Phong Nha and Dong Hoi – the 3rd weekend of December

Phong Nha and Dong Hoi – the 3rd weekend of December

On Friday 18th December I had a breakfast of dragon fruit and an apple. For lunch Captain Caveman made us salami and asparagus (he had egg) with parmesan and I had 2 pots of jasmine tea. In the afternoon, after a bit of work for me and some House of Cards on Netflix for Captain Caveman, we went to the Farmstay for a drink. It was pizza night at The Villas so transport was layed on to take us all there for 6pm. Veronika was due back from a few days away and went straight to The Villas, there was quite a crowd of us. Captain Caveman and I sat with Matty and shared a couple of bottles of wine. Momma D was there with the cavers, having ordered takeaway pizza and a salad  as we arrived, she was excited to be having Watto and Martin (UK cave experts) back and she was preparing a special dinner for them at her rooftop bar after they had finished their quarantine in Hanoi. We welcomed a lovely new Farmstay guest, Annette, to our table, with Veronika, as Ben asked us all to try his buffalo pizza – a great new addition to the pizza menu. It was a great night and I thoroughly enjoyed our company as well as so much pizza. Back home I was excited to hear that my cushions were ready to collect in Dong Hoi!

After the over indulgence of the previous night’s ‘all you can eat pizza’ I was looking forward to a healthier day on Saturday 19th December. When I woke up it was cold and it didn’t get much warmer which was a bit disappointing as I had to wear shorts for my physio visit because I had ran out of clean trousers that can be rolled to the top of my thigh when I’m at therapy. I had arranged to go to collect my cushions from Earth cafe and so I’d booked Phuong’s Transfers for a longer than usual day. Captain Caveman and Matty decided to come along too as we needed some provisions and it was only an extra £4 for us to go 2 hours earlier. Captain Caveman made me bacon and mushrooms for breakfast (we still can’t buy baked beans here again) and then we left for Dong Hoi at 11am. We got a warm welcome from Mo at Earth cafe and Thao was also there by coincidence so we all ate together. This time I ordered the mushroom and udon noodle soup, Matty and Thao had mushroom porridge and Captain Caveman had pumpkin soup. I tried a bit of everyone else’s and it was all good but mine was definitely the best dish!! I drank daisy tea which was really nice and a first time I had tried it. Word came that the cave experts had passed their Corona tests and were out of the Hanoi hotel with a flight booked that night to come to Dong Hoi and then home to Phong Nha. 
While Captain Caveman and Matty went off shopping in Dong Hoi and guzzling white russians at Tree Hugger I got my pummelling at physio, I got laughed at for wearing shorts and I was so cold that the therapist had to give me an extra pillow to cover my good leg. When we got back home I had a hot shower and just couldn’t get warm again, even with the heating on, the room still only got to 21°C and I had to get in bed early. I managed my dinner of chicken, veg, sticky rice and peanuts and we watched more of The Queen’s Gambit on Netflix.

On Sunday 20th December Captain Caveman went to Phong Nha to see the returned cavers and have a coffee. It was still very cold and I sat on the living room sofa trying to keep warm. Captain Caveman got back just in time to make us bacon sandwiches for breakfast. I had a cheese sandwich for lunch and wasn’t ill, for a change. In the evening Captain Caveman popped over to see his colleagues at Momma D’s, before their welcome back special dinner, then he and I met up at the Farmstay, he had picked up Tatas on the way.
At the Farmstay the food was as great as always and I enjoyed my pork and lamb Sunday roast dinner very much. Howie kept asking Tatas to play cards with him so a few of them joined a game, I learned Tatas was a very skilled and aggressive card player with ace croupier skills. A game with the kids started where if they lost they would get an ear flick and it got quite roudy – in addition Michael’s ears were so red by the end of it.  We said our goodbyes and went to get in the rascal with Duyet to go back to our place for more wine so it turned in to quite a late night, with Tatas on the sofa and me having eaten far too much (again) – wishing I had taken my included carrot cake home, instead of stuffing my face!

Phong Nha – the 3rd week of December

Phong Nha – the 3rd week of December

After very little sleep I woke up in a fragile state on Monday 14th December. It was a rainy day with not much going on and I tried the gluten free cereal for breakfast with milk – I wasn’t yet 100% normal but I think I was doing ok. We tried out the sticky rice with peanuts from Thuy and it was pretty good and in the afternoon I ordered some cushions for the sofa, from Earth cafe. Captain Caveman said we didn’t need cushions and that they were an unnecessary expense, which I understood but meant I would never enjoy watching a film without back pain – I don’t tend to use the TV or living area much. I knew when I got the cushions he would get the most use out of them so I still went ahead and they were only 750,000 vnd for 3 (about £24). As I went to update my diary I saw that this week should have been the time for Captain Caveman’s return to Phong Nha after his winter break (which should have been in Turkey). Captain Caveman gave me the dates for his 2021 tours up to the end of March. We opened a bottle of fizz and had chicken for dinner with veg and more sticky rice and peanuts – delicious!

My visa extension which expired on the 9th should have been back today, Tuesday 15th December but unfortunately it still wasn’t. It is a bit of a pain because Captain Caveman had thought about us maybe flying to Saigon or Hanoi for a break but I can’t go without my passport. I had my gluten free cereal for breakfast, it was cold and windy and Captain Caveman had gone to Phong Nha for breakfast. I had a day off of physio so I could chill out, I did a bit of languages and some blogging and we booked in for the new Shepherd’s pie night at the Farmstay. Captain Caveman was back for lunch and we had chicken salad and shared some pomelo, very healthy! We arrived at the Farmstay early and waited for Tatas to join us round the fire, Matty was there with a new guest, Charlie, a 15 year old boy from South Korea. We all had Shepherd’s pie and even though I’m not normally a fan of it (I don’t like mashed potato), it was bloody lovely!! I had started off with beer as I didn’t want to drink too much but then shared wine with Tatas, Matty, Captain Caveman and even Charlie! Ben brought out some buffalo meat for us to try and this was another first for me – he had different flavours; one was plain, one was in brine, one in red wine and the last in a fish & chilli sauce – I bet you can guess my favourite one! I was full but I still managed to squeeze in a piece of carrot cake, which is always really good!

I had booked my physio in for the afternoon of Wednesday 16th December so I had a bit of a lay in that morning, while Captain Caveman went to the Farmstay, then picked up fresh bread from the Lake House. I had cereal for breakfast and the milk didn’t seem to be harming my stomach, which was great. I didn’t bother with any lunch as I was off to Dong Hoi and later we were going to be eating a lot. Captain Caveman came with me in the car to Dong Hoi so that he could go food shopping. At physio I got a new bloke who is actually really good and he managed to work around my sciatic nerve issue which I was pleased about.
In the evening I experienced another first as we had booked seats at the Chef’s Table at the Farmstay. They basically invite anyone who wants to dine on Vietnamese food and a varied load of dishes are served (different each time) and you try them all for 200,000vnd (£6.40). It was the first one this year and as there were only a few guests, the table was small with 6 of us in total. I had a couple of red wines while Captain Caveman had beers and we started with the tasting plate of buffalo meat and a bowl of mushroom soup, both so good. Next were prawn and pork fresh spring rolls then a chicken salad, all was delicious so far. The next dish was the fish wraps which I would never normally have ordered but actually it tasted really good and I would have them again. The last main course was the pork clay pot, bok choy in garlic and steamed rice and this was one of my new favourites now. The dessert looked absolutely terrible but tasted amazing; flambéed banana with chocolate icecream, neither of which I usually like. The meal was a success and I was impressed with the amount of food for the price so we will definitely be doing the chef’s table again. The company was great too and is a great idea to bring guests and the owner, together in a civilised way for a chat over dinner.

It was another lovely food kind of day on Thursday 17th December. For breakfast I had bacon and mushroom on toast then shared some pomelo with Captain Caveman. Mr Ky, the dog, got distressed when some escaped cows came by and started eating grass by the paddy fields opposite our house. We had cheese on toast for lunch and then Captain Caveman cooked us a delicious coq au vin with sticky rice while I made some popcorn, ready to watch some Netflix later. We had started watching The Queen’s Gambit which was turning out to be pretty good so we watched a couple of episodes.

Dong Hoi and Phong Nha – 13th December

Dong Hoi and Phong Nha – 13th December

I struggled as to whether to include all the details, especially the photos in this post, due to how it might make people feel. I would advise not reading the middle section if you are vegetarian or vegan.
Our day started well on Sunday 13th December with a bit of a lay-in at the Nam Long Plus hotel followed by a walk to a new cafe in town. An former colleague of Captain Caveman’s has opened Earth cafe on a small street in the centre of Dong Hoi which serves vegan food from 8am to 9pm. Captain Caveman had arranged to meet Thao, another former colleague, at the vegan cafe for breakfast and he would stay and chat while I went off to physio. The menu looked great and we got to try peanut milk, which literally tastes like peanut flavoured milk, and I enjoyed the blue tea. Captain Caveman ordered the udon noodle dish and I asked for the pineapple fried rice without chilli. There were a few teething problems but the place was nice and the menu had plenty of choice. When my food came it was so spicy and I could hardly eat it. Unfortunately, as is usual in Dong Hoi, when Mo, the owner, checked about the no chillies the chef had not put any in but had cooked the rice with hot Sriracha sauce, a very hot Thai sauce made from chillies! I had a quick taste of Captain Caveman’s soup and I wish I’d ordered that instead, it was delicious. I had to leave though as it was time for me to head over to Thuy’s house before our planned lunch outing.

The (very small) taxi arrived and I got in the front, Thuy, Trang and Grandma got in the back with the 2 kids on laps and off we went to pick up Captain Caveman. I tried to get the address of our lunch stop to tell Captain Caveman to meet us there but they had none of it and when we arrived back at Earth Cafe I had to squeeze in the back while Captain Caveman got in the front. The driver, with his 5 adults and 2 kids load, drove out in to the middle of nowhere and we stopped at an empty cafe. We were about to try a definite first for me and Thuy took the liberty of ordering for us, from what we could make out we were getting an assortment of bird dishes, grilled or fried and some cooked with bamboo. Fried rice was ordered, kimchi on the table already, a case of beers and a bucket of ice (with tongs). More diners began to arrive and most of them had big families so I started to feel a bit more relaxed that all would be fine, the place was clean and well run.

The first dish to come out was a bowl of about 20 or so small birds which were sparrows and they have to be eaten whole, the bones the heads, the feet – the whole shebang! I felt a bit apprehensive to try them but actually the sparrows tasted pretty good, although I couldn’t bring myself to eat the head and bones so I picked at it like it was a miniature KFC. I managed 4 sparrows but Captain Caveman really did take one for the team on that dish. The next dish to come was the fried rice which I heartily filled my bowl up with, not realising it had minced bird in it as an ingredient! It tasted very different, like nothing I’d tasted before, but I managed to eat a couple of small bowls of it, encouraging Captain Caveman to have more – the fried onion and peanut gave it a tasty edge! Everyone else was really enjoying the lunch and we were all drinking quite a lot of beer and doing cheers. The kids had Coke as a treat and they behaved really well at the table, eating the food they were dished out and joining in the cheers. The second bird dish to come out was described as Kingfisher but it was an egret, it tasted like the smell of a fishy wet dog! I had one piece and found that, because it had plenty of meat on and was much bigger, I didn’t need a second piece. The third dish I had no idea what the bird was but Captain Caveman was a bit miffed with me for saying we would have it with sauteed bamboo as he doesn’t like bamboo, neither do I but I thought it might be the least offensive ingredient in the pot and I decided to pull the ‘I’m full’ card (over a week later I found out it was boiled duck and would probably have been my favourite).

We got the taxi back, all 7 of us, and were dropped off at the Nam Long Plus hotel where we quickly packed and checked out. We were glad to see Phuong but our day was only halfway through as Captain Caveman had plans to do a quick shop before we headed back to Phong Nha. I felt a bit queasy so Captain Caveman sent me to buy myself a 2021 diary then get 12 minutes on the massage chair in Co-op Mart, while he did the shopping.

We were back at Elements by 4pm, saying hello to Mr Ky, the dog, and then I had a shower and got changed, ready for Sunday dinner that night at the Farmstay. I wasn’t sure if I would be able to eat any more food and I still could taste the egret has I ordered a drink. The taste of the egret was still repeating on me throughout the evening but the wine, pork, lamb, vegetables, and gravy did help me take my mind off it. Bich had been growing her own strawberries and it was lovely to try one! After dinner I read Howie a story before going home for a much needed sleep.

Australia 2019 – 8th January

Australia 2019 – 8th January

My last day in Bronte was a fairly lazy one. Tuesday 8th January was a hot day after rain in the night and I was sad to be leaving Australia. It had certainly been an eventful month in the country and I definitely wanted to return. I packed my big suitcase with the slow cooker in it, which would eventually end up in Turkey. The views from the apartment were stunning and I admired it for the last time. In the afternoon Llinos and I had a walk to get roast chicken and salad which we brought home and shared with a bottle of chilled white wine. After reluctant goodbyes following a slow walk to the bus stop with my heavy case I was off to the airport.

All went well with my flight to KL except for being in a window seat, which I like the least. I was due to land at 3am and would have 7 hours until my next flight, to Vietnam.

Dong Hoi – 12th December

Dong Hoi – 12th December

I had buttered toast for breakfast in bed on Saturday 12th December as we had an exciting weekend lined up. We had booked to stay at the Nam Long Plus hotel in Dong Hoi that night and so we booked Phuong (of Phuong’s Transfers) to take us in time for lunch at Tree Hugger cafe before my physio appointment. I had a beef and veg brown rice plate for my lunch while Captain Caveman had a burger for a change. Whenever we go to Dong Hoi to stay we have to fit in a visit to Tree Hugger as it is just so relaxed and friendly with a great menu. I had a few herbal teas too then walked to the hotel before setting off for physio. I often choose the Nam Long Plus hotel as the staff are lovely, they have a lift, it’s good value for money, in a great location and has softer mattresses than some budget hotels.

At physio my therapist was Nam, who has been doing my therapy from the start and knows my leg well, he massaged my lower leg and it really hurt, especially where there is obviously a trapped nerve or some problem with my sciatic nerve being pressed which still makes my toes feel like they have an electric shock. I tried my best to focus on Vietnamese language lessons on my phone but found it confusing. Thuy had already prepared another treat for me and this time I couldn’t carry it; she had given me a gift of rice, sticky rice, a jar of crushed peanuts, as well as some meat – I was gobsmacked at such a generous gift. Back at the hotel Captain Caveman and the taxi driver had to help me get all the food in to the building, it was that heavy. I had time for a bath and then we decided to walk to one of my favourite restaurants, 7th Heaven, for dinner.

Today was probably the most I had walked since my accident and I was so slow and stiff but I did it. Captain Caveman ordered chicken cordon bleu, I went for the steak and we shared sweet potato fries as a starter. We also had a nice bottle of red wine and the owner, Tam, showed me that taking food photos on portrait mode makes a better picture. The evening was great and I really enjoyed the night out, we went to bed looking forward to what our Sunday had in store for us.

Australia 2019 – 7th January

Australia 2019 – 7th January

Apart from the wallabies and wombats playing chicken in the road between Devonport and Kempton, I had not seen many of the infmamous animals of Australia. Captain Caveman booked us tickets to the wildlife park at Darling Harbour and we had an amazing day out for his last one in Sydney. It started with breakfast at Tokio which had amazing gluten free bread. Our first animals were snakes, wombats and wallabies – we even got to stroke the wombat who was eating corn and sweet potato for breakfast.  He also had a container with fruit in which came out when he rolled it. The wallabies were cute but we weren’t able to touch them because they can bite.

The cassowary was such a cool bird and the first time I’d ever seen one. It shared his enclosure with a pademelon, who was really sweet too. I liked the reptiles and I really wanted to see a koala but so far I had only seen a sleeping one from behind. We got to walk through the kangaroo enclosure and saw a quoll too.

Finally, the highlight of the day was seeing the koalas. They were really lovely. My phone storage was full so Captain Caveman took the photos of the koalas and then again at the sharks and rays.  We stood in tubes under the water and watched the creatures swim above us which was really beautiful. 
Just when you’d think the day couldn’t possibly get any better we stopped off at a Shopping Centre in Bondi Junction to purchase an electrical item and a Barbie Mate. We would take the new purchase along with our recently purchased new suitcase back to Phong Nha – I was so excited to have a slow cooker.
In the evening, and after food, I said goodbye to Captain Caveman as he left for the airport and headed back to Vietnam.  I had one more day in Sydney left.

Phong Nha – Friday 11th December

Phong Nha – Friday 11th December

Captain Caveman had arranged a day trip out to Canh Duong on Friday 11th December. He had decided to take his motorbike to the coastal fishing village to scope out more cycle routes and had invited Matty along. I got up early so that we could all have breakfast at the Farmstay before they left, I had a delicious pho bo and an orange juice and then sat around for a bit, trying to do some blogging. I also checked out some flight prices and availability to fly to Turkey on New Year’s Eve (it’s always cheaper to fly on a holiday day) and to my surprise there was one available for only £400 one way. There were also flights from Vietnam to the UK in March available at a bargain £1800 one way, the cheapest ones obviously had the longest lay overs in the Middle East, which I didn’t fancy. Ben updated the Farmstay blackboard and had reintroduced Chef’s Table on Monday, Wednesday and Friday at the Farmstay, where a selection of Vietnamese food comes out and is shared by whoever has booked a seat at the dining table – I’d not experienced it before so I said we would go to the Monday one. I also noticed a new pile of books in the book swap and reminded myself to get on with the books I had been meaning to read! Veronika arrived after walking here and we both had a carrot cake and tea then she walked the 2km home while I got a lift back.

After doing a bit of work it was time for me to get ready for pizza night at The Villas (again) and the evening was a quiet one, without a few of the usual suspects being there, but very enjoyable nonetheless. It was warm enough to sit outside and the pizzas just kept on coming, I lost count of how many slices we had and my favourite one is still the Showstopper – blue cheese, prosciutto, spring onion and jam!

Phong Nha – the 2nd week of December

Phong Nha – the 2nd week of December

Monday 7th December was a big day for Melissa and her family who, after 4 months of living at the Elements Collection, had decided to take a holiday within a holiday and go to Hue for a week or two. Captain Caveman was off to Hang Tien for work, just for the day but would be back for dinner. Veronika had got up early and was already at the Phong Nha Farmstay so I decided to go to have breakfast with Melissa and family. Ben came to collect us in the muddy jeep, I was wearing my size 12 jeans which have not felt loose for some time but now they were very comfortable. I had a hot chocolate and pho bo (beef rice noodle soup) which was really good. After breakfast we had hugs and said our goodbyes with promises to see them back for Christmas in Phong Nha. Back in the Farmstay with the fire on I chatted to Bich for a while then I had green tea, fried spring rolls and carrot cake for lunch and ended up staying by the fire the whole day, it was just so cosy. By the time Captain Caveman was on his way back from his cave trip I decided he may as well come over for dinner at the Farmstay and I ordered a red wine. Captain Caveman arrived and was glad to get near the fire with a drink. He was wearing trousers now, signalling winter was definitely here. We had chicken quesadillas to start then I had Aussie pie, chips and gravy which was fantastic, Captain Caveman had spaghetti bolognese with garlic bread. It reminded me I must try pasta and see if I have a gluten reaction or not, the pastry and gravy were fine with no reaction whatsoever.
Before we left Dua came in wearing a similar top to mine so we got a photo, he didn’t seem too impressed, and he suits camouflage much better than I do.

I had a really good day on Tuesday 8th December, Captain Caveman had gone to Hang En for 2 days as part of the pre tour preparation work with Oxalis. Nau, our gecko, appeared outside looking dead and so I opened the balcony door to see if he was ok and let him indoors – he ran away. I went to physio with Phuong in the afternoon, as usual and was looking forward to an evening of getting some jobs done as I was behind on my To Do list. For dinner I decided to eat what was left of my veggie meal from the Farmstay a couple of Sundays ago, it was a potato dish which I had with steamed rice and sweetcorn – very tasty.

On Wednesday 9th December we had been invited out by Tatas for her 30th birthday. Duolingo, the language learning app, had sent me an update of my progress and I was pleased to still be finding time to progress in Vietnamese, Turkish and French.
Captain Caveman returned from Hang En via the Lake House where he went to pick up some bread. We got ready and went over to the Phong Nha Farmstay for dinner with Tatas for her birthday. Ben had already messaged us to say that the sauna was open for when we arrived and that he and Matty were already heading in there. By the time Tatas arrived Captain Caveman and I had drank a whole bottle of wine, eaten a starter (artichoke and olive bread with dips) and were still hungry. I had the duck a l’orange, Captain Caveman had pie, chips, beans & gravy and Tatas went for a spaghetti bolognese, she had a margarita and we all had more wine and it got a bit messy! After eating the delicious dinner, we rejoined the others by the fire and some of them played cards, by 9pm I had joined Tatas on the margaritas, then we ordered more wine and Ben suggested a double rum and ginger ale would make a nice last drink. I still had the rum as we wandered round to the pool villa, Tatas carrying a new bottle of red wine, about 11pm. Although I had drank quite a bit I found I was able to walk up the slope to Gypsy and Little Lies so much better than the last time I had been here. Matty got dragged along and we insisted he bring his ukulele so we could have a late night sing-song. We drank the bottle of red wine which Tatas brought from the bar and then we all proceeded to drink more wine from the minibar (it’s actually a fully stocked fridge). We were all drunk and when we eventually called it a night, at 2am, I insisted that Captain Caveman and I get in a single bed so that housekeeping staff didn’t have to make up both beds! As we all said goodnight it was agreed that we would meet at 7.30am on Thursday morning for a dip in the pool to celebrate Tatas’ actual birthday!

I woke up on Thursday 10th December with the biggest hangover since ligament-gate, almost 8 months ago. I was confused as to why we were in such a small bed and I was so thirsty it was unbelievable. Captain Caveman got me some water and then went for a swim with Tatas in the outside pool, which was a bit chilly. The three of us went to have breakfast at the Farmstay and while they tucked into fry ups I asked for beef noodle soup. Captain Caveman ordered me chicken instead but I ate it and it must have took me an hour to eat most of it because I was so fragile. Matty eventually came in for breakfast and he was about as rough as I was.  I went straight back to bed when I got home and, except for a quick snack of cheese and beetroot crackers at lunch, I stayed there until about 7pm. Tatas had her (real) birthday party celebrations booked for 6.30pm at a venue that used to be Andy’s disco bar. Captain Caveman went but I couldn’t even attempt it and had to force myself to go get some dinner at the Farmstay. I had beef in bamboo with veg and rice while Captain Caveman had spaghetti bolognese. I didn’t have any alcohol but I had to have 2 full fat cokes as I still felt so hungover.

Australia 2019 – 5th & 6th January

Australia 2019 – 5th & 6th January

On Saturday 5th January I woke up in the early hours trying to unzip the tent I wasn’t sleeping in. I’d completely forgotten we were now in a lovely comfy bed in Hobart, I’d also put to the back of my mind the huntsman spider under the bed. We slept in late and Captain Caveman got rid of the spider, which turned out to be dead, before BBQ bacon for breakfast.


The 4 of us had a drive to the famous Mount Wellington and did the tourist thing. The scenery was stunning and my phone camera didn’t do it justice – a nice man did get a picture of both of us together though.

In the afternoon we visited the brewery and had a few drinks outside in the sun before heading back and getting packed for our flight back to Sydney.  We said our sad farewells and headed straight through to the departure gates only to find our flight had been cancelled – Sydney airport was closed due to a storm. Captain Caveman got right on it and spoke to the staff at the check in desk who apologised that there would be no compensation (due to weather being at fault) but got us on the next available flight on Saturday at 13:10.
There wasn’t much we could do so I took a selfie with a statue in the airport while Captain Caveman figured out what we were going to do for the night because Hobart airport closes each evening.

By the time I had got back from selfie taking and a quick pee, Captain Caveman had spoken to John who had kindly set back off to pick us up again. We got back to their’s and Germ was already in bed but got back up, opened a bottle of fizz, then prepared a cheese and olive feast. We were all sat down when someone noticed something moving in the trees outside and the security light had come on. We all went over to see 3 possums in and below the tree,  this was the first time I had seen a possum and they are really cute. We watched them for ages and put some fruit out for them, I tried to get some photos too.

After a bit of a lay in and breakfast at a cafe we were on our way back to Hobart airport. It was Sunday 6th January and our flight arrived in Sydney about 3pm. We caught the number 400 bus to Bronte where we would be staying with Llinos again.
We had wine and food at the Robin Hood pub with Llinos, then called at the bottle shop for wine. We took photos at the bottle shop and the shop assistant took our photo too.

Australia 2019 – 3rd January

Australia 2019 – 3rd January

Captain Caveman had a slot at the ASF conference to give a presentation about his recent caving expedition in Ha Giang, North Vietnam. So on Thursday 3rd January we did the only sensible thing and snuck out of the school and went in to town for breakfast and to buy our bus tickets back to Hobart for our last night in Tasmania.
On our return we noticed Sarah and Serena had also played truant for the morning session and popped over to join Sarah in her camper van. Before noon we had shared a bottle of chardonnay and divvied up the Belgian chocolates between the 3 of us. I stayed there to finish the wine and have my gluten free lunch while they rejoined the other delegates. I attended Captain Caveman’s talk, which was informative and amusing, before getting to witness a physical session in the afternoon. There was a competition who could climb a 30m vertical rope the fastest and a safety expert had people dangling from the ceiling of the gym.
In the evening we went for fish and chips where, despite having grilled fish (no batter), I got glutened and was a bit unwell. We were about to have an early(ish) night but got sat with a couple of friendly cavers who insisted we have wine!

Australia 2019 – 2nd January

Australia 2019 – 2nd January

On Wednesday 2nd January I had an amazing day,  I was so excited I could hardly contain myself as we headed for the minibus for a day trip. Captain Caveman had sensed my potential boredom and booked us on one of the ASF activity days that involved wine and chocolate tasting.
We met at the car park at 9.30am sharp but alas Henry was missing again (an elderly fella with a habit of being late for everything).
We arrived at La Villa vineyard which was a delightful little place, I loved it straight away.  We started with a bit of fizz and I was distraught to note we had non-drinkers on the wine tasting tour (not the drivers). Some of the participants were older ex-cavers who were very badly behaved and a bit embarrassing. One man even fell into a big wooden wine rack and nearly knocked all the bottles off, but didn’t move and other ‘olds’ joined him in leaning on it.  Never the less I did manage to enjoy rather a few of the wines (actually all of them) even though I couldn’t hear the owner giving his tasting notes.
By midday we had sampled all the wines, plus a cider, purchased a bottle of their award winning chardonnay and were on our way to the next stop.

I’m not a big fan of chocolate and I’m also meant to be following my diet plan so the chocolate factory surprised me.  We had a guided tour with lots of free tastes of Belgian chocolate at the famous House of  Anvers, plus a free cool bag each. After shovelling in as many truffles, pralines and fudge as possible we were ready to leave so that we could fit in a picnic lunch (some of the olds were sat in the busy cafe waiting on omelettes so it took some rounding up).

Our third stop of the day was to an eclectic shop where we had a hot drink and me a gf chocolate tart before heading off for a late picnic lunch at Bell’s parade.
We had a quick stop back at the campsite before getting on the bus to the wildlife park where we would have a rather rushed BBQ before a treat of a trip to Gunsplain caves.
I also was annoyed that we had to choose between eating and visiting the animals at the park and of course we chose food. The nearest I got to an animal was holding the hand of a model kangaroo in the foyer while Captain Caveman begrudgingly took my photo.


There were over a hundred of us in groups of 4 and it was organised chaos so when we got to the entrance of the caves both Captain Caveman and I realised it was too much of a trauma for me to go in.  I waited for an hour while everyone went underground and sat on a bench outside the locked cave entrance. Just as everyone left a latecomer, Gabriel, ran down the steps hoping to catch up.  Unfortunately he was stuck with me so we had a bit of a chat, he with his sunglasses on and squinting in to the sunlight as he spoke.  He apologised for wearing his sunglasses as the sun started to go down and I got confused by this when he suggested I move. It slowly became apparent I was sat next to a spider which (luckily for me) had just killed a wasp. I moved at Gabriel’s request but was brave enough to take a closer look at the dull red mark on it’s back while trying to get my phone out for a photo.
I missed the photo but had a lovely spider lesson from Gabriel – the ‘oh it’s not that big, I’m not too scared’ comment he thought was hilarious. The spider was quite a nasty one, a red back, and if I was bitten could have proved troublesome given we were 55 minutes from the group’s return and about 1.5hrs from a doctor or hospital.
Eventually the cavers returned and we got a lift back instead of waiting for the bus – the bar wasn’t open so we went to bed early.

Australia 2019 – New Year’s Day

Australia 2019 – New Year’s Day

How did you spend New Year’s Day?
I bet, whatever you did, it was better than mine. It may seem like its all glitter and rainbows in my life and for the most part I do have a pretty good deal going on, however, I sometimes have to take the rough with the smooth!
The highlights of the first day of 2019 were;
1. Tidying the tent to make it feel like I had more room and therefore should be less claustrophobic (I even found a spot for my glasses).
2. Meeting Tashie, a cute dog, who was the mascot for the CASA caving group.
3. Watching the Speleo Games at the ASF conference – an intense obstacle course which,  although above ground, simulated an underground course through caves. (Yes, I did get asked to have a go, and no, I politely declined).
4. Getting invited to Alan’s parents’ house for a buffet dinner with all of his family.