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Author: ilonamanc



New England

After previously trying to stay away from the US we found ourselves back there on account of some incredibly cheap flights home, via Edinburgh! Our route was to start in Mt Washington National Forest, a pretty place with some great walks and stunning scenery.

Unfortunately our trip to the National Park was a fleeting visit as we stopped for just one night in a hostel, can you believe it was our first real hostel of the trip, such flash packers, it was quite nice, should have stayed in more!

We then stayed near a small town called Portland, a vibrant victorian port town, which just so happened to be a massive brewing hub, so Mitch was very pleased.

We had an amazing tasting and tour around Allagash brewery (mainly because they gave away so much free beer), even I became an IPA fan! To be honest, I probably could have done without adding another pleasing alcoholic beverage to my long list! In and around Portland was really great, its just how I imagined Maine, with its rugged, beautiful coastline, millions of lakes and stunning green countryside. Not forgetting the delicious lobster rolls, poshest picnic I’ve ever had!

Things were heating up in Maine, so we decided to have a day on the beach. We have become too accustomed to warm sea, so the North Atlantic coast was quite a shock! I had trouble just dipping my feet in, even Freda didn’t fancy a swim. But she did fall in again while trying to climb on a rock! It once again caused much amusement. She’s starting to rival my sister, who always seemed to fall in any water that crossed her path.

We back tracked slightly for our last few nights in Maine and headed up north again to stay in a rather cosy, but remote Yurt.

We were a little shocked to realise an off grid Yurt meant that there was no water, so no showers or flushing toilets! However, the location was so beautiful we made do, even if the lady that owned it was a rather unusual host! When we arrived and I asked about a shower, her response was “the lakes clean and very warm!” super….. On our first night she came down to our yurt to tell us there was a tornado warning in the area, I loved Mitch’s reply, “is the Yurt tornado proof!” well needless to the answer was no. We sat tight and it passed us by, luckily, so we didn’t have to find out! We spent the next day enjoying the tranquility of the lake, which the Americans fondly call a pond! Canoeing, swimming and kicking back in glorious nature.

We left our ‘glamping’ in need of a good wash and went to stay north of Boston with an old colleague of Mitch’s. Derek and his lovley wife Marian, hosted us for 2 nights, which was great. It was a little bit embarrassing turning up as the great unwashed, but we soon cleaned up and settled into their comfy home.  We spent the 4th of July with them, which was quite funny as we were all Brits, but Derek and Marian cooked us a lovely meal, thanks guys, it was fun celebrating the demise of the English!

We really enjoyed our time in Boston, it’s a great city, lots of history, great architecture and green spaces. Freda particularly enjoyed a famous childrens story written in the 1940s, ‘Make way for the ducklings’, about a mallard family that lived in Boston, they have since been immortalised in bronze for all children to sit on.

Oh and I shouldn’t forget the lobsters, as Freda was becoming quite taken by all the lobster paraphernalia. We even stumbled on the best carousel I’ve ever seen, she went straight for the Lobster.

After Boston we drove down to a place called Plymouth, famous for being the first place the English pilgrims set foot. The reason for staying here was that it happened to be about as close as we could stay to Cape Cod, which I was keen to see. As it happened we lucked out because we took a whale watching trip from there and saw over 10 humpback whales, feeding and breaching and tail slapping…..all sorts really and all around our boat.

It was a one of the highlights of our trip so far. Absolutely incredible! After such an amazing morning we had to follow it up with a pretty special lunch at the local Lobster and chip shop! Oh my god, that was a tasty lobster, I loved that it was served on a paper plate with chips. However, Freda was a little sad. She said to me, “mummy that looks like a real Lobster?”

I guess it was a little tough on her as she had just made friends with yet another Lobster outside the restaurant!

The next day was our only day on the Cape, and it didn’t stop raining. In fact, it rained so much there were flash flood warnings. We managed to make it to the quant town of Chatham, which boasts being the home of the great white. This is also the area in which Jaws was filmed, ironically the one film that has done this fish such a great disservice. However, Chatham is endeavouring to educate people about this amazing animal, with exhibitions and a great white shark museum.

Although there was a small part of me the was a little pleased that the rain prevented us from spending anytime on the beach.

We did find out quite quickly that there is very little to do down by the seaside when it rains, so we drove back and spent the afternoon in traffic jams from everyone escaping the floods and then went to the cinema. Freda was very pleased!

Then all of a sudden, we had just two days left, yep that’s right the eternal travellers are coming home!! We stopped by Newport, to ogle at the 19 century mansions built by some of the wealthiest Americans of the time. They were obscene, but fascinating, mainly modelling themselves on great palaces in Europe at the same time. But here it was a case of maybe a little too much money, “all the gear no idea”! This was one of the houses’ garden sheds!

We spent our last day hanging out at a rather cool old yacht club near New Haven, drank the last of our cuban run and waved goodbye to life on the road!

Then like it had never happened, it was all over!

Well it’s been some trip, we couldn’t quite believe it had come to an end and after being back 2 weeks now, I still can’t believe it. We’ve had what can only be described as the best and most enlightening time of my life. The world is a wonderful place, so diverse, fascinating, educating and inspiring. The people we have met along the way, in hardship or with wealth have been open and welcoming, interesting and challenging. Each place had its ups and downs, each place taught myself, Mitch and Freda something valuable and have given us memories to treasure. It’s a hard time for the world, ecologically, economically and politically. I have witnessed sad things, but I think it’s so important to understand we are one planet and one race, all of us are in this together. This trip has changed my outlook on so many things, it has changed the way I want to live my life and I think the experience will stay with our family forever.

So after my cheesy conclusion I want to thank all of you guys for reading this and taking an interest in our trip. And thank you for all for your comments, they meant a lot to us when we were away.

We hope to see you all soon if we have not already and watch this  space we may take to the blog again  when we begin to set up our eco retreat in the great British countryside.



Canada has been super, just what we needed and how I imagined it would be, it hasn’t disappointed. We spent our first few days in Toronto, adjusting to the western world. Something as simple as going into the supermarket was tricky, (Mitch and I had forgotten what we used to eat/cook before rice and beans!). We both wandered around, eyes boggling at the choices on offer, too many choices we had no idea what to buy. For a few weeks each meal was savoured, we appreciated small luxuries; tap water that won’t make you ill, showers that don’t electrocute you, toilets you can flush paper down, comfortable beds and a cooler climate. Then we began to miss Cuba, feeling guilty that we had gotten to experience a land with little, knowing full well that we can easily come back to the land of plenty. But then, like everything in life, we became accustomed to it, and Cuba seemed like a world away.

We took it easy in Toronto, staying in a little house and nursing better our Cuban tummy aches. We took Freda to a playground, where she was amazed everyone spoke English, so she ran around desperately saying “hi my names Freda’s, can we be friends” to any kid she clapped eyes on. We found Toronto to be a really pleasant city, we enjoyed walking on pavements, not being hassled, stopping for coffee and cake……I’m sure you’ll get the picture, just normal western life stuff. Highlights were a very big picnic table

and this dog fountain.

Well, all that normality got a little boring after a while, and so we moved on. Niagara Falls is just around the corner, so it would have been rude not to go. I prepared myself, as I knew the town around the Falls was meant to be horrific. When we arrived we were pleasantly surprised, the falls are an amazing spectacle. We went on a trip behind the falls with the yellow poncho crew, it was much better pressure than the showers in Cuba.

We then took a wrong turn and ended up on the street from hell, Clifton Hill, the ugly sights of consumerism were here for all to see and after being in Cuba only a few days before it was a little hard to stomach, it felt like we had been on a different planet!

Freda, however, was in heaven, poor little mite didn’t know where to look. She got to pick an attraction and after steering her away from Frankensteins house of horror, she picked Dino golf!

We then went up on the sky wheel to see the falls at night!, which was pretty.

Making a hasty retreat the next morning from our cruddy inn, we left the madness behind us. We did stop at the famous flying saucer diner, where Freda’s kids breakfast consisted of 6 pancakes! Not even she could eat that much! Portion sizes here are insane.

After the tack of Niagara we needed a little sophistication, so stopped to do some wine tasting! I know, Canada does make wine, it was news to me, and it’s not too bad! In fact some was very nice. After a few bottles were bagged, we made our way to a place called Fergus. Reminding us strangely of a little Scottish village, it felt like we were slowly easing our way back to the UK. We spent our days enjoying beautiful parks, walking and stumbling across lots of playgrounds, fun for some in the group!

Next up, Owen sound. My friend Kate has a cousin there, so she got in touch with him and cheekily asked if we could stay. Paul kindly agreed and we ended up staying for 4 nights, it was their fault for making us feel so at home. I did experience the worst hang over of our trip, after our first night. Neither Mitch or I could leave the house the next day, Freda luckily was very happy to watch TV, in English, which she hasn’t done for a long long time, while we recovered! After our slow start we managed to get out and explore the local area, we went up to the Bruce peninsula, which is stunning. We did more walks and hung out by  Lake Huron which boasts crystal clear, bright blue water.

Freda marvelled at the beauty of nature, on her whale rock, until seconds later she fell in! It’s pretty cold and to be fair her unfortunate plight was pretty funny, although she didn’t seem to think so!

We sadly left Paul and Mikes, especially after they made us feel so at home, we could have stayed forever but had to leave in the end because all of our livers needed a break!

Freda was distraught, not only had she become best buds with Paul, the neighbour had also taken her under her wing and let Freda have free range of her house, toys and biscuits! Here Freda learnt she could dip her strawberrys straight into a bow of sugar! She was in heaven for a few days, I guess its probably the most homely she has had it it a long time. Amazing hospitality, thanks guys.

We went on to have a truly miserable night, in a town called Bracebridge, in a god awful hotel. The town itself is a great stop over when making your way up north, with lovely waterfalls, rivers and lakes. We had our first go on a Canadian canoe, which was very cool, until it started to rain, a lot! Freda was not happy!

While in Canada I really wanted to try and get up to one of the northern national parks and experience the kind of wilderness I’ve always imagined of when I think of Canada. The Algonquin park didn’t disappoint. After struggling to find accommodation, that wasn’t disgusting, we nearly gave up. But Mitch hit the jackpot and found us a beautiful eco lodge in the forest. Only small problem was the mosquitoes, I have never seen anything like it. Not only them, but black flies that bite your skin and blood just starts running down your neck, lovely! Well it wasn’t going to stop us, when there’s rivers like this to canoe on……..of course now we were experts.

The next day we went in to the park in search of moose, bears and beavers. We meet a lovely couple at the canoe jetty, from Bristol, and gave them a lift into the park. Freda was very happy to have new people and talked for the entire day!
We hired bikes, which is a good way to keep the mozzies off, and ended up seeing moose and a beaver! No bears though. But we really enjoyed our time in the park and it was a very special place.

Mitch found a new admiration for the beaver, after seeing this truly amazing dam! Can’t believe how hard this little furry creature works!

Our last few days in Canada were spent in Ottawa and Montreal, both lovely relaxed cities, a bit like Canada’s whole ethos.

It is a little odd though being in Montreal, with everyone speaking French. Mainly because most of them look like Americans, big burly guys with Harley Davison tatts, then French comes out their mouths……I don’t know it’s just the weirdest thing!

We then drove to the border, bought a cuddly moose for Freda, and headed into the states, for our last leg! Oh nooooooooooo.



So Cuba, what an experience, like no place I have ever been before, it’s been both fascinating and frustrating. I’ve been to other communist countries before, but nothing can really prepare you for Cuba. The fact that this little island has been shut off from the biggest, most influential country in the world for the last 60 years, makes it so unique. The lack of simple everyday goods, the lack of advertising, there are hardly any recognisable brands and hardly any shops. Being in Cuba really brings it home just how much consumerism is such a massive part of our lives. Here it’s not, here the focus is on family and people rather than materialism and money, ultimate socialism.

But, the ideals of communism are hard to maintain,you can see changes, with Castro bringing in new reforms, slowly but noticeably.  The younger generation are jumping at the limited leeway on offer, opening up shops, dressing in the lastest fashion, materialism is taking hold and the desire to make money is strong. The country is changing every day, I imagine never to return to Castro’s dream, for better or worse, who’s to say?!

We took a while finding our feet in Cuba and maybe we never did, maybe as an over privileged westerner you never really can! At first we felt rather dazed and confused, then we felt frustrated! Before we could feel mildly comfortable, we had a few obstacles to over come;

How do you live life without the internet?

We had to use pay phones! You may have forgotten what these are! To go online here you have to go to a hotel and pay for a very slow service. Since we were not staying in hotels, this is a bit of a pain. So we have had to travel like in the good old days, solely using the Rough Guide, but the only problem here is that its 50% of the time it’s wrong, Cuba’s changing too fast!

Where do you stay?

With hotels being ridiculously expensive and horrible, we stayed in Casa Particulars. Cubans are now allowed to rent out their spare rooms, they are reasonable, sometimes nice, mainly not, but you can alway find one. So that’s what we did.

Where are all the shops?

So they are there, but just not shops as I know it, and if you do find a shop it has very little in it or just shelves of the same things. We figured out that most of the shops are behind blacked-out windows and you just need to try them all and see what random stuff they are selling. Mainly it is all the same stuff. This one had one had a good supply of oil, unlikely to sell out in the near future! Although the lack of choice does make life easy.

How do you get Taxis?

Every other car is a taxi, but we kept getting ripped off, our mistake was we were trying to get in the new looking state taxis or funny little tourist taxis! What we worked out is the older and crapper looking the car, the cheaper it is, so that’s what we did. They might be too old for seat belts, but when you get to go in cars like this, really who cares about safety!

So once the basics had been worked out, we got stuck into Cuba. Our plan was to spend 4 weeks traveling down to Santiago, in hindsight a small mistake! It doesn’t look too far on the map, but the roads in Cuba roads are terrible. Half way down the country we decided to move our flight to leave a week earlier, I will explain why later.

We stayed in Havana a week, there’s too much to say about this incredible city. I would recommend it to everyone, Cuba as a whole may not be everyones bag, but Havana is a sight to behold.

I wish we had stayed longer. It’s busy, smelly, dirty and falling down, but you can never tire of looking at it. An old treasure you could just stand and stare at for hours. You could walk down the same street a hundred times and alway see something different.

A lot of Havana looks a bit like a war zone, it’s crazy to see people living and working in buildings that look like they may fall down any moment. Then in a perfect contradiction you see magnificently restored buildings, right back to their former colonial glory.

Right next door to grandeur is a dilapidated colonial gem, just about to fall down. You can see remains of beautiful stain glass still in the windows, ornate tiles, exquisite plasterwork crumbling away, peek inside and you may see an old man, a chair and a TV set from the 60s and that’s it, people are living in a derelict mansion, it’s so weird!

It’s sad to see such places falling down and I know people say Cuba’s is being ruined now, but in my eyes I think Havana needs some money, and it’s really nice to see buildings being renovated, so the city can stay standing. But I guess, unfortunately, the money that is coming in is going into the wrong projects. Like luxury shopping centres for the westerner!

In Havana its almost criminal if you don’t get in a fancy American car from the 50s, but they are different from the old battered taxis I talked about earlier. Well maintained and of course a convertible, we rode in this beauty, the roof even still worked 65 years later!

We of course found this out as it started raining really heavily. But as you can’t see anything with the roof up and it’s unbearablely hot, our driver put it back down when the rained slowed and we opted for the air conditioning method.

It kept raining until the roads were like rivers, and we were stuck in central Havana trying to find food in a city that was so flooded you couldn’t even cross the road.

In general, what Cubans do with food is a miracle when you see inside a shop. The best places we’ve found to eat are Paladars, which are essentially people’s homes that they have turned into restaurants. This was a rather fancy one, near our Casa.

They really vary, and in some the food is really good (and of course the rum, especially in Havana). But, like all things in Cuba, everything is much the same, same food, same drinks, same breakfast, everywhere you go it’s all a little like Groundhog Day.

The rest of our time in Havana, we spent our time wandering around,

Freda learnt all about Che Guevara and Fidel, we popped in to museums, drank mojitos and listened to an abundance of great music that was played in almost every bar and restaurant. We even managed a really late night out!

So, while we were enjoying our time in Havana, we were also busy trying to work out where to go next, and how to get there. This is when we came to realise, getting about in Cuba, as independent travelers, with a 4 year old, is a right old pain in the arse. We failed booking a bus, the system was so ridiculous, so we decided to get a private taxi for 4 hours to Vinales. A beautiful part of the country, but far too many tourists……every single house has rooms to rent. After looking around many, we realised that they were all pretty basic and settled for a really shoddy one, but it did have a nice view.

So, in Vinales you have to get on a horse and ride through the valley,

take a look at a tobacco farm (so that they can try sell you some cigars). Then we got to go for a walk into a pitch black cave with a pool at the end, which you can swim in (but as it was pitch black, none of us were tempted)! Somewhere in there, there were very impressive stalagtites and mites….

We had a bit of food, chicken and rice, same same, then back in the saddle. Unfortunately this was shared with Freda, which makes for a very sore bum the next day. As you can see these two had great control over the horse!

Next on the Vinales tourist route is the valley tour, only in a car this time. We scouted around for the best Lada we could find, in Vinales these are much cheaper than the American cars.

On the Lada tour you get to see this fantastic mural commissioned by Castro himself, a man of great taste!

Then more caves, one was particularly impressive, helped by the fact it was lit up this time, so you could see around it. Also we all really enjoyed getting in for free, as the lady at the desk couldn’t be bothered to get off her phone to give us a ticket. Cuban customer service has not been the best, maybe due to the fact that they’re not bothered about making money, so no one gives a shit!

Leaving Vinales this time round we were very proud of ourselves as we managed to book a bus to Cienfuegos, without too much fuss. We celebrated with a tonne of Mojitos and found a nice restaurant with really great live music. It may have only been great due to the amount of rum, but we bought a CD, so will see when we get back.

For me, our late night turned out to be a bad idea, when traveling on the 7 o’clock bus the next day. Cuban buses tend to rock while on the move, due to all the pot holes, it’s like being on a boat. It wasn’t my favourite 7 hours of the trip!

We arrived, at last, in Cienfuegos which is a nice but boring town on the sea. Best bit was some fascinating old buildings, this was the Palacio del Valle

Worst bit was the public swimming pool we took Freda to, although I did get to witness a rather funny but disturbing sight of a group of under 6 years olds twerking and grinding by the side of the pool, like they were in a Rihanna video. Mitch was going to take a picture, which I thought was unwise, so I did it instead, but not really getting close enough.

We moved on to Trinidad, which was a great city and we ended up staying here for quite a while.

One of the reasons was that we wanted to hire a car, as we had planned to spend the following two weeks going up to the Northern beaches and then traveling on to Santiago via the coast. Stupid, naive, unprepared us! There are no cars in Cuba unless you book around two months in advance, even then you’re lucky……so we had to get over it, change our plans, buses for us and that was that! We arrived at our Casa which was like stepping back to the early 1900s, the bed looked like something from a horror film, as did the bathroom. We were going to stay one night and stayed 5, mainly again because we couldn’t find a method to leave. But, we ended up having a really nice time. Trinidad is a very touristy town, but that’s because it’s may be the best preserved colonial town in Cuba.

Lots of music, great buildings and we even had another late night out/in with a lovely couple from the Netherlands. If you’re reading this guys we managed to escape from Cuba, I hope you had a great holiday.
We also spent quite a few of our days at the local beach, Playa Ancon, which was lovely and Freda had a lot of fun.

To top it off, we also had a trip up in to the mountains.

Sadly we left Trinidad, not feeling that there was too much to look forward to in our last week. Cuba and its crazy systems had beaten us. We looked in to booking ourselves in to a hotel by the beach, the problem here being that they are all A/I holes, that’s not my bag. If there’s one thing we’ve seen on this trip, it’s been a nice beach. So we decided to cut our losses and move our flight forward by a week.

There’s one road through the country that the buses go on, so we got moving down it. It’s 12 hours to Santiago from Trinidad so we planned a stop in a little city called Camaguey. It was ok for a couple of days, but not too much to report. We had our pick of a load of rubbish Casas, had the same old breakfast, same dinner, but we did find a playground for Freda, and it’s been a while. It was in the biggest city centre park in the whole of Cuba, which to be honest was pretty small. The playground was a little like a scene from a Armageddon film, the start of Terminator 2 springs to mind…..

..if anyone remembers it! Poor Freda, but she is not very in fussy nowadays.

One other thing of note was the state owned ice cream parlour, Coppelia. A treat for the hard working, underpaid Cubans and Mitch and Freda who had two big bowls of ice cream for just 15p! I had to pass, I’m afraid, all the flies on the massive vats of ice cream were a little off-putting.

But Freda is always happy with ice cream and Mitch loves a bargain, so they had two very happy customers.

Our next bus was at 6 in the morning, it took 7 hours. Mainly because it stopped all of the time and also because it was traveling on country back-roads most of the way. Very nice countryside, though I couldn’t help wishing we had found a car, so that we could have explored more of it. We arrived in Santiago, and Freda endured another traipse round for a half decent bed to crash! Now we don’t even care about the rooms, just as long as we have some outdoor space and don’t have to sit with the family, and their extended family, all the grandparents, and the dogs, and the fish, and the cats……I’m sure you get the picture! Anyway, we finally found one with a nice roof terrace and settled there for our last 3 nights. Same breakfast, and dinner. God this communism lark must get you down after a while!

The town itself is a mixed bag, it’s very full-on with hustlers and is terrible if you are a woman, in fact the worst place I’ve been on our whole trip. I avoided being on my own after I went for a walk on the first day, the amount of attention was really horrible. Apparently Mitch also got just as hassled when on his own, for different reasons, he told me people thought he looked like Che Guevara!

How can I summarise Cuba? What can i say? We’ve loved it and hated it, it makes you think about life, and what we actually need in which to live. I’m going with somewhere in the middle, we have far too much, but the Cubans have far too little. But, the people are very proud and no one goes hungry. Everyone has the right to healthcare, an education, a life without suffering hunger and disease, all the basic needs are meet. Yet I can’t help wondering if there should be more, or if this is enough? The problem is that many people are educated to university level, but no one can get a relevant job. The healthcare is free, but the hospitals have no money! There are beggars but more often people will ask you for pens and clothes, items that they can’t afford and that the state does not supply. Also I can’t feel comfortable in a country where I know the majority of the citizens can’t leave! A society where people can’t speak up about the government, the internet is censored (albeit not very well). I guess like with everywhere  there are problems here, but the revolution did happen over 50 years ago, and a lot has changed since! But, how can one family be in power for so long? What’s the difference between this and a dictatorship? I’m not sure, so many questions for which I don’t have the answers. All I know is that Cuba is a country I will never forget! And strangely enough it’s been the place that Freda was the most upset to leave.

Costa Rica

Costa Rica

Costa Rica is a small, truly beautiful gem. Its coastlines, the Pacific and the Caribbean, lie only 119km apart, but in between there are active volcanoes, alpine peaks and crisp cloud forests. This small, developing country seems to be trying to preserve the natural habitat it has left. It seems a world away from Nicaragua where we not only saw, but experienced in the sweltering heat, the effects of mass deforestation. Costa Rica gives you a glimmer of hope, as previously it suffered the same fate as its neighbours, in the 1990s the country had one of the worst deforestation rates in Central America, 80% of the forest had disappeared (due to rearing cattle and producing fruit). We have seen here a massive drive to protect and respect their natural world.

So, we had heard Costa Rica was expensive, how bad could it be?  When we began to book accommodation, we freaked out and moved our onward flight forward 2 weeks, giving us just over 3 weeks. On reflection we may have been a little hasty. You could easily blow a grand on a night somewhere, but equally it’s very easy to find good budget accommodation and eat nice cheap local food. If you can stomach rice and beans for three weeks, we’ve done pretty well on it.

From Nicaragua we went to the border to find our Pura Vida! We had heard it takes long time to cross. These two countries do not seem to be friends, like all over the globe we seem to hate our neighbours the most, same old issue we’ve seen everywhere, Immigration! So we prepared ourselves for a long wait. Making it across the Nicaragua border and through to the Costa Rican side in 10 mins flat, we started to wonder what all the fuss was about! Then we saw the extent of the queue to get our Costa Rican visas. In the end our driver got sick of waiting and decided it was time we pushed to the front, using Freda as his excuse! No yellow line here to wait behind, it was a free for all, and it soon became clear why the queue hadn’t moved. I was forced to the front of the scrum, reluctantly brandishing our passport (and Freda)! We left with our head hung low, we may have been out of England for a while, but it’s still hard to tolerate queue jumping! I wasn’t proud, but at least we hadn’t paid our way to the front like many other gringos I saw, pushing seemed a little more palatable (due to the fact we were with child of course)!

We picked up our hire car, which we debated about for ages. People say you need a 4×4 in Costa Rica, but they were a complete rip off, so as we are tight we went for a 2×0 car and kept our fingers crossed. We did the right thing, people seem to think you to need a 4×4 to drive anywhere nowadays. There were only a few times where we had to admit defeat in our car and walk the last kilometre. With our new found freedom, we made our way to a small town on the Pacific coast called Brasilito.

We spent a few days adjusting to the new country and the Guancaste region was a beautiful area to do this in. It is famed for Playa Conchal,  which gets its name from the sand found here that is composed of hundreds of millions of tiny crushed shells.

The shallow beach and white sand lead to a beautiful turquoise sea, not a bad place to spend an afternoon. Although, there was trouble in paradise, we had an early taste of Costa Rica’s petty crime problem. We went for a walk along the deserted beach at sunset, without a thought we left our flip flops, Freda’s sandals and an old wet tshirt on the beach, returning to find them all gone.

Bemused about why anyone would take cheap old battered shoes and Mitchs wet (but treasured Angkor beer) t-shirt, we mooched back to our hotel bare footed! It was a low point for my regard of humanity, taking children’s sandals is below the belt. Anyway lesson learnt, if people will steal old grubby flip flops and a childs only pair of sandals, my guessing was anything is up for grabs. The beach walk was very nice but maybe not worth the amount of time we then had to spend looking for Freda’s replacement shoes! Costa Rica has a lot to offer, but shops are not one of them!

We drove up to the Volcan Arenal, another perfectly conical volcano, we have definitely been spoiled with amazing volcanoes on this trip. It impressively sits of the edge of Lake Arenal, surrounded by beautiful national parks and reserves.

We stayed on an eco farm, something I was keen on doing, as Costa Rica is the home of eco tourism, it was beautifully basic. From our balcony we watched various animals and giant insects, our favourite being a wild sloth making his way slowly around, what a life.

We also went on a very informative farm tour. Our guide Alberto, a Spanish biologist, wowed us with amazing facts about plants and bio dynamic farming, which is pretty cool.

Freda here is getting a try of the fruit from the cacao tree, she was a bit put out that it didn’t taste of chocolate. But she did love the fact he kept picking up things and letting us eat them, hope she doesn’t get any ideas!

We did manage to drag ourselves away from our beautiful lodge and go on a day trip, visiting an immense waterfall.

We walked to the bottom and swam in the river, amongst the rainforest, it was pretty special.

Not being satisfied with that, we then took a trip to the mystical, hanging bridges of Arenal, they seem to be a Costa Rican thing! We walked through the rainforest, spotting all sorts of wildlife, from monkeys to beautiful birds, while walking over some very long, high, wobbly, hanging bridges.

Our next port of call was just over the other side of the national park. About 25 km as the crow flies, but a three hour drive down, around and then back up the other side of the mountain. They say in Costa Rica if you want to go 30 km, allow an hour to go anywhere.

Monteverde, is one of Costa Rica’s main tourist attractions for a good reason. A handful of national and private parks surround the small town of Santa Elena, sitting right up in the mountains, we had (again) read that you needed a 4×4 to get here, so we nearly didn’t go. Luckily in our blasé manner, we ignored all advice and went anyway….it was fine. Monteverde is a special place, known as a cloud forest, these type of forests amount to a very small percent of the worlds woodland and create an ecosystem like no other.

A big tourist draw here is zip-lining. Freda had seen some pictures in a brochure and was desperate to try it. I told her it was just for adults, her response was “no mummy, there is a child on this picture.” So we searched around for the one that would take a child on a km long zip line over the top of the canopy. As Costa Rica is the home of the zip-line, and Monteverde maybe the best place to do it, we thought it would be rude not to. We did 14 lines and a dizzyingly high Tarzan swing.

It was stunning, we all had a blast, although it was a little unnerving watching my daughter turn into a little speck down a km line attached to a stranger, through the trees.

We only had one full day in Monteverde, so after the zip lining, we went to the main park. We did a couple of hours walking in the hope of seeing some animals. Freda does limit our potential as she generally doesn’t stop talking…….oh my god seriously though, she never stops talking! But, she seems happy walking and talking for a couple of hours, spotting ants and other insects that most people would just walk over and picking up leaves and bits and pieces off the floor. This can be a small worry when Costa Rica has more venomous snakes than you can shake stick at. Anyway, Freda is such a little trouper, even when it rains and she’s tired and muddy, she just gets on with it. We’ve done a lot of walks here, by the end of each one we may have lost our mind with the incessant talking, but we’re very proud of her, I’m not sure how many four year olds would traipse day in day, day out around forest after forest.

We had a moments peace at the park entrance where there was a fantastic hummingbird garden. You had to be quiet, thank god, but the birds were completely unfazed by people.

We left the stunning area of Monteverde and made the long decent down the mountain, making our way to the other most visited park in the country…….we thought we’d tick them off the list! Manuel Antonio is one of the smallest parks, but here the rainforest creeps all the way down to the beach, it has good trails for kids and apparently it is easy to spot wildlife, the only down side is that it’s very developed and busy.

We went to the beach outside the national park for our first day, Freda made some friends on the beach. Result, someone else she can talk to! A lovely American family that had quit their jobs and set out on their travels (sound familiar). The next morning we went to the national park, but unfortunately as we have now hit the start of the rainy season, it was raining……..hey ho, could be worse?!

Upside to the rain is that there are less people, and on this day there was hardly anyone in the park! Downside is that we got soaked again, but it was beautiful. We added a few more animals to our list, we are racking them up here, even with old chatting pants.

26% of Costa Rica is made up of stunning national parks, they seem to be one after another. Basically it’s all we’ve done, so next on the list was the national park Ballena, which is a spit of land jutting out to sea that looks just like the tail of a whale. With a back-drop of mountains covered in rainforests, it’s as beautiful as it comes.

We took the long walk out to the end of the tail, marvelled in the view and walked back. The hotel where we were staying was a private reserve set in over 300 hectares of secondary and primary forests. Iguanas sat outside each cabin, all with their own drainpipe as their home. Not too sure where they went when it rained! Or come to that what anything does when it rains.

When it rains here, it’s really rains!

So you may be getting a bit bored of all this nature stuff, but really there is nothing else in Costa Rica. We did a looping route around the country, so headed from the Pacific coast to the Caribbean side, and in between we had some days in the mountains. Mount Chirripo is the highest mountain in Costa Rica, and we spent a few nights at its base. We didn’t attempt the 12 hour climb (due to our ‘fun sponge’), but instead we did a few walks and spent the rest of the time in our little mountain lodge, sheltering from the rain. Our hut was quite challenging for city folk like us, as many bugs entered the house, the worse being a huge leech, like the ones used in Victorian medicine, yuck. The leech went down the toilet with some bleach, but when you have a view like this at breakfast, it was almost forgiven, but not forgotten!

It was nice to do a few normal things here in our little hut, like cooking and washing, they even had Sky TV, so Freda was over the moon. Only downside it was a steep 5 minute walk up or down the mountain, on a muddy and wet path, so we made sure we only left once a day, so we then only had to climb back up once a day.

We wound our way over the mountains and then back down to the valleys on the other side, slowly making our way to the Caribbean. Costa Rica may only be 119km across, but there are some bloody long drives. It doesn’t help maters when you get stuck behind a sugarcane train!

We stopped for a couple of days in the Orosi valley, a pretty agricultural area next to two massive volcanoes, one is shut at the moment as its so active! We saw a couple of old churches, which were our first sighting of any interesting historical architecture. I read that there are no old buildings left due to the large volume of earthquakes, but who knows, the Spanish were also here long enough!

We left our pretty little house in Orosi and carried on to the Caribbean coast, it had been a really nice stay apart from a god-awful night bird that spent its time repetitively making the same hideous noise for hours!

So the Caribbean side was a bit of a let down, I mean of course it has these beautiful beaches!

There was also some good food and they had some really nice national parks, where we once again we saw wild sloths and these guys.

So, what am I moaning about? We stayed in a small town on the road to no where called Manzanillo, it was the worst place I think we’ve stayed in so far. Not the accommodation, just the village. I have never been to the Caribbean and I’m not all that sure if this small area of Costa Rica resembled the Caribbean in any way, but all I know is that people here were very unfriendly and pretty weird, we think may be it was because most of them were stoned. Also it had a massive expat community, but I would harshly describe them as a drop-out community. Overall there was an air of seediness and a lot of drug peddling. Still we managed to make do, visiting the fantasitic Jaguar Rescue centre, no jaguars though as I don’t think there are any left here. However, they did have a lot of sloths, which were so cute. Anyone for a basket of babies?

The baby sloths mainly come to the rescue centre as orphans, the centre gets them ready for the wild and then releases them. It’s a very noble program to try and help many animals that are mainly affected or hurt by the development happening on the coast.

We also had a chocolate tour at a local indigenous family farm. Here’s Freda trying her hand at stirring some Cacao seeds, desperately longing for the moment she can try some chocolate!

We happily left the Caribbean behind and headed to a coffee plantation, just north of San Jose. Run by a rather odd American but a nice place, although the owner took an instant disliking to us, calling Mitch a heathen as put he put milk in his coffee. We didn’t venture in to San Jose, when Havanas your next big city, it seemed a bit pointless. But, we did go to a tourist hotspot on the outskirts. So much so, we banged into our first Chinese tour group in months. We had to increase our pace to avoid the tour, however every now and again, we dragged our heels and suddenly found ourselves surrounded by clapping, shouting and screaming all around the animals. They were even trying to grab the animals for pictures! I think it may be some time till the Chinese catch up with the Costa Ricans in their stance on wildlife conservation. The animals at the Waterfall Gardens were rescued mainly from being kept as pets, as it is illegal to keep a native animal as a pet in Costa Rica, these unlucky ones could not be released back in to the wild.

Along with its small animal park, we also went for a walk down past some tumbling water falls. No Chinese here though, probably too far to walk! I know, verging on racism, but when you have been shoved out of the way when entering a toilet cubical by a Chinese tourist, pushed aside trying to board a bus, seen a guy pull off a butterfly’s wing, the tourist that I have witnessed certainly aren’t flying a good flag for China. I guess much could be said for some Brits abroad, we try our best to keep the flag flying for good behaviour, apart from maybe the odd forced queue jumping……….

On our last day we went for a walk around, in I think, our first primary rainforest. There’s not much left afather most forests were chopped down and they are spectacular, here’s the king of jungle!

What Costa Rica lacks in pretty architecture, culture and beautiful historic towns, it makes up for it in spades with the tremendous scale of care and preservation for its natural habitats. It’s been a fantastically eye opening journey for all of us all, I have felt privileged to be able to see some tremendous nature.

I also felt sad at times that maybe this will be the last time I do get to see something like this, as our planet is changing so fast and maybe when Freda is my age, with her own children, they may not even get to see such animals, plants and trees in natural, untouched forests. We have learnt a lot about the impact humans have had and continue to have. Science seems to have a pretty bleak outlook for the future. But, maybe if more countries can turn it around like Costa Rica, find a balance and a reason to protect our planet, Costa Ricas I think is unashamedly tourism, but why not? People here seem to have found a renewed respect for the natural world and understand it’s importance, for them and for their future. Maybe this gives me some hope, I’m going to have to take that or I would be too miserable.

If you have made it to the end of the longest blog in the world, thank you so much for reading this far. I must try to write more often. Tomorrow we are off to Cuba, very excited, I’m looking forward to telling you all about it………….



Our flight down to Nicaragua was long and arduous. We flew over our destination, landing in Costa Rica, which ranked as Mitchs’ all time worse landing. After a long wait in San Jose airport, we boarded our next plane to Managua, certainly not the most direct way to Nicaragua, but the cheapest!

Freda spent the 5 hours wait becoming increasingly excited about the imminent arrival of Kitty and after landing in Managua it was a welcome sight to see our friends, Charlotte, Christian and Kitty. All knackered, we jumped in our minibus to Granada, the first port of call for our Nicaragua trip. Charlotte had booked us a great house called Casa Usma, it was nice to have help with the travel planning.

The next day was Mitchs birthday, unfortunately I had ended up throwing up all night and Freda had also threw up all over her bed, it was a miserable state of affairs for us two (and poor old Mitch!). He did get to go out for a birthday beer and a trip to the cigar factory with Christian and received another beer t-shirt as a present from me, so all was well.

So our days spent in Granada were pleasant, the city sits on lake Nicaragua, the largest fresh water lake in Central America and apparently is home to bull sharks! Granada is a charming, colonial city, although felt mainly geared up to tourists. But it did have a lovely laid back feel, with a few nice museums, and streets lined with beautiful bright painted buildings.

We attempted to explore the city, but as the temperatures soared into the high 30s, we were forced to retreat back to our house and cool down in our small swimming pool. Unfortunately, our peaceful retreat was blighted slightly by maintenance workers coming and going all day. The last straw occurred when a man started dismantling the electricity mains box, and armed with two wires proceeded to shove them in. As sparks flew close to the girls heads, Charlotte and I had to intervene, not only to save the mans life, but also to save our children from witnessing a fatal electrocution….poor guy, he just didn’t want to turn the electrics off so the girls could keep watching TV!

After Granada, we made our way down to Ometepe, an island in lake Nicaragua. Known for its impressive twin volcanoes, it’s a short boat ride over, but when you are in this, an hour seems a very long time.

After having arrived too late to get the larger ferry we decided to give the small boat a go, it’s only a lake, how bad could it be! Well, I think I speak for the whole group when saying I spent most of the journey wondering what I would do if we sank.

I think we were all eyeing up which life jacket looked the best out of the decaying bunch above our heads. Freda already had a stomach bug, so didn’t cope very well, in the end, I had to hold a screaming child, trying to shield her from the waves coming over the side of the boat until I think it all got too much for her and she went to sleep. We were happy to get our feet on dry land and all agreed the ferry would be taken on the way back.

Ometepe is a beautiful hourglass shaped island, the volcanoes rise out of the lake.

To the north Concepción, a perfectly cone-shaped active volcano and to the south sits the extinct Maderas. Nestled around them are lovely national parks, beaches, howler monkeys and even petroglyphs!

We had a fun afternoon playing in a natural springs pool.

We watched howler monkeys from our balcony and had a trip to the  beach. It was definitely one of my favourite places in Nicaragua.

Taking the much calmer ferry, we returned to the mainland and went to stay on the side of the Laguna de Apoyo. This is a former volcanic crater, 200m deep, filled with lots of vere warm water, it was very cool to swim in a volcano!

We took a trip to the local town of Masaya, famous for its artisans market. Unfortunately we mainly found paintings of people sat on toilets and beer t-shirts.

After a few days hanging by the lake, we went to the coats at Las Penitas. A beach town outside of Leon with a nice relaxed, bohemian vibe, basically it means that not many gringos come here, yet!

It had a very local feel to it and the coast-line was stunning. We had a house right on the beach and spent our days doing as all good beach bums do, swimming, drinking rum, eating, reading, watching the sunset and repeat! Here’s our resident beach bums.

We also took turns to have some child free time……Charlotte and I even got to go on a horse ride, which was amazing! It’s been a long time since I rode a horse at full gallop and racing the guy along a beautiful beach was pretty special. My only issue with Las Penitas was my room, or the cell as I called it. It would take far too long to go in to the set up of the house, but I felt it necessary to share with Freda. In our cell we had no windows and as it never really went under 30 degrees in the room, instead of closing the door, I had to padlock us in through an iron barred gate. I had various nightmares, especially when the electricity went down in the middle for the night for 4 hours, meaning no fan. But every cloud has a silver lining, as anywhere I have stayed since, however bad, I just say to myself “at least it’s not the cell”! To add insult to injury, Semana Santa began. Easter to you guys, but party time to the younger kids of Las Penitas. On our last night, the worst music blared from next door until 4 in the morning. It was a long, hard, hot night in the cell for me!

We did an Easter hunt for the girls, but it seems they celebrate Jesus here rather than chocolate. So, Freda and Kitty had two kinder eggs each, but it was still very well received by our cactus bunny.

I escaped the cell and we went to Leon. A great town, full of character and history.

Here we read lots about Nicaragua, after previously having being rather naive to its past. Leon is the city of the revolution, the heart and soul of Nicaragua. Freda leant all about the revolutionary fighters in the museum of the Revolution of Latin America and we learnt the devastating affect the US and a terrible dictator had on the county.

Leons’ only fault was it was the hottest place yet. Once again we limited our time to explore to before lunch and after 4, but we finally persuaded Freda to embrace a siesta so we could stay out later than 7pm! This did mean that we were able to have one of the more surreal nights of my life, Easter in Leon! We decided to go to an area of town famous for creating murals on the pavement made out of sawdust, I’ve read this is a big thing in the Americas. There was about a mile of the murals, mainly of Jesus, it was bit strange some were better than the others!!

But we hadn’t seen anything yet, on our walk back to town we noticed people had turned their homes into religious shrines. Some were simple with a little Jesus statue on the cross, others had gone a bit further and had lights and extravagant displays, some were just damn right crazy. Our favourite was the poor little boy below that was made to reenact Jesus’ death. I was just pleased his dad had let him lay down and hadn’t nailed him to their cross.

It was certainly a very different Easter for us this year. In amongst all this madness, every corner we turned there was a parade of hundreds carrying Jesus on the cross. I felt a little out of place with my ungodly ways, wondering what the Nicaraguans would have thought if they spent Easter in England, where for reasons unknown to me Jemus has been replaced for a bunny and chocolate! To make up for it we visited Leon’s impressive Cathedral on Easter Sunday,

we went up on the roof, which was very white and very hot but had great views of the city and felt a bit like being in Greece.

We had to say goodbye to our Rum drinking buds, we had all become great fans of the local tipple, Flor de Cana and Tona and maybe drank a years worth of rum and beer in 2 weeks.

It was sad to see them go and even worse it meant Mitch and I had to get back to the drawing board and do some travel planning, it had been like having a holiday from our holiday. Freda was devastated by the loss of Kitty,

but luckily the hotel owners daughter came round and Freda spent the next few days playing with her, so it did soften the blow. Also Freda was recovering from a rather nasty allergic reaction to Mango sap, after picking up a handful from the floor she touched her neck which then proceeded to blister and it was pretty horrible, who would have known!

We had to leave Leon (it was too hot), but we did stay another 2 nights, sweating and travel planning, progress was slow. In the end we went down to the gringo’tastic town of San Juan del Sur. The town itself is nothing to write home about, but the nearby beaches are beautiful. We bunked down here and planned our next leg to Costa Rica.

Nicaragua, has been great. It’s a country just finding its feet after a long period of war and hardship. It’s a had a tough time but has a great deal to offer.


Mexico-part 2

Mexico-part 2

Mexico City and Guadalajara

A long time ago BF (before Freda), we visited Mexico City. Unfortunately it was when I was pregnant, so I couldn’t sample the delights of Mexican cuisine or their alcoholic beverages. The alcohol needs no explanation, but the food, just the smell of it, had a terrible effect on me. But, even with horrific morning sickness, we both really enjoyed Mexico City, so we decided to return.

Mexico City, I have been informed, is the worlds 4th biggest metropolis. A vibrant city, traffic clogged, filthy, but also truly beautiful and magical. We decided to stay in an area called Coyoacan, it’s a large southern borough and a small haven away from the rest of bussle of the City.

Founded in the seventh century by the Colhua people and later conquered by the Mexica, the “place of coyotes” retains its small-town charm. Last trip, we visited just for the day, this time we stayed for a whole week. This, however, was not the plan, as we had initially only 3 nights booked before we were due to fly down to Guadalajara, but then we realised, half way through our stay, that no one had booked that particular flight! Now I think that Mitch was meant to book it, got distracted, probably with the Lincoln City football scores and didn’t!! He denies this, and swears I was booking it. Anyway, no one booked it, we were just pleased we found this out before we turned up at the airport!

Luckily Coyoacan is lovely place to find yourself stuck with a few days to kill. With its narrow, cobbled streets, colonial churches, vibrant markets, world-class museums and sidewalk cafes, its historic center has a lot to offer. Including the oldest church in Mexico City built in the 1520s.

One of the main attractions for tourists is Fridas Kalhos Blue house. The house looks like it did when Kahlo and husband Diego Rivera lived there. At this location, just under 5 years ago, we both agreed we loved the name Frida and it stuck with us. I have to say I didn’t imagine we’d return, but our Freda was desperate to go, which was really sweet.

She has come away from Frida Kahlos’ house wanting to be an artist, luckily though for anyone who may have seen Fridas art, not paying too much attention to the detail. I think Mitch makes a good Diego Rivera!

We spent our other days wandering around the local markets (I’m obsessed with all things Mexican) and eating more great food. Although, we all had pretty bad stomachs for the whole of our time in the capital, which I put down to us eating in our first poncey eatery since being in Mexico. The raw scallop taco perhaps was a bad move, so it seems to be best, I think, to keep it simple and stick to street food. Tostadas Coyoacan being a firm favourite.

Another place close to us, was the beautiful area of San Angel. It holds a famous Saturday market, where you can wander around the Cobblestone streets through many plazas, eyeing into beautiful gardens and elegant estates, to see the neighborhood’s rich colonial past. There is so much I want to buy in Mexico, I have told Mitch I will need to come back with a suitcase and start a Mexican shop. However, there was one little lady who was getting a little bit fed up with markets, and I have been accused of spoiling her, as I keep buying things to appease her.

So, we took her to Mexico City’s children’s museum. It was excellent, much better than anything we have in London, there was so much interactive stuff for her to do, it didn’t seem to mater that it was all in Spanish, she was in heaven. They even had a supermarket, I don’t think Mitch realised the food was plastic!

Although, I have to admit, I got a bit annoyed with her when she bashed me over the head with one of these hard pot masks!

We did manage to leave the tranquility of Coyoacan and go into the historic centre of Mexico City to see its famous, massive and grand central square, the Zocalo……made even more famous since a recent James Bond film!

We also paid a visit to the Ministry of Education where Diego Riveras’ murals line the corridors. It was a beautiful place, Jacaranda trees are all in bloom in Mexico City, which is quite a sight.

Rivera was one the most visible figure in Mexican muralism, that emerged in the 1920s in the wake of the Mexican Revolution. His paintings often depicted social inequality in mexican life, with communist themes running through lots of his work.

Mexico City once again did not disappoint. It’s a fantastic city, full of culture and history, on every street there is always something that makes you think and wonder. The lonely planet summed it up as “the sun in the Mexican solar system.”

Finally leaving Mexico City behind us, we boarded our newly booked plane to Guadalajara. I didn’t delegate this time, that way there can be no mistakes! Guadalajara is Mexico’s second biggest city, and is quintessential Mexican, this is the birthplace of mariachi music and tequila.

We had two weeks and no plans and after a lot of driving around Mexico in “Part 1” we had little desire to do any more driving.

So, we choose to stay in Tlaquepaque, one of 3 separate towns that make up Guadalajara City. It’s a town in its own right, very up market and full of over priced boutique shops. But, the place has a lovely laid back atmosphere, especially in a town this size, and it’s bloody hot so with Freda, we became limited as to what we could do. This area and another more, the grassroots town of Tonala, are home to many artisans. From wood carvers, to sculptors and potters, there is a lot of amazing ceramic made around here, so it was right up my street. Unfortately I couldn’t get these in our bags!

We spent our next 3 nights in the centre of Guadalajara, but the heat kept beating us and we had to do things in the morning and take Freda back to the flat for the afternoon. Our flat was lovely, it had a hummingbird feeder and we got to watch them coming and going, which was pretty cool.

We still managed to get a feel for the city, just wandering around our area, Chapultepec. They have great idea here, every Sunday they close off a lot of the major roads to traffic, so all the residents come out on their bikes or roller skates, walk their dogs and they also set up little areas for kids with bouncy castles, games and face painting.

It was great being able to roam about a car-free town, I think London should give it a go.

We did attempt a tourist day and went to have a look around the historic centre. We managed to get to see another big hitter from the Mexican mural renaissance, José Clemente Orozco, considered by many to be the greatest.

His works is political and very dark paintings, we found out today painted all his murals with one hand, as he lost his other one when it was blown of by a firework! Pretty mean feat when you see the size of this chapel in the beautiful Hospicio Cabañas. An old hospital, now a UNESCO world heritage site. Freda unfortunately wasn’t at her best, so to ease the pain, I thought it would be fun to get a horse and cart around the city. What a bad idea.

This photo was just before we sat in 6 lane slow traffic, in 35 degrees heat, on a horse and cart. It was awful, we had to get out early because dripping with sweat, lungs full of pollution we could stand no more. We got in a cab and retreated to the flat to watch the hummingbirds.

We enjoyed our time in the city but felt it was time we moved on, so we went down to the lake. Lake Chapala is Mexico’s largest freshwater lake and is around an hour south of Guadalajara. We spent our first night in the town of Chapala, but we weren’t very keen on our hotel or the town. There aren’t many places that we have left early on this trip, but this place had a very unwelcoming vibe to it. So, the next morning we quickly found an Airb&b and checked out, fortune favours the brave.

This was our view from our Airb&b, a room in a 200 year old hacienda, in the hills of a little town called Ajijic. Because of the benign prevailing climate and attractive scenery, a substantial colony of retirees, including many from the United States and Canada, has established themselves on the lake’s shore. I sometimes feel out of place in Mexico because of the blond hair, but here its was because I was under 60. Not to be sniffed at, it was a lovely, charming town full of worldy North American retirees. The pace was slow, so we relaxed and enjoying the stories from our charming host. She had spent most of her life moving around various country mansions in Dorset and spent time in London in the 70s, where she lived in houses that are now the homes of multi millionaires.

I dragged them all horse riding, Freda was none the wiser that she was on a donkey and was very pleased with her ‘pony’. Too sweet.

Also just down the road there is a thermal spa area, so we visited a water park there, with slides and all sorts. All the pools were heated by the thermals, but when it’s this hot you long for a cool dip, not a 30 degrees pool! We had a great week by the lake, it was so peaceful, may be one to keep in mind when we retire, obviously we will have to think about going back to work first!

We fly out of Guadalajara early in the morning, so we have decided to come back to Tlaquepaque for a few days. We took a day trip out to Tequilateral, as it’s only an hour out of town. It was a great town and we had a really interesting tour around a distillery. I still have to say, I’m never going to be a neat tequila drinker, reminds me of previous misuse. However, we have learnt there are different qualities, and like all things the better it is, I think the less of a hangover you get……..apart from that it all tastes pretty nasty!! At the tasting, I think Mitch was regretting the amount of margaritas he’d had the night before!

But it was facinating to see the process. The story goes, that apparently while working in the field, lightning struck the blue agave cactus, along came a guy and saw that the heat had changed the plant, he tried it and it was sweet, took it home, fermented it, and tequila was born! So after being picked from the field the agave roots are cooked, this is how your tequila starts off.

We are both sad to be saying goodbye to Mexico, but we are very happy we decided to come back here, we’ve had a wonderful time. What I love about this country is its vibrant culture, the colours and the creativity. It’s a beautiful place, which I would advise everyone to visit.


Mexico – part 1

Mexico – part 1

 Guerrero and Michoacán

Mexico was an addition to our itinerary, we were going to go to the US mainland, but after it was Trumped on we couldn’t stomach the stench.
We left Kona, flew to Mexico City, hired a car and 18 hours later we drove into a little hilltop town called Taxco. Without much of a plan, we just thought we would head down to the Pacific coast.

Taxco is famous for its old silver mines and with white VW bettle taxis littering the streets (its too steep to walk), it’s an interesting, bustling place and a good town to adjust to Mexican life.

We had a few fun days hunting for Jewelery, becoming reacquainted with Margaritas and Freda learnt about her namesake. She now seems very taken with Frida Kahlo, whose image is everywhere we go, although there’s not much resemblance…our Freda needs to work on the brows!

After a lovely few days we left Taxco and drove down to the coast, heading for a place called Pie de la Cuesta. It’s a long drive, so we had to stop somewhere and this seemed like the best option. Just far enough away from the drug wars happening in Acapulco. We have come to realise, that while traveling in Mexico it’s not a good idea to read too much about the amount of crime that happens here, especially not from any American source. If you read the American DotGov websites, they advise against all but essential travel in most areas in Mexico. After reading such material, we found out that the two states we are travelling around at the moment have the worst level of drug violence in the country, super! We’ve taken it with a healthy, but wary, pinch of salt and I’ve only had a few sleepless nights after hearing what sounded like gunfire!

So, after pooing our pants driving through Acapulco, we made it to Pie de la Cuesta. It was ok, beautiful long sweeping beach, massive waves, and a nice hotel, made for a pleasant stay.

But, behind the scenes, the surrounding area felt very run drown, a little dodgy and unwelcoming. We got back on the road and headed up the coast to a little fishing village called Barra de Potosi. Unsure what to expect, we stumbled on a real gem. We booked 2 nights and ended up staying for 9, we eased into village life.

We stayed in a really intesting B&B in the village, our room was open, no windows or walls, an “insidey outsidey garden” room as Freda called it.

Freda played with the local children and visited the local children’s library.

We spent most days on the beach building sand castles, while Mitch relaxed!

I’m now old enough to be comfortable saying I enjoyed a spot of bird watching! Pelicans, Frigate birds, Boobies, and Herons all fished right on the shore line and Vultures cleaned up the left overs, it was quite a sight.

 We did find time in our busy schedule to round off the days with a well deserved Margarita.

We even managed to fit in a few extra activities.

Hiring a kayak on the lagoon one day was great, although Freda just wanted to jump out and swim so we didn’t get far.

Maybe just as well as we had a double kayak…..Mitch and I struggled to work as a team, basically he told me I had no rhythm and was rubbish, charming! I jumped in and swam with Freda instead, much more fun.

Our other adventure was hiring a boat, with our fellow guests Laine and Patty, an American couple, disguising themselves as Canadians. They had sold up and were taking a trip all the way down to Patagonia and back in a very well equipped car, mucho respecto. Laine was a bit of a fisher and caught a good sized Tuna, filleted it with what he called his 12″ bona and cooked us up a treat! Thanks Laine.

All of this was a life lesson to Freda as she had to watch it being bled over the side of the boat. At dinner earlier she said to me, whilst chewing on a chicken leg, “mummy is this chicken actually a dead animal, or not?” So I think something may have clicked. We went looking for Whales but failed, we did see two beautiful large Rays and an abundance of sea birds.

We also did some reef snorkelling, so overall a good trip.

So, Barra de Potosi was great, we met some lovely people and really felt at home there. It was very hard to pull ourselves away, but I think all this travelling has given us itchy feet, so after 9 nights we were keen to get back on the road.

By this time, after our 9 days of lazing about, we had just about planned our new route and decided to drive up through the state of Michoacán. The drive took us up though the mountains, where we stayed over at a town called Uruapan, known for its amazing botanical garden. Here they have made a series of very impressive waterfalls, all diverted from the river that flows through the town.

Also famous for its textiles, we visited a very fascinating old textiles factory, which is still in use today. We got talking to the owner who saved it from being knocked down. Amazing story, but I did feel sorry for him as it was such a project and was burning all his cash, but then I suppose it’s lucky that there are people in the world like him, to preserve history and traditions. All the old machines were shipped over from England………they came over and showed the Mexicans how to set up a textiles factory 100s of years ago!

Uruapan has had quite a bit of bad press due to horrendous drug cartel violence in the past few years, so we were a little disconcerted when coming out of a supermarket, we had 5 heavily armed guys looking at our car and taking pictures of it. We had already been stopped at a police road-block earlier that day and were getting a little concerned! I asked if there was a problem, apparently not, and they moved onto the next car. Hard to explain that one to Freda! Mummy, why are those men with big guns looking at our car!? Protecting us from the bad guys my love. I bloody hope so!

Unfortunately, there was a cruddy public swimming pool across the river from where we were staying. So, as Freda had already spied it, we felt obliged to take her. I didn’t know though it would involve risking our lives crossing a rope bridge to get to it!!

We left Urapan, which I was quite glad about, and went up the road to a town called Patzcuaro. When we rocked up at the hotel, I was shown to the smallest, darkest room I’ve ever seen! A little disappointed I fetched Mitch and Freda, and when the lady saw Freda she said the room was too small. I agreed and she found us a new one. We ended up with a beautiful little house at top of the hill, all for 40 quid a night!

That’s enough of just the room, the town is also a little gem. A beautiful colonial town, where time seems to have stood still. Wonderful churches loom over every street, out of our bedroom window, even the public library is an old church and the colonial mansions give way to beautiful inner courtyards.

We ate street food and had dinner each night for less than 4 quid, mustn’t grumble!

Freda is still excelling herself in the foods department, she will eat almost anything. Most of the time we haven’t the slightest idea what we are ordering, but as long as it’s not spicy, she’ll give it go.

We took a boat trip to an island on the lake called Janitzio, probably the most touristy thing we have done for a while. Everyone was selling you something or asking for money, even the fishermen just off the island we’re pretending to fish so they could then get money off you for watching them.

It was fun, but it’s a little sad to see a whole community completely dependent on tourism…..when local fishermen earn more money pretending to fish, something’s gone wrong!

Morelia, the state capital of Michoacan, was our last town before Mexico City. The colonial heart of the city is so well preserved that it was declared a Unesco World Heritage site in 1991.

We spent 2 days just walking around soaking up the history and marvelling in the architectural splendour.

Rich with history, as the Mexican inpendance hero José María Morelos y Pavón was born and lived here, the town was renamed after him. It truly is a wonder of a city, and I think wandering around I have maybe seen just a handful of westerners. Nobody seems to have discovered it yet (or maybe they have all been reading the horror stories from the press)!

We we’re lucky enough to be able to stop on our last leg to Mexico City at the amazing natural phenomenon of the migrating Monarch butterflies. I won’t bore you with the detail, if you are interested take a look at the link. This was perhaps, for me, the most wonderful natural spectacles I have ever witnessed. Thousands of butterflies hanging off the brances of pine trees, when the sun came out they opened up their wings and took to the skies.

We visited two areas of the forest over two days to view the butterflies. Both were well over 3000 meters above sea level. It was pretty tough going, so we decided to hire horses to take us up the sleep accent. Freda loved it.

But, one must also suffer to see such nature, we had to stay in the most grotty of hotels. Luckily I have my faux silk liner, so the worn, 100 year old bobbly sheets didn’t bother me one bit.

If you’ve managed to get this far along the longest blog ever, you’re in for a treat. I’ll share with you Freda’s best comment to date…….when I was buying shoes the other day, Freda saw a shoe with a plastic foot in it and said “How’s somebody going to buy that shoe mummy, it’s already got somebodies foot in it!” maybe you had to be there!

Freda’s finally got round to doing a new vlog, so have a look.





Aloha, from Hawaii…..sorry couldn’t help it! Paradise in the Pacific?

I, like most I’m sure, had a very clear idea of what Hawaii would be like, without paying much attention to the fact it spans over 6 very different main islands, it’s a US state, granted in only 1959 and it’s not all Hula, surfing and palm trees. In fact when the missionaries came over along time ago they banned Hula and surfing, both thought of as very unchristian activities.

Parts of Hawaii fit the bill, the paradise islands with the palm trees, sandy beaches, turquoise water etc etc.

But there’s a whole lot that doesn’t. We’ve experienced both and as we left the resorts for the second week, we saw a little more of the real Hawaii.

We had to fly into Oahu, which for those lacking knowledge on the islands’ names, as I did before I arrived, is the most populated one, that boasts the world famous Waikiki beach near Honolulu. We gave it a wide berth, and drove a little further staying in the spare room of a strange ladys’ house. We were at first a little disappointed, Oahu seemed pretty run down, very American and a little depressing. So not much else to say really, it’s the childhood home of Barack Obama, a pretty island in parts, huge waves and Kona beer, which Mitch has become very fond of. But, apart from the one pretty beach we found, I have to say I hadn’t found paradise yet. We did pay a fleeting visit to Pearl Harbour, which was interesting, especially after having visited Hiroshima not long ago.

So, we hoped for better from the next island, Kauai, the garden isle. First impressions not so good, lots of places are very run down and there seems to be quite a bit of poverty. I guess I wasn’t expecting the 50th American state to have an air of the developing world about it. One thing that is strange is that every few miles there’s a burnt out or dumped car, we reckoned they don’t have any scrap yards, so people just leave them strewn about the island, looks a little untidy.

However, when we got up to the north coast of Kauai it was quite a different story. Here it is mostly small resorts, with a quaint little town in the lovely bay of Hanalei. So, here we found a little slice of paradise, a little too resorty for me, but I did I enjoy our 6 nights……the bed was very comfy, and I appreciate that a lot nowadays.

We spent our days beach-hopping and snorkelling, which Freda was amazing at.

The only worry with Kauai is the surf and currents in the water, it’s fierce and very dangerous. When boarding our little Prop Plane over there, the airport official warned me never to turn my back on the ocean. So I didn’t, and on quite a few days we couldn’t even go in the sea at all. Some of the beaches are protected by reefs, which is where,  while snorkelling, Mitch came across a gigantic green turtle. I said it must have been amazing, his reply was “it was good, but I was quite scared!” bless!

The North shore is dominated by the Nepali coast, maybe the most spectacular scenery we’ve seen to date, and it has a lot to live up to!!

We managed a little steep walk on a small section of an 11 mile hike, branded as the most dangerous hike in the US. We also decided to do a helicopter ride,

a massive luxury, but what an amazing place in which to do it. I was humbled by the beauty of nature, I know its cheesy, but it really was awe inspiring. Being in a chopper was pretty cool too.

Mitch and I were going to get a babysitter and go up together, but we both agreed that if we crashed we would feel awful leaving Freda orphaned in Hawaii. So, we went up separately, both hoping we weren’t the unlucky survivor left to look after Freda alone!

On the island we made it out for a posh meal to celebrate 9 years together. We forgot our actual anniversary, which was quite amusing, as we were flying from NZ that day and as we went back in time we had the same day twice, so we missed it twice!

We became pretty comfortable living our secluded resort life, and felt it was time we moved on and went back to the real world! So, we hopped on another rubbish little plane (which was so rubbish this time that they had to change it in Oahu because it broke down) for our next stop, the Big Island. It’s really called the Island of Hawaii, but that would be a bit too confusing. As its name suggests it is the biggest of the islands, but most of the room is greedily inhabited by its 5 volcanos.

The first two nights we stayed in what could only be described as a rather pleasant garage, just down the coast from Kailua in a place called Captain Cook. This is where the Captain met his demise at the hands of the Hawaiians, apparently the local children ate his heart, only though because they thought it was a dogs. We had one of the best days I’ve had on the islands, when we went down to a local beach, and saw 8 green turtles.

One while snorkelling and some others coming out the sea to rest. We had a great spot to snorkel and then to top it off, saw a whale breaching……what a DAY. We dined at the oldest restaurant in Hawaii, which showed its age, and reminded me a bit of the Balham Bowls Club (for anyone that’s been). Although this place really was old and shit, not just pretending to be. But, the food was simple and pretty good, which was unusual as the food was pretty bad in Hawaii! I guess when the only thing to come out of a country is a pizza with pineapple on, you know it’s not going to be great.

Next place we stayed I would normally skip, but it was so bad, I feel it needs a mention. It was booked in desperation for one night, a lovely sounding place called Ocean View. But, actually it was Dungeness, American style, a development in an old Lava trail. They built hundreds of roads, but hardly anyone bought the plots, it was truly depressing, no paradise to be seen here, I felt like we were on a film set for an armageddon movie!

Next, on to the south end of the island where everything claims to be and is the USA’s southern most anything, restaurant, bar, toilet!!

We stayed in, at last, a lovely Hawaiian hideaway, surrounded by an oasis of fruit trees and beautiful birds.

One reason for coming down to the south end of the island, and really to the island as a whole, is a Volcano, Kilauea. It has been erupting constantly since 1983, but has had some major eruptions in recent history. So, there’s a good chance of seeing lava, without dying! When we arrived we found out lava was pouring into the ocean, but it was quite a trek to get to it, about a 4 hour round trip. However, you could  drive an hour to the other side of the lava tube and then hire a bike, so off we went.

The bike riding took us through an amazing lava field, we finally arrived and the lava flowing into the sea was quite a sight.

Freda managed to get lava rock in her hand, so a nice Ranger helped her out…..they love her accent here, so he let her have ago on the megaphone!

It was late when we headed back from the lava tube, cycling back an hour in the dark and then we had another 2 hours to drive home, so we had no choice but to get some fast food for dinner. Freda sampled her first McDonald’s!! Her response was that the McNuggets tasted old and disgusting, the fries also weren’t eaten. She did though enjoy the milk and apple slices, that’s my girl!!

We then drove up to the north of the island and stayed in a nice little town called Hawi. We had a lovely walk to the Pololu Valley and Freda made friends with a group of American children. They invited us to their amazing place overlooking the ocean where Freda played in the pool and we had a nice chat. Obviously Trump came up and we were very pleased they weren’t supporters, thanks guys.

Once again, amazing friendliness from random people around the world. It was a great end to our Hawaiian fling.

It’s been nice, but I wasn’t that taken with Hawaii, I feel the State lacks identity, its past is somewhat forgotten, and the traditional Hawaiian spirit is somewhat muted by American rule. In a distant past, I imagine it was one of the most beautiful places on earth, but like with so many, history’s greed and corruption has put pay to that. One thing I will say, the wildlife in Hawaii has been amazing, we have seen so many humpback whales, sea birds, turtles and tropical fish, it’s been a pleasure. Not to forget the bright green geckos that shared our breakfast with us on the Big Island, they practically ate out of our hand.

But, money doesn’t go far in Hawaii, so we needed to moved on, somewhere we can finally afford with our rubbish Pound, thanks brexit! I’m thinking somewhere that serves the best Margaritas in the world, a country with a vibrant, rich culture and where the food is to die for…….bring on Mexico!

New Zealand – The North

New Zealand – The North

North Island

It’s grim up Norf! Although maybe not so much in New Zealand, it’s just not as stunning as the South Island! I already knew this, and had warned the rest of my tour group not to expect the same epic landscapes as the South Island, but it’s certainly not the ugly sister.

First port of call was a quaint wine region called Martinborough. We rocked up to a motel and after staying one night decided to check right out as it didn’t meet our standards and moved to a new house in the town. Freda named the new place the bug house, which like most things she says, I half heartedly listened to, until it was duly noted as I swept up over 20 cockroaches. I have to say, I wasn’t too keen but they were only small! I became a little more concerned when the morning after, Mum and Dad told me they had struggled to sleep after dad woke with a cockroach on his face! We all decided to put it down to a bad dream, as we still had another night there…..and as the house was so nice, it almost didn’t matter. In between sweeping up the cockroaches, we grabbed some bikes and sampled what the region had to offer.

It took my mum a little while to get used to the bike, getting helmets off was quite challenging and time consuming!

but after a few more tastings it all got a lot easier.

We then made our way up to Napier,

which apart from Miami is said to be one of the most well preserved Art Deco towns in the world. After being destroyed by an earthquake in the early 30s, the city was rebuilt in the Art Deco syle.

Our trip was slightly blighted by rather unusually bad weather for the region, it was bloody freezing and an unfortunate incident of a pranged car! So, we resorted to a spot of wine tasting in Hawkes Bay to warm the cockles.

On to Lake Taupo, the terrible weather followed us, it was so windy over the mountains that we passed a blown over lorry, with a very large driver being pulled out the top of his cab by a brave man, struggling not to be blown away himself. Mitch, who was driving, was a little freaked out after seeing this, although I informed him that our little Yaris was unlikely to suffer the same fate. We arrived at another motel, not much better than the last but we managed.

Taupo is the largest lake in NZ with two volcanoes looming over one end. Look very carefully and you can see one, they are quite far away, as the lake is the size of Singapore.

We were also heading into the thermal area, with hot pools, smoking grounds and weird things going on!

A visit to the Huka falls, just off the lake, impressed as ice blue water rushed through a narrow gauge.

Taupo is a kind of resort town for the Kiwis, so there’s lots of tourist things to do, New Zeland style! Like the Bee hive, which Freda and Dad enjoyed.

There is also Shawn the Prawn park, a look-out over a thermal power station, and the highlight was the opening of the Aratiatia Dam, which we all enjoyed. After exhausting ourselves with all these exciting activities we went down to the lake for dinner, New Zealands favourite takeaway, fish and chips………sound familiar? Have to say their fish is better……. sorry, chips could go either way though.

The weather at last cheered up and we headed to smelly Rotorua, the main thermal land of NZ, hence a rather off-putting smell of rotten eggs, which can be quite horrible. But, maybe a small price to pay to see the earth like you’ve never seen it before. It’s like walking around on another planet. Stopping en route at a thermal wonderland called  Wai’o’Tapo. Recognise it Aimée? With spurting geysers, bubbling mud and colours you can’t believe, it’s a special place. If you can stomach the smell!

Staying on the shores of lake Rotorua, we did a spot of kayaking,

went on lovely walks to see beautiful green and blue lakes and took in the native bush. The scenery around the volcanoes that have shaped this land are stunning!

Mum and I even managed to get a moment to ourselves to visit a Thermal spa, which was smelly, but was meant to be very good for the skin.

Our little blue convoy made its way up to our final destination just above Auckland. After 5 weeks together in Australia and then traversing the length and breadth of New Zealand, we spent our final days relaxing in a beautiful house just north of Auckland in the rolling hills. A well deserved rest from a jam packed itinerary and thoroughly enjoyable leg of our travels. Here we relaxed by a pool and enjoyed trips out to the stunning coast of the Northland.

As mum and dads last days approached we all became a little sad.

Now in Hawaii it’s not the same when we look in our rear view mirror, there is no longer a baby blue blip following up the rear (we finally shook them off), but we really do miss them!

New Zealand

New Zealand

South Island

It was a nice short flight to Christchurch, our first stop in New Zealand. All we saw however, was the airport, as we picked up a pair of twin Toyota Yaris cars in different shades of blue and hit the road……in convoy. Dad’s baby blue following up the rear, a sight we have become accustomed to, like a little baby blue blot on the horizon. We were about to undertake the Great New Zealand road trip, which is obligatory to any visitor.

I was fortunate enough to visit this beautiful country a little over 10 years ago, when I headed for the hills in a very basic camper van with my bestie Aimee. We were here in the winter/spring of 2004 but it was cold and very dark. I always said it would be somewhere I would like to visit again in the summer. However, if I had known the summer was little different to the winter, I may not have bothered! All the kiwis are complaining of an unusually bad summer, I’m sure all you back in miserable old England will be pleased to hear we’ve had our fair share of bleak weather here. The only difference is New Zealand is blessed with perhaps the most stupendously beautiful scenery in the world, so it’s not all bad!

New Zealand is a funny old place, especially the South Island where the total population is just over 1 million. So, there’s a lot of room, which is great, but not all that much going on.

Time has stood still here and you come really for one thing, the scenery and maybe extreme sports, just scenery for us! Mum and dad didn’t fancy a bungy.

First stop, Oamaru, a strange town down the east coast.

Most people come here to see penguins, we failed in doing that, but had a nice time anyway. On the way there we stopped at a Wallaby sanctuary, run by an eccentric lady, who told us to take some food and wander around the field shouting “hey wallaby we’ve got some food for you!”. Following her advice, we proceeded to do this and with her top tip of scratching their bottoms, which seemed to work, we made some wallaby friends.

As we were leaving, the mad old lady pulled a blinder, quite literally, out of a bag, and produced two Wallaby joeys for us to give milk to and cuddle.

Unfortunately, in New Zealand, they have a lot of animals that are not native to the country, wallabies being one of them and they need to watch their backs. It seems anything that’s not native is fair game, Possum wool is very popular here, and people cheer when they see road kill. It’s all done to try and save some of their very rare and unique native wildlife, so its all good. Our road kill total is zero, but we will keep trying!

Back in Oamaru, some Lincoln folk may be interested to hear it has a large Steam Punk following, with a rather quirky Steam Punk HQ and a Steam Punk themed playground.

Although one local I talked to said the town had had enough of them filling it with junk and the movement, after being there for over 10 years, was dying out. Well Freda loved the playground! Going back to the weather, I am English after all, we were quite shocked when we had to light a fire in our lovely little town house, both nights!

The next day we left on our first long drive of many, to Te Anau, our gateway to Milford Sound. This is where the scenery really begins to wow, and summed up by one of my favourite authors Douglas Adams, much better than I could.

“Fiordland, a vast tract of mountainous terrain that occupies the south-west corner of South Island, New Zealand, is one of the most astounding pieces of land anywhere on God’s earth, and one’s first impulse, standing on a cliff top surveying it all, is simply to burst into spontaneous applause.”

From here onwards you really feel like you are in the Lord of the Rings, it is almost other worldly. The whole place can be a little overwhelming, from Mountains, thundering rivers, fiordland with dolphins swimming by, lush rainforests, snow capped mountains mirrored in deep cold lakes, wild flower meadows, rolling plains, everywhere the view is magnificent.

We drove to Milford Sound, the creme de la creme, to catch a boat. It was a miserable day, but gave us a magnificent moody Milford.

Freda made a friend on our boat, which kept her entertained, completely oblivious to the scenery, even when a pod of dolphins swam by, she said she was too busy playing, kids, you take them around the world, do they appreciate it!! The view however was slightly impaired by a pair of very large, green, ‘juicy’ folk.

Next drive, on to lake Wanaka. The drive as usual was breathtaking.

We stopped in a small gold mining town called Arrowtown, where local folk tied up their horses outside the pub for lunch, it was very quaint. A day spent by the lake was just what we all needed after our long drive and our impending mammoth drive up the coast of New Zealand’s Wild West.

I overheard Mitch telling his family that we just need to get that long drive over with, then it would be ok. Mitch its all about the drive! Silly boy.

En route, we passed through national parks gushing with waterfalls, however, get of the car at your peril, sand flys are waiting. My dad got severely munched on when mum brought a bunch nestling in her jumper back from the bog. We stopped at the glaciers, and drove up the very wild coast. 7 hours later we rested our weary heads in Hokitika, in a very strange log cabin.

Down the road was a glow worm dell, which Freda got to stay up late to go to, although she was quite concerned about the deep dark forest.

The next part of our epic drive was along the coast, once again NZ didn’t disappoint. We were on our way to the not so promisingly named Cape Foulwind. We passed by Pancake Rocks, an unusual and thrilling rock formation, where blow holes and crashing waves soak an excited audience. Freda, however was a little disappointed to find out they weren’t pancakes, and were completely inedible!


Cape Foulwind didn’t live up to its name, it was lovely. There was a pub, so the men were happy, our first motel was a success and even had a hot tub, a great restaurant with a unbelievable view of the sweeping bay and lots of seals.

An amazing chicken like bird called a Weka kept us entertained at dinner as it kept trying to steal Freda’s chips, no one takes Freda’s food without facing the consequences!

Freda had been causing a few problem of late and she’d been particularly difficult with Mitch during this stretch. It took her 5 days to finally tell Mitch she loved him and had been cross with him. I asked her why and she told me because he had called her dirty 5 days before, during a little argument the two had had. Who’d have thought a four year old could hold a grudge for so long, anyway things have been a lot better since she forgave him, that will teach him, who could call this dirty! Mean man.

2000 km later we drove into Nelson, for a long deserved rest in a beautiful hilltop retreat. Dad said Nelson was his ideal town and I have to say it was pretty good. The journey there was a bit problematic, as Mum and dad took Freda in their car for the first time, and after a few two many peaches for breakfast and a very windy road, they found themselves in a layby cleaning up peach yoghurt sick. Mitch and I turned around when we saw that the baby blue blue blot wasn’t up our rear anymore, but unfortunately turned up just too late to help with the sick clean up, gutted!

The hilltop retreat was also a little problematic as no one was expecting it to be up such a steep gravel track. Once Mitch and I had reached the top, the baby blue blot was no longer following us up the rear! Mitch set off on foot to find them them stuck, halfway up the hill! After this, I think some people were a little reluctant to go anywhere, and face the hill again. Luckily the place was like a mansion, with the best view in town, so we managed ok.

Nelson is a great town, apparently with more artists per square meter than anywhere else in NZ, with a great beach and a national park on your doorstep. There is a great vineyard just over the hill, and the green lipped mussel capital of the world next door, what else would anyone need?

On leaving Nelson we had a bit of a upset, when Mitch realised he’d lost his wallet. After unpacking all of our bags and nearly calling up and cancelling his cards, we, in the nick of time, located his wallet in dads pocket! After repacking we were just about to leave when I noticed I couldn’t find my sunglasses, but without much looking I spotted them on dads head. But then dad realised he’d lost his sunglasses, these were located in the end on a branch of the plum tree he’d been picking fruit from earlier on!

We were sad to leave finally, not only Nelson but the beautiful south. The North Island awaits, wish us luck.