Sunday, December 16, 2007


Note: belated because Amy wrote it and asked me to look over it. I forgot. Here'tis. Now you can all quit your wingin'.

We are back in Hobart now and I know no-one will read this any more, but we have to finish it properly.

After Boston we went back to New York for one night. Luckily the Broadway strikes had finished, and we got to see The Lion King - yay! Even if it did use up most of the money we had left!

The next morning we got up early to catch a train to Montreal. As we headed north more and more snow appeared, until eventually all the lakes were frozen and no grass was in sight.

We stayed with Jason's second cousin, Angela, and her two lovely children - Felixe and Maxim. It was great to catch up with them all, and the kids certainly kept us busy!

We went to an awesome bakery for some yummy French pastries...

We went for a walk in the snow-c0vered park with Felixe and Maxim. There is a hill there that all the kids have fun playing on. They get all sorts of sleds and mats and snow boards and fly down the hill. It looked like so much fun, although Jason said it is a little rough on the knees!

On our last night in Montreal we stayed at a really nice hotel and had the nicest food ever. The meat was sooo tender. And my chocolate pudding was perfect, with yummy chocolate sauce oozing out off a small chocolate cake, served with rich vanilla ice cream. Mmmmmmmm.

The next day we sadly made our way to the airport to begin our long journey home.

After 30 hours of either being on a plane or in an airpot, we finally arrived in Sydney. We got through customs surprisingly quickly - it's so much faster when you don't have to do fingerprinting and photos like in America! Then we headed over to the baggage collection place. We waited and waited. The same bags were going round and round. Finally we realised that our bags weren't going to come out. Then some airport staff informed us that our bags were still in LA. So all we had was our carry-on luggage for our stay in Sydney, which consisted of random toiletries and a few items of clothing none of which were suitable to wear in sunny Sydney. So we had to buy everything - hopefully our travel insurance will cover that. Our luggage should be arriving in Hobart either today or tomorrow - fingers crossed!

We had a really good time in Sydney. We stayed at our friend's place, and she kindly drove us around places and made us scrambled eggs for breakfast. We went to Campos and had some good coffee and yummy pastries, wandered around Newtown, then took the ferry back to Manly.

Thanks to everyone who kept in touch with us while we were away and commented on our blog - it helped us to not be so homesick. We're really happy to be back and can't wait to see everyone.

Thursday, December 6, 2007


We thought DC was a little chilly, but we weren't prepared for mounds of snow beside the road when we arrived in Boston! The first thing on our agenda was to buy scarves and gloves. This wasn't as easy as it sounds - for some reason most of the scarves available were really thin and had holes in them - not very good for blocking out wind!

We spent our first day walking around the "Freedom Trail", which covers most of the historic sites in Boston. If there is one thing this holiday has done, it has proven once and for all that I have a much better sense of direction than Jason (now I better publish this post quickly before Jason manages to read this and delete it).

(a frozen lake)

We didn't quite finish the trail - I got distracted by some bargains at a clothing boutique, and then by a cafe with really good hot chocolates. Some fresh snow as we walked home finished the day off nicely.

On our second day we went to the original Cheers (ie the pub the TV show was based on) ........

...........and then to Harvard..........

Tomorrow morning we catch an early train back to New York. Hoepfully the Broadway strikes will be over and we can watch the Lion King. Then the next morning we head to Montreal.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Washington DC

On Thursday we had a 3 hour train ride to Washington DC, which was much quieter and more relaxed than the bustle of New York. I wanted to put up a photo to show everyone our wonderful family and hosts, but they bribed us with lots of wine and hot chocolate, so we better not. My Aunty Debbie met us at the station and took us to their friends house where we stayed.

They were all very welcoming and it was great to be able to relax there and eat real home-cooked food for a few days!! I got rather into Sudoku while we were there, although that was nothing compared to my puzzle addiction.....

We saw all the major sights....

The Capitol, where some students in costumes sang us some Christmas Carols

The White House
The monuments

We went to the National Portrait Gallery. I challenge you to tell me which president this is a sculpture of.....

A sculpture park (this huge spider is just for you Mum!!!)

It was really nice to go to a city with family there - much more relaxing than staying in a hotel room. And because it was cold I got to snuggle up in front of an open fire - one of my favourite things to do.
One last thing..... Happy Birthday to my wonderful 20 year old sister (I know it's not really your birthday any more, but it is here for another 6 hours!!). We hope you had a fantastic day and love you very much.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

New York, New York

The New York skyline over the Central Park Resovoir at sunset

Its amazing what you can do with a low-end digital camera when you've got views like this to shoot!

New York was an absolte breath of fresh air (Ok, perhaps that wasn't the best phrase to use there, the air wasn't exactly easy to breathe at times, but bare with me - I'm tired). Especially having come from LA. The people were courtious, the city felt safe and the public transport system was fantastic. Also, New York bagels are a great (and cheap) breakfast.

When we arrived at our hotel (The Vanderbilt YMCA), we were greeted by a modern and great looking foyer containing a modern and great looking receptionist. We checked in and got our keys, then headed upstairs.
When the elevator doors opened, we thought it'd taken us to another building. The corridor was old and the doors to the rooms were much too close together to allow us to hold any hope that we'd get a big room.
Imagine an empty broom closet. Now imagine that same broom closet with a bunk bed and a colour tv. Thats it, you've got it.
Basically the room was only good for sleeping in which turned out to be fine. We spent more time out exploring than we did in our room anyway.

On the first day we caught the subway to Central Park and made our way to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Inside we found a great many things, too many to list here. I hear a picture speaks a thousand words, so I'll let it do it for me -

(What words come to mind for you?(Please, not a thousand))

After that we wandered Central Park. It was absolutely breath-taking in the fall. The leaves were all a golden brown and falling on the ground. The park was quiet, but we still found some interesting sights. There was a large group of people dancing on roller skates/blades around a DJ who was doofing away. I understand the kids call them phat beats. There was even a dude dancing on a Segway with a lady on skates!

^Spot Amy at Bethesda Fountain!

^A squirrel on the move

Visited Times Square almost every day we were there. There was just so much to see!
We went to Ripley's, ate hot-dogs, saw Hitman at the cinema (To Steve: Nyah nyah!) and even got to see Mary Poppins on Broadway, despite the stage-hand strike! The Broadway show was just incredible. I didn't much expect to be excited by a Disney film adaption, but it was great. The sets were perfect, the music was faithfully reproduced and sung and the special effects were amazing. We hope that the strike has finished in time for our trip to Montreal from Boston. We have an overnight stay in New York on the 6th of Dec and really want to see The Lion King.

I'm almost asleep at the keyboard here so I'll keep it short from now on (Amy's already asleep).

We walked across brooklyn bridge which afforded us some beautiful views of the city. Well worth the sore feet!
We even got to see one of the many iterations of Law and Order being filmed! We were ushered off the set very quickly, but not before I got a shot of some guy I understand is a main character.

Well, thats all from me. I could go on, but these toothpicks are hurting my eyelids.
Goodnight all.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Ecuador (Jason's perspective)

Well, computers have been few and far between for a few days, not because there aren't any, but because we've been non-stop! Subsequently this is a long post. There will be a test.

We've been on a tour of Ecuador for the last 9 days. We've been to quite a few places in the Capital city of Quito, we crossed the Andes and decended into the Amazon Jungle, we travelled to Baños then climbed the highest active volcano in the world. Very busy!

I've found South America to be fantastic fun, but quite draining. The language barrier can be difficult to overcome. You can get your point across, but you spend a lot of time feeling quite powerless.

On to the stuff you care about-
Amy has told you about the landslide and the jungle, so let me tell you about Baños.

Spot Amy in Baños!

We arrived in Baños after a gruelling 4 hour journey across roads that are barely fit for wheeled vehicles. Motion sickness was a real concern for a large proportion of the group.
When we arrived in Baños we checked into our hotel and went out for a meal. I only bring this up because I love to play pool, yet the pool table at the pub-like place seemed to have developed a personal vendetta against me before I could say to my fellow travellers "Prepare to lose a lot of money".
When I attempted to remove the triangle rack from the balls, they all rolled away from the beautiful shape I'd created with my own blood, sweat and tears.
I seem to have become adept at playing 'curve balls', but have yet to develop any accuracy with them. Perhaps it was due to the fact that the table was not even close to flat. I could almost hear the sound of spirit-levels screaming in the night.

Needless to say, my opponents wallets were quite safe that night.

The next morning I got up early to get ready for the day's activities. Unfortunately Amy had been quite sick for the previous night and all throughout the day (probably due to dodgy prawns at the place the night before) and was not able to join me in attempting to die of adrenaline poisoning.

I got into a van with two other people from my tour. The van was crewed by 5 guys who could only be described as yahoos. They were hooting at women as we passed them, making crude jokes and looking luridly at two girls from our group who grabbed a lift to go Canyoning.
Once we were on the river though, they were all business and very professional.

White water rafting is incredibly fun.
I've never done it before, and due to my uncomfortable relationship with water it wasn't something I'd been planning to do. I'm very glad I plucked up the courage to go because it was no where near as bad as I was imagining. The waves weren't too big, the water didn't shift into a huge face with a gaping maw which would attempt to swallow me whole, only to get indigestion. I didn't die.
We travelled 18 kilometers along a river which has a name that is too hard to type. No-one fell overboard, though not through lack of trying.

The next adventure was Quad-Biking. 5 of us set out, 4 of us on 3 quads, 1 of us on a motorbike. It turned out to be very fortunate that someone took a bike because it was the only reliable vehicle in our little convoy. You get a bike and a map and total freedom. We decided to visit Buenavista, a lookout that provides people with incredible views of the city, as long as they have the vehicle to take them up a mountain. Not even half way up, my quad spluttered and died leaving me stranded. I got the attention of my good mate Lorne (a loud Canadian who is one part awesome and 5 parts incredible fun) and he gave me a ride on the back of the bike back to the place we hired the gear from. They provided me with another quad and took the broken down one away. I finally made it up to the top after getting chased by no less than 5 dogs and took in the view in the 5 minutes I had left before having to return.
On the way back I lagged behind the others due to the fact that my quad was a steaming pile of crap on wheels. On a main road just outside of town, the bike spluttered to a stop. I kicked it. It started. There was nothing wrong with the engine this time, it appeared to be straining against the brakes. A piece of metal had sheared off and gotten stuck in the brake handle, holding it down. I yanked it out and zoomed off on my merry way. When I arrived in town again, a taxi stopped suddenly in front of me so I deaccelarated and hit the brakes. Nothing happend. Evidently the piece of metal I pulled out was important. The brakes no longer worked - I was steaming towards the back of an expensive looking taxi with no way to stop myself. I decided that the only way I was going to come to a halt was to hit something hard so I turned towards the curb. Being an all-terrain quad bike, it jumped up onto the footpath instead of coming to the sudden halt I had been hoping for. So, picture a small footpath, filled with locals and tourists diving out of the way of a frantic Australian wearing a silly helmet doing 30kph directly towards them. Once my brain caught up with my reflexes, I hit the kill-switch to stop the engine and pulled off the footpath and came to a halt in the middle of the road. As I sat there trying to digest what just happened, I looked behind me to see the taxi I'd just 'overtaken' shaking his fist and honking his horn telling me to get out of the way. He was soon joined by no less than 4 other taxis, all making the same gestures and honking their horns.
I gingerly started up again and pulled over, stopping myself with my feet to allow the taxis to pass. I got off the bike and walked back a few metres to collect my courage which must have fallen out somewhere along the way, then returned to the bike and slowly made my way back to the rental place without being able to stop at any stop signs or for pedestrians. Now, just to be clear - its very hard to explain to a woman who speaks naught but Latin-American Spanish that the brakes on a quad bike are actually essential to the experience. She grabbed the brake handle and attempted to move the bike. The damned thing didn't move an inch. The brakes were strong enough to stop the bike from moving from stationary, but not under power. I couldn't be bothered getting the point across and to be frank, didn't want to get back on the hell-bike to show her. I gave her back the helmet, thanked her very much for the adventure and walked away.

Meanwhile, Amy had a bit of a sleep in, did some shopping and drank some passable coffee. It would have been nice if she could have joined me for the day's activities, but she just wasn't well enough. It isn't a huge problem because we can do them all at home anyway, with a modicum of safety.
That said, she did have a brush with danger. While drinking coffee in one of the better cafes in town, a local man approached her with a small child. He stood nearby while the child sat at the same table with Amy and started playing with the sugar. After a minute or so, he told Amy that he didn't want to interrupt and that the child was his nephew. Amy smiled and continued to drink her coffee and write postcards. Eventually the child and the man got bored and left. Immediately, the dutch woman who ran the cafe came out and asked Amy what the man had said to her and explained that he was one of the main drug dealers in town and likes to approach single looking women and "ruin their lives". I'm not sure what this entails, but I'm equally sure I don't want to find out. So much for Baños being a safe city. I guess 'safe' is a relative term.

The cafe

We left Baños the next day and headed up a crazy-bumpy road to Cotapaxi, the tallest active volcano in the world. This wasn't particularly exciting as it was absolutely covered in cloud. We got a photo of the sign telling you in meters how high we were.
This little side trip was probably not worth the effort as we didn't get any views. This was compounded by the fact that one of the ladies in our group had gotten gastro, coupled with the bumpy road, coupled with altitude sickness. We made 4 vomit-stops on the way down. She did a great job though - she didn't get a drop in or on the van.

Thats about all from me for now. Posting next from New York!

Amazon Jungle

Once we got back to Quito from the Galapagos Islands we had a couple of nights in Quito with day trips. On the first day our tour guide, Alberto, took us around Quito. We saw a few Catholic churches. One was amazing - beautiful paintings everywhere, and almost entirely covered in gold. He told us that this one was established by a group of powerful Catholics. The next church he showed us was dark and dusty, with a creaky dirty wooden floor, and few decorations. He said that this church was made by a group of Catholics who are more humble and don't think that power and riches are important.

The next day we went on a day trip to Otavallo, an Indian market town. We bought a few things there. It was a massive market - apparently the biggest one in South America. Everything was really dirty, and we were definitely too scared to eat anything! The toilets were really gross - you pay 10 cents, then get a given a few sheets of toilet paper. The floor was all wet and gross, and the smell was soooo bad. Then we went to a small town famous for selling leather products. A big long street was basically all leather shops. We didn't buy much there, although it was all really cheap.

The next morning we headed to the jungle. First we had to drive for about 2 hours up into the Andes mountains. It was freezing cold and cloud-covered at the highest point. We crossed the equator on our way up...

(if you look closely our tour group is lined up along the equator line)

Then we began our descent, and the lower we got the more pretty flowers, waterfalls and nice green rainforrest trees there were. All was going well until we saw some traffic stopped ahead of us. Alberto said "this doesn't look good" and got out to investigate. About half an hour earlier there had been a massive landslide, so the road was blocked with mounds of mud and trees. A lot of cars were just turning around and going back. But luckily there was another Gecko tour bus on the other side of the landslide trying to get out of the jungle, and we managed to negotiate a bus-swap. So we loaded all our luggage onto our backs and tried not to slip over as we made our way about 60 metres over mud and branches.

(the landslide is the bare muddy cliff behind the bus, and down the bottom left you can see people carrying their luggage across the fallen mud and trees)

We were significantly more dirty by the time we got to the other side, but had a big luxury bus waiting for us. There were only 8 of us, so it was nice to be able to spread out.

About another half an hour down the road there was another landslide that had just occurred. Luckily this one wasn't as big, and there was just enough room for the bus to squeeze past the pile of mud, except for a tree trunk blocking the way. So our bus driver magically pulled a machette out from under his seat and hacked away at the tree. And then we were on our way again. This bus driver could only take us as far as a town still and hour away from our lodge. So after some lunch in that town we hired a ute to take us the rest of the way. I sat in the front, but Jason and some of the others had to sit in the tray of the ute - they had a great time, but I think they were all rather bruised by the end of it!

We arrived at a river and piled into a long canoe and motored down stream to our lodge - there are no roads in that part of the jungle, and all transport is via the river. The lodge had no electricity, so we had to use candles and torches which was fun. There were mosquitoes and sandflies everywhere so we took heaps of vitamin B and smothered ourselves in insect repellant. I think Jason got a bit sick of me pointing out all the bugs, and all the places in our cabin where bugs could potentially get in.

The next day we put on some gumboots and went for a walk through the jungle. It was really hot and humid, and we all had sweat pouring off us.

(our guide explaining something to us - he had to hit everything he was talking about with his machette)

(This is a bad photo of a really tiny cute stick insect)

We finally arrived at Amazoonica - a centre for injured animals. We saw tucans, ocelots, monkeys, pig-like animals, and funny-looking huge rodents. The most bizzarre animals were some big guinea pig-like creatures that were at least knee-height. My favourite was the tiny monkeys - they were so cute!!

To cool off at the end of the day we put our bathers on and floated down the river on inner tubes - we'd highly recommend it next time you're in the jungle! Although I hate to think what nasties were hiding in the murky water.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Galapagos Islands

Our four days on the Galapagos Islands were the highlight of the trip so far.
Amy got quite seasick, but luckily one of our fellow tourists was kind enough to give us some seasickness tablets. The only downside to them was that they completely knock you out. On the other other hand, this meant that Amy could actually sleep through the rocking of the boat.

The fact that all of the islands were formed by volcanic erruption completely blows my mind. Before the first erruption, there was nothing there but empty sea!

We saw sealions on almost every island, both marine and land iguanas, blue footed boobies, red-breasted frigatebirds, Galapagos tortoises, sea turtles, bright red crabs on dark black rocks and all manner of incredible volcanic creations.

We were extremely fortunate to be in a tour group that consisted of great people.
Of the 16 tourists on board, there were 5 aussies (1 ex-pat returning home from the UK), 5 Canadians, 1 American and 5 UKians.
Charles (the American) happened to be from New York and gave us lists of things to do and see, and (most importantly) a place to go to get good coffee.

The boat we were on was really good, the crew were extremely efficient and the tour guide was extremely knowledgeable and helpful. I don't think we could have asked for more (except maybe time and money!)

We're keen for updates on:
- The election
- Church stuff
- New haircuts and facial hair (*looks pointedly at the Wilkins...*)
- Family stuff
- Anything else people would think we'd be interested in.

Other photos-

Our tour group.

A metric tonne of marine iguanas.

We were sitting down eating our lunch when our tour guide told us to come up on deck to see some dolphins. We were very pleasantly surprised when they turned out to be a pod of pilot wales! This a an amazing sight that isn't common in the Galapagos. Even the crew and the tour guide were taking photos!

Monday, November 12, 2007

Safely in Quito

We made it.
If you look closely, you'll see that the Asientos (seats) are 1D and 1F and the word 'BUSINESS' at the top of the boarding voucher...
Yep. Due to the fact that we were delayed yesterday, and the long amount of time we spent attempting to check in this morning meant they upgraded us to Business class for the two hour flight to Quito!

We got to relax in the big comfy chairs with lots of leg room, ate our Caesar salad, a glass of white wine and enjoyed our Cinnamon cake with coffee. We reclined our seats, watched some Cold Case then read our books.

So yes Mum, we made it here safely. You can stop worrying now. When we landed at the airport we could see the crashed plan still hanging off the edge of the runway. It was an incredible sight. Unfortunately I couldn't take any photos of it because electronic devices were "Not to be used until well inside the terminal".
After the runway, there was a bit of a downward slope so the plane was leaning over to one side. I could just imagine the yellow inflatable slides hanging from it and people streaming down them.

The hotel in Quito isn't bad. We've got a meeting for the start of our tour at 5pm. We take a small plane flight to Baltra Island tomorrow morning to begin our four day cruise.

More info when we get back to the mainland!

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Apparently bad luck strikes in threes...

Jason has finally let me use the blog (since I had to show him how to do something on the computer today!). Anyway, back to the story...

Bad luck #1:

This first one we already mentioned in a previous post - the fact that there just happened to be a transport strike the day we were due to go to Machu Picchu. We still made it there, but just had to leave earlier (ie 5:30am - our body clocks are getting so messed up!)

Bad luck #2:

On the way back from Machu Picchu the train was really late. It ambled along at nearly walking pace, and randomly stopped for rather long periods of time with no explanation. We finally arrived back in Cuzco at 11pm, where a Transfer was supposed to meet us to take us back to our hotel. They weren't there. So we were stuck in Cuzco in the middle of the night with no idea what to do (Cuzco is safer than Lima, but you still wouldn't want to be a tourist there at night). We tried to make a phone call to either our hotel or Tucan (the company who was supposed to provide the transfer), but we couldn't get the public phones to work. There were lots of taxis around, but we had been warned not to use them - they are very dodgy. Eventually we had no option other than to take one of these taxis. It was a tiny tiny car, covered in dents and rust, which we were surpised even started. Luckily the driver took us straight to our hotel.

Our taxi looked a bit like this, but imagine blue and way more dodgy

Not long after midnight we finally made it to bed.

Bad luck #3:

We got up at 4am this morning (that means we got less than 4 hrs sleep) so that we could get to the airport to fly from Cuzco to Lima then from Lima to Quito (in Ecuador). The plan was that we would be in Quito by about lunch time then have a day to relax before heading off to the Galapagos Islands. Of course nothing is ever that simple!

When we arrived at Cuzco airport we were informed that there had been a plane crash (apparently it ran off the end of the runway) in Quito, so Quito airport was closed. (Note from Jason: Mum, stop panicking) So we could get to Lima, but no further. Also the flight from Cuzco to Lima was delayed by more than 4 hours. Oh, and by the way, in the girls toilets in Cuzco there is no toilet paper acutally inside the cubicles. There is a big roll of toilet paper near the hand basins where you have to get your supply first. I'm not used to having to budget my toilet paper. I have no idea how much I use in a 'sitting'*! It's strange how such small, but significant differences remind me of how lucky we are in Australia.

When we arrived in Lima we had to try to book more tickets to Quito (we will hopfully be leaving Lima tomorrow morning) and find some accommodation in Lima for the night. Hardly anyone speaks English and our Spanish is rather less than fluent, so it took us a few hours to finally get things sorted.

We are hoping bad luck really does only strike in threes.

*please note that parts of this post were heavily edited by Jason - he can't help himself!

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Machu Picchu

It was just our luck, there was a transport strike on the day we were travelling to Machu Picchu. The trains were still running, it just meant that we had to leave Cuzco at 5:30am instead of 6:30am, and of course, we didn't actually end up boarding the train until 6:30 anyway.

A very slow train trip took us past lots of small villages and some amazing scenery. 4.5 hours later we arrived in Aguas Calientes - a small (touristy) village near Machu Picchu. After some (extremely cheesy) pizza with our personal guide, we took the 25min bus up the side of a mountain to Machu Picchu.

The ruins were absoltely breathtaking. We were perched on the top of a mountain, with literally nothing (at times) between us and a very long fall into the river 400 metres below.

Our guide explained the theories about the Incas and what the ruins were used for. We explored why they would have chosen this incredibly remote location for their home and how they made it practical.

The mountain we were on was surrounded by a range of other mountains. You should get an idea what we mean when you see the video once we return.

Tonight we catch the return train to Cuzco to sleep in preperation for an early flight to Lima, then Quito in Ecuador. Then off to the Galapagos Islands.