A Travellerspoint blog

3, 2, 1!

Farewell...

sunny 8 °C

Well, after that final little interlude it's now time for the top three highlights from our trip. While it was hard enough to get down to just 10, three was a real struggle. It's been a fantastic trip which has really managed to surpass our expectations and we have memories to last us a lifetime.

Right, enough of the sentimental drivel; without further ado let's get started.

3. Sailing in French Polynesia

When we started planning on our trip last spring (seems like so long ago!) one place Anita and I were sure we didn't want to leave off our list was the islands of the Pacific. Obviously "the islands of the Pacific" is a rather all-encompassing term, so we had to decide. In the end, the lure of Tahiti and Bora Bora was too much for us to resist, so we picked French Polynesia.

To say that we weren't disappointed would be a colossal understatement! The islands of French Polynesia were without a doubt one of the most beautiful places on earth either of us has ever seen, and sailing was a fantastic way to see three of the best (Raiatea, Tahaa, and of course Bora Bora). We could explain why in words, but a picture says more than a thousand words...

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2. Pantanal

After much um'ing and ah'ing about whether or not to go into the Amazon basin (in any of Peru, Bolivia, or Brazil), we eventually decided not to explore the Amazon itself - primarily because it's a long slog to get there, is pretty pricey and the anti-malarials prescribed by the Peruvian doctor would have resulted in certain death had we taken them. Instead we'd decided to go to the Pantanal, an area of Brazil bordering Bolivia and teeming with wildlife.

For James it was an unexpected highlight (much like Uyuni before it) - Anita had done more research and so it wasn't quite such a surprise! The range of wildlife was great (the macaws especially), as was piranha fishing, and horse riding. And for a change we met some fellow travellers we got on with pretty well, so the company was nice.

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1. Raivavae

Sometimes in the Sunday papers you see celebs being asked where they would like to spend 24 hours if they could be anywhere. Well, for us it would be the beautiful island of Raivavae. From the moment we saw it appear beneath us on the plane, encircled by a mesmerising lagoon we knew we had stumbled on something beyond special.

First there was the obvious beauty and serenity of the place. The teeming marine life, the breathtaking sunsets, the sense of splendid isolation. Then there was the laid back warmth of the locals and in particular our hosts at the B&B. But It wasn't just being welcomed by locals with shell necklaces and eating seafood caught only minutes before which made it stunning; it was the sense of being in a universe where time had slowed down and nobody cared about the irritations of Western life but concentrated more sensibly on living in the here and now and spending time with family and friends, working a little to live, not living to work.

For us, spending two nights on a community centred island of fewer than 1,000 people surrounded by lush vegetation, rolling hills and staring out onto what must be the world's most beautiful lagoon allowed us to completely relax in a way I didn't think I was able to do anymore! For us it was a place of great joy and romance which gave us a complete sense of being removed from our lives and able to just pause time and enjoy each other's company.

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On note of which, you'll forgive me for quoting one of the few poems I actually rather enjoy; he says it better than I can:

What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.
No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.
No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.
No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night.
No time to turn at Beauty's glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance.
No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began.
A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

That's all folks

Well, that's the end of that then - the last blog post done and dusted, and it's properly back to London life for us. To anyone who's still reading (and the site stats suggest that's a pretty exclusive group), thanks for your patience, and goodbye!

Posted by jamesandanita 17:30 Archived in United Kingdom Comments (0)

Top 10!

This year's hottest holiday destinations...

semi-overcast 10 °C

Well we're now back in blighty which feels pretty surreal after almost 6 months away. So it's time to look back, reflect on an incredible trip, and some final blogging action... a retrospective top 10 highlights of our trip.

It's surprisingly hard to cast our minds back over the whole time we've been away and remember it all, but we'll try our best anyway. So here goes, working our way up from number 10, but first a few honourable mentions (it's quite hard to cover 6 months in just 10!)...

Honourable mention

Ihla Grande

We'd just left the hustle and bustle (and relatively high crime rate) of Rio, and it had been well over a month since we'd last been on a beach (well, one we swam from anyway) in Tahiti. Ihla Grande was a real find; a surprisingly tasteful and fun small touristy town, really lush vegetation in every direction, and a really stunning beach (Mendez Lopez). Add to that some nice gentle hikes through the forest, seeing some dolphins and Tamarins, and the company of Frank and Bernadette, and it was a great few days.

Skiing and eating in New Zealand

New Zealand went surprisingly well given that a day before we got there we'd just realised it was the rugby world cup and we had no accommodation. Plan B came together beautifully though and we got a couple of days skiing in which meant we got to feel like we hadn't completely missed winter. The great food and the novelty of having a sulphury mud bath were good too.

Of course the icing on the cake would have been for 'les bleus' to have beaten the all blacks, but that was too much to ask for...

Perth

We caught up with Anita's family in Perth and enjoyed and a couple of days of their kind hospitality. Obviously, being the other side of the word, Anita doesn't get to see them that much so it was great to catch up, enjoy some good food and throw lemons to their dog. Next time we'll try and give more than a week's notice of our arrival!

10. Singapore

First up, the very first stop on our journey. When we last went to south east Asia Anita and I both loved the buzz of the big cities (especially Bangkok). Fortunately this time was no different and Singapore was a really fun city to be in - especially the combination of different cultures (Malay, Indian, Chinese) and the contrast of old and new.

Obviously being able to meet with Des was great as we don't get to see him very often given the distance - thanks for showing us round!

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9. Ushuaia

We really enjoyed the sense of splendid isolation here. The approach into Ushuaia by prop plane was spectacular and the coastal walks along the Beagle channel were unspoilt in a way we simply do not see in Europe. Add to this the incredible wildlife and the buzz of the small town itself and this was a very interesting place to be for a few days. Just a shame the Argentinians are now being such morons about letting boats dock there...

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8. Sailing in the Caribbean

With the end of our trip looming menacingly on the horizon, we headed to St Lucia to meet up with the rest of our crew for the week (Lucy, Becky, Kat, and Mark). It was a great week all round, and lovely to have some company after all that time together on the road, but the highlight was without doubt the day from Tobago Cays up to Mustique - waking up to the idyllic scenery of the cays, seeing turtles and rays, then partying on at Basil's bar was something to remember. The dinghy fiasco added nice comic twist too!

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7. The Incas

On this one we differ; that the ruins were incredible is in no doubt, but James loved Machu Picchu and Anita preferred Colca Canyon's terraces. Why? Well, James found Machu staggering for all the obvious reasons: incredible setting, well preserved ruins, massive scale, whereas Anita found it overrun with tourists to a suffocating degree and a little too Disney. Colca Canyon was no Machu Picchu in terms of preservation and scale, but did offer sweeping panoramas of terraces as well as a sense of 'real' Peru and even a couple of condors soaring overhead.

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6. Outback

A really memorable 10 days or so, and the first time on the trip we'd really been in the great outdoors away from big cities and civilisation (though by no means the last). We got our first dose of proper southern hemisphere sun, got some exercise in, saw some impressive and remote scenery, swam with our first crocs, and last but not least met our own crocodile dundee (our trusty guide Adam)!

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5. Iguazu

They don't come wetter or wilder than this! We wondered if wandering along a boardwalk with a load of other tourists would be a tame, packaged experience, but actually Iguazu is sensory overload. You get soaked, deafened and blinded by the waterfalls merely by standing next to them and you cannot possibly take them in visually without two days of walking and gawping. Taking a speedboat underneath them is totally worth it for sheer adrenalin rush.

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4. Salar de Uyuni

The salt plains of Bolivia were somewhat of an unexpected highlight (at least for James, who was kind of thinking "why are we bothering to see a whole load of salt?"). As it turns out though it's one of those things which is just quite hard to describe and convey, but is just impressive because of the scale and sheer unusualness of it all. It was an added bonus as almost didn't go - the initial plan being to go into the Amazon instead (turns out Uyuni is the poor man's Amazon though, so we went there instead!).

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3, 2, 1...

Of course no top 10 countdown would be complete without an annoying ad break before the top 3. While we're still ad-free, you will have to wait a little longer...

Posted by jamesandanita 14:50 Archived in United Kingdom Comments (0)

Caribbean part 2

Sailing into pirate seas.... yargh!

sunny 25 °C
View Round the world on jamesandanita's travel map.

Le Marin & Soufriere

And now for the second part of our Caribbean adventure. We picked up our trusty (well, ish - see later) vessel in Le Marin, at the southern end of Martinique. After a few delays in the morning - a few last minute fixes to the boat from Kiriacoulis and a wait to clear customs for exiting Martinique (the first of many customs clearances in the next week) - Anita and James finally made it out of Marin. It was the first time James had skippered with just one crew and it was pretty windy; on our way out we passed a wrecked yacht that can't have been that far off the size of ours - this didn't exactly inspire confidence...

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Fortunately given the late start we made good time, and arrived in Soufriere around 5pm. This is where we were meeting up with the rest of our crew for the week: Lucy, Becky, Mark, and Kat (friends from uni and work). As we pulled into Soufriere bay, overlooked by the towering Pitons (the two tallest mountains on Saint Lucia, rising straight out of the sea and up to nearly 1km), we got our first taste of the 'welcoming committees', or 'boat boys'. It turns out that as you enter any anchorage / harbour in a yacht, you get accosted by at least one (often more) guys in a small speed boat offering to take you to a mooring ball, or help you find a spot to anchor. Basically think a much more insistent version of valet parking. Needless to say this isn't a free service, and they'll hang off the side of your boat, refusing to take no as an answer.

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Anyway we met up with everyone there, proceeded to faff a little with customs (we neglected to pay the standard 'overtime' fee which they tend to like to levy and just waited for the morning instead), and had a nice dinner on board. The town was pretty lively, and as luck/fate would have it we had moored very close to a late night karaoke bar. That meant we were treated to mostly Bob Marley (which it seems comprises about 90% of all music played in Saint Lucia) strangely interspersed with probably the worst rendition of Celine Dion's 'My Heart Will go on' we've ever heard (and the bar isn't exactly set high on that one) and a lot of country and western.

Bequia

The next morning, after not the best night of sleep due to the karaoke, and further customs faffing we sailed our longest day; over 50 miles down to Bequia. There was plenty of wind and swell so our journey was not without sea sickness casualties. It is fair to say that by the end of that day we were all pretty tired and hoping we had broken the back of the sailing. Bequia itself was pretty nice, we moored in the bay and went ashore for dinner. For the second night running we were entertained by some raucous karaoke (which seems to be the national pastime in the islands), by then we were more in the mood thanks to the strong local rum though...

We saw our first pirate-looking ship just off Bequia, so could feel we were coming into pirate country...

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Tobago Cays

And after yet more faffing with customs as we'd now crossed into the Grenadines and waiting ages for water (thank you Kiriacoulis for neglecting to bother filling the tanks), we headed down to our most southerly point - Tobago Cays. It was here that everything changed. We found ourselves in the promised land: turquoise waters, sandy beaches, stunning islets. Tobago Cays is a national park only accessible by yacht, so it was just a small village of boats and some turtles for company. This was also the most intense anchorage any of us had ever experienced as the currents were stupendous; had we dived off the boat we'd probably have surfaced in Cuba.

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Mustique

Once we were done swimming with fish, rays and turtles we trundled up to Mustique in the boat. Yes, the Mustique which houses villas for Jagger, Princess Margaret, etc. In a major stroke of luck, it was the closing night of the annual Blues festival so us and a bunch of megarich types boogied away till the early hours at Basil's Bar. We got given the discreet corner table at which Will & Kate had dined but a fortnight before, or so the waiter told us. This was great fun as all the super rich people kept staring in our corner trying to work out who we were.

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Any delusions of grandeur were swiftly cast away when on leaving Basil's to go back to the boat we found our poor excuse for a dinghy had sunk, leaving our outboard motor drifting in the surf. Our heroic skipper realised there was no choice but to strip down to his boxers and wade into the dark sea to rescue various parts sitting on the ocean floor, with the help of Mustique's security team to shine a light. James and Mark then had to row back with only one passenger as quickly as they could in a race to beat the puncture from again sinking the dinghy.

Lucy, our damsel in distress, then managed to secure passage on the tender of an enormous megayacht for the remaining three girls. Their 'dinghy' had a crew of three and was about 30' long. For reasons unexplained, the wives of the older men who had kindly offered us a lift seemed not to warm to us and went and sat at the other end of the boat, but we found that the men were delighted to slurringly tell us they enjoyed being chivalrous. They all cheered and commended James and Mark when they saw them returning to rescue us in the inky dark and managed not to run them over in the dinghy.

Feeling enthused by the warmth of Mustique's 'locals' we thought we'd go ashore the next morning for a swim. I wandered into Basil's and asked where the beach was and yet another kind soul offered us a lift across to Macaroni beach where Mark, James and Kat spent their time bodysurfing in the waves, Rebecca sensibly waded and Lucy and I were continuously flattened.

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Wallilabou

Sad to leave Mustique, we headed up to St. Vincent. This was a tough day of sailing, with 3m side on swells which disturbingly kept on beginning to break. We got very wet, but we made it to Wallilabou Bay, where the set of Pirates of the Caribbean still stands. Not much to say, other than that the set still looks remarkably real even now. We were advised we could swim in the bay but that sometimes when it rained jellyfish appeared. Almost needless to say, we decided to give it a miss (after James's previous experiences with jellyfish)! Wallilabou won the prize for most pushy welcome committees - there were men in rowing boats a couple of miles out to sea using the tactic of pretending to need rescue before telling you they were actually trying to sell you a mooring ball...

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Outside the Pirates of the Caribbean museum, they had some coffins left over from the filming of one of the films - cue the compulsory tourist photo in Johnny Depp's foot steps...

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Marigot Bay & Rodney Bay

We then sailed back up to Saint Lucia, arriving in the beautiful Marigot Bay and treated ourselves to some tasty local cuisine and quite a lot of local rum. It was a good night from what I remember!

On the last day it was a short hop up to Rodney Bay where the boys went off to play with their kitesurf (an epic fail) and the girls went to the beach. We all got together in the evening for more rum cocktails before sadly parting ways the next day.

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James and I now find ourselves in St. Lucia having rested for a few days, but in the sad knowledge that tomorrow we are going home and our travels will be over. We've had an incredible time and will take with us memories to last our entire lives together. Obviously we're really looking forward to going back, and won't at all miss travelling (ahem...)!

Posted by jamesandanita 16:53 Archived in St Vincent/The Grenadines Comments (0)

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