Monthly Archives: May 2016

MARK & SARAH: DEFINITELY THE “MASTERS” NOW! GREY GAP YEAR – THE INSIDE STORY

Well we’re back! Back in good old England!  57,000 miles, 39 planes, lots of stats and more importantly, lots of memories.

We’ve been asked many questions during our Round the World Trip and indeed on our return.  Some by people interested in doing something similar, some by people keen to know what didn’t go well and some by people who were just plain (or should that be plane) nosey!

To-date the MASTERS site has been read in over 84 different countries with in excess of 15,000 separate viewings, not bad for a humble “personal” blog which was never designed to court a widespread following.

Down to Earth

Down to Earth

We learnt a hell of a lot, both in the planning of the trip and of course during our 264 days on the international road.  Indeed we thought long and hard about selling our inside story and all our tips and advice.  However, as the highest bidder was only £2.10 we decided in the spirit of generosity to simply share our knowledge in the hope that someone out there will find it useful – if you do, make our day and let us know by adding your comments at the end of the blog.

Ooh and for people who like a bit of emotion, read to the end and see what we really feel like having been back in the real world for a couple of weeks.

WITH THE BENEFIT OF EIGHT+ MONTHS EXPERIENCE TRAVELLING ON THE ROAD, IF YOU DID THIS AGAIN, WHAT WOULD YOU DO DIFFERENTLY?

THREE MONTH BLOCKS:  In an ideal World (no pun intended), we would probably have broken our RTWT into 3 x 3 month blocks.  You can get blasé when constantly seeing new sites and places.  Top tourist sites, which would have been a big wow earlier in our trip didn’t always have the same effect towards the end, which was a real shame.  You’re nearly immune in your feelings, numb if you like or just plain weary.  All of this sounds really negative, but it is just a true statement of fact from somebody (Mark) who gets bored very easily.  That said, each country gave us hundreds of wows and what we did worked well for us overall.

NOTE: If we had had the time, then extra air fare costs would need to have been factored in which we estimate would have cost £25,000 more had we both simply visited each country/region for a standard holiday (two/three weeks) and then returned home to the UK each time.

TM

TM

LIMIT BACK TO BACK TRIPS: Whist we booked the majority of the tour independently, we did use a Tour Operator for certain legs.  China, Indo-China, Ecuador and across South America – see below for the pros and cons of using a third party to aid your travel plans.

We generally enjoyed the group travel experience, but due to time restraints and the dates when tours ran, it was not possible to build in a “break” between the end of our China trip and the start of the Indo-China tour and similarly the end of Ecuador and the beginning of our 45 day marathon from Peru to Brazil. A break would have given us breathing space, time to compartmentalise what we had seen and what we were about to experience. Plus we would not have compared people, guides and countries so forensically with a few well planned days of separation.  No major drama, but we will do it differently next time.  Gosh, did we really say “next time”?

LEAVE THE MOZZIE NETS AT HOME:  Most places that we needed mozzie nets had them.  Unless you are really travelling on a budget in dodgy hostels, then save the expense and weight of a decent mosquito net.  PS: Anybody want to buy two nets that were used just once?

That’s it!  We have racked our brains, but there is very little we would do differently.

WHAT WORKED WELL?

PRE-PLANNING:  Those 650 hours of pre-planning really paid off in so many ways.  But we have come to the conclusion that we are not the norm.  The vast majority of particularly young RTW travellers/back-packers would rock up and decide as they went.  Good luck we say, but here’s why you might want to follow our lead…

Hours spent planning in advance – This saved hundreds of hours planning on the road.  Why not use your time overseas to visit more sites or drink more at the bar rather than trying to work out where to go, how to get there and where to stay?

Save time and money – We saved thousands of £’s over other people who booked at last minute or as they went.  We got the cheapest hotels and without doubt made massive savings on air fares.  We were also able to negotiate with tour operators to hold their 2014 prices for 2016 plus get a further percentage off for giving them consolidated business.  Just because you are travelling does not mean that you should forget your commercial skills.  But if you like wasting time and money, go for it.  Everyone’s different.

SEASONS WET OR DRY, YOUR CHOICE: We spent many hours working out when the best time to visit a country would be in terms of sun rather than rain and hot rather than cold.  This was not as easy as you might at first think as you have to take in to consideration mountain ranges where the weather is completely different on one side, the top and then on the other-side.  Monsoon rain in one part of the country often means dry weather elsewhere.  And if you go to high altitude even if you are on the equator, be ready for some rain and cold temperatures at night.

I have to say we got it nearly exactly right.  Just 25 days of rain in 264.  But it still wrangles that we went all the way to Ayers Rock in Australia for 24 hours and it was cloudy and 17C.  The day before 45C, the day after 42C. Ah well…

Grey Gap Year

Grey Gap Year

WHAT ARE YOUR TOP TIPS FOR TRAVELLING AROUND THE WORLD?

  1. FACTOR IN BREAKS: Touched on above, but worth reiterating that travelling is not the same as a holiday!  Build in small breaks if you can so you can stay in one place and re-group after physical and mental exertion.
  2. DO IT NOW – GO ON GUT: This always worked for us.  Turning up for a flight over Mount Cook in New Zealand with five minutes to go.  Deciding to go zip-lining in Ecuador when the situation presented itself.  If your gut says do something, whatever that might be, go with your instincts, you will rarely be wrong or disappointed.
  3. GROUP TRAVEL – MORE PROS THAN CONS: We enjoyed travelling by ourselves, but also enjoyed travelling with groups where you could have a laugh, enjoy more meaningful conversations and let somebody else do all the planning and driving – which can be tiring.  That said, you have to be prepared as with any group to encounter people who you “struggle” to find any sort of common ground with.  Fine for a week or two, not the best situation if you have to bite your tongue for six weeks. That happened.
  4. ALWAYS HAVE YOUR CAMERA READY: Sounds an obvious one, but we soon learnt that you never quite knew when a photographic opportunity might present itself.  A dolphin pod in NZ, a child being carried by his mother in Peru.  A chance to shoot the Milky Way.  Our small Canon did an amazing job and we are so pleased we decided to stick with it rather than take a big camera with a big lens.
  5. ONLINE SEATS – GET SMART AND GET MORE ROOM: Be smart when booking airline seats.  Some airlines don’t charge for booking emergency exits.  If you are travelling as a couple, book seats at the back of the aircraft (statistically the safest in the event of a crash) and then book seats either side of a middle seat.  Invariably it does not get used and you get yourself much needed space.  And upgrades are indeed possible.  Thanks to British Airways we travelled back from Rio to London Heathrow in Club Class (Business Class) luxury.  We asked Flight Centre (who had booked our RTW flights) to “mention” on the final flight booking manifest that this was our “last” flight on our round the World journey and this prompted the upgrade.  It was superb and a great way to end our World adventures.  Thanks BA.
  6. FLYING TO CHINA FROM NEPAL? GET A FREE FLIGHT AROUND EVEREST: We booked a scenic flight around Everest BEFORE our night-time China South flight to Beijing was cancelled.  We were forced to re-book with Air China , which left 12 hours earlier, which gave us a free sightseeing tour of Everest from both sides – just 24 hours after we had PAID to see the World’s highest mountain!  Sods law in our case but how many people have seen Everest twice in two days?
  7. TAKE TWO LAPTOPS/COMPUTERS: You can of course operate on smart phones.  But we were so pleased that we took both a laptop and a tablet.  They both “wobbled” in terms of operating from time to time, but you can’t beat having a back-up if something goes wrong. I won’t insult your intelligence by stating the importance of backing up files and photos in to a cloud, on to an encrypted USB and of course onto a second back up computer. Woops, just did.
  8. SORT YOUR PHOTOS AND VIDEOS AS YOU GO: We took 40,000 photos, we kept 9,000. We religiously “culled” daily as we went and of course backed up our most precious files every day.
  9. CONSIDER HAVING A BLOG: We thoroughly enjoyed producing our MASTERS blog.  It was a great way to keep in-touch with family and friends.  But remember it takes time.  Typically our blogs each took seven hours to produce by the time we’d thought of an angle/theme, written the copy, chosen the photos, uploaded the files to the online software (WordPress) and then proofed/edited the finished article.
  10. HAVE A SENSE OF HUMOUR: You will experience a whole range of emotions.  Sadness, elation, you name it.  Keep a sense of humour and all will be well.
Crawler

Crawler

WHAT ESSENTIALS WOULD YOU ALWAYS CARRY IN YOUR BACK-PACK/BUM BAG?

DOOR STOPS:  Random I know, but a little tip I picked up from working in Russia 25 years ago.  A door stop is simple and buys you time if somebody is trying to get in to your room and the locks have failed.

DUCT TAPE:  A must have.  Used by us to repair bags, cover up rips in Mozzie nets and even to strap up a fellow traveller who had broken her arm in the middle of the Andes.

ROPE/CHAINS/LOCKS: Nothing to do with fetishes. Used to secure bags in overnight busses or keep hotel windows firmly secure. Remember there are some bad people out there.

CURRENCY CARDS:  We had two which we used in Australia and New Zealand. They were easy to use and gave us another route to access local currency without relying on debit or credit cards all the time.

TWO CREDIT AND TWO DEBIT CARDS:  You can never be too careful.  We saw what happened to people who came with just one and then had problems when they were lost, stolen or simply did not work.

INTERNATIONAL DRIVING LICENCE: Remember that not every country accepts a UK driving licence so apply for an International Driving License before you leave your home country.

95% DEET:  There are mixed medical views on using deet for prolonged periods.  We used 95% for a few months at a time and had no ill effects.  But our non-medical advice would be to use it unless you have side effects which by all accounts show pretty quickly after use.  The proof was in the pudding. Very few bites, no Dengue Fever and no Zika Virus caught in South America.

MAKE SURE YOUR WALLET AND BUM BAG IS SCAMMER PROOF:  We met people who had been victims of electronic scamming of credit and debit cards.  Our wallets and bum bags were made of scam proof material so bad people could not get up close and steal what was ours.  We also kept in close contact with banks by email so they could be alerted if suddenly our cards were being used in places not on our itinerary.  Finally, don’t forget to check your accounts online every few days.  Scamming in South America is rife. And finally, finally, just be sensible.

A few items to pack!

A few items to pack!

WHAT ARE THE HIDDEN COSTS OF TRAVELLING?

Now this is a good question and one we realised was a key one pretty soon into the planning of our trip.

There are many hidden costs!  For example, visas, insurance, vaccinations and clothes, which added close to £6,000 to our overall budget.

VISAS:  Can be expensive to get – India and China to name but two.  £650 was the final bill for the two of us.  Not a small amount to find if you haven’t budgeted for it.  Also check, check and double check if you need a visa.  One Canadian traveller we met forgot to get her Brazilian visa and incurred big costs getting one whilst in Bolivia.

INSURANCE:  We never needed it.  £1,100 pounds wasted.  No!  You cannot scrimp on insurance.  Use an insurer that specialises in long trips and also read the small print.  For example “trekking” above 2,500m is held to be much more of a risk than say skiing.  So check what you are buying as most policies offer a Bronze/Silver/Gold policy depending on the activities you plan to have a go at.

VACCINATIONS:  The National Health Service (NHS) was pretty good.  But they didn’t offer free vaccinations for say Hepatitis B or Rabies.  We had all the jabs available except Japanese Encephalitis and decided to go for the cheaper Malaria option of Doxycycline.  Again, we were lucky and had very little sickness.  But you can’t in our book play fast and loose with your health so get “jabbed” before you go.

CLOTHES/BAGS/EQUIPMENT:  We were sad arses and watched many You Tube videos on how to pack a back-pack and what to take.  We spent a small fortune – £3,000 – on bags, clothes and equipment.  The Osprey Backpack and Daypacks were excellent and the investment in high-end North Face kit again paid off.  We never once said “oh why did we not bring such and such…” and were proud of our ability to travel the World with no more than 13kg each, start to finish.

CONTINGENCY:  We had a 5% contingency built into our overall budget.  We did not need it and came back 9% under budget having done everything we wanted to do in terms of experiences/excursions etc.

Map it out

Map it out

HOW DID ALL THE FINANCIAL ARRANGEMENTS WORK OUT?

We could go on and on about this subject.  It is arguably the most important thing to consider.  We were anal and recorded every single penny we spent.  This is a very good discipline and ensures you know exactly what you are spending and where you sit financially at any one time.  Remember if, like us you travel with no income coming in, you have to be watchful and sensible.  So some words of MASTERS wisdom.

COUNTRY VARIANCE:  There are two big financial variances when travelling.  The first is the individual country cost eg India (cheap Asia) versus New Zealand (expensive First World). We organised our travel around India for five weeks through detailed research.  Three star hotels, all food – restaurants, excursions, six flights, bus and train travel.  The cost per day when this was all factored in was £79 a day for two people!  New Zealand however cost £150 per day for the two of us.  Car hire bumped up the price quite a bit but we stayed in 2/3* motels mainly so we could eat “in-house” to keep the costs down.  £200+ for the day would have been the price had we eaten out each night.

BANK ACCOUNTS:  We ran two current accounts whilst we were away and like any business needed to be aware of cash flow to ensure we had sufficient funds at any one account thereby maximising saving rates.  The biggest saver was using an N&P current account as they DO NOT charge for ATM cash withdrawal or payment when using Debit Cards overseas – so long as you either have a balance of £5,000 in the account or pay in £500 a month.  This worked fine with just one instance in China when the card did not allow us to withdraw cash and once in Chile.  The rest of the time, happy days.  Our back-up Barclays Current Account worked fine when N&P failed but we did get charged for the privilege!

CREDIT CARDS:  We rarely used them because of charges levied.  But we had a VISA and Mastercard just in case.  They were useful for online purchases because of their financial protection afforded and were always demanded by Car-Hire Companies for deposit authorisation purposes.

EXCHANGE RATES/HEDGING CURRENCY: You win some, you lose some.  We bought some US dollars when we could get 1.55 to the pound before we left, for “emergencies”.  Some currency rates went in our favour 10-20% in India and Malaysia from the time we booked until the time we arrived.  But we lost 10-15% by buying two lots of £5,000 in NZ and AUS currency by guessing that the £ had risen as high as it would, when it actually kept on going up!  That said, by the time we got there, that differential had fallen to more like 7%.  So you literally pays your money and you takes your choice.  In summary:

  • Take emergency US Dollars
  • Use ATMs
  • Take currency cards
  • Most importantly have two or three sources of available funds in case an ATM fails or you lose cash

PERSONA NON GRATA:  We resigned from our jobs to travel.  As soon as we did that, we “dropped off the radar” of financial institutions.  So getting new Bank Accounts is challenging.  And as for getting a credit card, forget it, even if you can prove you have money in the bank.  We also thought it easier – when asked – to put our status down as “retired”.  That way we weren’t asked any difficult questions by Immigration Officers.

Cost it out

Cost it out – where the photo on the card was taken

HOW DID YOU BOOK YOUR HOTELS AND WHAT DID YOU LEARN?

We did not want to do this trip in 5 star luxury.  Even if we could have afforded it, we wouldn’t have done it as we would have been too far removed from the people of the countries we visited.  We pitched it at a 2/3 star level.  All but one hotel/motel/bed and breakfast had private facilities.  95% had wifi.  Most gave us some sort of breakfast.

BOOKING.COM: Got to say as a consumer brand these guys are good.  Just not so sure that they should be getting on average 15% commission from small business owners!  That said, they are easy to use, offer a lot of flexibility and have a snazzy app which contains your booking details and offline maps.  We decided in the main not to approach individual hotels as this was time consuming and you would get sucked into individual booking contracts and having to reconfirm reservations etc.   But you could save a further 5-10% if you were prepared to enter into a detailed exchange of emails.  Instead we stuck with Booking.com.  The vast majority of our hotels were booked this way and we were not let down once.

BANTER EMAIL UPGRADES: Now this is worth doing.  Often, switched on hoteliers after they had received your reservation from Booking.com would then reconfirm directly back.  This is what we would do if we owned a hotel.  It shows interest and professionalism and in all cases where this happened we always had a good room/experience.  It also allowed US to enter in to email banter and develop a relationship via email which invariably lead to a room or apartment upgrade.  It was worth spending time doing this and it really did open doors when we got to our final destination, often a year after booking.

GROUP TRAVEL: We took four tours and it was good in the main to meet new people and for others to organise the experience.  Had we spent another 250 hours planning we could have booked the whole lot ourselves.  My fear of not being able to do a DIY trip in China was ill-founded as everything I saw was in English.  And despite my lack of Spanish, we could with a bit of effort ended up with a trip not dissimilar to the ones offered by the tour operator, G-Adventures, who I have to say in the main were good.  We would also have saved around £3-5k.

Celebrating at 5,000m with a little wee - a record for me except for flying

Not many outside toilets on our trip!

WHAT MONEY SAVING TIPS CAN YOU GIVE?

RTW AND PERSONAL FLIGHTS: We got the best of Worlds.  We booked a Round the World Ticket via Flight Centre (excellent service, IATA bonded for financial security and with an emergency helpline) and then booked ourselves cheap internal flight legs in India, Malaysia, Thailand and Singapore.  This combination saved many £’s and was considerably cheaper than trying to book each leg separately.  Just one cancelled flight and no delays – not a bad return when booking 39 flights in total.

FLY OVERNIGHT: If you are on a real budget and don’t mind not sleeping and guaranteed aching joints, then book overnight flights and save the cost of a hotel.

CAR HIRE BOOK OUT OF TOWN: We booked 33 days of car hire in Australia for under £1,000 with East Coast Rentals and 37 days in New Zealand for £1,200 – both cars were Ford Focus size.  This, we thought was a good deal when comparing with the big rental boys.  We worked out that because these companies were “off airport” and you needed to have a shuttle transfer, you could get around 30% cheaper deals compared with major brands.  The cars were good in the main and it was worth a short journey to get a good rate.

HOTELIERS WITH BOOKING AGENCY CAPABILITY: We found that you could get some really good deals if the hotel booked local excursions/local tours – much better than we could get booking ourselves.  It also saved a lot of aggravation, so do look out for this service particularly in India and other parts of Asia.  Our houseboat in Kerala booked by Saj in Kovalam was a classic case in point.

MOTEL/APARTMENT COOKING FACILITIES & SPACE: You do get tired of eating out.  It becomes repetitive and expensive.  So booking apartments and motels in Australia and New Zealand gave us much more flexibility, helping to maximise budgets and often giving us two/three times the amount of space you would get in a hotel bedroom for the same cost.  A no-brainer for us.

SUPERMARKET FUEL DISCOUNT VOUCHERS: Every little helps says Mr Tesco and the same applies when travelling the World.  Most supermarkets in Australia and New Zealand give you a voucher off the cost of fuel.  And so ok, not hundreds of pounds, but enough for us to buy a meal or two on the money we saved.

COOL BAGS: A great way to carry perishables around in a hire car, including your lunchtime sarnies and you save a fortune into the bargain.  Picnics are the way forward.

FILL YOUR OWN WATER BOTTLES:  Again an Aussie and NZ wheeze as we could only safely drink water from the tap in these two countries.  Saved a fortune.

(SOME) STREET FOOD IS SAFE: And cheap and good – FACT.  You hear so many horror stories about people getting “Delhi-belly”, but if you are sensible, eat hot foods prepared in front of your eyes and eaten by locals then there is little problem  The food is really good and very cheap, especially in India and Malaysia.  Go on, you know you want to.

Yes I did eat them all!

Yes I did eat them all!

WHAT DID YOU DO TO KEEP IN TOUCH?

These days you have to be really out in the wild not to have wifi access.  We had wifi for most of the time except in the obvious places like the Amazon Jungle.

Skype, Whats App and Viber became our best friends and worked pretty well for much of the time.  Don’t forget to check with your phone provider and turn services off.  We dispensed with voice mail and data roaming because of cost and in fact rarely used the phone for voice traffic.

DID IT REALLY HAPPEN?

I’m writing (Mark) this final paragraph on an East Midlands train travelling from Nottingham to London, two and a half weeks after getting back to the UK.  And I got to say, it is as if our trip never happened!!

I’ve thrown myself in to an exciting project/contract at the University of Nottingham (UK) where I have been fortunate to land a great job for three months devising a sales and marketing strategy for the new £40 million sports centre that the University is building.  That Skype interview from Bolivia worked!

The fact is, we’ve both been busy and that we have concluded is the best way to get back into the real World.  As for what happens next, watch this space as this little trip around the World is just the start of our next journey – whatever that might be.  And will there will be more blogs in the future?  Maybe!

The end...

The end…

Categories: Countdown Blog | Tags: , , , , ,

Epi-BLOG: So this is it… and that was that

MARK/SARAH:  So this is it.   Or perhaps we should say, “that was that”.  This, our last overseas blog post of our epic MASTERS 2015/2016 Round the World Trip.  What do you say on such an auspicious occasion?  To quote Freddie, our Swiss traveller friend, “it was fine”, which translates from Swiss-German into English as “we had a blast”.

A BLAST

A BLAST

Well we had a blast for most of the time. The last few days here in Brazil have in truth been very hard work.  It’s been a bit like the prelude to your Summer holiday when you are running on empty at work and desperately in need of a break.  We need a break from all this travelling and could do with a good holiday.  Two hundred and sixty four days is a long time in anybody’s money and we can’t wait to get home now.  Brazil and South America in general have been good.  The fact that I’m not saying “fantastic or brilliant” says more about our present state of mind rather than the countries we have visited.  You know you have had enough when you stare at the magnificent Iguassu Falls and think to yourself “they’re nice”.  They’re nice for God’s sake, is that all you can say?

Another Rainbow....

Another Rainbow….

Our thoughts are now very much in the future.  Back in the UK, with family and friends.  Looking forward to the next chapter in our life story which promises to be equally as challenging and exciting as the last nine months.  What does that future looks like? The pieces of the jigsaw are now all turned over on the dining room table.  They are ready to be assembled and the dream will become a reality during the months to come.  That there is no doubt.

Turning our World upside down

Turning our World upside down

But back to the here and now for a minute.  This blog is a bit of a “dog’s dinner” in terms of content.  However the format is clear.

Firstly, over to you our dear readers, and a big thanks to all the many people, who after the last blog, sent in their questions about our trip.  We’ll endeavour to answer them jointly in an open and honest way.  Next up is our TOP 5 (or nearly 5) section where we reveal a range of our TOP likes and dislikes.  Then it’s on to the final stats count where we add up all the various methods of transportation from bus to boat, tuk-tuk to train.  That’s it.  All clear?  Good, let’s begin!

Speed King

Speed King

ANY QUESTIONS?

First up a question from Ian P, who I would like to first of all publicly thank for all his personal support during our trip.  Ian is one of those people you need when you are embarking on a trip like this.  He was extremely wise council before we left with various tips, ideas and suggestions.  Together with Linda, they kindly bought us very useful gifts.  And then most importantly he stayed in touch acting as a father figure/mentor through the ups and downs, the highlights and the low-lights. Thanks mate, so looking forward to seeing you.

IAN ASKS:  I have two challenging questions for you both; Firstly, what do you suppose the true cost of your trip has been? I don’t mean Pounds, shillings and pence either but I think you know that.  Secondly what has been the value of the trip to you both – that might be two different answers?

Thanks Ian.  This one made us think very hard at 0630 in the morning flying from Iguassu Foz to Sao Paulo.  We guess you mean by the word “cost”, the downside to the trip.  Or put another way, the “opportunity cost” – what we’ve missed out on by embarking on a trip like this.  We hope this is what you meant?

Now Sir.....

Now Sir…..

In truth, “not a lot” is the first thought that springs to mind.  Good old Yorkshire tea is a starter for ten. We’ve missed the British seasons – chasing the sun has worked – 25 days rain only in 264.  But there’s a lot to be said by the UK’s changing seasons, the Autumn tints and the first signs of Spring.  We suppose you could bring in here the “true cost of friendship” and people we care about who have been thousands of miles away…. But this has been countered to some extent by the hundreds of people we have met around the World and also the great experience of staying with Sarah’s brother Shane and his family over Christmas in Australia.  I have known Shane as my brother-in-law for over 30 years.  But we have never spent more than a couple of days together.  So having the chance to spend “real quality time” to use that awful expression was a real plus….

Shane and Eddie - lads!

Shane and Eddie – lads!

That last statement makes me think we are moving into Part 2 of your question – the value of the trip to you both…

The value is hard to quantify in terms of pounds shillings and pence.  If we had to guess, it would be like the Mastercard Advertisement – PRICELESS.  Do we regret not buying a couple of BMWs, building an extension or putting a sizeable down payment on a holiday home instead?  NO is the simple two letter answer.  We feel much richer than simple material possessions can bring because of the hundreds of positive experiences we’ve had.

The question really is where on Earth (if you pardon the pun) do you begin to start when reviewing each experience and the value there attached?  We’ve experienced the value of seeing so many different cultures at first hand – from poor Buddhist farmers in Nepal to City Bankers (I said bankers) in Hong Kong.  Different landscapes have amazed us at every turn from the Salt Flats of Bolivia to the snow-capped peaks of Mount Everest and the stunning beauty of the Great Barrier Reef.  One of the reasons we wrote the blog was so that we could look back and remember in months and years to come.  Without this aide-memoire, complete with photos we would struggle to take it all in.

Sarah Attenborough

Sarah Attenborough

The value of having time to think cannot be under-estimated.  We managed a year ago to get off the corporate roundabout where we both latterly never really had time to think. Not having to worry about deadlines and targets has been wonderful and yet we are both now ready to revisit the western World of Work, except this time it will be very much on “our terms”.

Finally, we know exactly who and what we are as people and this trip has been valuable in giving us the time and opportunity to confirm this.  In fairness little has changed, we will not be coming back having “seen the light” or wearing sandals, but we know what we like, what we don’t like and this knowledge and experience will guide us in the future in all that we will do.  It will act as a great strength and future sign-post. We won’t be afraid to follow a life path that is of our own making and nobody else’s.

Does that answer your question?

PS:  The “Thingy Thing” you very kindly gave us has been most helpful!  We’ve had a couple of beers or three (opener) and the “saw” was extremely useful when plastic baggage tags had been applied in Vietnam and the only way to get them off was to use the saw!

Smile please

Smile please

SUE ASKS: “I adore seeing sunsets….The passing of another day. Where has been the best and why?” 

Thanks for this Sue!  A really good question.  The sunsets we have seen, have been amazing.  Amazing because they have been simply beautiful and because of their wonderful, often iconic locations.  Some of our favourites have been…..

just missed the birds..... Chitwan in Nepal

just missed the birds….. Chitwan in Nepal

Laos lights

Laos lights

Perfect Peru

Perfect Peru

But our “bestest” and the one we both agreed on independently was when we had our own house boat in Kerala (Southern India).  It was a unique location, we’d just had an amazing dinner cooked by our own personal chef and the backdrop was beautiful.  It was made even more special because next morning we were perfectly placed to see the sunrise again in spectacular fashion.  Special, very special!

House boat sunset part 1

House boat sunset part 1

House boat sunset part 2

House boat sunset part 2

... and in the morning...

… and in the morning…

MARK’S MUM ASKS:   Which has been your favourite country and what difference has this tour made in both your lives?

Hello Mum!  We’re split on this one and so best to refer to the Top 5 below.  Sarah has gone for Laos and New Zealand.  Laos a surprise package and a truly beautiful unspoilt (except for the UXO/80 million unexploded bombs) country.  New Zealand another scenic sensation where you see different beauty at every turn of the road (or sky).

Lovely Laos

Lovely Laos

Mill pond still

Mill pond still

I agree with Sarah’s choices, but for me India is still the Number 1.  It was a powerful power-keg of emotions as far as I was concerned.  The colour, the contrasts, the smells and above all, the people.  Because we travelled over 12,000 miles from the top to the bottom and planned the entire itinerary ourselves I can still remember every place as if it was yesterday. And I’ll never forget Garima and her family at Delhi station.

A great highlight for us - meeting Garima and her family

A great highlight for us – meeting Garima and her family

The harder question to answer is the difference the trip has made to our lives. We both think that time back in England will give us the answer to this question.  Can we come back to you on this one?

MARY ASKS:  What next – both in terms of travel and choice of future employment? I somehow feel the corporate world will not sit comfortably after all you have both seen and experienced.

Hi Mary, a very perceptive question!  We’ve lots of ideas and indeed plans which unfortunately we cannot reveal just yet!  Neither of us are trying to be evasive, it’s just that there are likely to be a number of exciting choices to make in the weeks to come.  The best analogy we can perhaps use is a series of roads which lie ahead rather than a cross roads as we are well past that point on our metaphorical journey.  The corporate world is one I (Mark) still love and I can’t wait to rejoin it, in whatever form that takes.  Sarah meanwhile has had her social conscience pricked many times during the past few months and could well explore this avenue.

What next in terms of travel is an easy one.  We have drawn up our next list of destinations and we’ll aim to knock these off over the next ten years or so. Returning to the UK will be a first in that for the first time in 30 years we have not got an overseas trip (other than Yorkshire) planned.  The MASTERS BUCKET LIST INCLUDES – not in any particular order except the first destination:

  • Vancouver/Portland/Oregon – September 2017 – Court/Linda are you free to put us up as we have run out of money?
  • Japan
  • Lviv – (Ukraine)
  • South Africa
  • Tanzania/Namibia/Ethiopia
  • Costa Rica/Belize
  • Antarctica
  • Rocky Mountain Express and then cruise to Alaska – likely to be when we are in mid 70s as cruising is for old people (controversial).
Planning our next adventure....

Planning our next adventure….

FRANK ASKS:  Apart from “which bit do you think you enjoyed the most?” I think my other question would be “How do you feel about returning to the UK, to “normality”? I’m sure you will be glad to be home in many ways, but how to focus the mind on the daily tasks, that may seem a bit mundane or tame after such an adventure?

Good to have your two-part question Frank!  Hope Radio Frimley Park is going strong!   In terms of the best bit, I’m going to duck that question and refer you to the Top 5 section below which is all jointly agreed.  But I will answer the question another way.  One of the highlights for me was when the wheels of the giant Emirates A380 took off from Heathrow on 31st August 2015.  It was at that precise moment that I knew all the plans were going to happen and there was no going back….

No going back and no point in feeling blue

No going back and no point in feeling blue

The second part of your question is a really interesting point.  I was chatting on Skype to a close friend who warned of the likely feeling of deflation on our return to Frimley… To be frank (not possible I know) we are really looking forward to a little bit of normality.  There has been only five times in nine months where we have been in the same bed for four days or more.  The average is 2.25 nights!  So to banish any negative thoughts, we have a very full programme planned during the first few days of our return.  We then hope that our future plans will come to fruition so we don’t have to endure “normality” for too long.  Sounds all a bit cryptic, so watch this space Frank.

Normality

Normality

KATY ASKS:   Will your sedulous travels have made a difference to your future plans and dreams?

Firstly thank you for all the references to gin on Facebook.  The thought of a proper G & T has kept me going for nine months.  And secondly thanks for using the word sedulous!  Now, your question.  The trip has crystallised rather than changed our future plans.  The job now is to convert the dreams into reality which we both feel better equipped to do having spent so much time away.  What we have learnt, is that if you have a vision/goal and you then commit to it (in writing or publicly), things happen.  We’ve learnt that “us oldies” can still give the younger generation a run for their money and in some ways I am now feeling more competitive and focussed than I did in my mid-20s.  There is only a finite amount of time we are on this mortal coil and experiences such as zip-lining, abseiling and walking the Inca Trail have reinforced the fact that you can do anything you want – if you want to.  People we have met on this trip and indeed people we know in the UK, have said “we couldn’t do that”.  The reality though is somewhat different in our opinion.  If they really wanted to travel the World most of them could – it’s just that they have other priorities, goals and objectives which is fair enough.  Now, where’s that gin before I get too philosophical.

Climb every mountain

Climb every mountain

LINDA ASKS: From all the places you have ticked on your bucket list for this trip, were there any surprises? May be somewhere that has given you a different memory to the one anticipated.

Thanks for this excellent question Linda.  Sarah first: I had two surprises…. The first was Laos, as it was so beautiful and unspoilt and I never realised what a sad history it had and still has. I don’t want to go back again though as I know that in 10 years’ time it will be completely different as mass tourism takes over.

The second is Australia. Having spent time in Australia over 35 years’ ago, I was looking forward to re-visiting old stomping grounds and re-living those 12 months of my life “down under.” However, the highlight for me was spending time with my brother, Shane and his family over Christmas and New Year. With only 13 month’s between us, Shane and I were never really close and growing up, we did everything possible to annoy each other! Maybe at last, maturity has kicked in and we are now able to enjoy each other’s company. (Note; I wrote this (re Shane) independently having not read Mark’s earlier response to Ian!!)

Talking to the 'roo

Talking to the ‘roo – Nephew Eddie

Mark’s turn:  I was surprised and somewhat disappointed at the poor quality of food and service in South America, with one noteable exception.  Having had culinary feasts in China, Indo-China and Malaysia, we assumed Chile, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and Brazil would deliver.  Alas no.  Complete lack of customer service in most of Peru and all of Bolivia and a diet of fried meat and not much else everywhere.  The one beacon of excellence was the Inca Trail.  How the hell the porters and chef’s served up such high quality food I will never know and all this on two gas burners.  It just shows what can be achieved.

More tea vicar?

More tea vicar? Harry Porter and the Inca Boys..

MASTERS TOP 5/TOP 10/TOP 15

This took forever to agree, but agree we did.

So, the TOP 5/TOP 10/TOP 15 answers below are not ranked with the exception of the airlines.

TOP COUNTRIES

  • India
  • Laos
  • New Zealand
  • Ecuador
  • Nepal

TOP PEOPLE

  • Indians
  • Nepalese
  • Cambodians
  • Australians
  • Laotians

TOP FOOD

  • India
  • China
  • Vietnam
  • Australia
  • Thailand

TOP EXPERIENCES – MARK

  • Zip lining/Canyonning – Ecuador
  • Train and people spotting – CST – Mumbai – India
  • Flight over Great Barrier Reef – Australia
  • Abseiling -Vietnam
  • Flight x 2 around Mt Everest, Nepal and China

TOP EXPERIENCES – SARAH

  • Snorkelling – Great Barrier Reef
  • Walking the Inca Trail – Peru
  • Flight over Mt Cook and Fox Glacier – New Zealand
  • Riding on a motorbike – Vietnam
  • Floating down the Mekong – Laos

TOP SIGHTS x 15 as could not narrow down

  • Great Barrier Reef, above and on – Australia
  • Mount Cook from above – New Zealand
  • The Great Wall of China
  • Terracotta Warriors – China
  • Golden Temple, Amritsar – India
  • Machu Piccu – Peru
  • Salt Flats, Bolivia
  • Iguassu Falls, Argentina
  • 12 Apostles, Great Ocean Road – Australia
  • Dolphins – New Zealand
  • The Killing Fields – Cambodia
  • Ku Chi Tunnels – Vietnam
  • Mount Everest – Nepal
  • Pantanal – Brazil
  • Where the Daintree Rainforest and Great Barrier Reef meet

TOP DISAPPOINTMENTS

  • Ankor Wat – Cambodia
  • Nazca Lines – Peru
  • Ayers Rock – Australia
  • Anybody in Bolivia who claims to work in hospitality
  • Food in South America

TOP 5 PHOTOS

NUMBER 1: The bras hit the fan - great drier, but only on slow spin speed!

NUMBER 1: The bras hit the fan – great drier, but only on slow spin speed!

Number 2: Fishing for compliments – nice line Mark!

Number 2: Fishing for compliments – nice line Mark!  Kerala House Boat – sunset – see Sue’s question above

NUMBER 3: The 12 Apostles

NUMBER 3: The 12 Apostles

Great Barrier Reef

NUMBER 4:  Whitsunday Islands, Australia

Made it

NUMBER 5:  Machu Picchu

TOP AIRLINES

  1. Emirates
  2. Air China
  3. LAN
  4. Qantas
  5. Air Asia

 

TRAINS, BOATS AND PLANES –  The Scores on the Doors

Yes we did try to get all the numbers in a straight line below, but failed miserably.  Sorry.  ED.

Bus                                      103

Car/Taxi                                60

Plane                                    39

Metro                                    35

Tuk-tuk                                 28

Ferry                                    26

Boat                                     25

Train                                    19

Rickshaw                               9

Truck                                     8

Cable-car                               6

Tram                                      6

Hire Car                                 5

Bike                                       3

Kayak                                    2

Rib-boat                                 2

4WD                                       2

Monorail                                2

Rowing boat                          1

Tub(ing)                                 1

Motor-bike                             1

Cyclo                                      1

Quad Bike                              1

Golf cart                                 1

Chair-lift                                 1

Toboggan                               1

Horse                                     1

Elephant                                1

Jet Boat                                 1

Jet ski                                    1

Helicopter                             1

Hummer                                1

Funicular                               1

Swing                                    1

Dune Buggy                         1

 

AND SO THE END IS NIGH

MARK:  And so if you have read down to this final paragraph, you must be a true MASTERS follower.  And for that we thank you.  I know we have said it before, but thank you for taking the trouble to keep in touch.  For those that couldn’t or didn’t or wouldn’t, thank you for helping us re-shape our Christmas card list for 2016!  LOL.

Travelling is a strange thing.  You meet many friends, but at the same time it can be very lonely.  Just like the many mountains and valleys, there are highs and there are lows.  For richer for poorer, for better for worse.  The good thing is we will be coming back on the same British Airways plane together and that is probably our biggest highlight and achievement.  Two hundred and sixty four days together, 24 hours a day is a hell of a long time.  Try it for yourself, if you don’t believe me!

However, we don’t want you to think we’ve ended on a downer.  No, we prefer to look at the many hundreds of things we have achieved.

Look at the transport stats (above) for one!  We had just one plane that was cancelled resulting in a 12 hour change of plan.  The rest was spot on.  Not one delay on 39 flights.  Every single hotel booking happened as planned.  There were no mistakes, no cock-ups.  Nothing, zilch.  The many hours of planning paid off big time and the contingency plans and back-ups were never used – a pity that as it would have been good in some ways to have been really put to the test.

So the last word goes to me (Mark).  I have, as you have probably gathered written all but one of these blogs.  Sarah’s “The bra hits the fan…..” however, still goes down as one of the most popular, particularly the photo of that dingy little room in Amritsar.  I may have written many of these words and re-kindled my enjoyment for writing, but Sarah has read and edited every single blog. It has been she that re-works my bad English and grammatical mistakes.  It has been Sarah that tweaks and amends and is the “line in the sand when I go too far…..” and to quote MB further;   “You’re every line, you’re every word, you’re everything…..”   Mx

SARAH:  Remember that I’m still the Editor and of course it’s me that has THE LAST WORD!  T’was ever thus.

THAT’S IT.  Thanks for reading, supporting and commenting.  It was a blast!

THE END!!

THE END!!

MARK AND SARAH – THE MASTERS

 

Categories: South America Blog | Tags: , , , , , , ,

Any Questions So Far?????

MARK: The Brazilian Pantanal is big.  No really, it is!

The World’s largest tropical wetland area is the size of the UK and sits “slap bang” in the heart of South America.  A haven for wildlife and blessed with the largest concentration of different bird species anywhere on the planet, it is an amazing, magical place.

The stats are impressive:  The Pantanal is home to 1000 different varieties of bird, 400 different fish, 300 mammals and 480 unique reptiles.

A yellow bird

A yellow bird

Not much for supper

Not much for supper

Forgotten the name of this fella

Forgotten the name of this fella

Steady boy!

Steady boy!

To get there though is far from easy, as we found out, finally arriving at our South American Ranch after a long, tortuous, 19 hour overland journey!  In fairness, the initial 11 hour overnight bus from Santa Cruz (Bolivia) to the Brazilian border was pretty painless.  We managed some sleep curled up in our front seats of the double decker bus aided by extra space as there was just three, rather than the normal four seats across the interior cabin.  Furthermore, the broken upper front windscreen was hidden from our initial view behind the obligatory grubby orange bus curtain and the unsubstantiated stains on the seats remained hidden until we got off.

However, when we did manage to stumble down the bus stairs at 0726 and into the cold morning air, our ordeal was far from over.  Ahead of us was a long windy queue of dishevelled, weary bodies, Adidas and Puma tracksuits predominating. We joined this human line and queued for two hours to clear Bolivian customs. Exit stamp obtained in passport, a short 300m walk through “no mans land”. And then, guess what?  Yep another two hours queue, this time to navigate Brazilian customs.  All sorts of confusion prevailed as fellow travellers exited the dingy customs office.  Some people had entry stamps in their passport, some were without and some lucky blighters had a passport stamp and white paper exit form. This was the longest ever immigration/border crossing of my 52 years. I only had a stamp – so at time of writing, am still not sure whether the rest of my life means I will be incarcerated for time immemorial in some Brazilian hell hole.

In and out stamp

In and out stamp

Planning our next adventure....

Planning our next adventure….

Fortunately, there was a Mercedes Mini-Bus on the “other side”.  Unfortunately, its presence heralded a further three hour trip through the Brazilian countryside.  It was cold.  It was wet. It should have been 30C+.  It wasn’t.  It was more like 16C.  What is happening to the World weather????

All went reasonably well until the van pulled off the main road and then the bumping associated with a mud road started.  It continued for twenty minutes.  A sharp right turn on to a small track really did start to shake our bodies to the core, but fortunately this lasted for just a few minutes as we drew up alongside a “safari type” truck.  Just one more leg through the wetlands.  “Forty minutes and we’ll be there….”  came the cry from Isaac our guide.

On safari

On safari

He was right.  In 42 minutes, 30 seconds we arrived at Passo de Lontra.  A few buildings in the middle of a raised green area, surrounded by water.  We’d arrived in the Pantanal proper, a friendly Caiman smiled at the group as we grabbed our bags.

Caiman/alligator - either way they still bite

Caiman/alligator – either way they still bite

Sarah was pretty cold by this stage, not helped by a really bad head cold. So we took one look at the row of hammocks in the windswept communal dormitory and decided we’d prefer the relative comfort of our own room for two days.  The upgrade fee of £50 was quickly paid, guaranteeing us a breeze block built “cell” with convector heated shower and 25 year old TV.

Next day the weather was better and surprisingly few degrees warmer.  It was therefore time, after watching a beautiful sunrise, to saddle up and head through the marshland on horseback.

Sunrise

Sunrise

Invaded by goats outside our luxury pent-house

Invaded by goats outside our luxury pent-house

I felt sure the cowboys wouldn’t find a horse big enough for a 100kg super heavyweight – but they did.  And do you know what, I’m glad they did.  The experience of being on a horse for the first time in 40 years was great fun especially as the procession of nags waded through murky water up to five feet deep, wildlife all around.

Off we went... I managed a trot and got wet

Off we went… I managed a trot and got wet

Beautiful countryside

Beautiful countryside

The final furlong....

The final furlong….

My “Uncle Crisp” – who is actually Uncle Chris but the name stuck thanks to Joe – visited the Pantanal area recently and as an avid bird enthusiast came back very excited.  We could see why as there were so many different varieties of feathered friends ranging from stunning kingfishers and brightly coloured woodpeckers through to unbelievable Guinness toucans and pairs of brilliant blue macaws.

Friendly

Friendly

Very friendly

Very friendly

A member of the woodpecker family

A member of the woodpecker family

Little red chap

Little red chap

Toucan play at that game!

Toucan play at that game!

One of five different kingfishers seen

One of five different kingfishers seen

This one chirped a lot

This one chirped a lot

Tall

Tall

Yellow eyed woodpecker

Yellow eyed woodpecker

A robin?

A robin?

But birds also share this amazing landscape with over 40,000,000 predatory caiman.  Yes you did read right – 40 million of the alligator snappers, the biggest of which we saw was in excess of three metres. I was particularly thrilled to discover quite by chance when reviewing various shots, that one of the caiman had a large dragon fly perched right on the end of its nose.  One of my better shots…..

We encountered many of these fascinating creatures who in the main were more frightened of us than we were of them….

Perfectly formed

Perfectly formed

Love the dragon fly on this boys nose

Love the dragon fly on this boy’s nose

Curious - this taken from 3 metres away

Curious – this taken from 3 metres away

Indeed we saw a lot of different animals on our three day expedition including anteaters, capybara (the largest rhodent in the World), marsh deer and peccaries (wild pigs).

Capybara on the move

Capybara on the move

Wonderful creature - the giant ant-eater

Wonderful creature – the giant ant-eater

We also caught some fish!  About 12 of us, complete with bamboo canes, fishing wire and hooks, attempted to land some piranhas for tea, hanging off a bridge some 15 miles from our ranch base.  The piranhas didn’t play ball, but some snake fish did and I’m pleased to say that yours truly caught three of the five fish the group landed!

Like kids - great fun

Like kids – great fun

Look at the size of that..

Look at the size of that..

Talking of water, a couple of days after we left the Pantanal, and en-route to the Iguassu Falls (Brazil/Argentina/Paraguay border), we had a most enjoyable experience, snorkelling in some of the clearest water anywhere in the World at a place called Bonito.  Limestone filtered water surges from a spring at a rate of 10,000 litres a minute.  You jump in complete with wet suit, snorkel and mask and then serenely float down the river marvelling at the clarity of vision – 60 metres no less – and the myriad of fish that are happy to share their natural aquarium.

Relaxing

Relaxing

Beautifully clear

Beautifully clear

Not sure what sort of fish this is...

Not sure what sort of fish this is…

and relax....

and relax….

That was pretty special, but nothing compared to the Iguassu Falls which border Brazil and Argentina.  We’ll gloss over the awful 14 hour bus ride to get there which was truly horrendous.  Instead, I’ll focus on the fantastic helicopter ride and walk down by these amazing waterfalls – in pictures only.

Up, up and away

Up, up and away

Within ten minutes we were there..

Within ten minutes we were there..

One of my better attempts

One of my better attempts

Argentina on the right and Brazil nearside

Argentina on the right and Brazil nearside

And down on the ground the shots views were good as well

And down on the ground the views were just as good

Another Rainbow....

Another Rainbow….

And that’s really just about it, for this blog and MASTERS20152016.COM.  We may have time for another Blog before we return on 10 May – just not sure how the time will pan out between now and then.  We do also have a mega blog that needs to be completed, which shares many tips, thoughts and views about our 9 months on the road, but I am not sure quite when and where this will be published….

In the meantime one final idea.  If you would like to ask Sarah and me any questions about our Round the World Trip, add them to the comments section on this blog and we will endeavour to weave them in to our final posting.

Stay safe and see you very, very soon.

Categories: South America Blog | Tags: , , , ,

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