Category Archives: dancing

Going green in Gloucestershire

Sun blazing down on us, a bitey breeze keeping things cool, it was one of those perfect British days where you drink in the freshness of the air and turn your face up to a lightly white streaked sky.

Marching across the green grass fields of Gloucester towards a spring festival at an alternative education centre, I felt cheery being back in the UK. If I’d known that within a few minutes I’d be playing the moon in a zodiac demonstration and introducing D-man to my yearly childhood practise of maypole dancing, then maybe there would have been an even bigger bounce in my step. Maybe.

England, my sister said, was showing me its best side, a gold explosion of dandelions and sunshine, new life bursting out of branches and the otherside of a wintertime, warmth finally giving all its inhabitants some vitamin D therapy after two long, wet summers.

England, my sister told me, was persuading me to not give up on my home country, totally.

Views down over Stroud

Views down over Stroud

Sisters reunited, nephew introduced

Sisters reunited, nephew introduced

Country traditions live on

Country traditions live on

The following day brought more moments in amongst the greenery, this time within the grounds of an imposing country manor. We walked off a locally sourced Sunday lunch and played poohsticks on a trickling stream where swans and cygnets persisted to paddle against the current. We ambled up past crumbling stone buildings and into yet more green fields, nodding good afternoon to other walkers.

Some English formality

Some English formality

Hotel room with a cemetary view

Hotel room with a cemetary view

Trimmed lawns

Trimmed lawns

Springtime in an English country garden

Springtime in an English country garden

Cygnets choose the hardest route

Cygnets choose the hardest route

And it all felt, well, quintessentially British countryside. Far from the rugged and somewhat aimless adventuring I’ve been doing in the last two years, it was not without charm.

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5 things to do in London in a day

Over 30 million tourists visit London every year. 30 million. That’s nearly half the UK population (and doesn’t even take in to account the residents). One city with so many people? Somehow it works.

As a Brit, I’ve had a bit of a love/hate relationship with the city, and after brief breaks to the place I’ve always been happy to retreat back to ‘normal’ England. Now, though, I was seeing it through tour guide eyes, showing D-man around and trying to pack in as much as possible within a short amount of time.

So here is a list of what you could do in a day. More realistically, you will probably want to spread the activities out over a couple of days. I’ve not even included museums or galleries, gardens or markets or shops. The Science Museum, Tate Modern, Kew Gardens, Brick Lane, and more and more and more. So much more. Ah, another time, another list.

For now though, let’s run with this very standard tourist list of things to get the London experience started:

1. Start your day by swinging by some famous streets, sights and places

Watching the shooting of a Bollywood music video in Trafalgar Square

Watching the shooting of a Bollywood music video in Trafalgar Square

Trafalgar Square cliché?

Trafalgar Square cliché?

Picadilly Circus curves

Picadilly Circus curves

Of course it exists. At King's Cross train station.

Of course it exists. At King’s Cross train station.

Big Ben put into perspective

Big Ben put into perspective

2. Squish in amongst the crowds to watch the changing of the guards at Buckingham Palace

When did this become such a HUGE tourist attraction?

When did this become such a HUGE tourist attraction?

Crowds start to gather outside of the palace

Crowds start to gather outside of the palace

Fighting our way through the crowds at Buckingham Palace

Fighting our way through the crowds at Buckingham Palace

Perfectly in time.

Perfectly in time.

3. Boat trip down the River Thames

Let's go join to procession

Let’s go join to procession

Spying St Paul's Cathederal

Spying St Paul’s Cathederal

Tower Bridge and the Shard

Tower Bridge and the Shard

One less thing to worry about at the Tower of London

One less thing to worry about at the Tower of London

Every room has a river view

Where every room has a river view

4. Watch the sun set over the city from high on board the London Eye

Ready to join the queues?

Ready to join the queues?

Views down on to the South Bank

Views down on to the South Bank

Time it right to get the best dusk views.

Time it right to get the best dusk views.

5. Wind down in one of London’s many theatres

Cultured. We can but try.

Cultured. We can but try.

And then you could finish the day and party on until daybreak at Fabric or one of London’s many clubs or squat parties. We didn’t. Wiped out from a day of flights and now a day in London, D-man, me and my mum headed back to our comfy airbnb find.

My guess is that at the end of the day you too will be tired. Your feet will hurt. You may decide that you don’t like the shuffling crowds, that this city of 8 million people and hoards of tourists is too chaotic and the depths of London’s underground belly too claustrophobic. You may groan about high prices, about sold out shows, about the fact that this city doesn’t seem to sleep.

But stop. Take a breath. You can’t really deny that London is a bold, beautiful city, alive with diversity and culture, can you?

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Filed under cities, culture, dancing, europe, history, museums, travel, uk

Art, consciousness and a whole lot of doof at Eclipse 2012 festival

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Recycling the eclipse

In my sheltered world, hippies and trancers don’t live harmoniously side by side. In my stereotyped view, people who dance to trance are off their heads on party drugs that sustain them through hours and days of dancing to a repetitive beat. In my head hippies are natural and flowing and mix with creative crowds, preferring didgeridoos to synthesizers. In my world, hippies don’t attend trance parties, or doofs (if you’re an Australian partyer). At least, this is what I used to believe.

The Eclipse 2012 festival would show me otherwise.

The event will host a huge music lineup of the world’s leading musicians and DJ’s, outstanding artists and decor crews, a dedicated workshops and intentional healing space, extensive food and market stalls and a perfect viewing platform only a short distance away from the eclipse centre line of totality path. Link

My world started to expand and any preconceived ideas about 24/7 beats and dancing, about everyone being cocktailed to the highest high, about being disconnected from the world in order to appreciate the world started to shift. I knew it would happen. Why else was I here?

Apart from the total solar eclipse itself. Oh yeah. That was the real reason.

But if it was just about being present at the total solar eclipse then I could have instead nestled in amongst astronomers from around the world on purpose built viewing platforms somewhere else, somewhere close.

No, from the moment I’d heard about the festival I’d been determined to go. I wanted to fling out my arms and dance uninhibited at whatever time of the day I pleased, I wanted to be filled with thoughts and ideas about the future direction of the world, I wanted to immerse myself in a new experience and surround myself with beauty in all its forms. What an indulgence.

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DJ set backdrop on the Sun Stage

The Eclipse 2012 festival ticket and website were the first giveaways to something beyond a primitive party, making reference to a ‘spiritual’ festival, to ‘healing spaces’, to consciousness raising, to an array of workshops and speakers and films designed to inspire change and open the mind.

And why else do we travel?

The music itself was not the catalyst for me to part with AU$350. Despite there being six stages, I barely recognised any names in the line-up, other than the likes of Fat Freddy’s Drop and Tijuana Cartel, both on the Earth Stage, the only truly live stage at the festival. If I’d ever been into the trance scene or had stood longer on Australian ground, I’d probably have been aware of the reputation of some of the other acts, but it was all new to me. No bad thing.

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Inspiration

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Flowertime

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Food and relax stops

Getting involved in yoga and craft classes, lounging out listening to learned folk discuss current thinking in relation to the upcoming cosmic and spiritual shift (including the impending end of the Mayan calendar), dancing under the sweet kiss of sprinkling water, of being surrounded by sculptures and murals and living art, that is what convinced me to join thousands of people for a week of celebrations rather than huddle quietly with the odd cluster of scientists and astronomers for one night only.

And so the days went by and people stomped and bounced day in, day out, taking moments to refresh themselves with fruit juices and wholesome, fair priced curries, to solar shower away a thick caking of dust, to chat and catch-up with friends, new and familiar.

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Daytime Sun Stage raving

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Sprinkler dancing @ the Sky Stage

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Doofer in training

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Beach feel flake out

Polka dot dresses and exaggerated face paints, tutus and lederhosen, basking on the branches of living art, taking dips in crocodile cleared waters, window shopping the work of artisans more concerned with their craft than making a sale, catching a ride on a motorised sofa, relaxing in the women’s shelter, watching fire art, learning to hula-hoop, re-gathering at camp for water refills and sustaining snacks.

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Daytime lazing

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Sun, shade and crocodile warnings

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Tutus and wobbles

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Doctor dress-up

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Parasols, fishnets and boat sails

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Brace dancing

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Sofa riding

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Art branch moments

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Face painting

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Base camp catch-ups

And sleeping. It’s amazing how one learns to sleep through a constant beat.

Through life and travelling I have had the good luck to meet and share time with a real range of people – a spectrum so broad that my mind should find no space for stereotypes. Yet I still have my assumptions, my preconceived ideas based on everyone I’ve previously met and everything I know. And of course it’s limited.

Stereotypes have some basis and function, maybe to act as a compass to enable us to find ‘our type’ and fellow ‘types’, maybe to guide the un-established personality and set them off in a specific direction. Maybe they offer some tribal comfort? I guess the only real danger is not being able to see beyond them.

At Eclipse 2012, stereotypes loomed large, on an ocular level. If you wanted to see society’s versions of a dreadlocked, grungy hippy, a dancing nymph dressed in floaty tie-dyed skirt, a yogi in lotus meditation, they appeared. If you looked for the sweaty, gurning raver clutching a water bottle and repeating moves in their own little world or sporting Day-Glo, hot panted outfits, they too existed. The Japanese wedding in a fusion flurry of traditional-clubbing kitsch, the self-important eco-speaker, the meticulously costumed regular festival goer, the wise old earth mother. They were all at Eclipse 2012.

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Temples (and makeshift church)

But sometimes hippies chewed their faces up. And sometimes pig-tailed raver chicks needed no more than the music to get high.

Stereotypes flipped, were stretched and distorted. Earth mother surprised me with her mushroom journeys. Famous drummer intrigued me with his gentle nature. Dreamy types brought considerate, well-behaved children to basket weaving classes. And the raver sat with a stranger during a bad trip, talking them through some crazy moments until a place of relative calm was reached.

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Morning at the Moon Stage

More often than not, the festival was a whole lot more wholesome than one might expect. Good food. Good company. Good support. Good dancing. Beyond good.

Of course the craziness existed. As with many a party, a continuum of personalities coloured and enriched the event. But it’s what most those people did that made the event; they spoke, they performed, they danced, they painted, they played; they – an army of artisans and thought-leaders and revelers – created a beautiful visual and sensual feast of celebration.

If you believe this random mix of humanity, of intention, of consciousness, cannot exist side by side, then Eclipse 2012 was a great example that we can.

Let’s dance.

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Chill out and kick back stage

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Live creativity

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Light, sound and DJs

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Accessorising

 

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A Polynesian education: hanging out with Heirami

I was wondering how you meet people whilst you’re travelling’, said my friend Alan. He’d been having a coffee in Papeete by himself and got thinking about solo travel, about how conversations start, about how the hell I end up having such random meetings and funny moments with total strangers. The truth is, I’m not totally sure how it works, but it just does. Meeting Heirami was no exception.

I’d hitched a catamaran ride over to Moorea, an island 17km west of Tahiti and done some basic exploration of the island before saying goodbye to my captain and crew. After such a special adventure, we’d grown close and it had reminded me of the solidarity and support of longer standing friendships and family life. It was pushing on towards the one year mark since I’d set off on my solo adventure and I realised that I craved some familiarity and comfort.

Because I was unwell. Again. Nasty tropical sores had given me a fever and sent infection down the length of my left leg. I couldn’t put any weight on it so planned bike rides and on foot exploration were a no go.

Instead I reluctantly tucked into another round of antibiotics and set up base in the simple yet affordable shacks of Camping Nelson, each day hobbling my way across a small patch of grass to the honeymoon sands of a picture perfect beach.

My room. My shack (mostly). My temporary home.

My room. My shack (mostly). My temporary home.

...and the other direction

Down by the waterside

Which is where I met Heirami.

It was difficult not to notice Heirama, a smooth skinned, tribally tattooed guy with upright posture and a firm, naked bootie. A dancer at a nearby hotel, he walked confidently up and down the main stretch of the beach, stopping to splash around with families in the shallows, or to pick up a coconut, crack it open and offer it up to whoever was close-by and wanted to drink its water.

Which was me, on this occasion. And actually, after a few days of hermitting, I was craving some company.

Heirami and his beach

Heirami and his beach

Crack the coconut... here you are... now get in a tourist pose... ready?

Crack the coconut… here you are… now get in a tourist pose… ready?

Book, sunglasses, blanket... and coconut. What else is needed?

Book, sunglasses, blanket… and food. What else is needed? Basic needs met.

So I nibbled at the coconut flesh and listened to his lemon juice advice for my tropical sores. We sat in the bubbles of the ‘jacuzzi’ – a pooled area where the water rushes in and gurgles around – and he taught me Polynesian words and songs through call and response. I learnt about the different career choices of his siblings and about his journey from the Tuamotu islands to Moorea.

Showing me his tattoos up close (silhouetting doesn't help!)

Showing me his tattoos up close (silhouetting doesn’t help!)

The sun started to set. ‘Pahari’ I said as I got up to leave that pretty little beach and Heirami, who was taking one last moment and still standing proud in his nakedness. ‘Pahari’, he said, sticking up his hand for some goodbye contact.

I left him there, silhouetted against a streaked peach sky.

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When travel and terror collide

www.travelola.orgBack in October 2002, two bombs went off in the midst of Kuta nightlife, killing 202 people, many of whome were travellers enjoying a bit of social time in Bali. Ten years on, survivors have returned to Indonesia to remember those who died in the blast.

I’ve met a few people on my travels who document their journeys, but often, like me, their writing focuses on foreign intrigue, on misunderstandings, on the quirks of being out of your comfort zone. Some travel writing goes deep and addresses the big ones, but so much stuff out there seems to only skim the surface of cultures and countries that would more than likely require a lifetime to properly understand.

And now as my own written journey looks to leave South America once again, I can’t help but think how fortunate I was during my travels throughout Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and Brazil. No muggings, no violence, no hold-ups. South America, many people warned me, was still a highly dangerous place to visit, particularly as a solo female traveller. For some reason, I was undeterred, and I refused to buy into the scaremongering.

And South America showed me her beautiful sides, her warmth, generosity and a little dash of chaos. People opened their doors to me, invited me to socials, looked after me when I was sick and alone. And they encouraged me to keep an open mind and heart. I did at times feel uneasy, there were a few moments of military interrogation that shook me up, and in some places there were guys in the street shadows bearing batons. But no dramas for me, thankfully.

But of course not everyone is so lucky, I appreciate that. When I heard about the recent kidnapping of two tourists on the Ecuador-Colombia border, I stopped in my tracks. One of the captured women was my age. The girls were doing the same Cuyabeno jungle tour that I had done back in October 2011. And they described wading through the same mud that I vividly recall.

It could easily have been me. Not that that’s the point, but rather it made me reflect on travelling and timing, on coincidence and luck. These girls did nothing different to what I would have done. It’s not as though they could have been more savvy about the situation, unless you suggest that they should never have visited Ecuador in the first place (and the idea of never leaving ones home comforts out of fear would surely only serve to narrow our views on the world, to close off to different cultures and people? No, please don’t go there.). The girls were released, evidently traumatised, but alive.

Ecuador with its varied terrain and climate and wildlife remains my favourite South American country to travel in. This news won’t discourage me from going back, but it might make me more aware, more alert. Not that that would necessarily make a difference, though. The girls, having been through such an ordeal, may well feel very differently. I’d be curious to know whether it has affected their entire perception of the country.

Because how can such an event not impact on your entire psyche? On your attitude? Different people, I guess, will find different coping mechanisms for traumatic travel stories, ones that hopefully won’t quash their zest for adventure.

Returning to Bali in 2012, one girl who has worked towards finding some solace in the aftermath of the bombings is Hanabeth Luke.

In January 2012 I temporarily put down my backpack in New South Wales, Australia where I met Hanabeth, – a surf chick tomboy mixed with a good dash of feminine quirk and a twist of British. During chats I discovered that she was writing a book, something to do with the upcoming ten year anniversary of the Bali attacks, but I didn’t pry. It seemed too sensitive a subject for strangers.

As time has passed I’ve learnt more, although I’ve undoubtedly learnt more about the spirit of Hanabeth than the event itself. Being in the now is where we’ve been at, in some way as important as remembering. But I will read her book, and I will try to understand what surviving the Bali bomb feels like, what losing a love actually means. Right now it is beyond my comprehension.

The people returning to the place of the 2002 Bali bombings have had ten years now to try to make sense of what happened, ten years to grieve and reach some level of acceptance. I can’t imagine the process ever stops, and that for different people there will be different ways of working through the pain. Writing one’s journey, for example.

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Why you should skip the tourist bar and head straight for a peña instead

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Trad play

After a night out in a pretty nondescript club where the only thing unusual was a stabbing on the dance floor, I was more than happy to sample something a little more… more typically Bolivian, I guess.

My friend Max suggested a peña. ‘It’s a place for traditional music’, he said. Did I fancy it? Sure! Of course! Something different, something local. Finally.

Me and a little posse of travellers made our way along a side street in La Paz and down some stairs into the belly of a building where musicians sang and played woodwind and percussion whilst groups of friends clustered around tables, chatting, drinking and welcoming in a Friday night.

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Candlelit moodiness and music

Ojo de Agua didn’t fit with Frommer’s comments about peñas tending to be very touristy. We were pretty much the only tourists in there, and it was obvious. So we split up and mixed and merged.

By candlelight I drank te con te, a hot alcoholic drink, and chatted and danced with locals. Pan pipes, accelerating beats and spinning around and around after too many shots of warm, alcoholic tea made me deliciously dizzy.

As the music wound down, we all climbed back up and out of this high ceilinged, lightly populated dance hall and back into the cold, cold chill of La Paz. Early evening fumes had lifted and the streets were surprisingly quiet for a city on the brink of a wild weekend.

The evening finished further away from the centre in a softly lit bar bursting with Bolivians and the smell of cigarette smoke and rising heat from a huddled collective of bodies. People bent in to hear near whispers, orders were murmured at the bar. A man perched on a stool crooned away, finishing songs with a dramatic burst of strummed chords, claps and whoops exploding after the final slap.

I may have missed out on the salt flats eco rave but this low-key night out was a cosy little moment in the great city of La Paz and a lovely little reintroduction to a social drink and dance after far too long on antibiotics.

As the only tourists in both places, it was also a teeny taste of the real La Paz.

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Attempted murder on the dance floor

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Party people in La Paz (photo: Carl Maybry©)

It was gone 03:30am, I was totally sober and one of a few people in the Azul nightclub in La Paz not revved up on alcohol or cocaine. Tiredness was giving me that dazed, drunken effect but I felt pretty damn good that I was still holding up.

I became an artist, decorating friends’ faces with UV paint. In turn, my face was painted in yellows and pinks, covering some of the black stamps from another creative burst earlier in the evening. I chatted and laughed, I swigged water and I danced shamelessly to bad music on the teeny dance floor.

And then I saw it: pools of bright red blood covering the ground by my feet, fainter towards the bar where people had unknowingly stumbled through, streaking and smearing the place in the colour of danger. Splodges of UV paint shone out in between.

And the crowd continued to dance.

I’d somehow missed the disturbance on the dance floor. A stabbing, some local guy told me, two Bolivians. I couldn’t see how someone could have survived that much blood loss. But was it really blood? It was so bright.

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Starting to notice the blood

Bar staff eventually started to mop up and the revellers were encouraged to leave. And there again, trails of blood, coagulating on the stairs and on the pavement.

We waited for a taxi. A few of us were hushed in disbelief. People continued to spill out of the club. Some stood in the pools of blood, oblivious. I stopped a few. If they didn’t care about the stabbing, maybe they’d care about their shoes? And would the blood not need to remain as it was for police evidence?

A man came out of the Azul nightclub and started to pour a clear liquid over the blood on the pavement. He scrubbed away with a stiff brush, pushing a watery, bloody mix onto the road. Before long, little remained. No police showed up.

A few days later I discovered that the man had survived. This was the same time that some of the partiers who had been there that night finally realised that someone had actually been stabbed.

Three times, I told them, did you not see all the blood? Too off their heads. But for me, sober, I saw it and I felt it raw and it stuck like something from a movie still. And I wished it were just all a movie or a figment of my imagination but no, this was real life touching on the only certainty of death.

The papers didn’t report it, from what I managed to gather, and the police seemed to ignore it. I discovered that a tourist had also been involved in a minor way.  But that about the main guy? Despite the double stabbing, he got lucky and was recuperating in hospital. Life wasn’t done with him just yet.

People told me that La Paz, like many a city, has a dangerous, crazy side, but to see it up close on my first night? What a reality check.

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What’s with the late night karaoke bars?

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Karaoke, baby. Just sing!

I hate karaoke but South America loves it. A slight conflict of interests, a potential deal breaker in our relationship. So when other travellers that I met in Sucre suggested that karaoke bars were the after bar choice, I can’t say that I was delighted. Hanging out with them, sure, but the singing? Really?

Ever since I was a thirteen year old girl thrown on stage with new holiday friends to sing a song I didn’t know, I have been scarred. Girls Just Wanna Have Fun came out as

Girls just Need To Have Singing Lessons,

or in my case,

Girls Just Need to Have Access to Modern Music and Listen To the Radio And The Top 40 (and Not Get Brought Up On Simon and Garfunkle, The Beatles and Beethoven) So That They Can Fit in With Other Normal Teenagers.

It’s only now that I’m grateful for the musical education of my childhood (which went beyond the aforementioned) but at the time it was crippling. I had a lot of catching up to do. Whilst I’d never be cool, I could at least work towards fitting in.

So now here I was in Sucre, a beautiful South American city sitting at an altitude of 2,750m and composed of colonial and neoclassical buildings, Bolivia’s judicial capital and a Unesco Cultural Heritage site. Somewhere, then, that I should be broadening my understanding of the country’s history and traditions.

But oh no! Instead I found myself with a great bunch of other travellers playing dice games in bars with locals and indulging in a few too many mojitos and tequila shots as evenings pushed on into early mornings. Capirinhas and coke flowed freely, propping people up for nights in the bars and the clubs… and the karaoke bars.

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Oh no! Tequila makes an appearance

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Pit stop for cow heart kebabs

Each time I ended up in Vitrolas Karaoke & Discoteque, I searched the song list for a good while. Maybe, just maybe there would be something that would jump out at me, where I’d think hell yeah, I know it so well, it’s the right pitch for my voice, I can get up and sing and not make a total tit of myself, but it never happened. Maybe I should have joined the coke crew. All I really needed was some courage. Some people had it in natural abundance. Not me, in relation to karaoke in any case.

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The terrible trio take to the stage. Not terrible singers, just terrible trouble. In a fun way.

And then after the karaoke bars I would dash back through a quiet, daybreak Sucre, back to my hostel and into a room of sleeping strangers that I knew I’d never meet because they’d pack up and leave before I awoke.

Too soon it would be midday; I’d get up and over brunch greet fellow partiers only just returning from continued hedonism. ‘Are you heading out tonight?’ they’d ask before disappearing off for some sleep. ‘Nah, need a break’, I’d say, but then night would arrive and peer pressure kicked in. Not that I tried very hard to fight it.

My will to go wild and have fun was strong, but my body wasn’t having it. It didn’t take long.

I crashed and burned.

So Sucre, time to see what else you have to offer. I sure love singing, whether it be in the shower, dancing about in my house or with friends around a campfire, but karaoke, save me the heartache.

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The typical gringo bars in Sucre include Joy Ride, Florins and the Amsterdam Bar (all with good WiFi), which also all serve (pricy) food – like pastel de quinoa – and regularly host cinema screenings. I spent a good few evenings in Biblio Café Classico to catch up with a friend who, following a midnight session dancing on the bar, had landed himself a job there.

Clubwise, I only got to Mooy, which cost $15b. entry for females and 20b for males. Saturday night drinks there started at 18Bs. for a caipirinha and 14Bs. for a bottle of beer. In Mooy the crowd was predominantly Bolivian and the music a Western-South American mix. And the oft visited karaoke bar Vitrolas Karaoke & Discoteque is an underground, under populated place fronted by a wild man with long, rock star hair and a well-rehearsed singing voice. Maybe he used to be a rock star after all?! The crowd in there was a real mix of locals and gringos. Friday nights were busiest.

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What a day to arrive! Vallegrande celebrates

Vallegrande is a town with about 6,000 inhabitants situated 118km from where I’d been staying in Samaipata. I’d taken a two and a half hour bus journey cramped in the aisle amongst sleeping babies and bulky bags. As the only gringa on board, I had stuck out like a sore thumb and had been the centre of attention and the butt of teenage jokes that I couldn’t understand. But I’d arrived, sorted out some lovely accommodation and life was sweet.

I was only spending one day in the town and coincidentally, it was a party weekend. Once I’d dropped my bags in Hotel Plaza Pueblo and eaten some cake with the family who ran the place, I decided to get out there and explore a little.

I wandered down a cobbled street to Plaza Rubén Terrezas where, on the taxi driver’s recommendation, I bought some bread which I nibbled as I ventured over to the main plaza.

Plaza 26 de Enero was heaving with people and stalls, the weekend fiesta to celebrate ‘400 years of the foundation of the city of Montes Claros Jesus and the Knights of Vallegrande’ (now there’s a mouthful) kicking off with toffee apples and drinking and dancing to a live band.

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Early evening at the fiesta in the plaza, Vallegrande

A guy started to talk to me as I went looking for a warm drink. ‘You were in the collectivo from Santa Cruz?’ he asked. He looked familiar but not. I wasn’t sure. He bought me a drink, a base shot of Singani topped with hot, frothy milk. Warming and tasty. Perfect for the chilly night air.

You want another?’ he asked having downed his pretty quickly. I decided not. Tipsy, alone and disoriented wouldn’t be the smartest move.

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Singani liquor used for cocktails, and alcoholic milk drinks, apparently

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One local guy get a refill of the alcoholic milk

Whilst I supped my milky drink, an old woman with twinkling eyes started to talk to me, curious about where I was from. And then she told me how she’d known Che Guavara, how he was a good man, agradable, and that she was glad I was following his journey, his route.

I went to watch the dancing. A young guy started to bounce around in front of me, animated, a little drunk. Someone tapped me on the shoulder. It was one of the lads from the back of the bus, bottle of liqueur in hand. He insisted he was 26.

You must try some’ said Daniel pouring red viscous liquid into a plastic tumbler. I had a small shot. A little sickly, sweet and fruity, it’s what I’d seen a lot of people sipping on around the square.

www.travelola.org

Arocco, Daniel’s friend, turned up. More shots were dealt and soon the two of them were swigging from the bottle. They rattled away in fast Spanish. I nodded, said yes, said no, told them I didn’t understand. I picked up the odd word but more often than not lost the context of what was being said.

Later, Arocco insisted that he was the great-great-nephew of Che, but unfortunately that was all the information I could glean from his extended, passionate soliloquy. Evidently, he rated the guy (a stark contrast to both boys’ response to the Bolivian president Evo Morales).

I didn’t know what to believe. There seemed to be plenty of people with a connection to Che, real or imagined. I guess it didn’t really matter. The sentiment was loud and clear.

In the plaza the musicians packed up, hefty speakers were bussed away and the crowds started to dissipate. I found my way back through poorly lit streets to Hotel Plaza Pueblo, said goodnight to the family and crashed out in my massive twin room, wondering what other unplanned adventures lay ahead.
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In Vallegrande I stayed in Hotel Restaurante “Plaza Pueblo” on Calle Virrey Mendoza no. 132, Vallegrande and paid 70Bs. (£6.35/US$10.20) for solo occupation in a twin room with shared bathroom. Breakfast was included but was basic. The hotel is a short walk from the market, and the main plaza, Plaza 26 de Enero, is only a little further along.

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21 things travelling has taught me

I’ve been on the road now for just about eight months. I’ve visited two continents, taken 12 flights, reversed my round-the-world ticket back to South America, lost track of the number of bus journeys I’ve taken, crossed borders on foot in the middle of the night, got told off for trying to climb a glacier at 5,200m and met too many people to keep count.

And, despite this not being a ‘find-myself’ trip, I’ve realised a few things along the way.

  1. A light backpack has everything to do with happiness. It took me six months to figure out what I did and didn’t need but I think I’m now on the right track.
  2. Leaving stuff in hostels is great when going off on tours or treks; giving stuff away is even better because it makes someone else happy too.
  3. Quinoa is magical food. I am in love with quinoa and vegetable soup.
  4. Whilst we’re on food, I don’t crave chocolate in hot climates as much as I do in the UK.
  5. The quickest way to cool down is to take off your hiking shoes or trainers. Others might not thank you for it but it works.
  6. Saying yes to new experiences can make you happy and proud or in some cases, sick and ill
  7. I can do all sorts of stuff by myself and I like my own company.
  8. But! I need social contact and travelling solo does get lonely at times. There’s so much joy in sharing travelling moments when you’re with the right person or people. I’m now ready to travel with some other people.
  9. I’ve become less tolerant of people who annoy me, particularly rude travellers.
  10. Age is just a number; attitude and experience are so much more important. I’ve met some annoying older and younger travellers, and some awesome ones too. Age irrelevant.
  11. Hitchhiking is a great way to get around but don’t do it alone, especially not as a female. But I did do it, and I got lucky, and I actually met some good, good people as a result.
  12. Solo travel opens up many more random opportunities and experiences.
  13. I love to dance and laugh, and I don’t do it nearly enough. I think I’m still a bit inhibited. Trying to belly dance in New Zealand was fun and started to loosen me up a little.
  14. A spare camera battery is a must. In Bolivia I was on a bus ride with the most amazing scenery and my camera died. Where I stayed that night had no electricity to recharge. Be prepared!
  15. The main awkwardness of dining alone is other people’s awkwardness.
  16. If I wasn’t writing about my travels, I would probably get pretty lost, like many other travellers I’ve met. I think that there needs to be a point, a purpose to one’s travels beyond the three month mark.
  17. Wear sunscreen! Needs no further explanation!
  18. I haven’t really missed my job or professional identity. This is different to not wanting to work. I have worked and volunteered and it felt good on so many levels.
  19. Since my Peru accident, I’ll always wear a bike helmet. In Byron Bay in Australia, people cruise around topless and sans-helmet. I looked less cool, but I didn’t care.
  20. Facebook and Skype have stopped being my enemies. On the road, I understand their value. I talk to my family, send photos through to my friends, keep up to date with what’s going on outside of my little world.
  21. Travelling indefinitely is maybe not the ideal after all. I realise I need to settle in places for a little while every now and then.

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