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… 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……

Life on Board

We were on a minibus recently, being heartily gouged by the Argentines (as usual), this time for a short transfer between Ushuaia and the local national park (14km on good roads? One whole hour and $20 each please! Oh, and Las Malvinas belong to them, no really). Anyway, we got chatting with an English couple, and the conversation turned to Antarctica cruises. Had they been on one? The answer came back that they were “not cruise people”. It was an answer we understood – not only are the trips pretty pricey, but cruises generally have an association of retired ladies and gentlemen in double breasted blazers drinking slightly too many pink gins at lunchtime. The occasional bingo night maybe? Perhaps a Perry Como-themed dining extravaganza or two, followed by slightly moth-eaten tuxedos at the captain’s table? Was this how life on board a cruise ship was going to be?

Er, no.

Our boat had two main types of people on board. About two thirds were older or retired couples who had planned the trip a good year or so in advance. And these were not the Florida-grotty tour group types we had come across elsewhere – for the most part they were extremely well travelled, reasonably well heeled, fairly open to new experiences and with a good suite of stories to liven up dinner time. There was a faintly crazy Vietnam vet and his lovely wife (who had been frostbitten climbing Aconcagua the year before and who we ran into carrying HUGE rucksacks in the Torres del Paine a week later), a happily retired Texan couple who had been dating for 20 years and were on board to celebrate her 65th birthday (complete with singing Costa Rican waiters, the inevitable guitar and the perhaps less inevitable plastic tray rhythm section). A solo Aussie who had happily attended his only son’s wedding a week before and was on board to celebrate a quasi-honeymoon of his own. A cast of characters, if you will.

The Sea Spirit, avec icebergs. Our cabin is, erm, completely invisible in this photo

The Sea Spirit, avec icebergs. Our cabin is, erm, completely invisible in this photo

And then there were the young ‘uns. Oh yes, the young ‘uns. We were made pretty darn drowsy by our super-strength sea sickness pills (honest, guv’nor) and so didn’t spend too much time each evening laying into the open bar. However, a good third of the passengers were young travelers who had booked at the last minute, and were determined to get their  money’s worth. Oh yes.

So, Lucy and I would retire to bed pretty soon after dinner each day, tired out by the early starts, the multiple extraordinary Antarctic landings; the excellent lectures throughout the day on glaciology, whales, bird life and rugged-beardy-explorer history; a hearty and usually pretty good three course dinner; and a cheeky beer while watching the sun go down. Hey – you’re in Antarctica, what is the point of being hungover? In fact, we were so well behaved that we didn’t actually pick up on the gossip until the last night of the trip, when I couldn’t resist the lure of a dodgy sound system and even dodgier pop music and decided to give my sea legs a damn good boogie. Well…

…it turns out that the young crowd had spent most of the trip drinking vast quantities of free beer, dancing frenetically while the ship heaved on the swell and hooking up with each other. And they had clearly been watching too much bad American television – one particular faintly balding stud had apparently spent most of the trip in bed with not one, but two of the woo girls on board. And he claimed to have found himself a third on an off night. One even went swimming in the sea naked. We were utterly woebegoggled. I mean, Lucy and I like a good party as much as the next man (and the next two ladies), but seriously?

Lucy in full-on whale spotting mode. And pretty good at it she was too!

Lucy in full-on whale spotting mode. And pretty good at it she was too!

Guys, we’re getting old. Perhaps it’s even time to move back to London and settle down?



So, we have just been reborn from the bosom of the Southern Seas. [shrugs]. Like all true artistes, this trip for us was a performance, a microcosm of humanity. [takes a deep drag from a Gauloise]. Cast adrift in a cowardly steel bubble to find reflections of itself in the Icy Southern Ice. [exhales sulkily]. Only to return willingly to its own detritus after the initial shock has subsided. [Sells soul to Charles Saatchi; starts making formaldehyde sculptures of sliced up penguins].


Yup. You guessed it. Regular followers of the blog (Hello Mum!) will be familiar with our occasional photographic self-indulgences – odd silhouettes, overexposed shots, close ups of random objects. Well, in Antarctica the scenery was so strange that we (ok, actually more like I) allowed my clumsier inner digital artist full rein, taking large numbers of shots at strange angles, odd camera settings etc. All in the name of the “Artistique”. Oh yes. I was going to break deep new ground in terrible self-indulgent photography. It was going to be legendary. And I basically couldn’t resist the bad pun in the blog title.

Well, I didn’t think to tell Lucy. We always edit our photographs – we had so many photographs of Antarctica that we ended up deleting about 60% of them. Somewhat unusually, however, we didn’t sit down and do this together. As a result, Lucy actually applied a base level of actual quality control – so destructive to my artistique creations – and I wasn’t there to protest, to stand up for, say, the beautiful out of focus shots of the sky etc.. Oops.

All artists must suffer, however – perhaps the suffering itself is the art [ahem; slaps self round face; gets over it]

Below are some of my creations which survived…

Polar Plunge!!

James is much braver than me. Also much less susceptible to the cold and with less heebie jeebies about deep water.

So he got to do the polar plunge, whilst I relied on the protection of needing (needing I tell you) to be our photographer for the occasion to avoid having to dive off the ship, into the ocean, just off the Antarctic peninsula. Water temperature: oh, about 2 degrees Celsius.

And just for added fun, he knew that from where I was standing (armed with camera. Did I mention the importance, nay vitality, of recording this occasion?), it was actually quite tricky to see the people diving into the ocean until they were quite far out, so he made an extra special effort to do a really long dive so I’d be able to catch him. In fact, he probably spent the longest in the water of anyone on the ship.

Crazy mad fool.

[Manly voice] "AAAAAGGGGHHH. It's FREEZING!!!!!!!"

[Manly voice] “AAAAAGGGGHHH. It’s FREEZING!!!!!!!”

Five hours later...

Five hours later…