An adventure by any other name

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It is Russ who first christens our motley expedition as we slowly ease ourselves off our motorbikes on the banks of the Mekong river. Stiff and broken from the long day’s drive, we stretch our legs and feel our battered bodies start to come alive again. “I was thinking we should call this adventure The Sore Way Round,” Russ quips, “because, well, it is.”

It is the end of day two on our month-long motorbike tour of Cambodia, an idea first hatched over ice-cool Angkor beers back in Battambang a few days earlier. We had crossed paths with Sophia and Russ for the fourth time in almost as many days, and it seemed fated that we should continue to travel together.

I turn in my seat now as we cross the Mekong and begin to follow the water’s path from Kampong Cham towards Kratie, looking back to take a photo of our new travel companions. The early morning sun beats down upon us and the quiet streets begin to stir, waking me up with them.

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Sophia and Russ crossing the Mekong river

There is an energy that courses through Cambodia unlike that of any other country I have visited. It is raw and authentic, its heart as open as the wounds of its embittered history. As our bike moves ever forward I feel myself become more open too, releasing the tension of the past eight months, watching it drift away on the warm winds as we drive.

I gaze through dust-coated sunglasses at the ever-changing landscape, as dry ochre fields evolve into lush forests and rolling hills. Vibrant green rice paddies glisten in the sun, broken only by a scattering of livestock and the occasional pop of colourful headscarves as women tend their crops.

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Colourful headscarves

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Rural Cambodia

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Glimpses of family life

Tiny houses on stilts skirt the roadside. The look like they’ve been made from lollypop sticks, ramshackle and worn by time. Families congregate in their shade, swinging from hammocks beneath the floorboards while children play in the dust. They spread sheets outside to dry their harvest, the black of peppercorns, the red of chilli peppers, their musty perfume lingering long after we drive past.

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Lollypop stick house

Everything seems more alive here, more visceral, and the diverse beauty of this chaotic country and her remarkable people are a fuel as vital as the petrol that courses through our engine.

We’ve been driving for over an hour when we pull over at a little shack for our first stop of the day, not to refuel, but to dismount for a while and allow the blood flow to return to our aching muscles. We pull off our helmets, our faces ruddy with the dust of the road, drawing comical stares from the young girls sorting plastic bottles behind us.

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Dirt-streaked smiles

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Relaxing at the bike stop

That’s kind of how it goes out here on the road. Unable to communicate in words, we smile and laugh, stumbling over the few words of Khmer we have picked up, four dirt-streaked adventurers. Always, we are welcomed. We are taken in, offered chairs, quietly giggled at.

A young boy, no older than ten, pulls up on a motorbike and stands casually as a woman fills his gas tank. He is perhaps the coolest kid I have ever seen, and he cracks a wry smile as I catch his eye, before jumping back on his bike and driving off.

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The coolest kid in Cambodia

We sit for a while, taking it all in; the view, the people, our new friendship. Out here on the road, we are becoming a team, routing for each other, urging one another on. It is a camaraderie we witness daily in the people of Cambodia, and one we fall into easily.

Soon we are back on the bikes, chasing the clouds that hang heavy in the sky above us, a sky more vast than I have ever seen before. It’s another world, whole mountains and valleys of white, suspended in the ether.

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Glorious cloudscape

We pass a bike carrying a family of four, and I watch as huge grins spread across their faces as they move behind us. We are the same, and we are different, and we smile in acknowledgement of this. I wave as the distance between us increases, and they wave back.

These beautiful but brief moments of connection are scattered along the way like breadcrumbs marking our trail, ensuring that we will never forget the path our journey takes, and letting us know that wherever this road may lead us, we will always find our way back.

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Let’s just keep going

I feel as though I could follow this road forever, just leave my arms wrapped loosely around Lee, my face turned to the wild beauty all around me, and keep going. Every small encounter, every friendly face. They come together here on the road and become a tangible force that fuels my thirst for adventure. This. This is why I travel.

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{ 66 comments… read them below or add one }

Charlie June 7, 2013 at 13:34

Starting of my day now with memories of riding through Cambodia. Makes going to work al the more easy, thank you! :) Cannot wait to be back in Cambodia again, such a beautiful country full of so many beautiful people.
Charlie recently posted..Our Round the World Budget

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Hannah Loaring June 8, 2013 at 02:15

So glad I could help get your day off to a good start! Cambodia truly is one of the most beautiful places in the world.

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Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) June 7, 2013 at 14:42

Ah, the dreaded motorcycle ass, an affliction both Tony & I know only too well. That said, it’s a small price to pay in order to see such a wonderful country in such a wonderful way! Riding a cramped, nausea-inducing van just simply can’t compare!
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Hannah Loaring June 8, 2013 at 02:27

No pain, no gain!

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Carmel June 7, 2013 at 15:41

Sounds like a grand adventure and one fated to be with a couple of new friends! Quick question for a travel/motorbike novice…where do you put all your stuff??
Carmel recently posted..MY UNDERWATER FEARFUL ADVENTURE

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Hannah Loaring June 8, 2013 at 02:33

We stayed in a little guesthouse in Phnom Penh before we set out on the road trip, and they agreed to look after our bags for us. All we have with us is a daypack each with a few clothes and essentials. We are driving two to a bike, but if you drove one each you could easily strap your backpacks on there, so that’s another option as well. You should do it – you’d love it!

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OCDemon June 7, 2013 at 20:01

You seem to be making the case that this is somehow more enjoyable than 14 hour bus rides with no air conditioning or reasonably timed bathroom breaks. Blasphemy I say!
OCDemon recently posted..If you make these excuses, you need to travel solo

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Hannah Loaring June 8, 2013 at 02:34

Haha! Yes, there are numerous benefits to this mode of transport!

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Patti June 7, 2013 at 20:29

I’ve been enjoying your travels and it’s fascinating to me to hear you speak the names of cities and places in Cambodia, names we only know from the history of war, so it’s nice to see the human perspective.
Patti recently posted..Sometimes ~

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Hannah Loaring June 8, 2013 at 02:40

It’s fascinating to me too. I read ‘First They Killed My Father’ by Loung Ung before we came to Cambodia, and we have since visited many of the places she wrote about. I think about her story often, and am always amazed at how far Cambodia has come in the brief 33 years since the genocide. As we drive through the countryside I find myself staring out across the fields and wondering if there are landmines hidden amongst the beauty. There are still an estimated six million yet to be removed, so we must pass hundreds every day.

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Jas June 7, 2013 at 22:57

Is it possible to feel homesick for a place that is not your home? Reading about your enjoyment of Cambodia makes me long to be back there. You describe it so beautifully, capturing the very essence of why so many people love it so much. I am planning my third Cambodian adventure for October, having just returned from my last journey there in March. October seems so far away!
Travel safely and please don’t ever stop writing. You have such a gift for it.
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Hannah Loaring June 8, 2013 at 03:04

It’s totally possible. I feel that way about India, and we are planning to go back in October. I’m so glad I was able to bring back happy memories of your time in Cambodia, and look forward to reading about your return visit.

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budget jan June 7, 2013 at 23:59

Yes Please :)
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Hannah Loaring June 8, 2013 at 02:41

Go for it Jan!

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Alana - Paper Planes June 8, 2013 at 00:44

Ah – love this – I think I would be completely content just riding on a motorbike through SE Asia forever… Enjoy it!
Alana – Paper Planes recently posted..>> Moment at: a Forest Temple >>

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Hannah Loaring June 8, 2013 at 02:47

Just make sure you get a very padded seat before you do!

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Kim June 8, 2013 at 01:51

Beautiful words Hannah, a motorcycle tour sounds like a great way to see Cambodia. I love hearing about it in your words and seeing it through your photos.
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Hannah Loaring June 8, 2013 at 02:50

Thanks Kim. It really is a wonderful way to explore the country, bringing us in touch with people in such an authentic way – much like it did for us on the Rickshaw Run. You and Brian should definitely consider it when you come here.

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Rika | Cubicle Throwdown June 8, 2013 at 02:18

Oh…I feel your pain, but being on a bike is infinitely better than crammed into a chicken bus! I love the little dude with the bike, what a badass!
Rika | Cubicle Throwdown recently posted..You live in Honduras and don’t speak Spanish? Que??

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Hannah Loaring June 8, 2013 at 02:56

He was a total badass! He had real swagger, and knew it!

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Alex June 8, 2013 at 13:18

Hannah you continue to be one of the greatest travel writers on the internet. What would be, “we went for a bike ride,” to so many people becomes a beautiful pieces of travel prose in your hands! Glad you are enjoying such an amazing adventure in one of my favorite countries.
Alex recently posted..Diving in Malapascua

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Hannah Loaring June 9, 2013 at 05:04

Thank you so much my dear, that is such a wonderful compliment, especially coming from such a talented writer as yourself. Looking forward to meeting up soon :)

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Helen June 9, 2013 at 23:32

I love your writing Hannah, you capture the moments so well, it’s as if we are there with you!
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Hannah Loaring June 10, 2013 at 01:37

Thank you so much Helen, it’s wonderful to be able to share our adventures with you.

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Gerald Englebretsen June 10, 2013 at 03:42

Another wonderfully engaging tale. You both seem to attract great experiences and people interactions. It is an art to spot them; many folk just don’t make time for that observation or interruption to routine which leads to these things. Envy you completely on this one. I loved the south of Cambodia around Kep and Kampot especially. Kep for the seafood (crab) and Kampot for just being a neat little riverside township with a bridge which once featured on world news when it was bombed. Also some really great programs there like the blind shop. Awesome. Seek it out when you head south..
Did you get to see CCT at Battambang by any chance?
Best Gerald

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Hannah Loaring June 10, 2013 at 11:20

Thank you Gerald. We are actually in Kampot now, and are heading to Kep in the morning, and I wholeheartedly agree with your recommendation. Just when I thought Cambodia couldn’t get any more beautiful, we came further south and it just blew my mind. Sadly we never did make it to CCT as we were so busy in Battambang, but it is just one of many excuses to come back to Cambodia as soon as possible.

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Elisa Choi June 10, 2013 at 09:02

Hi, Hannah! Will it be okay to paint some of your pictures? With your credit of course! I find that your photos are unearthly and it strikes the painter in me to want to try to capture it in paint. Please advice. Thank you!
Elisa Choi recently posted..Warmth in the Midst

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Hannah Loaring June 10, 2013 at 11:21

Elisa, I have just sent you an email in reply to this, but just to confirm, absolutely! I would be honoured to have any of my photos transformed into a painting by you. How exciting!

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Robert Goldie June 10, 2013 at 09:08

Hi Hannah, Sounds like you are having an amazing time. It’s bringing back memories of my short trip to Cambodia from Bangkok by bus. Such am amazing country and lovely people. I spend 4 days in Siem Reap exploring the area and visiting the temples of Angkor Wat . It is also worth visiting Angkor children’s hospital if you get the chance.
The Sore Way Round sounds like an appropriate title for book!
Enjoy the rest of your journey in this amazing country. I look forward to reading about the rest of your adventures.
Drive safe.

Regards

Robert

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Hannah Loaring June 10, 2013 at 11:28

So glad it has brought back happy memories of your time here in Cambodia Robert. We did actually visit Angkor Children’s Hospital while we were in Siem Reap, and Lee and I both gave blood while we were there. I wrote a post about our amazing experience, which you can find here if you’re interested: http://furtherbound.com/2013/05/healing-in-cambodia/

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Candace June 11, 2013 at 01:22

Oh, Hannah! I am head over heels in love with this post – or rather, this entire string of posts about your adventures in Cambodia… the words, the photos, and the beautiful, soul-stirring thoughts such as this one: “We are the same, and we are different, and we smile in acknowledgement of this.” I am loving following along your journey, and can’t wait to read of all the encounters and epiphanies still to come. Onwards, my love! xx
Candace recently posted..sketching southeast asia and japan: thai canals, a trip in review, and thank you!

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Hannah Loaring June 11, 2013 at 05:44

Thank you so much my dear! Our time here has been so inspiring, and every day I feel as though I glimpse a little deeper into the soul of the country and its people. India will always have my heart, but I definitely have a major crush on Cambodia.

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TammyOnTheMove June 13, 2013 at 07:09

What a great adventure. Being on a bike is definitely the best way to see the gorgeous countryside of Cambodia. It enables you get to know the real Cambodia and not just the touristy places. I love Kratie!
TammyOnTheMove recently posted..Flashback Friday: The time I nearly didn’t get engaged

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Hannah Loaring June 13, 2013 at 08:33

We loved Kratie too, and spent several days there. I loved the surrounding villages, especially Kampi. The countryside is just so beautiful. We’re in Kep right now, and I continue to be bowled over by Cambodia’s natural beauty.

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Paul Farrugia (globalhelpswap) June 13, 2013 at 16:30

Ahhhh, I want to go back to Cambodia after reading this!!! Great post!
Paul Farrugia (globalhelpswap) recently posted..Travelling around the world

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Hannah Loaring June 13, 2013 at 18:01

Thanks Paul!

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What Boundaries? Live Your Dream! via Facebook June 15, 2013 at 06:02

We’re going next week – very excited! Great post!

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Hannah Loaring June 20, 2013 at 07:25

That’s wonderful! I hope you have a great trip :)

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Short Road to Happy via Facebook June 15, 2013 at 09:35

Ahh I felt the exact same way! Hoping to add this to our RTW itinerary!

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Hannah Loaring June 20, 2013 at 07:25

I can highly recommend it!

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Jenny Robertson via Facebook June 15, 2013 at 13:15

my favourite country in the world … it captures your heart and never lets go ;-)

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Hannah Loaring June 20, 2013 at 07:29

It certainly does. I have really fallen for Cambodia, and am already planning a return trip!

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To Travel Too via Facebook June 15, 2013 at 14:21

We are looking forward to visiting , your travels are amaziing

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Hannah Loaring June 20, 2013 at 07:32

I’m sure you will have an incredible time. Just when I think Cambodia can’t get any more beautiful, we arrive somewhere new, and there is more…

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Phillipa June 18, 2013 at 15:50

Beautifully written once again Hannah. Cambodia looks very inviting. The dirt on your face looks more like a sun tan! So cool how you met those 2 fellow travellers! xxx

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Hannah Loaring June 20, 2013 at 07:33

Haha, yes, every day I think I have a tan, until I take a shower and it all washes off! I’m sure you would love it here :)

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Jill June 23, 2013 at 13:07

Nothing beats travelling through a country on a motorbike, and you post proves that too. Mostly always we hire a motorbike to check out the place and get in touch with the local people. Its always a highlight despite the sore necks and bums. This post is when we were in India last year riding through the base of the Himalayas. http://mattandjillwentupthehill.wordpress.com/2012/04/30/road-trip/
Happy travels. Jill

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Hannah Loaring June 24, 2013 at 08:42

We lived in Goa for six months and both Lee and I had our own bikes – it’s definitely the best way to explore, and like you said, it’s well worth the pain! Our experience of Cambodia would have been so entirely different had we relied on public transport. Your road trip looks amazing :)

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Wade June 24, 2013 at 21:01

Awesome reminder of how interactions with people make the biggest impact on your own experiences!
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Hannah Loaring June 25, 2013 at 06:03

Thanks Wade! It really is the small things, those fleeting moments that can all too easily be overlooked, that are the ones that can have the strongest impact :)

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Jeremy or IHeartTravel June 26, 2013 at 02:06

No sure why I’m just coming across this now but I love it as usual! Especially so because of the road trip that has just concluded in my own life.

I relate to the small encounters had on the road, the unexpected interactions and people you come across, and how it all adds to the experience.

I love the last words of this post because I agree with them fully

“This is why I travel.”
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Hannah Loaring June 27, 2013 at 10:33

Thank you Jeremy. It’s important to appreciate the small things in life, something I know you do on a regular basis. I’m so happy your own road trip was filled with equally special moments – I must catch up on all your posts and find out more :)

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Meka July 1, 2013 at 21:55

I imagine that although maybe not the most comfortable form of travel the motorbike is its own unique experience. I would think it would be very freeing. I can visualize the open road, the wind in your face, and the sounds of the towns and the vibrancy of the people. Thanks for sharing Cambodia. Its always been on my list of travels. How long are you all planning to be there for?

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Hannah Loaring July 2, 2013 at 13:50

Yes, it certainly is unique, especially driving in the recent monsoon rains – though then I think I would have used a different word to describe it! We’ll be here a few more days before heading to Bali and the surrounding islands for a few months. I’ll be sad to leave though, and can highly recommend exploring Cambodia – it will steal your heart!

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Mid-Life Cruising! July 2, 2013 at 19:41

Catching up on your blog and so glad things are going much better. Sounds like Cambodia and those temples in Angkor helped balance things out … so beautiful! Your words about traveling make me crazy anxious to get our house sold and start traveling by boat. So well-written!
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Hannah Loaring July 3, 2013 at 18:14

Thank you so much for your kind words. Cambodia really has saved me in so many ways, and stolen my heart in the process. It is such a beautiful country, with such wonderful people. We are heading to Vietnam on Friday and I will be sad to leave, but I know I will come back one day in the not too distant future.

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Alyssa July 20, 2013 at 12:50

I nominated you!

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Hannah Loaring July 21, 2013 at 04:49

Thank you Alyssa – what is the nomination for?!

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Marissa Carnahan July 22, 2013 at 21:41

Hi Hannah! I have been following your blog for a good while now, and I absolutely love reading about your journeys. You are a huge inspiration to me and I’m learning a lot from you.

I will definitely be following along.

Marissa

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Hannah Loaring July 24, 2013 at 04:30

Thank you so much for your kind words Marissa, you just totally made my day! I’m thrilled to have you following my journey.

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flipnomad August 15, 2013 at 13:09

So envious :-) Looks like a fun trip. I really need to learn how to drive a motorbike.
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Hannah August 17, 2013 at 09:06

Having the motorbike was amazing, though pretty dangerous at times. People in Asia are notoriously crazy drivers, and we were run off the road several times. Road trips are still my favourite way to explore a new country though :)

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Montecristo Travels (Sonja) August 30, 2013 at 16:53

Too cool … already trying to sort out how we’d re-jig Monte’s climbers mesh backpack so we could do this!! YAY!! I love that you are doing this. Saw something like it on Top Gear (British) a few years back. It looked horrid and awesome all at once!! Oh and you two ladies LOOK ALIKE!! Damn!
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Hannah September 5, 2013 at 05:49

Haha, yes horrid and awesome all at once is a pretty good description! It is without doubt one of the most amazing adventures I have ever had, and I recommend it wholeheartedly. And Montecristo would look very cute on the back of a motorbike!

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J from Travel on Inspiration October 17, 2013 at 15:58

Hi Hannah,
It has been great reading through your blog and following along with your travels. I noticed you haven’t blogged in a while and really miss your updates. Hopefully you will write an update on your story soon.

All the best.
J from Travel on Inspiration recently posted..Oktoberfest 2013 and My First Ever Contest Giveaway

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Hannah October 19, 2013 at 08:02

Thank you so much J, I’m so glad you have been enjoying the blog. A new post is actually coming next week, along with some very big changes, so stay tuned, and I hope you will continue to follow our journey :)

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