Tag Archives: South America

Travel Word Play on World Poetry Day 2014

The Greek philosopher Aristotle reckoned that ‘adventure is worthwhile’, thus giving travelling the thumbs up, while Edgar Allen Poe is quoted as saying that ‘to elevate the soul, poetry is necessary.’ Both are worthwhile and both are necessary, in my books, so to give a nod to World Poetry Day 2014, I’ll share some of my favourite poems that I relate to travel.

I want to start with one that takes me back to my life in England, to a time when I’d catch myself in moments of routine and yearn for a different life, one that I hadn’t yet figured out. It’s sometimes difficult to put your finger on what you want, but reading this is a good reminder of how to feel alive, whether that be through travel or otherwise:

He who becomes the slave of habit,
who follows the same routes every day,
who never changes pace,
who does not risk and change the color of his clothes,
who does not speak and does not experience,
dies slowly.

He or she who shuns passion,
who prefers black on white,
dotting ones “it’s” rather than a bundle of emotions, the kind that make your eyes glimmer,
that turn a yawn into a smile,
that make the heart pound in the face of mistakes and feelings,
dies slowly.

He or she who does not turn things topsy-turvy,
who is unhappy at work,
who does not risk certainty for uncertainty,
to thus follow a dream,
those who do not forego sound advice at least once in their lives,
die slowly.

He who does not travel, who does not read,
who does not listen to music,
who does not find grace in himself,
she who does not find grace in herself,
dies slowly.

He who slowly destroys his own self-esteem,
who does not allow himself to be helped,
who spends days on end complaining about his own bad luck, about the rain that never stops,
dies slowly.

He or she who abandon a project before starting it, who fail to ask questions on subjects he doesn’t know, he or she who don’t reply when they are asked something they do know,
die slowly.

Let’s try and avoid death in small doses,
reminding oneself that being alive requires an effort far greater than the simple fact of breathing.

Only a burning patience will lead
to the attainment of a splendid happiness.

This poem, Die Slowly, reminds me of my own need to drink in as much of life as possible. I’m not sure that it is actually by Pablo Neruda, as suggested by some online sources, but nonetheless it reminds me of Neruda and takes me back some years to when I was studying Spanish, ideas of travel forming in my mind. I would read Neruda’s poems slowly in Spanish, trying to make sense of their meaning, and then look to the mirroring page of the book that my godmother had given me and read the English translation.

And this poem?  Neruda or not, I hear it. I chose to mix it up and live a little. And that included making the decision to travel and leave everything I knew behind. 

Throughout my travels I – like any traveller – have had to make choices about the howswhyswhens and with whos, and  so often I’ve had moments when I’ve thought: have I made the right decision? Robert Frost plays with this idea in his famous poem, The Road Not Taken:

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth; 

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

This poem speaks to me about making decisions that are right for you. Have I made the right decisions on my journey? Yes, apparently. Whoever I ask says the same thing: whatever path you chose was the right one. Or neither was the right one. Or something like that.

And so during my travels I’ve immersed myself in places and experiences that have pushed me outside of my comfort zone, and  I’ve connected with people and situations that I might not otherwise have come across. Like with any traveller, these interactions and experiences have left deep imprints. When I take a minute, such as now, to contemplate my own journey, I can relate elements of my experience to this classic poem by William Wordsworth:

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed—and gazed—but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

The theme, one study source states is about the importance of connecting with nature in order to understand oneself and one’s place in the universe. For me, that has often been through travel.

And those daffodils? Those moments on my journey? Each time I remember them, meditate on them, I am back there, surrounded by sight, smell, sound and sensation. Each time, I feel life. 

Have any recommendations? I’d love to hear from you. Feel like reading over a few more? Have a glance over some of these travel poems.

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Filed under art, culture, random, reflection, writing, writing/poetry

Thanks Wanderlust travel magazine!

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The lovely folk over at Wanderlust travel magazine awarded travelola.org Blog of the Week with my ‘9 reasons why solo travel is great’ post.

The post was written during my first visit to Australia when I was about to head back over to South America to check out a bit of Brazil, Bolivia and the Galapagos islands.

To read the blog post on travelola.org, click on the post link below  or visit the Wanderlust website by clicking  the Wanderlust logo.

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And then it was over

australian-flag-mapAs I sat on the flat, spongy mattress of a cobbled together dorm room near the airport on the island of Tahiti listening to the woes of an eighteen year old French lad who’d had his money and laptop stolen whilst on a cruise out to the Tuamotus and now didn’t have any other option but to wait for a flight home, I realised that this too was the end of my journey.

Well, not really. If Stage 1 had been my initial South American adventures within Ecuador and Peru, and Stage 2 my previous time in Australia and New Zealand, then this travel through Brazil, Bolivia and Ecuador followed by a delivery sail from the Galapagos Islands to Tahiti could be deemed Stage 3.

So Stage 3 was drawing to a close. There would still be more adventures up ahead, surely?

One of my favourite modern-day philosophers, Alain de Botton, says: ‘We’re getting better at learning how to structure journeys so that they can assuage what we’re lacking within us.’ And when I looked inside myself and questioned what was lacking (and causing a bit of concern), it was simple: health, familiarity, money. And a big, fat cuddle.

The biggest issue was my health, and my body was begging me to settle for a while. In the last few months, Bolivia had physically punished me and although I’d felt fairly healthy – inactive but healthy – during the Pacific crossing, now Tahiti had delivered up a fever thanks to some tropical sores, sores that stretched the skin on my left leg so tight that touch shot sharp tingles right down to my foot and up to my thigh. My immune system was shot. (I think if you’d told me then that I’d still have another two loads of antibiotics coming up once I was back in Australia, I would have cried. Seven lots of antibiotics within six months? Sorry body. Some people deal better with South America.)

I booked the cheapest flight back to Australia that I could find. But where to? Melbourne had been my original choice destination, a cultural city with opportunities for work and an agreeable cost of living, but Sydney was starting to appeal to me with its sailing scene. So why was I descending into a peachy, sunset Brisbane in mid-June?

I thought back to my French friend and hoped that his misfortunes hadn’t overly soured his impressions of paradise or deterred him from the wonders of travel. Life without travel, without adventure? Unimaginable.

I got off the plane, cursed the fact I’d worn flip-flops and a vest top as I shivered into an Aussie winter, and paused for a moment before I stepped through the Arrivals doors. My heart beating faster and a smile twitching on my lips, I pushed my airport trolley into a politely crowded Arrivals lounge. Still far from my UK home, Australia would be home for now.

Stage 4 starts. An empty page. Some good ideas, hopes and needs, but no plans or expectations. But definitely adventures. Always.

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Filed under australia, bolivia, brazil, ecuador, moorea, new zealand, oceania, pacific, peru, solo travel, south america, tahiti, travel

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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Filed under activity & sport, culture, dancing, ecuador, health, indonesia, random, solo travel, south america, south east asia, surf

Diving the Galapagos

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Dive spots in the Galapagos islands (map from http://www.galapagosdestiny.com)

I needed a gentle re-introduction to the undersea world, not an adventure that would see me hanging on to tough, solidified lava for fear of getting swept away into the mouth of a hammerhead shark.

I decided pretty much last minute that I really should dive whilst in the Galapagos. When would I be back?

But I did wonder: was it really worth paying over $150 for two dives in waters that I’d been warned had low visibility and strong currents? It definitely sounded beyond my diving ability.

Ah well. So long as I stayed within my 18 metre limit, I was insured. Galapagos had thus far been good to me and I decided to place my trust in the hands of people who dive these spots on a daily basis.

It was on a Friday evening in May that I excused myself from a social meet-up with a delivery skipper who I’d be crewing for across the Pacific Ocean, and headed off into a dusky Puerto Ayora in search of an open dive shop.

A woman turned the key to her shop door as I approached. ‘‘Everywhere is shut now. But maybe René has space for you’, she said, “I show you.’ Within twenty minutes I was signing paperwork and trying on dive gear behind re-opened shutters.

It was going to happen.

Saturday morning. A sleepy-eyed start for us all, bouncing over dawn waves to the north-east coast of Santa Cruz island.

Dive one at Plazas started off hesitantly. An old boy, a man with sailing skin, natural highlights and a grey tuft of a beard helped me step into my buoyancy aid and tighten up my weight belt. I was a bit nervous. Would I instinctively remember everything? Maybe I should have done a refresher course first. Hmmm.

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Some of the dive team ready for action (*)

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Before the dive at Plazas

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King angelfish tempting us into the water at Plazas

Hands on regulator and back of the head, backward rolls, splash, splash, hitting the water one after the other. Apart from I stayed put. I couldn’t do it.

Second countdown, just for me this time, and pride pushed me overboard.

But I wasn’t the first to panic. A girl with a face full of makeup about to be melted by the lick of the sea started to hyperventilate once she hit the water. She lasted a few minutes. ‘No’, she said, ‘No’, and got back on the boat.

I struggled to submerge. Again and again I hit the surface to reach for air and calm my beating heart to a steady pace.

Eventually I descended, found my buoyancy and balance, and I eased into it, finning gently along a sandy bottom past curious king angel fish and a shoal of yellow tailed surgeon fish, floating along with golden Mexican goatfish, shimmery blackspot porgy – unique to the Galapagos – and grey mickey with delicate trailing tails and fins. And some stingrays. I kept my distance.

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Finally checking out the ocean floor *

It was all fairly relaxed. After twenty minutes two of the boys surfaced, out of air, whilst the rest of us continued cruising around. We were deeper than I should have gone – 23m – and whilst visibility wasn’t great, the grey waters still had enough clarity to keep this underworld from becoming too freaky.

Dive two at Gordon Rocks was a different ball game. The boat rocked heavily. ‘This section is calmer’, René assured us. But the entry was a little hectic and once in the water, my breathing was instantly panicked.

‘Behind you!’ shouted the driver, ‘Look, look! A hammerhead!’ I couldn’t look. A little apart from the rest of the group, the shark was close to me. If I didn’t look, it didn’t exist, and if I pretended that all the fins we’d seen from the boat were imaginary, all was good.

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Approaching the calm side of Gordon Rocks

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Overboard at Gordon Rocks

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My group… left to the sharks

We started the dive, submerging to 18m, down the crater wall. For forty minutes we drifted around the rock, currents spurring us on.

This dive gave me my shark sighting, finally. I’d done my best to avoid them until now, but a couple of whitetip reef sharks were insistent on being seen from a comfortable distance. More Mexican goat fish and blackspot porgy, some blue striped snapper, some surgeon fish. And two turtles. Ah, my beautiful friends.

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A shoal of yellow-tailed mullet, unique to the Galapagos islands *

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Galapagos fish

The safety stop showed me why Gordon Rocks is considered an intermediate to advanced dive site, with currents in the shallows threatening to rip us away from our handholds. My legs splayed out to the side as water surged past and I gripped on tightly, thrilled and scared and a little sad that it was nearly all over.

And the hammerhead story from the start of this blog post? Yeah, my imagination got the better of me. It could have happened, I guess, but I held on tightly, did my five-minute safety stop and finned up to the choppy surface fully unchomped.

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The reputation of the Galapagos means that they can demand fairly high prices and people will pay. There’s little room for bargaining and you can expect to pay upwards of US$170 for two dives. I paid $135 for two dives as a last minute special deal through Galapagos People Shalom Dive Centre. Carol – my fun, expressive yet calm dive buddy – and René kept a close eye on me throughout the two dives. Thanks guys! Thanks also for permitting use of some of the GoPro images (*) and  stingray footage.

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Filed under activity & sport, costs/money, diving, ecuador, nature, south america, tours, wildlife

Losing the plot (and everything else)

I’d been on the road for nearly a year and should know better, but somehow Galapagos was giving me a little test. This was the third example of stupidity since I’d arrived. First, I’d left my bank card at El Chato and had to pay for a taxi to take me back for it, completely cancelling out any financial benefits of sharing a ride there in the first place. Secondly, the whole ATM, no-money fiasco once I arrived at Isla Isabela.

And now this. I’d had this horrible feeling that I’d forgotten something, but then I often have that worry. Only this time it felt real.

Sure enough, once I got back to Puerto Ayora and unpacked my bags I realised I’d left my hard drive and banking key hidden under the mattress in the hotel on Isla Isabela. A two hour boat ride away. How silly.

Time to pull myself out of my drifty traveller dreamspace and tune back into reality, switch back on.

Dejo mi disco duro bajo el cochón en Hotel Sandrita en Isabela’. I was back on Isla Santa Cruz in the Galapagos trying my best to explain to Maria who ran Los Amigos in Puerto Ayora that I’d left my hard drive behind on Isla Isabela, trying to ask her for some help.

She got the phone books out, made a few enquiries and dialled me through to Señora America at Hotel Sandrita, the place I’d stayed over in Puerto Vilamil on Isla Isabella. ‘Ah yes’, said America, ‘I’ll send it through on a boat tomorrow. Be there at 0800’.

After barely four hours sleep I was up and standing bleary-eyed at the water’s edge trying to decide which boat was my boat. I hadn’t fully understood America’s instructions. My Spanish failed me. So I did the rounds and chatted to captains and crew, but no one had a parcel for me.

After some minutes a guy who had been skulking around (and also looked like it was too early for him to be up and about) approached me. ‘Are you looking for a parcel from Isabela? Are you Finola?’ he asked.

He directed me to a little office and sure enough, there was a small package. For me.

Oh happy day.

Privileged worries and a shallow blog posting ? Yes, maybe. But, a reality of backpacking nonetheless, and another story from the road.

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Baby, can I drive your boat?

I’d climbed Volcán Sierra Negra in the morning and was now back in the middle of Puerto Vilamil on the island of Isabela trying to figure out how to get back to Isla Santa Cruz where I was hoping to meet the captain of a catamaran bound for French Polynesia.

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Boat building in Puerto Vilamil marina

A hitch later and I arrived at the marina where I asked a couple of guys perched on some railings about boat times. ‘That man there’, one said, gesturing towards a guy walking towards us, ‘he’ll take you for $30’.

Half an hour later I found myself riding up top in the captain’s cab – up on the flybridge – whilst twenty nine kids and their teacher snuggled in downstairs under the sun protection of a tarp and the safety of a burly deckhand.

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Leaving Isla Isabela behind, Galapagos

We bounced along, away from a sunny Isabela and towards an increasingly greying sky. Rain started to patter down.

‘Can you…?’ asked the skipper, pointing to the wheel and the captain’s seat, having clearly remembered my earlier jests about being able to captain his boat. My friend Ollie had pulled a similar trick back in 2011 during a trip between Koh Tao and the mainland in Thailand. Whilst he may have got away with dishing out a bit of bullshit in order to convince the crew that he could captain the small ferry, why did I think I could pull the same cheek?

‘I can drive it, you know’, I’d told him, ‘can I drive it?’ It had been a mischievous ask, and now he was off of his pew and I had to deliver. I jumped over into the hot seat whilst he pulled across the rain screen and secured things up top.

And in those few minutes that I turned the wheel the wrong way and in the moments that I tried to steer us on the least choppy path possible, all my Galapagos photos went sliding down the tarpaulin. My little camera made a secret escape attempt. Oblivious, I continued taking my steering seriously until captain finished up his rain mission and returned to his rightful duties.

I sat back in my co-pilot seat and pondered what lay ahead in my adventures beyond this Galapagos trip. This little moment at sea and at the helm had got me thinking: how would it feel to do three weeks without stopping? The stretch from Galapagos to Tahiti could either destroy me or cure me of my ocean fears, I figured.

And then, finally, I realised that my camera was missing. I did a panicked scout about, and the captain killed the engines. Because there she was, nestled on the edge of the tarpaulin, waiting for a big wave to give her enough lift to fly off into the sea. Burly deckhand reached up as we held our breaths; he would either knock her into the ocean depths or save her from a watery death.

Thankfully it was the latter and the remainder of the trip, although wet and stomach lurchingly rough, was accompanied by a little bit of fuzziness. My Galapagos photos may be poor compared to what other people manage to capture, but they’re still my photos, some of my memories.

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Puerto Ayora on Isla Santa Cruz comes into view

Ah, another little adventure with a happy ending. (And I meant the fact we got the school group across from Isla Isabela to Isla Santa Cruz safe and sound. Of course. What were you thinking?!)

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Filed under activity & sport, ecuador, nature, sailing, solo travel, south america

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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Filed under culture, ecuador, language, natural wonders, south america, travel, wildlife

How to waste 5 hours in Colombia

‘Isn’t it dangerous?’ asked my family when I mentioned that I wanted to travel in Colombia, ‘why do you want to go?’ Having chatted to a Colombian girl who had told them that it’s not really a safe country, particularly for a solo female traveller, they were worried. Understandable.

But no need to worry! My new idea of crewing on a sailing yacht across the Pacific Ocean meant I’d have to skip Colombia in any case. In order to stay within a safe sailing window I had to act quickly and be in either Panama or Galapagos, Ecuador within the next few weeks. No cyclones and stormy seas for me, please. And Colombia? Well, it would have to wait.

Or would it?

As often happens, life likes to have a bit of a giggle. The cheapest flights I found routed me via Bogota, Colombia. And when in Colombia, even if just for a few hours, it would be rude not to check out a little of the capital.

Now, on hindsight, I wish I hadn’t bothered. Sure, I can smile about some of the confusion and discomfort and the waiting around, but was it really worth it? Hmmm…

I’d half hoped one of two friends might be waiting at arrivals for a few hours of brunch time catch-up, but the exit was lined with taxi touting middle-aged men. Although unsurprised, my heart sunk. Just a little. After nine months of travelling, arriving into places with no familiar faces to greet me was starting to become a bit tiresome. Ah, what I wouldn’t have done for a big hug, a warm smile and a friend to show me around.

But! – no time to get down in the dumps.  Climb back into your gutsiness and get out there, girl! After changing up some money, I went for a chat with a guy in the tourist info point. He turned out to be a smartly suited bearer of bad news.

The city and all the interesting things are too far away for your stopover’, he told me. I thought momentarily about retreating back into the comforts of the airport lounge. No. Come on! I’m in Colombia! Let’s go live it, even if only for a moment. ‘You could get a bus to Gran Estación ’, he said, ‘There are shops and places to eat, and it’s only ten minutes away’.

Everyone stared hard at the solo gringa as she tried to figure out where to catch a ride, as she struggled to make sense of buses that bore signs stating that they were going to Gran Estación but actually weren’t going anywhere close. She was clearly no Latina and curiosity stopped the odd passer-by. If they looked a little beyond the straggly, mousey hair, the tall, fair-skinned body and the light, blue eyes, they would have seen a touch of deflation and a mood that was synonymous with the grey, morning sky.

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Getting excited yet?

And then at 930AM I was finally there, wandering around an empty shopping centre close to Bogota airport. Nondescript, homogenised, brand focused. Yawn. Do I project my excitement with enough conviction?

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Clean, slick and nondescript

Within an hour everything was open and trickles of people got down to some serious spending, interspersed with fast food refuels.

After a few hours of watching the wealthier and professional people of Bogota meet with colleagues or tap away on laptops over a McCafé coffee, I reversed my Colombian journey back to the airport and a promise of a better tomorrow.

Ecuador, my love, I am returning to you.

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Filed under cities, colombia, culture, solo travel, south america

I just upped and went: the beauty, freedom and spontaneity of unplanned solo travel

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Pondering the next move: beautiful freedom or solo decision weightiness?

One rainy day back in Sucre I felt super flat. New friends had left and moved on and I was still sick. I sat sipping some coca tea by myself in the hostel kitchen, gazing out at a blanket of greyness, the odd flash of lightning streaking the early evening sky.

At this stage I had been living out of my backpack for eight months and I was having  one of those travel moments where I felt pretty lost and alone. Travel tired? Maybe. But did I want to go home? Where was home? Nope, it wasn’t a consideration. I thought hard about what would put the spark back into my travels.

A couple of days later I booked what I hoped would be my final flight for a little while: a one way ticket to Galapagos. Why, oh why, though, was I heading back to Ecuador? And why am I once again heralding solo travel?

Travelling with someone else is beautiful.Friend, partner, lover, whatever, – to share special moments on your journey is undoubtedly something to be treasured. I met back up with a friend in Brazil, someone I’d wandered with before. Travelling with them for three months previously had been easy; decision making fluid and compromise pretty unproblematic. No mean feat when we were in each other’s pockets 24/7.

But paths and desires inevitably take different turns and when my friend announced that Colombia was the next step, I wasn’t so sure. I did want to go to Colombia but there was the ticket price to take in to account (it required a flight) and there was my own personal journey to consider. And my gut instinct told me to do something different.

Three days later, I ended up on a bus making its way through Paraguay to Bolivia. It was one of the best decisions of my travels.

Travelling in a group is fun.Bolivia turned out to be a nuisance to my health but completely blessed in terms of the people I met, the landscapes and natural wonders that I encountered and the experiences that I had.

Strangely enough, despite all the amazing things that Bolivia presented me with, most significant to me were the other travellers that I befriended. Party people, caring people, fun people, thoughtful people, adventurous people, genuine people. People a little, no, a lot like me. We clicked.

Arriving into La Paz with a few of them gave a different angle to arriving into a big, South American city. It was more fun, less of a mission. So what if I ended up changing my plans a bit so that I could stay and hang out with them for a little while? Absolutely worth it. Lake Titicaca will still be there in a few years’ time, if I choose to come back. Hopefully some of these friendships will still be around too.

But then our paths started to part. If compromise with two of you is difficult enough, try it with a group of five or more. Nah, best to go get on with your own thing and meet back up to share stories and fun times when your paths next cross.

Travelling solo is freedom. When in Sucre I wondered what would really inspire and excite and challenge me. I suddenly returned to this random thought: I have my RYA Competent Crew and Day Skipper qualifications, I’m a little scared of the massive oceans, I like to face my fears. Wouldn’t a Pacific crossing be an amazing adventure?!

Not having to consider anyone else, I got right on it. Within a few hours I’d started the research, within a few days I’d heard back from skippers who needed crew for the crossing, and within a week I had booked a one way ticket to the Galapagos Islands with no real certainty that I had a place on a boat.

But I had bucket loads of enthusiasm and a whole lot of hope and trust that life would deliver something special. If it meant I ended up stranded in the Galapagos for a few weeks, how bad could it be? A slight monetary concern, but little else.

This is what I wanted my travels and adventuring to be about. Freedom for my path to unfold.

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Filed under bolivia, brazil, ecuador, random, sailing, solo travel, south america