After one rest day in Madrid I am on a flight to Casablanca, Morocco. As my flight was delayed my friend (Mostafa) and I had to make a mad dash to the train. Only just made it. He lives in Sale which is divided from Rabat by the river. After dinner we caught a taxi and went walking down along the river on the Rabat side. There is a ton of construction and redevelopment going on here. The second language of Morocco is French.
Our next day we went to an ancient city site called Chellah. It has a wall around it, gardens, plants, flowers. There are storks nesting in the high points of the ancient buildings, including a ruined tower. There are fragments from different times and cultures and some remnants of baths, beheaded statues, Roman scriptures, graves, minarets and an olive tree garden. It’s a very quiet and safe place to visit. Fascinating place for those interested in ancient history and culture.
We leave here and go to the Royal Palace. It has a huge wall right around the palace. If you are hoping to get into the inner grounds here you will be disappointed. No people allowed. Isn’t that always the case. The places you most want to have a good look at you cant. We then go to the Hassan Mosque is the most famous landmark in Rabat and one of the most ambitious of all Almohad buildings. Sultan Yacoub al Mansour begun construction of this minaret in 1195 but this project was abandoned when he died. There are over 200 pillars still standing. This would have looked amazing had it been finished.
Facing the Hassan Tower is the Mausoleum of Mohammed V, where both the grandfather and father of the present Moroccan king are buried. Built after Moroccan independence, this is one of the most prestigious modern monuments in Morocco. Built in traditional Moroccan style, the mausoleum is richly decorated with elaborate mosaics and spiral designs. People of any religion are allowed to enter it but it was closed when I was there for renovation. These two sites are well keep and its also lovely to visit at night. At the entrance gate are guards on horses but I think they are just for show. You will also find ladies that will paint the traditional hemp patterns on you hands and legs. The two ladies that did mine were students and this was a way to earn a little money. Most students will do something like this or work in cafes. With the little time I had in Morocco and I did find that the younger ones that spoke some English were very friendly and interested in tourists and where they live in the world.
From this mosque and ancient site there is a wicked view of the river and across to the other side of Sale. We next walk down and along the river front. There are restaurants and cafes including seating alone here. We watch people being ferried across in boats like the used to be hundreds of years ago. There are boys selling balloons and a young couple talking. Mostafa points at that this couple are probably on a date and in public there is no kissing or holding of hands. The next day I see a young couple which are obviously tourists and they are holding hands. I didn’t like it. I just thought that it was disrespectful to do this in a country where it is a no no. And that is just my opinion ok!
We are up early the next morning and catch a taxi to get the train into Rabat again. Catching a taxi is easy but if there is only two of you the bigger taxis will pass you. Just wait for a small one to come along.
Today we go to the Palace Museum and Andalusian Gardens. The Palace was built in the seventeenth-century and it showcases interesting exhibits of Moroccan art and culture. A vast central patio gives access to private quarters and reception rooms containing the exhibits and a hall containing rugs and musical instruments. The old palace grounds are occupied by the beautiful Andalusian Gardens with its flowering annuals and beds of shrubs. The gardens were actually constructed by the French in the twentieth-century. The gardens are a delightful shady retreat, with daturas, oleanders, orange, lemon and banana trees. We take time to sit in the garden and drink water as it is so hot.
After leaving here it is a short walk up a hill to the Rabat Medina or more commonly called Bab Oudaia. We have coffee at a café and I try some cake. Nice but with almond oil in it. Everything seems to have almond shavings, almond oil, almond something in it. by the time I leave Morocco I swear I will never eat almonds again. Just gets to sweet and almond nuts are even feed to animals.
While we are sitting there we get talking to a Moroccan lady who now lives in New York. She has the chameleon climbing about on her head. Sorry but keep those things away from me. We then go walking. This medina is very calm. Not like the hustle and bustle of Fez, as I was to find out. You can buy just about anything you can think up. The streets are narrow but not full and the colours of the buildings are brilliant blue and white. They look like they have just been painted the day before and the white is blinding when the sun hits it. You wont get hounded in here to buy things. From here we took a taxi up and over the hill for a drive along the seafront. This area is busy as with fishing boats, people and vehicles.
We have dinner in the centre of Rabat before catching the train back to Sale. We had packed heaps into my first full day in Rabat.
Our next adventure is to Casablanca and the Hassan II Mosque. It is one striking building. It is the 3rd largest mosque in the world and boasts the highest minaret anywhere. Half of the Moroccan people like it and agree with having it and the other half do not. This is because of the cost to build it. It took 3 years and cost US $1 billion. It was designed by a French architect and employed 6000 artisans. There are twice daily tours which are fitted around prayer time. Now trying to describe this mosque is just too hard. Wow, it is certainly something that all Moroccans can be proud of. I haven’t been to the Vatican yet, but after having visited there, I can say I still think this mosque tops all the buildings I have been in. Now that may seem a little hypocritical considering my earlier statement about modern buildings, but you have to hear all the stats behind the building of this mosque to know where I am coming from and you really have to see it to understand it. The columns of marble, the tiles and mosaics, the minaret that reaches 210 metres up. In a word ‘exquisite’.
For more reading on the stats and facts I suggest this link, or better still if you are going that way, don’t dare miss it. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hassan_II_Mosque
If you arrive here to do a tour then you must have your knees and shoulders covered. Don’t worry if you have no sweater or shirt with you, they have scarves and wrap around skirts for you to use. The tour is an hour long but this seems to go so fast. There is so much to look at and they will tell you the facts as you slowly walk along. The chandeliers are huge. There’s a glass floor, the columns are on shock proof pads in case of earthquake, the huge doors that you wonder at how they might open them, are hydraulic and actually roll up. Wow, wow and wow. I was left pretty speechless when I left.
You know what to expect when you go to a huge sports stadium, or a cathedral, or any other new modern building for that matter, but you don’t have any idea the magnificence of this modern mosque when you first step inside.
I will leave it here for this part and let my photos do the talking.
Today we are on the train to Fez. It quite a long trip but gives me a chance to take photos of the Moroccan countryside. There is a lot of cropping done in Morocco but it is not very high yielding. The majority of produce is imported from France as Morocco is very dry.
We are here to see the market place in the old part of the city called the Medina. I forgot about taking photos here as there was so much to see. You can buy anything or can think of I’m sure. There is so much to look at, so much you can eat. A place of a thousand treasures and something for everyone. I buy a few small things and purchase an embodied piece of cloth for my Mum, who is now making a quilt of out all the pieces I have got from all over the world.
After shopping, eating, looking, we then go into a small place of worship and climb the stairs to come out on the roof. We have a view over the rooftops in the immediate area. Now the Medina looks cramped, narrow, and small and has every matter of smells you haven’t smelt before and then you get up here and what do you see. Countless satellite dishes for TV’s. The people might look poor and some in very ragged clothing, but don’t let that fool you. I reckon every residence had a satellite/tv receiving dish. Had to grin to myself.
Fez was absolutely buzzing with tourists. Tour buses were trying to get down narrow streets, taxi are everywhere, there’s noise, horse and carts, smells, food, fumes, and the hot sun to top it off. It was a welcome relief to get back on the train and head back to my friend’s home, which was some 3 hours away. We didn’t talk much on the return trip because the day and the heat had just plain worn us out. On reflection we should have stayed the night in Fez.
The following day we take it a little slower and just wonder the streets of Rabat and spend time down on the river front. I have by this time tried quite a few different Moroccan dishes and must say I liked all of them. But as luck would have it the last one I tried on my last night there saw me up at 1.30am throwing up in my hotel toilet, and several times. I swear I dint eat that much but man there was a lot coming back up. When my alarm woke me the next morning my head was thumping, my stomach was churning and I had to be down in reception by 8am, as that’s when Mostafa was picking me up for the train trip to the airport in Casablanca. Oh I just wanted to crawl back into bed and sleep. I didn’t have anything until and I got to the airport and then it was only a coffee. I crossed my fingers that it wouldn’t want to come back up. Getting through immigration became a problem when I failed to put in where I was staying in Morocco. It is worded so you think that you only have to put this detail in when you enter the country. But no, you have to enter the same info when you leave. Your arrival and departure cards are the same. (Keep this in mind when you travel here) I just put down what I could of my friends address and they seemed to be happy with that.
My flight is then delayed for an hour. By this time, about 2 ½ hours later I am starting to feel better. Thank god, I was thinking by this time I might be rushing to the toilet every five minutes with the dreaded diarrhea. I sat down and was promptly joined by an American guy and a Canadian girl. That passed the time away till we finally departed Casablanca one hour and 23 minutes late. It was one long and hot day before I finally crawl back into a bed in a Madrid hostel.
I am up early and across the street to the pharmacy and down the hatch with Imodium. Yep it got me. I woke up at 5.10am and made a mad dash to the toilet. And just to top it off I am flying out for London at 12.30pm. I stick around at the hostel till the very last minute before heading to the underground and out to the airport. I have never felt so terrible in all the time I have been travelling. My backpack feels like it has 30 kgs and I just want to die. All goes well though and by the time I take off the pills seem to be working. I get to Heathrow, catch the tube, finally get to my last stop and then get caught in the turn-style thing. I am well and truly stuck, the guy that is supposed to be there and let you through the gates when you have bags, is nowhere to be seen and the alarm that lets them know someone is stuck, is screaming its head off. Finally he walks around the corner. He’d been having a smoke. After I did my thank you, I then gestured to the CTV camera. He went as bright as a red button. He had of course just realised his bosses had seen he had left his post, and left me there for a good half minute. Wonder if he still has a job??
I am staying with a friend for a few days before heading to Cornwall. In the meantime I head to the osteopath to get my back put in. It’s been pinching for a few days and will eventually give me a constant headache if I don’t get it seen to. I catch up with Cynthia again as she has been back in London for a week. We get our train tickets and book a B&B in St Austell and the next day meet up at Waterloo station and head south-west to Cornwall. Our B&B is in site of the train station which, as luck has it, doubles as the bus station. Great for us as we are here to visit the Eden Project and the Lost Gardens of Heligan.
So to the Eden Project. This place has been set up in an old quarry and boasts the biggest rainforest undercover anywhere in the world. It has gardens and sculptures and is open year round. Entering the huge domes it becomes apparent in one minute that you will need to take clothing off or you will be dripping in sweat before you get to the end. Its temperature controlled and is over a massive area. I think it took us over 2 hours to do just the domes. It has also been set up for wheelchair access and caters to school groups with activities such as late night visits, exhibitions, music and workshops. Plenty of places to eat, and souvenir shops.
It’s a very popular place to visit in the Cornwall region and one of my ‘must see’ places in the UK. When you look at photos of this place, you don’t get the true impression of how enormous the domes are. Both Cynthia and I loved our visit here and like a lot of things I have seen and places I have been, you have to experience it for yourself to truly appreciate just what has gone into making this a place of wonder and education. http://www.edenproject.com/
The Lost Gardens of Heligan are just as good. These gardens were left to be overgrown and then years later they were cleared and restored with care, to what they are today. They cover a huge area and have trees and plants from all over the world. These gardens with also take a fair amount of time to see. From St Austell there are buses going and returning all the time and from all other settlements and towns close by.
Cynthia and I spent hours here and walked all the trails and took over a hundred photos. I think it is best again to let my photos do the talking and you can also see and read more by following this link; http://www.heligan.com/
This next day we go to Mevagissey. It’s a small town with lots of interesting shops. Art galleries, kids shops, antiques, jewellers and more. Both Cynthia and I ended up by jewellery for ourselves and did shopping for family members. To get here we caught the bus from St Austell and travelled down the narrow country roads which are so much the picture of England that a lot of people have. You know the one where the vehicles nearly touch when they pass each other.
After some time spent here and lunch we find our way down to the little port and catch a ferry to Fowey. This is only about 40 minutes and a pleasant little trip which many of the tourists take.
Fowey is yet another small town with quaint little shops and narrow streets all built on a hillside overlooking the sea. From here you can see Guernsey if it’s a good clear day. After getting instructions from the ferry captain we head up the hill to catch the bus back to St Austell. Rather lucky we didn’t muck about because as we came around the corner the bus was already letting passengers on.
Back in St Austell our bags have been moved to another B&B as we couldn’t get all the nights at the same one. I must say that the people of St Austell and Cornwall are very polite and helpful. After getting to our new place for the night Cynthia and I had down to the small port on our host’s recommendation that a certain restaurant here has the best meals and at a good price. He was not wrong. I tried the local lamb, while Cynthia sampled the duck. Yum!! Was like having a good home-cooked meal. We have a few drinks, talk with some of the locals and watch boats come and go. We have seen what we wanted and so tomorrow its back to London.
I am trying a new hostel out this time in Camden. Don’t know whether this is a good idea because in Camden I can go a bit silly spending money in all the stalls and shops. I decide after 2 days to move to a one bedroom studio flat in Willesden Green and sit for a week and work out how to put stuff on my website. I have had it set up for me by an American company and I have a mentor who Skype’s with me once a week and talks me through how to do things on it. Must say there is nothing like being thrown in the deep end and find it’s a hard way to learn, but as it happens, the best way as I can’t be ringing Salt Lake City every second day because I don’t remember something. At the end of another week I catch up with Cynthia and Michelle and spend a day in Camden. And yes, spent another lot of money.
Another 3 days later and I am at Heathrow saying good-bye to Cynthia as she wings her way back to New Zealand. Michelle is staying on for another month. I have moved to hostel again as the studio flat is twice the price and I have the majority of the first writing I needed done, out of the way.
I have made friends with a young Australian girl and tonight we are going to the London Zoo for an ‘open night’. This was fun. The zoo was crowded to say the least and there was all manner of things happening. Takes a bit of working out to get there and then when it was time to leave because it was so late we followed the crowd after being told that it was only a short walk to Mornington Crescent to catch the underground. Had we looked better at a map before actually going to the zoo, we would have saved a lot of walking and trying to work out buses.
The following days in is getting hot and muggy. Just shows that I am now getting used to the London climate to be feeling warm. Shkira and I spend a whole day visiting Brick Lane and Nottinghill markets buying presents for family. Brick Lane has changed somewhat from what it used to be. Not nearly as big and the variety was disappointing.
Two days later Shkira has gone to Scotland and I am on my way to Athens, Greece. Shkira is going to meet me there. I our approach into Athens I find out for the first time what people moan about thinking their ears are going to burst when coming into land. Oh my god does it hurt like hell. Once we were on the ground I was fine, but I don’t wish to go through that again. I am starting to think that maybe I am not as well as I thought. Since getting sick in Morocco I haven’t had much of an appetite and have lost quite a bit of weight. The underground from the airport in the centre of Athens is closed so I catch a bus to a given point where the driver says we can then catch the underground onto where we need to go. I start talking to an Australian guy and his friend and we soon work out that his hotel is only one street over from my hostel so together we work out what train to take. It’s good to have someone else going in the same direction and even better when it’s dark. Its 10pm when I finally get to my hostel which luckily was easy to find, though a little freaky as right next door is a ‘ladies parlour’ shall we say. One look at some of them sitting outside made you want to run.
Next day I join a walking tour of the Acropolis. Somehow I have lost most of my photos of this. We start at ancient ruins that are everywhere in the immediate surrounding area below and work our way up. It’s a hot day and one can’t drink enough water, there are tourists by the hundreds and one magnificent view over Athens. Unfortunately the Acropolis is disappointing. What I mean by this is that you can’t really get photos without scaffolding being in the frame. There is scaffolding everywhere. It was taken down for the Olympics and then promptly put back up only weeks after they had finished. Out walking guide has lived and worked in Athens for over 10 years and can only recall that as the only time the scaffolding has not been there. The restoration work is sporadic and extremely slow. When it was down for the Olympics loads of promotional photos were taken and so you can take photos of these photos. (I have lost mine- damn it). This tour takes up most of my day which saw me go right around the base of this huge rock that stands out and has the Acropolis at the top. On the opposite side to which I started there is the new museum. It has a glass floor entrance and underneath is the excavation of an old city. Most interesting.
We also go to watch the changing of the guard at the Palace. Oh my god what a ritual. The guards look so ridiculous and funny but they take there job very seriously and the whole change over takes around 15 minutes and watched really closely by another guard from across the street. If he spots them not doing it right and to his satisfaction they can loose their jobs. If you go to Athens this is good to see for a laugh. After getting back to our starting point we have a late afternoon lunch before dispersing and making our way back to our hostels.
I move to a hotel the next day that Shkira has booked. She gets in late around 11.30. The next day we head off to the Acropolis but stop off first at a bag shop. She has spotted a backpack she wants to buy. The shop owner is not the politest person out, in fact pretty much like most Greeks, as I had found out, rather rude. She decided on the bag she wanted but when it came to telling this guy we would purchase it on our way back from the Acropolis he promptly threw me out of the shop. Shkira is standing in the shop looking at me, I’m looking at her and the shop owner is going off his face in Greek. We couldn’t work out what the hell was going on. In the end we concluded he must have thought I said something but didn’t understand me properly. Gave us something to talk about while walking down the street. After getting some lunch and drinks to have on the way, we slowly made out way to the Acropolis. Shkira made the decision not to go all the way up when I told her you can’t get a photo without scaffolding in it. Besides that it was so damned hot. By now I well and truly have the flu. Coughing and blowing the nose, sore throat….oh yay.
We spend another day in Athens wondering here and there and looking at markets, buy a few gifts before heading to the port for an overnight trip by ferry to Santorini. We get to the island around 5am. After getting to the bus station we have hours to wait for a connecting bus to our hotel. Of course when we got dropped we realised we should have taken a taxi. It wouldn’t have cost too much and would have saved standing around for hours twiddling our thumbs. Something else I learnt. The owner of the hotel is polite and talkative. Makes a change. I couldn’t help thinking that the people who travelled here for the Olympics must have got a fright at how rude the Greek people are. Sorry but to me they are rude and talk very abruptly and don’t go out of their way to help you. In Athens old men come along in their cars and try to pick you up like you are a hooker. It’s discussing to me. (If you were wondering, yes Shkira did go back and buy the backpack and all went well.)
We hired a quad bike the next morning as this is the way most tourists get around on the island. After putting some petrol in we are off to Old Thira. It’s up a hill and I swear the bike was only 80cc. I am down in 1st gear and this thing is struggling to get to the top. At one stage I thought Shkira was going to have to get off and push. And hey the both of us on it, we aren’t heavy girls, this bike was just gutless. We get to the top and whoa. Lean forward into the wind or get blown over. Wicked. Fantastic view out over the ocean for miles and a village on the right side and the airport on the left. All this time while we are on the bike Shkira is telling me where to go and I am concentrating on driving on the wrong side of the road for me. This is only my second time doing this.
That night we go to the Oia to see the sunset. This is the place that you will see lots of promotional photographs of. The roads and streets are very narrow and there must have been over a hundred vehicles here, including dozens of tour buses. Thankfully it was easier to find a spot to park the bike. When the sun had set we have dinner in a little restaurant instead of trying to make our way back in amongst the cars and buses. The bike only goes so fast and I don’t want to hold up traffic. So we hop on the bike to head back and find out the lights are about as useless as tits on a bull. God they were shocking. It took us close to an hour to get back to the hotel. Apart from the fact that I am driving on the right, the bike I swear won’t do more than 50kmph and we are straining to see where the hell we are going. Shkira and I just have a good laugh about it as it’s something we will never forget.
Next day we go for a cruise around some of the neighbouring islands. I am feeling quite sick and living on pain-killers because of a thumping head. We stop off at a spot for a swim where you can go and soak in warmer water bubbling up from the bottom. Not a good idea. The water is brown and stains your swimwear. Months later I finally got the stains out after soaking them heaps of times. Most people I think would have thrown theirs out. Aside from that it was a good day out and gave us an opportunity to get photos of the houses built on the cliff faces and see some huge cruise ships that were visiting Santorini.
After returning and locking the bike at the hotel and giving the key to the owner for when it was picked up, Shkira and I are on an overnight ferry to Crete. Although uncomfortable I slept most of the way. I needed to as I am feeling terrible.
We arrive at the Crete port of Heraklion early in the morning and catch a taxi to our hotel. We get taken to the wrong one and after walking inside realise this when it seems like we have stepped into the Hilton. The hotel driver gets this all the time as there are two hotels with the same name. We get to right one to find yet another rude hotel owner. ‘Passport’ he asks me for and when I hand it over he opens a drawer and throws it in. Well no mate, this is not happening so I ask for it back. He spits out a few words in Greek and hands it back. I just look at him and say I am going places to visit and will have to show my passport to get ‘tourist discount’. He never bothered to ask for Shkira’s. I don’t ever leave my passport with any hotel/hostel unless it is going to be locked in a safe and besides I think it’s a good idea to have it on you if you find yourself in trouble.
When we have settled in and come back out to reception we find a different guy on the front desk. He is much younger and friendly which is good because we need some help on which bus to catch so we can go to Knossos. This is a large Bronze Age archaeological site on the outskirts of the city of Heraklion. There are storerooms, living spaces and the remnants of a palace. It covers a large area and for people interested in ancient ruins well worth the look. We spent a few hours here and shopped for some souvenirs at one of the many shops before returning to the centre of the city.
We then went in hunt of an internet café and managed to find one when a local helped us out. I then noted that the locals in Heraklion were friendly. They gave me the impression they appreciate that the tourists are what makes their businesses viable. Pity that can’t be said of all of them. Anyway we work out our bus for getting back to our hotel. I found it easy to work them out so if you head to Crete and are a little apprehensive, don’t worry and ask. Someone should help you out.
Unfortunately Shkira works in Rome and has to make her way back there so she is on the ferry back to Athens tonight. I’m still under the weather so hit the hay for a good night’s sleep after having a Skype call from my mentor. Next morning I take a big walk for a few kilometres down the road I am on which more or less runs along the beach and then catch a bus into the centre of the city to have another explore. The following day I catch the bus direct to the airport which I could catch right outside the hotel. I fly back to London instead of going to Italy which I had intended. I simply feel too sick and still have the flu. No sense in travelling while unwell.
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Sorry I have been so long in getting this next lot done. Health issues and I shoulder injury have slowed me down somewhat.
WHERE THE HELL IS KODAK
Everyday we go for a drive to somewhere different and most nights sit on the roof of their house and have a BBQ and beers. After 3 days of this and getting to bed at 4am in the night We had one day where we all slept in. The heat meanwhile was relentless. At least in Tulum I had the beach.
I had spotted a cemetery earlier in the week from a hill we went up so Rogelio, Tere and I went for a look here. Wow it was massive and beautiful. There where complete buildings like little churches which whole families were laid to rest. Very elaborate and like nothing I have seen before. There were empty holes all over the place. When I asked Rogelio why he explained that if the gravesite had been unattended for a long period of time then they assumed all family members had past on and so as to have more room would remove all the coffins and do whatever with them. Excatly what he was unsure. In Mexico they bury up to 5 or even 6 family members on top of each other. Learn something every day don’t you. This is unheard of in NZ.
Meanwhile back at the house Rogelios pup has been to the vet several times and I think he is going to die. It was awful to see this and we all kept an eye on him. He had in a drip and didn’t move much all day. It was so hot and I didn’t like this at all. Having grown up on a farm I don’t like seeing sick animals. Rogelio also has a pet iguana. I do not like lizards and creepy crawlies and this iguana hates me in return. I am sitting downstairs on the laptop and Rogelio comes down and says ‘ I see you have made a friend’. I of course ask what he is talking about only to be told that the iguana is behind me. I didn’t believe him as they would shut Omar’s door everyday so it couldn’t come near me. I am sitting at the table right at the bottom of the stairs and there is no way it would have gotten past me without me seeing it. Oh want a bet!! I turn around and this thing is looking at me. I got up to move over to the couch and this iguana starts straight for me. I was up on the table, jumped on to the couch and over the back of it in a matter of a second. And this damned iguana is trying to climb on the couch. Rogelio had to get in the middle of this like a referee. I let them know in no uncertain terms that I was not happy. They all had a good laugh about this. Mind you it must have looked hilarious. Don’t think I have moved that quick in years and I will admit it is funny now.
Another day we went driving south of the city and call in and have lunch at a huge open restaurant. This is where I have the opportunity to try ‘bulls balls’. I decline this one, but Tere got them. She likes them but looking at them was enough for me. Not my cup of tea. After several more days and driving here and there to see all manner of things I realise that I have been here for two weeks. I book a ticket for LA as I have already booked a 2 week stay in a small place in Montana and need to start working my way up to Seattle in order to get to Montana.
On a brilliant hot day I fly out to LA. Now when you come into Mexico you are given a piece of paper when they hand your passport back to you at immigration. You have to go to a bank and pay a fee. This is like a departure fee but you cannot pay for this at the airport when you are leaving so make sure to do this before heading to the airport. I had to go through a health check also because of the swine flu. Thankfully I had stopped coughing by now.
I stayed at the same hostel in LA. As always there is a good group of people from all over the world. I team up with a young kiwi couple that have been holidaying in Mexico. Off to the transit centre and on the bus to Venice Beach. I love the stalls, shops, resturants and bars here. This time I buy myself a pair of ugg boots. I think these should get some good use in Montana and Calgary. We spent most of the day here and I got separated from my new friends and hoped that they could find the right bus to get back. They did. I have found that you can ask people in the street for info and they are only too willing to help.
This time in LA I also decide its time to get a USA prepay cellphone. If you are going to spend time in the USA and also go to Canada and Mexico you can get a phone from Tmobile and use it in all 3 countries. You will need to top it up in the US before hand and the number will be valid for a year with free calling minutes being added each time.
There are all manner of things to do in LA. Here are but a few, The California Science Center, the Getty Museum and Getty Villa all of which are free admission. Don’t forget the Griffith Observatory and Hollywood Bowl Museum. You can go to free tapings of sitcoms and even get tickets to Dr Phil. This website is full of info; http://gocalifornia.about.com/od/calamenu/a/free.htm
From this point on I will have to use free images from google as months later in Spain my camera was stolen and I hadn’t downloaded to my laptop. I mistake I wont make again.
And so onto my next destination after another 3 days in LA. I catch a flight up to San Fran for a one night stay and then catch a bus the next day to Santa Cruz. This is a small university town 3 hours on the bus south of San Fran. I have come here to see one thing. Mystery Spot. A young English girl from London is at the hostel and she didn’t even know about mystery spot so she joined me for a trip out there. You have to take a taxi now to get there as a bus no longer does this run. Its only about 5 minutes. Mystery spot is a small area where there are anomalies in the earths gravity. All aircraft know about this area as when they fly over it makes their instruments go a little crazy. And this place plays with your head. The logical part of your brain cant absorb what your eyes are seeing. Two things that really stood out are this ball hanging from a chain. To push it away from you is really easy and you can do it with one hand, but then try to pull it into your chest and you have to use both hands and really pull hard. The other was our guide stood in the middle of a couple on a level piece of concrete (he had a spirit level to show us). The girl was shorter than her partner, she at 5ft 6, he at 6ft. When she stood to the left of the guide she looked about 5ft tops. When she swapped with her husband she could see over his head. Yep, no bull, she could look over her husbands head. I still shake my head because the brain is still saying its not possible yet I did see it with my own eyes. I have told people all over the world about this. It just plain plays with the mind. Well mine anyway. http://www.mysteryspot.com/parking.shtml
In the afternoon Rebecca and I go to the small amusement park that is next to the sea. Its only small but there are roller-coasters so I am a happy person. They also have the one where they haul you up and drop you out of the sky, YES!. I absolutely love being dropped from a height in these things. The entry fee to get in gives you access to all the rides all day, as many times as you can handle. Think I went on everything 5 or 6 times. On the last ride we decided to take I had my head whipped back on one of the corners. I knew the corner was there, saw it coming and missed it anyway. Oh boy did I get whiplashed a real beaut. Sore, no sleep that night, on the painkillers and wondering how am I going to get this treated. Feeling sorry for myself the next morning I walk the short distance into town and go to the library to catch up on emails. I have been booked, by my friend in London, and accepted for another Vaunghtown in Spain. With a date finalised I start thinking of the date I will book my flight out of New York a few weeks down the track.
I catch the bus into San Jose. The bus driver drops me in the centre of the city and from there I catch a tram to a transistion point out near the airport where there is another bus that’s takes you to the airport. Another easy and trouble free way to get there. I am on a flight to Seattle and don’t end up getting to my hostel until 11pm. We had to wait nearly an hour for the airport bus. I ended up talking with two American ladies that where here to catch a cruise to Alaska. Must do that myself one day.
My hostel, The Green Tortoise, is over the road from the Farmers Market, also known as Pike Place Market. This is where the guys at the fish shop are well known for throwing the fish to each other. There is all manner of shops here not just farm produce and it will take you lots of time to have a look at it all. In the afternoon I did a hop-on-hop-off city bus tour. If you are having several days here there are numerous points of interest which include Pioneer Square, Myrtle Edwards Park, Seattle Art Museum, Seattle Aquarium, Seattle Public Library, Seattle Waterfall Garden, Smith Tower Observation Deck, Space Needle Observation Deck, Aurora Bridge Troll, and the Museum of Flight. This is only a few. Seattle certainly has a lot of things to see and for you to do. There are also 4 national parks in close proximity, and state parks.
That night I was on a bus again at 11pm. Oh I don’t like the Greyhound bus in the US, well not in the state of Washington anyway. Cramped and hard and don’t recline very much. We had a stop somewhere in the wee small hours of the morning and this was a welcome stretch. The breakfast stop was around 8am and I cant tell you where that was. I took photos of the town signs and was going to use them as a reference when writing this up but of course I don’t have those photos. It is 1-00pm when I finally roll into Butte in the state of Montana. I now have a 5 ½ hour wait for my connecting bus.
At 7pm the bus pulls into the place that I am going to be for the next 12 days. The bus driver doesn’t want me to get off the bus as he thinks I am totally in the wrong place. The population is around 260. Where am I?
Basin, Montana. Middle of nowhere, a restaurant, a pub, post office and school. That about sums it up and just why am I here? I am going to the Merrywidow Radon Mine. I read about the radon mines in a national geographic magazine while I was house-sitting for friends in England. I have suffered from severe migraines since the age of 19 and I am hoping that breathing in this gas is going to give me a helping hand as it has done for some people. People and animals come here for all manner of ailments and from all corners of the globe.
My first night I go to the restaurant and bar. Best way to meet the locals and I am not even a one minute walk from my cabin. There is a RV park down the road and a cabin park in the village for people to stay in when they come here. Basin is an artists retreat and between the mine and artist coming here that is pretty much the only reason people do come. The next night in the bar I met a guy, Rob, who took me up behind the town on a quad bike. What a fantastic view. Absolutely gutted now that my camera was stolen. I got, or should I say, had some great photos.
My mine visit is good. You just sit there for an hour talking to the other people or read a book. There are some couples from Canada but mostly from USA. We have some bus loads from Japan come through to. I spent a lot of time reading all the names on the walls. Had to put mine up there of course. Most folks with arthritis would soak their hands, elbows and feet in the water. I didn’t. I hate the cold and its cold in the mine and the water is more cold. Be a good place if you had a hangover on a hot day. Everytime you leave the mine you fill your water bottles with the water so you could drink it all day as it has the gas in it to. I visit the mine twice a day like everyone else and after the first day I have offers of a ride both morning and afternoon because the mine is 1mile or so from the village. At the RV campground is laundry facilities and internet connection. An employee of the mine took me into Boulder to do some grocery shopping but I didn’t end up eating dinner at my cabin very much as I got invitations to eat with some of the locals and their families.
One day I am sitting at the table in the mine and pick up this puzzle that is made of 2 pieces of inter- twined wire. As most of the people that are currently here have been visiting for many years running, they all pipe up and tell me I might as well forget about try to get this solved. No-one has managed to do it in years. All you have to do is separate it into 2 pieces. Looking at it it looks like there is no way I can be done. After a half hour of fiddling it suddenly parts. It was almost like a standing ovation. Then of course the bet was on that I couldn’t do it again. Someone put it back together again so I couldn’t see how it was done and the next morning I set to solving it again. And yet again I got it out. This almost made me famous. Everyone that came into the cave was then told about how Ingrid got the puzzle separated. Actually it happened 3 times all up but I don’t really know how I did it, just luck I think.
This whole time here I am suffering from the whiplash I had managed to get in Santa Cruz. I end up going to Rob and Echo’s for dinner 5 nights and have met some fascinating people from all over the US and Canada. One couple, Mary and Herbie from California were the biggest characters I have ever met. They had everyone in stitches of laughter all the time. When it came time to go, luck was on my side again as a couple from Edmonton were going home the same day and I hitched a ride through the vastness of Montana to Calgary, Alberta, Canada, to visit my great aunty again. I have now been to the state of Montana in the USA.
My great aunt has moved and is no longer in the centre of the city. The next day after instructions on buses and their numbers I am in the centre of Calgary seeing a chiropractor. Oh the relief by that night was so good. Because it is so bad I visit the next day to. I have heard from Spain and have my volunteer week sorted out so book my flight out of New York for Madrid. I post a parcel to myself in London but put New Zealand as the return address. This as it turns out this was a good idea. Calgary, like in Basin, is a lot warmer than I thought it was going to be at this time of year so I put my ugg boots in the parcel to.
I hear from my friend, Marc, (I met him in Ecuador) and get his phone number and instructions on which train to catch in New York to visit him in Williamstown, Massachusetts. I spend most of my time in Calgary talking with my aunt. As like last time I don’t know when I will be next seeing her and every moment is precious.
So after 2 visits to the chiropractor, a flower show, shopping, and meeting new people and going to different places, I am on a flight again and off to New York, albeit the long way round. Yep I had to fly to San Francisco and catch a flight onto NY. After landing in NY I catch a shuttle to Grand Central Station and get a train to Wassaic. Marc was to tell me later that Boston is closer. At least I know for next time. Marc is there is pick me up and then it’s an hour or so drive to his place only a few miles out of Williamstown. I immediately like where he lives. In the country with bush all around. Some days he even has bears outside his door. I have my first opportunity to check out Williamstown the next day. You don’t really know the place is there until you are right in the centre. It very spaced out with trees everywhere and huge lawns and not very many fences between houses. Very scenic and I can picture it in the autumn when the tree leaves change to golds, yellow and orange. There are lots of specialty shops, restaurants, and historic places.
As my neck is still a little tight and Marc owns a spa he has kindly shouted me a spa and massage. Beautiful setting for his business overlooking a river. Marc has also said we will visit the local Museum of Art. Now I’m not normally a huge fan of museums unless they are about ancient history like in Peru, Colombia…etc, but this museum was brilliant. Yes brilliant and when I say something like that about a modern museum and art none the less, then you can be assured that it is worth a visit. Wow, I love this museum. Williamstown has the prestigious Williams College so is a student town and very popular. I can see why. It’s a beautiful corner of the USA that I hope to visit again. Having my own personal guide is great. Marc takes me about to all places of interest and I must say big THANK-YOU Marc. Sadly I don’t have any photos from here. (Stolen camera) but this is the best excuse to return another time.
A short walk through a small wooded area from Marc’s house is a small lake. Each year the beavers dam it up. I didn’t see any but would have loved to. Have never seen any, not even in a zoo. I would take Marc’s dog for a walk down here is she would come. Marc at this time can’t walk too far and very slowly as he is waiting to have both knees operated on.
A few days later Marc has a friend heading to New York, so I wave my good-bye and catch a ride to the Big Apple’ with her. Great drive to NY, with a stop on the way at a huge supermarket/hardware store. God I wish I had my photos of all this.
http://williamstownchamber.com/ This is a very informative website about Williamstown.
So back in New York and I have the worst hostel ever. The one I stayed last year in Spanish Harlem is no longer there and the one I have picked is playing musical beds with everyone as they have no idea how to work the booking system on the internet. After the 3rd night of being made to move bed I put my foot down and refuse to move beds again.
I set off for Times Square and a day out in the thick of it all in the centre of NY. The traffic has been blocked off from going straight through the centre of Times Square and there is seating out for everyone. I get a coffee, find a table and sit for hours watching people. I find people watching a great pastime. Watch and wonder at what their story is, where they come from, where they are going…..where I am still going….. A visit to Ground Zero leaves me a little disappointed. I, for some reason, thought that there would be a big difference to the site. I took lots of photos and can’t wait to compare the progress to the year before. (I don’t get to do this though). It’s not as far ahead as I imagined it would be. I will try to return the following year and take another heap of photos.
Spanish Harlem is a better place to shop for family and friends and so on the train and up to 169th street. I don’t even have to work out which stop as I can remember it well from the year before. I spend the whole day here. Try a little Spanish, food, sunshine, laughs with shop owners…..great day.
Because I had enjoyed the art museum so much in Williamstown I set to the next few days visiting art galleries and museums. I have now got a thing about going to them. Yes my horizons are expanding. Who would have guessed? Instead of prattling on just follow this link and set yourself a goal of seeing all you can when in NY. http://www.nycgo.com/must-see-nyc/
I do more shopping, post off parcels and spend more time in Central Park. C.P. is another place I like to wonder and take photos. Even though I don’t particularly like the cold I think I would love to visit NY in the winter and have another try at ice skating.
Before too long I am on another plane and heading to Madrid, Spain for my volunteer week. I fly with Jetairways. This is an airline of India. Very nice indeed. You have the choice of Bollywood or Hollywood movies. Sorry I chose Hollywood, I just can’t do Bollywood myself. You have a choice of Indian or Western food also. Love Indian so that was an easy choice also.
I fly into Brussels for my change and flight onto Madrid. I have an hour up my sleeve for the changeover. What I didn’t know was that I had to go through immigration here for my entry into Europe. Oh god, there are over a 1000 people and 10 lines at immigration. I don’t panic (never do) and after getting through here head down the terminal and turn the corner for security check. Oh no!!! There has to be 2000 people here. I figure by the time I get through here my connection is going to be long gone and so I resign myself to the fact that I will have to organise another flight. I finally get through and look at my watch for the first time since flying in. 20 minutes late. Up the stairs, go to my gate…yep aint nobody here. I decide to look at the board and find that my onward boarding pass has a different gate number on it so I head to the gate which is posted on the big departures screen. When I walked around the corner at pace and heard a ‘Mrs Baker’. To my relief they have held the plane for me. You can imagine how red I went when I walked on the plane. Someone let out a ‘here she is’. Embarrassing!!
In Madrid finally.
Been a long 24 hours from when I got out of bed. And it’s not over. My backpack has been left behind in Brussels. At baggage claim they offer to send my backpack to me the following day. Hell no!! I have been up since 6.30am New York time and not flown out till 4.30pm from there, had 11 hours flying to get here, and only have the clothes I’m standing in, no toiletries as you can’t take them through security, and you think I am going to wait till tomorrow for my bag. Not likely mate. I get a piece of paper which will allow me to come back through to baggage claim and catch the train to my hostel to get some sleep. It takes an hour to get to Al Centro. I get booked in and catch 4 hours sleep before taking the hour back to the airport, get my bag and take the hour on the train back to my hostel. I’m knackered!!
And so to the next day and I set about to find the LAN office in Madrid. After the mess up on Easter Island, LAN Airlines had still not credited my credit card with the compensation money they said they would. After a Google search and address found, I head out the door. It was actually easy to find. I ended up having a 10 minute conversation with the receptionist at the front desk. He was so interested in why a New Zealander is in the LAN office of Madrid. I keep thinking you have no idea the places I have ended up. I have the travel bug well and truly.
I head to the streets and see what I can. The palace is not far from where I am staying and I like this area. Love to just sit in the park and think about where to next. Today I am thinking about where the hell Kodak is. Damn him not being here.
It’s time to head to the airport again. Do you think I like trains? I love the underground trains. I find them the easiest and most convenient way to get about the biggest cities in the world. God bless the person who thought these up. This time I am at the airport to meet my friend from London whom I met the year earlier when we did the volunteer week. Absolutely great to see her again. That night we attend the evening where all the teachers are introduced to each other. As like the previous year we have a great mix of people from Ireland, UK, USA, Canada, Switzerland, Australia and myself. Unlike the year before we don’t go to a local bar and get happy and crawl to bed at the wee hours.
I meet me friend by 7am and get the train to a restaurant that is open for us to have breakfast before taking the short walk to our bus. After some quick introductions we are on the bus to Burgos. This time it’s somewhat different to the last as it is only June. A lot warmer and in a city this time. If it’s anything like last time this will be another memorable week.
The hotel is very nice and really spacious. We are right in the middle of Burgos and it’s great for us as we have an hour with each person and can go walking anywhere we like so long as we are back on time. One of the Spanish gentlemen is from Burgos originally so I learnt all about, and saw, the place where he did his training for the Spanish Navy. Over the following days we all get to see a lot of Burgos and spend nights laughing at a bar only 4 buildings down from our hotel. Think this was just a little to close but the bar owner loved it. Never had so much business in one week.
My friend from London has also volunteered me to do the Haka. She has kindly said she will join in. A Pom doing the haka. This is going to be good! We have our schedules changed so we have time to learn it. OMG, haven’t laughed so hard in ages. Another Pommy guy, unbeknown to us, video’s us practising. It’s on Facebook. What a nightmare trying to learn this. Trying to teach a Pom how to pronounce Maori words is hard enough but when it came to the actions she just didn’t have the natural hand shaking movements.
Anyway the big night comes and most of us have a skit to do. No-one has any idea what everyone else is doing so when I started the Haka off you should have seen their faces. The All Blacks would have loved the frightened looks. God am I that fierce. Nah – not really! Some of the scared looks will stay ingrained in my mind forever.
The week at Burgos was just as many laughs as the year before and comes to an end all too quickly. I have met some exceptional Spaniards, had some great laughs, taught the haka to a Pom and seen the city of Burgos. I am now so pissed at not having any photos from this week and only a few that I have grabbed on Facebook from friends.
Back in Madrid a week later my friend and I meet up with Castor, a fireman, and his wife Esmeralda and some of the others from our week in Burgos, and go to dinner. It’s great having people that know the best tapas bars in Madrid.
The following morning I hop on the train with my friend and go to see her off at the airport. She’s going back to London and I am waiting to hear from a girlfriend as to when she gets into Barcelona. Her and another friend from New Zealand have been doing a tour which started in Rome and few weeks ago and they are about to get to Spain. In the meantime the LAN office have emailed so its back there to see them. They have sorted everything out and my money has gone onto my credit card and I sign off to confirm everything, have a chat with a new friend at the front desk and on the train again back to the hostel.
Two days later and I’m on the train to Barcelona. I love these trains. We hit 305kmph and you can still take brilliant photos out the window. I get into Barcelona and work out what trains to take on the underground and get on. I have a change to a different line and at one of the stops all these people get on. Having read that this city is notorious for pick-pockets I have one hand firmly planted across my bag that I have on the front of me with me other smaller bag underneath it. When we pulled into one of the stops I had to steady myself like everyone else. Well as it turned out not everyone else because in those 3-4 seconds my bag that is right next to my body has had some ass…… bloody fingers in it. My camera, world-wide roaming phone and some cash are gone. Thankfully I still have my credit card and passport. Boy are they good. They are quick and they had to go under my other bag and undo the zip from the side then slide it up and over. Because of the size of my camera and its being in a case and the small size of my bag that it’s in, they had to open it fully to get it out. As was pointed out to my later, at least they didn’t beat me up for it, and although I am missing close to 4000 photos it’s the phone numbers that I will never be able to get again that gets up my nose more.
So I get booked into my hostel, find out where the Police station is and head off for there. This involves getting back on the underground again, and heading back to more or less where I had come from. I find it after a bit of hunting around and go in. The place is full of tourists that have been robbed. I sit and wait my turn and have these 2 Finnish girls tell me how they got one of their wallets. She was paying the lady for her purchases and her friend was standing beside her. She had her hand over the top of her purse, but not resting on it and when she went to place her change in her wallet it was gone. So a hard lesson to learn. I had all my bags padlocked and even with my small bag under another and they still got in. My advice would be to wear a money belt and tuck your shirt into your pants. Might be uncomfortable and look hideous but beats losing money, phones, credit cards….etc. Or have it round your neck and down your front, under your clothing. Girls have the advantage of being able to put money in their bra. I say ‘do it’. I didn’t sleep that night I was so pissed at myself.
I warn a French girl the next morning about how good they are and tell her to lock her small backpack that she is taking with her that day. She follows my advice and just puts some tissue paper in the outside pocket which cannot be locked. On her return that evening she tells me how she is walking down the street and had this feeling that someone is behind her. She turns around to a guy that is right up behind her. He takes off and on looking at her bag finds there is no tissue paper left in it. She was a bit shaken at the fact she hadn’t even known he had come up behind her. Welcome to the Barcelona pick-pockets. And no, not a damned thing can be done about it. The thought crosses my mind that I would love to fill it with s___ and let them go for it!!
Next morning I am into the centre of the city to meet my friend. She is enjoying her first time in Europe. We set off down the street and decided that where we ended up is where we end up. No rush to go anywhere. Barcelona is full of some majestic old historic buildings. I must get some photos from her. And where we ended up was right down at the waterfront and wharf. Nice area down here. Barcelona is of course packed with people from all over the world. Well that’s what makes it a pick-pockets heaven. As, like in all major cities of the world, the centre has so much for you to look at and it’s hard not to shop.
The hostel I am staying in is only a short walk to the beach so Cynthia and Michelle come and join me for an afternoon in the sun. As we put our towels out and get set to relax Michelle notices that it’s a topless beach. On having a better look around we realise that over to our right is nude bathing. We are on the topless side of a narrow ditch in the sand. Now I’m not a prude but I don’t want anyone else but the man in my life seeing what’s under the covers – so to speak, so my bikini stayed on. Oh the random places and situations I find myself. The thingy’s in Argentina that hopped on the bus in the middle of nowhere popped into my mind. I have some wicked memories in this head of mine.
Another day then I am on the train to Valencia. I will meet Cyn and Michelle there. They are on one of those ‘hop-on-hop-off’ bus tours. They go from city to city and can decide how long to stay in each city before catching the next bus on. I am not sure which company they were with but here is a link to one of the many sites that specialize in this; http://www.busabout.com/
I didn’t get into Valencia till evening so leave it till the next day before catching up with Cyn and Michelle. We walk to the Oceangrafico. We take the long way which is by walking an old riverbed that now has been turned into a huge park like area. People walk their dogs, there was a group doing dog obedience, tai chi, Mums and Dads with their children, etc. It took 2 hours or more. But you have a ‘wow’ moment when you get to the Oceangrafico. The Oceanogràfic of the City of Arts and Sciences is the largest aquarium in Europe and is one great place to spend the day. We stayed all afternoon and caught the Orca Whale show. I am not particularly in favour of the oceans whales and dolphins being in captivity but at the same time did enjoy watching it. Call me a hypocrite if you like. I look at it this way – it won’t be until everyone in the world just stops going to these aquariums that they will close down. So while they are there I will go. To date I have only been to this one. The oceangrafico is not the only building of interest here. Have a look at this website. The architecture of these buildings are spectacular, let alone what’s inside. http://www.cac.es/oceanografic/
Next day it’s shopping and looking about in the original old city of Valencia. I am cursing again about not having my camera and have made the decision to purchase a new one when I get to Tenerife in the Canary Islands. I am hoping it will be cheaper there. Cyn and Michelle are staying at a hotel so the afternoon was spent lazing at the rooftop pool. It’s late June and as hot as hell.
Cynthia and Michelle are on the bus to Madrid so I am on the train. I haven’t even bothered to find out the cost of going by bus to Madrid. I don’t want to sit for hours and the trains are so fast and comfortable. The scenery in Spain tends to be the same everywhere unless you are going down the coast. After getting into Madrid I book my flight and hostel to Tenerife. Then it’s out the door and meet Cyn and Michelle and go to Al Centro and show them what is where. I have been here so many times that I know all the places – sort of – I usually discover more. The next day I leave Cyn and Michelle to go through the palace while I lie out on the grass opposite and people watch.
Cynthia and Michelle are here for a few days so we hang out together until the day they are leaving and moving onto Burgos. I hit the underground and head for the airport only to find my flight booking has not gone through. I have received my confirmation email and after a trip back to the hostel and on the net to check my credit card, the payment has not gone through. I rebook my flight and ring the hostel. Let’s hope all is well tomorrow.
I am on my way to Tenerife. I couldn’t rebook to fly into the southern airport so I am flying into the north. After a short wait I catch the right bus and go to the main bus station where I have a 4 hour wait for a bus to the south. Tenerife is the same as Gran Canaria but I don’t mind that. I’m here for some sun and relaxation. Being in Madrid is like being in an oven, and you can’t escape to a beach. Time in the heat tends to go slow so it’s a relief to get on an air-conditioned bus. It doesn’t seem to long and I am in Costa del Silencio. I had read the instructions on the hotel website on which bus stop to get off and have a short walk to my hotel. I like this hotel. They double as a place for backpackers and have a small supermarket on site and 3 swimming pools to choose from. There are plenty of families and backpackers here so being the talkative person I am this suits me down to the ground.
The first morning I go walking to the local shopping area. Had to do some shopping of course. I have room in my bag as I left a small bag at the hostel in Madrid. I check out all the shops that sell cameras and decide on getting the same I had before. I like the Sony Cybershot but this one has a different battery charger so have to get the whole works and purchase a battery. I spend a day in Playa de las Americas.
The pool, sun, and conversation occupies most of my time, along with the hotel cat that has latched onto me. I get some reading done and think about where to next before I head to London to meet up with Cynthia again. That is going to be Morocco. Another three days in the sun and walking everywhere in Las Galletas and taking the bus to here and everywhere has let me charge the inner battery so I am on a flight back to Madrid. I only have to get a taxi to the airport as I am flying out of the south.
The south airport of Tenerife is Aeropuerto de Tenerife Sur and the north is Norte. Tenerife is actually the most popular of the Canary Islands. Don’t forget that on the island of there are the Pyramids of Gumar, Teide Volcano and Loro Park which has a tropical garden and dolphinarium. This park has the largest parrot collection in the world and has a parrot show. http://www.abouttenerife.com/
Auckland, New Zealand. I fly in at the worst time possible – 2.30am. I have hours to wait so settle on the floor and try to sleep. That didn’t really work and after a breakfast coffee, walk the short distance to the domestic terminal for another hour long flight to Palmerston North. I land and get into the terminal to find my kids aren’t even there. Just as I get my bags off the carousel they come flying in the door out of breathe. A few tears later we are on the way to my Mum and Dad’s for breakfast. They are only 12 minutes from the airport. It seems so unreal that I have been gone for 11months.
My first night home and I end up going to a Katchafire concert. This is a well known band in NZ and my daughter has brought tickets for both of us. What the hell, might as well. At the end of the night some people took our taxi and we had to walk home. When I got to bed the next morning I had now been awake for 48 hours. 24 hours in bed saw me right as rain again and 2 nights later I was at another concert. I am either going to drop dead from lack of sleep or my ears will burst from all the noise they are having to endure.
5 days later it is Christmas day. What a year and oh how fast it went. But I haven’t finished yet. My daughter has been thinking that she wants to know what all this backpacking is about and so on Dec 29 we hop in her car and head to Napier for our first night. Being the summer here in NZ the hostel has lots of overseas people to talk with.
The following morning we set off for Tokomaru Bay, north of Gisborne. The weather is great and after a stop in Gisborne for lunch we continue on. Gisborne is a popular town and area for holiday makers, New Zealanders and overseas visitors. Has some beaut beaches and is well known for its surfing. Tokomaru Bay is a small community, but like all the bays along and up in this East Coast area of NZ, it has a long and inviting beach. The hostel we are staying in is ‘Footprints in the Sand’. Sean, who owns the hostel, is a real people person and so much fun. Wicked sense of humour and just a super guy. There are two backpackers here that my daughter and I immediately hit it off with. Mike, from the Netherlands and Sarah, from Germany. Mike and I got talking about our travels and it turned out he had done South America. He had also met ‘Mike on a bike’. This guy I had also met when I did the Galapagos Islands. Small world.
Seeing as it is New Year’s Eve my daughter and I invite Sarah and Mike to come along with us to the local pub to see the New Year in. There is a big crowd of people and a band playing. After midnight rolled about I finish my drink and decide to leave the young ones to it. My daughter was to meet a nice guy who lived locally and Mike, Sarah and my daughter were invited back to his place with his mates to continue the celebrations. They got back about 4 in the morning. Mike and Sarah talked about it the next day. They were absolutely stoked at having been invited and made to feel like they had known everyone there for years. Best way to get to know what NZ families are like. I’m so glad they enjoyed themselves.
While we were up this way my daughter and I went to Tolaga Bay to visit her ancestor’s grave sites. Her family, on her father’s side, comes from this region. Next we also visit a cousin of hers who has always lived in Toko. (Toko so short for Tokomaru Bay and how we refer to it). Most of the bays of the East Coast have wharfs as in the 30s, 40s, and 50s ships called in at all the bays to off load produce and collect the wool. When refrigerated ships came in they also took the meat. Toko and Tolaga Bays still have the old wharfs standing. I find this a beautiful part of New Zealand and so full of history that you can still see.
As my daughter works full-time and doesn’t have very long off work on New Year’s we hit the road again. We call in at an uncle’s place along the way but he is not home. We push on and turn off at Te Araroa to go to the East Cape lighthouse. This is a long drive and on a metal, stone road. Surprising enough there are a lot of people out here. We then go west and come to the region of Bay of Plenty. We have planned to stay at one of the hostels or campgrounds over this way and have not booked ahead. Big mistake! Everything is totally booked out so we have to keep going. Close to 10pm we pull into Opotiki. I know there is a hostel in the main street so we just drive down there until we find it. There is a balcony with people sitting outside so I yell out to see if they have any beds left. Thank god they do and we are told about a car park around the corner where we can leave the car.
Sean, from Borneo, runs the hostel. On inquiring as to whether there might be some place where we can get a feed he says no they are all closed, he then magically appears with some traditional Borneo food. Wow it was good. He explained what was in it, how it’s prepared and cooked. My daughter and I thoroughly enjoyed. We also find out that he is running one of the local antique shops which you can actually see from the hostel. This poor guy runs around between the two like an idiot all day. He didn’t look absolutely exhausted either.
The next day we have a quick look around Opotiki and hit the road. We have hours on the road before getting to our next destination of Ohingaiti. Some of my daughter’s uncles, aunts and cousins are over from Perth. They all originally come from this country area in NZ, as do I. My kids were brought up on a farm here until my separation. Tonight it is drink, eat, talk and be happy as tomorrow we head back home to Levin. Later in the month the whole family, (on my side) were to go to Thames for my grandmothers 90th birthday. Now I can see your mind ticking over – yes there are 5 generations in my family.
After getting pressure from my granddaughter to stay in NZ for my birthday at least I figure I might as well and then will decide on where I might head off to next. I have a load of options of course, but after much thought reckon I have to go to a place I have been so intrigued with since I first saw anything of this place. Where might that be?
So I am packed and ready for the next adventure. Ok, so right now I am going to have a bitch. Where the Hell is Kodak? My granddaughter had lost him. We did a hunt through her room and couldn’t find him. I am leaving NZ in a bad mood because of this. When I first got back she was bathing him every day, sometimes twice, doing his hair, talking with him, carting him about and now he is nowhere to be seen. Yes I’m angry. No I will revise that, – I’m pissed off big time. My daughter is angry with her to. Now it might seem silly to some people, but everyone was getting used to and enjoying getting photos sent back to them showing where Kodak was in the world. I could have at this point, led everyone on, but I’m not that sort of person. I will put some pics of him in until the point where I return to NZ and pick him up again, which I do when I am informed he is found.
Tahiti. Well no. To get to where I want to go I first need to fly here then I can get to….Easter Island.
So up to this point in my travels I had come to the conclusion that Aerolineas Argentinas was the worst airline I had been on. I now revise that opinion and have put Air Tahiti Nui at the top of the list. When the person in front of you reclined their seat you could more or less lean forward and kiss them. There is no leg room and the food was cold. Am not impressed with Qantas either.
Arriving in Papeete was another hitting the wall experience. God it was so hot and the humidity. The airport is totally open and there seemed to be no breeze at all. I am only here for 3 nights and then moving on. The heat and humidity got to me the first day and I just lazed about talking with the others. The next day was no better as it rained hard all day. The humidity is nothing like I experienced before and I am finding it so uncomfortable. Others at the hostel are very lethargic like myself. Next day I decide to do my laundry. All my clothing smells like B.O. After hanging it out I am off walking to the nearest beach. I am only about 150m in a straight line from the beach but there is no access because of family homes so up the road I go. The water is so clear and warm but the beach is stones and pebbles. Not the easiest to walk on. I spent most of the day here before going back. I checked my clothes and to be honest wasn’t surprised to find them wetter than when I hung them out. I have found on the whole that Tahiti is expensive and just plain HOT.
So off to the airport and onto Easter Island. When I get to the airport there are people standing around looking annoyed and not happy. Yep my flight has been cancelled. Well this is not a surprise at all. I am flying with LAN Chile. They have a reputation of poor service, flight cancellations and over booking. It doesn’t take long to figure out the flight has been cancelled as the plane would have been only 1/3rd full. Despite what they are telling us about a mechanical fault everyone comes to the same conclusion. Anyway I get to stay at the Sofitel Beach Resort for a night. Nice resort to.
After getting to the hotel, and having to go nuts at the receptionist before she would let any of us into the computer room, I send the appropriate emails and rebook my accommodation on Easter Island before finally getting to bed at 1.30am. Next thing my phone is ringing. It’s a lady from the USA and its 2.30am. Interesting call but not one I was expecting. Next morning its breakfast and a swim in the pool. Nice. Back to the airport late afternoon for my flight which didn’t leave until 7.45pm. This meant I didn’t get to Easter Island until 5am. I got hostel pick-up and hit the bed and slept till midday.
Easter Island is a fun island. Apart from the Moai statues that fascinate me, it’s like the wild wild west. The local guys ride into town and tie their horses up outside the bar and wonder on in. There are horses by the dozen and dogs. I wondered down to the wharf and was accompanied by 3 dogs the whole time. From here you can follow trails along the sea front and see some Moai up close. After doing this I walk the streets and find the local school and the museum.
After getting back to the main street in stop at a café for a coffee and start talking with an English couple who have come on a chartered Thomas Cook flight especially to see Easter Island. I accept an invite to dinner to see a traditionally island dance and to taste the local food. This was a great way to spend the evening.
Because of the extra night in Tahiti I am flying out tonight so hire a vehicle and set off to see all the different places where the Moai are on the island. Some of them are massive. Once you have been to this island you go away thinking how in gods name did the Rapanui people keep finding their way back here. It’s such a small dot in the ocean and the most isolated island on earth. When you go up the volcano this is really evident as you can literally see the whole island. The island also has many petroglyphs (rock carvings), wood carvings, tapa (barkcloth) crafts, tattooing, dance and music.
You can read more on this website and it also has a ton of other links; http://www.netaxs.com/~trance/rapanui.html
It doesn’t take much to cover the whole island as its only 16kms long and probably not that at its widest point. Now one thing that got me, and I have no idea why I hadn’t seen this before, but all the Moai face inward. I thought they looked out over the sea. There is only one exception. The statues at the site called Ahu Akivi. These are the only ones looking out to sea but I don’t know why. I should read up on that I know.
Anyway I loved being able to actually just go there and to see them for myself. They are mysterious and intriguing to say the least. Tourists are not allowed to get to close or to touch, but get this, the horses can rub up against them if they so wish. Yet another one of those things I don’t find logical. After zipping about the island and talking to myself the whole time and saying ‘drive on the wrong side, drive on the wrong side’ I went up the volcano. This is known as Rano Kau Crater. From here you look down into the old crater, look out to some islands that are pretty much huge rocks, and you look down on the airport and the whole town. You can see about 2/3rds of the island.
After driving most of the island, turning on the windscreen wipers instead of the indicator and grabbing the door handle to change gear about 50 times I go back to Anakena beach for a swim. It’s quite humid here also but not as bad as Tahiti. On the way back to return the vehicle I top it up with gas, return it and pick up my bags and get a taxi to the airport.
I am not flying onto Santiago, on mainland Chile. No, this time LAN has overbooked and I am one of eight who has missed out. The reputation they have is well deserved!!! So off to a hotel for the night. Nice place and not too far from the centre of town. All meals provided and a lovely comfortable bed. I rebook my hostel and send a message through to my airport shuttle service. I am using a shuttle service which my hostel has recommended as it is the best way to go and I will get dropped off at the hostel door.
Next morning I go to the LAN office to hand in a piece of paper and have my credit card credited with $US 300. This is compensation from LAN for the stuff up. I can’t help thinking that each year they must loose thousands as they are always stuffing up. Not my problem anyway. I then go walking down the main street and come across a farmers market. Man are their veges massive. Most of it is grown locally and I am told it is because of the exceptionally fertile soil that came about from the volcano when it erupted. When I was driving about, and especially in the centre of the island, you could see that the soil was very brown in colour. Much of the island is rolling and rocky. Later in the afternoon I set about getting some sun at the nearest bit of beach. On the way back to the hotel I have a dog join me. It’s a 20 minute walk and he sticks by me all the way. When we get to the hotel he stops and looks at me, I look back at him and tell him this is my stop, so he turns around and heads back the way we came. It was like he could read my mind.
I leave Easter Island on a lovely fine day for Santiago. I think the island is really fun and is an open air museum. I would revisit in a heartbeat. It is named in the 7 New Wonders of the World. Frankly I think it rates better than Stonehenge and should be the 8th Wonder of the World.
Santiago at this time of the year is sweltering hot but lucky for me the supermarket is not far away and stocking up with food is first on the list as per usual. There is a good mix of people from all over the world and good mix of ages.
Next morning I am off to ride a cable car so I can look down on the city. From the top of San Cristobal Hill, there are spectacular panoramic views of the city and skyscrapers. I then went into the main plaza which is Plaza de Armas. The square is surrounded by the Palacio de los Gobernadores, the Palacio de la Real Audiencia and the Municipalidad de Santiago. I stayed here for quite some time to do people watching. It’s a bit of a habit of mine to just sit and people watch and I find it relaxing. Santiago is fulled with cultural venues and art museums. Lots to keep you busy for a few days. The Pre-Colombian Art Museum showcases historic artefacts from the rich history of the area. They have artefacts from both Central and South America and includes textiles and ceramics, art and metalwork. There is also an on-site café and museum shop that sells reproductions of pieces displayed here. History buffs will thoroughly enjoy an afternoon here, especially on a Sunday when there is no entrance fee. Parque Intercomunal de la Reina covers an area of more than 110 hectares and is one of the biggest recreation parks in Santiago. I was to spend the next few days just looking at all the historic buildings and going to other places of interest.
One thing that I did miss, as I didn’t know about it, was the Worlds Largest Swimming Pool. Now how I missed this I don’t know but I now have a bet on with my friend Andrew as to who is going to be the first to get there. I’ll win that one!
Ok so I have seen enough of Santiago and I am now moving onto La Serena. I have a short walk to catch the Metro to the bus station and then catch a bus. It’s a 7hour drive to La Serena. North of Santiago it is like a desert and this is the start of the dry belt that runs all the way up into Peru. Evidently it is green south of the city. There isn’t much to see but the odd bit of green where a river (dry I might add) runs toward the Pacific. There is still a surprising amount of vineyards. I don’t get into La Serena till quite late so go to the supermarket and straight to bed. My head is starting to thump.
At the hostel is a young kiwi girl and we hit it off. We are both heading to San Pedro de Atacama and book our bus ticket before having an explore about. The next day we get a group of people together and catch a bus to the other side of the city to a large cross on a hill. It looks out over the city and down over the city’s stadium that hosted some of the games for the World Football Cup when it was held in Chile. You catch a lift up inside it and have a great view but it was so humid that my photos didn’t come out to well because of the haze. After more exploring we work out which bus to catch back to the hostel. Time seems to have gone fast and by 4.40pm Arianne and I are on a bus and heading to San Pedro. We don’t get there until 10am next day. The buses are comfortable and I slept surprising well.
San Pedro de Atacama is high up in the Andes and dry and hot. More backpackers had joined the bus along the way during the night and 6 of us go off together in search of accommodation. No need to book here as it is a major tourist destination with hostels and hotels everywhere. We have two French girls, a guy from the USA, a guy from Brazil and Arianne and I from New Zealand. We get a hostel and then off down the street to organise a tour guide. By afternoon we are walking about in Valle de Luna in amongst the salt valleys and then to Valle de Muerte. Then we go sand boarding. What a hoot. Never done this before and the first try I wasn’t really going anywhere so one of the guys put some wax on the board. Holy cow did I take off. Didn’t take long before I was eating sand and trying to shake it out of all my clothing. Fun though.
We are all up the next morning about 4.30 and into a vehicle and off on a long drive to a region where there are geysers. We are high up and it is cold with snow-capped mountains in every direction. I can now say I have seen the sun come up in the Andes in Chile. We have breakfast sitting in the middle of these geysers and watching them spurt water into the air. Our guide takes for a walkabout as each one goes off at a certain time like clockwork. We then have the opportunity to have a soak in a natural hot pool the size of a swimming pool. On our way back we then call into a place that you can’t even say is a village as there are only about 3 homes. This is a chance to have a coffee and walk in amongst some Lamas. There are natural small lakes up here and ducks that remind me of the little blue duck that I used to see as a kid on the farm dams.
After getting back to San Pedro our guide tells us to all get some rest as he reckons we will be really tired from the altitude. I felt fine and so Arianne and I get bus tickets and organise our bags before we all get picked up to go to Cejar Laguna. This is a salt lake. It is freezing. I hopped in, told the guys to take a photo quick and got out. Even the guys couldn’t stand it any longer than 2 minutes. And like all salt lakes there is no hope of drowning. You could sort of sit in it. Another first for me. Great!
By 8.45pm Arianne and I have said our goodbyes and are on the bus again. Arianne is stopping in Arica, which is on the coast and I am continuing on to La Paz, Bolivia. We don’t pull into Arica until 7am the next morning. I have only an hour to wait and I am on the bus to La Paz. I have breakfast and a conversation with a Chilean that speaks a little English before settling into my seat. The bus doesn’t have tinted windows so I am hoping to get some great photos. I am not disappointed.
The border crossing is fast for buses but I felt for the truck drivers. The line was well over a km long with probably over a 100 trucks waiting. I don’t pull into La Paz until 5pm and have a wicked headache. I put this down to the fact that I have gone from the Andes to sea level and back to 4000mtrs in just under 24 hours. Not the best thing and I hope I don’t have altitude sickness tomorrow.
Oh boy do I have altitude sickness. This is the first time I have had it. The previous year I didn’t get it at all the whole time in South America but I now know what it is all about. Don’t wish it upon anyone. I spent the whole day in bed. This, as you can imagine, annoyed the hell out of me.
It is the last day of March and really warm. I had thought it would be quite cool but I am in shorts and t-shirt like everyone else. Great weather. Anyway the next few days sees me shopping and visiting plazas, restaurants, and whatever else interests me that I didn’t get to see the last time I was here. It’s hard to describe but this place holds a grip on my heart and I would love to live here for a year at some stage. The English couple that I had dinner with when on Easter Island had also been here twice and planned on coming back again. They were like me. Loved the place but can’t quite put your finger on what it is that captures the heart.
This time around I can also book my flight out online. This was not possible last time but it is great to see Bolivia has caught up with online booking. It is 3rd world but there is no lack of internet cafes and people with cell phones. At the hostel is a young Australian guy who has gotten some work teaching English each morning for 2 weeks. He is in quite the panic until I put his mind to rest. He didn’t really know and what to expect. If you find yourself wanting to do the same thing then go for it. It is easy because if you have not done it before they will give you an advanced class and all teaching materials are provided.
On my day to fly out I am going to Bogota, Colombia. I am catching up with Manu and Fabi whom I meet in Cartagena the year before. I promised I would come and visit them and I keep my promises. It is a lot cooler in Bogota. Manu and I have been keeping in touch through email and it is a relief when he walks into the hostel at 4pm. He is such a nice guy. We promptly head into the main street of the city. Bogota is clean and has over 7 million residents. It is spread out over a large area to. There is a lot happening at night and a parade of some sort happening not far from my hostel so Manu and I spent so time watching this. There are lots of students in this area where I am because of a university. There are even film crews on the roof on the other side of the street from my hostel. The hostel itself. Well… let’s just say I have found the hardest beds on my travels. Ouch, but the rest of it is fine and the people running it are very nice.
I was going to be staying with my friends but they are both without work and have had to move in with Fabi’s parents. Manu turns up the next day with Fabi’s dads car and we go to their place to pick up Fabi, her dad and her daughter Julie. We are off to the south and into the farming area. I sure do appreciate having friends here. There is a lake, Embalse Del Muna. Unfortunately it is where all the city sewage goes and then further on there is a huge waterfall which it goes pounding over and you end up getting this black disgusting smelly mist spray all over you. Its disappointing that it is like this. It is 30 kms out from the city. The falls are 132 metres high and covered in cloud so I have no photos but can still hear the noise.
We then worked our way down the valley. There are little villages along the way and we stopped at one point to have these traditional pancake like things. I can remember what they are called but they are YUM. I haven’t tasted anything that I can compare them to and must say that I am looking forward to having them again. After driving on further we then stop for traditional Colombian lunch. I love their food. It is mouth-watering. Different to anything else and just plain tasty.
We end the day by going to a farm where you can pick your own strawberries. After returning to the family home I pulled out gifts for my friends. They are now all sporting kiwi t-shirts and Maori greenstone necklaces. I thank you my friends.
A new day and let’s see what that holds. Manu, Fabi and Julie come and meet me at the hostel and we are first going to go on the Trans Mileno buses. The bus system is good and the buses fairly new. Most people in Colombia cannot afford a car of course. We go way out on side of the city and then come back and go to the end of the line in the other direction north. Bogota is very spread out and not like most cities in the sense that not all the main companies are all in one area. I was to learn the next day just how much this was so as that night checking on my credit card two payments had been taken off for my last flight so Manu and I went to find the Taca office. It was miles from the centre of the city. We did find it though.
One afternoon Manu and I went up town and had a cartoon sketch done of ourselves. He also managed to lock the keys in the car. I couldn’t stop laughing. Something that is a must when in Bogota is a trip up in the cable car to Monserrate up on the hill that overlooks the city. Poor Fabi is scared of heights but I must give her full marks coming up the cable car even though she was scared witless and couldn’t talk. It’s a grand view down on the city and has some small souvenir shops and beautiful gardens. We stayed here for some time. It is a relaxing and peaceful place even with lots of tourist about. On returning to the bottom we go into the city for a feed of empanadas for dinner. I now have a taste for them to.
The following day I spent in the city with my friends. We went to the Emerald Trade Exchange. OMG There are just hundreds of emeralds in these glass counters. I resist the temptation to buy. We then went to the Gold Museum. The whole history of gold is in here going back to the first discovery of it and artefacts going back to when they were first come across. Some of the little figurines are so tiny. Don’t miss a visit to this museum if you go to Bogota. Also another tip here. If you fly into Bogota and don’t have any Colombian Pesos when you come out from baggage collection you will see the money exchange counters. Don’t change your money here. Go outside and turn left. Go into the main terminal and up the stairs, go left and along there you will find ATMs. Use your travel card and get some money out. This way you get the proper exchange rate. If you change it at the money exchange your rate will be 2 to 1 when the real rate is about 190 to 1. Oh yea and they don’t blink an eye at ripping you off.
The best cafes to have coffee in Colombia are Juan Valdez. Best coffee in the world. I have spent many a peso here. My last day in Bogota is wet. It’s a little cooler and just hosing down. I take a last look in the city and catch a taxi to the airport in the afternoon. Manu and Fabi have not turned up but I soon understand why. Bogota is flooding. Too much rain in such a few short hours. My taxi driver speaks good English and is getting anxious that we might not get to the airport. An hour and a quarter later we do get there. It should have taken 20 minutes. I figured the rain is the reason for my friends not making it to see me off. At the check in I am asked to see my yellow fever certificate. First time I have been asked for it. I always carry it with my passport. All travellers should keep this in mind.
I am now flying off to Belize but have an overnight stop in San Jose, Costa Rica. I am flying with my favourite airline of Central and South America, TACA. After arriving there and getting a taxi to my hostel I set off with a young couple from England that are at the hostel and we find the nearest plaza to sit and a supermarket to get some cold bottled water. Dinner at a restaurant then back at the hostel I watched a bit of TV before going to bed. Can’t remember the last time I watched TV.
The hostel guy on duty comes and wakes me at 5am. I fly onto Belize City at 7am. Belize is hot and humid. I get a taxi to the wharf where all the boats leave to take tourists to the offshore islands. I am heading back to Caye Caulker. After dumping the bags I only have to walk 50 metres before running into my friend Paul. He is totally taken aback at seeing me again. He hadn’t been checking his emails. So I spent the afternoon chatting with him and telling him all my travel stories. I am staying at a different hostel this time and they have sea kayaks. So the next day I have a go at this. Another something that I have not done before. I go to the other part of the island and Paul and spend the day together. The area that I went the year before which had been cleared for a new hotel was exactly the same. Nothing had changed at all. Everything is on Belize time here.
I rowed across to the other part of the island every day. Got another private trip to snorkel the reef, caught up with Steve and spent a very amusing night with Murray and 2 English girls. Murray is so totally hilarious. I think he must be the biggest guy on the island in size and humour. He has a heart of gold. While I am here I get a haircut and swim, swim, swim. Paul has a day spent in bed. He got sick and then drank too much water. I learnt from him that if you get sick don’t over load yourself with water. Everyone says keep drinking and keep hydrated. This is not actually correct. Just drink what you normally would. After following his doctor’s advice and not drinking much for a day he was right as rain the next morning.
After 6 days here Paul and I catch the boat onto Ambergris Caye. This time we are dropped further off north at a different jetty. Evidently there was a big dispute months back about which boat taxis could use what jetty and things changed. Paul has taken this opportunity to go with me again and catch up with his friends on the island. We hire a golf buggy and do the rounds of his friends. I am only staying the night and catching the boat in the morning and heading all the way to one of my favourite places in Mexico.
And so to another day on the road. I wave goodbye to Paul at 7am as I first head to Corozal, then taxi over the border and into Chetumal, Mexico. As I have done this before I get comfortable in the café opposite the bus station and a guy from Norway pulls out a pack of cards so 5 of us sat there for 2 hours having cold drinks and playing cards. I must get myself a pack of cards for those ‘waiting for the bus’ times. Late afternoon and I roll into Tulum, catch a collective to the hotel and find that so many things have changed. Duncan is waylaid in Canada and won’t get down until after I leave. Mark and Sharon are in the USA. James didn’t return after he left last year to go on safari in Africa, but he is further up the coast, Jesus has left and moved to Playa de Carmen and a lot of the staff have changed. I am hoping like hell my little Mayan lady is the one cooking my breakfast in the morning as she is the best cook.
Budgie is still about and turns up for his usual beer after work. I get an invitation to have takeaways at his place tonight and so that’s what I did. He ran me back to the hotel around 10pm and I was asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow. I am up and off the next morning to the beach, but first my breakfast. My favourite cook wasn’t there! Ahhh. Spent the whole day at the beach and snorkelled the reef twice. That night I hit the Corona. Haven’t had a beer in ages so it didn’t take much and I was tipsy.
The next day is the same and that night I am sitting in the bar with Budgie and who walks in? Jesus. He is clean shaven, long hair and put on some weight. Wow did he look so different. I promptly leave and we head to Playa de Carmen. And you can guess how the next night goes at the El Crucero hotel. Yep its Budgies birthday and Kiwi, Jamie and another couple from South Africa, that now work and live in Tulum, turn up. I have no idea what time I went to bed but one thing that I will always remember is that I was paranoid half the night. Why? Well I went off to the toilet and when I got back Budgie is saying that I am the luckiest person in the world. Well yeah I think I’m really lucky but he is like ‘no you are uncannily lucky’. I would have just got out of sight of the bar and out of the rafters a snake dropped bang smack fair and square onto my chair. Had I been sitting there it would have been smack on my head. I’m damned sure I would have had a heart attack. So for the rest of the night I was looking up all the time to make sure there were no snakes about to drop down from the ceiling. It still gives me the shivers.
Mark and Sharon arrive back late in the afternoon a few days later. It is great to have a catch up with them. Of course that meant another late night on the booze. Just like last time I was here I am drinking myself silly. A friendly couple from Australia end up at our table and we had a hilarious night laughing. This guy was so amusing. This hotel attracts this sort of people like no other place I know. Again I don’t want to leave, but 3 days later I am leaving. I am browner and fitter from all the swimming and off to Cancun for the night before a flight the next morning to Monterrey, Mexico. I am going to stay with Omar, Rogelio and Tere.
Rogelio picked me up from the airport. So great to see my friends again. Omar is there to but is picking up some business men from the USA and we are meeting in the city later for dinner with them. Monterrey is hot and in the middle of a desert. Well that how it looked from the sky. It is a very modern city and has a lot of tourists. Rogelio and Omar live in the same house but Tere lives with her mum. It wasn’t until we went into the city for dinner that I caught up with her. Omar’s business men joined us for dinner and then we went night clubbing. What a crazy night.
The next afternoon Rogelio and Omar take me out of the city and into the hills. We drive for over an hour but stopping here and there. It was like giant rock and cliff mountains with the valley that we drove up. The formations where nothing like I have seen before. We went to some stalagmite caves and then drove even further into the hills and came across what I called the fake hydro dam. Massive and you could walk through it and there was just more of the same on the other side. Nothingness but rock mountains as far as the eye could see.
The next day the temperature is 39 degrees. Today we again head into the hills and hours later come out into this lush green valley and a small village. I have no sense of direction any more. And the heat. It is so muggy and the air conditioning in the car is working overtime.
We are in the car the next day and go to some waterfalls and lake. Eat Mexican food and day and laugh about all the crazy happenings when we meet up in London. We drove all over the place and did a wide birth around the back of Monterrey in the country. When we got back into the city we then went up this hill that gives you a 360 degree view. From here I could see a huge cemetery and asked if they could take me there one day during the week. That night we go to a show that in NZ we would call an AMP show. There is a huge amusement park and then all the stock animals and displays. Tonight was a late one.
On getting up the next morning we hear that swine flu has broken out in Mexico. Everyone is looking at me because I was coughing. I had caught a bit of a cough in Belize. My friends want to rush me straight to the doctor but give up. I know I don’t have the swine flu. Rogelio has brought himself a house and wants to do some decorating before he moves in so I spent nearly all day trying to get him to go to the paint shop. Didn’t happen. These guys run on Mexican time. It’s no panic and whenever.
On the agenda today is the centre of the city. This is a man-made channel which you don’t see until you are right on top of it. You can take a boat ride from one end to the other. We meet up with Tere and her friend from Guadalajara to have dinner then walk the channel. It’s 2 or 3 kms long and is all light up with a ton of lights at night. There are so many shops and businesses closed because of the swine flu and Omar has been told not to come into work.
Kylie and Leanne finally turn up at 11.30am. Both were hung-over after having spent till 5am at the Shepherds Bush Walkabout. This didn’t deter us from heading to Lillywhites and Harrods to do some shopping. Unfortunately they had to go back to Ireland tonight.
Andrew and I had the next day going all over London ending up with a lie down on grass near Canary Wharf. We were like 2 kids with a box of candy. This was the first bit of grass we had had under our feet in months. Funny how little a thing like grass brings back some lovely memories.
The next night Andrew, Katie (Canadian), Paul (Kiwi) and I got totally hammered at Belushi’s. After crawling out of bed at whatever hour the next morning we hit Petticoat Lane and Baker Street. Tonight we again hit Belushi’s and after getting 3 hours sleep I am up and at Regents College to do a TEFL course. I had done research into this earlier in the week and booked to do my certificate. Great group of people I am doing my certificate with from Ireland, England, France, and me from NZ.
So that I don’t have to go all the way back to London Bridge I have booked a hostel close by and after ending the day near 7pm I catch the train for 2 stops and stop off for takeaway then walk in the hostel. As I walk in the door I see a notice. ‘Who can drink the most? Aussie’s or Kiwi’s?’ Stupid me had to just go down to the bar to see how it was all going didn’t I. Big mistake!! At 3.30am or thereabouts I finally got to bed very drunk again. (The Kiwi’s won!!!)
The next and final day on the course goes well and I manage to stay awake despite the fact I have only had around 6 hours sleep in the last 2 days. God talk about a tiger for punishment. I’m loving it though. We finish around 7pm again and Andrew meets me and we all head to the closest pub for farewell beers. After getting back to St Christopher’s Hostel we put our nose in the Belushi’s bar to find that tonight is ‘Wet t-shirt and 6pack’ night. Don’t need to say any more do I – drunk – late night – dancing……
I woke with such a hang-over the next morning that I went back to bed until 1.30pm. Finally got up, had a shower and headed to Notting Hill to catch up with Andrew, Katie and Tamara. They had been at the Notting Hill Carnival all day. Andrew is well on the way with the alcohol. This is like a trash fest. Rubbish for miles, people, flags flying from all over the world. Great time to let your hair down.
Ok on the tube again and off to check out Buckingham Palace and Hyde Park. It was a nice day so Andy and I go walking in the Park. We spot these deck chairs everywhere and people just go along and sit down in them. We did the same. After a few minutes this guy comes along and says we both owe him £1.50. Oh yea. There are no signs anywhere telling you you have to pay to sit in them. Had I known that I would have sat on the grass. Look out for that one people.
I got to bed at 3am. Andrew went early as he has his first day of teaching at his new school tomorrow.
I have met another Aussie at the hostel (Adam) so Katie, Adam and I end up in Belushi’s for the night. I don’t think this bar closes ‘cos we all went to bed at 4.10am and we weren’t the last to leave! Adam and went to the Camden Markets the next day and the National Gallery and Trafalgar Square the following day.
On Friday night Katie, Tamara, Andy and I decide to try getting into the Ministry of Sound. What a waste of time unless you had the patience of a saint and wanted to stand outside for close to 2 hours. That’s how long the line was! Not to worry, let’s just go back to our regular watering hole. We all go the Borough Markets for breakfast in the morning. In the afternoon it’s to a stadium to watch a football match.
Tonight we meet another Aussie couple – Brendan and Mel. They are on a round the world one year trip. So the next day Andy, Brendan, Mel and I go to the Brick Lane markets. These are best markets we have come across so far and there is no shortage of markets to choose from in London. I went back to Petticoat Lane markets the next day and after Andrew finished school I help him move a heap of his stuff to his new flat. Now he has really settled himself into London and work.
So time to think about my next move. I get on the net and join the workaway website in the hope of getting something. I have also made contact with a friend of my mum and 2 days later I am on the train to Bournemouth. Not long after arriving there Jamie and I go for a walk along the beach and go to a pub. While we are there it starts raining hard. It’s a cold day and by the time we get back to his place we are half frozen. Jamie is a postie so he has time in the afternoons and his wife Gali worked 9 – 5. I quite like Bournemouth. It’s right on the coast in Southwest England.
Jamie and Gali give me spare keys to their flat so in the morning I go for a look about. They live right in the centre of the city and less than 10 minutes to the beach. On the weekend Jamie and I go to Winchester. Places to visit in Winchester – of course Winchester Cathedral, The Great Hall and King Arthur’s Round Table , City Museum, The Westgate, Winchester Military Museums and heaps more. We went to the Ghurkha Museum.
Another day Jamie and I went to Museum House in Bournemouth. Fascinating and interesting. On a cold and cloudy day we get a bus to go to Stonehenge. This has been on my list of ‘must see’ places. The mysteries of ancient civilisations will never cease to hold my interest. We had timed our visit rather well as they were do more archaeological digging. We did a short tour with one of the archaeologists giving us information on what had been dug up and where and what their interpretation of it was. (They actually now think Stonehenge was like a church and all important people were brought to Stonehenge to be healed in the centre of the circle before their burial.) Of course no-one is ever going to know what it was erected for. Back in Salisbury we went to the Cathedral before catching our bus back to Bournemouth.
I am back in London a few days later and have agreed to house-sit for Jamie and Gali as they have a visit back to Gali’s homeland of Bulgaria. Andy and I join up and go to the Thames Festival. It’s held all along the river and goes for a considerable distance. We then get joined later in the day by Katie, Tamara and Graham from South Africa.
So Tamara, Andy and I have been wanting to go through the part of Buckingham Palace that is opened to the public for tours for a certain number of months each year. We get there early so don’t have to wait long and we are in this marquee waiting for our tour to start. While we just are sitting there we think it would be a good idea to take photos of each other – as you do. I pull out my camera, get Andy in the frame and suddenly get a tap on the shoulder. Security! No taking photos. I’m just looking at this guy in amazement. It’s a marquee, all white, full of tourists, people from the street can’t even see us. WTF.
When that happened I knew I was then going to get pulled out when, in the next marquee we were moved into, had the security equipment like that at airports. ‘Watch this you guys’ I warn Tamara and Andy. Next thing all the sirens are going off and everyone is looking at me. God it was embarrassing. I knew it was going to happen as by this stage I have been through some 20 security airport checks and set them alight!! Anyway I think it was worth the money to go through that rooms we were allowed to. They didn’t rush us, but get this, when we excited out the back onto a lovely veranda and courtyard that looked out of the back garden and grounds area beyond – which is a large area – we were allowed to take PHOTO’S. It didn’t make sense. Can’t take photos in a marquee, can’t take them in the palace but hey lets go crazy and photograph all of the palace back door and all the gardens. Shot me – I just don’t see the logic and nor could Tamara and Andy.
A day or so later I had another ‘please shot me’ moment. I get up in the morning and this Irish girl asks where I am from. On replying NZ she then asks me what it is like to be standing all day and not getting a head rush. I knew what she was getting at but the fact she was deadly serious*?!”!?* I just looked at her and calmly said ‘It’s called GRAVITY darling’ in a sarcastic tone. She didn’t even pick that up and calmly replied ‘I know but now you aren’t upside down anymore you won’t be getting a head rush all day’. F…k shoot me, shoot me now!!! ‘It’s called GRAVITY DARLING!!!’ This time she just looked at me as if I was really thick, shrugged her shoulders and walked out the door. No sooner the door had shut and everyone in the dorm just burst out laughing. That is the dumbest question I have ever been asked. It takes all sorts doesn’t it!!?
After a few more days in London I get the train to Bournemouth to go house-sit for Jamie and Gali. It’s now September and the weather is rather cool especially on cloudy days. I spent 2 weeks house-sitting, doing my own thing, painted a back fence, flushed one dead fish down the loo, became the parent of a baby budgie and had to visit the osteopath for my back which had gone out. Nice to have a place to myself for a short time.
The day after Jamie and Gali’s return I go back to London. Katie and Tamara are not having much success at getting a flat. London letting agents leave a lot to be desired when it comes to turning up and showing people through flats and the girls are getting really frustrated at their lack of progress. So a note to anyone moving to London. You will probably have more success going through Gumtree if you are looking for accommodation. Another to try is Roomster.
Talking of Gumtree. I went into it one day just seeing what was what and came across a website where they want volunteers in Spain to teach English to Spanish business people for a week. I filled in the info and sent it off. 2 weeks later I still hadn’t heard anything but decide to head off to Spain anyway. I pack a bag and leave it at Andrew’s. No need to lug stuff around that I won’t need. I meet up with a guy named Patrick and buy myself a small Dell laptop. By now I’m sick of the money that internet cafes are sucking out of me for internet use and the hostel charges are steep but wireless is free. That sorted, Kodak and I catch a flight to Alicante from Gatwick the next morning.
Alicante has got to be the cleanest city I have ever been in, wow! I am a little north of Alicante in San Joan. Its spotless, quiet and close to the beach. Unfortunately for me I woke up sick the next morning and spent 2 days in bed. As I have booked my next hostel in Malaga I decide to go and will come back to Alicante another trip. Kodak and I catch the train to Malaga which takes us all day. It’s a long way to Malaga and we don’t reach our hostel until 9pm.
I am back in shorts and t-shirt. It’s warm. I like Malaga. There is a retired Welsh teacher here at the hostel and we get talking. He has been in Malaga for some time deciding whether to move to Barcelona or Malaga. This is great for me and the next day we walk to the train station and go down to Torremolinos. This place is a tourist mecca and lots of English people have businesses here or have retired here. Beautiful beach until we lay down to get some sun. What is that smell? Well a few days before there had been a storm. Seeing as Spain dumps all its raw sewage into the sea, when the storm hit of course, all the sewage got washed back and up onto the beach. Laying down and smelling this sure put me off. Glad I got all my jabs before leaving home. To this day I still don’t get why Spain dumps it in the sea. Hell in the 3 world countries of South and Central America they don’t dump it in the sea and they are a lot poorer than Spain.
Despite this I do like Spain. After walking here, there and everywhere, seeing the bullring from up on the hill where there is an old castle, seeing the diggings of the remains of an ancient city, finding some good restaurants, shopping in Torremolinos and enjoying the sun again, I am now going to take the train to Cadiz. I liked the train ride there. We go up and through some massive rock gorges, and come out to fields and fields of olives, lemons and what I think was cotton. There is a whole new highway that is being built from what seemed like one end of the country to the other. I worked out from the time I was travelling and the average speed of the train at 196kmph that the road was over 400km long. They must build it completely then open it. Wish they would and could do this in NZ.
Its late afternoon when we pull into Cadiz. My hostel is a short walk from the station and I drop off my bags and go to the nearest supermarket, bring my food back, then off out the door again to go exploring. Cadiz is the oldest and continuously inhabited city in Spain. It’s a lovely town. The original wall is still standing and surrounds the old city. There are heaps of narrow winding streets. I picked out a tall cross on top of the Cadiz Cathedral as a mark to find my way back.
The beach stretches for some kilometres and even though it’s warm enough to go swimming when I spotted this massive culvert with all this sewage coming out I turned away and went back to the hostel. There were even guys fishing down there. Right at the culvert exit, and more amazing was the fact that there were heaps of decent sized fish swimming there and getting caught. Thank god I am allergic to fish ‘cos the thought of eating fish in Spain makes me want to throw up.
The next day 2 English guys come back to the hostel all chuffed and proud of themselves. They had been swimming. I then took the wind right out of their sails when I told them about the culvert. The poor guys couldn’t get in the shower fast enough and to top it off they had these panicked look come over their faces when I went a little further and asked if they had had their jabs for typhoid. Get your injections for everything if you are going around the world and especially if you plan on swimming several times on the Spanish coast.
After another couple of days in Cadiz Kodak and I are on the bus to Tarifa. This is the most southern point of Spain. We have to take the bus as there is no rail system to here. On the bus I get talking to a young girl from Israel. She is doing some travelling now before going into the army for her compulsory 3 years. She is not in my hostel but manages to get in the next time. We ended up spending a lot of nights talking as we immediately clicked with each other and with 2 German girls.
Tarifa has a fantastically long and wide beach, with very clear looking water. Most of the tourists have gone when I visit but in the height of summer I can see this place being packed. This is the opportune place to relax for a few days and leave the world behind and when 2 days of rain hit I had no option. I have time to do a bit of thinking about where to go next and have decided on ……… Andrew, in the meantime, has been getting drunk and feeling the need to ring me and inform me of this fact. By now I have gone for over a week without hitting the booze! Yea, I know – what a revelation.
Kodak and I go on the bus back to Malaga so we can catch a flight to…
Mallorca. We have to fly to Madrid and catch a connecting flight to Palma de Mallorca. We are staying in El Arenal. What a beautiful spot and most of the tourists have gone home. I head for the beach. It’s warm, sunny and the water here reminds me of Ecuador, Belize and Mexico. Long beach which stretches right from El Arenal around to the city of Palma de Mallorca. There’s plenty of shops and restaurants, a lot of which are owned by English people. Mallorca has a huge influx of German tourists every year but when the majority of them leave the hotels close for winter.
I catch a bus just around the corner from where I’m staying and go to the Caves of Drach. This is to the east and about 2 hours on the bus and takes this amount of time as we stop off at each little town on the way. These underground stalagmite and stalagmite caves are great. There is a huge underground lake in there. No photos allowed as they want you to buy the postcards on the way out. No one does as the prices are horrendous. People put their cameras on silent and happily snapped away. Would have done the same but didn’t realise till in there that I couldn’t take photos and thought it would be a little too obvious dicking about with my camera. The hostel owners has warned me that getting a bus back might be a problem as they just tend to run when they want. How true. After waiting for over 1 ½ hours I catch the next bus that comes along as its now getting late in the day. This meant I had to go to the centre of Palma and then catch a taxi.
After another few more days Kodak and I get a flight to Seville. The hostel is packed. I have to visit a local shop to get the wifi reinstalled back on my laptop. The guy in the shop had a hell of a time and seeing as mi espanol es mal we had an interesting and amusing time sorting this out. I decide to change hostels. The one I’m in is full and most of the occupants are not friendly. I have only struck this a few times on my travels.
The next hostel is good. Everyone is talkative and friendly. They also have events organised for you to do at night. One of the nights I went to a tapas restaurant then onto a flamenco show. I love tapas. I was to spend a lot of time with Jo, a young girl from Sydney and met Mostafa from Morocco. He has invited me to stay with him and he will show me around Morocco. Maybe I will take up that offer next year.
I also like Seville. I haven’t taken a map with me at all when walking about here and I am now patting myself on the back as I haven’t gotten lost. When I decide to move on, after a few more days, Mostafa accompanies Kodak and me to the airport. We are now flying to …..
Las Palmas on the island of Gran Canaria. I am south of the city in a tiny town called Pozo Izquierdo. It’s in the middle of a wind farm but the closest ones are far enough away that you can hear them and its right on the coast. The nearest town is Vesindario. There is a local bus I can to get there but the hostel staff have pointed out this is totally unreliable and only runs when the driver can be bothered which is not very often – once a week sometimes.
There is an Irish girl Trish, staying here and we get on great, thankfully, as we are the only 2 people in the hostel! This is a first. Only 2 people in the whole hostel and this hostel is big. Each year they hold surfing events and a surf school here and this is when it is overrun with hostellers.
Trish has worked out which buses to catch and we walk to Vesindario the next morning to go down the coast to Playa de Ingles. I am back in the heat and sunshine again and the beach is full of sunbathers. Loads of tourist shops, bars and restaurants. I like this place. Before catching the bus back outside the tourist centre I buy a ticket to do a day trip into the centre of the island. I am up early and have to walk fast into Vesindario to catch the bus to Playa de Ingles. I have no idea where to get off but the guy who sold the ticket to me has said to look out for the first amusement park after the tourist centre and get off there. I was practically on the doorstep when I got off the bus.
We are sitting in the jeeps waiting to go and I have an American lady and her daughter sitting next to me. In the last 24 hours Barrack Obama has been elected President of the USA. Most Americans that I was to meet from this point on seem happy with this result.
The interior of Gran Canaria is very barren and dry with little villages dotted here and there. A dam which we went to was only at ¼ of its usual capacity. We had camel riding along the way, lunch in an air-conditioned restaurant way up in the hills and a bit of off-roading. Before finishing for the day we come to a place where we get to try the soft middle part of the cactus. (The flower part) They are bright pink in colour and taste really nice. I really enjoyed the day.
I went with Trish into Vesindario to see her off, spend some time at an internet café and catch a taxi back to the hostel. Can’t be bothered walking as it takes ¾ hour. When I get back to the hostel an American girl, Jackie who is studying in Seville, has arrived. Great – I still have some company.
When Trish was here she had told me about Puerto Mogan. Jackie and I get the bus and go there for the day. It takes an hour on the bus. We wind around rocky hillsides that drop of into the sea. The greenest spot along the way is the golf course. It stood out so bad and was the greenest patch I have seen in weeks.
Two days later Jackie left but as she went out the door two guys arrived. One from Germany and an English guy. Both where a little weird. The German guy was in the dorm next to mine and I swear he was sawing up the bed that first night. The English guy kept having a shower every 2 hours. Weird, really weird. From that first day on I didn’t see them again. They weren’t very friendly so it didn’t worry me.
I spent the next few days hopping on the bus and go to Puerto Mogan. It wasn’t as overrun with tourists and I liked it here. The bus ride each day gave me the opportunity to see different things each time and meet different people.
Midweek I went back to Playa de Ingles. After shopping and pretty much all day on the beach I was walking along the path at the back of the restaurants and see this truck unloading produce for one of the restaurants. As I got closer I was thinking that these boxes looked familiar. Sure enough when I get even closer I could read Affco New Zealand Beef. That was it. I was around the front and into the restaurant for a meal. I miss NZ beef and lamb. Best in the world and you can get it in the Canary Islands. YES!
While I have been in the Canary Islands I have finally had a reply to my application to teach English for a week so I book a flight back to Madrid and set off 3 days later for my next experience. The metro trains in Madrid as very easy to work out and my hostel is easy to find. I am right in the heart of Madrid.
All the English teachers have a tapas evening we can attend and get introduced to each other so I go to this. I immediately hit it off with this London lady and we end up teaming up with her cousin who has come with her and a young American backpacker. We find a local bar and only leave when we think that if we don’t we will find the metro closed. We have an early start the next morning with our buses pulling out at 8.30am. I am now off to Gredos. I have no idea where Gredos is. As it turns out it is in the middle of nowhere about 4 hours from Madrid.
This was to turn out to be one of the best weeks of my whole life. I was to meet and spend time with lawyers, accountants, pharmacy reps, a Vodafone rep, and more, a guy that worked for the government drawing up international investment agreements and contracts between Spain, USA, and other countries. And there was the money man, Jose. I call him the money man as he is the guy that organised the printing of the money on plastic paper all around the world. By plastic money I am referring to the currency of such countries as New Zealand, Australia, Mexico, Guatemala and lots more. We had some real characters in our group and had some hilarious moments.
It took the Spanish nearly 3 days before they could understand my accent. We have people from England, Ireland, USA, Canada, South Africa, Australia and me. They could understand everyone else but not me. Two things that really stick in my mind was the accountant whose pronunciation had us laughing. He would say ‘accuntant’ We had him being an accountant by the end of the week. One of the ladies liked to take her children to the ‘bitch’. Now they go to the beach.
I had such a great time that, if possible, I will do a Vaughantown English week once a year. Doing this week has left me with some of the best memories for this first year of travelling.
After the week in Gredos I am back in Madrid. I am only spending the one night then going to Ireland to see Kylie again as I don’t know when we will catch up after this visit. As soon as I got there we were off to the woolshed to watch Australia play France in a rugby test. It is really, really cold in Dublin now. I receive a phone call from Spain from one of my new Spanish friends with an offer that I can stay next time I am visiting there. (My money man, Jose) I will take up that offer up one day as this guy is so interesting.
So what did I do this time around in Dublin? I caught up with Alan, who I met when drunk, and we went about an hour out of Dublin to a really nice pub. This brought about an offer of staying with his Mum in Trinidad should I ever get there. And what is a guy from Trinidad doing in Ireland. Well his mother had decided he was getting in too much trouble and so she and his uncle sent him to Ireland to study. He was studying business and when he gets finished wants to go back to Trinidad and open a surf shop. I shook my head and burst out laughing. Boy is his mother in for a shock as he hasn’t told her yet of his plans. Love to be a fly on the wall when he tells her.
So the following night a go to the gym with Kylie and Rowena. I head for the rowing machine and that’s where I stay. I love them. Leave me there all day and I am happy. The next day is freezing but Kylie and I catch the train and go to the town of Bray. There is a walkway along the coast where you are looking right down into the sea. The wind coming off the sea was so cold. By the time we turned around and got back it was dark. By now it’s the end of November and darkness sets in so early. If I remember it was about 4pm.
I am now on a flight back to London. Was I ever so glad I flew back. I woke with a stomach ache and felt sick the whole flight and that was only an hour. I get back to Katie and Tamara’s and head for the toilet. 3 days later I am finally starting to come right. Of all the places to end up with food poisoning I wouldn’t have thought it would be Ireland! I didn’t even have the energy to go out and celebrate Tamara’s birthday.
A few days later Kylie is yet again back in London to watch Australia play the Barbarians at Wembley so there is a group of us going. I would have put more clothes on if I could but I wouldn’t have got my jacket over the top. Boy am I feeling the cold. Time to get out of here. So Kodak and I board a flight the next day for…….
Perth, Western Australia. It was like hitting a brick wall, but oh so nice to be warm again. I have family in Perth so that’s who I am staying with for a few days. After 2 days of sleeping most of the time to get over the jetlag I spend a day with my nephew and have time to adjust to the heat.
Perth is a nice relaxed city. Had a good wonder about, went Kings Park and down by the wharf on the Swan River. You can catch a free bus which takes you around most of the things you will want to see in Perth. I catch the train down to Fremantle and then the ferry over to Rottnest Island. The hostel here is at an old army barracks. I hire a bike, which is the best way to see the island and set off. I have only 2 in my dorm. Chris from England and Frankie from Sydney. The first night there we all hopped on our bikes and went to Governors Bay for dinner.
Frankie and I hit it off immediately and spent some time each day exploring a different part of the island. And I got to see my first snake up close. God I hate them. In order to see more of Western Australia while I am here I go back to Perth after 4 days on the island and have the one night in a hostel before setting off on a 3 day tour which will take me down to the southern most point of this state. Again I have stuck a great group of backpackers doing this trip.
Our first night is in Augusta. Along the way we do some wine tasting, hit a beach for a lunch break and see the most southern point. The water along this coast is a nice turquoise colour, very similar to that of the Caribbean. We stay at hostels on the way and everyone mucks in to prepare dinner, get dishes down and pack everything for the next morning.
Our next day we visit blow holes, the natural bridge, do a tree top walk, elephant rock and the green pool before we pull into Albany for the night. In Albany we visit the ANZAC memorial. The irony did not pass me by as today it is raining and cold. A website for more information to read about Albany is; http://www.discoverwest.com.au/western_australia/albany.html I could put a lot more in here but wont as there is a lot and simply too much that I could put.
After another night in Perth I do a day bus tour to Wave rock. This is quite a trip and takes all day. We also did Elephant Yawn and a cave. The whole of the bus trip down here takes you through the wheat belt of WA. A vast expanse of flat land and wheat crops. For more info go here; http://www.waverock.com.au/travel_on.htm or Google ‘wave rock’.
Tonight, and even though it is late, I catch the train to stay with my nephew for a few nights before catching that final flight which will take me full circle and back to my departure point over 11 months ago, but not of course before getting swabbed for chemicals, explosives and drugs at Melbourne airport where I catch my connecting international flight.
So my bags are packed and I’m on the road again. This time Kodak and I are off to Kelowna to catch up with Darren whom we first met in Brazil. He’s quite the character and I’m looking forward to staying with him. The bus trip is rather long with comfort stops along the way and lunch in the middle of nowhere. I do remember going through Golden. You wind down a long hill into it. Bit like heading to Takaka in the Nelson region of NZ. We wind our way through the mountains which still had snow on the peaks. Our first stop in Banff I got off and what a shock. It was so cold compared to Calgary.
Canada is very picturesque and Canadians are big on camping to, just like kiwis. Beautiful lakes and little towns on the way. I was glad to get to Kelowna and finally off the bus around 4pm. Darren has rather a cool place. He calls it the Bates Motel. Its 2 houses joined together and he has permanent residents (14 in total) from several countries that work in Kelowna. Would I ever stay for a long period of time? Hell no, I couldn’t stand the long cold winters, but in having said that, they actually have very mild winters in Kelowna. Darren suggested the next morning that I might like to go swimming. Kelowna sits right on Lake Okanagan. ‘Yeah right’ I’m thinking to myself. It’s warm enough and I’m only in shorts and t-shirt but this lake is fed by the mountains. So the first thing I do when I get down to the lake is put my foot in. There is no way that I’m swimming in that!! I reckon it’s just above freezing point and after weeks in the warm Caribbean I am thinking I shall never swim anywhere but there.
Kelowna is a city and there is a lot to do and see. Wineries, Museums, Galleries, hiking, biking, swimming, fishing, water-skiing, all manner of winter sports and activities. If you think of it, they probably have it for you to do. I spent most of my first full day in the city finding out where everything was and talking with lots of the shop owners. I can’t help myself and when you go in buying little souvenirs it’s not long before a conversation starts going.
The next day, for some reason, I stumble over a book at Darren’s. It’s one of Gary Zukav’s. That was it for me. I sat down for the day and read the whole thing. Darren caught up with me at dinner and invited me to head off with his mates to a bar then to see ‘The Dark Knight’ which has just been released into the movies theatres. I take that up and the last movie I saw comes to mind. That had been months ago in Colombia and it was in Spanish. Great movie. I can see why Heath Ledger got the Oscar for it, just a damn shame he wasn’t still here to receive it.
After writing another heap of post cards, and sending them off, I have another 2 days of doing what I want. With 14 other people from all walks of life in and out of the motel I am not lost for company and have several email addresses and offers that if I ever get stuck somewhere I have someone to call. While in Kelowna I had put time aside everyday to try getting in touch with Nicole in Whisper. I was having no luck with her phone number or email. We had met in Peru and travelled together to Copacabana in Bolivia. Not being able to get in touch with her, I decide I will stay only the one night in Vancouver and head straight onto Victoria. I want to meet up with Mike again, and some friends of my Mum whom I meet as a kid when they came out to NZ. No shortage of people to see and things to do.
Get in the bag Kodak – we are off to the bus station again. He never answers back!! We are off to Vancouver of course and I have agreed to come back for two nights at Darren’s before going onto Calgary. Vancouver is not too far from Kelowna and it’s on this stretch my camera battery died so I didn’t get half the photos I wanted to.
There are loads of weeping willows in this part of the country. I saw moose and deer. Even saw cows again. There are huge paddocks of round hay bales, silage and the Vernon plains with wheat and barley. Orchards everywhere – yep reminds me of home but on a much bigger scale of course. On arriving at the hostel I am back to my usual habit of dropping my bag and heading straight out the door. This time I forgot to get a map but take note off specific buildings. I don’t get lost, amazingly! I give myself a pat on the back for that one. Vancouver – what do I think of it? Well I was surprised at the number of beggars. God they stop you and ask for anything but mainly smokes and money. I never knew this about Vancouver and hadn’t encountered it in Kelowna or Calgary. Apart from that it seems a nice place but I didn’t really have any time to see much.
I managed to get a hold of Mike and can’t wait to catch up with him again. I haven’t seen him since Bolivia and he’s not big on emails. We have lots to talk about, but first a good night’s sleep, so I head to bed around midnight. At 3am I’m still wide awake and head downstairs and outside to have a smoke. To my amazement there is a street party. This has got to be the best sound proof hostel I have stayed in. There must have been close to a 1000 people. There were police everywhere, syringes in the gutter, beer bottles and cans, rubbish galore, noise, but no vehicles. Drunks and druggies yelling at whomever, it smelt of god knows what and you couldn’t hear a damn thing from inside. It was like stepping into another world. If I hadn’t seen it and someone had tried to tell me all this happened I wouldn’t have believed them. When I got down the next morning at 7am, the street was clean. It was like it had never happened. NO BS. I just stood there and shook my head. I know it took place because I talked with the receptionist on duty as I went back in last night. It was not a dream.
Kodak and I hop on our bus at 7.30am. This will take us to the port, on the ferry, over to Victoria and then bus us into the middle of Victoria to the bus station. Cruising to Victoria was great. Another reminder of taking the Cook Strait ferry in NZ. The scenery was a little different. I have a short walk from the bus station to my hostel. I must have been asked for money and smokes from 10 beggars along the way. They are everywhere. I didn’t even encounter this in the poorest countries in South America. Come to think of it, I didn’t see this in any of the countries of South or Central America. Come on Canada – what’s happened? Why are there beggars here? They aren’t sitting around with a can asking for money, they just approach you in the street. Some of them have the nerve to get angry when you tell them to get lost.
Anyway onwards and upwards. Mike meet up with me during his lunch hour. Boy he had a few stories to tell after leaving Bolivia. Damn it was good to see a familiar face. After he went back to work I ended up talking with Mark from Wales. We had met on the bus/ferry trip and he spotted me in the park. The temperature today is 22degrees. Pleasant enough but when Mike and I went to a restaurant for dinner they had the air-conditioning on. I ended up being cold, meanwhile Mike’s busy telling me that most of the locals think they are going to die from the heat. OMG I would hate to see them in Mexico, it probably would kill them.
I do some clothes shopping the next day. I’m feeling a little on the cold side. I shop, yet again, for family back home and send off another parcel. I then catch a bus to do the Butterfly house and the Buchart Gardens. These are both well known in Victoria and are very popular. I was snapping photos all day. Trying to get the butterflies on film was a mission. And the Buchart Gardens.
Wow! Flowers of every colour, shape, smell and size. This place was packed with tourists and like usual it is hard to get a photo without someone being in it. This was pretty much to take me all day and a couple of hundred photos later I’m back in the city.
After getting back to the hostel my next mission is to get washing done and cook myself a good dinner. While I’m having dinner this American guy sits down and we start talking. He’s a native Canadian and back in Victoria to see his mum who still lives there. This guy is really interesting and has a suggestion as to why every time I go through security at the airports I set the bells and whistles going. My age and the fact that I’m travelling alone. Oh great! I’m travelling alone for the rest of my travels. I like it that way. The number of arguments I was to witness while away would amaze you. Why can’t girls just go off and do what they want and the guys go do what they want. Man I don’t get it. Why drag your guy off to things he has absolutely no interest in? Anyway we stayed up talking till 5am.
The next night I talk a walking tour called the Ghost Walk. We get taken all around to these places that are supposedly still haunted. Interesting but not as long as I thought it was going to be and honestly not worth the money I paid. Live and learn aye.
My Mum has friends that live in Victoria so after working out the bus to catch I set off to see them. They weren’t home but no worries as this afternoon I am going whale watching. All boats from all the previous trips this week have seen whales and dolphins. Murphy, yet again, has a lot to answer for. We saw all of 3 dolphins. 3 ½ hours later and back at our departure point and I stand up to get out of the boat to find that the waterproof jumpsuit is not waterproof. I had to walk right through the middle of Victoria looking like I had wet myself. God I was so embarrassed! I just walked along saying ‘Whale watching’. It was even more annoying having to answer ‘ No didn’t see a damn thing’ You can imagine the number of people that got a good laugh out of this. And yes someone did take a photo – bugger! I must admit that I did look like a drowned rat.
After all that excitement I have a day sitting on the banks of the bay and watching these funny looking water-taxis go back and forward. I like people watching and do it quite often. I find it relaxing and this is the first chance I have to see squirrels and Canadian geese up close.
Mike and I catch up for lunch and in the afternoon I set off again to see my mum’s friends. Bob and Margot are home and after having a good catch up on everyone and things in NZ they take me out for a drive around Victoria in their car. Well we get up near the university and what do I see. Oh my god! I couldn’t believe my eyes. 1001 rabbits. Yes, rabbits. Not just brown rabbits, god no, they where all the colours of the rainbow. Evidently someone’s pet(s) rabbit got out and met a very nice other rabbit and HELLO there are now hundreds of multi-coloured bunnies living in the university grounds and expanding by the day. Half the people of Victoria want the little buggers shot and the other half are screaming out how cruel. Any NZ farmer seeing this would tear his hair out! I’m not kidding, there are hundreds of them.
I was so wrapped up in the fact that I was seeing so many rabbits in one place that I didn’t even get a photo of them. Sometimes the moment just overtakes you, you forget about the camera. Next time I won’t be forgetting. We go to a lookout point which gives a 360 degree grand view for miles. Nice spot but wouldn’t want to do it on a windy day.
I have been here for a week now and have crossed off everything I wanted to do and caught up with my friend and my mum’s friends so it is back to Kelowna for me. I have booked on Westjet. I have heard lots about Westjet and even though it’s a short flight I am looking forward to flying with this airline and over the Rocky Mountains.
I catch the shuttle to the airport and yep, like usual, set the security alarm off. I love flying, hate airports! Great flight over the Rockies to. Lakes of green and blue and no turbulence. Darren picked me up from the airport and I caught up with everyone at the motel again. Nice bunch of people. Spent another afternoon in the city and another late night. The next morning I woke with the most wicked of stomach aches. Nothing else but a beaut stomach ache and all day. I just sat outside under a veranda on a couch and let the day go by, thankful that I haven’t missed too many days from up illness up to this point. Darren went mountain-biking for the day. I had intended to go but being sick put an end to that. It was disappointing so I am going t o get on the bus again to Calgary. No doubt Darren and I will catch up somewhere in another country as he loves travelling to.
The next day seemed to go so slow. I think that was due to the fact that I still wasn’t a hundred percent well. Great to get back and see my aunt again. She had been away for the week or so that I was gone to. The following day I head to the library and book my nice hostel in the next city I’m going to and then go to the zoo.
I am especially interested in seeing the Bison. I’ve had this fascination of seeing bison close up after having watched every western movie that I could as a kid. They are just interesting to me for whatever reason. And I wasn’t disappointed. Large and fascinating creatures. I spent hours at the zoo. It brings out the kid in me and I love animals. Who doesn’t? All in the entire zoo visit was what I needed just to get back to nature after the many concrete jungles I had been in.
Tonight was rather a late one again as I don’t know when I will see my great aunt again. She has said that her age – which is young to me – that she is not up to flying long haul anymore so will not ever be going back to her homeland of New Zealand ever again. This has me thinking that I will make a special effort over the coming years to get back to see her. Besides I absolutely love her sense of humour.
I order a taxi, say my goodbye to my favourite aunt and head off to the airport. I have the usual security crap thing happening and an uneventful flight, like always, before flying into…
Chicago. Yes Kodak and I have made it to here. We get a shuttle to the hostel only to find that we can’t get booked in until 5pm. What! Thank god for a huge storage room. We are only 1 of about 15 people that turned up at lunch time trying to get booked in. We have done out booking on the net but today they are just so far behind with the house keeping so we all have to leave our bags in storage and head off. Not to worry as that’s what I do nearly every time I get to a new place.
We are staying at the HI Hostel. This is one of the better hostels I have been in. The dorms all have an ensuite, but the best part, they have a computer room with about 15 computers. You can print off and it’s all free. And to top it off they have a tourist desk with someone on duty from 7am to 8pm and they are busy. Ask them anything and if they didn’t know the answer they would find out for you. There is something organised for every night of the week and for my first night there I went to the park. About 20 of us put $3 in the kitty and off we went. Staff from the hostel had blankets for us to sit on, others took the money and went to get fish and chips and we had dinner in the park and watched on this huge screen ‘The Odd Couple’ which you will remember starred Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon. There where people of all ages, mums and dads and their kids, people with blankets, deck chairs, pushchairs…..it was fun. Brilliant idea and only 10 minute walk from the hostel.
I put my name down the next morning for tonight’s outing and set off for the Sears Tower. This is on my list of places to go. The Sears Tower was the tallest building in the world many years ago, but of course is not any longer, so you can imagine the view from up there and out over Lake Michigan. After coming down from there I do a wonder about and hope I don’t get lost.
Tonight a group of us are off to Smoke Daddy. This is a blues music bar and restaurant. They are strict on not letting under age persons in but when I was asked for my ID I found it insulting, not amusing. One girl in our group ended up in an argument with door security as they wouldn’t believe the birthday in her passport. She did get in, in the end, but it put a dampener on our evening and every time we got a round of drinks they just stared at us. The hostel personal that came with us where pi..ed off to. The music was good so that made up for it.
Another thing that I haven’t yet got to doing is hitting a Macy’s store. So let’s hit a Macy’s store today and see what everyone raves about. Well I could get lost in here and be very happy. Things that you wouldn’t dream of seeing in NZ. Brands that I have never heard of, it’s like being in the biggest candy store but better. I love Macy’s. The temptation to shop till I drop was there but I resisted. I am learning great self control. There is just so much you can post home for the kids.
Where I am is situated in more or less the centre of Chicago. Not too far away is the lake where you can visit the Childrens Museum, Navy Pier, Millennium Park Garage, Shedd Aquarium, Adler Planetarium, Field Museum, and lots of other parks and places of interest. I did a lot of walking while I was there so after all this afternoon and the following day seeing what I could, Kodak and I set off on the underground at 5pm for the airport and our flight to….
New York. We have arrived in the Big Apple at 10.15pm no less. I hate getting into new and unfamiliar places in the middle of the night. We have flown into LaGuardia and I am tired so I get a shuttle to my hostel. This turns out to be a bit of a problem. I have no idea where I’m going and the shuttle driver ends up having a hell of a time trying to work out where I need to be to. After many conversations on his radio we finally find it. It was not very well marked with just small numbers on the front door and of all places I am in Spanish Harlem. As it turned out I ended up loving the fact that I wasn’t right down in the thick of it closer to the city. I get to crawl into bed at 2am.
I head the door and up the street to find myself in the middle of Spanish Harlem. This is one great place to shop. When I had left Belize Paul had asked me that if I get the time and had the money could I buy him some shorts, t-shirts and Obsession cologne. This was the place to do it. Cheap but good quality clothing, every design, colour and size you could think of. And a local post office to boot. I got what he wanted and it posted off.
So what does a newcomer to New York want to see? It has to be the Statue of Liberty. I catch the underground train into Times Square and come up from it to suddenly be in the middle of just people. People, people, and more people. This place just hums and never sleeps. There are guys ready to step out and sell you tickets for a short cruise out to the statue and a city bus tour. This big guy steps out in front of me and immediately asks where I’m from. 10 minutes later I’m still standing there talking and have accepted a dinner invitation, got a phone number and I have my tickets for the trip out and around the statue, so the first port of call is down the street to catch my boat.
Hmmmm ok, why did I think the Statue of Liberty was bigger. TV and pictures can be deceiving. It’s not small by any means but I just thought it was going to be massive but it wasn’t. Don’t get me wrong, it is huge and I’m certainly glad I went to see it. I got some good photos so I’m happy. On getting back I then walk back to Times Square and do the second half of my ticket which is a Subway City Bus Tour. My main stopping off point is Ground Zero.
This is an immensely sad place. I remember back to the day when I first heard about this attack. I was driving my son to an agricultural course he was doing and thinking that the radio announcers were talking crap and trying to see how many people they could fool. By the time I got home, which was only a 5 minute drive, they had announced it so many times that I turned on the TV. Getting to Ground Zero and seeing the site, remembering watching TV, it was really hard not to cry. Senseless, pointless, did it change the world. NO, it just makes it bloody harder to get through an airport. (I have my own opinion on all this but I will leave it out.)
My new, New York friend picked me up from the hostel and we went out for a lovely dinner. It’s great to make new friends and have someone show you around to different things that you normally wouldn’t see. The next day we caught up again at Central Park and then went to the Museum of Natural History.
Where the hell is Kodak going now? We are going to London. We catch the train out to JFK, have the now normal hassle at security and fly out at 8pm. I took the underground train to my stop of point at London Bridge. On coming out of the underground I stopped in my tracks. God has the Queen died and I don’t know about it? WTF. Everyone is dressed in black. Black, black, black. Everywhere you looked they were wearing black clothing. How morbid is that. Well it turns out that is the dress code in London. As you can imagine I stuck out like a sore thumb. So if you want to be in fashion in London just wear black. You’ll fit right in.
Anyway after the shock of this I get to the next day and sort of another ATM card from my bank since mine was stolen in Ecuador and promptly get myself a cell phone. I sort out tickets on the train and ferry over to Dublin and go into the centre of London. I love the underground in this city. It’s very easy to use and trains come every few minutes.
The next day I take a hop-on-hop-off city and river tour. I got back early afternoon with a thumping headache. The day was actually really hot. Laundry done, hostel booked in Dublin, out to a restaurant for dinner and time spent in the hostel bar.
The added advantage of being in England is the extensive train system. Dead easy to catch the train from London Bridge to anywhere in the UK. It took around 2 ½ hours to get to Holyhead in Wales where you then get the ferry onto Dublin. The ferry then takes 3 hours to Dublin. It started raining on the ferry ride and by the time I got to Dublin it was cold. Just to brighten the day up the bus into the city decided it didn’t want to start so we all had to get off and get on a replacement bus. This gave me a chance to talk to a lovely Irish couple. Bernard and Helena gave me some info on what’s what in Dublin. I never miss the chance now to talk to the locals. The information they can give you is invaluable. Thanks guys!
I have a friend in Dublin but haven’t been able to get hold of her. We met in Ecuador and I am hoping she is not off tripping around somewhere in the world, but after not getting a reply from her, and the weather not so great I hit the pavement around the centre of Dublin to see what it’s all about. Nice city but very expensive. The old building and architecture are awesome. I think I spent most of the time looking up. With the weather being cold and wet I booked myself a Paddy Wagon tour around Ireland and had my fingers crossed that the weather might improve while I’m gone.
Kylie finally got around to reading her emails and turned up at my hostel getting me out of bed at 11.30pm. Fast asleep and snuggled up in bed I was hauled out and taken to the closed pub. I think I was one of the annoying people that night. You know the ones. They come in at 3.30am, drunk, try not to crash into everything, make heaps of noise telling themselves to be quiet. Hmmm, well I don’t do it too often. Hey, got to let your hair down and all that stuff…..
My first city stop on the PaddyWagon tour is in Dublin itself at the Guinness Brewery before our overnight stay in Belfast. Not long before getting into there the bus driver says that everyone will have to get out there passports as we are entering Northern Ireland. I just did a little chuckle to myself. You would be amazed at the number of people that thought it was for real. Some had no idea this guy was pulling their leg. Love the sense of humour of the Irish!! As we arrived late afternoon this didn’t give me much time to see Belfast so only walked into the city for a very quick look.
The next day is cloudy with a bit of rain mixed in but this is to be expected. It is Ireland after all. The name given as the ‘Emerald Isle’ is so appropriate. The grass is an emerald colour. It actually looks greener than NZ in a different way. Beautiful country.
Today we are heading all the way to Derry. Some people will also refer to it as Londonderry. We stop at several points of interest. One is Carrick- A-Rede and Larrybane and the Giants Causeway. All the places we visit are humming with tourists from every point of the globe.
By the end of this second day we have worked out who the clowns of our group are. Walter from Belgium had the ability to make everyone laugh about the most ridiculous things. What a hang man. Mel is from New Zealand but now lives in London. Ben is also from NZ and is heading back to his homeland soon to start a new job in Wellington. Mike is from Canada. Very nice guy who had the top of the line camera which I wished I had after looking at how brilliant and crisp his photos came out. For some reason I haven’t written down everyone’s name but there was another guy from Canada who got totally pissed every night and always took 2-3 hours on the bus each morning before he came alive.
After getting ourselves sorted at the hostel in Derry we went to walk the old Derry Wall and see the Bloody Sunday Murals. Out to dinner tonight and the first thing I spotted on the menu was NZ lamb burgers. Yes! NZ lamb. Best in the world. God it was good, so good.
Our 3rd day on the tour we travel through loads of little towns. There are endless opportunities for taking photos. I really like Ireland even though I was finding it rather cold and the rain was following us everywhere. Tonight we are in Galway. We go to a local pub for dinner then a traditional Irish music night. Walter is doing a fantastic job at keeping everyone amused. There a young guy from Australia and we have hit it off and spend lots of time talking.
The Cliffs of Moher was great. I got some photos that I am super proud of. The mist was hanging low with dark clouds above which made for some awesome photos. People have commented that I should enter them in competitions. I will save them for my web photo album. (This will be up and running when I get Filezilla fixed). Tonight we are in Randy staying at the Leprechaun Pub. Party tonight.
We make our way to Killarney. While in Killarney of course this means you have to go and kiss the Blarney Stone at the castle. It is reported that after kissing the Blarney stone you will never be lost for words. Senior, from Orange County Choppers has kissed the Blarney stone. Maybe that’s why he is never lost for words.
After our time in Killarney we are going back to Dublin. When we get there we have to turn back down 3 streets. It’s raining cats and dogs and it’s flooding in parts of the city. I catch a taxi and head to Kylies place for the night.
I woke the next morning with a sore throat. The rain has stopped and I go do a bit of shopping. Most of the day I just laze about and watch the Olympics. Kylie and I went to the Woolshed for dinner. Kylie loves this place apart from one thing. There is a huge poster on the wall of the All Blacks. She’s an Australian. I have much delight in commenting how wonderful that poster is!
We met up with Kylie’s friend Leanne and took the train out to Malahide to go through Malahide Castle. This is about a half hour train trip. Good day. The next day Kylie and I hit Grafton Street. We got absolutely soaking wet. As I have a full blown case of the flu Kylie thinks a good whisky or two will do me the world of good so it’s off to the Jameson Whisky Distillery for a tour through there. When we get there we have a little time to wait before our group starts its tour so Kylie gets me a whisky and promptly gives me her one. We each get a free one with our tickets so down the batch they go. Now the thing is that I love whisky so I end up having 7 in a half hour period. The other 3 came when on the tour they asked for taste testers. I put my hand up and that got me 2 more. Another tester sitting next to me gave me one of his as he didn’t like his. By the time I walked out of there I was a yapping, giggling mess. Before I knew it I was in a betting shop talking with a friend of Kylie’s, Alan, from Trinidad and getting another invitation out.
Somehow we got all the way back to Kylies on foot. It had to be close to 2kms, and I sobered up enough to go out that night to the Arlington Hotel to see a mini Riverdance show. While there I end up chatting with an American guy who invites me out to. I am on a roll! Think I need to get out of Ireland so I book the ferry and train back to London. I am going to meet up with Omar and Rogelio and a friend of theirs. These are the guys I met in Mexico City.
The morning of my departure from Dublin the weather is beautiful. Wouldn’t you know it! Getting the ferry and train back to London goes just as smoothly as the journey to Dublin. On getting back into London I head to the Flight Centre and book a flight to Perth, Western Australia for 2 weeks then onward to New Zealand for December. I am going home for Christmas.
I have a new best friend in London now. Andrew. He’s an Australian. I attract Aussie’s like they are going out of fashion. We are in the same dorm room and the others in the dorm aren’t overly friendly. I woke and looked over and this guy gets out of bed and says hello. I reply with a ‘Hi, how’s it going’ ‘You have to be a kiwi with that accent?’ he says. ‘Yep, I’m Ingrid’ ‘I’m Andrew. What are you up to in London?’ From there the conversation took off and to this day we are the best of friends. Andrew teachers in London.
I get up early the next morning, have breakfast and head to Heathrow to meet Omar, Rogelio and Tere. They are staying at the same hostel as me, which has a bar, so I know that I am in for another late night. As it happens I was so knackered and still have the flu so I went to bed early and left them to it. The following day Omar and the others head off to Chelmsford to a V music festival. Apparently they have V festivals in different countries throughout the year.
I am running low on medication that I need and after enquiring at the hostel the best way to go about getting some more they suggest going to Guy’s Hospital where I will be able to see a GP. Off Andrew and go. After a 2 hour wait I get in, get a prescription and then go to the hospital pharmacy to then be told that they can’t fill the prescription as the doctor has not ticked off the right boxes. Shit was I angry! 2 hours sitting there for absolutely nothing and I wasn’t about to go back and sit for another 2 hours! Now if you have been reading ‘Where the Hell is Kodak’ from the start you will know by now that that brought about a string of bad language. Andrew has worked out in the short time he has known me that this is how I express my anger and he was just as pissed off as me at the time we had wasted on this little excursion. Needless to say that I was feeling so yuck from the flu I went back to the hostel and sleep the rest of the day.
The next few days I just ate and sleep. My nose is sore from all the crap I have to blow out all the time. I have a constant headache and the whole body has started aching. The hostel I am staying is St Christopher’s and it has 3 hostels under the one banner. I am staying 50 metres down the street from the main one where the bar is so the next morning walking back from breakfast I run into Tere. She came yesterday from the V festival because she was wet, dirty from all the mud and there were no showers. She hated it. At around midday Omar and Rogelio turned up. I introduced them to Andrew and it was like we have all known each other for years.
Tonight is karaoke in the bar. We all spot this young guy just keeping to himself in the corner and invite him to join us. Poor Samuel. (From Switzerland) He is a real quiet guy and he was thrown in the deep end with us. We all talk 50 to the ton. The guys got on the karaoke and did the Village People –YMCA, we are getting loud as more alcohol is consumed and Omar and Rogelio are up dancing all the time. We did get him laughing and smiling but you could tell he was very shy and reserved, but you could also tell he enjoyed himself. Tomorrow Omar, Rog and Tere have to head back home to Mexico so when going to bed I set the alarm on my phone. They are so drunk and I know they aren’t going to wake up in time and their flight is 11am.
Glad I set the alarm because they weren’t up and taking one look at them I knew I had better go to the airport or they were going to go to sleep on the train and end up god knows where. What do you know. No sooner we hopped on the train all 3 of then went to sleep and I had to wake them to change trains at Green Park. After seeing them off I get back and have a much needed sleep. Tonight Andrew and I go to a Walkabout. This is an Australian bar chain in the UK. The Aussie soccer team – the Socceroos – are playing and we are hoping that it is being televised. It wasn’t. Never mind and better luck next time.
I have had an email from Kylie and she and Leanne are in London tonight and we are going to meet tomorrow. Good excuse to have an early night.
I woke the next morning with a hangover. Not surprising at all, so I had a slow, sleepy day. James and Angie decide not to go to Cancun. They had intended to spend 4 days together up there before he left but change their minds and stay on in Tulum. Big mistake as tonight becomes another party farewell night. How long I can keep this up for I don’t know so this night I stuck to drinking 7up. The party and singing rocked again till the wee small hours. Hell this place goes through some alcohol and Kodak is getting lots of attention especially when he is standing on beer bottles half the night.
Having a night off from the alcohol was a good idea because the following day Duncan and I go to Akumal all day snorkelling. It was great. We watched turtles feeding, saw barracuda and parrot fish and an array of others. Even though I don’t have a divers certificate I still thoroughly enjoy snorkelling. The water is just so clear that you get to see everything anyway, however it would be a big advantage when it comes to the cenotes as they have underground tunnels that connect them. The Yucatan Peninsula has some wonderful things to offer and cenote diving is a big tourist earner. I have always loved the outdoors and sun and I could live here. So its farewell night AGAIN!! This place is going to kill me, but you only live once, so I am back into it again. Heaven help me in the morning.
Everyday there are bus loads of tourists that come from Cancun for a day trip to the Tulum Mayan Ruins and others that hire vehicles and just come for the day also. This does make Tulum uncrowded and the locals like it this way. The hotel is near full all the time and with the hostel over the road each night sees a different crowd of people ready to party. A wicked hangover hits me the next morning and its not until 3pm that I head to the beach for some sun and snorkelling again. When I get back and spot James and Angie I know exacactly what’s on the agenda tonight. Talk about being a tiger for punishment, fun though! Somehow, lying there in the hammock on some of those mornings, with a hangover, I have managed to get more writing done. The bar staff come out every half hour and top my water glass up and all are very interested in the fact that the El Crucero Hotel is someday going to be in print for people to read about. And lesson 2 about the Mexicans and Mayans. They generally don’t like each other. Alot of Mexicans can understand them when they talk in their own language bit cant speak it themselves. In between everything else that I am doing I have managed to get online and sort out an appointment in Mexico City with the New Zealand Embassy to get papers signed so I can get a new drivers license. Mine was stolen in Ecuador when my bag was done over. Getting this done will be good as my Mum has a friend coming to London so she can bring my new one with her when she comes over and by this time I will be in London myself. Tonight is yet again ‘party night’. By now I am almost begging for James to leave. I have nick-named the hotel the ‘ Hotel California’. You can check in but you can never leave. After another drunken night I find that by 11am the next day that James and Angie have left. Thank god, all this alcohol is just about to poison me. (I’m not complaining really).
Each morning when I have been getting up everyone has been asking what day I am moving on, but now they have stopped asking. I am enjoying it to much here and figure I might as well stay as long as I can. Staying at the hotel is Arjoh from the Netherlands. He and I got talking one night and today have teamed up and are going on a day trip to Chichen Itza.
You can catch a bus from the local station which does day trips. We stop off at a few towns on the way but it is only to pick up people for Chichen Itza. Its a few hours drive. When we arrive it is raining so Arjoh and I buy a plastic overcoat. Chichen Itza is packed with people. Arjoh and I head off with a map. Its not long before our shoes are soaking. Then the rain clears off and it is stinking hot and humid. Chichen Itza is fascinating. This place was huge in its day. I was a little disappointed that we were not allowed to climb the pryimads any more. Unfortunately a women from California woman fell to her death in 2006. I managed to somehow get a photo of the biggest one with out a tourists in the frame. Belive me, not easy to do.
The Temple of Kukulkan, the Feathered Serpent God (also known as Quetzalcoatl to the Toltecs and Aztecs) is the largest and most important ceremonial structure at Chichen Itza. The pyramid was used for religious and ceremonial purposes. The ninety-foot tall pyramid was built during the 11th to 13th centuries directly upon the foundations of previous temples. The architecture of the pyramid encodes precise information regarding the Mayan calendar and is directionally oriented to mark the solstices and equinoxes. Each face of the four-sided structure has a stairway with ninety-one steps, which together with the shared step of the platform at the top, add up to 365, the number of days in a year. Something that has always intrigued me and the fact that the Mayan calendar ends 21st Dec. 2012. Wow! Chichen Itza. How do I tell you about it all. I cant really. You have to go there for yourself to appreciate this place.
Theres pyrimads, serpent heads, two cenotes they would through people in to sacrifice them to the gods, baths, and the most interesting for me was the long acoustic field or more commonly called the Ball Court. This is where you have two great walls either side, it is about 75mts long, and someone can stand at one end and someone stands at the other end and you don’t have to raise your voice or yell in order for them to hear you. It was however used for a ball game. The Maya also built sophisticated and highly decorated ceremonial architecture, palaces and observatories apparently without the use the wheel. They were highly skilled potters, weavers, sculptors and jewellers. They developed an extensive trade network through the jungles and along the eastern and western coasts of Yucatan and Central America. Through these trade networks they were able to obtain resources from distant areas such as obsidian from central Mexico and gold from Central America. Northern Yucatan is arid, and the interior has no aboveground rivers. The only sources of water are the natural sinkholes called cenotes. Some of these are small, while others are large such as the two at Chichen Itza.
Of the two Chichen cenotes, the larger, the “Cenote Sagrado” or Sacred Cenote, is the more famous. According to post-Conquest sources (both Maya and Spanish), the pre-Columbian Maya threw sacrificial objects and human beings into the cenote as a form of worship to Chaac, the Maya rain god. When archaeologists dredged the Cenote of Sacrifice, they found various types of offerings, including jade carvings, pottery, gold and silver artifacts and even human skeletons. The cenote was also considered by the Maya to be an entrance to the underworld and it is believed that the sacrificial victims were venerating Chac Mool by entering this underworld.
The Observatory at Chichén Itzá is called El Caracol (or snail in Spanish) because it has an interior staircase that spirals upward like a snail’s shell. The first structure was probably built during the transition period of the late 9th century and consisted of a large rectangular platform with a stairway on its west side. A round tower of about 48 feet high was built atop the platform, with a solid lower body, a central portion with two circular galleries and a spiral staircase and an observation chamber on the top. Later, a circular and then a rectangular platform were added. The round, concentrically-vaulted Caracol was built and rebuilt several times during its time of use in order to calibrate its astronomical observation capacity. The windows in the Caracol point in the cardinal and subcardinal directions and are believed to enable the tracking of the movement of Venus, the Pleiades, the sun and the moon and other celestial objects. One main thing I noticed about the cenote here is that the water was very green. I wasn’t able to find out why. All the rest I have seen are so clear and considering they are all contented by underground streams I couldn’t work why this one was green. (Some of the material from above has been taken from the following website.
I suggest you have a read of this for more facts and figures.) I will let my photos do the talking for the rest of this page. I have found that sites like this that totally grab my imagination are very hard to write about. They are simply one of those things you have to see and experience for yourself. I am grateful that I have. Now I can tick Chichen Itza off my list! http://www.sacredsites.com/americas/mexico/chichen-itza-facts.html
The next day I go snorkelling at the ‘Dos Sojos’ cenote. This was an organised tour as it is the only way you can do this cenote. Other cenotes in the region you can just arrive and pay at the gate and stay all day if you wish. I don’t stay in the cenote for very long, about a ½ hour. The water is very cold and I don’t have much body fat to keep me warm. That doesn’t make the experience any less enjoyable though. I love it. On this trips there where around 15 people from all over the world. Im sure the water here is the clearest in the world. (must google that actually and find out).
When I get back to the hotel I find that Arjon has moved to the hostel, but Garth from London, is still here. He arrived a few days ago and we get on really well. With all the farewell parties over for James, tonight is a quiet one in the bar and I could have a conversation without having to yell. Following day sees me spend hours at the beach and in the evening I make a call back to New Zealand. I get to talk to all the family. They were celebrating my parents 50th wedding anniversary. It was great to hear everyones voice. I hadn’t spoken to all of them in months.
With all the cenotes that are within a short distance of each other I have decided to snorkel as many of them that I can so when Duncan asks if I want to spend the afternoon at ‘Casa Cenote’ I don’t hesitate. Duncan, Garth, Elana, (French) and I head off after lunch for a 10 minute drive up the road. This cenote is above ground. All the others are down in a hole. What makes this one different again is apart from being above ground, it comes out in the sea. After snorkelling the cenote up around the corner and coming back we then walk over the road and onto the beach to snorkel over the holes where it comes out in the sea. Boy this is where you really notice just how cold the cenote water really is! You swim through it and get warm and cold patches and it looks like clear oil trying to mix with water. It bubbles up from holes from 1ft across to the biggest hole which was about 20ft across. From here we also went right out to the reef and watch turtles feeding and spotting all manner of other fish. The coral along this reef is just as colourful as the fish to. Pink, purple, lime green, blue, red….the colours of the rainbow…. wow!
Two days later Garth and I spend over 2hours snorkelling along the reef again. Cant seem to get enough of it. Garth is leaving tomorrow but this place has captured him and he intends to return again oneday. I know that I will also be back. Two days later I am back snorkelling at yet another cenote with an organised tour. The next night I get on the internet and book a hostel and tell everyone that in 2 days time I am leaving. In order to get my USA visa I had to book my flights into the country and out so I have to be in Mexico City to fly out in 5 days time so figure I best get on the road again. Tulum, Mexico – I shall be back!!
After saying my goodbyes to everyone and holding back the tears, Budgie drives Kodak and I to the bus station for our overnight bus to Palenque. When im hopping on the bus I notice all the Mexicans have a blanket with them. Ok Im thinking, what is this for. It doesn’t take long to find out that the driver loves to have the air-conditioning on FREEZING! Oh my god was it ever so cold. A Mexican lady got up and complained and I could make out she was telling him that her daughter was to cold but this made no difference whatsoever. I don’t have room to carry a blanket but will be putting more clothing on for my next overnight bus trip thats for sure. So another lesson learnt.
We pull into Palenque around 8am and I get to my hotel. I promptly go to bed as I have a migraine. I slept all day as I didn’t sleep much in the bus as I was so cold anyway and figure thats why I have a thumping head. I only have to go a few steps down the street to a resturant for dinner then go back to the hotel and sit outside with the owner trying to have a conversation is Spanish and watch the most wicked electrical storm. It was off in the distance and didn’t actually rain in Palenque itself. Catching the bus to the Palenque Ruins is easy and they run about every half hour.
The ruins here have to be my second favourite. They cover a huge area and they are still unearthing more of the ruins everyday. You can climb all over the pyramids here. Like Tikal and Chichen Itza, it is surrounded by jungle and jungle sounds from the wildlife. Again like the other sites it is jam packed with tourists from all over the world and of course many Mexican families visiting the sites for the first time. I will let my photos do the talking again.
Kodak and I head to the bus station again after just the one night in Palenque. This time we are off to Oaxaca. This time I have more clothing on but am roasting when I get on the bus as it is only 5.30pm. We have a 16hr long trip before pulling into Oaxaca the next morning.
I only want to visit the ruins of Mont Alban so we are booked on a bus tonight to Mexico City. I have arranged before hand to leave my backpack at a hostel for the day so head there to drop it off and have a shower and breakfast. I walk down town and before long find a tour to go to Mont Alban. This ruin site is up high and has a 360 degree view of Oaxaca. Would have been a grand place to guard and pretty near impossible to overtake in a war. The pyramids are not so high here and it’s a smaller site than the others I have seen but is just as interesting. I spent 3 hours here and read everything I could about it before catching my bus back to the city centre for a good look around.
Oaxaca is of course a very old city with the usual fascinating old building and architecture. Most enjoyable place to visit with lovely friendly people. I put on a heap of clothing in the heat and head to the bus station for the long overnight trip to Mexico City. I don’t sleep much and in the moonlight all I see is barren land and cacti. One place of interest we did go through was, I think, an oil refinery or something similar though that didn’t make sense as it was inland and you would expect to see it near a port. Anyway I starting thinking that it must be the only one in Mexico (whatever this plant is), as from one end to the next when I first started seeing the huge pipes it took us over 20 minutes. What it really was I don’t know but it was massive with pipes to match.
The light of Mexico City comes into view but it is still an hour before we actually get to the central bus station. This is not a surprise as I am now in the largest city on earth. Mexico City – 33million people. I catch a taxi to the hostel which takes another ½ hour. I am now at Hostel Cathedral in Colonia Centro. Right over the road from Zocolo. It’s a huge paved area with the Mexican flag flying which is huge, really huge. Turn right and I can go shopping for jewellery at 1001 jewellers shops. Go left and not 50meters away is an ancient city that has been unearthed. This hostel is in a great location. From the top floor bar there is a great view over this area and I sat there for ages watching planes coming in to the international airport at a rate of one every 28 seconds. I dine in the restaurant downstairs and stepped outside to have a smoke. There is this young man standing next to me and when he moves away I look at him as if to say do I smell or something. He looked back and said ‘ I don’t want to be in the picture’ gesturing to a young Asian girl over the road who is taking a photo of the hostel. I promptly moved next to him and introduce myself. His name is Omar and he is here with friends from Monterrey (Mexico).
So started another night on the booze. Rogelio, Omar’s brother, invites me to spend time with him and his friends and several hours later we all end up at a night club. In the wee small hours of the morning I finally get to bed all be it very drunk and very happy. The following night is the same. I end up talking with Diego from Venezuela who is into the All Blacks. Totally took me by surprise that a Venezuelan would even know about rugby let alone the All Blacks. Small world aye?! Who else is here – well Sean from Australia, who is trying not to laugh as he fallen down some stairs and has broken ribs, Melina and Raphael from France, Mosses, Guy and Isaac from Israel and a lovely Mexican guy called Jesus, whom I hit it off with. Talking and drinking with this lot meant another 2am to bed.
Next day I organise the hostel taxi to take me to the New Zealand Embassy. This takes us through the city on a half hour trip but we find it without much trouble and I get my papers signed. This is a load off my mind. After the half hour trip back to the hostel the rest of the day is taken up with walking and shopping followed with a quiet night. I have decided to give the Teotichuancan Ruins on the outskirts of the city a miss. I will leave this for another visit and I have ticked off the ones I really wanted to see, besides I have a flight tomorrow to…….
Los Angeles, here we come! Kodak and I land by 11am and ring our hotel/hostel for pick-up. This place is nice, close to LAX and has a pool. Again people from all over the world are here. It doesn’t take me long to start taking with a guy named Ben. Originally from Philadelphia, he has been living in LA for 3 months. Seeing as this is my first time in LA I ask him to show me about. For this I agree to pay his way into the places we visit. At 4am we are in reception asking about the free drop off at the transit centre when a girl called Anna has overheard us and asks if she can join us. She is Russian, and just flown in from Auckland (New Zealand) and wants to get out and she is only there overnight before flying onto Canada in the morning where she attends university. No worries, the more the merrier. We are off to Santa Monica Pier.
When you buy a transport day pass in LA it is valid to ride the buses and underground trains as many times as you like and are valid till 2am in the morning. I find the public transport in LA easy once you work it out and the locals are very friendly and helpful anyway. However LA is spread out over a huge area and it doesn’t really matter where you stay, you will end up being close to one attraction but at least 1- 2 hours from other attractions you want to see. This just means you have to be up early and organised.
Anyway we spent several hours at Santa Monica Pier and had dinner and went back only leaving when they closed at 11pm. I am now carrying around a fluffy brown and white stuffed dog that I have named Benanna. This was won at the Pier. Next day was spent at Venice Beach. If you want to go shopping for all sorts of stuff then this is the place. Restaurants, cafes, bars and stalls with all manner of clothing, beach gear, shoes, sunglasses etc…. On the 3rd day here we hit Hollywood.
We did the Walk of Fame and saw all the usual stuff that you see when visiting for the first time and the following day headed to Universal City. Wow I love this place, especially the 3D movies. I won’t write anymore on this as I think everyone in the world pretty much knows what these places are like. Because of where I am staying it takes 2 hours to get back and even though it is late when we do get back I have a few beers with a young Australian shearer and an American guy. Tonight the hostel is very full with backpackers.
The first thing I think I noticed about LA is there are signs, along with English, in Spanish everywhere. I did know that Spanish was the second language in LA but didn’t realise all the road signs had Spanish to and that the bus stops coming up next are all announced in Spanish, on the buses. Learn something every day.
And today Ben and I are off to Knott’s Berry Farm. When my Dad was in LA, many years ago, he had enjoyed KBF better than Disneyland so that is why I chose to go there instead of Disneyland. This takes us another 2 hours to reach having to go to the end of one of the train lines then catch a bus. It’s a long way from LAX, but it is so worth it. Lucky for us it is no so crowded and we don’t have to wait in line more than 10 minutes to go on any of the rides. I think we went on ever ride 4-5 times at least. The Death Drop is an absolute favourite! Roller-coasters of every sort – I just love them!! Great day out.
The following day is to the Aquarium at Long Beach. It certainly is not hard to spend all day at these different places especially when you haven’t been to an aquarium in years, as I haven’t. It tends to bring out the big kid in me.
And so to the next day and Venice Beach. This only takes a half hour on the bus to get here and I do enjoy it. There are stalls, shops, restaurants…… for a good mile. As the weather is great Ben and I spend a few hours sunbathing. Poor Ben ended up sunburnt. He hadn’t applied his sunscreen thick enough or often enough as was as red as a beetroot. And did he cop it when we got back to the hostel. He didn’t sleep to well. My last day in LA I was to spend at the hostel and relaxing. I had gone somewhere everyday and not gotten to bed before midnight and been up at least by 7 every morning and could again cross lots of my list.
Kodak and I get to LAX for our flight to San Francisco only to find the line ahead of us is long. We get up to the auto-ticket check in and it won’t work. I call for assistance and the first try by this lady helping, what do you know it doesn’t work for her either. Half way through her second attempt and the cut off time means we can’t get on our flight. As with most everyone behind me, we all have to catch another flight. Nothing worse than having to sit around an airport longer than you have to. As with every other time I go through security I get pulled out as I set the bloody things off and yes today is the same. That was until I was swabbed for chemicals, drugs and explosives. First time this has happened, but not the last!!! I must look menacing or criminal or something. No to worry. After landing in San Fran I decide to change my tickets so that I can spend more time in Canada. I now have friends there and want to spend time catching up with them and seeing where they live.
I found it cold in SF and immediately went and brought a sweat-shirt. This would have to be the first time since leaving NZ that I have felt cold. The wind was really chilly. My hostel is great and I have a room with 2 kiwi girls. Funny to hear a NZ accent after all this time to.
I get a map from the front desk, after a quick sprint to the nearest shop for my sweat-shirt and head off to have a look about. It doesn’t take long for me to decide that I like SF. So on my list is of course the Cable Car, Fishermans Wharf and the Golden Gate. It’s only a short walk around the corner the next morning to catch the Cable Car. I am with a young Australian couple who have set out to do the same thing as me so I have company for the day. The line is long to catch the Cable Car but goes down surprisingly fast so don’t let it put you off if you go to do the same thing.
On the car as you go over the rise you get a great view of the city and surrounding area, Alcatraz and the bay. During the winter when it is foggy and dreary many people have seen what is now referred to as ‘the Ghost Ship’ in the bay. Today is clear and cold and no chance of seeing it but I wouldn’t mind coming back in the winter in the hope of getting a glimpse of it. Anyway we have a wonder around Fishermans Wharf and get pointed in the direction of where to catch a bus to the Golden Gate Bridge.
The Golden Gate Bridge is not as long as thought it was. It just seemed to look so long in all the pictures I had seen but when it came to walking it, it took no time at all. (Maybe it’s the fact that I walk everywhere.) Brought a second sweat-shirt here before hopping on a bus which someone had told us would take us back into the city. Oh no it didn’t and when it stopped at a train station we decided to get off and try getting back in on a train. This worked out better. Back in the city I did more looking and shopping before going to Jacks for dinner again. Tonight was quiet and tomorrow is another flight to…..
Calgary, Canada. I have a great Aunt who lives in Calgary and I have timed my visit to coincide with the Calgary Stampede, the largest rodeo in the world. My aunt lives one block over and at the end of the main street in Calgary. What an ideal place to be in Calgary. All I have to do is go down in the lift, outside and across a car park, walk 30 feet and catch the free train downtown. I can also stay on the train and go all the way to Stampede Arena. My aunts on the 11 floor and has a great view. What a spot to be. I immediately like Calgary.
So my first day is just sorting out where everything is in Calgary. If you end up there and wish to use the internet then the Public Library is the place. Show your passport and its free and you can print off if need be.
As you can imagine with the Stampede in town all you are going to see is cowboys everywhere and 101 bars open from first light till late, in the main street. There were people giving away a lot sorts of stuff and by the end of the day I have so many give a ways it filled a small bag. I also went and did the usual shopping for the kids as both have birthdays coming up and let’s face it I figure it is going to be easier to find a Post Office in Canada than Colombia.
Next day I spent at the Stampede looking over everything from Indian tents to sticky lolly stands. Got to see it all. Took a few rides in the amusement park area, and ended up in a bar having a few beers and conversation with some locals. Canadians get Kiwis, thank god, and it’s easy to have a good laugh with them. Before leaving I get my tickets for the next day to the Chuck wagon races, the night show and fireworks. I’m looking forward to the chuck wagon races especially as my Dad has told me about them. (He went to the stampede about 20 years ago).
It’s the next afternoon and the chuck wagon races are about to begin. I’m quite high up in the stand and just about in the centre so I have a great spot for taking photos, except for the guy in front of me with the biggest Stetson you could find. Then it starts – holy cow – I never realised how fast these chuck wagons went. Admittedly there are 4 horses to each wagon, but wow do they go like bats out of hell. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Wouldn’t mind having a go myself. I don’t know how long this went on for as I just got so engrossed in what was going on and before I knew it the next part of the show is beginning. An interesting fact I found out while there was a very well known rodeo family, the West’s, started up and own ‘West Jet’. This is a budget airline in Canada and I was to fly West jet while there. They are brilliant.
The night show is like a cabaret show. Dancers, motocross bikes, singing ……etc Fantastic show they put on and so worth the money. Then there is the huge fireworks display at the end which can be seen from all of Calgary nearly. Loved every minute of it.
Today I am going to the rodeo day events. There are 8 events, with 2 rounds held in the afternoon and the points go towards the cowboys and cowgirls overall score for the week and obviously the most consistent person over the week is going to win the trophies and money on offer. What the $$ prizes amount to I don’t know. All the country champions from USA, Australia and New Zealand go every year.
This really gets me pumping and it’s not long before I have found some favourites that I’m going to cheer for. I have no idea who these people are, will never meet them, but it must have been something in their name. Anyway on with the rodeo. I love the bull riding but think they are totally crazy to do it, mind you the running of the bulls in Spain is more senseless and pointless than riding a bull.
Not forgetting the calf-roping, barrel races, steer wrestling, ……..bla bla. I have ended up being higher in the stand this time so tried taking photos off the big screen. Didn’t quite work but was grateful they had the big screen as it did give a better look at what was going on. At the end of each turn they then played back the vital bit. I almost think people that are not into rodeo would enjoy this event. I don’t know how many years they have had the stampede but it runs like clockwork, the evening and night show has something for everyone and let’s face it Canadians rock. Yep love Canadians, love Canada. On that note I better get a bus ticket to Kelowna.
Before heading to Kelowna I am on a mission to post a parcel back to NZ. Now that wasn’t as easy to find a Post Office as I thought it was going to be. Well not it Calgary anyway, but I had my Aunty with me. What it involved was going to the huge Mall in the main street, upstairs, into a pharmacy, through to the back, and hello, here’s the PO. Now I know where to go next time will be easy of course, but unless someone shows you, you don’t realise it’s there.
Ok so I have booked a ticket on Greyhound to Kelowna and whatever else I want to see I will do when I get back to Calgary in about 2 weeks. My flight to Chicago has been pre-booked and I depart from here and the airlines want too much money to change the ticket so I’m giving that a pass. No matter as I haven’t seen my aunt for over 20 years and coming back to see her again is no trouble at all. Actually she has the biggest sense of humour and has me laughing so much.
After a day or two more in Antigua I booked myself a shuttle to Panajachel. I have found Antigua to be a beautiful place to visit and wouldn’t mind seeing it again. I brought myself a pair of jeans while I was there to, aside from the top I brought earlier in the week. No cheaper place on earth to get them as Guatemala is one of the cheapest places to shop along with Bolivia.
The drive to Panajachel is interesting. We wind down into valleys and up the other side. There is a lot of cropping all the way. We go through several towns that don’t have a main street and they are dirt. How any tourist would find their way through, if they hired a car, I don’t really know. We seemed to wind and weave up and down and through and at times I wondered if we were going in a big circle. But, as always, we arrive at Panajachel, Lago Atitlan. A young English couple that had come in the same van as I were also staying at the same hostel. Finding it was easy and I did the usual, dumped my bags and went exploring. Lago Atitlan is beautiful also. I like Guatemala heaps. There are tuk tuks everywhere. Generally 3 people to a motorbike, with no helmets, and the faster they can go the better. Not for the pedestrian, of course, and you soon learn to watch it crossing the street! My wonder down to the lake became really interesting when I stopped at a stall that had some bright pink fruit. At the same time I am standing there an older English lady comes along and comments on the intense colour of them. The stall owner, a lovely lady who speaks excellent English, tells us the name (which I can’t remember) and we soon learn that they export the fruit to the Netherlands and they are used in cake decoration. She gave us a taste of them to. They look gorgeous but are totally tasteless. Yep, they are so bland that they don’t have a taste. The fact they are used in cake decoration makes sense. They would certainly make a fruit salad come alive.
Tonight I dine out again. Is so cheap and the hostel I am staying at doesn’t have cooking facilities but does provide breakfast. I’m sitting outside on the balcony at the restaurant when this boy of around 10years of age goes past with 3 goats. Obviously they have been grazing somewhere for the day and he’s heading home with them. I love the simplicity of life in South and Central America. I’m sure on day that I will end up living in a 3rd world country. I do appreciate everything that I had but love that fact that these people are not hung up on having the latest gizmo electronic thingy and the simple life is appealing to me. Yes, I know I am now on my laptop and have a website but the point of all this is to let you know that having all that crap in your life is not necessary in order to have a happy life. Besides these people get to see other people from all over the world. That’s another great thing about travelling. I get to meet them to. I feel I have the best of both worlds and love to tell others about it. Get travelling people. I mean, what is the point of making all that money and spending it on a new plasma TV or car. To me those things don’t matter anymore and I wouldn’t swap the experiences I have enjoyed for anything in the world, let alone a new TV. I have not seen TV for over 5 months now at this stage of my travels and it doesn’t worry me one little bit.
While I had been wondering about I booked a day boat trip on the lake and as I am in a hurry to finally see Tikal I book myself on a bus for 2 days time. I’m dying to get there. The evening is pleasant and there are quite a few hostellers to talk with. The couple that arrived with me are going back to Antigua and have agreed to return the hostel keys back there for me as I have forgotten to hand them in when I left early this morning. This is the first time I have forgotten to hand keys back. Thanks guys! The next morning is fine with it being hot and already a heat haze. I take a few photos before getting on the boat and heading off. As per usual it is not long before my batteries give up. Now this is really starting to piss me off as the night before I re-charged them. This has happened a few times so I figure for sure that the charger really doesn’t work and I do have the correct re-chargeable batteries. Damn thing!! Just have to get another one.
The day on the lake is great. I met Ann from Montreal and we immediately hit it off. Her husband works in Guatemala and she is here to see him and have an extended holiday. We pull in at a little village and disembark for a stroll around and we are given time to shop for soverneirs. Great little place. We spend about an hour here before heading to the next little village where we are to have lunch. The water is crystal clear. Just beautiful and so inviting. These villages have really steep streets as Lago Atitlan is an extinct volcano that blasted itself to pieces centuries ago and the crater is now, of course, the lake. You could take a horse ride up to the top of the cliff above the village to take photos if you wished. Really neat place.
After 1 ½ hours here for lunch break we head on to the next village. In this village they make the pottery that is known throughout the pottery world. Ann is on the hunt for a few pieces for her family. I head off up one of the steep streets for a view down on the village. Guatemala is stunning. After a short hike up and a sit down I go back and catch up with Ann. I buy myself a few little bits. It is annoying at times not to be able to buy some really great pieces of stuff but I am not going to risk trying to send them home but I’m still happy I have been able to see them. After this village its back home.
Ahhh, what can I say. If you head to Central America don’t miss Guatemala. The fresh food, the people, the place and another day wondering about, trying to talk Spanish and generally have a great look at everything I could pack in I got to bed early as tomorrow I have to be up at 6am to catch a shuttle into Guatemala City and connect to a bus to Flores. Flores is where you generally stay if you are going to visit Tikal, although there are hotels close to Tikal they are a tad expensive.
Next morning its up and I’m off. The shuttle van picks me up at my hostel and we actually end up going back through Antigua and pick up some more people then onto the City. Now if you are going to connect in Guatemala City tell your shuttle driver where you are going onto. As is the case in most Central and South American countries there is more than one bus station. I must travel on odd days or something as I am the only tourist on this bus to. The bus trip is ok but long. 10 hours later we roll into Flores. I haven’t booked accommodation for here and its only 5 minutes and I have a room in a hotel/hostel.
As there is plenty of daylight left I head off for a coffee and walk after booking that all important trip to Tikal for tomorrow. Flores is a busy bustling town with super friendly people but I must confess that I was to find out my bed was not friendly. Rock hard unfortunately but the only one I have come across at this stage. I am picked up again by a bus that has about 25 seats in it right outside my hotel. The service they provide for tourists in Guatemala I have not come across in any other country. Brilliant, just brilliant. It may sound like I’m raving on a bit but they sincerely love having tourists in this country. Maybe I will come back here and teach English or plumbing or building or sewing or …….Yep got to come back! Love it.
So I am finally off to Tikal. I have seen loads of pictures of Tikal and Chichen Itza and I have waited years to see it. From Flores it is an hour by bus. When you arrive there you can’t see anything of the pyramids because of the jungle but it is very far up the track before you see them. Wow. You can climb up them too. Kodak and I start off in Acropolis Central. There are 22 different areas to visit with names such as Complejo P, Templo V, Templo II, Placio do la Ventanas, Plaza Este... etc. It takes some considerable time to walk around this whole site and try to take it all in. Real fascinating to say the least. It is hard to describe and you have to imagine all the time just what it would have been like to live back in that day centuries ago.
Tikal became one of the most powerful kingdoms of the ancient Mayan world. Major monuments were built at Tikal and there is evidence that elite palaces were burned here also. Tikal has been dated back to the 4th century and was abandoned by the end of the 10th century. It is the best understood of any of the large lowland Maya cities, with the closest large modern settlements of Flores and Santa Elena, approximately 64 kilometres (40 mi) by road to the southwest. Tikal is approximately 303 kilometres (188 mi) north of Guatemala City and other Mayan sites include Uaxactun, Yaxha and Calakmul. Other sites related to this one are numerous and neighbouring Belize has several Mayan sites.
The city covers an area greater than 16 square kilometres (6.2 sq mi) and includes about 3000 structures. The area around Tikal has been declared as the Tikal National Park and the ruins lie among the tropical rainforests. For centuries this city was completely covered under jungle and one surprising thing to note is that Tikal had no water other than what was collected from rainwater and stored in ten reservoirs. The reliance on seasonal rainfall left Tikal vulnerable to prolonged drought, which is thought by some to have played a role in the Classic Maya Collapse. There are temples that tower over 70 metres (230 ft) high, large royal palaces in addition to a number of smaller pyramids, palaces, residences, administrative buildings, platforms and inscribed stone monuments. There is even a building which seemed to have been a jail, originally with wooden bars across the windows and doors. Kodak and I climb up Templo IV. We couldn’t go right to the top as there were workers doing restoration but ¾ of the way up allowed us views for miles.
We could see the top of the other taller pyramids poking up through the jungle canopy. I sat and watched and listened. You can hear the jungle creatures and birds. This is all I had imagined it to be and more. The noise of ancient children running about and playing started to drift up from down below. I had nearly dowsed off and had felt like I had drifted back in time. Amazing experience to put it mildly. I then spent about half an hour chatty to a lovely lady from Buenos Aires, Argentina. There are holiday makers from all walks of life and places. I have now been at the Tikal site for 4 ½ hours. It’s not hard to lose yourself here and the time flies by but I have to go otherwise if I miss my bus I will be stuck here for the night. Years ago people where allowed to sleep here on the pyramids until a tourist was attacked by a jaguar. I have so enjoyed see Tikal and it is yet another place that will forever be stuck in my mind.
I catch my bus back to Flores but just sit quietly with the sounds and site going through my mind. The feeling of how privileged I am to see all these place crosses me again as it has many times of my travels. Guatemala – invigorating, exhilarating, delightful, fascinating, intriguing, perfect just PERFECT!! If you wish to read more on Tikal go to Wikipedia.
Where the hell is Kodak going now? Belize. After a great night dining out and a good sleep Kodak and I are on the bus to Caye Caulker in Belize. It was yet another long bus trip and it was good to get to the border and hear English again. One thing that struck me as odd is the immigration man telling me that they didn’t get to many New Zealanders crossing this border into Belize. As kiwis love to travel I thought it a bit odd but maybe they take another route or go straight into Mexico. When I think about it I haven’t come across any more kiwis other than in Argentina.
From Belize City I catch a boat to Caye Caulker. The bus stop is opposite the boat terminal so that was real handy. Caye Caulker is beautiful with lovely white sand but wow is it ever so hot. Within 5 minutes of hitting there you are hit on by the local men. I just pushed them aside and head to my hostel to get rid of my bags, that seem extra heavy in the heat, and booking a snorkelling trip to the reef can wait. After a cool drink and a snack I hit the main street where all the tour operators are and book my day trip to the reef and start chatting with the locals. This is how I met Paul. He talked with an American accent as he used to live in the states. Paul and I still email each other to this day.
So I am off to the reef on a sail boat with about 20 other people. I love the Caribbean ocean. The water is so crystal clear. We anchor the boat and the guides start dropping bread into the water. We are in a spot they called ‘shark alley’. Next thing there are about 20 sharks fighting over the pieces of bread and then we are told to get in the water. Yeah right – do we look stupid? It turns out they are nurse sharks and don’t really have teeth and the name suits them. I held one. They lie back in your arms, belly up, and love it when people stroke them. God they fell funny like a sponge and they just love it. They have a sort of smile on their face the whole time. Another first for me, I have held a shark!
Alot of the reef was destroyed by a hurricane years ago but the area we are wasn’t hit so hard. Oh my god, the colours of the reef, the iridescent colours of the fish. They are like the man-made colours of felt tip pencils. So brilliant and shimmering from the sun’s rays. Lime green, blue, reds, orange – just every colour you could think up – purple, yellow. WOW and what made it great for me is that I am one of the small percentage of woman that is colour blind but it didn’t seem to make a difference here. (shopping for a certain colour jumper is a different story). There were schools of iridescent blue fish swimming everywhere and their bodies looked like miniature corrugated iron. They got so close that I and several others were able to run our fingers over them. What an experience. Marks out of 10 – ELEVEN!!!
After a great day on the reef I head for the shower, rest up and then head out for dinner. Not hard to find a place to eat as the main street, if you can call it that, is lined with spots to eat. The following day I catch up with Paul. He is living on the other part of the island. Why do I say other part? Well a few years back a hurricane went through and split the island. You used to be able to walk across at low tide but now the gap is considerable and you need to get a ride across. If you find yourself here and wish to get to the other side there is usually someone down at the split with a boat of some sort that will give you a ride over for a few dollars. The rest of the time everyone gets around on a bicycle or you can hire a golf buggy. I don’t really see the point of hiring a buggy as the island is so small and doesn’t take that long to walk from one end to the other. I spent the morning snorkelling again and the afternoon just relaxing.
I head out for dinner again and while I am sitting there enjoying my food I fell something on my foot. On looking down I see a bl….y crab. God did I get a fright. It was sitting right on top of my foot. How it got there before I even felt the little bugger. Needless to say I let out a scream and shook my foot like there was no tomorrow. I laughed afterwards but I absolutely hate creepy crawly things. After dinners excitement I went to the school. The kids were putting on a concert and the whole island turned out. There was a small fee to get in and they were certainly entertaining for a few hours. Great way for the island to get funds to keep going and a good way to end a carefree day.
The following morning is spent swimming and just lazing in the sun. The afternoon I headed to the other part of the island after getting a lift over the split. Paul and I head off for a look around. We go to where an area is being developed for a hotel. It has been cleared of trees but I must say it is a mess with stumps sticking up through the sand everywhere. Paul tells me it has been cleared for some time and he doesn’t know when they are actually going to start building. Boy they have some work to do in order to make the beach nice as they sure can’t leave all these broken off sharp stumps sticking up.
Anyway after a good wander around for a few hours I head back to the other side. On my way back down the street I have this big guy come up to me and ask if I want to go to a disco tonight. Ok I’m up for anything and I aint doing anything else tonight. After two more steps down the street I then get propositioned by another guy who suggests we could get stoned and sex it up all night. I think not! A few more steps and I get a pamphlet put in my hand. It is for ‘Commonwealth Day’. Oh talk about any excuse to have a piss up – (piss up= kiwi slang for let’s get drunk). This is not the first ‘lets get drunk tonight’ that I came across and on asking what all these different nights are for it turns out they are just for the hell of it. There was ‘Karaoke Night’, ‘Wet –T-shirt Night’, somebody’s birthday night where one and all are invited. There were other nights but I can’t think what they were but put your imagination to it and they have probably had that night to! At least it gives the tourists something to do.
So anyway I meet with Steve who has invited me to the disco. Its dark by now and I pay my $5 (locals don’t have to pay) and off we go. They scream along at a rate of knots in the boat with no lights. The disco is on the other part of the island (Paul’s side). Its only access is by boat and the whole bar and grounds are surrounded by a moat with crocodiles. Note to oneself – don’t get drunk, wander off and fall in the moat. Steve and I get drinks and head to the hammocks strung up under the trees. I don’t recall how long we were there but it was nice to relax and not have to think about doing anything. That’s got to be one of the best things about travelling – no commitments. Foot-loose and fancy free!!! Yes I have lots to be grateful for and I am. When you wish to head back to your hostel/hotel you just wander back to the jetty and they bring you back when you want. Good set up really. Don’t miss out on doing it if you find yourself on Caye Caulker.
After breakfast the next morning I head to the main jetty and buy tickets on to Ambergris Caye then get some laundry done. By now I have started referring to the main street as ‘running the gauntlet’. You can’t take two steps and one of the locals (mainly men) is in your face about whatever. This morning was no different. This guy comes out of nowhere and asks ‘Where have you been wifey’. He had this rather cheeky look about him so I decided to play along. The fact that several other tourists had heard him say this had something to do with it. ‘Where in god’s name have you been? You married me and 5 minutes later I saw you walking off with some blonde bimbo. What up with that? You didn’t even spend the wedding night with me’ By now of course there are a few more tourists pretending they aren’t listening and whispering amongst themselves and we are doing all we can not to burst out laughing. He then starts with a stutter ‘Well I I um well’ My reply- ‘Oh shut it! And what are you going to do about it. It better be good cos I am not happy right now’. He replies with ‘Ok meet me at 2pm and I will take you snorkelling out on the reef. Ok?’ ‘Ok I will meet you right here and don’t you dare be late’. As a parting shot and for the tourists I yell out when he was further down the street ‘That blonde best be gone by tonight or I will be kicking her pretty ass and yours’. Oh if I could only have taken a photo of some of the onlookers. The looks on their faces was priceless. I do love a good joke! The locals on this island have the most wicked sense of humour.
And if you are wondering – yes he did meet me at 2 and we also had an American lady and her son come with us. I am now a big fan of snorkelling on this reef. The reef is known as the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef and is the 2nd largest in the world. The 2nd largest coral reef is located in the Yucatan waters near Mexico. If you ever get the chance to go here by all means go. It’s beautiful and exhilarating. I will be back!
Tonight I went to dinner with Paul and made the mistake of ordering pork. It wasn’t long after dinner that I had the most wicked stomach ache. I decided to crawl into bed early. The next morning I had a damned headache so took some panadol and climbed back into bed. No panic as I’m not catching the boat to San Pedro on Ambergris Caye until the afternoon thankfully. After a good sleep I get up around eleven and pack then head off for lunch.
Paul met me at the jetty around 1pm and we head to San Pedro. He has decided to come with me as he wants to catch up with friends on the island. He used to work there as a construction worker and is keen to try to get more work. Suits me as this means I have someone to show about the island. On getting there we book into Ruby’s hostel and hire a golf buggy and head south. We stop off at this inlet where some of the local boys will feed a crocodile a chicken if you pay them a few dollars. Why not aye, they are only trying to make a little money to help feed the family. Most kids on the islands do go to school but of course it is not enforced. You have to remember that Belize is 3rd world even though there $ is on par with the NZ$. This I think is because of their offshore banking. Yes, if you want to hide a little bit of money you can do it here.
We head further south and call in at a hotel complex. Paul catches up with one of his friends that works here and I get to see inside on the one units. (Huts as they call them) They are really nice. It turns out Paul had help building them and then did all the finishing off inside. He had done a great job with the tiling. I was impressed. There are 101 hotels to stay at on Ambergris Caye. Wow some of them are beautiful. They are more tourists on this island though, but that to be expected as it’s a bigger island and more populated. And more traffic. On Caye Caulker there where only about 3 vehicles. One was the trash truck and I can’t think what the other two were. Even the Police had a golf buggy or bicycle.
We met back north and catch up with more of Paul’s friends. Times are pretty tough and he is not having much luck when asking his mates if there are any jobs going. Anyway I got to have a good look around the island and take photos. There were quite a few homes for sale to. The temptation. We have dinner at one of the more reputable restaurants in San Pedro. The food was good and the service was excellent. No complaints and good prices to.
We went back to the hostel after dinner and sat out on the balcony talking for a few hours. I have to catch the boat to Corozal at 7pm. It leaves on the dot so if you miss it you have to wait for the afternoon boat. Not something I want to do as I don’t which to get into my next destination sometime in the night. It is so hot here and the hostel only has ceiling fans, no air-conditioning so I didn’t sleep to well, but I was wide awake at 5.30am. Paul wasn’t to be found so I showered and packed up the few bits I had pulled out of my backpack overnight. No sooner I had finished doing that Paul appeared with breakfast. Hot buns fresh out of the oven and a huge piping hot coffee. Yummmm! We hop on the golf buggy and head to the opposite side of the island. It’s not very wide and only takes a few minutes and we are on the jetty where my boat is waiting. Now it may sound like I haven’t done all that much with my time in Belize. We I have actually jammed in alot, made some more friends, snorkelled on 3 different days, seen 2 islands, got married and didn’t know it, gone to a disco, school concert and pretty much had to tell 50 locals my life story at their insistence.
Sadly I wave goodbye to Paul and head for Corozal on another beautiful day. There are about another 15 backpackers on the boat. So where is Kodak and my final destination for the day?
Our final destination today is to be Tulum in Mexico. We travel along at good speed and past heaps of islands that are just palm trees and nothing else. Half way into the journey we meet a boat coming from the opposite direction. This is where the drivers swap and head back to the point from which they left. It’s beautiful out here and peaceful as we don’t see a lot of other boats at all. It takes 3 hours to get to Corozal and we are met by taxi drivers at the jetty who will take us right through to the bus station in Chetumal, Mexico.
After a quick bite to eat and toilet stop we head to the border. There are 3 others with me and one of these guys is going all the way to Tulum also and staying at the same hostel. The border crossing is easy and the taxi driver is a dab hand at helping us fill in our immigration forms. I am now in the province of Quintana Roo, Mexico. All goes smoothly and we don’t even have to take our bags out to have them searched. This is a busy border with trucks lined up as far as you can see so they generally let the cars straight through after looking under them with a mirror on a pole.
I sat over the road from the bus station for a few hours and talked, ate and had coffee until our bus was due to leave. At the border I had also changed money. Something I’m glad I did as there is no money ATM at the bus station and I have no idea how far the station is from a shopping centre or the middle of the city but it seems to be in an isolated area and on leaving I was still none the wiser as to where in the city we actual were.
Mexico already feels different to Belize but maybe that’s because I’m back having to try speak Spanish again and let’s face it I have just left party island! Around 4pm sees me getting into Tulum. There’s an hours difference and by now I’m feeling rather tired but as soon as I got to the hostel, Lobo Inn, I dump my bags and head to the beach for a swim. I have about a 20 minute walk from where I am staying. Tonight I have dinner in Tulum which is about 3 kms away. The hostel owner has told us how to get a collectivo up town and back. You just stand out on the road and wait for one to come along and they cost you about 1/5th the price of a taxi. Brilliant and easy and they run between Tulum and Playa de Carmen all day. Most of the locals use them to get them to work and back as a lot of the locals work in the hotels and other tourist industries here.
There are plenty of backpackers staying at the hostel so everyone had a good catch up with where everyone had been on their travels before I hit the sack around midnight. Next morning I head to the Tulum Ruins. I have been told you can go down to the beach while at the ruins so I put my bikini on under my clothes and head for there with the intention of staying all day on the beach after having a look at the ruins. I spent 2 hours having a good wander around and reading all the plaques about the ruins. Very interesting to say the least and one heavenly spot to build them. Those turquoise waters are so inviting and warm just as they were in Belize.
Just over the road and around the corner not 200metres from where I am staying is a shopping complex and restaurants so I dined there tonight before returning to the hostel and chatting with 2 American guys and 2 Irish girls. All in all a good day.
I woke up several times during the night from having some really weird dreams so had breakfast and went back to sleep. Slept until 2pm. wasn’t expecting that but I hadn’t slept very well at all. So I got up and went shopping. Brought gifts for my kids and Mum before heading into town to get a much needed haircut and colour. By the time I had finished with all that and got back to the hostel it was dinner time again so I tried a different restaurant around the corner. I have learnt already that the Mayan people are the ones that all seem to be 5ft nothing and the men are built like brick sh.t houses and they still speak their Mayan language. Some of these men would make wicked hookers in the front row of an All Black scrum!!
Next morning at breakfast I start having a conversation with a guy from Hawaii. He is heading to Belize for fishing. Others from the hostel are from Norway, Denmark, Sweden and Spain. Great mix of people. After talking all morning and filling people in on South America and the things not to miss, as that is where they are all headed, I head once more to the beach for the afternoon. I am determined to get as brown as possible before leaving here.
On my wander back from the beach I put my head in at this hotel bar (El Crucero) to get a bottle of water and get greeted with ‘hello good-looking, going to join us?’ Well that was Duncan from Canada and why not have a beer instead, so I sit down and start yet again explaining who I am and where I’m from and where I’m going. An American couple, Mark and Sharon own the hotel and Duncan is buying them out over a period of 5 years. There’s Kiwi from NZ who works at a diving business, Jamie and Budgie from England, James from USA, the live entertainment, Pete from Australia who is leaving in a few days after having lived there for a few years and Jesus the bartender who I immediately took a shine to. There is of course a multitude of other people from different parts of the world there.
What a night! Talking, James singing – and what an array of songs – everyone else singing, drinking and laughing, and a great fun time was had by all!! Duncan has a double room to himself (2double beds in the one room) and offers to let me stay in his room at no cost. I say I will think about the offer and thanks. Finally at 2am I call it a night and stagger back across the road in my own little happy drunk world. Oh I haven’t been drunk like this in a long time.
I throw back my sheet the next morning and holy sh.t. I catch a glimpse of my legs from the knees down. They are covered in red spots. Hundreds of red spots. Something has had a munch at me but it’s not itchy. I get up for breakfast and while there I ask the hostel owner what he thinks these spots might be. Wow, he went into a panic. They are from bed mites! This is the first time I have come across bed mites on anyone let alone myself. My bed is promptly pulled outside and sprayed down. With that I have made up my mind and head for the El Crucero to take Duncan up on his offer. Let’s face it who wouldn’t.
Now I am not a person that believes in coincidences but what I find out on my first night at the El Crucero makes the spiritual side of me take notice. Paul in Belize is an Aquarius like me, Duncan is Aquarius, Sharon is Aquarius and had lost a son many years ago. His name was Travis, my sons name is Travis. Yes all Aquarians automatically are attracted to each other and get on great, but I have known this for years. That however was not the last time the spirit in me was to take notice.
The weather has turned a little on me today so I decide to spend the day in a hammock and start writing a book about my travels. This is that book. After much thought well over a year later I decide an easier way to write about it all is to do a website. So I start putting pen to paper and got a lot done. It’s hot and sweaty and come dusk everyone heads for the mosquito repellent.
Tonight is party night again. James and Jesus entertain everyone with singing. Jesus used to be in a band and plays electric acoustic guitar and sings like Axel Rose. Oh does he sound so like him. I have no idea what time I get to bed but it’s late and I was drunk yet again. I have now found ‘party hotel’!
Next day weather is still bad with a bit of drizzle so I spend the day writing again. Tonight kicks off being the same with singing, talking, drinking and generally take the mickey out of each other. At 2 am James, Jesus and I head to a night club over the road behind the hostel that I was at. James wants to catch up with Janelle who periodically signs at the bar with him. Only thing is it’s not a night club, it’s a strip club. Hmmmm. Think I will sit with my back to the girls as I have no need to see that. After James caught up with her he heads back to the hotel and Jesus and I get a taxi into town and find another watering hole. Jesus is going to take me snorkelling at Grand Cenote tomorrow.
After getting to bed at 5pm and drunk again I didn’t rise until 11am. Jesus and I hitch a ride to Grand Cenote. This is the first time I have seen a cenote. Wow ! The water is so clear that looking at a diver that’s down 30ft you swear they are only 5ft down. I have never seen water so clear. And the water in them is cool. It doesn’t take long snorkelling and I have to get out as I’m getting cold. It’s wonderful though. Another first on my trip – I have snorkelled in a cenote in Mexico. With each new activity I do I cross it off my list and it leaves me thinking what next can I do that is going to top this? I don’t know, but I can’t wait to find out. Bring it on!!! I had set out in my mind places I wanted to go and activities I wanted to do. One thing I do know is I still don’t like iguanas, lizards, frogs and especially snakes and will not be doing anything that involves them.
While sitting at breakfast this morning I notice humming birds that come to this certain tree. God they are so small. Blue in colour and only slightly bigger than the ones I saw in Nazca in Peru which were black and that I first thought were bumblebees. They are so cute and so quiet and quick. I could watch them for hours flitting from one flower to the next. Don’t we just have some marvellous little creatures out there in nature?
Today Duncan and I head into town. Earlier in the week I had purchased postcards so it was time to post them and Duncan needed to get laundry done. It’s stinking hot again and later in the day I was informed it was 44degrees Celsius. No wonder I’m going through water like it’s going out of fashion. (Apart from the fact that I have been drinking alcohol like there’s no tomorrow).
Afternoon, yep lets head to the beach again. 4 ½ glorious hours in the sun and swimming. There are vendors plying the beach with cold drinks and you can get a massage to. They have it all set up on tables under the trees. Think I will be staying here longer than I intended. If you wish you can even hire a snorkel, goggles and flippers and swim out to the reef. This is a great place to be. No need to get a boat to the reef here. I can see why this place is popular with tourists and the locals to.
On getting back to the hotel James tells us he is heading to South Africa and his girlfriend from Houston is in Cancun and heading down to Tulum tomorrow so we will be having a farewell party for him tomorrow night. Sounds good to me but I have to get through tonight first. Of course with him letting everyone know this, we have to have a warm-up night don’t we. So tonight is party night again. I have stopped thinking about what time I am getting to bed and still have no idea what day of the week it is. This is how I have pretty much taken the whole trip, only seeing what day of the week it is if I have a flight to catch. At this stage I know that I have to fly out of Mexico City in 2 ½ weeks time, or there abouts.
Now I have also known since staying at the hotel that there is a friendly, cheeky, male spirit amongst us. This morning this spirit brushed his hand across my lap while I was eating. I instinctively looked down and on not seeing anything knew what it was. I just sat there smiling to myself. It was not the first time I had felt a presence but this time he really let me know undoubtedly that he was there. 10 minutes later the girl sitting at the next table with her boyfriend pushes back a bit on her chair and says ‘Damn cat’. Her boyfriend looks under the table and says ‘No, it’s not the cat. I saw it go away a few minutes ago and no he isn’t under here’. (The hotel does have a cat). I sit there still grinning to myself and thinking you cheeky bugger. Likes the ladies aye.
After another good day in the sun and the tan coming along nicely I get back, shower, have dinner and wait for the party to get under way. I meet Angie, James’ girlfriend, there is Lars from Norway, Shawn and Amy from Canada, Duncan, Sharon, Mark, Jamie, Budgie, Judy and travellers from Italy, Spain, Germany and the Netherlands. Let’s get this party started!!!
Well as the song goes – Oh what a night…..that had to be one of the best parties I have been to. But what made it so special was the photo that Angie took of me. Everyone is happily snapping photos of everyone else and Angie got out her camera to take one of me. She lined it up, took the photo then had a look to see how it had come out as we all tend to do. ‘Holy shit, oh my god, look at this’. She is nearly in a panic. ‘Oh this is really scary’. I get up to have a look. Oh this is so cool. She has captured the spirit person on film. Meanwhile she is saying to me ‘doesn’t this scare you at all’ ‘Well no, I have been waiting for years to get a photo like this. Are you kidding, this is great’. In fact there are hundreds of people out there in the world who would love to get a photograph like mine. Its posted below – what do you think?? Remember that spirit people hardly ever come out as a picture of a person, more like a bright light which this one has. There was definitely nothing there when she was taking the photo like cigarette smoke. Everyone was gobsmacked! I love this photo.
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WHERE THE HELL IS KODAK
Okay first up who the hell is Kodak.
When I decided back in 2007 that I wanted to travel the world and just before leaving New Zealand in January 2008 my granddaughter came out with her troll doll and gave him to me saying that Kodak wanted to travel the world with me. I had given him to her for Christmas in 2007 and she is the one who named him. Don’t ask me where the name came from but I actually think its unique and many of my friends ask me where he is and having to say that Kodak got left in NZ in March 2009 has not impressed them at all. He has stood on beer bottles and been to the Galapagos Islands and had his moment of glory up on the big screen one night on the ship. Everywhere I went for a year, he went.
We started off in Argentina in January 2008 arriving in Buenos Aires from a 12hr flight from Auckland. Why did I start here? Well for one I had to start somewhere and as I hate the cold and figured I would follow the summer up to the northern hemisphere. Buenos Aires to me was rather dirty and smelly and the pollution gave me a sore throat within 24hrs of getting there. I stayed for just over a week in the city that they call the Paris of the south. Yea right!! NOT. If you didn’t line up to get money from the ATM by 9am then you where generally out of luck for the day. The machines would run out of cash by 11am and the line by this time was way off around the corner. My travellers’ cheques came in handy.
I decided that getting out of BA was a good idea and a small place like La Cumbre was just what I needed. I had been in BA for over a week now so had seen what I had wanted to. The overnight bus to Cordoba was pure luxury. Wide leather seat, a hot dinner and all the alcohol you could drink. Movies included and then breakfast the next morning before we got into Cordoba. I had a 4hr wait for my connecting bus so put my head in my phase book and tried to get a handle on a few more Spanish words. Hasn’t worked to well as I can still only speak enough words to get by.
So this next leg of the trip is going okay, usual thing, everyone is looking at the only tourist on the coach until it stops in the middle of nowhere and these two things hop on board. Now I call them ‘things’ as I am not sure what to refer to them as. Transsexuals, persons who have a sex change, I don’t know. Both where over 6ft tall and both had had a boob job done. Now this was very obvious from the very skimpy tops they had on but then one of them spook. Hell that made everyone in the bus look even more. Oh yes, one is sitting right next to me and they reck of alcohol but when the one sitting by me spook well it had the deepest voice I have ever heard. Now my son has a deep voice but I’m sitting there thinking he had it all over me son with this voice, then I’m thinking what’s happened. I thought before they had boob operations and started the sex change procedure that the drugs softened their voices. Now maybe I got it wrong and you guessed it, the other one replied and his/her voice was deep also. One little girl sitting in front of me is hanging over the back of the seat just staring at these two in amazement and several others on the bus are trying not to laugh. But before too long they go to sleep. Now normally I would not look, stare or otherwise but curiosity is killing me so I’m sitting there trying to get a better look at this one’s boobs. Now I definitely come to the conclusion that its had a boob job done, so I then figure that they must be now off drugs which is why the voice is so deep and the other thing I notice is they still have dark facial hair coming through their make-up which you can imagine how thick that was. It turns out that in 20months of travelling this is one of the most memorable bus rides of my life.
There have been other laughable bus moments but this was number one and I can still remember it like it was yesterday. The whole time I was dying to take a photo but didn’t dare. I also had to laugh in December 2008 when I returned for Christmas to NZ. On telling everyone about this my granddaughter pipes up and asks ‘What did Kodak do?’. Lucky for him he was in the bag out of sight. I had all these crazy thoughts running through me head on what might had happened had he been sitting in my lap which I have done on occasion and found it to be great way to get conversations going. In the following weeks and months I will be adding to my page and tell of my travels from Argentina, round the world and back to South America and yes back around the world again. Keep reading………
- Hi I’m KODAK!
La Cumbre is a nice small town more or less bang smack in the middle of Argentina. After our memorable bus ride Kodak and I settle into a nice hostel that has a pool. On my arrival at this HI Hostel the owner tells me that I am the first New Zealander to ever stay here and he has owned the hostel 18yrs. Yep I’m famous in La Cumbre! and I got treated like the queen for the whole of my stay. After dropping off my backpack I promptly go for a walk to the local supermarket. I have tattoos on my arms, one of which is a silver fern and the words ALL BLACKS. For those of you who don’t know the All Blacks are the New Zealand National Rugby team and in 2011 the Rugby World Cup is to be held in New Zealand. This tattoo has proved to be useful at times like when I went to a restaurant in Buenos Aires. The waiter loved the All Blacks and the service was fantastic all night. At this hostel was a young gentleman from Rosario and he rattled off a heap off All Black names and from then on he stuck to me every chance he got to find out whatever he didn’t know about them. Everyone else just looked at us like we were crazy as we spent hours talking about rugby and rugby players.
I had intended to do sky-diving while I was here but for two days in a row I was told it was too windy. At the hostel is a gentleman from Germany who is going horse riding in the Sierras and another guy from Canada who wants to go to. This is also another reason I had headed to La Cumbre. We get picked up and head off for our horse ride. The vehicle is about 20yrs old and falling to pieces but gets us to our start point which is up one of the roughest dirt roads I have ever been on. I was brought up on a hill country farm in New Zealand but this road beat all of them. Our horses are saddled up for us and we get on and off we go. Well the guide has given me the laziest bitch horse you could ever find. I spent the whole 2hrs kicking the shit out of this nag and trying to get it to gallop was near impossible. Getting up into the Sierras was great and the view was something else. It’s all flat for as far as the eye could see.
Two days later I’m lying in bed in agony. Was it from the horse ride? NO, I have caught my first virus on my world wide trip. Great. Christian, the hostel owner, calls the doctor. It doesn’t cost me anything and I was given some damn good medication. I don’t know what it was but it worked. Meanwhile all this time Kodak doesn’t get to see the light of day. Another two days there and I decide to leave and head to Iguassu Falls. The rest of Argentina will have to wait for another year or two. As I’m leaving the hostel a young guy is arriving and tells me that in his hostel in Mendoza 15 people come down with the same virus I had. We assume it’s the same as the symptoms are the same. As I’m getting on the bus I’m hoping that the rest of those left in the hostel don’t come down with what I had. I haven’t to date caught anything like it again and don’t ever want to.
The bus back to Cordoba is uneventful unlike the trip there and this time I get to see more of the countryside as I don’t have other things to distract me. There are some beautiful lakes north of Cordoba and many Argentineans spend their holidays up this way including La Cumbre. In fact on walking around the town I was to see many million dollar homes. The very centre of the town doesn’t give any indication to what is just out of sight. It’s an amazing little town and I’m glad I went there. Did Kodak enjoy it? I think so – well he never moaned so I take that as a yes. Being way out here and travelling by bus gives you the chance to see just what is what.
Argentina is 3rd world. Many people don’t believe me but on asking why their vehicles are so old, why children are in very old worn clothes and why lots of people don’t have footwear I was filled in on how when the President of Argentina stole nearly all the money from the country way back in 2002, the world bank wouldn’t loan them any money as they already owed so much. In order to keep the country afloat the in-coming President froze everyone’s bank saving accounts and used this to keep the country going. In Buenos Aires there is a shortage of coins and the infrastructure of the city has all but collapsed. In all my time in BA I only saw 4 new cars. Don’t get me wrong, there are still people with money but they are heavily outnumbered by those who don’t. Argentina is worth visiting and like all the countries of South America the services in place to cater to tourist are great and work well.
I have no complaints bar one. I won’t ever fly their national airline again! Sad but true and I don’t see the point in not being truthful. Besides just because I didn’t like something doesn’t mean everyone else will feel the same. Get out there and experience it for yourself.
Kodak and I had a good trip from Cordoba to Iguassu Falls. The plains of Argentina in the very middle of the country just go on forever. Thousands of acres and sparsely grazed with cattle. Argentina steaks are something else though. How did they get so good at raising cattle? Don’t know, haven’t found the answer to that one yet but they do it well. Iguassu Falls is a hot humid town surrounded by bush with one of the biggest attractions in the world. Iguassu falls are huge and Kodak and I did them over two days because of the heat. The second day I went for some reason the butterflies were attracted to my suntan lotion. People from all over the world now have photos of my arms with butterflies on them. Of course I only managed to get 2 for myself.
At my hostel I met three neat ladies. One American and two Welsh girls. Well these two welsh girls where my amusement for my stay here. One evening they proceed to tell Amy and me about the two others staying in their dorm room. The male is sleeping above Charlie and the female is sleeping in the bunk below Jo. In the wee hours of the morning the male decides he wants sex and gets down and starts getting what he wants from his girl. After 20minutes or so it’s all over and everyone goes back to sleep. Then some time later he wakes and decides he must have it again. After finishing this time he climbs back into his own bed and everyone gets back to sleep. Of course we are all in fits of laughter with the way that they are telling this story. But what really got me was why they put up with it. Me, I would get my camera out and take a photo and threaten to put it on YouTube. What’s wrong with people? Get a room for two. Hostels do have them you know! Lucky for me no one has done this in my dorm room because if they do they are in for a shock. I personally think it’s disgusting to be doing it in a room where other people are sleeping. That’s not what I pay for, a sex show in the middle of the night. This is not the worse ‘sex in dorm story’ I have come across. This one is mild compared to one other I heard.
Back to Iguassu. In this little town is the only true Foreign Exchange that I have come across anywhere in the world. I’m one of these people that loves looking at money. This exchange has a huge counter that goes in a L shape. Underneath a thick glass top is currency from every country. They have both coins and notes. It was not hard to spend an hour here which is what Amy and I did, just looking. It’s fascinating to me. I now have for myself currency from about 19 countries. People are always asking to see it when I get talking about it. In 2008 when in Spain doing a volunteer week teaching English I was to met Jose. He is the man who organises the distribution to all points of the globe of the plastic like paper that many countries get their money printed on. Now you can imagine how I picked his brain when I found that out. Hey everyone has something that they like and interests them, mine happens to be money. Healthy interest – some would say no. Kodak liked Iguassu and spent one hot afternoon watching people swim in the pool and standing on beer bottles. He loved the fact that he had become a talking point and that people liked to take his photo.
After a week here I decide it’s time to jump the border and go to Brazil. Our first stop is directly over the border in Foz Iguassu and to get there you just catch a bus from Puerto Iguassu. (The town that services Iguassu Falls in actually called Puerto Iguassu) It’s only a 5minute bus ride and then another 5 once you get through immigration. Easy as. Brazil, yes I’m now in Brazil. Foz Iguassu is almost a city I think. It is a large place and when crossing the border I see signs that Malaria is about so take precautions. By now I am already taking me anti-malaria pills as there were signs at Iguassu Falls. It’s hot humid and at times really uncomfortable. I keep thinking that if I had invested in water bottling factories shares years ago today I would be making a killing. In all of South and Central America you can’t drink the water and it is so hot in some places that I end up drinking 6-8litres a day. Somebody’s getting rich out of this! Travelling makes you grow up. It gives you the time to appreciate what you have and time to think about the most stupid things sometimes. I wish everyone could travel the world and would so love to take my kids to every place I have been. No matter Kodak is getting to see it all.
Our next hostel which is an HI HOSTEL has a swimming pool which is great as the temperature is way up there. This is where I was to have my first encounter with a horny Brazilian trying to get into my pants. Didn’t take me long to catch the words ‘cama’ and ‘sexo’. Needless to say I ran a mile. Trying to convince the guy that I was married (which I’m not) wasn’t easy and the language barrier was making things even harder as the one-sided conversation went on but those two words coming out of his mouth left no doubt as to what he wanted but the thing that really got me was after all this he turns around and says in perfect English ‘well you’re not married in Brazil are you’. Bloody cheek!
Kodak and I headed to Itaipu Dam the next day. Yes there is a hydro-electric power station which borders Brazil and Paraguay. Until the 3 gorges were built it was the biggest in the world. We get to see a video first then hop on a bus and head about 1km up the road. The video has some astounding statistics like the fact that once the base to the dam had been done there were over 40.000 men working 24/7 for three months to get the rest of it finished. That’s a lot of people to keep organised all the time. But to come around the corner and actually see it takes your breath away. Holly cow, it’s so huge. The spillways are so massive and there are 3 of them. Oh what a sight to see. I brought some postcards that show the water coming down all the spillways and hitting the bottom then the water shooting up into the air to a height which has to be well over 70mtrs high. I still remember it like it was yesterday. I must say that to date it is the most impressive of modern day wonders that I have seen. If you get up this way don’t miss it out. Alot of people do as they don’t even know it’s there.
A special thanks to Jess from London whom I went with. She could talk Spanish fluently and obviously being on the border of Argentina the Brazilians here could understand Spanish so get to and from Itaipu was easy. I was so meet a really cool Canadian guy from Kelowna at this hostel just I had done in Buenos Aires. Darren invited me to stay with him in Kelowna if I was to pass through. That invitation was taken up months later. I spent one night outside watching 3 Brazilian guys getting these 2 Japanese girls drunk playing a drinking game. Of course the Japanese girls got toasted as they didn’t know the game and always stuffed up. But to their credit they were up early the next morning and looked good. One of the Brazilian guys went and brought a heap of steaks and a few of us where invited to his bbq. Now everyone goes on how the Argentinean steaks are the best in the world but I must say that the Brazilians can do just as well as them. Another day included doing the Brazilian side of Iguassu Falls. It’s not nearly as good from the Brazil side as you can’t go right down to the bottom, swim or go for a boat trip, but they do have the dam which makes up for it.
While at the hostel in Foz Iguassu I also met a young Australian girl who was tripping about in Brazil and here next port of call was to be Florianopolis. As I was heading in the same direction we decided to travel together to here. Our bus ride overnight was uncomfortable and long. As with everywhere else in the world there is no smoking on buses but that, it would seem, did not apply to the bus driver. He would happily drive along smoking and in the meantime all the smoke was going through the air-conditioning and everyone of the passengers had to just put up with it. Then for no reason at all we would stop in the middle of nowhere for 10-15 minutes and then off we would go again. Of course everytime the bus stopped myself and several others would automatically wake up. I think in the end i got 3hrs sleep. Florianopolis couldn’t come soon enough.
After arriving at the main bus station it was a walk of about 50mtrs to the local bus station and with the help of a local who spoke some English we worked out what bus to get and how to get our tickets. That was when the realisation of the next problem came upon us. The buses in Brazil have a turn-style in them and they are narrow!! There is no way at all you can get through them with your backpack on so off they come and you throw them over then get yourself through. By this time the bus is moving and keeping your balance becomes your priority so as not to look like an idiot sitting on your butt in a crowded local Brazilian bus and do you think that any of the young fit men will give you a hand. NO WAY!! I’m sure they revel in the delight at watching foreigners look like dicks. I was ever so glad that we only had one bus change along the way. Meanwhile I’m thinking ‘shit I have Rio to go yet’!
Our destination spot called Barra de Lagoa is beautiful. Right on the sea with a lovely white sand beach and in a small town where most of the locals say hello as you walk past them. You can learn to surf here and there where loads of Auzzies in the hostel that where there for that specific reason. At night on the beach hostellers and locals would get together and light a bonfire and talk and laugh.
Up the hill behind where my hostel was is a hill with an old lighthouse so one morning I decide to go for a wander up there. On the way you get to meet some of the local cattle that are grazing this hill. Well they’re not courteous either. Oh no its get out of the way or I will chase you. Having been raised on a farm I knew the best thing to do was step out of their way and keep still. I had to laugh though at the number of people I saw being chased in the following days as around the hill was a very nice and popular swimming hole. Anyway I get myself to the top of the hill and have a great view of the beach, town and surrounding area. I just sat for awhile contemplating my luck and privilege at being able to visit this place and all the other spots I am to see on my travels. Kodak got to see this view to as I had him with me. I am also glad that no one else is up there while I carry on a conversation with a troll-doll. You could imagine how people would have interpreted that. A damn fool crazy foreigner comes to mind. So after a good ½ hr up here it’s time for breakfast so off we go. There is brush and grasses growing all over this hill so on my way down when this huge ugly motherf….r of a lizard shot out from under the brush and all but ran over my feet you can get a good idea of how I nearly sh.. myself then let off a string of bad language simply because of the immense fright I had. This lizard was a good 3ft long and reminded me of a komodo dragon. (I have only seen them on TV.) The old heart is doing fifty to the ton and the bottom of the hill looks a good place to be again. Think I’d rather be chased by a cow.
So anyway without having to worry about backpacks Kylie and I decide to head to another little settlement in the south of the island for a day trip. Next time I head to Florianopolis I will spend more time there but I had decided before leaving NZ that I wanted to be in Rio de Janiero for my birthday and that was only a few days away now. After checking out bus fares and flights we decide to fly onto Rio as it’s only a few dollars more. A Norwegian guy, Denny, Kylie and I then head into Lagoa to book a flight. All the little towns are just so nice on this island. Finding the travel office and getting all booked and paid for goes without any trouble and we are supposedly on a direct flight from here to Rio. I say supposedly because……….
The next morning Kylie and I are up at 5am and head off to the airport. We have no problems here getting our boarding passes and getting on the plane. Our tickets say Florianopolis to Rio de Janiero. So you can imagine at the look on our faces when not 10minutes into the flight the captain comes on and says in English ‘we will be arriving in Sao Paulo in 1hour’. We just looked at each other and the words that came out of my mouth went something like ‘oh f… we got on the wrong plane and how the hell did that happen’. Ok what is going to be our plan of action when we get to Sao Paulo? Both of us decide we’ll deal with that when we get there. Then when we are only 10minutes out from Sao Paulo the captain comes on again and announces that connecting flights to Rio need to go to such and such gate. The relieved looks we gave each other.
Off the plane and start heading to our gate only to find this isn’t quite as easy as we thought it was going to be. Lucky for us a Brazilian gentleman could see the confusion on our faces and helps us out. He spoke great English and as it turned out he worked for an oil company in Sydney Australia for 4 years. When we got to the next gate where we had to actually board the plane they had shut the doors and weren’t going to let us on. What, why? Well they had decided, despite showing our boarding passes, that everyone was on the plane that was going to Rio. The gentleman that was helping us out was talking as fast as he could and in rather a loud voice and when the crowd of us grew to about 12 they finally decided that maybe they had better let us on. So to finally being in Rio.
Catching a bus from the airport is no trouble as they are right out the terminal. If you tell them where you are staying they will drop you off as close to your accommodation as they can. I get to my hotel and find myself all alone. There is no one else staying here. I then come across the most cramped toilets I have ever seen. The showers weren’t much better. I promptly decide I am only staying here for the one night and head off in search of an internet cafe and book into a hostel. On returning to the hotel after a meal I get a phone call from my mum. Happy Birthday. I’ll take it even though it’s not my birthday until tomorrow. My phone says I can only make emergency calls. Just one of the many annoyances I was to come across on my travels.
Next morning I get up and head off to my hostel. Newton’s Rooftop is nice and when getting booked in Newton notices my birth date in my passport. Everyone in the lounge proceeds to sing happy birthday to me. I also book a trip up to the Christ Redeemer Statue for the afternoon.
After dropping off my bag I then head to the beach of Copacabana. It’s wide and long with beautiful white sand. I notice though that it is really steep. It drops off quick and in the following days I was to learn that lots of people drown here each year. I see a few of the young girls in their g-string bikinis but then come across a sight that no-one should have to endure. It’s a lady of about 75yrs old and she has obviously lost a lot of weight as there are folds of wrinkles everywhere. The worst thing though is she is in a g-string bikini. God give me a towel to cover this woman up. Thankfully Kodak is not there to see this. I can still see this in my mind’s eye as if it was yesterday. Yuck,yuck, yuck. I’m still cringing. On a more positive note there are some fascinating and huge sandcastles to look at. People spend hours making these elaborate sandcastles of all sorts of things. They charge you a few Real (currency of Brazil) to take a photo of them.
Anyway to my afternoon visit to the statue. I get picked up at the hostel by a van with people from all over the world and off we go. The view is amazing and the statue is huge. I take all the photos of the view and then turn to the statue to keep clicking away. After my first photo the camera stuffs up. It won’t work. Ok so is there someone up there trying to tell me something like curb your bad language? This, of course, just sets me off swearing at the camera. And no, it’s not my batteries. I’m thinking am I being punished in some way. All I’m wanting to do is see the world and let everyone know about things I have learnt and make it easier for others in the long run. You know, I will learn all the hard lessons and everyone can benefit from that. Well I then decide that it could be a lot worse, I could be lost. But come on it is my birthday!! All in all it was great to go there and that is what I had set myself for my birthday and who needs photos of the statue anyway. Damned annoyances.
That night I set off with a young Canadian guy to a local restaurant he has found where the food is ok and so is the price. The owner speaks English which is an added bonus. The hostel is good and that night there where many conversations with Italians, Australians, Canadians and others. Why I had booked into a hotel I don’t know as I like hostels better. You meet so many people from other countries and they are a beehive of information. And some hostels can be so much fun. The next morning I am woken up by the noise of people talking down in the street. What the heck is going on? I get up and look out the window to see Mum, Dad and the kids with their chilly bins and deck chairs heading to the beach. The street is full of people heading to the beach! It’s like a stampede. They aren’t mucking about either. It’s like the sun is going down in 1hr so let’s go. I’ve never seen anything like it. The things people do aye. I just chuckle to myself.
After breakfast I decide that spending the day on the beach is just what the doctor ordered and so that’s exactly what I did. I love beaches and the sun. What a way to spend the day. The following day is Sugar Loaf Mountain. I set off to see if I can work out the public bus system and manage to get myself to Sugar Loaf. I get my tickets for the cable car and in no time I’m at the top of Sugar Loaf. WOW! The view from up here is amazing to. Even though it’s not as high up as the Christ Redeemer it gives you a different views altogether. Down in the harbour you can see oil rig things pumping away. (They look like the ones on land in Texas) I didn’t even know that they had those in the harbour there. Little things like this fascinate me. After spending close to an hour here just looking out at it all and watching ships and aeroplanes come and go I stop in at the cafe and have a coffee before returning and catching the bus back to Copacabana.
A stroll along the beach to Ipanema is my next mission. (God please hide the old g-string lady.) Ipanema is pretty much the same as Copacabana and where the 2 beaches meet is the best place to swim. It doesn’t drop off as steeply but you have to fight for a spot to swim. Every man and his dog is here. On my way back I see this huge stage being erected. When I ask what this is all about I find out there is a free concert on the beach the following night by one of Brazil’s up and coming pop stars. Ok so that gives me something for tomorrow night.
The next day I spend shopping and watching the crazy traffic for awhile. Brazilians don’t move out of the way for emergency vehicles and most streets that are 3 lanes get turned into 4. The whole time I’m wandering around Copacabana there is this horrible smell. The pollution is thick to, but this other smell gets to you and I couldn’t help wondering what the hell is it? Well I was to find out the hard way again. As it happens they hang their chickens for a week, you know just to let them rot a bit in the heat, then they cook them up. How did I find out? Yep you guessed, I ordered chicken and the smell, OH MY GOD! When I pushed it away and told the waiter there was no way in hell I was going to eat that he ask – ‘do you not think 1 week was long enough to leave it hanging’? Jesus 1 hr is too long in the Rio heat. Vomit material I tell you! This is when I decide that Rio is famous for just being Rio.
On the way into the city from the airport there is just slum after slum. It’s not quite what I thought it was going to be and the chicken just didn’t help with these thoughts. Ok so the free concert has got to be good. Bit of fun I’m hoping. Two Canadian girls and I walk on down to the beach with a local lady that has joined us and is chatting away. Most Brazilians don’t give you the time of day if you can’t speak Portuguese but if they can speak English they love nothing more than to chat with you. This lady is the one to tell us that lots of people drown here. We get to the beach and there has to be a million people here. You couldn’t move and to get through the crowd you had to push. I’m sure I got touched in places I didn’t know I had. The pick-pockets had a field day and we just all ended up a sweating heap and exhausted. There are people kissing away like crazy and evidently this is a crazy. If you see someone you like you just go up and kiss them then move on. Weird! The Canadian girls dare me to do it to. Usually I would take up any dare without a second thought but not this time. The people that had gotten there early had the best spot next to the beach and when they got to hot they’d go for a swim. In the mean time we tried for ½ an hour to push through to the beach but got nowhere and we couldn’t hear the music from the noise of people talking so we called it a night and went home. It was worth the experience though.
After a few more days and tours I had seen what I wanted to so Kodak and I decided to move on. We can’t say that we were unhappy about leaving. Rio is Rio and just take it how you find it. Next time I visit Brazil I want to do the coast from Rio right up to Fortaleza. The morning of my flight I head down to the main highway which goes right along the beach and wait for the bus to pick me up that runs every ½ hr to the airport. Well it’s supposed to only this morning no bus came so after waiting for an hour I catch a taxi. The taxi driver goes like a bat out of hell. I shut my eyes several times and pray I get to the airport. When we get near to the airport he asks what terminal. Oh no there are two terminals and I have no idea which one I leave from. Just as I’m about to panic I look up and here is a big sign with all the airlines and terminals they leave from.
So I get there and find myself standing inside the terminal and do you think for the life of me I can work out where to go. After 15minutes of walking around and all the signs in Portuguese and none at all in English and no airline signs I finally spot in English ‘tourist information’. I get to the counter and ask the young girl where to go. Her reply ‘no speak English’, so I ask the guy that’s there. Same answer. That was it. I totally lost my cool and proceed to swear. You crazy f….s, what is the point of having tourist information in English and no bastard here who speaks it. Yep and I didn’t stop there either. By this time a gentleman who could speak English had heard all this and came over to help me. He himself had not been through Rio airport before and couldn’t find where to go. He was an absolute god-send. It’s just a matter of walking in corridors in the right direction and you will get there. It’s just finding the right corridor in the first place which as it happens wasn’t sign-posted in Portuguese either and this is why the gentleman couldn’t find his way. (I do hope this is changed by now.)
I go through the usual stuff, passport, weigh bag, boarding pass…. security. Wait a minute! I get pulled out at security like I have at every airport so far. This big butch woman then proceeds to do the pat down which I dispute was a pat down. No, it was more like a grop of my private parts. God I all but smashed her in the face. Now I’m not a violent person but like most people in some situations you vent your anger and say, ‘man I wanted to hit them’ well I really wanted to smack this bitch. She groped my breasts and crutch!! I decided she had to be some desperate lesbian who got off doing this as she knew it was going to be the only way she could get away with doing what she was doing. Man am I ever so happy to get on the plane. This time when the captain comes on and says we will be landing in Sao Paulo airport I am not surprised. When I booked my tickets the agent had told me that even though my ticket says direct flight all flights go through Sao Paulo. All flights!! I don’t like Brazil’s airports now and yes I got extra attention at the security check at SP. So where the hell is Kodak off to next…………..
Lima, Peru. This is the first place I was to arrive in the dark. Being new at travelling overseas and not speaking much Spanish I don’t like the idea of arriving in the dark but after getting my bag there is this wonderful sign with my name on it. Yes I had booked a hostel that does airport pick up. Brilliant idea. The first thing the guy does when I get into his vehicle is lock all the doors. Ok. I look at him and he explains that at the lights young hoodlums will try to open the doors and either drag people out or get their bags. Doesn’t do much for your confidence. The ride goes without any trouble however and I’m glad to get in a good night’s sleep.
I only spend the 2 nights in Lima which is what I had intended to do anyway as reports from other hostellers hadn’t painted it as a place you really want to stay for long. After our stay here at a very nice hostel Kodak and I are on a bus heading to Nazca to see the Nazca lines. Oh my god! What is sitting next to me on the bus? Some French dick that obviously hasn’t had a shower for a week. Now I had been told that the French don’t know what a shower is for and this one was proving that correct. How much B.O. can a person have? Talk about inconsiderate. This is the only person I have come across that smelt high and I wouldn’t wish it upon my worst enemy. I had 2hrs sitting next to this before he hopped off. I’m not into sniffing petrol but at the point it seemed an ideal alternative. God give me strength. If the whole trip is going to be like this I am going to so stressed by the time I get to LA that home might be looking so inviting…. I tell you you soon start having to look on the bright side, like let’s face it this guy is never going to get a girlfriend unless she comes from a slum and smells worse than him.( Eighteen months later down the track I am now able to just shrug these things off and go about my merry way.)
From Lima to Nazca is desert. Dry as a bone and irrigation is used so the people can grow their veges. Nazca is a small town with friendly folk and no shortage of restaurants and little shops. I met a lovely English couple from Brighton and they agree to send me photos of the lines as my camera is still not working. A backpacker who has just been in Bolivia tells me it is best to buy a new one there as it is so cheap.
Next morning the English couple and I head to the airstrip for our fly over the nazca lines. When you get up here you realise that on your way into Nazca town you actually go through the middle of the Nazca plain. There are literally hundreds of lines. Most fascinating to see the animal shapes which are all done just by lining up rocks but how they got them so precise from the ground – or did they do it from the ground? It leaves you with more questions than answers like a lot of these ancient sites. It also cost us a bit of money. Not too bad but you can just go to the airport and make a deal with a pilot and get it for half the price. You don’t have to book with your hostel/hotel but they with insist that you need to. YOU DONT HAVE TO!
Next we went on to an ancient cemetery and pyramid site on the next plain south. Adam had somehow found out about this place which was still in the process of being excavated. This place ended up being more fascinating than the lines. Why? Well the wind blows here at over 40kmph constantly 24/7 and the wind is going north directly to the Anzac plain. In less than a minute we have to turn our backs to the wind and start spitting out dust. Its unpleasant, but what really gets to your head and doesn’t make sense is that the Nazca plain and this plain are only separated by a dried up river bed which has water after the snow melts in the spring but the sand doesn’t get to the Nazca plain. You can see the Nazca plain from where we were standing but the sand doesn’t get there. When I told the guide this didn’t make sense and then asked where the sand and dust goes he replied that not even the scientists and archaeologists and other people have been able to explain it. It is just one of those unexplained phenomena. I love this fascinating and challenging world we live in. Next our guide takes us to see an aquaduct. This one is huge and has 3 channels coming from up in the Andes to this huge ancient water tank for want of a better word. The channels that come down to it are the original built by the ancients thousands of years ago all the way from up in the Andes and they are all underground. The Peruvians have never had to repair them. Just another totally fascinating thing. All in all it was a great day but I still have these questions in my mind.
Anyway Kodak and I have seen what we wanted here and next stop is tobe Arequipa. The following night we head to the bus station to take the overnight bus to Arequipa. All around Nazca are huge sand mountains. You can catch a day tour to go sand boarding if you wish. The next problem I run into is at the bus station. The bus driver insists we all hop on the bus. Everyone refuses. Why? Well they haven’t loaded our bags on and we aint moving until they do. Man did he start getting angry but we all stood our ground and in the end they finally loaded them. They weren’t happy about it at all. I sit on the side of the bus that the bags are loaded if I can as you just never quite know what these people might do and whether your bag is going to get off loaded somewhere by mistake or on purpose. Every time the bus stopped nearly everyone who wasn’t getting off at that point would come to the windows just to make sure their bags weren’t getting taken off when they shouldn’t have been. Another annoyance.
So I reach Arequipa about 6am. The buses are comfortable enough and I got a reasonable amount of sleep and have climbed in altitude all night but feel ok. I get to my hostel by taxi and meet up with Amy again. We had planned this and it was great to see her again. She had come from northern Argentina with a story of her own about her bus ride. Her bus ran out of gas in the middle of nowhere not far over the border in Peru and had a 2hr wait before they got help. You have to expect anything in these countries but I thought running out of gas wouldn’t have been one of them. How wrong was I?
Arequipa is at 2,380mtrs above sea level and is surrounded by 3 volcanoes. It wasn’t actually cold when I was there as it has a very dry climate. Bit of a surprise considering where you are. The city is full of very old and elaborate buildings and Amy and I headed for the town centre and one of the main museums and plaza for the afternoon. Very friendly people to. That night we spent time playing pool with other hostellers, something I hadn’t done in a long time. Next day we hop on the bus and head to Puno. We are jumping up in altitude again hoping to avoid getting to sick with altitude sickness. How some people can go from Lima at sea-level straight up to Cusco I don’t know. Most people that have done this don’t recommend it as they end up in bed for 2-3 days.
By the time we got to Puno 8hrs later I knew what they were talking about. I was feeling it big time! The thumping head was nearly unbearable as we are now on the shores of Lake Titicaca at 4000mtrs. It had been raining overnight and the dirt streets where just mud, it smelt, and everywhere you see men urinating in the street. Our taxi driver didn’t quite know where our hostel was but Amy had a map so we had a walk of about 150mtrs. It seemed like 20kms. We get to the hostel and I asked for my bed, hopped in, promptly drank my cup of coca tea that the owner rushed to me and slept through till the next morning.(This is the only day of altitude sickness I was to have until a year later).
I was still feeling a bit out of sorts the next morning and only the slightest headache as Amy I set off on a bus tour all the way to Cusco. The tour was good. Way up here in the Andes everything sort of surprises you. The altiplano, as it is called, is huge a plain of thousands of acres. Sheer rocks give way to vast plains, little lakes with blue ducks, and crops of corn, potatoes, maize, yams and fruit trees. But what I think surprised me the most was the rice paddies. Acre upon acre of rice fields. This just sort of seemed wrong in my mind. I thought it would have been to cold up here to grow rice and I certainly wasn’t expected the sight I saw. It surprised Amy to. And the other thing that you don’t expect to see is eucalyptus trees. It’s like being in Australia. There are thousands of these trees and pine trees of a variety that I haven’t seen before but very similar to those we see everywhere in NZ. Even rush-bushes and your normal white clover that most countries have. It’s so different to being on the coast but then I knew it was going to be. I think because we all get to see on TV things like Lake Titicaca and Cusco etc and not the rest of Peru that when you see it for real it’s a surprise as this normal stuff doesn’t get shown. It’s great to discover these things for yourself. (You know what I mean).
Cusco is a busy place of course with a mass of tourists visiting every year. I am feeling ok by the time we get here in the early evening and after dropping our bags off Amy and I go for a walk. We went the wrong way and had to come all the way back to our starting point and try again. Great fun. I say great fun as it is. You usually end up seeing things most people don’t simply because it will be in an area that tourists don’t go as its not marked on maps. Amy I and I spend 4 days in Cusco before splitting. She is booked to do the Inca trail and my ambition is to do the backpackers train to Machu Picchu.
In the days before this we went on a bus tour for a day which took us all the way up to Urubamba. Lunch was provided in the most wonderful setting with guinea pig and lama on the menu. I tried both as I figured I probably wouldn’t have the chance to again. Nice actually. Guinea pig = chicken, lama = mutton, that pretty much sums it up. The next surprising thing to come across was the Temple of the Sun. You stand up there and admire the view down the valley then put your head around the corner and nearly get it blown off. Pull your head back in and no wind. The wind whistles past at around 30kmph. Amazing and so totally unexpected. It blows past the Temple of the Sun rock, which is huge, day in day out. Yet another unexplained phenomenon. Then after leaving the valley we zigzag our way up this hill and come out on an enormous plateau. It has to close to 20,000 acres of more. There’s cattle, sheep, potatoes, carrots, beans, fruit trees and more. There are small lakes and villages with the most exquisite churches to see. Sadly we are told to take all the photos we can as it is not likely we will see it like this again as it is ear-marked for the new Cusco International Airport. That’s progress for you and of course not unique to Peru.
On another day in Cusco Amy and I go shopping. I brought several items for family back home and so to the Postal Office we went. On the way there this young girl of only about 8 yrs old starts following us. When Amy asks her what she wants she replies ‘nothing’. One hour later she is still following us. I tell Amy that I have no desire to become a parent ago and so she asks this girl ‘what do you want’. The reply is the same then low and behold not 1 minute later we have 2 girls following us. After another half hour again we ask what they want and it turns out they are after money. We had pretty much picked that’s what they were after but as we knew there were a million eyes on us we didn’t give them any. Even though you so want to give them some you know you will end up like the piped-piper as there’s a heap of eyes watching to see if you are going to give in. Just another reality of Peru and in Cusco they tend to be right in your face all the time trying to sell you their products. I must admit to buying a lot of leather goods as they are so neat.
So Amy and visit all the usual tourists things in Cusco then in the afternoon we head off so I can get my tickets for the train to Machu Picchu. Finding the ticket office isn’t easy either and then when we finally found it I had to wait for an hour to get it. But I have my ticket and let’s get to bed as I’m getting up and 5am. Machu Picchu here I come.
Amy has gotten up an hour earlier than me to hit the Inca trail and I head for the train ride to Aguas Clientas which takes 3 hrs but the scenery on the ride is beautiful. With so much to look at and take in it doesn’t seem all that long. Just out of Cusco are switch-backs, something I haven’t encountered before. Ingenious way to get up a hill. From Aguas Clientas you then catch the bus to Machu Picchu. This itself takes a ½ hr of zigzagging your way up a massive hill. On arriving at the car park the first thing I spot is a Totara tree. These trees are native to New Zealand. It’s like I haven’t even left NZ. Everywhere I go there is something to pop up and remind me of home that I don’t have the chance to miss it, and going by the size of this tree it has to be around 70yrs old.
I get my ticket then walk up a little further then just before the gate where they rip of one half of your ticket is this little office. It’s not sign posted with anything special, just an office, but this is where you can get the stamp put in your passport. And that’s exactly what I did. The first thing I head for is the entrance to Hauana Picchu. This is the huge rock you can see in the background in post cards. The sign at the bottom says to give yourself 1-1 ½ hrs to climb it and the same amount of time to get down, and if you are scared of heights it is probably a good idea not to do it. I sign the book and head off. You need to put your passport number in the book so take it with you. Holy hell it is hard slog and especially as you are at altitude and this rock is practically straight up and down. All the people coming down give you great encouragement telling you it’s not much further. Yea right! It feels like forever. I managed to burn past a 21yr old English guy who just looked at me asking ‘how can you do that’. Determination was my answer. If you aren’t scared of heights and are reasonably fit then go for it. It took me 50 minutes to get to the top and oh how indescribable it is up there. One side of this huge rock, as I call it, drops straight down for 2,200mtrs. (I asked) I kept thinking and wondering how many men lost their lives to build this? One slip and you are history, and seeing as it is damp and foggy up here I can see it happening so many times. There are no safety rails around Hauana Picchu so you don’t tend to move about fast. I feel like I have been in the clouds.
After an English girl offered to take my photo up here with Machu Picchu in the background (she hasn’t sent it by email) I then wander around and then just sit in awe of this place but wishing that somehow magically I could see it as it was in their day. That must have been something and then my usual questions sneak into my mind as to why. Why would you put an ancient village way the hell up here and in the complete middle of nowhere? Stunning setting but that’s about it. So far from anywhere and way up in the Andes, it really is a place of wonder. Maybe that’s what inspired them to build here. I can imagine at the spirituality of these people and their thinking that they are now living with and amongst their gods. Who knows, perhaps one day I will return. Machu Picchu itself looks flat and is to a certain degree but does slope slightly uphill and walking around it can take it out of you. On two sides it drops off also, so again if you are scared of heights keep away from the edge, it’s still a long way to the bottom.
All in all I spent 5hrs here which is not hard to do then I caught the second to last bus back down the hill and spent an hour in Aguas Clientas to do some souvenir shopping before getting back on the train and heading back to Cusco. I sat with an English girl and opposite us was a couple from the USA. He was a native Peruvian and his wife was from the USA where they lived. I asked why he was here and it turned out he had never been to Machu Picchu and his two daughters where now 14 and 12 years of age and he had wanted for years for them to see his homeland and now the girls were at an age where they could appreciate and remember he had brought the family to see all of Peru. His girls that where sitting behind them were absolutely loving their trip. Most of the trip back was spent talking with this couple. Very enjoyable conversation and interesting to hear his story of growing up on the outskirts of Lima.
The following day I am on a bus again heading back to Puno. The first half of this journey is so bumpy and great fun trying to go to the toilet in the bus but then the road lets up and is smoother for the last half. In Puno I head back to the hostel Amy and I stayed in on our way to Cusco. The dirt has gone now as there has been no more rain which is good as it doesnt smell this time around.
The next new day I go in search of Emerald jewellery for the females in my family. Doesn’t take long to find these shops as they are everywhere. Most of the shops actually have a factory out the back and if you are lucky enough they will let you out the back to watch them working. Wow there are just emeralds everywhere. I spent a small fortune but found I just couldn’t resist. My favourite purchase was a rare Tourmaline with a matching bracelet. I was also given all the certificates for the rings I brought. Apart from being for insurance purposes it tells you from what mine the stone came from and what day they where mined. It is so fascinating to me that they even take the time to do this. The following year when in Bogota I went to the emerald trade centre and the mass amount of emeralds there is mind boggling so tracing the mine they came from has got to be a nightmare and I am left wondering whether they really are telling the truth.
By this time also I have found the closest Juan Valdez coffee cafe. I ended up going here every morning and every afternoon. The guy in there would see me walk in the door and just make up a coffee for me. Now I don’t know what he was putting in it but man it was nice. I have decided Colombian coffee is the best in the world. At my hotel the Colombian people that are there on holiday are giving me smiles by this time. They are getting used to seeing me and since I am the only foreigner I am quite the novelty – not that I give a damn in the world. One lunch time Juan came and sat with me while I had lunch out on the terrace. Another Colombian guy turns up – he’s staying at the hotel- and starts talking with him. He then turns to me and speaks perfect English with an American accent. Turns out that Eric is Colombian and had married an American, moved there and lived in the US for 12 years before it fell apart, he divorced and moved back to Colombia. He meets his ex-wife and daughter in Cartagena every year to spend time with his daughter. Poor guy ended up several nights being an interpreter for us.
And the same day that Eric and I start talking to each other this young Colombian couple introduce themselves to me. Manuel speaks English but his girlfriend Fabiola doesn’t. They are in their late 20s and such fun. Things are going great and now I have some friends here I am thinking maybe I will stay longer than I first intended to. Juan’s sister, Zylekia, is by this time, spending every afternoon with me on the beach trying to drum Spanish into me. That girl had the patience of a saint. There is also Christian who sort of works in the bar that’s two steps out the door. He is in his 20s and speaks English to and he has taken a shine to me. Whenever I step out the hotel door he seems to magically appear and starts walking down the street with me. One night Fabi, Manu, Christian and I go to the movies. Its only 2 minutes walk. The movie ‘Perro Come Perro’ (Dog eat Dog) is in Spanish of course, but I can tell you that didn’t matter. It was hilarious. Fabiola, Manuel and I were to hang out most nights.
Another night was spent in the old city just strolling around and looking at the homes. Many have been brought by Americans who are doing them up. They look great. There is just as much entertainment going on in the evenings as there is during the day. All the restaurants and bars have their seating outside and as it is so hot you sit outside under a tree and listen to music and drink. Damn nice way to spend the evening. On yet another night we went to a nightclub that was right in one of the corners of the old city wall. You could look out from the top and over the water to Bocagrande where we were staying. This certain night we stayed out until 2pm. Because of the heat in Cartagena I have to buy some new clothing. Down to the shops I go and into this really nice store which has great fashion clothing. Yet another hilarious hour trying to communicate with the store girl. I am, by now, throwing in a lot of Spanish words but god I must sound totally confused as it aint hard to get them to burst out laughing so I figure that I am really not saying what I think I am. I brought some beaut clothes and man it is so cheap.
One night I went walking by myself. I feel totally safe in Cartagena. No one at all has given me any trouble and the taxi drivers have not tried to rip me off at any time. I usually ask the locals what I can expect to pay when going from A-B and the have found this is a brilliant way to get the upper hand on taxi drivers if they are trying to rip you off. If you have had this, ‘should I go to Colombia of not’, well I can tell you GO. It is just as safe as anywhere else in the world.
Over the next few days Christian and Zylekia spend all their time drumming more Spanish into me. Must admit that I found it an enjoyable way to learn more Spanish. One night in the bar I get approached by Angel (bar owner) and asked if I would like to invest money in a holiday home in Cartagena. This makes my ears prick up and next thing I’m in a conversation with 2 American guys about going in with them on a property in Cartagena not too far from where we are. Really nice they where and I still send emails to one of them though I decided to not take up the offer.
Genny came to the bar one last time to say goodbye as she was returning to Bogota, Juan had disappeared to heavens knows where so Eric and I spend an evening talking. I get the low down on his life in the USA and how it is for him now back in Colombia. I spent the next day getting orders from people wanting the Lonely Planet Spanish to English phrase book as they couldn’t find any in Cartagena. It seems that every man and his dog wants one and especially when I say there is a website called Amazon that you can order them from. Now in between all of this I am walking about 5kms everyday right down and around Bocagrande. I have found the best place to swim if I am not swimming at the hotel and I have meet friends of Juan and Zylekia. I have also found out that Angel is married and his wife is running their hostel up the coast. They don’t get to see each other very much and he has a young child. He’s a bit of a wheeler dealer because the bar doesn’t make much money for him.
Another trip into Al Centro (old City) saw me buying more emerald jewellery and then the lady that served me, a friend of Juan’s, gave me an uncut emerald. I instantly decided that I would leave it as is and have it as a necklace . One night I’m sitting on the terrace having my dinner and a fire breaks out in the dining room. They have small gas burners under the big stainless steel bowls and plates that keep the food warm, but the thing is that they cover them with small table cloth sheets so you can’t see the burners. One of the waiters decided to pull the burner out from the one that had caught on fire and next thing there is a line of fire where the gas had spilt on the floor as he had dropped it. The huge table cloth that was over the table itself had caught on fire by now and people didn’t quite know what to do. I calmly got up and went in, got the lids off several of the food trays and dropped them on top of the fire on the floor. The waiters seeing what I was doing then started doing it on the table to put the other flames out. They all had these panicked looks on their faces and couldn’t quite get how calm I was. Well the last job I had done in NZ was security for the Army through a private company and to get my security certificate part of my training was to handle small fires along with a load of other stuff so it came in handy. The waiter had burnt himself on the hand so I promptly made him hold it under cold water. At first he thought I was crazy but decided I knew what I was doing and understood my insistence that he had to do it for 10 minutes. About 2hrs later the kitchen and dining staff come out with someone else I hadn’t seen before and he thank me on behalf of all the staff as he spoke a little English. We then sat for awhile and I went over what they should do if they have a small fire. All this time I’m thinking here is a job opportunity if I was to ever live in Colombia – basic fire training for establishments such as restaurants and hotels. Things are getting more interesting by the day.
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Well there seems to be something to surprise me all the time and the next thing was when I went to a local internet cafe. I’m sitting there checking my email and this young Colombian guy hands me a note. On it says; I know you can speak and read English and I have to do this quiz in 5 minutes in English. Can you help me, it’s to get into the Navy. I looked at him and just smiled at the same time I’m thinking you can write English but can’t speak it as I had said ‘you want me to help you’ which I just got a blank look. Anyway I helped him and hoped the hell he didn’t have to prove he could speak English if he had to do an interview as they then would be wondering how he got all the questions right. While I was there I booked a flight on to my next destination and my hostel.
This day it also rained. My first bit of rain since leaving NZ. Quite refreshing but the heat didn’t let up, not that I minded. I had written out a heap of postcards so went on a hunt for a post office. Never found one but I was getting used to that after the rest of South America. Oh to be back in NZ where there is one of every corner – or so it seems! I then spent the rest of the day walking and in the sun and with a little Spanish thrown in by Christian. I must say I am super proud of myself now as I’m getting pretty good. Colombian Spanish is different in pronunciation to from all the other South American countries. It changes from country to country and makes it hard when you are just learning but I found the Colombian Spanish the easiest or maybe it was because I was getting thumped with it every day.
Fabi, Manu and I went somewhere nearly every night and this night it was to the local ‘Crepes and Waffles’ restaurant. Oh my god – heaven. Ate too much of course but oh it was so damned good. The one thing we didn’t end up doing was going on one of the chivas. Chivas are a like a truck come bus that is open and they pick you up and take you around to clubs while you get drunk and have this Caribbean drums come music in your ear all night. The music and beat is good though. You can hear them coming from a mile away.
My last night in Cartagena we all went into Al Centro again. I love going here and this night we walked the wall, had dinner, drank and talked. A spent about an hour walking down the beach afterwards. It’s all lit up and safe. There are tractors with miniature hay baler like machines which go down the beach every night just on dark and scoops up all the rubbish and then brush it all flat and smooth. The guy who does this has quite a few kilometres of beach to do every night. My day of moving on arrives and I pack and get ready to leave. Had to buy a new bag as the strap on my smaller one broke. I am not leaving until the afternoon so I have the morning to say goodbye to everyone and have my last walk down the beach. I have spent 10 days here and have loved every minute of it. Cartagena is yet another city I have every intention of revisiting. All the taxi guys out the front say goodbye to me. They have got so used to seeing me come and go every day that I am sure they were also wondering when or if I was ever going to leave.
My send off was quite something with about 10 people waving me off. At the airport you first have to go through security and they do a hand search as they don’t have the x-ray machines. Well I have 22.5kg in my backpack, (I find out at check in when it’s weighed) and the security guy tries to put his hand down the side of it. He is pushing like crazy and in the end finding this near impossible to do tells me to zip it up and go. He is just looking at me when I put it on my back and continue to check –in. When I am getting my boarding pass this is where I find out that you have to purchase a tourist visa to get into PANAMA.
You can’t get one at the airport in Panama so if you arrive without one then you will be turned away. Thank god the lady at check in told me this as I had no clue whatsoever that you needed one. I had goggled whether NZers needed a visa to get in but it has said no. Don’t know why it didn’t say yes you need one before arriving. It only cost $10 US. Anyway that sorted the lady then tells the man behind her that he can put my bag on the belt. He went to lift it up by the top handle, just the way I had put it down. He just looked at me as to say ‘how the hell do you lift that with one hand and lift it on the scales’. 22.5 kgs is heavy! I just smiled. Things had gone great all day and so when the flight is delayed an hour I don’t worry too much as I will still arrive in Panama in the daylight with plenty of time to get to my hostel. I don’t like getting to a new country in the dark unless I have airport pick up organised.
Flying into Panama I counted 78 ships sitting in the bay before I couldn’t see them anymore. I figured there had to be over 100. As I found out later there probably was as they have to sit there for up to a week until it is their turn to go through the Panama Canal and get this, they have to book their spot close to a year ahead. That’s got to take a bit of figuring out. Anyway I get to the airport and turn the corner to find nearly 15 rows of people standing in line to get through immigration. Yep there has got to be 2000 people or more ahead of me. God I don’t know, there were just people everywhere. I had noticed lots of planes and more planes landing as I was getting off. It took me 2 hours to get through. This is the longest I have had to wait at any immigration.
When I had finally picked up my bag and gotten outside it was dark. Found myself a taxi driver that speaks English and off we go. Getting to the hostel is a breeze but I then find out the hostel hasn’t received my booking or so this grumpy lady says and then she won’t even let me use the phone to ring other hostels to see if they have vacancies. The whole time we are yelling at each other because she won’t even let me in the door and she’s three flights up on a balcony. The other hostellers sitting two flights up are busy telling me she is like that and that I’m probably booked but once it gets to 8pm she can’t be bothered and has turned lots of people away. Man that just made me so angry. What the hell are people supposed to do at 10pm in a foreign country when they more or less lock you out? My taxi driver says ‘come on I will take you around all the other hostels as I know them’, so off we go. The first one was no longer there and the taxi driver was so surprised, next one was full and the next but the fourth one was a YES. It was the HI hostel and the bloke running it was so great. The taxi driver after all this running around, which turned out to be an hour, only charged me $50. I was expecting it to be so much more.
The hostel guy then points me in the right direction to get something to eat and I finally crawl into bed around midnight after sitting and talking with others for awhile. The following day I get a map and start walking and looking. The area I’m in doesn’t seem all that busy. Kinda struck me as odd as I wasn’t really all that far from the centre of Panama City. I teamed up with Andreas from Norway and went to a pizza place for dinner this night and later this night I was sitting on the balcony and this American lady comes in and we start talking. Turns out that her and her husband own some timeshares and she was here to have a holiday at one of these resorts and she invited me to spend a week there to. She is having another friend from Seattle meet her there and after checking with the resort that I can also go I decide why not.
A backpacker at a resort in Panama. I like the idea. She also gives me a card of a private tourist operator owner who will take me to all the spots in Panama City for a fixed day fee so I get on the phone and organise him for the following day. So the following morning I’m up and ready and my driver Rafael is the coolest guy. Spoke good English and I’m already going back to English now as so many in Panama City can speak it. This is not good and I already know I’m going to lose what I have learnt. First place we head to is the Miraflores Locks. Yes the Panama Canal. This is something I have wanted to see for as long as I can remember, especially after seeing a documentary film on the making off the Canal which included lots of real footage. We timed it perfectly and watched an oil tanker come in and go right through. All the time that we are watching this guy on a speaker system is giving you a commentary on the stats. We, at one stage there, are looking at these gates as the water is coming up and he says the height from the water to the top of the gate that we can see at the moment is 3 stories high. I look at it and yep I would agree with that, then he tells us that the gates are actually 18 stories high. Holy sh.t. That’s high and amazing considering the machinery and technology they had back then to build the Canal. These days the stuff we have makes it so easy but back then….Makes you realise what an achievement it was to get it finished.
(If going to Panama Rafaels contact details are; CEL;(705)6652-4293 email; email@example.com ) Hopefully this hasnt changed.
So after seeing the Miraflores Locks we came back in near the old city but first went off to the right around past the port and then went along a causeway to a brand new mariner with a heap of very expensive boats that where mainly from the US. Wow was there a heap of money sitting on the water. The causeway is new and this road connects to a small island. I had been able to see this when I flew in. Then into the old original part of Panama City. Where we actually drove in was rather a rough and dangerous area. Even Rafael looked a little nervous, but once past here we were where a lot of American people have brought homes and renovated them. They look great. There’s bougainvilleas’ hanging down from big pots on the balconies. There are cafes and restaurants. It’s really nice here and this is where you can look over to Panama City.
There was a ton of cranes and new building going on. It would seem there is no shortage of money in Panama. After having lunch we then headed right through the city and out the other side to an ancient ruin city site. There is not much left of it today but the history is worth the visit. Pictures posted at the bottom of this piece will show you what I mean. All in all Rafael and I spent 6 hours visiting everything he could think of that he thought would interest me. He does ask first what you are interested in so you don’t end up going somewhere that you don’t really want to be. I even got to see ex President Noriegas house. Wow is that a mansion or what, and that’s only the little bit of it that I could see from the road. Today it is all locked up and not even being used. Damn waste that is, and has been since all that trouble with him went down.
So that was a great day and a great way to see Panama City and Rafael was an excellent and interesting guide. The following day I spend in the city and walking. I end up talking with Susan. She owners the cafe two steps from the hostel and is American. From there I end up going to a bar not too far away and meet some of her friends. And yep you guessed it, ended up being there for a long time.
Two days later and having decided I have seen what I came to see, I get Rafael to take me to the bus station and catch a bus to Playa de Cameroon. Lari, (who has invited me), should be there to meet me and I’m really looking forward to a resort. I figure this is going to be fun. The resort is off the main highway about 6 km but the bus driver took me all the way in. There were people with bags walking along the road heading there and the bus driver didn’t pick them up either. I must have smiled at him the right way because they don’t usually take you right in. Rafael had told me I would have to walk from the highway and I wasn’t looking forward to that in the heat. I wonder if he paid the driver to take me in. I was the only one that got off there to.
At the gate the security man stops me and says wait till I ring ahead and make sure you are booked. I can understand this. I mean a foreigner with an accent he has probably never heard before, shorts and small top as it’s so hot and a backpack, when everyone else coming here has expensive luggage. I really wonder what he did think. This checking to see if I was expected took close to half an hour and I was starting to wonder if Lari had completely taken me for a ride. Finally he says its fine and a porter is coming to pick you up. They ride around on golf cart vehicles. I walk into the reception and Lari is sitting there. Oh wow is this place nice, oh yea. How much am I having to pay for 6 swimming pools, all meals, bed, shower, golf course, spa, para-sailing, drinks all day, disco, entertainment at night and hunky young men that organise things like beach volleyball and other activities for you to join in and lifeguards, as we are right on the beach. $45 per day- Priceless!! Lari I can’t thank you enough.
Rhonda, who is Lari’s friend from Seattle, finally arrives at 11.30 after being delayed at a road accident. I don’t know what time we all finished talking and go to bed but it was late. The next day is brilliant sunshine and the first port of call after breakfast is of course one of the huge swimming pools. This place is glorious and I know I am going to love every minute of it. Swimming, sunbathing and watching the people. This is when we all notice this attractive lady flirting with one of the young guys that has set up a net for beach volleyball. He’s very good-looking and she had her eye on him from the moment she spotted him. Turns out she is from Peru. She had on an itsy bitsy teeny weeny bikini with everything just about falling out and she had this guy fetching her drinks all day and she didn’t move from her spot either. I don’t even recall her going to the toilet but then I was in the pool and in the sea, getting a drink, eyes shut sunbathing but I didn’t see her move all day. She was watching him when I went to lunch and watching when I came back. Of course this guy is only in his twenties and she had to be near forty but her looks at young girls told a story of lust and ‘get away from my man’ whenever they talked to him. This kept me amused all day.
Every night there is a show of some sort put on which is great. They involve the audience and it has everyone laughing. Even the little kids could get the gist of what was happening and were cracking up with laughter. One of the nights Rhonda and I decided to go to the disco. It was like ‘more women, come on guys’. All eyes fell on us when we walked in, but it was obvious that we were foreigners. Two guys were about to have a fight over who was buying my drinks. Now thats never happened before. So yelling my head off over the sound of the music, trying to speak Spanish and getting attention like Im the queen or something actually ended up being uncomfortable and with Rhonda having a sore knee which she was going to get surgery on, we didn’t stay to long. I look back and have a laugh to myself about it.
Even now I’m like I ended up in a resort in Panama while backpacking around the world. Yea I really did and how many people can say that. Not that I’m blowing my own trumpet but its that it all seems so unreal. Next day its para-sailing. This is something else I have always wanted to do and you can do it here so no time like the present. After much talking and convincing Rhonda and Lari both decide to give it a try to. Loved it but it didn’t last long enough. Must do it again oneday.
Both Lari and Rhonda say that they would do it again and are so happy I convinced them to give it a try. Later in the day Rhonda and I go walking down the beach. We’re standing there looking at these houses which are behind high walls and wondering what the people that own them do for a living as they are expensive nice homes. We end up looking at one which has completely gone to rack and ruin. This guy thats jogging down the beach, (crazy idea in this heat) stops and asks us if we want to have a look through it. Ok why not. Whose house did it used to be. None other than the ex-president Noriega. Now this is another first for me. I got to see his house in Panama City and now I get to see the inside of the huge beach retreat. Wow and I can tell you, in its day it was grand. It was huge, stylish, modern and had servants quarters. Swimming pool, roof-top party area with a glass dome so you could look down to the bottom floor, bath and walk-in-wardrobe in every room. Even though it had been vandalised you still could see how extravagant it was. Talk about being in the right place at the right time. Kodak and I end up in some of the most amazing places don’t we.
My week finally comes to an end. Like all things new it ends to fast but next stop is to be David. After a week of being spoiled for choice of pool and drinks, food and everything else it will be head out of the clouds and back to earth. The resorts own transport picks me up and takes me out to the main road and drops me in the middle of nowhere. Yep I am now standing on a stretch of straight road about 8km long in a small bus shelter waiting for a bus to come along. Here is yet another learning curve. None of the buses say David on the front. 3 buses go past before I decide that I will just have to catch the next one and see where I end up. So that’s what I do. I step out and put my hand out for the next one to stop, which he does, and ask if he goes to David. No but I could understand enough Spanish to realise that I have to change buses in Santiago. Cool that will do, even though on the front of the bus the destination is not Santiago.
I get settled into my seat with everyone on board following my every move. Another case of the only foreigner on board. We hadn’t gone 2 kms and the bus is stopped by the Policia. They were obviously looking for someone and when they get to me they looked twice and then asked for my passport which I handed over. Lucky again as I had thought about putting it in my backpack. After having a quick look through it was handed back and he continued to ask several of the other passengers for ID.
The rest of the trip into Santiago went quick and we soon pull into Santiago bus station. My driver was great as he then points out the bus I need to get on and my driver, takes me over to him, says something to him I don’t understand and then indicates on his watch that I have 45minutes to get a drink and eat before my bus pulls out. Most things turn out ok and I’m sure you have worked out by now that I have a can-do attitude. I always think if you expect the worse it will happen and I don’t like negative thinking. Doesn’t serve any purpose as far as I’m concerned. So I have lunch and on the bus again. I’m not the only foreigner on this bus. There happens to be 2 American guys and I soon find out that they are staying at the same hostel in David that I have booked into. Oh yea, I’m noisy. I see foreigners I just can’t help but ask where they are from, where they have been and where they are going. If figure if you don’t ask you don’t find out and you won’t make friends by not talking.
When we get to David I thank the driver and all 3 of us then get a taxi to the hostel. In Santiago there are 2 bus stations. One in the north and one in the south of the city. Another lesson. Always tell your taxi driver where you are going next if you are heading to a bus station as you could end up in the station the south of the city and can’t work out why there are no buses to your destination. I learnt this in Riobamba, Ecuador. The hostel I am staying at is the Purple Hostel. Purple alright, and wow not so good if you don’t like purple. It actually is a nice hostel and like all of them on my travels full of people from all over the world.
I do my usual and dump my bag and head to the nearest supermarket. It is very humid here and with a recent but quick downpour that lasts about 10minutes, the steam that is coming off the road and footpath means that by the time I got to the supermarket I had sweated so much I was all clammy. Andrea, who owns the hostel, had told me that this can happen most afternoons so I buy myself a new umbrella while I was there. I have dinner and find an internet cafe, get done with everything and head back to the hostel. This night is like most others with everyone sitting around tables and talking.
On the following day it decides to rain most of the time so I put my head in my Lonely Planet South America on a Shoestring book. This book is so thick and I have had enough of carting it about so I set to and make a heap of notes and leave my book at the hostel for other people to use on their way through. I look at how long I have before I have to fly out of Mexico City and after talking with other travellers think I will not go out to the coast in Panama but go onto Costa Rica and then onto Guatemala. On a nice Sunday morning I go down to the local bus stop and go for a day trip to Boquete. It takes around an hour on a chicken bus. And yes there where chickens on this bus. Not to mention the dogs to and again I’m the only foreigner. Boquete is nice and there are lots of Americans who have settled here for their retirement. There are new homes everywhere, a volcano not far away and hot springs. There are hostels and hotels and tours for allsorts including white-water rafting. Very nice place and I of course brought several soverneirs for family members.
Next morning I get up and Rich, an American guy from Rapid River, Michigan, has moved on. We had fun one night there winding two Israelis’ up to the point where they confused themselves. Mean, but funny. Hey if you really don’t understand world politics then don’t talk about it. Better to look the fool than open your mouth and remove all doubt, which they did so we just jumped all over that.
The following day is fine when we start out but it didn’t stay that way. Kodak and I are off to San Jose in Costa Rica. Now for some reason I had always thought that pineapples came from a huge palm tree. While at the Purple Hostel I found out this is not so. No, they grow from a plant that looks like a very miniature palm and in the middle it has the fruit. There are plantations all through Panama and especially near the border with Costa Rica and in CR itself. At the end of the season they are pulled out and new seedlings are planted each year. They only grow to around 2 feet high. Learn something every day.
So we are happily going along and there are lots of backpackers and I end up talking with another American guy who happens to be staying in the same hostel I am in San Jose. This is great as it cuts down the cost of taxi to the hostel once we get into San Jose but what works out even better for me is that he has been in Panama as his 3 month visa time was up so he had jumped the border for 10 days which now means he can go back for another 3 months.
Backpackers and tourists wanting to spend more time in one particular country do this all the time. So why was it a blessing for me? Well at the Panama/Costa Rica border I would have been walking around aimlessly for ages trying to find out where to go to get back on our bus to continue. You have to get out and grab your bags, go into this room and get it all searched and stamped out by immigration and then walk about ¼ mile to get to the Costa Rica immigration. Thing is that they don’t tell you where to actually go or even point it out for you. (Not that you can see it from where you are). For anyone going through here follow the unpaved road.
Yes, you get to here and the road is full of pot holes and rough as guts and it has to be a good ¼ mile walk. The reason for the unpaved road is neither country wants to spend the money paving or tar sealing it and they can’t decide on half way. Seems silly to us but that’s how it is. Costa Rica immigration was slow and the hand security checking of our bags just took forever and over an hour later we are finally on the bus and moving again. The air-conditioning on the bus is set to a comfortable level. We wound up and down hills for hours and through jungle with a stop somewhere in the middle of nowhere for lunch. You didn’t get to see very much because of the high trees and way up in the hills it was all misty. It’s humid though, very humid.
Rain set in about an hour before getting into San Jose but in the city itself was dry. We got in around 4pm. It’s a long trip from David to San Jose and I had a splitting headache when we finally got there. No worries, we get a taxi and get to the hostel. This time I just lay down and went to sleep for an hour. The hostel is well equipped with an onsite restaurant and swimming pool. Great as I don’t feel like shopping. A quick walk around the neighbourhood reveals some interesting shops and restaurants, supermarket and all important ATM. There is the usual mix of people from all over the world at the hostel. I have decided that I will eat in the restaurant each night instead of buying and breakfast is provided by the hostel and I figure I will be somewhere in the city each day so will get lunch there.
The following day I am on a mission to post a parcel home to NZ but first I head off in a taxi into the city to find out just where the Postal Office is. I don’t want to be wandering all around with carting heaps of stuff and not knowing where to go. This turned out not to be a very happy experience at all. I was promptly yelled at to ‘go home Americano’ I made the stupid mistake of yelling back that I was not American and no I’m not going. Stupid, real stupid!! I then had 3 young men following me down the street so I went into a souvenir shop to try get rid of them. They stayed outside for 10 minutes before moving on.
San Jose as it turned out was the only place in my travels where I have felt uncomfortable. Don’t let it put you off as so many tourists go there and have the time of their lives. I think I just struck it on a bad day and it was at the time there was a lot of hate towards George Bush and the Iraq situation (Not saying that was their reason for being uninviting) but maybe that was a contributing factor. Still feeling a little nervous I left the shop and caught a taxi back to the hostel and decided to leave the posting till the next day. I got on the internet and made ticket reservations to fly to Guatemala City in 2 days time.
I book my flight with my favourite airline TACA. Great airline if you are travelling in South and Central America. The incident in the city earlier had unnerved me. Next time maybe I will travel here with someone else. I haven’t totally been put off and do want to return one day.
So back into the city the next day and to the Post Office. Luck again is on my side as it only took half a minute to find out that no one behind the counter spoke English. There is a German couple in there and they are posting a parcel home and both of them where fluent in Spanish so they helped me out. The guy behind the counter didnt know what or where New Zealand was. That done I then head out to have a proper look in the shops. No troubles this time from anyone. The shopping in San Jose is on a par with most places in the world when it comes to fashion in all aspects. I find myself sitting in a plaza with cows. Cows made of corrugated iron and painted all the colours of the rainbow. I love looking at all the different outside art (as I call it) in all the different places in the world. I’m not so keen on Costa Rican coffee though.
After getting back to my area of San Jose I venture a little further afield than the day before and stick my nose into whatever I can see. Pleasant way to spend an afternoon. There are signs and brands from all over the world from tractors and chainsaws to bags and clothing.
Tonight at the restaurant I have company. No, not the human kind, the vermin kind. I’m sitting in the restaurant and just tucking into chicken pasta which is going down real well and in the door walks this huge rat. It just follows the wall along sniffing at the floor. The cook is busy doing whatever in the kitchen and making alot of noise but the rat doesn’t even flinch. The cook then asks me how my meal is going to which I reply fine thanks. Then I decide to point the rat out to her. Holy shit, she was on the serving counter before you could blink and away she went shrieking in Spanish at fifty mile an hour. I couldn’t help myself and burst into laughter. It was hilarious. I have never seen anyone move so damn fast. Meanwhile the rat is still going along the wall. This rat had to be deaf. I’m in fits of laughter and can’t stop, the cook is still screaming and the rat is still acting like there is no noise whatsoever. This lasts for a good minute and I’m thinking that the cook is soon going to lose her lungs and calm down. How wrong was I. Just as I think I had better get up and steer the rat back towards the door it turns around and walks back to the door and with a last look around walks out just the way it had walked in. The cook’s drama has ended. My on the other hand, had found it amusing and beats sitting through the whole meal by yourself don’t it? The poor cook is so shaken up that she gets a chair and takes it to the kitchen to sit down. She puts it so she can see the doorway. God I hope it doesn’t come back in as next time she will have a full blown heart attack.
That over I head to the nearest hammock and swing away the night listening to music that someone had put on. San Jose airport is small. A lot smaller than I thought it would be. This is my twelfth time I have been patted down at an airport because I have set off the alarm while going through security. I am sure the things are rigged to go off for anyone travelling alone!! It’s a beautiful day for flying and after a big circle around and over San Jose,
Kodak and I are on our way to Guatemala. I wonder what this country has in store for me. After landing in Guatemala City and collecting my bags I head outside to catch a minivan to Antigua. There is no need to book any transport as they have a schedule of all flights coming in so they are always there waiting as not too many tourists stay in Guatemala City. From all accounts it’s rather dangerous and not much to do or see. Antigua on the other hand is a bustling tourist town as so set up for tourists. It is full of history and the locals are very friendly and helpful. It only takes 45minutes to get here. The first thing you notice is the modern splattered in with old. Motorbikes, scooters, modern up-to-date cars, billboards, chicken buses, very old cobbled streets, horse-drawn carts and historic buildings and cathedrals, markets, modern clothing shops, freshly painted colourful homes…….. I like Guatemala. Kodak had a moment of jealousy on the way to Antigua. When he can he loves to sit on the dashboard in the vehicles. On this trip his spot was taken. Grrrrr!
My first full day in Antigua was eventful. I first went walking and found a huge market near the bus station. There is everything you can imagine to buy here and I ended up buying a very nice top. After spending an hour or so here I headed for the main plaza in the centre of the town. It wasn’t long before I was approached by a local man who promptly sat down beside me and started talking in English. I can’t remember his name (and for some reason didn’t write it down in my diary) but it turned out he worked in Guatemala City for the TV station so his English was pretty good. He asked if he could spend the day with me and practise his English which I agreed to so long as he showed me around the town to all the things he thought I should see and to fill me in on the history of each site. For this I will also buy lunch.
Antigua is so full of history and it didn’t take long to get over 100 photos. It’s a great friendly town full of agents to book tours to wherever you want to go. Anyway after most of the day walking all the streets of Antigua and going up the hill which looks down on the town we arrive back at the plaza and sit ourselves down. I’m just thinking on what I will do next when my new friend turns to me and says ‘You speak bad English’. Bloody cheek! Well it just came out of my mouth – ‘I’ve been speaking English all my life so where the hell do you get to say I speak bad English’? His reply ‘Well it’s your accent. I don’t understand some of the words you say’. Oops, I sort of stopped in my tracks. Then having a bit of a think about it, it dawned on me that he had said ‘What’ a heap of times while we were walking around. Never dawned on me he may not be able to understand because of my accent. He also tells me that it is the first time he has spoken with someone from New Zealand. So my thinking that he probably doesn’t even know where NZ is I asked. To my surprise he did know where NZ was but he did think you could take the ferry from Australia to get there. Not too bad for someone from Guatemala, considering that loads of people think NZ is in Europe.
So the next day I’m up early, breakfast and down to one of the tourist agents, in a van on my way to Pacaya. What’s Pacaya. It’s an active volcano that I am going to go up and some of the America guys on the trip with me have somehow found some marshmallows to toast while we are up there. Where they found them I have no idea. Our drive toPacaya takes about ¾ of an hour. We more or less do a big circle from Antigua to get there. At the bottom there are ton of tour groups. We set off and the whole time we are being followed by some boys, a few men and their horses. Why the horses. Well you guessed. It’s a damned steep hill and quite a distance. I am fit to cycling and walking but up a huge hill like this one it didn’t take me long to run out of puff. The boys keep asking ‘ Horse lady, you want horse.’ So I ask how much. Whoa what! Oh they know that you want to hop on one but when you here the price which amounted to $us35, you have a second think about it. I decide no I will keep going for a bit more and then start the bargaining game. Now I am not really begrudging them the price as I know they are just trying to make a living but at the same time I know they are just seeing if I will pay that as bargaining is all part of buying anything in Guatemala. In some countries it can almost be an insult if you don’t bargain and as the boy was telling me the price I caught my guides head out the corner of my eye and he was nodding his head for ‘no’. In other words, don’t pay that. After a bit more time and people going pass us that had obviously started out from the bottom on a horse I turn to a boy right behind me with a horse and ask what the price is going to be now. He looks at me and drops the price to $30. Hmmm, no how about $20. He takes I bit of time and has a think about it. ‘Ok lady $20’.
Much easier on a horse and I now feel that I am not holding everyone up. I definatly need to do more hill walking. I would have thought that all the walking in the streets in La Paz would have left me a bit fitter that this but obviously not. We come to this clearing and there is the volcano in front of us. It’s not huge and just looks like an upside down cone. You can see from this distance some of the red hot lava below the outside black hardened lava. First we have to go down then climb back up, but too far. (I am not on a horse anymore) It’s very safe to walk on the hardened lava but I wouldn’t recommend falling over. In the cracks that you step over the red lava is slowly moving past. The guys with the marshmallows pull them out and they had grabbed a branch from a tree on the way up through the bush so one of them has a try at toasting one. The stick quickly catches fire and the marshmallow is melted in 2 seconds flat. Another try, but keeping the stick a little further away from the lava, sees him having success. Tick that off the list. I have had a toasted marshmallow up a volcano in Guatemala. You have to keep moving up here as to stand in one place you soon realise the soles on your shoes are getting soft as they are starting to melt. I didn’t get many photos from my volcano trip as again my batteries went flat in my camera. I aint having much luck and think that my battery charger is not working properly, but the photos I did get are really all I need. Being there was the main point of it all. Anyway it’s another day tomorrow. We get back to the bottom and have a much needed coke before getting back in the van and back into Antigua. Nice half day out.
WHERE THE HELL IS KODAK
The day for my trip to the reed islands is perfect. Clear skies with the sun out. My tour van picks me up and off we go. I am with a tour of about 14 people from all walks of life around the globe and so to the floating islands of Uros. I’m only doing a day trip (about 5hrs) but you can stay overnight with one of the families. It’s really weird to walk on these islands made of reeds. To me it seemed like a lot of hard work to live on them. They have to get everything fresh each day, no refrigerators here, or dry the fish and other meats out in order for them to last and then there are the problem of getting rid of their excrement. This is done everyday also with boats coming in and taking it away for them.
Lake Titicaca is very clean and you could see the bottom of it for a long way out until it got to deep. Some countries could take a leaf out of Peru’s book in this regard. And the other thing is they are so tolerant. Families live right on top of each other so to speak and if there is a dispute then they all have to sit, discuss and resolve before they can go. Well when you see how they live you understand this rule. I had however at the end of the day decided that if it weren’t for the tourists that go see these islands they would have ceased living on them years ago. To me it didn’t really seem practical at all but it was totally different and very interesting. All in all it was an enjoyable day and I can now tick of the Floating Islands of Uros on Lake Titicaca, Peru. As I’m writing this up my mind is drifting back to there. Wow it seems so amazing that I have been to this place and so many others.
Next on the list for Kodak and I is Copacabana, still on the shores of Lake Titicaca but further around and in Bolivia. I must say that the whole of Peru is so well set up for tourists and apart from the little bag thing in Nazca there was to be no other concerns when taking any other buses within Peru. The same can be said of Puno. The bags are tagged and put on the bus as soon as they have tagged them. The bus station was a buzz with buses and people and friendly helpful Peruvians. Most of the people on my bus are backpackers with a few locals and Bolivians.
But for this trip which is to be around 8hrs there is no toilet. After 3hrs one of the guys, (Canadian I think) asks the driver to pull over as he needs a toilet stop. The bus driver ended up being out the door first as he was busting to and then the whole bus just emptied out. Everyone went to the toilet. Ladies just got out, down trousers, up skirts and did their business. Can’t be shy in these circumstances! The men did wait with backs turned for us all to finish though. Back on our merry way and the next toilet stop goes the same way and then we reach the border. There are toilets here that everyone makes full use of.
To get over the border you have to first go to the Policia (police) and have a stamp put in your passport and then go to immigration and get the exit stamp out of Peru and a ¼ km walk over a small rise to Bolivian immigration. Get stamped into Bolivia and join your bus again. Easy. Accept if you don’t listen like one guy didn’t and neglected to get the Policia stamp out of Peru so he got left on the road in no man’s land. Bolivia wouldn’t let him in as he hadn’t been stamped out by Peruvian Police and Peru wouldn’t let him back in because he had the exit stamp from immigration and as far as they were concerned they weren’t going to stamp him in to get the Policia stamp out. What a goddamn awful situation to find yourself in, but at the end of the day his fault for not listening and how he mucked it up I will never know as everyone followed the bus driver to the Policia building first, then to the immigration office second. What he was doing while we were doing that god only knows. After waiting for a ½ hr to see if they would let him through one of the guys he was travelling with just told the bus driver to go. We left him standing with immigration officers in the middle of the road at the Bolivian border.
Another lesson learnt, listen and keep your wits about you. Kodak and I finally arrive in Copacabana around 8pm. It was a long day and after a very nice meal we hit the sack for some much needed sleep.
I seem to have struck it just right weather wise as the next morning is brilliant again. My thought of following the summer weather from the southern hemisphere to the northern hemisphere is paying off. Today we are off to the Island of the Sun on a day trip. Down to the little jetty, buy your ticket, hop on and off you go. It’s a nice cruise to the island and takes us around an hour. They isn’t really much to see here but this island has been inhabited since the beginning of Bolivian and Peruvian history. Again they have a home-stay programme running and fill you in on all the myths and history of the island and teach you a traditional dance. A Canadian girl I sat next to on the bus did the overnight stay and enjoyed it.
On getting back into Copacabana I then strolled up a hill behind the town to take in the magnicent view. All tourists that hit the town tend to take the walk up here. There is the local plaza and churches and small souvenir shops to see and all in all an enjoyable little town. The restaurants are good to. Lovely people, I like this place.
Next morning sees us on the bus again and off to La Paz. It’s a great trip to take. Like every other place there is so much to see. The scenery is out of this world. The lake, the dry desert-like fields with green crops that are irrigated. The climate is surprisingly dry up here yet you are so high up. I always thought the opposite would apply. Wrong again. We get to Kasani and have to disembark and buy a ticket for a ferry across the lake to Tiquina. The bus goes on a separate barge. On the Tiquina side we have time to have a quick look around, get something to eat and go to the toilet. It’s always a good idea to carry toilet paper with you but most places you will find a lady at the toilets who asks for a few coins in exchange for toilet paper. I don’t mind this, as for some of them it is their only source of income.
Back on the bus and into La Paz. Wow, you come around the corner at the top after going through what I would call the outer residential area and there below you is La Paz. You wind down the hill and into the centre of it all. People, cars, vans and buses. It’s another metropolis. Australia is on my mind again when I see how many eucalyptus trees there are. South America just loves these trees. Getting to the hostel is a breeze as the taxi driver knows exactly where it is. Turns out I am in the most popular hostel in La Paz, the Loki. This hostel will turn out to be the best one I have stayed in to date. 177 beds and the whole time I was there it was full. The girl I sat next to in the bus from Puno to Copacabana (Nicole) and another English girl I met in Arequipa (Katie) are both staying here. The night of course we just had to spend in the hostel bar catching up and swapping stories. Great way to spend the evening/night.
The following day I head to the famous Witches Market. Anything you can dream up I’m sure you can buy here and it’s so cheap. I reckon they must fly it in by the plane load. You can even buy dried lama foetuses, not that you would have a use for them, but the Bolivians bury them under their houses as they are supposed to bring luck. Hmmmmm. And finally I get to buy a new camera. That was rather a laugh as the shop attendant didn’t speak English and my Spanish is still hit or miss. Usually miss but I’m getting exceptionally well at charades. We get the camera onto English so I’m ok and the book has over 10 languages, including English, as I brought a Sony Cybershot. Cost; $US 40. Priceless. Memory card included. I’m happy. Walking around La Paz, as you can imagine, is hard work as it’s at 4000mtrs above sea level. Now everyone says it’s the highest capital city in the world but actually Sucre is the capital of Bolivia. However it is the highest city in the world. At the hostel is a girl from London who has been living and working there for a year and after seeing a notice she has posted a decided to take some Spanish lessons with her. I also book to do a mountain bike trip on the World’s Most Dangerous Road.
Next day starts with getting up at 5.30am and heading down the hill for breakfast at our meeting point in a restaurant to do the mountain bike ride. There are 6 of us from the Loki and others. With breakfast done we get on the bus and go. We climb even higher to our start point at one of the mountains that you can see from the La Paz streets. Sh.t it’s cold up here. There’s snow on the ground and by the time we get to the first stop point to let everyone catch up the ends of all my fingers are numb. I then have one hell of a time trying to hold onto the handle bars for the next hour or so. The first part luckily is on sealed road so I manage to keep going. Once we hit the metal part of the road my fingers have thawed and I’m really in my element now. Everyone is looking at the drop-off which is 300mtrs down the bottom and into the river. If you lose it here and for the next 30kms or so you aint coming back. People have been killed doing this ride but that doesn’t faze me and when it’s time to start this part of it none of the guys are willing to go first in behind the guide. That gave me the opportunity to get right behind him and that suited me. When we got to the first stop, to again let everyone catch up, the guide turns around and says to me ‘you’re right up my butt and pushing me hard, you must have done this before.’ When I explain that yes I have heaps and that my son, his mate from school and I used to scream down this certain hill at 80kmph he then understands that I am not going to let up and intend to be right behind him all the way to the bottom.
Next stop he simply calls me Bloody Crazy. The rest of the guys in the group just can’t get over the fact that I’m pushing so hard and one says to me that’s he’s jealous of the fact that I’m better than him. It wasn’t a matter of me being better than him just a matter that I have done mountain biking lots and know my limits. Give me a good stiff wind on top of a hill and I simply get pushed over by it. (Yes this happened once and left everyone around me in fits of laughter, but it was funny) I’m a very petite person. Practise and technique make all the difference. Anyway I put so much into going done at break neck speed that when it came to small hills I didn’t have the power in my legs to get up them. The end was a welcome sight as by now we have discarded as much clothing as we could and the rest is wet with sweat. We get a shower and change into our spare clothes, have a meal and watch a video of the ride then on the bus and back to La Paz. Our guide, an Irish guy keeps us amused with stories from other rides and the best one he had up his sleeve was a girl who did the ride and when at the bottom asked ‘are we at the place where we left this morning’. Oh my god, 45kms downhill all day, never laughed so much in all my life!! We got back to La Paz at 8.30pm. Slept like a log.
Now I don’t know why but Bolivia has really captured me. Maybe because I’m a giant in this country. Well 5ft6 is giant as they are all 5ft nothing. No, on a more serious note they are a friendly and happy people. They aren’t in your face when you go shopping unlike Cusco in Peru and they help you out best they can. There’s just something about Bolivia. I made a comment to Kodak that I would return again and the following year I did just that.
Love it here, even though when walking down the street you get a fright from Policia with machine guns at the ATMs and the shoe-shine boys with balaclavas on. Kodak and I make a night trip to Uyuni on the bus. God the road was like corrugated iron all the way. Didn’t get much sleep. In the moonlight I could see desolate landscape like I imagine the moon to be. We went through several villages that where just slums really. All the buildings were made from pieces of old boards and rusted sheets of iron. For such an amazing and interesting destination it still is one of the poorest countries in the world but at the same time draws you in with what it has to offer. I wouldn’t actually mind living here.
As soon as we get to Uyuni the bus is surrounded by tour operators. I took a few pamphlets and headed off to get breakfast and decide which company I will go with to see the Salt Plain. You have the choice of doing a day trip or 2 days and some even do 3 days and will drop you off at the border of Argentina in the south. After I had talked with others in the Loki hostel I had decided before getting here that I would do just the day trip. Most had said the 3 days was too much and you spent alot of your time in the vehicle just belting along all day with a few stops here and there that are interesting but its a long trip.
I end up in a vehicle with a French and Danish girl and off we go. First stop is a train grave yard, then to a small village on the plain then out onto the salt plain itself. Wow it is so blinding. 12,000km square of salt at what seems the top of the world. Don’t make the mistake of lowering your sunglasses to see how bright it is. It’s bright!! It wasn’t till a few days later that I really take notice of how many blind people there are in Bolivia, and there are lots. I got some great photos from the plain and Kodak ended up going head first into it and came up looking like he had been playing in snow. We made a visit to the salt hotel before driving for an hour in a straight line to this huge rock which pokes out of the salt and has cactus growing on it. This is where we had lunch. There were tourists all over the place and even tour buses. Mirages everywhere you look and it also deceives your eyes at close range. Someone would walk away from you about 10steps and they looked like they were a ¼ km away. It came out in the photos like this to.
I just ended up with being fascinated at something every day. Doing the day trip was enough for me. It was hot, bright but so worth it. The next day in the town was a fiesta in honour of some god that I didn’t quite get to the bottom of but all the school children were dressed up and there were celebrations in the street. Their clothes and costumes had all the colours of the rainbow and there was traditional Bolivian music from adults accompanying them as they went through the streets. It was great fun to catch this and my camera is working great to. After watching this for some time I go sit in the main plaza and have a look in my Lonely Planet book trying to decide where I will go when I get to Ecuador. That night Kodak and I bump our way back to La Paz. I have decided to stay another week and take Spanish lessons at a school. My teacher has no idea what is about to hit her. I’m already feeling sorry for her.
My first Spanish lesson goes ok and I’m getting ahead of myself thinking I might get the hang of this. I was to end up doing 4hrs each morning for a week. One afternoon while walking in one of the streets up behind my hostel I bump into Mike. Mike is Canadian and we hit it off immediately when we met in Argentina. He’s around 6ft4 and the easiest guy to talk to but will he send you an email – hell no – and that’s why I had no idea he was in La Paz. The first thing he asks me is to help him. Why, what has happened. Well turns out he met this girl in Chile and she decided to follow him to Bolivia and he didn’t like her to the point where he wanted to see her again. But she invited herself along anyway and he wanted my company the next night at dinner as he wasn’t too sure what he was going to talk about with her.
Mike also had lost his backpack. No I should rephrase that, he had it stolen by making the biggest mistake in the book. He was the only one in the taxi and had paid the driver before getting out and while Mike was walking to the boot of the car to get his pack the driver took off. That has to be the oldest and most heard of trick in the book that taxi drivers use. Put the bag in the backseat with you, get it out and yourself then walk to the driver’s window and pay him, then shut the door you got out of. I have done this many a time now. The dinner goes off ok and this girl seems nice but the first 2 seconds told me she was not Mike’s type. The rest of this story I think is better left unsaid.
I was to have my own encounter with a pint sized Israeli that decided he would like to get into my pants. What is it with guys when they are away from home and especially the younger ones? I mean I’m old enough to be their mother!! The day of our departure to Quito in Ecuador comes around and Kodak and I have a wakeup call at 5am.
Thankful I don’t have many early morning flights on my trip. On getting into the plane the head steward puts out his hand to shake mine and comments ‘what amazing coloured eyes you have, so blue’. We end up talking like we have known each other for years and in the end I have to sit down as everyone is in their seats and waiting on me, bit embarrassing. It wasn’t till later when I got off the plane I realised I didn’t get his email. The flight is good though as it follows Lake Titicaca more or less right up the middle. I have a 2 ½ hr stopover in Lima and this is where I find the one and only place to smoke in all of South America. Yes it’s at gate 23. There’s a cafe there and you have to buy a coffee or tea and you can sit and smoke for as long as you like and go on wifi to pass the time.
Arriving in Quito and getting to the hostel goes without a hitch. Oh but it is colder here and it is at altitude also, only 1000mtrs lower than La Paz. Quito was to turn out to quite fun. I was to stay at a very popular hostel and meet and make friends with people from the US, Canada, England and Belgium. Some people think that I’m a live wire and leave them for dead with the energy I have but this Canadian Sean out did everyone. He was living in Sydney, Australia and had also live in Gisborne, New Zealand. He was into climbing, surfing – well you name it he had tried it.
One day there he decided he was going to climb the high peak up behind the Teleforica. Stupidly Pat and I said that we would also give it a try. The ride to the top of the teleforica takes a half hour and takes you up 1km. When you get to the top you are at 4000mtrs above sea level and it is so cold up here. Pat and I were wrapped up well but after walking only a short distance give up and head back to the cafe and toilets. Sean and the others didn’t last much longer realising the going was tough and there was no way they would reach the top before dark and get back for the last trip down in the cable car. Didn’t matter and the photos from up there turned out great. You get the most wondrous view over Quito and because we had all been to lots of places within Quito we are able to point them out.
I also decide to take another week of Spanish. Oh my poor Spanish teacher!! I think he found the going harder than me. One afternoon I head off with a group of people to go ice-skating. At first no-one even believed me when I said that you could go ice-skating in Quito but you can. It took us awhile to find the place but it was the best fun and what a laugh. I have never done it before and in the 2 ½ hrs I spent on the ice I only ended up on my butt 3 times. The arrival of 3 kiwi girls at the hostel allows me to have some company on a visit across to the coast and a place called Puerto Lopez. I had been thinking of going this way and when these 3 turned up and said they were going there I asked if I could join them. Their answer – yes. Great so a few days later we head to the bus station for a night bus. Great thing about Ecuador, you don’t need to book a bus as they are heading to all sorts of destinations nearly every 20minutes. Apart from that there are several companies to choose from.
Wow the road to Puerto Lopez is something else, well the first part of it anyway. Huge hills that the bus winds up for ages. The jungle areas that we go through is where all the banana passionfruit comes from that I had been buying in the street and introducing to hostellers whom had never heard of it let alone seen it. There are lots of Ecuadorians with their children on this bus and when we get only 10minutes into the movie I am wondering why they are showing it. If you have seen Mel Gibson’s ‘Apocalypse’ then you know what I mean, if you haven’t seen it well I can tell you it is rather violent. God even I couldn’t look at some parts of it and I know for sure that there is no way I would let my granddaughter watch it. I’m sure those poor kids must have had nightmares for a week but none of them seem to cry, scream or even flinch when this movie was on. Getting to Puerto Lopez was an all night affair with some of the roads quite rough, especially the last bit leading into our final destination. It was heavenly to finally get there.
Our first day in Puerto Lopez we were introduced to an Italian who had lived in this small town for so long he had nearly forgotten how to speak his native language. He became our tour guide for the day. First off was to a lovely secluded beach. We spent just hours swimming and sun-bathing. Then we were taken to a thermal pool. God it smelt, reminded me off Rotorua in NZ, and it was only luke warm but we got to meet locals and we a place I’m sure not to many people have been.
Then we headed in the opposite direction and bumped our way along to another beach. I must say the beaches out here are stunning and the water is crystal clear and warm. Never have to ask someone if they are hopping in. A lookout point we went to was amazing. It is owned by a German gentleman and he had also been there for many years. His eldest son attended highschool in Guayaquil but came home every weekend. He was a very interesting man to talk with. The sun is piercing hot all day and there was a ton of suntan lotion used. When we got back to our little town later in the afternoon we were in time to see all the fisherman come in and the off-loading of the days catch. There are pelicans for miles (as you can see from my pic). Boats are rowed out to the bigger ones then rowed to shore. No wharf here to make their jobs easier. That evening our guide for the day invites us all to his home for dinner.
There are some stunning and very modern homes in Puerto Lopez. Yet another place I decide I wouldnt mind living! After a pleasant meal and conversation we are taken back to our hostel. I like this place with its Great Dane dog, lizards and these over-sized looking rat things! The cockroaches I could have done without especially when they crawled into my bag. Hope they get smouldered!!
The following day we head down to the beach to meet up with a guy we organised the night before to take us to an island for a look around then snorkelling. A guy we meet the night before on our wanders is coming with us. Marc was his name and he turned out to be quite the photographer, and his was his birthday to boot. I wasn’t feeling the best all day so didnt do the snorkelling bit but still had a great time. On getting back to shore we invite Marc to dinner and head back to shower and change. When I walked into my room, which I had to unlock first, I notice my bag unlocked. I quick look at my wallet, little bit on cash, passport, yellow fever certificate and a few other pieces puts my mind at rest that nothing is missing and it all looks the same. Clothes haven’t been moved, thrown out and put back in, but I swear I locked it.You know one of those nagging thoughts that stays with you because you just know you locked it!!
Anyway off to dinner we go and Marc I know, very much appreciated company on his birthday. I am still friends with Marc and keep track on Facebook and have even stayed at his place in Williamstown. I told him I would love to visit one day and over a year later I did. HI MARC. The following day the other three girls decide they are going to head further south so Marc and I head to Manta. We bump our way back to Manta. God it seems to take hours and its so hot. Marc is going to stay the night but when I tell him I’m heading to the airport to see if can get a flight to Quito he decides to come along. When I just rock up to the TAME counter and ask if its possible to get on the next flight to Quito and buy my ticket there and then Marks like ‘what the hell, I might as well come to’. He was amazed that I could and did just rock up and buy a ticket. We turn around to see this lonely red and black backpack being pulled along by a small tractor on one of those baggage carts all by itself. Not 2 minutes later we are getting on the plane and heading to Quito. If memory serves me right its only just over an hour and a half to Quito.
Anyway there was no way I was going to spend another 8-10 hours on the bus from Manta to Quito and this way I can still catch a bus and be in Riobamba well before dark. Brillant! So I get to the bus station in Quito and buy a ticket and then I’m off to Riobamba. Yes, just like that. I love the fact you can do that everywhere in South America and Quito is so easy. There’s just buses to everywhere all the time and a load of bus companys to choose from. No worries and inexpensive and also just as comfy as anywhere else and the roads are better than in Peru. The countryside along the way to Riobamba is flat of rolling and cultivated with many crops. I didnt get to see many tractors but I dear say they where there somewhere. I arrive in Riobamba and find myself next to a market. Couldn’t help but take a photo of all these poor hens stuffed in a box. The noise was more like a scream, well it wasnt a cluck thats for sure.
After arriving in Riobamba and finding out that the train trip I wanted to do is only on a Thursday (its Tuesday) and that I would be needing to get up at 5.30am and travelling to Alausi and then catching my train and then having to travel all the way back to Alausi and then getting on a bus and back to Riobamba all in one day I decide to give it a miss and spend the one night in Riobamba.
So the following morning I get up and head out. This town is like most others with markets and shops to buy just about anything you can think of. The streets seem to be narrow but it is a smaller city if you like and in the centre of the country. I decided for lunch to follow the locals. By this time I had learnt that the best places to eat of course is where the locals go. Good food, good prices. After lunch Kodak and I head to the bus station.
Next lesson – always tell the taxi driver where you are going to. Saves a lot of time and in this case in Riobamba lots because there are two bus stations. One at the south end of town and one at the north end of town. The rest is self explanatory. So from the north station we head off to Banoś. It only takes about 2 hrs and it goes very fast. It was rather hot when I got into Banoś.
After booking into my hostel off I go for the usual look around and head back to the hostel. For some reason that I can’t explain I decide I need to look at my travel cards. I have 4 and also my debit card from the UK and another NZ card and 1 credit card. I only have this many because of being away from home for so long. On pulling half my clothes out of the backpack I discover my money belt is gone. Panic set in and I just went blank. After sitting for a half hour trying to get my head around it I know that it had to be in Puerto Lopez that it was stolen. At this point I have a bit of a cry. The frustration got to me and it has been the only time in 2 years of travelling that I have cried. After pulling myself together I getting phone numbers and travellers cheque numbers etc….I head down to an internet cafe to make phone calls and try to put a stop to things.
This was really frustrating because of the time difference. To my surprise my traveller cheques $US4000 had been cashed in Puerto Lopez the day I had gone to the island snorkelling. Yes the day I came back and swore I had locked my bag. Well they where good – REALLY GOOD because they had to go right down into the bottom of a second pocket that you don’t know is there unless you take half my stuff out. To this day I still don’t know how they did it. They obviously knew the person that worked at the bank to in order to cash them and get this 2 hours later they got another $500 off the same cheques. American Express figured the bank teller themselves then went back and did this for themselves somehow. Needless to say they were just as amazed as I was.
They had also tried to use my NZ card but when the pin number was wrong a second time it was overridden by my bank and stopped immediately. They didn’t bother to try my UK one. All in all the first night I spent 4 hours on the phone and the following night another 4. My stay in Banoś was not what I wanting it to be. The 3 other kiwi girls turned up and after telling them they were just as surprised. They had all their stuff all over the room and nothing had got from their packs at all. After a long night on the phone it is decided I will head back to Quito and hire one of the Spanish teachers there and head back to Puerto Lopez with them as my interpreter to get a police report. More money. I get back to the Secret Garden Hostel and get an interpreter and 2 days later we are flying into Manta. Then it’s on the bus again to bump my way back to Puerto Lopez. We are told it is a direct bus but then find ourselves inland and having to change buses.
It just seemed to go on forever and we don’t get into PL until 2pm. Then the fun starts. First I have to go to the Policia and make a report. He then goes to the Political Policia and tells them what has happened, and then it’s to the Camasaria to ask their permission to do the report and ask if they will sign it. When he has permission we then go back to his office and he hand writes what I tell has been stolen. Next I have to pay him for this and then it is back to the Camasaria and they have a look at his report and I then pay them so they will sign it after he has had it typed up on official Policia Report paper. You get the drift.
All this time I’m thinking if this was NZ I would be done for bribing the Police. You don’t dare suggest payment to the Police in my country yet here I am paying the Police in Ecuador. I can say honestly that the whole thing made me nervous. Anyway after walking between offices and 3 different lots of Police, Jackie then tells me the report will be sent in a few days to her so she can deliver it to me at the hostel. I’m now thinking that I might not even get it and another lot of money has just gone. By the time we finish and get back to the bus station the last bus to Manta has left. What now! This man at the bus station knows another who has a good car and will drive to the airport. Out comes my wallet again and for another $US60 off we go. This poor guy is driving like a bat out hell so we can make it in time and he keeps saying ‘this is Ecuador, nothing is on time’. Well up to this point every bus and plane I have taken has always been on time. And you guessed it.
We get to Manta airport and our plane had left on time 10 minutes ago. So out comes the credit card (they didn’t get this one) and another lot of money gone. SHIT what the hell else is going to go wrong. We catch the next flight and finally 9.45pm that night we get back to Quito. I’m starving by this time and to tired so go straight to bed, not that I got to sleep in a hurry. God let tomorrow be a good day!!!
Photo compliments of Marc Freeman
Well the following day turns out to be OK. I went up to a statue of the Virgin Mary on a hill overlooking the older part of the city. Then to soccer match with a group from the hostel. I’m back at the Secret Garden Hostel. A real find this one. Anyway this soccer match is a real eye opener. We had a guy from Scotland with us. My god did he get into it in a big way and none of us could actually understand a thing he was saying. We spent more time laughing at him than looking at the game. After the game had finished we make our way outside and then watch the happenings that are going on.
Supporters are trying to start a riot and low and behold the Policia are just backing off big time. We nearly find ourselves in the thick of it so move away and then watch all the bottles start to get thrown at the Policia. Must say that I got nervous there for awhile. This goes on for 20 minutes before we move on and leave them to it. We catch a bus back to the nearest drop off point to our hostel and then sit to talk about the whole afternoon. Ever noticed that everyone everywhere always goes home and talks about the day especially when it has had the heart pumping. We just can’t help ourselves can we.
So to what am I going to do next? Kodak and I think it must be time to see the Galapagos Islands. This is something I have always wanted to do and I need time to get my mind off the last few days and have some fun and meet new people. So the following day I head down to the corner and catch the tram downtown. It’s really good having it so close by and all I have to do is walk over a block and turn left and I am at the agency that I had googled that has last minute spots for these trips.
At the same time I get some passport photos down as my spare ones had been stolen along with me drivers license, international drivers license, a letter from Canadian immigration and other bits and pieces. I get all booked and paid and have to go back the following day to pick all the tickets up. So now I have the next thing to look forward to and I must say it was good. My enthusiasm for all things Ecuadorian is starting to grow again. I went window shopping for 2 hours and brought some souvenirs before catching a taxi back. By this time I am so far away from where you catch the tram I can’t be bothered walking all the way back. My taxi driver speaks a little more English than most and between my Spanglish and his English, Jose and I have a pretty good conversation. He was a really nice guy.
Next morning I head downtown again to get all my tickets. Yes I am off to the Galapagos Islands. On walking back up the street I want to have another look at something I had seen the day before and I have to cross the street at the lights. As I am doing this a taxi starts tooting madly at me. I’m just about to let rip as in Quito it is a past time off all drivers to relentless toot all day like it is having some effect on getting the traffic to move again. Noise pollution, anyway I look around and who is grinning at me but Jose. What are the chances? There has to be close to a million taxis in Quito. No kidding. Not many people can afford their own cars so public transport and taxis are just everywhere, so I reckon it has to be around a million to one chance of seeing the same one again.
This same night I get an email from my daughter saying the parcel I posted in Peru has gotten there and everyone is stoked with their presents. Anyway to get some sleep as I have to be at the airport for a 7.30am departure. Our flight takes us to Guayaquil first to pick up others that are on the trip and then onto the Galapagos. Flying in you can see how clear the water is. It looks so inviting already. I am on the ship ‘Santa Cruz’. The young girl sharing my cabin is from Guayaquil and works for Metropolana Tours who does the bookings in Guayaquil. This is her 3rd time as she gets a trip once a year if she wishes to take it. For lunch we have buffet.
Following that we are put into groups and the afternoon we get to go ashore and practice our snorkelling. I haven’t down this in years but it took no time to get the hang of it again. The water is so clear and warm. I could have stayed there all night. That night at dinner I am sitting at a table with a guy from Germany. He is sponsored from companies in Germany and has a t-shirt on with ‘Mike the Bike’. He is cycling around the world. (In January 2009 I was in Tokomaru Bay, NZ and meet another guy from Netherlands who had met him on his travels. Small world.) Getting to sleep is no trouble and I have now found the smallest showers in the world. The next morning when we wake up we find ourselves at a different island. Cont…..18
A new day dawns. I have already seen sea lions, birds including flamingos and fish of all sorts and taken a photo of a seahorse. Breakfast is buffet and the selection is great. We head ashore to a new island. This island we get to see iguanas by the hundreds. The big male albatross sitting on the nest while his partner is out to sea. We walk on hardened lava that has formed amazing patterns and see the blue-footed boobies. Their feet seem oversized for their body.
But the best part of the day is snorkelling. The fish and manta rays by the dozen, but best of all was just floating in the sea with a turtle no more than 4 inches from my face. We floated just looking at each other for 10minutes before he decides to move on. The fur seals go whizzing past your face at 50kmph or more and give you such a fright and they do it continuously. I don’t know how many times I got a fright but it was loads and to just watch them is so invigorating. If only we could swim like that. They twist and turn and invite you to try it and there is no way you can keep up with them.
By the time you have turned around they are already behind you again and I swear they are having a good laugh. I went over right by the rock face as the fish tendered to be over there and when you drifted to close to the rocks all you had to do was pushed yourself off. The surf was amazing gentle and the water so warm. I don’t know how long we were there but it wasn’t long enough. Never is when it is something you are having so much fun doing. I have more photos again and even some of penguins. After we were all back on board our inflatable outboard boat we go into a cave. We have the choice of whether we get in the water of not. 25 metres or so below us the bottom of the cave is covered in manta rays. Now it’s not the manta rays that stop you getting in the water, it’s the temperature. It is remarkably colder in this cave. Not 40 metres back out it is so warm. Three guys from my boat hop in and have a dive down and play around which we can all see as the water is crystal clear but they don’t last more than 10minutes because of the cold.
There were also the fur seals darting around everywhere. I could have watched this for hours. Back on board is time to relax and mingle with the others. There are people of all ages from all over the world. Lunch is served to us and so is dinner. Yep, you don’t have to lift a finger. The waiters remember your name from the first time they meet you so every time you walked into the dining room they would greet you by your name. I was most impressed and the food was excellent. Note to oneself – take another cruise because if it is anything like this I won’t have any complaints.
There is a jacuzzi on the top deck, bar and you can do karaoke. The captain sang for us one night and wow he could sing. In the main lounge a screen is pulled down and the guides put on view all the photos of us. We didn’t know they were taking photos of us taking photos of everything we were seeing. Who ended up on the big screen? KODAK. By this time of course everyone knew who Kodak was. Gives you a different take on things also to see it up on a huge screen. The drama of last week is well to the back of mind and I can’t wait to see what tomorrow brings. If you ever have the chance to go to the Galapagos Islands then go. I can see why my cabin mate is taking her 3rd trip.
The next day sees us all go ashore on a different island and then the afternoon is spent snorkelling. It’s fantastic. The thought of this all having to come to an end is not something I want to think about. There are the usual things we see today along with penguins and those super quick sea lions. One of the guys in our group kept getting bombarded by a bird when he was snorkelling to the point where this bird actually pulled out some his hair. Most of us couldn’t help but laugh every time this bird came in for another dive at him. He then ended up spending a lot of snorkelling time diving under when this bird lined him up. This bird had something against him!
Our last day is spent getting to the island of Santa Cruz and going to the Charles Darwin Research Centre. WOW! The giant turtles of the Galapagos are giant all right. My guide told me it takes 8 men to lift one. NO – I think it has to take 12 men. They are massive. I put my hand down by the foot of one of them so people could take a photo and try to get an idea of just how huge they are. They can live to over a hundred years of age. One that was there is believed to be 108yrs. I thought they moved at a reasonable speed to considering their size.
It’s pretty hard to put into words just what it is like to be here and to describe what I have seen and experienced. It really is a place you have to visit for yourself to appreciate the place, the people and the wildlife and creatures of this amazing place. Needless to say if I have the chance to come again for another 4-5 days I will do so. Sadly the day is coming to an end and it’s off to the airport and my flight back to Quito. Amongst the Galapagos Islands are only two airports. One used to be an American Military Air Base. We flew into one and are flying out of the other. We first fly back to Guayaquil to drop off the ones that started their journey here. This time Guayaquil has dried out somewhat as when I fly down at the start of my Galapagos adventure it was flooded, as was pretty much all the south of Ecuador. Quito is wet and cold, nothing like the Galapagos which was so warm.
The following day is my Mum’s birthday and I give her a call. It’s good to hear a voice I know from home and to catch up on all the gossip, not that I have really missed that. The Policia report had been delivered to Jackie while I was gone so I have made the decision to move on again. I have booked a flight and have to get up at 5am so I borrow a phone off Lucy (from Ireland) and head to bed. I have met some great people at this hostel and will endeavour to meet them somewhere in the world again. We all had the company of a Bolivian doctor from La Paz one night. He and his wife where in Quito for a South American doctor’s conference but they didn’t like staying at the posh hotels they provide for free, instead they liked to stay at hostels to meet people from all over the world. Like me. I find them so much more fun and sociable than hotels, unless of course, you have had enough and want a change to keep your sanity. Hello to Kylie, an Australian, living in Dublin. I meet her at this hostel and have visited her in Ireland. This hostel is The Secret Garden. So Where the Hell is Kodak going next?
But first to get there we have a 4 hr stopover in Panama. Now you are probably thinking why not fly direct from Quito and maybe have a stopover in Bogota. Cost. To do it that way was actually nearly twice the price. In this part of the world it pays to check out several search engines and the airlines directly. Anyway I’m thinking what the heck am I going to do in Panama airport for 4 hours? Oh brother, leave me here. This, so far, is my favourite airport for layout and DUTY FREE SHOPPING! It has got to be close to ½ km long and duty free shopping on both sides. Heaven. I loved it and oh did the time pass by so fast.
The onward flight to Cartagena goes without any delays and Kodak and I are soon taking our first footsteps on Colombian soil. This is despite all the protests from friends about how dangerous Colombia is. (Its bullsh..!) Walking out of the airport and into a hail of taxi drivers and having not much Spanish is never fun but I find a taxi driver that speaks English. Then all hell broke loose. The other taxi drivers didn’t like it as I had walked past some of their cars to go with this driver and next thing there is a bit of pushing and shoving going on. The Policia had to get these other guys off my driver. Another incident that made the heart go bump, bump! No problem. Now that may sound a bit scary, but no more than anything else. The Policia are armed and it was the driver who was getting it. The competition is fierce.
I had booked myself into a hotel as I knew that the area of Getasami where the hostels are is rough to say the least. I stayed down in Bocagrande. I loved it down here. Right on the beach and 2 pools at the hotel. If I don’t want to eat hotel food two buildings away is McDonalds. I didn’t end up eating there as breakfast, lunch and dinner are provided by the hotel and the selection was fantastic. And to top off they serve you.
So I do my usual thing and dump my bags and head off to have a look about. First stop was the bar downstairs and immediately start a conversation with the bar owner. He just so happens to sell emerald jewellery and twice a week goes to the cruise liners that call at the port to sell them there. Nice bloke and as it turned out most nights were spent in the bar talking with him and two of his friends. One of these guys, Juan, I hit it off with and his sister who didn’t have a job was to spend endless hours with me talking Spanish.
Now a word of warning. Be prepared to nearly get man-handled by woman wanting to give you a massage and put beads in your hair. Every time I stepped onto the street they were there suggesting I would like both. Became rather annoying actually. There are the taxi drivers that just sit outside all day waiting till someone wants to go somewhere. There’s usually 4-5 of them and once a day they end up having an argument about something. There is the guy that sits there trying to sell sunglasses all day, woman who come along with fruit bowls on their heads and Henry. He sells tickets for the day trip on a boat to Rosario Island. Then there are the horse drawn carts that do a circuit forever trying to get you to go for a ride. I refuse simply because their horses are so skinny and obviously not looked after. The poor things are so thin, hot and thirsty and look like they are going to drop dead on you.
My second day there I did a city tour and meet Genny from Bogota. We had a lot of fun as she didn’t speak much English but taking photos and gesturing and pulling faces about things is a universal language. My second full day there sees me heading to Rosario Island. On the way we see one massive cruise liner in the port. I am going on a cruise on one of them one day for sure. We first call in at a small island and go to an aquarium and swim then onto Rosaria Island for lunch. This is nice. The water is so clear and warm. You can do a banana boat ride or spend a little money buying the usual stuff from the vendors working the beach. Most enjoyable day of swimming, white sand beach, palm trees and sun. It finished all too soon. On the way back to port there is a Colombian couple that strike up a conversation with me. Lovely people and this was the way I was to find most Colombians especially if they spoke only a little English.
This same night Genny comes to the bar again and I learn a little more about her. She works with a company that imports wine and alcohol to Colombia. We are on facebook and she often sends me a message in Spanish of things. Next day I head to Club Nautica and see if I can put my name down to catch a boat to Panama City. To get the address of this place I went to a hostel in Getasami called Casa Viena. I walked in and immediately spotted this guy that I had meet and talked with in the Loki hostel, La Paz, Bolivia. The street this hostel was on had not been a lie and this guy had been beaten up and his wallet stolen at the start of the alley that leads to this hostel. I was looked at real hard to when walking down here but I can remember things I was told when doing my security guard training and I’m sure it has served me well on occasions.
After visiting Club Nautica I walk for about 2kms along the shore until getting a taxi back to the hotel. I have no problems with trusting the taxi drivers in Cartagena.