Sydney

WordPress for iPhone sets the date by default to the date the post was started not when it was published so this post has languished a little further down the page than it should.

So on my first day in Sydney I first headed to the main shopping street in town and the Sydney Apple Store which is massive. Unfortunately they wouldn’t update my iPod Touch to the latest software version as I wanted. Maybe at this stage I’ll have to put up with it crashing sometimes until I get back to the UK.

Then I left the technological world behind, had some lunch and headed to the free and excellent museum of contemporary art. It included a large exhibition by Yinka Shonibare on British culture especially the aristocracy. He dressed them up in traditional African dress too which was cool. He also refers to himself with his title as an MBE to subvert the British culture from within. Personally I think that is part f British culture to allow critism like this – and that is undoubtably why he got his MBE. Anyhow then I went across the harbour bridge before heading back to the hostel through the botanical gardens for an early night as I was pretty tired.

Then on Friday in the morning I went shopping. It is nice to be somewhere which has an American style mall now. Then in the afternoon I headed to national martime museum which included an Australian gunship and the replica of Cook’s Endeavor. This was actually pretty interesting and I went on a guided tour of the warship and it took about 3 hours overall for all the boats not leaving much time for the museum before it shut. Cook’s endevour was also good, inside it was very small and even I had to duck. In the evening I went out for a few drinks with people from my hostel and I returned quite late in the small hours of the morning.

On Saturday I finally headed to the Sydney Opera house and went on a tour of the building. On the outside the building is very attractive but unfortunately inside the building is mostly ugly concrete which is a little disappointing. To it’s credit it is the bat looking We did learn how the building was built and how it took $100 million dollars and 16 years to build. Of course thanks to inflation it will now cost $700 million to refurbish part of the inside. In the evening I met up with a friend who I’d met in Chile and we got to watch England lose to New Zealand at Rugby League something I’m sure everyone in the UK is absolutely gutted to hear that.

Then on Sunday I got up early in the morning to head inland to the Blue Mountains. I went with Oz Trails and they were very good. I also was joined by a majority of Americans for the trip which wasn’t something I’ve experienced before. Maybe the new president is already making a difference even though he’s not in office yet! On the trip we went to Kutumbre to see the three sisters and the train down into the valley which was really cool. It used to be used for coal but since the 1920’s it has been used by passengers at first riding only in the coal cars which must have been safe! Fortunately these days you ride in a car which is protected by a cage to keep you safe. It is very funny though as the sign for the ride telling you not to drop camera bags and infants in case they get damaged which is a good example of Aussie humour.

After that we had lunch and I had an Australian pie and we bought some sweets from an expensive sweet shop. After that we headed into the national park down below the mountains to see kangeroos and I got a video of one bounding across the grass. Finally we went to Sydneys Olympic Park and then caught a boat back to the Opera house which gave an overview of the rich part of the city.

Moorea

To be honest in Moorea for the first couple of days I had a bit of a rest and just spent the time sitting on the beach which was very beautiful and relaxing. Though I do have to admit that even at my age I’d rather build sandcastles than just lie on the beach and sunbathe. Sitting on the beach was unfortunately my only cheap option as my previous snorkelling venture ended in massive sunburn on my back so as to appease the sun god I thought I should stay covered up.

On the first day I read the only English book in the hostel which was some quite good English Chick-Lit and on the second I sat and contemplated life which was interspaced with rain.

Naturally as this is the honeymoon capital of the world and is completely full of couples I’m going to discuss something I always discuss when it applies to me – relationships. Now given that this is rich man territory you do see a few trophy wives as well as the vast majority of genuine couples. I do have to admit I feel sorry for both of the trophy couples as it means that I’ve probably experienced more feeling in my, frankly, failure of a love life than they have – as to be honest my love live hasn’t been love free though due to complicated circumstances and failure from both parties which destroyed the trust and communication between us (and frankly they are the essense of any successful relationship) it never actually turned into anything.

Anyhow aside from the lack of love there also seems to be a lack of trust (which obviously leads to lack of communication). A woman in question was trying to take a picture of herself on the beach and as from my travels I know it is impossible to take a decent picture of yourself without a tripod and timer mode so I tried to help. Of course before she spoke to me about this she looked round to check her partner wasn’t there as it’s well known that taking someones picture with their camera is practically like having sex with them.

Anyhow it was nice to have a quiet few days without much to do and I also ended up only spending about 75% as much as Easter Island. This did mean on the last day I got to the airport 10 hours before my flight as I had to find a bank to change the money back into Euros. This was the most fun I’ve ever had and by the end I was being quite irritable. I did read this weeks Economist from cover to cover which used up about 3 hours of time. The most amusing bits in it was that Argentinas inflation rate is only 9%. As even the subway has increased a lot more than that as well as everything else it’s clearly a made up figure. The nail in the coffin is that bank accounts have 20% annual interest. If the inflation was really that low I should move there!

Sydney: First Impressions

So I’ve got off the plane and landed in Sydney. It seems like a friendly and nice city so far. I’ve just uploaded a post on Tahiti itself and Moorea will follow shortly. I need to do a bit more to it first.

Overall I wasn’t too impressed with French Polynesia. It was really too expensive for what it was.

Tahiti

So we have finally fully and completely left south America behind. Though you shouldn’t have missed my awards on the American continent itself. The flight to Tahiti was actually surprisingly empty and I even had two seats to myself before settling down to a Prison Break marathon. LAN have the whole first series and I haven’t seen it before but the first two episodes seem good so far. So like seemingly all international flights to Tahiti this one arrived late. Of course due to that there are no public buses after the first one arrives forcing you to either shell out for a transfer or one of the worlds most expensive taxis (offically Oxford isn’t the winner anymore). They were literally going to charge about £30 to take me the 18km (11 miles) to my accommodation.

Once there I settled in for a good nights sleep. In the morning I headed to Papeete on the public bus which wasn’t too expensive. Once there I went on the Internet for 30 minutes. Including the matthew-wincing-at-the-price-and-the-girl-running-the-cafe-wanting-to-sleep-with-me discount it only cost £2.50. I found out later that here they pay £120 for a months 512k ADSL which is literally an order of magnitude more than the UK.

So anyway back to Papeete. Firstly the positive: It isn’t the most boring place I’ve been on the trip as that prize goes to Puno. In Papeete I did the walking tour of what ended up being an extensive series of shopping opportunites. This culminated with the pearl museum which was basically just an excuse to get me to spend £65000 on a pearl necklace – definitely well within my budget for Tahiti.

Then the next day I went on a afternoon tour into the jungle centre of the island which was really beautiful and we got to see the mountains towering above us in the interior. This was great fun and the guide spoke excellent English. I went on this with an American couple staying in my hostel and we had an interesting discussion on stuff.

The next morning I borrowed the snorkelling stuff from my accommodation and set off snorkeling the reef near my accommodation. There were a lot of fish to see even close to the shore and that took up the whole morning. Unfortunately following tradition I still got quite badly sunburnt on my back. After that I rested before getting the boat to Mo’orea in the morning.

Tahiti Briefly

Well as this internet cafe is the worlds most expensive I have to say something quick on Tahiti as well as Easter Island, it is very built up, but it is still fairly nice.

Further Studies of Easter Island

So on Tuesday I had a lazy morning at my accommodation before heading to the Ahu Vinaphu on my Bike. Unlike the day before when I didn’t use the bike I’d rented at all, simply taking it to and from my accommodation and the internet cafe. The Ahu Vinaphu is located behind the island’s oil storage facility so I went the wrong way down the road at first not realising that the road to the oil storage sneakly cut off to the side along the fence of the refinery. According to my hotel oil is the only thing brought to the island by ship rather than plane and this means petrol is comparitavely cheap (I think there is an occassional cargo ship to bring cars and stuff as well).

Anyhow I wanted to go to this particular Ahu as although it has no standing Moai it has an inca wall like Cusco and that is unlike any of the other walls on the island which are made of rough stones. Maybe the incas boated out here at some point. After that I went back to town and went for an early supper (as seemed to be a theme I met some more people from my full day tour of the island at supper) to catch the sunset at Tahai which was surrounded by the most tourists I’ve seen in one place on the island. Even so it was spectacular.

Then on Wednesday it was fairly cold and cloudy first thing in the morning. Fortunately by the time I had checked my email and finished my packing it had started to clear up. By 12 noon I headed off for a walk to the highest point on the island, this was fun as the path wasn’t great but that did make it slow going. Unfortunately at one point the path dried up so I had to turn back but I still got some good views. On the way back I took the coast road which was much slower than the island route I took out, taking about an hour longer to get back. In the evening I headed to a restaurant for what will probably be my final Pisco sour of the trip.

First few days in Easter Island

To understand everything here and so I don’t have to write masses of background you should read some of the basic history of the island, for example on the Wikipedia Page for the island.

So I’ve been in Easter Island for a few days now. On Friday when I arrived I had a late lunch after my flight and explored the village. I also headed to the excellent Easter Island museum where I learnt some more about the history of the island (but actually quite a bit of it was already in the Rough Guide’s context sections on Easter Island) telling me about the fighting on the island and the petroglyphs and the theories for moving the statues and the top knots.

Then on Saturday I took the short loop around by bike near the village. As usual the seat wasn’t that comfy, and the chain came off when I went into the highest gear but otherwise it was fine. First I headed to the topknot quarry which was very interesting and showed some topknots that weren’t completed, it is worth noting that now very few of the statues actually have topknots due to erosion and the fact that all of the statues were toppled from their platforms in the 18th century. Then after that I cycled further down the gravel road to a site called Ahu Akivi which is the only set of statues on the island which look out to sea, as even though they are almost all located around the coast all of the others look into the land. After that I found two sets of caves which people lived in during the violence in the later part of the pre-European time on the island. Finally I headed to some more caves overlooking the sea very impressively, the entrances was also very narrow and you needed are torch.

The on Sunday I headed on a full day guided tour of the island to see some more platforms, the quarry where the statues themselves were carved including the largest statue on the island (that is still in the quarry), the only thing unexpected about the quarry was that it was grassed over much more than I expected. We also saw the 15 moai that stand up in one place just below the quarry. Then after lunch we saw the largest statue outside the quarry which hadn’t been re-stood up and a 200% genuine beach on the island (the sand went back in a big square) and I went swimming in the fairly cold sea on the beach. I was also told about the maoi in the British musuem which apparently has a lot of detail on it that is unique (as the others have been outside probably) although it is well kept it is apparently excellently located near the toilets which is a bit sad, I’m going to check it out when I get back to the UK in the spring.

Then today I walked up to Orongo which is a restored village. This village was only occupied for a few weeks a year during the birdman ceremony and had been reconstructed in the 1970’s. This was really interesting and it was really windy up there as well. On the surprisingly long walk up I also saw some gardens of native plants but a lot of them were sadly overgrown. I also saw the amazing volcanic crater Ranu Kao which was amazingly green inside as it was protected from the elements (a lot of plants are grown in this way on Easter Island, though obviously on a smaller scale with a 50cm wall rather than a giant crater).

Tonight I’m going to try and see the sunset so I need to get off and have my supper now. Tomorrow I’m probably going to do some snorkelling.

On Easter Island

I’ve just landed into Easter Island, I even have the traditional band of flowers given on arrival. We arrived into what appears to be gate 1 at the massive airport and I definitely wasn’t sure which belt to get my bag from as there was no monitor for the flights.

I was picked up by my very cool accommodation at the airport and they gave me a tour of the town. If the “Americas” awards included Easter Island they’d be getting best accommodation for sure.

This is only brief as I want to get off and explore the island.

Summary of the trip: Americas

I was always going to give some awards at the end of my trip, but so they stay relevant I am going to do some as I go along. So I’m going to split my trip into thirds. Firstly the Americas, then Oceania and Japan, and finally mainland Eurasia. Then finally I’ll sum up the whole thing.

Best site

Iguazu, Argentina and Brazil, although Machu Picchu was pretty special out didn’t quite take my breath away in the same way.

Honourable mention

Machu Picchu, well that much is obvious. It is an epic site.

Best museum

The Holocaust Museum, Washington DC, it tried so hard to just give the facts. I learnt a lot about the recent history of the Jews and that reflects heavily on the middle east today. Well worth a visit.

Best tour company

Layana, San Pedro as they gave detailed explanations in English of the sites we were seeing. They also weren’t too pricy.

I have to admit in general I haven’t been too impressed and was going to give it to the Sinh Cafe from my last trip to Vietnam.

Best city

New York for it’s incredible range of stuff to do in the day. having half decent nightlife as well and also having excellent transportation.

Honourable mention

Santiago, a hidden gem that I didn’t expect to be great. But aside from all it’s attractions seemingly shutting on Sunday and Monday every week it is actually a pretty nice place. Though its worth noting that even in Providencia it does have a sinister feel sometimes, especially after dark (though nothing personally happened to me or anyone I know in Santiago).

Best non-family accommodation

I’m not ranking my family/free accommodation as you all looked after me well so I’m picking the best accommodation I paid for.

Sunny Days, Arica Chile provided all you can eat breakfasts, excellent rooms and good advice on the city as well as a kitchen and lounge area with good cable TV.

Best food for under US$25 (excluding service)

Just in case I get taken to the local equivalent if La Manior I’ve stuck a price limit on this but the winner is Steak in Buenos Aires at a small restaurant at Defensa and Independencia which was above and beyond anything I’d had before.

Honourable mention

Pacha Papa, Cusco for it’s excellent food and exquisite service.

Best nightlife

Chicago, Buenos Aires is close but frankly it’s too late for me to start clubbing at 2am.

Friendliest People

El Soberio. After falling ill I was looked after really well by the people of El Soberio. And I improved my terrible Spanish a bit too.

Best transportation company

Via Barriloche, Argentina for providing good food, drink and comfortable seats for only a little more than the competition.

Most useful material possession

iPod Touch for letting me write these blog posts when on buses and public transport and having lots of other useful information on it.

Best bargain

Plastic playing cards in Cusco for US$0.67 that are fully plastic so should last well.

Biggest rip-off

Postada la bonita for accommodation worth a generous US$10/night costing US$100/night.

The Patrick Levy award for cinematography

When I went to South East Asia my friend Patrick (who doesn’t need much sleep) would watch films before going to sleep in the evening. Therefore I am dedicating this award to him. However even though films you watch while travelling are usually bad I’m giving this award to the genuinely most entertaining film.

And the winner is SHOOTER which was an excellent and clever movie about a presidential assasination. I really want to see the end of it as we arrived in Tacna so I missed it.

Honourable Mention

Don’t mess with the Zohan I quite enjoyed this movie about the Israeli superspy Zohan but my friends I was with thought it wasn’t that great.