Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year!

It's about 6.45pm local time and the muezzins have just finished their post-sunset calls to prayer. As it's 3.45am in Sydney, everyone "back home" has already watched the fireworks, twice, enjoyed copious amounts of alcohol and probably went to bed a couple of hours ago.

Meanwhile, Jace and I are here in our hotel in downtown Cairo, enjoying our respective bottles of duty free Chivas Regal and Absolut Berri Açaí.

It might not sound like much, but we're loving our quiet NYE in.

I hope 2011 brings with it joy, love, laughter, peace, prosperity and good health to you all!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Amazon Adventures

This blog has been a long time coming and I just wanted to start by apologising to those of you who have been waiting so patiently for it.

So, the Amazon. There are many different countries from which you can visit the Amazon and everyone chooses a different entry point – usually Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia or Brazil.

Jace and I decided very early on in our planning that we were going to visit the largest river in the world, by volume, and the jungle that surrounds it in Brazil. Our original plan included travelling down-river to the Atlantic on a boat for several days after our jungle adventure, but this was scrapped in favour of flying as our time in South America started running out. Brazil is just too darn big to go overland (and over-river, as the case maybe) without spending huge amounts of both time and money.

So, after leaving Venezuela with a huge sigh of relief, we found ourselves in Manaus. I had envisaged a small river-side town with not much else going on outside of tourism, but like Brazil itself, Manaus was huge.

We spent a couple of days enjoying fabulous fresh fruit juices in exotic flavours like açaí (healthy), acerola (tasty and Jace’s favourite), caju (strange), guanabana (like a custard apple) and maracuja (passionfruit but better), as well as sweet pineapple (abacaxi) and delicious banana. The general abundance of fresh food made us feel instantly happier and healthier.

After looking at a couple of tour companies, we decided to go with Amazon Antonio Jungle Tours. They were conveniently located in our hostel and we got to meet our guide, Francisco, before we left. They also tailored a tour to our needs and desires: we chose a 5 day/4 night trip where we would spend the first and last nights in lodge accommodation and 2 nights in the jungle, camping out under the stars.

The lodge was lovely – right on the water but in the jungle too. Francisco told us that he and Antonio used to work together at another company, but then Antonio bought some land and left to start his own company. The lodge’s buildings were all made using local materials; for example, the rooves are covered with leaves from the açaí plant.

River view from the lodge

Rooves of açaí leaves

It turns out açaí is wonderfully versatile and every part of the plant is used: you eat the berries and the heart (like palm heart), use the trunk to build your house and then roof it with the leaves. The leaves can also be used to make baskets, hats, mats and brooms.

On our trip in the jungle, we would learn that there was a plant for everything in the jungle.

Make your shelter (with a bit of tarp for rain protection)

Light this sap to make a cool torch when it’s dark

Drink from this plant when you’re thirsty

Insect repellent ants


Francisco and Alix make...

... a fan and a crown

This stuff tastes like ice cream

Caju – you eat it when it’s red

Cooking sticks

Bowls (made by Isabel and Alix) and spoons (made by Francisco)

Our table

As it was the dry season, we saw surprisingly few animals, but we did spot some monkeys

And some birds

A woodpecker

These little insect catchers were all around the river

We went fishing

Heiko caught this big river bass after about 2 minutes

Jace, the Piranha Master

And we got up close and personal with a caiman

And some bugs

An unusual Amazonian beetle

Yes, that’s a tarantula

We had a great time in the Amazon and will never forget it! Thanks and hi to Francisco

And our fellow adventurers, Isabelle and Heiko

Friday, December 3, 2010

Adios, South America!

Things I will miss, in no particular order:

* Lime-flavoured Ruffles and Thins
* Brazil's fresh juices
* Açai & acerola (tasty, tasty Amazonian fruits)
* Spanish (I understand most of it, accents aside)
* Good, cheap wine
* Argentinian steaks
* My family
* Pisco sours and caipirinhas
* Sunbathing in my tiny Brazilian bikini

Things I will not miss:

* Putting toilet paper in the bin (yes, they do it and it's gross)
* Rubbish everywhere
* The smell of pee everywhere
* Portuguese (I just don't get it)
* Rice & chips with everything
* Salad = a slice of tomato & a slice of onion
* People pushing me out of the way to get on a bus
* No idea of personal space
* Electric showers (they just don't get hot)

Farewell, South America

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.
Mark Twain

Tomorrow, Friday 3rd December 2010, Alix and I fly from São Paulo, Brazil, to Tunis, Tunisia via Milan, Italy.

This flight marks a significant milestone in our amazing adventure. The South American leg of our journey is complete, and we move on to embrace the vastness of Africa. As we depart Brazil and cross the Atlantic, we pass through those time zones that divide the world, longitudinally, at the farthest point away from our start point in Sydney, Australia. In a West-East direction, we pass the farthest point away from home on this flight, so the rest of our journey is, in a particular way of looking at it, the journey back home.

There are some pretty big chunks of our travels that we have missed in this blog and we will likely write some posts out of sequential order and back-load them into the blog as we write them. I’m determined to prove Gary wrong when he told me “You’ll probably write the blog for 6 months or so then you’ll get bored and won’t write it anymore.” It is true that over time the shiny newness of travelling wears off, and some of the motivation to blog wears off with it, but there are too many stories yet to be told to simply stop writing. So for those of you who were looking for a sequential narrative, my apologies. To those of you who will still read our blog despite the confusion, thanks for reading.

Alix and I left Australia April 1st, 2010. We have travelled through Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, and back to Brazil. Not including a brief flight back to Sydney to meet our newborn niece, Poppy, we have travelled some 36,743 kilometres in a huge “S” shape winding across the continent.

It has been 8 months of pure adventure, and in that time we have met scores of wonderful people and had countless unique experiences that we can now share in our memories for the rest of our lives. South America has lived up to its reputation as a place of dizzying highs, agonising lows, and many unforgettable moments.

South America is exhilarating. It is dirty, it smells bad, it is chaotic. The toilets don’t flush, and the ‘hot showers’, well, they aren’t hot. Sometimes everyone you meet seems to be lying to you or trying to cheat you. On the other hand, South America is a joyous place. There is a bizarre contrast of machine-gun toting policemen mingling with beer drinking locals. There is shouting and hugging and kissing and freedom. There is music, there is natural beauty, and there is the genuine generosity of some very big-hearted people.


Carmen and Luis Vargas in Santiago de Chile set us off on our journey with their incredible hospitality. For some reason I am reminded of the moment when Carmen put some champagne in the freezer to chill so we could drink it with dinner. It was in the freezer just a little too long, and it had partially frozen. Because of this, when it was uncorked, the champagne erupted in a geyser that hit the ceiling and spilled champagne into every corner of the kitchen. I was stunned for a moment and sure that Carmen would be upset in some way, but she simply laughed, clapped her hands with a childlike delight at the spontaneity of the thing, exclaimed “How wonderful!” and poured what was left of the icy champagne anyway. I think there is a lot to be said for Carmen’s response to one of life’s ‘tiny tragedies’.

Although I didn’t mention it in the blog about our climb, I kind of fell in love with Volcan Villarrica in Pucón. It sounds bizarre, I know, but gazing at her made me feel calm and complete, and when we left Pucón I felt sad and heartsick, as if I had separation anxiety from a loved one. I loved that volcano and one day I will go and visit her again.

Carmen and Luis in their home

Earthquake damage in Santiago

Volcan Villarrica at night

Alix at night (who's cuter, really?-A.)


More than anywhere else I have been to, Argentina just feels like the end of the earth. It’s hard to explain why- whether it is the physical remoteness of the country, the enormity of the mountains and lakes and forests, the odd mish-mash of cultural influences or something else, Argentina is unique and I will remember our visit here as sublime. I will miss eating your wonderful steaks and drinking your excellent Malbecs.

Special thank you to Connie and Juan Antonio for your generous welcome. Hi to Daiana in Buenos Aires, so sorry we missed you that time.

A lovely Mendozan red

Connie, Juan Antonio and Jace

The amazing Iguazu Falls


“We have rules here like everyone else,” Ignacio Dibos told us matter-of-factly between puffs at his cigarette. “It’s just that no one pays much attention to them.”

I will never forget the time we spent in Cochabamba with the Dibos family, who put us up in comfort and with great warmth when we were in one of our dirtiest, most exhausted states. Gordita, I hope one day we get to play another game of Clue. (Miss Scarlet, with the revolver, in the dining room.)

If I had not been to Bolivia, I could possibly have lived the rest of my life having never been in a bus crash, which I guess may not have been so bad. Then again, I would never have seen the Salar de Uyuni either, the salt flats that dwarf all other salt pans in the world, nor visited the birthplace of the Incas on Lake Titicaca.

The wonderful Dibos family

The vast Salar de Uyuni

Alix on Isla del Sol, Lake Titicaca


Of course Peru holds a special place in our hearts. I love it that so many of Alix’ eccentric and lovable family are from there.

To Gisela, Erika, Heinz, José, Mari, Migue, Erikita, Cami, Nuni, Gerardo, Jorge, Carlos, Pedro, we love you and miss you, and look forward to the day we can visit again, perhaps next time with a family of our own who can marvel as I did at your beautiful country.

Jace's birthday: Cami, Heinz, Alix, Jace, Gisela, Pedro

Sunrise at Machu Picchu

The Hummingbird at Nazca

Above the tomb at El Brujo


We blazed through Ecuador, I felt, and never gave it much of a chance to grow on us. Sometimes you have to do that. It is our incredible privilege to be able to travel around the world, but nevertheless, you cannot see everything in the world when you do so.

What we did do is go to the Galapagos Islands. We very nearly didn’t, on account of the Galapagos being expensive and me being an incredible miser. Then it became apparent to me that that would be, well, really stupid. Sometimes you just have to spend all your money because the experience that you are dropping your cash on is, to use a hackneyed phrase, priceless.

Lovely Vilcabamba

Sooo many turtles!

Happy birthday, Scuba Lixi

Makin' like an iguana


By now I probably don’t need to tell you that I enjoyed being in Colombia. Everything is inexpensive there, the landscape is amazing, the women are hot, the dudes are cool, the beaches are excellent, the cities are fun and most importantly, the people have an infectious spirit of optimism that is a joy to behold.

As with everywhere, we had our ups and downs in Colombia. But the downs aren’t really worth mentioning, and the ups were too good to clearly explain. In the years to come, I think Colombia will go from strength to strength as they emerge culturally and economically from some shadowy times in their recent past. Colombians deserve it. Good things should happen to good people.

Medellin is not only famous for Escobar, but for Botero sculptures...

... and unusual buildings

Colonial Cartagena

Taganga Bay


Venezuela is right next to Colombia, but a greater contrast would be hard to imagine. I have nothing much good to say about Venezuela. I am glad I went there and saw it with my own eyes, but I have grave fears for the future of this country.

Venezuela is the promise that never delivered. Up to its gills in oil money, the people are still miserable, they still suffer, and they are too indoctrinated to know they are being badly screwed by their megalomaniacal leader.

I can’t relate to being a member of the Venezuelan rural poor, so I’ll admit that it is hard for me to understand why so many people would vote to let Hugo Chavez run for elections indefinitely, or close down television stations he doesn’t like. I don’t relate to watching passively while peaceful student protests are crushed by the military, and I don’t relate to the fear that encourages every man to get what he can, when he can, just in case the truth is that, like in the story of Chicken Little, the sky is actually falling.

I like to think of humanity as capable of enjoying a rational freedom. I didn’t see much of that humanity in Venezuela.

On the river to Angel Falls

Stunning Salto Angel


When you cross over into to Brazil after being in Hispanic South America for many months, you are crossing over into another place entirely.

Brazil is a vast country, kind of like Australia in terms of its outrageous physical size. I don’t know why exactly, but Brazil booms at a louder volume than the rest of South America- possibly louder than the rest of the world.

My enduring memories of Brazil are all about the B’s- barbecues, booze, beaches, boobs and butts.
There must be few places in the world where the B’s are done better, or bigger, than in Brazil.

Barbecue, Amazon-style

Drinking in Salvador

Boobs on the beach at Copacabana

The beach in Salvador

Next time we write, regardless of what we are writing about, know that we will be in Africa. South America behind us, the rest of the world awaits.