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”.
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?
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.
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!
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?
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….
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.
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!
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…..
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!
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).
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.
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?
- Lviv – (Ukraine)
- South Africa
- Costa Rica/Belize
- Rocky Mountain Express and then cruise to Alaska – likely to be when we are in mid 70s as cruising is for old people (controversial).
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….
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.
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.
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!!)
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.
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.
- New Zealand
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
- 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
- Air China
- 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.
Hire Car 5
Rowing boat 1
Quad Bike 1
Golf cart 1
Jet Boat 1
Jet ski 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!
MARK AND SARAH – THE MASTERS