Now it’s Namibia!

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We said goodbye to our amazing hostel (Amber Tree Lodge) and Cape Town bright and early on Easter Sunday and headed on down to the Nomads office in town with two German guys, Benedict and Lenaurt who were staying in our hostel and were on the same trip. Before we even reached the office we could see the big Overland truck we would be spending a large part of the next 12 days in. As we pulled up we saw this beast was named Marvin so in true Gaye style, “Let’s get it on!”

Our first stop in Marvin was at Table View on the coast North of Cape Town. It was somewhere we’d wanted to go whilst family Eccles were here the previous week but we’d ran out of time. It was a really spectacular view across the Atlantic Ocean back to the city of Cape Town with Table mountain looming in the background.

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Our next stop on our trip was one of our least interesting as we spent two hours in a shopping mall whilst the guides purchased lots of the provisions for the next few days. We bought water, fruit and biltong (dried meat like Jerky just better!). Shopping done we set off to our campsite in the Cederberg Mountains.

We pulled up at a pretty decent looking campsite and there were lots of looks of confusion and terror from the families enjoying their Easter holidays. I assume they thought we were going to cause mayhem and keep them up all night. We then set about putting up our tents for the first time and luckily for us ours was all there and went up perfectly, whereas a few of the other pairs didn’t have enough poles or they didn’t match the tents so alternatives were called for and some poor guy had to bring them out from Cape Town. The tents that Nomads supplied were actually massive and pretty nice to be honest our only concern may have been our sleeping bags. We have excellent ones at home but didn’t want to carry them around the world for 10 months just for this moment, so heavily under the influence of ‘Thrifto’ Eccles I had had to buy the cheapest ones I could find a couple of days previously and had got some for just over a tenner which would allegedly keep us warm if it didn’t drop below 5 degrees Celsius! Only time would tell just how many extra layers we may have to sleep in as the Namib Desert can get cold.

When we did this kind of overland trip from Nairobi to Johannesburg in 2008 we’d had such an amazing time and a lot of that was to do with the incredible group of people we spent a month and a half with. We are still in touch with lots of them and will always have special memories of that trip. So it was always going to be a difficult first day trying to figure out if we were going to have another awesome group or not. To be fair the dynamic of the group couldn’t have been much more different as it was made up nearly entirely of Germans and Dutch. We were in fact the only English people in the group of 23! The good news is that we are so used to travelling and meeting new people that we can get on with anybody from anywhere, so it was great to have some new people to share our experience with.

In the afternoon we went on a little trek in the surrounding hills which was nice enough. The local guide, Skippe, was good although I was a little put off when I saw him pull out a turtle from his bag and hand it round the group. I just prefer to find my wildlife in the wild I guess. The most exciting part of the walk was when he caught a couple of Scorpions and held them on his hands without being stung.

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He also showed us some indigenous paintings on a wall which were approximately 1,500 years old. He explained what each of the three ‘chapters’ meant and it was basically saying how they were happy and were leading a good life here all those years ago. Later that evening we ate a pretty tasty beef stew and shared a few beers whilst getting to know people a bit better. We went to bed that night pretty tired and drifted off quickly using the pillows we’d stolen from the airplane the other week!

It had got a little chilly at night but not too bad, yet. So we were up, decamped, fed and packed by about 7:30 a.m. and prepared for a fairly dull day travelling on the bus heading up north to the Orange River.

The highlight of the journey was when we finally found an off licence that was open and everyone stocked up on beers and wines. When we reached the Orange River campsite we all decided it would a good time to cool off in the river as it had been a long hot ride in the truck. Whilst we were swimming one of our guides, Victor was busy cooking us up some Wors (South African sausage) on the Braai (SA BBQ!) along with veggies and pap (maize like mash potato). It was really good and Ecco and I decided to wash it down with a super strong caipirinha as we still had a bottle of cachaça with us from Brazil.

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The next morning was pretty chilled as some of the group went canoeing on the river. We decided to save a few quid for later in the trip and figured we’d already done some pretty awesome kayaking in Laos and New Zealand. We borded Marvin the truck and crossed the South Africa – Namibia border relatively stress free and carried on to our camp for the night at Fish River Canyon, which apparently is the 2nd largest canyon in the world after that Grand one in the States. We quickly set up our tents for the night, before heading off to the canyon to watch the sunset. It was an amazing place and was quite like the Grand Canyon but perhaps a little less orange. Having been spoilt with sunsets over the last 11 months this one only really fell into the OK category.

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Whilst we’d been doing that our guide, Victor, had been preparing a tasty Spag Bol. The only problem was we didn’t know we were eating here and it was getting a little nippy in shorts and flip flops. It was a quiet night around the campfire and everyone was in bed by 9 pm as we were up at 5 the next morning for another looooong 600 Km drive.

Fortunately we’d avoided the cold of the night by zipping our sleeping bags together and wearing as many clothes as possible. We spent the next 8 hours in the truck stopping only to stock up on the essentials (water, beer and biltong!!). When we got to camp we went for a short trek into a spectacular 60 meter deep canyon which apparently fills up with water when it rains.

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After our chicken curry that Victor had cooked up we all went to the campsite bar as they had a massive TV and we watched the Real v Bayern Munich match. The German guys were not too happy with loosing 1-0 but us and the Dutch didn’t mind Bayern loosing too much.

If the previous day had been early then this morning was ridiculously early. We woke up at 04:45 and were in the truck and away 15 minutes later. Our first stop was to the enormous sand dunes and we began climbing Dune 45 so we would be on its peak for sunrise. These are the biggest sand dunes in the world and walking uphill in fine sand is actually pretty hard as you just sink and slide all over the place and the cross-wind was pretty fierce. The struggle was worth it though as when we reached the top we only had to wait 10 minutes for the sun to poke its head over the distant mountains and dunes. It was really beautiful and worth the early start. When we made it back down we were greeted with a lovely scrambled egg and baked bean breakfast, a great reward!

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After the sand dunes we jumped in the truck and made our way to Dead Vlei, which looked spectacular in the photos I’d seen on the Internet, it looks like burnt trees in a river bed surrounded by sand dunes. Apparently they are formed when the rains fall in the desert and there is a flash flood in a river which runs all the way into a valley of the sand dunes. This water then gets trapped and vegetation begins to grow. In particular there are the camel thorn trees which are amazingly adapted to living in the desert and can grow roots 80 meters deep to find water. Eventually the water dries up and these trees are left to die and dry up in the middle of nowhere. The white flooring comes from the lime that gets washed down in the rain and eventually is left there when the water evaporates and hardens over time. To get there we had to get into a trailer that was pulled five bumpy kilometres through very deep sand by a tractor. When we pulled up our guide, William, said just wander around and when you’ve had enough come back. It was really pretty there and Caroline and I wandered around for an hour or so taking photos of the enormous dunes and tried to find a dead tree to take a picture similar to the ones I’d seen before. It was nice but I walked over to wait for the return tractor feeling pretty disappointed because it wasn’t anywhere as dramatic as I thought it should be. Whilst chatting to a few of the other guys from the group I heard them ask each other if they’d made it to the black trees in the valley. One of the Dutch lads, Tom (good name!), said yes and showed me his amazing photos. Shiiiiiiiiiiiit. Thanks to the lack of guidance from our guide and lack of any signage we’d missed perhaps one of the best photo opportunities on the planet. There was only one thing to do. We turned straight back round and headed over the two distant sand dunes to find this mystical place, it was time to be a little selfish as we weren’t missing out on this! It was a flipping hot power walk and we were out of water as I’d given our last bit to the little birds! As we climbed one last steep dune I saw exactly the place we were looking for and it was incredible. In the middle of the Namib Desert sat approximately fifty dead, dry and blackened trees in a white rock-like floor all surrounded by tangerine and orange ginormous sand dunes under the bluest of skies. It really was a photographer’s paradise and I was a little peed off at not having longer there but was so, so happy that we’d decided to turn back and find it. The photos are stunning and will be right up there with my favourites come the end of this phenomenal year. (Feel free to check out the extra photos in the link at the end of this blog!)

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After lunch we were back in Marvin the truck and headed to our next campsite via an Apple Pie Shop called Solitaire that used to be owned by a giant Scottsman called Moose McGregor. Poor Moose had passed away earlier this year!!! We were all excited about the sweet treat but unfortunately they had no apple pie ready. Our guides were not having a good day!

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Arriving at our campsite was pretty cool that day. We were literally in the middle of the Namib Desert and were camping on a farm. The dunes were a lot greener than you’d expect. Apparently the levels of rainfall have increased dramatically and this has caused the growth of lots of bushes and grasses.

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The guy who owned the farm was an awesome Namibian guy called Boes Man (Bushman). We spent the early evening on a desert drive where he taught us all about the land and the ways of the traditional Namibian bushmen who’d been hunted and killed to extinction by the 1930’s. He told us they were little yellow skinned people never bigger than 5 foot tall and amazing hunters. They used to hide in the undergrowth and could crawl to their prey so quietly that the could shoot a poisoned arrow as close as 5 foot away from a wild antelope without them knowing that they were there or what happened. He taught us about their hunting, food, history, lifestyle and amazing heritage. He even caught a little lizard and pretended to eat it, much to the horror of the females in the audience. He was completely captivating and everyone had a great time listening to his tales.

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On the advice of Bushman about 7 of us decided that tonight was the night to sleep under the stars and not in our tents. Although there was a watering hole which attracts a leopard, in the grasses apparently a few varieties of poisonous snakes and under the rocks there were scorpions he assured us that none of them would come anywhere near us, so seeing as it wasn’t that cold and there were no mosquitos we dragged our mats and sleeping bags out and drifted off to sleep whilst watching shooting stars fly through the most incredibly clear and bright starry sky you are ever likely to see. It was a cool feeling knowing that it doesn’t get much more basic than this and was amazing to wake up to the bluey orange sky just before sunrise.

Days 6 and 7 of our trip were to be spent in Swakopmund, which is the heavily German influenced adrenalin activity centre of Namibia. We decided that we were going to go Sand-boarding as it looked pretty awesome.

We checked into our lodge for the next two nights and were very surprised at quite how nice the rooms were. It was good to be able to sleep in a real bed after 5 nights sleeping on a PE mattress! That night we decided to all go out to a restaurant called Neopolitania. I had Orx (huge Antelope type creature!) steak for my dinner and it was superb. Like an amazingly tender piece of fillet steak. Eccles went for Kudu and was equally impressed. After that half of us headed out to the town’s nightclub and had a great laugh in a pretty strange place!

The Saturday was sand-boarding day and they came to pick us up at 09:30. We were glad the previous night’s Windhoek beers hadn’t caught up with us and we were hangover free. They drove us out to the sand dunes and explained what we’d be up to and kitted us out with helmets, boards and boots. Then we had the boring bit of having to walk up to the top of a massive dune. At the top we were separated into beginners and people who had snowboarded before. As I’ve been a good few times I strapped myself in and just went for it. To be fair it felt pretty similar and was a lot softer to fall over in! My first run was just a feeler and I went nice and slowly. It was nice and steep and probably about 300 meters long. Once at the bottom I had to begin the long task of climbing back to the top of the run again. Caroline had never been snowboarding so went in the beginners group. On my way up I watched her go on her first ever run. She seemed to be going pretty well until speed got the better of her and she had a pretty tasty wipeout. She had bashed her head a bit and was shaken up but being ‘Competitive Jane’ she gathered herself and we walked back up for run number 2. Next time round she was better and had begun to get the hang of how to turn a little bit. By my third time I felt confident enough I wasn’t going to hurt myself so took on the nice big jumping platform. In total I did 3 jumps and landed them all, only to come a cropper 5 seconds later each time because of the amount of speed if picked up! Still I landed the jumps and had a few cool photos to prove it! On Caroline’s last run for a bit she had got much better and was really beginning to enjoy herself. Thank god, she isn’t the best at learning things that require patience and wants to be amazing at everything instantly!! Confidence up and enjoyment levels high we switched to have a couple of goes on the lie down boards. These were sheets of waxed wood where you lie down and ride them like a magic carpet and extreme speeds for about 20 seconds! It was a great laugh and Caroline (Competitive Jane) was loving it and even managed to clock the second fastest speed of the day at 75 Kph. We knew this because a guy at the bottom had a speed gun! The other fun person there was Zac the terrier dog! He was a cool customer and very friendly. The best bit was when he chased his owner all the way down the dune when she went down on a snowboard. They even supplied a free DVD, lunch and beer. We’d had a great day and were really glad we’d chosen to do sand boarding.

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That night the four South Africans of our group had kindly volunteered to cook us all a Brai, which is basically a BBQ. It was a huge task for them as there were 25 of us eating but they did a great job and gave us tons of food including lamb chops, sausages, chicken skewers and lovely salads. Everyone was pretty tired after Friday night’s partying so we all got an earlyish night.

Spitzkoppe was our next destination. I think in German it means pointed mountain. The landscape was pretty dramatic as we approached our campsite for the night. It was a very flat grassy plain with huge orange coloured, bold, round granite mountains rising up out the ground at random points. We spent the afternoon exploring and went to look at some ancient bushman rock paintings. Just before sunset we climbed the huge Rocky Mountain behind our camp and were treated to a really spectacular African sunset as the huge orange fireball descended right between two of the tallest mountains around. After an excellent fish BBQ a few people spent another night sleeping outside their tents and under the stars.

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After Spitzkoppe we spent a bumpy 5 hours driving to spend the day with a local tribe called the Himbas. These are the tribes people you’ll probably think of when people talk about Namibia. The are one of the last traditional tribes left in Namibia. The ladies are painted with a red paint like substance which is a mixture of butter, ash and ochre to protect them from the desert sun. They are all topless, covered in jewelry made from copper and bones and their hair is tied in clay covered dreadlocks with excitingly designed head pieces. We were shown around their village by a lady called Marie and we first saw the local school which helped teach the kids of the village. Lots of us had brought exercise books, pens and rulers for them which they happily took from us. From there we were shown around their village and the kids had great fun hanging off us like human climbing frames and playing. We met a few of the ladies, saw some traditional dancing and looked inside one of their huts. They also showed us how they washed themselves and their clothes in smoke as they weren’t allowed to use water because of traditions and drought. They also had a Holy Fire that the chief had to keep lit constantly. We’ve been on a few of these types of tours so far this year and to be honest this one felt a little contrived and uncomfortable for us. We got a sense that we were just there so we could make donations and buy their crafts at the end. It was a shame really because they were fascinating people who still lived a very traditional way of life, it’s just I think they got the balance wrong between being a money making project and an interactive chance to see traditional ways of life.

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Up next was something we both were very excited about. A trip to Etosha National Park, which meant lots of game drives and wildlife spotting. Etosha means ‘Great White Place’ due to the enormous salty, clay pan that dominates the middle of the 22,000 square kilometre park. We did our game drives in Marvin (our giant truck) which gave us quite an advantage because we were that little bit higher than usual. We were going to stay in two different campsites with in the National Park which therefore gave us plenty of time to see the wildlife whilst driving to them. Not long after entering the park gates we saw our first giraffe and it was reasonably close. This was a few peoples first game drive so at first we stopped lots to take photos of Springboks, Impalas and Zebras. We however were seasoned game drivers nowadays and were holding out for the big cats and elephants!! Of all the trips we’ve done the one animal that has eluded us so far has been the famous solitary Leopard, so that was top of our list for the next two days. An hour or so into our first drive we made our way over to where there were three cars and a truck parked. To our delight there were three female lions just chilling out under a bush not far from the roadside. They’d obviously had a kill fairly recently as their faces were covered in blood. They are such beautiful animals that I could spend all day just watching them and nothing else. Unfortunately we had somewhere to be so after lots of photos we moved on. On the way to our ‘village’ for the night we saw hundreds more Springboks and Zebras and some giraffes.

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Our camp for the night was pretty good but the undoubted highlight was the floodlit waterhole. So after realising watching the Champions League was impossible we chose to spend our evening watching the Discovery Channel unfold right in front of our own eyes. At the waterhole we were really lucky because not long after we’d settled down a huge Rhinoceros came out of the bushes and spent about half an hour walking around and drinking from the hole. It felt so good just to see it doing what it does naturally. Later on we noticed there was a second one approaching and then a little third one came out the bushes close to the first. This however proved to be a mistake as the giant first one all of a sudden charged the little third one. The speed and the thundering noise of this amazing looking animal charging was a sight and sound to behold. That was a real spectacle and an unbelievable thing to witness. We stayed for another couple of hours but nothing came close to that.

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The following day we were up early to try and catch the animals in the first light of the day. The first thing we saw was a beautiful male lion just basking in the sunshine. Unfortunately the next male lion we saw didn’t look so well and was obviously quite old, frail and skinny. I guess that he wouldn’t last too long with the Hyenas around. Coincidentally that was exactly what we saw next. There were two Hyenas about 50 metres from the road and they had the head of an Impala or Hartebeest which they were feeding on. They are such odd creatures, with ugly faces, long front legs and short back ones. This leads to them having such a strange hunchback posture. Their food also meant that there were a couple of Jackals around trying to steal their breakfast. It was such compelling viewing watch the two tiny Jackals getting closer and closer to the Hyena with the food. It basically ended in a stand off with neither moving.

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After that we moved on and we found another three female lions shading themselves under a bush. As we approached one of them got up and crossed the road and started slowly crawling through the long grass. About 600 meters away there were loads of Zebras she had her eyes on. The Zebras came closer and I think spotted her in the undergrowth as after a while she just stood up and turned back to the other two. Even though we’d not see a chase or kill it was still great to see her in hunting mode. Perhaps she was just doing a recce for their dinner that night. We also went to see the expansive salt pan and our guides gave us a nice little talk about some of the animals we’d seen.

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The morning’s game drive was a monster and lasted nearly 6 hours in total. I chose to spend the afternoon just lazing by the nice swimming pool whilst Caroline went on another game drive. The reason I’d not gone in the afternoon was because we were off on a Night Game Drive. This was pretty cool as 7 of our group jumped in an open safari jeep and entered the park in the pitch black with our only light coming from the red headlights and lamp our guide Barnabus used to search out the reflection of animals out in the bush. Our first stop was for a fairly large pack of 6 or 7 Hyenas. Also there were a few Jackals meaning there must be food around somewhere nearby. Our guide turned his jeep to face the undergrowth and revved his engine. On the third attempt a female lion stood up about 100 meters away and dragged off some Zebra carcus deeper into the vegetation. Barnabus then showed us a nice big trail of blood from where the kill must’ve happened the previous night. It was so cool to be able to see all this. Later on in the drive we also got to see a huge pride of female lions and even better a large number of 6 month old cubs who’d been left on their own whilst mum was away hunting. Watching them in the red light of our truck was incredible. It was just like watching a bunch of giant kittens play fighting. They were leaping around, bitting each other’s tails and chasing each other. It felt special to be able to be so close to these wild little cubs. Eventually they began to get a bit inquisitive about our truck so it was time to move on. Unfortunately we didn’t manage to track down a Leopard and the closest we’d got to finding an elephant for Caroline was being able to smell them close by. Still it had been a really great experience and felt different to see the animals at nighttime.

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So that was that. We packed up our tents for the last time on our 12 day Namibia trip and headed out for the last 15 kilometres of the park. Suddenly one of the Dutch guys, Tom, shouted stop an uttered the immortal word, “ELEPHANT!”. There it was in the distance a big male wandering out of the trees and flapping his ears. Caroline had got her wish she must’ve made on one of the many shooting stars we’d seen over the last few days. Just to top it off, at the same time as finding an Elephant, a lion was walking straight down the road in front of us. It came very close before turning off and running into the bushes. What a perfect way to finish our time in Etosha. The Leopard may still be eluding us but we couldn’t have asked to see much more during our two days.

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The final day of the Namibia trip was going to be a fairly lengthy a dull 450 Km drive back down south to the capital, Windhoek.

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Upon reaching Windy it felt completely different to anywhere else we’d been to in the country. It was a really big city compared to all the small towns we’d been through. Our truck dropped us in the centre which confused us a bit as we thought they’d at least give us a lift. Nevertheless they helped get us a taxi and we said goodbye to some of the group but not our last goodbye to everyone as we were meeting up for our Last Supper that night. The Chameleon hostel we were staying at for a couple of nights was great and exactly what we needed after 10 days sleeping in a tent. It was really spacious with loads of areas to just relax and even had a small swimming pool. Before dinner I continued my domination of Eccles in our worldwide pool competition.

That night most of the group met up at a spectacularly massive restaurant called Joe’s Beer House. The menu was fantastic and we shared some Oryx carpaccio to start and for mains ‘Caroline the Brave’ had Zebra, medium rare obviously and I had some Ostrich, Springbok and Kudu. They were all absolutely gorgeous and it was really interesting eating these exotic game steaks. So after trying to split a bill 20 ways we said our final goodbyes to the group and although we had only spent 12 days together we felt quite close to some of them so it was a little sad. We sneaked in a final drink with a lovely South African couple from the group called Keith and Alison as they also we staying in a different hostel to the group. It was a very nice way to finish the evening, only tarnished by a wasted Japanese man who kept trying to steal our women away from us!!

It had been a fantastic 12 day tour with Nomads. Our only slight grievance was with our guides William and Victor. Perhaps we’d been really spoilt back in our 2008 Africa trip with our guides Sammy and Julius who were absolutely amazing, so, so friendly and couldn’t have done more for us. Unfortunately the same couldn’t be said about this year’s guys. Whilst they were really nice guys we just got the feeling they were there for the money and not too much else. William had really let people down with his lack of directions or guidance as to where to find the spectacular tree valley in Dead Vlai, which staggered us because it’s in the top three things to see in Namibia. It would be like going to London and not knowing where Big Ben was. He did apologise for that but I still don’t know how a guy whose been guiding for over 10 years didn’t know their location, leading to lots of our group missing out on one of the most dramatic places I’ve ever seen. We’d also had a disagreement with William about booking a night safari and when it was booked up he basically accused us of not asking the right questions and it was our fault. We didn’t stand for it and defended ourselves staunchly. Every night Victor cooked great and plentiful food for us but then would just sit in the truck or far away from us on his phone and wouldn’t really interact with the group which was a real shame as he was very funny and a nice young lad. William would always complain about being very tired after dinner and would try and get to bed very early on all but two nights. Which was fine but left us wanting a bit more from our guides. The biggest insult was that after the last night’s meal at Joe’s Beer House they just left without even saying goodbye to us. We felt pretty aggrieved and let down as we’d paid lots of money and even tipped them. But don’t get me wrong the 12 days had been beyond fantastic and an awful lot of that was because of William and Victor.

The last day in Namibia was spent just lounging at our fantastic Chameleon Hostel and getting our orange sand covered clothes washed before heading out for a great Indian meal at Garnish just around the corner.

So after missing out on Namibia 6 years ago we were so glad we’d fulfilled our promise to come back one day and see it. What a wonderfully diverse country with so much to see and do. The few minutes in the real Dead Vlai will stay with us for a long time and I adore the photos I got and can’t wait to make them into canvases. The safaris had been great and spying on the animals as they went about their business at night time was very special. We’d met some great people from all around the world on the trip and am sure they went on to have a great time in Botswana and Zambia.

That just leaves me to say a big thank you to Namibia and its people for not only living up to our expectations but exceeding them!

Next it’s time to say Jambo to Kenya.

There are an extra-ordinary amount of photos from one of the most photogenic countries we’ve been to. If you want to see more then please click here…….

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Tommy and Caroline ‘The Return!’ is getting scarily close. See you soon.

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Sun, sea, sand and….sick!

Before I start writing this blog I want to stress that within this entry there is one day which was truly the most ridiculous day of our entire trip…you’ll see what I mean later!!

Anyway…

We were both really looking forward to our time in Cape Town. Even though it was the first place we were going to on our trip that we’d been to before, it would be nice to spend over two weeks in one place. But more importantly my Mum, Dad, sister Katherine (Frim) and her boyfriend Chris were coming to visit so I was really excited about seeing them.

After successfully negotiating the bus from the airport we spotted my Mum and Dad waving furiously at the side of the road, I hadn’t seen them for 10 months so there was a lot of hugging and general excitement. Last time we came to Cape Town we stayed at a place called Camps Bay Resort which is metres from what I think is the nicest beach in Cape Town. This time it was a little out of our price range but as my parents kindly offered to pay, we got to stay there again, yey.

Camps Bay is dramatically set at the foot of the Twelve Apostles Mountains and the beach front is full of lovely bars and restaurants. Straight away it felt like like a holiday from our travelling, thankfully with the help of the bank of mum and dad!! It was actually lovely not to do much apart from chill out on the beach for a few days and go out for amazing food. The meat and fish in Cape Town is incredible and luckily for us the exchange rate from pounds to rand makes everything really cheap! On the second afternoon after a lazy day on the beach we headed to V&A waterfront. It’s such a pretty place, and I knew my parents would love it. It’s still a working harbour and with Table Mountain in the the background and beautiful buildings all around with tons of bars and restaurants, it’s a great place to spend an afternoon.

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We went out for an amazing african meal and Tom had Ostrich, which was delicious. That’s one thing we vowed to do whilst in Africa, try as many different game meats as possible!

The following day arrived and with it the arrival of my sister and her boyfriend. Again we hadn’t seen them for 10 months so we were really excited to get everyone together and let the holiday really begin. Every year the six of us head to Cornwall and have a few days together on the south coast of England. Obviously myself and Tom didn’t make it last year as we were in Japan so when Fris (Frim and Chris) arrived it was like the six of us being back in Cornwall….just six thousand and five miles further south!! We had tons of stuff lined up to do so after another amazing meal out in Camps Bay we headed to bed ahead of our trip up Table Mountain the following day.

Fris are keen walkers so they decided to hike up to the top of table mountain whilst the rest of us got the cable car up, far more civilised! The views from the top are truly spectacular.

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Fris made is up about an hour later after their stroll up the side of the mountain in the 30 degree heat! Frim almost gave up but fair play to them both for doing it. I’d earlier asked Tom if he wanted to walk up and was met with a ‘what do you think’ stare…I took that as a no!

After a few hours at the top and a few photos of Dassies (big guinea pig like things) myself and Fris walked to the highest point, Maclear’s Beacon…just to say we’d been there.

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The next day was something Frim was really excited about, a trip to see the penguins at Simons Town. Back in 2008 when me and Tom were last in Cape Town we’d taken a trip there and I knew the Eccles’ and Chris would love it. After a stop off at St. James Beach to take some pictures of the brightly coloured beach huts we continued on to Simons Town, the home of Boulders Beach and the African Penguins.

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After a lovely meal in the harbour we headed off to see the penguins. We started off by doing the walk we did last time and saw tons of penguins hiding and nesting in the woods. I think everyone was excited to see them, but were more excited to see them on the beach…that was coming up. We arrived at Boulders Beach and I went for a swim. It was amazing just being in the water and seeing a penguin pop up next to me.

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I could have stayed there all day but the others had headed back to the penguin walkways on the next beach along so we went to join them. If we weren’t on a tight schedule I think we’d have been there for hours as penguins really amuse me, just waddling around in the sand!!

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We finally managed to drag ourselves away and headed down to Cape of Good Hope and Cape Point. Last time we’d visited South Africa we’d headed there for sunset but didn’t realise that they actually shut the gates at sunset and won’t let you in anytime after 5pm (we arrived at 5.02pm!) We didn’t take any chances this time and made sure we were there with plenty of time to spare. We headed to Cape Point first and took some amazing pictures.

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After we’d done there we headed to Cape of Good Hope and enroute stumbled across a herd(?) of Ostriches….as you do!

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Cape of a Good Hope was beautiful and we decided to stay as long as possible without getting fined for being out after sunset (apparently they do this and seeing as we knew from experience they were sticklers for the rules, we didn’t want to take the chance!) We were the last car to leave and it really was beautiful sitting on the beach watching the sun go down. After a speedy journey to the gate we luckily made it out with a minute to spare…

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Whilst my family were in Africa I really wanted them experience going on safari but unfortunately there aren’t any of the big national parks near Cape Town. I did a bit of research and found a place called Inverdoorn Game Reserve, and decided that was a good alternative. Inverdoorn is the largest private game reserve in the western Cape and is home to the big 5 (elephant, lion, buffalo, rhino, leopard) amongst other animals. Quite a few of the animals have been rescued and there is a cheetah conservation program which is pioneering the fight to save the cheetah and is home to 14 cheetahs, many of which have been rescued from horrific circumstances.

As we’d left it late to book there were only the deluxe chalets available, such a shame! It was like staying in a five star hotel. On arrival we spotted 2 small rhinos in an enclosure near our accommodation so headed over to see them.

We learnt that their mother had been killed by poachers so they had been rescued and brought to the centre. They were too small to be let out into the reserve alone so they had to be hand reared until they were 2 years old, then they could be reintroduced into the wild. Poaching is a huge problem in Africa and has now reached crisis point. In 2013 the recorded number of rhinos poached in South Africa alone was 1004 which was over double that off 2011. The stats are pretty horrific and if the killing continues at this rate, rhino deaths could overtake births in 2016-2018, meaning rhinos could go extinct in the very near future. All the rhinos at Inverdoorn had paint injected into their horns to try and stop poachers, it’s so sad the lengths they have to go to.

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After some lovely food and a relaxing time by the pool, we headed out on our first safari.
To begin with we headed into the lion reserve. All three lions at Inverdoorn were rescued and unfortunately they have to kept separate from the other animals as they have to be fed by the rangers. One of the Lion’s, Robby, was rescued from a terrible fate as a canned lion. (Canning refers to trophy hunting, trapping an animal in an enclosed space so hunters guarantee a successful hunt) So even though the lions aren’t completely wild they have a huge area to wander around freely and have a much better life now than previously.

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After visiting the lions we headed into the main reserve and went off in search of other animals. We saw found giraffes, rhinos and wildebeest as well as various other animals and birds such as kudu, impala and zebra.

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Next stop was the cheetah conservation centre. Sadly, there are less than 10 000 cheetahs left in the wild today. Their biggest threats are human conflicts, habitat loss and illegal trading. Inverdoorn runs the a Cheetah centre with an aim to raise awareness about the dwindling numbers of these beautiful cats.

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One of the aims of the conservation centre is to release the wild cheetahs into the main reserve. Many of the cheetahs have been rescued from dire circumstances so they have to be properly rehabilitated before this can happen. For example they have to know how to hunt in order to survive. This is one of the reasons for the daily cheetah run, to help the them get used to chasing prey. We were lucky enough to experience a successful cheetah run, (sometimes they can’t be bothered to run) it was amazing to see the fastest land mammal speeding past!

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As the sky started to change colour we headed back to the lodge to watch a beautiful african sunset from the comfort of our roof terrace, it’s a hard life!

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That evening we had a lovely meal by the swimming pool before heading back up to our roof terrace for some stargazing. As we were in the middle of nowhere the stars were fantastic and it really was the perfect end to an amazing day.

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The following morning we had an early game drive. We saw more giraffes just as the sun was coming up so got some stunning photos.

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We saw hippos and buffalo, found one of the two wild cheetah’s released into the main reserve, saw more rhinos and then much to my Mum’s delight we found the elephants. There are two elephants at Inverdoorn, Bully and Nduna. Both were bred in captivity and were working in films until they were transferred to Inverdoorn for a life in their natural environment. We spent loads of time watching the, and they seemed very happy in their new environment.

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After a lovely breakfast we went on our a cheetah interaction and met Velvet. The story of how she ended up at the centre was pretty horrific. As a cub she was being reared in a bathroom with her 3 brothers before being sent to the Middle East to be a rich person’s pet! The conservation centre tried to rescue the 4 cubs but it took the death of one of Velvet’s brothers for the owner to see sense and allow the conservation centre to take them away. Unfortunately for Velvet she has a broken tail which means she will never be able to be released into the wild. Cheetahs use their tails whilst running to help them steer and turn, so she wouldn’t be able to successfully hunt. The interaction though was amazing. We learnt all about the beautiful cats and also had the chance to stroke her.

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All in all it was a great experience and one which I hope my parents and Fris will never forget.

On the way back to Cape Town we decided to take a detour and drive through Stellenbosch, one of the biggest wine regions in South Africa. We’d done quite a bit of wine tasting on our travels and I was keen to let the others experience it. We decided to go to Ernie Els’ winery as it had a good write up. Well, it was interesting to say the least.

The setting was beautiful but we unfortunately met one of the rudest waiters I’d ever met in my life. Amongst many other things he blamed us for ordering food after the kitchen had closed, even though he had left us waiting for a table for half an hour and then went on to say that the wine we’d chosen to taste wasn’t worth tasting!! It was all bizarre and I managed to bite my tongue as I didn’t want to kick up too much of a fuss and ruin the experience even more than this idiot already was. Thankfully we still had a lovely time and after a few choice words from me he actually apologised, kind of! It did mean that he served me minuscule tasters of the wine compared to the others…oh well.

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After a day on the beach and one of Camps Bay’s beautiful sunsets it was time for the strangest day of our trip…

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The last time we came to Cape Town we went shark cage diving in nearby Gansbaai and as my Dad is really interested in sharks we knew he’d love it. There was no way in the world we’d get my Mum in the cage but we thought she’d enjoy the views from the boat. On arrival in Gansbaai we had a lovely breakfast before heading off onto the boat. Unfortunately for us we’d picked a day which wasn’t exactly ideal. The conditions out at sea were pretty rough and the visibility in the water wasn’t very good. It also started raining as we left land, but I was still confident we’d have a fun time.

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It took about an hour for us to find the first Great Whites but when we did they were incredible. They were coming up out of the water trying to eat the tuna head and the first divers went into the cage.

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I noticed that once people had been in the cage they came out looking a bit green and a few started being sea-sick. As the weather started to deteriorate the amount of people getting sick started to increase and before long about half the people on the boat we making use of the paper bags provided!!

Before long it was our turn in the cage and it didn’t disappoint. Just seeing the Great Whites so close and coming towards the cage under the water was amazing. I did try and take some photos with our underwater camera but the choppy conditions meant I ended up taking pictures of the ropes and side of the cage!! Oh well. When our time was up we headed back onto the boat and had just started discussing our experience when suddenly things took a turn for the worst. I didn’t actually see this incident occur but Tom saw it first hand. He was saying to Chris now he felt a bit rough but Chris said he felt fine. Then suddenly out of nowhere projectile vomit fired out of Chris’s mouth into a towel and the pressure of the spew went flying over the top of the towel and all over Frim’s head, face and shoulders (and onto the arm of the skipper!) I turned around to see my poor sister standing there looking shell shocked covered (and I mean covered) in bright yellow sick!! As I’d missed the main event I had absolutely no idea what had happened and was really confused…I actually thought she’d been sick on herself until I worked out it would be pretty tricky to be sick on the top of your own head!! Because I’m a lovely helpful sister I, along with the unfortunate skipper, helped clean the sick off Frim who still looked distraught.

This pretty much spelled the end for our shark experience as the weather was truly horrific by this point and the skipper called it a day. We headed back in treacherous conditions and by all accounts the upstairs of the boat was like a roller coaster. Thankfully we made it back to dry land without any other vomit related events occurring!!

Once back at the centre we wound Chris up with as many sick related puns as we could think of, ate some food and then headed off back to Cape Town. We stopped off to get some diesel and I spotted an off licence so we went to buy some wine for the evening. We were just getting back into the car when we heard this crash and the sound of broken glass. My Dad had fallen off the kerb and hit his elbow and knee at the same time as dropping one of the bottles of wine. Thankfully his injuries weren’t too bad but I headed to the pharmacy to get some antiseptic wipes whilst my Mum and sister went back to the off licence to replace the bottle of wine….priorities!! After cleaning him up we were back on our way laughing about what else could possibly go wrong!!

About twenty minutes later there was a loud cracking noise as a large stone hit the windscreen of our hire car! After close inspection there was a rather large chip in the windscreen…argh. This day was getting pretty ridiculous.
We continued on and as we were giving the car back the following day we had to make sure the tank was full so stopped off at another petrol station close to home. In South Africa there are attendants that fill the tank up for you. Unfortunately for us our attendant was also having a bad day and even though Tom asked for diesel and there was a huge sign saying diesel next to the petrol cap…he filled up with petrol…aaah. Our ridiculous day of projectile vomiting, smashed wine, injured limbs, a chipped windscreen and now useless car was complete! Thankfully the petrol station took full responsibility for the mistake and sorted it out with the rental company and we headed home in a taxi!!

That evening we “carefully” walked up the hill to an amazing grill restaurant near our apartments and ate one of the best meals of our holiday. The steaks were to die for and after the day we’d had we were just pleased that we didn’t all walk away with food poisoning!!!

Still laughing about the ridiculousness of the previous day we headed off to the district six museum. District Six used to be a vibrant centre close to the city but by the beginning of the twentieth century black South Africans were being forced out. Then in 1966 it was declared a whites area and 60,000 people were forcibly removed and their houses in District Six were flattened by bulldozers. The museum tells the stories of some of these people and has some of the original signs from the area. It was really interesting, if a little disorganised, but we were all pleased we’d visited.

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After there we headed to V and A ahead of our trip to Robben Island.
The island is most famously known as the place where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 27 years, but before it was a prison it had various other uses such as a leper colony and a military base.

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We were warned that the crossing was going to be a bit rough (so we obviously all looked at Chris) but compared to our shark adventure it was like a millpond! It was really interesting to visit the place where Nelson Mandela spent so many years of his life. I’d recently read his autobiography so it was great to visit the various places he wrote about, such as the limestone quarry, his prison cell and the yard in which Mandela and Walter Sisulu buried the manuscript which later became Long Walk to Freedom.

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After returning to the V and A in chilly conditions we headed out for the last supper as my parents were heading home the following day. The holiday had absolutely flown by and even though we’d packed so much into the 10 days it felt like they’d only just arrived. We went to an amazing restaurant at the V and A, even if it was way to dark for my parents and much to my amusement they had to read the menu with a torch!!!

It was sad saying goodbye to my mum and dad the following day but we were so pleased they’d come all the way to Cape Town to visit us. I knew they’d love it and I was so happy that we’d given them the excuse to come and visit this wonderful city. Tom and I also had to leave Camps Bay and find somewhere else to stay as the bank of Mum and Dad was now closed, so we needed cheaper accommodation! We found an awesome hostel near Long Street, the main street in Cape Town which was really homely and had lovely views of table mountain. Plus it was only £8 a night, bargain!

We headed back to Camps Bay for one last meal with Fris at a restaurant we’d not been able to go to with my parents as my Dad doesn’t like fish. It’s called Codfather and instead of having a menu you just head up to the counter and pick out the fish you’d like to try.

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Back in 2008 we’d visited the restaurant twice and once again it didn’t disappoint. It was the perfect end to the family trip to Cape Town.

We did head back to Camps Bay the next day to wave Fris off, and were greeted by the sight of a huge pod of dolphins swimming in the bay, this place never ceases to amaze me.

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Then the holiday from our travels was over, and it was amazing!!! We did have a few extra days in Cape Town but apart from searching for a sleeping bag for our trip to Namibia and petting Easter bunnies in a shopping centre we didn’t do very much.

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I loved every second of South Africa…actually I don’t mean that, cleaning sick off Frim’s head was definitely a lowlight…but apart from that the last two weeks were amazing and I was so happy my family came out and experienced this special place with us.

To see more photos please click here

¡Bom Día Brazil!

Early in the morning it was time to say goodbye to my brother after a wicked 11 days together where we had been able to share a tiny slice of this travelling life we had become accustomed to with another person close to us. We’d done a lot and had some great laughs along the way so it was a little sad to wave him off in the taxi.

Later on we set off to the bus station in a taxi as the heavens opened. We were destined for the adventure of crossing the border from Argentina to Brazil for the 2nd time in two days. However, this time we caught the local bus as opposed to a luxury tourist bus. The fun part was that this bus only waited for us on the exit side of the Argentinian boarder and left us to fend for ourselves at the Brazil entry immigration. It was actually relatively easy and we waived down the next bus to Foz de Iguaçu and got to the local city terminal before having to to take another bus to the International terminal. Today was going to be very bus orientated. At the terminal we found a bus going to Rio and went to get our first taste of Brazilian food from the bus station restaurant. It was at that point when I couldn’t understand a word of the menu that I realised my A-Level Spanish was going to be of little use in this Portuguese speaking county. We resorted to the old favourite method of pointing at pictures, seeing what other people had and picking things that had Frango (chicken) in them!

The guy who sold us the ticket said it was a 17 hour bus ride, in the end it took us 22 hours, which included changing buses at Midnight and numerous boardings by some well armed police officers. The highlight of the trip was the stop for dinner which involved the best buffet you can imagine. A few more buses later and after leaving some 26 hours earlier we had arrived in our little bit of paradise in the Island of Florianopolis, off the East coast of Brazil.

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We had chosen a hostel called Submarino and it had a lovely homely feel to it and more importantly it had an amazing little Dachshund (sausage dog) called Jaquiera, who I adored as she was really affectionate. She only had really little legs so had to take a running jump to get up on the bench next to you to get her belly scratched. We spent 5 nights here and felt very much at home lazing around on the beaches of Barra and Mole which were gorgeous.

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On our first night we enjoyed a lovely Sunset drink at a little bar called Bools and Beers, it was our first taste of Caprihinia, ‘THE’ cocktail of Brazil made of Caçhaca (rum like sugar cane drink), lime and sugar. It was lovely, especially when mixed with fresh passion fruit. There was also a small music festival in town which made the town and roads much busier than normal. It wasn’t really our cup of tea as there was lots of strange Brazilian soft rock. Personally, for me at least, the real highlight of our time in Florianopolis and maybe the whole trip was was watching Derby destroy Forest 5-0, I managed to watch the whole thing on my iPad over breakfast and even won a couple of quid on Bryson scoring first.

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We tried our best to have a Saturday night out but failed as it was pretty quiet, but we did discover the ridiculous bar system that seemed to involve way too much people and paper. It starts with the door guy giving you each a piece of paper, you then place you order with a waiter, who then brings your drink and marks it down on your own individual cards and then when you are done you have to find the Cashier in the dark corner of the room, who then gives you another piece of paper to say you’ve paid and you’re allowed to leave. Finally, you give this piece of paper back to the door guy and leave. I think the English system of just going to the bar and ordering a beer works just fine.

Our next stop was one we’d both been excited about since the very start of this trip. We were heading to Rio de Janeiro. We arrived at 7 am and had to wait for our room for a bit so spent the rest of the day wandering around Ipenema and it’s beautiful streets and lazing on the stunning beach, dreaming of a time when we don’t have to live on a strict(-ish) budget. In the afternoon we went to buy our tickets for the footy from the old Fluminese stadium in the most difficult way imaginable.

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Fortunately for us the guy from the hostel gave us a lift and helped us out. It seemed he asked three or four different people who worked there whether they were selling tickets or not, and nobody seemed to know. So he lead us to a practically invisible, small window where a hand emerged asked for a few Real and handed us two tickets to the Fluminese v Vasco de Gama game at the Maracaña the next day.

When you think of Rio you immediately think of the iconic Christ the Redeemer statue that overlooks Sugar Loaf Mountain and the city below. So we made our own pilgrimage up the mountain by taking the train to the top. The weather all day had been beautiful however when we when we got off the train we were greeted with a Jesus statue very hidden amongst the clouds. The Brazilians say that Christ uses the times he’s hidden to rest his arms from the stretched out position, when nobody can see him. We sat down and tucked into our packed lunch in one of the most popular and famous destinations in the World waiting for Our Lord to say hello. Eventually the cloud did clear and we got some great photos of the statue and the incredible views of the enormous city that is Rio.

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We even got a glimpse of the Maracaña Stadium where we would be watching the footy that evening. It’s probably the most famous stadium in the world, it’s where Pele scored his 1000th goal, played his last game for Brazil, it’s had crowds of over 200,000, it saw Uruguay ruin Brazil’s dream of winning the World Cup in their own country when they beat them in the final in 1956, it’s where John Barnes scored a Brazilian-esq wonder solo goal and also it’s the stadium that will host the World Cup Final this July. So that evening we headed off to the North of the city on the train with much anticipation of a great evening of the beautiful game. We didn’t see any real trouble, which apparently there can be at the bigger derby (c’mon Derby!) matches. The staff where obviously practising for the World Cup and were amazingly helpful in showing us where to go. We had a couple of beers in the bar opposite the ground and failed to blend in with the locals. Before we went in we went around the front of the stadium where there was an old guy doing incredible kick ups with tennis balls and marbles. He must’ve been over 60 and had more skills than anyone I’ve ever seen. The highlight was him doing marble keepie-ups, then kicking it into his mouth and swallowing it before coughing it back up and carrying on the keepie-ups. Inside it was an amazing stadium and will be great when it’s full for a Brazil match but unfortunately only about 12,000 were there that night, which makes the 76,000 seater stadium seem pretty empty. We were allowed to sit wherever we wanted so went and sat right amongst the Fluminese drummers which was great, they had such amazing songs and rhythms. We spent the first 20 minutes just looking around at the stadium and the crowd before remembering we were at a footy match! The game finished 1-1 with a goal from the local hero Fred. It was a pretty good standard, much better than the Mexico and Argentina matches we went to and there was of course a bit of a scrap (on the pitch) which led to one of the Fluminese players being sent off.

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The following day we spent on the glorious Ipanema beach which is amazingly long and clean. Whilst Eccles lounged and got even browner I went to the best beach gym ever which was at one end among the rocks. It was just a free gym where the weights are just metal bars with concrete blocks and cement filled paint cans, and lots of pull up bars. You couldn’t ask for a much better view whilst working out.

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That night we had read about a place called Lapa that as famous for its Friday night street parties under the big arches. Sure enough when got off the bus the big town square was full of loads of street stalls all selling booze and food. The guys working there made amazing caprinhas and my first drink of the evening was a lethally alcoholic peach caprinha smoothie. There was a group of about 50 people making a beautiful rythym with all sorts of drums, rattles and maracas, they were then surrounded by loads of people dancing to the world famous Brazilian Samba beats. It was a captivating place and I’m insanely jealous (as jealous as I’m allowed to be after this year!) of anyone going out to Brazil during the World Cup. After a bit we could hear some other drums coming from over the road and wandered over to see what all the noise was about. Outside what looked like two garage doors were proper drum groups being lead by a conductor making the first part of the night seem amateur. There were all sorts of drums there but lots of the huge drums you sometimes see at the football and even the little ladies were holding them and playing insane rhythms whilst dancing and singing. It was such fantastic show for free made only better when the garage door shutters rolled up and the drum groups slide back into the bars that lay behind without missing a beat. Tonight was a good night. After visiting a few more bars and nightclubs we headed to a club called Scenarium, that Caroline had been told about. It was pretty huge and inside was fascinating, it was more like an antiques shop crossed with a museum as there were trinkets, displays and even stage coaches everywhere. To top it all off there was a huge dance floor downstairs where some very organised and talented dancing was going down whilst listening to the live Samba band. We decided it was best to not show off our lack of rhythm and just watched from the balcony upstairs!

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The next day we tried to avoid the caprinha hangovers down the beach and stayed in Ipanema realising that it didn’t matter how many more Caprihnas we drank, they weren’t going to have the same effect as the previous night.

One of the popular tourist destinations in Rio is the Escadaria do Convento in Santa Tereza. Odd as it may sound its a staircase and has featured in a few music videos, most notably ‘Beautiful by Snoop Dogg’. However, it’s no ordinary staircase anymore as an artist called Selarón, who used to live in one of the houses on the staircase made it his life’s mission to decorate all of the stairs (about 300 meters worth) with beautifully coloured tiles. Apparently, when he started in 1990, he used to work on them everyday trying to finish tiling the all the stairs in the colours of the Brazilian flag. After 7 years, when he’d nearly finished, he discovered a place that sold imported old European tiles and fell in love with them. He brought all he could and then preceded to change and replace the tiles constantly so the design would be constantly evolving and never be the same. He did this as a way of showing the beauty of where he lived and a personal tribute to Brazil and it’s people. He also said that anyone could send him a tile and he would put it up amongst all the other tiles there, which lead to a fascinating mixture of all sorts of tiles ranging from football crests, flags, town names (lots of English ones) and even one that marked a couple from Oxford’s Wedding Day. Unfortunately the guy had been found dead on the staircase a couple of months previous and they believed it was a suicide as he’d been threatened by local gangs but there were also rumours he may have fallen out with the government about taxes or something. It was a shame because it would’ve been great to meet the guy who’d made a very unique and beautifully enormous piece of ever changing art.

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After the staircase and a sizeable volume of pointless walking we went to watch the sunset from Sugar Loaf Mountain. After two pretty large cable car rides we reached the top and the views of the city at dusk were spectacular but Rio really begun to come to life as the sky went dark and the lights were turned on. From up there you could see the long arch of Copacobana beach, downtown, the harbour and of course Christ the Redeemer, who looked like he was just floating when he was lit up in the night’s sky. It was a great way to see the city.

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On the Monday we decided to go on a favela tour of Rocinha, which is the biggest favela in South America. Favelas are towns where the less well off people live and and are called shanty towns or slums in other countries. They are the places which are always portrayed as riddled with drugs and crimes and definite no go areas for tourists, where houses are built on top of each other in a way that is more about survival than style. We couldn’t decide if we wanted to do a tour or not as we didn’t want it to be one of those awkward place where you go to look at people and their lives like it’s a sort of zoo or something. Eventually after chatting to people in our hostel and getting the Ecco research machine on it we decided it was a good thing to see as it perhaps was how the true people of Rio (Cariocas) live as one third of of its population live in favelas. We picked a guy called Zezeniho and his company because he had love for Rocinha, had lived there and more importantly gave something back to the community with some of the money he made for the tours. He had now set up a DJ school in his flat where the young people of the area could come and use all his equipment to learn how to DJ for free. Our guide for the day was called Dembore and was a cool guy who DJ’d around the area too. It was fascinating seeing how they squeeze so many homes into such a tight space and how narrow and steep the alleyways were. It certainly didn’t feel at all scary and Dembore was really great at explaining how people live their everyday lives. The first thing he did when we got here was took us up a huge hill so we could get a view out over Rio and the whole Favela. It was very impressive how the houses just fitted nicely into the bowl shaped hill and it was absolutely enormous. We asked how dangerous it really was and he said we had nothing to worry about as the last thing that anyone wants to do in the neighbourhood is to commit any crimes that would get a visit from the police. This seemed to be where the problems arose as the police had a really bad reputation of using too much force and violence and would often shoot innocent people or point guns at people when they’d done nothing wrong. The people were left with a choice of having the favelas run by drug bosses which meant they were never bothered or by having the over threatening and forceful police on every corner, of course they preferred the first option. It was compelling to meet the guy who runs it Zezeniho when we went to his flat where the Dj centre was. His arms and legs were covered with tattoos depicting the favela of Rochina and his passion for his home town was very clear and very amicable. He was a great bloke and had seen a way to make people understand that his home favela wasn’t anything like the media portray whilst at the same time he was able to help the next generation of kids in his community. He also had three cats in his flat which enjoyed destroying Caroline’s rucksack. We had certainly been to much poorer places on our trip so far, it’s just the gulf between the luxury areas of mansions and hotels of Ipanema and Leblon and the narrow alleyways of the favela are huge. The people are very proud of where they live and will often chose to stay living there even if they have enough money to move away. To be fair it has everything you could imagine, schools, hotels, hundreds of hairdressers, coffee shops, supermarkets and even 5 different sushi restaurants. It had been a good day and we both came away feeling enlightened and glad we’d gone to see the real Rio.

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We spent a day at the world famous Copacobana beach. It was beyond enormous and quite spectacular with Sugar Loaf Mountain in the background. However, we didn’t like it as much as Ipanema. It just didn’t seem as clean and perhaps a little more touristy. It was great to finally get to this iconic location and just people watch and admire the foot volleyball that was going on not too far away.

Unfortunately for us our flight our of Brazil to Africa was out of São Paulo so we eventually had to call time on our magnificent stay in Rio. We’ve been to many cities along the way and I think we both agreed that Rio was perhaps right up at the top of all of them. To be fair though we had got the São Paulo to Johannesburg flight for a ridiculous £230 so we certainly weren’t about to change it. Everyone we’d spoken to said that São Paulo was enormous and yet there wasn’t an awful lot to do so we weren’t highly excited to be there after a relatively short bus journey. We spent our first day walking miles to the Havianna Flagship store so Ecco could buy a genuine pair of the Brazilian flip flops. When we got there after an hour and a bit of sweaty walking we were greeted with a building site as they were currently having a makeover! So we wandered the streets around there which were well out of our price range nowadays. In the afternoon we walked further still to go and see a bizarre little area called Batman Alley. This was a tiny group of narrow alleyways where graffiti was not only allowed but also encouraged. The result was some of the most stunning artwork I’ve ever seen. There were huge murals on every available bit of wall. Our final act of the day was to go to a pretty spectacular Japanese Sushi restaurant for an evening of eat as much as you can. The fish was gorgeous and we ate and ate until we could no more.

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The day we left I managed to sneak into Hanger 193 CrossFit which was a a great little place with some really welcoming people. I managed to hold my own and left with yet another t-shirt and feeling ready for our flight.

Brazil had been a place we’d both looked forward to since the start and it had really lived up to its reputation and exceeded our expectations. What a great place and although it’s had its critics about construction and planning the world is in for a treat in June when the World Cup begins.

Lots of extra photos beyond this blog. If you want to see them then click here.

We only have one continent left but it’s an amazing one. Next stop AFRICA!

See you soon,

T & C

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