Thursday, 9 August 2012


Well, we're home at last. We've had a fabulous adventure, but we're ready to be home and get on with life.

Our "Beaches of the World" leg took us to:
- Karon Beach, Phuket, Thailand
- Whitehaven Beach, Whitsunday Island, Queensland, Australia
- Bondi Beach, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia (albeit after dark)
- Waikiki Beach, Honolulu, Oahu, Hawaii, USA
- Dickenson Bay, Antigua

So I'm calling that a success! The "missing" beach would be Fiji, where we chose a resort on the coral coast at the south of Viti Levu island with a pleasant but not epic patch of sand. There were apparently well-known beaches nearby, but we were too busy relaxing to shift our bums that far.

Looking back over the whole time, it's impossible to feel other than extremely fortunate and lucky/blessed. From so many aspects, the way everything worked out has been perfect.

For example, we found ourselves in so many places at just the right time:
- Peru for the "rainy season", when there weren't many tourists but it didn't actually rain. A highlight was the Candelaria festival in Puno, on the shore of Lake Titicaca, where it absolutely teemed down one evening, leaving us hopping through rivers on the streets with trainers that didn't dry for days.
- China (for example, Suzhou) where we strolled around in comfort being told we were visiting weeks after cold and ice, and a month before sweltering heat.
- Kyoto, where we managed to catch the very end of the cherry blossom season.

The three legs turned out to be in a perfect order, somewhat unintentionally. Leg 1 was anticipated as the most adventurous, with a month driving around. This had to come first, before the southern hemisphere winter closed routes around the Andes (although we didn't get as far south as originally planned). As it turned out, Argentina and Chile are extremely developed, and any European would feel very comfortable there. So it turned out to be more sightseeing and less "fearless explorer". It might have turned out rather different if I hadn't (somehow) retained a surprising amount of my schoolboy Spanish.

Peru was the leg 1 destination most different from home, and so most interesting to visit, although all the comforts of home are available there. We resisted the McDonalds and Starbucks in the main square of Cuzco without difficulty.

Leg 2 turned out to be the big adventure. The things we saw were quite interesting - Tianenmen Square, Forbidden City, Terracotta Warriors, Shanghai Bund, etc. However, it was seeing through those to society, economy, politics and people's daily lives which was the most fascinating. I feel that we Brits know very little about China, and the tour was a real eye-opener for me. Their development has come so very far, with modern tower blocks everywhere and roads busy with so many nice cars. China is so powerful. I don't think they're "expansionist" (per se), but they do feel that they should own places they see as historically theirs. I'll be keeping an eye on Taiwan and the islands in the South China Sea.

Japan was also amazing. As I expected, even more "developed" than the UK. It was so incredible being in settings so familiar, but unable to read a single word. It brings home how one "navigates" at home, even around a shopping centre, by picking up on a thousand little clues (in writing, colour, style or arrangement) without realising it. Such a learning experience.

Leg 3 turned out to be in the right order too. The China tour was so fast-paced, and Clare's poor health in Japan so sapping, that we were really ready for something more restful. The city-beach-city-beach mixture and rhythm worked well, with cities we really liked, three of which I knew from before and really enjoyed introducing Clare to. The beaches were all good too. We saw the Whitsundays in a poor patch of Aussie winter weather, which was a shame (but almost the only one during our whole journey). I was very relieved when we really liked the place in Antigua, as I so hoped to go out with a bang rather than a whimper.

Other aspects of planning feel like successes too. We prepared as well as we could for problems, such as crime, by splitting credit cards into three wallets, never kept in the same place and each containing enough so we wouldn't have to head home, with different bank accounts behind. However, the biggest thing we unintentionally parted company with was a beloved multi-year travelling companion mini shampoo bottle. INCREDIBLY fortunate.

A few of the things we took with us proved far more useful than we'd ever have foreseen:
- Whilst driving in Argentina and Chile, the SatNav that Clare bought me for Christmas and I filled with local maps (on the off-chance), turned out to be vital, and without it the month driving would hardly have even been possible. We'd have needed street maps for a different city ever night, which would have been very hard to get before arriving in the city itself. Mobile data (from my iPhone) let us down whenever we really needed it.
- Clare developed a profound affection for the Kindle which was her Christmas present from me, and the game of finding cheap ways of overfilling it.
- ZipLoc resealable plastic bags turned out to be really useful. I took a large bundle and we used them liberally, helping to organise things and keep them or everything else dry. We nearly ran out during leg 1.
- A luggage scale got used every time before we headed to the airport. In leg 1, with so many different climates, we knew we'd be fully loaded. However, we were right up against 20kg limits on cheaper leg 3 flights too, as the souvenirs started to accumulate.
- iPhones. Incredible. Hardly ever as a phone. Carrying copies of documents (itinerary, passport, emailled vouchers, etc.), booking hotels - particularly through the app - and referring to confirmations saved as images, Skypeing with friends at home, researching destinations on websites and via Wikitravel (including the offline iTravel app), checking in to flights, and games and podcasts when there's time to fill. And blogging. Clare borrowed mine so much during leg 1 that we had to get here one before leg 2, and now they're inseparable.

Friends have asked what highlight(s) was/were. SUCH a hard question, with a deluge of new experiences in so short a time.

We keep coming back to Machu Picchu, and probably the Iguazu Falls.

As the Spanish swept across South America, with their superior military technology, Machu Picchu was abandoned. However, the Spanish never found it. Hence (apart from being lost and "found" amidst dense vegetation), the place is just as it was left - just minus wood-and-leaf roofs. A real insight into a fascinating civilisation, in a simply stunning location.

The Iguazu Falls are spectacular. Clare and I have both been to the Niagara Falls. I think Iguazu takes the edge - wider, higher, more varied and in a better setting, whilst Clare thinks the comparison of experience is more even. We really enjoyed our visit anyway.

Clare was blown away by the chance to cuddle a koala, and to climb Sydney Harbour Bridge. I remain fascinated by our insight into China, described above.

Our nearly-first and last beaches were the best:
- Ramon's Village, on the edge of San Pedro, Ambergris Caye, Belize
- Siboney Beach Club, Dickenson Bay, Saint John's, Antigua
Although a close runner-up is:
- Mövenpick Resort & Spa, Karon Beach, Phuket, Thailand

Possibly the biggest lesson from the whole experience is how welcoming, helpful and kind the people of the world are. Obviously there's "bad people" everywhere, but we didn't meet any, and we received help well beyond the call of duty on many occasions.

The world is friendly - I think we'll go there again.

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Much Anticipated Antigua

Another early flight leaving New York at 7.30 am for Antigua. However, it was a flight of just under four hours and there was no time difference from New York.

We landed just before midday and after collecting our luggage and getting some local currency, we went to get a taxi to our resort. This was only about 30 minutes from the airport.

The taxi dropped us off just outside Siboney Beach Club; there was a path leading into the resort, which led to the beach and to the left was reception. The first sight of the beach was amazing, white sand and turquoise blue sea.

We went to reception, and after the usual paperwork, we were shown to our room, which turned out to consist of a bedroom, bathroom, living area and a kitchen area. We were more than happy. Also our room was literally seconds away from the beach, but then again none of the rooms in this small resort are exactly far from the beach!

After settling in, we changed into our swimming gear and went to explore. The Siboney Beach Club sits next to the Sandals Hotel an adults only resort and both are situated on Dickenson Bay.

The beach was even better now we had chance to see it properly. There was also a swimming pool, which we sat by on one day, but the beach was so beautiful that it would have been insane to sit round the pool for more than just one day, even though it was set in a lovely garden area.

We found the local grocery store, a two minute walk from our resort, where we could buy snacks, bottled water and beer.

The weather on arrival was a bit overcast, but very warm and we also had a couple of short sharp showers.

There is a beach front bar / restaurant, which is operated independently of the hotel. The food was very good and we ended up eating there every night. We had breakfast here most mornings which they served up to 11am, such a civilised time!

We did toy with the idea of visiting the capital, St Johns, and perhaps hiring a small catamaran from the Sandals resort, but the beach was so lovely, the weather after the first day absolutely glorious that we decided that just chilling on the beach was just what we wanted to do after our hectic time in San Francisco and New York.

Sun loungers were provided, but shade was limited to the few trees on the beach - unfortunately, parasols were not provided - but we managed to get under the trees as the beach was blissfully not crowded and any other tourists on the beach seemed happy to sit out in the blistering heat. The temperature of the sea was like getting into a warm bath, fantastic!

Out of all the beaches on this third leg, Antigua has definitely turned out to be the most beautiful, romantic and idyllic of the ones we have visited and it has been a great way to round off the last part of our round the world trip.

We are both looking forward now to going home, seeing family and friends, watching the Olympics and getting back to normal life before returning to work.

We also need time to look back at all we have seen and done on our travels since January, as we did not really get to do this in between trips. There will also be the mammoth task of sorting through photos (we have taken a few!) and compiling albums of the best - what a task, but a great way to relive our experiences.

I feel so lucky and privileged to have seen and done so much in the last few months and to have shared these wonderful experiences with Dave.

Friday, 20 July 2012

Noo Yoik

We had a 7am flight out from SF on Sunday morning (with added "please arrive two hours early"), and BART seems to sleep in until 8:30. Hence we decided to overnight in an airport hotel. A five hour flight, three hour time difference and hour on the subway into Manhattan swallowed most of Sunday.

After a quick rest we wandered out from the Park Central hotel and headed south in search of dinner. As we strolled past the bright lights, Clare went "tilt" again, just as she had early in our San Francisco visit, and needed pinching: "Wow, we're really in New York".

I have to say that I found that funny. We've hit South America and Asia pretty hard this year, but her head is turned by North America? Will I ever convert her into a proper traveller??

Clare says its the cumulative effect of everything catching up with her. I suppose I have to agree - after six months it does still seem unreal; I can't imagine what sort of dream it'll seem after a while passes.

We found dinner in a noisy sports bar, dimly lit and surrounded by big tellies on various channels. We were served by Irish-born Croydon resident Louise, who somehow seems to have managed to get a visa for a month's bar work. Good luck!

The next day was "Midtown day", apart from the fact that we started by strolling two blocks up and into Central Park. There I steered Clare toward Strawberry Fields, the John Lennon peace memorial garden area (successfully surprising her with it) and then stopped by Central Park Lake, where we spent a while watching terrapins swimming around until one climbed onto a rock so we could get a photo of more than just protruding nostrils. We left the park near the Dakota building, where Lennon lived.

Subway to Times Square, where I failed to find the exit directly up into the square to maximise the experience. Never mind - it's pretty great from any angle. A group of youths from Miami tried some soft evangelism on us, involving some photo-taking which happened to take place in front of a huge US flag shown on screens on the side of the Times Square US Armed Forces recruitment booth.

We grabbed lunch at a sports bar just off on a side street, where I had a corned beef reuben (when in Rome...). They had wi-fi and we booked online to go to the 9/11 Memorial tomorrow, something that hadn't worked several times last night. Flushed with success we looked at the various options to book Empire State Building tickets, with 86th & 102nd floor observation decks and "Express" (queue jumper super-power) an extra $22. Clare chose the full monty, which I wasn't sure we'd need on a Monday!

We walked there via Grand Central, which was well worth the stroll - a really impressive space. Arriving at the Empire State we were told there was a 1 hour wait. As Clever Clare had bought the Express on-line, we walked straight past at least five long queues, both up and down, that were no way as short as one hour. Wow!

The views were great, both from the 86th and 102nd floors, the latter much less busy and having a better angle, for example of Central Park. Win!

We renewed our Fijian late-afternoon ice cream tradition en route to our hotel for a teatime siesta.

I persuaded Clare to go for dinner down in Greenwich Village, and the subway outside the hotel got us there in no time. We strolled through Washington Park, beside people picnicking in the dark and a circle of people around the pool (fountain?), finding ourselves on a street of restaurants and bars with neon signs. We had an excellent meal, mine a seafood jambalaya.

We caught the same subway line just a few stops further the next morning; "Downtown day" in my mind, and a real scorcher at nearly 100F.

The 9/11 Memorial (logo colored so the 11 recalls the towers) is extremely impressive. The list of donors in the visitor center suggests a budget of hundreds of millions, but good taste has resulted in a solemn and moving monument, albeit one of the largest and most imposing I've ever seen. I suppose it's fitting, for the greatest shock to the American spirit since JFK's murder.

The water cascades beautifully down the sides of the twin towers' footprints, then moves gently to an inner chasm, where it slowly falls to eternity.

We went on, via refreshments and a spot of delayed blogging. Thence we headed toward Wall Street, via the picturesque graveyard of Trinity Church, where lots of people were enjoying their lunches in the tree-dappled sunshine.

Wall Street isn't, I discovered, named for the stone canyon formed by lines of skyscrapers, several in their day the highest in the city. In fact it's the line of the northern defensive wall of the old fort of New Amsterdam, which once filled Manhattan from here south.

By now we were hungry, but had to walk quite a few blocks north up out of the financial district before we found a salad bar to sit and eat. That wasn't far from Pier 17 where we saw moored tall ships. There we caught the M15 bus 56 blocks north so I could see the United Nations building, which I felt I'd missed last time I was here.

Well, I feel I missed it this time too - no flags flying and very plain. I'm guessing that flags only fly when the UN is in session, and only the flags of the nations in attendance. There were five minutes to go before closing, but there was a sign saying "no liquids". Since my shoulder had been breaking under the weight of the bottles we'd accumulated during the day, I wasn't inclined to finish by ditching the lot.

We eventually found the right bus back toward our hotel, where it was siesta time again ahead of dinner at a restaurant nearby. Strangely, my appetite deserted me completely after a moderate-sized bowl of over-herbed clam chowder - I don't recall feeling such a sudden change before. My linguine got a healthy shuffling around, but not much consumption.

We planned to use our final day in Manhattan to fill in some of the things we missed before, but it didn't quite go as planned. The day started even hotter, so the idea of strolling across the Brooklyn Bridge got shelved again. I looked into the Intrepid Aerospace Museum, on an aircraft carrier moored on the Hudson. However, Concord can only be seen on an extra tour and the space shuttle exhibition premieres tomorrow - those being the two things I wanted to see.

We did successfully get to the Rockefeller Center, where we had drinks and bought takeaway salads. We went into St. Patrick's Cathedral opposite, the beautiful face and twin spires of which were covered in scaffolding.

As we left, I could see dark clouds starting to appear from the west, already fairly close due to the skyscraper-restricted view. Nevertheless, we continued toward Plan B - a picnic in Central Park.

We headed for the great lawn, by way of the restrooms. We never got there. Rain started, and rapidly became heavier, and heavier, and heavier.

We were very fortunate to be close to one of the few buildings in the park, and even one with a wooden roof protruding around the side. We huddled under there as the water came down in stair-rods; truly tropical torrents, but prolonged.

The crashes of thunder included some of the loudest and sharpest I've ever heard. We had to put up our umbrellas to protect our legs as we sat on the ground, because we were gradually being dampened by raindrops splashing onto tarmac at least two feet away.

Eventually we made a break for the subway, fortunately only the equivalent of a block away. As we crossed Park Avenue West, Clare's umbrella turned inside-out as she had to run to recover her Sydney Harbour Bridge cap.

The downpour continued in midtown, as evidenced by the drowned and bedraggled tide of people pouring down into the subway as we fought our way up and out. We only travelled one block further before taking refuge in yet another Irish Pub. I watched the tense tenth innings of a Phillies/Dodgers ball game that went to twelve innings long after Clare's urge to get on had pulled us away.

Another early flight, so another airport hotel - this time at Jamaica, Queens where the subway meets the JFK Airtrain.

Around 8:30 I ordered an Indian meal and some drinks for delivery. A prompt an hour later yielded a 5-to-7 minute delivery estimate. It finally turned up at 11:30pm as we were just getting into bed, so was politely but firmly rejected. Fortunately some leftovers from our abortive picnic held the fort.

I guess it must be twelve to fifteen years since I was last in New York. The subway seems to have spread hugely. However, the biggest change (apart from the loss of the twin towers) seems to me to be in the New Yorkers. Last time I was here, I remember finding the subway quite a hostile place, where one studiously avoided catching anyone's eye. This time, on every single occasion when we were standing in a station looking confused or peering at a map, someone stopped and asked us if we needed help. Every time!

I'm a Londoner born and bred, who thinks London is the best city on earth. However, I can't imagine a visitor receiving the unsolicited assistance back home that we've enjoyed here, and in so many other places on our travels. My faith in our crown is shaken.

New York, New York --
A hell of a town,
The Bronx is up and the Battery's down.
The People ride in a hole in the ground.
New York, New York --
It's a hell of a town.

(For the film version, the word "helluva" was changed to "wonderful" to appease the Production Code offices - Wikipedia)

Fabulous San Francisco

We arrived late into San Francisco, getting to our hotel at about 11pm. After checking in, we - rather optimistically I initially thought - went in search of something to eat. The hotel receptionist, however, said that there should still be a few places open.

We found a busy diner open until midnight, so just made it at 11.45pm. I was actually quite hungry (a bit of a novelty for me) as Hawaiian Airlines do not serve gluten free meals, so all I had eaten that day was some fruit, yoghurt and a banana.

I had goats cheese salad and chips, Dave had a chicken dish. It was fun soaking up the atmosphere in an American diner.

We had arranged a tour around San Francisco, but that would not be until Saturday, so Friday was spent under our own steam walking around the city. As with Sydney after Phuket, we noticed the difference in temperature in San Francisco from Hawaii, it only being about 15 degrees compared to about 29 degrees.

We set off walking round San Fran, going to China Town, the largest outside China. Lots of different shops, I saw a t-shirt I liked and tried on an extra large, although I knew it would be tight just by looking at it, I guessed they might only sell to slim Chinese American girls! Shame as I really liked it.

We went onto North Beach, the Italian area, and found a nice restaurant for lunch, Dave having a pizza and myself having Parma ham and melon.

Prior to setting off on our walk, Dave had purchased two clipper cards which would enable to hop on and off cable buses, something you must do while in San Francisco.

We decided to do the two cable bus routes in their entirety. The hills in San Francisco are amazing, some 48 over an area of 49 square miles (a fact picked up from our tour the following day).

Its great fun on a cable bus, although a bit nippy if you are sitting on the outside! When we got off, we visited Grace Cathedral, built in 1928 and finished in 1964. It had a nice atmosphere.

After visiting the cathedral we went to get a cable bus going in the opposite direction. These turned out to be very busy, so we had to wait for a few to go past before we managed to get on one. This took us down to the pier, where there was an exhibition of boats, although we only walked past these. The pier also offered a good view of Alcatraz island.

There were quite a few stalls selling all kinds of things and Dave felt compelled to buy an Angry Birds woollen hat; although I mocked him, I ended up wearing it as I was so cold! Probably looked a twit, but I did feel warmer.

We then went to the Ghirardelli chocolate shop (we thought there was a factory there, but we were wrong) and Dave brought five different bars of their chocolate.

The queue for cable buses to go back was extremely long, so as our clipper passes were also good for buses, we caught a number 30, which took us back to our hotel.

That night, we went to John's Grill, literally just down the road from our hotel. It was heaving, so a popular place. Dave had clam chowder and a fish dish, I had a shrimp salad.

Up early next morning for our Urban Safari tour, which included tickets for Alcatraz. The vehicle was pretty amazing, black and white zebra striped, and where we sat was open to the elements in a sort of large trailer. Safari hats and blankets were provided!

Our guide was Eric, who was in his early 30s, and who obviously enjoyed his role as a guide. He was very chatty and knowledgeable. We went to another couple of hotels for pick-ups, although at one the group did not appear, even though one of them was there when we arrived. She disappeared to get the others and that was the last we saw of her. They did eventually join the group just in time for the Alcatraz trip.

Eric asked all the group (about 44 in total) their nationalities and there were a few, ranging from Brtish Columbia, Australians, Irish, English, New Zealand and obviously Americans.

Our driver, Mfalme, had the most amazing dreadlocks, which he has been growing for 30+ years. When not wound round his neck or piled on top of his head, they touched the floor!

Our first stop was the Palace of Fine Art, built in 1915 in the Greek style, looks like stone, but is actually made of concrete, although pretty impressive looking.

Our second stop was the Golden Gate Bridge, although actually painted international orange. Originally it was going to be painted grey or black with yellow stripes, I guess orange was the better option and apparently stands out better in the fog. A pretty impressive structure, although, I have to say I was more impressed with the Sydney Harbour Bridge. We got a chance to take lots of photos, and the weather had improved considerably from the previous day, so the view was pretty good.

We then went onto Twin Peaks (not where the tv show was filmed) which gave a panoramic view of San Francisco from a very high vantage point, views were quite stunning and by this time the weather was sunny. Again, lots of photos taken.

The next stop was for lunch. We stopped at a general store, that also sold soup, salads and sandwiches, we sat on wooden benches outside the store to eat. Dave was fascinated by Mfalme's dreadlocks, so I ended up with Dave taking a picture of me with him and his dreadlocks over my arm - I was not too keen to touch them, as not too sure how clean they were!

Mfalme also asked a friend of his to get him a coffee. This friend turned our to be completely naked, which was definitely different! He was completely at ease with himself and apparently it is not an offence to walk around naked in San Francisco.

After lunch, the next stop was to go to Alcatraz, this would also be the end of the Urban Safari Tour. Eric got the tickets and handed them out. We then said our goodbyes and thanks to Eric and Mfalme.

To get to the island is about a 15 minute boat trip and we were booked on the 2.50 pm boat. Once at the island and after a brief chat by one of the staff, we set off up the hill to do the audio tour of the cells, which is narrated by one of the guards who worked there.

Its a very stark place and quite intimidating, although because there were so many people there, this was a bit lost. Cells were 5 foot by 9 foot, really quite small, with just a toilet, bed, table and chair (only the bed was free standing, everything else was fixed into the wall.

The audio tour was essential and went through the history, including the story of three escapees, although whether they died while trying to swim to the mainland (their bodies were never found) or whether they did reach the mainland and got to South America is a mystery never to be resolved.

We spent well over two and a half hours there, and we got the penultimate ferry back to the mainland. In retrospect, going earlier in the day would have been better to allow us a bit more time to look around, but it was certainly worth the visit and very interesting. They do night visits, there are two ferries returning to the mainland around 8 and 9pm and I guess at night it would be very atmospheric even if there were crowds.

Once back on the mainland, we went to the top floor of the Hyatt Hotel. We had been there the previous day to enjoy the view, but it was a bit cloudy. The view was better this time, but not as clear as we thought it would be.

We decided to have dinner here before we collected our luggage from our hotel and make our way to the airport hotel prior to our early flight the next morning to New York.

On reflection, San Francisco has a quaint charm about it for a large city and we thoroughly enjoyed our time there.

Saturday, 14 July 2012

Happy, Helpful Honolulu

In all of the flights we booked, the hardest hop to organise was the one from Fiji to Hawaii. The One World Alliance round-the-world ticket planning website could only offer an insane route via Tokyo!

In the end, Lucy at Flight Centre found cheapest flights with Air New Zealand. Hence we had to fly south to Auckland and overnight there before heading north again and passing Fiji once more when well on our way.

As you might imagine, the Hawaiian islands offer a vast choice of accommodation. I did look at taking a short flight to one of the smaller airports on Maui and going to a secluded resort near there. However, any difficulties with the short hop back could have led to big problems with our next big hop - disastrous in a journey so complicated already. This was compounded by resulting timings on departure day. I also wanted to visit Pearl Harbor, just west of Honolulu.

So we took the simplest way out, and decided to stay on Oahu, where Honolulu and its airport are located. Following the "Beaches of the World" theme, we decided to stay on Waikiki Beach, which is in the southern part of Honolulu.

We chose a hotel (Aqua Lotus at Diamond Head) that has good TripAdvisor reviews. It is a 15-minute beachside stroll away from central Waikiki, and so avoids noise complaints common there. It has no restaurant and, we found on arrival, no bar either.

It all made me wonder whether the hotel is "gaming" the review scores by having nothing to review badly. Being behind other buildings, we had only a partial view of the ocean. The room was lovely, though, and reception very helpful (see below).

What made things work was the hotel next door, with a restaurant looking out over the beach from under the wide, low branches of a set of trees growing up through the floor. The menu was broad enough and well enough executed that we ate there every night and some lunchtimes. Symbiosis.

We started the week quite slowly, not going more than a few hundred metres from the hotel on the first day.

On the second day Clare woke with a headache. When this didn't clear with ibuprofen nor, an hour later, paracetamol (branded as Tylenol in the U.S.), Clare then revealed that she'd had a headache every morning since two nights with feverish symptoms in Fiji, but hadn't told me to avoid worrying me.

We went first to a traveller-friendly clinic, but they said they lacked diagnostic tools and referred us to the Emergency Room at their associated hospital. I was afraid that we were falling into the grip of the American medical system, and was worried how much this would cost us.

We were shown straight into a private room and samples were swiftly taken for tests. Clare was even wheeled up for a CT scan (which only showed a mild sinusitis behind her right cheek).

The doctor came to see us as soon as the test results were in. How different private medicine is from British public A&E! He listened well as we told the story of Clare's ailment for the fourth time. You could sense the subtle precautions against being sued, with only cautious statements and every test that might possibly be needed. The doctor even suggested a lumbar puncture to rule out possible side-infection, but there was a chance of side-effects worse than the original problem.

Ultimately, the doctor diagnosed something serious-sounding but which would clear up by itself in time.

When everything was done we headed out, braced for a grilling about our medical insurance. Instead the reception staff said they had what they needed and (when we prompted) said we should just ask our insurer to fax them a billing address. We were so surprised!

The hotel reception was brilliant when we needed to print out forms from our travel insurer and fax them back internationally. Full marks.

After such an exciting Sunday, we delayed our planned trip to Pearl Harbor to Tuesday and simply strolled into the edge of the built-up area for Monday lunch.

On our first morning I looked into visiting Pearl Harbor, and went online to try to book a slot to visit the memorial for the sinking of USS Arizona during the Japanese attack in December 1941. The first available time was just after our plane out departed!

Our hotel arranged a coach to Pearl Harbor for about a tenth of what a taxi would have cost. We saw all of the attractions except the Arizona Memorial, spending 3 hours on huge USS Missouri, the last great battleship, then lunch and a whistle-stop tour of the Aviation Museum, and finally an hour on the submarine USS Bowfin (which Clare sat out). Six hours flying past.

We took our last day quite quietly again, with another stroll into town for lunch and then time on the beach with a quick snorkel offshore with cheap masks from a convenience store.

We probably didn't make the most of Hawaii, but we did have a nice time and were close to excellent medical services when Clare wanted them. We had to visit as part of our round-the-world leg because the impact of the flights from the UK rules it out as a holiday destination at any other time. We might come again one day, but we'd go the extra mile beyond Oahu.

Fiji by Water

I'm afraid it falls to me again to allude to the influence on our plans of matters related to health.

After our time in Australia, the resort in Fiji seemed very clean and well sorted too. I'm afraid I let my guard down health-wise. I guess I assumed the resort would use bottled water for ice and table water in restaurants - don't laugh, some do.

I don't know if it was the glass of water in the fine dining restaurant or the ice the poolside bar cools glasses in. Something upset my tum from late on our fourth day in Fiji until well after we left.

At the same time and (as far as I can work out) for unrelated reasons, Clare's tum had a bad patch. This was a shame, because on day 5 we'd booked to go on a boat trip.

We were happy with the comforts and facilities of our Fijian-mainland coastal resort, but I did wonder what the resorts based on tiny islands would have been like.

We booked a trip on a tall ship, leaving from near the airport (a 90-minute coach ride each way) and passing several resort islands before stopping at a private island for snorkeling and relaxation.

Unfortunately, come the morning of day 5 we realised that neither of us were in a fit state. We turned up "not early" and then held the coach up while we tried to change the trip to day 7. Fortunately, we could.

It had to be day 7 because I'd booked my first scuba trip for day 6, following a trial session in the hotel pool, skimming along the bottom and biting people's ankles (and no, I don't confess to any other kind of sharking around the pool).

The dive was an interesting experience, but I don't feel compelled to do it lots more. I had great difficulty in getting my left ear to equalise to the pressure every time we went a bit deeper. Once equalised, I then needed to make sure I didn't float upward. This made it feel quite a "technical" experience, and really got in the way of focusing on the amazing shapes of the coral and the beautiful fish.

One thing to note is that the deeper you go under the water, the more bright colours get duller - and we went down over 12 metres on this dive. This dimming is especially true of red. About twelve years ago I went to Mauritius and maybe 50 metres down in a submarine. At that depth the bright red fire extinguisher beside me turned pure black.

Clare and I both love snorkelling, and we can do it together. It isn't technical and you can float around in your own time seeing beautiful fish at full brightness. I think we'll stick with that.

So, we reached day 7, our last full day, which we'd have preferred to spend idling by the pool, but we had the boat trip booked and paid-for. The trouble was that Clare had spent the last two nights with very hot skin but feeling cold in her core. We put it down to heatstroke (but see our future post from Honolulu). Hence Clare skipped the trip and stayed in the cool of the room for the day instead.

The boat trip was pleasant and interesting rather than fabulous. The transfers from our hotel to the boat were loooong - an hour and three-quarters there and nearly two and a half hours back. Fortunately I took my iPhone, loaded with This Week in Tech (TWiT) podcasts. The boat left from a marina on Denarau Island - an area of land only really separated from the mainland (Viti Levu) by a river, and dedicated to posh resorts (read: tourist ghetto).

The boat was a single-masted sailing ship, but travelled by motor the whole way. On the way back they hoisted the foresail, but it was only for show because I could see it was "backed" by the wind - making us slower rather than faster.

We passed some of the resort islands I'd looked at when trying to find somewhere to book. I found two things remarkable. Firstly that some of the islands were pretty small - one seemingly only a hundred metres across - I'm thinking: "stir crazy" stuck for a week in just that space (and that scope of facilities). Secondly, the islands were well in sight of the mainland, and so during your whole week there all you would see when looking out in one direction would be the mainland. I think that'd feel odd, particularly if the island's facilities were inadequate.

Mind you, in the past I have spent a week on a single resort island just 600 metres long and 180 wide in the Maldives which felt completely isolated, and that was truly wonderful.

The private island on which the cruise ended was also pretty small - maybe 250 metres in diameter - and treeless. The reef that was at one end stuck out of the water at low tide. I sat under the big thatched "canteen" roof most of the time, but others sunbathed and played volleyball.

I'm glad I went on the trip because I was interested by what I saw, but it didn't outweigh the inconvenience of the transfer journeys by much. The 7am to 9pm day was very tiring.

Weighing up our whole time in Fiji, we were pleased with our choice of a slightly larger mainland resort and were quite surprised when the total cost came to less than half of the price of our time in Phuket, with Hamilton Island more expensive still.

Money and, more importantly, time feeling well spent.

Fantastic Fiji

Having arrived after dark, the next morning we were very keen to open the curtains in our room and we were not disappointed when we did, we were met with the sight of swaying palm trees, bright blue sky, and waves crashing in the distance onto the reef. So not a bad first impression!

The short walk to breakfast took us along the resort right beside the sea. When booking, the photos had made Dave wonder if there was a road between the resort and the beach, but there absolutely wasn't. The beach was a golden colour, not quite as spectacular as we had thought in terms of size, but nevertheless a beautiful setting. The tide was out, revealing a rocky bed and it appeared that you could walk a fair distance out while the tide was low, it also turned out that you could walk a fair way when the tide was in too.

There were two 'islands' just off the shore, one accessed by a causeway, the other one at low tide. We walked to the one over the causeway, which gave us a good view of the resort.

Our taxi driver had told us on the way to the resort from the airport, that it was midwinter, I was glad it was not mid-summer, as the temperature was 29 degrees! It was okay in the evening, not too humid.

Breakfast was a buffet, and they had gluten free muffins and bread, along with yoghurt and fresh fruit, so I was okay. We had gone for just the breakfast option and not fully inclusive, which turned out to be a good move, as the restaurants on site were not expensive and as it turns out, we would definitely not have got our money's worth. Ice-cream, which we had at the end of nearly every afternoon, was not included in the all inclusive package.

We had decided on a mainland resort, because most of the island resorts were booked (at the level of comfort we were after). We thought this was due to American holidays around the 4 July, but it actually turned out that it was the start of the Australian school holidays.

We ate in the buffet restaurant on our second night (we ate here when we first arrived). The food was okay, but nothing special. The next night we ate in another restaurant at the resort, and the food was much better.

In the evening in the bar there was entertainment. We went one evening and the staff who looked after kids during the day put on a show which was good fun, they also got most of the men to take their shirts off and dance to 'So Macho' - an 80s hit - I managed to catch Dave on my iphone camera strutting his stuff shirtless!

There was only one pool (we were spoilt in Phuket with a choice of three), so if you got there too late in the morning you were unlikely to get a lounger. However, loungers were also placed along the grass facing out to sea, and this was lovely, with no noisy kids!

Dave was interested in trying scuba diving, they were doing a trial session in the pool, and he tried to persuade me, but I was not keen, I would stick to snorkelling.

I loved Fiji and their people, who were so friendly and helpful. Definitely a bit of paradise.