We had beautiful views of Patagonia coming into El Calafate with the aqua’Lago Argentino’ and surrounding mountains.
The town was very orderly and neat with many souvenir shops, cafes and restaurants. There were many well fed looking
street dogs lying wherever they liked and none of the shop owners or tourists seemed to mind their presence.

we were looking forward to our 5hour trek on the ‘Perito Moreno’ glacier but that was cancelled at the last minute when they closed all the National Parks and anything that was state run. We ventured in to what looked like a small museum with replicas of dinosaurs but it opened into several more rooms which showcased the history of the area and which had a lot of information on the indigenous groups of the region.

All Patagonia the group who were to take us to the glacier suggested a private 4wd tour to the ‘Lago Argentino’ and dinner in a cave which was a great idea. Six of us (two Brazilians from near Perinopolis, a Chinese girl from Frankfurt and an Englishman) went in a 4wd and enjoyed the views of the lake and the mountains. Our guide then showed us the thousands of years old cave paintings which were fairly faded but still recognisable. One woman owned the land on which they were found and allowed the tour groups to view the paintings and allowed the tour operators to set up basic facilities and the dinner set up in the cave. We then ate a delicious stew served in individual round bread loaves and with Malbec from the Mendoza region.

We had to wait on the bus at the bus station the next morning to hear if we could enter Chile and with luck the full bus was on its way by about 0830am to Puerto Natales in Chilean Patagonia.
The bus went quite slowly (40-60kms) on the good roads because there were many guanaco (smaller than llamas) on both sides of the road. The last few kms to the border was rather bumpy on an unsealed road. We all alighted and lined up at the Argentinian border where our passports were stamped quickly and we were off again. The Chilean border control was much more lengthy with all luggage taken off the bus and a lovely labrador sniffer dog put to work. One back pack was singled out. We were lined up and had to wait about twenty minutes before they started stamping our passports and then we lined up and had our hand luggage xrayed then back on the bus.

There were no more animals all the way to Puerto Natales and the speed limit in Chile increased to 100kms hour for the four hour trip. Most of the houses in Puerto Natale were in poor condition, a few had been renovated and there were many hostels all over town. As we entered our accommodation at Pire Mapu B and B the owners told us that they had had advice that we had to leave the country by Wednesday the 18th March. This was in two days time. We could not get a flight until the 20th and whatever we tried we could not get any device to accept our credit cards. Maurice came to the rescue by contacting the Chilean embassy and Dfat the departments of foreign affairs in Australia who confirmed we could leave the country after the 18th March if we could get a flight out of Santiago. My trusty friend Suzanne a travel agent managed to get us a flight on the 22st March. I then spent 3-4hours cancelling all our hotels and tours of northern Chile and Peru.

We already had a flight booked to Santiago on the 21st as we had been going to fly to Santiago and then on to the Atacama desert so we just would forgo the last bit. It was a stressful afternoon but once sorted we were relieved.
We were to undertake our 22km hike to Torre del Paine but this also was cancelled as well as other tours to the National park. we wandered around town and there were again many well fed street dogs lounging anywhere they liked. We killed the time by sitting in a bar with a couple of cocktails and then had a great king crab meal at a restaurant. It was getting colder as we went south. There were a few souvenir and knitwear shops open so we entered them and walked around town for something to do. We were surprised to find the black necked swans which we didn’t realise existed. They are native to South America.

The bus the following day down to Punta Arenas was a very comfortable one and the three hour journey went quickly. We dozed as it was quite boring scenery for much of the journey and then it started raining so we could see nothing. In Punta Arenas we caught a taxi around the corner to our digs as it was still raining.
We had again booked to go to Tierra del Fuego and to see the Emperor penguins but that also had been cancelled so we again walked around town having a coffee at one of the small bakeries that was open and we had a dog accompany us all over town and to our accommodation. We had another great crab meal at ‘La Marmita’ around the corner as well as great cocktails.

I went to the supermarket across the road to buy some fruit and water and they were only letting in the old and handicapped people and carers. The rest of us waited outside for about half an hour and then once the last lot had left we could go in and shop. I only needed some water and fruit as we had bought a stock of empanadas to have in case the restaurant closed.
We managed through Nini, a lovely lady at our accommodation ‘Innata Patagonia’ to book a private tour along the coast which didn’t venture into the closed national parks. Our last day looked very stormy but it cleared while we were travelling to the Faro San Isidro which is the last lighthouse on the mainland of South America.
From the carpark we walked about 3hours and would have made it to the lighthouse but there was a stream to cross and it was just a bit too wide and we didn’t want to fall into the icy water so we turned back which still gave us a good walk on the loose stones on the coastline. The wind in places was very strong so we chose a dry log and stone on which to have the empanadas that we brought with us. There was a very cute, playful puppy which belonged to the fisherman on holiday from Santiago. He caught two large fish.
We also stopped at a memorial to a Mr Pringle who commanded HMS Beagle on its first voyage of exploration in the south Atlantic. After two years in command of the Beagle, depressed by the harsh winter conditions of the Strait of Magellan, he committed suicide. He was a British cartographer.

There were many water birds along the coast and we saw a little woodpecker. We also saw a large sea lion. Rodgrigo drove us the hour and a half back to Punta Arenas where everything bar the supermarket was closed. We therefore bought some rolls for lunch the following day and ate the other empanadas that we had bought the day before.

Unlike the Argentinian food which I found very bland, the chileans usually provided a hot sauce with a meal.
We were unwinding on our last night in our room and I went to check in for our flight to Santiago when we had a notification that the 930am flight the next day was cancelled. This was a shock. We had to find an alternative flight so as to connect to our flight from Santiago to Sydney. We had had 5weeks of our 10week planned South American trip but we had to cancel the rest because of the Corona virus. The Latam site was not working and no one was answering the phone to make an alternative booking.
We decided to go to the airport straight away and try our luck with a 2am flight. Nini was very helpful and found us a driver and within ten minutes we were packed and ready to go. We got to the airport about 1130pm.

We then found out that all the other Latam flights were full and overbooked. The Latam system seemed antiquated and most of the staff were under a lot of stress from the volume of passengers that they had to shift.
So many countries were closing their borders and the majority of the travellers did not want to get stranded in Chile.
We were told that the 2am flight was overbooked but they would put us on standby for a later flight. That flight came and went and there were still 32 passengers on standby.
Suzanne our trusty travel agent friend in Perth managed to book a later flight but when we went to get our boarding passes the Latam staff said that we were not showing in their system for the flight and were rebooked for a flight which did not connect with our Australian flight.
Back to Suzanne who kindly spent a lot of time tryng to organise a flight for us. We ended up paying for a new flight and were given boarding passes and told to come back before the 10pm flight. We had been up all day and night and were getting rather weary standing in line for most of the day.
One bit of light relief was seeing two grey foxes chasing each other across the car park in front of the airport.
We finally got away at 2145 on a full flight to Santiago. There we caught a taxi to the “City express hotel” which was only 5minutes from the airport and we managed about 4hours sleep before heading back to the airport to check in for our 1335 flight.
My bookclub friend Jan and her boyfriend were on the same flight after having to buy a business class fare from Bogota to Santiago.
The 14 hour flight in the last Qantas 747 to operate on its last flight was smooth and went relatively quickly.
Amazingly we had no health checks in Sydney and Gay was collected by her husband Robert. Gay was staying at home in Sydney and Robert went to their holiday apartment in Kiama on the coast. I went to the domestic terminal for the four hour flight to Perth. Maurice picked me up and we went home. Maurice to spend two weeks living in our campervan and me in self isolation in the house with Barney the cat. We were very relieved to finally reach home with so many flights being cancelled all over the world but were disappointed at not being able to have our last five weeks in South America.

I really enjoyed our five weeks spent in South America and was just glad that we had managed to see the Carneval in Rio, the interesting cities of Salvador, Brasilia and the small town of Pirenopolis and then of course the wonderful Iguazu Falls.
Buenos Aires was also a fascinating city with so much history and our day trip to Colonia in Uruguay was a lovely quaint town.
Patagonia was dramatically different from the northern areas and we were just sorry all our activities in that area were cancelled.
We hope to go back one day.

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Our hotel in Buenos Aires was Boca by Design and was dedicated to their Boca Junior football team. The doors of all the rooms were painted with a player’s picture. It was very different and all the decorations in the hotel were in the clubs blue and yellow colours.

We did a three hour walking tour with William of anglo saxon ancestry. He was born in Buenos Aires and gave us a good insight into the history of Buenos Aires. We had to keep up with him as he talked as he walked a lot of the time. We did a lot of walking – about 15kms during the tour and afterwards. The city is well laid out with a lot in a grid system with many beautiful old mansions of the very wealthy Argentinians who made their money from cattle and grain export. Some mansions have been sold and taken over by the army or navy and others are now hotels but the wealth in the city was incredible.
The ‘Teatro Colon’ opera house had been a former railway station and was due to be demolished until 46very wealthy Argentinian families got together to save and restore the building. The families have seats for life! Nearby is a large Jewish synagogue which was the second largest in the world.
There are many monuments and statues dotted all over the city and a very good pedestrian area which stretches over many streets. The history of Buenos Aires from the British and Spanish years and the battles between some of the South American countries such as Paraguay and Peru and also against the Spanish is fascinating and I knew little of it before coming here. There is a bell tower built by the British which has been renamed a Spanish one and directly opposite in a large park is the memorial to the fallen from the Falkland (Malvinas) war which is guarded around the clock.

There is a very soviet looking building built by a Mr Kavanagh, an Irishman. It has a very interesting history.
An extremely wealthy Buenos Aires catholic matriarch (she had seven sons and five daughters) asked her son to buy a plot of land in front of a church that she had built so that she could view the church from her mansion quite a distance away. Apparently the son was a gambler with an Irish girlfriend Corin Kavanagh and he spent the money which should have procured the land. His mother was not keen on his girlfriend who was protestant.
Corin’s family then purchased the land and erected the large apartment block which is directly in front of the church and as a further snub, Corin had a large penthouse apartment facing Mrs Mercedes Castellanos de Anchorena’s mansion.

There is an obelisk in the centre of the city and a building depicting Eva Peron’s face, smiling on one side of the building and with a serious face on the other side.

We were warned again not to walk around the side streets late at night and to keep to the main streets and we didn’t have any problems. The shops are open until 9pm and there were many people out and about so we didn’t feel at all unsafe and there were a lot of police in pairs dotted around the place. In the pedestrian area there is an empty Harrods store which has been empty for over 40years. It was the only other Harrods shop operating other than the one in London. The hours and days for the museums were peculiar. Some opened at 1200 till 2000. One closed at 1330 and some were closed on Monday, others on Tuesday.

Our guide gave us a lot of information about the buildings in the city and the history of each building. There were only four of us on the free walking tour including a couple from New Zealand. We walked from the ‘Retiro’ suburb to the ‘Recoleta’ where we stopped near the cemetery where Eva Peron is buried. The cemetery is like a museum with so many fancy crypts for the elite of the city. Some look like banks with marble facades. The Franciscan church next to it is the oldest church in Buenos Aires and dated back to the 1700’s.

There are many parks in the city and beautiful “Ceibo’ trees with unusual red flowers which are the national flower of Argentina.

On the 10th March we decided on the hop on hop off bus and we combined this with long walks between a few of the stops. We missed the planetarium which opened at 5pm but found the ‘Rosedal’ Rose gardens where most of the roses were in bloom. There were a lot of geese living in the lake surrounding the beautiful garden.
Buenos Aires has many wide Boulevards and some of them have more than six lane of traffic.
The Ecopark or zoo which we could walk through was a disappointment with a lot of unkempt areas and much of it was under renovation.
Following on from the Ecopark was the Botanical garden which was also unremarkable apart from a lily pond and a quirky statue of pan and other characters.

It poured with rain all day on the 11th March but we managed to walk to catch the hop on bus again which took us to the modern art museum. That was also under restoration but the one floor that was open had some interesting surrealist art by Remedios Varo from Mexico.

I wanted to experience a good Argentinian steak and the day was conducive to a long indoor lunch so we caught a taxi to “Don Juan” where we were given a glass of champagne under an awning while we waited for a table. The road was like a river by this time. We thoroughly enjoyed our steaks and salads and I opted for an Aperol Spritz.

It was still pouring by the time we left so we caught another taxi to the museum which had been a palatial home of the Errazuriz family. The place was only built by 1910 and was one of the most opulent and decorative we had seen. One of the very upmarket malls in the city still had the remains of the cattle and horse market structures which had been well maintained as memory of days gone by. We also had coffee in a cafe dedicated to Juan Fangio and racing car drivers who used to gather there many years ago. We found that a lot of the men were well dressed and a lot wearing jackets.

We had booked to go on a tour of the ‘Teatro Colon’ on the 12th March but when we arrived at the opera house we were told due to the Corona virus all tours were cancelled and we would get a refund.
Instead we took a taxi to a modern art museum which descended a couple of storeys underground.
The historical museum which we visited next was extremely interesting with a lot of ancient indigenous items and pictures depicting military battles especially those headed by General ‘San Martin’an Argentinian hero.
The display of his swords was guarded by a soldier and he was relieved from standing ram rod straight after 2hours by another soldier. It was all very intriguing. It was hot in the museum with no air conditioning so the soldier in full uniform had a fan trained on him while he stood duty.

The tango show that we had booked had not been cancelled but did not start until 2215. The old theatre in which it took place was already quite full of patrons who were having dinner. We opted for show only but were given a front row table and the entrance ticket gave us a couple of empanadas and beer/wine or soft drinks.
It was a lively performance by a troupe of tango dancers and a couple of very energetic gauchos beating drums and cracking whips.

A young couple we spoke to recommended if we wanted a quiet day to take the fast ferry to Uruguay and visit Colonia del Sacramento which was an hour and 15minutes away from Buenos Aires. We took the later ferry at 1230. We completed immigration formalities and spend a lovely afternoon/evening in the quaint town with cobbled streets and vintage cars. We climbed the lighthouse to get a good view of the surrounding area.
The very wide river of ‘Rio de la Plata’ was very brown all the way.

There were many artesenal shops and no shortage of cafes and restaurants in the town which seemed to be a weekend or holiday destination. After an early dinner overlooking the water we departed at 2015 back to Buenos Aires with many hundreds of people on the newish (2016) Colonia Express.
We could pay with either Uruguayan pesos or Argentinian pesos in Colonia but the Uruguayan peso is worth much more than it’s poor Argentinian neighbour’s peso.

We departed interesting Buenos Aires after five days on Latam again to fly the 3hours down to El Calafate in Patagonia.
The Latam crew were the laziest I have ever encountered with no service at all. We had to use the call button to get a glass of water. Their reasoning was to limit their encounter with people due to the Corona virus!

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We landed in Foz de Iguazu on the Brazilian side of the falls. We were staying on the Argentinian side at the Secret Garden which had been recommended to us. We had to clear passport control first in Brazil and then in Argentina. Our small Accommodation had four rooms and a nice garden, a resident Jack Russell named Roxy and a very helpful and pleasant manager Edoardo. He had been a research geneticist for ten years studying various mosquitos. Dengue fever is prevalent in Iguazu so we were keen to learn about it. He gave us a lot of tips about how and when to go to the falls and other things to do.
They provided a nice meal for us which we had booked the day before by what’s app.
The Secret Garden also gave us a complimentary Capirinha cocktails every night and a good breakfast in the mornings.

We started the next day on the Brazilian side with the “Parque Aves” or bird park which was worth seeing with such birds as Toucans, Macaws, Flamingoes and bright red Ibis. The helicopter office and helipad was opposite so we wandered over to find out about a flight. We were lucky to get one quickly and were given a spectacular view of both sides of the falls during the AUD140 ten minute flight. It was worth every penny.

The ticket office for the park which was a bit further along was already busy with tourists but the transition from there to the park was effortless and we were taken by bus and could choose which part of the walkway to follow. We chose the length of the walkway and although crowded at the various viewing platforms the crowds moved along smoothly. There were kiosks and toilets and places to sit along the way so people could stop at various spots. Entrance was about AUD25.
We had been warned not to touch or feed the Qualti or Coati (pronounced quachi) which were very cute tan or black animals with striped tails. They just wandered about the national park but were quite bothersome if you had any food with you.

The amount of water and noise coming from the waterfalls was incredible. People were on the whole polite and waited for their photo opportunities of which there were many. We caught the bus back to the ticket office and waited for our driver Hugo who we booked for the next day to visit the Argentinian side of the falls.

An American couple from Minnesota Maryanne a journalist and her husband Brian an environmental engineer were an interesting couple and we went out to dinner to a restaurant they had tried before and had a nice meal with them. They left the next day and we went off to the Agentinian Falls which took about half an hour.

We were going to take a boat ride which travelled to near the falls however the water was at too low a level for the larger boats on the Argentinian side to operate so after buying our park tickets and we went and got the free tickets for the train to take us to the “Garganta do Diablo” or Devil’s throat at the start of the falls. The small train took about twenty minutes and then about another twenty minutes walk along a very well constructed metal walkway took us out to the viewing platform over the start of the falls. It was a spectacular sight with a lot of spray. We got a bit wet but it was hot and humid so it was quite pleasant.

The train took us to another stop on the way back. We bought a salad and ate it in a caged area with tables and seats presumably to be free of the Coatis or any other wild animal of which we saw none but which were found in the national park.
We continued onto two more trails doing about ten kilometres in total. There were also many viewing platforms along the way. The walkways were well constructed for wheelchair access with ramps as well as stairs for the fitter of us.
I expected to see more wild animals on our walks around two other trails but we only saw a couple of spiderwebs with small spiders and black and yellow birds in a few places other than the cute Coati of which there were many in certain places. Mainly where there was food to be found. They have sharp teeth and can carry rabies so most people kept their distance but a few foolhardy people were patting them and feeding them. We spent a good seven hours there and made the most of all the viewing areas.

A new guest was Olaf a German who lived in Berlin and worked for a Swiss airline out of Zurich – Edelweiss. He too was pleasant so we went with him to the same restaurant as the previous night. The manager greeted us like old friends and we had another nice meal.

Hugo our driver recommended for us to visit a semi-precious stones mine called Wanda after a Polish princess and we were very glad he did. It was about half and hour’s drive and we had a guide show us into the caves where they mine the stones and large crystals. The 32hectares was bought by a family to use for farming but they discovered the stones and they have only mined about four of the hectares so far and it should deep producing for the next hundred years at least. There are ten miners who work from 7am until 12noon every day. There are seven polishers and fifteen people working as tourist guides. It was fascinating to learn how the stones were formed over millions of years and see some in the basalt rock as they were formed. They sometimes encounter water that has been stored for that time within the basalt rocks but which is still clear and fresh. The semi precious stones include amethyst, quartz and agates.

We drove back to the airport on the Argentinian side and flew to Buenos Aires which was only a couple of hours.
I have always wanted to see the Falls from when I was a teenager so it was a wonderful experience for me. Gay enjoyed it too.

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The Uber from the airport on the 1st March to our hotel took us via many ‘Blocos’ or block housing apartments typical of Brasilia city. These blocos form a large square and are open at the base so that anyone can walk through one bloco to the next and they all used to have a newsagent at the corner of the bloco. Everything looked very clean and orderly.
Brasilia became the third capital of Brasil after Rio de Janeiro and Salvador because the president thought it should be in the centre of the country.

Brasilia is shaped like an aeroplane as a homage to Corbusier who was enchanted by aeroplanes and it was created in 1960. The man made lake is enormous and there is a smaller lake in one of their many large parks. The city is filled with green areas and parks.
We discovered that our ‘Camelo’ 3hour Bike tour was just around the corner from our Melia Brasil 21 hotel found in The SHS hotel sector in Quadro 6. It was an adventuresome ride (sans helmets) crossing major and minor roads and through the large park where Duda our guide showed us a couple of native bee hives in a couple of trees. She is an architecture student and enthusiastically showed us the impressive buildings and monuments in the centre of the city. Brasilia is famous for its particular shaped structures and they were an interesting mix from the Don Bosco church and the JK Memorial to the Art Gallery and Congress buildings. The most peculiar was the tall structure which is a pigeon house which was erected for the then presidents wife who requested it. There are pigeons everywhere but not in great numbers.

We covered quite a considerable amount of one side of the city by bike. The architecture was very varied and interesting and showcased Niemeyer and other architects individual works.

From ‘Get your local guides’ we chose Alberto who took us for the day from Brasilia and into the countryside and past the old Spanish frontier. The Corumba waterfall was beautiful and although we could have swum at it’s base we didn’t. The walk to the waterfall and back took about 2hours at a leisurely pace.

We passed many VW Combis which are very popular, given the number used in Brasil for excurions by tour companies as well as transporting goods.

From Corumba we went on the Perinopolis in the Pireneus region (supposedly like the Pyrennes) but not as high. The town is Unesco heritage listed as is the Federal city of Brasilia. The earth in Brasilia was very red like found in the north of Western Australia however it was more a clay consistency. I was not expecting that colour there.

Pirenopolis which sounded more Greek to me but had nothing to do with Greece was a quaint town with many comical looking humans with large colourful masks with horns. These depicted the black people who were not supposed to take part in Carneval many years ago. Instead they made these masks so that they could join in and not be identified. Alberto brought us to an excellent local restaurant where the buffet was excellent with a huge variety of foods to try. The day trip was very worthwhile and it was in great contrast to the city of Brasilia. No new buildings were allowed in the Unesco heritage city so several outer suburbs of high rise buildings were created as satellite towns.

On the 4th march we revisited some of the monuments,museums and galleries on foot and caught a taxi down to the enormous lake where we ate lunch and returned to the Melia Brasil 21 hotel in the business district. we left Brasilia the following morning on the 5th March for the 2hour flight down to Iguazu falls.

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Our transfer in Salvador de Bahia did not arrive so after downloading Uber we ordered one which took us from the airport through a wonderful avenue of bamboo and through the modern part of town which was rather spread out with some high rise buildings and modern metro stations.

We stayed in the lovely heritage Bahiacafe hotel in a main square in the old town owned by a Belgian. Apparently all the hotels in the area were owned by foreigners. Carneval in Salvador is quite different from Carneval in Rio with a street parade and numerous stages with music which were being dismantled the day after we arrived. There were military police on nearly every corner with large guns so we felt very safe with them all nearby. We were advised where we could walk safely and where not to venture so we followed these recommendations. There are over 20,000 police in Salvador. There is a great divide of rich and poor in the state of Bahia as in many other parts of the world but it seems more evident here with young men lying around or just walking around the different areas in the city.

Salvador is an 80% black community with strong African traditions and was the first capital of Brazil. The views of the Atlantic and the many islands was magnificent from up high in the old town. The architecture was a mixture of the more simple Portuguese style as found in Lisbon and many other French and Italian more ornately designed buildings. Many had been beautifully restored and were quite colourful and many others were in a sad state of disrepair. The old town where we stayed was the place to be seen many years ago but sadly it has deteriorated generally. The council is trying to beautify the area again as it is a main tourist hub. It is safe to stay on the main streets and in the squares but we were advised not to stray into certain areas. Everyone suggested that a taxi or Uber was the best option to get around.

The three hour walking tour was a historical one given by a middle aged woman lawyer who was half Brazilian of African descent and half Japanese. She was knowledgeable and gave us the history of Salvador and its many monuments. The old town was quite touristy with many souvenir shops, cafes and restaurants. A main feature was a lift which took us down to the lower town and not far away a funicular to do the same. They both only cost AUD 7cents for a one way trip. The foreshore was not accessible as a major renovation of the grounds in front of the market was underway. In the lower town was the ‘Mercato Modelo’ which had been a food market but which was now a large souvenir market.

We were recommended to go to the new Carneval museum. We were most impressed by it. It was a modern building consisting of several areas; a reading room with views over the bay, two rooms with costumes and 18 different video presentations showing us the Carneval in Salvador from it’s origins in the European Carnevals, the different kinds of music played and the evolving Carneval music of today. A section of Salvador’s Carneval was influenced by many including Gandhi, Bob Marley and the North American Indian tribes and they had thousands of followers.

We made it up to the rooftop terrace at the ‘Casa do Amarelindo’ for sunset and enjoyed a Caipirinha and a Mojito and a cool breeze. It had been hot and humid since we arrived in Salvador. The evenings were balmy and it was very comfortable to sit outside for drinks and dinner. We tried a local dish the following night which consisted of fish in a sauce and a a very thick side dish which consisted of manioc cassava flour. It sat like a brick in our stomachs so after two tries we decided against any more. We found one cafe where we adapted our coffee order so that it was near to how we normally have it. The cafe staff were very accommodating.

After much conflicting advice about a red Salvador tourist bus similar to a hop on hop off, we decided to take it around the city and environs of Salvador. It cost us 70Reals and turned out to be a four hour trip stopping in two places. The first at a museum for “Irma Dulce” a catholic nun who was beatified for for work with the poor similar to Mother Teresa. Her image could be found on everything from keyrings to fridge magnets and bags. The second stop was at Salvadors most famous church Bonfin and its fence was covered with strips of material and which signify an offering so that wishes may be granted. We paid extra for an audio guide which only turned out to be a few English explanations given over speakers on the bus which wasn’t very successful.
We moved on to the business area of the city and then the more affluent high rise areas next to smaller favelas. The earth went from a red colour to the white sand dunes near the ocean. We followed along the beaches back to the Mercato Modelo or large souvenir market where we alighted and made our way to the second floor of the old market to see the sunset which was not great because of too much cloud on the horizon.

We had a free day on the 29th February so we wandered around the shops of Pelourinho and visited a few of the museums and some of the many churches in the area. The ‘Misericordia museum’ was an especially beautiful building which was originally a hospital and a section had very opulent rooms for it’s benefactors overlooking the ocean from all sides. We also visited the museum of ‘Jorge Amado’ a celebrated author and poet.
It was slightly cooler than the previous days and rained lightly for much of the day. We had another local fish meal.

We left at 9am on a private tour with Nelson an Afro Brazilian descended from African Benin. He spoke many languages and was a very interesting tour guide. He was a teacher of an Angolan language as well as English and was writing a book of his ancestry. We went to the outside of a famous Bloco or community centre and walked to a ‘Vodun Zo’ which was in the form of an African village with separate small buildings housing various deities pertaining to that particular ‘Vodun Zo’ There were many tortoises in the grounds as well as some chickens. ‘Condomble’is an Afro Brazilian religious tradition which was a creolization of traditional beliefs brought from West and central Africa by slaves and was started in Salvador. It absorbed elements of Roman catholisism and indigenous American traditions. Practitioners of Candomble believe in a supreme creator called “Oludumare” served by lesser deities called Orishas. These control the destiny of the practitioner and serve as a protector. It does not include the duality of good and evil and each person is required to fulfill their destiny to the fullest, whatever it might be.

We visited a lake on which several sculptures of ‘orishas’ were found and after a good coffee at Mariposa cafe we left for half hour trip to the airport in an Uber for our flight to Brasilia which only took a couple of hours. I enjoyed the mixture of architecture and cultures in Salvador and the vibrant feel to the city.

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The flight from Santiago to Rio de Janeiro on the 26th February gave us spectacular views of the Andes mountains.

We stayed in the strangely named Windsor Florida hotel in the suburb of Flamengo not far from the beach.
There were unremarkable shops in that area but also a couple of good Italian restaurants and a good bakery/cafe nearby.
We met up with the Intrepid group (55 of us) for our Carneval experience. After a meeting giving us the dangerous aspects of Rio we were split into four groups and our guide Leonardo was a good one. A very pleasant and knowledgeable person about Rio and who answered questions willingly. Nothing was too much trouble.

We had an extensive buffet dinner at a local restaurant followed by a samba party at “Scenario” a very crowded and lively samba club where we danced with the enormous crowd who were mostly locals and we tried ‘capirinhas’- white rum with muddled lime with a copious amount of sugar. Very tasty but after a couple the sugar content put us off. The club was on 3 levels with many different areas but most of the crowd gathered and danced in front of the band on the ground floor or on the second level. The decor was very varied with a wall of clocks, a wall of musical instruments and many antiques and lots of bric a brac.
The weather in the evening was warm and during the day it had been hot and humid.

We visited the Corcovado or Christ the Redeemer statue high above Rio which looks deceivingly small from a distance but is quite large when you stand in front of it. I was surprised by the amount of lush vegetation in the city with climbing plants and large trees everywhere. From there we went to the Sugarloaf mountain and I braved the two cable cars, not game to look down.

We were introduced to the metro system by Leonardo who lived in Copacabana and found it easy to use. Six of us boarded the train however Gay was left behind when the person in front was slow to board the train. We alighted at the next stop and after a while Gay caught another train and found us. Leonardo dropped us off at a coffee shop and we made our way to the famous beach which was a bit underwhelming. We had dinner in a side street and found our way easily back to the hotel by metro.

Food – we tried to eat mainly vegetarian fare and we found good salads. The bread was mainly white. The Brazilians usually eat black beans in a sort of stew and with rice at least once a day and we found it quite tasty. Coffee on the other hand was disappointing everywhere. Just not what we are used to in Australia which is machine coffee, quite thick and creamy with milk but in Brazil we were told that most have their coffee black and even with milk it was a thin consistency and pretty bitter. The main downside to being in Rio at Carneval time was the lack of public toilets. Luckily we didn’t have a problem but the overall odour in many areas was not pleasant with so many thousands of people about.

We were taken to a huge ‘bloco’ party on Flamengo beach in the morning where most people dressed in their fantasy outfits, some inventive but most wearing very little. We couldn’t get near the band or dancers and wandered or rather pushed our way through the massive crowd to the beach. There was little dancing except near the band- it seemed to be a chance for friends to get together and drink and smoke. We were surprised at the number of both sexes smoking and we are just not used to that anymore in Australia.

Even with the large crowds, everyone was friendly and polite. There was a happy atmosphere with so many locals on holiday for 5days over Carneval. Gay and I caught the metro to Ipanema where we walked along the beach and saw the start of a large ‘Bloco’ there. For the period of Carneval and for about a month after, the hundreds of ‘blocos’ some small, some large, continue in different parts of the city. While we ate our lunch a group of youths performed their ‘Capoiera’ in the street with booming music which drowned out the solo guitarist in the restaurant. We had been lucky with the weather but walking back to a metro station we both got drenched so retired to the bar in the hotel where we met a friendly young Finnish couple and had the only relatively early night.

When someone spoke Portuguese to me I could get the gist of the conversation and with a mix of Italian and Spanish we got around famously. We had been warned a thousand times before we travelled to Rio about security (and we are both very security conscious anyway) and how dangerous Rio could be. However, with the thousands of tourists around and the locals who attended the various events we felt very safe.

Our first ‘Sambadrome’ experience was on the 23rd February when we left for the venue about 8pm. The metro was crammed with people and we were glad to get off the train or rather get pushed on and off the train. It was about a 15-20minute walk from the Central metro station to the Sambadrome and we were again warned not to use our mobiles or cameras for fear of them being stolen but we didn’t see anything untoward.

We had tickets in Sector 11 which was directly opposite where the judges sat and judged the performances of each Samba school in nine different categories, some being harmony of their voices, costumes, group coordination etc, etc. We were advised to take a cushion to sit on as the stands were concrete but everyone stood for the parades. There was a break of about half an hour between samba schools. They consisted of thousands of performers and they were allocated 70minutes to complete the corridor of the Sambadrome. The songs which were performed with gusto from performers and locals alike were rather monotonous but the amazing spectacle of the parade made it all worthwhile. There were lead dancers followed by thousands of dancers in various costumes who danced behind them. The floats followed which depicted various aspects of life in Brazil, some with a religious theme (the catholics are the main influence in Brazil followed by the Evangelists) and many with a political or social message.

The parade started at 10pm and went through until 6am but we decided to leave in a taxi at 3.15am as there was another “bloco” to attend at 730am the following morning.
The next day we followed our guides to a large park where a “Sargeant Pepper’s Bloco” was taking place. Beatles music Brazilian style which was fun.

Many of our group had bought costumes from the many street stalls and shops which were in abundance in the city. The tour leaders had supplied us with glitter and stick on diamantes. Gay and I purchased modest headgear and wore a few diamantes which sufficed for the duration.

Against recommendations we walked to the historic area of Lapa and the tiled steps of the “Escardaria Selaron” a famous set of steps which connects the bohemian neighbourhoods of Santa Teresa and Lapa which was built by Jorge Selaron a Chilean, a world traveller and ceramic artist.

We had a drink with some of the group that night near the pool at the hotel, made our farewells and Gay and I made our way that night to the Sambadrome again, this time doing it in much less time. The metro was less crowded and although the stands were full the queue to enter was not as long by the time we arrived at 2100.
We enjoyed the music and singing more that the previous night and the floats and dancers and costumes were just as spectacular as the night before. We caught a taxi back to the hotel around midnight as we were up again early the next morning for our 7.30am trip to Ilha Grande an island off the Coast about 2 1/2 hours south. Two girls Aman and Del from London and a couple Nick and Edwina from Birkhamstead joined us. We passed a lot of plains with grazing cattle and the vegetation was very tropical with palms and banana trees on the way to the port

The six of us decided to make the trip despite the thunderstorms that had been predicted but we had the most wonderful weather all day. The bus and boat transfer reminded me of the boat transfers from Lombok and Bali – disorganised with little information and delays. It cost R210 return from the hotel to the port of Conceicao de Jacarei and then by a large boat to the island.
Once on the pretty island with its lush vegetation we decided on a boat trip to the ‘blue lagoon’
All the tour boats had left so for R800 we chartered a boat to take the six of us there. The lagoon was teeming with people swimming, snorkelling and bbq-ing on their boats. After a brief swim we moved on to another less crowded bay. We followed that with a good lunch at another bay before heading back to the pier and waited for the boat to take us back to the mainland. Up to that point it had been a wonderful day trip and what we all needed.

The return trip by bus to Rio was not good. ‘Top transfer’ left a passenger back on the wharf so after 20minutes travelling towards Rio they turned around and picked up the passenger.
We hit horrendous traffic on the return journey which gradually petered out, but it took us about 5hours to get back. We were all exhausted by that time. There were many police cars everywhere in Rio and also on the country roads.

On the 26th February we left Rio’s domestic airport Santos Dumont for a few days in Salvador de Bahia. It was such a contrast going to the airport as the streets were empty with people recovering from Carneval. The flight took about an hour and a half.

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Gay and I flew on Latam on the 16th February from Sydney via Auckland to Santiago which was a 14 hour journey. We had a long wait of over an hour for immigration checks and then were picked up by our driver to take us at breakneck speed to the Novapark hotel in the Paris Londre Barrio in the city.

We were both surprised to see a lot of old multi storey apartments and that section of the city looked quite poor. Being Sunday most of the shops were closed and there was a lot of graffiti everywhere on metal shutters and buildings. Our guide explained had only been there since the 18th October when rolling protests started. Over 357 protesters have either lost their sight or their lives with police firing rubber bullets since that date. They have suspended that practice thank goodness.
Chileans are wanting a new constitution and the country is in a bad way with very poor public education and health system.
Only the wealthy have access to good education, universities and good healthcare.

The main street just a block away from our hotel is called Liberador Bernardo O’Higgins after one of Santiago’s founding fathers.
As with many struggling cities,homeless people and small street stalls with people selling clothes, food and small trinkets are found along the streets in the poorer parts of town. Across the main street in the pedestrian area were more upmarket shops like Saville Row, Calvin Klein and the others such as Sunglasses Hut and H and M.

The architecture is varied with French and English influences and some of the more stylish apartment buildings have Arabic features with outside enclosed balconies called Mashrabiya.

Our first full day was spent finding a good coffee shop and then we embarked on a free three hour walking tour with Vanessa our guide. We started from the visual arts museum, one of the many free museums in the city and it’s cafe served excellent coffee. There are many coffee shops in the city and a particular one the locals call “coffee with legs”. Girls in short dresses serve the coffee but we found it to be quite unpalatable.

Vanessa our guide was a font of information about the political situation and all aspects of Chilean life. There are over 7 million people living in Santiago but the city looks much bigger and is very spread out in a large basin between the mountain ranges. The small Maputo river flows through it. Chile had virtually no rain last winter,no snow therefore no ski season and everywhere looks very dry. There are however many parks which are well kept and watered.
The main park in plaza des Armas is beautiful with big old buildings and churches surrounding it and is a meeting spot for the locals as well as tourists.
A man in a passing car shouted abuse at the guide who was giving us information at the statue of Salvador Allende who was the first democratically elected president of Chile. He was murdered in a military coup in 1973 and Pinochet took over. Opinion is divided and loyalty was either to Allende or to Pinochet. Everyone is wondering about the outcome of the elections for a new constitution and whether it will bring any reform to the country.

After the tour we crossed the canal which had a small amount of brown flowing water and walked up to catch an old and clunky funicular which took us up to a viewpoint on the Cerro San Cristobal where we had a spectacular view of the Andes and the various parts of the city between the mountains. On descent we walked around and found an group of shops, restaurants and cafes on that side of the canal and there we found houses in many various styles and even an alpine looking one.
The shops that had been shut on the Sunday made the area we had seen look much more inviting with their open metal shutters and tables and chairs had been set up outside their establishments. Sunset was at 8.20pm and many people were enjoying themselves outdoors. The weather was perfect with a warm day and evening.
We ate a traditional bean and pumpkin dish and a humitas which was compressed parcel of mashed corn, onion and basil wrapped in corn husks and boiled. We ate “Galindo” in the Barrio Bellavista. We tried a Pisco sour but we both found it a bit sweet as it is made with Pisco 32% alcohol with about a cup of sugar and lemon juice. We retired to the hotel and a very pleasant barman served us another Pisco with tonic which was much nicer.

Our second free tour was a market tour with the following day with the fish market on one side of the canal and several others on the other side with the oldest wholesale market in Chile which remarkably turns over more than 7million US dollars a day.
The markets were a bustling hive of activity, open from 5am to 7pm and the stall holders were a pleasant bunch.

We walked back to our good cafe and then on to “La Chascona” the house of celebrated Nobel Laureate Pablo Neruda, a very quirky and interesting house set on many levels on the side of San Cristobal hill. I didn’t like the thought of another funicular ride so we waited for the small bus which took us up to the cable car and we took that to the the business district and the much more affluent side of the city with large houses, some with pools. We joined the ‘hop on hop off bus’ which cost 33,000 pesos or about AUD60. The infrastructure there was far superior with many upmarket restaurants, a large mall and hundreds of shops. The service stopped at 7pm every evening and the driver took us back to our starting point. We ate at a vegetarian restaurant “El Huerte” which had been recommended to us and which was exceptionally good. It was dark by the time we had finished so caught a taxi back to the hotel. There was a large police presence and they were either on foot, on horse or rode trail bikes in the city

We started the day with a good coffee followed by a visit to the Casa Colonado and the museum of Santiago situated in the Plaza Des Armas. We had booked a tour earlier in the day for a tour of the State Theatre of Santiago and Camila gave six of us a very lively informative tour in Spanish of which I could make out a lot. The theatre was beautiful with European chandeliers and plush red seating which looked rather tired. We visited the President’s box and the several rooms behind it where he can entertain guests and relax.

We retuned to the hill of Santa Lucia to the Indigenous Art market and then back to Casa Colonado to climb several spiral staircases to the tower (which had been closed over lunchtime) where we had a good view of the park and surrounding buildings of Plaza des Armas. We were in a climbing mood so made our way back to the Cerro (hill) Santa Lucia and climbed to the top to have a good view of the city and surrounding mountains.
A Mr MacKenna and his wife were buried on the top of the hill in a mausoleum. He was an Irishman who was fought against the Spanish in Chile and was promoted to commandant general.

After a good vegetarian salad we went back to the hotel and had a last drink with Eduardo at the bar of the Novapark hotel. He told us when we were in Rio to be careful and not look like tourists. A bit difficult. We had a reasonably early night to prepare for out 4am departure to the airport for our flight to Rio. We were looking forward to a good night’s sleep because jetlag for the first couple of nights and someone bashing on our door at 3am didn’t give us much rest.

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We arrived in Hangzhou after a bumpy flight on the 7th april to hot humid weather. The streets and cities in China are pristine compared to those in most of India.
In the seven years since I was there the city has expanded considerably but the beautiful West Lake is a world away and a quiet haven with large parks and trees surrounding the enormous lake. We stayed in a small local ‘MK Inn’ where the bed was very comfortable and the room had all mod cons.
We spent four peaceful days there walking around the lake and taking a trip back to the university to visit a lovely waitress Ting Bing Hong who looked after me seven years before making sure I had a good seat and who always brought me a boiling hot glass of water when I was in the cafeteria.
The inn seemed to be run by a couple of very efficient girls and one of them took us down the road to show us where to catch the bus. We used ‘Wee chat’ to communicate as they had no English. They were nonetheless very helpful.
We purchased a Sim card with much sign language. Again the staff were keen to help us and even showed us down the street to a vegetarian restaurant.
The department store nearby was beautifully appointed and the fruit and vegetables in the basement supermarket were top quality and expensive.
The public transport system was cheap and very efficient and the infrastructure there was excellent.
Nearly all the bikes and scooters in the cities are electric so you have to watch stepping out from the pavement as they are so quiet. Most of the motorbikes and scooters had duvet like covers over the handle bars and down to the base to protect riders from the weather. They looked a bit incongruous.
I would suggest anyone visiting China to take t-bags or leaf tea because it is very expensive to buy a cup around $12-15. Coffee was cheaper but mostly only Starbucks which I don’t like. We did find a lovely little coffee shop in the main tourist area of Hangzhou with real Italian style coffee with a good barista who gave us a good recommendation to a local restaurant near Hefang St. Some of the diners were amazed we were there and a woman who spoke English came up to us and congratulated us for eating at a local place. The food and unlimited tea there was very good.
After a couple of days the weather turned cold which was good to preserve the beautiful Cherry and plum blossoms all around West Lake.
We only saw a handful of foreign tourists but there were many local tourists which was very evident at the music fountain in the evenings at West Lake where thousands would gather to watch the wonderful waving fountains to lovely music.
The weather changed with torrential rain and a change from 29degrees to 13degrees.
Taxis were cheap where a half hour trip only cost $10.
I had purchased tickets on the fast train from Hanghzhou’s east station to Shanghai online and the tickets were waiting for us
at the inn. ‘Real China’ provide a great service. The station is enormous and extremely well organized so that you can only access the platforms from the main concourse about 15minutes before the train is due to depart and passengers are well organized into two groups depending on which carriages you are taking. The system is extremely efficient and easy to find your way.
We arrived at the central station in Shanghai which is a bit daunting as there are so many exits. Edwina (Maurice’s cousin who we were staying with) sent her driver ‘Mr Chen’ who eventually found us. He had very limited English to we communicated with
wee chat which would translate our English into characters and vice versa from him. It worked very well.
Maurice had unfortunately started coughing in Hangzhou but we managed to have a good day’s sightseeing in the old ‘French concession area’ in Puxi and along the Bund in Shanghai with it’s beautiful old buildings before he came down with pneumonia.
That night we caught a taxi from the metro and had great difficulty finding the house as it was dark, I had the main address which was not the gate near the house and the taxi driver was getting very agitated. I jumped out of the car several times to ask the secu
Edwina and her family lived in an Expat gated community in Jinqiao and you could be forgiven for thinking it was in the USA. A US architect had specially been commissioned to make it look like that to make the expats feel at home! There was also an Italian area, a Spanish area and many other nationality areas. Each gate was guarded 24hours a day and gates closed at night.
There were many international schools dotted about the area.
While Maurice was receiving IV antibiotics at the well equipped expat clinic around the corner for three days, I took the metro which is also very efficient and cheap into the city of Pudong opposite the Bund to visit the historical museum in the amazing Pearl Tower and the ‘Aurora’ Porcelain and Jade museum. Edwina and I and a friend of hers also went to the quaint small water town of Yinchang where we again were the only foreign tourists. Edwina knew of a good cafe there owned by a film director who appreciated good coffee.
One of Edwina’s ‘Brits Abroad’ people had organized a walking tour near the Bund so Edwina and I joined that for an interesting three hour walk seeing some of the old dance halls and hotels and from where some of the more infamous drug lords of China lived.
We flew after two weeks in China from Shanghai to Tokyo and took the Tokyo Express from the Airport to Yokohama and the area of Totsuka which took about 1 1/2hours. Craig and Yuko met us for a meal before heading back to their apartment.
Yuko and I went back to Tokyo (about 1/2 hour) and booked all of our Shinkansen (bullet trains) for the week of moving around Japan to see the cherry blossoms and wisteria blooms. We had a delicious ramen meal with her parents at ‘Nagoya’ a very traditional Japanese restaurant. We walked around a lovely park in Yokohama with them and had afternoon tea at their house.
We had a surprise late dinner on the 70th storey of the Landmark hotel with a beautiful night view of Yokohama and Tokyo bay.
The following day we visited Kamakura, Tsurugaoka Hachimangu, a very popular shrine with a lovely peoni garden. We ate in another traditional restaurant specializing in soba noodles.
Maurice who had not yet recovered really from the pneumonia decided that a whirlwind tour of Japan was not on the cards for him so after cancelling the flight and train tickets I ventured off on my own up to Kitakami half way up the main island of Hokkaido. The town itself is quite small and quaint but it’s crowning glory was the very long band of Cherry trees on the opposite side of the river to where I stayed. The trees were in full blossom and a real sight to behold. I caught the 5minute ferry across first thing in the morning so as to wander along the avenue of trees before the masses got there. The following morning I did the same and also climbed the hill behind the trees to see a wonderful folklore village of Michinoku. Climbing up another hill in the village gave me a wonderful view of the cherry trees from that side of the river.
I took the Shinkansen from there in the afternoon up to Hirosaki via Morioka in the far north and stayed at a lovely little local hotel located very close to the train station and in a pedestrian street lined with small cherry blossom trees. I took the bus from the train station to Hirosaki park which was just covered with cherry blossom trees again in full bloom. I spent the day wandering around the park and went up into the castle on precariously steep narrow steps to the top. Although it was cold there were many mostly local tourists picknicking in the park. I stayed until nightfall to see the trees lit up on both sides of the canals in the park which was a spectacular sight. Many thousands of local tourists did the same. I was surprised to see very few foreign tourists. There were many foodstalls selling everything from okonomiyaki to steamed potatoes with butter and a range of roasted chicken, meats and seafood. Known for bonsai, there was a small display in a covered building and I decided to play dress ups again with much help from the photographers. The Japanese tourists found it interesting that a foreigner would dress up in Kimono.
The next day I returned to the park and walked around the town of Hirosaki some of which appeared quite poor. Iwaki mountain which had a cap of snow loomed behind the town even though it was warm and humid that day. I walked back to the hotel and the following morning caught the airport bus to Aomori (known for its apples) airport for the JAL flight via Tokyo Haneda airport down to Fukuoka in the southern island of Kyushu.
After a metro ride from the airport to Hakata station I took the train to Kokura and stayed in the excellent Kokura hotel above the station which was very convenient and I had a lovely view of the vibrant city with it’s many alleyways full of shops and restaurants. Not much English was spoken but a very helpful young man shut his shop to take me to a good very small noodle restaurant down an alleyway. On the way we passed a man famous for taking his many cats for a walk in an adapted pram. A very unusual sight! The soup was delicious so I managed to find the place the following day much to the pleasure of the proprietor who told me in reasonable English that they had been operating for over 30years.
An early morning took me on the 7am train to Yahata station where I caught the free bus to the Kawachi Wisteria gardens about 20minutes away in the hills.
Yuko managed to get me a ticket for the gardens months before but then one must pay more again at the gate dependent on how full the wisteria blooms are. I paid another yen500 about Aud10 on that day.
I was one of the first into the wonderful gardens which comprised of two levels of archways covered with various wisteria as well as a bank of different coloured wisteria along by the entrance and a huge area of wisteria which had been trained up and along a vast framework. There are about 17 different colours of wisteria and they range from single to double varieties. It is planted on the side of a hill and there was a magnificent view of the canopy of wisteria from the top of the hill.
From Kokura a couple of hours on the Shinkansen took me to Hiroshima and then on a local train to Miyajimashina a small town opposite Miyajima island with it’s Heritage listed Itsukushima Shrine. After a night at the Miyajima Coral hotel overlooking the island I took the early morning ferry across before the crowds arrived. Deer roam freely on the island and it is a very quaint touristy place with the lovely shrine and Shinto temple and many cafes,grilled oysters, souvenir shops and restaurants. A helpful man at the tourist office in Miyajimashima recommended for me to walk up to the Buddhist temple of Daisho-in. I was not disappointed. It was a beautiful set of temples in a very tranquil area on the side of a hill. Many small statues of children with knitted or crocheted hats adorn the gardens. Parents who have lost their children take good care of Jizo images, as though they were their lost children.
I was lucky to catch the high speed ferry (45minutes and yen 2000) from Miyajima island to Hiroshima. The possibility of catching the ferry depends on the tides – too low and they can’t travel and too high and the ferry won’t fit under the bridges.
The ferry docks very close to the remains of the Hiroshima Prefecftural Industrial building, a sad remnant of the atomic bomb. I went to the museum but only lasted 5 minutes. There were throngs of foreign tourists, many American lined up to see the horrific photos of the aftermath of the bomb. I couldn’t get out of there fast enough so decided on the hop off hop on bus. I got off and asked a man walking a dog (decided he would be local) where I could get a good Okonomiyaki for lunch. He pointed me in the direction of a couple of them and I chose a small one which was extremely busy and the food was delicious even though there was a long wait. Back to the vast station to pick up my bags from a locker and then take the Shinkansen Mizumo (an especially fast train) to Nagoya where I met up with Maurice and Yuko’s parents who accompanied him from Yokohama. They took us to a wonderful restaurant overlooking the impressive Nagoya castle set amongst a vast area of forest.
Although Yuko’s parents speak virtually no English we managed to communicate very well.
Craig and Yuko arrived the next morning with a hire vehicle and we set off for Tenagawa park, another Wisteria viewing point near a lake. The wisteria were another stunning display along a canal with particular double blooms. We enjoyed special macha tea and mochi (sticky rice balls filled with bean paste and decorated with a wisteria flower). We drove to Nagoya castle where Yuko and I walked around and saw many people lined up to have a photo with the written symbol of the new Japanese era of Reiwa. We happened to be there with the abdication of the last emperor and the installation (their word) of the new emperor. We ate in a park restaurant where many of the women were dressed in Kimono for the special day before all catching the Shinkansen back to
Yokohama where we farewelled Kazuo and Yoko. Craig had left his car at the station so we set off for the Ashikaga Flower park on the other side of Tokyo (about 1 1/2 hours away). As we neared the park about 8.30pm we saw a terrific traffic jam with thousands of cars entering and leaving the park. Craig dropped Yuko and me so we could walk in and see the park lit up before it closed at 9.30pm. We walked to the train nearby and went to a neighbouring town where we had a late dinner at a typical bar/restaurant (the only think open) with many merry Japanese having a good time.
We found the hotel and Maurice and Craig and the next morning we took the train (1stop) back to the flower park to see the absolutely stunning displays of every kind of flower in bloom. There were many thousands of local tourists enjoying the park which was well supplied with eating spots, chairs and tables. After a couple of hours we continued into the mountains to a wonderful old Onsen hotel where we enjoyed the thermal waters and had a fantastic long dinner with many courses including abalone, West Australian Steak and a great assortment of other food. We experienced the only rain that we had had in almost a
month and it was very foggy so we made our way back to Totsuka and packed, ready for our flight the next day to Singapore via Bangkok. I went to see the new ‘Jewel’ at Singapore airport which is an enormous five storey structure in between the Terminals with an amazing vertical waterfall amongst beautiful vegetation and five storeys of shops, cafes and restaurants.
A few noteworthy points in Japan: An extremely organized country with very polite people. Not many of the older generation speak English but are very helpful. There are many public toilets but very thin toilet paper and many benches on which to rest all over the country however very few rubbish bins. They have a policy of taking your own rubbish home to be recycled which was a bit inconvenient as I carried rubbish around for a long time before I eventually found a bin. Good to know in advance. There is far too much plastic used with many food items double or triple wrapped. Every packet opens easily unlike many at home.
The JR rail pass is expensive but very easy to use and many local trains and a few ferries are included in the price and the Trains in a station are easy to find with very good signage and explanations in English once you are on the train.
The signs are a mixture of English and American – with Elevators but lavatories and toilets not bathrooms. Most toilet seats are heated and some padded which made the ones at home look primitive. The only perplexing thing if you don’t read characters is where to stand on the platform for an approaching train as they only stop for about a minute so if you cannot find your carriage you need to walk through many carriages when the train has left the station. This luckily only happened to me once. There is no checking of your ticket once on the train and the conductors who seem to walk continuously up and down the train bow on entering and departing each carriage.
The train stations in China were enormous and also extremely well organized.
I would recommend a trip to China and Japan in early April if you want to experience the amazing displays of cherry blossoms, wisteria, rhododendrons and other flowers.

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We took the old military road up to Stepansminda which was a wonderful three hour’s drive through beautiful mountain scenery. It was a cold 8degrees when we got there but slightly warmer on top of the mountain which we had to reach by 4WD on a rough track as the asphalt road was being fixed. We used google to communicate with the driver who again only spoke Russian and Georgian.
He only charged us about $60 for the whole day trip and stopped along the way for me to take photos.
We made our way back to Mtkheta for the night before returning to Tbilisi on the 7th October for our last night in Georgia. I took the metro and ventured into the city that afternoon to witness the festival of Tbilisoba in which troops of children from various regions came to perform in Rika park and girls made flower hair garlands for 5lari – about $2.50. There was wine and cheese tasting and many local products and from the regions for sale all over the old town.I got a picture of the glass presidential palace overlooking Tbilisi. Not satisfied with a traditional palace he built a very expensive and vast glass structure. We stayed in the beautiful old district of Marjanishvili and had a typical Georgian meal that night before Nikoloz who insisted on taking us to the airport arrived the next morning. We were sorry to leave this beautiful and interesting country with so many kind people.

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We left for Gori on the 4th October and a trip which normally took 1 1/2hours we managed in less than an hour with
a driver who did his best to try and kill us. I have never been nervous driving in India but he was flying along
in his old car at 140kms and although a good driver at that speed anything could happen. He didn’t really listen
to Maurice’s requests to slow down. We stayed at a guesthouse – Gogi Davashvilis wine cellar – They made only organic wine in special qvevri – clay containers placed under the ground and the wine is without any preservatives or sulphites.
We were joined at the guesthouse by two lovely Polish girls who were on a short holiday from Warsaw and we all had a good time together.
Tengo Gogi’s son showed us the process of making the wine in their wine cellar, just off the dining room.
It was fascinating to see the old methods that were still used and as a 30 year old man he has now dedicated
himself to producing organic wine. His father apart from running the guesthouse keeps bees and 18hives were brought down from the mountains for the winter while we were there.
We took a Maxim taxi the 6kms into Gori town to see the Stalin museum, his train carriage and replica of his house,
all situated in a lovely park. I found a good cafe and we then went to the ethnographic museum.
We had a very lively evening of wine tasting, dinner and more wine and a lot of laughs. At least Maurice could also enjoy some of the pure wine.

The other attraction apart from the Stalin museum was the cave city of Uplitsikhe which the four of us visited with
Tengo however we had a very gusty strong wind while climbing up to the caves which was a bit challenging. It was a
totally different set up to Vardzia but also very interesting with an Orthodox church built at the top of the caves which date from the 7th century.
We were dropped back in town at Cafe 22 and the girls continued to Mtskheta an hour away with Tengo who had recommended a wonderful restaurant to us called ‘Shindagori’ which sounded more Japanese to me but which meant home of Gori and which served delicious Georgian food.
I had wanted to see some Georgian dancing and luckily Tengo who was a Georgian dancer taught at the school which Stalin had attended. In the new sports hall he taught traditional Georgian dancing and it was a privilege to
see these girls and boys who were very enthusiastic about their dancing and some had only just started a few weeks before.
Tango and a girl who had been dancing for 8years gave us a display of a wedding dance. It was nice to see the
traditions of many years being upheld. The lovely boys and girls each shook our hands when they left and a couple
of them introduced themselves in their basic English. We were very touched by it.

One of Tengo’s friends too us on the hour’s trip to Mtskheta from Gori. It was also only about an hour from Tbilisi. We had arranged to meet Nikoloz, one of our previous drivers who was to take us up to Stefansminda to see Mt Kasbeg. We checked into our hotel and the old grandfather who greeted us spoke only Russian and Georgian. Nikoloz rang us and said that he was in Mtskheta and that his car was broken. I took this to mean that it had broken down but it was indeed broken. In the old part of town where we stayed there were many streets blocked off
with bollards and only the residents had the required card to lower them. Unfortunately one lot of these were down when Nikoloz drove in to pick us up and all of a sudden his car was lifted and the bollard had gone through the sump, the oil pump and the pan on the automatic transmission and broke the engine mountings. We were going nowhere with him and he was also going nowhere. We wanted to find him and a very kind local who had been fishing and who spoke excellent English came with us in the taxi to find Nikoloz. We were lucky to find this man later that night and gave him a bottle of wine. Such kindness.
There were no signs to advise of these bollards and a local told him that many cars who were unaware of them had also done a lot of damage to their cars. The dear man was only concerned that we were let down and insisted on finding another driver for us before his friend came and sorted his car out.
Any other time we would have just delayed the trip but it was a beautiful day and we were goingn on to Tbilisi the next day so we left with a substitute driver and kept in touch with Nikoloz while he had his car repaired which he managed over the next day.

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