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Homeward bound

Our flight left Singapore a little later than scheduled at 11.30pm, and the girls did well to stay up that late without getting silly or grumpy. We were seated in the next to last row (they don’t even have overhead lockers that far back) and although this is supposed to be a particularly safe place to sit, there was so much fishtailing during the flight – the rear end of the 747 oscillating from side to side.

We had our late supper of chicken or pork and then we settled down to watch a film or a TV compilation. Hannah kept going until three in the morning with a selection of Disney Channel programmes and Ellen opted for a Barbie film before crashing out somewhat earlier.

I chose David Cameron’s Avatar, with all those heroic True Blue warriors, the To’ri… [some mistake, surely?] Then I too snatched a few hours of fitful rest, roused from my sleep in some deep pocket of the night by two French passengers conversing loudly in the aisle to my left. I caught them saying something to the effect that “we’ve woken that gentleman; we’re making too much noise” before I foggily grumbled “Y a des enfants qui dorment”.

Breakfast was served at 4am, or was it 11am? The dawn-tinged sky tells one story, your body clock and stomach another. Neither Ellen nor Hannah had much of an appetite, but we did our best with a pastry, a roll, a lilliputian fruit salad and a bowl of cereal. Incidentally, what a waste to provide a 200ml milk bottle per passenger when the cereal requires perhaps one third of that quantity. That’s roughly 100kg of milk on board, most of which is discarded (and surely they don’t even reuse the unopened but now warmed bottles).

We landed at Heathrow pretty well on time at 5.30am. Being at the back of the aircraft we were among the last off – they didn’t use the rear exit – but then we breezed through customs once we had our bags. Sure enough, there was Grandad waiting to meet us; we pushed the trolley to the carpark, loaded the boot and headed home down the M4.

Hannah wasn’t feeling too great (the lack of sleep, fishtailing, etc.) so we stopped for a break at a service station before completing the journey back to Marlborough. Immediate impressions of England? The green countryside, but not that tropical ricefield green; a more pastel, chalky colour than we were used to. Also the fresh, scented air keeping us comfortably cool (on what was supposed to be the hottest day of the year here); there’s a lot to be said for a temperate climate.

My parents welcomed us back with hugs, a banner over the front door and another RTW cake, this time with a smaller Planet Earth in the centre to reflect our travels shrinking the world for us, and the day continued with many more of those delicious treats we had been dreaming about for months.
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We walked down into town to get some fresh air and to get a few essential items of clothing for the girls; we had forgotten that our shops have such variety and quality of stock.

Back in the house there was a stack of ten months’ redirected mail waiting to be sorted. Magazines, catalogues, bank statements, Christmas cards from friends who forgot that we were away, replacement credit cards. Also the excitement of opening the parcels we had sent home from the USA, from New Zealand, from Australia – blasts from the past such as the girls’ horseshoes from the Vermont stables, Hannah’s first diary, our cushion covers from Lake Titicaca, as well as all our souvenir tickets and leaflets.

The girls eagerly settled into their newly-decorated and furnished bedroom, Hannah lost no time in getting her violin out and playing it (just as she had promised she would do) and Ellen found a stack of books to speed-read her way through. They also loved running around in the garden; it has been too hot to play outside for the last three months of our trip.
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After supper we didn’t have the stamina to stay up much longer; we got the girls to bed and we followed soon after (I was falling asleep on the sofa). At last, the longed-for luxury of a good night’s sleep!

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Kit review

Now we have completed our trip, we are in a position to give our verdict on the items we lugged around the globe. What was vital, what was used only once or twice, what was a complete waste of space.

Couldn’t do without:

  • Osprey Waypoint 60 and Deuter Junior 16 backpacks – they’re tough and they’ve survived 20 flights and numerous bus journeys with scarcely a mark.
  • Jagbag Mummy sheet sleeping bags – not just for camping, but for linenless cabins in Australia.
  • Eagle Creek Pack-it Cubes – these are just so brilliant! They kept everything organised in our rucksacks; not just clothes but first aid stuff, all the small bits and bobs, chargers and cables.
  • Digital cameras – we took over 15,000 photos and backed up regularly onto memory sticks and portable hard drives (two backups minimum, just in case). The girls enjoyed having their own cameras and certainly came up with some novel shots and video clips…
  • Video camera – mostly used for filming animals, cultural performances, the girls. The high optical zoom also let us take better close-ups than the other cameras would allow.
  • Netbook (eee pc) – our lifeline for blogging, researching, emailing, booking ahead, checking weather, Skyping, online banking, backing up photos and so much more. However, the small C Drive filled up a few times (causing the machine to grind to a halt) and it was a hassle clearing space on it.
  • Zen mp3 video and music players – saved the girls from so many boring car or plane journeys, although their reliance on the Zens probably dwindled as the trip progressed.
  • TomTom SatNav – saved us so much bother when driving in the USA, New Zealand and Australia (over half our time away). A lot cheaper to bring your own than to rent with the vehicle.
  • SDHC compatible devices (all of the above) – memory cards are resilient and don’t fail at high altitudes. We backed up regularly to hard drives and to Flickr just in case, though.
  • Mains outlet adaptors – we took two varieties; the European round pin type and the adjustable US/Australian flat pin type (parallel or slanting). Do your research before you leave; there are other standards in use around the world.
  • Online backups/copies – we had our immunisation records and counterpart driving licences stolen, but I had scanned copies stored online.
  • Head torches – vital for night walks (jungle, Machu Picchu), as a bedside torch or simply to allow the adults to read after lights-out when sharing a room with the girls. Our original Ebay ones soon disintegrated and we replaced them in Cusco.
  • Dry bags – for storing wet clothes, keeping the rain off electronics, going kayaking, keeping clothes dry in the humid jungle.
  • Stuff sacks – for dirty laundry, grouping head torches, storing mosquito head-nets.
  • Penknife – opening cans of food, removing bottle-tops.
  • Travel sewing kit – there are bound to be buttons that come loose, etc.
  • Ziplock (resealable) bags – we had to buy more, they were so useful for storing coffee, sweets, teabags, small souvenirs and so on.
  • Diamox tablets (for altitude sickness) – as it turns out we didn’t need them, but we saw other people who were badly affected by the altitude and we were glad to have the tablets with us.
  • Malarone tablets (antimalarial) – although we didn’t venture into any areas with recent reported cases of malaria, we took them for safety during our longhouse stay in Borneo. We had no side effects (they’re not nearly as bad as with Lariam, anyway). No point taking chances, especially with children.
  • Plasters, Ibuprofen, thermometer, Imodium – we had far more in our first aid kit, but these items had the most use.
  • DEET mosquito repellent, Soov gel for bites – we ran into mozzies in many parts of the world.
  • Spare glasses – I nearly lost mine at a water park; my main pair has go so scuffed and scratched that I shall switch to the spare pair immediately on my return.
  • Multiple credit/debit cards – we took seven cards between us and there were a few times when only one of these would work. The ATM on Easter Island requires Mastercard (no Visa), we had big problems in Australia with rejected cards, and online banks (Smile especially) were not always helpful in resolving the situation. The FairFX pre-loaded Mastercard was our most reliable option; it is the only card never to let us down during the trip, although we used it less frequently after South America because of the double currency conversion – sterling to US dollars to local currency. (I think they now have an ‘anywhere’ card which might be a better option for the world traveller.)
  • Four changes of clothing – although some go with ‘1 to wear, 1 spare and 1 in the wash’, the fourth change of shirt/underwear gave us more breathing space, especially on side trips (such as the jungle) where the humidity precluded rapid drying.
  • Layered clothing – thermal vest, shirt, microfleece, heavy fleece jacket and breathable rain jacket. Thermal long johns, trousers, waterproof overtrousers. This combination saw us comfortably through the Andes and through our Tasmanian camping trip. We then jettisoned the thermals and the outer fleece once we reached the Red Centre and South East Asia (we didn’t need the microfleece, either).
  • UV tops – we bought these in New Zealand for the girls; essential, given the amount of time they spent swimming on sunny days.
  • Dual-compartment 2-litre clip-top box – for storing biscuits, coffee, etc. so that the ants don’t get in. We bought this in Australia out of necessity…
  • Pocket-sized notebook and biro – indispensable for keeping essential bits of information to hand (flight details, hotel addresses, notes for the day’s blog entry, shopping lists, bank balances, to-do lists, sketch maps)
  • Blu-tack, sticky tape, coloured pens – essential for the girls’ games and craft activities (e.g. setting out their own museum displays)
  • Scissors – likewise. Just don’t leave them in your hand luggage like we did…
  • Plastic film canisters – great for storing leftover/souvenir coins.
  • Nylon cord – for improvising a washing line. Much more adaptable than those twisted cords with suckers on either end; you can string up any length you like and it won’t fall down.
  • Universal sink plug – we didn’t often need it, but it came to the rescue enough times to justify its place.
  • Vegetable peeler and cheese grater – we bought these en route to help us prepare our own meals. Much self-catering accommodation is not fully equipped with such utensils.
  • Sporks – can’t start a fire without one… But seriously, these combined knife/fork/spoon gizmos are ever so handy for a quick and cheap cereal breakfast or noodle lunch or sandwich supper in your hotel room (in combination with a cheap plastic bowl or plate).
  • Sense of humour and sense of perspective

Optional:

  • Lifeventure microfibre travel towels. They’re certainly compact, but we preferred the luxury of big fluffy towels from Australia onwards (we carried them in the coolbag we bought in New Zealand). But if you’re pushed for space, they’re worth having.
  • Palm TX PDA + keyboard – a second device for blogging, handy if you wish to travel light (Inca Trail and jungle trip). But you could use a notebook and pen instead.
  • Gorillapod camera tripod – it got stolen in Bolivia, but we had never used it up to that point. Might be useful for the serious photographer to avoid camera shake.
  • Earplugs – some people find them worthwhile, but we didn’t get on with them at all (although we were greatly in need of them at times).
  • Emergency whistles – though we never got ourselves into situations where they might be necessary.

Don’t bother:

  • Aquapure Traveller water purification bottles – a great idea in principle, but we never used them. Bottled water is available just about everywhere you go.
  • Platypus 1 litre water bottles – ditto, never used them. Once we had our Peruvian bottle holders it was simpler to carry 500ml water bottles instead.
  • Solar charger – it wasn’t very effective, and we were never away from an AC outlet for that long anyway.
  • Plastic gadget for securing doors – never used it, it never seemed to fit the weird assortment of doors you find in other countries, and most doors can be locked or wedged from the inside anyway.
  • Spare passport photos – never needed them. But it depends on your itinerary; visas for certain other countries might require them.
  • Travel Nation – although well reviewed as RTW ticket specialists, we were disappointed in our dealings with them. ‘Unhelpful’ and ‘patronising’ are some of the politer words that come to mind (see our blog entries).

Here we are, at the end of our trip, back in familiar surroundings and able to see friends and family again.

I have been through several emotional rollercoasters regarding our journey. 

Before our departure there were times when I couldn’t find the enthusiasm to get excited, mainly as I was worried about my parents’ health, I wasn’t sure how we would cope being together 24/7 and what the girls would make of the constant changes.

I should not have worried about any of it.  Both my parents are doing really well, I love having my family around me all the time and the girls – well, what can I say.  They have been real troopers, taking everything from overnight coaches to long treks and different weather conditions in their stride.

A good seven months into the trip I started to really miss my friends and family a lot and would have given my right arm for a Concorde flight (or any other fast means of transport) back home for a quick cup of coffee and a hug, before carrying on with our journey.  But there was no way I would have wanted to cut our trip short, though.

During the last week I was in two minds: I desperately wanted to see everybody back at home, but at the same time did not want to lose that special feeling of “togetherness”.  Our family has always been quite close, but Tim and I have grown even closer and the girls are true friends and have mastered the art of sharing and compromising very well.  I’m sure these are qualities they’ll find useful in life.

One question I’m sure people will ask us is which place we liked best.  I know it’s a fair question, but a very difficult one to answer.  It’s almost like asking me which one of my children I love more.  [Just for the record – my daughters have very different personalities, but I love them equally!]

And the same goes for all the places we visited.  They are all different, but we always found reasons for liking every place we stayed at or visited (with Singapore being the only exception).  These reasons could be the comfortable accommodation, the delicious food, the sheer beauty of the place or simply the kindness of the people we met.

Some places that stand out, though, are:

  • the USA for giving us the feeling of being on holiday, enjoying each other’s company and getting used to being together day in day out
  • Amish country for its gastronomic feasts, peacefulness, beauty and calm
  • Arequipa for Ellen’s birthday and the huge ice cream we had for her birthday lunch
  • Cuzco for the kind and honest people in our local supermarket and the many interesting excursions we made to Inca sites, the jungle and the condors
  • the island of Amantani in Lake Titicaca, Ana Ruth and her children who welcomed us in their home and looked after us
  • the children we visited at their school in Atuncolla who were simply grateful to be able to attend school and were extremely keen learners, desperate to improve their future lives
  • Copacabana, Bolivia for the yummy, scrummy chocolate fondue
  • San Pedro de Atacama, Chile, for simply being a fun place to be and the amazing starry nights
  • Easter Island for its beauty and extremely tasty tuna burgers we ate at a road stall
  • Tahiti for its beautiful sealife and delicious chocolate spread on baguettes for breakfast
  • New Zealand for being able to spend Christmas and New Year with grandparents
  • Abel Tasman National Park for spending my special birthday on the beach
  • Tasmania for its campsites and other travellers we met and the sheer beauty of the island
  • Uluru for its magic feeling
  • Melaka for giving us a wonderful first taste of Malaysia and for Chinatown in Jonker Street
  • the Cameron Highlands for seeing the Rafflesia flower after a very difficult and exhausting climb
  • Borneo for its wildlife and Hannah’s birthday in a tree house and Tim’s birthday spent snorkelling
  • the north of Bali for being able to relax and snorkel and admire the beautiful ricefields
  • numerous places all over the world for its warm and colourful sunsets and sunrises

I can truly say that we all had an amazing time and I will be forever grateful to Tim for taking us to see the world and for being so persistent with the blog.  I’m also very proud of our two girls who pushed their own physical and mental boundaries and have grown up a lot over the last ten months.

Would I want to do it again?  Yes, but maybe for a shorter time and only if my three special travel companions can be there too!

Starbucks and Subway

A fragmented but adequate night’s sleep in Singapore; no parties into the early hours, although when I popped to the loo at 2am there was a group of Chinese girls sitting around in the kitchen – fortunately a fair distance away from our 7 square metres of room. We were awake around 7am and our efforts to have an enforced lie-in came to nothing; once Ellen is awake and in a silly mood, that’s it…
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We explored the local breakfast options, eventually settling on Starbucks. Not our usual choice, but it did the job this morning; the breakfast deals took the edge off the premium prices and we enjoyed a freshly-baked roll, a fruit ciabatta and a couple of Belgian waffles along with a banana and a small bunch of grapes – oh, and a hard-boiled egg. We lingered as long as we could, browsing magazines and relaxing on the comfy chairs.

We then returned to our room via a supermarket to stock up with drinks and snacks to see us through 12 hours at the airport. Half an hour lying down on our beds (the last opportunity for horizontal rest until we reach England), though Ellen was wriggly and Hannah wanted to sketch fashion designs – we did our best to explain that it would be nearly midnight by the time we got on the plane, and they’d be begging to rest by then.

The hostel staff kindly let us keep our bags in the room beyond the noon checkout deadline so we could nip out and get some lunch (at a German bakery called Werner’s). Just after 1pm we hit the street to catch a taxi, but the man at Reception then followed us out to explain that all the taxi drivers were on their way to have their lunchtime break (that’s why they wouldn’t stop for me) so he phoned for one instead.

While we waited, he explained that in Singapore no-one would ever take their children out of school for a year, even to travel the world; there is too much pressure to achieve top grades, to excel academically.

It was a quick 15-minute trip to Terminal 1 where we were able to check in for our flight a full 10 hours early at a special desk. Excellent! No waiting in line, our pick of the seats (we have a block of four, as we wished) and no heavy bags to cart around. Meanwhile the standard Qantas desks grew clogged and snaking queues.

So, what to do for the next 0.417 of a day? We took an escalator upstairs to a section undergoing refurbishment; it held no attraction but for empty seats to sit on and acres of clear floor space for the girls to run around on. We installed ourselves, snacked and played tag on the tiled floor – the strips of darker tiles made suitable bases, and there was no-one around to annoy or collide with.

Just after tea time we decided to move through to the Departure Lounge. We assumed we’d have to leave our drinks behind (and duly binned them) but there was no check at all, despite the big prohibition signs and rows of officials. One of the most extensive airport shopping complexes I have ever seen (is this why Singapore gets voted the world’s best airport?) with a food court upstairs.

We sat in front of a row of three shops: a sweet shop, a toy shop and a bookstore. It made me slightly sad that the girls expressed not a flicker of interest in the first two – have we been such ogres that they are resigned to the realisation that there’s no chance of making an impulse purchase in either? Anyway, we looked in the bookshop where Hannah and Kirsten bought magazines and Ellen later got a Madagascar book.

The girls spotted a sign for Subway, so that was supper sorted – we haven’t been to one since our first stay in Singapore. A Taiwanese family was fascinated by our extended travels – photos all round as we shared our 12-inch honey oatmeal tuna salad baguette.
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Now for the last four hours of waiting…

Tim’s top twenty

These are just some of the moments, good and bad, that come to mind as we finish the trip. And no, I can’t count.

  • Finding (and leaving) our first perfect beach at Manomet, Plymouth
  • Ellen riding a bike for the first time on the farm in Pennsylvania
  • Our Amish lunch and buggy ride
  • Riding the luge with Hannah in Vermont
  • Free blueberry pie at Union Fair
  • Seeing the Flying Wallendas in action
  • An extra breakfast at Moody’s Diner
  • Seeing the curl of Cape Cod from the air
  • The culture shock of the taxi ride from the airport to our hotel through the slums of Arequipa
  • Struggling to walk and to breathe 16,000 feet up in the Andes – windswept pebble cairns
  • Watching condors glide over the Colca Canyon
  • The rich terracotta and blue of Santa Catalina Convent, Arequipa
  • Everything about the four-day Inca Trail, especially the utter tranquillity of Winay Wayna
  • Sitting out in our local square in Cusco, uploading the latest blog entry
  • The electric fizzing of the Amazon jungle at night
  • Sunrise over the Madre de Dios river
  • The dreadful Hotel Presidente, Puno – cramped and noisy right through the night
  • The home stay on Amantani, Lake Titicaca – the clarity of the night sky, the fresh munya tea
  • Visiting the agricultural school at Atuncolla, Puno – the maturity and determination of its students
  • Leading stubborn alpacas out to pasture, Puno
  • The hair-raising bus trip across the Peru-Bolivia border – piles of rocks in the road
  • Staying at La Cupula, Copacabana – sheep grazing our lawn, the chocolate fondue
  • The halo around the sun on Isla del Sol, Titicaca
  • Floating the bus across the water, Copacabana to La Paz
  • Lunatic taxis in La Paz – driving as a contact sport
  • ‘I can’t believe this is our hotel – it’s so posh’ in La Paz
  • Dinosaur footprints up the cliff
  • Shop assistants giggling good-naturedly at my fumbling Spanish
  • Hannah learning her times tables in the courtyard of our Sucre hostal
  • Being burgled in Potosi
  • The claustrophobic silver mines – and the fact we went in at all!
  • Delicious Minuteman pizzas and pancakes in Uyuni
  • The blinding salt flats of Uyuni, the freezing second night of our tour, the hellish bubbling geothermal landscape and the ice-and-fire hot springs
  • The sun-bleached town of San Pedro de Atacama and the barren landscape surrounding it – sliding down the dunes
  • The entertaining introduction to the night sky by Alain Maury, who builds his own automated telescopes and serves hot chocolate at midnight
  • The surreal Hotel Dali in Santiago where they wake you up at midnight to ask about breakfast
  • The remoteness of Easter Island and its enigmatic Moai
  • The spectacular coral and fish just off Tahiti
  • The nauseating glass-bottomed boat ride near Wairoa
  • Digging a pool on Hot Water Beach; playing Monopoly in our bach on a rainy day
  • Summer Christmas at Motueka with my parents – Frisbee and football with the girls
  • Those remarkable musical tuis
  • Complete astonishment at bumping into Chrislyn, Rory and Nora in Queenstown
  • Our Milford Sound overnight drenching
  • Watching the Yellow-eyed Penguins come ashore at dusk
  • Seeing Sydney Opera House and the Harbour Bridge
  • The deluge in the Blue Mountains – huddling for days in a campground cabin
  • The pain of Ellen’s jellyfish encounter – and our helplessness
  • Raymond Island with its wild koalas and kangaroos
  • Our ‘holiday within a holiday’ camping in Tasmania
  • The privilege of visiting Uluru
  • Riding camels at sunset in the Outback – so peaceful
  • Utter outrage at the thoughtless behaviour of our fellow guests at the noisy Youth Hostel in Singapore – having to move rooms three times in 24 hours
  • Getting to Wild Wild Wet just as a thunderstorm closed it down for the day
  • The sensory overload of the Chinese night market in Melaka
  • Losing Hannah’s Peruvian bottle-holder on the bus from Singapore
  • Strawberries and tea in the cool of the Cameron Highlands
  • The three-hour foot-mangling trek to see the Rafflesia flower
  • Unexpected boredom on Pangkor Island
  • The food courts of Georgetown – such choice, and so tasty!
  • The treehouse at Permai Resort near Kuching
  • Getting close to orang-utans in the forest
  • Our Sarawak longhouse stay – my guide getting lost; fresh sugar cane to chew; secluded cooling waterfalls; the fascinating village tour and concert
  • The soulless concrete of KK
  • Bali battles – overcharging, dishonesty, rats in the room, pestering touts, mercenary drivers – just treat us with respect!
  • Unsuccessfully weaving bamboo-leaf baskets for rice at Taman Harum
  • The white and yellow explosion of Kuningan at Mas temple
  • The temporary respite of Amed’s tranquillity
  • Seeing the first rays of dawn diverge and reconverge from an outrigger fishing boat
  • Stumbling upon a top-spinning contest near the Giant Tree, Gesing

Did you miss anything or anyone on your travels?

Ellen: Waffle (cuddly dog) and my friends
Hannah: Best friend Olivia and my little blue nose friends

What was your favourite food?

Ellen: Chicken and chips in South America
Hannah: Christmas lunch of roast chicken (NZ) and the tender pork chops in Cuzco

What was your favourite drink?

Ellen: Banana milkshake
Hannah: Inka Cola

What was your favourite animal?

Ellen: Camels
Hannah: Llamas and Alpacas

What was your favourite place?

Ellen: Pangkor Island (Malaysia), because it had a boat-shaped swimming pool and I learned to put my face in the water and start swimming
Hannah: Basaga Hotel (Borneo) because of the very comfortable beds and everything apart from the beds at the longhouse stay (Borneo)

Since you both like swimming, which was your most favourite swimming pool?

Ellen: Pangkor Island
Hannah: The pool at the campsite near Uluru

Which activity did you enjoy doing the most?

Ellen: Horse riding in Vermont
Hannah: Batik painting at Taman Harum, Bali

Were you ever upset about anything during your trip?

Ellen: Leaving my animal magazine behind
Hannah: (very long think) When I lost my Inca necklace and Peruvian bottle holder

Was there ever anything you did not like doing at all?

Ellen: Don’t know
Hannah: Staying at the hostel in Singapore; the little boat ride on Milford Sound when it was raining really hard (not the actual overnight boat trip)

What made you happy on the trip?

Ellen: Following the sun, but now I miss the “old rainy days”
Hannah: Playing with Thelma in Sucre (Bolivia), going down the luge in Vermont, jumping on trampolines and swimming

Would you like to go on a long trip again?

Ellen: Yes, to see lots of different things
Hannah: No – I’d miss the house

What are you most looking forward to once you’re back home?

Ellen: All my toys
Hannah: Seeing our own house again

What do you think this year away has done for you?

Ellen: [Still pondering this one]
Hannah: I’ve been able to do Batik painting, ride camels, see Machu Picchu, Uluru… Doing things, not just reading about them at school.

Durian cake

I slept reasonably well after staying up late to put some recent photos on the blog, but Kirsten was kept awake for four hours until 3am by thumping music downstairs. The hotel also operates a nightclub, however much of a conflict of interest there might be between people requiring a good night’s sleep and people requiring a good night out, separated by only a few metres vertically. And this was a Wednesday night? Fortunately the girls were oblivious to the noise.

We didn’t take long to gather our things and check out, although the reception staff got all fussy about whether we had used two bottles of mineral water. They should be complimentary (the bottles and the staff), but that might depend on whether you used the glass bottles in the bathroom (which I assumed were for brushing your teeth) or the plastic bottles in the fridge. We had just coughed up £50 for the two rooms, and here they were being petty about bottles which cost 10 pence in the shops (even less wholesale, no doubt). It’s also the way they ask you to wait while they call Housekeeping to check your room and fridge, just in case you’ve trashed the place or lied about your minibar consumption. I.e. they say “First we send someone to check your room/minibar” rather than simply getting on with it discreetly. Only in Bali.

Our taxi took us to the airport where we were still a little early for our check-in. We sat around and browsed the limited shopping opportunities, getting Ellen a Kids’ National Geographic. A minimal queue when we dropped off our three bags full (which are lighter than they’ve ever been – we’re now throwing our old dirty clothes away rather than washing them). We took the escalator upstairs and paid our departure fees (another £45 on top of the £70 we paid when we arrived; again, only in Bali). An hour or so to wait before our flight was called; we watched the incoming planes approach us (nearly) head-on from the sea and spotted ours arriving right on time. Once our flight number was Tannoyed, we dropped our remaining drink, went through a second luggage scan and found ourselves in an otherwise empty departure lounge. Where’s everyone else? We had fantasies of our own private jet – “One of us could sit in each corner of the aeroplane”, mused Ellen. Still no-one came. Perhaps they’ll squash us into a Cessna.
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But after a quarter of an hour, a group of four Chinese came to sit just across from us, followed by a steady trickle of other passengers. Once it was time to board, we grabbed our bags, ready to maintain our place in the queue (if such a concept exists here). But it was Priority seats first, followed by the back half of the plane, then the left-overs (they don’t even bother with row numbers for the left-overs). None of this ‘families with young children first’, like we used to get in South America. I mean, Ellen won’t be six for much longer, so we want to enjoy it while we can…

On board we were asked to pay attention to the safety demonstration given by flight attendants “Cha Cha, Chi Chi and Chu Chu”. What is this? Job opportunities for giant pandas? The emergency exits are located… Eats, chutes and leaves?

And thus we left Bali. I think I’ll have recurrent nightmares about walking into the local Co-op back home and picking up a can of baked beans, only to be cornered by a sales assistant who pesters “£5, sir! Good price, normal £10. Okay, £4. Genuine Bali beans. For you, sir, £3. You want two? I give you two for £2 each. Is very good price. You buy?”

Some random recollections of our stay. Why would anyone buy a rehydration drink called ‘Pocari Sweat’? It is possible to carry three double mattresses on the back of a motorbike; I’ve seen it done. And those big signs advertising enormous sacks of ‘Semen Gresik’ – it’s a make of cement, folks…

At 3.15pm we landed in Singapore for the second time on our trip. We remembered not to dare approach the Immigration desk as a foursome so we split into two pairs, adult and child in each. After a pause for a loo stop ours were the last lonely bags still riding the carousel; we got cash from an ATM and bought some savoury pastries from an airport stall. (For some inexplicable reason we had not pre-booked any meals for the flight, but at least we had a break from chicken focaccia.) We followed up with an eclair, a slice of apple crumble, a cream coffee slice and… a slice of durian cake! Probably because we won’t have the opportunity of trying this infamous fruit once we’re back home. (This is the one they ban from hotels because the foul stench cannot even be contained by multiple layers of plastic wrapping.)

We took a taxi to the cryptically-named Aces Lodges @ Siglap. It’s glowingly reviewed on the internet (“the best hotel in Singapore”, etc.) but our initial reaction was “is this it?”. Our room is the second most cramped of our trip (after Puno) with two bunks, a tower of metal lockers and a smidgen of clear floor space (until we dumped our bags). The window overlooks a main road, the curtain does not black out the street lamp right outside and the air conditioning gives you a choice between too cold or too warm.

There is a kitchen area fully equipped from Ikea (just like the Apollo Bay Youth Hostel), but there the resemblance ends. Despite all the adverts, here was an Ikea table that had been cruelly assaulted and left for dead, its swollen woodchip innards bulging out through multiple gashes in the veneer; indeed, it was in such a sorry state the Kirsten refused to believe it could be of Scandinavian origin until I located the telltale label on the underside.

We sat at a healthier slatted table and had our sweet pastries. I was the only one to tackle the durian concoction, and although I could bear a few mouthfuls of it, I was left with an unpleasant aftertaste for hours afterwards. And the taste is supposed to be far more pleasant than the smell…

We explored the neighbourhood, letting the girls have a quick play on some nearby climbing equipment before looking for somewhere to have supper. We unimaginatively settled on Pizza Hut and ordered a couple of Kids’ Menu items (just to demonstrate to the girls that grown-up food is far tastier) along with a baked rice dish and a salad. The meal wasn’t as bad as I had feared, although the choice of mood-setting music was a little unorthodox; they chose to play a CD by some purveyor of rap which featured a charming ditty about a certain Mother Farquhar.

It was still light when we emerged at 7.15; we must have flown a sizeable fraction of the Earth’s circumference this afternoon to delay sunset by over an hour. We walked back to the hostel, did diaries in the upstairs lounge and retired to our tiny little room, hoping for better sleep than we have ever had in Singapore.