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!).
One of the few drawbacks of travelling from place to place (especially at the speed that we do) is that it often you fall so in love with a place and its people that it breaks your heart when you have to move on. The big killer for us though is the gorgeous stray dogs we meet on our adventures that we would love to let tag along for more of our travels, or in some cases Susan has actually started looking into the logistics of organising to adopt them and take them home to Ireland! Here are the top dogs that stole our hearts (and most likely some of our dinners):
1. Nob Island (Utila, Honduras 2013)
We met little Nob Island shortly after we got off the boat from La Ceiba to Utila. We had no accommodation booked but had decided on a hostel that unfortunately was closed when we got there. As we spent a bit of time outside knocking on all the doors/windows trying to get someone’s attention (it was the middle of the day), we entertained ourselves petting a lovely little stray scamp that was hanging around in the street. As we gave up and decided to find somewhere else, little Nob Island (named after our nickname for Utila – because our trip there unfortunately collided with US Spring Break, and it was therefore full of Spring Break nobs) followed us. She was our road companion for pretty much the whole day (us having resorted to the usual “we’ll go and have a beer and assess the situation” that usually happens when we haven’t found anywhere to stay), exploring the island and stopping off at various bars, sharing our nibbles and ordering her a bowl of water wherever we went. Susan was completely besotted, and was using anywhere with wifi to Google how to transport a dog from Honduras to Ireland. Eventually we decided on the apt sounding Hotel Margarita and went back to relieve ourselves of our backpacks, but on arrival the owner (the commanding Miss Carmen), took aversion to our little furry friend and chased her away with a broomstick. We understood her not wanting a flea-ridden stray dog in her nice clean rooms, but she could have just slept on the bench outside and there was NO NEED to hit her with a stick! It almost made us leave the hotel we were so annoyed. Despite much searching we never saw little Nob Island again and it breaks our hearts to this day. We do console ourselves with the fact that, lovely though Susan’s apartment in Dublin is (and right next to the park!) she would only have been disappointed when she was used to a beautiful Caribbean island.
2. Giant Mini Kiev Island Police Station (Kiev, Ukraine 2014)
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.
This week, Pinge and Wanglions, we have been busy little bees buzzing around the social media hive and making sweet networking honey! We’re really trying to up our game on the blog front and boost our following a bit – for all we love our little gang of friends and family who make up our loyal tribe on Facebook, we need to start casting our net a bit wider and interact more with other travel bloggers and the internet at large! We’ve been delving deeper into WordPress as well as trying to get to grips with Twitter – we’ve had an account for ages, but have posted next to nothing on it apart from sharing our blog updates – and have twat our tits off for the last few days and are rather starting to enjoy it. Not enjoying it though, is Jill’s boss who cannot grasp that she is trying to multi-task her day job with blog promotion duties and is constantly giving her the evils when catching her looking at her phone. Selfish is what is!
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!
Packed in a (t)rusty Russian saloon with their old reliable driver, Albert, Susan and Jill venture off into the wild mountains of Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia. Head on over to 2 Girls 1 Country (per day) – an Adventure in Pinge and Wang. on Facebook to catch up with all of the hot visual action.
Our driver to Nagorno-Karabakh, Albert, arrived bright and early and we said Goodbye to our cheerful little hostel room. Albert was an elderly gent (80 if he was a day) and our carriage for the next couple of days was a battered and drafty old Russian saloon. Albert was from Karabakh and couldn’t speak any English, so we couldn’t really communicate (other than our bits of chut chut Ruski), but he did however understand our needs and wants and stopped at all the roadside shops saying “Piva (beer), toilette (toilet)” and taking photos of us with any particularly stunning vistas.
We had come well prepared with our packed lunch, leftover dinner (from the restaurant the previous night) and a selection of alcoholic beverages for the long drive ahead. As we drove out of the city and up into the mountains the weather got continually worse, starting with a sprinkling of snow and ending up in a total white out blizzard by the time we got to the highest point! It was pretty scary, especially as the roads were so potholed it was impossible to drive on your correct side of the road all the time (and Albert didn’t much seem to care about such formalities as lanes anyway) and there were a few times swerving to avoid oncoming wagons by a hair’s breadth, we really did think we were goners! We stopped off at a little service station right in the mountains, full of truck drivers huddled around a little gas heater. We bought Albert a coffee, replenished our beers and got told off by the truckers for wandering around outside in the snow taking photos because we’d get sick.
We had a nice whole luxury day in Almaty, and we had two main objectives to achieve. Firstly, we needed to find somewhere where something was likely to be going on that night for St Patricks’ Day – it is now a tradition of ours to hit up the Irish/ex-pats bars (i.e. the places we usually avoid like the plague) wherever we are in the world on Paddy’s Day. Secondly, we wanted to buy some Kazakhstan ice hockey jerseys to wear at the next IIHF world championships, so were on the lookout for some kind of sports/merchandise shop. We’d asked at the hotel reception about the latter, but they looked at us like we’d just vomited up a live cat and said they didn’t know.
We got a couple of beers from the shop near the hotel and sat on a wall in the sun, trying to formulate a plan of action. Looking in the Lonely Planet, the most likely candidate for the first objective was The Shakespeare – a “pub” themed pub that was popular with ex-pats. It looked about a mile away, but the route cut through the main shopping streets so we figured that we’d have a leisurely wander by that way and hopefully come across some shops selling ice hockey jerseys on route.
Almaty was a very lively place, and much more cosmopolitan than any of the cities we’d visited so far this trip. It was however, still very much the sprawling soviet style with huge blocks, massive roads and official looking buildings. Oh how we yearned for a nice little cobbled old town with windy streets and courtyard bars! We eventually found it after walking for ages, discovering that the Lonely Plant map had the pub on the wrong corner and having to use the wifi from somewhere to finally get there.
Today we were supposed to be waking up in a little private cabin on the beautiful Chopin Alta lake then horse trekking up in the mountains before heading off to spend the evening in Tian Shan observatory in Ile-Alatau , Kazakhstan (another gorgeous mountain lake) but due to the mugging incident in Osh we were a day behind and had to miss out on our 2nd lake of the trip! However we refused to get down about it and were still elated from finding Jill’s passport and bag buried in the woods so decided to make the most of enjoying our bonus sunny day in Kyrgyzstan’s capital, Bishkek.
We got up at quite a respectable time (for us), went for a wander around Bishkek and somehow seemed to find ourselves in some kind of bizarre hardware district, where all the shops and market stalls were only selling light fittings, scrubbing brushes, paint etc.! On the off chance we asked one of the stall owners (in our chut-chut Ruski) if he had any plastic cups, as we’d been sans cups for too long and we’d come to the conclusion that maybe this was the root of our recent misfortune. He brought out two plastic kids mugs, one with Winnie the Pooh characters and one with Disney Princesses on – perfect! We grabbed a bottle of beer at the nearest little kiosk and headed off to find Zhirgal Banya, which for once proved pretty easy as it stuck out from the rest of the environment by resembling a pair of large bosoms. We sat on the wall drinking beer out of our shiny new cups – we figured that we needed to at least have a little bit of beer in us if we were going to get naked in front of a loads of strangers!! Despite the snow the previous night, the sun was cracking the flags today and we had a nice bit sit, watching the world go by and Susan made friends with a fly who was getting drunk on the rim of her cup (Pooh) and tested the macro lense on her new camera (the Olympus TG-3 tough – highly recommended and bonus still hasn’t been stolen yet like her last 2!) before we finished the beer and worked up the courage to go into the banya.