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Thursday, 9 November 2006
To the end of the Pan American Highway!
Hola Beast Crew

We have been motoring the past few weeks, weaving in between Chile and Argentina , filling out temporary importation forms like they are going out of fashion and seeing some of the most spectacular scenery in the world. Apologies for any jealousy causing and I hope some of you are still reading these updates!!

Valparaiso - San Javier - Temuco - Pucon - Termas de Panqui (Chile) - San Martin de Los Andes (Argentina) - San Carlos de Bariloche - Puerto Varas (Chile) - Ancud - Chonchi - Auchac - Quellon -Termas de Amarillo

23th October 2006 - 9th November 2006

We left the stunning UNESCO town of Valparaiso and our Spanish teachers and headed back onto the Ruta 5, the Pan American Highway. We were on a quest for the ultimate vineyard but Greg kept passing all the signs for the wine routes and only after a look at the map and after an argument ensued he was persuaded to turn off at the last wine route on the map. A couple of kilometres of dusty roads later we pulled into the Saavedra vineyard. We bought a few bottles of wine and asked the owner if he knew anywhere good to camp for the evening, he immediately suggested the best spot he knew, at the top of his vineyard overlooking the vines with the mighty Andes lurking seductively in the background. A few bottles of wine were enjoyed as the Andes disappeared into a misty orange haze. We were woken up by a vineyard security guy with 5 dogs who looked scared to death when a half naked man pop up out of the roof of a big red car and say "Hola!".

We headed further south to the last marked Land Rover garage in Temuco . The lovely Beast needed a bit of an overhaul as we realised that the further south we head the more likely we are to experience dusty roads and the overlanders hated corrugations on dirt roads. We pulled into Temuco and stayed overnight in the car park of a parilla (meat restaurant).

We had far too many Pisco Sours, whisky sours, wine sours and whiskies the previous night (god the hangover was bad) and we surfaced at 3pm, just managing to turn the engine on and drive the 5km down the road to the garage. We pulled up and attempted to explain what we wanted doing, with sore, pounding heads. After a lot of gesticulation and pointing, we got our oils changed and got the brakes checked. A huge amount of dust came out of the brakes which had been causing all the squeaking but the rear nearside (passenger side) brake had a leaky seal. As soon as the mechanic took off the seal, he realised he didn't have any spare parts. All the brake fluid dripped out of the system whilst he and Greg went in search of the spare seals. Seal replaced, the brake system needed bleeding of air. At 10pm the mechanics had still not worked out that the brake and clutch system are interlinked in the Land Rover 101 and they gave up. We slept overnight in their car park and they managed to get the brakes to work a little more efficiently just before we left the following day. We now have to pump the brake twice before we slow down!

We headed over to the lake and snow studded areas of Villarica and Pucon who gain most of their money from visitors who come to scale the active snowcapped volcano and sample the termas ( hot springs ) that sprout from the side of the mountains. We had read about a hot springs called Termas de Panqui which was 15km down a dirt track, set up by an american hippy with the enticement of staying in a tepee (a native american's tent). In torrential rain, we travelled down the atrocious bumpy road to the hot springs to find a wet bewildered Mapuche Indian in a skiing jump suit, trying to persuade us to not stay in the tepees which were soaked through and collapsing from the wet Chilean winter. The hot springs cleaned off 5 days worth of grime and gave us a relaxing day away from the Beast but the evacuation signs in the centre of the local towns providing information on the indicators of a volcano about to erupt made us a little uneasy sitting there roasting away!- one of the statements was that the hot springs waters would heat up, a lot. I couldn't tell as my skin was starting to peel off anyway!

International border roads are always a bit dubious and this one was no exception. Rutted, potholed and with adverse camber, the road wound up through the tree and mist laden Lanin National Park where the pouring rain that hadn't stopped for 3 days turned into snow as we reached the border. We passed local Mapuches who all had a strange regional fashion of ponchos and hard hats to protect them from the rain. The monkey puzzle and southern beech trees were covered in dangling lichen. We stopped in San Martin de Los Andes where we met up Sarah and Gary the two 40+ year old Brits who have taken a year off to travel the world. They accompanied us the following day on the worst road we have encountered so far through the national park, where we saw some buff-necked ibises, condors and stunning snow capped scenery. They left us in the ski and chocolate resort of Bariloche to travel south to meet their ship south to the Antarctic.

We headed back into Chile to head south down into the island of Chiloe , dangling off the bottom of Chile . Chiloe is a unique place, scenically it does not really looking any different to anywhere else in Chile but all the houses are covered in wooden tiles, most of the churches on the island are UNESCO protected and most on the island live on subsistent farming with their own plots of land, growing vegetables, collecting seafood and fishing.

Greg and Alexis hadn't intended to spend so long on Chiloe, but there are only 2 boats a week leaving from Quellon to Chaiten, the start of the infamous Careterra Austral, so we spent a bit longer exploring the undulating island, with wooden tiled houses. We stopped in the small fishing village of Auchac , where a mere 100 people live and we had dinner in the only restaurant in town. We had just ordered some food when one of the local fishermen walked in and presented us with 12 oysters and 12 clams for free. We were the talk of the town and people came and asked us all about the car and explained what happened in their lives and the local fishing industry.

Our last night on Chiloe, we camped at the fairly unexciting monument that marks the end of the Pan American highway. The Pan American highway is quite a feat of engineering bridging 12 countries and covering 22,000 km and we have only just driven a mere 3,000 of it so far!

As we were getting ready to board the ferry, a cyclist from the USA called Nif asked if she could put her bicycle in the car to avoid paying for the crossing. She unloaded her bike into the back and we settled down with some of the local Chiloan delicacy, Curanto (a seafood, meat and potato hotpot normally cooked underground for 4 hours). We boarded the roll-on-roll-off ferry and set off from Quellon to Chaiten, braving extremely choppy seas with waves just reaching the top of the boat sides. We spent the 6 hours crossing trying not to throw up by watching Albatrosses, Petrels and Penguins braving the waves.

We arrived back on 'the continent' (as Chiloans call it) in the end-of-the-road palm tree strewn town of Chaiten where we stocked up on water and essentials before heading off to another thermal hot springs, this time heaving with dirty truck drivers recuperating from their long drives. Nif, the not-so-much-cycling-across-south-america-cyclist, decided to hitch a ride with us down the Careterra Austral.

During the 1970s, Pinochet was worried about the Argentineans invading and ravishing the southern part of Chile of all its natural resources. So licenses were issued to provide incentives for mass migration to the area. In the process, over 3 million acres of prime forest was burnt to the ground as part of the clearance as it was faster than logging. Ghostly remnants of the tree trunks stand lonesome amongst the fast growing wood forests that have since been planted. A gravel road was constructed through the region, the Careterra Austral. The Chilean government is currently tarmacing the road which weaves its way through the snowcapped mountain range of the southern Andes , through pretty flower strewn meadows with cows and sheep grazing in the Alpine looking countryside. There are still only 87,000 people in a region the size of the UK . We headed south down the gravel road, leaving Nif with a Chilean cyclist to carry on her route south and we headed back into Argentina .

Notes from Chile :

- Chile is much more expensive than any of its neighbouring countries.
- The Pan American highway ends 1km south of Quellon on the Chilean island of Chiloe . It stretches for 22,000km from Chiloe all the way to Anchorage in Alaska . It passes through 12 countries and is an unbroken road except for 30km through a national park in Colombia , known as the Darien Gap.
- Horsemen in Chile are called Hausos (Whoo-ass-o-s). They generally sport a flat, broad brimmed hat and in wet weather will wear a poncho. There is usually one dog if not two trailing behind.
- Every town in Chile has an artist's market, selling things from local woodcraft to woollen products to jewellery.
- Chile tried to give the island of Chiloe to the British back in the 1800s, but the Brits refused.
- Most of the salmon farmed on Chiloe is boxed up and sent to Japan and Norway (so just think how far your salmon has actually come next time you have a bit of gravalax!)
- When passing a mate on to the next person, in Chile you take from the right and pass to the left.
- The owner of the clothing company, Espirit bought a plot of land at the north of the area now known as the Careterra Austral. He turned it into a private park called Parque Pumalin, one of the first in Chile. It is highly controversial as he charges for people to drive through the park on the initial part of the Careterra Austral from Puerto Montt, but at the same time has preserved a large area of lenga and southern beech forest that was burnt down south of the park.

Notes from Argentina :

- Horsemen in Chile are called Gauchos (G-ow-ch-o). In the Patagonian region they wear berets, wide trousers that are pulled in tightly around the ankle and pixie boots. Many don't have saddles but sit on sheep skins.
- San Carlos de Bariloche has a healthy population of St Bernards who you can have your photograph taken with in the central square.

Posted by Alexis at 12:01 AM GMT
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Monday, 23 October 2006
Getting Chilly in Chile
Hola Beast Crew

We are in Chile , the land of the world's driest desert, Mapuche Indians, glaciers, the Andes and the Pacific. In just a few weeks we have chugged our way across one of the most diverse continents and over the highest drivable mountain ranges in the world. We are now in Chile!

We have spent the past week trying to hone our Spanish to enable us to converse with the locals and learn more about wonderful South America. We have also added a new podcast of our trip – if there is anything that you would like to see or for us to video more then please drop us an email!

Puenta del Inca (Argentina) – Santiago (Chile) – Vina del Mar – Valparaiso

8th October 2006 – 23rd October 2006
It is possibly the best road in the world, yet I don't think you would ever find it in "The Ten Best Drives" book. The road is cracked, the camber leans you down towards the hundreds of metres drop to the jagged rocks below and the speeding overladen trucks careering towards you scare the crap out of you, but the scenery is unparalleled. The road up from Mendoza , through the military zone to Puenta del Inca and through the tunnel into Chile is awe inspiring. It catches your breath in more ways than one as it winds from 1000m above sea level up to nearly 3000m, making any kind of walking or talking difficult (much to Greg's pleasure!). The snow capped peaks of mountains several thousand metres higher than the tiny Beast, tower up into the sky with evidence of collapse bulging out onto the road with boulders and scree edging the road out of existence.

The sign as you entered the Christ the Redeemer Tunnel was the only statement that we had seen or heard in Argentina that there is any remaining claim on the Falklands... Las Islas Malvinas son Argentina (The Falkland Islands are Argentina). Our slight sense of embarrassment and worry about how Argentinians would react to us being English, with a British ex-military vehicle driving through their stunning country was unfounded. The conversations that we have had with people about the Falklands war always was explained away with Margaret Thatcher and their then president, Galtieri, clutching at failing politics to keep them in power. Argentinians, although many in South America accuse them of being arrogant and snobby, are actually proud, extremely wonderful and friendly people. With some sadness we chugged through the tunnel which passed through the Andes and out into the bright daylight of Chile.

As with all border crossings, they are stressful times but this Argentinean/Chilean border crossing has to be one of the most amusing. Our temporary importation document was taken off us with efficiency by the Argentineans, we paid for entering their side of the tunnel and we were shuffled through to the Chilean side. Alexis was asked for some money for the Chilean side of the tunnel, which as obvious first timers to Chile we had no pesos. Alexis changed some money in the heaving passport terminal which offered some respite from the bright sun-strewn snow slopes offering some late season skiers the opportunity to ski from Argentina into Chile. Having paid for the Chilean tunnel we were shuffled through to the Chilean passport control where we were asked for documents that we should have been given by the Argentineans. The border guard flapped around for a few minutes before finding us the correct documents to fill in. Alexis had to then go and get a form identified as the papel amarilla (yellow paper) which was the temporary import documentation. She spent ? hour being shunted from one queue to another whilst Greg was having awe struck conversations with the carabineros (military police) who were cooing over the Beast, saying that it was the first time they had ever seen one, they had only ever seen them in magazines.

"Are you married?" asks the border guard coyly when we returned to the guard post with all the correct documentation. "Are all the girls in your country as beautiful as you?" Now this is a difficult one. You are sitting next to your long term boyfriend who is trying in faltering Spanish to explain that we are not married but almost, and if you touch my missus you die, and then you have a border guard who is attempting the only bit of English he knows and will let you through the gates into his beautiful country. I went with the border guard ignoring Greg. Five minutes and a lot of smiling later we are cruising slowly down through the Andes and counting the number of hairpin bends, down from thirty five in order to get down to the lush, green plains of Region V (or Santiago).

We hit the outskirts of Santiago where the streets turned into a speed track for buses all racing us into the centre. We drove into the centre of town where we pulled up in the central cobble stoned district of Paris-Londres where we grabbed a room and headed out into town. We had to get our priorities right as it was our sole reason for staying in Santiago for a few days longer than intended - we had to find a shop that sold Robbie Williams concert tickets! He was playing the following day in the National Stadium. Apparently the concert was not sold out, so Alexis went off on a quest to obtain the tickets that were selling for the UK concerts at twice to three times the face value. Tickets in hand we journeyed to the concert for a truly unique experience. There were sandwich sellers, drink sellers and nut sellers all squeezing down the thin aisles, shouting out their wares. Bandana salesman mingled with the food salesmen as the sun set over the Andes , visible over the top of the stadium. As the sun went down, Robbie jumped on staged and gave a 3 hour concert and we let him entertain us - a surreal experience watching a British popstar in a situation far from British.

The following few days were spent wandering the surprisingly lovely capital, which although it occasionally disappears under a cloud of smog, the snow capped Andes frame the skyline. There is a lot of British, French and German influence on the architecture, making the city feel unusually European. Alexis visited the house of one of the most famous Chileans, Pablo Neruda. Pablo Neruda is a famous Nobel prize winning poet who most recently gained notoriety when the film, 'Il Postino', was made about his life with his mistress when he escaped Pinochet's strangle hold to Italy.

Some would say that Friday the 13th would be a bad day, and that, coupled with a weak earthquake that hit 4 on the richter scale, made it a bad day for some who died the freak floods that caused road accidents during the heavy rains. Luckily for us the worst thing was that we got soaked in the down pour in the walk from the car into the hostel we were staying at in Vina del Mar. The rain streaked vineyards were a blur as we drove past to the coast.

Vina del Mar is the Chilean's coastal escape, with ugly high rise buildings crowding the hills with the prettier wooden clapper board houses serving as weekend holiday destinations. There are long golden beaches crowded with fantastic restaurants to watch the seals play in the surf framed by the red sunset.

We were destined for Valparaiso, to learn Spanish. Valparaiso has just started hitting the tourist route because it was designated a UNESCO world heritage site in 2003. It is well known for the stunning scenery that the houses create as the crowded hills with splashes of pinks, blues, yellows and red jostle with the dark blue of the Pacific Ocean. Artists graffiti line walls with pretty scenes of the surrounding hills. Cobble stone streets wind up into the hills. Balconies with washing lines streaming across the streets crowd the skyline. There is a bohemian atmosphere as you see artists drawing the beautiful buildings, musicians wander the streets, back allies squeeze between the buildings and at night music wafts down onto the street over the balconies.

There are 42 hills that make up Valparaiso which makes getting up to the top a strain that only the fittest can accomplish without collapsing. There are however 15 ascensores (or funiculars), box cars on a counter-balance pulley system, dotted around the town to ensure that you can still climb up to see the magnificent views. The whole area has crumbled under the impacts of devastating earthquakes but new buildings are now required to have earthquake protection from the tremors that occur every week or two through to the devastating earthquakes that occur every 5 to 10 years. Valparaiso (or Valpo) used to be an important port used as a stopping point for those rounding the Cape Horn . Because of the demand for Chilean wheat, brought on by the Californian gold rush in the 1850s, there was a population boom from 5000 (1818) to 55,000 in the 1850s. A devastating earthquake in 1906 and the opening of the Panama Canal in 1914 stopped the growth of the city and now the port has dwindled in size. We even found it difficult to ship the Beast into the port!

It is an interesting city with the rich and poor all squeezed onto the hills together. We have experienced the poor first hand as one of the girls in the hostel had her passport stolen and Greg got his pocket felt up by a taxi driver (although he was quite drunk so whether it was his pocket or crotch we will never know!). This is where we have spent the past week… learning and improving Spanish, finding out about the socio-economics of the region, looking at house prices and wandering the brightly coloured cobble stone streets. Unfortunately we have to leave and head south to the Lake District otherwise we would stay here forever!

Notes from Chile :

? After the daily weather report, an estimation of any potential seismic movements across Chile is given relating to the regions affected.

? Salaries in Chile range from #60/month to #8000/month. The average is #400/month

? The northern part of Chile actually belonged Peru and Bolivia until 1879 when the War of the Pacific was declared on them both as the demand for salt and nitrates forced foreign interests to conquer the surrounding countries and acquire salt and nitrate mines. The land is still disputed territory.

? Chile has very little natural gas and oil and so relies on surrounding countries to supply their energy. Due to their disputed territory, one of the largest natural gas suppliers, Bolivia, refuses to sell to them and has imposed clauses on other countries like Argentina on selling gas to Chile.

? Chile was released from Spanish occupation by the son of an Irishman, Bernardo O'Higgins who was part of the Army of the Andes in 1810. His statue is found everywhere and his name is used to usually identify the main roads in towns. Other liberators like Valdivia have towns named after them.

? The population of Chile is 15 million with 6 million living in the capital of Santiago .

? Chile runs down the spine of the Andes with Argentina located to the east and Peru and Bolivia to the north

? Chile is 4000km in length and is a maximum of 180km wide. It covers an area of 748,800 sq km and has 6,435km of coastline.

? The Chilean Peso ($) is at October 2006 rates, $950 = #1.

? Petrol prices are around #0.60/litre petrol and #0.55/litre diesel.

? During 'the Chaos' and the 'caravan of death' of Pinochet's rule, from 1973 to 1988 several hundred thousand people were murdered and 'disappeared' for opposing the military regime. Many people escaped out of the country.

? All of the regions are numbers from the north, Region I down to the bottom Region XII.

? The national drink of Chile is Pisco which can be mixed with lemon and sugar to produce a potent Pisco Sour.

Posted by Alexis at 12:01 AM BST
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Thursday, 12 October 2006
BA Beastacus!
Buenos Aires

September 2006

This week's podcast is courtesy of Greg, the new food channel host as he explains how to make Mate the popular Argentinean drink –

We said sad goodbyes to our family after 9 weeks enjoying the 35 degree heat of the British summer, the world cup and family weddings. We travelled via Washington DC and stepped off the aeroplane into a freezing (1 degree) Buenos Aires on Monday 4th September. We headed to a recommended overlanders motorbike garage, Dakar Motos, in the northeast of Buenos Aires. We arrived bleary eyed to a big kiss from the owners Sandra and Javier and a coffee and a mate (mart-ay) were thrust into our hands. We sat in the workshop kitchen and talked Argentinean politics, roads and travel until they left the garage for the evening. Dakar Motos has become extremely well known in the South American overlanding fraternity as a garage that can help overland motorcyclists to reconstruct their vehicles and provides beds within the workshop for weary travellers.

Sandra was to become our new ally on combating the world of bureaucracy to release the Beast from the port. We expected our boat to be late arriving in to the country, but unfortunately for us the boat had arrived a week early. Argentinian port regulations give you 5 days to collect your crate or container before they start to charge extra per day for your precious cargo sitting on the port side. This meant that we had to get the car cleared and out of customs rapidly. Sandra made some preliminary phone calls and found that the agent we had been given as a contact in Australia knew absolutely nothing about our container and didn't even know if it had arrived. So time was of the essence as we were already 2 days down. We enrolled Sandra as our chief negotiator and she worked wonders.

Initially we had to obtain the bill of lading from the shippers. This is a document that states that your cargo has arrived. Once we had paid US$300 for 3 pieces of paper, we headed to the customs office (Emba) to start all the release paperwork. After waiting for 3 hours outside the office we were given a number and told to come back after their two hour lunch. We decided that we would try and sort out the port authority paperwork that we required, so we walked (you all know how Greg hates to walk!) to the Bactssa office. We spoke to the port authority officer who informed us that the cost would be $1400 (around #240 or US$450). This cost included the removal of the cargo from the boat and storing it on the dock.

So not having that many pesos with us and being unable to pay by credit card, we set off in a taxi to get some money. We soon found out how the country is still in recovery from the financial crash of 2001. We visited six banks and every bank we went to had no money, we could not obtain money from the ATMs or over the counter. After spending nearly an hour looking for a bank that would give us money, we converted the remaining dollars and travellers cheques that we had on us. We later found out that it was pay day and that since people have no respect for the government and their fiscal policies they take their entire salary out, emptying the banks.

Brandishing our newly converted pesos, we headed back to Bactssa to pay our port duties. We were offered a $12 reduction (#2) in the total bill as we had had to get a taxi to get money. A bargain! So we returned to the customs office to see a large queue that had formed. Sandra poked her head around the door to see if our number allowing us to queue jump was still valid. In the process she incurred the wrath of the waiting people who screamed at us. To abate the situation, we retreated to the corner and we waited for a further 3 hours, not gaining our required paperwork but another number from the weary looking customs officers for our return the following day.

We were second in the queue the following morning, obtaining our paperwork. We were given a time for the customs officer to come and carry out an inspection of the car and container. We went to the warehouse and port area to try and retrieve our container, but where only slightly hindered by the port not actually being able to locate our container – not an easy task when there are several million containers passing through the port every year.

As soon as they found the container a mere hour later, a big smile spread across Greg and my face and we realised that we could actually carry on with our adventure! We checked the unique metal seal (a metal bolt with a number) that Alexis had inserted in the lock in Melbourne to make sure that the container had not been opened without our permission and then the seal was cut off with bolt cutters and the doors flung open. And there she was…. Our Beast! We were hoping we would see her again but we weren't 100% sure as there is a high tendency for containers to fall overboard in rough seas or for them to be left in the port and not make the right boat.

The wheels and Maggiolina were still in the location they had been in before so we took them out and then tried to start the car to move it out of the container. The Beast wouldn't start so we contemplated having to push it out – not easy with a 3.5 tonne vehicle on rims! A squirt of magic spray in the air intake remedied the situation and allowed us to rev her up and then drive her out over the ramp and out into the sunny Argentinean port.

A small crowd of port workers collected around the car and all clamoured to help us to put the wheels and roof rack back on. A fork lift truck was brought over and used to lift the Beast as we removed the rims and put the front wheels back on, creating an image of a Beast awakening and crawling out of the port. The fork lift truck was positioned at the back and the car lifted with the aid of a piece of wood to stop the suspension being damaged. One wheel was put on safely but then suddenly there was a creak and a crack as the wood which had not quite been positioned correctly broke under the weight and the Beast lurched precariously to one side. The other wheel had not been put on but luckily the rim was still on and the forklift had caught the Beast before it crushed the port worker at the side. A deep breath was taken, damaged assessed and we quickly put the other wheel back on.

The customs verifier arrived. There was no quarantine or inspection inside the Beast as the customs verifier made a cursory glance at the car and left us to reconstruct the vehicle whilst he filled in the information with Sandra. We carried on putting the roof rack and Maggiolina back on the roof. All of it was due to Sandra and a very big thank you to Sandra for all her smiles and encouragement through the stressful process. We then drove out of the port into cold winter air and manic traffic of Buenos Aires…

The Beast is Back!

Notes from Argentina:

The capital of Argentina is Buenos Aires.

The currency of Argentina is pesos ($) and centavos which at the time of writing there was $6 to the # and $3.10 to the US$.

The Argentinian Peso is the official currency. The Peso was linked to the US dollar in the 1990s. By the end of the 1990s, the peso had become overvalued and Argentinian products became unviable in the global market. People saw that their government was inept and so started to take money out of the banks and transfer it abroad. In 2001, the government imposed a cash-withdrawal weekly limit of US$250 which lead to rioting. The financial crash has left people wary of the banks and when they are paid the banks are emptied of cash. Many keep their money in their houses now.

A good bottle of wine will cost you around $3 (around 50p).

The average salary in Buenos Aires is $600 – 800 (around #100 to #130) a month. Many poorer families have to survive on $200 a month (about #30).

Argentina covers an area of 2,776,890 sq km or 1,072,157 sq miles.

The population of Argentina is nearly 40 million.
Mate (pronounced as mart-ay) is a tea like tree which is ground up into small bits and put in a wooden lined pot. A metal straw with a filter at the end is put in the cup and hot water is poured over the top. The mate is drunk and then topped up with water and passed on to the next person to drink. Mate is a part of Argentinian culture that is very social and you are honoured to be asked to participate. If you linger too long over drinking your Mate you will be told that "it is not a mircophone!"

In Argentina there are four languages commonly spoken – Spanish (the official language), Quechua, Guarani and Araucanian.

The religions of Argentina are - 93% Roman Catholic, 2.5% Protestant, 2% Jewish, 1.5% Ukranian Catholic and 1% Armenian Orthodox.

The major indigenous groups are the Quechua of the northwest, the Mapuche of Patagonia and smaller groups of Guaranai, Matacos, Tobas and Wichi.

Posted by Alexis at 8:31 PM BST
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Monday, 25 September 2006
Into the Pampas...
Hola Beast Crew

Buenos Aires – La Carlota – Valle de Dique – Cordoba – Quines – San Rafael

16th September 2006 – 25th September 2006

After a week of relaxing in the Argentinian sun, we were joined at Dakar Motos by a Swede, Roni, who is to start his travels around South America on his motorbike. He enlisted Sandra to help him to get his bike from the port and customs. Unfortunately Roni had sent his motorbike via TNT, the transport company, who hindered the release of his motorbike and hugely overcharged him for their services. Sandra of Dakar Motos worked her wonders again and managed to get his bike released to enable him to head north up to the Amazon on his three month whirlwind tour.

We had to wait for an insurance bloke to come out to evaluate the cost of the vehicle (apparently they have to inspect every car before they will issue the insurance) and then we had to wait for insurance to come through before we could head off into the unknown hills of Argentina. So a few more days in Buenos Aires, we were treated to one of Argentina’s famous asados (barbeque) by Sandra and Javier. The asado is an art in itself. The meat is only placed on the grill when the coals are grey and ashy. The meat is slow roasted for over 2 hours until it melts in the mouth (apparently – a vegetarian writing this!). The meat is carved up on a wooden board and distributed in small pieces along with the morcilla (blood sausage) and intestines which are supposed to be a delicacy!

The day of departure from Buenos Aires arrived and we said a sad goodbye with our insurance in hand and headed north out into the campo (countryside). We drove through flat agricultural land with occasional gauchos herding their horses across the dusty horizon. We passed little shrines marked with red flags or paint, some ornately decorated with painted stones and red flags, others decorated with waste plastic bottles with the Virgin Mary or Jesus surveying the road and the large trucks lumbering by. That evening we stopped in a petrol station for the night and hid behind all the large trucks, listening to all the rumbles and grumbles of the passing trucks. We headed north up to the small mountain ranges of the Sierra de Cordoba, driving through small villages all offering for sale homemade cheese, salami and bread, dangling temptingly from the one storey roadside shops. The mountain area is an Argentinian holiday destination and is crammed with little art shops and restaurants situated around the holding reservoirs. We stopped in one of the small villages lining the lakes and experienced one of the local liquors, Fernet and coke. Fernet tastes like a cross between Hierbas from Spain and Jagermeister with a slight anaesthetic feeling to the mouth but the following morning your mouth resembles a chewy dried up dog poo with the equivalent breath!

We headed north with our furry mouths and seeking some respite we drove through the mountain villages until we found what seems to be a common feature of South America, a German village. Belgrano is decked out with pretty brown and white alpine houses, sells Sauerkraut, Kasespaztle and even has an Oktoberfest like Munich! We passed through the town of Alta Gracia which has a UNESCO world heritage designated Jesuit church. The Jesuits were thrown out of Argentina when the Pope designated them all as heretics.

We arrived in Cordoba, the province capital, which was set up 1573. We drove in through miles of ferreterias and car repair places into the historical centre. The beautiful buildings crammed into the square are all part of a world heritage designated zone with another Jesuit church as their crowning piece. Cordoba is one of the more Catholic cities with more than 21 churches in the central area alone. We spent several nights enjoying the spring festival with lots of bands and people watching. Greg even had his first Spanish lesson from a policemen, when he had to explain, in rather drunken spanglish, why he was relieving himself in a public place!

From Cordoba we headed due southwest back up into the arid mountains of the Sierra de Cordoba where we sat and watched condors rising on the hot thermals, before heading down across the flat pampas areas towards the Andes and the wine region of San Rafael. Sandra and Javier recommended that we meet up with two of their friends who have moved to the region to grow grapes…. Bring on the wine!!

Notes from Argentina:

• Argentinians in Buenos Aires are obsessional about their dogs. There are dogwalkers who are employed to take people’s dogs for a walk for over 2 hours a day. They can be seen walking down the street with more than 10 dogs all straining at the lead. There are also penned off areas in the parks for the dog walkers to exercise their charges.
• Buenos Aires have a siesta from 1pm to 3pm but most argentinian towns outside of BA have a siesta until 5pm.
• All Argentinean maps have the Falklands/Islas Malvinas marked down as part of Argentina, although you cannot fly there directly from Argentina (you have to fly from Chile). The Falklands have been in British ownership since 1853.
• Over 30,000 people disappeared under the military regime between 1976 and 1983, which became known as the Dirty War. Many were attempting to oppose the regime but some were just protesting against the price of bus tickets. Some of the people were put in jails others simply disappeared. Other people were tied up and thrown out of low flying aeroplanes into the rivers. Their bodies have never been found.
• Argentinean telephones and the networks have the ability to turn into a ‘handy’ or a CB. You can use a number similar to a telephone to ring anyone else with a CB identification in the country. There is also a button at the side of the telephone that will allow you to use your phone as a CB.
• If you want to get car insurance for your vehicle, you must have an inspector come out and look it over before you are offered insurance. It is possible to buy insurance for Argentina and all of the other surrounding countries.

Posted by Alexis at 12:01 AM BST
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Sunday, 16 July 2006
On the Beastly Road Again
Dear Beast Crew

April – July 2006

The start of the new adventure has begun.

Greg spent many months negotiating prices for the shipment of the Beast to South America from an alarming US$6,000 for a RORO (Roll On Roll Off) to a more reasonable $2,000. In reducing the price we had to reduce the height of the Beast to squeeze her into a 20' container and reduce the height of the car from 2.70m down to 2.28m. Our headache was further enhanced by comment that had been made by a mechanic when the Maggiolina and tyre rack were put on, who said that neither would come off as they were firmly glued on. After a month of stressing about the excessive price of a larger container, we worked out that the roof appendages had been attached with sealant and could be easily removed and we lost a total of 20cm from the height of the vehicle.

We still needed to lose about 20 cm in height to get the vehicle into the container. The options available to us included lowering the tyres, putting the hubs on some wheeled trays and rolling her in or making some custom made wheels. Talking to various mechanics and Alexis's Dad, lowering the tyres was ruled out due to the bulging and distortion of the tyres. A conversation with a fellow 101 driver, lead us to Anthony of the British 4WD garage in the outskirts of Melbourne. The effervescent Anthony managed to source some wheeled trays which unfortunately wouldn't support a 3.5 tonne lump of steel and aluminium. Anthony volunteered to make up some small metal wheel rims and to help stuff the Beast into the container.

The stress of the past few months has all culminated in one day at the Melbourne Docklands. At the beginning of July, Alexis, accompanied by Anthony and Bill, put the metal rims and we drove the Beast into a 20 foot container. She was strapped down in the container to stop rolling and prevent being smashed against the side during the sea voyage. We braced the rims with wood to stop movement backwards and forwards and we closed the door. The Beast now has to endure a 45 – 50 day trip encased in a big metal shipping container to Buenos Aries in Argentina, South America. The massive container ship, the Golden Wattle, will travel up the coast of Australia via Singapore and onto Buenos Aries where we will have to battle with customs to get her released to conquer the Mayan, Aztec and Salsa nations!

Adriano is still slaving away to write down the aboriginal languages of Western Australia . He managed to find 50% of the one of the groups who refused to help him write down the language but then found the other 50% of the population. They unfortunately refused to help, so the only 2 people that speak one of the aboriginal languages are going to let it die out. He is still putting together children's books and enjoying weeks out in the bush.

Alexis and Greg have now headed home to the UK for family weddings. They will fly out to Argentina to meet and reassemble the Beast in September for the next leg of the trip across to Chile, down to southern Argentina before heading north to Brazil and across to Ecuador, Central America and then the USA and Canada. Hopefully Adriano will join them later in the year. We will update you all when we head south to the southern hemisphere again, and tell you of the scenes from the cracking ice floes in Ushuaia to the snow capped mountains of the Andes and on to the forests of the Amazon.

Thank you to all our Australian mates for accepting the travelling Poms into their lives, showing us your wonderful country and we hope you will all keep in contact with us.

Notes from Australia:

? There are only an estimated 60 Land Rover Forward Control 101s in Australia.
? Football and footy refers to Australian Football League whereas Soccer refers to football (confused?).
? Australian English - A 'nature strip' is a grass verge. The word 'heaps' is used to classify many or a lot of things. Sweets are called 'lollies'. The word 'pokies' is used for slot machines. A chicken is called a 'chook'. If you 'pash' you are kissing. 'Superannuation' is the word used for pension funds. A 'robe' is a wardrobe. 'Dim Sim' is used for dim sum. A 'bottle shop' is an off license. To 'dink' is to hitch a lift on a bicycle. To feel 'crook' is to feel ill.
? If you want a house that faces the sun, the rooms facing the north are the sunniest rooms.
? Many place names across Australia come from Aborigine words - Canberra – an aboriginal word which means 'meeting place', Kooyong – means camp or resting place, Kurri Kurri - means 'to hurry along' or 'to go very quickly', Wagga Wagga - means 'place of many crows', Moree - means 'long waterhole' or 'rising sun', Wollongong – means 'hard ground near water'. The area would have been named because it was so close to the water and Toowoomba - means 'place of melons'.
? Popular female Australian names include Bronwyn, Vesna and Liesel.
? Australian summer school holidays occur during Christmas and winter holidays occur during July.
? The famous Australian leather hat worn by station owners is called an Akumbra.
? Australia 's first police force was made up of a dozen of the best behaved convicts.
? The world's oldest flower was found in a fossil near Melbourne. The Koonwarra plant has two leaves and one flower and is believed to be 120 million years old.
? The Australian breed of dog is the Blue Heeler which is used for biting the legs of cattle for herding purposes.
? Over 1,000 Australians die from skin cancer every year.
? The beloved dish of Australia is the Chicken Parmigiana with entire webpages like dedicated to where to find the best.
? There are four types of Boomerang - the "hook", the "hunter", the "club", the "V". All were used for hunting and warfare but only the Hunter will return when thrown.
? A 'B and S' party is a Bachelors and Spinsters party thrown in the country. You dress in your best outfit, make a one off payment is paid and as much alcohol can be drunk as is possible.
? There are 441 airports across Australia.
? 95% of the world's opals are mined in Australia.
? There are 6,000 species of flies and 1,500 species of spiders in Australia.

Posted by Alexis at 10:17 PM BST
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Friday, 7 April 2006
Dealing down under!
February – April 2006

Adriano’s life has been changed dramatically with a move of over 4000 km from one side of Australia to the other. He left Sydney on the east coast, for Geraldton on the west coast at the beginning of March, a mere 450 km north of Perth. He is working there under his amazing linguistics guise and writing down the Aboriginal languages of the region before they are lost into the sands of time. He has to publish several books on the language in the next few months.

Alexis and Greg furthered their Beastly quest within the media by having a photo shoot with Australia’s Overlander magazine who are covering our trip in May’s issue. Our story “Beast in the Far East” will feature in the May issue of Land Rover Monthly. Alexis and Greg also presented to over 200 people at the Pajero club of Melbourne about their round the world trip.

Alexis was sent to the wonderful Hunter Valley to do some contamination work and ended up spending two weeks enjoying the scenery of the surrounding area with kangaroos bouncing across the arid grasslands. She spent a day travelling around the area and visited the interesting Burning Mountain National Park. The Burning Mountain is a mere smouldering pile of ash spewing sulphur. The amazing thing is that it has been burning for over 5,500 years, possibly started by a strike of lightning.

Alexis organised the Australian Drink Club’s outing to the Yarra Valley Grape Grazing. We courageously journeyed to the Yarra Valley wine region, 50km northeast of Melbourne, for a day of drinking Victoria’s finest booze. We endured the hard task of trying the produces of several different vineyards before heading back to Melbourne to stare blankly into the distance and vomit!

During one of our many journeys around Victoria, we stopped off at a museum that pays tribute to one of Australia’s most endangered species, the Gippsland Giant Worm. The worm is on the world endangered list as it only occupies an area of 50 hectares in the southeast part of Victoria. Very little is known about it as it is so rare. The worm is enormous, reaching up to 4m in length and is the diameter of a wine bottle cork. Apparently it gurgles as it moves through its burrow which can cover an area of over 25m.

Alexis and Greg went on Deal or No Deal, the new world wide quiz show, with the intent of winning $200,000 but after getting on the stage they were pipped at the post by another contestant. The rules are slightly different to the one in the UK, answering questions and you only having one chance to win. They managed to walk away with another tv show under their belt, but unfortunately no money in the pocket!

The Commonwealth Games has gripped Australia and especially Melbourne where the city has been hosting the games. There have been a variety of events going on in addition to the sports events. There were live cook offs, free open air music events, arts events, even a true Aussie beach was constructed in the centre of town. The sporting events hadn’t quite finish as the Grand Prix screamed into Albert Park, a 5 minute walk from Alexis and Greg’s flat. The earsplitting Grand Prix had some dramatic crashes and engine explosions with the usual Ferrari supporters and barely clad women – a great day out!

Greg has been busy writing his memoirs of our world trip, spending every waking hour outside of street cafes and bars typing away. He is now searching for a publisher…. Anyone got any great publishing contacts? As Greg hasn’t been sponsored whilst here in Australia, he has been forced to leave the country and flee to the tropical island of Fiji to renew his visa! God, he leads a hard life!

Notes on Australia

• A Pommie in Australian slang is an English man/woman. A pommie wash is a quick wash using a face cloth, often while still partly clothed – apparently a comical reference to the belief that English people wash less frequently than others due to the cold climate!
• A light bulb is known as a ‘light globe’ in Australia. To lend your support to a team, you ‘barrack’ the team. A capsicum is another word for the vegetable, the pepper.
• If you want to make food ‘Aussie’ then all you have to do is make it with beetroot or pineapple. The Hungry Jacks (Burger King in the UK) fast food restaurant has the Aussie Burger made with beetroot.
• The daylight saving time (putting the clocks back by 1 hour for winter) was prosponed because of the Commonwealth Games in the southern Australian States.
• The words to the Australian National Anthem: Australians all let us rejoice,
For we are young and free; We’ve golden soil and wealth for toil; Our home is girt by sea; Our land abounds in nature’s gifts, Of beauty rich and rare; In history’s page, let every stage Advance Australia Fair. In joyful strains then let us sing, Advance Australia Fair.
• There are regular national ‘spelling bees’ on television and in theatres. A spelling bee is a spelling competition for both children and adults where you spell out the word to win or embarrass yourself.
• If you order fish and chips in Australia you are likely to order shark and chips (shark is known as flake).
• Many species of Eucalyptus tree shed their bark in spring time.
• There are only a few chocolate bunnies at Easter as they are being replaced by the chocolate Bilby. The Bilby is a rabbit looking marsupial that has been pushed to the verge of extinction by the more successful and introduced rabbits.
• Cyclones created in the southern hemisphere, rotate in a different direction to tornadoes and hurricanes found in the northern hemisphere due to the Coriolis Effect.
• During public events daring pilots scrawl sky writing across the sky in aviation fuel to make political statements, ask someone to get married or just to wish one of the teams good luck.
• Ginger haired people are called Bluey in Australia.
• Brothels are legal in Melbourne.
• 1 in 4 Australians were born outside of Australia.
• In Australian English, if you are to say a date you would say 23 August not 23rd of August.
• It is believed that there were between 200 and 300 Australian Aboriginal languages at the time of first European contact. Only about 70 of these languages have survived, and all but 20 of these are now on the verge of becoming extict.
• The Hunter wine valley was set up by Vicar Tyrell in the 1850s. He had been sent up from Sydney to set up a parish and found that he kept running out of holy communion wine. To resolve his problem, he set up his own vineyard making his own wine and now his descendants are in control of one of the best known wine producers in the world.
• Many places in Australia you need to place a bid in a public auction if you want to buy a house. You get a survey completed before you place a bid. There is a reserve price but the price usually exceeds that price.
• Australia has 146 big things located around the country. These include a big worm, big pineapple, big mosquito, big banana, big watermelon, big scotsman, big rolling pin and big sundial amongst others.
• There are between 70,000 and 80,000 people on extended overland travel at any one time in Australia according to the RACV.

Posted by Alexis at 12:57 PM BST
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Wednesday, 1 March 2006
The Devil in Tassie
Alexis and Greg spent Christmas and New Year in Tasmania, the 300km long island dangling off the bottom of Australia. We started up the Beast and caught the Spirit of Tasmania ferry for the 12 hour journey over the Bass Strait to the seventh state of Australia. Over the two weeks they journeyed from the east to the west, north to south. We visited the beautiful wild Cradle Mountain, stunning golden beaches of the Wineglass Bay with its golden sands, Stanley with the headquarters of the Van Dieman company and travelled up the Jacob’s Ladder to Tasmania’s only ski resort Ben Lomond. We pulled the Beast up and camped on the golden sands of the Bay of Fires where red algae colour the granite rocks along the beach.

We pulled up on the beach to spend Christmas at Freycinet National Park and we were woken up at 8.30am on Christmas morning by a fire engine roaring into the campsite with sirens blaring and a hoard of elves cheering and Father Christmas screaming “Merry Christmas!”. We set up a table on the beach, had Christmas lunch and dinner with a few bottles of wine, champagne and port and then saw Father Christmas walking along the beach handing out presents to kids. A very relaxing Christmas!

We headed down the east coast to the wooded peninsula to the east of Hobart, which was used until the 1870s as a penal settlement. Due to its location, disconnected from the mainland, it became prime real estate as a penal colony. Port Arthur became the gaol for second time offenders with a strict and cruel programme of punishment where the worst of the convicts were sent and sentenced to work in chain gangs. Flogging became a way of life, 100 lashes being the normal punishment with silent solitary treatment being used for the worst offenders. An asylum was set up for those that had endured the solitary confinement. Between 1830 and 1877 about 12,500 transported convicts were imprisoned at Port Arthur and one in seven died at the settlement. Port Arthur hit the news on 28th April 1996 when a madman produced an AR15 semi-automatic rifle and massacred 35 people in a killing spree.

Al Draffan and Sarah Wilson flew in from Melbourne to join us for a few days and to travel around Tasmania. We travelled through the forested and rocky centre to the west coast. We visited the desolate mining town of Queenstown where the hills have been sliced in half by copper mining. The mining pollution has been so devastating on the surrounding countryside that King River running away from the town is classified as dead with the ancient Huon Pines (upto 10,000 years old) barely clinging to the shoreline. We left the devastated hills and travelled through the poppy fields to Tasmania’s capital Hobart for New Year, pulling up at the docks and set up the Beast for New Years Eve. The docks were heaving with the winners of the Rolex Sydney to Hobart race that set off from Sydney on Boxing day. We went down to the waterfront pubs and rubbed shoulders with the yachties before seeing the New Year in under a drizzly sky watching the fireworks. We had to tear ourselves away from Hobart and left Al and Sarah happily eating their way through the amazing Taste of Tasmania, a food and wine festival to head back to Melbourne

The island of Tasmania became disconnected from the mainland during the melting of the last ice age, about 30,000 years ago enabling unique species and peoples to be established on the island. Tasmania was named after Abel Tasman who named it initially Van Dieman’s land (later to become Tasmania) in 1644. It became the second colony in Australia in 1803.

Like mainland Australia, the invading Europeans decided to make agreements with local populations. When the couldn’t make agreements, they kidnapped and created slaves of groups of Aborigines. In 1830, a military operation known as the 'Black Line' was launched against the Aboriginal people remaining in the settled districts. Every able-bodied male colonist, convict or freeman, was to form a human chain across the settled districts, moving for three weeks south and east in a pincer movement, until the people were cornered on the Tasman Peninsula. As part of the misguided attitudes that have plagued Australia during its 200 year history, the aborigines were resettled in the Bass Strait on Flinders Island. Many of them died of disease and poor diet bringing about the complete ethnic cleansing of the mainland aboriginal population in Tasmania.

The Tasmanian Devil is the icon of the island, but is seriously under threat from the Devil Facial Tumour Disease. It is the only cancer that has been identified that could potentially be transmitted through saliva and blood. Once the devils have contracted the cancer they die within 5 months and the disease is threatening to make the Tasmanian Devil extinct as it is estimated that over 90% of the population have already died.

Back to the normal life and earning money, we are enjoying the Australian obsession with sports. The impending Commonwealth Games and the Grand Prix are just arund the corner. The Australian Open Tennis started in Melbourne in January. Adriano cam down to visit for the weekend so Greg took Adriano to see Tim Henman play. Having not seen each other for a few months, several bottles of vodka were consumed to celebrate. The match therefore took on a slightly drunken edge with the two brits sitting on the front row with their british flag dangling over the side. Patriotic shouts of ‘Come on, Tim’ turn to ‘You’re crap, Tim’ as Tim’s skills waned, leading to Greg being one of the few people to have been thrown out of a tennis match for being drunk and disorderly. Bring on the Commonwealth Games!

• Tasmania has over 18 national parks with the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area covering 1.38 million hectares. There are over 2000km of walking tracks across Tasmania.
• The hole in the ozone layer is presently centred over Tasmania. Sun burn time is about 15-30 minutes with very deep burns occurring.
• Tasmania is made up out of 300 islands.
• The average summer temperature in Tasmania is a comfortable 21?C (70?F) with the average winter temperature of 12?C (52? F).
• Tasmania is also known as the Velcro Triangle and the Apple Isle.
• The next land mass to the south of Tasmania is the Antarctic, 2000km away.
• Tasmania grows most of Australia’s heroin poppies. These are for use in legal drugs. Tasmania also has the largest lavender farm in the world and it is the only commercial lavender producer in the southern hemisphere.
• The Thylacine or Tasmanian Tiger was hunted to extinction in the 1930s with the last one shot in captivity in 1936. It was a dog-like marsupial with stripes on its back. It had a backward facing pouch.
• Australia has had the worst year on record for flies. Part of this is due to the experimental use of dung beetles in a kangaroo poo eradication programme. The programme ceased to have funding last year and this year has seen a massive increase in the fly population. Australian flies are obsessive in landing on your face, nose, mouth and ears and once swatted will return to the same spot.
• The Southern Cross is a series of five stars that can only be seen in the southern hemisphere. They feature on the Australian and New Zealand flag. The Southern Cross' stars were of great importance to the aboriginal people. In central Australia, it was the belief that the pattern created by the stars in the cross was the footprint of a wedge-tailed eagle. The pointers were his throwing stick and the dark patch, his nest. Other indigenous peoples believed that the Southern Cross and its pointers are a Stingray (the cross) being pursued throughout the southern sky by a Shark (the pointers).
• The ancient Greeks could see the Southern Cross but as the Earth has wobbled on its axes it can now only be seen in the southern hemisphere.
• The Australian word for sheets, duvet covers and general bedding material is Manchester. The word for a duvet is Doona. The word for a cool box (a very useful word to know in Summer) is Esky. The word for beating is to bash.

Posted by Alexis at 12:01 AM GMT
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Thursday, 1 December 2005
The Red Centre
Dear Beast Crew

September – December 2005

G’day from down under! We have been on the road for just over a year now and it is shrimps on the barbie time down here with temperatures soaring to a warm 30 degrees in Melbourne and a warm 35 degrees in Sydney.

As Christmas is fast approaching we would appreciate it if Father Christmas could squeeze a Beast product into his Christmas Stocking. Just go to our webpage and click on charities. You can either make a donation or chose one of our fabulous products just by clicking and buying the product or go to this link BEASTLY SHOP all profit will go to our charities.

Anyway, the adventure continues….

Melbourne – Snowy Mountains – Phillip Island – Melbourne – Darwin – Kakadu – Alice Springs – Uluru (Ayre’s Rock) – Coober Pedy – Port Germein – Adelaide – Kangaroo Island – Port Fairy – Great Ocean Road – Melbourne

Greg’s friend Jean Christophe travelled from France to spend a few weeks with Alexis and Greg so it was decided that we would see a bit more of Australia and travel to the red centre.

We started our adventure with a trip into the not so Snowy Mountains in northern Victoria/Southern New South Wales, first stopping off for the Wangaratta Jazz Festival. We spent a few days in Kosciuszko National parks watching wet kangaroos and wombats wonder around in the mountain drizzle. The snow season in the Snowy Mountains is from July through to September and the depth of snow can get as thick as 3.5m but is usually a few centimetres. Unfortunately we were there in the snow melt and drizzly rain. The highest mountain in Australia is Mount Kosciuszko at a mere 2228m.

On the way back from the Snowy Mountains we popped into Phillip Island. Phillip Island is located at the bottom of Port Phillip Bay (Melbourne is at the top) and the island is famous for its daily penguin parade. They are the smallest penguins in the world at a mere 33cm. The beautiful little or fairy penguins troop out of the sea and run/waddle up the beach to their burrows in the sand after a busy day hunting fish offshore. It is slightly staged with a massive stadium set up on the shore with big lights shining onto the beach, but as with conservation across the world it seems to be the only to make people understand the animals they are watching in order to preserve them.

The following day the three of us flew up to Darwin to drive down and see the red centre. We gave the Beast a rest as she would have been too hot in the 40 degree heat and we only had 10 days holiday! So we picked up a Mini Beast or in honour of our French travelling partner, the Petit Beast – a camper Toyota Hiace. We got back on the road and headed down the Stuart Highway.

The Stuart Highway slices Australia in half like a black ribbon, from Darwin in the north, it roams 2,690 kilometres (1,671 miles) to Adelaide in the south. It is also known as the Explorer Highway and is named after an adventurous Scot, John McDouall Stuart. He led expeditions through Southern Australia and the Northern Territory on a quest to establish a permanent route north from Adelaide to Darwin. He finally achieved his ambition in 1863. The road was only sealed (tarmaced) in 1987, allowing 2 wheel drive cars to transect the continent.

We took a diversion to the world heritage site of Kakadu – one of the only places on the planet to have accreditation for cultural and natural factors. The roads are lined by the living termite motels, some that can reach over 6m high and 50 years in age. The park is home to thousands of birds, animals, mosquitoes and annoying bush flies. Kakadu is named after the Gugudju people who live in the park. There are over 60 types of marsupial, 280 species of bird, 117 species of reptile, 1,700 species of plants and over 10,000 species of insects. An amazing place that we watched fantastic lightning from our campsite swimming pool and then got up at 6am to see the early morning crocodiles and birds patrolling the waterways, then on to the unbelievable Nourlangie where the rock paintings date back to 20,000 years ago. Some of the paintings even show skeletons of the kangaroos.

We headed back to the Stuart Highway and down through Katherine, Daly Waters and Tennant’s Creek. The temperatures were unbearable outside of the air conditioned Petit Beast due to the “build-up” just before the wet season that pushes humidity up and temperatures creep towards 40 degrees. The common complaint from people from Tennant’s Creek to Uluru was that over the past 7 years they have experienced more humidity and more rain; a sign of the changing environment through global warming.

We stopped off at the Devil’s Marbles that lurk just off the highway, a pile of massive boulders precariously balanced on top of each other, up to 6m in diameter, slowly being weathered away located in the middle of a desert. They form part of the local dream time of the aborigines and are thought to be the eggs of the rainbow serpent. We stopped to fill up with petrol in Wycliffe Well to be confronted with two fenced in aliens next to the forecourt. Apparently Wycliffe Well has been the centre of UFO activity since the 1940s. We crossed over the Tropic of Capricorn and headed south to Alice Springs.

Alice Springs is well known as the stopping point before Uluru and for its large aboriginal population who sit around. Aborigines are still misunderstood and persecuted by the white population of Central Australia. Slowly the land is being handed back the aborigines who understand and maintain the land in accordance with their 60,000 years of knowledge. Within the aboriginal population there are issues with alcohol abuse and the new boredom relief is to sniff petrol leading to the introduction of petrol in the Northern Territory and Western Australia of an odourless petrol.

We stopped off at the Henbury Meteorite site where a massive meteorite split into 12 and pummelled the earth creating massive craters and then headed off the Stuart Highway past the impressive Mount Connor to a red Uluru surrounded by greenery.

Uluru, formerly named Ayers Rock, is a massive monolithic sandstone rock with a high iron content. We arrived at the rock just in time to line up with the other cars and watch the amazing sunset as it changed colour and merged into the purple sky. We met the London to Sydney rally, 15 classic British cars racing to Sydney in 3 months. It covers an area of 3.3 square kilometres and is 9.4 kilometres around its base. It rises 345 metres above the plains and is believed to extend several kilometres below the surface. We went to the campsite for the evening and sat and had a barbeque surrounded by solar system. Wild dingoes started to circle and one stopped to growl at us for the sausage sandwich in hand. He was only discouraged from his mission by a viscous growl in return from Greg. The following day we got up at 5am to watch the rock change colours again as the sun rose. Jean Christophe decide to climb the Rock (it takes a mere 1.5 hours) whilst Alexis opted to do the rangers walk around the base and not risk joining the other 37 people who have died falling off the rock in the past 20 years. The rangers walk provided an interesting insight into the cultural heritage of the rock that is sacred to more than 5 different groups and used as a place of worship.

We drove south across the hot, barren desert that shimmered along the horizon. Road trains materialised out of the water-like road surfaces. We stopped at the interesting desert town of Coober Pedy. The name Coober Pedy actually means “White man’s burrow” and refers to the locals habit of excavating the baked earth and heading underground to the cool multi coloured rocks. The temperatures in the town can rocket up to boiling 52 degrees. We stayed in the Desert Cave Hotel where the rooms are carved into mounds of soil that show the wonderful pink striations in the cream rock. Now you maybe asking why people would want to live in such an inhospitable environment. The reason is because opals were discovered in Coober Pedy causing a rush for these beautiful azure gems. Australia supplies 90% of the world’s opals so it is a valuable commodity. We visited the opal caves, the underground shopping centres and the underground churches, before travelling out to the dingo fence located just 15km outside of Coober Pedy. The fence was created between 1880 and 1885 when the dingoes were attacking and eating the sheep of the southern states. It stretches for a total of 8,500km from the Queensland coast down to Western Australia. It is the longest man made structure in the world.

We headed south past the Flinders Range, stopping in the beautiful Port Germain (home of the southern hemisphere’s longest wooden jetty and one of the best pubs in Australia), having a quick look around Adelaide and then to Kangaroo Island. Kangaroo Island has been voted the world’s best natural paradise. Kangaroos, echidnas, wombats and giant goannas all wander around this beautiful paradise. The island boasts a huge Fur seal population as well as wonderful beaches and the remarkable rocks.

Our visit to Kangaroo Island was a short one as we headed back to Melbourne. Our journey was temporarily interrupted as we were pulled over by a policeman as Jean Christophe hit 125km/h (25km/h over the speed limit instantly means you loose your license in Victoria). The policeman dropped the charge to 123km/h and insisted on showing his 5.7 litre engine to prove how he managed to get up to 230km/h to catch us! Our journey ended with a drive along the Great Ocean Road, one of the world’s top 10 best drives with stunning coves and rock formations including the Twelve Apostles (only 8 that remain!) and back to Melbourne.

From Adriano, Alexis and Greg at the Beastly Adventure, we hope you have a fantastic Christmas and thank you for your continued interest and support! Watch out for our articles in the Offroader and in Land Rover Monthly and if you are in Australia hopefully you will see Alexis and Greg winning $200,000 on television!

Notes about Australia
- Some good Aussie words to throw into your next Christmas party conversation – Hoon – a hooligan, Bogan – a country person, kev, Dingle - a dent, Long grass people – drunks who shout but can’t be seen, Chunder – throw up, Arvo – afternoon, Smoko – smoke or coffee break, Servo - service station, Grey Nomad – pensioners that spend their lives roaming the road, Pom, Pommy or Pommy Bastard – an Englishman, Wog – used for someone of Mediterranean decent (not offensive), Fair Dinkum – true, genuine and Greg’s personal favourite, Shithouse – something unenjoyable, bad, poor quality.
- Burger King is known as Hungry Jacks in Australia.
- The ozone hole is presently sitting over southern Australia so the burn time is about 15 minutes and skin cancer rates have rocketed.
- You can be fined $55,000 for feeding a dingo.
- You can be fined just $5,000 for walking on a sacred Aboriginal site.
- Uluru is sacred to more than 5 different aboriginal groups and is used for ceremonies. Ceremonies are started by 2 of the elders climbing the Rock to put a wooden stick into the rock. The track that the elders climb in sacred but it is also the route that tourists now climb. The aboriginals plead with people to not climb the rock as they take it as a personal loss if someone is injured or dies.
- A total of 37 people have died falling off the Rock since the 1985. Many more have been hospitalised from heat stroke.
- Ownership of Ayre’s rock and surrounding land was only handed back to the traditional owners in the 1980s.
- The geology of the rock is Arco sandstone which actually has iron ore basalt and granite as its constituents.
- There are aboriginal fables relating to the Rock that state that two of the Seven Sisters (in the stars) were resting after being chased by Orion and told their two sons to go and play. Their sons went and played in the mud and created Mount Connor and Uluru.
- The desert spade foot (a frog) uses the ponds created at the base of Uluru after rain to spawn their tadpoles. They created a mucus bubble full of water and can lay dormant underground for up to 20 years.
- Australia has 8,222 islands around its coast.
- Australia is the lowest continent in the world with an average elevation of 330 metres.
- Between about 55 and 10 million years ago Australia drifted across the surface of the earth as a plate, moving north from a position once adjacent to Antarctica.
- Apart from Antarctica, Australia is the driest continent in the world. About 35% of the continent receives so little rain, that it is classified as desert.
- In June 2001, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population of Australia was estimated to be 458,520, or 2.4% of the total population.
- According to the Australian Statistics organisation, hospitalisations attributed to ‘assault’ are at a rate 8 times higher for aboriginal males and 28 times higher for aboriginal females, compared with non-aboriginal males and females respectively.

Posted by Alexis at 12:01 AM GMT
Updated: Saturday, 11 February 2006 2:58 AM GMT
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Friday, 9 September 2005
Ozzie Rules
June – September 2005

Alexis and Greg have found a flat in the cool and trendy area of St Kilda in Melbourne. Alexis has got a job with an environmental consultancy and Greg has managed to get a job with Land Rover (well it couldn’t be any other dealer!). Adriano is currently studying in Sydney after spending a while teaching English and guiding lucky students around the city.

In Melbourne - The past few months have involved finding jobs, finding restaurants and finding the more importantly, bars. With jobs located, the restaurants and bars on the agenda. We have also been invited to conduct a talk at the Land Rover club for Victoria about our trip. A visit to Glenrowan in Victoria allowed us to get an insight into the best known Australian outlaw, Ned Kelly, a bank robber who ransacked banks and murdered police across southern Australia. He was hanged in 1880 after a shoot out against the police, dressed in some homemade armour. Plans are afoot to go skiing in the Snowy Mountains and to take a trip through the red centre to Uluru (Ayres Rock).

In Sydney – Adriano has finished teaching for the moment to rekindle his life as a student, completing his Masters in Linguistics. Not managing to fit in with the trendy crowd any longer (his words!), he has joined a radical debating group and an astronomy club to keep out of trouble and off the streets. The first big meeting on Wednesday when they'll talk about something they have no clue about. He is looking forward to making lots of inappropriate and ignorant comments about matters of current affairs.

We hope you are all well, please update us with the events of your life as we love to hear as to what you are upto.

G’day from down under!

Notes about Australia

- Canberra was founded in 1913, but did not become capital until 1927
- Brisbane is Australia's fastest growing capital city. The population of Brisbane grew 2% per year between 1998 and 2003, with over 4,000 people moving to the city every week in comparison to Sydney which has 2,000 people per week.
- AFL – Aussie rules football is a game played between two teams of 18 players on cricket ovals during the winter months, or similar-sized areas. It was invented in Melbourne in 1858. Aussie Rules is played in every state in Australia and is the national sport. Aborigines played a similar sport called Marn Grook, which used a ball made out of possum hide. There is no offside rule at all and a player may run as far as he likes with the ball, provided he either bounces or touches the ball to the ground every 15 metres. There are no set positions in the rules of the game, but traditionally the field was divided into three major sections: the forward line, back line, and midfield. Every player has a set position on the ground and if a player plays out of position, he will be severely reprimanded by the coach or 'pulled off'. There are four goal posts which form three goals; the outer two goals allow you to score one point and the central goal allows six points. It is one of the few games in the world where you can't be sent off during the game (even if you flatten the umpire ). However, due to AIDS, the 'blood rule' was introduced and, if you are bleeding, you must leave the ground until the bleeding has stopped. Generally, if you have violated during the game, you will be reported and must attend a tribunal hearing the following week at which, if guilty, you will be suspended for a period of future matches.
- The Grand Prix is held in Melbourne and the race track runs on a public highway.
- Every Thursday, Neighbours fans can go to the Elephant and Wheelbarrow to meet the entire Neighbours cast.
- Australia has just launched a football (soccer) league known as the A League. Prior to the launch there was another league that wasn’t very successful due to the violence associated with it. Many Serbian and Croatians used the football matches to have fights.
- Of the 7milllion sq km that Australia occupies only 1% is water.
- There are hosepipe bans presently in place (2005) across cities in Australia; these consist of only being able to use your hosepipe twice a week to water your garden and wash your car!!

Posted by Alexis at 2:50 PM BST
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Sunday, 24 July 2005
Memories of Melbourne
G’day Mate! We are in Australia again, heading south. Greg and Alexis returned to Oz from a wonderful month back in the UK caught up in meeting up with family, friends and wishing our friends and family into a happy marital bliss. Adriano flew to China on his way back from the UK and spent a week catching up with our Chinese friends, before returning to Sydney.

Sydney – Kioloa – Lakes Entrance - Melbourne!

23rd June 2005 - 24th July 2005

Alexis and Greg arrived in Sydney a week earlier than Adriano and spent a fantastic week being shown around Sydney by Jenny and Jim Greneger, Alexis’s second cousin who had lovingly looked after the Beast for the month. Sydney is very much a waterbased city. There is a myriad of waterways weaving between the suburbs, creating a shimmering city. You can even catch a ferry to work. The centre of Sydney is a series of glittering, towering buildings crammed full of financial and foreign institutions. There are classy surf and turf restaurants lining the available waterways competing with the expensive houses and jetties, all sporting the compulsory boat. There was the obligatory visit to the Sydney Opera House and the Harbour Bridge as well as Darling Harbour. Jenny and Jim showed Alexis and Greg the eastern and northern beaches. The eastern beaches wash up to the smaller than imagined Bondi beach, which stretches down in the direction of Botany Bay where Captain Cook and the First Fleet landed. The northern beaches are full of expensive mansions that start at prices of #500,000 for 1 bedroom beach fronted houses. We stopped off at Palm Beach, the orange sand beach with waves crashing onto the shore, to see where Home and Away is filmed.

We needed to ensure that the Beast was legal to drive the 1200km south so we visited the motor vehicle registry test centre believing that the Beast would pass with flying colours and enable us to drive down through the state of New South Wales to Victoria unhindered. Irritatingly the Beast failed because in New South Wales it is illegal to have a hook at the front of your vehicle – it is the only state in Australia that this is illegal but it meant that we failed, AGAIN! So a visit to the MVR office to confirm that we could obtain a temporary pass, as in all the other states, was met with annoyance and irritation as we were refused a pass. So we were told to our amazement that we would have to just drive illegally to Victoria.

Adriano has stayed in Sydney to work as a tour guide for Japanese visitors and also to complete his Masters in Linguistics whilst Alexis and Greg bid a sad goodbye to Jenny, Jim, Georgia and Rosie and continued south, with slight trepidation to Melbourne. Adriano is presently residing near to the university in a hotel apartment, busily writing up his dissertation!!

On the recommendation of Jenny and Jim, we stopped off in Kioloa at the caravan site Merry Beach. We pulled up to our site, overlooking the beach, the crashing sea and some crumbling orange cliffs and were instantly surrounded by large grey kangaroos begging for bread. Our evening dinner, cooked under the stars, was shared with three ring tailed possums that came up and pestered us for food. Alexis’s over exuberance to feed the kangaroos the following morning on the beach almost ended up in her being boxed by a rather large ‘roo who was convinced that there was more bread to be eaten. A quick escape up the hill to some nearby campers was welcomed by a story of two intelligent kangaroos that were chased by some vicious dogs. The dogs chased them into a lake, the kangaroos bounced out of the lake and turned on the dogs that had followed them in and were swimming back to the shore, in order to hold the dogs heads under water and drown them. The moral of the story – always give the ‘roos their food, you don’t want to piss them off!

We progressed on down the Princess Highway passing through towns with names like Ulladulla, Meribula and Lakes Entrance, driving through cheese areas, wine regions and olive growing zones. We had one more puncture and a slight run in with the police before we crossed over the border into Victoria state. We were driving along the road when a traffic police car spotted us and pulled a U-turn. We panicked and pulled off the road, the police car followed us. Luckily when they found us we were not in the vehicle, so we sat and waited until they left. They pulled off around the corner and sat waiting for us to return to the Beast, we spotted them and waited a bit longer. There may have been a slight paranoia on our part, but we didn’t want to take the chance. We just needed to cross the border into our safe state!

We arrived into the treelined grid system of Melbourne to be kindly put up by Al Draffan and Sarah Wilson, Alexis and Greg’ ex flatmates in the UK. A preliminary tour around Melbourne presented the beautiful beachfront, the wonderful street cafes and the Grand Prix circuit which you can drive around, albeit at a stately 40kph as well as the stunning architecture. They have now found a flat in the heart of St Kilda, the red light district, haute cuisine and the Jewish community (the Bagel Belt as it is known locally), where they will be residing for the next 6 months or so. If anyone is passing that way they are more than welcome pop in and visit the delights of Melbourne. We will also have the Beast legal and on the road!

Notes about Australia:

- The capital of Australia is Canberra.
- The Australians national animals are the Kangaroo and the Emu, which are two animals that cannot go backwards, the motto of Australian society – go forwards not backwards.
- Sydney has a population of 4.2 million in comparison to Melbourne which has a population of 3.5 million. Canberra, the capital, has a population of 300,000.
- Both Sydney and Melbourne have had a historical battle to become the capital of Australia. Canberra was created back in the early 1900s to stop the arguments!
- Sydney is mainly constructed from clapper board wood covered houses whereas Melbourne has pretty brick victorian buildings with ironwork adorning the roofline.
- Home and Away is filmed in Sydney. Neighbours is filmed in Melbourne. On a Thursday, if you are truly desperate, you can meet the cast of Neighbours at an English pub in St Kilda.
- Captain Cook’s house was translocated to a Melbourne park in 1934, brick by brick from his Yorkshire village.
- In Victoria state it is a legal requirement that you register your pet every year.
- Australian pedestrian crossings beep at you when you have to cross the road.
- Melbourne has the oldest Chinatown in the world outside of china.
- Australia had in place from 1919 until 1973 the White Australia Policy which prevented any persons other than white applicants from becoming Australian citizens. This was brought in when there was a rebellion against the Chinese who seemed to be finding too much gold in the goldfields in the goldrush of 1850s. The government responded by restricting Chinese immigration.
- In the centre of Melbourne if you want to turn right on a road that trams run, you must pull into the left lane and stop in the middle of the road, otherwise known as the hook junction. You must then wait for the traffic lights to change to green in the direction of your turn and you are the first to go.
- The Great Ocean Road that runs along the coast from Melbourne to Adelaide is considered one of the things you have to see before you die, ranked up there with the Pyramids and the Taj Mahal.
- There are more holocaust survivors in Melbourne than anywhere else in the world.
- Australians are addicts of coffee. If you ask for a coffee in a cafe you will be presented with an array of over 10 different kinds of this caffeine based beverage, many with 2 or 3 shots of expresso.
- Australian petrol prices vary daily. Depending on where you live in Australia, for example, the petrol prices may start at $1.13 at the beginning of the week and drop to $1.03 or the other way around.
- It is compulsory to vote in Australia. If you don’t vote you can be fined or imprisoned. Valid excuses for not voting include you are homeless, you cannot attend a polling place on polling day or you are working in Antarctica.

Posted by Alexis at 12:01 AM BST
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