We’ve just finished three days and nights in our tiny campervan up in the Atherton Tablelands. It’s a fertile plateau where coffee, bananas and sugar cane are grown in irrigated fields.
The campervan was a bit basic, but we enjoyed imagining we were in our 20s. When parked next to the other campervans and RVs, it was however dwarfed, so good job neither of us suffer from low self esteem.
That said, the HippieCamper was well designed with an integrated sink and fridge, came with a small gas cooker, and converted to a full-size double bed. It was fine for our seven days but we are looking to trade up for our next campervan in the Outback; an integral shower and toilet will seem like a necessity out there.
Places we visited in the Tablelands included Hippie-town Kuranda, bustling Atherton, and charming Yungaburra. At the latter, we saw our first ever Duck Billed Platypus swimming in a river, albeit for a few seconds, and a brilliant example of a curtain fig tree.
We’ve just spent five nights on Maui – its nickname is The Valley Isle, and many people say it’s the most beautiful of the Hawaii islands. Truth is we only went there because we are now en route to Australia and there’s a direct flight from Los Angeles.
We travelled 2000 miles west reading books and watching films. How different from the Polynesian voyagers who reached Hawaii about 400 AD, or earlier, using only fixed stars as their navigation.
First impressions of Maui were not good. The roads were busy. The landscape far from picturesque and the sky full of menacing clouds!
Also the island authorities seem determined to make campers unwelcome. Some told us this was a new policy to prevent the homeless arriving from California. However after two nights in a private campsite we sorted out our state permit, and were able to escape to the more isolated and beautiful parts of the island.
Staying in motels was fun in the Southern States. But here in Oregon we want to get out into the wilderness and experience nature 24/7. So your bloggers went to Walmart and bought everything you need to camp in the beautiful State Parks.
Rather than follow the coast road, we were advised the better weather right now is east of the Cascade Mountains. And our first camp just outside Culver is at the Cove Palisades State Park surrounded by stunning gorges and lakes. We loved having the place to ourselves but it was freezing once the sun went down.
Also disaster. We did a great job at Walmart earlier in the day, but the mattress pump needed batteries (rather than being run off the car battery). So we had to sleep on the ground.
Overlooking Lake Louise is the 552 room Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. A vast, luxurious and welcoming hotel.
Originally just a wooden chalet in 1890, the hotel was gradually developed at the turn of the 20th century by the Canadian Pacific Railway to lure wealthy travellers to head west by train. The famous soon came, and the Rockies were opened up to climbing and trekking.
Our gap year budget obviously doesn’t stretch to rooms starting at 439 Canadian dollars (about £265). But for some unexplained reason our cheap lodge down the road had an obscure arrangement with the Fairmont allowing us to use their swimming pool and spa. We felt like the deserving poor, but it was good to get some swimming time in beautiful surroundings.
Afterwards we sat in the bar and ordered the two cheapest drinks on the menu.
The hardest working thing in our shack is the fan. We have dissolved into a very lazy few days. Going for beach walks, wave-jumping in the sea and cycle rides to the nearest fruit and vegetable store. But most of the time we are just re-charging our batteries.
The shack on the edge of the jungle – just five minutes walk to the beach – is an exceptional AirBnB find. Hosts Eva and Johnny welcomed us with fresh coconut juice and Johnny shinned up the tree again today, to fetch us some more supplies.
Of course, the simple life is much easier when the weather is so glorious. But how we complicate our lives back home.
Change happens. Sometimes slowly, sometimes quickly.
In rural Ecuador it’s happening in front of our eyes. Down every valley. Along every road. And the result – there are almost no houses to be seen over 30 years old.
In the town where we have been staying for the past three nights, we saw two lovely old deserted places. Probably still standing only because a redirection of the Pan American highway has made Lasso a backwater.
Their wooden facias testament to a time before concrete. And a time when there was some aesthetic aspirations. Today the streets are often ugly and haphazard. Change.
Here we are with the delightful owners of the HotelPalacio – where we stayed in Montevideo. The family have run this hotel for 90 years. We are sure they do it every day with hard work, passion and generous spirits.
So what do we want from hotels on our gap year? Well it’s not much; we can’t be too choosy on our budget. And to give you an idea of what we’ve put up with so far, at one place Hilary screamed when she saw a frog in the loo!
However, it’s good to have a distinctive experience in keeping with the location and a friendly welcoming smile.
This is what HotelPalacio gave us. Our room was full of antique wooden furniture. It had a private veranda with great views. The lift was still the original installed 90 years ago. Charming and just £41 a night.
Two more short bus journeys, brings us to San Bernadino and we are languishing in the delightful, charming yet faded lakeside hotel. Hotel del Lago hangs its history on the walls. For instance, Marlene Dietrich, Greta Garbo and Joan Crawford stayed here in 1935.
Less publicised is the suicide here in 1889 of the German supremacist Dr Bernhardt Forster after his failure to establish a model Aryan settlement elsewhere in Paraguay.
On Sunday this place was buzzing. Families enjoyed a buffet in the bohemian dining room accompanied by an opera singer. But today, we have the terraces – with their overhead whirling fans – and the small swimming pool pretty well all to ourselves. Close your eyes and you can imagine the heat and jungle vegetation swallowing up this history. We hope not, this place is very special.
Today we crossed the Andes into North West Argentina.
It’s sad to leave Chile. We’ve had such a special time here and can thoroughly recommend it as a holiday destination. There are outstanding sites to visit, the people are genuinely friendly and you feel so safe. What is there not to like?
Likewise, San Pedro de Atacama has been a great base for the past five days. We will miss the little shop that sold amazing avocados, the bands in the main square, the full moon over the desert and our charming hostel where we spent very lazy afternoons.
For the past five nights we’ve been staying at hostels along Iquique’s historic main street. It’s now pedestrianised; the sort of place where you feel instantly at home.
Dating from 1880-1920, the American Georgian-style buildings built by the wealthy owners of the Nitrate factories are made of imported Oregon pine wood. A long way to ship it but there are certainly no trees here.
To one side of the street there’s an attractive boardwalk; today perfect for skateboarders. Unfortunately, whilst we have been here, the tram hasn’t been working.
Last night, in one of the street’s many cafes, Roger had his first ever PiscoSour.