“And it looks like we might have made it
Yes, it looks like we’ve made it to the end”

Some very poignant words (taking completely out of context to serve a totally different purpose) from Mr Albarn there.

Yes, we’re home and we made it back in one piece. Well, physically at least. Just. Mentally, however, I still feel shot to bits after all the tequila we got through in Mexico. We even tried to have a ‘healthy few days’ whilst we were trapped in LA waiting for our last flight home, but who ever has managed to eat something healthy in the USA? We gorged on giant burgers for lunch and steaks for dinner. We did manage to force ourselves to order a salad one evening but it was covered in so much dressing I think we should maybe have gone for another burger instead. At least we didn’t drink so much, but then that isn’t saying a lot considering the vast volumes we consumed everywhere else.

We never really considered LA a real part of our trip, more like a necessary evil for us to endure in order to get home. It was a mere footnote to the rest of our Odyssey. Still, when we got there we endeavoured to make the most of it and spent an afternoon scratching around Hollywood and doing some star spotting. We saw Tom Cruise, Jack Nicholson and The Doors. We even saw Lassie and Godzilla. If you haven’t by now realised, these were stars on the Walk of Fame, not the actual real-life versions… I would not have hung around to gawk at Godzilla whilst he devoured Hollywood.

As well as the Walk of Fame we also had a peek at the Chinese Theatre, where your inner celebrity ego takes over and makes you want to stick your hands in wet cement. Unfortunately there wasn’t any wet cement around so we had to make do with looking at the paw prints of those who had. FYI, Arnie has big hands and R2D2 has small wheels. Make of that what you will.

Everyone says that to get around LA you need to have a car because the public transport is rubbish. Well I can tell you now it’s not true. There were plenty of trains and buses and we got around with ease. However, I suspect that the real reason behind people telling you there’s no public transport is because they don’t want to get on it. There always seemed to be at least one crazy person shouting their head off and on one journey there was an actual physical fight between two guys that pushed everyone (including us) into the next carriage… It started when one accused the other of being gay, the second guy responded with half a can of mace. Who the hell carries mace on them???

LA seemed to be getting weirder by the minute, we then discovered an old American woman next to our new spot on the train who was taking notes on the fight. She asked us if this happened all the time as she wanted to use it in her new novel. Needless to say she was very disappointed to find out we weren’t actually locals and couldn’t give her any more gossip. Then a local Los Angelian asked us all kinds of info about the particular train we were on… arrival times, what the next station was, why we had stopped, why it was so slow/late/delayed etc etc as it was her first time on the train line too (and she was pushing 40 years old!!!!). Apparently, we were on a train full of first-timers, potentially to become only-timers after the amount of hassle we all had on that journey. This, theoretically, makes us bona-fide, 100%, Public Transport Veterans of the City of Los Angeles™©®℠℗℃. If you ever get stuck there, you know who to ring.

Now, all of a sudden, we’re home. I say all of a sudden, it’s actually been a month now. Typing that felt very weird, I’ve spent the last few weeks telling everyone how quickly time went while we were away and now we’re back I think it’s actually sped up! I’m guessing that’s partly due to how much has been happening since arriving home including 2 weddings, Hannah’s birthday, my birthday and countless others (at least 10 – what’s so special about August???), the Premier League finale (epic!), going back to work, and the best bit… simply catching up with family and friends.

I never wanted to come back, Hannah would testify to that, but it is good to be home. As much as I would have love to continue travelling, there was nowhere we visited that I would permanently swop for England or, more specifically, London (not that we’ve actually found a new flat there yet). The weather is trying it’s best to make me change my mind though, did it really rain this much before? I could really do with hitting Zicatela beach in that beautiful Mexican sunshine again!

Speaking of which, we’ve already made plans for a ridiculous amount of future trips. Rather than sating our appetite, it’s made us hungrier for more. If there’s one thing I’ll take away from the past six months it’s that the world is both a much smaller place than you think and, at the same time, an infinitely huge and exciting wonder where you can never, ever hope to see, hear, learn and taste everything it has to offer. If you’re ever in the position to do as we have done over the past six months, grab the opportunity with both hands as I promise you won’t regret it.

Until those days come around though, for you or me, I’ll see you down the pub. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this blog as much as I have done sharing our exploits with you all. Cheers!

Rob and Hannah

xx

As I swing in my pool-side hammock, going over our photos of Mexico, I can safely say that we have had an absolutely brilliant time here; we definitely could not have asked for a better way to end our trip.

We began in Tulum, on the East coast; a town built up to service the tourists flocking to see the Mayan ruins of the same name. These are situated on a cliff overlooking the beautiful beaches below and we spent a great couple of hours early one morning exploring before it got too hot. We also found that the site was the home of hundreds of iguanas; baking sunshine + lots of stone = iguana heaven! Some were tiny, others huge and all of them wanted to get in your photos. We rounded off the morning with a couple of hours cooling off in the sea and walking along the beach. It was one of the most beautiful beaches I have ever seen and, unlike any decent beach at home, it wasn’t crowded. Acres of space meant that you could really relax properly.

We didn’t stick around in Tulum very long as the ‘town’ wasn’t more than one road full of souvenir shops. It did however introduce us to the wonderful world of tacos. Out here in Mexico a taco isn’t the hard, tortilla chip style vessel you get back home. They are thin, soft, palm-sized corn tortillas that you whack loads of delicious toppings on with tonnes of spicy salsa or sauce. THEY’RE SO GOOD!!! And cheap. Most are around 10 pesos each (50p) and the tastiest ones we’ve found were only 4 pesos each!!! This means that lunch essentially only costs £1… freeing up more money for Corona and margaritas.

Our next stop was Valladolid where we managed to find time to visit the local cenote (see-no-tay – a giant collapsed limestone cave with a mini lake inside) for a swim. The Mayans have been doing this for centuries, using it as a way to escape the intense afternoon sunshine and I must admit, it’s a genius idea. On top of that we also had an impromptu chocolate history lesson when we visited a small, unassuming shop a few doors down from our hostel. We never expected to be given a tour of the shop and told about the cocoa beans, watch a woman making the chocolate by hand and be given tasters of all the different types of traditional Mayan chocolate. It was some of the best chocolate we’ve ever eaten and we bought loads on the way out.

There wasn’t much else going on in Valladolid but we weren’t really there for the town. We were there to see Chichen Itza, one of the most impressive Mayan ruin sites ever discovered. Everything there is on such a massive scale it’s hard to imagine how they built it, especially the huge El Castillo pyramid that dominates the area. It also has the biggest ball game court we’ve seen out here. The ball game they played is the oldest known team sport and was based around life and death. This was carried through to the ultimate conclusion when the losing team was beheaded as a sacrifice to the gods. There is a particularly graphic relief depicting this event on one of the court walls (complete with blood spurts from the neck turning into snakes) and their tombs were decorated with hundreds of skulls carvings. Pretty grim but very interesting!

That serves to show how far back Mexico’s fascination with death goes. Everywhere you go there are skulls and skeletons in various forms; from lively cartoons to graphic depictions of death, they also vary from tacky and brash to gothicly serious. Either way they really know how to paint and sculpt a decent skeleton and i wanted to buy dozens everywhere we visited. The fact that I didn’t says more about the little amount of money i have left rather than any kind of admirable self-restraint!

We travelled overnight to our next stop, Palenque, and whilst there, we (again) visited the local ruins and two waterfalls – all in one day. The Palenque ruins were so awesome I’d say they were definitely our favourite Mexican ones. They weren’t as big as Chichen Itza, they weren’t home to iguanas and they weren’t on the beach. They were, however, set in a jungle that made them very mysterious and the early morning mist that hung amongst them only enhanced that feeling. What was also cool about them was that you could get inside some of them and see some of the paintings and reliefs that had survived. This wasn’t possible at any of the others and that had been a real disappointment for me. Imagine reading about all the cool stuff you could go and see only to turn up and find it’s been closed off – it was very, very frustrating. But then Palenque’s made up for it; they were very detailed and incredibly well-preserved seeing as they were about 1000 years old!

After the ruins we visited the Misol-Ha waterfall which was pretty good. There was a path set into the rock face all around the pool area letting you get behind the waterfall and take some cool pictures but it wasn’t really that mind-blowing. What was mind-blowing though was Agua Azul which we visited for a few hours in the afternoon. A set of consecutive waterfalls cascading into one another creating numerous pools of the bluest water I have ever seen. These pools in turn become rapids and then more waterfalls until they relax into a nice wide limestone-blue river where everyone jumps in and cools off. It really was a beautiful place and we could easily have spent much more time there if we hadn’t had a grumpy old man waiting with his minibus to take us home.

We then travelled up into the Chiapas mountains to visit San Cristobal de Las Casas. This was a beautiful, bustling little town that we instantly fell in love with; it reminded me of Antigua in a way but is in much better condition. There was a great crafts market bursting with richly coloured fabrics and hand-made gifts (and yummy tacos). There were two large central squares where they had live music, dance competitions and more markets. The shops were overflowing with really good quality gifts and souvenirs (we spent a lot of money here), the restaurants served up amazingly tasty food and the cafés provided easily the best coffee we’ve had on our travels.

The Mexican state of Chiapas is actually renowned for producing one of the best coffee beans in the world, apparently mainly due to the high altitude of the plantations – something like 1400m above sea level! There was one street in particular that we loved to walk along just because there was a large coffee shop that’s sole purpose was to grind and sell this coffee – the smell was so incredible! It also supplied a great café a few doors down which we made sure to visit every day. We also managed to hog a table at a nice bar, only a few doors down the street again, that played classic English music like the Stones, Beatles and Bowie and gave you free food (FREE FOOD!!!!) with every drink you ordered. Let me tell you, they never knew what hit them when we settled down for the afternoon.

After a few days there we headed to the beach or, more specifically, the beachside town of Puerto Escondido in Oaxaca state. Our original plan was to spend our time there soaking up as much sun as we could before getting back to Blighty’s ever reliable rain. Instead we ended up partying nearly every night, making some great new friends and generally having a brilliant time. We loved it so much we actually stayed for 8 nights instead of the planned 3. Unfortunately, this meant that we missed out on Oaxaca City and Mexico City but we’ll be back to Mexico for sure so we don’t regret it.

We stayed at a really cool hostel called Tower Bridge, run by a slightly insane English guy. Luckily, he went on holiday a couple of days after we got there and handed over the general running to Mary and Jesse, a couple of more chilled out and fun guys. Jesse also ran the bar, making killer cocktails and encouraging obscene amounts of Tequila drinking, which we gamely joined in with. It was also home to Docé, a playful little kitten who decided to move into our bungalow for most of the week and kept us entertained. Not satisfied with a kitten, Hannah decided to try to steal the local laundry lady’s dog who was kept chained up all day outside. We named him Mango after all the fruit that fell out of the trees around him and took him for a walk nearly every day. That is, any day that Hannah wasn’t hungover.

Sticking with the animal theme, one evening we visited the local turtle preservation centre and helped to release baby turtles to the sea. They were tiny and so strong, struggling to escape your hands to the beckoning sea. Obviously, they would be no match for poachers or seagulls which is why the centre is there. The guy who oversaw it all drew a line in the sand parallel to the breaking surf and we all set our turtles down over the line, watching them race each other to the sea whilst the sun set. We all stayed and watched every last one get swept up by the waves, cheering them on to freedom. It was a truly incredible, feel-good experience.

We also managed to get on an early morning fishing trip; it was a bit disappointing but we still managed to see some dolphins and turtles. We took home one of the fish we caught (which pissed off the fisherman so much he refused to return us to the hostel) and saved it to cook the following day. Unfortunately, after I had cleaned, gutted and filleted it (taught by Youtube), stuck it in the fridge and left it for the afternoon, we realised that the fridge wasn’t actually working and it had gone off. Instead, we ate out for the last time with Mary and Jesse and so began another night of margaritas and tequila shots.

Puerto Escondido was also where I finally learnt how to surf. I met up with some new Aussie friends we had made at Tower Bridge and hit Zicatela beach. Learning to surf in 4m high waves probably isn’t the best situation but it was a lot of fun and I did ok, managing to stand on the board and surf a few decent waves – it was bloody exhausting though. It was made all the more exciting by the thousands of small fish surrounding us, nipping at your legs and being picked off by some huge pelicans. So we had to keep our wits about us to not only avoid being drowned by the waves but also to keep out of the way of the dive-bombing birds!!

So as you can see, Mexico was AWESOME!!!! We had so much fun I think it’s actually moved to the top of the list of places we would revisit. The country was beautiful, the people were great, the food was incredible and we covered less than a third of it. There is so much more to see that we just have to get back soon, if only because I’m getting taco-withdrawal symptoms already.

Country number 8 (EIGHT!) on our trip was Belize, a country constituting of a unique mix of Central America, the Caribbean and Great Britain. Despite being wedged in between two Spanish-speaking countries its native tongue is actually English, thanks to British loggers that settled and claimed the land back in the 1700s. They probably didn’t realise back then that in 300 years time they would be giving the world’s backpackers a special little haven to escape from struggling through hundreds of different Spanish dialects.

Unfortunately, we didn’t have a lot of time to see a lot of the country; we had spent more time in Guatemala than we planned for and we wanted to spend more time in Mexico leaving us only a week. So, instead of wasting time travelling around on buses, we decided to spend the whole time on an island in the Caribbean Sea… Caye Caulker.

Caye Caulker is a tiny island consisting of only one town; so small it took barely 15 mins to walk from our hotel in the southern end to the northernmost bar – the only one with an unobstructed view of the sunset. It’s so small that roads are deemed unnecessary, making it a car-and-bus-free zone… it was so refreshing to be able to walk anywhere without the need to be watching out for traffic! If for some reason you need to get somewhere quicker than the default Caribbean slow walking pace, you get on a bike. Or, if you’re feeling particularly lazy, maybe the sun’s too hot for any remotely taxing exercise, you drank too much rum last night or you’ve just relaxed past the point of being able to move yourself by yourself at all, then you can get in one of the local ‘taxis’ – a chauffeured golf buggy – to drive you around the dusty, sandy streets.

On the eastern side we found one long beach area lined with huge palm trees and crowded with boats taking tourists fishing, sailing or on diving tours. Amongst all this were people selling their fresh, hot, home-cooked food out of giant pans, others cooking freshly caught shrimp kebabs on 6ft long coal-fired BBQs and a rare few peddling home-made cakes out of their portable bakeries (a bicycle with a BIG basket up front). Needless to say this part of town smelt incredible.

Throughout town the bars, instead of having the usual bar stools, had rope swings fixed to the ceiling. Great fun and very relaxing once coupled with the smooth reggae tunes blasting out of the radio and the 2×1 offers on the locally made rum… until you fall off backwards drunk of course (thankfully, this didn’t happen to us, we just had fun!). All the bars are also floored with sand; meaning you can spend all day, every day, not wearing any shoes. Which we did.

It was a very, very chilled out place. The weather was scorching; so hot we couldn’t go outside from about 11am until 2pm! We didn’t complain though… this was a perfect excuse for extended lunchtimes eating amazing food and we regularly stuffed our faces with jerk chicken or fresh fish, covered in the Belizean staple of Marie Sharp’s Habanero hot sauce. It was either that or go and cool off in the hotel pool. Or go swimming in the sea. We had some really tough choices to make that week.

Hannah made plenty of new friends in the form of the island’s entire dog population, whether it was a stray or not, and the hotel parrots. The parrots didn’t seem to be very well looked after so Hannah took it upon herself to make sure they were washed, fed and watered every day. I’m not sure they completely enjoyed being sprayed with water every day but they certainly loved the challenge of opening monkey nuts she fed them.

Easily the best day we had there was when we went snorkelling (again) on the Belizean reef, the largest in the northern hemisphere. This was not only the best day we had in Caye Caulker, but easily one of the highlights of our whole 6 month trip. We visited three sites, one aptly named Shark Ray Alley, whilst sailing on a tiny boat. Actually sailing rather than going out on a big motorboat was exciting enough but we also had a guide with us for the first time and we swam around with us pointing things out and explaining more about our surroundings. Shark Ray Alley was our second stop and this time we were joined by both Caveman (our guide) and Patrick (our captain) in the water. The sea was full of big fish, 6ft long nurse sharks and HUGE sting rays (4ft wingspan!!).

None of these were bothered by our presence and actually seemed to enjoy it. Staying around where the boat held anchor looking for some food, the fish would dart around us snapping at the fish scraps that Caveman would throw inches from your face, whilst the sharks and rays let you swim alongside them on the sea bed (which was no more than 8ft from the surface). The sharks and rays even let Caveman and Patrick hold them in the water; they would simply swim into their arms, relax and roll over for them. This allowed us to get a really close look at them and even give them a stroke! It was incredible!

On our third stop we finally managed to share the water with turtles. Ever since we were promised this at the beginning of Oz it’s been on our minds so we’d been waiting a long time for this. They were big green sea turtles, very graceful and peaceful to watch whilst they grazed on the seaweed and swam to the surface for air. Last but not least, we also got to see a big green moray eel (“It’s the bad guys in The Little Mermaid” – Hannah), Caveman tried to coax it out of its den a bit more but it wasn’t very happy about that and snapped at him. We left it well alone after that.

The journey back to land was just as fun as the snorkeling; Patrick broke out a massive vat of rum punch whilst Caveman made some incredibly tasty Shrimp Cerviche which we all scoffed down with far too many tortilla chips. With the sun shining down on us, the wind casually guiding us home and awesome reggae blasting out over the waves, we could not have been closer to heaven.

So, as I mentioned in our last post, after about a week in Guatemala we hopped over the border for a couple of days to Honduras. This was a last minute addition to our itinerary after hearing about the Copan ruins and how damn easy it was to get there. We were allowed a 72 hr pass to enter the country at the border and arrived at Copan Ruinas (the town next to the ruins) in something like 35C heat and 80% humidity. This was a jump of about 10C from where we left and, after the comfort of our luxurious, air-conditioned coach, was a serious shock to the system. It made for two tired, thirsty and sweaty people.

However, this was better than being dead which is what we thought we would be not long after leaving Panajachel. The road that our minibus took was up, over and around all the mountainous valleys that we had been admiring over the past week. Except that now there was a seriously dense fog, mixed in with tons of smoke created by all the forest fires the Guatemalans like to start in these mountains. Plus, our driver didn’t give two seconds thought to just keep travelling as fast as the truck in front. This was pretty fast. I’m assuming the driver of the truck was doing the same because we came to a very quick stop on numerous occasions. Thankfully, we arrived to Antigua in one piece where we changed minibus to take us to Guatemala City, from where we got our coach to Honduras. It was a long trip.

Anyway, back to Copan Ruinas, a quaint little town built around a central market square and on a steep hill. It’s dissected by a grid of cobbled streets congested with craft stalls and men selling pineapples out the back of an open top truck. It was also afflicted with rolling blackouts 24/7 which did get a bit annoying but made for some atmospheric evenings spent in bars lit only by candlelight.

The ruins themselves were barely a 20 minute walk out of town and were our first Mayans to explore. They were pretty cool but, I’m not going to lie, they were nothing compared to the temples of Angkor. The more i think about it the more i think we were very spoiled with doing those so early on in our trip. They set a precedent that, so far, hasn’t been bettered. The Copan Ruins were interesting to walk around, but they were mostly so worn that it was difficult to pick out any detail. It was more of an introduction to the scale of Mayan architecture, which is huge. With that in mind, they were very impressive and after we found an artists impression of what the site may have looked like back in the day, the site took on a whole new light and looked magnificent.

However, as awesome as they were, they were completely overshadowed by the resident scarlet macaws, the national bird of Honduras. You would never know that they were an endangered species (only 1000 left wild in Honduras) as there must have been about 30 of them flying around and showing off to any visitors that neared them. The reason there were so many around was that the Copan Ruins site run a breeding program to help boost the population. Most of the birds flying around wild there were also bred there and called it home. They were totally captivating and we must have spent just as much time watching them as we did walking around the ruins.

So from Honduras we moved on, back into Guatemala and onto Rio Dulce, a town based on the river of the same name which acts as a crossroad between the main highway up to Flores and the riverway. Our main intention was to possibly get a boat west and search out the hot spring waterfalls of El Estor or to maybe go east to the Caribbean flavoured town of Livingston for a day. Unfortunately, i managed to get severe food poisoning, scuppering those plans. Though it did mean we got to spend an entire day in the hostel restaurant area, which was just a decking area built over the rivers edge, watching pelicans fly around. We also narrowly escaped getting dropped on by a snake, the first wild one that we’ve seen. Judging by the locals reaction it wasn’t a friendly one but they managed to throw it into the river eventually without anyone getting hurt.

From there we made a beeline north, straight up to Flores, a small island in the lake next to Santa Elena. It wasn’t the  first time we’d been on an overcrowded coach but it was the first time we had to stand up for pretty much the whole 6 hour trip. By the time we got to Flores my feet hated me.

We had a brilliant time in Flores, we made some good friends and, being the super social booze hounds that we are, ended up spending nearly every night learning new drinking games. Or hanging out on the various lakeside piers, playing music and sharing stories. Or up in the Secret Bar at the back of the hostel where they played our favourite David Attenborough documentaries on a massive screen to act as a visual backdrop.

Flores was, is, a very fun place. The lake was deep and warm and jumping off the piers made for the perfect antidote to the insane heat that we were dealing with. One afternoon we hired a local with a small boat to take us and two of our friends, Olivier and Khalid, to a beach on the other side of the lake. It was more like a quarry than a beach but we found another pier and proceeded to jump off that for a couple of hours.

On the way to the beach Olivier and Khalid, who speak very good Spanish, convinced the captain to let them jump off the front of the boat… while it was still moving!!! They prevented themselves from being left behind by holding onto a rope attached to the boat, which meant that Khalid’s hands were full when his shorts came off in the water. I don’t know who was more embarrassed, Khalid or the Captain’s very young family who were also on board! Now as I’m sure you can imagine, jumping, swimming and generally messing around is hungry work, so our Captain very kindly dropped us off by Burger King on the way back. I can wholeheartedly report that Guatemala make outstanding Whoppers.

The main reason anyone goes to Flores though is to visit the Mayan ruins of Tikal. Still mostly covered by the surrounding jungle, this was a great day out. They were up there with the most impressive structures I’ve ever seen, towering above the tops of the trees. Climbing to the top of Temple IV meant that you could look over the top of the jungle, with the Main Plaza (also amazing!!!!) poking through in the distance, all the way to the horizon. It was very peaceful up there and a fantastic experience.

Amongst all the ruins we also saw some very cool wildlife… giant falcons nesting on the top of Temple V, howler monkeys, spider monkeys, a couple of bizarre blue wild turkeys, a coatimundi, and a procession of thousands of leaf-cutter ants. Unfortunately, we saw none of the resident toucans, tarantulas or jaguars.

So that was Guatemala, definitely one of our favourite stops on the trip. We’re gutted to have left it behind so quickly, it was another place we believe we could have spent at least another couple of weeks visiting given the chance. But time is ticking away and we’ve already been to Belize between then and now! We’re now in Mexico, surviving on a diet purely consisting of tacos…deliciously spicy tacos. IT’S AWESOME HERE!!!!!!!!!!

First off, sorry for the terrible pun in the title, I just couldn’t resist… Now, as I mentioned before in our last update Guatemala is fantastic. Fan-bloody-tastic. There’s so much to tell though that I’m going to forget about any kind of eulogy and just get on with it, starting at the beginning…

Antigua Guatemala (meaning Ancient Guatemala), what was once the third capital before a series of earthquakes nearly destroyed it back in the 1700s. The colonial architecture was so stunning though that the Unesco guys decided to make sure the ruined churches were protected and not pulled down. This was partly to entice people like us into flocking there to experience such a beautiful, contrasting town in the name of Tourism. As beautiful as they were by day, they were even more stunning at night-time, lit up from below and given a whole new character. There are so many of them too, approaching about a dozen I’d say. In such a small town this would feel weird anywhere else in the world, but here it seems to fit perfectly. They do love their religion over here.

Built up around the preserved ruined parts, the rest of the town is colourful and vibrant. Everyone seemed so happy, going around with smiles on their faces and wishing you a good morning; I suspect it may have something to do with all the home-made coffee and chocolate produced by the local plantations. I could easily have got addicted to that stuff! Consequently, Antigua had a great atmosphere and it was so easy to just chill right out. We’ve since found that this actually applies to the whole of Guatemala – this is one hell of a relaxed country.

After a couple of days recovering from severe jet lag we regained our more usual habits and got smashed. We went for A Quiet Drink downtown in a cafe/bar/bookshop that we’d bought our Spanish dictionary from earlier in the day, and found it full of local musicians for the weekly open-mic night. We bagged front row seats and slowly… no, scrap that, QUICKLY made our way through most of the cocktail list. This being the principal danger of extended Happy Hours, we rolled out of there the worse for wear around midnight after talking god knows what rubbish to various musicians after they’d finished. The night wasn’t to end there though, even if our memory does get a bit hazy about this point.

Photographic evidence tells us that we ended up in another drinking den that was full of people dancing on the bar and we captured ourselves on film singing with some buskers in the street. Good times.

Antigua is found in a valley surrounded by mostly extinct volcanoes. A couple nearby are still active though and one morning we jumped on a tour and hiked our way to the top of one. This being our second attempt as we had to cancel our first due to hangovers incurred by the aforementioned Quiet Drink. Thank Maximon (see below) that we did cancel the first because we barely made it up there when we were feeling good! 2 hours up a steep, dusty, gravel track was hard work but even from halfway up we were rewarded with beautiful views over the whole region and when we reached the top, the other active volcano across the valley saluted us with a puff of smoke. It was so barren up there it seemed alien and although we didn’t get to go right up to the crater’s edge, we did get to cook some marshmallows by sticking them in hot vents in the rocky ground.

Our next stop was Panajachel, the main destination around Lake Atitlan. Like Antigua (and most of Guatemala), this lake was also surrounded by extinct volcanoes and the lake itself used to be one huge super volcano that fell in on itself. Panajachel was more like one long market street than a proper kind of town. The market was heavily based on tourism and was full of locally made fabrics, traditional masks, bags, ornaments, mayan jewellery, bizarre shot glasses (we bought four) and hand-made musical instruments (we bought a beautiful wooden flute). If we’d gone there at the beginning of our trip rather than towards the end we probably would have spent a small fortune getting stuff as it was all so distinctive and interesting. As it’s found on the eastern side of the lake, Panajachel benefits from a really stunning setting and the waterfront is saturated with bars and restaurants, they’re literally overflowing from the land and over the water propped up on stilts. Perfect for watching the sun set whilst sipping margaritas which, incidentally, is how we celebrated St Patrick’s Day.

After a couple of days we took a boat over the lake to Santiago, home of Maximon. Doubtless many of you will know little about Maximon, he is some kind of Mayan saint mashed up with some parts of Catholicism. The legends/myths are just so bizarre I can’t even begin to give you a completely accurate description myself so here’s a little of what Wikipedia has to say…

“The legend has it that one day while the village men were off working in the fields, Maximón slept with all of their wives. When they returned, they became so enraged they cut off his arms and legs (this is why most effigies of Maximón are short, often without arms).”

“Worshippers offer money, spirits and cigars or cigarettes to gain his favour in exchange for good health, good crops, and marriage counselling, amongst other favours. The effigy invariably has a lit cigarette or cigar in its mouth, and in some places, it will have a hole in its mouth to allow the attendants to give it spirits to drink.”

“The worship of Maximón treats him not so much as a benevolent deity but rather as a bully whom one does not want to anger… Devotees believe that prayers for revenge, or success at the expense of others, are likely to be granted by Maximón.”

“An interesting aspect of Maximon in the town of Santiago Atitlan (where we were – he pops up in a few other places too) is that of the lure of Maximon’s laundry water. During the year preceding Easter week when Maximon’s clothing is washed, the waste water is saved and distributed to local shop keepers. These vials of grey, waste water are then sold to locals. The idea is that when sprinkled around the threshold of the shop doorway, the waste water will entice customers into the shop to make a purchase.”

I told you it’s weird didn’t I? So, one morning I went to Maximon’s current ‘house’ in Santiago to see it all for myself and I can say right now, it’s every bit as weird as it sounds. As you walked through the door there it was. Maximon’s effigy was slap bang in the middle of the room, sitting in between two guardians, puffing on a cigar and drowning in an avalanche of garish ties that even your dad would balk at. To my left were a collection of 3ft tall dolls of other Catholic saints and to my right was a horizontal glass coffin with a life-size dummy of Santa Cruz (Jesus Christ) inside it, covered in flashing flourescent lights. SO. WEIRD.

There wasn’t much else going on in Santiago. It had a tourist market too but it wasn’t as large or charming as Pana’s. In fact the place kinda spooked us a bit. We were creeped out by the unnaturally permanent smile of the hotel manager, the creepy guy who showed us nearly every single available (and dirty) room in the town when we turned up and the weird cowboy who followed us around trying to sell us tours. Plus, after dark there were no street lights, only lots of people hanging about in alley ways. On top of that, being a heavily religious country and it being a Sunday in a very small town, everywhere also shut very early. So instead of wandering the streets blind trying to find somewhere to get dinner, we settled on a few packs of Doritos washed down with a bit of rum. Classy.

After that we made our way back to Panajachel for a night before heading off for a couple of days to Honduras. But I’ll save that for the next post. Before I sign off though I must tell you about the ubiquitous Chicken Buses. They have easily become one of my favourite parts of Guatemala, not to ride on, but to look at. They’re really old Canadian school buses, repainted in all kinds of crazy colours and schemes, each one completely different. Or at least I thought they were until I saw four of the same design parked up next to each other, but 99% of the time you won’t see any two the same. Each individually designed vehicle also has its own name, further distinguishing them from each other, although the name might be a bit hard to find at first. Sometimes they’re painted across an entire side, sometimes they’re just a vinyl sticker in the corner of a window screen. Anyway, whenever you see them, they hold your attention like nothing else. They’re just awesome. Bye!

So here we are, onto our last continent and kind of on our way home… We’ve “only” got roughly one month left! Since our last update we have left New Zealand, spent a week in Fiji and survived a gruelling 44 hour journey to arrive in Central America. We absolutely love it here – we’ve been enjoying it very very much. But before I get onto any of that let’s rewind a bit.

We spent our last week New Zealand firstly in Paihia, a quiet little town up in the Bay of Islands. We stayed at a place called Sublime Apartments ran by a guy named Mark. This was actually Mark’s apartment and we were staying in his converted garage, we had no amenities to ourselves we just went up stairs to share his! It felt strange at first but he was really chilled out and made us really welcome. He also had an outdoor pool which was a nice bonus. PLUS, even when we stank out his living room after cooking some cheap fish, he let us stick around to watch Frozen Planet with him. What a guy!

We spent the rest of the time there visiting the beach, a waterfall (via an insanely cool Tim Burton-esque mangrove forest) and the nearby Waitangi Treaty grounds. This was where thousands of Maori Chiefs congregated to sign over the governance of New Zealand to Britain back in 1840. On display they had the world’s largest war canoe… a massive ceremonial Waka. Whilst rewarding ourselves for a good days exploring with a good ol’ English cuppa and a ginormous sausage roll in the Waitangi grounds café, we also discovered they had a pond full of very inquisitive, and rather large, eels there. Not as inquisitive as Hannah though who stroked one on the head and got bitten for her troubles.

Then onto Auckland. Meech and Blair, a couple of Kiwi friends we know from London, welcomed us by putting on a slap up BBQ dinner and proceeded to spend the next couple of days showing us a good time. We started off by doing some fishing at one of Blair’s “favourite” spots (he proceeded to point out about ten dozen other ‘favourites’ throughout the day). We didn’t catch anything unfortunately so we drove up the road and bought some fish and chips to cheer us up. In the afternoon we took the scenic route to Blair’s family holiday home, taking in the mountains, bays, islands and rolling green hills of New Zealand for the last time. We stopped off at a beautiful beach called Cathedral Cove for a break and ate some ice cream then we did something I never would have dreamed up.

We dug a hole. Not just any hole though, we were on Hot Water Beach, so named because of the natural hot spring under the beach. We dug a hole where the water was so hot that you could’t stand in it, then dug around it to mix it with cooler seawater and voila!  We had made our own 100% natural hot bath courtesy of New Zealand’s geothermal energy reserves. Magic! The fact that it was pretty miserable weather at this point only served to make it that much better. When the weather really threatened we headed home and stuffed our faces with Thai food.

We finished off our weekend, and consequently our NZ trip, by having a quick stop in Auckland city centre, trying to buy some books for our week in Fiji. We weren’t massively successful so we hit a couple of bars instead, then caught up with the guys at a house party and indulged in a few too many games of beer pong (played instead with Jack Daniels and cheap white wine). The subsequent hangover kept Meech in bed all day whilst Hannah ate her second Big Mac in 24 hours and came to the conclusion that NZ made the best in the world.

On to Fiji we went, what we planned as a week off from travelling all the time. A week of crisp blue seas, beautiful beaches and plenty of tan-top-up time. We unknowingly booked into a resort on the 2nd furthest away island in the Yasawa region and so the ferry took five hours from the mainland, but this gave us giving us a tour of all the other islands. They seemed to progressively get smaller and more beautiful with every passing minute! The weather forecast was rain and thunder storms all week but it actually turned out that we spent pretty much the whole time relaxing in the sun… and smuggling rum from our room. We had bought a 1ltr bottle of Captain Morgans in Fiji airport’s Duty Free for the equivalent sum of 12 whole English Pounds (just try and tell me you could have resisted), then found out that you weren’t allowed to BYO. The barman/cleaners must have thought we were proper Diet Coke addicts!

To break up the sunbathing a bit we ventured off onto the deep blue a couple of times. One time we went out kayaking in the sea to get to the nicer beach on the island (the beach outside our place was covered in rocks and coral – all our sun time was actually spent on the immaculate lawn they had). Stupidly, we went out at low tide and after 2 minutes managed to ground ourselves on some coral in a particularly shallow area. I don’t think anyone noticed though and the next wave carried us off quite nicely. When we got to our favourite spot (we had already walked over there  a couple of days previously) we pulled up the boat and basked in the shallows. Not long after, a large stick floated past us towards the shore and hanging on for dear life was a giant crab, possibly trying to improve it’s surfing skills. Unfortunately, that kind of stuff only happens when you don’t have a camera with you so you’ll just have to believe me on that one.

We also took a trip to the Blue Lagoon, apparently where they filmed the film of the same name. Here we fed some (hundreds) of fish from the boat before snorkelling around the massive coral bed and spotting all kinds of crazy coloured fish, loads of ‘Nemo’s’ and possibly a coral turtle. I say ‘possibly’ as my goggles were not the best and were constantly filling with water – it could quite easily have just been a big turtle-esque fish.

A special mention must got to the people of Fiji who were fantastic… always with a smile on their face, always wanting to help and always singing their songs for us. The Bula Bula song that they sang after every dinner was particularly catchy and had us humming it all day, all week. I’m going to miss that a lot, their happiness was infectious.

Even more so, we’re going to miss Meech and Blair. We had such a brilliant time with them, they really made Auckland more than anything we could have hoped for. So thanks guys for everything, get back to England soon and thank Pauline for putting us up (and putting up with us).

That’s it for now really, like I mentioned earlier we’re now in Guatemala and love it here. It’s a beautiful, volcanic country with good food, lots of ruins to gawp at and plenty of free-flowing Tequila. We’re doing our best to learn some Spanish whilst here as English is not too common and to be honest I don’t think we’re faring too badly! I’ll do my best to get another update to you soon but until then, Adiós!

We are currently in Paihia on the Bay of Islands, in the far north of New Zealand having spent the last week venturing across a constantly changing landscape consisting only of extremes. One day we’re running on top of a mountain over ice and snow and the next we’re treading carefully around steaming lakes of geothermal mud. One morning we’re falling through the air, thousands of feet above the ground, only to find ourselves nearly a hundred metres under it 24 hours later.

To begin with, we travelled up to Franz Josef to explore the world famous glacier. We were planning on getting on a tour that usually takes you hiking into the glacier but what actually happened was beyond belief. Within a couple of hours of us arriving and finding a place to stay our phone rang. It was Steve, a great guy who we’d befriended only a few days earlier. In Queenstown, he was staying in the same block of rooms as us and we inevitably shared a fair few drinks together. It turned out he used to live in Franz whilst working for one of the local coach companies, knew pretty much everyone there. He was ringing to let us know that he had called in a favour and bagged us a 100% free, no strings attached HELICOPTER tour of the glaciers (next to Franz Josef Glacier there’s another, slightly smaller one called Fox Glacier). Needless to say we were gobsmacked.

So, the next morning we went to the helipad, slightly wary of the mist and ominous clouds. For once however, the weather changed in our favour and for the duration of our trip the clouds all but disappeared. We flew up and over Franz Josef, and around the mountains before setting down on a plateau at the very top. It was like another world up there, and after running around on the snow like hysterical children and taking tonnes of photos we got back in the chopper. We flew down Fox Glacier and back over the rainforest to town. It went by so fast it was like a dream. A fantastically vivid dream.

After Franz we went back to Queenstown for a night. It poured with rain the rest of the weekend so the journey back was completely different. Where before we crossed almost dry river beds, there were thundering rapids and the previously dry, fern covered mountainsides were now alive with waterfalls. It was quite a spectacular change in such a short amount of time. Back in Queenstown, Steve’s insider knowledge helped yet again after I managed to leave our wallet on the coach. Thankfully, he knew where the coach would be refuelling and we managed to catch it up and retrieve the wallet in time… close call! We ended up staying at Steve’s flat that night after we took him out for a nice big juicy burger. It was the least we could do after everything he had done for us.

Next stop, Rotorua, the birthplace of New Zealand tourism. It was not hard to see why. We have just completed a hat-trick of consecutive awesome days and could easily have done a million more things and not get bored. Basically, Rotorua is brilliant. Smelly, but brilliant. It is built upon one of the most active geothermal areas in the world (hence the sulphuric bad-egg smell), is a centre for Maori cultural experiences and is home to some of the world’s craziest sports (e.g zorbing).

We introduced ourselves to the geothermal side of it by simply taking a walk around the local public park. Where at home we might have a small pond, here they had bubbling pools of hot steaming mud. Amazing! The next day though we took a trip around Wai-O-Tapu, also known as the Geothermal Wonderland. If we though the park was good we had seen nothing yet. Here, craters had given way to sulphur caves, there were massive red, green and white pools of naturally boiling water, more bubbling mud, waterfalls and sulphuric lakes. You could hardly see a few yards ahead for the amount of steam everywhere. On the way, we also made a quick stop to see the Lady Knox Geyser erupt (and soak a load of spectators unaware of the wind direction).

That evening, we visited a Maori village to learn more about their history and cultural traditions. After watching the men arrive to the village on the river in a Waka (war canoe), the performance dealt with traditional song and dance, explained more about the facial tattooing, games and weapons, before ending with the famous Haka used by New Zealand sports teams. It was phenomenal. We then all shared a feast based around Hangi, the traditional Maori method of cooking which involved the food cooking under the ground with hot stones. Once again, phenomenal. If it wasn’t for the fact I absolutely stuffed my face, I would have found it hard to sleep that night with how much I was buzzing.

On Day Two of Awesomeness we skydived. Initially, the plan was that I was to skydive whilst Hannah watched and she didn’t even want to do that originally (“I don’t want to watch you die”). But as soon as my pickup driver suggested that they would convince her anyway, she convinced herself. That was some slick salesmanship… getting someone who is scared of flying to convince themselves to jump out of a plane. Anyway, it was an incredible experience and we both loved it. I can’t be sure about Hannah but I will definitely be doing it again.

Day Three of Awesomeness involved caving in Waitomo. Not just any caving though, this involved rafting through pitch black caverns on rubber rings. It also involved jumping off underground waterfalls backwards, wading through chest high water and being led through said caverns by trails of glowworms on the cave ceiling. Pretty damn awesome I’m sure you’ll agree.

So yeah, that was the week that was. Yesterday was quite an epic journey from Rotorua, so today we’ve been lounging by the pool having a nice well earned break form doing anything too exciting. We’ll be in Auckland in a couple of days for the final part of our NZ trip and I must say we’re not looking forward to leaving, this country has truly captured our hearts and minds. We will, however, be spending the following week on an beach in Fiji somewhere so it’s not all bad.

Kia Ora from New Zealand, our favourite destination so far!

We love it here, It’s probably the most stunningly beautiful place i have ever been to and around every corner is yet more striking scenery. Plus, the people are great, the food is great, the towns are great, the wildlife is great and their obvious pride in the Maori history and culture is great. Everything is great here.

We began by flying into Christchurch and talking to our airport shuttle driver about the earthquakes. He was really interesting, bringing into focus the full extent of damage done to the poor town. We saw for ourselves how bad things were when we got into town and the whole centre was fenced off due to the amount of damaged and dangerous buildings waiting to be tore down. One night we even experienced an aftershock that woke us up as it rumbled and shook our hostel.

From Christchurch we flew up to the capital, Wellington. It wasn’t long before we fell in love with the place. Situated on a bay, it’s a thriving city that seems to have a real fresh personality and energy about it. We visited Te Papa, the national history museum, which was fascinating. It explained the natural history of the islands, plus the cultural history and caused me to fall in love with the Maori art. Another day we visited Zealandia, a massive nature reserve dedicated to preserving the native wildlife. It was a beautiful place to walk around and amazing to see such things as Takahe and Tuatara living in a wild environment. Finally, we hiked up to the top of Victoria Mount to get a overview of the whole city and discovered not only a great view, but that our fitness leaves a lot to be desired.

Our next stop was Queenstown. Once again we flew down (flights are cheaper than the train and bus out here) and grabbed a taxi to town. The local taxi driver took immense pride in the surroundings and he took us on a little detour to grab a better view of it all at no extra cost. We encouraged us to get out to take a proper look and then offered to take a photo for us. Like i said before, the people out here are so nice.

It truly was a mind-blowing view; a crystal clear lake surrounded by soaring mountain ranges, and yet was really just the beginning. Yesterday we travelled to Milford Sound, a massive fjord in the south-west famously described as the 8th wonder of the world by Rudyard Kipling. Again the scenery was breathtaking, not just at Milford though, but the whole journey there. We drove over huge open plains and amongst enormous ravines, through mountains (literally), around cliff edges and wound our way along rivers of the clearest, bluest water I’ve ever set eyes on. I think the highlight for everyone at Milford though, no matter how beautiful the scenery, were the fur seals.The boat came so close you could nearly touch them yet they paid no notice of us, they were too busy sunbathing on the rocks. On the way home, everyone on the coach was so exhausted from sensory overload that we all slept pretty much the whole way back.

This morning I was due to do a skydive but the weather’s turned again and it was cancelled. No problem, I should be able to do it in Rotorua next week instead. Hopefully, the weather won’t stay too bad for too long though, we’re off to Franz Josef tomorrow to climb in and around some glaciers and we don’t have any waterproofs. I’ll let you know how we get on.

Enjoying the sun in Coolangata
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The best thing about Byron Bay was this graffiti
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Sydney Harbour
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Emergency clothes drying in Katoomba
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Hannah with her new best friends Pepper and Olive Oil
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Olive Oil demonstrating her Laser-Eye capabilities
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Some crazy wall mask thing in Melbourne Chinatown
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Checking out the giant seafood in Chinatown
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Leaving for New Zealand
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I am typing this somewhere over the South Pacific onboard our flight to New Zealand having left Melbourne this morning. Since the last update we have been lucky enough to bear witness to the worst summer Australia has had weather-wise for a looooooooong time, possibly ever. We thankfully missed the floods that hit the East Coast last week, but for most of our time there it rained. A lot. Then it rained some more.

Since Fraser Island and Rainbow Beach, we have stopped off in Noosa, Brisbane, Byron Bay, Sydney and the Blue Mountains before getting here to Melbourne. Spending most of our time inside, it has been a very frustrating few weeks to be honest. Especially in Noosa and Byron where, being beach towns, there’s not much to do when its pissing down. During that time, I spent a lot of it updating my travel journal, wishing we were up to more interesting things than wishing we were up to more interesting things.

But enough moaning. Obviously, we have still done and seen lots and we actually caught up with plenty of friends too, so it’s not all bad! In Noosa, one afternoon was actually sunny so we spent a few hours walking through the national park there. We were promised to see koalas in the trees, but as always, when anyone promises to see any particular kind of wildlife, we saw none. Instead we spotted a few crazy lizards chasing flies, a magnificent eagle perched in the trees, and a goanna. That last one made us both jump as we were only a few yards away when it stirred and skulked off the path into the forest. It was a about a metre long and it looked like it could chew your leg off!

Brisbane was a lot more fun, we stayed at the flat of some friends we had made back on the boat in Halong Bay in Vietnam. Dane and Shona showed us around town, before we headed back and hung out in the pool and jacuzzi of their apartment complex. Some of their friends came over and we made the biggest tray of the cheesiest nachos I’ve ever seen (you can never have too much cheese on your nachos) as well as homemade pizzas. We drank god knows how many coffee margaritas then everyone had a go at shaving my head. Word of advice: Never let drunk people near your hair. The words ‘patchy’, ‘painful’ and ‘bloody’ come to mind.

The next day they took us down to Coolangata beach where they hold the surfing championships every year. We spent a few hours there diving through the massive waves and body boarding amongst the surfers. Interesting factoid: Because the surfing conditions are so perfect, they actually pump regurgitated sand back into the sea a bit further up the coast just to keep the breaks the same. Another interesting thing about Australia is that they have drive-thru versions of everything, even off-licenses. On the way there, we went to a drive-thru PIE SHOP for breakfast. Being a big pie fan, that was pretty special.

I’ll skip Byron Bay because it rained. All the bloody time. That’s all there is to say about it. Sydney was pretty cool though!

We stayed with some family friends of Hannah’s who had kindly offered to put us up for the week. Sharon, Mickey, Molly, Paddy and their dog Rosie were amazing and really took care of us. By the end of our week we’d had such a great time with them we didn’t want to leave.

We spent Australia day around The Rocks, a bit of Sydney that looks similar to an old English village, and where the first Australian settlement was. We caught up with Sal and Nick, friends of ours who had emigrated from London last summer, and watched the most amazing firework display I’ve ever seen over Darling Harbour.

Another night we met up with an old friend of mine, AJ, who I haven’t seen for about 5/6 years. His girlfriend Cass worked for the Sydney festival and managed to get us all free entry into a gig, plus loads of free drinks. We ended up having a riot and staying at their place in Bondi Junction. The next morning we went to the beach and ocean pools to get rid of our hangovers… AJ’s “sure-fire hangover cure” of sauna – pool – sauna – pool, coupled with a blazing hot day and a 2 hour journey back to Sharon and Mickey’s afterward, actually made mine a billion times worse and made me feel like I had the worst heatstroke ever. Thankfully, Sharon is an ace cook and that afternoon we had a small party for her sister’s birthday and ate lots of great food. Food is always the best hangover cure.

Our last day in Sydney we spent at Taronga Zoo which, by the way, is awesome! We saw all the Aussie wildlife the rain had prevented us from seeing naturally such as kangaroos, wallabies and koalas, as well as penguins, tiger cubs, lions, platypus, giraffes, giant tortoises, a huge komodo dragon, an even bigger condor and far too many snakes for my liking. It was the first day back for most schools so we near enough had the place to ourselves without any screaming kids, perfect!

From Sydney we went up in to the Blue Mountains. Not long after we arrived, so did a giant cloud. A cloud that engulfed, and soaked, everything in it. Including us. Cue another 3 days trapped inside while it rained and rained and rained. Also, because we were in the mountains, it was cold, very cold. We should have just gone straight to Melbourne!

Melbourne, as opposed to everywhere else, has had a scorching summer so the first thing we did when we arrived in the morning was find a park and soak up some sun. Again, we were staying with some friends we had made in Halong Bay so we made our way to their place and 10 mins later we were off to a bbq in the park. Sun, Cider & Sausages, what a great way to start the week! We didn’t do too much sight seeing whilst in Melbourne (mainly due to hangovers) but what we did see was really cool. It’s a bit grungier than the rest of Australia, cool graffiti paints the walls and plenty of vintage/retro/bohemian type shops and cafés line the streets. Add to that the enormous amount of parks and the tendency to keep all the old buildings intact amongst new ones (Sydney used to rip them down to build new ones on top), it felt like a less busy version of London. Plus the tram network is great… a bit slow maybe, but MUCH more enjoyable than the Tube. I am NOT looking forward to that first journey back home.

So, another country ticked off the list and onto the next. This is also the half way stage, so I guess you could say we’re on our way home now. That’s kinda depressing, but it’ll take the best part of three months so I guess I can live with it.

Lastly, I want to say a massive thank you to Dane, Shona and Kelly, Sharon, Mickey, Molly, Paddy and Rosie, AJ and Cass, Karlie, Nikki, Olive, Pepper and Cherry for both putting us up and putting up with us. We appreciate it more than we can ever express!

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