Full Circle

The scene is a high end boutique on Rodeo Drive. Shop assistants clack around in their high heels looking glamorous and slightly mean. The door opens and in walks … Julia Roberts, in Pretty Woman looking for an outfit. The assistants sneer at her, she goes and gets rescued by Richard Gere and much hilarity ensues.

Actually, scratch that. The scene is a not quite so high end shop in New York City. Shop assistants slouch around looking deeply cool and slightly bored. The door opens and in walks … Lucy! (who is a pretty woman looking for an outfit).

Ladies and Gentlemen, if you want to make shop assistants swallow their bubble gum, may I recommend the following attire for shopping in downtown New York City: slightly worn thermals, hiking trousers and huge clompy hiking boots with scuffs and marks from several months hiking up and down lava flows and through jungles. Add to this a general air of world weariness caused by five days partying in Rio; a mild case of jet lag; a full day flying back to NYC via Bogota (of all places); and a plane-door-side row about immigration documents that left one of our fellow passengers (and nearly us) stranded on the wrong side of a slamming pressure door. Top this off (as it is bitterly, bitingly cold) with a short, blue, nylon down jacket bought in Lhasa in preparation for camping in the high Tibetan Himalaya in late autumn and a favorite red scarf from Kathmandu. To say there was an air of polite skepticism in the shop would be an understatement. Imagine a Republican patiently explaining his constitutional right to own an assault rifle to, say, assembled company at a dinner party in South Kensington and you have the idea.

Most of you probably haven’t had the joy of going shopping with Lucy, but the usual happened: a short and intense period of inspection, a short and intense period of thought, a short pause. “I’ll have that, and that, and that, and that, and two of those. Thank you. Right, shall we go to lunch?”


Ah, New York City. It’s good to be back. Shopping, and architecture, and restaurants, and FRIENDS! The best part of a week staying in Tim & Jess’s lovely apartment (and not just because it was one floor below where ours used to be). Out partying every night and most days, catching up with Jon & Tek, and Matthew & Michelle, and Tim & Jess, and Stuart & Matt (not like that) and Jan & Giusy (not like that either, but it would be interesting) and the guys at ex-work. The famously sewn together shoes finally went the way of all things, replaced by a shiny but respectably burgundy pair of lace ups. I finally got a hair cut where the person wielding the sharp implements near my ears spoke more than one and a half words of English. Six pairs of jeans, six pairs of shoes (or perhaps even more) and six good meals later we were feeling almost human again. It was absolutely wonderful.

And then it was time to leave.

You see, we weren’t returning to New York. Part of the grand plan was that we would travel slowly West around the world while all of our possessions traveled East in a shipping container, fitting a life’s ambition to travel into a natural break while we emigrated back to the UK. Our time in America was (and I don’t say this very often) truly life-changing but it was time to move back to the UK and settle down. Family and old friends were calling; Manhattan is a hard place to raise putative future children and we ain’t moving to Westchester for nobody. And we were desperately sad.

We love the UK, but it hasn’t been home for a few years. Hell, we have been homeless for the best part of a year – for me, after months of backpacking and sleeping on hotel beds / floors / airplanes, home is where the Lucy is. Moving back and setting up house was going to be a logistical struggle, moving back in the depths of winter after sunny South America was going to be an emotional one. Recognizing this, we nearly didn’t go back via familiar New York at all – why make things hard on yourself? In the end, the intricacies of airmiles (OK, so Avios, but who’s counting?) tipped the balance, and so we found ourselves facing down snooty shop assistants, TSA officials, and NY maitre D’s all over again.

Guys, we wouldn’t have missed it for the world. Bring on the UK!

Seriously Struggling to Describe the Sambadrome

As you can imagine, finishing our world trip has been pretty hard for us; strangely, I feel I have been avoiding finishing the blog because this will mean that Lucy and my journey of a lifetime is finally over.

We are now back in the UK and spring is now finally springing after bland weeks of snow, sleet, estate agents and personal admin. Everyone asks what it is like for us to be back “home” (as well as every single time asking us to name the best and the worst experiences of the trip – don’t worry, it doesn’t get dull, we just give different answers to everybody). In particular I remember a specific conversation from just after we got back: “Well, two weeks ago we were performing at Carnaval in Rio. And now we are in Ikea. In the rain. And to be honest it kinda sucks”.

Emotional aftermath aside, we can think of no better way to finish a Round the World trip than this: it is midnight in Rio de Janeiro, you are standing in a performing school of thousands of crazy excited strangers, surrounded by MASSIVE animated floats, troupes of dancers, glitter, costumes and more marabou feathers than you can shake a stick at (and that is a LOT). The monumental drum section starts, the overamped Samba music cranks up, haphazard but huge fireworks go off announcing the entrance of your school (fireworks!), and you shuffle forwards as part of this good-sized army, receiving frantic shouted instructions in incomprehensible Portuguese from marshals and coaches alike, before turning the corner into the Sambadrome and seeing … banks upon banks of people, crowds of 90,000 cheering, screaming spectators all hyped up on cachaca and adrenaline. They are all looking at you expectantly. And off you go.

  • Yes, we formally joined a Rio Samba School for the performance (the Uniao da Ilha school for completists among you). Yes, this is actually possible.
  • Yes, we learned a two verse, two chorus Samba song about the life and times of the Poet Vincius. In Portuguese. Which neither of us speak. Syllable by phonetic syllable. Bloody hell.
  • Yes, we picked up two monstrously awesome costumes from the samba school headquarters, and ended up looking like the picture below:
  • Yes we fought our way through Rio samba rush hour on the subway to find the marshalling point on a random side street in an unfamiliar Rio suburb.
  • Yes, we may have had a few drinks by this point.
Lucy, looking pretty damned fabulous in her costume. No, we didn't take the good camera with us!

Lucy, looking pretty damned fabulous in her costume. No, we didn’t take the good camera with us!

On our travels I have sadly discovered that I am no Patrick Leigh-Fermor. My prose may be pretty purple at times, but trying to describe utterly overwhelming experiences head on is well beyond my meager writing talents. Hence I tend to default to a series of vignettes to try to convey the thrust of the thing:

  • Struggling through the Rio subway crowds at night in a wildly impractical costume made of marabou feathers, glitter and flimsy golden plastic. Finding your place in a morass of people looking like amped up burning man cast offs. The waiting. The confusion. The navigating your way to and from the toilets by the temporary landmarks – turn left at the 20 foot tall seafood platter, head past the greek amphora mime artist troupe and aim for the back of the cinema on wheels
  • The heat, the noise, the shuffling, shambolic, dazzling nature of it all. The mass hysteria sweeping you along. The jury-rigged / jerry-built costumes gradually starting to fall apart as the glue from the heat guns begins to give way. The trails of beads, glitter, feathers and fabric left in our wake to be cleared up by samba-dancing crews of street sweepers
  • Wild dancing at midnight in a heavy plastic suit of armour in the crippling steamy humidity. The cold and clinical calculation that you run through, wondering whether you can physically make it to the end of the Sambadrome without passing out from dehydration, exhaustion and heatstroke. The second wind (and the third, and the fourth, and now the fifth!) as the gargantuan crowd screamingly urges you on
  • Wiping my streaming brow with my sleeve, before coming to a belated realization that I had used someone else’s sleeve (he was in the audience; he was leaning kinda close; I thought it was funny at the time)
  • Water, blessed water, at the end of the run. Handed out in these individual cup-sized, hermetically sealed packets. Lucy struggling to open hers – her fingers had given out rather after the effort of lugging the weight of her costume all the way across town. I ended up grabbing a gold plastic helmet-full of them, and opening them for her like Popeye opening cans of spinach – fist, crush, crunch, swallow. Fist, crush, crunch, swallow…
  • Delighted, exhausted collapse in a hotel room afterwards, huge piles of sweaty nylon costumes, bloody chafe marks on your shoulders from the weight of the headdress support frame, eating the world’s largest ham sandwiches and drinking pints and pints of mineral water while you watch your competing samba schools on national TV
  • Seeing the judge’s scores go up afterwards, and being proud of your adopted school for acquitting itself well after a recent promotion to the top flight (a little like the premier league). On reflection, it is the closest I can imagine to being in an army in battle – your massive effort and heartfelt contribution made almost no difference to the overall performance, yet what would it have been without thousands of you?
  • Lunch at tea time on the waterfront the next day after eight hours of sleep and a very late rise. Trying to listen to your body and order appropriately while it sends out a kaleidoscopic series of cravings – salt, sugar, water, caffeine, chips, mayonnaise, cachaca, savoury, water, salt…

And the end result? Well, this is our school’s section of video, taken from Brazilian national TV (our little golden group appears behind the oversized greek amphora / moving cinema around the 37 minute & 53 second mark)…

And the samba song? Ah, the samba song. Uniao Da Ilha, 2013. Thirty lines of random Portuguese regarding the life and times of the poet Vincius (the theme for the school that year). Heavily crammed into our heads during a succession of flights, in a succession of hotel rooms and, memorably, in one Rio beachfront bar where our song came on the radio and the two crazy foreigners stood up and sang it all the way through to a deeply bemused collection of waiters and other early diners. And no, neither of us particularly likes samba music. Those of you familiar with the concept of an “earworm” will therefore sympathize with our mood after a few days of having this bloody song going round and round our heads. Lucy in particular had one particularly bad experience after an unfortunate bout of undercooked-fish-inspired food poisoning, where she was up all night in the bathroom with the song on constant, unavoidable repeat in her brain. The only way I could think of to get the bloody tune out of our consciousnesses was to replace it with something even more catchy – cue wall to wall youtube repeats of Taylor Swift’s We are Never Ever Ever Getting Back Together and a relatively swift descent into teenage singalong insanity. God help us both.

I don’t know how many of you will have made it this far – this post seems to have rambled on a little. Would we do Carnaval again? Would we take friends next year? Well:

  • Flights to Rio? Not too pricey given we were already in South America, and we airmilesed most of the rest of the trip home via Bogota and New York
  • Hotel for carnaval? Expensive – prices shoot up for that week and there are sometimes five day minimum stays
  • Joining a samba school? Again, expensive at about $500 a head, but actually surprisingly easy if you know how and plan ahead
  • Learning a Samba song? Costly in terms of sanity, but fundamentally something that you can just throw time and effort at
  • The overall experience? Well, we have had a fair few, but this… This was utterly, utterly priceless


James and I had had quite a long discussion about exactly how to end our trip. I mean, there have been so many amazing, incredible highlights: how can you possibly find something to cap it all off?

Then we had a brainwave. Easter falling unseasonably early this year, as it did, mean that the Lent period also started strangely early. And of course that means only one thing: Carnaval. Perfectly timed to fit in with our planned South American trip and a fairly big, blowout ending to the trip.


Of course, being us, we came to the rapid conclusion that just being in Rio, the mother of all Carnaval cities, at the time to enjoy the Carnaval festivities, wasn’t enough. Sure, we could get tickets to watch the Samba parades and maybe take part in some general all round town partying, but we needed something more. I mean, you’ve seen our trip, and it’s been pretty world class. We wanted something extra special, just for us. That’s right, we wanted to PERFORM in Carnaval. Which, a short internet browse and a hefty download of cash later (ouch) we realized was perfectly possible. So we booked it all up, sometime back in December or so, and carried merrily on with our trip.

So we were kind of excited to arrive in Rio. We started off quietly enough, with a nice dinner (and a couple of caipirinhas) and a lovely day down on Copacabana beach, with some more caipirinhas to get us in the party spirit. Plus some good espresso, of course, I mean it was only 11 in the morning after all…… And we started to practice our Samba song (four verses, all in Portuguese, insanely dull) in earnest (once getting a standing ovation from our audience in the bar. OK, it was just the barman, but it still counts!).

Then we went to pick up our costumes. Reader, they were BIG. And GOLDEN. And very very very GLITTERY. It was love at first sight. (They were also extremely large, unwieldly and heavy so we were cursing a little by the time we got them back to the hotel, but hey, I’m a lover of insanely high heels as well. A little inconvenience does not in any way diminish the love).

We were really excited by now, but as yet still had little idea of what we’d actually be doing in said costumes. So we headed to the Sambadrome that night to see our first Samba parade and find out what it was all about.

The Samba parades are actually very carefully structured, rhythmed, and rehearsed events, with thousands of people participating and maybe another hundred thousand watching. In essence, though, it’s basically about one thing: glitz’n’glamour. I was in heaven. Oh, and bottoms. Lots of big wibbling bottoms. James was in heaven. For those interested in the technicalities, each school (they’re called schools rather than clubs because it means they don’t get taxed!) has a strict format to follow, with 2-3 flag bearers (ladies in ENORMOUS skirts accompanied by their “prince”), a set number of floats supported by wings of samba-ing performers, 2-3 sets of whirling ladies (more enormous skirts), the drummers and, of course, the drum queens. They’ll be the ones you instinctively associate with Carnaval, the ladies clad in nothing other than enormous amounts of body glitter, a bejeweled pair of knickers and several ostriches worth of feathers. They of the enormous wibbly bottoms. They’re absolutely gorgeous and more than a little terrifying.

It’s an incredible sight to see and I can’t recommend it enough. We watched until our eyes started to glaze and heads explode from the sensory overload of hypnotic samba drums combined with the whirling, glittering colourful onslaught that is a parading school. We left at three in the morning.

Exhausted, but very very excited. We’d just watched one of the greatest shows on earth. Next night, we’d be part of it.

Critterwatch! Iguazu

Of course the Iguazu falls are absolutely spectacular. But strangely, half the reason we ended up having such a happy time in the national parks surrounding the falls was as much about the surrounding jungly stuff as it was about the falls themselves. This is the closest we really got in South America to full on Amazon style jungle intrepidness, and we were lucky enough to see all kinds of cool stuff. No, unfortunately no jaguars (though I did do my finest jaguar attracting call several times a day) and not even any tapirs. But we did see pretty much all the other very typically Amazonian forest dwellers: a caiman hanging about conveniently just underneath the bridge we were standing on; a toucan posing nicely in a tree just above us. Also a very Iguazu only sight – an enormous big predatory fish whose name I can’t recall, bit like a catfish but bigger, which only dwell in the river beneath the falls – the falls act as such a massive segregator that essentially there are two entirely different ecosystems above and below.

Then of course there were the park’s resident menaces: monkeys and coatis. Or as I call them, attack coatis. Yep, that branch of animalhood that is sufficiently cute that all the park goers feed them junk food and them wonder why the animals turn vicious and try to bite anyone with food. Or anyone who doesn’t try to feed them. Or basically anyone who comes a bit close and looks at them funny. It’s one of my major pet hates in life (not just because of the time in Gibraltar when the monkey stole my ice cream although that does still rankle. I mean, I was 25!!) and poor old James got treated to extensive discourses on the subject. In between having to protect me from the sharp teeth and ravening claws of the attack coatis, of course. Just because they’re only 12 inches high doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be scared of them.

I think what I’ll remember most about the park though is wandering through the forest’s dappled shade surrounded by butterflies. There were THOUSANDS of butterflies. Butterflies EVERYWHERE, on our clothes, our shoes, our hands…..

Absolutely incredible.

Paradise Falls

We were getting to the end of our trip. But there were still a few things that we just had to do.

The more curious / bored of you may have clicked on the about link at the top of the page. No, it says almost nothing about us or our trip. Yes, it just contains a link to a video of what is ostensibly a children’s film. Yes, this is a little odd. And yet, the cartoon of Carl & Ellie, who had a wonderful life together only to come to a crashing realization when it was just too late that there was a personality-defining life ambition that they had somehow never got around to fulfilling… Well, let’s just say it resonated rather.

We have met dozens, and seen literally hundreds of retirees traveling around the world. Mostly sat in large groups on tour buses and in tour hotels, they are each living out their life’s dreams to travel the world. These tour groups actually make it further than many individual travelers – Uzbekistan, Papua New Guinea, Antarctica and other far-flung places are littered with them. But large tour groups are a deeply drab way to travel, and if I had a cliché for every time I heard someone complain about how their aged knees couldn’t take them to the local viewpoints and how they wished they had traveled when they were younger then, erm, I would write for the Daily Mail.

And this brings us to Paradise Falls. For Carl & Ellie this was the mystical destination that defeated them (cruelly, it is shown in the movie as being in Venezuela, just a few hours flight away). For Lucy and me, I decided that our analogue was Iguazu Falls.

On the border of Argentina and Brazil, Iguazu Falls is a spectacular series of waterfalls set in a national park in the deep jungle. Caimans, Coatis, Pelicans, butterflies and other wildlife abound. There is a long series of paths winding around both sides of the falls – we spent three lazy and wonderful days exploring, getting happily soaked in the spray, oohing, aahing and generally wandering in the jungle. We also drank more than our fair share of good coffee and did more than our fair share of reflecting on the trip.

And what a trip.

Getting it Right

Sometimes, the very best thing to do is sit by the pool in the sunshine and read a book. Reader, we loved it.

There is definite survivorship bias in this blog. Amazing experiences get glowingly written up, even more so if we were surrounded by photogenic landscapes, critters or people (or penguins – one must never forget the penguins). Truly terrible times get post mortem-ed in extraordinary detail, most often with a healthy dose of “one day we’ll look back at all this and laugh”. And we do. Drab days, however, get ignored – nobody wants to hear about 24 hours on a slow internet connection trying to Expedia the best route through Western China (even typing that bored me). And the last time I wrote about the joys of laundry days there was a real live knife fight involved.

So please forgive me for bringing up Mendoza. We were loitering in Argentina waiting for Carnival and had been enticed to Mendoza in the expectation of a few days wine tasting (it is one of the largest wine producing areas in the world, after all) and a few days hiking (Aconcagua is just down the road). And we ended up doing, well, not very much really…

To us, wine tasting involves hiring a couple of bikes (or, in an absolutely ideal world, a tandem – I steer, Lucy provides the power). You spend a happy day cycling from winery to winery, choosing an excellent bottle from the day’s selections to accompany a pack lunch eaten in the shade of a tree. There is exercise to burn off the booze, and there is definitely no drink-driving. Hiking, on the other hand, involves staying somewhere in the mountains, waking up after a long night’s sleep to a hearty breakfast, then bashing along trails through the hills with the occasional nice view. Ideally there are also nice country pubs with good English beer which appear around the corner as soon as it starts to rain (although we recognized that this might be a stretch in Argentina).

Well, no. And no.

Mendoza is hot. Like really, really hot. So hot that no-one in their right mind cycles anywhere. Besides, most of the wineries are too far apart to cycle to. Then there are the Argentines – they are so proud of their wine that they insist on you touring their (identical) winery for at least an hour before tasting any wine. Also, few allow walk-ins – most people go on organized minibus tours (ugh). Oh, and they close on Mondays. You know the expression “he couldn’t organize a piss-up in a brewery”? Well, Lucy and I tried really hard in Mendoza for a good three days, and ended up pretty darn sober.

So we decided to try hiking. We hired a car and went to the main tourist office in Mendoza. Interestingly, they did not recommend hiking anywhere near Aconcagua – you need an expensive permit, and the mountain is nearly 7,000 meters of pure bloody altitude. To be sure it looks great from a distance, but the foothills seem to be blasted slopes of arid shale, deeply uninteresting for the average day hiker. No problem, thought we, as we headed in the other direction. Only … there don’t seem to be any paths, anywhere. Or much to see – the mountains round here are mostly blasted slopes of arid shale. And no amount of driving hundreds of kilometers from park to park trying to find some nice walks seemed to change this.

Grumpy? Us? How could you accuse us of such a thing? And so, trying not to be overly chastened by the experience, the best part of a week later we are sat by the pool, reading a book in the sunshine … and having a simply lovely time.


We didn't take a single photograph in Mendoza. Instead, here is a sneak peak into the future - Lucy getting to know her Rio Carnival costume for the first time

We didn’t take a single photograph in Mendoza. Instead, here is a sneak peak into the future – Lucy getting to know her Rio Carnival costume for the first time

My Hero…

So, hiking in Torres del Paine like the intrepid adventurers we are. Hurrah for us!

Only on the last morning there, I did something epically stupid. I left my passport, safely wrapped up in its executive money belt, underneath the pillow of my bunk bed in the hostel. The hostel that is a 2 hour hike up a mountain. And then a further half hour bus ride away to get to the exit to the park. And then a further hour and a half or so bus ride from the exit of the park to the point where I realized that I didn’t actually have my money belt on, and stopped breathing for a moment or so.

Of course, what with there only being 2 buses a day to take you out of the park, by the time I realized this, it was 3.00 pm. By the time we got back to the hotel at the start of the hike up to the hostel, it was about 5.15 pm, and the last bus out of the park leaves at 7pm. And of course, we had a fairly hectic schedule of travel lined up over the following days, starting with a 12 hour bus ride leaving at 7am the following day, and a plane ride the following day at 8am. So without a passport, we were at the very least in for a few days of intensive hassle and several hundred dollars in travel cancellation fees. At the worst we’d (well, I’d) have had to go to Santiago to collect an emergency travel document…travelling by bus. For approximately 40 hours.

Oh and I’d been on the phone to the hostel a total of 3 times by this point. First time to hear that they hadn’t seen anything, but that they’d go and take a look for me. Second time, to assure me that they had now cleaned and searched the entire hostel top to bottom and still not turned up a passport. Third time to re-iterate that they had of course looked everywhere, including underneath the pillow of bunk 18 as I’d asked, and that the passport was nowhere to be found.

Safe to say that life was not looking good. I mean, what’s the chance of completing a 2 hour hike up the mountain, searching a rather large hostel for a rather small money belt that hasn’t been turned up by a team of hostel workers in 2 thorough searches, successfully discovering such passport, then hiking another 2 hours down the mountain, all within the just over hour and a half we had left before the bus left??

Enter James, in future to be known as My Hero.

He did it. RAN up the mountain in about 45 minutes. Spent 10 minutes scoffing chocolate to recover, before finding the passport…..yes, you guessed it, underneath the pillow of bunk 18, right where I’d left it, ran DOWN the mountain in half an hour and made it to the bus with 5 minutes to spare.

I’d say no sweat, but that might not have been ENTIRELY true……

Still, I think that that’s pretty darn amazing and I owe my lovely husband-to-be an epically sized thank-you!

Worst EVER location to forget one's passport... 2 hours up a VERY large hill.....

Worst EVER location to forget one’s passport… 2 hours up a VERY large hill…..

A brief update….

Well, it’s been a crazy couple of weeks.  Rio, New York, London.  Hiking, parading, and generally strutting our stuff.

But not much time for blogging.  Sorry.

AND we’re fast approaching the end of our trip and, with that, the end of this particular series of blogs.  Fortunately, whilst we weren’t blogging over the last couple of weeks we were doing some pretty fun stuff so hopefully we’ll go out with a bang!

And hey, you only need to keep on reading our drivel for a few more posts…..so hang on in there!!

The Towers of PAIN! (Hello Jeff)

This is Jeff. He’s great.


An actor in New York City, he has been seen on stage in Two Sisters, Two Brothers at the Theater for the New City and on TV recently in Blue Bloods. We think he’s pretty awesome.

While we lived in NYC he also spent a little time as our personal trainer, helping me and Lucy get fit. Known as the silent assassin, he is the very antithesis of the needlessly bouncy and aggravating personal trainers that we all hate – you know the sort. And he may not know this, but he has been helping us keep fit on the road as well. You see, he has given his name (certainly unwittingly, but hopefully not unwillingly) to something that Lucy and I call the “Jeff Equivalent”.

When we set out on our trip, we were choosing to indulge heavily in the greatest luxury of all, which is of course time. Time to see the world, time to read, time to sleep, time to spend with each other. And, incidentally, time to be healthy, eat well and be generally fit. This has resulted in some great meals, a few truly spectacular runs in strange places and the occasional yoga / pilates session in beautiful settings or when the hotel gym has looked unappetizing (incidentally, yoga below decks while sailing the Drake Passage? NOT to be recommended!). More recently, it has also resulted in some truly spectacular amounts of hiking. Christmas was pretty punishing from a fitness perspective, provided you consider great wine, home cooked food and CAKE punishing. Anyhow, Lucy and I decided that we wanted to get back in shape for spring (or summer, or winter for that matter – quite frankly this itinerary changes seasons on us about once a fortnight). And so we took ourselves to the Torres del Paine national park in Chile for some serious “Jeff Equivalents”.

Perhaps we should explain. When I used to “get Jeffed”, the poor man had to put up with me cursing, stamping my feet and (once or twice) giving up half way through and going home for a beer and a sulk. Lucy had more grit than I did, but occasionally post-Jeffing she had to be physically helped from the apartment door to the sofa and fed orange juice until she perked up enough for a whisky sour. It was extremely good for us, but Jeff unfortunately doesn’t fit into a rucksack, so on the road the “Jeff Equivalent” is the amount of exercise scientifically calibrated to be exactly equivalent to one hour of being beasted in the gym by Jeff – we worked this out one lazy day to be roughly equivalent to two hours of hiking up a hill (or four hours of sightseeing, or something – it all gets pretty rule-of-thumby at this point).

And boy, did the Torres del Paine deliver. A huge and unique rock formation crowded up against the side of the Andes, it is a spectacular setting for some truly world class hiking. We trekked a trail called “The W” which took us five days through awe-inspiring glacial scenery – bright green lakes, windswept mountains and rivers of ice. We slept ten-plus blissful hours a night in cabanas and posh dormitory-style refuges. We ate huge sandwiches and chocolate bars in rugged picnic spots half way up mountains. We oohed and we ahhed, and it was lovely.

Oh yes, we also managed to cram in about 18 Jeff Equivalents – yup, that’s about 36 hours of yomping (or about 18,000 calories, if you choose to look at life that way, which we tend not to). Next stop Mendoza, for some serious and restitutive wine tasting and steak!

The End of the World

And I feel fine.

We’re back in Ushuaia, the world’s southernmost city, after our incredible Antarctic adventure and we’re ready to spend a few days with our feet (literally) on the ground. After much travail, we’ve found a really nice self catering apartment with amazing views over the city and a kitchen you can actually cook in and life feels pretty good. Our basic plan for Ushuaia is simple: eat some nice plain home cooked food (ship food is both plentiful and rich and we’ve both added a few more pounds to the Christmas load) and hike in the nearby Tierra Del Fuego national park (partially driven by the desire to get rid of said unwanted Christmas / ship pounds). Also maybe to sort out the rest of our trip, so that henceforth we shall be blissfully admin free and able to really enjoy the last few weeks of our journey – we’re due home mid Feb. EEEEK!! Reality looms.

And, ladies and gentlemen, that’s exactly what we did. Three lovely hikes, one up to a glacier including one up an enormous sodding hill, in the rain (so no views from the top of enormous sodding hill then). And we only got properly lost once. Hmm, yes, about that: readers, if you ever look at a nasty muddy boggy path and think to yourself that you could probably find a short cut that took you past that nasty boggy patch – stay on the path. Trust me on this one. Fun as bush whacking through gorse may sound, it’s definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience. As in, never again.

Lots of admin, too. Not so exciting for you guys to read about, that bit, but suffice to say that there’s a surprising amount of hard work that goes into the swan like grace with which James and I canter about the place.

And lots of home cooked food. About 25 pounds of lasagna, one banana tree and a pint of dulce de leche. Hmmm, note to self: don’t go shopping for food whilst you’re feeling a tiny bit peckish after a full day’s hiking.

Not the most exciting of all of our adventures, but much needed and much enjoyed. We’re now off to Torres del Paine to hike for 5 days in some fairly mountainous terrain, after which James assures me that our weight loss will be great that we will each have lost one entire millimetre from the circumference of our bodies. Wow, that man really knows how to motivate a girl. If I can only get hold of a micrometer, I might even post the before / after piccies……