A Travellerspoint blog

South Island

New Zealand

semi-overcast

Queen Charlotte Track

We had heard about the Queen Charlotte Track which is in the Marlborough Sounds Area of the South Island and that is was supposed to be a nice trek with varying degrees of difficulty. We choose to do the trek in one day as we had so much to do in so little time!

We had a bad start to the day. We booked the trip for 8.00 but realised at 8 that we were late. In typical NZ style they let us on the next ship with captain Ken ( of Irish descent ). On the boat we met special needs teacher Marcus Hopkins from Blackburn who was charity cycling in QCT. If we ever move to NZ we have a good contact! We were dropped off in ship cove and had to walk to Furneaux lodge. The trek was medium going but we spoke svenska most of the way.

The views were great and it would have been nice to camp on the trek but we had booked our return boat for 4.

That night we stayed in the same place and had processed soup and a movie.. Body of lies! Definitely getting our money's worth out of those Chinese bootlegs!

We headed to the wine region of Nelson next!

Nelson

Baytours collected us after driving from Picton. We met newly wedded new Zealanders and a welsh family. It was a great trip run by a really friendly lady. As usual on wine tours it is compulsory to overdose on the wine - which we did. Nelson seemed very nice and we would have liked to have done more but Abel Tasman was where we were headed next!

Abel Tasman

Drove from our DOC site to make the 9am taxi boat. We went to the split apple with stu the driver and Helen, an English girl.
Weather was ombytlig (changeable) and we had heavy rain and lovely sunshine. It was like Ireland!! We saw amazing views of the Tasman Sea. Including many bays. Bark bay, frenchman bay, mosquito bay ....bay bay....bay...

Sandflyes were a scourge all the way. They are like Mosquitos but hurt on the initial bite more. Man they can bite. The feckers drew blood from K.

We were collected at Anchorage. It was again a day trek but was pretty amazing. The Sandflies were a pain but would do it all again..

After Abal we headed to Franz Josef Glacier via Westport. We stayed in a DOC site again (they are brilliant!) but we did not pay this time as we were told by our boat driver not to pay..It was not worth the guilt though and it created bad Karma...Read on....

Franz Josef

Tramp was delayed due to weather conditions but only by an hour or so. We got geared up a headed off on a grotty old bus with our guide Daniel. 10 mins later we were staring at the bottom of the mammoth glacier. 1 k trek to the foot and we then put on our cramp-ons. The initial climb was steep but after that it was all about the scenery. Massive crevasses, man carved steps and cold, wet blue ice. Class. A great trek of zero difficulty and the pics were pretty good too!

We headed to Wanaka after a lunch. We stopped off at a doc site and hit the sack for what we thought would be a good nights sleep!! We were rudely awoken to hear scratching and eating. The initial noise sounded like something way bigger than the little rodent it ended up being (a little mouse). The time we were woken at was 12.30. At 5:12am we are waiting to get diesel and head to a solution in Queenstown... We hoped! Not a wink did we get once we heard the HUGE DINOSAUR that was in the van. We mean huge now. Very dangerous too.

Karma for not paying at the DOC site. Me thinks YES:-( We are bad bad people!

Queenstown

We arrived at the Jucy Van Rental office in Queenstown at 8am all ready to demand a new van, 5 star accomodation in the mean time and thousands of dollars in compensation for the trauma we experienced in the last 8 hours. However, we were met by a girl who was not having any of it! Reality kicked in and we were advised to buy mouse traps to catch the HUGE DINOSAUR that was in our van. We felt like right feckin ejits! We bought the traps and set them but rather than wait for the HUGE DINOSAUR to be caught while we were there we checked into a nice 4 Star hotel in Queenstown! The following day we checked in on the van and being the hardened backpackers/hunters that we were we caught the HUGE DINOSAUR in the mouse trap.......it was the smallest mouse that either of us had ever seen. Very embarassing, especially for Martin - a big girls blouse!!

The manager gave us a generous rate if $75 which was all we needed to be convinced to stay. Even though the mouse was literally in the bag we decided to avail of the offer and make use of the jacuzzi overlooking lake Wakatipu! Firstly we rented our bikes and headed to the tailor made course on on the Glenorchy road. There was the sunshine bay track to deal with. It was no bother to us! When we arrived at the seven mile course we saw there was a dual walk and bike track before the loops. Walking was our only option as the track was just too hard, for us, to cycle on. Loop 7 was our ultimate goal and was an enjoyable track. Once we completed it we headed back and were pleasantly surprised that all the treks were easier on return.

We made use of the jacuzzi for the best part of an hour. Amazing view of the lake. We had a few beers and skrapmat in the hotel and hit the sack. Another brilliant day in brilliant New Zealand :-)

Our time in Queenstown finished with a helicopter trip to the top of one of the snow capped mountains. For $99 each it was a steal. Just look at the pics......

Milford Sound
3/5/09: We drove to Milford sound at about 10am. A few scenic stops were made on the way. We were aiming for the 2 for 1 cruise but were not too happy it was 1.5 hours only. We reckoned there would not be enough in that and it was a long way to come back!!! Anyways, K had an inkling to do the overnight trip. Final say was passed to M and the decision was made to board the Mariner for the night cruise. It was one of those "we will regret it when we are back home looking back"...and we would have been bang on the money with that theory!

We boarded at 4.20pm. Immediately we realised we were in for a real treat. The staff were very nice and our fellow passengers were super friendly, especially the ozzies. There was a gang of middle ages ozzies from Brisbane who even offered to host us if we ever passed on our trip!

Photos galore we taken on the route out to the Tasman sea. Unusually the tasman was very calm. We waited for sunset. Class photos. Really some of the most breathtaking scenery ever...

Dinner was top notch and the chef spent his summers in Ballyfermot, so there was a bit of banter with him. I am not sure he has been back in the last while, things might have changed! We were treated to a documentary after dinner and hit the sack early.

A real treat and a true highlight.

Woke up at 6.45 on the boat. Had a fantastic brekkie and then boarded the speedboat. We were taken up to the waterfall, saw a baby seal and 1 k high overhangs. Did not take the camera though!!! M's fault and boy was he reminded!!

Drove straight back to QTown but along the way we picked up an interesting LA wanna be/ hippie. We spent the journey from Te Anau with him. He was a nice guy but we both were worried that at some stage he was going to kill us or make us join his hippie cult revolution...neither happened!

Martin cooked spagball and we the took the gondola up bobs peak. Saw a beautiful sunset and watched bungy jumpers and swingers! Again, M wimped out!

Wanaka
5/05/09: Home to skapbil for a movie and popcorn. The next day we headed back to Wanaka. There was a fair bit of travelling so we did a small trek along the lake which was lovely and we then had 3 bottles of wine between us to celebrate ....what we were celebrating was up for discussion! The lake was class so the next day we jogged to beacon point from outlet camp. We walked the same route later again that day and it took 3 hours. IT was that nice we had to do it again! that night we watched Changling, a good movie!

Left Wanaka and drove to mount cook. Took pics of lake punakiki which was an illumious blue lake overlooked by mount cook.
Fika in old mountaineers cafe which was full of interesting mountaineering information and was a shrine to Sir Edmund Hilary - a Kiwi icon! Stayed in DOC site. Had a Swedish test and did ok on vocab but shite on verbs. IT is not getting any easier!! It was freezing all night. M wore 3 layers on top and 2 on bottom! K had 1 layer less...she was proud to announce! Looking out the van window we we greeted to a layer of new Zealand sneachta (snow) the next morning. K opened the door and was met by the 2 good looking ducks - they were different and good looking!! We walked to the second swing bridge of the hooker valley tramp and decided not to venture too much further. The weather was bad and mount cook looked angry! We bought salmon from a salmon farm and fed the salmon that were waiting to be eaten. We stopped in lake tekapo for the night. K poached the salmon and we drank wine. Simply delicious....

Finished off our time in NZ with what we hoped would be swimming with the Dolphins in Akaroa. However, torrential rain and cold meant it was not going to happen. K would still have done it!! Still remains a life long dream!

We arrived in Christchurch too late to see anything of the city really. We headed off and left another fantastic leg of our trip behind us. We traveled 4300 kilometers in 4 weeks in our little Jucy Hiace van. New Zealand was everything we hoped and more. We both cannot wait to return.....

Posted by kmandmc 17.02.2010 14:20 Archived in New Zealand Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Sweet As Bro!

Hello Aotearoa, the north island! 1550KM in total.

sunny 20 °C

New Zealand was definitely a place we looked forward to with zest. We arrived in Auckland on 11th April 2009. We had a night in a motel/hotel before we picked up our home for the next 4 weeks - a Toyota Hiace Camper Van with fitted kitchen, toilet, bed, dinning area and shower!!

Once we got the wheels and stocked up in the local supermarket we headed north to Russell. This place came highly recommended from Peter amongst others so we decided to make the trek. En route we stayed in Prahia in a car park. This was our first camper experience and we were as excited as we were nervous. But it was great craic living in such a small area. M was a giant in the box! Unfortunately K was still hungover, I mean sick, from Brazil and Leahanne's wedding so when we got to Russell K was not up to much. Martin did some walking around and picture taking and met K after some rest. It was a beautiful town in fantastic settings. We did not have much time as we knew the south island had so much to offer so we headed south again after one night (and the movie seven pounds - we had a DVD player in the box).

In one day we drove 500K. All the way from Russell to Rotorua. Rotorua stank of rotten eggs. It was from the geothermal earth movements - at least so we are told! Day 1 in Rottenarua was spent mountain biking. We started off on two easy tracks, tahi and dipper. They were tough enough. Then we moved on to the grade 3 tracks, genisis and challenge. By mistake we did genisis twice!! We exchanged love stories with the bike rental guys and headed off on our merry way. It really was a class spot for mountain biking though and it catered for all different levels. All the activity of the day meant we hit the bed in the box early. This was a common theme for our time in NZ.

We headed to agro adventures just outside rotorua. First off we did the free fall extreme which is a giant fan that propels you in the air like you are free falling. It was fun but nothing like the real thing (or so K will tell anyone who listens - the mentaler). After much consideration Martin decided to do the swoop. We were strapped into sleeping bags and dropped from 45meters. First we turned upside down while plummeting to the earth and then the swing kicked on and we were swung across at a very fast speed:) Zorbing was such a laugh. Two of us in our swims in a giant plastic ball covered in warm water hurtling down a hill!! We watched the movie Australia and conked out for a 10 hour kip!

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Lake Taupo - K is nuts!
We tag teamed on a run around the lake, one made brekkie while the other ran. Big brekkie was had. Hit the road. Arrived in Taupo almost on empty tank. Hit the iSite for info which must be said were a god send in NZ. The staff and the information from these tourists offices were brilliant in all towns we used them. We headed for the airport. The location where people who are not right between the ears jump out of planes. We missed the airport. Turned back. Complete dumbasses. Picked a skydive agency. Picked another as the other was too long a wait. K went straight into the jump suit after 10 min wait. Gulp. M photographed. K shed some tears. Met Mike. Waved bye and boarded the plane. M shed some tears!

The rest is on tape and film. OMG!!! What a blast....

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We hit 2 paddy bars that night in celebration and a kiwi experience joint...Shorts, beers and a great night were had.

Tongariro to Wellington
Michael B recommended this trek to us. Unfortunately the weather was utter muck. When we arrived it was ok so M walked for half an hour around the camp site but we had been warned that the Tongariro crossing was inaccessible to the public the following day. We were gutted as it is one of the main attractions of the north island. We did a 2 hour walk by a waterfall and the chateau. It rained a lot and then it rained some more. We left and headed for Wellington.

We stayed 30k outside Wells where we were on our own in the national park...eeerrryy but cool.

We made our way to Newlands to the camper van site. Wellington is a very nice city set on a picturesque harbor. Went to Te Papa museum and used up some very interesting hours there. It is well worth the visit. We got the feeling that we wanted to stay longer in Wellington but we were already on a tight schedule.

We headed from north island to the south by putting the van on the boat and read the paper and kicked back. The sights were class from the boat. The cook Strait itself is very beautiful.

Posted by kmandmc 22.04.2009 13:04 Archived in New Zealand Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Bejing, Guilin, Yangshou & Hong Kong (again)

China from the perspective of the saddle

sunny 30 °C

BEIJING

We arrived in Beijing at night by plane. We really did not know what to expect. I guess one of the reasons we choose China on this trip was to catch it before tourists over exploit it. Lets face it...our tip so far has been amazing but we have struggled to get off that gringo trail. China would turn out to be something else though. We did expect a lot more white faces around than there actually is. Mainland China is NOT that easy to get around and that Chinese language is a nightmare for a non native. It would cause us much hassle but a lot of laughs too! The culture is so different from anything else. We loved that difference. Some things are hard to embrace though! That bloody hocking is so disgusting- and it is everywhere. What is the story with that! It was a complete nightmare trying to find restaurants when there is no English menus. You have absolutely no way of knowing what it is and even when you get picture they can be so misleading. And when you manage to get the English menu it is heartbreaking when it is literally full of dog intestines, chicken feet (what IS the story with all those feet), ducks head, turtle soup. It is just not possible to eat. So often after trying in vain for ages to find a place to eat we ended up in McDonalds more times than ever before. Broken spirits.

Travelling though South America we did at times feel unsafe and we had some mad experiences. But cycling through China has got to be the most dangerous thing we have done so far. We didn’t know where the picture of the Chinese people as timid creatures comes from because put them on a bike, moped or car and they are absolute mentalers. Never has (Karolina) been shitting herself as much. Thing is as scary as it is it is the best way of exploring the country and really getting a feel for it. In Beijing we went around the city's hutongs (it is long and narrow lanes of the main streets which are part of the ancient city and it is full of people- cycling, walking, working and going about their lives. It is an absolutely brilliant way of experiencing the Chinese atmosphere).

Our hostel in Beijing (Downtown backpackers Beijing) turned out to be the best hostel in our whole trip so far! The staff was so helpful it was ridiculous- they could not do enough for us! Def recommend it.... It was in a beautiful Hutong full of restaurants, bars, cafes and gorgeous little boutiques (can the fab clothes PLEASE stop following us!!!!).

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Visiting Tianamen square and the forbidden city are of course musts when visitng Beijing. We are happy to have been and seen these historical places and it felt bizarre to stand in the places of such political history has taken place. However, visiting the Forbidden city was a bit of a disappointment. Despite some beautiful buildings it was hard to look past all those tourists (although most of them were Chinese). We were complete idiots too. We got involved in a scam with two “English students” who wanted to practice their English. M did not like it but heart of gold K thought they were so nice. Anyway, we ended up paying extortionate prices for tea. We were lucky though as we heard stories in the hostel of people who paid hundreds. Our bill did not hit €30. Still, we are dumbasses for falling for the scam as we saw on our return to the (excellent) hostel that they had warnings about this kind of thing everywhere.

To finish off our days sightseeing K decided to go nuts in the shops (looking only, I promise). Martin decided to have a massage and due to a mixture of language difficulties and interest to try Chinese methods had Martin have glasses with fire inside put on his back that somehow killed the oxygen and sucked the hot glasses to his back. Not until he came home later (feeling quite good actually) and took of his top did he notice that his back was full of huge round purple rings all over. It looked horrendous and so freaky that our German roommates took pictures of it as well. These marks would stay on his back for weeks- luckily he did not have to go to a beach in the near future!!!

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Unfortunately the jet lag would not leave us alone. We ended up turning our days upside down and going to bed when we were supposed to get up in the morning. We would return from bars early in the morning and it was impossible to turn the days around. We decided to go on a trip to the great wall and were picked up at 5 in the morning that was mental as this was the time we normally went to bed at. The trip was amazing. We went from Simitai and walked 10K along the wall. We were so happy when went to the part of the wall that is outside of Beijing as it is a whole lot less touristy and its is the longest preserved part. And what was incredibly cool was that it was snowing despite it being spring (we were told that the previous week Beijing had 30 degrees). It was fantastic to experience it in the snow. It took us hours to walk the circle and it was so beautiful. We got company from Mongolian ladies for most of the way that acted as unofficial guides and when they left us we did not have the heart to deny them a tip. We are too soft!

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Although Tienanmen Square did disappoint a place that did impress us however was the Lama temple and we would definitely recommend it... That experience held all those things one would expect from a Chinese temple. It had beautiful temples and statues, it was spiritual and it was a lot less touristy and we could observe Chinese people practicing their faith in peace and quiet. We returned to the Forbidden city again as the previous time it was closed. It was nice but the temple was a lot more interesting but still a must see. We hit the silk market that evening was there were excellent rip offs to be had. Needless to say we indulged ourselves with some tasty bargains. This particular night was rounded off with some boozing in the smallest bar in Beijing – 12sqm bar. The date was March 30th. One more day of hot pots and cycling was left before we went to Guilin.

GUILIN

Guilin was an ok city. Very big and fast paced with ugly enough buildings. There was however nice restaurants and one in particular was Rosemarys Café. There was a pretty good book exchange there and the Café itself had a very good vibe with both Chinese and ex-pat clientell. Well worth the effort. The best thing about Guilin though was its vicinity to Yangshuo!

YANGHUO

In Yangshou we got bikes (albeit the worst ones ever) and went cycling around the country side. We got lost on numerous occasions ending up cycling through tiny ancient villages, watching farmers going about their lives and just taking in the unbelievably beautiful scenery. So as dangerous as it might be it is by far the best way to enjoy the country.

All this mad stuff is what we loved. If you can accept and embrace all that mad stuff (although killing and skinning dogs in markets in broad daylight like Martin witnessed can never be accepted- full stop) and take in the culture, the beautiful scenery and Chinese people it is a mind blowing experience. Way above anything we would have expected. We quickly realised how little time we really had and we really really hope we will be able to come back one day to see more!

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In Yangshou we decided to stay at a hostel that fittingly was called the Culture house. It was run by a man and his family and in addition to offering daily fabulous meals (thank God- it saved us from trying to find a eatable meal) it also offered cultural experiences such as calligraphy and Tai Chi. Karolina tried the latter and although she can appreciate it the slow moving pace and the fact it took over two hours made it quite a sleepy experience.

Yangshou is a small city with a beautiful countryside on its doorstep. The Karst cliff scenery was class. The best way to explore it was by bike and we spent hours cycling around the countryside. Despite a (useless) map we got totally lost but the beauty was definitely the experience of cycling through small villages without a clue where we were and having no way of finding out either as no one spoke English. It was so beautiful that we cancelled our plans to move on to the southwest. We decided that we wanted to explore this place thoroughly instead of rushing around and not really getting a feeling for the place! We visited Moon Hill, which is a whole in a mountain that we had to climb to reach with amazing views. Unfortunately we listened to a cute old lady selling post cards and went up higher up on the mountain. Due to a lot of rain it was a very muddy and slippy climb that was very dangerous. It was nice but definitely not worth the risk of falling! Martin was made pose for pictures with starstruck school girls, totally understandable on their part (not)!

We went to see Cormorant fishing on the recommendation of Big Six Mick, which is an ancient way of fishing with birds. These birds are tied to a fisherman’s bamboo boat. The birds have huge beaks and dive like mad and catch fish. The birds are tied around their necks so any attempt to swallow fails and the fisherman empties the birds catch into a basket. It sounds cruel and it is but we had to have faith in the fact that these birds get to eat some of their catch and it really was fascinating to see this spectacle as we cruised beside the fisherman on a boat at nighttime. It must be said too that the birds looked very healthy, it was in their interest to keep them that way!

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Another amazing experience was cruising down the Li River on a bamboo raft. The karst peaks we were surrounded by while travelling up the Li river were nothing short of breathtaking. It was an hour long round trip that took in the main highlights of the Li River. The wonders we witnessed are reflected on the back of the RMB20 note. Greg and Sofie (Canada/France) accompanied us on this trip. After a false start where a lady threw us off the bus as the bus had reached it's legal limit and then preceded to tell us to wait outside the terminal for illegal pickup we set off around 11.
In Xingping we were joined by Rose from China and Chris from the UK. Although they initially seemed like an odd couple we were soon won over by Roses quick wit and Chris’s sarcasm. It turns out Chris is an author and he invited us to meet them at a cafe to give me his signed book. We ended up spending an afternoon at a cafe with them and had an enjoyable time with a lot of interesting conversations.

Bill Clinton had visited the "fishing village" near Xingping. So for an extra RMB40 we decided what is good enough for bill is good enough for us. However, the village itself was cute but disappointing but again we had another 1 hour round trip through this amazing landscape. Well worth it. Bill must have felt the same.

Karolina came ill meaning Martin had to entertain himself once again (remember Brazil!!). By foot the length and breath of Yangshuo was explored. In the farmers market M saw caged chickens, ducks, rabbits and dogs :( It was horrible and best forgotten. The night was complete after we watched the “Boy in Striped Pyjamas” (the book we read in Peru) with Sofie and Greg.

We left Yangshou with a tear in our eyes- we had had so much fun and felt we got a chance to experience the cultural aspect of China for real. We opted to take the train to Hong kong and this would prove to be very very different.

We had heard about Chinese trains but did not really know what to expect. Whatever it was there was no way we would have expected this: queing in line with A LOT of pushing Chinese people. They might be small but do they know how to use their elbows or what. Martin despite his size had no chance. We had opted for a 2nd class sleeping cabin which sleeps six. When we entered the cabin we could not believe the size of it- the beds were so tiny- in both width and length and they were three stories high. You need to be an acrobat to get to the top bunk- luckily Martin got the lowest one and Karolina the middle. We did not even dare to think about how we would have climbed to the top one....so phew. We of course shared the cabin and the whole carriage with Chinese people and no one could speak any English at all. This did not stop them from chatting to us and it was a bizarre, fun and different experience to hang out with these Chinese people in what felt like a tiny dolls house! We enjoyed it so much that we were kind of upset we never got to do more train rides in China....

We had a short stay in HK. We split up and window shopped for about 2 hours. K of course saw the best deals ever.

We headed over to kwan Lai fong for beers. Got very drunk on happy hour pint,shots and cocktails. New Zealand here we come….

Posted by kmandmc 10.04.2009 12:48 Archived in China Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Hong Kong- and the jetlag of the Century!

Our first stop in China would be Hong Kong. With our arrival came the jet lag of this century. We DO NOT recommend doing three continents within the space of a week. The partying and running around in Ireland took its toll (soo worth it though). This coupled with weeks of the same in Brazil and Karolina not looking after the flu she picked up in Rio before leaving for Ireland meant we really got it bad in China. Well Karolina did. This meant sleeping for Ireland for like 2 days. Again K was of course the worst! It also meant not lapping up as much of Hong Kong as we would have liked on arrival there but knowing that we would come back to fly out of there meant we could take a breather.

What we did see was brill! Totally blew us away. We had expected it to be sterile and without life but we were very wrong. It is absolutely buzzing with life and for shoppoholics (yes we have finaly come to admit it- we have a problem) like us it is heaven. For Martin full streets of electronics (NERD) and another with sportsgear was heaven! For Karolina streets of shopping malls with the coolest clothes ever. And at good prices! And the markets are of course amazing! The end result; a Canon camera (a dream come through) and of course karolina managed to squeeze in some more clothes in an already over stuffed backpack!

We did manage to catch some sights though! We caught the Hong Kong light show one evening. This is a surreal light show of all the skyscrapers on Hong Kong Island that goes of every night from the mainland shore. Very cool. Very touristy!

We left Hong Kong happy in the knowledge we were coming back- we were dying to enjoy more of the fab atmosphere- without the jet lag!. AND hopefully we had cut up the Visa cards by then- very dangerous!

Posted by kmandmc 23.03.2009 16:46 Archived in Hong Kong Comments (0)

Pitstop : Ireland

Hello Lucy, Leahanne & Dara!!

The time had finally come to stop off in Ireland to see friends and family and of course see Leahanne and Dara get married (!!!!). We never thought it would be a quiet week but it turned out to be absolutly nuts!! The day we arrived Denise timed it perfectly and had little gorgeous Lucy. We never dared to hope that she would actually arrive while we were home but our prayers were answered:-). She is an absolute dote and congrats to Denise and Jason- you did brilliant!

Baby Lucy..
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We saw as many friends, families and babies (there are a lot of them) while home but nowhere near as many as we would have wanted:-(. We did of course make Dara's and Leahannes wedding and it was absolutely brilliant! So nice to see close friends marry and the day (weekend more like it) was lovely! And we have never been as spoiled over a wedding WEEKEND before. Congrats to MR and Mrs Harrington!

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Being home was lovely but oh to fast. Before long we were off again. Next stop CHINA!

All that partying and running around would take its toll. We would NOT recommend traveling from South America to Europe to China within like a week. We both would get the jetlag of THE CENTURY! But it was of course worth it!

Posted by kmandmc 20.03.2009 00:23 Archived in Ireland Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

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