Tag Archives: family travel

Back in Sweden but with a new perspective after our gap year

Beautiful Sweden, my childhood home

Summer days in Sweden
Happy summer days in Sweden, just as I remember them.

Landing in Sweden felt just like it always does, great happiness to see my childhood country and all the fun memories it brings back. The vast green landscape you can see already from the airplane is filled with pine trees, lakes, farmland and cute red wooden houses. This is the land of plenty, a land of outdoor adventures and a country geared up for families just like ours.

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Love being together with Grandpa again

As we came out of the arrivals gate Ingrid and Scott spotted grandpa straight away  and ran into his arms in a happy hug and reunion. Last time we were together was 6 months ago in Koh Chang Thailand, where we spent 2 weeks together enjoying amazing tropical beaches and glorious Thai food.

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Koh Chang beach at sunset

Although I have not lived in Sweden for 20 years, it still strangely feels like coming home. Its the scent of wet tarmac and wild flowers, the silver birches rustling in the wind, empty roads and wild berries, wide open fields and forests and the sound of chirping of birds and happy children that brings it all to life. A year of travels did not change any of that, in fact it made the feeling of familiarity and recognition even more prominent.

This was also the first time in a year that we were going somewhere we actually already knew, somewhere we had been before and the kids were very excited about that and especially about seeing their Aunty, my sister, and their cousins.

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Cycling with the cousins

Less things, more time

Coming back to Sweden did feel slightly different than usual though….. After a year of living very basic lifestyle on the road I see things we take for granted with new eyes. I now clearly see the abundance of food in the supermarket, a fully functioning and superbly equipped kitchen, reliable electricity and plenty of hot water, houses that are safe and well insulated, endless amount of toys and many fantastic leisure facilities right on your door step.

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Comfortable living in Sweden

This is the amazing life people live in Sweden and in many other European countries and on the surface all these material things make our life look very different from typical family life in Bolivia, Nicaragua, China or Vietnam.

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Typical street in Nicaragua
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Common mode of transport in Nicaragua
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Paper airplane session in China
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Chinese family we made friends with in Pingyao without speaking or understanding eachother

But in visiting these countries it has clearly showed us that underneath these material differences people are very much the same in that we all want to live a happy, healthy life among friends and family. The material abundance we typically strive for in the west make little or no difference to peoples general happiness.

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The 4 bags with all our belongings for our year of travel

While travelling, we have experienced this first hand living out of 2 suitcases with very few belonging and not really missing or pining for any material things. The truth of the matter is that we have actually felt freeer without the burden of owning so many things.

With low cost travel and cheap accommodation we have also learned to make due with less convenience and practicality in living, getting around and doing things.  

What may seem arduous, mundane time wasting at home has many times been part of the adventure and the fun while away. Simple getting from one place to another that can seem like a waste of precious time in our busy London life was typically the best way of discovering and experiencing new things and places while travelling.

Moto taxi in Bolivia
Moto taxi in Bolivia is the best way to get to where you need to go and a great way to enjoy the scenery at the same time

As I think about it and try to understand the difference in how I have come to view and experience these things I keep coming back to time. It is the time we put to our disposal that make all the difference in how we appreciate what we do with it rather than the actual actions themselves.

So, although we have managed with less things over the past year we have had the luxury of more time. With more time comes less of a need to do things quickly and make the most of every minute. Instead, we filled our days with more mundane things such as finding the best playgrounds and fruit stalls, wandering without a destination in mind, looking at insects and animals along the roads, mending our clothes, going to the market and cooking together, playing tickle fights and games etc. In taking our time doing these things we found that we actually enjoyed them more and the need to always use the time wisely and effectively to see the sights and visit the typical tourist attractions decreased.

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We preferred cooking together in Bolivia to eating out
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Looking for fruit in Xian, China rather than temples

Simple pleasure that cant be bought

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Wild strawberries

The other change I have started to notice is that counting the pennies on our travel really changed the way we look at consumption and buying things. I increasingly find that I only want to buy what I really need, Paul is doing the same and the kids ask for less too. The endless options and variants in the typical western shops bring no or very little added value to our life and with that insight we are happy to do without it.

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Endless choice of dairy products in a typical Swedish supermarket

It is not the things or food itself that provide the pleasure but simply how we view it and what we make of it. None of the food we bought in the huge supermarket (bar the delicious crisp bread perhaps) could provide any more pleasure than the Perch we caught, gutted, fried and ate while hanging out on lake Hjalmaren with my family.

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Fishing and catching a Perch

The pleasure is not really in the size or the taste of the fish but simply having caught it and then sitting down together eating it regardless of the actual taste…something that cannot be achieved with any fish bought in a shop.

No berries could be more delicious than those picked and eaten on my friend, Marias land, or the oranges in our own garden in Bolivia 2 months earlier..even if the actual taste is better when you buy them.

So, having done this amazing trip on a shoestring I take more and more pleasure in the little things. The same is true for the time spent in Sweden where I most enjoyed picking wild berries and eating them, digging for worms, fishing, rowing the little rowing boat, digging trenches in the sand on the beach, enjoying a coffee in a sunny sheltered spot and reading Swedish comics to the kids.

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Doing nothing much and loving every moment

The thing that always makes time in Sweden even more special though is just doing all of the above with close family and friends. So I guess this is a good warm up for our next stop and adventure, Glasgow, where we will try living for a year close to family on my husbands side.

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Glasgow

There will be exciting and challenging times ahead as we will try to apply the things we have learned on our travels to our everyday life in Scotland…living simply, enjoying the little things in everyday life and freeing up time to do more of the things we really love.

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The end of our gap year – now what?

Was it all just a dream

Sadness and happiness, excitement and worry…..these are the mixed emotions we are feeling now that our family gap year has come to an end. Paul has just left Sweden for Scotland to look for a house while the kids and I will spend the last 2 weeks of our round the world trip here with my family. I cannot believe that the year has flown by so quickly. Part of it feels just like a dream, almost as if it never happened, and only when we look through the 10 000+ photos we have taken along the way does it all start to feel real again.

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Looking through our travel photos

The final few weeks of our trip we spent in a tree houses in the Amazon jungle of Bolivia then La Paz & Arica Chile followed by Buenos Aires, Argentina, Iguazu waterfalls in the cross lands of Paraguay, Argentina and Brazil and then finally a few magical days in Rio de Janeiro. The stories from these fantastic places, that made the trip so special right up to the end will follow soon….so keep reading my posts if you want to know more!!

I feel excited about going back to the UK but also strangely sad that our magical year together is coming to an end. We are so very tight as a family now having spent so much time together …for 10 months we have pretty much slept all 4 of us together in 1 tiny room with Ingrid and Scott sharing a bed for the most of it.

What will it be like to go back to a working life with the kids at school and sleeping in separate rooms! I will not miss the sleeping arrangements thats for sure but I will miss the endless quality time together without deadlines or stress.

I will miss not seeing the kids and Paul all the time but Im sure I will also enjoy a bit more me time …. So many mixed emotions. Leaving London and going on a year long family adventure has simply been the best thing ever. It has not always been easy and carefree, but always a totally awesome adventure.

Thats the end of our trip, now what???

We have started to verbalise what we would like our life to be like when we get back to western civilisation. Although we don’t think that we have changed a lot over the past year, things we felt and believed before leaving London has more clearly come to the surface through the experiences and the time we have had together.

Love the colourful walls in Valparaiso
Together

We have an even stronger desire now to live life to the full and spend as much as time a possible with our children before they grow up and go out into the world on their own. We feel less of a need to prove ourselves in highflying careers and a decreasing interest in consuming and buying things that don’t really add much to the enjoyment of our lives. What we enjoy the most is simply time together.

This is of course easier to do when you step out of the usual 9-5 life and just follow your heart. The big question now is how can we continue living our life more like that when we get back to the UK?

No job, no house, no school, try not to worry…..

I had hoped we would somehow have an epiphany along the way as that would make the next phase of our lives easier to orchestrate, but this has yet to happen.  Strangely I find that I worry less and less about it although it is now only a few weeks till we arrive in Glasgow and Paul I both are still looking for the right job to get stuck into, a house to live in and a school for Ingrid and Scott.

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I really do believe that all pieces in the puzzle will fall into place somehow, things will work out one way or another, they just have to. What we do know is that we are keeping our house in London and our tenants have signed to rent it for another year and that’s a  good start!

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City of Glasgow, Scotland

The plan is to rent a small house or flat in Glasgow, Scotland, close to Pauls family a for a year to see if this is the right place for us. As Scotland is much more affordable than London it will allow us to explore a cheaper lifestyle with perhaps more meaningful jobs. It can give the kids a great sense of belonging too being close to a lot of family after a whole year without. There is good school and healthcare, amazing nature and wildlife to enjoy and many hills to climb in Scotland if we can just bear the typical rainy grey weather.

Life is a big adventure

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Scottish highlands on a rare sunny day

Is Scotland the long term future for us? I don’t know and right now we just look at it as next phase in our life adventure. I have never lived there and so aim treat it like any other place we have visited and explored on our round the world trip this year. Moving to a new ciry has a different set of challenges to travelling such as getting the kids into a school, identifying the right area to live, finding meaning full jobs that we enjoy or perhaps starting our own business. Then there is also the exciting prospect of getting back into the sports we love and other activities such as music and art plus the upside of spending more time with family and friends.

Although I am sad about the end of our trip Im also excited about the future and probably need to spend some more time planning it. At the same time I don’t want to use all the time in the last few weeks of our trip on the laptop to try and map it all out. I want to enjoy every moment in the here and now just as I have been doing over the past year. Im sure the next phase will work itself out if we only let it.

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Our last night in Rio at the end of our trip.

Sucre, Bolivia – city of dinosaurs

We enjoyed the dinosaurs in Sucre, Bolivia

From Potosi the bus ride to Sucre was uneventful. 3 hrs mostly downhill to 2200m altitude. Sucre is the administrative capital of Bolivia and much more developed than Uyuni and Potosi. A walkable town centre with beautiful white colonial buildings was a welcome change from the dust in Uyuni and Potosi.

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Sucre, the white city
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One of many street children in Sucre

Our hostel Recoleta Sur was nicely located halfway between an lovely park and the main town square. Our first day here we spent most of our time in the amazing dinosaur playground.

30 min outside town there is a park and tourist attraction with the largest set of dinosaur footprints in the in world…more than 5000 individual prints on a vertical rock face. This is the reason many tourist areas around town have a dinosaur theme.

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Endless dinosaur play equipment
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Dinosaur play park and monkey bars

We were all amazed at the huge, free playground here. Beautifully built all set in a dinosaur theme with endless sets of monkey bars to keep even the most demanding monkeys happy, swings, climbing frames, spinners, water features and the largest slide we had ever seen on the tail and the neck of a huge dinosaur.

We liked wandering around the town for a few days but got really badly affected by the high level of pollution. As it is one of the more developed cities in Bolivia there are a lot of cars and busses and we found that the streets were full of pollution spewing traffic all day long. We had though about staying here for a few weeks if we liked it to allow Paul and I to start job-hunting. In the end after just 3 days in Sucre, 2 of which Ingrid and I were climbing, we were ready to leave.

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Sucre Airport leaving for Santa Cruz

Next stop Santa Cruz and Samaipata, as recommend by the Bolivia expats community. Ingrid and I spent 2 days rock climbing wile Scott and Paul went to the fantastic dinosaur park .

Dynamite sticks & fear deep inside the Potosi mines

Potosi, Bolivia the richest mine in all of world history

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Waiting for the bus in Uyuni

We initially through we would stay in Uyuni for a few days to chill out after our 3 day 4×4 adventure across Salar de Uyuni, but quickly changed our mind. Uyuni is not a particular nice place to hang out, just a transit town where the roads from both Argentina and Chile converge before continuing up towards la Paz and all other cities in Bolivia.

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Uyuni playground had a great slide and not much else

We only managed dinner at a really good pizzeria, a visit to the playground in the morning followed by lunch and a 4 hr bus ride up to 4090m, to Potosi, the old silver mining city but that was just about enough. 

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Beautiful colonial buildings and me looking silly in Potosi!

We could definitely feel the lack of oxygen at this altitude and the pollution from heavy traffic made it even worse. We all suffered light headaches, dehydration, general fatigue and grumpiness. Hostel Realeza was in a good spot right in the heart of the colonial city centre, close to the market and the beautiful town square.

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May 1st march in Potosi, a town full of workers and unions

Our first full day here was May 1st, the whole city of Potosi was closed as different unions of miners, farmers, shop keepers, teachers etc marched through the city centre. A great sight to see all the people out marching for their rights, especially the ladies dressed up in the finery and traditional costumes.

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Ingrid showing off on the monkey bars

After spending the day acclimatising and hanging out at an amazing playground we organised our trip to the mines the following day.

Safety gear for us – dynamite sticks for the miners

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Excited miners – before going into the mines

The main thing to do in Potosi is to visit the old silver mines so this is what we decided to do. There are a few travel agencies offering a mine tour, but we chose Koala tours, the only tour that takes you into an actual working mine rather than a closed down mine. Early departure in a minibus a few blocks up from the main square then a quick stop to get kitted our with protective clothes. Ingrid and Scott were both excited as Paul had explained to them that going into the mines would be a bit like playing Minecraft. Little did we know……

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Getting kitted out with safety cloths before heading into the Potosi mines

We all got protective trousers, coats and welly boots. I was surprised that they had wellies just the right size for the kids. Final touch was a protective hat with a head torch and a heavy battery pack clipped into your belt. Just getting dressed and walking in all the gear was hard, especially for Scott. How would he cope walking like this deep inside the mine…..

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Buying dynamite gifts in the miners shop

Next, the minibus took us to the miners market were we bought gifts to take with us to give to the miners we’d meet inside the tunnels. The guide explained that its the part of our tour fee that goes to the miners and the gifts we bring that keep the working miners happy for tourist to come into the mines to see them working. We bought dynamite sticks, ammonium sulphate, detonators, coca leaves and soft drinks that they mix with 96% alcohol while working. Next stop the actual mines!

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Feeling scared deep inside in the dark Potosi mines

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Cerro Rico at 4400m

After a 15 min drive up the hill we were there. Young coca chewing men covered in dust and dirt were having a break outside the mine entrance as we got a safety briefing from our guide. Every now and then a 2ton cart with dirt and stones came hurtling out of the entrance on old rickety train tracks pushed & pulled by 3 young men. These were the carts we would have to avoid at all cost once inside the tunnels.

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Getting ready to head into the mines
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Last minute safety chat before we head into the mines

With our head torches turned on we went into the tunnels covering our mouths with our buffs to limit inhaling the dangerous mining dust. The tunnels were pitch back and very small,  much smaller than I had imagined. Only Scott could walk upright the rest of us were folded over trying not to trip on the tracks and stones along the tunnel floor.

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Inside the dark mining tunnels

In the distance we could hear carts being loaded and pushed down the tracks. “Out of the way” cried the guide and we all had to jump into a niche along the side of the track to avoid being run over. Every 10 min or so another cart came hurtling at us as we stumbled along the dark tunnel, folded in half and sweating profusely in all our heavy gear.

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Miners hard at work

As we got deeper into the tunnels, the oppressing feeling and slight fear was getting to all of us, especially Ingrid who was looking very uncomfortable stumbling along in the little light from her head light. After 40 min of walking, 450 m deep inside the mountain, where more than 10 000 men work everyday, we finally arrived at a resting station. During our 10 min break the guide told us about the hard life of the miners in Potosi and the gods they worship to stay safe.

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The mining god

Each man work for himself in a syndicated group with their earnings depending on the minerals they find. Around 50 miners die every year in accidents and another 50-100 in lung related diseases, their life expectancy is only 40-50, but working the mines earn them more money than any other job they could possibly do here. 

Time to get out of the mines – we end the tour early

After the 10 min break we were supposed to head further into the tunnels for another hour of exploring the tunnels deep inside the mines. At this point Ingrid and Scott were starting to feel a bit unwell and so I told the guide we had to take the kids out. To be honest, at this point I did not want to go in any further either.

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Feeling uncomfortable deep inside the mine

On the way out we had to wait as carts were filled up with rubble from a shaft in the roof…and all I could think of was the terror of being stuck in the mine behind falling rocks. The guide assured us we were safe, but I certainly did not feel very safe.

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Happy to be out in the fresh air
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Well deserved rest in the fresh air

Once outside, we waited an hour in a little safety shack before the rest of the group returned. Ingrid almost fainted as we sat down, totally overcome by the stress of being inside the mine for over an hour. I too felt unwell and relieved to be out in the fresh air again. Scott and Ingrid both promised then and there to study hard in school so that they never ever would have to work in a mine.

Emergency call to the British Embassy

Stranded in the floods of Northern Peru

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 Enjoying a bit of surfing our 1st day in Huanchaco 

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Kids playing in the park by the beach

We had 2 days on the beach in Huanchaco and a morning of wandering around town before the floods hit us in this town as well! We had tried to follow the unfolding Peru floods on the news, but its amazing how difficult it is to get information without access to the internet.

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Trujillo under water – residents being evacuated

Through the owners of the hotel we found out that Trujillo, where the roof of our hostel caved in just 2 days earlier, had been badly hit with the first of 7 floods the day we left our hostel there. Everyone we met in Huanchaco were concerned about the floods but not expecting it to be a problem in Huanchaco a few km up the coast from Trujillo.

Worst floods in 30 years hit us in Huanchaco

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The river in Huanchaco burst its banks

When the river bursts its bank at 3 o’clock in the afternoon, all the houses and business were caught unprepared. As muddy sludge started making its way down the main street, all we could do was to seek refuge on the roof and watch as the water continued to rise. In the distance we could see the sea turning brown from the outlet of the swollen river.

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Watching the events unfold from the roof of our hotel

Mud and sludge filled the streets and the ground floor of our hotel and all the other houses along the water front wiping out electricity, water systems and all the local phone and internet networks.

 

 

I felt completely helpless and yet somehow strangely calm as we watch the water fowling and the sun setting over the flooded streets. Time to get our head torches out, cook some spaghetti on the gas cooker and play a game of cards. We went to bed hoping to get some sleep but sirens, rain and worry kept me awake while the kids slept an unsettled sleep and Paul resting but with a high temperature and in pain day 3 of his tummy bug illness.

Stocking up on water and food

The morning after the floods Paul was feeling worse, I was exhausted and the kids naturally stressed about the flooding and situation all around us. Most of the water had subsided and in the hotel, staff and the owners had spent most of the night trying to clear the ground floor of  the mud and water. No electricity, no water in the taps but at least we had a gas cooker that worked. I set out to find and stock up on supplies. 

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People buying what they can carry
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Empty shelves in the big supermarket as people stock up and no new deliveries are made

With many shops affected by the floods those that were still open were limiting the what you could buy to make sure everyone could get something. I took our big back pack and went round looking for open shops stocking up on water and dry food to last us a few days. Spaghetti, tuna, tomato sauce, biscuits and crackers. I also got some eggs, flour, sugar and milk hey presto pancakes of breakfast to lighten the mood!

After the floods the real nightmare begins

…20-30 cm thick sludge and mud was covering everything where the water had flooded and then subsided…piles of dead fish, plastics, trees and rubble washed up on the beach and streets along with many damaged houses and buildings, some still under water.

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Mud after the flood
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Main street still under water the next day
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Beach filled with rubbish and dead fish
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Once the mud is dry everything is caked in dirt and dust

Watching the news in a little shop I could see that Trujillo and nearby Chiclayo and many other places were still inundated and that all roads in and out of Trujillo and all of Northern Peru remained closed due to landslides and ongoing floods.

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Roads still under water

I realised our plans to go further into the mountains Cajamarca and Chachapoyas would not be realised. Disappointed of course as we had all been looking forward to exploring the less touristy mountains and ruins of northern Peru…but what can you do?

Help! – Emergency call to the British Embassy

While the streets remained unsafe filled with dirt and water, Paul was getting worse, no electricity to help the kids pass time reading on the kindles, watch TV or a film…and as boredom kicks in.the kids decide to spend the morning making and running a beauty salon! I just love my kids!

With no means of leaving the flooded area or ability to check our options to fly out I took a taxi to the local little Airport to see if we could somehow buy tickets to fly out somewhere safe. No such luck….

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Only people with tickets and or ID were allowed to enter the Airport area

Military planes were evacuating people, locals and gringos had been waiting at the tiny airport for up to 36 hrs to get on a plane to get out. With the airport in chaos and no information or help to be found.

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Line for the military evacuation plane

 I returned to Huanchaco disheartened and even more worried. Flights could only be bought on line or through a travel agent, but Internet was not working and all travel agents closed due to the floods….

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7 days without food

When Paul started vomiting and shaking with 40 degrees temp, the following morning and with only $20 left in cash, no way of getting medicine or money and no where we could go I made a call to our travel agent in London on the hotel owners phone to see if they could help us buy some flights to get out …4 tickets suddenly became available to fly out the next day but Paul was way too ill to travel. Next available tickets were for 6 days later and costing us a small fortune….With the thought of 6 more days in the flood zone I feel panic kick in and decide to make contact with the British Embassy in Lima, to ask for advice and medical help in case Paul would get even worse.They tell me there is a place in Trujillo where ATMs are still working and a functioning private clinic we can go in case of an emergency….

After I made it to a shopping centre where there was still cash, Travel Nation confirmed our flights out 6 days later and I managed to find antibiotics for Paul I was feeling a bit better…that only lasted 1 day until Ingrid suddenly turned really ill as well.

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Keeping the mood up and the kids relaxed

This time I could get antibiotics quickly but was still worried sick about Ingrid who was vomiting and had diarrhoea for 2 days not being able to keep liquids down….I was counting down the days till we could leave…..

Unforgettable lessons in life

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Since we started travelling we have, and especially me, practiced being in the moment and not worrying about things that could or might happen. During our 2 weeks in flooded Peru I had to work really hard to keep calm and not get worked up, agitated or frustrated about the situation is which we accidentally found ourselves. The kids are very resilient and adaptable but they take their queue from me and Paul on how to act ad react. Keeping calm and positive was essential for their wellbeing and peace of mind in this very stressful situation.

We got a first hand experience of a huge natural disaster, it is not something I would wish on anyone but its part of life for many people and something we will never forget.

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We were never in a life threatening situation even though some moments felt dangerous and scary. We have talked about it a lot with the kids, made drawings and write ups about it to help process the experience. It has also given us an amazing opportunity to talk about global warming, water flow and rivers, about flooding and city planning, plumbing, recycling, water, volume and the devastating effects of floods.

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We wanted to explore and experience the word, show the kids that life in different parts of the world have different challenges. Ingrid and Scott have learned so much from this experience and felt first hand the fear it causes but also the importance of community and solidarity while helping clear up after the floods. I am glad we have managed to finally leave and sad that we didn’t get to see the beautiful north in its full glory, but looking back, its an experience I wouldn’t change.

Feeling emotional – Peru in floods

Feelings of doubt

Piles of rubbish and dead sea life after the floods

The past few days have been very emotional. For the first time on our trip I have gone through waves of doubt and distress wishing we were back home in the UK…. I hit an all time low just after the roof fell in in our hostel in Trujillo and then seeing Peru in floods with many people in distress on the news realising all the roads were closed and we were trapped.

The floods are still happening although water has started to reside in some areas Trujillo and Chiclayo are still under water, Lima and many many other areas have been hit by flash floods and land slides. Meanwhile, we are glad that we can pay our way to safety in an apartment hotel in nearby Huanchaco

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Taking refuge in Huanchaco

Now a couple of days later, safe from the floods in a flat in Huanchaco, just a few km up along the coast the feelings of doubt have mellowed somewhat. I would not choose to take the kids to a natural disaster zone if I could avoid it but at the same time this is real life, this is most likely the effects of global warming, this is the world we are creating for our children and it is happening right now.

Floods and mud in northern Peru

Feeling and seeing with their own eyes the consequence of global warming and how precarious life is makes you really appreciate the things that matter the most, safety and life itself.

The roof falls in

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The roof starts to fall in

We knew it had been raining a lot more than usual in parts of Peru, all the locals said so. When climbing in at the Base camp, the climbing wall in Lima enquiring about climbing in Cajamarca and Huaraz, the guide told me there is too much rain to climb and that a lot of land slides have made many routes unsafe.

We spent 3 days exploring Lima before heading north on a 10hr night bus to Trujillo for the sun and moon temples with a plan to go forth north east after a few days into the mountains.

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Magic water fountains in Lima

Once in Trujillo we could see on the news that big landslides and floods in the north along many of the big rivers causing the northern region and 811 cities in Peru to declare a sate of emergency. No busses or traffic can travel on the pan American highway that goes along the north coast into Ecuador.

Flooded cities in a state of emergency

The second night of heavy rain, I woke Paul up around 10.30pm when a big chunk of the roof in the middle of our room fell to the floor. The electricity was not working so in the light of our head torches we could se water gushing in through the wall by Ingrids bed and more chunks of the roof falling in, this time on top of the bunk bed Ingrid was sleeping in.

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The roof falls in on Ingrids bed

All the while Scott was happily sleeping in the bottom bunk in one of the other beds in our room. We decided that Paul and Scott would stay the night in our room in the relative safety in the bottom bunks and moved the bed slightly to where the roof looked less likely to collapse. Ingrid was awake and very scared so we quickly moved her into a bed in one of the relatively dry and safe dorm rooms full of excited German youth while Paul and I moved all he bags up onto the beds safe from water on the floor.

Bathroom roof falls in

At this point we did not realise the extent of the flooding in other parts of Trujillo and now also Lima together with many other areas Chosica, Piura, Chiclayo, Ica to mention a few…we only saw it on the news once we have managed to get to Huanchaco, a few km further north the next morning.

Central Trujillo under water for the 6th time in a week

Roads closed – change of plans

As the internet was not working anywhere we could only talk to people and watch the news to try and inform ourselves of the situation and the risks of flooding and damaged roads. We found out through a girl in the hostel that one of the bus companies were not running any services at all as they had had 2 accidents with overturned busses in the past 3 days…

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At the bus terminal

We had bus tickets to go on a mountainous 8hr bus trip to Cajamarca  at 2900m that day, but I was actually relieved to find out that the roads were closed as it made our decision about weather or not to go easy. At the bus office they confirmed no busses were running north or east to Cajamarca due to land slides,. The main road to Lima was also closed as one of the big road tunnels had collapsed.

Enjoying the here and now

Boys go surfing in Huanchaco

Rain is forecasted for another 5 days and more and more towns are hit by the floods as the rivers continue their paths down the mountains. In Huanchaco, we are safe for now staying in a flat a relatively expensive apartment hotel but you can’t put a price on feeling safe, especially when it comes to the kids. Ingrid was really shaken up after the roof fell in and is now after a couple of days of school work, beach and surfing starting to get back to her normal self again.

Huanchaco playpark

We have had to put our plans to go to Cajamarca and Chachapoyas over the next 3 weeks on hold and try to enjoy ourselves here and now while we wait for the roads to open. The logical part of me says this is all part of living in the now and appreciating the things around us rather than planning and wishing for things that may or may not happen while the emotional me would prefer to be somewhere else…

Here and now in Huachaco, the food is good, the flat is good, there is a little playground just across the road a good surfing beach and we are getting back into schoolwork.

Afternoon of school work

All in all things could be a lot worse and our thought go out to the people of Peru who are not as lucky as we are….

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Magical moments among Nicaraguas volcanoes

Nicaragua is the land of volcanoes and lakes so while we enjoyed not doing many touristy things during our stay here, some things are simply unmissable.

Swimming in Laguna de Apoyo – the crater lake

In the centre of the Pacific strip of Nicaraguan territory, along the long volcanic chain that crosses the country from north to south, is a large and extinct crater. In the centre is one of the most beautiful lagoons in Nicaragua, Laguna de Apoyo.

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Ingrid loves swimming and Scott has found a stick as usual

We went to one of a handful of hostels located here for a day pass to their “beach club”. The entrance fee to spend the day is 6.00 dollars per person and 3.00 dollars for children from 6 to 12 years old. We spent the day relaxing in a sunbed overlooking the lake on one of the spacious terraces. We went kayaking, swimming played ping-pong and petanque, all which is included in the entrance fee. Getting here is easy from Granada by chicken bus and taxi or shuttle service that takes you all they way there.

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Ingrid paddle boarding
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Me paddle boarding and Ingrid hitching a ride
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Playing games at the Laguna Beach club

Watching bubbling lava at the awesome Masaya volcano

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You can see the lava churning in the crater

We went with Erick tours out of Granada for a night viewing of the volcano. We spent a few hours exploring  Masaya town before heading up the actual volcano just before sunset. There is a bit of a wait to get up to the volcano as they only allow 50 people at a time, but our guide, Alberto, was excellent. He spent the waiting time giving us information on  Nicaragua volcanoes & Masaya and the general history of Nicaragua.

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Lava!! at Masaya Volcano

Once at the top, the lava lights up the whole sky in a magical orange glow! Amazing view of the bubbling lava but strong sulphur fumes means you can only stay 15 min at the top. We were all seriously coughing by then and glad to get off the top of the volcano.

Rooftop ride to swim in the cool waters of Aguas Agrias

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Cool mammas on the roof on our way to the lagoon

In the rural community of Aguas Agrias, located south of the Mombacho Volcano , is a stunning natural lagoon where the locals go to cool off.  Together with friends we took a pick up truck there and enjoyed an epic ride on the roof. We spent a few hours swimming in the cool waters watching the monkeys overhead. Simply wonderful!

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Beautiful natural lagoon in the jungle
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Howler monkeys in the canopy while we were swimming
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The locals come here too
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Scott and Gekko having fun
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Me and Scott enjoying the sunshine

Sunset at the Treehouse

On the way from Aguas Argias we went to the Treehouse for an amazing dinner at sunset. The Treehouse is located half an hours drive from Granada, 200m up in the jungle. 

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Canopy bridge with treehouse on the right

Its is a wonderful place to bring he kids, although some  might think it’s perhaps a bit dangerous for little ones. The actual house is built into the side of volcano Mombacho, surrounded by howler monkeys, complete with a  fire mans pole, some swings and a 60 metre canopy bridge connecting the main house where you eat to a smaller house where you can sleep in hammocks. The kids have never climbed up 200m so fast before in their life. We stayed for drinks, a communal meal and a truly beautiful sunset.

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Sunset at the Treehouse outside Granada
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Sunset from the Treehouse

Other things we enjoyed in Granada

Pottery practice

Pottery class making our own eggcups out of red clay from are area of san Juan de Oriente. We all had a go under the instruction of the watchful eye of the master, Carlos. We were not very successful, but persuaded him to sell us the little creations we made. Eggcups!

Watching the annual parade at Granadas global poetry festival

The International Poetry Festival celebrates poets from around the world (and is also the largest poetry festival in the world).  We didn’t go to any of the poetry readings but enjoyed the many events that took place in Granada’s open plazas, parks, churches, and markets. The highlight for us was the Carneval which made its way trough the centre of Granada stopping at every street corner for a poetry reading.

Feeling at home in Nicaragua

…and now we have to pack up Casa Ranita & leave

Our time in Granada, Nicaragua is soon coming to an end. Right now we are all really settled in and not looking forward to leaving our little house and all our new friends. Its been amazing to see how quickly Ingrid and Scott both got into their new school life and the normality and familiarity of it all. In many ways it feels just like home.

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Our lovely little 2 bed house in Granada Nicaragua, Casa Ranita

Our Typical day in Granada, Nicaragua

A typical weekday here is not that dissimilar to a day back in the UK.

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Early morning run up to Laguna de Apoyo

Paul and I typically wake up at sunrise around 5.30-6 am. I have a coffee while reading emails and do some travel research while Paul goes for a run before the sun is up and it gets too hot. At 6.30 I wake the kids then we all have breakfast and leave the house about 7.30 for the 2km walk to school which starts at 8.

At this time of day the sun is still low in the sky and the streets are pretty empty. We all really enjoy the the walk along the Calzada and across the main square to get there.

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Our house is at the end of the Calzada in Granada so this is where our walk to school starts
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The Parque central is quiet at this time in the morinng
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We love walking past all the colourful houses on the way to school
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Scott and Ingrids schools are right next to Iglesia Xalteva

Usually I part with Paul and the kids halfway there to head off for a quick coffee before I go to Casa Nica for my 2hr Spanish class.

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Cafe Bristol makes the cheapest and best hot of iced latte in Granada
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Catching up on homework before class
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This is my Spanish school

A lovely school experience in Nicaragua

Already on day one Scott was excited about going to school and making new friends and he has enjoyed going there every day since. The school is bilingual and half the class is made up of Nica children and the other half expat kids who mainly speak English. Its been wonderful for all of us to have the school experience for a month and to meet and get to know the teachers, children and and parents who have been travelling like us and those live here. It was hard to find a school that would accept us for 1 months only, which I wrote about in a previous post, but it one of the best things we have done on this trip so far.

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Sancuanjoche International School – Pre-school

Scotts typical school day in Nicaragua

Scotts school day starts with circle time and Spanish, followed by motor skills, snack & play in the park. After a play outside they focus on social development in Spanish then maths. School lunch is served at 11.30 and Scott loves it!  At the end of the day they do science and play.

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Typical daily schedule for Scott

Scott really enjoys school here and have made so many new friends both with Nica and English speaking children. There are 12 to a class and they all mix  the Spanish & English speakers during breaks to encourage them to practice the other language. His best friends are 2 girls, Brissa a local Nica girl and Gekko, an American girl from Texas.

They hang out every day playing mums and dads, zombies, tag and lots of other crazy games. Last week he went to his first Nica birthday party complete with piñata, clowns, cakes, ice cream and the best party bags ever!

Ingrid also loves school in Nicaragua

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Ingrid happily heading intoschool

Ingrid has made some great friends too, but I think she enjoys access to the school library more than anything else. Every day she gets through 2-3 new books which she reads at home and in reading class and any other free moment at school.

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Ingrids schedule

She is doing great it both English and Maths and is studying both of these with the older children in year 4-5. Spanish is the hard one as she is far behind the rest of the class. However, they have a great system where the other children in her class takes turns helping her translate, read and write in Spanish class so although its a bit more difficult, she is picking it up slowly and its still something she enjoys.

Science is taught with much debate and discussion here, right up Ingrid street. She comes home everyday with new ideas, telling us about all the fun discussions they have had in science class that day. Best of all, she got to see all other kids present their science projects at the school science fair, which she loved. We usually see Ingrids class head back from the park after lunch when we pick Scotty up at 1.

My typical day and Nicaraguan routine

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While the kids are in school, I am in school too enjoying 1-1 lesson with a young Nica girl called Rebecca. The lessons are a mix of slow conversations, grammar run throughs, quiz games and picture cards to practice vocabulary and conversation.

I am by no means fluent yet but have come a long way with a wider vocabulary and the basic grammar and conversations with Rebecca. On the way home I get fresh fruit, vegetables and chiceron from the market.

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Pauls typical day

Meanwhile Paul is deep into catching up on all our admin, planning our next stage of travel and our return to the UK in July. He also goes to the big supermarket at the edge of town to buy the basic groceries.

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Sometimes we have some lunch in one of our favourite spots before picking up Scott at 1. Most of the time though we cook lunch at home after collecting Scott from school. Our favourite food to cook for lunch here is plantain with cheese, nachos and guacamole.

The 2km walk home from school with Scott usually takes up to 1 hour and I love it. There is no stress no reason to hurry him along, we just wander together take in the sights and chat about the day.

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Walking home from school with Scott

After school…lazy afternoons avoiding the heat

After picking Ingrid up at 3, we spend the afternoons in a similar way to what we would do at home. Ingrid typically gets a book out and chills on the bed while Scott plays with his toys or helps me prepare dinner.

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LEGO!
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We  cook all the food from scratch and get the ingredients from the local market

One of his favourite past time these days is helping round he house, either cooking, mopping the floors or doing the washing up. At mealtimes we all help out either setting up and cooking or washing up and tidying up. After some initial resistance, now it all happens without complaints at every meal time.

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Washing up after dinner, Scott loves it and Ingrid hates it

Occasionally we have a playdate after school either at our house or at friends and sometimes later in the afternoon once the temperature starts to drop we go for a walk on the Calzada or head down to the park for a play.

One of the things we love about staying here is all the friends we have made. After 8 months of mostly playing with each other Scott & Ingrid both enjoy the break from each other.In fact we all do!

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Scott and Geco playing lego after school
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Evening stroll

In addition to helping with meals, Scott has to read a book everyday and Ingrid does touch typing and updates her diary. Once all of that it done, the kids watch something on the laptop or play mine craft with Paul, while I do some work on the iPad. Early bed for an early start.

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Ingrid and Scott playing minecraft

After sunset all the locals sit in the cooler air on the street outside their houses enjoying the free light (electricity is very expensive here) and animated conversation. Our neighbour Freddy often invites me to sit down and join them for a chat. A great way to practice my newly acquires Spanish and to get to know the people and the community a bit better. Its a lovely way to spend the evening.

Weekends in Granada, volcanoes and play

The weekends are also very much like our weekends at home. Paul goes out at 5am with a running group while the kids and I have a lazy morning. Ingrid makes pancakes then we do bits and bobs round the house, lego, a creative project, some mine craft.

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Ingrids delicious pancakes

In the afternoon we go exploring, head to the park down by the lake or go for an ice cream.

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There are lots of climbing frames down by the lake, this one has the best monkey bars

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Sunday lunchtime down by lake Nicaragua is full of music and local families hanging out

Sundays are our typical day trip days with visits to volcanoes, museums etc. Our favourite spot so far is Laguna de Apoyo, the volcano crater lake, we you can go swimming, kayaking and paddle boarding in lovely clean and fresh water.

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Paddle boarding with Ingrid at Laguna de Apoyo
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Sunset at the Treehouse outside Granada
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Amazing lava at Masaya Volcano!! So close you can feel the heat!
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Fresh water swimming pool, by Mombacho volcano

Just like home….enjoying the simple things

So, with the exception of adapting the time of our activities to the hot climate here, our days are very similar to many days back home in London. After 8 months of being together 24/7 it is nice to have some time without the kids where we can get on with our plans and think about our return to the UK. Usually this is something we can only really do before the kids wake up or after they go to bed.  When travelling is quite hard to find enough time to get it all done.

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Sunset over Catedral de Granada
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Evening at Iglesia Guadalupe, right next to our house.

We would all be happy to stay here longer, in fact we have talked about it. The town, the country and people are very easy to get on with and to enjoy. Its been nice having the space to be able to do separate things. So far on our travels we have spent most nights together in 1 little room all going to bed and waking up at the same time. The simple pleasure of being able to go to bed and get up at different times, cook if and whenever we want to and even do separate things during the day is not to be take for granted.

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Nicaragua is one of the poorest countries in the world where horse and cart is most often used for transport and work.

There is a great local and expat community with plenty of opportunity to make a real impact in Nicaragua together with the locals. In the end, we have decided to continue to the coast for a few days of surfing before a quick stop with friends in Miami then onwards and upwards to Peru.

We’re thinking that we could always come back to Nicaragua sometime after our round the world trip!

Family time in White Sands, Koh Chang

Change of plans – from floods in Prachuap Kirikahn to sunshine in Koh Chang

Great to see my dad again after 6 months since we last saw each other in Sweden.

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After an afternoon together in Bangkok we were planning to go to Prachuap Kirikan on the south east coast, in a non touristy area that my dad had visited before to chill out for a couple of weeks. img_2136

On the morning of our train, the news headlines were full of reports from flooded southern Thailand with the expectation of 280 mm rain on the one day we would arrive! Quick change of plans as we were about to leave for the train went to the bus station and got tickets to Koh Chang instead.Great to be able to be so flexible!

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Long journey to Koh Chang

Dad took us to a perfect hotel in White Sands beach, Koh Chang where he has stayed before. The only hassle was the length of time it took to get there. Our initial destination was a simple 5 hr train ride away whereas the journey to Koh Chang was much longer. 6 hr bus, 1hr minibus & tuktuk to the ferry, 1 hr waiting about, 1 hr on the ferry then another 30 min to get to the hotel.

We left at 8 in the morning and arrived just before 7 at night. Needless to say we were all tired and grumpy on arrival, but at the same time excited to be with my dad and  have 12 days on the beach together here.

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A perfect spot for well deserved travel break

Alina Grand Hotel is situated at the southern end of White Sands beach, just above the main road, 1 min walk from the beach. We woke up tired but relaxed in a big double room with a view of the great pool at the back of the hotel. Finally a chance to unpack our bags, something we had not done since Australia back in October.

Just the thought of not going anywhere for almost 2 weeks was enough to get us all in the right mood again after a long day of travelling.

A typical day in Koh Chang White Sands beach

A morning stroll followed by breakfast at Monkeys or milk and cereal on the balcony. The room in Alina had a full size fridge in the room, which we used a lot for  our breakfast milk & cereal, drinks and fruits. After breakfast around 9, we had some pool time with Grandpa with swimming, playing on the swings, building lego on the sun beds and reading. 11-13 school time then lunch.img_6814

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We usually hit the beach in the afternoon around 3 when the temperature started to cool down. You get a lovely sunset here which you can enjoy in the calm and beautiful sea or with and ice coffee or beer in the Reagge bar. We found a couple of favourite restaurants where we went for dinner. Paul and I also had our first sunset and dinner without the kids in 6 months here and enjoyed watching the sunset just the 2 of us with a cocktail at Thors.

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Here are some of favourite places to eat and drink in White Sands beach Koh Chang

Best coffee Marin coffee – hot Latte for 70 Thb

Best breakfast in Monkeys, full english for 95 Thb

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Beast lunch Sun and Soul Scott loved the satay here for 90 Thb ( very slow service at dinner time unfortunately)

Best Thai food Nong Bua sea food

Best take away lunch Kai Mun Boogie chicken

Best smoothies & waffles at the White Sands beach night market

Best ice cream Sundays Rock & Sand beach resort

Best bear and Ice coffee on the beach Reagge bar

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Best Bbq dinner at Sea bar on the beach

The  prices of food and drink here was higher than what we had paid anywhere else in Thailand. We typically paid 600-900 Thb for a dinner/lunch for the 4 of us £12-£18, but then again White Sands is a more upmarket area than the places we usually stay. And since the hotel stay was very nice Christmas treat from my dad,  we were more than happy to pay slightly more for the food.

Koh Chang activities beyond White Sands beach

We did 1/2 day snorkelling with hunter 3 island in half a day. 700 Thb per adult and 350 for a child.

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The trip is good value for a nice day out on a boat but do not expect to see many fish. The price includes, transfer from hotel to Bao Bang, lunch and snorkelling masks. The snorkelling spots are quite far out so half the time between 9 and 2 was spent on the boat going out and between the islands.

Compared to other snorkelling we have done the water was not as clear and there were not many fish about. We still had a lovely day out on the boat and would recommend it for a day trip anyway.

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We also took a Songtang trip to Khlong Phlu waterfalls where we had a great time. It is also well worth a visit. We went there on a  cloudy morning padi 400 Thb return trip for the 5 of us from our hotel.

Its a 500 m walk to the waterfall which the kids really enjoyed. Once there you can get into the pool at the bottom and swim with the fish who live there. I took the opportunity to get my hands cleaned from climbing skin by the nibbling fish. A bit freaky but a lot of fun.

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.After almost 2 weeks here we had totally recharged our batteries and were ready to travel to the other side of the world for more adventures.

Rock climbing on amazing Railay beach

Opting for a cheaper stay in Ao Nang

The main reason we went to Krabi in Thailand was so that Ingrid and I could do some longed after rock climbing. We opted to stay on the cheaper mainland area in Ao Nang where we could also afford a place with a pool and got a bonus pingpong table at the same time. From Ao Nang the crags at Railway and Tonsai Railay beach is just  a quick boat ride away.

Choosing a guide to climb with in Railay

There are many climbing companies operating in the area to choose from, some are better than others…. For me the most important thing when choosing who too climb all the way through this trip is safety, official certification and insurance policies as Ingrid is very young. Prices for climbing range from 2000 Thb for a 1/2 day in a group of 4-8 to 4000 for 1/2 day with a private guide and 6000 for a full day with a private guide.

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You can rent just the gear and climb on your own, but with limited time to climb, I prefer to hook up with a guide who can show us the best routes and help us set up ropes and to clean the routes. That way we usually get to climb more and I get the trusted belay I need to do some serious climbing myself.

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We booked 2 x 1/2 days climbing with Real Rocks on Railway beach with a private guide. We paid an additional 500 Thb for Paul and Scott come along in the shuttle and boat so that they could hang out at the beach for the day while Ingrid and I climbed.

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Getting to the 123 crag at and Railay beach

img_8425The Real Rock shuttle picked us up at 7.30 and did the rounds collecting people, then a 20min  boat ride from Krabi Town to Railey beach. Once at the climbing shop the boys went off exploring while we met our guide Wan and got kitted out with ropes, quick draws, slings and helmets.

To get warmed up we started off with some gentle top ropes on the 123 crag. This is the really big crag often used for beginner classes so it was quite crowded through the day. The good thing about this crag is that it had a range of routes suitable for both me and Ingrid. It was also in the shade all day, perfect for climbing in the hot weather here.

Our last outdoor climb climb was over 2 months ago in Yangshuo China so we were feeling a bit rusty to start off with. I was worried about how much my hands and feet would be able to take as well and so with 2 days climbing planned wanted to make sure i left them in a good place for some harder climbing tomorrow.

Ingrid lead climbing at 123 crag Railay

The sand and sea keeps the friction on the rock pretty good with lots of little pockets for your hands and feet. Most of the routes are straight up with little overhang or slabs. A couple of top ropes to start and them I was leading Dr Jekyll & Mrs Hyde remembering how much I love lead climbing. Ingrid started leading indoors a few months back and now wanted to give it a go on this wall. Wan was great supporting her, giving her the right routes to lead and the confidence to do it.

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As in many situations, in sport or with school I find that Ingrid respond much better to coaching from an outsider than me telling her what to do. In Yangshuo I was amazed at the confidence and grit she showed when being pushed by Alex and Karst climber.

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The same happened here with Wan, and as she was one of the best and most experienced climbers on the crag that day, surrounded by beginner climbers, she pushed her on that bit harder as well. Ingrid lead 3 routes starting with Little Monkey, finishing  and topped 3 while I led 5 and topped 1. The last route was a 25m+ 6a hat she simply took in her stride.(cannot remember which one.

The landscape here is too beautiful, its such a privilege to just be here let along climb. Ingrid is already planning her own climbing trips for when she is  older and can go on her own with her buddies. Seriously need to come back for some more climbing as well.

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We climbed from 9.30-1 then went to the other side of the island for a cooling swim afterwards. Definitely something I recommend. Boat back at 5.30, shuttle just after 6 and back at the hotel for 6.30

Day 2 Climbing Diamond Cave

Day 2to was just Ingrid and me, the boys opted to stay at home. Wan took us to Diamond cave crag which was less busy and offered some shorter but more technical and very enjoyable climbs. The 1st hour here was totally exposed and we were sweating profusely during our first climbs. Slightly higher grades, Ingrid opted not to led, but I lead all day finishing on a couple of great 6bs.

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The other great thing about this place is the amazing coffee right at the bottom of crag where Highland Rock climbers have their “office”.img_5016

A hot latte never tasted so good as it did that day. I am excited watching Ingrid climb today, full of confidence and with fantastic technique. My favourite was watching her conquer the overhang on KFC and  effortlessly out climbing top young men on the routes next to her. We were buzzing after 2 days of real rock and eager to plan our next climb in Chiang Mai a couple of weeks later.

Very long train rides through Vietnam -from Cat Ba to Ho Chi Minh via Hoi An

Grey, rainy, polluted and not always friendly – cutting our stay in Vietnam short


We did not enjoy Vietnam as much as we did other countries in South East Asia. I think it’s a combination of suffering from travel fatigue, the grey and rainy weather, a lack of genuine friendliness and hospitality in some of the places we visited, a feeling of constantly being ripped off and perhaps also false expectations in comparing Vietnam to Thailand. Therefore, 2 weeks into our Vietnam stay, while in Cat Ba we took the decision to cut our stay here short and head back to spend our last 2 weeks in we Asia back in Thailand.

Bus, boat and train from Cat Ba to Ho Chi Minh city

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1 hr speed boat to Cat Ba

To get back to the mainland from Cat Ba you have to take a bus, a speed boat and then another 4 hr bus to Ninh Binh. Originally we had planned to stay here for a few days but as we wanted to get out of Vietnam quicker than planned, we only stayed 1 night at the Viet Nhat Hotel before continuing the train further south. Ninh Binh town has nothing to offer in terms of sights really. The main attraction people come here for is the amazing surrounding karst mountains. Due to our long train trip, we opted not to go exploring them and spent the morning doing school work before catching the 16hr night train to Hoi An.

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Catching the  N1 train in Ninh Binh

16 hr night train from Ninh Binh to Hoi An

The N1 train at 15.48 was very basic, old, small and rickety. Scott and me slept in the bottom bunks with and ingrid and Paul in the top.

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Snug as a bug in a rug on the top bunk
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Scott in his ilk liners ,  extremely useful for nights like this

There was basic food for sale on board but we know from previous night trains that it’s not very appetising so had brought our own snacks and fruit to last us the journey. Pork baguettes purchased at the hotel, biscuits with sweets for a late night snack did the trick.The worst thing about night trains is always the toilets and this one was no exception. It is dirty and smelly, but when you have to go you just have to go. Grit your teeth, hold your breath and get on with it.

3 days of rain with new friends in Hoi An

We stopped in Hoi An for 3 nights and were looking forward to warmer sunnier weather. Unfortunately it had been, and still was raining much more than usual this time of year. From the moment we arrived to the moment we left the rain did not stop.

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Hoi An market in the rain

The hotel we stayed at, Botanic Garden Villas had great airy rooms, 2 swimming pools and  a pool table. It also offered free cooking course which Ingrid and I attended.

Unfortunately we never got to try out the pool because of the poor weather. We did however discover a great little deli , Dingo Deli with a playground and play room where we spent the afternoon with our new Canadian friends and their 2 children enjoying delicious coffee while the kids played.

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Friands in town

The persistent rain and flooded streets meant that we did not really get the opportunity to properly explore this beautiful town. When the weather is nice I can imagine it’s a great place for cycling and walking, especially round the old town.  It is also a place to get tailor made clothes and shoes at rock bottom prices.

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Hoi An old town by night

We spent our 3 days here doing schoolwork in the mornings and hanging out with our Canadian friends in the afternoons. Great for the kids to have some friends to play with and for Paul and I to have some adult conversation with people other than ourselves.

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It was fun and useful discussing the ups and downs of travelling for a year with kids, great to get some new ideas as how to do it  and  to just talk about all the practical issues and opportunities of leaving your life behind and planning to come back with fresh eyes a year later.

On our last day in Hoi An Dec 30th we had an amazing meal together at Morning Glory and finally got a taste of how amazing the Vietnamese food really can be.

The following day we spent New Year’s Eve on the 16hr , clean and modern, train to Ho Chi Minh city followed by a 6 bus to Phenom Penh. A lot of travel in 24 hrs but  we were keen to spend the first day of the new year in Cambodia leaving a grey and wet Vietnam behind us.

After a total of 26 hr travel we finally arrived in Phenom Penh excited to be back in the warm sunshine surrounded by friendly people eager to see what this country had to offer.

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Tuktuk to our hotel in Phenom Penh 

Climbing round the world with Ingrid, 8

Getting into rock climbing

I first started indoor climbing 15 years ago, enrolling in beginners course in West Way, London  with a friend of mine. Back then I think the male talent had just as much, if not more pull than the climbing itself. It was just the kind of sport I’d been longing to try out, since my days ski bumming round Europe in my early twenties.

My climbing adventure was short and sweet as I stopped 6 months later when I moved south London and had no close access to a good indoor wall. Some time later I met Paul, got married, had Ingrid and Scott. After we bought our 1st house together, 5 years ago in Surbiton, SW London  I got back into climbing again when I discovered the new White Spider climbing wall 10 min bike ride from our house!

 

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Climbing at Swiss cheese crag in Yangshuo China

Before leaving London for our round the world adventure, I used to go to White Spider 2 times a week climbing, hanging out with friends and taking Ingrid to her junior competition squad training sessions.

Passion for climbing

There are so many things I love about climbing, the fitness and strength it requires to be good, the mental part of clearing your mind and focusing only on the climb you are doing and all the great people and friends I have met through climbing. It can be a competitive sport, but you mainly compete against yourself together with other people. In the last 2 years I have also grown to love the outdoor climbing and just having an adventure in the mountains challenging myself and simply enjoying climbing.

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Ingrid, 8 first started coming with me to climb and found she loved it just as much as I do. In the year before we left London she was training very hard in the competition squad, developing technique and strength. In April 2016 she did her first outdoor climb and was totally hooked.  2016 was also the year when I properly started climbing out doors as well and went on my first outdoor trip with my favourite climbing girls to Villa Nueva del Rosario outside Malaga in Spain.

Ingrid leading Do It For Billy Joel on Moody beach, Han La bay Vietnam

Climbing our way round the world

So in planning our round the world trip, we agreed that part of the adventure would be to try and climb in all countries on our trip. The world famous beach of Raily and Tonsai in Thailand were high on the list, as well as the more obscure and less climbed Yangshuo in China. We also had our minds set on climbing in Vietnam and are hoping to find lots of places to climb in Central and South America.

123 wall on Railay, Krabi Thailand

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Diamond wall- diamonds are forever!

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Can you spot Ingrid on the wall!

I was looking at ways to keep climbing fit on our travels, but the weight and size of or bags dictated that we could not bring any gear for training. We have shoes, harnesses and chalk only and so plan to climb with a guide and, or rent gear as we go along.

In places where we struggle to find the time or money to climb outside, we try to find some cool indoor walls to try out. This will help somewhat to keep climbing fit while travelling but I’m sad that my finger strength has already faded away to nothing.

Ingrid climbing Captian Kirk Eats Bruchetta at Swiss cheese and me climbing Blood at  Twin Gate

So I have finally come to terms with the fact that I will be doing some amazing outdoor climbing this year on a lover level than I’d really like, but will enjoy it for what it is. At home I would happily climb 6b+ , 6c and project 7a , while here I’ll be settling for 6-6b+. Ingrid is not pushing the grades either this year due to lack of regular climbing, but is building technique and confidence in lead climbing and all other outdoor climbing. It will be interesting to see the effects of our Christmas Deep Water Soloing when we go climbing next.

Watch this space for our next epic climb!

Great Family Adventures in Cat Ba – a very different Christmas

Exotic food in the smog of Hanoi

Great breakfast at Hanoi 3B Homestay

A lovely welcome by the taxi driver and the 3B homestay in Hanoi set us off on a great start to our 4 week stay in Vietnam.

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Feeling like Christmas at 3B homestay

Paul had booked the penthouse in 3B Honesty which was, clean, big and amazing. First feel of crisp cotton sheets that we’ve had in a long while, soft mattresses and one of the best breakfasts on our trip so far.

2 days in Hanoi with kids

We spent 2 days wondering the streets of Hanoi trough the old quarter, the french quarters, around the lake as well as exploring the many little shops and street stalls.

The first day of wandering around here we were marvelling at the exotic feel of this place, much more like China then Thailand, not quite what we were expecting.

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One of many food stalls where to local hang out and eat

We were surprised to find that the thick grey skies covering Hanoi gave us all a cough and a headache already by lunchtime on day 1. Even more surprising to find that heavy smog and thick air pollution is not mentioned anywhere in the Hanoi travel guides.

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Thick blanket of smog in Hanoi

Exotic and tasty street food in Hanoi

Despite the smog, we enjoyed some of our most exotic food on our trip so far here. Our first lunch was at a little street stall in the old quarter where we had, among other things, shredded pork which a constancy of candy floss that simply melted  away in your mouth.

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Candy floss beef for lunch in Hanoi

In the evening we enjoyed some more tasty street food in the old quarter. Warning! Although the food was good, we got ripped off big time here by the friendly owner who pretended he had no menu to show us, then served us the most expensive food he had and magically producing a menu when he gave us the bill to prove he was entitled to charge us a ridiculous amount of money. Never eat in Hanoi without establishing the price first!

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More street food – BBQ pork ribs!

The following day we had lunch at a little street full of stalls serving food. Scott opted for snail soup, which was interesting but not that tasty.

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Selection of snails for lunch

We had promised the kids we would enjoy some french desserts here so In the afternoon we went hunting for French Patisseries and ended up in an expensive hotel eating creme brûlée and creme caramel. Delicious!

Awful traffic & thick smog – time to get out of Hanoi

Beautiful water puppet theatre in the afternoon followed by traditional Vietnamese style dinner. Although we enjoyed exploring the streets and the food, the noise and smog from the never ending hoards of traffic, make any time spent here pretty grim. We all had headaches, sore thoughts and felt generally ill from the thick layer of smog that covers the city. Its especially hard work spending time here with the kids as you have to focus on keeping them safe from traffic at all times.

Traffic does not stop here you simply have to take a deep breath and walk out into the street hoping the cars and motorbikes will drive around you, which they do most of the time.

Escaping the pollution – Vietnamese home stay in Ba Vi National park

We had planned to go North to Sappa from Hanoi, but we all felt tired from travelling and from the craziness of Hanoi and so opted to go to Ba Vi National Park, close to Hanoi instead. You can get there by local bus, but we paid a taxi 1m dong (£30)to drive us there.

In Ba Vi 1.5 hrs north west of Hanoi, unfortunately the smog was still like thick carpet overhead. Not until we got to the top of Ba Vi mountain could we take a breath of fresh air while gazing dow  at the lid of pollution below.

The homestay was a bit rustic, with little help or service for us and too far away for us to walk or cycle anywhere. It’s so not a homestay we would recommend but it was a good experience all the same.

The kids enjoyed the adventure of sleeping in the cold air under double covers in the bamboo barn while my back ached from the rock hard bed. Although the hosts here were keen to make sure we were looked after, this place lacked any comforts you need as a family to stay here, from hooks or shelves for your clothes to lunch, choice of breakfast and dinner.

The only other place to eat along the busy main road only had dog on the menu, so that was not a success either.

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Dog for dinner? No Thanks!

Back to Hanoi the next day before heading out to the coast, we opted for western lunch to lift our spirits. Its amazing what a simple burger and chips can do when you are feeling a bit run down.

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Beautiful burger

Next stop Cat Ba.

Feeling at home in friendly Chiang Mai

Chilled out Chiang Mai –  a city for all tastes

After a rural homestay north of Chiang Mai we went to stay in Chiang Mai city for a few days to be close to Chiang Mai Climbing Adventures (CMCA) as Ingrid and I were going out climbing with their instructors during their training and certification session.

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Climbing with CMCA at Crazy Horse Buttress Chiang Mai

We opted for a really cheap hotel here, but in a great location close to CMCA, great eateries and both the Saturday and Sunday night markets.

The Anodard hotel was a bit run down and dirty but, for £16 a night for the 4 of us, its still a pretty good deal.

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Den building in our hotel room in Anodard hotel, Chiang Mai

Great food and sites in tourist friendly Chiang Mai

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Monk in a box at Wat Chedi Luang – he is not real!

We didn’t expect to really like staying in Chiang Mai as we had such a lovely time in the rural home stay, but we were positively surprised. We rented bikes and spent a couple of days biking around town visiting temples, markets and the park and were all surprised by how much we liked to vibe here.

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Saturday night food market in Chiang Mai

The streets are full of a lovely mix of locals and tourists of all sorts and along many streets are little restaurants, cafes, juice bars, hostels and tourist information stalls.

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Cup of tea at a street cafe in Chiang Mai

What we like about this place is that no one is hassling you to buy anything or to go anywhere but you feel really free to wander around and just be. The many beautiful sites also makes most walks and bike rides interesting, even if you don’t go in.

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Scott was born in the year of the Rabbit @Wat Chedi Luang
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Wat Chedi Luang
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Amazing meal at Mr Tonys

The food here is also very tasty and can be really cheep if you avoid the more upmarket western places. The 2 places we really loved were Mr Tony and the Coconut Shell the food is amazing and really cheap.The selection of fresh fruit shakes and smoothies is fantastic and a great compliment to any meal any time of the day.

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Scott testing the selection of smoothies for breakfast. Mango is a clear winner.

Home comforts in Chiang Mai

Outside the old town are a few big shopping centres with all shops and conveniences you could ever want. We spent one afternoon going to the cinema, for the British showing of the new Harry Potter movie. Great fun for all of us and nice to have a break with some home comforts. Next stop the mountains of Chiang Dao.