Its Sold!

Posted: May 29, 2013 in Uncategorized

Sad days, the Landy has finally been sold!

Good luck to the new owners, hope they have as much fun in it as we did! So here’s to the next project and TrekUSA starting May 2014….. the name is still a work in progress.

 

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Epilogue – June 2012

Posted: June 13, 2012 in Uncategorized

Well it’s only been nine months since we returned to the UK so it’s about time we finally got around to completing the expenses and itinerary. Actually, Megan completed them months ago but I’ve only just got around to finishing off the blog. There’s no excuse I can give as to why it’s taken so long… well… no excuse that you would believe anyway. We simply got back into the day to day routine of things and I just never got around to it, poor show I know. To be honest I had been putting it off; just thinking about the trip was a bit upsetting and looking back made us realise just how quickly it all went and how much we miss travelling, living in a tent and eating tuna pasta…..ok not so much the last one.

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We got back in August and within a month had rented a house, been to Ikea (even signed up for the family card, free coffee for us) and started working again. Me back bobbing on the Irish Sea, Megan teaching youths the joys of history. It’s scary just how quickly normality can settle in, and instead of dodging leeches and watching for crocs we were spending Saturday nights in Sainsburys (it’s the best time to shop, it’s so quiet) and evenings discussing whether half nine was too early to go to bed, since nothing was on the telly.

Of course it was great to see family and friends, but as the days turned into weeks the initial excitement of being home left us and we started working out how much money we could get together in the next two months in order to head off again once the Land Rover returned. But the Land Rover didn’t return until much, much later: it was put on a ship to Europe from Australia but somehow ended up on the east coast of the USA. A few rather worried emails later saw it heading home and we started sorting out the money to pay the bill. The original quote was for around £3000 so when a bill for £8000 was presented it was a slight shock (massive understatement by the way, proper sailor swear words were used in the presence of polite company.) With no money to pay the bill and my kidney on ebay not reaching its reserve price we had a slight issue. Why had it gone up by £5000? Well it seems that in the original bill of lading, which is the legal document that states who owns the car and its size, the car had grown from 20m3 to a whopping 33m3 . An easy fix I thought, it’s clearly a typo so I’ll just ring Australia and tell them, they’ll let the shipping company know and all will be right in the world. Of course it couldn’t be that easy, and to cut a very long story short the car was re-measured on its arrival into the UK and it would seem that although a mistake had been made my measuring was also a little on the optimistic side, so we had to shell out an extra £800. Doh! The lesson being always wait for, and double-check, your bill of lading!!!! It had never been a problem before with the other shipping companies so we’d left Australia without it. Never again.

When the Landy finally cleared customs and my bank account was well and truly in the minus Marcus from Douglass Motors came and picked it up (started first time as always) and took it back to his workshop for a health test. Surprisingly ….no no, I mean naturally, it pretty much passed the MOT (just a few minor items to be replaced, bulbs etc…) We visited shortly after its return and although we had basically made up our minds to sell it I have to say there were a few pangs and almost a change of heart when we saw her sitting there, but with our sensible heads on we decided to put her up for sale. So Harriet has been all fixed up and is ready for someone else to have an adventure with her. See www.douglassmotors.co.uk if you are interested!

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We really miss the traveling and although we have been to Belgium and America since we have been back nothing beats jumping in your truck, praying it starts, and heading off into the unknown in a plume of smoke, all the while trying to guess where that squeak/rattle/smell is coming from. (Ahh, how I miss daily Land Rover ownership). We have been asked if we would do it again in a Land Rover, and although we realised after collecting all our gear from the car that we could actually have managed to fit all our stuff in the back of a Vauxhall Vectra Estate, we would always take a Land Rover. It was an adventure not knowing what would happen next but more than that we met a lot of people simply through our chosen means of transport. We stayed at people’s houses, took advantage of fellow Landy owners’ hospitality, and struck up long and fruitful conversations in garage forecourts, all prompted by the Land Rover. Anyone wishing to do a trip and not knowing which car to take, take a Land Rover, better, take mine!

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You will see from the expenses (that have been updated on the expenses page) that we spent around the £22,000 on the trip, and with the shipping and our flights it’s around the £33,400 mark. It’s a lot, and if you are careful can be done for a lot less. Fuel was the biggest expense, so maybe a smaller Land Rover would have brought the price down a tad. However, we started out with a target budget of £60 a day and the final figure was £64.8, which wasn’t too bad. Let’s be honest, if I was in charge of the budget we would currently be washing dishes in Turkey, trying to earn money for fuel, as I would have blown it all on beer in France. Megan takes full credit for managing the cash, and although at times I compared her to a well known Dickens character she was the main reason we had enough money to get around the world.

Feet are starting to get itchy, and it’s not just the athletes foot playing up again because I put cream on it. We have set ourselves May 2014 as the next trip date. Where to go is still up for discussion but Canada and North America seem to be the front runners for the time being. Money of course is the deciding factor but who needs food, money for rent and athletes foot cream when there is a new Land Rover to buy?! We would both like to once again thank all those who helped us on our trip. From friends and family, to garage owners and strangers who fed us and put us up in their houses (sorry about the silverware, only just found it in Megan’s case). If anyone is ever passing through London and wants an uncomfortable futon for a night or just a beer let me know!

Chat to you all in 2014!

Simon and Megan

It’s Back!!

Posted: December 1, 2011 in Uncategorized

Finally after four months, a detour to Baltimore and an extra bill for two and a half grand the Landy’s back!

And do you know what? ………started first time! Get in!

I will have a little update in the next few weeks, but I thought I would let you all know as no doubt there was growing concern as to the fate of Harriet the Land Rover. We will finally finish off the expenses now that we have all the final bills in and write about up coming trips, oh yes, that’s right, there is more than one planned.Image

Thanks for waiting, apologies it’s taken nearly three weeks to get the latest chapter out, finding the motivation to write what is possibly the final blog has been hard to come by. Actually, I’ve been trying to get Megan to do this one but she’s having none of it, apparently my standard is too high, well that’s what I’ve told myself. Much like all enjoyable holidays it’s finished far too quickly and looking back on the trip at the moment it’s nothing but a blur . This might have something to do with the fact that we are currently slightly hysterical after four separate flights, three different airlines, two bus journeys, a boat ride and 27 coffees in the space of thirty hours. We are on our way home.

So let’s fill you in on what’s been going on: We last left each other exiting Cape York if I recall, then we drove to Brisbane, shipped the car and flew to Malaysia. So until next time folks!

Even sleep deprived I’m still hilarious, no? Actually, quite a lot took place and did you know, now this is bit of a side track but bear with me, did you know that it’s such a small world that randomly on a little campsite, literally in the middle of nowhere I met up with Paul and his girlfriend Annie (I hope to god that’s her name, I’m sorry if it’s not, but I’m really bad with names, aren’t I Maggie? I mean Megan.) You know Paul though, no not that Paul, Exeter Paul! Well, for those of you who don’t know Paul (how could you not?) he used to live with my brother in Exeter. No not like that, not as a ‘life partner’, as a university house mate. Just recently I had accepted his friend request on ‘the Facebook’, and thank goodness I did as that might have been an embarrassing and awkward moment. Then out of the blue this hairy traveler looking chap starts shouting my name, as I said on a campsite in the middle of nowhere and suddenly I met up with Paul after a ten year hiatus! Small world. We had a great night chatting and catching up, listening to their travel plans. It made us quite jealous, as our trip was ending and theirs was just beginning.

 

From this chance meeting we drove onto Cairns and camped out there for a week, enjoying the sunshine and ice cream coffees. As we hadn’t up to that point bought much in the way of souvenirs we went a bit crazy and have now got quite a lot of art packed into the car. Some of the local stuff at the markets was actually very good and now all we need is a flat to put it up in. The daily budget will not reflect the purchases, as some of the stuff we got was a daily budget in itself, but then how can you put a price on art? Well actually nothing more than $50 if I’m honest.

It was a drag to leave Cairns but the count down clock was ticking and one morning we woke up and realized we would have to do some mammoth drives in order to get back to Brisbane by the date we had set ourselves, so it was somewhat of a surprise to wake up three days later only to have driven 50kms down the road. Damn the Aussie sunshine and great beaches! So now it had become a race to reach Brisbane in time, three days and just under 2000kms. Do-able in a normal car, but verging on impossible in a Land Rover… but as long as we didn’t break down we would be fine. We broke down. We had driven about 600kms when the rear axle’s diff started to leak, badly. Phoning around we found a garage to take it to and although they were fully booked out for a month they managed to fit us in. After a lot of sucking through teeth a diagnosis was given, “I think it’s cracked mate’. Only two more days to go and we would have been home free, but never mind. Not having the money to fix it properly we got them to cowboy it, to glue it up to stop the leak and put it on the long list of things to get fixed once we are home.

 

The weather had by this point started to get cold again so we sought comfort in a motel and after ten weeks of camping it was damn nice to get into a proper bed and have a toilet that did not require walking across a field to get to. Then all of a sudden it was our last day on the road, but we got the impression the Land Rover didn’t want to leave Australia… I can’t really put my finger on why we got this feeling but the fact that the exhaust blew off the side of the engine that morning might have something to do with it. Ok, that might be a tad of an exaggeration but after investigating a funny noise it was clear there was something wrong, as the entire engine was covered in soot, more soot than usual anyway.  Twice in two days, come on?!? Luckily we managed to track down a new gasket, randomly in someone’s house, and after two hours in a lay-by we were off and running again. However this time, with only 300kms to go we simply rolled the windows down so the deafening wind noise would drown out any more strange noises and we could well and truly bury our heads in the sand. It worked like a charm, and we finally arrived just outside Brisbane, after a slight detour into a woodland thanks to the GPS, at around 7pm.  And after 30,000 miles that’s where our journey ended, a couple of miles outside of Brisbane at the house of our friends Adam and Sharon, who kindly put us up for a couple of days so we could get our stuff together and pack the car up.

What could have been a rather depressing few days, our last in Australia, instead turned out to be some of the best. We were treated to amazing home cooked meals, free flowing booze, boat rides, and probably the best last day of a holiday ever. We took the ferry across to a large sand island called Stradbroke just off Brisbane, and even though it called for a 5am start we saw so much wildlife at close range: whales, turtles, dolphins and finally our first koala in the wild! Throw in lunch consisting of homemade burgers on the beach and a bit of off roading, and it was a top 10 day for sure.

 

Oh and that’s not even the best bit! I went fishing for the first time ever! I didn’t catch a thing, but that’s not the point, I now know how to fish, kind of.

 

We also met up with Ryan, a fellow Land Rover owner, who we met when we were first in Brisbane and he treated us to a fresh fish meal and two kilos of fresh prawns that we even went down to the trawler to pick up. Aussies are just so friendly!

We can’t thank Adam and Sharon and their family enough for putting us up, feeding us, letting us use their washing machine constantly for three days and taking us out. Like I said, what could have been a miserable couple of days were simply amazing.

All too soon it was time to drop the car off and catch a flight to Malaysia. Dropping the car off was a simple procedure; we just handed over the keys and carnet. No paper work, no bribes, no last minute changes, just a simple ‘here you go’ and a ‘thank you’. Ah the joys of organizing shipping in a developed country. Actually, I hope they were shippers and not just carpark attendants… thinking about it they did look kind of confused and I did think it strange that I had to explain what a carnet was to a shipping company…

‘Megan! I think I might have handed the car over to a couple of traffic wardens!’

If in fact they were shippers we should ‘hopefully’ get the car back in five weeks, so 35 days to decide what to do with it.  After a quick stop at the supermarket to get as many TimTams as we could stuff into our hold luggage we were dropped off at the airport. Our last few hours in Oz were spent using up all our spare change and buying magazines for the flight, and a few more TimTams. We loved Australia. It has so much to offer, so many different landscapes, so many opportunities to escape the crowd, so many places to visit and to camp. Plus, and this is something that surprised us, so much interesting history. I think it’s the fact that it’s recent history that makes it so interesting and something you can actually relate to. It’s somewhere we are coming back to, long term.

Currently I am sitting on a beach in the Perhentian Islands, Malaysia, trying to remember my port from starboard, my monkey first from my sheep shank in a bid to get ready for work. It’s going to be weird going back, but good to see family and friends. Plus we need to start planning our next trip and although I slag old blighty off, it’s still the only place in the world you can get a great Sunday roast while perusing the papers and drinking a proper pint of bitter. Perfect Sunday.  Since it’s a habit now I’ll do a blog about being home and the car’s return after her cruise. Megan is in the process of doing the final figures for the trip and once my heart has been restarted after she tells me how much we spent in total I’ll post them up for those interested in a similar trip.

So what can I say? It’s been great, thanks so much for showing an interest in my ramblings and our trip, I hope it’s inspired some you to go off on your own trips, but the biggest thanks goes to my travel buddy Megan. Thanks Megan for putting up with me, correcting my apalking speling and grammar’s and making a year on the road so much fun.

Laters.

Promises, promises…

Posted: July 28, 2011 in Uncategorized

Look, it’s been a while, I’ve heard the terms ‘lifetime’ and ‘eternity’ bandied about but it’s only four days late…. It”s going to be a few more days yet I’m afraid before you can get a trek to oz fix, as we only have three days left in Oz and about five days worth of jobs to do. But it is coming…….

We made to the tip, the top of Australia and the furthest north you can go on this mighty continent. It was an achievement for us, the last couple of days before the tip were spent doing running repairs to the Land Rover and to finally reach our goal was a very proud moment for us. It was also tinged with disappointment as this also signaled the end of the trip and the next few weeks was all about getting ready to pack the car up and send it home. As we took those final footsteps to the sign marking our destination I willed it to be further away as any steps taken after that sign would be south and would have an air of ‘homeward bound’ about them. Cape York was never our original goal, our goal was to get to Australia overland, but that changed pretty early on when it was clear we couldn’t get through Pakistan and the car caught fire in Turkey….’Megan, Megan, do you remember when the car caught fire in Turkey and smoke started pouring out from between your legs?…ahhhhh…good times!’. So that plan changed to getting the car shipped to India which fell flat on its face when the costs involved became clear, and many a plan after that changed due to various changes in our mood, the level in the bank account and the amount of sunshine on offer. We didn’t so much trek to Oz as ship to Oz, but you can’t really plan what’s going to happen on trips like these, can you?

Look at me getting all nostalgic, and we still have just under a month to go and a short break in Malaysia on the way home. Well, after this trip we both felt like a holiday before returning to the world of work, ten mile queues on the M25 and Saturdays in Waitrows (it’s actually Aldi, but I’m trying to impress you all). In actual fact it’s worked out cheaper for us to fly via Kuala Lumpur, go on a diving holiday for a week and then fly home via Air Asia, than it would be to fly direct to London from Brisbane with a major Airline. Ah Air Asia, for enabling us lower middle class to travel the world uncomfortably but cheaply we thank you.

Anyway, I’m sure you are not interested in our travel plans and the six flights it’s going to take us to get home (our carbon foot print is going to be massive, I’ll plant a small coppice when I get back to the mother land). So yes, the top of Cape York, like much of the rest of it was deserted, quiet and simply stunning. It was rather windy when we reached the furthest north you can go in Australia which all added to the sense of occasion, and looking north out to sea past the islands I really wanted to keep going, but the road quite literally didn’t go any further!

 

The beaches were probably some of the best we’ve seen on this trip, but unfortunately we couldn’t swim in any of them due to the number of animals that would kill you if you put so much as a toe in the water. Never mind though, we still had an amazing time sitting on these deserted stretches of sand and wondering how one country can have so many different and stunning landscapes. This country really is pretty awesome, if only it had a quality, high brow Sunday tabloid that hacked celebs’ phones like we do back home, then we would stay for ever….oh wait…

Reach the top of Australia – Tick

Drove off road – Tick

Forded deep rivers – Tick

Camped on beaches – Tick

Swam in Creeks – Tick

Three days without a shower -Tick

As you can see from the above list we covered all the main aspects of outback bush living and ‘roughing it’, so we began the long trip south and back to a decent latté, Mcflurry, and paved roads. It’s just so difficult to get a half decent hot beverage when you’re in the middle of nowhere: I ordered an earl grey tea the other day and I was asked if I wanted milk in it! Savages. It was at that point that I told Megan we needed to get back to civilization, stat. The roads back down south seemed to have got worse since we drove north and the corrugations had definitely got bigger. Corrugations are ridges in the road that cause a car to shake and bounce all over the place. The best way I can describe them is it’s like driving over a really big cattle grid, but the grids are spaced far apart and they last for 20kms at a time. To try and make it as smooth as possible you have to drive fairly fast so you skim over the top of them, which is fine if you are driving in a straight line but the problem comes with the corners: as the wheels are not really fully in contact with the road surface turning the steering wheel has little effect! For the second time this trip I managed to power slide a 3.5 tonne Land Rover. Jeremy Clarkson would be proud. Megan, rightly so, wasn’t and my pleas to do it again and to video it fell on deaf ears. We slowed down for the corners after that. Boo.

The list of car issues grew daily. First the handbrake light came on for no reason and now it won’t go off, the rear roof rack snapped in half, the bonnet kept popping open, but worst of all a turbo hose came off. When this happened the noise it caused was horrendous and I thought my world had come to an end. Luckily with a bit of handiwork with a hose clip it was reattached and we continued south, both on edge and waiting for the next thing to go wrong. Thankfully noting else did and after three days of driving we made it back to the tarmac. Happy days.

We loved Cape York, we finally made good use of the car and its capabilities and really enjoyed the camaraderie of the fellow travelers. Plus I met loads of Land Rover owners!

 

Currently we are back in Cairns, having a bit of time to clean the car and fix some of the bigger problems. It’s nice to be back here again as we both like Cairns and think we will spend a week up here just being lazy and chilling (is that what the kids say?) before the long drive back to Brisbane and the cold weather that awaits us…

Oh I nearly forgot, I managed to get published in a great magazine in Dubai called Outdoor UAE.  Check the link out below, its on page 30. I’m feeling pretty chuffed about it to be honest, it’s the first step towards a book, the TV show and finally the film deal!

http://www.outdooruae.com/onlineMAG/2011_Jul.html

Megan’s penchant for swearing like a sailor is back, I don’t know why really, but the other day the list of profanities that came forth in the space of a two minute rant was simply shocking. Maybe it’s the heat, or perhaps the tuna pasta has finally got the better of her, or maybe it’s the fact that the other day we went through a very deep river crossing with the vent flaps open and we both ended up with a lapful of freezing cold water. Actually, now I come to think of it the swearing started just after this episode… so yes, yes it was the fact that we nearly drowned the car and ended up very wet and in a mild state of shock that brought about this latest vulgar and shocking decimation of the English language.

 

It’s been going well, apart from the potty mouth. Well, maybe ‘going well’ is a bit of an exaggeration… The road has started getting a little worse and the shaking and rattling is beginning to take its toll. So far:

We have a chip in the windscreen.

The dashboard has come loose.

The air-filter cover has been rubbing against the bonnet and has almost worn through.

The fuel filter bracket has cracked.

One of the bonnet mounting brackets has broken.

One of the ventilation control levers has fallen off.

The off side headlight is full of water.

Needless to say there has been a lot of gaffer tape, random bits of rubber and cable ties called into action to hold the car together. We’re not at the top yet, still another 40kms and then the long trip home. I’m hoping that all the problems and weak links have now been fixed, so fingers crossed the route south will be mechanically uneventful.

 

From Weipa we headed north towards a place called Elliot Falls. Elliot Falls was awesome. Despite being surprised by a deeper than average ford we had a great time there. It is one of the few places you can actually swim on the Cape; although the sea and creeks look inviting there is a real risk of crocs, jelly fish and stone fish so you can’t really take a dip. Here however there is a fresh water swimming hole just below the small and ever so pretty falls, which we took full advantage of.

 

We also met a couple of fellow Land Rover enthusiasts and swapped stories and lists of all our current problems and issues. I particularly liked the stickers on the back of this Discovery!

Most of the time on the drive to the tip we have stuck to the major development road, which although dusty and a tad bumpy has not been too bad. However, from Elliot Falls northwards we decided to tackle a bit of an off road route called the Old Telegraph Track, which is one of the things Cape York is famous for. This is proper off roading, proper river crossings that you have to get out and walk across first to make sure you don’t get washed away, proper muddy banks to climb and the need for diff locks and low range all the time. So, so many man points. We ended up following a friendly couple of Toyotas, which was lucky as we didn’t have a bloody clue what we were doing! It was damn cool, I loved it, loved every moment of it and judging by her smile Megan loved it even more than me! It took us an hour to cover just 15kms but there was a real sense of achievement once we broke clear of the bush and got back on the main road. I had two beers that night, manly.

 

Currently we are camping at a place called Seisia, gaffer taping everything up and plugging up all the holes to try and stop the dust from coming in. The more observant of you will have noticed the two towels sandwiched between the back doors. Not only does this add a bit of much needed colour to the rear of the car but is also quite effective in the battle against the dust.

Mined out! 27/6-1/7/11

Posted: July 1, 2011 in Oz

And we finally come to the highlight of our entire trip, the reason we packed our jobs in for a year, said goodbye to family, friends and hardest of all, fish and chips. Why we drove for a whole year in a Land Rover, crossed eleven or so countries, spent nearly 30 grand and lived in a tent for around seven months, all so we could visit a small town called Weipa and take a tour around the largest Bauxite mine in the world. Totally worth it, they had some pretty big trucks.

 

I jest of course but it was actually quite interesting and well worth an hour or two of anyone’s time. It nearly didn’t happen though, we were nearly stuck in Cooktown: the night before we were meant to leave, the power steering started making some very strange noises and turning the steering wheel required muscles the size of Rambo’s. It obviously wasn’t a problem for me but I felt bad for Megan, so a couple of searches on the internet, a few distractions found on Ebay, and a greasy thumb through the workshop manual later, it all indicated to a slipping belt. Luckily we had a spare and when it was fitted the noises stopped and the steering went back to the normal level of heaviness. I think it’s actually slightly heavier than it was… but as we are in the middle of nowhere and the spare situation is non-existent I’ve decided not to think about it too much!

So yes, anyway, we left Cooktown and took the route north heading up to Cape York. After about ten miles the tarmac stopped and the dusty, bumpy and river crossing track began. We’ve been on it ever since. I miss tarmac, I know as an off road loving, Land Rover owning, red blooded male I shouldn’t admit to that but the dust gets everywhere you see, and the car’s getting well dirty! There are also no road markings, however it’s not too difficult to avoid cars coming the other way as a dust storm on the horizon signals any approaching vehicle miles in advance. Upon that sign windows get rolled up, vents closed and breath held until the car/truck/lorry has passed and normal driving can resume.

In actual fact the road hasn’t been that bad, in some places it’s safe and possible to do 90kph but in others there are ridges/corrugations in the road that rattle and shake the car, which at any point feels like it might fall apart. We both just sit waiting for the bang and the engine to stop or a wheel to fall off. So far (says he as he touches copious amounts of wood) old Harriet is doing a grand and sterling job, going places many a Toyota would look twice at.

 

There have been a few river crossings but none have been too big or too deep and as yet no crocs sighted. Megan’s very disappointed. Still on her list from the eye spy book of Australian animals is a crocodile and a koala. Apparently road kill doesn’t count, otherwise we’d be there. It is amazing up here though, so much wildlife, history and amazing views with little or no civilization. You do really feel completely on your own, in the wild, back to nature and etc etc etc……

 

We have stayed at some of the road houses that are dotted around the Cape. They allow you to camp in their grounds and have toilets and supposedly hot showers, however I’ve yet to have one. I’m able to blog today as we are at the mining town of Weipa. It’s a town that has been built almost entirely to supply the mine with accommodation for the workers, but best of all it has a phone signal! You see, five days without a decent internet connection and I start getting withdrawal symptoms, how else am I supposed to find out who won Britain’s Got Talent?? It also has a small supermarket so we can restock before the ‘big push’ to the top. Hopefully in three more days we’ll reach the tip of Cape York, get our photo taken at the inevitable sign post pointing to New York, London etc, and then head back down. The car gets shipped on the 1st of August so only a month till our journey finishes. Boo.

 

Are we nearly there yet?

Posted: June 28, 2011 in Oz

Half way up Cape York (check our map).

Roads are bloody awful.

The car is shaking itself apart.

Dust everywhere. (Including ears, nose and… well…. err…. other openings)

Just thought you would all like to know as no doubt you are having sleepless nights worrying about us. I’ll give two rings when we get to the top.

 

 

 

Blooming marvellous! 20-26/06/11

Posted: June 26, 2011 in Oz

Why do people buy Land Rovers? They’re not cheap, they’re about as comfortable as a church pew after a two hour sermon, and about as reliable as a hot British summer. So why do people, me included, spend £1000s of our hard earned cash on these relics of the British motoring industry to drive around the world in a car that wouldn’t look out of place in the 1940s? Common sense surely dictates you would buy something cheaper, more reliable and more comfortable.  It’s a lesson I’ve yet to learn, and it was these very questions I was pondering in a car park in Port Douglas whilst underneath the car taking the rear prop shaft off. An hour earlier I had noticed an oil like substance was leaking from the hand brake casing, and normally new leaks wouldn’t bother me as I’ve given up worrying about them all, but this one drew the eye as there should be no oil in the handbrake. Strange… so we both thought it best to have a closer inspection, which entailed taking the prop shaft off and hence, pondering the above mentioned question. Luckily it seemed that the oil was actually grease, which due to the warmer weather was running off the underside of the car and dripping onto the handbrake casing. So no major issue, just another leak, just another little spot to add to the collection that we leave on any car park we stay in for more than 20 minutes, and another grey hair for me. Today we’ve noticed there’s a clunk coming from the front differential or half-shafts, but its only when we turn right so we’re not worried about that so much. When it starts happening when we turn left as well then we’ll worry. To be honest I’ve become a bit paranoid about the car; with only a month left I really don’t want to have to pay to get it recovered back to Brisbane. So why do we buy Land Rovers? Because they are still pretty cool and the ladies love ’em!

We managed to tear ourselves way from the sand, sea and pool at Ellis Beach, just outside of Cairns, and psyched ourselves up for the long drive to Port Douglas. Twenty seven minutes later we arrived. Port Douglas is a lovely little town that sits right on the shoreline and has amazing views out across the reef.

 

It’s a little touristy but not too bad and the little cafes and stores made for a number of hours of pleasant browsing. We are still trying to find something to bring back from Oz, we have both refused to get a didgeridoo, as it’s frankly far too common, so our search continues, maybe some artwork? Or a nice set of tea towels?

It was also time for my 4th hair cut of the trip. I hate having my hair cut, and quite frankly I would have waited until I got home, when I could have gone to my nice man at North London Bounds Green Tube Station, who doesn’t talk to me and certainly does not ask what I’m doing for my holidays this year. But I was told, and after I awoke one morning to find a pair of nesting sparrows in the ‘do’ I couldn’t really argue. (It’s obvious humor, but still funny.)

Ever northward after Port Douglas we drove up into the Daintree National Park and camped at Cape Tribulation. The cape was named by Captain Cook, as it was the start of his problems and trials as he ran his ship aground on the reef in this area. It was to be the most expensive campsite so far, $40 a night, but the setting was great, on the beach yet still within a rain forest. Pretty special.

 

After a couple of nights, and a day of doing walks within the rain forest and along some stunning beaches, we started on the road to Cooktown. There are two ways to go, the main surfaced road or via a harder route through the jungle known as the Bloomfield Track. I did what any self-respecting man would do and tried to convince Megan that we shouldn’t risk damaging the car (or getting it muddy) and take the safer main road. She would have none of it and we set out on Saturday morning for the Bloomfield track.

 

To be honest it wasn’t that bad, there were some bloody steep sections, which required low range hot smelly brakes and plenty of man guts, but other than a few small river crossings it was almost civilized.

 

Halfway along the track we stopped at Bloomfield Falls……impressive.

Around lunchtime, with the worst of the track conquered we stopped at a famous pub (well it is around these parts) for a bit of lunch and my first lunchtime beer of the trip. Having forded rivers, well streams anyway), and driven up 80 degree slopes I thought I owed it to myself. The fact that I was asleep by 3pm that afternoon probably means it will be my last. Man, I can’t handle my beer anymore.

 

So we are now in Cooktown, the last major Australian town before Papa New Guinea and tomorrow we head up to Cape York proper. Today we have been to the Cooktown museum and learnt all about Captain Cook, who landed here in….well a few years ago…. to repair his ship after hitting the reef. The museum is very good and actually has the anchor and a cannon from the original ship, The Endeavor. There is also a great look out on a hill over looking the town with a lighthouse on top of it.  I have a bit of a thing for lighthouses…

 

But the big news of the day was the massive ten foot long man eating python we saw! I say ten foot, it was actually a metre and luckily my little girl shriek scared it away, back into the bush. I’ve said it before, there’s just far too much wildlife in Australia!

Updates 7.8

Posted: June 22, 2011 in Uncategorized

Just a couple of updates this time. I’ve finally finished some facts about Thailand and Laos in the Useful Information Page. Honestly though, if you are not driving you car through Laos or Thailand then it’s not all that useful, more interesting. Who knows, at the next pub quiz you may be asked ‘do you need a Carnet for Thailand?’ and if you read the useful information page you’ll know the answer. Then you will probably be carried out of the pub on the shoulders of  your team mates because you won and will enjoy free beer for life. So in fact, can you afford not to look?!? Plus there are a few more photo’s in the Readers Drives section.

As a side note I would like to share a little fact with you all: When I log on to the blog it tells me how many hits I’ve had, which pictures have been looked at, and what’s been typed into Google in order to direct people to my web site. Now normally it’s things like, ‘Driving to Australia’, ‘Land Rover camper’, ‘Who’s the sexy guy in the wetsuit?’, that sort of thing. However yesterday, and I’m not lying, someone actually typed in the words, ‘Sandra Bullock TimTams’ and ended up at my blog. Who does searches on the interweb for movie stars and Australian confectionary combined together? Its a sick, sick world we live in people…

Wet and Woeful 12-19/06/11

Posted: June 19, 2011 in Oz

Right off the bat let me make two little apologies: first off for daring to suggest we might go around the US in anything but a Land Rover (the reason for this is will be explained below), and secondly for the mild rant about the comment situation at the end of the last blog. It was meant to be a piece of hilarious prose but unfortunately it came across to some as me being a bit miserable. I am, but only when it’s raining, cold, the Land Rover is broken, on days that end in Y etc…In this case I didn’t mean to be, so apologies. I’m grateful to all the people who take time to read my ramblings and am truly astonished that we are approaching the 50,000 hit mark. As I only have 6.5 friends on the facebook (one of whom is a dog named Graham) this is amazing, and I thank you all for taking the time to read, who needs comments as well? Sorry peeps.

Good news bad news time. The good news is that Megan has a job in London when we get back to the UK, a fact that will be of little interest to the majority of you but this means that the Land Rover will have to go and hence we can’t use it in the States. Why, you ask? because I got a little note from the Mayor of London saying that my vehicle does not meet the emissions standards of a new zone set up around London and therefore as of 2012 I’ll either have to pay £100 a day to drive it in London, or sell it. I know I’ve always talked about selling but deep down I never really thought I would have to. I had a little cry. Megan thought it unreasonable that I said we would have to move out of the London area, away from her family and new job just so I could drive the Land Rover. She doesn’t know me at all. So it actually came down to a simple choice; Megan or the car. I flipped a coin…..no, not really, Megan makes the best tea in the world and Harriet the Land Rover’s efforts are best described as oily. No choice really.

 

So, anyone want a Land Rover? Or better still, anyone want to come to Australia and drive a Land Rover back to the UK? I’ll put in 30 bucks of diesel to get you started. Oh alright then, 45.

Trip wise things are going well, although if you look at the map it seems as if little progress has been made. We left Flying Fish Point and drove an hour up the road to Cairns, and we haven’t done much since because it’s sunny, beer is cheap, we found a couple of really nice campsites and quite frankly, we can’t be bothered. Lying in the sun, reading (even found a Land Rover magazine), taking a dip in the pool, and drinking coffee with ice cream in it in cool little cafes is pretty much what we came to Australia for.

 

We really like Cairns. It’s a small city with that outback, relaxed feel to it. We spent a lot of the time on the waterfront lying in the park, which has a swimming pool, although they call it a lagoon, but it’s a pool in my book, and walking up and down the esplanade. The Aussie’s have got it sussed; people seem to finish work early and by 6pm everyone is out taking a walk, chatting to friends or having a family BBQ. It makes the thought of going back to grey, damp London a little hard to take at the moment, but whilst we are here we’re joining in, lying back and chilling out. It’s pretty awesome.

No trip to Cairns would be complete without a trip to the Barrier Reef. So on Wednesday morning we got up super early and went to the dock to meet the catamaran that would take us out and allow us to swim with the fishes. It’s not a cheap thing to do but not doing it was never an option, if you come here you have to snorkel or dive on the Barrier Reef. I was excited as we boarded and I was still excited right up until the time when over the PA system they announced that it might be a bit bumpy and anyone worried should take seasickness pills. The 3rd time this was announced I was already feeling queasy and we had yet to leave the dock. You see, even though I work on ships, and have done for the past thirteen years there is something about catamarans that doesn’t agree with my stomach. I have never been so sick as I was on a crossing of the English Channel on a fateful day in the summer 2001. Damn you inner ear balance! Memories of this came flooding back and this was probably the catalyst for my decision to take two seasickness pills, which sent me to sleep within a matter of minutes. I was awoken by Megan telling me we had arrived on the Reef, to wipe the drool from my mouth and get my snorkel gear on. Judging by the smell of sick around the place I felt justified in my overdose.

 

The Reef was amazing. To be honest you feel guilty for swimming there as it’s like swimming in an aquarium and at any moment you might be caught and told off. We went to one of the outer reefs and the sheer number of fish on display was astonishing. We are stopping off at Malaysia on the way back to the UK to do some diving and after the day we spent on the Reef Malaysia has a lot to live up to.

 

One strange thing about the Reef that I was not prepared for is that at low tide a lot of it is exposed. This creates a weird vista, like hundreds of floating Bonsai trees!

 

I can’t tell you about the trip back as I took another couple of pills and snoozed my way back to the dock. If anyone plans to travel on Irish Ferries via Rosslare to Pembroke please don’t be alarmed, there are no seasickness pills in my system when I’m driving, and I am wide awake… well, as much as you can be at 3am. It’s just those damn catamarans that have me making friends with the nearest toilet bowl.

Cape York is beckoning, so this time next week we should have exciting stories about croc wrestling, eating snakes and the seven hours it took to dig the Land Rover out of the sand. Ah Harriet I’m going to miss you……damn it Simon, no tears. Tea me Megan!

 

 

 

A few grey’t days 4-12/6/11

Posted: June 12, 2011 in Oz

How to stretch a week sitting in a campsite into a blog… It’s going to be a push but I’m going to write in a really big font, use double spacing and put in lots of silly pointless pictures of the car, like this:

 

Since last leaving you in the Whitsundays we have in fact done very little. The weather clouded over again so we have had a week of pottering around a couple of campsites, a few drives, and ever-exciting trips to the supermarket. It’s been quite nice really. The weather has been pretty rubbish again but spirits are high, as it’s warm and we have had free internet, and so managed to download lots from itunes. Megan’s pretty much up to date with Top Gear, and if she doesn’t get her Top Gear fix once every couple of months she’s a nightmare to live with- the toys are thrown well and truly out the pram until she has a dose of the boys and their hilarious, albeit mostly staged, antics. I’ve managed to catch up with Grays and the last season of Sex and the City (oh Carrie, when will you learn?) so all is well in the world. I’ve also been back on damn eBay again looking at Land Rovers and Mercedes 4×4 Sprinter vans as a possible next overland vehicle for the States. Oh yeah, should have told you, we are planning to ‘do’ Alaska, Canada and North America in a couple of years, so if anyone fancies becoming part of the trip I will need a covering letter and a photo. Honestly though, if your photo features you looking good in a bikini I won’t read the covering letter so don’t bother sending one in. (No Nicholas, you will have to submit a letter). We have already been talking about the title of that blog, ‘Keep on Trekking’ is our best effort to date. I know, it’s weak so we would welcome any other titles.

It’s amazing how much there actually is to do when you’re doing nothing, and a day’s pottering passes very quickly. There are always things to do on the car; leak checks take most of the morning, finding a bit of wood to prop up the exhaust pipe, as the last one fell out driving over that speed bump in itself can take an afternoon, and then once you have investigated that new rattle that’s driving you mad it’s beer o’clock and time to start getting dinner on. It gets dark so early down here. Most states don’t have daylight saving so it gets dark around 5pm. The reasons given as to why they don’t embrace daylight saving like the rest of the world go from the silly’ ‘it confuses the cows’, to the ridiculous and my personal favorite, ‘it will fade the curtains’, great stuff.

We have moved on a little since I last wrote. We stopped in Townsville and are now currently in a campsite just south of Cairns. We both thought that this would be a busy stretch of road and since we have been driving on the main road north have been surprised at how quiet it is. I mean, where else in the world would the traffic on the main, and only road north in the whole country be stopped simply by a man standing in the middle of the road with a stop sign….?

 

Or by a toy train crossing the main highway/motorway……..(I said I was going to struggle to fill this blog.)

 

All this free/pottering time has also allowed Megan to produce the best meals ever to grace our trusty petrol stove, we even had pizza a few nights ago! Pizza made from scratch, cooked on just a double burner petrol stove, no oven or anything. It was soooo good, I’m talking ‘3am after a gutful of booze and a night bus home’ good. She has turned out to be quite the chef, and where is the proof in this statement you ask? Well, the proof is quite literally in the pudding. (I’ve been waiting a good two months to use that line.)

 

Unfortunately some dishes haven’t really been up to scratch presentation wise, and have been sent back to the kitchen. Judge all you want but it’s for her own good people, so don’t look at me like that.

 

So yes, it’s a bit grey at the moment, the temperature is all over the place and it’s reported in the newspapers that it’s the strangest and coldest weather in many years. It hasn’t really effected our enjoyment though, and we are off to snorkel on the barrier reef next week, to finally try and find a koala in the wild, and hopefully drive to the very tip of Australia via Cape York. There is no ‘proper’ road to the most northern point of this mighty continent, just a number of 4×4 tracks so it’s a bit of an effort to get through, fording rivers, dodging crocs and earning mega man points as we go. We have heard a number of stories about the state of the tracks, some good, some not so but we are going to have a look and get as far as we can. Speaking to our friend David he rather alarmingly stated that he once drove up to Cape York in a $50,000 car and came back with a $25,000 car. As mine is only worth about $10,00 does that mean I’ll come back with a negative value? The image of rolling back into Cairns with just a chassis, four wheels and us sitting there on bare metal in some sort of comedy film style fills my dreams constantly. But I can’t take the ridicule of not giving it a go.

947 words, not too shabby, and most of it not waffle. One final note though, the comments: we love the comments, it shows that people are actually reading this rubbish, but bar a few people ( Robin, Paul you are not included in this rant) the comments have dried up, even from one’s own family, who should really know better. It’s just, and it’s difficult for me to say this, lately I feel I’m the only one doing any work, putting any real effort into the blog/bloggies relationship, it’s like you don’t want it to work. In the beginning it was all so fresh, you were commenting daily, but how you’ve all changed… I know there was a honeymoon period and all relationships can take a slow down but let’s try and keep it spicy huh? Is it because you are looking at other blogs? Are they younger than mine? I can change! I mean it this time, I’ll write more exciting stuff, break down more, have another run in with customs and write about it all. So if you feel like commenting, on anything good or bad please, please do. Megan is going to be in charge of replying to comments so you might actually get a response!

1166 words. Magic.

Bang up to date!

Posted: June 6, 2011 in Uncategorized

What’s this? A Monday morning blog? The third blog in seven days you say? What’s going on Maple? Well it can only be on thing; yep that’s right, it’s update time!

Updates included in version 7.0 of http://www.trektooz.com include:

1. Updated expenses for Australia so far (almost down to the £65 a day mark!)

2. Updated itinerary in the ‘where are we now?’ page.

3. Google map is bang up to date

4. A kick ass new photo on the home page (it took me three days to work out how to take a still from a video so you better damn appreciate it!)

5. More trucks on readers’ drives, (sorry Mr Bryson, I just can’t do it, a stock BMW X5… I mean it’s nice and all but give it a 5” lift, some spotlights, stickers, man do I love stickers, and a massive whip aerial and you’ll be in and published on this website. Or buy a Land Rover, I know a nice grey one for sale! One careful owner and only 265,000 miles)

6. Under the ‘car’ page I have added photos of the interior.

7. More photos on Flicker- just click on the photos on the left hand side of the home page.

For an extra £7.99, version 7.0 will also come with a signed Megan cookbook, ‘50 ways to make road kill edible’. Hurry, stocks are limited!

TimTastic 29/5-3/6/11

Posted: June 3, 2011 in Oz

There are very few things in this world that actually excite and interest me; travel, Land Rovers, Megan (had to put it in), sailing, Sandra Bullock and now TimTams. I bloody love TimTams. For those of you who aren’t clued up on what a TimTam is, it’s like a Penguin biscuit, in fact it’s exactly the same as a Penguin biscuit but for some reason, the same reason that Vegemite tastes better than Marmite it tastes soooo much better. I’m addicted, totally addicted to the little chocolate covered biscuit. Maybe it’s because after nearly ten months on the road and the three and a half tonnes of tuna pasta we have each consumed (and I hate tuna but it’s cheap) my taste buds have dulled, and now only the mighty TimTam can make an impression on them. That’s not to pour criticism or scorn on Megan’s cooking; the things the woman can do with a courgette, yesterday’s road kill and half a pepper are truly amazing, but TimTams and me are a match made in heaven. Megan is even thinking she will have to put in an extra column in the expenses just to cover the inordinate number I am consuming.  The photo below was taken when I was left in charge in the weekly shop. She caught me before I made it to the checkouts but thirty seconds later and I’d have been through, through to a week long TimTam fest. But alas no, and now I’m barred from the supermarket, destined to spend the remaining weekly shops waiting in car parks watching the trolley boys at work (that doesn’t sound quite right…) and ridiculing other shoppers’ parking jobs.

What else…..ummm…well not a lot of exciting stuff has happened. The sun’s been shining, although the nights are still a wee bit nippy but it’s improving. We’ve stopped in quite a few little campsites over the last couple of nights and as it seems to be the low season the average campsite population is made up of us and the grey nomads. (Oh, and the excessive number of flying bugs, flies, moths, bats etc…). These are native Australians (the grey nomads, not the bugs) who have retired, locked up their homes or rented them out and are traveling around this amazing country of theirs for an unspecified time. What a great way to spend a retirement and what a friendly bunch they are! They are always welcoming, and offers of drinks, food and the use of their house if it’s on our way come flooding in. We were glad of this friendliness a couple of nights ago when we got ourselves a live crab but had no idea how to cook it…

 

Bob, as he became known, was a mud crab and cost us the princely sum of $10, not bad as in the shops they are around $40! I’m not going to go all Jamie Oliver on you here and tell you how to cook a crab, actually, I will as it’s pretty basic: pop it in the pot and boil it for 12 minutes, then man the hell up and rip it apart with your fingers, wash out the icky stuff and serve with buttered white bread. It was awesome, not TimTam awesome, let’s not get carried away, but in that ball park.

 

Finch Hatton will go down in history as our first free camp. Upon seeing a few camper vans parked just off the road we stopped and set up on what looked suspiciously like a cricket pitch. No one shouted or asked for money so we were quids in. The reason for stopping here was to see the platypus that live in the rivers around this area, and although we have no photographic proof we did see them, scouts honor! The next day we undertook what must be one the best walks of the trip through the rainforest to a massive waterfall. Stunning.

 

On our way out of Finch Hatton and back to the main north/south road the GPS decided to take us on the off road route and we ended up driving through fields, waving at bemused cows and their farmers. We couldn’t get too upset with her though as the scenery in this area is beautiful; fields of sugar cane, blue skies, mountain backdrops and a scattering of ramshackle buildings, ticked all my boxes.

 

So we are now at the Whitsundays trying to decide what to do, what tour to go on, or if we should just sit on the beach. Oh yes, it’s shorts weather baby! Well, it is between the hours of 11 to 14:45, but it’s getting there.

I forgot, sorry, the main reason for this blog was to tell you all that  the Spot satellite tracker (http://international.findmespot.com) has broken, I drove over too many times, (I’m not joking, I literally drove over the damn thing three times, on different occasions I hasten to add) so I am just updating Google maps as we go along.  It’s a shame, as it is a great piece of kit- it’s been letting my mother know where we are everyday, so I now have to skype or call to do that… but apparently that’s something I should have been doing all along anyway. I know, right? We’ve only been gone nine and a bit months and she’s already expecting a phone call!?! Unreasonable.

Let’s Off Road! 21-29/05/11

Posted: May 30, 2011 in Oz

Brisbane, famous for having the only fort in Australia with a moat, and XXXX beer. We did the tour of the brewery naturally, and had to partake in the free samples afterwards, as to turn down free beer is one of the most serious ways to offend an Australian, fact. We didn’t make it to the fort.

The tour was good, the Becks one in Brevenhaven is better if anyone was wondering out of the two which to visit, the Aussies just don’t have the German’s sense of humor.

 

Brisbane has quite a small town feel to it but is actually quite big. There were some lovely walks by the river, there used to be more but the recent floods claimed a lot of them. You can still do them though, but only with the aid of an oxygen tank and a scuba mask. We spent a couple of days window shopping and with Lonely Planet in hand doing the guided walk. It’s a nice city; the rain again took the edge off for us but other than the Adelaide hills, is a place we could live.

We met up with a guy called Ranga and his family, who had got in touch through the Australian Land Rovers club and had a great evening eating fresh prawns and chatting Land Rovers, travel, and our favorite topic of the moment, the cost of living on the road. We have no conversation currently other than the cost of food, (we saw bananas for £10 a kilo!) and fuel. Hope we didn’t bore him too much…?

I used to go to college with a guy called Adam and rumor had it that he now lived in Brisbane, any excuse for a free night’s accommodation so I thought I would look him up, and after a bit of Facebook stalking, emails to mutual friends and ringing a number of random ‘Adams’ in the phone book I managed to get hold of him. After seven years he hadn’t changed and was still as friendly as ever. One thing that had changed was, where as I had spent all my money on fast women, slow Land Rovers, the latest gadgets from Apple, and over priced beer in London he had married a lovely girl called Sharon, had two kids and lived in an awesome house with sheds and workshops everywhere, bastard.  He put us up, fed us only our third roast meal of the trip and let us leave crap we didn’t need in his garage. I swear, there is a trail of rubbish following us from London to Australia as we discard things we brought with us but don’t need. So thanks Adam and Sharon!

 

From Brisbane we went to Fraser Island, an off roading Mecca, home to many dingoes and the largest sand island in the world. There are no sealed roads on Fraser and once you have purchased your permit and taken the choppy ferry ride, (I should have taken my motion sickness pills) you are free to roam around on the beaches and forest tracks in your 4×4.

 

We were both a little nervous, as the last time we drove in sand was in Dubai and there, students of the blog will recall, we got stuck only 10 meters from the road, and this time we wouldn’t have our friend Mike to pull us out. However the car was a lot lighter and my driving skills had improved immeasurably… We dipped our tires into the sand it was clear that those factors made all the difference, as we flew across the sand leaving others in our dust.

 

Low ranges were selected, diff locks were engaged, run ups taken and rivers forded. The level of testosterone in the car was frighteningly high, an 11 in fact. It was great fun and for once it seemed as if we had indeed taken the right car on this trip.

 

The Island is simply amazing: we camped in forests and on beaches, and amongst the sand dunes and simply had a great time. We even managed to do a little sun bathing, something that had not been done since Perth, and judging from my pasty white chest something that was quite timely. On our last day on the island we enjoyed the sunbathing a little too much as the time slipped by far to quickly and we ended up trying to beat the tide and catch our ferry back. As the tide was getting higher we ended up having to drive higher up the beach and in the soft sand. I didn’t like it, Megan didn’t like it and judging by the temperature gauge the car didn’t like it. By the time we had made it down to the southern part of the island the sea was lapping the wheels and clouds of black smoking were pouring from the exhaust, and as we pushed the car to its very maximum it was reminiscent of something from a World War II naval battle (FYI ‘Cruel Sea’, greatest film ever).  We made it through though, and after changing t-shirts and reapplying a bit of deodorant we boarded the ferry and headed back to the joys of tarmac.

 

Currently we are heading up the coast in search of even more sunshine. We have just crossed the tropic of Capricorn and the weather has most definitely improved. I can’t decide if it’s the weather or the price of fuel that has most affected my mood- diesel up here is the cheapest we have found, so I think I might start a table, or possibly make a graph, charting my mood against hours of sunlight and diesel price. I’ll publish

It’s coming……

Posted: May 29, 2011 in Oz

Yes I know it’s been over a week, and lately the thrilling instalments are taking longer and longer to reach you, but basically I’ve used my all my good, hilarious material and am struggling to finish blogs worthy of the Maple name. Plus someone (no names but it wasn’t me), spilt an entire litre of water over my laptop, so we have been without Mr Apple Mac for a day or two.

However, 24 hrs folks and you’ll have your precious blog, and this one’s a good one.  There are at least three ‘smile to yourself’ moments, one obligatory Lonely Planet walk,  and two mildly amusing anecdotes… getting excited? ‘Course you bloody are!

Just a little taste picture wise…..

Alright sunshine! 14-20/5/11

Posted: May 22, 2011 in Uncategorized

The sun has got his hat on, hip hip hip hurray! Yes, it’s finally got warm and we are back under canvas; camping has become enjoyable and there is no need to break the ice in the kettle before we have a cup of English Breakfast. It took a couple of days and around 1000 kms but we are hopefully into the warmer weather and have no more need for trailer parks. It’s a little sad I know, but the weather makes such a difference to our moods. Let’s not get carried away though, it’s not shorts weather just yet, more ‘casual slacks with cotton shirt and sports jacket tied around the waste’ weather. Hopefully as we push further north we can dig the shorts out and the jeans can be put away until our return home.

The plan changed, in fact it changes hourly, in fact its changed whilst I have been writing this sentence. The last plan I think I left you with was that we were going to drive around the entire coast of Australia and end up back in Perth, and then ship the car back to Blighty from there. After taking my socks off to help with the maths we just can’t afford it. Our original plan was to only to travel eight months in total, and that has now become a year, which means the money we had saved up needs to go a lot further. So this means that according to the original plan we would run out of money somewhere after Darwin, and whilst we can use credit cards, sell Megan’s body or use the bank of uber rich baby brother ( no, not you Nick, you were adopted, the other brother that mum and dad didn’t tell you about) we don’t really want to go down that road. The current plan is to ship the car back to the UK from Brisbane, so we will probably only go as far as Cairns and then turn around and come back. It’s a shame but it does mean we can spend more time seeing things and it’s not such a rush now. Australia is just so expensive at the moment’ if we had a smart car it might be doable but when your Land Rover is only doing 17mpg and diesel is around a pound a litre the cost of driving all the way around is eye watering, and I mean being kicked in the gentleman parts eye watering!

(Megan wanted to recreate that last sentence in pictorial form here, but I declined.)

So from Sydney we drove north to Newcastle, where we got a free bottle of wine, which was nice: wandering around the town that night we popped into a hotel for a beer and a burger for our tea. A raffle was taking place and we bought a couple of tickets which then won the rather nice and expensive bottle of wine (wasted on us). We had the chance to win $2500, which would have been nicer, but the wine will suffice, and having never won anything before, other than a pancake race at school (which to this day is still being contested) it made my day!

Spoke too soon, the rain’s back and we have retreated to the tent, which after a year of use has started to leak, brilliant. Will have to look for some waterproofer tomorrow…

 After a couple of days of long drives we hit Byron bay, a popular spot for surfers, hippies and backpackers. It’s a nice place to spend a couple of days and watch the surfers at sunset. We were close to giving it a go but the sea temperature is currently just too cold and no one should be subjected to seeing me in a wet suit.

 

The Gold Coast was next and as we drove into Surfers’ Paradise it felt like we had entered a different country: lots of condos, coffee shops and theme parks. We stopped and had a coffee on the beach and enjoyed the fact that we could sit outside in short sleeves and not have to use the heat of a hot coffee mug to warm us up. It’s so close to being shorts weather, we are getting excited…

 

Car wise, the phrase ‘limping to the finish’ springs to mind. We managed to fix the winch only for the exhaust pipe to fall off, however recently there have been new innovations in Land Rover repair… I can’t afford any of them so we now have part of a tree holding the exhaust in place. Come on Harriet, only nine weeks to go!

 

So yes, the end is in sight now, only about nine weeks left before we have to fly home, which reminds me, we really need to book some flights. Air Asia, the Ryan air of, well, Asia, now flies to the UK but the question is whether we can cope with a 12 hour Ryan air flight. A definite no is the answer at the moment but as always the price will be the determining factor. Nine weeks, not a lot really but we are not letting the thought of work, traffic on the north circular and Saturdays at Ikea dampen our spirits, although we have nowhere to live and Megan doesn’t have a job (anyone need a history teacher, she’s very good, and knows all the dates for everything?). I’ve even been looking at cars to buy when we get back, as the Land Rover will take about two months to reach us. Megan’s upset that I’m spending hours looking at Land Rovers on eBay, but we did have a conversation about different Land Rover wheel bases and engine types the other day so there’s hope yet that she will become a Land Rover fan.

 

Trailer Trash 27/4-13/5/11

Posted: May 13, 2011 in Uncategorized

Bit of a delay in this one, no excuse really, just lazy, apologizes.

We have become trailer trash. As the temperature dropped to 2 degrees ‘tenting it’ just lost all remaining enjoyment. I can put up with rain, but when one wakes up not able to feel anything from the nipple down we decided to bring life under canvas to an end, for now. As you know money is tight so the only real accommodation option open to us is static caravans on campsites. We have both decided that we are too old for hostels; the loud music, constant ‘strange’ smells, and over use of the high five, it’s just not for us. I say us, it’s me really, I’ve reached middle age about a decade too early. I even found myself eyeing up a nice beige cardigan with wooden buttons the other day, nice …

So we are trailer trash, and while I’m ashamed Megan’s taken to it like a duck to water. Checked shirts, denim shorts, fag out of the corner of her mouth, and a baby hanging off each arm. Wish I had taken a picture.

Trip wise, we had heard mixed reviews on Canberra, most people saying it’s not worth visiting and to be honest, when we were only ten minutes out of the capital and still in countryside we thought they might be right! Can you imagine anywhere in Europe where you’re ten minutes from the centre of a capital city and you are the only car on the road, driving through open country dodging the local wildlife? It was a bit surreal.

 We stayed with Megan’s uni friend, Alex and her boyfriend and thanks again to them for sharing their house, food and butterscotch schnapps (it got a bit messy). Canberra although the capital is actually only a small town but one of the most interesting we have visited; so many museums, galleries and historical sites. We started at the national gallery and then moved on to the old and new parliament houses and the National War Memorial. Amazingly we could park pretty much right outside the parliament building for free, imagine that at Westminster! We took a guided tour around both parliament buildings and learnt a lot about the political make up of the country. I thought it was going to be a snooze fest but I was actually upset that the tour came to an end, basically because I had so many questions and didn’t understand half of what was said. Megan had to sit me down and explain with the aid of pictures, mimes and even roped in two Korean tourists to react to key political events to bring history to life.

During this time we checked into a hotel for a night purely because one of us wanted to watch ‘The Wedding’. Megan took a bit of convincing but in the end she agreed it was worth the extra money and going without food for three days.

After Canberra we moved slowly up the coast to Jervis Bay, a place I wanted to visit because it was the name of my first ship. Yes, it’s a little sad but the picture below put a smile on my face even though it was raining.  Totally worth it.

 

Unfortunately the weather dulled what we are told is one of the most beautiful parts of Australia, but from what we could see it certainly had potential.

 

Every onward we pushed further inland towards the Blue Mountains outside of Sydney. It was quite a steep climb into the mountains so neither of us was surprised by the smell of burning coming from the Land Rover. Problem number 68; a burning smell when climbing up hills and turning very tight corners. The smell is down to a new oil leak dropping onto the hot exhaust pipe and burning off. At the moment we are thinking of a way to prevent this: fixing the oil leak involves taking the ‘new’ turbo off the engine, far too much effort, wonder if chewing gum will work…?

Not letting the delightful scent of burning oil distract from the amazing views, the Blue Mountains were simply stunning.

 

We stayed in trailer number two and used it as a base to explore the area. Actually, we checked into a hostel first but checked out pretty quickly as it was a sh*&%ole. We’ve never done it before but it really was that bad so we walked out after 30 minutes, and as Megan loved the trailer life so much we found another one for half the price of the hostel and twice as clean.

We saw lots of this:

Some of these:

 

And views like this:

 

We are currently in Sydney staying with friends, Katie and her partner John. We have been really lucky with offers of accommodation from long lost friends… I say offers, we just turn up and knock on doors and say ‘surprise!’

I’ve been to Sydney before but it was Megan’s first time, so we did all the major tourist sites in a few days. Luckily Katie’s house is on the north side of Sydney so the train into town across the harbor bridge and by the opera house ticked off some of the main sites on the to do list.

 

 We enjoyed Sydney and even though the temperature dropped to the coldest May morning in fifty years Katie and John’s hospitality, warm spare bed and great cooking made our four days pass far too quickly. Again, we can’t say thank you enough to them for their generosity.

 

I’m currently typing this as Megan packs the car, as we are off to Newcastle today. However, with the temperature forecast to drop to five degrees tonight it’s going to be a strain to get going again… How long do you have to stay somewhere before you can claim squatters’ rights?

 

Updates 5.0

Posted: April 30, 2011 in Uncategorized

Just a couple of updates for you; Megan’s watch the wedding so I spent the time wisely, although I did get sucked into it (loving the dress).

1. The Itinerary has been updated in the ‘Where are we now’ menu.

2. David, the very nice guy we stayed with in Adelaide is doing his own Land Rover 130 expedition, which is detailed in the following link. It’s well worth a look if you are interested in creating your own. http://www.aulro.com/afvb/projects-tutorials/120251-spudboys-130-defender-camper-build-uk-sth-africa-project.html

3. There are a few more photos in the readers’ drives section.

Enjoy……….

Rainy days 20-27/04/11

Posted: April 29, 2011 in Uncategorized

Neighbors, Home & Away and Crocodile Dundee collectively lied to me. They paint a lovely picture of an Australia that’s always warm and sunny, where jumpers are items needed for other countries and where no one has heard of an umbrella. The reality is nighttime temperatures of 3 degrees and constant rain for three days. I’m thinking of writing a rather stiff letter to the makers of these programs to complain! 3 degrees!?! It was a bit chilly that night. So much so that I had to climb down out of the tent at 3 am to fill up the hot water bottle again, as we had both lost the feeling in our toes, fingers, noses and…well, other body parts. Don’t get me wrong, we knew this part of Oz would be cold, but 3 degrees?? Come on! Yes, I am whinging again, I know. The truth is the weather hasn’t dampened our spirits, only our hair, and we are still enjoying ourselves immensely. Most campsites have a camp kitchen, so we can cook and eat in the warmth, Megan (often pronounced Meegan over here, which I find hilarious) can wash up, (I’m not allowed after an incident where cheese was left on the grater), and we can then retire at around 9pm to bed and watch a movie on the laptop. One night last week it was so cold that we treated ourselves to a meal out! Outrageous I know, perhaps verging on decadent and yes, the daily budget took a massive hit but it was worth it to eat in the warm and dry.

We continued along the coast heading for Melbourne, stopping at a campsite near the rock formations known as the 12 Apostles. The lookouts along the coastline and the Great Ocean Road are awesome and even in the grey mist the rock structures that have been weathered by the rain and battered by the sea are very imposing and impressive. This campsite was also the first that allowed us to have an open fire. With years of scouting experience behind me and only three sheets of rolled up kitchen towel, man points were earned as I produced a fire that could be used as beacon for landing aircraft. We were toasty that night.

 

Ever onward our last stop before Melbourne was in Torquay. It’s a haven for surfers from around Australia and there was even an international surfing competition on at the time we were there. Unfortunately registration had closed by the time we wandered down to the beach so we were unable to take part and bust some moves.

And so on to Melbourne. Our timing was bad, as we arrived over the Easter holiday and camping prices shot up from around $30 to $50 a night. After a few hours on the interweb we found a trailer park that we could camp at. It was an interesting place, the kind of place that if Megan had done washing and left it out to dry there was about a 78% chance her underwear might not have been there when she went to pick it up. Despite this it was only an hour on the train to downtown Melbourne and cheap, so we liked it.

 

We spent three full days exploring the city and really quite liked it. There was a lot to see and some interesting buildings to gaze at.

 

The Botanical Park was a great place to relax and people watch and Megan even mentioned that it made her top five botanical gardens list, no mean feat I can tell you.

We were there the day before Anzac day so watched all the preparations leading up to this day of remembrance. It is a much bigger deal here than we have on Remembrance Sunday and you are left feeling that they do it a lot better.

 

We spent some time in the markets, museums and parks before our time was up and we had to pack up and push on. Megan had got in contact with a friend who lives in Canberra who had kindly offered us a place to stay for a couple of nights. We allowed ourselves two days to get to Canberra and stopped at some very nice little campsites along the way situated in the Victoria High Country.

Most campsites ask you to leave before 10am on the day of your departure but this is something we have yet to achieve. Not because we get up late or because packing up takes too long- we’ve got it down to 45 minutes now, but because the Australians are just so damn friendly. People are coming up to us all the time on the campsites and asking about the trip, admiring the car and offering advice on where to go and what to see. This usually goes on past the 10am check out time but no one seems to care and we have met so many interesting people any extra charge will probably be worth it.

On the Land Rover front things are ok, I mean a lot is still broken and leaking but nothing seems to be getting any worse, which is something we are thankful for everyday!

Money Money Money

Posted: April 21, 2011 in Uncategorized

We, and by that I mean Megan, have updated all the expenses so you can now all go and look on the expenses page and see how poor we are. Food parcels will now be gratefully accepted. No tuna though, man do I hate tuna…

I have a bit of a confession to make: it’s something that happened in Perth and has been on my mind ever since, and the time has come to get it off my chest. Although it will make me look foolish my hope is that others will learn from my mistake and, in time history will judge this as the correct course of action.

On the way to get the car tested the rear left hand wheel fell off the car.  Well, when I say fell off I mean all the nuts fell off and it was seconds from detaching itself from the car and rolling off down the road all by itself. As you may remember in Bangkok I took all the wheels off to clean the wheel arches in preparation for the quarantine folks in Oz and it seems that when I put them back on again I didn’t do all the nuts up. Whilst on the way to the test centre on the freeway and at 100kph the car became very wobbly. Pulling over, thinking I had a flat I was confronted with a wheel with only a few bolts on it and only a few of the studs poking out from their correct holes. Whilst I was trying to think of who to blame a slow, sickening realization crept over me that in fact it was my fault and if the wheel had fallen off that would have been the end of the trip, no doubt a couple of months spent in hospital and worst of all, no more blog! So I hope this will be a warning to you all, never let me near the wheels of your car… Well it hasn’t helped, I feel more stupid than I did already but I’ve already typed it and can’t be bothered to think of another way to start this blog, so in it stays.

Anyway, we are still in the land down under, all the wheels are currently on the car and Megan is still talking to me, despite the fact we have now been in each other’s company every day for 24 hours a day for the last 8 months. Even though conversation officially ran out in Turkey somehow we are still going and with very few arguments. Saying that, we did have a disagreement a couple of days ago about which way up the cutlery should be stored in the cutlery jar, so things may take a turn for the worse any day now.

 

After leaving the Adelaide Hills and the comfort of David’s farm (thanks again David) we were a bit naughty and upon seeing a sign for Ikea popped in for meatballs and an hour of browsing in an effort to delay the inevitable night under canvas. In fact we stayed a bit too long and got a bit too comfortable because when I went to find Megan I found her curled up with a book, pretending to live in one of the sets.

 After failing to convince her it wasn’t real I gave up and had a snooze.

 

Camping is beginning to lose its charm. It’s not the camping itself, more the UK like weather we are experiencing in southern Australia. Overcast days followed by bloody cold nights and the lovely smell of damp on everything. We didn’t drive all this way so we could wrap up in puffer jackets, wooly hats and thermal underwear, sexy though it is.  We realized it would be cool in this part of Oz but we were not prepared for just how cold (7 degrees one night!). However the scenery we have been driving through does more than make up for the need of a hot water bottle at night.

 

So we have been pottering down the coast for the last week, stopping at the charming little towns and coastal villages along the way.

 

This stretch of the coast has been beautiful and totally different from the vast empty beaches of Western Australia. Also, as we get closer to Melbourne the number of people and fellow tourists is increasing, which is a bit of a shame as we are not used to sharing views or queuing for ice cream with others.

We should be in Melbourne in a few days time and then as we head north hopefully the weather will get a little warmer, but not too warm mind as we have no AC. Oh and whilst we are on the car you will be pleased to hear that this week nothing has gone wrong! I’m joking of course; the extra rear lights on the two spare wheels that allow fellow road users to see my signals have stopped working. We have to wait until Melbourne before we can get the spares we need so we had two choices: firstly my suggestion to simply never brake again, which has the up side of better fuel economy, but in Megan’s words was ‘just stupid’. So we had to follow her suggestion of taking the spare wheels off and putting them inside the car so that the original lights can be seen. Boring, I know.

 

Before finishing this exciting instalment and setting off to look for a second hotwater bottle I think it’s a timely moment to say thanks again for all the interest, comments and support we have had from all over the world. It’s been a massive surprise (mainly to Megan, I always knew I was a great writer) and the sheer level of interest is simply awesome.

Animal (not so) Magic 4-12/04/11

Posted: April 12, 2011 in Oz

Disaster has well and truly struck, and on so many different levels;

Disaster 1. The air conditioning has broken

Disaster 2. The fuel pump will cost $1000 to fix

Disaster 3. Still can’t fix the water leak

Disaster 4. We have a rodent hitchhiker!

The first couple of problems we are going to ignore and hope that the leaks get no worse, and to combat the fact that we have no AC traveling in the car on hot days will now be done only in underwear to prevent us dying from heat exhaustion.

The mouse problem is more serious, in fact I’ve decided there is far, far too much wildlife in Australia. This decision was reached after a few days in the Flinders Rangers facing spiders with heads the size of tennis balls and kangaroos helping themselves to our food. One particular roo actually rose up on its hind legs and went into the food cupboard! I had to wrestle it out, so yes, I have wrestled a kangaroo and managed to tick that off my all time top ten list of things to do. If only Megan could have taken a picture.

 

On the mouse front; we managed to get the little free loader out a few days ago but when we noticed the tell tale ‘presents’ and holes in pasta bags once again the poison went down I’m afraid to say. Such is the sate of our finances that when we find the body he or she will be served up on a bed of rice with a few courgettes and a nice little Sauvignon-Blanc.

The Flinders Ranges proved to be a very picturesque area and well worth the detour to go and see them. We stayed at a place called Wilpena Pound and if you google aerial photos of the place you will be able to see better than I can describe why it’s such an impressive spot.

Other than the close encounters of the roo kind we did a lot of walking in the area, as it was nice to do a bit of exercise after all that sitting in the car, and although my legs complained the entire time I’m sure they, and my waist line will thank me in the long run.

From the highlands to the…… ummmm…..Midlands I suppose. On our way to Adelaide we broke up the journey by stopping at a place called Burra. We chose Burra because it was described in the book as a mini Cornish village and being from such a place I wanted to see it. It wasn’t really Cornish but very pretty all the same and I did get to eat a pasty!

The ugly side of Burra came in the form of locusts, a squadron of locusts (which is slightly less than a plague) that came flying down the main street throughout the day. Due to all the wet and warm weather in this area of Australia the bugs have been breeding in record numbers. In fact, whilst driving towards Burra I thought someone was shooting at the car but it actually turned out to be locusts exploding on the windows and bonnet! We are pretty sure one of the buggers is responsible for the hole in my condenser, leading to the lack of air con and me driving in my pants.

When we arrived in Oz a month or so ago we got a message from David, inviting us to stay at his vineyard if we were passing through Adelaide. Never one to pass up a free night’s accommodation, the possibility of a free meal and the chance to download more episodes of Grand Designs, (man I love that program) we rocked up on Friday afternoon, not knowing quite what to expect. Pulling up we counted four Land Rovers in his drive, so clearly a good guy. Quite how good was made immediately apparent when he offered us a bed to sleep in for four nights, food, wine and help in fixing the many, many issues we have with our beloved car.

Later that afternoon we met his partner Becky, who was equally as friendly and, judging by the Sunday roast we had possibly the best cook in the world. Again and again we have been amazed by the trusting and friendly nature of the total strangers that have offered us a bed, sustenance and help. We can’t thank David and Becky enough for their generosity, hospitality and wine! We spent a really nice relaxing three days on their amazing farm in the Adelaide hills and I am writing this just before we leave to go camping again. This might become a very, very long blog as I try and drag out our stay out for another week……

Sir Leaksalot. 27/3-3/4/2011

Posted: April 3, 2011 in Oz

I’m in constant amazement at just how much stuff can leak on a Land Rover. The day before yesterday I mentioned to Megan that we had five separate leaks going on, the only thing that wasn’t leaking out, I stupidly said, was water. The next day the radiator top hose started leaking. It’s got to the stage that if I come out and there isn’t a mixture of engine oil, gear/transfer box oil, diesel and now, water under the car then something must be wrong. If it’s not leaking then it’s empty, is the attitude I’ve now taken. I paint a bleak picture; the truth is Harriet is doing rather well considering she has 260, 000 miles on the clock and we have just driven 2000kms in the last seven days.

It was a monster drive across the Nullarbor, a large unpopulated area of bush in south Australia. The only thing that broke up three days of constant driving was the occasional road kill and petrol stations charging prices that made me finally understand how BP makes millions in profit each year, even after polluting the entire east coast of North America. We filled everything up with fuel before we left civilization, including jerry cans, empty bottles of coke and a hot water bottle, as we had been warned about the fuel prices in the outback. We drove at pain staking 50mph in order to get the most from every last drop of diesel. We actually managed over 800 miles before having to fill up, a new record, although we might have cut it a little fine as we rolled into the petrol station running on fumes. There was a little bit of quiet time for ten miles or so before, as the tension in the car reached breaking point.

We also drove on Australia’s longest bit of straight road, putting a tick next to one of my life long ambitions (it’s on everyone’s list isn’t it?). To be fair though, you can’t physically drive a Land Rover in a straight line, as they tend to ‘wander’, and mine has a tendency to wander into on coming traffic as soon as it senses another car is coming, so it wasn’t as boring as it might have been in a newer car.

The road-trains are worth a mention too, as they are @$%& huge; 36 meters tends to be the average length. As they overtake you, (oh yes, they overtake!) at about 70mph, it has the same effect of the car being punched in the side by a wrecking ball, great fun.

We made it across the Nullarbor, camping in the truck stops and finally crossed into South Australia about four days ago. There is a border crossing as well, (we thought we had finished with them) but to be fair it’s only to check you aren’t carrying any fruit or veg across the state lines. This is meant to stop the spread of the fruit fly in Oz, they weren’t too bothered about the four kilos of Columbia’s finest in the back. (Have I made that joke before? so many blogs…)

We are now making our way down and around the Eyre Peninsular, stopping at lovely little campsites on the coast and watching with envy as the locals fish for fresh fish for their tea. Apparently I’m not a real man because I can’t fish, but I pointed out to my accuser that she wasn’t a real woman because she can’t crochet, a weak argument I know, but as it hasn’t been brought up again I must have touched a nerve. When the budget comes down a bit after all the fuel costs accrued over the last week we shall treat ourselves to some fresh fish.

We are  heading up to Flinders Ranges and then off to Adelaide. Anyone wishing to meet up with us should just follow the trail of oil, water and diesel left on the road behind us….

I knew the GPS had it in for me. Ever since I told it to ‘shut the *@%$ up’ when it ‘helpfully’ suggested I make a u-turn in the middle of a motorway at 100kph, the damn thing has been plotting against me. I had sensed a slight undertone in its voice over the last few days, Megan thought I was being paranoid but I knew better, I knew it was only a matter of time before it would get its revenge, before it would strike and make me rue the day I called it a ‘jumped up road atlas’. It’s my fault really, I let my guard slip, we were driving south from Perth to Margaret River when, with half an hour to go until our campsite, it made us turn off the main road and on to a smaller side road. Strange, I thought, but it was no major issue and perhaps this was the direct route I naively told myself, plus it was nice to get off the freeway. The side road turned into a narrow lane which turned into a logging road, which turned into a badly corrugated track. By this time we were too far along to turn around, but to start with it wasn’t really that bad. However it got a lot worse and the last 15kms took us around 45mins. Man it was slow going, the whole car would start shaking itself apart at speeds any higher than 10kph, so we crawled along at a walking pace. Even the satisfaction of a rare ‘I told you so’ to Megan did little to lift my mood. So me and the GPS are now even, and when today it told me to turn right onto a road that did not exist I simply thanked it for the suggestion but said I would try another route. So we have now reached a détente, and hopefully it will last.

Anyway, I suppose I’d better tell you about how we are getting on. The day we were meant to start off from Perth did not start well. The keys went missing. Right from the start I’d like to say that I am not going to play the blame game, and as it was my fault I think that’s a wise move. We could go in to the hows and whys but I think it’s best to say that the main house keys to the car are probably somewhere on the outskirts of Perth along the Graham Farmer Freeway, just after junction 5, and leave it at that. So with the doors double locked and no way to get into the sides or back of the car, where I had cleverly and thoughtfully left the spare set, drastic measures were called for. Having just a baby hack saw, a screwdriver and a hammer I managed to break into the back of Harriet (sounds a bit rude), with worrying ease to be honest. The most worrying part though was the fact that this was done in the middle of a car park, in the middle of the day with quite a few people around, and not one person asked me if the car was mine!

With the spare set safely in Megan’s hands I’m now not allowed to hold them anymore, but we were finally off, and only four hours late. Our first stop was Margaret River, an area of Australia famous for its wine making. It was about four hours south of Perth, so a good little test for the car, a test it failed you will all be shocked to hear. After three months trouble free motoring around Asia the gremlins are back. I noticed when we stopped at our first campsite a lovely little pool of oil under the front of the car. Looking up it seemed that there was a leak from the oil pressure switch and the fuel injection pump, which is very annoying as it was new before we left. Bloody car, after feeling excited and upbeat about starting our trip around Oz the Land Rover let’s us down before we were even out of the starting gate, again. It’s mildly frustrating.

All was not lost though, we went to a garage the next morning and were told that they could get an oil switch from Perth in 24 hours and would cost us around $70. We will have to monitor the small leak from the fuel pump, as we can’t really spare the money to get it fixed at the moment as I imagine it will cost a lot. We had a day waiting for the part so we met up with our friend Tom (www.look4tom.com) in his rented camper and toured the beaches and ate fish and chips, our fourth portion since arriving in Oz and probably three portions too many.

Thursday saw the oil leak fixed, us $75 poorer, and we continued further south. The landscape in this part of Australia is a lot like New England in America in parts, and quite amazing. The forests are huge and the trees ridiculously tall. Now in convoy with Austrian Tom we stopped at a couple of national parks and climbed a few trees! It was also time for our first wild camp in a national park and we were both struck by how quiet it was and, apart from the screaming birds at 5am, one of the most peaceful and relaxing places I have been to.

The beaches are also something to marvel at. Miles and miles of empty sand stretching as far as the eye can see with no one on them. It’s quite incredible, the feeling of space and isolation is hard to describe and it makes we wish I’d studied harder at school so that I had the vocabulary to do so. “It’s pretty awesome”, is the best I can manage I’m afraid.

The next day we said our tearful goodbyes to Austrian Tom (Megan was more tearful than I, a slight concern that you can be sure I’ll take up with her later) just outside Albany, as he headed back towards Perth to continue his journey in South America. We headed further east and found a campsite in our guidebook that looked to be situated right on the beach. There was a 15km dirt road to the campsite which cut through the bush. It was dusk as we started on this road, right at the time when they tell you not to drive due to the danger of kangaroos exploding on the front of cars. Very wary of this we started to drive slowly down the track, but after about a minute of this I got bored and sped up. This is something that I won’t do again, as about half way down the track Megan nearly had a kangaroo in her lap. It jumped out on to the road just a split second after the bonnet passed him, and all we saw was a flash of grey in the passenger window. After the obligatory ‘@^&% me!’ we looked back to see him happily hopping down the road. Half a second earlier and we would still be scraping roo from the front of Harriet! Never a dull a moment.

The campsite was well worth the near miss and raised heart rates: our pitch was right on the beach and overlooked the bay. That night as we lay in bed we could hear the white horses charging up the beach, which was nice but did mean I had to go to the toilet about five times that evening. In the morning we had company for breakfast, as the roo we nearly ran over brought his family to see us to ensure there were no hard feelings.

So you are now up to date. We are traveling across the Nullarbor in the next couple of weeks so internet might not be the best. However, the spot is now working again so we will update our position daily for those of you interested, which I imagine is all of you, yes?

Almost on the road again 14-20/03/11

Posted: March 20, 2011 in Oz

As you may remember in the last blog I stated that my feet were itching. This turned out not to be an urge to start traveling again but instead a mild fungal infection that had flared up, just thought I should clear that up before we go any further.

We have the car back!! But the biggest surprise was that it passed the quarantine inspection first time and we didn’t have to pay any extra costs. All the cleaning in Bangkok at Expat Motors seems to have paid off. The inspector said that the underside of the car, (the bit I did), looked like new and couldn’t possibly be the chassis of a thirteen year old Land Rover. The inside, (the bit Megan did) was alright, but nothing special. Actually, that may not have happened. To be totally honest, we sat on the beach while the inspection was carried out. It did feel a little like waiting for your exam results but worse really because if we had failed it could have cost us hundreds of dollars.

So the next day we went down to pick the car up and were greeted with the sight you see below.

We knew the guys who packed the car in to the container in Bangkok had to let the tires down to get it in, but we were a little surprised to see them totally flat! Never fear though, the winch/air compressor was called in to action for the first time and we quickly had air in the tyres. And after a month without being started Harriet burst into life on the first turn of the key, unbelievable, but true. Anyway, in order for us to legally drive in the land down under we had to get the car tested by the Western Australian Government. The test is carried out at a couple of testing centres around the Perth area and it’s done on a first come, first served basis, so I arrived at 0645 and finally got away at half ten! It took a while but the car passed, just. They check to see if there are any oil leaks and luckily I had one from the gear-box, so it was alright. I felt sorry for the guys in new Toyotas, I doubt they had any leaks and therefore wouldn’t have passed the test. Poor guys, I really felt for them.

With the pass paper in my hand I went to the office and registered the car in Australia, woohoo! A service was next on the to do list, and luckily for me a very nice man called Ian answered my cry for help on the Australian Land Rover website and offered me his workshop as somewhere I could carry out my service. What I didn’t realise was that he would also fix the bolt that many a Malaysian mechanic could not, and rope his son, Ben into doing all the dirty jobs for me. What a guy. He also has the most amazing collection of Land Rovers and clearly knows his stuff: I asked him which was the gear box and which was the transfer box so that I knew what oil to put where, purely as a test you see, and he knew!

Not only that but he also invited us round to his house to meet his better half, Shelley, who gave us food and beer. We both had a really good night and can’t thank Ian enough for all his help, and Shelley for the best meal we have had in Oz.

Today we went to the Perth Outdoor Show and saw some amazing 4x4s and camping trailers. Luckily Megan had the wallet otherwise we would have come away with a couple of trailers, a new tent, a Nissan Patrol, and a rather nice blue canoe. Best day ever.

That’s it then, after two and a half weeks of waiting and doing Perth four times over we are off tomorrow, if we can find the keys, to meet up with our friend Austrian Tom and set off across this massive country….

How much?!? 3-14/03/11

Posted: March 15, 2011 in Oz

£7 for a box of Rice Crispies, I couldn’t believe it! I showed Megan; she passed out right there on the supermarket floor and got run over buy 2 trolleys and a pram. Such was my state of shock that I didn’t even notice. We had been told that Australia was expensive but nothing could have prepared us for the 7 quid cereal aisle.

So yes, we are in Australia! Hurray I hear you all cry, but before you let off the party poppers we are still waiting of for the Land Rover. She actually arrived over a week ago but due to strikes, back logs at the port and an over exuberant customs force wanting to x-ray the container before it gets opened Harriet is still sitting on the quayside in Fremantle. Hopefully we will have her back before the end of this week, as long as there aren’t too many issues with the quarantine guys, which is a distinct possibility. In Malaysia it only took 36 hours from off loading the container to us driving up to Kuala Lumpur, Oz might take fourteen days! Bummer.

Anyway, as you might have gathered it’s expensive for us pommies over here at the moment, about 1.6 dollars to the pound. I can still remember when it was around 2.6 to the pound, aah the good old days when we could afford rice based cereal, beer and meals out. On the plus side petrol is still slightly cheaper than back in Blighty, just.

We arrived in Perth and checked into the only place we could afford, a hostel. As you might have gathered over the last few months I’m not the biggest fan of hostels and the backpackers that dwell within, but we didn’t have a choice. Even hostels are charging around $80 a night for a private room, which is pretty much our entire daily budget, so we had to come up with a cheaper place to stay, and fast. We racked our brains and finally searched the interweb. We posted an advert on a local Perth website, asking if anyone had a room to rent for a couple of weeks. Within a matter of hours we were swamped with not one but two offers! So that’s how we moved out of the hell-hole, sorry hostel, and in with a nice girl called Mindy from Singapore. It’s a tad random but we are back to paying £22 a night instead of £50, cashback!

We’ve managed to keep ourselves entertained by doing the mandatory Lonely Planet guided walk, a staple of any city visit now, and hiring a cheap car and driving up and down the coast, checking out the beaches and watching the kite surfers. We wanted a have a go ourselves but unfortunately the lesson costs too much so we have had to sit on the shore and stare jealously out to sea.

Perth is a lovely city, small, clean and in an amazing location. It’s got the most brilliant outdoor shops- great for me, not so great for Megan, and it’s been a super start to a life down under. I have also been amazed at the friendliness of the Aussies: we put a post up on the Australian Land Rover Club website and since then have had loads of messages ranging from good luck, to offers of places to stay and the use of garages. Not sure if this would happen in the UK.

And that’s it really, we sit here waiting for the car, watching the terrible pictures coming out of Japan. Hopefully by the next blog we will be back on the road heading southeast on our way to Sydney, the old feet have started to itch!

Did you know that my phone bill last month was well over £200? Of course you didn’t, I didn’t until I checked the old online banking. It doesn’t sound that much I know, but it should have been zero, and had it not been for Mr Lloyds TSB canceling my cards every second day for a couple of weeks it would have been. It went from mildly irritating to down right exasperating and although I am on first name terms with one call center lady, Michelle from Dorking (I’ve been included on her Christmas card list and am god father to her first born) I was getting slightly stressed by the situation. So a Maple top tip for all you budding overlanders: always check your card is working before putting a tank of fuel into a moped.

Rant over and we are back in the room. Phuket is where we decided to spend one of our weeks without the car and our last week in Thailand. Those in the know will turn their noses up at this and for those not in the know; the best way to describe Phuket is Bognor with hundreds of topless bars. It’s an Island in the south of Thailand and not where we would really have chosen to spend a week, but all the quieter islands required a lot of effort to get to and it was necessary to book weeks in advance. Seeing as we had no real idea of when exactly the car was going to be shipped we couldn’t book too far in advance, so last minute booking was required and Phuket is where we ended up!

To be fair it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be, and I even enjoyed myself. I would have enjoyed myself more if Megan had let me go into ‘Jugs’, but she thought it was a tasteless choice for her birthday dinner. It wasn’t really her birthday, but how funny would that have been if it had been??  I think we can all agree,  ‘very’ would have been the answer.

We stayed out of the main town in a very nice apartment at Villareal Heights, and hired a moped to take us to the beach everyday. The beach was in a quiet cove and we spent the day snorkeling and sun bathing and the evening peeling great sheets of skin of my sun burnt back and of course, dreaming about ‘Jugs’.

Before we knew it our time was up and we caught a flight back to Kuala Lumpur. We decided to spend one night there before going on to Singapore to stay with some friends. The main reason was because a lot of our clothing by this point had given up the ghost. The hand washing, car cleaning and sweat stains had taken their toll and we had to say goodbye to some old friends. The other reason for buying some more t-shirts was that in a lot of the pictures up on the blog we seem to be wearing the same clothes again and again, and people were starting to talk. There is a massive shopping centre in KL called Times Square, which is simply huge. We spent a good three hours there re-stocking our wardrobes and only covered the first 3 floors of the 8 or 9 floors that the mall has.  Shopping done and the next morning we boarded the train to Singapore. I was looking forward to the train ride, as I thought it would be a seven hour picturesque ride through Malaysia. Instead all that filled our window for nine hours (yes, the train ran late) was dense jungle, and after the first hour of trees I gave up and spent the next eight hours looking at the pictures in Malaysia’s version of Top Gear magazine and asking Megan if she wanted to play eye spy. However, little did I know the excitement that lay just around the next station…

The train went all the way from KL to Singapore, so we had to do a border crossing. Having done a number of these by now we thought nothing of it as we got off the train and joined the queue to get our passports stamped and our bags x-rayed. The stamping side of things went well but as my bag was x-rayed I was asked to open it, and when they discovered I had a bottle of gin that we had bought for our hosts in Singapore I was marched to the interview room. Now, we had checked that we could bring in bottles of gin to Singapore and all the stuff we read on the internet and at the station stated that we were entitled to bring in a litre each, so I was somewhat perplexed when I was asked why I was trying to smuggle alcohol into the country! I explained that I thought that I was allowed one litre of spirits and was not trying to smuggle anything! (Apart from the funny white packages some nice man at the station had given me to pass on to his friend, Jose Sanchez in Singapore of course).

It turns out that if you fly into Singapore you can bring in what you like, but if you come by train you are not allowed to bring in anything.

“it’s in the small print”, my interrogator told me when I was protesting my innocence, explaining that I had read the leaflets available.

I was then marched to another office, passing a bemused Megan who I had left at the x-ray machine with all the bags, and here I was told that I would have to pay 15 times the duty of the gin, and possibly spend a few days in jail. I kid you not.

After once again explaining that it was a simple mistake and that I was not an international gin smuggler, (my passport stamps from Iran and Laos didn’t help matters) I was eventually let off with a small fine and an official warning in my passport. I did manage to keep the gin, but the train had left without us and we sat stranded at the border station waiting for the next train from KL. To be fair it only took three minutes for the next train to arrive.  Welcome to Singapore!

Our moods improved greatly once our chatty Chelsea supporting taxi driver dropped us off at Megan’s friend’s apartment, slap bang in the middle of Singapore. Annie and her boyfriend, Faz made us feel very welcome and we can’t thank them enough for the hospitality they showed us, family-esque is the best way to describe it. We had use of a free apartment, with pool, to explore this amazing city for a couple of days before getting a flight to Perth.

During our time there we explored the usual tourist hotspots; Chinatown, Raffles Hotel, Little India, Sentosa Island (via cable car no less), Orchard Road, and Singapore Zoo, which might make it into the top five zoos I have ever visited. I had been to Singapore many times before whilst working on cargo ships but the last visit must have been eight years ago, and man has it changed! All of the slightly seedy side has gone and it’s just mall after mall, I’m not sure I like it as much. Where once there were outside food stalls selling big bottles of Tiger, now there’s Starbucks. It’s a shame, but then that’s the price of progress. It’s still an interesting place to visit and live, as it’s still got that ‘east meets west’ thing going on.

We also met up with another friend of Megan’s (man is she popular), Rob and his wife Riza, who is from Singapore. Another very interesting day was spent with them, getting a local’s perspective of the place, which always helps with understanding local culture. Rob also kindly bought us G&Ts in Raffles, something that requires a second mortgage, so thanks Rob!

After four days it was time to say goodbye to Annie and Faz, (thanks again!) and finally catch a flight down under to Perth. The plan at the moment is to wait in Perth until the car arrives and then spend four or five months doing a loop, heading south before ending up back up in Perth. We’ll then possibly sell the car if we can and fly home. So those of you who were worried that the blog was nearly finished never fear, we’re only just over half way, huzzar!?!

Wet and Wild 04-19/02/11

Posted: February 20, 2011 in Laos, Thailand

What up peeps! (I’m going ‘gangster’ in order to appeal to the younger readers, I want to top 50,000 hits you see, it’s all about the numbers these days.) Right off the bat I’d like to make a thousand apologies for the delay in the blog, I know a lot of you have come to rely on our blogs as a shining light in these bleak winter days, but after you find out about the week we have just had I hope you will find it in your hearts to forgive our tardiness.

We last left you in the Luang Prabang in Laos, and from there we drove further south to Vang Vieng. Oh my goodness was that a sleazy nightmare of a place! The town is located on a river in a stunning limestone cliff landscape, which has unfortunately been ruined by an activity known as tubing. This essentially involves hundreds of drunk tourists, (many from the UK it has to be said), hiring rubber inner tubes and floating down the river, stopping at many of the loud bars that litter the river bank and pollute the environment by pumping out very loud music 13 hours a day! Add in a lot of drug taking as well and ‘horrendous’ is the only word you can use to describe it! How the locals put up with it I don’t know! To make matters worse, we had booked three nights there, doh!

There was a saving grace though… everyday we headed out of the cesspit, (can you tell that I really didn’t like it?) and headed for the hills. There were many small and interesting tracks that led out of the town and into the surrounding countryside. We spent all day just exploring the outlying villages, attending injured Americans after they had fallen off their motorbikes, paddling in rivers and driving through water crossings (more than once in order to get that perfect shot!) So what could have been three days of hell actually turned out to be a blessing and a really enjoyable couple of days!

The road from Vang Vieng to the Laos capital, Vientianne was in a lot better condition than the roads further to the north and it took us no time getting there and finding our hotel. Vientianne is my kind of capital; small, relaxed and laid back. It’s full of coffee shops, NGO personel driving large white 4x4s, and tour companies promising you that theirs is the cheapest bus to Thailand. After the first day wandering the city, drinking coffee and yep, you’ve guessed it, people watching we got an email from our mate Austrian Tom (www.look4tom.com), who we last saw in Bandar Abbas just before we got the ferry to Dubai. He had taken his car to India but left it there and continued his journey on his KTM motorbike though Asia. It turned out that he was in Vientianne as well and we met up with him and his friend Klaus for more coffee, a few beers and a good old story swap.

Our decision not to take the car to India seems to have been the right one listening to the nightmare/ horror stories Austrian Tom told us of getting his car there, through customs and driving on the roads. It also turns out that Tom (we can drop the Austrian bit now, you know who he is) will be in Perth when we are, yeah! We have a friend in Australia! He also promised to teach us windsurfing while we wait for the car to turn up. Personally I doubt I’ll need many lessons, as I have a feeling I’m a natural but Megan will take a lot of work. Look out for photos of me in a wetsuit in the near future… I strongly suggest you finish any large meals first- there will be a parental warning (probably  PG15) as well on that particular blog so not to worry, you’ll have plenty of notice.

After bidding farewell to Laos we then started the drive back into Thailand and continued doing battle with the shippers. We had started making enquires into shipping the car to Perth about a month ago but had got nowhere. Emails went unanswered, the quotes we did receive were either crazy high or ridiculously cheap and therefore not inclusive of all the costs. It got to the stage where we seriously considered taking the Land Rover apart and carrying it on the plane as excess baggage. Then all of a sudden Megan had a breakthrough! Following another stupid email from a shipping agent asking the same question I had answered ten days before and suggesting a date for shipping which would have required us to drive at an average speed of 107.5mph in 24 hours in order to get there I finally had a little cry and gave up. Megan however took over, and within thirteen minutes found an English guy on the web who could not only help us but also had somewhere we could clean the car and get it serviced before he shipped it. It made me sick, five weeks, five weeks it had taken me, 38 emails to three different shippers, and she nailed it thirteen bloody minutes!?! I had another little cry and lost all the man points I had gained over the last few weeks.

So we left for the border with a plan, me in a sulk and Megan looking a little bit too chuffed with herself. The car would be shipped in ten days, which would give us enough time to get to Bangkok and get Harriet looking her best for the customs inspection in Fremantle. The border crossing went smoothly. Well, there was the mandatory run around- I think we visited five different offices in order to get the Carnet stamped, but as we are so relaxed about it all now we both commented on the fact that only two hours for a signature and a bit of paper was ‘quite good actually’.

We finally arrived in Bangkok and after a night in the most expensive hostel in the world we went off to meet the English guy who could arrange our shipping. The English guy had a name, Tim, and Tim is our hero. He owns a company called Siam Motor World (www.siammotorworld.com) and without him we would not have been able to get the car packed and off to Australia. He sorted out all the shipping and let use his garage for a week for free. What a guy.

Now we get to the reason why this blog was so long in coming. In order to get any car into Australia you have to make sure it is spotlessly clean, inside and out and it must not contain any mud, seeds or anything that could endanger the eco-systems of our Australia cousins. Initially I didn’t think it would take too long to clean the Land Rover however, after the first couple of hours it became obvious just how long this was going to take us. Laos had coved everything, and I mean everything in the back of the car in a fine film of dust, and the underside of the car was still covered in tar from Turkey, with mud mixed into it for good measure.

Basically we took the car apart, cleaned it, and put it back together. It took a total of 96 man-hours, nine separate arguments between us, four ruined T-shirts, one pair of crocs,  and lost three fingernails. At one stage I actually threw the scraper I was using to chip tar off the bottom of the car across the garage in a proper bloke fit! More last man points. I took care of the underside of the car and the engine, taking the wheels off and scraping off the tar in the wheel wells, taking the radiator out and power washing the engine. Megan emptied all our boxes, cleaned all our equipment, repacked it all, and cleaned the inside of the car. They were long days, 7am till 7pm, in temperatures no sane Englishman should work in.

However, come Thursday afternoon we had done the best we could. Will it be good enough? We will all have to wait and see…. We really can’t thank Tim enough, he went above a beyond to help us and if anyone is shipping out of or into Thailand or needs anything car related in Thailand he is the only man to see.

So that’s it, the car is again in a container, making its way to Oz and we are off to Singapore to visit some friends. We miss her and the freedom she gives us…sniff sniff…..damn it Simon, no tears!

MAGnificent!

Posted: February 11, 2011 in Uncategorized

I’m upset people, upset and embarrassed, so much so I’m going all preachy in a bid to feel better about myself. A couple of days ago we visited a place called the Cope centre. There we learnt all about the massive unexploded mine issue that effects Laos. During the Vietnam War America waged a Secret War in Laos and in an effort to destroy a main supply route to the Vietcong along the Ho Chai Minh trail from north to South Vietnam Laos was bombed extensively. More than 2 million tons of ordnance was dropped and around 30% of the bombs dropped did not explode. This means that there are still potentially up to 80 million unexploded bombs left in Laos.

To this day mines are still accidentally detonated, killing and maiming thousands of Laotians. Children are most at risk as they pick up and play with the unexploded munitions, not knowing what they are.

The centre was very moving and highlighted this dreadful situation- anyone visiting the Laos capital should defiantly pop in.

So why am I upset? I’m upset because I had no idea that this situation existed on the scale it does. We did this trip without trying to raise any money for charity because it made no sense, as we were not visiting any projects or charities, we were simply doing it for ourselves.  It seems somewhat selfish now.  If we had been aware of this particular situation we would have liked to have tried to do something by raising a little money.

Anyway, in order to make amends for this oversight (and to guarantee my place in heaven) I ask you to look at the two websites below. One for Cope, who help many of the casualties of unexploded ordinance (UXO) and one for MAG, who do an amazing job of clearing UXO  and training local people to clear the mines in Laos and many other countries affected by the same problem. There is now also a link to MAG on the Home page.

www.copelaos.org

www.maginternational.org/laopdr

Update 3.0

Posted: February 8, 2011 in Laos

So we have updated a couple of things;

  • There is now information on the ‘useful information’ page!
  • Megan has done the Malaysia expenses and the total over view.
  • We have also updated the itinerary on the ‘where are we now’ page
  • The Spot is not really working very well but I update our location on Google maps every day, just click on the Sat Nav.
  • There are a few more pictures on ‘readers’ drive’ page

As you can tell we have a good internet connection at the moment and I’ve drunk far to much coffee, hence our productivity.

Finally we are shipping the car from Bangkok to Oz but it’s going to takes about 3 weeks to get it back the other end. Perth without a car or tent is going to be uber expensive sooooo….. anyone know of a cheap cheap place to stay in the Perth area?!?

Laos: I’ll be honest, I didn’t really know this country existed before I started planning the trip. Embarrassing yes, but isn’t finding out about new places what this trip is all about? Admittedly finding out about an entire new country might be verging on ignorant, but at least I know now. Did you know there was a country called Bhutan as well?? Bet you didn’t.

Anyway, our first few hours in Laos were spent queuing for a visa and finding somewhere to pump the offside front (that’s the passenger side…I think) tyre up. There seemed to be no puncture so either someone let the air out of the wheel because they didn’t want to leave Thailand (let’s all turn and look at Megan at the same time) or the Michelin fairies took it… I’m sure you will agree that there can’t be any other explanation as to why a tyre would go flat for no reason.

With the air pressures all now correct we pushed on to our first stop in our first communist country. The guide book says that driving in Laos has been greatly improved now that all the roads have been surfaced. Liars. Dirty, cheating, misinforming liars! Within 30 minutes the road finished and we found ourselves driving on a rutted track with car swallowing pot holes and enough dust to block out the sun. At first it was quite exciting; a bit of off roading, getting the car a bit dirty, earning some man stripes, plus for the first time on this trip bringing a Land Rover was kind of justified! but after an hour of dirt tracks, an average speed of 20mph  and with another 100 miles to go the mood inside the car turned bleak.

The driving was also very tiring: constantly looking for the best route through, trying to keep the car from shaking itself apart, and not hitting hysterical chickens running across the road. I failed on the last challenge and did unfortunately hit one chicken. In my defense I avoided it the first time it ran in front of us, but then it clearly felt cocky and tried its luck again!?! This time no amount of braking, swerving or swearing helped and there followed an explosion of feathers at the front of the car. Looking at each other guiltily we stopped to see if we could give the owner of the unlucky/stupid foul some money for his loss, but he simply smiled and waved us on. I get the feeling exploding chickens is the norm on these roads.

We finally made it our first stop, Luang Namtha, after 4 hours of very slow driving. Laos is clearly a poorer nation than Thailand and the town we stopped at was nothing more than a street with a few shops on it and a couple of guesthouses. It was less than 100kms to the Chinese border and the place definitely had a Chinese feel to it, probably because of all the Chinese people there on holiday for Chinese New Year. It was kind of cool being so close to the border but also rather frustrating that we were unable to cross into China without having to pay silly amounts of money.

We spent two nights at Luang Namtha, slowly breaking ourselves into Laos. We also took some time to catch up on a bit of maintenance and changed the break pads on the front of the car, as we had been warned that the roads were going to get steeper. Given the fact that these haven’t been changed once while I’ve owned the car, as well as the strange burning smells wafting around on the last drive we thought it best to do this sooner rather than later! Now, I don’t want to blow my own trumpet here but changing the pads was all rather easy and the task was carried out in under an hour. With the Land Rover’s previous history we both thought it would be one of those jobs where you start off thinking it’ll take 5 minutes but after 4 hours and the entire front end of the car in pieces, tools scattered everywhere and frantic phone calls back to the mechanics at Douglass Motors, it would actually take all day. Not this time though, nailed it in 47 minutes, with the addition of a few more man points for Simon.

From Luang Namtha we headed for Luang Prabang, a drive of 250 kms, and 6 hours of more of the same road conditions as we had experienced on our last drive. The drives are interesting though as there is only one road running between these towns and it takes in amazing views and small insights into village life. The villages themselves are often simply a collection of bamboo huts on stilts with a single water tap to supply the whole village with their water, and most don’t even seem to have electricity. Although these people are clearly poor there is always a smile and a wave from the children and grown ups and not once have we been approached for money. I have to say that these are some of the most enjoyable days we have spent on the road. There is just so much to see, a visual feast.

Driving into Luang Prabang we met Wilm and Sylvi, a German couple in a 4×4 Mercedes van doing the same sort of route as us around Laos. It’s always good to meet fellow overlanders and complain to each other about the state of the roads and petrol prices. The average backpacker just doesn’t seem to be interested in discussing the octane content of South Eastern Asian diesel, losers.

We both found Luang Prabang very interesting, even if it was a bit touristy. Our hotel was a converted French colonial home and was simply beautiful. The town is a world heritage site (is there anywhere in Asia that isn’t??) and a lot of the buildings date from the time the French occupied Indochina. The majority of them have been restored and are now hotels or restaurants, and they look simply amazing. Luang Prabang’s not a cheap place though and a lot of the tourists are middle aged Europeans- no dreadlocks here, just a lot of chino wearing and pastel jumpers tied around necks, a far better type of traveler. We yet again whiled away the days wandering around the streets, monk spotting, and people watching in cafés, something of a habit with us now. We spoke to people who did not like Luang Prabang; too many people and not much to see, but in our view it was like a whole town run by the National Trust. The houses were truly stunning and we both found more than one we wanted to buy and live in! Mums would love it, or maybe we’re just getting old….

On a final note can I just say that Laotian (is that right?) coffee is amazing: I intend to start an export company shipping it into Europe and will be taking orders very soon if anyone wants to get in on the ground floor…

All Thai’d out 24-29/01/11

Posted: February 1, 2011 in Thailand

The final days in Thailand: we seemed to have spent a lot longer here than we had planned, basically because the place is interesting, cheap and (don’t tell Megan) the woman are just so damn hot! I’m joking of course, it’s not that cheap.

We spent our final days in Chiang Mai wondering the little side streets and alley ways that interweave between the main streets and are full of coffee shops, tat shops and bars. We had many a happy hour sitting watching the world pass us by. (Still far too many dreadlocks and tie dye though.)

On one of the days, I forget which one, we went to visit an elephant conservation centre, where we were treated to a show displaying all the talents of the massive beasts. A lot of it demonstrated how elephants used to be used for logging in the northern forests, which was truly fascinating and I was amazed by their skill… but not as amazed as I was when we saw elephants paint! And pictures of themselves no less, a proper jaw dropping moment! The centre clearly looks after the elephants and treats them very well, they even have an elephant hospital on site that gave an elephant a prosthetic leg!


Heading up even closer to the Laos border and our final stop in Thailand was near a place called Chiang Rai. We had booked a ‘hut’ in a resort just on the edge of town but because it was so cheap we were a little skeptical as to the quality of the place, but www.tripadvisor.com didn’t let us down. And can I just say bravo for trip advisor, it’s been bang on so many times and made looking for hotels so damn easy! Actually, we’ve started reviewing the places we have stayed in under the name ‘maple’ if anyone is interested and thinking of coming out this way.

So, the hut: awesome, simply an amazing place. We got a little hut with a mattress on the floor, an outdoor toilet and shower and no AC, but somehow it worked and I can’t rate the Naga Hill Resort enough. The pool was simply massive, so massive that I actually didn’t make it to the other end, as it just seemed too far away and my fitness levels were simply not up to it. We spent three nights here but could have easily spent a week or two.

On our second day there we managed to drag ourselves away from the pool and head for the hills and a village called Mae Salong, which has more in common with China than Thailand. We thought we had driven up some pretty steep roads in the Cameron Highlands but they were mere gentle inclines compared to the near vertical roads that presented themselves in this part of Thailand. First gear all the way up for about 40 minutes, but to give the Land Rover her due the temperature needle never went over half way. Once up at the top it was a little hazy so the views were not the best but it was interesting nonetheless. Coming back down was worse than going up, with the brakes and Megan screaming at every opportunity. Again that’s unfair, the brakes did very well… We did have to stop a couple of times to let them cool down though, as the brake pedal was having to be pressed harder and harder to get a reaction!

Then came the day to head to the border: we had read from other blogs that we needed to get to the border crossing early to catch the first ferry, as the cost of the ferry is spilt between those on it so if you turn up and there is no one else there the whole $120 is down to yourself! So 6am it was then. It all worked out rather well actually: we turned up, sorted out the customs, got our car signed out and our passports stamped! We managed to board the ferry with some trucks so it only cost us £25, bargain! It was then that we noticed the flat tyre……

What Wat? 14-23/01/11

Posted: January 24, 2011 in Thailand

After the India debacle, or the ‘incident’ as it will now be named, we ended up back in Bangkok and were very happy about it, very happy indeed. We arrived a little after my brother and father, as we had changed our flight, which Air Asia did for free, but had to fly at a later time. We arrived in Bangkok in the early hours of the morning and were whisked away to the apartment we had booked for a week of air-conditioned luxury. It was good to be back in SE Asia.

On the first day back the family went to see some of the sights we had already seen and I went to pick up the Land Rover from the storage place we had left it in. Once again she started first time, for some reason it is always a shock to me when the car does what it’s meant to. After fighting the Bangkok traffic back to our apartment I was back in bed catching up with my hour and a half jet lag.

It was good to spend some more time in the Thai capital, as we had not really seen the sights when we were first here, it being Christmas and all, so we hit the tourist trail hard and fast and took in more temples and Buddha’s than you can shake a stick at.

On the 4th day we took a trip to Kanchanaburi, the sight of the Bridge over the River Kwai. It was a tight fit to get all four of us in the Land Rover and those in the back were not too happy with the total lack of leg room, so I had to drive with my knees resting on my chest. Megan commented that this may have actually improved my driving. She walked home.

Kanchanaburi itself has become something of a tourist hotspot and not the somber location I feel it should have been. Saying that though the war graves were immaculately kept and even with all the noise and hubbub surrounding the site it was a very peaceful place to be. It was quite humbling to see that the majority of the graves of the men (well, boys really) who died were only in their 20’s. There was also a very interesting and tasteful museum that charted the building of the ‘Death Railway’ as it has come to be known.

The day my brother and dad flew home I got up at 5am to drive them to the airport, something I had offered to do after one to many Singapore slings on a rooftop bar the night before (and by the way, did you even know they had a 5am??! It was still dark!). Lately Megan and myself find it an effort to get out of bed before 10am, god knows how we are going to cope with work once the money runs out and we have to go back to real life jobs!?! I’m still hoping that some big shot with a publishing house and a love of Land Rovers will see my blog and offer me a couple mill to turn it into a book and a BBC drama, hopefully starring that guy from Doctor Who, not the new one but the old one, you know, that guy…? No Megan, it’s not a long shot!!!

So I bid 70% of my family goodbye at the airport and the last few days since then have been spent driving north in Thailand, heading for the Laos border. We stopped on the way at a couple of small backwater towns, which always seem to have the most amazing food. This one place we went to was truly amazing: ‘all you can eat cook it yourself at your table’ for £2. We ate a lot, so much in fact that I have eaten nothing for the last three days, as I’m still trying to digest it all. (That’s such a lie). The food in Thailand is awesome and we haven’t stopped eating since crossing the border.

We also stopped at a little town called Kamphaeng Phet, which had an incredible number of temple ruins. I thought I had reached maximum temple exposure (or ‘wat’, which is thai for temple, get the title now?) but after seeing these crazy weather worn Buddhas it really got my temple juices flowing again. As Kamphaeng Phet was slightly off the main tourist trail there was also no one else around and we had the whole sight to ourselves in order to take inappropriate photos.

We are now currently staying in a small city called Chiang Mai, which is back packer central, far too many dreadlocks, baggy tie died trousers and use of the word ‘man’ in conversations for my liking. We should be in Loas in four or five days as long as we can find the boarder crossing- the guidebook and google only seem to talk about people crossing by boat and nothing is mentioned about a bridge or car crossing… Well, the main border is too far to drive now so we are going up to have a look anyway! Fingers crossed there is some sort of car ferry, if not then maybe I can start one…? Megan, Megan! I’ve just had the most amazing idea…..

Indiahhhhhhhh part 2

Posted: January 20, 2011 in 10.India

Day Three.

So Agra and the Taj Mahal were out- we had a train booked from Agra to Jaipur but as we could not get to Agra (all trains were of course fully booked) we had little choice other than to fly to Jaipur instead. Did you hear that loud bang? That was our budget going through the roof. I managed to find a flight for that evening so we had yet another long day in Delhi. We decided to make the best of it and visit the Red Fort. It seemed like walking distance from the hotel so we set off, trying to put the disappointment of not seeing the Taj Mahal behind us…

We thought we were staying in a rough area until we walked the streets to the Fort. I can’t describe the feeling of guilt we all felt on seeing some of the world’s poorest people sleeping, washing and living on the street. The sheer number of people was also overwhelming, I have never seen so many people in one place before, and I’ve been to Ikea on a Saturday. The fort itself was mildly underwhelming so we made a tactical retreat to the familiarity and safety of a Costa Coffee, and tried to solve India’s problems over a blueberry muffin and a latté. Never have we been somewhere where there was so much to talk about.

Our flight that evening all went to plan and we arrived at the guest house in Jaipur in good spirits. Jaipur also looked quite nice and quiet by night…

Day Four.

A full day in Jaipur…. ummm… well it’s as crazy as Delhi and we were accosted by just as many people! However the markets were truly very interesting, unfortunately you just couldn’t actually stand still for more than 30 seconds without being surrounded by folks asking for cash, which did detract from it all somewhat. We did find an amazing roof top restaurant that evening though and went to bed thinking India might not be that bad.

Day Five.

It is that bad. We booked a taxi to take us to the station so we could get back to Delhi and catch our flight to Darjeeling. The taxi was late and by the time we got to the station we had six minutes before our train went. Having no idea where our seats were we ran up and down the train until it started to move off without us on it. We jumped on at the rear of the train whilst it was moving, all very Hollywood, and then had to lug all our luggage through the full length of the train aisles, which were all slightly too narrow for our bags. This resulted in the knocking of numerous elbows and legs and lots of ‘sorrys’ on our part. We finally got to our first class compartment but found it was already occupied by another family… a very large family… a family of cockroaches. And so commenced five hours of ‘cockroach watch’ shifts, not the nicest of train rides!

We had asked the conductor when he checked our tickets what time the train got into Delhi and he’d said 8pm, so at 7pm when looking out the window I was rather surprised to see a massive ‘Welcome to Delhi’ sign filling the window of the train…son of a *&%£!!??!! What followed can only be describe as a scrum as I woke the three members of our party and we all jumped up and started manically packing our bags and getting our stuff together. Items were thrown out of the door and dumped on the platform as the seconds ticked down and the train started to move off. There was shouting, swearing and furious searching for ipods, passports and cameras! Amazingly nothing was left behind and as the train pulled out, doubled over with hands on knees we all gathered our breath and started to look for the taxi to take us back to our noisy, half finished hotel, complete with horribly stained sheets.

Day six.

And the day we had all been looking forward to. We were up at 6am and off to the airport to catch a flight to Darjeeling. This was the main reason we had come to India, to see the famous hill station and views of the Himalayas. The flight was smooth but as soon as we landed and were not met by our taxi we had a feeling something was wrong… After waiting 45 minutes for the taxi and trying to ring our hotel and getting no answer we asked around about how best to get to Darjeeling. (You see the airport is about 3 hours from the town itself). The replies we got seemed strange and rather alarming:

‘Excuse me my good man, where can we get a taxi to Darjeeling?’

‘Darjeeling closed’

‘No no, where can I get a t-a-x-i to D-a-r-j-e-e-l-i-n-g?”

‘No t-a-x-i, Darjeeling closed’

‘What!?!’

‘Yes yes, Darjeeling closed for 3 days’

‘Ummm why?’

‘Darjeeling closed for three days, strikes, very dangerous, you go home’

We asked a few different people, from policemen to the airline staff and all said that we could not go to Darjeeling as there was a strike on and it was not safe for visitors. Nobody could have told us this before we left Delhi?? and anyway, how do you close a entire town?!? Later searches on the web found that Darjeeling was in fact on strike, with burning barricades and running street battles. It was indeed unsafe and closed!

So decision time folks. There was no way we could get to Darjeeling and there was nowhere (and no reason) to stay near the airport in a place called Badogra. It appeared our only option was to get a flight back to Delhi. Unfortunately the last flight back to Delhi had already gone so the only thing we could do was get a flight to Calcutta and from there fly back to Delhi. The only problem with this however was the £600 it would cost!!! Mastercard anyone? So having no other choice and only 20 minutes before the flight took off we paid for the flight and were rushed through security and on to the plane. Whilst on the plane we came to a rather upsetting conclusion: we had no money left, it seemed India had beaten us. With all the extra flights and the fact that we would not get back all the money we had already paid out for hotels (both in Agra and Darjeeling) that we now could not get to, we had no more cash to do anything other than sit in Delhi and wait for our flight home in seven days time.  So after literally running across the main runway in Calcutta to catch our connecting flight back to Delhi we came to the grim conclusion that our best option was to fly back to Bangkok with my brother and dad.

Although this might look like we were giving up we really had no money left to throw at India in our attempts to make the best of things. Decent hotels (by this I mean hot running water and vaguely clean bedding) cost European prices and the trains are all booked up months in advance, which means for last minute journeys flying is your only option. We were all gutted, as we had looked forward to India for such a long time and it was just so disappointing. The country itself reminded my father of Lagos in the 70’s which is no good thing, and although we only saw a very small part of India speaking to others it seems as if what we experienced is pretty much wide spread. It’s the bureaucracy  and the ‘round the houses’ approach for the simplest of tasks more than anything else that is so annoying. I have one example from hundreds to emphasize my point: I went to buy a magazine in a shop. I went to pay for said magazine at the till but was told that I had to pay for the magazine on the bottom floor. Fine, but I could not take the magazine with me, I was simply handed a receipt and told that the magazine would be waiting for me when I got there. I went down to the bottom floor to pay the 40p  and was given another receipt and then told to go across the entire building to pick up my magazine. I handed my two receipts to the man behind the pick up point, was given another receipt (my 3rd) and finally handed my magazine. The whole process took about 20 minutes and employed for people four me to get my 40p magazine, great stuff.

So that was India! It was dirty, smelly, (open lakes of urine on the street is never pleasant), exhausting, frustrating, and very, very expensive. We are now back in Thailand, which I’ll be honest is a huge relief. India is a fascinating (in a ‘jaw dropping total and utter disbelief’ kind of way) country; the sight of women looking for food in the same pile of rubbish as animals is an image I’ll never forget.

Note to self, when I get a job again I must give more to charity.

Indiarrrggggghhhh!?!?.

Posted: January 17, 2011 in 10.India

There is so much to tell you, so much to write down that I just want to get it all out at once and as  typing skills can only be describe were once describe as ‘slightly below adequate’ I’m frustrated all ready. How best to tell you about a phone book worth of distastes and stories?….. no I’m actually asking!?! But before I get going I have to say that this is only our experience in India, I’m sure lots of people have different, dare I say better memories than us so in no way are we saying that India sucks and you shouldn’t go, it’s just that we were warned before we went:

‘Don’t go to India’, said one of our mates we met on our travels though the Middle East.

‘Why?’, said us.

‘Its proper mental’ was his response.

Actually, there were a few more swear words in there but as my mother reads this I’ve edited it somewhat. However, the crazy despair in his eyes that told me that he truly meant it… but it couldn’t be that bad, could it…? We’ve driven though Iran in a car that looks like it’s an advance party for the entire British army, so how bad could India really be? However, in the future if a crazy Aussie who’s seen action in Afghanistan tells you that somewhere is f*&^ *%$ (*&@£ ^%$^* *&^%$)_*^ mad, then believe him.

The first leg of our trip started quite well: we dropped the car off at… and caught our flight, landing on time in Delhi. We were met at the airport by our hotel, another plus and whisked off into the heart of old Delhi. From then on things started to go badly wrong, and if I tell you the highlight of our trip was seeing the man at the airport from the hotel then perhaps you can get a sense on just how badly….

Day one.

We were deposited at our hotel, which looked nothing like it did in the pictures on trip advisor, and unknown to us it was situated in one of the poorest areas of the city. The level of poverty was shocking. It was dark when we arrived but even without the sun’s helpful rays we could see the appalling conditions some people have to live in. Eye opening doesn’t really describe it. Our room itself was only half finished, there was a lift shaft running next door the room, which was unbelievable noisy, shouting from the staff outside our room and clearly building work going on in the room above even though it was midnight. Welcome to India. After a little word in the manager’s ear the building work was stopped and the bellboy’s recipe for stopping the lift noise was to close our bathroom door and ask for a tip. Joker. It was too late to change hotels and to be fair it did seem fairly clean. So we went to bed mildly concerned with how we would cope with the next two weeks.

Day Two.

My brother and father arrived the next day but I will leave it to them to describe their journey in a later blog. As soon as we stepped out of the hotel we were bombarded by people trying to get us to part with our cash, from taxi drivers to ‘helpful’ locals trying to get us to use their mate’s tourist agency. One guy at the train station demanded to see our train tickets just so he could charge us to get them back again. Luckily we’d read all the guidebooks telling us about these scams and simply ignored them or called their bluff. We never felt unsafe but the constant barrage of noise from people and cars was draining. The plan was to spend one day in Delhi, which was enough, before catching the train to Agra. However, we found out that morning that our train to Agra was delayed by six hours and would only be departing at midnight, which meant we had another day in Delhi. So we went to visit the national museum, which cost an absolute bomb to get into and whilst we were admiring some paintings the lights went out due to a power cut and we were left in total darkness! no emergency lighting, no guides showing the way out, nothing! (In hindsight it would have been the ideal time to steal priceless works of art). After five minutes had gone by and realizing that no one was coming to rescue us my dad (ever the scout) remembered he had a small touch on his key ring and we found our way out. Asking for a refund we were pointed to a sign at the entrance, “No refunds, even if there is a power cut.” It seems this was not the first time this had happened. Welcome to India.

After spending an enjoyable afternoon wondering around some of the grand government buildings we walked back to the hotel, careful not to tread in the lakes of urine that cover vast areas of pavement, to get our luggage and wait for our train. We decided to use to subway to get some of the way back, big mistake. Rush hour on the northern line has nothing on the Delhi underground system. In fact, the carriages on the northern line in rush hour look empty compared to the crush we experienced on that afternoon. To get off the tube at our stop my secondary school rugby training was called upon! To cut a long story short, after all that we were still waiting for our train at 2am, 8 hours after it should have been there. We gave up, no one seemed to know anything about our train and the official story was that it was lost. LOST! How do you lose a train!?!  None of us wanted to go back to the hotel where we had spent the last couple of nights but after ringing around and an hour long fruitless trek with all of our luggage we had no choice. In fact by 3.30am our old hotel looked like the bloody Ritz.

So that’s the first couple of days, still lots more to come but I don’t want to get too carried away and let’s be honest, most people will be bored by now so I have to keep you all hanging on a bit…

Thai’d down 26/12/10-5/01/11

Posted: January 5, 2011 in Thailand

Only in the province of Ontario, Canada is Boxing Day a statutory holiday, elsewhere in Canada it is only optional and if you are Canadian you could very well have to go to work! Just an interesting little fact for you, thank you wikipedia, to help us ease back into the swing of things. We spent our Boxing Day watching TV and eating too much which is, as every one knows the way it should be spent. We had a flight to New Delhi booked for the 28th so the days leading up to it were used seeing the sights of Bangkok and planning the next leg of the trip. Plus, and I think this is the highlight of the trip, I managed to get in to 32’ waist jeans! Something that I have not been able to do since the tender age of 15 and yes, Thai jean sizes are the same as the ones in the UK. There is nothing like the stress of an overland trip and a temperamental Land Rover to really burn those calories, must let Weight Watchers know…

We dropped the car off at a vehicle storage place handily just next to Bangkok Airport on the 28th and after waving goodbye, promising to keep in touch and exchanging email we left Harriet in the capable hands of AGS Four Winds. We got to the airport all excited about the next chapter of our adventure and eagerly looked for our flight on the big magical board at the entrance. We found it and also discovered that our flight was special, as it had extra writing in Thai next to it. After waiting a lifetime for the English version it turns out that our flight was in no way special but actually very un-special and in fact cancelled! This posed a massive problem, not only because we could not travel to Delhi that day but because we would not be able to make all our booked onward travel. Oh no, I hear you all cry, how are Megan and Simon going to get out of this one?? well, talking to the airline we found out that we would be able to fly the next day. Phew, panic over! but by this time it was very late and after changing our flights with Air Asia it was too late to get the car back, so we booked into the hotel at the airport, a £100 a night Novatel which as a side note has the most comfortable beds in the world. Seriously readers, I know times are tough but I urge you to buy a one day return flight to Bangkok and experience the best night’s sleep you will ever have. It will be money well and wisely spent.

The next day we went back to the airport, once again excited at the prospect of home grown onion bhajis and naan bread, but whilst queuing up at the check in desk we noticed that all our trains in India had been booked for February, not January!?! The resulting swears drew looks from the terminal crowds so we excused ourselves from the line and after a couple of hours on the internet it became obvious that we would not be able to do the trip we had planned but instead would have to sit in Delhi for 10 days waiting for my father and brother to fly out and join us. (To get a train in India you have to book weeks, sometimes months in advance). So after a long conversation, a few G&T’s and a game of rock paper scissors we came to the conclusion that we would save more money and see more if we stayed in Thailand until the 6th January and then flew out to meet my family. Megan went off to the Air Asia desk to see if we could change our flights again and because of the cancelled flight the day before they agreed and there was no extra charge. It was a disappointment but luckily we found out before we checked in, rather than when we were on a platform in India waiting until February for our train. After a few phone calls we went back to pick the car up and then came up with a plan on how to spend our extra days. Looking at the Lonely Planet there were two interesting sights an hour or two north of Bangkok, so that’s where we went: we went to see Ayutthaya, a town and World Heritage Site full of old temples and the most Buddha statues in one place I have ever seen.

 

We spent a couple of nights there wandering around and really enjoyed the different temples by day as well as by night when they are lit up and are quite amazing, as with no tourist crowds you get them all to yourselves.

Oh and the elephants! They have elephant taxis, which we did not use but were cool to look at.

Following that we drove further east to visit the national park of Khao Yai. Here we could finally do something that we have not done since Turkey, camp it up! The park is quite a lot higher than the surrounding area so quite a bit cooler, in fact, a nice cardigan was required for the evenings around the camp stove.

There are some lovely walks and waterfalls around the forests and tonnes of wildlife. In fact in the campsite monkeys and deer would wonder through looking for free food hand outs. They were out of luck from me though, as Megan’s camp cooking was bang on the money and after months away it tasted simply delicious.

So we are now on our way back to the airport to try our luck once again and hopefully my next blog will be from India!

Happy New Year!

2010 in review

Posted: January 2, 2011 in Uncategorized

The stats helper monkeys at WordPress.com mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads Wow.

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

The average container ship can carry about 4,500 containers. This blog was viewed about 23,000 times in 2010. If each view were a shipping container, your blog would have filled about 5 fully loaded ships.

 

In 2010, there were 32 new posts, not bad for the first year! There were 168 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 571mb. That’s about 3 pictures per week.

The busiest day of the year was November 7th with 358 views. The most popular post that day was The Idea.

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were africa-overland.net, facebook.com, rrf.roveraid.org, lro.com, and overland-live.com.

Some visitors came searching, mostly for trektooz.com, trek to oz, trektooz, land rover defender 130, and http://www.trektooz.com.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.

1

The Idea April 2010
59 comments

2

The Car August 2010
11 comments

3

Where are we? July 2010
10 comments

4

Expenses! September 2010
2 comments

5

Readers’ Drives September 2010
2 comments

My Thai 18-25/12/10

Posted: December 30, 2010 in Thailand

Sorry it’s been a while folks, lots to talk about this time as well so go and get a cup of tea, perhaps even a hob knob or jaffa cake if you prefer and let’s get back into it…

Thailand! Country number ten (yes Vatican city counts!) and another border crossing. The Malaysia side of things went very smoothly; passports stamped and Carnet’s signed within 20 minutes. Then a short drive though no-man’s land to the Thailand side, where organized chaos awaited us. Unlike the Malaysia side there were no drive though booths and we had to park the truck and join an hour-long mass (there was no discernable queue) to get our entry visas stamped- we had already picked up our tourist visas in Kuala Lumpur so that we could get 60 days at the border for us and our car, rather than the normal 15 days. Thailand does not recognize the carnet system so you have to get a separate import license at the border, which is free, but requires another hour or so of queuing. We got the 60 days for ourselves but customs would only give us 30 days on the car, which was a massive problem as we had planned to keep the car in Thailand whilst we flew to India. This would have been over the 30 day license and would have resulted in a massive fine. No amount of pleading with the customs chaps would fix the problem, however they did say that we could go to Bangkok and ask at the customs headquarters there for an extension on the visa for the car. Ummm… we thought, what are the chances of that?? but having no choice we drove on and spent our first day in Thailand.

One of the most notable things about crossing the border is how clean Thailand is, a very English thing to notice but all the same quite a stark contrast from other countries. The south of Thailand has a bit of a reputation for being slightly less safe than the rest of the country but as we stuck to the main roads we saw nothing but friendly faces and the occasion wave.

The next three days were spent driving and stopping at cheap £10 a night hotels, slowly making our way towards Bangkok. I was amazed at just how big Thailand is, far bigger than Malaysia- it’s actually the 50th largest country in the world, which now I type it doesn’t sound as impressive as I wanted it to sound. It’s actually the size of France….no, that’s still no better, what about it occupies the northern two-thirds of the Malay Peninsula? There we go, that sounds pretty darn impressive.

Once we were just one day’s drive from Bangkok we stopped at the ‘Bamboo Guest House,’ a lovely little resort just off the coast run by Rudi the friendly German. It was an amazing place consisting of 5 luxury huts, a small bar and a swimming pool. Who could ask for anything more? We were mildly concerned upon arriving and seeing a lot of nakedness by the pool but luckily it was not compulsory, a fact that I have to say Megan looked disappointed about. On our second evening we were lucky enough to have timed our visit with Rudi’s annual party and got free beer and food, cash back!

On the 23rd we pushed the final 200km to Bangkok with a slight knot in our little (beer filled) tummies as we were going to have stop at the Customs House to see if we could extend the car’s visa. If we could not then we were going to have a big problem, and there was no plan B in the wings! We found the place easy enough and after driving around the building looking for somewhere to park for the 8th time a guard finally took pity on us and let me park in a roped off area. Megan had jumped out whilst I was parking and had nailed the Royal Thai Customs paperwork for an extension of a non-duty importation of a private car and was out again before I had chance to lock the car doors! It turns out it’s not that big of a deal to extend the license and now the car’s visa is in line with our own.

Off to our hotel, which was in the heart of Bangkok and considering it only cost £35 a night was very posh by our standards. Once the issue of parking was sorted (we were too tall to for the car park so we got pride of place outside the hotel) we checked in and had a little snooze. My good friend Ian and his friend David had flown to Bangkok to meet us for Christmas (he was the only one mind, none of you others have put in the effort) which was really nice, as conversation between Megan and myself had dried up in the last few days of Malaysia so it was good to get some ‘fresh blood’ so to speak (even though he didn’t bring any cheerios). It was great to catch up and we can only hope we did not bore them too much with our stories.

Christmas eve was spent shopping for presents in the morning- we had a budget of £20 each, and then meeting up with Ian and David to wonder the sights of Bangkok in the afternoon……..maybe wondering is a little bit of an understatement: a full-blown hike/march in 30 degrees and 104% humidity would be a more accurate description. We walked miles that day but actually saw very little of the major sights as they were closed by the time we reached them, but I really enjoyed wondering the streets and after trying four taxi drivers to get home we gave up and finally managed to convince a tuk-tuk driver to take us back to the metro station. Traffic in Bangkok is scary in a four tonne Land Rover, in a three-wheeled tuk-tuk it’s bloodcurdling, terrifying, and any other adjectives you can think of that result in the need for new undergarments. So many near misses, so many ignored traffic lights, so many massive lorry wheels inches from our faces. We all shared a special bond that day and looking around at the white, drawn faces in the three wheeled chariot from hell I could tell that none of us would ever speak of the experience again for fear of the flashbacks.

Christmas morning we opened the presents we had bought each other and I even gave Megan a stocking, well, a sock I had stuffed with little treats. (Note to self: wash sock before using it as a stocking next year). We then made our way via a rather posh Benz courtesy of Ian’s 7* hotel to an English pub where we had a great proper Christmas dinner with all the trimmings, it was awesome. We had the normal Christmas afternoon that I imagine most of you had: lying by the pool while the staff tended to our every need with cocktails, mineral water and fresh towels every 5 minutes. In the evening we went up to a roof top bar atop of one of the highest buildings in Bangkok and drank cocktails until things started to look a bit fuzzy and Megan took me home, pretty standard stuff.

We had a great Christmas and we can’t thank Ian and David enough for their kindness and generosity and for coming out and giving us another highlight of our trip.

I think that’s enough for now, still lots more to tell though… Coming up in the next installment: flights get cancelled, Simon finds true happiness in GAP and Megan cooks the best meal ever.

Happy Christmas from the road!

Posted: December 25, 2010 in Uncategorized

Just thought I’d wish you all a Happy Christmas from both of us in sunny, hot and snow free Bangkok.

(Yes I am writing my blog on Christmas day, the numbers seemed to have dropped off today for some reason….)

 

10 times around the world!?!

Posted: December 21, 2010 in 8.Malaysia

250,000 miles! Well 250,570 actually as I forgot to take the picture passing the quarter of a million mark. So far this trip I think we have done around 12,000 miles although I have yet to actually sit down and work it out but I will this week. This landmark was celebrated with (and only because Megan said I could, as our daily budget was down that day to £40) my first beer in a month!

I had a hangover within half an hour.

My next beer, or more likely mild shandy, will be at the 500,000 mile mark.

I’ve finally worked out how to make money out of this trip: I’m going to write a book at the end of it all entitled ‘Garages of the World’. Yes you’ve guessed it, more problems with our (slightly less, it has to be said) beloved Land Rover. We last left you in the jungle with the leeches and the sweat, well, we escaped the blood sucking monsters and made our way to the Cameron Highlands to flee the heat and stickiness of the tropics. The journey there was fairly uneventful- now that we have Karen the GPS she has taken all the fun out of navigation, and the imaginative name calling my navigator and I had going on has come to an abrupt end. When we arrived at our lodgings, a delightful old church retreat named ‘Father’s Guest House’ it was obvious that the right hand rear half shaft seal was leaking a lot of oil. I shall answer the two obvious questions that you are all now thinking: yes, I know what a half shaft is and no, I didn’t bring a spare as they were new when we left and I naively thought they would last! After my now mandatory pout, cry and shouting fit we took the car to be fixed. Lady luck however was finally on our side, as it turns out that, next to the Falklands bizarrely enough, in this part of the world there is the highest Land Rover to person ratio. (I was told this by a Land Rover lover so don’t quote me). Finding a garage to fix the problem was easy enough and a price of £6 was agreed, including an extra spare gasket for when the next one goes, which it will! However, the problem came when we (ummm, I’ll be honest, I say we, I had more of an observational / managerial / motivational role in the repair), when ‘we’ tried to replace the half shaft. Five bolts hold it in place and four of them do the job very well, excellently in fact, these are bolts performing at their best under trying circumstances and no one can and should ask more of these bolts. There was one, as there always is, that just didn’t want to be a team player, a rogue, a loner if you will that refused to go in, and to this day it still won’t stay in place. Let’s hope the Fab Four that are in can pick up the extra strain…

So many Land Rovers in these parts and so little time. It truly is the Mecca of Landys.

Enough car stuff, let us now turn to the enjoyable three days we spent in the Cameron Highlands. On the first day we went to visit a tea plantation that was set high in the hills. Although the sun was not shinning it was an amazing place for the scenery alone. The plantation was owned by a company called Boh, which make a lot of the tea out here, and was set up by a British chap at the height of the British Empire. Most of the machinery in the factory was still of the era and one could almost picture the scene 100 years ago. It made me feel very colonial and all I would have needed to complete the scene was a pith helmet, high boots and a stick under my arm as I wandered the estate shouting mildly racist statements at the local work force.

You will be glad to hear that I didn’t do this, but simply had tea and scones in the plantations café. A scone with butter mind you, not cream… who has scones with butter and jam and not cream and jam?? When will these foreigners learn?!? See there I go, getting all colonial again, sorry people, it was actually very nice, not cream and jam nice, but nice all the same.

Day two started with a gentle walk along a river and ended with us hacking and abseiling our way out of the jungle. Needless to stay we got lost. The blame is still to be apportioned as to who got us lost and due to legal constraints I can’t say anymore until the outcome of the arbitration has been settled. Day three also started well as we embarked on a gentle, downhill stroll. However after a couple of kilometers the rest of the path had been washed away and our walk ended with us traversing a cliff edge, getting soaked in the rain and getting a lift back home from a friendly local, who saw the state of Megan’s wet, untamed hair and thought she should not be seen in public. Bless him.

From the Highlands we set off to the Island on Penang on the east coast and our last stop before the Kingdom of Thailand. The book didn’t sing the praises of this Island but we found it to be a surprise highlight of Malaysia. We enjoyed wondering the streets and looking at the old colonial houses, some of which are crumbling and being reclaimed by the local plant life. It was fascinating imagining what these houses would have looked like in their hey day. On the second day we went for a drive around the island, stopping at a fort used by the British and then by the Japanese as a prison/detention centre during the Second World War. It was a sober, eerie place, slightly ruined by the fact that half of it has been turned over to a paintball park. Can’t decide if this is in bad taste or not…

We even found a Tesco! So excited were we about this find and the cheerio’s within that we had a bowl in the car park.

Malaysia was a nice, civilized introduction to this leg of our trip and we have very much enjoyed the month we have spent traveling here. Once again, as seems to be the case everywhere outside of Europe, the locals have on the whole been very friendly, the food has been sublime and it’s a very safe place to travel around.  Budget wise I think we ended up spending around £57 a day, which considering we stayed in hotels and had flights and bought a GPS was not too bad and was still actually under our £60 day limit. We are both looking forward to coming back to Malaysia on our return journey to ship the car from Port Klang to Perth.

 

 

Hot and steamy 1-10/12/10

Posted: December 11, 2010 in 8.Malaysia

I hope you are sitting down people, we have a lot to get through in this blog: It’s been a while since my last big one so I’ll do my best to fill you in with two week’s worth of adventures, hopefully without losing your attention half way in…..

During the week following Langkawi we spent three nights in Malacca, which was about two nights too many, as there really wasn’t that much to do! but it’s an interesting enough place to spend a day. There were also a number of museums which we wandered around to escape the heat, some were good, some not so- there is only so much interest I can show in ‘Seagrass of Malaysia’, fascinating as it is.

Halfway though our stay we got a call from our agent informing us of our car’s arrival to Malaysian shores! As I said in the previous post it was about five days early which was amazing, so we hopped on the bus back to Kuala Lumpur to pick it up. Unlike the other shipping agents we have dealt with the guy in Port Klang had in fact already cleared the car from the port and the container was ready and waiting for us in his yard. What service! As I have already mentioned the car started first time! Actually, did I mention that it started first time? First time people!?! Not even a couple of turnovers but straight away, key in, engine on, magic. It put a little smile on my face, something that the Land Rover had not done for a while.

We had a few little jobs that needed doing to the car and as it was Friday we would have to wait until Monday to get the car to the Land Rover garage. So our agent took us to get insurance, which cost £44 for the whole year and a sat nav, yes, a sat nav. You see, since we lost all sat nav coverage once we entered Turkey it’s fair to say that mine and my navigator’s relationship has taken a bit of a knock. We therefore thought it best to invest in the magic box in order to ensure we are both still on speaking terms by the time we get to Oz. The best £100 I’ve ever spent.

Over the weekend we took a day trip to a place called Fraser’s Hill, an old English hill station about two hours out from KL. At this point I want you all to google map (yes that’s right, I’m using ‘google’ as a verb) Fraser’s hill and zoom right in to see the road leading up to the top, it’s ok, I’ll wait…………………..Done it? Really? Ok, good. I doubt there is a road with as many turns in it anywhere in the world! It was ridiculous. For well over an hour we didn’t get out of 2nd gear as we weaved our way up to the top of the hill. Megan got a little car sick, as did I to be fair, in fact I’ve been on ships in force 10 storms that didn’t sway as much as we did that day. By the time we got to the top I actually had arm ache from all the steering! The town itself being very high was a lot cooler than city the and we spent an enjoyable couple of hours wondering the lanes and footpaths, and like home there were even grey skies with a bit of drizzle, lovely stuff. Coming down was more of the same, luckily though neither one of us actually puked!

Monday came and we took the car to a garage that had been recommended to us by the people at the Malaysian Land Rover club. Basically, it was an old farm that was totally full of every different type and make of Land Rover. I was in heaven, and although Megan seemed not to share in my joy, I can tell she secretly loved it too… The garage was very good at fixing all of our last remaining little problems and they even moved the roof tent into the middle of the car, as Harriet had started to get a slight port list and we thought we should even up the weight a bit.

Car fixed we spent our last night in the capital with One Dollar, our agent, who took us out to an excellent restaurant, which served the most amazing fish. He also put us up for the night in his house, very kind of him.

So on the Tuesday we were finally off, back on the road and heading for the rainforest. Ahh the rainforest, where the trees are big and the bugs even bigger. We went to visit one of Malaysia’s best known national parks, Taman Nagara, which is slap bang in the middle of the country. A good friend recommended a nice little place to stay so we set the Durian Chalets into the sat nav and off we went. The chalets were basic but clean and at £8 a night it didn’t seem worth camping. To be honest, as accommodation is so cheap in SE Asia I don’t see us using the tent again till Australia. We ventured into the national park the next day and having been warned by the Lonely Planet to cover up because of leeches we both wore rather thick trousers. Big mistake, within ten minutes I was soooo hot you could have fried an egg on my forehead and within twenty minutes I was totally drenched in sweat from head to toe. There was not a dry patch on any of my clothing and a steady river of sweat was traveling down my back, collecting in the gusset of my trousers and making for a very uncomfortable and somewhat embarrassing experience. I don’t mind telling you, it was all a very bleak time of my life and my cheer was only lifted slightly when we did a tree top canopy walk, which was actually quite cool. Somehow Megan didn’t seem to suffer from the heat, apparently real ladies don’t sweat I was told! Squelching around the rain forest all I could think of was the shower I was going to have when I got back and man was that a good shower.

The second day, determined not to make the same mistake I wore shorts, and as I hadn’t seen any leeches on the first day I thought I would be safe. It turns out that I actually had no idea what a leech looked like. I thought they were big black things but they actually look like short worms, a fact that soon became obvious when one crawled up my boot at a surprisingly rapid pace, making for my naked flesh. After an appropriate amount of screaming and foot shaking on my part

Megan sprayed the bugger with some hardcore bug spray and it fell off. Yet again my man hood had been called into question, something that seems to be happening with increasingly regularity on this trip. From then on our meandering walk turned into a quick march, as we couldn’t stand still for too long before the leeches started to make their way towards us, it was like something out of an alien film!

Sweat and leeches apart we enjoyed the rainforest and I even managed to do a little off roading, admittedly because I turned down a logging track by mistake but it all counts! The walks we did were amazing and we saw tones of wildlife, not only in bug form but also monkeys, wild pigs and butterflies the size of pterodactyls.

As I write this we are staying in a hotel in Kuala Lipis on our way to the Cameron Highlands in search of cooler weather and longer leech free walks. The car is going well and it’s great to have our freedom back.

We aim to be in Bangkok for Christmas in case anyone wants to fly out and meet us (with presents of course). Although there are Christmas trees and decorations up everywhere neither of us feel like Christmas at the moment, but maybe that’s because it’s 35 degrees and 99 percent humidity!

PS Megan has updated the expenses sheets and we have added a shipping one as well for those of you that are interested. We are slowly getting back to the £60 a day target we set ourselves (not including shipping) but with the massive overspend in Turkey it’s going to take a few more cheap noodle dinners to get there. I saw a web site recently where you could donate petrol money through pay pal to the writer; we are not there yet but if we have any more hiccups I might just start charging a subscription to this web site… Hands up who would pay?? Only you mum? shame on the rest of you!

It’s here! 3/12/10

Posted: December 4, 2010 in 8.Malaysia

After getting a phone call on Thursday it turns out that Harriet the Land Rover arrived about a week early to Port Klang! We cut our plans in Malacca short and went down to unpack the container and more importantly, to see if she would start. Our agent, the charismatic Mr $1, said that no Land Rover he had ever shipped in had ever started first time, I had faith though!

On opening the container it seems the boys who packed it in Dubai had done a great job and the car had not moved an inch, then the moment of truth arrived… I felt my heart in my mouth as I turned on the battery, and as I put the key in the ignition there was sweat on my brow and a slight tremor in my hand. But I needn’t  have worried, she started first time!! Never doubted she would, even the agent was impressed!

So we have the car back and after spending a few days getting stuff sorted we should be off early next week!

….and still we wait 21-30/11/10

Posted: December 1, 2010 in 8.Malaysia

We’re getting itchy feet, and not because that persistent fungal infection has flared up again. We are stuck, stuck waiting for our car that is hopefully on a ship making its way to Port Klang, Malaysia. Admittedly there are worse places to while away couple of weeks but still, we are getting to that stage where we just want to carry on with the trip. Man am I whiney, listen to me going on about having to spend a week on a tropical island with nothing to do other than sunbathe and eat just to kill time! Sorry dear reader, I will try and be more sensitive in future blogs – I heard it was –3 in London this week……..haha.

So yes, anyway, we went to the Island of Langkawi last week and spent seven delightfully, ridiculously lazy days doing nothing. And I mean nothing: eat, swim and read pretty much sums up the daily activities for the entire week. I actually think the most active we got was being chased around our hostel (yes, another hostel and £11 a night, bargain) for 10 minutes by a surprisingly large frog with a rather sinister look in his eye.

Langkawi is an island on the Thai border in north east Malaysia. It’s set up to cater entirely to the tourist trade and other than amazing beaches and the odd waterfall there are few sights to see. We did hire a scooter for the day and toured the island but frankly after 5 days on the beach it was all too much effort and we returned early afternoon for the now mandatory 4pm snooze.

The hostel was quite good actually, much better than the £11 a night price tag had lead us to believe. It was the typical back packer joint with far too much tie die, dreadlocks, cut off jeans, and phrases like ‘I really found myself on that beach, you have to go man’ being bandied about for my liking, but I could forgive all that as the beer was only 60p. Needless to say we didn’t talk to anyone but we judged them all harshly.

The week flew by and before we knew it we were back in KL (that’s what us locals call Kuala Lumpur, we’re sooo south east Asia now). We had to return not to pick up the car but to go to the Thai embassy to get a 60 day visa. You can only get 15 day visas at the border so we thought we would save ourselves a lot of bother and sort it all out before we got there. Look at us being pro active! It should have been a fairly straight forward procedure; go there, hand in the form, pay and go back the next day to collect our stamped passports. I won’t bore you with the exact details but what should have been a 20 minute exercise turned into a two and a 1/2 hour slog after we assumed that I had lost our cash to pay for the visa. Not an unfair assumption as I frequently ‘misplace’ cash and other items (I left my laptop on the train the other day). So I had to wonder around for well over an hour in the middle of nowhere in the heat getting very, very sweaty trying to change dollars into ringits, only to return, triumphant I might add, to a sheepish looking Megan who it turned out had the money in her back pocket all along. I haven’t paid for dinner since. (Don’t know how long I can dine out on this though…I’m going to try for the month.)

We left our passports with the Thais and headed off to kill the last few days before the car turned up in the World Heritage town of Malacca where we are at the moment. Getting here involved three trains, a long walk, a bus, a taxi and 4 pints of sweat. How people can back pack around the world for over a year I don’t know. It made us realise just how much freedom a Land Rover gives us. We don’t have to wait for public transport or work out the times of trains and buses, one can just pack up and go whenever ready. Plus, when don’t have your camping stove and can’t cook your own food the daily budget takes a bit of a pounding.

I can’t put any pictures of Harriet the car up this time as we haven’t seen her, a disappointment to all you Land Rover fans I’m sure, but checking the website the ship should be docking today (the 1st) and fingers crossed we get her back by the end of the week. Then begins the inevitable three days trying to get her started. ‘You never know it might actually start first time’ I said. Megan, ever the realist, has still not stopped laughing at that one….

How is it hotter here?!? 15-21/11/10

Posted: November 21, 2010 in 8.Malaysia

Megan’s just lost all her hair overnight!……. Well, not really but I wanted a headline to launch into this exciting episode and that’s the best I could come up with (actually, I was going for ‘Megan’s been shot!’  but apparently that’s ‘not in good taste’). In reality it’s all very calm and quiet within team Trek to Oz and the stress levels are starting to come back down after all the Land Rover dramas. I think I told you last time we spoke that the car was in the container awaiting a ship. Well the ship sailed on the 18th (with our container one hopes) and should be with us in 2 weeks. Our last few days in Dubai were spent relaxing on the beach, window shopping in the malls and catching up with a long lost school friend (Lloyd) who I had not seen for 13 years. He hadn’t changed a bit; where the hell was his grey hair?!? Two days before our departure our lovely hosts, in a final act of kindness, paid for us to go up the Burj Khalifa, currently the world’s tallest building. We went up after sunset to see the city at night and it was quite an amazing view. The lift takes you up 130 odd floors in less than 30 seconds and deposits you on the viewing platform. It is quite incredible to see such a vast city surrounded by nothing but desert.

On the 16th we said our goodbyes to Ann, Mike and Ann’s sister, Jane and her daughters, who were also staying at Hotel Platt, and jumped on a plane to Kuala Lumpur. We both enjoyed Dubai and the UAE immensely. We were surprised by the size of the place and fascinated with the history behind it all and the speed with which it has developed. I’d never really thought of Dubai as a holiday destination, but if you are into celeb spotting (we saw some bird from Eastenders), posh cars and lovely beaches it is definitely worth a visit. Once again, we can’t thank Ann and Mike enough for their hospitality. THANKS!

So onto SE Asia… it’s hot, damn hot. We arrived at 6am on the 17th and caught a taxi to our hotel but unfortunately we couldn’t check in till midday. Never mind we thought, let’s go and see the national museum and kill some time whilst ticking a few things off the to do list. However when we arrived we discovered it was closed because of the public holiday for Eid, along with all the other tourist sights in the city, doh. So we went to the nearest air-conditioned shopping mall and spent five hours studying the Lonely Planet and drinking far too much coffee. I must have a little gripe at this juncture: there seems to be a craze sweeping the parents of Malaysia at the moment, where by they buy their children shoes with squeakers in the soles. Oh my god is it annoying! I’d go so far to say it is the most annoying thing in the world right now, far more annoying than Megan’s snoring, the total lack of Cheerios and a Land Rover that spontaneously combusts. Maybe it was the jet lag, five coffees or the heat but I had an over whelming urge to punch the offending children in the face. The fact I’m able to type this blog means that I didn’t, but it was a close run thing when a family of four squeaked on by.

We have spent the last few days exploring the Malaysian capital and doing the Lonely Planet guided walks, the highlight being the Islamic Museum of Art which, if I’m honest I thought was going to be a snooze fest but in fact was very interesting and housed in an amazing building. We have eaten for less than £4 on most nights and our hotel was only £20 a night so the daily spend graph is coming down, which is very exciting I’m sure you will agree.

I have joined the Malaysian Land Rover Club, http://www.lrom.com, (yes, I really am that sad) and some very friendly people have got in touch with us, giving us ideas on where to explore once the car arrives and good garages to use. They really are a friendly group of people; offers of free accommodation have also been made which is great- can you imagine that kind of thing happening in the UK?…not a chance.

We are now on the Island of Langkawi, where we shall await an email informing us that Harriet the Land Rover has arrived in Port Klang. Let’s hope it comes soon, as I miss her and Megan just doesn’t have the same looks to keep me interested like she does!

 

Tearful Goodbyes 8-14/11/10

Posted: November 14, 2010 in 7.UAE

She’s gone and I miss her so. Yes she made me cross, infuriated me at times, but deep down I loved her in my own special way. Maybe I didn’t show her how much I cared, maybe I should have had more patience with her, maybe I shouldn’t have stared at hot Asian models right in front of her, but it’s too late now, I only hope that she will forgive me the next time we meet. There’s a hole in my heart where she used to be and now I’m only left with boring old Megan, as the one true love of my live, my car (Harriet as she has come to be known) was put in a large metal box yesterday and is currently sitting in Jebel Ali free trade zone waiting to be shipped to Malaysia. She did put up a fight; at one stage she refused to go any further and wanted to go home but after a little wining and dining (posh new oil and three sparkling filters) she finally came round to my way of thinking. The trick is to make them feel like it’s their idea….

So the Land Rover has a name, in fact it had one from the start and certain members of Megan’s family think that the trouble we have had with her is down to the fact that we have not called her by her name. I just can’t bring myself to do it though, we really don’t want to be ‘those people’, but to be fair we did use it once or twice when she was on fire (usually with the pre-fix ‘bloody’ and slightly more risque terms) and now she is all better. Make of it what you will.

Let’s sum up last week’s trails with her; as you know if you were paying attention she caught fire twice and went through 4 different handbrake cables, but after Mark (the wonder) electrician came to the garage and waved his magic multi meter all is well with the world. I really can’t thank him and the chaps (Jason and Gareth) at A2B garage (www.a2b-garage.com) enough. The car was with them for well over a week and the time they spent on it was substantial. However they only charged me for the parts they used, around £70, which is quite frankly one of the nicest things that has happened to us on this trip. We also nearly got our car in the new Mission Impossible film and we both got very excited about meeting Tom Cruise (well Megan was). You will be glad to know that I played it all very cool and in no way went home to change and ‘do’ my hair. Unfortunately they wanted a white one, boo.

With the car fixed we finally went to explore what the UAE had to offer outside Dubai city limits. We drove to the East coast to a place called Dibba and camped on the beach for about an hour until quad bikes and 4x4s drove us to a hotel instead. It would seem that the evenings on the beach are given over to Arabs and their toys. It was unfortunate but the hotel had a private beach and views of Snoopy Island (yes it really is called Snoopy Island, I’m not making it up) and from the photo perhaps you can see why.

The next day we hopped back in the car, and once we’d got over the novelty of no fires starting when we started the engine we headed over the mountains to Al Ain, a small city on the border with Oman and home to another of Megan’s mum’s friends, Michele and another couple of nights free accommodation! Al Ain is a very interesting place with a massive Oasis, a mountain and a Camel Market. Our host also took us to watch the camels being trained for the races in the middle of the desert. It was quite a surreal sight watching all the camels being ridden around a race track whilst the owners drove next to them in the Land Cruisers shouting instructions to the jockeys. I studied the form so if anyone is interested in a hot tip for the next 2:15 race at Al Ain go for Humphrey running in the outside lane, but only if the going is good to firm.

On our return to Dubai we went to the mall to get some cake for tea and returning to the car found a magazine and business card from Daniel at www.outdooruae.com asking us to get in contact as he loved the car. It turns out after checking the website out that he wants an article for the magazine, so I’m hopefully going to be a published author! Considering I only got a D in English at school and am 93% dyslexic when it comes to splxleling it’s quite an achievement!  You should probably put your orders in now as it will no doubt be flying off the shelves once it hits the news stands.

Then yesterday we had our tearful good byes with the car. Once again we did battle with customs and after they finally gave in and stamped our carnet we loaded the car into a container. Shipping a car has to be the most drawn out, stressful, expensive and mildly annoying thing in the whole world. Seeing as I work (used to work) on ships I thought I had an idea of how the shipping world worked, but it’s a maze of trumped up charges, hours in custom offices and rubber stamps. I have below listed Simon’s 10 steps to shipping to help others out;

  1. Spend 2 weeks trying to find an agent who understand the Carnet Du Passages system.
  2. Ask for a price.
  3. Spend another week finding another agent who will quote a more realistic price.
  4. Look for a ship that sails where you want to go and not via Panama to get to Malaysia.
  5. Ask the agent why the price has gone up since last week.
  6. Ask the agent why we have to pay for transportation if we are driving the car to the port ourselves.
  7. Ask the agent why the price has gone up since the morning.
  8. Sit in customs for at least 3 hours for one stamp.
  9. Go back to customs,      as they forgot to stamp the Carnet.
  10. Ask the agent why the final price is more than the original twice amended quote!

A $1000 nightmare.

We fly out on Tuesday to Kuala Lumpur and the car will hopefully arrive about 10 days later. Whilst we are waiting the plan is to find a beach somewhere and stay put, preparing ourselves to find an agent to clear the car and repeat the entire 10 steps again.

One final thought, I have put up the blog stats on the front page now and as you can see over 16,000 people have visited the site. That’s mind blowing, especially since we only started it to keep the folks informed as to our location and mental state. Thanks for the support people………. Now how can I make money out of this?!?

It’s Alive!

Posted: November 10, 2010 in 7.UAE

The car is working, but I don’t want to jinx it so I can’t say anymore right now. We have driven 200 miles with no fires; things are starting to look up for the Trek to Oz team!

The fireworks continue 28/10/10-7/11/10

Posted: November 7, 2010 in 7.UAE

Hello people, just a little update. Firstly the car, well it’s still properly broken- it caught fire again in the garage yesterday and we are still no nearer to finding out what the problem is. The lads at the A2B garage have been great though and are calling in the big guns, hopefully with an idea of why the car seems to insist on spontaneously combusting as soon as it senses the key in the ignition. No idea on what the outcome will be… The boat to Port Klang, Maylasia leaves on the 13th so somehow we have to get the car to the docks by that time.

Our plans have also totally changed. Getting the car into India by boat is a nightmare: the cheapest price we have been quoted is $2500, which is just way out of the budget. Plus we have heard from others thats it’s simply not worth the hassle, as the car could be held up for weeks/months by customs in Mumbai. We were held up by customs in Dubai for 4 hours and that was enough so we are going to do India on the train in the New Year and spend more time in SE Asia with the car (if it is fixed of course!).

So for the last week Mike and Ann have put us up in their lovely apartment in Dubai Marina and we have enjoyed the sights of Dubai. What a place, I can’t believe how much ite has changed in the last 10 yrs since I was here as a green Cadet on a container ship. We have seen the old town and spent hours wondering the malls, mouths agape at the size of them and the extravagance of the architecture.  The pictures don’t do it justice.

After a mammoth session with the UAE customs we slept soundly on our first night in Dubai, dreaming about sand dunes as our host had suggested a trip into the desert for a BBQ the next day. Our first foray into sand with the car did not go well. About 50m from the road we stopped, as the car in front got bogged down. Once he was free we tried to set off again only to find ourselves axel deep in sand with the consistency of talcum powder. An hour of digging ensued until finally a helpful Arab came along and pulled us out with his small Toyota, a tad embarrassing to say the least. We made it the the BBQ site and enjoyed the food and the local wildlife in the shape of a scorpion! No bare feet for Simon from now on.

The next day we took the car off to the garage to have all our troubles looked at, and there were a lot! We got it back a few days later and after installing a new £200 battery a small fire started underneath the car, melting a lot of the new wires. It went back to the garage where it still is to this day, so we have used our car-less time sight seeing and exploring this strange new land of Starbucks, Ferraris and Mega Yachts.

Over the weekend (Friday to Saturday here) our hosts kindly took us to Oman and an amazing snorkelling spot they know. I’ve never seen so many fish (that weren’t battered, with chips on the side), it was quite simply phenomenal. On saturday we both tried paddle skis (yeah, we had no idea what they were either). The best way to describe them is: take a canoe, halve it, make it very unstable, and you get an idea. I fell into the water around seven times before my first stroke with a paddle and by the end of the day I had swum more than I’d paddled. Megan ‘Redgrave’ Cartwright however took to it like a duck to water and was half way back to Iran before Mike could turn her around.

It’s been great having  friends to take our minds off our car troubles, and acting as tour guides and we really can’t say thank you enough to Ann and Mike. As soon as we get news on the car we will let you all know, as I am sure you are all having sleepless nights as well.

Fire down below!

Posted: November 2, 2010 in 7.UAE

So the Land Rover caught fire today. What more is there so say? It’s all very upsetting and I had a little cry. Luckily we are staying with some lovely people, (thank you so much Ann and Mike), so we have somewhere to sleep whilst the car is looked at by the nice guys at the A2B garage in Dubai.

We will wait and see what the outcome is but the wiring under the car is a molten mass of plastic, it looks bad. As soon as we find out I will fill you in on the last eventful week.

The whys and hows are yet unknown but needless to stay this could be a deal breaker. Anyone want to buy a Defender 130? You’ll have to come and collect it though…

The last few days 18-27/10/10

Posted: October 30, 2010 in 6.Iran

If one more thing goes wrong with this *£%$ing car I’m going to leave it in the bloody desert for the massive vultures, surprisingly rare camels, and the carpet making Nomads. Yes, we have more problems, no I’m not happy about it and yes I should have bought a Toyota, words I never thought I would utter and words that will see me set adrift, cast a side and excommunicated from the Land Rover world.

After spending a few days in the desert town of Yazd and a couple more days enjoying the sights of Shiraz it was time to push on to the coast. From Shiraz the road to Bandar Abbas and the ferry to Dubai is a 12 hour slog through the desert.We decided that this was not a good idea for the car and our relationship; it gets damn hot in that car, which doesn’t do much for tempers. We actually had a proper fight the other day over the length of my hair: I, and the rest of the world think it looks great, Megan demanded, yes demanded I get it cut. It’s yet to be resolved. So we sensibly broke the trip up with a stop over at a town called Sirjan. The Lonely Planet only recommends one hotel but unfortunately provides no map. After an hour of searching I swallowed my pride and pulled over to ask for directions. “Of course I can help you”, said the friendly man with his entire family on a motorbike, ‘follow me’.  What followed was a mad chase through the city alleys for half an hour only to end up on the outskirts of town nowhere near any hotel because he was taking us to his house!?! It turns out that he knew no English. It was very kind of him but after driving all day in 40 degrees only a ‘look’ from the navigator made me hold my tongue before I launched into a barrage of insults. I simply smiled politely and drove back into town. Finally, only after driving down a few one way streets, having to ‘chat’ to the police, and two more hours had passed did we find the hotel.

The next day we drove our final leg in Iran and headed over the mountains to Bandar Abbas. It was only a distance of about 300kms but it was 300kms of trucks. I have never seen so many trucks in one go, and I’ve been to a truck show. It was quite an amazing sight but it did make for some rather slow progress. The road was littered with the carcasses of dead lorries that had found peace at the side of the highway and there were several tunnels without ventilation; driving through them was like putting your mouth over an exhaust pipe, ummmmm nice. We finally arrived 6 hours after we set off, averaging about 50kms an hour, (just worked that out in my head by the way) and for a change we found the hotel in under 2 hours, a new record.

The day before the ferry we went to the ferry office to find out about tickets. It was all well organised and only took a couple of hours, and we left $800 poorer but optimistic about our cruise across the gulf… right up to the moment we tried to start the car. Nothing. Rien. Nichts. Niente. Nada. The immobilizer had broken. I took the dash apart and after fiddling with a few wires the engine burst into life and we drove off to find a garage. Again. No one seemed to understand the problem and it was only once the local English teacher had been dragged out of school that we managed to get our message across. After an hour of no joy I finally rang the company that installed it and was told how to bypass it, which is worryingly easy. Bloody car.

So with the car slowly dying our final day in Iran started early. We were told to get to customs at 8am, even though the ferry didn’t leave until 2200. The night before we had filled up every available container with diesel, adding another 300 tonnes to the car so we hoped they wouldn’t weigh us, as we would no doubt have to pay extra! Customs only took a few hours and we were finished by 11’ish, leaving us with nothing to do but sit in the terminal playing enthralling games of eye spy for the next 11 hours. We’ve had more exciting days.

We finally boarded the ferry at 2100 and well, let’s just say the Greek ferry in comparison was the QM2. It was a fifthly, cockroach infested hell hole, no exaggeration as the photos below prove. It was just a nasty experience that I don’t want to relive so please don’t make me. I’m trying awfully hard to repress it and Megan is still in a mild state of shock; she wakes up in the middle of the night screaming about giant ants in her cabin. One up side was that we met fellow travelers with whom we could share stories and mutter about the state of the ship and how Europe is soooo much more civilized.

So that was Iran. How to sum up? It’s interesting and the novelty value stays with you the whole way through. There are some fascinating sights but it’s the people who make the country and who left us with the most endearing memories of the place. Two weeks was enough; we were both ready to move on and I doubt we will go back. However people should visit, just be prepared for constant staring, 20,000 offers of tea, some nasty police, friendly locals, a pocketful of money that has no real value, and an interesting story at the end of it all.

P.S. We went to Persepolis, it was alright.

Iran!

Posted: October 29, 2010 in 6.Iran

So I promised that i’d tell you about the crossing in to Iran and as we are now safely in Dubai here it is:

Iran has not started well. I’m going to try very hard not to get all depressing on you and I realise that I might start to sound whiney, which is crazy seeing as we have the opportunity to do this amazing trip but after the last few days I can begin to see why people fly.

The border crossing was going so well. Turkey went smoothly and quickly and when we crossed into Iran the border guard took us to meet the tourist information man, who was very nice and very helpful and we got all our papers stamped and Carnet signed. In fact, it took less than an hour before we were on our way… or so we thought. After clearing all the main gates and compound a small barrier lies between you and the Islamic Republic of Iran. I pulled up to the gate only to be accosted by a number of men demanding to know whether my car took diesel or petrol. You see, if your car is diesel you are meant to purchase fuel cards, however the tourist information man said this isn’t entirely necessary and to just ignore these men, so I did, and pushed my way past to the guard on the gate. He said I could go through so I jumped back into the Land Rover and was just about to set off when the screaming reached fever pitch. The guard finally gave in to the shouts from these men and made me go and see a little man in a hut off the left of the main gate. The smiles from the men who had gathered around the car made me nervous. The man in the hut, who had clearly just been woken up, came out to check my car to see if it was indeed diesel and then after announcing it was retired back to the hut, leaving Megan and I to do battle with these randoms. Basically, to travel through Iran and get fuel you need to get fuel cards, which you buy off the government. The number of fuel cards you need depends on how far you are traveling and as we are going to Bandar Abbas in the south of the country we need a lot of fuel. However the dude in the hut had no interest in selling me a card and the only way I could get one and the stamp to get into Iran was to buy a card off the black market bandits.

The first price I was quoted was £600! Umm….. no chance mate. We simply didn’t have that kind of money to waste. Feeling very annoyed we drove back to the tourist office to see if the man could help but his only reply was ‘this is Iran, good luck!’. Back down at the gate we parked up and ignored the constant laughing and jeering from the men, which seemed to help as when they finally came over the price was £350, still way too much. An hour later the dude in the hut came out and beckoned me into the office. He took the passports and Carnet and was about to sign and stamp them when the group rushed in again, shouting and screaming. By this time Megan and I had both had enough; I started to get cross and they surrounded me, trying to intimidate and threaten me, Megan at this point started screaming at them. This had a profound effect and we finally managed to agree to $200 for 300 litres worth of fuel cards (which is still pretty cheap but about $199 too much). Finally we got the cards and our stamp and were our way, an hour and a half longer than we should have been. Who these guys are I don’t know, local Mafia by the looks of them but anyone coming this way prepare yourself for hassle.

About an hour after we crossed the border the new temperature gauge broke and I noticed someone had stolen the dust caps off my wheels, bugger.

The plan was to get to Tabriz, a city about four hours from the border and because of the delay at the border we didn’t get there till around 5. Tabriz is a lot larger that it seems on Google maps and although I have read that driving in Iran is mental I naively thought that if I can drive around Colney Hatch Lane Tesco Extra, North London, on a Saturday morning in the Land Rover 130 then nothing would phase me. Man was I wrong. I can’t describe how bad the driving is. There are no rules bar one; drive wherever you like, in any direction and at top speed. It’s unbelievable. We stopped at one hotel on the outskirts, which quoted us $142 a night, well out of our budget so we drove further into the city. We got lost, we got stuck in the worst traffic jam known to man, I nearly ran about seven people over, as they simply step into the street without looking, and at least two people bumped into me. Two hours later we gave up and retreated back to the 5 star $142 a night hotel. Both of us felt deflated and upset. We had hoped Iran would be a highlight judging by all the things people have said but the first day left us with the desire to get through Iran as quickly as possible and catch the ferry to Dubai……. I’m sure things will improve.

Sorry about going back in time and i’ll be up to date from now on, promise.

Plans, they keep on changing.

Posted: October 23, 2010 in 6.Iran

During the last four days our plans have changed at least nine different times. As I have already mentioned we cannot get a visa for Pakistan so we are going to have to ship the car to India. We met a nice Austrian fellow called Tom who is doing the same thing and as of yesterday afternoon we were going to ship the car from Bandar Abbas to Mumbai with him and share the cost of a container. However, the car has developed a serious electrical fault that we are concerned we will not be able to get fixed in India, as there are hardly any Land Rover dealers in the country, so we are sticking with the original plan and getting the ferry to Dubai to get the car fixed and then hope to explore the UAE and Oman (I might even get a bit of off road driving in) for a month. We will then head off to India to meet up with my brother and father to explore the northern hill stations.

The car is really starting to try our nerves and we are both on the edge of our seats every time we drive, waiting for the next problem. Currently;

Still no handbrake

Still no temperature gauge

The exhaust is not sounding happy

The extra battery has given up the ghost, so no fridge

The radio has stopped working, which means we have to talk to each other!

The turbo has started leaking oil

Power steering pump is leaking

So not that much then! I know they are all little problems but it’s draining having to stop all the time to check temperatures and oil levels and it takes the shine off the day, ah Land Rover ownership……

On the plus side, I’m becoming quite the mechanic and have even bought a multi-meter and worked out how to use it. Although, that was only after I got a reading of 234 volts from the battery on my first attempt.

Things you might not know about Iran:

The majority of chairs you sit in have been covered in PVC wrap, which can make for a rather sweaty posterior.

Everyone drives old Peugeot 405’s and Hillman Hunters.

The men wear some very pointy shoes.

The women sport some massive hair, lifting their head scarves a clear metre off the top of their heads.

The driving is unbelievable, 12 million accidents all about to happen at once.

Iranian pizza is not like any pizza you have tasted before, and not in a good way.

There are no vans.

There are no pushchairs.

Hotel toilet seats are frequently padded, which is something every toilet should have, man are they comfy.

Iran didn’t start well with the border crossing, which is a story you’ll have to wait for until we are safely tucked up in Dubai I’m afraid, sorry.

The first couple of days were spent in Tabriz finding our feet and getting use to the constant stares from the locals. As a man if you are not wearing white pointy shoes five times too big for you then you are clearly a tourist. The tourist information man was very helpful in changing money (you can’t use Visa in Iran so all money has to be brought with you) and after we changed $300 we became multi millionaires! The exchange rate is around $1 to 10,000 Iranian Rials, and 3,000,000 Rials in 50,000 notes is a lot of paper to shove in you pockets, under t-shirts and down bra’s but we managed it! When I got back to the hotel I lived out one of my many fantasies by making a bed of money and rolling around in it… until Megan came out of the bathroom and gave me one of those looks that bring play time to an end.

We met loads of fellow travelers in Tabriz; two Spanish couples overlanding, one going the same way as us and another coming back, plus a Polish couple coming to the end of their year back packing around the world. We shared a nice meal with them, which only cost a dollar each. However due to the overspend in Turkey I still insisted we split it between four, I mean 2 dollars is a tank of fuel!?! Yes, fuel is that cheap- 80 litres is around 2 bucks! It’s heaven if you can find a station selling diesel, as everyone in Iran drives petrol cars and only the trucks use diesel, so in order to find diesel we play the game of spot the queue of trucks and cheekily jump to the front, which no one seems to mind. One problem with using petrol pumps that are solely designed for lorries is that the nozzle is massive and the fuel comes out very, very fast. I got caught out on the first and second time (and the third time to be honest), as the tank in the Land Rover is not really designed to accept fuel entering at Mach 4 and it comes shooting back out all over shoes and trousers. Megan pointed out that I always wanted a pair Diesel jeans and then couldn’t stop giggling when I had to change outfit in the middle of a garage forecourt with Iranian truck drives watching on, character building stuff.

From Tabriz we headed to Qazvin about an hour west of Tehran, stopping briefly on the way to engage in a polite conversation with a policeman who thought we had been speeding. It turns out that on Iranian motorways there are different speed limits for each lane and even if there are no other cars on the road and you still want to travel at 100kmph you have to be in the outside lane. $50 was his initial demand but after a little persuasion we gave him $25 and drove off quickly before he had time to count it. Anyone else driving in Iran be warned, there are men with speed cameras everywhere!

Qazvin to Kashan took us round the outskirts of Tehran. We had been warned not to go into Tehran as the driving is even worse (if that’s possible) and due to our short time in the country there are more interesting places to visit. Kashan is a very interesting town with one of the most interesting bazaars we have visited. Megan and I could have spent hours watching men repairing the old carpets and sitting in the courtyards people watching, looking to see who had the pointiest  shoes. Here we met yet more overlanders, Tom (look4tom.com) Gruss and Fred, all making their way to Bandar Abbas as well and we spent another evening being affable. Man are we being sociable these days! It’s not in my nature as normally I hate everyone but I’m beginning to come around to this ‘talking to others’ lark.

Another day and another city. Esfahan was described as the jewel of Iran and it did not disappoint. The main square is massive and second only to Tiananmem Square (that’s in China Nick). There is one problem though, sitting down to enjoy the evening we were approached four times by different people all wanting to talk to us and tell us their life history and how amazing Iran is. To be fair, it was very interesting and gave us both a glimpse of what life in Iran is like for normal people. The final time we were approached by a young builder who was learning English by himself and it lead to one of the most surreal conversations I have ever had. He presented us with a list of words that he had clearly copied out of the dictionary and asked us to explain them to him. It was all going well until the words started to become difficult, for example, ‘pious man’, ‘hermit’, ‘irrefutable’, and others I can’t remember (but more likely don’t know the meaning of). If we didn’t know the definitions we made stuff up that sounded right. He then went on talking for about 20 minutes in broken English while Megan and I had no idea what he was talking about, but we just said yes a lot, and eventually looked at our watches and said we had friends to meet!

So far Iran has been interesting and it is nothing like you think it’s going to be. Yes, all the women wear headscarves but we have both found it more relaxed than certain parts of Turkey. Everyone is über friendly and although there is a lot of staring at no time have we felt threatened. We have been stopped by the army at check points but it’s all very pleasant and after checking our passports we are sent on our way with a smile and a wave. When we told people we were coming to Iran the first thing people said was ‘is it safe?’, and so far yes, it’s very safe.

Problems Problems Problems 6-11/10/10

Posted: October 13, 2010 in 5.Turkey

Catastrophic nightmare (no it’s not an over reaction Megan) best sums up our last week in Turkey. And why, you ask? Is it because Megan’s snoring has become so loud that it wakes up entire hotels? Is it because I still have not been able to find Cheerios? Perhaps it’s because the daily budget has become a distant dream due to the fuel prices? No, it’s none of the above. The car, my beloved Land Rover has chosen this last week to make our lives more ‘interesting’ and our pockets a lot lighter. I suppose it had to happen really, and one problem I could have forgiven but when the count got to five that’s when steering wheels were punched, tires kicked and profanities leveled at British Engineering.

The first problem was on the drive from Goreme to Nemrut Dagi to see the famous fallen heads. Two hours out we smelt something burning and pulled over to the side of the road, only to find that the handbrake would not move. After four hours under the car (and yet another t-shirt ruined) the handbrake seemed ok and following a call back to Douglass Motors the cause seems to have been that the handbrake cable was acting as the main electrical earth of the car and hence melted. Don’t asked me to explain it any further as I really have no idea how or why this would happen.

That same day after we had disconnected the handbrake cable and driven on a further hour and a half we pulled over to have some lunch only see water escaping to freedom from my NEW radiator. Luckily I had some Radweld to temporarily stop the leak and seeing that we were in the middle of nowhere it was a damn good thing. We decided not to proceed all the way to Nemrut Dagi, as it was getting late and instead stopped at a hotel in Malatya. We checked into a rather nice and needless to say rather expensive hotel and the next morning I went to find a garage that could weld the radiator. Turkish garages are not the same as garages in the UK for the following reasons:

You get free pizza/pies/bread/buns

You get a constant supply of free tea

A free lesson on Kurdish popular music (let’s just say it’s not Kylie)

There is a sofa provided to while away the hours it takes the mechanic to do a little work, have a little tea, do some more work, have a little tea…

Unfortunately the only English Hamza the mechanic knew was ‘Oh my God’, a little disconcerting when he is looking at the engine, back at me, back at the car etc.

Radiator fixed but still no handbrake we spent the rest of the day wondering around Malatya and got up early the next day to drive over the mountains to Erzurum. The road to Erzurum started well but as we reached the higher altitudes it turned into a deeply rutted farm track. For about an hour we plodded our way along until smoke started pouring out from under Megan’s seat! For a minute I thought the stress had driven her to the Marlborough Lights but I was quickly corrected and we pulled over quick smart. I expected to find a mass of molten plastic and copper but luckily it only turned out that one of the batteries had come loose and was touching the bottom of Megan’s seat and shorting out. Once the battery was wrestled back into place we continued on. We soon passed through a stretch of road that I thought was wet with water but after driving through a little too quickly and coming out the other end smelling something strange it turned out that it was in fact wet tar! Are you kidding me?!? The car was covered, I mean covered top to bottom in wet, smelly tar and that stuff does not come off. Once we got to Erzurum we broke out two new sponges and the washing up liquid and scrubbed the car in a garage forecourt, much to amusement of the petrol pump attendants. Most of it came off but a lot still remains so if anyone knows of a way to remove tar from a car please let me know. I’m not going to lie to you all, I cried a little bit when I saw the state of it.

After a day in Erzurum we got up and headed to the last town in Turkey before the Iranian Border, Dogubayazit. Megan was feeling under the weather, too many kebabs, so it was a very quiet drive until I noticed the temperature gauge had gone past the red and was at max, max, max. My lengthy and surprisingly imaginative bout of swearing woke Megan up but after checking the engine it all seemed ok, so I diagnosed that the gauge was at fault. We drove the last hour very slowly, stopping often to check the engine. This was a low point for the both of us and we had one of those ‘I wish we were at home right now’ moments. We limped into Dogubayazit and after agreeing it was far too cold to camp we booked into a hostel, yes you read that right, Simon Maple checked into a hostel. Well it was £18 a night and you got what you paid for but at least it was clean. The next morning, after spending a lot of time trying to find the fault we gave in and took the car to a garage. He couldn’t fix our broken gauge but fitted a temporary one to the dashboard, which unfortunately required taking an angle grinder to the Land Rover, resulting in much wincing and sharp intakes of breath on our parts when the sparks started flying.

So now as we start heading through Iran we have no hand brake, an extra temperature gauge cable tied to the dashboard and a car that smells of tar, brilliant.

We have been blown away by the landscape and the people of Turkey and would definitely visit again. Budget wise; petrol, car problems and four nights in a nice hotel in Istanbul has pushed us well over. Hopefully we can claw it back in Iran where diesel is practically free…

Cold Turkey 29/09/10-06/10/10

Posted: October 9, 2010 in 5.Turkey

Now where was I, had I told you about Istanbul? Megan, have I told them about Istanbul? What?! I know you’re getting changed in the tent but just tell me if we have told our endearing fans about Istanbul? Really? Oh ok, no I don’t know where your stripy pants are.

So it seems I have told you about Istanbul and a lot beside it. The 29th saw us drive towards the ‘picture post card village’ (as the Lonely Planet put it) of Olympos. The main reason to stay here is the tree houses you can stay in, unique to this part of Turkey. When I learnt about this I was very excited, as it is surely every boy’s aspiration to live in a tree house, and this would finally allow me to live out my Swiss Family Robinson fantasy… It wasn’t a tree house, it wasn’t even in a tree, a better description would have been a shed on stilts. So instead we plumped for an air conditioned hut for a couple of nights. Olympos is a bit of a backpackers’ haunt but I put my prejudices aside and really enjoyed the place. The highlight of Olympos must have been the home cooked food we got in the evening, which was included in the price and was simply delicious. Why can’t you cook this good Megan?

We also bumped into an overland group on their way to the Middle East. Ummm… as nice as the lorry was I don’t think I would like to spend 3 months with strangers in the confines of what is actually a container, but hey, it takes all sorts.

It was a short drive to Antalya, which was our next stop for a night, before the long push to Goreme. There seemed to be no camping in Antalya but after a long 3 day search on Google we found a night club that would let you camp (or so we thought with our limited Turkish). I was convinced that it would be a waste of time but Megan, bless her, said it wasn’t, and so we spent a little while searching the backstreets until we found it. Driving in the man at the gate said ok, we could use the car park to camp, the toilets and showers to wash, and the most amazing beach bar for free!  Needless to say the smugness emanating from Megan was overwhelming. Antalya turned out to be a nice little city and having spent the day relaxing and topping up the tan we wandered the pretty narrow streets that night.

Ever onward and we decided to break the trip up to Goreme with an overnight stop in Konya, which is the home of the Whirling Dervishes (Google it). Finding campsites in Turkey once away from the coast is very difficult so this time we thought we would just try our luck once we got there. As it happened it all worked out rather well. As we were driving into Konya we spotted a Dutch camper van in a car park and decided to investigate. Just a little note on the Dutch, it seems that there can be no one left in Holland, it’s mental, every camper van and caravan we have seen in the last 3 weeks has been Dutch, man they like to travel. So anyway we found our way down to the car park, met a nice security guard who informed us we could stay for free! There was even a toilet, water and power. Nice one. Konya itself was a little disappointing, maybe it was the fact that it was raining and we had to put on jeans for the first time in 6 weeks, as the weather had turned cold.

The final drive to Goreme was amazing. The landscape was stunning, it felt like we where driving across outer Mongolia and we both thought for the first time that we were true adventurers… until we were overtaken by a camper van sporting Dutch plates. Bastards.

Goreme Goreme Groreme, well I can guarantee that you have never seem anything like it. It’s quite a well known stop on the drive across Turkey, famous for the tall cave/chimneys that were hollowed out in olden times and used as churches. I’m aware that I think everything in Turkey is awesome but these really are.

We stayed in a campsite mentioned in lot of other travelers’ blogs, Kaya Camping, which was a good call because we met our first ever fellow Defender 130 drivers!

We have had an ongoing game since we left the UK; Land Rover Defender spotting. Don’t laugh, it’s become very competitive. I’m still ahead but Megan has clawed her way back by pulling a nice Dutch (of course) 130 out of the bag. It was owned by Joorst and Rene, who are perhaps the nicest people in the world- they cooked us dinner! The last night in Goreme was spent eating their food, sharing their traveling stories, and when a French family came over to join us it all got a little messy. The wine count reached 11 bottles by the time Megan and I crawled into bed. A great night and one of the reasons we decided to do this trip with an old Land Rover rather than take the easy flying option.

To update you on our future plans; Pakistan is a no unfortunately. It’s too difficult to get a visa, too many floods and bombs. So the plan now is to catch the ferry from Bandar Abbas in southern Iran to Dubai, stay there for a while with some family friends of Megan’s, and ship the car to Mumbai.

Turkish Delight. 24-28/09/10

Posted: September 29, 2010 in 5.Turkey

Turkey is awesome, fact. We are both blown away by the beauty of the country and the friendliness of the people. We have been here a little over a week and it’s just flown by, far far too quickly for my liking.

We left Istanbul and headed back towards the Mediterranean coast. The original plan was to see Gallipoli but after looking at the map and working out just how far and how much petrol it would use we decided against it. Diesel in Turkey has to be the most expensive in the world. At the moment it is around £1.60 a litre! This makes quite a difference to the daily budget, as almost half of our budget for the whole of Turkey will be on fuel. I thought it was meant to get cheaper the further east we went…? Anyway, with Gallipoli off the cards we headed about an hour outside Istanbul and got a ferry across the sea of Marmara, which saved about an hour of driving. Camping in Turkey is not widespread and most, if not all the campsites are on the west coast. The GPS gave up on the map front after Greece so we are back to paper maps and all the calm and unruffled conversations that come with this form of navigation. It also means that we now only have a ball park idea as to where the campsites are. Our first campsite in Turkey took us about an hour to track down after off road driving up a farm track, off road driving reversing down a farm track, and asking local people who clearly didn’t understand a word of what we were saying. In the end Megan turned the page of the Lonely Planet and the directions to the campsite were there staring her in the face. I am still, a week later, doing all the washing up in penance for the names I called her after she admitted this fact to me.

We stayed a couple of nights on the coast near a place called Ayvalik, having the beach to ourselves and meeting a very nice German couple and their very impressive truck that will hopefully take them to Cape Town. For the first time since we started I felt the Land Rover was a bit small and I should have bought a bigger car. Maybe for the trip back to London…

From Ayvalik we headed further south to see the famous ruins of Efes. We stayed at a very nice campsite in Selcuk but were the only ones there so it felt a little weird, which is worrying if we are ever to wild camp. The lady who ran it spoke no English but her Italian was first rate so Megan and her chatted while I just smiled and nodded in the background. Efes itself was amazing, up there with Pompeii in my mind. Following the success we had in Greece we found the mandatory Japanese tour group ever present at these places and followed them around. As far as we can understand the building below was the first ever Starbucks, built by the Inca’s 24 years ago.

That night it the heavens opened and for the umpteenth time this trip it rained like someone was pressure washing the tent and car. This time however Megan’s clothes were dry! (They weren’t really but I could be bothered to get the bloody silicon out again so I told her they were, shhhhhh).

From Selcuk we drove further along the coast toward the resort town of Oludeniz. Along this road we encountered our first police stop. To be honest I thought I was speeding when he waved me over but all he wanted was a look at my driving license. Again, very disappointing. I had the pack of cigarettes ready for the bribe but it was all very ordinary and straight forward, I almost wanted to go back and demand that he threaten me with prison, impounding the car and a mild beating but Megan, ever the boring one wouldn’t allow it. Booo.

There are more English people in Oludeniz than Turks, all sporting lobster tans and a craving for knock off jeans. Enough said. We went there for the tombs at Fethiye up the road, which again were pretty amazing. After looking around the main site we followed a hand painted sign promising more tombs that led into a little old lady’s back garden. She was very excited to see us, and not at all put off by our surprised faces she proceeded to lead us along what can only be described as a cliff edge to another set of tombs. She had the footing of a mountain goat, it was a thing to marvel as she helped us along the ledge. I’ll admit that my manhood was called into question when she held my hand to help me up a particularly tricky section.

The drives to the places we have been to have been wonderful. The landscape in Turkey changes with every bend from mountain to flat plain, and everything in between, a hidden gem. Anyone who hasn’t been should come, and not just stay on the beach!

Updates (version 2.0)

Posted: September 28, 2010 in Uncategorized

I have finally managed to get the internet working for me and hopefully when you click on ‘ where we are’ in the main menu it should come up with our location and where we have been over the last few days.

I have also added a section called ‘Reader’s Drives’ (get it? I know right, i’m hilarious) where fellow overlanders can send a picture of their truck and I’ll put them up for those interested in getting ideas. This is something I found very hard to come by when I was planning my truck. There is only one rule, they can’t be cooler than mine!

Crossing Borders 20-24/09/10

Posted: September 25, 2010 in 5.Turkey

Our first real border, and I don’t mind telling you I was a bit scared. There is something safe and cozy about Europe, all the shops are the same, you can get most of your favourite food (except bloody Cheerios) in the supermarkets, and even though you are in a different country one almost feels part of the same club. Turkey however is different, passports need to be shown at the border, men with rather large guns eye you up as you approach the checkpoint, and the Euro is as worthless as Monopoly money.

We left early on the 20th from not so paradise camping and got to the border crossing at Ipsala around mid morning. We expected queues but there were none and once the Greeks had had a cursory glance at our passports we entered no mans land between the two countries. It is here that I’d like to tell you a tale of 10 hr waits, bribes, the Land Rover being taken apart and searched, Megan being traded for half a camel… but to be honest it was all very easy.  We bought our visa from a dude in a hut, showed our insurance and vehicle registration to another dude in a hut, and the final dude stamped our passports and we were in Turkey within 25mins! How upsetting, I felt cheated of a story, but Iran is the next border and I’m sure that might be more ‘interesting’.

Once in Turkey our plan was to drive to Istanbul, where we had arranged to pick up our Iranian visas from the consulate, and after a month of camping we decided to give in to our craving for a toilet that you didn’t have to share with anyone else and got ourselves a hotel. Yes, I’m sure there will be those of you out there saying we are wimps and should have held out longer and I could have, but it was Megan you see, she made me. We found what we thought was a good deal on a 4 star (I don’t stay anywhere under a 3) hotel in Istanbul for £50 a night. Bargain. It wasn’t until we booked it that we realised we the help of Google maps, that it wasn’t actually in Istanbul but over the Bosphorus in one of the many suburbs sounding the city. Doh. Anyway, they seemed to have parking and sounded nice on the phone so we thought we would give it a go. It turned out to be a very nice hotel in fact, and only a 15 min drive to a ferry which took us into the heart of the city. Megan called it luck but I like to think of it as meticulous planning on my part that paid off.

Oh I nearly forgot, those of you thinking about driving into Istanbul should be aware of the toll road leading into the city. We approached the first set of booths on the motorway and as the barrier was up and the machine wouldn’t give us a ticket we thought that perhaps it was a holiday or something and we wouldn’t have to pay, so drove straight though. However, when we got to the other end of the motorway in the middle of the city with sixteen lanes of traffic coming from every direction, the barriers down and nowhere to pay, did we realise that we had made a rather large mistake. There was no way we could go through but luckily we were still far enough away from the barrier to be able to get out of the queue and stop in the middle of the sixteen lanes, hazards on of course, looking blankly at one another in hope of divine intervention. It came in the shape of a very nice Turkish chap wandering across the lanes who explained that I needed to buy a card from the office on the other side of eight lanes of traffic in order to get through the barrier. Turkey it seems no longer take cash on their toll roads, damn you out of date Lonely Planet. I made an attempt to get out of the car but the man told me that I had to drive, ‘it would be safer’ he said. So a five point turn, driving the wrong way up a motorway, crossing eight lanes of on coming traffic, some more sailor swearing from the co-chair and a set of new underwear later we managed to purchase a card from the office and made our way to the hotel. If only we had taken a picture.

After the emotional trauma of Turkish tolls one of the coolest things so far on this trip has to be crossing the bridge over the Bosphorus and seeing the sign ‘Welcome to Asia’, awesome.

The next few days were spent wandering around the city and getting our visas. The Iranian visa was actually quite straightforward. We had applied for them back in the UK so only had to pick them up in Istanbul, which saved a lot of time. Megan donned her headscarf for the first time, I tried not to laugh, failed, and after a little wait we paid the €95 each (ouch!) and were told to come back the next day to pick them up. We returned the next day and were finger printed (which by the way is a bugger to get off your hands), and issued with our visa. Again, all very easy and everyone was very pleasant, let’s hope its all this effortless.

Istanbul is an immensely interesting city and nothing I write here will do it credit, so you should all come and visit. Saying that though we both really enjoyed the markets around the Grand Bazaar and spent a whole day getting lost in the side streets and alleys. The Blue Mosque is a must, as is a ferry trip so you can get a feel for the size of the place and get to see all the great historic landmarks from the sea. Crossing the bridge to Beyoglu is also well worth it to see the marked difference between the more traditional, conservative side of Istanbul and the contemporary culture that’s more in line with Europe.

Initial thoughts on Turkey:

They love their flags.

I love the font they use in their road signs.

Megan loves the man in the Mosque outside our hotel who sang at 5 in the morning every day.

We both love the Kebabs.

Its still all a bit Greek 13-19/09/10

Posted: September 23, 2010 in 4.Greece

They came in the dead of night when our guard had slipped for just a second. It was a classic pincer movement that any panzer division would have been proud of. Four in total, two closing in from each end of the Land Rover, using darkness for cover; we stood no chance and were overrun in a matter of seconds. Megan saw them first but didn’t get a chance to warn me and they were within the camp boundaries before we could react and stage a defensive counter strike. Kittens, kittens came and won our hearts and minds before we knew what was going on. Megan actually fell in love a little bit and spent a lot of time with the kittens, in fact she spent pretty much all her waking time with them and it was truly very hard to drag her to the beach! I know, can you believe it, we drive 100’s of miles so she can play with cats?!? They were damn cute though, and even I, the world’s greatest cat hater, found myself stroking, playing and picking up the bloody things. We even spent money out of our very small daily budget on cat food, cat food! Unbelievable.

Other than the furry balls of fun there aren’t a lot of things to write about during our week long stay at camping Sika: got up, went to the beach, came back, cooked some dinner, read, and went to bed. A brilliant, brilliant week.

All good things come to an end though and it was after much effort that we managed to pull ourselves away from the world’s best campsite and started towards the Turkish border. It would take a couple of days to get there so after all day driving we started to look for a campsite and finally stumbled across Camping Paradiso. I’m glad to report that the Greeks have a sense of irony.  Paradise it was not.

No lights in the toilets, use your own imagination at the state of the men’s toilet floor.

No lights in the showers- showering in the dark was a new and disturbing experience.

No hot water, why would there be?!

No lights on the campsite at all now I come to think about it.

A washing machine that held our clothes hostage for 3 hours.

Toilets that were truly, truly awful. The smell!! My god, still so many nightmares.

Anyway, nasty campsite apart we had a really enjoyable time in Greece and as I have said a number of times it was a real struggle to move on from Europe, but Asia and Turkey beckoned so with a little apprehension we headed off towards our first real border crossing. Now where are those passports…..?

The fame won’t change me!

Posted: September 22, 2010 in Uncategorized

www.lro.com/news.php?sid=684&page=1

It’s all Greek to me! 9-11/09/10

Posted: September 16, 2010 in 4.Greece

I’m going to start on a bit of a rant, the chosen topic: campsite attire for today’s modern camper. It seems that when the weather is hot, or even luke warm to be honest a number of men of every nationality deem it perfectly acceptable to walk around, chat, cook and wash up in their speedos, and if they don’t have speedos then normal everyday pants seem to do just fine. PANTS, I mean come on! Really? Would you do this at home? Would you think to yourself, I need some milk but can’t be bothered to put on any clothes so I’ll just wander down the street in my Y Fronts instead? No sir, you would not. My personal favorites include; after eating a rather large dinner and losing the toss and therefore having to wash up I made my way to the sink only to find a ‘big boned’ man with more hair than a Yak who had missed a few haircuts bending over the sink washing up in nothing but a pair of tiny speedos! The contents of my stomach indicated that they also wished to join the audience for this grand show, meaning only the swiftest of exits would keep them off the guest list. I returned a good deal later, hoping the show was over. Or the other chap who had clearly forgotten his speedos and therefore thought it perfectly acceptable to strut along the beach in his light grey briefs during the midday sun. Grey not being the best color for a hot day, especially as the man in question tended to sweat a lot… I shall say no more. I wanted to put pictures of these men in the blog to name and shame but boring old Megan said “ah no Simon, I think not.”

OK sorry about that, I feel better now so moving on the Athens.

9.09.10

It’s funny how sub prime mortgages in the US, quantitative easing and the global recession thwarted our first attempts to get to Athens. We turned up nice and early after getting up at ridiculous o’clock and driving the winding road to the station, which was about 30km from Athens itself, only to be told that there was a strike on and there would be ‘no trains today my friend’. Doh. After all our previous parking issues we had decided that driving into the third largest urban mass in Europe (I know, right? we were surprised to read that too!) would not be a good idea, so we went away muttering that this kind of thing would never happen in England, conveniently forgetting that it actually happens all the time, and sat on the beach to sulk. A hard life indeed.

10.09.10

Trains back on and the strike ended by everyone apologizing, hugging and shaking hands (I’d like to think), we caught the train into down town Athens. We didn’t really know what to expect from the Greek capital but we were both blown away by the food markets, the Acropolis and the Parthenon. What an amazing view from the top of the Acropolis; the sweat patches and mild heat stroke were well worth the climb to get to the top, and we tagged on to a Japanese guided tour around. Now we don’t speak Japanese but we think we got the jist- it was built by the Vikings right…?

11.09.10

We somehow managed to drag ourselves away from the beach and drove on a further 4 hours towards Istanbul. We had been told about an amazing campsite near a place called Volos from our new found Swiss friends and decided to check it out. We arrived to actually find the best campsite known to man and it goes straight in at number one top five all time best campsites. Our pitch, and where I am typing this now, is on the edge of a 10 metre cliff looking down onto a deserted beach and a tiny little fishing village. Postcard perfect, in fact I’m going to have a job trying to drag my co driver away from here, and the phrase “squat toilets are used throughout Turkey” that we read today in the Lonely Planet will do little to help the cause.

Things weren’t all peaches and cream however, on our first night here the rain that continues to haunt us from Italy struck back with a vengeance. Man what a storm, hopefully the photo below will show you the extent of the downpour. Within minutes of the rain starting a river of Amazon proportions started flowing under the car and over the cliff. Megan’s comment that perhaps we might be washed over the edge was strongly rebuffed but secretly I was thinking the same thing but could not be bothered to survey the situation, as getting out of the tent would mean taking a fully clothed shower. Needless to say we didn’t get washed away and spent the evening playing dominoes in the tent whilst the thunder, lighting and rain did its best to interrupt our nail biting game. We later learnt that it was the first rain they have had since June, classic Maple luck.

Ah but I hear to ask, if it rained, surely the car must have leaked? How wrong you all are, how dare you suggest such a thing! All my stuff stayed 100% dry, mainly because it was behind Megan’s clothes, which didn’t. They were actually washed by the rain, which I thought was ideal as we didn’t have to pay for a washing machine and to be honest Megan had started to smell, two birds one stone! She however didn’t see it my way, so after using every available bit of string we had and hanging up Megan’s entire wardrobe I did battle with my arch foe, silicone sealant, and attempted to plug the gaps. Stay tuned so see if it will work…….

Just on a side note, it’s been really nice once again to get messages from family and friends and people who have come across the blog, as well as those who have read the article in LRO. We will do our best to reply to everybody as soon as possible, but whilst the internet costs €4 a minute the potential costs involved in sending these replies would result in our budget getting us no further than the Turkish border!

In this exciting installment we learn that Megan really hates mountain roads, I mean really hates them, gravity goes two nil up, and we are no longer the coolest campers on the campsite….

2nd September

The last full day in Italy was spent visiting the Amalfi Coast. The book quoted this as the ‘most beautiful stretch of coast in Europe’ so how could we not go? and there was something about Megan’s family coming from here, but I forget the story even though she claims she has told me hundreds of times. Our reliance on the GPS was, at the time, total so we put in the name of one of the small towns on the coast and off we went. Ummm, well the town was 9 miles away but it took us about an hour and a half to get there. Mr GPS thought we would enjoy a trip through down town Pompeii first, an area that for Italy seems to have no discernable traffic regulations, save that everyone absolutely must overtake everyone else in the narrow, over crowded streets even though there is a constant traffic jam in either direction. After the stress of that he thought he would give us a break from the hustle and bustle of the town and show us the seaside not through the tunnel, oh no, tunnels are for chumps, but over the steepest hill the poor old Land Rover has ever seen, and judging by the black smoke coming out the back it wasn’t happy about it. The Land Rover wasn’t the only one, Miss Cartwright it seems is not a fan of twisting, narrow, steep, edge of the cliff driving in a 4 tonne Land Rover where the steering wheel only really acts as a suggestion to the wheels its meant to control. However we were rewarded with the most awesome views for the Mt Vesuvius and the valley below. Once the temperature gauge in the Land Rover had gone from molten lava to gentle simmer we headed down the other side and eventually arrived at the town of Ravello. From Ravello we followed the coast road/cliff edge back to Sorrento and Pompeii. Again, this is a most interesting road to navigate with a large car although by the end of the day I was hand braking the car around the bends like a seasoned Italian.

3rd September

We packed up the camp, a task that we now have down to 47mins from the 2 hrs in France, and headed toward Brindisi and the ferry to Greece. The idea was to take our time, as the ferry was not until 9pm so a few interesting stop offs where highlighted in the Lonely Planet and we set off in good cheer and high sprits. That quickly changed as the heavens opened and the most torrential down pour this blogger has ever driven through proceeded to last the entire width of Italy. In true Land Rover form, the two front doors, pedals, and air vents let in so much rain that tea towels, toilet roll and t-shirts were called into action to stem the flow of water into the cab. Every so often we had to stop in order to drain the water out of the foot wells, as the level was in danger of reaching ankle height. It was a strange sensation to drive whilst getting a foot spa and progress was slow to say the least. Bends didn’t help; as the Land Rover rolled a shriek from the passenger seat indicated that water had found a new entry point and had managed to land on Megan, which although mildly amusing was hardly the way one would choose to spend 6 hours crossing Italy. She was in constant fear that the next corner would result in 4 litres of water pouring onto her lap! We finally got to the port with no stops except for de-ballasting operations, at 6 pm. Seeing that I have worked on ferries for the last 3 years (I was a captain, no no really, I was, you can ask my mum) I had a professional interest in the Greek ferry operation, and I know I’m speaking to a limited audience with the following observations, which were totally lost on Megan, but to those reading this from Irish Ferries, I’m sure you will be tremendously interested….or maybe it’s just me. Actually, I’m not going to list them all because it makes me seem a little sad that even on holiday I go around looking for safety violations on ferries I don’t even work on. However, my personal favourite was a fire door wedged open with expanding foam, so I’m sure you get the picture. Needless to say, I wore my life jacket all the way across, slept in the lifeboat and held a flare in each hand. Oh and I fell down metal stairs and again landed on my back, you win again gravity.

4th September ‘

It doesn’t rain in Greece’

‘Well it is raining Simon’ ‘

But it’s Greece!’

‘And it’s raining’

‘But it doesn’t rain in Greece!’

And so on……

We arrived in Igoumenltsa to the rain we had driven through in Italy the previous day. I braved the Vodafone roaming charges to check the weather forecast: rain, rain and more rain the Blackberry told me, so we had to make a quick decision, stick with plan that had us staying in Parga about 50km from the ferry or go in search of the sun. Can you guess what we did? Damn right, we drove 10 hours in search of sunshine and a beach, which was the entire reason we came to Greece! Now a funny thing happens to Greek roads when they become wet, it’s a phenomenon that I have never heard of or been warned about, and it wasn’t until we were power sliding around a tight bend, the Land Rover moving sideways, a crash barrier approaching with increasing speed, some proper sailor swearing from the seat next to me (I mean there were words there that even I didn’t know), the brakes having no effect and if they could talk simply saying ’what do you expect me do about this?’ did we realise that something was very, very wrong. Luckily (or if I was allowed to tell the story in my own uncensored words; due to my amazing driving prowess) we managed to stop inches from the barrier, the only thing stopping us from a rather speedy descent down the mountain side. The equation below explains why this happened:

(Hot, oily, greasy Greek road) + Rain = A road surface equating to glass.

To be honest, I was rather impressed that we had managed to get a 4 tonne Defender 130 to go sideways, Megan however, wasn’t and from then on a snail’s pace was demanded from the Head Chef until we got to a better road. We witnessed a few recent accidents where cars with lesser drivers than myself had failed to stop in time, and ditches and fields became the last resting place for many a car that day. An up side of this very slow progress was that we achieved an extra 50 miles to a tank a fuel, which was nice. We finally found the Campsite recommended in the Rough Guide (which incidentally is nowhere near as good as Lonely Planet Guides) near Athens, and once the man was paid and our pitch found we ran into the sea and let out a rather big ahhhhhhhhhhhhh!

5th September

Morning: Applied factor 10.

Afternoon: Sunbathed.

Evening: Applied copious amounts of after sun.

(We met a very nice couple, Johan and Monika, from Switzerland, and their annoyingly cool VW Camper Van, which to be frank took a lot of attention away from the Land Rover. However, we soon forgave them when it emerged that they were super friendly, and if they’re reading this we wish them good luck with the rest of their trip and their baby, which will be a far scarier adventure than ours!)

6th September

Morning: Applied factor 50.

Afternoon: Sat under the umbrella.

Evening: Applied slightly less after sun.

7th September.

Braved the sun again, with varying shades of pink achieved.

The Road to Rome 28th Aug-02nd Sept

Posted: September 2, 2010 in 3.Italy

The Road to Rome

I fell out of the tent. There’s no other way to put it really, and as it’s a roof tent it @*%$ing hurt (sorry mum). But this is jumping ahead a little.

We left our idyllic campsite in Tuscany on Saturday 28th and headed for Siena for a quick stop before we traveled on further towards Rome. So paranoid were we of not being able to park the car or getting stuck in the small narrow streets of this beautiful city that we ended up parking at the bottom of a 1 mile hill and walking into the city in the midday sun. We didn’t realize that it was a mile away when we started the hike but the sweat patches, need for water and total lack of conversation from either of us signaled that we had made a huge mistake. Anyhow, once we composed ourselves we ventured into the city, sat in the main square, had quite possibly the biggest ice cream in the world and spent a pleasant while watching the goings on. Siena has to be one of the loveliest cities in Italy. Fact.

Walking down the hill involved a lot less puffing and we were soon back in the Land Rover heading towards Rome. The plan was not to arrive in Rome that day but rather stop a couple of hours north and camp overnight before making our way in the next day. We had no campsite planned but after 10 days into the trip I have finally figured out how to use the GPS and one of its many wonderful functions shows you the closest campsite to your location, amazing. So after a few hours driving we pressed the magic button and were directed to a campsite 4 miles from our position. To be honest we did not fully trust Mr Sat Nav, as the roads it took us down seemed to be going nowhere and there were certainly no signs of campsites, but our perseverance was rewarded by a friendly greeting from the manager at Camp Falcone. I will be putting all the campsites we stayed at on another page on the blog so any interested parties can get more information. I’m also toying with the idea of giving them a ‘Maple Leaf’ rating, much like the AA but currently Megan and I are in dispute as to how clean the toilets have to be in order for a camp site to get ‘3 leaves’.

So it was the night of the 28th that gravity once again dealt me a harsh blow. I was in the tent, Megan outside trying to get the fridge working and after all my helpful instructions were met with a ‘Get down here and fix this bloody thing’ I somehow missed the ladder and ended up on my back staring at the stars. The stars scared me, as it was a cloudy, overcast night, which meant the stars I was seeing were actually all in my head. After the initial shock and Megan had finally got over her giggles all limbs and digits seem to be working normally and a lesson was well and truly learnt. I don’t have sixth sense and I must make sure my foot is on the ladder before committing myself to the descent.

Next morning we went to visit the town of Orvieto and determined not to make the same mistake as we did in Siena we brazenly ignored scores of parking places further outside the town and ended up driving the Land Rover into the smallest, narrowest, most complicated one way system known to man. If I say pretty much every bend required a three point turn you’ll understand. The sweat patches, need for water and total lack of conversation from either of us signaled that we had made a huge mistake. After what seemed like four hours (in reality it was probably about ten minutes) we managed to free ourselves from this cobbled street nightmare and finally found some parking on the edge of town. The town itself is famous for its church and although the picture below does not do it justice it was worth the effort required to see it.

On the Autostrada again and a few tolls later we were on the outskirts of Rome, in the aptly named ‘Happy Village’ campsite…

The morning of the 30th saw us venture into the Italian capital via the train, no parking problems for us this time, and we wondered the streets, taking in all the tourist hot spots. I requested an audience with the Pope but we couldn’t find space in our diaries when we were both free, shame. I was very impressed by Rome, totally different to my expectations and we both lost track of the time as we ate our body weight in ice cream and watched the rich and fabulous shopping at Gucci, Prada and the like. Happy Village and Camping had a pool! and after some persuasion I sucked in the belly, and showed off my farmer’s tan, which looks a treat I can tell you, in all its glory.

Pompei was the next stop and we arrived on Tuesday the 31st. That afternoon we wondered into the famous ruins of the town and were both blown away by the sheer scale of the place. So much has been uncovered and it is absolutely massive. I’ll be honest and say this was a ‘Megan idea’ and I wasn’t much looking forward to it but by the end of the 3 hours we spent wondering around I wanted to buy the book, get the t-shirt and start digging in our campsite to see what I could uncover. It’s a must for anyone passing down this way.

I realize that I haven’t written much about the car, and that’s because I don’t want to jinx it. I think we are all surprised that we’ve got this far with no ‘incidents’ and other than the expected constant drip of oil out of the bottom of the engine, so far so good! Fingers crossed this unexpected period of reliability holds out!

It’s now Wednesday 2nd today and we have just got back from Naples, so to summarise:

1.     It’s rather noisy.

2.     Red traffic lights have no meaning.

3.     Great pizza.

4.     There’s not a wall without graffiti on it.

5.     Loads of knock off handbags and sunglasses, I mean LOADS, they were even selling then on the police station steps, brazen.

6.     There are no parking spaces in Naples, all one does is stop anywhere one wants and switches those hazards on.

7.     Pavements are for scooters, not people.

So that’s it, you’re all up to date, now to find a wifi connection…….

Tunnel Vision 26.08.10

Posted: August 30, 2010 in 3.Italy

The only way in to Italy was through the Mont Blanc Tunnel, something that I have been excited about driving through for a while, but the 35 euro toll took a little of the shine off and after the first 2 minutes it gets a little….well, boring to be honest. Oh, and there’s also the fact it cost 35€’, did I mention that already?

Tunnels seemed to be the theme of Thursday as we made our way south though Italy and we reckon we must have passed though at least 100 km’s worth of them, none of them charging 35€ I might add. It took 7 hours to drive to the campsite we are presently at, the car performing faultlessly I might add except for making its way though more fuel than the Deep Water horizon pumped into the Gulf of Mexico! (too soon?). The campsite is just north of Siena in an idyllic little town, which looks just as you imagine a Tuscan village should. There is one problem however… Now most people who know me would say that at times I am prone to exaggeration, which I’ve never understood, and being the most amazing guy in the world I find this hard to believe, however, on this particular occasion Megan will stand witness. Within minutes of arriving at the campsite I had been bitten no less than 12 times! This does not bode well for more tropical climates, and insect repellent will now have to be bought in more industrial sized quantities.

So we are currently sitting in the shade of our awning, Megan reading, me blogging with a bottle of the local plonk open, some bread and suitable smelly cheese on the go, basking in the heat of the afternoon wondering if we can really be bothered to go any further…

On a side note, we would both like to thank everyone for the messages of support we have received through the blog, many from people we don’t even know! We really do appreciate it.

And finally, If you see us en route questions you are not currently allowed to ask:

What’s your daily spend these days?

What are those bite like bumps all over your legs Simon?

If you’re not going through Pakistan how much is it going to cost to ship that Land Rover of yours?

Doesn’t Simon’s snoring keep you awake Megan?

What are you going to do once the Cheerios supply runs out, seeing as you can’t buy them anywhere other than Sainsbury’s?

Alpine living 23.08.10

Posted: August 27, 2010 in b.France

I hope, dear reader, that you will indulge me a moment whilst I slip in to the third person to set the scene, it will only happen this once, I promise.

We last left our intrepid travelers feeling a little overawed by things in Dijon. I am happy to report that, as predicted, things are much happier and upbeat in the ‘TrektoOz’ camp after an active stay in the Alps and a peaceful few days in Tuscany.

And we’re back in the room.

During the early hours of Monday, our last night in Dijon, Megan witnessed the most torrential down pour, coupled with some very impressive thunder and lighting. I say Megan witnessed it, as I slept though it all after drinking the majority of the wine that evening. It did mean however that we had to pack up a wet tent in the morning, always a joy. We also noticed that the clothing locker leaked, our bedding box on the roof leaked, the kitchen leaked, and the cooker filled up with water, but to be fair this was only because we left it out. Luckily I had packed a tube of silicone and a pleasant hour was spent filling gaps and getting silicone all over my clothes.

from Megans new camera!

We left Dijon early on Monday morning for the 4 hour drive to the Alps and after the flat, rather boring countryside of the drive through France so far this stretch of road was amazing. The last hour approaching Chamonix was particularly beautiful. We stayed at a campsite we had stayed at before and it’s definitely on my list of top 5 campsites of all time. Waking up and seeing Mont Blanc first thing in the morning is quite fantastic. We did a little sight seeing and visited a village called Megeve, which is one of the most beautiful in France and has achieved a 5 flower rating (which I’m informed is the highest) for its floral displays. St Gervias, where we were staying, only has a 4 flower rating, I guess they just didn’t want it as much.

Megeve was also the scene for one of my all time hilarious comments. Megan was commenting on the fact that the horses pulling buggies for the tourists around town had different coloured hair on their heads compared to the rest of their body, and I explained that this is because they use ‘Just for Manes’! Comedy gold.

We got a cable car up a mountain and walked back down, which doesn’t sound that impressive but when you ignore all the signs, paths and directions, turning what should have been a 40 minute walk into 2 hours believe me, it was.

Dijon 22.08.10

Posted: August 24, 2010 in b.France

After a slight delay, a few fond farewells and the mandatory game of hunt the car keys we left Biggin Hill, family, pets and England on the 21st August 2010.

The journey to Dover was well spent with Megan trying to catch me out with things that I had forgotten to pack, which ended one nil to her when it emerged that I had indeed forgotten our rather nice camping lamp. Never mind, I’m sure Mr Carrefour will have one for us.

An uneventful ferry crossing was followed by a 7 hour drive to Dijon.

Lesson one: although the GPS says the journey will take 6 hours a 4 tonne 1996 Land Rover will be unable to maintain the 130kph required to achieve this, so always add a third to all GPS times.

We have a budget of around 60 pounds a day which, with all the petrol, tolls and ferries of the first day has resulted in us not being able to eat, drink, camp or drive for the next 5.3 days in order to make up for the outrageous over spend of yesterday. Megan will be adding a spreadsheet to the blog in the near future so you have an idea of the cost involved in doing a trip like this, something we have found very useful from other overland blogs.

Lesson two: Although it’s 12 degrees at 0500 in London by 1400 in central France it’s 32 degrees outside and 35 inside a Land Rover, so don’t pack your shorts under liters of WD40 and gear box oil.

We arrived at the campsite in Dijon at 6pm and luckily got the last pitch. Up went the tent, and the admirers crowded round! I say admirers because at least 4 different groups came up looking at the car and showing interest in our trip. It was great meeting these people and it gave us both a boost following the long haul we had just done.

Lesson three: People seem interested in the car and want a guided tour, it’s therefore a good idea to ensure the mass quantities of toilet paper are hidden from view!

So that was day one and I am writing this on day two, still in Dijon as we have spent the day repacking and sorting the car. It’s strange, I think I speak for Megan as well, but we are both experiencing mixed emotions. There is the sadness of leaving friends and family, anxiety about the massive distances we have to travel and whether the Land Rover will make it, excitement about all the amazing sights we are going to see and worry about whether all this was a good idea. I’m sure we will settle into things but at the moment we feel very much on edge.

Lesson four: Attempt to relax.

Turbo Lag

Posted: August 12, 2010 in a.Preparation

We all knew it would happen, even with all the planning, all the precautions, all the money thrown at it and still the Land Rover breaks down with 3 days to go. Well perhaps that’s not fair, it was running but the turbo, yes it has a turbo, was blowing more oil than air around the engine. I’m not very mechanical but even I realise that might be an issue. Currently it’s back at Douglass Motors awaiting a new turbo. It’s all very upsetting but we are trying to be upbeat and look on the bright side: at least we can enjoy the British summer for a few extra days,oh wait…….

Other than the turbo things are on track;

The Indian Visas have been issued

We have travel insurance!

We have car insurance from a company in Holland that will cover our whole trip and only costs £500 instead of the 3 grand we were quoted in the UK. This even covers the European Green card, bargain!

The the Carnet has been issued.

We have both been injected with Tetanus and Yellow Fever.

So it’s all slowly slowly coming together, which is lucky seeing as we have very little time left. The big day is now set for Thursday the 19th August, any one wishing to come down to Dover with fireworks, banners and sandwiches will be very welcome and we will see you there at 5am for the ferry!

Stickers!

Posted: August 6, 2010 in a.Preparation

Thanks to my brother’s friend John Wool and his company ‘Mr Sticker’, (quaility name by the way), we now have a sticker to put on the side of the truck. I’m very impressed and it almost gives the impression that we have some idea of what we are doing. (We don’t.)

With a little over a week to go things are getting a little frantic.

Outstanding items:

1. Carnet not yet received from RAC

2. Still trying to source a water filter for the drinking water supply

3. Rear brakes on the Land Rover to fix as they have just started leaking, brilliant

4. No travel insurance

5. No car insurance

6. Still waiting to hear the price of shipping the truck from Iran to India

7. International driving license

8. A number of Lonely Planet guides still outstanding.

Hopefully by Wednesday of next week we will have a big tick next to 90% of the above items. If not, Megan and I might not be talking to one another, as apparently I should have done most of these things months ago, but that wouldn’t be the Maple way. Last minute panic, that’s the way I like it.

Indian visa Issues

Posted: August 5, 2010 in a.Preparation

Just a word of warning to those of you contemplating a similar trip; we had a few issues at the Indian visa office today.

1. You can’t get a full one year tourist visa unless you are an Indian national (why would you need one if you already have an Indian passport?!) or you have a full itinerary with exact dates and airline tickets, not really practical for an overland trip.

2. If you want to exit India and go to Nepal (or anywhere else for that matter) you have to stay out for 2 months before you can get back in to India! Doh. However if you have a fully planned itinerary, which we don’t,  you might be able to get back in sooner.

So not really a good day, we are going to be very tight on time in India and may not be able to go to Nepal……….

Packing

Posted: August 3, 2010 in a.Preparation

With 2 weeks to go we thought it would be a good idea to start packing. August the 16th, our off date, is fast approaching and with the exception of our visas, injections, Carnet, international driving license, passport photos, tent, a finalised route, ferry ticket and tea bags we’re good to go!