Tag Archives: Panama

Birthday Surprise at Cutthorne House, Exmoor

Nick Says: Being back in the UK at long-last hasn’t cured us of any sort of wanderlust; in fact it’s just made it more amplified! So of course it wasn’t long after we touched back down and moved back to London that we were zooming off again, but this time to explore the amazing wilds of our own country. Taking the time to explore what we had at home had been something we were both very keen to do after our tropical adventure, and the fact that it was Bee’s birthday (a very special one too) gave us the perfect excuse to hightail it away from the city.

Planning this trip had been a long time in the making. All the way back in South America actually… Bee had asked to go away for her birthday weekend, and had a few requests! It needed to be in the wilderness, have the opportunity to do some star-gazing, and also put on a great cream tea. So I sent off this wish-list to Bee’s mum who kindly offered to do some research, and in the end found the perfect place; Cutthorne House in Exmoor, voted one of the Top 10 Most Remote Hotels in England and Top 20 Wild Places to stay in the UK. It looked to be perfect, and I couldn’t wait to surprise Bee with a trip to somewhere she had no idea where she was going (despite asking a LOT of leading questions).

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Bee Says: We set off nice and early, making packed lunches to take in the car. I knew nothing about where we were going other than it was in the UK (no passport required, for once!) and that I had to scrunch my eyes shut when Nick typed in the end destination to the sat nav. Luckily, as I haven’t driven for over 8 years and am a Yorkshire lass, my sense of Southern geography is atrocious. I soon figured out we were heading west… but wasn’t actually sure what was in the west, so it made for a pretty easy surprise. I get so lucky with my birthday every year in terms of weather, and this one was no different. We got great van-man-tans on opposing arms as the glorious English countryside zoomed past, all green and yellow and spring-ing into life. After smooth sailing for a couple of hours, we hit some mega traffic. We sat and sat and sat, inching along with our tummies starting to rumble and our bladders starting to wish we were closer to a service station. And then! We saw what all the fuss was about. It was because we were about to pass this pile of pebbles:

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It always amazes me how close Stonehenge is to the motorway, and suddenly idling away in the sticky jam of cars was all worth while. Before long we were back on the magical mystery tour and it was time to take a lunch break. One of the things I always hold dear to my heart as quintessentially British, is our very special brand of service stations. Everything about them fills me with a patriotic pride, even though I know they are a bit grotty and flawed. I LOVE Little Chef, I love the shopping arcade bits with everyone milling around buying magazines and overpriced water and car sweets. I love the feeling that you also get in airport departure lounges; everyone if having some sort of adventure and on some sort of journey. We ramped up the awfully British service station experience by choosing to eat our cheese and chutney sandwiches whilst sat IN the boiling hot car, IN the car park. Why do we do this to ourselves?! But true to form the family sat in the car parked facing us were doing the same, so we all awkwardly avoided eye contact whilst munching away. A quick mooch around the Spa led to my rediscovery of the BEST crisps ever (Cheese & Onion Squares) so I bought myself 3 grab bags that I demolished in one sitting; by now I was embracing a regular theme to the weekend; “it’s my 30th so I can do exactly what I want!” – Poor Nick ey?

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Back on the road we passed through Taunton and then suddenly life and civilisation seemed to drop away entirely. One moment we were passing sports centres and banks and schools, the next we were on a seemingly never-ending road that was winding it’s way further through wide open plains, patches of straggly copse and not a soul in sight. It was so dramatic and actually unlike anything I saw on our entire Latin America trip. That familiar creeping feeling of total isolation and wilderness was creeping in. The road continued and it began to be skirted by tall, fairytale-esque bramble bushes and thick gnarled trees that met in the middle of the road creating a dark canopy as we zoomed along. We hadn’t seen another car for miles when suddenly the sat nav showed us the “chequered flag” and apparently we had arrived! Except we hadn’t. We were still in the middle of nowhere. It turns out the postcode hadn’t been specific enough for the sat nav so it had just led us to somewhere in the general direction. A quick check confirmed my suspicions; no phone signal. And then the sat nav announced it had no signal either and promptly gave up the ghost. It was time to revert to more traditional methods aka follow the sign to somewhere that sounds like people live there and ask directions. This worked a treat and after a 30 minute detour, we finally eased the car down the farm path to Cutthorne House.

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Nick Says: The place itself was absolutely perfect for what I was after. Dark and quiet, it was the perfect antidote to our already full-on London lives. One of the first things we did was take a walk to explore the property. Not only do you get to stay in an amazing old manor, you also get access to some incredible scenery too. We strolled down to the lake, taking care not to enrage a local goose who appeared to be on guard duty. The sense of peace just radiated from the ground upwards. Exmoor is wild and wonderful, and the type of place you could easily imagine getting lost in for days on end. Which is exactly what we spent the next few days doing. Having access to a car was a must here, as we were able to pick and choose our walks on a tight timetable, but leave plenty of time for lounging around and soaking up the views from the front lawn of Cutthorne House.

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Bee Says: Nick had done SO good! An ancient old house dating from 1397 in the heart of Exmoor; a place I had never been before but had always wanted to visit. And the best part? We were the only guests in the whole house. The hotel has three rooms, so it was never going to be heaving, but to have the run of the place made everything extra enchanting and wild. I could barely believe my eyes as I scampered around inspecting the 4-poster bed, the decadent bathroom and the beautiful, quaint details hiding in every corner.

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The hotel is run by Pam, Anne and Phil. Something that makes this hotel unlike any other I have experienced; is that the owners encourage you to use it like your own home. We were free to come and go as we pleased; and not just feel confined to our bedroom (although it was a heavenly bedroom!) but to use the lounge, the dining room and the gardens & grounds as much as we wanted. Pam also informed us that whilst there was a key, it was completely un-necessary to lock our doors given that we were the only guests. After 6 months of Latin American hostels and the cloud of fear that constantly surrounded the safety of our belongings; leaving the door open went against all our instincts but really summed up the laid back and family atmosphere of the whole place.

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On my 30th birthday I woke up and the first thing I did was tuck into a giant full English. Cutthorne pride themselves on only serving locally sourced, organic produce. And boy could you taste it! Next I was desperate to get out into the beautiful countryside that was winking at us from every direction. A quick natter to Anne and she recommended a local hike to Dunkery Beacon.

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Nick Says: Dunkery Beacon is the highest point on Exmoor. Located a convenient 20 minute drive from Cutthorne, we squeezed into a parking spot and began our ascent. While Bee was smugly kitted out in outdoor boots, mine had been donated to a man in Guatemala and instead I was left with my Mexican-mall Vans. Not the best footwear for the trek. We’d also forgotten to bring water with us, proving that we’d taken on-board ZERO lessons from hiking in Latin America. Our return to the UK had made us weak. But still we bounded enthusiastically up the hill, and marvelled at the incredible view of the Bristol Channel at the top. We constantly take it for granted, but we really do live in one good looking country. I just wish we had more time to explore it all!

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Bee Says: It felt so good to be out in the moors with wind whipping my hair and a 360 degree view of the luscious British scenery that we had missed so much. After stomping about and having a good ramble around Exmoor, we drove back ‘home’ to Cutthorne. I am not embarrassed to admit that the rest of my special birthday was then mostly spent like this (gotta love a hotel that gives you cocoa-making equipment in your room) I mean c’mon, I had had a pretty adventurous year leading up to this…

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(Just realised this book sounds a bit raunchy if you read the text in the photo. I don’t think it was particularly, I just snapped a saucy page!) The sun was shining, so I switched up coseying up on the couch in the front room, with sitting out in the garden. I was sat with my nose in my non-rude book when suddenly lovely Anne appeared from the house holding a gorgeous bunch of flowers and a box of Belgian chocs! Little did I know that Nick had been plotting and planning this surprise behind my back, and amazingly the hotel had helped him pull it off. I was so gobsmacked and it was a really special moment.

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The highlight of the day definitely rolled around at night though. Given that the hotel is 2miles from the nearest village, it’s highly recommended to take them on up their daily hotel dinner offering. I remember Nick had fretted about whether to book this, as he wasn’t sure it was special enough. In actual fact, it was one of the best meals of my life! Because we were the only guests, we had the gorgeous dining room to ourselves, and were in the top table all cosied up to a roaring open fire. We were then served an exquisite 4 course meal by Anne, all freshly made on the AGA. The food had that just-picked-today freshness and the portions were wildly generous. The cherry on top was that they even had our favourite Chilean wine, to bring a little bit of our travel memories to the table with us. By the time the cheese platter came out, we were absolutely groaning with that pleasure/pain of being insanely full.

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We just had enough energy to roll ourselves out to the back garden to marvel at the stars. Exmoor National Park was designated the first International Dark Sky Reserve in Europe. A dark-sky reserve is an area that is kept free of artificial light pollution; resulting in incredible astronomy opportunities. Being star gazy geeks, we are keen to visit all and any dark-sky spots in Europe and this was a great place to start. It was a little cloudy, so no chance to spot a shooter, but it was still an impressive smattering of sky sparkles.

It felt like the second we’d got settled, it was time to return to the hubub of London. We were so relaxed in fact, that we managed to leave an impressive array of worldly possessions behind; including my kindle, iphone charger and birthday cards. Luckily Nick remembered about 20 minutes into our drive home, so we returned to collect the bits and have one last pet of the adorable hotel dog!

Nick Says: Driving back I had one last surprise for Bee, a quick visit to my brother Joe and his family. It was great to see my new niece again (even if my face scared her and made her cry) and hang out with his wife Mel and my nephew Riley. And the best bit of this added secret Taunton trip was that Joe and Mel were able to lay on a Cream Tea – completing the birthday wish-list from Bee!

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Bee Says: I couldn’t have wished for a better birthday break, and it certainly rivalled our Latin American adventures. I’m already looking ahead in the calender to future occasions that I could use as an excuse to return to Cutthorne, as it felt like our own secret little piece of wilderness heaven. My soon-to-be-sister-in-law Mel has grown up in the West Country and was telling me some amazing myths and legends and spine tingly spooks about Exmoor. I’m such a sucker for real life mysteries and most haunted type tales. She told us that the never-ending road we initially got lost on is haunted by the white clad phantom of a George Sydenham, who rides a headless white horse along the road towards Monksilver; the place we eventually got directions (not from a headless horseman thank goodness) and then there is the Valley of The Rocks which is a local beauty spot. According to Everything Exmoor The valley with its unusual turrets of rock is home to a herd of native British goats. The valley, legend says, was the location of the devil’s castle and while he was away his wives took part in a naked drunken orgy with a neighbour. On finding out what had happened on his return he turned the women into the turrets of rock and destroyed the castle. So now you know! I love that so much of this folklore is inspired by the dramatic nature and isolation of Exmoor. If I ever wanted to write a ghost story, I would definitely head straight there for inspiration.

Panama, Panama, Panama

Bee Says: We arrived into Panama City on a tidal wave of adrenaline. Fresh from our 8-seater aeroplane landing, and filled with relief that we had finally MADE it, that we had (just) survived the most uncertain and adventurous section of our trip and successfully made it from Colombia to Panama. Checking in to our hostel, Mamallena – the sister hostel of the one we spent Christmas at Cartagena in, we noticed helicopters regularly swooping out over the Panama City canal, costing a few hundred dollars a pop, and basked in the thought we had just got the exact same view for a fraction of the price. We had a much deserved beer and fell asleep. The next morning I woke up and couldn’t stop physically shaking… I have never experienced anything like it before. I had a gnawing anxious feeling and could barely brush my teeth because my hands were quivering so much. Nick was shaky too, he looked completely wan and pale, and his back was still so sore he could only comfortably lay on the floor. It didn’t take me long to Google diagnose that we were actually both suffering from some sort of shock reaction to our ordeal. The whole time we’d been on the border crossing journey, we had to stay focused and tough it out… now we were safely ensconced in Panama everything had hit us like a wall. I think I felt particularly floored by it, as I’d had to be strong for both of us, carry our backpacks etc, and at the same time felt entirely responsible for Nick and his health and worried sick about whether he would get better. It was time to call in the big guns and so first I rang my parents who instantly ordered me to go out and buy ice creams, hot chocolate and any manner of treats to cheer us up and induce a sugar high! I then skyped my sister Jess. She sat through about an hour of my recounting the story, snivelling, ugly crying and bawling about the situation, and wailing “even my backpack has become infested with giant aaaaannnts” before she announced that was it. She was booking us into a hotel for a few nights. It was time to get somewhere comfortable for Nick, where he didn’t have to walk 5 minutes to a communal (cold) shower and somewhere we could be looked after, rather than having to make a million decisions a day.

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I think by that stage we just needed someone wonderful with an outside perspective to point out how much we needed just a little luxury! We tend to get so fixated on our shoestring budget that we hadn’t even considered something as decadent as a HOTEL especially over the busy New Years Ever period. By that night, my sister had found an incredible deal (only about $20 a night more than our hostel!) at the Double Tree Hilton. On the morning of New Years Eve we woke up in our hostel room, which to put things in perspective, was about a third of the size of our bathroom at the Hilton!, and I made us DIY pancake breakfast. Mamallena is a great hostel and any time usually it would have suited us ideally, but another reason we were glad to escape is that before we could even manage a mouthful of syrupy goodness, we were being interrogated on our thoughts on Scottish Independence. We had attracted the attentions of a well-meaning but incredibly intense Venezuelan guy who loved nothing more than to chat world-politics at high octane pace and volume. The day before, as we physically couldn’t leave the hostel with Nick still broken, he’d cornered us for hours. And this is the type of person who even if you have headphones on and your nose wedged in a book, will still natter away! He was sweet but as we were already pretty frayed at the edges, we were very relieved to be hopping in a taxi away from all that. He helpfully  told Nick he may never get full-mobility back and may lose use of his legs (!) as we checked out!

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Ahhh our Hilton hotel self-inflicted prison, it was DREAMY. Panama City is hot hot hot, peaking at 40 degrees, and it was glorious to enter our air conditioned piece of paradise. We had huge baths, we snuggled up in our fluffy toweling robes and chomped on the homemade cookies that are presented to you upon your arrival. We had great fun creating our own mini-bar of exported America snacks from a supermarket over the road. We certainly weren’t backpacking anymore!

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Nick Says: Reeling from the damage to my back, Jess’s kind gesture was the perfect thing we needed. We had done over 3 months constantly on the road, with little to no home comforts. On my last big trip, which was 9 months, it was broken up every few months by living in an apartment for an extended period of time. We’d had nothing like that, and in addition to hitting the traditional 3 month wall (after 3 months of fast paced travel we were feeling the burn) we were obviously in physical and emotional shock. So being given a free delicious cookie every day and taking three baths (it was for my back, honest) was the perfect antidote. Now, I hear Panama City is one of the destinations to go this year. It may be amazing, but what we saw of it over our time there was basically just a big modern city with no real notable differences from hundreds of other cities. It was novel for us as we’d not been in a big Western style city for a looong time, but as a place to go I wouldn’t be hurrying back. If you know different though, please let us know!

However, it was our choice of destination for NYE, and we wanted to make the most of it. When originally planning on where’d we be, we had imagined Latin American street fiestas, dancing in the streets, fire works over the canal, and all night parties. Realising we had to adapt to our current situation, we decided to downgrade a bit. We’d read there was a rooftop bar on our hotel, so we fixed to go up there and watch the fireworks with a cocktail in hand. Except for the fact there was no rooftop bar, it was the perfect plan. So instead we went up to the roof with beers and chatted to a nice French-Canadian guy called Seb. But then I got pretty tired from all the painkillers I was on, so went down to the room to find that the Indiana Jones trilogy (let’s all just ignore the 4th one) was on cable. So next thing I knew I was in bed watching it, then I was asleep. At about 10pm apparently. HAPPY NEW YEAR!

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Our next few days in Panama City followed the same basic pattern, relaxing, bathing, taking small walks to get me mobile again, and going to this incredible Greek restaurant called Athens we’d had recommended to us. We’ve become pizza connoisseurs of a sort on this trip, and this bad boy was one of the very best. Coupled with the laid-back atmosphere, and friendly staff, and this place was a gem. However, all good things must come to an end, and so it was we decided to move on and see some more of Panama. Our chosen destination was Boquete, a highland town in the north. Declared one of the best places to live by Time magazine several years ago, it’s now THE destination for Americans to retire to. You cannot move there for the silver haired crowd. It’s a stunningly beautiful destination though, so you can see why.

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Hiking, rafting, zip-lining, and horse-riding are the order of the day in Boquete. So that meant I couldn’t really do much. My back had got worse after the 8 hours of travel, and I was getting pretty down to be honest. Maybe the crazy Venezuelan guy was right?! Luckily though, Bee had booked us into one of the best guest-houses we’ve been too – Valle Primavera. Run by the frankly saintly Nevys, it really felt like we were back at home being looked after. Sadly crutch bound after damaging her ankle, once she learnt about my back she wasted no time in recommending me an American chiropractor who lived nearby. With the average age of the residents, he must be doing a roaring trade.

Dr Dru kindly fitted us in for the next day, which was a Sunday (I got the feeling it was a massive favour to Nevys). While Bee went for a much needed massage with Dr Dru’s wife, I went into the good doctors operating room. He was not what I expected at all. Young and super friendly, he chatted away about his and his wife Jasmine’s last few years of backpacking through Central America, including running a hostel on the Corn Islands, where we hope to be in a few weeks. He was full of great advice, and also seemed to get straight to the root of my back problem. Using Soviet lasers to help heal the muscles (he did explain this properly to me, but all I took away from it is that the commies developed it in the 80s for their athletes) I started to think positive thoughts again. it was also surprisingly pain free, which was not what I expected. But how mistaken I could be. As he lulled me with travel talk, he was manipulating my back (which he later confided to me was in a horrific way) and then suddenly pushed down on my vertebrae, hard. I screamed and almost fainted.

Bee Says: I was having a great time with Jasmine, who reassured me that despite the gruelling effect travel has on your back (heavy bag, cramped buses, hours of hammock lazing) mine was in reasonable shape, probably because I have kept up my yoga. I was just starting to nod off when a huge roar from downstairs had me startled into a sitting position! The only only time I had heard that noise from Nick was when he originally hurt his back on the boat. Luckily, five minutes later I could hear him laughing, so knew that I didn’t have to go and beat Dr Dru up and carry Nick out over my shoulder. Our appointments ended and back at Valle Primavera I could already see a marked improvement in Nick’s posture and a decidedly less amount of wincing as he moved around. Thanksfully, this has only improved and little by little, he is resembling his usual fit self and less the crinkly American retiree residents of Boquete.

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Even without being able to hike into the mountains, we could still appreciate the beautiful cool air, the lush green trees and the clouds that clung to the town like cotton wool. We did plenty of walks… but they mainly were to and from two places. The first was sugar and spice, home of the most incredible baked muffins and good wifi, so we could download the latest episode of Sherlock. Joy! The second was Mikes International Grill, which was always showing American sports, one night we got to watch the Super Bowl qualifier amongst rowdy fans. This was obviously the local spot for most Americans, and served up fantastic BBQ and cheap beers. One night as I sat munching Buffalo wings and Nick chowed down on The Hog (pulled pork), two gentlemen sat down next to us. Almost immediately we overheard one of them say the conversation was too confidential to have at the bar (…so you chose to come and have it next to two nosy blog-writing Brits?!) and they then proceeded to have the shadiest chat we have ever heard. There were code words, there were meaningful nods and eyerolls, there were squeezes of the shoulder. We have since become convinced they were organising a hit man, but perhaps they were just attempting to swap retired-person rose-gardening tips without losing their macho cool?

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We arrived in Boquete a little bit broken. We had definitely lost our travel mojo and a giant question mark still hung over the rest of our trip, as Nick needed to be a) reasonably active and b) able to carry his backpack before we proceeded too far with our itinerary. It really was Neyvs and her mum (mamalita la bonita!) who got us back on our feet and ready for action once more! They were the Michael Caine Alfred to our Christian Bale Batman. Serving us breakfast on their little porch, helping me create regular ice packs for Nick, helping us plan our route to Costa Rica, nothing was too much trouble for them. One day as we sat chatting an English-Spanish mixture on the porch, mamalita asked if she could sing to us! About 30 cm from our faces she burst out in perfect Spanish opera and sang about four numbers before taking a little bow. It was surreal, but so special! Then she announced to Nick “You are very nice”. (he is, you know).

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We were sad to leave Boquete, but really felt like Panama had been our recovery room, and we desperately needed to get back into the travelling properly and start making the most of every day again. What better place to zing us back to life that Costa Rica… with its Disney-movie wildlife, cloud forests and paradise beaches. With a 5am start, a near-miss with waiting at the wrong bus stop, we were finally zooming away from Boquete in an old yellow American school bus. Next stop… San Jose!

 

 

 

The Backstory

WELCOME! Have a look around, be sure to read all about who we are and what we are doingmeet Nick, meet Bee and swat up on where our South & Central American travels will take us. With a month to go until we head up, up and away, we thought we’d start by filling you in on when the plans for this adventure first began…

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Bee says: Ever since we met, Nick & I have been committed to taking a huge adventure. Nick has done quite a bit of backpacking before, and is certainly bitten by the bug. I love visiting foreign lands, but have never had that opportunity to skip out on real life and leave the country for any extended amount of time. For this reason… it would probably surprise all of our friends and family to learn that it was ME who first suggested this trip.

Nick & I first met two years ago (almost exactly) at Media Guardia Edinburgh International Television Festival. We were both a few years into careers in the media, and applied for a scheme called “Ones to Watch” which gives you the training, exposure and access to big TV cheeses to in theory “fast track” your career.  From hundreds of applicants we were both selected to attend. Part of the application had been to pitch an idea for a strand in BBC2’s The Culture Show and out of the 40 delegates, four of us were chosen to then pitch the idea LIVE to a panel of industry experts/commissioners and in front of an audience of 200 wider television festival attendees. So, kind of like Dragon’s Den, but live, and with our entire future media careers and reputations on the line. No pressure! You can probably guess where this is leading… Both Nick & I were selected and had to go head to head, in this super daunting and pressured environment. We love to think about the geeky maths and statistics involved in us meeting – both being selected from 500+, to 40, to 4. It’s strange to the think how many people and processes played a part in our relationship. Rather than becoming sworn rival enemies, we actually helped each other practice and prepare and over post-its, power points and cue cards…  Neither of us won the pitch, but we did win each others hearts (way better than five minutes of fame) and that night we celebrated our blossoming love in that classiest of ways; tequila!

In a Jose Cuervo fuelled haze, at 2am, I asked Nick if he wanted to run away? It’s the first and only time I will ever ask someone this question, and despite only knowing me for about 36 hours at this stage, luckily for me he said yes. It may have taken two years of scrimping, saving (discovering Friday Night Lights and swiftly consuming all five seasons really helped with this part) and then the perfect opportunity landing in our laps to get that one-way flight booked, but here we are teetering on the edge of a month to go and we’ve finally come good on that drunken promise. I can’t wait to drink tequila IN Tequila, Mexico to celebrate…

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Nick says: Bee’s pretty much summed it up right there. Well, at least the reality of how this trip is happening. The truth is that for me, I’ve wanted to go to South America since I was 18. I always knew that I would go back-packing after Uni. With my friend Mark, I planned a grand trip to Australia, South-East Asia and then through Asia, a quick stop back in the UK to say hello, then onto South America. Except it didn’t quite work out like that. Not knowing the world’s greatest recession was just around the corner, I blindly leapt into the unknown in late November 2006, visiting Oz and South-East Asia and returning 9 months later after detouring to South Korea for a month to help teach/have a quick look in North Korea. Broken both financially and physically (thank-you Thai boxer), I needed to get a job.

So I moved to London. And there I struggled to earn a living, pay rent, and have a life. I tried to save, I really did. But my token travel fund never really got above £1000. Then I spent that clearing my credit card debt. All the while, people I knew always asked me if I’d made it to South America, then expressed surprise when I said I hadn’t., ‘Oh, I thought that’s what you told everyone?’. Then they started going over there themselves. While I lived in an over-priced box room in East London. I told myself I only wanted to go there if I could go for months on end, otherwise what was the point? Then I started going to other places instead – the Czech Republic, Hungary, Serbia, Albania, Italy, India, Liechtenstein, Austria, Germany. Short trips, but trips all the same. But was I scratching an itch or feeding the beast? South America began to sound like a pipe dream, something you tell yourself, ‘I’ll do that one day for sure’, and then never do.

Then I met Bee. Then we had a tequila fuelled conversation. Then I knew I was going to make it to South America after all.  I’d always planned a solo trip, but truthfully I probably would never have made it without her. We got organised, motivated, and dedicated to saving. I changed career path in order to become freelance and give myself the flexibility to take this trip – and then that paid off when an absolutely brilliant work opportunity came along which enabled us to go ahead of schedule and live the dream (and claim we’re busy dammit!) Now here we are – about to finally reach South and Central America.

// Before we leave the UK, we’ll be blogging about our experience in preparing for something like this – particularly focusing on saving and budget tips, the medical implications (no one can prime you for the news that you need 15 vaccinations!) and packing; given that we have opted for the smallest 35 litre option backpacks, packing for six months will certainly require some sort of miracle.