Category Archives: Travel

Mike & Tanja in Guatamala

Hi All,

Things are going very well down here in Guatemala. We have settled in
to life here in Antigua, a small colonial-style city about 45min west
of the capital, which is also a bit of a tourist/volunteer hub. We
arrived going on two months now, and are living in our third, and
hopefully final residence, but you never know.

We came through the States on the way, to visit a friend of ours in
Chicago, which was fantastic. The highlight was of course seeing the
Red Sox give the White Sox a baseball lesson, in bright sunshine, 3
rows from the dugout. Although, there was the rainout the night
before, which had us waiting in the wind and rain for 3 hours before
they called off the game and rescheduled it for the next day. A
labour of love on my part in any case, which my very understanding
wife agreed to sit through! Chicago is a really nice modern city,
particularly in the summer. Worth a stop if you are in the area.

We arrived in Guatemala and went straight to Antigua, to stay our
first week with a local family. This was good for the Spanish, and
the food was great. The Guatemalan diet is varied and delicious, with
re-fried beans, tortillas, salads, all kinds of vegetables that you
have never seen before, hot sauces, and everything that you could
possible do with corn. We moved out of there to a residence after a
week, which was run by the biggest tight-arse this side of the
equator. We met interesting people though, which comprised mainly
people 50+ years old, who have come to Guatemala for a sea-change.
Each one has there very different story, but sometimes it is hard to
tell them apart.

I started work for a little primary school a few kilometers away in
Ciudad Vieja, which was started by a young Guatemalan couple, and
which caters for kids who cannot afford to get into the public school
system. Only primary education is public in Guatemala, and apparently
the standards are nothing to write home about. I did, however notice
a big difference between the kids who had been sponsored to go to
primary school, and came to the school for some extra tutoring, and
the kids who were at the school for the entire day. It was a great
experience to teach kids, which is something I had never really done
before, and of course it involved a lot of practice of the imperative.

We know live in a volunteer house with an amazing view of the Volcan
de Agua, which towers over Antigua. Tanja started with, and I now
also work for, an organization which creates little micro-entrepreneur
businesses based on the double or triple-bottom line theory. They use
what they call a micro-consignment model, meaning that they provide
the micro-entrepreneurs with the product, which they sell for a
profit, whilst returning the cost-price to us. Double-bottom line
means that there is a monetary profit, and a community profit, meaning
that the product is good for the community. Examples are cheap but
good-quality reading glasses, efficient and smokeless concrete cooking
stoves, energy-saving light globes, seeds etc. etc. To make it a
triple bottom-line, the product also should have environmental
benefits. Tanja started a little fruit and veggie business with a
lady who lost her husband and mother in the same week, and is creating
an accounting system for the organization. I have been helping them
with their legal-company structure stuff, and writing articles on how
to run a small-business (overnight expert!).

We have traveled a bit as well. We went to the pacific coast and
stayed at an idyllic beach resort with black volcanic sand, have been
through the capital, the market in Chichicastenango and took a trip to
Quetzaltenango (known by the locals as Xela). The Xela trip was for a
rugby team that I am now playing for and helping to coach. I am happy
to say that I am the only person from a rugby country (except for the
odd Argentine), with the vast majority being Guatemalan. And boy do
they play with passion, and without a real understanding of the
offside rule! It is great fun to play again, although it has come at
a cost – a dislocated finger, sprained-knee, sprained-ankle, and
bruised ribs (I’m actually exaggerating a bit – I can still play!).
They have a website which I think is www.guatemalarugby.com.

We spent All Saints Day in town called Sumpango, which is famous for
its giant kites. It is tradition for Guatemalans to go to the graves
of their family members who have passed on, and decorate them in
bright colours and with the odd dram of rum. They also fly kites with
little messages, supposedly addressed to those relatives in heaven.
The giant kites are ornately decorated, and are up to 15-20m tall,
made entirely of coloured tissue paper. They are incredible. We also
went to a live volcano on Saturday, which was amazing, and slightly
scary. As Guatemala doesn’t quite have the same litigation
environment, we got up close and personal with lava, with Tanja’s
shoes coming off second best.

I’ll cut it short before the boredom starts to set in and wish you all
the best for the run-up to Christmas.

Best Regards,

Mike and Tanja

Kenya:

Kenya was fantastic! We went for 6 days and our itinerary was as follows:
Day 1 (Friday 12th Oct): Arrive in Nairobi at 5.30AM and go straight to Masai Mara for an afternoon game drive & overnight at campsite.
Day 2 (Sat 13th Oct): Game drive all day in Masai Mara and overnight in campsite.
Day 3 (Sun 14th Oct): Drive to Nakuru town, afternoon game drive in Lake Nakuru & over night in hotel!
Day 4 (Mon 15th Oct): Drive to Amboselli Park (at the base of Kilimanjaro), via Nairobi. Afternoon game drive & over night in campsite.
Day 5 (Tues 16th Oct): Game drive in Amboselli Park, over night at hotel.
Day 6 (Wed 17th Oct): Back to Nairobi to fly back to Dubai.

It sounds so simple! Well here is how it actually was!!

Day 1: We arrived in Dubai airport around 10.30 for our flight at 1.15AM to Nairobi, we boarded, and were delayed an hour so we didn’t leave until just before 2AM? After some very restless sleep we arrived in the airport at 5.30AM and had a long wait for our bags as they mixed ours with another flight!! Our tour operator was Raylenne Tours & Safaris (www. ) and our driver was Henry. We were collected at Nairobi airport at approximately 6.30AM, went to the Raylenne Office & met my contact, and were informed that we would be heading straight to Masai Mara and we would eat there! The first thing that struck us was the quality of roads. Bone shakers is a simple (and very nice) way to describe the 6 hour straight journey to Masai Mara. We were very comfortable in our bus, and Henry was extremely nice so we didn’t feel the time go! We stopped several times along the way, our first stop taking in the amazing Great Rift Valley! We actually had to drive right through it to get to Masai Mara. When we arrived at the campsite we had a bite to eat and went straight out for a game drive. We were very lucky on our first day and we got to see lots of animals. Giraffes, elephants, wildebeests, zebras, Thompsons gazelles, grand gazelles, a lion, a lioness and the best was the black rhino (henry got very excited too, they are apparently very rare!). We were quite exhausted heading back to the camp at around 6.30 (parks close when it gets dark). After dinner we were treated to some light entertainment by some Masai tribal warriors. I was dragged up to take part in the last ritual dance.. next time you see me, ask me what ritual they use the dance for! It must have been about 11 when we finally fell into bed with exhaustion!

Day 2: We were up, fed and ready to go for 7.45AM and headed off to Masai Mara for a full days worth of a game drive. We were very excited after the day before. Our day started with a view of loads of wildebeests, almost 2 million of them migrate every year and we were lucky that October is a migrating month so we got to see them migrating! The list of animals that we saw were elephants, zebras, giraffes, wildebeests, lions, cheetahs, Thompsons gazelles, grand gazelles, buffalo, vultures, hippopotamus, ostriches, crocodiles, elans. One of our first encounters was a family of elephants moving across the plains together.. rather amazing to see how they protect their young by bunching around them. Not long after we encountered a rather dead wildebeest and were amazed to see the just fed lion walking across the field. Wildebeests are their easily accessible food! Further on down the track, yet another wildebeest but this time it was the vultures eating it. After the odd giraffe, cheetah & a few ostriches we discovered a pride of lions literally hanging around! They were snoozing away while we were watching them from a couple of feet away (naturally protected in the bus!). Our next encounter was a hungry lion. We missed the chase by about 15 minutes, but we arrived in time to see yet another wildebeest getting eaten. Its been reported that wildebeests are rather think animals.. well they kept getting caught by lions anyway!

Our next stop just after lunch was the Mara River. This was the scene of the 10,000 wildebeests who had drowned a few weeks ago (silly animals??). We had the pleasure of seeing lots of families of hippos and the odd crocodile in the water, eating the remains of the wildebeests! (they are food for everyone!) We saw a few velvet back monkeys while we were stopped at the river. We ventured into Tanzania briefly. We stopped at what can only be described as a piece of rock to mark the border. If your caught in Tanzania without a stamp your fubar’ed! So we had a look and went on our way? We got back to the campsite for 5pm, I managed to brace myself for a shower (look at the pics and you’ll understand!) and we got ready for some grub. There were a good few people staying so we got chatting, had a few drinks and managed to fall into bed for about 11pm.

Day 3: Another late start, we were up, fed and ready to hit the road for 7.45AM. This journey was taking us back through the Great Rift Valley (on a better road), passed Lake Naivasha and continued onto Nakuru town to see the flamingos on Lake Nakuru. We arrived at 3PM so yet another long journey, 7 hours this time (with stops along the way). We got checked into the hotel (bliss!) and met Henry at 4pm to go straight to Lake Nakuru. It was raining by the time we got into the bus so we were a bit worried that we wouldn’t see much, but luckily it cleared up with enough time to see the pink flamingos. To add to the fantastic display of pink, we also saw some flamingos, mariboo storks, monkeys, baboons, a few buffalo and 2 white rhinos. I’m sure the odd wildebeest and gazelles were in there somewhere but we gave up on them, we had seen too many already! We had dinner with a guy we had met at Masai Mara, had a drink and actually got to see a few of the Euro 2008 goals!

Day 4: Today was the day we were going to see Mount Kilimanjaro. Even tho its in Tanzania, Amboselli park is at the base of the mountain in Kenya. We set off at 8.30AM (we got very delayed helping out the guy from dinner the night before who had been abandoned!). We arrived in Nairobi to pick up Tito, our chef, oh yes, I forgot to mention. We had a chef with us at the campsites cooking our meals etc. Our own chef and personal guide.. not bad for the price! On the way, we stopped in a place called Namunga, it’s the border town with Tanzania. This was going to be where we were to stay on our last night, Henry had arranged a really nice hotel for us. While we were stopped at a petrol station we had a swarm of women surround the bus trying to sell us stuff so we offered to give them money for a photo. This nearly caused another riot! We had to take the photo and run for cover. One of the women gave me a lovely Masai ring as we were leaving. They scared me tho! Anyway, we finally arrived in Amboselli Park at 5pm. (yes, we left Nakuru at 8.30 and it was a continuous drive.. it’s a long way!!) Immediately we were stuck by how amazing the mountain looks and the fact that we were actually looking at Kilimanjaro. The best I’ve come to mountains has pretty much been the Comeraghs and Slieve na Mban! After a game drive on the way to the campsite we put our stuff in our tents and waited for Tito to rustle up some good grub. We chilled after the long day, had a beer and actually watched the moon disappear as we were right by the equator and the world does rotate afterall!

Day 5: Our final full day began with a lovely 6AM wake up call. Infact I’d been awake most of the night as Henry was “chasing demons” out of his tent all night. He spent most of the night snoring his brains out, and I couldn’t sleep, so a 6AM alarm going off was not taken with much warmth and happiness! The early rise ensured that we got a short period of time to see the mountain as it got clouded over quite quickly and was clouded for a lot of the day. We saw a few more wildebeests, a few gazelles and a couple of hyenas (ugly looking creatures!), some zebras & a few ostriches roamed about. We stopped to see a few hippos grazing. You could barely make them out because they were in the pond with their heads sticking out eating the grass on the top. The weather is too hot for them to be out in the sun so normally the graze at night time and sleep during the day. These guys had a great time since they could eat when they wanted! Our next stop was an encounter with some elephants. We were within a couple of feet of a baby elephant, approx 2 months old (henrys estimation). It was amazing! We got back to the campsite for breakfast at around 9AM and after some pancakes and sausages we pondered what to do next. Henry suggested we take a trip to a nearby Masai Village. Naturally we jumped at the idea and choose to wander across the park with 2 masai tribesmen. What we thought was only a few minutes away turned into about 2 miles of a walk, and naturally I’d missed some areas with the suncream so I got rather burnt in the hot sun? On our way to the village we stopped at a small school. The kids were all playing outside when we arrived and the teacher called them all in to the one room for us. We were then amazed at how much can be taught to kids with such little resources. These kids sang a few songs for us in English and Swahili and we so well behaved and naturally very excited to have visitors. The teacher was a member of the Masai tribe and they get no help/funding except for what tourists give when they visit.

We continued onto the village and when we arrived we were introduced to our guide who had fantastic English and was so well spoken. We were greeted with a song and dance by the men and women of the village and this was followed by a prayer. It was only after all of this, that we were led into the village to see how a Masai tribe lives. Our first introduction was the lighting of a fire which took about 5 minutes from start to finish! They made it look so easy? We were then shown around the small village, and we were shown into a house. The women make these houses of cow dung and sticks! As we were leaving I glanced at my watch and our guide took a fancy to it so I agreed to trade it with him. I came away with a Masai bracelet and he got a big red watch for his troubles? He was thrilled with his watch, although I did explain to him that an alarm goes off every day at the same time and I didn’t know how to turn it off. I wonder how he’s coping with it? We got back to the campsite in one piece and went to the Amboselli Observation Point which looks out on the entire park. A rather amazing viewpoint, it was such a shame that the mountain was rather clouded over. Lunch was eaten back at the campsite and we finished our day with a game drive as we drove towards the gate of Amboselli Park. We arrived at the hotel in Namaga at 5.30PM most definitely ready for showers as Amboselli Park is a very dusty park. We had dinner in the hotel (cooked by Tito) and after a few drinks we went to bed.

Day 6: We were greeted with a nice lie-in this morning. We had breakfast at 9AM and got ready to hit the road to Nairobi at 1.30AM. It was a straight run back to the airport and we really just got to see the road we drove on 2 days before. We arrived in the airport for 2pm, checked in our bags and prepared ourselves for a long wait till our 19.15 flight. It wasn’t too long and we boarded pretty much on time and we weren’t delayed too much. The plane consisted of 3 rows of 3 seats in each row. A window seat was of no benefit to you as you needed to climb over 2 other people to get out of your seat. When I initially checked my seat number I grumbled that we were at the end of the plane. Little did I know that these were the only seats in the plane that there were 2 seats together and not 3! We put the feet up, I watched Shrek 3 and we waited til we landed in Dubai. Little did we know that the journey wasn’t over yet! It took almost an hour to reach the top of the queue in passport control, I reached the top to be told my employment visa was on the system (I told them I was coming on hols, oops!) and they wanted to see my visa. So I was sent to immigration, from there to the visa issue point and back to immigration where they decided to leave me into the country on a holiday visa and I will be issued my residency visa when I’m here? So we finally got back to the apartment and in bed for 3.30AM to be and in work for 9AM. It was Thursday so only one day till the weekend?

One thing that struck me about this trip was how everyone was so friendly there. Our tour guide went out of his way to ensure we had a great holiday and we most certainly did. Its well worth a visit to Kenya!

London Baby!

London was amazing! I had a plan all set out before I got there to maximise my time there, as it was short, and I thoroughly enjoyed the evening/night. I arrived mid afternoon, checked into the hotel & hopped onto a train into the city centre. I seemed like a pro on getting trains at that stage as I’d done the exact same journey a month ago:) (at least I thought so!)

I arrived at Charing Cross & heading straight for Trafalgar Square & Nelsons Column as this was where the “Love London” tour started! I trecked into St James’s Park & after what seemed to be a never ending long walk up to the top, I reached Buckingham Palace. When I looked back down the road I sensed the familiarity of seeing that road on TV. Anyways, Queen Victoria monument and Buckingham Palace were a real treat and while I was there we saw the changing of the guards! The flag was flying full mast so the Queen was about.

I walked down the other side of the park & with a little detour, I was infront of Downing Street. I was looking out for Tony Blair, until I remembered he didn’t live there anymore:( After copious amounts of pictures, I headed off to cross the road to get a closer look at Big Ben, The House of Parliament & Westminster Abbey (http://www.westminster-abbey.org/). Surprise, surprise, I took loads more pictures! I headed across the bridge & was on my way to the London Eye (www.londoneye.com). I had booked it a few days before so I was guaranteed a spin that night. I hopped on (rather nervously) and proceeded to very slowly move.. I must say, I didn’t notice the movement until I got to the top & could only see dots of people on the ground! I was, however, able to pick out all the places I’d just done on the “Love London” tour so I was rather chuffed with myself:)

After the London Eye, I hopped on a train to meet Michelle at Tower Bridge (www.towerbridge.org.uk). As I got off the train as London Bridge, I was very confused and no matter how many times I went to walk towards Tower Bridge, I kept getting back to where I started. On my 4th attempt, and asking for directions, I finally made it to a work night out of Michelles where I met her work crew and got introduced on several occasions as “Pamela from Ireland”!

I made it back to the hotel for about 1am, hopped into bed and was ready for flying to Dubai the next morning. Naturally enough I picked up a pretty nasty cold on the way back and am only just about right again now.

Pam

Message from Fiona

Tristan and I have arrived home after 5 weeks of travel last Friday.

After Stuggart, we spent a couple of days in Berlin, then flew to London and on to Guernsey in a AT&, which sounds like the same small plane Pamela was also in. We mainly visited a friend of mine from London, but also spent some time being tourists.

We then flew back to London and up to Edinburgh (the morning they reopened Glasgow airport post terror attack) where we spent a night in Edinburgh before joining a bus tour by a group called Haggis. (I highly recommend them) We spent 6 days mostly in the highlands of Scotland, tracking through rain and mud up and down glens and mountains and having barrels of fun with a fantastic group of people.

We then spent another night in Edinburgh before flying to Dublin where we hired a car. We spent the first night at a fantastic 60th birthday party for my dad at Alice and Des’s (thank you very much). We then drove up the west coast to the Connemara, then up to Donegal and to the Giant’s causeway where we spent 2 nights. We then drove back via Belfast and back to Dublin where we then flew to Stockholm to meet up with Tristan’s sister and her boyfriend. We spent 4 days there site seeing and relaxing before flying to London for a show (Les Miserables), where we stayed in a 4 star hotel. A big difference after hostels. We then did a little shopping in London before flying back to Australia that night.

We were met by the honeymoon couple (Mike and Tanya)who beat us home. Unfortunately our welcome home was short lived when we found that our apartment has had no electricity for 3-4 weeks. All the food had long gone off stinking up the whole house. 4 days later we are still trying to remove the smell from the fridge/freezer. Our family is again whole with the return of the two cats from their holiday at my dad’s work.

Jet lag has been quite forgiving and have spent the last couple of days trawling through photos. I am slowly posting them on face book. So have a look. Tomorrow work starts again, and the holiday is complete.

Fiona

Guernsey – The End

After Mam went home last week, I had a quiet & lazy few days, until Friday! We had a work leaving do friday night so I got to the pub for 7.30. It was raining lots of cats & dogs, so it wasnt pretty! After several drinks, some of them including a fruit salad & a curly wurly (must haves!) we went to the local nightclub called “follys”! In true irish spirit I went for the slurry chips & leg of a greyhound at the end of the night. Unfortunately I only managed the slurry chips:)

Naturally saturday was pretty much a write off due to hangover -laziness! So I did as little as possible, although I did manage to get into town for a while and have a look around again.

Sunday was more adventurous. I decided to go on one final bus tour of the island. Unfortunately it was raining so it was a bit washed out for a while! I went to Fort Grey (http://www.museum.guernsey.net/fortgrey.htm) for a look and went from there to Pembroke Bay for my lunch. The weather eased off a little bit on my way back into St Peter Port so I went for a walk out to Castle Cornet for one last look!

It was a lovely clear day Monday so I went out to Jerbourg, the most southerly point of Guernsey and it was absolutely amazing up there. I was able to see Herm & Sark clearly, Jersey & Alderney were a bit further away and France was out in the distance! Breathtaking views! Tuesday during my lunch hour I went to Victor Hugos Hauteville House (http://www.victorhugo.gg/hautvilleHouse.aspx) where he was in exile for 15 years. The house was eerily fantastic. You really got into the mind of Victor Hugo!

The Channel Islands are definately a place to come visit if you ever get the opportunity!

Today is Wednesday and I’m heading off to London at 2pm and I’m booked to do the London Eye at 8.30 and I’m meeting Michelle after that.

Next stop Dubai!