Two hundred and seventy-seven days later we made it to England, the closest Iain has been to his homeland in three and a half years! Arriving in England we knew it was time to start unwinding, taking a break from life on the road as we catch up with family and friends in the beautiful city of London and in the rolling green countryside towns of Tonbridge, Cambridge, Malvern Hills, then south to Wickham and Portsmouth on the coast.
If the cheapest flight from New York to London stopped over in Iceland you would be a fool to pass up the opportunity to visit one of the most photogenic countries on the planet. With a strong passion for anything Scandinavian Treeny insisted on making the stopover despite Iain’s hesitation at the foreseeable dent it would put in our budget. Treeny pleaded her case, “But there are volcanos, lava fields, glaciers, cute Scandinavian houses, Vikings, Norse Gods, did I mention the volcanos”? Her persistence eventually won out. So off we flew, north toward the Arctic Circle, to the tiny little island of Iceland, that isn’t actually very icy at all, and has names so long and complicated only the Icelandic people can pronounce them.
Words cannot begin to describe how chaotic, energetic and diverse the epic city of New York is. You have to experience it to understand; you must visit at least once in your lifetime to embrace all that makes this city so awesome. The dense streets of this concrete jungle encapsulate more cultures, art, entertainment, business, money, and food than anywhere else. The thought of how to fit everything there is to do here into our measly four day stay was beyond overwhelming. From the bright lights of Broadway, visiting iconic buildings, cruising the rivers, shopping, drinking, eating, there is so much to learn and explore in this great city. Where do you start? In the centre of it all, Manhattan!
Landing safely on the tarmac at Toronto Airport in Canada, we breathed a big sigh of relief. We had made it to the western world, no injuries, nothing lost, our bodies and bags intact. Finally we could drop our guard, turn off our radars that were keeping us alert to danger and thieves constantly during the 248 days we spent travelling through South America. Not only were we excited to be catching up with Treeny’s excitable MammaLou , her wonderful grandad Brian (Pops), and his adorable partner Annie, we were thrilled at the prospect of eating some normal food, no more rice and beans, hurrah! Canada is a ginormous and diverse country requiring months of travel to grasp it, instead with our two weeks we concentrated our time in the state where it all happens, Ontario, home to Pops and Annie in Prince Edward County, the countries capital Ottawa, the state capital of Toronto and the mightiest waterfall in North America, Niagara Falls.
With a fascinating history, provocative architecture, dazzling beaches, tropical landscapes, a colourful culture and impassioned people, Cuba is one of those exotic countries that has all the vital ingredients for exciting travel. Throw in some Spanish colonial charm and some cool 1950’s cars and you have one very alluring destination. There is so much to see on this Caribbean island you would need months to really engross yourself in it. We only had three weeks to explore after Havana and made the most of it by visiting a combination of towns, beaches and rural areas to understand the essence of the real Cuba.
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to jump back in time? Look no further than Cuba, the mysterious and controversial country where in 1959 the clock literally stopped. While the world progressed into a sophisticated hi-tech future, Cuba came to a halt. Technology, architecture, business, and infrastructure ceased to develop, the people almost virtually shut out from the rest of the world. As one of the last remaining Socialist States in the world, Cuba is a curious country with stringent living conditions and oppressive regulations under the rigorous totalitarian rule of their omnipotent leaders Fidel and Raul Castro. No where else in the world will you find predominantly original 1950’s cars on the road, antiquated stores to shop in, and an an eclectic array of pre-1960’s architecture slowly decaying as the world moves forward and Cuba stands still. Havana is the pulsating political and cultural capital of this extraordinary country, and a haven for absorbing and learning about this unusual communist world.
If you hadn’t already noticed we love boats. During our journey around South America we caught a whopping sixteen, six of which were long distance. It would be no surprise then that when we realized we were venturing to Panama we would jump on the opportunity to watch ginormous hulks of floating steel navigate their way through a very narrow canal. The Panama Canal is one of the world’s most enduring engineering feats. Masses of earth were exhumed from the jungle to form this 80km transit channel linking the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. There is more concrete and steel in this thing than you can begin to imagine, and the logistics that are required to run this operation are astounding. And what made our visit to the Canal even more exciting was that Mickey and Minnie Mouse were there!
A seed had been sown in our brains many months back to sail between the South American and North American continents through the Caribbean Sea from Cartagena in Colombia to Portobelo in Panama, stopping at picture-postcard islands along the way. An opportunity we just could not pass up. Our trip was to be made on the majestic Mintaka, a German sailing yacht. The Mintaka set sail from it’s homeland of Germany 21 years ago and has been sailing the oceans ever since. The owners of the yacht, Manfred and Petra, were to be our Captain, crew and guides for the next four days of sailing through paradise. As we hoisted the main sheet and rolled out the jib, our last sight of South America slipped out of view with the flickering lights of Cartagena fading in the distance in the dark of night.
After 216 days of travelling over 40,000km through 10 countries, on 62 buses, 15 boats and 1 plane we had reached our final destination on our colossal trip around South America. We had arrived in the most beautiful and vibrant city in Colombia, Cartagena. Tucked neatly inside an impressive network of archaic walls, the cobblestone streets of this charming city will romance you in everyway. If colonial architecture, drinking beers in lively plazas or meandering through the colourful streets doesn’t interest you, than a visit to the scintillating tropical beaches of Playa Blanca or the mysterious mound of mud at Totumo Volcano will surely entice your senses.
Who would have thought that at the very tip of South America on the shores of the Caribbean lays a great desert? Endless plains of dust, shrubs, dried up lagoons, and mountains made of dirt sprinkle the northernmost province of South America the Guajira Peninsula, a stark and desolate region we find hard to picture in the tropical north. Back in December we made it to the nearly-southernmost point of South America Ushuaia, so we thought it would be fitting then to venture to the nearly-northernmost point to Cabo de la Vela, an isolated fishing village where tumbleweed rolls freely and there are more goats than people.