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The first leg of our trip involved driving the 1224km through the Andes from Huánuco to Cusco. We expected the trip to take around a week due to slow and sometimes unpaved roads.  We set the alarm early for Friday morning, got packed and kitted up and headed outside to the bike. Unfortunately for us though our £5 per night room hadn’t afforded us a window so we had no idea that the weather outside wasn’t going to let us go anywhere! It cleared by midday but by then we didn’t have enough time to make it to the first stop. We ended up going out for few hours in the afternoon up a mountain behind Huánuco for a test drive which was great fun. All went well and we were both looking forward to setting off as soon as possible.

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Setting off from Huanuco

We managed to get going on Saturday and drove 244 km to Tarma, a small town set in a beautiful valley. The ride was good but we were definitely glad to get there, it took us about seven hours which is a hell of a long time when you aren’t used to being on a bike! The journey took us up the mountains and then along huge deserted plains sitting around 12,000ft. It was freezing and the only company we had was packs of llamas hugging the side of the road. The llamas seemed to keep us both amused for most of the day. Whether this was due to their rather funny faces or the altitude was sending us delirious I don’t know! Either way we were both glad to get off the mountain and descend into Tarma.

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The flats enroute to Tarma at 14,000ft

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We love llamas!

On day two we arrived in Huancayo around mid afternoon after a much shorter journey. It was OK and had a nice enough Plaza de Armas (central square) but it was quite a large city and there wasn’t too much for us to do other than grab some dinner and chill out at the hotel. One of the biggest hassles we have found when finding somewhere to stay is locating somewhere that has secure parking for the bike, obviously we dont want to be leaving it on the road and many of the cheaper hostels dont have parking. In Huancayo it took us around two hours to find somewhere with secure parking at a reasonable price. From now on we’re going to do more research online beforehand rather than just turning up like we usually do, the bike makes its a bit more complicated.

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Up in the clouds

We were apprehensive going into this!

On the third day disaster struck enroute from Huancayo to Ayacucho. It all started well, we knew we had a long day ahead so were up early and on the road by 8am. The route was absolutely stunning carving through the mountains with deserted roads that wound alongside rivers, through Andean villages and along mountain edges. It’s nerve wracking when the edge of the road is a 1000ft drop but it was a great experience and an exciting ride.

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Huancayo to Ayacucho

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Huancayo to Ayacucho

Unfortunately when we got about 20km from Ayacucho we stopped for a break in Huanta and realised that one of the bags had fallen off the bike. Immediately we jumped back on and retraced our steps, we worked out roughly when the back must have fallen off and rode back to that point. By this time though we were losing daylight and the road where we lost it was a small mountain dirt track – not somewhere we wanted to be stuck after dark. With no luck and not much choice but to turn back towards Huanta we reluctantly gave up and checked into a hostel in Huanta. The next morning we got up at sunrise to go all the way back to the last point we remember having the bag but again no luck. So we gave up and continued on to Ayacucho. Luckily the bag had no important documents in. It also didn’t have any cameras or expensive electronics in it so we were very grateful for that. However it did have every single item of Andrews clothing in! (Except obviously what he was wearing at the time!) It also had every charging cable in it, our external hardrive and Ipod. So although it is proving a major hassle trying to replace certain cables and Andrew was understandable pretty p**sed off having lost all his clothes, I think we narrowly avoided a major disaster and we’re already (just) at the point where we can joke about it!

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Streets in Ayacucho

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Peru is full of old beatles! This is beside the Plaza de Armas in Ayacucho

Ayacucho was our half way break point and we stopped there for two nights. It was nice to have some time off the bike as we were both starting to feel quite sore! Ayacucho was a beautiful small town with a really nice vibe. It attracts a few visitors as there are opportunities for trekking and mountain biking in the area so it was the first time since leaving huanuco we saw other tourists! We found an amazing restaurant called Via Via which looked over the main square. We ended up spending both evenings there drinking Pisco Sours (the national drink of Peru( and translating every item on the menu with our Spanish dictionary. Apart from in Lima, we have yet to come across anywhere that has an English menu so its been a steep Spanish learning curve! In huanuco I intended to order pasta and ended up with raw fish… roll on Cusco and going to language school!
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Church in Ayacucho

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After Ayacucho we drove 247km to Andahuaylas  and then the day after had a shorter 143km journey on to Abancay. It felt very remote and each village we went through everybody would stare and wave at us. We’d constantly be passing women herding sheep or cattle down the road, or carrying loads on their back in brightly coloured traditional clothes.

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Good quality Peruvian roads!

After Abancay it was the final 192km stretch to Cusco. We set off at 8am intending to get to Cusco nice and early. Luck wasnt on our side though as about half way there we pulled up to a massive roadblock due to road improvements. We pulled up at 10.30am and were handed a sheet of paper which we manged to decipher said that vehicles wouldnt be allowed through untill 12pm! So it was an hour and a half by the side of the road. We got chatting to Spanish guy who was on a very nice Ducatti motorbike. We told him of our plans to ride all the way to Patagonia and his response was “on that_( . followed by a long silence when we said yes! Our confidence in Colin the Cobra wasnt knocked though. Perhaps we wont have such confidence in a couple of months we’ll see!

We finally arrived in Cusco mid afternoon on saturday. Weve now got the weekend to chill out before starting language school on monday. Time for a rest!

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One week down 5 months to go…..!

 

 

So we landed in Lima the Peruvian capital last Sunday morning after an 18-hour journey from London. The journey was interesting to say the least. If on a long haul flight you find an inflight entertainment system cumbersome and would rather go without, if you enjoy watching the airlines promotional video on loop on the drop down screen and if a headrest that falls off every time you put your head on it isn’t an issue then I would highly recommend flying with Air Europa. But if you want a bit more comfort then I definitely wouldn’t suggest going with them on any long hauls. In their defence the tickets were very cheap so we can’t really complain. You get what you pay for so if you want a budget friendly ticket to South America they’re probably the way to go.

We spent the first two nights in Lima just getting over the jetlag. For some reason it hit us both much harder than in the past despite only being a 6-hour time difference. The first night we fell asleep around 9pm after a heavy night on the water and an episode of Prison Break. The second night got abit wild with a bottle of beer each, some chocolate cake and 2 episodes of Prison Break. We know how to party.

We stayed in Miraflores, which is one of the more upmarket areas of the city and is known to be very safe so you get a lot of tourists there. It was a nice little area on the coast with big wide boulevards and a lively centre square. It kind of felt like a multi-coloured American style Europe!

The main thing we had to get done in Lima was get our “permisio de firmar contractos” which is our permission to sign contracts. As the bike we have bought is Peruvian registered and we plan on taking it out of the country we need the paperwork to be in our name. Luckily for us we have had Toby and Sara, who we contacted on the motorbike forum horizonsunlimited.com months before we arrived in Peru. They are a lovely American couple living in Peru and running a motorbike touring company. They run tours and also buy and sell motorbikes to travellers. They’ve been an absolute lifesaver to us and helped with many aspects of getting ready for the trip. Toby initially bought us the bike while we were still in the UK, and now we need to get our permission to sign contracts so that the ownership of the bike can be legally signed over to Andrew. After four hours in “migraciones” and a fair bit of confusion down to our dodgy (read non-existent) Spanish we finally got the stamp to say we could legally sign contracts in Peru.

After two days in Lima we got a 10 hour bus up to Huanuco where we’re going to stay with Toby and Sara and pick up the bike. The bus took us over the highest point in Peru at around 15,000ft and we both started to feel pretty rough with altitude sickness. Andrew just had a headache but I felt very sick and shaky. Luckily as soon as we descended it started to ease off but I didn’t feel right for the first couple of days in Huanuco which is around 6000ft. So we went straight from jetlag to altitude sickness so the first week has been challenging at times! We initially planned to set off on the bike today but decided to have a relaxing day and leave tomorrow. Anyway today I think we’re finally over the jetlag and I’m over the altitude sickness so now we are looking forward to setting off on the motorbike adventure tomorrow!

Chucking out everything we won't be needing!

So theres just under one month to go till we set off. I’m kind of flipping between feeling on top of everything and mild panic! Every day I somehow manage to think of a new job to add to the list.

Overall though I think we’re on track and ready to set off on May 19th. So with one month to go here’s our ever expanding to-do list….

Trip planning and the fun stuff

The way we’ve approached the planning has been to decide a rough route and get an idea of the main things we want to see without getting too concerned over the details. Apart from the first few weeks where we’ve got a pretty good idea of where we’ll be and when it’s going to be  a case of playing the rest by ear.

Book Hostel for the first night in Ho Chi Minh

Research Hanoi to Hong Kong Route

Book Broome Accommodation 

Book flight home from Hong Kong 

Book flight from Darwin to Vietnam 

Tours in Coral Bay 

Book Campervan

China Visa 

Vietnam Visa 

Our bedroom has looked like this all weekend!

Our bedroom has looked like this all weekend!

The not so fun stuff

We moved out of our own leased flat a few months ago and so did alot of sorting out then.  At the moment we’re just renting a room in our friends house so all we have to pack up is our room. We’ve no intention to come back to Perth after the trip so everything we own will either be chucked, sold or shipped back to the UK. (After travelling we’ll be heading over to Sydney and settling down there for a while). I’ve actually enjoyed sorting through our things and going minimal, I’ve never been a fan of having too much stuff and getting down to the basics of what we will travel with has been quite liberating!

Sort through things and chuck out everything we don’t need

Apply for 28 degrees credit card

Open Citibank account 

Purchase insurance

Freeze BUPA Health Insurance

Stock up on medications

Update CV’s for our return

Telstra Sim

Cancel internet contract

Fix Car 

Get refund on Rolling Stones tickets

Sort through photos & categorize in Google Drive

Create folder of bookings/important documentation and make digital copies

Ship a box back to UK

Sell Netbook 

Sell Camping Gear 

Sell Car

Sell Digital Box

I’m hoping we can cross most of these things off the list over the next fortnight. We’re keen to spend the last couple of weekends with friends rather than running about doing last minute preparations. But thats probably wishful thinking and i’m sure we’ll end up running about until the very last minute! Either way we are both so excited and can’t believe it’s finally approaching!

SkillSelect

There are so many routes to Australian Residency and I know nothing about the majority of them. The only pathway to Australian residency I’ve any understanding of is Independent Skilled Migration through SkillSelect and that’s what I’ll be talking about here.

SkillSelect is the Australian system for Independent Skilled Migration. Put simply if you have a skill they want and also meet the minimum points criteria you can apply for a permanent visa.

Now this might sound easy but unfortunately not. The concept of easy doesn’t really exist in the world of Australian migration. The process can be made a whole lot simpler with a migration agent but these don’t come cheap. Which brings me to the first decision.

To get a migration agent or not?

We looked at getting a migration agent at first but after being quoted $5k just for their advice and assistance we decided to go it alone. Bearing in mind the cost of the visa itself is about $4k so it’s not a cheap process. The thing is the migration agent can’t collect the information for you – you’ll still need to chase references from old jobs, proof of qualifications etc. All they do is tell you what you need to do and then you have to go off and do it. For us a bit of extra effort and online research was an easy way to save the $5k fee. There are some great forums such as pomsinoz.com and expatforum.com where people from all over the world are going through exactly the same process and have the same questions as you will. They were a lifesaver for us and really helped us to get a better understanding of the process.

Check your occupation is on the Skilled Occupation List and apply for the appropriate skills assessment. (SOL)

First off your occupation needs to be on one of the SOL’s. There is an SOL for the whole of Australia and also an SOL for each state. Applications through the nationwide SOL are classified as Subclass 189 and those through a state are Subclass 190. The state visas have a quicker processing time – currently Subclass 190’s are taking around three months whereas 189’s around six. With the state sponsored visa you are expected to stay in that state for 2 years after application. This is what led to us applying for the 189 – Andrews job was on a state list but for South Australia but we wanted to stay in Perth.

You then need to apply to the appropriate body for a skills assessment. This can be the annoying bit and can take even longer than the actual visa application! The skills assessment basically just verifies that you can do what you say you can do. Once completed you get a code that you enter into your application to allow you to apply under that particular occupation. Andrew’s job is in the IT industry so he had to apply through the Australian Computer Society. They wanted every degree certificate with each module broken down and a full reference from every job for the last 10 years. The references had to be in exactly the right format and contain certain information for it to be approved. It was a long and arduous process!!

International English Language Test (IELTS)

If you’re from an English Speaking Country officially you don’t need to take this. However if you can score top marks (very possible but not actually as easy as it sounds!) you get an extra 20 points. So it’s a no brainer. The only thing I would say about this is don’t underestimate it. I’ve heard stories of native english speakers rocking up with no preparation and not getting the highest score and so losing out on points. Andrew was quite apprehensive about it as he didn’t feel that kind of thing was his strength. But he spent quite a few hours with practice papers and luckily scored very well. I think it’s just a case of knowing what to expect to avoid silly mistakes.

Submit an Expression of Interest.

Independent Migration had a process overhaul in June 2012 when the SkillSelect system was born. Now rather than apply directly for the visa you have to submit an Expression of Interest (EOI) and go into a pool of other applicants. The EOI just tells immigration ‘Hey I’m here and I’d kinda like to apply for this visa’. Immigration will then pull applicants from the pool and invite them to apply based on “the economic needs of Australia”. There are certain annual ceilings for each occupation and once that ceiling is reached no more applicants from that occupation will be invited to apply until the following year. Basically it reduces actual visa processing times by ensuring only suitable applicants are invited to apply for the visas.

To submit an EOI you need to have a verified Skills Assessment (as above) and have completed your IELTS (if you are choosing to take it). Apart from that the EOI just states what you intend to claim on your visa. For example we put my name on the EOI as an additional applicant but we didn’t put all the documents to prove our relationship on it. It is very strict though and all evidence must be collected and dated before the date of submission of the EOI. So you can’t claim for work experience, test results or IELTS scores that you intend to get, it has to all be done and completed before you put your EOI in.The Australian Immigration department has a list of tips for submitting an expression of interest.

They send invitations every fortnight and your EOI will remain valid in the pool for up to two years. However if you’ve got a job they want and at least the minimum number of points (60) you can hope to hear well before then. We applied through Andrews job in IT with 70 points and received an invitation to apply for residency within 3 weeks. We then submitted our actual visa application and finally received our Permanent Residency about 3 months later.

Receive an invitation to apply for residency

Have the first celebratory beer! At this point you’ll get access to the visa application page where you can upload all your documents that you previously claimed to have. You’ll also be asked for some further information.

Celebrating receiving our invitation to apply for residency

Celebrating receiving our invitation to apply for residency

Others that will be included in the application

If you have a partner, spouse or any dependants you will need to add them to your main visa application at this point. This was another really tricky bit for us. Up till this point the whole process had been about Andrew. You don’t have to be married you just need to prove you are in a de-facto relationship which is pretty much “not married but might aswel be”. For younger couples that have only been together a year or so they want a lot of proof that it’s genuine. I think they clamped down on it a couple of years ago after they found out a lot of people just putting their mates name down to get them in the country. Its actually very strange you have to write long statements explaining how you met, the nature of the partnership and what your life plans are. I think the immigration department now know more details of our private life than anyone else! You have to prove you share finances through mortgages, leases, joint accounts etc. In total I think we uploaded about 70 documents to prove our relationship including statements from family, joint health insurance, car ownership, photos, bills, and flight confirmations.

Health and Police checks

Pretty much what it says on the tin. You’ll be asked to complete official health and police checks. These can take up to four weeks.

Submit your application

And wait! For us the waiting only lasted three months before we received the email saying we were now residents. Its actually all a bit underwhelming in the end. After over a year of build up a simple email confirms your new status.

Andrew Submitting our Final Visa Application

Andrew Submitting our Final Visa Application

Now as a resident we can come and go from Australia as we please. Provided we are here for three out of the first five years after our visa grant its all good and there shouldn’t be any issues with having it renewed.

The next goal will be  applying for our Australian Passport and Citizenship, but thats still a few years down the line so for now we are enjoying not having to worry about anything visa or migration related!

 

Children playing off the beach near the local village

Growing up in England I remember seeing Fiji as one of the most exotic locations in the world. It was this far off land on the other side of the globe that I doubted I would ever get to. Of course as I’ve got older and spent more time in different countries I’ve realised that its all relative. One person’s exotic dream location is another’s weekend getaway. This hit home when I moved to Australia, I would spend alot of time telling people how lucky they were to have had these beaches and weather their whole life, but i’d often be met with the comeback that I didn’t realise how lucky I was having spent my life being able to pop over to Europe whenever I fancied. Fair point. But I’m English, and whilst moaning about the weather and drinking tea I also see anywhere in the pacific ocean to be a long way away, and therefore in my head as somewhere it’d be really cool to go.

But now I’m living in Australia and those elusive pacific islands are tantalisingly close. From the east coast you can fly to Fiji in about 4 hours and a cheap return can be found for around $400. (OK granted I don’t actually live on the east coast and we Perth residents get the extra fun and expense of another 5 hour flight to actually get over there to make the connection but we’ll skim over that).

I found myself in Fiji at the end of last year on a girl’s holiday with my mum. She arrived on a yacht after sailing across the pacific, I arrived on Virgin Atlantic. Mid-fifties and still cooler than me.  Anyway underwhelming arrival aside, I was finally there, in the oh-so-exotic pacific islands.

Enjoying paradise

Fiji is actually an archipelago of more than 322 islands. Less than half of these are inhabited and 87% of the population live on the two major islands of Viti Levu and Vanua Levu. We were staying on Nacula Island in the northern Yassawa chain. Unless you’re staying on the mainland you’ll make your way to the resorts either by seaplane or boat. We chose seaplane as we were limited for time and the boat takes the majority of the day. Obviously the boat is the far more budget friendly option but we thought the plane sounded cool so splashed out.

About to get on the Sea Plane

Preparing to board the Seaplane

Blue Lagoon Beach Resort

I’ve haven’t stayed in many resorts before. My holidays and travels usually involve a backpack, overnight buses and a hostel without air conditioning. But this was our week to relax and have some fun as it was the first time we’d seen each other in nearly a year.

We chose Blue Lagoon for a couple of reasons, firstly it was in the Yassawa chain which we heard had the best weather. It’s also the furthest away from the mainland so my “it’s far away it must be good” alarm was going off! The resort also had a very social feel to it which i’ll get to later.

We were met off the boat (the plane lands at a nearby island and you get the boat the rest of the way) by the hostel staff rushing to take our bags and give us a fruit cocktail! The resort was beautiful sitting in the sheltered Nacula bay with a lush forest backdrop. I’m not great with my descriptions of landscapes so i’ll let the pictures do the talking!

Blue Lagoon Beach Resort

Blue Lagoon Beach Resort

Nacula Bay

Nacula Bay

Sunset over Nacula Bay

Sunset over Nacula Bay

Theres a local village on the island which its possible to take a trip to at certain times. Blue Lagoon has an arrangement with the village and employs many of its residents. The resort has also set up a scholarship fund to ensure the continuing education of the children in the local village. The presence of the resort on the island seems really positive with a lot of money getting channeled back into the local community. The picture below was some of the local ladies washing up after lunch. My mum asked them where the men were – it appears some things never change no matter where you are in the world!

Women from Nacula Village

The local ladies in Nacula Village doing some washing up!

One of the great things about Blue Lagoon Beach Resort was its varying levels of accommodation. I’ve never known anywhere that has everything from luxury beachside villa’s to communal dorms! We were staying in one of the two bedroom villa’s which were located a bit of way back from the beach around the back of the resort. The Villas were very spacious and beautifully decorated on the inside with traditional Fijan carvings and artwork. I never actually saw the dorms but I heard they were also pretty nice and provided a great way for travellers to visit the islands aswel.

Our two bedroom villa

Our two bedroom villa

Both my favourite and my least favourite thing about the villas was the open air showers. One on hand getting back at night after a few cocktails in the bar and having a shower under the stars (it’s all private!) was incredible, but on the other hand open air meant open to other creatures to join you. Now I don’t mind a cute little lizard running up the wall but I wasn’t over the moon about the spider the size of my hand that decided our shower was his favourite place to play hide and seek!

The Open Air Shower

The Open Air Shower

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Our unwelcome guest!

Blue Lagoon also has a communal dining setup. This was a huge draw for us as we were happy to mix with other travellers and holiday makers. Generally we found people had chosen the resort for similar reasons which made a very social and fun environment.

The communal dining area

The communal dining area

Although i think for a lot of people a trip here is made with the intention to do very little but relax there is actually quite alot of options if you do want to keep busy. You can snorkel right off the beach which was great, although we found it got better the further out you went.  The snorkelling was fantastic though and some of the best I’ve ever seen, although I’ve only snorkelled a few times before so don’t have a huge basis for comparison! We hired Kayaks one day and went off around the island to find more snorkelling spots. There is also scuba school running daily dives, neither of us had dived before but we did a discover scuba in the sea and went down to 12 metres which was incredible! . I also tried my hand at stand up paddle boarding which was actually far easier than it looks!

Exploring the island in Kayaks

We enjoyed seeing some of the local traditions aswel. On friday night the local villagers put on a traditional fijan dance show, they were getting everyone involved and joining in so it was alot of fun.

Local Dance Show

Local Dance Show

There was also the daily Cava ceremonies. Cava is a local drink found across the pacific islands but particularly popular in Fiji. I had heard rumours about the strength of Cava and its affects before even setting foot on the island. In reality it does little more than make you a bit more relaxed, a whole bowl might send you to sleep but thats about it. The taste is also an acquired one, for me and many other westerners I spoke to it tastes for like muddy dishwater than anything else! The Cava ceremony however represents a sense of community amoung Fijians, drunk on a near daily basis it was common to see the locals all sat together around a bowl of Cava.

Daily Cava Ceremony

Daily Cava Ceremony

Like all good things our week came to an end and we were flying home. I had a great time in Fiji and would definitely recommend Blue Lagoon Beach Resort for anyone looking for a relaxing week or two away from it all!

Goodbye Fiji!

 

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