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

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

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…

Trip of a Lifetime (yet again!)

So we are getting the hang of this Antarctica lark. Our room is right at the front of the boat, so the routine is to get up after a night of being gently rocked to sleep by the ocean; look bleary eyed out the window at a few passing icebergs; head down for a hearty cooked breakfast; climb into our parkas, waterproof trousers and fluffy hats; hop in a zodiac and off we go. And this morning was like any other, except for the huge protective steel plate the crew put over our window which blocked out the view – apparently this the sort of thing is standard when you are dodging icebergs in the night. Oh well, I guess we can just about cope with that.

But what exactly were we going to do today? We had already ticked off our Antarctica must dos – we had seen penguins, whales, icebergs, seals and glacier covered mountains. We had already toasted each other with mulled wine in a zodiac while being rocked by the heavy swell from gargantuan chunks of ice falling off the side of cliffs hundreds of meters away. We had already tobogganed screaming down the side of a glacier. I mean, what else was left?


  • Penguins! And not just penguins, but penguin chicks – thaaasands of them. Seriously, the cuteness scale just grew a new 10. And the gentlemen penguins make presents of stones to the lady penguins just like in the David Attenborough documentaries (and yes, they do actually steal them from each others’ nests when the owners aren’t looking)
  • Elephant seals! On holiday from South Georgia! Lying there on the ice looking for all the world like the happy fat couple that they were.
  • Icebergs! You are motoring gently in a little open boat through channels in the ice, gaping awestruck at the blueness, the contorted shapes, the sheer size of these things. And suddenly there is a leopard seal, just sitting there minding its own business. And suddenly a huge chunk falls off an iceberg, rocking the boat and causing the other icebergs to lurch, pitch and roll ever so weightily around us. And suddenly there’s a WHALE! Very, very large, and right in front of us. And it swims right under the boat and you can see the whiteness of the flukes through the blueness of the water. And then another chunk falls off the iceberg. And … you just don’t know where to look!
  • History and passport stamping at the old British base at Port Lockroy. Even better, Lucy has run out of space in her (previously brand new) passport so I now have a stamp she doesn’t have – hah!
  • Watching awestruck as the ship threads its way through narrow channels with high icy cliffs on both sides. Improved (of course!) by a plateful of ribs from the open air lunchtime barbecue on the sun deck.
  • Swimming in the sea (well, you have to really). Lucy is probably best placed to cover this, as the part of my brain that dealt with this is still frozen solid
  • Standing on deck after dinner and a couple of drinks, watching the sun set (extremely slowly, obviously) and reflecting on how amazing the day has been. Oranges and pinks and golds and … but of course … Killer Whales! Ten of them! With little baby killer whales! Swimming alongside the boat for the best part of half an hour as it slowly fades to dark.

I don’t know if the crew choreographed it or whether it was just sheer good luck, but the third and last day of our visit to Antarctica was simply unbelievable.

And now, the photographs…

No Negotiation Please, We’re British

I have never thought I was the best negotiator. In particular, the hardball, screaming, shouting, temper-losing, bullying, American school of negotiation leaves me strangely cold. I can do it professionally enough if I absolutely have to (the skill is in ignoring the internal voice telling you that you’re acting like a dick), but people who do it to me just piss me off and make me obstructive. Every now and then, however, you need to deal with used car salesmen, Uzbek carpet dealers, New York jewelry makers and other serious professionals, and that is when the negotiation skills have to be dusted off. And I’m afraid to say that recently this didn’t go quite as planned.

We are in a jewelry bazaar in deepest, darkest Asia and we are trying to do a deal. There isn’t a large amount of money at stake, but it’s enough that any money we manage to save would be pleasing enough to make an effort for. We had done our homework properly – a full day walking the stalls identifying the precise type of necklace we wanted. We have taken photographs of all the items on offer, with prices and other details written on the stallholders’ business cards and included in the photos. We have worked out the various pricing factors involved – size, materials, quality etc. – and how they impact “first prices”. We have winnowed out any that are off the quality / pricing curve and have slowly been narrowing down our tastes and choices to a few candidates. We have made a final shortlist without making up our minds as to a firm favourite – price would determine which way we went.

The pricing discussions started well enough: I had (extremely politely, while explaining what I was doing) insulted the sellers of the two final candidates with extremely low offers. Please don’t react now, I had said, we appreciate that these are insultingly low offers and we want to give you time to think about them. Both offers had been flatly refused, and that was fine. The two stalls were within sight of each other and we had an hour and a quarter until the market closed at 5pm. The plan was to loiter within sight of both stalls letting the dealers stew until one of them cracked and tried to negotiate. At which point you stick to your guns but let the other see you talking. My hope was that Lucy and I would be talking to one dealer each at one minute to five seeing who was prepared to offer the best deal. We would never get the goods at our offer price, but we would get the best terms available. And it would be fun.

And we screwed up. We had done a slow walk past of each dealer asking if they had considered our offers (no – far too low) and we were headed off for a drink to let them stew. As a result we had only walked away from each salesman twice when one of their assistants chased us down in the market and agreed to our terms in full. Bugger.

One that we DIDN'T buy, despite the happy Lucy smile!

One that we DIDN’T buy, despite the happy Lucy smile!