Category Archives: Good byes

Durban to Jo’burg- Kwazulu-Natal and Lesotho


Getting to see Lesotho, what a treat!

26th March: So today we went on our ‘Face to Face Zulu Village Tour’ with Tekwenie Eco Tours. The only ones to book that day, we got a personal tour which was a bonus. We headed off East away from Durban and into Zululand, stopping off at a supermarket on the way to pick up some treats for the children of the family we were visiting. Although I think the football we bought them Hedd secretly was plotting to keep, he didn’t succeed- they were gifts after all! On the way to our first stop at a view-point overlooking the Valley of 1000 Hills, I taught Alfred, our guide, a new word- Torrential- after explaining our damp time in Port St John. He like it a lot and stopped the car to write the word down and its meaning and proceeded to practice saying it, slotting it into various sentences. It was funny and certainly passed the time, seeing us getting to the Valley of 1000 Hills in no time. It was a ‘wow’ view- a green expanse of little hills (although I think 1000 is a bit of an exaggeration!) peppered with little clusters of circular buildings, home to the Zulu people, and the big Inanda Dam filling the valley like a natural lake. We then headed to Emaphephetheni village in the Nanda area of Zululand and to a cluster of houses belonging to the Ncibilika family who would be our hosts for the day. Arriving at their home, first thing we noticed was their million dollar view of the dam. When we explained this to our guide Jason, the 19-year-old son, that in the UK you would pay hundreds of thousands for a house with such a water view he very seriously exclaimed that this was too much money to be charging. Quite right Jason, we agreed! All the families circular houses were painted light blue with grey tin roofs- the colour Jason told us was picked by his Mum without input from the men of the household. They just had to do the painting! This was not a staged village, the family weren’t in traditional clothes etc; we were seeing how the Zulu people lived today and how, and what, Zulu traditions still influenced the course of life here. So first up- Zulu engagement. Jason took us down to the dam and picked us reeds to plait our own engagement bands. Around 26 years old Zulu people marry and its the girl who initiates the engagement by plaiting a reed bracelet and tying it on the boys right wrist as an indication of her intentions. The boy then presents his wrist to his parents for permission to marry and to agree the ‘terms’ of the partnership to present to the girl’s family (e.g. the requirement of 2 cows, land etc) and then the deal is done. Jason tied our bands so I guess we’re all going to marry Jason! I said neither Hedd or I owned any land or cows so I don’t think it will work out! We then walked to Jason’s grandmother- the villages natural healer. We found her in her round house with mud floor- it cannot be concreted so she can connect sufficiently with the earth- with little holes in the tin roof which projected little circles of light like a disco ball around the space. It was quite atmospheric. The natural healer is chosen from birth and knows how cure all ailments. So it was worth a shot…Hedd explained his back problem and with Jason translating, the lady suggested ‘Umuttli’- a natural remedy made of water, plants and bark- 3 teaspoons 3 times a day. It came in a Smirnoff vodka bottle, looked like mud and cost 50RAN! Armed with Hedd’s miracle solution we thanked the natural healer and went on our way through the long grass. Lunch was a novelty; spinach, butternut squash, salsa with Uphuthu- crushed corn- a little like cuscous. All very lovely but alas no provision of cutlery so we ate it Zulu style with our hands! Both me and Hedd struggled to get the food from the plate and into our mouths, but apparently food is meant to taste better using your hand. It was indeed nice food but I think I’ll stick to my metal cutlery for the future! Just enough time to join in with the younger girls dancing to music provided by the elder sister banging coca cola bottle onto a plastic barrel. Surprisingly tuneful, we kicked our legs following the moves of the little ones. On account of his back, Hedd instead jogged on the spot kind of to the music which I can’t emphasise enough how hilarious it looked! On the way back to Durban Alfred our driver took us through Inanda township where Gandhi lived for years from 1893 and the place where he first voiced his notion of non-violent resistance in response to colonial racial inequality. Gandhi! I couldn’t believe it. Inanda has remained a symbol of political activism and social justice ever since, including during Apartheid, and is where Mandela cast his vote at the first democratic elections in South Africa in 1994. Pretty cool. In celebration of Gandhi and in recognition of our new-found awareness of Durban as the home for the largest population of Indians outside India, we went for tea at an Indian that night!

27th March and another morning on the Baz Bus, taking us to our next destination- Amphitheatre Backpackers in the Northern Drakensberg. My goodness what a lovely part of the world, mountains and meadows everywhere! Our backpackers was great apart from the massive deposit regime they ran for everything. So after leaving a hefty deposit to borrow a laminated piece of paper with a printed map on it, we set off for a beautiful walk through the acres of maize fields dotted with gorgeous pink and white cosmos flowers and along the Mpande River. It was a gorgeous walk with light beams cutting through the clouds and shining down on the Drakensberg mountains and the valley below- wonderful! This hostel was in the middle of nowhere so they laid on dinner so we tucked into that, enjoyed the sun set and headed to bed semi-early in prep for our early start to Lesotho the next morning.

The 28th March and time for us to visit our 9th country- Lesotho. We were so excited waking up; a feeling only slightly dampened by the freezing cold shower- no hot water, nightmare! Off by 7.30am in the minibus for the 2 hour drive to the border, through the Monantsapas Pass (2,800 m). We got our exit stamp from South African Immigration and I was looking forward to getting my Lesotho entry stamp but as we descended through the pass and into Lesotho our guide informed us that the caravan which housed the Lesotho board control office had broken 2 months ago and the authorities hasn’t replaced is. So there we are, no official immigration into Lesotho! But my goodness, isn’t the country beautiful. Stunning mountains everywhere, valleys of maize fields with the pink and white cosmos flowers, sporadic clusters of circular houses with thatched roofs, roaming goats and cattle and beautiful light. With over 80% of the country lying above 1,800 metres, it is the highest country in the world and understandably its quite chilly. In response the local population wrap themselves with woolen blankets, as we do with coats and scarves, as they go about their business. Originally the Lesotho people were nomads but nowadays they keep in villages and we drove as far as Mafika-Lisiu village (that is also where the road ran out!) to visit the primary school. Sitting in the classroom our guide talk us through a bit of background about Lesotho; Sesotho is their language, Lesotho people are called Basetho… We also got to see the new extension which was funded by Amphitheatre Backpackers through some of the money we pay for the tour. That made us feel good and after hanging out with the kids for a while in the grassy playground, we set off on foot to explore more of the area. We bumped into the school principal along the way and she explained that the school is the lifeblood of the village. The children who attend are given lunch so at least they are definitely getting one meal each day and more and more they are supporting children to go to secondary school and college (it isn’t free in Lesotho). Health is still an issue with the doctor only coming once a month to this area; TB, aids, HIV, diabetes and high blood pressure still claim the lives of Lesotho people more than it should. We walked up and around one of the many hills in Lesotho for 1 1/2 hours and then stopped for our packed lunch at a great viewpoint overlooking the valley of rondavel hut villages and meadows and the back of what is known as the ‘Amphitheatre’ within the Drakensberg mountains. Gorgeous! Our guide explained more about the way of life here, namely farming is the order of the day. In the summer the shepherds take all the animals (goats, sheep, cows) up onto the mountain which have flat tops like Table Mountain in Cape Town, and the meadows in the valley are planted with crops. In the winter the animals are brought down into the valley again and they use the many natural caves at the bottom of the mountains to keep them in when it snows. And we walked past many of these caves with the dry stone walls built by the farmers across the entrances to act as pens as we descended the big hill. We also got to see some Bushman paintings on one of the cave sides depicting the eland (a type of antelope) which the Bushman thought to be sacred. We then continued down into the village again to find some home-brew beer to try. The Basetho operate a flag system for the selling of food, drink and services. White flag means beer, red= meat, green= vegetables and blue= medicine. If a family has any surplus of any of these to sell they raise the appropriate flag on a tall post outside their home so people far away can see it and walk to it to buy or trade. It’s a hark back to their nomad days really but still really clever as the Basetho still live really spread out. We spotted a white flag and walked to the hut to try some local brew. The corn beer came out in a large plastic canister and looked disgusting! It didn’t taste much better either- like fermented yeasty porridge with a sour and smokey aftertaste. Needless to say, even after my tiny sip I cringed at the taste of it! Back to the minibus and a quick ride to meet the Natural Healer- 1 of 3 for the area. We all crowded into his little rondavel round house and he explained that he didn’t choose to be a natural healer, the ancestors did by giving him the gift to see and communicate with them in order to heal people. He first knew he had the gift when he was at secondary school and got really ill and foresaw the death of 2 people in his village before it happened. He then got taken out of school and sent for training as a natural healer. He wears read as that was the colour he had on when he realised he had been given the gift. I asked if he liked being a natural healer, and he said he didn’t to begin with but now it is okay. Unbelievably this man is in his 40’s- I told him he doesn’t look over 30! There was just enough time then for us to drive to another Basotho family to try a traditional meal (ate with our fingers again!) and to the little local shop to buy some bottles of Maluti beer (only produced and sold in Lesotho) as gifts, before we made a dash for the border which closed at 4pm. Our guide shouted to the 4×4 accompanying us to race ahead and tell the border staff that we were on our way and we arrived at 4pm on the dot and was through it by 4.05pm….phew that was close! As we drove home, the most fabulous day was topped off with viewing a gorgeous sun set over the Sterkfontein Dam.

29th March and our last journey on the Baz Bus- hoorahhh! We lazed away the morning lying on the hostels large lawn in the sunshine with the hostels ancient scruffy looking dog until the Baz Bus came to pick us up at 1pm to take us to Johannesburg. It was a classic Baz Bus journey; the 3 hour journey took us 7 hours. We got into the city at 6.15pm but then had a whistle-stop tour of the cities hostels before eventually getting to the northern suburb that we were being dropped off at 8pm! Nightmare! Our first impressions of Jo’burg? A city of gates and armed response signs; this city had seen a lot of modern-day history! Our lovely hosts for our 2 nights in Jo’burg were my parents friends from Zambia- Pete and Lesie Hey, and they picked us up from outside the ‘Ritz Backpackers’ and whisked us off to their home in the northern suburb of Bryanton. The further north you go in Jo’burg the richer it gets and communities tend to be ‘boomed off’ with guards controlling who goes in and out of the estate and individual houses behind big gates. Bryanton was no different and the Hey’s house was lovely. Set in a 1 acre plot, you forgot you were in a city. Leslie had made us a traditional SA dish of Bobotie- a dish of mince, bread, egg, spices with rice; it was delicious. All washed down with a selection of SA wine from Pete’s under the stairs wine cellar called ‘The Cave’. It was fabulous! Conversation was beautifully easy as we retired to the lounge with yet more wine, before retiring to bed. We felt so lucky to be yet again looked after by such generous hosts. The next day, and Leslie very kindly had taken some time out of work to act as tour guide. So 9am we were out the door and embarking ‘Leslie’s Tours’ around Jo’burg. We were indebted to her as Jo’burg is enormous and difficult to navigate around without a car. First stop- the Apartheid Museum (R55 entry), and straight away you were given the experience of segregation; issued with a ‘white’ or ‘non white ticket’ you had to enter the museum in the appropriate door. Straight away you got the feeling of lack of choice and that somehow, on whatever side you were on, you were missing out on something. Great way to start and the museum continued in that quality of engagement, with tons of photos and videos which made the whole thing quite interactive. What I loved also was that it was Leslie’s first time visiting the museum too, so we all enjoyed browsing the exhibits together and interesting hearing Leslie’s reaction to it all as she had lived through it as a South African. It was the first time since arriving in SA that I understood the ‘why’s’ of apartheid. It roots start in the colonial years where the whole notion of ‘otherness’ and oppression of the natives within South Africa began. After the British retreated, the Afrikans took over the baton of oppression, believing ‘one race for one homeland’ and the Afrikaan leader and cabinet truly believed that the ‘one race’ for SA was white. And hence came the years of race classification and the 150 acts of Apartheid where the segregation of races was the cornerstone. The years of detention of people just because of their political beliefs, such as Mandela. The years of militant nationalism where many people were killed, battered and hung. The years of uprising from non whites, as well as whites, disgusted with Apartheid, who’s aim was to make the country unmanageable for the Apartheid government so the government would have to concede to regain order. All culminating in Mandela’s release after 27 years, peace negotiations, and the 1994 democratic elections and the appointment of Mandela as president. So there we are, a horribly simplified, but useful chronology (I think) of events. It will be heartbreaking to watch South Africa’s reaction when Mandela dies, he’s in his 90’s, and he is so entwined in all of South African’s consciousness; they will be so sad. All in all it took us 3 hours to walk around the museum. I think you could have been there longer but it was a bit overwhelming so 3 hours was about our limit! We then headed across town towards Rosebank to wander around Rosebank African Arts and Crafts market for a spot of souvenir shopping and our stop for lunch. It was then back in the car to try to get to the Cradle of Humankind in North Gauteng, 40 minutes out of the city. But alas traffic got in our way and realising we wouldn’t make it for last entry we headed back home, patting Leslie on the back for such a great day. Tonight was our last night with Pete and Leslie and they put on a traditional South African ‘Braai’ (BBQ) for us. We all sat on the ‘stoep’ (covered patio) chatting, eating and drinking Pete’s lovely wine for the whole evening. The evening was topped off with watching an electric lightning storm in the distance before we all retired to bed. A great evening!

The last day of March and also our last few hours in South Africa before flying to our last port of call for this amazing round the world trip, Zambia. All feeling slighting fragile from last nights exploits, we said goodbye and thank you to Leslie and Pete drove us heroically with a hangover to the airport. Apparently we had sunk 5 bottles last night and I’m sure I was responsible for 2 of them! Saying goodbye to Pete, we rushed around the airport exchanging money, checking in (which in itself took 45 mins) and only just made it to our gate on time. Stressful enough as it is, without having to comprehend such things with a hangover! Needless to say we were relieved to eventually be settled on the plane. And I was so excited and content to be heading off to Zambia- a country I called home for the first year of my life and a country so close to my family’s heart.

Durban to Jo’burg in a snapshot:

    • Weather= A baking 36 degrees in Durban, chilly in high up Lesotho, overcast in urban Job’burg
    • Food= Anything traditional- from Uphuthu (crushed corn) ate with our fingers in Zululand to a South African ‘Braai’ at the Heys
    • Drink= Hedd’s special Zulu juice (yuk!)
    • Real life moment= spending the day in Zululand with Jason and the Ncibilika family
    • Good to see before its infrastructure is improved and hefty tourism changes it= Lesotho
    • Number of embarrassing stories gleaned from Pete Hey about my Dad= None that, scarily, I didn’t already know!

Hedd’s words of wisdom:

In Durban we got a taste of modern Zulu life, away from the costumes and all the fanfare that other tours offer. We saw how they lived today, we ate with them and I even purchased some traditional medicine for my back! It was horrible, looked like mud and it didn’t work. But it didn’t do me any harm, probably gave me a thorough detox!! Finally in Jo’burg we got to visit the Apartheid museum which is a must for anyone visiting South Africa. You will know from our Cape Town blog that I hated the whole Robben Island experience as it was rushed, touristy and not very informative. Visiting the Apartheid museum was the opposite, so much information, presented in so many different ways, we spend 2.5 hours walking around, but you would have needed double that time to read and watch everything. For us it was the perfect way to end our trip in South Africa as we finally got to know the whole story of apartheid, how it impacted on everyday life and how it came to an end.


Sydney- The Wedding and Other Adventures


Always love a good wedding! 

Our first afternoon in Sydney started in the pub around the corner from Lucy’s flat in the area of Balmain (North West of the Harbour Bridge). Lucy is a Royals girl and has been living and working over in Sydney for 2 years and kindly was putting us up for 2 nights, so we were in the pub waiting for her to get back from work. 2 glasses of wine later and she was home and after a merry catch up over another couple of bottles of wine we all stumbled into our respective beds wondering where the evening had gone!

Oh my goodness did we feel delicate the next morning. I saw Lucy off at 7am as she had a rowing race to get to (needless to say she wasn’t feeling quite up for it!) and I eventually managed to coax Hedd out of bed to start getting ready for Ian and Teresa’s Wedding. Ian and Teresa are Royal Chester Rowing friends again. Ian was the Boat Club Captain when I first joined RCRC and Teresa his long-term Aussie partner. They both did the Caledonian Crossing Challenge last year, which saw us all row across Scotland through the canals and lochs, and thats where they met Hedd and we discovered that perhaps our paths could cross in Sydney over their special day. And so it came about- an invite to a wedding in Sydney for 2 backpackers! At 10am we began our mission to Narrabean (North of Sydney, up the coast) which saw us catch a bus to Circular Quay, then a ferry across to Manley and then another bus to Rowland Reserve, Narrabean. In all it took us 3 hours! We were one of the first to the large catamaran where the floating ceremony was to take place and, as it began to shower, was ushered onto the boat by the celebrant called Mary to get out of the rain. At 13.30 the coach with the guests staying in Narrabean arrived along with the Grooms Party. So a bit about the Grooms Party outfits- they were in beige deck shoes, blue Chino’s, beige/off white linen shirts and then a beige and thin blue stripped linen blazer. Very nice and wouldn’t have looked out-of-place in the Stewards enclosure at Henley Regatta! I soon spotted Laura, Andy and Steve- the other RCRC guests and rushed out to greet them. It was so lovely but equally so bizarre to see them , at a wedding, on the other side of the world, after 5 months of not seeing them every week! We managed to catch up on news before heading onto the boat for the arrival of the bridal party. The bridal party arrived in a blue and cream stretched VW camper van. Oh my goodness it was too cool for school! And Teresa looked absolutely stunning in an off white satin halterneck dress with fitted body and full chiffon skirt, with a delicate lace bolero. Her hair was big and pinned back with dramatic eye makeup and daring red lipstick. The flowers were devine- pastel blue pansies and cream roses. I would say the theme was 1950’s chic vintage drama, and the whole thing was gorgeous! With everyone on board we set sail to a pretty cove to moor up and start the wedding ceremony. There was a string quartet and they played as Teresa and her 2 grown up daughters, the bridesmaids, walked down the aisle. They both looked so happy and in love. They said beautiful vows- not the traditional religious one. There was a line about “my arms being your home”  and such like- lovely! Then Emma, Ian’s daughter, read a poem and then Ian read a tear jerking reading about Teresa being the best of him. Then it was the giving of rings, the kiss and the couple signed the register to the band playing ‘All you Need is Love’. All in all a great, down to earth, personal ceremony. There were nibbles and drinks at the free bar as the photographer organised us all into the various groups for the photos. We braved the top deck for those as the showers had died down. And then we set sail for the marina and during the journey we had the speeches- Erin, chief bridesmaid and Teresa’s oldest daughter; Steve, best man and my ‘Chester Dad’ from RCRC; and Ian, groom saying his thanks. We got back to the marina around 4pm and all had a group shot outside the boat before the whole wedding party got whisked off in the stretched VW camper for more official photos. All us guests got back on the bus and got dropped off at the bar just down the road from the evening reception which was to start at 6pm. After being so careful with my dress the whole day, the destruction of the dress began as the velcro from my rain jacket pulled and puckered the chiffon over-layer of my skirt on the bus- oh dear, at least it survived the ceremony! At 6pm we managed to blag ourselves a ride in the VW camper limo to the evening reception as it had started to pour down with rain. Plus it was too good an opportunity to miss- very very cool wedding transportation! Then we were at Narrabean Surf Club enjoying yet another free bar! Steve, bless him, had brought the Royals flag with him from Chester and had put it up in the venue, so when Lucy had arrived all us Royals had a picture underneath it with the bride and groom. And the night continued with many more glasses of champagne, more yummy finger food and dancing to the live band. Hedd made the mistake of switching to the red wine and soon got the nickname ‘Disaster Boy’ as he fell asleep in a chair as the night came to an end! Lucy very kindly saw that we all arrived back to her flat safe and sound at the end of a great day.

04.03.12 will only be known to us, Hedd especially, as the day after the night before! I joined Lucy on the sofa with copious cups of tea and movies from 10am. Hedd didn’t rise from the horizontal position until 3pm! We said our goodbyes to Lucy and ventured out once more to navigate ourselves to Narrabean where we were staying with the rest of the royals gang for the rest of our time in Australia. This time though we didn’t bother with the ferry and just 2 uncomfortable bus journeys later (in our hung over state) we arrived at Ian and Teresa’s apartment right on Narrabean Beach. It was an absolutely stunning spot and we couldn’t quite believe our luck as we dumped our rucksacks in our room stepping out on our personal balcony overlooking the ocean! BBQ for dinner and plenty of reminiscing over the events of yesterday and Royals banter about Hedd and his antics with the red wine! Being apart of the Royals extended family for nearly 2 years, he was used to such ribbing! We slumped into bed at 11.30pm still feeling delicate but looking forward to our day of sailing the next morning.

We woke up to the sound of the ocean, a mere 50 meters from us. Such a gorgeous way to wake up. After showering, breakfast and putting our sea legs on, we all drove to Church Point Marina for our day of sailing on Ian and Teresa’s yacht. Debbie- another Royals lady had just flown into Sydney that morning and met us straight from the airport at the marina too for the day sailing! Very impressive stamina! So our boat was called Wind Maiden- 40 ft, 3 cabin boat, worth $225,000, and Ian and Teresa were trusting us lot to sail it! We got loaded up with drinks, food and bodies and then pushed off from the marina. My first job was to collect in the buoys and then I was on the head sail port side windlass with Debbie, pulling in or letting out as we tacked and jibed our way out and around the estuary. The weather was stunning; clear blue skies, warm and sunny. Almost a shame that the weather didn’t come a day earlier for Ian and Teresa’s wedding but Teresa didn’t mind as she said she would have been too hot in her dress else. Where we were sailing was also beautiful- pretty little bays, high top hills and we even passed the beach and little town that is used to film Home & Away! Hedd got a go at steering and, after almost tipping us all in by over-steering on the jibs, got the hand of it and quite fancied himself as a skipper! By the time we had reached Refuge Bay- our lunch stop- my arms felt like they had had a good workout. We enjoyed a lovely meat and salad lunch, washed down of course with a beer. After a while relaxing on the boat we all got our swimmers on, jumped off the boat and swam to the beach at Refuge Bay. There was a waterfall at the beach and we all enjoyed a neck and back massage as the water thundered on top of us as we stood underneath it. It was then time to swim back to the boat and set sail back towards the marina. None of us had any concept of time and we were surprised that it was as late as 4.30pm when we got back to Church Point. We dropped Hedd and Debbie off at this point as Hedd’s back was feeling tender and Debbie was just exhausted from her flight, and took on board 3 other crew members who actually knew how to sail. Which was a really good thing as now we were going to take part in a race, Ian as skipper and Andy, Teresa and I crewing along with the 3 experts. I was on the port side head sail windlass again with Andy this time and Teresa was on the main sail. It was a handicapped race with different categories going off at different times with the intention that we would all finish together (mayhem!). There were 25 boats in our category but over 100 boats in total taking part, which made for a fab sight as we all set sail with the sun slowly setting. Our race began at 5.30pm and Ian did really well steering us into good wind giving us an ace start. At the start and around the 2 markers we had to go around were the most exciting parts as all the boats bunch together and jostle for the best position. It was funny how some sections of the race could be slow-paced and calm as the wind drops and then the very next minute be so rapid and frantic as we get a gust and try to go the most with it. Very exciting and definitely wet my appetite for getting into sailing much more when I get home. The whole event lasted about 2 hours which went by in a blink of an eye, and we got back to the flat after stowing the boat after 8pm. BBQ again for dinner and we all headed to bed happily tired after a full and jammed packed day of sailing.

I couldn’t quite believe it when my alarm went off at 5.15am the next day. But it was indeed time for me to get up and get ready for my early morning outing with Mosman Rowing Club. All rowing occurs super early in Sydney as that is when the weather is coolest and also so people can row before work. So that’s where I found myself, in a car with Ian, Debbie and Andy at 5.30am off to Spit Point for an outing on the flooded river bed there. We decided to go out in a quad and Ian put me at stroke with the responsibility of setting the rhythm and steering! Needless to say I had a furrowed brow come the end after all the concentration. We were on the water by 6.15am with lights on our boat to guide the way as it was still dark. We sculled to Sugarloaf Bay on the still lake like water watching the sun come up as we rowed, enjoyed the views of the limestone rock sides and mangrove forests, and then rowed back to the club. We were all finished, boated packed away and ready for a cuppa at the cafe across the road by 7.45am! By the time we were back at the flat at 8.15am, it felt like I’d already been up and active for half a day…a very efficient workout and a super experience! After a bit of Africa travel planning, Hedd and I ventured out into Sydney city on the bus to do some sightseeing. We wandered down to Circular Quay and along to the area called The Rocks where we were afforded with a great view of both the Harbour Bridge and Sydney Opera House. We sat on a bench admiring the view as we ate our homemade sandwiches. There was an absolutely ginormous cruise ship too in the harbour and we both reflected how terrifying it must have been on that Italian cruise liner that sunk last month. After lunch we strolled back around the harbour to the Opera House and booked ourselves onto the 1pm $35 Sydney Opera House Tour which was a 90 minute tour inside the building and around the theatres. Our guide was really knowledgable, explaining the architecture of the building and all about the acoustics. We saw inside the 2 drama theatres and also 1 of the 2 big Halls. Not the Opera Hall though, the Concert Hall; I think we would have had to have been on the $100 tour to see inside the Opera Theatre! As we were in the Concert Hall, Sydney Symphony Orchestra were rehearsing so we got to stand and listen to them which was a big bonus. They sounded wonderful. We also got to go out onto one of the Opera House’s Balconies which had a stunning view of the Harbour Bridge. The tour ended with a film all about the Opera House’s history and construction which was super interesting…. The Opera House design was selected in a global competition. Many of the designs were boring boxes but this one guy- Jørn Utzon- from Denmark submitted an extremely rough pencil stretch of a building of waves. His design was dismissed originally. But one member of the judging panel was late in arriving and insisted on reviewing all the previously dismissed designs. On seeing Utzon’s sketch he proclaimed him the winner. However that original build time of 3 years and 9 million budget was a complete under-estimate and many more years and millions later and a change of Australian government resulted in Utzon being squeezed out of the project before its completion. Utzon never actually visited the Opera House, his life’s work and crowing accomplishment, after it was finished. Very sad story. The Sydney Opera House is the 2nd most globally recognised image after the MacDonald’s Golden Arches, so Utzon achieved his original design brief of creating an iconic building for Australia. After the tour we grabbed a cold drink and sat on the Opera House promenade enjoying the sunshine and the view. We met up with Lucy and Steve late afternoon to have a goodbye drink and thank Lucy again for putting us up, and then Steve, Hedd and I took the 50 minute bus back to Narrabean together. We got back at 7pm just in time to freshen up and go for a ‘last supper’ as a gang of royals before we all flew off to our various different locations the next day. We were sharing an airport taxi with Laura and Sophie, who were going off to NZ, early the next morning so we said goodbye and a massive thank you to Ian and Teresa that evening. By the time we had packed and tidied up it was midnight and we crashed into bed trying not to think about the fact that we had to be up just 5 hours later!

6am pick up, 1 1/2 hour journey and $74 dollars lighter we all arrived at Sydney airport international departures. We said our goodbyes to Laura and Sophie and gave them some last-minute tips on NZ, before checking in for our flight to Cape Town and the start of our final leg of the trip. I couldn’t believe we were at our last continent already but any sadness was soon replaced by excitement at the prospect of visiting my favourite place, Africa, once again.

 Sydney in a snapshot:

  • Weather= Rain on the big day, but sunshine on the whole
  • Food= Yummy food in miniature at the wedding and a lot of BBQs!
  • Drink= Champagne Bellini’s and too much red wine for Hedd!
  • Damage caused by the Royals reunion= Surprisingly none
  • Favourite Day= Hard to pick, the wedding and the day of sailing were equally superb

Hedd’s (not so wise) words of wisdom!:

At every wedding there has to be someone who get’s a bit over excited, drinks too much and makes a bit of a fool of themselves. It’s almost a certainty. Unfortunately, at Ian and Theresa’s wedding that was me. A combination of drinking all day, a free bar (having been on such a strict budget for over 4 months) and some not so wise words when referring to the Shiraz provided at the free bar. I shall certainly never profess that I can “drink this stuff all night” ever again. That being said, before I got too drunk and fell asleep I had a wonderful time at what was the most laid back and fun wedding I have ever attended. The ceremony, on a boat was a first for me and was such a beautiful setting and very fitting for the happy couple. I want to say congratulations to Ian and Theresa, to wish them all the best for the future, to thank them for their hospitality and to promise that next time we meet, I shall stay away from the red wine!!

Our Last Days in South America- Vina del Mar and Santiago


The last pisco sours have been had; good-bye South America…

So the bus from San Pedro to Vina del Mar was our longest yet- 23 hours! We got on at San Pedro at 1pm and got off 12.30pm the next day. We went ‘cama’ (wider, more comfy seats) so it wasn’t as brutal as it sounds. Plus I got my second Christmas build up surprise from Hedd- the ‘Love Actually’ film on the iPod. So I got to watch that on the way which made me feel very Christmasy! However I had a nasty surprise when I collected my bag from the storage part of the bus. It was slightly damp and smelt like urine! Absolutely disgusting and definitely an example of the darker underside backpacking. Luckily the backpack cover bag that my backpack was in got the worst of it. Needless to say, the first thing I did when I got to our hostel was to wash the cover bag and empty my backpack and wash down the outside, then bleach dry it in the sun! Yuk yuk yuk! The hostel we stayed in was called ‘Little Castle’ and was in the Cerro Castillo area of the seaside city, up on the headland so we had a good view over the city centre. The hostel reminded me of university hall crossed with a rickety old London flat! Felt really comfortable and the owner Patricio was lovely. So Vina del Mar is where the city folk from Santiago come on holiday. The city wraps itself between 2 headlands and has a lovely beach and promenade. So the first afternoon we were there we of course headed to the beach. We strolled along the promenade lined with little stalls selling bits and bobs and settled ourselves on the very clean sandy beach to watch the waves. Now these waves were huge and broke and swelled really close into shore. Surfers actually stood on the sand and when they wanted to ride the wave, ran into the sea and jumped on their boards on the way; the waves were that close. We watched the sun go down whilst eating delicious ice cream on the sea front terrace of ‘Enjoy del Mar’ restaurant….very nice.

Tuesday was our first and only full day in Vina del Mar and we started off early walking along the main drag called Valpariso Street, to the main place- Plaza Jose Francisco Vergara, which had lots of native plants and trees planted within it. We then headed to Museo de Arqueologia e Historia Francisco Fonck which for 2000 pesos we got to browse exhibitions on Chilean early history and about Easter Island. And it was in English and Spanish so we could read all the information boards and know what we were looking at! The Easter Island exhibition was the best, and it was interesting to read that it is still a mystery how the Rapa Nui people got to the island. There has been no remains found of early man on the island so that means man must have sailed there later on. Chileans dismiss that Rapa Nui people sailed over from Indonesians and instead advocate that it was people from Northern Chile that sailed the un-navigational seas to the Island. However the Indonesians is the most likely! I also didn’t know that the infamous Easter Island stone men- Moari’s- started off really small but grew in size t0 22 meters tall as the Rapa Nui elders tried to hold on to their spiritual traditions in the face of greater dilution with more visitors coming to the island from Europe and the South American continent, carving the Moari’s larger and larger (as you can see in the pic). After the museum we checked out the local market which is in the now dried up river bed which ‘flows’ through the city. We picked up some über inexpensive beach towels in prep for our 10 days on the beach in Fiji…mine is extremely grown up with multiple colourful cartoon zoo animals on it, hmmm! After a siesta, we made vegetable fajitas for dinner and then headed to the beach again for sun set. Our bus to Santiago on Wednesday didn’t go until 1pm, so in the morning we took a last stroll along the promenade going from headland to headland. And on the way we found a free outdoor gym, with a rowing machine! So I got a bit of training in whilst admiring the seaside view…Duncan (my coach in Chester) will be proud!

So we made it to Santiago okay after only a 1hr 1/2 bus ride, which made a very welcome change from our 23 hour bus ride only a few days previous! We caught a taxi (5,000 pesos, but could get one for around 3,000 if you walked a bit away from the bus terminal) to our Hostel called Princess Insolenta in the Brazil district of the city. Brazil is a bohemian, studenty area of the city and has lots of colonial type buildings. Quite pretty in fact. Our hostel is super funky and very music centred with travellers strumming their guitars in the shared courtyard…gave the place a really nice atmosphere. We (well me mainly!) had collected a few presents and souvenirs on our 2 months around South America which were making our backpacks bulge, so we headed to the post office to send a few parcels home. The post office was packed! Everyone doing their last-minute Christmas card sending and there was a band outside playing Christmas tunes, which eased the long wait in the que. Luckily we were eventually served by a very efficient yet patient women who kindly guided us through the various custom forms and coped with our sheer lack of Spanish! Fingers crossed the parcels will make their way to their recipients in one piece sometime in 2012! We picked up some ingredients on the 40 minute walk back to our hostel and I rustled us up a good old spag bol for tea, with a glass or 2 of vino blanco to help with the cooking! Yesterday was our only full day in Santiago, but my gosh did we make the most of it! It was an early-ish start to get to the centre of Santiago (30 minute walk) on time for the start of a free walking tour with the ‘Spicy Chile’ company at 10am. The tour started at the Palacio de la Moneda which is Chile’s equivalent to the White House as it is where the President lives/works. We got there in time for the changing of the guards. This is a very elaborate affair which happens every other day. A whole heap of soldiers in their event uniform march across Avenue Libertador towards the Palace and there are soldiers on horseback in front and then a full army brass band behind. When they stopped at the back yard of the Palace (this was all open-no high gates or anything) the band then played Jingle Bells! So so Christmasy, it was lovely! Our tour guide was called Dani, and she was in her final term of studying Acting at uni. She knew her stuff and could answer all our questions. So a bit about Chile’s (scarily) recent history. In the 70’s a well-loved Communist President called Salvador Allende Crossens was overthrown by the leader of the army called General Augusto Pinochet who ran the country as a Dictatorship. For around 18 years the country was under this dictator and during this time human rights were squashed, there were frequent tortures and lots of people ‘disappeared’. The authorities are still finding the mass graves now- not nice. In 1989 the people revolted and the dictator killed himself. The people of Chile are politically passionate as a result and as Dani explained the history to us in front of the army display in the Palace’s back yard 2 local men pointed at the army and shouted at us “killers of the people”. In the 1990’s Thursdays were when the weekly protests took place. This isn’t so much the case now, but when we did see a protest on our walking tour when we stopped for a cuppa. It was a workers protest of factory staff of big multinationals such as Adidas and Loreal, protesting against the low minimum wage (200,000 pesos a month) and the big gap between those on the lowest and those on the highest wages in the company. Fair play I say, I wouldn’t be able to live on £250 a month!

From La Moneda Palace we walked towards Plaza de Armas and popped into the big catholic cathedral there. It was very ornate inside without being Gordy, and they had a fab nativity scene on display too which the photo opposite shows. Then it was onto the Parque Forestal area which is like Santiago’s equivalent of Central Park in New York. Within Parque Forestal we passed the Museo Bellas Artes which is a modern art gallery set up to help up and coming artists. The state do not subsidise art education at all in Chile. Actually the current President of Chile, Sebastian Pinera, sounds a bit of an arse as well. Dani told us that he isn’t well liked as he pledged in his election campaign that he would make public education free (even Chilean public primary/secondary schools, locals need to pay to send their children to), but instead he increased the price of schooling, out pricing many local families. He is a billionaire business man and apparently runs the country like an enterprise; i.e. just for profit.  That’s not what Government is all about. Hopefully the Chilean people will have better luck when it comes to Presidents next time round! We then made our way further east to Plaza Italia where there is a high-rise building which looks like an old mobile phone with an antennae and a big battery pack. It used to be the headquarters to Telefonics, the equivalent of BT in the UK…that’s taking corporate branding to the extreme! Then it was onto the bohemian (and posh) neighbourhoods of the city called Lastarria and Bellavista, which had lots of restaurants and cafes which spread out onto the streets- very nice. We passed Pablo Neruda’s house along the way who was a famous poet who lived in Santiago and won a Nobel Prize for literature. He loved the sea and all his homes he built to look like boats- La Chascona (his house in Santiago) is no exception.

We ended our tour at the bottom of Cerro San Cristobel which is a big hill which has a massive white Virgin Mary statue on top of it, “to protect over the city”. We took the funicular up to the top, (cost 1,800 pesos for a round ticket), to take in the view. The pic opposite is us at the top. As you can see the city is sprawling, only stopping when it hits the mountains to the South West. The virgin mary is beautiful up close, and the adjacent Chapel equally so. Plus Christmas hymns were being played out at the top which continued the Christmas theme of the day! After the funicular ride down the hill again, we had a quick-lunch, and then headed to the Santa Lucia area to visit the big artisan market there. It was also the place of choice to do a Christmas present buying dash for each other! Hedd started one end of the market, and me the other, and we met in the middle once we were done. It was really good fun hunting for pressies, at the same time as making sure we didn’t bump into each other! 30,000 pesos was the budget and I think I did pretty well with Hedd’s gifts…time will tell, hope he likes them when he opens them in 2 days time! After leaving the hostel at 9.20am we finally got back at 5.30pm. Needless to say our feet were aching and we crashed on the sofa with a cold drink! We were home just in time for my scheduled 6pm skype call home to my parents and Nan. It was my first time skyping and although I got the video call to work, I couldn’t get the headset to. So I had a visual but no sound! We ended up speaking on a mobile phone and watching each other on skype! Not quite how skype creators intended, but it was great all the same to see them all and see their lovely decorated Christmas trees. Ahh the wonders of technology…I just need to brush up on my technical ability for next time! For our last evening meal in South America we headed to a local restaurant, called Restaurant 69 on Ricardo Cumming Street, as recommended to us by our hostel owner from Vina del Mar. We had a traditional Chilean dish called Parrillada, which is essentially a simmering pot of different types of meat and sausage, served over a dish of hot coals. We got so much food for the price and as you can see Hedd struggled to finish his half of it! We had our last pisco sour too, to toast the end of the South American leg of our 5 1/2 month adventure.

So today we fly to Auckland, New Zealand. We have just chilled today, strolling around Brazil and sitting in the sun in Brazil square with an ice cream or two. I think we are good to go. We have scrubbed our hiking boots that we will be wearing on the plane. Apparently the immigration officers in New Zealand are really strict about foreign flora/fauna being brought into their country on shoes! Better to be safe than sorry! Just 1 hour until our taxi to Santiago airport arrives…can’t wait! Plus 2 days until Christmas Day, woop! Merry Christmas Eve Eve everyone!

Vina del Mar in a snapshot:

  • Weather= Warm with a lovely sea breeze
  • Food= Empanada’s and Ice cream
  • Drink= A glass of vino or two
  • Best fun had for free= Playing ‘chicken’ with the waves on the seaside (they only got me once!)


Santiago in a snapshot:

  • Weather= Scorchio! 30 degrees plus, but the buildings reflect the heat down so it feels like you are walking through a wall of heat
  • Food= Meat in the form of a Parrillada
  • Drink= Anything cold!
  • A ‘must do’ on your first day in the city= Spicy Chile’s free walking tour- you see so much of the city in one day and know all the best places to go back to.

Hedd’s words of wisdom:

So here we are, two months in South America completed. It´s been amazing, we have seen natural wonders, the remnants of ancient civilisations, incredible wildlife and met some wonderful people along the way. We have managed to do almost everything we set out to do (with the exception of the cancelled star tour) and although there is more we could have done here, I feel it´s the right time to move on and I{m looking forward to the next leg of our adventure. I am so pleased that we decided to do this, we have seen and experienced so much already and are not even half way through our trip. So as we sign off from South America and head to Auckland for our Christmas Day at the Airport, let me wish you all a “Nadolig Llawen”, “Feliz Navidad” or a “Merry Christmas”. See you in 2012…



A weekend of lasts and leaving do’s


Well, what a weekend!

It was kicked off with a manic last morning at work where I was hampered by computer melt down, only sending my last piece of work off to my line manager 4 minutes before my leaving do lunch! Nothing like living on the edge! But I got there and enjoyed a lovely lunch at On The Hill restaurant with my Caledfryn girls from work. Much wine was had!

So that was my first last and leaving do…last day at work at Denbighshire County Council and leaving do with colleagues in Ruthin. Feels strange not to be an employee but no freak out moments just yet I fear that might come on the flight when all this going travelling, leaving job malarky really sinks in…I’ll let you know in 6 days time!

Saturday morning brought the second last…my last rowing outing with Royal Chester Rowing Club for this year. Going to very much miss the club and my Royals girls. I think i will set myself a challenge to go rowing at least once in one of the places I will visit on my travels. So after some good girlie banter at Cecil (fondly nicknamed old house in Chester) with Sarah and Ang (girls in the green and black dresses in the pic above) we got ready for my second leaving do of the weekend with the Royals bunch. The pic above is of us girls after a few cocktails that evening…not too rosey cheeked!

Needless to say Sunday was a rest and recovery day after 2 nights on the sauce…god bless x factor on a hangover!

Can’t believe its less than a week before we fly…best get packing!