Day 257: Ho Chi Minh City

It took us a while to get to our hotel the night before, with our plane being delayed by half an hour and our hotel pick up not being there, but we got a good sleep once we were in bed and woke up ready for the day. We booked a tour with Les Rivas to take us to the Cu Chi tunnels at 11am, so while we waited we went for a short walk through the city. Many people had told me before I came to Vietnam that you can definitely see the differences between the North and South of Vietnam, and this was certainly true. Hanoi was more gritty and traditional, with women walking along balancing baskets of fruit on their shoulders whereas Ho Chi Minh City (former name Saigon) is much more commercialised and Westernised.  I personally would probably prefer Hanoi, especially for a backpacking location, because it is able to give you more cheap and authentic experiences. Saigon has many more Western influences, with tall, glass buildings and chain restaurants. It’s cleaner, but it’s just like being in another big city around the world (that’s my personal opinion anyway – fly to Vietnam and see for yourself!).

Anyway, after exploring the area surrounding our hotel for a bit, we were soon on our way to Cu Chi tunnels. We chose the option that would take us there and back by speedboat along the Saigon River, which turned out to be a great option! It was beautiful out on the water and the company provided us with drinks and fresh fruit while we zoomed along the 1.5 hour journey. We arrived and had lunch sitting on the water before starting our tour.

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Over the next 1.5 – 2 hours, we were walked through the area to see hidden entrance ways to the tunnels, several of the booby traps used and talked through a map & propaganda film to explain some of the technical and historical aspects. Seeing the booby traps was quite confronting and Amanda and I were in disbelief when people were making jokes about them… Personally, we found it in bad taste. We also got to walk through a section of the tunnels and after 20 metres we were done and needed to get out of there. They are tiny and claustrophobic and I honestly don’t know how people used to live and hide in them…

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Then we were zooming away on our speedboat again, back to the city to spend our last night together in Vietnam. We got our nails done one last time, had a BBQ dinner and had a cocktail on a rooftop after overlooking the city. We reminisced and talked about how grateful and lucky we were that we could spend this time together and have these amazing memories. Then, 258 days later, it was time for me to go home…

During my time in Hoi An, a sudden tragedy hit my family back home… My beautiful 89 year old Nanna passed away. Fondly known as ‘Joy’, she did bring joy to all our lives. Anyone that knew her, knows just how friendly, easy going and dedicated she was. She was an avid knitter and I’m sure most family and friends (and friends of friends!) have a piece of my Nannas work somewhere within their house, which we can all continue to look at now and remember a beautiful lady who lived a full life. She (and many of my family members) would constantly tell me how much she loved reading my blog and following my adventure. I honestly think she was my biggest fan and would ring my mum to tell her that a new blog entry was up before my mum even knew! I’m so heartbroken to think that she didn’t get to read to the end of my adventure, but I know she was watching it all and smiling along from above. So thank you Nanna, for supporting me and following me until the very end. This last entry is dedicated to you. I will miss you everyday and am so grateful for all the wonderful times I got to spend time with you. Rest In Peace. xo

Days 247 – 250: Hoi An

A 9am flight got us into Danang airport around 10.30am from which we were picked up and driven to the nearby town of Hoi An. Beautiful Hoi An is a coastal town with a river running through it and is much quieter than Hanoi. We were staying at Hoi An Beach Resort which sits on the edge of the river and is 50 metres away from the beach on the other side. They ran a free shuttle into town basically on the hour (because the resort was about 5km away from the town) so it worked out well for us. We got driven to our room from the reception area by a little buggy (it was literally 50 metres away, but hey!) and then grabbed a shuttle bus into town. Hoi An is known for its tailoring, so Amanda and I went to a well known tailor and got measured up for some clothes. After that, it was time for some relaxation so we walked to a nearby day spa and had a 2.5 hour session. A full body scrub, massage and a manicure & pedicure with french polish cost us about $33 US dollars (so cheap!) and was worth every cent. We floated out of there and walked down towards the river to check out that part of town. We walked over this beautiful bridge which had lights and lanterns, to find a whole stret dedicated to these beautiful lanterns. We walked as the sun set, which turned the sky a brilliant purple/blue.

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We wandered back towards to our pick up point, looking for somewhere to eat and stumbled across a brilliant little restaurant in an alleyway that served crispy pancakes for dinner. For $5.90 each, we were shown how to make our dinner by combining all the ingredients into a rice paper roll. We had pork, chicken, vegetables, leafy greens, spring rolls and a tasty peanut sauce which made us plenty of rolls so that we rolled out of there ourselves!

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The next day we took it pretty easy to start with and hung out around the infinity pool, before heading towards the beach for lunch. We got a humongous coconut for $1.60 with our lunch and sipped it while enjoying the sounds of the beach. Just before sunset, we headed out on the bus again into town because it was the Full Moon Festival that night. Whenever there is a full moon, the town turns out most of its lights along the waterfront and just lights lanterns. You can buy a small lantern and put it on the river where it floats down – this made for an incredible sight and after dinner we sat on the edge of the river to watch the lanterns go by. Photos didn’t do it justice.

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Our third day in Hoi An was spent part relaxing once again (we started the morning off with some tai chi) and venturing into town. We had lunch at a lovely vegan restaurant and wandered around for a bit, before having dinner at a well known restaurant called Morning Glory. The food there was incredible and we had a lovely evening together. After we had checked out, we headed into town once again to go to a cooking class with Goian Cooking School. We chose 4 dishes to cook and headed to the market with a local to choose some fresh herbs and vegetables. Then we began cooking – we started with beef Pho, followed by fish cooked in banana leaf, crispy pancakes and eggplant in claypot. All the dishes were incredibly delicious and we had a lot of fun cooking and creating.

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We then went for some beach walks and more relaxing by the pool while we waited to leave for our flight at around 7pm. The sunset was fantastic and was a great way to end our time in the lovely town of Hoi An.

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Days 244 & 245: Halong Bay

The next morning, we got into a luxury van and headed towards Halong Bay to go on a 3 day / 2 night cruise with Indochina Junk. The drive was about 3 hours but we stopped half way for a break. When we were about to depart again, a member of staff approached our van and informed us that the cruise had been cancelled because of bad weather and that we were to be driven back to Hanoi. Our whole van was extremely disappointed and the mood was quite somber until our driver turned us around again and headed back towards the half way point. He didn’t speak much English so we didn’t know what was going on, but we tried not to get our hopes up too much in case we had to turn back around again! I can’t remember the reason why we had to head back, but I do know that it wasn’t because we were going on the cruise… Again, we sat in disappointment until Robyn (Canadian man in our van) decided to be proactive and think of a plan B. He called the company and asked them if we could be put up in a hotel for the night in Halong and then have one cruise on the ship the next night (since the weather would have cleared up. They agreed and we were on the way to Halong once again!

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We arrived at our 5 star hotel and were stoked to have amazing views from our window of the bay. The room was great and we were just so happy to be there and not in Hanoi! It was right on lunch time, so all of us wandered down the street to find something and ended up having a delicious seafood feast – it was so fresh that they were still sitting in buckets on the floor with the sea snails trying to make an escape!

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We then relaxed in our room for a bit with a bottle of wine and a fantastic view. Around 6pm, we walked down the main road to find the night markets (basically the only thing to do in the town) and browsed all the stalls there. For dinner, we sat down at a restaurant next to the market and waited to see what was on the menu. In the end, we just pointed at items in a glass cabinet and hoped for the best! We ended up having a very yummy feast and I think the fact that we didn’t really know what we were getting (no one spoke English) made it that much better.

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After a hearty buffet brekkie the next morning, we were transferred to the Indochina Junk office where we waited to get on our boat, the Dragon Pearl. Finally we were on board and being served an amazing seafood lunch as we started to cruise between the rock formations. It was an incredible lunch time view and we continued to enjoy it on the deck chairs up on the top floor after we had eaten. Soon we were anchoring and catching a small boat to a nearby beach to have a lovely afternoon of kayaking and swimming. The water felt so good to swim in and I was certainly content floating around for a while!

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Once we were showered back on the boat, we headed back towards the beach to have our dinner. The dinner was set up in a cave and the staff had gone all out decorating and cooking incredible food, yet again. We chatted to our fellow tour members and enjoyed a nice bottle of wine, while listening to music and chilling out under the beautiful cave lighting.

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Then it was our last day in Halong, so we spent the morning relaxing on the deck and watching the rock formations go by. Then we got into some smaller boats and were paddled towards a small, floating fishing village where we got a look into an old school classroom (among other things). We learnt what a complex language Vietnamese is, as you can see on the chalkboard below. It’s based on intonations, and all those words are pronounced slightly differently to have different meanings. All too soon, we were back in our vans and heading towards Hanoi. On the way, we stopped by a local town to see a water puppet show which was interesting and entertaining, if not a bit random haha.

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We spent a final night in Hanoi, eating a traditional Vietnamese dish of Cha Ca for dinner. Cha Ca is a fish dish which is served with rice noodles, leafy greens, bean sprouts and peanuts and was quite tasty. Then it was back to our hotel and into bed, ready to get up early the next day for our flight to our next destination.

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(For some reason, my photos are uploading small but if you click on them you can get a larger image.)

Days 242 & 243: Hanoi

Over 17 hours flying later (and crossing many, many timezones) and I was in South East Asia! Specifically, the capital of Vietnam – Hanoi! I arrived at 10.30am, but after travelling 15 hours back in time + flying out on a red eye flight, my body was so out of wack and I was basically a zombie. After sleeping a full 12 hours straight in my $6 per night hostel (on a mattress that was basically a plank of wood), I was feeling human again and felt even better once I checked into the Central Oriental Hotel to wait for my dear friend Amanda to arrive. Amanda and I have been friends for around 9 to 10 years and now lives in Sydney, and she contacted me a few months ago to see where she could come meet me for a holiday 🙂 I relaxed in the hotel all day (after receiving a delicious mango welcome drink) and waited in the lobby for Amanda to walk in around 7.30pm. After hugs and more welcome drinks, we headed out to the streets to find some dinner.

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Walking the streets of Hanoi at night.

The best way to eat is to dine like a local, which means finding “restaurants” (basically a street stall / hole in the wall) that don’t really have menus (just signs in Vietnamese) and sitting down on tiny stools at tiny tables, like what small children would use! Then it’s kind of pot luck as to what you get 😉 the best way is to just point at food that someone else is eating, or saying basic Vietnamese words you know and hope for the best! That night, we saw people cooking their own food on these small bunsen burner type BBQ’s and thought we’d give it a go. We asked for chicken, pork and vegetables and got given a plate of all the raw meat, a bottle of oil and chopsticks. The man put a big piece of wax (I think?) underneath the hot plate and lit it up, and away we went! The food was delicious and it was so fun to sit with our knees around our ears and people watch (and catch up on each others lives, of course!).

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The girl doing the peace sign and I had a laugh when she threw it up for the photo!

Then it was back to the hotel for a shower and to relax in our comfy robes!We were asleep by a reasonable hour, and were both awake around 5 – 5.30am… Thanks, jetlag! Our buffet breakfast starts at 6.30, so after a good feed we headed out to explore Hanoi.

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We didn’t really have much of a plan, just wanted to walk and explore the streets. We headed over to Hoan Kiem Lake to start which has a temple in the middle of the water. We didn’t go inside but instead walked around the edge and watch people do their Tai Chi and funnily enough, practice their waltzing too?

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We made our way into the French Quarter before looping back to the Old Quarter where we were situated and found a place to get our nails done. We both desperately needed a manicure, and when it’s so cheap there’s really no reason not to. $9 later and our nails were shaped, buffed and painted with nail art and we went to find the Coffee Street (all the streets in Hanoi have a specialty) to find Coffee Trung. This is a special Vietnamese coffee that is made by putting a whipped egg on top of the coffee. I’m not a coffee drinker, but I quite enjoyed it (until it got to the strong coffee at the bottom and I couldn’t handle it anymore!).

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Then it was lunch time and we went to find some street Bun Cha on a recommendation from the lovely lady at the nail salon. Again, all we saw was a red sign saying Bun Cha with an old lady sitting underneath it cooking the meat. We walked into a tiny alley behind her and sat down and waited for our serving to come. Bun Cha is pork cooked over a flame and placed in a broth, served with rice noodles and salad greens (and of course, chilli on the side). Incredibly delicious and flavoursome, and only $1.65.

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Then we decided that we could both definitely use a foot massage, so went on the search and came across a place that offered a foot scrub, massage and pedicure for $8.60.

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We spent the rest of the afternoon walking around, drinking coconuts and relaxing in the hotel after such an early start, before hitting the streets again to find dinner. Also, I forgot to mention the ordeal of crossing the streets here. The hotel staff told us to just be natural and walk slowly, but it’s such a nerve wracking thing to do when natural instinct tells you to run out of the way of oncoming scooters! But apparently the drivers are trying to anticipate your movements, so walking slowly is the way to go… We found some pho (actually pronounced ‘fuh’ as I found out) for $2.70 in an actual restaurant that served cocktails for about $2.70 also. We had fresh beef spring rolls to start which were also amazing.

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After another cocktail in the Beer Street, we headed back to the hotel exhausted and ready for sleep. We had an exciting few days coming up which we couldn’t wait to get started on after having such an amazing time so far!

Days 221 – 240: Vancouver

After those two whirlwind days in the States, I headed on up to the beautiful province of British Columbia in Canada to stay in the city of Vancouver. I organised to stay with the lovely Amy, who you may remember from my first few weeks of travel – the lovely Canadian girl I met in Ireland. Originally she is from the Toronto area, but has recently moved to Vancouver for her studies. She (and her two new Australian roomates) were more than happy to have me, for which I am so grateful as Vancouver hostels can cost up to $30 a night!

Amy came and picked me up from the airport, to guide me back to her house via the skytrain and local bus. After a yummy (an inexpensive!) meal of sushi at a restaurant down the road, I instantly fell asleep on the deluxe blow up mattress she had borrowed for me. Amy had classes from around 8.30am – 3pm on Monday to Thursday, so during those times I occupied myself (which I was more than happy and capable to do). My first day was a Thursday, so after doing a much needed load of laundry and visiting the shops for a few items, it came around to 3pm and Amy said I should come meet her and a friend for a few ciders about 15 minutes down the road from her. The 3 of us enjoyed a few drinks in the sunshine (I came at a great time of year – both rainy days and sunny days in October) before we headed out to an open mic night at a cafe nearby.

The next morning, Amy decided our itinerary was to go for a bike ride through Stanley Park, a 1000 acre park surrounded by water. Before we got there, we had lunch at a Vietnamese place overlooking English Bay and snapped a few photos with this fantastic art piece called A-maze-ing Laughter just by the water.

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Then it was time for our bike ride – we rented out bikes for around $6 an hour and began making our way around the massive park. The park has many varying views as you go around, including the city, North Van and sea views. It was at this point that it decided to rain for the day, but luckily in Vancouver it is mostly light rain so we didn’t get toooooo wet… I still had fun anyway! We headed on home to get dry and I had the best the bagel I’ve ever eaten for dinner – rosemary & rock salt flavoured, toasted with butter. Perfect for a cold night in!

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The next day was full of sunshine once again, so we headed over to North Vancouver (via the Seabus) to have brunch with some of Amy’s friends. The city views while we waited for the boat back was amazing! Next up was a nice walk through the gorgeous area of Kitsilano where we sat on the beach and soaked up some rays for a while.

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My evening plans consisted of going to a BC Lions football game with one of the loveliest families I know! I became friends with Maeghan Tuckey during our primary school years (and subsequently our mums became good friends) until they all moved to Canada when I was about 12 years old. Janice, Maeghans mum (Hi Janice if you’re reading!), was born in Canada but married an Australian and brought up Maeghan and Katelyn in my home town before it was decided they would move back (sad times for my Mum and I!). All members of their family have visited Australia numerous times since they moved, but now it was my time to visit them! We had a lovely time catching up at the football (thanks for treating me, Tuckeys!) and the BC Lions won the game 🙂 Thanks to Roy and Janice, I also now know the basics of North American football, yay!

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Then it was Sunday, and it just so happened I was in Canada for a very special weekend – Thanksgiving! In Canada it’s in October and Amy invited me to her family dinner held on the Sunday night. Her Aunty, Uncle, Nanna and a few cousins live in an area called Tsawwassen and so we headed to her Auntys house for an early dinner. We enjoyed an incredible meal at their beautifully set table, and enjoyed a few games of cards afterwards. Amys Nanna was lovely enough to let me stay, and even laid out all the breakfast items for us the next morning, which we enjoyed while warming our feet on her heated floors! The next day (actual Thanksgiving) we just relaxed at a nearby cafe while Amy as it rained outside.

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On the Wednesday, I caught up with another Mandurah gal, Olivia who I had gone to school with. She has been living and working in various places around the world since high school and happened to be in Vancouver while I was. She took me to Granville Island, a cute little area that is popular in the Summer. We sampled some of the delicious food there, including Cinnamon Buns the size of our face and I had my first try of pumpkin pie.

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Crossing the bridge back to Downtown, we saw these silos that had been decorated.

The next day, I jumped in Maeghans Jeep and we headed toward the town of Chilliwack where her parents still live. The drive there was beautiful and the weather as lovely once again. After a coffee at the house, we headed out to Cultus Lake where the Tuckeys have a lake house which they stay at during the summer. It was a beautiful time of day by the time we got there, just as the sun was beginning to set. We took a nice walk around the lake with cute Tucker dog and had some laughs as we sat on the jetty.

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We then headed out to the Chilliwack corn maze to have some Fall fun! There was two mazes for us to attempt, and the girl at the counter said the first one should take 45 minutes to an hour and the second one only 15 minutes. Well, we all think that it may have been an exaggeration because the first one took us about an hour and a half, and we also got help from one of the guys walking around inside! We got about 20 minutes into the second one before we basically just did a loop back out to the entrance sign haha. They also had some cute games to play outside the maze, including one where we raced around a little track in tiny pedal tractors!

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We feasted on half price ‘Appys’ (appetizers) for dinner where I had my first try of Canadian bacon in my burger, yummo! In the morning we had a lovely relax in the hot tub in the backyard while it drizzled with rain. Then it was back in the Jeep and heading back towards Vancouver.

Two days later, Amy and I headed out with some of her friends to a pumpkin patch to have my first pumpkin patch experience! For $5, we entered Laity Pumpkin Patch and got to see a small petting zoo and also found our way through a smaller corn maze (this one only took 10 minutes thankfully!). Then we headed into the actual pumpkin patch and chose our pumpkin that we would later carve.

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After that, the next week or so I spent just hanging around Vancouver in its cool cafes, eating some good food and doing some normal things hehe. We went to the movies and saw Gone Girl (really, really good!) and ate a gigantic plate of nachos that cost only $14! One night we got fro-yo and then walked over one of the bridges that leads to Downtown, it was so nice and such a beautiful view. I had brunch with Maeghan to say goodbye (until I see her again when she visits Australia next year!) and got to carve my first pumpkin on my last night. For someone who isn’t artistically inclined, I feel like my pumpkin turned out quite well 🙂

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Vancouver is such a beautiful city, surrounded by mountains. My favourite time of day was when the sun was setting because the sky would turn this brilliant blue, and the city would be so white against the blue background. I tried to take a photo, but it just didn’t portray it well enough unfortunately!

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Amy and I had our last afternoon tea together down the road and again, I couldn’t believe my time in Vancouver had come to an end! I took a photo to compare to the photo I took in Ireland of our first afternoon together. So thankful that this trip has allowed me to make a friend in Amy! Now it’s her turn to come visit me in Australia! 😉

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Then it was on to another plane for another long haul flight to my next destination… to be continued!

Day 219: Orlando (Disneyworld)

Day 2 in Orlando and we were up early again, ready for another long day. Since we only had one day for Disneyworld, we had to choose between all the different parks we could go to and we ended up choosing The Magic Kingdom. Although it’s probably aimed more towards children, we felt like we couldn’t go to Disneyworld and not go to the most well known one. So we got to be little kids again for the day!

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Before we entered, I of course had to buy some Minnie Mouse ears to wear! Then we were walking in, and it was magical! When you first walk in, you’re on Main Street USA which is flanked by a number of different shops. Because it’s October, it was also decorated for Halloween with pumpkins and other festive decorations around which was very cute.

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Another thing we noticed as we entered, was just how busy it was even though it was barely 9.30am! I can’t even imagine what it would be like in summer (peak season), yikes! But we waded our way through the people and checked out some of the stores on Main Street, including a confectionary shop where there was a section that you could see into and see the people making all the various goodies. It was a very ‘cutesie’ shop and I bought a Mickey Mouse shaped rice crispy treat, with peanut butter flavoured button sprinkled on top – yum!

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Disneyworld is set up so that the Princess castle is in the middle, then there are about 5 or 6 other areas around it, making a big circle. We decided to start at the right which is a place called Tomorrowland and is space/futuristic themed. Attractions in this area include Buzz Lightyear, Monsters Inc, a Lilo & Stitch based ride and another big ride called Space Mountain (obviously there are more attractions, but too many for me to remember!). We checked out what rides had small wait lines and went into the Monsters Inc Laugh Factory first. This was actually really good and catered to adults and children! Its basically an interactive stand up comedy show, which is ran by various monsters. The monsters are on screen but the voices are done live so that they can involve the audience. There’s a camera that would randomly pick audience members to use as a joke (this one poor man was the butt of many a joke) or to get involved in jokes (such as knock knocks, or to say their own). Very funny and worth it!

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The lines for other rides were already 30 – 60 minutes long, so we thought our strategy would be to walk around and view attractions without lines, and then once families started to go home later in the day, come back and go on the busier rides. So in Tomorrowland we watched the ‘Carousel of Progess’ which took us on a conveyer belt through the many different decades to show how technology has changed and has benefited us, which was interesting! We also went on a car ride, where we jumped in a pretty small car (our knees were around our ears!) and drove it around a track. The steering was horrible though and poor E got thrown about while I tried to keep this little car on its metal track! We had a few laughs about it as we awkwardly climbed out of our little vehicle.

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Next up was Fantasyland which housed many of Disneys fairytale type attractions including The Mad Hatters Teaparty (teacup ride), Winnie the Pooh, Dumbo, Snow White & the Seven Dwarves (rollercoaster), a Circus, Ariels Grotto (including an Under the Sea ride) and Enchanted Tales with Belle to name a few. We jumped on the teacup ride and had fun spinning around on that before we waited for 45 minutes to go on a Winnie the Pooh ride that turned out to be quite simple, but still cute. We both love Winnie the Pooh (I’m an Eeyore girl myself) so it was fun to ride around in a Honeypot and get taken through some of Pooh’s adventures.

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By this time our tummies were beginning to rumble, so we walked through Fantasyland looking for a place to eat but didn’t find anywhere that looked too great, so it was on to Liberty Square for a look. Again, no food places that looked alright there, so I looked on the map and saw a place listing burgers & tacos in Frontierland so we made a bee line for there and ate a very satisfying lunch. With tummies full, we were actually right in front of the place where the daytime parade would start so we picked a place to watch it from nearby. The parade started and lasted about 15 minutes and included most of the characters dancing and singing along to their songs – it was very cute and well done, and of course ended with Mickey & Minnie giving us a wave and a smile!

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After the parade, we explored Frontierland which is basically Western themed with saloons, railroad themed rides (picture a train racing through mines, dynamite exploding everywhere!) and a Country Bear Jamboree which we went to watch (very funny – the robotic bears entertained the children, but the song lyrics were aimed towards adults!). We also caught a wooden raft over to Tom Saywer Island which we had fun exploring, including hidden passage ways and barrel bridges to cross.

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Last place to explore was Adventureland which included Pirates of the Caribbean themed attractions, the Swiss Family Robinsons treehouse, The Magic Carpets of Aladdin (ride) and a Jungle Cruise. First thing we did was grab a map and go on a treasure hunt through Adventureland – we had to find certain areas, press a button there which would then show us our next destination. Captain Jack guided our way while Davy Jones continued to threaten us, telling us to leave his treasure alone! We found the treasure though, so of course now we are incredibly rich… (Not). After that, we climbed our way through the Swiss Familys treeehouse which was actually really well done and lots of fun!

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Then Captain Jack was giving a performance (the actor was an extremely close look a like!) which we watched a bit of, before we went on a Jungle Cruise through the many jungles of the world (even though we had just been to the ACTUAL Amazong Jungle a few days before hehe). We decided to wait in the Pirates of the Caribbean line, and after about 45 minutes (Disneyworld doesn’t have a single riders line, so unfortunately we had to wait with everyone else) we were sailing through the waters, observing many incredibly detailed scenes of Pirates of the Caribbean.

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We needed a rest after that (our legs and feet were killing us!), so we made our way back to Main Street to grab a coffee. By this time, the sun was going down and we were hoping the crowds would start to thin! I guess most people had the same idea as us, because the crowds and wait times for lines were still basically the same. Nevertheless, after refuelling with coffee, we made our way back to Tomorrowland to go on the Space Mountain ride. 60 minutes later (although they did have video games we played in the line), we were on the ride which was a rollercoaster in the dark and back out into the streets. That was the worst thing we found about waiting so long in lines – the rides only went for about 5 minutes! But still worth it. We picked a few more rides to go on around the other worlds including Ariels Under the Sea (we sat in shells and got taken around various scenes from the movie – very cutesy and fun) and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad (very fun!).

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With the sun down, Magic Kingdom was putting the magic in it’s name, as it looked beautiful all lit up! By this point in time, we needed to find a good spot to see the Nighttime Spectacular – when the castle unleashes its magic with music, a lights show and fireworks! Very magical indeed!

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And then, that was it! All over. We were exhausted and sore and couldn’t believe that our time was coming to an end… After a bit of walking, a bus and a taxi we were showered and into bed around midnight. The next day, we both headed to the airport to go our separate ways… The time flew by and of course we were sad to part ways yet again. But I think it was made a little bit easier knowing that it wouldn’t be that long until we saw each other again (well, that’s what I kept telling myself to stop myself from repeating the airport scene I had on my initial departure from Perth!). E boarded a plane to start her long journey home, and I was on my way to the land of the Maple Leaf! Those adventures will be coming soon 🙂

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Day 218: Orlando (Universal Studios)

After a full travel day, we had a complete change of culture and scenery by being back in the USA, staying 3 nights in Orlando, Florida. For me, it was so nice to be in a Western country again after over 2 months in Peru. I loved Peru and it helped that I learnt a bit of Spanish, but it was defintely a nice change to fit into my surroundings a bit more and understand the conversations around me and being able to read signs (I’m sure I said the same thing once I arrived in London the second time around). But it was also so crazy, going from the poverty/living conditions of Peru straight into Orlando where there’s just theme parks, fast food restaurants and broad American accents! But anyway, moving on.

We got to our hotel around 12.30am and were up again around 7am to get an early start on our first theme park day – Universal Studios! We bought a park-to-park pass earlier as their is Universal Studios and Universal Islands of Adventure which both had attractions we wanted to see. I was like a little kid on Christmas Eve at breakfast time because I was so excited for the day – I LOVEEEEEE Harry Potter and Universal Studios has both Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade attractions, as well as the Hogwarts Express which transfers you between the two.

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We arrived right on 9am and walked straight to the Diagon Alley part in Universal Studios. We walked through the brick wall and entered Diagon Alley and I was in awe! It was actually just as I imagined it would be like to walk into Diagon Alley if I had been lucky enough to actually be a witch (why did you have to tease us like this J.K Rowling?!). There’s heaps of stores here which are selling various HP related items including Weasleys Wizard Wheezes, Ollivanders, The Leaky Cauldron, Florean Fortescue’s Ice Cream Parlour, Quality Quiddich Supplies, Madam Malkins, Magical Menagerie, Scribbulus and so much more. There’s also Knockturn Alley which has a Borgin & Burkes you can explore.

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Walking into Diagon Alley

Instead of writing out step by step all the stores we went to, I’ll just write about the highlights and put up lots of photos hehe. First stop after Quality Quiddich Supplies, was Weasleys Wizard Wheezes which was so well set out with all their jokes and pranks. I loved the Pigmy Puffs and had a giggle at all the other cool things you could buy.

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We grabbed ice cream at Florean Fortescue’s and boy was it delicious – it tasted exactly like what we bought! The shop was so cutely set up as well and the staff all had awesome costumes on (that’s one of the main things I loved about Universal was that every single area had individualised costumes/outfits to fit the theme).

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There was one ride in this area which was Escape from Gringrotts – basically you get strapped in and its a virtual ride so the cart you’re in moves around a little bit, but you are watching a screen and have smoke/flames blown onto you etc. So hard to describe, but it was so well done that you actually felt like you were on a rollercoaster. The entrance was also super cool as the dragon on top blew fire every 15 minutes or so.

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They also had performances at certain times of the day, so we saw The Tale of Three Brothers acted out.

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“death” coming out to speak to the brothers

So here are some other photos from the Diagon Alley experience.

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Once we walked out of Diagon Alley there was also the Knight Bus and Grimmauld Place to walk by, again – very cool. There was actually the conductor and a shrivelled head that would chat with you when you went over to see the Knight Bus – they seriously think of everything!

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Once out of Diagon Alley, Universal Studios also has many other great areas – we visited The Simpsons area, went on an E.T ride, saw the Blues Brothers perform, saw a Rocky Horror performance and many other rides/attractions. We had worked up an appetite, so we headed to The Leaky Cauldron for lunch where I got to try Pumpkin Juice – super yummy (much better than the Butterbeer) as it was basically like a flavoured juice with cinnamon in it.

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Then it was to Kings Cross station to ride the Hogwarts Express over to Hogsmeade! The line was about 45 minutes long, but hey – couldn’t come all this way and not ride it! Again, they made it so interactive by actually animating the window so that it looked like we were riding across the countryside and they would also put voices over the sound system of the trolley lady offering cauldron cakes and what not.

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Walking into Hogsmeade was incredible – it was seriously just like walking into it during winter (except that it was hot and humid, not actually cold like the buildings suggest hehe). We made our way through the shops including Honeydukes, Owl Post and Dervish & Banges. I bought a chocolate frog from Honeydukes (I decided not to in London because of the price, but changed my mind here!) and I opened it the other day and I had Helga Hufflepuff as my card [in case you were interested 😉 ]. There’s three rides in Hogsmeade; Flight of the Hippogriff, Dragon Escape and The Forbidden Journey – all which were great. The Forbidden Journey was again, an animated type ride where we were flying with Harry on broomsticks all over the Hogwarts grounds.

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Hagrids hut, on the way to Flight of the Hippogriff

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Entering Hogwarts to get to The Forbidden Journey

After Hogsmeade, we walked around the rest of Universals Islands of Adventure which has other areas like Jurassic Park and Dr Suess which were also lots of fun!

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After a long day, we got on our free shuttle back to our hotel at 7.15pm with sore feet. We rested up, ready for another big day tomorrow!

Days 214 & 215: Iquitos

After our jungle adventure, we chose to stay in Iquitos for 2 more days and just hang out and see some local attractions. First stop, the Manatee Rescue Centre which was about 15 minutes away by mototaxi (like a cross between a golf cart and a motobike).

You can read about their project more here, but this is copied from their website to give you an idea of what they’re about. Not only do they rescue manatees, but there is also a number of animals who are taken care of at the centre.

“The Amazonian manatee (Trichechus inunguis) is an endangered species in Peru due to poaching and habitat degradation, despite existing national and international laws that protect it. There is also illegal marketing of babies sold as pets to farmers or tourist facilities, where the mortality rate is high.

Through joint efforts between the Regional Bureau for the Production of Loreto, Dallas World Aquarium, the Association for the Conservation of Amazonian Biodiversity – Dallas World Aquarium Zoo (ACOBIA-DWAZOO) and the Association and Research Institute of the Peruvian Amazon, a programme began in November 2007 for rescuing and rehabilitating orphaned Amazonian manatees and providing an environmental education programme.”

We went in with no expectations, but came out with great big smiles on our faces after such an amazing 2 hours or so in the centre! First stop was to see the resident otter who had a play pen to herself (since they only have the one otter) swimming around and having a good squizz at us. She was very cute and looked like such a happy little creature.

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well hi there!

Turning around we were greeted by an assortment of birds, fish, turtles and monkeys! Some beautiful red macaws were sitting above us, next to a cage of cheeky monkeys running around. It was so lovely seeing a macaw up close! So colourful and beautiful.

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beautiful little guy!

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a perfect example of the phrase ‘cheeky monkey’

As we entered the manatee area, we got to see the efforts of their turtle rehabilitation program – a large tank contained about 20+ baby turtles!! They were super cute and we got to pick one up and say hello. Adorable! 🙂

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Hi, friend!

Then we moved on the manatees! At the time of our visit, they had about 9 or so manatees in different areas of the centre. There are two babies in a separate container as we walked in that we weren’t allowed to touch but we did get to see them being fed a bit later. But then we got to move to a larger tank where 4 large, adult manatees slowly made their way over to us to say hello! They are the cutest creatures, in an unconventional sense! They’re not ‘pretty’ by any means, but you just can’t resist their big whiskery mouths and they’re so soft and pudgy you just want to give them a big cuddle! We got a small bucket of their favourite (and only food), water plants and fed them leaves one at a time. We got to pat them and give them big smooches too! We honestly couldn’t stop looking at them and smiling!

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tiny, tiny eyes so they use their whiskers to ‘see’

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Lunch time!

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These guys eat anywhere between 40 – 100 kilograms of water plant per day! The babies only drink milk, but since most of them are orphans the centre has to buy a specialised formula (they can’t just drink cows milk) which can be about $40 per small container. So as you can imagine, the costs of taking care of these animals can be high! All the staff are volunteers and they receive all their food from a partner centre in Dallas, USA.

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Kisses!

Then, we got even luckier! We picked up our things and said bye to our squishy friends but then got taken over to a different area to see the newest addition – a baby sloth! They received this guy only 4 days prior and were doing some check ups on him/her to make sure it was doing okay. We were just happy looking at the cutie, but then they told us we could each have a cuddle! Oh boy, dream come true! They’re such adorable creatures, moving so slow and always have a such a happy expression on their face. We both thoroughly enjoyed our cuddles and couldn’t believe how lucky we had got!

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Just want to take it home!

After that exciting half an hour, we were walked out of the centre very happy and grateful of how our day ended up! The people at this centre are doing such a great job and we were happy to pay the 20 sole entry fee (about $8) for what we saw.

The next day, another rescue centre was on the itinerary – this time Pilpintuwasi Butterfly Farm and Amazon Animal Orphanage. We caught another mototaxi down to the boat area and we were on to a local water taxi to the village where the farm is located. A short 15 minute walk through the jungle and we were at the farm! We were greeted warmly and paid the 20 sole entry happily, before our tour with one of the new volunteers began. As we walked to the butterfly enclosure, red monkeys climbed on the trees above our heads. They were very quick though, so didn’t get a good photo of them!

Then we spent about 15 minutes walking through the butterfly enclosure and admiring all the beautiful species. This place has about 17 species, each one being researched by the owner when she started the centre. They also have a separate area that we saw where they breed the butterflies – each has its own area for each process, from eggs to larvae to cocoon to butterfly! Some of the cocoons were amazing looking – metallic golds and silvers.

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the photo doesn’t show it as well, but metallic cocoons.

Then it was onwards to the rest of the centre! We saw more macaws, monkeys and sloths before getting to see a toucan up close. We also saw an Ocelot (dwarf leopard), an animal I can’t remember the name of and Pedro the jaguar! He’s been at the centre for 9 years and we got to watch him eat his lunch.

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Macaws mate for life and normally only choose partners from their own species/colour… but these two fell in love and are inseparable!

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Toucan Sam!

The centre was really well run, the staff are so friendly and again – they’re doing such a great job helping out animals that have been hunted and sold at markets. On our way out, it was closing time so all the birds were going in their cages for the night, but normally during the day they have free reign which is great.

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Ocelot

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Pedro!

Oh, and I forgot – last on the tour was a boa! This huge snake was all curled up in the corner of this cage, looking like he was not happy to be distrubed… I didn’t get too close to him hehe 😉

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With a loud goodbye from this guy, we were on our back to Iquitos to get ready for our flight back to Lima the next day. We had dinner at Dawn on the Amazon cafe (the best in Iquitos) while the sun set which was a beautiful farewell to a lovely place!

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farewell Iquitos, it was great!

Days 208 – 213: Amazon Jungle

Hola! So, where to begin? Well, on day 205 I had a very special person arrive at lima airport to travel with me for 2 weeks! My mum – also known as E – flew all around the world to spend two weeks with me! So after an emotional reunion, we spent one day in Lima so that she could rest (although we still went exploring) before flying to the city of Iquitos in Peru.

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hanging out in Lima together!

Iquitos is the biggest city in the world that can only be accessed by boat or plane. There are no roads leading here, so the options are to fly or to take a 40 hour boat… Since we have time constraints, we took the plane (to be honest, I probably would have taken the plane anyway… That’s a long time to be on a boat!). Being in the Amazon area, the weather averages between 28 – 33 degrees each day at the moment, plus humidity – a big change from the relative cold of lima.

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the Amazon

We had a yummy lunch overlooking the water before going back to our hotel to pack – the next day we were going on a 5 night / 6 day tour into the jungle!

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on the boat, on our way!

We chose Muyuna Lodge as the place to stay. It’s 140 kilometres downstream from Iquitos and looked like the best place. They believe in respecting the environment and the animals, so all the animals we saw were in their natural habitat and are never harmed. They also help out the community by employing villagers from the village down the road, and never exploit them. So we departed the mainland by speedboat at around 10am, driving in boats for about 3 hours before we arrived at the lodge. After receiving our room key, we tucked into the buffet lunch (such good food provided the whole stay!) and rested in our bungalow for an hour. I jumped straight into one of the hammocks on our balcony and read my book for a bit – so relaxing. All you can hear is natural jungle sounds – birds chirping, trees swaying and the river.

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relaxing on the balcony with river views

Our first activity started at 3pm, we were told to wear long pants and shirts and to bring our ponchos as we were heading out to find some animals on a walk. The walks were amazing, but gee whiz it was like walking around in a sauna fully clothed! On this particular walk we were shown big termite nests (located up in the trees because in the wet season the water level rises), bull frogs, a bush rat and many types of trees and flora. It rained while we were walking but due to the tree coverage, we didn’t get too wet. Back to the lodge at around 5.30, we relaxed again until the dinner buffet at 7pm.

After dinner, it was down the walkway to the boats to go for a night ride to look for caiman! Caiman are crocodiles of the Amazon and we were lucky enough that our skilled guide, Luis was able to catch a baby one for us to see! We all got to touch its scaly skin, and I was “lucky” enough to have it pee on me while it was being held ha ha… Our new caiman amigo went back into the water, and we headed back towards the lodge for a well earned rest. Sleeping in the bungalow was amazing – it was so peaceful with only the sounds of bugs, and a slight breeze cooled as down while we slept. At around 4am I was woken by a HUGE thunderstorm! It honestly sounded like the sky was splitting open above me. I was lulled back to sleep by the sound of the pouring rain… Such a lovely sound to hear at night.

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baby caiman!

The next day, after breakfast at 7.30am, we were back in the boats and headed out to the biggest part of the Amazon river. On the way, we stopped by and saw some huge lily pads (which caiman sometimes like to sleep on in the sun) in a small lake. We also saw some cleverly disguised bats! Soon we were zooming along the river in search of pink Dolphins! Sometimes people don’t get to see them since they don’t like to get close to the boats but we were fortunate enough to get a glimpse of about 4 swimming together. We only saw them for about 3 seconds at a time as they come up for air, so no photos unfortunately. The pink Dolphins, aside from the colour, are different from regular Dolphins because they can move their head from side to side, as well as up and down (shake and nod, grey Dolphins can only nod) because they don’t have bones in their neck. To add to the enjoyment, we all got to jump in the water and technically swim with the Dolphins, as they were about 20 metres away which was amazing – not only was it awesome to swim in the Amazon river, but to swim near pink Dolphins too!

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can you see the bats??

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swimming in the Amazon river – travel bucket list item checked!

After lunch back at the lodge, we headed out for our afternoon activity of piranha fishing! There was 9 of us that headed out to a nearby lake, and soon the competition began. Our group consisted of 3 chinese, 2 Australians, 2 British and 2 Americans – it was declared the piranha Olympics! After about 5 minutes, it was obvious who would take out the gold – the Chinese had a flying start, catching 2 fish each before any of us had caught 1 (none of them had been fishing before – naturals!). They really do always win the Olympics 😉 haha. I did my part for Australia (and showed that I’m my fathers daughter) catching 4, and E catching 1 big one (the biggest of the day I think!), earning us the silver medal. UK and USA tied for bronze, with one fish each. It was an awesome afternoon with many laughs being had, as well as the enjoyment that came from catching the fish.

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just call me Rex hunt!

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“I’m a piranha, they’re in the Amazon” – finding nemo 😉

After dinner, we donned our long clothes once again and headed out after dark on a walk to look for tarantulas. We ended up spotting one for about 5 seconds before it crawled back into its tree hole away from us – very cool 🙂 and needless to say, the cold shower once we were back at our bungalow was very much appreciated.

Up early the next morning, we jumped into a smaller boat and canoed along the water at 7am to try spot some birds. We were lucky and saw some toucans in a distant tree – a bird I had been hoping to see, hooray! Unfortunately the sky was quite grey at that time, so the photo doesn’t show how colourful they are but you can see its long beak.

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toucan Sam!

After breakfast, it was more bird watching for us as we hiked into the jungle to see some prehistoric birds that like to live near a swamp. They looked like giant turkeys, very strange to see them perched up on top of trees. Our afternoon activities consisted of visiting the village down the road, where we can talk to the locals and buy some of the handmade wares they sell. We both received a shock when one of the young girls carried out a sloth in her arms – we laughed because we thought it was a stuffed one, but then we saw it blink and it started moving and we couldn’t believe it! We had seen a sloth up in a tree at one point, but to see it up close was amazing! It had been trying to cross the river that morning, so the villagers rescued it because it can get bitten by piranhas and other aquatic animals (anacondas…). There was many cute kids who ran along with us here and we got to see their way of life – the houses are so basic, it was humbling to see how they live. Back into the boat and we headed towards a nearby lake to watch the sun set, which was lovely.

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prehistoric bird

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poor, wet sloth! But so cute!

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sunset 🙂

After dinner, back into the boat again for a night canoe. Our group got to see a few, tiny green frogs that live in the aquatic plants (one which ‘jumped’ aka was thrown by Luis onto the back of E’s life jacket.. Splat!) and we also saw a small water snack which the other guide Raffael picked up. It was very thin, and whiplike but not too dangerous. While we were out, we could see the lightening strike in the distance which was amazing – words and pictures can’t explain it, but it’s just so dark out there that seeing the sky lit up by constant lightening was really breath taking to see.

Day four started with a hike after breakfast, where we were treated to the cutest sight – 3 noisy night monkeys poked their heads out of their home to see what we were up to! They have the biggest eyes and one even put his tiny paw out – adorable! Wanted to put one in my pocket to take home! When we got back in the boat, we also got to see some common squirrel monkeys jumping from tree to tree in search of their lunch! There was about 5 jumping around, and E was great and managed to get some photos of them hanging about. We also saw some blue and yellow macaws (the birds from the movie Rio if you’ve seen it, except mixed colour, not blue) sitting in a tree together. Another exciting moment for me, as I wanted to see them too.

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big eyed monkeys!

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macaws hanging out

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common squirrel monkey finding some lunch

After lunch, we went for a lovely kayak down the river and made it back to the lodge just in time, as a thunderstorm rolled in. I watched the rain and lightening from my hammock in the cooling air. No activities after dinner that night, as we had done them all so we read our books and listened to the sounds of the jungle.

Day five – our last full day at muyuna! We headed deep into the jungle where we had breakfast, a once in a lifetime experience. We walked on for another 2 hours, splashing through mud and crossing make shift bridges over water. Towards the end, the heat was stifling! It was probably the hottest day we had yet.

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breakfasting in the deep jungle with my new chinese friends 🙂

We enjoyed a nice cold shower before making our way into the jungle for the night – an option included in our package was to go camping on our last night, which we eagerly agreed to. And oh, what an eventful evening! First, our two guides had to get us to the camping space which wasn’t made easy as the river was covered in aquatic plants. Literally, covered – Luis was using his machete to try cut a path. Once we were there, we walked up to our campsite and Luis pointed out a camping buddy – a tarantula was living in a tree about 10 metres away from us. 5 minutes in and we’ve already seen a huge jungle critter. Because of the amount of wild animals in the area, our tents are erected on a wooden platform that’s been created, much to our relief. Don’t get us wrong – we’re two pretty tough gals that have been camping in Australia lots! But after seeing that tarantula, we were thankful to be above the ground hehe.

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hacking our way through the river

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our sleeping area for the night

Luis and our other guide, Jacne, got to cooking dinner. That’s when Luis discovered camping buddy number 2: another tarantula in the cooking area! Luckily, tarantulas are actually quite nice spiders, and will only bite if you attack it. Luis was touching it and moving it around and came to no harm. They just look scary, as they’re quite big and so hairy… That’s when I discovered that there was actually 2 tarantulas sharing that house. A male came to join the party, and Luis said that you don’t normally see them together so that was quite exciting. The male is much smaller and has a shorter life span than the female, as the female always stays in one spot while the male moves around (and therefore gets eaten). Females can live up to 40 years, whereas males it’s generally around 2 years. Then Luis discovered a snake was also hiding in the roof of the cooking area, but we let it be and they continued cooking.

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hello mate! Think you need to shave

While we waited for our dinner, E and I sat chatting on the nearby picnic table. It was at this point that I was looking around with my head torch (as there were bats flying overhead) and saw something underneath the platform that was well disguised, but also looked out of place… I asked Luis, when he had a moment, to come have a look to see if I was staring at a weird leaf, or if it was what I suspected – a snake. Luis walked over and gave an almighty cry when he saw it – ‘DIOS MIO! Yes it’s a very poisonous snake, we must kill it now!!!!’ as he grabbed a stick and Jacne came running over. Like I said, it was well disguised – it was curled up and had its head up in the strike position, but was sitting very still and was staring at me. Luckily I saw it, because anyone could have easily walked over to step up onto the platform and could have been bitten. Normally, muyuna lodge is very much against the killing of animals, but because it is a deadly snake they have to kill it so that we’re all safe. Once it was no longer moving, we came a little closer to get a look at the small killer. After that point, we all had our gumboots on and were continuously checking the ground where we walked in case another one came to say hello!

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sorry snake, but you would have done exactly the same to us…

We had a lovely dinner of chicken noodle soup, cooked over a campfire. Then it was into our tents to get away from the Mosquitos who wanted their dinner (after we nervously went for a bush pee, asking Luis to double check for snakes haha) and we fell asleep to the sounds of howler monkeys in the distance. We woke up around 6.45am and packed up our tents and headed back to the lodge for breakfast. Then, we had a few hours to relax and pack as we headed back to iquitos after lunch, at around 1.30pm. We were sad to drive away from the lodge – it was amazing experience being so far out in the jungle and seeing so many creatures! There’s nothing like shutting off the electronics and being surrounded by nature for a few days. We would also highly recommended Muyuna lodge – it was such an authentic experience and they really care for the animals and people of the jungle.

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bye bye muyuna!

Hope you enjoyed the many photos of our jungle adventure and stay tuned for more exciting events in the coming days 🙂

Days 182 – 205: Lima

So I’m coming up to my last night in my apartment here in Lima, so I thought I should do a small post about my simple life for the past few weeks hehe. Firstly, I am feeling MUCH better! The whole point of staying here was to be normal for a bit and not do anything, so that I would want to get on the move again and it has worked! I’m really excited for the weeks ahead (although it may also help that I’ve got a travel buddy and we’ve got a pretty awesome itinerary planned) and can’t wait to share it all with you!

Secondly, if you’re coming to Peru, you really don’t need to spend any time in the capital. The sky is constantly grey, all you can hear is car sirens and horns and there’s not thaaaat much to see. Granted, I haven’t actually done any sight seeing in the historic district or what not, but I’m pretty sure one day is enough and then you can move on.

My days were spent doing a lot of relaxing – I caught up on TV shows and movies, read some books and cooked lots of healthy meals full of vegetables. I had nights of uninterrupted sleep and hot showers every day, so my body is definitely feeling and looking much better.

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View from my lounge room at dusk.

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Cooking some sweet potato!

Some days I went for walks around my area and I visited the university and the “beach” nearby. The university looked quite nice and had stray deer walking around which was funny. The beach on the other hand, was not nice – the water is full of rubbish, the sand is dirty brown which makes the foam on the water look brown. But hey, I guess I have high standards coming from Australia!

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Waving to Australia across the water!

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watch out for the wild deer who will eat your things!

There’s a mall/shopping centre nearby which has designer stores, Starbucks etc so I wandered through there one day. I came across a ‘chocolate sushi’ stall, two of my favourite things so I had to try! I bought a chocolate brownie piece and it was delicious!

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My one indulgence for the 3 weeks!

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So many flavours.

Aaaaand thats about it! Tomorrow night I go to the airport to await the arrival of someone very special and I’m so so excited!!! 6 months is such a long time to not see family and friends. And from there, we have about 3 weeks together, which I’m sure will fly by before we have to say goodbye again 😦 stay tuned for some action packed blog posts in the coming weeks 🙂