Let’s skip the winter

In 2012 we left on what became an 8 month trip around the world on the Southern Hemisphere. It allowed us to skip the winter for a year and brought us in Eastern and Southern Africa, South America, Antarctica, The South Pacific, New Zealand and Asia.

Looking back in awe!

rugzak-24“So tell us about your trip” It’s one of the phrases I’ve heard the most  since my arrival on Belgian soil. It’s a really tough request because where do I start…Those 8 months on the road have passed in what seemed like a blink of an eye. But on the other hand we have seen and done so much that our first week in Africa in October seems ages ago. We would like to use this last post of this trip to look back at some of the many highs of the past 8 months and talk a bit about a number of things that have really struck us.


E buddha gold RMore than 7 years ago in January 2006, my first attempt to travel around the world really started in Thailand and Bangkok. It seemed nice to end my second attempt in the same city. Come ‘full circle and all that…but also returning to my favourite Asian city. I remember back then arriving in Bangkok was a bit like landing on the moon. The humidity, the heat, the noise, the traffic it was all so overwhelming. It was the absolute peak season in Thailand and I was searching for a place to stay for ages. I eventually ended up in some ‘dive’ (crap hotel) surrounded by the biggest ‘white trash’ tourists one can imagine. Despite all that, I immediately fell in love with the super friendly and welcoming Thai people. During the next 4-5 months travelling in South East Asia (SEA), Bangkok (BKK) was often the hub to get from one place to the other (to and from Burma, to Laos, from Cambodia, to the islands of the south) and it became my ‘home away from home’.

The Philippines

G hike 08RThere was no way that I would finish this world trip without a visit to the foreign continent where I have travelled the most. I spent 5 months there on my 2006 trip and returned nearly every year since then.  Home to some of the nicest people in the world and definitely the best food. You probably guessed it, I’m talking about Asia.  As we were flying from Australia to Europe a stop in one of the countries of South East Asia is almost mandatory. A look on the map and a quick calculation of the remaining miles on our ‘round the world’ ticket gave us a couple of options. Eventually we chose to fly to the Philippines, the one country in South East Asia (SEA), I had not visited yet.


Pentecost 7 RHands up everybody who can place the islands of Vanuatu on the map or who can tell us why one should go there. Don’t worry if you can’t. Until about a year ago, the only thing I knew about it was that it was not too far from Fiji and that they had some rather bizarre ‘religions/cults’ there. Vanuatu wasn’t on our itinerary until about a couple of months before we left. While finalizing the travel plan, I was going through a book that I had gotten from a friend (thanks Annelies!) some years ago. This interesting ‘where to travel and when’ book lists for every month of the year the best places to visit based on climate and special events. For April or May one of the highlights was Vanuatu. The major event taking place in Vanuatu at that time are the ‘Naghol’ aka ‘land divers’ aka ‘the authentic bungee jumping’. As we were more or less ‘in the neighbourhood’ around that time, we decided to make a side trip from Australia. It would turn out to be one crazy week with much more than only the ‘land divers’

Winter is coming! The South of the South Island

RT Te Anau - Wanaka 4 RWhile in Europe spring is finally bringing the first warm days, here on the Southern hemisphere, autumn has arrived. Even though we got much more sun here than we would during an average summer in Belgium, the days are shortening fast and at night the temperatures fall quickly. The colours in the woods are amazing and on the top of the mountains the first snow has arrived. By half May a lot of roads will start to close due to snow or avalanche danger. By June the skiing season will be kicked off all around the country. Everybody is now preparing for winter. For us it was a very strange feeling. We noticed that we also started to mentally prepare for winter, cold and darkness. We started thinking about and planning those activities (like skiing) that make winter a bit more bearable, only to realize that we will soon be in Europe again for summer. It really messes with your head

The most beautiful country in the world. The South Island

Mt Cook 1 RWhen people used to ask me what my favourite country was I always told them that I love different places for different reasons but that the most beautiful country is New Zealand. But as memories faded and new places (Himalaya, Patagonia, etc.) were visited, Kiwi land got some serious competition. But in just 3 weeks NZ managed to claim back its spot at the top hands down. The variety of different landscapes in this country is really incredible. From pristine beaches and bays, lush green hills, desert like plateaus to volcanoes, glaciers, fjords and other alpine scenery; NZ has it all on such a small surface. It seems like mother nature has combined all her forces on the land to make it look as beautiful as possible; volcanic activity on the North Island to create volcanoes and geysers; tectonics to push up mountain ranges on the South Island; the full forces of the ocean from all sides to form bays and beaches; and a couple of ice ages to build glaciers that would carve out the fjords.

Back in the land of the Kiwi’s: The North

Rotorua 5 RNearly seven years ago I visited New Zealand for the first time. In a bit less than a month I travelled all around the country on both North and South Islands. A month may seem like a long time but it is not nearly long enough to see the whole of New Zealand (NZ). To everyone planning to go there, I would suggest to foresee at least 1,5 month: three weeks for the North and four weeks for the South Island. If not you will probably end up like me rushing through the country and constantly making mental notes “I have to come back here to do this and there to do that”. The reason why I chose to come back to NZ on this trip was precisely that: filling in the gaps, doing those things I didn’t get to do last time. With only 3 weeks and a pretty long list we would need to be quick and flexible.

The Marquesas

Fatu Hiva

Fatu Hiva

“Jacques Brel s’en va aux Marquises” . It was one of the lines printed on a t shirt I received from my father for my 14th birthday. It was one of those shirts with a number of main events that happened in the year of one’s birth. Freely translated it means something like “Jacques Brel is leaving us at the Marquises”. In 1978 the famous Belgian singer died and was buried on the Marquesas islands. At the time I didn’t like that present at all mainly because it was in French and thanks to a not so great French teacher, I really hated that language. But a little older and a little wiser, a couple of years later I found back the shirt and got intrigued about this place where our national icon Brel spent his last years. I looked up what these Marquesas were like and it seemed like an interesting place. Something to visit some day…

Paradise… lost?

Raiatea 19 RAs we arrived in Tahiti, I realized this the furthest I have ever been away from home. It is actually about as far away as one can get from Europe. If we fly any further westward we will be closing in on Belgium from the east. So why would anybody want to travel that far to visit some small islands in the middle of the Pacific Ocean? I suggest you google ‘Bora Bora’ and choose ‘images’. A number of gorgeous pictures of a lush green island surrounded by a lagoon in all diffent shades of blue; from turquoise, over indigo to navy blue. It does look like paradise doesn’t it? Most budget travellers that come  here only spent a couple of days on the main Island of Tahiti and or the neighbouring Mo’orea, tick the box for ‘French Polynesia’ on their ‘travel CV’  and quickly hop back on a plane that will take them to either New Zealand, Australia or Chile/Easter Island. Why this rush? This has all to do with the reputation of French Polynesia of being a ‘high end’, ‘super expensive’ destination.

Notes from the mystery island

As a kid I once saw a picture of one of the huge Easter Island statues and I got really intrigued. The picture was part of a scientific article dealing with all the mysteries surrounding the island, its people and the statues. I remember my mom made a summary of the article but unfortunately, I had a lot more questions than there were answers in the article. When some time later I saw those intriguing statues appear again in my then favourite Belgian comic book (Suske & Wiske: De Windbrekers), I decided that someday I would travel to the island to find some answers.  A look in my world atlas slightly tempered my enthusiasm as this little island seemed to be a bit further away than let’s say Switzerland where we spent our summer holidays and which already seemed to take ages to get to. But some day…

Last days in South America

Chile has been the biggest surprise of our travels in South America. Until about a month ago  I would not have been able to name any highlights apart from Torres de Paine and the desert regions near the border with Bolivia and Peru. As our time in South America was limited, we had from the start decided that we would not explore Chile further north than the capital of Santiago. However during our stay in the Chilean Lake region aka el Chico Sur ( the small South) we became aware that there was way more to this part of the country than we had imagined; national park after national park, the island of Chiloe and great surfing at the pacific coast. Moreover due to our unexpected trip to Antarctica the time we could spent in Chile was reduced by almost 2 weeks. With only a couple of days left, some though choices had to be made and in the end we decided to make a beeline for Middle Chile; the region of its capital Santiago de Chile.

Of fire and water

The region around  Bariloche in Argentina and across the border in Chile  is known as the ‘lake district’. But that only tells you a part of the story. There are indeed a lot of gorgeous lakes in all kind of shapes  from small lagoons  to huge ‘inland seas’ and in all kind of colours. But more interesting there are also the mountains and volcanoes. And who says mountains says hiking. And so we put on our hiking boots once more and got out there…and we soon found out that this region has way more to offer than we had time for.


Patagonia had the very ungrateful task of welcoming us after we had been completely awe struck by Antarctica. But Patagonia is definitely up for such a challenge. This huge region with plains that stretch out far beyond the horizon, awesome mountain peaks and winds that can knock a grown man down is the stuff of legends. From Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid to Che Guevara on his motorcycle it has attracted adventurers, eccentrics and outcasts for centuries.  These days it is tourist central during the summer months with crowds of tour groups that fly in and out to check out glaciers and mountains. But no worries the place is huge and even in the most visited regions one can still find some quite places to take it all in.

Last minute to Antarctica!!!

Although I try not to overdo it, I know I have been throwing some superlatives at you in previous blog posts but I think this post might be the mother of all superlatives because our trip to Antarctica really was the best thing we have ever done. Looking back at it all, you really wonder if life will ever get better than those couple of days we spent cruising through the Antarctica. Ever since I read an article of a Belgian reporter visiting Antarctica on one of the first ‘tourist expeditions’ many years ago, it has always been my dream to one day be able to do the same. Unfortunately these expeditions are really, really expensive.

Summer in the city: Buenos Aires & Uruguay

We are not ‘city people’, give us mountains, oceans, deserts, bush, savannah, etc. and we are happy. After a couple of days in most cities we get restless and start looking for the exit. There are only a very limited number of cities we really love but we just got to add one to the list. Even though we only spent 3 days there we really got charmed by Buenos Aires (BA). The big avenues and boulevards lined with trees and beautiful buildings , cafés everywhere, little markets, the covered shopping galleries…You would be forgiven if you thought you were in Paris. They even have their own version of the famous Paris cemeteries . But Buenos Aires is much more than just a copy of Paris. Actually due to the large immigration (especially Spanish and Italian) in the 19th century, it is a very nice cocktail of all kind of European influences spiced up with some truly local elements.

Testing the water in Southern Brazil

The local summer is not the best period to travel in Southern Brazil climate wise. There is often a lot of rain we were told. We had been very lucky to have 4 days of beautiful weather while we were in Rio. Last year it had been raining all night on New Year’s Eve and there have even been years where a great part of the fireworks could not be seen because they exploded above the clouds. While we drove down the coast from Rio, the beaches were packed with Brazilian holidaymakers and also our first afternoon in the town of Paraty had been very hot and sunny. In the evening however we saw the first thunder clouds appear.

Kicking off 2013 in Rio!

First things first: all our best wishes for 2013 to our loyal followers. I’m not the biggest fan of big New Year parties. Except for a couple of memorable parties during my student times these parties usually turn out to be a bit of a let-down, much ado about nothing. But a year must end someday and we wanted to be in a ‘special place’ for this trip. I guess the most famous places to be for New Year are Sydney, London, Berlin, New York and Rio de Janeiro. 6 years ago I was in Australia for New Year but on purpose avoided all the craziness (and high prices) of the party in Sydney and spent the night with friends in the middle of nowhere in the Australian bush. Although we had a great time, I regretted not having been in Sydney when I saw the fireworks on TV afterwards. So this time I wanted to be in the middle of the action.

Ending in style: a wedding in South Africa

When I started to plan this trip, I originally would go straight to South America. However in April of this year at our “Karavaan Generation 7” (aka G7)* reunion, one of us, Tom, announced that he would be getting married with his South African girlfriend in South Africa at the end of the year and  we were all invited. When a couple of weeks later three of the guys (Koen, Kris and Nick) decided that they would go over there, I also started thinking about introducing an ‘Africa leg’ on this world trip. As you have probably understood from my previous posts I have not regretted  that decision for a second and the wedding would prove to be a real nice climax to this Africa trip.

* a bunch of friends, all tour leaders that were selected  in 2007


Brushing off ‘traveller’s burn out’ in Mozambique

I know this will sound strange or pretentious to a lot of you hard working people at home but when travelling for longer periods, every once in a while you need to take “a holiday from travelling”, if not you risk to catch ‘travellers burn out’. On my previous trip the ‘traveller’s burn out’ hit me really hard after 4 months travelling in South East Asia. I remember being in Kuala Lumpur and being really tired all the time, apathetic to whatever the place had to offer and hardly being able to get out of the hostel. Too many impressions and experiences in a short time and the fact that there is no routine whatsoever (having to look for places to stay and eat and things to do and see every day) makes travelling rather tiring after a couple of months. When you start dreaming about a cupboard to put your clothes in, it’s time to take a break.

Victoria Falls and Zimbabwe: when the going gets (a little) tough

“At dawn and dusk wild animals  such as lions and elephants roam the streets of the centre of town, take a taxi at these times”. At last an original warning in  the ‘dangers and annoyances’ section in my guide book. And they were not joking. Just a month ago a number of people from some church congregation that were doing an evening ‘open air mass’ on the edge of Victoria Falls town in Zimbabwe were chewed up by a couple of lions.

Lower Zambezi Canoe safari

“The best thing we did in Africa “, “A real safari!”, “A must-do in Southern Africa”. In preparation of this trip I had been reading the reports of a number of ‘long time’ Africa travellers. A lot of them had been raving about this canoe trekking safari. The pictures I saw looked spectacular but nothing compared to what awaited us on the Zambezi river. There was however also a number of reports on accidents that had happened on the river.

South Luangwa National Park

It was about half past midnight on our first night in South Luangwa NP when I woke up because something was brushing against my safari tent and judging by the sound of its footsteps it was something big…without making any noise I had a look out of one of ‘windows’ of the tent and saw that a 3000 kg heavy hippo was grazing right next to my tent.

For those of you that are not very familiar with Africa and its fauna, a hippo might seem like a funny and clumsy animal. But each year this animal kills more people than any other animal on the continent.

Laid-back Malawi

Malawi is a funny little country. The first thing I noticed was that people are really a lot more friendly than in neighbouring Tanzania.  The immigration officer, people that are usually not known at all as friendly or cheerful, welcomed me warmly to the country, stamped my passport and asked me if maybe I wanted a piece of the banana she was eating as dessert.  On the streets, everybody is greeting you constantly . Even people that have no knowledge of English do their best to make you feel at home.


After the cold adventures on Mt K we were happy to descend into a warmer climate. And boy did we get what we wished for! The 8 hour bus ride from Moshi to Dar Es Salaam was a killer. The ‘full comfort’ bus did not have any A/C so we basically got cooked and grilled. On the few stretches with not too much dust the windows could be opened which then felt like we were being blown dry with gigantic hairdryer. We had been sitting down for 8 hours but were still completely exhausted when we arrived in Dar Es Salaam.

Kilimanjaro or how Africa almost beat me at my own game

When we were planning this trip we had been looking at the possibility to check out the gorilla’s in Rwanda and cross the border into Congo to climb the Nyiragongo volcano. However a new rebellion in the Kivu earlier this year, meant that Congo again became off limit and we had to change our plans. Mount Kilimanjaro (Mt K.) was the obvious back up solution. With 5895m Mt K is the highest mountain in Africa and one of the famous ‘7 summits’.

The (well) hidden charms of Arusha

“You’re going to Arusha and you’re not interested in a safari” people were asking us in disbelief.  “Are you crazy, there’s nothing to do or see there only a lot of hassle and crime “. Even the (what seemed like hundreds) of local touts and hustlers that descended upon us, as soon as we left the bus,  would not believe we wanted to visit this place out of free will.

Checking out the cats in Masai Mara

Baba Lion

So finally I’m back in Africa and I must admit the thought of going to Africa was both exhilarating and intimidating. But at first sight Nairobi did not seem as bad as all the stories would like me to believe. That being said we didn’t really linger around much but instead decided to kick off this trip with the one thing most travellers do here in East  Africa: go on ‘safari’.

“Too bad we have seen so few animals so far”… our safari guide said to me at lunch time on our 1st full safari day. We had seen that morning: a herd of elephants, several giraffes, hundreds of buffalo, thousands of migrating wildebeests (aka gnoes) and zebras, a cheetah with a fresh ‘kill’ and a pride of over 10 lionesses and cubs also with a kill. I don’t know what they are used to there in Masai Mara but we were duly impressed.

About preliminaries and pre-departure stress

Here we go again! My third long trip since 2001. I guess you can call me a ‘habitual offender’.  The seed of this trip was actually planted during my last trip. As some of you know, in 2006, I was forced to cut my ‘round the world trip’ short due to serious Illness. As I’m not a fan of unfinished business it was written in the stars that I would someday make another attempt to ‘circumvent our planet’.