13th March - 10th July 2005
Before we set out on the trip several people said to us: "Two years travelling together - that will be a real test of your relationship". At the time Mark thought that the cycling would be easy but what we did afterwards might indeed prove testing. Riding a bike most days, stopping when fatigue, weather of tourist interest took our fancy, doing what we both enjoyed, was a wonderful way to pass the time. Of course there were some difficult times when one of us was ill or Mark wanted to buy a new camera, but mostly we had the similar goals and ideas about how to achieve those goals.
Even whether we should return home was a difficult decision, we still had plenty of money so we could have kept pedalling and we did toy with the idea of buying some land in Australia or New Zealand. We decided not to keep on pedalling because we felt that 2-3 years of 'time out' would look OK to prospective employers, but much longer would look like we were people on the run from real life. Also we felt we had become a bit jaded from too much travelling and natural beauty, we weren't appreciating the landscape as much as when we started out, so perhaps it was time to stop.
Once we had decided to stop when we got to Australia, Ju had to decide what she wanted to do next with her life. Travelling can be great for that sort of decision because you meet a lot of people who you can bounce ideas off. She came up with the idea of retraining as a physiotherapist as she likes working with people and the course is only two years long and funded. Mark didn't have to decide anything because he was born to be an engineer and was actually rather looking forward to getting back to work!
Ju applied for several physio courses and gained some work experience while we were in Penang. These applications bore fruit about four months later when we were staying with Mark's Uncle Mike in Australia. Ju was offered two interviews for physiotherapy courses in the UK so we ditched our plans to go trekking in New Zealand and headed home. There followed a busy six weeks in which we lived with various friends and relations, rarely in the same place for more than a few days, while Ju had a succession of interviews at various universities around the UK. Meanwhile Mark did some contract work for Porpoise (the company he had worked for before the trip) and tried to find employment in the vicinity of the various institutions Ju was applying to.
Unsurprisingly Mark first had success in the south-east at Colchester, but although Ju had had an interview there she hadn't yet heard their decision and anyway it is a long way from the hills. One of her first offers was from Northumbria University in Newcastle and we really liked the city so Mark redoubled his efforts to find work there. Eventually, in the manner of buses, two possible jobs came along at once. One was an hour's commute away but looked much more interesting than the other. After a difficult decision Mark chose the further one, designing gas analysers for the diving industry. It took a few weeks before he got used to the routine of working again: "Working in itself is great, it's just that it's very time consuming..."
Ju's course starts in January 2006 and in the meantime she is working as a nurse assistant in a nearby hospital. We have rented a flat in Wallsend and are making the most of Newcastle's proximity to the hills of the Lake District and the crags of Northumberland. No big future trips are planned but we may go cycling in Norway later this year, the ferry port to Bergen is only a mile from our flat!
Having a home again is nice. About half our stuff is still in our parents' lofts but we've got most of the useful stuff including the surviving guinea pigs from Ju's mum. We have Chinese scroll paintings on the walls and some herbs growing in pots in the yard. Ju has found a local folk music group where she can play Irish tunes on her flute and we have been out with a local climbing club a couple of times. Mark has begun designing a better dynamo powered battery charger which might eventually be a commercial product. We've also found that we live within a couple of miles of Graham and Lisa Pinkney who we corresponded with during our trips as they cycled via Turkey, Iran and India to New Zealand.
Our flat in Wallsend - note Tibetan prayer flags!
The Millenium Bridge in central Newcastle
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