4 Months Gone: The Good, The Bad and the WTF

Hard to believe, but I’ve been travelling for four whole months now! Peanuts to some, big huge conkers to others.

With my EHT (Estimated Home Time) being somewhere around the November mark, this could pretty much be called my halfway point. Halfway there or halfway back, who knows, but my glass is definitely half full right now.

My intention all along was to write up sort of Monthly Overview posts, but then Month One passed by with little or no WiFi, Month Two passed by with me being more interested in watching YouTube videos on how to do French braids (still can’t do them) and by the time Month Three came around I had well and truly missed the boat. So a nice little halfway round-up of my best and worst experiences (not places – a whole other post on that to come soon!) will have to do!


The Highlights

Finding out that in stark contrast to what I’ve always thought, I can actually swim in open water

Ever since a rather unfortunate near-drowning experience in Cartagena three years ago, I somehow managed to convince myself that I have a fear of swimming anywhere other than enclosed, indoor swimming pools. A day at the beach for me means sitting on my bum watching the water, eventually talking myself into taking a dip but only actually walking in until the water comes up to my waist, then chickening out and running back. It only took jumping off a rickety rope swing into a river in Semuc Champey to realise that it’s all in my head – I can swim, no fear. Cliché as it sounds, this has now opened up a whole new set of doors for me as my lack of confidence in my swimming abilities massively held me back before.

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Semuc Champey – the place of my miraculous rebirth as a water baby.


Six Flags, Mexico City

Okay, so honestly? I’m a little embarrassed to be including this in my list. I have actually been to some of the most incredible places in the world, seen some of the most magnificent sites and met such fantastic people. And I choose a freakin’ American-owned theme park as one of my top picks.

It’s not even Disneyland!

On my first day in Mexico City we had an absolutely wonderful taxi driver who took the time and effort to tell us exactly what we should make sure we see and do in the area. She asked a few times where we were from, and with each response of “Reino Unido” she replied with “Ah, Estados Unidos!”

Not quite, but we’ll go with that…

On giving the lowdown of what most tourists come to Mexico City for, she went on to say that a lot go to Six Flags, but seeing as we were from the US it wouldn’t be that exciting for us so we should probably skip out and go to some museums or something instead.

I didn’t have the heart to tell her that what with us actually being very much, 100%, entirely un-American, Six Flags was actually very high on the list of what we wanted to do.

Give me a free pass on this one, okay? Four months of Latin American and Asian bus journeys leaves you craving the normality of an actual rollercoaster.

With the only idea of what to expect coming from teen US sitcoms and blurred memories of 4-year old me’s trip to Disneyland Florida, fingers anxiously crossed that it would live up to all the unrealistically high expectations we’d set it, we paid the pittance of an entry fee and booked ourselves two tickets.

And oh my days, it was worth it!

I’m never going to be able to look at the likes of Alton Towers, Thorpe Park or Oakwood the same ever again. Long live Six Flags Mexico City.

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I’m not sure if you can see the excitement in my face…


All the wild animals!!

I wouldn’t blame anyone for thinking that after more wild elephant sightings than I can count on one hand and seeing more monkeys than the whole population of Belize and Guatemala combined (and don’t get me started on the lizards), I’d let the whole “Look! Wild animal!” shout go straight over my head by now.

But, you’d be wrong to think that.

It never ceases to amaze me when I stop and think that as a child I was told “Don’t swim in the river, you might get washed away forever or drown and die” or “Don’t get lost in the forest in case you get kidnapped” (can anybody say melodramatic childhood?) but the go-to warning from parents in many other countries is “Be careful swimming in the river, you might get eaten by a crocodile and/or alligator and/or hippo and/or other animal with scary teeth” and “Don’t go too far into the trees, you might end up impaled on an elephant tusk.”

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I imagine my Indian friends eventually tired of what they at first considered my cute squeals of delight at the monkeys and deer and weird goat-like things they see on a day-to-day basis. But, like, you just don’t see elephants sitting on the back of a truck in UK!! That kind of stuff is awesome!

I am absolutely buzzing to get back to Sri Lanka and India in a few weeks for more cheeky little monkeys to steal the biscuits straight out of my hands!

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Wild elephant!


The Lowlights

Getting massively ripped off by what was once a cute old man but is now the devil in disguise in Quito, Ecuador

This is where I truly discovered how vitally important it is to ask how much a journey costs before getting into a cab with anyone, even if the driver seems like somebody’s harmless grandfather. This is a long one, so strap yourselves in.

Ordinarily I always ask how much a trip costs, or check that there’s a running meter. On this day, though, I found myself somewhat distracted by the fact that my friend seemed to have gotten himself lost in a black hole otherwise known as Good WiFi, and appeared not to be emerging anytime soon. We had a bus to get and so I just got in the first taxi that called me over, hoping that would hurry him up.

On arriving to Quito at 3:30am a few days earlier, we paid $8 to get from the same bus station to our hostel. It was slightly more than most advice I’d read online and in the guidebook, but given that it was so early there was no problem with paying a few dollars extra. The journey took no more than 15 minutes.

So on this sunny Saturday afternoon, when the 15 minute mark came and went and we were driving through some mountains with no bus station in sight, alarm bells started ringing. Maybe the road is closed, I thought, wanting to give the cute old man the benefit of the doubt.

When we started to approach the bus terminal after almost one hour and ten minutes (!!!) of driving, and I asked him how much we needed to pay, imagine our surprise when he quoted an outrageous $18! Plus $3 entry to the terminal. When I told him we didn’t need him to enter the terminal, and were more than happy to be dropped outside on the main road and carry our bags in, he was insistent that this wasn’t allowed despite the fact that there were plenty of people doing the exact same thing. Moreover, there was a sign that clearly displayed entry for taxis was $1 and not $3.

Normally I have no problem paying the gringo price if it’s a few cents or dollars more, and the driver or vendor or whoever aren’t clearly trying to pull the wool over my eyes. But in this case – where he was quoting a good $10 more than it should be – I was furious. I argued with him that we did the exact same journey the other day at less than half the price, and it took a quarter of the time. He said that our driver must have taken the main road, and that would have been too busy to take on a Saturday so he took the round road. To which I responded we didn’t need the round road, we would have been happy to wait in traffic. As we argued, he kept contradicting himself and was just downright rude. Eventually – just to get away from him more than anything – I gave in and said we would pay $15 but not a penny more. For a while he refused, insisting that $18 is what he was owed and he would have to call the police over, before eventually just sticking his hand out and taking our money.

If it was in the UK, I would have happily paid a hell of a lot more than $18 for a journey of that length, but it’s the principle of the situation! Just because we’re clearly not local doesn’t mean we’re there to be taken advantage of!

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Quito – you so pretty but why so many bad guys?!


Having my Kindle stolen in Quito, Ecuador. What is it with Quito?!

After 5 years and almost 30 countries, this is the first ever time I’ve had anything stolen from me outside of the UK. And I am so annoyed about it!

I was staying at a hostel in Quito, sleeping on one of the top bunks. Of course, there were no shelves or cupboards or anything up high, and so I had to leave my bags on the floor. My Kindle was in the front pocket of my smaller backpack, and at some point (I don’t know when) somebody decided it was their right to have a good old rummage through my stuff and liberate it from my ownership! Bloody bastards. I wouldn’t be so annoyed if it was just a Kindle, but it was gifted to me on my 21st birthday by my stepfather, and a lot of thought went into it so the whole situation makes my blood boil.


Getting held up for a few days thanks to Hurricane Earl in Guatemala and Belize

Sometimes, an unavoidable delay resulting in a few unexpected days of rest and relaxation is more than welcome. However, when you’re just starting on the final 2 weeks of your time in Central America and need to somehow get through one and a half countries to reach Cancun in time for your flight to Mexico City, and on to LA, sudden road closures are nothing but a nuisance. Couple that with having no electricity or water, no restaurants and no shops, it can only be described as a right pain in the arse. No electricity means no air conditioning, which means more bugs, which means more itching. No water means no showers. Moreover, crazy winds and crazier rain means almost all tourist attractions and activities in the whole of Belize get shut down until further notice, open only to those in military vehicles. And as it turns out, military vehicles are pretty hard to rent in Belize… so no cool caves and hidden treasures for me!

Now, toning down the woe is me mentality for a moment…

With it only being classified as Category 1, and even then fluctuating between Tropical Storm and full on hurricane, fortunately there hasn’t been too many fatalities. The most damage has been to the Belizean roads. Trees falling down and bridges being washed away can cause quite a kerfuffle in a country which is basically just jungle and coast, it seems!

One thing I’ve learnt from the experience is that one of the consequences of hurricanes that you just don’t hear about on the news – a lot of dead birds lying around. When you stop and think about it, it would be an obvious fallout of such an event but to be honest it isn’t really something you would stop and think about. Poor birdies.

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These seemingly normal clouds brought the craziest rain I’ve ever seen.

Leaving my only working bank card one country behind me

What with all the headaches and data charges this caused me, I couldn’t not list it. For a full-on explanation head over to this post: How to Find Yourself Penniless in Peru


The Crazy

Consistently being stopped by the narcotics team

One of the major things that South America – particularly Ecuador, Colombia and their apparently distrustful relationship with one another – has taught me is that I have the look of a drug smuggler. Or somebody who knows somebody in the business at least.

Three years ago I was travelling from Colombia to Ecuador via plane. Not to see Ecuador or spend any time there, but just to move straight from the airport to the bus station to catch a bus to Peru. I will be the first to admit, this does seem a little suspicious. And based on the kind of hostels I’d spent the last few nights at, my bag *probably* had faint traces of the smell of cannabis on it. So when a hundred or so sniffer dogs came excitingly bounding up to me just after check in at Medellin airport, followed in quick succession by a thousand police officers, it maybe should have been expected. I may have slightly exaggerated the numbers there – it was probably more like 2 dogs with 4 police officers.

But this time around, when a man with a phobia of smiles approached my friend and I at Quito airport, demanded to see our tickets and then took us to a nice little side room where he proceeded to inspect every. single. item. from all of our bags, I am 100% certain that my scent was completely unsuspicious.

I genuinely think he pulled us over because I was smiling too much and he doesn’t like smiles.

What with us not being drug smugglers, dealers or even users, we walked away more-or-less scratch-free from that little rendez-vous. Only for me to get stopped again a few minutes later with 21 Questions from the immigration officer.

“But why are you flying to Mexico after Colombia?”

I don’t know Mr Immigration Control Man, maybe I’m the key player in an international drug smuggling gang. Maybe my shoes are made out of cocaine. Or maybe I just really like fajitas.

The whole getting taken to another room, questioned and searched happened again before our Cartagena-Mexico City flight, but that time my friend was the guilty party and I just tagged along to play the role of dutiful translator.

So basically, forget scary looking men with one eye, gold teeth and impressive handlebar moustaches. Young, blonde girl with a backpack full of seasonally inappropriate clothes and BBQ sauce are who you need to look out for!


Jumping out of a plane in Iguaçu, Brazil

I don’t think I’ve ever even mentioned this on the blog yet?! But yeah, I was finally able to fulfil one of my absolute lifelong ambitions of jumping out of a plane.

When I was a kid my mother and I had a quite morbid inside joke. If I ever mentioned my desire to throw my body out of a plane thousands of feet in the sky attached to a piece of string, she would say “Over my dead body!” So I would tell her that it’s fine, I’d just do a James Bond-style jump into her funeral, landing triumphantly in front of her coffin.

Well, apologies to my still very much alive mother, but I jumped out of a plane.

And It. Was. Incredible!


 

So, that’s it.

♦♦

Now for a quick little call to arms.

In just about 2 weeks I’ll be starting my very long and drawn out journey back to India (three whole bloody weeks!) with quick stop offs at LA, Beijing, Kuala Lumpur and Sri Lanka along the way.

I’m pretty much sorted for LA and Sri Lanka, but Beijing and KL have never really been on my imaginary Places to Go list, and so I am clueless. in

My time in each will be super short – 2.5 days in Beijing, 48 hours in KL – but I want to make the absolute most of it.

So if anyone has any suggestions, recommendations, advice etc on where to go, what to see, where to eat, drink and be merry etc in Beijing and Kuala Lumpur please do let me know!

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