Wednesday, 10 January 2018

What we did on our holidays: the big gap on this blog - Africa for 9 months.

There's an obvious gap in this blog - from November 2016 until now. This is because we took a "big trip" during this period - from February 2017 to November 2017: 

We went on a road trip around southern and eastern Africa, starting and ending in Nairobi, and travelling to Capetown and back. 

We have a separate blog for this trip:
As a taster: 
Here we are in our Land Cruiser 80 (thanks Zarai and Jim for the photo). 
... and here's the route we took:


Thursday, 30 November 2017

Portugal - duas medidas

2016 Sep & 2017 Nov

In September of 2016 we had a week’s business in Lisbon, so took an extra week to explore some of Portugal. We had been in the UK prior to this, and flew into Lisbon via Madrid. We spent a night in the centre of the city, walking into the old city and enjoying a dinner with fado


Our first destination out of Lisbon was Belém, which is in essence a part of greater Lisbon, at the mouth of the Tagus, and the focal point for Portuguese maritime expansion around the world. We knew Belém, the Brazilian port at the mouth of the Amazon, and it was interesting to make the connection with this port at the other side of the Atlantic. 


We visited the Museu Coleção Berardo, with its collection of modern and contemporary art, the Praça do Imperio, and Torre de Belém, also stopping to taste the famous Pastéis de Belém. From here we headed for Sintra to visit the Palacio de Pena, staying overnight in the village.

Our next stop was Óbidos, and then Coimbra, where we spent some time at the university, the the oldest academic institution in the Portuguese-speaking world, where one can visit the Biblioteca Joanina, which received its first books in 1750 CE. We were interested to note the combination of 16th century college buildings, graduating students in traditional gowns, and the drone-mounted camera in use to photograph them.

We wound our way through small towns and villages to visit Guimarães, recommended small town in the north of Portugal, spending the night there before continuing to Porto, which proved to an attractive city at the estuary of the river, with cafés and restaurants on the “Ribeiro, a cableway ascending the stepp bank, and warehouses of the port-exporters on all sides. There is much to see in Porto: the Igreja Ildefonso, Mercado de Bolhão, Capela das Almas, Palacio de Bolsa, Fortaleza São João, Serralves Art Museu, and Casa do Musica among others. 

The off inland to Vila Real and then the Serra da Estrela, enjoying the narrow roads through this small massif, on the way to Belmonte, where we stayed at the Convento de Belmonte. From here south again to Elvas, Estremoz, and Évora, a UNESCO World Heritage Site – still largely enclosed by its mediæval city walls.

After this our plan was to return to Lisbon; we were slightly unhappy that we had not yet found much in the way of traditional fabrics, and found a reference to a weaving centre at Reguenguos do Monsaraz, not far east of Évora. This proved to be a disappointment, so we chose to explore the country a little further east before heading back to Lisbon. We soon saw a hilltop not far away, which appeared to have a fort on the summit. We had seen no reference to this in various guides and websites however chose to investigate, and found that this was the tiny village of Monsaraz, perched overlooking the lake which lies on the border with Spain, and which proved to be exactly the place we were looking for, with beautiful hand-woven fabrics on display. 


After enjoying this discovery we returned to Lisbon for the week, enjoying excellent food at (among other places) the renowned Cervejaria Ramiro and at the Mercado de Ribeira.



Then off to Argentina on the way home(!).

On our way home from our nine-month trip through Africa, at the end of 2017, we again had business in Lisbon, and so had the opportunity to enjoy the city again. This time we didn't plan to spend any time outside the city, however took full advantage of the excellent metro to visit the old centre and dockside, as well as eating at many good restaurants, including Cervejaria Ramiro (again). This time we stayed at a hotel near the Benfica Stadium, gaining an awareness of the importance of this edifice, and the football team it houses, in the city.


Alan and Marce

Photos may be used for non-commercial purposes with credit to

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Gap weekends… in Patagonia

2016 Oct 26-Nov 11

Nota: publicado en Inglés: vamos a editar e incluir versión en español pronto. 

Gap weekends? Obviously not a "gap year" between school and university, or between university and permanent (?) employment. We were in Argentina for a couple of weeks, and had some time beforehand to explore, as well as the intervening weekend. So, where to go? We had some gaps in terms of places we had been unable to visit places on previous trips, and in particular we wanted to visit:

Cueva de las Manos – which we had sought to visit on our “big trip” around South America however fuel shortage had prevented this,

Bosque Petrificado de Jaramillo – we had passed by the entrance on our “big trip” however had decided that it was too far off the highway for the time available; we had also visited the petrified forest at Sarmiento ( ) and learned that the one at Jaramillo was different in geological age and mode of formation, hence interesting to see,

Punta Tombo – had not been on our radar until recently, however we had explored Ruta 1 along the coast from Bahia Bustamente to Camarones and wanted to see the coast north of Camarones, as well as the penguins at Punta Tombo.

So, there were gaps in our exploration of the region, and time available to fill them. 

1) Gap Weekend #1


We flew into Patagonia a few days early and picked up a rental Hilux 4x4, deemed appropriate for the conditions we expected in the mountains and around Jaramillo. We then headed from the coast to Rio Mayo and then to Perito Moreno for the night. Our original plan had been to stay at the Estancia Cueva de las Manos, however their generator was out and so they closed over the period we were to be there, and so we stayed in Perito Moreno. We arrived there early enough to explore Ruta 45, taking this route north of the lake into the mountains, finally arriving at a closed track, adjacent to the border with Chile, and with no connection to the highway leading back to Rio Mayo, so returned to Perito Moreno the same way. 


In the morning we drove south to the Estancia Cueva de las Manos, having chosen this access to the Cueva, which affords access via Estancia tracks to the canyon, on the opposite side from the cave. We then walked down into the canyon and then up again to the visitor centre, which gave us the opportunity to enjoy the views from above the canyon, the environment in the canyon itself, and proximity to a bandurrian nesting in the cliffs below where we left the Hilux. 


We had planned to visit the cave on a recommendation from Erik, whom we had met in El Bolsón exactly 6 years previously. We were unable to do so as a result of fuel limitations ( ). The cave proved to be well worth the visit, its paintings of animals hunted by the original inhabitants, as well as its hand outlines, being varied and extensive. 

After the walk back via the canyon we enjoyed a picnic lunch overlooking the area, with a condor circling overhead.

Then back to Perito Moreno to return to the coast. We had thought to make a loop via Ruta 39 to explore the central area of the region, however time and distance (anything up to 200 Km is a local hop in Patagonia) led us to travel via the main highway west to east. From Perito Moreno to Las Heras, this is wild country, with scattered estancias, and only one blob on the map - El Pluma, which is a single building on the highway.  From Las Heras east, the traffic is relatively heavy, with oil & gas activity creating a very different environment. We stayed at Caleta Olivia, having found that this was the only place with suitable accommodation.

In the morning we headed south, taking Ruta 12 to gain access to the Bosque Petrificado, rather than the main coastal highway. This gave us us access to beautiful scenery, with multi-coloured exposure of rock escarpments and white serras. The access to the National Park was deserted, at least in terms of other people. 

Once at the Park Station we walked around the trail which wends its way through the petrified trees, knocked down by a volcanic shock wave in the late cretaceous, hence all lying in the same direction. The trunks are huge, and once again we marveled at the mental warp associated with what appeared to be recently fallen tree trunks, which are now stone. 



Our trip back to Comodoro Rivadavia was uneventful, and we took advantage of having the vehicle to stop for dinner at Rada Tilly, making a change from the usual restaurants in Comodoro. 

1) Gap Weekend #2


On the following Friday we picked up a car (this time 4x2 since we did not plan any particularly challenging setting) and drove to Puerto Madryn. On leaving Comodoro Rivadavia we found that YPF had no gas, and long lines at the Petrobras station, since there was a strike at YPF's refinery, so were slightly concerned that we would run into problems with fuel on the weekend, however these did not materialise.On Saturday morning we headed east for a circuit of the Valdés Peninsula, which we had visited previously ( ), however we had not made it to Punta Norte and wanted to do so. 

We went initially to Punta Delgada, having lunch there, before walking down to above the beach where there were elephant seals basking. Then north to Punta Norte, stopping to see penguins, and then enjoying the northern area of the peninsula, which was even less populated (by human visitors) than the south and central areas (which are hardly bustling to start with). We returned to Puerto Madryn after a long day on gravel roads, reminded yet again of the scale of Patagonia, where a drive of 200 Km is nothing. 


The following day we set off southwards, with the intention of visiting Punta Tombo, which we had not visited before, and which is known for its huge Magellan Penguin population. Initially we took Ruta 1 to Rawson, exploring the beach, before returning to the main Ruta 3 to the turn off for Punta Tombo. The latter is well-organised in terms of facilities, however rather less so for lunch visitors, so we negotiated the acquisition of some empanadas and enjoyed these in the visitor centre courtyard, before walking the circuit down to the last lookout deck, seeing penguins in profusion, along with guanaco and Elegant-crested Tinamou. 


Leaving Punta Tombo we chose to head south on Ruta 1, leaving the main visitor access route and enjoying the tranquility and spacious vistas of this little-travelled route. We stopped for lunch just north of Cabo Raso, and then continued south to Camarones, which we had previously visited via Ruta 1 from the south ( ), thus completing a substantial proportion of this beautiful and deserted road. 


Then back to Comodoro Rivadavia with an amazing sunset as we approached Ruta 3 to turn south again.

Photos may be used for non-commercial purposes with credit to

Thursday, 18 August 2016

Los Llanos: a Giant Anteater in Colombia (at last).

2016 Aug 13-15

Nota: publicado en Inglés: vamos a editar e incluir versión en español pronto. 

We took advantage of a “puente” to head for los llanos in order to take a break, relax a little, and with the hope of seeing some birds and exploring the area further.

The road network in this region is essentially one good surfaced road from Villavicencio east to Puerto Gaitán, and on to Puerto Carreño, a number of surfaced side roads which head off the main road into the llanos, and a lot of small unsurfaced roads, of various levels of passability, which make their way either between the surfaced roads, or to isolated fincas, without much indication as to which of these is the case. Hence taking more or less any unsurfaced road is somewhat of a guess, in terms of whether it will connect to other roads or simply dead end at a finca.

We left Bogotá on Saturday, and after leaving Villavicencio left the main highway east to explore some minor roads. The moment we left the main road traffic reduced to very little, and it was possible to see some birds. 
On the banks of the Rio Metica it was a pleasant surprise to see a spider monkey. We continued via the back roads, arriving at Lagos del Menegua at the end of the afternoon. In the morning we got up at dawn and headed to the Lago de Guacamayas in search of birds, typically much more active at dawn. We saw relatively few, however enjoyed the tranquil morning, and the views across the llanos


At midday we headed out to explore the area south of the main road east, finding our way down deserted tracks and finally reaching the Rio Yucao and the entrance to El Tesoro, which turned out to be the end of this particular road, with no way out other than to return, at least to the top of la loma


We took an alternative track from this point and were lucky to come across a Giant Anteater near the track, northwest of Rancho Bravo. We stopped and cautiously got out; the Anteater was initially spooked however the wind was in our favour and so our scent was blown away, so that when we kept still, the Anteater calmed down and continued its search for food. We spent 30 minutes enjoying our proximity to this marvellous creature, see how it opens up the earth to consume the ants. We were amazed to be so close, as little as 1 m from the animal at times. Finally it got wind of us and took off across the road and within less than a minute had disappeared completely.  We had hoped to see a Gient Anteater for a long time, and had been fortunate to see one in the Pantanal, however this was our first in Colombia. 

We returned to the main road, and decided to head east and see what Puerto Gaitán was like. We had not previously travelled east of Lagos de Menegua, and so this was new to us. Puerto Gaitán is a small town on the banks of the Rio Manacacias, which flows into the Rio Meta a short distance further north. There are river trips available, and it’s possible to see the pink dolphin, however apart from this, the town offers little reason to return. Returning westwards we experienced a torrential downpour, however once this had passed, made good time to the Lagos.

The following day, we joined a small group: Gustavo our guide, a family of three, and ourselves, for an “eco-walk” in the finca. It was good to walk through the original ecosystem , now sadly heavily damaged by cattle raising in the area. We saw few birds, although did see a passing toucan, and on our return, woodpeckers. However we saw a group of spider monkeys making its way through the trees, and passing directly over our heads. There were 20 or so, and they didn’t appear concerned at our quiet presence. It’s always wonderful to see monkeys In the wild. We heard howler monkeys, and saw them briefly, later in our walk. 


After breakfast and a shower we left to return to Bogotá, via back roads, at least initially. We identified a route which looked as though it would lead us parallel to the main highway back to Villavicencio, however after finding our way an hour or so south of Puerto López we found that the unsurfaced road had turned into a muddy track, which in turn became a series of mudholes, and so, discretion being the better part of valour, decided that getting terminally stuck on a road which didn't necessarily lead anywhere was not a good plan, and backtracked to the main road again to head for mamona in Villavicencio and the return home.


Photos may be used for non-commercial purposes with credit to