26.12.2016 - 07.01.2018 25 °C
As I start writing this on the plane back to Australia, I still find it hard to believe that we’ve done it!
On 26th December 2016 we left Adelaide airport in South Australia. On 29th December 2016 we reached Cape Horn, at the bottom of South America, the official start of our trip. On 4th January 2018 we finally reached the Cape of Good Hope at the bottom of South Africa, the end of this amazing trip!
And this is what the whole thing looked like on a map….
The map of our little trip!
The statistics are just a little bit of fun:
The trip was 378 days.
We travelled on 212 of these days, which means that we were on the road 56% of the time, in other words more than every second day!
We travelled a total of 151,591 kilometres (8,411 km by boat, 15,048 km by train, 44,501 km by road (car, truck, bus), 81,231 km by plane, and we’ve walked 2,400 km (3,852,600 steps)!) – Oh, In case you are wondering, the circumference of the earth is 38,400 km, so we’ve travelled the equivalent of 3.95 times around the earth!!
We went to 49 countries (New Zealand, Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, French Guiana, Colombia, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, Belize, Mexico, Cuba, USA, Canada, China, Russia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Germany, France, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Austria, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Greece, Israel, Palestine, Jordan, UAE, Kenya, Cameroon, Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia, and South Africa!).
We stopped in 32 capital cities.
Some of the countries we entered and left more than once, so we’ve had 69 border crossings.
We stopped in 19 different time zones.
We slept in 157 different beds.
We travelled in 29 planes, 16 boats, 52 buses, 12 cars, 25 trains and 3 trucks (although we spent a collective 57 days on these 3 trucks!)
We went to 61 UNESCO world heritage areas (Valparaiso, Iguazu National Park, Colonia de Sacramento, Olinda, Salvador de Bahia, Central Amazon, Rio de Janeiro, Cartagena, Coffee Cultural Landscape of Colombia, Old Habana, Trinidad, Leon Cathedral, Antigua, Tikal National Park, Chichen Itza, Uxmal, Mexico City and Xochimilco, Oaxaca, Palenque, Redwood Parks, Imperial Palaces of the Ming and Qing Dynasties in Beijing, The Great Wall, St. Petersburg, Kremlin and Red Square, White Monuments of Vladimir and Suzdal, Laike Baikal, Volcanoes of Kamchatka, Riga, Vilnius, Warsaw, Berlin, Bordeaux, Vienna, Prague, Krakow, Auschwitz Birkenau, Wielicska and Bothnia Royal Salt Mines, Budapest, Sighisoara, Thessaloniki, Acropolis in Athens, Mystras, Meteora, Delphi, Delos, Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, Land of the Vines and Olives in Palestine, Hebron, Old City of Jerusalem and Walls, Wadi Rum Protected Areas, Baptism Site, Petra, Kenya Lake System in the Great Rift Valley, Ngorongoro Conservation Park, Serengeti National Park, Stone Town of Zanzibar, Victoria Falls, Okavango Delta, Namib Sand Sea, Robben Island and the Cape Floral Region).
We read over 90 books (Neil 32 and Nikki 60)
We each only had to take stomach antibiotics once (Neil in Cuba, Nik in Guatemala)
We only had 1 visit to a doctor (Nik for Bronchitis in Greece)
And we met more amazing people than we can possibly count!
The most common questions we’ve had about the trip
378 Days! How come you haven’t killed each other?
Prior to the Big Trip, we read quite a few travel books and, if it was a couple who were travelling together, they would without fail split up in Chapter 3! So, why didn’t we kill each other?
“I reckon you can’t be doing the same things. Sounds ridiculous when you’re travelling together for a year BUT! What I mean is we had different jobs during the year; mine was to write and research the blogs and get it ready for review by Nik. You thought the blogs that got published went off on tangents!? You should have read them before Nikki reviewed them! Each blog took about 40 hours to research, write, and, once reviewed, upload it to the Travellers Point web portal.
Nikki was, surprise surprise, the organiser, the researcher into accommodation, the person with the aps on the phone (we’ll get to that later), and generally made stuff happen. I joke that, if it wasn’t for Nikki, I’d still be in Chile!”
“The first three months were by far the hardest! Suddenly in each other’s company 24/7, always in unfamiliar places, sometimes in stressful circumstances. I can honestly see why the chapter 3 breakup is such a common occurrence! It certainly took some patience and some very honest conversations. But what we learnt was a new way to respond when the other one of us wasn’t coping. Instead of taking it personally and escalating the situation, we learnt to tell each other (sometimes through hand gestures and monosyllables) that we weren’t coping and for the other person to step in and to help. This honesty and compassion made us closer and better able to respond when things were going pear shaped. All the difficulties of the first three months and learnings of the second three months, really paid off in the second half of the year, which was so much easier.
Not to say we didn’t occasionally loose our sh*t, but we were better at dealing with it when we did and at least we never seemed to do it at the same time!”
How much of the trip did we organise before we left?
We only booked the parts of the trip that needed pre-booking or may have booked out before we left, such as tours and cruises. So, before we left we booked:
- Our flights from Australia to Ushuaia, Argentina, where we started the trip (we didn’t book our flights home from South Africa until about half way through the trip)
- The 4-day cruise that took us from Ushuaia to Punta Arenas, Chile via Cape Horn.
- The two-week cruise on the expedition ship in the Russian Far East that left from Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky.
- The two overland truck trips in Africa; one from Nairobi to Rwanda and Uganda (16 days) and the other from Nairobi to Cape Town (41 days).
- The house in Franschhoek, South Africa, where we stayed for a week at the end of the trip.
You’ll see that that is about 83 of the 378 days of the trip, so a little less than one quarter of the trip.
So what about the rest? How did you decide where to go? How did you book it?
We did a lot of reading beforehand. The rough route was drawn on a paper placemat in 2009. But really we’d only got as far as, for example in Chile, of deciding that the Atacama Desert looked cool, and maybe Valparaiso, before we left. The rest we worked out as we went by researching online, reading the Lonely Planet and chatting with fellow travellers and locals.
The Lonely Planet guides were very useful. We had a paper copy for South America, but then moved onto electronic copies for the rest of the trip. The Lonely Planets gave us some history of the country, the top 10 or 20 ‘must-dos’ and some useful details about what to expect on arrival (especially useful for those late-night arrivals into seedy bus stations!).
Nikki booked most of the hotels, buses, etc. We booked nearly everything online (a booking criterion for accommodation on the trip was free wifi, and we had it at nearly every place we stayed on the trip), and mostly used ‘Booking.com’, ‘Hostelworld’ and ‘Airbnb’. Most buses were booked online, although we found that sometimes it was easier to just pick the tickets up at the station. Interestingly, all of the Eurail train tickets had to be purchased in person. We got to know how to ask for tickets in many different languages – including sign language!
We normally booked about 3 to 7 days ahead of our arrival, depending upon how locked in our future engagements were.
All of the flights were booked on the road (including the flight home!). We normally booked these between 2 and 6 months before we flew, but some were last minute decisions like northern Brazil and Colombia where we chose to fly instead of bus. Sometimes it was cheaper to book a flight the week before travelling than a bus ticket!
How did you afford it?!
Nikki set up a Big Trip savings account about 5 years ago and saved the entirety of the money she needed for the trip. I was fortunate enough to have some long service leave (and other benefits) up my sleeve from work and so was on half pay for most of the year. This, along with some savings and rent from our house in Melbourne (which we let out for the year), got me through the trip.
We set the budget based on previous holidays that we’d done. It was a careful budget, but not the budget we were on when we travelled in our twenties. We always booked private rooms and, wherever possible, ensuite bathrooms. We made allowances for eating decent food, and occasionally splashing out on a special meal. It was all very civilised!
The wonders of the regular debit card with the MasterCard logo and letting our bank know where we were meant we were able to withdraw money from ATM’s in every country we went to. If we had too much when we left, we simply exchanged it at the border. We didn’t take travellers cards or cheques, nor rely on credit cards. It was amazing how well it worked! We each had US$1,000 in the money belt as “Oh, Shit” money, but barely used it. We took out money in lumps of AU$200 to AU$400 so we could pay cash for almost everything, thereby minimising the establishments where we put our card through their EFTPOS machines.
Our cards were a safe effective way of travelling and at no time were we scammed or hacked.
And yes, at the end of the trip, we were on budget. Yes, it was a healthy budget.
How did you pack for the trip?
Strangely enough, Nik and I are both seasoned travellers and therefore packers. However, with travelling for a year, we thought really carefully about reducing the amount of stuff we took. The first step in this was to buy smaller backpacks. Nik’s was 55 litres and mine was 40 litres. Then we were in the great position of, if it didn’t fit, it didn’t go!
Us with our backpacks, frontpacks and my guitar on a street corner in Lamia, Greece.
We needed winter stuff for Cape Horn but, by the time we got to St Pedro de Atacama in the north of Chile it was hot. So we packed it up and posted it to Nik’s aunt who lives north of San Francisco.
There were laundries everywhere and about once every 6 days we’d put a load in. Clothes and shoes, by the way, last about 7 months. When they wore out, we replaced them. The rule was, throw one out, buy one. The size of our backpacks didn’t increase – in fact over time as we found we had surplus gear, it decreased!
We met up with Nik’s parents in Bordeaux and they took home the winter clothes we had picked up in San Fransisco. So by the end of the trip, we both had 2 or 3 pairs of shorts, 6 or 7 t-shirts and some underwear! It’s amazing how little you actually need to survive.
Even though we thought we travelled light, we sent home a couple of items along the way that we realised we just weren’t going to use, such as portable speakers and some clothes.
The most useful item that we bought before we left? The UV water steriliser. Put it in a bottle of water for 45 seconds and Bob’s your Uncle! Sterilised water. This amazing tool helped keep us healthy the world over (we used it every country) and helped save the environment (just imagine how many plastic bottles we didn’t buy in that year!)
UV water steriliser that saved the environment and our health during our travels. Just don’t carry it in your hand luggage. It gets some interesting looks from the security officers!
What devices did you take?
Nik loves the iPad. I prefer the Microsoft Surface. We took one of each. My phone is a work phone and got left in my locker at work for the year. Nik took hers but it was on airplane mode for the entire trip. We used free wifi for all of our online activities and communicated using Skype, email, WhatsApp, Messenger and Facebook. It worked really well.
There were some really useful apps that we used throughout the entire trip and that we often recommended to other travellers. The most important factor was the app working offline as very often we would not have wifi precisely when we needed it, whether it was to find our accommodation, negotiation an exchange rate or amuse ourselves during a long trip!
Halfway through the trip we moved from Google Maps to Maps.me. Both had offline capability, but maps.me was more flexible and allowed us to pin our trip in greater detail. And now we have a great memento of the trip!
The offline exchange app by XE was also a lifesaver at those border crossing exchange posts, as well as just getting our head around the new currency in each country (and there were a few….).
One of the best internet apps for the trip was called ‘Pocket’. Pocket allows you to download pages from the internet for reading offline, for example on a bus, truck, boat, etc. The blogs involved lots of research and if was great to be able to be able to work on the road, with a little bit of forethought.
Wasn’t it dangerous?
It was something that many people said. “Aren’t you worried about your safety?”
No, not really. We did a lot of research as to how careful we should be. Hands down, the most dangerous place on the trip we stayed was Brazil. We didn’t wear watches, didn’t carry a phone, and Nik carried our money in her bra. Left the money belt in the safe in the hotel room. Didn’t stay out late. But really, it was all about being sensible.
And no, we didn’t have anything stolen. Didn’t lose anything significant. Nor break anything important. We were not threatened during the trip and didn’t have any unsafe encounters. Any illness was commonplace and we didn’t catch anything from poor water and only once from food (those dodgy Cuban prawns)!
It really was quite amazing!
What did we learn about each other?
“Nik’s attention to detail on organising the trip was amazing. We stayed in better accommodation, with better facilities, in better locations than if I’d have booked it.
We saw more of the interesting sites because Nikki did the organising.
The views that Nikki had on Human Rights, Refugees, and the United Nations were spot on and after we’d done the volunteering in Columbia and Greece, and visited the United Nation Office in Geneva, we now have two soap boxes to stand on; one for me and one for Nik.
Everybody loves Nik. Her ability to get on with everyone in a non-judgemental, always respectful way is fantastic.
Nikki really, really, REALLY doesn’t like spiders…..”
“In the same way that I put my time and effort into booking our travels, Neil dedicated all of his spare time researching and writing the permanent record of our trip. Neil has always been very ‘in’ to everything he does, whether it be his exercise regime or work, but his dedication to the blog was amazing. Buses, trains, planes, hotel rooms – he worked on it everywhere and did such a fabulous job on it. It was really inspiring to watch, as well listen to all of the incredible facts he was digging up!
I’m like everyone else, I cant wait to see the book!”
What did we learn about ourselves and have we changed?
“I learnt that I really like learning; learning about the places that we travel, the history, the politics, and the people in the places we travel to. I learnt that I love to write, love to research. I love getting feedback on the writing.
I learnt Spanish, plus a bit of Russian, and a little Greek on the trip.
I learnt that I want to focus on putting more back into society through more mentoring, more time with refugees, and more lobbying of Australian politicians about Human Rights and the plight of Refugees.
I learnt that I really don’t like the way that Israel is treating Palestinians and I want to see what I can do peacefully to improve the situation."
“I think I must have changed. I’m more motivated to put back into society and do what I can to help. "
“I learnt to stop ‘doing’. Just to stop, be where I was, and enjoy it. It took me about 2 months to stop thinking I needed to be doing something all the time. It’s a skill I hope not to loose!
I also learnt to respond better to unusual or unexpected situations. Constant challenges meant constant practice and I have just found I am more relaxed about what is happening around me, I make less assumptions and I am better at listening to others.
I feel that I am a better person for having been on the trip...”
What was the best thing that happened on the trip?
There are many, many fabulous things that happened on the trip. So many beautiful people. Such a lot of fantastic times. However, to pick the best thing that happened on the trip? It has to be volunteering in Greece and in Colombia. Berenice in Colombia and Alaa in Greece are people whose goodness is, well, it fills me with awe.
What was the worst thing that happened on the trip?
You know what? If I have to pick something, maybe it would be getting food poisoning in Cuba? But nothing bad did happen. Lots of experiences that were not a bowl of cherries (just ask Nik about the 12 hour day on a truck after we’d been on a truck for 40 days..), but really bad? No.
Well maybe leaving the refugee kids in Greece. We cried….
How do you feel about coming home?
“I missed my sons. I missed my friends. I missed Apollo Bay. It’s nice sleeping in the same bed!
One of the other questions has been “How on earth do you feel coming back to work?”. To that my response has been the one said by my friend and esteemed work colleague, Bruce Bennett. His pearl of wisdom was “you can’t take a holiday from a holiday”, i.e. how can a holiday be fun if it’s not balanced out by something else, i.e. work. I’m really lucky. I love my job. The people I work with are great. It’s been a pleasure coming back to work. I loved the year away, but it’s nice to be home.”
“Its still early days for me coming back. Its been a real adjustment. The house seems huge and we have so much stuff. I packed everything from my backpack into one draw and am still wearing those clothes! And it feels like nothing has changed. The same house, the same furniture, the same city. Sometimes I pinch myself to make sure we really did it!
But the upside, which balances out any adjustment, has definitely been seeing all our amazing family and friends again. We missed everyone a lot. We have been so loved by everyone and already had a dinner party for some of our nearest and dearest! There are many more of those to come – cooking is our favourite way of telling people we love them!”
The Top 12
Here it is. The Top 12 countries, places or experiences that we had on the trip – in chronological order, as it was hard enough to chose 12, let alone rank them in order of preference!
1. Cape Horn
This is where it all started. 29 December 2016. It was hit and miss as to whether we would actually get to set foot on the Cape. But come rain and hail, we still managed to kick off the trip by setting foot on this historic and treacherous isle!
2. French Guiana
I reckon I was about 14 years old when I first read Papillon by Henri Charriere. A magnificent story of imprisonment and escape from the French penal colony on the Isle de Salut (The Salvation Islands) French Guiana, north of Brazil in South America. I just had to go! Excitingly enough, it also happened to be the launch site for the European Space Agency!
3. Volunteering in Columbia with Manos Amigas
It is really easy to get focussed on our work, ourselves, our travel, our friends and families. Volunteering made us focus on others and their needs, and it gave us so much. Berenice Prieto, who runs Manos Amigas is an inspiration. The objective of this grassroots organisation is to keep local kids in school and off the streets. It provides them with support in their education, a safe and loving environment to come to when not in school and a good meal. Berenice and her team of teachers, volunteers and administrator really make a difference to these children’s’ lives every single day and it was an honour to be part of this amazing place.
Semana Santa (Easter Week) in Antigua, the absolutely stunning Lake Atitlan, spectacular Mayan ruins in Tikal and, of course, the fabulous fabrics. Not to mention the amazing people, art and food. Guatemala was a highlight for so many reasons and a country that we both agree we would go back to in a heartbeat.
5. British Columbia, Canada
Crikey, it seems really unfair to not include Mexico, the Frida Kahlo museums, hanging out with friends and family in the USA, but…..
British Columbia. It is, quite simply, stunning. Another country we saw way too little of and would love to go back and spend some time. We hiked, sailed, drove and flew up British Colombia but still didn’t see anywhere near what it had to offer.
6. The Russian Far East – The Kamchatka Peninsula and Chukotka.
It started with an erupting volcano, and then it just got better from there. Our two weeks on the expedition ship in the Russian Far East was filled with one after another sightings of brilliant plants, birds, and animals, including a hunt for the critically endangered spoon-billed sandpiper. Nik even got to have a personal encounter with an arctic fox! The Far East is a photographers delight and we also met a great group of people on the ship to share a few warming whiskeys with, and a sea shanty or two.
7. Going to the United Nations in Geneva and the Headquarters of the International Red Cross/ Red Crescent Society.
Ok, Nik might have had a bit of a girly swot (her phrase!) moment finally going to the UN headquarters and Red Cross Museum in Geneva. Studying humanitarian aid and working with refugees means that these two organisations have a lot of special meaning to her. However, what surprised me was how much I got out of visiting these sites as well. You would have taken away from my blogs how I feel about addressing the human rights abuses that are happening all over the world. These two places really bought home for me the amazing work being done to try and achieve this.
8. Volunteering in Greece
There is no question that for both Nikki and me the volunteering, both in Colombia and in Greece was the highlight of our entire year. The purpose of the Big Trip was to get us out of our comfort zones, to meet fantastic people, experience amazing things, and also to put back into this wonderful, and sometimes not so wonderful, world in which we live.
The founder of the Happy Caravan charity that we volunteered with, is Alaa Jnaid. He set up Happy Caravan to provide much needed English, Maths, art and dance lessons to the children in one of the refugee camps that have been set up in central Greece. Alaa himself is a refugee from Syria and is a truly inspirational person. What he’s been through, what he’s done, is brilliant! The Happy Caravan charity started with nothing and there is now a classroom, volunteers, and it is having a really important beneficial effect on the kids.
The effect it had on us was, is, and will continue to be massive.
9. Visiting Israel and Palestine.
I wanted to go back to Israel, but it was Nikki who insisted spend equal time in Palestine as well and it was one of the most gut-wrenching parts of the trip. It was enlightening and yet immeasurably sad. The blog was one of the hardest to write of the entire trip. If you read only two of the blogs of the trip I’d suggest the one on Israel and Palestine (Chapter 28), and the one on Volunteering in Greece (Chapter 26).
10. Visiting Jacob and Anne in Cameroon
I’ve known Jacob since 1991, from when I was working in Cameroon for Guinness. Back then, Jacob took my mate Dave and I to his village (Ngyen Muwah) and His Royal Highness, Fon Teche made us nobles of the village. Going back there again 26 years later to introduce Nikki to Jacob and Anne, as well as Cameroon, was so cool.
Jacob and Anne took us back to the village and we were again invited to meet His Royal Highness, Fon Teche at his palace. We went to a church service, visited with Jacob and Anne’s family and also spent time on the coast enjoying this vastly underrated but beautiful country. It was a wonderful, joyful time in Cameroon. We experienced some real Cameroonian hospitality and it was special to share the sense of community, caring, and fun that is life in Jacob and Anne’s family!
11. Getting to the Cape of Good Hope
My Lord. I still can’t believe it. We made it! 4 January 2018, 371 days after we stood at Cape Horn, we finally made it to the Cape of Good Hope. The journey of a life time completed!
12. The people and friends
Yes, you can count. There is one more experience of the trip that makes the top 12, and indeed made the trip itself the most amazing experience of our lives.
The people. How many friends we met and made was amazing. And we hope to see many of them again, whether in Oz or when we travel next overseas.
You know who you are. And we hope you know what you mean to us. From the strangers that fed us on the train, to the families that opened their homes to us. From the crew that made carnival the best party we have ever been to, to those that joined us for some hire car fun. From the mutual experience of volunteering, to old friends that hold a special place in our hearts. We don’t have photos of most of you, but we have the most amazing memories and want you to know that it is you that made this trip so special.
So, from both of us here at Cape to Cape 2017, a fond and fabulous ‘til next time’. Please look us up on our personal Facebook pages or feel free to contact us by any our Cape to Cape details. We will use the page again for future travels don’t fear, but we would love to stay in touch!
Stay well and keep travelling!
Love Neil and Nikki