2008 christmas missive

It’s that time when we try to put together a resumé of our year for your amusement. Clicking on most photos will take you to a bigger version. Clicking on links in the text will get you a page with more info, or more photographs and in some cases, links to video footage.

Ro-Ro ferry, Amazonia style

Last year we escaped to Ecuador.

Paddling the Rio Cuyabeno

We arrived safely, on time, at Quito and there was a driver waiting to collect us. This produced a false sense of security as, after that, we fell victim to South American mañana. We were flown to the wrong airport, took an interesting taxi drive to our hotel (with a most interesting, leaking, sagging-in-the-middle car ferry at Lago Agrio) and found ourselves close to the Columbian border in the bit of Ecuador tourists are advised to keep well away from!

First camp, Rio Cuyabeno

We then contracted diarrhoea that lasted most of the 3 weeks. On the flight back, we were first to arrive at the airport, but weren’t allocated seats until there were only seconds to spare – in the US we found that our seats for the flight to the UK had been cancelled (fortunately we had a long enough wait that they had time to put us back).

Making tree roots into lunch

Having said that, everything did work, sort of, and many people went out of their way to help us including the hotel owner who drove us to the airport in her own car when the taxi didn’t arrive (again!). We had a fabulous trip into the Amazon basin where we saw parrots, monkeys, turtles plus fresh water dolphins and a tapir – all very elusive in the trees or the water.

Wild Tapir in Rio Cuyabeno

Rescued baby turtle

We also found a scorpion on my welly and got bitten by fire ants. We missed the Anaconda as we’d all succumbed to gastroenteritis and didn’t go out on that boat ride. Pyranha and caiman-wrestling was delegated to the guide…

Sealion and Sarah

Blue-footed Booby

Our next trip was to the Galápagos where we saw giant tortoise, pelicans, frigatebirds, blue footed boobies, Darwin’s finches, iguanas, turtles, fish, sharks, rays, sea lions and sally lightfoot crabs, but again failed to see penguins. We also saw yet another famous volcanic area with craters, lava and fumaroles. We were a little disappointed as the four-day Galápagos sea kayaking trip we had booked turned into only a couple of hours in a sea kayak.

Giant Tortoise

Marine Iguana


female Magnificent Frigatebird

Mountain biking from above Quito down into the rainforest

We then returned to Quito and moved to a lodge in the mountains. We had a couple of trips to cloud forest and rainforest to watch the birds, and a long mountain bike descent into the rainforest where it did indeed rain – very heavily !

One of many small, fast moving hummingbirds in the forest

A corner of Otovala market

Our guide was amazing, he was so knowledgeable and the hardest worker I’ve ever met. He was guide, driver and manager, he could identify all the different hummingbirds and recognise birds just from their calls as well as spot them in thick forest.

A trip to the market at Otovala satisfied a retail-therapy requirement very economically.

Off-piste by over 3 km
Next holiday was February half-term skiing at Val d’Isère, with Stuart and the cousins, during which Andy (off on his own for the last day) broke his one-day skiing record with 12567 vertical metres including six long off-piste runs. Then Sarah had another week with school at Easter.
Andy and Mary paddled the Sandaigs and Kyle of Lochalsh (avoiding the tide races)-: early May, and Andy paddled to Morvern and Mull in exciting conditions late May. Sarah went to Iceland with the scouts and to Plas-y-Brenin during the summer.
Paddling into Loch Hourn against headwind and choppy seas

Looking down into the gorge at the end of the Ubaye Racecourse
Andy went kayaking with the S.O.C. in the Alps and Michael had a week at scout camp in Northumberland.  
We all went to the Ardêche for two weeks in summer and managed to paddle the Ardêche gorge over two days. It was wonderful, warm water, the rapids were friendly and mostly we managed not to be too bothered by the crowds of other paddlers. Andy went to the Wet West Paddlefest in September.
Sunny easy paddling in the Ardêche
Sarah, Mary and Andy all paddled the Upper Tees including Low Force in early October (see video on that link) and Mary had a week at Plas-y-Brenin in November.
Mary paddling Salmon Leap on the Upper Tees

Sarah paddling Low Force

Midway through the build

Much of the rest of the year has been busy with major house alterations. Andy and I have been sleeping in the sitting room since August – it looks as if we won’t get into our new bedroom until after New Year, nor get our Jamie Oliver style outdoor wood-fired pizza oven going for Christmas. Work seems to have come to a halt at present due to snow and ice. Andy has still gone kayaking despite freezing cold water, wind, hail and snow.

The bonus of the state of the house is that we’ve been invited to both Chrissy and Cathy’s for Christmas dinner so we get two meals and I don’t have to do any of it!

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, Mary, Andy, Sarah, Michael, Fern and Snowflake