“Adventure is a path. Real adventure – self-determined, self-motivated, often risky – forces you to have firsthand encounters with the world. The world the way it is, not the way you imagine it. Your body will collide with the earth and you will bear witness. In this way you will be compelled to grapple with the limitless kindness and bottomless cruelty of humankind – and perhaps realize that you yourself are capable of both. This will change you. Nothing will ever again be black-and-white.” –Mark Jenkins

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

22 days to go - Christmas

Thanks to Sarah for this excellent book by David Hosking and Martin Withers. I already owned a lonely planet guide to Kenya and a pocket Berlitz guide, so I have spent much of this afternoon cutting and sticking together the best bits from both of them into this new wildlife guide, (every ounce saved in weight is going to count!). I was also lucky enough to be given some gift vouchers for Park Cameras in Burgess Hill which I think I will take a trip to tomorrow and see if they have a sale on.
Going through the books and watching the DVDs etc. I think I have come up with what would be my ultimate top five species to see;
1) Leopard (as have never seen a wild one)
2) An Aardvark - just because they are the funniest looking thing on earth! but it's going to be difficult as they are strictly nocturnal.
3) Flap-Necked Chameleon - it can not only change colour, but can change it's pattern too.
4) Masai Giraffe - as opposed to the Reticulated or the Rothschild's
5) Caracal - one of the most sleek and slender, simply a beautiful cat

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

29 days to go - Clothing and the dreaded mosquitoes

My blood has been an irresistible attraction to mosquitoes in every country I have ever visited and I can’t convince myself Kenya will be any different, so I’ve been browsing on e-bay for clothing this week. I’m really looking for lightweight, insect-proof stuff which I can impregnate with DEET to keep the mossies and ticks at bay. I have no intention of getting out of the vehicle whilst in the bush, but back at the camp at night and under only canvas, I can’t see how I will escape them. The Kenyan website gives the following advice;
Insect and tick protection
"Wear long sleeves, long pants, hats and shoes (rather than sandals). For rural and forested areas, boots are preferable, with pants tucked in, to prevent tick bites. Apply insect repellents containing 25-50% DEET (N,N-diethyl-3-methylbenzamide) or 20% picaridin (Bayrepel) to exposed skin (but not to the eyes, mouth, or open wounds). DEET may also be applied to clothing. Products with a lower concentration of either repellent need to be reapplied more frequently. Products with a higher concentration of DEET carry an increased risk of neurologic toxicity, especially in children, without any additional benefit. For additional protection, apply permethrin-containing compounds to clothing, shoes, and bed nets. Permethrin-treated clothing appears to have little toxicity. Don't sleep with the window open unless there is a screen. If sleeping outdoors or in an accommodation that allows entry of mosquitoes, use a bed net, preferably impregnated with insect repellent, with edges tucked in under the mattress. The mesh size should be less than 1.5 mm. If the sleeping area is not otherwise protected, use a mosquito coil, which fills the room with insecticide through the night. In rural or forested areas, perform a thorough tick check at the end of each day with the assistance of a friend or a full-length mirror. Ticks should be removed with tweezers, grasping the tick by the head. Many tick-borne illnesses can be prevented by prompt tick removal.
To prevent sandfly bites, follow the same precautions as for mosquito bites, except that netting must be finer-mesh (at least 18 holes to the linear inch) since sandflies are smaller."

Janet has kindly given me the remains of their insect repellent (25% DEET) from their trip to the Mara in September and I think I still have some left in the van from our time in Australia, (where’s Linc and his Dugong fat when you need him!).
I am also going to forget the risk of rabies and spend the money on more SD cards instead. I weighed by camera bag last night and without my laptop it’s already 8 kilos!

Monday, 20 December 2010

31 days to go - and where am I going exactly?

I think I am staying in the Northern tip of the park near the Governers camp where the BBC crew film Big Cat Diary and Big Cat Week. But as yet it's only a guess.

Kicheche have two camps, Mara and Bush, and they are marked below, I'm not sure yet if we stay at both or just one.

Friday, 17 December 2010

34 days to go - visit to the doctors

I took my vaccination record into the doctors this morning with the following list from the Kenyan website;

1) Hepatitis A : Recommended for all travellers
2) Typhoid : Recommended for all travellers
3) Yellow fever : Recommended for all travellers greater than nine months of age
4) Polio : One-time booster recommended for any adult traveler who completed the childhood series but never had polio vaccine as an adult
5) Hepatitis B : Recommended for all travellers
6) Rabies : For travellers spending a lot of time outdoors, or at high risk for animal bites, or involved in any activities that might bring them into direct contact with bats
7) Measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) : Two doses recommended for all travellers born after 1956, if not previously given
8) Tetanus-diphtheria : Revaccination recommended every 10 years

My Hep A and Hep B are both up to date as is my MMR, Polio and Tetanus-Diptheria. My yellow-fever cerficate is also still valid for another 2 years which was good news. However, my Typhoid was due for renewal. You'd think someone who can raft grade 5 white water, throw herself off the Sky Tower and handle close encounters with dangerous predators would not bat an eyelid at needles wouldn't you? Unfortunately I am a complete wuss with anything related to the human body. I have to lie down and, through bitten lip, pant as if I am about to give birth - not a good look.
I have never had a Rabies jab, so the next question was - should I? It's £48 per injection and three injections are required prior to travel, so the first injection would have to be given before Christmas. Some sources say 'highly recommended' and others say 'only required if working with animals'. So does wildlife photography count or not? I will be outside for the majority of my time in Kenya, but I have no intention of getting within biting range of anything (although I hear the monkeys have no concept of personal space at all). I have the weekend to decide at least. The biggest concern the doc pointed out is how far from medical help I could be at the time of infection. Apparently if they can get a drug injected into the bite site within a certain period of time, then there is nothing to worry about!!! nice.

I also ordered some Malarone (anti-malaria drugs) which I need to start taking 2 days before I leave and continue for a week upon return. At £3 per tablet from the surgery dispensary they are much cheaper than the Larium I was taking when I contracted Malaria in 1995, but the nurse still advised me to shop around as some chemist will sell them for £2.50 each.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

36 days to go and have applied for my Kenyan VISA

VISA requirements;
1) A valid passport with at least one spare page and 3 months more validity from date of entry (check)
2) A completed application form (check)
3) One recent passport sized photo (Hmmmn....)
4) Travel Itinerary (somewhere in the Mara for 9 days?)
5) £30 Cash (check)
6) Daytime telephone number whilst in Kenya (!!)

Spent the whole of last night watching back-to-back episodes of Big Cat Week and am beginning to think there is a chance we will see a hunt/kill. They say the cats hunt to eat every other day at least and considering the sheer numbers of cats there are out there, surely we stand a chance of seeing it? I am trying hard not to get my hopes up. The sunsets alone will be amazing to see. Cats hunting will simply be the icing on the cake.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

37 days to go and change of airport plans

Since I will be travelling to Kenya alone on the 20th January and arriving ahead of the rest of the group, I have booked myself a night in the Fairview Hotel. I fly into Jomo Kenyatta International Airport which is the major airport in Nairobi, but we will all fly out together to the Mara from Wilson Airport the following morning at 9:15am. I have pre-booked a driver and car from the hotel to take me to and from the airports; I am sure Nairobi’s safety record for lone females travelling at night is no worse than anywhere else on the planet, but sod’s law says I would be the exception and at least this way I don’t have to negotiate a price with a driver. I don’t think my Swahili is quite up to that.

Monday, 13 December 2010

38 days to go and having a diet dilemma

I won a pair of Ripcurl cargo trousers on e-bay last week which arrived at the weekend. In perfect condition and just what I need for the trip, and a bargain at just £3.17. Getting them on is not a problem, but bending over or sitting down is definitely not an option at the moment. So with Christmas round the corner, the diet is going to have to be geared around swapping my preferred beverage (pint of carling) with something less calorific - vodka, lime and soda maybe... do they sell that by the pint? I also ordered a pack of two spare camera batteries this weekend so I am almost there with the equipment list too, just need a few more SD cards. Dad and Janet have lent me their handheld luggage scales to ensure I don't exceed the 15kgs total luggage limit. Here is David's recommended packing list;
  1. Camera body(s)
  2. Long lens - most people take up to 400 or 500mm for this trip.
  3. Shorter zoom lenses
  4. Batteries
  5. Chargers
  6. Memory cards
  7. Storage device or laptop
  8. Lens cleaners
  9. Instruction book
  10. 1 pair shorts
  11. 2 pair cargo pants
  12. 3 T-shirts/cotton shirts or similar
  13. Outdoor shoes
  14. Sunglasses
  15. Fleece & waterproof
  16. Hat - for sun protection
  17. Toiletries
  18. Binoculars
  19. Malaria prophylactics
Laundry is done for us every day and nothing smart is required, so in theory, two sets of clothes is all I will need.   My new book has arrived too - "Tick Bite Fever" - David Bennun's account of growing up in 1970's Kenya, ('A hilarious memoir...Enchanting and amazing', The Daily Mail .'Laugh out loud is an understatement...a wonderful insight into life in Africa from a two-foot high point of view, witty, touching and above all affectionate', The Press Assocation .'Tick Bite Fever itches with mordant wit - there's at least one turn of phrase per paragraph that gets among your ribs like a feather duster. An excelle
nt memoir', Uncut Magazine).  It should help to pass the time on the eleven-hour flight to Nairobi and put me in the picture a little before arrival. It was either that or a book about the murder in the Masai Mara of wildlife photographer Julie Ward back in 1991 which I think I will save for the flight home!

Friday, 10 December 2010

40 days and 40 nights to go!

I have managed to bag myself a discounted spare place on a small photographic trip going to Kenya next month thanks to a last minute cancellation. The tour is being run by David Plummer (same wildlife photographer who led the trip I went on in 2007 to the swamps of Brazil).  His website reads.... "The Masai Mara tour is a 10-day (including 2 travel days) photographic safari staying only at two camps; as such no time is wasted travelling from camp to camp. Photographic tuition is given in lesson form as well as hands-on tuition in the field.   This tour is pure wildlife from dawn to dusk!" Sounds like my perfect holiday, if I don't think too long about the bugs, the heat, the diseases and the first night I will be spending alone in Nairobi.
Staying at the Kicheche camps under canvas promises to be about as close as you can get to the beasts of the big cat world. The Masai Mara is somewhere I have wanted to go for many many years, so within minutes of reading David's email I was online to my bank, calculator in hand. It was do-able. But to be honest with myself, if it wasn't do-able, I would have fiddled the figures for however long it took to make sure it was. I discussed it with Ant, replied to David and told myself I would sleep on it until the weekend. The weekend of course came very early that week (Monday I believe!) and before I knew it booking forms were being completed, money was being transferred and I was sporting a grin similar to those worn by kids on Christmas morning. The agonising countdown had begun.

Saturday, 22 May 2010

And so one journey ends and another begins.

For this final entry, it seems fitting to hand over to our good friend Flee... for his awesome summary of the start and the end of our trip.... which both took place at WOWO campsite with friends and family, pictured here in our 'Superhero-Sunday' outfits!

Twas the first week in May
Ant and Jo went away,
They left from near Sheffield Park Station.
It all seemed so wrong
They'd be gone for so long.
We hoped they'd reach their destination.

The camper was sorted
An awning it sported,
And the flip-up roof worked like a dream.
We wished them all well
On their mission to sell,
All of Ants homemade scrumpy icecream.

The first leg of the trip
Was to get to the ship,
That would take these brave travellers to France.
The A.A was on hand
With some spare elastic bands,
You see, nothing had been left to chance.

The gang was all here,
And hurrah'd with great cheer,
And wished lots of luck to their chums.
We hoped they'd survive
The very long drive,
And arrive safe and sound at Ants mums.

The engine was cranked
And the friends were all thanked,
For their send off was fit for a king.
The handbrake released
And the speed was increased.
Thanks to all of the people pushing.

Now joking aside,
We all smiled with pride
As the duo set off on their travels.
But don't shed a tear,
For now they're back here.
And the tale of their journey unravels.
by 'Flee' (I.Fuller), May 2009

Thank you everyone for a brilliant home-coming. We love you all. xx

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Day 344 - 13th April 2010 - Happy 60th Dad!

Well we finally made it through the last fortnight and we are all reunited, Ant Bee and Me.
After a dash down to Hampshire to fill up the car with kitchen essentials from the garage in Andover, I picked up the keys to our new home on Aprils fools day, whilst Ant and Bee boarded the ferry to Turkey to start the long drive home at noon the same day. I had the entire Easter weekend to get things organised, the furniture retrieved from various peoples houses (thanks to all who housed them for us for the past year), before starting work again last Tuesday. Even had Inca (the cat) delivered back on Sunday morning; Jakki you are an angel sent from above and I will never be able to thank you enough for all you went through to ensure she was there for us when we came home. We both love you dearly.
Ant made it home shortly after midnight last Wednesday - just 6 days after setting off! Bee was tested to the limit during the final stages, but still she made it home without letting us down. She is currently parked up and enjoying a well earned rest before the final camping reunion in two weeks time when we return to WOWOs to share campfire tales with the much-loved and badly-missed friends and family that we waved goodbye to exactly one year ago. Bring on the men in tights.... we can't wait to see everyone's outfits! xxx

Sunday, 28 March 2010

Day 328 – 28th March, Sunday. Ardingly.

Another week done and at last everything is now in the hands of the solicitors. We are hoping to exchange contracts tomorrow and with luck on our side could have the keys before Easter weekend and the annual Bolney Pram race! Which means that Ant and Bee can set off for home sometime this week. :-)
The weather wasnt great today, but at least I managed to get out again for some Sunday exercise. This time we went walking from the Ardingly resevoir and through the fields and posh houses on the outskirts of the village. Still no sign of the Kingfisher, I am hoping that at least a few breeding pairs survived the harsh winter.

Day 321 – 21st March, Sunday. Barcombe Mills.

After a very hectic week of property viewing, meetings with solicitors and financial advisors, friends and family, the sun finally came out and we were able to get out for some fresh air.  A friend and I went walking from Barcombe Mills to the Anchor Pub for lunch and returned along the old railway line. The evening was spent checking out what I hope will be our new local in the village of Bolney at their monthly comedy evening with stand up from Martin Beaumont and Andrew Roper (Australian), compered by Danny Buckler. Heckling came only from two children that a single Dad had decided would be fun to bring along and plonk right in the front row! Grrr.

Day 317 – 17th March, Wednesday. Fly home.

Flew home from Larnaca to Gatwick.
Caroline kindly brought the girls up to meet me at arrivals, which was a really lovely welcome, until we discovered that she had no idea where she’d parked the car! We spent forty minutes trawling the three different multi storeys, freezing our arses off trying to find ‘Felicity’ the purple Ford Fiesta. After some help from 2 NCP attendants we found her on the ground floor - it was twenty to nine by the time we left Gatwick. I can confidently say there is very little which is more embarassing to a woman than having to explain to the loudspeaker on a car park payment machine that you cannot find your own vehicle, with a long queue of people behind you! Never again.

Preparing for the return trip

Wow - feels like I haven't written in months, but so much has happened. Where to begin? Well Ant has sorted through all the spares, changed the oil and put new seals on, as well as getting her new visa all up to date and planning the route home. All the cupboards have been cleared out and repacked and are soon to be stocked up with food and drink for the way home. The first leg is back on the snail's pace ferry across to Tasucu in Turkey, before the long drive through the Turkish wilderness up towards Istanbul, for which Ant's Dad has managed to get a second jerry can to carry more fuel on board. Bee only has a 200 mile range and although the internet shows petrol stations at various points along the journey, the reality could be very different (fuel is also ridiculously expensive in Turkey). I, on the other hand, have been busy getting things ready for their arrival back in Blighty.....

Monday, 8 March 2010

Day 307 – 7th March, Sunday. Cyprus.

Spent the entire afternoon in a restaurant with Paul and Sue, Derek and Cathy having a gorgeous Sunday roast and catching up on all the latest gossip. Torrential and continuous rains have hit Girne and washed roads away and the swimming pool pumproom has flooded, the windows have needed to be fixed and new panel radiators installed due to the cold.

Day 306 – 6th March, Saturday. Cyprus

I have never suffered jet lag before, on any of the trips I have taken – but crossing this many times zones back and forth in such a short space of time has played havoc with my body clock. Neither of us are sleeping at all well during the night, but today I managed to fall asleep for most of the afternoon.

Day 305 – 5th March, Friday. Back on yet another plane! Grrrrrrr.

We got to the airport in the nick of time thanks to Jakki's expert driving only to discover the flight had been delayed - typical! We eventually reached Larnaca on the south side of the island of Cyprus around 5:30pm local time and Derek drove us up to the unusually busy border point in Nicosia. Safely through we headed home stopping at the 'Happy Valley' restaurant for curry on the way.  Jet lag really starting to kick in now - feel dizzy, sick and knackered.

Day 302 - 2nd March, Tuesday. Journey back to Blighty.

We got the hotel shuttle-bus to the airport in the smog and flew 13 hours west to arrive in Heathrow about 815pm where Mum was waiting to take us back to Haywards Heath for a much-appreciated bottle of bubbly. Exhausted. We have to spend the next couple of days finding somewhere to live, getting Ant a new mobile phone, meeting the financial advisor and sorting and re-packing all our gear for the colder weather in Cyprus.

Day 301 – 1st March, Monday. Hong Kong.

After two huge plates full of English and Chinese breakfast, we set out in search of the street markets. We trawled street after street and passed endless market stalls of vegetables, newspapers, seeds, nuts and medical potions. Every other building was clad in bamboo scaffolding cable-tied together and one even had builders clambering up the sides (unharnessed) to the top where they were swaying back and forth over the street adding yet more bamboo. Many butchers had whole charred ducks hanging in their windows, beaks and all. The smell walking along the streets was awful and choked you at every turn, so we made our way back to the hotel via the fish market where every shop was an aquarium with small tanks of fish and terrapins lining the pavement.
Although we were in the heart of Kowloon near MongKok and everything was easily accessible, I don’t think we will be bothering to return. Even if we had stayed on Hong Kong island where it’s supposedly cleaner and more beautiful, I don’t think Hong Kong is really the kind of place we would enjoy. They advertise hotels with hourly room rates for heaven’s sake!

Monday, 1 March 2010

Day 300 – 28th February, Sunday. Melbourne to Hong Kong.

What an incredibly long day – which started with hardly any sleep due to the crappy squashy bed in the motel and then continued with the alarm going off at 0530am to get us to the airport on time for our flight to Hong Kong at 0850am.
The flight wasn’t too bad, plenty of new movies and TV programs to keep us entertained. Ant managed to choose a program on his personal screen with a rather uncomfortable number of very raunchy scenes in it. Cracked me up... he had the aisle seat, and therefore an over-the-shoulder audience and hostesses going past every minute or so – I haven’t seen him go that red in years. I think it eventually got so much he turned it off!
We touched down mid afternoon (local time) amidst fog, smog and 26 degree heat and eventually got transferred to our hotel in Kowloon Park by about 5pm – shattered.

Saturday, 27 February 2010

Day 299 – 27th February, Saturday. Melbourne – Byebye Betsy.

A major thunderstorm during the night meant we got very little sleep again and with everything soaking wet, our last day down under didn’t start off too well.
We managed to get out of the park just after 10am and took a brief tour of the old port of Echuca with its forge and traditional wood turner. Some of the stuff they make is stunning – it’s such a shame its over here and not back home, our holdalls are already bursting at the seams and GollyPearl is going to have to ride on my lap (along with all my camera equipment and my handbag). I dread to think how hot it will be in Hong Kong when I am wearing 4 layers of clothing because I simply can’t fit them in the case.
We stopped at the small township of Kilmore on the way to Melbourne and I finally bought myself a bull whip. The aussie souvenir collection is now complete.
Betsy was delivered back home safely to her depot and the ludicrously large deposit was refunded to us without issue. She did well. A little over 7,000kms in 3 months and only a couple of minor hiccups along the way. I will miss her in a way, but I certainly won’t miss her leaky back window which forced me (sleeping closest to the door) to leap out every time a storm came in the night and shut everything up. I won’t miss the one ring cooker, the dodgy clutch, or the irritating noise she made when reversing. But all in all, she was a bargain and she made our trip so much more hassle free than if we’d tried to buy something of our own. So thanks Betsy... may you continue your adventures with another set of travellers on another set of roads.

Day 298 – 26th February, Friday. One last hangover in Echuca.

Slept all morning and only made it out of the van in the afternoon for trips to the toilet, the camp kitchen and to take a photo of the strange Echuca tradition which is the ‘thong tree’ on the banks of the Murray River. Never again will I be persuaded that ‘depth-chargers’ are a good idea, especially ones involving Jagermeister.

Day 297 – 25th February, Thursday. Echuca.

Swam and lounged by the pool all day before deciding to hit the town in Echuca (to sample its two bars). As usual we were only intending to go out for a couple of pints, but met up with another couple of girls from the campsite, (Mandy and Gosha) and ended up dancing, drinking and staggering back to their cabin for a more dancing and singing and a go on the Bongos. I think we eventually made it to bed about 3am.

Day 296 – 24th February, Wednesday. Echuca.

Said a sad goodbye to Karizma and the kids and drove north to the Murray river and the old port town of Echuca. We sorted and attempted to pack everything back into our two tiny holdalls for the return journey to the UK before wandering down to the river to see the Paddle Steamers. The ports of Echuca-Moama have the largest collection of working paddle-steamers in the world. All restored to their former 19th century glory and now used to provide lunch or dinner cruises up and down the Murray.
Thankfully the campsite on the river has a lovely part shaded swimming pool too which we sunk into when we got back; the temperature was still ridiculously hot.

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Day 295 – 23rd February, Tuesday. Maldon and Castlemaine.

After a slow start, but a very good night’s sleep, Karizma drove us out to a tiny old-fashioned village called Maldon to peruse the antiques and craft shops, (only to discover that most of them are only open at the weekends) so we had fish and chips (with a minor paddy from Ant due to the incessant flies) and moved on to the next township of Castlemaine which was again very pretty with tin roofs and upper balconies covered in iron fretwork: very typical of old mining towns in the area. I had my first ever liquorice flavoured ice-cream and managed to return having bought only one more second-hand book. Restraint is definitely going on my list of things to learn.

Day 294 – 22nd February, Monday. Central Deborah Goldmine.

Rofey a retired miner, motorbike rider and our comic mine guide took just the two of us on the most amazing tour of the Central Deborah Goldmine in Bendigo. We were kitted out with overalls, gum boots and hardhats before being shown the original (and still working) cage lifts that transported both the miners and the trucks of rock up and down the 17 levels of the mine shaft.
We went down as far as level 3 which was 85mtrs below ground and the furthest of anyone else that day. The mine itself is now flooded from level 13 down and a new mining company continues to drill the quartz reef about a kilometre below the old mine. It is believed that there is still a large amount of gold spread around underneath the entire city of Bendigo.
We spent the journey down the mine shaft listening to Rofey explain the geology of the area and the theory behind the creation of the quartz reefs where the gold is found; it surprised me how interesting and obvious it was once it was all explained. He showed us the difference between real gold and ‘fool’s gold’, and pointed out examples in the mine walls of both types. We were shown areas where the miners would have eaten their lunch in near pitch darkness, we watched as Rofey demonstrated the ‘Bogger’ and the different dynamite patterns that are still used today. We climbed up and down numerous skinny ladders in the dark, had a go on a working drill and were given some time to shovel through the last quartz blast for any finders-keepers before lunch (unfortunately I only managed to find a rock with some fool’s gold and another silver looking metal in it). Since it was the Cornish (and some Welsh) miners that were sent over to teach the Aussies how to mine gold in the early days, we were given traditional Cornish pasties and cakes for lunch before trying our hand at gold panning up on the surface. A really worthwhile and very surprising day; not only that, it was only 16 degrees down underground, so we managed to stay out of the heat for a few hours.
We arrived back at Karizma’s place to the mouth-watering smell of a roast dinner in the oven, and I am very pleased to say that for the first time in my life I ate roast lamb and it was very very nice.

Day 293 – 21st February, Sunday. Bendigo.

It was way too hot to sleep last night and not a breath of wind to breeze through the van, so we woke fairly groggy and still very tired and decided to spend the afternoon laying on the grass in Rosalind Park, reading under the shade of the trees, (still got a few too many books to fit in the suitcase!!! Lol).
We were going to have a Sunday roast too, but it was just too hot to cook one, so we all opted for a Chinese takeaway and another attempt at an early night.

Day 292 – 20th February, Saturday. Bendigo with a hangover.

Dragged ourselves out of bed to rehydrate and clean up before meeting the children, Jaxon (3) and Eva (1). Eva is a gorgeous smiley little girl with her mother’s tight curls, and Jaxon is much darker with huge chocolate brown eyes, but he was a little tired and shy since he had just returned from a sleepover with his cousin.
Ant and I ventured into Bendigo to peruse the monthly craft market which had some beautiful Australian wildlife photographs by Chris Cope on display along with some stunning statues (figurines I guess) made out of fabric that had then been hardened; very clever. If only we had more space to carry stuff. Just down from the market we found a wonderful treasure trove of second-hand books for sale inside a wooden-beamed building typical of the old gold-mining town that Bendigo began as. Needless to say we bought yet more books and took them to a cafe in the pedestrianised part of town to down much needed iced milkshakes (still hanging) and listen to the busker-bloke playing his guitar in the shade (or should I say scorching 32 degree heat!).
Nadine came over in the evening with her son Zane for a gorgeous BBQ followed by an early night.

Day 291 – 19th February, Friday. Bendigo.

Got to Karizma’s house early in the afternoon and began catching up on the four years since we last saw each other, before showering and getting ready for a meal out in town with ‘Blocker’ and his new girlfriend Carmella, ‘Pop-eye’, Katrina and Arun and Jodie’s Mum, Bev. Was fantastic to see them all again and swap travel stories over good quality pub grub.
A few of us continued on to another pub with a very impressive live covers band made up of the oddest mismatched sorts... a young female lesbian drummer, a middle-aged-looking bass player, a front-man dressed more like a rapper in baseball cap and I don’t think I even glanced at the fourth member over the back somewhere. They played three sets long into the night to a jam-packed hot and sweaty crowd and finally gave up somewhere around 2am! Fantastic night – lots of screaming, dancing, jumping up and down and of course lots of drinking.

Day 290 – 18th February, Thursday. Smith Mill to Maryborough.

We had purchased a National Parks camping permit from the local cultural centre and so spent the night at the Smith Mill camping area which had a bush shower and toilets. Unfortunately the creek-water tap which was to be used to fill the bucket for the shower only flowed at a trickle and so we gave it a miss and opted for a bush-strip-wash-beside-the-van instead!
We woke to the kangas munching in the low early morning light, had brekkie, then moved deeper into the outback towards Ararat and on to Avoca, finally reaching Maryborough at lunch time.
We found a quite little place with a pool and free wifi and met a couple of gold prospectors who are quite disappointed because they haven’t found anything in the last week. They have been prospecting for over 30 years now and no longer pan, but use a metal detector. How times change eh!?

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Day 289 – 17th February, Wednesday, The Grampians.

Very poor night’s sleep thanks to the four American lads’ loud late night in the tent next door. Grrrrr.
Had breakfast and fed peanuts to the sulphur-crested cockatoos round the van before sticking a huge lump of kangaroo poo to the bottom of one of my flip-flops! Thankfully I was on my way to the loos at the time and so was in the right place to kill two birds with one stone. I dread to think what the woman in the cubicle next door thought of the smell it generated when I scraped it off!
We left Halls Gap and headed for McKenzie Falls. 267 steps down to the base of the problem. 267 steps up from the base of falls...was admittedly a slight problem... particularly after the mountain climb yesterday. But it was a magical place and made all the more impressive when you contemplate the aborigines and their use of it for thousands of years before anyone else put their labels on it.

Day 288 – 16th February, Tuesday – ‘Gariwerd’ (The Grampians)

Today we climbed a mountain, the biggest in the Grampians no less. Mount William, 1187m high (or is it tall? What is the correct term for a mountain’s distance above sea level?). Strictly speaking we didn’t climb all of it, only the climb from the car park to the summit and back. But it still took nearly two hours, lots of huffing, half a bottle of water and almost continuous fly-swatting.
Then we ventured into the small tourist village of Halls Gap. We parked up, watched the Kangaroos munching their way through the campsite, I chased a Red Wattlebird through the bush and fed ‘Bushmans’ breakfast cereal to the Currawongs.

Day 287 – 15th February, Monday – Last day on the Great Ocean Road

Spent the morning stopping at various points along the last stretch of the Great Ocean Road; The now collapsed ‘London Bridge’, The Grotto and The Bay of Martyrs, before stocking up in Safeway’s in Warrnambool and driving North (inland) to Dunkeld at the southern edge of the Grampian Mountains National Park. Dunkeld is a tiny township with a campsite run by local volunteers and a number of small shops which only open a couple of days each week which was weird. The owner of the campsite lives on-site in an old bus and I think the place did funny things to Ants brain; For some reason he disappeared into the laundry-come-kitchen-come-tourist-brochure-exchange-room and brought back a copy of ‘OK’ magazine from last year which he then read cover to cover! (Something I’m sure those of you who know him would agree is a little shocking, but highly amusing at the same time). When I finally prized it away from him and had a flick through, the only 3 people I recognised were Tom Cruise, Katie Holmes and Madonna - I have definitely gotten old.

Day 286 – 14th February, Valentine’s Day – Port Campbell.

Not the most productive of days. Both feeling a little subdued. But we made the effort to walk the beach and the jetty in the morning before the rains came and we were forced back to the van. Cooking inside the van in the rain and competing for the stinkiest farts passed the time in the afternoon – such a romantic couple! (I did get a card this year though - Whooohooo – there’s hope for me yet! Lol.)

Day 285 – 13th February, Saturday. Port Campbell. Happy Birthday Mum!

Today was a tourist day (which is unusual for us)... we started out beating the hoards of campervans to see the Twelve Apostles, which used to be called ‘The sow and piglets’, but the powers-that-be decided ‘The Twelve Apostles’ was much more dignified. They are basically naturally occurring piles of rocks in the water as a result of thousands of years of headland erosion by the sea. They have a sort of interesting history but more fascinating is how the aboriginals lived amongst them on the surrounding land.
Next we visited the ‘Blowhole’ and the ‘Thunder-cave’ both of which were better than the Twelve Apostles, but all still very windy and quite cold. The south coast is definitely considerably cooler than the east. We continued on to the point where the Sherbrooke River spills into the sea (sheltered from the sea winds) and sat in the sun contemplating our future back in the UK – it seems we are getting too close to coming home now and need to slowly ease ourselves back into reality... i.e. find somewhere to live, jobs to do and vehicles to drive. (Yawn yawn.)
So almost as if our thinking of home had driven us to it, we drew a line under the tourist activity, pulled into Port Campbell slightly further along the coast, bought fish and chips and cold beer and sent emails to various letting agents.

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Day 284 - 12th February, Friday. Princetown.

Still wet, still foggy and starting to get a little fed up now. I really wanted to get out and about with my camera on the Great Ocean Road, and so far we’ve barely been able to see it, let alone photograph it.
Although this morning we did have a wild Koala munching his breakfast almost within reaching distance which was pretty amazing. There were two in the same tree – probably the same two who had kept us awake all night with their snorting and grunting.

Day 283 - 11th February, Thursday, Cape Otway.

Chucked it down all day and all night. We couldn’t see the other campers in the park through the fog, so we stayed in the van and had a ‘duvet day’. I read 2½ books in 24hours!

Day 282 - 10th February, Wednesday. Great Ocean Road to Cape Otway.

We set off again from Wye River, passing the Kennett River and stopping at a small beachside town called Apollo Bay, where I bought a beautiful Golly called ‘Pearl’. The weather wasn’t great and still the mist hangs over the horizon tainting the scenery slightly. We decided to go see the Cape Otway Lightstation, but when we got there and realised they had grown bushes up all around it to ensure they could extract a fee from you to even be able to catch a glimpse of it, we returned to the cover of the Otway National Park and camped under the Koalas and parrots instead.

Saturday, 13 February 2010

Day 281 - 9th February, Tuesday. Great Ocean Road to Wye River.

We set off fairly early and went to Teddy’s Lookout which is said to be the best view of the Great Ocean Road from anywhere along it. It was pretty spectacular and had two viewing platforms; one was 100mtrs below the main one and actually gave a better view of the St George River which was our next stop. I covered myself in bug spray, donned the hiking boots and ventured into the forest with my camera. The place was magical; a mob of 6 kangaroos were lazing about in the grass beside the river, one with Joey almost fully grown hanging out of her pouch. A bit further on I stopped on a wooden footbridge to watch the birds having their morning bath in the shallow river pools, and then continued on, chasing a group of electric blue Fairy-wrens through the bushes. I could have walked and wondered all day in there, but frustratingly, the battery on my camera ran out. Time to get to a powered campsite.
We found a posh ‘Big4’ on the Wye River where we checked our email, charged all electrical appliances and met a Swedish Kiwi who told us all about his unsuccessful morning fishing trip, before launching into a rundown of most of Australia’s birdlife, followed by selected bugs, bites and resultant diseases, a few highlights from his knowledge of current astronomy and an invite for us to stay with him at his place in Dunolly. I’m not sure he took a proper breath throughout, I certainly didn’t managed to get more than a few words in at any one point.

Day 280 - 8th February, Monday. Great Otway National Park.

We awoke to more rejoicing, more hallelujahs and a thick blanket of fog over everything. Very disheartening. We had driven over 1,000kms in 3 days to make sure we had enough time to see the Great Ocean Road, and it’s shrouded in fog! Typical.
We plodded on to Airey’s Inlet hoping the sun would burn through it; took a picture of the lighthouse (which looked invisible in the fog) and then moved on to Lorne where the lifeguards announced they were shutting the beach because they could no longer see the swimmers. Shopping was the only option we had left.
I consulted my ‘Where to Watch Wildlife in Australia‘ bible and we decided to go in search of the yellow-bellied glider (a sort of wingless, flying squirrel I suppose) which was apparently a “sure bet” at the Sheoak Picnic area a couple of kms from Lorne. Unfortunately there is no camping or sleeping in vehicles allowed at the picnic area (which is way deep in the forest along a gravel track), and the gliders are nocturnal, so we back-tracked a little to the Allenvale camping ground a little closer to Lorne and took a brew into the woods to see what was about. I’m so glad we did, we saw a large Kangaroo bouncing through the tents, an Eastern Yellow Robin, and a Koala up a tree in the middle of the clearing, which we later heard grunting out his territory calls long into the night.

Day 279 - 7th February, Sunday. Anglesea.

Drove straight through the middle of Melbourne – with only the one wrong turn and a very mild case of city-stress. We reached the start of the Great Ocean road around lunchtime and parked up in Anglesea, where we were soon joined by some God squaddies. Now I have absolutely no aversion to religious people, their needs or their beliefs - Christian or otherwise, but when one chorus of their Sunday morning worship song is repeated over and over by their pre-teen daughter, skipping past your van first thing in the morning and continues throughout your shower, finally lodging itself in your boyfriend’s head for the rest of the day I start to get a little tetchy. Ant of course found the whole thing highly amusing and insisted on humming it periodically throughout the day – just to keep my irritation at an entertaining level.

Day 278 – 6th February, Saturday. Narooma to Drouin.

Drove all day and slept at a campsite off the Princes Highway in Drouin. No-one in the office when we arrived and so we had no access to the amenities (they are generally locked permanently in Oz. Leaving a deposit for a key is the only way in). We managed to find a baby’s bathroom tucked-away at the back of the laundry room which we used for the evening and figured we’d get a shower another time. Shattered. Too many miles today.

Friday, 5 February 2010

Day 277 – 5th February, Friday. Eden, still!

Still trapped inside the van choking on the stench of our combined methane output, we may not come out of this storm alive! Torrential rain hammered the van all night and a short break in the downpour early in the day allowed us to leap the small river that was formed on our route to the loos, clean our teeth, pay for another night and jump back into the van before it came sheeting down again.
Thanks heavens for YouTube and Stephanie Meyers! (even if none of the pages are actually stuck in the book anymore!!)

Day 276 – 4th February, Thursday. Eden.

Drove most of the morning to a place called Eden. I’m sure on a good day it is a beautiful place which lives up to its name, but unfortunately we could barely see out of the windscreen for rain, mist and condensation. Spent the afternoon in the van catching up on emails, uploading photos and drinking endless cups of tea.

Day 275 – 3rd February, Wednesday. Mogo and Narooma.

Drove most of the day, stopping at a saddlery, (I’m looking for a stock whip now that Jozie has taught me how to crack one successfully) and an antique shop where Ant almost bought an old handmade tin chopper motorbike (to go with the tin campervan and the tin station-wagon with trailer that we already have to fit in our holdalls on the way home. Argh – and they say women are the proper shoppers!). We then reached the old gold mining town of Mogo with its hippie guru shops, old bookstore and fantastic fudge, where Ant bought a fabric bag and I resisted the urge to buy yet more books.
Passed through endless Gum tree forests before we reached Narooma on the coast and took a swim in the infinity pool which was still 27 degrees! Lovely. Then the heavens opened and we were pretty much confined to the van for the evening listening to the waves thundering onto the beach.

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Day 274 – 2nd February, Tuesday, Dee Why to Huskisson. NSW.

We drove into Dee Why and went to Gabby’s house before all venturing down to the beach for a swim. They have wonderful seawater swimming pools at the shoreline here which fill up with the tide and then get pumped out to be cleaned once a week only to fill again by morning with the new incoming tide. Fantastic – you can swim in the sea every day without battling the strong waves or losing your bikini.
We said our goodbyes to them around lunchtime and drove south through the Kangaroo valley which is beautiful – green rolling hills and vast lush farmland – not unlike some parts of England – except much more spacious of course and with stilted wooden houses.

Day 273 – 1st February, Monday, Sydney City Centre.

We first took a bus to Manly Surf Beach on the outer Northern edge of Sydney and went in search of the third Stephanie Meyers book. We found that and then had a right result in a second hand book shop when Ant found a Charles Bukowski that he hadn’t yet read and I found a book with 200,000 Indonesian Rupia inside!!
We caught a ferry boat into the centre of Sydney and wandered the streets to Darling Harbour where we had the most amazing seafood lunch (with Cocktail, and posh Brandy coffee) at Nicks on Cockle Bay Wharf. Lunch fuelled a shopping spree which included a real kangaroo-paw back-scratcher (awesome), a new cap from the surf shop (khaki) and two more drinks in a bar overlooking the water. Then we ventured over to the Aquarium which is said to be the best in the world – I haven’t been to many so I couldn’t possibly agree, but I have to say it was amazing. They had sharks galore, stingrays and penguins, jellyfish, seahorses and starfish, corals of every colour, fish of every kind (including Nemo) and best of all... two dugongs; beautiful, gentle creatures which were once supposedly mistaken for mermaids.
Our return trip was impressive – every bus and ferry connection were perfect (the opposite of London transport) and we were back with Betsy by 9:30pm; ear-wigging and giggling at the couple next doors drunken argument... that is until security came over to sort them out. (Ant later heard them ‘making up’ too – I couldn’t wait to see their faces in the morning!! Lol.)

Day 272 – 31st January, Sunday. Palm Beach (‘Home and Away’)

We awoke amidst the preparations for a teenage horseshow! – a bunch of girlie horse fanatics were plaiting and dressing their ponies in the stalls immediately surrounding our van – oops. We got up and set off for Palm Beach; the outdoor filming set for ‘Home and Away’. Ant was very excited – especially when we found Alf Stewarts Surf Club with its’ ‘Summer Bay’ signs above the door... so excited in fact that he bought a souvenir pencil case to take home with him – bless.
In the afternoon we drove back south to Narrabean and booked into a campsite where the beach and lake collide. A friend of mine from school back in Sussex, came over with her two small children for a swim in the lake – which was lovely and warm, but whiffed a bit and Gabby had said it could well have had ‘Pelican Itch’ in it, whatever that is. The only thing I saw was a puffer fish.

Day 271 – 30th January, Saturday. St Ives, North Sydney.

Slightly worse for wear and still laughing about the previous night’s antics, we said our very sad goodbyes (am so glad Narelle was at work, my eyes wouldn't have held back the tears) and drove south towards Sydney where we found a horse showground in the middle of nowhere. The ranger said we could stay overnight. The facilities were almost non-existent, but the wildlife was fantastic (more possums, very friendly Kookaburras and large bats), and the token cost was a bonus too.

Day 270 – 29th January, Friday, Stockton.

Back down the ‘Gladdy’ pub mid afternoon for a lengthy, sweaty, drunken, but fantastic last night in Stockton. We watched Jack’s band play and continued drinking with them all at a house party afterwards and into the early hours.