Monday, 6 March 2017

Observations and Snippets from my Favourite Trippets #1

As we venture into our fourth year travelling the world, I’m planning a new series of retrospective blog posts to focus on some very special places that I’ve only previously covered on this blog in overview.

In this post, I’m highlighting Hemingway’s House in Key West Florida.

Our visit to the Hemingway House in Key West was one of the highlights of our trip to Florida. This was the home of Ernest Hemingway, the winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1953 and the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1954 "for his mastery of the art of narrative, most recently demonstrated with The Old Man and the Sea, and for the influence he has exerted on contemporary style". The house too is impressive and has the distinct air and rich ambiance of old world elegance.

The house is impressive and has the distinct air and rich ambiance of old world elegance

A high brick boundary keeps the property private but the view from the first-floor wrap around porch takes in not only the garden but the adjacent street in what is an affluent residential part of town.

I loved walking around the airy rooms and the book-lined hallways, taking in all the family photographs and the personal effects. I could almost pretend I was a house guest exploring the place while Ernest and Pauline (Hemingway’s second wife) had just popped out momentarily.

I could almost pretend I was a house guest exploring the place while Ernest and Pauline had popped out momentarily

The house gives the visitor a real feel for the life the Hemingway’s led in Key West during the 1930’s.

Ernest and Pauline Hemingway

The life of Ernest Hemingway from photographs at his home in Key West

Our tour guide happily gave out lots of insider information about the history of the house, the escapades of the children, the Hemingway marriage, the huge row over the swimming pool and Ernest Hemingway’s ‘last penny’.

The story is that the swimming pool, which replaced what had been Ernest's personal boxing ring, was contracted at great expense by Pauline after she found out about her husband’s affair with Martha Gellhorn, his third wife to be.

When Ernest came back from assignment to find out the exorbitant cost of the pool, he was reported to have thrown a penny onto the ground in front of Pauline, saying, ‘you’ve spent all but my last penny, so you might as well have that!’

Pauline had the penny set into the path where it lay. It is still there today.

The swimming pool that Hemingway said had cost him his last penny

Another extraordinary feature of the house are all the cats that reside there.

These are descendants of a six-toed cat called Snowball. One of Snowball’s kittens (named Snow White) was gifted to Ernest Hemingway by a salvage and shipwreck captain (a respected and official position in those days) called Harold Stanley Dexter. Ever since, the six-toed gene has been passed down through all the generations of cats at the Hemingway house. All were named after Ernest’s famous friends. The cat in this photo is Rita Hayworth.

On the left - Rita Hayworth. On the right - a six toed paw!

I was so engrossed and enthralled by the house and its history and the life of Hemingway, that the following day we visited the Hemingway museum in town. 

There are many exhibits and pictures and movie posters reflecting his work but the centerpiece, which captures a young, enthusiastic, and adventurous Hemingway fishing off his beloved boat ‘Pilar’, is the bronze sculptor by Terry Jones (2005).

The bronze sculptor of Hemingway by Terry Jones (2005).

Ernest Hemingway’s first visit to Key West in 1928 was only meant to be a way stop, but once he’d felt the sun on his face, smelt the salty air and met the locals, he knew it would be his home with second wife Pauline.

A photograph of Ernest Hemingway with his parents and his second wife Pauline in April 1928

He soon became an avid sports fisherman. In 1938 he established a world record for catching seven Marlin in one day. He also garnered a reputation for hard drinking with his new friends Josie ‘Sloppy Joe’ Russell, fisherman Eddie ‘Bra’ Saunders and his brother ‘Burge’ and later Toby Bruce who became his right-hand man and life-long companion.

I’ll give you a short tour of the Hemingway museum using my photos.

A model of Hemingway's beloved boat 'Pilar' in the Hemingway Key West Museum

If you ever do find yourself in Florida I urge you to explore the Keys. We took a Greyhound Bus from Miami and stopped off in Key Largo for a couple of days (which really should warrant another #Trippets post!) before heading across the famous bridges down to Key West. There is so much to explore and lots to do there. The food is fabulous and restaurants plentiful. In Hemingway tradition, bars are a fun feature too. Sloppy Joe's is still there and a new addition is the first and original of Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville.

Here I am enjoying a Margarita at the original Margaritaville Key West!

I loved finding out more about one of my writer heroes and we adored Key West!

Author note: I so enjoyed meeting the six-toed cats that a fictional six-toed offspring features in my next romantic adventure novel 'Island in the Sun' and is aptly named 'Hemingway'!

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

January 2017 - a bittersweet month back in the UK

At the end of my previous blog post written just after New Year – a summary of our travels in 2016 that you can read by clicking HERE – I mentioned how we had no immediate plans to leave Koh Tao in Thailand. But that all changed very quickly on the 4th January when we had word that my mother-in-law was gravely ill.

Happier times: Trav's mum and dad celebrating their 50th Wedding Anniversary

We checked for flights back to the UK straight away - but as it was still peak time for new year holiday travel - we had problems with availability. We left Koh Tao by boat and bus and plane and headed to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, where we knew there was a flight to London with British Airways the following day, on which could be on standby.

We managed to get the last two seats on a flight back to the UK via Hong Kong. 

We were hoping to get back to the UK in time to say goodbye to Trav’s mum before she passed away. Trav was on the phone several times a day with his mum’s nursing carers, and the good news was that his mum had improved slightly, so allowing us more time to get back to her. The bad news was that we heard Trav’s dad had fallen and badly broken his hip. He was now in hospital and due to be operated on the very next day.

We managed to get the last two seats on a flight back to the UK via Hong Kong. 

Then from London we flew straight up to Glasgow because our son, Iain, had kindly allowed us to use his car to save us the cost of car hire. We also managed to see our son, Ben, while we were in Scotland. We had a meal out on the night we arrived in Edinburgh with him and his girlfriend Hayley and her family. I hope they didn’t mind that we were suffering from climate change, we were totally jet lagged, and hadn’t slept for 48 hours!

It had been two years since we’d been back in the UK and it felt quite surreal to sudden find ourselves back there. I had been missing my family very much over the Christmas holidays, so I knew this albeit unplanned trip would be bittersweet time, because it would be wonderful to see family and friends again but very sad indeed to see Trav’s dad in hospital and his mum for what would be the very last time. We had been warned she was now in the last days of her life.

After buying some warm clothes and footwear more suited to the UK in January, we headed down to England, shivering under gloomy grey and rainy skies. I couldn’t help but to think of the sunshine we had left behind us in Thailand – until I checked my Facebook notifications to discover that the very day after we left Koh Tao a monsoon had hit – bringing the worst rainfall in decades. I’m sure that as we had left so quickly and unexpectedly some peeps might have thought we knew something was about to happen – but we didn’t – honest!

Once in England, we visited Trav’s mum and dad, who were in two different locations: Whiston hospital and a Runcorn nursing home. My best friend, Dina, who happens to live an equal distance between the two places, kindly said that we could stay with her for which we were extremely grateful.

Often, while Trav was with his mum and dad, I went to visit my mum and it was so wonderful to spend time with her. I also got to catch up with my brothers and sisters. It was hard to arrange to see everyone during this unplanned trip, even though we were back for a month, when everyone worked during the week and often had plans over the weekend. I did manage to have a meal out with my brothers one evening and to spend a couple of nights with my sister Lorna and her family at her house.

With my mum and brothers David and Steven

Sadly, on the 17th January, with her three sons and daughter-in-laws at her bedside, Trav’s mum, Dorothy Horton, passed away peacefully in the early hours of the morning. She was 84 years old and she had been suffering with dementia and Alzheimer’s. She hadn't known or recognised her family during her last months but, in the moments before she drew her last breath, I saw her open her eyes, shed a tear, and look with absolute clarity upon her boys.

Sadly, as my father in law was still recovering from his hip operation, he wasn’t able to be with his wife at the end. As you might imagine, this made for an extremely difficult and emotional time, when we had to break the sad news to him later that day at the hospital.

The funeral couldn’t be held for another 15 days due to the Christmas and New Year holidays and with January apparently being a busy time for the funeral services generally. This posed a problem for Trav and I as we had a return flight to Asia booked a couple of days before the funeral date.

We spent a long time on the phone speaking to several departments within British Airways until we finally got someone who could help us. BA were more than helpful and, although there should have been hefty charges associated with changing our flights, they wavered all of them and moved our flights forward by one week to allow us to attend the funeral.

During the next two weeks, we continued to stay as house guests at my lovely friend Dina’s house. As we hadn’t seen Dina since she had come out to see us in Koh Tao the previous January. It was wonderful to see her again.

My best friend Dina and I on Koh Tao Thailand last year

Trav and I were aware that we needed new visas to get back into Thailand, so we made a trip into Liverpool to the Royal Thai Consulate there. I hadn’t been to Liverpool for decades and yet I had been brought up there. My family moved to Liverpool when I was 6 years old and moved out of Liverpool to Runcorn when I was 14. I have to say that the Liverpool I knew back then is a far cry from the rather swish cosmopolitan city that it is today.

I immediately wished we’d been able to spend more time staying in Liverpool at the Albert Dock than the one night we had planned. Especially when a lovely friend who we met on the island of Utila in the Caribbean last year – who plays with the Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra – got in touch on Facebook messenger and offered us ticket for the following evening’s performance.

We did however manage to catch up with a couple of lovely friends who we’d met a couple of years ago while we were in the Bahamas. Jen and Gregg live in Liverpool and are planning to come out to Koh Tao in March to see us and do some diving – so it was great to meet up with them in Liverpool while we were there. They showed us a great night out in the city. We stopped outside Horton House for a photo and went on to a fabulous Brazilian all you can eat restaurant called Fazenda followed by a cocktail bar called The Alchemist where the cocktails all look like science experiments!

We also managed to catch up with our closest friends Jeannette and Nigel and Sara and Douglas and Jane and Pete in Scotland. It was so wonderful to see them again and to catch up with each other over a wonderful dinner that Jeannette cooked for us all. 

While in Scotland, we also briefly go see our eldest son Ben again in Edinburgh and to stay with my sister Lisa and her family who live in Ayrshire. While staying at Lisa’s I was very keen to have a ride on my niece Shannon’s new pony. Her pony, called Star, was her Christmas gift. Lucky girl!

Then we returned to England for Trav’s mum’s funeral. It was a sad and poignant day. Again we were able to meet up with friends and family we hadn’t seen in a long time. Unfortunately, Trav’s dad wasn’t able to attend, as he was still too frail and that made for an even more difficult and emotional day for the family. After a service at the crematorium everyone gathered at a nearby old Cheshire pub that is opposite All Saint’s Church in Daresbury. The church is famously the burial place of Lewis Carol and there is a beautiful stain-glass window there dedicated to Alice in Wonderland.

Trav’s mum’s funeral. It was a sad and poignant day.

Rest in Peace Dot Horton

The day after the funeral Trav and I headed back to Asia with heavy hearts. We decided we needed some down time before heading back to the island of Koh Tao and our busy lives of teaching diving and writing projects. We decided to take a short diversion and fly over to the island of Penang in Malaysia. It is very easy and inexpensive to fly to Penang with Air Asia from Kuala Lumpur and it's a place we had yet to visit. Not that we planned to explore much – that would have to wait for another visit – we just wanted time to rest and recuperate and to get over our hectic and stressful month and from the jetlag of travelling. We were very fortunate, due to Trav being a card member with Holiday Inn - that we were given a fabulous top floor suite upgrade for the three nights of our stay and so were able to get our R and R in absolute luxury!

Next time on the blog I’ll be back on Koh Tao in Thailand. We have lots to do there – Trav is heading up a team of Dive Master Trainees and I have a new book to bring out soon and another to start writing.

So pop back soon for island updates and writerly news and please do consider joining my 2017 mailing list. Every new subscriber will receive a free copy of my bestselling ebook 'How To Party Online' just for signing up to my occasional newsletters by using the form at the top right hand side of this page.

Love, Janice xx

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

2016 – An epic year of world travel and amazing adventures!

2016 was a truly epic yearThroughout 2016, we have been fortunate to travel to many fantastic places in far-flung corners of the world, where we have met lots of wonderful people we can now call friends.

This time last year, I posted a travel map showing a total of 37 countries that we had visited to date. This year, our updated map shows a total of 46 countries – that’s nine uniquely new destinations for us during 2016 and of course many repeated ones too in the USA and the Caribbean.

We saw this year in with a fabulous new year’s eve party on the island of Koh Tao in Thailand. We stayed on the island for the first six weeks of 2016 and then - just six weeks before the end of the year - we returned to Koh Tao again. It felt like a wonderful fate to be coming full circle in 2016!

This year, we have not only travelled a lot, we have achieved a lot.

While my husband Trav and I were staying on our island home of Utila in the Caribbean Sea (for a total of six months this year – although we did a visa run to the USA and Mexico between each of our three month stays) Trav added to his scuba diving qualifications and experience by qualifying as a PADI Staff Instructor. He also became a boat captain by passing the International Commercial Small Powerboat and Rib Master ITYW course. I am SO proud of all his hard work and all he has achieved this year.

During our second trimester on Utila, Trav, as a newly qualified Staff Instructor, was working as a volunteer dive instructor with Operation Wallacea – an organisation that works with marine biologists and eco-students at Degree/PHD level.

The emphasis was very much on reef ecology and marine conservation and Trav’s part in this exciting venture was to teach students how to dive and also to maintain a safe underwater working environment for them in which they could undertake their marine studies.

While Trav was busy doing all of the amazing stuff above - I began working on my next romantic adventure novel entitled ‘Island in the Sun’ and also to write world travel features for lifestyle magazines – and of course to hang around in a hammock drinking cocktails!

Highlights of 2016 include:

* My best friend Dina coming over from England to Koh Tao Thailand to visit in January.

* Trav and I visiting South Korea for the occasion of our baby grandson’s first birthday party in February.

* Our eldest son Ben and youngest son Iain coming over to the Caribbean with their girlfriends to be with us in April.

* Our USA visa run from the Caribbean in May/June, during which time we renewing our wedding vows in Las Vegas while celebrating our 33rd wedding anniversary where we took a trip out to the Grand Canyon before ‘honeymooning’ in Cozumel and Tulum in Mexico.

* After spending a combined total of six months on the Caribbean island of Utila, we flew to Florida to spend a week there before flying on to visit family in Vancouver, Canada.

* After two weeks in Canada, we flew onto Asia via Japan to visit Malaysia and Indonesia before coming full circle back to Thailand at the end of 2016.

It’s been a heady twelve months and so I thought I’d best review the highlights now before we get too involved in 2017. I’ll take it one month at a time – starting at the beginning. If you click on the links after each month’s summary you can go to the full blog post with more details and more photos of that trip.

January 2016. We saw in the new year on the beach in Thailand, dancing with the fire dancers, setting our wish lantern up into the sky, and counting in 2016 with our Koh Tao friends

Seeing in 2016 on Sairee Beach Koh Tao Thailand

Later in January, my best friend Dina, whom I’ve known all my life, came out to Thailand to visit me and to have a holiday/vacation in the sun. During this time, Dina and I travelled from Koh Tao to Koh Samui and onto to Chiang Mai and Bangkok. On the return journey, we took an iconic train journey through Thailand and we had many fabulous adventures and lots of fun. Dina also got to discover scuba diving for the first time on Koh Tao. While we were off on our BFF adventures, Trav was busy doing an PADI Instructor Development Course to become a qualified scuba diving instructor.

You can read more about our fabulous BFF travels in Thailand HERE.

February: Trav and I travelled to South Korea to attend our grandson’s first birthday party, which is a special occasion in any country, but in Korea it has special significance, and so a big party was planned. We arrived looking forward to meeting our extended Korean family although had underestimated how cold it would be – in the minus’s C – and we only had summer clothes. Trav bought socks to wear with his flip-flops and one of our first priorities was to buy warm clothing for the week.

You can read more about our celebrations in South Korea HERE.

March: Trav and I flew back to the Caribbean and it didn’t take us long to settle back into island life on Utila, the smaller of the Bay Islands off Honduras. We have now spent a total of over a year on this beautiful island and it felt good to be back. During our first week, it was my birthday and we had a party with friends on the dock and a meal out in an island restaurant. My birthday present this year was a bicycle. I was thrilled - it’s a perfect way to get around this small island - and I haven’t owned a bicycle since I was about twelve years old!

Settling back into Caribbean island life on Utila
I haven’t owned a bicycle since I was about twelve years old!

On Utila Trav completed his Staff Instructor course at Coral View Dive Centre and also took and passed his International Commercial Small Powerboat and Rib Master ITYW course and so became Captain Trav!

The months whizzed by – otherwise filled with sunshine and fun and diving and snorkelling and boat trips and picnics and BBQ’s over on beautiful Water Cay – one of the small islands off Utila and a favourite spot for spending time on the beach and catching up with friends.

You can read more about our experiences on the Caribbean island of Utila HERE.

April: We were so excited that two of our sons, Ben and Iain, were arriving from Edinburgh UK with their girlfriends, Hayley and Brogan, to spend two weeks on the island with us.

They were looking forward to lots of sunshine and fun and diving. Ben and Iain are already qualified dive instructors and the girls wanted to do their Discover Scuba Diving courses. One of those days out on the boat with Ecomarine Dive Centre turned out to be very special indeed because we spotted and swam with a whale shark and, not one, but two pods of dolphins. It is such a joy to swim so close to these beautiful and wild creatures. 

Our wild dolphins - photo credit Dave Thatcher 
Family fun diving

During their holiday, it was Iain’s 23rd birthday and we celebrated with a day at the beach and with lunch and cocktails and birthday cake. Over the following weekend, we all rented a private island called Little Cay – which is amazing in itself - but also something that is totally affordable in this part of the eastern Caribbean!

Happy birthday to Iain! 
The tiny private island of Little Cay - our family weekend retreat

You can read more about this amazing time together as part of the same post as above – which is also HERE.

May: Trav and I had to leave our Caribbean island home of Utila on a visa-run to the USA, where we celebrated our 33rd wedding anniversary by renewing our wedding vows in Las Vegas, took a 600 mile round trip on a bus to drive over the Hoover Dam and to travel along ‘the mother road’ of Route 66 before exploring the South Rim of the Grand Canyon and grabbing a last minute flight to Mexico for a second honeymoon!

You can read more about this whirlwind of adventure and romance HERE.

June – July - August: We returned from Mexico to our Caribbean island home of Utila and stayed for another three months. During this time Trav was very busy indeed volunteering as a dive staff instructor for the marine conservation and educational organisation Operation Wallacia (OpWal) at Coral View Dive Centre.

While Trav was diving I had another couple of tattoos. My new tattoos came about because a guest tattooist from the USA came to Utila and after seeing his work I decided to finally get my 'mermaid and diver' tattoo done on my thigh and, to cover the nasty scar on my foot, a 'marine' montage with a shell, a starfish, a sand dollar and a sea turtle.

No pain no gain - getting tattooed

The rest of the time I was working hard on my next novel entitled ‘Island in the Sun’ which I hoped to have completed by the end of the summer. While I was researching and writing about a hurricane in the story, we actually had a hurricane warning for our part of the eastern Caribbean Sea. Hurricane Earl had started out as a tropical wave and, during my research watching the National Hurricane Centre website, I watched it progress to a tropical storm and then become a hurricane.

You can read more about Caribbean island life and hurricanes HERE.

September: We left Utila when our visas expired in early September and we flew back to the USA. As Trav and I were feeling pretty exhausted, after working and playing so hard all summer, so we took a week’s vacation in Lauderdale by the Sea in Florida. We booked into an inexpensive hotel right opposite the beach in this beautiful laid back little town and we took it easy.

On the beach at Lauderdale by the Sea Florida

We also ate really well too - it was such a treat to go to a big US supermarket and to see the huge variety of foods available - after our long stay on a small Caribbean island that only got supplies by boat twice a week. We could hardly believe our eyes and we enjoyed shopping for food and cooking for ourselves in the BBQ back at our apartment.

We did eat out a couple of times too and we took walks on the beach and lazed around in the sun at the pool and we slept - we did a lot of sleeping to make up for the sleep loss on Utila - where we were woken every morning by our natural alarm clock of ear-piercingly loud cockerels crowing outside our bedroom window at around 4.30am!

You can read more about our summer of island life HERE

September: Revived and refreshed, we set off on our next adventure by flying from Fort Lauderdale to Vancouver Canada, where we were to stay with family for the next two weeks. My Uncle Ed (my mum’s brother) and his wife Dawn have, over the years, often invited us over to stay with them at their home in Hope, British Columbia, so we thought we’d take them up on their kind offer at long last and visit. We had THE most amazing time – hiking up mountains and exploring the wilds and having fabulous experiences – all while looking out for bears. We concluded our trip with a fabulous visit to Whistler Mountain and a ride of the world’s highest and longest peak to peak gondola ride!

In Hope BC Canada with my Uncle Ed and Aunt Dawn

You can read more about our amazing trip to beautiful British Columbia HERE.

At the end of September: Trav and I flew from Vancouver Canada (via Montreal, Houston, and Tokyo) to Kuala Lumpur (KL) in Malaysia. A total flight time of twenty-five hours and a leap in time of eight hours.

Thankfully, we managed to get a few hours of sleep before we had to dash back to the airport to meet up with our son James and his lovely wife Sujeong, who were flying in from South Korea to meet up with us in KL for the weekend.

We hadn’t seen James and Sujeong since February of this year, when we were in South Korea for our grandson Aaron’s first birthday celebrations. Aaron wasn’t with them this time though, as this was a strictly grown-up affair, to help James and Sujeong celebrate their second wedding anniversary.

With James and Sujeong in Kuala Lumpur

We had a wonderful weekend, sightseeing at the stunning Petronas Towers and its famous sky bridge, shopping in KL’s sophisticated malls, and celebrating their anniversary by eating out in restaurants, drinking in our hotel club room, enjoying each other’s company and catching up on our busy lives. It was such a special weekend.

You can read more about our very special weekend in Kuala Lumpur HERE.

October: From KL we flew to Bail. We stayed just a few nights in Bali and we explored the island interior town of Ubud – famous for its monkey forest and reputedly the cultural and culinary centre of Bali. We enjoyed Ubud but not so much the busy coastal touristy town of Kuta. We didn’t explore further – although I’m sure there is more to see in Bali – but we were keen to move off island to the more remote Indonesian islands off the neighbouring island of Lombok – the Gili Islands. Gili Trawangan, Gili Air and Gili Meno.

The Gili islands are a vision of paradise in Indonesia that have white sand beaches and palm trees and no motorised transport. Gili T is the larger and most developed of the three and it has gained a reputation from backpackers as a party island. Trav and I like to beach party on occasion, but on this trip we were looking for quiet, relaxation, diving, snorkelling, great seafood, and a beach bar with a laid back ambience, so we stayed on the boat when it made its stop here and we went onto Gili Air. We stayed here in a lovely homestead cottage for a week for the princely sum of £100 (equivalent) before moving on to the even smaller and, dare I say it, even  more beautiful island of Gili Meno. Here we splashed out a bit and stayed in a boutique hotel amongst a coconut plantation. It was idyllic.

I do urge you to see my full post on this trip - as the photos are stunning. Not that I’m an expert photographer – it’s just the islands are so visually spectacular.

You can read more about Bali and beyond HERE

From Indonesia we flew back to KL and onto Langkawi Malaysia.
We were looking for somewhere to settle down for a period of six weeks before we went onto Thailand to finish the year where it started - on the island of Koh Tao. As October was rainy (monsoon) season on Koh Tao, we went house hunting in Malaysia, where it was the beginning of the high (dry) season. We stayed a week on the island of Langkawi and then a week back in the city of Kuala Lumpur. We viewed lots of apartments in both places but we were unsuccessfully (mostly due to it being high season). BUT then, unexpectedly, we were offered not one but two fantastic opportunities back in Thailand and we took one of them – which would help Trav to work towards his Master Instructor scuba qualification – his goal for 2017. So everything worked out far better than we ever could have planned!

You can read all about our house hunting failures in Malaysia and our impromptu return to Thailand HERE

November: This is Trav’s birthday month and it happily coincided with a visa run (as we only had a 30 day entry visa for Thailand) so after 30 days on the island of Koh Tao we hopped on a boat, a bus, a plane, a train and an uber taxi, and headed back to KL to celebrate Trav’s birthday and also to secure a 60 day tourist visa from the Thai Consulate.

The Thai visa takes up a whole page of a passport and then there are the additional in/out stamps too. It was pointed out to us in the KL Thai Consulate that we had now run out of blank pages in our passports.

This was not so much a problem but an immediate crisis. Our passports still had 18 months before they expired but if we had no more blank pages then no pages – no visas – no stay – no travel – and the clock was ticking and the days counting down to our next visa run. Did we have to dash back to the UK to replace our passports? Thankfully, we found a way to renew our passports via Her Majesties Passport Office in Bangkok. It took just three weeks to get our brand new passports. Stress but then Success!

You can find out more about how we overcame our visa and passport problems HERE

December: Even though the monsoon rains where heavy over Koh Tao, we had a pretty amazing December. We had in hand our new passports and visas that allowed us to stay in Thailand until the first week in January. So we forgot about travel for a while and Trav spent his time diving (he gets wet anyway so a little monsoon rain doesn’t bother him!) and I knuckled down indoors to finish my next book ‘Island in the Sun’.

I have now finished the first draft and it has now been sent to my lovely editor for a story edit. This part of the editing process is when a fresh set of eyes (my editors sharp ones) reads the manuscript for readability, story structure, plot and character development.

The week before Christmas however, Trav caught a head cold and due to congestion he couldn’t clear his ears. This is bad news for a diver as being underwater puts lots of pressure on the ear drum. Diving with a head cold is therefore not recommended.

As it was raining heavily on Koh Tao island – and had been for almost three weeks – we checked the weather forecast to find that on the mainland just a few hundred miles north of us in the Thai resort of Hua Hin – the sun was shining. So we took a boat to Chumphon the mainland (1 hour) and then a bus (5 hours) to Hua Hin.

The trip was inexpensive and the bus was actually a well-appointed and comfortable coach. At Hua Hin, we stayed at the Intercontinental Resort, where we got three nights for the price of two (a member of the Holiday Inn Group, we collect their points). This mini-break was to be a wonderful pre-Christmas gift to each other. The hotel was right on the beach and the resort was very beautiful – plus it was indeed hot and sunny.

After being in Hua Hin, Trav’s head cold was much better and so we returned to Koh Tao to carry on as before – Trav doing his diving and me finishing my novel. Unfortunately, I didn’t feel too good at this point and so I spent the next week, up until Christmas Eve, not able to eat or drink very much. I didn’t have a cold but I had something – maybe a stomach bug.

Despite feeling ill, I got back my story edits from my lovely editor and finished working on the second lot of edits of ‘Island in the Sun’ on New Year’s Eve. It felt great to be finished, especially on the last day of the year. The next stage in the editing process is the copy edit – my editor will check the novel for grammar, spelling, typos over used words etc.

Trav and I celebrated Christmas and New Year on Koh Tao with our lovely friends. The weather improved and we had a fun Christmas Eve night out with Bans Dive Centre at Fishbowl Bar and, on Christmas Day, it was very hot and sunny so we walked along the beach. It was kind of amusing to see everyone walking along or sunbathing in Santa hats.

We have been travelling for three years now - and we haven’t experienced a cold winter in a long time - but it still feels strange to me to experience Christmas in 35+ degrees C of heat!

We had a wonderful night out on Christmas Day night with our friends from Sunshine Dive Centre. We had a ‘proper’ Christmas roast dinner at Barracuda Restaurant and we all did a fun Secret Santa. Trav received a dive equipment thingy and I got a spa voucher. Very suitable and wonderful gifts indeed!

It was truly wonderful over Christmas to chat and to have facetime with our family and friends using social media / Skype /Viber etc. It was great to see how everyone was celebrating the holidays and to reflect on what an amazing year of travel and adventure 2016 truly was for us. I’m amazed by it all and also very thankful.

So now we are into January 2017 and I’m excited for what the New Year will bring. We don't have any immediate plans to leave Thailand - except for another visa run - so that will no doubt be the subject of my next post. 

Happy New Year to you all!

Do pop back next time and feel free to leave a comment. I’ll be sure to reply.

If you enjoyed reading about our travels in 2016 and are curious about the places we visited in 2015 - you can read the highlights of those travels HERE.

Love, Janice xx

If this is your first visit to then I’d like to wish you a warm welcome. Please visit my ‘About Janice’ page HERE