Tag Archives: culture

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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8 ways to get settled in Australia

keep-calm-and-settle-down-5In May 2012 I saw a Facebook update from a friend in Melbourne that stated ‘…over 40 resumes and nothing… I continue the travels…’, and so I decided to skip the call of the city and head straight to the north coast of New South Wales on my return to Australia. But another friend warned ‘It might be difficult to find work here in Byron. You’re arriving at the start of winter, people are losing their jobs’.

I needed to work, there was no question about it. A year of travelling between South America and Oceania meant that I was flat out broke and my financial independence was totally at stake. Additionally, my immune system was also fighting a battle and required rest and a good dose of TLC.

It made absolute sense to struggle (and a struggle was apparently unavoidable) surrounded by familiarity and a good dose of sunshine than in amongst a sea of city strangers. The decision to choose small town life over high-rise buzziness was easy.

Now, over a year later, I find myself reflecting on what has so far helped me to find my feet in a new town on the other side of the world. I’ve begun to build up a wonderful network of people around me, people with whom I can laugh, chat, adventure, dance, just be. I’ve been fortunate to find work – from unskilled to professional positions – that have kept me fed, watered and beyond. And I’ve found time to start exploring Australia, from the beach in my back garden to far further afield.

So, what worked? What helped me to take a break from constant travelling and actually put down some roots?

  1. Plan ahead, a little. Boring. Maybe. I sent emails and CVs ahead of my arrival that meant I had somewhere to live and work for the first few weeks. I stayed with a friend for a couple of days and then moved into a beautiful little B&B in the heart of Byron where I worked a HelpX arrangement for a few weeks, which gave me enough time to figure out something a little more permanent.
  2. Move into a share house. I remember how back in my early 20s this was helpful. When you’re new to an area and don’t have hoards of people to call up for a catch-up, having at least one other person around to say ‘What are you up to today?’ or ‘How’s it going?’ makes you feel a little less isolated.
  3. Know when to spend. In this part of Australia, public transport systems seem to be pretty abysmal so spending the last of my savings on a car was not only the right decision in terms of helping me to maintain a sense of independence, but it also helped me get to interviews, work and social appointments.
  4. Do the official stuff. Like sign up to Medicare. Like sorting out your Aussie driving licence. It might sound silly, but having a few basic things in place helped me to feel more secure in stopping my journeying.
  5. Get a job. Or three. At times I overcommitted with voluntary and paid work and struggled to hold it all together, but it felt great to have a different sort of focus, to contribute, to work in a team again.
  6. Get involved with activities. Back in January 2012 when I first visited Byronshire, I joined a climbing group. I am still friends with people from that group. Since being back in the area I’ve played in a girls’ soccer team, joined a local writing group and become an active member of a Sivananda yoga centre. Being part of things feels good and gives the week some structure.
  7. Say yes to invitations. Initially, you’re not on people’s radars because they have their own life and friends, but the more you go along to things and participate, the more you will become part of their consciousness.
  8. Travel and explore. In the past I’ve found it all too easy to split life between settling and travelling, rather than mixing the two, but on the advice of others I’m now trying to open my eyes to my daily surroundings. A cycle ride into town reveals a shady duneside pathway along which snakes are said to summer lounge. An after work beach walk puts me in near contact with the trailed tentacles of a stranded blue bottle jellyfish. That belly flip of excitement – the type of feeling you might experience when first visiting an exotic country for the first time – can still exist even if you’re not traipsing up mountains in Peru or exploring the salt flats of Bolivia.

But let me be honest. Stopping after travelling and embracing the life of an expat hasn’t been a totally smooth process (and clearly the travel bug lives on in my system as I still can’t claim to have really stopped). It hasn’t been easy, at all.

After the initial post-arrival elation, months three to nine proved tough. Whenever things weren’t going my way I contemplated packing my bags and moving to the next town, a place where there might be work, where people might invite me along to things, where I’d be sprinkled with some magical settle down powder and live happily ever after, my wanderlust diminished. I thought about Europe, about my friends and family there. I pondered: maybe I should just return to what I know, what’s comfortable.

There were times when I questioned why other expats didn’t reach out to me, offer me advice, hang out. At moments I wished so hard that I didn’t have to be the one to contact people, where I just wanted someone to call me up, out of the blue, and say ‘hey, do you want to do coffee?’

And then suddenly, it happened.

How was it for you? Was it easy to stop travelling? Or to settle in another country?

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Filed under australia, culture, expat life, oceania, reflection

Show me some Melbourne street art

www.travelola.orgI first became aware of street art tours when a fellow blogger posted photos of a trip that they’d been on in Buenos Aires. Street art seems to be growing in popularity and gaining acceptance; it’s been associated with enhancing community cohesion and giving disenchanted youths an outlet to express their frustrations. Of course there’s far more to it all, but I’m not the one to talk about this sub-culture. What do I know? I just like looking at some of the stuff. Little more.

With the rise of street art acceptance, street art tours were always an inevitable progression, and they’re too gaining in popularity. Go to London, San Franscisco, Bangkok or Melbourne and you can find a tour that promises to give you a taste of the latest contemporary art trend.

Whilst I have some questions about how such an underground scene sits within a commercial and mainstream context, I do lean towards street art over concept art, and so, following a tip off from a local, I skipped the tour and just went to the art direct.

This is easy enough for anyone to do as Melbourne’s laneways are infamous and printed up guides tell you exactly where to go. You’d struggle NOT to see any street art. But there is a good chance that without a guide you might miss the really good stuff, just like I probably did.

I’m also pretty sure, though, that there are walls of undiscovered street art away from the tourist eye, and like with any industry, what the mainstream get access to is hardly representative of the overall scene.

For now, this was all I was getting.

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Do you reckon they’d let me buy the Ganesh spray job from Hosier Lane (see top pic)? Would anyone really notice if I bought those bricks, say for $1000,000? I’m just going to hunt down a Monopoly set.

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An outsider’s view of St Kilda, Melbourne

I nearly applied for a job in St Kilda, back at the end of 2011. It was a job that would have merged my  experience in media, education and writing, but the timing wasn’t right. I’d only just taken voluntary redundancy from my teaching job in the UK and set off on some South American and Oceanic adventuring, and so I deleted the job from my saved list and pushed that idea (and St Kilda, whatever and wherever St Kilda was) into a later space.

And now, a year and half later, I find myself sitting in a fairly plush hotel room overlooking Albert Park in Melbourne, just around the corner from St Kilda. I have paper and pens, a fridge full of overpriced drinks, thousand threader sheets on the bed, fresh towels to wrap myself up in, and a bathroom full of pampering potential. But as much as I could sink into this room of contained comfort, my travel devil won’t let me. Go see stuff! Go do things!

I’m here with D-man who is speaking at an international conference, so the days are mine to do as I please, an opportunity for some solo travel snippets. But the nights, they are for sharing.

D-man, having lived for a time in Melbourne, knows where to take me, and we stride through Albert Park in a dizzy state of handholding and holidaying, down Fitzroy Street and to the top part of St Kilda. And I’m a little underwhelmed. I mean, it’s okay, nice enough, but just a nice enough street in a any city precinct.

We walk around the beachside, Luna Park with its gaping clown mouth glowing out in the dimming light. A man walks towards us, an awkward mess of long, straggly greying hair and missing teeth. I look at D-man, avoiding eye contact with the other. ‘How long you been married?’ he shouts after us. ‘16 years’ humours D-man. ‘You should see how she looks at you’, adds the stranger, and I’m amused at the reading of my eye contact avoidance. I’m also surprised at my discomfort, at my taking on of cautionary tales, and how I tonight seek reassurance from D-man. Where is my head at?

Acland Street Precinct is a whole lot more buzzy with lights and people and places to eat. We duck off to find Lentils As Anything and I’m back in my comfort zone surrounded by leaflets advertising meditation and yoga classes. I flick through a collection of creativity from a local writing group, and D-man and I chat life and eat wholesome food.

And I realise over the next few days of wandering in and out and around St Kilda that, despite some uppity potential that I’d been warned had started to tar the soul of place, it is still a place with some heart, creative intention and choice. Sure, I can eat at the expensive Italian or I can get a cheaper pizza from the neon-signed takeaway next door. I can posh shop it or just look for deals and the low-key options. It doesn’t have to be excessive. And there is still a creative spirit, from what I can see.

If I had applied for that job back in 2011 and been selected for what would have undoubtedly been a competitive position (St Kilda, I can see, is totally up there in terms of city living desirable), it would have been no bad thing. I could still have lived modestly, gone for morning runs in the park and beach strolls at sunset. I could even have paid off a good chunk of my annual rent by sub-leasing a room during the Grand Prix every March.

Shoulda, woulda, coulda. So often the case. And really, I’m pretty okay with just visiting.

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Travel, belonging and reflections on home

A moment for reflection (courtesy of travel writer Pico Iyer) before the Travelola travelogues move Melbourne way.

 

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And the heat and beat build

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Queensland Roadtrip Day 5: Cairns – Palmer River Roadhouse (via Mareeba) (218km)

There was something about Kurunda that caught my attention that was less about the cute, independent coffee bars and tourist shops of the compact town centre and more about everything else. Like the gorge at Barron Falls, and the dense lushness of greenery, an environment of the richest greens.

We were barely half an hour out of Cairns, car weighed down with a week’s worth of drinking water for three people. We wound our way up into the mountains, missed the stop-off for wide angle views down over Cairns and the Coral Sea, and made a brief stop at the gorge.

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Barron Falls, Kurunda, Far North Queensland

But now to face the matter in hand; the final inland stretch to Palmer River and the Eclipse 2012 festival.

We drove along straight roads towards more mountains and into a plateaued land of spindly trees, thirsty twigs and branches poking out of thin trunks, out into a vast, clear sky. Termite mounds rose up from the tarmac edge, dotted along into the far distance, some heading towards the two metre mark, traditional cone shapes alongside crazy distortions and face-like shapes, trip-like. No wonder the festival was being held out here. Mind enhancement seemed pretty unnecessary: let nature show you some magic instead.

A cow ambled along the roadside. Where was its nutrition?

Those far away mountains loomed close and once again we started to climb. With less than an hour to go, we pulled in at another scenic viewing spot and paused, looking out over a light brown landscape, a tinderbox of dryness.

One guy stops off to  take in the scenery. A moment of peace before the party.

One guy stops off to take in the scenery. A moment of peace before the party.

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Dry, dusty environment… a taste of things to come

And then the last filling station, a few souls milling around grabbing smokes and snacks, what was left. Bottle shops and convenience stores from Cairns to Mareeba to Palmer River were running low. Fuel needed bulk replacing. It would be a good week for this little area of Far North Queensland.

We turned into the festival site, waved in by two guys and a girl, big smiles and a jiggle dance. A girl walked towards us, little shorts showing smooth, tanned legs covered in a thick layer of dust. She pulled down the cloth that was tied around her mouth.

‘You already got tickets?’ she asked.

‘Yep.’ I dug around in my bag. ‘Have you seen any crocs?’ I asked.

‘Not for a bit. Some guys pulled a couple out. It should be fine.’

Armbands on, we passed the quick car check and drove on down a few more kilometres of bumps and dust alongside water holes bearing signs that read ‘No swimming’ until we reached civilisation in the form of a rocky, hard-ground campsite. Many rocky, hard-ground campsites.

My mind flipped. This was a city of tents and abodes and set-ups, established within what felt to be the most inhospitable natural environment I had ever found myself within. It would be like no other camping experience. Of that, I was sure.

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The final stretch into the festival site

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And we arrive! Some 2,307km later. Celebrate.

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Filed under activity & sport, australia, camping, culture, festivals, food & drink, nature, oceania, roadtrip

Can’t I just get drunk and dance (or should I really find out what Australia Day is actually about)?

Flag of Australia

Flag of Australia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So it’s my second Australia Day in… erm… Australia. And guess what? It’s raining and blowing the start of a storm. Again. Mid-summer? Pah! ‘So what exactly are you celebrating on Australia Day?’ I asked a friend. ‘Er… something to do with our independence’. ‘You don’t even know what you’re celebrating?!’ ‘Yeah, yeah I do…’

And so I became determined to find out what Australia Day was really about. If I’m going to pause my travels for a little while to be here, to explore this place, I definitely want to have some idea of what’s going on (and why).

Dubbed by some as Invasion Day, Wikipedia gives a bit more insight into the event: Celebrated annually on 26 January, the date commemorates the arrival of the First Fleet at Sydney Cove, New South Wales in 1788 and the proclamation at that time of British sovereignty over the eastern seaboard of Australia.

But what about the impact of the British arrival on indigenous communities? Surely Australia Day is far from a day of celebration for communities who were robbed of their land and rights? As one website states, ‘To many Aboriginal people there is little to celebrate and it is a commemoration of a deep loss. Loss of their sovereign rights to their land, loss of family, loss of the right to practice their culture.’

There are efforts being made to be more inclusive and redress the situation (as much as is possible), for example The Australia Day National Network states that On Australia Day we recognise the unique status of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. The National Australia Day Council (NADC) is committed to playing a part in the journey of Reconciliation by helping all Australians to move forward with a better understanding of our shared past, and importantly how this affects the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples today and how we might build a better future together’.

I later read a little more into modern views of Australia Day and came across a good few grumbles about the Australian flag that with prominent inclusion of the Union Jack is not deemed to be sufficiently Australian. It made me think: is the wish to have a separated, unique identity so unreasonable?

Further discussions on news sites focused on nationalistic behaviour and accusations of  ‘the “boganisation” of Australia Day”. Is Australia Day really ‘all out bogan day, get drunk, wear a flag cape, cause some violence, be racist, get arrested and vomit’? It makes me think of football finals in the UK, cars covered in scarves and banners, houses draped in giant St. George flags, bloody faces on sore losers. Just a matter of patriotism? Hmmm…

On the alcohol side of things, there definitely is some truth.  ‘It’s about barbecuing with friends, and drinking until you can’t stand up’, said Sam, a Melbourne based guy in his mid-thirties. ‘We usually go for a surf, then head back for a barbie and beers’, said another friend up in North New South Wales.

It would seem that for many Australians, the way to celebrate this day is by spending time with friends and family, barbecuing, beaching and drinking. It is, after all, suggested as being the ‘largest annual public event in the nation’, so why not get together?

It also seems that for many, many people, Australia Day is about Hottest 100 parties, The Sydney Morning Herald claiming that the countdown event ran by Triple J (a popular ad-free and government-owned station)  ‘brings us together’ whilst Triple J themselves talked up the day weeks in advance, generating hype and giving shout outs to registered parties around the country.

On my way back from a trip out into Byron Bay I stopped at the off-license (or bottle-O, if we want to keep things Australian), expecting to find myself in amongst a last-minute booze scramble. But the only hint at Australia Day was the seller’s insistence that I buy the organic Australian vodka over an imported brand, and maybe the guy who was slurring and paying up wearing only a pair of tightie boxer shorts was my second sign? My first bogan sighting? Quite possibly.

And then I drove on through oncoming storms, home to a veranda of bodies huddled out of the reach of driving rains, to a barbecue sheltered by parasols, to music blasting from the radio, to eskies crammed with ice and beers, to over 30cm of rain in one hour (noted when we were still level-headed enough to check).

The beach party, I guessed, wouldn’t be happening. Maybe next year.

So what are we celebrating again? Oh yeah. Independence. No, invasion. No, the British landings. Ah, it’s getting a bit fuzzy. Now, where is my drink?

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Conversational confidence (and a splash of Spanglish)

I am on a flight to the island of Santa Cruz on the Galapagos archipelago, and somehow I’ve landed a seat wedged in amongst a lively group of school kids at the back of the plane. Their teacher throws me an apologetic smile before returning to her itinerary in an earnest attempt to ignore flying objects and playful punches. And in amongst the excitement and chaos and chatter I can’t help but smile to myself. Why? Because I can understand a good chunk of what these hyperites are saying. (Oh, and the fact that I am winging my way to one of the world’s most awesome places for nature and wildlife. It’s definitely another good reason for my optimistic mood).

The desire to speak and understand Spanish had been a big decider in my choice to travel in South America. Back in September 2011 I landed in Ecuador and gave Spanish a good go, but realistically it was a half-hearted effort that all too often resulted in a Spanglish language mish-mash coloured with a splash of German and Dutch and Hebrew.

I got by, don’t get me wrong, but during this second trip to South America I wanted to immerse myself further in the language and culture of the place and not the language and culture of my fellow travellers (as interesting as it might be).

After my visit to Brazil (with its added confusion of Brazilian Portuguese), I had decided to head back into Spanish-speaking South America, roughing it out for over twenty-eight hours on two buses through Paraguay into Bolivia.

It had been over three months since I’d spoken Spanish yet once I arrived into Asunción in Paraguay I was easily able to sort out tickets and taxis and day stays in a hostel whilst the two English girls in tow stood tongue-tied.

I could suddenly speak Spanish! It came flooding back to me with renewed energy and confidence. Could I really have improved? People understood me! Oh happy day!

Because being able to speak the language, I’ve found, enables one to connect better with locals, to feel closer to a country, to understand its nuances a little better.

For example during the day-long bus journey into Bolivia, I chatted away with the guy who had taken my window seat. I found out he was Colombian with four kids aged between four and twenty-six. Through body language and Spanish we talked on and off for hours about religion and family and everything in between.

In Pucara I found myself eating lunch with a family from Santa Cruz discussing Bolivian and European politics and economies. I understood pretty much everything. Sure, their language was probably dumbed down in order to give me a chance, and of course I couldn’t babble away in too much detail and depth, but it was a conversation nonetheless. In Spanish!

When I returned to Ecuador in April 2012, I taxied to a hostel in Guyaquil. ‘Your Spanish is good’, noted the driver. We chatted away. And once at the hostel I went through the whole check-in question and answer process in easy Spanish. ‘Your Spanish is good’, they complimented. I glowed. It was a day for ego-boosts.

But, for the amount of time I’ve spent in South America I really should be a lot better. I didn’t do daily homework like the good girl I wanted to be. I hung out with other travellers and spoke English far more than I ever intended.

And I got over my shyness and embarked on conversations a lot too late.

But shoulda-woulda-coulda. I partially achieved my South America goal to have a conversation in Spanish. So long as it’s not too in-depth, tick. I can get by.

Not that I’ll stop now, oh no.

So here I am, on my way to Galapagos with only a week or so to go before I leave South America once again, and I’m starting to think of ways to keep my language dreams alive. Anyone want to be my Spanish speaking buddy when I’m back in Australia? Weekly food and chatter at mine, no English allowed. Bon appetit. Oh no. I mean buen provercho. Si.

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Because everyone likes talking on a dinosaur phone

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Hello…? Anyone home?

Sucre might be a Unesco site full of colonial architecture and little pockets of beautiful surprises, but it is also known as the home of the ‘world’s largest collection of dinosaur footprints‘ in the fairly new site of El Parque Cretácico (Dinosaur Park). Here you can see over 5,000 ‘authentic dinosaur tracks‘ as well as lots of dinosaur replicas. Big ones.

If however, like me, rather than make the 40 minute trip out of the Sucre you decide to stick inside the town itself, there are still plenty of paleontological hints in the form of various dinosaur models that are scattered around the place, including down the steps at the Black Market.

And of course, there is the odd dinosaur phone box, which after a few drinks out in the town becomes everyone’s favourite toy. And friend. Pretend conversations? Really?! A load of nonsense! And a load of copycatting.

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Bye bye Baños

My stay in Baños, Ecuador was scattered with the regular sound of marching bands and deafening fireworks; 6:00 am wake-ups from drums and trumpets, heart stopping bangs. The town was celebrating the month long October festival of Nuestra Señora del Agua Santa (Virgin of the Holy Waters) where local musicians gathered at any opportune moment, passing families stopped to watch and dance, and teenagers set off rockets in the middle of the street.

 For a solo female traveller, Baños felt incredibly safe. I wandered around after dark without feeling the need to hug my bag in close, without needing to constantly look over my shoulder. It has a small town feel, it is easy to navigate and it has a whole lot more life than some of the other smaller places I’ve visited. Yes, it’s a tourist town, but not just for us gringos. This place is seriously popular with Ecuadorians taking a long weekend or holiday away from normal life to come and enjoy the spas and the thermal baths (which, when I tried to visit, were so full to the brim that I decided against sardining it with a load of strangers).

Baños is lovely to stroll around, the central market particularly appealing with smells that hit your nose and start the salivating process in earnest. (Less appealing for some is the Ecuadorian delicacy of cuy – guinea pig – roasted up with teeth bared and eyes staring out). The town is full of lovely places to eat and relax, including many Italian restaurants. Ecuadorians, it seems, love their pizza. Although it can’t be considered particularly Ecuadorian, I returned to Casa Hood on a few occasions for its good food, daily film screening, book exchange and chilled atmosphere. Both Casa Hood and my friendly, social hostel, Hostal Transilvania, were comfortable places to relax whilst I got my strength and energy back.

Although not the most interesting or important of topics, bus stations will now get their mention on this blog! Baños bus station, although not significantly different to other bus stations in Ecuador, is a good example of the fun and chaos of these places.

Opposite the main building is a stretch of shacks selling all sorts of tasty and tooth-rotting snacks including the famous melcocha – a toffee like sweet (in town you can see it being stretched and slapped before being chopped and packaged and sold). When a bus turns up, a manic, high-pitched and piercing chorus of predominantly women starts up: ‘papitas’, ‘humitas’, ‘chifles’, ‘cola’ they shout out with a well-rehearsed and imitable melody. This starts to calm as money is handed down through bus windows and exchanged for the treats. The men take over: ‘Riobamba’, ‘Quito’, ‘Puyo’, they shout repeatedly, a lower tone but again with a learned tune. They approach and try to quickly usher any person standing around onto buses. Baños usually only has one bus at a time to any destination but in other bus stations it becomes competitive: three or four different men trying to get you onto their bus. And good luck to you getting on the right one. A few porkie pies have been told in order to get you on board… direct bus?… of course (not)!

So, I’m here at the bus station ready to leave for Puyo. I’ve got a little bag of cooked corn and potato in a smooth, sweet/savoury sauce from the street sellers. I’ve grown fond of Baños. I could probably live here for a little while. There’s a load to do, it’s a sweet little town with friendly people and enough life to keep things interesting.

But I’m moving on. Bye bye Baños. After two weeks here, I won’t mourn the illness, the parasites, and I certainly won’t miss the fireworks. But the hospitality and atmosphere, yes, I’ll miss that for sure.

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