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Seasquirt

The adventures of Fe & Chris

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The greatest bat show on Earth

We’ve just returned to Ayutthaya after lovely couple of days in Khao Yai national park. Inside a cave that also functioned as a Buddist temple, we saw thousands of bats of three different species from an enjoyably close proximity. I was quite happy with that but when treated with the spectacle of two million Wrinkled-nosed bats leaving their cave we were blown away. Pleasingly a few were knobbled by raptors on their way out to add to the fun.

Our tour group was an eclectic bunch. A perfectly pleasant couple from Bristol with humourous accents, an Israeli chap that had a comment on every topic imagineable, and a unusual Frenchman who was prone to inappropriate spontaneous outbursts of singing or wailing. Then there was us of course.

 Next morning we saw lovely White-handed Gibbons and Pig-tailed Macques along with numerous deer and copious elephant poo. Wild Dogs caused quite some excitement amongst our guides. The Bird of the Day award was a tricky choice between the monsterous Great Hornbill and the tiny Vernal Hanging Parrot.

Ican’ttellyouanymoreasthespacebaronthiskeyboarddoesnotwork. Itisdrivingmetodistraction. And we’ve got a train to catch…

Temples and beaches

After a hot and steamy day in Bangkok we are now on the  moderately relaxing island of Ko Tao where we live in a shack  by the beach and eat fine food.  Apart from the changes of location, accommodation, diet and temperature, we now also have someone else to talk to in the form of Bella, who we picked up in a bar in Bangkok.

Talking of being picked up, we enjoyed the best hotel “pick-up” from our accomodation in Bangkok where we had booked a transfer, bus and boat to Ko Tao. Our pick up involved someone coming to find us at 0530 and walking us to the bus. Not quite what we expected, but luckily it wasn’t far.

Bangkok was quite an experience. It’s more laid back than Central America - touts on the street give up after a simple “No”. We stayed in the backpacker district of Banglamphu for a night and wandered the rather amusing Kao San Road. We also got Bella fitted out with a couple of nice dresses (can’t have our travelling companions looking shabby now, can we?).

The King is very popular here, as is Buddha, so we went to the Grand Palace and visited a small green Buddha with a disproportionately large temple, all gold and sparkly.

Fiona would like me to state that I am the “King of Understatement” and that I should emphasise how impressive these buildings were. A picture speaks a thousand words, so here’s one:

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Tourist sheep

During our travels we have noticed a curious phenomenon - tourists behave rather like sheep.

Let me explain: on our second day in our new camper van we approached Lake Pukaki - a beautiful blue lake with Mt Cook behind. We pulled into a small side road, parked and stopped to admire the view. Unfortunately, our van was visible from the main road and before long ten other vehicles followed our lead and our seclusion was gone.

Now, this irked me slightly - it was our spot! But I did feel even more sorry for a German couple prancing about on the shoreline. They were about to enjoy a private skinny dip in the glacial waters - a brave event under any circumstances. They modestly glanced up to confirm their privacy before the final bit of their undressing and looked slightly surprised to see 20 people staring at them. Oh dear!

Being German, they carried on regardless and even filmed the event. Marvellous stuff. What would we do without Germans?

We first noticed this phenomenon in Mexico (the sheep thing, not naked Germans - we noticed them a long time ago). Being vegetarian we would choose our restaurant based on whether it served something we could eat rather than any qualitative assessments. So we’d sit down in a completely empty establishment of entirely mediocre quality and before long it would be full of gringos not enjoying their meat.

Inappropriate moustaches

We enjoyed a lovely few days in Melbourne. The very busy and cosmpolitan nature of the city was a little of a culture shock for us - Hobart and Alice Springs aren’t quite so hectic.

Amongst all the really very fashionable people we noticed a curious trend - young men with moustaches. Really very innapropriate. Over a beer in a roof-top bar, rather like a scene from Alice in Wonderland, we inquired of our host, Ameera, the nature of this fashion.

It transpires it is the month of Movember, where men grow moustaches to raise awareness of male health issues. So they are trendy after all.

Customer service in Australia

Our adventures began on a Qantas flight from LA to Brisbane. Qantas stewards are nothing like the camp folk on BA - they are burly Aussies, that reminded me of Eric Idle in the Python ‘Bruce’ sketch.

Everyone here is lovely. No-one has been surly, unpleasant or unhelpful as we have come to expect in Britain of late. However we did meet a couple of not very chatty people in the middle of the forest (but I think they were probably working through some issues).

I was slightly disappointed that I had to meet 20 or so people before anyone said “G’day” to me. The standard greeting seems to be “How ya goin?”. I’m not sure whether one is intened to respond to this or not. Does anyone know?

Farewell Central America…

We are in Mexico City and have been for a few days. We apologise for our tardyness in reporting to you, however as unlikely as it may seem, we have been enjoying a mild social life.

We’ve enjoyed many dinners with Ameera, one of the Opwall doctors, and her travelling pals; we’ve enjoyed the company of an amusing Austrian called Monica; and we even bumped into our German horseriding pals last night.

We vistited a bar with a band and dancing. The highlight for me was a small middle aged man, with a remarkable resemblance to Bill Oddie (slimmed down and with a hispanic look), throwing and twirling his much larger lady around with the greatest of ease and supreme elegance. Marvellous.

We’ve also been to more ruins - pyramids this time, have been to art galleries and palaces, and have enjoyed just wandering the streets of the city. On one such wander we accidentally bumped into a Renault Formula One demonstration. I had no idea F1 cars were so small. There was the small display of old Renaults on display in a side street with a pristine Renault 4. Amazingly, as many people were admiring it as the Renault Alpines! (Sorry Groz, there were no R5’s).

Our Central American adventures are very nearly over. We fly to Australia via Los Angeles this evening. Fe is looking forward to acquiring the new Harry Potter book in LAX.

Horses, home-made fireworks and the Catholic church

We had a lovely day today. We went to the village of San Juan Chamula on horses. Initially we thought our steeds to be lovers as they were utterly inseparable (we found out later they were mother and son - oops!).

We plodded along roads, tracks and paths, through forest and farmland, happy in the knowledge that we were in absolutely no control of our beasts - they just did what they wanted and knew mostly where to go. Mine had a slightly erratic start by electing to go 90° to all the other horses; of course Fiona´s followed.

The village was the most amazing place; it was like we had been transported into another world. All the men and women were dressed up in fluffy soft-toy fabric. The prominent feature of the massive central square was the Catholic church.

Being Sunday there was a buzz of activity in and around it. We had arrived just before the main event - lots of people were crammed inside the pewless church variously sitting on the pine-needle carpeted floor, or standing quietly. Others stood chatting or randomly strummed or thumped instruments. Incense and burning pine wood filled the air and the tables at the sides of the church were covered in hundreds of candles. A semblance of proceedings started to assemble itself so we retreated back to the square before we were kicked out.

Back in the square I went to the loo. It was the strangest of urinating experiences. I peed into a ankle high square trough shoulder to shoulder with other fluffy bodied, sombrero wearing men, all crammed in doing the same thing.

People crammed into the church until they exploded out like a bottle of fizzy pop. They proceeded to parade around the square on a carpet of pine needles (poor trees - the catholic church has a lot to answer for). There was lots more incense waving and small pyre being walked around. Completely random musicians played jazz like music that seemed utterly unsuited to the occasion. Women carried odd looking effigies of women on chairs that I couldn´t identify.

Meanwhile, the in the middle of the square thousands of home made fireworks and bangers were being set off. With all the smoke from the pyres and incense, coupled with the banging it was rather more like a war zone than a religious ceremony and was without doubt one of the highlights of our travels.

On our return journey I formed a strong bond with my horse. I had command over its direction and speed, within certain tolerances, and we led the pack for quite a way. Fiona´s bottom was suffering slightly so I got shouted at when I encouraged my steed to accelerate - hers always followed suit. Ouch.

Fiona is sitting next to me in moderate agony. My finely toned buttocks are fine.

Belizean bletherings

We went to Punta Gorda, the southernmost ´town´in Belize to spend our requisite three days renewing our visas. On arrival we were slightly put out to find most of the town´s accomodation had been taken over by a group which turned out to be a meeting of all the village leaders from the whole country (”And there´s a lot of villages” as I was told by the the fifth hotel we tried!). This meeting even made the national radio news, as did the results of Punta Gorda´s beauty Pageant which also went on over the weekend we were there - it´s a happening place it would seem, except on a Sunday, when we had to risk eating lunch at a street vendor due to a distinct lack of choice. It turned out to be very nice food, and no d&v resulted, phew! ANyway, we finally found some very nice accomodation, complete with hot water (which came out of the cold tap and turned out to be surplus to requirements as it was so hot outside!)

On our first morning we decided to get up super early (5am) and go kayaking up a nearby river. Unfortunately our early start was slightly curtailed by a lack of keys to get to the kayaks, but a man soon turned up to sort us out and then we were on our way, paddling slowly up river (in only a vaguely straight line). Some of the course got very narrow as we were obstructed by fallen logs and some rocks, but it was all good fun. We saw lots of crabs scuttling up mangrove roots, four different types of heron, and the highlight - a couple of otters - one of which kept sticking its head out of the water and ´shouting´at us - it then went to get its bigger buddy and they both ran along the bank alongside me - I was actually slightly perturbed in case they came and started eating my kayak, unlikely I know, but it was a bit creepy in those parts! We also saw an iguana-like lizard which was very cool too!

After such an active morning we were relaxing on our balcony for the afternoon when we spotted a couple of our OpWall pals - Julie and Bex - who were also doing the visa run. We spent the next day with them and visited some Mayan ruins (one of only two main sites in Belize). It was a much quieter place than our previous experience of Copan - in fact we were the only people there. Oh and I´d like to mention Julie as the one person who seems to take delight in my accent, and, I quote “wants to speak like me”! She is Swiss, so not sure if that explains it at all?!

After an afternoon swim in the dubious sea (there was lots of floating scum), and a pleasant evening introducing Julie and Bex to the local weirdo (there seems to be one in every town recently - this one made a loud yell every 5 minutes and danced as cars went past), we said our sad goodbyes to them and set off for the ferry the next morning.

Oh, and I forgot to mention that we had a nice break from struggling with our rubbish Spanish as thankfully the Belizean national language is English, lovely!

At last

After 5 weeks of near glimpses and lots of early morning calls we were finally treated to some impressive views of not one, not two, but four Resplendent Quetzals hanging around near Base Camp. Resplendent they were too - the male (as probably described previously) has amazingly long tail feathers and the female isn’t too shoddy either with turquoise green body and a red front. Unfortunately it was still difficult to get a decent photo, but one of the more adventurous birders - a Cuban called Ernesto - headed off into the jungle, crossing rivers and clambering up trees to obtain the photo below. Perhaps not quite as impressive as they are in reality, but it gives you an idea!

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Credits due & personal hygiene in the jungle

Although I mentioned my delicious birthday cake in the previous post, I omitted to mention the people responsible for creating such a culinary delight, in fact, we rarely mention any of the other people who are out here with- most of whom are nice, friendly people. This includes Kalina and Julie, who slaved away cooking my cake, and Kalina even put on deodorant (a rare treat for any of us nowadays!) and brushed her teeth for the following photo shoot…

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Here are the whole Cantiles gang - Fe, Chris, Julie, Kalina, Lamia, Steve, Jo, Dougie, Ruaraidh, and Aussie John the camp manager

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