Location: Auckland, New Zealand
Thanks to everyone who took interest in our blog, we are now back in New Zealand. After India, we spent a couple of weeks in Nepal and then finished with our last 7 weeks in Indonesia, surfing, relaxing and hanging out with friends and family.
This year has been an amazing roller coaster ride which has undoubtedly changed our perspective on things. We feel so blessed that we had the opportunity and means to be able to do something like this.
Love to you all
Philippa and Bobby
Arriving in Delhi, India was an attack on the senses. Spicy incense mixed with curry sweat and urine singed the nostrils, women in colourful sparkling saris, wandering cows, mangy dogs, and the incessant chorus of rickshaw horns. To combat the heat we resorted to 4 showers a day and lay like limp lettuce leaves under the lazy ceiling fan recovering from jet lag. Though this may sound like purgatory, we both felt an instant affection towards India, the people here struck us as very friendly and the food is amazing.
Before heading out of Delhi we checked out a few sights such as the Red Fort, where to our surprise, the locals were more interested in taking pictures posing with us than the fort itself. Bobby also attempted his first sideways head wobble (which depending on context can mean yes, no, maybe or hello), and received a glowing response of multiple head wobbles in return.....classic.
Our first stop out of Delhi was the cooler hill station town of Shimla. The most interesting thing here was the gangs of cheeky monkeys which roamed the streets causing havoc. When we checked out the hill top temple of Hanuman (Monkey God), we were issued with large sticks to keep the monkeys at bay.
From here we traveled further north to McLeod Ganj, home to the Dalai Lama and Tibetan Government in exile. The place was splashed with colourful prayer flags, good Buddhist vibes and was surrounded by pine forests and snow capped Himalayan peaks. It was a moving experience to visit the Tibet Museum, monastery complex and meet some refugees. We were unaware of the extent of the human rights attrocities (including UN acknowledged genocide) which are still taking place in Tibet today by the Chinese Government. Many western countries don't receive the full picture as the info is censored to avoid offending China.
We spent a couple of days hiking through rhododendron forests up to the snowline, overnighting in a small hut. On return we head had a rooftop yoga session to stretch out our sore muscles.
Again heading north we stopped in the small touristy village of Vashisht, near Manali. Here we celebrated Bobby's birthday, swimming in a waterfall, a spot of yoga and feasting on chicken straight out of the tandoor (one of our few non-veg meals of the trip).
Next we set our sights on the far north town of Leh, in Ladakh, Kashmir. The passage to get there is a supposedly 18 hour trip over several high altitude mountain passes including the 2nd highest motorable pass in the world. Our eventful trip commenced in a traffic jam on the first pass, caused by a broken down truck, forcing us to spend the night sleeping in the stationary van. Because of the initial delay, people were in a bit of a rush and taking risks.... we passed 3 freshly overturned trucks on the windy narrow roads. Our next event was that night when we arrived at a swollen ford, blocked again by 2 overloaded trucks stuck in the river bed. Our driver broke the news that we would be spending yet another night in the van. We were saved by a gutsy driver in a 4 wheel drive who navigated a path around the trucks, proving it could be done. We then spend the night in a communal tea house tent at around 5000m. The next morning started off with a bang when Philippa got in an argument with a fellow Israeli passenger who had the audacity to constantly litter out the window into the pristine mountain environment.... hopefully he'll think twice next time.
After our 40 hour epic, we arrived in the stunning high altitude plateau of Leh. Leh was formally part of Tibet, hence has a majority Buddhist community and is dotted with dramatic, ancient monasterys perched precariously atop rocky out crops. Prayer flags, stupas, giant prayer wheels and yaks are also common sights. Our rural guesthouse was a peaceful haven which was our base for the following week as we explored the region. For a couple of days we hired a motorbike and teaming up with a Bombay local also on a bike, shot around the valley taking a closer look at the Gompas. We were fortunate to be present at the Hemis festival, where thousands of devotees flock to an isolated monastery to watch 2 days of music and dance by people in elaborate masked costumes.
Through friends of ours (cheers Joe and Em), we had directions to an isolated valley several local bus rides away from Manali. The final leg of this bus trip was a laugh as we rode atop the bus alongside a local traditional band who enjoyed showing us their strange instruments. Not really knowing what our plan was, we turned up on the doorstep of a jam shop run by a lady named Cinderella. Over a glass of chai it was decided we would head further up the valley to the small isolated village of Tinder located in the ecozone of the Great Himalayan National Park. Our host Dule had set up the only homestay/guesthouse in the village and we were one of his first customers. It was refreshing to spend a few days in this blissful hillside village, overlooking green valleys, rivers and mountains. The village of about 300 was self-sustaining, growing it's own food and it was crazy to see wild dope growing everywhere. At dusk all the old men could be seen on their verandas with their families puffing on chillums and giant bongs.
Dule was keen to get his business up and running and was clearly the entrepreneur of the village. Most nights were spent teaching him English and sharing business ideas, he even offered to go in 50-50 with any custom we brought. We politely refused but helped out where we could; writing a brochure, supplying photos and a business plan. Most days were spent swimming in a crisp water hole, trekking the surrounding area, home to bears and snow leopards which we never got to see.
In theme with our previous bus rides, things didnt go quite to plan as we geared up to leave the valley. Two competing bus companies tried to beat each other out of the station causing a traffic jam and a 10 minute heated argument that nearly came to blows and was finally broken up by the police. Then a race along the narrow cliff top roads ensued, resulting in our bus sliding sideways across the road and crashing into the cliff. Thankfully no one was hurt and we didn't skid the other directions off the 70m drop into the gorge.
We found Indian trains dreamy after our bus experiences and our morning trip to Agra went off without a hitch. In Agra the Taj Mahal and the notorious touts both lived up to the hype. The Taj Mahal was simply sublime and the most impressive man-made structure we have ever seen and the touts were money hungry wolves drooling to pounce on fresh tourist meat. We spent most of the day with our driver, who assured us he was not a tout, sighing in exasperation as he tried to drag us on his commission route. After getting fed up, we ditched him early. We do feel for these guys as life here is pretty hard and they gotta make a buck when they can, but you get sick of all the dishonesty.
After spending the day sweating heavily in the oppressive monsoon heat, we arrived at the Tungla train station to catch our night train to Varanasi. We watched entranced as the tracks moved with scurrying rats. Goats, cows and pigs roamed freely, munching on rubbish and shitting everywhere. Beggars and street kids gazed pleadingly as we ate our dinner at the dodgy restaurant, to whom we later gave a handful of rupees to.
The great mother Ganges river flows through the holy town of Varanasi. It is here that devout Hindus come to cremate their dead to stop the cycle of rebirth, bathe in the sacred waters and pay homage to their Gods (all 36 million of them). We were fortunate enough to arrive on the first and biggest day of a festival celebrating lord Shiva. The streets teemed with over 12,000 electric orange clad devotees, who chanted and collected water in urns from the river. A stroll along the riverside ghats was a surreal experience, where among things there are bodies being burnt in big open fires and deadlocked, painted sadhus (holy men who give up family and possessions in search of enlightenment). The next day we went for a tranquil dawn boat cruise where our informative guide told us a bit of the religious history and also pointed out the dogs on the opposite bank feasting on the remains of a half cremated body. Later that day we also saw half a corpse floating down the river, as strange as it seems, this is a normal sight here. It is also amazing that the people don't suffer ill effects of bathing and drinking this highly polluted water, which is full of raw sewerage.
We love you India, good bye for now.
We are now in Kathmandu, Nepal preparing for a week of hiking in the mountains out of Pokhara. As it's monsoon, it is sure to be a leech-filled affair.
Ciao for now.
Location: Gaansbai, South Africa
Just a quick entry on our shark cage dive experience....the photos tell most of the story. Headed to Gaansbai, the great white shark capital of the world to have a close up look at these epic predators. Spent the day in and out of the cage with massive 3-4m great whites swimming right up and brushing their sleek bodies against the cage and at times even mouthing it. The best part was when occasionally one would look at you directly in the eye, sizing you up for dinner. We were also very privileged to see an up close and personal attempt on a seal by a frenzied shark who launched itself halfway out of the water, just metres from us. Later we also witnessed an attempt on another seal a few 100m away where the seal was thrown metres in the air but still managed to get away. Nature really turned it on for us that day.
Location: J Bay, South Africa
Mambo poa rafiki (whats up friends, in swahili)
Far out, our time in Africa has flown by! Picking up from where we left off in Zimbabwe......Vic falls was impressive but not mind blowing. As luck would have it, the Zambesi river was the highest its been since 1964 which meant the view of the falls was a huge cloudy thundering mist, which is fitting as it's local name translates to the smoke that thunders. We stayed in Vic falls town for a few nights, one evening was spent being entertained by "the tin can kids". This crew of local street kids cranked out some funky high energy percussion on their home made instruments of paint tins, car springs and plastic containers, while others crumped and acted out scenes....a raw version of stomp.
At another campsite in Zim we met the owner who is an ex Rhodesian Army member, who as many africans, had a tale to tell. During the land redistribution when many white land owners were forced out, his family were repeatedly threatened by Mugabe's men at gun point. Eventually after a few visits he released his two pet lions into his fenced front yard as the ultimate deterrent. All was well until one of them ate his dog and he decided to keep them in their own enclosure for good, although they have escaped twice already this year!
We said goodbye to Zimbabwe and headed to Botswana to the legendary Chobe national park. Aboard a sunset river cruise down Chobe river we were able to watch up close a group of menacing hippos loudly snort and bear their tusks/teeth to each other as they tried to impress the on looking curvaceous cows.
The next day en route to Okavango, the truck stopped for everybody to take a leak in the bush and suddenly a gigantic bull elephant, nearly the size of the truck, decided to march out of the bush right next to us. Luckily he was on a mission and after a quick glance he pretty much ignored us before stomping off across the highway. Gotta love those random african moments!
Okavango delta turned out to be one of our highlights. It is the largest inland delta in the world and teems with animals making the most of the precious abundant water. We arrived to our remote campsite after our skillful guides had navigated us through the labyrinth of channels in makoros (hand made traditional dug out canoes which float barely above the water). The next couple of days were spent camping and exploring the delta islands on foot. We reveled in being able to get up close and personal to wildlife without the protection or intrusion of a vehicle. Lucky for us we had skillful bushmen as guides who knew how to deal with dodgy situations if they arose, although one of them nearly stood on a puff adder which easily could have resulted in loss of a limb. One evening around the campfire the bushmen put on a very entertaining impromptu performance of traditional song and dance. Of course we had to return the favour and cranked out a sheepish rendition of stand by me and showed them a few magic tricks which they seemed to love.
We really enjoyed the next leg of the journey as we had several bush camps in some stunning surroundings in Botswana and Namibia. Bush camping basically means puling up in a remote area and surviving of the trucks resources. One site in Tsodilo hills was stunning and in the morning we were able to explore the rock formations and ancient rock art of the nomadic San people (the people featured in the gods must be crazy) who believed this was the site of creation. Another jaw dropping campsite was Spitzkoppe in Namibia where huge amber/red rock formations rise out of the desert plains in otherworldly formations.
An afternoon was spent at a park which cared for problem cheetahs who would otherwise have been shot by farmers. The owner was a classic fella who kept 2 hand raised cheetahs as pets which played alongside his several dogs. We were able to interact with these stealthy cats and one of them even took a shining to Philippa and gave her leg a good licking with his raspy tongue.
Etosha national park was next on the agenda. Here an amazing night was spent sitting under the stars around a floodlit waterhole. As we waited with baited breath, families of jackals, hyenas, rhinos and elephants wandered out of the darkness to quench their thirst seemingly unaware of our presence. At one point a mother rhino and her calf came right up to the barrier munching on some plants literally a few feet away. It was also cool to watch to watch two bull elephants have a 2 hour stand off, occasionally locking tusks.
On our way to Cape town we passed through the Kalahari desert and visited some of the largest dunes in the world including dune 45 which we sat atop while watching the sunset. We also visited the famous wine region of Stellenbosch in South Africa, where we had a fun boozy day sampling local vinos. It was quite funny as all the boys decided to sport creative facial hair for the occasion.
Cape town is truly a stunning city, situated in a beautiful bay with Table Mountain looming above. We spent our time here scrambling up the alternative route of the mountain and wandering the funky Cuba/K road type streets. We also said goodbye to the crew we had been traveling with for the past 2 months. Cheers for the great trip guys.
We are now at the surfing mecca of Jeffrey's bay, spending a mellow week relaxing and enjoying the ocean. The waves have not disappointed and Bobby has already had one monster swell come through where the point was a solid 6 - 7 foot (double overhead) and Super Tubes was producing the longest barrels he has ever seen. During one session Bobs surf board bitch slapped him in the face and he is now sporting a nice shiner. He came off ok compared to the SA CEO of Billabong who broke his leg in the barrel and another guy who broke his arm in the same session. Philippa is also in the wars after bedbugs ravaged her face resulting in big whelts.
We are hoping to go shark cage diving before we leave but as there is another huge swell on the horizon we are crossing our fingers that the boat will still sail.