April 17th, 2009

Hi All

We are currently in Vegas ticking off Continent number 7 but in the meantime we have posted our entry for NZ below and Oz and Africa will follow shortly…

Sorry if you’ve had nothing to read in your lunch hour for a few weeks!  🙂


We took a spaceship black water rafting to Mount Doom

April 17th, 2009

Our flight from Chile was pretty uneventful and we landed safely at the un-godly hour of 3:55am – 10 minutes earlier than expected. It turned out that 90% of the passengers were in transit to Sydney and as we headed for immigration, there were six booths open and only five of us to go through. Unlike Heathrow, the lady at the desk was extremely friendly, very excited to see our Antarctica stamps and even scolded us that we weren’t planning on going to the South Island despite her giving us a six month visa. She waved us through after wishing us a good stay and we headed for Bio-security to have our boots inspected.

The lady at this desk checked our declaration cards, “I see you’ve recently been in contact with wildlife – what might that have been then?”
“Penguins in Antarctica – but we hired boots and gave them back.”
“Fantastic! I’d love to go there one day. Let’s just have a quick look at your hiking boots then”
She glanced at them, saw they’d been washed and said “Great. Welcome to New Zealand!”
This laid back treatment wasn’t quite what we’d expected after we’d had to fill in the declarations that threatened your with all kinds of fines and imprisonment. This was a breeze.

Dave and Michelle (Daryl’s brother and girlfriend) were coming to pick us up so we had a coffee while we waited served by a lady who was far too bright and breezy for that time in the morning. When we got picked up a few minutes later we headed to Michelle’s house where we were invited to stay for a couple of days. Now, Michelle said she lived out out of the city ‘in the sticks’ and we were soon to find out just how true that was. We drove, and drove, and drove…and drove and eventually turned down a couple of dark lanes to her house, got out of the car and was greeted by the deafening sound of the cicadas (little cricket-like insects).

After a good sleep we spent the following day with Michelle and Dave in Auckland and went over to the small suburb of Devonport, climbing the hill with an old fortress on top to get fantastic views over the harbour and city – just as good as the Sky Tower only a fraction of the cost i.e. free!

We had a lovely dinner with Michelles parents and were reminded of our own little Star as Michelle has a cute Border Collie called Jess who was equally affectionate, but not half as mad and as Daryl kept saying, could have been the fifth Teletubbie due to his round smiling face. It’s a compliment, honest.

We left Michelle’s the next day to pick up our Spaceship. For those that think we’ve lost the plot, a Spaceship is a brand name for a ‘campervan’ that’s effectively a people carrier with the seats ripped out and a bed, stove, fridge and DVD player put in. We set off for our 10 day whistle-stop tour of the North Island…!

We headed for Waitomo and arrived as the sun was setting between the undulating hills and tor-like stone formations. After driving up a very long, windy hill we picked a spot at the side of the road and free camped our first night overlooking the valley. We made some dinner and as it had been a long day, retired early to watch a dvd ‘Vacancy’…in hindsight, watching a movie about a couple who break down in the middle of nowhere at night probably wasn’t the best idea when we were a couple in the middle of nowhere at night free camping! We spooked ourselves for a while and did wonder if it was the trees swaying in the breeze or something else…

…having survived the night however, we decided to go blackwater rafting and see the glow worms. If you’ve never done it before, this involves you wedging your backside into a rubber ring whilst floating down narrow caves and jumping off a few waterfalls, all in the dark while you watch the glow worms er, glow above your heads. All very pretty and magical except as the guide said, the glow worms actually only glow when they’re having a poo so really they’re all having the last laugh when we all come along with our mouths open gawping at them while they do their business on us having just and paid for the privilege. Nice. Daryl pointed out to the guide that he actually does it three times a day, seven days a week…who’s the bigger fool?! Oh, and we should just point out that ‘Black Water Rafting’ isn’t anything like the adrenalin-inducing ‘White Water Rafting’; it’s much more sedate and less taxing but sounds impressive – the ability to swim is optional.

After the rafting we had some soup and showers to warm up before driving south towards Tongariro. This took most of the afternoon and because we wanted to start a hike early the next morning, we thought we’d find a campsite near the trailhead. On the way we stopped at a lookout that had Lake Taupo stretching out below it as the sun was getting lower and we thought this was just too good a spot not to stop for the night, so we did. Unfortunately the beauty outside was marred by the ‘buzzzzzzzz’ of mosquitos inside so we lay there covered in insect repellent with a sheet over our heads. So much for romantically watching the sunset over the lake…

The next morning we were up and out and ready to hike by 8:30am at the meeting point in Whakapapa – this brings a juvenile smile as to pronounce this phonetically, the ‘wh’ is pronounced ‘f’ – work it out for yourselves.

The Tongariro Crossing is described as “New Zealand’s best one day hike” so was one we couldn’t miss. It’s basically a hike over the saddle of a volcanic range with amazing views, lakes, mineral colours and was the location for Mount Doom in Lord of the Rings. Evie has banned Daryl from making any geeky references. He said “OK, my Precious” 😉

The hike took about 6 hours and was challenging at times, especially in the blazing sunshine with very little wind or shade. It was however, very dramatic and unlike anything we’d seen before on a hike. We’re used to hiking in lush green mountains but this was just like the film – barren moon-like landscapes with lots of grey/brown stone and dust. Along the way this was broken up with areas of vivid colour such as the bubbling Emerald and Blue Lakes and the stunning Red Crater that were a complete contrast with the surround. On the way up, the landscape was really rocky with little vegetation, but as soon as we’d crossed over the top this changed to grasses, to flowers, to forest as we descended further towards the end.

A few hundred metres of the descent from the top of the pass were very steep with loose shale and it was difficult to keep your balance. As the driver had said “Don’t fall here; fall left and you’ll break your leg down the steep slope, fall right and you’ll break your leg and burn your feet when you land in the boiling hot water”. Great. Not that this bothered two women who RAN down the slope – idiots. Here we were in our hiking gear and sturdy boots but once again, we were the minority as others were doing the hike in trainers, hotpants and one girl even accessorised with a handbag! There was the option to climb another 500m up Mount Doom a la Frodo on the loose scree but a) we didn’t have enough time b) Evie wasn’t going to be Sam to Daryl’s Frodo. Spoilsport. We could see some guys scrambling around though and it didn’t look particularly appealing. Later on we saw a couple of guys in vests, shorts and trainers muttering that they could have got higher had they been wearing better shoes…

After the hike we headed to Taupo and treated ourselves to a real campsite with hot showers and electricity! The next morning we took a boat ride across the lake to look at some famous Moari carvings. Daryl thought these were some ancient carvings but it turns out they were commissioned in the 1980’s. They were still very impressive though and the boat ride on the lake was nice.

In the afternoon we went to Rotorura and visited Wai-o-tapu Thermal Wonderland. This was a very, very smelly collection of thermal sulphur pools and geysers that Evie had recommended from her previous visit. Despite the smell and heat, the natural colours and formations were very impressive although the naming wasn’t very original – every other formation was either ‘Devils…’ or ‘Hell’s…’.

As it was a holiday weekend we had been invited up to Michelle’s family beach house in Whangamata and on the way we were going to pass through Taurunga on the off chance that we could find Evie’s Aunt’s 80 year old cousin who she’d lost touch with. Needle in a haystack you might think…but to cut a long story short, we found him within 5 minutes of entering the city limits! We spent the afternoon with him before getting to the beach for a glorious flamingo-pink sunset at Whangamata.

From the beach we drove around the Coramandel over the next couple of days, taking in sights like Cathederal Cove; a beautiful beach with a magnificent rock arch, an amazing sunset as we cooked dinner on a secluded beach at Sailors Grave and we visited a home made railway at Coromandel that had taken 20 years to build and snaked its way up a mountain to offer magnificent views from the top. It rained when we were there so we saw great clouds.

Leaving Coramandel, we started driving back around the peninsula towards Auckland. As the afternoon wore on and the windy roads increased, we obviously started to run low on fuel. By this time it was about 7pm and the first few petrol stations we pulled into, proudly boasted that they were 24hour, provided that you could use your credit card to pre-pay the machine. This didn’t work for UK cards as generally they wanted a signature! So we pushed on, ever hopeful that the next gas station would be open. They weren’t. By this time we had been running on empty for a while and the warning light had been on even longer so we decided to pull in by the gas station and wait till morning. It was a hot, muggy night, the mozzie’s were swarming and were camped at a petrol station beside a main road – not our greatest camping spot to date. Because it was so hot in the van, we decided to leave the AC on for a few minutes to cool it down…and woke up in the morning with the fan was still blowing. Daryl said “Phew, its a good thing that didn’t drain the battery”. We saw the station was open so Daryl jumped in the drivers seat and started the van. It ticked a bit but didn’t start. Now, either the battery was dead or we had run out of gas, or both. How embarrassing.

Daryl went into the gas station and asked if he could borrow a container to get a few litres of gas. He got 5 litres, poured it in the tank, pumped the pedal and tried the engine again…still nothing. He went back and sheepishly asked if someone could give him a jump start. The station owner was very helpful and came out with a portable battery charger. We popped the bonnet and had a look underneath, only to find there were two batteries mounted on top of each other and the top one was a massive 24v unit for the secondary power (i.e. DVD player). The station owner said his charger wouldn’t work on that and went back to the station, suggesting that we ring the AA.

Evie suggested we call the AA, Daryl being a stubborn man, told her to be patient while he started unscrewing things and poking around. A few minutes later he poked his head triumphantly around the bonnet and said the good news was that the secondary battery was fully charged so we could watch DVD’s, the bad news was that the primary one seemed to be flat and power couldn’t transfer between them so we would need a jump start on the 12v battery.

Daryl went back to the station and this time the owner asked one of his customers to give us a hand. This guy was very friendly and more than happy to help because as he said “It’s a real bugger to be stranded in the middle of nowhere on your holiday”. He hooked up his jump leads and we were set and on the road again! The moral of the story is don’t turn the AC on and lie down for ‘just a minute’. Unless you’ve got the engine running or are in a house.

We drove north past Auckland towards the Bay of Islands and stopped along the way at Whangarei to visit Kiwi House, after all we cant come to NZ and not see a real kiwi! The kiwi house was run by a guy from Wakefield in Yorkshire who had a bizarre yor-kiwi accent. (Trust Evie to spot a northerner!) Eventually after our eyes had got accustomed to the darkness, we managed to make out the form of something moving. For some reason we expected kiwi’s to be small but this one was about the size of a football (soccerball for foreigners) and was only a couple of years old! Having met our objective, we carried on to Paihia on the Bay of Islands to book a dolphin watching trip. As we’d have an early start, we camped at the nearest campsite to treat ourselves to a hot shower…only to find that the site had just had a boiler failure and there was no hot water! To top it off, Evie came back from her cold shower to find Daryl stood holding a frying pan, dripping wet having just been caught in a downpour while cooking outside the van. There was a kitchen next to the shower block too…but she didn’t have the heart to tell him as he stood there muttering and wringing out his T-shirt. At least she didn’t complain the sauce was watery! – Daryl

Early the next morning we set sail in search of dolphins and hoped to swim with them if we found any. We’d seen plenty of wildlife in Antarctica but only one hour-glass dolphin so we hoped this was good. About an hour after we crossed the bay, we weren’t disappointed as we found ourselves amongst a pod of about 30 dolphins. Unfortunately there were some baby dolphins in the group so we couldn’t swim but it was amazing to watch them swim back and forth around the boat; they were being really playful, turning to look at us and jumping out of the water showing off. We couldn’t get enough but there were several young Kontiki tour members that obviously didn’t appreciate a rocking boat while they had raging hangovers and very little sleep. After a couple of photos, they slumped in the corner. Tsk, Tsk, youth of today eh?

Triumphant in our dolphin spotting we headed south towards Auckland and as it was our last night, we camped at a Government campsite beside Uritetti Beach at Bream Bay. Now, these campsites aren’t flash – long drop toilets and cold showers but they are very cheap ($7), clean and good value, compared to what we get in the UK. We had a nice walk along the beach and although the sunset wasn’t amazing, the moon rise was a deep golden colour and and a nice end to our camping.

On the way up, we had seen a sign for sheep dog shows and as we were missing Star, we made a point to drop into ‘Sheep World’. We weren’t expecting much but turned out to have a really good time! Sheep World is actually more than sheep as they have Emu’s, pigs, Llamas, miniature ponies, ostrich, eels, possums, a big cow, deer, ducks and of course sheep. We may sound like sheltered townies but we enjoyed petting them and feeding them all. We got chatting to the sheep sheerer and it turned out that he had only moved over 4 years ago from Bromley, Kent and learnt everything as he went along! He loved it and wouldn’t go back to being a caretaker at the school in London…

We dropped off our Spaceship back in Auckland and met up with old friends from our trip to Egypt six years ago. This was Donno and Jen who were now also joined by their little crocs (children) Emma and Alice. They have a great home on North Shore with a bush reserve in the back garden!
We had a great evening with beer and the obligatory barbie while catching up. Its so true that some people you meet travelling turn out to be friends for life…and a cheap place to stay.

The following morning, before we left them to meet another friend we met on the boat, we had a conversation about ‘its a small world’ experiences and thought nothing of it. They dropped us off in the city and we went our separate ways to meet our friend.

While waiting for our friend, Daryl hears his name called and turns around. He sees his friend, the trouble is that its not the one he was expecting, rather an old school friend he hadn’t seen in almost 10 years!! Yet again, we realised that it really is “a small world”. We couldn’t stop so took his number and promised to meet for a drink later that afternoon.

The friend we were meeting from the Antarctica ship was Robyn, who turned out to be Sir Edmund Hilary’s step-daughter. A really lovely lady who we spent the afternoon with reminiscing about our magical trip and watching NZ win the Luis Vutton Pacific Series yacht race in the harbour – as you do. Funnily enough, she said that if we ever were to go to Nepal, she has a few contacts. We bet she does as on the boat she was telling us stories about how her dad and Sir Edmund built a runway on the mountain on one of their expeditions!

After we left Robyn, we went back to Dave and his girlfriend and caught up on old times and friends – if we had stayed another couple of days, Daryl could have seen more school friends as one was flying out to get married! Never mind.

We went back to Michelle’s parents for one final night before we flew out at lunchtime on Monday as our kiwi chapter drew to a close. North Island was great so we cant wait to visit South Island another time but on to Oz!

Our apologies for no updates but we had some very sad news

March 24th, 2009

Firstly, can we apologise for not posting any updates sooner, but we were having too good a time in Australia to sit and type for too long.

Secondly, can we apologise to any friends that we havent managed to tell personally about our bad news but we’ve lost track of who’s reading this.

Unfortunately as we landed in Bangkok, we were asked to contact the ground staff where sadly we found out that Evie’s mam had suddenly passed away.  We got the next available flight home the next day.

The funeral was yesterday, which quite fittingly was Brenda’s birthday and it was a lovely service followed by a burial in our town cemetery.  She’s now resting on the hillside overlooking the town and looking down on our home keeping an eye on things.  Evie’s Eulogy is linked at the bottom if anyone wishes to read it.

Many thanks to all those that have passed on their wishes, it’s meant a lot to us both and given us the strength to get through these past couple of weeks. 

Despite being devastated, we will be finishing the last stages of the trip as Evie’s mam was following it full of excitement and pride and would not have wanted us to stop on her account, so watch this space!

In memory of mam, Brenda Hague

23rd March 1935 – 6th March 2009

Evies Mam

Evie’s Eulogy


February 2nd, 2009

Hi All!

We’ve been really busy but have just completed our HUGE update on Antarctica below and will follow with Easter Island soon…

 We are just starting our road trip in NZ so watch this space!

We will also update photos shortly…

The Rolling Stone Heads (Easter Island)

February 1st, 2009

Easter Island is one of those places that’s on many travellers wish lists but is a hard one to get to being that its one of the most remote inhabited places on Earth. We’d heard about the ‘big stone heads’ and the island of mystery since we were kids but hadn’t given it much thought until we were married…for our wedding, we’d asked guests to give us destination challenges rather than toasters or dinner sets and one friend asked us to visit Easter Island! Even then, we hadn’t seriously considered it as part of this trip until we found out that it was free stop over on the way to NZ on our ticket. It was now or never later!


Even though Easter Island is one of the most remote inhabited places on Earth, it’s technically part of Chile and therefore the domestic flight was a breeze. We were allowed to take food, liquids over 100ml, dairy products and probably even sharp objects like nail clippers; security it seemed wasn’t a concern!


It was a five hour flight on a brand new plane so it was comfortable and we landed in the evening in darkness. We looked out of the window and could see a small building with people bustling around it. This was arrivals, departures, cargo, baggage collection and immigration all under one very, very small roof. In fact, the the departure lounge was in the garden with a small moai looking on. Not quite T5 Heathrow that’s for sure!


The doors hissed as they were opened and the warm balmy air filled the cabin. We descended the steps onto the tarmac and here we were, on Easter Island! Walking into the terminal the baggage belt was directly in front of us next to the exit and again there was no passport control or security – just a sniffer dog jumping around the belt sniffing around. There was lots of commotion with hotel owners greeting their new guests with traditional flower garlands and helping them with their bags. Once again, we’d been organised and booked ahead into a little guest house that had good reviews and was reasonable, yet the meeting desk was empty. Hmm. We waited a bit longer and the room gradually emptied until there was just us and another Polish girl who was staying at the same place left so we got a cab together. Not quite the warm traditional greeting we expected and Daryl was upset he didn’t get his flower garland.


The cab drove through town for a couple of minutes before turning into a bumpy muddy track with no street lights and we pulled up in front of two dark buildings. The driver got out and took our bags out of the boot and was about to drive away when we asked him to tell us which building was the guest house – he said they both were. Helpful. It was pitch black and all we could hear was waves crashing nearby as we stumbled down a steep, uneven path towards what appeared to be the ‘reception’.


There was the faint glow of a computer screen and the Polish girl called out ‘Hola’ and a load of other Spanish that we presume/hoped translated as ‘Hello, we’re the guests that you forgot, can you come and check us in please’. A woman with hair longer than Evie came out looking quite ill and seemed quite surprised to see the three of us. ‘Have you got reservations?’. Yes, we’d all emailed in the last few days and had received confirmation. She then proceeded to scroll through a few hundred spam emails to find our email, only to then open a spreadsheet that looked like a multicoloured patchwork quilt to try and find the booking in the ‘system’.


‘Ah, yes, sorry, er… we got mixed up with flights and didn’t realise one landed tonight’. There are only two flights a week and this one flew directly over her house less than an hour before – bad excuse. Anyway, she showed us to our room and we crashed out as it was hot, humid and relatively late. Tomorrow would be another day.


The next day we woke up to bright sunshine and the daylight revealed that we were actually on a hill overlooking the town and bay with the hills rising up behind. It was quite pretty. At breakfast the lady we’d met the previous night explained that she was actually the daughter of the owner and was helping out because her mum had just come back from hospital. On top of that, she was also pregnant, hence her not being well the previous night and the general chaos in the booking. She apologised but Daryl still didn’t get his flowers.


We were advised to take a short walk along the coast to the northern end of the town as there were many old stone carvings to see before visiting our first moai at Ahu Tahai and the coastal scenery was beautiful. As we walked along, we could see what people meant when they said the island was like a giant open air museum – they were dotted all along the coast and in the distance we could see the towering moai of our final destination.


The site Ahu Tahai consisted of three sets of ahu – the technical description of the platform and accompanying ‘big stone heads’ (moai). This was a great site as it had foundations of old buildings, a fallen moai and the ahu seemed to escalate in grandeur. The first one was quite a rough head which had seen better days but was still impressive and was exciting as it was what we had come to see – here was a moai right in front of us! A few hundred metres along was the next ahu and this one had FOUR moai, although one was simply a stump. Nearby was the last ahu which had the largest moai we had seen so far, a topknot on its head AND eyes! This was the most impressive as it had been restored as best it could to how it would have looked when it was first erected (in theory). The moody chiselled-jawed face stared inland as the waves crashed behind and the piercing eyes seemed to hold the secrets of the past. In the harsh sun, the contrast of the dark grey rock face and deep red topknot (hat) was striking; it was a sight we’d waited a long time to see and one worth waiting for.


The whole time we’d been walking along the coast, we’d been accompanied by a guide. He didn’t speak very good English, was terrible at pointing things out, insisted in being in most photos but he didn’t want a tip and we couldn’t get rid of him…’he’ was a friendly stray dog that just kept following us and one of many that we encountered over the next few days on the island.


The museum was a fascinating visit because on one hand the building was dedicated to facts, yet apart from the artefacts, most of the content was based on theories and guesswork. This was mainly due to the fact that the original civilisation had no written records, only verbal stories passed down the generations and when the trade routes and slavery were introduced, the holders of this knowledge died before they could pass it on and hence, so much is now a mystery.


Here’s a quick summary of the history of Easter Island according to us:

Guys from Polynesia get in a canoe and paddle east and find a small lush island in the middle of nowhere.

They decide to build giant statues to honour their families and clans by erecting them on the coast facing inland to watch over the communities.

They go into mass production and use a lot of trees.

A few moai get toppled by natural disasters etc.

Captain Cook et al pop in for a visit.

They realise that their lush island is now barren with the only tree in the village.

Someone gets the blame and they decide they need to re-brand.

‘Big stone heads’ become ‘Bird Man cult’ and now involves swimming to an island past sharks, stealing an egg from a cliff, swimming back, running up a mountain, being made Chief BirdMan and then being exiled for a year. Nice. Oh, and knock the rest of the heads down to be sure.

Many then get colds or are taken away for slavery and die, decimating the population.

Chile decides to take ownership.

Tourism booms with people wanting to see the mysterious ‘big stone heads’ and have no choice but to pay what’s asked.


This is (very) roughly how we interpreted it and obviously it took a few hundred years, but hopefully gives you an idea what it’s all about.


After the museum we went into the town and were pleased to see that it hadn’t been over developed and was still very ‘local’, not a garish tourist town with big name stores (i.e. McDonalds). Having said that, we went to a local café for a soft drink and nearly choked when we found the cost was over double what it was on the mainland. Even buying goods for self catering was only marginally cheaper than in a café so we decided to just go with it for four days – we figured this was karma for Antarctica!


We heard that there was a nice café in the harbour with great milkshakes and home-made ice cream so we went down to have a look. As we were sat there cooling off in the shade, trying to eat our cones quicker than they were melting, we noticed two looming moai overlooking us. We’d walked straight passed these ones that morning and hadn’t even noticed! It was taking some getting used to that these statues we were seeing were the real things and not some cheap concrete imitation like you’d find at your local garden centre.


That night we did something very touristy but necessary and went to a traditional cultural show. The show lasted for a couple of hours and was an amazing demonstration of traditional drumming, singing and dance. It was loud, hypnotic and involved a hell of a lot hip shaking from the women and the men. They even got Daryl up to have a go but his efforts were quite…well, Evie seemed to be grinning more at the topless, toned hip-shaking male dancers than she did at her husband. Apparently she videoed it but she hasn’t said if that was of Daryl or the dancers…


The island is tiny. It’s something like 24km long by 10km wide, has one main road in a loop around it and only one town. It must be the smallest town to have an international airport! However, to see all of the sites in the unforgiving heat with very little shade due to the barren landscape, you really need to either hire a car or go on a tour – where you’d be sharing each site with another 20 people. We decided to hire a car as for two people, the cost wasn’t that much more than a tour and at least we had the flexibility to do what we wanted. The only catch was that no one had insurance on the island so the parting words of advice once they’d swiped our credit card was ‘drive carefully’. We really didn’t want to buy a new Jeep.


We wont bore you naming every site we went to, nor describe each in detail as many of the un-restored sites were quite similar with several toppled moai and topknots scattered around. However, the restored sites were each quite unique.


Ranu Raraku is the biggest of all sites and is referred to as the birthplace of moai as this was the quarry from where they were carved. From a distance, it’s a towering volcano with black dots scattered all over the hillside. As you drive closer along the track though, you see broken moai near the roadside and those dots on the hill gradually take shape to become dark heads staring back at you.


From the car park at the base it is surreal to look up and see the ant-like people walking amongst the big heads and walking up the hillside, you get a real sense of the huge undertaking and effort used to create and transport these statues around the island.


Unlike at other sites, these moai are not on platforms, but are around you and you get a real perspective for just how large they are and the level of detail they contain. Some have detailed earlobes, some have carvings on their backs, some have breasts to represent females and one is shown to be kneeling – the rest are standing.


Everywhere you look on that hillside there are moai, many right next to each other; some almost completely uncovered, some fallen over, some falling over, some buried up to their noses but all looking out away from the mountain. The largest one that was started was still in the quarry and was over 21m in size. We heard a tour guide say that no one knows why so many completed ones are still here – maybe they were made at the same time for different people, maybe they were meant to stay there or maybe it was like a shop where people chose the one they liked?! Whatever the reason then, now it is a truly remarkable site which thoroughly deserves our attention.


There was another track that led to the top of the mountain and we followed this to get a view of the island from up there. When we got to the top, we were surprised to find that it was actually the crater of the volcano and there was a bright blue reed lake glistening up there. We were even more surprised to find even more moai staring at us from this side of the rim! Interestingly, these were all staring inwards. From the rim, we had a great view of the island and we could see just how rugged the terrain was that they would have had to move these statues over. We couldn’t help but wonder who would win in a Stonehenge vs Easter Island stone moving competition.


From Ranu Raraku we could see the next site that we would visit. This was the unmistakable Ahu Tongariki with its 15 moai standing in place. This site was restored a few years ago by the Japanese and is very striking for the sheer number of moai in place and really shows how unique each one is side by side. It’s also a site that’s highly recommended as a sunrise shot to get the silhouettes of the moai as the sun rises behind them, but rain was approaching on the day we were there so we have moody moai with the clouds swirling behind them.


Soon after, the torrential rain lashed down as we made our way back across the island. We parked up at the guest house and went to our room. Standing in the rain, Evie asked Daryl for the key. He checked one pocket, checked his second pocket and his face turned white as he frantically checked all his pockets. They were empty. He ran back and checked the Jeep, Evie checked the bag. No key. Oh dear.


We went to ‘reception’ and said we’d lost our key. We’d pay for a duplicate but could we have a spare. Her face turned white and she said she didn’t think she had one…she gave us a big bowl of assorted keys and came with us to the room. She told Daryl to start trying all of those keys…and then casually slid the window open and told Evie to climb in if she wanted anything. Nothing like island security.


None of the keys fitted and we were dreading being told that we’d need to buy a whole new lock at island prices but she came back and said she’d found a spare so we’d only had to pay for a duplicate. Phew! Daryl’s not allowed to look after keys any more.


The last moai site we saw was Anakena and this was one of our favourites because we saw it early in the morning before we gave our car back and the sun was shining brightly on the five moai. Unlike most of the other sites that were quite desolate, these moai were on a beach and looked quite proud. We got some nice pictures in the sunshine with dramatic shadows.


The very last historical site we saw was the village of Orongo which quite appropriately was based around the Bird Man cult that superseded the moai’s. This was a series of buildings at the top of a volcano where the annual competition was held to find the next chief. The stone carvings at the top were very impressive, but the natural deep crater with its reed lake far below was breathtaking.


On our last day Daryl went for a brief dip and made another friend – a stray Labrador that liked playing fetch in the surf. We’d seen this dog a few times, but because it was so friendly and so many people played with it, we thought it was a pet. This was true of many of the dogs on the island. In most countries, stray dogs are viewed as pests and shooed away, but here they were more like island pets and very sweet. Most shops and restaurants simply ignored them as they wandered in and lay down in the shade and people just stepped over them.


We ended our last night with some local seafood and a glorious sunset with a moai in the foreground, topped off with a clear sky and the Milky Way twinkling above.


For such a small, remote island, Rapa Nui as it should be known will always remain an island of mystery that will never be forgotten. There’s not many other reasons for anyone to visit other than ‘the big stone heads’ but they are reason enough. We probably won’t visit again but are glad that we have and most importantly…


…wedding challenge completed!


Antarctica: All Aboard!

January 25th, 2009

Following the last minute reorganisation, we boarded the boat with many pre-conceived ideas about  the trip, our fellow passengers and exactly what our Antarctic experience was going to be.

Thankfully, we were wrong on nearly all counts.  The trip was out of this world and we’re struggling to put it into words.  To describe it day by day would take a while and never fully convey what we saw and experienced so we’ll summarise it as best we can, picking out the most memorable bits.  The only way to have any true idea about what we are talking about is to have experienced it first hand…

To make the final arrangements, we had to go into the local tour office in Ushuaia which should have been straightforward but was a drama in itself.  We walked past it twice as instead of being a glamorous glass fronted shop with brochures advertising The White Continent, it was a shabby door to an upstairs office next to a lawnmower repair shop.  They had posters of penguins and icebergs up there though.

Considering that these were the people that had just let us down, they were quite blasé about the whole thing and quite surprised that we expected more information other than “Be at at the pier at 4pm Sunday”.  Eventually they agreed to give us novel things like an itinerary, passenger list and just told us to show our passports at the gate…they’d be expecting us.

So, on Sunday we walked down to the seafront and there was our boat along with the big the monster cruise ships (seen in an earlier post).  We’ve established that our boat was quite posh and we were laughing at the fact that here we were with shabby backpacks, about to get on it.  We’d fit in fine.  To highlight this, an American couple passed us and we asked them to take a picture with our ship in the background…they took us with a cargo ship behind us.  Enough said.

With our confidence buoyed we proceeded to security and sheepishly waved our passports saying “My name is Mrs Jennings, we’re meant to be going on that boat”.  The guard looked confused, looked at her list, couldn’t find us but waved us through anyway.  So far, so good.

We got to the boat and walked up the deserted gangplank, still waving our passports.  We walked through a door and were greeted with a room full of smart staff smiling at us and handing us champagne.   Their smiles dropped for a second when they saw the rucksacks and trekking gear and  we’re sure we looked equally bewildered.  One of the stewards, about our age had to ask three times about which room we were in.  Clearly he thought the same as us – especially when he told Evie she could store her diamonds in the safe or hang the cocktail dress in the wardrobe.   ‘Strong British Girl’ is how he described Evie as he put her bag down – clearly he’s used Louis Vuitton pull-alongs.  That was Alexander the Great as he liked to be known; a Ukrainian with a dry humour to match ours – sarcasm prevailed for the next ten days.

As we sat in our wood panelled suite giggling, we tried to formulate a plan before the briefing later.  Daryl prepared his cocktail outfit…and polished his boots.  Evie smugly said  “a girl always has a smart outfit, its all about a capsule wardrobe darling” as she whipped out two or three combinations, complete with earrings to match.  Daryl stared forlornly at his khaki shirt, khaki pants and shiny hiking boots.  “Well, Indiana Jones never goes out of fashion honey –  where’s my whip?”.
We also tried to work out a story for why we chose the trip. We thought an ambiguous ‘This was what we had planned for a long time’ wasn’t a complete lie.  We also planned to seek out the Aussies, Kiwi’s and Canadians on the list as they can always be relied upon to be good company.
Lastly we tried to work out a budget for drinks etc.  A boat like this is bound to be more expensive than an ex-research vessel.

We went to the briefing and there were the usual introductions, safety drills and two vital pieces of information.  Firstly, “On this trip, cocktail dress is whatever the best thing you have with you is”.  Daryl grinned and winked at Evie.  Secondly, “Following this briefing, I invite you all up to the Club bar for cocktail hour and remind you that we operate a free bar policy for the duration of this trip”.  We both looked at each other and tried our best to act nonchalant, we’re posh travellers after all, not binge drinking Brits!

At ‘cocktail hour’ we were sat on a sofa with a couple of chairs opposite.  On these boats with rough seas, all furniture is chained down for obvious reasons so there’s not a lot of room to manoeuvre (unless you’re Evie).  We sat sipping our beers watching as this large rugby player sized guy tried to wedge himself into a tiny chair with a coffee table in front of it that made Easyjet legroom look generous.  He looked like quite a character as he was dressed in shorts and a TinTin t-Shirt – not Country Club casual.  As he made himself [un]comfortable, we suggested that he and his wife join us at our slightly more spacious sofa.  This was Chris and Robyn; the Aussies who clearly thought Australia was not good enough and came from ‘Australis’ on the manifest.  They assured us that it was a translation error and then very generously got a round in.  We liked them immediately.

We were called down to our first dinner and we’re afraid it gets better.  We were greeted by Bogdan the M’aitre’d and escorted to our table where our waiter Arnold from California (or really the Phillipines he admitted) offered us a five course meal plus coffees with silver service (hallmarked as well, not cheap plating!).  If that wasn’t to our liking, the Chef could always cook something to request.  There was also unlimited wine available every night at dinner, sourced from all over the world and of a good age or champagne if preferred.  There wasn’t a plastic canteen tray or beaker in sight and everything was included.  We were really missing our ex-research vessel.

After dinner, during which we’d established our ‘it’s a small world connection’ – Robyn and Chris used to live in Northolt, the same town where we lived in our old flat, we found out everything about their eldest child Patrick from Robyn and they asked us in a vague manner, “You don’t look like this would be your type of boat…did your plans change recently?” 
Yes, it turns out that they too were booked on our old boat AND were booked on the one that sank the year before! Third time lucky then!

They went to bed and we went out on deck for some fresh air and to see if there were any stars.  We joined another Aussie called Leigh who was equally excited about the trip, camera in hand whale watching…in the dark.  There were no whales.  Yet.  There was however an awfully big golden globe on the horizon.  It looked like the sun, but was in fact the moon-rise.   We were joined on deck by a cute, Evie-sized, long silver haired lady that turned out to be Leigh’s mum, Miranda.  For the next thirty minutes or so, we were the only passengers slowly being rocked on deck watching the golden light gently reflect on the Beagle channel.  It was a magical start to the voyage.

Rock and Roll

The next morning it was clear that the dream was over for now as the room was rocking and rolling – we had entered the infamous Drake Passage.  John, the tour leader described it as a ‘right of passage’ – literally! – to the White Continent.  We all felt a bit ropey, although John informed us that this happened to be a particularly mild crossing! 

A day and a half later the seas eased and we’d crossed the convergence (where the hot and cold waters meet) and were officially in the Southern Ocean!  Because of the  ‘mild’ Drake, we’d make excellent time and were able to aim, weather permitting, for a unscheduled stop at Elephant Island which we were all happy about.  Elephant Island is famous in Antarctic history as it was the island that Ernest Shackleton and his men were marooned on for several months and all survived. 

The seas were choppy as we approached the island and was covered in mist; we were aiming for Point Wild where Shackleton’s men took shelter.  On deck we all stood in silence in anticipation of…well, we weren’t quite sure what.  Then it appeared out of the mist and seemed to slowly glide toward us; a dark, sharp jagged point with Gentoo and Chinstrap penguins standing guard and a looming glacier, almost glowing, directly in front of us.  The Captain slowly edged us closer and porpoising penguins across the bow seemed to guide us in. 

Through the mist we just make out the rocky landing where the men sought shelter, along with a memorial to the Chilean Captain of the tug that eventually rescued them.  This area was cold, exposed and lashed by the wind and rain so, to think that the men said that this was the best spot they found shows how truly wild the island was and how desperate they must have been.  This was also our very first sighting of land within the Antarctic continent and was an eerie, yet somewhat humbling moment.  We were fortunate to have one of the expedition leaders, Trevor Potts on board; he actually re-created Shackleton’s journey from Elephant Island to South Georgia in a replica of the James Caird boat (the lifeboat, now in Dulwich somewhere) so he was able to give us in-depth knowledge and insight which was fascinating.

Honey, I think I saw an Iceberg!

The next day the weather took a turn for the worse.  We woke up to the boat rocking and Evie opened the curtain.  Then closed it again. 
“Honey, I think a big iceberg just floated past.” 
“What do you mean big, we’re in Antarctica, what do you expect?”
“I mean I just saw a wall of ice, Titanic style.”
“Oh. Well, I’m sure the bridge saw it.  Shall we go down for breakfast then?”
It turned out that we were in ‘Iceberg Alley’ and we had icebergs (traditional Titanic size), bergy bits (small icebergs) and tabular icebergs (HUGE blocks of ex-iceshelf – the smallest was at least 4 times the size of our boat and that was just the bit above water!) floating left, right and centre.  Oh, and there were high winds of over 50 knots that prevented any landings.  With all of this, it was a dramatic day with the boat constantly pitched at a 45 degree angle, waves lashing over the bow, wind that took your breath away and threatened to knock you off your feet – well, Evie’s anyway.  At one point, Daryl walked to the front of the boat with Evie but when he turned around, she hadn’t moved and was clinging to the rail, unable to move forward and terrified that she was going to get thrown into the pitching sea.  Which at that point, was a real possibility.   Scary stuff.

Our first landing was at Cuverville Island.  We were advised the sun was shining but to wrap up warm, so we wore thermal underwear, t-shirts, fleece and our expedition parkas – it’s all about layering.  We found out five minutes after landing that we were dressed for London at that time, not the balmy Antarctic which was 5 degrees in the sun!  We were hot and so toned down the layering from then on – T-shirt , long johns, waterproof trousers and parka worked well.

As we approached the landing site in the Zodiac, we were all really excited to see John the leader and the landing crew waiting for us with little penguins walking around their feet!  We were given a brief of the island and told to respect the penguins, their ‘highways’ and keep our distance, although as he delicately said, we’d be able to see and smell where you shouldn’t go. 

We flung ourselves out of the Zodiac and stood there with a lump in our throat, overwhelmed at how special it was to finally be there and see the penguins wandering around care free, regarding us as strange big penguins with red feathers.  Then the wind changed and we smelt the guano (pooh) of the colonies…it brought a tear to our eyes to say the least!

That afternoon we visited Neko Harbour which was our first landing on the actual peninsula where we saw more penguins, a couple of Weddell seals and an Argentine Refugio (their way of unofficially claiming the land).  There was an impressive glacier too calving into the water, but the highlight was climbing up a steep ridge to get a magnificent view of the harbour before taking the quick route down.  Yes, we can officially say we’ve sledged on Antarctica!  One hell of a ride and a million times better than any theme park!  The penguins just looked on, confused.

Another evening, we were cruising down the Lemaire Channel towards the southernmost point of our journey, Vernadsky Station – a former British station (Faraday) that was sold to the Ukrainians in the 90’s for £1.  The channel was a dramatic mixture of dark towering mountains and crisp white glaciers and snow with free ice floating around and the occasional seal or penguin hitching a lift.   Stunning.  As the sun lowered just before midnight, we were treated to a spectacular sunset throwing the most amazing light over the mountains and across the sky.  Everything was bathed in pinks, oranges and yellows and even the naturalists who do this journey several times a season were blown away.  Most people came out on deck to watch it – even those that had gone to bed were out in their bathrobes and slippers.  All you could hear was the click-click of cameras as we all snapped every moment of it.  We have quite a few pictures of this sunset and without boasting, all were good, although you’d struggle to take a bad one in that kind of gorgeous landscape .  If you picture those inspirational posters with a stunning landscape and tacky slogans like ‘Believe’ or ‘New beginnings’, this was like those – but better.  And if anyone wants a good screen saver or desktop picture, please ask!

Our visit to Vernadsky Station was exciting in that it was the southernmost point of our trip (excluding Wordie Hut, which was an unmanned hut around the corner) and we could send postcards or have a shot of drink of home made Ukrainian vodka at the bar.  All of this however was overshadowed by the blatant capitalism and the poor quality of souvenirs for the price, hence we only sent a few postcards that we’d brought from Ushuaia.  The postal system at the station was, ‘You pay now, we send it in the next two months’ so hopefully the postcards we did send will arrive sometime in the next year!
One of the greatest man-made sights here was looking at the confused faces of Americans as Chris climbed up a snowy hill in only a Hawaiian shirt and trousers…only to drop them and reveal shorts  underneath at the top, all for a photo with Robyn they’d promised to take for their travel agent who’d made their trip possible.  It was incredibly warm up there, positively balmy and it made the surrounding scenery so crystal clear, it took your breath away.

We were due to visit a British station the following day called Port Lockroy and were slightly sceptical about what we’d find there and how much it would cost, given the previous visit at Vernadsky.  We dropped anchor that night just offshore against another fabulous sunset and could see that our next landing was a cute little black and red hut on a tiny island next to the peninsula with a towering glacier behind.  Apparently, this base was set up during the Second World War as research station to distract the Nazis about what the Brits were doing down there and the soldiers had thought they were going somewhere warm because they had been given sunglasses!  Very clever!

We needn’t have worried.  It turns out that Port Lockroy is effectively English Heritage overseas!  The whole site is a living museum, complete with three volunteers and a permanent member of the British Antarctic Heritage Trust who live at the station for four months every year.  Everything is preserved from the 40’s/50’s, complete with Bakelite switches and old tins in the kitchen.  We spoke with one of the volunteers, Laura who was 26 and spending a season there after she’d visited it the year before on a trip similar to ours.  Normally she worked in an office in London for an insurance company, but now she was ‘chief penguin counter’ and guest facilitator for Britain in Antarctica i.e. she watched penguins in between greeting visitors from ships twice a day; she was lovely.  Not a bad day job for a few months and it was great to be able to see all the Gentoo penguins and their chicks wandering around, fearless of humans and inquisitive enough to come up to you!  We were all in our element watching the wildlife.  Souvenirs here were also good quality, reasonably priced and all proceeds went back into the Trust so we bought a couple of things and made a donation.  Rick, the permanent member of staff  who helped restore the hut was very proud and understandably so.  He was in his element and chatted freely about the station, it’s work and experiences etc.  It was an excellent landing and probably one of our favourites.

Throughout the trip, there had been a running joke about whales; we had seen hundreds of penguins, dozens of seals and loads of birds (and we never got bored of seeing any of them!) but most of us had only glimpsed whales in the distance or seen a puff of spray from a blow hole.  We say most of us because there had been two groups that had been on a zodiac cruise (the little boats that took us ashore) who had been fortunate enough to have two humpback whales swim right up to them, pose for photos and even lift their heads about 4 feet out of the water!  They were close enough to touch (although they didn’t of course!) and everyone on those boats had amazing pictures; one guy also has a video with underwater footage of the whales going under the boat!!  It was a rare and amazing experience and even though the rest of us missed out (we were on the previous boat!), we were all still excited to see the footage and happy for those lucky few.  The fact that it had happened on our trip was special enough and as you can imagine, we were all on a high.  The whale expert hadn’t seen anything like that in twenty years.

Leigh had also had a number of brief whale sightings, but this was mainly due to his diligence in standing on deck at all hours in all weathers, wrapped up looking like a ninja with a Nikon.  Unfortunately, he also wasn’t on that special zodiac that had the whale encounter, but he really wanted a good picture.  As a primary school teacher, he assured us it was for educational purposes for his class so he was on a mission to get one!

That afternoon we visited Paradise Bay and it certainly lived up to its name.  The waters were still, the sun was shining and the ice and glaciers were gleaming.  We climbed up a ridge and got an amazing 360 degree view of that part of the Antarctic peninsula and its undulating mountains with the calm bay below, dotted with intricately shaped icebergs and glaciers occasionally calving into the water with a thunderous crash.  It was beautiful.  After taking in these sights for a while we proceeded down the quick route again – on our backs sledging – and this one was even better as it was a lot steeper and we went so fast, we took off from a ridge before landing in the powder snow – great fun!  That wasn’t enough for some people though and Leigh and a couple of South African girls even went for a quick swim!  Daryl kept saying he would have gone in too if he’d known they were doing it but I guess we’ll never know…

We had a whale of a time

We left the bay and the boat began retracing its steps through the channel as we started heading north again.  The skies were blue, the sun was shining – perfect BBQ weather, so that’s what happened. We had a BBQ lunch out on the ‘sun deck’, basking in the sunshine, taking in the dramatic scenery sipping wine and enjoying succulent lamb chops.  Life was good, could it get any better?

Yes, apparently it could!  The whales came.  After lunch, the bridge had detected two humpback whales close by in the channel so the captain slowed the engines and we drifted.  Everyone was on deck, watching intently when we heard the tell-tale ‘pffff’ of a blow hole nearby.  There was a mother and her calf surfacing around us and they gave us a fantastic impromptu performance.  Although they didn’t stick their heads out, they swam around the boat for a good half an hour before they dived and everyone managed to get good shots, especially of the flukes (tail).  We were all pleased – especially Leigh!  He was practically bouncing up and down! Robyn was also ecstatic as that was the shot she’d wanted from the trip along with a blue iceberg and now she had both.  John (the tour leader) assured us that it wasn’t a planned event nor were they trained, despite all the jokes about whale spotting and a convenient BBQ on deck; it seemed we were just in the right place at the right time and whales were curious.

Hannah Point was described as a mixture of everything we’d had seen in one place – it had Gentoos, Chinstraps, Weddell seals, Fur seals, Elephant Seals, a whole variety of birds and landings had only just been allowed in the season.  For this landing however, it was cold and windy as well as snowing so we were experiencing Antarctica as you always imagine it to be.  Despite the weather, it didn’t detract from the awesome spectacle of huge crèches of penguin chicks wandering around with rafts of large Elephant seals lying amongst them.  These cute fluffy chicks really were fearless and very curious and would happily wander right up to you if you stayed still and have a look.   To say it’s cool to have a little penguin chick stood at your feet looking up at you is something of an understatement!  We walked on a bit and experienced the Elephant seals in all their glory from a distance – they were lying there farting, burping and occasionally growling at chicks that got too close – when the wind changed, you could really smell them.  Because they were moulting, their fur was all mottled and a mixture of fluffy and sleek fur – they looked a mess but we certainly weren’t about to tell them!
Our last landing was at Whalers Bay on Deception Island.  Deception Island is formed from the ring  of a volcano and looks like a doughnut with a narrow channel cut out.  Because of this shape, it was a natural shelter for ships and was used extensively for whaling in times gone by.  Now, the buildings and tanks have been left to crumble and slowly decay.  It’s a very bleak and desolate landscape with an eerie haunting atmosphere, given its bloody history.  The land was also dark and black from the volcano and this was contrasted with crisp white snow and in its own way, was captivating.  The volcano also created geo-thermal pools and these created floating clouds of steam across the shore that shrouded the occasional penguin.
We looked around the buildings and walked up to Neptunes Window, a cut out in the rock that looked out to the sea.  After we’d seen enough, we were all given the opportunity to swim in Antarctica and bathe in hot pools dug out in the sand.  Daryl gave it a go and the water probably wasn’t much worse than the North Sea (so he says, he certainly looked a tad cold!) but the pools were really hot as it was hard to regulate the temperature!  Leaving this last landing, there was an air of depression hanging over the boat both due to it signifying the end of our trip before the return through the Drake and also reflection of what had gone on there.  It was an interesting landing though and a good contrast to all the others that had focussed on wildlife and views.

Other memorable moments on the trip were: zodiac cruising amongst icebergs in the sunshine and  seeing Leopard seals lounging, looking serene with their mottled fur (even though they did look like big eels), as well as seeing the wondrous architecture of nature in the icebergs and seeing clear ice that looked like crystals.  Returning from a landing to find that the on-shore board (what counts you on and off) had fallen and they relied on you raising a hand if you weren’t there was interesting too…Returning from each landing to Bouillon (posh soup), hot chocolate or brandy to warm the cockles was fantastic and having dinner with a such a wide variety of people in terms of age, profession and nationality was brilliant.  Some went a lot better than others and some were really fascinating and stimulating, but all were enjoyable – apart from the ones that Evie missed due to the Drake passage!

As we said at the beginning, we started this trip with many pre-conceived ideas and really didn’t think it would live up to what we expected.  We were right, it didn’t – it surpassed it by miles.   This trip really was a once in a lifetime voyage and right now we cant see ourselves going back to Antarctica again purely because everything seemed to be perfect.  We met some lovely people and have made some good friends, who we’ll catch up with again on this trip and we all have memories that will last a lifetime.
We feel really privileged to have visited Antarctica and our ramblings nowhere near do it justice.  It’s definitely touched us though and all we can say is that if you ever have the desire and chance to visit, just go. 

It’ll blow you away.

Antarctica – Pre departure: Icebergs ahead!

January 23rd, 2009

Having confirmed that our ship had arrived the night before, our morning in the hostel was quite surreal, a mixture of excitement and disbelief – several people heard us muttering to ourselves “Oh my God, we’re really going to Antarctica!”


All of this was made stranger by the events leading up to that day throughout December, so lets start at the beginning…


Once upon a time there was a couple who had had carefully researched (in their opinion) every Antarctic cruise/expedition/voyage known to man trying to find one that met their exhaustive requirements – affordable for real people and not just those blowing the kids inheritance, watertight and not too big i.e. about a 100 people big.


We’d drawn up a short list of vessels that suited and booked our trip. Then requirement number two failed.


In early December we were having lunch watching BBC News with Evie’s mum and saw pictures of Antarctica. Before we turned the volume up, we said ‘Look mum, we’re going to see icebergs like that on our boat called the MS Ushuaia! How cool!’. Then the BBC man said ‘…the MS Ushuaia has just run aground, is now leaking and all passengers are being airlifted out…’


Evie’s mum completely missed the point: ‘Ah, that’s nice – they’re getting a free flight home’.


Daryl called the agent: ‘Hello Mr Jennings, I presume you’ve just seen the news then? Yes, we’re just a bit busy trying to evacuate our clients right now…can we call you back?’


The previous year, a boat belonging to another company had actually sunk in the Antarctic and even though they’d just replaced it, we’d decided not to tempt fate – maybe the odds would have been in our favour!


So this was early December. We were eventually assured that the ship would be repaired by January in time for our trip and we’d made it clear that we were going contINent and any last minute changes could be catastrophic in terms of having to change flight dates etc, but we were repeatedly assured that everything was in hand. Phew! We joked that this would make a funny story for our blog…


The weeks ticked by; we paid the outstanding balance, got our vouchers and were assured again that with two weeks to go, everything was fine and repairs were progressing nicely.


We started getting excited and even started joking with people that we’d be in the cabin with a big plaster over the porthole. How cocky we were, praising our good fortune that there was enough time for repairs and that we weren’t on the stricken tour.


Then on the 30th December there was an answer phone message from the agent asking us to call them urgently. We hoped they were really desperate to wish us a Happy New Year. No such luck. ‘Is that Mr & Mrs Jennings? I’m afraid the boat’s not fixed. We were wondering what your plans were before and after the trip?’


Suffice to say the ensuing conversation was strongly worded.


Luckily we’d travelled enough to know when to build in a few days contingency either side of the big event. Of course, we told them they’d ruined our plans; any changes would have impact further down the line and we’d had this conversation four weeks ago when they’d assured us they’d not be making this phone call! They went away to speak to their Argentinian partners and would get back to us the next day – New Years Eve, but their office would only be open a half day and there’d only be one member of staff. No pressure then.


Just bear in mind that we’d chosen a budget trip on an ex-research vessel; the sort of thing where you’d have a simple but comfortable bunk, a small porthole and if you were posh like us, your own private toilet. Meals were canteen-style; simple but filling and did the job. The bonus was that soft drinks, tea and coffee were free but you’d have to pay for alcohol. Fair enough. This is the trip we’d been looking forward to for years and was what we’d always imagined doing.


New Years Eve. The phone call came. The best way to describe what happened next is to paraphrase the conversation as best we can…


“Hello, we’ve managed to find you a replacement ship leaving within the dates you gave us. Its run by an American company and is slightly different but you should get to see the same things. We haven’t seen the itinerary but as its the same amount of days, it should be fine, it is a bit bigger though, about 150 people”


While we were talking, she gave us the name of the ship and we did a quick search on the internet to see what we could find. Before we saw pictures, we read a brief description, something like: ‘…after the Captains dinner, guests can relax in the Club lounge with cocktails, before retreating to their wood panelled room with marble appointed bathroom and terry towel bathrobes…the dress code is Country Club casual…’


“Okay but this really isn’t want we signed up for. We paid a lot of money for our dream trip, a real expedition, not a luxury cruise with a bunch of wealthy American pensioners. We’re backpacking and don’t do ‘Country Club casual’. In fact, what the hell is Country Club casual?! This isn’t good enough, we don’t want luxury bathrobes, we want a simple boat like we asked for. Please try and find something more suitable.”


“Er, okay, I understand…leave it with me and I’ll see if there are any other options. But I dont think its likely. I’ll call you back in a bit.”


All of you that know us know two things 1) We don’t get stressed very often – this was one of those times. 2) We are ‘simple’ people in the best possible way. We made a point to exclude any trip that looked like a P&O cruise and it now looked like it was all going wrong diddly wrong.


In the meantime we looked at the website in more detail and tried to compare this new trip to the one we had paid for. It turned out this was actually classed as an expedition cruise and would therefore do nearly everything we had planned. Good. Then we looked at a description for the room we had been allocated.

It wasn’t a room…it was a suite.

It didn’t have a porthole…it had two full size windows looking out to the front and side of the boat.

It didn’t have bunks either…we had to make do with a queen size bed with Egyptian cotton sheets.

Then we saw the list price and choked. It cost a few pence more than our old room.


We sat there stunned and realised that we’d actually been complaining that we’d paid for a B&B but were now being moved to the Ritz, metaphorically speaking. No wonder the agent was confused.


We frantically searched for the agents phone number to plead temporary insanity and gladly accept their offer, then the phone rang again.


“Hello, this the MD of the travel company. I understand there has been some issues with the booking? I strongly suggest that you take it because if you don’t, I would believe me! Its a really good company and the mix of people is good too. Its not all Yanks and its not the blue rinse brigade. You’ll have a good time I’m sure and no, you don’t need a suit and I have no idea what Country club casual is either. Its Antarctica, they cant expect you to wear Pringle and Fred Perry. I’m sure you’ll be fine. You have nothing further to pay, just for any additional things you purchase on board. So relax and enjoy! Happy New Year too.”


We humbly accepted and made sure he sent an email to confirm. We sat there stunned (again) because now on New Years Eve, our original budget boat was still broken, yet here we were having just spoken to the MD of the travel company who had urged us to take a 5-star cruise, in the third best room on the boat, with a value almost three times what we paid at no extra cost to ourselves and best of all, we were still going to Antarctica!

Bring it on!



January 21st, 2009


We just got back and fly to Santiago this afternoon but need time to reflect before we give an update on an amazing continent…

Ships That Pass in the Night

January 11th, 2009

For those of you that dont know, the original trip we had planned was just Antarctica but over dinner one night after a bad day, it kinda grew…into in-continent!

After much research we chose a voyage that matched what we wanted (and could afford) on a small research vessel. It was raw and basic, just what we wanted.

Then we saw this on the BBC news:…


Yes, of all the boats to get into trouble, it had to be ours! At least it didnt sink like the one last year!

We were assured that it was going to be fixed by the time we got out here…until we got a call on New Years Eve that it wasnt.

To cut a long story short, we have been placed on another ship that really isnt what we were expecting. We were told that it was slightly bigger and in the harbour…

Boats in Ushuaia

…thankfully its the one on the right!

There’s a hell of a lot more to say about this new boat but that can wait till we get back – counting chickens and all that.

We board in a couple of hours and set sail tonight. Currently the weather is a warm 13 degrees and still, so hopefully the Drake passage will be forgiving…

It costs $5 per minute to send an email on the boat (it takes on average 3mins to send one) so I’m afraid you won’t hear from us for 10 days.

Oh, and if we end up on the BBC news, we’ll be sure to wave.


Rodrigo’s a man of many talents…

January 10th, 2009

He sings, dances, plays the guitar and likes cooking great food above the usual hostel fare…

As he says, why pay all that money for good local food in a restraurant when you can buy the good local food in the supermarket cheaper?

Last night we had king crab…

Rodrigo cooking crab

…today he’s left to go off hiking in the Torres del Paine before he starts cycling north back towards Brazil.

Yes, he’s bought Baptiste the Frenchman’s bike and been taught the dance…

Baptiste the Frenchman…and part time Disney character

And for  those of you that have left the hostel, here’s the proof that he at least made it out the door for the bus this morning…

Hasta Luego Rodrigo!