Galapagos Islands – a truly unforgettable experience

I can still feel the fuzzy carpet beneath me as I sit cross legged on the floor in front of the big box television. I’m 7 years old and my dad and older brothers are sitting on the couches behind me after they had claimed age-rank for the superior seats. David Attenborough’s voice fills the living room and we all marvel at the footage of strange and beautiful creatures and landscapes on the nature documentary Our World. Visiting the Galapagos Islands was like bringing this moment of childhood wonder into reality.

My tour of these fantastic islands began with a trek to Tortuga Bay on Santa Cruz Island. I walked along a red dirt path through giant cacti plants with plasticky looking wooden trunks and fleshy green ends. At the end of the trek an idyllic sandy beach stretched out before me. The beach was empty aside from a large sea iguana who sauntered across the sand towards me. The iguana stopped in front of me to pose for photos, and we shared a moment of mutual curiosity. He showed no fear, and I was about to discover this was the same for most of the creatures of these Islands. I continued to make my way around to the bay, stopping to snorkel in a lagoon full of bright fish where the sea iguanas would wiggle passed me swimming back to shore.

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That evening some friends and I decided to check out Puerto Ayora’s buzzing little restaurant strip the Kioskas. It was a pedestrian street decorated with fairy lights that had picnic tables running down the middle. Kiosks lined either side serving up the days catch of fish or lobsters for about $15. There were also yummy more budget “menu del dia” options for around $4-$6.

The following day I rented a bicycle to check out the famous labs, libraries and giant-tortoise breeding centre at the Charles Darwin research station. The giant tortoises are a sight to behold and later I found they are not only in enclosed areas, but roaming freely on every island I visited.

The giant tortoises are rumoured to be able to see people’s intentions – they don’t hold back on giving you a “once over”.
The giant tortoise mating rituals can last for days. Not surprising, I’m no expert but I’m pretty sure he is facing the wrong way!!

After a few days on Santa Cruz Island some friends and I ventured by boat to the second largest island, San Isabela. On arrival we watched sea lions playing at the pier and penguins happily diving off rocks into the water. Snorkelling here was free and good for hours of entertainment. The sealions would swim at you at speed and then swiftly change direction up to the surface within centimetres of your face. Or check out their whiskers in the reflection of your mask.

After we hung up the snorkels it was time for Caña shots and Cuba libres at Beach Bar. The bar played great music while tourists and locals attempted the slack line and beach volley ball. After an exquisite sunset the bonfire was lit and the party went on into the night.

  

    

The next morning we shook off the Caña shots by climbing one of  San Isabela’s many volcanoes. After a small hike we repelled through the ferny mouth of the volcano. We then lowered ourselves 150 meters via rope one at a time through a narrow hole into crater. It was a nerve racking experience as on my way down I had to swing left and right on the vertical rock wall to avoid loosened boulders from those waiting at the top. I made it to the bottom in one piece and explored the lower portion of the crated with the light from my headlamp.

In the afternoon we rented bikes and made our way around San Isabela’s coast. It was lined with beach after white sandy beach and they were virtually empty. Here we found lookouts, walking-trails and wildlife including flamingos. We visited the wall of tears which is an eerie structure built by prisoners from when San Isabela was a penal colony. The wall is named this as it served no purpose other than to keep prisoners busy and there were many casualties during its construction.

snapped snapping pictures covered in mud from the volcano
Wall of Tears

 

The highlight of San Isabela for me was Los Tunelles snorkelling tour. We were taken by boat with our enthusiastic first mate “the sealion” and encountered devil rays that spanned 3 meters. First the boat slowed its engine and we made our way around the maze of lava tunnels, rock formations caused by volcanic activity over the years. Amidst the tunnels we found nesting blue footed boobies.


 The next part of the tour we jumped in the water and Sealion guided us snorkelling around the rock tunnels, I was soon distracted by a sea turtle the size of a picnic table inviting me to glide along with him. Rejoining the group we found groups of golden rays, spotted eagle rays, and my dream encounter – sharks! Sealion called me over at one point and literally pushed me under water into a cave and I was face to face with a shark. Later I found some sharks in action and enjoyed the thrill of snorkelling around with them.

The encounter with the Sharks had been amazing but only gave me a new aspiration – to find their creepy cousins the hammerheads. I’d been told I was unlikely to find them as they are normally too deep for snorkellers or in the more advanced diving locations. I thought I’d try my luck anyway and organised another snorkelling tour for the following day at kicker rock off San Cristobal Island.

On the journey an albatross glided in to land a few meters from the boat to check us out.

Kicker Rock – can you see the lion?

  

  

My adventure buddies Kent and David

Within seconds of getting in the water at Kicker Rock we encountered beautiful large eagle rays and sharks. Then swimming through the channel between the rocks was insane. The water so clear you could see 12 meters down to the bottom and watch the sea traffic, condensed in layers passing through. Sharks and sea turtles near the bottom, schools of large fish and rays through the middle and smaller fish and twirling sealions showing off at the top. Once I had come out the other side of the channel I was looking down and watched a shape passing a few meters below me that was unmistakable. I looked around to see if anyone else was seeing this and the guide grabbed me and yelled excitedly “hammer head, hammer head!”. Almost choking on the water in excitement I dove back under and followed this amazing creature through the water.  It was absolutely surreal and I felt incredibly lucky to get so close. 

After taking a moment to pinch myself I continued the adventure and found a school of dark fish so large and condensed that it was like its own ocean within an ocean. I swam into the middle of the school and watched in awe at the darkness around me sparkling as the thousands of fish simultaneously opened and closed their mouths to reveal bright silver. 

Our tour was nearly over and as we headed back to the boat I felt content having had this experience. And then to my absolute delight there were shouts from people in the water behind me “hammer heads, hammer heads!” I plunged down into the water just in time as 4 large hammerheads swam through the ocean in front of me. I looked behind me to see another 3,  I was surrounded by them. For a moment I panicked but I need not have, the hammer heads had no interest in me and soon out swam me.

  

On a complete high after the days encounters it was off to Santa Cruz Islands Bongo Bar for sushi followed by cocktails and dancing. The staff working here were awesome too.

 I met a lot of people travelling South America who decided not to visit the Galapagos Islands as it’s too expensive. I felt the same way until I did some research. The Lonely Planet guide book suggests the only way to do the Islands justice is to spend several thousand on a cruise but this was absolutely not the case. I planned my self guided trip with a budget of around $1,000 and found this was sufficient for a low season visit (March-May, Sept-Oct).

See below for cost summary (USD): 

  • Flights from Quito or Guayaquil, Ecuador – $320-$400
  • National Park entry $110
  • Budget accommodation $10-$15 per night
  • Activities and inter Island transport $400
  • Food, drinks and incidentals $100

Ass Envy

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I used to be happy with my bum, that was before I came to Brazil. People here love their asses, women to parade and men to adore. For a foreigner (and maybe locals too) you can’t help but stare on the beach as almost every single woman is proudly displaying her ass in a bikini small enough to thread a needle. Young and old, small bums and large and 90% of them look fantastic! Which is what gave me a case of ass envy.

Everyone has a different attitude towards their body and for some people it’s absolutely essential to have a perfect body and they will spend a lot of time, money and energy on looking as good as they can. I completely understand the “look old, feel good” concept but personally I would rather try to take a healthy approach and accept the fact that unless I’m prepared to dedicate a lot of energy towards looking perfect, it’s not going to happen. So instead I eat well and exercise and try to be happy with my little potbelly or some jiggle in my things. Emphasis on the word “try” as it’s difficult. Especially when you compare yourself with others or how you have looked in the passed.

But here in Brazil the ass exposure is infectious. Visitors come prepared with their regular bikinis and their “Brazil bikinis”. Thongs are the norm. I also caught the bug and decided to purchase a slightly more revealing bikini. Unfortunately checking out my lily-white, dimpled ass in the mirror in my new bikini is simply cringe inducing. I feel about as sexy as if I were wearing granny-panties.

However I’m prepared to work on this. Stage one of tanning is underway but as I sit here uncomfortably on my two tender triangles of slightly sunburnt bum, I wonder how am I to get the same perkiness as Brazilians have. Sure the Afro-american blood is an advantage but not every Brazilian can be blessed with a naturally toned tochus. I wonder if perhaps there is a special exercise regime or if sports are chosen based on glute activity. Do I need to stop what I’m doing whenever I see a flight of stairs and run up and down them? Brazilians, if you could kindly share you secret in the comment box below I would be much obliged.

My bum is still in training so I won’t be sharing any photos here but these lovely ladies kindly agreed to having their photos taken for my blog. Enjoy!!

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Discovering my mind – Vipassana Meditation Course

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Vipassana was one of the most intense, challenging and rewarding experiences I have had. I lost my mind, got lost in my mind and finally managed to come back to my flavour of reality again. It’s taken me 3 months to write about it, mainly due to the fact that the experience was so personal but also I wanted to be detailed. Grab yourself a coffee as this one is a novel!

Through chance encounters, the course found me rather than me seeking it out. Meditation is not something I practice or know much about. I usually skip the meditation at the end of yoga classes out of boredom. But a friend told me of this course where you go to a retreat to meditate for 10 consecutive days and make a donation at the end if you wish. My initial reaction was that it sounded awful. We’ve all experienced moments where minutes feel like hours. 10 days of nothingness was sure to feel like a prison sentence which I felt no desire to serve.

The next time I heard of the course was through a friend in Nicaragua who had attempted to do it and left half way through. He said the course was amazing, but just too intense. Hearing of his experience and the teachings sparked my curiosity and I joked around about attending the course and completing 6 days, even if I wanted to leave after 5 so I could one up him.

After that things got a little too coincidental. I had an instant connection with a total stranger in Esteli, a different city in Nicaragua. A meeting I felt happened for a reason. First we talked of some bad experiences I had had and he gave me a lot of good advice. Then he asked if I wanted to know about a meditation course he had just come from. Vipassanna of-course. After a few other random encounters and coincidences my mind was made up. I would attempt 10 days of silence in Colombia. The consensus from friends was that I would last two days.

To give you some background:
“Vipassana means to see things as they really are, is one of India’s most ancient techniques of meditation. It was rediscovered by Gotama Buddha more than 2500 years ago and was taught by him as a universal remedy for universal ills, i.e., an Art Of Living. This non-sectarian technique aims for the total eradication of mental impurities and the resultant highest happiness of full liberation.” More info here

Admittedly my preparation had not been brilliant. No meditation, drinking, smoking and a lack of sleep. I do enjoy diving into new experiences head first though. So I anxiously hopped on a bus and made my way to Choachi a small mountainous town an hour from Colombia’s capital, Bogota. I took a drag of my last cigarette and proceeded towards my new home with an open mind.

Initial impressions of the venue were as expected for a donation based course. It was to be held in Seminario Monfortiano, a beautiful but neglected old three story stone building forming a U-shape around a courtyard covered in thick moss. Beyond the yard was a field which hosted the occasional cow and a spectacular backdrop of steep forrest covered mountains.

I was to be sharing a room with a british lady and we had about an hour to get acquainted before the noble silence began. We chatted excitedly about what was to come and I was happy to be sharing a room with someone good natured and easy to relate to.

The room was basic and similarly run down. Creaky floorboards with large holes, 2 rusty old cots with a thin mattress and a musty smell hanging in the air. We were greeted by a friendly member of management who brought us extra blankets and some pieces of wood to cover the holes in the floor. She seemed a little concerned and mentioned the organisers weren’t supposed to put people in this room due to the floor but she was pleased the curtains had been replaced.

A bell rang and we were summoned to the dining hall for an evening meal and a briefing. Attendees were locals and travellers aged from mid 20s to 60s. Around 30 males and 40 females segregated down the middle of a large hall. Rows of tables each had eight neat little stacks of white crockery. We were reminded of the rules and strictly prohibited activities:

no talking or interaction with others
no reading or writing, all technology and books must be surrendered
no exercising other than a light walk around the designated area
leaving early is not allowed
attendees must attend compulsory meditation as instructed by the guide
attendees will be summoned by bell for meal times and meditation
no showering outside of designated times… and the list went on

The final words almost came across as a warning; “You must work hard”.

After a light healthy vegetarian meal we began our noble silence and gathered in the chilly meditation hall for our first session. The hall had high ceilings and some broken windows covered in paper that rattled in the wind. Each person had a small numbered square on the floor to sit. Our guide silently walked in and sat upon the alter in front of us. He was an older gentleman who resembled Mr Burns. His clothing blended into the white alter and he looked like just a torso leaning forward over us with a stern expression. This was a sight I would become very used to over the course.

The guide pressed play on a small device and the deep rumbling voice of Goenka resounded throughout the room. Goenka was a self described “cunning businessman” who had an encounter one day and decided to study Vipassana for the next 14 years. He then went on to to teach for 45 years and spoke at the millennium world peace summit. His recordings are used worldwide for consistency with the practice. Goenka briefly guided us through Anapana mediation – which is to focus only on the breath through the nostrils. He chanted for a while, occasionally repeating the simple instruction and then we practiced in silence.

I nodded off a couple of times during the session and was relieved a few hours later when we were permitted to take rest. Apparently there are a lot of dogs in Choachi and they howled and howled from sunset to sunrise. Despite the chorus of dogs I slept like a baby as soon as my head hit the pillow.

I was awakened by the bell at 4am and dragged myself out of bed, throwing on about 4 layers of clothing and a blanket before making my way outside in the cold darkness to the meditation hall. Like the previous night I was drifting in and out of sleep and horridly uncomfortable sitting on the floor. Sitting still for two or even one hour on the floor is impossible. I could hear constant fidgeting and rustling as everyone tried to find comfort. Laying down was strictly prohibited during meditation sessions. I tested the policing of this on the second day, accidentally falling asleep and being awakened by the floor manager with a shake as she passed.

Two hours went by and then the delightful sound of the breakfast bell. Back to the food hall and we lined up to receive our watery porridge with fruit preserve, small bread roll and piece of water melon. I was relieved to see tea and coffee.

After breakfast we queued for the solitary hot shower which alternated between scolding and freezing. We then attended a one hour focussed meditation session. There were three of these each day. Slightly more awake than I had been in the early session it was a struggle to focus my mind. I spent the hour fidgeting, chasing thoughts around in circles and trying to focus only on my breathing. The time was not as insufferable as I had expected however. I found if I worked hard at the technique time would soon pass. If I really didn’t have the determination to practice the technique I would just engage my mind with other thoughts, friends and family back home, anything else that had been bugging me that I wanted to find clarity with. And looking around to see what the other little blanket mounds were up to.

Lunchtime came around shortly after – salads, soup and rice with more fruit and a sweet plantain for dessert. This was the main meal of the day, served at 11am and there was enough food to feel full but it was advised not to eat much.

The days proceeded this way being woken by the bell at 4am and working my way through 1-2 hour meditaion blocks with a few meal and rest breaks in between. The evening meal at 6pm was always a piece of fruit and 2 crackers and some herbal tea. Then more meditation, a video of Goenka about the technique and a final sleepy hour of meditation before dismissal at 9pm to take rest.

I went to my room briefly after the video on the second evening and was shocked to see red smears in several places all over the bedroom walls. I looked closely at each smear and told myself it could not be blood but feared the worst. I didn’t know what to do but I was so exhausted after the final session that I opted just to sleep and deal with it another time.

Mealtimes were always something I looked forward to. Out of boredom I stretched out each sitting as long as I could; arriving late, playing with my food, taking small bites and cutting my fruit into tiny pieces, a second cup or herbal tea mid meal. I’m sure it was annoying to those sitting around me but I didn’t care.

I learned not to arrive late after the first night when I discovered all the crackers had been taken. Only an apple for dinner. I didn’t really mind as the meditation was starting to work, I wasn’t hungry, just observed the hunger sensation. To my surprise someone had noticed I missed out and snuck me one of their crackers.

The following day I found out why the crackers were scarce, two older ladies at my table took 2 servings. The girl who had split her cracker allocation with me the previous night returned to the table crackerless. I was happy to return the favour and offer half of mine. Hoping the ladies that took extra noticed. I couldn’t help but laugh at this cracker ordeal. How life had changed!

I also had more time on this day to study the red marks on my wall. The smears and splatters definetly looked like blood, all around the room. I knew this course could make people crazy, Had someone killed them-self? Turned on their roomate? Was I seeing things? I wondered why the lady on the first night had said “they weren’t supposed to put anyone here”. She was happy the curtains had been replaced. I couldn’t handle it any longer so I spoke to our floor manager that evening. Without speculating I told her the red marks looked like blood and I would be happy to clean the walls as they were distracting me. She said she would move me in the morning. I asked about my room mate and she said she would move her too and not to mention anything. Her cold reaction reaffirmed my worst fears of how the marks arrived. I spent another night in the eerie room but through sheer exhaustion I managed to sleep.

By day 3 I had caught up on my sleep and worked diligently on meditating and focussing my mind. It was a constant battle but I was getting better. I forced myself not to change positions and to keep my eyes closed for an hour at a time. The pain in my joints and lower back manifested itself as flashes of black and orange behind closed eyes. I would rock forward and backward which helped the pain to subside mildly but then I had to endure it as it intensified once I was still again. I found it was easier to manage a consistently high level of pain and tried to remain perfectly still. Towards the end of the hour my breathing was shallow and I thought I would cry out or pass out. By about day 5 I could sit for longer before the pain set in and it became easier. My body or mind had become stronger, or perhaps a combination.

People-watching at mealtimes was like a soap opera for a mind starved of stimulation. I discreetly watched everyone, paid attention to changes in their moods, what they ate, what they were wearing. I noticed at dinner one of the ladies who had been taking extra crackers arrived late. Everyone else had left and I sat finishing my food slowly as always. This was unlike her, I figured she must have been asleep. She sadly sat down at the table with only a cup of tea and I offered her half of my passionfruit and a cracker which she declined. Despite feeling as though this was karma, I really wanted to help her, I got the attention of one of the volunteers and asked if there was more food. She shook her head. I sat down awkwardly finishing off my passionfruit in front of the lady with no food. I saw a tear run down her cheek.

The meditation technique progressed very slowly and almost a week in I was not convinced it was helping me in the way I had hoped. I was bored and distracted and found humour in everything to entertain myself. I played out a million scenarios in my head of inappropriate things I could say or do during dinner or meditation. Making sarcastic remarks about what great company everyone had been. Pretending I had gone crazy and just peering up at people over my knife while they were eating. I had mopped up some fruit with my white cloth on one of the first days and my splodgy cloth looked a mess next to everyone else’s that were still white. I found this hysterical one day and couldn’t contain my laughter, which only made it more funny. I could feel the sideways glances around the table as I was overcome with snorts and laughter in the silent hall. Perhaps it wasn’t necessary to fake insanity after-all.

Whilst I had started to go a little crazy I was nothing on some of the others. I watched them as they did their laps of the court at break times. Taking slow steps around and around. Hunched over and being careful not to make eye contact. Some looked like giant chickens – stretching their legs up and out and slowly placing their feet down again. Others would poke around in the dirt of the flowers, scratch their names in the walls, agitatedly kick the small patches of grass and moss. Some with wide insane eyes and big grins, some looking morbidly depressed and anxious. It felt like an insane asylum. One day I was observing a few of the men in their designated area of the court and I noticed one pop his head up from behind the grass on all fours like an animal.

The strict vegetarian diet seemed to upset a few people’s digestive systems and silence made it impossible to be discreet. An older lady walked passed me one day, farted loudly and then quickened her gait out of embarrassment. I giggled to myself as I thought maybe I could muster a sympathy fart to make her feel better. Crazy crazy crazy. During meditation a lady farted really loudly and tried to mask it with a cough. Silence. Then a cough, and another, and the room quickly erupted into a weird contained giggle at the failed fart-cough.

I was battling with ways to pass the hours after a while and amused myself with some casual rebellion. It was quite tame in general but in this environment it was totally badass. I snuck away from one of the 4am meditation sessions half an hour early to use the hot shower. Just once I told myself as I needed to wash my hair. I wondered if the stone faced floor manager would be waiting silently outside the cubicle to escort me off the premises for breaking the rules. Or ban me from any further showers. My heart raced as I crept silently back to my room and got ready for breakfast, I hoped my damp and deliciously clean smelling hair would not give me away! Naturally I continued this routine for the rest of the course.

Exercise was the other way I rebelled. I couldn’t handle the crazy laps. I put a blanket on the floor in my room and snuck in sit ups, push ups, yoga stretches and anything else I could at every opportunity. And a bit of scribbling with a pen I had found in my bag and some old receipts. I even made a little count down to freedom!

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It was apparent at one point that my roommate and I would need more toilet paper. We had to supply our own so I went on a little mission and managed to find a roll and took it back to the room. I couldn’t resist from grabbing my roomies attention, pointing at the toilet paper I had acquired and feigning celebration! We both laughed. This brief moment was the first time I had laughed with someone in days and I realised how much I was missing social interaction.

I reached day 6 without too much trouble but was starting to get agitated and wanting to get out. I still didn’t feel quite like the meditation was doing what I had hoped. I kept thinking I was travelling and supposed to be out having fun and adventures, instead I was stuck with a group of crazies sitting painfully in a crappy old hall.

What inspired me to stay was the short video we watched each evening. Goenka radiated a sense of calm and peacefulness. He was well spoken and had words of wisdom and funny little anecdotes that would lift the mood of the room. He just seemed to get it, without any arrogance or condemnation. A little old Indian man with a fat belly. His deep voice commanded authority but through his squinty dark eyes shone a sense of contentment. He did not make rules or instructions, just gave powerful reminders of how to be present. To feel. To listen to our bodies and awaken our senses. We forget sometimes how powerful we are and what we are capable of. Just continue to live habitually. He reminded me of the importance on not craving things. To think, act and live purely. To let go what is not useful.

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By day 7 I realised that 3 days had passed and I had not progressed much. I had mentally withdrawn from this particular evenings meditation session. Reluctantly I tried one more practice – and then it happened. A soft tingling glow started behind my eyes and engulfed the top half of my body with ferocity. With my mind I could extend the sensation throughout my torso and worked on extending it down to my feet. My entire body was alive with sensations and I knew I had delved into my subconscious mind. It had taken 7 long days. The feeling was extraordinary.

We were never told what we were supposed to be achieving throughout the course, just to keep practicing. I watched the video that night and Goenka described the feeling I had felt only minutes earlier. I wondered how he knew. How was it possible that this happened to everyone after approximately the same period? He explained people got addicted to the feeling of their subconscious but that if you willed it to happen, the feeling would never come. I could see how the sensation could feel amazing but Goenka’s advice only to observe had been drilled into me so deeply that I felt no desire to experience it again.

During meditation on day 8 I could feel this sensation again but still struggled with the course in general. I wanted to focus on mental impurities, not buzz along in a meditative state, I wanted to leave and spent the day talking myself out of it. When you have nothing else to do I can assure you that it is an incredibly long day. Then another significant moment occurred. Without any conscious attempt, my subconscious mind began to connect every subtle sensation to my thoughts and emotions. I became aware of many “defilements” as Goenka called them, one after the next. Some smaller things which I was still punishing myself for, thoughtless mean words I’d said to others at an early age. Moments that I had said things or done things to hurt people that I have reflected on and deeply regretted years after the events. I imagined these thoughts dissolving and the burden lifting. I experienced more significant realisations of what was eating away at my happiness too. These would take time. It was intense, saddening and unpleasant. Ultimately I knew it was what I had come for.

This continued on Day 9. We had been told we had one final learning session on the morning of day 10 and then the noble silence was over and we could talk to everyone and have a buffer between our course and getting back to the real world. All I could think of was that there were still another 2 nights in this prison. I decided to leave about 20 times that morning and talked myself out of it. At lunch time I began to pack my bags. I knew I had some things to deal with but the problems I’d spent a lifetime creating were hardly going to disappear with another days meditation.

Leaving the course early was not permitted and I had prepared myself for the worst. I alerted my manager that I intended to leave and she gave me a 5 minute time slot to discuss this with Mr Burns. They had my ipad and we were locked in so I knew I would have to be very convincing.

I was firm and the teacher was not happy. I explained the course had been life changing, but that I would prefer to practice the technique in the real world rather than being surrounded by these people who appeared to be going mad. Also it was emotional. While each of us were “in solitude” we really were not. The guide looked at me angered “You will have no success and without waiting until the course closure, you have wasted everyone’s time and will never work through any issues”. I asked he respect my decision and told him I still intended to donate money but he responded that it would not be accepted. I calmly explained that he couldn’t stop me from donating. Frustrated he turned his back on me and told the floor manager I could not be persuaded and walked away. She helped me to get my ipad and escorted me to freedom.

I didn’t feel bad about the encounter with the guide. He said some awful things but he was just doing his job. He simply has unwavering faith in the technique. Nor did I take on board his condemnation of my ability to practice the technique. The guidance is invaluable but ultimately it’s up to the individual so having someone tell me I can’t (enlightened or otherwise) really makes no difference.

Whilst the end of the course was difficult, I did find a lot of enjoyment throughout. The teachings were truly inspiring and I was constantly impressed by discovering my own physical and mental capabilities. There is so much we know on an intellectual level about what is good for us and vice versa but that knowledge alone is useless. For example we know smoking or eating the wrong foods is bad – but we still do it. We know holding on to anger only makes us more angry – but we still do it. In my opinion, Vipassana bridges the gap by letting you explore the sensations and thoughts associated with why we do things we know are unhealthy.

It also reminded me to stop and feel. To listen to my instincts and be empowered from within. Whilst it was very strict, at times creepy and extremely confronting, the Vipassana practice is not a cult that promotes blind faith. You are encouraged to practice and apply intellect. You make your own guided discoveries rather than being preached at.

As for me, I love the idea that we have so much power inside us. We just need to spend some time tapping into our abilities and working through what it is that stops us from achieving what we want. It reaffirmed my beliefs in the laws of the universe, and to live with pure intentions.

If you are thinking of doing the course I would encourage you to take the leap. Like me, you may shudder initially at being alone with your thoughts for 10 days. Many people I speak to are terrified of the idea of exploring their minds. It’s totally normal but just let that resonate for a bit and see how ludacris it is. We are scared of our own thoughts and seeing things as they really are. You do definitely need to be ready for what you may uncover, but the sooner you do the closer you will be to happiness.

Bonita Bolivia and Conquering 6,000m

A lot of people I’ve met didn’t like Bolivia. I can see why, many spend a good chunk of their visit in the bathroom or in hospital due to food poisoning from the lack of hygiene, or altitude sickness. It’s the poorest country in South America so you can expect a lot of crime, poverty and streets filled with smelly rubbish. Plus locals can seem unfriendly as they’re not good with eye-contact. My experience? This country has the most uniquely beautiful landscapes I found in all of South America. People are also really friendly once you get past their shyness and there are some world-class opportunities for adventure seekers as well as more tranquil sightseeing and some yummy food if you dare!

My first stop was in Bolivia’s own Copacabana on lake Titicaca. The town was pretty with a very tranquil feel and I enjoyed a visit to Isla del Sol, a short boat ride from the town to see some Inca structures. Copacabana was full of great restaurants and plenty of vegetarian food. Everything here was very cheap too. I got a private room with en suite in a nice hostel in town for about $7 US and you could get a really nice 3 course dinner and drinks for 2 people for about the same.

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Leaving Copacabana I enjoyed a gorgeous sunset over lake Titicaca. Snapping photos all the way to La Paz.IMG_2086 IMG_2084

La Paz is a lively blend of more awe-inspiring mountains, kooky music and chaotic traffic. The cars here look like they’ve been collected from the bottom of a cliff. I was twice in the back seat of cabs who jammed into traffic scraping the sides of other cars and neither driver cared.

By now I’d had dozens of encounters with locals. Sometimes if asked a question, people would just turn their eyes down and tell me “No”. Arranging my Huayna Potosì mountain climb (quite expensive by Bolivian standards) was no exception. I visited a few agencies and was surprised by one who did not try at all to sell me their package and both women behind the desk were unsmiling and barely looked at me. They just handed me the prices. For some reason I decided to give them a shot and after a little time found them to be incredibly helpful. They even went so far as to lend me a backpack and thermal clothing free of charge. Then they patiently walked me around town to help me find other things I needed and sincerely wished me a pleasant journey. Their goodheartedness was unmistakable and proved my theory about Bolivians cultural traits to be misunderstood. I also met some locals who had overcome their shy social barriers and found them to be some of the most heartwarming sweet people I’ve ever met.

The Huayna Potosì climb I’d booked would be 2 nights and 3 days with one day of training at base camp. This training day was also hugely important for acclimatization as it was not recommended to attempt the climb without at least a week or two in altitude. I’d had about 4/5 days around 3,500m so I was just on the cusp. The Huayna Potosi summit is 6,063m which to put things in perspective:

Mt cook 3,754m
Kilimanjaro 5,895m
Everest 8,848m (base camp 5,300m)

Amazingly, the cost for this climb was only around $140 USD.

With my climb booked I decided to have a few beers with some friends. That night got away from me after meeting a group of crazy travellers and letting the altitude-alcohol combo take the reins. I woke up in time the next morning to meet my mountain guide but was definitely still a little drunk. Not the best start. After a nauseating 2 hour drive we finally reached a small house at the base of Huayna Potosi and I struggled through some lunch. Then we put on many layers of clothing and climbing gear and trekked up the mountain to begin our climbing training on a small glacier. The altitude was deadly already, I felt I could not get enough oxygen no matter how deeply I tried to inhale and I had a nasty headache.

Donning crampons and learning to climb up and down slippery walls of ice and rock was a good distraction though! I was training with a Japanese girl Kaori who described the experience well, “I was like a shaking baby animal”. And for good reason, we were high up on steep and narrow ice shelves with no safety ropes. Not a chance you could do this kind of thing as an inexperienced climber in NZ!

Then we moved on to the really fun part, we got harnessed up and climbed a vertical ice face with our crampons and 2 ice axes. I had not been expecting this and loved it! It was quite scary as we were being supported only by a rope that our guide had hammered into the ice above. Using the sharp tips of the crampons we smashed our feet into the ice to gain footing then with our arms smashed the ice axes into the wall above our heads and hauled ourselves up step by step. It was physically demanding, especially with the altitude and an overhang at the top of the wall but both of us made it. My forearms and hands were on fire when I reached the bottom from clinging on for dear life to the ice axes!

A few extra climbers arrived at base camp that evening and we all went to bed early. I was still struggling to breathe and felt dizzy, I hoped my body could handle the next days climb to 5,100 meters. Especially if this was how I felt resting at 4,000. Morning came around and I felt the same and had no appetite despite needing precious calories for the days’ climb!

Day one was slow going. We carried 20kg backpacks with our snow gear which we would need for the peak and made our way up to Rock Camp which was a little over 5,100m. I felt I needed 3 deep gasps of air for each tiny slow step I took up and I had a throbbing headache. We made it to the camp early afternoon and guzzled some coca tea. After sleeping a few hours in the afternoon my headache was much stronger. Altitude effects everyone differently, I’m told altitude sickness is worse when you are resting as you naturally take in less oxygen.

We then went to bed after an early dinner to try to rest before starting our climb to the peak a little after midnight.

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Base camp pre climb
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the snowy summit in the background from base camp
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The summit covered in cloud from Rock camp

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Trying to sleep at 7pm was a bit of a non event. I think most of the group managed an hour or so before waking to cram down some carbs and coca tea before the climb to the summit.

Myself, Kaori and 2 guides set off at 1am with heavy clothes and boots with crampons for the sub zero temperatures and ice. We used headlamps to light our path in the snow and were very lucky as the weather was clear with a big full moon. I wasn’t feeling the altitude too much but the climb was very difficult and I was hot and sweaty under all my layers. We climbed a few hours and by 5,500 meters Kaori was not doing well. I watched her determined to continue but she was physically ill and her pace was a stumbling crawl. She could barely even speak but kept repeating she wanted to continue and trying to force her body to do the same. I was sad my Japanese comrade had to abandon the hike, but there was no way she’d have made it with at least another 4 hours to go and the mountain getting steeper.

So my guide Ramero and I continued up and the hike got steeper as it had looked. Ramero told me we would only be able to stop every 40 minutes, if we took too long we would have to turn around and go back as a few hours after sunrise the mountain is too dangerous with the hot sun creating deadly avalanches. I willed my increasingly tired legs to continue and tried not to ask for any breaks until Ramero stopped even though I was in agony and struggling for breath as we climbed higher. Finally we had a rest for a few minutes, we could not stop longer than a few minutes as the cold would rapidly creep through the numerous layers of clothing. I looked up at the huge mountain above me and the sinking moon. I hoped that meant we weren’t too far but Romero informed me we had about 3 hours to the summit at the slow pace we were walking.

Now as it was only me and the guide for the journey, I could say anything about the next few hours, but being a stickler for the truth I’ll give you what actually happened. Each step after 5,700m was torture and I couldn’t hide it. At this point I couldn’t breathe and doubled over every few steep steps gasping for air and begging Ramero for a rest. Unfortunately for Ramero my whingeing in Spanish was quite advanced! Climbers ahead were clearly struggling too, I saw little patches of vomit in the snow and watched a few more people give up and turn back. I didn’t think I could make it much further but I felt so weak that even pulling out seemed like it would be too much effort.

I couldn’t have continued without Ramero, he had been the most chilled comedian in the few days earlier but now he had his game face on. He gave me no sympathy when I pleaded with him to stop. I would stand still for a few seconds, physically unable to lift my legs another step and he would bark “vamos!” without looking back and we would continue. Another hour of this and he finally looked at me. Taking in my broken state he asked me if I wanted to go back. He had timed it well as we had just had a brief break and I felt a rare spark of determination. I told him I would try to keep going. He repeated that I was not allowed to keep stopping or the sun would rise and we would be in trouble.

The track became incredibly narrow and iced and some parts were so steep that I was terrified of falling off the mountain or down a crevice. Exhausted and dizzy, I would sometimes carelessly place my foot a little off the track and let out a scream as one leg lurched down the hill. Ramero told me not to scream as this would cause avalanches.

The sun began to rise which I could see was marvellous but didn’t have time to appreciate because I was in so much pain and didn’t want to look down as the height made me more dizzy. We were close to the top. There were some girls waiting at the bottom of the final monster peak. It was too much and they turned back. I felt the same, I sadly realised I did not have the strength either to make it up this last peak. Even though we were probably only 100m from the summit.

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Somehow when I explained to my guide that I could not go on it was lost in translation. We continued up.

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And I did it! My first mountain conquered. The feeling was indescribable and I’ll remember this moment with pride forever.

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After a days recovery I embarked on a 3 day tour of Uyuni and the Bolivian salt flats. The landscapes were magical!

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Worlds Best View

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Panoramic view

Having the worlds best view is a mighty claim. It’s what the sign for El Penol (about 2 hours east of Medellin, Colombia) said so I thought I better check it out.
After an exhausting climb up the 600+ steps of the vertical rock face, I arrived at the top and was not disappointed. The view of Guatapes flooded plains was a treat on the eyes. Definitely worth the climb.
I’m not 100% convinced that it’s the worlds best view however. The deep blue of the lake contrasting with the green landscape could rival Marlborough Sounds in New Zealand but Guatape has a more resorty feel. Also it’s hard to top the view from the skyline in Queenstown. You be the judge! I’ve included some photos around Guatape also. It’s a gorgeous little town where all the houses have unique artwork around their bases.

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Looking up at El Penol from the base
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View of El Penol from a distance
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a few of the 600 stairs

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Who to Trust?

Trying to decipher whether people’s intentions are pure is difficult. I hate discovering that I’m being spoken to or coerced into something to satisfy someone else’s agenda or because I’m foreign and opportunists see dollar signs. I also hate approaching situations fearing the worst and talking to people like they are going to take advantage. Some people I meet on my travels simply don’t trust anyone. Any interactions they have are tarnished by them being rude and demanding because they expect the worst. I aim to have a happy medium.

This is another blogging 101 assignment, using a prompt.

I often find myself at the mercy of complete strangers so it’s important for me to quickly asses people. Having a vial of truth serum would be incredibly useful in a lot of situations. As I unfortunately don’t have one, deciding who to engage with and who to avoid is a skill I’m learning. I used to smile and pay it forward in the hopes my kindness would be returned. It works a lot of the time but increasingly I find it’s better to approach situations assertively and try to show immediately that I won’t be scammed and don’t need help, even if I do!

A situation in Costa Rica was the last straw for me. I had to see a Dr and the only way to get there was by taxi. I negotiated when I got in the cab as I wasn’t going to pay tourist prices, and asked to go to the Dr that had been recommended to me. The driver was sweet and concerned that I was not well. He wanted to take me to his family Dr as he said he was really friendly and spoke english. My driver spoke some english but we were having difficulty communicating so he pulled over and asked someone passing by to help translate, they assured me where I was headed was known to be expensive and that I should go with the taxi driver. As a blanket ruling I don’t trust any taxi drivers. But I was sick and tired and didn’t have the strength to argue. Plus the cunningness of taxi drivers in San Jose and their elaborate scams should not be underestimated.

After the consult, I was told my blood results would be half an hour so the taxi driver waited to drive me back to the hostel. I took him for lunch as a way to pay it forward, hoping he would not try to rip me off at the end. We chatted a lot and joked around like old buddies.

The driver knew I needed to get to the bus station later so after I got my results he drove me back to the hostel to collect my things, I tried to tell him I would make my own way (concerned at the rising taxi fare) but somehow he managed to persuade me and he took me to the bus station. I thanked him and he showed me the fare, I had expected about $50-$60 and he asked for $300 USD. I looked at him shocked. “No”, I said, “I do not have this kind of money” I offered him $60. He looked at me furious and shook his head. He turned the cab around to take me to the police station. We drove around in circles arguing for about 15 minutes as I pleaded with him to reduce the price. Somehow I managed to get him down to $80. The driver kept looking at me disgusted, and I back at him. My last few words as I got out of the cab were in english, but I’m sure he understood.

Whilst it might not sound so bad, consider that I had planned to spend maybe $8 on getting to and from the Dr I had been recommended. The cab driver made $80 out of me instead of the $4 I had negotiated. And had tried for $300. Others may have been too scared to argue as I had. The little family clinic the cab driver took me to was really expensive also, I’m sure kickbacks had been arranged here and a bribe given to the stranger in the street who had told me to go with the taxi.

There are hundreds of other examples of “tourist tax” or casual scamming. The lengths people go to and the lies they tell are phenomenal and saddening. The extent of it in Costa Rica really left a bad impression on me. One price for locals and double for tourists (advertised openly) for food, activities and fitness classes. It’s probably negligible for short holiday makers but I would advise backpackers to enjoy your time in neighbouring Nicaragua or Panama if you want to stretch the budget. It’s a shame that some people get greedy as Costa Rica really has a lot to offer tourists and is known for it’s hospitality.

Taganga and Tayrona in northern Colombia I found terrible for being ripped off also. One price will be quoted for food or drinks and then another price will be demanded once you’ve eaten. Almost every single time!

Some friends and I had a horrible experience with a tour guide in Taganga who instilled fear in us of booking with locals. He then proceeded to book us on a boat with a local, Bruno, who we had previously been speaking to about the trip. Bruno was tough and carried around a small shoulder bag with a large knife sticking out. He was not at all happy we had gone with the agent. Bruno cornered each one of us separately “Why didn’t you just go with me?” He demanded. “Now I take you anyway and I lose money”.

Then we arrived at the Tayrona to find the booking agent had not paid enough for the accommodation and we had to sleep on the beach. This was prohibited so we spent an uncomfortable night watching out for security guards. They found us as we tried to leave the next morning and charged us for accommodation anyway. Later we asked the agent for our money back and he blamed everyone else and refused to refund us. He was happy to keep his commission.

I would still highly recommend visiting these places as they are stunning. Just be vigilant. And don’t book with the company we used – Taganga Tours or something similar. They are directly across the road from the centre of the main beach.

It’s been over two months since these occurrences and I haven’t been ripped off since. I had a great tip from a Colombian, he said if someone quotes you something outrageous don’t even engage with them. They’ll drop the price back to something more favourable as you walk away but by speaking to them you are condoning their first attempt to rob you. Opt for someone with a more reasonable starting price if negotiating is required.

In the broader sense of determining who can be trusted and who can’t, my truth serum is simple. If I can’t decide I go with my instincts, how I feel about the person. If I feel OK I don’t listen to a word that comes out of their mouth, unfortunately some people are very skilled at telling you exactly what you want to hear. Especially if you are smiling and receptive! Instead I pay attention to their actions. It’s working better for me.

If anyone has any tips or comments on the matter please don’t be shy to comment.
http://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_prompt/truth-serum/

A Beautiful Family

I wasn’t at my best when I arrived to stay with the Ruiz family. There had been drama in the air for my last few weeks in Leon, Nicaragua. I was pulled to stay and pushed to leave and rum had been the solution of choice to help me deal with it. I eventually left Leon solo with my dwindled belongings after they had been stolen from a poorly organised full moon party in Playa Gigante. I was sleep deprived and needed some love. This is another Blogging 101 assignment where I will write with one person in mind as the reader.

I was told by another traveller about this family in Miraflor, a small town in the mountains of Nicaragua. I arranged to stay with them through a little organisation called Tree Huggers in Esteli who were a pleasure to deal with. Very informative and friendly.

Kurt, a traveller I had met and a wise counsellor for my recent dramas accompanied me on the tricky journey from Esteli to Miraflor. Well, tricky for me as my Spanish was almost non-existent. I wanted to have this experience solo but was happy to have Kurt on board to check out the sights on the first day.

We were greeted off the bus by the eldest son Jeymi on horseback and trekked up a big mountain to the family home. The smiling mother Deyanira made us feel immediately welcome and got to work preparing a delicious breakfast of Gallo pinto, tortillas and some home made white cheese with a drizzling of fresh cream and picante.

After breakfast we set off to see some of the surrounding forrest on horseback. At first I was dubious as we were not given helmets. I have ridden a handful of times before but without a helmet I decided to take it very slow on the horse. We climbed steep rugged terrain and dropped down into rivers with valleys and visited waterfalls. I felt a connection with my horse instantly and he responded well to even my slightest directions on the reigns. So I was feeling confident and after not too long I broke a branch from a near by tree to use as a whip and started to gallop like I’d done it a million times before across the countryside. It was a such a rush that each time I came to a halt again I would throw my arms around the horses neck to thank him for getting me through the last stretch alive. We crossed rivers alongside farmers moving large cattle and found a clearer part of the river along the trail to dive off rocks into the river and rest in the sun. I liked Miraflor instantly. Calm and beautiful. A wonderful break from the intense heat and chaos of Leon.

Back at the house Kurt departed and I was introduced to the rest of the family. The dignified father Orlando, a carpenter and war veteran. Two very girly 18 year old daughters Maria and Celeste who are beauty students and the baby of the family Juan, a cheeky 5 year old. The parents and I sat down to a dinner and through the language barrier I managed to learn a little about the Orlandos involvement in the Nicarguan civil wars and how he had built the family home.

The house was basic but had a wonderful charm. Dirt floors and concrete walls with solid wooden shutters and a corrugated iron roof. Family photo’s were displayed all over the living area and little decorations to brighten the place up. Power is expensive in Nicaragua so natural light would be used as much as possible and typically we would use a torch after dark. The house had another couple of bedrooms and a little convenience store out the front where locals and travellers on horseback would often come to purchase things and sit for a while with a cold drink.

My favourite spot was the kitchen. It had no modern appliances and my Deyanira my “nica mum” cooked on a little fire stove. Always a lovely smokey smell mixed with whatever was currently on the stove. I spent a lot of time there learning how to make cheese from cows milk, dulce de leche, tacos and some new vegetarian dishes for the repertoire. Everything we ate was grown on a large vegetable garden on the property. The family had some pigs, chickens, cats and dogs who surprisingly lived in harmony and would sometimes venture into the kitchen looking for food scraps. Nothing was wasted.

I woke up each day when the roosters crowed which I later discovered was about 4:30am (I had no devices or watch to know the time) and I would go with the parents with a large wooden bucket to milk the cows. Deyanira brought along a black coffee and turned it into a latte with milk straight from the cow. It was pretty good! We would then head back to the kitchen to prepare breakfast and a packed lunch for Orlando to take to work. Grinding mais to make tortillas and preparing gallo pinto sprinkled with white crumbled cheese. The rest of the day was spent cooking, gardening and relaxing. I asked my nica mum to teach me how to do laundry the traditional way which is a skill that has come in handy time and time again. I actually find it quite therapeutic, working the soap into the clothes and forcing the water out again against the ribbed stone basin. Deyanira watched on in shock at the amount of clothes I had with me.

The girls and I would go for walks with a few dogs in tow and as typical 18 year olds they would take selfies and show me pictures of boys they had crushes on. I happily let the girls practice their beauty skills on me and they painted my nails in the local fashion with intricate little flowers and de-tangled my hair which had become a dreadlock in the heat and surf of Nicaragua.

In the evenings after dinner the family would sit around a very old and small TV and watch a nica soap-opera. Other nights the guitar would be out and Celeste and her father would play and sing some local folk music.

I loved my time with this family. I kept having to ask for less food but it was deliciously prepared my nica mum. My only regret for this experience was not knowing more Spanish as we really couldn’t chat without great difficulty. I wanted to give the family some gifts, the girls were over the moon at inheriting some of my designer dresses. I didn’t know if my nica mum would like the handbag I gave her as the closest city was far away and I wasn’t sure if she even left Miraflor much. I needn’t have worried, the day I left Deyanira and Juan came to Esteli also to do some shopping and my nica mum marched proudly out of the house sporting her new hand bag.

So I have my nica mum, Deyanira in mind for this assignment. Any tourist who stumbles across the opportunity to stay with this family are indeed very lucky. It was a pleasure being welcomed with such warmth and to get a real taste for the traditional lifestyle in the more rural areas of Nicaragua. The Ruiz Family know how fortunate they are and I could feel their sense of pride in their family and in their little slice of paradise in the mountains.

Killer Atmosphere at the Football

Our eccentric hostel manager warned us before heading to the football match in Medellin “Go and put your bags away. Don’t take anything with you. People will rob you, not just rob you but rob you with knives and guns”.
To be honest some friends and I have become a little tired of people over-dramatising the dangers. Foreigners go to the football all the time and make it out alive. Obviously its important to take precautions as always. So I smuggled my camera down my top and off we went.

We arrived and then our next round of warnings as the tickets friends had purchased were for the Sur stand. That is where all the die-hard fans or Medellin equivalent soccer hooligans go. It is dangerous there we were told. By everyone. We tried to change seats but it was impossible.

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I was nervous after all the warnings but once we arrived I think I would have been disappointed to sit anywhere else. The atmosphere was electric, like being at a rock concert. I’ve never seen more passionate supporters. There was a full brass band playing the Nacional supporter songs and the whole crowd sang and danced along to the trumpets and drums for the entire match. Except ofcourse for the only foreigners in the stand! We had a bit of banter with some people in the crowd. Some dolled up Paisa (Medellin local) girls who looked about 16 with DD breast enlargements (very common here) and some very smiley Paisa guys.

Extreme measures are taken here to ensure there is no trouble at the football match. A high level of security obviously, I was told later over 50 knives were confiscated from fans on their way into the stadium. No alcohol served at the stadium (people load up at the nearby bars beforehand). But by far the most extreme precaution – only one fan base is allowed into the stadium. The stadium was literally half empty with only Nacional supporters. That didn’t stop the passion, after half time when Nacional came back to the field the crowd became a sea of white launching streamers over the entire stadium.

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Another fantastic experience!

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note the half empty stand opposite as only one supporter side are invited to avoid riots

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Lets be honest

I’m happy with that title. Reminds me of the film Pitch Perfect with Rebel Wilson. For anyone that knows the reference, I’m not about to come out of the closet, I’m still straight to the best of my knowledge. Although currently in Colombia where the women are stunning so if I were to turn, now might be the time! OK back to my point. This is my first assignment for a short course on blogging. I’m to explain who I am and the purpose of my blog.

I’ll start with the more difficult of the two, the purpose of my blog. I thought originally it was a good forum to share my travel adventures through South America with friends and family. But it’s been difficult because I shudder at the thought of creating yet another boring travel blog. Its taken me four and a half months to publish some crappy(in my opinion) posts on my adventures and I’ll explain why.

My lifestyle is to take a lot of risks, or chances, or whatever you want to call them. Living this way makes for some great stories that I would love to share. But I find that all the better stories are too personal or risqué to share. I worry they show me in a negative light. So I end up toning everything down or skipping vital details and ta da! Another boring blog. For example stories involving men, it’s something I’m commonly asked about by friends and Mum and I’m pretty comfortable sharing with most but I worry about my exes or more conservative friends and family members reading about them. Another example, a story from the weekend where I found myself intoxicated and alone at 5am in the centre of Medellin. A reasonably dangerous city where robberies at knifepoint are not uncommon, even in broad daylight. I’m told that many times to keep myself safe, and these kinds of stories would naturally raise some concern over my ability to do so. I would never intentionally compromise my safety, I don’t have a death-wish but personal safety is all subjective. Live fast and (hopefully not) die young. I wouldn’t have it any other way. Also if there’s anything I’ve learned it’s that danger can be absolutely anywhere. Not just in dodgy areas late at night. That is a fact.

If I’m truly honest another reason I’m blogging is that I had held on to some hope that I’m good at writing. I know blogging is not such a traditional form of writing but its a great way to practice. Well, after recent attempts, I have shattered this particular disillusion. But what did I expect? I barely make time to read books which in my mind is essential to become a good writer. Also, the key factor, I don’t practice writing. Or haven’t done lately outside of work. To focus on the positives though, I suppose you have to start somewhere. Surprisingly this is one of the scarier risks I’ve taken, to publish.

So in summary, “fuck it” is what I ever so eloquently tell myself. All this stress will seriously limit my development and dampen my voice. My blog is about my journey and I’ll write whatever I feel inspired to. Tales from my travels through South America and encounters with some of the fascinating people I meet along the way. Some of the details will unfortunatley have to be omitted, unless Im feeling particularly bold or drunk. I’ll share my adventures as honestly as possible and sometimes they will be worrying, hopefully entertaining, and hopefully not offensive.

Moving on to a little about me, I’m a 28 year old kiwi that sounds like a bloody strayan (Australian). I have had careers in hospitality and finance, each for five years and left my wonderful life in Melbourne in April 2014 to travel the world. For now I simply learn, feel and hope to grow as a person.

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San Gil – Colombia’s Adventure Capital

After a 6 *cough* 9 *cough* hour bus ride from Bogota, I arrived later than planned in the lovely warm San GIl. Despite arriving late I felt no danger wandering the stone streets looking for a hostel and stayed at the clean and modern Open House Hostal. I was fortunate enough to have my own private dorm here for 3 nights at $18,000 pesos ($9 USD) per night.

The town is touristy but peaceful, not much of a night life but the adventure sports are the star attraction here. I didn’t waste any time and set off paragliding on day one. I went to Chicamocha about 40 minutes from town surrounded by coffee and tabacco farms. The cost was $60,000 pesos ($30 USD) for 15 minutes and due to some light winds the first round, I was taken twice 🙂

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Round one was lovely and peaceful and after my request for adrenalin “quiero adrenalina por favor” I got to experience my guides extreme piloting. Swirling around rapidly and narrowly missing hills, even doing a full flip, it was a lot of fun.

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Day 2 I had my first experience caving at Cow Cave Curiti. It was one of the most fun and scariest activities I’ve ever done. We were told the name came from cows falling into the entrance and being killed – lovely start to the trip! Myself and one other in the group were fitted with helmets and head lamps and climbed down a steep ladder into the cave entrance. We squeezed through a narrow crevice into an open room with bats and cockroaches and some seedlings that grew in the bat droppings, but died shortly after due to lack of sunlight. Then into the cold water we went, crawling through a wide and low section of the cave which was about 60cm high and half submerged. We felt our way along the muddy and stony cave bottom and soon encountered the fully submerged section of the cave. Definetly not for the claustrophobic. We had to dive down and swim a few meters. The guide would then tap us when we came to the end and we could slowly surface, faces titled upwards to gasp a few breaths of air in the 4cm of breathing space. Fortunately the cave soon opened into wider rooms again and we continued to explore indoor waterfalls and beatiful rooms with sparkling stalactites and stalagmites and some amazing rock formations resembling columns. Unfortunately my camera died within 2 photos but here are a couple of my cave woman antics.

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My final day I took a 40 minute bus ride to the unesco world heritage listed Barricharra. This town was an absolute delight to wander around in, beautifully preserved. Enjoy the pictures!

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