In January 2018 we set off for another long stint abroad. This time we wanted to visit some new countries and return to a few favourites. So here’s a roundup of what we got up to and some of our best photos from the trip.
After spending a month roadtripping around Norway and falling in love with the country, we decided we wanted to experience a winter season there and witness the northern lights. But without a campervan to sleep in we opted to volunteer so we could afford to spend six months immersing ourselves in life above the Arctic. We based ourselves in three different locations, witnessing the changing seasons from winter to summer.
– STEIGEN | Craig made a dramatic entrance as he slipped on ice outside the airport, landing on his backpack and rolling around like a helpless turtle. We moved into the most impressive place we’ve ever stayed; a modern apartment on the end of a jetty. Every morning we were awoken by the local ferry gliding just meters away from our window and in the evening the view was replaced with dark skies and dancing aurora. When we weren’t renovating the old village school we were hiking up steep mountain trails, paddle boarding over the clear water and heading out on crazy rib-boat rides with our host.
– VESTERÅLEN | The accommodation was a complete contrast as we lived in a 200 year old house that was supposedly haunted. We shared the space with 4 other volunteers who we had some amazing adventures with; canoeing into remote fjords, deep sea fishing, kick sledding on frozen lakes and a weekend trip away to a wilderness cabin, steaming in a sauna and jumping in the snow.
– LOFOTEN | My favourite place in Norway, and probably the world. We might of had to share a house and bathroom here but the views were so worth it; from the fourth floor of the house we had the most jaw dropping view of the islands and mountains, not to mention the time we saw orcas outside our bedroom window! We also enjoyed warmer weather here so we could hike the pointy peaks and kayak under the midnight sun.
For a complete change of scenery it was time to head to the high mountains of Central Asia. Our first stop was Kazakhstan where we ended up getting lost on a mountain after a brutal 1500m ascent in scorching heat, running out of water and almost getting stuck in a gorge and thinking about calling mountain rescue. Luckily we made it out and still managed to enjoy the remote mountains in the south eastern corner of the country and some wild rides with locals in soviet jeeps.
Our favourite country in Central Asia thanks to the wonderful hikes with dramatic mountains, milky blue alpine lakes, sleeping in remote yurt camps and soaking in natural hot springs. The scenery resembled Switzerland with livestock roaming across pastures and locals getting fresh milk from the cows. Any car driving our direction acted as a super cheap taxi so getting around the country was easy and affordable. Another plus is the fascinating culture of the nomads here; we witnessed dead goat polo along with a demonstration of hunting with a golden eagle…which went terribly wrong when the eagle took down an 8 year old girl!! The country even has beautiful desert, what more could you possibly want?
Most of our time in this country was spent in a 4×4 traversing the Pamir Highway, the worlds second highest international highway at 4655m altitude. We hiked up to 5000m, gasped for air and got naked in traditional hot springs (not my idea of a fun activity when it’s 35° outside!). Each night was spent in a basic homestay, sometimes in remote villages with barren desert landscapes and other times near rivers with lush, cultivated land. We also got a glimpse of Afghanistan which we drove alongside for two days with just a river between us and the waving locals. To end our trip we spent a few days in the Fann Mountains, an area untouched by tourism where a chain of lakes fills the beautiful valley.
We finally got to experience the famous Silk Road and visited four different towns to witness the impressive architecture, mosaic detailing and giant domes. With the temperature creeping up to 42° and resembling the heat when you open an oven, we decided it was time to head to a another destination…
Ironic really that we came here after complaining about the heat. It was our fourth time to Thailand and somehow I forgot every time how much the humidity effects the temperature. At 9pm it was 28° and I remember sitting outside a restaurant and dripping with sweat, my face was like a waterfall. But we came to enjoy some relax time on an island after all our tough hikes at high altitude and it was just the break we needed, plus the tasty curries were a huge bonus.
Another new country for us and one we didn’t expect to fall in love with..we figured we would get ‘Templed-out’ and bored with the sights but it was quite the opposite. The people were so kind and smiley, the accommodation and food super cheap and the sights an absolute delight. We hired a tuktuk to take us to the bluest of waterfalls, we cycled through little villages and climbed ancient temples riddled with snakes to catch the sunrise in Bagan and we hired a boat to take us through the floating gardens of Inle Lake where our driver crashed into the tomato vines.
For us, Sri Lanka lacked the buzz that we experienced in India. The locals were dressed in more western fashion then colourful saris, the curries were more dry than wet and each one tasted the same, and the beaches were never as stunning as our guide book promised. Plus the Instagram culture where everyone wants to photograph the same thing was really cringey. But we still enjoyed our month backpacking around the country and found some remote beaches to explore on our own, we witnessed herds of elephants on a safari and thoroughly enjoyed exploring the tea plantations. Shame about the nip I got from a stray dog and our three visits to public hospitals for rabies jabs.
Who’d of thought these budget savvy backpackers would be able to afford 3 weeks island hopping in paradise? But it was totally possible and a huge highlight of our travels. We stayed on the cheaper local islands and used public boats where possible to get around but we still managed to do everything on our bucket list; snorkel with manta rays, turtles and reef sharks, sunset dolphin trip, visit a dreamy sandbank and experience a day trip to a $1000 a night resort for just $25.
This was a bit of a wild card. We knew we only had one month until we were returning to Norway for another winter season but where to spend it? For some reason there were really cheap flights from The Maldives to Germany so we headed there and lined up a volunteering position as lumberjacks. It’s safe to say the job was as shit as it sounds, with lots of tough lifting work, chainsawing and splitting logs. On the plus side we were set in a beautiful valley filled with autumnal trees and we managed to do a few nice daytrips in the local area.
This tiny country was just across the boarder from where we were based in Germany so we decided to spend a day exploring the capitol. We’re not city fans anyway, but this one was particularly dull. There were a couple of Christmas markets at least which kept us slightly entertained.
NORWAY – again!
We returned for a full time paid job for four months during the winter season. When we weren’t working we explored the local area, hiked mountains, kayaked to remote islands and even managed to try out husky sledding. But the aurora and sunsets still remain my fondest of memories here.
CANADA & THE USA
It was time to return to our second favourite area of the world…North America. Within three days of arriving in Vancouver we’d purchased a new van to call home. After four days of hard work we had gutted and completely converted the van into a cozy home, ready to head south to the desert.
We bought a blow up boat for $40 which floated us down the rapids of the Colorado river and over the crystalline waters of Lake Tahoe. When we reached the giant Saguaro cacti in Arizona things became too hot and a few days later we were avoiding snowstorms in Colorado.
We witnessed bison charging bears and came face to face with a lynx. After following a route past as many natural hot springs as possible we arrived back in Canada to hike the Rocky Mountains.
We explored Vancouver island and spent all summer jumping in lakes and waterholes before taking a ferry to the great bear rainforest where we spent ten days having close encounters with grizzlies hunting for salmon. After 6 months of adventures we sold Ruby the camper and flew south…
Our trip began with giant volcanoes and ended with a 5 day hike through the legendary Torres Del Paine National Park, set in the heart of Patagonia. It was exhausting but also one of the most rewarding trips we’ve ever done. From 4am sunrise hikes and the strongest winds we’ve ever experienced to swing bridges and giant glaciers, it was phenomenal.
We came face to face with one of the worlds few growing glaciers and watched chunks carve off. Then we found hikers paradise in El Calafate where the mountains were so sharp I kept saying the view didn’t look real. We flew from the mountains of Patagonia to its wild coastline where Peninsula Valdez gave us our animal fix with hunting orcas, cute penguins, breaching whales and even a snorkelling trip with sea lions.
It was cheaper to fly from Argentina to Europe than it was to Colombia which was a shame but we wanted to do everything on a budget so we flew across the pond to Spain and grabbed a cheap flight to Malta – after two days of travel and sleeping on airport benches we finally made it! The weather was quite cloudy and unpredictable but we timed our trip to the blue lagoon perfectly and enjoyed strolling through the rustic villages on Gozo.
It was finally time to visit some countries in the Middle East. We floated in the Dead Sea, snorkelled in the Red Sea and slept overnight in the Wadi Rum desert. But the highlight was of course Petra where we explored the remarkable carved tombs set in a colourful sort of canyon landscape.
Timing our trip with the off-season yet we still had sunshine and empty beaches. We hiked parts of the Lycian Way through forest and over coastal mountains to find ourselves at jaw dropping beaches. We paraglided over the royal blue sea and witnessed the tiered pools of Pamukalle. Then we fell in love with Cappadocia thanks to the adorable stray dogs, dramatic valleys and of course the hundreds of hot air balloons filling the sky like butterflies. We hope to return to Turkey in the future as there’s so much more to explore.
Egypt was a bit of a strange trip for us. We loved the ancient Egyptian sights; the Pyramids of Giza and huge carvings of Abu Simbel were incredible. But the people weren’t friendly, the rubbish situation was appalling and then there was our disaster boat trip where I nearly drowned and then fell down the boat steps and fractured my elbow.
As for now, we’re back at home in England, stuck in isolation and pondering where we might head next…and when? Who knows what this corona virus will do to future travel plans. We still hope to explore Southern Africa, swim with humpbacks in the Pacific Islands and campervan east to Georgia. But for now we will keep dreaming and clinging onto the fond memories we have from our previous trips.