Ladies and Gentleman,
I am devastated to announce that this will be my LAST TRAVEL EMAIL recounting the final crazy chapters of our 8-month extravaganza....IT'S THE END OF THE ROAD!!! (At least there'll be no more ridiculously long emails for you to read!! ;)
Since my last update, Han and I, along with our friends from Sydney, have spent a magnificent 2 weeks on the beautiful island of Mana in the Fiji Islands. Despite a *small* hiccup at the beginning of the fortnight, when Hannah and I arrived in Nadi to find that we had accidentally smuggled Em and Heath's passports from New Zealand in my rucksack(!) we were safely reunited with the terrible twosome and set off for island adventures together on Mana. 'Mana' translates as 'magic' in Fijian, and there is no other word to describe our 2-week stay here. We were a little apprehensive about spending 2 weeks on one small island, but we are so pleased to have done so as it meant really being able to live with and integrate with the locals, who were some of the most beautiful people we have met on our trip. Thanks to them we adapted ourselves extremely well to Island Life, trying a hand at coconut jewellery-making, basket weaving, fishing, snorkelling, volleyballing, Fijian dancing, and the all-important 'Taki Time', whereby beer is passed round in shot glasses and drunk in a very ceremonious manner, from dusk until dawn! We experienced many a Kava Ceremony, a ritual involving the famous and interesting Fijian drink 'Yaqona', a narcotic derived from a pepper plant, whose powdered roots are mixed with water to produce a substance that looks (and tastes) rather like muddy water, and which produces a numbing effect on the lips and tongue, particularly after drinking half a dozen or so coconut bowls of the stuff! The Polynesian staff on the island were incredibly sweet and welcoming, and by the end of our stay we were so integrated that we were being sneaked into the staff quarters and invited to their private after-hours drinking sessions and parties!
After an emotional farewell to our friends Emma and Heather, with whom we had spent the best part of 4 1/2 months since our days in Sydney, Han and I jetted off to our final port of call: LA and the Golden Land of Hollywood! Many of the stereotypes here are absolutely true, and I knew for sure that we had arrived in Hollywood when, in the first shop we stepped into, a botoxed bleach-blonde tottered past me in her 4-inch stilettos, shortly followed by her minuscule dog..!!! We spent a fabulous 2 days cruising around Beverly Hills, Bel Air and part of Mulholland Drive, had breakfast off Rodeo Drive (where we amused ourselves greatly by swanning into Tiffany's and enquiring about a ring that Daddy had promised to buy...!) saw the excellent and informative Hollywood Museum and the Walk of Fame...oh, and we might just have looked up Johnny Depp's Hollywood address and carried out the slowest manoeuvre imagineable in his (very spacious) drive...
From LA we headed North via sunny Santa Barbara, the Big Sur and Santa Cruz, winding our way along beautiful coastal roads that clung precariously to the cliffs and hugged the vast ocean beyond. We felt very Thelma and Louise-esque, particularly when 2 police cars arrived out of nowhere beside and behind us, tailing us until we realised that the officer behind, gesticulating wildly to the right, was in fact trying to get us to move out of his way so he could come through...very embarrassing, particularly when he blared out of his loudspeaker 'PAY ATTENTION!!' as he drove past, for the whole of the freeway to hear!!! We arrived safely in San Francisco, however, where in between art galleries and some serious cafe-hopping in the various districts, we had a fascinating tour of Alcatraz, and even met an ex-convict there who was back to promote his book. Of course we couldn't leave San Fran without a trip North to the famous Napa Valley wine region, where us wine connoisseurs moved from cafe-hopping to vineyard-hopping (sooo much fun, though controversial that the only access between vineyards was by car, but we were very careful of course!)
From San Francisco we followed the bright lights through the dazzling desert to the one and only Las Vegas, baby! Oh my Goodness, it is *such* a ridiculous place, and an unforgettable sight to see it looming up in the middle of the desert, a glittering mirage of towering buildings that must throw out enough electricity to power a small African country. However, silliness aside, it is pretty awesome in its ridiculousness, and is, I imagine, the only place in the world where you get the chance to experience New York, Paris, Ancient Rome, Venice, Arabia and the Pyramids, all in the space of one day! We felt obliged to complete the proper Las Vegas experience, so we had our first taster of Burlesque Dancing, watching the (tasteful) 'MGM Grand's The Crazy Horse Paris', performed by a dozen or so near-identical-looking women! It was good to see in the surroundings, and interesting to learn a bit about l'Art Du Nu, but we weren't overly impressed or inspired! We did, however, end the night by doing a performance of some sort ourselves, as the bouncer in the Casino's club approached us to announce that we had been 'invited' to dance on a table by the group who had bought it for the evening..!?! I can't say we would approve of it at all ordinarily, but it was an interesting experience in the whole Vegas spirit of things! As was the rest of the night, which involved a fair bit of room-service from a hotel suite that we couldn't afford, and so a final retreat to the carpark where we spent a drunken few hours sleeping off our alcohol in the sophisticated surroundings of our car....
We enjoyed this experience so much that we decided to repeat it again the following night, this time from several thousand feet above sea-level out in Nevada, overlooking the stunning Grand Canyon. The added challenge here was that the temperature outside (and inside) the car was somewhere below freezing, and even with 7 layers of clothing on and the central heating blasting out at regular intervals, we were freeeezing! However, the experience was spectacular, and the Grand Canyon remains one of the most awe-inspiring sights we have seen on our trip. We arrived just in time to witness an incredible sunset over the vast expanse of rainbow-hued rock, which literally stretches out for miles ahead of you, merging with the hazy horizon to produce an exquisite blend of colours, shadows and textures. We awoke in the early hours ready for a nippy but invigorating stroll at sunrise, admiring and comparing the canyon's multiple orange glows from various viewpoints around the Southern rim.
After a final night back in Vegas, where we watched the famous fountain show at Bellagio and had a quick lucky spin of roulette before enjoying an actual bed for the night, we headed South-West for some Mexican flavour in San Diego. We enjoyed an excellent roadtrip there via some great authentic diners along the historic Route 66, tasting real 'home-baked cherry pah', eavesdropping on the colourful locals and happening upon some of the strangest people we have ever met! We spent a gorgeous 2 nights in the old Gaslamp Quarter in San Diego, which oozes with latino ambience, and we had a relaxing exploration of the Spanish architecture, cultural museums, military harbour and swinging jazz bars of this warm and buzzing city.
From here it was back home to Hollywood for our final night, where we decided to end our adventures in style, booking ourselves into the trendiest celeb-haunt/bar/restaurant in Hollywood! (Spago's in Beverly Hills...) Here we evidently passed well enough as the next big things to be 'spotted' by the very friendly and accommodating staff, who insisted on giving us V.I.P discount, free dessert platters and free dessert wine - bring it on! It was a fantastic and hilarious night to end our trip on - and we've been invited to go back whenever we like! Before hopping onto our flight yesterday, we squeezed in a final quick trip to Santa Monica and Venice beaches, bustling with the very Californian rollerskaters, surfers and volleyballers that we had expected! And we met a final local eccentric, who invited us up to his expansive beach-fronted apartment to show off the spectacular view from his glass-fronted pad!
So now it's back to reality, and to cold old England! I'm feeling a little jetlagged now, but it has been an incredible 8 months: a rollercoaster journey that has taken us far and wide, and that has taught and offered us so much! We're very sad that it has finally come to an end, but can't wait to see you all again so soon and to hear about all your various activities over the past few months! See you all sooooooon!
Lots of love and kisses from All Around the World!