…and now we’re getting married!

It’s been almost exactly six months since we last wrote on the blog and I have to say, I think we’ve missed it.

Just having a look back through now brings back the most incredible memories. And now it’s time to make some new ones.

As some of you may know, James proposed in shocking style (well, it was a shock to me anyway!) last Christmas. Well the date is now set (22 September 2012) and the barn in booked. We’ve tried to put together as much info on here as possible so that you can see what the plan is, but we will be sending out invitations (when we get around to it!) that will have all the details too.

But in the meantime, feel free to click on the below for more details about our big day.

We can’t wait to see you all there! xx

WHEN

WHERE

HOW TO GET THERE…by car

HOW TO GET THERE…by train

HOW TO GET THERE…by taxi

ACCOMMODATION

 

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The End

So, we’ve now been back in England a month now so it’s probably time to round the blog off with one final post:

Jan and Claire took a taxi from Mersing, Malaysia to Singapore General Hospital with a couple of huge oxygen tanks to last the journey. The hospital seemed very efficient and apart from one panicky moment where Claire watched on helplessly as Janet was wheeled through some doors labelled “Critical care and resuscitation”, everything turned out ok. We later discovered that those doors were used as a shortcut to the X-ray clinic!

Lexi and I arrived in Singapore in the evening and found a hotel near the hospital. We dumped all our stuff and then went to visit Jan who’s lungs were making remarkably fewer sloshing noises than they were a couple of hours previously. They kept her in for observation over night in but by the time we returned the next day she was right as rain.

We did a bit of touristy stuff, visiting some temples etc and eating one evening in Little India. The curry was fantastic but I did become slightly worried that we might have to make another trip to Singapore hospital after Lexi bit into a chilli by accident.

Lexi and Jan left the next day to get a bus back to Kuala Lumpur for their respective flights home. Claire and I continued to explore Singapore and, more importantly, eat copious quantities of rice and noodles and unidentifiable things in tasty sauces. We visited Sentosa island, the southern most point of continential Asia but it felt a bit underwhelming after the beauty of Tioman island in Malaysia. And then it all came to an end. We spent our last Singapore dollars on shoulder massages at the airport and boarded our flight home. More than a few tears were shed on the plane and by the random woman on the tube whose foot Claire squashed with her suitcase. Camden seemed to have changed little other than the stream of looters coming out of Dixons and we’ve slipped back into “normal” life with depressing ease. Everyone who we’ve seen since we’ve been back has asked “did you enjoy it?” and the answer is “Yes. It was the best thing EVER” because, well, it was.

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Lexi, Janet and Malaysian aspirations

So off we set, now with three of us in tow, from Kuala Lumpur airport to find our hostel in the heart of China Town. Annoyingly, just as we left the airport, we had the first bit of rain we had seen – just in time for Lexi’s arrival and it was torrential. We arrived at the hostel which was pretty basic to say the least but we dumped our bags before dragging poor jet-lagged Lexi down Petaling Street market via a very nice looking tea shop. Soon she was flagging so we had a delicious (if excessively vegetarian) Malaysian / Chinese meal with the satay and rendang classics but minus the beef and chicken!

The next day we took it nice and gently with a quick tour of the banks trying to change travellers cheques before finding ourselves opposite the Masjid Jamek (the main mosque in KL). It was quite a sight and we stared on for a good while across the river watching the comings and goings. It was then off to the old colonial heart of the city – Merdeka Square and the old cricket pitch (complete with literally hundreds of Malaysian flags adorning every edifice – in fact it is also home to the highest flagpole in the world). We then found the Central Market where we had another incredible lunch for very little ringgit and a good mooch around the lovely stalls. After that it was temple time – we hit a couple of Hindu shrines before making a beeline for Bangsar to go and meet Bal & Abby – my step-Dad’s cousin and his wife (and their gorgeous little daughter Mishka). It had been about 10 years since I last saw them and we didn’t recognise each other at first but a coffee later – then a spot of shopping…then a mojito (or 5…) and then treating us all to an incredible Indonesian feast soon put that right and we had the most wonderful evening chatting and generally making merry. It’s definitely our turn to treat them when they’re next over in the UK.

We woke up a bit bleary eyed the next day but set off once again for a packed day of sightseeing (including a Buddhist temple which just so happened to be holding a Malaysian version of Strictly Come Dancing on site…DEFINITELY not expected but HUGE entertainment value) and then whizzing up to Little India for a stunning curry (no less than 9 dishes on my plate along all for the princely sum of £2.50). After a steamy walk around the buzzing district we found our way to the KL tower in time for a quick trip up the tallest building in KL at dusk & some tasty Japanese food before meeting Janet at Sentral [sic] station. We were all ready to surprise her but she was way ahead of us and managed to jump out at me – a great surprise indeed! And then we were four…

We had a quick drink and pancake after dropping her stuff and then a little midnight wander around the area before crashing to bed at 1am – before our 5.30 departure to the airport for our flight to the little island of Tioman.

It was a little disconcerting that the flight desk didn’t open until half an hour before the flight departed but all was easy and we were soon off on our tiny little plane to our paradise island in the South China Sea.

The view coming into the island was sensational and it’s always a good sign when you have to wait just under the hut to watch your bags be brought over by a glorified lawnmower and then they’re just handed to you. Lexi’s prior good organisation meant that our transport was ready and waiting for us and off we went on the half hour journey across the island to Juara on the east coast. After some fairly grueling hills, the scene that welcomed us was amazing – despite another torrential downpour. But no matter – it was still baking hot and the huge empty beach and our sea front bungalows were awaiting us. The sky quickly cleared and We got straight in the warm sea only for another torrent of rain (I don’t think I’ve ever been swimming in the sea while it’s raining – and enjoyed it anyway!).

We swam, sun bathed, sat, ate noodles and generally passed the time away until our pre-dinner walk when we set off for the rocks across to another beach. It was another stunning beach and all was heaven til I slipped down the rocks – I was absolutely fine until I noticed the blood washing away in the sea. I managed to leave a lovely little red trail all the way up to the bungalows where “doctor” James shot into action and got tweezing sand out and rinsing, steri-stripping and finally duct-taping up my foot and all was well again!

Unfortunately I don’t think he used a single item from our medical kits which we’ve (luckily!) barely touched the entire trip and instead borrowed everything from Jan and Lexi – in all honesty I’m not entirely sure he knew where our kits were! But that put paid to my sea-frolicking adventures for the next day at least.

The next morning was Jan’s birthday – and predictably we weren’t up in time to give her her coffee in bed as promised but we did prepare a breakfast tray full of goodies including a “bunch” of rambutan (tasty lychee like fruits), chocolate from New Zealand, shells from Tahiti and mosquito coils. Noone can say we’re not thoughtful in our present giving! Of course the birthday rule of anything-she-says-goes applied which she duly used in both frisbee, at lunch tasting all of our dishes wholeheartedly and then leading us off to the Turtle Sanctuary down the road (with tiny plants that roll their leaves up when you touch them – the source of much amusement!). That evening we had a knock up feast of incredible Chinese food on the beach and a few Tiger beers.

The next morning was an early start off to the east coast as Jan was starting her scuba dive course to get Open Water certified. She was a bit nervous and we arrived in good time to meet her dive instructor, Sammy before we left to go and have a walk through Tekek – the main town of the island. It was hot. Really hot. So the three of us spent a large amount of time over lunch and consumed rather a lot of watermelon juice. We then paddled (for those without duct-taped feet) and sunbathed for the rest of us. Jan came back later in the afternoon and had loved the diving (apart from a couple of skills – she claimed she just had too small a nose to clear a mask in one go) and we (surprise surprise) had more noodles and a quick game of humming (don’t ask).

Then the next day in all honesty is a bit of a blur. Jan set off for her diving early and we set off for the beach close to where they were doing some skills to try and get some sneaky shots of her as she came up. When Jan returned to the beach she went back to the room to change. When she returned I twigged something was up. She had apparently choked up some bloody phlegm and was finding it a bit difficult to breathe. The next thing we know, the dive centre are on the phone to the DAN dive doc and he wants her on oxygen immediately as he thought she had an aspiration on her lung. He also recommended an emergency evacuation off the island and down to Singapore to try and get the best care possible. Janet (as usual) was doing the “this is a fuss over nothing” and “do I really have to go?”. The answer was yes so we leapt into action, James and Lexi got her stuff packed up, I went in the speedboat with Jan & her oxygen tanks, and they followed with all our luggage….

[For all concerned parties, don’t worry, the story has a happy ending – James will follow shortly.]

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Singapore & Southern Malaysia

We’re a bit behind with the blogs so we’re going to have to whiz through the last couple of weeks pretty speedily: Singapore was hot, humid and very civilised. We did our best not to break the law by not chewing gum, jay walking or eating Durian fruit (smells almost like very ripe cheese) on the metro. We visited a couple of impressive temples (Hindu and Buddhist) and explored China town but as we only had one full day there we didn’t really have time to do all that much.

We then caught a bus north to Melaka, a town on the west coast of Malaysia. Historically it was an important town as it was half way between India and China and sheltered from the monsoon winds & rains. In the 15th Century apparently it was recorded that there were 42 languages spoken in the town and more than 2,000 ships in the harbour. However, it began to decline soon after as first the Portuguese, then the Dutch and finally the British colonised it. The old bit of the town is a UNESCO World Heritage site is quite pretty at night with loads of chinese lanterns hanging everywhere. We went on a night cruise along the river and saw huge monitor lizards on the banks, visited a reconstruction of a Portuguese 16th Century sailing ship and went up a revolving observation tower. It also had a bustling night market and some amazing food. In fact, the food in South East Asia has been fantastic, a delicious melting pot of Chinese, Indian, Thai and Malaysian. It took me a while to get used to having rice and noodles for breakfast but as long as  a bit of gloopy sweet and sour sauce is drizzled on top, it goes down a treat.

From Melaka, we took a bus to Seremban, a thoroughly untouristy town. The guidebook warned that the town suffered from a shortage of cheap hotels that weren’t brothels. Although this didn’t seem to bother Claire as much as it did me, we ended up paying a bit more for a room just to be on the safe side! The town had little to offer tourists other than a museum on the outskirts which had a couple of wooden palaces in the grounds. The palace roofs curved upwards like horns and the entire buildings were made just of wood. From Seremban we took a taxi (driven by Seremban’s only woman taxi driver) to Kuala Lumpur airport to meet Lexi, my sister…

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A few days down under

After an emotional farewell to Jono and Kate at Auckland airport we set off on our next flight to Sydney. We only had a few days it seemed criminal not stop at probably my favourite city in the world while we were round that way. It was James’ first time in Sydney so I was very excited for him to see everything – probably more so than he was actually! But we started off well as we were standing next to a famous couple (well I didn’t know who either of them were and James only recognised the guy at the time – Danny Cipriani – a rugby player or something? and his girlfriend who’s in the “where the bloody hell are you” Oz TV ads apparently) and then we got a free bus straight to our hostel as the trains weren’t running – magic!

It was a shame that we were there in the middle of their winter but to be honest, you never would have known as we were in sunglasses and T-shirts for pretty much the entire time. We started off by wandering down to Darling Harbour via an “urban stream, fancy fountains and all sorts and then pootled around, having coffee on the waterfront and admiring the boats & submarines at the maritime museum before heading around by ferry to Circular Quay for James’ first sight of the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House. Luckily it was as great a sight as always and James was suitably impressed, as proven by the hundreds of photos we subsequently took!

That first day, whilst looking out over the Opera House from the Rocks (with an enormous P&O ferry in our way!) we got chatting to the loveliest of lovely ladies – Marina, a Sydney citizen (though originally from Mauritius) who then took it upon herself to show us a great place to eat and took us on our own private mini tour of Sydney on her lunch break which was just great! It really is people like her who make the world go round – so Marina, if you’re out there somewhere, thank you so much for being so lovely!

We had a lovely few days mooching around the city: did a fair bit of walking, we explored Paddington and Surry Hills, visited a couple of great galleries – learnt about the convict past and tried desperately not to spend all our money on the amazing Aboriginal art, lounged around by the Sydney boat show and discussed the merits of the boats on offer (me: colour, James: speed and gadgets), stared at the sharks and rays in the aquarium and generally drank a fair amount of good coffee.

And after all that, it retained it’s slot as probably my favourite city in the world.

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New Zealand part II

The next day, Jono drove us south from Tauranga to Wellington. It was a full day’s drive so we made a couple of stops along the way to break up the journey. First we stopped at Huka Falls but it was freezing cold so we didn’t stop for long there. Then we drove round the beautiful Lake Taupo to get to Taupo town (or was it the other way round?!) In keeping with the rest of the trip, our activity here was another surprise: test driving a Lexus that Jono and Kate (but mainly Jono) were thinking of buying! The weather had both warmed up and cleared up by now so we took rather a significant diversion up Mount something or other to admire the views and play in the snow. We had lunch in a cafe at the ski resort at the top and spent a bit of time taking pictures of the panorama and a lot of time wishing my knee would stop falling apart so we could go skiing again. We arrived into Wellington in the evening and found our way to Andy and Amanda’s (Kate’s brother and his wife) flat. Kate cooked a risotto and we finally got round to trying the Tahitian cocktail (labelled on the box “Tahiti Drink”) that we’d been carrying round. As nice as the drink was, I think the fact that there was still a fair amount left over the next morning speaks volumes…

The next day we went shopping in the morning and visited the Bee Hive, New Zealand’s parliament, in the afternoon. I think you can all guess which part of the day I enjoyed the most! It was very interesting learning about how New Zealand have attempted to integrate Maori traditions into their democracy. Our tour guide seemed to have a healthy cynicism for politics although it was a bit difficult to know whether we should laugh or not. In the evening we all went out for a delicious Turkish meal for falafely and hummusy goodness.

We spent most of the next day in the car driving back to Tauranga. We arrived fairly late so went straight to Jono & Kate’s new favourite restaurant, The Flying Burrito Brothers. Claire and I made an elementary mistake by sharing a starter of stuffed chillies. But troopers that we are, we battled through them, mopping our brows between each mouthful. The next day, with our lips still on fire, we went to some thermal springs in the morning followed by trip to a winery with the most generous free wine tasting that we’ve ever experienced (and we did a lot in South America). Back at the house Jono knocked up some fantastic pizzas which we enjoyed with a couple of bottles of our favourites from the winery.

With our trip nearing an end, we headed for Auckland. We went to Auckland Museum and saw some amazing Maori carvings and learnt a bit about the history of New Zealand. We took a ferry across to Devonport and went to a cafe where if you looked away for 2 seconds, birds would land on the table (inside the cafe) and try and steal your food. In the evening, Kate surprised us, as she had done for the entire trip, with an amazing meal on at the revolving restaurant at the top of the Sky Tower.

Although it was only 2 weeks, we packed a huge amount in and I can only end this blog by saying thank you so so much to both Kate and Jono for making it such an amazing time.

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Surprises in New Zealand, Part 1

One of the highlights of the trip so far has got to be walking through the arrivals gate at Auckland airport to see Kate and Jono (one of my school friends and her Kiwi husband) waiting to pick us up. It’s been over 7 years since Kate and I spent any real time together (and 4 years since we last saw each other!) but you know that you’re true friends when you pick up right from where you left off and needless to say, moments later we were jabbering away as if we’d just walked out of school!

Kate and Jono had planned our entire 2 weeks in New Zealand in secret and refused to give anything away. So the whole trip was a complete surprise to us (a total novelty on our travels so far) and it was both hugely exiting and absolute luxury not to have to be booking hostels, reading the guidebook and planning transport as it had all been done for us.

So off we set in our “battle wagon” (her Dad’s enormous people carrier) with a chilly bin (translation: cool box) of surprises and a ton of luggage from the airport to our first secret destination: the Coromandel Peninsula in the northern part of the Bay of Plenty where Kate had snagged us a bargain at two amazing adjoined studios in Hahei..a far cry from the hostels we’ve been used to. And then, to James’ delight, Kate cooked proper bangers and mash for our first meal. Kate had also managed to pick up a few other treats to remind us of home including Branston pickle, Heinz ketchup, humus to name a few. In fact we did exceedingly well at once again eating our way around the country satisfying all the cravings we were having.

The following day we had eggs and bacon for breakie(!) before setting to the Lost Spring hot springs with a chance for me to try out my new bikini (the old one having sadly passed away…there’s only so many times you can sew it tighter once the elastic has gone!). But I don’t think we knew what heaven was awaiting us…a gorgeuos spa with multiple thermal pools both in fairy-light lit caves and out surrounded by native bush. All the pools are at different temperatures and you can luxuriate in the warmth even when it’s raining while the waiter brings you a “smooth virgin kiwi” or some other delight (a cocktail in case you’re wondering) – very luxurious indeed. After a good while relaxing (and spotting a couple “rooting” in one of the caves – I don’t think you need a translation!) we stepped out for a spot of lunch and tucked into some enormous burgers served with beetroot – a Kiwi tradition apparently.

After lunch we drove along the 309 road home famous for its views and also for it’s curves! Apparently it is thought the name comes from the number of turns on the road and though we tried we couldn’t quite count them all. But Jono did a sterling effort on them all despite his broken ribs which I suspect hurt alot more than he ever let on. We stopped several times for the stunning views and walked short trails in the bush to admire the gorgeous greens of the ferns and kauri to name a few. Jono’s knowledge of the plants was better than any tour guide we’ve ever had! After another day on the peninsula where we explored Coromandel town and some of the beaches in the rain (we are visiting in the winter after all!) we headed up to a fantastic railway, built by a slightly eccentric man heading up a hillside in the bush. It was a semi artists colony type place which was very interesting and the views from the top with the clouds rolling around the peninsula were out of this world.

It was then to head to Tauranga and our first view of Kate and Jono’s amazing home (via an Indian restaurant…BEST curry in a long time!) We managed to spend a lovely few days there enjoying the sights and sounds of the town, “tramping” up the Mount (translation: hiking – the word was a source of much hilarity throughout the trip) and walking along the beach with my cousin Nick who also happens to have moved to the same town co-incidentally! One evening we did an incredible trip in double kayaks (known by the guides as “divorce boats”) at sunset to see some glowworms. The excursion included mulled wine, cheese, olives etc and I tell you, I never want to kayak in daylight again! It was so much fun paddling along in the dark and incredibly peaceful. The glowworms were just the most gorgeous little things and I was rather disappointed to learn they only live for 5 days (having no mouth!) so there wouldn’t be much point trying to bring some home.

Jono also took us over to Waikati (sorry if it’s spelt wrong guys?!) to see the farm where he grew up. Calving had just begun and there were about two dozen calves for Kate and I to play with. James was less convinced however and was sure that they turned extra aggressive whenever he came near! That’s city boys for you…We had great fun at milking time, (James even managed to attach the milking equipment to a cows udders – though there was a bit of cow shit involved) and feeding the newborns. Kate very impressively managed to tube feed a weak calf too – I never thought I’d say this but she’d make a very good farmer’s wife!

Then the next phase of our surprise itinerary rolled around…and off we set early one misty morning into the unknown. Our first stop was at a kiwi fruit farm where we took part in wine and spirit tasting (not bad for 9.30am – and kiwi wine is surprisingly tasty) before making our way to Rotorua. We wandered around some lakes and have morning tea (our NZ daily ritual) then headed to a luge for a couple of hair-raising highspeed down hill jaunts (and a nice leisurely chairlift back up) & a skyswing overlooking the main lake. Now at this point I really didn’t know what a skyswing was. And with hindsight that’s a good thing as otherwise I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have done it. But with tickets bought we duly climbed up into the 3 seat swing and were strapped in with no less than two separate seatbelts. Never a good sign. And then James was given the instructions that as soon as we were lifted to the maximum height he was to pull the cord that would drop us freefall and then swing us back and forth. As we were nervously lifted, Kate decided to tell us a tale of how seatbelts don’t always work (or something equally terrifying) but weirdly neither J nor I can remember it as I guess the adrenalin was pumping a little to hard by then. Anyway, time came to rip the cord but it didn’t work the first time then suddenly we were falling. I don’t remember alot after that apart from repeatedly saying “it’s not that bad, it’s not that bad” over and over. It wasn’t that bad – but I’m glad it’s over.

After all that excitement it was definitely time for some relaxation so off we set to a natural thermal area where you walk around the park watching boiling mud, steam rising from the ground, hot waterfalls, a mud volcano and luminous yellow sulphur deposits. It was absolutely stunning – a totally lunar landscape. It’s a very strange feeling walking over earth that you can see steaming all around you and knowing that the ground is almost too hot to touch beneath your feet. We managed to then catch a Maori carver at work who let us try our hand at carving. We then went off for a nice spot of relaxing…our own private mud bath using natural mud from the thermal park and then a sunset soak in toasty high-sulphur water. Yum. All finished off with a hotel overlooking more thermal pools and (more!) tasty food at an amazing restaurant that was so good we went back for banana, syrup and bacon waffle specials the next morning.

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Tahiti & Moorea

It’s been a while since we’ve updated the blog largely due to the fact that you have to sign a form when you arrive in Tahiti saying you will spend a minimum of 8 hours a day relaxing and not doing anything remotely taxing. Or something like that.

Anyway, we arrived in Tahiti in the small hours of the morning and immediately got a taste of how expensive it was by having to pay £30 for a 10 minute taxi ride to our hotel. The hotel itself was a bit too resort-y for my liking but it did have a few perks like the largest infinity pool on the island and free shows in the evenings. We also managed to get a room with a kitchen so on our first full day there, we didn’t copy everyone else and laze on the beach, we went to Carrefour. It was here with huge counters of cheese, the fact that you could only buy garlic a dozen cloves at a time and boxes of wine were cheaper than water that it first became clear how French Tahiti was. But we took full advantage of the huge supermarket and stocked up on food to last us the next 2 weeks as eating out was sadly beyond our budget.

We stayed 3 nights at the resort hotel and enjoyed the fire shows and singing and dancing performances in the evening then we took a ferry to Moorea, an island off the coast. Unfortunately Claire managed to leave her handbag on the ferry which took the number of cameras we’ve got through on this trip to 3.

On Moorea we stayed in rustic log cabins, hand built by an American ex-pat carpenter. We were 5 minutes walk away from the shore and 30 minutes from the nearest beach. The scenery was spectacular with the land rising sharply out of the sea to jagged peaks covered in tropical vegetation. There were colourful flowers everywhere and banana and coconut trees dotted the coast. We stayed 4 nights there and then moved round the coast to a villa on the beach in Opunohu Bay where Captain Cook landed 300 years ago. A reef surrounds the island and we spent many a happy hour snorkelling and admiring the multi-coloured fish. Rays and dolphins apparently sometimes enter the bay but annoyingly they hid from us.

It was around this time that we started to get worried that we might not have enough food to last us but luckily for us, the people in the next villa were going home and offered us all their leftovers so for the last few days we dined like kings with fresh tuna, a whole chicken and prawns amongst other things. Although we’ve eaten these things at various points in restaurants over the past few months, it was the first time we’d cooked with them. And it was amazing.

Apart from enjoying the sun during the day and falling asleep to the sound waves lapping on the shore, we didn’t really do much. But the time flew by and although we considered not confirming our flights and just seeing what happened, Claire was too excited at the prospect of seeing Kate in New Zealand. And that is where we are now. More to come in due course…

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Rapa Nui

As I write this I am looking out over stormy clouds that fades the horizon between the sky and the sea from this tiny island in the Pacific. Formed from 3 volcanic eruptions Easter Island (or Rapa Nui as it is known locally) is the most remote inhabited island in the world and holds a mystic past of which today, sadly, little is known.

We are just waiting for our flight to whisk us over to Tahiti and we are thanking god that the last 5 days we’ve been here it hasn’t been pouring and blowing a gale as it is now. Instead, it has been gorgeous tropical weather and we’ve had the most magical few days exploring the island on foot and by bike, coming across countless fallen (and several restored) moai that adorn the island as well as numerous legends passed down orally through the generations.

It was a sad goodbye to mainland South America when we left last week but scarily now feels like a bit of a dream. However, Rapa Nui has held so many treats and suprises that there hasn’t been much time to think about it. After a bit of a hectic flight with LAN (initially telling us weren’t booked – we were – and every single group being split up on the flight meaning lots of changes) we arrived at the tiny airport where everyone was walking around the runway taking pictures. I guess that’s what happens when yours is the only flight arriving that day!

We were greeted with flower garlands (the purple petals looked particularly fetching on James) and then taken along to our accommodation 5 mins down the road. The place is a campsite with rooms, directly overlooking the sea and 10 mins away from the only village on the island, Hanga Roa. We set off in our excitement and almost immediately came across our first moai, re-erected just above a small harbour with dozens of colourful fishing boats and palm trees. It was huge and imposing and we took loads of pictures. But little did we know that this was nothing compared to what we would find over the next few days.

We managed to acquire an incredibly useful book about the island, written by a Scotsman who studied Easter Island from Cambridge and is now living out here. Although it was expensive, it saved us money in the long run as it allowed us to explore by ourselves without a guide but still get incredibly interesting anecdotes and information about the culture that made these incredible statues. Unfortunately, very little is known for definite. From an estimated population of 14,000 at one point, there were only 111 islanders remaining by the 19th century due to lack of food and resources (mainly attributed to the effort that was put into building the moai), inter-tribal warfare, slave raids from Peru, and disease spread from abroad. The island has slowly rebuilt and now has an estimated population of 4000, but understandably, much of the history of the place has been lost: from what actually happened to cause the wars,to how the moai were constructed and moved such huge distances. It’s a wonderful but frustrating thing trying to imagine what the island was like when so little is known about the people who lived here. What we do know is that in a relatively short period in the 18th – 19th century, all of the moai were hauled from their platforms and destroyed, leaving the island littered with over 900 moai, some originally completed and later restored onto their platforms in the 50s, some left in the quarry seemingly abondoned in haste for which there are a number of theories but no proof any which way.

After the moai period came the birdman ritual, in which tribes would compete, getting one representative to climb down the cliffs of a volcanic crater to the thuderous, shark infested sea, swim across to one of the islands, wait for the first egg to be laid then swim back and produce it unbroken for their chief to be the next birdman and ruler of the island. It is thought that this was the solution to stop the warring between the tribes to give equal opportunity to each tribe each year to rule the island.

Climbing up to the crater of the volcano and looking down into the freshwater lake from the rim of the crater, it all seems too serene but the relief carvings on the rocks, the village found from where the competition started and the view over to the islands is all a bit haunting.

We climbed through caves formed by lava tubes after the volcanic eruption which have “dos ventanas” – 2 windows – out over the sea, watched sun set over the horizon with 7 restored moai in front of us, cycled up to inland moai, got lost on the way back and climbed down through fields of rocks (which we really hope weren’t destroyed moai we were trampling all over), cycled in the pitch black to our very own private screening of the film “Rapa Nui” in a hotel bar, seen beautiful astronomical petroglyphs, eaten mean hotdogs (the unofficial national dish of Chile apparently) and generally enjoyed every second we’ve been here.

I just feel sorry for the new arrivals and this rain!

* Due to a power cut, we couldn’t post this before we left last night so we have now in fact just spent our first morning in Tahiti. Oh. my. word.

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South America comes to an end…

Since the last blog post we’ve been to an amazing pre-Colombian art museum, eaten a proper curry, stayed in a hostel which had what looked like blood splatters on the walls, learnt how to make Pisco Sour and lost a pair of sunglasses and trousers (not whilst I was wearing them) amongst other things.

It’s now our last night in South America and we’ve had steaks (of course) and a bottle of Malbec and I’m not in the right frame of mind to write a proper blog post. It seems only right to end this period of the trip with pictures of us munching our way through huge bloody hunks of meat:

What a time we’ve had. Now on to the next phase of the journey: Easter Island!

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