Follow Amanda & Rob around the world for a year. From 30 September 2005!

Friday, December 23, 2005

Tahiti, the Cooks and HAPPY CHRISTMAS!

Kia Orana ('May you live long', NOT a brand of orange squash) from the Cook Islands!

Well I think we can safely say that we had the longest 33 hours of our lives so far when we made our journey from Costa Rica to Tahiti, via LA.

The first problem croppedup when we arrived in LA and my bag didn't turn up on the carousel. United could only tell us for sure that it reached Guatemala... so we went to check in for our Air NZ flight to Tahiti, only to be told that they couldn't find us booked onto that flight. Turned out United hadn't informed NZ of the changes we had made to our itinerary, but to cut a long story short Air NZ were wonderful and sorted it all out for us.

We still didn't know where my pack was so waited the next 7 hours to board the flight assuming we'd have to wait a day in Tahiti for it to turn up. But we arrived in Tahiti and jumped for joy when my bag was sat there, yay!
One thing though, it was raining very hard, we had been given ponchos as we stepped off the plane (along with a pretty flower to put in our hair). We made our way by ferry to Moorea, an outer island with a circumference of 60km (37 miles) and stayed at a campsite in the village of Haapiti. However due to the rain I refused to camp, so we got a room instead :-)

We were exhausted and disillusioned after the journey and the disappointing weather, but the next 6 days of sunshine (interspersed with short sharp showers) more than made up for it. We went snokelling in the lagoon right by the campsite, cycled part way round the island (too hot to go all the way), walked to a waterfall and enjoyed the sun and sea. It wasn't quite as we expected - the coast was white sand and palm trees, but inland was muggy volcanic mountains covered in luch green vegetation. Absolutely beautiful and magical.

A little overexuberance in a late-night drinking game (the one with the plastic bits that hold cans of beer together) led to Rob falling backwards off a picnic bench. The consequence - a broken rib. The fool. Full story when we get home.

Local speciality is raw tuna fish dipped in coconut milk, which we tried one evening (our splurge night). It was delicious.
Everything was expensive, so the days' food revolved around the baguette bought each morning, well it is French after all.

And now we are sat on the lovely island of Rarotonga in the Cook Islands. We were here for 3 nights before heading to Aitutaki, an outer island. It was simply heaven on earth, we'll let the pictures do the talking when we have a chance to upload them. The people are so friendly and the island and lagoon so beautiful, we didn't want to leave!

On returning from Aitutaki today we went to stock up on Xmas food supplies, and afterwards in the carpark were offered a lift home by a local family. On hearing that we hadn't yet sampled any fresh local mangoes, they promptly performed a u-turn and took us to an uncle's house to pick mangoes straight from his tree. This is just one example of the generosity and kindness of the Cook Islanders.

We now have 3 more nights here on Rarotonga before flying to Auckland on 27th. Xmas day will likely be spent on the beach, with Santa hats on of course! I am off diving tomorrow (R has cried off with his rib excuse), otherwise more sun and snorkelling.

It may be a bit late but we wish you all a very MERRY CHRISTMAS and a Happy 2006. Enjoy the festivities, I know we will!

Til next time,
Rob and Amanda

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Final thoughts on Central America

As we prepare to leave Central America for the pacific islands, I thought I would note a few of our thoughts on this group of 7 countries, 5 of which we have visited.

Before we started our travels, Central America was the ´scary´place on our route, the countries where we thought we may be unsafe and it would be difficult to get around, buses would be infrequent and unreliable and we would be constantly paranoid that someone would nick our iPods. How wrong we were! Until a few days ago I was looking forward to leaving CA to start the next phase of our trip (we have mentally broken it down into bitesized chunks to make it easier to digest!). However, I recently realised that I´m not sure I want to leave after all.

Aside from a few bad habits, we have had a wonderful experience here - it is unbelieveably easy to travel around and extremely traveller-friendly. OK, we haven´t exactly made it off the beaten track, but even so, I have been pleasantly surprised by the frequency and punctuality of buses, people are generally friendly, helpful and a good source of information, and we have not had one bad experience concerning our safety. Aside from that, we have come to be used to the little things that make this place different. The chicken buses which have our packs balanced precariously on top no longer scare us, and a bumpy ride isn´t a bad thing, it´s fun! You get to see a lot more from a bus window than from the air. I even commented the other day when we got a fancy minibus to a Costa Rican reserve that it wasn´t very nice because I couldn´t see out of the windows properly (they were kind of blacked out), never mind that the seats were very comfy and it was air conditioned, I wanted a view!

There are a few things that I didn´t appreciate, e.g. in Guatemala it seemed that it was acceptable to urinate on the side of a street in public, in Honduras the people were generally a little miserable and the men insisted on spitting loudly and publicly, and in Nicaragua people threw all their rubbish right out of the bus window without a second thought. Costa Rica, although very beautiful, is also relatively expensive compared to the rest, due to too many tourists. But hey, you can´t have it all.

If anyone needs inspiration where to go for a 2-3 week holiday, I would certainly recommend going to Guatemala, Belize or Nicaragua, or indeed all three!

So, until the next time amigos - we´re flying from San Jose to LA on Friday morning and then overnight on Friday night from LA to Tahiti. It will be a shock to the system I expect, especially the price increases!


Wednesday, December 07, 2005

The Rest of Central America

Rather than the usual irrelevant rubbish that I have been writing so far about cheesecakes and monkeys, I have been assigned the task this time of actually trying to describe what we have been up to over the past couple of weeks. So, I will rise to the challenge and try and remember some of what we did.

We were in Honduras for only a few days. To be honest, we didn´t like the place. The people were unfriendly and rude, and we just didn´t feel too comfortable there. It rained a lot too which didn´t help, but talking to other travellers, it is a general consensus that Hondurans are a pretty miserable bunch. I don´t like to generalise, but they are. It was the build up to the election there so we had lots of trucks driving around blaring out music and beeping horns. Now Central Americans do love a good beep of the horn, and a horn beep meaning anything from ´Get out of my way´, ´Hello, how are you?´, ´Jump on board´or ´Oh look, you are driving a clapped out old school bus too. Do you have a full set of wheels?´, but the election just meant a beeping frenzy for everyone. Last I heard, they were still counting the votes. I hope the bloke with sticking out ears wins rather than the guy with the ´tache. He had a more catchy theme tune which Amanda was singing regularly by the time we left Honduras.

We did have one nice day in Honduras where we visited some natural hot springs near Gracias. Had the place to ourselves, floating around and relaxing in the middle of the highland forest.

Nicaragua we liked. Originally we were going to steam through, but we had heard good things about it, and we ended up spending 10 days there. Little known fact, after Canada, Nicaragua is the second safest country in the North American continent. And we did feel very safe there. We spent a few days in Granada in a super sweet hostel, with a large number of hammocks and a pool, and even a few free phonecalls! Went to the market in Managua and bought some souvenirs. Was interesting bartering with the market traders. From there it was over to the Ometepe Island in Lake Nicaragua, where we camped next to the lake for 3 nights, and slept badly due to the heat. Went on a very long and hot walk halfway up a volcano to a magnificent waterfall (see picture on flickr). We must have sweated buckets that day and I slipped and fell in the stream and squelched all the way home. Amanda chuckled heartily. Also saw another snake. We then did a canopy tour which was fun. Flying through the jungle upside down on rope, was most entertaining. I screamed like a girl the whole way too.
The buses on Ometepe seemed to be the worst of a bad bunch; this wasn´t helped by the fact that most of the roads were akin to a ploughed field, meaning it took roughly 1 hour to cover 4 km.

Then on to San Juan del Sur for a few days on the Pacific Coast. Took a water taxi to nearby Majagual beach, which was beautiful and there were gert big waves there. I loved it and pretty much spent the whole day in the water either trying to ride the waves on the pink bodyboard I had hired or being knocked over by the waves. Mainly the latter. A fine day.

We left San Juan and went over the border to Costa Rica (continuing on the animal stories, we observed a woman trying to put a pig in a sack whilst waiting at a bus stop. This was most amusing. Eventually she got the pig in the sack and made a little hole for his snout to poke out and we all boarded the bus for the border. Think the pig was going to Costa Rica too. Judging by the struggle he put up when he was being put in the sack, it must have been a challenge to sit him down in the photo booth for his passport photo though.)

Spent the last few days in Monteverde where we did a walk in the rainforest, some of it on suspension bridges looking down on the rainforest. Cue me doing lots of impressions of Shortround whilst jumping up and down and wobbling the bridges, saying "It´s safe, Dr. Jones". It was cool to see the various layers of the forest, that I had studied many moons ago at Manorbrook. The next day we went to another rain forest, this time a little lower down, where we saw a white faced monkey swinging through the trees.

So that is it in a nutshell. Obviously, there have been numerous games of scrabble and many hours of travelling on buses in between. I think we are over 150 hours of travel for the trip already, including over 60 hours on buses. We are grateful for our iPods I can tell you. They rank up with head lamps in the invention league. Sticking an iPod on random can often come up with the most appropriate music for a particular journey. Today, for example, we were cruising through some gorgeous, green, lush, mountain scenery and Glory Box by Portishead came on. It was perfect. Next song to pop up was ´The One and Only´by Chesney Hawkes, which didn´t fit quite so well, but you can´t win ém all. Albums I am listening to a lot at the mo are Joined Up Writing by My Life Story and See the Morning In by Grand Drive which both have some fine tunes on. On Amanda´s pink iPod there is a lot of Morcheeba being played currently, and she entertains me daily with her loud renditions of ´Come Home Billy Bird´.

So now we are in San Jose and we fly on Friday morning to LA, spending 7 hours at LA airport before arriving in Papeete, Tahiti early on Saturday. We are really excited to be going somewhere new, although we have enjoyed Central America immensely. San Jose is OK, much more commercial than anywhere else we have been, we did find a superb supermarket today though which was very exciting. We also wandered round the other shops which are full of Christmas stuff. It is really strange, seeing snowmen and Christmas trees everywhere when the sun is shining.

Anyway, this will be it for a while. Watch out for an extra special Xmas blog probably some time around the 20th Dec. Thanks to everyone for their comments on the blog. Glad people are reading it and enjoying it. Its a great way for us to record our experiences as we go along. We added some more pictures to Flickr yesterday, so have a look if you have a moment.