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.

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!!

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…

An Antarctic Adventure

A long, long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away (otherwise known as New York City, c. 2009), James and I met up with an old colleague / friend who was on his way back home from an amazing round the world trip. His personal highlight from the entire period of globetrotting? A voyage to Antarctica. A continent unexplored – we listened, amazed and somewhat saddened by the thought that we were perhaps unlikely ever to make it that far.

Roll the clock forward to 2011 when we were planning our own amazing adventure – scheduled to depart in late February 2011 for 6 months or so. Of course, that put us firmly outside the Antarctic season so, once more, we heaved a small sigh of regret at an opportunity missed.

Then came the slight shift in our plans that resulted in us moving our trip start date to late May. At the time we were pretty devastated and looking everywhere we could for small silver linings to brighten the cloud a little. We also figured out that a RTW ticket is SUBSTANTIALLY cheaper starting and finishing in South America rather than the USA or UK. So much cheaper, in fact, that it might even pay for a trip to – you guessed it – Antarctica. A plan was born.

Of course, at that time we had no real clue how much an Antarctica trip actually cost….

When we found out, after a long and laborious day’s research in Bangkok, we were a bit less certain about this whole affair. Rack rates were pretty pricey – I mean sure, penguins are cute and all, but can anything be THAT cute? We came to the conclusion that we could only really justify this part of the trip if we managed to find ourselves a good deal in some way. Cue many months of finger crossing, followed by some frantic trading of emails with various cruise agents as soon as we arrived in South America.

Result? We got lucky (of course!!), and set sail for the seventh continent. The sun was shining for us, both metaphorically and physically speaking, as we embarked on the first step of our voyage: the Drake Passage, notorious for 15-20 metre swells and the quite spectacular seasickness that accompanies them…. We on the other hand hit a sea high of about 1.5 metres, laughing cheerfully for our entire trip across the Passage, with interruptions only to indulge in our nightly 4 course dinners.

All in all then, we were feeling pretty chipper as we made our first landings of the trip, in Half Moon Island and Deception Bay, in the South Shetland Islands. And there were, indeed, many penguins And some whale bones. And some cool geological stuff that made the beach steam.

Pretty cool.

BUT: On the other hand, just how cute can penguins (even on a steaming beach) be??  I mean, even with a good deal, this trip is pretty darn expensive. And you can see penguins in Chile. And the 4 course dinners were great and all, but…..

Did we make the right call??

Don’t Cry for Me Argentina…

…The truth is, I’ve been quite happy
On an estancia
Near Buenos Aires
Just riding horses…..and eating sausage

A key part of Argentina’s heritage, estancias are the big old farm estates where Argentinian cattle are lovingly reared on an all grass diet to make them into the tastiest beasts in town. Believe it or not (and this is a Lonely Planet stat so maybe take it with some salt), Argentines each consume on average about 70 kilos of beef per year. That’s a lot of cow. Meat is something of a religion here and the cow is certainly pretty dominant in the national identity.

So we figured we’d best go see these cows on their home ground, as it were, by means of a visit to a working estancia, where the farmhouse has kindly been converted into a pretty darn luxurious hotel whilst still retaining the feel of a family house (helped not a little by the eight dogs lolling around the place and generally making a nuisance of themselves).

Life on the estancia is tough:

  • Get up, leisurely breakfast.
  • Horse ride round the estate to go look at the cows (fat, glossy, happy). There’s bulls too, which apparently are far too chilled out to be considered dangerous. The gaucho (yes, a real live gaucho, with a beret and EVERYTHING) laughingly told me that the bees were far more of a menace. You can take the girl outta the city…..
  • Laze round the pool and maybe even do a bit of hardcore swimming / yoga to try and create room in your poor beleaguered tummy before
  • Lunch. This will last most of the rest of the day, being a multi course grill extravaganza. Grilled pig (chorizo, blood sausage). Grilled chicken. Grilled cow (any cut you can think, of). Grilled lamb. If there happened to be any road kill that day, they’d probably chuck that on the grill too. Wash all the above down with some good local plonk and try not to doze off
  • Horse show. This was one of the weirdest things I’ve seen horse wise – basically a horse / gaucho bonding thang where they get the horse to lie down with them, then sort of stretch out the horse’s legs for it whilst it’s lying on its back. Check out the photos, they kind of do it more justice than I can
  • You must be pretty hungry / thirsty by now. Time for a light 3 course supper with some more plonk
  • Bed. You need it.

Repeat until full relaxation is achieved. Took all of about 45 minutes for us!
What can I say. This traveling gig can be a pretty tough job at times, but someone’s gotta do it.

Little Big Apple

Ahhhh, Argentina.

We arrived in Buenos Aires on 3 Jan after a long but rather lovely flight from London (first class! Yeah!!!). We feel we did a pretty good job in terms of value for money, all told, consuming sufficient champagne even before the flight to make us a tad on the late side for boarding….to the extent that they threatened to not let us on the plane….. Hmmm. Fortunately, they relented, and on we trotted to enjoy more vintage Bolly, the occasional movie and some well earned rest, Though for those interested in these (clearly key) matters, the BA pyjamas are a distant third vs. the Cathay and Qantas numbers.

First surprise: it’s warm in Buenos Aires in January, so out with the fleece and rain jacket and on with the sundress (James looks great in his). Even better, Buenos Aires is renowned for the excellence of its ice cream, a reputation which we put to quite some testing in the days we were there, and found to be entirely justified. Compared with a rainy January back in the UK, we started to feel quite smug.

In some ways, BA is a slightly strange town to visit when you’re traveling in a couple; the day time scene is not that hectic (other than all that ice cream eating), and rather more focused on strolling around the place, trying to get a feel for the city they call the Paris of the South. It’s the perfect excuse for leisurely strolls around the city, pausing only for the occasional recuperative cafecito. And more ice cream. But BA is far more famous for its nightlife, centred around the great triumvirate of techno, tango and, ummmm, meat.

But travelling with just the two of us makes the techno scene rather unattractive – there’s noone to persuade you that staying up until 3am to get INTO the club and then boogying until 6am sounds like a great idea, really, and James has seen all my best dance moves so many times as to no longer be that excited by them (fool that he is).

That’s ok though. We’re both great at eating meat. Or we thought we were, before our second steak dinner here. The steaks are huge (NY steakhouses seem like healthy eating paragons by comparison) and the sense of sheer weight on the old digestive system after a couple of those puppies had us signing up for a life of vegetarianism and exercise pretty fast. Still, we can enjoy tango with the best of them….just as long as we don’t try to actually dance it, that is – I’ll need several more joints in my legs before I can even begin to emulate the Argentine style with anything resembling grace. Hmm, we don’t have this BA nightlife lark as sussed as we thought.

All told? It’s town of culture and style, great food and wine; and plenty of ice cream. A great post Christmas destination to reacclimatize us to the harsh realities of life on the road.


Ballooning over Bagan

Some experiences, as they say in the Mastercard ad, really are priceless. Although disappointingly often, you need some dough to be able to afford them.

Point in case: ballooning over the temples of Bagan. I mean, there are literally hundreds of temples in the Bagan plains (yeah, I know thousands sounds better but I’m not sure there are actually thousands of the buggers – meaning I wouldn’t be able to use the word “literally” there with any kind of sincerity. And I think the literally added a certain something, y’all feel me? Not to mention the sincerity, which of course goes without question. Anyway. I digress. At this rate you’ll all start thinking this is a James blog post. Hmmm.). One could never see them all on foot. Well, obviously one could, but unless peering into hundreds of near identical temples in the stinking heat of a full Myanmar summer is really your thing, then I’m pulling the “life’s too short” card.


The total wow factor of Bagan, pretty much unlike anywhere I’ve ever been, relies on volume. The temples in themselves are wonderful, but not something you’d necessarily travel out of your way for. The temples, scattered across the plains in their hundreds (thousands? Some literary leeway here??) feel like an absolute testament to the will of man. Or maybe an act of God. Although when you look closer, you realize that the temples themselves are all really badly built – the work of the dodgy eastern European builders of a millennium ago, still standing proud after a fair old passage of time and only a small number of millions of UNESCO funding. So that should make you feel better about your downstairs extension.

And the best way to see this spectacle in all its grandeur is, without a doubt, from the air. We did this from the roofs of some nice tall temples that we spotted along the way, and that was pretty cool. And then we spent $300 each (ouch!!) and went up in some balloons, shortly before sunrise and that was completely, mind-blowingly AWESOME. Worth every penny, and this despite the fact that they made me get up at like 5 am.

Why so amazing? Well, a combination really. First the incredible view of all those temples – for the first time you really get a sense of the scale of the site. Then there’s the light – both the beautiful glow of sunrise and also the early morning river mist providing a sense of uniqueness to everything you lay eyes on. Plus the fact that you drift on by all these amazing sights with almost no noise.

It’s a verging-on-the-spiritual experience. Which is quite something given that the other occupants of our particular balloon were shooting a Digicel (mobile phone company) commercial, so our experience in the clouds was punctuated from time to time with the glorious sounds of “yeah, baby, make like you just got that text from your man”, “talk into that phone buddy” and, of course, amusing ring tones.

Travel. You can’t make this stuff up.