India, Asia, Winter Olympics, Islands, Japan and so much more! Spring 2018. An adventure without Boris!

Post 1 48 Hours to go! Aaaagh!

too-much-luggage

No matter how organised you think you have been, the last 48 hours before any trip are chaotic. There are just so many jobs that can only be done at the last minute.

The House sitters arrive tomorrow. They are lovely and give us peace of mind as we go away.

But in the meantime – Welcome to excited chaos! Also, to the first ‘Test’ post in our new blog – Two Old Fogeys Unplugged! We love getting comments and messages, so feel free to respond to any of our posts.

We thought we had finished the packing! But because we did it quite a few days ago we are now saying ” I don’t remember seeing the phone charger – are you sure you packed it?” and, “How many pairs of socks did I put in?”

The end result is that we have completely unpacked the bags!

Going away for 3 months with just 1 suitcase each, weighing under 18kg is an interesting challenge, especially to the definition of the word ‘Essential’. Things are easier now because books etc can be carried on Kindle, but I still like to have paper tickets and confirmations. With 23 flights and potentially 50 + different accommodations (we like to keep moving!) that is a lot of paper!

Essential for Chris are his gadgets – head torch, multi torch/mirror/whistle/compass/pouch thingy!

Essential for me are quizzes and puzzles, Hand steriliser and wet wipes, and the wonderful Travel John and Travel Janet devices – google them for more information!

We also have the Rolls Royce of Mosquito nets – more on that in later blogs if we have to use it.

This trip is by far the biggest adventure either of us has ever done. We will be visiting some fascinating places, including Dubai, India, Sri lanka, Maldives, Tasmania, Cocos Islands, Christmas Island, Borneo, Vietnam, South Korea and Japan. A bit more challenging than Australia and New Zealand. Different languages, cultures, food, and Bugs! I still have to be careful not to get bitten on my Lymphoedema arm.

Yesterday was an exciting day. Our daughter Jen is the sighted Guide to Menna Fitzpatrick, a Visually impaired Alpine skier. Yesterday they were selected for the British team to compete in the Winter Paralympic Games in South Korea. hence our visit there! You can follow them on http://www.mennaandjen.co.uk

So – off to do the FINAL pack of the bags, then a nice weekend with family and friends. Settle in the house sitters, and off we go.

We hope you will enjoy reading our blogs. They function as our diary, but we don’t know how easy it will be to find Wifi, so who knows how often we can add to our story!

See you in our next, hopefully warmer, destination!

Post 2 Off we go! First stop Dubai.

Jan 8th. Farewell to House sitters. Train to Peter and Tracy’s house. Taxi to airport. Catch first plane. What could be simpler? Anything apparently, as we missed the first train! It shut the doors 1 minute and 15 seconds before departure and would NOT open them! Luckily there was a lot of leeway built in, and despite a rail strike AND a big rail accident, we made it in plenty of time.
Our trip is huge, and is constructed around a 7 leg multi destination ticket, plus lots of short hops on local budget airlines. (Some of which may make Ryan air look luxurious!). I wanted to use airmiles to upgrade the longest flights to business class to try to avoid leg cramps. This was not permitted, but the lovely people at Round the World Travel found us a ticket with Emirates and Qantas for just a few hundred pounds extra, that gave us Business class on all 7 main flights, and included all our internal Australia flights AND free taxis to and from Heathrow and Dubai Airports. 😊🙃

So.. at Heathrow we headed for the Emirates Lounge. Wow… comfortable, peaceful and an endless supply of yummy food and drink. Veuve Cliquot Champagne Sir, or perhas a Chablis premier cru. The water was nice too😕.

Then to our business class seats…ooh..more champagne! Then hey presto…we have a lay flat bed. I never want to travel any other way!

6.5 hours later we land in Dubai. After recent news stories about people being arrested for having too many pills, I was understandably anxious about the small pharmacy I carry with me. Luckily our bags were checked through to Sri Lanka from London, thus avoiding customs, and immigration was a speedy formality.

We had a 17 hour layover thanks to a flight change, and had arranged to meet Mike, a german expat who hosts the air bnb we will return to in April.

He took us for a 1 day tour of Dubai. Old town, museum, souk, waterfront were fascinating, and we had a delicious inexpensive lunch at the Arabian Tea House. This is a traditional musical instrument…a skirt wrap covered in goat’s hooves!!!

Then on to the restaurant in the architecturally and decoratively stunning Burj al Arab – just for the amazing views. (See pic of tower below. Had I realised how ridiculously unsupported the platform is, I might have thought twice against going up!) We didnt eat there…this hotel is seriously expensive. We came downstairs and did splash out on drinks on the outdoor terrace -Wow!

Then onto the Palm, a massive area of reclaimed land full of hotels and apartments in the shape of a giant palm. By saying you are going for a drink in Barazura, you will get into the gorgeous Atlantis hotel. The interiors are stunning, as is the enormous aquarium.

Finally to Dubai mall, where, alongside carpeted shopping avenues, you could let your child drive his own car around, wonder at another huge aquarium, marvel at a 155 million year old diplodocus skeleton or gaze at the wall waterfalls.

Then outside to round off a ridiculously busy day watching the incredible fountain display, plus light show on the Burj Kalifa.

This is a city that invites you to suspend belief. Anything is possible. It is opulent, materialistic and frivolous… but fun and interesting! Seeing it through the eyes of a resident was especially helpful. This was just desert 40 years ago. We enjoyed Dubai much more than we expected to.

Back to the airport and free dinner in the business lounge again as we wait for our 02.45am flight to Sri Lanka!

These backpacking holidays, roughing it, are great!!! Ahem😉

Post 3 The Teardrop Island. First steps in Sri Lanka.

Home from work Sri Lankan style!

We arrived in Sri Lanka at 08.45 am after 2 hours sleep (Just a 4 hour flight from Dubai. They spent the first hour offering drinks and food, THEN suggesting perhaps you would like to sleep. Woke us up 2 hours later by opening the blinds and presenting Breakfast. I chose Sri Lankan porridge, lentil cakes and a sort of dhal. Delicious …if unusual)

Met by Tissa, our driver and chauffeur for the next 9 days. We agreed an itinerary with Ceylon Escapes, which we will now follow, entrusting ourselves to Tissa.
A very different way for us to holiday. We normally like to have freedom to drive ourself and change course mid trip!
Tissa is calm and polite and SPEAKS (more later) good English. He sorted us out with an ATM and a SIM card, and off we went to his car, a very comfortable Toyota Hiace. He presented us with a coolbox to put between us…”water for the lady, beer for Chris”, plus a gift from the company – a roadmap of Sri Lanka and a pashmina for me. Nice touch and both useful.
We headed North.
First impressions… Thank Goodness we didn’t hire a car. A small country road becomes 4 lanes in an instant. There is a hierarchy. Bikes move over for Tuk tuks. Both move over for cars. All move over for lorries and buses. Each one announces their presence by sounding their horn. So our car beeps to overtake a Tuk tuk, who is in turn beeping to overtake a bike. Coming the other way is a truck who has just pulled out to swerve round the tuktuk which just pulled out onto the wrong side of the road. Add to that 5 stray dogs and the odd cow and you get the idea! And this is calm compared to India!
Everyone seems friendly. We arrive at Ibis hotel, Wilpattu (not the chain). A 2 room bnb in the wilds, by a National park. Warmly greeted with cool towels and drinks we were immediately served lunch and taken ‘on safari’. No leopard but we did see Hornbills which for us was very exciting. On our return we were presented with ‘very refreshing drink’. Half way through mine I said…” this is lovely…what is it?” “Very british drink” came the reply….”Gin and tonic”!

I don’t really drink… that was my first ever G&T!!

Lovely traditional dinner on the terrace all prepared from local farmers produce. The curry had one hell of a kick! All we could hear were the calls of wildlife. Early to bed to the sound of some decidedly large insects scuttling around, and monkeys or giant squirrels on the roof!
Early start for a dawn bird safari around the villa. Oh my. Within 500 yards of the villa we had seen 2 different species of Eagle, a pair of Brahminy kite, pied cuckoo, Jacanas, crested swift, 3 sorts of bee-eaters, 2 sorts of kingfishers and so much more. Also gorgeous butterflies. All followed by a delicious breakfast served under the trees before Tissa hurried us to the car with our luggage…”We have temples to visit”. Very sad to leave.
We drove to Anuradhapura, the ancient capital of Ceylon built from the 3rd century BC. Tissa comes into his own. He searches out the hidden marvels, and tells us interesting anecdotes.

A stupa.. 2000 years old but perfectly symmetrical all around, pointing up to Nirvana.

2000 year old sacred buddha who has different expressions depending which side you view from.

We are given a full history lesson, and an in depth introduction to Buddhism! This places covers a vast area and we were there for hours. Our favourites were the ancient Bhodi tree grown from a sprout of the tree in India under which Budda received enlightenment.

The elephants pool, built 2000 years ago as a bathing pool for 5000 monks!!

Then onto Lion rock hotel, Kassopa, where we relax round the pool! The accommodation is more upmarket than I was expecting! Dinner was a great buffet. Again we sampled all the local dishes.
Bed at 10.00pm for a very early start! Apparently I had expressed a wish to climb Sigirya Rock. A Sri Lankan cross between Uluru and Machu Pichu. Sort of! 
It is a very high rock which had a Palace built on the top, and frescoes painted on the sides.

The access is up 1207 very steep steps cut into the rock side. The last stage is metal laddering.

Those who know me will understand that this ticks none of my boxes. But what is the point of being here if you don’t try. So we did. Wheezing and gasping, and having let at least 3 octogenarian skip past me with their Zimmer frames, I dragged myself over the last step using NLP all the way to master the vertigo. (Posibly a slight exaggeration there). Wow was it worth it. Firstly for the 360° views, and secondly for the extent of the palace ruins, including a huge Olympic sized swimming pool carved from solid rock.

The descent down the metal staircases took all my concentration, but after that, no problems.

Lunch at a roadside cafe cost under £5 for soup, huge buffet main course, little sweet and drink. Next the amazing Dambulla cave temple, built by King Valagamba in the first century bc. Another steep climb up to a sequence of 5 caves, each containing huge figures and paintings on the rock itself. Indescribable, and impossible to really capture on film, it is a must see. Some are over 2000 years old.

The feet of the 14 metre Budda with carvings explaining the doctrine.

A tiny number of the 3 metre high carvings in cave 2.

What a day, rounded off by an Indian foot massage… quite tough but my feet feel great!

Now to bed for a 5.00am start… tomorrow we go on the famous Sri Lankan railway.

Post 4 Trains, Tea and Triumph!

A 5.30 start took us to Kandy to catch the train south through the mountains to Haputhale. This is considered one of the great train journeys of the world. Tissa had purchased 2nd class reserved tickets. He kept saying they were very hard to get. We couldn’t understand why until the train arrived. There were 12 coaches. One first class reserved, one second class reserved, and 10 which I would class as ‘squeeze in if you can, and if not, hang on to the outside!!’. Thank you Tissa for our seats!

What a journey. 5 hours climbing through the mountains and the tea plantations. We climbed to 6,252 feet above sea level.. nearly twice as high as mount Snowdon, and the highest broad gauge railway in the world. All for £8 each!
Our hotel, the Melheim resort, clung to the side of a mountain, with stunning views, an abundance of birds, and great food eaten on the terrace. Next morning we climbed yet another hill, up through the tea plantations to Liptons seat. At 4,700 feet high, we, like Thomas Lipton, had a commanding view of his tea domain.

We also learned that only the two newest leaves are harvested each time…the ‘tips’. In the rainy season these regrow every 3 days, in the dry it is every 7 days. So the plants can be continually re-harvested, and are just replaced every 40 years. It still has to be done by hand. The tea pickers must pick 20kg each per day for which they are paid 600 rupees.. about £3. For each extra kg they get a bonus! Many are Hindu..brought over from India by the British. Some live in very poor conditions. Your tea comes at a price, although we suspect conditions are worse in other countries.
Following our dawn walk we visited the stunning mountain area of Ella, and its waterfalls.

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Then down to the southern part of SriLanka to Udawalawe for our safari in the National park. Oh my, elephants galore, including one tusker who was a little close for comfort.

My shot of the day! The birds too were amazing… some great close up encounters.

Tonight we sleep in our mosquito dome for the first time!

Next morning a visit to the elephant orphanage. Great place… no elephant rides or exploitation. Any orphaned elephant is brought here. Currently they have 46 babies under 5 years old. They receive a milk feed 3 times a day, but return to the jungle in between. It was funny seeing them queuing at the gate. Babies as young as 3 months! They form their own herds.
The most remarkable thing was an older elephant who had lost part of his leg when he stepped on a land mine. They had made a waterproof lower leg for him. That must have been an interesting rehab programme. He stays at the base, but was so happy to greet the others. At one point, he laid down. Immediately 2 of the older elephants went across and
orked together to lever him up onto his feet…and support him there. It was remarkable to see.

From there we headed west to Yala. Our final safari was to be in search of the elusive leopard. Very few remain in Sri Lanka and our chances were slim. Yala national park is huge. It has many lakes and even beach. – our first view of the Indian Ocean. Tragically this is the coast where the Tsunami swept ashore in 2004. 47 people were killed at just one site here.
The abundance of lakes meant more amazing bird life, and more elephants. Dusk was approaching when, as we were leaving the park, our driver slammed on the brakes. Leopard in the bushes. He edged forward and we were rewarded when a magnificent leopard leisurely walked across the track. It was magnificent. A truly Triumphant moment to end a great day.

Well not quite end it. We got back to our eco b’n’b to hear that Jen and Menna had skied brilliantly in the World Cup to get a silver in the giant slalom.. woo hoo. Go girls. Another Triumph.

And Chris decided that from now on he would like his Lager served like this….

Tomorrow…to the seaside… buckets and spades at the ready😊

Post 5 Last days in Sri Lanka…chilling!

Our last few days in Sri Lanka were spent in 2 contrasting places. We treated ourselves to one night of relaxation at the Turtle Bay Hotel at Kalametiya. Situated on an unspoilt beach, it was very peaceful, topped off by a delicious dinner by candlelight around a twinkling pool! Of course, we can’t sit still for too long, so at dawn we were taken for a punt on a small local boat around the bird reserve. It was stunning. So peaceful. Just us, a multitude of birds, water buffalo and some monkeys!

Then it was off to Galle. A delightful town inside 17th century dutch fortifications. Our hotel, Fort Bliss, was a charming 4 room old colonial house inside the walls. We did the 3km walk around the ramparts with Tissa explaining the Portuguese/Dutch/British history. We were also retracing the steps of Chris’ father, who visited here on his way to his posting on the Cocos Islands in WW2. It is still partly used as a military base, and at 6.30 am a large group of army guys came running past, shouting motivational slogans, Platoon style.

The town is charming, with museums, historic buildings and cafes. We had an excellent meal at Chambers – a Lebanese / Asian fusion of delicious mezze for about £10 pp.

It looked so delicious we ate half of it before we remembered the photo!

4 poster bed Sri Lankan style!

We were intrigued to see Morris minor cars dotted around, in apparently jolly good condition. Turns out the Morris minor repair shop is down the road, making spare parts for them… and sending them to the UK too!

Then to the airport. A sad farewell to Tissa – he has been amazing. We can tell he disapproves of us going to India! He is a Sri Lankan Buddist, so the Indians have always been the Invaders!

We won’t say anything. He is kindly looking after a suitcase for us while we are in India so we can ‘travel light’. We come back to Colombo for a night before Australia… and it turns out that in a complete coincidence, we have booked an air bnb with a good friend of his!

We absolutely loved Sri Lanka, and I really hope we can return.

A few other things we loved… the children in their school uniforms, Post boxes from the British era, and the FOOD!

Breakfast!

Lunch

Dinner

Post 6 India… where do we begin?

Two helpful suggestions from readers mean we are now numbering the blogs, and promise to try to include a few pictures of us (other readers are now saying “Oh No”). We are happy to admit that we were excited and apprehensive in equal measures about coming to India. There were the obvious concerns of health, sanitation, ‘Delhi belly’ and of course the extreme poverty, contrasting with experiencing an ancient culture, rich in tradition which is so very different to our own. Delhi airport came as a surprise. Vast, modern and carpeted(!), it had the speediest and friendliest passport control we have ever experienced, and the first shop we saw in arrivals was WH Smiths! Were we really in India? Then we met our driver Vinod, and left the building, hitting (metahorically), a wall of noise, dust and people! The drive to the hotel was incredible. There are no lanes… everything goes where it wants to, including cars, buses, vans, tuk tuks, rickshaws, cows, bikes etc. See a space.. squeeze in. There is some smog, but nowhere near as bad as a few months ago. Hotel is classed is a homestay. 4 rooms in an appartment. Clean, comfortable and friendly.. and they supply ear plugs! Hooting your car horn is mandatory here. It means ‘Hello’, ‘I’m behind you’, ‘I’m coming past you’ (on either side, there are no rules about overtaking), ‘Get out of my way’, ‘Look out’, and ‘MOVE I’M BIGGER THAN YOU’. We have established that the traffic only calms down between about 1.30 – 5.30 am. This is a city of 26 million people, and they are all seem to be going somewhere! Our first day was spent in Old and New Delhi with Vinod and our local guide. Wow. Here are the highlights. The Fatehpuri Masjid a huge mosque built in 1650 at the height of the Mughal period, to contain a minimum of 25,000 worshippers. Note compulsory gown for ladies. Gorgeous sandstone architecture, with Koran verses inscribed on marble. Chandni Chowk, the vast network of alleys and streets that are the historic and current shopping centre in Old Delhi. We walked to see the narrow alleys and old Havelis – 17th and 18th century wooden houses – built as homes for the wealthier merchants. The wiring is unbelievable. The alleys containing the silks, ribbons and dresses were a riot of colour in narrow, dirty Dickensian surroundings. Yet each one proudly dusted his shop, washed the floor and according to our guide, did good business. Then a rickshaw through the spice market. The quantity of spices traded here is jaw dropping. They arrive in huge sacks, on hand carts, bullock carts, even heads, and are moved by ornate trolleys to each trader. It was deafeningly noisy, dirty and chaotic.. but so alive, vibrant and real. It worked. The chaos had a pattern. Business was being done as it had been for hundreds of years. Next – Humayans Tomb. Built in 1570 for Mughal Emporer Humayan, by his wife. It is in gardens, which contain other huge tombs of his favoured ones…including his gardener and his barber! Next our favourite place, the Sikh Temple, Gurudwara Bangla Sahib.Delhi. It was incredible. A beautiful temple, where they have a constantly changing group of people who sing the scriptures all through the day. It was a hauntingly beautiful sound. They seem to be a very kind and caring religion, and through volunteers they run 4 kitchens across the city for anyone who wants a free hot meal regardless of religion, caste etc. They serve over 20,000 meals every day! We saw the kitchens. It was so moving. It was fresh food, and they can have as much as they want. The hall was full, and crowds were queuing outside. Very moving. The beautiful holy pool is for healing immersions. Then to Qutub Minar… the tallest brick Minaret in the world. Started in 1192 as a victory tower when Muslims overthrew the Hindus to rule India. They demolished 27 Hindu and Jain temples on this site, and used materials from them to build a huge mosque and other buildings. Back to hotel. Earplugs in. Sleeeeeep. Early start for drive to Jaipur. 135 miles – 5.5 hours! Apparently that is a good day! We saw an 18 lane highway… very briefly. A road that pretended to be a motorway..until a cow walked across…people ran across … and it suddenly had barriers (with no warning) forcing you to slow down into 1 lane for a police check. Later, suddenly, everything stopped as the road was dug up. 3 lanes of lorries onto a single lane cart track for 2 miles. Some cars didn’t like that, so literally turned round and drove back… facing completely the wrong way! The road is shared by tuk tuks, tractors and rickshaws too. At times, suddenly, 3 lanes are 1, driving up a high street with a market either side. Unbelievably amazing! Near Jaipur we went into the hills, through villages to the Samode Palace. Built by a Maharaja in the 17th century, it is now a top hotel. We had a lovely light lunch which enabled us to have a guided tour. Oh my… the palace rooms were exquisite. No wonder the rich and famous stay here. Sadly… that’s not us, so on we went, but were very pleasantly surprised on reaching our hotel, Khas Bagh, the home of one of Indias best polo players, Ransher Singh. Gorgeous room with a terrace outside. Very very comfortable and good food! Happy! Tomorrow we go to Jaipur. Very excited. Zzzzzzzzz

Post 7 Just when we thought it couldn’t get better….. Jaipur!

Jaipur is another ancient city. It is where the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is set, and the first BBC spin off series. Local people were very positive about the impact these have had on people’s interest and enthusiasm for India.

Off to the Amer fort at Jaipur. Built after 1592, high on a hill, it is surrounded by 12km of walls which undulate along the tops of the surrounding hills. Were the walls built to keep out attacking armies? No! Tigers and panthers we were told!

This is the huge, many stepped well, built over 400 years ago. The villagers could all get water at once, whatever the water level.

The fort is huge, with 4 huge courtyards, each with a different role. Each was more beautiful than it’s predecessor. The painted decoration was exquisite. A lime mix containing gum arabic was plastered on the walls. The colours were created by crushing semi precious stones like lapis lazuli, cornelian etc. These were painted onto the wet plaster which ‘fixed’ them.

The private chambers were breathtaking. Photos cannot do them justice. They were set with hundreds of pieces of shaped convex mirror glass brought from Belgium.

This is where the Maharajah’s wives would wait, and sprinkle rose petals down on him as he passed through the gate underneath, to welcome him home! Don’t get ideas Chris…although apparently, the nicer the petals, the better the presents!

Then we drove into Jaipur to visit the city Palace. Traffic jam!

The amazing ‘Floating’ gardens at the palace.

In Jaipur we first visited the astronomical museum. It was NOT what we were expecting. A vast outdoor space where, in the 16th century, the Maharajah brought together all the current astronomical and astrological knowledge and built huge instruments for measuring time, position of planets and constellations etc. They are magnificent. And accurate. The huge sundial is accurate to 2 seconds!

Then to the City Palace. More beautiful architecture from 17th century, plus a gallery of miniature art. Incredibly detailed paintings, created using a single hair on a tiny paintbrush.

A remarkable exhibit was a pair of solid silver flasks for carrying water. Read the notes… especially the weight! And then where they travelled to! He chartered an entire ship from Thomas cook for his family and 100 strong entourage!

Next, the huge palace of the Winds…which isn’t a palace at all. Simply a beautiful facade with corridors running behind the sculpted, vented windows. All of the Maharajah’s wives and other ladies would stand here, hidden, to watch parades pass by.

Finally, a walk around the markets, and a few photos that caught my eye during the day. We were shattered but elated by the end. What a place!

Heading to a christening!

Turban seller!

Family transport!

Post 8 The pinnacle of our trip to the Golden Triangle.

Next day a 4 hour drive to Agra, punctuated by a stop at Fatehpur Sikri, a vast sandstone city and palace, built in 1571 by the Mughal Emporer Akbar. It was abandoned just 15 years later when the capital moved back to Agra. All of the exotic jewelled wall coverings were stripped away but the architecture is still remarkable, as were the insights into a way of life thankfully not practised any more… don’t get any ideas boys!Read on for more information!!!

This was the ministerial meeting house, and the pillars were carved from single blocks of Sandstone, with marble galleried bridges to each corner. Emporer Akbar had several wives… and 500 concubines!! They each had an apartment in this palace! See the rooms all around the courtyard.

Each of his wives had their own palace, and could reach the Kings bedchamber via a seperate route! He had what can only be described as an Emporer sized bed… try buying sheets for this!!

He then had a Dream Palace in a seperate building where he would meet with today’s favourite concubine! The downside was.. he had to buy them all lavish presents and jewels!

We then headed to Agra and the main event… the Taj Mahal. So much hype… so many opinions.. would it be an anticlimax? No Way! This should be on anyone’s must see list if you like to travel. It marks the end of a love story! The Mughal Emporer Shah Jahan saw a beautiful girl shopping in the Agra Palace bazaar. She was arguing with a shopkeeper and looked very beautiful. She was the prime ministers daughter! He went to the shop and asked which item the girl had wanted. The crafty shopkeeper said…” many things!”. So the Emporer bought the whole shop and presented it to the girl. After a 2 year courtship they married. He adored her. In 1632 , while giving birth to their 14th child, she died in his arms. Her last wishes were that he build her a mausoleum so he would never forget her, look after their children and never marry again. He kept all 3 promises. He commissioned the mausoleum in 1632. 20,000 workers and craftsmen built it of the finest white marble. At today’s prices.. £650 million! All of the craftsmen were paid an annuity to swear never to work on another building again! It is set on ebony posts in water. Firstly because ebony becomes stronger in water, and secondly because the wood would absorb shock from earthquakes. Similarly they built the minarets leaning slightly outwards so that in the event of a quake they would fall away from the mausoleum. Pretty amazing planning for 1632! Words truly cannot describe it. All I will say is that it exceeded all our expectations, was much bigger than I expected… (look at the tiny dots of people on the far away photos.. they give you an idea of scale), and gleamed in the sunlight. The inlay work is black onyx, lapis lazuli, Topaz and Cornelian. Even in the crowds… (7 million visitors a year! ), you could find a space and feel the magic of this place.

Breathtaking.

Then out for dinner with our guide to an Indian indoor BBQ restaurant.

It was awesome food!

Our hotel was a bit posh… with bathrooms a bit too modern for us! The blind came down a bit sharpish! Our last day in North India started with a visit to the vast Agra fort, built by Mughal Emporer Akbar in 1565, and continued by his son Shah Jahan, who built the Taj. Akbar..of the 3 wives and 500 concubines.. had rooms built here for them all. Some pictures below show the beautiful carving and inlay work. The ramp was so they could roll giant stones down on their attackers.. Indiana Jones style! This was the christening present of one of the princes. It is a huge stone bathtub, with steps in and out, and was presented filled with silver and treasures! A nice practical gift! Then, the drive back to Delhi, through thunderstorms and massive traffic jams due to rehearsals for Republic Day parades on Friday. Then our lovely driver insisted on taking us to lunch at his house. It would put us all to shame. He, his wife and 4 children (aged 11 – 20) were all charming. They cooked chicken biryani for us. Their son had cycled 4 miles to get the chicken! They got out the best tablecloth for us. In comparison with our lifestyles it was a very humble, small dwelling. A moving experience. The bed with their nephew! Lastly to the airport for a late flight south to Cochin in Kerala. 2 Veg curries on the plane..yummy! Met by our new driver who says there is a strike tomorrow!Hot and humid here. Up went the mosquito dome and we slept like logs. New adventures start tomorrow!

Post 9 Kerala – ‘God’s Own Country’ in South India!

We landed at 10pm, were met by a representative and our new driver. As we drove to our hotel in Cochin they explained that Kerala is very different from Delhi. Less crowded, cleaner, and a 95% literacy rate compared to 65% in Delhi. Interestingly, it has been governed by a communist local government for years. However, they do have a lot of strikes, and one was scheduled for the next day affecting all tourist transport, protesting against a hike in fuel costs. Petrol is 69p per litre! We may not be able to leave!

Next morning our walking tour of Cochin is delayed to 11.00. A charming local guide, Peter James showed us the huge Chinese fishing nets, working on a cantilever system. Fresh fish abounds and is a key part of Keralan cooking.

He explained that Cochin was a key port on the Spice trading routes, first settled by Chinese, then Portuguese, then Dutch, then British. The Portuguese brought Catholicism, the Dutch were Protestant, and the British Anglican. In the state of Kerala they are 25% Christian, 25% Muslim, 40% Hindi 5% Buddhist, 5% the rest. It is a state where they live pretty harmoniously, and where women’s rights and respect are taken much more seriously than in other parts of India.

So on our tour we saw the oldest Christian church in India, plus the oldest synagogue in India!

Cochin is also where the 2nd BBC Marigold Hotel Documentary was made. One shop is taking full advantage!

The Cochin palace museum contained some amazingly rich painting from the 16th Century. We couldn’t photograph the best bits!

A lot of men here wear a skirt like garment called a Mundu. It can be pulled up short, dropped long, or flapped to aerate the nether regions!

Cochin is a charming, delightful place, and indeed a big contrast to the chaos of Delhi. But then we were given permission to leave for our 4 hour drive up into the mountains! Twisty and turny but remakably quiet due to the strike! We reached tea country and the Thekkady hills. Our best hotel of the trip so far, the Cardomom County, awaited. Amazing buffets … we tried so many delicious new Indian dishes.

Next day, a bird/animal safari in the Perygar reserve. The posters all show tigers… but chances are almost zero. And so they proved. (We were secretly a bit relieved…the tour was a combination of a tiny, completely open jeep, plus a brilliant guided walk! Neither ideal for meeting a tiger! We did see loads of new birds, monkeys galore leaping through the trees, and my favourite… Mongoose. Plus these gorgeous flowers frequented by humming birds and sunbirds.

Then, back in town a superb demonstration of Keralan martial arts – Kalaripayattu. Look closely at the fire picture.

Another great dinner buffet.. then next day a fascinating tour of a farm for Kerala’s king products…Spices. Did you know that peppercorn plants have no flowers… they have reproductive leaves which need to be washed by rain. Then back to the coast for a lovely 24 hour trip on a houseboat through the Alleppy backwaters. Chris has found a good way to get a cheap haircut!

We didn’t realise we had a whole houseboat.. with driver and house boy… just for us! He was a great cook…. included in the price was lunch…. afternoon tea with hot banana fritters! Dinner… and a huge breakfast! We feel guilty eating it, but it offends the cook if you leave it!

We travelled 40 kms through the backwaters seeing massive of birdlife and a way of life that has gone on for centuries. We tied up for the night by a tiny house in the middle of nowhere. Many houses like this one have no road access at all. No running water. The river is used for everything! We even saw people cleaning chicken and vegetables prior to cooking. Teeth cleaning, washing of self, clothes and dishes.

The small boats were for fishermen, and also they dived to the bottom and collected the mud for making pottery.

(Paul, Pam, Sue,Alan – I even chilled very happily! I reckon I could do a canal boat ….. for a weekend… with lots to look at…. and some nice stops!)

Finally, our last day in India was at the Marari Sands hotel at an unspoilt beach facing west across the Indian Ocean to Africa!

More great food… who were all those people who said we would lose weight in India… we have put it on!

We were anxious about coming to India.. health, security, poverty. We are so glad we came. We loved everything about it.

India is an amazing, vibrant, colourful place. It has its problems, but there is great optimism.

We would come back in an instant.

Tomorrow a new adventure beckons. 😀 xxx

Post 10 The Maldives

Chris and I love islands. This trip was originally designed to visit as many islands as possible. When we realised that the Maldives are just a 80 minute flight from Cochin, we thought we ought to go and see this unique and remarkable set of islands. Facts and figures. Over 1100 islands make up the Maldives. 800 are uninhabited, 200 are ‘Local’ islands, and 110 are resorts. The islands are either coral atolls which formed on sinking ancient volcanoes, or reclaimed land. The Maldives is a strict muslim country, with some alleged dodgy human rights practices, but an excellent education system with 98% literacy. Alcohol is banned except on private resort islands. Women should cover knees and shoulders – except on resort islands, or on designated beaches on local islands! When we looked at costs, resort islands cost between £350 and £3,500 PER NIGHT!, so we chose to stay on an island inhabited by local people, in a guest house. Local people have only recently been permitted to offer accommodation, and it is a great budget option. However… do research your island. Some are noisier/ dirtier / less tolerant than others. Distance from the airport is crucial too…some are a 7 hour boat ride away.

We chose Thulusdhoo. A great choice. 30 minutes by speedboat from the airport at the capital, Male. The local people were very friendly and tolerant. It was clean and quiet! Of course there was no alcohol, but Chris held up well! 

Our guest house – Canopus retreat, was right on a beautiful beach, and was of a high standard. We ate out on the sand every day. There were some very cute cats. The key things you want on the Maldives (so I’m told) are a house reef with lagoon for snorkelling, an underwater cliff for diving and a surf break. Thulusdhoo has all 3! The blue colours in the water are stunning… nearly as good as Tresco in the Scilly isles, our favourite place ever! Now those of you that know me will be aware that there are a few things I don’t get on with. Watersports is one of them! Sitting still is another. I survived the 4 nights. I read 3 books, walked round the island a few times and loved meeting local people and seeing their culture. We played Rummikub, and had a super aromatherapy massage. Excellent pizza at Contagious pizza. Lovely American owners who are ‘living the dream’. We did a boat trip, saw lots of beautiful fish and had dolphins swimming past the hotel. Now lets get busy again please! (But how is this for a title?!) The bad points… well, I know it is a cliche, but towels on sunbeds were an issue! There were only 6 really comfortable sunbeds. One couple literally tied their towels around 2 sunbeds and left them there, night and day, even when they were away from the hotel! There were many suggestions as to how to move the towels. Take them in to Hotel lost property was the best (and politest!) But no-one did!ĺ The Maldives are truly a very beautiful place, but with a mean height above sea level of 1.5 metres, global warming means their future is seriously under threat. We are very glad to have experienced this remarkable area, especially meeting local people rather than in a resort. We are now back in lovely Sri Lanka for 1 night before our flight to Australia! This time we are alone…no Tissa to hold our hand! I booked an air bnb near the airport – Villa Domenikuu. £24 for the night, and they arranged a cheap taxi to and from airport. It is amazing! Such a very friendly family…. and, completely by chance, he is a friend of Tissa Tissa had delivered the suitcase we left with him, AND the hat Chris had left in a hotel. Tissa had collected it! What service! Then went to the excellent Lords restaurant in Negombo beach by TukTuk! Zooming around these crazy streets in an open sided 3 wheeler is certainly an experience! It was great fun. Our last Sri lankan meal was superb. As was our last breakfast, with delicious Sri Lankan pastries. We are very sad to be leaving. PS. We also love Sri Lanka airways. Lovely staff, nice food and even in economy you get a foot rest, movies, games and a pillow! The female stewards wear gorgeous outfits – turquoise, printed with peacock feathers… there are wild peacocks everywhere here, they are the national bird of Sri Lanka. However the little logo for air India wins my favourite boarding pass award. He makes me smile every time I look at him. X 

Post 11 The land Down Under… Melbourne area.

We made it to Australia… yippee! Anne’s second favourite place in the world… after Tresco! (At the airport in Singapore there were hundreds of people of all ages wearing these scarves. They looked like unlikely football fans! I asked them.. and they said they were all muslims on pilgrimage to Medina and Mecca!

Having never spent time in the Melbourne area, we wanted to put that right… and allocated 3 days! We hit the ground running, collecting our hire car and heading east to visit the Dandenong range and Yarra Valley. Beautiful scenery… wooded hills, vineyards and farms. Our first stop was the wonderful William Ricketts Sanctuary. He was a sculptor who had great affiliation and respect for both the indigenous population of Australia, and nature. He wove the two together with incredible wood carvings, which are set in the natural landscape around his home. A real place of contemplation.

We then drove to a town called Warburton.. my maiden name! A laid back, lovely place with it’s origins in the gold rush times, it has a pretty river and some amazing mosaic steps, created by the townspeople themselves, and containing the beautiful hidden message:

‘ Flow through life with gratitude, ease and grace, allowing beauty to nurture, inspire and embrace your soul.’ Your thought for the day!

A drive high into the hills above the town took us to a walk high in the natural tree canopy to admire huge ancient Eucalyptus trees, tree ferns and waterfalls. Gorgeous.

Then a 2 hour drive to Philip island to our beach cottage Air BnB.

Fabulous spot by Woolami peninsula so at sunset we were on the beach watching one of nature’s great spectacles.. although one that is hard to photograph as it is dark! This is home to the world’s largest colony of short tailed shearwater..or mutton birds. Over 1 million migrate here from Alaska(!) to breed each summer. After sunset, out to sea, the sky is filled in every direction with whirling, diving birds.. all waiting. As darkness begins to fall they start their dash for the beach .. zooming in to find their burrows in the dunes. Too dark to see, you are just aware of their presence as they whizz overhead guided by the call of their single chick. Fantastic.

Next day we explored Philip Island. We visited 5 different locations on a birding map I had found. Each one very different habitat. Estuary, mangrove swamp, coast, Freshwater Lake and Bushwalk! We did a walk at each one. Saw virtually no-one but did see an amazing variety of birds and wildlife within a few metres. The echidna was a great spot!

This is what travelling is all about for me.. experiencing things that are different!

Philip Island is famous for it’s Penguin Parade which is undoubtedly a spectacle but has been turned into a huge commercial operation that caters for 2000 visitors a night! We avoided that and walked the boardwalks at the Noddies… and saw….

A great day on a beautiful island.

An early morning dash to return the hire car, then a day in Melbourne city – a young and vibrant place with a big arts scene. The Old gaol was a fascinating insight into the history, and punishment systems of Old Melbourne.

Ned Kelly, their most famous outlaw turned cult hero, was hung here in 1880. His alleged last words ‘Such is Life’ have become a much used phrase here in Australia.

I, sadly, will now be forced to continue this trip alone.

We then took a great walking tour which introduced us to the historical sights in the city as well as the street art and ‘lanes’ culture. Some gorgeous shopping arcades dating from Boom time in the gold rush. Then a great view of the city from across the Yarra River.

A super dinner in a modern chinese fusion restaurant ended our stay here.

Tomorrow Tasmania!!

Post 12 Tasmania – a land of contrasts!

After a short flight from Melbourne across the notoriously choppy Bass Straight, hire car is collected and we’re off! Tasmania is 226 miles long and 198 wide – about half the area of England, but with a population of just 520,000, so even the capital Hobart is small and uncrowded.

There is stunning coastal scenery, beautiful rugged mountain scenery, huge forests, bushland, farming areas and tiny villages and towns. Much of it reminded us more of driving through rural England than being in Australia… until this hops by!!!

Our first day was spent on the lovely Tasman Peninsula, exploring beautiful coves and fascinating geology.. the tesselated pavement at Eaglehawk neck was my favourite. Millions of years ago, the siltstone rock cracked along natural joints, creating the shapes we see today. Subsequently, the action of sand, water and salt has eroded them… but differently. Those furthest from the sea are left for hours with salt water drying on the surface, so the flat part has eroded more than the edges, creating pans. Nearer the sea they are underwater longer, so the joints have eroded more, leaving domed ‘loaves’!

Short walks along the cliffs took us to an array of natural features – the blow hole, Tasman arch, Devils Kitchen – a collapsed arch, and the Remarkable cave.

The Tasman peninsula is beautiful and sad in equal measure, as it was the location of the infamous Port Arthur penal colony, the first to be established.

The peninsula is linked to the mainland at Eagle Hawk neck, a narrow, 30 metre strip, so this was the site of the feared dog line. No convict would escape by land.

On a warm sunny day, the honeyed sandstone ruins of the penal colony made it harder to imagine the awful conditions and punishments here.

It started well, aiming to give prisoners trades for their future lives, but eventually sank into a harsh, punitive regime, using solitary isolation as a misguided method of reform. The worlds first boys colony was here too, on a separate island.

Onto our great air bnb in the riverside Hobart suburb of Bellerive. Day 2 dawned bright so er drove to the top of Mount Wellington. Astounding views and a nice walk to view the dolerite columns that make up much of the top.

After a great lunch at fish restaurant Blue fin… (delicious oysters!)

, we explored Hobart, including the quay, Mawson’s Hut – a replica Antarctic explorer hut, and the lovely botanic gardens. It’s summer here!!

Then back to BnB, carefully selected as just 3 minutes walk from the Hobart Cricket ground.. and we had tickets for England vs Australia T20 game. I had no idea where seats were.. turned out they were right next to Australian players tunnel! Luckily, they were a fairly kind crowd, so we survived! Sadly, after a great start, England weren’t quite good enough, and we ended up cheering with the Aussies when Maxwell won the match for them, getting his century with a 6 on the final shot of the match. Lucky really, because our BnB host might have locked us out if England had won!

The next 6 days are spent touring the island. We stayed in 5 Air BnBs ranging from a modern luxury annexe to a mobile home cabin by the beach! All were great, and about 60% of the price of a hotel, with far more amenities.

Here is a summary of our tour!

Up the east coast visiting Buckland church with 14th century stained glass windows from Battle Abbey, brought over by ship in the mid 1800’s. Then magnificent Freycinet National park whete we hiked up a very big hill for a view of beautiful wineglass bay.

Favourite walk was to Sleepy Bay. Great pink granite rocks, and paddling in the chilly southern Ocean.

On to Bichenu. Great blowhole, and cute nightime fairy penguin watching.

This meant a night time drive up a twisty pass to our accommodation – dodging wallabies and possums on the road.

Next day, off to Cradle mountain National park. Lovely long hike around Dove Lake at the foot of Cradle Mountain. Saw echidna and snakes!

Staying at pretty Port Sorrell on N coast, we stumbled upon Moroccan night at George and Dave’s cafe. Walking back at dusk with Wallabys on the pavement, and a possum jumped down from a tree making us really jump! Slept with door open as it was so hot. The sounds of the wildlife were amazing, including possums raiding dustbins!

Part 2 to follow!

Post 13.. Tasmania part 2!

Pretty early start to beat the heat and catch the wildlife at Narawntapu National Park. Travel tip.. A multi pass for all the parks in Tasmania is $60 for a vehicle and all passengers for 8 weeks! A huge saving on individual tickets. The parks we visited are really well signposted with top quality board walks even in hostile conditions, so we were happy to pay our way. This park used to have a large wombat population, but they have been almost eradicated here due to a type of mange. The good news is that researchers think they have found a solution, so hopefully the wombats will return. We did a long walk and were rewarded with a dozen new birds for our list, Pademelons, wallabies, and close ups with huge Forresters Kangaroos hopping right by! They are huge!

Then we had our first hiccough of the holiday! The engine warning light came on in the hire car and we spent the afternoon being towed to Launceston to be given a replacement car! Every cloud has a silver lining. We got a bigger better car, and had the loveliest tow truck driver ever, who took us on the ‘scenic ‘ route so we didnt miss anything, and gave us loads of great information about local culture and lifestyles!

In the evening we went to Devonport and had a super meal in restaurant Camille!

(We really are in Australia.. you could be forgiven for thinking we are still in SW England with all these place names. The district we are in is Dorset, and we are near Weymouth and Bridport!)

Next day we decided to head west along the North coast to Stanley, a town settled very early on by a land company, and which has a calm, friendly air of yesteryear. Gorgeous early colonial buildings.

We loved it. The highlight is a huge volcanic lump called the Nut.

A very wavy chairlift went to the top… No Thank you! So we walked up the steepest footpaths we have ever seen! A lovely bush walk circuit at the top gave great views and lots of wildlife.

Back in the town we followed the interesting heritage trail, and visited the home of Australia’s first, and much loved Australian prime Minister, Joe Lyons. His wife Enid was a real character, and became an MP herself in 1943. She was an ardent supporter of women’s rights and equality generally, and a lot of her ideas would resonate today.

They also sell the best icecream EVER!

From here, we drove back westwards, stopping at Rocky Cape National Park, with aboriginal caves and great views.

Lastly, an evening riverside walk in Fernglade reserve, where there was an outside chance we might see the elusive platypus. Not today.

Our Air bnb was awesome. A little cabin in the dunes with a path to the beach.

The stars were incredible from here – we could see the Milky Way so clearly in the absence of light pollution. Our host had left bacon and eggs from her ‘chooks’, so we had a great breakfast!

Our final full day. We needed to drive 250 miles, plus we had 2 stops to make. Firstly at the Bonorong Wildlife sanctuary which takes in injured and orphaned native species for medical care and rehabilitation, with the ultimate aim to return them to the wild. To raise money you can book a 10 minute experience with certain creatures. We chose a wombat and a Tawny Frogmouth. It was just the two of us! The tawny frogmouth is a fascinating bird which is nocturnal, and during the day mimics a gum tree branch while it sleeps. We were able to hand feed 2 visually impaired birds who had been in car accidents!

Then, the highlight of the trip for me! 10 minutes with Maria.. a wombat who was orphaned. You cannot pick her up but if she comes to you that’s fine. We were able to feed her. Suddenly she was climbing on my lap. A beautiful glimpse of a lovely animal. Even Chris was smitten!

Did I say lovely? They can run at 40 kilometres per hour. At the base of their spine they have a hard cartilaginous plate. If a predator is chasing them, they run into their burrow and stop, bottom face out. The predator lunges into the burrow and the wombat sharply lifts up her bum and crushes the predators head on the roof of the burrow! How is that for evolution!!

A key role of the sanctuary is helping to save the Tasmanian Devil population, and we got to see some orphans being fed. Ferocious!

Roland the echidna was cute.. he had a foot amputated after a car accident, so lives here now.

A great way to see the native species in an ethical and informative way.

Then back to Hobart for one of life’s coincidences!

When Chris was at Uni in the 1970’s he met Shona, a flatmate of Carols. Shona married Gary and they came to live in Brisbane. They have kept in touch (we stayed with them last time we were in Oz!)

Shona saw my facebook posts and messaged me. She and Gary are on holiday in Tasmania! We managed to make our paths cross for a few ours in Hobart.. and headed for the pub! Great to catch up… so far from both of our homes!

We then headed south to the Huon River valley, south of Hobart for our final night. Oh my… so beautiful. So glad we came to see it.

Our last Air bnb was a room in Amanda’s beautiful house with a 180 degree deck and stunning views across the bay. We want to stay longer!!

Our final morning was spent walking from the house, along the beach, with rockpools and great rock formations.

Then, off to the airport, stopping on route at a community run wooden boat building school, which was fascinating, and apparently thriving.

Very sad to leave Tassie. Exceptionally friendly and beautiful place.

Now off to Sydney!

Post 14 Just one day in Sydney and two days in Perth!

Our stay in Sydney was reduced to just one day due to a flight change. Arrived in the evening to our Air BnB in Glebe. Tom, our host, recommended a Thai restaurant for supper. It was brilliant… a great meal for £9 pp!

Sadly we couldn’t meet up with Jacquie Broome but we did have a lovely lunchtime with Tania Watson.. super to see you after too long a gap! Oh… and we also squeezed in the lovely 6km coastal walk from Coogee beach to Bondi beach, with a large pod of dolphins swimming offshore for part of the walk!

A walk to visit the beautiful Botanic gardens was rewarded with their new plant wall exhibition, and vast, colourful wildflower meadows full of colour.

Then a tour of the Opera House, with it’s beautiful wooden auditorium.

Plus Valentine’s day dinner at Fish on the rocks!

Temperature hit 37 degrees in the afternoon! . I ❤ Sydney

Next onto Perth.. where we encountered these new Dyson taps.. all automatic. Hands under middle for water, then move out to each side and the drier turns on! Little things !!

We are here to meet up with Elaine and John. John and Chris (and Paul and Pam) were sailing friends back in 1967! We stayed for 2 nights in their lovely home, and met their family.

A gorgeous walk along the coast here enabled us to view the Indian Ocean from a very different compass point to when we were in Sri lanka!

It reminded us how much we loved this part of Australia when we were last here, in 2012. Supper with their lovely family. I want to live in a climate where you can eat all your meals outdoors!

Next day a nice walk in Yanchep National park, where my wish to see more ‘parrots’ was granted in abundance. We also saw Koalas and added some new birds to our list.

Then a paddle in the Indian Ocean with Elaine.

A lovely supper with John and Elaine before an early bedtime… we have a taxi booked for 4.00 am!!

Post 15 A tale of drama, angels, and a nature lover’s paradise – Christmas Island.

Our trip out to the remote islands was slightly traumatic! Firstly a 3.30am alarm; secondly the announcement that we had an extra stop in Learmonth to take on fuel because there was a cyclone forecast and the plane may need to divert, but mainly because we were in mid air flying out to the middle of the Indian Ocean when I realised we had no passports! We think they had slid off the seat in the departure lounge at Perth! Credit to Virgin Australia staff. The pilot called Perth and an anxious hour went by (when the staff brought us extra refreshments to cheer us up!). Then we got the news the passports were at Perth airport! Next we had to persuade Christmas Island immigration to let us in with a photo of the passports and our driving licences! Finally, we hoped that Virgin would fly the passports up on their Tuesday flight, but because passports are legal documents, someone had to collect them in person. We decided I would have to fly back to Perth on Tuesday and return on the next flight Saturday! Then 2 angels came to our rescue. Elaine and John went to the airport with an authorisation letter from us and were able to collect the passports. They then posted them express delivery to hopefully catch the mail plane on Thursday!

Christmas Island itself is an awesome old volcanic mountain, now covered in limestone derived from ancient corals, sticking up 1200 feet out of the Ocean and covered in equatorial rainforest! It descends nearly 5000m to the ocean floor, and is located 1,600 miles NW of Perth and 250 miles south of Indonesia.

It is lush and verdant with an array of birds and crustaceans, many of which are found nowhere else on earth. A 4wd vehicle is essential to explore, and we bounced merrily up and down steep, and overgrown tracks to find tiny beaches,

amazing rock formations,

blowholes

and nature galore. Nothing like a bit of grass down the middle of the road!

The crabs are the stars. The red crabs are famous for their massive migration in November, when 45 million crabs (yes, you did read that right!), leave their forest burrows and head for the ocean. Roads are closed, and tunnels and bridges provided!

We missed that, but still saw lots of red crabs. You had to avoid stepping on them or driving over them. Signs tell you to stop or swerve, so if you are weaving from one side of the road to the other, just say you are avoiding the crabs! They ranged in size from 1 inch to 9 inches wide, each with its own unique artwork on its shell.

The other crab superstar is the robber crab, often the size of a football, and beautifully coloured and patterned.

The blue crab is saucer size and such a pretty colour!

The birds are stars too. With huge wingspans, Boobies and Frigate birds float soothingly above us, while beautiful Tropic birds twist and turn and display to each other, using their striking long tail plumes.

There aren’t many places in the world where it is appropriate to call out ‘wow, look at those Boobies’ as you are walking down the street!

Sunsets have been awesome,

but the star of the show for colour goes to a popular local drink – Jack fruit and pineapple juice with ice!

We also did walks to pretty waterfalls,

a grotto with a beautiful pool in the bottom and various viewpoints.

We paddled in the Indian Ocean, our feet close to fish, corals and, you guessed it, crabs! These are stunning corals.

All done in 30 degree heat and high humidity… phew, and we scarcely saw another person!

Paradise does come at a price! There are HUGE spiders

The inevitable cockroaches appear occasionally. We are quite adept at dealing with them, but tonight Chris discovered one had decided to hitch a lift in his suitcase! We had to unpack everything, shake it all out and then evict the little blighter out on the balcony!

Our final day was spent on a tour with Lisa who showed us Chinese temples, and took us on a hike to an amazing viewpoint where we watched the birds soaring below us. A Christmas island pigeon – once endangered, came and posed right next to us!! Look at that blue!

This magnificent island is however, fighting a battle between the phosphate miners who want to keep looking for more sources, and those who would like nature tourism to become the key source of employment and income for the island. It is an amazing destination, with great diving as well. Access is tricky due to remoteness and weather, but it is unlike anywhere else we have been. We loved it. Now we fly to the Cocos islands! We won’t know until Saturday whether a) our flight out will be able to land on Christmas Island for our connection to Jakarta, and more importantly, to let us pick up our passports, which hopefully will have arrived!! 😲 Watch this space!!

Post 16 A tiny dot in the Indian Ocean. The Cocos and Keeling Islands!

1800 miles from Perth, these islands are just over halfway between Sri Lanka and Perth. They are 2 coral atolls formed on top of long extinct volcanoes, and their height is just 10 feet above sea level!

They were a British colony, and their location meant they were ideal for an RAF base in WW2. Chris’ dad was sent here in April 1945 to maintain the radar system on uninhabited Horsburgh island. He wrote over 200 letters home to his wife, which Chris has in 2 shoeboxes!

He described the islands as paradise, and Chris has always wanted to visit. So here we are!

The islands are low lying, with many palm trees and jungle shrubs.

Only 2 islands are inhabited. West island by 150 people, mainly of Australian descent, and Home island where about 500 Cocos Malay people live. This is a muslim island. Everyone lives very harmoniously together. Just 2 flights per week, if weather permits, must carry every essential they could need. Coral and sand are not a good medium for growing food!

On our first morning, the owner of our cottage, The Birds Nest took us 5 miles across the lagoon by boat to Horsburgh. A real Robinson Crusoe island and very special for Chris.

The buildings are all gone, and the jungle has reclaimed most of the land. A few rusty gun parts remain!

We hiked to the ‘lagoon’. Birds were quite unafraid of us. This is a beautiful white swift.

All around the lagoon were magnificent weathered stumps and branches of ironwood trees.

There were hermit crabs everywhere. Each time I picked up a nice shell….there was a crab inside!