A Travellerspoint blog

Vanuatu - Volcanoes, scuba diving and island life

Island paradise before corona chaos halted all travel plans

It feels strange writing this entry trying to remember everything that has happened in the past 2.5 weeks as the world has erupted into chaos and concern amid the spread of the corona virus. Undoubtedly this will stop my travels for now and may lead to me coming home very soon as I sit in isolation wondering what to do next. However, for now I wanted to write an entry to try and outline my past 2 weeks or so in the beautiful Pacific Island that I had never heard of when I started travelling called Vanuatu.

So a lot of people have asked me where this is or why on earth I was there. Vanuatu is a stunning little island but certainly not really erupted on the backpacker’s scene yet and hence I did not meet many travellers during my time there. I actually heard about this place from a girl I met over breakfast in Manila on my last day in the Philippines. As a brand new scuba diver I’d been asking about good spots to dive to anyone who had advice. She had been travelling for 7 months and told me the best diving she had done by far in that time was in this island called Vanuatu. Naturally I had never heard of it and assumed it was a town or city within a different country. However, after some research it turned out that it is an independent country with crazy WW2 shipwreck diving and the most active volcano in the world. So I decided to book it up after New Zealand and head out to check this out.

Upon arrival in the capital city, Port Vila, I was dropped off at my hostel to discover I was the only person booked there. This would become a similar scene across my stay. The owner of the Retreat Seaside hostel was an Aussie guy called Dan who was a really hospitable guy. I arrived on Sunday when they had a day of UFC on - the hostel didn’t actually have a reception and was basically a bar with ten rooms or so attached to it. Dan and a few other local business owners were basically getting smashed on vodka all evening and then sitting listening to music in a jacuzzi together. They were very friendly and gave me some beers on the house but I went to bed fairly early as I thought it would be odd to be sat in a jacuzzi with a group of old semi-naked men I’d just met. I wandered around Port Vila the next day by the markets and waterfront and found some nice bars and restaurants with awesome sunset views. I stumbled into a restaurant called Golden Port which was empty and I assumed they worst. However, I had some seafood with oyster sauce that was the best meal I’ve had during my travels to date. The sunset views alone were well worth the trip but the seafood here is so fresh and incredible.

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After two low key nights in Port Vila, I readied myself for a trip to Tanna which is famous for possessing the most active volcano in the world, Mount Yasur. This volcano actually erupts in some way every single day but is the heartbeat of the island with people living and working a stone’s throw away from it. It seemed pretty crazy to me. My flight was delayed by two hours (something you become used to in Vanuatu life) and when we were finally ready to leave I was pretty shocked to discover the aircraft we would be using. After no security checks whatsoever, we walked into a tiny aircraft that must have held about 15 people. There were no toilets and the pilots had no door meaning we were right behind them watching them fly. I was sat at the back seat next to the ‘emergency exit’ which was basically a small door that looked like it may fling open at any time if I leant on a small lever directly next to me. It was quite an experience and I was concerned this would be the premature end of my travels landing in the Pacific Ocean.

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Upon arriving in Tanna, I actually was surprised to see the accommodation I had booked, the Tanna Evergreen Resort, was basically paradise. The room was fairly straightforward but the resort had numerous private swimming pools with spectacular views, a crazy golf course, hammocks, a volleyball court and direct snorkelling spots into blue holes straight off the hotel into the water. After travelling around staying in New Zealand hostels for 7 weeks this was a really nice change. The resort gave you free snorkels and coral shoes so I went into the blue hole and saw some pretty epic fish for 30mins or so upon arrival. I later tried to find a different blue hole only to fail terribly due to the tide being out and I burnt my shoulders pretty terribly in the 45 minutes or so I failed to find this. That evening I befriended an Aussie / German bloke called Jens and we had dinner and a few beers together over another epic sunset.

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My second evening there I went with a couple of French speaking people from Tahiti and New Caledonia to go and check out the mighty Mount Yasur. The journey out was a bit longer than anticipated as we drove across the ‘roads’ for about 1 hour 30minutes until we got to the base of the volcano. It was made more difficult by the fact that the car spoke only French the whole way but we had stunning panoramic views on the route and the driver also drove the jeep up the side of the volcano for a bit too. When we arrived we had a slightly larger group which was great news for me as I could socialise with some people again. I met a lovely Irish and Indian couple called Carl and Komal. There was also a French girl called Angele who had spent 6 weeks in Vanuatu as she was a travel blogger. It was great to share this epic experience with some other people. First we got introduced to the local tribe where the chief accepted us to explore the volcano. They then had a dance with us before we went to do the short 10 minute hike to the rim of the volcano. The volcano had actually come close to increasing its risk of serious explosion to level 3 overnight meaning we didn’t get to see the views directly into the volcano. However, the views at the rim were spectacular and being stood for a couple of hours listening and watching a live volcano erupting continuously was pretty incredible. As it become darker and the sun set, we then got better views of the lava erupting in front of us. It was a truly spectacular experience and well worth the trip to Vanuatu alone. A few were frustrated they could not go up to higher views but personally I was not one to question Vanuatuan safety.... it was probably quite clear we shouldn’t have been up there at all when we discovered it was a similar threat level to the White Island that recently devastated New Zealand. Finally on the route back, our driver called Tyson took us to his favourite kava bar which is the local drink made from the roots of the local vegetable. It is said to have a feeling mixed between being stoned and being pissed. We went to the Will Smith kava bar- it was named as the actor visited just three months ago and they were so excited they renamed the bar after forcing him to try the drink.

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My final day in Tanna I decided to do another scuba dive ahead of my Advanced PADI course I had booked in Santo. Jens had dived with the only scuba shop in Tanna, Volcano Island Divers, the day before and warned me that they were quite inexperienced and a little lackadaisical. I was a little nervous due to this having not dived for almost 7 weeks since the start of my New Zealand trip at the Poor Knight Islands. I made it clear to the shop that I was still inexperienced and mainly wanted some practice ahead of my diving in Santo. We did a shore dive so I could see the reef and marine life around there. This dive was quite the experience and I learnt a lot from it. My instructor was quite inexperienced and I didn’t take responsibility at the start for the number of weights I use, instead taking their advice. The dive was going fine up until about 35 minutes through. As we rose from 18m to 10m I had difficulty keeping my balance and was pulled up dramatically to almost 1 metre due to my weight being too low. The instructor had to pull me down and find some rocks on the bottom of the reef to give me additional weight. At this point I had used a bit more air up during this encounter and to make it worse, there was also an extremely strong current making the return leg pretty hard work. I signalled to go up as my air nearly ran out and we needed a safety stop but due to the current we had to get to the mooring line to ascend. I literally got to just 10 bar of air left and had to use my instructor’s air for the safety stop. My previous longest dive was 46 minutes and this dive took 74 minutes. It was a really terrifying experience but I managed to stay calm and come through it and it all helps for future dives. I’m glad I went though this ahead of Santo though.

Finally I went to a black magic tour in the afternoon to learn about some of the old school methods of the Tanna community. They used to use a lot of black magic and I went into a rainforest area not knowing what to expect. A local lady came out and started explaining to me that when the first explorers came to Tanna they were actually attacked and eaten by cannibals which was an interesting start. Soon after, some local men from the tribe jumped out of the bushes and startled pretending to attack me with spears. Safe to say I shit myself. This then happened 2 or 3 more times along the route including some of the local kids. I was then explained how they used the magic of their plants to create stretchers, decide if people in the tribe could marry or not and also for what sounded like quite brutal circumcisions with part of a bamboo stick. The final part of the tour then saw them make me the chief of their tribe for 5 minutes. The genuine chief of the tribe helped dress me in the local attire and then made me hold a staff and jump singing through the village. I obviously felt ridiculous but thankfully I was on my own and there was no footage of this for anyone to see :-) It was a great experience and something I will remember fondly from my time in Tanna.

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My final location in Vanuatu was to visit the largest island in the country, Espírito Santo. I stayed in the Deco Stop Lodge in Luganville which is very close to the airport. Again, I was the only person staying in the hotel apart from a friend of the owners who was an Aussie lady called Cath. The owners Ben and Kim were extremely friendly and hospitable as well as their awesome local staff who looked after and fed me well during my stay. My main reason for coming to Santo was the scuba diving - they have two very famous sites here. The main site is the President Coolidge shipwreck just off the coast which starts at around 21m deep and goes all the way down to 74m. It was originally a cruise ship but then used by the US as a troop ship during the Second World War. It hit a mine on arriving into the coast and was unfortunately sunk along with all the army and navy supplies meaning it is an unbelievable diving experience. I booked to do my Advanced PADI diving course with Allan Power Diving- as I only have my OpenWater so far, I needed to do the Advanced to be able to go as deep as 30m and see the shipwreck properly. I had a great instructor called Lionel who instantly made me feel much safer than my Tanna experience.

I had 5 dives as part of my course - 4 on the Coolidge including my first night dive and 1 on the other site Million Dollar Point. Basically after WW2, the US had loads of aircrafts, tanks, jeeps and various supplies that they couldn’t transport back home or sell. So the only logical solution was to dump it all in the ocean just off the shore again which is where the site got its name from. Anyway I started on the Coolidge- one thing I noticed when getting kitted up is that Santo has more mosquitoes than anywhere I’ve been in the world. I probably got about 20 bites on my feet or ankles each time I put my wetsuit on. The dives themselves were spectacular and got better and better. Going down to 30m deep was pretty crazy for me too- we saw the rifles that the army used, the medical supplies and various vaccines, loads of jeeps and swam across the deck of the ship. There were also various marine life too. It was incredible.

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The night dive was my fourth dive and the one experience that will really stick with me. Lionel and I headed to the dive spot around 6.15pm and started our descent with torches down to 30m deep. We swam a bit to get inside the ship and saw some of the jeeps in darker shores again. Then Lionel instructed me to turn my torch off. We were floating 30m under water in a huge shipwreck in complete darkness and suddenly a huge amount of flash fish started lighting up around us swimming around our heads. It was an absolutely surreal experience and one of the craziest feelings I’ve ever had- I was certainly thinking what the hell I was doing down there but it was a unique beautiful experience and I felt a long way away from the corona chaos that had started being broadcast all over the world. On the way up, we then saw lots of different fish such as lion fish, swordfish and Lionel showed me a starfish which he aptly named the ‘dick starfish’. You can do your own imagination on what this looked like but genuinely had me laughing out loud under water. I had my 5th and final dive at Million Dollar Point in the morning where I learnt how to do further navigation under water and saw some tanks and ships too. Thankfully all went to plan and I passed the Advanced course.

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I didn’t do a huge amount more in Santo- to be honest I was starting to get a bit down about being on my own for so long outside of the activities and reading the daily news about how crazy corona was becoming back home in the UK and across Australia and New Zealand which would inevitably impact me soon. Cath offered to drive me around Santo for an hour or so as we checked out the views of the beaches and golf course. I know there was more to see in Santo like the millennium caves and some stunning beaches but I was starting to get concerned about becoming ill prior to flying and the impact this may have on me getting into a first world country. I’d also received the news that my Dad had become much sicker and was no longer able to be cared for by my mum at home meaning he would have to enter permanent care. It’s difficult to explain the mix of emotions when you are so far from home- on one hand you are having the most incredible experience diving and the next you feel extremely alone and down missing family and friends while the world seems to end with the ongoing pandemic. I always try my best to stay positive and chat to as many friends as I can though.

One of the staff members at Deco Lodge had seen me looking a bit bored so called her American boyfriend to come and take me out to the local kava bars. It was an interesting evening where I drank the drink properly. To be honest, kava looks and tastes like watered mud and it basically relaxes you after a couple of bowls. It is pretty unhygienic as they use the same bowls and just rinse it in some water and I assumed this was the most likely spot I would catch corona in Vanuatu if anywhere- thankfully it hadn’t officially arrived during my time there. They love kava over here and you can see all the bars by the bright green or blue lights outside random shacks or shops.

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So the next day I flew back to Port Vila for a couple of nights. This flight was the craziest yet as they ran out of planes and the weather was absolutely crazy heavy rain. They seemed to roll an even smaller plane out of a garage that carried just 8 people including the pilot and had one of us sat directly next to her in the front seat. It was a crazy experience and I was terrified throughout but one I will look back at and smile when thinking of my Vanuatu experience. In my final day or so in Port Vila I went to Hideaway Island to do some snorkelling and see the only underwater post office in the world. I also did a final dive at Dive- Hideaway Island Resort which was amazing as we saw scorpion fish and a group of baby sharks. This was my first shark diving experience to date.

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Ok so I’m going to finalise this blog and my Vanuatu experience by going into the crazy short-term affects corona had on my trip and one of the most stressful experiences of my life. I had originally booked to go to Nadi and spend 7 nights in Fiji to do some more diving. My plans changed almost hourly as updates came throughout the governments of the world. I was regularly checking New Zealand, Australia, Vanuatu, Fiji and UK government updates and was fairly horrified to see corona getting worse each day. To be safe I decided to cancel my plans to Fiji and booked the first flight out of Port Vila to Brisbane which was on the Saturday where my amazing friend Jenna had said I could self-isolate in her spare room. Things changed dramatically as within hours I was informed New Zealand had decided to shut their international boarders at midnight that day and Australia then did the same confirming from 9pm the next day that no international travellers could enter or transit through their country. Thanks to Mandy and Dom for updating me on the spot allowing me to act fast and sort the situation.

At this time, there were zero flights out of Port Vila to Australia in this timeframe and I was starting to think the worst as I would have been stranded in Port Vila alone for some time. Although corona has not been identified in Vanuatu, I knew it was important to get out of a third world country and needed to see some friends again after basically being isolated for almost 2 weeks, albeit in paradise. The lady in the Travellers Budget Lodge where I stayed in Port Vila did alls he could to help me and found a new flight at 01.55am on her phone. This was not coming up on my devices and so I was concerned it would be a scam. I decided to pack my bags and go straight to the airport where I learnt it was in fact a real flight. My friend in New Zealand Dom was on hand to book this for me using my card details as he had a much better signal. Thankfully it went through and I was able to arrive in Australia just hours before the boarder shut and ten hours after the government announcement which was pretty incredible. From here on I will be self-isolating in Brisbane for 14 days watching the news and working out what to do next on my travels as I ponder whether it is time to come home and delay the travels until the world I normal again. However, Vanuatu has been an incredible journey with the diving and volcano trip being things I will remember for the rest of my life. A place with beautiful people, views and history and somewhere I highly recommend people to visit in the future!

Posted by Esuich 19:04 Archived in Vanuatu Comments (1)

Straying around New Zealand

7 weeks travelling the most beautiful country in the world!

I actually travelled to New Zealand 2 years ago to spend two weeks travelling the South Island over Xmas and New Year. I fell so in love with this country that I’ve always wanted to return and explore the whole country properly, potentially even work here in the future, and so I was really looking forward to returning with more time.

Now when writing these blogs it has become quite apparent to me that most people don’t care about the amazing things I’m doing or beautiful places I’m seeing... the interest is more in moments of misfortune, injury or general stupidity. So I know what to focus on for this blog which covers my 7 weeks travelling across this stunning country.

The first decision to make was how I would get around the country. New Zealand’s transport infrastructure is actually not great and the only options are to rent a camper van or book one of the Hop on - Hop off buses. Considering I’m travelling solo I thought the latter would be the best option as it’s easier to meet people and I also wouldn’t have to worry about being hungover or ill and having to drive. Kiwi Experience is the most known brand here but the feedback seemed to be that everyone on this was aged 18-21 and they pretty much got shitfaced every day which I thought I should avoid over a 7 week period.

So I opted for a company called Stray Travel which was supposedly a slightly older crowd and more ‘off the beaten track’ spots for hiking etc. I also could have bought into this company from the extremely attractive sales lady I met in their offices in Auckland whom it seemed to be quite easy to agree with. So my journey started with 3 weeks in the North island going up to the Bay of Islands to have a few days in Paihia and then Cape Reinga. It was actually my birthday this weekend too - I celebrated by getting pretty smashed in the Base hostel bar pretty much with 18-21 year olds from Kiwi Experience and continually shouting at the Mancunian DJ to play Oasis... which he declined. Bellend.

First bit of misfortune was actually in Cape Reinga. It’s a beautiful spot up there and there are some fairly large sand dunes very close. We stopped there to sandboard. Basically on my second go (after gaining the confidence of a good first attempt) I was too light meaning when I hit the ground I kept going much further than everybody else resulting in me smashing into a bush and flipping 180 degrees round onto my back. This was fairly embarrassing but to make things worse, of course I was actually allergic to the plant meaning I had some rash all over my arm and leg all the way back to Paihia alongside the cuts from the crash! Thankfully I had a birthday lunch of kings with an epic fish and chips at a small village called Mangonui.

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We left Paihia the next day and I had taken the decision to get off at a stop called Whangarei on my own for two nights- I had read this was the spot to go and see the Poor Knights Islands which are supposedly the best diving spot in New Zealand. They did not disappoint and 2 dives there were truly epic seeing some crazy fish, crustaceans and eels. There were so many fish that I couldn’t see the instructor at some points. Anyway, second bit of misfortune was on the Stray Travel pick up after these two days. As I was waiting at my pick up location I saw the Stray bus coming down the road so went to collect my bag.. only to then turn around and see the driver keep going straight past me. I instantly called them and got through to their support desk within 5 minutes but was informed it was now impossible for the driver to turn around as it would elapse his maximum driving per day. I mean - what the fuck!?

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As everybody knows me well I’m good at staying calm and not getting angry in these situations so of course I took this information really well. It got better when they then put me in the cheapest hotel ever directly above a bar open until 2am where Maori’s were celebrating Waitangi Day with karaoke below me until close. The last 2 hours were particularly great where they were given whistles to accompany their singing!

Anyway after a long 24 hours and 2 unexpected public buses the next day I went to a new place called Hahei and met up with my new Stray group. I instantly connected to an English lad called Ethan who was a fellow Arsenal fan and his Belgian friend called Joaquim. There was also another cool English guy called Matt, a Swiss guy called Andre and some girls called Zara, Sophie, Miriam and Beth who were all really nice so it was great to be in a good group. One guy I was slightly unsure about was an elder Israeli bloke called Josef. He seemed to be travelling for 5 weeks alone leaving his wife and children back home. I was particularly unsure about him when he woke the whole room up at 5am the next day by turning the lights on and shouting ‘wakey wakey’ while some people got up to do some kayaking. He did this directly in my ear line as I tried to sleep too... I really appreciated it!

There’s actually so much to mention on this part of the trip that this blog could end up being stupidly long so I’ll try and summarise. I met a beautiful German girl who asked me to go swimming in the sea with her... I declined as I wanted to drink my beer which apparently was a stupid decision according to the guys. She didn’t speak to me again.

Hahei is beautiful and Joaquim, Ethan and I ended up bonding by doing a hike to Catheral Cove together- basically a stunning beach that was used to film the Narnia films. It was roasting hot but Joaquim insisted on wearing a black jumper, black hat and black trousers the whole way. This became fairly consistent on the trip and ended up with him being labelled the Terminator as he looked like he was about to murder someone due to this daily attire. After 4 to 5 days of the same attire he also got labelled ‘sugar water’ after the alien from Men in Black. (Anyone back home ask Warren Mansfield for a superb impression).

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We also went to Rotorua where I did some black water rafting, saw glow worms in the caves and went with Zara and Miriam to Hobbiton to see the LOTR set... queue lots of abuse to me on Instagram! That evening Ethan, Joaquim and I also went to a Maori village for a local experience which was class. Just before we went Joaquim had told us that he would never do the Haka as it is ‘for gays’. Well upon arrival Ethan was nominated to be the chief of our tribe which we initially found hilarious until we realised he then chose who did what. So within 15 minutes of arriving Joaquim and I were performing the Haka. When I sent this video to one of my friends, he commented that it was ‘the most pathetic Haka he had ever seen’ so I think it’s safe to say I smashed it. This evening was one of my favourite where our whole group stayed in the hostel drinking wine and chatting together. Zara and I were the last two standing - strong stamina although not appreciated early the next morning when I had to leave and she stayed!

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We went on with Stray through Lake Aniwhenua, Lake Taupo and a really remote farming area called Blue Duck Station. Ethan and I played table tennis against each other here for 4 hours which resulted in me injuring my knee and having to ice it the entire next day. I also got stung by a bee here which bloody hurt- even though everyone insisted they definitely don’t sting!

From here we went on to one of the real major highlights which was the hiking of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, the place where they recorded Frodo climbing to Mount Doom to destroy the ring in the film. It was actually a stunning hike and Ethan and I ended up completing it in around 4 hours 50minutes... a solid hour or so quicker than Andre who as a proud Swiss was meant to be good at climbing mountains. As I told him repeatedly afterwards, 3rd place is still fine!

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After a night’s stay in Raetihi we moved onto Wellington for a day in the capital city. The main highlight here was a hugely boozy night out with a group of Dutch and Danish girls that had joined our bus. One of the Dutch girls and I had a fairly epic dance off resulting in us arguing who had the strongest hips and basically smashing them against each other all night. The night ended at 4.30am and we were up at 6am for a ferry over to the South Island. I could barely walk and genuinely thought I had broken my hip at one point so I think this means that Amber probably won this argument!

Due to the Stray buses being quite infrequent and continually booked up ahead of time, Joaquim and I had to get off in Nelson for two nights and say goodbye to the rest of the group. Here we had some good bonding time and did a trip out to the vineyards to drink some wine. Being French Belgian he thought he knew all about this but classically just ended up being battered after 5 taster glasses instead. He also explained to me that I was ‘a great guy... but sometimes... too much’. Welcome to my friend’s world!

We went on to Abel Tasman together and booked up to do some canyoning which was actually class and one of the best things I did. Highlights to mention here- we did a 10m or 12m cliff jump which Joaquim was too much of a pussy to go first for so I had to step forward instead! Also, because I’m an idiot I tried to go down the first zipwire holding the wrong bit of wire resulting in me burning all the grip on the inside of my fingers which I am still scarred by now 4 weeks later! Abel Tasman is a stunning spot and really wish we had more time there.

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Next parts of the route were Franz Josef to see the glacier, Wanaka (another epic hike of Roy’s Peak for sunset with a new couple of friends called Spike and Shaun) and then onto Queenstown for 3 nights. I did do a hike with Andre and Alex from Denmark but Queenstown was a return to the sesh nights so not many memories there really. Matt and I were now mainly together as Joaquim was looking for a job here and was going to stay. We also went on to Milford Sound, Te Anau and Stewart Island where I finally saw a kiwi in the wild. Pretty big birds actually!

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Coming back up the country and I met some cool new people, particularly a Swedish girl called Alexandra and a German girl called Jenny. We hiked up to the views of Mount Cook together and jumped in the glacial lake together which was really fucking cold!! Moving on to Lake Tekapo we then went on to Peel Forest where we did some amazing white water rafting. I then went up to Christchurch where I got to spend time with some of my family- my Uncle Dave and Auntie Shelly emigrated here 23 years ago so it was great to see them and also my cousins Bec and Sarah along the way as well as their partners Kyle and Caine. Dave is always entertaining so I could write a blog about him and some of his comments alone. Their house is beautiful but continually chaotic with the 4 dogs and 2 parrots going mental almost every 30minutes once Pete the parrot squawked to wind the dogs up.

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Ok I appreciate this blog is really bloody long now but it has been 7 weeks of travel where I’ve done something pretty much every day. Final place to reference on the Stray trip was a seaside town called Kaikoura where I probably had the most entertaining evening. Our new ledge bus driver Squiddy has mentioned there was an opportunity to go fishing with some local kiwi fisherman and then come back and cook anything we caught with them. A pretty epic evening then took place. Having all done pretty well on the boats we had caught around 6 crayfish and lots of blue cod. We also saw seals, dolphins, penguins and albatross at sea which was pretty awesome.

Back to Gerry the fisherman’s house to cook up the food where chaos erupted. The guys ploughed us with unlimited white wine which resulted in a French girl in our group getting battered and deciding to hose pipe one of the fisherman who was showing us how to cook the crayfish which did not go down well. Then enter the main event... John the mental fiddler. A guy who must have been about 85 and was certainty senile came out to play us all his violin for the rest of the evening while he got battered on white wine. After a period of time he insisted he had to play topless and then started trying it on with the french girl and Alex the Swede telling them ‘it still worked’. I liked John- he was a character!

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So we prepared and ate the crayfish which were bloody epic. The blue cod was prepared and we took them to the chippy who kindly cooked them for us. En route, Alex had also got battered and ended up walking off the end of a skating park and smashing herself into a bush. There was also an extremely odd Welsh guy called Peter who looked like the dad out of the Thornberry’s who thought a good way to help her would be by pulling her out by her neck. He got weirdly close to the fisherman’s dog at one point too. Shortly after Alex heavily vomited outside, we had a few more beers with the guys in the local pub and the night was up. Back up to Auckland to spend a few days with Dom and Laura again and then on to the Pacific Islands starting with Vanuatu. Blog out!!!

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Posted by Esuich 22:23 Archived in New Zealand Comments (2)

With a little help from my friends...

Singapore, Auckland, Melbourne and Sydney

So I thought I needed to write another brief blog just to ensure everyone is aware I’m still alive. Following the chaos of the Philippines it was really nice to go to some first world countries again where you can get through an airport in a normal amount of time without having to coordinate with at least 25 members of staff who seem to do the same job. The next stops for me were all designed to see close friends who I could catch up with, stay with or generally chill out with before carnage of solo travel resumed.

My first stop was Singapore where I had friends to visit from a combination of uni, work and school which was pretty awesome. I had 4 days in Singapore from Friday evening until Tuesday so it was great to spend quality time with the guys over a weekend and live more of a local life rather than be a solo tourist mid-week like the last time I was here. For anyone who hasn’t been, Singapore is a bloody impressive place. Effectively a westernised man-made port for ex-pats to live and work outside of the true carnage of Asia. This means you get good jobs / pay, low tax, great weather, easy access to all the best spots of Asia and a bloody good lifestyle in a really safe place. The more time I spent here, the more I thought I could live here.

I was staying with my uni friend Hermione and her boyfriend Ranil who had kindly agreed to let me stay while over there. I’m going to have repeated comments of gratitude throughout this blog as I have been overwhelmed by the kindness and hospitality that my friends have given me during this part of my trip- starting with Herm and Ranil who were complete legends throughout. During the time we spent together we had some beers with friends in a pub, had a Sunday roast and went to the cinema to watch 1917 so it was a true local cultural experience haha. I also got to catch up with my old school friend Danny and his wife Gemma who had only moved here with new jobs around six months ago. We had a fairly boozy Friday night upon arrival and then went to the hawkers Singapore are renowned for to eat street food. Gemma made me order some smoking gin cocktails upon arrival and some crazy Asian lady was trying to get me to dance straight away as we walked into a bar so it set the tone for a solid night.

The rest of my time here was fairly chilled which is what I needed after the Philippines. I got to catch up with my work colleagues Jon and Cristina and meet their 2 week old beautiful baby boy Theo as well as Cristi’s legendary Mum Flora who is lovely. Upon arrival at their flat I opened the door to see a Filipino lady holding a baby and as I was apologising profusely to her for entering the wrong house, thankfully Jon walked round the corner to greet me. The guys are lucky that nanny’s are part of the culture in Singapore so they can have some additional help. Anyone who knows Jon Nutt would know that he has taken his time to have children so it blew my mind a little bit seeing him holding this little boy. Always the salesman, he has decided that every time Theo cried it was him calling for his mother saying he is in ‘that phase’ of his life when he just needs Cristi. I’m personally not sure if this is just his ploy to avoid any awkward or difficult baby moments... Anyway it was amazing to see them all and meet Theo and I know they will be the best parents. I felt quite honoured to meet him at only 2 weeks old! Finally, I spent my Monday wandering the city through Marina Bay Sands and the Gardens at the Bay which are as impressive at they look. I got to meet my old workmate Kingy for lunch too which was awesome as we reminisced on old Allegis days and regular Monday Mahiki sesh back in the day. Great to hear he’s doing so well and has come past those crazy London days!

On from Singapore and my next stop was Auckland via a 5 hour wait in Sydney airport. Potentially the most attention any of my Instagram posts have had so far was when I arrived in Auckland and alerted the world that unfortunately my bag had not arrived with me. It’s nice to see that even on the other side of the world my friends still take great pleasure in my misfortune.... I can’t think what I’ve done to deserve it as I rarely brag about this trip or send pictures directly to people etc. Possibly the happiest message I had was from my old boss Brett Hossack who had to share his glee directly to me. Genuinely amazed someone as old as him can actually use Instagram so fair play! My bag eventually did come back 48hours later after about the 9th day in a row wearing the same pair of shorts.

In Auckland I was fortunate to be staying with my old uni housemate Dom and his Irish girlfriend Laura. Even after 5 years here her Irish accent hasn’t quite gone yet as neither of us can understand a word she says- Dom also took great joy in asking her age on numerous times so she repeated 33 in her accent back to us. Again- absolute legends who I’m so grateful to have in my life. So generous and kind and made lots of effort over the weekend to take me to stunning hikes and beaches. We went to places called Orewa, Shakespear Regional Park, Devonport and Cheltenham Beach. I bloody love New Zealand and Auckland is a cool city. A lot of people say it is quite quiet but I like that a lot after 9 years in London. I had to enter New Zealand before 17th January 2020 to activate my working visa but had decided to go to Melbourne and Sydney for 10 days so I could see the Aussie Open tennis while it was on and catch up with multiple friends over there.

So 6 days in Melbourne and it was fairly crazy as the sesh days returned. Over the course of the time there I spent time with my Kiwi cousin Tom and his friends Pete, Jonny, Laura and Grace. I also met friends Yas and Ray from Egypt, my old work colleague Greg, 2 friends Stef and Ben from travelling in Peru, my old uni friends Conor and housemate Ventrella and UK friends Lobbo, Rosie and James. It was bloody busy and in standard UK culture the classic thing to do when catching up was to ‘go for a swifty’. Hard to summarise this part of the trip. Melbourne was an awesome place- great bars, coffee and I stayed in St Kilda which has a cool beach and street art too. Highlights included a crazy hostel Monday night doing some drunk bingo game with various rules that I couldn’t get my head around but met some new cool people from a range of places including Brazil, Scotland and the US. Ventrella and I went to a Big Bash cricket game in the Marvel Stadium. I went to the tennis twice which was bloody awesome- the first time we saw Djokovic, Kvitova, Ash Barty and Dan Evans play as well as seeing Serena Williams and Dominic Thiem warm up on the outside courts. The second time with my cousin we watched Gael Monfils match. Seriously impressive set up- great food and lots of awesome music. Highly recommend to anyone thinking about going.

There were many tales in Melbourne- possibly the one I need to address is when Lobbo, Conor, Dan and I had a fairly aggressively boozy night out in St Kilda. Whilst watching a beautiful sunset, Dan told Lobbo and I to share a quick kiss taking the piss out of the romantic view. I didn’t realise he had my phone unlocked and instantly posted it on my Instagram. Numerous congratulatory posts about me coming out came via IG and directly to me so I’m glad it amused so many people. I think this got more likes than most of my other travels photos so far. It also led to some genuine queries from people I’ve met along this trip if I was actually bi or not!

Sydney was my final stop of this friend visiting tour. I only had 4 days here and it was really to visit my close UK friends Charlee and her bf Luke and also Louis and Lucy. Upon arrival after 6 days of sesh in Melbourne, I was delighted to learn it was Australia Day meaning I met the guys straight at Freshwater Beach near Manly to get on the beers with them. It was awesome to meet Luke and their friends and see their set up here. We also had a brief night out in Manly which included sinking the worst tequilas I’ve ever had in a German bar and dancing to some music in a bar that reminded me of uni as the songs were about 15 years old. Nothing wrong with bonkers by Dizzle Rascal though. Charlee and Luke went well out of their way to make me feel welcome and took me on some epic hikes around Manly way- stunning beaches, morning swims/snorkels and lots of bbq’s. Aussie life isn’t so bad. I also had a day in the city seeing the Sydney Opera House and Habour Bridge which are both really impressive.

The final part of Sydney involved me travelling over to Bondi to see Louis and Lucy. During the day I did the Bondi to Coogee walk which was just ridiculous views of stunning beaches and cliffs for about 3 hours in 28 degree heat. Sometimes travelling is a bloody hard life. I initially went into the sea at Bondi Beach for a swim and turned to come out only to get hit by two waves in a row that both took me down and nearly took my swim shorts off so it was a strong start. A lot of the beach were laughing at me for being so pathetic but I’m convinced it was basically a tidal wave to take me down. When the guys were back from work they took me around Bondi for some catch up wine and beers and an awesome steak dinner. Highlight for me was when Louis knocked a whole glass of red wine over his crotch! Finally, I got to see my friend Mandy for a veggie lunch on Thursday In Bondi just before I left. Mandy and I had met in Boracay so first time we had seen each other since New Year’s Eve where we both had loads to catch up on. Another ledge contact I will follow up with next time I’m in Sydney. Awesome to see everyone and also to drink some actual nice beer and pale ales again after the piss they drink in Asia :-)

For now it is back to Auckland to do 6 weeks of solo travelling around the whole of New Zealand. So without the support and guidance of my friends expect there to be more carnage and situations of things going wrong for me again :-) Final note- I just had to run to the gate and nearly missed my flight again as I didn’t notice it was the final call while I was writing this. Strong!

Posted by Esuich 21:55 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

The Philippines

New Years solo travelling the Philippines

Leaving Egypt after a good 9-10 days or so of meeting new people, seeing amazing historical sites and being fairly detoxed in a country that doesn’t seem to serve alcohol was a nice experience. As I told many friends in the UK when I left my job and the country, I intended to chill out a lot more and try and drink less while away. 2019 was labelled the ‘year of the sesh’ as work became more hectic in the sociable Holborn office and I had numerous selfish friends who decided to get married resulting in multiple stag dos and weddings.... special thanks to Jonny Bradford for the Thailand experience and introducing me to the real Remy Hart. So onto this trip and I’ve confirmed 2020 will be the ‘year of culture’ instead. Onto the Philippines....

So in short, the Philippines became the best place to end my 2019 year and possibly the worst to start my intended chilled out 2020. Having said that it was simply an incredible place, stunningly beautiful and where I met some bloody amazing people. However, it got off to the worst possible start. I was a bit anxious about arriving in the Philippines as this was the first part of my trip that I was truly solo, not part of an organised group or meeting friends. I arrived in Manila after a long flight via Dubai and had a 5 hour airport hotel sleep before the morning trip to Boracay where I intended to stay for New Years Eve. I’d had a few notes about a typhoon in the Philippines and friends who were concerned about me- after about 2 minutes of research it looked like it hit somewhere called Cebu and had gone through Boracay already so naturally I assumed it would be fine.

The Manila domestic airport experience was my first exposure to Filipino customer service and organisation... basically non-existent and always in complete disarray everywhere you go! Having arrived 2 hours early and put in a queue to check in my bag, I soon realised the queue barely moved and in fact they waited until about 45 minutes before the plane left and then created 2 emergency check in lanes before ushering everybody onto the plane immediately after you had checked your bag in. I also had a ferry experience to Boracay island when landing in Caticlan airport which took about 3 hours despite the ferry journey itself being 10minutes.

So I arrived via tricycle to my hostel- the A Hostel. I was a bit wary as it only had 2 reviews on TripAdvisor but again was sure it would be fine. I was very wrong. As I arrived, I went to reception to see a note on the door apologising because the hostel was actually shut due to damages from the typhoon. It also turned out the entire island had no network at all, no WiFi, no ATM’s, everything was completely taken out. So when you’re on your own with your backpack at 3pm in a new place, know nobody, have nowhere to stay and have no network it is quite concerning. Luckily, some absolute legends had left a note for their friend Tad who was meant to meet them at this hostel (must have been the night before) explaining they had gone to another hostel called Frendz instead and there was a beer waiting for them. If there was 5 of them there I assumed there may be space and got a tricycle across to find out they had space for the next 3 nights (not NYE night though). I took up this option and then was told some guys in the corner had been in the same predicament from the A Hostel. I went over to chat to them and it turned out these legends were the ones that wrote the note... Faye Rawlinson you total legend for writing this and officially my favourite person from Kendal!! (Aron Jackson moves to second place).

It turned out the five guys in the note, Faye, Tad, Courtney, Jake and Rambo had all met travelling in El Nido and come to Boracay afterwards with a bigger group. They seemed really cool and I was forever grateful for the note so joined up with them the rest of the trip. I met the rest of their group later in the night where we went out to the Mad Monkey hostel and eventually onto Epic bar on the beach. Outside of meeting lots of really cool people I don’t remember a huge amount of this night but was reminded my by German roommate that when I got in I looked in a ‘bad way’ and when he asked me if I was ok I effectively ignored him, got naked and went to pass out in my bed...

The next day and a new English guy joined my room called Ant. Sound lad and from Brighton, we seemed to get on well and spent the day together checking out White Beach with two girls I’d met the night before. Proper chilled day on the beach and we found an unreal quiet bar round from some rocks we climbed for sunset. I actually came back here the next 2 nights too - the sunsets in the Philippines are actually ridiculous. So beautiful and I couldn’t get enough of them. Anyway we met up with the group from the night before back in the hostel and had all agreed we would have a chilled out night as so close to NYE. There was a free pasta night in the hostel which naturally all travellers were all over. What we didn’t realise is this turned into some crazy karaoke night with some Filipino singer giving us his rendition of some song called ‘see you in the Philippines’ which I still have in my head. Everybody in the whole bar was dancing on the tables the whole time and it all went a bit nuts before we all went out to another bar on the beach. Over the course of this night I met another load of absolute legends- so many people it is hard to mention everyone but I wanted to give a special mention to Rosie, Katy, Kayleigh, Mandy, Zoe and again my boys Tad, Rambo and Jake. I remember dancing with you all on those tables at some point! Ant and I also bonded in our shared room at the end of the night. The next day we went on a boat ride and did some cliff jumping and snorkelling in some pretty unreal surroundings. Night 3 for me everyone took off except Tad and an extremely drunk Danish guy who’s surname was Hulk. Tad and I went out with him playing my little brother as we failed with anybody we chatted to across the bar! Got a lot of time for this guy though - definitely same wavelength and humour and hope we cross paths again.

Day 4 - New Years Eve. Spent the day on another beach with Rambo, Kayleigh, Mandy and a new girl who seemed cool from Canada called Leah. Eventually went back to White Beach. Sunset at same bar- insane again. Then 2 guys from the previous El Nido group had joined who unsurprisingly were also legends called Rob and Astrella, also from the UK! We had some pre drinks in the hostel playing various drinking games, mainly a number game that seemed to mess everyone up and then onto the beach bar. I don’t really remember a huge amount of this night but just constant laughter, dancing and fun with this group of total bloody legends! Katy and Rosie were ripping me all night for being thick enough to book a New Years Day flight which nobody was convinced I would make. After 1 hours sleep (eventful night) I somehow made it - Rosie, Katy and the guys even FaceTimed me stunned I was in the airport ready to laugh at me for missing the flight. Those Allegis days of having to be in on time the next day having some positive impact on me in life! It was bittersweet to leave them but I know we will cross paths again.

Anyway- New Years Day was hell. Flight to Cebu, ferry to Bohol, taxi to Panglao and about 10 hours of travelling on 1 hours sleep. I then arrived to realise I had booked a hotel on Jordanian currency and not the Filipino I thought it was meaning I was paying about 7 times more than I expected. I came to Panglao to do my PADI Openwater diving course with Bohol Divers. Had a ledge Aussie instructor called Troy who taught me 1 on 1 for the next 3 days including 4 dives in the ocean. All went well and I seemed to get it fairly easily without drowning- the biggest challenge was a 20 lap fitness challenge where I came close to drowning. Troy apologised saying he didn’t realise that would be so tough for me. All passed, moved to a hostel on fourth night and then had a chilled out night with an American girl in my room who seemed cool called Abbie. Onto El Nido the next day.

Wary I’m essaying again here so El Nido in a nutshell. Another boat ride to absolute paradise. I arrived to Outpost Hostel (bloody epic place), checked my bag in, went to the bar, met an Aussie girl called Tori within seconds who instantly invited me out with her group for dinner and on a boat trip the next day. Great group, mainly Aussie and some Austrians including one absolute giant at 6ft 8 or something who was made to get on the back of the tricycle into town even though he was the biggest by far. Also met a stunning Colombian girl and great group of Argentinians on the boat. Final day and had a new Aussie couple in my room (Leigh and Kalise) who turned out were obsessed by Oasis so that kept us occupied chatting for 2 hours or so. Also went out with Ant and his friends from home as they were there too.... one night I was hungry and sat on the curb with my food only to completely rip my shorts on them so I went home with my arse hanging out. The next night I got the same kebab and didn’t realise it was leaking garlic sauce all over me so effectively looked like I had got excited and done something all over my shorts. I’ve lasted with one pair of shorts past 6 days. Kept getting called Jake Gyllenhaal which is better than my usual Macauley lookalike too.

Final day in Manila.... definitely a hole of a city. If you go don’t spend any time here!! Went around a few historical sites, met some cool Huddersfield people in the bar in my hostel and had a spanking time with them on final night. Next route onto Singapore!!

Summary of Philippines- just a stunning place with so much to see and do I don’t feel like I scratched the surface. I will need to come back and do some more diving and see more of the island for sure. But what a place and it was totally made by the unreal groups I met across Boracay and El Nido for sure! More of the same in the next 11 months and I hope to see as many of you along the way as possible!!! Photos on my Facebook for anyone interested :-)

Posted by Esuich 02:47 Archived in Philippines Comments (1)

The beginning

Jordan and Egypt

Hey all. So I decided just posting the odd Instagram post wasn’t enough to irritate people back home - I decided to write a fairly infrequent blog as well so I can remember funny things that happen along the way and assure people that I’m both alive and injury free (so far so good). So my trip actually started at Gatwick airport where I was fortunate enough to meet Stef and Ben - two friends of mine I had met a year before in Peru who ironically had just visited London and the rest of Europe while I was going away. It was a helpful start to me as I was feeling a bit guilty and anxious for leaving my mum and dad whilst he is unwell who I had visited the weekend before leaving. Catching up with the guys (albeit for an hour) was great as it reminded me of the awesome people you can meet along the way. I gave them some tips for their travels and we agreed to sort something out whenever I find myself in Melbourne!

So an 8 hour flight including a 3 hour wait off at Malta finally got me to my first stop of Amman in Jordan. It seemingly isn’t the most obvious location to start a trip as many people (mainly at work) were concerned it’s the type of place I could drunkenly get myself in trouble. I’d organised the first part of this trip via Intrepid travel as a bit rushed and mainly just wanted to see Petra and the Pyramids and it meant I would be with a group too. The group was a bit of a mix- some similar aged and some older and a cross of Americans, Aussies, English, a Kiwi, an Ecuadorean and a 66 yo Korean lady. We all started off well and 5 of us went out in Amman led by an Aussie guy called Yas. Unfortunately we were learning the hard way that Jordan is bloody hard to find alcohol as we trekked through about 5 non-alcohol serving ones. Yas had found one that was the only LGBT friendly bar in the city and definitely served alcohol but we decided to avoid that one... thought that could be a dangerous way to start in this region with the civil rights issues they have here! Thankfully we found a rooftop bar and I sampled my first foreign ale... Carakale Blonde Ale which was surprisingly good considering it was brewed locally.

As the trip went on I was getting on well with Yas the Aussie and Ray, a comedian of a Kiwi who quickly labelled us the habibis. (Pretty sure this means friend or brother in Arabic but none of us or the locals seemed completely sure). Will the Ecuadorean, Robert ( a cool elder English guy from Yorkshire) and Erwin ( a doctor from Essex) quickly made up the group! Without discussing ridiculous amounts of what we got up to the route basically took us to a mountain where Moses supposedly died, a castle, we swam in the Dead Sea which was a crazy floating experience and ultimately we arrived in Petra by the nightfall. This was the first evening where there was a bit of a split in the group as Jai (the Korean lady) decided it was acceptable to go around eating everybody’s meal as they came out. She ate some of mine before I’d eaten anything but being British was too polite to say anything., Thankfully Yas made it clear he wasn’t happy about that and she then pretty much became a recluse to the group the rest of the trip- later in Egypt she even moved to a different hotel for 4 nights in Bohol to not have to stay with us which was pretty extreme behaviour. Anyway - on to Petra. Hard to do it justice as it was just spectacular and Robert, Ray, Yas, Matt and I ended up walking about 20km together across all the varying majestic views. The way they built the temples from the top of the rock down was truly unreal and a real sight to behold.

Anyway, after this unreal day where the 5 of us had also got on really well together, we made the first mistake of the trip. Yas, Matt and I decided we would treat ourselves and our weary legs by paying for a local Jordanian massage in the hotel. A quite bizarre experience- it turned out there was only one male masseuse and he was going to be massaging all 3 of us in a row rotating us between a steam room. With me being third up, I arrived to the table to see Yas naked having a shower... seemed a bit odd. Perhaps the most bizarre part was that the Jordanian masseuse had actually changed and was now also topless which I did start to question. Now I can’t go into too much detail here as Matt, Yas and I have sworn as blood brothers to never fully reveal what happened in that room. But safe to say it was a massage like I’ve never had before and unsure if I’ll ever be the same man. The relief in the steam room of hearing that the lads had shared the same experience was reassuring. But yeh- avoid massages in Jordan unless you want an unwelcome and unexpected technique that may have you feeling slightly violated afterwards haha. Oh final thing- after this experience we also went to a local Jordanian family’s house where they cooked us local food and their young son hosted us - basically an 8 year old Tony Soprano want-to-be who offered lots of entertainment.

The next day we drove on to Wadi Rum and spent the night in the desert. A first desert for me so a surreal experience and the sunset was well worth it. We also climbed various rocks and treks - Robert in particular was struggling after the exertions of the day around Petra effectively blaming us for bullying him up there but all in good jest. The night was bloody Baltic but an awesome experience and we started the next day getting a camel ride back across the desert to the entrance. Safe to say I rocked it on a camel until I tried to get a selfie after and he tried to bite my face. We ended the day at another city nearby called Aqaba where we could see Israel and Saudi Arabia across the sea. I watched an Arsenal game too- think it got called the most boring match of the season against Everton. Glad to be away from that shite for a while. We then had quite an experience on a late ferry which got us across the sea to Egypt - firstly the American lady was arguing with everyone as we were lacking one ticket. After a big argument and a few disagreements it turned out Jai had 2 all along.... bloody typical but very funny! Then when we arrived at 3am Ray managed to get himself locked in the ferry with the local Jordanians as we were leaving. Thankfully he got out (he was completely calm about this saying he was just making some more habibi’s). We arrived at Nuweiba and after a freezing night in some beach huts we went on to Dahab for three nights. The real highlight here was that Erwin, William, Yas and I decided to do our first every diving experience in the Red Sea at a spot called the lighthouse. I was always apprehensive about this but absolutely loved it and lasted 39minutes underwater without any breaks and went to 12m low which was apparently lower than I should have been. Absolutely decided that I need to do more diving on this trip and would try and get my PADI Openwater done in the Phillipines. We also did some snorkelling in the Blue Hole the next day which was also fairly class.

Right- final part of this trip saw us get a bus journey to Cairo. We then had the Egyptian national dish of Kushari as a group- basically a mix of multiple pastas, lentils, chickpeas and topped with chilli, tomato sauce and garlic. Looked pretty horrendous but actually tasted alright. We had a weird situation in the restaurant where a local Muslim lady came over and asked for my number. It was more surprising by the fact that it was pretty much the first woman we had seen on any of this trip. Obviously culturally very different and when I understood that they cannot even be touched by a man until they are married, I thought I’d pass up on this opportunity! She seemed nice though! :-) So this was the end of the Intrepid trip for Robert and I but we had agreed to do the Pyramids together on Xmas Day. Robert was actually a class guy- lots to talk about as fellow northerners and he has had a recent love of travelling so gave me lots of tips. We had a great day seeing the pyramids. It was crazy how close they were to Cairo city centre (which is a bit of a shithole really). We spent the day exploring and learning more about the 3 major pyramids of Giza, the Sphinx and we went inside the main pyramid to see the tomb too. We also went and saw Tutunkhamun at the main museum and all the major mummies. They resembled me after certain hangovers actually so quite relatable experience. Anyway I bid farewell to Robert and spent my final day alone in Cairo which was just carnage really. Roads don’t have traffic lights and they just go nuts to a ‘fill the cap’ policy. Final thing I did was watch another Arsenal game in a bar where the young lads running it took a shine to me for being English and kept putting Mo Salah songs on the radio. He insisted on adding me on Instagram and by the time I had got home he had already messaged asking how I knew one of my friend’s wives and if he could get an introduction. Becky Moran - life could have been different for you!! But at that point I decided to remove him as a contact.

Cool - so this is my first post. I’ll get better at keeping these much briefer but loads to put in some of these. Highlights of the trip were of course Petra and the Pyramids which were both spectacular. But in meeting guys like Yas, Ray and Robert I’m sure we will keep in touch and potentially see them later on the trip. Just need to forget that massage.... on to the Philippines for NYE next and first proper solo travelling alone in hostels :-)

Posted by Esuich 00:23 Archived in Jordan Comments (3)

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