Tag Archives: tourism

Top 5: Natural Queensland, Australia

www.travelola.org5. Camp outs within the National Parks and State Forests, such as Brooyar State Forest and Cape Hillsborough National Park offered peaceful, beautiful stop offs that were affordable (starting at $6). Granted, there was a lack of facilities (and people) but what more do you need beyond fire pits and  ‘pit dunnies’?!

www.travelola.org4. For a Brit like me, Aussie beaches and rainforests are full of exotic appeal. Digging my toes into the sands at Smalleys’ Beach in Cape Hillsborough National Park was a great, calming way to end a day of driving whilst a hasty dip in the river at Mossman Gorge  whetted my appetite for future wanderings through strangler figs and soul-stirring greens.

Queensland Low Isles Great Barrier Reef3. Although I may have been somewhat spoilt by documentaries and coffee table books full of intensely coloured imagery, the Great Barrier Reef was still, undeniably, stunning. With only a half day to spare, I took the shorter trip out to the Low Isles where I snorkelled and splashed about, circumnavigated the island on foot (okay, it took all of fifteen minutes) and feasted on a smorgasbord of seafood delights. Literally.

Queensland desolate landscapes2. My first taste of desolate landscapes was on the drive out of Cairns towards the Eclipse 2012 festival in Far North Queensland. It intrigued me that anyone would live up tracks that disappeared away from dusty roadsides, further into environments where only the odd spindly bush and termite mounds survived.

www.travelola.org1. After days of driving through inland Queensland, particularly around Charters Towersbig skies have to come top of the crop. I felt fully surrounded, 360° around me, 180° over me – by a spread of resplendent blue skies, of fluffy, bouncy clouds, of stars piercing a blanket of blackness. I felt  my place in the universe: alive and conscious enough to observe it but little, tiny, insignificant overall.

To read my Queensland road trip in its entirety, join the journey here.

To readers who’ve joined me from Cruising Helmsman (and anyone else interested in reading my sailing adventures), click here to rewind to my time in the Galapagos islands and the beginning of a South Pacific adventure.

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Filed under activity & sport, australia, beaches, camping, culture, forests, national parks, nature, oceania, sea, snorkelling, tours, travel, wildlife

Keeping it cheap in Cairns

Cairns surprised me.

Because despite a glitzy facelift of the esplanade area, Cairns hasn’t risen to big city status and gone down the ‘we’re-so-good-we’ll-rip-you-off’ route. At least from what I could tell.

Cairns doesn’t seem to be an overly exciting place, with it’s a grid system of functionality, trimmed and watered grasses and all the anticipated visuals of palm city tropics. Before you shoot me for such a low impact first impression report, know that I’m not a city fan. It takes me to know a city to love a city. More on that later. But Cairns, well, on first impressions it seemed pleasant. Surprisingly so.

All I really knew of Cairns – previous to this short exposure – was that it happens to be where many people set off on Great Barrier Reef adventures.

L-man, D-man and me were on a different kind of adventure, a road trip drive-by exploration that had already seen us cover some 2,000km from Ballina in New South Wales. Our destination was the Eclipse 2012 festival, a few hours inland from Cairns, our food was cheap camping cook-ups and our accommodation a couple of mismatched tents.

But on our first night in Cairns we called a friend and crashed his family holiday. So strong was the call of a shower and a social.

‘If we get caught’, he said as we skulked down the side of the holiday apartment building, ‘you guys are gonna have to pay up’.

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$8.50 breakfast + a proper coffee from next door = sorted stowaways

The next morning we breakfasted with two other stowaways at a hole in the wall offering $8.50 big breakfasts before wandering around the free public pool on the ocean’s edge. Ah, the irony. All that salty water so close, a forbidden territory of jellyfish deadliness, and you have to make do with a man-made structure and a dose of chlorine. But at least there is a man-made structure, I guess. The heat of the day was rising and even a paddle in the shallows of the pool brought some cool-down comfort.

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Lagoon on the ocean’s edge

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Heaps* of paddle space (*loads for non-Aussie speakers)

Before leaving the pool area I noticed a sign and I realised that if I didn’t dislike organised aerobics quite so much, Cairns would be a great place to live. Here in the park, every day, were free fitness sessions. No ‘I’m too poor’ excuses for anyone. Aussies and their mission to stay on top of health and fitness, bold and in full colour. Gotta love it. Or at least appreciate the intention.

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What’s your punishment? What’s your happiness?

So what were the tricks to keeping Cairns cheap? Dishonesty in terms of accommodation, grease in terms of nutrition, killer chemical in terms of health and fitness and keeping cool.

More realistically, though, we barely spent any time in Cairns – half a day – so of course it was easy to keep it cheap in this compact city centre.

Why this blog post focused on budget, who knows? The main thing I realised is that I like Cairns enough to go back, maybe to spend some time exploring it’s surface normality a little deeper (whilst not doing zumba classes). It was that kind of place, and it surprised me.

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Filed under activity & sport, australia, cities, costs/money, culture, nature, oceania, roadtrip, sea, travel

Budgeting Bolivia

Despite Bolivia having the poorest economy in South America it is starting to chase tourist money and prices are slowly creeping up for visitors. As with many countries in South America, there are tourist prices and local prices, and these are often not transparent. Very little is actually labelled up. Vendors make prices up on the spot and often seem loathe to bargain.

I always find the issue of bargaining a delicate subject. Prices may have been inflated for a tourist market but it does feel awkward to see travellers fighting hard to get a 5Bs. reduction for a quality piece of handiwork, something somebody has spent considerable time slaving over. 5Bs.? That’s US$0.72.

Imported products are more expensive, although you’re never fully sure whether you’re getting the legitimate brand or a counterfeit (shoes, for example, in the style of Converse with All Stan marked on the side are pretty obviously not the real deal, but there are plenty of close calls).

However, in a country where accommodation typically costs between Bs.30 and 50Bs., where a meal out will set you back 20Bs, where bus travel costs approximately 8Bs. per hour, Bolivia still is a place where cash-strapped travellers can go far. The cost of backpacking in Bolivia is cheap. No wonder some people keep extending their visa, postponing their travel on to Argentina or Chile or Brazil where life is a whole lot more expensive.

Hostel bed (rural/city) Bs.20   / Bs.50 £1.83-4.58 / US$2.87-7.18
Private room in hostel/hotel Bs.70-Bs.100 £6.41-9.17 / US$10.06-14.37
Cheap lunch out (al meurzo) Bs.15 £1.37 / US$2.16
Bottle of water Bs.6 £0.55 / US$.86
Fresh fruit juice at market Bs.4 £0.37 / US$0.57
Beer (large bottle) Bs.15 £1.37 / US$2.16
Yoghurt (1ltr) Bs.12 £1.10 / US$1.72
Branded toothpaste Bs.15 £1.37 / US$2.16
Woolly hat Bs.20-Bs.30 £1.83-2.75 / US$2.87-4.31
Woolly dress Bs.80-Bs.120 £7.33-11.00 / US$11.49-17.24
Travel guitar Bs.350-Bs.700 £32.08-64.16 / US$50.29-100.58
Cigarettes (20 pack)* Bs.8-Bs.10 £0.73-0.91 / US$1.15-1.44
Cocaine (per gram) * Bs.100-Bs.200 £9.17-18.33 / US$14.37-28.74
San Pedro powder (1 hit/trip)* Bs.10 £0.91 / US$1.15

*DISCLAIMER: By including these items, I am in no way advocating their use. I am simply detailing what is available and providing associated costs in order to give a fuller impression of the country and its marketplace.

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City to hippy: Santa Cruz to Samaipata

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Plaza Principal 12 de Julio, Santa Cruz, Bolivia

On my first day in Santa Cruz I met an American traveller who had lost his friend in the city the previous night. Halfway through an evening of drink and drugs in some third ring Santa Cruz bars – an area where tourists are advised not to venture – both guys were arrested for not carrying identification. They were thrown into a city jail along with a load of other tourists. Following pay offs and promises to return with passports the following day, both boys were released. The partying continued. And then somewhere, somehow, Marc lost his friend to a girl, or to hedonism, or to who knows what.

5:00pm the following day and Marc was worried. His friend hadn’t made a reappearance. If a girl had been involved, motel kicking out times had long passed. Marc started to imagine the worst. Was he back in jail? In hospital? In a gutter? It wasn’t like his friend to be so late, so inconsiderate.

I never found out what happened, how this resolved. It unsettled me a little, but it wasn’t unusual. Most people showed up eventually with a good story.

But it made think: did I really want to stay in a city like this?

Santa Cruz, many told me, is a fun place to party and spend a few days but beyond that doesn’t offer a huge amount to a backpacking crowd. I only spent three days in Santa Cruz and as far as my limited exploring revealed, it is just another South American city with yet another lovely plaza and cathedral.

However, as my taxi driver warned me, despite a warm climate and a modern, Brazilian influence, it also has its dangerous side.

Call me boring, but I’m a bit over dangerous cities. I’m not really a city girl, in all honesty. And maybe because I was also seriously under the weather and on a good dose of antibiotics, I wasn’t really feeling the place. I needed country air. I craved a welcoming, safe environment.

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Views on the way from Santa Cruz to Samaipata

So I squished into a taxi with four Israeli backpackers and wound my way down from Santa Cruz through a mountainous landscape towards the fresh air of Samaipata.

But first, a stop-off at what sounded like a hippy idyll in Bermejo: an organic farmstead that embraced music and creative arts and was working towards self-sufficiency.

Surely this would be the ideal place to recuperate and re-energise?

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Filed under bolivia, cities, culture, south america