Team VA's Wonderings

Sunday, September 17, 2023

We’ve Come a Long Way, Baby


There’s a lot less access to Wi-Fi than I’d expected and writing this is more difficult than I remember. So this is a photo free post. I will try and fix that, or more likely dump a load of photos later. That’ll probably be when we reach Vancouver where we have little planned except haircuts (and maybe boxer shorts) and hopefully will have Wi-Fi in the campground, given the price of it!

Day 20

We’d originally planned to stay in Badlands and then head to Wind Cave national park, which is about an hour from Mount Rushmore. To give us a break from travelling with Casita, we decided not to change campground, but daytrip the other two. Today ended up being 6 hours in the car (the dogs are so good), but I think it was the better option.

The driving was a contrasting day of two halves-we headed out to the South of Badlands, passed through much of the less travelled parts of the park, a town that seemed completely abandoned and then ended up on an unexpected gravel road. For very long periods we saw no other traffic, and nowhere for petrol. I was starting to imagine the navigation had got it wrong and ending up in a dead end, but about 30 mins from Wind Cave we found a major road and fuel. We came back on the interstate.

The main attraction at Wind Cave is a massive underground cave system, which was closed for lift repairs (fortunately we knew that in advance). We hiked round with the dogs in pretty severe heat that was about 5 degrees cooler than Badlands. It was a pretty enough walk and we were pleased to see a bison from afar. We jumped in the car to head to Rushmore and about 5 minutes later came upon a bison traffic jam and got to them up close.


Along with some prairie dogs,


We’ve been surprised by how high the prairies are. Even since getting to US and switching the car back to the 19th century we’ve been at a minimum of 2,500 feet and have frequently been around 3,000 (it’s not that flat). Today we were in the Black Hills and went over 5,000, Andrea thought she even say 6,000. I expected the height to be in Rockies, so looked a few things up to make sure we weren’t imagining things and Banff (highest town in Canada) is around 4,500; the campground at Yosemite is 4,000; the so called mountain we lived next to for 8 years is 1,358 feet (414m). I think we’d have been on the limit of how high we could tow had we brought Casita along. As an aside, I am finding it impossible to talk about temperature in the US-I have a vague idea of a ready reckoner for Fahrenheit, but I left my abacus behind.

I’d wanted to see Rushmore for a long time: I had a secret agent book when I was (very) small. It basically had an invisible ink pen and pages of hidden words and pictures. Put the pen in the right place and hidden stuff was revealed by magic. There was a page, perhaps two with Mount Rushmore.

When you’re quite close there’s a road sign that says something like ‘Mount Rushmore Area was used in the filming of North by Northwest and National Treasure II’. Presumably at some they removed a sign because they thought adding National Treasure II was a good idea. It made me wondered what would have happened if they’d visited Rushmore in ‘Dude, where’s my car’.

It is impressive and the quality of three of the heads is very good (Lincoln doesn’t looked finished to me). I still can’t decide if ultimately it’s one of the greatest pieces of vandalism you’ll ever see. It could use a little more signage-foreign types may only recognise 2 of the 4 presidents (to be fair we skipped the visitor centre, which may explain all). Worth the visit though, and we got some good photos. (Dogs not allowed). There’s plenty of mountain left-you wonder how close they’ve coming to adding another president-surely some of them must have thought about it.

And finally on the way back-Wall Drug. Wall Drug is bizarre, but you fell you have to go. There are hundreds of billboards for it on the interstate, many of which are quite amusing (but instantly forgettable). There’s tourist tat, photos ops and Drug Store stuff. I had a milkshake, which was fine. Google it on a quiet day.

Day 21

So this was meant to be a bookend day-activities at dawn and dusk. However, the weather had other ideas. We were up early to catch sunrise out in the park, but that didn’t really work with the rain and clouds. We did the door and window trails which we couldn’t manage in Saturday’s heat.


In the evening we went back to the park for sunset and the rangers’ talk. We saw some lightning…..


Fair to say the weather has been variable-we sweltered when two days were over 40 degrees in a place with hardly any trees and then tonight needed the heating as it went into single figures.


We haven’t seen a rattlesnake, but we’ve seen a LOT of warnings about them. I don’t remember watching many cowboy films when I was a kid, but it seemed anything in the West had a scene with a Rattler, which was always desperate to bite some human who’d then shoot it. I suspect that trope did as much for rattlesnakes as Jaws did for sharks.

We didn’t tow as much this week, but for the third week in a row we did over 1,500km driving. Next week we’re hoping will be the last big one for a while-nearly 1,700km of towing more than we expect to do in the following 3 and a half weeks. In fact, hopefully next week is the biggest of the whole trip

Day 22

We didn’t really need another day in Badlands. It’s a great place, but without heading out into the backcountry or revisiting we had kinda covered it. However, given the journeys before and after were two day treks and the wind was very strong today, it was good to do a final walk in the park and talk it easy before heading back towards Canada

Day 23

Today was a 3 state day, I’m not sure if we’ll be doing that again or not. We started in South Dakota, spent about 45 minutes crossing the North Eastern corner of Wyoming and ended up in Montana for the night. Long way today, and longer tomorrow, so it just seemed right to spend the night at a Winery. We had a tasting and in a red letter day, I got my first new t-shirt of the trip. Now just need to work out which one to retire.

Day 24

The last two days have clearly bounced Casita and the car about a fair bit-one of the extended mirrors fell off on a Montana highway, one of the curtains fell down and we lost the plug that holds the sewer hose in the rear bumper (fortunately the hose stayed in place). We’ve at least short term fixes for all of those.

Grasslands National Park is our only stop in Saskatchewan; feel a bit guilty than we cut out nearly 700km of Manitoba and Saskatchewan with our Badlands detour, but it was well worth it, This feels like our most remote campsite: we checked in at the visitor centre in Val Marie, which is isolated in itself (I spoked to one of the rangers who was off to Swift Current to do his shopping-that’s 125km away). The campsite is then about 30km from the visitor centre, and the last 15km on a gravel road. We were getting a little nervous as we got further and further from any services, well anything apart from grass and gravel road. We thought that we’d reserved an electrical site, but it just didn’t seem possible that they’d run electrical cables under the park all this way to a campground with about 20 sites. We’d used the air con last at the winery, so the battery wasn’t ready for us to do 3 nights off grid at Grasslands and then another at the next winery. Happily, the campsite, while very isolated, did provide electricity so we quickly abandoned plans to eat all the food in the freezer so we could turn it off.

Day 25

This is a very different stop. Most of our campsites have been almost glades, surrounded by trees. Here it is very open and there are no trees (so much like Badlands), but the landscape is very different. The plains undulate enough to make it interesting and reveal the wildlife as you pass through. I’m not sure what we were expecting, but this has been more akin to a safari trip and probably as a result is Andrea’s favourite so far.

Yesterday there was a question if staying in such a remote spot was a good idea, especially as tomorrow we’ll head back through Val Marie to reach another park of the park. Now we’re glad we are in the park as it has enabled us to head out at first light to see the animals. Today we saw a lot of deer early on as moved through the park, doing little walks here and there. As the day moved on we saw prairie dogs emerging from their warrens. They’re different here compared to Dakota-they seem chubbier and more gopher-like. Still not seen a rattler, which we’re still being warned about-I’m unclear what they do when it gets to -40 in the Saskatchewan winter. So far we’ve only spotted a few solitary bison/buffalo.

We really enjoyed it and the wildlife isn’t limited to outside the campground, which is fenced. As we left this morning someone was taking photos of the deer just outside, at dusk we saw a coyote on the hill beyond the fence and inside we we even watched a prairie dog from our kitchen window.

This is also supposed to be a great star spotting place, but the clouds have put the mockers on that tonight, perhaps tomorrow.

Day 26

Another dawn start for a safari across the Saskatchewan savannah and today we found the bison herd; the tail end were crossing the road in front of us (and dumping on it too).

We went back to the visitor as we needed some Wi-Fi and had a good chat with a ranger on the wildlife we’d seen-he suggested some walks for today, although we didn’t see a lot on them.

The something breaks every time we move is getting a bit wearing. Today we found a decent chip/crack in the windscreen that presumably happened yesterday or Thursday as we drove on the gravel road. No idea where or when we’ll be able to fix that, so for now we’ll have to hope it doesn’t hit again on that spot.


As usual, we could have stayed here longer but tomorrow, we’ll be back on the Trans Canada highway. I wonder if they do t-shirts?

Day 27


Far from anywhere.

The perfect timing for the car to have a malfunction.

Yesterday we’d put some petrol in. The tank was touch and go to get to the nest town where there was supposed to be petrol, and we have learnt that just because the map says there’s a petrol station, it doesn’t mean there is one, or that the petrol pumps are still there or that there won’t be police tape type stuff all around stopping you getting to a pump. We notmally fill up before half empty, we never get to a quarter full, you don’t want run out of fuel with a trailer behind you in the middle of nowhere. So that’s my excuse.

We’re supposed to put 91 fuel in the car-I think Audi did a deal with the petrol stations to make us buy more expensive petrol, but why take the risk. Sometimes that’s not available, so we use the 87, which the manual say is OK, at a push. Val Marie’s station is completely unmanned and has one pump that isn’t diesel; it has no number, which worries me a bit; in one place it describes the fuel there as regular (no lead), which sounds like the 87; in another it says if it ethanol unleaded, which worries me some more. For some reason I ignore the voice in my head to put about 10-15 litres in, which would give us enough margin to fill up at a more normal station and put over 50 litres in instead.


Today is a short drive. Drama free, it would have been the easiest drive we’ve had. We have a final safari and walk with the dogs, a hearty breakfast, hitch up and set up.


About 10 minutes in, going up a decent incline, a yellow light comes on. Andrea looks it up in the manual and it says there’s something wrong with the emissions, the catalytic converter could be damaged, and we should straight away drive slowly to an Audi dealer. Balls.


It’s probably the weird petrol? Maybe the fact I topped up the oil yesterday? Perhaps if we can get some 91 in the tank to dilute the weird stuff, the light will go away? Although, our fuel economy is suddenly way better than normal (perhaps because we’re driving a little slower?), so that’s gonna take a while to have effect. We call roadside assist, hoping for a blessing to just keep driving, or for someone to come and magic it right so we can just keep driving. She knows less than we do; it’s yellow, so it’s not too bad, but I can’t tell you how far you can drive without causing a problem. All the dealers are closed, it’s Sunday so you can’t call them. We can tow you 50km (that’d get us to Val Marie, which doesn’t have a garage, let alone an Audi dealer). She likes our idea of driving (about 150km) to a Canadian Tire, as they should have a mechanic who might know something. We ask where are the Audi dealers are so we can try and plan our options, but she can’t tell us without an exact address, we’re struggling to find the address of anything in Val Marie when we get cut off from Roadside Assist. The second person is more helpful, he says they’ll tow us up to 200km (if we have the coverage-bit vague there); he also manages to tell us where the Audi dealers are (at least 400km away, closest in Regina is East, 2nd closest in Saskatoon is not at all on our way and furthest in Calgary means binning Waterton lakes). So we’re rather left to make it up for ourselves. The idea of getting close enough to a dealer for a tow, having the car towed there, getting another tow for the roulette and hoping they’ll fix the car on Monday morning lacks appeal.  So we plough on to Canadian Tire, where there are no mechanics on a Sunday: the guy there is concerned and says mixing petrols is bad (I check the manual and he isn’t 100% right there), he suggests we put an additive in the petrol and that should help. So we do that and get some 91. Checking the map we plough on-if we head to our Harvest Host, it’s on the way to Calvary, I mean Calgary so it doesn’t make a lot of odds. As long as the car doesn’t die.

The Harvest Host is great, there’s wine tasting, beer and pizza. We have a great afternoon and sleep surprisingly well having found a dealer in Calgary we can call at 7.30.

Day 28

Thing is there’s wind forecast and we want to be off before 7.30

We had a brainwave about the engine light-we made the time zone work for us. Andrea called our dealer in Quebec, who was 2 hours in the future. He basically said ‘well if the light isn’t red, you should be OK’. It wasn’t the most convincing, but we took it as a greenlight to go to Waterton Lakes, rather than abandon it and go to Calgary where the next Audi dealer is. Part of the reasoning being if we’ve already stuffed the catalytic converter, we shouldn’t let it spoil our trip. We hitch up and plan to call the Audi in Calgary at 7.30.

And wadda you know, something we did yesterday (mixed in some 91 fuel, put in the stuff recommended at Canadian Tire, swearing at the car) had worked and the light didn’t come on.

However, we did get 6 other error messages. 3 said lights on the trailer weren’t working, they were; the other 3 said some of the tech that senses what’s going on around us wasn’t working and we needed to see service-well that stuff is normally turned off in trailer mode, so we figured the car was moody at being used more in 2 months, than it was used to in 8 months previously. I said I thought the car was being a bit adolescent, and sure enough when we changed drivers, it seemed to accept that we weren’t going to give it a rest and all the errors miraculously disappeared.

Of course, then someone overtook us and now we have a second chip on the windscreen-I think we’ll be lucky if it doesn’t need replacing, but on the bright side at least we didn’t get it fixed in Val Marie. Odds of two chips in 4 days feel slim.

Since around Thunder Bay, the terrain has been pretty flat (Black Hills in South Dakota excepted). With so many thing to think about, we’d somehow missed that we’d be seeing the Rockies today. The start of Alberta was still very prairie and then suddenly there was a mountainous shape in the haze on the horizon. Initially we were saying ‘um, is that the mountains’, 10 minutes after that there was no question of any mirage and shortly after that it was as if a wall had been dumped to say that’s the end of the prairies. Normally there are foothills, forests or other obstructions to your view so the you can get used to the idea of mountains ahead, but here the mountains suddenly appear, rising up from the flat. It must have been a total WTF to any explorers when they first got here. There is simply no way round, and no question there is any way round. It also made us realise we have come a long way. We’re now about as far West as Calgary, which is a 4 hour 40 minute flight. I was chatting to someone from Texas and was ‘whew, that’s a long journey’, and then he said we flew; I’d actually forgotten that was a way of getting around-everyone else we’ve met has been going overland. Week 4 is now behind us and we’ve nearly driven 6,500 km, towing for over 5,300-we think that’s nearly a quarter distance.

Yesterday or the day before, we had a momentary panic when I couldn’t find the reservation for Waterton lakes before we checked and found it was first come first served. After Pukaskwa, we figured that’d be no issue and were looking forward to a full service pull through site (meaning Andrea doesn’t need to reverse in). What we got was a shambles. Arriving not long after 1 p.m. there was a queue of dozen or so RVs trailing back into the village. There were no more sites with electricity-there could have been, if they hadn’t decided to shut a large section of the campground for no apparent reason. There also quickly were enough sites for everyone in the queue, so after an hour in the queue we were pleased to get something with no services and lucky that we weren’t relying on electricity-we’ve enough juice in the battery to get us to Banff. We had an ice cream on arrival, just in case we’d need to turn the freezer off. I felt sorry for the people who were getting a site, who needed services, so were going back to the entrance to get in a queue at 8 a.m. the following day; I felt even more sorry for the people who got nothing and either had to turn around and head out of the park, or were parking overnight on the street in the village-no Walmart here; (I also felt sorry for the people working for Parks Canada who had to deal with all of us, they didn’t make these stupid decisions). I just don’t understand first come/first served, aside from anything else, it’s just quicker to book it online-we’ve known for more than 6 months we were arriving today. Anyway…

We seem to be inventing a companion meal to Brunch. We keep eating Lunner or Dinch, maybe Lupper or Sunch? Anyway, we skip lunch to get to the site and get set up and then if we’re lucky enough to be somewhere we can go out for a meal, we’re sitting down at 3 o clock or so. This is also why I keep getting so being with the blog: up at dawn, tiring drive, then a meal and a pitcher of beer means snoozing not writing. Waterton is a nice contrast to Grasslands-we can walk into the village and there are a number of pubby places and it could not be called flat.

Day 29

Waterton lakes is great, but I’ve written so much this is going to be brief and I’ll chuck in some photos.

We do a scenic drive and at the end visit a lake for ten minutes. When we get a back a Chipmunk is in the wheel of the car eating a nut or something. We scare it off so it doesn’t become a pancake 

On the way back we do a 3 hour hike, with some decent uphill to a lake where the dogs swim. It takes us through burnt forest, good forest, meadows and has some great views.

After that we’ve earnt hot dogs and ice cream for lunch and dinner at a pub, where only I seem to know the music-lots of Smashing Pumpkins, Foo Fighters, Pearl Jam with a side of Nirvana, Soundgarden and skateboard rock-basically US 90s. It’s very passable, but given nearly all the clientele are 65+, and the staff under 25, you have to wonder.

Day 30

I am finding the ‘where are you from’ question philosophically difficult to answer. Oxford’s the nearest I have to a home town in the UK, but I was in my twenties before even moving there, so that confuses people; we started our journey in Quebec, but if I say we’re from there I get ‘no you’re not’, which is fair enough; if we’re near Casita I think I will start pointing to her. The other day someone said ‘you’ve kept you’ve accent’, which I’d never even considered before. Well, of course. Thinking about it, that’s probably only because we’ve been in a Francophone environment, so there’s been nothing to mess with my English (aside from Americanisms like elevator); Andrea told me years ago that my (never great) French accent had been Quebecoised.

Today we went on the other scenic drive and a few small trails, including Red Rock Canyon-more of a gulley really, but very pleasant again. 

Once again, I need to write this everyday, rather than once a week. My fingers ache.

Monday, September 04, 2023

Looking for WiFi

Been out in the woods a bit, and not able to connect to pick up messages or upload ramblings, so here's a  bumper edition.

Day 9

OK, so this Lake Superior is pretty massive.

According to the film we saw in the visitor centre, it is in fact an inland sea-although when I asked a few questions, no one could confirm what that actually meant (we’re above sea level, the water is fresh)-feels like that was a way of saying it is large. We connected a couple of hikes this morning and wandered through woods and round the coast. You can tell from the dogs’ reactions that there are lots of wonderful smells. 

We are travelling; we are not on holiday. I know that, but am less sure how you define the difference-is it like an inland sea and the result of the amount of time, or more of a mindset, or both? One of things that definitely is part of travelling is the need to do a lot of organising and admin while on the road. Often getting some wifi/a laundry room provokes an avalanche of such activity. During the walk we were talking about the distance we have already travelled and the plan for the next 2 and a half weeks to get us to Grasslands in Saskatchewan: this is another 3,000 km of towing, which would leave us having done over 20% of the towing in less than a month of an 8/9 month trip. So we decided to shave a few hours off the travel for next few days. Sadly, this means we have cut Riding Mountain: from what we can tell it would have broadly similar to the Ontario parks, but I’m sad as it’s got such a great name (and it would have been our first full hook up site-all 3 services). We haven’t ditched Manitoba altogether, which was an option, but instead we will go to Spruce Woods, which is much nearer the US border to facilitate our Dakota detour for Badlands/Rushmore/Wind Cave.

Those who know me (well) will recall that I do like to be proved right, on this occasion perhaps less so. I have always maintained that tumble dryers wreck your clothes. We barely ever used the one in our house, but on the road there isn’t much of a choice-even if the weather is up to drying clothes, we don’t have enough washing lines for everything. When I picked my clothes for the trip I included a number of tatty t-shirts that I knew wouldn’t last the journey and would have to be retired and replaced by t-shirts I’d find on the way (always a bittersweet moment). Buying t-shirts when travelling is the closest I get to buying souvenirs. All my other clothes, bar a hoodie, were in decent shape. Not anymore. 4 pairs of boxers have become too airy and are now in the bin. At this rate I’ll be turning them inside out before we get to Vancouver and the chance to buy new ones. I am now convinced that tumble dryers are manufactured by a cartel of clothing companies determined to destroy the clothes they sell you so you’ll buy more. If I did hash tags, WARONWASTE.

Day 10

Our last day at Pukaskwa already. We reckon this is favourite park to date, not that there was anything wrong with the other two. The facilities were really good; the visitor centre welcoming with a beautiful spot by the lake; the trails beautiful and all accessible by foot; our camp spot was secluded. Could have stayed longer……

Day 11

I’ve been earworming Thunder Road reworked as Thunder Bay for about a week. This is the big city until Banff I reckon. Population 125,000, we’re here Friday and Saturday night-Andrea isn’t convinced by my suggestion that Thunder Bay is a big night out.

One of the (few/several/many) things that were concerning me before we left was the battering Casita would get from the roads. People say driving an RV is like submitting your house to a three point something earthquake. Before leaving we had to put additional catches on the fridge and a couple of drawers which had opened en route more than once. Each time we pack up to leave I click the TV in place (it’s on one of the things that a lot of people use to put a TV on the wall so you can adjust the angle). Without fail before this trip, the TV was no longer clicked in placed upon arrival.

The fact that the TV has remained clicked in place for each leg we’ve travelled in Ontario is proof enough for me how much better the roads have been in Ontario as opposed to Quebec, where Casita was regularly subjected to sickening jolts. {Naturally since I wrote this the roads have detoriated and th TV is coming loose again}

Big day on the road, which was pretty tiring and had some intense spells. We had very low visibility going through some clouds, but the good thing in Ontario is that they paint lines on the road, which is optional in Quebec, so it was really no drama. Trickier was the absolute monsoon that had some people pulling to the side of the road; I reasoned that as we were ascending the visibility was the issue and there were plenty of vehicles hazards to keep us on the straight and narrow.

 We’d been invited by Diane, the mother of a friend of Andrea’s to stop over en route, but the weather forecast big winds so we’d decided to get to the camping straight away. We figured that once in the campsite we’d be tired and that’s be that. In the end, we were persuaded to visit Diane’s wonderful house a little way from Thunder Bay and meet her and Brian. It is an incredible place: we watched an eagle catch a fish so big it took the eagle about 200m to start ascending; pelicans passed by pretty regularly and there were a couple of rainbows. We also saw photos and videos of the bear and Lynx that have visited their garden. A truly magical spot. Oh, and there was pizza.

Day 12

Ribfest. More Sabio’s choice than mine. Brian’s nephew plays drums for a covers band. I’m supposed to write this each evening so I don’t forget stuff, but I am days behind, so I don’t have the setlist, but there was Creedence, the Canadian National anthem

 {Imagine garage band playing Summer of '69, file was too big to upload}

And they finished with Paradise City, which was nice.


We had a bunch of stuff we wanted to look at in Thunder Bay in the morning, but unfortunately that was taken up by fixing a leak-the connector between the hot tap in the kitchen and the pipe had come loose. Fixing it wasn’t much of a problem, but trying to find all the water and mop it up took some time. I’ve been tightening things ever since.

We’d planned Thunder Bay as a practical stopover-we were covering a lot of distance, with a population of over 100 thousand it’s the biggest place in over 1500km. We’d thought supplies, washing and internet. It was way better than that and we wished we could have stayed longer (I know, every place: I was talking about that with Diane, no matter how much time you have you can seemingly spend longer everywhere-everywhere expect Surfer’s Paradise as far as I recall from my last big trip).

Day 13

An almost perfect travel day. OK, we had a decent stretch with very low visibility as we went through clouds again. I’m also considering getting a massive sticker for the back of Casita ‘It’s a speed limit, not a suggested starting point’: we seemed to have a lot of people pushing hard to get past us.

However all of that is easily overwhelmed by the fact the driving itself went very well, we gained an hour by driving across a time zone, we’d decided to ditch Walmart and book a campground in lovely Kenora, we were set up early afternoon and in the brewery with the dogs welcome before 3. Then the brewery had the best playlist I’ve heard since getting to Canada-Bowie (with Queen, Heroes and Nirvana’s Man who Sold the World) and the VU and nothing rubbish. Plus the glasses told you when you needed to order another.


Day 14

We have crossed Ontario. We’re like proper explorers. In the first hour today the KM markers on Ontario’s section of the Tran Canada Highway finally hit zero. We did something around 2,300km across Ontario; Manitoba is less then 500km to cross, but we’ll be skipping even some of that on our Badlands detour.

I’m still very disappointed to have cut Riding Mountain and the Wasagaming campground we’d reserved, as that’s a couple of great names and a real chance for a first t-shirt of the trip. Instead we’re at Spruce Woods where one of the major things to see is….sand dunes.

Another 1500 km week, meaning we’ve done an eighth of the towing in the first 2 weeks and a 1/3 of the total distance to Vancouver.

Today’s arrival maintenance was to screw a load of screws back in that had come out due to the tremors on Manitoba’s Highway 2-there was a section where you felt they’d splashed all the cash on Highway 1 (Trans Canada, dual carriageway, very nice).


Day 15

I feel another replan coming on, we’re supposed to be here for two days before the two day trip to Badlands, there are some strong winds forecast for Thursday, however. We’ll look again tomorrow and decide what to do-forecasts change. Our overnight stops app suggests plenty of options for North Dakota, so if we get on the road and don’t like it we have options, but maybe we’ll stay another day in Spruce Woods.

I belatedly managed to do some important work last night. Every leg of the journey so far starts with Go West (frequently followed by Go Your Own Way, or the rest of the Pet Shop Boy’s Very album). I’d been meaning to make a West playlist, so we don’t have to search every time. En route yesterday, we realised we’d need a South song soon to head to the US and possibly North as well as the route from Badlands to Saskatchewan might be more North than West.

The South list lacks a standout track to kick off the Southern legs, so there will need to be an audition. Driving South has the title, but probably isn’t one of the best 30 Stone Roses songs, so I think it might end up being one of Dire Straits, Neil Young, Johnny Cash, Moby or Florence. Dire Straits love a bit of compass oriented songwriting-they show up twice on the West playlist, by far the strongest.

The decision on the North playlist is just down to which version of ‘It’s Grim up North’ to use. When we get to that it’ll be first time I’ll have heard Black Grape’s ‘A Big Day in the North’ for a very, very long time-I have no memory of that song. Likewise North Star (Faithless).

The East list is a real problem. In fact we need your help. Fortunately we won’t need it till November (California to Utah). Currently we have

            East at Easter-Simple Minds

            Clint EASTwood-Gorillaz

            East Bound and Down-Jerry Reed (John Adams, I have you to ‘thank’ for this trucking ode)

            La Bamba (from the album ‘Just Another Band from East L.A.’)

Suggestions are most welcome. Could be our music collection, but it seem the West and North are much more fertile compass points for songs.

Poodled round some dunes with the dogs today. We didn’t see the Hognose snake, which as a bit of a shame. They’ve no desire to see us (and probably even less to see the dogs). According to the information board, they are harmless-I take that to mean harmless to humans, they need to eat something. Anyway, if you do come across one it is likely to try to scare you off with an impression of a rattlesnake and if that fails (and if you’re really lucky) may roll on its back and play dead. I’m not sure how that is supposed to scare off a predator, but you can’t ask information board questions.


Day 16

We toured the interpretative trail in the park for a walk with the dogs. Sabio decided to lean over the boardwalk for a drink, fell in and then emerged with his top half as normal and bottom transformed into a chocolate lab. Fortunately there’s a dog beach, so he went for a swim to get clean.

We spent some time pouring over routes for tomorrow and the forecasts on the wind apps. We’ll make an early start and see how it goes, but with the weather worsening during the day it looks likely we’ll stop early. We have a couple of apps that help us find somewhere to stay if we decide not to make it to Bismarck. That would be a shame as Bismarck is the capital of North Dakota and an essential stop for supplies. Essentially we can’t take food across the US border, so we need to stock up, plus there is a Costco to get the dogs’ food.

Day 17

The first few hours driving were fine: we crossed the border at a very quiet post. It took as long as a major crossing since the time we saved not sitting in the queue were spent talking to the 2 border officials and one of them looking round Casita for contraband (note-hide anything in the car, they don’t look there). Both were very friendly and wished us safe travels and a happy retirement to Andrea, for today is the last official day of her being a lawyer.

Further into the US we made a breakfast stop. At Rugby. When we got out of the car the wind was fairly strong and the forecast looked like it would get worse. So we spent some time cross referencing our route to places where we could stay. Turns out there are camping spots in a lot of towns’ parks. So we identified the next 3 en route and decided to stop at the 3rd world and plan again (if we got that far). In the end we decided the third town would be enough for the day. Unfortunate as we were an hour and half shy of Bismarck and realised this would put nearly 4 hours onto tomorrow as we wouldn’t be able to do the shopping today.

Butte seemed a little representative of North Dakota-it felt a bit quiet and forgotten. En route we’d been pronouncing Butte with a silent ‘e’, but on meeting friendly locals we found out that one of the ‘t’s is silent. Despite being very small, it took us a while to find where to put Casita and then we headed off for a late lunch and some supplies to get us through the night. Someone had told us that the population was 70-the school was big enough that they could all have attended and taken a friend of 2. However, it looked defunct as did two of the churches and quite a few of the houses-the town must have had a much bigger population before. Much of it was very well cared for and loved, but the level of activity seemed low for 70 people. It was a little eerie, especially when the trains blasted through in the night.

The Lonely Planet section for North Dakota runs across 4 pages, but only one page is all North Dakota-the first and last have a column for another state and 2/3 of another page is about a drive in Ohio. The book noted it is one of the least visited states and only 3 states have smaller populations (with South Dakota just above). I hope the Dakotans are all happy there, but it’s pretty isolated and sparsely populated.

Day 18

Yeah, long day. Off before 7, waiting for Costco to open in Bismarck, couple of fuel stops, another time zone. 13 hours from waking up to being setup. But we’re here for 5 nights, which seems like luxury. We found some great local brew, beautiful sunset and got a taste of the Badlands park as we drove through a corner of it to get to our campsite.

Tired, back to back travel days take it out of you.

A thank you to Walmart, although we didn’t sleep there AGAIN, I was beginning to despair when doing the shopping. Struggled to find pasta-there was loads of Mac and Cheese and basically other premade dinners, but actual pasta was hidden away elsewhere and there was way, way less of it. Then there was no margarine. Halloumi was always ambitious. Then I was looking for veggie stuff and nearly gave up without looking, but there was loads of it, so I filled the freezer.

Day 19

Tactical error today. We were up early and saw the sun rise (a bit before 6 I think). That was the moment to head into the park, as it was still only warm. Instead we did the washing and some admin, then headed into the park when it was damn hot. We followed the Badlands loop road, where you basically drive, then stop at a lookout, then stop at boardwalk/short walk etc. Not long into the drive, the temperature was turned up to furnace. Now back in Casita with the AC on, the outside thermometer maxed out at 45 degrees. We didn’t do any of the walks as the dogs aren’t allowed on them, it was too hot to leave them in the car for any time and it was too hot for us too. There’s hardly any shelter here, brutal for the cows and bison. Fortunately, we have time on our side here, so another day we’ll get up early and go walking. Tonight we might go to the evening ranger talk and some star gazing.

 The landscape is extraordinary and somewhat unreal feeling. I lack the energy to look up the geographical/geological explanation and am struggling to find my own words, bit of a drawback really. Anyway, well worth the detour, hopefully some photos will fill the gaps in the prose.


Tomorrow-Rushmore and Wind Cave.

Wednesday, August 23, 2023

Straight Outta Quebec

 I had thought that this entire post would be dedicated to Microsoft OneDrive after my document crashed and vanished when offline, taking 8 days of musings with it. However, once I was back online I was able to access the auto recover file on my PC that I couldn’t access when offline. Can’t see the sense in that, but I was pleased to get it back. I write this stuff down, so I don’t need to remember what happened 8 days ago.

Day 1

Alarm rings at 5.00. First replan of the trip-it’s a bit dark, and we don’t want to be towing Casita in the dark, so we take another 30 minutes and hit the road at 6.45. Plus the car is boy racer noisy when you start it, so it’s a neighbourly decision too.

We’re armed with just enough route planning apps to be confusing-the normal car ones are good, but run the risk of ploughing you into a low bridge and trimming off the air con, or the whole roof. I spent a lot of time the day before trying to compare routes and times. In the end we pick an RV route that looks similar to the Google maps route-main difference being it says it will take 7 hours 40 instead of 5 20. We’ve been told the truth for the driving time is roughly split the difference, but the higher number is pretty good for travel time. That turns out to be good advice.

Oh and for good measure we have the car talking to us as well, it has traffic, so that’s handy. It helps to not be worried about getting lost, we’re 12.5m long when hitched up, so three point turns are best avoided.

En route, we go to the weigh station. Now we should have done this earlier, when it was still easy to dump stuff, but they aren’t so many of them, so we found out that we’re fine, but we reckon we’ll get rid of a few things all the same. Of course, it needs a spreadsheet to be sure, as there are so many maximum weights you have to bear in mind-for each vehicle, for each axel, tongue weight (weight the camper puts onto the car).

First item for the shopping list, we need an extension for the cable to connect to the camp electricity. It takes an age to position Casita (that’s after it took me an age to find the electrical supply in a bush) so that we’re within 25 feet of plug. We’re here for 4 nights, and travel days are basically a write off, so 12 hours from out of bed to fully set up is OK.

Different campgrounds offer different services-basically there’s electricity, water and sewer. Casita hooks up to these and in theory everything runs smoothly. Ideally, you get all 3. Sometimes it’s 1 or 2 of them, and sometimes none at all. Casita has a lithium battery and solar panels, plus tanks for fresh, grey and black water. In theory we can go 5 days off grid. Water wise that’s a push if we can only use Casita’s bathroom. Battery wise, 3 days seems OK-but no air con; we can use air con on battery, but 2 or 3 hours will kill the battery; over 3 days we’re probably looking to turn the freezer off (I know, such a hardship when camping). So, full service means happy days; anything else means we need to monitor things quite closely-even down to planning what to eat so the food preparation/washing up doesn’t use too much resources. Not having water/sewer connections at Algonquin means we have to go to the water point before getting to the campground before filling up (don’t want to drag 140kg of water any further than necessary), then on the way out we’ll need to clear out the waste water. In terms of planning, this means we can’t have consecutive stays of any length at places without electricity.

I’m hoping confidence with towing Casita will grow over the trip, as it was pretty exhausting today. This is a long trip-to get to Vancouver we’re estimating 9,200km, towing for 6,700 of that. I’ve lost my numbers, which isn’t ideal, but I think we estimated 20, 000km towing and another third for travel without Casita. {obviously since I wrote this I have gone back to numbers-estimate is 22,000 towing plus 8 more without}.

Andrea’s family are also staying at Algonquin, so we ended up round the camp fire (or at least I did till I fell asleep).

Day 2

Ontario in itself is huge-we have 6 stops and about 2,500km towing. None of the trip’s big hitters are in Ontario, but I’m sure we’ll find some gems. Today we just had a very pleasant hike with the dogs, through a forest, up to some cliffs and back. Rated moderate, it seemed to be enough exercise to justify an ice cream that we forgot to take a photo of. 

Most of this trip is going to be national/provincial parks. So we think non-travelling days will usually be a hike of some sort, followed by admin/chilling in the afternoon. Particularly in the US, there are some scenic drives to add on.

Day 3

We set off for a couple of walks today and started with Beaver pond-there was an excellent booklet on beavers to accompany the walk, which I could summarise here, but suffice to say beavers are impressive and one of the ponds they created would be a lake in the UK. I’ll leave you to Google Beavers or Leslie Nielsen for more information.


We followed this up with our first real foul up. We tried to go on the Big Pines hike, we got there are saw a sign pointing to the Lookout hike on the left, so we carried on walking up the road figuring this would lead us to bug Pines. 15 minutes up the road, with no sign of a trailhead, we decide to head back down and try Lookout instead. 15 minutes after that we reach the Car Park for Lookout. At which point….we’d had enough. When we got back to the car, still wondering where the trailhead for Big Pines was, we saw it was about 20 metres from where we’d parked. Some truck had blocked our view. It was massive. Truly ginormous. Must have been. You know, so it’s not really our bad.


Day 4

Bit of a crappy day weather wise, in fact we even had a blast of heating in Casita when we went to bed, but we did manage another very pleasant hike.

One of the downers of towing is it’s really not wise to just jump in the car, hit the GPS and go, so the day before means checking routes, weather (we have 2 wind apps) and planning stops (including fuel). We think we can do just over 400km on a tank (we do not want to find out that limit, so refuelling is minimum each 300km-sounds OK, but then you see a sign ‘last gas for 150km’, and they weren’t lying).

For Past Times sake we nipped into Whitney for a few essentials.

Day 5

I’ve not been sleeping well and been having a bit of a crisis of confidence about the amount of dragging La Casita around that we need to do. Pulling a trailer is not at all like just driving a car-it’s pretty intense. The windy forecast failed to inject me with positivity: wind speeds weren’t at the level that meant we should get off the road, but they were high enough to give me a wobbler. Anyway, end of the day it was a good journey-the sway bar did its job in that you could definitely feel the wind (Casita is something like 21 feet long and 10 and a half high, so that’s a lot sail when the wind blows), but we weren’t being unduly pushed around. Plus the car handled the descents very tidily, so all good. Note to self-you can start sleeping properly.

Algonquin and Chutes have been interesting staring points: we didn’t initially plan to stay at either, but we lost out in the vicious non-contact sport that is booking camping in Ontario-there’s a Glastonbury system of hitting F5 until you get the message to say it’s sold out.

The hikes in Algonquin were varied and numerous, at Chutes there is one that we’ll tackle tomorrow, but from our arrival in the campsite, I already prefer Chutes. It’s quieter, smaller, the toilets are a lot nicer (despite being long drop Glasto style, the weather’s better/there’s less mud and there’s a dog park next to the dog beach. So after we got setup, we had a walk and the friends (Feliz and Sab) had a swim, which they haven’t been able to do for ages. Must get a video on here of them at some stage.

En route spent about $200 on a 50 foot extension cable to connect Casita to camp electricity. It did its job as we needed about 5 feet in the Chutes camping.

Day 6

Chutes, for those who might not know, is French for waterfall and we spend a couple of hours with the dogs wandering on both sides of the river, through the woods and admiring the falls. Another hike long enough to merit ice cream, so we wander into town and have lunch as an appetiser at a nice café with Wi-Fi so we can plan tomorrow’s journey.

If you get the chance, go to Chutes-camping great, the hike is lovely and you can walk into town for supplies/a meal. Magic. Also emphasised one the core truths of travelling-there’s never enough time (copyright Hugh Hill), I’d have happily stayed here for several days. 

In case I hadn’t explained, we are pushing pretty hard for the first 3 months. There are a lot of places where our only chance to visit is before winter. National parks and RVing is so popular now, that you have to book the campsites months in advance. So we have minimal flexibility, which is a great shame. Have to be content that this was a great choice, if only for a couple of nights.

Day 7

Today was supposed to be our first night camping in a Walmart. This is a strange, but (we expect) useful practice where you can spend the night in a Walmart car park. When you first hear the idea, it doesn’t sound too appealing. However, it appears to have several advantages: you need to break up the journey and there isn’t necessarily enough time or things to see to properly stop every 400km or so; odds are the Walmart is pretty much on your route as major roads skirt major towns, which is where you get a supermarket; all we need to do is park and drop the tongue jack to take the weight off the car-fully setting up at a campsite and then packing up the next day is a couple of hours extra; it’s free. Plus you can get your groceries. Cracker barrel do something similar, so we may be there in the US.

We needed to break up the 630 km between Chutes and Pukaskwa National Park and had originally seen only one town of real size with the Walmart option. However, this was only a third distance, which would have left us a LONG time in a Walmart car park. We were struggling to find an alternative, when I checked Harvest Hosts (I thought I’d already done this) and found a blueberry farm/winery in Wawa that was 2/3 of the way to Pukaskwa-split second decision to change plan. Harvest Hosts seems amazing-it cost about 80 of someone’s dollars for the year. You then get access to thousands of mostly wineries/breweries/farms where you can spend a night for free in your camper-you’re just encouraged/obliged to spend $20 on the stuff they sell. Winner. The only downer is this appears to be the last one in Ontario, so in Kenora it will be the full Walmart.

My admiration for lorry drivers has dramatically increased, as they sweep past me in the outside lane. 2 hours of towing and concentrating is about my limit and I know we’re pulling a little toy compared to those guys. I can’t imagine what those huge trailers must be like with a good gust of wind-maybe that’s why they drive so fast.

When we did our research to buy Casita, one of the things that was made abundantly clear was that we would have problems and to a certain extent would need to be handy enough to fix a lot of things. One of the main sources of weight in the trailer is the boxes of tools and various cans of stuff we have to spray on different moving parts. We’ve had a couple of majorish concerns in the past few days, but both seem to have been sorted. Firstly we had water on the bathroom floor after having showers the other day-concern was we had a leak behind the shower and water was coming out: I didn’t really fancy removing walls to find the problem. After a few more showers, it now appears that some idiot sprayed a load of water on the floor when cleaning the shower. I need to fix a bit of damage to the wood from that, but that’s a result compared to the alternative I was imagining.

Our other issue was with one of our wheels. The technology of the wheels is, I believe, somewhat old. They have wheel bearings that need greasing every 10,000 miles/a year, lug nuts that need tightening every 1,000 miles, and a bunch of other stuff. Most of this we paid someone to sort before leaving, other bits I can do. Yves gave us some great advice before departure-touch the wheels after driving, if they’re hot, then the wheel bearings are going to need repacking (grease again). So I started doing that and found one of the wheels was warm on the way to Chutes. I’d meant to check with Yves before leaving Chutes just how hot was a problem. On the way to Wawa today, the same wheel was warm and getting warmer after each stop. We were looking closely at the Tyre Pressure monitor we have on Casita’s wheels-the tyre was consistently hotter by between 2 and 5 degrees. This was a little concerning. Anyway, cutting a long story short (too late for that), within an hour of arriving in Wawa it was all sorted: our Harvest Host directed us to a tyre shop, who couldn’t help us, who directed us to a truck repair place (all within 500m of where we were staying); the guys there hoisted Casita up and adjusted the brakes, which had been rubbing and then didn’t even want paying. I gave them beer money of course. 

I’ve been in Canada too long, I’m starting to type tire rather than tyre.

So week one done, just over 1,500km behind us. (Andrea is keeping some spectacular statistics-it’s beyond me and would probably edge out John Adams in a stats nerd contest). This leg has relaxed me a lot with the driving, when we arrived it was fairly windy, but that hadn’t been a worry during the drive. I think we’re in the swing of things.

Day 8

We slept really well. Once we’d packed up our blueberries, blueberry jam and blueberry wine we felt like Violet Beauregard and headed off onto the Trans Canadian highway once more. The Lonely Planet roughly says the Trans Canadian doesn’t exist, but is a patchwork of provincial roads. I wouldn’t quite agree with that, rather I would say it is very varied. In parts of Quebec it’s 2 line motorway, I think bits of Ontario are bigger than that. It is also one lane in large parts, with regaulr extra lanes so all the people behind me can overtake. It also passes through a lot of small towns, so much so that at Chutes we were stopped at traffic lights on it, waiting to turn into the park. I’ve also seen on the map that there are ferry journey connecting Vancouver Island and Newfoundland that are also labelled Trans Canadian highway. So, it really can take you right across Canada. I didn’t realise we’d be using it so much, but then I think for the most part it is the only way. We crossed a major road at North Bay (about 800km back), which meets up with the Trans Canada again at Thunder Bay-in another 300 or so.

So, today is our first NATIONAL park after all this provincial stuff. Have to say the facilities are nicer. Pukaskwa (puk-a-saw) is pretty large, but only has about 4km of roads, so for us everything is focussed around the campsite, where there are a number of trails we’ll start on tomorrow. Nice not to need the car at all for 2 days. Backcountry camping isn’t very realistic for us with 2 bad backs and 2 Labradors. 2 Labradors that have had to stay on the leash all the time so far, as we’re in bear country. This is for the very good reason that the majority of bear attacks on humans are caused by off leash dogs. It goes something like this: dog runs to say hello to the bear; dog belatedly thinks ‘maybe not my best idea’; dog runs back to his/her hooman; bear follows…… 

The proximity of Wawa meant we arrived around 11, which was nice as this is our first ‘First Come, First Served’ campsite. You get a map when you arrive, get told to drive around and pick a site, set up camp and come back and pay. I’m not sure how many choices we had as we picked one about 2 down from the spot where we filled Casita with fresh water. It’s very nice, again.

I’m glad we’re here as we rather skipped past Lake Huron, and drove for 140km through Lake Superior Provincial park without stopping. So it seems right to be camping 5 minutes walk from the Big Lake.

Having said that, here is Lake Superior.

I thought it’d be bigger.

Friday, August 11, 2023

Backstreet’s Back

Or Shady, or the Jedi or any other pop culture reference you fancy about a comeback. I mean it’s been 15 years, this is no Wozniacki return; this blog was dead and buried and forgotten. It’s a George R R Martin sized gap. People probably don’t blog anymore, but I’m certainly not joining any other social media and tempting as a podcast sounds, I think not. So for those who still read, this is what’s on offer. 

To be clear, I didn’t give up travelling for the last decade and a half. There’s been lots of Europe, a return to Kenya/Tanzania & Chile, Tunisia, St Lucia, Barbados, Cuba, The US & Canada (with apologies to those I have inevitably forgotten). In particular I wish I’d written about Costa Rica, Borneo, Yellowstone and Mexico-definitely the standout (and longer) trips in those years.

It’s not just been travelling-I….. I need to stop saying I and say we, as I became We; we’ve lived in The Netherlands and Quebec.

So what has been going on?

Well this.


And this


Introducing Andrea, Feliz and Sabio. Hence the need to change the Blog’s title.

Nearly forgot. I also (technically) became a Canadian.

I'd expected to write this two or three months ago; instead it is now 2 or 3 days before departure. We have had a LOT of setbacks, which I may or may not blather on about in the future.

Departure? I hear you say. And why the new post? Well, we bought this


An RV. VR. Caravan. Roulotte. Travel Trailer. Small house on wheels (Feliz’s take). So many names, for us she’s La Casita.

Oh, and we sold the house, so for now Casita is it. We’ve been living in it full time since the beginning of June and part time since late April, as well as 4 or 5 weeks of trial travelling last year. Turns out, when you have the great outdoors, the little indoors is pretty good. So far, so little travel, but all of this was just preparation.

On Tuesday, soundtracked by the Pet Shop Boys, we will Go West. Our first stop is Algonquin Provincial Park in Ontario. From there we will spend 2 months crossing Canada, quickly nipping to Badlands in the US en route. Then we’ll take the boat from Vancouver Island to the US of A and spend 6 months touring before arriving back in Canada on the East side. If we still have the energy, we’ll pass through the Maritimes before getting back to Quebec (at which point any lucky reader will be able to buy La Casita as a historical record of our adventures: it could be turned into a mobile museum, or be prosaically used for family holidays).

At least at the beginning, it’s mostly going to be National/State/Provincial parks: they dry up a bit as you head East, so at that stage there’ll probably be some space travel and a visit to the Mouse.

So if you want to know how 2 dogs and 2 hoomans get on in North America, come back here for the next instalment.


Thursday, April 10, 2008

Pyramid photos now added

Scroll down....

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Rowley Birkin's Home Town-Cairo

Can't get the photos to load in the airport, so will do that back in blighty. Here's me signing off from Egypt

Day 83 Cairo
So the night minibus was an error in judgement. It was full, I sat at the end of three seats and my neck hurt and I couldn’t sleep. Worse things happen at sea and in case I know that I not meant for night buses. Trains yes, buses no.

I was feeling like I might have a little snooze when I finally got a room just before 10, but then the fun with Glasto tickets kicked off and I was sending texts and checking e-mails to get Sozz some details. So then when I had a snooze, there wasn’t so much daytime left.

I decided to do something a little different and went to the Mr and Mrs Mahmoud Khajil museum. Mahmoud gathered an impressive collection of 19th and 20th century art. Given that he was a noted politician of the 1940s, I was a little concerned as to how he paid for it, but he clearly left it to the nation. I’m not sure it’s that visited as a tout accosted me on the way and told me there was nothing down the road.

The walk was quite odd. Cairo was orange. It had a post apocalyptic feel. The sun was hidden and the visibility was a fraction of what is normal. With the right camera or some paints it would have been very beautiful. There were many people walking around, so I guessed that a bomb hadn’t gone off and it was probably the result of prolonged winds driving the desert into the sky. The desert is surprisingly close to a city of 20 million people.

A few of the paintings in the first room had Egyptian subjects, which was quite an interesting fusion with 19th century European style. There was definitely the feeling of a private collection-furniture, pottery, vases, miniatures and a great tapestry joined the paintings.

I soon came across a Gaugin. I really must find out more about him, as to me he went to the South Sea Islands, painted topless lovelies, shagged anything in sight, then died leaving a lot of half caste illegitimates and raging syphilis. His story convinces more than his painting.

This museum had many things I didn’t expect to find in Egypt. This was best exemplified by a Pissaro of a cricket match in Bedford Park-I’d have been surprised by that in Paris or the Long Room, let alone Cairo.

Two pieces had a room to themselves. This is quite unusual, I can only think of the Leonardo cartoon having similar treatment, but that is more to do with preservation. In a small collection it was a very cool way of giving pride of place. The first one was a Van Gogh. It wasn’t spectacular, but nonetheless it was a Van Gogh-I’ll guess it is the only one in Egypt. Across the hall, the second Gaugin received similar treatment.

Although the big name pieces weren’t top notch, there was an impressive lineup: Rodin, Monet and Degas joined the others. There was a very good room of Millets, which reminded me of my old dissertation on Joseph Israels.

The collection was a in a villa and was a good size: you could contemplate each piece. It was not a showy collection, but it was an enjoyable break for me. Something very different from most of the previous 3 months. A sorbet to clear to palette if you will.

Day 84 Giza
So yesterday I met Bell. Although she’d just flown in from London, despite the fact she’s Australian, we were essentially in the same boat: overnight travel, next to no sleep, early arrival at the hostel King Tut, hoping for the room to be ready. Alas no room. So we’d chatted for a couple of hours, then agreed to have a pyramid fest today. First stop Giza. You’ve probably heard of these boys.

As the car rounded a bend, there they were poking out above the suburb of Giza. It was quite strange. The pyramids predate the Valley of the Kings. They are from the Old Kingdom: Egypt has 97 pyramids, some of which are under mounds of sand. 90% are from the Old Kingdom. I suppose they are a different approach to preventing grave robbing: while the valley of the kings relied on subtlety and hiding the tombs, the pyramids feel more like a fortress. Temples and smaller pyramids for wives were around the main pyramid, but there was no comparison in size.

Before we got to plateau, we saw a poster for the latest Egyptian blockbuster

Motorbikes and Girls. Wasim, our guide, said it wasn’t very good.

We started at the Great Pyramid of Khufu.

This is the Daddy at 146m high, 10m higher than the pyramid of his son Khafre. The latter is the one that still has an amount of its limestone casing near the apex and is on higher ground, so it often looks larger. Had I gone on my own, I don’t think I would have paid the £100 to go inside the pyramid (and as the LP said £150, I doubt I’d gave approached the ticket office). I was glad I did. I have to say I couldn’t figure why you’re not allowed your camera: there are no paintings as in Luxor, just large stone chambers. While there may not be a lot to see, it is an interesting experience to be crouching (short legs good here) your way through something 4,000 years old. The first stretch was cave like: I suspect it was burrowed after the completion as the tunnels and stairs inside were beautifully regular and in one spot the ceiling soared up like a cathedral. There’s relatively little in there, given the size of the construction and essentially we were led to one chamber, although there was a very narrow passageway leading who knows where.

Then onto Khafre, which we didn’t go inside.

before a quick look at what may be the world’s oldest boat.

where you had to wear the old special shoes.

The boys are so big that you really have to stand back to get the overview

where it’s a great spot for silly false perspective photos.

Bell’s camera was better equipped to take them, so I may have to post later on that. With the pyramids’ size, it’s easy to forget the old sphinx.

which is in much better condition than I had expected

It was quite difficult to get photos without the crowds (we’d been fairly quiet at the pyramids, but the coach and school parties were arriving by now).

Naturally I managed to start a trend

A girl saw me and wanted one. Then Bell had one. I thought there was a little tongue in hers. I’m fairly sure there are still queues of people kissing the Sphinx. The Sphinx also provided one last recurrence of a well worn leit motif: the beard is in the British Museum (I think I shall have to blog my visit to the British Museum).

From Giza we headed onto Saqqara and Dahshur, home of the oldest pyramids. The step pyramid is the tomb of Zoser

and was designed by the architect Imhotep, who seems as famous as a Pharoah. Before seeing it I had been confused by the ‘step’ description, as I felt the pyramids at Giza were stepped on the outside. Of course those pyramids were originally clad, so that the exterior was smooth. Additionally, the ‘steps’ at Giza are just one block high. Here we see a design that in more akin to progressively smaller squares laid on top of each other. The shape becomes more pyramidal from the sand and rubble sitting on the steps. It is over 4 and a half thousand years old and is the world’s earliest stone monument. It is history.

There was a considerable amount of building around the step, but I felt most had been over restored. We did make our way into a stunning tomb, much larger than those at Luxor. I hadn’t seen green before and naughtily sneaked a flash free photo.

Finally onto Dahshur, where we went into the red pyramid

The red is the oldest true pyramid (the bent pyramid doesn’t have the shape, neither the step). There are 2 chambers at 12m and 15m high and you get to them down a 63m tunnel, which is long old way bent double on a steep slope.

You can’t get anywhere near the bent pyramid, which is in a military zone. Could you want any more convincing evidence that the pyramids were built by aliens? The shape

is due them having to adjust the construction as it develop stress problems half way up. I guess this was a learning pyramid.

There’s been a lot of talk on this blog about the seven wonders both ancient and new. Partly this is because I’ve visited 4 of each in the past 9 months. Today was the last one for now and I guess I need to declare a winner. You know it’s Petra. Still not been there?

Day 85 Cairo
So. Kinda done it all. At least all I fancied doing. I ploughed back through the book to see if there was anything else that I’d want to spend a day on. There were pages and pages on Islamic Cairo, although nothing that sounded essential. Or even that good. I took a potter round and there were some nice mosques, one stunner (which was too holy for me to be allowed in), some hussle and bustle, perhaps more of a sense of the real Cairo. Had I started here, I think it would have been quite a good scene setter. As I’m finishing here, it felt familiar. I guess it was a farewell.

I had a spot of dinner at a Chinese restaurant I had tried to go to the night before, when I thought it was closed as I couldn’t open the door. Turned out it was a sliding door. First time I’d had a beer on my own all trip, pretty good too. In the lift back up to hotel, I looked in mirror and smiled. What next?

That is a very good question indeed.

Day 86 The US Masters Preview, on BBC 1
Flight’s at 4, so cab at 1, lunch at 12, so not much is going on.

Today is all about Mike Weir winning the Par 3 tournament and being back home in time to see the masters preview.