibia over our outward route. The skies looked black to the west & soon the rain came, we hurriedly made our way to a covered coffee shop & tried to enjoy an Arabic coffee. The rain was short lived & we were able to make it back to the hotel dry.

Monday 11.10.10,

To spice up the now mundane breakfast, I nipped out to the local shop & bought a couple of pears, this worked a treat. A young Dutch couple with a tiny tot were also having breakfast, our offer of a tasty pear went down a treat.

Today was market day in Ke’libia & we enjoyed an hour or two enjoying the atmosphere. We were able to buy a couple of scalp brushes, nutmeg, coriander seeds & fresh dates for our lunch. Live chickens were on sale at one end of the market. Caroline witnessed one poor creature having its leg cut off whilst still alive!

Time next to make our way along the long road to the docks, About halfway, the ever observant Caroline spotted five crates of empty beer bottles on the pavement. We decided to take a closer look, we nosed our way into a pleasant bar with loud contemporary music being played, the bar was deserted, in a while the manager arrived who served us a couple of beers, at last an oasis in a desert of coffee! We enjoyed a couple or three cool beers. While we sat contently a gent arrived who also enjoyed a beer, he offered us a few almonds to accompany the beer.

We left the bar emerging into very hot sunshine. With light steps we made our way to the docks. There was a security hut at the gate but we were able to saunter through unchallenged.

The harbour was full of fishing boats with men hard at work getting things shipshape. Fish stocks in the area must be very healthy to accommodate the amount of fishing boats hauled up here.

We found a sheltered spot for our lunch & enjoyed yogurt & fresh dates.

I found wandering around the docks absolutely fascinating. We had time to relax a while on a pile of fishing nets.

Eventually we started our return to the town electing to use a route, which ran parallel to the main road. The houses we passed were all rather grand.

Tuesday 12.10.10,

Today was to be our last day in Kelibia; we were on the bus to the capital at 11am. In a seat nearby was a young woman nursing a very tiny baby, thankfully the bus was air-conditioned. We travelled through what is known as the fruit bowl of Tunisia. Wine is also produced in this area, we promised ourselves a taste tonight.

We arrived at the south bus station at 12:45pm. & made our way to the hotel we had started out from a month ago.

Bags safely stored in our room, we decided to explore the capital. Near the centre is a huge Medina, filling a labyrinth of narrow streets, most of the produce on sale was tat.

One of the main features at the centre of the city is a Roman Catholic cathedral; we spent a little time wandering around this magnificent building. Eventually we made it back to our room to recharge our batteries.

We had promised ourselves a slap up meal & wine for our evening meal so made our way to the restaurant we had used on our previous visit. Caroline’s choice of menu was cous cous & chicken, I elected for fruits of the sea with spaghetti, all washed down with a sublime Tunisia Muscat wine. Some of the fish in my meal were strange & a little chewy.

Wednesday 13.10.10,

Today was our last day in Tunisia. A leisurely awakening & a leisurely breakfast. We were both a little dehydrated after a hot night, so asked for another cup of coffee, Caroline insisted we pay, but we only had a 20 dinar note (£10). Some confusion with the waiter who thought we had given him a tip. With a certain amount of back peddling we were able to rectify matters.

We left for the airport just after lunch in-order to leave ourselves plenty of time in case of delays.

We were unable to change the money we had left into pounds Stirling so had to change it into Euros which we were able to spend at the duty free outlet.

After a 2-hour flight we arrived at Gatwick at 10:00pm.

The bus ride home was very exhausting & eventually we landed home at 6:45am. & promptly went to bed & slept for a few hours.

BULGARIA, JUNE 2009


The first two days were mostly spent travelling. We were a little apprehensive about the flight; the airline was Easyjet, however all went well.

Arrived Sofia around midday on the first day of June. Now the usual hassle organising a bus ride to the centre & finding accommodation, the latter took longer than we had anticipated. Most rooms were crummy & very expensive. Eventually we found one near the Lion Bridge.

Tuesday 02.06.09. Today we had another tricky job, to cash travellers cheques, finally having visited most of the banks in the capital we succeeded.

Sofia is an old city with a population of 1.8 million. Much history lies in its buildings, we spent most of the day exploring some of them, including some fine old Orthodox churches & the President's Palace.

Eating out in Sofia was also difficult only a very few establishments are to be found.

Today was marred with having a rather harassing encounter with a pick pocket gang. We had succumbed to visiting a McDonalds restaurant & were having trouble figuring out how to get in, when a kindly hand reached over my shoulder to help, unknown to us this was part of a plan to gain access to Caroline's security purse. The thieves however only managed to open the top & were unable to retrieve the passports there in as Caroline had wrapped them up in polythene bags, in case of rain!

Wednesday 03.06.09. Today we were to travel on to Belogradchik in the NW of the country. The bus journey took three & a half hours, at the end of which we managed to secure a clean cheap room, near the centre of this small town.

Thursday 04.06.09. We set off with a packed lunch to explore the walking trails through the rock forests, a feature of this region. Huge rock pillars stood like statues, a true natural wonder of the New World. Our wanderings took us eventually to a tiny settlement. On the way we enjoyed seeing an abundance of insects & wild flowers, something, which is becoming all too rare in Britain.

Bulgaria is just emerging from being controlled by Russia & the infrastructure shows signs of decay.

At the small settlement we happened on a tiny shop & enjoyed a beer with the old lady owner, until she decided it was time to shut-up shop, the clue came, when she inserted the key in the lock signalling for us to leave.

Friday 05.06.09. A hike to a high ridge to the east of the town today. At its highest point stood a TV mast. The walk up was not difficult following the access road. A trig pillar stands on the summit & we had our packed lunch here in the company of a multitude of butterflies gathering nectar from the abundance of wild flowers. On our return to the town we followed a goat herder for a little while, the goats grazing on wild land. In a nearby allotment we spotted a lady harvesting strawberries, very kindly she offered us a huge bowl full, which we thoroughly enjoyed later.

Saturday 06.06.09. Today the landlady informed us we would have to vacate our room, as it had been pre-booked. Oh dear! Weekend visitors from near & far arrive here at the weekends to explore. We then had a two-hour search for another room without success, however with the help of the local tourist office we were safely established in another room.

Today we had planned a visit to the nearby village of Dabrarka to the west, using a forest trail. However we failed a find the start of the trail & ended up marching along the road some 7kms.

We arrived at the village at lunchtime. Nesting on the top of a nearby telegraph pole was a huge stork's nest with its inhabitants standing proud! Eventually we found the local shed/shop & enjoyed a couple of beers; the owner duly presented us with some rather nice cheese to enhance our meal.

We were able to return to Belogradchik via the forest trail, at the end of which was a gypsy encampment, which we had pass through. Folk here were obviously less well off than the rest of the town.

Sunday 07.06.09. We were intending to catch a bus to Sofia, which was to leave at 6a.m. We arrived at the bus station in plenty of time, 6a.m. came & went, no bus, today was Sunday! Just as we were about to plan our next move a young female backpacker came on the scene. We chatted with her & eventually accompanied her in a taxi to the nearby train station some 11kms. away. At 7.10a.m. we boarded the train to Sofia, the journey took 3hrs.

With everything now working like clockwork we managed to acquire a bus connection to Bansko almost right away from the nearby bus station. After a three-hour ride we arrived at this winter ski resort in the heart of the Pirin Mountains. We landed at Bansko at 2p.m. & amazingly found a very clean room with a veranda almost immediately.

Monday 08.06.09. Awoke to a few spots of rain, which soon cleared. We left the guesthouse with no real plan & found ourselves drawn towards the highest peaks. In winter this resort is buzzing with snow worshippers. A metalled road winds it's way up southward & it seemed liked forever until we reached its end. Using forest trails we continued the climb, only very occasionally glimpsing site of the towering peaks either side. An alpine river known as the Glazne crashes its way through deep gorges & over many dramatic waterfalls. We progressed along its boulder-strewn banks & tested the water temperature, it was ice cold. During our climb we passed many mountain refuges supplied for hikers to spend the night.

On & on we climbed not appearing to get any closer to the peaks. We had hiked for about 5hours, a little longer than we had planned. In a meadow stood another lonely refuge, whilst here a four wheeled drive vehicle surprisingly appeared & it bumped its way to a halt near the refuge. Five young men & an older man alighted with haversacks.

At this point we were treated to a very dramatic thunderstorm. Fate dealt us a favourable hand here, one of the young men volunteered his father to give us a lift back to Bansko, & we eagerly accepted & took our seats in the back of the vehicle. With rain still falling heavily we started down the very rough track, at times both Caroline & myself wondered whether we would ever make it but make it we did.

Tuesday 09.06.09. A ten-minute bus ride found us in the neighbouring village of Dodrinishite.

During an amble around the village we spotted two ladies busy washing blankets & what looked like carpets. Standing near a fast flowing river was a huge wooden bowl some 10ft. in diameter, about a third way up the sides were openings that allowed the flow of water. A launder fed water into the top of the bowl with a great deal of force that caused turbulence in the bowl, mimicking the action of a washing machine. To retrieve the washing the two ladies hoisted the articles out using long wooden hooks.

We continued our tour of the old village, the dwellings constructed from forest wood & pebbles from the river.

After lunch we had a swim in a nearby hotel swimming pool/spa.

Wednesday 10.06.09. Today the plan was to visit another village close by, this one called Banya. This village too was old & very traditional, wood piles stacked outside each residence for the harsh winters. We passed a lady washing her ‘smalls’ at a village tap, which was issuing very hot water, which was supplied by hot springs deep in the hillside. When she had finished using the hot water she plugged the drain hole with a piece of old corn!

Deciding to set off on a forest trail we climbed into the woods. As we walked two ladies called to us & showed us their harvest of wild strawberries. It wasn't long before we too were enjoying our own crop. From the top of our climb we were treated to stunning views of both the Pirin & the Rila Mountains.

Before catching the bus back we noticed an old derelict mineral bath house ‘Hamman’ at the side of the track similar to ones we had seen in the east of Turkey.

Thursday 11.06.09. Time to travel.

We took the slow train to Septemvri. The train wound its way through the dramatic scenery of the Rila Mountains. The locomotive stopped at all the small communities on the way, people using it as a local bus.

Plovdiv was today's destination; this is Bulgaria's second city. We arrived late afternoon.

Day two in this city was spent exploring, climbing two of the famous hills & visiting the many churches. Plovdiv in general was a much friendlier city than the capital, however we did have a run in with a local bus driver & won!

Saturday 13.06.09. Morning arrives & Caroline surprises me with a birthday card she had brought with her all the way from dear old Blighty, bless her!

Time to move on again today our destination Devin. The bus ride took three & a half-hours. Making our way up a very dramatic deep gorge carved out by the river Devinaska. Under construction along the way were huge hydroelectric stations.

With very few budget guesthouse s in Devin we had a long search but eventually found one high on the hill. We settled in well & were watching TV when a knock came at the door, I was the chosen one to answer it, standing there was the landlady & her sweet five year old granddaughter. As soon as they saw it was I they broke into song, beautifully singing Happy Birthday in English. At the end of the performance the little girl presented me with three pink roses in a vase & a soft kiss on the cheek. What a beautiful kind thought. My birth date had been noticed when our passport information had been processed.

Sunday 14.06.09. The breaking of a beautiful sunny day.

Today we visited the local mineral spring/baths & spent a relaxing morning here enjoying a swim in large local swimming pool & a small very hot naturally heated tub!

After lunch we had had enough of lazing around & decided to walk up the Devinska River to try & locate the remains of a castle. A very pleasant walk, at times using constructed walkways alongside the river. A long steep climb saw us at the ridge top. The castle remains turned out to be a small section of low wall.

Monday 15.06.09. The neighbouring village of Shiroka Luka was to be today's treat. We arrived in a local bus. This village is truly a traditional Bulgarian settlement, with heavily cobbled streets. The houses had roofs of thick natural slate.

An ascending forest walk took us to the Chapel of St.Atanas, a tiny building with an interesting wooden shelter nearby, very cleverly constructed with forest wood. We had to abort our look for the next chapel St.Duk because of angry dogs & Caroline was convinced she saw bear pooh or was it pooh bear!

A Roman bridge stands south of the village over the river, its arch very acute. A church stands nearby which was build in 40 days, unfortunately we were unable to visit it as being a Monday it was closed all day. (Translations found in our guidebook helped us with the days of the week).

Tuesday 16.06.09. Caroline had spotted a trail high on the hillside SE of the town, our plan for today was to follow it to wherever it lead. We climbed steadily leaving the last houses of the town behind. The day was already hot, thank heavens for water fountains on the way. Ahead Caroline spotted a couple making slow but sure progress up the steep hill. In time the couple sat on the ridge & we arrived & were invited to sit with them. Caroline making the most of the chat & in doing so learnt they were both in there 70's. The old man took advantage of the rest bite to suck heavily of a cigarette. Smoking in Bulgaria is very prevalent. Bidding them farewell we climbed the short distance to the nearby summit. We enjoyed views far below of work in progress re-routing the main incoming road to Devin, in preparation for the flooding of the valley which would supply the huge hydroelectric project downstream.

Continuing our walk we spotted a wooden house/shack at the side of a wild meadow. It was nearing lunchtime so we decided to eat in the shade of the hut. Whilst eating we could hear the distress calls of a bird coming from a tree some 100 metres below, try as we may we could not spot it.

Unable to control our curiosity we took a peep in the shed, tools for working the land & a bag of old stale food hung from the rafters, a practice usually followed when in bear country!

During our meal & enjoying the solitude a horrendous crashing sound came from the forest nearby, slightly shocked we looked & Caroline spotted the rear of a large reddish/brown animal, was it a bear? A short time after the crash a gut wrenching roar which was repeated until it eventually faded into the distance, we both sighed a sigh of relief.

Still enjoying our lunch spot Caroline spotted a white flash of a Gt.Spotted Woodpecker. The incessant alarm call could still be heard, I crept quietly to the spot, it wasn't until I was almost there I caught sight of a woodpeckers hole & protruding from it was the head of a noisy chick. I was able to creep up to within two feet, such a thrill; I called to Caroline who joined me.

Wednesday 17.06.09. Another walk today this time climbing NW into the forest strewn hills. We zigzagged following a track ever higher until the track petered out. Not wanting to retrace our steps we hunted around for another track, we found one climbing up the steep wooded hill, half expecting to be confronted by a bear. In time we intersected a vehicle track & we used this to continue. A signpost on a nearby tree pointed the way to Orpheus’s Cave, intrigue got the better of us & we set off to find it. On & on we trekked, the trail hugged the hillside & we could see way below between the trees. Another crash & looking below we spotted an adult wild boar, we watched as it started up towards us, fearing a confrontation I panicked & clapped noisily which sent the large animal into the depths of the forest.

We never did get to see Orpheus's Cave after a 6km walk. Our return was undertaken in a heavy thunderstorm.

Thursday 18.06.09. Travelling on today on a bus to Plovdiv & a train to our next destination Burgas, a resort on the Black Sea coast, we arrived late afternoon.

After an exhausting search for accommodation we finally succumbed to visiting an agency. They were able to fix us up with a room with a Bulgarian family. We arrived at the address eventually. An elderly gent & his wife were to be our landlords for a couple of days.

Friday 19.06.09. Our task today was to change traveller's cheques, always a delight! Much hunting & walking found us at the elusive bank suggested by American Express, only to find there was a commission charge. Dejected we left & decided to try the bank next door. Bingo all went well & no charge.

The afternoon was spent relaxing on the beach, taking frequent swims in the warm water. Bulgaria's Black Sea coast is renown for strong onshore winds. Life saving stations are sited 100m apart along the strand.

Saturday 20.06.09. Today we were to visit Burgas Lakes, which are Bulgaria's main source of sea salt. We caught the local bus to the planned Lake but some confusion in translation found us travelling in the opposite direction, however all turned out Ok & we were dropped off beside another lake called Atanasovska. Having negotiated a very busy dual carriageway we were at the shoreline. A real treat here spotting all sorts of unfamiliar birds some of which were Avocets with chicks, Black Winged Stilts, Black Redstarts, Greenfinches & Swifts collecting mud for their nests. Across the road we spotted a larger lake so we battled our way along the busy road until we gained access to the lakeside road, not many birds here. We continued the long walk along the road to the end where there were cars parked giving access to the seashore. Many Saturday visitors from the city were enjoying the sea.

We hadn't packed our swimmers today! We noticed folk making their way further along the road towards the lake so curiosity got the better of us & we followed. As we made progress some black mud drenched swimmers approached. On arrival we followed a small track through the tall reeds & were confronted with a very strange sight. Floating like bobbing corks in one of the red salt lakes were swimmers taking of the healthy mineral salts, after which they seemed to wallow in the mud. It was such a pity we had left our swimmers in our room. Lunch was taken near the lake, later the lure of the lake proved too much so we joined in the fun wearing only our underwear. The water was blood red & very, very salty. The lake was so full of salt it was possible to float sitting up. Not to miss out on the full treatment we smeared thick smelly black mud on each other. Caroline not wanting to ruin her white bra did the obvious. Across the road we made our way to the beach which was covered in black sand. After allowing the mud to cake in the sun we bathed in the sea cleaning our bodies. What an experience!

Sunday 21.06.09. Moving on today, but only a little way south along the coast to Sozopol. This little town traditional & quaint located on an isthmus, a beach to the south & a fishing harbour to the north. Finding a room was easy & we settled into a good clean guesthouse for just £4 each per night.

Monday 22.06.09. A day trip to the nearby resort of Kiten today. After a long hunt for the bus stop we were on our way. Kiten has been developed in order to cater for tourists & had no character. We spent the rest of the day on yet another windy beach.

Tuesday 23.06.09. We started the day with a cup of coffee & a plate of fresh shrimps, which cost 10p, very tasty. A visit to the village of Chernomorets, only a short bus ride away. This tiny coastal village is yet unspoilt & we enjoyed our visit. A sandy cove facing N afforded shelter from the strong east winds which dog this coast. We spent a lazy afternoon on the beach enjoying frequent dips into the calm warm waters.

The evening brought an unexpected treat. Taking place on a stage in the centre of Sozopol was a children’s singing & dancing competition. We sat & enjoyed four hours of talented children performing song & dance. One particular treat was a group performing Cossack dancing. The whole affair was professionally carried out, the costumes were spectacular each being tailored for every individual child.

Wednesday 24.06.09. A travel day today, our destination was Veliko Tarnova this city stands almost at the centre of the country. Before our bus left we had time to waste, so sat a while in the central park. We watched as mums with toddlers turned up each bringing a toy. The object of the exercise was to share their toys & use others, this however didn't always happen with the result of a few tears!

Our mode of transport to Tarnova was a mini bus that took us through the sometimes dramatic countryside; the main feature being heavily wooded hills.

We arrived at our destination at teatime & started the daunting challenge of finding accommodation; all hotels suggested in the guidebook were out of our range. A stroke of luck near the centre of the city saw us following a gent who had offered us accommodation. An inspection saw us moving into a small apartment at a reasonable charge.

Thursday 25.06.09. The origin of Veliko Tarnovo is a fortress on Tsarevets Hill. This fortress which has been reconstructed dominates the skyline & is one of Bulgaria's most beloved monuments. An entry fee is normally charges but today being Thursday it was free. At the north end of the complex is an overhanging rock with a one hundred or more feet drop, it was off this rock that traitors were ceremoniously launched to their death. At the very summit of the hill is a reconstructed church with some very unusual artwork on the interior walls, quite modern.

The afternoon saw us visit a huge memorial to the memory of the Assen brothers who had liberated Bulgaria in the distant past. The State Art Museum is sited nearby & we enjoyed a muse around this, the attendants had to switch on the lights for us.

Friday 26.06.09. A disappointing visit to the nearby village of Arbansi today. We walked the 5km only to find the whole village geared up for coach loads of tourists being trailed around the local sights. We did however find solace in a monastery run by nuns. Children were staying here on a retreat, no sign of commercialisation here!

Saturday 27.06.09. Using local buses we travelled to Emen Gorge, Bulgaria's deepest gorge. From where the bus stopped at the centre of the village we had some difficulty finding our way to the start of the Eco Trail in-order to explore the gorge. In time however we were on our way.

At the start of the trail is a huge cave populated by bats, a loud continual screeching could be heard coming from the roof & we could see hundreds of tiny creatures hanging above us.

As we started the trail proper we spotted a Golden Orial, a magnificently bright yellow coloured bird.

The trail took us high above the west side of the gorge & we had views of this deep natural feature. The river was depleted & only a trickle flowed. We spotted some rickety wooden walkways below, so decided to take a look. Arriving at the gorge floor we followed these shaky walkways downstream on the east bank. The gorge is 3km long & soon we were at the side of a lake at the N end.

A map would have been useful! We retraced our steps to the north end of the gorge where Momin Skok Falls are; again only a trickle tumbled over the rocks.

The trail from here should climb slowly NE to the top of the east ridge, but this route appeared to run out. We found ourselves battling in forests with no defined track. Determination & sheer stubbornness saw us eventually succeed to reach the village for our ride home. We had time to enjoy a refreshing couple of cool beers from the local shop, in the company of four ramblers from England.

Sunday 28.06.09. A relatively inactive day today visiting the craft area of the city, crafts included woodcarving, sheet metal work, potters & artists. At lunchtime we found ourselves at a high arched bridge over the river. Two men were busy attaching something to the railings. Soon a group of young westerners gathered, & waited their turn to jump off the bridge connected to a bungey. In the heat of the moment I was slightly tempted but Caroline deterred me thankfully!

Monday 29.06.09. The start of our journey home today, a bus ride to the capital where we stayed in the same hotel as we used on our first day.

Whilst enjoying a beer outside the Lion Hotel a young lady arrived pushing a bicycle. We entered into conversation with her & learnt she intended to challenge herself & cycle from Sofia to Venice on her fixed wheel bike, good luck to you we thought.

Tuesday 30.06.09. Our flight took off on time at 12.20.pm.

CHINA May & June 2007
 

WEDNESDAY 02.05.07 - After a eleven hour flight we touched down in Hong Kong 2:30pm on Wednesday.

Hong Kong comprises of a multitude of islands the two main ones are Lantau & Hong Kong Island. We landed on Lantau Island & following a wise suggestion from friends Pete & Sara made for the village of Mui Wo on the SE side. We jumped on a local bus & made it there via the village of Tung Chung fairly easily.

THURSDAY 03.05.07 - Breakfast at a local eatery, Ian had steamed pork bits & Caroline a sweet dough ball & a pot of green tea, which was to become the norm in future days. Today we planned a visit to Hong Kong Island. Caught a fast ferry over the very busy & congested harbour & arrived in the bustling, overcrowded city, but very clean & organised. One of the local attractions is to visit Victoria Peak. A funicular railway ferries tourists, which there are many, to the top - 552m above sea level. All very organised & from our vantage point from the top we could see thousands of sky reaching buildings below.

FRIDAY 04.05.07 - Sleep still a little fretful - which is always like this for the start of our holidays. Two sweet buns & a sweet coffee for breakfast.

The local library was thankfully equipped with Internet so made use of it. In the morning a trip to the Buddha at Ngong Ping which is a fairly new construction. In the afternoon we took a local bus to Tai O, a picturesque fishing village, some of the dwellings are on stilts. The local shops bursting with fresh fish and a speciality here being shrimp paste. Dolphins were a regularly seen off shore. We had light rain for most of our visit here.

In the evening at our chosen restaurant we met a lady who kindly gave us an umbrella & two tins of tea - a kind thought but Ian now has to carry these

SATURDAY 05.05.07 - A walk up into the nearby foothills to Silver Mine, the whole way we were treated to the sight of many birds unique to us. We visited a small waterfall & met a lone Welshman, twenty years resident to Lantau Island, who kindly explained all the birds - we had in fact seen nine types of cuckoo one the size of pheasant.

After a very pleasant stroll around the island we finished upon a manicured sandy beach with a shark boom, we enjoyed a long cool swim, the locals fearing the water too cold.

SUNDAY 06.05.07 - It was time to travel north into China proper. Caught the fast ferry to Hong Kong Island & another to Hung Hom, from here we jumped on a train to the boarder Lu Wo. All went well with our transit & we were soon aboard a bullet train to our next port of call Guangzhou (Canton). An error here & we had to catch a local bus to the south railway station. The bus station wasn't a happy place as two females were fighting aggressively & police were trying to calm things down, both Caroline & I broke into sweats.

MONDAY 07.05.07 - Ordering food in restaurants is still a big problem for us. We eventually had fried eggs & chicken feet - um! We spent the whole day roaming this huge Chinese city of twelve million residents. Our main project for the day was to purchase our overnight train ticket to Guilin for the night of the eighth. As we wandered around the city we found a seafood restaurant selling live animals for consumption including crocodile tails, water snakes, large turtles, fish & lobsters.

TUESDAY 08.05.07 - At last a restful nights sleep. Our plan today was to visit Shamian Island in the Pearl River, which is by far the quietest & most attractive area to stay in Canton. To get there we used then ultra efficient Metro.

Expecting the island to be mid-stream we mistakenly caught a ferry to the far shore only to realise we had to re-cross. The island is accessed by a fifty metre bridge. We spent a pleasant afternoon wandering the old colonial type buildings. Shamian Island is where Americans come to adopt Chinese babies.

At 8pm we boarded a very comfortable sleeper train to Guilin.

WEDNESDAY 09.05.07 - Arrived at 7:15am & quickly selected a hotel, after freshening up we had breakfast at a spot where we were able to select a variety of foods which suited us fine, all washed down with plenty of green tea.

Guilin is a city with a half million people so less congested than our previous

venues. The river Li courses through its heart & high lime stone peeks stand like sky scrapers along its shores, this area is a magnet for tourists both Chinese & foreign.

We visited the Solitary Beauty Park, a local park with a princess grotto, the 50yuan entry fee took us aback a little. We climbed the 360 steps to the summit, from here enjoyed fine views over the city. A little disappointed we left to spend a quiet hour at the rivers edge watching the local fishermen on their small but buoyant bamboo rafts.

THURSDAY 10.05.07 - Up & ready to go at 8am. Breakfast at same restaurant as yesterday but in my selection of foods was snakes skin (tasty) plenty of good old green tea to wash it down.

We spent the whole day wandering the city & met a young trainee teacher who was desperate to talk, however at the end came the hard sell wasted on us.He took us to a gallery selling students work - some of which was his.

At the riverfront many elderly groups were involved in exercising & ballroom dancing.

We continued to wander on the east side of the river & found a large produce market with many varieties of food stuffs on display, one lady was selling terrapins, eels & frogs - all alive.

We had strolled a bit too far & had to catch a packed bus back to our hotel.

FRIDAY 11.05.07 - We caught the bus to Yangshuo an hours ride away following the river Li south. During the whole journey we were treated to dramatic scenery of high, vegetated limestone peaks. Yangshuo has definitely grown around the tourist trade, the main street to the boat piers is known as "foreigners road". We made our way to the piers just after lunch & watched many large tourist boats dock & spew out hundreds of paying souls - which spoiled a little for us. Cormorant fishermen posed for photos, at a price of course.

SATURDAY 12.05.07 - Awoke to rain - our plan today was to hop on a local bus to the nearby village of Fu Li. We eventually secured a ride on a small cramped mini bus & set off south through two tunnels & over the Li River.

Fu Li is a typical Chinese village, one main street with small retail outlets selling everyday essential. Today was market day & we wandered between the many stalls selling all matter of fascinating produce. The rain was still falling heavy & the stalls all had plastic sheets covering them. The raw meat section was both fascinating & shocking to our western eyes. One couple were dismembering a good sized dog which had only very recently been dispatched. On another stall a de-furred cat with rigor mortis stood like a macabre statue for some lucky mum to cook for tea.

Many bundles of raw tobacco were also on sale, a reminder of our previous visit ten years ago.

We eventually left the village & set off into the countryside, soon rural China appeared & we set off between the multitude of paddy fields, soaking up the atmosphere & unfamiliar sights. Ladies were walking with individual buffalo watching over them whilst they grazed.

Attached to the side of the irrigation channels were egg sacks with bright contents, we found out later these were from snails. A very pleasant afternoon was spent here in hot sunshine. Ducks were being reared in lakes associated with the irrigation channels. All these sights set within the shadow of the huge limestone peeks.

SUNDAY 13.05.07 - Today we had planned another bus ride this time to the small village of Baisha. The many tourists to this area do have a positive effect - we were able to acquire good tasting breakfasts.

The bus ride to Baisha was good & we alighted our bus in the main street, not knowing where or what was ahead. We set off along the road SW, in time we arrived at a small farming hamlet & as we passed a dwelling a young girl was eager to chat. She invited us into her home & we met the family, after chatting & eating fruit she volunteered to walk with us the river route back to Yangshou some four hours away. In very hot sun the three of us set off first visiting Dragon Bridge, a very old arched structure with bamboo rafts hauled up nearby.

Our new guide was called Feng Zhen a nineteen years old student.

We enjoyed a spectacular walk alongside the Yulong River etched between the now familiar peaks. We chatted as we walked, Zhen pleased to be able to practise her English. Her parents are farmers & work very long hours toiling in rented fields.

A frightening occurrence on the way was when we witnessed a very angry father beat his young daughter with a plastic syphon pump breaking it not only once over her back but smashing it to pieces.

As we reached Yangshou tourists on bikes appeared. We arrived safely & had a well earned drink & said our farewells to Zhen who caught the bus home.

MONDAY 14.05.07 - We lingered in our beds after our exertions of yesterday & after a rather good breakfast caught a local bus to Zing Ping 36kms. distant. Arrived at about lunch time & wandered west towards the Li River. In a shop on route were cages with four or five large rodent type animals with long yellow incisor teeth - water rats?

We arrived at the rivers edge & boat pier - we found a sheltered spot & settled down to just watch. A old man & his adult son were busy butchering & cleaning a dog carcass in the river, they spent the good part of an hour meticulously cleaning every morsel, including the head. Chinese tourists boarding nearby boats were also disturbed by this sight.

We spent the rest of the afternoon walking high above the river, on the west bank, enjoying the scenes of the local farmland. Found a bar overlooking the river (as we would) where we enjoyed a couple of beers. Whilst here along came a large university group who were keen to chat, we enjoyed conversing with them, they were from Nanchang. They were a respectful group of youngsters with an unyielding thirst for knowledge.

We continued our walk & met a very old lady walking her cow, I stopped & chatted repeating the words she spoke & we seemed to be conversing, I shook her tiny hand when we left, we had a great afternoon.

TUESDAY 15.05.07 - It was time to move on today, caught the bus back to Guilin, spent the day in the city until 8pm. when we climbed aboard a sleeper bus for Guiyang, a stepping off point for our final destination of Chengdu.

WEDNESDAY 16.05.07 - The sleeper bus was surprisingly comfortable catering for thirty-six passengers in double rows of six. At 8:30am we arrived in rain at Guiyang, unfortunately we had missed the connection to Chengdu by only minutes so had to find a hotel for the night. Guiyang is a huge grey city & we spent much of the day resting in our room (that's how comfortable the bus was).

The evening meal was a struggle, unable to communicate we eventually gesticulated for chicken & fried rice & received chicken with boiled rice & cold tea.

THURSDAY 17.05.07 - A bus ride to Chengdu today & we set off on what we thought to be a ride of nine hours which turned out to be a journey of thirteen. The first section of the ride was through high peaks & we passed through many long tunnels & over many newly constructed bridges. Eventually good roads gave way to unmade tracks (as we recalled from ten years ago) with mud & massive potholes. The bus rattled & lurched for a good couple of hours. We crossed the Yangsi River at Nanjing, a really gigantic city with on-going construction in progress. Where does China get all its money? A heavy grey cloud of pollution hung over it. The hours ticked by & day became night, eventually we touched down at Chadianzi Bus Station at 10pm. miles from anywhere. Like lambs to the slaughter we battled our way through the hoards willing either to take us to the city or rip us off - all a bit of a lottery. All went well however & we found a clean quiet place & sleep came at midnight.

FRIDAY 18.05.07 - Today duly settled in at Sam's Place we set of to explore the city of Chengdu. The streets were very busy with buses & many electric scooters making their way to daily business. The streets were very clean being kept so by an army of sweepers. As we approached Wenshu Monastery the streets became more narrow & the roadside shops less commercial. By now the heat of the sun forced us to a beer purchased from a local shop & we sat in out of the way to enjoy it. As we sipped a guy came out of his unit & began to show us his pride & joy - a mechanical Majong table. Fascinated by its workings he was good enough to take of the top to show us, unfortunately the mechanism decided to malfunction, we tried to assist but unable to decided to move on & leave him with it.

We came to a shaded park with terrapins swimming in pools, we sat with the elderly locals who were socialising, we were able to communicate & as one chap could speak English learnt from the TV.

We continued with a wander around the Monastry gardens & found a tea garden, for 20p each we drank green tea for the rest of the afternoon - as soon as our cups emptied along came a little man who topped them up again from a copper kettle.

SATURDAY 19.05.07 - Thinking ahead today we would purchase our train ticket to our port of call Xi'An. We did this with very little hassle at a kiosk near the entrance to Peoples Park.

We decided to explore the park & found the atmosphere friendly & relaxed, the tiny paths beautifully manicured. In an open space a group of mostly elderly ladies were ballroom dancing & taking it very seriously, we were invited to join in.

A small pleasure park with rides & games for the children was at the centre of the park, children sat contented making pictures from glue & sand.

We could hear sounds of a band as we drew nearer the melodic sounds of a choir singing. We sat & watched the group of people putting all their hearts into singing local folk songs - both Caroline & I had tears in our eyes. The ages of the group ranged from the very young to Gt.Grandparents.

The afternoon was spent looking around a bird & pet market, we were surprised to see so many puppies not destined for the table.

SUNDAY 20.05.07 - A visit to the Grand Buddha today at Leshan a bus ride of two hours away. We arrived at our destination & somehow managed to catch another bus to the Grand Buddha theme park. This unfortunately was not where we wanted to be, so jumped back on the bus to the far side of the river & made our way to a small local ferry which ran between the mainland & a large sand bank/island. Arriving on the island we set of for the walk to the east end negotiating a thigh deep fast flowing tributary on the way - we almost came a cropper, only a hand full of brave souls joined us. At the end of the island we had great views of the Buddha carved into the river bank cliffs on the far side of the river Dudu. The Buddha is 71m high & took ninety years to complete, it was started in AD713.

At this spot the local television station were just starting filming cormorant fishermen & we were treated to this unusual spectacle.

MONDAY 21.05.07 - A special treat today we were to visit the Giant Panda's at the research & breeding centre on the outskirts of Chengdu.

A tasteful site & a fairly lengthy walk to the enclosures ensured relative quiet for the inhabitants. We were able to see juvenile & the really large adults either busy feeding on fresh bamboo shoots or playing, we could have watched them for hours & almost did.

The large adults preferred just to lie back on their rears stripping & crunching their food. We were able to observe about thirty animals in all, a rare treat. A good clean well run establishment, a credit to China.

TUESDAY 22.05.07 - Today the slow train in China. We boarded at 2pm & soon discovered why the ticket we had was cheaper than we had expected. We were allocated the top two bunks next to the door to the toilet, which was ajar the whole time. The journey was to last 18hrs. Confined to the black hole of Shanghai we suffered all night either the smell of urine or tobacco smoke drifting from the space between the carriages.

WEDNESDAY 23.05.07 - Arrived at Xi'An station at 8am. thoroughly knackered & feeling chatty. As we left the station into the teeth of the touts bagging for our custom we decided to be led away by one, as things turned out this was a good decision, we were lead to a clean & comfortable room.

After a hearty breakfast we set off in rain for the Muslim quarter & enjoyed a wander around this unique area.

The streets of Xi'An are clean & modern enclosed within the confines of a large city wall. After our evening meal we both crashed out for an undisturbed ten hours sleep.

THURSDAY 24.05.07 - One of the most popular tourist attractions in China - if not the world - is the Terracotta Army a multitude of slightly larger than life model warriors of the Qin Dynasty buried in huge vaults 15' under ground. Today's treat was to visit them. We travelled to the site on a local bus. This unique place was only discovered in 1974 when a local farmer was digging a well & uncovered some relics.

Emperor Qin reigned 2010 years ago & believing there was life after death underground summoned his followers of some 750,000 to model thousands of figures & horses for his eventual demise. The task took forty years to complete. When all the figures were standing in their trenches the whole site was covered with huge wooden beams & earth. Gigantic doors sealed this secret from prying eyes. However after Qin's death the next ruler broke into the vault & destroyed much of what they found, setting fires as they went. The ashes of the beams still plain to see. In the main pit No1 some 2000 figures have been recovered & restored, there are a possible 6000 left to uncover. A remarkable sight & one we will never forget. We spent six hours enjoying this spectacle in well kept clean grounds.

FRIDAY 25.05.07 - Cashing travellers cheques in China can be a long & bureaucratic process. Here in Xi'an we had to find the Bank O Communications this we did without too much trouble but were unable to complete our transaction here but had to visit the main branch in the centre of the city. A three parts of an hour walk followed by another three parts of an hour cutting red tape.

Today we had decided to hop on a local bus for a half an hours ride to an outlying district of the city. A long & dusty walk east along a wide busy road, school children were leaving school & the sight of two foreigners caused some excitement. We stopped for a couple of beers bought from a local chap who kindly allowed us to sit & enjoy them. The object of our trip today was to visit a Neolithic Village which eventually located only to find a hefty entrance fee in a drab setting. We left wondering why the Chinese are hell bent on charging the earth to view their treasures.

Eventually we made it back to the city popping into a local super market for a few supplies, as we left the security alarm sounded as I passed through much excitement & confusion - I then had to empty the contents of our day bag to reveal a bottle of sun lotion bought in England with a foil bar code.

SATURDAY 26.05.07 - We tried to purchase a train sleeper ticket to the next location of our journey but were told no seats available until the 3rd. July. Not knowing what to do next decided to try the bus station & we were able to secure a sleeper ticket here. On the way we passed some ladies of the night looking for early morning business - I resisted!

Today we decided to visit the largest park in the city, which is sited outside the city wall. A fairly long walk found us at the north gate. We had our lunch under a tree & enjoyed watching the Chinese having a day out. At the heart of the park is a large lake where people enjoy boats. We sat & watched a tern swooping over the water, occasionally dipping for a fish - the sea is thousands of miles away where did it come from?

Along with fairground rides & other attractions was a rather shabby looking circus, it seemed the main attractions were large wild animals eg. tigers & lions. In a very confined small iron cage outside lay a very unhappy looking black bear.

SUNDAY 27.05.07 - Tonight we were to take the night bus to Ping Yao, so packed our bags & left them at the hotel reception for the day.

We visited another park today - Revolution Park - arrived in time to watch a couple of games of croquet played by two teams of very enthusiastic elderly participants on a dusty pitch under the trees. Occasionally heated discussions raged.

Our bus journey was less than straight forward. Arrived at the bus station on time & boarded our bus, which only had a couple of other passengers ready for the 7:30pm departure. However after much frustration we ended up leaving 3hrs. late, having to lay in our bunks in the sweltering heat, for much of this time Caroline was not a happy bunny. To add insult to injury as we were about to take off a couple of drunks boarded & one of them chose the bunk next to Caroline, fearing the worst Caroline moved her position.

MONDAY 28.05.07 - Good roads & a good bus saw us at our destination at 4:30am. However we were dropped off alongside the motorway & had to walk a couple of miles to the toll exit, there was a dusty putrid smell in the air. A prearranged lift from the tollgate saw us safely at Harmony Guest House.

Ping Yao is a well preserved, renovated in places, Han Dynasty Chinese city surrounded by a 6kms. city wall, claimed to be the last remaining one in China.

After a fine breakfast we set off to explore on what was to be one of the hottest days of our trip. One has to say much of what we saw had been tastefully renovated to attract many tourists. We wandered the back streets & saw where the residents lived, their homes were very basic built from dry cob. Very dusty narrow streets with a lot of new sewer work in progress.

We found a Catholic Church here & we sat a while in solace out of the sun to reflect.

TUESDAY 29.05.07 - Today having seen most of Ping Yao decided to catch a local bus to the nearest nearby city of Jie Xui. The ride was along a very dusty & through one of the most polluted areas of China. Many coke making plants & coal mines lined the way, not a pretty sight. We arrived in the throngs of a large busy city & began to explore. Lunch was to be a fascinating event. Unable to find many eating houses we instinctively followed a group of people through an arch & found a busy noisy eating house. We entered & all noise abated. With not a word of English to be seen decided to point to a dish being server - a big mistake - this dish was one of many included in a set meal, so what we hoped would be a snack turned into a full blown banquet. After we were invited to a nearby hotel foyer for a chat, one young girl brought along her English textbook.

It became quite obvious that the residents of Jie Xui hadn't seen many foreigners & we felt rather special.

At a local park we enjoyed the sight of six elderly men flying their hand made kites.

On a street corner a rubber stamp cutter was carving intricate patterns so decided to have a stamp cut - WISTMANS WOOD -so watch this space!

We made an acquaintance of a young auxiliary nurse called Wu Wengao who was keen to chat, will email him later.

WEDNESDAY 30.05.07 - A return to Jie Xui today having had such a fascinating time yesterday. Lunch time today also proved interesting. We were passing a hotel & Caroline noticed some firecrackers laid out on the ground in preparation for a special occasion, we decided to wait & see. We stood quietly eating a couple of bananas & slowly but surely a large crowd gathered watching our every move - we now know how it must feel to be in a zoo. The crowd caused so much commotion that a young woman arrived & invited us in to partake in the celebration of her niece's 13th. Birthday. We accepted & enjoyed being treated like royalty, we were lavished with food & birthday cake which was eleven tiers high. Caroline was led to the stage along with the main females of the party for a photo shoot.

THURSDAY 31.05.07 - A travelling day today with the initial target of Taiyain we set off for the bus station. When travelling in China it is critical to have destinations written down in Chinese scripts. After a bus ride of a hour & a half we were in the heart of the huge city with a population of three million people. We decided to continue the journey to our final destination of Wutai Shan - a mountain retreat. We had to connect with a local bus ride to a bus station on the other side of the city, all going far too well. Boarded our bus at 13:40pm & left at 14:00pm. We left the station half full, from here the local scammers took over, we parked up in a city side street where half-fare paying punters & much cargo boarded - our planned start was delayed by an hour.

Our journey was to take 5hrs. firstly through flat farmland which gave way to mountains. The last leg of the journey took us over a snaking pass, we crested the ridge to be confronted by a gate where most of the passengers were made to leave the bus & pay $12:00 entry fee to this scenic mountain area. This was a bit of a shock - China seems always to have the last laugh. We look forward to some good rambling in the coming days.

FRIDAY 01.06.07 - Wutai Shan is the name of the five sacred mountains that form a gigantic ring, at its centre & on the valley floor is the small town of Taiyuan.

We were to spend the next few days exploring some of the many Taoist temples that perch precariously on every peak.

Today was a hot day. Breakfast for us in the is country poses problems - we set off to find a suitable eating house, found one with a Chinese group enjoying their breakfast, however our attempt to order something tasty went astray & we ended up with watery rice soup & a dough ball - yummy!

We left & emerged into the hot sun & spotted a large monastery high up on the east hill & decided to make for it. The going was easy , up along a paved road. We enjoyed an hour exploring this serene place. The views from the courtyard were sublime, all the five sacred peaks were in view.

SATURDAY 02.06.07 - The main tourist attraction in Taiyuan is the main temple & its huge white bottle shaped Stupa 52m high, the largest in China.

We spent the first part of the day along with hundreds of Chinese pilgrims enjoying the temple & all it brings. Just inside the courtyard was a stage upon which was performing a Chinese opera - cats choir came to mind.

Taoist monks flock from all over the country to visit this sacred area & pay their respects.

We left the temple to wander into the hills, we had walked a couple of hours or so & happened upon a solitary dwelling outside of which was an old typically dressed China-man. We helped him a while to sort out some dried beans for the coming growing season, as we left we gave him a string of beads used for uttering prayers. It was so good to be out walking the hills in the refreshingly clean air & we continued to visit another temple all closed up & a shrine high up on a hill in memory to a famous monk. Here we met three young monks who wanted to chat. Views of the valley way below were good.

SUNDAY 03.06.07 - Breakfasts from now on were to be taken in our room from supplies bought in local stores. A restful morning, at about lunchtime we heard the sound of music emanating from a large marquee on the opposite side of the towns river, so decided to investigate. We arrived to the hustle of the market & sat quietly at one of the stalls & enjoyed a beer, people mingled all around us, always happy & friendly. We had appeared to have missed the performance in the marquee. There were many stall selling clothing including plenty of double layered thermal underwear, it must get very cold here in the winter.

Another well visited temple near the town has a cable car connected to it, but for the fit & enthusiastic a flight of many steps, at the foot of these were a few unfortunate souls begging for survival. Yet another alternative means to climb the hill was on horseback & a large group of horses all in prime condition with their handlers waited for fee paying pilgrims.

MONDAY 04.06.07 - Awoke to mist on tops of the mountains which developed into rain then thunder & lightening but soon passed.

Just south of where we were staying is lonely monastery & today we followed the paved path to the top. We enjoyed a quiet time here observing monks & pilgrims worshipping. A classic event here, as I peered into the main temple a lone pilgrim along with a monk were involved in a serene moment when out of the blue the monks mobile phone rang!

Today we had our sights on a distant peak so we set off along the ridge path enjoying the tranquillity, spring flowers & insects were in profusion. On the way we met monks coming in the opposite direction, two of which sat with us a while & chatted, one of them kept smoothing my arm, he seemed to be fascinated by the hairs - that's my story anyway.

We arrived in time at out target peak & had our lunch, below approaching along the route we had taken was a lone young monk singing his heart out as he went. In time he duly arrived & we chatted. These guys seem so at one with their surroundings.

Our return was taken over a different path down steeply into a valley passing a couple of disused farm houses & temple one of which had a temporary resident squatting with his few cattle.

TUESDAY 05.06.07 - We revisited the main temple in the town today, the same opera was in progress with many more pilgrims paying their respects, we had occasion to visit the toilets which were pretty gruesome.

A walk north up the valley alongside the depleted but clean river, had lunch in a small copse out of the hot sun.

In the distance we spotted a small white Stupa on a nearby hill so went for it. Soon we arrived & found a temple in refurbishment.

On our return we were treated to some torrential rain & had to take refuge in, yes you have guessed it a temple.

WEDNESDAY 06.06.07 - Today it was time to move on & a bus ride to Datong our next port of call was planned. We arrived at the bus stop early whereupon we were asked for the fare prior to getting on the bus, breaking every rule in the book we handed over the money & were led like lambs to the slaughter passed a half full bus to an empty one. We sat here like lemons for a while until the penny dropped, we had been selected to leave on a 10am bus & not the 7:30am. Guns blasting we emerged like two demented banshees, a confrontation with the offending guy in the street for all to see, eventually were given our money back & we boarded the early bus.

The bus zigzagged out of the valley north & down the other side leaving the mountains behind. We passed through busy industrial areas where hundreds of huge coal carrying trucks proceeded along the narrow roads. Inevitably a couple overheated which caused a long tailback. We caught sight of a famous temple on the way called the Hanging Monastery perched under the overhang of a cliff.

Arrived Datong 1:30pm. & soon found a good clean room.

THURSDAY 07.06.07 - Had to change money today so caught a local bus to the south end of the city, all went well & we were again in the black.

A visit to a local park was a bit dismal, renovation was in progress Decided to attempt a visit to the famous Datong Locomotive Factory on the south-west outskirts of the city. This factory was the last to manufacture the famous Iron Rooster steam engine in 2004.

We were able to wander the massive grounds for an hour of so & looked in at the many huge hangers where diesel locomotives are now assembled, the smell of heavy engineering works brought back distant memories of the Dockyard. A couple of old steam engine stood sadly beside one hanger.

The long hot walk back just got too much so called in at an eating house for one, two or three beers washed down with a small porcelain bottle of local white spirit, nibbles were provided by the owner. The rest of the walk back to our Hotel went surprisingly well.

FRIDAY 08.06.07 - Today we had planned to visit Yungang Caves, the main tourist attraction around Datong. We hopped on a local bus for the 16km. journey & were dropped at the gate & duly coughed up our entry fee.

The caves are cut into the southern cliffs of Wuzhou Shan next to the pass leading to Inner Mongolia. The caves contain over 50,000 Buddist statues & stretch for about 1km. east to west. On top of the overlooking cliffs are the remains of a huge mud brick 17th. century Qing Dynasty fortress.

In the immediate area are some huge coal mines & dust from the massive trucks once covered the artefacts, until the road was diverted. The spectacle of these caves were one not to be missed.

Apparently near the caves is a small still standing section of the Great Wall, but try as we could we failed to find it. However during our quest we hopped on a bus & travelled another five miles east & were dropped off slap bang in the centre of a coal mining community. Had a great cold beer in a nearby eatery & chatted with the owner & his partner best we could.

We wandered off over a smart road bridge & ended up in another world of clean high rise flats surrounding a well manicured central square. Pictures depicting injured & miners in failing health were all around the perimeter of the square. It seems this place is a retreat for old retired miners.

SATURDAY 09.06.07 - A rest day, a visit to Datong Park, the usual opera singers occupied the bandstand.

A small but great fun park with plenty of simple rides, Caroline dragged me screaming on to a water dipper ride & we managed to get a little wet, much to the amusement of a small crowd who had gathered to watch the foreigners make fools of themselves.

There was a reverse bungee jump too, but not ideally sited beside overhead high voltage cables - but that's China for you. Another amusement & great fun with the children, was a large shallow pool full of goldfish, each punter was given a fishing rod & was able to catch & possibly eat all they aquired.

SUNDAY 10.06.07 - Off to Inner Mongolia today & the city of Hohhot. A rough road to start with which soon developed into a super highway with little traffic. The landscape changed from small mud walled farms to the wide open grasslands Inner Mongolia is famous for.

Occasionally we spotted the odd yurt in the distance (the home of the native nomadic people). We passed a tipped coal lorry, which had wandered off course & ended up in a 5' roadside ditch.

We arrived at Hohhot at midday & escaped the bus station touts to emerge onto the busy streets. The pavements had many ethnic people selling all sorts of strange animal bits, mostly from endangered species e.g. lions claws, rhino horn, antelope antler & tigers penis.

We settled into the best hotel yet at $11:00.

MONDAY 11.06.07 - A visit today to the Inner Mongolian museum, it was well worth the visit. The collection includes a large Mammoth skeleton dug out from a coal mine near Mauzhouli, dinosaurs exhibits, a yurt & excellent array of Mongolian dress. Also artefacts,these included archery equipment & horse saddles, as well as detailed introductions to the other ethnic groups in the province.

On our way back we stopped off at the huge central square & were treated to a massive array of water fountains spurted in time to music - very impressive.

TUESDAY 12.06.07 - Today we bought our bus ticket to Beijing for the 8:30am bus on Thursday, we were helped greatly by a pleasant young English teacher.

With our tickets safely purchased we hopped on a local bus & travelled north to the edge of the city. Our plan was to wander the hills here but for some unknown reason all access seemed to be denied & an endless barbed wire fence with red & white posts stretched for as far as the eye could see. However we did manage to find a break in it & climb to the top to set off on a very pleasant ridge walk. The wind on top was strong but warm. Our route was a gigantic loop & we enjoyed great views of the city & the nearby hills.

A couple of well earned beers before returning to our hotel.

WEDNESDAY 13.06.07 - MY BIRTHDAY - A leisurely awakening & I opened all my cards!

Not much planned today, so we made our way to the main central square, as we approached hundreds of young school children passed us hastily making their way north, they had been attending some sort of ceremony at the square.

On the north fringes of the square a stage was set up & many people were in columns waiting to be presented with awards, most of these people were from the medical profession.

A colourful drumming band sat waiting patiently to perform. In time & to the dramatic theme music of The High Chaparral each nominee was led to the stage to receive their reward - presumably earned for good works in Hohhot. The Chinese certainly know how to reward good work & loyalty, which there is an abundance in China.

We sat a good couple of hours & were entertained by a variety of singers, dancers & musicians. A strong wind blew which made the release of balloons & pigeons very dramatic.

Had a Mc.Donald's for lunch!! Red wine with our evening meal.

THURSDAY 14.06.07 - Time to move on today - to the capital Beijing & we were at the bus station in good time. There was some confusion as to what gate to use but found our vehicle eventually. We set off on time & plain sailing Caroline befriended a young woman & was able to converse with her via a pocket held translator. This venture was to prove most valuable in Beijing. We were only an hour away from our destination when we had to pull over & change a wheel, the water leak from the radiator was duly ignored.

At our destination & for some unknown reason we were dropped off at the side of a bustling city street. Our guardian angel also alighted here, together we jumped on the underground & made our way to the main central train station where there is plenty of budget accommodation. We said farewell to Yu Ling Ling & thanked her for her invaluable help.

FRIDAY 15.06.07 - Move on today after cashing our travellers cheques in the only place left The Bank of Communications Beijing. We hopped on the Metro & for 3yuan duly arrived in the cities financial centre, huge skyscrapers surrounded us. After much red tape we had cash in hand so hopped back on the Metro for a ride to Dongzhumeu bus station. It took us quite some time to locate the bus to Chengde - our pronunciation not ringing any bells with who ever we asked.

Our rather shabby bus only a couple more passengers on it. Happy with our lot we settled down for our ride, but China being China this wasn't to be. We had only journeyed a few blocks when we were told to get off & join another even shabbier full bus, even the drop-down seats between rows were occupied. The driver was a little erratic so our trip was a little nail biting. We left the sprawl of the city behind us south & drove through some dramatic mountains arriving at Chengde at 3pm.

SATURDAY 16.06.07 - Always prudent in this country to secure the next journey early to accommodate any hick-ups. After much frustration we made our way to the bus station on the south outskirts of the city only to be told "buy ticket tomorrow". A little disappointed we caught a local bus to the city centre.

The main tourist attraction in Chengde is the Imperial Summer Villa, this park covers some 590 hectares & is bound by a 10km. 10' high wall, surprise surprise! For the two of us entry would have cost $24:00 so thought better of it, however hundreds of Chinese tourists appeared to be oblivious to this admission cost which to us bore no comparison to the everyday cost of living in China.

We next hopped on a bus to Puning Temple & enjoyed a walk in the hills. As we climbed the small path along the way we passed groups of young people sitting under the trees just enjoying each others company. The path we were following ran out some 100m from the summit but we enjoyed fine views over the city & surrounding countryside. On the skyline to the north east we could see a gigantic upstanding rock, on checking our guide book it is known as Club Rock.

SUNDAY 17.06.07 - First job of the day was to purchase our bus tickets to Beidaihe so a return to the bus station, & mission accomplished.

Club Rock was our target for today, we caught the bus to Pule Temple, all the usual tourist trappings around the gate.

In time we located a track leading towards Club Rock which we could just see in the far distance. As we started up the track it wasn't long before warnings of imminent payment appeared on notices. Pre-empting the approach of the dreaded ticket booth I branched off north looping around access gate, however the loop wasn't long enough before I was spotted & had to admit defeat whereupon I was ejected from the area. Both Caroline & I were aggrieved at not being able to walk free in the hills so decided to attempt a larger loop to the north, this time success was ours & after negotiating a deep vegetative valley found a hole in the barbed wire fence. We decided to sit a while to allow the heat cool off. While sitting we spotted movement in the valley below & soon two young Chinese couples arrived who had had the same idea. In time we made it to the main path & continued like any other paying guest.

We had a great day, & enjoyed visiting the huge Club Rock before looping around & descending along the general line of the massive chair lift. A couple of beers went down a treat.

MONDAY 18.06.07 - A rest day today, we visited the city & enjoyed a walk alongside a depleted Wulie River, where many locals were catching tiny silver fish.

In the afternoon an elderly gent allowed me to take charge in flying his kite in the park. The kite flew high above the neighbouring skyscrapers. Whilst I was busy with the kite he started another on its way.

TUESDAY 19.06.07 - Always awake before the alarm clock & up at 5:30am. Noisy taxi drivers were gathering outside our room collecting like jackal's waiting the arrival of the overnight train from Beijing.

Today we were to travel to the coast at Beidaihi.

The bus left on time & we enjoyed a great ride through dramatic mountainous terrain following the courses of a couple of rivers. Eventually we left the alps behind us & moved into a more industrial setting, passing two gigantic steel mills. We were dropped off on the outskirts of Beidaihi, a beach resort for the well to do. We knew the coast was south so continued our journey on foot some two miles until the sea came into view. We managed to secure a room but the cost reflected this beach resort, we only booked in for two nights, will investigate hopefully a more reasonable room tomorrow.

WEDNESDAY 20.06.07 - Today we planned a walk east along the coast. At the end of the beach was a collection of some forty fishing boats, many police were in evidence & were checking some of the boats, we stayed a while to observe but never did learn the full story. We continued our walk & passed rod fishermen & women on the rocks. Soon we came face to face with a fence & a lookout post, there was a hole in the fence that local people were using so we did also. Sandy shale soon became a large jagged headland, a couple were busy harvesting seaweed for their meal tonight.

Much clambering & scrambling brought us to a rocky pool & a swim seemed a good idea, we were both changed & were about to plunge into the Yellow Sea when we were startled by the words "No PRIVATE - Chinese Army". We turned to see an armed guard who motioned for us to retreat, not wanting to retrace our steps over the rough terrain we persuaded him to escort us to through the army compound to the nearest road access - at least we avoided jail & a major diplomatic incident.

The afternoon was spent swimming & watching the many Russian tourists enjoying the segregated beach.

THURSDAY 21.06.07 - A move up town today to a more reasonable room, so hopped on a local bus for the two mile trip.

After settling in we decided to visit the beach & enjoy a couple of restful hours in the sun. A strong onshore wind blew which made the people enjoying pedalos work quite hard.

We walked the full length of the beach & at the far end enjoyed another swim. The sun was deceptively hot.

A small purpose built harbour was nearby & we wandered around many old fishing boats, the water was stained rusty brown.

We found a great eating house with cheerful friendly staff to enjoy a couple of cold beers & freshly prepared peanuts.

FRIDAY 22.06.07 - A lazy awakening & breakfast in our room - locally made yogurt in unique porcelain pots.

What we thought was a small coastal village Qinhuarigdao a short bus ride away proved to be a huge bustling city, so we retreated on the bus & stopped off half way at some huge sand flats. The area was similar to that of Morecombe Bay & like Morecombe Bay many people were harvesting cockles.

We tried to have a swim but had to walk such a long way out to find decent water depth.

A walk along the beach south & we spotted a large flock of birds at the waters edge, feeding amongst them were egrets, large terns & small waders.

After our evening meal we strolled down to the beach which was floodlit - we were able to watch many Chinese tourists sampling the seaside for the first time, all were acting like excited children.

SATURDAY 23.06.07 - A visit to Nandaihe today some 5km. north. We left the bus & were immediately engulfed by noisy touts wanting to ferry us the 1km. walk to the coast, needless to say we made our own way to the resort.

A one hundred & twenty chair chairlift was in operation transferring visitors a couple of miles out to sea to an island on which was a huge high tower & helter skelter. From the top of the tower bungee jumpers occasionally leapt from a platform on top & were recovered via a boat.

We found a quiet spot between some fishing boats & enjoyed a warm swim.

After lunch we walked north along the beach through a very busy area, the water was crowded with bathers all wearing rubber rings, very strange sight to see grown men & women wearing these.

SUNDAY 24.06.07 - Another day at Nandaihe beach much like yesterday. However the bus ride out was abruptly halted by the need to change the fan belt. We were then taken the rest of the way by the following bus.

After our evening meal we strolled through a purpose built pedestrian area, all new & well kept. We sat a while to watch the world go by. The spot we selected to sit was where a few ladies had marked out an area to sell trinkets with an old rope. A group of four policemen approached & after much shuffling the rope was recovered, only to be replaced when the officers had gone.

MONDAY 25.06.07 - Move on today to Shanhaiguan & hours bus ride north. Shanhaiguan is where the Gt.Wall of China meets the east coast. We arrived at 11:00am. & after securing a room we set off for the rest of the day. We thought we would check out the Gt.Wall at the coast for our visit tomorrow. However not knowing where exactly to get off the bus we over ran the stop by about 20kms. & ended up at the outskirts of Qintiuangdao almost back where we had started this morning. After jumping back on the bus we were soon at the Gt.Wall scenic area.

A high fence rings this tourist attraction & the whole sandy coastline is prohibited to the locals - this is a great shame! Followed by a number of taxi drivers & a woman we set off to find a way around the fence. We ended up walking 5kms. until we found a chink in the defences - an open gate. Cautiously we crept through half expecting angry dogs to pounce, however all was quiet & we made our way back & along the coast passing a small fishing boat harbour.

We stopped at a small sandy beach at the side of a fast flowing inlet to the harbour, our progress was slowed somewhat due to five Chinese men swimming in the nude. We were able to have a swim as the tide crept slowly in. During our stay here we saw many cockle pickers returning from their days work, some were being ferried by returning fishing boats.

TUESDAY 26.06.07 - A visit to the Great Wall today, a restored section which meets the east coast. A local bus dropped us at the site & we duly coughed up our entry fee. In the 16th. century when the Great Wall was in operation some 1000 men were garrisoned here. Not many tourists roamed the ramparts & we enjoyed the spectacle. Where the wall met the ocean many years ago a dragons head was carved, hence its present name of Old Dragons Head. An original section was encased behind glass.

A beautiful beach lay to the south & we spent 2-3hrs. enjoying the solitude & warmth of the sea. We wondered why no one else was swimming then we noticed the numerous signs 'No Swimming'.

WEDNESDAY 27.06.07 - Time to organise our final trip to Beijing so off to the railway station to buy a ticket, it wasn't until later we realised our tickets were for standing only, so we marched back to the station for a refund. We did not fancy four hours standing on a crowded train.

Within the old city wall of Shanhaiguan much renovation & building work is in progress, all the original dwellings have been removed, paving the way for a tourist haven in the future!

After our evening meal we were slowly making our way back to our room, when we noticed a couple of Europeans, sheltering from the rain. We stopped to say hello & ended up having a drink or two with them in a local restaurant, we seemed to have so much in common, they have travelled extensively & had been to many of the places we had. Home to bed at 11:30pm. dirty stop outs!

THURSDAY 28.06.07 - Where the Great Wall climbs its first real peak on its way west is known as Jiao Shan & this was today's excursion.

Had to use a taxi to journey the 8km. north. Y30 admission fee & we payed up. The renovated Great Wall climbs steeply towards the top of the mountain & we walked with it to the summit. Such a gargantuan feat constructing a 12m high wall over such difficult terrain. A cable car operated for the less able. A monastery sits near the top & further on a view point from which we had magnificent all round clear views.

In the valley on the other side was a reservoir from which another huge chair lift was operating. We thoroughly enjoyed our Great Wall experience here. We walked back to the city stopping off at a great beer house full of locals, mostly women playing Mahjong. We sat quietly in the midst of about a dozen people for about an hour.

FRIDAY 29.06.07 – The return journey to Beijing today, we hopped on a local bus No33 to Qinhuangdao where the Beijing bus operates. On arrival we jumped straight on an air-conditioned bus & waited our departure. At 8:10am. on time we were off, all going too smoothly! About two hours into the journey Caroline noticed the driver rubbing his eyes & yawning a lot, he had a wet towel which he kept rubbing his brow with. I was so pleased Caroline had shared this information with me, from now on we were both concerned & on tender hooks. We stopped for a toilet break & Caroline used this opportunity to air her concerns to the driver who instantly dismissed them. More tender hooks & more yawning but thankfully at midday we pulled into one of the many Beijing bus stations safely.

We hopped on the metro & rode it to our hotel in the Wangfujing area, which had been recommended by the young couple we had met in Shanhaiguan.

SATURDAY 30.06.07 – Heavy rain all day today. Our plan was to visit the famous Tiananmen Square & surrounding area. We stalled our visit in the hope the rain would stop but eventually had to bite the bullet. We arrived at the largest public square in the whole of China if not the world. Had to purchase an umbrella from one of the many hawkers who were taking advantage of the inclement weather. The square itself is on a north – south axis & entered from the south through the Front Gate. At its centre is Chairman Mau’s Mausoleum where the body of the famous Chinese leader lies in state. At the north end lies the Gate Of Heavenly Peace, behind which is the Forbidden City. Here congregate most of the tourists of which we estimate are half a million a day. A moat surrounds the wall of the old city & we strolled beside it. The Forbidden City had been off limits to ordinary folk for 500 years, now we had a chance to visit.

SUNDAY 01.07.07 – What a difference a day makes, we awoke to hot bright sunshine. We visited Tiananmen Square again today in order to take a look at the Mausoleam, but unfortunately it was closed for renovation work in preparation for the 2008 Olympics.

Off to Beijing Zoo & had a great day roaming around a well-kept site, generally the animals were in good shape. We joined the queue at the gate & were dreading how many people would actually be in the Zoo, but once inside we were pleasantly surprised at it not being too crowded. Tired we left at 4pm.

MONDAY 02.07.07 – A visit to Beijing’s Botanical Gardens, a peaceful day enjoying the many plants both exotic & ones we have at home. The national flower of China is the Peony & this plant was especially well represented, unfortunately we had just missed the flowering season. After our ramble around the grounds we enjoyed a quiet sit in a pagoda overlooking a lily pond.

After a couple of cold beers in a local eating house we caught the two busses back which took us an hour, it took us another hour to change back excess Chinese money into sterling.

TUESDAY 03.07.07 – The flight home generally went to plan; we were pampered by our German hosts with a couple of films, food & drink whilst on board. However we had to catch a connecting flight from Frankfurt to London Heathrow & the times were a little tight, we made it with the help of airport staff but our luggage didn’t. We spent the night in London with friends Rod & Mona to return in the morning for our haversacks. We were put through vigorous security checks to enter the left luggage department much to Caroline’s disgust.

Arrived home to dear old Horrabridge at 3pm.

NORTHERN INDIA

      

27th.October to 30th.November 2005

Monday 1st.November 2005. - The flight to New Delhi took nine hours, stopping off in transit at Kuwait, arriving 5:30am. Getting from the airport to the city centre 25kms was as expected tedious, until the going rate was established. Arrived at the centre & found accommodation. Such commotion rickshaws, taxis & busses honking to clear the way. Much poverty was in evidence with beggars & mal-nourished children roaming the streets. The heat from the sun bearing down on us.

Sunday 2nd. - Next day we had a 3km walk through the bustling narrow streets to Old Delhi railway station & after much confusion bought two tickets to Varnarsi our next planed port of call, we thought. On the way we got a little lost & ended up tramping along open railway lines in the company of holy cattle.

Monday 3rd. - We visited one of the cities tourist attractions – the Red Fort. This fortification was once owned by the British & handed back to the Indian government in 1947. The entry fee for foreigners was five times that of the locals.

Tuesday 4th. - A visit to India’s national zoo, unfortunately we picked a holiday Sunday, however a pleasant but tiring day spent wandering the well kept grounds. All the animals seemed in good health. We were consuming two litres of liquid a day & not passing any. On our journey back we stopped off at India Gate a massive epitaph erected to commemorate souls lost in past wars fighting with us. Thousands of visitors were enjoying the sunshine & pleasant surroundings.

We thought it prudent to check our rail tickets for tomorrow to see if all OK, here the fun started. As we approached the rail station we were approached by a chap who informed us we needed to confirm our tickets at booth 39. On our way we were once again accosted by a second tout who led us away like lambs to the slaughter across the road to a travel agent (Decent Tours). We were plied with cups of tea & almost parted with six hundred pounds for a complete tour of India, but sense in the end prevailed, however we did fork out one hundred & thirty seven pounds for a new ticket to Darjeeling apparently we had bought a third class ticket instead of a two tier air conditioned sleeper. We left shell-shocked & it wasn’t until we thought things through in our hotel room that we were convinced we had been ripped off big time. No ticket & no money, just a dodgy receipt. No sleep that night going over every scenario over & over again. Morning dawned & we packed our sacks hoping the journey to Darjeeling was still on, even though we had no tickets.

We made our way to what we thought was the agents office but in a blue haze couldn’t find the correct office amidst the mass. We entered a couple of wrong ones & were convinced rooms had been shifted; we even knocked on the walls. Eventually we found the right office & with both barrels blazing & having written off the money we crashed into the managers office & set about delving through his receipts to find ours but no sign. Much huffing & puffing on our part the manager produced the tickets & a refund of seventy pounds. We were on our way to Darjeeling at 2pm.

Wednesday 5th. - Overnight sleeper to NJP & bus following most of the time the toy train track (which would have taken us nine hours) we arrived in Darjeeling dark & raining. The temperature dropped dramatically.

In the morning we set about the complicated procedure of obtaining our entry permits to the independent state of Sikkim. Much to-ing & frowing & a couple of hours later we had succeeded – all manual – no computers.

Thursday 6th. - Jeep ride to Gangtock which was to take 4hrs. but due to a landslide took six. Arrived at 2pm. & were soon settled into our hotel with panoramic views of the deep vegetative valleys neatly planted with tea.

Friday 7th. - Sight seeing in a safe atmosphere was now enjoyed, we now have time to chill out a little. Good news beer is 70p a litre & is 8% proof.

We visited Tibetan monasteries & temples, learning about Tibetan culture.

Saturday 8th. - We awoke to sunshine & the view WNW revealed the show capped mountain of Mt.Khangchendzonga, India’s highest peak & the worlds third highest.

We embarked on a tour to Tsomogo Lake some 25kms away, but as is the norm in Sikkim we had to obtain a day pass signed by everyone except Michael Jackson.

A hair raising drive snaking up to 12,700’ passing through many military units here to protect from a Chinese invasion.

At the lake we were a little disappointed at not being able to wander more. Rain cut the trip short plus it being very cold just like Dartmoor in the mist.

Tourists were able to take short rides on brightly decorated Yaks.

Back at the hotel we were cordially invited to spend an evening with a number of families from Assam a nearby state. A birthday party with cake & whiskey. We enjoyed a truly memorable evening.

Sunday 9th. - A devastating earth-quake had hit Pakistan & North India so set off to email all that we were safe & well.

The rest of the day we spent roaming the city, which sits on the slopes of very steep hills. We visited a flower show with only stalks – the orchid season had finished. We also visited a monastery, a lot of young boy monks about all a bit suspect.

An evening stroll found us at a temporary temple decorated ornately, we were allowed into the crowded assembly & learned also that the chief minister of Sikkim was attending.

Monday 10th. - Our original plan to return to Darjeeling was floored, no spare seats, so we set off to Rumtek across the valley some 30kms away. Found a clean & quiet hotel & set off to explore the famous monastery here. Still having time in the day we started S along the road & soon came across another monastery, this one not visited by the tourists. We wandered around & sat on the front temple steps & were treated to the sounds of the Tibetan monks chanting prayers & banging very large drums. A young monk offered an orange; we must have looked poor & malnourished.

Tuesday 11th. - Another attempt to get to Darjeeling failed miserably so bought a bus ticket to Siliguri. On route a boy was caught on the roof top luggage rack of the bus & we wondered whether we would have haversacks at the end of the trip, but all OK.

Siliguri was busy in the middle of a very important nine-day festival known as Punja – lots of people & temporary ornately decorated temples.

Wednesday 12th. - More problems with rail tickets but this one took only five hours to sort out. We were at the rail station at 3pm for a 5pm take off, silly us; we eventually left at 8pm. A sleeper train & we arrived Varanasi at 10am.

Thursday 13th. - Vananasi is a very bustling city & the most holy situated on the banks of the massive Ganges. After some frustration & stress we made to the quieter end of the town known as Cantonment located a good clean hotel & bed early to catch up.

Friday 14th. - Early to bed & early to rise & into battle with the intensive interest from the locals wanting to relieve us of our money. A motorised rickshaw to the centre & walked to the Ganges river bank some 2kms N of the main Ghat (worshipping area) We were faced with a gigantic spanse of water some three-quarter of a mile across. Bathing & cooling in the murky waters was a large heard of water buffalo. Locals were busy washing their clothes having to wade ankle deep in mud. Clothes were then laid out to dry on the hard mud. As Caroline posed for a photo one of the men took exception & tossed a couple of lumps of mud, hitting her on the shoulder. We set off along the river bank S walking along a flattened muddy path, the smell was putrid but still many pilgrims were immersing themselves in the so called holy but polluted waters. The river was about half full & funeral remains floated their way down stream towards the sea. In a couple of kms. our way was blocked & we had to climb a steep set of steps to enter the old city. The streets here are only 8’ wide, so no rickshaws only pedestrians & the odd motor bike. In time as we neared the centre the streets became crowded & on either side were many small stall units selling all manner of wares from bangles to rat traps.

In time we arrived at the main Ghat & sat a while on the temple steps drinking in the whole strange atmosphere. Holy men lay prostrate & others were dunking themselves in the waters. The day was scorching & the smells unforgettable.

Saturday 15th. – The thing to do when in Varnasi is to rise early & be on the bank of the Ganges for day break – who’s idea was that. An unsettled night having not set the alarm, up at 4:30am & crept from the hotel, needless to say a motor rickshaw driver was there waiting. We were dropped off at the main Ghat at 5:15am a hazy morning so no signs of a sunrise. Throngs of people were gathered, pilgrims & tourists. The other thing to do is to catch a boat ride against the flow of the river & observe the whole spectacle. Trust us penny pinching as usual we hired a boat captained by a ninety year old, had to help somewhat to help him move, after a short while we agreed to ride the current back, Fireworks & offering effigies into the murky waters plus everyone immersing themselves in the holy waters.

The rest of the day was spent wandering around the Hindi University sited in vast green grounds & at its centre a Vishwnath Temple. Dutifully we took off our shoes to explore, on our return our shoes had vanished, a bit of huffing & puffing & the shoe walla had hidden them in the bushes because we had neglected to leave them with him – we will take our shoes with us next time.

Sunday 16th. – A visit to the nearby town of Sarnath, had to walk a mile or so along a street with many poor families living in tents, their children bare foot & naked & constantly begged us for money. Around the town we visited a number of temples, Tibetan, Japanese & Hindu. We also visited a museum full of stone effigies of Budha.

Monday 17th. – Had to draw some money, so in time walked a mile or so to a bank previously noted only to be told the only bank to change travellers cheques was right next door to our hotel. Had a cooked lunch & caught the sleeper train to Agra – the city of the Taj Mahal.

Tuesday 18th. – We arrived in Agra at 10am. Tea in India is served in tiny clone pots, which are then disposed of only being used the once, quite a surprise in such a waste-less society. Agra is the mother of all hassle – Agra must be short for aggression, so we hit the streets prepared for all events. Managed to get a cheap ride to our hotel but at a price later the rickshaw driver arrived at our hotel room door requesting further rides throughout our visit. Spent the rest of the day looking over Agra Fort built in the 15th. Century & becoming a prison in the 16th.

Wednesday 19th. – Had to dispatch a cricket in the night, which mimicked a squeaky fan. Today we had planned a visit to the Taj Mahal but were shuddering at the thought of forking out twenty quid. At the huge gate we paid our dues & were given a bottle of water. Foreigners’ ten-pound locals pay 50p. However the spectacle of such a beautiful marble structure was truly magnificent. Hundreds of visitors were clambering around it. Built in 1653 by Emperor Shah Jahon for his wife who died giving birth to her fourteenth child. After our visit we had lunch at a neighbouring restaurant in their roof top garden with clear views of the Taj Mahal.

Thursday 20th. – Today we caught the local bus to Fatehpur Sikri to see a magnificent fortified ghost city which was the capitol of the Mughal Empire between 1571 & 1585 during the reign of emperor Akbar.

Arrived to find the entry fee to be five pound each so decided to wander around the free bits. Persistence in the end won through; we found a back door & enjoyed a wander around the emperor’s palace with all the paying tourists.

Made a big mistake on the bus ride home, had my arm out of the window & didn’t see a fellow passenger in front spit out of his window, yes you guessed it the sputum landed on my elbow – give the man his due he did wipe my arm clean with his hand.

Friday 21st. – Time to move on, so caught the bus to Bharatpur, found a good clean lodge & set off to explore the city. We were pleasantly surprised at such a friendly society, everyone found us an attraction & all greeted us with enthusiasm & no requests for money – a pleasant contrast from the tourist trap of Agra.

Saturday 22nd. – We hired a couple of bikes & set off to visit Keolaeo National Park – bird paradise. Caroline was a little apprehensive for the last bike she rode crashed into a tree in Thailand. In the past the park was extensively hunted for wild fowl & boar but in 1965 it became a wildlife reserve & is now enjoyed by many.

A metalled road dissects the park in two with vast lakes on either side. A large colony of Painted Storks was noisily nesting in an offshore mangrove clump. Each nest had three large grey ugly chicks standing like old men. A Painted Stork is a massive bird with a wingspan in excess of 8’ – all good day all in all with masses of bird sightings.

Sunday 23rd. – A three-hour dusty bus ride to Jaipur arriving at 10am. Jaipur is a large city & very busy hence the air quality was poor. Being a Sunday we had difficulty in finding an Internet facility open but won through in the end.

A cold beer in our room always goes down well after a hot & dusty day.

Monday 24thAt the centre of Jaipur is the old walled city its fortified walls pink – hence its name the Pink City. We visited the palace at its centre & a unique observatory. There were many large sundials standing & precisely scaled. This park holds the largest Sundial in the world & its shadow moves one segment every 20min. its possible to determine accurate time even today.

As is the case we always seem to attract attention & this time we sat & chatted to a large group young lads who were on a trip from the west coast near Pakistan.

During the walk back through the city we spotted a very young bare foot lad about 4years old sitting quietly with a selection of old nails neatly arranged in front of him. It had to be done I approached him & bought a bent nail for 10Rs. Bewildered & stunned he eventually agreed & the transaction was complete – a budding Richard Branson!

Tuesday 25thOff on a local bus for the 13kms ride to the Amber Palace. We stepped off the bus & were greeted with the sight of eight elephants being scrubbed & pampered in the lake. Both owners & elephants were enjoying the experience – it was good to be so close to such magnificent & gentle creatures. With elephant poo on our shoes we climbed to the palace, which sits on the hill NW of the lake. Enjoyed an amble around here, which was once a place of splendour.

In he afternoon we continued the climb to the top of the hill where sits Amber Fort, within its wall is housed the largest cannon on wheels in the world. It weighs 50 tons & takes 100kgs of powder for one shot & has a range of 22 miles.

India seems to have a last surprise of the day - during the last city bus ride a group of six young gypsy women boarded carrying young babies all had broad smiles. So they began beating their drums & gesturing Indian dancing with their arms – we just had to join in. A good-natured bunch, all the children happy & the youngest being occasionally fed from the breast.

Wednesday 26th. – A visit to the science park – a well-designed & engineered outside display with many working models showing the basics of science. Again at one point we had about fifty rural Indians around us – not speaking just staring.

Nearing the end of our visit we were invited in to take a look at projects compiled by some very bright youngsters who enthusiastically demonstrated their work. We were treated like royalty & were asked to comment in their workbooks.

THURSDAY 27thA bus ride to Ajmer & then on to Pushkar arriving at lunchtime. This is a very holy town built around a holy lake. Signs are erected around the town to advise visitors not to eat non-vegetarian meals, drink alcohol, no caressing in public, no drugs or eating of eggs. Sounds like a bundle of laughs here!

Nearly got caught up with the filming of a Bollywood movie on the shores of the lake.

Friday 28thPushkar seems relatively hassle free & we enjoyed roaming its narrow streets, camels & cows a familiar sight.

We sat beside the lake & watched a couple of black & white kingfishers fishing.

Stopped off to look at a brand new Sikh temple expense no object. A service was taking place & we sat quietly in the tranquil atmosphere of the massive marble hall with eight finely dressed priests chanting. As we left the complex we chatted to a couple of wood-carvers busy expertly carving teak doors. The temple is expected to be complete in 2007 & was started in 1999.

Saturday 29th. - No particular plans for today, so after breakfast we set off for a walk N along a sandy road, a few camels grazing on depleted grass. From a vantagepoint yesterday we had seen vast tent cities & we intended to check one out. In time we found one run by a father & son team, we were invited in & given tea & a guided tour. The most luxurious was $120:00 a night, all tents had three rooms & installed plumbing. The object of these huge tented areas was to accommodate rich westerners who wish to visit the world famous week long Pushkar camel festival.

During our walk back a four-wheeled drive jeep stopped & offered us a lift to the nearby city of Ajmer – it was from our new found friend Bharat who had his own driver. We accepted & spent a very pleasant couple of hours exploring the city & museums.

Sunday 30th. - With early morning news of three bomb attacks in Delhi we set off to buy a newspaper but failed. We past a camel & cart with a gaggle of women gathered around. We investigated & watched flour milling in progress on the cart. Caroline chipped in, I’m sure this was the hardest they had seen a western lady work around here.

Preparation for the coming festival of Diwalli India’s biggest annual celebration – many large explosive fireworks are set off mostly by young children.

Monday 31st. - Caught the bus to Udaipur another city by a lake, a couple of shocking road traffic accidents on the way. Arrived at 3pm & found a lodging house – not too good. Whilst out for our evening meal we found more acceptable accommodation & tomorrow would move in.

Tuesday 1st. – Festival Day. - Settled into our new room early & were pleased.

We took a trip to the lakeside, which is manmade, as is the case in India many locals were using the waters for clothes washing & cleaning themselves. As we walked we were wished happy Diwali. Not feeling 100% we decided to call in at a German Bakery to indulge ourselves on date & walnut slice & a fresh cup of coffee.

Tonight was to be the noisiest we were to experience – loud & I mean loud explosions all night, when they eventually eased at 4am a gigantic sound system was switched on in a street nearby. We decided to move on once again.

Wednesday 2nd. - A day confined to barracks both listless & with flu symptoms, our new room was spacious & a little quieter. We caught up with lost sleep from last night.

Thursday 3rd. - Still not in tip top shape we spent another half day resting but today we needed to change money so set off for the city centre to find a bank.

Friday 4th. - With a good nights sleep & the flu symptoms easing we set of from the lakeside palace complex & took a boat on Lake Pichola. At the centre of this lake are two islands one of which has an exclusive hotel. A very pleasant calm cruise & were able to land on one of the islands – Jagmandir.

Our energies returning we had a long walk in the afternoon S along the lakeside & enjoyed a rare lone walk. The culmination of which was a climb to Eklinggarh (fort), had to stop a few times but arrived safely. From the summit we were treated to magnificent views of the lake to the W & the city to the E.

Whilst resting in a park busy with visitors many of which just cannot help themselves staring at us, one lady walked into a tree, we both laughed out loud.

Saturday 5th. - Today we planned a trip to nearby village called Shilpgram, this village had been specifically set up to give an insight to tourists regarding how the ethnic tribes of India live now & times gone by.

Before we left for the walk we secured two bus tickets to our next port of call Mt.Abu tomorrow.

A very hot day but we enjoyed the 5km. walk to Shilpgram walking beside tranquil lakes, we caught sight of green bee-eaters & terns busy pairing up on an island.

Shilpgram village was interesting & we enjoyed the colourful demonstrations of the rural Indian peoples. There was an English film crew working on a project filming a musical band & dancers.

Sunday 6th. - The ride to Mt.Abu was to take us six hours, we had been allocated the last two seats in the bus, hence a very bumpy ride at the back.

Mt.Abu is a gigantic 27km. by 6km. sandstone plateau, rising from the flat plains of Rajasthan, we zig zagged up the steep hill to our destination, arriving at 2pm. A bit of a shock, everywhere we tried for a room seemed fully booked & the few room available were double the price that we had been paying throughout India. Primarily the Indians use Mt.Abu for their holidays & prices reflected this. Some stress & much bartering we secured an average room.

The resort was teaming with holidaymakers, at the hub of the town is rather a pretty lake, on which half the population of India seemed to be enjoying themselves boating. We enjoyed a comparatively quiet walk around the lake. A huge toad shaped sandstone boulder sat on the mountainside as if about to plunge into the water.

Monday 7th. - In-order to visit the highest peak in Rajasthan on the plateau Guru Shikhar we had to take a shared jeep with three other Indian families – all spoke good English. We had to endure countless visits to Hindi Temples which are frequently perched high on hillsides. These Temples are strange to western ideas, with a big build up then when inside the altar & idols seem tatty & cheap, but locals all seem eager to pay homage. The whole trip was for us a religious marathon until at last we arrived at the highest peak, yes you guessed it at the summit – a Temple but here also was a rather splendid large brass bell which was being frequently being struck by the many visitors. Great views of the plateau & the Plains below were enjoyed.

Tuesday 8th. - A walk across country was planned for today, so with a packed lunch we set off for the start, north of the lake, here was a Temple & signs warning visitors not to wander into lonely places – too late we were on our way. Armed with a sturdy stick we started the climb along a jungle track to the ridged way above, here was a cave & standing quietly outside was holy man. We were duly invited into his dwelling which was cool & very simple, laying on some old news papers was a small selection of vegetables, we added a banana from our packed lunch. Meditation was his prime reason for living such an existence, we tried to join in but the lack of email facilities was a real problem for me. We left him in peace & continued on our way. Following compass & jungle tracks we enjoyed a great day out – the threat of being attacked by gypsies soon faded.

Wednesday 9th. - Having enjoyed our stay here at Mt.Abu today it was time to move on to Jodhpur & bus ride of some seven hours. Arrived on the outskirts of the city at 3pm. This is always the most stressful time of any journey being dropped off not knowing where one is. The rickshaw drivers seem to sense a travellers panic & before long there becomes a tourist feeding frenzy.

We managed to get a ride to the old city and secure an average room.

Thursday 10th. - Another city & much more to see so set off for the day north through the old city ambling through the narrow streets. A young man tempted us with offers of cheap internet connection so we followed his instructions to his café & restaurant, we had a good couple of hours touching base then enjoyed a very relaxing time with a couple of beers on the roof top terrace. We were made so welcome we stayed for lunch.

At 2pm. We set off for a walk to the ridge north of the city where stands a magnificent fort & mausoleum. We needed more time to explore the fort so decided to check out the Taj Mahal type mausoleum. A very very hot afternoon but enjoyable, investigating this magnificent white marble structure Jaswant Thada.

The walk back was interrupted by seeing a large crowd of bystanders huddled over a deep & dark disused well, where we were told a couple of days ago a young boy had fallen in & lost his life.

Friday 11th. - Today we were to visit a village 10kms. North of the city called Mandore Garden. We jumped on a local bus & in a half an hour were at the garden gate & were greeted by some friendly monkeys. Mandore was the capital of Marwar prior to the formation of Jodphur, a pleasant day wandering around ancient artefacts & temples. We found ourselves as we would in a lonely location some 3kms. North of the most visited sites & were amazed to find a collection of Stuppas enclosed by a high wall – we wandered around & saw no-one else only a local family & a few goats – such a rare sight & no visitors.

Saturday 12th. – Today we had planned to visit Jodhpur’s main attraction Nehrangarth Fort 1459AD. After we started the long hot climb to the fort gate, after paying the entrance fee we were given audio equipment which at strategic points around the tour described features in the immediate vacinity.

The fort had never been breached by the enemy, one of its strengths was a pair of gigantic reinforced wood & steel gates armed with sturdy 6" steel spikes to deter elephant attack. The corridor leading to the entrance was designed with a hairpin bend to stop attacking elephants building speed & pressure against the doors. A very interesting & educational tour. We finished the exploration with a stroll along the ramparts, which were festooned with cannons. Views of the city below were predominately coloured blue hence its name the Blue City.

Sunday 13th. – Today we moved on to Jaisalmer, a 6hr. bus ride through the Thar Desert. We passed many villages surviving in a very inhospitable region. The houses were in clusters & straw roofed enclosed by a scrub fence. The main livestock were goats & camels, which graze on what appears to be nothing but sand.

Arrived at Jaisalmer & booked into a rather nice hotel, unusual for India. After a meal we took a short stroll to the old city & a simple fair ground the main attraction being a massive swing boat & seemed to give all the punters huge thrills.

Monday 14th. – Today we arrived by chance at Salim Singh Ki Haveli, a five storey, extraordinary mansion commanding the skyline of the old city. It was built some 200 years ago by Salim Singh a powerful Prime Minister of Maharaja Gaj Singh. The Haveli (house) begins with narrow dimensions at the base then suddenly spreads outwards with a projecting balcony on its top storey. It is distinguished by the blue cupolas on its arched roof. We had a guided tour of this old dwelling & were shown secret wall safes, beautiful carved sandstone screens. The building construction is made with Lego style interlocking stone work & no cement. T discourage would be invaders all the internal door-ways were tiny & the stone stairs varied in height so interlopers could be heard heavy footing their way up. All in all a very interesting visit for 15Rs. (20p).

Tuesday 15th. – After breakfast we set off for a walk to Jaisalmer’s Gordsisar Lake – a beautiful unspoiled lake bordered with the inevitable temples. At the moment it is full & in times gone by could have kept the city in water for 3yrs. After a pleasant walk around the shore we struck off into the desert – we came across a small dwelling with no roof & sitting out of the sun was a dog so we crept nervously away. We returned to the lakeside & enjoyed a couple of hours watching many brightly coloured birds feeding.

Wednesday 16th. – At 3pm we had signed up for a camel safari, we set off with our guide Lucky in a rather nice four wheeled drive vehicle & were driven some 45kms west into the Thar Desert.

On the way we stopped off at a village & were shown some rather simple dwellings. A walled courtyard & a couple of small thatched buildings built by the owners & daubed with a mixture of camel dung & sand. The courtyard was meticulously clean & tidy. We were asked to take along sweets for the village children – not a good idea in our opinion – but nevertheless we conformed – but mass excitement by the children over-flowed into greed, leaving a legacy of more begging in the future. We stopped off at one more village on our way to the Safari Centre. At the Centre we were greeted by the owner with a cup of tea flavoured with Cardinam – rather tasty if a little sweet.

A large purpose built lodge to house tourists who were keen to ride camels & explore the Thar Desert. Whilst drinking our tea we noticed large dung beetles wandering around the enclosure, presumably looking for camel dung. After our tea we were escorted to our mounts – a couple of handsome camels. Caroline was a little apprehensive about the ride but all power to her she mounted her female beast & was hoisted high as the camel stood up. It was my turn, my camel was a male & rather handsome. With us both safely riding Lucky snapped a couple of photos. Leading the camels were a couple of young lads who looked after us admirably. We set off towards the sand dunes, stopping off on the way at a bush laden with red berries which we were invited to try. We continued the ride, following Caroline’s camel was a baby only 3 months old who was still suckling from its mother. A bell hung around its neck in the event of it wandering off, in another half-hour or so we were brought to a halt & the camels sat to allow us to alight.

We were allowed to climb some huge sand dunes to witness a spectacular sunset. We ploughed our way up the soft sand & made our way along the ridges. Many small tracks were in evidence in the soft sand; these were being made by the dung beetles foraging for food.

Whilst waiting for the sun to set to the west Caroline spotted a small flat lizard which ran scared & then buried itself in the sand for safety. Observant as ever Caroline also spotted a long eared desert fox scurrying through the distant scrub, we were able to watch it through binoculars.

Thursday 17th. – Time to move on again – we caught the bus to Bikaner at 06:00am arrived at 12:00 noon an unusually chilly journey until that is the sun rose high in the sky.

Friday 18th. – Bikaner is a large busy city – one of the nearby attractions is Karni Mata Temple in the village of Desnoke some 30km south of Bikaner. We caught a local bus & arrived at 1:00pm. The temple here is unique in that rats called Kabas are venerated here & the shrine is a sanctuary for them. It is believed that these rats carry souls of future Charans (Deepawatts) who inhabit the region. Held sacred they roam freely in the temple precincts it is highly auspicious to spot one of the six white rats of a total population of some 6000.

At the door of the temple we had to take off our shoes & walk bare footed into a courtyard with hundreds of rats running free. These animals have no fear of humans & were busy feeding on offerings left by the many pilgrims. We spent a couple of hours here roaming the dark corridors infested with rats. The animals are holy & can do no wrong – covering the courtyard is a net to protect the rodents from attack from above.

The pilgrims even sit in rooms off the courtyard & eat meals with them. A truly memorable experience & perhaps the eighth wonder of the world.

Saturday 19th. – One of the jobs today was to have developed films of our trip, on the way we had to negotiate a railway level crossing, the barriers were down but this had no real effect on the locals who ducked under & risked life & limb to cross. Even motor bikes were laid down & taken across. When the train eventually arrived many were almost caught on the tracks.

By chance we passed a rather magnificent bronze statue of Narindia Ghandi; a much respected Prime Minister. Congregated around the statue were a group of gents who when they spotted us invited us over to join in celebrating her birth date. Photos were taken for the local paper & our names & address were taken – fame at last!

Sunday 20th. – There are four main attractions in & around Bikaner – the Junagarth Fort, the royal Cenotaph, a camel breeding centre & yes another famous temple. We elected to hire a motorized rickshaw to take in the last three. First stop the Royal Cenotaph, an enclosed area with many marble mausoleums with inscriptions telling who each were & when they lived – all the previous Bikaner royal family are buried here.

Next it was off into the desert to the camel breeding centre – being a Sunday it was very quiet, we were greeted at the gate by a local guide who after much argy bargy settled on a price. We were shown many camels but most of the residents were in the desert grazing – only the sick & pregnant remained. First stop the infirmary about seven unwell camels were convalescing, one old girl was 27yrs. old (life expectancy is around 22yrs.) We saw a half a dozen pregnant females resting & a few magnificent males. The complex also houses a camel research centre. Luckily for us being a Sunday the Temple was closed.

Monday 21st. – Today we hopped on a local bus 45kms. to the village of Kolayatji. We stepped off the bus in to a dusty village & followed our noses to the lake & Ghats which are situated at the village centre, sited around the shores were many temples where pilgrims enthusiastically worship. As we would we walked the entire perimeter & met a very poor family living in homemade shelters, all the members were involved in the manufacture of clay molded statues – however all were smiling. Back at the village we could hear loud chanting & followed the sound to a temple thronging with worshipers. We arrived & were mobbed all eager to make contact – now we know how Mr. & Mrs. Beckham must feel all of the time. Eventually we tore ourselves away & returned to the village for a bite to eat washed down with a couple of rather stale soft drinks. A visit to one last temple, guided by a local monk, who shouted information at us, he lead us the green stagnant waters of the lake where he took a drink, we politely refused to join him.

Tuesday 22nd. – Today we were to move on to Jhunjhunu scarcely visited by tourists – but this city was half way by road to our final destination Delhi. Whilst waiting for the bus a brigade of border patrol soldiers rode by on camels, a spectacular sight, there were 37 animals in all.

At Jhunjhunu we located a good clean hotel & were able to reconfirm our flight home thanks to a very helpful hotel owner.

Wednesday 23rd. – There are a few things to see in this city & after a visit to the tourist information office we set about exploring. First stop Kamruddin Shah Ki Dargah, a large ornate building with many painted frescos. The city has the inevitable fort but we were unable to visit due to being closed. We passed a small school & I popped in to say hello, there were two teachers a man & a woman, they were obviously Muslim, when the children spotted us there was understandable excitement, to gain control the teaches leapt into action, the lady had a stick & the man punched a young girl violently in the back, silence ensued & we said farewell. Jhunjhunu is famous for tie dying & watched a family busy producing beautiful tie-dyed saris.

Thursday 24th. – On to our final destination the last port of call Delhi. The bus ride was OK if a little uncomfortable, we were dropped off at a bus stand outside the city & had to catch a local bus to our hotel. We arrived at Connaught Place & walked to our hotel, it was then that Caroline noticed that her money pouch had been slit with a razor but fortunately the thief left empty handed. The suspect was a short weedy guy who had a small child in arms as cover – India lands another blow.

Friday 25th. – A day spent wandering the aggressive streets of Delhi. We were able to check all OK with our homeward flight & have Caroline’s purse repaired.

We visited the largest Muslim mosque in India – Jama Masjid - it can accommodate 25,000 worshipers in the courtyard. At the entrance I had to don a cover for my bare legs & was able to dodge all requests for rupees.

SOUTH AMERICAN TRIP – CHILE, BOLIVIA & PERU

1ST.September to 1st.December 2003

        

Week Ending 12.09.03

We left Santiago and started N for a short journey to Vina Del Mar, a seaside resort - now out of season. The Pacific Ocean looked cold and rough, only the pelicans were swimming. Our second day here saw the first rain for 3 months - and the streets were awash.

Ovalle next - some six hours N by bus. A visit to a valley, known for rock drawings, had to hitch a lift 20km., then we were on our own for another 10km. walk into the countryside. An enjoyable day with many species of birds, unknown to us. Cowboy type cactus were prevalent, some in flower.

Copiapo was our next destination some six hours distant - still travelling N. Only a night rest stop here, managing to climb a hill W of the town - called Dela Cruz Hill. The climb to the top into the hot desert sun was sweaty. From the top we had all round vistas of the town with its 150,000 souls and its now abandoned silver mine to N. We returned to a bar to enjoy a jug of ale (3litres) at 50p per pint.

Next an eleven hour bus ride overnight to Calama (where it has never rained). We awoke 7am. on the bus to a scene of real desert, no vegetation at all. Passed through Chile's second city Antofagasta.

Calama is a town sitting in the heart of the Atacama desert and thrives on the nearby open-cast copper mine (the largest in the world). We enjoyed a tour of the mine, the scene of the main pit was truly unbelievable - some 2miles long 1.5miles wide and 2,500feet deep. The trucks moving the ore from the bottom to the top were gigantic, some 30ft high, and their engines resembled that of aircraft.

Today Saturday, is time to reflect & plan the border crossing into Bolivia.

OVERLAND INTO BOLIVIA & BEYOND THROUGH THE WILDERNESS.

       Week ending 19.09.03.

From Calama we travelled to San Pedro de Atacama, a very dusty place. We were able to explore the outskirts of the town by ourselves, visiting an Inca settlement set on top of a hill beside a dried up river-bed. We booked to embark on a visit to the valley of the moon to watch the sunset. Our trip started at 3pm. & our driver took us to other sights, first we enjoyed a walk down the valley of death - where we watched people sand-boarding, they had cycled from San Pedro.

Before being able to watch the sunset we had a good half hour climb in soft sand to the top of a huge sand dune. We arrived about 15mins. before the set. The colours were amazing, the descent was a lot easier.

We had decided to journey into Bolivia with a small group, overland in a 4x4.

From San Pedro we were bussed to the frontier, which was set in a very remote, cold, desolate spot beneath dormant volcano's, only a Bolivian outpost to check us through.

Waiting here for us was our transport & crew - Gonzalez (Speedy) & his wife chief cook & bottle washer Mastenis, also in our group were three young student Germans, two girls & a lad. With haversacks neatly stowed away on top we were off into the unknown, over the lava fields, no road or track!

Our first stop was high overlooking two lagoons one appeared white & the other green & so named, something to do with light & algae. Lunch was had beside a huge salt lake, which was being fed from a thermal spring, flamingos fed vivaciously in the salt slush. Our lunch was prepared in the back of the Toyota by our crew, very good too.

Our journey continued through the wonderland of wilderness, no sign of human life for hundreds of miles in either direction.

We came next upon a strange sight, a sea of sand with isolated pillars of rock, apparently the subject of one of Salvador Dali's paintings, even though he had never seen this view.

Geysers were next - with huge volumes of steam escaping noisily from gaping holes, mud boiled in smaller pits - a stench of sulphur was strong - I blamed the breakfast!

Our night stop was to be a refuge some 13,000feet above sea level, beside another lagoon known as Red Lake for its very red colour, caused by light and algae - food for thousands of flamingos. The night here was very cold and we had to use sleeping bags as well as blankets. Altitude effects were felt by many of the transient travellers and so were the toilets.

Next morning we set off early for another day of 'Travel & Adventure´. Our vehicle was taking a terrific pounding along with our backsides.

More lagoons and more exotic sights, difficult to take it all in.

Along one of the particular sections - hundreds of miles from anywhere - a lone cyclist sat resting - he looked fit if not a little daft, our driver offered him water, he excepted readily.

Our second night was spent at San Pedro in Bolivia, the home village of our driver & wife, a very pleasant stop. The village is very poor but manages to survive on the little they grow, Llamas were feeding in the street.

Day three was mostly spent driving over the largest salt flats in the world, some 1,000sq km., & in some parts 6m thick. Standing in the centre of this vast open space is an island called Fish Island. We stopped here for an hour & from its summit we had views of the sea of white. Growing on the oasis were thousands of huge cacti some 1200 years old. Lunch here then another long drive over the compact salt to a hotel constructed purely of salt.

Our trip ended in Uyuni a dusty Bolivian desert town, we said farewell to our fellow travellers having just experienced a trip of a lifetime & one which can be thoroughly recommended.

Our travels next took us to Potosi the highest city in the world at 4,070m above sea level. Beer here even cheaper than in Chile. A main meal at a restaurant costs about 3 pounds Stirling (for two). Blue skies every day freezing temperatures at night.

Potosi, Sucre Cochbamba & Oruro.

Week ending 26.09.03.

Potosi´s claim to fame is a huge silver mountain, which in colonial times afforded the Spanish with hoards of fine grade silver, now however the mine is only producing composite ore of nickel, tin, lead & silver - thus the mine is slowly ceasing to function. A trip around the mine was organised for me only, Caroline decided crawling around underground was not for her. A fellow tourist from Belgium accompanied me. First stop was at one of the many miners' shops - we were shown an array of necessities used by the underground workers eg. dynamite, 20p a stick along with cordite fuse & detonators all perfectly legal for anyone to purchase. Pure alcohol in small plastic bottles & mineral water, coca leaves & a soft stone for nibbling to extract the most from the coca leaves. We were advised to buy some of these articles for presents for the miners - so we each bought a bag of coca leaves & alcohol.

Next it was time to kit up in overalls & headlamps. In a taxi we drove to the mine head. At the entrance a few miners' gathered & small children offered us minerals to buy. Our guide explained the workings of the mine, & from our vantage point we could see where the miners & their families lived, in shacks across the valley. We gave a bag of coca leaves to the miners here, & were nearly killed in the rush.

It was time to go underground, the entrance to Sant Elena mine was smaller than I had expected & on the rocks at the door were stains of llama blood, daubed there as a sacrifice to Tio (Uncle God of mines). We entered the mine & followed two large pipes, one for oxygen & one for water. Safety was at a minimum here & large open 90m shafts were avoided thanks to instructions from our guide. Soon we were at an alcove, at its head was an idol depicting Tio, we were to offer coca leaves, cigarettes & alcohol, to ensure a safe passage. The statue was red & had horns, green eyes, a beard & a prominent large penis - for fertilising mother earth (Pachamama). Whilst we were here a miner arrived to make his own offering.

We descended the dusty levels to No9 finding mineral veins of nickel, silver, zinc, lead & tin - now composite for all the pure silver has now been harvested. Asbestos is another hazard & we were shown deposits.

The miners' life is short & most can only cope with ten years service before they fall ill & die.

Santa Elena mine butts onto Pailaviri mine & in time we were wandering the passage-ways of this mine. Eventually we emerged into the fresh air and once again a rush of children came to us offering minerals. The tour was over & I very much enjoyed the experience.

Due to a slight misunderstanding we had to leave Potosi in rather a hurried fashion & at one point we were barred from leaving the hotel. Much heated discussion & a threat to call the police & we eventually left - bad feeling as usual! It wasn't until we arrived at our next stop we realised I still had the room key - oh dear!

More trouble at Sucre, we had booked into a hotel & a little later decided to move to a cleaner residence, much to the disgust of yet another hotelier, another threat to call the police. Sucre had an air of unease for us, we had been warned about pickpockets & bag slashers, so we were glad to be moving on to Cochbamba an overnight bus ride arriving 5:45am. Found a hotel close to the bus station, as my rear end was calling for help.

Whilst here we came across a large trailer in the main street with four fully grown lions, the trailer had developed a puncture. The animals looked in fine health & to see such large cats close up was a treat.

Friday and we were leaving for Oruro another city sitting high on the Altiplano 3709m above sea level. The bus ride was over spectacular arid mountains. The country people of Bolivia are truly poor. As we passed through one village we saw two pigs on a dusty green then noticed blood pouring from one of their necks, nearby two men manhandled the other pig & its throat was also cut, its enough to turn one vegetarian.

Today we are planning our route to Arica in Chile - we were being constantly advise not to travel near the capitol La Paz due to disturbances.

ADVISED TO LEAVE BOLIVIA BEFORE A NATIONAL STRIKE STARTS – Oruro to Arica.

Week ending 03.10.03.

Saturday we visited a thermal spring, had to take a local bus some 20km. Standing in the middle of nowhere was a hotel & a swimming pool, being fed from a natural hot spring. We enjoyed a swim in the warm pool & after a soak in a very hot plunge pool. When it was time to catch the bus back to Oruro we had yet more trouble with the natives. There was one bus waiting & would not leave until full, however a rogue bus out with the family was ready to leave, we ran with a couple more passengers to catch a ride. The driver of the official bus started his vehicle & cut our bus off, & a stale-mate ensued. Eventually the other two passengers gave up the fight & returned to the official bus, we on the other hand were not being held to ransom & started to walk back to Oruro. The angry bus driver shadowed us in his empty vehicle for about a mile, until he gave up, leaving us to walk. As luck would have it in time a taxi passed & gave us a lift for the same price as the bus.

Unrest in Bolivia & we were advised to leave or face perhaps many days trying to escape. The population are unhappy with their governments wishes to sell natural gas to the USA, & also welfare for the poor & elderly are a concern.

Our exit was to take a bus from Oruro to Putre in Chile. The bus was scheduled to leave at 1:30pm Sunday so we had a chance to walk around the city. We were approached by a couple from France who warned us of a popular scam involving false police wanting to check passports & once they manipulated the tourists into a taxi it was easy to take their money! This had happened twice to this French couple this very morning. We were lucky & had no problems.

The bus out of Bolivia was luxurious but full with travellers escaping at the last moment. In pitch darkness we were dropped 5km from Putre, the walk at night wasn't attractive so we ended up travelling all the way to Arica for no extra cost.

Arica is a city on the Pacific coast & we were to spend four days here, it was good to relax. Saw plenty of strange sea birds including hundreds of pelicans, an ugly bird but graceful in flight. We managed to enjoy a couple of swims. Huge sea lions hauled themselves onto the rocks at the fish quay & we had a close encounter.

About 20km north of the city is a museum with examples of recently uncovered mummified bodies from 4000BC, we took a trip & enjoyed a morning looking at the well laid out displays.

Time to leave Arica to cross into Peru. We were taken by taxi to the Peruvian town of Tacna, the taxi driver saw to all the technicalities of the border crossing. Spent the night here & in the morning caught the bus to Peru`s second city Arequipa. The journey took us high again over arid desert with no vegetation at all. The plateau on which Arequipa stands is made fertile by a huge river & it was good to see green once again.

A VISIT TO THREE REMOTE PERUVIAN VILLAGES.

Arequipa, Colca Canyon & Lake Titicaca

Week ending 11.10.03.

Arequipa is a bustling Peruvian city and has many ancient buildings and ornate churches. The cathedral was spectacular and has a huge hand carved wooden pulpit. The building has been rebuilt since being destroyed 30 years ago by a huge earthquake.

The central plaza was busy with a beautiful water fountain as its prime feature, visitors were feeding the many hundreds of pigeons. Whilst we sat in the hot sun a troop of dancers and drummers entertained the crowds, the dancers were all male dressed in suits and wore plastic masks with moustaches, they also wore bells on there toes.

We had to embark on a two day trek into the Colca Canyon which is a 6 hour bus ride north of Arequipa.

Tuesday morning we caught a local bus to the canyon and on our arrival at the end of the line, Cobanaconde, a remote village. we were met by the lady of the family who we were to stay with, she showed us to her home. A simple dwelling but clean, she cooked us a meal of alpaca - small llama - delicious.

Early the next morning the head of the house Remigio arrived back at the house with a couple of tourists who he had taken on the same trip prior to ourselves.

After breakfast we set off with him for the canyon, on the way we passed a small hospital and watched as a dead body being manhandled from the luggage department of a bus into the building - a resident returning, RIP.

In an hour we were standing high on the south lip of the canyon some 50km. long and half mile deep - truly impressive. The descent was very steep along a mule track, we passed the odd villager herding their animals.

Three hours of leg straining descent took its toll and at the flimsy suspension bridge over the river our legs turned to jelly.

The sun was very hot and we had to drink plenty. A moderately short climb up the north side of the canyon and we were walking through fertile field systems full of fruit trees and vegetables all being watered from the Colca river by a series of leats.

On to the remote village of San Juan this village and many more in the region survive on what they can eke out from nature and have no need for money or electricity. All the residents were obviously content and in touch with their environment, always smiling and very friendly.

Our guide prepared lunch in one of the huts and we rested until it was time to move on. Another stiffer climb this time and we were at village No2 Cosnirhua - from here panoramic vistas were fantastic.

One more village on the same contour - Malata - then it was all down-hill to where we were to stay the night - an oasis. We arrived at 3pm after a 7 hour testing hike, had time for a swim in the pool. That evening, we had yet another excellent meal prepared by Remigio who then informed us we would to rise at 3am the next morning for the final ascent back to Cobanaconde. Caroline nearly had heart failure on the spot but managed to keep cool.

Early to bed and early to rise and we were dressing in the dark in our bamboo hut - dancing from leg to leg in order to dress. Caroline was dreading the 3000' ascent in the dark, but we gritted our teeth and set off. Luckily there was a full moon so a torch was only used in the shadows. The reason the ascent was attempted so early is to avoid the intense heat of the sun, which appeared at 4.30am.

At the top we were tired but exhilarated our guide Remigio was a true professional and showed us old fogies plenty of patience.

After breakfast we left for the bus ride back to Arequipa which we interrupted to stop off at a point high above the deepest and narrowest point of the canyon at 8am in order that we might catch sight of Condors. At 9.15am we were treated to a fly past by a magnificent fully grown male, there were a number of tourists here and everyone sighed in awe. This sighting topped off a truly amazing couple of days.

Puno next beside Lake Titicaca, still hot and sunny at 3,820m above sea level.

MACHU PICCHU - AN ANCIENT INCA CITY HIGH IN THE ANDES – Puno, Chaciuto, & Cusco

Week ending 17.10.03.

The floating islands of Lake Titicaca - We boarded a local boat at Puno quay and chugged our way out into the Lake, the sun was hot and the half-hour trip to the islands was pleasant. Soon we were weaving our way between the reed islands, which are home to the Uros people. These folk lives are totally interwoven with the Totora reed, which grows abundantly in the shallows of the lake. They harvest these reeds and use them to make everything from the islands themselves to little model boats to sell to the tourists. The islands are constructed from many layers of reeds, which rot away from the underside and are replaced from the top. The ground is soft to the foot and we sank some four inches whilst walking. The Uros folk build canoe shaped boats from the tightly bundled reeds. A well constructed boat carries a whole family and lasts some six months. We visited three islands all in good shape, possibly too good for permanent living. The sun was hot and the skies clear, we very much enjoyed seeing this very unusual life style. We saw Uros homes and a school. Every island has a lookout tower. Needless to say there were plenty of souvenirs on sale.

Back to shore and a fish dinner from a market stall, very tasty. We had finished the first course when our host produced a dish which contained what resembled dirty dish water, Caroline very nearly washed her fingers in it when a spoon was produced and we were expected to eat it, we declined politely - the whole meal cost 30p for two.

We caught a local bus south the next day, along the banks of the lake for fifteen miles or so to Chaciuto and alighted to explore. It was yet another very hot day and we were lucky to visit during a festival to celebrate the Virgin of the Rosery. Noisy bands paraded around the plaza and we took our rightful seats in a beer tent along the way. Traditional dancing and celebrations all seemed to hinge around the local brew Cusquena - this suited us just fine. The male members of the bands were all dressed in suits and trilby hats all resembling the Blues Brothers. A good day was had by all and we staggered back the bus stop at 5pm.

Next port of call was Cusco the historical capitol of Peru, from here most of the tours to Machu Picchu set off. We spent one day touring the local churches and museums, there's only a certain amount of old age tat one can take.

Our trip to Machu Picchu started with a couple of local bus rides first to Urubamba and then on to the end of the road at Ollantaytambo. We had to wait for the local train, which left at 7:45pm so took the time out to visit a local Inca town. At 8:15pm we boarded the train along with hundreds of locals and were at the terminus Aguas Callentes at 9:45pm. Another rush to secure a room for the night alongside the railway track, this community survives on what the railroad supplies.

We had decided to walk from our hostel to Machu Picchu, so up at 5am and off we set. A 2 hour very steep climb of 2,000' brought us to the gates at 7am. The entrance charge is ten pounds stirling each and the site has about 700 visitors a day. At this early hour there were only a few visitors, in a short while we were treated to a view of the Inca city perched high on a mountain plateau. We sat for an hour or so just drinking in the atmosphere and tried to imagine life here when it was a thriving community. We spent the whole day here and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. After lunch the tourists arrived in their hoards being bussed in from the railway station. We managed to complete our trip for the third of the cost of the cheapest organised tour, but with a few more heartaches. Another night stop, at Aguas Callentes before returning along our outward route to Cusco. One remarkable feature of the Inca buildings is the perfect stone masonry - every block cut to fit the next exactly and ever one keyed. Many Inca buildings resist earthquake shocks unlike modern buildings of today.

THE NAZCA LINES

Week ending 24.10.03.

Pisac turned out to be a fascinating mountain village, the Sunday market manic with all number of stalls selling trinkets to the tourists. High above this village on top of yet another mountain were more Inca ruins, why these indigenous people built their towns on mountain tops is an enigma.

Monday - Took a local bus 12km north of Cusco and walked back visiting four Inca settlements along the way. The largest and most spectacular of these was Sacsayhuaman (satisfied falcon). The ruins are extensive but only twenty percent of the original structures remain. The Spaniards used the blocks to build their own homes in Cusco - but they left the most impressive of the original blocks one of which must weigh 300 tons. The magnificent zig-zag walls are very impressive though most of them have been destroyed. It is thought the city had important religious and military significance. This was the site of one of the most bitter battles of the conquest between the Spanish and the rebellious Muno Inca Manco who were defeated but only narrowly but most of his forces were killed. The dead attracted flocks of Andean Condors which is why there are eight Condors on Cuzco's coat of arms.

Tuesday - A long and tiring bus ride to Nazca stopping off at Abancay for a few hours. Abancay is truly a working mans town deep in the Andean mountains, no trinkets for sale here only useful implements for everyday life.

Between dozes we eventually arrived at Ica having passed our planned stop Nazca. A little disappointed Caroline aired her views first to the hostess with the mostest’ then the driver and finally to an innocent taxi driver standing nearby. As it turned out Ica was good for us.

Thursday - Today we planned to visit the world famous Nazca Lines, these lines are etched into the pampa and consist of enormous geoglyphs and geometrical lines and shapes, they were only discovered during the early part of the 20th. Century. These designs can only be recognised from the air. It is possible to climb a viewing tower and glimpse a few shapes, which is eventually what we did. Before this however we wandered off on the pampa to examine constructions of the lines, we could only make out were the stony desert had been parted in channels , but were unable to distinguish shapes - a bit disappointing, that is until two officials on a motor cycle screamed up to chastise us for wandering onto this world heritage site of SSI. Suitably chastised we conformed and used their tower. Over head was the constant hum of light aircraft ferrying the more affluent or stupid tourists to see this unique sight.

Nazca - the town - is driven by the notoriety of the Lines, we caught the bus to the town and spent the rest of the afternoon exploring and checking out the aqueducts - a spiral means of gaining access to artisan well water - still in use.

Friday - We set off for 6km. walk west from Ica to the oasis of Huacachina, we arrived to find a large green lake nestling between huge sand dunes. Many tourists are bussed here to enjoy the tranquillity, which has the opposite effect. We sat with a few beers and watched a few energetic young people trudge their way to the top of the nearest 300 foot sand dune, in order to sand board back down. A lot made it to the top but few were prepared to slide down.

The museum at Ica is very impressive and known throughout Peru for having some fine examples to reflect the lives of the indigenous Peruvian people. There was a large assortment of mummies, their hair still in place - unlike me! There were examples also of skull miss-shapes achieved by straps etc when young in order to elongate the head - which made them resemble aliens.

BALLESTAS ISLANDS OFF PARACAS

Pisco & Ballestas Islands

Week ending 31.10.03.

We arrived at Pisco on the west Pacific coast famous for a white brandy drunk throughout Peru. The brandy is mixed with egg white & lemon to become Pisco Sour.

Some 5km south of Pisco is the port of Paracas, from here boat trips leave daily to visit the National Park of Paracas & the Ballestas Islands - a haven for wildlife.

Sunday - We spent walking along the beach south, many interesting finds along the way - dead seals & many types of mollusc shells. The beach was many km in length & there was no man made pollution. At the extent of our walk a sign denoting the start of the National Park, we stayed here awhile and watched flamingos feeding in the shallows. These birds migrate from the Altiplano further south from the salt flats of Bolivia.

Sunday evening, a fiesta was being held in the central plaza of Pisco and crowds of people gatherd to enjoy the proceedings. The highlight of the evening was a bamboo tower some 30´ high rigged cleverly with fireworks. On the stroke of midnight the lower levels of the tower were ignited, in time large bamboo Catherine wheels spun into action throwing sparks and hot debris into the crowd. All in all a very impressive display lasting some twenty minutes.

Monday was to be our chance to visit the Ballestas Islands some 20km off the coast. We were bussed to Paracas and then transfered to a large speed-boat along with ten or more tourists. A fast boat and we zoomed off for a trip around Paracas bay. We passed San Martin an international cargo port, then off out to sea to the islands. These islands are uninhabited but for three wardens and guano collectors. The sea bird excrement is gathered and sold for ten dollars a kg. which is then used commercially as a fertiliser.

We experienced a banquet of wildlife sightings including Inca Tern, Peruvian Booby, Guanay Cormorant and three rather lonely Humbolt Penguins. Around the rocky shores were scores of South American sea lions singing out of tune. Near the islands the sea had a heavy swell and we were thankful for an experienced captain.

Tuesday we spent at the port of Pisco and enjoyed the sights and smells of the local fish market. This part of the Peruvian coast is immensely rich in plankton, which has the knock on effect of supporting the whole chain of sea creatures - fish being one of them. The ladies of the fish market were responsible for the selling and bartering whilst the men folk looked on - a bit like home really! All this activity made us hungry, so we visited a local fish eating house and downed a rather tasty dish of fish and potatoes, needless to say the odd bottle of Cusquena.

Wednesday - another tour, this time on dry land to visit Paracas National Park, very educational and we enjoyed spectacular views of the coast and sand dunes. Lunch was taken beside a small sandy beach, too much for Ian to ignore, so in for a swim and managed to get multiple spikes from sea urchins. The Peruvians take the ecology of this area very seriously and it is reflected in this pristine land.

Thursday & it was time to travel on via Lima to Huaraz.

Huaraz is a large town nestling between two ranges of mountains - the Cordilleras Blanco & the Cordilleras Negro. Peru’s highest mountain Huasaran 22,205´ is the main feature of the Cordilleras Blanco range.

Friday we took a local bus north east up the Rio Sania valley to Yungay. In 1970 old Yungay was sited some 2-3kms south of where it is today, a tremendous earthquake hit the area and a resultant avalanche from Huasaran engulfed the town killing 18,000 people. Now on the site of the old town is very tasteful memorial park with roses and well kept gardens.

A TRIP INTO THE SHADOW OF HUASARARY 22,205' - PERU’S HIGHEST MOUNTAIN

Week ending 07.11.03.

Saturday - Today we wanted to visit Llanganaco, nothing planned just a trip left to chance. We left the hostel at 11am. with one pack with essentials for a trip into the mountains. Breakfast on the way to the local bus terminal, we bought two pork rolls for lunch. Boarded the local bus to Yungay at 7:45am. and were soon on our way. Some of these bus drivers are a little erratic to say the least - time is money! Arrived Yungay at 9am. the sun very hot. The plan was to set off walking along the dusty unmade road & see what fate brought. About 3km. along the 25km. road we caught sight of Huasarary (Peru’s highest mountain at 22,205’) the snow on its cap bright in the morning sun. In another km. or so a collectivo (mini bus) stopped, it was packed to the gunnels with passengers & their wares, as ever there was no question of leaving a fare paying customer so we squeezed on & had to stand or squat. The road or should I say track zig-zagged its way up & at every bend we had to steady ourselves. Twenty minutes into the ride passengers slowly alighted affording us a seat. We passed through three small villages & sporadic settlements along the way. We had gone about half of the 25km. when the bus turned off, the driver pointed the way we had to continue.

In still blistering hot sun we set off once again drinking in the fabulous views of the snow capped mountains all around. Another 3kms. & a coach pulled up full of school children on an outing from Lima. Kindly we were offered a lift and gratefully climbed aboard, the children made room for us & Caroline quickly struck up conversation - the children had quite a good command of English. Soon we had reached the National Park gate where we had to pay 70p each in order to visit, the adults on the bus also paid for their party.

All aboard & we climbed steadily through the sheer sided canyon, the walls of which were thousands of feet high. At 11:30am. we arrived at the lower of three emerald green lagoons & a gasp from the children at the sight of this magnificent natural feature. We all alighted and the children wanted a photo with us, don't ask me why - but they always do.

At last we were left to our own devices, we set off along the track NE overlooking the lagoon. To the SE we had views of the north summit of the highest mountain Huasarary, its jagged top snow capped and brilliant in the sun. To the north we could see the south summit of Huandoy 20,224' its summit also glistening in the bright sun. To the head of the valley east stood the magnificent Yanapaccha 17,689' - a mere hill!

We made our way along the track to the east end of the first lagoon, here a rock fall had spewed down the mountain side & at one time had blocked the track but now it was clear. Between the two large lagoons is a smaller one & before long we were walking beside the upper lake, this too was emerald green in colour. As we walked we spotted lone blue billed ducks, a goose type bird white with a black rear, known locally as a Huuchuu. Our walk terminated at the east end of all the lagoons, here was a refuge & an area for camping. We had our lunch in the lea of the shack out of the strong chill wind blowing up the valley. Whilst eating we saw many more interesting birds - swifts with black & white wings, blue birds, and a beautiful honey brown buzzard, a curlew type bird but oily blue in colour & lastly a lapwing type bird with striped wings & a red bill. After an hour here enjoying the solitude it was time to return over our outward route to the west end of the first lagoon. By now this area was full of visitors with boat trips & snacks available. We sat a while watching the activity, at 3:30pm. we decided to start our return. We walked between the gigantic vertical canyon walls, the valley floor held the torrent of the Rio Ronlchirio, we had gone some 5km. and had been passed by only a few tourist coaches when one stopped & offered us a lift back to Yungay. Along the way the driver got excited & pointed at a young male deer beside the road.

Monday - Today we set off for the foothills around Huaraz visiting the villages of Wilkawain & Marian. A long & dusty road to the first village Wilkawain, where an ancient Wari temple is sited. The Wari people were pre Inca 600-1000 AD & were the first settlers of the Peruvian highlands. The highlight of the day was a visit to a very busy graveyard, here stalls selling crosses & food were at the gate. The graveyard nestles in a small natural valley & the grounds were lovingly cared for. Almost every grave was being attended by caring, respectful relatives dressed in their best traditional clothes. The sun was hot and we sat an hour, high above overlooking this tender scene, our time here was a real treat for us - to whiteness such a tender & reverent people caring for their deceased relatives - this was possibly the most emotional area we had ever visited.

From here we set off along tiny grassy footpaths to the village of Marian, a most enjoyable stroll enjoying a festival of views & chatting to friendly & contented farm folk. In this area there were no trappings of modern life - not a car in sight or anywhere to drive it. In Marian we enjoyed a couple of beers in the local shop. Back to Huaraz & we experienced the second shower of our travels.

Tuesday - we travelled on over the Cordillera Negro mountains, the dusty road zig-zagging precariously to the coast, every possible piece of arable land had been worked. At times the bus swung out over thousands of feet of sheer drop. The bus was full to over capacity and some passengers had to stand the full seven hours to our destination.

We arrived at Trujillo on Wednesday after staying overnight at Chambote. Trujillo has many pre Inca remains of the Chimu people, the most impressive of which is the ancient city of Chan Chan - a city of 10,000 dwellings and ornately decorated.

The ruins here have been tastefully renovated & we spent most of Friday morning exploring them. In the afternoon we visited two more sites Huaca Esmeralda & Huacu Arco Iris, the later, the best preserved having been excavated from the sand in 1963. The walls have many ancient murals in relief - rainbows, pelicans & fishes.

We had a chance to meet Peruvian Dogs here - a strange breed with no fur, their ears stand upright resembling the dogs of the Pharoes, we stroked them & were surprised how hot they felt, their metabolism is 10 degrees centigrade warmer than our own.

THIS AND THAT AND BACK TO THE MOUNTAINS.

Week ending 14.11.03.

Saturday - We spent a very pleasant afternoon on Huarnchaco beach and were treated to an excellent surfing competition, the competitors were all very accomplished.

We had bought tickets to see an international ballet performance on Saturday evening so after an early dinner we set off for the theatre. A visit to the ballet was a first for us and we both thoroughly enjoyed a festival of traditional and modern dance. In particular I enjoyed the male members!

Sunday - nothing planned for today until 4pm when we were due to visit a bullfight. We spent the morning at the central Plaza of Trujillo and were treated to a march past by all the educational departments in the city, along with a very accomplished brass band. At the same time runners set off on their local marathon, we were too late to apply!

We arrived early at the bullring and sat in the sun and watched as the stadium filled to capacity. At 4.45pm the band struck up and an atmosphere of expectation filled the air. We were to see four bulls killed in a ritualistic manner, the first was a bit of a hash and unfortunately the bull died slowly. The horse trained to remove the carcasses took a huff and refused, so the body had to be manhandled unceremoniously out of the ring. Throughout the afternoon the level of skill improved, the last matador started his performance by kneeling in the centre of the ring facing the entering bull. A combination of skill and bravery, and he only just managed to parry the charging bull with a flurry of his cape over his head.

Although bullfighting is cruel there is no mistaking the excitement of the whole event. It was a true family event even grandparents bringing their grandchildren.

Monday - We travel on to Cajamarca into the northern highlands of Peru. The journey took us seven hours.

A few interesting things to see in this area, first we had to take a tour to a community 25kms north called Granje Porcon, here we enjoyed our time - all be it swift. Porcon is a self-contained community relaying on weaving, carpentry, dairy farming and tourism. We enjoyed an hour or two wandering around the idealistic grounds and enjoyed a wildlife-park with vicuna, ostriches, puma, leopard and some energetic black bears.

Tuesday - A visit to the thermal baths just east of Cajamarca which date back to Inca times. An enjoyable visit and we both relaxed in the hot private baths, and emerged looking like a couple of lobsters.

Unfortunately it is impossible to see most of the local interests without the assistance of an organised tour, so on Thursday we set off for a trip to Cumbe Mayo 32kms along a very rough track. We arrived and in a line filed neatly behind our guide. Cumbe Mayo is a large canyon sided by strangely eroded volcanic rocks and with a very good imagination figures and animals could be recognised. At the bottom of the valley we were shown a series of aqueducts carved in and through the soft volcanic rock, engineered by the good old Inca's. Too soon we were ushered back to the bus - we would have loved to spend the rest of the day here to wander alone.

Another day we were able to visit on a local bus the village of Otuzco and the Ventanillas of Otuzco which is a pre Inca grave yard, there are hundreds of funerary niches built into the hillside. As ever there are vendors selling trinkets and miscellany, Ian bought a fossil from a young farmworker. 37kms north of Cajamarca is South America's largest open cast gold mine, we inquired about a visit but we would have had to apply some two weeks prior. The gold is leached from the tailings using cyanide, then the gold is recovered by baking. This would explain the convoys of very large lorries with safety escorts we encountered on the road to Cajamarca.

We spent a very pleasant week in the northern highlands even though Caroline had some adverse effects to the altitude.

THE END GAME

Weeks ending 01.12.03.

Saturday 15th. - A visit to La Collpa, a very large & in its time a luxurious homestead. The journey was on a rather tatty local bus & as ever, we were the only tourists. The last 4km we had to walk along a dusty unmade road, pigs were tethered along the way feeding in the damp irrigation channels. A pick-up truck offered us a lift & we were soon at the gates of the estate, an entry fee of 2sols & we were in - & free to wander. This estate was once a fine cattle ranch but now diversification had forced a sort of leisure-park with a ornamental lake. We enjoyed a very pleasant morning here, wandering to our hearts content. The hinterland is now being farmed & there is a church at the centre of the grounds. We saw many interesting birds & insects here.

The afternoon was spent relaxing at the Inca Baths near Cajamarca.

Sunday - Another hair raising bus ride today to our next port of call Chiclayo, near the coast. Fellow travellers were using pure alcohol in order to combat the variations in altitude.

Monday - Heavy rain most of the night - rain here is very unusual. We emerged from our room as the rain was easing, the roads were awash & it was apparent the locals were not prepared for such an event. The rest of the day was spent on the coast at Pimentel. There is a rather dilapidated pier here where fishing boats unload their catch. We watched as bags of fish were swung ashore.

In the afternoon we chatted to a group of young boys who were fascinated with us, their ages ranged from 5-11years, all were accomplished swimmers & using home-made reed surf boards spent most of the time like sea-lions in & out of the sea. The waters along the Pacific coast can be very rough with undercurrents but these young lads had no fear or supervision.

Tuesday - A visit to Lord Sipan's Tomb, some 28km east of Chiclayo. Hundreds of dazzling & priceless artefacts have been recovered from this site. This royal Moche burial site was only discovered in 1987 & excavation continues today. We enjoyed a stroll around the site & views of the reconstructed tombs.

Thursday - Many of the recovered treasures from Sipan are housed in a new purpose built museum at Lambayeque some 12km north of Chiclayo. So today we had planned to view them. We arrived at the site to find an elaborate modern building with evidence of tight security - guards with weapons at every corner. We had to leave our bag & cameras at the gates.

The entire building was temperature controlled to preserve the treasures. Many of the artefacts were recovered from Lord Sipan's Tomb & consists of much gold - nose protectors, large elaborate ear decorations encrusted with turquoise, large sheets of gold which hung from the warriors belt to protect their rear ends. One very interesting exhibit was a selection of raw metals, which included gold, silver & copper which were buried with the ruler for the after-life. We both very much enjoyed our visit & found it fascinating.

Tucume is another burial site of the principal Senor of Sican & we visited here in the afternoon. This area is known as the valley of the pyramids & we wandered around the site. Artefacts from this site are housed in another new museum in Ferrenafe some 18km north east of Chiclayo.

Saturday - A visit to Ferrenafe museum, more priceless gold silver & copper objects. One disappointing aspect for us was the lack of any English translations.

The most outstanding legacy from Sican society was their technology to make pottery & craft metals. They produced arsenical copper in large amounts (a type of bronze made of bronze alloy & arsenic). Tumbaga was produced - a low carret gold, silver, copper & arsenic alloy. This technology did not have any precedent & it represented the coming of the Bronze Age to the north of Peru.

Sunday - The morning was spent witnessing a military march past around the central plaza of Chiclayo & an ab-sailing display from the roof of the Cathederal. The army in Peru march with a goose step similar to that of Nazi Germany.

An afternoon on the beach at Port Eten, here there is another dilapidated pier still in constant use. One section of the pier is missing & is spanned with a couple of steel cables which locals use to gain access to the distant end.

We now have a week to relax & slowly make our way back to Lima for our flight home.

 

A DIARY OF OUR TRAVELS IN MALAYSIA & THAILAND

22.02.00 - 23.04.00

         

Monday 22.02.00 - Left home at 9.30pm and caught the bus to Plymouth arriving at 10.30pm. Had a pint in the Breton Arms - a bit void of customers. Left to catch the overnight bus to Heathrow. As the journey proceeded the bus filled to almost capacity, we had started off with two seats each but had to team up come the end. Bleary eyed we alighted at 5.30am.

Tuesday 23.02.00 - Had to sit it out for five hours before our scheduled flight –we had breakfast in the cafe.

Eventually our flight was called and together with a combination of Arabs and Indians we boarded and took off on time - our destination Kuwait. In flight meals were good and video recorders positioned at the rear of the seat in front made the journey bearable. Five and half-hours later we were in the transit lounge of Kuwait airport. There was some confusion as to what gate our flight was to leave from, eventually however all was revealed. In the airport we noticed many signs appertaining to underground air raid shelters! We were now in the presence of about 100 young noisy women all waiting for the same flight. When eventually the gate doors were opened and we were told to get in an orderly line. Which was not possible for some of these young women - we were jostled all the way. In the confusion one of the money wallets on my belt (containing about £1000 burst open depositing the contents on the floor) .If it had not been for Caroline’s ever watchful eye we would probably have been none the wiser until it was too late. Frantically we gathered up the traveller’s cheques with crowds of women passing over.

We put our bags through the x-ray machines which were unmanned, therefore there was no real point, having collected our thoughts we sat and checked the money numbers to see if any were missing, thankfully all was well. When eventually it was time to board we decided to stand back and let the hoards go first. Midnight and we were at last on board.

Wednesday 24.02.00 - The flight went off OK although the video machines were not on - this was not a problem for we slept for most of the way. Had two meals on board the flight, which lasted seven and half-hours. Arrived Singapore airport at midday and left the airport complex at 1.00pm on a local air-conditioned bus (No36) for the ride to Raffles Hotel. However the hotel Caroline had planned for us to stay in was a little more down market. This being said however it was clean and comfortable. After a short sleep to shake off the flight we were out on the town showered and shaved.

Visited the Raffles Hotel complex - stepping back in Colonial time we visited the museum and various high-class retail outlets there. The toilets were finished in Victoria decor very select - took a photo. We ate in a Chinese fast food hall and had pork noodle soup. On our walk back to our hotel we stopped off at a bar for a jug of Tiger beer. After a very eventful day we were both in bed at 8.45pm.

Thursday 25.02.00 - Awoke about 8 o’clock and packed what we would need for the day. Before leaving the hotel booked in for another night. Set off to have some breakfast - found a very popular spot and we both had a cheese sandwich and a couple of teas. A little disoriented we found ourselves back at Raffles. Whilst having breakfast we had decided we would go west to Lakeside and the Chinese Gardens - found out we could catch the MRT (fast train). Bought our tickets and off we go. The service was very clean and efficient and was full of locals all off somewhere. We at some points travelled well above the blocks of flats and low housing which made up the outskirts of Singapore City. Arrived at Lakeside and set off to try and find the Lake, passing many strange birds on the side of our path. The sides of the paths were very soft under foot. Eventually found the lake and sat for a while watching the bird life

Our path took us around the Lake and we saw many turtles coming in and out of the water, water dragon lizards, a little squirrel and all classes of birds. By now it was quite hot - we were able to use Ian’s umbrella for shelter.

Ian noticed a coconut in the grass, which had fallen from one of the numerous trees that were about - it was quite a feat to open it - enjoyed the coconut therein. Found we had to leave the park to carry on our trip around the lake - where we encountered a number of obstacles - but as everywhere able to overcome them. Watched a lizard caught in one of the channels swim and climb up the side of the wall so easily.

Still proceeding around the lake - mostly on paths next to a busy road we came across a science park. Spent the rest of the afternoon (till 6pm) here, found many interesting exhibits to look at and try out.

All we had to do now was to catch the train back to the centre - all went Ok - very efficient system.

Tried to go up the Raffles tower - first we were stopped by two security guards - wrong building! Second time wrong dress code and quite expensive - we only wanted to have a look - not eat there.

Back to our hotel for a wash and brush up before going out for our meal at about 8.30pm. Went to find out where to catch bus in the evening and Burgis (which was once the red light area of Singapore - now an underground station).

Friday 26.02.00 - Awoke at 7.15am packed our bags and set off for the walk to Queen Street Bus Station, en route we stopped for coffee and toast at a kerbside cafe, morning commuters were taking their first meal of the day - many of whom were having savoury soup.

The past two mornings I had felt a little nausea and only just now have worked out the reason - Malaria tablets. Must remember to take them next time with a meal.

Arrived at the bus terminal at 8.30hrs and purchased a ticket for Johor Bahru – we were whisked away at 9am on an express. En route we had to cross the Malaysian border which meant us alighting the bus to pass through customs twice -once to leave Singapore and a second time to enter Malaysia. We had to fill in two forms which delayed our return to the bus, however we just made it. Our tickets were checked on the bus and we were off again. Caroline started to panic thinking we were on our way to Kuala Lumpur. We were only on our way to the bus station! Changed some money and bought ticket to Mersing (about £3.50)- another air-conditioned express and we were at our destination at 12.30hrs. We checked in at the Embassy Hotel then we went off out for the afternoon to explore.

Mersing is a fishing town and embarkation point for various islands off the East Coast. The beach was rather dirty littered with flotsam and jetsam; we took a walk for a couple of miles SE. Washed up on the beach were coconuts, many strange seeds and various exotic shells. At the walk end we had to walk some distance through jungle and heard something scurry into the bushes. Back to the beach again and cracked open a coconut and enjoyed a refreshing drink and snack.

Found a beachside cafe for a drink, Caroline noticed some bad weather approaching from the east and soon we were in the thick of a tropical storm.

Back to the Hotel for a shower. After a short rest it was off out again. Most of the retail outlets were open and we were surprised at how cheap everything was - T-shirts for £1.00 child’s clothes from 50p.

Found a place for a meal and feasted on the dearest dish on the menu, which didn’t even come to a £1.00 each. I had sweet and sour prawns with chicken fried rice - very nice. A further stroll into the town and we found a cinema showing ‘The Beach’ - so decided to go (85p to get in). Back to the hotel at 11.15pm to dream about the visit to an island of our own tomorrow.

Saturday 27.02.00 - Awoke about 8.15a.m. Packed our bags and set off for our breakfast - pancake with a curry sauce and a cup of coffee.

We then went to purchase our ticket for Pulau Tioman - an island off the main coast of Malaysia in the South China Sea. Had to sit out another rain shower - which was quite a heavy one.

We then went to join our fellow passengers awaiting the departure of the ferry. Time to board we picked to sit on top for our trip - leaving eventually at 12.10. The water was quite rough as we ploughed away, passing other smaller islands on the way. All our fellow passengers were happy to be going over to the island except one (sty!). As we came closer we could see the two large towers on the south side of the island. The sea was now quite choppy as we made our approach at the jetty of Genting. A couple of people departed here and we were off again making a couple more stops on the way. Most of our fellow passengers disembarked at Tekek - the largest resort of the island. We had decided on Air Batang - which was gorgeous - very low key. We were able to find accommodation quite easily in a chalet right on the beach. Guess what we did next? Yes - the water was just right. Found a couple of hammocks at the edge of the beach and spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing here. Ian went to have a look at some fruit bats, which we had seen as we approached the island. Back to the chalet for a shower at about 6 o’clock. We both then walked over to see the fruit bats - a whole colony collected in one of the trees - what a noise they made.

Found a place to have our meal - sweet and sour chicken - we were the first to arrive - by the time we left the place was quite full. Called in at another place for a beer on the way back to our chalet before going to bed at about 9.45p.m.

Sunday 28.02.00 - Our accomodation on TIOMAN ISLAND

Eyes open 10.27a.m. -Oh dear- we both had a cold (warm) shower, then off to the restaurant for a bowl of porridge, honey and banana with a cup of coffee. Our plan for today was to hike the 3-4km through the jungle to Monkey Beach. Set off at about 11.30a.m. Over a freshwater inlet and climbed into the jungle, not knowing what lay ahead. About a half a km along the track was another collection of chalets; on one of the slopes was a large Mekak monkey. We took a photo as he was collecting and eating seeds, which had fallen from the trees. We continued into the jungle finding a troop of monkeys high in the trees, as we passed alarm calls were sounded.

This was our first experience of trekking in the jungle and around every turn was something new to see and experience. Butterflies hovered below the canopy. We saw colonies of ants marching in convoy up and down the large hardwood trees. A leech made its way over a fallen tree.

In an hour or so we reached Monkey Beach - a perfect oasis for a days R & R. The water was at the right temperature and we used the snorkel to investigate a coral reef. Fishes of all types, shapes, colours and sizes moved about the array of coral reef. We saw sea slugs, anemones and shoals of large mullet type fish - a real experience. The day was overcast but never the less the suns heat found its way through to us. This little bay was a gem with its golden sand festooned with broken fragments of coral and shells. We spent the rest of the day here in and out of the water, abandoning our swimmers at one point.

We started back at 17.00hrs and arrived back at chalet at 18.00 for a shower and freshen up.

Decided to walk to the other side of the jetty for our meal that evening. We were shown some monitor lizards feeding on the rubbish pile for the village by some fellow travellers. Shame they do not burn it. Our meal was taken at a very nice place - we were the first to arrive again. We picked a whole fist - which we were going to have with egg fried rice. The fish was barbecued - occasionally we would get a whiff of it being cooked - plenty of care was taken with its preparation. The meal was well worth it - by the time we left the place was quite full with fellow tourists. Back to our chalet for the night.

Monday 29.02.00 - Awoke about 7.30am. and packed our bags before going out for breakfast - not a lot of activity at our place - so moved further along the beach for the usual porridge, honey and banana followed by coffee. We checked out and set off for our trip across the island at 8.30a.m. - Passing all the sleepy chalets on the way - not a lot of movement as yet. The concrete pathway abruptly came to an end and we have to climb some steep steps and descent again at the other side. We passed a Marine Centre on our way - a couple of false starts before we were eventually on our way to Juara - the village on the East Coast of the island.

As we started to climb we passed a mosque on our left. It was here the path came to an end and we were now in the jungle. It was very humid and all up hill - occasionally the rough path would become concrete steps. Generally we followed the line of the electric cables and water pipes - until we arrived at an enclosed area - supposedly where the waterfall had been. At this point we passed two fellow walkers taking five. The noise at times was electrifying and then all of a sudden it would all go quiet. We felt there were animals up there - but they did not want to be seen. There was a collection of different snails to be seen. As we reached the brow of the hill I noticed a very large scorpion on the side of the path. Ian had to have a closer look and annoy it. We also saw some large bugs that curled into a perfect ball when touched. The trees here were enormous - some of them being taken over completely by ivy. Then just around the next corner we came across a drink stand and a youngster painting pieces of wood - pink.

The rough track now became a paved path - which at times was very slippery - and we had to pick our way to the side of the path on the leaves with the help of a couple of sticks.

As we approached the village a few houses could be seen - the owners had plantations of coconuts and bananas to tend to. Arrived at Jura at about 12.15 - another lovely spot - but very quiet. Found accommodation quickly - ours was just at the side of the beach - with palm trees as well. We were quick to change into our swimmers after the hot and sticky trip over and plunge into the water. Large waves made it not the best of places to swim. Spent the rest of the afternoon leisurely enjoying the surroundings and going in and out of the sea.

Not so much choice here on this side of the island for restaurants, we chose a prawn curry with coconut – delicious! Had to walk back to the chalet in the dark - no street lights.

Tuesday 29.02.00 (Millennium Day) - Up at 8.30am. and a short walk along the beach to the restaurant for breakfast - porridge and Caroline had a banana pancake. Our chalet is on the beach so we relaxed here for most of the morning. Itchy feet however took us off for a walk S along the track to Jura’s S beach. We had to cross a number of rivers, which were very clear, and clean, we saw an eagle with a red back circling overhead. Beside the track at one point a large monitor lizard startled us. Bananas were being grown along with coconuts in the numerous plantations. Eventually we arrived at the S beach. We were both sore after yesterdays sun so we stayed covered up. Large breakers were still crashing in which made swimming quite difficult. A few beach-combing trips resulted in a fine collection of shells and coral. Lunch was a packet of crisps and water! In the afternoon we tried to continue the track but it ended the other side of a broken bridge, beyond was virgin jungle and all that it holds. Had a heavy shower and we had to shelter in a new building, which was being constructed the far end of the beach. Back to the chalet for a shower and more R & R. I selected one of the many coconuts outside our residence and we enjoyed our afternoon snack.

After a short sleep it was out for our evening meal of curried chicken - a dark walk back to the sound of frogs and the sight of the odd firefly.

Wednesday 01.03.00 - Today it was our plan to return through the jungle to the W side of the island. Awoke at 8.30am and set off to look for breakfast - much quieter this side of the island and not many tourists - we were lucky with our second call we both had porridge. Whilst eating we had a heavy downpour - hopefully this would clear the air - did not fancy the long walk back with waterproofs on.

Eventually we set off with walking sticks in hand thinking of that slippery jungle path ahead. The track firstly passes through a banana plantation - a bunch of green ones lay beside the way - too green to eat. The bananas over here are a lot smaller and a lot sweeter than the ones we are used to.

A small heard of cattle browsed the edge of the jungle. We started to climb and just ahead of us were a farmer armed with a bush knife and a length of pipe, we said hello and gave him a wide berth. The climb was a long and slippery one, Caroline spotted a centipede on the path about 3" long and about 1" wide. We met a group of three Americans, one gent and two ladies, gingerly making their way over every step. They said they had seen two snakes on their trip over from the other side. We continued to climb till we reached the shack on the brow of the hill. In a tree nearby was a noisy troop of monkeys disagreeing. Into the dank and dark jungle we went on the rough track, the ground underfoot was very wet. There was no chance of deviating off the track the surrounding undergrowth was too thick. At midday we reached our destination on west coast and the village of Takek - we made a wrong decision here and turned left to see what the centre had in store. We found out to our cost prices of everything here were a lot higher and the facilities were worse. So after a cold drink and an orange we took a look around the islands museum - a good many fragments and whole ones left by various visitors throughout the ages including China, Thailand and the West. Our decision now was to walk to Air Butan - our original port of call - on the way we called in at the Maritime museum.

Arrived at the resort at 16.00hrs and settled in with long cool swim.

The people at this end of the island are very friendly and kind, one chap showed us a game he and his pal played when they were young. He showed us two tiny spiders on the palm of his hand, when put together a fight resulted, which only lasted a couple of seconds - at which point one backed down - after this the two avoided each other.

Had a wash and brush-up and also managed to freshen up some of our clothes after the trip through the jungle. Our meal was taken in the restaurant belonging to where we were staying - just vegetables tonight. We then walked down to one of the bars for a beer before retiring at 10ish. Set the clock for tomorrow morning.

Thursday 02.03.00 - Awoke after a very restless night at about 6 o’clock - also alarm going off. We had to catch the boat early this morning back to the mainland. Packed up our packs, left key on the desk of the resort and made our way to the jetty to have breakfast in the only place that was open. The boat came in and then left again to go further around the bay first coming back about 7.15a.m. by which time there was quite a crowd to board.

It was a lovely morning as we said our farewell to our island paradise - mist still hovered over the tops of the trees. The sun over was very warm on our backs. The manoeuvre into the harbour took some time because of the sandbanks. We found our way to the bus stop and did not have to wait very long before we were on the road again. Had to make one change with a two-hour wait in a large city, we were able to find an air-conditioned department store to walk around. The bus arrived half an hour late - better late than never. We were off again - with two fellow travellers for Melaka. The road was quite windy in places - with all manner of fruits being grown on the sides of the road- where the jungle had once been and had now been cleared. The towns which we passed through were all much the same - we did however pass one really spectacular mosque.

Arrived at 6.30 and purchased ticket for tomorrow morning before going to find a room for the night. Not a lot of suitable places to stay - had to resort to the guidebook - very nice and clean. We showered before going out for the evening for a meal. Retired at 10 o’clock.

Friday 03.03.00. - After a very cool night (with air conditioning) - we awoke to alarm and packed packs and set off to find somewhere for breakfast. Found a little spot, which was quite busy and had a coffee and a honey roll (plus extra honey as we thought the rolls were plain!). After a little wait in the bus station it was time to board the bus for the Cameron Highlands. Not a lot of other people on this bus - very pleasant, as it was air-conditioned. Had to alight from this bus for the next connection at 2.15pm and were told the next bus would leave at 3pm. Went on a little exploration of this rather dusty and very hot town, bought a few bananas, some pieces of fresh pineapple and a couple of yogurts for our late lunch. Made our way back to bus station to find the bus was in and it was packed! We had to stand, for how long? Ate our lunch much to the amusement of our fellow passengers - mostly young people returning from school. Had a slight problem with the wheel which was quickly sorted - everyone was sweating profusely - why were we on the bus whilst the problem was being sorted? The bus was a bit rough to say the least - no air conditioning just open windows!

We left on time and made our way up to the highlands. People alighting all the way and these being replaced by other passengers. Some of the houses on the side of the road looked rather basic - just woven palm leaves. As we climbed higher the air seemed cooler and we were able to see the tea plantations on the sides of the hillside. We also noticed other plants being grown and irrigated by channels and different watering systems.

Eventually we arrived at about 5.30 and decided we needed a beer to clear our throats from the dust. Accommodation was soon found in a small Chinese Hotel overlooking the main street at 56 Ringets for 3 nights.

Saturday 04.03.00 - Awoke at 7.30am and leisurely mustered for breakfast and enjoyed poached egg, fruit juice, toast and coffee.

After purchasing a pictorial map of the area from the now non-existent tourist information point we set off for our days exploration. Our decision today was to go off west of the town of Tanah Rata to intersect a marked trail number 10 to the top of Gunning Jasar 1670m. All went well - the path was very easy to follow, we say a huge fly some 4" long and 1 1/2" wide resting on a bush. I picked it up by its folded wings and it showed a dislike to this and made a sound like a wounded bird. Our path took us through a well-kept garden full of fauna normally seen indoors in pots in England. The climb through the jungle was good and the path well-defined, sounds of unusual birds filled the air, along with the now familiar screech of crickets. The final ascent was arduous and we eventually arrived at the summit at 11.15hrs - and were greeted with no views! The only way to obtain a view was to climb a makeshift ladder of a nearby tree, which took you to a platform. The sun beat down on us. Our plan from the top was to return by a path marked 11 on our map.

Whilst at the summit a group arrived being led by an Irish/Australian, they left on a little known path number 6. Our route took us without too much trouble to the summit of Gunning Rerdali 1551m. At this summit we had all round panoramic views and we had chance to orienteer our map to the terrain.

A small squirrel type creature dived into the bushes which frightened us both. At this point we made a change to our plan after seeing a small village nestling in the valley to our north. From the summit there was a well-defined path to this village - Orang Asni - which we were able to follow quite easily. The sun by now was very hot so we sat down for lunch overlooking the village at 12.30p.m. We had a roll and bananas - for over an hour we sat and watched the daily activities taking place and all seemed idyllic. The houses were all built of timber on stilts with corrugated iron roofs - more primitive than villages encountered previously. A school took prime position at the centre and children were eating their midday meal outside. Dwellings were dotted around the cleared hillside inter-linked with only worn muddy paths. It must have been washday for every household had clothes drying on their lines and their residents were scantily dressed. The community seemed at one with itself. These people had in actual fact been brought out of the jungle and placed in this village and were all Asni descendants (jungle people).

We continued our descent through the huts to the access road and made our way via a strawberry farm to the town of Brinchang - here we had a beer and a packet of crisps.

Checking our newly acquired map we decided to pick up a jungle track (route 2) to the east of the town passing a Chinese temple on the way. We found the start of the path and set off in high spirits south. The initial climb was a shock - 1 in 2 - we had only gone a few hundred yards when we met a group trekking in the opposite direction. We had to give way, as the path was too narrow for both to pass. A little banter ensued and one of the members remarked on my West Country accent we chatted and found out this chap was from Plymouth.

The track was very overgrown and steep making our way up very difficult. We zigzagged our way up to the ridge and using the compass generally proceeded south - at one point we went east then west. It is not possible to wander from the track for the jungle will not let you pass. Still on the path we found ourselves dropping quite steeply west - which seemed favourable for the main road was somewhere west. Eventually however the track set off back north and the path was undefined. We now had to make a decision either to try to continue or return to look for a track south. An unpopular decision to return was made and during this climb we noticed on the trees in red "No3" - we wanted path No2. A lengthy scramble to the top of the ridge and we found a path south and fairly well defined. In slightly better spirits we set off. We then dropped into a deeply overgrown valley - creepers and palms barred our way - sliding and slipping we arrived at the valley floor - which contained a small stream. Which way were we to go now? First downstream then up but no path at this stage - returning was a possibility but would be unwelcome. Eventually Caroline spotted a faint track directly up the steep valley side, so up we clambered having to grasp the undergrowth with our hands - giving little thought to what lay beneath. By now a certain amount of uncertainty worried me and to achieve a result I speeded up much to Caroline distress - for at times she lost sight of me.

At the top of the ridge we set off on another path this time west - now returning wasn’t an option - so we hoped that this path would lead us to safety. At this inappropriate moment Caroline related the story of how a backpacker not so long ago, left for one of these walk in the jungle and never returned!

The path dropped and became more overgrown and strewn with fallen trees; occasionally a ripping vine would tare into our flesh making us bleed. We both thought what if this path should come to an abrupt end, what would we do then - the track did then just do that. On the steep valley side we thrashed about looking for the resemblance of a path. The light was still good, what would happen if it started to get dark, the thought of spending a night out here was not comforting. We ripped our way down through the trees - something blue caught our eye, could this be evidence of civilization. We arrived to find a water pump in a shed with a pipe running away up the hill - the way we were heading with a track alongside which was quite well defined, so we set off in a little panic to follow this pipe. Orienteering in the jungle as we discovered is unlike anything we had ever encountered, because distant sounds are muffled by the vegetation, there is no way to vary direction from the path (when there is one) and no way to establish whereabouts you are using bearings. It was a complete nightmare. We climbed very tired and blooded to yet another ridge and a motorcycle was heard. Hurriedly we emerged from the jungle onto an unmade road. Nearby a farmer was tending his crops, we wanted to go over and check with him as to where we were, but decided against it as by now we could get some of our bearings and check them against our insufficient map. We set off west along the unmade road less than a few hundred yards further on two large dogs emerged from the jungle unaccompanied - we both picked up a couple of large rocks. But just the sight of this made them return to the undergrowth. What if we had encountered these close to in the jungle? We had heard them and had thought they were coming from a nearby farm.

We followed this unmade road till it met more major roads for 3km and then followed this until we were back at out hotel safely (but in the dark) to lick our wounds.

As you can imagine we enjoyed our meal that evening - both thinking what could have happened!

Sunday 05.03.00 - Today was to be a rest day after our expedition of yesterday. A leisurely breakfast was taken at the same place as before. We then went to purchase our bus tickets for the trip to Butterworth tomorrow.

Back to the hotel to pick up our pack for the day. We decided to go north out of the village to a lovely park with plenty of pathways and flowers and all sorts of play equipment for the children. We watched a flycatcher catching a spider and seem to play with it for sometime before eating it.

We then came to a large sports field with a sort of moat around it. Took a path off to the left to have a look at a mosque - which looked very impressive from the outside but was very plain inside.

Then we returned to the main drag and crossed over the sports field and a bridge over the large river - which was badly polluted, on one side. After a while we picked up a jungle path (9 on our map) this was paved for a while. We walked high above the river on a kind of walkway path, passing Robinson Waterfall- which was quite spectacular. This walk was very tame after yesterdays episode - soon our path split at a little gate - we took the 9a route - through the leafy jungle - only occasionally getting glimpses of the sun. In places we had to negotiate large trees which were across the track. All the time we were gradually dropping down until we came to a clearing where all manner of vegetables were being grown on terraces.

Caroline checking quality of Boh Tea Plantation

A little later we hit the road and made the decision to walk towards the Boh Tea Plantation. It was a hard hot work walking along the road - but the ever number of vegetable plantations seem to take our minds off this. Plenty of cars passed us going also up the hill.

We had our lunch just as we entered the tea plantation, sheltering under a large tree. All around us were tea bushes, very neat and tidy, with little pathways between them. In this situation you could see what the hillside would look like without the jungle.

On arriving at the Tea Plantation Visitor Center our first job was to have a cup of tea - very nice too. We then watched a video of how the process took place from start to finish. A guide then took us around the factory - where we were able to see it all for ourselves. Very antiquated machinery seemed to be carrying out the work - not a lot of changes since the opening of the plantation many years ago.

Another cup of tea to finish with before going back - we did not fancy the walk all the way back on the road so we hitched. The first car stopped and took us all the way back to Tanah Rata!

Back to our hotel for a wash and a siesta for couple of hours. It rained a little in the evening when we went out for our meal - so we had to eat inside the restaurant instead of our usual outside meal.

Monday 06.03.00 - Awoke about 6.30am after a restful and cool night. Packed our bags. Our usual spot for breakfast was not open so had to have a pancake somewhere else. Went for the bus at 8.30am with a few other Europeans whom we had met over the last few days in our stay here. There seemed to be a problem with the starter motor of the bus being stuck or the battery being flat - a lot of looking but no action - and nobody being in any hurry to do anything. At 9.30am a mechanic came and bump started it - we all piled on for our trip to Butterworth. It was like being on a slow boat to China - with oppressive heat - air conditioning not functioning!

We passed many palm oil and rubber plantations on our way. The road after Tapah was very good - motorway most of the way - but the going was very slow. We seemed to be following the mountain range all the way.

We arrived in Butterworth at 2.30p.m. Ian decided we would go on to Kota Bharu this evening - so we had a few hours to spare. Our first port of call was a rather posh hotel for a milkshake - to clear our throats and enjoy the air conditioning. Ian then went and bought himself a new shirt - the toll of the jungle was showing. A Kentucky fried chicken and chips for tea - before catching a bus back to the jetty (which was where we had started from). We were informed by a local that we could catch a ferry over to Georgetown (Penang) quite easily - and that they also ran very frequently. It seemed a strange state of affairs that all the high-rise was in Georgetown and that most of the people from Butterworth worked over there. The ferry was in two levels - the cars underneath and the people above. Had about three-quarters of an hour over there before catching another ferry back.

We had a little time before the bus arrived - quite a plush affair with air conditioning. This looked good! After about an hour of travelling we came to Taping when we had to change buses - this bus had very powerful air conditioning - we soon wished we had our jumpers on.

Tuesday 07.03.00 - It was a long night – we both slept intermittently. Arrived in Kota Bharu at 5.15.a.m. After looking at our 'Rough Guide' – which said the bus station was 2kms from the center of the town – we set out to wait for a bus. Ian explored and found that we were in the centre!

After walking around for sometime we found a hotel, had a shower and crashed out for a while. Suitably refreshed but by no means 100% we set off to explore Kota Bharu. A 400m walk west found us in the centre – we stopped off at various intervals to take advantage of the different shops, which all had air conditioning.

An interesting stall at Kota Baru market.

At the centre found the central market and what a market! There was a central hall with two floors rising at its perimeter. All matter of produce on sale – most of the fruit was being sold by ladies – who sat amidst their wares on the stall – fruit some of which we had never seen before – all in tiptop condition. Plenty of meat also for sale ranging from beef to goat's heads. There were hoards of dried salted fish and plenty of fresh fish also. To enter the atmosphere fully we decided to climb the two floors and view below – the colours were spectacular. It seems to us that sellers far outnumbered their customers. We bought some fresh pineapple and oranges.

Eventually we left the market and entered the oppressive heat of the streets again. Decided to have a cup of tea, afterwards set off again with the aid of a compass to find the cultural centre – where we hoped to view local customs. We arrived to find that performances were on Monday, Wednesday and Friday – planned to come back tomorrow.

From our guide book we next set off to try and find a local kite maker who resides some 5kms from the town – so caught a local bus and set off. Most of our fellow passengers were young women travelling to and from college – all dressed in typical Moslem fashion – Caroline was certainly different. We alighted at Kampung Karian – the heat had not abated – quickly we found the premises where the kites were made. There were wonderful selections of kites for sale – all made from tissue paper and decorated with hand cut stencils. After browsing in the shop we were invited to meet an old gent in the adjoining building to see the kites being made. At the foot of a blue marble staircase we took off our sandals and made our way to the verandah, here we met the old gentleman who knew no English. However his son-in-law arrived and could translate for us – we spent a wonderful one and half-hours in their company chatting and laughing. The old man is still a keen kite maker and is as dexterous as ever – he needs to wear no glasses for the very intricate work. He produced much for us to see including his pride of possession – a Queen Elizabeth II crown. Eventually we said our farewells and walked a short distance until we came upon a Batik printing workshop. We were invited to have a look around and were able to watch the workers busy with their craft.

Caught bus back to centre – where we were able to purchase a beer – before returning to hotel for shower and rest.

Our evening meal was taken in the night market – what an array of foods was on sale. The smells were overpowering. It was all a take away sort of affair – wrapped in a piece of oiled paper. Had coconut rice with chicken – very nice – Ian went for turmeric rice and chicken. We then had a couple of sweetmeats for desert. As it was still warm we stopped and sat for a while in the centre and watched the coming and goings before returning to our room.

Wednesday 08.03.00. - Surprisingly we slept quite well seeing the road outside was very noisy.

Decided we would go to the beach today. But first we took some breakfast – which ended up being noodles with a little sauce in a piece of paper and a Milo (chocolate drink). Picked up a bag of fresh pineapple for lunch and set off to catch the bus – which came quite quickly.

When we arrived at Pantai Cinta Berahni (PCB) we found we were the only ones of the beach. As this is a strict Muslim area had to be a restrictive – Ian did however spend the time in and out of the water. There were a number of women looking for cockles in the sand – fully clothed they shuffled along – and showed us the small cockles they had found. We were able to shelter from the sun beside the very colourful fishing boats that were pulled up on the beach. We enjoyed our fresh pineapple for lunch.

At about 2.15am caught the bus back to the centre and made our to the cultural centre Here we spent a very enjoyable couple of hours listening to the music, watching their type of martial arts and also watching the traditional games of Malaysia. We were also given the opportunity to join in the activities if we wished. A tourist officer told us that there would be a Shadow Play performance that evening at 9 o’clock – open to all if we wished to come.

Back to hotel for shower and relax!

Our evening meal was again taken in the night market – this evening we went for fish. Afterwards we again set of for the cultural centre - when we arrived we found they were already playing music – no seats! So everybody was sitting on the ground – which after a while became very uncomfortable. When the actual show play began – it was very good. We were also able to go back scene and watch how it was all done. The puppets they used were the very colourful ones, which we had seen in the shops, and the play took place between a white background and a bulb.

Arrived back at hotel about 10.15pm – shattered – after a very busy day.

Thursday 09.03.00. - A leisurely awakening to the sound of the now familiar racetrack outside. Packed our bag for a day on the beach. Walked to the centre and changed some money. Bought breakfast in the local supermarket "THE STORE" – ate some on a shaded bench outside.

Today we had decided to catch the No39 bus to Bachook – a 45mins ride costing just 20p. The ride took us through the local community –rice fields, cattle grazing, goats and the every present coconut plantations. The bus dropped us at the end of the journey Bachook beach. We made our way the short distance to the beach through bordering coconut trees. The beach was littered with natural and unnatural litter – we walked for a while along the beach. Crab casts were numerous and the sea crashed in from the east. Many fishing boats trawled offshore for the local delicacy. We settled beneath a coconut tree and spent an hour or two doing beach things and swimming in the warm China Sea. Lunch consisted of grapes and pecan nuts.

After our meal we walked south along the never-ending sandy beach. In a while we selected another coconut tree to laze under and have a couple more swims.

We decided to explore the village of Bachook – the heat was oppressive. Dwellings all on stilts lined the one-track road; eventually we spotted a teashop and decided to call in. A group of four men sat around a vinyl topped table supping sweet tea. We joined them and were able to converse with one of them – we had a very enjoyable hour chatting.

All along this coast are concrete pill boxes sited one mile apart, for in 1941 these were to deter the Japanese invasion.

Caught the bus back at 17.30hrs and finished the afternoon with two large beers in a local Chinese restaurant.

Back to room for the usual shower and rest, before going out for our meal. Tonight we had a steamed fish with lemon and chili sauce and fried rice and a few beers! Some of us far more than others. A little walk around the town before returning to hotel at 10 o’clock.

Friday 10.03.00. - No alarm clock needed we were awake at 7.15a.m. – our bags packed and set off on our travels again. We were soon on our way south to the little village of Pasir Putec – the journey took about ¾ hr. Decided to have breakfast in this little village – some sort of dough filled with honey – Ian had coffee and I had a chocolate drink. Soon we were off again to Kuala Besut – with a little boy and his mother – who to start with was very shy. But he soon overcame this and he was soon copying all our antics.

At Kuals Besut we had to arrange our boat to the island of Pertiertian Kecil – which seemed to go OK – we were ready to go at 11 o’clock. As we were waiting a couple started to talk to us .He told us he had chipped one of his vertebrae bones in a boating accident on the island. He had had to go to Kota Bharu for an x-ray. He was now returning to the island where he was a diving instructor.

We landed at Coral Bay, which was an idyllic beach – white sands and palm trees. We soon sussed out that the accommodation was going to be expensive – so we walked over to the East Side of the island to Long Beach. Lodgings were at a premium and we had to stay in a very simple A frame – no water, no fan, and no toilet – Ian thought it was fine.

It wasn’t long before we were on the beach having a swim. There were plenty of mostly young people on the beach. We were both hungry so had a meal in one of the restaurants.

We then had another swim before relaxing on the beach at the quieter end. We had a joint shower at the entrance to our site before returning to our chalet for a rest. No rest for the wicked - off out at 18.45 p.m. for a leisurely walk along the beach to the N end for our evening meal. Our meal was chicken, rice and vegetables followed by melon – very nice. Back to the A-frame and sweated a good hour before sleep found us.

Saturday 11.03.00. - Up at 7.30am and packed a daypack to set off for a beachside breakfast of scrambled eggs and coffee. Our plan for the day was to walk the short track over the island to Coral Beach – a quiet cove with a few chalets and shops. It was not long before we were both in the water. The floor of the bay was lined with coral. We were in and out of the water all day. We hired a double seater canoe for an hour – Caroline was a little reluctant but soon we were paddling like professionals. Three or four times across the bay and we pulled in. A drink was in order so we retired to a local café; here we sat and chatted to a Canadian girl about her and our travels. She gave us some pointers for things to see in Thailand. At 2 o’clock we said our farewells and set off for yet another swim and snorkel. Whilst out there I saw a brightly coloured water snake coiled on the seabed only a few feet below as I passed over it. Not as much as by your ass I made a quick retreat. Later on we decided to walk along the coastal rocks to the next tiny cove having our lunch on the way – bananas and pineapple – overlooking the turquoise water. Swimming off the small beach was wonderful with so much to see – small and large fish feeding off the coral. Spent most of the afternoon in the water and we eventually returned to our quarters at 18.00hrs.

Sunday 12.03.00. - Up again today 7.30am and packed a daypack – I put together swim gear and snorkel. Scrambled egg and toast for breakfast then a wait for the 10.30a.m. snorkel trip – Caroline elected not to go. At 10.45a.m. ten of us armed with snorkels boarded a rather smart speedboat – seven young women and three men. At speed we set off north to our first port of call – Shark point. I was first in and away, the boatman rode off about ½ mile – the plan was for us to swim over to him. The water was 15’ to 20’deep and clear as glass. In a short while I spotted the first of why its called Shark Point – a beast of about 5’ long cruising the sea bed unconcerned by my presence overhead – thank goodness! In all I saw about 30 in all sizes. I thought I’d stand little chance if they all ganged up on me. At the boat the captain was feeding multitudes of brightly coloured fish – we swam amongst the ravaging hoards, feeling at times them nibbling at our fingers, they swam right up to our goggles – a fine experience. At speed we skimmed off to the second venue, across the strait to the Big Island. All in the water again and soon some of the girls complained of jellyfish stings – but I had assumed it was just I! The stings weren’t lasting and soon forgot. At this point we enjoyed views of spectacular coral trees of all shapes, sizes and colours – wonderful. Off again to another spot this time a real treat to see the turtles. Between the two islands is a narrow strait here we stopped and soon the captain pointed out something dark on the sea bottom, as ever I was the first one in and there below was a magnificent fully grown turtle some 3’ across. I cruised above it and watched as it pulled away at the meager grazing on the bottom, in a while it raised its head and started up towards me and broke the sea surface only 3’ away. I was able to see the whites of its eye. It took two gulps of air and returned to be seabed to continue feeding. I followed this same animal for ½ hour and saw it take another air break. Lunch was taken at the village settlement on the south end of the small island. Whilst the rest of the boat trip members ate I wandered around the village. A shabby site but the residents ever happy. A new school was in the process of construction. Lunch over it was off for one last dive near Long Beach and this dive was as good as the rest bringing my snorkeling trip to a conclusion – I had enjoyed all the experiences immensely

On my return met Caroline on the beach and together we had refreshment, another swim, a shower before our evening excursions.

Long Beach babe!

Monday 13.03.00. - Awoke about 7.30am packed up all our bits and pieces - we were going to leave for the big island today. Had our usual breakfast and took a speedboat over to the island. The initial start off as we left the island was rather choppy but it soon calmed out and we both enjoyed the trip over. We arrived at Mama’s place - which looked a little plush for us - so moved along the bay - which proved to be more difficult than we had thought. We started to wade with our sandals on which was OK at the beginning - but then we had to climb up over the rocks - so walking boots were needed - then later it was change again for the rocks became too steep for us. This time it was a change to our swimmers and again to wade in the water. After a little while we arrived at Cozy Chalets. We easily found a chalet to stay in and only then found out we could have come direct on a path!

More first class accomodation - location location location

After settling in we set off to explore the island, around the bay coming across one jetty then another. The second one had a number of people fishing so off we went to investigate - they were catching all number of fish. Some of these fishermen were more proficient than others - we found out from them that they were on holiday from somewhere near the Thai border. Large fishing boats were also moored here with all number of fishing devices on board. Looking into the water it was crystal clear with a vast quantity of fish - the types we had seen whilst snorkeling - including a large number of garfish.

Carrying on with our walk around the coastline we came to a small cafe - so we stopped for fried rice and coke - the fried fish was squid, which was very tasty. A number of youngsters were camping here and playing football.

It was now time to find a trail through the jungle to Flora Bay - which as it happened was not too difficult. As soon as we had entered the forest the incessant crone of the insects began. I noticed what looked like a cocoon on one of the trees but with the help of the binoculars it proved to be an animal with a baby attached. We watched for sometime but no movement.

Carried on up through the jungle climbing over boulders until we came to the top - it was now all downhill to the bay and what a bay! Couldn’t wait to dive in the water yet again. Eventually we had to leave this very quiet bay with only a few tourists on it to find the track back to the other side. Thankfully it was very well marked and we were soon on our way again; first on a track and then over rough ground, crossing a wooden bridge. We were gradually climbing to the top again following the rough track - it was here that we found a large water tank, collecting and carrying fresh water to the coast. From here it was all downhill again to the other side.

We now came across Perthian Island Resort - complete with swimming pool, bar on the beach and very plush chalets with air conditioning - how the other half live! We had an ice cream!

Carried on along the coast till we arrived back at our little bay and had a few beers before returning for a shower. After a very tiring day crashed out for a while. Our evening meal was taken on the seafront cafe - we both choose fish but with different sauces. Returned to chalet at 9.30p.m. for an early night.

Tuesday 14.03.00. - Today we were leaving these lovely islands but our boat was not due until 12 o’clock. Had our breakfast in Cozy Chalets - which overlooked the bay and the village of Juara on little island. As a little exercise for the day we walked over the same jetty as we had visited yesterday. Could not resist a skinny dip - as there was nobody around - all the youngsters who were here yesterday had gone. Walked slowly back to chalet for shower and packed our bags ready for the boat trip. One actually arrived at 11.30am so off we set - we were both very sorry to leave these lovely islands. As a final farewell we sailed past Juara and all the little bays on the east coast before coming to where we landed - Coral Bay.

The trip back to the mainland was very smooth. We were surprised to see quite large patches of pollution on the top of the water.

As we approached the mainland jetty it was difficult to find somewhere to moor - so we had to climb over four boats before we could reach the shore. We now had to retrace our tracks or so we thought but we got on a bus going in the other direction.

Unfortunately we were caught in a traffic jam going into Kota Bharu and eventually arrived about 4 o’clock. A young lad accosted us at the bus station and took us to his guesthouse that as it happened was like an oasis in the city, complete with covered lounge area. Whilst here we were able to relax and wind away a couple of hours, we had a long chat with a couple from Watford who are travelling for about 12 months.

Once again our evening meal was taken at the market - the same stall as we had eaten before. Returned to our room for a peaceful night’s sleep.

Wednesday 15.03.00. - Up at 6.00am and we had to be let out by the landlady through the big iron gates. On arriving at the bus station we found it to be alive with hundreds of people waiting and jockeying for position to catch various buses. Eventually we found out where we were supposed to catch our bus (No29) for the Thai border. At 6.45am our bus arrived and a survival of the fittest battle commenced - we both were able to obtain a seat. The bus pulled out with no room even for standing, 45mins later we were at the border and off the bus. Customs procedures were uneventful and we walked the 1km across the border river with Thailand.

The immediate difference was the amount of stray dogs roaming - we had seen very few in Malaysia.

What Malaysian money we had left we were able to change in a local hotel. Thai time if one hour behind Malay time so now it was 7.00am. Our means of transport out of here was to be a train and it was to leave at 9.00am. We found a small cafe for breakfast. We boarded the train with what appeared to be the entire population of Thailand! The morning got hotter and slowly passengers who were standing and hanging off the sides managed to squeeze themselves onto seats. A long and sweaty ride through rice fields, rubber plantations and jungle arriving at 14.00hrs.

A slight misunderstanding with the bus driver as to the correct price for the fare to the bus station from the train terminal but eventually we won through and arrived there for 10bhat each. It was here we found out there would be no bus to Krabi until 21.30hrs and the 4hour ride would have made it impossible to find accommodation at our destination at that late hour. Caroline found an alternative mini bus leaving at 16.30hrs for a few more bhats.

We arrived at Krabi at 21.00hrs and slotted into a clean and good guesthouse. After nipping out for our evening’s meal we were in bed by 22.45hrs.

Thursday 16.03.00. - Today was to be spent getting orientated with Krabi itself. We firstly went out for breakfast - found a rather nice French cafe where we both had porridge and a few cups of rather nice coffee.

We now set off to find the immigration office to sort out our visa details. Not too complicated - they were all very helpful. We just now had to sort out drawing some money out - which once again this was quite painless. Went back to guesthouse to fill forms up and sort out all we needed for the visa extension. Took a pile of washing to be done for 80baht.

We now returned to the immigration office and sorted all the details OK.

We walked west of the harbour until we came to a lovely little park - where plenty of people were have picnics and playing games. We stopped for a couple of drinks as it was by now quite warm and later ordered some lunch of minced lamb fried with spices and herbs, served with salad and sticky rice.

We explored further along the coast but because of the heat had to take the occasional rest - dropping off once in a sheltered park for an hour or so. Ever onwards we walked west watching all the boats ferrying people here and there. We were stopped in our tracks eventually by a murky channel that divided the harbour and the side we were on. It was here we were able to watch mud skippers on the banks. Ian crossed by a very precarious bridge; I as usual had to go around - which was a very long hot way. After a while we met up again and walked till we came to some new houses which were being built for rent or for sale.

Sorted out journey back - stopping every so often for a rest - the heat was overpowering - we were both sweating profusely. Had a beer on the outskirts of the town - it was well received. Booked a little trip for tomorrow before returning to guesthouse for a shower.

Our evening meal was taken in the company of a young chap from Weymouth and young girl from Cardiff - a pleasant evening and home to bed at 10.30p.m.

Friday 17.03.00. - Arose from our slumbers at 7.30am.and set off for breakfast at our now favoured spot - porridge and coffee. Today we had planned to join a trip to the James Bond - A man with the golden eye - island. We boarded our mini buses at 8.50a.m. and set off to collect a bus full from various sites around the town. In a half an hour we were at the service station and transferred to a forty-two seater coach - things were getting worse. Unused to travelling in a mob we were uneasy. An hours bus ride found us at the boat pier - very near Pukket. We were told to collect a life jacket and board a long boat with a long shafted engine. Noisily but quickly we started out through the avenues of mangroves. The boat trip was refreshing and we started to enjoy the experience - thirty-five minutes passed and views of high rock formations projecting from the sea were enjoyed. Eagles flew overhead looking for prey. In a little while we were landed of the island of Khoa Pink Gan (meaning leaning rock) - the island on which scenes from the James Bond film were shot. Commercialism was rife - stalls selling trinkets and boats continually coming and going. In the bay stands a rock pinnacle and we like thousands more photographed it. Only 20mins here then back on the boat to steam off for lunch - which was to be taken in a village on stilts (KoPanyi). This village was also geared up for the tourists - we dined on squid, fish, rice and pineapple - quite pleasant. 50mins here to the second then it was off back to the jetty to be directed onto the bus and a ride to see a reclining Buddha.

Many years ago a family discovered a large cave in which was to be created a temple known as Thani Seua. Within is one of the largest reclining Buddha’s in Thailand. At the entrance to the cave was a troop of monkeys waiting to be fed by the visitors. Bats hung in the cave and a lone monk sad meditating with one eye on the tourists for a handout.

Back on the bus again for half-hours drive to a marine waterpark. All off the bus again in single file we walked to a magnificent natural lake being fed from a water source within huge limestone cave. Only five of us took the plunge along with many locals. The swim was refreshing in the cloudy water. Whilst I was drying a chap dived in and unfortunately cracked his head on a rock. He had to retire with a nasty cut to his forehead. This was our last excursion before we all returned to the bus for the drive back to Krabi. We were both hungry so we stopped for a couple of beers and a chicken baguette before returning to guesthouse for a shower.

In the evening - as it was St.Patrick’s Day - we went in search of a Bar that advertised that it was putting on a special evening.

It was quite easy to find and we relaxed over a couple of beers and Caroline had an Irish Kiss (special cocktail for the night - whiskey, martini and pineapple juice) very nice. Back for an early night.

Saturday 18.03.00. - Off to our usual spot for breakfast – we then caught the bus to Au Nanywith with a few other people. It was a lovely setting with the limestone pinnacles just off shore. The beach was lined with palm & other trees for protection from the sun. The foreshore waters were cordoned off to keep boats away from swimmers. We spent the morning enjoying the warm water. At about 1.20pm we set off to phone Andrew, not realising it was quite so early; our phone call woke them up. It was lovely to speak them all. Next we set out to find the Thai boxing stadium as Ian would have liked to take a look. We found the stadium but boxing was programmed for tonight 8pm. We returned to the beach to spend the afternoon there. At 4.45pm we started our return to Krabi. The noise of many long boat engines was a little annoying; they were continually collecting and dropping off people. We eventually arrived at Krabi and settled down to a cold beer & chicken baguette before returning to our guesthouse. After a few hours rest we set off out again for more beer & baguettes.

Sunday 19.03.00. - Up at 6am and reassembled fan, found a local bus to the bus terminal which was 3km from the centre of Krabi – 10bhat. A long distant bus was there waiting to fill up – we did have a chance to grab a small breakfast in a nearby café. At 8am we were off to Takua Pa a town 4hrs.north. This turned out to be an interesting ride with the now usual sights of palm oil nut collecting, rubber plantations. We passed through many small communities, always a feature was laden food stalls, and one wonders who buys it all.

Arrived at our destination at 12 noon, our next bus connection was waiting and set off immediately all be it at a snails pace for 2km. In an hour and after climbing slowly we were at the roadside entrance to Khao Sok National Park. As soon as we alighted touts requesting us to stay at their accommodation offering a free ride to the centre swarmed us upon. Ignoring them all we retreated to a nearby shop for a drink and a bun. With little let up the pestering we decided to leave and walk the couple of miles to the centre. In no time we sorted out suitable accommodation – a jungle hut – we rested a while in a sweat.

An unspoiled complex with swimming available in the nearby jungle river Sok. We took advantage of the swimming arrangements and gingerly entered the murky waters after asking of any dangers. We swam most of the afternoon; sounds of the jungle were all around – monkey’s in particular, large brightly coloured butterflies fluttered by. Our swim over we decided to take a walk to the National Park office to gather information for tomorrows’ trek. Found a good place to eat and enjoy a few beers. Returned to our bamboo hut for another drink and early to bed.

Monday 20.03.00. - Awoke early as usual – packed up a few thinks for the day and set off up to the entrance to the park (10Baht entrance fee). Our first port of call was the Park Head Office to pick up the leaflet with the trails on it. We then stopped at the same restaurant as last night to have some breakfast before setting off at 9 o’clock. We were hoping to go as far as Tang Nam on the map, which we had. The track was easy to follow we could hear a number of monkey calls but we were unable to see any. Guess who forgot the water for the day? Caroline returned to pick up a couple of bottles from the restaurant. The only form of life we saw in profusion were sand lizards with the occasional horned type. A few very colourful birds darted between the sides of the path. As we proceeded we were able to catch glimpses of the River Sok below us. Some of the trees which lined the path were large specimen ones and had nametags attached.

After following the main track for about 1 1/2hrs it abruptly came to an end and we now had to cross a bamboo bridge and begin to weave our way through the jungle on quite a defined path.

After about 3hrs we arrived at our destination – a deep gorge with the river running through the middle. It did not take us long to plunge into this cool clear water. There were plenty of fish in the river – it was very refreshing after the long hot walk here. A fellow walker who also enjoyed the cool water joined us. We had a colourful towel, which attracted many butterflies and flies – they appeared to be collecting salts or something.

We remained here for about 1½ hrs but sadly had to leave and make our way back – stopping once for a swim. At this stop there were even more orange and yellow butterflies on the sand at the edge of water.

On the return trip we passed many people just beginning their trek up the valley – we were glad to be returning for by now the heat was incessant. The track however did now offer quite good protection from the sun. We arrived back at the park entrance at 5ish – time for a couple of beers and some food. (Malacka fruit salad – Papaya). We met a couple from South Africa who we talked to for sometime also the German couple we had met yesterday. They told us they had been to another waterfall in this area. Left there a little worse for wear.

I returned to the hut for a shower whilst Ian wandered off to look for monkeys! Had a shower and went off to sleep and was awoken by thunder and lightening – where was Ian? The electric was off so could not investigate. Eventually the light came on and opened the front door and Ian was sat there – he told me of his experiences (bamboo man that is!) Went to have a cup of tea before retiring to a very hot night with the incessant noise of insects in the background. It also rained heavily overnight.

Tuesday 21.03.00. - Awoke at 7a.m. and relaxed awhile before eventually emerging from our bamboo hut, just outside the hut was a new immigrant – the biggest spider either of us had ever seen. It was sat surveying at the centre of a 4ft. web. We would like to have watched it for the day – trapping and eating its prey.

We sat off for a short walk across the river for breakfast in the garden in the company of a fishpond full of large goldfish.

On the way back to our hut we were lucky enough to spot a group of locals collecting and preparing rubber. We chatted and learned they had cut the downward sloping incision in the bark of the tree at 2am and at 8am.The pint cups were full of white resin. Then all the cups were emptied into buckets and taken to a central shed, here the solution was transferred to aluminum trays for solidifying. In the afternoon when all the trays were like jelly the rubber was rolled out into sheets. Eventually this was sold in Bangkok for 75baht per kilo.

We were now ready to set off to try and find the monkeys we were told about yesterday who hung out near the river further downstream. We arrived at the river and crossed a rather rickety bamboo bridge. We were able to sit here for some time and watch a troop of monkeys in the trees downstream feeding. Whilst we enjoying this a group of Germans came along and we had to retreat from the rickety bridge whilst they crossed!

Above us was a large rock/mountain – our intention was to walk around it in a clockwise direction. A small path wound its way through the undergrowth – the large rock had very large limestone caves in its side where we were able to see bird’s nests attached to the roof – they were also many bats.

Further on the German group showed us a strange plant known as Mimosa which had the property of folding its leaves when touched. We then came to a temple in a cave with a Buddha, nearby was an old gent with a gibbon on a string. We met both Caroline was less than enthusiastic and the monkey sensed this. The gibbon was a cute creature with thick fur. Our walk now took us on to the main road for a short distance – before we stopped for a drink in a café and chatted to a fellow traveller.

We wandered back to our bamboo hut and spent the rest of the day relaxing and swimming in the river.

Decided to have our evening meal in the same place as we had had our breakfast. It proved to be a very popular spot and many others joined us. After our meal a couple from Canada joined us to while away the evening,we both told tales of our travels. We really didn’t notice that the electric was off until we arrived back at our hut –all was in darkness – retired at 10 o’clock.

Wednesday 22.03.00. - Today we were moving on awoke about 7 o’clock, packed bags and settled our tab at the guesthouse, before we set off to walk up the valley to the main road. Today everywhere was shrouded in mist – which I am sure, will be burnt off when the sun gets up. We had a coffee and a couple of sweet buns in the little shop near the main road. Ian had some fun with a pet monkey, which belonged to the owner. Spot on 8’oclock the bus arrived and we were off again. A fellow French traveller informed us that the views would have been magnificent if there had been no mist on the top of the mountains!

Arrived in Surat Thani railway station at 10.30a.m. and booked train for this evening at 6.20p.m. We were able to leave our bags in the left luggage for a few bhats and we set off to explore the town. We took a bus to the port of Surat Thani and walked down to have a look at the river. At this point it was a very busy fishing port – women were busy cleaning squid and others packing fish with ice. We watched the long tailed boats taking their customers here and there with all number of packages and commodities.

As a short cut we took a walk through one of the walled temples and came across a very strange sight. Four wax figures sitting on a raised area – it took us sometime to realise they were statues as they were very well made and so realistic.

We had some lunch in a very cool restaurant – and in fact stayed for a couple of hours here.

Ian once again made an exhibition of himself whilst purchasing a light – he was entice to have a go on a microphone – which was connected to the outside of the shop!

Made our way back to railway station retrieved our bags and joined the many other Europeans waiting for the train to Bangkok.

What an experience this turned out to be – we were given seats, which eventually were turned into beds by an attendant. Most of our fellow passengers turned in early – we set our clock for 5 o’clock, as we were not going all the way to Bangkok. Ian slept of the top bunk and I slept on the bottom.

Thursday 23.03.00. - At about 4.45a.m. an attendant came around and woke us to say we were nearly at Ban Bang – our departure point – everyone else was still sleeping. We were now in another town early in the morning. It very soon become apparent that the residents of this town were less used to Westerners and none we met could speak English. Nevertheless as intrepid as ever we made our way to the correct bus station to Kanchaburi at 6.a.m. Along came our air conditioned bus to ferry us to our destination in two hours. Had breakfast at a local market – chicken noodles and coffee, then off to find some accommodation. With the aid of our Rough Guide we found Apple guesthouse – cheap and cheerful. Farmed out our washing and proceeded to clean ourselves after 24hrs of travelling.

We had a rest of about an hour then it was off to explore – first quenching our thirst with a beer. We came across a memorial park for the POW’s who died in 1943-1945 era when the Japanese forced them to construct a railway linking Burma & Thailand -–6500 brave men died and the park is tastefully maintained to their memory. We sat and reflected as many Japanese tourists came and went.

Afterwards we came across a Buddhist temple adorned with flowers and decoration and people were erecting sun canopies. Not knowing what was going on we set off for a sandwich and a drink. The heat was sapping us dry so we sat beside the River Kwai watching the day’s proceedings. Another walk around somewhat shabby back streets but full of interest. As we were returning we came back via the temple and this time the whole courtyard was full of neatly dressed folk. In a while we worked out the meaning of the gathering – a funeral of a very important person - perhaps a monk. The body was laid in rest in an adjoining room whilst mourners paid their respects. We sat and watched as first monks filed past the temple and then the other mourners. We were given two small bottles of some sort of incense.

Back to the guesthouse for another shower and rest.

We walked in the other direction tonight – more choices of places to eat. Found a place where we were able to watch a football match (Chelsea v Italy) and have a meal.

Friday 24.04.00. - Today we had planned to take the train "over the Bridge of the River Kwai - we first however had to wait for our clean clothes to arrive one disadvantage of travelling light! Dead on 10am as promised our clothes arrived duly washed and dried.we were now ready to go to the railway station. With a tip off from the Canadian girl we had met yesterday we knew we could obtain a 17baht ticket instead of the tourist 145baht ticket. As we awaited the arrival of the train more and more people arrived most of them with their tour leader only a few independent travellers. Whilst there we were able to have a look at the Singapore/Bangkok Orient Express parked up on the other track. This train looked the height of luxury.

The train arrived at 10.55am and we were off at 11a.m.As we chugged along over the bridge very slowly many people were on the railway line taking photos, the whole area was thronging with people.

Slowly we made our way along the very fertile valley with all sorts of crops being grown. The train windows were open and everybody was enjoying the scenery. When all at once we noticed a large area of darkness coming along in our wake. It was a very strange sensation for all of a sudden the wind was blowing the trees and picking up leaves and anything else that was loose on the ground. The red dust of the fields and roads was also blown into the sky, just like a hurricane. As we passed the houses everybody was battening down the hatches and taking shelter. Then the rain came our open windows were soon closed and the rain lashed against them.

Some of our fellow passengers disembarked whilst this storm was in full swing, they were drenched. We carried on until Nam Tok, the end of the line. At this point the rest of the passengers left the train except us, we were waiting for the return journey. All the other passengers were on a tour and they had coaches waiting here to pick them up and wisk them off somewhere else.

A few new passengers joined us here, the train sellers selling drinks and food – which had done so well on the upward journey now had meager pickings.

We had decided to disembark at the stop just past the bridge and walk back. As it was now 3.15p.m. We decided to have a late lunch in a local café. Afterward as we were here at the bridge we went with the flow and crossed the bridge with the masses.

From here it did not take us long to walk back to the guesthouse for a shower and a rest. In the evening out for more fodder in a local bar obviously owned and run by an Englishman. On the video was showing Bridge over the River Kwai – we watched the last hour or so. At 20.30hrs Karoke discs were being played but no one seemed very interested. Caroline & I had a game of pool. A couple of young British introduced themselves to us – Paul & Jamie – we chatted about our mutual travel experiences. One beer let to another and yet another (Black Tiger) until 2.a.m. We staggered home to bed.

Saturday 25.03.00. - Waking up this morning was a problem, both Caroline & myself feeling fragile (self abuse last night). Eventually we emerged into the outside world at 9.45am and set off for the 4km walk to the famous Bridge and a planned walk around the World War II museum. We spent 2 1/2hrs ambling around first a local Thai museum then a museum with its theme on the building of the 411km railway by the allied forces by the Japanese Imperial Army. The POW’s worked 16hrs a day for 17 months to complete this rail link into Burma. One in five men died from various ailment and mistreatment.

Lunch was taken in the local soup kitchen Caroline was only interested in a snack.

Nothing planned for the afternoon so we slowly ambled back – stopping off at a road bridge further down stream. We crossed and watched a diver with a homemade speargun successfully spear four fish. There was another fisherman working the area in a small wooden boat with a net – he only had one leg. A stroll back and an earlier that usual rest and shower at 16.00hrs.

Decided to walk east from the guesthouse past the war cemetery and watched a group of locals taking part in aerobics in the open. We then walked towards the main part of town and had our evening meal in a very pleasant restaurant. We were offered a typical Thai sweet but we were full – said we would call again. The owner told us he was in the Thai army and he had served in Sweden and Norway.

The new bridge over the famous River Kwai

We went for a quick look at the River Kwai Hotel which was opposite – able to have a look at an English paper in the foyer before we returned to our room for the night.

Sunday 26.03.00. - On the move today packed our bags and set off about 8.30a.m. We called in where we had eaten last night for our breakfast. The owner offered us the sweet from last night – sticky rice, banana & coconut milk steamed in a palm leaf. Rather sweet! Said our farewells and made our way to the bus station.

It was a large bus station but as luck would have it the first bus we came to was ours. We would now be travelling north over the central plains of Thailand. It indeed was a flat area; a lot of rice was being grown. This was an area that was very rich in bird life especially on the sides of the many pools and small lakes. These were in turn being fished by the locals. We also saw ducks, which were being kept in deep litter houses over these lakes.

We had one change of bus which went very smoothly – plenty of helpful people around – right off one and right on the next.

After about 3 1/2hrs we arrived in Ayutthaya – the original capital of Siam (Thailand)- now to find somewhere to stay. We did not seem to do so well this time – very neat room but the walls were made of slats. (Had to fill in with paper!). Took our guide and went off to explore – had not gone far before we were waylaid by a beer and a noodle soup.

We walked west along the main road and after a false start we same across Wat Phrs Mahatat – as it was well past the closing times – Ian bunked over the wall – I walked around for a little while before I found a more appropriate place. We explored the ruins for a while – admired the brickwork that had been involved in the original building. Were also able to find the Buddha growing in the tree. We climbed to the very top of these towers to get a better perspective of the layout. Just as we were making our way through the park I noticed elephants (about 20 in number) being ridden down the main street. Nobody seemed to take any notice except us. They were not quite as big as I had imaged them to be their skin was mottled in places. There was one baby being let along by his handler.

Back to room for a shower and rest. Having taken a snack late in the afternoon we went out later for our meal. The streets were almost deserted only a few stray mangy dogs.

We walked some distance along the main road until we ended up at a market with food cubicles – we elected to eat here – the turnover was rapid – the two wok cooks showed their expertise. We had two lovely meals and were entertained by the staff, who were dispensing meals both eat in and take away at a most efficient rate. Had a drink in a bar on the way back and played a new game. The game consisted of 54 tiles (wood) which were arranged in levels of three alternating the lay direction – the object of the game was to remove tiles individually with one hand until the fateful moment when the tower falls. Back to our room at 10.30pm.

Monday 27.03.00. - Today the plan was to hire a couple of bikes for the day. The bikes cost us 50baht each and we set off to practice around the block and found a Korean restaurant for breakfast. Afterwards we returned to our digs and paid for another night. Having discovered the whereabouts of the elephant corral we set off in a northerly direction passing a ram shackled city with many ruined temples. It would have been great to have seen it in all its glory.

In a while we were at the corral – a stronghold constructed from very large treated tree trunks. As ever alert Caroline spotted an elephant far off in the corner, so we cycled round to find huts and one or two elephants. A local guy told Caroline that this site at present was to be used as an elephant hospital and the animals here were too young, too old or sick. We spent an hour or so just wandering about enjoying the elephants. One old girl was over 80years and at the other end of the scale was a baby of just one-year (who was into everything). The elephant keepers live on site with their families and were very friendly and non-assuming. Piles of sugar cane were left for the elephants to feed on.

Back on our mean machines and retraced our tracks south. We had not gone far when Caroline spotted an archeological dig, we stopped to take a look and chat to the boss. He informed us that they had been digging for two months and had another two to go. They were uncertain of the brick structure, which then had unearthed.

We resumed our bike ride and happened upon one of the many Wats (remains of temples used to worship Buddha). We saw a couple of elephants with their riders in the distance and went off to investigate. We found a steady stream of them carrying visitors on a short ride – we were both keen to have a go – so we followed the train. It led to the central point – where some 20 animals were enjoying a snack of bananas and sugar cane. To ride these elephants cost us the equivalent of £16.00 for 20mins! Our turn came and we climbed the platform to board our chosen Jumbo No10 – she was 15 years old. We sat on a seat high above the ground and set off bounding along. The sun beat down and we felt a little sorry for our taxi. We enjoyed every minute and were soon back at the staging point. Some of the keepers were cooling their animals off in the nearby pond and making sure they were well fed and watered.

Back to the bikes and a cycle round checking out the many ruined temples, eventually Caroline complained of a sore posterior, so we returned the bikes after a meal in a café. Back to the digs for a shower and a rest.

At about 7.30pm we were ready to go again – we firstly needed to purchase another film. We had decided to eat at the same place as yesterday, I had what Caroline had the previous night and Caroline had soup (hot, hot, hot). Even thought it was dark it was still very warm so we decided to cool down in an ice cream parlour (with air conditioning).

It was still early when we arrived back so we watched a film with fellow guests in the under cover lounge for a while before retiring at 10.30pm.

Tuesday 28.03.00. - After packing our bags we went to suss out the buses – it didn’t seem that clear as to where we were supposed to catch it. Tried a new place for breakfast – they were not too friendly. We also needed to cash some cheques – which all went smoothly. As it didn’t appear it would take us long to get to our next destination we decided we would take a tuc-tuc to see a museum. But on arriving found it to be closed – our driver wanted 150baht to take us back – so we walked. Went back to guesthouse to pick up bags. It was here that it went wrong – we caught a bus – which we should have got off of after 5 mins (we later realised)- instead we went on for about 20kms. We were dropped off at a large intersection – took us some time and a few rows before we were able to work our which way we should be travelling. The joys of independent travel!

A bus took us to a place called Lopburi – from here we would be able to pick up a train – but that would not leave until 5.56p.m. As we had a few hours to spare we decide to leave our packs with the Train Company and then set off to explore. Found somewhere cool to eat. It wasn’t until we had left here that we began to notice monkeys – they were everywhere – just as the guidebook said. Found a lovely market to have a look around – all manner of fresh fruit and vegetables, fresh fish and meat, plus all kinds of dried fish and other food stuffs. As we were leaving we were accosted by a young half European boy and later his father came for a word. On his instruction we went to have a look at three large Cambodian design wats – trying to avoid the monkeys on the way. Just as we were returning to the bus station we came across the place where they fed the monkeys. Although we warned about these creatures – Ian did manage to have his peanuts taken!

The train arrived about 15mins late. We boarded and Ian managed to upset the whole carriage, first he nearly had a passenger’s eye out with his stick, secondly water started to drip from his pack in the luggage rack onto another passenger. Lastly he was sat beside a Buddhist nun (dressed all in white) with his shorts on. We were informed by other passenger that it would be better if I sat beside her then all was OK.

Our next port of call was Phitsanulok – which was supposed to be a four-hour journey – but it ended up being six hours – we arrived at 11.45p.m. Both very tired to set out to find somewhere to sleep – the first place was a bit of a hovel. We ended up in the Asia Hotel – where we were given a bottle of fresh water and went to our room and crashed out.

Wednesday 29.03.00. - We both had a good nights sleep – very quiet hotel. Set off in the morning to have some food in a local market. Navigated the spot as to where we were to catch the bus to our next destination Sukhothai. The city was bustling with everyone setting off about their business. It was 60kms to Sukhothai through endless rice fields. At the end of the ride we were accosted by a friendly tout to lure us into his guesthouse. We declined and found a café for a drink and compose our thoughts.

With the aid of our compass and guidebook we set off west over the river for a short distance and found the guesthouse Samprasong and checked in.

A shower to cool off then out for an amble around this new city. The market was a hive of industry – all manner of good-looking vegetables, meats – whole pigs heads, fish – barbells and eels. These markets are always a wonder and sense of excitement for us. All our senses tuned to the different smells and sights. We set off north for a mile of two then west along the river back. We must learn that walking around in the middle of the day in temperatures of 95deg. is not good for us. Soon we were both gasping for a drink – so into a café and downed bottles of ice cold water and a couple of beers. Back to the digs for yet another shower and a rest.

In the evening we wandered around for a while before we settled down for a meal at a night market – we had shark, which was very nice. On the way back we found a bit of a "girly" bar – the hostesses were dressed immaculately – and in turn went on stage and did a turn. We stayed for a while and enjoyed the coolness (air conditioning).

On arriving back at the guesthouse – a girl who we had spoken to earlier – was waiting to talk to us. She had been able to organise a trip to a National Park in the area for tomorrow. We had to be up at 6.30a.m. in the morning,we would need to set alarm.

Thursday 30.03.00. - Awoke before the clock went off and packed ready for the day. Had our breakfast with fellow potential walkers. We left with the owner’s daughter in a truck – all sitting on a mattress in the back. After about an hour we were dropped off at the Ramkhamaeng National Park. Our first objective was to have a look at the visitor centre – but most of the information was in Thai.

We set off apprehensively up the Mountain Trail – our fellow walkers went on the Nature Trail.It appears to be all up hill – walking through the hot and clammy jungle. Along the way was the occasional bench to sit on – to catch our breath. A couple of viewpoints were also enjoyed – gosh we seemed to be loosing a lot of liquid. The noises of the jungle were much the same - with a few birds fluttering around. The way was getting increasingly steeper – a hardwood or bamboo banister was sometimes to be found on the side of the path to help you on your way. There appeared to be confusion about the mileage on the posts – at least I didn’t understand them. When we eventually arrived at a tap I decided enough was enough – I would return to the viewpoint and enjoy the cool and Ian would carry on.

Going our separate ways due to Caroline buckling in the heat I continued onward and upward with the dog (who had joined us further down the trail) as my only companion. Only 1/2hr of steep climbing and I was at a very large tree with roots/trunks draping over huge boulders. A little further on were two of three caves. The climb continues but a handrail assisted me at this point. Sweat dripped from every orifice. In a while I arrived at a flat area with four well constructed huts with electricity and an opportunity to purchase a drink – but Caroline had returned with the money. Washed my T-shirt in a bowl beneath a tap and washed myself of the sweat from the climb. Only 300 more metres and my companion still in tow we arrived at the peak of Pha Na Rai (1610m). It only seemed fair to share my lunch with the dog – but he turned his nose up at the banana. An hour was spent here enjoying hazy views of all of the four highest peaks of the KumLung range. After our rest we started our return which took an hour or so. On return my clothes were awash with perspiration – it took about 1/2hr to recover.

I (Caroline) made my way slowly back to the viewpoint and was joined by two fellow walkers for lunch. This had been packed by the guest house daughter in the morning – it consisted of fried chicken, sticky rice and bananas. I then carried on down the trail – sweating profusely – until I reached the point where the trails met. I now carried on the Nature Trail and was met by another walker (who I walked with for a while. We noticed two vivid blue lizards. At this point I decided to follow one trail and he went another way. Arrived back at the visitor center to find Ian already there, we had a couple of refreshing cokes and whiled away a couple of hours before our lift returned to pick us up. She informed us that a tourist (the chap I had walked with in the afternoon) had been involved in a bike accident and could possibly have broken his leg.

Relaxing evening after a very hectic day.

Friday 31.03.00. - Today we planned to visit the ancient city of Sukhothai - for a short period in the 13th century it was the capital of Thailand. The Cambodians once ruled this area of Thailand and their worshiping influence created the structure of the ancient city. We caught a bus just outside our digs and went for about 1/2hr trip west.

As we alighted we decided to hire a couple of bicycles – still with some of their wrappings on them. All was well we cycled to the entrance to the central part of the old city and purchased a couple of 150baht tickets to enable us free access to all the sights.

At the centre of the complex is a conglomerate of Buddha’s and temples, we parked our bikes and set off in 95deg.F. When you have seen one wat you have seen them all – nevertheless a spectacular arrangement of worshiping hardware. We had a map in our guidebook so our next port of call was a cycle to the multitude of lakes and parkland. We left the central city and cycled a couple of klms to the wat of Si Cnum – only a small ruin but with a massive enclosed Buddha at its rear – the right hand of which is depicted in the many postcards to be seen in Thailand of this city. Back to our bikes for the cycle back to the central area. Caroline had complained of loose handlebars on her bike! We stopped a short while to check the map and when we set off again Caroline careered across the road and crashed into a tree. All I could do was watch helplessly her collision seemed all in slow motion. She got to her feet with a good deal of blood coming from a cut to her eye!

I helped her to a nearby residence and the occupants offered a dirty old rag dipped in water to hold to her head! In a while we had gathered our thoughts and I used toilet paper to ease the bleeding and clean up her face. We sat for a while to calm the shock then it was off to find a spanner to secure the loose handlebars. We had to visit three homes before someone could find a spanner. Gingerly we cycled back to the centre for a drink. Only grazed and cut Caroline elected to soldier on.

Bananas for lunch in the park and a visit to the Ram Khanhaeng Museum for a glimpse at even more Buddha’s. We did however enjoy this museum as we were were able to see all the things, which had been found during excavation of the site. Before we could enter the museum however we had to produce our tickets – but I had lost them in all the confusion. I had to cycle back, retracing my steps until they were found at the place that we had had a drink.

At 15.30p.m. Caroline had had enough of the bikes so we returned them to the stall – not mentioning the accident.

From a nearby market we could hear amplified voices so decided to explore. The market was a hive of industry as ever and at the rear of the stalls erected against a temple was a makeshift theatre. The performers were about to act out a traditional Thai play. All the males were dressed gaily and had very large amounts of girlish makeup. We watched this spectacle for sometime – wishing that we could understand some Thai.

Caught the bus back to the digs to attend to Caroline’s injuries – good job we carry a small first aid kit.

After a bit of a rest and time for Caroline to recover we went out for an evening meal. Tried to find the place we had had a drink in a couple of night ago – but no luck – we ended up in a place we had called at last night for a look. We both enjoyed our meals. After a little relaxation in the cool breeze by the bridge we made our way back to the guesthouse.

Saturday 01.04.00. - Ian was the first to awake as usual – he was out and packed and ready to go. I took a little longer but we were still down for breakfast at 7.20a.m. Said our farewells and left for the bus stop. My face was rather bruised today – Ian insisted I wore my sunglasses. There were four other Europeans at the bus stop also; the bus arrived about 15 mins late. We were on our way to Chiang Mai passing on the way the spot of the accident yesterday!

We were now travelling north through very arid countryside – passing through various towns. En route we had one stop where we all disembarked. Ian was hungry and had a meal I just decided to have a packet of crisps. There was a lot of roadwork’s going on in the area – once again as we had seen all over Thailand – using cheap labour rather than machinery to do the menial jobs.

We arrived in Chiang Mai at about 2 o’clock. Stopped to have a coke to see which area we should be making for – we needed to be in the Tae Pae Gate area. So we took a local bus to get us to the centre of the city. Had to wander around for a while before we were able to find a nice guesthouse. Relaxed in a cold bath for a while!

Off out again on our wanderings – we decided with the help of the guidebook to try and find the night bazaar – after a few false starts we eventually found it. Our priority was to find a spot to eat – after a couple of non-starters we hit on a very well organised eating hall. Sited around the perimeter were a number of counters with various menus displayed. We first had to purchase tokens from a central desk then select our meal, which we exchanged for the tokens. We both had fried fish in batter on a bed of rice and a large bowl of fresh fruit and to finish off the meal the inevitable large Chang beer.

The night bazaar was a mass of action stalls selling all kinds of hardware from woodcarvings to pencil drawings of actual photographs (these were very lifelike). After having our fill of the action we strolled back and had a beer in a local Irish pub. This pub had the live Ireland/Wales rugby match on its screen. Back to bed at 11.30p.m.

Sunday 02.04.00. - We had a lazy start to the day taking advantage of our very comfortable hotel. We took breakfast in a nearby café – I ordered steamed eggs and was surprised when a dish of pork, onion and custard arrived.

We set off south west along the city streets and bumped into a talkative local who chatted a good while to us – we learnt the Thai New Years Day is on the 17th April.

We continued on our way and took a look at the inevitable temple. This ancient wat was being restored after damage in the 15th century. Huge stone elephants adorned the upper levels. The monks quarters nearby looked very comfortable and a television flickered behind the shutters.

Our walk continued south west to Chiang Mai Gate (a gate in the old city wall) – we had an objective to try and locate the Scam silver factory – which we did. As it was a Sunday activity was quiet only one lady panel beating a silver pot. We had a look around the showroom before setting off for another workshop nearby. This one had more going on – a huge 48kgm bowl from a local temple was being repaired and another huge bowl was painstakingly being beaten into an intricate design.

We then wanted to find the centre for local crafts of the hilltribes near the Golden Triangle. When we arrived all was quiet we thought it may have been closed, but then along came three elderly women who let us in and showed us their shop. We had a very interesting hour here looking over some of the everyday objects used by the hill tribes. Caroline bought one of their bags. The owner of the shop was an Indian who could speak good English. Her husband (76years old) had only just taken off to their village and said that if we had visited yesterday we could have gone along with him.

A look around a woodcarving shop before spotting a large departmental store. We entered this to enjoy the cool refreshing air conditioning – so much so we had lunch tokens again – and spent the afternoon browsing - most of the wares were no cheaper that home. Back to the hotel to freshen up.

It was about 8o’clock when we went out, found our way to the night market and decided to eat in the same place as last night. Tonight there was a Thai dancing demonstration going on. After leaving here by a different route we just happened up a Thai Boxing demonstration – which Ian found most interesting. Some of which we thought may have been set up. Arrived back at hotel at 11.30p.m.

Monday 03.04.00. - Had our breakfast at the Hotel this morning – Ian was not too happy with his boiled egg – just a little too soft.

Today we planned to visit Doi Suthep – a mountain to the east of Chiang Mai. First of all we had to find out where the bus left from. As we made our way we negotiated to buy a haversack (which we arranged to pick up in the evening). A little problem with a songthaeus (local bus) six people were needed to make it viable – so we wandered around for 3/4hr before the number was right. We set off with our fellow passengers for the 16kilometer drive – out of the city and then all of a sudden it became very steep and windy – I was not too keen on this – glad when we arrived at the top. What a surprise – many tourists here – and sellers of all manner of goods. We climbed the 300 steps to the Wat – the side of the pathway was lined with a long dragon (naga). Had a wander round the lower terrace of the wat that had many bells (which were too big a temptation for Ian not to pull!).

We came across a very talented woodcarver – working on a pillar – we sat and watched him for sometime. As we walked around to the East Side we were able to have a fine view of Chiang Mai City. I then went up to the upper terrace (which was like a suntrap) to have a look at the restored chedia. Ian went later with the addition of a borrowed pair of trousers.

As we returned we were able to have a look around a Jade Factory – which we both found very interesting.

As it was now all-downhill decided we would walk down but this turned out not to be a good idea – very hot. We were able to pick up a small bus that dropped us off at the same place as we started off from.

Both of us were very hungry so stopped off for a fried rice with chicken on our way back to the hotel.

A couple of hours rest after a relaxing cold bath. At 8p.m. We were off out again, bought a bottle of cold water and set off for the food & night bazaar again. We stopped to inquire about the possibility of purchasing an air ticket to Mae Hong Son - a town near the Burmese border. Had a good mooch around before returning to Hotel.

Tuesday 04.04.00. - We were up at 7a.m. and set off to purchase an air ticket for the afternoon flight for Mae Hong Son at 15.55hrs. This flight would save us the eight-hour bus journey over very bad roads. We then had our breakfast and afterwards set off for a walk down town east to the River Ping. The city was in full flow with endless traffic rushing about. Arrived near the river and set about looking to buy a gold bangle, but although there were many gold shops none had anything suitable except one; but in this one the price was a little too high. There was a market nearby with hundreds of stalls selling their wares – dried fish, fresh fruit, vegetables, herbs and spices.

We found a shop selling minerals and had a browse around before buying a resin stone for 50bhat.

It was now back to the air ticket office to collect our packs and set off in a tuc-tuc to the airport – Caroline warned the driver not to drive too fast!

Arrived safely and wasted sometime before our flight took off at 16.00hrs. and arrived at our destination some 25mins later. The airport nestles in a steep wooded valley and ours was the only plane on the airstrip. We landed OK and set off for the walk to the town and arrived about ½ hour later. Were able to find a clean guesthouse and settled in.

For our evening meal we ate at the local market, finishing off with a beer and a fruit salad at another restaurant. As we were the only tourists around we had plenty of choice as to where to eat and all the people were glad of our custom.

As we approached our guesthouse we were met with a rather loud sound of music – we were invited to join some form of celebration. The food and whiskey flowed with ease and went on for most of the night! We were sure there would be a few thick heads the next day.

Wednesday 05.04.00. - After not a lot of sleep during the night we arose at 6.45am to go out and try and find the local market. According to our guidebook it is supposed to be one of the best in Thailand. It was a nice cool morning as we climbed the hill to the market, which was already in full swing, with all manner of people selling their wares. Once again plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables to be had. But it is amazing that every market, which we visit, has a slightly different array of stock.

Ian was cajoled into trying some strange food by one of the stallholders – they looked like grubs! It was here that we also saw a few Europeans taking pictures of the stalls – the first we had seen for sometime, but they were being hurried through with the leader in front.

Back to a little restaurant near our guesthouse for breakfast.

Today was the colourful festival of Poy Sang Loong, which celebrates the ordination into manhood of young boys from the ages of seven to fourteen. We followed the procession all the way around the town for a couple hours, some of the procession still suffering from the after effects of the previous night. The young lads were dressed up like girls and had plenty of makeup on; they were being carried on the shoulders of older men. The families of the young men also brought gifts to the temples.

The procession eventually ended up at a Wat where a meal had been prepared for everyone; I sat on the edge and watched Ian was invited in to join them.

Poy Sang Loong Festival - Mae Hong Son

The heat of the day was rather overpowering so I returned to the guesthouse after a while Ian returned and we then went out for a drink.

In the afternoon we climbed up to the Wat Doi Kong Mu at the top of the nearby mountain. It was well worth the climb and the views of surrounding areas were fantastic. At this point we could also see the airport and a plane took off for the return to Chiang Mai. To the north of the town was a complex, which looked like a prison – quite a new building but not mentioned in our guide. On inquiring we found out it was a prison and there was a European being held here for drug smuggling.

As usual back to the digs for a shower and a rest then off out for fodder. We found a good local eating-house and enjoyed a traditional Thai meal, finishing off the evening with a beer alongside the town lake.

Thursday 06.04.00. - A comparative peaceful night, celebrations had quietened down a little. We were up at 7.30am and after a cooling shower we ate breakfast in the restaurant next door.

With a daypack we set off for the day with no plan only to set off south. We walked along a busy main highway through the municipal part of town. A sign depicting a craft workshop lured us into a well-kept complex. It was an open plan place housing a dozen or so cotton looms at each station a lady working intricately on patterned cloth. Some of these ladies had children with them as well – having to cope with child minding as well as work. Although some of the older children helped out with their siblings, none were unruly. Also incorporated in this workshop were bamboo weavers and silver smiths. Ian took particular interest in the men working with silver. Soldering was carried out by the use of a petrol blowtorch. A foot worked bellows fed into a jar, which in turn fed into another jar with petrol; the resultant combustible mixture was fed to a blowtorch with a regulator. The resultant flame was clear and hot. Minute intricate work was routinely being carried out we watched in awe.

In an hour we were on our way and trekking off south until a fork right onto a less busy road found a place for a coke. Off again trying our hand at hitching but no luck. Caroline spotted a boat pier just west of the road and we went to investigate. The river was a big one – some 75 yards across and running fairly deep. Many long tailed boats were moored nearby. On our very sketchy map we had noted an elephant camp nearby, we asked a local boatman and learned it was further downstream. Off again in a while we were given a lift from a young Thai chap who could speak a little English – with his help we were dropped off at the next village and at the shop we could inquire about the elephants. We had another drink here – this was obviously a very well to do Thai household - the furniture was solid teak, the tabletop was four inches thick. After inquiring here about the elephants we were directed some 50yards south to a riverside pagoda and elephant riding saddles in view. After conversing best as we could with the locals we learnt the elephants were 4km further downstream. So off we set again this time finding a boat pier with an advertisement to visit a Long Necked Tribal village by long tailed boat. Caroline inquired as to the cost and learned it would be 300bhat each to get there and 250bhat to enter the village. We declined as obviously these trips are engineered to pacify tourists.

Just outside the village we were given another lift to the next village (Pha Bong) – no tourists. Here we selected a roadside-eating house and enjoyed noodles with pork and vegetables (Rather hot). Sat a while to allow our lips to cool! We wandered to the south of this village and on returning passed a home with a young chap having a snack of sweetcorn; he invited us in for a cool off and a drink. We chatted with him for over an hour and learned he was 40years old, had a wife and baby who live in Chiang Mai some of the time. He made a meager living repairing all kinds of electrical appliances. He had done his training in the Bangkok Television School. He told us also he had been a monk for 20 years –from the ago of seven to twenty-seven. Ian asked him why he had returned to a more conventional way of life he said girls! After numerous mugs of cold water he asked if we could correspond with him when we returned to England as he was studying English - Caroline accepted – addresses were exchanged. We said goodbye and continued our return north. At the edge of the town was a hot spring, we took a look around - nobody was around so we had the place to ourselves. The springs had been encased in a concrete ring and evidence of egg boiling (as we had seen in China) could be seen. The sulphur ridden waters resembling the smell of rotten eggs. A pool – swimming pool size – had warnings NOT TO SWIM – testing the temperature we could see why (very hot). Had a wander around a nearby paddy field before hitching a ride back all the way to Mae Hong Son. Back in town we had a well-earned drink before returning to digs. Caught up with some washing and a well-earned rest before it was time to go out for evening meal. All was very quiet at the guesthouse tonight – early night at 9.30p.m.

Friday 07.04.00. - Warm and Sunny! - Firstly we had breakfast and then returned to guesthouse and we got talking to an English girl who was returning to Watford today. She informed us she had been bitten by a dog yesterday and was starting a course of injections. We said our farewells to her and wished her luck before we set off to book up our return flight tomorrow to Chiang Mai and then on to Chiang Rai (about 14000 Bat in total).

Today we were setting off north out of town – it was very hot already. We passed the prison on our left – which we had seen from the mountain. After a couple of klms of walking we took a bus to the next village (Pang Moo). This was a very sleepy village – we watched an old man chopping straw for his cattle – a pair of very docile looking bulls. Came across a monastery with young monks – all was quiet here also. Ian negotiated a price for a belt – but found out is was made of vinyl – so he had to get his 30baht back!

We carried on out of the village across the Pai River and walked for sometime before we were given a lift by a chap going to Mogiumpas Village. It was at this point that Ian realised we were near the Burmese border – after lunch we waited unsuccessfully for a lift – no traffic. We then walked what was supposed to be 3klms towards Pia to a fish cave. This was a very spectacular place with many blue/pink carp/dench like fish swimming in the cool water which came directly from the mountain. Some of these fish were as big as 10lbs. The area in the cave itself was very cool. After leaving this we walked back through the park with a lot of other people before trying for a lift back to Mae Hong Song.

Within the half an hour we were back in the town and back at our guesthouse for a wash and a brushup.

Out for our meal at now our usual eating house and finished the evening off with pancakes and whiskey.

Saturday 08.04.00. - Up and had breakfast by 8.30a.m. Stayed chatting to a local guide for an hour learnt a good deal about the area and the Long Neck people. Only women born on a Wednesday when there is a full moon are to wear the coil around their necks. The coil is changed throughout their lives. Once upon a time these coils were made of gold now however brass is uses – green necks!

What to do today we have explored north, southwest all that remained was to set off east?

We left the town on a metalled road and I selected a suitable stick to ward off unfriendly dogs. We walked beside the town pond and soon the road turned into a dirt track – single file – the inevitable dog made an appearance – but the sight of our stick dissuaded any attack attempt.

Approaching from behind was the lone figure of a Buddhist monk dressed in the all-familiar orange robes. In a little while at a track junction the monk caught us up and we asked where the two ways went. We decided to take the left – he also set off this way – but now he led. High on the hill to the east we could just make out the telltale shape of a temple and in this direction the monk travelled, we decided to follow him. Across overgrown rice fields to the entrance to a hill village, three of four dogs roamed here but allowed the monk to pass without incident. However when it was our turn noisy barking and snapping at our heels – as every in these instances sweat poured from every orifice. The village was in full swing with people involved in day to day routine – all the dwellings were stilted for coolness. By now we had lost sight of our orange guide so we had to ask the way from a young woman washing clothes in an irrigation channel. Uphill we passed more houses; pineapples grew along the way. In a while as we climbed we caught sight of the monk, I decided to speed up so as not to loose him again. Large crisp leaves from the teak tree lines the way – I trod on one which gave out a loud crunch – the monk turned and now was aware of our following. He waited for us to catch up and offered to show us a secret well some 1500 years old in the jungle. Together the three of us set off through the trees descending steeply, the ground all around was charred from recent fires. In a while we came upon a stone boat shaped structure sited in a dry riverbed. We were told that this was the only water for some distance – the bow of the boat pointed to the centre of Buddhism – India NW. The water in the well looked very dirty and orange – our guide took a nearby container to dip some out luckily the rope which was attached had burnt making the task impossible. The monk asked us not to disclose the site to anyone.

We returned with him at a good pace in 38deg.C to his temple and stayed a while enjoying the tranquility. A large Buddha stands on one leg overlooking Mae Hong Son. It was time for us to leave and he could sense our apprehension of dogs so he accompanied us back to the road. We said thankyou for his time- I went to shake his hand – but this is not possible for monks are not allowed to touch us mere mortals.

By now we were gasping for a drink so called in at a nearby shop and sank 2 litres of liquid. Our walk continued past the airport then lunch at an eating house – Ian succumbed to two large beers and watched a couple of hours of Thai Boxing on the TV. Back to the guesthouse for a shower then at 4pm. we set off to catch two planes, one to Chaing Mai and then in a little while a connection to Chiang Rai. We arrived at 19.00p.m.and were able to negotiate a ride to the centre. Found a guesthouse and were soon out looking for something to eat in a local night bazaar – singers and dancers entertained us. After a nose around it was back to bed at 11.00p.m.

Sunday 09.04.00. - After a very peaceful night we got up about 8o’clock, had our breakfast in guesthouse and then we set off to explore the town.

We first of all took a walk to the statue of King Mengrae. Afterwards we went to the Hilltribe Museum and Shop. This we both found very interesting – watched a video which told us about the actual differences between the various hill tribes. We were then able to examine the various implements and contraptions used by the different tribes. A very knowledgeable youngster was able to explain to Ian the workings of the various types of traps etc. We inquired about and booked up to go on a three-day trek to see the villages and the life of the people!

Afterwards we walked to the high point of the city – avoiding the many youngsters with water pistols (we were now nearing the Thai New Year celebration time).

We had a curry and rice for lunch before returning via yet another market (Ian was able to purchase a new T-shirt – his other was looking rather worse for wear) to guest house for a shower/rest and prepare bags for our trip tomorrow.

Monday 10.04.00. - The big day we were up early packed our light sacks and had a hearty breakfast. We were able to leave the rest of our gear at the guesthouse rather than carrying all with us.

At the prearranged time 9.30a.m. we rendezvous with our guide Appe. We filled up the appropriate forms and Appe set off to register our trip with the tourist police. At 10.10a.m. we set off in a local bus for an hour’s drive to Maisuaw where we had some lunch in an eating house and stocked up with supplies for our trip. It was now on another local bus being sprayed with water occasionally (Thai New Year tradition). This bus took us way out into the countryside, people leaving the bus at their homesteads, we eventually were dropped off beside a dirt track. We set off along this pretty but scorched track with was lined by hayricks – made as they used to be in England. Appe pointed out numerous plants with medicinal uses.

We arrived at a point where a stream had taken over the track so we changed into sandals and splashed our way on – beautiful butterflies were taking minerals from the stream bank. Appe sang many songs as we went. In a couple of hours we arrived at a shaded spot near the stream where a lady sat taking a drink, we stopped to chat, her mouth stained red from beetle nut chewing.

A steep hot long climb found us at an intersection where a hunter with a rifle appeared out of the jungle. He showed us his quarry – large brightly coloured bird.

Onward and upward to the village proper and we were greeted by two families. We gave sweets to the children and took tea with an 80-year-old lady who showed us how to prepare the beetle nut. First take the beetle nut leaf and wipe with lime then add the bark of another tree (some add tobacco at this stage). Then the concoction is folded and chewed – soon the red dye seeps to the lips.

We purchased a gourd (drinking vessel) from the old lady for 20 bhat and said our farewells and set off again. Through more stilted dwellings all the inhabitants friendly and welcoming. Pigs roamed free along the dirt track roads.

At the second village centre we collected our supplies (which had been brought here by motorcycle) and set off for our home for the night. A slatted bamboo house, the door was locked (very unusual said Appe) but I managed to open it only to find a young chap sleeping inside. No problem! Appe started to prepare a traditional Thai Chilli. Caroline had a shower outside with a bucket.

We now wait for our meal and the return of the family who were in the fields tending to their vegetables. In due course a wonderful prepared meal appears and was served on a bamboo table on the verandah. Pumpkin soup, pork chilli and rice with freshly fried peanuts. The whole family ate heartily. After the meal we tried their home produced corn whiskey and some which I had brought.

We retired to the living area where the two men of the house were preparing their opium for the evenings smoke! We were asked to watch but not to take any photos. The manufacture of the substance was complicated. The opium was only fingernail size. Ash from previous smokes and aspirin were ground up in a pestle and mortar then a little water was added along with the opium. The resultant paste was warmed over a flame then a long cigarette length sausage was molded and left in a dish. Now the smoking - a small medicine bottle with a hole drilled in the side mounted on a bamboo pipe was used as the pipe. Then a small amount of the prepared mixture was offered to the hole in the bottle and lit and the subsequent smoke inhaled along with a cigarette. Copious water was taken after each smoke (to keep the smoke in the body longer). This carried on into the early hours. We were offered to have a go - but both declined.

Bedtime - our room was prepared with a couple of mattresses and what felt like breezeblock pillows. We hung our mosquito nets up to be sure! Our room was only feet away from where they were smoking the opium and only a thin bamboo wall divided us from them.

In the early hours the rain started and continued into the morning – none came in.

As it slightly brightened cockerel cries were heard down the valley and the resident one crowed from below our beds. Daybreak and the lady of the house donned here ceremonial dress to collect spring water – we were asked to accompany her but the heavy rain dissuaded us. She set off covered only in a large black plastic bag over her shoulders and an umbrella.

Tuesday 11.04.00. - We returned to sleep and woke again at 7a.m. to the sound of thunder, lightening, chickens under the house squawking and pigs snorting! When we were able to look out we could see a lot of red earth running down the hillside under the house

We laid there for sometime waiting for our guide to wake up. Our host made our breakfast (how he was able to do this after his session last night?)

The lady of the house returned at about 8.30am for breakfast.

It was still raining very hard so we had to sit tight and ride it out.

Eventually it stopped raining so we were able to go with another member of the hilltrbe to have a look at the gates to the village. There was one gate at the north and one at the south. We were told we were allowed to look but not to touch. Different pieces of wood decorated the gateway resembling male and female. He spoke a little English and gradually took us all around the village. We were able to see the Swing which was part of a ceremony, which took place when, the rice was planted. The ladies of the tribe use it and swing high above the village.

As we walked back to the village we were invited to watch the making of the rice cake. Rice was pounded in a large pestle and mortar until it becomes sticky when it was taken out and rolled in ground black pepper. The headman (whose house we had stayed in last night) had the job of pounding the first few batches of rice. Then the rest of the village would come and take it in turns to pound their rice for the ceremony tomorrow. We were able to have a go as well.

We then returned to the headmans house where another ritual took place. A young chicken was killed, defeathered, cleaned and cooked in soup. This was put into a bowl with the sticky rice, ginger, corn whiskey and "ancestors". All this was now taken into a little room, which had been divided up into mens/womans sides. The headman then gave us all a small portion of the sticky rice rolled in the other ingredients!

Ian at this time became involved with the making of several traps with the help of the other menfolk. The lady of the house had gone off to sew some corn in the fields.

Appe (our guide) took a little time to come around this morning. Time was going on and not a lot was being said about what our plans were. I did not fancy being told we were leaving and then would have to rush to get to the next village before dark. So we approached Appe and had a discussion with him – we decided to walk for about one and a half-hours to another village.

The person who had showed us around the village prepared delicious noodle soup for lunch, and just afterwards we said our farewells. We then set off passing through another part of the village we hadn’t seen before. It was at this time we learnt that we had in fact been staying in the village we had been recommended to visit whilst in Chiang Mai.

The path leaving the village was easy to follow – the smell of pine was apparent for most of the time. It was at this time that I stumbled and cut my leg! Out with the first aid kit once again. Appe was into the jungle to find herbal remedies for me!

After a little while to came to a road with a village – we now had to find somewhere to stay. We were able to get a lift to the next village where Appe knew most of the people. It was once again open house we were given a house to ourselves (the headman’s house yet again). Appe set to once again to prepare our meal as the rest of the family had already eaten. A welcome shower was taken (soap and shampoo wwere laid out for me).

Sat for a little while with Appe before retiring at about 9.30p.m. for a well deserved rest.

Wednesday 12.04.00. - During the night strange sounds were heard around the large room, I investigate but found nothing untoward – only friendly rats! We rose at 7.30pm when our room was opened (good job we were dressed because everyone was looking in)! Enjoyed breakfast on a table outside the village general store. Appe cooked eggs and we had toast and coffee. He was a little worried about the number of flies that were around the table and inquired of the headman how long it had been like this. He told us it was part of his job to keep an eye on this sort of thing and report to his office so it could be sorted if it got worse. Part of the Hilltribe museum’s job was also keeping an eye on the welfare of the villages and the providing clean water and schooling for the children.

We were invited to stroll around the village on our own whilst Appe went to have discussions with various village folk. Many families already busy with the day’s chores. We handed out sweets to all the children who were grateful and thanked us in their usual way of bowing to us. The villagers are still quite primitive but what they lack in material effects they more than make up for in kindness.

We returned to rendezvous with Appe whilst waiting to set off were five hunters with homemade flintlock rifles. They were on their way into the jungle to hunt wild pig and fowl.

It was time to leave we thanked our hosts and made our way gingerly down the slippery path to the river. It was here that we had to change into our sandals to cross the swollen river (swollen by yesterday’s rain).

All over safely we trekked on with Appe singing heartily from the rear – always concerned for our well being. We walked through rice fields and climbed steeply to a ridge. Workers toiled in the fields – digging and weeding the very steep hillside. Always as we approached a working area Appe started singing traditional work songs and more over than not gets a reply from a worker in the surrounding area. Appe also pointed out to us some newly planted ginger bushes and peanut plants, which were beginning to flower. He also told us that farmers were being encouraged to grow these catch crops rather than the opium.

As we approached the next remote Akha village the skies darkened and we were treated to a monsoon type shower. We sought shelter in a house of yet another cousin of Appe and were treated to tea. Appe had to sort out a few village matters. We were left with the children who soon gathered around us. The lady of the house sat also on the verandah and fed her baby – just above our heads was a nest with babies also being fed by both parents – not taking any notice of all the commotion below.

Some young men in the central shelter were playing a noisy game of dominoes; the dominoes were large and homemade.

More farewells and we set off to find a waterfall meandering through steep fields growing more peanuts and ginger. At a small stream we followed it up until we were at a 200ft waterfall spilling into a pool. Appe took a drink from a nearby spring making a cup from a palm leaf.

We walked on and came to a pretty flower strewn garden we were given a white flower each to smell along the way – the smell was wonderful. We now meandered through beautiful hills and crossed a suspension bridge to emerge onto a dirt road and walked 1km to where the PDA vehicle was waiting. Had noodle soup in an eating house and much needed Chang beer.

After lunch we were to driven to one last village – a Lahu Village. Apee walked us around the dwellings, which were slightly different from the Akha. Chatted with a couple of the residents one elderly lady complained of a griping pain under the right side of her ribs.

It was then time to return to our vehicle and the drive back to Chiang Mai. We were dropped off at the Museum and we both thanked Appe for his efforts and wished him all the best.

The last three days were packed with a tremendous amount of new experiences, led by a true gentleman. We will deliver a bottle of whiskey to Appe tomorrow as a thank you.

After a shower and a bit of a rest we ventured out again for our evening meal - a little shell shocked after our trip. We took our meal again in the night bazaar followed by an ice cream for Ian and a cake and a cup of chocolate for me. After this we had to sit out another thunderstorm for about 1/2hr before returning to our guesthouse for a well-deserved sleep.

Thursday 13.04.00. - Awoke late this morning after a very restful night. We first of all went over to the PDA office in the hope of seeing Appe and having some breakfast at the Cabbages & Condoms Restaurant, but only coffee available. We waited around for the office to open to be told that Appe would not be in till about 11.00a.m.

Walked back to our guesthouse for breakfast before going out to face the world. The Thai New Year celebrations were now in full swing, we had to avoid the water at many spots.

Whilst near the bus station we checked out the availability of a bus for Sunday – at one point it looked as if it would be a problem to leave Chiang Rai. All buses appeared full – everyone was travelling home to be with family for the New Year.

We wandered around a market where Ian was able to but a couple of pairs of glasses. We also bought a bit of lunch for ourselves before going back to guesthouse to pick up map of area so we could arrange for Appe to put of our trip on it.

We returned to the office to be told he had gone out – we waited around for his return. Ian got involved in the celebrations with the help of a few beers and some Thai whiskey. This involved pouring or throwing water over everything or everyone who passed by. All excepted gratefully – some of the people reciprocated with all manners of water pistol contraptions. Ian was drenched! Appe returned at about 5.15pm by which time Ian was a little worse for wear. At this point I also joined in for a little time before we both returned to guesthouse for a shower and a good rest. Ian slept for sometime so I nipped downstairs for a bite to eat.

Friday 14.04.00. - It was an early rise today and down for breakfast in the guesthouse for our plan was to take the local bus north to the Burmese border to Mae Sai; the bus trip took 1 1/2hrs. Mae Sai bus station was 4km south of the town so we took another smaller bus. At the passport and immigration office the bus stopped to allow us off. We registered our request for a day trip to Burma or Myanmar then hopped on another bus to the border gate. Both sides of the main street were thronging with kerbside stalls for about 1km. Water pistols were also in good use much to Caroline’s annoyance. We wandered into the old section where bamboo houses clung to the rock precipices; all jammed together like sardines in a tin.

It was time to join the procession over the Burmese border, first we checked out of Thailand and then in at Burma to learn it would cost us £5.00 each for the experience, so we backtracked and spent the rest of the day enjoying Mae Sai. Most of the travellers who come here do so to extend their visa by going out of Thailand and then returning the same day.

On the bus back to Chiang Rai we met the Danish couple we had met in Malaysia and chatted with them all the way exchanging travellers tales. At our destination we took them along to our guesthouse so they could stay overnight. The streets were awash with water after the day’s celebrations. Down to a quieter than normal night market for our meal.

Saturday 16.04.00. - This was to be our last day in Chiang Rai – so first of all we went to book a bus for our evening trip to Bangkok. Then we went back to guesthouse for breakfast. Ian wanted to go to see the elephants up river at Ruammid. The owner arranged to take us to the boat pier for the 10.30am boat. With our fellow passengers we left on time meandering up the river Kok. Our driver occasionally had to take the engine out of the water to avoid sandbanks. The 20kms upstream took about one hour and when we arrived there were numerous elephants waiting to take people on trips. We watched for sometime before setting off to explore the village passing first the stalls selling the usual tat. We did however come across one lady who had numerous quilts for sale – made she told me by 10 local ladies in the village – they were selling for about £30 to £40. We were then met by a number of young sellers who persuaded me to buy a bracelet, which they said, was made by the Karen tribe. We spent about a half an hour with the children in a small park. They thoroughly enjoyed Ian pushing them and were singing away in French!

We returned to the river to watch the elephants being led across to the other side to browse off the grass and shrubs on the riverbank. We decided to have our lunch here and a couple of beers. Our return boat was supposed to come at 3p.m. but nothing came. As time was of the essence we had to arrange an alternative ride with a group of Japanese. This trip was much smoother – as we approached Chiang Rai Beach, we were overwhelmed with people in the river. Some on tubes, some picnickers on the other side of the river on small benches out of the water, some just paddling, all having a good time. We got a little wet at times from boats that passed. Our fellow passengers disembarked here to join in the fun – we carried on with our driver to the pier. Our taxi from the guesthouse was there to pick us up! Soon we were back at the guesthouse for something quick to eat. Said our farewells to fellow guests and we were whisked away to the bus station. Left Chiang Mai at 5.30pm which was on time with a full busload of people for the 12-hour trip to Bangkok. A few stops were made on the way.

Sunday 16.04.00. - Tired and weary we arrived at the very busy & noisy South Bangkok Bus Station. In the hustle & bustle we ran around like headless chickens looking for a connection to Bangkok’s east bus station – but nobody understood the word east. Picked up an unwanted guide along the way and was more hindrance than help. Eventually after much fretting a charming girl pointed the way we needed to go to purchase a bus ticket. We did not need to go to the east bus station as our guide book said we could get a bus direct from here to Ranong and from there on to Banphe. Our bus left at 7am – We waited at the appropriate bus stop with throngs of people. At 7.15am we were driving in a comfortable bus – mind you our driver wasn’t going to break any speed limit. The journey took us three hours. Had a bite to eat when we arrived – pork noodle soup then off to find the connection to Banphe. All went OK but by now we were both beginning to feel the strain of travelling and when we eventually arrived at our destination we were greeted by over enthusiastic water revelers and ended up quite wet. Had a cup of coffee in a side street and bought our ticket for the boat to Ko Sumet, which would be leaving at 13.00hrs. At the prescribed time we made our way to the pier and boarded our craft – noises of heavy engine maintenance came from the engine room – on investigation we learned the Captain was trying to plug a leak around the prop shaft. Already ½ hour late we decided to pay another 50baht each and change boats. As it happened the first boat left at the same time as we did. We were dropped off at the south end of the east side of the island and had to pay a landing fee! We walked 1km north looking for suitable accommodation and succeeded at 16.00hrs and settled down for a well-earned rest.

Monday 17.04.00. - A good nights rest – however we both had troubled dreams after yesterdays hectic travelling. We packed a day pack and set off north along the beech road finding a café for breakfast – although we were given nothing like we had ordered! After breakfast we set off on a stroll north to the end of the island, here Caroline decided to inquire if there was bungalow available. As it happened there were and appeared to be a better deal – said we would return later with our packs. From here we continued inland and picked up a metalled road, which brought us to the main street where the locals lived. Here everybody was carrying on his or her daily chores. In a while we were at the boat pier at the West End of the island – plenty of boats were waiting to take people back to the mainland - which looked a stones throw away.

Having decided to move guesthouses we made our way back and picked up our bits and pieces (very hot), handed in the key and made our way north to our new digs. We soon had settled in and spent the rest of the day relaxing on the powder white beach and lolled in the warm Thai ocean. Luncheon on the beach – boiled eggs and bananas – which we bought from a local beach seller. Back to the room at 4.30pm for a shower.

We decided to go into the town for our evening meal – Ian took his bottle of whiskey with him. A little worse for wear we made our way back to the beach where we sat for a while and watched a fire show. Some of us could have gone to sleep.

Back to the bungalow about 10pm.

Tuesday 18.04.00. - Our neighbours were up early – we remained in bed until 8am Once again into the old town for breakfast – ordered scrambled eggs but a type of omelet arrived. Ian was not too pleased about this.

Afterwards we set off to walk across to the West Coast of the island. The path was easy to follow – on our way we passed the island's water supply (a large reservoir). Although the track was very rough many trucks passed us with people in them. When we eventually arrived at Au Pharo it was another white sand beach with crystal clear water and very calm. We found a lovely spot under the trees with a couple of seats. We spent the rest of the time in and out of the water – which was very warm.

Whilst here we were able to watch a large flock of herons taking off from the headland trees and circling part of the bay and returning again to the trees. Just after lunch we left the beach and made our way south. The way was hot but quite easy to follow. We met the coast at Vong Deunan – yet another bay – this one was a lot busier. This was the bay we had landed on a couple of days ago. Time for yet another swim to cool off before making our way back to our resort, where it was time for some food (sweet & sour pork) and a Chaing Beer.

Back to bungalow for a shower and rest. Later it was out again for a coconut curry at a food stall at which we were the last customers.

Wednesday 19.04.00. - A leisurely start to the day rising at 8.30am and breakfasting at the nearest café – boiled eggs seem to be a problem they either arrive hardboiled or very runny. Back to the bungalow for a relaxing hour reading and filling in the crossword in the Bangkok Post.

At 10am we made our way down to the beach to a telephone and contacted the homebound airline to confirm our return flight, the young assistant did the job confidently and without fuss. With this weight off our shoulders we returned to the bungalow and changed into our swimmers. The skies were heavy with cloud and thunder bellowed in the distance. We walked the 50m or so to the beach and enjoyed an hour’s swim in near perfect temperatures for us – playing ball also.

Back for a shower before setting off again for a walk to the pier – we bought pineapple and salted peanuts for our lunch and set off north along a well made up concerte road. At first we passed on the way many holiday bungalows in bad repair – although they were not that old. We then passed through another settlement, which was in better condition. Finally we arrived at Mookanlulay Resort, all looked dandy; well-equipped bungalows with lawns well managed. There were individual hammocks and deckchairs on the beach – which of course we took advantage of. Only one or two visitors around using the facilities. Onward to the very north of the beach where we were able to take a swim in the nude. Back to the deckchairs for a relaxing afternoon in the sun and swimming in the calm blue sea. Shells were strewn on the tide line, something not found on the more popular East Side of the island. At 5o’clock we set off back and called in at the restaurant of this resort to check out the prices – 4300 bhat a night for a beach bungalow – which is £86.00. We nearly had a drink but reeled at the price. An amble across the beach, and at a step up, Caroline slipped and banged her leg, blood poured out and shock set in. We bathed the wound in the sea and in a while things became calm. We limped back for a shower and a rest. Well some of us did!

Change of venue again for our evening meal – tonight we took it on the beach. We were able to add our bought whiskey to a couple of 7 ups for our meal. Back to bungalow about 10o’clock.

Thursday 21.04.00 - We awoke to yet another sunny day – by the time we reached the beach there were already people swimming. Found yet another new place for breakfast. As this was to be our last day on Ko Samut we decided to take is easy. We walked to the far end of the beach to find a little shelter from the sun. Spent the rest of the day in and out of the water. We also were able to do some snorkeling around the rocks off the headland.

It was now time for lunch we walked up to the village thinking we might have found somewhere to eat, but most places were closed (maybe only open in the evenings), so we returned to the beachfront for a fried rice each.

We planned to go on a little trail in the afternoon to the centre of the island but as we set off we were engulfed in biting mosquitoes so we retreated to the main drag.

Later we walked around the headland and sat and watched the boats coming and going. There was no place to swim here so we carried on around the coastal path. It was here we came across a chap sweeping the leaves from his patch – this all seemed such a waste of energy. Dropped down on to the beach and changed again into our swimmers and whiled away an hour or so in the warm water. A mother joined us with a couple of children who seemed to be proper water babies.

This part of the coastline was a little shabbier than where we were staying – we felt that maybe this was the original development on the island. A few old surfboards decked the shoreline. We ended our afternoon at the beachside of our resort with a beer and an iced tea.

After a rest we were off our again and made for the most popular eating house with tables on the beach. There was a full moon and a high tide. On the horizon were many brightly lit fishing vessels. For our meal we had kebabs and a cold beer and were entertained for fire dancers. Two performers swung fireballs on the ends of chains very fast and in all directions – the effect was amazing. Bed at 10.15p.m.

Friday 22.04.00. - Today we prepare for our homeward journey. We rose at 8am and strolled off to have breakfast in the already hot sun. Spent a leisurely hour enjoying the early mornings beach sights.

We nipped back to the bungalow and donned our swimmers to enjoy a last morning on the beach. The water as usual was still warm. Caroline sat beneath an umbrella whilst I set off for a mile walk along the beach. Much to see – dogs chasing tiny fish, topless foreigners and many people involved in watersports. I found an abandoned crabpot marker and set about to recover the 30 or so feet of rope attached to it. At the far end of the beach the sand was puree white and when walked on squeaked apparently because of the high content of silicone in it. I made my way back to Caroline and we had a swim together before returning to the bungalow to pack our sacks. We left at 11.50am for the 2km walk to the pier – the sun was hot and extra weight made up sweaty. As we arrived a boat was just leaving for the mainland so we hopped aboard. The voyage took up 1/2hr. In the water we were able to see many large jellyfish – did they sting we wondered.

At Bamphae we bought a bus ticket for Bangkok, which we found out, would leave at 15.00hrs.

To waste a couple of hours we browsed the shops and had lunch in a local café overlooking the pier. We ate crab-fried rice and a free beer. Back to the bus station where we had left our bags. Spot on time the bus left – this was a well-equipped vehicle – refreshments were freely handed out. We arrived in Bangkok at 19.30 hrs and promptly found where to catch the airport bus. This bus did the rounds of all the big hotels in Bangkok – we were on there for 2hrs. Arrived at the airport at 9.30pm had a bite to eat and waited for our 3am flight in the morning.

Saturday 23.04.00. - Our takeoff was on time and we were able to catch up with a few hours sleep in between the meals, which were served. We had couple of hours' stopover in Singapore airport before boarding our final flight to London. We were glad of our jumpers when we waited for our National Express Coach back to Plymouth. Temperature here 10° C we had left in Thailand 30° C.

 

A DIARY OF OUR TRAVELS IN CHINA

01.10.97 - 30.10.97

     

Wednesday 01.10.97 - Left home at 07.15hrs. to catch the bus to Plymouth, arrived a little early so took a stroll around town before making our way to the bus station. The bus was a little late - eventually left Plymouth at 09.15hrs. An uneventful trip to London arriving Heathrow at 13.30hrs.

Check in was problematic Ian had his lock knife taken away for return at Bangkok. Take off for Sofia was on time, arrived at 18.00hrs. A long wait now at the airport for the connection to Bangkok. Plenty of fellow passengers also waiting for the connection we were given a packed meal. No problem with the check in.

Thursday 02.10.97 -Took off on time at 00.45hrs. for flight to Bangkok in a jumbo jet - not many spare seats. A meal was served not long after take off; we were able to snatch a few hours sleep between listening to the radio. Seventeen hours later we were served breakfast and landed in Bangkok local time 14.30hrs. Ian was able to retrieve his knife from the ground staff.

Trying to follow Peter's instructions to leave the airport, we eventually caught the local bus for the monument. Traffic was horrendous & the humidity breathtaking. Not only did we have to endure the heat but the carbon monoxide emitted from the five lanes of crawling traffic.

Eventually hot & sticky we arrived at Khoa San Road an area known for accommodating travellers.

Plenty of rooms available, we acquired a room for 180bhat (£3.50 for a double). We were both exhausted but sleep was evasive, the heat was uncomfortable. At long last we fell asleep - until the arrival of the local merrymakers (Australians). Some problem developed which resulted in one individual banging on our room door for assistance shouting "I have a serious problem & need help" to this request I replied "piss off I can't get to the door I use a wheelchair"! Eventually all went quiet and we catnapped until 09.30hrs.

Friday 03.10.97 - Breakfast was enjoyed in a local bar after which we set off for the day. First stop the Grand Palace, we walked, had to pay an entry fee where upon I was informed that shorts were not acceptable so a pair of long pants had to be hired from the gate staff they were worn over my shorts - in 95°F of heat not good!

A wander around magnificent temples & galleries all heavily decorated with gold and mosaics. The main temple was open to visitors, all of whom paid their respects to the Emerald Buddha which was sited high on the alter. We enjoyed a tranquil time here drinking the atmosphere of humans paying respect to their religion. Outside the suns heat poured down and we continued our tour visiting the many exhibits and museums.

We left the Grand Palace at 14.00hrs. to make our way to the river - the water was rougher than expected. Whilst viewing the river scene, we chatted to a local man who had a good command of English about river trips, he eventually offered us a lift in his car to China Town. During our ride we chatted and learnt he was married with one son and one daughter by different wives whom he seems to change every year or when he tires - lucky old boy!

China Town was an experience with many market stalls under cover. Many varieties of vegetables were on sale some of which were new to us. We stopped to observe a fishmonger cutting up the most gigantic fish with a meat cleaver, a gold medallion swung from his neck.

China Town proper was an underground labyrinth of stalls most of which were selling electrical consumables.

Our main meal of the day was taken on the top floor of Merry King which is a large departmental store on a par to Dingles in Plymouth. We chose vegetable soup spiced with a good helping of chillies. We left the store in a heavy thunderstorm and wandered about the streets of Bangkok to locate an advertised fireworks display, we never actually found it. We walked back to Khoa San Road for a beer then bed.

Saturday 04.10.97 - After a cooler night we awoke quite early & had another shower before setting off for breakfast. Ian had porridge and bananas; I had toast and jam. After a quick return to the guesthouse we set off for the Vimanmek Teak Museum. Had no trouble with the bus ride, but on arrival learnt Ian had to cover his legs once again and was provided this time with a wrap around skirt! We arrived in time to watch the Thai Dancing and boxing. Afterwards we went with a guide for a walk around the various rooms of the Palace of Rame V. A very luxurious building with much ornate furniture and fittings. Plenty of fine silver, porcelain and paintings. The gardens were immaculately kept, plenty of staff on hand to help. Next we went to have a look around the support group museum - which was full of exquisitely produced products made of gold, silver, wood, beetle wings and a special fern. All exhibits were tabulated with exact areas from whence they came. Had a quick lunch in shop before setting off to find the "weekend market". En route passed a zoo so spent a couple of hours wandering around - bargain at 20bhat. Saw every imaginable animal, bird and reptile. Most enjoyable watching the elephants, hippos, monkeys and snakes. A very well run zoo with the animals looking in good condition.

Back to the planned excursion to the "weekend market" As we alighted from the bus we were helped by a local who gave us a lift in his car to said market, as we parted he warned us to be watchful for pickpockets. The market was the largest yet seen with all manner of produce for sale, had a drink from a chilled young coconut, very refreshing! For our main meal we joined locals at an open-air street kitchen for noodles in fish soup. By now it was dark and we were a long way from our guest house, so it was time to make it back, had to use a compass and map with a combination of two bus rides, arrived back Khoa San Road in good time for a snack and a beer before bed.

Sunday 05.10.97 - A leisurely awakening and a stroll along Khoa San Road to the west end. Our plan for today was to catch a bus north some 20km & return by way of the river taxi. The bus journey was uneventful until we alighted at the wrong stop. To confirm the way to the water taxi pier we inquired in a newly erected high rise hotel, very select. The girl at reception couldn't speak English so she escorted us to the sixth floor, where an English speaking girl helped. From here we hopped on another bus for a kilometre, this time we got off at the side of a street market which turned out to be the most interesting & unusual yet. On sale were such things as live toads, skinned toads & all types of butchered meat but not beef!! A large variety of strange vegetables kept us intrigued all morning. One lady was selling deep fried insects and large beetles. We sampled some fruit resembling new potatoes which turned out to be lynches. Eventually we left the market for the water taxi pier, but took yet another wrong turning and ended up being helped with a lift from a rickshaw operative. At the pier the heavens opened and we were treated to a sample monsoon. The river Kloang Beang Waek at this point was a half a mile wide and by the end of the downfall great rafts of vegetation floated its way towards the sea.

For a few bhat we started our ferry ride, as we boarded an elderly gent slipped on the wet wooden steps, only I and one other stopped to help him to his feet, he was in considerable discomfort. A number of young Buddhist monks just stood by and watched - get a life I thought! The boat ride was good our attention kept alert the whole way by all the strange sites - people living in houses on stilts. The boat kept zig zagging to and fro across the river. Eventually we arrived at Thai Saphan Phud with another walk around yet another market, stopping on the way for lunch of soup stuff and rice, quite good and hot!

Caroline had ideas of another boat ride this time on a smaller vessel along one of the numerous canals. After finding the right boat, we were off at a good speed; the craft was similar in shape to a Venetian gondola with a powerful diesel engine propelling a long shaft. The boat trip was immensely interesting, passing local Thai people going about their daily duties in their stilted houses. The trip to the terminus took some 50 minutes, we disembarked and took tea in a riverside shop, only to be told we would have to return on the same boat, today being Sunday and this was the last boat. We re-boarded and started off back passing temples and coconut plantations. At intervals we noticed the odd coconut bobbing in the brown water, we arrived back at 17.00hrs. Next we caught another water taxi down river two or three stops to set off for a walk along the famous Silom Road this area was in complete contrast to the rural Bangkok we had been used to. The centre of the city monopolised by high rise office blocks and hotels. The rich and well to do were wandering the streets. My target for the evening was Patpon Road famous world wide for its red light district. We arrived to find yet another street market with girlie dance clubs lining each side of the road. Caroline not too comfortable with this area and kept urging me to walk along and not linger. I managed to snatch a look into one bar and saw numerous Asian beauties dressed only in sloggies dancing provocatively on the tables luring westerners into their clutches or was it crutches!

The ride home was unexpectedly uneventful and we arrived back at Kho San Road at 20.00hrs. for a beer and early bed. Heavy rain fell during the night.

Monday 06.10.97 - OFF TO CHINA - Awoke about 05.30hrs. before the alarm sounded, finished packing then set off to catch the airport mini bus. We had time to eat breakfast of porridge and bananas before boarding. We were the first passengers to be picked up. Rain was falling heavily and it had been doing so most of the night. For the next half-hour we collected more passengers from various guesthouses. A large amount of luggage resulted in the driver having to arrange baggage on the roof. The traffic to the airport was horrendous, and we had on board a neurotic French woman who had a flap every so often about the heat etc. We eventually arrived at the airport with plenty of time to spare.

We confirmed our return flights with Balkan Air on a free phone. Take off was on time with Thai Air. The aircraft was almost empty and we were afforded excellent service from the aircrew. We had wine with our meal and Ian had a brandy to finish. Arrived Kunming China in rain. Our first objective was to change currency; we visited the Bank Of China, close to the airport. Plenty of locals in the bank - the sight of a small child with open front and back to his trousers was of interest. Back to the airport to book flight to Lijang, all went OK with the help of a helpful English-speaking assistant. Ian nearly had major heart attack when he was told we would be staying in a hotel. We took the airport bus to the Camillia Hotel. The city of Kunming not as congested as Bangkok but there were many more cycles. The hotel looked quite luxurious with palm court, music & doormen! We were offered a double room with extra bed for 60yuan. After settling in we went for a walk to find out where the bus station was in order to take us to the Stone Forest in the morning. We ended up on a hike along the sidewalk - crossing occasionally from side to side. Stopped for a take away meal - very tasty although small animal bones therein caused us concern. Back to the hotel for a beer and bed.

Tuesday 07.10.97 - We spent the night with a Korean man who insisted on reading Caroline's guide to China into the early hours.

As usual I was awake first at 07.00hrs. much to Caroline's disgust for she had only just fallen to sleep, nevertheless we had to get up for the journey to the Stone Forest, which is a 2hr. bus ride away. Deciding to eat breakfast en route we set off in pouring rain at 07.45hrs. Crossing the main city roads we had to be aware of first the wide cycle lane then the motor vehicle lane.

We had to catch two buses to the mini bus terminus from where the journey to the Stone Forest started. A number 5 bus arrived with about a million Chinese on board; we had a short confab with the driver, which left us all confused. He insisted we were travelling in the wrong direction, but we stayed on board to eventually learn the driver was right and we alighted at the terminus. We re-boarded the same bus and returned through the busy streets. In a quarter of an hour we were passing our starting point, with an awareness and a map we were soon at the King World Hotel where we boarded a mini bus for the days destination. Chase the potential passenger now followed until the bus was full this procedure took an hour.

We were on our way at last and soon leaving the confines of the busy city. Every kilometre there was something new to see. Paddy fields with stooks of rice drying, water buffalo feeding by the road. The rain hadn't heeded for some 13hrs. and it was still falling heavily, at one point we had to drive through 2' of floodwater.

Two stops on the way the second of which was a lunch stop, we were aware of this fact too late, however we were entertained by the chef and a fast moving wok. Ducks were being prepared for the local hotel - chopped with an axe into small pieces.

Only a kilometre further on we were at the gates of the Stone Forest. We secured a room for 70yuan and took a two-hour sleep. Refreshed we set off at 17.00hrs. for a stroll into the nearby countryside, picking our way on narrow grassy paths between towering limestone pillars. A secluded spot was chosen to sit a while, watching pied flycatchers and butterflies, by now the rain had stopped.

At 18.30hrs. we were able to enter the official Stone Forest free, and were able to enjoy a quick browse; quite spectacular the massive limestone pillars here had walkways built around them.

A good tasty meal was had in a nearby restaurant if not a little pricey 120yuan (£10.50), a beer and home to bed.

Wednesday 08.10.97 - Awoke to the sound of rain. Had decided we would go to a village called Lunar today - about 10km from Shilin. Packed packs and left in room for the day. Walked to the top road and within a few minutes we were in a minibus on the way to the market town - passing rice fields on the way. As we drove the twenty minutes the weather started to clear up - we were shown where the market was being held by a fellow passenger, and also told where we could pick up a return bus. What an eye-opener it was - every manner of commodity was being sold. Herbs, fruit, vegetables, meat and cereals. Watched a chicken being cleaned - in a sort of spin drier to remove the feathers - similar to ones we had seen in the markets in Morocco. Bought some very small bananas for breakfast - which were very sweet. Spent a couple of hours just wandering around - guess who was the centre of attraction!

Found a Post Office - but to actually post the cards were a problem - took about 15minutes - and a couple of phone calls - before the clerk had dealt with them. Would they ever arrive in England?

Ian bought a set of scales - similar to the ones which were being used everywhere. We found another market on the way back - people were repairing shoes, umbrellas etc., others were having a shampoo and set - having to wash their own hair from a shower-like contraption outside the shop. There were many herbalist’s selling their wares with anatomical drawings (!) behind them. On the main street we saw a woman extracting blood from an elderly man with bamboo tubes stuck to his body under pressure - looked very painful. This process intrigued plenty of onlookers. We stopped in a small cafe for a beer (and a tea of course) and watched the throngs go by. After leaving we watched a man making things with play-dough for the numerous children that were around. They paid a sum of money and took a ticket from the bag and he made whatever it said. He was a very talented man and the children loved it.

Gradually made our way back to the bus station and caught a bus back to Shilin quite quickly. Picked up bags from hotel and right out the door onto a bus to Kunming. No stops on way back until we arrived in city. We passed many landfalls as we returned - which was being cleared by people using shovels, men and women working alongside. Nightmare getting into Kunming - had to change buses - the traffic was endless - fumes were also terrible. Eventually arrived back at the bus station and made our way back to the Camelia Hotel, after stopping at a cafe for coffee (Nescafe - lovely) and a meal (60 yuan). A promenade in the evening and we saw an elderly group dancing and using finger drums.

Thursday 09.10.97 - An early call 5.30hrs - packed our bags in dim light - so as not to disturb dormitory residents. The only way to airport at this time of day was a taxi - which conveniently was waiting at the hotel entrance. Arrived Kunming airport 6 o'clock - all went to plan and we were in the air at 8.05hrs. Views of the ground were generally good - away from the city small hillocks with very little inhabitancy. The flight lasted 45mins and we were treated to a baseball cap - a bit naff!

A bus was waiting to ferry us to Lijang - the road was unmade for most of the way and it snaking in and out of the valleys, it was a nightmare. We were left in the town centre to fend for ourselves - inquired at the Lijang Hotel as to the whereabouts of the bus station - and were able to find it eventually - and bought a ticket for Qiatou (pronounced Shoto). Slight confusion as to the departure time, which meant us returning first at 12.00hrs. and then at 13.00hrs. Our spare time was spent visiting the old town and yet another thronging market.

At 13.00hrs our bus croaked into the yard. the oldest and most bone-shaken vehicle here. Inside, the seats were all ripped and the roof hung in ribbons, however the driver was smiling and happy! The journey took 3hrs over roads resembling the worst sections of the Okehampton army road. Tired and weary we found a room for 50yuan (£4.00) for a double. We were supplied with a flask of boiling water, which we used to add to a pot noodle, and ate with relish in our rooms. Had a short walk to make clear tomorrow’s route and then returned to a local cafe for a beer. Here we were informed our planned route was impassable due to a landslide. As fate would have it a very pleasant chap sat with us and explained the route to be OK. We chatted the evening away and found we had a lot in common. We may meet up again tomorrow as he is taking the same route; he lives at Walnut Grove.

Friday 10.10.97 - Awoke to the alarm about 6o'clock, packed up and set off out of the village in darkness. Through the unmanned toll gate (20yuan) and we were away. As we walked the light became brighter and we were able to see the river below us. Trucks were passing us on their way up the gorge. The view was fabulous - the snow capped Jade Dragon mountain above us and the river below pounding ever onwards. We passed many people working on the roads. Ian went up to explore a mine on the side of the hillside. 

We came upon a teahouse with a young Australian already there. Had a long talk with him about his travels - he had flown to Delhi and cycled through India, Tibet and was now making his way through China. Did feel a little apprehensive when I saw the cuts on his legs - which he said he had obtained that morning crossing the waterfall landslide! Sean - who we had met the previous evening - caught up with us here and stayed with us for the rest of the journey to Walnut Grove. The waterfall was a washout - there had been a lot of blasting and it was not possible to cross safely. Stones were falling down all the time!! We then had a little lunch before setting off on a high level bypass. This track was a nightmare - pulling ourselves up over the rocks. At one point our guide appeared to be going a different direction to us! We eventually came to a wonderful pool area. Numerous very colourful birds were feeding at the water. Here we were joined by Sean - who told us he had been marking the route for other walkers. We way-marked a large rock here, before we shared a pear with Sean. We set off again crossing the river on a bamboo bridge. The next part I found the most difficult - pulling myself up through the undergrowth on the conveniently placed bamboo's - with plenty of rests. Ian suggested that Sean carried on - as I could be sometime. He did however call every so often to give us the general direction we should be walking in - the path was a little indistinct at times. Eventually we reached the ridge - we could now see how near to Walnut Grove we had been at the Waterfall below. What a lot of time we had wasted in the climb up. Ian had enjoyed this part the best. We rejoined Sean at this point and he showed how to strip the stalk of the corn to then chew it and produce a sweet juice.

As we approached the village (500 people) we passed a few houses and the school. Plenty of small fields with different kinds of vegetables growing. Arrived at Walnut Grove and Sean's GuestHouse. What a lovely setting. High up on the hillside looking down the valley - with the head of Jade Dragon Mountain on the opposite hillside some three and a half thousand metres above us. We enjoyed a cool Coke before having a shower. Our room had a gorgeous view!! Electric blankets!! Supper was an experience - with the family - all mucking in together. Sean's three daughters were very helpful, making sure our dishes were full. We ate spinach soup, corn and onions, tomatoes and onions, and reconstituted salted beef. Finishing off with doughnuts and coffee (Yunnan style). We spent the evening with the family and many people from the village engrossed in tying up corn - which would be dried and stored for winter use. Ian soon picked up the way in which this was done. We both retired to bed quite exhausted after a really exhilarating day.

Saturday 11.10.97 - A day of rest today, a lying in a very comfortable bed with an electric blanket. A leisurely morning spent chatting to Margo the landlady; we drank coffee and enjoyed the beautiful vista from the patio. At about 14.00hrs. I set off for an expedition to the river Yangtse picking my way down the mountainside through cornfields, until the path stopped. Strung from bushes were net curtain size spiders webs, their residents very large and very colourful, the thought did cross my mind whether they were harmful. After having one or two draped in my face, I decided to arm myself with a stick to break down future barriers.

Tied to a rope I came face to face with a tethered bull, grazing in rough terrain, a bamboo rod was inserted through its nose secured to this rope. Throughout the walk numerous large brightly coloured butterflies fluttered by, it was like wandering through a butterfly farm. The ground fell away steeply to the raging river below. I picked my way down towards the riverbank, the way getting increasingly more difficult but the lure of such an epic force of nature was too great. I battled on eventually reaching the rivers edge; huge boulders lay strewn on the bank, results of previous landslides. I selected the largest boulder some 100tones, which projected into the river's flow; I sat here for a long time drinking in the unique atmosphere of this special place. The river here would be impossible to cross, the flow some 20-25mph. obvious eddies foaming at the centre. Upstream a rapid dropping 10-15' over 100m, the noise was deafening. Every so often rocks and dust fell from the road above under construction. One hour here was worth two weeks holiday. I selected two pebbles from the riverbed for a keepsake. Eventually it was time to make it back, the route up was easier to follow and I enjoyed the walk - the sun was hot and I was able to cool off in small tumbling waterfalls. At the top of the path I spotted two Europeans resting at Woodies (the opposition village guesthouse), I stopped to chat for an hour and enjoyed a beer with them. By the time I returned to Caroline she looked a little concerned - I had with me, all the holiday money - was this the only reason for her concern?

The evening was spent relaxing and eating a good meal, bed at 10.00hrs.

Sunday 12.10.97 - Awoke to the sound of blasting of the road again this morning. We packed our bags and went down to breakfast of porridge honey & sultanas. As we were eating a woman arrived looking a little shocked - she had crossed the landslide at the waterfall this morning - a very hair raising experience. Said our farewells to all at Sean's before setting off at about 09.45hrs. Passed Woodies and stopped to chat to some fellow travellers. We were given a map of the gorge showing two ferry crossings. We set off on the trail the sun began to warm us, we passed numerous groups of local people going about their daily chores. Arrived at ferry crossing about 11.15hrs. and snaked our way down the mountainside through trees on a small path. Two boatmen were waiting to ferry us across the fast flowing Yangtse. The crossing was very quick and uneventful. On the far side we rested and watched the boatman return. We climbed the track towards the village of Daju, many birds and butterflies were seen. En route we passed a large cave cut into the hillside, it was fenced with cut bamboo & resembled a bear pit.

It was now very warm; Caroline needed many rests on the upward climb. The path was easy to follow. At the top we stopped for lunch sheltering from the hot sun. The afternoon walk was less strenuous passing through meadows festooned in autumnal flora and fauna, butterflies were in abundance with large grasshoppers noisily screeching from their hideaways. Soon we caught sight of Daju; we passed through the outskirts, all the residents busy hard at work - milling corn - ploughing fields with water buffalo - spreading manure by hand. A leat system was used to irrigate the fields; we had our first feel of a rice crop. A very enjoyable walk eventually arriving at the town centre, here a collection of traders were busy trading tobacco. Liquid refreshment was now needed; Ian had a large beer and Caroline a coke. The main street was not made up and tumbleweed rolled its way propelled by the warm breeze resembling a scene from a western. Fellow travellers passed us whilst we were enjoying our refreshment on their way to the only hotel in town, The Tiger Leaping Hotel. At the hotel we all partook of a wash down in the yard.

From the balcony we enjoyed views of surrounding mountains, some snow capped. Nestling in hidden far distant valleys were small village communities carrying on their own lives.

Blasting could still be heard echoing from the distant gorge. A good wholesome meal was enjoyed before settling down to a warm good sleep.

Monday 13.10.97 - The alarm sounded at 06.30hrs. the towns electric was off, so had to pack our bags in the dark. Breakfast at 07.10hrs. - Porridge and coffee. Between 07.30hrs. and 08.00hrs. the bus to Lijang filled with eager passengers mostly Chinese and four Europeans. We bumped our way out of town and climbed steadily for 2hrs. the road/track was very uneven, the driver was very skilled to avoid tipping us all into deep ravines. The roughness of the trail sometimes lurched us towards 500-foot drops - Caroline found this quite disconcerting. Eventually we started the descent with the road getting increasingly more clogged, it wasn't long before the bus ground to halt, stuck in deep mud. A mechanical digger was parked nearby, its driver sleeping in the cab, unconcerned as to our predicament. Our driver tried in vain to get free, until at last the digger driver showed some compassion and tried to start his machine, it had run out of fuel. A good while was spent priming the digger's engine until it spluttered into action. Pulling our bus free was then just a formality. The resulting hold up caused a vehicle bottleneck, which took more time to clear, the total wasted time was an hour. Eventually we were off again but hadn't gone far when we got stuck again, another tow from a digger and we continued the bumpy ride to Lijang. I wondered how the vehicles suspension units coped? At Lijang we were escorted to our accommodation for the night by fellow travellers. After settling in we set off for a stroll around the town.

At the local market we located a shoe repairer who expertly repaired my now sick boots, the cost of his work had to be negotiated from 100yuan to 30yuan. Back to the guesthouse for a rest and a wash. Suitably refreshed we strolled around the old town and enjoyed a meal of mushrooms and rice accompanied with the inevitable green weak tea.

Tuesday 14.10.97 - Monday nights sleep was disturbed with the sound of rats scurrying in the roof space.

We awoke at 07.30hrs. to the sound of locals in the courtyard below carrying out their ablutions and preparing breakfast.

We sought out the local bus station to arrange a bus for the following day to Dali.

A local attraction was Black Dragon Pool Park; an entry fee was needed so decided to give it a miss. At the gates three craftsmen were busy chiselling stone carvings of lions.

Ma Ma Fues cafe is a well known travellers meeting place so we set off to seek it out, only to find it had moved into the old town. The morning was spent walking around the new town in warm sun. I needed a toilet so we spent the next hour searching one out, with little success. Finding a toilet in a Chinese town is near impossible, what do the locals do? My relief was to be had at the south bus station, having to pay to use a disgusting communal shit pit! With the panic over we made our way to a hill at the town centre, accommodating a graveyard on its slopes. At the summit was a brand new pavilion, brightly painted and crafted, we climbed to the top from where we were afforded distant vistas of the surrounding countryside. A Chinese girl with a command of English told us that the government had funded the pavilion. After a restful time here we set off for the old town and found a market, bought a set of chisels and a so-called bone carving.

Found Ma Ma Fues cafe and enjoyed a beer and a bite to eat, kept here is a visitors book, we spent a good while studying the text.

Back to the guesthouse for a rest before setting off for an evening's entertainment at the Naxi Theatre. We were ushered into a large hall decorated in old Chinese; lanterns hung from every corner. The stage was a clutter of seats and strange stringed instruments standing waiting for their musicians to arrive. At last the lights dimmed and we were treated to an evening of traditional Naxi music, the scores being handed down from 517 years AD. The musicians were all of great age six of whom were over 80 years old. The sound was good, during the translated commentaries between tunes; many of the musicians were asleep. We enjoyed a good evening. During the entertainment a rat yes a rat joined the performers on the stage, only leaving when the performance ended.

Bed at 22.00hrs.

Wednesday 15.10.97 - An early rise to catch the bus to Dali. We had chance to try a typical Chinese breakfast - rice porridge (sweet white water) & a hard-boiled egg.

The bus pulled out of the north bus station on time and quite full. The nearside rear window was broken with jagged glass a danger, a constant wind blew through the window and we all felt cold. Cigarette smoking on these trips is always a problem for us. At 09:30hrs. a toilet stop was called for - muck the most disgusting experience Caroline has ever had - human waste covered in flies & maggots lay in piles. All aboard and off to the Dali valley over hills. A large fresh water lake sits within the hills and the surrounding plains put to the production of China’s main crop rice. Many workers with traditional san pan hats were busy harvesting their crop. Once the rice is cut it is laid for a week to dry after this period bundles are gathered and the ears are beaten into huge hand made baskets, once the baskets are full then the grain is winnowed with the aid in some instances of electric fans.

We arrived at Dali town at 14:00hrs. & had to walk the dusty roads for a mile or two until we reached the MCA hotel. The hotel was geared for western tastes even sporting a swimming pool, which I soon took, advantage of - colder than expected. With some of the afternoon remaining we strolled into the town soaking up all the unusual sights, woodcarving was a prime industry and many workshops busy churning out furniture. We returned to the hotel and took advantage of an organised Bar B’Q for our evening meal. After our meal the evening became quite chilly so we took another walk into the town. A few beers we came upon a teashop with a group playing classical music their instruments were all strange stringed affairs.

Thursday 16.10.97 - Awoke about 7.30a.m. to the sound of the Chinese army marching! Found out later it was in the nearby army camp. Out for our breakfast of porridge and boiled eggs. Ian decided we would hire bikes for the day. After trying a few we set off. After a little while we were out of the town cycling between the paddy fields - it was their harvest season and they were busy cutting and separating the rice from the chaff. We eventually arrived at the lake and we were accosted by the local boatmen to hire a boat. Spent the lunch hour watching the local women washing and rinsing their clothes in the lake. After they left others came to wash their large trays (woven out of straw).

The roads on the way back were spread with rice drying - which made cycling difficult at times. Stopped at a shop for a drink of beer - all went quiet for a while - but eventually things carried on as if we weren’t there - even to a very small girl going to the toilet in front of us. Back to the hotel for shower and talk with fellow travellers. The evening meal was taken with other travellers in the centre of Dali. Spent sometime at a classical music evening before returning very tired and sore - from our bike ride at 10o’clock.

Friday 17.10.97 - Awoke at 7.00a.m. and listened to the radio for half an hour. Down for breakfast and afterwards packed our bag for a night out. Left the rest of our belongings at reception before setting off for the walk to the pier. Lonely Plant estimates the walk from Dali to the boat pier as being 40mins, we made it 1hr.30mins. A pleasant walk through the paddy fields with workers already hard at it. A "guide" intercepted us at the top of the long road to the boat - we negotiated a price. Arrived at the pier with a dozen or so boats tied up. Ticket touts made us their target and a half an hour bargaining secured us a ride for 50yuan for two. Only us on board! We crossed Dali Lake SE enjoying the morning ride. We disembarked at a point near Haidong and a Chinese Temple. We arrived just as a large tourist boat docked. Mayhem ensued and we fought our way up steep stairs, being accosted on the way to pay 5yuan - we refused much to the annoyance of the ticket man. This was a charge to visit the temple - which we did not intend visiting - eventually he realised this and let us go on our way.

A road hugged the lakeside in a north direction - a dusty way and mot made up. The first workers we saw were quarry people chiselling out great boulders from the hillside and transporting them across our track to a crusher - which spewed small stones in a heap for a barge to collect.

Around the first bent and observant as always Carole spotted captive cormorants resting after a fishing trip with their owner. We sat here a good while in the company of the fisherman who enjoyed a smoke.

We continued passing many quarry workers about their employ. Butterflies were in profusion - large and brightly coloured. Birds also were a treat - we saw a kingfisher, pied wagtails, pied flycatchers and many small brightly coloured birds. Ahead of us was a 15km walk - but every km had something of interest. Lunch was spent in the only village on the way; we climbed down to the water edge and watched a family pulling in fishing nets. They gave us juicy pears we in turn gave the children some of our biscuits.

The afternoon was hot and we passed many shrimp fisherman hauling in their nets. Along the edge of the lake cannabis was also found to be growing - once again not picked by the locals. At 15.00hrs the temptation for a swim was too great - so off with our clothes and in we went - absolutely gorgeous. We eventually arrived at our destination Wase - a sleepy fishing village. We stopped at a roadside shop for a beer and enjoyed the tranquil views of the lake and harbour.

After much searching we eventually found somewhere to stay - very grubby! Pigs roamed the streets waffling waste vegetables. Found a goof place to eat and enjoyed vegetables and rice (avoided meat here as the guidebook mentioned that the people of Wase eat dog!). Bed at 21.00 hrs for we had to rise at 5.15a.m. for the only boat out of Wase for the day.

Saturday 18.10.97 - Made our getaway from the hellhole - all was quiet in the village - one or two lights behind the doors - of other early risers. On arriving at the boat we found people were already on boards - some sleeping - some wandering around. It wasn’t long before we set off in the dark. Most of the journey was taken on deck - quite cold. The lake was very calm as we ploughed along - the odd fisherman was passed en route - some had lights others not. As the sun came up Ian realised we were passing Dali altogether - where were we going? After about one and half-hours we eventually arrived in Old Dali - bit of a dirty city especially early in the morning. Spent sometime walking around trying to find a breakfast spot. It was really a cold morning. Breakfast was taken in and office canteen - a sort of noodle mixture and Ian had eggs.

Now to find our way back to Dali - a few false starts - can anybody read a map? OK we were on our way back to the MCA. Were given the room next door to our last visit. A while was taken unwinding, doing a pile of washing and having a shower. We then relaxed by the pool with a beer and a steak sandwich.

In the afternoon went to have a look at the three pagodas, passing many marble cutters on the way - most of the machinery was being run by beam engines. Plenty of our tourists were also visiting the pagodas. Ian bought a crystal ball. As we were a long way from the centre of the town we decided to take a horse and cart back and had a rest for a while.

As we went out from our meal in the evening we bumped into Margo and Sean from Tiger Leaping Gorge, in Dali for shopping and business. Had our meal with them in a Tibetan Restaurant - a very enjoyable evening was had. Returned to guesthouse at 10o’clock. A comfortable night and very peaceful.

Sunday 19.10.97. - A leisurely start today with a wholesome breakfast of porridge, fruit and eggs. We ate in the sun beside the swimming pool - very up market! I had a game of snooker with the hotel's owner.

At 11.00hrs we left to walk the road S towards Old Dali for 3-4km - not a very nice experience - cars, buses and trucks spilling diesel fumes along with road dust us, with the constant hoot of loud horns. Rivers flow from the mountains to the W, we crossed the first and made our way up the second along a mule track - it wasn’t long before me met four mules laden with farm produce. We made our way up towards the high peaks walking through productive farmland with workers as usual tending them. We followed the steam criss-crossing as we went. Buzzards soared overhead. We took a rest in a rock-cave and watched the butterflies. Onwards and upwards into a pretty meadow adorned with wild flowers and bird song. We continued upstream hoping to find three pools mentioned in the Lonely Planet book. High on the hill were tombs facing the lake. The river was clear as it tumbled over large boulders - it was so good to be out of the pollution of the town and breathe fresh air again. We arrived at the end of the path below huge overhanging cliffs, now it was time to return taking frequent rests to enjoy our surrounds. We watched a group of elderly matriarchs picking tea and had a "chat" not that any of us understood but contact was good. We were able to find an unpolluted track back to Dali through farm fields growing corn, beans, onions, greens, tomatoes and many more selections. Arrived back at the hotel and enjoyed a beer.

Our evening meal was spent with a "couple" of Americans; the conversation made the evening pass very quickly. A nightcap of Chinese brandy was taken at Pete's Peace Place before turning in for the night at 23.15hrs.

Monday 20.10.97 - Awoke at 7.30a.m. just as the sun was coming up. Today we were off to a shopping market. It was a little colder outside today so had breakfast inside - Ian his usual porridge and fruit, I muesli, yoghurt and fruit followed by freshly squeezed orange juice. Everyone else appeared to be waiting for the bus arranged by the Hotel. We made our way up the main road to catch the local bus. We were only there a couple of minutes and away we went, with all manner of produce!. After a little while we called in at another village and had to change buses - everybody was really helpful to make sure we were on the right bus. Arrived at market at about 9.45a.m. already it was in full throngs.

The street up to the main market was lined with tourist paraphernalia-batik work, embroidery, silver trinkets and old coins, etc. We then came upon the noodle sellers - as in most markets we have been to all certain trades/sellers seem to keep together. The next thing, which caught our eye, were the dentists! Working at the side of the market, their drills operated by their feet and no anaesthetic! The patients did not seem in too much pain.

We wandered up to the top of the market first every spot taken up by some stallholder, in the quarry traders were selling seeds for growing, weighing out meticulously with their weights. Customers always trying to add a few more seeds at the final point. I can imagine what would happen if this was tried in England.

We then cut down lower to watch the pigs being sold, they were tethered by ropes to their back feet whilst prospective purchases inspected them. Most of the goods except for the foodstuffs seemed to be of poor quality - I was not tempted to buy anything. Ian however bought an implement for mending shoes. We left about 1o’clock and arrived back at the Hotel about 2ish. Relaxed around the pool with a steak sandwich and a beer, before having a couple of hour's rest.

Our last meal in Dali was a lovely sweet and sour pork.

Tuesday 21.10.97 - An early rise and off to Old Dali on the bus, as luck would have is we bought a ticket to Boashan which left us where we were to catch our outward bus at 9.30hrs. Spot on 9.30 our bus arrived and that’s where punctuality ran out. With a few passengers on board we made our way to the garage end of town searching for a bolt! Eventually we ended up at a garage who set about dismantling the rear suspension wishbone. Two and half-hours later we were back on the road only to run our of diesel three miles down the road! The old bus conductor ran with a bucket to collect some from a local garage a mile or so down the road.

The bus ride from hell now commenced with a bumpy ride over unmade roads and surface dust everywhere, fortunately we had bought face masks the evening before and these helped out congestion. Much roadworks were taking place on the far bank of a very polluted fairly big river. The unmade road was with us for 2hrs. then relief a made up road, we passed into mountainous terrain, which resulted in us zigzagging up and down mountains with precarious drops at one side, the driver had to overtake frequently on bends. We arrived at our destination at 18.30hrs eight and a half hours after our start. We both were physically and mentally exhausted. Found a hotel (Alien and tourist hotel!) and popped out for a meal which was OK excepting for a fellow customer hawking the contents of his throat onto the floor of the cafe. Bed 21.00hrs.

Wednesday 22.10.97. - Our first job of the morning was to check out the times of the bus to Tengchong. The traffic was not as bad as we expected. Made our way up to the CACC office (Airline) en route stopped to have a breakfast of noodles at one of the street traders - it went down very well. It took sometime to be seen at the airline office but eventually booked our flight back to Kunming. We were not able to change traveller's cheques at the first bank we called at. The streets became a little quieter as we wound our way up to the Pagoda. A very remote pagoda but the view from the top was fine over Boashan City and beyond to the mountains surrounding the plateau.

Made our way towards the Taibou Park (2yaun) and walked up the winding road. Plenty of butterflies in profusion again. Called in at the Zoo en route, only a few animals: -antelope, deer, bears, monkeys, feral cats. One of the monkeys frightened me by grabbing a biscuit from my hand. All in all the animals looked quite healthy - although we felt some could have had more to keep them amused. We carried on up the road and come across a restaurant - time for a cold beer.

On the top of the hill was a shrine which was very colourful, set in a well-tended garden with many bonsai trees and colourful plants including hibiscus. A park was set up also here with many ancient rides for children!! Spent a little while relaxing in a pavilion - until Ian decided it was time to move on. It was here that we saw for the only time an elderly lady with her feet tied - something which used to be done an awful lot in China. The lady had to be helped to walk by her two also elderly companions.

As we returned to the City found the Bank of China and were able to change the traveller's cheques this time. Had a wander around the shops - I bought a paid of boots for the winter for £10 and Ian bought a bamboo stick and a sampan!! It was still very warm as we walked around the markets. Had another check at the bus station and bought the tickets for tomorrow morning. Back to Hotel to box up the things we were leaving behind in Boashan.

Thursday 23.10.97. - Yet another early start, set the alarm for 6.10hrs. packed and left for the bus station - our destination today was to be hopefully Tengchong. As usual the bus left on time, a large one fully occupied. We donned our face masked; an absolute must in China. Everyone apart from us deposited sputum after wrenching it up from their lungs out of the window, and in many cases on the floor of the bus. We hadn’t gone far when a gang of six men boarded the bus and promptly tried to involve passengers in a game of "pea under the cup" - they worked as a team betting their own money until some unsuspecting player joined in. Needless to say the stranger never won. With little enthusiasm from the passengers they alighted in five miles or so.

So the start of another bus ride to hell this time the expected duration 8hrs. The seating arrangements were very cramped and the prospect of a day confined with heavy smokers and sputum wrenches was formidable. Lunch was taken high in the mountains in a one-horse town only surviving on bus passengers having to eat. Residents were picking grubs from a honeycomb to fry later. Yummy yummy!!

Onward and the inevitable breakdown - the fuel pipe snapped. All passengers alighted and left the driver to his repair. Only 15mins past and we were again on our way bumping along unmade roads arriving at our destination at 15.05hrs - it did indeed take 8hrs. Surprise surprise!

Found our hotel and had a well deserved shower and freshened up some of our clothing. Went in search of some food but ended up going as far as the bus station, so booked tickets for return trip to Boashan.

On the way back Ian was able to purchase the carrying pieces for his stick. Found a place to eat and ordered a bit too much - food kept arriving. Most went down with a Dali Beer.

Walked as far as the Tengchong Restaurant and found out about the bus for the Hot Springs tomorrow. Back to bed but Karoke kept us awake for a little while.

Friday 24.10.97. - Awoke at 6.45am dressed and set off for the bus, which was supposed to leave at 7.30. We had to get a few extra instructions but eventually at 8.05 set off for the springs. For a little while the track was a little rough and then we turned onto a tarmac road. It was not long before we arrived at the springs - for 5yuan each we entered with the rest of our fellow passengers on the mini bus. Made our way up to the main attraction - the big boiler - what a sight! A circular pond of bubbling water, giving off a lot of steam and smelling like rotten eggs. The sun was not up yet but it was still warm, we were joined by other tourists who also enjoyed the warm (hot) springs. We cooked a couple of eggs - which we purchased from one of the locals - in one of the pools. Ian soft boiled his - I had mine hard-boiled. We spent a couple of hours enjoying the phenomena - before setting off on a side-track. We gradually climbed higher, through meadows, along the side of the water pipe, through pine forests and finally fields bordering the track. Met a few people bringing their cows down to the meadows for the day. Once again the number of butterflies - especially red ones with their wings tinged with black overwhelmed us. Many dragonflies were also seen. We eventually arrived at a village just as children were coming home from school. We could not make a lot of contact with the children until a village elder came to join us. Then children surrounded us - some even trying out their English. They were very interested in Ian’s compass. A number of the boys had whoops, which they ran, along the ground with another piece of wire. We were then invited into one of the houses for tea. The ladies carried on with their work as if we were not there, one feeding the pigs, another carrying pig manure (complete with baby on her back) to the nearby field and an older lady removing some chaff from the husked rice. Said our farewells and made our way back down the track and came our near the big boiler again. Nobody was around now.

Made our way down another route past different smaller thermal active pools - all having different names - until we came to the swimming pool. Nobody was using this. We quickly changed in the small huts provided before trying out the pool - it was like bath water - the top layer being slightly warmer than the rest. The only other takers were a large number of dragonflies. We whiled away another hour or so in this tranquil spot before we made our way back up the track beside the river. We passed many bubbling pools had been bricked up, eventually we arrived at a large waterfall with more springs coming from the rock-face - this one was walled Toad Mouth Fountain. We were able to pick up a mini bus back to Tengchong quite quickly.

Time for a Dali beer to quench our thirst. as we watched life go on in this quiet layback city.

Out in the evening to find somewhere to eat. found a reasonable spot but unfortunately again we ordered far too much - we haven’t quite got the hang of ordering meals as yet!

As we ambled back and had just reached a busy crossroads the city’s lights went out and everywhere was plunged into darkness. Emergency procedures came quickly into force and candles appeared along with Tilly lamps. We were sent to bed with a candle.

Saturday 25.10.97. - A lay-in today - we rose at 8.30hrs. Prepared and ate our breakfast in our room - a chocolate roll with sliced bananas. We left our hotel and ambled westward and found yet another produce market - we never tire of the amount of interesting products on sale.

We eventually found the road out of Tengchong for Heshun Village - renowned for housing Chinese who have spent time working abroad. The road was not too dusty and in 4km or so we were at the junction to the village - a long straight cobbled road lay ahead with paddy fields on both sides. We stopped and watched a farmer ploughing his fields with a water buffalo for about an hour, in the warm sunshine, egrets fed nearby.

The actual village entrance is over a typical Chinese Bridge and ducks swan downstream. We strolled through this sleepy little village acknowledged by the odd resident. We sat a while and in no time had attracted the attentions of a group of children keen to try their English. We set off again with three boys in tow, they guided us to three temples on a hill - where we sat for a quiet moment with the curate who offered us a jar (!) of tea. Lunch was taken in the local kitchen; we had noodles, pork broth and spices, quite good. (3yuan-21p).

We decided to spend the afternoon hiking high above the village sweeping E through intensely farmed fields. A pleasant stroll with many interesting birds and plants to see. The walk culminated at the village lake where boys were busy fishing and farmers tending their rice crop. Had the inevitable Dale beer in a local shop and then made our way back along the straight road. Along the way I decided to lend a hand to a group of women thrashing rice into a wooden trough - this caused a hilarious response. Back to the hotel for a shower.

As we were going to look for somewhere to eat in the evening a Chinese girl - who turned out to be a teacher, approached us. After a little while talking she invited us back to her house for a cup of tea and some fruit. We met her husband, her little boy and her father-in-law. It was a most enjoyable couple of hours she asked if I could write to her - so we exchanged addresses. Our stomachs were a little hungry by now, so we said our farewells. Back to the bustling centre for a meal. Another short power cut at the hotel - which we had earlier found out from our host happened quite often at this time of the year when the rivers were low. They turned off the whole system!!

Sunday 26.10.97. - After another disturbed night cue to Karoke we got up about 8o’clock to the sound of rain! Ian went out to get some buns for breakfast - neither of us could face the spice soup for breakfast! First thing in the morning we went to have a look at the Free Trade Bazaar in the town and then gradually wound our way along the narrow streets, until we picked up the main road. Walked the same route at yesterday - less dustier due to the overnight rain. Took a right fork today and walked towards the village of Yingjiang. People were already in their paddy fields - the lucky ones who had covered their rice yesterday were able to carry on. We passed a pond where a couple of people were fishing with nets.

Entered the village and made our way to where I had seen somebody walking along a track earlier - it ended out being a leat which ran around the side of the hillside feeding the field systems. Very gradually at first we climbed up the slopes of the volcano - already able to pick up pieces of lava. A local with flip-flops passed us on! Reached a plateau at the top where a large crop of tobacco was planted, with the help of the local we made our way around the mountain - as no obvious path was on this side. Eventually we reached the summit of Mt.Ma’ and walked the full circumference of the volcano - through the different types of trees, to the singing of the crickets and again past numerous colourful butterflies. After a break on the top we made our way down the West Side of the volcano passing people going up to tend to their crops. Back in the village time for a quick beer in the local shop, where we were again the centre of attraction. We then walked on a little further and came upon a very neglected pagoda set amongst some quarries. As we took a rest in the afternoon sun we could hear in the distance the sound of chipping away at the volcanic rock. A local joined us for a little while. Back to the main road where we were able to pick up a bus which took us back to the town and our hotel. In the evening we set off to find a suitable eating house - always a problem in China. We made our way to an eating house opposite the Tengchong Guest House. As usual the fun starts when we need to order. Caroline has an attempt first to explain sweet and sour chicken - no luck. Then it was my turn and managed to locate a blue looking chicken so I said do to it what you may, I was feeling rotten with a heavy head cold, we drank tea watching fellow customers until our meal arrived. A steaming pot with a soup mix, yummy we thought - chicken soup. By now we were both quite adept at using chop sticks and delved into the mixture - the lucky dip brought forth chopped complete bits of the chosen chicken: - feet, head, backside and intestines. I couldn’t face much of it however Caroline made a good attempt; the soup mixture was spiced with too much ginger. Back to bed to be serenaded by two local Karoke bars late into the night.

Monday 27.10.97. - Yet another early rise at 6.15a.m. to catch the bus to Baoshan. Had to wake the hotel gate keeper and then we had to walk through darkened streets to the bus station. School children were making their way to school fearless of the dark. The bus pulled out on time at 7.30a.m. - we on this occasion had secured two front seats with plenty of air. Fortunately the road was damp from the recent rain which laid the dust. A bumpy ride through the mountains and over a border and we arrived at our destination at 14.15hrs. Secured a room at the local hotel and wandered around the town in the early evening, selected a takeaway meal - simple and cheap - back for an early night.

Tuesday 28.10.97. - Awoke to the sound of the alarm at 6o’clock. Once again on the move, packed our bags and made our way towards bus station. Just when we wanted a taxi none were to be seen - so we had to go the four miles to the airport in a kind of tut-tut - which at this time of the morning was very cold. Paid our 20yuan at the gate of the Airport and walked the 300metres to the terminal building. We were one of the first to arrive - so much for the check-in time! More and more people gradually arrived - but still no aeroplane. At about 8.10a.m. the plane landed and passengers disembarked - we were now ready to board. After a 40mins. flight we landed in Kunming - had to wait this time for our baggage - which we then left in Left Luggage for the day. Caught Airport bus to Hotel, checked in and went to change some money - which turned out to be more of a challenge than we thought. When we arrived the bank was closed, so we thought we would take a walk towards the lake - few navigational problems - never arrived at the lake - but we did find a park with a boating lake. Were able to while away a couple of hours here. Whilst here found there was another Bank near our Hotel mentioned in the Lonely Planet. Stopped on the way back for a snack, which included some yoghurt in a small bottle, which was delicious. Guess who didn’t have a towel? Ian had left it in the other bag - no problem - we improvised! The evening meal was taken with other Europeans in a nearby cafe. Had a long talk with a couple from the lakes. Back to Hotel for a good nights sleep - too much snoring!

Wednesday 29.10.97. - Our last day in the Peoples Republic of China. Awoke and rose at 8.00a.m. Made it to the cafe, which caters for westerners and had egg and ham sandwiches and glass of hot chocolate. With spare Chinese currency in our pockets we set off for the city to hunt for a few presents. Not much luck China seems very poor in consumables - and what they do provide is tatty. Back to the Hotel to collect our packs then off again for a stroll towards the airport stopped off for a beer and porridge! Eventually hailed a taxi, which took us to the Airport. Here the fun started firstly we entered unknowingly the internal flight section and I was alarmed not to see our flight on the display board. We inquired and learnt the international terminal was next door. Having moved to the correct terminal more anguish - Flight 613(our flight) was not mentioned but flight 612 was leaving at 14.10hrs. - it was now 13.50hrs. Panic-struck deep into our stomachs not only was the flight not mentioned but we had insufficient funds to pay the 90yuan each airport tax. In haste I jumped the barrier and changed Thailand Bat into the required Yuan and Caroline purchased the tax vouchers. With little hope of catching the 612 flight we queued to x-ray our baggage - by the time we were through our flight 613 flashed with the correct time on the board - we were saved and slowly we calmed down. Thai airways always put on a good show and we enjoyed the 1hr.50mins flight arriving in Bangkok at 16.00hrs. To save anymore anguish we decided to take the airport bus - which was a good move for instead of enduring the pollution and confusion of local buses - we rode in style on the toll road which cut the travelling time by more than half. We arrived at the same guesthouse as before at 18.00hrs. - We even had the same room. As we walked down KaoSan Road we noticed many more Europeans here now than there were a month ago - cafes and bars were humming with people.

Thursday 30.10.97. - The last day of our holidays - we had planned to do some shopping. First we had to change some money and book the mini bus for this evening trip to the airport. After breakfast made our way down to the river to catch the river taxi to the Silom Road area. Spent most of the day wandering around the different shops. Found a large departmental store which sold everything, had a few bargains here. Made our way back to river and watched for a while the unloading and loading of the boats as they came into the pier. Eventually caught a boat ourselves and made our way back up river. Trust us - our boat stopped on the wrong side of the river - no problem- crosses over the bridge and within a little while found ourselves back at the guesthouse. I went in the have my hair done in a local hairdressers whilst Ian went off to do final shopping. Back for a shower before saying our farewells to the mother and daughter.

The trip to the airport went off smoothly, checking in and all other ancillaries went OK too. Left Bangkok on time in a near full plane. I must confess Balkan Air is not one of my favourite airlines. Drifted in and out of sleep for most of the night.

Friday 31.10.97. - A ten-hour flight and we arrived in Sofia, Bulgaria at 5.30a.m. Bulgarian time. We were ferried to the transit flight corridor and awaited the arrival of a rather miserable looking Bulgarian customs woman. Who started ploughing through the 300 or so passports as ever I fought my way to the front and was told to report to the hotel accommodation desk! We were aware we had to wait six hours here but an overnight stop was a little startling. Obediently we made our way to the said desk and were told a courtesy bus would ferry us to a hotel to rest after breakfast while waiting out the six hours. About six of us boarded the dark blue mini bus and were speedily transferred to the Cosmos Hotel Pliska. Our last port of call Bangkok was 91deg.F here it was -1degC and snow lay alongside the road. We were ushered to our room, enjoyed a hot shower and laid down awhile. A little disconcerted we awoke in a panic wondering what the time was - had we slept through the planned bus ride back to the airport. No it was 7.30hrs. Down to an East European breakfast: - Spam, cheese, roll and jam. We were only allowed one cup of coffee - a second had to be paid for. We had no Bulgarian currency so had to make do with a glass of water. Caroline went back to the room and I took a stroll in the immediate area of the hotel. Locals were milling about wrapped up warmly against the winter conditions, catching trams to the centre of the city. I walked around the block taking in the difference between this scene and our own. Too cold to wander far so back to the room to view the scene from there.

Back to the airport at 10.00hrs and waited for the plane to Heathrow which took off at 12.15hrs. We were fed for the last time but both of us suffered with decompression and blocked sinuses on our final flight. A half an hour wait for a late bus to Plymouth where we managed to secure one of the only ten seats available. Arrived Bretonside 19.010hrs and caught bus to Horrabridge 1t 19.30hrs arriving home at 20.30hrs. After contacting family we went to bed for a disturbed night, our colds taking their tolls.





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posted Oct 12, 2009, 5:35 PM by Ian Kirkpartick   [ updated Feb 11, 2016, 8:24 AM ]





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posted Oct 12, 2009, 5:34 PM by Ian Kirkpartick   [ updated May 18, 2016, 2:19 AM ]


Some News

posted Oct 12, 2009, 4:33 PM by Ian Kirkpartick   [ updated Dec 16, 2013, 1:14 PM ]



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