Looking for tickets or info for the Get Happy Tour 2018 featuring Bowling for Soup, Army of Freshmen and The Aquabats?

This domain name was used for the Get Happy Tour back in its original run around 10 years ago, when I used to do work for BFS and AOF. However, for the past 5 years it has been used for my travel blog as I never thought we would have another Get Happy Tour and I didn't want it to go to waste.

But as a favour to two bands who have done a lot for me over the years, and so you don't miss out, ticket info is:
O2 Presale: 10am on 25 September
General Onsale: 10am on 27 September.

Tickets available from ticketmaster.co.uk and bowlingforsoup.com
 


Archive

Posts Tagged ‘Boat’

A day in Valparaíso

January 23rd, 2016 No comments

Today is a bit of a rest day, due to the long day yesterday. Steven has gone back to his house for a little while and I have decided to do a bit of walking around on my own for the first time since arriving. I didn’t stray too far from the apartment as I have the only key but I reloaded my payment card for the Metro, did some walking around the local area and I am now in Parque Forrestal eating some lovely ice cream from Emporio La Rosa and thinking about the really fun day yesterday in Valparaíso. My plan after here is to walk back to the apartment, look at the craft market near Cerro Santa Lucía to see if I can pick up some souvenirs, and buy some more fruit from one of the street sellers.

Emporio La Rosa

Emporio La Rosa

The coach journey yesterday was fairly painless, much to my surprise. I am tall person and in the majority of public transport in The UK I never have enough leg room, regularly having to sit sideways in seats or endure the backs of seats smashing into my knees, but this was not a problem in Chile. The coach that we took was very comfortable, had plenty of leg room, and made the journey to Valparaíso enjoyable. Even though we only travelled 90 minutes outside of Santiago it was nice to see more of Chile and the scenery, although not as breath-taking as what I saw from the plane, was really nice.

Chilean Scenery

Scenery on the way to Valparaíso

Chilean Scenery

Some more Chilean scenery

Valparaíso was a nice town to visit. The main bus station is a little way outside of the main area of the city so you either have to catch a trolley bus or walk, but either are good options. We decided to have some breakfast in a food court above a market very close to the bus station before walking into the historical areas.

The walk into the main part of the city takes you past a lot of industrial units, so I really wouldn’t recommend it at night time, but it gives an insight into the origins of the city. Dating back to colonial times Valparaíso has always been an important port and industrial centre, although this has somewhat declined in recent decades which is why the Chilean Parliament was moved here some time ago in an effort to promote regeneration. Although even in the industrial areas something that is very apparent is that the city is full of street art. I will call it street art as opposed to graffiti because this genuinely is art as opposed to the random mess that can be found sprayed around European cities.

Valparaíso food market

The food market in Valparaíso

Walking around Valparaíso

Walking towards the centre of Valparaíso.

Valparaíso

A plaza in Valparaíso

Valparaíso street art

Art is everywhere in Valparaíso

One thing that proved very helpful in Valparaíso is that there is a company called “Tours for Tips”, and they run two different tours of the city in both English and Spanish. As the name suggests you can give them what you want, based on how you found the experience, but most people gave in the region of 10000 pesos (approximately 10 pounds) each. I believe that they also operate in Santiago but I won’t need to use them there.

We decided to go on the afternoon tour, but there was still some time before it started and so we decided to go on a boat tour of the harbour. There are a few companies that provide this service and they all depart from Muelle Prat, very close to Plaza Soto Mayor. Live commentary is provided only in Spanish but from the boats you are able to see the city from a very different perspective as you are told about the history of the city, have landmarks pointed out, are told about the Chilean Parliament and shown the Navy ships in the harbour. It was definitely worth doing, but the only problem was the leg room in each row was probably 15cm less than what I needed to be able to sit comfortably and as a result I was in some serious pain by the time we returned to dry land due to my knees being badly crushed by the seat in front. The average person would most likely find the leg room adequate.

Valparaíso port

Valparaíso port

Valparaíso by sea

Valparaíso as seen from the boat tour

Valparaíso boat tour

On board the boat

Chilean Navy Ships

Ships of the Chilean Navy

Cargo port in Chile

Valparaíso cargo port

There was time for some souvenir shopping and a cold drink in Starbucks before it was time to head for our walking tour. No booking is required for the tour, just wait next to the Monumento a Los Heroes de Iquique at the prescribed time and keep an eye out for people dressed up in red and white striped tops which make them look like Wally (Waldo for any Americans reading this). They will divide the groups up accordingly depending on how many people require each language and you will then head off in different directions. Our tour guide was a very knowledgeable young lady who had recently returned to Chile after some years living in Spain, as was obvious from her accent even before she told us.

The walking tour lasted a few hours and took us up into the UNESCO World Heritage area which is extensively covered in street art. After riding the funicular up the hill you are told a lot about the history of the area and how the people pushed for UNESCO recognition in order to preserve the character of the area but how this has backfired. I won’t go into too much detail as you should go on the tour yourself, but to cut a long story short the UNESCO recognition requires that any building work be done in the original style using original materials. This has helped to maintain the unique character of the area but has resulted in building work being prohibitively expensive for many people. We also saw an example of the damage it can do to the area – there is an area which burnt down some years ago but where the owners have been unable to rebuild due to the cost of original materials and as a result the area has been left as a wasteland.

Overall the walking tour was very enjoyable. We saw lots of nice sights, saw some great art, were introduced to local delicacies during a rest stop half way through, and heard a lot about the history of the area. The only part that I thought was unnecessary was the final stop of the tour, at Tours for Tips HQ, where they do a presentation to try to sell you other tours and try to bribe you to sign up with homemade spirits. There is no obligation to sign up, and for us it would have been pointless as we were only in the city for the day, so we just tipped our guide and left.

Queen Victoria Funicular, Valparaíso

The Funicular, named after Queen Victoria.

Valparaíso

A view of the hills behind Valparaíso

Valparaiso coastline

Looking towards the Pacific Ocean

Valparaíso street art

More street art

There were still a couple of hours remaining before our coach back to Santiago but by this time our feet were hurting, so we decided to catch the trolley bus back towards the main bus station and to try to find something to eat. Even though it was not very late we had trouble finding anywhere that was still open so, after taking some photos of the Chilean Parliament, we made our way to a shopping centre in order to grab some food for the apartment and have some snacks in the food court.

Trolley Bus

A Valparaíso trolley bus

Chilean Parliament

The Chilean Parliament building

The remainder of the day was fairly uneventful, except for seeing a street musician dressed up with a scary mask. Apparently he is well known in Chile, or at the very least infamous, so he was interesting to see. The coach ride back to Santiago was smooth and after eating the empanadas we bought in Valparaíso we had an early night in order to not be exhausted today.

Valparaíso musician

The scary musician

I am not sure what we will be doing later today when I meet back up with Steven but it is likely that we will just take it easy. We have done a lot of walking over the last few days so it will be nice to take a break from it and have an early night in order to conserve our energy. Tomorrow we travel to Viña del Mar and as we will be out of the city for the whole day it is likely that we will end up exhausted again.

Share

Thoughts from Myanmar

March 16th, 2014 No comments

Now that I’ve been back in the UK for a few days, and have started re-adjusting to UK time, I’ve had a chance to reflect on my trip to Myanmar.

I had wanted to visit Myanmar, also known as Burma, for a while. There are a few things that drew me to the country. The first is that it’s not on the general tourist map for people in the UK, secondly I like to visit somewhere that has good experiences and unique things to see and thirdly I like to visit places that have a story, event or culture that I want to learn more about. Myanmar definitely fits those three.

The trip I originally booked is different to the one I finally went on due to changes made by the tour company. Originally I was due to spend a few days in Yangon looking at the sights and learning more about Burmese culture but I was moved onto the version of the trip starting in Phuket instead which missed out the mainland of Myanmar. This had the benefit of fewer early mornings and being cheaper but resulted in me missing out learning about the culture and also resulted in me visiting the tourist hell of Phuket. I didn’t let this change spoil the trip, however, and I had a fantastic time.

Karon Beach

Karon Beach – tourist hell for me

The scenery in the Myeik Archipelago is absolutely beautiful and this was one of the things that made me pick the trip. While walking around on the islands, snorkelling in the sea and just sitting back watching the world go by we saw some of the best scenery I have seen while travelling. I’m not much of a beach person in most places that people travel as they tend to be overcrowded, full of sunbeds and be generally ruined. This was the case in Phuket, the reason I only spent one afternoon on the beach there, but the beaches we visited in Myanmar were almost a world away.

The waters were a bit murky in Myanmar which was a shame but this didn’t affect the snorkeling. If you’re looking for beautiful crystal clear waters then this might not be the best place to go but if you’re looking for a remote, unique and beautiful trip then I’d highly recommend a visit.

Me on Island 115

Me on the beach of Island 115 – a beautiful beach that I loved

Sunset

Sunset over Swinton Island – the most memorable of the trip

 

One of the good things about doing the trip this year is that it has only just started opening up to the outside world. For years it was impossible for foreigners to visit the region, then for a while it was possible to visit on short trips with liveaboard boats, and then finally this year it was possible for foreign operators to visit the region. This hasn’t spoilt the region, however, as it must be organised on a local license instead of a foreign one, so there are hardly any boats around except for fishing boats. Except for the night at MacLeod Island we didn’t share our anchorage with any non-local boats and that was brilliant.

All of this could be changing, however, as during the trip we were told that the Myanmar Government have started allowing foreign operators to bid for permits directly rather than going through a local operator. If this is managed correctly it should still preserve the pristine environment of the area but there is a risk that up to 100 boats could be operating in the area rather than the 4 that currently do.

It would be a shame if the area opened up fully as there is a chance that it could ruin the reason that people want to visit. There are hardly any pristine areas left in the world and so the area would need to be managed fully. This would mean that prices would go up but it would be a small price to pay in the grand scheme of things. This is what the Government in Rwanda have done with the National Park containing the Mountain Gorillas. In Rwanda it is only possible for a maximum of 32 people to visit a day, which has resulted in the price of a Gorilla permit almost doubling since I was there, but it has helped to preserve not only the habitat but the Gorillas themselves.

There were a couple of things I was worried about before embarking on this trip. Firstly I was worried about the seas being too rough. I’m an experienced traveller, and used to sail around Dover Harbour when I was younger, but I’ve never really sailed on the open seas. This is one of the things putting me off other sailing related trips that I’ve looked at, such as The Galapagos Islands, the British Territories in the Atlantic and Antarctica. The seas did get a bit choppy on a couple of days but were never anything I couldn’t manage.

The other thing I was worried about was the cramped conditions on board the boat. We were told in advance that the cabin space would be limited to maximise public space and this was definitely the case. The cabin I was assigned to share with one other person had a double bed with hardly any space to move, a couple of shelves to put bags, a wash basin and nothing else as you can see in the photo below. Some people may be worried about not being able to get any personal space but I never found this to be an issue. During the sailing portion of the trip it was possible to sit in the social area and chat but it was also possible to sit on bean bags on the deck and relax, lay in the hammock, sit on the seats at the bow of the ship or sit on the sides of the boat with your legs over the edge if you needed a bit of personal space. The deck space was quite large and never felt cramped even though there was nowhere to go while sailing. Obviously this depends on which boat is in use, and I can’t guarantee that the same boat will be in use next year, but Intrepid won’t use an unsuitable boat for the trip.

The cabin assigned to myself and Ashu

The cabin I was assigned to share

On board the boat

Looking towards the bow of the boat. Win can be seen working hard as usual!

On board the boat

On board the boat

On board

Another view of on board the ship

Our boar

This is a view of our boat from the water

(Photo credit : Ashu Khanna for the on board photos)

One thing I’m amazed at is this is the first trip I’ve been on since I started travelling to weird and wonderful places on my own where there hasn’t been somebody moaning the entire trip about the smallest of things trying to make everybody’s life a misery for the sake of it. I guess as sailing isn’t for everybody and as this is a brand new trip, which we were told in advance to expect issues with, we were all like-minded and so got on well.

I like to visit a variety of places rather than going back to the same place all the time but I do want to visit Myanmar again soon to be able to visit the mainland and to experience more of the culture and history of the country than I did by just sailing. Myanmar has such a vibrant culture, detailed history and beautiful scenery so it’s a country I would definitely recommend to anybody who likes to get off the beaten path and experience a country which still has things to discover. This is, of course, as long as you’re somebody who likes to visit a country on its own terms rather than having things your way. Myanmar is a country which still has things to discover but according to reports it’s already changing rapidly and I don’t want my recommendations to speed this up.

Ma Kyone Galet

Walking through the Moken “Sea Gypsy” village

As far as the trip is concerned I would highly recommend it to anybody as long as you’re able to travel with no advance expectations. This is a new area which is only just opening up so things will go wrong, and you will be in close quarters with other people for a week, but it’s a highly rewarding trip if you’re able to do it.

After the issues I had with the travel company I’d recommend going direct with Intrepid as opposed to booking through Gecko’s, as they were completely incompetent, but if you’ve got this far in my blog I suspect you already have an idea that you want to go on the trip so I’d say go for it. Alternatively feel free to contact me using the contact form on this site – I’m always happy to hear from people if they want to comment on my blog or ask questions / advice.

Here’s a map of the route of the sailing portion of the trip.

Map of Myanmar Sailing Trip

The route that the sailing portion of my trip took

Myanmar Sailing Map

The red circle is the area that we sailed in. The two red X’s indicate Phuket and Hong Kong.

Share

Back to Thailand

March 9th, 2014 No comments

I have finally arrived back in Phuket after a long day of travelling. I’m staying in Phuket Town for a couple of nights to see a non-beach side of the island and to experience life in a less touristy Thai town. Unfortunately I didn’t have a chance to see much as I arrived quite late and I’m completely exhausted but I’m glad to be here.

This morning I planned to get up early to watch as we raised the anchor for the last time but they left early so I was still asleep when we started sailing. The journey back was largely uneventful and most of us spent the time repacking, relaxing and chatting about our experiences on the trip. It seems we all had different memories, highlights and low points on the trip but there were some things in common. I would say my highlights were the trek, even though it was hard, along with the time spent on Swinton Island as it was just magical. I’ll also never forget our local guides as they were so hard working and really made the trip what it was. Hein was so knowledgeable and friendly and Win worked like a machine – one thing I’ll remember forever is how one night when I was talking to Marie we saw that Win was still cleaning the deck after everybody else had gone to bed. Marie said to him “Win, it’s very late” to which he replied “I know. You go to bed now, goodnight”. This made us both laugh so much, and it made him laugh too when we talked about it, but it showed how much of a hard worker he really was.

There was one downside to the trip which was that I didn’t get to set foot on the mainland after all of the problems I had encountered with the trip being changed before arriving. I really wanted to at least set food on the mainland to see a Myanmar town so myself and Ashu came up with a plan to go ashore with Hein when he was processing our passports and luckily he agreed so as soon as we anchored off Kawthaung the three of us jumped in the dinghy and headed ashore. We were told we would only have 15 minutes but we didn’t mind.

Kawthaung

Kawthaung

Walking around Kawthaung

Walking around Kawthaung

 

A pagoda

A pagoda

Walking around Kawthaung

Walking around Kawthaung

 

Walking around Kawthaung

Walking around Kawthaung

Walking around Kawthaung

Walking around Kawthaung

We didn’t really have much of a plan other than to walk around and see the town that we would have stayed at for a day if we had been on the original version of the trip. We wandered around taking photos of the streets, markets, shops, pagodas and waterfront for a while before heading back to the pier to meet Hein. In general the streets of Kawthaung were rather busy, smelt of fish, and didn’t offer much other than the experience for travellers but it was nice to see a Myanmar town.

When we arrived back at the pier Hein wasn’t ready yet so we wandered along the shore a bit further to the southernmost point of Myanmar. Along the way there was a cafe, temple and a few children who followed us begging for money but the views we were treated with when we arrived were really nice. However we couldn’t enjoy them for long as by this point Hein was ready and waiting for us at the pier to take us back to the boat ready for our crossing back into Thailand.

Kawthaung Pier

Me at Kawthaung Pier

 

Me in Myanmar

Me at the southernmost point of mainland Myanmar

Group photo

Group photo on board

 

Back to Thailand

On the boat back to Thailand

I couldn’t find the arrival card that I was given when I departed Thailand so there was a short delay while I completed another one but the queues were short so it didn’t make much of an impact in the grand scheme of things. However the Thai authorities didn’t look impressed so try not to lose it if you come on the trip. I have found it now but wasn’t able to in the rush between getting back on board the boat and heading to Thailand.

The journey from Ranong back to Phuket was like a rally race. The driver was crazy and was continually speeding, tailgating, going around traffic lights to avoid having to stop for them and just generally swerving like a maniac the whole way back except for at police checkpoints. There was a short break for lunch, at the same restaurant we stopped at on the way up, before the rally driving recommenced and we were all thrown around like rag dolls again. We all agreed mid journey that this was the only bad point so far, and I didn’t exactly feel safe, but we got back which was all that matters.

Minibus

On board our rally driving minibus

There was a bit of an issue with language and communication. The driver had a list of where we were all staying, both in Thai and English, and asked us all several times to confirm it but he didn’t really pay attention and just drove where he wanted. After dropping Ashu at Khao Lak and a few people at the airport he completely missed the Airport Inn where one of the group was staying even though he went down the correct road and there was a big neon sign with an arrow pointing at it. There were issues with me and Sue too as we were both staying down south – Sue in Karon again and me in Phuket Town. After some argument we managed to get him to drive us to Karon but then he drove where he wanted and we had to give him directions to Sue’s hotel and he then moaned at me for having to drive to Phuket Town even though he knew I was staying here.

It took around an hour to arrive at my hotel in Phuket Town due to traffic but the hotel is so nice. I decided to stay here as it has a free breakfast, wi-fi, restaurants close by, big rooms and offered airport transfers. It’s also not too far from the town centre which is good as I intend to do a lot of exploring during my time here but there won’t be any time for exploring tonight, however, as it’s late so all I’m going to do is pop out for some snacks and head straight to bed.

My hotel

My hotel room in Phuket Town

Share

Our final day of sailing in Myanmar

March 8th, 2014 No comments

I’m writing a lot for this travel blog as the days go by which I didn’t expect. I was expecting to have a lot of sitting around doing nothing and relaxing, which we did, but there’s so much going on around us as well that I don’t want to forget as I’m having such a great time. Today was no exception and while it was a thoroughly exhausting day it was very special.

It was an early start this morning for two reasons. Firstly as I needed to get ready for the trek I was taking part in today and secondly as I wanted to see if it was my swim shorts I saw hoisted up the mast last night, and to take them down if it was. It seems my senses didn’t fail me last night as when I rose from my room this was what I saw. Sorry everybody but you’ll have to try harder next time.

Shorts ahoy

I found my shorts

There wasn’t time for a full breakfast as we were soon taken ashore by dinghy to start the trek to the top of the hill overlooking the bay. There were only a few of us taking part as we were warned in advance that the trek was more of a climb up rocks with the aid of ropes and was quite difficult but I wanted to take part so I didn’t end up just staying on the boat all week.

If you want to do this walk when on the trip make sure you take some proper shoes as you will need them. The terrain to start with wasn’t so bad, as we walked along a path that had been cut beside the worker accommodation, but it soon got steeper and more overgrown. I went through a lot of water as the gradient got steeper but I was advised to save some for the last half as it was even harder. This was true as the last few ascents were literally a case of pulling yourself up rocks and gravel with the aid of ropes. Some of the group found this easy but I’ve always found downhill to be easier than uphill even though most people say the opposite.

The bar

The bar at the resort

The start of the trek

The start of the trek

Trek

The trek was like this by the end

There were several times when I wanted to give up but I’m glad I didn’t as the views from the top were spectacular. You could see a large amount of the island all the way down to the bay containing the resort and our boat. There was another view point a bit further along the trail which allows you to see the other side of the island but this would add an extra hour to the trek and we didn’t have time for that so we just chilled at the first summit for a while enjoying the views, catching our breath, taking photos and watching the eagles that were soaring around the peak.

Unfortunately we didn’t have time to waste as we needed to head off, and I was eager to enjoy the toasties which we had been promised for lunch, so I headed off at the head of the group and made my way down to the bottom of the steeper sections pretty quickly along with Ashu. I decided to wait for the others in case they were worried about us but Ashu headed straight down to the resort so he could make use of the wi-fi for the last time before we lost contact with the outside world again. I’m glad I waited as I was treated to a view of a pair of hornbills that were up in the trees.

MacLeod Island

The view from the summit of MacLeod Island

Me in Myanma

Me at the summit of MacLeod Island

At the peak

At the peak

Overall I really enjoyed the trek. It was almost at my physical limit, and was very hard, but was definitely worth it for the views. The rush down the hill was pretty exciting too although the others didn’t agree with me and they were happy when we arrived back at the beach meaning that the descent was over. We had to wait on the beach for a while for the others on the boat to see us and dispatch the dinghy but it was only a short ride back to the boat where we got our hands on our much deserved toasties. I was so hungry at this point!

Myauk Ni Island was our next destination today and it was a long sail so we set off as soon as everybody was on board. The journey today was a mixture of sailing and engines but we all just sat back and enjoyed the view of the islands going past. We didn’t see much wildlife, and we didn’t have anything exciting happen like yesterday, but this was our last full day on board so we were happy to just relax,

Finally we arrived at Myauk Ni which is a small deserted island in the middle of a big channel and we were all amazed how beautiful it looked. Even though it was small there was a really nice beach and the water looked clearer so we were all hopeful that we would see some marine life. We did, but I didn’t expect to see quite as much as I did after some disappointing days earlier in the trip.

Myauk Ni Island

Myauk Ni Island

When we entered the water we could see the anchor on the sea bed for the first time all trip so we knew our prediction about the water clarity was correct. However we were a little disappointed upon reaching the shore as we didn’t see much except a few small fish and urchins. We all snorkelled for a little while before taking a walk on the beach to see if we could find some better snorkelling sights further along the beach. During our walk we saw some fish traps, found Wilson, and got some great photos but were advised not to venture into the trees as Myauk Ni has quite a lot of snakes living on it.

As the island is small it didn’t take long to walk to the other end and both Ashu and myself were eager to get back in the water again so popped our snorkelling gear on and entered the water. The others decided not to join us which was a shame as we saw so much marine life – far more than the rest of the trip put together. The water was a bit murkier but, along with the usual urchins, we saw Parrotfish, Dory, Nemo and his dad swimming in and out of an anemone, angelfish and whole shoals of both large and small fish that I didn’t recognise. The highlight, however, was a stingray that we shadowed for a while before it disappeared into the murk.

Ashu started to get cramp in his legs so decided to walk back to the start of the beach but I decided to continue snorkelling while staying within reach of him to maintain the buddy system. I’m glad I did as the number of fish I saw increased even more. I saw a whole range of fish I didn’t recognise but while passing alongside the edge of a steep drop I could see shoals of large fish swimming below in the darkness. Unfortunately I couldn’t see what they were but they didn’t look like sharks so that was good enough for me.

We were ushered back to the boat by Mike as he wanted to make way for our anchorage in time to arrive before sunset. Tonight we spent the night at the same location as our first night and were once again greeted by a fleet of fishing boats although it was nice to be slowly eased back into the real world after a week of being away from everybody and everything.

Jill had issues with her credit card before the sailing started which was worrying for Marie as Jill had paid for her replacement passport on her card while they were both in Bangkok. They decided to use the satellite phone on board to try to call Jill’s credit card company but didn’t have luck and asked me for help. I had never used a satellite phone before so it was cool to get my hands on one although I didn’t have any luck either. I managed to get through but the reception was so bad and the line kept cutting out even though there was nothing but clear sky between us and the satellite. We decided to try mobile phones and it turns out we were just in range of the Thai phone masts (foreign mobile don’t work in Myanmar) so I loaned Jill my mobile and we were able to get the whole thing sorted out.

Dinner Time

Dinner Time

After dinner we gave thanks to the crew for an amazing week and gave them the proceeds from a collection I had organised to show our appreciation. They were all amazing people and great at helping us to have a good time whether we had been on a sailing trip before or not. I didn’t want to cut the night short as I was having a great time and knew this was my last night on board but we needed to leave at 6am to get back to Kawthaung so I decided to have an early night. I’m back in my cabin again and Ashu has decided to sleep out on deck so I should get a great nights sleep again. I’m not adverse to sharing rooms while travelling but this arrangement seems to work for us so we may as well stick with it.

Share

Pilot Whales and an overdue shower

March 7th, 2014 No comments

The days just keep getting better and better on this trip. I’m not sure if the trip has been planned this way, if I’m getting used to life on a boat away from everybody, or if it’s just the way it is but I’ve just got back to the boat after spending a great evening on Macleod Island to round off what has been a very eventful day.

We had another beautiful sunrise this morning. Unfortunately the sun itself was behind the island but all sunrises and sunsets are beautiful in this part of the world. After breakfast it was time to say goodbye to Swinton Island which was a shame but we were treated to more sailing under wind power rather than using the engines. According to Marie we’ve sailed more in the past 24 hours than the last few trips have all week which is great.

Breakfast

Breakfast before departing Swinton Island

Mike

Mike enjoying a final view of Swinton Island

Hein and Win

Hein and Win raising the main sail

Part of our journey today was across a channel which was in the region of 60 – 70 metres deep and during the short time it took us to cross so much happened. First we saw a few dolphins which, usually would make me smile for ages, but we didn’t have time as Mike soon announced that he had a fish on his line. We stopped the boat to allow him to pull it in but he had a lot of trouble. We weren’t sure whether the trouble was due to the fish wrapping around the rudder or whether it was just that there was a big fish on the line but this question was answered very quickly once a giant Oahu fish was brought up on deck.

The fish was so big that it would be enough to feed us for the rest of the trip and feed the next trip completely but the excitement didn’t stop there as the catch hadn’t even stopped wriggling when we were surrounded by a pod of Pilot Whales which didn’t come close but stayed with us long enough to get a few photos. However as quickly as the excitement started it stopped when we left the deep channel on our way to Macleod Island.

Mike catching dinner

Mike catching dinner

Pilot Whales

Pilot Whales

MacLeod Island

Me relaxing on board the boat at MacLeod Island

Macleod Island is the only island which has any tourism infrastructure on and is the site of an expensive resort containing a few dozen beach huts, a bar, and bungalows. It’s also set in a beautiful setting but none of this excited us on the remaining couple of hours of sailing today – what we had our sights set on was the showers at the resort.

When we arrived we decided to fit in one last snorkel before heading for the showers as we were told that the waters around Macleod Island were a prime spot for spotting turtles and this was too good an opportunity to miss. We were taken half way to the snorkelling area by dinghy but swam the rest of the way as we had to be quiet so as not to scare the turtles away. I stuck pretty close to Mike as he has eyes like a hawk and said he spotted turtles the last few times he snorkelled here. My plan almost worked as after about 10 minutes Mike called me over saying he had spotted a Hawksbill Turtle but unfortunately it had disappeared by the time I swam over.

The snorkelling here was the best of the trip so far and we saw lots of fish and some beautiful corals. Unfortunatley I didn’t take my camera with me as it acts a buoyancy device and the images are awful but Ashu took his so I’ll try to fit some of his photos in my blog. I was sad when it was time to stop snorkelling but I knew that it was soon time for a proper shower!

Life on a boat is fine but due to the nature of sailing you don’t really have much of a chance to shower. It’s possible to rinse the salt off using a hose on board, and to cool off by going for a swim, but there is no way to have a proper shower which is one of the reasons the trip stops at Macleod Island. The showers aren’t traditional ones we would expect in the west, instead they are situated right on the beach allowing us to enjoy the beautiful scenery while using them. I spent a long time showering as my hair was a mess by this point but by the time I dried off and met the others at the bar I had never felt so clean in my life. Ok that’s probably an exaggeration but it was nice to feel clean for the first time in a week! Another tip if you come on this trip is bring a towel that’s big enough to change under unless you want to get naked on the beach when changing into your proper clothes. I’ll add that to my list at the end of my blog.

MacLeod Island

MacLeod Island

Shower Time

Beach shower

There isn’t a dress code at the resort but I decided to dress up a bit and wear a shirt as dinner tonight was a sit down meal in the resort restaurant so I thought it would be a nice touch. However before dinner there was enough time to take advantage of the wi-fi at the resort to get in touch with the outside world for the first time in a week, and we all decided to take advantage of the resort bar. I decided to hit the cocktails and had a couple of Caipirinhas then finished off with an Amaretto Sour which were all quite expensive but worth it!

Dinner tonight was a Myanmar Tealeaf Salad followed by a seafood curry which was nice although it was a little pricey and came to $50 along with my cocktails. Although I didn’t mind as the whole atmosphere on the island was amazing. There we were in a largely deserted archipelago, on a beautiful island, sat on a veranda having drinks and that’s what travelling is about and why I decided to come on this trip.

Dinner Time

Dinner Time

Tea Leaf Salad

Traditional Myanmar Tea Leaf Salad

After arriving back on the boat I realised that I left my swim shorts drying on the back of my chair so asked Hein if he could look for them when he went back to get the second group. Officially they didn’t find them but it takes a lot for me to not notice things and I just saw Marie and Hein hoist something up the mast and it looks suspiciously like my shorts but it’s too dark to tell for sure. I’ll just get up tomorrow and play along anyway as that’s a good prank and at least they’ll be dry as it’s quite windy tonight.

Share

BBQ on Swinton Island

March 6th, 2014 No comments

I slept really well last night as I had the whole room to myself with Ashu in the hammock. He said he got a great nights sleep too so we’re going to have the same arrangement again tonight but I might suggest we make it permanent as I could do with a good sleep each night – these days are turning out to be more exhausting than I thought considering this is supposed to be a relaxing holiday. However today has been another day to remember.

Departing Lampi Island

Departing Lampi Island

I got up early to watch the sunrise on deck and, after an early breakfast, we set sail for Swinton Island in time to get some perfect photo of Lampi Island as we were leaving. Today there was quite a lot of wind so we managed to sail most of the journey which was great as it was so relaxing without the noise of the engine. Even though the wind was strong the seas weren’t rough at all which I was pleased about as I was told Swinton Island was the most breathtaking of all the islands we would visit and I didn’t want to arrive feeling sea sick.

When we arrived I could see what all the fuss was about. Swinton Island, which the crew and Jill have been talking about since the start of the trip, is set on a wide beautiful beach surrounded by trees, with a small island offshore stopping large waves coming in. It also has a couple of secluded bays with beautiful turquoise water which are perfect for snorkelling. Much to my delight snorkelling was the first activity after dropping anchor.

Arriving at Swinton Island

Arriving at Swinton Island

The water was still very murky but cleared once we got closer to the rocky shore and the depth decreased. I saw a LOT of urchins while snorkelling but today was also the first time we saw some proper marine life since starting the trip. I saw lots of Angelfish, Parrotfish, a few of whatever Dory is in Finding Nemo and loads of other fish I didn’t recognise. I also saw a few large clams.

During the snorkel we slowly made our way to the turquoise bays we saw upon arrival where the water got shallower and warmer. It also got clearer and unfortunately this meant not so many fish so we decided to take a break from snorkelling and enjoy the views from the beach for a while. The beach wasn’t too big but provided us with some great views and gave us a chance to take some lovely photos.

Swinton Island

Swinton Island

Swinton Islnd

Swinton Island

Me on Swinton Island

Me getting ready to snorkel again

A few of us were eager to get back in the water so decided to swim around to the second bay which looked a lot more promising for snorkelling. The water was a little murky but had lots of rocks and deep channels which provided shelter for a whole variety of marine life. I saw clownfish, an albino urchin, some Oriental Sweetlips, and lots of the same fish we saw earlier. We also saw Mike, the skipper, spearfishing and while we didn’t see him catch anything he already had a large number of caught fish in town which meant that the beach BBQ tonight would be plentiful.

Snorkelling

Snorkelling at Swinton Island

Mike

Mike Spearfishing

In order to get ready for the BBQ we had to cut the snorkelling short and after being taken back to the boat we dried off and headed straight to the main beach to collect wood and set up the area. Collecting wood was hard work – not because we we’re all unfit on this trip but because Win is like a machine. He already has a reputation within the group for working hard and today was no exception. While most of us were collecting sticks and other small burnable materials Win was chopping down trees and severing branches using what looked like nothing more than a meat cleaver. This was great and meant that we would have a huge bonfire but meant that we were exhausted carrying the logs and trees to the BBQ location. While collecting we didn’t see much wildlife but this is probably just as well as we saw some cat tracks in the sand. I don’t know what sort of cat the tracks were made by but generally the wild cats in this area aren’t too friendly!

After building the bonfire there was time to relax and enjoy the sunset on the beach. I can see what all the fuss was about as the sunset was one of the most beautiful I have ever seen – I don’t think it quite beat the sunset over the Kazinga Channel in Uganda a few years ago but it came close.

An Eagle

An Eagle visited us

Swinton Island

On Swinton Island

Bonfire

Setting up the bonfire

Sunset

Sunset over Swinton Island

We made a quick stop back on board to freshen up and grab supplies before heading back to the beach for our BBQ and Bonfire. If you come on this trip you will need to make sure you bring insect repellent as Swinton has a lot of sandflies once the sun goes down. Even though I had to apply a lot of mosquito repellent this didn’t spoil the evening as we had such a great evening. Win and Hein were in charge of the bonfire while Marie and Mike cooked us a great meal of chicken, fish, rice, potatoes, salad and much more. I’m not a huge seafood or fish person so I mainly stuck to chicken but I tried some of the Oriental Sweetlips and it was a really beautiful fish with a delicate taste. According to Mike it’s rare to find them in markets as they lead solitary lives so aren’t caught as much as we were lucky to have some for dinner.

We sat relaxing and chatting after dinner until the bonfire burnt itself out and it was such a relaxing night although it’s now almost 11pm so I’m going to be heading to bed without socialising tonight. I’ve had such a great day today and while I’ve had better snorkelling Swinton Island is so beautiful and I’m glad we spent so much time on shore.

Share

Visiting the Moken

March 5th, 2014 No comments

Today has been a very long day but has been a very enjoyable one. Unfortunately the sunrise this morning was behind the island so I didn’t get as great a view from the hammock as I hoped but the day more than made up for it.

Sailing in Myanmar

Sailing in Myanmar

Mike our Skipper

Mike the Skipper

Our first stop of the day, after an hour or so of sailing, was Ma Kyone Galet which is a village populated by the Moken Sea Gypsies. This was the part I was looking forward to the least as “community visits” on trips tend to be set up but today didn’t feel like that. Plus their story is quite sad. When the Myanmar military junta were at the height of their power they were quite oppressive towards the different indigenous groups around the country. One of the things they did was to force the Moken onto land and make them settle down in villages. Ma Kyone Galet is one of those villages although restrictions have eased slightly and the Moken are now allowed to spend time travelling around the islands for a few months before returning to one of the village which usually houses around 850 people in 100 families.

We were lucky enough to see a family of Moken leaving the village on their way to whichever island they had chosen. They were being towed by a motorboat in a line of rowing boats containing the entire family, chickens, dogs to keep away evil spirits and general supplies to keep them going. It was nice to be able to see this part of local life.

Moken village

Arriving at the Moken Village

Moken family

A Moken family leaving for months away on an island

A beach bar

A beach bar

Ma Kyone Galet is set in the channel between two islands and after landing at the village, while waiting for the others to arrive, we had a chance to take in the beautiful view and take a few photos both of the scenery and of the local children who started paying is a lot of attention.

Our plan was to look around the local school before exploring the village but it’s the school holidays at the moment so once we had all arrived we set off into the village. It didn’t take long for most of the village kids to find us and by the time we made it to their main road we had dozens of kids following us, holding hands with us, asking to pose for photos and generally trying to show us their village. The whole thing reminded me of walking through villages in Uganda a few years ago and the kids were just as happy to see us.

The village itself is mainly made of tin shacks but the main road was lined with stalls selling everything from fruit to water and from general supplies to doughnuts. I didn’t buy anything as I was too busy interacting with the kids but some of the group did. While walking through the village Hein, one of our local guides, told us that on the trip last week they gave the school its first ever computer which is probably one reason why we were getting so much attention. This was probably true but I’ve travelled enough to know that kids in indigenous communities are generally curious of travellers so we would have generated a lot of attention anyway.

Kids and Ashu

Kids looking at photos on Ashu’s iPad

Ma Kyone Galet

Walking through the village

Our boat

Our boat from the temple

Ma Kyone Galet

Ma Kyone Galet as seen from the temple

Temple

The Temple in Ma Kyone Galet

At the end of the main road we crossed a bridge and entered a Buddhist Temple which was our main destination on the island. We had to take our shoes off to entered, under the watchful eye of some young monks, and were soon ushered up the steps to the lookout point containing a shrine by the local kids. The view from the top was really good and it seems to be the place where the older kids hangout. We spent some time admiring the view and hearing more about the village from our guides before we were being ushered back down the steps by the kids who seemed eager to show us something. Once we got back to the river we found out that they wanted to show off to us by stripping and doing somersaults into the river.

After a while of watching the kids we made our way back to the beach where we were met by Win, our other local guide, who had disappeared as soon as we arrived on the island to visit his girlfriend who lives in the village. I was in the second group to go back to the boat so sat on the beach with some of the local kids taking photos. As soon as we were back on the boat we set sail to Lampi Island, where we would anchor for the night. We went under power even though there was a bit of wind as the tide was getting low but the skipper said it would be a great place to kayak if we arrived in time.

Moken kids

Moken kids jumping in the water

Monks

Monks watching us

Moken Kids

Moken kids

Moken Kids

Moken Kids posing for photos

Lampi Island is a lot bigger than Island 115 where we stayed last night although it’s not the biggest in the archipelago. Like the others we have seen it’s covered in forest but it has some low lying mangroves which we kayaked around for a bit. The tide was very low and there was quite a current in the mangroves so the kayaking was quite exhausting – we had to drag the kayaks over some sand bars and paddle upstream for a while. Unfortunately we didn’t see any wildlife except a few small fish and a very large dead hornet on a rock.

The journey downstream was much easier and after arriving back at the beach we relaxed to take in the view for a while before being towed back to the boat by dinghy. Normally groups also snorkel at Lampi Island but the sea was still way too murky so we just jumped in the water and swam or snorkelled in the vicinity of the boat to cool off for a while. The water was only 10 metres or so deep but you couldn’t see the bottom unless you dived down to it but I only did this a few times as there wasn’t much to see as far out as we were anyway.

Lampi Island

Me with a Kayak on Lampi Island

Lampi Island

Being taken back to the boat

After a beautiful pork green curry for dinner we relaxed with a game of Skip Bo before chatting about the events of the day. It seems the Moken village visit was a positive thing for everybody. Ashu has decided he’s going to take the hammock tonight so I might spread out down in the room – if I open all of the hatches and turn the fan on it shouldn’t be as hot as it was the first night and hopefully some of the diesel smell should leave.

Share

Snorkelling in Myanmar for the first time

March 4th, 2014 No comments

I didn’t sleep much last night as it was very hot my room so tonight I’ve decided I’m going to sleep out on deck on the hammock. I’ve never known such clear skies and such fresh air so I should have a great nights sleep staring up at the stars.

Today was my first taste of sailing around Myanmar and it was a great introduction. To be honest I wasn’t sure whether I would enjoy a sailing trip as I’ve never been on one, because I like to keep busy when travelling, and because I’m not great with rough seas but I’ve always wanted to visit Myanmar and the scenery here is just so beautiful I had to give it a chance and so far I’ve not been disappointed.

We set sail at 7.30 this morning after a quick breakfast of cereal and toast and after making our way past the fishing boats we were in open water watching the world go by. There wasn’t much wind today so we were mainly under power but we did manage half an hour under wind power. During today’s sailing I sat out on the bow of the boat for a while but didn’t see much other than jellyfish and the islands going by.

Sunrise

Sunrise from the boat

Relaxing on board

Relaxing on board

Island 115

Island 115

We had planned to stop at an island along the way but as the water is murky at the moment we went straight to our anchorage for tonight, called Island 115, so we could spend more time here. One of the things I’ve been looking forward to the most is the snorkelling so I was happy to hear that the first thing we would be doing at Island 115 was snorkelling. Unfortunately the water was very murky so I didn’t see much except jellyfish and LOTS of urchins. After around 45 minutes we were picked up by dinghy and taken back to the boat to freshen up for lunch, which today was pasta and salad.

Me snorkelling

Me snorkelling off Island 115

Jellyfish

I saw this unhappy looking creature while snorkelling

After lunch we chilled for a bit before being taken onto land for a bit of exploring with our local guides. It felt good to be finally setting foot on Myanmar soil, after being here for a day, although unfortunately it wasn’t the mainland. After taking some photos from the beach we were lead down a path through the jungle that had been cut by the Moken Sea Gypsies across to the other side of the island. The walk only took about 10 minutes and when we reached the other side of the island we were treated to a magnificent beach with a great view.

We spent some time walking around the beach on the far side of the island, trying to avoid the tiny crabs that kept popping out of the sand and running away and also discovered a hermit crab and a huge clam shell. Unfortunately we couldn’t spend as much time here as I would have liked as the tide was getting low and waiting for much longer would have resulted in us being stranded on the beach. However this meant we could relax and watch the sunset before a nice lunch of chicken strips, rice and salad.

Me on Island 115

Me on the beach of Island 115

A tiny crab

A tiny crab

Walking in Myanmar

Walking to the other side of the island

Island 115

The other side of Island 115

Hein

Hein and a big shell

Hermit Crab

A Hermit Crab

Sunset

Sunset as seen from the hammock

The fishing boats nearby have just turned their lights on so there’s going to be a little bit of light pollution tonight but the air is so clear I should still have an amazing view from the hammock.

Share

Crossing into Myanmar

March 3rd, 2014 No comments

It has been a very long day today but it has mainly been an administrative day and we haven’t covered much distance. Tonight is the first night I’ll be on board the boat that Intrepid are using for the trip and it seems nice so far. The bedroom I’ll be sharing is quite small but I knew this in advance – boats like this are designed to maximise the public areas.

This morning I got up fairly early and headed down to the breakfast buffet to meet my room mate who, by this point, had already been for a run, had a shower and eaten most of his breakfast. He said he was an early riser! The breakfast was really nice, especially the omlettes, and there was more than enough selection for everybody.

Time for some last minute repacking and we were whisked off to the immigration pier by tuk tuk where we met our local guides who would escort us across the border and be with us during the week. The immigration process only took 10 minutes including the time taken when one of our group was quizzed by Thai immigration about the length of their stay (this is as if you’re only leaving for a day you don’t receive an exit stamp to try to avoid the visa run). Then it was time to board the boat which was to take us across the border and, after boarding, we met up with Jill our last remaining group member. It turns out she is doing the trip for a second time as she enjoyed it so much which means we should be in for a spectacular trip!

Hotel lobby

The lobby of the Tinidee Hotel

Our transport to the pier

Our transport to the pier

Shuttle boats

Shuttle boats waiting to take people to Myanmar

The boat journey to Myanmar took around 20 minutes, although for political reasons we didn’t land on the mainland and went straight to the sailing boat where our visas were processed on board by Myanmar Immigration officials. The entry process for Myanmar was a lot longer than when I entered Thailand and in total we had to wait for 3 hours in order for our passports, visas and permits for the archipelago to be processed. One thing I don’t like is that while we’re in Myanmar the officials will be keeping our passports to make sure we come back. I guess we won’t be needing it this week but I don’t like being without my passport when travelling.

Crossing into Myanmar

Crossing the water to Myanmar

Transferring to the dinghy

Transferring to our dinghy

Me overlooking Kawthaung

Me overlooking Kawthaung, Myanmar

Then it was time to set sail. The journey today was very short and was only designed to get us as far as a sheltered anchorage out of the main shipping lanes ready to start the main part of the trip. After dinner we discovered that our anchorage would be shared with fishing boats tonight as we were in the middle of a prime fishing area. The method of fishing in this part of the world is to wait until night then deploy rows of lights to attract fish and squid that will get trapped in nets suspended below the boat. Fairly primitive but effective.

Myanmar fishing boat

Myanmar fishing boat

Myanmar fishing boat

Myanmar fishing boat

Sunset over Myanmar

Sunset over Myanmar

The cabin assigned to myself and Ashu

The cabin I’m due to share

The scenery and sunset were beautiful tonight but we’ve been told they don’t even compare to what we have to come!

Share

The wildlife of Costa Rica

February 12th, 2012 No comments

When looking through the various guide books I bought on Central America I saw how amazing the wildlife in the area was so one of my top priorities before coming out here was to see lots of wildlife. However we haven’t really seen as much as I was expecting so today a few of us decided to take a trip to the Cano Negro National Park despite the fact it would involve a whole day of travelling.

After picking up a few people from other hotels we started out on the 90 minute drive out of La Fortuna all the way up to within a few miles of the Nicaraguan border. On the way we stopped at a couple of locations to check out the wildlife including at a bridge over the river where there were hundreds of iguanas sunning themselves on the trees. Our guide explained that there were so many as they have been protected to stop the locals eating them so their population has boomed.

Iguanas

We were shown a huge group of Iguanas on the way to the park

Cano Negro National Park

The start of our river cruise through the Cano Negro region

When we arrived at the park we saw a lot of people sitting on the jetty being watched by armed guards – apparently this is one of the places from where Nicaraguan illegal immigrants are deported back home as it’s so close to the border. However we were heading in the opposite direction into the park for what ended up being a 2 1/2 hour journey around the various waterways.

The trip around the park showed us more wildlife than I had seen so far on the entire trip. We saw Heron, Crocodiles, Swallows, Capuchin Monkeys, Howler Monkeys, Jesus Lizards, Kingfishers, Bats, a Hawk , a Sloth and much more so was definitely worth the exhaustion. I took so many photos but will only be able to upload a few of them to my blog.

Bats on a tree

A family of bats on the branch of a tree

Crocodile

I managed to catch this photo before he slipped back into the water

Cappuchin Monkey

We saw some Capuchin Monkeys which was awesome

Howler Monkey

I got some better photos of Howler Monkeys here than in Nicaragua

Bad timing for this photo!

A badly timed photo of a bird sunning itself

Cano Negro

A view of the river in Cano Negro

Me and a flower

Me on the river boat with some sort of flower from the region

Lunch for the day was at a typical local restaurant and the meal was good, when it arrived. They tried to give me the wrong meal a couple of times and in the end I had to pretend I had a seafood intolerance to get them to give me to beef – it worked! Then not long after I got my meal it was time for the journey home which was pretty fast until we got held up in some sort of horse rider parade just outside La Fortuna.

Gina had spotted an ice cream parlour in town and so we decided to go there after getting back from the trip to see if it was any better than the one in Granada, and it was, despite all the weird flavours we decided to try. During my time in town I stocked up on supplies ready for the journey to San Jose tomorrow and bought the last few souvenirs for everybody.

Team Breakaway decided to head out for dinner tonight at the Lava Lounge while the others went out drinking at a club. The food was actually really nice and I decided to sample a Thai Chicken pizza with a side order of Hot Wings. We stayed and chatted for a while before deciding to have another Team Breakaway catchup over wine in the hotel although this one didn’t go as smoothly as the other times. In Monteverde the hotel owner went to get us some glasses and then washed them all up for us but at this particular hotel they wouldn’t even give us glasses until we bribed them with money.

La Fortuna

Walking around La Fortuna after our nature cruise

Pizza

My 5th pizza of the trip so far

My room

My room in the Hotel Fortuna

I’m now relaxing in my room catching up on my reading and watching TV – I Am Legend is on which is coincidental considering Will Smith is filming just outside town. The door to my room is self locking so I hope Guido gets back soon as I’m exhausted and need to have a good nights sleep tonight.

Share