Every cloud has a silver lining

As my previous blog post told you, our next move was to travel four hours south to Margaret River, a huge grape growing and winery region, to find harvest jobs for the next few months. Well, all did not go to plan.

Whilst in Rockingham, we decided to take our beloved Speedy to the garage for a routine service, seeing as the previous owner hadn’t provided us with any service history (I know, I know – alarm bells – but Rob had test driven her and checked the obvious things, and there were seemingly no problems) and we wanted to make sure she was fighting fit for the road trip ahead. We took her to the Auto Masters garage, as it was highly rated online and also part of a chain of stores across Australia, which made us feel safer as neither of us had particularly extensive car knowledge.

Speedy was looked over by the team and her diagnostics came back. We’d expected to pay a couple of hundred dollars to get everything sorted, but, to our dismay, the repairs to get her to a safe standard came to $2,000 (about £1,200). She needed a whole new timing belt kit, water flushing and a new water pump, engine degreasing, rear cylinders replacing, oil leaks looking at… the list went on. We checked with my dad who said for all the things wrong with her, it seemed a fair price. We decided to just bite the bullet and go for it. We loved Speedy, she was our home for at least the next year and we wanted to be safe. Plus, we’d have proof of all repairs so this would benefit us when we sold her on.

Whilst Speedy was in the van hospital, we amused ourselves by taking a short ferry over to Penguin Island. It’s a beautiful little nature reserve that is home to the smallest breed of penguins in the world, and you can snorkel, swim and picnic there. We only saw one penguin as they are mainly out feeding in the day, however the island itself is gorgeous so it was an afternoon well spent.

The repair work had taken all day, but was finished in time for the day’s end so we could drive Speedy away and park by the coast to sleep. She was driving like a dream! We enjoyed a leisurely evening and, the next morning, woke up and swam in the ocean. We didn’t foresee any more issues (apart from the issue of me losing my purse earlier that day – great). However, when I tried to start the engine, Speedy wasn’t doing a thing. CRAP. We thought we’d run out of petrol – never mind, we were across the road from a petrol station! A kind man called Jim helped us push Speedy over the busy road so we could fill her up. She still wouldn’t start. Ha! It must be a flat battery from charging my phone overnight. We attempted jump starting Speedy with the help of a sweet young couple. There was no response from our beautiful van. By this point, I had tears in my eyes and Rob was raking his hands through his hair, looking stressed. We felt helpless, like Speedy was nothing but a money pit and buying her was a big mistake. We had to be towed back to Auto Masters so they could have another look at her.

Craig, the owner of the Rockingham Auto Masters branch, is one of those genuine diamonds you rarely meet in life, but when you do, you feel very lucky to have done so. Whilst at work, he’s very matter of fact and extremely busy, there’s never a dull moment at the shop. Rob and I felt that the front desk should be filmed fly-on-the-wall style and made into a sitcom. He and front-of-house lady Rosemary are always griping at each other hilariously but keep the busy days ticking over with fine precision. Some days, you’ll even look over the counter and see his gorgeous little dog, Fraser, lying serenely on his bed, just happy to be with Craig. At the end of the day, Rob and I went back there to hear the damage. Craig looked a little white in the face as he told us the new timing belt kit they’d fitted the previous day had failed, and this in turn had damaged Speedy’s cylinder heads so these would all need to be replaced. He said there was more chance of us winning the lottery than a brand new part like that failing – so I suppose we were just unfortunate. It was no one’s fault, it was the part. He was very nice, saying it would all be paid for through the company’s insurance and the damage would be rectified, but we couldn’t help wondering what would happen to us in the meantime without our little travelling home?

Craig seemed to see this in our worried expressions, so off the cuff he offered for us to stay at his family-owned luxury hotel just outside of Rockingham, ‘Peel Manor’, for the night until we could make a new plan, as he felt responsible for the situation. This amazing offer was gratefully accepted, so we quickly packed our bags with what we thought we’d need and jumped into Craig’s 4×4! Peel Manor did not disappoint. A beautiful stone house set in rolling green grounds, immaculately kept, including a lake with ducks and its own ancient rock garden, similar to The Pinnacles mentioned in my last post. It’s mainly used as as wedding venue and you can definitely see why. Craig’s elderly mother lives there and keeps the place ticking along, and we had a lovely evening having food and drinks and meeting her as well as Craig’s 14 year old son, Callum.

Peel Manor lake

We had a glorious night’s sleep in a big comfy bed, and got an Uber back to Craig’s shop in the morning. Craig said after speaking to the mechanics, they expected the work to take a full week or more. He said he trusted us and liked our company, so we were welcome to stay at his house in Perth for a few days if we wanted to! Believe me when I say, he’s nothing but a kind-hearted soul. Rob and I spent a wonderful time at his house, enjoying the swimming pool, going out for drinks and dinner, chilling out with Callum (and Fraser the dog of course), watching movies, meeting his friends (big love to Ana-Maria), going to the beach, visiting wineries and breweries for wine and beer tasting – making a friend for life and memories we will cherish forever! There are some people in life you just connect with, and Craig quickly became like family. He did a lot for us and we will always be grateful. As some of you may or may not know, my sister has an illustration business – Arthouse Illustrations – and is insanely talented. She does bespoke drawings and we commissioned her to do a drawing for Craig as a thank you gift, which he loved!

Friends for life

The face that launched a thousand ships

We didn’t want to get on Craig’s nerves or outstay our welcome, so after a few days we headed back to the Witch’s Hat hostel. Auto Masters’ insurance would cover the costs so we would get the money back. People were certainly surprised to see us back so soon, after our “bye guys, we’re gonna miss you, we’re off to start our road trip down south now!!” goodbyes from last time. In total, we’d made it 50km south of Perth… We spent time perfecting our CVs and hanging around, trying not to spend too much money.

Rob is a bit of a golf fanatic and our friend Preston from the hostel worked at a golf pro shop in Perth. Rob was dying to venture onto the course with him but didn’t want to impose. One day, Victoria (his girlfriend and also our good friend) just said “Preston, why don’t you play golf with the poor guy?!” so we, naturally, went to buy some booze and caught the bus to the course. We had so much fun – the boys playing whilst sharing a bottle of red, and me and Victoria thrashing the golf buggy around the course, our driving becoming more erratic with every sip of cider.

Who knew a day on a golf course could be fun?

Something we wanted to do which we’d missed last time we were in Perth was visit Rottnest Island, so we booked tickets for a ferry there from Fremantle. We went for the ‘ferry and bike hire’ combination so we could cycle around the island. We made the error of only carrying 500ml of water each, assuming there would be water fill up stations around the island. It’s hot…people are cycling…it makes sense, right? Alas, there were none. We cycled 23km on 500ml of water each, stopping briefly to eat lunch and strip all our clothes off to dive into the sea and cool down. That said, the cycle was lots of fun, the beaches around the island were stunning, and we made friends with Quentin the Quokka, who I suspect wanted my fries more than my friendship.

Quokkas are relatives of kangaroos & wombats

And here are a kangaroo & a wombat

The day finally came (20th January) when we could pick up Speedy again! We checked out of the hostel (thanks for another great stay everyone) and got the train to Rockingham. I went to the bus depot first as my previously lost purse had been found on a bus and handed in! We were so excited to have our independence again. Free of steep hostel bills and free of public transport… however it was sad knowing we would soon be leaving Craig behind as we’d struck up such a great friendship. That night we met Craig after work and drove to Peel Manor as we were staying there and going out for food and drinks with his friends Peter and Theresa. We had a lovely night and some great conversation. Theresa was from Africa so it was very interesting learning about her upbringing and culture, and it turned out Peter was from Portsmouth of all places (the same city Rob is from for those of you who don’t know)! It really is a small world.

This post is titled “Every cloud has a silver lining” because one of the main lessons travelling has taught me is that there’s always a light if you’re willing to look for it. Speedy’s costly issues, not being able to get on the road to Margaret River as soon as we would have liked, the initial repairs failing, these all seem like negative things. However, if these hadn’t have happened we wouldn’t have met Craig or his family and friends, spent time at Peel Manor, or visited parts of Perth we had previously missed. I wouldn’t have discovered that I actually do enjoy some wines (something that shocked me more than anyone else), and we wouldn’t have spent a fabulous afternoon playing golf with our friends when we went back to the hostel. We made some of our best memories of Perth that week! If you keep a positive mental attitude and your mind and heart open, even the bad things can lead to good.

A huge thank you to Craig for welcoming us into his life! We had a fantastic time. See you again when we’re back in Perth.

Until next time…

Ana x

The real start of our adventure: Perth, Western Australia

We’d finally made it. The place I’d never dared to believe I’d actually walk the ground of. The place I’d dreamed of exploring since I was a 12-year-old avid Home & Away fan: beautiful, captivating, exciting, scorching, Australia.

We touched down on our 5 hour flight from Bali at around 5:30pm on 20th December. A blanket of heat enveloped us as we disembarked the plane, even at that time of the day. To say Perth had the most glorious and clear blue sky I’ve ever seen would be an understatement. We were almost drunk with elation at the realisation of being somewhere so magical. It was extremely simple and cheap to get a bus from outside the airport terminal to Perth’s Central Business District (referred to as the ‘CBD’, this is the centre of the city from which everything spans out). From there we walked the 2-ish kilometres to our hostel where we were booked in for the next 9 nights – quite the arduous task with our massive backpacks on in the searing sunshine, but a welcome bit of exercise after sitting on a plane all day.

The Witch’s Hat hostel was so much more than expected. We were initially nervous: would we meet nice people? Would anyone speak to us because we’re a couple (this was a problem for us on our Asia trip)? It was Rob’s first time in a hostel and I hadn’t stayed in one in years. Fortunately, we were worrying unnecessarily. The people – residents and staff alike – were so warm and friendly and our room was clean and bright. Hostel living in Australia isn’t cheap – a bed in a dorm will set you back around $25- $35 per night and a double room like ours will set you back around $70-$80 per night, but we wanted to ease ourselves in gently and, being a couple, we do like our own space sometimes.

The Witch’s Hat crew on New Year’s Eve!

We had a lot of fun exploring Perth city each day. We tried to get up and out early, before the sun became unbearable, but got sucked into the hostel mentality of drinking too much in the evenings and sleeping in late! Although not the most healthy lifestyle, we have no regrets as it was so much fun!

On our first day we decided to explore the district of Northbridge, where the hostel was situated. Walking the streets still felt surreal. Everywhere in Perth is so clean and well-maintained. It sort of feels like a ghost town when you’re walking around as you can walk street upon street and not glimpse another soul. At first it felt strange, zombie-apocalypse-like, but then we realised there just aren’t as many people in Perth as there would be in a city of its size back home (the population of Perth and Greater Perth was 2.2 million as of 2016 and it’s area is 2,080 square miles. Compare that to London which is 607 square miles and has a population of 8.63 million. Crazy? Yes). This also helps with how clean public areas are – there just aren’t as many people around to spoil things. Northbridge seemed like a very cool mini-town. It had everything we – as young tourists – needed; plenty of restaurants, bars, pubs, a few clubs, shops. The general vibe is quite backpacker-oriented however in the pubs you’ll see people in all times of life, and there’s a lot of peaceful residential areas behind the main lively streets so it’s definitely not just for young people.

When the streets look like they do in your dreams, you’ve just gotta boogie

Kings Park is a must-see for anyone visiting Perth. It’s a sprawling public park with beautiful Botanical Gardens and views over the whole city. We enjoyed our time there, however the day was cut short after I’d had too much sun and not enough suncream and my legs started blistering! We went again a few days later with Nico and Aléna, a German couple we met at the hostel who we really clicked with, and could enjoy it much more. We had a picnic and relished the views. There is a monument in the centre of the park commemorating the lives of Australians lost at war. I looked around the whole thing and, in the last corner, I found my surname! I don’t know if it’s definitely an ancestor of mine but a girl can dream of the possibilities, right? (I’m still convinced I have an ancestor who was the Governor of Hong Kong in the 19th century).

A view from Kings Park

We Bowrings are everywhere 👀

One afternoon, we went to Cottesloe Beach. We had to get a train and a bus for this, but it was worth it. The weather was sunny but windy, so we decided not to swim but to enjoy a walk along the sand admiring the surfers’ skills. There is a rocky pier you can walk out on, and if you stare straight ahead you feel as though you’re really far out to sea, with spray from the waves splashing your face and the wind almost knocking you over.
Another major item on our to-do list whilst staying at the hostel was to find and buy a van. Our goal before leaving home was to ensure we got a van promptly when we arrived in Australia, as this avoids high accommodation bills in every new place we go, and means we have freedom to drive wherever we want, whenever we want. One of our dreams is to drive across the Nullabor Plain, commonly known as the longest stretch of straight road on the planet (about 1,040 miles). It’s a nerve-wracking trip to do – and one heck of an adventure – mainly because it’s a long stretch of dusty desert where the only life you see are wild kangaroos and the occasional service station every 200km or so. That’s why we needed to ensure we chose the right vehicle. Also, having a home on wheels is just so cool! We kept an eye on Gumtree Australia. There were lots of campers, but none really seemed perfect, mainly because they were too old or had seriously high mileage, meaning they might not last the stretch. We finally saw one that looked promising and arranged a viewing with the owner, Marcos, an Argentinian guy whose plans had changed and was now staying put in Perth with his girlfriend so no longer required his van. When we saw and drove Speedy for the first time, we fell in love with her. She was a 2007 Mitsubishi Express van with a giant Mexican man emblazoned on both sides. She was already kitted out with storage, a kitchen with a sink, and seats and a table that turned into a bed. The air-con worked a treat, she had a dual battery so we could still charge things when the engine was off and there was an AUX lead to plug in our tunes. Rob took her for a test drive and she drove like a dream. A dream that took a little getting used to, yes, but still a dream. We were sold! We arranged the money transfer and were frustrated to find out that due to the Christmas period it would take a whole week to reach him, so all we could do was wait and be patient! So waited we did and on 29th December we finally got to go and pick her up!

Our beautiful girl!

It was then time to leave the Witch’s Hat. We’d spent a brilliant 9 days there, had the most fabulous Christmas day with a delicious dinner cooked by the manager Julia and her boyfriend Mark (they totally didn’t have to do that for us but did it anyway with huge smiles on their faces), had some fantastic nights out at Mustang (there’s no drunk quite like ‘Mustang drunk’), played countless games of cards (I must have learnt about 10 new card games from the Frenchies, so thanks for that, guys!) and overall met some extremely genuine, funny, respectful and like-minded people. We miss you all and wish you the best of luck on your journeys! Don’t be strangers.

We headed north for a few hours, not really making a plan and just seeing where we ended up. Our journey took us past The Pinnacles, a limestone formation located in Nambung National Park, so we had to stop to have a look. It was $12 entry per vehicle which we felt was quite fair. How the formations came to exist is a topic of debate, so I can’t give any definitive information, but one of the theories is that the rock formation is a product of extreme weathering of the limestone over time. Another is that the formations are due to calcified trees, hence the tall, thin shape of most of them. The third theory is that ancient plants drawing too many nutrients through the soil when alive, caused a build up of nutrients by the roots which kept on being added to over time. Whichever is true, they’re quite the sight set against their dusty desert backdrop. Our mini-trip then took us up to Jurien Bay where we camped overnight. It was $30 for the campsite and although the hot shower was much-enjoyed, it made us very determined to do everything we could not to pay for camping in future.

The Pinnacles

The large phallic rock scared Rob

We then drove back down south to Fremantle to explore the laidback seaside town we’d heard so much about, and we weren’t disappointed. On our first day there we managed to end up on the dog beach – and let me tell you, it was the best accident ever to happen. The dog beach is the most heart-filling, smile-inducing place we’ve been. Just picture it: hundreds of dogs running, barking, swimming, playing and making friends, all having the time of their lives. It’s so brilliant to watch. We met a man who told us that even though he doesn’t have a dog, he comes to the dog beach every day before work because it simply makes him happy. I genuinely think dog beaches could be used in as a counselling tool. We ‘free camped’ for 3 nights in small lay-bys near local beaches. We woke up sweating in the van and swam in the crystal clear ocean to cool off. We made omelettes for breakfast and cooked fresh seafood on our gas stove every night coupled with a few cold beers whilst watching the sunset change the sky. Our showers were the free cold showers at the end of the dog beach, and the wind was my hairdryer. I’ve never felt so alive as being on the road in this way, living day to day with no cares or real worries. It’s a medicine in itself.

Oz has sunsets like nowhere else I’ve ever been

Slightly further south again (only by a few kilometres) we found ourselves in the town of Rockingham. There are some beautiful places to free camp (illegally of course, but isn’t life about taking risks, or risking dying boring?). We were told by locals that the rangers wouldn’t mind a couple of Brits like us camping in a spot for one night, and that the ban on camping is mainly to try to stop temptation for thieves, as there is a big problem with homelessness, drugs, and apparently in correlation to this, cars being broken into around the area. Being on the West coast of Australia, the sun sets on the horizon directly in front of us, and it’s one of the most incredible wonders I’ve ever had the privilege to witness. Rockingham has some gorgeous beaches such as Safety Bay and Shoalwater Beach, both of which are infamous for kite boarding and kite surfing. I did get stung by jellyfish twice… but no harm done as they were only tiny. I suppose you haven’t travelled Australia until you’ve had some kind of animal-induced injury. At these beaches we also saw a live starfish, shoals of fish and a giant crab trundling along the bottom of the ocean!

Our next stop will be Margaret River, four hours south of Perth. We’re going to try to find some work in the area, either farming or fruit picking, so we will hopefully be eligible to apply for our second year visas! I’m not totally sure where our path will take us yet, but one thing I am sure of is: van life is definitely the life for me.
Until next time…

Ana x

Peace, love & nasi goreng

Welcome to the new-look blog! I felt it needed a change, so decided to update it with some different colours and a chameleon (it’s best viewed on a PC, so sorry to you smartphone users). The blog title is something I saw written on one of the tourist-trap t-shirts sold in their hundreds in Indonesia and I found it rather amusing. ‘Nasi goreng’ is the signature Indonesian dish, and literally translates to ‘fried rice’. It’s extremely cheap and, as backpackers, you can imagine the copious amounts we’ve consumed since being here! I don’t think I could stomach another serving of nasi goreng for at least a year.

Yogyakarta (pronounced Jog-ja-karta or simply called ‘Jogja’ for short) felt like the antithesis of Jakarta and Bandung. Yes, it’s a city and yes, it has a similar climate and some level of pollution, however, that’s really where the similarities end. The cars travel at speeds of over 10mph because traffic flows freely. The streets, whilst busy, are not overcrowded to the point you’re at a standstill. It isn’t so chest-splinteringly smoggy everywhere. People stop, sit and enjoy life, rather than everyone seeming to rush to the next thing. We stayed at a cute and simple little homestay called ViaVia Guesthouse in the Prawirotaman district (I would definitely recommend this area to anyone thinking of visiting Yogyakarta, due to its plentiful reasonably-priced restaurants, guesthouses and amenities). It was situated down a small lane not accessible by car, just off a quiet street which housed a number of eateries and bars. The guesthouse owner, Sami, was extremely friendly and helpful and the breakfast there was to die for! A different meal every day, all cooked fresh and served in the garden overlooking the swimming pool! It felt like heaven.

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ViaVia Guesthouse

Our favourite restaurant was Hani’s, a two-minute walk from our accommodation. They serve multiple delicious and healthy meals – something we were craving after the mainly greasy food we’d had to put up with previously on our trip. Soups, salads, curries, and all executed perfectly with Indonesian flair. This was the kind of food we’d been looking forward to! (I think we ate here every day we were in Jogja).

hanis-2

Lumpia (Indonesian spring rolls)

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Balinese chicken curry with all the trimmings!

Our main reason for going to Yogyakarta was to visit the famous UNESCO World Heritage Sites of Borobudur and Prambanan temples. We hired a private car for about £30 for the full day (approx. 8 hours) between us. Although on a backpacker budget this would be seen as expensive by many, we definitely felt it to be the best way as the temples are about two hours away from each other and also two hours or so out of the city. You also need to factor in costs for entry to the temples, which isn’t cheap. There are group tours that go daily also, but we found the cost of them were more expensive than having our own private car, and this way we could stop for loo/food breaks whenever we needed to. If anyone thinking of doing this wants the details of our driver (Peetayong) who was very helpful and provided a reliable and timely service (and hotel pick-up and drop-off), please ask!

Borobudur is the largest Buddhist structure in the world. It was built in the 9th century and includes 504 individual Buddha statues and 2,672 raised hand-carved panels covering the walls of the platforms all the way around which tell the story of Buddha’s life, from his mother’s initial dream of a white elephant entering her womb with a lotus flower, to him reaching enlightenment. It’s truly a spectacular sight, and reminded me of the ancient 12th century Angkor Wat in Cambodia. I mentioned this to our guide and he advised me he wouldn’t be surprised if Angkor Wat was actually inspired by Borobudur.

Candi (pronounced ‘chand-ee’ and meaning ‘temple’) Prambanan is another incredible complex, this time Hindu. It was also built in the 9th century by the royal family to worship in, and expanded by a number of other royals over time. It is built in dedication to the ‘Trimurti’ (trinity) of God as the Creator (Brahma), Protector (Vishnu) and Destroyer (Shiva). There are large temples for all three respective faces of God, then further temples for the vehicles those Gods used. Shiva had a bull (Nandi), Vishnu had a mythical bird (Garuda) and Brahma had a sacred swan (Hamsa). There were also temples dedicated to Ganesha (Shiva’s son who has an elephant’s head), Chandra and Surya, the gods of the moon and sun, and many more! I don’t know about you, but I’ve heard more than a few of those names before, but never really knew the meaning behind them. Learning a bit more about the religion of Hinduism was my favourite part of the day, which is why I would definitely recommend getting a guide if you decide to visit. You learn so much, which gives you a richer experience and lasting memories to take away with you.

Our next stop was Bali! We were so excited to discover this far-away tropical paradise we’d read so much about. The pristine beaches, captivating culture, and all with a luscious green jungle backdrop. Bali is known as the land of a thousand temples, and it definitely lives up to the nickname. We flew into Ngurah Rai (Denpasar) Airport (where Rob took a rather hilarious and comedic tumble on a wet floor – no harm done to him though!) and travelled the 1.5hour journey to Ubud by taxi. This cost us around £18 between us – yes, that is expensive on a supposed ‘backpacker budget’ but we could not for the life of us find any buses or other transport, and this was the cheapest fare we could haggle!

Ubud is absolutely somewhere you should visit. It houses the famous Sacred Monkey Forest which is residence to over 600 long-tailed macaques. It has hundreds of shrines and temples. You will find these on every street, lane and back-alley, surrounded by shops and homes alike. It has a shanty, laid back vibe that any backpacker would feel instantly at home in. That said, there are a lot of shops selling the same type of tat and you can definitely tell Ubud has been changed over time by tourism. Although where we were staying was lovely (Tebesaya Cottages, a little slice of paradise I’d booked as a surprise for Rob’s 24th), there is quite the degree of poverty in the town itself as well as the surrounding areas, and behind the facade of chic shopfronts and dimly-lit and decorated restaurants, the owners’ living quarters are often made from poorly-cemented brick and corrugated iron.

The day we went to the Sacred Monkey Forest was a day neither of us will forget. To be able to get to so close to actual wild monkeys was enthralling. There were so many gorgeous little baby monkeys, only weeks old, trying to navigate their way. The forest is home to the monkeys as well as a Hindu temple complex, abiding by the Hindu principle of ‘Tri Hata Karana’ which advises three ways to reach spiritual and physical well-being. The three ways are harmonious relationships between humans and humans, harmonious relationships between humans and the natural environment, and harmonious relationships between humans and God. I find it a very beautiful philosophy. The monkeys were absolutely charming and you could buy a few bananas in the forest for around £1 which make the monkeys jump on you and sit on your shoulder whilst they munch on said fruit.

We’d rented a 125cc scooter from a local man in Ubud town centre, to give us freedom to explore more than just the confines of the town that were within walking distance. A 25 minute drive from our accommodation was a breathtakingly green rice paddy called Tegalalang Rice Terrace you could walk around. It’s owned by a local family and provides income to many people in the village, whether that be the actual rice farmers or the cafe/restaurant owners whose establishments are lucky enough to overlook the paddies, therefore attracting sweaty tourists who need a cold drink after clambering through the humidity. I feel I must warn people though, on two occasions at Tegalalang we were stopped and it was suggested to us that we couldn’t pass without “making a donation towards the upkeep of the paths”. Now, the paths were merely concrete slabs placed about a foot apart – they didn’t look like much upkeep was warranted, however we politely donated a few thousand rupiahs each and moved on. I later read on TripAdvisor that this was a usual occurrence, however no one seemed to know whether these people were genuine with their story or not!

We next moved south in Bali, looking to spend some time by the beach. We stayed in Seminyak – often called the ‘upper class’ part of southern Bali – which we found to be quite different from anywhere else we’d experienced in Indonesia but not necessarily in a good way. Although having some of the nicest places to eat we’ve been to so far, South Bali (especially Kuta Beach) is much more commercialised and seems more of a ‘holiday destination’, which makes sense as it’s the place Australians seem to go on their summer holidays. The beaches are beautiful, as to be expected, but there are hundreds of peddlars walking the beaches all day every day, bothering everyone multiple times to buy their tat. I bought a shawl off a sweet elderly lady because I felt compassion for her traipsing the beach in the heat in her 70s, but generally the wares aren’t worth buying. The best thing about the south was trying out body boarding for the first time which was a lot of fun!

Overall the south isn’t somewhere we’d rush back to, being very touristic and quite expensive. Give us calm and cultural Ubud any day! Or better yet, the gem of the Southern Hemisphere… Australia. We fly to Perth tomorrow and are extremely excited to start the next chapter of our journey. And this is where this instalment comes to an end.

Thank you for reading!

Until next time…

Ana x

On the road again

Almost a year and five months had passed since we were last on the road, and our newest adventure was about to begin. We had our bags packed with what was believed – and hoped – to be ‘essentials’ for the year or so ahead of us, and our excitement was palpable.

The plan was this: three weeks traversing the Indonesian archipelago of Java, as we’d not made it down that far during our previous travels, followed by a year’s working holiday in Australia. Visiting (and working in) Australia had been a dream of mine since I was about 16 years old, but it never seemed to be the right time for me to go. Now I realise why – I needed time to mature and meet Rob so we could share the experience. I know a lot of people say there’s nothing like solo travelling – and don’t get me wrong, I agree there are a lot of positives to going it alone – but I can’t help feeling that sharing the highs and lows of travelling with someone else, much less a partner, is an amazing thing in a relationship. It not only builds your trust but it also gives you beautiful memories to cherish together into your old age (if you make it that far, that is!)

I was already dreading the jet lag before I’d even left Wales. I’m not good on a lack of sleep; feeling crusty and disorientated does not bring out the best in a person. Fortunately, Rob is ever-positive and smiley, which makes me slightly less gremlin-like. Our flight was at 21:55 on 29/11/2016 from London Heathrow to Doha, Qatar (6 and a 1/2 hours). We then had a two-hour stopover and it was on to Jakarta (8 and a 1/2 hours). We were travelling for about 17 hours in total and ended up 8 hours ahead of our body clocks.

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Jet-to-the-lag in Doha, Qatar

Jakarta as a city, is not somewhere you want to spend a long time. It’s noisy, busy, EXTREMELY polluted and confusing. During our Doha to Indonesia flight I noticed an inordinate amount of people with chesty coughs. I found it bizarre at the time but now I realise it’s because they live in one of the most densely populated cities per square mile in the world. There are so many cars, buses and mopeds on the roads, it was enough to make my chest feel tight within a few days of being there. A lot of people wear surgical masks just to walk down the street, and it’s no wonder why. Our accommodation however, ‘B&B Tomang’, was a lovely break away from the bustling city with clean rooms, comfortable beds (perfect for jet-lagged individuals) and air-con. I would recommend it to anyone making a stop in Jakarta (just don’t expect too much from the included breakfast).

Jakarta is normally used as a stop gap by travellers between flights and travelling onto somewhere else. Our jet lag pretty much wrote off the first full day we had there – we tried to get into the swing of their timezone immediately, but it was not meant to be and we slept the whole day away. We did manage to visit the huge Central Park Mall that evening – it’s much more grandiose than any shopping centre we have in the UK. But expensive, shiny malls reminding us of shallow Western life was not what we were interested in!

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High-rise Jakarta

We were feeling positive about our second day there, but then the B&B owner (a very helpful and smiley man) advised us there were Islamic protests going on across the whole city from morning until evening, campaigning against the Governor of Jakarta (who is a Christian) as they believed he made blasphemous comments against Islam, so suggested we just stay local that day. We did, however, venture to the local recommended restaurant for authentic Penang food. We didn’t know how the process worked and the waiters didn’t speak any English so we were quite confused when they kept bringing dishes upon dishes for us to eat. There was far too much food for two people (or even 10 people!) but we tried a bit of most things. It was one of those places where you pray after each bite that you don’t get food poisoning, a lot of lukewarm meat on the bone and strange things doused in unknown sauces. At the end we realised they charge you for the dishes you’ve tried rather than the amount you’ve eaten, so we were stung with a hefty bill for food we hadn’t even enjoyed very much!

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Please, no more Penang food!

That evening we were able to travel out of Tomang (the district we were staying in) so we went to the oldest part of the city, Kota, and ventured around the square. We decided to eat at Cafe Batavia, an old Colonial establishment built in 1805 which has seen days as a Dutch administration office, an art gallery and now a restaurant/bar. We enjoyed our meals (I had dim sum – not very Indonesian but still delicious) and there was a brilliant live jazz band playing music all evening which we thoroughly enjoyed.

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Live jazz at Cafe Batavia, Kota, Jakarta

We were determined to at least do some sightseeing in Jakarta, so on our final day we journeyed via tuk-tuk to the famous Monumen Nasional in Merdeka Square, which commemorates the struggle for Indonesian independence. It was quite the feat of engineering and we wondered how it was ever built as it stands at 433 ft high. There are nice gardens to walk around also, however being the middle of the day when we went, it was a bit too hot to walk around for long. We caught a taxi to Stasiun Gambir (Jakarta’s main train station) where we were due to get a 3-hour train to Bandung, the next stop on our journey.

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Monumen Nasional, Merdeka Square, Jakarta

Bandung, I must say, was not altogether much better than Jakarta. Mimicking the traffic and pollution of its larger relative, the main things it improved on were that it was easier to get around as it was smaller and that it had a cooler climate, being further above sea level.

Our main reason for going to Bandung was to visit the sight of Kawah Putih, an ancient crater lake whose water appears to glow a light blue-green colour due to the sulphur contained in the water. The sulphur has also seeped into the surrounding rocks and trees, giving everything a strange dead feel. It took a 3-hour journey from our B&B, via a taxi and two angkots (public minivans about the size of an old VW campervan, which the drivers try to squeeze as many bodies as possible into, with smoking allowed onboard and no seatbelts). They were not the comfiest of transport, especially for Rob with his long legs, but they were cheap (15,000 Indonesian rupiahs per person each – about 90p).

Kawah Putih did not disappoint; the striking white-blue water was as beautiful as I’d seen in pictures, and the quietness of the surrounding mountainous forest was amazing after the noisy, dirty cities. The only negative was the sulphurous smell – in all honesty it smelt like old farts! But the beauty far outweighed the smell and it was an incredible sight to behold. We purchased masks at the entrance for 5,000 rupiahs (30p) to somewhat help. The sulphur also made you cough after a while; it must be poisonous. It broke my heart to think that the men peddling Kawah Putih rocks as souvenirs and offering to take your picture there for a fee had to spend all day every day in that toxic smog. The damage it must be doing to their lungs is awful to think about, but it’s the only way they know to make any money. That reminds me of another point – pretty much EVERYONE in Indonesia smokes! I don’t know if it’s for a lack of education about the health implications but the majority seem to chain smoke like it’s going out of fashion; and when combined with the pollution I’d hate to see the state of the Indonesian city dwellers’ lungs!

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Kawah Putih crater lake, Ciwidey

Today we fly from Bandung to Yogyakarta. It’s a £30 one-hour flight, rather than a peanuts-costing 10-hour train ride, but our flight from Bali to Perth is booked for 20/12 so we don’t have the luxury of time, and don’t want to spend an entire day on a train. It’s a fabulous and cheap way to travel if you’re strapped for cash, but at the very start of our trip we are looking more for convenience with our limited timescale. I’m very sad that we are missing out some places we initially intended to see on the way to Yogyakarta, but the lack of decent food in the cities so far has definitely taken its toll on our bodies (we’re pretty “bunged up”, shall we say) and we certainly don’t want to have to rush Bali and the surrounding islands before we head over to Australia – especially as it’s Rob’s birthday on 11/12.

If you’ve made it this far, thank you for reading this long post and I hope you enjoyed it!

Until next time…

Ana x

Chiang Mai to… Menorca?!?!

The final week of our time in Asia had struck. We were both running low on money by this point, so were unable to be as free spirited as we wanted to be. Also, when my dad had come to visit us in Thailand, we’d sneakily made a plan to gatecrash my family’s trip to Menorca. We thought it would be an amazing end to our adventure – having a holiday with my two little nieces, sister, brother-in-law, mum and dad and surprising them after not seeing any of them for 5 months!

Our entire final week was spent in Chiang Mai, and it was one of our favourite cities! We found a lovely family-run restaurant that cooked the most delicious Thalis (our favourite Indian cuisine), so we went there 4 days in a row… We just could not get enough!

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There is also a beautiful canal running through the city which is a nice walk, albeit not the most peaceful due to the busy roads either side!

We rented a scooter for a day as it was all we could afford, and had a great time zooming around the city. By exploring the back streets, we found some lovely little shops, including a second-hand shop where rob got two t-shirts at 60p each!

The easy part of our plan was booking the flights, the next thing was getting there. The flights took most of our remaining cash so we were eating on a shoestring budget. We travelled from Chiang Mai via night train to Bangkok, went straight to the airport in a taxi, then caught a flight from Bangkok to Moscow. We had a two hour wait in Moscow Sherematyevo Airport, which was the least friendly airport I’ve ever been to in my life, then flew to Madrid from there. We spent the night true backpacker-style on the floor of Madrid airport as our flight to Menorca wasn’t until the following morning. I felt grateful fo have my Nepalese yak wool blanket at that point and actually slept like a baby!

I wanted tears when I arrived, and my mum didn’t disappoint! She cried twice, as the realisation we’d not seen each other in person for five whole months hit home. We spent a glorious week in Son Bou, Menorca with the family. Spending quality time with my nieces on the beach was truly meaningful. The one thing we all agreed on was that Son Bou’s restaurants leave a LOT to be desired. Thank you, Jesus, for self catering apartments.

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This is me signing off until my next blog-worthy experience. Thank you for reading! And I hope it’s not too long until the next one…

Ana x

Thailand to Cambodia & back again

Thailand

We were pretty shell shocked when we first arrived in Bangkok as it was the first modern city we’d been to in months. Huge skyscrapers loomed above us and thousands of cars filled the streets. We were used to being in the remotest areas of the Himalayas, with no wifi and having to wash with buckets of stove-boiled water, and here we were in a buzzing metropolis. It was quite an adjustment to make. It was also humid as hell. Going from freezing every night during our time on the Annapurna Circuit to sweating within seconds of leaving an air conditioned room or vehicle was pretty exhausting.

We headed to what we’d heard to be the “backpackers’ district” of Khao San Road. What greeted us was thousands of people, delicious smelling food stalls lining the streets, pumping music horribly clashing together from every restaurant and bar, cheap beer, hair braiding, tattoo parlours, fried bugs and trinkets galore. It sort of reminded me of an Asian Magaluf strip, so not really our kind of thing nor did we get the shanty, laid back vibe we were expecting, but it was definitely an experience and was pretty fun for a day or two.

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Khao San Road craziness

We then moved guesthouses to somewhere a little farther out of the busy area and got to do some sightseeing. We firstly went to Wat Arun, a Buddhist temple on the west bank of the Chao Phraya River. To get there we caught a boat bus, which was a fun and welcome experience. A breeze was just what we wanted in that humidity, and they are so efficient, quick and cheap!

The most amazing place we saw was Bangkok’s Grand Palace. Built in 1782, for 150 years it remained the home of the Thai King, the Royal court and the administrative seat of government. It is truly an incredible structure and a work of art, with so many beautiful intricacies that really show the Thai people’s creativity. Within the Palace’s walls are many different buildings, one being Wat Phra Kaew – the famous ‘Temple of the Emerald Buddha’ – which funnily enough turns out to be made of a block of jade, not emerald, but the person who first discovered the green under-layer believed it to be emerald, and so the name lives on!

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Whilst reading through the Grand Palace’s guidebook I was shocked to see the name ‘Sir John Bowring’ crop up. After some further research of the man I share a surname with, I learned that he was a British economist and politician who was appointed Governer of Hong Kong in 1854 and created an agreement between Great Britain and the Kingdom of Siam (Thailand) called The Bowring Treaty. This liberalised foreign trade in Siam and was signed by John Bowring and the Thai King on April 18, 1855. I don’t know at the moment whether he is an ancestor of mine but it’s certainly not a common surname we share, and it seems rather a coincidence that he happened to establish an ironworks in none other than Glamorgan, South Wales and appointed his brother there as chairman. Those of you who don’t know me should know that I am Welsh and from the county that used to be called Mid Glamorgan, and my dad’s whole side of the family are from the South Wales Glamorgan area (or there abouts). And to think I had to go all the way to Thailand to learn this information!

Cambodia

The plane ride to Cambodia gave me serious anxiety as there were many clouds causing turbulence, and due to the flight only being around an hour we spent most of our time amongst them! We were relieved to land in one piece. The wave of heat that washed over us as we left the aircraft was even hotter than Bangkok! Argh!

The first day was spent sweating and acclimatising. We explored Siem Reap’s Old Market which felt like a human sweat box, but it was brilliant to see all the clothes, souvenirs, bags, shawls, fruits, vegetables, fish, noodles etc being sold under one roof. You see fish in shallow bowls of water all writhing over one another waiting to be bought, and chickens with their feathers plucked and heads removed but feet and claws still attached and pointing at unnatural angles, all the while accompanied by strange smells and loud Khmer chatter. It’s a definite must see when in Siem Reap and you can grab a few bargains if you know how to haggle. We tried some of the food and it was delicious, though because the lady didn’t speak English, I couldn’t possibly tell you what it was we had.

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The following few days were spent exploring the fantastic Temples of Angkor Wat. They really are as magnificent as everybody who goes says, and so vast! You will ideally need a few days to see them all. The ‘Jungle Temple’ was by far my favourite, with the beautiful ancient stone structures entwined with creeping vines and magnificent tree roots. It’s a rare example of Man and Nature working together as one to create something spectacular.

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Next it was on to Phnom Penh. This was a much busier city with a lot more people, vehicles and pollution. That was a downside, but the positive was that it had a much better restaurant and bar choice than the one street in Siem Reap… so we did a fair amount of beer drinking and pool playing!

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One of the first cultural things we did was to go to the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. Wow. So many people, especially of our generation, have no idea of the horrific genocide that struck Cambodia under the rule of Pol Pot in the 70s. It just isn’t spoken of in the West. We went to Tuol Sleng to learn about what had happened and to see the place so many innocent people were held prisoner. We then followed that with a visit to Choeung Ek, also known as ‘The Killing Fields’, and were shocked to hear the full story via a moving audio guide that takes you through the (now peaceful) area of land that was once used to torture, kill and bury victims. We learned that under the Khmer Rouge system 3 million people (mostly Cambodians) were killed in FOUR years. This was either through execution/murder, starvation or disease because the Khmer Rouge closed all hospitals and all intellectuals, including doctors and teachers, were sentenced to death as they were seen as a threat to the state. Bones are still found even now when the rains bring them to the surface. Most of the civilians who were killed were tortured so extensively they admitted to crimes they didn’t even do just to make it stop. It was a very sad and eye opening day. I don’t understand humanity’s cruelty sometimes. It is now a place of respect for the poor victims. May they rest in peace.

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Thailand

We flew back to Bangkok from Siem Reap – this time it went much more smoothly. It was time to make our way down south to the paradise islands off the Gulf of Thailand. We caught a night train from Bangkok shortly after landing but unfortunately couldn’t get sleeper class due to the late purchase. So it was regular, sweaty sitting down fan class for us for 9 hours through the night! I managed to get a little sleep but Rob wasn’t so lucky and we arrived in Chumphon at around 6am feeling hot and disorientated. That said, our train tickets also had bus transfer from the train station to the harbour included and the ferry from the mainland to Koh Pha-Ngan too, so from that point on we just got told where to go and what to do, which made things easier.

We stayed at a place leading right onto the beach in Thong Sala, Koh Pha-Ngan called Coco Gardens. It’s in a great location, houses some beautiful bungalows and also a stray dog I named Poochie who I grew rather fond of over the week. It was my birthday that week too so Rob was planning something for June 1st and we had a Full Moon Party to discover on the 2nd!

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For my birthday, Rob went all out on what little money he had and didn’t let me know a THING that was happening! He took me snorkelling for the first time which I fell in love with. We saw so many tropical fish and incredible underwater plants, coral reefs and the like. We then went for a kayaking session around a secluded beach but due to the heat we ended up ditching the kayak, swimming with it to shore and going for cocktails instead which was much less strenuous! That evening Rob took me on our moped to Fisherman’s Restaurant, rated the #1 restaurant on Koh Pha-Ngan and we shared an enormous seafood platter! It was a delicious evening, and day for that matter.

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The Full Moon Party left more to be desired. It is something we can tick off our lists now (even though it wasn’t actually on them to begin with), but it really wasn’t our scene at all. It was full of people covered in UV body paint and vests branded ‘Full Moon’ in neon colours. Some people were already crying drunk when we ARRIVED (around 11pm) which was a bit full on. The booze was expensive, there were THOUSANDS of people crammed onto Haad Rin Beach and there was only one place playing any sort of DnB (thank God for that place). At least we got to enjoy some (in our opinion) good music before calling it a night.

The rest of the week was spent at the beach, exploring the island on our moped, eating lots of food and generally relaxing. It felt more like a holiday than some of our other travels as we were under no obligation to do or see anything. We had total freedom to kind of do nothing!! It was much needed.

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After 7 days we went to meet my dad who had come out to spend some time with us and scout out the snorkelling to possibly take my mum in future, on the island of Koh Tao – one of the best places I’ve ever been. It has a shanty, chilled vibe with lots of fun things to do and nice relaxed places to sit and read or have a cocktail. My dad, bless him, put us all up in two BEAUTIFUL villas as a treat, complete with huge beds and infinity pools, one for two nights and the next for three. We couldn’t believe how our level of luxury had changed overnight! Thank you life, for my wonderful dad!

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If you have made it this far, thank you for reading this long post summarising a very full, well travelled and extremely fun month. Our time in Asia is coming to an end soon, and I’m so happy to have this blog as an amazing memory of the beautiful times we’ve had…

Until next time,
Ana ♡

I find myself on the Annapurna Circuit

Kathmandu was like a breath of fresh air after India. Little things, like no one staring at us like we’d just touched down from Mars and being able to stuff ourselves with any food we could think of (aka not curry!) transported us to traveller heaven. We stayed in Thamel, Kathmandu about 5 days, enjoying the laid back life and abundance of lovely eateries and bars. Thamel is extremely touristic so many people move on after a day or two, however the lifestyle sucked us in and we were in no rush to leave. We knew we wanted to do some trekking whilst in Nepal but really had no idea what to go for, so we asked around the different trek operators in the town and settled on a 5 to 7 day trek, reaching heights of around 2500m. That all changed when we went to a bar one night and got chatting to a Canadian guy called Justin. He’d done the Annapurna Circuit at the start of March and said it was an incredible experience with breathtaking scenery and quirky places to stay. He said it was no issue that I’d not done any trekking before, assured us we could rent all the gear we wanted right there in Kathmandu or in the next big town, Pokhara, that we wouldn’t require a guide and that “we’d be fine, we’re young!”

Well, that was all we needed because the next day we were on our way to Pokhara to rent gear and start our 15-day adventure. You can leave your bags full of any belongings you don’t need for the trek in Pokhara or Kathmandu at almost any of the guest houses free of charge, provided when you finish the trek and return you stay at their guest house or hotel for a few nights. Fair’s fair.

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The Annapurna Circuit; we took the anticlockwise route

We caught a tiny bumpy local bus for the five hour trip from Pokhara to a town called Besisahar, where the trek starts. It was impossible to read, sleep or do much of anything else but it actually went quite quickly, until 5km outside of Besisahar the bus broke down. On the roadside we waited… and waited… but we really didn’t want to waste too much time as we were aware we still had a few hours’ walk to do that day to reach the next checkpoint. Luckily, we were able to flag down another bus along with some other tourists and got to Besisahar with time to have lunch. In Besisahar, we managed to pick up a drunken straggler of a man who insisted on following us around the town. He would not leave us alone. A Russian man called Anton we had met on the bus managed to scare him off so we could eat in peace. Anton, Rob and I became the three musketeers.

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Anton!

The walk from Besisahar to Bulbule wasn’t that difficult, but it was really sunny and hot so we were sweating profusely after only 20 minutes. It wasn’t a very picturesque walk, part of it was through a huge hydroelectric plant construction site, and through a pitch black muddy tunnel usually only used by cars and trucks. I can understand why many people choose to get a jeep from Besisahar up to some of the more mountainous areas of the trek and skip the first bit. But hey, we were there and we wanted to see it through!

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Unfortunately, on that walk my troublesome hiking boots had rubbed the backs of both my heels raw and I ended the day in agony. I hoped they would improve overnight and I’d be okay to continue. That night we enjoyed a meal with Anton and a smiley Korean guy named Hyun, and we all agreed to walk together the next day.

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Cute calf, chillin’ out

The following morning, we set off. I’d duct taped my heels and had 2 pairs of thick socks on each foot. Sadly, within 20 minutes I was again in agony. We had to ask Anton and Hyun to continue without us as we agonised over what was the best thing to do: either I wear my flip flops until the ground gets too difficult to walk on, by which time the blisters should have healed and then I can pad my feet to wear the boots? Or we go back to Besisahar, stay there, and wait for my feet to heal then try again with the boots? Or, we go back to Besisahar and I get different (and possibly not great quality) shoes and take things from there?

We settled on the latter as I could not envisage myself in those boots any time soon, if ever. We got a bus back and I managed to find some trainer-type shoes which were SO COMFORTABLE. I couldn’t feel my blisters at all! It was heaven. We didn’t want to waste time repeating the walk we’d already done the previous day so we caught a (very expensive) jeep along the scarily high and extremely bumpy cliffside mud roads to a town called Bahundanda, where we would have been by then had we not had to turn back that morning. We felt a new surge of life and motivation to get our arses into gear!

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The view ahead from Bahundanda

There are small ‘tea houses’ all along the Annapurna Circuit. These are effectively just guest houses, some nicer than others. Usually the room is free of charge provided you promise to eat dinner and breakfast there. This may sound generous but it’s not really, as their menus are so expensive it more than pays for the cost of the room for a night. The menus are government authorised too, meaning the tea houses are not allowed to deviate from them. This gets increasingly difficult to stand the longer you are on the circuit, as they aren’t the most varied in choice! A dal bhat was our usual choice, unless we absolutely couldn’t eat it for the 5th time in a row! You get unlimited refills of it so you can really fill your boots making it the best value for money.

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This place slightly deviated from the usual ‘veg omelettes’ though…

The first few days of the trek ascended through mountainous greenery and followed the river the whole time. We knew we were on track if we could see the river on our left or right. Sometimes the hills were absolutely killer and in the heat of the day the sweat would be pouring off us in buckets. I didn’t appreciate it then, however every day I was getting fitter and fitter.

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Dead after a hill of doom

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Best seat in the house

We would usually be walking for around 5/6 hours per day, although some days were a little more. It really was physically exhausting and we were in bed most nights by 8pm.

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Anton & Rob

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Helpful signage…

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Emerald rice paddies

As we reached higher elevations, the risk of AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness) increased. This is when your body doesn’t acclimatise well, and the scary thing is that it can affect anyone, even people who climb regularly! It usually starts with a headache, nausea and dizziness, and can lead to full on delusions and death if you don’t immediately go lower as it causes your brain to swell. The only way to combat it is to get your ass back down to a lower elevation and fast. I was paranoid that I was going to get AMS as I’d not done any climbing before, but fortunately, we didn’t experience any of those symptoms (jammy gits, I know).

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Prayer wheels; there were many along the journey and I always spun them in the hope they would keep us safe

It was surreal going from seeing snowcapped mountains far away in the distance to waking up with them right in front of us. I think that was a major part in spurring us on as we grew more exhausted and found it more difficult to breathe in higher altitudes. By the time we had reached altitudes of between 3,000-4,000m, we were all having crazy dreams every night because of the distinct lack of oxygen. Nightmares would have me sitting up in the night with a start, gasping for breath. Many people spoke of being unable to sleep at all, which thankfully I didn’t have a problem with, however I did experience a complete loss of appetite due to the high altitude (my one symptom of AMS) which was one of the worst things to happen when I needed all the energy I could get.

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This helped when I lost my appetite

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Good morning, Mother Nature

The night before The Pass (the highest point) we stayed at a camp called Thorung Phedi, altitude 4,540m. There is a High Camp at over 4,800m however we thought it too risky to stay there as many people get AMS when sleeping at that height, and it was so bitterly cold we couldn’t bear the thought of having to come back down from the top to spend another night in those altitudes. We would all be cuddled up by the one heater in our jackets, hats, gloves, boots and scarves, and we’d sleep in all our clothes in our -10° sleeping bags too. Brrrrrr!! (I’d managed to buy some different hiking boots in Manang, a town that trekkers spend at least two nights at to let their body adjust to the higher altitudes).

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On the day of The Pass, I was terrified. It was going to be the longest day of all (the pass usually takes between 6-10 hours depending on your level of expertise – mine obviously being minimal!). I just looked around and thought “There’s no going back now. I have no choice but to do this or I have to retrace my steps from the past 2 weeks”… I felt way out of my depth and wondered how the hell I’d ended up 4,500m up the Himalayas when the biggest peak I’d probably climbed before then was Caerphilly Mountain?!

Everyone wakes up at 3am to have breakfast – I could only manage a boiled egg with my lack of appetite – and we set off around 4am in the pitch black up a steep, snowy incline. It feels like you’re hyperventilating but we spoke to the on site doctor the previous night who explained that instead of an average of maybe 10 breaths a minute, in this altitude it increases to 15-20, which is okay.

It was me, Rob, Hyun (who we had reunited with at Thorung Phedi) and an Israeli dude called Gidi tackling The Pass together. The walk was so hard at times, traipsing through knee-deep snow, constantly uphill whilst trying to maintain your breathing. Gidi also had a stomach bug, bless him. Probably the worst time to get one of those… But wow, it really was breathtakingly stunning. We were finally ON the snowcapped mountains that had always been ahead of us! You couldn’t stay still for more than a few minutes as your toes and fingers would go numb inside your boots and gloves, but that was enough time to take some pictures, of course.

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“It’s freaking cold up here!!!”

It took us about 7 hours to reach Thorung La Pass, elevation 5416m. By the time we got there, it had started to snow a bit so we were wary not to hang around too long. We had a well deserved cup of chai and a Snickers (frozen solid!) and set off on our merry way again.

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The downhill was actually harder than the up, which shocked me and really dented my morale. It seemed to go on forever, and we couldn’t see too much ahead as a snow blizzard had started raging around us! I was frozen and exhausted but had no choice but to just keep putting one foot in front of the other. We were soaked through – there’s only so long boots will stay dry in that much snow!

It took us 13 hours in total to reach Muktinath (the next town after The Pass) from Thorung Phedi that day. 13 hours of almost nonstop walking. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. My legs were in bits, my knees felt like they’d been shot. Going up and down stairs for the next few days was a chore. Rob had boulder-sized blisters on both feet and had to invest in Crocs for the remaining few towns! But we were so elated that we’d actually done it – the highest mountain pass in the world! Two weeks prior if someone had told me I would be doing that I’d have laughed in their face, but I feel like it’s given me a lot more perspective and drive. Things that would have seemed like an effort before, now feel like a piece of cake. My 16 days along the Annapurna Circuit will definitely stick with me forever, and I would recommend it to anyone looking to challenge themselves.

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As many of you will know, there was a devastating earthquake in Nepal in April. We were in Muktinath when this happened. It was only a small tremor where we were, and due to being so far up in the Himalayas, we didn’t know the scale of what had happened for a number of hours.

We were at a loss as to what to do as we still had a long way to get back to Pokhara (where our bags were) and didn’t even know if it was still standing, hearing how awfully Kathmandu had been hit. We also didn’t even know if going back to Pokhara would be safe, as aftershocks were rife.

We moved on to Jomsom from Muktinath and stayed for a few days mulling over what to do. There wasn’t much to do there, and we soon got restless, so we booked a flight from Jomsom airport (sometimes referred to as ‘the most dangerous airport in the world’) to Pokhara. The flight would take 20 minutes. On the first day, the flight was cancelled due to adverse weather in Pokhara. We were booked on for the following day. The next day, after waiting for 2 hours, the flight was cancelled again. We lost hope with Yeti Airlines and needed a way out.

There were more aftershocks in Jomsom and there were huge chunks of the day that no one was allowed to sit inside anywhere due to earthquake risks, be it hotels, shops or homes! We managed to find enough other people who wanted to get to Pokhara, so we all clubbed together to get a jeep there. This took 7 hours and was extremely bouncy and uncomfortable with no seat belts. That said, we made it to Pokhara safely and were surprised to see that it was pretty much unaffected, unlike poor Kathmandu. We donated some shoes, sleeping bags and clothes to the appeal for those affected in Kathmandu, but we had a flight booked to Bangkok so had to leave in a few days.

Thamel, where we’d previously been staying was hit very badly, as it consists of tiny narrow streets and high rise buildings. It was a completely unbelievable occurrence and I can only pray to the powers that be that Nepal are able to recover and heal from this terrible disaster. Nepali people are the sweetest, kindest, most genuine people we have had the pleasure of meeting on our trip thus far. They deserve this the least of anyone. Rest in peace to all those who have lost their lives, my thoughts remain with them and with the families who have lost loved ones. ♡

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Until next time,

Ana ♥