Posts Tagged With: Gap year

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”.



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


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.



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..


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.


  • India
  • Laos
  • New Zealand
  • Ecuador
  • Nepal


  • Indians
  • Nepalese
  • Cambodians
  • Australians
  • Laotians


  • India
  • China
  • Vietnam
  • Australia
  • Thailand


  • 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


  • 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


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


  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



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!





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

Life is never black or white – or even 50 shades of grey for that matter

I half expected the Pearl and Dean music to start as the lights dimmed and changed colour.  We’d just taken off from Auckland in our brand new LAN Airlines Boeing 787-9 “Dreamliner”, the plane seemingly taking an age to get off the ground.

Dream on

Dream on

I’m not a nervous flyer, well not now after 31 flights.  However, the thought of flying 6,000 miles across the South Pacific on two engines to Santiago, Chile with no land in between, did make me briefly think I might not see my beloved Middlesbrough play in the Premiership next season. EDITOR:  Mr B not a happy Blogger after the away defeat at Rotherham United!

But it was a fantastic ambient light show in the plane’s cabin that distracted me from thoughts of death.  We’ve been in a couple of the giant A380 Airbuses on our RTW travels and they have had different lighting states. However our first ever flight in the Dreamliner topped that by some distance.  Firstly, as we boarded, a nice pinky/rose colour helped passengers de-stress as seatbelts were tightened.  Then as we hurtled down the runway, it changed to a bluey crimson colour – which must mean something, although I know not what.

At 34,000 feet, as we flew over the International Dateline, the lights took on an orange glow as dinner was served – in-lieu of candles perhaps?  Then, with people wanting to sleep, the purple hue around the cabin ceiling gradually became a silver/yellow moonlike shimmer, gradually fading to black as the cabin lights dimmed.

Hats off to manufacturer Boeing who are being really clever here as they try to trick our mind and circadian (body) clock through different shades of light.  I think it worked in fairness, particularly as the onboard computer also controlled the 40% larger than normal ‘portal’ windows by dimming and brightening when necessary.  For example, we set off at 1830 for an 11 hour flight, went over the dateline and arrived at 1400 the same day. But despite the sun having “been up” for the last 7 hours of the flight, the windows pretended that it was still night.  Clever.  So we were up for 31 hours and had no jet lag the next day despite very little sleep due to the excessive turbulence.  Maybe that’s the downside of these flexible light-weight carbon fibre planes.

Just wished I had taken some photos – but hey, for once, hope the above prose gives you an idea.

So, Santiago, Chile.  A new country and our first time in South America.  Excited.

Well we were for five minutes as we got in to the taxi, but suddenly we both thought it all looked a bit grey as we sped in to the centre of town.  Situated in a “bowl” haze not heavy smog, enveloped the City.  Something akin to Beijing was in the air, but we could breath.

Not a good start

Not a good start

We quickly dumped our bags in our 1970s throwback hotel, interestingly called The Vegas and headed out to explore, our legs still seized up thanks to the not so generous 30” legroom afforded in LAN Cattle Class. Dream on Dreamliner.

But what was this?  Nobody around. Shutters shut, grey coloured streets with nobody in them. Lots of concrete, randomly mixed with the odd Cubanesque colourful style building. We headed for the central plaza, graffiti everywhere.  The city increasingly looked like a cross between Romania in the height of the cold-war mixed with a down-at-heel part of Birmingham.  More graffiti.  It was sprayed everywhere.  Still nobody around as a piece of “Donald Trump” hair, sorry tumbleweed, blew across the street in-front of us as if we were in some sort of spaghetti western.

Translation please

Translation please

"Back end of beyond perhaps.....?"

“Back end of beyond perhaps…..?”  Look closely

Not open

Not open

Ah yes a BT phone

Ah yes a BT phone and a few more people

Baching Mad

Locals thought I was “Baching Mad” taking a shot of this

Shutter up

Shutter up

No escape from the spray.... not even trees

No escape from the spray…. not even trees

From the beauty of New Zealand to this in the blink of an eye.

We looked at each other, shrugged our shoulders and headed to a rather poor Italian restaurant for a bowl of pasta and a pizza.  It was the only thing we could find open within a half mile walk of the hotel.  In a corner, a hunched up old lady who must have been in her 90s, kept shouting out to her 65+ year old daughter over Sunday/ “Mother’s Day” lunch?  Back to the care home for her, time for bed for us after being up for 31 hours.

Next day, Monday, a different day and a good day.  The sun was shining, an excellent start.  The grey had changed to blue and suddenly there were people everywhere.  The place was alive, nay bustling, a veritable hive of activity in the street surrounding our hotel.  Streets and areas that yesterday had appeared to be reminiscent of a former 1980s Soviet State suddenly looked amazingly capitalist.  With the sun now out to play, temperatures quickly rose into the late 20s.

That's better, old and new

That’s better, old and new in the blue

Flag greets MASTERS arrival

Flag greets MASTERS arrival

Life and soul of the street

Life and sole of the street party

Coffee - ah yes coffee! More of that in a moment

Coffee – ah yes coffee! More of that in a moment

Fidel sadly could not make the free tour

Fidel sadly could not make it in person

Welcome to Santiago proper!

We decided to join the 1000 Free Walking Tour which started in the main Piazza. No hills, but still good exercise and the chance to find out more about the city we were in for 72 hours.

Franco (or El Presidente as I dubbed him), our late 20s tour guide was a real pro’ – he should have been after six years.  But as I said to him, his passion and enthusiasm were infectious.  It was as if this was his first, not 1400th tour.  Fair play and you could see why he lives off tips, he was that good.

Make Franco President

Start point of our tour

Start point of our tour – The Cathedral

Franco's followers, Mrs B at the back

Franco’s followers, Mrs B at the back

So our four hour tour started, taking in at first the historic bits of the central area as one would expect.  But I am delighted to say there was loads of social commentary and background on modern day Santiago and the people of Chile.  It was all fascinating.  So please, let me share some small vignettes from our walk to give you a flavour of this interesting capital.


Thirty minutes after we started, Franco stopped the group in the street and began talking about coffee houses… I was so glad he did!  Earlier that morning, I had stumbled in to what I thought was a café selling coffee, only to be met by a couple of men and a rather well-endowed young lady who asked me with a twinkle in her glass eye what I wanted!!!  Franco’s explanation was interesting.  Chile, he explained is not known for its quality of coffee so in the 1980s some bright spark had the notion of selling coffee in cafes with no chairs (just poser tables) served by ladies in short skirts.  The idea was a simple one. Men would be distracted from the poor treacle/stewed coffee by the beauty of the ladies and everybody would be happy. It summed up for me typical male crass thinking.  The irony, that this was International Women’s Day not lost on me or Sarah. We squinted through partially covered frosted window pains and both got eye fulls!  Libidos in check, we continued as history beckoned.



... It's not difficult to be distracted

… It’s not difficult to be distracted in Santiago

MAGGIE THATCHER’S MATE…. “The Party of Pinochet” – Blair 1999

We stopped, overlooking the Presidential Palace – not particularly ornate or grand as the photo shows.  But interesting because on the 9th September 1973 there was a coup and Margaret Thatcher’s friend General Pinochet strangely came to power after two President’s died in the space of a week. He was third in line. I personally remember Pinochet for a couple of reasons.

The first was his support of the British when we took back the Falklands.  Pinochet had no love for the Argentinians although officially neutral.  But when Margaret needed assistance to bomb the Falkland Islands, General P offered radar support in exchange for some Hawker fighters….  The “friendship” continued into the late 1980’s and early 1990’s and coincided with the second reason I remember this rather nasty Dictator.  Joe, our son once went to a birthday party when he was 3 on the Wentworth Estate.  Not any old party, but the leaving party for the Sultan of Brunei’s two sons who went to the same nursery – Happy Days (yes the real name of the nursery).  It was quite literally a palace, but interestingly close by was General P’s UK residence where he was holed up after being ousted from power in 1990 to evade possible arrest for nasties carried out under his watch.

Presidential Palace, the scene of the coup in 9/11/1973

Presidential Palace, the scene of the coup on the 11/9/1973 – Pinochet died in 2006


Pinochet is long since dead, but one lasting memory I do have of Santiago is the Police presence on the streets.  Those of you who are Facebook friends will have seen a tongue in cheek posting I made a couple of days ago showing water canon units, armed personnel carriers and military police in full riot gear.  This heavy police presence was not as first reports claimed, needed to quell the disquiet of Middlesbrough FC fans in Santiago (me) after their diabolical performance against Rotherham, but was to “observe” what appeared to be a perfectly quiet demonstration involving around 10,000 mainly women who were campaigning for a range of women’s rights, including abortion.

You are conscious of the police

You are conscious of the police

Not always smiling

Not always smiling


Pity the police don’t earn their money by nailing people with spray cans in their hands.  I mentioned earlier that graffiti was everywhere and wasn’t a pretty sight.  However on our walking tour we saw examples of much better, even semi-professional “street art” which was actually quite good….

Good G

Good G

Better but not right

Better but not right


… but better still were the many artists who worked in the historic streets in the old quarter and in the student side of town close to a myriad of bars and clubs – the latter where a more “free” or should I say “drunk” style of painting prevailed .  I really liked their work, bright vivid colours reminding me in some cases of the great work of Steve Eker and Cate Field, who I hasten to add are both teetotal.

A chap called Bills

A chap called Bills

No pictures of Trump thank goodness

No pictures of Trump thank goodness

View from the top - better than my grey image

View from the top of the big hill – better than my grey image


The Santiagan artists had some lovely backdrops to paint in-front of and Franco showed us many fine sights, the old buildings mixing with the new quite well except in the case of the Telefonica Tower, which looked like the stupid “brick” that it was in terms of a poor copy of a mobile phone circa 1995.  Judge for yourself.

Side by side

Side by side

The opera house

The opera house

Telefonica Brick circa 1995

Telefonica Brick circa 1995


Just round the corner from the Tower, I could hear the clear sounds of a rock band.  Listening to the music I was astounded to see a guy on drums and another on bass guitar “busking” in front of four lanes of cars waiting at traffic lights.  With full amplification, they started each time the traffic stopped giving them around 35 seconds to belt out various tracks before rushing down the sides of the vehicles to receive cash.  I watched these guys completely  fascinated, having broken away  from the walking tour party who were now busy looking at some really, really boring statue of a bloke from 1756.  The drummer stayed with his kit on the pavement whilst the guitarist gyrated big time as the lights turned to red.  Two performances later I heard the Police Number 1 “Don’t stand so close to me” from 1980.  I could not resist singing along from the centre of the dual carriageway much to the pleasure of the band and it would appear cars alike.  Tune over, we nipped down the cars and collected about 500 pesos – around 50P – which my fellow band members seemed pleased with.  I tried to explain that I was from “near Newcastle where Sting comes from” but my Spanish Geordie accent was not good and I think the message (in a bottle) was lost in translation.

No police, just Sting

No police, just Sting

Back to the group, the rest of the international walking tour members just never knew what they missed…

So, next up, Ecuador and our trip to the Amazon Basin and the “Poor Man’s” Galapagos.  Our LAN Airbus 320 has just pulled up on the stand beneath where I am sitting.  The white and blue fuselage shining in the late afternoon sun. We’ve had a really colourful last three days, just wish it had been longer really.

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

A TIDE of SALTY emotion as we WAVE goodbye to the country of….

MARK: If you ask me what the TWO things are that I will remember most from our five weeks in New Zealand, it might surprise you.  What do you reckon?

Beautiful scenery, aqua-marine glacial lakes or incised ‘V’ shaped valleys? Snow-capped mountains, speeding jet boats or little planes affording brilliant views? Wine, wine and more wine?  The un-PC “classless” people, superb weather – only two grey days in 32 – or single lane roads where Chinese drivers cause mayhem?

Just some of the experiences that readily spring to mind. But just what will stay with me forever?

Ladies and Gentlemen, the Award for Remembrance goes to…….. drum roll Oscar style……..

Big Blue Sky

Big blue sky and bright blue water

… the Sky and the Sea!

Yep I know, that may be a bit random, but let me explain.

The sky here seems so much”bigger” and bluer than any other country in the world we have ever been to.  Quick research on the web suggests this is possibly due to the lack of pollution, reduced ozone in the atmosphere and is linked to the angle of New Zealand in relation to the Sun’s UV rays.  Whatever it is, we have been sooooooo privileged to see so many amazing blue skies each day. And even on the few days it has been grey, the fascinating cloud formations have been just as dramatic.

OK that’s the sky bit over with, so what about the sea?  Good question Mark.

We’ve seen a lot of it during our 4,163 mile road journey around the two islands. From Bluff at the bottom of South Island to near the Cape Reinga Peninsula in the North.  Benign one minute, a tumultuous cauldron the next, it makes you realise just how insignificant you are in the scheme of things.  It is mesmerizing just watching the surf break. The noise can be deafening close up.  I certainly have great respect for those early explorers including Captain Cook who took on the might of the oceans and not always with positive outcomes.

A grain of sand

A grain of sand

The sky and the sea, literally came together during one of our last adventures, when we bounced along on an ex New Zealand Royal Navy rescue boat, owned and run by local Whitianga legend Steve Miller – The Cave Cruzer.  Steve and his lovely wife Vicki also own the bed and breakfast accommodation we stayed in – Absolute Beachview – a great place if you are ever in this neck of the woods.

But back to the legend for a minute who, by the way, drives an aqua-marine 1974 Mustang convertible…

Steve has saved the lives of TWO people in the past few months due to his fantastic CPR skills.  His latest heroics just over a month ago, got a lot of media attention as he saved a lady’s life on Monday, who then married on Friday of that same week. Read all about it for yourselves by clicking on the links below to access the online reports:

The God that is Steve at Cathedral Cove.

The God that is Steve, at Cathedral Cove.

Heading off on Sunday morning the sun decided to come out and what a 3 hour trip we had!

The sun will come out

The sun will come out

The Rib was able to get really close to so many rock and cliff formations…and wildlife you could literally touch!

Hungry birds

Hungry birds

Tree-mendous stacks

Tree-mendous stacks

S and S

Big sky meets big sea

The Champagne glass

“The Champagne Glass” – sadly upside down and empty

Largest sea cave in the southern hemisphere

The largest sea cave in the southern hemisphere

Inside the cave the fish came out to play

Inside the cave, the fish came out to play

It was such a fun trip….

Smile please

Smile please as we pass through what is known as the “washing machine”

Captain Cook - you know, the bloke from Middlesbrough - named this Cathedral Cove

Captain Cook – the bloke from Middlesbrough – named this Cathedral Cove – Sarah impressed as you can see!


Get a shave

And then WOW. Steve got a call to say there was a pod of Bottlenose dolphins in the Bay around the corner.  We sped off.  The first sight we had, came when one of these amazing creatures started jumping over a chap on a kayak nearby. Within minutes there were dolphins everywhere around our boat, heading towards the centre of the main estuary channel.  I decided to get in amongst them as you do – and they decided to move on, so that was the end of my swimming with dolphins bit.  No wet suit Phil W in the north!

Look at the size of the white bull (bottom)

Look at the size of the white bull (bottom)

Everywhere you looked

Everywhere you looked

Side by side

Side by side – two mates out for a swim

Out of focus, but you get the sort of idea

Out of focus, but you get the sort of idea

I frightened them off

I frightened them off – so I hung on the back of the rib as it headed off at speeds of 30 mph, my hair blowing in the wind from the big inboard motors

The two videos I took on my 35mm camera perhaps give a better idea – sorry about the shakes and the poor quality… Click on the link or the video arrow and have a look…

And so we say good-bye to New Zealand.  Only two days in Auckland before we fly over the international date-line to Chile on Sunday.  A few days in Santiago and then another couple of flights up to Ecuador for the start of our tour to the Amazon Jungle and beyond.  Wifi is doubtless going to be harder to access, so we will post when we can. In the meantime, a massive thank you to all those who continue to email, phone, text, Skype, WhatsApp, Viber and post comments on the site.  We are getting on average 200+ unique views from around the World per blog from over 58 countries, excluding the rest of the site.  So a big thank you from us for following us and thanks for the amazing comments – we really appreciate it.

We "wave" goodbye to New Zealand

We “wave” goodbye to New Zealand… next stop somehere that sounds colder but is actually warmer – Chile – another wine producing country.  Get the real reason for this trip?


Categories: New Zealand Blog | Tags: , , , , ,

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