The Cruise.

The Cruise…….O.M.G…… where do we start? It was memorable that’s for sure…… but for all the wrong reasons!!

We shouldn’t forget that the initial purpose of the cruise was to get us from A to B, from Australia to Asia, without flying as part of our overland trip back to the UK. The container ship option, although possible, became way too expensive and so when we saw the one and only cruise ship travelling from Fremantle to Singapore, at a fraction of the price, we jumped straight in. We did very little research into ‘Cruise and Maritime Voyages’ or the ‘M/V- Vasco da Gama’. It probably wouldn’t have stopped us from booking it anyway as it was really our only option, but some research may have left us more prepared for what lay ahead.

On paper the cruise looked excellent. Twelve days with five different ports of call including some which conjured up images of the exotic Far East including Bali, Komodo Island, Java and all on a ship that had been completely refurbished less than a year ago.

It started to go wrong before we even set sail. Due to a Government ban on tourism for the foreseeable future to Komodo Island this port of call was replaced by a visit to the island of Lombok (a close neighbour to Bali) …..”Oh well”, we said “The container ship wasn’t stopping anywhere so any stop ashore would be a bonus”.

The Vasco De Gama!

So we set sail from Fremantle on the good ship Vasco da Gama. Firstly the positive points, it did manage to stay afloat, we only had one brush with potential disaster. Secondly, our cabin was pretty good. Obviously (being budget travellers) we went for the cheapest onboard which was an inside cabin. It was still pretty good, quite spacious, a comfy bed, sofa, small tv and a decent size shower. We did notice early on that the toilet flush had a delay of between one and fifteen minutes after the button was pressed!  We informed the steward who said “Ah yes we know about that” ….it still had a delay of between one and fifteen minutes when we left! The third positive point is the ship looked visually impressive with modern furnishings, some quirky seating and all seemed good quality. That, however, was the end of the positivity. From there on it became a catalogue of poor service, generally low quality food, third rate entertainment and innumerable pieces of broken equipment. We will give some examples but these will only scratch the surface. Don’t get us wrong, we certainly don’t demand luxury wherever we go. In fact, just the opposite, we can sometimes feel a little out of our depth and uncomfortable when faced with a certain amount of opulence, although Sarah does give it a good go when a decent spa is on offer! But common courtesy costs nothing and when something is advertised and not available or clever marketing is used to effectively trick people and when cases of straight forward lying emerge, it’s maybe time for a company to take a look at itself.

We weren’t the only ones who felt like this, as the cruise went on, the muffled complaints became more and more vocal. “There will be a mutiny on here before long”, commented Steve.

It would be very easy to rant on in-depth about each individual incident that left us angry or frustrated or had a detrimental effect on our cruise experience but that we feel that wouldn’t be an interesting read. So we will skim over them and try and be a little positive and light hearted about it. After all nobody died…….. at least we think they didn’t!!

Steve and Sarah relax on deck!

This leads us on to our first point and first piece of advice. If you are booking a cruise for your much anticipated holiday, DO YOUR RESEARCH! We can’t stress this enough, in fact we will say it again “DO YOUR RESEARCH”. Make sure the ship and ports of call suit your needs.  Some ships cater more towards families and children with loads of things to do, others offer more formal experiences, some try to mix it all up and cater for a wide spectrum and some are more for the older generation. The Vasco da Gama fell into the latter of these categories. In fact, it was to the more senior end of the elderly category! Steve thought the average age of the passengers was about 115 but Sarah thought it was much higher. There were 1200 passengers and we counted 9 younger than us! At least the gym was quiet. We would wander around the ship and see people lying on the sun beds or slumped in chairs. “Dead or asleep?” would be our question, which was generally answered for us by a snort or a fart!

Early on our second morning onboard we were woken by an emergency tannoy announcement, calling the ships company to a “ CODE B IN THE INCINERATOR ROOM”. “Emergency…. incinerator…. sounds like a fire to me” said Steve. Sure enough we got dressed, walked out of our cabin into a wall of smoke with the Indonesian and Burmese staff running around shouting “Everything is OK”. “Mmmm …. possibly not” we thought. The smoke filled four decks before it was brought under control and it took a couple of days to fully clear it out.

Clearing the smoke after the incinerator fire!

Whenever people talk about cruises one of the major topics is often the food onboard and more often than not in a positive way. Not on The Vasco Da Gama!  We did have a couple of meals that were pretty good, but in general the food was low quality, badly prepared and presented and served by members of staff who were less than enthusiastic, gave the impression they did not want to be there and in many cases were downright rude. The portion sizes were incredibly small. On one occasion Steve was given seven pasta tubes so he asked for some more. After what resembled a scene from Charles Dickens “Oliver” another four pieces of pasta were reluctantly handed out!  On another occasion he was given a piece of cake an inch square, not even a mouth full!

The 1 inch cake.

At breakfast one day Steve tried to get some prunes and was given a spoonful of cherries in a dark juice. “These are cherries not prunes”, said Steve. “No sir they’re prunes”. “No they are cherries” continued Steve. “No, prunes”, came the reply. After a couple more exchanges of cherries and prunes Steve gave in thinking maybe they are a new variety of prune. He tasted them… no, definitely cherries. He went back to the counter and saw a woman asking for some prunes and the guy was trying to give her dates. As she protested insisting they were dates and he maintained his stance that they were definitely prunes, Steve finally lost his temper and gave the guy a colorful description of the difference between cherries, prunes, dates and a series of other fruits that were on display.

A shrug of the shoulders and a raised upper lip was the general response to any complaint, query or out of the ordinary request and it soon became evident that things weren’t going to be changed or resolved anytime soon. For us, the situation became comical and we had numerous belly laughs at the various situations, but we did feel sorry for some of the passengers whose holiday was being spoilt.

As well as the buffet, which was available for all meals, there were three restaurants for the evening meal. Passengers were seated on a first come, first served basis. All three restaurants were very well furnished and comfortable but getting a table was quite often a nightmare, and there was no queuing system in operation. “Can we have a table for two please?” we would ask. “No, this restaurant is full” would come the abrupt reply. “What are our options?” A shrug of the shoulders and a raised upper lip was the response. “Banana sandwich in the buffet again for me then” said Sarah. “No, you might ask for bananas but you will get prunes” said Steve.

To be fair we did eventually manage to get a table in one of the restaurants on eight out of the twelve nights and were really disappointed on all but two of these occasions. On one evening the food was thankfully really quite good. Sarah had a moussaka for her main which actually tasted like moussaka, although the portion size was pretty small! “I’m having another one” she said “I am absolutely starving I need to eat, I don’t care about the embarrassment”. The second one came and she devoured it. Credit where credit is due, she thought, and thanked the waiter and said how much she enjoyed it. He practically begged her to go to reception and tell them. “Please, please tell reception” he said, “Everyone always complains about the food”.

Another major attraction of a cruise is the onboard entertainment. This, like the ports of call, can be very subjective. I believe the saying is “one man’s food is another man’s poison”. Some people obviously loved it while others weren’t very impressed at all. We fell into the latter category. We found it very repetitive. Each night the same acts were pretty much in the same locations, at the same time, singing or playing the same sets. The options were the Eastern European woman singing a variety of songs including some old rock and roll hits (occasionally using maracas to accompany the singing!), the Thai cowboy playing a mixture of soft rock songs old and new on his electric guitar (“Living next door to Alice” was a regular), the violinist and pianist doing their classical thing, and the singers and dancers playing twice a night in the theatre. Now neither of us are ever going to be judges on the ‘X Factor’, and we don’t profess to be entertainment experts, but even we know when someone is singing out of tune or a dance routine has been basically choreographed. We went a couple of times to the evening show in the theatre (the second time was just to see if the first was just a bad day… wasn’t). The highlight for us was the Musical Chairs before the main act came on! The theatre was visually impressive, set on two levels with plush seating in curved, terraced rows. The problem was the terracing was not steep enough and the curved nature of the rows meant some seats actually didn’t face the stage! People would come into the theatre, select a seat and then discover it’s faults. Up they would get and move on to another seat (not easy when you’re 95 years old with a walking stick and glass of wine in hand). The next seat would also have it’s faults and they would move on again until realising that, unless you arrived an hour before the show started and got one of the dozen or so seats with an uninterrupted view, it didn’t matter where you sat you were only going to get a partial view.

Our final point on the entertainment is about the cinema. A small room with a hundred or so seats. We decided to give it a go when they were showing one of the Bourne films starting at 8pm. We arrived a few minutes early, got a seat with a partial view (bit of a theme developing) of the small ‘pull down’ screen. The movie started on time. We could hear it, we could see most of it, so things were looking good. Then, after it had started, a constant stream of people came in and out. They were standing in the aisles, “Oooh, What’s going on in here Sheila?”, “I don’t know Bruce, looks like a movie”. Then in walks Mr Potato Head, the biggest man on board, and takes a seat right on the front row…. the partial view just got substantially smaller! After about fifteen minutes we then realised that the cinema was directly below the Thai Cowboy and The Bourne Supremacy suddenly had “Living next door to Alice” as a sound track! “Enough is enough”, said Steve, “Let’s get out of here, what do you fancy instead?, the maracas version of Blue Suede Shoes or Beethoven’s fifth?….your call”.

The final, main segment of a cruise are the stops or ports of call. On this cruise we stopped at Geraldton, Broome, Bali, Lombok and Semerang on the island of Java. As I said earlier, on paper this looked very appealing but it didn’t quite workout quite that way for us.

Another quality port in Indonesia!

All of our trips have an allocated budget which we have spent countless hours, over previous years, planning, replanning, finalising and refinalising. As much as we would like it there isn’t an endless supply of money so we can’t do everything and we have to prioritise what we want to do and what the trips are all about. This trip was about getting from OZ to the UK by land and sea (well that’s how it started out) and the cruise became a mode of transport rather than a way to visit places. We had every intention of seeing as much as we could but we just didn’t have the budget to go on trip after trip from the ship. Plus that really isn’t our thing and we like to do things independently whenever we can. The logistics of this cruise made that quite difficult and to be perfectly honest the locations were a bit of a let down.

Geraldton was a small town a few hundred miles North of Perth. There was so little to do even the ship didn’t offer any trips. There was a nice pathway alongside a white sand beach and a town that consisted of two streets of everyday shops. We did utilise the local supermarket to stock up on drinks and snacks. Even after one day we had a sense that the food onboard might not be that great!

Steve practising his yoga on Sarah’s head

The next stop was Broome, a town a further 1000 miles or so North (we are starting to head around the top of Australia now). Broome makes a big thing out of its isolated location. It is somewhere Steve has fancied going for a while but it is close to nothing and pretty much on the way to nowhere. It’s main attraction is Cable Beach, 22 kilometers of white sand and the place where Australia was first connected to the world via a huge communications cable, hence the name. We had two days in Broome to explore, with the ship berthing overnight and we were looking forward to it. It transpired we only needed two hours!

The ship berthed six miles out of town in a port with no bus connection so shuttle buses were put on to ferry passengers to and from the town. The centre of town was not too bad, a few bars, coffee shops and souvenir type shops. The problem was that it was Sunday and most places were closed! We wandered towards the outskirts of town and found the Police Station, Courthouse and an unusually large prison clustered together. We then saw an area littered with broken bottles and a fresh trail of blood along the pavement which eventually led to a public phone box which was covered in blood….. someone had a rough night!  Next we found a series of alcohol rehabilitation centres and homeless shelters.

We decided to make our way to Cable Beach which was another five or so miles out of town. We caught the public bus which had a pretty good running commentary about the town and again made a big thing about it’s isolated location and also about some guy called Willie who had a pearl farm?

Miles of sand and blue sky at Cable Beach.

Cable Beach was a pretty nice place to visit. It was vast, the sand was blinding white and the sea a deep blue. The ‘Sunday’ problem struck again though with the only cafe on the beach closed. It was also touching 40 degrees and incredibly humid so the air conditioned ship proved too much of a pull and we made our way back. The bus dropped us off in town near a large neatly kept open green park with large trees scattered around the perimeter. The only people in the park were large groups of Aboriginals sitting under all the trees, drinking and sleeping, with large amounts of rubbish around them and all their possessions in plastic bags or shopping trollies. We have had several encounters both on this trip and on previous trips with people of Aboriginal origin and right now we are going to refrain from making any comment. Although we have been to Aboriginal heritage and cultural centres in the past and read about aboriginal history we feel we need to gain a better understanding and knowledge first. Let’s see what we encounter over the next six weeks.

Aboriginals gather under a tree for the day.

We didn’t bother going ashore the next day, we felt like we had seen enough of what Broome had to offer. It didn’t sound like we missed much with many people questioning why the ship had stayed there for two days.

The remainder of the stops didn’t amount to much either. At each one we were docked a long way from any sort of town. That isn’t the fault of the cruise companies, it’s just where the ports have been built but it does leave you at the mercy of the overly expensive ship organised excursions or at the hands of the incredibly persistent Indonesian taxi drivers. We have travelled extensively in South East Asia in the past and found the Indonesians to be among the most pushy and persistent, in fact 20 years ago Sarah famously lost the plot with an Indonesian taxi driver. Steve had never heard her use such colourful language before, but that’s another story!

Storm clouds gather over Lombok!

We met people who had waited in vain for a ship organised shuttle bus to town before giving in and placing themselves in the hands of a taxi driver promising to give them a good price only to be driven to his brothers shops, cousin’s cafes and friend’s jewelry stores for some high pressure selling and never actually getting to the place they wanted. Oh well, every day is a school day!

So today we disembark in Singapore and are we ready for it? We are looking forward to meeting up with Craig and Sal. We don’t want people to think we have hated our time onboard, we haven’t. We made the best of the situation, it just wasn’t our sort of cruise. We have had some side splitting laughs both at ourselves and at other passengers and crew, so it’s actually been quite entertaining, that is other than the organised entertainment!

Singapore beckons under heavy skies.

There has also been a sad side to it too. It has almost given us an insight into a possible future. When you see so many elderly people in one place it sort of hammers home the point to try and live as much as you can, and do as much as you can, while you are still able to do it because one day for sure certain things will be beyond your capabilities. On a couple of occasions we found passengers wandering around looking a little lost. Over a week into the cruise one woman had completely forgotten where her cabin was and what number it was, and another gent was lost and disoriented unable to work out which deck he was on and in what part of the ship he was. We managed to get them back on course to which they were very grateful. “That will be you one day”, said Sarah. “Which one?” said Steve, “Both” came the reply!

A few days in Singapore now beckon and then we are booked on a flight back to Australia. We have hired a campervan, bought a map (old school, apparently internet and GPS are sometimes unreliable in remote areas). We have forty days to drive over 5000 miles from Perth to Cairns. We are both incredibly excited about it. “Why was this never in the original plan Sarah”, “I don’t know but it should have been, it’s great to have the freedom to be this flexible”.

This could be fun!

A Change in Direction

The last week or so has seen us continuing our time visiting Western Australia, well at least a small part of it. We finished our time off in Perth and then moved a couple of hundred miles South to Busselton and the Margaret River region, right in the bottom left hand corner of Australia. This region is an amazing area. We both love it here and discovered it quite by accident when Steve came to do an Ironman race here a few years ago. There are a few small towns interspersed among the acres of vineyards and the area is framed by a fabulous coastline littered with amazing beaches of white sand and turquoise waters. Once you add into that the endless blue skies and a bunch of really friendly Aussies it’s no wonder this ranks as one of our favourite places in the World, and for Sarah maybe even her number one!

Enjoying the beach.

We haven’t really done that much, just relaxed and soaked up the whole atmosphere of the place. Steve has been out cycling each morning and Sarah drives to one of the local towns to have a browse and meet him there for a coffee and a spot of people watching. We stopped in one small town called Cowaramup. “Difficult to say but easy to stay” is the town motto. The main road is scattered with life-size models of friesian cows!! We discovered that this has nothing to do with the town name which has a reliance on dairy farming for employment, but the town is actually named after the Cowara bird which is a brightly colored parrot you see everywhere.

Steve auditions for the new series of “The Yorkshire Vet”

Whilst in one of the towns and waiting for Steve, Sarah found herself in a clothes shop and decided to try on a pair of trousers. (Steve can never really understand this, why look to buy some trousers when you already have a pair?) Anyway, Sarah went into the changing room to try them on, pulled the curtain across and came face to face with a huge spider!! She said the thing was as big as her palm, all hairy and with an evil look in it’s eye. She told the shop assistant, who calmly said that they can give a nasty bite, and she would get rid of it. When she was relaying the story to Steve he said, “I take it you didn’t hang around to try the trousers on then”. “Didn’t need to” was Sarah’s reply “I finished trying them on before I told the assistant”.

Sarah with Yalingup beach in the background.

After our stop for coffee we make our way to one of the beaches. Yallingup, Meelup and Bunkers are our favourites. They are never very busy at all, even at weekends. They have very few, if any, facilities other than toilets and showers but they are amazing. We spend a few hours in the sun relaxing, in the shade having a picnic, in the water cooling off and sometimes we treat ourselves to a little snooze…. life is hard!  As the afternoon comes to an end we make our way back home and Steve goes for a run while Sarah prepares dinner. We then cook together and settle down with a beer to watch tv or read a book. I think we could both stay here forever.

Busy again on Bunkers Beach!

There is also a very active outdoor lifestyle here and the local town hosts numerous races including triathlons, a half marathon and an annual long distance swim. The swim happened to be on while we were here so Steve considered entering, until he discovered all 3000 places sold out within 3 hours of registration opening almost a year ago! Instead we went to watch. It was quite a spectacle. The route was out to the end of the Jetty and back. Not that far, until you realise it is the longest wooden jetty in the Southern Hemisphere at over 1.8km in length, so the out and back distance of 3.6km (2.25 miles) makes for a decent swim. Past and probably future Olympians take part and the race was won in a sprint finish, up the beach, as a 17 year old Aussie beat a Dutch guy to the line. Apparently the winner’s father had a bet on his son winning and collected a small fortune!

The first swimmers set off on a beautiful morning.
That is a long jetty to swim around.

Probably our main topic of conversation this week has been “what are we going to do now our planned trip to China has been derailed?”.

When we first started to plan this trip the challenge was to fly to Australia, spend a few days here in and then make our way back to the UK without flying. Our first obstacle was how to get from Australia to Asia. We managed to find a container ship that took paying passengers from Fremantle to Singapore on a nine day non-stop sailing. We booked ourselves into one of the two cabins on a routing in January and started to plan the route from Singapore onwards. Then things started to unravel. The already high cost started to increase when we were informed we needed not one but two medical assessments, to be completed 90 and 15 days before the sailing. These medicals included psychiatric questions and obviously a local GP wouldn’t touch it. We then had to obtain extra insurances (on top of our already comprehensive annual insurance) including “Rescue at Sea insurance”. The whole thing was spiralling out of control. We went back to the drawing board and looked for other ways to make the crossing. A ferry from Darwin to Indonesia?….doesn’t exist. Crewing a yacht to Indonesia….possible but unlikely and we could be waiting in Darwin for weeks. Then Steve saw a cruise advertised from Fremantle to Singapore for 12 days with five stops in Geraldton, Broome, Bali, Lombok and Java. With a price at almost half that of the container ship we jumped in and booked. The only ‘problem’ was the cruise ship was due to depart over three weeks after the container ship, and with our flights already booked, this is why we have been hanging around in this terrible place for the last few weeks!!

Out cycling with the ‘roo’s….there were at least 50 of them.

So, now the question is “what do we do when we arrive in Singapore? Travelling overland through China is now not possible. Going south of China through Myanmar, Bangladesh (been there before don’t really want to go again) then across Northern India, Pakistan and Afghanistan is not that appealing. So our overland trip is off….for this year. So now what? After many hours of discussion and looking at options we have decided to come home…….oh no sorry, we have decided NOT to come home. We wanted to do something that was still a bit of a challenge and also enjoyable. So after we get to Singapore and spend a few days with our friends, Craig and Sal, we are going to fly back to Perth and pick up a campervan to drive across Australia from West to East, Indian Ocean to Pacific Ocean. Then, after we reach Sydney we are going to turn left and drive to Cairns, almost all the way, bottom to top. We reckon it should take us a comfortable six weeks to do it. We will then take a week or two to make our way to Kazakhstan by doing a number of short flights and then pick up our original plan from there, into Uzbekistan, Russia, through Scandinavia, Germany, The Netherlands and home.      

Right here, right now, we have nothing booked at all after the cruise, not even a place to stay in Singapore! It seems that some countries are now advising against travel to Singapore and so we are having to remain really flexible. To be honest, we are both finding it a little exciting as we are getting on a cruise ship in 36 hours and then who knows??

No Sarah, there is no ice cream in there!

One thing for sure, that fish market in Wuhan is definitely stirring things up a little!!

Return to OZ!

***Just for info, if anyone is interested, we have also posted the last section of our Canada to Mexico trip “A Couple Of Vistors”***

So here we are on the road again. We have just spent what is likely to be our longest spell in the UK for the next 5 years. Although it was in the main enjoyable, it didn’t quite go according to plan. We both ended up being quite ill for three or so weeks over Christmas.  Whatever it was we eventually needed a course of antibiotics to sort out. That, coupled with a few other setbacks and a lot of running around backwards and forwards obtaining various visas, meant we were unable to catch up with as many people as we would have liked. Hopefully, we will be able to rectify this in the Spring.

Spending time with the family!

Our plans for the next four months are to fly to Australia, spend a month or so there and then make our way slowly back to the UK following a route which takes us by ship to Singapore, then ferry, train and bus through South East Asia and into China. After a couple of weeks seeing the main sights of China we will then travel to Kazhakstan, Uzbekistan and into Russia before heading home through Scandinavia.

We have now spent a couple of weeks in Australia and things are changing by the day. We never thought the events in a fish market in a Chinese city (which we had no intention of visiting) could affect our plans so much. Coronavirus and it’s knock on effect looks likely to disrupt our plans. We are keeping our options open and formulating a plan “B” and maybe even a plan “C”!  We like to think of ourselves as being flexible and I think both of us secretly like the idea of things not going quite to plan which then gives us the opportunity to do things we might not necessarily have otherwise considered. We will see how things develop over the next couple of weeks and go from there.

So what have we been doing in the last couple of weeks? Our first stop was three days in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates. Warm weather and blue skies was the order of the day. Abu Dhabi reminds us of what Dubai was like fifteen or so years ago, developing and expanding rapidly with more and more Western influences. It is an Islamic nation and evidence of that is everywhere with The Grand Mosque, the second largest in the world, taking centre stage. But there are shopping malls rivaling anything in the USA, there are waterparks, themeparks, jeep safaris and other trips, sporting events and concerts, nightclubs and bars which cater for tourists coming from all over the world. It is certainly at a crossroads and the message seems to be “Come here and enjoy yourself but remember where you are and abide by our rules”  which I suppose is fair enough.

I’m not convinced about this pampering idea!

After our time relaxing in Abu Dhabi we continued on to Australia, with our first stop being in Brisbane. When planning for this particular trip was in its infancy we were initially heading straight to Perth on the West coast, but after meeting Glen on our trip around South America last year, we decided to take the detour and visit him. Glen is a top guy and we got on well in South America. We had a fantastic time with him here in OZ. He went out of his way to show us around and although we have visited this part of the world before it was so much more fun doing it with a local. We spent four days between Rainbow Beach on the Sunshine Coast and Byron Bay in North New South Wales.

Steve and Glen reminisce.

Glen picked us up from the airport in his Toyota Landcruiser equipped with fridge!! and off we went North before hitting the beach and then driving almost 50 miles along the sand by the water’s edge. It was brilliant. Glen was sailing along picking the best routes making it look easy, and then Steve took over and made it look difficult!! Sliding through the sand, covering the truck in saltwater, he just started to get the hang of it when it was time for a spot of lunch. After lunch Glen got behind the wheel again and normal service was resumed and we ended up in Noosa. This is one of our favourite places in Australia. It has a great town and a fabulous white sand beach bordered by thick forest at either end. We finished off at a bar where Glen frequented many years ago and a couple of Schooners of “Toheys” finished off a great day!

Starting our drive up the beach.

The following day we went to Australia Zoo, of Steve Irwin fame. It was a great zoo with plenty of species with loads of space to roam. The main focus of the zoo is the re-homing of crocodiles who have been causing problems in the wild and are in danger of being hunted down. There are some seriously big crocs there weighing over 1000kg and there accompanying photographs of Steve Irwin in his attempts to catch them. Definitely not for the faint hearted!

He is one of the smaller crocs.

This being Australia there were more than a fair share of venomous snakes knocking around which, along with the Tasmanian Devils, were Steve’s favorite.  Sarah however was all over the kangaroos which were roaming around various parts of the zoo and armed with a bag of “Roo food” she was in her element feeding them. Glen however was not that impressed.  “They’re bloody everywhere and a pest, there are hundreds of them not far from the house” was his take on the kangaroos. That evening we drove past a golf course less that a couple of miles from where Glen lived and there were at least twenty kangaroos all twice the size as the ones from the zoo just wandering around!

Sarah feeds the ‘Roo

We stayed a couple of nights at Glen’s place with him and his fabulous wife, Kelly. They were so welcoming. The family came round for dinner, we had a couple of beers and reminisced about South America. We also chatted about Glen’s next trip as he and his brother-in-law are taking part in the Mongul Rally, driving a 1000cc truck from the UK to Mongolia, taking ten weeks. It sounds a logistical nightmare but great fun. Unfortunately we will miss the start in the UK but there is a check point and a party in Prague along the way so we are going to make every effort to catch up with him there.

Our final day was spent along the Gold Coast. Glen and Sarah dropped Steve off so he could run the eight miles along the beaches and through Surfers Paradise to a surf club for breakfast. By the time Steve arrived, they were already tucking into smashed avocados and eggs. After that we had a tour of some of the great beaches along the coast eventually calling in at Glen’s mum’s house, a lovely place in two acres just north of Byron Bay. She cooked us some lunch and we chatted with her and her partner Don about travel, which they have done extensively. We could have spent all afternoon there sitting on the terrace chatting, but our tour guide, Glen, had us back underway for a stop in Byron Bay. We first came here 20 years ago and although the place still has an unbelievable beach, the town has exploded and you could say it’s lost some of it’s charm.

The beach at Byron.

With our time with Glen finished, and a promise to meet up in Prague in July, we were off across Australia to Perth and the West Coast. One of the questions we are asked most is “What will you do after the five years of travelling are over?“. That is a long way off and we know we can’t travel like this forever but we do intend to travel, to some degree, for as long as we are able. We can see ourselves spending more time in fewer places and without doubt one of those places will be Perth. We love it here. It has so much to offer. The city is relatively small and compact, yet it has everything we need. It is closer to Singapore than Sydney and consequently has an Asian influence. It has endless white sand beaches, some with every facility you could want like at Cottesloe and Scarborough, but there are numerous other undeveloped beaches accessed through paths in the sand dunes with literally no-one on them…… just watch out for the snakes in the dunes!! Perth also has an amazing array of accessible things to do including almost every sport and entertainment.  In our first week we have been to the basketball, T20 cricket at the brand new “Optus” stadium, moonlight cinema in the park (we upgraded to a beanbag and an ice cream ticket there) and we were treated to a 30 minute amazing fireworks display over the city as we were fortunate to be here on Australia Day.

Cricket Aussie style.

Perth is also an easy city to get around. Public transport is excellent, well designed and either cheap or free! We have also hired bikes for three weeks as there is a network of cycle paths to rival anywhere. We are spending our days backwards and forwards to the beaches, down to drink coffee on the famous “cappuccino strip” in the “cool” town of Fremantle, wandering around the 50 miles or so of cycle paths next to the Swan River. Who knows we might just stay here until May!!

Australia Day fireworks.

Steve has also been trying to get back into his running but is struggling a little since we were both ill back in December and with temperatures sometimes hitting the 40’s he is finding it tough going. The other day he ran past the site of the Subiaco Oval. This was the main stadium before the new “Optus” was built and has now been demolished for the building of some swanky new apartments. We have had a few great nights there, including Aussie Rules football and for Steve’s 40th birthday we saw Rod Stewart and Brian Adams there. But for Steve, without doubt his best evening in Subiaco was seeing AC/DC blow 80,000 sets of eardrums 34 years after seeing them perform in Sheffield in front of 3,000! It was quite sad to see the old stadium pulled down but at least the toilets in the new stadium are better….that’s progress!

We are leaving Perth in a couple of days and heading south to the wine region of Margret River and more fabulous beaches before moving on to Singapore and then who knows…..definately not to a fish market in Wuhan though!

Sarah contemplates the next step.

A couple of visitors.

Well after our relaxation in the superb surroundings of Marianellas house in La Jolla it was time to pick up the pace. Steve’s son, Mike, and his girlfriend, Ewalina, arrived in Los Angeles and we had a whirlwind tour planned for them. Neither of them had been to California before, in fact it was Ewalinas first time in the State’s so we felt a bit of pressure to get it right. They were quite easy about where they went so we decided on a few days relaxing in the sun in Palm Springs, on to Vegas for a sensory overload, back to Los Angeles for a city visit and then end up on a Southern California beach. Throw in a surprise or two and we thought we had it covered nicely.

The whole thing went brilliantly and Mike and Ewalina (M & E from now on…. it’s taking me too long to keep typing it) had a fantastic time as well. Palm Springs is a laid back, easy going place in the desert, about three hours drive from the airport. We spent three days at a great little airbnb close to town. Outside living space, hot tub, pool, comfortable sunbeds and a fab barbecue all made for a relaxing time, to get over a bit of jet lag, the cold wet British weather and a few months of hard slog at work (them, not us). We walked around the weekly evening market, ate American breakfasts in town and M & E made the cable car ride to the top of Mount San Jacinto, 11,000 feet above the town, where they went walking and had their first experience of the effects of altitude.

The cable car to Mount Jacinto.

Steve also managed to fit in another race. The Palm Springs Tram Road Challenge, a 6km straight uphill race with an average gradient of 12%. After running a marathon the week before maybe he underestimated this one and with some serious jelly legs he finished in 12th place out of the 500 strong field. “That’s enough running for this year” was his post race comment! After a couple of evenings spent with Mike cooking some great ribs and immense steaks, plus topping up his annual rum intake, and it was time to head to “Vegas Baby”….. hopefully The Hangover Part 4 was not about to happen!!!

“Do you like your steak well done?”

On the way to Las Vegas we stopped off at Joshua Tree National Park, the inspiration behind the title of U2’s iconic album. M & E both do a bit of climbing and bouldering at a centre back in the UK so they were impressed with some of the formations in the park and, although not entirely dressed for the part, scrambled up a couple of the features. We also managed to squeeze in a short drive on the world famous Route 66 and obtain the obligatory photograph en-route.

Joshua tree National Park.
Sarah gets her kicks on Route 66.

We managed to find a studio apartment right on The Strip, close to some of the major hotels and M & E threw themselves into the Vegas experience including 4am finishing in the Casino and 1pm emerging from a sleep. We were in and out of the major hotels and taking stupid rides that hang you over the top of the Stratosphere at almost a thousand feet up. S & S managed to hang in for most of it but bailed on the 4 am finishes…….and the 1pm start!

Vegas Baby!!!

We did throw in a little surprise for M & E one day. We had hoped to make a trip out to the Grand Canyon with them. It is a sight that if anyone gets the chance should see it, but the time, logistics and distances just made it a bit of a problem so we treated them to a flight over the Canyon from Vegas. The flight also took in Lake Mead and The Hoover Dam. They had a brilliant time and Ewalina took loads of photos.

After Vegas we drove back to L.A. The drive took us very close to the huge wildfires which are currently destroying large parts of California, although M & E were oblivious to it all as the pillows came out and they slept most of the way!

What can we say??

The next stop was Hollywood, where M & E spent a couple of days being hectic at Universal Studios, getting soaked to the skin on some of the rides, seeing the film production sets and sampling some butter beer at Harry Potter World, while S & S sat by the pool at the hotel doing absolutely nothing at all and not feeling an ounce of guilt. We figure we have plenty of credits left after our 2000 mile cycle.

Our final stop for not only the visit of M & E but also for this trip as a whole was Huntington Beach. We stopped off here very briefly on our cycle route, it had a really great beach and a nice atmosphere so decided to return for a couple of days before the flight home. With our time split between lying on the beach watching the surfers, wandering around the town and eating on the pier it finished our trip off nicely. Our last meal was at “Hooters” this was at the request of Ewalina not Mike or Steve….honest.

Sunset on Huntington Beach.

So there ended another trip. Probably the most varied so far and it is probably the variety which we will remember most. From the thick pine forests of Washington, to the palm tree lined beaches of California. From the stunning coastal cycling of Oregon and Big Sur to the long straight lonley driving through the Nevada and Utah deserts. From the lush green views in Mammoth lakes and Yosemite to the stark, hot, rocky land of  Death Valley. We will also take away memories of how many fantastic people we met and who were so friendly and helpful along the way. But most of all we will take away a massive sense of achievement. WE CYCLED FROM CANADA TO MEXICO !!! …..

…….We are writing the last post for this trip sitting in a coffee shop back in the UK. It’s grey, raining and pretty waterlogged outside which, from what the people we have spoken to have said, seems to have been the theme here for the past few months. But we are feeling very lucky in how our first year has turned out. For several years we have planned and dreamed of how we wanted things to turn out and sitting here looking back over the last 12 months we feel things have turned out pretty well. Three months travelling around South America with a great bunch of people, three months cycling and camping in France and Italy and then cycling from Canada to Mexico which included the added bonus of a month visiting some amazing National Parks. Each of the trips has far exceeded our expectations.

So far this year we have been out of the UK for 242 days, we have slept in 109 different locations and we have spent 99 nights camping under canvas. (Arlene saved us from hitting the century)!

People ask us which have been the highlights of the year and although it is a bit of a cliché there really have been too many to list. There have been challenges, Canada to Mexico being the obvious one, but climbing the snow and ice covered volcano in Chile was a real achievement, especially for Sarah, and running to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and back was a big day for Steve. There have been sights which have just taken our breath away. The views from 8000 feet across Yosemite valley, the Three Towers in Torres del Paine, Iquazu falls (Wow)!!, snorkelling in the crystal clear waters in Bonito and cycling through gorges and medieval villages in France. You know you have had a good year when the latest David Attenborough series is showcasing places you have been.

Another question we are asked is “Do you think you will keep going for the planned five years”? Our answer right now is simple “No……we will probably do more”!

But for the next few weeks we are looking forward to catching up with family and friends especially as it’s Christmas and New Year approaching. Then it is the start of an ambitious year, four continents, about 30 countries, a marathon and an Ironman triathlon. Let’s see how it goes

Oh to be back on the bus!!