Update from Nepal

We've had an amazing time here so far; we've spent some time chilling in Kathmandu (where Sharon's had the “It's a crazy crazy world” song going around in her head), we've paddled a couple of awesome rivers.

Our first river was the Seti. On the first night we camped across the river from a monkey tribe – first time we've seen monkies in the wild. Second night we had the local village come down and sing us folk songs and were amazed by one kid who had taken an inner tube from a truck tyre and turned it into a manouverable boat that he could roll! After that river we had to ride on the roof of the bus with our kit back to Pokhara where we got a shower and then early the next morning headed out to the Kali Gandaki. This was a slightly harder river with lots of good fun bouncy rapids, loads of mules and kids (human and goat) shouting goodbye (the goats bleated rather than shouted, but we could tell what they were trying to say anyway). Enclosed by steep sided hills, we were impressed by the entrepreneurial spirit of one lad who turned up at our campsite with cold beers and the ubiquitous Coke to sell. It was great having the raft guides along with us – they acted as porters, interpreters, chefs and were also generally good company. We've got the same crew on the Sun Kosi (a 9 day trip we start tomorrow) which we're really looking forward to.

Kathmandu Arrival

We'll we've arrived in Nepal finally. Today's the first time I thought we'd miss a flight – we had a bit of a problem with our kayaks. We arrived to check in 3 hours before our flight and Thia Air point blank refused to take them, they didn't want excess baggage money – they said that there wasn't room on the plane. Rapidly assessing our options – we could delay our flight by a few more days, or we could send them cargo. If we delayed our flight, we'd have to pay excess baggage on them anyway, so we decided to send them cargo. Apparently it was a Saturday and the Cargo shipment wouldn't arrive in Kathmandu until Tuesday – that wasn't really a problem, since we'd have to delay our paddling a few days to allow Sharon to recover from her throat infection anyway.

The problem was getting us and the boats to the Cargo centre and ourselves back again before the flight let. The (now) helpful staff at Thai Airways checked our bags in on 'stand by' incase we didn't return in time. It wasn't hard to find a taxi driver willing to take us to the cargo centre with our kayaks. We didn't know where it was, so had to get him to call them up and get given directions in Thai. The driver was really helpful and even waited while we filled out the paperwork and then went on a mission to pay them – the cashier counter is in a completely different building again. To get to the cashier counter I had to head into a secure area accompanied by the Thai Airways driver (our taxi driver and Sharon had to stay in the main office) and then I needed to show the poor girls staffing the counter how to use their card payment machine. Chip and PIN is a pain to use abroad, most places don't understand it – this time it almost caused us to miss the flight as it took me ages to explain about the pin number to people who don't speak English.

At 10:10 (with our gate closing at 10:35) we had a 10 minute tax ride back to the airport terminal (where the driver expected extra money for having to wait so long) and luckily we were able to let the staff know to load our rucksacks and sprinted through security. We had to massively jump the queue at Passport control, but everyone in the line was understanding and allowed us to without too much complaining. The gate was one of the furthest away from check in, so we had to sprint and arrive just after the gate was due to close. We were the last people to board the plane and were out of breath and very surprised that we were actually on the plane.

The flight was amazing – we were above cloud level as we came into Kathmandu and saw the Himilaya sticking out above the clouds too – we were flying level with Everest, looking across the peaks of the highest mountains in the world.

Kathmandu brought us back down to ground, the airport was a strangely relaxed affair with no-one manning the walk through metal detectors and the staff seeming more intent on playing hangman on the computer than issuing visas. But we got through and found Ultimate Descents who are helping us with the logistics of this part of the trip. The theory is that if they organise it all, we end up paying a little extra, but end up getting to do much more and don't have to worry about putting 9 days worth of food in the back of the boats. The plan is to wait for a few days in Kathmandu, then head to the Seti for a 3 day trip, then 3 days on the Kali Gandaki and then 9 on the Sun Kosi, with one in Pokhara to relax and then we'll hook up with Intrepid for our overland trip to Delhi.

[Written 1st March 2008]

Addendum: a few days later, on attempting to pick up our boats, we had lots more hassle at the cargo centre. Luckily Ultimate Rivers sent a local guy with us. He didn't have a clue what was going on, but could at least ask people – their English wasn't great, although they knew well enough when it came to asking for money! The moral of the story is, don't ship a boat into Kathmandu. If you can't fly with one, hire one here.

Thai Travels

Arriving in busy Bangkok, our kayaks increased our appeal to the legion of taxi touts waiting in the airport lounge – they knew we weren't walking anywhere with the boats in tow. We walked right past them, though and straight to the left luggage counter where for a tenner we were able to store two kayaks and a rucksack securely. With a lightened load, we braved Bangkok with Mr Joke at the meal. It was late, but our hotel was welcoming – good quality hotels come cheaply here and we slept well – we'd need it. The following morning we were up early, enjoying our hearty breakfast and we then headed to the train station to book a space in the air conditioned coach on the night train to Chang Mai that evening. With two seats secured we wandered out into two, with no real plan. We ended up wandering through China town to the river where we joined locals on the river ferry. A Buddist monk in his saffron orange robes asked us where we were going and then later came and found us to warn us that our stop was next – a refreshing change from the other Thais who had asked us where we were heading, they usually used it as the start of a sales pitch.

From the ferry we winded our way through tiny back streets that locals insisted on navigating by moped – I think Thais in cities may have forgotten how to walk – and ended up at the Royal Barges Museum. Fantastically ornate ceremonial narrow boats with gold guilded figure heads rose high out of their dry docks and sat along side relics of boats bombed during WW II and models of the strictly adheared to processional order, still used on state functions today. Crossing the river, we found ourselves in the Backpacker's mecca – Khao San road. There was a Boot, Subway, lots of Neon signs and hundreds of market stalls selling tourist tat. We left and wandered among quieter streets back to train station.

The overnight train was empty and quiet, we slept better than we thought we might are were rewarded with a beautiful hazy sunrise over distant mountains shortly before we arrived in Chang Mai. We'd been recommended a place to stay, but they were full so we turned to our trusty Lonely Planet bible and found the Siri Guest House, a wonderfully welcoming place right in the centre of the old city. Wandering around the Chang Mai was great – there are stil (restored) remains of the 12th Century city wall, and the moat still has water in it. After so long in New World countries, it was pleasing to be back in a place with real history. One of the Budda images we saw in a Chang Mai Wat (temple) dated back to about 500BC, and the night markets we wandered around that evening are (now very touristy) remnants of the trading caravans that used to transport cargo between China and an Indian sea port.

To make the most of our limited time we headed out on a hillside village trek early the following morning, walking up steep paths to get to a traditional village that used to make it's money from the Opium trade, but now serves tourists with hand crafted goods and poses for photos next to their authentic wooden shacks on stilts. The terrain and flora were reminisant of Fiji and the trek we did there. The elephants weren't. We'd been awed by the elephants we camped near in San Diego Wild Animal park and now we were up close to these huge creatures. It's quite a scary experience to be perched atop a large elephant as it negotiates a tiny trail that switchbacks up the hill and back down again, but it's wonderful to see them up close. Following a failed bamboo rafting attempt in Fiji (too much rain) we were glad that todays rafting wasn't cancelled. After riding the elephants we headed to a waterfall for a post lunch swim and then rafted back to the bus down a shallow river grade 2 river. It reminded me of a less civilized version of punting in Cambridge.

Another early start the next day took us to a Thai Organic Farm where they run a cookery course – we learnt a lot and ate more scrummy Thai dishes. We even had a doggy bag that we could take back to Bangkok with us (another overnight train) containing spring rolls that Sharon had proudly made from scratch. THe night train was more crowded and we slept less well than previously (I'd opt for the earlier train which has proper beds, rather than reclining seats next time) so caught a few hours sleep at our hotel before heading out into Bangkok again. This time we took in some temples, saw the massive reclining Budda and the Marco Polo statues that guarded the enterance. The temples and Budda images are, like their barges, studded with coloured gem stones, gold leaf and bright red and green paint. It's those colours, along with the bright pink, purple and orange taxis that we'll remember when we leave tomorrow. Travelling around Thailand has been a brief insight into South East Asia, but it's shown us we love this area and will return. But for now we're heading off to Nepal for some different Asian culture and almost as importantly, some whitewater.

Into Asia…

From thunderstorms to glaring sun; that was the difference leaving the Aussie coast and heading into the centre made. We spent three very hot days seeing some very large and impressive rock formations with a cool tour group – we were up before dawn each day (and dawn is an early riser in the desert) to avoid having to walk in the midday sun. It was 31C before sunrise and only got hotter but this did mean we could sleep under the stars both nights, which is always great.

From Alice Springs we flew to Perth then on to Singapore for a night. We ate at a rather mediocre Chinese reestaurant and saw Pink Dolphins, but didn't have time for much else. We're now in Bangkok and are off to see Thailand.

(Our flight home is now confirmed for the 8th April – so it's not long 'til we'll be back in Blighty.)

Great Barrier Reef was Great!

We're just back from an over night trip on the Barrier reef where we did some awesome snorkelling and found Nemo's cousin (the real one they used for filming is in the Sydney aquarium, apparently). I got to see a turtle during my night dive, but they were elusive during the day. Early tomorrow morning we fly to the red hot centre of Oz to see a huge rock. In a few days time we're flying to Singapore (a new & surprising addition to our itinerary) and then on to Bangkok, for a week's lugging our backpacks around Thailand. Then we're off to Nepal and anything could happen!

It's still raining, but I expect that'll change tomorrow. We may not post many regular updates from now on, but keep the emails coming and letting us know how everythings going at home.

Sunshine? Coast

We're still driving up the coast between Brisbane and Cairns – we've made it to Townsville now & are taking a day or two off from driving (last two days have been solid driving) and heading out to Magnetic Island for a break. We're hoping to go horse riding on the beach, sea kayaking and koala spotting. We're looking forward to a nice air conditioned bed as well – it's awful sleeping in a van when the the temperatures don't drop below mid twentys at night and vary between heavy rain and 80% humidity…

When not driving we've been busy booking the rest of our trip. Some terrorist group said that British nationals wouldn't be safe walking the streets of Mumbai, so we're not going there any more. We're flying to Nepal via Bangkok and spending a little bit of time in Thailand (if anyone has any tips on what to do, let us know). We've been speaking to Ultimate Descents in Nepal and have sorted out an itinerary for there.

Sharon just rescued a little bird. It flew into the ferry terminal (where we're waiting for the Barge to take us to Magnetic Island) and tried flying through a glass door – it discovered it couldn't. It was a little dazed and Sharon heroicly showed it the (open) door. Had it have been a Cane Toad she wouldn't have bothered.

Rain rain go away

It's been raining here for ages… but we've done loads of cool stuff. Since we last blogged we've been to the Blue Mountains, the whitewater course in Penrith, then we headed up the coast to visit some of my rellies, Jean and Stan in Port Macquarie (their hospitality was great & we had proper home cooked food and a real bed!). We've continued up the coast, stopping in at a few places with cool beaches & beautiful views. We've been seeing more animals, Sharon got to cuddle a Koala & we've both held a baby crocodile – they're cuter than you'd imagine.

The last couple of days have been spent on the Gold Coast (near Brisbane) in theme/water parks – it's been great! The highlight for me was the flowrider – a static wave created by jets of water that you surf; the beaches around here have such big surf that they hold international professional competitions and scare me.

We're going to continue up the coast from Brisbane (we're in the city centre now) trying to avoid the monsoons.

Happy Australia Day

January 26th is Australia Day – it's a big day for Aussies: a sense of national pride and celebration for their country fills the public holiday. It's a bit like America's July 4th celebrations, but without the anti-British sentiments. On July 4th, we avoided the crowds, yesterday we didn't, we were in Sydney along with thousands of other people.

The reason we decided to hang around Sydney was the number of free events going on – in The Rocks (Sydney's oldest neighbourhood) there were 5 stages each filled with bands all day – there were dozens of busker stages, a stage in Hyde Park and one in Darling Harbour. We hadn't realised there would also be boat races (of the non alcoholic variety) with ferries and tall ships racing. As we arrived, there was a huge boat parade from the Opera house under the bridge with an almost unimaginable number of boats, from P&O's ocean going cruise liner to small boats with outboard motors & hundreds of sail powered yachts, all vying for space along side the official vessels and attempting to out do each other in displaying copious national flags and decorated in the national colours of green and gold for the 'best dressed boat' competition.

Along the road between the Opera House and Hyde Park were hundreds of classic and vintage cars, all polished and proudly displayed by their owners. There was even a display of pedal powered cars, caravans from the early C20 – complete with authentic paraphernalia and vintage bus routes carring passengers around town. We saw lots of music acts, from popular indie groups and folk singers, to brass bands and an awe-inspiring organ recital in one of the City's old churches

The questionable weather of the last week was hiding and the sun shone all day causing us all to packing into the little pockets of shade there were. As the sun went down, the evening culminated in a dazzling firework display over Darling Harbour.

A thoroughly good day was had by all that we saw and it was only later that we found out about the resentment that some people feel about the celebration of the 'invasion' of Australia – we spent all day wondering why the skywriters spelled out 'Sorry' in the skys above the harbour, finding out this morning that it was an unofficial apology to the aboriginals.

Today we're heading into the Blue Mountains and then we're off to the olympic whitewater course for a bit of a paddle, before returning to the coast and starting our road trip to Cairns.

Kangaroos, Koalas and Canberra

Guess what we did today?! We not only saw kangaroos and koalas, but also cuddled them! Smile Today we went to an animal park near Sydney and saw loads of indigenous animals, such as Tasmanian devils, soft-baked enchilladas (aka short-beaked enchidnas, but we like our name better) and wombats. We took loads of photos and shall try to post them soon. Yesterday we were in the capital – Canberra. Like the US capital it was designed when the states got together and wanted somewhere independant to hide the government. Also like Washington DC, it has lots of long wide streets joining monuments and huge ornamental buildings. The parliment building was stunningly decorated inside, with all the materials and colours symbolic of something Aussie & the war memorial was so poignant it almost brought tears to our eyes.

Tomorrow (Friday), we're back in Sydney to pick up our Indian visas (although we're not sure we want to go to Mumbai at the moment) and then get ready for the Australia day party on Saturday.