This is the old North Room blog – the new one is at www.north-room.com/blog

Last of the WTUs: Western Oz & Japan

Posted in Australia, Landscapes, Travel, Wildlife by Mike on June 16, 2009
This is Alan.  Wife's called Sue.  (Had it stenciled on the back of his caravan)

This is Alan. Wife's called Susan. (Said so in stencil on the back of his caravan)

Had some stick lately for not posting any shots from Western Australia.  Truth be known, we didn’t stop to take that many – we were doing so much danged driving (and trying to shoe-horn in as many last ditch activities as possible before we came home) that by the end of each day all we could think about was Bundaberg Red and a dip in an ancient rock pool.  But, in the interests of completeness…

We started our epic final leg in this unfathomably massive place by picking up a converted Toyota Hiace in Fremantle and headed for the Great Western Highway.  Mile-for-mile, this is the single-most boring stretch of tarmac on Earth.  Passing Cervantes, Pinnacles, Geraldstown and Monkey Mia, we eventually arrived in Exmouth, 1500 kms later, where the unending road was temporarily relieved by turquoise waters and the Ningaloo Reef.

The reef is a National Heritage Marine Park in which the Aussie government has licensed a small number of operators to run tours and give tourists the small chance of swimming with the world’s largest fish – whale sharks.  And by sheer fluke (you can pay top dollar for puns like that…) we had scheduled this leg during the six-week period when they gather here in droves to feast after the annual coral spawn.

We got to swim with a 5m long beauty called Chompy, a 20-year old male who’d earned his nickname thanks to some Great White savagery, and Claire and I agreed that this was the most privileged thing we’ve ever done.  It was like swimming alongside a slow-moving limo.  We did get some video from it but, as I’ve not had time to cut it yet, you’ll have to make do with some stills for now…

 

This is like finding a signpost for Southport - in Frankfurt.

This is like finding a signpost for Frankfurt - in Southport.

 

 

Which meant we had to carefully plan our toilet stops.  (It's the fly on my nose that makes this shot, IMHO)

Which meant we had to plan our toilet stops. (It's the fly on my nose that makes this for me)

 

 

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Got down in the mud for this one

Got down and dirty for this one

 

 

I loved the way the light was hitting here

Mine?

 

Claire feeding a wild dolphin.  The biologists at Monkey Mia have formed a relationship with 5 wild females who come here each morning for a feed.

Claire feeding a *wild* dolphin by hand.

 

 

55555

The biologists at Monkey Mia have formed bonds with 5 females who come here each day - from the ocean - for brekkie.

 

 

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Sunsets here were ridiculous.

Sunsets were ridiculous.

 

 

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Skippy's nut-job cousin outside the amenities block on our campsite.  Immediately after this, he sprang off to a random point about 150 meters away, turned about-face and then belted straight back towards me. Until that moment, I had never consciously accepted - and then awaited - death.

Skippy's nut-job cousin outside the amenities block on our campsite. Immediately after this, he sprang off to a random point about 150 meters away (took him about 6 seconds) turned about-face and then belted straight back towards me. Until that moment, I had never consciously accepted - and then awaited - death.

 

 

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Claris in Wonderland...

Claris in Wonderland... (snooted SB800 to camera left)

 

 

Kookaburra lives in the old gum tree...

Kookaburra was cool

 

 

Moving on, this was a small section of Tokyo's Imperial Palace wall.

Moving on... a small section of Tokyo's Imperial Palace wall.

 

 

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Bill Murray had the same view from the bar in Lost in Translation.  We ran out of cash trying to get drunk here.

This is the view Bill Murray had from the bar in Lost in Translation. We ran out of cash trying to get drunk here.

 

 

Worked up a thirst?

So we switched to this stuff which you could pore (!) yourself!

 

 

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WTU: The Galapagos Islands

Posted in Galapagos Islands, Travel, Wildlife by Mike on February 23, 2009
This was the scene at a bus stop on Baltra Island.  Many people don't realise the scale of the homelessness problem in Galapagos.

This was the scene at a bus stop on Baltra Island. Most people don't realise the extent of the homeless problem in Galapagos.

Greetings from Puerto Montt!  A detour from our envisioned route down south as we were expecting to head straight to Argentina from Bolivia.  Instead, we have spent the last week or so in the Atacama Desert – the driest place on Mother Earth – and guess what?  It rained!  Not much mind, but enough to raise a smile and make us feel slightly hexed.

At this precise moment in time (Monday evening in the UK – bizarrely, we’re only 3 hours behind you) we are half way down the thin but immensely long country of Chile having spent a grand total of 36 hours on buses getting here from the north.  Tomorrow we’re finally headed to Argentina’s lake district, though from there our precise bearings are as yet undetermined – the Perito Moreno Glacier in Argentina’s Patagonian south or the Iguazu Waterfalls in its tropical north.  Decisions, decisions.  Possible coin flippage on this one.  Either way, we’re ending up in Buenes Aires for some hot to trot Tango action in a week or so which should be good.  Finally Argentina’s capital will have the kind of sweet moves it’s been longing for…

As promised, we now have some shots to show from our brief visit to the achingly wonderful Galapagos Islands, although the short video (contains sound) is a personal favourite – the opening shot of two bull males almost coming to blows is unmissable… I’m expecting a call from National Geographic.

Some shots from Bolivia’s Salar de Uyuni (Salt Lake) to follow in the next week or so, hope everyone is keeping well back home.  Again, please keep us posted on your news, it’s so nice hearing from you!

Mike & Claire x

 

A Nascar Booby.  He was sitting on his arse until I got the big gun out.

A Nascar Booby. He was sitting on his arse until I got the big gun out.

 

 

Dude spent about 15 minutes sitting on my boots.  Got quite emotional when he left me for someone else's sandal.

Dude spent about 15 minutes sitting on my boots. Got quite emotional when he left.

 

 

Galapagos Hawk.  We saw 5 of them hunting for baby sealions on the beach.  Taken with Canon G10 point & shoot from about 2ft.

Galapagos Hawk. We saw 5 of them hunting for baby sealions on the beach. This was taken with our Canon G10 point & shoot from about 2ft.

 

 

Food fight!

Food fight!

 

 

"Some quality boobies kicking around here Steve."  "Mate, I'm still thinking about that pair of tits I saw yesterday"

"Some quality Boobies kicking around here Steve" "Mate, I'm still thinking about that pair of Tits I saw yesterday"

 

A Blue-Footed Booby.

A Blue-Footed Booby.

 

 

Not the world's greatest shot but I counted a total of 10 animals in it!

Not the world's greatest shot but I counted a total of 10 animals in it!

 

This was a bit odd.  Baltra is a bit more built up than we were expecting.

This was a bit odd. Baltra is a bit more built up than we were expecting.

 

 

We didn't get to meet Lonesome George but this was one of his chums - 180 years old.

We didn't get to meet Lonesome George but this was one of his chums - 180 years old.

 

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Marine Iguana.  Indigenous to the Galapagos.

Marine Iguana. Indigenous to the Galapagos.

 

 

One of Darwin's famous finches.

One of Darwin's famous finches.

 

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We saw this chap burying eggs before returning to the ocean.

We saw this little lady burying her eggs before returning to the ocean.

 

 

Having avoided the sub-prime crisis, Herbert was hoping his shares in Shell would pull through.

Having avoided the sub-prime crisis, Herman was hoping his shares in Shell would pull through.

 

 

Many bird species in Galapagos have become so accustomed to photographers that they are now born with features covered in make-up.

Many species in Galapagos have become so accustomed to photographers that they are now born with certain features covered in make-up.

 

 

I mean look at this one.  What a complete tart!

I mean look at this one. What a complete tart!

 

 

Others, however, only have their natural looks to go on.  This was on the back of our boat on day 2.

Others, however, only have their natural looks to go on. This was on the back of our boat on day 2.

 

 

"Hello?  Oh hi.  Look, Heidi, you're going to have to stop calling me.  I don't love you anymore, and if Seal finds out you keep ringing me I'm a dead man"

"Hello? Oh hi. Look, Heidi, you're going to have to stop calling me. I don't love you anymore, and if Seal finds out you keep ringing me I'm a dead man!"

 

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More to come…x

World Tour update: Nicaragua, Honduras (and a bit of Guatemala)

Posted in Architecture, Guatemala, Honduras, Landscapes, Nicaragua, Travel, Wildlife by Mike on February 1, 2009
Sunset over Lake Nicaragua from Ometepe island.  The sky was filled with colour.

Sunset over Lake Nicaragua from Ometepe island. The sky was filled with colour.

 

Herein endeth our first month and we’re almost done with Mesoamerica.  We’ve just arrived back in Flores, Guatemala, having spent yesterday and this morning walking round the ancient Mayan city of Tikal. (Albeit walking like we were both wearing calipers and looking like we’ve both had accidents in our respective all-weather trousers…).

Since our last post we’ve done some pretty serious mileage. In a nutshell, we’ve moved from Granada in Nicaragua to Ometepe island, survived Managua (the Nicaraguan capital), moved across the border to Tegucigalpa (the Honduran capital), up to the Bay Islands, across to the Mayan city of Copan (awesome), again over the border into Guatemala, stayed in the beautiful city of Antigua, visited the beautiful Lake Atitlan, hiked more than 4000 metres up the side of the absolutely hard as nails Volcano Acatenango (which I think is Spanish for “Stupid english wazzocks, do not bother”), then headed up to where we are now for our last bit of Central American culture and history.

Of the four countries we’ve now visited, Guatemala has to be our favourite.  It’s been much easier to access the culture and fabric of the place here than anywhere else we’ve found, and the places that we’ve visited and things we’ve seen have just blown us away.  Antigua, for example, is not only the most visually interesting place we’ve been to in its own right, but it also nestles between (count them) THREE volcanos;  Agua (to the North), Fuego (to the East), and Acatenango (just South of Fuego) are all clearly visible from the town.

During the days we were there, we were blessed with a number of eruptions of huge plumes of gas and ash from Fuego. And, after a painful 8-hour hike up to Acatenango’s 4km summit, we were also lucky enough to see one up close. As the only crew up there – we were with a German couple, two Dutch girls, two Aussie guys (one in shorts!) and our Canadian guide – we had the run of the place to ourselves and could not believe our eyes when we got up to the top – we were so far above the clouds we felt like we were in space and, right on cue, as the sun went down, Fuego rumbled loudly and spurted out a tonne of hot black ash. After the hardest day since records began, the experience we had up there just blew our minds. 

Check out the photos below, hope you are all well and keep us updated with all your news.  Lots of love, M&C x

As we headed North, the faunaa changed a little.

As we headed North, the fauna changed a little.

 

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Claire teaching some local kids how to talk proper, like.  I wanted to teach them You'll Never Walk Alone but the teacher was an Everton fan.

Claire teaching some local kids how to talk proper, like. I wanted to teach them You'll Never Walk Alone but I think the teacher was an Evertonian.

 

Thought I'd lost my old Streetfighter 3 moves, guess not!

Thought I'd lost my old Streetfighter 3 moves, guess not!

 

The laundrette in Ometepe had a strong environmental theme.

The laundrette in Ometepe had a strong environmental theme.

 

Granada's impressive Cathedral.  Most of the churchs here are scared from when the city was nearly destroyed - deliberately - by fire.

Granada's impressive Cathedral. Most of the churchs here are scared from when the city was nearly destroyed (deliberately) by fire.

 

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Whilst a little dated, Granada's transport network is better than ours.

Whilst a little dated, Granada's transport network works better than ours.

 

 

Better get inside ma (blizzard's 'a' comin'.

Better get inside ma (blizzard's a' comin'). One of Granada's fire-damaged churches.

 

Claire @ Masaya Volcano

Claire @ Masaya. Behind her is little brother.

 

The Spanish called this place "The Mouth of Hell"

And this is Big Brother. The Spanish called this place "The Mouth of Hell"

 

In 1991 it spat this out - a mere 1000lb lump of rock - crushing a car like a coke can, apparently.

And in 1991 it spat this out - a mere 1000lb lump of rock - crushing a car like a Coke can, apparently.

 

Large - the vehicles on the right are buses.

Large - the vehicles on the right are buses.

 

Another obligatory church shot - Granada.

Another obligatory church shot - Granada.

 

Nicaragua's most prolific Cigar Magnate is quite a dish - hot wife too...

Nicaragua's most prolific Cigar Magnate is quite a dish (hot wife too)

 

I remember rolling my own at Uni, but this took the biscuit.

I remember rolling my own at Uni, but this took the biscuit.

 

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Roatan - we waited all week for that sun!

Roatan - we waited all week for that sun!

 

I hear you fella.

I hear you fella.

 

Copan, Honduras.

Copan, Honduras.

 

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(cheese)

(cheese)

 

An early version of footy was played here to the death.

An early version of footy was played here to the death. My suggestion of a cheeky game of Heads & Vollies went down like a lead balloon.

 

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Up 'ere?

Climb THIS?

 

 

Claire and some of our possee at the summit of Volcano Acatenango.

Claire and some of our posse at the summit of Volcano Acatenango.

 

The in-flight meal on the coach was RUBBISH.  I went for the former and it wasn't filling at all.

The in-flight meal on the trans-Nicaraguan coach was RUBBISH. I went for the former and it wasn't filling at all.

World Tour update: Costa Rrrrrrrrrica!

Posted in Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Travel, Wildlife by Mike on January 11, 2009
As with 16 year olds the world over, these fellas laughed at my request for a picture.  But obliged.  I think the guy in the leather fingerless gloves was the tough one.

As with 16 year olds the world over, these fellas laughed at my request for a picture. But obliged. I think the guy in the leather fingerless gloves was the tough one.

Am pleased to report that we survived the recent quake in Costa Rica – luckily we missed it by about a week and had moved away from San Jose and into the Guanacaste province.  We’re having a blast out here in Central America and the traveling vibe we’d been hoping for has really kicked in here in Nicaragua, where we have been for the last few days.  We are currently staying in the lap of luxury – a present to ourselves following a close encounter with muchos cucarachas.  Many dead, some very much living.  “Scared by the earthquake”, our hotelier told us, “we never normally see them – bat don’t warry, I will fumigeeete” – he said, in his best Speedy Gonzalez voice.   Aside from this, and one or two other mishaps on my part:

  1. Wolfing down a couple of delicious sultana muffins before being informed by my wife that the sultanas were, in fact, lumps of mould
  2. Spending the next 20 minutes forcing myself to honk over the bano (no burst blood vessels this time)
  3. Handing Claire some delicious dried pasta shells for dinner which were also mouldy and teeming with flies INSIDE the sealed packet (that I’d bought with the muffins – not my best shopping expedition to date)

…things have gone swimmingly.

This wasn't part of the plan

This wasn't part of the plan? Arenal Lodge, Costa Rica.

 

Not seen rain like this since Manchester.

On our first day here it didn't stop raining.

 

Hey little furry dude, do YOU know when the rain will stop, hmm?  (no)

Hey little furry dude. (Why the long face?)

 

[Incoming]

Incoming.

And when the rains stopped

Arenal Volcano, Zona Norte, CR.

 

the sun came out.

The sun finally came out.

We spent a few days at Arenal, one of the world’s ten most ACTIVE volcanos (situated in Costa Rica) which is as awesome as it is colossal, spewing lava out every few minutes and dominating the skyline of the wilderness area of La Zona Norte (Northern CR).  Then we moved on to the cloud forest of Monteverde (you can see a shot of Claire zipping through the canopy below) and from here had the bus journey from hell over to the beach on the Nicoya Peninsula – a 9 hour slog-a-thon that had us waiting in the baking heat for 3 hours (for a bus that never came) and standing the rest of the way on a coach driven by the star of Police Camera Action.

Arenal at dusk.  You can see the lava running down the right-hand side below the cloud, and the ash above

Arenal at dusk. Check out that lava. The haze above the volcano is ash.

The beach was a tad warmer than the weather we’ve heard you guys back home have been having.  I used Claire’s face as a barometer and judging by its perma-redness, we were consistently enjoying temperatures in the mid-thirties here.

Having relaxed here for a few days, we plucked up the courage to buy another bus ticket, and luckily this time we hit the jackpot.  An old yellow, American school bus with two vacant seats and its own pet puppy, we managed to break-down 12km outside of our destination.  Luckily though, without a single health & safety official within a 600 mile radius, we got a PUSH from a friendly Land Rover owner for 2k’s until we reached the area’s high point – from here we free-wheeled for about another 6km where a replacement bus came to get us.

Spider Monkey!  This dude came at us with welcome presents from his *butt*

Spider Monkey! This dude came at us with welcome presents from his *butt*

 

(a close-up crop)

On the look out for more tourists to cack on.

 

Claire zipping above the canopy.

Claire zipping above the canopy in Monteverde

 

Bomber - could have done with some inspiration here.

Bomber - could have done with some inspiration here.

 

This was a hot volcanic spring we visited in La Fortuna.  Note that I'm NOT one of the fat dudes at the bar.

This was a hot volcanic spring we visited in La Fortuna near Arenal. Note that I'm NOT one of the fat dudes at the bar.

 

This dude and his mates ate platanos outside our breakfast window each day.

This colourful chap and his mates ate platanos outside our breakfast window each day.

 

He screwed up the landing.

You wouldn't think it but he screwed up the landing really badly on this one.

 

A pet of Arenal Lodge, this guy gave us a synchronized flying display with none other than his wife.

A pet of Arenal Lodge, this guy gave us a synchronized flying display with none other than his wife. He also nearly de-throned an American guy one lunch by flying onto his table. V. funny moment.

 

Do you remember this stuff!  Laughed out loud in the supermarket when I saw this - the Costa Ricans must love it.

Do you remember this stuff! Laughed out loud in the supermarket when I saw this - the Costa Ricans must love it.

 

Claire during our 3-hour stand-off for the bus that never came.  Several people came close to being hurt.

Claire during our 3-hour stand-off for the bus that never came. Several people came close to being hurt.

 

When we first got to the beach we wondered down it and saw these fellas getting proactive for their dinner.  Made our English seagulls look so lazy.

When we first got to the beach we went for a wander and saw these boys getting proactive on their dinner. Made our seagulls look so lazy by comparison.

 

My first Pacific sunset didn't disappoint.

Sunset over the Pacific. My first.

 

This small dude was tethered to our bus driver's seat.  Lucky for him, he got off 1km before it broke down.

This small dude was tethered to our bus driver's seat. Lucky for him, he got off 1km before it broke down. Skills on the sixth sense.

 

We weren't interested in the jewelry or drinks we were offered ON THE BUS, but the fried chicken tortillas in a bag were tempting.

We weren't interested in the jewelry or sweets we were offered ON THE BUS, but the fried chicken tortillas in a bag were tempting. Rivas, in Nicaragua - absolutely awesome place (dude).

So now we’re in Granada, Nicaragua – the oldest Spanish-founded city in the America’s – and it’s the most beautiful place we’ve encountered to date.  Tomorrow we head to market (Claire remains endlessly amused at my hapless but incessant attempts to communicate with the locals in my crap spanglifrancetinglish lingo) and then on to Ometepe – an island created by two conjoined volcanoes in the middle of lake Nicaragua.

Anyway, must dash, we hope you’re all well and we miss you!! (but clearly not enough to come back yet…)

Love M&C (on the veranda at Hotel Alhambra). x

PS – big congrats to Si and Vix on their news and a belated happy new year to everyone at home!  And please keep us posted on your news!