Monthly Archives: September 2016

How we ended up traveling the world

“We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us.”
Anonymous.

Have you ever had that feeling that there’s more to life than working 9-5 to buy a new car, a bigger house or to be able to afford a better holiday next year? That there’s more to “living” than yearning for those two weeks a year in which you can escape from it all?

Back in 2002, nearly 15 years ago, we came to that exact conclusion. No, we weren’t wealthy by any means, we had jobs we enjoyed and a good circle of friends but felt there’s far more to life than the life we had. We had both traveled before we met, I had spent most of my life in South America, Cathy had traveled in Europe and been to India during her gap year.

In the mid to late 90’s, my parents had settled in Spain, on the Costa del Sol, and had repeatedly mentioned about coming to see them. In the late 90’s we decided to give it a go. We hopped on an EasyJet flight from Liverpool to Malaga, hired a car and started exploring. We liked what we saw. Our visits became more and more frequent, from once every couple of months to virtually every weekend. We found block booking tickets gave us a much better price so we started block booking flights. On a couple of occasions we even jumped in the car and drove through France and down to the Costa del Sol, yes, we did this several times totally unplanned and for just a few days. The drive through France down to Malaga can be done in a little over 24 hours driving continuously.
During one of our trips we decided that enough was enough, we had to make a decision as to where to live. It was now getting quite tiring, flying out on a Friday night and coming back late Sunday evening.

First Attempt!

In mid 2000 (I think), we made the decision to move. That’s it, we are leaving. Great. Then we remembered we are not fabulously wealthy, we need jobs to go to. Yes, Spain was a lot cheaper than the UK in those days but we still needed to live! Cathy made contact with an international school near Cartama, Inland Costa del Sol. This was a new “international” school recruiting teachers and as it happened, they were interviewing in London. We drove to London, it was a cold, wet miserable day. The interview was in a London cafe,  all I can remember is going for a long walk in the rain and doing quite a lot of window shopping. When I went back to the coffee shop I met the person interviewing Cathy. A stereotypical Brit living in Spain, too much alcohol (probably), too many cigarettes (probably), skin so tanned it had turned into leather and generally showing severe signs of lack of moisturiser or sunscreen. Cathy was offered the job on the spot. Hmmm, not quite what we had planned. Strangely enough, we were prepared to move etc, but all of a sudden it all felt very real. We realised that upping sticks, selling up and becoming Nomads takes balls, balls the size of a mid-sized continent. We were 26 years old, had good jobs we enjoyed, owned our own house, had a couple of nice cars and not a bad lifestyle. We had started off with nothing and had worked hard to achieve what we had, would this be one of the most stupid and irresponsible decisions we had ever made? What if it didn’t work out? All these questions and doubts reared their ugly heads. We decided this was too much of a gamble, not enough security. Cathy (quite embarrassed) turned the job down. After this, our trips to Spain were drastically reduced…..temporarily……and not for long.

Sorry!

Late 2001 we decided that enough was enough, we either do it properly or we just get on with life. Cathy approached the same school again and very humbly enquired about jobs in the school. Explained our change in circumstances (more than circumstances it was a mind set). Amazingly enough, she was offered a job on the spot! And so, life as an expat began…..sort of. We handed in our notice at work. Sold our house…….in one day! This was soon followed by our cars and my beloved motorbike, our furniture and whatever wasn’t sold, we gave away. In the UK, we were now homeless. In Spain, my parents had sorted everything out for us. They had found us a nice rental finca (house in the countryside) with an almond field on the outskirts of Alhaurin el Grande, approximately 10 minutes from Mijas Pueblo, where they lived. They also found us a 4×4 which we bought without seeing. In May 2002 I headed off to Spain to pick up our new car (new to us anyway) and to see the finca we had rented. The house was modest with two bedrooms, a yard and the famous almond field, ideal for parking the cars. It was approximately 20 minutes from Cathy’s work. I drove the car back to the UK to pick up our belongings (or what we had left) as well as our most precious cargo, Sashah, our beautiful German Shepherd.

Sashah

Sashah

Cathy had to finish her contract while I headed back to Spain and set everything up.
Summer 2002 was amazing, it was all we had hoped it would be, but all good things come to an end. And it was time to settle into a normal routine. OK, the routine was get up, work, home, G&T’s on the terrace surrounded by olive trees and our almond trees, watch the sun go down. Go to bed, repeat next day. Except at weekend which meant doing the same but having a BBQ during the day, open house where friends would come and go or go to the beach. Not a bad lifestyle really. My background had been in mobile telecoms and mobile phones. So I had set myself up importing mobile phones and accessories and supplying local shops. My Spanish wasn’t quite as good as I remembered it was when I was younger, and Andalucian Spanish is as different to the clear and crisp Castilian I speak. A bit like English is to Russian! OK, perhaps not quite as bad as that, but it did cause me numerous problems. Including having to have my father come as translator…..several times! The school wasn’t quite as expected, this included Cathy and other new teachers having to actually carry and put together all the furniture for the classrooms. Having to put up with parts of the school being a building site with workers coming in and out of her classroom while trying to teach, some of them smoking at the time! My business idea wasn’t doing to good either, it was becoming increasingly frustrating and wasn’t making as much money as I had on my forecast. We then had to deal with Spanish bureaucracy, including having to buy and put in our own telephone post if we wanted a landline. As the days turned into weeks and into months. The weather started changing and getting colder. Living in a house that has no heating, no damp proofing and very little insulation; even in a mild autumn day feels cold and damp. During one of my ever increasing number of trips back to the UK, a friend of mine asked for my honest opinion on how things were going for us in Spain. He had been out to visit us there, as had many others. My answer wasn’t probably the one he was expecting. My answer was, it’s OK but truth be known, we are struggling. He mentioned in a casual way, “why don’t you come and work for me?”. Something which I sort of dismissed but in the back of my mind made a lot of sense. The novelty factor had worn out…..well and truly. By November we were pretty miserable and homesick. My father had always said, “it takes a year to settle in, once you go past that 12 month probation period, things get easier”. Towards the end of November we had made our minds up. We are going back to England, we are going back home! The sooner, the better. Cathy spoke with a contact of hers and was offered a temporary contract in a small rural school on the Welsh border. I spoke with my friend and accepted his job offer.We got very drunk celebrating our impending return to blighty! Soon after, I popped back to Oswestry, sorted out a house and bought Cathy a new car so we had everything ready for our return. We made sure Sashah had all her vaccinations up to date and her doggy passport was all up to date and on New Year’s day 2003 we embarked on the drive back “home”. We arrived in Calais several hours ahead of schedule and parked up waiting for our ferry. It was a cold, wet and windy day. We arrived in Dover late at night. We drove through miles of roadworks and cones in the drizzly rain and heavy traffic in restricted speed zones. Eventually we arrived in our new house. A lovely modern four bedroom detached house with a garden in Whittington, just outside Oswestry. It was nice buying all new things for our new (rented) house. Friends were keen to hear from us, many of them pointing out that they “knew” we would be back within 12 months. Some were happy to see us fail, some were just happy to see us and have us back. We didn’t see it as a failure, we saw it as “glad we tried it”. Days turned into weeks, weeks into months and we decided to pop over to Spain for a visit. Spanish economy was booming. Cathy had had her contract extended, after a short period working for this friend of mine, I went back into mobile phones and to the old company I had left only a year or so earlier! In many ways, life was back to normal. We even put in an offer on a house which was accepted but as it was in a new development it was going to be a long completion. During one of our ever increasing number of trips back to Spain I could see more and more real estate agencies opening on the coast and lots of business being done. The purchase of our new house in Oswestry was going extremely slow, in fact several months after signing the agreement there was no sign of anything being built so we decided to pull out. The developer offered us an extremely good deal on a part exchange property on the Welsh border, so we just went for it. In the middle of all this, we were once again traveling to Spain for weekends very regularly. One Friday afternoon, I was at my desk in my office reading the Sur in English (costa del Sol newspaper) online. There was a job being advertised for a property consultant to work inland in a new office. Must be bilingual. OK, my Spanish wasn’t quite as good as it once was, but they didn’t need to know that. This was a real estate company run by Brits who themselves hardly spoke Spanish. I rang the number, spoke to a gentleman who was most interested in what I had to say. He invited me for an interview. We agreed to meet up in Villanueva de Algaidas, near Antequera, North of Malaga city the following weekend. I went home and approached the subject with Cathy. We talked late into the night and made a decision. We are going back to Spain, but this time there would be no going back, or should that be; coming back? The following Friday we headed off to Spain, picked up our hire car from our usual place and on Saturday morning we drove to Villanueva de Algaidas. I met up with the office manager who then suggested we met up with the director of the company that afternoon, in Mollina. We met up and soon after I was offered the job.

Deja Vu!

We headed back to the UK very excited with our decision. It was now time to hand in our notice at work, get rid of the various bits and pieces; but we proceeded with the purchase of the house. I headed off to Spain in May 2004 with all our worldly goods. Sashah, our German Shepherd was transported to Spain in a doggy taxi as I didn’t have enough space in the car. Cathy was offered a job in an international school East of Malaga city, this meant a 200 km round trip but it was a good school and the roads were amazing. She bought a new car (yes, brand new) which we still have, 12 years later. June 2004 we completed on our house in Wales, I flew back for a weekend, Cathy and I redecorated it, put new carpets and tidied the garden and put it back up for sale. It sold within 6 weeks. Work was good, life was good. In 2005 we decided to rent a finca on the outskirts of Antequera to make it a bit easier for Cathy’s job. I moved jobs and opened a new office near home along with a colleague from the company I worked in previously. Business and work were great!

Finca in Antequera

Finca in Antequera

It was 2006 now, we had been in Spain for two years, housing market was still booming and showing no sign of slowing down. I became increasingly involved with commercial real estate such as hotels, developments etc etc. I was also traveling to Morocco on a very regular basis as it was becoming a property hotspot. By now we had moved to Alhaurin de la Torre, on the outskirts of Malaga to be nearer to the coast. This enabled us to cover a bit of the coast as well as inland areas. We decided this was the right time to buy something in Spain. We went, we saw, we bought. Three weeks later, or so, in May 2006 we had the keys to our house in Spain. A very old school house in need of massive renovation!

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In 2007 I visited Bulgaria for the first time, for two weeks. Cathy joined me six months later. During that time I was commuting between Spain and Bulgaria.  Nearly six years later and having adopted a little girl from a Bulgarian orphanage we returned to Spain. We made further renovations and then took up the opportunity of working in Qatar. By then my career and work was mostly internet based, something which I had been working on for a long time to enable us to continue traveling. Early 2016 and after 12 very good years (with many ups and several downs!), I parted company with real estate to concentrate on other projects. From Qatar we ended up moving to Madagascar. A fascinating country which we are eager to explore as much as possible.

In Conclusion

During the past 14 years, we have explored and traveled extensively, though there are still loads of places we want to explore! Being in many of the countries we have lived in, has made traveling so much easier. We have had a chance to visit places most people would never get a chance to see. We have covered many, many countries and places, but always feel we have only just scratched the surface.

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Some of the countries/ places we have visited since 2002

Some Common Questions we are asked.

Q) Would we go back to Blighty?
A) Maybe…one day.
Q) Do we regret leaving the UK?
A) Not at all!
Q) Has it been plain sailing?
A) No
Q) Where’s home?
A) Wherever our little family is together
Q) Which is your favourite country?
A) We don’t have one, we love aspects from each country we have lived in, particularly our friends.
Q) Would you go back and live in a country you lived in before?
A) Probably not. For us, life is about memories, by going back to a country we have lived in previously, is like trying to recreate memories. We have tried it twice, once going back to the UK in 2003 and then again, moving back to Spain in 2013. It wasn’t the same as how we remembered. People change, places change, and more importantly, when you travel, YOU change! Travel changes us as individuals. Our perspectives and our priorities change.
Q) Aren’t you worried about your daughter’s education?
A) In as many words? NO! Katja is receiving the best education money can buy. Not just by being educated in international schools but also by seeing the world. Her passport which was only five years old, was virtually FULL, with stamps in every page. Stamps for each country she has visited. She is an extremely confident and sociable now 6 year old. She has seen parts of the world most adults can only dream of. She has mixed with royalty as well as played with kids who have nothing, she even voluntarily gave them her bucket and spade (Sri Lanka 20015). As far as schooling is concerned, she is where she should be as a 6 year old. She is receiving the type of education money cannot buy. She recently celebrated her birthday. This is the pretty impressive bit: 6 birthdays in 5 countries (Bulgaria, Spain, Qatar, Oman and Madagascar) in 3 continents; how’s that?!
These are the usual questions, if you have any other questions you’d like to ask, please feel free to do so!
I could, quite literally write for days and days…… but I won’t. One day I will sit and write on a regular basis and put together a book with all our stories and adventures……

British Nomads

Madagascar 2016

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Weekend with Lemurs

“I like this place and could willingly waste my time in it.”
― William Shakespeare

Money!

Money is a big issue here. I am not only referring to money for survival, but also estimating how much to take. We don’t use cards here so we have to guesstimate how much to take. Too little and it can get a bit awkward, too much and you can also be in trouble! This leads to a further issue. The biggest Malagasy note is 10,000 Arirary which equates to a little over 3 US Dollars. A further issue we had was towards the end of the month, finding a cashpoint machine which actually had ANY money! After trying the fourth ATM, we got lucky as it had some money. All it had was 5,000 Ariray notes which is approx 1.5 US Dollars. We made several withdrawals which meant we had several inches of cash in our pocket! Which in fairness isn’t worth a great deal but takes up a lot of space!

Pangalanes Canal

Madagascar is famous worldwide for being a totally unique place, an island which harbours unique wildlife which cannot be seen anywhere else in the world, unless it is a zoo or special exhibition. We are so lucky to be able to spend time here and to be able to explore this magnificent place.

We set off relatively early (for a Saturday morning) and met up by the edge of the Pangalanes Canal which luckily for us, goes past the outside of our housing village! Our destination is only accessible by boat, it is approximately 60km from home and would take approximately 3 hours. As it happened, it took a little over 4 hours but nobody really cared as it was a fascinating trip!

Along the way, there was plenty of traffic. The canal is connected to a series of enormous lakes and runs up to Tamatave which is, the commercial hub. So, when sailing along the canal, you will come across many river buses carrying people as well as livestock, bamboo boats pretty much submerged under the enormous loads of wood, fishermen as well as sand pirogues which is something I really want to expand on as it is fascinating. As we were chugging along the canal, we came across several pirogues laden down with red sand. By the way, a pirogue is a long, narrow canoe made from a single tree trunk. The sand is delivered to local destinations and it is used to make bricks for houses. As you sail along the river, you come across pirogues held in place by sticks in the water. To get the sand, there’s a person which dives to the bottom of the river, fills a bucket and empties it in the pirogue. He will do this until the boat is as full as possible, usually just a couple of inches above the water!

Pangalanes Canal Collecting Sand

Diving for sand

delivering sand along the pangalanes canal

Only a few inches above water!

As we continued our trip passing village after village and river boat after river boat as well as numerous fish farms, we made a comfort stop. Or shall I say, we stopped in a beautiful place with white sandy beaches. The purpose of the stop was not to admire the sand but to try and find a tree or some bushes, I shall leave the rest of it to your imagination!

Once we finished on this stretch of canal, we headed across the interconnected lakes and eventually reached our destination.

 

Palmarium Hotel

We arrived at the hotel in time for lunch. Our cabins weren’t quite ready so we ordered food and waited….. and waited….. and waited. Eventually, after two hours, our food arrived. In the mean time, we were kept entertained by lemurs wandering around the place freely and enjoying the interaction with humans as well as all the attention, not to mention the lovely bananas too! Our food arrived and I must admit we were pleasantly surprised by how good it was. It certainly exceeded our expectations. After food we were briefed on our rooms which were now ready.

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Yummy banana and ALL mine!

Lights Out at 11pm

Quite literally, lights went out at 11pm. The only means of electricity here is by generator. This means that there’s only electricity at certain times of the day….and night. We were told that the generators were switched off at 11pm until 6am. There was also intermittent electricity supply throughout the day. I must say, it didn’t really bother us all that much.

We spent the afternoon admiring lemurs and wandering around the lush gardens as well as admiring the local wildlife!

Some Malagasy wildlife

We pre-ordered our food well in advance, in (vain) hope that we wouldn’t have to wait as long as we did for lunch. At 7pm we had the local village choir? (I am not too sure what to call it really) who performed songs and dance for us and of course, we all joined in!

After all the singing, dancing and laughing we went through for some food, yup, it was another long wait, but the food was great, and the banana flambe was amazing!

We went to bed and made ourselves as comfortable as possible, I must admit, it wasn’t too bad…not bad at all! By 11pm, as promised, we were plunged into total darkness. We woke up relatively early but late enough to have electricity again. It was a beautiful morning and the lemurs were in full swing, quite literally! We popped over to the restaurant for breakfast at 7, the lemurs just wanted to play. They were jumping all over the place and demanding attention…OK, more like demanding bananas!

We pre-ordered our lunch for 11am as we needed to head back as we were stopping at a fishing village on the way home. Of course, lunch didn’t arrive till 12 but once again it was lovely and well worth the wait. Sorting out the bill was another interesting story as it was totally disorganised and all the information had to be put together along with who had had what etc etc. It wasn’t quite as bad as when we went to Sri Lanka in which to pay the bill by card meant having to borrow a card machine which took two days to organise! Eventually we paid up and we were on our way.

Fishing Village

I have cycled past numerous villages but never actually stopped and had a wander around the place, it almost felt disrespectful to do so. When I was told we would be stopping in a fishing village on the way back I was most excited to hear this as it is an opportunity to meet people as well as see what life in a village would be like. We pulled into what can only be described as a picture postcard setting, somewhere you can only ever dream of.  The reality for the people who live there is very different to the dream location on a photo.This place is located between the lake/ Pangalanes Canal and the Indian Ocean. They live on a strip which is probably a mile wide….. if that. There’s a train station…..of sorts. It is actually an abandoned building which most of it has collapsed. I think the correct word for it is derelict! We had a warm and very friendly welcome. Of course, within seconds we were surrounded by children who followed us around. Even though life is tough for them, no running water, no electricity, poor and very basic medical help, these people are smiley and happy. Yes, I am sure they would love to live in better conditions but they are not miserable due to their hardship. They were very happy for us to wander around their village though I must admit I felt a bit uncomfortable doing so. Not uncomfortable because of safety but from their perspective. Imagine having people walking around your village looking at how you live, that sort of thing. The kids were ever so friendly, I only wish I had had a football with me and we could have had a kickabout on the beach. We walked up to their primary school which only recently had had a roof; courtesy of a parents and school association. The village is pretty well stocked up which I was quite surprised. There was a butchers, a baker, a shop that sold various ointments and herbs as well as several other little shops. We walked across the village and to the beach where there were several pirogues which are obviously used for sea fishing. This is probably one of the THE most dangerous jobs in the world. These pirogues are flimsy little boats and the waves in the Indian Ocean are pretty big, not to mention the strong current and sharks! Katja played on the beach with a few of the kids but unfortunately we couldn’t spend much time there. On the way out we bought several necklaces which were made by the women from the village, so that’s quite a few Christmas pressies sorted!  I would love to go back there without having to rush off, spend time with people and get to know them.

Katja decided that she would sleep most of the way back!

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Here are a few more photos!

We arrived back home just before attending a site BBQ but already planning and looking forward to our next adventure!

Solar Eclipse

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life”.
–Steve Jobs

What a fabulous quote by Steve Jobs, so very true.

Ever since knowing we were moving to Madagascar, we have known that on Thursday September 1st there was going to be an annular eclipse and that it would cover about 90% of the surface of the sun. We have been keeping an eye on the forecast for several days, yesterday 31/08, we had torrential showers, the worrying thing was that the forecast was pretty much the same for today. When we got up at 6am, we could hear the rain. However, as the morning progressed it wasn’t too bad. Cloudy but at least no rain. I went out to the football field at 11:00 am and caught the beginning of this amazing event.

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A little after 12 o’clock all the kids came out from school and all met up on the football field, we all brought some food, had a picnic and all watched in amazement as the light faded gradually and the temperature dropped noticeably.

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