me and my [not so] lonely planet

turns out we're not all that different

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On sneaky spews, being told your apartment is on fire and a bunch of other pointless shit helping me to procrastinate.

As is normal for the “pre-assessment crunch” I, once again, have started to attempt to write something vaguely interesting to post on this blog. In my “stage 4 of procrastination”, I always tend to write about 300 hundred words vindicating why I’ve been so lazy and why I’ve stopped writing posts. I never actually post them because the writing and enthusiasm always patters out, I begin to procrastinate writing the post by doing other things. It’s about then that I realise the substance and quality of my writing is incredibly average and that I should move on to stage 5 of procrastination - exercise.

Maybe the lack of enthusiasm to write has got something to do with me “throwing in the towel” on the whole journalism career (one I do not regret in the slightest), but more likely it’s just because my life isn’t really exciting. And I’m lazy. While travelling blog posts are easy to write because exciting things happen all the time. Anyone can make travelling sound fun and entertaining because that’s what it is – every day life on the other hand, not so entertaining – at least to read about.

But here goes because I really, really don’t want to begin studying for my exams on Friday and the gym is not an option due to fire damage.

Last night amidst one of the most horrendous hangovers I’ve ever subjected myself to, I got a phone call at work saying my apartment complex was on fire.

Rewind 10 hours. Wake up in Sydney feeling that the day is going to be pretty shit due to my excessive drinking for the first time in 3 (?) weeks to celebrate a friend’s 21st. Adding to the fact that I realistically only knew a solid 4 people at the party made for me having the time and making sure I was so drunk that I really didn’t care who I was hanging out with. Not recommended. However, I woke up, accepted a glass of juice, had a berocca and got a lift to the train station. 

I guess I should mention that I’m only new to the whole berocca hangover solution. I swiftly downed it without a second thought to my housemate’s wise words of warning: “make sure you don’t drink it too soon or it’ll end badly”. Well, let’s just say it was definitely too soon for me to be drinking it. As for the juice, well that was a terrible idea all along but I didn’t think the consequences would be so dire.

Curled up in the foetal position on the train somewhere in the Sydney suburbs, things were not going so “swiftly” post berocca consumption. I made it to central station, switched lines and got on the airport train with many painstaking looks of either sympathy, confusion or disgust from strangers – I was in too far over my head with feelings of self-pity and utter discontent to care. I must have looked like a homeless wreck (yes pun fully intended given what happened later in the day). At the station before the Domestic Airport, things turned from “okay this is a shit hangover” to “holy shit I’m going to loose it, this is the worst day of my life”. Leaving Mascot, I knew it was too late to get off and that I was stuck on this toilet-less train until the next station. I guess you can probably guess what happened next. I looked at the window, the floor, the seat and then finally my eyes came to rest on my overnight bag of clothes. Sitting there, waiting unexpectedly and completely innocent, I unzipped it without a second thought and threw up into my bag.

Probably 40 seconds later we arrived at the airport. Thankfully it was just berocca and juice that came up otherwise I would have been far less amused but the whole situation was completely absurd. Hangover in tow, I was literally trying to contain my laughter the whole way through check-in. Did that seriously just happen? Why didn’t I just throw up on the floor? But alas, no. In the bag it was. I almost lost it when the poor security guard unknowingly stuck the bomb trace detector into the bag before I had the chance of going to the bathroom to “clean my shit up” – at least it wasn’t chunky.

In the terminal, I gave liquid another go and had a very small sip of some water. The result wasn’t catastrophic so I continued to clean out my bag and then went and waited in the departure lounge for my flight. Ironically, I had a lot of time before I was due to take off so I sat there drifting through waves of nausea, willing it to be over already.

Somehow, I fell asleep. Waking up to find the lounge completely empty, I obviously had a stress. I looked at my watch and ran over to the desk just in time for the hostess to hold off on the announcement for “Miss Ambar Maddox to make herself known to airport staff as your flight is fully boarded and waiting for departure”. What a mess. I run on to the plane, hoping I’ve cleaned my bag well enough to be stuck with it for the next 7 hours. 

As we’re sitting there on the runway waiting to take off, I have this horrible feeling - something that feels distinctly like sneaky berocca making its way up my throat. We’re about to take off, I can’t get up, water was a bad choice – I grab the little sick baggy that I swear no one ever uses and give all airlines an excuse to keep those baggies on board.

What feels like aeons later, my parents pick me up from the airport and drop me at the train station, pissing themselves at how they’ve raised such a derelict child. I get on the train and the pain seems to be subsiding, although I took the risk of sipping some water in the car because surely by midday I would be fit to drink a sip. Evidently not. An hour into the train trip and a mere three stops before my house that sneaky little berocca decided to come back to play. The gift that just keeps giving. Really. Astoundingly, I’m relatively sure that through my three separate voms, not a single person noticed. The last one on the train in Brisbane (again, into my bag) was pretty traumatic though, by 2pm the alcohol had worn off and I was ready for it to be over.

In a world of pain, I flew back from Sydney so early for work, so to work I went. Just as my hangover was to the “bearable” stage (ie. I could drink water) I was ecstatic that the pain and suffering was over for the day. In a couple of hours I would be able to eat some food and have a solid sleep and life would be good - it was about then that I got told my apartment was on fire.

What do you even do in that situation? I sure as shit was lost for action, words, thoughts or anything come to think of it. I actually ran around like deer caught in the headlights between calling my housemate, friends in the building, the body corp and frantically trying to google some source of news on the subject. Being at the vantage point of being able to run out on to the pier and look in the direction of my apartment, the helicopters circling around and the smoke pouring into the air weren’t exactly promising.

Well, fuck.

It’s kind of weird being in that position, “Ambar, you need to call your housemate, your apartment’s burning down”. First thought into my mind was my cats. Funnily enough, my cats have never, nor will they ever, live with me in this apartment. One happens to be in Vancouver and the other one is on the Gold Coast so that was obviously ridiculous. Not to mention my lease doesn’t even allow pets, so not too sure where that came from – nevertheless, I guess it’s common knowledge that panic is seldom ever rational. Second thought was “oh this day just gets better”. Third thought was “definitely not passing my exams on Friday now” and then “holy shit, I literally have keys, a bank card and my phone to my name right now”.

Thankfully, after half an hour of running around panicking doing who the hell knows what, I found out that it wasn’t my building that was on fire. Sent home from work for doing no work (um, I’d like to think being told that your house is on fire warrants for some leeway in productivity, but that’s a rant for a different time), I wander home lost and confused. At least my house wasn’t burning down. Five hours after the fire broke out and the 8 fire trucks are still trying to get the blaze extinguished. There’s a good 800 of us just hanging out in the park, understandably evacuated from the building with no news on how long it’s going to take or whether or not the sprinklers had gone off and ruined everything.

Happy that if nothing else I had my bankcard with me, I wandered to the 7/11 to get some chocolate milk for comfort in light of my spastic day. I laughed a bit, called a friend and gratefully dragged myself into bed with my chocolate milk. And, hey, given that I didn’t throw it up, things were looking better already.

Filed under life hungover brisbane travel

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In a pathetic excuse to ignore my absence and laziness, here’s a photo I by chance took down at the 2013 Roxy Pro at Snapper Rocks - Sally Fitzgibbons during the women’s final.
Anyway I have a hideous marketing assignment due next week though, starting off the downward slope towards exams, so, in celebration of procrastination, chances are that I’ll actually start posting again.
Maybe.

In a pathetic excuse to ignore my absence and laziness, here’s a photo I by chance took down at the 2013 Roxy Pro at Snapper Rocks - Sally Fitzgibbons during the women’s final.

Anyway I have a hideous marketing assignment due next week though, starting off the downward slope towards exams, so, in celebration of procrastination, chances are that I’ll actually start posting again.

Maybe.

Filed under surf roxy pro 2013 surfing comp waves

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making friends with crack heads and why I will never bitch about Australian public transport ever again

Not for the first time I find myself staring blankly into fuck-off no where wondering how to start writing about my life, or more importantly something even vaguely interesting, which you can be reassured definitely isn’t my life at the moment. 

By instinctual laziness, my first thought immediately goes to how I would write my very own, over-done yet still mildly entertaining (just kidding, I’m only trying to be diplomatic) list of “99 things I’ve learnt travelling” which really should be named “here, look at all these dot points of cool/weird/funny/random/stupid shit I’ve done overseas so you can see how cultured I am!”. 

Dear god, I have become a complete cynic. 

So instead, and consequently subjecting me to possibly becoming not only a cynic but also conceited and contradictory bitch with no writing skills, here’s a long winded story about how I got stuck in Florida with with two guys smoking crack, convincing me that we really were the Three Musketeers.

When I arrived at the airport that fateful morning in Colombia where I was to take a flight back to the US, I was shitting bricks. I won’t even begin trying to sugar coat it - I was terrified, if not completely certain that I was putting myself into yet another absolutely absurd situation which would lead to my arrest or something equally as shit.

To put this is some sort of context, the last time I flew into the States involved getting placed in a room for 2 hours, questioned, refused clearance to fly, cleared to fly, escorted onto the plane by both the airline duty manager and security, and then was told before boarding my 10 hour flight that upon arriving, US immigration was likely to deport me back to Australia. Ahh, such a memorable experience. Keeping in mind that that particular situation had arisen flying out from Germany, I wasn’t exactly keen to jump on a plane from Colombia. I guess you could roll into the whole experience that 6 hours beforehand I had been stuck on a rooftop mid-drug feud having gotten lost trying to find the bathroom*. Just racking up the experiences over and over again (yes, pun intended).

After a good six hours of hungover angst through the airport in Bogota and in the air with nothing but food to distract me (thank holy jesus I was hungover and food was enough to albeit briefly waver my concentration on my impending arrest), I obviously got through migration, security and random drug tests without a single question. 

I could have cried in either surprise, relief or fatigue, but more likely just a stupid combination of all of them all at once. I guess I had expected that to be such a shitshow that I hadn’t really thought about what was to come next because there was little space in my mind to consider what I was going to do after going through customs.

So at this point, I had landed in Miami, I’d slept 2 hours in the previous 48 hours and before that had spent those 5 days hiking through the Andes where sleep was something disappeared with low altitude as we climbed higher and higher. I was ready to collapse into a vegetative state for at least a week. 

Except I wasn’t in Miami. 

Which is where I was meant to be. 

Shit.

Right okay, drama aside, I was fully aware that I had booked my flight into Fort Lauderdale and I had read a whole bunch of info on just how horrendous it was to get from there to downtown Miami with public transport but I ignored it. 

Come on now, I had hitch hiked through Eastern Europe, been stuck in a country town in the middle of Slovenia, negotiated my way through drug feuds and hiked through the wilderness. Surely I could handle US public transport. 

Lies. Wrong, wrong, wrong. What a smart-ass little shit to think I could beat the system. 

As it turned out, I had overlooked the fact that I was flying into America on Memorial Day. Ahhhhhh first world problems (literally), I’d completely forgotten about the lack of public transport on public holidays. 

Not only did this mean that I was completely screwed, but I was also completely unaware of just how screwed I was until this old fossil of a shuttle-bus driver asked me to sign a petition to get more train services on a Sunday as he dropped me off at the deserted train station resembling something out of Universal Studios.

Yeh, I was the only passenger.

It was a Sunday. 

I signed the petition. 

I’d love to report that my next 2 hours involved anything more than my hopeless attempt to find a powerpoint at the platform to charge either my computer, ipod or even camera, but it didn’t - unless you count me also finishing my book of 400 sudokus or scrounging around for old US cash in the depths of my bag. I bought two bags of Salt and Vinegar chips from the vending machine and only let myself eat one every 30 seconds - that was pretty much the highlight of my twilight zoning at the Fort Lauderdale train station.

After three hours of sitting, waiting, wishing at that goddamned platform, things started to get somewhat more interesting. I guess after spending so much time alone, I had gotten pretty spastic at sensing when people were around. I seriously got so excited when a taxi came towards the station but hooked a left at the last minute and drove off somewhere else. I was so bloody bored that anything would have interested me, so when two absolutely massive guys in their late twenties started walking (swaggering..?) towards the deserted platform from across the parking lot, it spiked my attention. I tried to look busy, but realistically what exactly was I going to do other than stare off into the distance pondering that in under 48 hours I’d be back in Australia for the first time in three years, which is what I’d been preoccupying myself with for that particular 15 minute stretch. 

Far from acting like a normal human being, I decided the best thing to do was to become exceptionally interested in fixing one of my zipper that had been broken for months. They must have thought I was high as a kite for no other reason than me suddenly finding this rusty zip to be the most intriguing thing on the planet. I seriously might as well as been playing with a rubik’s cube. And I thought they were the ones to be wary of.

Ha ha ha.

After a few tense minutes of me concentrating like my life depended on this zipper working again and them clearly trying to figure out what the fuck I was doing a) with the zipper but b) by myself at the stupid platform, they chucked their duffel bags down between what I had started to consider to be “my territory” and the tracks. I figured if I was going to killed and/or kidnapped then they wouldn’t be getting so comfortable about it, so my zipper lost all of its interest and I turned my attention to them instead. 

I can’t even remember how we began talking - I was borderline delirious by that point and my hangover was in full swing, so at least 70% of my mind was permanently occupied by the image of the greasiest pizza on the planet. I think they noticed my backpack and were like “hey, hey - you have a backpack too! We’re like the Three Musketeers”. Judging by their bottles in their hands, I called back to them that the contents of my backpack probably wasn’t nearly as exciting as theirs. 

And that it wasn’t

Between offering me a drink out of their brown paper bags, I told them I had just flown in from Colombia and that I would be lucky if I could even take advantage of the free booze on my flight home from LA the next day because I was that hungover. It was probably pure coincidence that at that point they decided to whip out their crack pipe from their bag, but in my semi-delirious state it just seemed too funny. Oh the irony. Despite them being off their faces, talking smack and smoking crack, I’d decided they posed no danger to me as long as I continued to banter with them from a slight distance. It was an amusing hour and a half to say the least. 

By 9pm the sun was well and truly set and a couple more people began trickling to the station - apparently this train was going to turn up. Eventually it did, delayed, which seems to come naturally in such situations and I found myself distinctly thankful that I had chosen a 36 hour layover instead of a 6 hour one. 

I was stoked when I got on the train, I really was. I refused the offer to adventure off with my Musketeer buddies and waved them bye from inside the window. Funny dudes. Anyhoo, after an hour and a half I jumped off at the end of the line, to realise that that was supposedly the “easy” part of my journey and that I was still to find my way from the train station to Miami International and then from there into town and it was now close to 11pm. 

And it was pouring down with rain. 

Long and short of it, I got another shuttle to Miami International, caught some skylink to the bus station, waited another 45 minutes for a bus going downtown and vowed to myself to never travel on a public holiday by public transport ever again. 

Really by then I should have just given up and forked out the $120 charter fee but I figured I’d come this far and it would just be pointless to give up. 

What a stupid thought, I clearly should have just paid the money. 

Stubborn ginger

Well, another two buses later and a 2km walk through the Miami ghetto in cyclonic weather, I eventually got to my hostel and laughed. There was nothing else to do, (other than eat a good 2kg of food, welcome to Emurrrica!), but yeh, the whole journey had just been ridiculous. 

So as this Australia Day comes around and I’m sitting at the bus stop wondering what the fuck Brisbane citizens did wrong to get such a shit public transport system, I’ll be thinking of this story and be thankful that, if for nothing else, I’m not in Miami spotting trains.

Filed under backpacking travelling miami

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Anonymous asked: Now that you've stopped travelling, are my hopes of you coming to visit me in New ZeZe completely dashed?

Depends how long you’re there for m’dear! I was going to go snowboarding in Japan over the Summer but that clearly didn’t happen so I’m going through some serious withdrawals at the moment - 9 months! Torture. Soooo it’s either there or to Perisher as soon as the snow starts falling. When do you leave and whyyyy are you writing this on my blog ya tool lovex

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On being ‘home’

I didn’t intend to stop this blog when I stopped travelling but I guess life just got completely in the way and ppppppppprrrrrrrrrrrrrrraaaaaaaaaaaahhhh!! all of a sudden I’ve been back in Australia almost a month. I guess the fact that I don’t actually have internet has been a rather large contributing factor as well, but that’ll change in due time. It’s so funny when you’re in the same place how time seems to fly by, where as when you’re travelling, even just a couple of days feel like aeons. I remember when I hitch-hiked from Hungary to Slovenia and then down to Croatia, the journey probably took 24 hours and it felt like a week in the space of my mind.

Being back is good. I know most people hardly ever share my opinion in that coming home after being overseas is a positive experience and believe me, I’m well familiar with the downward spiral of realising that day to day life isn’t nearly as fun and as exciting as travelling to new places is, but this time it’s not like that. I honestly believe it’s because I chose to come home over keeping on travelling and doing the whole overseas thing – it wasn’t a financial decision nor was it because I had a job or studying to come back to. Life comes down to choices and this was mine - if it comes to the point where I’d rather be overseas again then I’ll go back. Pretty simple really. I’ve also talked to a lot of people who have been overseas for years and have said that they’ve felt the same, that is, that it isn’t exactly the same as coming home after 6 or 9 months travelling.

When I think about the fact that I was in the middle of nowhere 5000m above sea level with no contact with any for of civilisation a month ago it absolutely blows my mind. I still trip up on things. At work I still say “after tax that’ll be ___”  in fact, the fact that tax is included here still weirds me out (in a very good way) and I still tip people, even if I’m just buying a single beer after work. On the other hand, thankfully I’ve stopped speaking Spanish as a default language to people, I’ve finally gotten used to flushing the toilet paper again (yeeeeeeeewww!!) and getting used to using a mobile phone again came back the easiest of all and now it feels like if I lost it, I truly would be screwed.

That being said, I would be up shit creek in the unlucky (yet not unlikely) event that I loose my phone. Workaholic as I tend to be, I’ve fallen head first into two exceptional jobs that I couldn’t have even hoped to be offered within two weeks of returning back to the country. That’s definitely been a big contributor to just how much I’m enjoying being back. If I didn’t have any work, I’d be going insane. With only a handful of people that I actually know living in the city I’ve moved to, let alone weeding out the ones who have other lives that have moved on fully fledged without me over the past few years, that literally only leaves a couple of people that I still see. In that aspect, it really hasn’t been so much like coming home as opposed to just moving to a new city, which I guess in most aspects is exactly what I’ve done.

So that’s it, a measly boring update where no drug feuds or cultural miscommunications have happened. No illegal border crossings, no dangerous sports (other than me driving on the left-hand side of the road again which was a truly dangerous and terrifying experience), no snow, no foreign fun things other than funny accents and music festivals (sweet jesus, stereosonic itself was worth coming home for).

But it’s life.

And life is good.

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On Cocuy National Park, leaving Colombia and on finally ending the craziest, funniest, most phenomenal journey of my life

Being out of contact with the rest of the world for a few days in this day and age is pretty rare. I’ll admit to using the ever popular line of saying I’m out of contact if my phone has been misplaced but loosing complete contact with the world altogether is something that very rarely happens. Even in Guatemala when we were in the middle of the jungle, there was still somewhere nearby that had wifi (thanks to most hostel standards these days…) or a radio at the very least. Last week for four days, the only contact I had was with my travel buddy, Alanna, and our national park ranger who opened up a cabana for us in the foot hills of the Andes in a place called Cocuy National Park.

Not for the first time, I feel like words are just pointless when it comes to describing the park that sits above the Amazon basin and just below the border to Brazil and Venezuela. Up until a couple of years ago it was controlled by the FARC (Colombian Guerillas) and was used as the main fighting front against the Nationals, so the place is pretty deserted. Out in the middle of no where, not many locals know where it is, let alone visit there and there’s little tourist information so backpacker numbers are next to none as well. I read in a deserted French article at the cabana that it is considered to be one of the most remote and unknown places in Latin America.

My god, I certainly believe with that statement after getting here. It took 6 bus station guards and one long heated debate about which direction Cocuy was in, let alone which bus to take – and that was only to get to Guican, the closest town to the Park border. It took us 19 hours on 4 different buses altogether, the last of which was 10 hours overnight on a rocky “dirty” road where we were serenaded by the loudest obnoxious latino music one could ever imagine along with the ever-comforting sound of at least 8 different people vomiting. Charming. Both of us agreed on taking low-grade sleeping tablets but that sure as shit didn’t do much to ease sleep. Instead we were put into a deliriously foggy state of ill-contempt. I’m not exaggerating when I say it was the worst journey of my life. Worse than the vomatron vessel boat crossing from Panama, worse than my journey from Poland to Italy on New Years day as a 17 year old with no idea how to handle a hangover, let alone travel with one by herself in Europe for 10 hours on 4 different types of transport. It even trumped sitting outside the bathroom next to a diarrhoea-ridden chihuahua outside the bathroom on a train from Nice to Paris. I hope I’m painting a clear enough picture, it was god damn awful.

When we finally pulled up in Guican at 4:30am it was creepy, dark, quiet and absolutely freezing. Thankfully a local bar was opening and the owner invited us in to warm up with a few locals possessing drunkely crossed eyes clouding their ongoing despair and struggle. We were offered everything from beds to shots to coffee (and a whole lot more) and upon sleepily realising we were the only females conscious at that hour and probably the only gringos within a 200km radius, it was time to get out of there.

Except we couldn’t.

Being a tiny village in the middle of nowhere, it wasn’t exactly like there were buses at all hours of the day and while I was running around looking for anywhere that was open at 5am to get a ticket out of there, Alanna was subjected to a guy peeing literally in the middle of this local bar – it could have been a better morning. Guican, I’m sure, is a phenomenally beautiful town at normal hours of the day, I started to warm to the place as I watched the sun rise there, but after being stalked around the plaza and hissed at constantly I was more than glad to backtrack our steps and be out of there by 7am. With that being said, I hope you (whoever is reading this, if anyone) can appreciate just how beautiful the place was when I say I would have gone through the same process ten times over to get there, it was that worth it.

After two months of literally doing nothing apart from sitting on beaches, lying in hammocks and doing absolutely zero exercise, it was a bit tough getting back into the whole hiking mentality. Over the course of 6 days, we hikes over 16000 vertical feet (yeh, we added it up for bragging rights) and over 80km. I know that 80 isn’t much for 6 days, however up at 4500m above sea level, it’s a shit tonne. For the most part I felt like an asthmatic elephant seal but somehow we miraculously made it up to the snow line at over 5000m and had a few sketchy moments as we realised we were completely lost in the immense park. Whoops. Obviously we got out absolutely fine but there were a few tense moments and we wandered around, gasping for air and fighting altitude sickness wondering why the hell we decided to go there. In hindsight I’m really glad I left it until the very end to go on the mountain goat adventure because it was what I was looking forward to most about my entire Latin America trip because it was such an incredible way to end a phenomenal 6 months travelling and over 30 months overseas. I’ll upload photos as soon as I’m not fighting the constant battle to connect to the internet along with 4000 other people in the airport.

Since then it’s been a very transitory few days. As I flew out of Bogota on Sunday, we decided to head there for the weekend for at least one last hurrah to really mark the end of my trip. Needless to say, I didn’t sleep between Friday morning and Sunday night but it was well worth the fun. To get home from there I had a mandatory 12 hour layover in Miami so I decided to extend it to 36 in some sort of attempt to not spend 6 days in transit to get back to Aus. Of course by the time I got from airport to hostel, hostel to airport, it only felt like I had a minute stop, but it was fine. Eventually I’ll write a post entitled “why I will never ever bitch about Australian public transport again” but that’s for another time.

For the moment I’m sitting in LAX with another fun (!) layover of 9 hours before I fly out to Fiji this evening to get back to the long awaited place I guess I call home. And that’s it, it’s all over. I can honestly say these two and half years have been the best of my life. I’ve met so many amazing people who have helped me grow into the person I am today and can say with complete sincerity that this trip would not have been the same to any degree had these people not come into my life.

To everyone who’s followed this through my literary rants, teenage angst and complete waffle for words, thank you, thank you, thank you! I can’t explain how happy it makes me when I get messages from people saying they admire what I’ve been doing with my life, or have some sort of praise for my writing or photos (before I got horrendously lazy). I started this out to figure out if I actually liked writing, so it’s meant a lot to me that people are actually spending their time to read this and be interested enough in my life to follow along with my whereabouts. 

I read in a book somewhere between points ‘a’ and ‘b’ the following quote;

“Almost every discovery is anticipated by a certain knowledge. Action begins the moment one thinks about it. The rest is only the consequence of the idea or the dream.”

This has been my dream, to live life the best I know how to, to spend our limited time on earth the happiest I possibly can be. Thanks for letting me share it.

x

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on Medellin and Halloween collectively eating away at my soul (and liver)

Recently I wrote an email to a friend about my past couple of weeks and the best I could come up with to describe my week in Medellin was “any hostel that is in the middle of the financial district that only comes alive after 9pm, has a cinema with over 2000 movies on file and a book with every imaginable food available for cheap delivery is clearly not going to be good choice, especially during Halloween”. Excluding the five minute walk that it was to the major super market, which I must have frequented at least once a day during the week (on the weekend I was clearly indisposed), I think I left the hostel three times in daylight. usually I would be far too embarrassed to admit that but considering how much of an absolute vortex this place was, I think I was in the more active percentage of our hostel. I kid you not, there were a group of people who order Burger King for breakfast, McDonalds for lunch and Dominoes for dinner. The whole place was a joke. For the most part, we did check off the essentials in Medellin and after leaving, I don’t feel like I missed out on anything, except maybe a few memories between the hours of 1am and 5am.

Originally I was meant to be going on my “mountain goat adventure” in one of the most remote parts of South America up near the Venezuelan border that week, however upon hearing that Halloween was one of the biggest parties of the year in Colombia, well, how was I to resist? I didn’t throw the towel in completely on my plans of going to Cocuy National park (said remote area) and as it was much of a muchness going to Medellin first, I decided to head there with a bunch of friends I’d met in San Gil. Halloween was absurd. Having spent the holiday in New York last year, Helsinki the year before and Paris a couple of years back, I have to say that Colombia has trumped them all tenfold. Especially New York. Considering last year involved getting on the Nepalese News and getting to drive the Staten Island Ferry simply for wearing a flying squirrel onesie, you can imagine what a complete joke this year was.

Whilst I know it sounds like I was a complete animal whilst being there (half-true), we did manage to do some educational things like visiting Pablo Escobar’s commission housing that he built back in the 80s along with having a little afternoon sit down coffee-session with his brother. Quite the day trip really. We also made a point of spending the entire day at the interactive Science Centre when we were slightly drunk on Halloween which made for an adventurous day out – especially considering all the instructions for the activities were in Spanish. I can confidently say now that the life-size kaleidoscope was a bad idea, though for the rest of the day, it was ridiculous amounts of fun.

Upon leaving some dirty, soul-sucking club at 8am the morning after Halloween we decided to get out of there right then and there. Packing our stuff in that state probably wasn’t the best idea and ended with us leaving more than just our dignity behind. At that point it didn’t even matter. The best decision we’d made all week was to leave then and there and we’d survived. Well… just.

Filed under Medellin Colombia South America Travelling backpacking Halloween

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on San Gil… and a bunch of other things.

More rain. Having spent my entire trip travelling through “rainy season” in possibly every country I’ve been to and not having had it effect my enjoyment anywhere, I know I’m not in the best position to complain. I will admit that I have been exceptionally lucky with the weather (excluding getting caught in a hurricane at one point…) but for the past week, it’s been pretty damn annoying.

After rafting with crocodiles (see text post below), the rain has been pretty consistent. So consistent, in fact, that it completely washed the road to San Gil away which meant we were stuck in Santa Marta far longer than we had originally planned. Like everything in Colombia, it sounds a lot worse than it actually was. Anyone who’s been to Asia or Central America will know that rainy season tends to involve it pissing down with rain but only during certain times of the day, which means that for us “being stuck” in Santa Marta involved reading books in the pool all morning in the sunshine until it clouded over and packed it in at about 4 in the afternoon. Not so bad, really.

Eventually we did actually managed to leave Santa Marta after the slight trouble we had getting out of there. It felt like aeons since we’d arrived into that bus terminal well over three weeks beforehand. I couldn’t believe just how much time we’d spent in the area, it was ridiculous. The bus journey was to be a freezing overnight 10 hour journey down to Bucaramanga. Oh please this is South America, 15 hours later we arrived to where we were to change buses. Stupidly at 7am, after having absolutely no sleep in the subarctic temperature bus, I decided that the best way of trying to clear my head and attempt to figure out how exactly I was supposed to validate our tickets was to buy and quickly consume a coffee. Of course, it was somewhat effective for pulling me out of my ridiculously groggy state which had been caused by me finally managing to fall asleep for the last half hour of the journey only to wake up, completely disorientated, on an empty bus parked at the bus station. I hate that. This feeling floods you as you realise you have absolutely no idea where you are, whether or not you need to get off at this particular stop, whether or not the bus driver is suddenly about to take off or where either of your flip flops have managed to float to this time. You eventually pile your crap together in a mildly panicked state, shove it quickly into your bag and then jump off the bus and things go on relatively calmly from there. Unless you’re me and you always realise at that point that you’ve left your water bottle to join the graveyard of plastic usually floating somewhere around seat 28.

As I was saying before I got off on some long winded tangent, the coffee seemed like a good idea in theory. What I had failed to think about, however, was that I still had another (hem, predicted) 3 hour bus to catch from Bucaramanga to San Gil and another nap was still in the grasps of my consciousness. Not any more, no sir. In some ways I guess I’m actually quite thankful for my simple decision of whether to have a coffee because the drive up into the Andes was really beautiful. Although I’m in a town that sits at 1100m above sea level, it’s also positioned smack bang in the middle of a enormous plateau that stretches as far as the eye can see. Getting up on to the plateau was the fun part. Hairpin turns up the vertical drop of a canyon wall, we slowly gained elevation as I tried to spot people in the gondola that floated beside us, it was quite the sight really. Oh but then it all went downhill from there as we physically kept climbing upwards. This little plump kid who had no doubt ingested some filthily sweet bread for breakfast decided that it was time for the party to start and began chundering his breakfast into a bag. I admire the locals’ practicality for not having the original paper vom-bags but these new and improved see-through bags were not leaving anything to the imagination and surely enough the trend spread like a wildfire along the rows of seats. I know this for a fact because somewhere around that time I decided to brave the rocking bus and attempted to avoid falling head first into someone’s lap (and consequently their lovely bag of vomit) as I made the seemingly endless journey to the bathroom (I feel it’s necessary to point out that it was to pee, not puke). Whilst feeling like I had frostbite in my toes, I was ridiculously thankful for the air conditioning that was working away, pumping around recycled air. I’d sceptically received a rumour that they keep the temperature so low in order to keep the buses from obtaining a hideous stench - well now having taken that particular bus, I believe and fully support it.

San Gil has been pretty rad though, which probably explains why I am still here almost a week after arriving. Oh my, how time is passing so fast. Being the adventure capital of Colombia, it’s hard to not want to sign up for each and every activity but somehow I’ve managed to limit myself to paragliding and white water rafting, having already been rappelling in El Salvador and caving in Guatemala. One would assume that being the adventure capital of the country, my week here has insanely active of sorts. Not the case, at all. Having had insane levels of rain this past week, there’s been a lot of waiting around to see if certain activities have been cancelled and whatnot. I guess that’s also a large contributing factor as to why I’m still here, mainly because the bigger river for white water rafting has been flooded for the past week and therefore we haven’t been able to go. We did manage to go on the smaller river though, which being flooded, was a lot more fun than it’s marketed to be. We did a lot more floating down the river, swimming through the rapids in our heavy duty life jackets, than actual rafting but it was a good time for $10 or whatever absurd price it was.

Whilst it may be argued that it sounds slightly stupid to swim down a flooded river through water rapids, it was nothing in theory compared to being invited out to drunkenly play Tejo, a local sport involving throwing bricks at dynamite. I thought it was going to be absolutely disastrous, throwing 30 drunk gringos into a locals game that we knew absolutely nothing about, other than it had been described loosely as “botchy with explosives”, but it actually turned out to be completely, albeit surprisingly, legit. You basically had to throw these heavy thick pucks 10m forward into a clay pit that was a meter squared and was full of explosives. The point system works similar to darts, closer to the middle, the more points – unless you hit at mine and then you obviously get a whole lot more. The whole thing was a riot – and it smelt like one too with the all gun powder floating around, covering the air with a sort of smog.

After a week of waiting around, it paid off and the larger river was finally opened again after having been flooded all week. I still remain certain that had we not been in South America, the river would have still been closed but it was fun all the same. I managed to get sucked under the boat and literally thought I was going to drown in the rapids as I was underwater for a good hundred meters but then my lovely crew came to the rescue and I was hauled up into the boat once again. They gave us a CD of the whole adventure but not having a CD drive, I haven’t been able to look at it yet. Whilst it was fully worth the wait, as soon as we got back there was time for a quesadilla and then we were on the bus out of there. Time’s short these days ahhhhhh! 

*edit, I should clarify that I wrote this well over a week ago and have since been out of internet access zzz photos/more to come!

Filed under San Gil Colombia Tejo South America travelling backpacking

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On coconuts, a weird coastal town and a rendezvous with a couple of crocodiles

Primal instinct will never cease to amaze me. This has to be maybe the 6th or 7th time I’ve either arrived with, or watched people (hem, guys) arrive at a beach in the Caribbean and immediately beeline for the coconuts. “Three, two, one”. I don’t even pretend to hide my smugness as we sit there and watch the latest newcomer as he wanders over to the beach, looks at where he’s arrived and then continues on to pick up a coconut. He rolls it over in his hand and then tosses it around like a football – or a soccer ball, depending on where you’re from - before looking around to find something hard, no doubt a rock, to smash it against.

Previously I’d refused to point this out to the guys that we’d been travelling along the Colombian Coast with because I thought I’d seem like a bit of a dick pointing out that most guys seem to have the ancestral drive to crack them open, but I also thought at some point they’d either done the same or were going to. I think two out of three tried, along with climbing a coconut tree with a rope. Not too sure what that was about.

Haa, yeah I told you!” I had finally risked sounding like an absolute nob, safely betting the bar tender, who I didn’t know at all and was completely content with him thinking that I’m an idiot, that the latest guy would follow the trend within 30 minutes of arriving at the hostel on the beach front. My free drink was going to go down a treat.

I’m not being condescending, I find it absolutely hilarious. I wish I had the perseverance to hack away with a rock at the outer layer, but I’d been lazy and asked for a machete. Admittedly, it was a lot more satisfying when I managed to open the inner shell by smashing it against a tree, but there’s no denying that the actual hard part had been done by someone else, no doubt one of the boys.

The cracking open of the coconut seemed to be the only the that followed tend in Palomino, our most recent stop on the coastline. By the time I post this we’ll be back in civilisation but for the moment I’m sitting on the beach writing this out on the back of a map of Managua that I found floating around in a book in my bag. This place, well, it’s just really odd. Not in a bad way, but it’s just got this weird feeling to it. Being low season, there’s barely anyone here on the beaches and all of the resorts are deserted and are, for the most part, closed. There constantly seems to be at least 8 dogs, roaming around everywhere, but never the same pack. They howl continuously through all hours of the night (not so strange) and last night, managed to run full pelt into the hammocks that we happened to be sleeping in (slightly weirder). Apparently this place is a surf spot but even lakes have more movement than this beach. To the North sits Guajira, a barren peninsular where the desert that meets the ocean. I think you can only get there by 4WD, which is a big deal considering most roads in Colombia would, elsewhere, be considered to be accessible only by a 4WD but normal cars plough along regardless. The town marks the end of the bus route, the end of the road with only one deserted road lying to the East that leads to Venezuela. As we drove up here we saw a couple of coaches coming in the other direction, looking stark and completely out of place. The only reason I know they’ve come from Venezuela is because I was staring at a long-distance bus schedule in the previous hostel we were at and had noticed that the bus to Caracas had been crossed out with a sprawled “strongly inadvisable, too dangerous” written over the top of it. Apparently the locals agreed with this conclusion because when I searched for a single face amongst the tinted windows and couldn’t find a single sign of life.

From where the bus turned around, it was a 20 minute walk or so down to the beach along a long and winding path through a Papaya plantation. The first thing that struck us as being strange is that no one paid us any attention. Both Sophie and I are quite tall, obviously white and have light hair – blonde or red – we couldn’t stand out any more if we tried and for that, we get yelled at, a lot. It’s just a part of the culture, I’m sure any female traveller that has been anywhere where she sticks out will have had the same treatment. If I had a dollar for every “hey babyyyy!” that I’d received on this trip, well, I definitely wouldn’t need to be worrying about my near-zero bank balance. Even the builders had nothing to say and didn’t even stare as we wandered past a construction site (I’m doing some extreme stereotyping, I’m well aware). We passed the construction site, only to find this house that had massive taps the side of small children coming out of the rendered walls everywhere. Not functional, of course, which made the whole site a whole lot weirder. The outside of a house just covered in oversize taps. I felt like I was in Alice in Wonderland or something warped like that.

It just got weirder once we reached the beach. There, lying along the deserted beach front were hundreds of tyres, being eaten up by the sea and sand alike. Not even your standard car tyres, we’re talking the behemoth ones used by the monster mining trucks, all splayed down the beach as far as the eye could see. I imagine that their tract would imprint nothing but “disaster” on the earth they roll across, although as to why that came to mind, I’m not so sure. They just seemed so out of place and industrially ugly, sitting there on the beautiful white beach, lined with coconut trees and only the slightest hint of human impact. Maybe that’s what it was, that they were just so human and raw, a testament to just how destructive we’ve been to this planet.

Conjuring up images of the run aground cargo ships that I had seen back in the San Blas Islands, lying on their sides like beached whales, imagining that something similar had happened here causing the tyres to somehow wash to shore, I was starting to fume thinking about environmental impact and what a shit species we really are, just causing so much death and destruction.

Oh low behold Ambar getting all sentimental. I decided it was useless getting all enraged and instead turned my attention to food, something I could much happily focus on. Later on I went off in a bit of a mission to find out what had happened, expecting to find some crazy story of a cargo ship on its huge journey across the oceans, all the way to the Panama Canal, but yet had lost its way and had, disastrously, ended up here. Oh no. Nope, no such stories. Wave breakers. Really? A disastrously failed attempt at wave breakers. The only mystery here was why the hell they had decided to use tyres twice the size of a normal car.

The reason why we went up to this little town was because we’d heard you could go tubing down the Palomino River, all the way to the sea. We did exactly that on our second day there, taking mototaxis (sorry Mum) up into the hills and then hiked a further hour through the dense jungle along some little bedraggled path with tubes over our heads and broken thongs (flip-flops) tied loosely to our tubes. We probably left it a bit too late, having just a little too much faith in the weather and sure enough, half an hour into our float it started to pour down with rain. It was actually really fun, despite feeling freezing for the first time in 5 months in the last half an hour of the rain-sodden journey. After we’d completed the activity, I was talking to a German couple who were living in Palomino building something-rather and they had asked what I had done with the day. I told them and they had chuckled a bit and then politely said “I guess they didn’t tell you about the crocodiles beforehand either”.

On that note we headed out into the then-close-to-torrential-downpour, intent on leaving Palomino and getting back to Santa Marta before nightfall. That clearly was not going to happen. In the end we did make it back to Santa Marta, completely saturated and covered in sand fly bites making us look like we have leprosy but no one was eaten by a crocodile so I guess it was a good day.

Filed under Colombia Caribbean coast Palomino tubing backpacking travelling south america