I didn’t travel alone

Date: Friday 18th March 2016

Location: My Bedroom, Dorset, United Kingdom

It’s March and I’m sitting in my bedroom in my mum’s house where I’m now living (at the age of 26), looking out the window at the grey sky, the grey roads and the grey houses. Sometimes I forget that I even left the country, and when I do remember I wonder if it wasn’t just a dream. But then I look down at my arm and there are these two little marks on my forearm that will probably be there for a long time to come. They are the scars from when a giant, thorny fern fell on me in the jungle and I was too impatient to wait for the thorns to fall out on their own so I dug them out with a needle … and now they have scarred. And then there’s the thin white line that goes up my shin on my right leg where I scraped it climbing a fence to get into a corn field in America … and then I got sunburnt the next day and now it will stay. It took 4 months for the bruises from that bloody table challenge in New Zealand to fade, although I did keep accidentally hitting them on stuff so maybe it wasn’t all the game. To add to this I don’t think the mosquito and sandfly bite marks on my ankles will ever disappear. But the biggest change to me is when I close my eyes. Inside my head I can see a million different pictures in a myriad of the most spectacular colours. Each memory in turn can make me smile, laugh, cry, pause in wonder, cringe in embarrassment, fill with joy, stare in awe, swell with pride, make my heart break, make my heart sing and make me feel an astounding number of things that touch every point on the emotional rainbow (my emotional range is now definitely larger than a teaspoon). On the whole they make me grin from ear to ear. Memories are amazing; each one is like a brightly wrapped gift that I get to open again and again.

But more than just the physical and mental marks left on me I’ve gained the knowledge of this incredible group of people whom I never would have met in any other situation. When you are travelling you meet people you had never even imagined could exist and they’re doing things with their lives that you never even considered someone could do. Each and every person you meet opens up your eyes to new possibilities and it’s overwhelming and fascinating all at the same time. I loved learning about each and every one of you and I’m honoured that you thought I was worth sharing your story with.

When I tell people I’ve just travelled around the world on my own they generally tell me I was brave to do so (which I still think is a weird comment) but the truth is I didn’t travel the world alone, I travelled it with all of you. Whether it was a month, a few weeks, a day or even just dinner you all kept me company and shared my experiences the whole way round. I know I’m sounding all lovey-dovey and New Age (maybe I picked it up in America) but you guys made my trip what it was. If I hadn’t had someone around to take me out for dinner on my first night in New York or take me wine tasting in Niagara or show me how a tornado forms in real time or take me dancing all night in Austin or take me to crazy music festivals or invite me to stay in your family home or get me lost in the Wyoming mountains on a horse or teach me how to use a machete or join me in swimming in a river full of piranha and caymans or teach me how to act like a tree when there’s a monkey on your back or how to play dishes or save me from killer chickens or encourage me to get to the top of Colca Canyon or chase llamas in Cusco for me or help rescue my backpack in Puno or make me friendship bracelets in a truck driving across the salt flats of Bolivia or understand my excitement at geysers in Rotorua or jump out of a plane with me or forgiven my terrible Maori stick throwing or ride across the Narnia landscape with me or jump into the freezing lake Wanaka with me or laugh at me when I got too drunk (again) in New Zealand or invite me out on random snorkelling trip with all your friends when you’d only just met me or stay up drinking and laughing all night on a random sand island or take me to the most hilarious, empty club in the middle of the outback or laugh your way round the museums of Melbourne with me or take me for walks on the beach discussing the pitfalls of love or spend the evening prank calling exes with me and dancing like a crazy person … my journey would not have been the same.

So I want to say a huge thank you to everyone I met and remind you that by traveller code if you ever need a place to stay, or even just some help navigating my home country/city, then just let me know and I’ll be there for you.

And to those who haven’t yet travelled, go, please go, just go. Like I said, memories are amazing! They are worth far more than any Gucci handbag or Louboutin shoes you’re saving for (and I would really love a pair of Louboutin’s) and making the memories themselves is even more magical. The world is a massive, complex and beautiful place that I haven’t started to scratch the surface of. You don’t travel to realise your dreams, you travel to create dreams you don’t even know you’re going to dream yet.

BeFunky Collage

 

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Sometimes a home can float

Date: Wednesday 23rd September to Sunday 27th September 2015

Location: Puno and Lake Titicaca, Peru.

I arrived in Puno to the biggest rain storm I have seen in a long time (and I went storm chasing). The rain was coming down in buckets, causing rivers to pour down the very steep streets and all I wanted to do was get to shelter. I grabbed my bag off the bus, ran to a taxi and directed him towards my hostel. It wasn’t until I got to the hotel desk and looked down at my bag that I realised something was wrong. ‘Strange, I don’t remember my padlock looking like that’ I thought. It was maybe another 5 seconds before the ice cold dread in my stomach alerted me to the fact that this was not my bag. I am so glad no one could hear the string of expletives that went off in my head at that moment. However, the moment I said the problem out loud everyone who heard me jumped into action. The receptionist was on the phone to the bus company instantly, the two girls in the common room mentioned they were ordering pizza and did I want to join them while I was waiting for the outcome on my bag? And the security guard brought me a cup of tea to warm me up and try and stop the shivering that my wet clothes and shoes were causing. This is what I love about the travelling community… and the story had a happy ending as within three hours I had my bag back with me.

I was booked onto a tour of the floating islands the very next day and was picked up in the early morning for the boat. The floating Islands of Titicaca are pretty much the only reason you would go to Puno, other than that it’s a bit of a mess of a city. Maybe because of this the tours of the lake are some of the most touristy things I’ve ever done. I genuinely felt like a pile of meat being passed through a sausage factory and being scraped of any money I might have on me at each opportunity. Saying this, the floating islands are amazing, they are islands made out of reeds that people really live on. And out on that water it is so quiet and peaceful you can see why people would do it.

After seeing the floating Islands we were taken to a real island in the middle of the lake which we would be spending the night on. After walking to the top of the island (people have an obsession with getting to the top of things in the mountains … what was wrong with staying by the shoreline?) we were served one of the best lunches I have had on my whole trip fresh of caught trout, with the most spectacular view (… yeah alright, that’s why we walked to the top).

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Afterwards we were taken back to our ‘homes’ for the night and after a delicious dinner we were told we were going to have a fiesta. The grandma of the house came out with an armful of clothes and proceeded to dress us all in traditional dress – skirts, shirts, belts and all. When we all had all our finery on we were taken to the transformed dining room of the house to listen to a local band and learn the local dancing. Dancing around in traditional dress with a group of people I’ve only just met and someone yelling at me in Spanish to go faster was one of the most surreal nights I’ve had in a while. Enjoyable, don’t get me wrong, but bizarre.

 

 

Colca Canyon

Date: Tuesday 15th September to Thursday 17th September 2015

Location: Colca Canyon, Peru

One of the main activities people do in Arequipa is visit Colca Canyon, the second deepest canyon in the whole world. Twice as deep as the grand canyon and so long that once you’re in it you can’t see where it begins or where it ends. You can take a two or a three day trek to see this beauty of a landscape, the two day trek taking exactly the same path as the three day, just faster. I decided, not being particularly fit at the moment and also getting severe altitude sickness whenever I so much as poke my head over 2500m, it was probably better to take the three day trek and enjoy my time and the scenery. This turned out to be a great idea as most people do the two day trek and it meant my group was wonderfully small and personal. On setting off from the hostel (at 3:30am, yuck!) I met our amazing guide who for the whole trip was interesting, relaxed, full of information, friends with all the right people and just generally a brilliant person to be around. On getting in the bus I met the one other girl who was in my group and it became clear early on that we would get on fine. I was then told we would pick up one more guy at the top of the canyon and who should it be but the friend I made in Lima and went to Mistura with … fate’s a funny one. All in all this was shaping up to be a good trip.

The first day we started at a look out point at the top of the canyon which is specifically there to view the condors, the national bird of Peru. These birds stand between 2 and 3 metres high with a wing span of sometimes over 6 metres. They gather to the canyon in the morning to catch the warm updrafts in the air and glide up the canyon on them. It’s amazing to see these giant birds gliding silently and effortlessly around and around enjoying the early morning light. From there the walking starts. We walked for 4 hours on the first day, all downhill towards the river at the bottom of the canyon. It was hot and sunny in the canyon with little or no shade so by the time we got to the river we were ready to jump in as fast as possible … until we felt the temperature of the water, bloody freezing!!! Just putting out feet in was enough to cool off our blood and the first days blisters.

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That first night we stayed in a tiny village half way up the canyon side. The village was so small you could see from one end to the other by standing on the main street and so remote it was only connected to the mains electricity two months ago. We stayed with a lovely family who cooked us the most amazing meals and let us have free run of their farm. Unfortunately they also let their animals have free run so when I felt a tickling on my ear in the morning I assumed the cat had found its way into our room and was preparing to cuddle up to my face. Turning over and opening my eyes I discovered it was not a cat but a chicken which had managed to jump up onto my bed and was pecking at my hair. I have never got out of bed so fast in my life and I ran screaming like a little child and launched myself into my friend’s bed instead… much to the hilarity of everyone else in the room.

The next day we started the second part of our descent further down the canyon to a town aptly called Oasis. As you travel down the 1000 metres of this canyon the climate changes rapidly. At the top it is cold, windy and generally reminiscent of a Scottish winter, by the time you get to the bottom it is balmy, green and sunny and there are palm trees growing all around you. Here in Oasis is a hostel where every group trekking the mountain stops for the night. This hostel has a swimming pool, a bar and a bonfire. If there are other things you need in a hostel at the bottom of a canyon I don’t know what they are, it’s amazing.

On the last day you start your climb upwards at 4:30 in the morning in order to make it up before the sun really starts to hit you. The gruelling 1000m climb is uphill all the way and as you rise you can feel the air getting thinner and thinner. I admit it took me a while and I had to take quite a few of our guide’s magic tricks to fix altitude sickness (like putting antibacterial hand gel all over your hands and breathing in the alcohol fumes to stop the dizziness) but step by step, slowly, slowly I did it. I was pretty proud of myself by the time I reached the top and the sun was just rising over the edge of the mountain. The lovely tour people then have it all planned out as after a great breakfast they drive you to some hot springs down the road so you can soak your aching bones and finally relax…

Famous Nazca

Date: Thursday 10th September to Saturday 12th September 2015

Location: Nazca, Peru

A twelve hour bus journey down the coast from Lima is Nazca, a little town high up in the mountains that could not be more different from Lima if it tried. The town itself has nothing to appeal to you, a small square, a little high street and a local market is about all that there is but it’s the setting of this town that makes it unique. Nazca is only 40km from the sea (so fresh fish is a must for food) however as far as I can work out it is 40km straight up! The town is high, high up in the mountains but built on a very flat, very wide desert in between massive sand dunes that leer over the residents. It’s on this flat, flat desert that Nazca made its name with the Nazca lines.

I decided to take a trip in a tiny plane (only seating 6 people) to see the Nazca lines from the air. They are made when the top 3 centimetres (3cm!!) of dark pebbles and dirt are removed from the ground to reveal the white stones below. The pictures of animals that you usually see from Nazca are a tiny part of what’s really there. There are thousands of straight lines and triangles that travel for miles and miles across the desert, criss-crossing over one another, all pointing (supposedly) to something important. The little animals that appear in between these lines are tiny from the air and seemed to me to be like little left overs. Like someone got bored of just drawing straight lines and decided to have a little fun in their lunch break. The animals themselves are perfectly depicted in, what we would call today, a very ‘modernist’ style. With angular lines and swirling tails they really wouldn’t be out of place in a Picasso exhibition. It is incredible to think they have been there for thousands of years. I was so excited that I had seen them that I couldn’t keep still all day and ended up walking in circles around and around the little town. I must have looked like an idiot.

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Most people do Nazca in a day, arriving on the night bus in the morning, hit up the lines and leave on the night bus in the evening. That’s not my style, I like to take my time and soak up the atmosphere of a place, besides I had been told I needed to see the Chauchilla cemetery which is a 30 minute car journey out of the town. I am so glad I went to see this! The cemetery is pre-incan (which means it’s really, really old!) and full of the tombs of mummies of an ancient civilisation. Unfortunately in the 1940s the graves were plundered by grave robbers and much of the pottery and the textiles have been stolen for various museums around the world. These days about 10 graves have been left uncovered for you to see the mummies and it is incredible how well preserved they are. There are shaman mummies who still have their long dreadlocks wrapping around their bodies and down onto the floor, there are blankets and textiles used as clothes that you can still see the embroidery on and there are mummies of little babies where you can still see the skin on their tiny feet. To add to the creepiness of this scene the graveyard is out in the middle of the desert and it is silent with nothing else around it. I was also the only one there having been left by my guide to wander around and soak up the atmosphere after his speech. It really was like a setting for a horror movie and I couldn’t help checking over my shoulder after I left each grave to make sure the mummies weren’t following me …

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After two days in Nazca even I got a little bored of wandering the same streets so I decided to cut the trip short by a day and change my bus ticket – which I did in Spanish (with much gesturing and inventing of Spanish words) and it worked! I was very proud of myself and set out for Arequipa feeling pretty good.

Food, glorious food.

Date: Sunday 6th September to Wednesday 9th September 2015

Location: Miraflores, Lima Peru

There is no getting away from the fact that Lima is a big, dirty, grey, sprawling capital city full of pollution, crazy drivers and many, many people. It’s noisy, it’s loud and, after a month in the jungle spent in the company of about 25 people total, it’s fairly overwhelming. However it is one of the friendliest, happiest, liveliest cities I have ever been to. The people are all lovely and it has the most amazing food!

I arrived into Lima airport a little disorientated by the large numbers of people and the lack of plant life and with absolutely no idea where I was going. I knew I was meeting a friend I had made in the jungle and I knew he was somewhere in Lima but other than that I was a bit lost, the fact that Lima airport only gives you 10 minutes of Wi-Fi per day did not help. So the best decision I could come to in that moment was to sit down on the floor, in a corner and stare into space for a good 10 minutes.

‘If you’ve never stared off into the distance then your life is a shame’

Mrs Potters Lullaby, Counting Crows – take a listen

After gathering my senses (and paying for some more Wi-Fi) I managed to get in contact with my friend, get an address and meeting time and head out of the airport into the district of Miraflores. With time to kill I took a walk through this neighbourhood which is known to most tourists to be the safest district, and known by most Lima locals to be the ‘rich bit’. It’s full of lovely little cafes, nice looking restaurants and apartment buildings hidden behind very large gates. I took a wander up and down the street and settled in a small café with a hot chocolate, to watch the world go by for a couple of hours. After I met my friend he took me on a tour of the district which included the shopping mall that’s built into the side of a cliff and hangs out over the sea and the Parque Kennedy which is known for being full of cats! It really is full of cats that get fed twice a day by the local authorities and are more than happy to come and sit on your lap (yes, yes I know you shouldn’t touch stray cats, but these ones are only half stray).

The next day I was told about a festival called ‘Mistura’ which is held in Lima every year. It celebrates the best food and drink from all over Peru and has millions of things you can try! A friend from the hostel and I decided to head out to it for the day and explore. When you get there you have to exchange your real money for what we termed ‘monopoly money’ which means you really have no clue about how much you are spending (great marketing trick!). But I couldn’t have cared less, the food was amazing and the drinks were even better. We tried local sea fish, stone baked pork, potatoes in as many different forms as you’ve heard of, alpaca and even guinea pig (tastes like chicken but greasy and with lots of bones). Each meal was as delicious as the next and after that we moved onto the alcohol – with both a beer and a pisco tent neither of us stood a chance. We tried every different type of picso and several types of beer, including quinoa beer (really good, a little more like cider) and finished off the day, sitting on a bench, staring at the sea and talking complete rubbish to each other.

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I never saw much of the city of Lima but Mistura was a great introduction to Peru in general and made me want to try all of this amazing food in its local place. It was a wonderful break from chicken and rice…