Saturday, 31 October 2009

By far the hardest thing I've ever done...

Having spent a couple of days exploring Quito we headed south of the city to the volcano region. Day 1 was spent trekking up Ilinizas (4900m) which was all going according to plan until we were about 100m from the summit when the weather rapidly changed bringing in a storm. At this point our guide Carlos instructed us to emergency abseil down the side of the volcano to avoid being struck by lightening!

Undeterred we set our sights on Cotopaxi - the world's largest active, snow-covered volcano at a whopping 5900m! So yesterday we arrived at the National Park and trekked up to the refuge hut with all our kit, we spent a couple of hours trialling the crampons, ice axes and harnesses before heading to bed at 6.30pm (bearing in mind we're in a wooden hut at 4800m, the height of Mont Blanc, with absolutely no heating and it was FREEZING). The climb started at midnight which we thought was purely for us to reach the summit at sunrise, however it transpired it was really so that the snow was at its most compact and therefore risk of falling into crevasses was reduced(!)

Anyway we set off not exactly bright-eyed and bushy-tailed but excited nonetheless. After about an hour's climbing (we had 6 more to go) the altitude began to affect me and as our Ecuadorian guide does this climb pretty much every day there was little sympathy. We climbed harnessed together with our crampons and ice axes throughout the night with only the moon lighting our path up the volcano which was a real experience. Towards 6am the sun began to rise bringing with it an incredible morning skyline and we realised just how high we actually were - probably 2km above the clouds - and how severe the drops and crevasses all around us were.

We finally reached the summit at around 7am which took A LOT of grit and determination from us both (I at this point was in floods of tears!) Tom says it was by far the hardest climb he's ever done and it was definitely the biggest challenge I've ever undertaken. The view from the top was incredible and something that we will both remember as a highlight of our trip, it literally looked like Heaven on Earth.

Pictures will follow...

Monday, 26 October 2009

From Hwy 1 - South Beach - Quito!


Having sped our way down California´s precarious highway 1 back to LA, where on arrival the whole neighbourhood had transformed into Halloween, we made the most of a washing machine(!) before saying our goodbyes and jetting over to Miami on a very early flight. Sunning ourselves on South Beach for 2 days was just what we needed to recuperate after such a stressed out time travelling round the states (yeah right).

Anyway now in Quito which to be honest is a miracle as the traveller bug has well and truly set in - we were sat on the beach in Miami at 1.30pm only to realise that our flight to Ecuador was due to leave in less than 2 hours time... Life without time-frames and deadlines can be tough!

Off to climb our first volcano tomorrow (5200m) so inhaler will def be needed! Poor Tom travelling with such a hypercondriac! Lots to update on but will save that for another time.


ps I had 4 hours of Spanish lessons today - can you tell?

Monday, 19 October 2009

Up close and personal with a baby black bear!

Second and final day in Yosemite NP today and as we were heading back to the car after taking a few snaps of a pretty impressive glacier mountain range we happened, by chance, to spot a baby black bear literally about 15 metres away from us in the forest. We watched in silence whilst he foraged for grub, had a little drink, sat down and then continued to wander through the trees. There was only one question in mind (other than how do we coax him into the car to take him home)... where's his mummy? As we've had it drummed into our heads that if you ever happen to see a baby bear the best thing to do is get as far away from it as possible because mother bears are very protective, I think we were both feeling pretty nervous being stood so close to the friendly little fella.

Hey ho we survived and the coast-road drive down Highway 1 starts tomorrow where we'll be heading back towards LA.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

A herd of bison, a cluster of elk, a couple of coyotes, a lone wolf, one very large grizzly bear... oh and the park ranger!

Having spent the last 2 days in Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks we've been lucky enough to see a shed load of wildlife including the rather elusive grizzly bear which we finally spotted early this evening. America really does have a lot to offer and is far more impressive than I had imagined. It seems that almost every American we meet, whether they be working in the park's canteen or fellow sightseers, has a happy comment to make, welcomes us to the US as though we're long lost cousins and then wishes us a great vacation. That is apart from the Yellowstone Park Ranger who pulled us over and informed Tom (only moments after I'd commented on how well his driving was) that we were driving at an incredibly high speed considering the amount of elk nearby - almost double the speed limit and that it had taken him a fair while to catch up with us. I think the fact that we were English, driving a ridiculous white Californian convertible when there was snow all around us (and snow tyres were being enforced), he let us off with a caution.

Tomorrow brings with it an epic 13+ hour drive over to Lake Tahoe before we begin the home-straight through Yosemite, down Hwy 1 back to LA.

Needless to say "the driver" is shattered and tucked up in bed asleep...

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

From the desert to the Rockies

We've spent the last few days cruising around Utah and visited Zion (where we climbed a very high mountain with cliff face drops - Elizabeth spent most of the climb shaking and clinging on to me or anything else nearby), Bryce Canyon (where the scenery and rock formations, hoodoos were incredible - like nothing I've seen before) and Salt Lake City (where we were educated by local evangelical Mormons on the history and merits of being part of their faith - polygamy among other things being one I suppose). After eating far too much at an all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet we then drove to one of the islands on the Salt Lake where there are free-roaming bison, antelopes and other animals that we spotted whilst exploring. The views over the lake and of the mountains were incredible.

Today we've left the deserts of Utah and drove into the Rockies where things are very diiferent. There's snow, the temperature is very cool and everything is either moose or bear themed. We really are in bear country - there are warning signs everywhere and we heard a guy talking in the local Stetson shop about how he had came across a bear a couple of days ago that had charged towards him and he'd had to shoot it several times to stop it in it's tracks. It was shortly after hearing this that I suggested we at least buy a knife to take into the park tomorrow but Elizabeth won't let me (apparently it would just aggravate a bear further rather than do any damage).

Anyway, tomorrow we're heading into Yellowstone and I'm really looking forward to it as it's somewhere I've always wanted to explore and supposed to be one of the greatest national parks in the world! We might even see a grizzly - let's hope we don't need a knife!!

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Road Trippin

So far so amazing! The drive across the Mojave desert from California to Nevada was pretty cool and we definitely looked like tourists in our white convertible, roof down with the iPod blasting out Meatloaf. We hit the strip and stayed at the super luxurious Wynn hotel at which point, as a pretty much non-gambler, I felt like Louis Theroux in his doc Gambling in Vegas.


As we left the bright lights of sin city behind we continued road tripping towards the massive Hoover Dam and into the desert heading out to Arizona and the Grand Canyon... WOW! As much of a cliche it is, it really does have to be seen to be believed, we saw absolutely incredible scenery as the sun was setting and we soon forgot all about 5* luxury and checked into the Grand Canyon's International Hostel (which, apart from the freight train running past our window all night, really wasn't too bad!)

Yesterday we headed back to the Canyon (saw an awesome rainbow across the rim) and did a couple of hours walking down the South rim trail where my lack of fitness was really put to the test. We drove for a good few hours to Monument Valley in Utah which again was incredibly scenic. We ended up having a room at the Hat Rock Inn in a little town called Mexican Hat with a king sized bed and ate the most delicious steak cooked by a real-life cowboy (Tom's next career move).

The next week or so is going to involve a huge amount of driving (thank god Tom passed his test) from Monument Valley - Zion - Bryce Canyon - Salt Lake City - Yellowstone - Lake Tahoe - Yosemite - Big Sur back to LA.

Monday, 5 October 2009

The Hollywood Hills, Sunset Strip and Fresh Prince's house!

Arrived at LAX after a brilliant flight over the Arctic outskirts of Canada, middle of USA and Vegas then into LA whilst sitting next to someone who'd popped 7 Valium (no I haven't driven Tom to prescription drugs just yet). Picked up a white convertible and cruised with the top down through LA and into Hollywood.

We spent yesterday bodyboarding and sunbathing at Paradise Cove, then took the kids for a drive around Bel Air celeb spotting and today we went up to Griffith Park to check out the observatory and Hollywood sign (bigger than I thought it would be).

Setting off for Vegas tomorrow followed by Grand Canyon and various National Parks over the next week...

Friday, 2 October 2009

A rather nice send off

Managed to sneak our way into the executive BA lounge in T5 despite not having a valid exec card! Full of free vino and grub so heading for the departure gate.

Tearful farewells and over-excitement on the National Express east coast line...

After tearful goodbyes on one side of the Pennines with various members of the Cheshire set pleading me not to leave, followed by emotional farewells on the other side of the country, our journey has begun!

The tears have dried, the convertible is waiting at LAX and excitement levels are soaring (some more visibly than others!) meanwhile Tom is still glued to the laptop, no surprise there then!

Looking forward to a glass of bubbly at Heathrow to celebrate our long-awaited departure before crashing out on the 10 hour flight after which three rather excited suedo American kids will be ready to play with us. Hollywood here we come!