Epiblogue

Well, that’s just about it from us. This is the last post of the blog, the last of a 122 updates. We hope you’ve enjoyed them, and that they’ve made you feel as if you’ve shared some of the trip with us. We’d like to think so, anyway.

If you remember, back in September 2011 we set sail from the shores of Great Britain with the words of Mark Twain ringing in our ears: ‘Explore. Dream. Discover.’

Over the last twelve months we have explored three continents, fifteen countries and over eighty cities, towns, villages, beaches, forests and mountain tops.

A lot of our dreams have been realised: Copacabana Beach, Cristo Redentor, Iguacu Falls, Machu Picchu, the Bolivian Salt Flats, Mendoza’s vineyards, horse-riding in Cordoban, and camper-vanning in New Zealand. We’ve experienced Fijian heaven and Fijian hell, Andy Murray at Melbourne’s Australian Open, snorkelling at the Great Barrier Reef, Balinese eco-cycling, Javanese surfing, and climbing Mount Kinabalu. We’ve bathed Elephants in Chiang Mai, slow-boated down the Mekong, rice-farmed in Luang Prabang, volunteered in Siem Reap, explored Angkor Wat, windsurfed in Nha Trang, island-weaved around Halong Bay, and lived the high life in Bankgok.

It’s been an Olympic year for us in more ways than one, and in keeping with the big theme of 2012 we’d like to hand out some of our own medals. Bronze goes to Argentina, a shimmering jewel among the many rough diamonds of South America. Vietnam gets the silver medal for its incredible diversity and glorious contradictions. And gold has to go to New Zealand – quite simply, it is a country that has it all.

Amid all these adventures we’ve had the time to discover the delights of Amis (Martin), Bronte (Emily), Dickens, Dostoevsky, Dumas, Flaubert, Fleming, Kerouac, Lee, McEwan, Marquez, Melville, Nabakov, Proust, Salinger, Steinbeck and Tolstoy.

And although we haven’t read any Twain on this trip, we do know that he wrote: ‘Life does not consist mainly – or even largely – of facts and happenings. It consists mainly of the storm of thoughts that is forever blowing through one’s head.’

Through this blog we’ve already shared some of those thoughts; we’re looking forward to sharing the rest of them with you in person when we return. So although it’s goodbye, it’s also hello.

Finally, we would like to dedicate the trip and this blog to our mothers. Only one was able to wave us goodbye, and neither will be able to welcome us home. But we would like to think that both have travelled with us.

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Days 140-149: From Crikey To Cairns

With Barney Mk II stocked up with an appropriate balance of provisions – one bottle of wine to every pack of noodles – we turned the key, selected drive, released the handbrake and tore north out of Brisbane (if you can tear out of anywhere in a pregnant roller-skate weighed down with enough tins to survive a nuclear winter).

Quick geography lesson: Australia’s big. Travelling up from even the midpoint of the east coast meant we were clocking up around 400km per day. En route we stayed overnight at Noosa, Rockhampton, Airlie Beach, Townsville, Cairns, Port Douglas and back to Cairns.

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Noosa: playground for the rich; great stop-off for the flashpackers among us

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A stone, next to a bench, at Airlie ‘No Beach’ Beach

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Cooling off in Townsville’s beachfront lagoon

From Noosa we visited Australia Zoo. Made famous by its owner, Steve ‘the Crocodile Hunter’ Irwin, it’s an impressive place. Spanning nearly 100 hectares it showcases the best of Australia’s wildlife, and all in fantastic surroundings.

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Getting up close and personal with a ‘roo

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Crocoseum: Steve Irwin’s impressive snapper arena

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A cute and cuddly koala

Steve – no longer with us following a stingray attack in 2006 – was viewed in the UK largely as a figure of fun; a crocodile-wrestling loon more famous for his indecently-sized shorts than his work with animals. In his native Queensland, however, he was revered. And his memory is kept alive each year with an official ‘Steve Irwin Day’, when everyone is encouraged to walk about in khaki saying ‘crikey!’ a lot.

And perhaps rightly so. Once you learn a little more about him, you discover a man who spent his whole life championing conservation and trying to educate people in his own inimitable style. Australia Zoo is a powerful reminder of what he achieved and well worth a visit – even if, on the day we visited, undersized khaki shorts were not available in the gift shop.

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With the Khaki-coloured one and his family

Our nights at Rockhampton, Airlie Beach and Townsville were largely uneventful bar one phenomenon – the heat. Even in Noosa we began to notice that the nighttime temperature was a touch oppressive; but the farther we drove north the worse it became.

It reached its apogee in Townsville, a place so dull they named it twice, but in different languages in the hope we wouldn’t notice. Here the problem was not just the heat; it was the mosquitoes too.

Imagine the scenario: it’s 26C, it’s midnight, there’s not a breath of wind, the air is thick with bugs, and you’ve taken the decision to sleep overnight in a family-sized biscuit tin. Any chink in the skylight or gap in the window invites a squadron of buzzing infidels. But an airtight seal means even higher temperatures, restricted breathing and clandestine claustrophobia. Japanese POW camps had nothing on this. Suffice to say, it was a long night.

During the nights that followed we either managed to acclimatise to the conditions or taping a scrap of netting over the skylight made all the difference. Whatever the reason, nights in Cairns and Port Douglas were merely awful rather than unbearable.

Our time in Port Douglas was dominated by our trip to the Great Barrier Reef (separate blog to follow), while our stay in Cairns was a rather sedate affair where heart rates were only quickened during a visit to Coffee Works, the world’s largest coffee museum. Not only was it surprisingly informative – did you know, for example, that Balzac used to jitter and judder his way through 40 cups a day? – but there was all-you-can-consume coffee, chocolate and liqueurs.

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Wired for grounds

And it is amidst this caffeine-fuelled high that we come to the end of our time in Australia; and for that matter the South Pacific. Today we fly off to Bali to begin our Southeast Asia adventure. We still have a couple of packs of noodles left over, but apparently they’re readily available where we’re headed.