Tag Archives: worldofwander

5 Days in Bermuda on a Budget

Last year, we were lucky enough to visit Bermuda, a tiny island in the middle of the Atlantic. This came about because of a competition we won, giving us flights and 5 nights in this stunning location (the only thing I have ever won, or will probably ever win again). Before October 2015, Bermuda had not been on my radar at all. Everyone has of course heard of the Bermuda triangle and for me it conjured memories of watching The Sword in the Stone as a child, when Merlin jets off there at the end of the film. But it never felt like a real place, just a far away and mysterious island that I’d likely never see.

But as I started researching our unexpected destination, I realised it was very real, with so much to offer! The first thing I learnt (because it was the answer to the competition question) is that Bermuda is actually an archipelago made up of 181 islands. This seemed unlikely and even when we were there I still didn’t believe it until we climbed to the top of Gibbs lighthouse. Apparently every rock with any bit of vegetation counts, no matter how small.

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View of NE Bermuda from the top of the Gibbs lighthouse

So we arrived fresh from our British Airways flight to be picked up by a taxi from the Bermuda Tourist Board and taken to our hotel on the opposite side of the country, a 1.5 hr drive. We stayed at Cambridge Beaches Resort and Spa which has an over 13’s policy, and our Water View room was about the same size as our 1 bed flat back home in London…

So we felt slightly fraudulent, in a beautiful room with a stunning view, surrounded by people who’d paid thousands of pounds to be there, drinking our free welcome bottle of wine on the terrace too scared to go and find out the prices at the bar! We did take a walk around the resort though in time to see the sunset.

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Anyway, getting to the point of this post, how do you survive in Bermuda when you are on a tight budget? Well, it’s very hard. I should explain, last year James and I were both students with no holiday plans because we couldn’t really afford it. Then we won a trip to a very expensive place… The whole island has a dress code. Beach wear is only acceptable at the beach, and most restaurants request sports jacket and summer dress type attire. At any other time in our lives, this would have been amazing. Just not last year.

So the first morning, after an enormous breakfast, we went to the hotel reception and bought a 3 day pass for the islands public transport, costing $44 each. This seemed like the best way to get around and included all buses and ferries. There are several ferry routes around the islands and this is by far the fastest and most convenient way to travel and lets you see a lot more of Bermuda than by road. I had our day all planned out. We took the hotel shuttle bus to the Royal Naval Dockyard and caught the ferry to St. George’s. This was the first settlement back in 1609. Walking around the pretty town you get a real sense of Britishness. The streets are cobbled with little shops everywhere. We went for lunch at a place we’d seen in the hotel welcome pack, Wahoo’s Bistro and Patio. It had a lovely view over the water and we both ordered the cheapest thing on the menu at $22 each. The waitress didn’t seem impressed with us. After eating, we ended up in the town square just as some locals were starting a re-enactment of the tradition of dunking. A woman had been accused of nagging her husband and was sentenced to 10 dunks (I know…). She was placed on a seat at the end of a large see-saw contraption and James was roped in to help hold the other end with 3 other unsuspecting bystanders. The whole spectacle was very amusing and drew quite a crowd. James and the others let go of their end to dunk her, then grabbed it to pull her up again.

From St. George’s, we got the bus to the Crystal Cave in Hamilton parish. This is an absolutely must do itinerary item for any trip to Bermuda. There are two caves you can visit, which we did, costing $30 (or $22 for 1 cave). Crystal cave is probably the most visited and slightly more impressive although Fantasy cave has some rare stalactite formations which was fascinating. The water was so turquoise and clear. You aren’t allowed to swim here though. Because we went in May, slightly before high season, we almost had the caves to ourselves. It was so cool and peaceful and the guides are very knowledgeable on the geology of the area. We thoroughly enjoyed our visit.

Close to the caves there is the Blue Lagoon. This took a bit of exploring to find, it isn’t signposted at all. Google maps to the rescue! Thankfully this is free to visit and very pretty. Here, you are allowed to swim but we hadn’t brought any swim stuff and didn’t fancy stripping down in front of the few people around. There were some fish in the water and it could make for an interesting snorkel perhaps. From here, we got the bus back to our hotel, stopping at the supermarket down the road to pick up some dinner. This was our attempt to save money and we certainly felt like proper students having our picnic on the balcony.

Days 2 and 3 we spent diving. We chose to book with Dive Bermuda because we have a friend that works there. This was our treat, it wasn’t cheap. We spent $300 each for 4 dives, not including equipment rental because we’d taken our own, again to save money. That was a fun bus journey at 8 am! At $75 per dive, this is about double what we’d pay in the UK and if I’m totally honest, I wasn’t too impressed with the quality of the diving. We did two wrecks, each one barely a mile offshore directly out from the dive center. Considering there are roughly 700 wrecks around the island, we felt a bit cheated just being taken to the closest ones. The water was 21-23 °C and there wasn’t half as much life as we were expecting. The corals weren’t too inspiring either. Having looked forward so much to this part of our trip we were quite disappointed. The dive center itself was very well run and the staff were great, we just wish they’d taken us to some more interesting wrecks. I suppose that’s partly our fault for not researching it better and requesting where we wanted to go. Apart from the visibility, I definitely prefer UK diving. The most interesting thing we saw was an octopus.

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After our first day of diving, we went for a walk along the famous Horseshoe Bay beach. If you keep going, you get to some rocks which you can climb to get to Angle beach, then Jobson’s cove and eventually Warwick Long Bay. The further east you go, the pinker the sand gets and the less people there are. I spent several minutes trying to get a photo portraying the accurate sand colour.  If you look closely, it’s actually individual grains of pink sand mixed with white sand. There is an artist who collects the pink grains and makes beautiful pieces of jewellery with it.

It was also this day that we climbed the lighthouse. I hadn’t previously checked the opening times and we were lucky to arrive 10 minutes before closing (5pm). If I remember rightly it was only $3 each to go to the top, by far the best value attraction we found. It was cloudy that evening so the view wasn’t as stunning as it could have been but even so, it’s pretty impressive being able to see all four corners of the country.

On our last full day, we had planned to rent bikes and cycle the length of the old railway. I’d read this is an amazing way to see the island, but we felt like this would be a lot of effort after an already very active 3 days. So instead we got the ferry back to St. George’s and walked around the forts that are dotted at that end of the island. We started at Gate’s Fort, and made our way along the north east coast to Fort St. Catherine. On the way we stopped at the famous glass beach of Building Bay. There wasn’t as much glass as I’d expected but it was worth a visit nonetheless. The whole coastline there is simply stunning. Green grass giving way to unbelievable blues of the ocean, every step of the way. Every now and then there are little paths leading to the rocks. The whole journey took us about 4 hours but we were taking our time and made a few stops. At Fort St. Catherine, we stopped for a drink at a beach bar. We didn’t go inside the fort because we didn’t feel it would be a good use of our last dollars. It’s the only fort on the island you have to pay for. Our last stop before heading back to St. George’s was Tobacco Bay, again a famous place. Of all the beaches we’d seen, it was the noisiest. There was a beach hut playing music and it seemed like a tourist attraction more than a beach. It was pretty though.

Our last night in Bermuda we were taken out in the capital, Hamilton, by our friend, Matt. It was messy and I’ll not elaborate except to say that going out with the locals always guarantees a good night. I spent the following morning on a sun lounger waiting for our flight and feeling very sorry for myself.

All in all, we enjoyed our trip to Bermuda but won’t be going back until we’re in a position to not worry so much about spending. My lasting impression of this place is that it’s the best possible combination of England and America. Everyone is super polite, there’s a real sense of pride about being Bermudian, and all the houses are painted in bright colours like a picturesque countryside village. Our taxi driver told us its a requirement to repaint your house every 5 years so they always look pristine! But then at the same time, everyone has an american accent and there’s something distinctly non-British about the place that I can only attribute to the american influence. The whole country felt almost too perfect to be true. I remember clearly saying to James it felt like we were in a film set. We did find out that there is actually quite a high crime rate, but this never affects the tourists and walking around we just did not see anything at all that hinted at it.

This is not a typical backpackers destination. We took £600 worth of dollars with us and came back with about $5… and we were being mostly very frugal and careful. Not including what we spent on diving. But if you like beaches and golf, its a wonderful place. Thinking back now I have mixed feelings. I’d like to go back someday but I feel like we went at least 10 years too early to really make the most of it. But it is a beautiful country and we were so grateful for the chance to visit.

 

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The Magic of the Red Sea

My first trip to the Red Sea is something I will never forget. We touched down in Sharm el Sheikh with our diving friends, eager to experience Egypt. The first thing that hits you is the heat. From the air conditioned airplane you walk out into what feels like volcanic heat. A shock if you have never experienced such heat before. Then there’s the struggle to get through the airport and buy your visa from one of the guys not charging an extra $5, then out into the car park to find your transfer vehicle. But that’s the charm of travelling is it not? And the following day when we got our first glimpse of the sea, it was all worth it.

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50 shades of blue. That feeling of an overwhelming urge to jump in the water overcame me immediately. Having only dived in the UK and Mediterranean before, this was a complete revelation to me that the water could be so clear and so blue. All our kit was loaded on to the boat by the Egyptian crew, who throw cylinders around like it’s a game, and we set off. That first dive in the crystal clear water is so clear in my memory, as if I’ve just come back from the boat. It was just a check out dive for the guides to assess our levels and the reef was maybe 10 m below us. Descending to the colourful reef and being able to see every single diver, brings me even now so much joy just thinking about it.

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If you are reading this as a diver, you will know there is no better feeling than that of weightlessness when you are only diving in a shorty 3mm wetsuit. Having trained in the cold UK water, we were used to cumbersome drysuits, three layers of clothing underneath, hoods, and in my case dry gloves. So this was a totally new experience for everyone in our group. Your head is no longer encased in neoprene so you can move it freely to look at things. You feel so light floating there over the fish, in the fish. It’s just magical. You can hear nothing but the gentle stream of bubbles from your regulator. Total peace. In 28 degree water with 50 m visibility at least. I cannot urge anyone enough to try scuba diving if you haven’t already. It’s unlike anything you’ve ever done before.

And then there’s the life. More fish than I have ever seen even in an aquarium. Everywhere you look there’s little orange anthias, silver sergeant majors, trigger fish, brightly coloured wrasse, clown fish, the list could go on. When you are close enough to the reef, you glide through the hoards of fish darting about you and they let you through like a parting curtain, close enough to touch and yet somehow always just out of reach. As a biologist, I am always fascinated by life on the reef and love to look closely for the small creatures; nudibranchs, corals and hermit crabs are some of my favourites.  For more underwater life photos, check out my instagram page @macro_scuba .

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On some of our deeper dives in the Ras Mohammed National Park, we were lucky enough to see schooling jack fish and barracuda. The school is several meters high and wide, completely dwarfing any diver. They are not too scared of divers either meaning you can get fairly close for a totally surreal experience.

Also on our trip we got to do a couple of night dives. The difference a few hours and the darkness makes is just astounding. A totally different set of life is seen at night. The turtles and the parrot fish go to sleep, the latter creating a cocoon of mucus around themselves, and the octopus and spanish dancers come out. In the dark there is no visual reference of your position in the water so you are reliant on your depth gauge and good buoyancy. It can be slightly unnerving at times. And if you hide your torch light you are immersed into blackness with only the disco-like flashes of other divers torches around you. What we weren’t told, is that lion fish are attracted by torch light. Although seen during the day, these fish are often more active at night and you must be careful not to get stung by one following your light!

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Leaving the harbour for our night dive

All in all, Egypt was an incredible place. The people are so, so friendly and helpful and although there is heightened security at the moment, never once did I feel unsafe. It is a beautiful country with so much to offer and such a lovely atmosphere. I can’t wait for my next visit! Since this trip I’ve written about, James and I have been back to Egypt, which I will write about soon! For now I’ll leave you with some more photos from a stunning holiday.

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Dolphins! Mother and baby
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Shameless selfie
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View from the surface
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Best dive buddy
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Underwater landscape
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Snorkelling on my surface interval

Thinking out loud

So some of you may be thinking after reading my last post, why on earth have we started a blog when we don’t plan to go off travelling for another 4 months??!

Well, I got a little over excited, as I’m sure many of you can relate. I was procrastinating trying to avoid writing my PhD thesis and decided to come up with a name for our blog, which turned into designing a logo, and now here we are. (As I write this I am yet again procrastinating…but it’s a Sunday so that’s ok.)

To fill the time between now and October, I’m going to be sharing some of the trips we’ve been on in the past but for today, I want to talk a little about mine and James’ travel expectations.

Seeing the world is something we’ve always wanted to do, although we didn’t know we were both thinking it until January this year. On our way home from an exhausting trip visiting family over Christmas, I jokingly said next year we should spend the holidays abroad. We started talking about it and decided that actually, once I finish my studying, this is the perfect time to go off and travel. James would be looking to change jobs in September anyway so what’s a six month break?

And I’m terrified.

Of what exactly? I don’t know. The unknown I suppose. Which I’m reliably informed is totally normal. I’d love to hear your stories of how you felt before your first big trip! Please comment below so we can read them!

We are lucky in that we both have supportive families who all think this is a great thing. And they all offer advice on what to expect, from tips on how to avoid getting ill, to how this is going to change our perspective on life. A little while ago I was watching Dara O’Briain and Ed Byrne in their three part series ‘Road to Mandalay’. At the end Dara said something which resonated with me and it’s that travelling doesn’t owe you anything. You come home with incredible memories of the times you had and how you felt in those times but to expect it to make you into a new person is, in most cases, a little too optimistic.

I may be totally wrong. I have no idea what’s going to happen or how things will change and that’s all part of the excitement. But unless we decide to never come back and keep travelling forever, I expect that in 10 years time, this period in my life will feel like a beautiful dream.

 

Next time… The magic of the Red Sea

 

Welcome!

We are James and Maxine and together we are going to write about our adventures across the globe. We hope you’ll join us!

We are a couple from London and met 8 years ago at our university scuba diving club. We have so far travelled to Egypt, Malta, Bermuda and the Canary Islands for our diving but have a long, long list of places yet to visit. It’s not all about diving though and we generally love the outdoors, hiking, exploring and testing our sense of adventure!

In four months time, we are setting off on a six month trip. James is quitting his job and we are heading to Asia, first stop – India.

Sign up to follow our progress and join the adventure…