Happy New Year… 6 Months Done Already!!!!

Happy New Year… 6 Months Done Already!!!! It is shocking to think that we left home about six months ago now. I never expected time to fly by so fast. A summary of 6 months in one paragraph… albeit a long one… We left home on July 5th and headed for Penticton, BC. We spent some time visiting with Nic’s mom Moire. Nic stayed a little longer with Moire while I headed to Ontario to visit my family. Nic then joined me in Ontario and visited with my family for almost a week. I surprised her with a helicopter ride over Niagara Falls. By the end of July we flew to Tanzania. We spent about a week in Zanzibar where the highlight was swimming with dolphins. I got a stomach bug eating at the night food market which stayed with me for more than a month. From Zanzibar, we flew to Kilimanjaro, where I climbed while Nicola toured around Arusha. I did not make it all the way to the summit, giving up at about 5200m before I started to worry about my health. After Kili, we went on safari to the Serengeti, Ngorogoro Crater and Lake Menyara. We saw amazing wildlife but the highlight for me had to be seeing lions. After 3 weeks in Tanzania we took a bus to Nairobi, Kenya. We spent about a week in Kenya. We went to Lake Nakuru where we saw the rhinos that had eluded us in Tanzania. Back in Nairobi we went to an elephant orphanage and a giraffe breeding centre. From Kenya we flew to Dubai where we stayed for a week. It was hot… too hot for me. Mostly we did indoor things like going to the biggest mall in the world. From Dubai we went to Morocco. We started in Casablanca and went to Fez. We then went to Chefchaouen, a Sahara desert safari, the Dades Gorge, Marrakech, and Essaouira. Highlights of Morocco include the old towns and souqs. We mailed a bunch of stuff that we bought in Morocco home to ourselves from Marrakech. From Morocco we flew to the UK where we stayed with Nic’s sister Jenny and family. We went to Birmingham for a day to visit my Aunt Fran. We also went to Brockenhurst for two days and one night where we saw wild horses and donkeys roaming the streets. Next we went to Madrid where we met up with Moire… and Jenny came too. Nic and Moi went to walk the Camino de Santiago for a week while I took spanish lessons for a week and stayed with Nicolas and family in Madrid. We flew from Madrid to Geneva where we reconnected with Minoo and Bernie and kids. From Geneva we flew to Rome where we started a 3 week Mediterranean cruise. We got to cities in Italy, Croatia, Montenegro, Turkey, Greece, Cyprus, and Israel. The highlight of the cruise was definitely Israel for us… as well as meeting several super nice people that we spent a lot of time on the ship with. The cruise ended in Athens and we spent a few days enjoying ancient Athens. We then flew to Istanbul where we spent a few days exploring the beauty in Istanbul. From Istanbul we flew into Kathmandu, Nepal. As we flew in the Himalayas were in full view and we took an amazing photo of Everest. We spent 8 days in and around Kathmandu awaiting an India Tourist Visa. They were having an election and there were no cars on the road and factories were shut down. The sky was clear but as soon as the election was over it got overcast with pollution again. Next we went to Chitwan National Park on the first of our great tiger hunts. We did not see any tigers but we did get to ride elephants and see rhinos in the wild. Next we went to Pokhara where we headed off on a five day trek to Poon Hill. Poon Hill is about 3200m in elevation. The views of the Annapurna range were spectacular. From Pokhara we went to Lumbini, the birth place of Buddha, and then into India. In India, our first stop was Varanassi and then Agra. We took sleeper trains to get to both places. The Taj Mahal is spectacular and the life and death around the Ganges in Varanassi definitely leaves an impression. We got a car and driver in Agra who took us around Rajasthan including Ranthambore National Park, Jaipur, Jodhpur, and finally Delhi. The highlight of that part of our journey was without a doubt our one and only tiger sighting. Tears came to Nicola’s eyes when we saw the majestic cat in plain sight in front of us. From Delhi we flew to Goa where we laid on the beach for about 11 days. We needed the rest and that was an amazing way to spend the holidays. Finally, we round out our first six months in Hampi. A world heritage site, today we rented a scooter and visited multiple temples in the area. That rounds up the past six months very briefly. My English teacher friends would tell me that I should break that into several paragraphs but I wanted it to be one long run-on paragraph. I considered one long run on sentence but that would have been hard to read… and harder to write I think. A long paragraph is a perfect way to summarize how I am feeling about the last six months. It has been a whirlwind and at times it is even hard to remember everything we have seen and done. Nevertheless, we still have a full seven months to go!!! Since my last blog, we have not done a lot. As I briefly stated above we spent a lot of time on Palolem Beach in Goa, India. We were tempted a couple of times to go site-seeing but resisted since we really needed the rest. Everyday we spent two or three hours laying in the sun on the beach. We had a cocktail or two each day. Oh, and I am not sure if I mentioned this earlier but I fell off the vegetarian wagon. Do they have a wagon for vegetarians? If they do, I was on it for five weeks and then decided that I wanted meat for Christmas holidays. Goa is an area that has many Christians and celebrates Christmas unlike anywhere else in India. The beaches are crowded mostly with British people but also with Russians and Germans. We first stayed in beach huts at a place called the Nest. We were only able to get the hut for 4 nights from December 23-27. It was okay but the mattress was extremely hard. The price was quite outrageous for a beach hut in India. Picture a hut with a mattress and attached bathroom. Not much more to it than that. Outside of the Christmas rush, one pays about 600 rupees for these huts. During the Christmas rush we paid 3000 rupees (about $50 or so). While we stayed at the Nest we wandered around looking for a place to stay after the 27th. We finally settled on a place called Big Fish. The mattress was much softer, the hot water was much better, and it had wifi. They had me with the mattress and wifi. In Ranthambore we had met an American couple briefly in our hotel, Heather and Nate. They were on their Christmas holidays. They live now in Turkmenistan. We ran into them again on the beach at Palolem. We ended up spending lots of time with them. I think our common bond was perhaps being the only North Americans in Goa at this time. We had dinner with them a couple of times. It was nice to share our experiences with each other and it is too bad that they had to leave before New Years Eve because we would have enjoyed celebrating that night with them. One of the highlights of Goa for us would definitely be the day we rented kayaks and paddled out into the Arabian Sea. We did not have to go very far before we saw dolphins. We must have seen at least 50 dolphins although I am sure some were the same ones. We felt very lucky that they were so playful that day. We rented the kayaks one other day but did not see one single dolphin. The sea was a lot rougher that day. Christmas Day was like any other day for us. We spent it on the beach. For dinner however we had a huge lobster. It was almost 2 lbs. It had no claws (the kind of lobsters here do not have claws) and there was meat (real meat, not the green stuff) all the way through the body. It was not cheap though. Goa is not really a cheap place in Indian standards. Alcohol is cheap but food not so much… unless you order the basic Indian foods that is. Each of the beach places along the beach becomes a restaurant on the beach in the evening. Our Christmas Dinner and other dinners were spent dining on the beach with waves crashing around us. On New Years Eve, we had our dinner at Big Fish. I had a red snapper and Nic had tandoori chicken. We wondered if we would make it until midnight. We made it until about 3am as it turns out. Too many rums and the next day we were a bit sluggish. We released two Chinese lanterns. We set one off about 11pm to say good-bye to a great 2013 and set another off shortly after midnight to make a wish for an excellent 2014. It was definitely fun. We ended up sitting and chatting with a group of Indian guys who had all come to Palolem for the fireworks on New Years Eve. The fireworks started at about 8pm and continued all night long. People bought their own and set them off and the beach resorts set off big displays as well. We enjoyed visiting with these guys who were 4 pharmacists and 1 marketer. Our waiter at Big Fish was also memorable. Firoj is from Calcutta but has spent the last six seasons in Goa working on the beach. He was incredibly attentive to our needs and was always there with a good joke or story. We are now Facebook friends. Last night we took a night bus from Chowdi to Hampi. A night bus is a new experience for me. It is a sleeper bus so it has beds lining both sides up and down. The train is much smoother though. The train has a more constant speed and the tracks are flat. The roads however are bumpy and the bus is continuously speeding up and slowing down. It seemed that every time I started to dose off we would hit a bump. On several occasions I was airborne as the bus went over the bumps. I think my ribs are bruised from landing on them 😉 While in Goa, we took the opportunity to plan out some things for the next part of our journey. We will tour around south India for the next couple of weeks. Then on January 17th we fly into Egypt. We are doing a two week guided tour. We wanted to go to Egypt all along but it was impossible lately. During the last few months, the tour groups have restarted tours in Egypt. They have modified them a bit. You fly a bit more to avoid certain areas and we are in 4 and 5 star hotels all the time. We will never be alone. We are very excited about getting to see Egypt and will be very safe… we promise. We also booked our flight on January 31st to Buenos Aires, Argentina. We are going to Antarctica… we hope. We are in contact with some travel agents in Ushuaia, Argentina looking for a deal. A deal is still expensive but we have our fingers crossed. Not the longest blog but we have been pretty quiet for the last couple of weeks. We are refreshed and ready for another six months of adventure. Oh, and do not forget that January 5th is Nicola’s birthday… send her a birthday wish! Happy New Year and Keep Following Our Adventures! 20140104-183614.jpgA beautiful Goan sunset 20140104-184102.jpgSunset view from our beach hut 20140104-184139.jpgThis little guy visited us regularly 20140104-184242.jpgThis girl (sorry about the fuzzy pic) was five years old… she bounced around on this rope while her dad played a drum… crazy 20140104-184254.jpgOn New Years Eve we set off two Chinese lanterns for good luck 20140104-184309.jpgOff goes our lantern… and good luck will be ours 20140104-184328.jpgThere were tonnes of fireworks on the beach all night long 20140104-184340.jpgOne of our new Indian friends we met on New Years Eve 20140104-184448.jpgNicola sports a new dress she bought from Sunita on the beach 20140104-184648.jpgThe Big Fish is where we stayed 20140104-184701.jpgThis is our beach hut 20140104-184718.jpgNic snapped a sneaky photo while I sun bathed 20140104-185820.jpgWishing you all a Merry Christmas from Goa 20140104-185856.jpgSunset beauty 20140104-185929.jpgCould not get enough sunset pics 20140104-185940.jpgIndian boys having some fun on the beach