Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Been There, Done That

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” – Mark Twain

So that’s it then. We’re done. Eight months have passed in what seemed like the blink of an eye and as we write this we’re at 35,000 feet above the Atlantic aboard our nineteenth flight, our last flight, and in the final leg of our complete circumnavigation of the globe…the conclusion of our around-the-world adventure.

What a trip. It has been a truly memorable journey and an experience we will cherish forever.

We’ve seen some amazing places…

We’ve watched the sun rise over the ancient Temples of Angkor in Cambodia and watched it dip below the trees in the African bush. We’ve seen snow-topped mountains, verdant rolling hills, and white sandy beaches. We’ve been lost in the chaos that is Bangkok and Ho Chi Minh City, we’ve chilled out on deserted beaches in Thailand. We’ve visited some of the most amazing historical sites in the world and seen more World Heritage Sites than you could shake a really, really old stick at.

We’ve done some pretty cool stuff too…

In New Zealand we held on for dear life in a white water raft on Grade 5 rapids and then jumped out of a plane. We camped with dingoes on the largest sand island in the world and then wiped out learning to surf in Australia. We dined on insects in Bangkok and went on an elephant trek in Northern Thailand. In Laos we jumped into a waterfall, went tubing into an underground cave, swung into a river, and fell off of a motorbike. We had our feet cleaned by fish in Cambodia. We motorcycled along the coast from Hue to Hoi An in Vietnam and partied all night with the locals in the tiny fishing village of Mui Ne. In South Africa we went wine tasting on bicycles, tracked the big five on safari, and watched our boys compete in the World Cup Finals.

And along the way we’ve met some wonderful people…

During our trip we’ve visited over 50 places in 11 different countries. Although we were only really passing through on many occasions, we were fortunate enough to meet some amazing people. Like Pop (P-O-P as he would say) the 8-year-old street bookseller from Cambodia who goes to school in the morning and then sells books in the afternoon to help make money for his family. He had the biggest smile you’ve ever seen, a great little personality, and he could teach you more about world geography in 5 minutes than you ever learned in school! And the Vietnamese woman who, after chatting with us briefly one day, invited us back to her home to meet her family over some tea and coffee. We met her mother and father and some extended family over a cup of strong Vietnamese coffee and she told us how she’s trying to help put her daughter through college in Danang by selling nuts and coconut treats that she makes in the streets everyday. And then there’s the 25,000 South Africans that we danced and sang the night away with in Rustenburg to celebrate the opening match of the first ever World Cup Finals in Africa. Black, white, rich, poor all came together to celebrate the World Cup and get behind the Bafana Bafana. Magical.

“A journey is best measured in friends, rather than miles.” – Tim Cahill

Of course, the trip wouldn’t have been the same without some of our fellow travelers that we met along the way, like the slow boat crew in Laos who helped make Lee’s 31st birthday one to remember, Chris, Sarah and Shop-run Gary who we chilled out with in Southern Thailand and who inspired Lee to get some new body art, the cyclists who cycled the length of Africa and then boozed their way around South Africa with us, Foxy/Moonhead/Taff/et al who made the football much more enjoyable even though our teams were terrible, and last but certainly not least are our favorite travelers – our partner’s in crime, our trip buddies, our travel companions, Kate and Lizzie, who we’ve had some brilliant times with over the last 8 months and we feel like we’ve known them forever (we mean that in a good way guys ☺)

It really has been the trip of a lifetime. We already feel incredibly lucky to have had the opportunity to do this but it will be over the coming weeks and months, maybe even years, that it starts to sink in how enriching this experience has been for both of us.

“No one realizes how beautiful it is to travel until he comes home and rests his head on his old, familiar pillow.” – Lin Yutang

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Heeey buuuudddddy!

Last weekend we went to sunny Brighton on England's south coast for a fun-filled, booze-fueled reunion with Kate and Lizzie.  Kate lives with boyfriend Chris down in Brighton and she invited all of us down to visit for one of the biggest events on the Brighton calendar - Gay Pride Festival!

We had a great time.  Kate and Chris' place was lovely and they were the perfect hosts.  Kate cooked a special Thai meal for us when we arrived on Friday night (a rare treat apparently according to Chris) and we got to meet the famous Foxtrot, Kate's massive rabbit...more like a small dog really.

Heeyy buuuddddyy!

On Saturday we started early with breakfast cocktails before heading down to watch the parade.  There was something like 160,000 people at the event and as you can imagine, there were some real characters!

Lady Gaga?
What can you say about this?

After the parade we followed the crowds down to the park to continue the festivities.  We rounded out the night at one of Kate and Chis' local pubs where more alcohol was consumed, some drunken singing took place and Lee made several attempts to dance with an old man who was having none of it.  What a weekend!

The perfect end to a perfect day.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Who comes on the big bus??

This past week we've been up in Wales visiting Lee's sister Kylie, husband Huw and the little ones James and Eliza.  The weather wasn't as agreeable this time which put a bit of a dampener on things (literally) but nonetheless we still had a great time.  Little James was quite excited for our visit this time as he knew from our previous visit that we would lavish attention on him the entire time we were there.  When coming to pick us up from the bus stop Kylie asked him, "who comes on the big bus?" to which he replied "Courtme!!"  Aww (Uncle Lee has still got some work to do to win him over apparently!)

Uncle Lee doing his best to impress James

Even though the weather wasn't great we still got out and about.  Among the highlights were a visit to the "woolly mammoth's house," also known as the National Museum Cardiff (or Amgueddfa Genedlaethol Caerdydd for you native Welsh speakers), a walk along the barrage at Cardiff Bay, and a visit to historic Tintern Abbey - founded in 1131 it's one of the most spectacular ruins in the country and has inspired poems by Wordsworth and Tennyson.  Yea, we were impressed too.

James at the Woolly Mammoth's House.

Riding the horses at Cardiff Bay (much more impressive than shoulder carries clearly!)

Lee putting his backpack carrying skills to good use.

At the playground with little Miss Eliza.

Monday, July 26, 2010

The beginning of the end

This latest update finds us back in jolly old England and at the final stop of our trip around the globe.  We're spending five weeks or so in London, with a few side trips, before taking one last flight across the Atlantic back to Philadelphia...and (cue sad music) the real world.

On the bright side we've still got over a month to go before we go from world travelers to unemployed good-for-nothings so we plan to make the most of it.

First up is a trip Wales.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

On Safari

There was no way we could go all the way to South Africa without going on safari.  During the World Cup safari tours were, unsurprisingly, a bit pricey.  So, the thrifty explorers that we are we decided to wait until after the tournament had ended to book our bush adventure.

We decided to go to Pilanesberg National Park in northern South Africa, about 2 hours north of Johannesburg.  Pilanesberg is a massive park (about 220 square miles), has plenty of lodges to choose from and, most importantly, has "the BIG FIVE." Courtney found a game lodge called Pilanesberg Private Lodge (very original) which was located in the northwestern corner of the park on a private reserve called the Black Rhino Reserve.  The price was very reasonable and their website looked great so we decided to give it go.

The lodge was great. It had a main lodge building that included an outdoor deck complete with hot tub and swimming pool and five smaller buildings where guests stay.  The lodge only sleeps ten people so it's quite intimate.  Our stay was even more cozy as there was only one other person staying there during our visit so we were treated to some personal attention from the game rangers.  On our second night there we even had two private game drives.

We came across this herd of elephants heading for an early evening visit to the watering hole

This black rhino almost charged us.  Some quick thinking from our game ranger spared us from a trampling.

We interrupted this little guy's breakfast.

Enjoying a beer after a day tracking game in the bush.

We did four game drives in total and although our first outing was fairly quiet overall we were not disappointed.  We saw elephants, zebra, black rhino, white rhino, giraffe, wildebeest, impala, kudu, jackal, and steenbok.  We even saw a pair of porcupines.  Doesn't really capture the imagination like seeing a pride of lions would but apparently they are a pretty rare find.  The most exciting sighting of all though was the leopard we spotted (I had to) with a fresh kill in it's mouth...very cool.  Unfortunately we only caught a brief glimpse of it and then it vanished into the tall grass before we could get any pictures.  On our last drive we tracked a lion for a couple of hours but unfortunately he eluded us.  Overall we had an amazing time and it was a great way to end our stay in South Africa.

Monday, July 12, 2010

South Africa - World Cup 2010

So, the 2010 World Cup Finals are all done bar the shouting, Spain have been crowned World Champions for the first time ever, and England once again were crap.  And yet, still not one single blog post on the whole thing from Lee and Courtney.  We know, terrible.  We've been completely and utterly rubbish at updating the blog while in South Africa.  There's no excuse for it really.  We could tell you that we left our laptop in Joburg while we traveled around the country because we were worried about it being lost/stolen/damaged.  We could also tell you that there aren't that many internet cafes in the places we've visited and the ones we have found are a bit pricey for our backpacker budget.  We might even say that we were attacked by a group of psychotic emus and, although we managed to fight them off with our bare hands, we lost all but two of our fingers and a thumb on our left hands which has reduced our typing ability significantly and we have therefore been unable to write about what we've been up to.  Well that last one might be made up but you get the idea.

No, the truth is that we've just been having such an awesome time going to games, partying with other fans, meeting tons of great people, and exploring South Africa that we have really neglected the blog.  Having said that, we have been taking notes along the way so we don't forget anything and we've taken plenty of pictures that almost always say more than the words do.  We've been here almost 5 weeks now and with one or two notable exceptions (England's woeful performances and England and USA's early exits from the World Cup being the low points, but the less we say about that the better) we've had an amazing time.  Here are some of the highlights.

(make sure you go all the way to the first South Africa post (dated June 08, 2010) as we've sneakily back dated each post to make it look like we actually did these blog posts along the way and not all at once last night.  ssshhhhhh...)

Thursday, July 8, 2010

The Garden Route

The Garden Route is a popular route on the south-eastern coast of South Africa and one of the most scenic parts of the country.  We spent two days driving the route and taking in some of the scenery along the way.  We stayed overnight in Knysna before carrying on to Port Elizabeth, where we would ultimately return our rental car.  Along the way we stopped in Mossel Bay, Plettenburg Bay, The Crags, and Stormsriver.  Two days is really not enough time to see this part of the country.  There are so many things to see and do, especially outdoor activities.  The Garden Route is definitely on the list of places we need to come back to.

Indian Ocean in Knysna

Cheeky monkey at Monkeyland in The Crags

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Getting sloshed in Stellenbosch

Stellenbosch is about 30k east of Cape Town and in the middle of South Africa’s famous Winelands.  We had made arrangements to meet up with our cyclist pals once more to sample some of South Africa’s best booze.  We all stayed at a place called The Stumble Inn (how could you not stay at a place with that name in an area famous for winemaking?)  There are literally hundreds of vineyards and wineries in and around Stellenbosch and you couldn’t possibly hope to hit them all, especially if you only had one day to do it like us.  Our plan was to try and visit and do a tasting at at least four of them, a goal we were told was very doable.

To make things interesting, and as we were with some experienced cyclists, we thought it would be fun to ride bicycles to the wineries.  We set off at about 11am and headed for our first winery.  Now, Stellenbosch is not mountainous but it’s not exactly flat either.  After around 5 kilometers of cycling we rolled into our first port of call, the Kleine Zalze Country Wine Estate.  As we arrive, Courtney pulled up next to Lee and, after catching her breath, says, “That…was…INTENSE!”  As you can imagine, our friends who were on the back end of an 8,000 mile ride from Cairo found this quite funny.

In the end we only made it to two wineries!  Not on account of our lack of cycling endurance but more due to the huge amounts of wine we consumed throughout the afternoon.  The ride back was, er, a bit wobbly.

Court and cyclist Lindsey (right) showing their support for the Black Stars

Come on Ghana!

Later that same night we dropped the bikes back at Stumble Inn and proceeded on foot to the nearest pub to watch Ghana, Africa's only remaining team, take on Uruguay.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Cape Town

Chapman’s Peak Drive, Cape Point, Table Mountain, and V&A Waterfront...

...Cape Town - DONE.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Lions and Tigers and Germans oh my!

In Port Elizabeth we quickly discovered that if we wanted to do any sightseeing at all while in South Africa we would need to get ourselves some wheels.  So, for only the second time on our trip we hired a car.  Unfortunately for Courtney, Lee’s driving license had expired back in March, which meant he wouldn’t be able to drive the rental car (not legally anyway).  Not wanting to risk a hefty fine, Courtney took one for the team and agreed to be our designated driver for the next 11 days.  Lee agreed to try and stay awake.

Hail to the bus driver, bus driver, bus driver...

When Lee purchased the World Cup tickets earlier this year he foolishly predicted England would win their group and therefore be playing their second round match in Rustenburg.  Landon Donovan’s injury time winner against Algeria meant that USA won the group and second placed England were heading to Bloemfontein.

Now, we had in our possession two perfectly good tickets to USA v Ghana in the second round of the World Cup.  BUT, England were set to face Germany in their second round encounter and as World Cup matches go, that’s a pretty big one…and Lee REALLY wanted to go.  As luck would have it, we were able to do some last minute wheeling and dealing with some friends of an American fan we had met previously and we swapped our tickets with their England v Germany tickets – everyone’s a winner!  And so, we were headed for Bloemfontein and a date with Ze Germans!

All smiles before England v Germany

England v Germany

Bloemfontein is about 700 kilometers from Port Elizabeth so it was about a 9-hour drive for us (well for Courtney, a 9-hour sit for Lee) and the road was long, flat and straight.  The only interesting thing about this drive was the monkeys that we saw from time-to-time along the side of the road.  We’re not sure what kind of monkeys they were so we named them “street monkeys.”

“Bloem” is most famous for being the birthplace of JRR Tolkein, author of “The Hobbit” and “Lord of the Rings,” among other things.  It’s also now famous for having nowhere near enough accommodation to house 50,000 plus English and German fans during the second round of the 2010 World Cup.

As a result of our last minute scramble to get tickets, we hadn’t booked anywhere to stay in town.  We decided to drive up and go door-to-door asking if there was room at the inn a la Mary and Joseph (minus the donkey and baby).  After two hours with no luck we finally got a lead from a security guard at one of the hotels we tried.  There was some space at a place about 30k out of town.  It was a bit pricey and the location wasn’t great but it was all we had, so we hopped on the highway out of town.

After driving several miles on a dirt road we finally came to a set of gates in the middle of nowhere with a 4x4 sitting outside one of them.  The guy we spoke to on the phone said he would meet us at the entrance to let us in so we assumed that this was him.  He opened one of the gates and drove through.  We followed.  Bear in mind, it was about 10:30pm so it was pitch black out, there were no lights around anywhere and we had no idea where we were.  As we rounded some bushes our headlights shone some light on a few small chalets that looked like where we might be sleeping.  Then, as we got closer something moved.  Something massive.  It was still hard to make out but we drove a few more feet closer and then there was no mistaking what they were – three camels…right in front of our room for the night.

Trying to ignore the camels for a moment we had a look around the chalet with the owner and he showed us where everything was.  Full kitchen, living room, Jacuzzi tub, king-sized bed…not bad at all.  Then, as he was leaving us to settle in he said, “make sure you keep the doors closed as the emus are a bit curious and can be a bit of a pest.  Also, if you hear the lions roaring during the night don’t worry as they can’t get over here.  Goodnight!”

It was only the next morning that we discovered that we had booked ourselves two nights on a small game lodge!  It ended up being a real bonus as the day after the match, before we left for Cape Town, we took a game drive and saw tons of animals – lions, tigers, cheetahs, zebras, elands, giraffes, and a hippo named “Glen.”

Oh yea, we did go and see a match while we were in Bloem, wasn’t very good though…

With England and USA both headed home there was no football to distract us and we were able to look forward to some sightseeing in Cape Town.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Deciders - Party Time in Port Elizabeth

Port Elizabeth in South Africa’s Eastern Cape was the venue for England’s last group game, and our next match, against Slovenia.  We opted for a 13-hour overnight bus ride with Translux to get us down there.  The bus was very reasonably priced and comfortable.  The icing on the cake was the entertainment we were treated to.  We must have had a top-notch entertainment director as the line up was truly something – first up was “Phil Collins: The Final Farewell Tour” on DVD.  That was followed by a Patti Labelle PBS special with all the funky 70s soul and disco classics.  The night’s programming was concluded with the action-packed “Mercenary for Justice” featuring none other than pony-tailed puncher Steven Seagal. What a night! 

In PE we met up with a few of the characters from Rustenburg, including the long-distance cyclists.  Daniel, one of Lee’s friends from England was also over for World Cup with his friend Robbie so we met up with them too.  The game was great and England got the win they needed to advance to the knockout stages (as did the US in their game) so it was party time again.  We celebrated into the small hours again as the World Cup party train rolled on.

Before leaving the Eastern Cape we took a break from all the football fever to take in some of the natural beauty of the area. Along with Daniel and Robbie, we visited the Sardinia Bay Nature Reserve, an incredible bit of coastline about 15 minutes outside of Port Elizabeth.  There are a number of hiking paths along the coastline collectively known as the Sacramento Trail.  The weather was beautiful and we hiked along the lower path, which takes you along rocky grasslands and beaches, for about an hour and a half before turning around and hiking back along a higher trail that offered spectacular views of the Indian Ocean.  We even spotted a pod of whales making their way along the coast.

Saturday, June 19, 2010


The Samba boys’ first match and USA v Slovenia at Ellis Park

After more or less 3 straight days of drinking we dragged our tired bodies back to Johannesburg for some R&R.  We had tickets for two matches in Johannesburg over the next week – Brazil v N. Korea and USA v Slovenia.  Brazil was up first.

Brazil v N. Korea
June is the start of South Africa’s winter and lucky for us the day we went to watch Brazil was apparently the coldest day in Johannesburg since 1994!  Needless to say we were woefully unprepared.  The only thing that saved Courtney from certain hypothermia was the fact that there was a rather large man sat in the seat next to her inside the stadium.  With Lee’s puny body offering little protection from the elements, Courtney nestled into the side of the big fellow’s generous frame and managed to at least keep the frostbite at bay.

Brazil won the match as expected, but the plucky Koreans put up quite a fight.  The most bizarre sight of the game was the group of 100 or so Korean fans sat together on the other side of the stadium from us.  They were all wearing identical red tracksuits and clapped and cheered in perfect unison every so often.  We later found out that these “fans” were actually primarily Chinese nationals who had been hired by the North Korean government to pose as Korea fans for the match.

USA v Slovenia
Later that same week we headed back to Ellis Park for USA’s second group game against Slovenia.  At the match we met up with friends Katie and Ran who had traveled over to watch the first two US matches.

 Katie and Ran

Before the match with Katie

We had rubbish Category 3 tickets for this match but Katie and Ran had Cat 1s (much better seats) so we snuck in with them and squeezed into their section. We were in the biggest section of USA fans so the atmosphere was awesome.  After going 2-0 down it wasn’t looking good for the US team, but an early second-half goal from Donovan and then a late equalizer from Bradley and it was game on.  The crowd was going nuts.  If you watched this match on TV you know what happened next.  For a few seconds it was pandemonium in our section as US fans celebrated what we thought was the match winner.  Unfortunately the dodgy referee saw something that nobody else in the stadium saw and the goal was disallowed.  2-2 was the final and, after England’s terrible display against Algeria, it was all still to play for.

Some first half action

After the match we grabbed dinner and drinks in Melville, a trendy little suburb of Johannesburg, before saying our goodbyes to Katie and Ran who were headed back to Philadelphia in the morning.