At one point I woke up convinced the pilot was doing loop the loop...not the nicest flight I have ever had at all...but thankfully I have arrived safely in one piece along with my luggage in Buenos Aires. Mission 1 achieved with success.
Shame the same can not be said for Lesley-Anne who is currently somewhere between London and Miami!! Rather her than me...but hopefully we will catch up in Gualeguaychu for Carnaval tomorrow.
Time to explore and get my first steak!
My Brazilian friend Tatiana was horrified when I told her I would be spending Carnaval in Argentina and not Brazil, but calmed a little when I told her we were headed to a little place called Gualeguaychu which claimed to have the best Carnaval in Argentina - a very�bold claim!
It turned out to be perhaps one of the strangest sleepy little towns I have ever visited - I walked miles trying to find life within the ghost town, and eventually gave up to find myself a little spot looking out over one of the beaches along the river. There were thousands of young people with ice boxes full of booze getting into the Carnaval spirit. I would say a perfect spot for 'people' watching, but I was too mesmerised by the field of bum cheeks shaking away in time to concentrate on any faces, or boys! My bikinis could be chopped up to cover 3 of them, and I am not exactly elephant sized (unlike some that hit my radar!). Some hot, some certainly not - interesting sights!
Lesley-Anne finally caught me up after her traumatic journey and a couple of beers later (the smallest bottles I have seen so far are 1 litre!) off we headed to the Corsodromo to take our seats for the parade. Slightly disappointed that whilst the female dancers again had their bum cheeks out the male ones all had briefs on, or full head to toe glitter suits, but the show was fantastic!! Three troups of dancers perform each year infront of 40,000 screaming spectators competing for a prize and trophy - I have no idea how they decide between them as all were incredible.
Back to the bus station for our 0315 return to Buenos Aires...and straight into a thunderstorm (wtf!?!)...a bit of rain isn't going to put a dampener on my trip so soon though!
Buenos Aires turned out to be a giant city which we proceeded to cover most of, by foot. Okay, the Subte is quite limited, but the bus system definitely rivalled London´s except that you need coins to pay for any journey and no-one appears to want to hand over small notes in change never mind coins. So we couldn't get any bus even if we had deciphered the timetable.
Two days in and I had acquired 5 blisters and 7 mosquito bites...start as we mean to go on I guess! We set off to the market in San Telmo which was a bustling little place on a Sunday with people perusing the antiques and ended up walking significantly further to Boca and the Bombonera.
The tour of the home of Boca Juniors was quite cool, and the guide allowed us to pester him with questions after all the Spanish speakers had been sent off out via the cafeteria. The Argentine's really do sound passionate about the game, and I can only imagine visiting the Bombonera as an away team is a quite terrifying experience. Diego Maradonna remains the local hero, although we didn't quite understand that given he only played 70 times for Boca, although they did win the league on his first stint there. Jorge, our guide, suggested he would soon be replaced as God by Messi, who would be much more deserving of such admiration.
The Recoleta Cemetery was our next hike, and well worth it too. When we arrived it was quite overcast and I was spooked and covered in goose pimples wandering amongst the tombs and cryptsof Buenos Aires' rich and famous. When the sun emerged and produced a clear blue sky the aura of the place changed dramatically and I got to really appreciate the stunning memorials within the complex. On departing however we were in agreement that it was a very bizarre little place despite being beautiful in its own unique way.
Final job for Buenos Aires was to complete the journey of 250g of Tesco extra mature cheddar that I had transported in my rucksack for an old university chum, Jamie. It was great to catch up after 10 years since leaving Durham, but I had certainly never envisaged it being so far from home. After 6 months of travelling Jamie was craving a lump of decent cheese...I haven't been gone long enough to miss anything from home yet, but am intrigued as to what I will be craving in 3 months time!
It took me just 5 days to start thinking about reorganising the world...!
I´ve lost count of the number of times I´ve been approached by the London Bus Company folk outside Green Park on my way to work in the morning...but could I get on the equivalent in Buenos Aires with the same ease?!? No bloody chance.
Day 1 - Lady on bus : `I am sold out of tickets today, please go to the tourist office´. I already have 4 blisters so give up walking for the day and head for vino tinto.
Day 2 - Different lady on bus : ´All bus tickets are sold today, try tomorrow´. So we do La Bombonera stadium tour instead, as we have stupidly walked all that way!
Day 3 - Full bus appears at stop number 2 so off I toddle to the beginning, and seriously that queue is hours long. Eventually locate a random tourist office elsewhere in town and buy a ticket, for the 1340 departure (it is currently 10.30 am!!). Time slots, on a 24hr hop-on, hop-off bus, how the hell does that make sense?!? They are missing out on fortunes...if I had more time, and more useful spanish dialogue, I would have told them that!
Eventually we board the bus eager to learn all sorts of interesting things about the City...but obviously end up seriously disappointed...all we ended up doing was writing a list of things to look up later on wikipedia...and as I´ve told anyone that will listen so many times before, wikipedia knows EVERYTHING so I am now app´d up on my phone and ready to provide future tour services myself.
I think my little bro is the only person to gain from this Buenos Aires Bus experience...having passed the Bombonera 3 times I succumbed to buying him a Boca Juniors home shirt...the fact that they were sold out and I had to visit a sports store in town summed up my day nicely!
Every time I say Colonia I have that damn Covonia throat spray advert in my head!
Colonia del Sacramento felt worlds away from Buenos Aires where we had boarded the Buquebus just 3 hours earlier. The first thing I noticed on leaving the hostel in search of lunch and beer was that there weren´t any traffic lights. Not one. None for the cars and certainly none for the pedestrians. However, it turns out that crossing the road is a piece of cake, the cars just stop and wave you on over!
The pace of life is definitely much slower in our first stop in Uruguay, and we were happy to fit in with that with a slow amble around the historical parts of town. It was a very picturesque little place, a lighthouse to climb for enhanced views (annoyingly I lost count of the steps on the way up, and then also again on the way down so can not report on its height) and plenty of cute little restaurants for refuelling.
Perhaps the most stupid idea so far given my allergies to animals, grass, trees and everything you find in the countryside, but our time spent at Panagea in Tacuarembo state of Uruguay is definitely by far the highlight of my trip so far.
After a day spent mosying around Colonia del Sacramento it was an early rise for the short bus trip into Montevideo and then onto the long haul to Tacuarembo. Here we met Juan (and a lovely bunch on an Intrepid trip plus two dutch girls) who took us off in his giant yellow truck to his cattle ranch in the heart of the country.
After a quick brief of the goings on around the ranch we all tucked into a hearty stew and psyched ourselves for the fun(/work) to follow in the morning. With just two hours of electricity by generator each evening we were soon onto candles but quickly discovered they just ruined the view of the stars too.
It was an early start and after being read the gaucho code I was introduced to Tostada and learned how to saddle her up. Turns out my donkey riding on the beach as a kid came in handy as it wasn´t too difficult at all! A t-bone barbecue lunch and siesta got us ready for the first gaucho task - sheep herding!
How a group of 16 adults failed to follow a simple instruction of ´form a line behind the sheep´is beyond me! Obviously the sheep ran riot and horses were headed in all directions before we eventually got all 120 of them across two fields and into the ranch pen ready for drenching (we didnt soak the sheep, they were given worming medicine by giant syringe) and then back on out again.
Day two saw us perform a similar task with the cows - the bigger calves were to be taken away from their mothers and set in a different field, whilst the younger ones were tagged, branded and castrated. My job (after a severe lack of input in the herding process thanks to my new horse, Tara, who must have had worms given we stopped every ten paces to eat grass) was to join three others in ´the egg´ with something like 25 cows at a time. Armed with flags (bags on poles) we had to first let the cows through whilst holding back all their calves. Having sneezed my way through the previous 36 hours I discovered I am not allergic to cows - perhaps a useless fact given we dont tend to keep cows as pets in the UK. I felt like I was on a rural version of Krypton Factor - it was great fun!
After another fabulous gaucho stew and a de-horsing shower we were piled into the back of Juan´s truck and set off on our way back to Tacuarembo to meet the bus to Montevideo. This was certainly not something I had originally envisaged doing when planning my trip and even taking into account the sore arse and now wonky back it was great, and highly recommended. No-one should bypass Uruguay or the opportunity to experince the real gaucho way of life.
After a night of crazy thunderstorms in Montevideo it was a lazy morning avoiding the drizzle before setting off for Foz do Iguaçu.
Local transport (strange 70s brown leather bus in this case - most bizarre) to the airport is by far the cheapest and, it seems, most entertaining way to travel. I'd already gotten used to people trying to sell me stuff on the Subte in Buenos Aires (still however trying to work out whether they are the equivalent to our Big Issue sellers or just odd entrepeneurs though) but the clown who hopped on the bus was something altogether different.
He looked funny and had the bus in raptures of applause so I think the jokes and impressions he appeared to be doing must have been good, but the language barrier made it just appear quite bonkers to me!
Despite the size of the plane it was a safe and smooth flight, we didn't even lurch as I might expect when half the passengers on the right hand side of the plane darted to the left as the first squeals that the falls were in sight were heard!
I momentarily thought I had just travelled in a private jet as it was just 6 steps down onto the tarmac before a short walk to the terminal building. Fear not, the disproportionate length of time it took to get all passengers through security given the size of the plane we had actually arrived on soon brought me back to reality.
I did however manage a giggle at the poor woman darting to the loo after her young child had a small accident whilst obviously sat on her hip. A quick bypass of security to retrieve the childs luggage on the baggage carousel ensure the little girl was singing away merrily in dry clothes just a few minutes later. Mum was not so happy looking!
Thankfully the smile was not wiped off my face by the security guard who found an apple illegally crossing the border in my rucksack...he did give it a good old thorough study before handing it back and allowing my to proceed into Brazil...phew!
Everyone has an opinion on which side of the falls is the best - obviously all Argentinians claim they have the most dramatic waterfalls and the ultimate opportunity to really feel them, whilst the Brazilians unsurprisingly unanimously declare their side gives an unbeatable experience. Obviously I was going to completely ignore what everybody else told me, and set about the falls in my own way to decide on the winner.
Having also forgotten the clear instructions provided before arrival by many people on which side to visit first (apparently so not to be disappointed on day two) we set off on a bus to Argentina. This wasn't an educated decision, I didn't flip a coin as I had spent them all already and so it was just another sheepy moment - that's where others in the hostel were going so it required far less brain power!
The falls were pretty damn impressive and seemed to go on forever although I did at one point claim I thought Milford Sound in New Zealand were too tough to beat. Half an hour later after a speedboat ride right up to the bottom of the falls to take in some spray I was well and truly drenched, and when the heavens opened as yet another thunderstorm moved in it was as if someone up there in the Argenitinian sky was punishing me for suggesting such a thing. My soggy day at Milford Sound a few years ago was recreated. Despite having absorbed gallons of water like a human sponge I continued to trudge the trails to cover every inch of the park and see all the waterfalls. My conclusion : despite the weather this really was going to take something special to beat, they seem to have it all on the Argentinian side.
Day two and off we set for the Brazilian side, not particularly hopeful of topping yesterday with grey clouds looming. It very quickly became clear it was going to be quite a different day. After purchasing tickets we were bundled onto buses to be shipped to the other end of the park (bypassing the optional costly stops to walk their trails) - felt a bit more like a Disney experience. However, I was soon eating my words. The view from the Brazilian side was spectacular, and I was not getting wet! You can see the whole thing and really get a great perspective on how enormous the falls are. Next stop, lunch in the all you can eat buffet restaurant. Yum yum yum. It was supposed to be a 3 course lunch, but I think the fact we had 5 deserts each probably meant we counted as 7. And there was not a single Coati in sight (I forgot to mention the hilarious moment in the Argentinian park when a few Coati´s hijacked a table of Brazilians as they were about to enjoy their lunch - the animals certainly didn´t end up the hungry ones!).
So who won....easy, Brazil! By far the better view of the falls, no pesky animals and an awesome lunch. The majority of the falls do lie on the Argentinian side, and that has enabled them to get the monopoly on boat rides etc, but unfortunately that isn´t enough for me.
In any case, the Iguassu Falls should be on everyone´s travel wish list - totally unmissable!
The overnight bus from Foz do Iguaçu to Curitiba was supposed to be relaxing in preparation for a few lazy days in the sun. Instead, it started with drama!
Not a half hour into the journey on scamper two sniffer dogs with burly Federal Police officers. A dodgy looking Brasileiro is promptly hauled off for driving the dogs wild. The incessant running commentary from Lesley-Anne's new bus buddy was of no use at all given our rather limited Portuguese but I did find her snorts to inform us the dogs had returned an amusing update! The dodgy dude was let back on the bus (minus his wacky baccy I assume) and off we go again in peace...
We arrived in Curitiba at 6am (ahead of schedule despite the unscheduled, lengthy stop) and had a quick freshen up before buying our tickets for the Serra Verde Express.
Once again, any grasp of Portuguese would have been very useful as the guide on the train appeared to be quite comprehensive, but instead we just listened out for esquerda and direito to know which window we should be looking out of. This wasn't quite foolproof as the gaps between trees were quite small and infrequent and as we generally didn't have any idea what we were looking for (unless it was agua or montanha) we missed most spots.
The little train takes around three hours to weave through the Serra Graciosa mountains to the small town of Morretes, and is considered one of the most spectacular train journeys in South America. I have no idea how it got called 'express' though - Morretes is only about 30km from Curitiba and I possibly could have made it quicker by foot!
It did however turn out we were on the better side of the train when we reached the section with no obstructive trees so we have a perfect views of mountains for miles and miles, as well as getting a good view of the bridges were were crossing. I also at this point took great pleasure in fully obstructing the view of the Brazilian porker who hadn't allowed us to glimpse anything out of her window when the sights were on her side! Ha!
We stopped in one of the many restaurants overlooking the river for lunch and dived into a feast typical of Parana (the Brazilian state in which Curitiba and Morretes sit). This included barreado, a meat stew cooked for 24 hours in a clay pot, served with rice. I had already had a good nose around the strange pot on the table which looked to contain white flour, but all soon became clear. The flour is plonked in your bowl first and the stew ladeled in on top. It is then frantically stirred until all thickens up. The waiter serving the next table actually made his solid then held the bowl upside down on each persons head. For some reason this reminded me of mum's apple crumble when I was a child which frequently resembled cement. Anyway, back to my lunch...it was pretty damn tasty, although if I was making it I would have chucked in some carrots and beans too!
After losing all sense of direction we finally made it back to the station to board the train for the return leg. This time we really could appreciate the sights as it was much emptier but sadly still failed on the guide front.
Arriving back in Curitiba we had time to kill before boarding the next overnight bus. Up step Letitia [check Portuguese spelling], an adorable little girl who tried to make conversation sat in the park and ended in fits of giggles when we explained (in awful Portuguese) that we were English and didn't speak the local lingo. I think she would have been more comfortable if we were from mars and had green skin! A hilarious hour followed with us and her family taking it in turns to send Letitia back and forth with phrases alternating in our languages. The most useful additions to my Portuguese repertoire are tree, flower, nose and dad. The only situation I think these might be used is if I suffer sneezing fits in the Amazon. Time to leave produced giant hugs for all and choruses of Tchau!
A second consecutive overnight bus took us to Paraty where it was hoped the sun would be shining for some lazy days on the beach.
Problem 1: No sun :(
So what else to do...well it doesn't take the British long to decide beer is the answer! (I didn't even like beer before setting off for South America so things are changing already!) Australian's are no different so we quickly made friends with a couple staying next door.
Problem 2 : What to eat when the beach hut has no menu and the crazy Frenchman running the joint keeps saying 'Tell me what you want, I have everything'?!
I made an impulsive executive decision that we wanted fish (Frenchy claimed to have caught it himself earlier), rice and salad. By the time the food arrived we were on the third beer (litre of, sharing remember!) and soon settled into a series of 'we may as well have another' it being dusk and there not being a great deal of other life down at Praia Jabaquara.
Problem 3 : The moon. As it was suggested later in the week moscquito activity is enhanced when there is a full moon, and Jabaquara is apparently already worse for the awful insects.
As the mosquitoes started nibbling on went some repellent but it was a case of too little, too late.
Some locals arrived with a drum, eukelele and maracca (sand in a water bottle) and started a jammin' session with the owners. Obviously going home wasn't an option, but when they eventually packed up it was one for the road back at the hostel. Fun was had by all.
Problem 4 : Waking up itching was one thing, but the sight of my legs was terrifying!
I caught Lesley-Anne up at breakfast and was delighted that she also appeared to have lower body chicken pox, we were in it together.
Typically however it soon becomes clear I am allergic to mosquitos and while LA´s are little red dots mine first turn to big red splodges before blistering.
Mosquito bite count pre-Paraty : 21
Mosquito bite count post-Paraty : 169 (est)
Lesson learned. I have not set foot outside without my mosquito band, and a full dousing of both citronella and deet since! The next problem will be learning the after effects of being permanently covered on 100% deet - best get back onto Wikipedia!
There is no time to dwell on mosquito bites when you are travelling so after breakfast a plan was made for the first full day in Paraty. Ok, not a very exciting one, but a plan all the same.
The sun was shining, for a change, so time for laziness and ray catching. If it weren´t for the itching it might have been pretty close to heaven listening to the waves crash on the shore. Later in the afternoon we set off for a stroll around the pretty little town, and ended up almost getting washed away ina flood whilst eating dinner. It doesn´t rain, but it pours (I´m not talking about the weather, just traumas).
We were only intending on staying two days in Paraty so we could also visit Ihla Grande but that started to sound too much like hard work after listening to two (incompetent) young Aussies trying to organise a transfer and hostel. So, we stayed another day and took in a day trip to Trinidade which has a beautiful little selection of beaches 40 minutes further along the coast.
Again moving felt too difficult so we stayed one further day and decided to embark on a boat trip. The trip on Banzay was really lovely and chilled - a Brazilian dude played live music on the deck, but all went a little mad all of a sudden when we slowed near a secluded beach. The French girl sat along side us decided to start translating the commentary at the point (we had, along with an English couple the other side of us, decided not to declare our lack of understanding of Portuguese from the outset so had very little idea of what was going on) and relayed that the enormous beach house we were looking at was where Bella and Edward honeymooned in the last Twilight film. Well that got me too my feet until I realised in my semi-slumber that Robert Pattinson and Taylor Lautner were well gone. :( I did however amuse the crowd with my cries of ´werewolf on the beach´ at the next bay when a man appeared with his dog.
No, I'm not writing a grim blog about any bowel issues...
Despite having already been on four long distance buses, including two overnighters, I was yet to spend a penny on one. Quite strange as I pee pretty much hourly at home. It seems therefore that either I do that out of boredom, or am currently evaporating my four litres of water a day.
I was suddenly reminded of my little brother who was obsessed with going to visit the toilet when we were younger. Whether we were on a plane or train, visiting friends or family, at a theme park or out for dinner he immediately insisted on testing the facilities. I guess it turned into just another bizarre Morley family running joke.
Anyway, I soon learned that there was a cool little window in the bus toilet so you could sit and admire the view whilst going about your business. Unfortunately I mis-timed my wee so I didn't get a porthole view of the beach, ocean and mountains, but took a picture anyway. (I think it's a Rio favela)
OJ - I'm expecting a 'bog blog' when you set off on your travels so don't disappoint me! ;)
Where do I start? That was the problem we faced waking up on our first morning in Rio. We had no idea what to do first but an English girl suggested Christ the Redeemer so off we went.
Successful navigation of the bus, although we were soon regretting that almost fearing for our lives in the hands of the driver, took us to Cosme Velho. Unfortunately the next train to the top of the mountain wasn´t for another hour so we took a minibus. It reminded me of the Statue of Liberty when we got up there (for obvious reasons) but it is much bigger and considerably more impressive in every way possible. Cristo Redentor was put up on the top of the highest mountain, Corcovado, in the city in the 1920s to mark the centenery of the city. He has an awesome view out into the ocean over the city, although if I were sat up there all day everyday I might get a bit pissed off with the hangliders screaming ´Arrrrgggghhhh´ at me as they whizz past.
Next on the list was a Brazilian football game. The Maracana is currently closed for refurbishment to make it ready for the World Cup in 2014 so we ended up in Stadium Rio instead. It took 3 hours to get just a few kilometres north of the city and the Israeli girl who had made us late leaving in the first place was going crazy that we were going to miss the start of the game. Turns out half the locals also missed the start too as the traffic was mental. The game was Flamengo v Emelec in the Copa Libertadores (from wikipedia I gather this is essentially the South American equivalent of the Champions League). Emelec are a team from Ecuador, but for some reason no-one would believe me telling them that. The hostel had told Lesley-Anne they were Mexican, our tour guide thought they were Argentinian and the other group´s guice we met thought they were Bolivian. I do hope I meet some more sensible people in my trip who either have a clue about the world, or are as proficient on Google as I am - honestly!
Flamengo won the game 1 - 0, but getting towards the end I was desperate for 10-man Emelec to score just to see the reaction of the home fans we were surrounded by. Differences between going to a game there and at home (and I´m not just comparing to Ewood Park here):
Atmosphere : there is one despite the stadium being half full. The fans always had a noise to make or song to sing. Maybe that would have been different like at home if they were losing, but I´ll never know.
Seating : there is some, but it is generally unused. Unreseserved seating was a new one on me in anycase, and I was rather concerned when we stole someone else´s at half time for a rest before standing again, but all good. Even standing in the aisles is perfectly acceptable so they arent particularly safety concious at all. There were a few policeman right by the pitch but no steward presence to speak of.
Injuries : the doctor whizzes on via golf buggy!
Food : i failed to find a pie, but instead spotted the usual street sellers wandering the rows with giant bags full of crisps, soda and beer. My main disappointment.
Flags : we were stood a few rows behind a man with a 15 foot flagpole so at times the view was slightly obscured. Being 5 foot 2 and a quarter came in handy at this point as i could just about see under without straining my back bending too far.
I know i had more differences, but have lost my notes...so will have to revisit in due course...
Project Prince Harry day has arrived.
Having checked the weather forecast in the hope of a clear afternoon to do Pão de Açúcar (Sugarloaf mountain) it was also declared beach day.
First item in my bag once the bikini and suncream have been taken care of is my camera! I'm not exactly discreet at the best of times, so capturing beautiful people on the brace undiscovered might be slightly challenging. It also felt rather naughty once I'd settled into spying from my spot on Copacabana Beach, but I was going to do it anyway.
The only disappointment on the beach was the sea. The waves looked great fun to be thrown around in but getting further in than my knees was totally impossible. Whilst the water down at Paraty was like a warm bath, Copacabana is more suited to penguins - an unbelievable difference!
Pão de Açúcar site just above Praia Vermelha so we headed there by mental bus. It soon became obvious that Prince Harry was indeed expected that evening as the red carpet (actually looked more like thick red paper to me) was part-way through the very slow process of being set down. The next cable car we saw headed up the mountain had a Union Jack on it too which looked pretty cool. After a good nosey around all of the ´Great´ stuff on the first level (also taking in the views of course too) we went up to the top of Pão de Açúcar and settled in a prime position with a beer ready for sunset.
We had picked our day perfectly because as the sun set it went down directly behind Cristo Redentor so you could see him inside of it. My spoddy little camera failed to pick this up however (we had left the SLRs and zoom lenses in the hostel being perhaps over-security conscious on this occasion) but it looked awesome. We selfishly kept our great spot right until the last moment before getting the last cable car back down.
We did have to laugh when we spotted things like a mini Big Ben, sand sculpture of the London Eye and Tower Bridge and a red Mini on our way out - was all a bit surreal.
The party was clearly nowhere near starting based on the total disorganised mess at the bar hosting the Great Britain event so we missed seeing Prince Harry. The only complete fail of the day...but I don't like gingers anyway!
I'm calling this part 1 as I have no doubt there will be more. It should however perhaps be 'Idiots abroad' given there had been two of us til now! In any case, I pray I don't end up sounding as retarded as the northern monkey in the TV show of the same name.
So, what have I learned today...
The hostels we have been staying in for the last 8 nights don't actually have only cold water in their (electric) showers. Yet I've had nothing but cold showers for 8 days now. Why? I'd spotted the controls on top of the shower head (in the showers where a midget had done the installations only of course), yet it didn't occur to me to actually touch it. If it had then I might have moved from cold to warm or maybe even to hot! For god's sake they are electric units and what kind of eejit would create something to make water colder??!!
I was fascinated after seeing my first ever whole starfruit today. I'd only ever been given slices before and seeing that they actually have five pointy sides from start to finish was cool! What on party did I think they looked like pre-knife?
Green coconuts (like the one I had a straw in at the park today) aren't a different variety to the brown hairy ones we have at home...that's the way they mature! Must be male.
Palm hearts (the unidentified vegetable we have had on numerous dinners and salads in the last 3 weeks) are exactly what their name suggests...the heart of a palm tree. I'd spent ages wondering what they came from and why we don't have them at home, but obviously now explained by the untropical climate.
I'm going to be much cleverer tomorrow cos Tatiana must think I'm a right simpleton today.
So up bright and early I get to make my way to Sao Paulo to stay with Tatiana (my Brazilian friend who I shared a tent with for two weeks on safari in 2010).
I had considered getting up for sunrise on Copacabana beach until the internet suggested that would be at 5.54am! We all know that isn't my time of day and whilst I'm pretty sure the beach would have given me some spectacular photos at that time I would have ended up grumpy all day. After goodbyes with Lesley-Anne I set off for the bus to the airport. That´s task 1 on my own successfully completed. Go me!
Then it starts to fall apart slightly...
At check-in I spot my rucksack is 17kg so leave slightly annoyed that I thought I was travelling light yet appear to be overly weighing myself down. Must be the extra shampoo, aftersun and clothes wash that LA donated! I clear security at the second attempt and settle with some breakfast then spot 'Cancelado' next to my flight. We have been playing awesome guessing games reading Portuguese in the last few days, but it don't take no genius to figure this one out. I did however feel honoured that they subsequently made the announcement in English - was especially for me as not one other single announcement had been made in any language I understood and I was pretty confident there were no other English speakers in the airport having done 4 laps before security and 3 after.
So through the scheduled gate I go and straight down and out of arrivals and back into the departure hall where I began an hour and a bit ago. Avianca retrieve my rucksack and I start the check-in process with Gol.
It seems my rucksack also had breakfast as this time it apparently weighs 18kg! On the bright side I'm going to be bloody strong as well as tanned and toned from all the walking. Woohoo - Morley will be looking hot hot hot when she hits London again!!
Window seat successfully acquired again despite the girl failing to understand my Spanish accompanied sign language and back seamlessly through security I go having learned from my previous errors. Guess that passed half an hour in a rather dull airport, and I'm only going to be 20 minutes late anyway!
Anyone considering going to Rio take note now...my day soon picked up...book a flight to Sao Paulo from Santos Dumont and bag a right hand side window seat up front. Even if you don't want to go to Sao Paulo just do it, you could even book a day return. The view is breathtaking! I was expecting it to be pretty impressive having done Christ and Sugar Loaf but I was left speechless! My photos speak for themselves.
Rio de Janeiro, I will most certainly be back!
Obviously I was expecting Tatiana to make an effort and show me some sights around her home town, making sure I was well fed and watered along the way too. She most definitely had a plan, and couldn't have packed any more into my stay if she tried.
After dropping my bags at her apartment we set off for a stroll around Parque do Ibirapuera which included stopping for a refresher of coconut milk. Whilst Tatiana's was poured through cooling device into a plastic bottle I think I ended up being the only person in the park drinking from a giant green coconut with a straw! One area of the park we visited - I can´t remember it´s name, just that there was a statue of two kis chasing a pig - is what I understood to essentially be the dating zone. You either sit or strut through eyeing up everyone in sight and the lucky folk get approached and score themselves a date - hilarious!
Next port of call was lunch and whilst I was offered a multitude of choices I think this was a red herring as a traditional Brazilian meal was actually the only option on offer. Pastéis and Feijado later we headed to a traditional Brazilian pub. Now this was my kind of place...Caipirinhas are not only made with Cachaça, but can be vodka and sake based too, and also come in every fruit flavour imaginable. Some even have an ice dolly in them! If you opt for a chopp (draft beer) they come round handing you new ones each time the glass is nearing empty. Obviously I had both! We then had a tour around the city by car, taking in pretty much every main street, so I could get my bearings. Sao Paulo is enormous - the largest city in Brazil with some 20,000,000 inhabitants - so obviously by morning I had forgotten everything I had been told.
The few places that weren't covered by car were explored by foot on Monday morning. You name it, we saw it. I think I ended up seeing more sights in Sao Paulo than anywhere else on my trip so far, and it was supposed to be the ugly city with nothing to do.
We stopped in the market for a pre-lunch snack but given the size of the prawn pastel and cacalhau coxinha (funny shaped cod fishcake essentially) lunch never happened (which unfortunately meant my next Caipirinha was forfeited too). I also at this point learned that cashew was a fruit after being confused by its appearance on the juice menu. When we located on in the restaurant for dinner both Tatiana and the barman took great pleasure in making me eat one...it was a bit like waking up in the morning when you've had a big night on the town and your mouth is superglued shut! Weird.
We used every mode of transport available and I think exhausted the list of any traditional Brazilian sweet or savoury edible whilst on our tour so I'm currently feeling the size of a house.
It was great to catch up with Tatiana and I will definitely be visiting her and Sao Paulo again - although, I don't think there's much else to see or do...so perhaps the next trip will be either F1 or World Cup related...hmmm!
After what Tatiana could only describe as a 'really very stupid' route from Sao Paulo to my hostel in Manaus involving taxi, bus (to an airport almost double the distance from the city than London Luton is from London), plane to Rio (2 hours in the worst terminal in the world, not even a coffee shop), plane to Manaus and finally a car transfer, I slept, a lot! So jungle adventures were postponed for one day after the tour company owner suggested I needed to be fresh.
At 7am the following morning I am greeted by three cheery little Chinese faces and the local guide ready for our journey deep into the Amazon. I instantly take a dislike (not quite the right word, but it will do for now) to the Chinese trio when we stop first for cash and then at 3 different drugstores looking for insect repellent - seriously what moron heads anywhere exotic without multiple mosquito poisons? But thankfully they are only staying 2 nights while I'm booked in for 4. I also had a good old chuckle to myself that they turn up with wheelie cases and designer handbags, and the only thing they elect to leave behind and not take into the jungle are their fluffy plane pillows. Give me strength! Perhaps I should also point out at this point that they are final year MBA students at Harvard University so are clearly highly intelligent individuals but most definitely lacking in any form of social or general life skills.
The jungle lodge we are to stay at is around 100km south of Manaus and requires a combination of speedboat, minivan and jungle boat to travel there. The meeting of the waters is the first jungle phenomena we visit as part of the speedboat crossing - it really is a peculiar sight. Due to the different speed, temperature and density of each river they run in parallel rather than combining straight together so you see a wiggly line between the black waters of the Rio Negro and the silty waters of the Rio Amazonas.
We arrive at the lodge all nice and dry having travelled in sunshine from Manaus...but as we open our mouths for lunch, the heavens also open. And boy does it rain! After lunch we go Pirahna fishing, and guess who bags the most catches? Turns out the scrawny little things have zero meat on them when we have them fried up to eat though, disappointing compared to my previous angling skills! And then we get soaked for the first time.
Now, back to the Chinese. After dinner two (they are a couple, a very weird couple, but a couple all the same) announce they are going to conserve their energy in the morning and not join us visiting the oldest tree in the area. Simply sitting in a boat is too strenuous for them then. And at around 7.30pm they all head off to their private cabins so Ryan (the only other guest at the lodge) and I entertain ourselves with card games for a couple of hours before a more sensible bed-time, after we´ve laughed about the chinky´s obviously.
In the end we don´t actually see the couple again as the girl decides she is allergic to mosquitos...she has 4 little bites on her hand that appear to be causing considerably more distress than the 20 or so on my arms, legs and arse...as they stay in their room watching cartoons on their iPad. What a waste of a trip that was for them! But at least I can now stop talking about them! Sadly Ryan also left a few hours after them, and I was in a panic that I was about to be landed with more idiots, but he was instead replaced by 5 Canadian's, who definitely added to my entertainment.
Over the next three days I did some jungle trekking, visiting the natives, kayaking through narrow channels in the trees (frequently getting thwacked by branches), night time animal spotting and various trips on the rivers and lakes looking for animals and had a fantastic time. We saw many different kinds of monkeys, sloths, caimans (Amazonian alligators), iguanas, various birds and fish, not to mention gazillions of ants, centipedes, spiders and mosquitos. Oh, and trees. Lots and lots of trees. Green trees, brown trees, small trees, tall trees, flourishing trees and dead trees.
In the evenings I was introduced to Cairprissima's - a Caipirinha with rum instead of cachaça - and we had some entertaining games of Uno after dinner. The Canadians were a family - mum and dad had flown over to visit their son who was an exchange student near Sao Paulo, taking with them his best mate from Calgary, and also his new best mate in Brazil (also Canadian) - so you can imagine how friendly the games were! Just as I like it, nice and competitive! They also all seemed to find my accent hilarious and repeated most things I said in their own interesting attempts at what I was calling ´proper english´. David decided at breakfast the first morning that I reminded him of Judi Dench - apparently a compliment! I remain slightly baffled by that one. But they definitely contributed to my fun time in the jungle.
I made the daft mistake of asking on my second day whether it really always rained. Simple answer : 'It is called the Amazon Rainforest, Rachel!'. D´oh! We got wet every morning and every afternoon, aside from the day we all left the jungle, and not one of my socks or t-shirts dried out completely. The bus on the way back really ponged given that between me and the Canadians we had taken just 6 showers in 4 days! What's the point when you are putting back on damp, stinky clothes?
Oh, now I almost forgot the three Germans! God, they were so boring. And so annoying. Moaning and swearing even more than I do. I have no idea what they do for fun as they disapproved of everything we spoke about, on the occasion we let them in our conversation, and were the most serious chess players I have ever seen. Okay, so on their first day the guide and our boat captain first took me on a solo jungle trek, and then the guide took me kayaking whilst they were sent to tail the Canadians and their guide on their jungle trek (the benefit of not speaking Portuguese is that you can't be palmed off on the captain as originally planned) so they weren't getting the same attention at all. I'd probably be pissed too. Then to top it off our guide went awol for 2 days! I happily switched into the fun group leaving them with the captain - didn't seem too bad given two of them spoke Portuguese anyway! I'm just glad they didn't arrive with the Chinese as I think I would have had no choice but to feed myself to a snake!!
Once again I cannot believe how fast time is flying by, 4 nights in the jungle went like lightning! It was yet another incredible experience and either 'cool' or 'awesome' featured in every other sentence that either I or the Canadians said. I was however quite happy when I got back to Manaus and could have a wee and shower without the risk of having my bum bitten by yet another pesky mosquito!
I have a bad feeling about my journey from Manaus to San Jose, Costa Rica...
First, I am to depart at 0358. That´s AM!! Brazil is the only country I've visited so far who doesn't schedule their departure times in 5 multiples (I can't describe that any other way than mathematically). What's wrong with 0400?? And also the only one to fly right through the night. Flying at such an ungodly hour is, in my opinion, ludicrous so the only way to deal with this is to go for dinner, Caipirinhas and beer with my new Canadian chums rather than sleeping. The boys keep me entertained until 1.20am, so I head back to the hostel, pick up my bags and quickly clean my teeth and chew some gum in order to sober up fully in preparation for my likely battle.
And I'm not disappointed. Upon arriving at the airport it takes me 26 minutes to check-in!! There was no queue...so each of those 26 minutes were spent at the check-in desk liaising with Brazilian idiots. I had been warned about trying to enter Central America, and further about Copa Airlines, so had every possible avenue of questioning covered...except when they ask if I speak Spanish and my response is just 'Inglese'! Ha - guess that´s one to Morley already!
'Miss Morley, do you have evidence of an onward flight?'. Perfect English so f* knows why they wanted to converse in Spanish! Out I pop my eticket from Cancun to Los Angeles. But not good enough. The Brazilian check-in idiots multiply and now there are two trying to trick me.
'What about from San Jose to Cancun Rachel, how do you do that?'. I produce my tour voucher´and itinerary, much to their bemusement. Same question again so we go through page by page my month in Central America. Still not good enough.
´Where are your flight details to Cancun?' Now I start getting slightly annoyed...and point out (politely!) that I have already explained it is an overground tour. There is no airplane. It is over-the-ground...by bus. By this point a third eejit has joined their side of the desk, who just stares gruffly at me.
Eventually, they agree I have passed whatever test they have been putting me through. Whoopee! But then it takes almost 10 minutes to print boarding cards - amusingly one pops out on the desk one side of the desk I am stood at, and the other on the one the other side. How on earth that works I don´t know, but my desk was printing the boarding cards for the desk to my left. Printing luggage labels is equally painful as first it only goes to Panama City, which is no good given I´m hopping on another plane there to San Jose. Security is equally painful and my bag gets opened up, but thankfully no frisking is required!
Obviously the flight is also awful, we rattle around in the sky for the entire journey, but thankfully I manage some dozing/sleeping. I have no idea how much sleep I got, as I have no idea how long the flights were. Combine excessive alcohol intake with a 4am flight with take-off and landing's in three time zones and only a zombie can come out the other side. An angry zombie when I spot another cable tie on my rucksack despite me having one removed during my 26 minutes at check-in!
At least a lazy day in San Jose looms whilst I plan my next move...
Oh, and silly sunburn!
When I asked Chaba, one of the owners of the house/hostel I'm staying at in Jaco, what I should do today he only had one response: 'Surf!'.
The weather forecast for this morning was gorgeous - bright sun and 30 degrees so I was tempted to make a proper start on the tan - but after a 5 minute debate with myself I decided surf it was. There'll be plenty more sun.
Off I set to find Chaba's mate on the beach who runs his own surf school, and about 20 minutes later he had me practising standing on the board on the beach. So far so good, I didn't fall off once. But then surely only a moron would.
Then it's time to hit the waves! And I'm suddenly a little scared! But I actually manage to get up on the board first time. Ok, I don't stay up very long, but I get on my feet.
A half hour later and I'm having a ball. After a water break and a quick rest we get back out there as the tide starts heading in and the waves grow. I hadn't expected to be able to do it at all, but either surfing is pretty easy or I'm a bloody quick learner! I snorted and swallowed almost half of the Pacific Ocean, lost my hair bobble and grip but had an awesome time.
I was rather proud of myself when I got back to the hostel, and especially after a guy told me he only managed to get up twice! Surely he didn't have the 2 hour lesson I did, cos that's appalling?!
After a long, late lunch I settle on the beach to watch the locals hit the even bigger waves whilst waiting for sunset. Again I wasn't disappointed.
One downside of the day, but another lesson learned. Turns out that 11am - 1pm is not the optimal time for surfing...I have interesting red stripes down my leg, not to mention the lobster face. If I try and fit in another lesson before leaving Jaco it will be at a more sensible hour.
After the excitement of my first surf lesson,I was desperate to try again. But the sunburn restricted my timing options and then the bruised ribs forced me into an early retirement. unbathing it is then! I did little else in Jaco before headiong to Manuel Antonio to continue soaking up the Costa Rica rays.
Manuel Antonio proved a hit right from the start...the toilet roll in the hostel was not only 2-ply...it was also patterned, almost like Charmin or Andrex Puppies on a Roll!! Until you´ve been away from home for a few weeks and been offered nothing but a variety of single-ply loo roll and tracing paper I´m not sure you can appreciate just how happy this made me!! I even stole a roll, just incase the situation got desperate again in the next week or so!!
With a bright blue sky and scorching heat (I´m not sure it has fallen below the current heatwave in the UK even at night so I´ve been melting) first stop had to be the beach. And I managed to produce great amusement for all down there on Saturday afternoon being my usual stubborn self. Having briefly chatted with the first English person I´d met in weeks, about how the water was getting quite close to us now as the tide came in, I declared I was going to brave it out as he edged back up the sand.
Obviously this would have required much less effort than that needed to create a trench around my sarong. But I like to live dangerously, so I started digging. All was going well and my mound and trench fought off a good few breaking waves, until one middle-aged American wandered past. ´Does this work then?´...TOTAL WIPEOUT! I´ve never moved so fast, grabbing everything and launching myself back 10 feet to safety I managed to squawk Well it did until you turned up!´. Reckon that was a sign I was done for the day, so wil my tail between my legs I headed back to the hostel.
On Sunday I declared a day of non-rest and set off to Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio – claimed to be one of the 12 most beautiful national parks in the world. So does it live up to that? I have no idea! I got lost, accidentally exited the park having seen little other than the three beaches and was refused re-entry by the security man! It would have taken me an hour to trek back to the entrance, and through to the point where I clearly should have done a left and followed the signs to the waterfal, so I sacked that one off. I briefly pondered offering the security man $5 (the park entrance fee was $10m, which I would need to pay again) as a bribe but realised that I did not know how dodgy or corrupt the Costa Rican´s might be so pulled faces at him as I stomped off instead. I did manage to spot a couple of sloths, a few white-faced monkeys and loads of iguanas on my short visit though, so not entirely wasted! What else to do...back to the beach, after some lunch, for an afternoon doze ready to see the sun set.
I spent the next two days at the beach with two young American girls on spring break from college who I met in Jaco. Having spent the previous week with the Canadians I keep coming out with all kind of daft words to ensure I am fully understood. Everyone keeps making me say ´normal´ things as they think my accident is amazing and I say hilarious things...I think they must all be just a little bit nuts!
The girls were top of the league of comedy sunburn until I managed flip flop lines and a very sore left eye! Apparently no-one else conscously applies suncream to their eyelids (I´ve been regularly burned here and on the eyebrows, as well as the soles of my feet, so attempt protection everywhere) but on this occasion even I managed to forget one eye! Shame it was my good eye too, as the following morning I looked like someone had pelted me with a rotten tomato. Bright red, and not exactly open and fully functional...thankfully I´d pretty much memorised, step for step, the route to my spot on the beach! Now I just need to devise a way of tanning the other eyelid for it to catch up so ir doesn´t look like I´ve forgotten to apply eyeshadow on one eye (not that my make-up bag has been opened more than a single handful f times so far) – the right-eye lens of my sunglasses does keep dropping out actually, so maybe that´s it!!
The bus back to San Jose was easy peasy until it arrived at a totally different terminal, on the other end of town, to where I had departed a week previous. Bang go my shopping plans, so its off to the hotel to meet the group I'll be spending the next two weeks with.
Instant disappointment! The group of 14 comprises just 3 boys (a Belgian giant, Norwegian bear, and a married Fin who has been travelling for 8 months without his wife and 5 British girls!! The rest are two Aussies, two more Norwegians, a German and Canadian. I was however pleasantly surprised by the lack of Americans and 18 year olds!
They do actually appear a nice bunch and obviously I immediately figured out exactly who I would get along great with, who was going to be a wet lettuce and difficult to talk to, and who was going to drive me completely bonkers!� After the first tedious meeting and dinner it was off to bed ready for the early start.
Fingers crossed travelling in a group works well again, as I'd got quite used to travelling around on my own.
Given the tour I have just begun is called Volcano Trail we are all a little miffed when we arrive in La Fortuna and Arenal is surrounded by cloud. Are we going to see this volcano? No, I don't think so.
The guide books and tour dossier suggest it has a 'top glowing eerily red' too but I doubt that will manage to penetrate the could in the dark either. Whilst laying by the pool after lunch our guide suddenly shouts that we should all take photos quick, as this moment is the most we will ever see of Arenal now that the cloud surrounds only the crater at the top. Typically, both my cameras are in my room, and I can't be arsed getting dressed and running to retrieve so I have no photo.
After hiking, along a road rather than up/ around the volcano, to a waterfall near Arenal on our second day, the group decided relaxation was required and we headed off to a spa and hot spring resort for the evening. When I was little my mum would go crazy if I tried swimming straight after eating lunch, insisting I wait an hour so I didn't drown, so she would have had a fit here! After scoffing down a giant buffet dinner we immediately got changed and proceeded to throw ourselves down water slides for 2 hours. Yes, I did say this was a spa resort, so I wasn't expecting to run around like a 5 year old all evening, hurling myself down a variety of slides into pools of varying temperatures, but it was hilarious fun! Having conquered the smaller slides, with much wailing and squealing, we went in search of the dangerous slide we had been warned off. After scouting it out, three of us took out turns. OMG, never again. I gained enough speed down the first
straight, despite trying to use my hands and feet as brakes from the start that I thought I was going to fly off the side, then hit a waterfall and gathered speed entering the pitch black tunnel. Eyes closed I bash my ankle and head in the last turn and as I dropped 4ft into the pool my life flashed before my eyes in a panic that no one was going to realise I was unconscious entering the water so I was bound to drown! Quite a thought process for about half a second...but thankfully I surfaced quickly and after a torrent of foul language dragged myself out. My head was pounding, but otherwise all intact. Back to the pool with a the bar!
I left the resort having been awarded the prize for creating the biggest splash off the best slide! No-one could quite work out how that happened, but I reckon I must have a disproportionately large arse! How else do I make so much more of an impact in the water than people double my size and weight manage?!
We had a nice two days here, but I leave rather baffled that I was expecting to see great things at the volcano, and actually saw nothing of it at all. How does the town appear to thrive on tourism based around the volcanos, but noone ever actually sees the damn thing?!
Considering I thought Monteverde was supposed to be adrenaline central in Costa Rica, there was an awful lot of wildlife related adventures on offer.
I declined the offer of a night walk through the jungle (I had enough bugs jump out at me in the Amazon so didn't need any more) but did visit both the butterfly farm and frog pond, after scaring the living daylights out of myself zip lining.
The butterfly farm was cool although we did spend the hour jumping every time one flew close and it was rather frustrating that the damn things refused to fly slowly for the benefit of the camera. Quite surreal being taken around by an insect-obsessed Brummie though and he definitely freaked us out with his collection of bugs, spiders, insects and scorpions! I'm shivering just thinking about the delights we saw there - but thankfully I've only met one or two in the 'wild' environment of my hotel rooms.
I was really excited about ziplińing, expecting it to be a bigger, better (and drier!) version of Go Ape in the Lake District, but after just two little zips my heart was already in my mouth. I flew down the next wire tandem with Emily and felt nicely safe in the knowledge that if I fell and died so would she and therefore I wouldn't be alone! Being sent down a 1km long wire cable at speeds of I don't know what, attached by a series of clips and straps, suddenly felt a bit on the daft side and by the time I got to the tarzan swing I was trembling like a leaf rather than running on the adrenaline. Flippin peer pressure! Final hurdle of the afternoon has to be the scariest...Superman...you are attached to the wire by a clip on your back and with feet also strapped up high fly over 1km down the hill a hundred feet in the air FACE DOWN! I think I just about managed to enjoy myself, but probably won't be going back in a hurry!
After recovering and eating lunch a little group of us went off to the Frog Pond. I was really excited about this and wanted to get some good pics for my mum who collects frogs (not the real living kind for anyone thinking our house was wet and amphibious!). We were advised to visit at dusk, supposedly when the frogs are most lively but obviously this meant it was dark, so I got a nice series of really shit photos and had a proper teenage sulk that we shouĺd have done as we wanted and gone earlier in the afternoon. I have no idea what a lively frog looks like either, as we only saw three move, and most looked asleep. So photo fail...did I learn something about the frogs to make up for this? Nope, as the guide spoke at twice my normal conversation speed and his accented english meant I didn't have the foggiest idea what he was jabbering on about.
The highlight in Monteverde might have to be The Coffee Cup - the little cafe just around the corner from our hotel. Twice I went in there to accompany others in need of a coffee fix, and came out armed with a cinnamon bun despite having scoffed down chocolate cheesecake. Both times the cinnamon bun was intended as breakfast for the following day, but on both occasions it was gone before dinner time! Just too damn yummy!
After a rather painful border crossing from Costa Rica to Nicaragua (despite bribing some funny looking blue t-shirt man we still had to all queue rather than the leader doing in one bulk) we drove to the port to get the ferry to Isla Ometepe.
Obviously we had missed the ferry we were due to catch so ended up on something that more resembled a fishing boat for the 90 minute crossing. We were then bundled off to Ojo de Agua, after unpacking to locate swimwear in the middle of the street, supposedly a lovely watering hole where we could swim in a natural pool. Only problem was that, as it turned out applied to the whole island, it was infested with flies! Needless to say we did not stay long. Over dinner a plan was hatched to hire quad bikes to explore the island the next day after an early morning walk (I wasn`t up for this part) after the initial plan to hike the volcano was poo-poo`d. All went to bed happy enough.
Before getting out of bed I realised this day was not going to go to plan. I overheard from the breakfasting of the early morning hikers, that the island was out of quad bikes (I didn`t believe that for a minute, merely assumed it likely that the office paying the most commission to the guide only had a couple of bikes left) so the new plan was to take motorbikes and scooters. Not in a million years was I going to try killing myself on the unpaved roads so two of us instead decided to get some exercise and hired bicyles from the hotel.
The drive from the Eco hotel (weird) where we were staying, to the main road was interesting enough, but we soon realised it was going to be no easy feat to cover half the island in one day as plannwed. There were paved sections of road after the initial gravelled section, but this soon turned into a very lumpy and bumpy natural route. In searing 38 degree heat we were dripping with sweat, and my legs resembled a muddy squashed fly graveyard, so not an attractive sight at all. 90 minutes later and just a fifth of the way around the smaller half of the island we decided not to go down the other side of the giant hill we had climbed and headed home.
Five minutes later Helen gets a puncture but we conveniently have stopped next to what appeared to be the local tuck shop (we had to ask two men on a horse for assistance) so whilst the kids are fixing the bike we enjoy a series of homemade ice lollies. Back on the road, mostly uphill unfortunately, we spot directions to a local cafe so head for a full refuel of chicken, salad, and plantain chips before the final climb home. I really don`t know how i made it as my hands are already unbelievably bruised from the bouncing around on the handle bars and any tiny bump is now agony.
After a nice cold shower I actually decide I`m rather proud of myself for opting for the energetic option today, I`m definitely calorie negative for the day and award myself with a giant dinner.
Not so much fun the next morning when laying, sitting, standing and waking hurts like hell. But we definitely saw the `real`side of the beautiful island and a snippet of everyday life, rather than just visiting the tourist sights and beach like the other did. One to us!
So the tour guide hasn´t exactly endeared himself to much of the group in the last week, and it was only a matter of time until the shit hit the fan!
Another series of disasters today; volcano tour man on holiday so plan A cancelled, no table reserved for breakfast, unknown relocation of chicken bus station (my guidebook knew better!) so an hour wasted walking round the back-end of Granada collecting a stream of useless contradictory directions, chicken bus doesn`t stop at the correct destination so van also required, and then finally,. and most importantly/annoyingly, late arrival = closed handicraft market = entirely wasted morning = 8 pissed of individuals. I decide enough is enough and decide to throw a wobble!
The leader misunderstands my strop at being expected to cough up another 5 cordobas to the van driver (who already charged us 10 cordobas for a 2 minute journey, when the 45 minute chicken bus also cost 10 cordobas) as me being tight and selfish not to give these poor people more money when I clearly am comparatively loaded. 5 cordobas is roughly 14p, so any individual with more than a handful of brain cells would realise that is a ludicrous conclusion! The problem was actually that given he keeps telling us everything will be closed for Semana Santa (Holy Week) he should have the foresight to check the possible opening or closure of attractions in advance rather than a feeble `I`m sorry, it is closed` upon our arrival!!
This results in a $15 taxi back to Granada between four of us and we soon remember how effective a bitching session is to let off steam. Once that is done we regain control of our holiday`s and start plotting for the next few days via the trusty interweb and guidebooks - both infinitely more use - and all are looking forward to our next destination again.
All falls apart further in the evening when the group goes separate ways for dinner and then regroups for drinks, but the leader (plus his trainee who we have been carrying too since the start) takes the childish view that as we keep moaning about his venue choices he is going to do the same and goes elsewhere. The stragglers go to bed at 4am, and we conclude the day actually turned out all good with a great alcohol fuelled bonding session.
What better way of spending our last day in Granada, than at the spa. A proper spa this time too, not a water slide in sight!
After 3 hours hopping between sun lounger and pool it is beauty treatment time! It may only be Friday but there is no fish treatment on offer for me to stick closer to tradition, so I pretend it is Easter Sunday and opt for Chocotherapy.
I was rather concerned that the exfoliation element would cause me to shed some tan but fear not, all still looks intact! I felt rather exposed with my (disproportionately large) white arse on show, but as soon as the first slap of chocolate hit my skin I was in heaven. It smells divine, and is even edible (although as I didn't know where else the woman's hands might have been I opted against licking off too much only taking off that on my face my tongue could reach
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Driving 16 hours in one go, overnight, always sounded like a bit of a strange plan. But we allowed ourselves to be convinced by the leader who suggested skipping Tegucigalpa was a genius idea as, due to its danger we weren`t going to be allowed to leave the confines of the hotel between two planned 12 hour journeys in any case.
A little concerned when just one driver appeared on the bus in Granada at 3pm, we all piled on anyway and settled down for the afternoon. All was going well after stopping for dinner (a Honduran equivalent of KFC where they strangely take your orders at the table), and petrol, and at 10pm we crossed the Nicaraguan and Honduran borders.
All were (uncomfortably) in the land of nod when I suddenly became aware of us having done two three point turns. How strange that the driver has gotten lost, I thought, when he has supposedly done this trip many times before. When someone piped up with a `What`s going on?` we still weren`t too alarmed that we were searching for a gas station. After a few more u-turns we got some sensible instructions from the dodgy scrapyard locals and were en route to a gas station...but just as we passed a nice looking gated development...all went quiet! It seems you stop pretty quickly when going up hill and the gas runs out!
The relief that there was a security guard at the entrance to the development to our left kept us reasonably calm during the 20 phonecalls and 45 minutes it took the police to arrive. After offering each a $20 dollar bribe (apparently not far off a whole week`s wages) the bus driver hopped in the police vehicle and headed to the gas station. Half an hour later we were back on the road and after filling up at the gas station (which happened to be about 4 minutes drive from our breakdown spot, and incidentally next to the police station) we realised we were about 5 kilometres from the centre of Tegucigalpa, the city that was too dangerous for us to visit!
`All the gas stations we passed in Nicaragua were open, so we assumed the same would happen in Honduras` is no justification for breaking down outside the worst possible location on the whole trip, at midnight on Good Friday!
Hmm...I think the writing might be on the wall for our tour leader...
After arriving in Roatan after a somewhat traumatic journey we are all focussed on planning some fun activities in the sun.
First stop, the dive shop! Two of us have already decided to do a PADI Scuba Diver course (which we can later convert into a full PADI Open Water Diver qualification) and we soon have two more chums scared they might suffer a severe case of FOMO (fear of missing out) if they don`t also join. By 9am the following morning,when we are introduced to our instructor, Tyler, they are already sure they made the right choice to join. We aren`t going to need any further activities planning for the weekend, ogling our instructor is going to be a full time job!
Given I am asthmatic and also tend to struggle with a snorkel most of the time, I start a little apprehensive and am already concerned that this isn`t going to be my greatest plan when we get in the water fully scuba`d up for the first time. Breathing underwater is a very strange concept, but I eventually manage to get down onto the sea bed, albeit just 4 ft of water at the end of the dock! After the four of us have successfully managed to complete all the initial skills we need to learn it`s off to the reef for our first dive! Seems a bit quick, even for me, but we go with it...
At 35ft the problems start! I got down to the bottom of the sea fine, but then convinced I was floating off up when the others let go of the rope, I resurfaced rather quickly! Take two: again I get to the bottom but this time fully deflated I lounge on the sand. Then all goes horribly tits up when my goggles fog up and refuse to clear no matter how many times I fill and empty them and I once again panic I`m floating up up and away to be lost at sea. Much to the other girls disgust the only solution is for me to hold onto Tyler`s hand for the duration of the 40 minute dive. Pathetic, but once I had firm hold there was no letting go!
As they all loved it so much, I decide I will give it a go on day two, and all proves out to be worthwhile. With my carefully selected new pair of goggles, I tear through the next set of skills we learn, and get to grips with controlling my depth in the water. Dive two at 40 ft on the reef and I am having a ball as I come face to face with a lobster at the bottom of the sea. The only downside is now I`m competent I don`t need to hold anyone`s hand!
We all pass Scuba Diver and are already planning to continue in Belize to turn this into the full Open Water Diver certification. Fingers crossed it was the diving and fishies that all four of us fell in love with, and not just Tyler, as this could turn out to be an expensive holiday crush for all! In any case, we will be undertaking a thorough scout around all dive shops in Caye Caulker to ensure our next scuba instructor lives up to his predecessor!
The journey day from Roatan to Copan was rubbish, but at least not as terrfying as the journey on the way there! We all loved the place so much that we didn't want to leave and a 5.30am start never goes down too well. A bad st art to the day for Davy who flew down the stairs taking a giant chunk out of one foot whilst badly spraining both ankles. He isn't going anywhere fast now on his 5 ft crutches and is hotel bound whilst the rest of us head up to Playa del Carmen.
The ferry crossing back to La Ceiba was thankfully much smoother than on the way, and the scariest bit ended up being collecting my confiscated beer. Do I really look like the kind of person who would crack open a beer at 7am? I assumed the two guys ahead of us in the queue were also collecting alcohol, so you can imagine how far my eyes popped out of my head when I saw one unwrap a pistol, and the other something closer to a machine gun! I'm not sure there appeared to be much call for firearms on Roatan, but then as this is Honduras who knows!
Being the second shortest person in the group, I regularly end up on the seat above the back wheel of the shuttle bus which is all well and good, until we get to what I'm claiming to be the country with the greatest population of speedbumps! The toilet roll I stole in Manuel Antonio had served as a trusty pillow up til now, but after a few too many bum wipes it failed me and I ended up with a rather battered and bruised ear.
Eventually we arrived in Copán and endured a 16 person march to the ATM and laundromat before dinner. WIthout doubt the best part of the day, it was so yummy we returned the following day for lunch, and dinner!
My leisurely early morning stroll to Las Copán Ruinas and around the museum was ruined in one fell swoop by the idiot in disguise as our tour guide. Everywhere we had been on the previous days of the tour we set off late. So Steph and I (mainly I) took the executive decision to give ourselves an extra 10 minutes in the museum before meeting the others at 9am (now 9.10am) at the entrance as they arrived from the hotel. Whoah, big mistake!
Despite there still being others enroute from the ticket booth, therefore effectively later than us, I got a first class bollocking for my lack of punctuality! Yes, I know I'm generally late for everything at home, but when others are waiting on me in a tour group I am always on time. But how can I be late when others are still walking toward me? Steaming ears again, much to the amusement of the others who were all equally confused by the public telling off.
Anyway, on to the ruins with a hired guide and no tour leaders. We really struggled to comprehend that there are apparently four futher villages beneath the ones we were walking around, but the site was very impressive! How people managed to build such enormous and detailed stone structures over 1500 years ago is beyond me, but these guys also painted theirs red, green, yellow and white so it must have been one hell of a sight! This should be a good introduction to the old Mayan world before we reach the bigger site at Tikal.
Then followed a very lazy afternoon wandering around the town before cabbaging at the hotel. The highlight of the afternoon has to be courtesy of Steph : 'This might be a silly question, but is Antigua an island?'. It very quickly transpired that her friend, who also doubles as her travel agent, had managed to book her return flight from Antigua and Barbuda, in the Carribean, rather than Guatemala City, in Guatemala. All got sorted, and she ended up flying to LA in business class in advance of the leg back to Sydney.
Now I thought the last bus journey was bad, but the final leg of the Volcano Trail was definitely the worst (driving-wise, as the overnighter that might have killed us all will hopefully not be beaten).
The day started badly when I emerged from the shower at 6.45am to find Gaby at the foot of my bed squeaking 'Scorpion!' at me. Not entirely sure how I remained calm in this situation, but it was evident she was going to be about as much use as a chocolate teapot so I had to be brave. Heart pounding after finding my glasses I confirmed it was indeed a small black scorpion, and once my walking shoes had been located, 'splat!'. I had just calmed Gaby down and convinced her we didn't need to unpack and re-pack her entire rucksack when Randy (the trainee tour leader) suggested that she might have transported it all the way from Ometepe - that was 8 days ago!! Incidentally, also the location of our previous scorpion murder, at which time Martin told us it was not a scorpion, merely a 'member of the scorpion family' as they didn't have them there! Yet another contradiction between tweedle dum and tweedle dee...
Crossing the border from Honduras to Guatemala was a piece of cake, but then all went downhill fast. I've been sat in many a traffic jam at home, experiencing varying levels of road-rage, but never have I seen a full line of traffic drive down the wrong side of the road (passing hundreds of stationery vehicles) into the oncoming traffic to get to the front faster. If this happened at home I would be in that overtaking line, rather than patiently going nowhere on the correct side of the road! We sat still long enough for me to paint my nails - I think I'm a rather 'special' traveller as I haven't seen too many others with pillarbox red fingernails.
Woohoo...we were moving...and the little man with the stop and go sign was in sight, but we slowed to a bumpy halt just five cars from the front. Now, in a normal world you would expect it to be a matter of minutes before we were on the move again, but it seems Guatemala is far short of 'normal'. The nail varnish aroma made me dozy, and when I came to 35 minutes (!) we hadn´'t moved an inch! F* knows how that works, but it was another 20 minutes before we started off again, during which time I started patching the hole in Janne's shorts!
But it didn't get better after this, as if I closed my eyes I could have sworn I was in the back of my dad's car. That makes the bus driver the worlds second worst driver! Continuous acceleration interupted only by emergency stops and speedbumps is not the way to drive, least of all when you have 16 passengers. But once again I lived to tell the tale - hoorah! - arriving in Antigua the trademark two hours later than expected.
The end of tour dinner was a bit bizarre, no thankyou's or kind words from either tour leader or group. We dispersed somewhat after eating, with those a little more energetic than others unsuccessfully going in search of a bar playing international music - our enthusiasm for Salsa music ran out quite a while ago. But as 9 and two halves of us are continuing for another two weeks to Mexico we have plenty more time for fun evenings.
I've had great fun over the past 15 days, and met some awesome people, its just a shame all was tarnished by the tour guide who messed a few things up. I'm sure I will enjoy filling in my evaluation form a great deal though!
As if meeting the first group two weeks ago wasn't disappointing enough...the 5 that left us in Antigua were replaced with 5 girls!
Having lost Davy with two bad feet, Janne is now the only man (I use that word very loosely) on the tour with 14 girls! Even the tour leader, Canadian Kayleigh, is female (although lovely and infinitely more capable of her job than Martin so we'll let her off) but worst of all we acquired an 18 year old who we instantly knew would drive us insane when she loudly lumbered down the street talking shit, beer bottle in one hand and fag in the other!
One big positive though...Sarah arrived...and was armed with creme eggs, mini eggs and chocolate hobnobs as well as everything on my long list. Lifesaver, she can definitely meet me on a trip again!
After a couple of days in Antigua, a lovely little city scattered with beautiful of buildings that have been massacred by earthquakes over recent centuries, I have become concerned that G Adventures have mis-named yet another tour. Our 'Volcano Trail' failed greatly on volcano experiences, and now 'Mayan Sun' has begun with clouds and rather a lot of rain!! The rainy season is supposed to begin in May but has apparently arrived early so I am getting concerned about my tan.
There was perhaps a bit too long scheduled in Antigua so we enjoyed a fair amount of laziness and down-time, but annoyingly I have lost the ability to lie-in and kept waking up at 7am! We did managed to visit a national park full of hummingbirds (I might have a clever camera but they move so damn quick my eyes failed me and I have zero photos), shopping for jade, a mini hike up to a lovely lookout over the city and a dawdle around the ruins of the cathedral amongst our wanderings. We also had some gorgeous meals, perhaps the best of the trip so far!
After returning to Antigua again after our trip to Chichicastenango, Panajachel, San Pedro la Laguna and San Juan la Laguna it was time for a tearful farewell with Mona who is staying in Antigua to go to Spanish school for 3 weeks - I might return at some point in the future to do the same given my Spanish is moving on a lot slower than I'd hoped! Oh well, looks like I need another sabbatical already...!
Chicken bus day has arrived!
Whilst Martin previously talked us out of all trips involving chicken buses (aside from thr fateful trip to Masaya) Kayleigh was all enthusiastic about our three-legged trip to Chichicastenango. The first chicken bus was a calm enough experience and immediately after getting off that one we were upgraded to a coach for the second leg.
Back to a chicken bus, funky salsa music blaring, for the final leg around the mountains. Terrifying isn't quite the right word to describe this journey as there was also much laughter interspersing the screams as we flew up and around steep corners way too fast! It was most certainly an experience but sadly no-one was deposited a baby on their lap, and there were no chickens or livestock on the bus to make it a truly authentic experience.
After a quick lunch it was bartering time around the colourful market of Chichicastenango. I'm a pretty skilled shopper, but always seem to falter when it comes to the negotiations on price. I acquired some earrings easily enough then I think managed to offend the little man I was trying to buy a chicken bus fridge magnet off so had to go back later and buy it from someone else in the shop, for the price he had come down to!
We then headed down to Panajachel, a little tourist town on the shores of Lake Atitlan. Damn those clouds again...we couldn't see any of the three volcanoes surrounding the lake, and then typically got a soaking walking home after dinner!
After a lazy morning wandering round the shops in town, which resulted in half the picture shop coming with us, we got the boat across the (still wet and cloudy) lake to San Pedro la Laguna.
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San Pedro la Laguna was a funny little place - apparently last rainy season the water level in Lake Atitlan rose by 10 metres, but we were still shocked to see submerged shops as we disembarked the little boat on the pier. It's frightening that the same will likely happen again, if not this rainy season then soon after, and the village will disappear up the mountain.
Kayleigh lived with a Mayan family when she learned Spanish in the town so we headed off to meet them for lunch to learn more. The house was much bigger than I had expected, with separate buildings for sleeping, working and clothing, and the kitchen. In the middle of these was a courtyard acting as the dining room alongside the water station. We were shown how to make tortillas (this time a much more complicated method than the squashing onto clingfilm which we were shown on Ometepe) by patting quickly inbetween the fingers. Up stepped Sarah and straight away managed to reproduce perfectly - this was however later proved to be beginner's luck! After wolfing down lunch it was time to try on the local dress. Whilst some of the items were very pretty having been beautifully handmade,they were extremely unflattering. But, when in Rome...so we all joined in, and I ended up looking like a sparkly purple dumpling!
Then the bit we'd all been worrying about arrived...time to head to San Juan la Laguna, the next village a bit higher up the mountain from the lake, to meet our families for the homestay! The 13 of us that travelled out here were split into 6 groups to spend the evening in one of the local homes. Having lunch in another house definitely made us a bit more comfortable with this idea as we had a better idea of what to expect. Sarah and I stayed with Marcus and Juana and their three teenage sons.
Being able to speak Spanish (that's Sarah, not me) definitely made our experience here, as we were able to learn more about their culture and family life over dinner. Hard work for Sarah though as we all know how inquisitive I am, always having another question up my sleeve, so she was busy translating back and forth!
Marcus and Juana were both born and grew up in San Juan la Laguna and explained the rivalry between themselves and the folk down in San Pedro la Laguna. It seems we were up in the posh town - they get their water supply straight from the mountains, all fresh and full of minerals, whilst the other town has to get all of theirs from Lake Atitlan. It seems the folk down the road often look to meet and marry people from San Juan so that they may go up in the world! We also interestingly learned that the eldest son is going to university in Guatemala City in the summer to spend 6 years studying to become an auditor! Given the chat about people being born, living and dying in the same village I wasn't expecting this, and when we asked whether he would then return they indicated this was something yet to be decided. Sounds like we hit a family sore point there!
After helping make the tortillas for dinner (mine started hideously and improved dramatically whilst Sarah's hit a slippery downward slope) and scoff down a lovely meal there wasn't a great deal to do, so we retired to read in our little room. The only complaint I might have (aside from the damn roosters waking up all and sundry) would be my matress, which I think was a small layer of foam padding on a single bed sized piece of plywood! Ouch!
We finally left Antigua for the second time bound for Rio Dulce with fingers crossed we were about to find the sun again. Don't get me wrong, Antigua was a really lovely little place and I really enjoyed it but we spent far too long there and I was starting to go a bit stir crazy in the end, particuarly getting annoyed with the evening downpours!
We got a nicely uneventful private bus to Rio Dulce and the shortest water taxi in the world to our hotel. We literally crossed the river, but given there were 15 of us, with 15 piles of luggage we were rather lower in the water than perhaps is usual and it seemed to take forever. I actually think I could have swum faster, obviously without my bags, and I'm a really shit doggie
The hotel was a funny little place, wooden huts on stilts with wooden raised paths between. Note to self : don't get pissed as I have no interest in finding out what is lurking around those walkways! Somehow Sarah and I scored an en-suite hut, although that's another quite loose description. There was a 6ft partition between the beds and the shower cubicle, and the same on the other side of the door for the toilet. Sitting on the toilet with a shower curtain pulled in front of you was quite bizarre. Not quite as odd however as the curtain across the window being moveable from the outside - thankfully however Janne ran out of puff trying to get it to flap open whilst I was all soaped up in the shower.
Having spent best part of a week now as the only guy with 14 girls Janne was in need of some male bonding. At least once he'd had his hair cut. As the daughter of a hairdresser I was the most qualified in this department and as soon as we were settled by the pool out came the shaver. I thought I'd done a great job until he got his hair wet and there was a nice wiggly line around the back - oh well, he wasn't going to get the mirror out round the back of his head
to inspect so I think I got away with that one nicely.
How excited we all were when Max and Leo arrived at the pool and showed an interest in playing part in the various diving, handstand and general sharking competitions that were going on. We were hoping they would wear Janne out so he was tired and behaved over dinner, and I think their parents were hoping for a similar result for their boys. After two hours of everyone flinging one another around Janne declared he was tired, but we weren't up for rescuing him. I don't think I can appropriately describe how entertaining and relieving it was seeing him butchered by a 5 year old and 3 year old!
Next came my favourite meal of the holiday so far...grilled local Rio Dulce Perch, fished from the very river we were on. Yum, but it was enormous.
We went on a boat trip the next morning, to Livingston which sits on the mouth of the Rio Dulce looking out into the Pacific Ocean. The boat trip along the river itself was gorgeous, lush green forest, high rock cliffs and all so peaceful with the birds soaring around. We could have been anywhere in the world, it reminded me a lot of parts of Thailand I've been to for some reason, and so far removed from the little town we were staying just across from. Livingston itself was a bizarre place - quite a carribean feel to it, and not just because everyone's skin colour and look had changed to much. Right in the middle of the town was a giant well like thing, with 3 crocodiles. When we asked why they were there we got no straight answer, it seems they just were. Seemed rather cruel to me, they could barely move.
On the way back on the boat we stopped at the hot spring, which was a narrow little channel of water between the land and a concrete jetty. Out we all pile thinking we were about to take a dip, but no way was I getting in there. My little toe dipped and came out burning, it was hotter than a hot bath, and there was no cooler 'warm' spot as just round the corner it went back to the cold river. Very strange, it must be the rocks heating it up in some way but we didn't quite get to the bottom of how it works. Oh well, it'll have to be a dip in the pool when we get back to the hotel instead. Another lovely day, so it had to be more fish for tea!
Our next travel day took us on to Flores, a little (and I mean tiny) island in the middle of Lago Petén Itzá, which is just a stop off so we can go to Tikal the following morning before crossing the border to Belize.
Upon arriving we decided to go explore, and it toook a total of 20 minutes to do a rather slow lap around the island. It was so damn hot however that instead of joining Sarah and Emily on a further stroll around the streets of the island I sat with my legs in the pool. The pool itself was strange, I've seen plenty of indoor pools, but not one before that is in both the lobby and restaurant, and isn't actually indoors as there is no roof above it. But it was really cool and just what I needed.
Just as we were suposed to be getting ready for dinner Kaylie came back from a run and decided to go for a swim in the river. We didn't need much encouragement so it wasn't long before 6 or 7 of us were hurling outselves off a small pier and into the lake to cool further. Janne was distraught when he came out ready for dinner and we were all clowning around. 'Oh girrrlllssss!'
I think that it every possible activity on the island complete, so off to dinner before an early night as we are off to learn more about the ancient Mayans at 6am!
Our accommodation for our first stop in Belize, just a few kilometres from San Ignacio, is called Trek Stop. Aside from not being a 'stop' on a 'trek' it does exactly what it says on the tin. Tiny little wooden huts dotted around the grounds each contain two beds, the showers are open air and the toilets of the compost variety. The huts remind me of my grandad's shed - a neat little wooden structure, tin roof, not enough room to swing a cat but fingers crossed nowhere near as many creepy crawlies!
I've definitely stayed in better, but also much worse, so as Vilde the arachnophobe debates moving to a hotel in town I am first in the shower. Pretty strange being dripped on in a concrete coffin whilst being able to see petals dropping out of the blue sky, but I definitely came out smelling better than I went in! Dinner left a lot to be desired, but at least the beer was cheap and tasty. I acquired a stiff leg at Tikal earlier so rather than walk into town with the others to go play on the fairground (they came back terrified from a ferries wheel, rather amusing) I head off to check for bugs and get an early night.
I opt out of either caving or tubing the following day and have a chilled out one reading the California Lonely Planet that arrived with Sarah instead. All turns to drama however when Vilde calls at 2pm to ask whether Liv and Mass have left to meet her for lunch yet. Errm, we saw them get on the bus at 12.05 and given it should have been a 10 minute ride we suspect they have are currently somewhere nearer Belize City on the coast! Kayleigh is excited to see that Vilde has returned to the fold, ready to face the bugs, when she arrives back with the last of the rabble that have been out for the day but that is short-lived when I break the news that we've potentially lost the two youngest group members. We have no idea if they even know where we are staying, name or location, to get back and find it strange that they didn't try to call, email it Facebook given everywhere pretty much has free WiFi.
After a half hour of slight panicking a bus pulls up at the bottom of the path and off they hop giggling. Hmm, that went down like a lead balloon with some (obviously me included) and they got a bit of a lesson in being responsible adults.
Us : 'What did you say to the driver when you got on the bus?'
Them : 'Nothing. It's all one price so we just paid and got on.'
Us : 'So you didn't think to tell him where you were going?'
Them : [blank stares]
Us : 'So he could tell you where to get off?'
Them : 'No...'
Now I know I have never been blessed in the common sense department, but seriously...it's not rocket science! I told them all this 18 year old was going to spell trouble and traumas and they all thought I was mad...
Guess it brightened up my day though, I under-achieved but did book a hotel right next to Disneyland for two weeks time!
We left Trek Stop bright and early to get to Tikal before the crowds and the midday sun. Well there certainly weren't going to be any crowds when we arrived at 7am (!!) and we were most certainly going to be done by midday so I guess that was a resounding success.
I thought I was going to be blown away by Tikal after seeing the much smaller Copan already. But sadly I ended up disappointed. Yes, it was pretty impressive and much larger in every dimension (size of the pyramids and vastness of the area) but very little of it has been excavated (to preserve more I guess, its all hidden under giant hills and mounds) so you don't get to see the whole thing anywhere near like it would have been a couple of thousand years ago. Am I being unrealistic expecting more...probably but that's just me.
I also managed to badly pull/strain every muscle in my right thigh walking up an little hill so that made me a little annoyed and grumpy. I walked around much of the sight trying to flick my leg out to wobble the pain away, but that failed.
The temperature had really picked up and we were sweating away in our little bus as we left Tikal, so how fortunate we were heading to a restaurant for lunch that had a swimming pool, and also was on a lake so we would be able to do some more launching ourselves into the water. Quite amusing then that when we arrived the pool was being repainted, and not the outside, the inside so there wasn't a drop of water in it. I then decided against going in the lake and laughed at the others when they came back grimy and complaining that the lake bed was really rough and painful to walk on.
After nine days in Guatemala it was then on into Belize which promised to be great fun with the beach beckoning.
After two evenings spent rehydrating to cure my dead leg/pulled muscles (from mainly sitting on a bus I think) I went a bit mad on the Cuba Libre's in Caye Caulker. Sarah announced this was the real Rachel, not the non-drinking phony that had been around for the past week, and all seemed suitably amused!
Apparently I got home at 3am, but I have no way of verifying that. So yes, this actually does sound quite typical of me doesn't it!?! What I had forgotten however is that this kind of behaviour should be reserved for Friday nights and not school nights even when on a long holiday! Up bright and early it is on Tuesday morning for a day sailing and snorkelling around the Belizian reef.
Feeling still pretty tipsy I was last to arrive at the dock (Sarah rightfully abandoned me, clearly sensing I was beyond help today!). After a snooze on the way to the first snorkelling spot I was ready for some fish spotting, and I reckon they were happy to see me too, as it wasn't long before I fed them.� No, I wasn't throwing bread or bananas off the side of the boat, last nights dinner made quite a reappearance over the next hour it two!!
Needless to say I didn't see any more fish, just heard the squeals of the others as they spotted manatees, swam with sharks and stroked giant rays.� The all day boat trip was supposed to be one of the highlights of this two week trip, and it seems it lived up to expectations, but it certainly wasn't one of my favourites.� I am reasonably confident I wouldn't have been sick had I stayed on land all day, but I don't think I'm going to get away with calling this seasickness despite the little pill one of the crew gave me stopping me hurling!
My vanity did have I me crawl out onto the side of deck for the last two hours, and as the others downed rum punch from a 20 gallon barrel I laid on the side of the boat sipping my fat coke trying to� soak up some rays.
After dinner as those still standing went out for more drinks I opted for an early night. No repeat performance from me as I figured being similarly unwell at the bottom of the ocean might have more disastrous consequences tomorrow!
Having wasted much of my time in Caye Caulker so far through illness and injury I was determined to acheive on our last day and so Gaby (with hangover, haha!) and I set off to finish off our PADI Open Water certification.
It soon became apparent that this wasn't going to be as much of a hoot as the first half was on Roatan. Firstly Hilary (our female scuba instructor) was not going to be drooled over like Tyler was. And then it looked like she was going to be a right old dragon after realising we still had tests to do and sending us off into a little cupboard to watch the daft dvd. I think Gaby was ready to go home at that point, but I had to do something useful today so she wasn't going anywhere and leaving me.
Two hours later with dvd watched and tests passed we had a quick lunch break before getting in the water. I don't know how I managed it but once again each time I got into the water I did a full backwards roll off the side of the boat instead of delcately plopping in the others did. We had a few more skills to do, my least favourite was definitely taking off my mask and swimming eyes closed (I can't risk losing my solitary contact lens in the ocean) for 50 metres. Weird, but I am a master at clearing my mask so all good when I put it back on.
It wasn't long into the first dive that all became worthwhile - shark spotted at 2 o'clock. My initial reaction was to scream, but that clearly isn't an option at 70 feet below sea level, so instead I just stared in awe. This went some way to making up for my missing all the sharks yesterday! A little while later we saw and enormous turtle glide on by, but I was most fascinated and amused by the tiny little fish that decided to have a poo right in front of me. I chuckled as it dispersed in the water around it, much like my vomit did around me yesterday!
On our second and final dive, which resulted in us earning the Open Water quslification, we spotted another little turtle hovering round on the top of the coral. We were about 5 metres away and he was totally oblivious to our arrival, chilling out. I thought he was also having a poo but when I got up to the top the others said I just had a bit of a poo obsession today!
A successful day, pat on the back for both Gaby and I then off to the split to meet the others for our required celebratory Strawberry Daiquiri. As soon as I get home I will now be looking into another destination for later in the year so that I can dive again before I forget what to do...oh, any excuse for another holiday!
What a shock to the system it was arriving in Playa del Carmen having spent the past month taking in the local cultures. Yes we visited a couple of beach resorts along the way but they were totally different to this enormous Americanised Mexican resort we were in now.
I initially decided I didn't like it, but then the sun came out and I pretty much lazed on the beach solidly for four days so I soon changed my mind as the tan went up a couple of notches. Then the final official night of the group tour arrived, and what better way to celebrate than at Coco Bongo's...
It claims to be the Greatest Club on Earth, so I really don't know what I was expecting. Before the dancing there is a 'show' so I guess I thought there was going to be some bizarre cabaret act, but it really was spectacular. Essentially it was a music and musical theatre tribute show with dancers and acrobats flying around the stage, bar and air. These included Meat Loaf, Chicago, Moulin Rough, Queen, Beyonce, Michael Jackson, Elvis...and the list goes on and on. We danced to them all, as we made maximum benefit from the open bar. When we weren't drinking from the bar we were dancing on it...it took the staff 3 attempts to get me up there but once I was up, there was no getting me down! After the show finished we had another hour or two of dancing before heading off in search of chips! Strangely enough most of Playa was deserted at 4.30 am but we did manage to spot a crowd down the street outside a pizza bar.
I had the sense to go to bed at 5am, leaving the others sat around the pool moaning that they weren't allowed to swim, but mainly because I knew I had a cheese sandwich in the fridge that I could demolish quickly before bed. This worked wonders as I was then up, bright eyed and bushy tailed, in the sun at 9am whilst the others were still in bed, comatose by their hangovers. By 10.30am a bottle of champagne had been cracked open in celebrations of Janne's 40th birthday...like anyone needed topping back up...and he then proceeded to down two more beers with lunchtime to end up pissed again.
After lunch Sarah and I checked into our new hotel, a vast improvement on almost everything I've stayed in over the last two months. Straight back to the beach with the others but it wasn't long before rain interupted play!! I'd just applied my new carrot tanning lotion (before anyone else starts preaching skin cancer at me it wasn't oil, it was cream, and it was a reasonble factor, nothing single digit as that'd be crazy even for me) when the wind got up covering me in sand. As the heavens opened for the quick downpour the sand became the stickiest thing in the world flying around turning me into a sand monster! Back to the hotel for a quick rinse, avoiding the damn cockroach that was laying on its back by the shower, and then back out to the pool to not miss any sun. I was already in a panic that there was going to be no sun during my time in the US and Canada and so every minute counts in Mexico!
We had a couple more dinners with the group as those departing on a further two week tour of Mexico didn't leave for another day and their new group was a bit more random (we thought the trips were 18 to 30 something so no-one could work out how the 55 year old woman got in, never mind the 60+ year old man) so they wanted to still eat with us. Eventually it was time to say goodbye, quite weird after I'd spent a whole month with most of them and had a lot of fun getting to know each of them. Hopefully I'll see some again at some point though.
Almost time for me to be back out in the big wide world on my own, and I was starting to get excited!
Whilst I might, apparently, already be black there was no way I was missing out on my last hour of hot sun on the beach before heading off to Cancun airport. And I'm glad I made the most of my lazy peaceful relaxing morning (there were even some hotties on the beach...god knows where they'd been all weekend) followed by a lovely last lunch with Sarah as it turned into another one of those painful travel days.
The airport bus didn't turn up at 2.30pm, and after asking four different his station peeps over the next half hour we learned the bus had technical issues, but should be good by 4.00pm. Think we'll just get the 3.00pm thanks! For my dad's benefit/amusement/stress I shall note here that Sarah's flight is 5.55pm and mine 6.10pm, and its an hour ride from Playa del Carmen. So yes, we are cutting it fine and won't be there an hour before checkin opening three hours before departure...god forbid...as that would have put us on the 1.00pm bus.
The bus drops us at terminal 2 just as the 'every 20 mins' shuttle departs for terminal 3 so we endure a 10 minute march with our backpacks in 30 degree sun to save some time. Thank god all my Central American shopping is now in Sarah's backpack!
The terminal is deserted and Sarah glides to the front of the American Airlines checkin queue as I go in search of United...now that's where all the people are...fan-flippin-tastic. She leaves me cursing the United States, their shit airlines and all Americans and I start to wonder what possessed me to book the next four and a half weeks in the US. Eventually I am checked-in and have just one final problem as the bag scanner machine rollers eat one of my Bose headphones...but I persuade the Mexicans to get down on hands and knees and root in and under the machine and all end up happy. To celebrate I toddle off and order Dominos pizza (as United seem to be an Easyjet wannabe and won't be feeding or watering me in the next five hours!) before tracking down Sarah for a goodbye hug.
I did chuckle as I boarded the plane, all the fatties lined up in first class in the wide seats, and three of me could have sat in my seat without adjusting the belt! The most exciting part of the flight was going to the toilet and realising I could put the loo roll in thr bowl and flush - something I have not done since February 16th!! How jolly exciting!! The laughing stopped when the funny looking toddler across the aisle started screaming and mum and dad just sat ignoring it (I didn't work out whether it was a little boy or girl, but it was freakishly tall). The woman next to me offered her iPad as entertainment buy that even that didn't work. I arrived in LA defended by the loudest music I could find on my iPod.
After sailing through immigration I joined the 'Agricultural immigration' queue...and I almost wet myself laughing. Whilst I omitted to declare I had been on a farm and close proximity to livestock this went considerably more unnoticed that the omissions of the little Filipino's that had also just landed. There were about 40 of them in line each with multiple suitcases and giant cardboard boxes and every one of them was clearly carrying something they shouldn't be. One little man and his wife were confused when asked if they had a mango in their bag...very blank confused faces...then the security dude pulled out mango after mango. Apparently the mango fine is $300 a piece and as he correctly pointed out they had quite a few in that bag, never mind the others. Thank god I ate my banana on the plane this time! I saw one guy unwrap some sausages before I was sadly waved on through therefore missing out on witnessing any further discoveries. I reckon there were a good few more stashes of nautiness to be revealed!
My shuttle finally arrived after an hour to take me to my hotel...the cheapest within a 3 like radius of the airport so I wasn't expecting much. I amused one of the other regular shuttle drivers as he stopped and said 'Hi, still here?' three times then informed my van driver that I had waited longer than anyone else in history when his arrival coincided with his stop. And straight to bed so I'm ready to plot my escape to San Diego early in the morning!
I'm not really sure what I am expecting from San Diego, but after an 'interesting' experience at Union Station in Los Angeles (three nut jobs decided to talk to me) I figured it couldn't be any weirder. I enjoyed my journey on the Amtrak Surfliner, the double decker element definitely added to the novelty, but it was just a shame that all was overcast so I didn't get the awesome views I was hoping for of both the mountains and the Pacific Ocean as we cruised down the coast.
Arriving in San Diego all felt a bit strange, I think I walked through the financial area on the way to the Gaslamp quarter where my hostel was, but there was hardly a soul on the street. But have no fear, the hostel soon gave off a friendly and fun vibe, but back to that later. First job was to do a spot of shopping! Having struggled to find computers to use throughout Central America I decided I was going to buy a cheap little laptop, and the lack of English language books meant I needed a Kindle too. Both are to go through the 'Rachel's travel budget' (not that I have any idea what that is anymore) rather than 'Rachel's luxuries budget' as fully justifiable expenses. Yes, I am fully aware I am now in the US of A and thus these problems no longer exist but when I make my mind up about something that is it! I got hideously lost on the way to 'Best Buy' but all was worth it, everything is cheap as chips. (If anyone wants to request any cheap electrical items get in quick before my little bro stuffs my rucksack full!).
You hostel exoerience can often be entirely made by your roommates so it's always fingers crossed upon arrival hoping you get some good ones and not a bunch of stiffs. To increase my chances of having fun I've taken to always booking into mixed dorms rather than female only. On this particular occasion however I was looking forward to setting up my new electrical appliances but when the three guys in the dorm (one Brit and two Aussies) suggested they were joining others for $2 taco's I had no choice but to follow. I ended up being the only girl out (I'm excluding the guide from the hostel who was female, so this proves my point on having more fun in mixed dorms) but stupidly set about keeping up with the boys. Now either American beer is piss weak, or I've turned into a British beer-swigging hooligan, cos after 6 pints (!) I was still standing and tearing around the pool table causing havoc. Cocky young Aussie decides to take on the two Brits (his Aussie mate had gone awol) but after my comrade decides chatting to two girls at the bar is more fun I'm on my own. Now you'd think he'd give up when I beat him in each of the first two games...or maybe after the third...but in the end I made him call it a day at 5-0 as it was quite frankly getting boring! Not entirely sure what time we headed home, but thatnfully it was literally across the street.
Obviously I overslept the following morning so the zoo was put on hold and instead I went to do a spot more shopping...my hiking shoes seem to have shrunk after getting so soggy in the Amazon and killed my feet through Central America so needed replacing with some sneakers. I asked one shop assistant where I could buy trainers and she looked at me as if I was from the moon! I was also after a dress as that's one thing I've really missed, but ended up with some shorts and a sparkly top instead. Avoiding the shoe shops was difficult, so I might be treating myself when I get to either Seattle or Vancouver, as its almost become a tradition to purchase a new pair of heels whilst on vacation (I'm trying to speak the lingo here now!). You can guess what happened that evening...except that we upgraded to Stella (one thing I NEVER thought I'd ever drink) so I only managed 3 pints before declaring it bed time!
Woohoo...finally big kid time has arrived! To blow away the cobwebs I decided to walk to Balboa Park and try and find The World Famous San Diego Zoo...sounds easy but the place is enormous so it took a while. But it was worth it! After a big fat sandwich (hold the pickles!) its time to join the line for the guided bus tour - the perfect way to orient myself in the zoo. The bus takes you around 70% of the zoo and gives a good idea of what is where and distances between, at over 120 acres I've got a lot more walking to do. Which means I can also stuff my face full of fast food and still be calorie negative today - bonus!
Highlight number one, Mr Polar Bear chasing a duck through the water. Very amusing to watch, and I'll come back to these guys later! Most folk on the bus were Americans, and obviously have never left the country. I felt like a bit like a spoilt brat when we got to things like the zebra, giraffes, lion and elephants I've seen wandering their real natural habit in Africa so I just observed whilst the crazy folk squealed!
After the bus tour I took myself on a little trip round Africa again before heading on up to the Arctic. Whilst I am aware that penguins and polar bears do not get along and therefore literally do live on opposite ends of the world, I was still baffled that there weren't any penguins in the zoo. Then I spotted carrots in the polar bear enclosure, how strange, which seemed bizarre as a recreation of the animal's natural habitat. Since when have polar bears being farming carrots on the ice caps? I soon got over that one and settled down to watch the polar bear porn show! Sounds so wrong, but it was fascinating watching Mr Polar Bear trying to launch himself at Mrs Polar Bear whilst she just frolicked around teasing him. Apparently they'd been mating for the past 5 days but I don't see how anyone can be expecting the pitter patter of polar bear feet anytime soon as it wasn't quite XXX rated!
Feeding time at the zoo caused problems when it came to visiting the panda's - I was desperate to see them after spending a good ten minutes watching the red panda whizz round and round his enclosure but it seems they didn't want to see me! It seems thave a habit of eating their bamboo facing the wall turning their back on all visitors. Now I found that quite rude, but couldn't really do much about it, just get the best shot I could and be done with it. They weren't the only disaapointment however...I had just about managed to walk every single trail in the park, aside from the Tiger Trail and the Big Cat Trail. My postman problem algorithm had clearly failed me as these two were about as far apart on the map as you could get. Waste of time then darting around to see them however as all but the snow leopard were asleep and hiding out in their caves!
i think I've overwritten this blog...so shall sign off promptly...I was too tired to do anything that evening having walked miles to and around the zoo, and as my partners in crime had left for pastures new already I couldn't be bothered making new friends!
OMG, where do I begin?! When I initially decided that I was going to spend some time in and around Los Angeles some people suggested that mightn't be so much fun, but boy were they wrong! I had even looked into changing my flight out of Mexico so I could stay in the sun for a few more days, but I'm glad I didn't.
I fear this is going to be a long one...so you might want to put the kettle on and get some choccy biccies folks...!
After the fun of San Diego I was sad to leave but tramped off to get the Amtrak Pacific Surfliner back up the coast (the sun was shining so the view was indeed a damn sight better than on the way down) and checked into a hostel in Hollywood, just a stones throw from both Hollywood Boulevard and Sunset Boulevard. I had a wander along the walk of fame but couldn't come up with any favourite movie stars, or singers or the like so failed to get any good pictures. I definitely was in Big Kid mode as I had a good chuckle at the Rugrats star - no idea now why me and my bro were quite obsessed with them when we were younger! The Kodak Theatre and the Chinese Theatre were all a bit surreal, guess I'd only seen them before when all red carpeted for the Oscars and they weren't quite as I imagined. All pretty crazy along there though! As I was planning on heading to Univeral Studios Hollywood for my first full day I decided against being sociable on Friday night and had an early night.
We went to Universal Studios in Orlando a few times when I was a teenager and our favourite rides - E.T. and Back to The Future - were gone but had thankfully been suitably replaced. The Studio Tour was up first and turned out surprisingly interesting. It takes you around a lot full of studios where everything is filmed inside and also to all the external sets (many of these have been used multiple times yet you'd never notice as they were so different), before battering you in a simulated earthquake (which I remember having hated last time) and then terrifying you (ok, maybe just me) by the largest 3D experience that is King Kong. I'd arrived at the park a little after opening at 9am and ended up leaving at almost 7pm - quite a days work for a traveller! In this time I managed to ride every ride in the park except for the House of Horrors as (I wasn't feeling brave enough on my own), The Adventures of Curious George (which was sadly a fun park for the little folk only and I'm a couple of feet too tall) and the new Terminator 2 (due to be officially opened on May 25th but everyone else in the park seemed to have an Annual Pass which allowed them a preview - and it later transpired everyone else from my hostel that went on a weekday also got to ride, so a bit pissed at that now). The Revenge of The Mummy broke down when I was at the front of the line - after a half hour wait they handed out pretzels to lift the spirits of those that had been waiting longest and apparently about to starve to death - but that didn't deter me from riding four times! My favourite however was probably Shrek 3D because it had me in a right giggle fit as the 3D experience follows him, Fiona and Donkey after the end of the final film as they get themselves in a pickle and have to escape from crazy dragons and ghosts. Sounds daft, but I love Shrek!
This is quite unheard of at home, but I didn't go out on saturday evening either meaning a whole weekend without drinking! This turned out to be very sensible preparation for a trip to Six Flags Magic Mountain. Whilst my soon to be new friends were getting battered in the bar, I was in bed researching the rollercoasters on my shiny new laptop. I then barely slept through a combination of excitement and terror (and actually also the Korean eejit in the bunk below me appeared to have had ants in his bed) having realised this was no ordinary theme park. The hostel runs their shuttle to the park each week which was great as I'm not sure how many of the rollercoasters I would have actually ended up getting on without the others. Our group of eight was comprised of me, three Aussie guys, two Scottish girls, one English guy and a Korean chap who didn't speak a word of English so was called Superman for the day as he always had his hands up in the air at the start of a ride. The rides at Six Flags are categorised by various thrill seeking categories, and obviuosly we started at the top. Standing in line for Tatsu - the world's tallest, fastest and longest flying coaster - was not a pleasant experience as the cooling water spray system rigged up around the queuing area was more like a downpour, made worse by the ride having 'technical issues' for around 15 minutes. Had I seen the track before we got to the top I'm not sure I would have stayed in line, but heart pounding I took my seat and held my breath. At least I was hangover free, unlike the others! The people before us came off looking quite green and suggested it was not fun, but all eight of us got back buzzing - I really can't explain it to do it justive but it was the craziest ride I have ever been on, and if I didn't get on another ride all day I would still have gone home claiming I'd had an amazing day! Obviously we did ride more and the day did go down as legendary. I don't think my internal organs are where they should be anymore but hopefully they'll sort themselves out once I'm back to being a grown up. The only downer on the day was that we missed out on X2 due to a series of technical issues, apparently the scariest ride in the park somersaulting you strangely whilst harnessed in seats either side of the crazy track, so I will be revisiting in the future (before I get too old and scared) to make sure I complete the set of high thrills in the park.
A fantastic day was had by all, so it was a bit of a shame that we ruined it by watching the worst possible comedy show back at the hostel that evening. Last time I went to watch comedy the MC was hilarious and it was almost a shame that the comedians took to the stage too. This was certainly not the case here! There were so many awkward silences it was hideously embarassing, and he really struggled to get even a smirk out of anyone. I think I have a strange sense of humour as I never seem to laugh at the same bits as everyone else, but on this occasion I was with the crowd and we had to conclude the comedy elements were lost in translation. American English is getting further away from our English everyday. The best bit of the evening was the nap I had, waking up just as it was over and time for bed. It was so bad, it was actually funny. The predicament being the funny part, definitely not the comedy.
I had a few days to kill before Big Kid Week was due to resume down in Disneyland so still sulking from missing out on Coldplay at the Hollywood Bowl ($250 was a bit toppy for one ticket even for me!) I decided to buy tickets for Death Cab For Cutie at the Walt Disnehy Concert Hall (a crazy metal outer structure building home to the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra). This wasn't til 8pm however so what else to do in Hollywood but go star spotting. Michelle (one of my new rollercoaster chums) and I decided to do a tour of the Hollywood Movie Homes but whilst headed to get a tea latte (incredible!) we spotted a commotion all along Hollywood Blvd centering around the Chinese Theatre. It only turns out that Johnny Depp is in town for his latest movie premiere! I might never have been to a London premiere in Leicester Square, just a stone's throw from the office, but there was no way we were missing this one! Now I love a good tour, and being fed loads of juicy details on the stars, but ever the cynic I wasn't convinced these houses were inhabited, never mind by the likes of Brad Pitt, Christina Aguilera, Arnold Schwarzeneggar, etc etc. All good fun anyway. Disappointingly we didn't spot anyone famous, but I did pick out my new house ready for when Ryan Gosling comes to sweep me off my feet!
The evening did however just get better and better...I managed to fluke us into a spot about 15 metres from where the cars were dropping people off for the red carpet meaning Michelle, Fin and I were amongst the first to catch a glimpse of the arrivees...we got a great view of Michelle Pfeiffer, Johnny Lee Miller (yum) and Johnny Depp (yum again). The gig at the Walt Disney Concert Hall was strange, but phenomenal. Never before have I been to see a band where everyone is silent whilst they play and then claps at the end of a song! I was actually pretty speechless watching in awe as the orchestra kept perfect time with the guys in the band, and making the most amazing noise thanks to the acoustics of the venue. Taking photos in the concert hall is strictly forbidden, so as you'd expect I have quite a few! OJ - they might have been awesome at Brixton Academy but this definitely beats it and is going down as the best gig I've been to as it was just so unique - how many times am I going to tell you that you should have come to LA with me!?!
My fingers are getting tired...but I'm not done yet...
I've missed the sun. Oh, I've missed the sun quite a lot actually...(tan is fading :( )...so imagine my excitement as we decided it was time to visit Venice Beach and Santa Monica Beach. The sun was shining and I was a happy girl. Then all starts going wrong. Shuttle bus is full. If Michelle hadn't spurned hostel guys advances last night he might have let us on so we moan about that. So 2 hour public bus it is, although this got unneccesarily longer when bus driver #1 decided not to give us more than two seconds to board and pulled away leaving us bemused and angry on the sidewalk. We eventually get there and there is no sun. Now I'm fuming. Not just cos there is no sun, but because it is bloody freezing and I haven't brought anything else to wear! Oh well, guess we'd best stay inside and drink cocktails all afternoon! Or maybe just for 3 hours as we need to walk to the other beach to get the bus hone. On the way we played a hilarious drunken version of volleyball with an American Football, had a competition on the swings, and then ran around a traffic cone ten times before trying to run in a straight line to a post - the sand made this particular drunken game a lot safer than it was on concrete at university!!
We eventually got back to Hollywood after a hideously long bus journey and made a quite detour to Joe's Pizza before getting ready for Ed Sheeran and Snow Patrol. Another awesome gig, although we were a little confused that we were the only people in the Palladium that knew every single word to either(/both) Run and Chasing Cars and also annoyed they didn't play two other faves, and we toddled off (tipsy despite the $15 beers!) back to the hostel. Just like leaving a gig at home, the venue is surrounded by dodgy hot dog sellers and they actually smelled so good we had one each. Now you would think that meant I'd had enough food for the evening...but on another lap back from the pub back to the hostel to collect some stragglers we swung by Joe's Pizza for a second time...and at 2.30 am (apparently the time) when we left the bar for the final time we swung back past! What I couldn't really work out at all in the morning was how I was so damn hungover when I'd had a hot dog and three giant slices of pizza in the preceding 12 hours!! So what was the first thing I did the following morning?? Farewell lunch = giant American cheeseburger!! FATTY!!
I had more fun in such a short space of time in Hollywood than I have anywhere else on my trip so I'm happy I chose to spend time there rather than being vain and staying in the sun to turn myself an even more ridiculous shade of chocolate. I laughed so hard a cried at least once a day and met some great people that I was very sad to leave and hope to see again.
Next stop, DISNEY!! I was planning to go alone to Disneyland, and make the most of having a room all to myself which I could run around naked in if I so desired, but got hijacked by an Aussie who was part of the group Hollywood. It sounded like a great plan as he'd pay half the room rate (there were two beds, and I don't need to confirm that both were used when you read on...) but oh my god did he do my head in! I ask a lot of questions and am always getting told to shut up, but I am not a patch on him!! I don't mind if questions are part of a conversation, but it was like being on the firing line. He did not stop all day, and when my answers (or lack thereof) clearly indicated my boredom he kept asking if I was ok, and that really does my nut in as I'm unlikely to explain exactly what is wrong, am I!! 'What's your favourite food?'. 'Do you have any hobbies?'. 'Who's your best friend?' followed by 'You must have one. Ok, so if you found out you were pregnant or dying who would you tell first, apart from your family?'. Seriously, what the f*?? All made sense when he told me over dinner that it was his therapists suggestion he go on a trip - clearly he needed a break from the guy so had tried, and succeeded, to palm him off onto the unsuspecting world for a bit!! He reckoned he was 'Trying to get to know me' but after his 'What is your type?' question I think I described a guy so different from him in every single way he eventually realised that were he to try anything he would get the biggest punch and slap of his life. Oh well, we live and learn, I'm still $50 better off for the trauma.
Hijacker annoyances aside, I had great fun at Disneyland. Sadly the line to have photos with Mickey and Minnie closed as I got there but I did manage a good wave at them (they didn't see but never mind) and I saw Goofy a few times. We managed every single adult ride, and about 70% of the kiddie ones (which I actually probably wouldn't have tried to go on alone for fear of looking absolutely ridiculous), and I had a daft grin on my face all day (at least when I wasn't being questioned). Many of the rides were EXACTLY as I remembered from my last visit to Disneyworld when I was 16 years old, but there were a couple of good new ones too. The castle seemed to have shrunk though and everything did feel just that little bit smaller - haven't quite worked out how to explain that one yet as Icertainly haven't grown in the last 16 years! I don't think I'm too old for Disney, however I think it would be even more fun with some little people, so I might have to kidnap some before returning. Watching the parade at the end of the day a young girl was jumping around like a nutter and so excitedly and sincerely answered her dad's 'Did you see Tinkerbell?' with 'Yes, and did you know she can REALLY fly!'. I have a pretty good imagination, but wish I still believed that too.
This was by far the single most expensive day of my trip, actually my week's spend likely surpassed any previous month's spend, so it's now on back up to LAX to behave and prepare to meet a new tour group who I'm abo ut to camp all the way up to Seattle with.
After an awesome week or so by myself it was back to group travel. This one started rather weirdly. First, the tour starts at 7.30am! Now I'm used to getting up for early starts but how can meeting your new travelling companions at this ungodly hour when most are still half asleep be a good start?!? Well it wasn't, at all!
The tour leader (Allison) barely introduced herself, never mind getting us to introduce ourselves to one another, before we set off in the van, after completing the basic required paperwork in silence. The group was a complete disappointment too, a total of just eight people! Six girls, two guys. Six Brits, one German, one Korean. Four aged 21 and under. Hmm. Was this such a good idea, or should I have gone solo all the way up the Pacific Coast too? Let's see...
The bus can carry 15 passengers, but as there are only eight of us (sat one behind the other along the windows) there was next to no chatter. As I'm not very good with silence I started jabbering on, coming up with loads of random questions trying to get the conversation started. Not a blinding success, but there will be plenty more time to battle on with that one. After a quick tour of Hollywood (given I'd spent a few days here already I actually had more random facts to share than Allison) we had an hour to waste before heading off on the road. Perfect - shopping time! As my hangover had caused me to fail on the shopping front on this very street three days earlier I headed straight for Zara and stocked up on jumpers! From here on in it's going to get colder and colder. and having sent a box of stuff home from Anaheim there is loads of space in my rucksack to be filled.
Over the first two days of the trip we drive up the coast from Los Angeles, along the Big Sur to Monterey and nothing improves on the conversation front. The trip also feels a bit on the weird side as we don't really DO anything on either day. After an early start (I am loving my 6.30am alarm!) we have a variety of short stops for restroom visits, grocery shopping, photo opps and lunch. When we reach the towns that are on the itinerary we hop out, grab a map and are left to our own devices for an hour or two. Allison is feeling a lot more like a chauffeur than a tour leader and given she is on her own (no driver or chef like my African camping adventure) she has errands to run and a van and trailer full of stuff to guard.
At lunch on the first day I learn that the British guy is 'not a criminal, but I do have a criminal record' - I'm still kicking myself for not asking what it is actually for! We are also put into groups to do the food shopping for particular meals that we are then to prepare and cook. I might not have my usual tools, but reckon I can't go too far wrong on this one - indeed the first 'posh sandwich lunch' goes down a treat. Then it comes to tent mate selection and I somehow end up with the Korean, who barely speaks any English...oh well, guess I'll at least get some sleep.
Turns out its actually a bit too cold to get much sleep, so after the first night of camping its straight to Walmart where I acquire pyjama bottoms, leggins and a fleece blanket - success, I sleep like a baby on night two!
The coastline is beautiful, but only sporadic appearances of the sun kind of ruin that a bit. Finally, after a very slow start to the trip, we arrive in Yosemite National Park and all is starting to look up...
We head inland toward Yosemite National Park and the landscape soon starts to change quite dramatically. First stop is lunch just inside the park and then a short hike (not quite sure I would normally call a stroll along a tarmac path a hike, but I'm getting used to American oddities) around some giant trees. They are all so tall, and so straight - strangely fascinating!
Then we head on down into Yosemite Valley, check out a waterfall (I'm pretty much done with waterfalls after so many on my trip, so not all that excited - spoilt brat), and decide what me might want to do the following day.
Woohoo - a day where we actually do something, and start to bond in the process, has arrived! Obviously I have taken control at this point as no-one else seems capable of taking a decision or having an opinion. I expertly read the map to get us first to Mirror Lake as the sun is coming up over the surrounding mountains, and then to Vernal Waterfall. The idea was that we hike round and over the waterfall and come down a different way, but we hadn't bargained on it giving off so much spray. Thank god it was actually sunny, else we never would have dried after getting soaked! Half way up we had to abandon the idea though as it was getting ridiculous, just as a herd of American teenagers came flying up in their industrial ponchos.
After lunch we set off to Tiago Pass, which runs over the highest point of the park, and are astonished at the difference in landscape and also the fact that it is still covered in snow!! This pass is closed for 9 months of the year as it is 30 feet under snow and takes some time to be cleared - lucky for us it opened a little over a week ago. It is stunning up there and the view is superb as we climb 800ft to the top of Lembert Dome. Tired and hungry we return to camp and me and my team expertly whip up chicken fajitas - a great end to the day, even if I do say so myself!
Only downer is that we failed to spot any black bears, despite dropping food to try and encourage them to pay us a visit overnight :(
We are all actually a bit sad to leave Yosemite as we could happily have hiked a few more trails and explored so much more of the park. The RV trailer park also had a good few other campers in it, half of whom ran around topless playing frisbee, so there were added bonuses too!
It was however exciting to think we were about to check into a hotel for two nights and so were spared pitching tents again. As we approach San Francisco however it appears it is surrounded by fog, and when we drive over the Oakland Bridge into the city we can't see a great deal. After a quick tour around we head to the Golden Gate Bridge, but I soon opt out of walking across on weather grounds, and instead ride in the nice warm bus. After making a sandwich in the parking lot my fingers are like icicles so no point making me unneccessarily grumpy by getting colder!
Next stop, the Good Hotel. Except that the receptionist is no good. Totally incompetent I think I had concluded by the end of the day. First he takes a half hour to check us in, then he changes our rooms which results in one room getting another random check in to it too, and then every single one of us has to have our keys reset when he totally screwed everything up when we were at dinner. When I got my key reset I enquired why this had happened to all of us, and when he dared suggest we had all had our keys too close to our credit cards I let loose and gave him a piece of my mind. The following evening when the same happened again I didn't even have to speak, he got the idea and fixed the keys without having to ask what number my room was. Just a shame there was no comment card in the room as he was going to get a good one!
In the evening we went on a sunset cruise (minus the sun) around the bay on a catamaran. Thankfully it had a sheltered area, and even better it had included beer and nibbles. I did venture out into the open once, but soon retreated to the warmth below. After this we went to Bubba Gump's for dinner, and I failed miserably on my Forrest Gump knowledge - all I remember is 'Life is like a box of chocolates...' and I think that results from my sweet tooth rather than memory! A complete overpriced tourist trap, but fun all the same. In such a vibrant city most would expect to go out boozing, but this isn't that kind of group so back to the hotel to rest up for the fun ahead tomorrow. A bizarre friendship had however emerged this evening and two of the group (19 year-old girl from Jersey, and the 37 year old ex-con) and they head off alone in a taxi. Quite bizarre, them being from such different walks of life you can't imagine what they might have to talk about, but thankfully all is innocent if quite odd.
We were left to our own devices the following day, so put together a sightseeing plan, which was going to be supplemented with shopping. First stop, Alcatraz. Actually far more interesting than I thought it was going to be, and the sun even popped out to say hello! When you arrive by boat on the island a National Park Ranger gives a quick introduction to what there is to see and do, and it was at this point he introduced all to Deidre Capone - great-niece of the mobster Al Capone. Deluded I think is the best word to describe her. Despite telling us that Al Capone made and sold his own alcohol, fiddled his books (he was only sent down for tax evasion), and was into prostitution she suggested him a model citizen and should never have been inprisoned in hell with all those evil people. Hmm, we weren't fooled. But it was all amusing to hear in any case.
After Alcatraz we headed up to the Coit Tower for a view over the city - hadn't however banked on their being so many damn trees around it ruining our view, and then to Lombard Street. Lombard Street is famous for being the world's crookedest street - the Americans thought they'd had a genius idea when they decided to make it a slalom rather than straight downhill road, it apparently being too steep! Idiots! It does however look very pretty having been landscaped in recent years. Not entirely sure why we decided to walk the length of the road from the top of the Coit Tower - perched on top of Telegraph Hill - down the hill and back right up again, but we made it. Then I got shouted at by the cable car (tram) man when I tried to board without paying. I wasn't taking any chances after our previous attempt at boarding one failed miserably when it rode straight on past us at the stop!
That was pretty much the sights done, so time to explore the centre of town - shopping! Westfield, I love you! Three of us embarked on quite a successful little mission, and I now have some jeans, socks and jumpers to keep me warm in the near arctic environment I'm now camping in. This shopping trip will most definitely be supplemented in Seattle as I saw so many other things crying out to be tried on! I'm allowed, its sooo much cheaper than home here, and I just won't do any shopping at home over summer. See, all perfectly justified!
Ok, so the youngest member of the group gets more bizarre!
Before leaving San Francisco the others were chatting about her potentially leaving - apparently she needed to complete some police checks before being given a job to work at Wimbledon! She has always dreamed of working at Wimbledon and can't bear to miss the opportunity!
I had wondered why she had been on the phone to Daddy every single day, but it seems he coughed up the cash required to fly her back to the UK to sort it out. OMG! How exactly does that teach her anything, and certainly not the value of money! What is the point in working for two weeks when the earnings are not likely to be in excess of the last minute plane fare from San Francisco to London. Apparently she will rejoin the group in Seattle for the next two weeks back down to Los Angeles, but I will have jumped ship by then thank god.
So the rest of us set off up the coast, with Mr Ex-con pining away for his little friend. As before the drive is stunning, and the sun makes everything look so lovely and shiny. But the road is pretty windy and hilly and sat at the back of the van I end up feeling quite travel sick. Thankfully nothing like the fateful day in Caye Caulker, but I do end up feeling quite sorry for myself and spend much of the day trying to rehydrate and sit still whilst the others are qandering the quaint little towns. After a nice typical English cup of tea all is well and I'm ready to set up camp again.
Our final stop in California was in the north near the Redwoods National Park. After a long drive from San Francisco we pitched up in a rather deserted camping field. With no neighbours, trees or clouds in the sky we were quite alone and exposed and as a result bloody freezing!! It got down to 8 degrees overnight and I was glad to have gone to bed wearing leggings, joggy bums, a vest top, long sleeved top, hoody (hood up), scarf and walking socks. Oh, and fleece blanket wrapped around like a mummy before my sleeping bag. Glad because this meant I didn't get frostbite, I was by no means warm!
In the morning we had a lie in, getting off at just 8am for the Tall Trees Trail looping down into a valley. It was still pretty damn cold so I once again recycled an outfit (doesn't matter at all anymore that my hiking clothes are also ky nightmare - survival is all that matters out in the wild). I was zapped of all energy after a bad nights sleep so struggled getting back up the valley (it was a 600ft drop we'd done) and decided I needed a rest after lunch. I was so excited about my tuna sandwich for lunch, but tiredness ruined that too as it turned out I'd forgotten both the tin opener and penknife. Cheese and ham again then!
My 'rest' after lunch turned into a full afternoon nap - whilst the others went out on a coastal hike I got a good 4 hours sleep! Turned out to be the right decision too as it transpired the others got immediately lost, and spent two hours clambering on all fours over rocks trying to find the trail back! I did however miss out on Ben & Jerry's ice cream, but then I hadn't actually earned it anyway!
We passed briefly through the state of Oregon between California and Washington, camping one night in the Jessie M Honeyman State Park.
My turn to sit in the front of the van to get a better view of the scenery (whilst we do have ample space given the small group size, the windows in the van are badly positioned so unless you are right up front you generally see bugger all!). Did I enjoy the end of the California coastline and then that of Oregon? Nope, I kept nodding off. Literally every time we got back in the van after any kind of stop I was zonked out again. Even on one of the breaks, in the middle of the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area, I made use of a bench on a platform amongst the dunes for a proper nap. (I've decided its the excessive quantity of carbs we are eating and so plan of being and annoying eater for the remainder of the trip to fix this.)
Then it was off for some much needed fun, dune buggies!! The sand dunes are enormous, way bigger than I had ever imagined. Thank god the ones we clambered around on geography field trips in Formby were miniscule in comparison, I'm not sure I'd have ever made it from shore to firm land!
The group split in half, and I opted for the 30 minute dune buggy trip to save a little more cash for the forthcoming shopping trip in Seattle. Together with 4 randoms three of us hopped in the back of the dune buggy, apparently we were expected to be the loudest screamers! Well we disappointed the driver on that front. I forgot to ask him how fast we were flying over and around the dunes, but it felt like we were travelling at some speed. He basically threw us around the dunes for half an hour, up and down and breakneck speeds trying to cover us in sand whilst avoiding the bikes, quads, and other dune buggies on the sand. It was a lot of fun, but not particularly scary after my trip to Six Flags in Los Angeles. I reckon it would actually be a lot more fun being driver, but there was no way he was going to let anyone else near the controls after strapping us in soi tight we could barely breathe!
Back to camp where it was my group's turn to cook dinner - as last nights chef's had prepared chilli we were instructed to use up the left overs by cooking chilli cheese dogs. Obviously I had to stamp this by adapting appropriately, so we had proper meaty sausages rather than those damn slimy frankfurter things and they were yum. Hardly nutritious or healthy but tasty and when you are freezing in a wood that;'s all that matters!
It rained throughout the night but thankfully our tent was well put up and nothing got wet at all. But as more rain was forecast for the day we set off even earlier than usual! I cheered myself up by changing my clothes for the first time in a while!! I only have two long sleeved t-shirts so had to carefully plan my change days so not to end up in a right pickle, as there are certainly no sensible washing facilities in our neck of the woods. After four full days, and three nights in the same navy and white stripey H&M number I decided to go switch the middle layer - I can't risk changing the vest, leggings and smokey hoody yet though! Perhaps I should clarify that I have up to now changed my undies every day...although I seem to have lost 3 pairs so that supply is running out quick!
Tents were down and packed in the van by 7am - so I rewarded myself with a breakfast bagel stuffed with Nutella, strawberry jam and Philadelphia. Thank god the Philadelphia I'd put in the shopping basket was low fat to spare me a few calories! Sadly, there were substantially more cholocaltes and calories to follow, as this day was a bit of a shitter.
We were supposed to be heading to Mount St Helens (a volcano that last erupted in May 1980 causing quite a lot of devastation in the area) but Allison appeared to be totally put off by the rain and decided we would instead spend extra time in Portland. Ok, it appeared a nice city but there were no substantial sights of interest, and it was raining so what is there to do? I couldn't even go shopping as I was dressed like a troll! My stripy socks and hoody were indeed well colour co-ordinated (obviously a total fluke, as I have been wearing these socks for two days already), but the leggings and muddy trainers would have the shop assistants chasing me out of the store in a flash - imagine the scene from Pretty Woman where Julia Roberts fails to try on any outfits in the first shop on Rodeo drive, but make it a million times more pikey and troggy and that's what would have happened to me here!
Hoorah - there was a cookie shop just around the corner! Temporary happy sugar high, with a crash I'll deal with later. All was not wasted however as we did find a giant bookstore so I bought a Vancouver travel guide ready to plan the (sob sob) final leg of my trip! I reckon there will be plenty of time to read that in the next few days if it continues to piss it down - and I hope Vancouver provides plenty of bad weather activities for me too!
We then drive into Washington State and head to Mount St Helens. It is indeed still raining, and the volcano is covered in cloud so there really isn't much point getting any closer. We managed a 15 minute stroll to a view point (basically a close up of the cloud) and then watched a video which gave a bit of history including footage from the 1980 eruption which was pretty cool. Then onto camp and tent pitching in the rain...my favourite! Me and my tent buddy are however the quickest and most efficient in the group (as one would expect :) ) and we had both our tent and that of the lone girl who lost her tentmate to Wimbledon up before the others.
With little else to do while the others cook dinner I returned to my tent and paint my toenails!
We finally get a lie-in, heading out for a nice hot breakfast at 9am before driving on into Mount Rainier National Park. The others all managed to over order so after wolfing down my eggs on toast I also get to mop up the pancake remains. Result, yum! As we drive into the park it is drizzling but we aren't quite prepared for what we see on the way to the visitor center at Paradise (the point quite central to the park apparently named after after an early visitor exclaimed 'Oh what a paradise.' after being greeted by a stunning view of the volcano with wildflower meadows fields in the foreground. It started to look a little like Yosemite with small drifts of snow in amongst the trees, but before long the snow was 6 foot deep on either side of the road. When we arrived at Paradise it was considerably deeper, and was even snowing! Rather bizarre to get your head around, particularly given I had learned over breakfast that London was basking in 25 degree sunshine!! Hmm. We wandered the Paradise Henry M. Jackson Visitor Center (no idea who that dude might be) and watched a short video on the park and volcano and soon learned that Mount Rainier (which I'd thought was appropriately named given the weather, until the commentary pronounced it Ran-eer) had a mind of its own and created its own weather systems. It is one of the snowiest places on earth, getting between 600 and 700 inches of snowfall each year, but does brighten up beautifully in the summer around July to September. Too early for that though, so given we are without snow shoes and waterproof pants (Potter - that's trousers to you) we head on down to Cougar Rock to do a little hike to two waterfalls. Allison asks if people want to do the hike or sit somewhere warm and dry and one of the guys pipes up that he will sit this one out. When we arrive at the Longmire Museum all but two of us hop down off the van declaring themselves out. It is barely drizzling so we are a little baffled, but drive back out to the trail point with just three of us in the van. The trail takes us over a river and along the side of another up to Carter Falls and Medcap Falls. It starts by clambering over rocks on the river bed and then after a while on a muddy trail we hit the snow where we have to tread carefully in the footprints of others knowing that there are little streams running below us from higher up which we don't want to land in. Neither falls are much to write home about, mainly because the view is largely obscured by the trees and we can't get very close to the edge due to the snow. On the way back I think I had one too many daydream and ended up going over on my right ankle. After a minute or two of obscenities I'm back upright and hobble the rest of the way back down to the van. In any case I am glad to have gotten some exercise as we seem to have done too much sitting on the van and not enough hiking aside from our time at Yosemite. I then go in search of the others, who after a drink (I suspect beer rather than coffee) have hidden themselves alongside the wrong parking lot. On the way back to camp it was suggested that instead of staying home all night and cooking dinner maybe we should go to the pub. The town (if it could be called that) nearest to our camp-site, where we also had breakfast, is Morton and has one pub, The Bucksnort. This could be interesting. Just before arriving back at camp we pass a waterlogged field. In the middle of the field is a woman, with a shotgun. That's not so out of the ordinary, until we realise the gun is pointed down and she is actually fishing! What is wrong with a rod, or even a net? Hope she's not in the pub!After a quick clean up (the shower tokens fail to add any hot water so I dance outside the shower curtain splashing only the potentially necessary areas before washing my hair in the sink) we all hop back on the bus bound for The Bucksnort. I have no idea what I was expecting but its a funny little place - stools along the bar and then around two tables toward the back, pool table and shuffle board in the middle. Having only had lunch 90 minutes ago I decide against ordering pizza, knowing that the others are unlikely to finish theirs so I may well get leftovers anyway. Knowing that conversation was not a strong point of the group I took along my Kindle and laptop and found the time quite useful to update my blog and catch up on emails, with a nice ($2.50) beer in hand. After two of the girls have defeated the boys at shuffleboard they decide they will get there own back on the pool table against new competitors. It didn't take long until the realised this was also a mistake. I did think it only fair however that we give them a chance with best of three, and going into the final game it was one apiece. Then the tactics got dirty, and shots of Apple Pie (the bartender's home-made speciality) were ordered and downed. That was their final failure of the evening and as I doubled the black into the middle pocket getting a round of applause from the locals at the bar they admitted a deserved defeat. I bought them consolatory Apple Pie's and we had more beer. It was at this point we noticed one of the women sat drinking beer at the bar was wearing her pyjamas!!Allison had to clock off the driving by 9pm so it wasn't a late night in the end. We certainly all went to our tents in good spirits after a fun end to the day.
Well, I guess it was only a matter of time before I upset everyone, so I probably deserve a medal for lasting for a whole 3 months and 6 days before this happened.
Allison had suggested earlier in the trip that we could perhaps check into a hotel for the last two nights of the camping tour, on the premise that it might be snowing up in Olympic National Park. We did indeed find snow yesterday at Mount Rainier, but weren't expecting anything other than more constant drizzle as we headed to Olympic.
As we get in the bus to leave the camp-site she again brings it up and it's clear straight away that both the boys are 100% for checking into a hotel rather than pitching the tents up again. Voting is to be done when we get to Safeway a couple of hours later as its at this point we have to decide how much food to buy for the next two days. I immediately sense today is not going to go well!
I'm already a little annoyed that I've booked a hotel near the Seattle airport for the night the tour ends, having been led to believe we wouldn't be arriving there until around 5pm. All Trek America gateway hotels are near airports (maybe this is a US thing as that's not the case for any other tour companies I've used elsewhere before) so I deduced that it would be a pain trying to get into town to check into a hostel after arriving around this time. In actual fact we are going to travel over water between Olympic and Seattle, rather than going the long way back on the roads, and therefore expect to arrive by midday. So I could have saved over $40 by staying in the hostel after all!
Do I therefore want to stay in a hotel for two further nights, costing $60 before we've been out for dinner? Ermm, no! We were bullied unnecessarily on the Volcano Trail to pay for extras and I let it slide but on this occasion I'm not prepared to spend up to $100 extra to appease 7 strangers who after Friday I'm never going to see again. That's like two pairs of shoes I could buy instead!
So we park up at Safeway and rather presumptuously Allison says 'So, the decision is a hotel then?'. Silence. The fact that no-one at all in this damn group has an opinion has driven me insane. I let off Su Jin, the Korean, as her English isn't great but the rest of them are grown adults and have tongues in their heads. So I pipe up with 'I'm sorry, but I can't justify spending another $60 when I've already paid quite a lot for this trip. And it's going to be even more when we factor in eating out rather than cooking.'. Every individual within the group has to agree to a change in itinerary, particularly when it comes at an expense. One is sitting on the fence but the others are voting hotel. Camping it is! Boy how I've changed in recent years, voluntarily opting to spend two nights in a camp-site in the rain, with no showers when I could easily throw money around to turn it into a clean hotel room with hot running water! This trip has proven to be the most expensive two weeks of my sabbatical though so I don't want to add to that any further than necessary, so I'm standing my ground.
As we return with our shopping to the van with new supplies it becomes apparent we have just lost a further group member. Mr Ex-Con is stood at the side of Safeway with his rucksack waiting for a taxi!! It turns out he's going to head off to Seattle two days early. Do I feel bad? No. Not in the slightest. He's on the four week trip (along with all but two of the others) where they head back down to Los Angeles inland via Yellowstone, Death Valley, the Grand Canyon and Las Vegas so has another 12 nights of camping left anyway! And his last trip was a camping one in Alaska, so surely he experienced shitty weather then? Men! Weird! I'm staying in a different hotel in Seattle, so won't see him again anyway or have to endure his tales of two days luxury.
We drive on up to Olympic National Park and the first stop is at Hoh Rain Forest Visitor Center. I'm not sure why it isn't called the Hoh Rainforest, guess that's just the American's not using English in the way we would again!
After a picnic lunch in the van to avoid the drizzle the others set off on a little hike. There isn't much enthusiasm on anyone's face (apart from Rosie who was the only other to take a stroll with Allison and I in Mount Rainer National Park) and given they didn't venture out yesterday I'm surprised they all do today. I don't however, not because I am afraid of getting wet, as my ankle has bruised and swollen a little since taking a tumble yesterday. Whilst walking only requires a slight wobbling hobble and grimace I see no point risking going over on it again so I'm going to save myself for the last day. If I did turn it over again they might leave me in protest that they aren't allowed to stay in a hotel this evening!
When the others return to the van Allison tells us that the woman in the visitor center has recommended a camp-site in Port Angeles as the one we were due to stay in is likely to have NO water, never mind NO HOT water! Do we want to collect buckets and traipse back and forth? No. So a quick phone call is made and we are checked into the new place.
On the drive up there we have to pass straight through Forks, home of Twilight! We make a quick stop in the Twilight Visitors Center before doing our own tour around the town based on the information collected in the office. Whilst the film wasn't actually filmed in Forks, it seems all the locations in Stephanie Meyer's book are. We stopped at the Swan house, the hospital where Carlisle works, Fork's High School, City Hall, and the Cullen house. All rather entertaining!
Upon arriving at the camp-site, in the sun might I add, it soon appears I might escape being the enemy after all. The girls happily set up camp, whilst the sole remaining guy checks himself into a cabin (for more than the hotel alternative would have cost - loser! - and he doesn't even have a bathroom). It might turn out to be the best camp-site we've stayed in - the bathrooms even smell of bleach and there is a laundry room, and games room.
After dinner we make smores in the campfire before having a quick few games of air hockey. Hope Mr Ex-Con had as much fun on his lonesome in Seattle! I even get a hot shower before bed, the first in 4 days, but its a bit of a shame I put back on the same clothes I've been wearing/sleeping in for over a week!
I reckon this title would have made a better film than Sleepless in Seattle!
Seattle was designated crazy Mastercard location quite early on in my trip, and it indeed managed to live up to my expectations. I did however see most of the sights in my time there too!
After the tour deposited us at the end point airport hotel we dispersed and I went to check into my nicer, better, and cheaper hotel next door. After the longest shower in the world (I even sat down and allowed it to fill up whilst I shaved my legs for the first time in a fortnight - well, no one was going to see them and they were so long the extra hair kept me warmer!!) I dried my hair and got my shit together to meet back up with the girls. We dawdled around the Pioneer Square area and through gum alley (bizarre) before hitting Pike Place Market. The first Starbucks opened here an age ago and if either liked coffee or enjoyed standing in line I might have gone in for a drink. I don't, so I didn't. We had enormous yummy smoothies from a korean barbecue stand instead and watched the fishmongers hurling fish around.
After a fishy dinner we headed on to the Space Needle and got the elevator up to the observation desk near the top. There was a high school prom taking place on the restaurant floor - must have been once fancy school, but the kids still looked like complete dawks. There were a couple of dresses that wouldn't have looked out of place on 'My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding' but my favourite outfit was a pale blue dinner suit complete with matching waistcoat and shiny stripe down the outside trouser leg!! Why didn't I take a photo, it was hilarious viewing! The view was impressive and we finally caught a proper glimpse of Mount St Helens towering above the rest of the [XXX] mountains. Whilst these mountains were apparently in bright sunshine the Olympic National Park where we had just come from was black and you could see the clouds raining. Awesome to look at from a far, but we were very glad not to be over there that evening. After the sunset we headed to get the train back to the airport and time for my penultimate set of farewells. I might have moaned quite a lot along the way in the past two weeks (getting practice in for returning home no doubt) but they were quite sweet girls and we did have a nice time together. I left them with the challenge of finding out what Mr ExCon did to acquire his criminal record, and I also hope to find out in due course whether the nutty 19 year old Wimbledon-worker-wannabe returned to her vacation, so need to hear from them again!
Before leaving my hotel in the morning I carefully prepared a list of stores, and their addresses, to be visited and it does indeed turn out to be a whole day of fun! I figured I'd be so skint when I'm back home that all clothes shopping will be totally ruled out, and as wearing the same mini-capsule wardrobe I've been carrying for the past three months indefinitely would likely danger my health, this should be addressed immediately. Shopping in the USA not only deems new clothes a travel expense but also means reduced prices so its win, win! Morley logic at its best! The fact that I didn't ever bother to set a travel budget, and have no idea how much I've spent so far is completely irrelevant, and I'll deal with the consequences later!
After a successful day's shopping, without lunch, I figured I should treat myself for dinner. I asked the girl on reception at the hostel where I could go for a nice dinner nearby and she came up trumps. Just on the corner of the next block was a restaurant called Local 360 where I settled at the bar with a G&T (I can definitely recommend one of the local gin's called Hedgetrimmer) before stuffing my face. I had taken along my postcards for amusement, and it didn't take long before an old guy at the bar started chatting away to me. When I say old guy, I mean old guy, so that was a shame! He knew all the staff from before they were poached from another local restaurant and was chatting away to all and sundry before exclaiming his delight that I could read and write, and was using postcards to communicate rather than emails. I didn't explain this was mainly because my nan still can't work a mobile phone after almost 10 years so never mind a computer, as that would have made me sound just like every other loser that can't function without modern technology. I ended the evening with a United States Department of Homeland Security business card in my pocket before one of the locals at the bar asked me to have a drink with him and his mates...I'm still trying to figure out why I refused that one...!
I actually really loved Seattle, the city just had a nice vibe and feeling about it, so I could have stayed much longer just hanging out and wandering around. I was concerned that this would result in an emergency dip into my non-travel savings though and so after another night I decided to head on up to my last destination. Turned out doubly wise as I might otherwise be on death row by now for strangling the kiwi in my dorm room. I don't know how he had time to breathe with the amount of shit spurting out of his mouth non stop, but I did have to chuckle when the American in the room pointed out that his masters thesis was fundamentally flawed - how can you investigate attitude to risk and gambling by studying subjects that are given pretend money?!?