A year in 10,000 photos, 238 beds and 28 border crossings.
15.03.2009 - 07.03.2010 0 °C
Well, that's it, we've been around the world! Visiting 22 countries in 360 days probably hasn't broken any records, but what a year we've had. As we while away our long flight home, we want to share with you some of our highlights, lowlights and thoughts on what we've experienced. It's also an opportunity for us to thank you for reading your way around the world with us – we hope we've given you some flavours of distant shores, and maybe even seeded some ideas....
In Big Trip 2009 style we've included some of our photo highlights in this blog, in case the words get a bit boring. Having taken almost 10,000 pictures, we're coming home with 2,500, the selecting of which was a regular flash point. As we start printing some, we'll get to see how our six different cameras have fared, the loss of one camera in Peru leading to many swaps. We've each picked just a few of our favourites, either for the quality of the snap or the memory it prompts.
This fiery sunset over the Grand Canyon was soon extinguished by the brewing storm. Our hours of driving over featureless planes into Arizona were well rewarded with this view. We set out before dawn to walk towards the bottom of the canyon, returning to the rim in noon temperatures above 35C. Watching Americans set out in jeans just as we were finishing up was a worrying sight! (Rowan)
Big Planet (Small World)
I imagine we weren't the only travellers to set out vowing to fly as little as possible, and probably also not the only ones to fail. Whilst we would have loved to have used only a yacht to cross the oceans (as one person we met was doing, though he hadn't yet left South America...), this proved impossible with our big ideas. We notched up 23 flights, the majority over South East Asia and Australia, where roads are either in a very poor state, or just extremely long!
Despite the vast mileage we covered, we had our share of coincidental meetings, the top three of which stack up as:
1.Sharing a four-berth cabin on a Chilean ferry with Ali's former Duke of Edinburgh Assessor.
2.Meeting a university flat mate of Rowan's halfway up Mount Kinabalu, at 3.30am.
3.Bumping in to the Italian couple with whom we shared a train compartment for three days in Russia... in a shopping centre car park in Singapore!
There were a couple of other chance-encounters, suggesting that as big as the planet is, a lot of people tend to head for the same areas, as remote and unusual as they might feel at the time. Perhaps a ubiquitous series of guidebooks also contributes to this phenomena.
We watched the sun set over the ancient Mayan ruins at Tikal (Guatemala) from the top of the highest temple after bribing the gun-wielding guard with our remaining marshmallows to allow us to climb it. Being up there on our own, listening to the wild monkey howls as the sun lit up the ruins was magical. We have seen many incredible ancient sites, learning about their cultures through the hints that they left behind, with Tikal and Siem Reap (Cambodia) standing out in particular. (Alison)
How we did it
The planning and saving for our trip probably started as we drove along an endless gravel road in west Namibia in 2006. We were halfway through a journey around the tip of the African continent, and were loving it. Over the next couple of years we dreamed of an extended trip visiting Antarctica, India and some of Eastern Europe (none of which we actually achieved this year), and put money away in preparation. From a piece of wool wrapped around pins on our bedroom world map, a list, and then a spreadsheet of countries evolved. The spreadsheet has become our bible, the 430 row itinerary now tracks our every day and dollar spent.
With factors including money, time and the likelihood of this being a unique opportunity at the front of our minds, we planned as much as necessary to keep costs down, and as little as possible to allow us the flexibility to divert our route as desired. Indeed, whole countries were removed from the plan, one (Laos) as little as two days before we planned to enter. Detail was continually added as we took the time to read about forthcoming countries and madly jotted down other travellers' stories. Some activities required booking months in advance; New Zealand's most popular Great Walks, Yosemite's trailheads and the Inca Trail all rewarded early reservations.
Even for a backpacking Yorkshireman and Scotswoman, our focus on money was high. Whilst by no means on the tightest of travelling budgets, we prioritised carefully in order to include all we wanted. We became acutely aware of what value we place on goods regardless of their price and are adept at not paying for things we don't need to, instead saving our money for the 'luxuries'. We've saved a lot by, for example, drinking bottled water only when strictly necessary, and spending more than most on maintaining a constant fresh fruit stash. Even with our careful spending we were unable to eek out enough savings to get Antarctica back on the itinerary, so that's staying firmly on the To Do list.
After the potatoes and tough meat of Russia and Mongolia, we tucked into Beijing's street food with big appetites! The fresh flavours and varieties were very welcome. We have tried so many new foods and tastes as part of our travels, trying to eat and shop in local markets as much as possible. Whilst this has often meant that we aren't too sure what we are eating, we have very rarely had a bad meal. The food in China stood out as a definite favorite. (Alison)
And we have walked 500 miles, many times over
Whether the locals called it hiking, trekking, climbing, scrambling, bushwalking, tramping or being 'out in the backcountry', one of the main activities throughout our trip has been walking. Our round the world route and timing were planned around the walking seasons in each continent, and where possible we camped our way through as many multiday walks as we could find. It's required various amounts of effort, documentation, porters and pasta to take them on, but without fail the walks have been some of the happiest times of our year. With more types of landscape than we knew existed and some of the most spectacular overnight spots imaginable, we've had many an hour to discuss our future (as well of those of most people we know!), how many grams of porridge we require daily, and even new, improved methods of measuring walks.
We couldn't begin to pick a favourite, but the areas around Bariloche (Argentina), Huaraz (Peru), and Tasmania (Australia) were all jammed with wonderful adventures. Specific routes that we recommend include the Juan de Fuca Trail (Vancouver Island), the Kepler Track (New Zealand) and the Ten Lakes route through Yosemite (US). We'll happily discuss these and others for hours, if you're ever considering going to similar areas.
We have surely slept in some of the world's most beautiful places, be it in a tent in the middle of a glacier range, or in remote refugios like this one in Argentina. Having never done a multiday walk before this year, it's been a joy to discover what I'll happily call 'home' after ten hours in the hills. (Rowan)
Staying in touch
We left the UK keen to maintain contact with family, friends and even work to some extent, but reluctant to spend hours (& dollars) in internet cafes writing endless e-mails. To this end we brought a little laptop along for the ride, and blogged from buses, boats, planes, trains and the back of our campervan. In most countries we were able to pick up free WiFi, either in our hostel or by walking past a McDonald's slowly enough, and we probably just about covered the cost of the computer by doing this almost everywhere. A couple of surprising exceptions were in Australia and New Zealand, where free public WiFi is rare; it is hard to imagine why it's such a low priority when countries such as Bolivia, Vietnam and Mongolia can manage it.
We attracted lots of subscribers to our fortnightly ramblings, and each of our posts has been viewed by 300-900 people (the Trans-Siberian Railway posts are the most popular). Hopefully some of this traffic has been other travellers looking for opinions on areas we've been to; we've certainly used blogs of people travelling just days ahead of us to see what's going on at the moment. We've had loads of good feedback on the stories and photos, which has encouraged us to stick with it.
As we return home to the real world (mobile phones and all), we're excited about picking up where we left off. Seeing everyone again will be great, and there are parts of our UK-life we've missed and look forward to. Obviously we need to start work again, and we've taken time over the last few weeks to figure out exactly what that will mean for each of us. Ali's arranged a new role at Defra and Rowan looks forward to telling you all about what's next, as soon as he knows.
The Juan de Fuca trail on Vancouver Island provided this special evening. With our pan of food quickly dispatched we settled in to watch sunset alone on the beach where we were camping. As we set up this photo, a pod of whales pulled in to the bay and played in front of us until nightfall. (Rowan)
With time lost to ill-health probably measured in hours rather than days and just a small handful of occasions when the weather has interfered, we've been extremely lucky during our year. We've crammed absolutely masses in to our time away, rarely missing an opportunity to do something new and exciting, day after day. Despite this we've managed to keep our spending well within budget (so we won't be getting evicted from our flat before we've unpacked). Of course there has been the odd annoyance (we left Peru short of our camera and left Australia clutching a questionable speeding ticket) but if these are the worst experiences we can cite then we've probably done ok.
We could finish by spouting on again about our array of multicultural experiences, sustainable travel stories or sensational adventures, but to be honest we've just had a year full of great fun together and will undoubtedly remember this as one of the best years of our lives.
Thanks for reading.
Love Rowan and Ali
(email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org)