WHERE ON EARTH HAVE YOU BEEN?!

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Another Year, Gone...

Hello again, friends. I thought it was only right and proper that we write one more blog post before we all say goodbye to 2010. Before I bring you up to speed on our festive shenanigans, I'm going to go all reflective and newspaper column-esque by having a look back at this year, which has been a pretty huge one for Ania and myself. I'm going to attempt to do this chronologically, so apologies in advance for anything or anyone that I miss out.

I guess the first big thing of this year for us was deciding to go on this trip! We'd been discussing it for a while as an 'in-a-couple-of-years' idea, but it was in February or March that we decided to move our plans forward and carpe that dium!

Another important thing for us both was that I finally got to meet Ania's paternal grandfather, Stas, in March. Ania doesn't see her Polish dziadzio often, because he lives in Munich, but there is a positive side to the fact that he lives so far away: we get to sample the wonderful beers at the Hofbräuhaus whilst we're there! Seriously though, it was great to meet Captain Wujastyk after hearing so much about him. He's doing well for the ripe old age of (almost) 97, and we had great fun listening to his and his wife Charlotta's stories.

In May, Ania and I took part in our fifth Brighton Festival Fringe with our improv comedy troupe, Off the Cuff. This was a great milestone for us and of course, there was to be more comedy-based fun in August...

July was pretty big for us both as we quit our jobs at Continuum and Media Sound. We also moved out of our beloved flat in Brighton, which we'd lived in for just a year. We really miss it and without wishing the trip away, I can't wait to see home again! So with no jobs and no home, this was the month we really became committed to this trip! We also flew to Thailand (the day after we finished work, no less) to join Ania's schoolfriend Gemma Fish (née Brown), who got married to Alan on the beautiful island of Koh Samui.

In August we flew home to Britain and went to join our Off the Cuff brothers and sisters in Edinburgh for the world's biggest Arts festival. This was my first experience of the Edinburgh Festival and I loved it: living in Edinburgh, seeing and performing in loads of shows, spotting celebs on every corner (comedians Daniel Kitson, Alex Horne and Mark Watson, along with Clarke Peters from The Wire were my highlights) and eating the best chips known to man. My idea of heaven! I even chronicled our adventures here.

We spent early September saying goodbye to our families in such glamorous locations as Chiswick, Malta and Essex (!), before we flew from London to Delhi on 19th September. The rest, I hardly need to go over, as it's all laid down here on this blog! Scroll down to 'Older Posts' if you're feeling all nostalgic!

And perhaps the biggest event of the year (for us!): Ania and I celebrated our five year anniversary in October, in Jaisalmer, Rajasthan. Aw!

So what have we been up to over the Christmas period? I'll start with Christmas Eve. Myself, Ania, her cousin Lucy and her boyfriend Peter were invited to a party at Peter's parents' house. We had a great time with amazing food, secret santa presents and plenty to drink of course! Thanks so much to Peter's folks, Con and Marina, for making us feel so welcome. It meant a lot at Christmas time when we were missing our own families most.

Peter, Con and Marina (back row); Lucy, Ania and me, with Lilly the cat sneaking into shot in the foreground, in the early hours of Christmas morning:


Peter's cousins Marissa and Adam playing 'Just Dance' on the Wii. This was great fun and absolutely no one looked embarrassing or stupid playing it!


Christmas Day we spent at Lucy and Peter's flat, just the four of us! We had an interesting meal that reflected our different nationalities, heritages and tastes! I think it's best if I let Lucy explain:

video

After some food we opened presents. We had four very happy people, as you can see:

Peter, Lucy and our Christmas 'tree' (actually the plant we got them as a house-warming gift, with tinsel on it):

Luce and Pete bought me a beautiful edition of the Lord of the Rings, which I plan to read in Mordor. I mean New Zealand.

Peter and Lucy with pressies:


Ania's new playsuit, a lovely present from Lucy and Peter:

Four happy campers:


Then we did something which must feel alien for any Brit who's abroad on Christmas Day: we went to the beach. Yes, the BEACH! It was rammed and there were lots of people wearing santa hats along with their swimthings. Ania and I had a dip in the sea, which was cold at first but 'lovely once you're in'. We spent the evening having more food and drink (of course) and watching the film Up, which was excellent and felt Christmassy somehow.

A packed Coogee beach on Christmas Day:


On Boxing Day Ania and I visited my family in a different part of Sydney. We had a barbie and watched some of the fourth Ashes Test on TV. We did pretty well in that one, I think! It was great to see my uncle and aunt, Tony and Glenys, plus my cousins Trystan - and Kate, who was visiting from China. In the evening we went to the cinema and saw The Tourist, which I really enjoyed. The next day Ania, Tony and I went to Bobbin Head for a walk in the National Park. After the blazing sunshine on Christmas Day, it rained on Boxing Day and the 27th! Here's the three of us on the mangrove boardwalk. Mum, Dad and Rach, do you recognise the location from our last trip here in 2005?!


Me with a crazy tree that looks like a foot, again in Bobbin Head.


Drinking some delightful, if overpriced, beer at the Lord Nelson pub at the Rocks, Sydney, on our way back from Tony and Glenys's house. Thanks for the recommendation, Tony: we loved it!


Wearing all of my Australia gear from Glenys, Tony, Kate and Trys. I swear they're trying to turn me...


So now it's New Year's Eve, in the early hours. I must get myself to bed because we've got a big day ahead of us: queuing for a spot to watch Sydney's famous fireworks display over the Harbour Bridge with Lucy and Peter. It's going to be great!

Happy New Year to you all! May 2011 bring you success, health and happiness!

With love from us both,

Stu & Ania xxx

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Have a great festive season, everyone! Here's our blog Christmas card. We took these pictures on the Great Barrier Reef in Cairns, but we're enjoying Christmas with our families in Sydney right now. See you in 2011!

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Stuperman

Here's a little vid of me flying through the trees in the rainforest in Cape Tribulation on a zipwire.

video

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Cape Tribulation, Mount Sorrow and the Forest of Crippling Incompetence

Hi everyone! The Queensland leg of our adventure is about to end, as we fly back to Sydney tonight. We're sad to leave the Sunshine State, which did deliver lots of hot sunshine in the end, but we've got Christmas and New Years to look forward to in Sydney, so it's not all bad.

The day after we got back from our dive boat trip we hired a car and headed north to see some more of Queensland. Our first stop was Port Douglas, a short drive from Cairns. I stayed in PD with my family five years ago, so it was nice to see it again. They have a beautiful beach lined with palm trees. Yet again the jellies are in the water but PD is one of the towns that has a big stinger net in the sea, so people can swim safely in a small section of the water. I didn't have to deal with that element when Mum, Dad, Rach and I came out here in 2005 as it was Aussie winter, so it's new to me. We arrived in PD and headed straight to a brilliant market where we bought some Christmas presents (not telling) and tried some nice food and drink. We had sugar cane juice flavoured with ginger and chilled coconut milk straight from the coconut! When we were done with the drink, we took it back and they chopped it open, then we ate the delicious fruit with some banana and honey:

The man who served us was really into organic bananas. He eats 30 or 40 A DAY! That's quite a habit, eh?! We had a quick paddle in the sea at PD and ate an interesting pizza with blue cheese, walnuts and pears, then moved on to Daintree Village.

There we did Bruce Belcher's River Cruise. Bruce lives on the bank of the Daintree River with his family and is a crocodile expert. We went on a one-hour cruise with Bruce and one other couple, trying to spot a croc! It was quite creepy cruising along the river, wondering if one was about to leap up out of the water! We saw some white-lipped tree frogs and lots of beautiful scenery, and were getting to think we were out of luck, when suddenly we spotted her. A huge female croc was just on the surface of the water. Three metres of pure, scaly, killing machine. We tried to get some pictures and videos but we were too far away. As I stood up the front of the boat trying to film her, I heard Bruce say to Ania, 'What do you think would happen if he fell in right now?'
'You're coming in to get me, Bruce!', I replied nervously.
'I reckon you'd see her disappear below the surface pretty quickly,' said Bruce, 'Not like in the movies when you see them coming on the surface!'


On the lookout for crocs on the Daintree River:

Ania with Bruce driving the boat in the background.

So after a quick change of underwear we drove on to Cape Tribulation. This area of Queensland is another place where Captain Cook landed in 1770. He hit the barrier reef and sent some men ashore to see if they could find a way to get the ship unstuck. They climbed a mountain and were never seen again. It's now called Mount Sorrow. It was then that we noticed all of the depressing names in this area of Queensland: Mount Sorrow, Cape Tribulation, Misery Creek, etc. It became a fun game coming up with new ones, my personal favourite being the Forest of Crippling Incompetence!

We booked a gorgeous cabin in Cape Trib, just seconds from the beach. We had a really nice evening playing board games in the restaurant too!

Next morning we got up and did some Jungle Surfing! We strapped on harnesses and helmets and went with our guides up into the rainforest on some zip wires. This was great fun and the guides were good too. One was from Malta and when we told him that Ania's dad grew up there he embraced her as one of his own! Haha! It was a great adrenalin rush flying through the trees at such heights, although I wasn't so keen on the last one, where you had to hang upside-down.

Ania, aka: Catwoman, ready to fly!

Stu, aka: The Fly!


Ania hangs out in the jungle:

Straight after the jungle surfing we met a man holding an enormous snake outside a cafe, like you do, and couldn't resist asking to have our picture taken. Thanks to Mick, who was really cool about us handling his son's pet!

Then it was on to some slightly less adrenalin-fuelled fun! We went to try some fruit at the Cape Trib Exotic Fruit Farm. I was slightly sceptical about this and was dreading 'Here's some coconut, some banana, some mango, bye.' My fears were unfounded, it was brilliant. Of the ten fruits on the menu, I'd heard of two and had tried none of them! They were really interesting and exactly what we wanted from a tasting. I liked the jack fruit (the largest fruit in the world), the mamey sapote (tasted liked sweet potatoes with brown sugar) and the yellow sapote. Ania liked the black sapote, the yellow sapote and the sapodilla (very sweet fruit that tasted a bit like cinnamon). The farm's run by Digby and his wife, Alison. Our guide, Sarah was excellent too: really enthusiastic and informative.

The lovely Sarah with a 'small' jackfruit:

Unusual things we ate today:

After all the fruit we drove back to Cairns, where we've been staying at Travellers' Oasis again. Yesterday we visited Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Centre. This was another place I came to with my folks a few years ago and it's brilliant. The Tjapukai working there do some presentations including their tribe's history, bush tucker and Aboriginal weaponry. They also do a dance performance and a didgeridoo demonstration which was just incredible. We also had a go at throwing a spear and a boomerang. I almost got my boomerang to come back!

Trying out some spear throwing with members of the Tjapukai tribe:


So that's all for now, folks. We'll miss Cairns and our lovely hostel, but it's time for a hot Christmas in Sydney! Thanks for reading!

Friday, 10 December 2010

Diving on the Great Barrier Reef!

Ever since I started diving when I was 14, I have always hoped that one day I would get to go diving on the Great Barrier Reef. This trip was a dream come true, and it totally lived up to my expectations! We set off on a smaller boat which took us to the main boat moored out in the reef, the Kangaroo Explorer. The Kangaroo was a really nice place to stay - we had a cabin to ourselves, and there were lots of nice places to hang out (sundeck, saloon, library full of fish books). The food was great too! We stayed for three days two nights, and the diving was really full on - we did 3 dives on the first day after we arrived, 4 on the second, and 3 on the third before heading back to land! The diving schedule had us up at 5.30 with the wake up call for a 6am dive to start the day, then we'd have breakfast, go diving again at 8am, then have a few hours off before diving again in the afternoon and then a night dive at about 7pm in the dark. We both really liked that the whole trip was all about diving, and we got loads of great diving and not too much waiting around.

Stu decided to use this opportunity to get his Advanced qualification, which means he's now able to do deeper dives (up to 30m) and night dives, and he also did specialties in underwater navigation, underwater photography and naturalist. We buddied up together and for most of the dives we went off just the two of us, which was really fun. Sometimes we dived with another buddy pair, Clemens and Helene, and on a few dives we had an instructor (e.g. for Stu's course dives). It was fun to mix and match, and to dive independently sometimes.

As for the reef itself: it was beautiful, of course. Lots of gorgeous corals and masses of colourful fish - it's like swimming in an aquarium. We've just watched Finding Nemo back at our hostel and it really did look like that! We saw Nemo himself (a particular kind of clownfish), green turtles, white-tipped reef sharks (don't worry - these are quite small and definitely not maneaters), big pufferfish, mean-looking trevalli, cuttlefish, enormous 260-year-old giant clams neally 2 metres wide...I could go on!

We hired an underwater camera for Stu's photography specialty, so we had a lot of fun taking pictures of each other and some of the cool stuff we saw:

Underwater silliness:

Me diving by some lovely corals:


Stu meditating (with excellent buoyancy control):

One of the sharks we saw:

We found Nemo!:

Some pretty feather stars:

We wore Santa hats on one of the dives, for that Xmas feeling:

I haven't got pics from the night dives because of the whole 'it's really dark down here' thing, but that was also really fun. I always find night dives really exciting and a bit eerie - it feels like you're in space, weightless in a black abyss. Different animals come out at night too, like the cuttlefish we saw and lot of crustaceans. We also saw sparkly phosphorescence in the water, and lots of tiny shrimp were attracted to our torchlight (a couple got into my wetsuit and hitched a ride back to the boat with me). Stu claims not to have been spooked at all, and took it in his stride!

We got on really well with the instructors on board, and several of them were also going back to shore for a few days yesterday, so after we got back on land we met up with them for drinks in Cairns. We're feeling perhaps a little worse for wear today as a result...

And finally... Congratulations to Stu on being an Advanced Diver!

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Rafting, the Van Adventure Ends and Arrival in Cairns!

When Ania wrote you all last, we were just about to go on a white-water rafting trip (prizes for those who can say it five times, very fast!). We did this on 4th December with a company called Raging Thunder. It was quite expensive and we really ummed and ahhed about whether or not to do it, but I'm pleased to say we definitely made the right choice in going. We ended up getting a free upgrade into one of the 'Extreme' tours because they had space in the boat. This means that you don't do a safety briefing ahead of every rapid, leaving more time to do fun rock jumps into the water and the like!

We set off on the Tully River with our guide Johnny. Besides Ania and myself, our boat also had Craig (New Zealand), Peter (Perth) and Melanie (USA). Off we set in our inflatable boat, going down loads of rapids to the sound of Johnny's cries of 'FORWARD PADDLE' or 'BACKWARDS'. It was surprisingly hard work considering you're sitting down and only rowing occasionally, mostly allowing the flow of the river to move you. I mentioned rock jumps above, so I'd better explain... It's quite simple! We would occasionally pull the boat up by a rock and we'd all hop out, with the exception of Johnny. We'd then all jump feet-first into the water, which is moving pretty fast! The first time we did this I immediately lost a shoe. Now let me just take a moment here... Lefty and Righty have been with me for eight or nine years and together we've visited five continents. They've been great servants to me, nay, friends. I wish Righty luck in his new home, somewhere on the Tully River in Queensland. I'll miss you, man.

Anyway... Johnny lent me his shoes in the spirit of health and safety and we did some more rock jumps! The second one we did was about 4 or 5 metres and it was a real adrenalin rush leaping into the water from that height. We did a third smaller one a bit later, and then another leap from the boat into a rapid. It didn't look much but we counted as we all went under the water. You have to equalise your ears constantly as you're under deep water for about 6 seconds! That's wearing a life-jacket. You can imagine how long you'd be under if you did it without the safety gear. Johnny seemed to enjoy tipping us out the boat and did so at every opportunity. We all sailed down parts of the river, including a long series of rapids, a few times. As we approached the last pool we were told they'd spotted crocodiles in there before. Craig and Peter leapt into the water while Ania, myself, Johnny and Mel stayed in the boat! The whole day was great fun and despite losing a shoe and ripping a chunk out my knee, I loved it. A big thumbs up for Raging Thunder from us two!

Sadly not us, but this gives you an idea of what we did. This is the company we went with though, our boat, on a rapid called 'Corkscrew' which we did!


The next day we said goodbye to Mission Beach and headed for our final stop (of this bit of the trip), Cairns! We did make a couple of detours though. First up was the Mungalli Creek Dairy, where we ate an incredible cheeseboard. Along with cheese, of course, there was fruit, chutneys, salad, crackers and freshly-baked bread. It was one of the best meals we've ever had! Yum! The place is in the Atherton Tablelands, which Ania tells me is known as the 'tropical dairy'.

Our amazing cheese platter for two. Mmmmm....

Stuffed, we then went for a swim at Lake Eacham, a nice spot that was rammed with families because it was a Sunday. The sun baked us both and the water was very refreshing!

On Sunday night we arrived in Cairns. On Monday we handed back our Jucy van, that's been our vehicle, home and world for the past month. It was quite sad saying goodbye! I also did a refresher dive on Monday in a swimming pool, as we're about to go and live on the Great Barrier Reef for three days and I haven't dived in a while. We delayed our dive trip for a day so have spent a really nice day today chilling out at our hostel and having a walk around Cairns. We've seen the lagoon and had a dip - you can't swim in the sea because of the jellyfish which will kill you!

Cairns' lagoon. So strange to see a giant swimming pool next to the sea!

I must also mention our excellent hostel. We're staying at Travellers' Oasis. It's brilliant. It came second in a list of Australia's best hostels in October this year and I can see why. We're in a dorm room, sharing with one other person (lucky them!), all in single beds. There's a nice, small pool here and we've got a TV room and two kitchens, plus loads of hammocks to sit in and read a book. If you're coming to Cairns, book TO. You won't be disappointed!

A girl in a hammock. Relaxation personified!


Last night and this morning I managed to watch some of the Ashes on TV with a couple of like-minded Brits, Ben and Phil. This morning we had the game wrapped up by about 11am and England are one-nil. Yes! Last night we went to the hostel's barbecue, which they hold at their sister-hostel, Tropic Days. Apparently they've held it since 1997, so it's a long-running thing. We brought our own booze and were ferried over to TD, where we met up with loads of other travellers. An amazing array of meats and fish were on the menu, including crocodile, emu, kangaroo and barramundi, along with sausages and loads of salad, plus veggie burgers for Ania. After seconds and thirds for some, there was a didgeridoo competition, which we didn't enter! We did have a quick go afterwards. For anyone who hasn't tried it's hard, but the hostel owner Gabriel made it look easy and even played the end pipe from a vacuum cleaner!

Making bad noises on the didgeridoo:

So we're having great fun and tomorrow we go diving. We've also just booked some fun trips a bit further north in Queensland for when we get back from the diving, but you'll hear all about that from Miss Leslie-Wujastyk in good time, my friends.

Thanks for reading as always and keep your comments and emails/Facebook messages coming. We've heard about all the snow in Europe and it looks like you've had even more than last winter. This humidity... Could someone post us some snow?!

Thursday, 2 December 2010

The Whitsundays and beyond...

The Whitsundays are tropical islands on the Great Barrier Reefs, and they are famous for being the location of 'The Best Job in the World'! (We are now officially in the tropics, having now travelled up past the Tropic of Capricorn.) After a day of happily lounging around in Airlie Beach, we set sail for two days around the Whitsundays aboard the Siska. Here she is:The first day we had beautiful sunshine, and it was especially magic once the wind picked up and the crew could turn off the engines and hoist up the sails (Stu and I helped with the hoisting) so that we powered with just the sound of the wind propelling us. Our first stop was Whithaven beach on Whitsunday island, which is one of the most famous beaches in the world (apparently) for its shifting white silica sands. It was beautiful, especially when we walked through the rainforest on the island up to the lookout over hill inlet:

We spent a happy few hours on this beautiful beach, although its 'stinger season', which means that we there are potentially deadly jellyfish in the water so we had to wear stinger suits when we got in the sea:In one bit of the shallows there were lots of big stingrays:
Then in the afternoon we went snorkelling, which was amazing! Within about two minutes I'd seen some of the most extravagantly colourful fish I've ever seen, as well as bright corals and giant clams everywhere. I'm something of a fish enthusiast (although I no longer squeak loudly through my snorkel from the excitement of it, as I gather I often did as a kid), and I won't bore everyone with a list of all the different species we saw, but I assure you there were LOADS of fish, from barracuda to metre-long wrasse, to bottom-dwelling leopard sharks and massive batfish!

The evening was a bit crowded on the boat, as there were about 22 people on the trip and not a lot of cabin space! (Stu and I had a 'cosy' double bunk with a leak above it...) But we met some very nice people on the trip, which made all the difference.

The second day the weather was completely different, and we were washed out the whole day! Spot the difference. Day One:

Day Two:

But we enjoyed the bracing winds and had some fun in our yellow sailor macs, shouting 'Land Ho!' through the mists. And in any case the second day was for snorkelling, so we spent a lot of it underwater anyway!

The next day we hit the road again, stopping at a weird old-fashioned town called Bowen, which boasts the Giant Mango by the roadside:It's mango season, so we picked some up and they are yummy!

Then after an overnight stay in Townsville, we pushed on to Mission Beach via some beautiful waterfalls. We stopped for a swim in Little Crystal Creek in Paluma National Park:


We also visited the Walluma Falls, which is the longest single drop waterfall in Australia.
It was breathtaking - the spray from the giant waterfall created its own clouds in the gorge below:
Now we are in Mission Beach, and we this morning we went to the scarily named Murdering Point winery, where we tried some exotic fruit wines (the passion fruit wine and mulberry port were our favourites). The wines are made from these fruits themselves, rather than from grapes with flavour added, and they were delicious. Tomorrow we're going white water rafting - woop woop!