“Oh, they are little things …tiny things, like drawing pins, midges wings, and dew drops, wasp plops, a grass leaf, babies’ handkerchiefs, and these little walking sticks” -Mulligan and O’Hare
We are very good light packers. Honestly, we are! We travel for three weeks at a time with only a little rucksack (rather than a “proper” backpack) that we can take on planes as hand-luggage, yet we do seem to always bring some weird and wonderful things with us that may seem to be neither use nor ornament to most sane and practically minded people.
1.A USB Stick With an Emergency Copy of Xanadu
Susan loves Xanadu. I mean she LOVES Xanadu. Jill has never seen Xanadu. Therefore there is always an emergency Xanadu for that one golden night in a hotel where we have nothing better to do than order room service and watch Xanadu. This hasn’t happened yet, as strangely enough we always find good craic and interesting things to do, but Susan lives in hope! This has also lead to hilarity when crossing the Turkmenistan – Uzbekistan border and they insisted on looking through all the files on our laptop and phones, and were very interested in what covert espionage we had on the USB. “It’s just XANADU MAN!”.
2. An Emergency Beard
You never know when you might need a beard. Like when you want to dress up as a medieval Georgian man and the photography shop doesn’t have an in-house selection of beards.
Susan’s rock-hard fighting luchador alter-ego, we first met Mandible in Mexico over several street Margaritas and he’s been tagging along for our adventures ever since, stepping in whenever there is any rock-hard fighting, downing shots of dubious local speciality boozes or having wees behind piles of rubble to be done and saving Susan from the ordeal.
4. A Kindle Copy of “Abducted and Forced to Give Milk” and Other Hilarious Crap Erotica Only Available on E-book.
It breaks up a long bus journey, is a good ice-breaker and will usually result in parents whose children are kicking the back of your chair on a flight reeling in their child when you start reading it aloud.
5. At Least One Cup
Because everyone needs a nice sturdy plastic cup to have their breakfast lager bottom in!
Ready to tick off year 1 of the 5 year plan (the travel one, not “Don’t get pecked by a kestrel”, which is also the 10 year plan), your 2 girls firstly need to get in 1 country. Fortunately for Susan the big big t big big initial flight was from her hometown of Dublin, so she got to have a relaxing preparatory night (read: running around like a lunatic trying to finish off work, get her hair done – thank heavens for having an amazing live in hair stylist, oh and packing would be a good idea) while Jill had to dash straight from work to the airport (and was very pleased with herself having managed to actually get on the right plane this time, so we’re 1 up already on the previous year’s progress!).
Pinge and Wang present their long awaited 2016 route map! Feast your eyes on all the places we should be next month that we’ll probably miss a flight/train to and end up somewhere else instead. In fact we may as well just throw this map and a few grand out of the window right now.
Since we’ve already had this year’s trip planned since the middle of last year (as it was supposed to happen this March but couldn’t due to Nissan being unable to function without Jill for 3 weeks during that month and would have ended up making underpants instead of cars), we’ve been stuck in a weird kind of limbo this last few months – stuck between having to wait several months for this year’s trip, and not having to plan next year’s trip. Obviously our trajectory proposing fingers were getting itchy, so we’d already planned 2017’s trip during our “idle moments” (i.e. procrastinating when we’re supposed to be doing other things).
Susan’s creation of our world map this weekend has provoked the same “Oh shit! Look at all those places WE HAVEN’T BEEN YET!” reaction in both of us, so we’ve come up with the following Five Year Plan (all our usual around 3-week length trips unless something miraculous happens in between now and then i.e. Jill’s work realising the business won’t fall apart without her if she’s away for longer than that):
October 2016- “Bottom Right Africa”
Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania (and Zanzibar), Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Swaziland
This trip is pretty much all planned (a proper detailed itinerary and the usual route map to follow in the coming months), so we’re just filling in the blanks in the accommodation column and getting flights and safaris booked at the moment. And getting far too excited and impatient!
2017 – “North South America”
French Guiana, Guyana, Suriname, Trinidad, Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador (and Galapagos!)
This one is also pretty much planned, which happened during March when we consoled ourselves over not being in Africa when we should have been, by planning the next adventure! It has a good mixture of waterfalls, jungles, beaches, cities and cloud forests – which as every school kid knows, are the main food groups.
2018 – “Trans-Mongolian Train with Added Bonuses” (need to think off a more catchy name for this one methinks)
Russia, Abkhazia, South Ossetia, More Russia, Mongolia, China and hopefully…BONUS NORTH KOREA!
Firstly, how bloody expensive has the Trans-Mongolian got these days? We were looking about 5 years ago and it was around £200 one way, second class but now you’re looking at £555 for the same ticket! That’s some inflation! Secondly, we’ve stuck Abkhazia and South Ossetia in there as we are dying to get the Life Achievement that is “Visiting All Former Soviet Breakaway States” and due to logistical/us being retarded with visas issues we unfortunately had to miss them out while visiting Georgia last year. We’re having a few stops along the trans-Mongolian route, in dubious Siberian Russia and Mongolia, and also a side trip down to Kazakhstan, before we get to Beijing. And THEN hopefully we can get a guided tour to North Korea for a few days (you can only go there when accompanied by an official guide, whom you can do nothing, not even leave your hotel, without!) if Jill can manage to avoid having unkempt hair or she won’t get in (yes that is one of the regulations “No ripped jeans, sandals or unkempt hair”. As Jill’s travelling hair looks like a bag of ferrets have been dead on it for a few months, this may be the highest logistical challenge we have yet had to face).
2019 – “Far East Far East”
China (continued), South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, possibly more TBC
The jury is still out on this one, as we had decided on it earlier but Susan is now gagging for more Africa here instead. Jill has never been to the Far East and is desperate to go on this trip so we’ll see what we end up agreeing on!
2020 – “Left South South America”
Peru, Bolivia, Chile and Argentina with added Antarctia jaunt (probably King George Island)
The main highlight of this trip for us will be ALL THE WINES! And Susan wanted to spend her 40th in Antarctica but we ended up at the (amazing) Gates of Hell in Turkmenistan instead, so it feels only right that for Jill’s 40th (2020) we should go there! For Susan’s 50th she is determined to go to the moon.
2021 – “West Far East and the Himalayas”
Thailand, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, India, Pakistan and maybe Iran
This was literally decided five minutes ago-
Jill: What can we do in 2021? A five year plan sounds better than a four year plan…
Susan: Aye it does. Maybe we will want to go to India by then.
We’ve been looking through a lot of travel blogs lately – just to get some inspiration and try to engage more with the blogging community – and it seems that most of them seem to be written by solo travellers. While we applaud all the solo travellers out there, it’s something we can’t imagine doing again ourselves. We have both done solo trips in the past (pre-Pinge & Wang) and while it was a liberating and rewarding experience, in our opinion it doesn’t compare to having a fantastic travelling companion on the road with you. Here are reasons why having one of one of your best mates along for the ride means double the fun!
There’s always someone to talk to
From having someone around to talk about and share each experience as it happens, sitting in a bar at the end of the day and recapping everything that just happened, going on a night out and not having to worry about sitting on your own until you find some new friends, to being able to entertain each other on an 8 hour bus rides (otherwise full of strangers whose language you can only say “please”, “thank you” and “two beers” in) – this is the stand out benefit of travelling with someone you know well and whose company you enjoy. Everything is more interesting and hilarious when we’re together, it’s great to have someone else’s take on all the goings on and we constantly surprise ourselves by never running out of things to say to each other! That said we each know the other well enough to gauge when they just want a quiet moment to chill out or appreciate the view.
This post is coming to you heavy of heart, as Jill has just received an email from her travel insurance company telling her that her policy is up for renewal. After the first thought of “Go me – I was ORGANISED last year buying travel insurance!”, the woe crept in as usually at this time of year we’d be all excited and putting last minute finishing touches to this year’s trip and telling you all about it. You will have noticed that we have been a bit quiet recently (well, more quiet than usual – last time Susan was back in Sunderland we gave ourselves a good stern talking to that we WILL improve our social media presence and interaction this year! And we still haven’t finished posting all the blogs from the Stans last year! They are all pretty much written up but it depresses Susan too much to sort through all the photos to make a proper post) and the reason for this is that Jill has not been allowed her holidays off in March this year due to “business needs” and all that bollocks. So we’re having to reschedule for later in the year, which is bad as we have to wait so long for our next wangering but we’re trying to look on the bright side – it gives us more time to save up (this one promises to be quite spendy), sort out visas etc. and we won’t have the usual taking-pretty-much-full-annual-entitlement-in-March-and-being-stuck-at-work-depressed-for-the-whole-rest-of-year problem. At least we have this to look forward to, to drag us through the tedium of existence for another few months!
A surprising element of our trip through the Stans was a burgeoning correspondence with Mr. Richard Madeley, of Richard and Judy television fame. He’d been contacted by our amazing friend Aaron, whom for Susan’s 40th had sent out beautifully hand written letters with blank birthday cards to lots of her favourite celebrities (plus a few random ones, and ones she hates) to fill out and send to her with their well wishes. As well as sending back his card with a nice personal message (although Aaron had at this point ran out of 40th cards and told him Susan was 50!), Mr. Richard Madeley also went to the effort of calling up to say Happy Birthday in person! To our utter dismay we were in the wilds of Nukus, Uzbekistan at the time and had no phone signal so we didn’t get to speak to him and the voicemail didn’t even kick in, so he sent a lovely email instead:
Firstly, happy 50th, although as you are currently adrift in the wastes of the desert you may not receive this for some time. Or, indeed, ever, if your goat’s bladder of water runs short. However, we live in confidence and hope.
Assuming your survival, I thought I might just add to your developing appreciation of The Pickwick Papers. Here’s an extract I just know you will like.
“Oh, she dotes on poetry, sir. She ADORES it … she has produced some delightful pieces herself, sir. You may have met with her ‘Ode to an Expiring Frog, sir?’
Now that’s writing.
Lots of love on your 50th, Susan. You have some very nice friends.
Richard Madeley. xx”
What a total gentleman and all round amazing human being he is! So having some time to ourselves on the night train from Yerevan, Armenia to Tbilisi, Georgia we thought it was about time to reply and try to become life long friends with the wonderful Mr. Richard Madeley, as well as send him some snaps of Jill’s fabulous new sausage skin fake tan and Susan weeing into The Gates of Hell:
After bumping and grinding the night away in a dubious cellar club with the locals in Yerevan the previous night it was a dream come true to lounge around in bed the next day, totally missing seeing anything as we are wont to do once we have a booze in us. Our night train to Tbilisi wasn’t until 10.30pm so we’d both just enjoyed what we thought was a nice respectable lie in as we’d assumed that the other people in the dorm getting up and moving about would rouse us at a decent time, but as the ones that had got up were quiet as mice and the other ones were sleeping all day too, it was already evening when Susan checked her phone and realised what time it was! Thankfully we had slept away our hangovers (as well as the entire day) so we immediately packed up our gear, grabbed the rest of our food and drinks from the fridge and headed for the station as although there was still a few hours to go, we wanted to be sure that we got tickets as we were already a day behind schedule (“every other day” night train not running on the day we wanted to get it). Thankfully the tickets weren’t a problem and we even splashed out on a 1st class private cabin for a very reasonable €33. Once they were purchased, we stocked up on a fine selection of vodka, juices, kebabs, sausages and pastries for the train in the little shops in the subway.
We then attempted to find a bar nearby where we could kill the remaining couple of hours until it was time for the train but unfortunately it was at this point that it started to absolutely lash it down, and we couldn’t find a bar anywhere! Even google maps was coming up with nothing in the area and we were getting drenched and grumpy trudging around the streets with our rucksacks in tow, so decided to go into the fast food joint that was just on the corner close to the station in the hope that they sold beer. To our surprise it did, and it smelled really good in there so we ordered some beers, falafel for Jill and a veggie burger for Susan. She’d been quite lucky in Armenia as it was conveniently lent so lots of places had a “Lenten” vegetarian option for those who had decided to abstain from meat. We perched next to the window to watch the world go by while we enjoyed our food and drink and did a quick facebook update to let our friends know we were still alive, since we hadn’t been in touch with anyone since before we’d left for the wilds of Nagorno-Karabakh. It was at this point that a dodgy little old man came up and started talking away to us. Now you know we love a nice friendly old man, but he kept pointing to our beers and then himself and then the bar and we thought he meant he wanted to buy us one, but it soon became apparent that he wanted us to buy HIM one. We wouldn’t have been averse to treating him to a booze but then he started stroking Susan’s leg so since we didn’t know “go away” in Armenian, we decided to head for the train as it was about due to arrive anyway. Said dodgy old man followed us all the way to the platform, now asking us for money, and then onto the TRAIN and only finally left us alone when we found our compartment and locked the door. You give old meeeen, a bad name! And we hardly had any Armenian drams left anyway since we were going to be in Georgia when we woke up the next day!
Still bearing the disappointment of turning up to a building site instead of the Titanic Hotel in Vank and then not finding any dodgy old men bars in Stepanakert yesterday, upon going out onto the balcony of our new hotel we were happy to find that the previous night’s heavy fog had lifted and we could enjoy our lovely mountain view in all its full glory. We were actually awake in time for breakfast for once, so had something to eat and slyly made up a packed lunch of cheese sandwiches before Albert appeared in the lobby to collect us. Our first stop of the day was Shushi, an historical walled city not far from Stepanakert that was the scene of one of the most bloody battles during the Karabakh war. We had a wander round there and visited the fortifications and famous Ghazanchetsots Cathedral before starting the long drive back over the mountains. Upon reaching the border we stopped off at the Nagorno-Karabakh entrance monument which is perched on a plateau overlooking the beautiful rolling hills and valleys of the region. Also enjoying the view was a family having a picnic and one of them came over as we were taking photos to give us some of their lunch – how nice? Susan even had to pretend to eat the meat in it as she didn’t want to appear rude by not accepting it.
Gorgeous wake up view
The walled town of Shushi
Stunning Ghazanchetsots Cathedral
Albert and Jill at the Nagorno-Karabakh entrance monument
En route back to Yerevan we had planned a stop off at the village of Halidzor (back in Armenia) to have a ride on the “Wings of Tatev” – the worlds longest (5.7km) non-stop double track cable car which takes you up to the spectacular 9th century Tatev Monastery, that sits high in the mountains, at the edge of a cliff and looks like High Hrothgar (so we hoped we would meet some Greybeards and get to learn some new thumes). Albert dropped us off at the cable car and told us to try and be back by 3pm as he was wanting to get back to Yerevan before it got too late (and we had a suspicion that his car didn’t have any headlights), so off we skipped. The cable car was great fun – it’s quite new so everything is very modern and shiny, and a recording of a very posh BBC World Service RP accented man (“The Monastery of Taaaaaaahtev”) provided us with a commentary on the view as we ascended to some nice classical music.
Wandering in search of a nice loose egg, your favourite idiot broads abroad embarking on an yet another enchanting voyage of self-discovery (not the kind that's in those arty french films with subtitles and hairy biffs). Join us in our journey!