A Travellerspoint blog

Philippines

Palawan and Manila.

all seasons in one day 30 °C
View Esther's Adventure on spacebooth's travel map.

I arrive in Manila at 4.30am after a very uncomfortable bus ride, but at least I'd wrapped up so was warm enough. Cab to Claire's. Get in, collapse in bed. Because of time constraints Ive booked a flight at 12.30pm later on in the day, so I have a few hours sleep before I have to get to the airport. No rest for the wicked. I'm meeting Sarah (sister) in Bangkok after the Philippines, so when I wake (around 9ish) I skype her and make her go though my wardrobe on the web cam, love the Internet. I'm so bored of all my clothes it's not funny. She can bring me some new additions. Then it's a quick lunch with Claire and Nina and off to the airport. The flight to Palawan is fast and we land in Puerto Princesa about 40 mins later. I have only 5 days here and ideally would like to get to El Nido which is an 8 hour bus ride away (the thought appauls me). As I wait for my backpack, I enquire about buses and flights to El Nido. I meet a French Canadian guy called Sebastian at the desk. He also needs to get to El Nido with his girlfriend. Sebastian is my age, handsome, has a limp (kicked the hotel table whilst sleepwalking) and is wearing a gold baseball cap (American trailer trash stylee). He speaks goodish English with a strong French accent and every other word is an expletive. Miraculously in thirty minutes he has corralled five random sets of travellers, all going to El Nido; and has found a mini bus to take us there immediately! Perfect. I just go with the flow. Sebastian and Merie, Gianni and Julie, Bjorn and Nina, me and our driver all pile into a mini bus (pretty shit) and head into town to get cash, and some provisions for the drive. A quick supermarket stop. I emerge with water, two cheese rolls, some grapes, a pack of fags, grey hairs and sense of humour failure. It has taken me an hour! I have never been in a less efficient supermarket, hopeless. It takes us all ages, so about and hour and a half later we're all finally heading into the sunset toward El Nido. Seb and Merie are both from Montreal, Merie is very beautiful and suits Sebastian very well, they are both hilarious and make me laugh. Gianni is a friendly Italian, he is immaculately dressed, quite short with insufficient hair. He's with Julie who's Filipino. Gianni is divorced with grown up children, and Julie (my age) is his Filipino girlfriend, whom he visits once a year. He's even paid for the braces on her teeth. They sit in front of me with a bottle of red wine and a roast chicken which they share with everyone. Not quite sure how this can be? But the chicken meat is sweet? (more sugar again). Bjorn is German, makes terrible jokes, in his early twenties and has also found a Filipino girlfriend, Nina. Nina is a dive master from Borokai and laughs at the terrible jokes, the two of them cant keep their hands off each other. Good grief my cheese rolls are sweet?

We soon understand why the drive takes so long, there is no road. It's pitch black outside and we bump and jolt toward El Nido. We drive over load of bridges which are basically just two skinny strips of concrete, wheel width apart. The driver has to open his door to check he's on track! Merie falls asleep on my shoulder. We get to El Nido at midnight and find a guest house to crash in. We all need different types of accommodation (Gianni 5*), but the Canadians look after me and we get a shared beach hut with two beds (single and double). We sit on the porch for a while with music and some beers before bed.

I wake up to a full moon. Sebastian has no pants on. I tip toe out and join Merie for coffee on the porch. El Nido is so sweet! We're looking over a beautiful bay, the town isn't very big and curves along the bay, which is also a beach. The bay is full of classic Filipino fishing boats. We meet out neighbour Ben, a 50something Turkish guy. We apologise for making so much noise the night before. After breakfast we organise a boat to take us into the lagoon and to some hidden beaches. Ben joins the three of us. I stupidly haven't had a bikini wax, so spend 30 mins plucking hairs with my tweezers. We stop at about four different places during the day. All hidden beaches. One where you have to snorkel through a hole in the rock to get to a secret beach behind. The landscape is too beautiful for words. The sea is glassy and crystal clear. The land masses are pillars of volcanic rock which jut out of the sea at right angles to the water. The vegetation sort of clings to the vertical volcanic walls. I feel like I'm in a virtual computer world. Perfect lunch of open fire cooked fresh fish, and a tangy tomato and onion salad. What a day!

...Only slightly put off by Ben's unsubtle amorous advances. I try hard not to let it bother me and keep out of his space. He insists on patting me on the head (which I hate), and taking photos of me and Merie on the beach. Yuk. It all becomes too much later that night, he's drunk and tries to feed me peanuts (what a twat). I snap and tell him to f-off. It appears that he is a sex tourist who lives in Miami, but has just gone bankrupt and has escaped to the Philippines (discovered by Sebastian after I'm in bed). He's in a mess, so I do feel slightly sorry for him (slightly). The next few days are spent snorkeling and finding Nemo in the most beautiful water ever. We meet two French boys (20 year olds), both of whom have a Filipino girl in tow. They met them in Manila and brought them along with them. I'm struggling with this whole scenario. Western men with Filipino girls, I suppose its mutually beneficial? Although not sure exactly how old these girls are? The two French boys are complete idiots, and get on everyone's nerves. While the others go off diving. I lie on an idylic deserted beach watching the sand crabs run sideways. A tropical rain storm hits briefly, I watch it coming towards me. It's incredible how it can be raining in one area and dry and sunny right next to it. The darkness hits me and I dive into the water as it pours down. I wish I could have taken a photo. The vision of millions of rain droplets hitting the crystal water is out of this world, magical.

Three days of bliss (Ben leaves on day two). Then sadly it all has to finish and I need to get back to Puerto Princesa. Unfortunately by public bus. Horribly uncomfortable. My back really hurts, plus I have to sit next to a drunk man, who eventually moves, but then sits behind me and puts his dirty feet onto me and my seat, revolting. I finally arrive, check in for flight and head back to Manila. I am so grateful to be back at Claire's that night, its been a long day. The following day Ive booked myself onto a Carlos Celdran tour of Manila. It's the Imelda Marcos tour, showing the architectural highlights (and lows) of this dictator's glamorous wifes whims. She probably embezzled millions, but she did it in such a way that she is still loved and revered throughout the Philippines?! She was an icon in their eyes, and she sort of attained super stardom.

"She responded to criticisms of her extravagance by claiming that it was her 'duty' to be 'some kind of light, a star to give (the poor)guidelines'. Imelda was found to own 15 mink coats, 508 gowns, 888 handbags, and 1060 pairs of shoes". George Hamilton was a key witness for her defence at her trial! Check her out on the net, ridiculous.

On my last day Claire and Nina take me into the old town and we have a wander, and also head to a great organic market to pick up some lunch and dinner. My flight to Bangkok isn't till 10pm, I leave about 7ish before dinner, but with sandwiches from Claire (unsweetened). Its been so lovely staying with her and Manu. Nina is beautiful and a real character. I'm glad Ive got to know them, and we will always be friends. Thank you!

Footnotes:

Going to the airport outfits, Filipinos do it so well.

Efficiency, Filipinos don't know the meaning of the word.

The on board Cebu Pacific game, in flight entertainment, you win a really shit Cebu Pacific toilet bag (not for kids).

Accidentally on purpose loosing my leather slip on shoes.

Sorry late addition...The bra Lisa made me throw away in Sydney (it was skin coloured, Lisa pointed out that it was the skin colour of a corpse)

Vietnamese boat which is caught with 150 dead turtles.

Sea dogs diving, Sebastian runs out of air, luckily can come up to the surface.

Did the Filipino girls toss for which French boy? One is handsome, the other isn't.

The crab which tried to eat my skirt.

Sebastian being strip searched and having to hide MDMA pills on himself in Hong Kong.

Stuffed squid.

The kitten.

Philippines has terrible diabetes and high cholesterol rates, wonder why?

Carlos Celdran tour of Manila... "Livin' La Vida Imelda" - showman quality tour guide.

Bangkok next and seeing my sister!!!! Dead excited.

Miss you'all xxxxx

Posted by spacebooth 21:00 Archived in Philippines Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Philippines

Manila, Banaue and Batad

semi-overcast 28 °C
View Esther's Adventure on spacebooth's travel map.

Philippines. One L, two P's. I fly into Manila in a massive electrical storm so we have to circle Manila for about 30mins before we can land. It looks messy. I have spoken with Claire Noelle (Pierre's sister), so once we finally land, I jump in a cab to her home. The rain is easing off as the sun sets and the sky turns vibrant orange and mauve. Through the condensation in the cab I see hundreds of jeepneys crowding the streets, all chromed up and colourful. With religious icons pained on and people hanging off the back of them. The traffic is hideous, but quite fascinating. Jeepneys are left over from the Americans during the war, and are basically glorified land rovers. Sort of elongated and chromed and tasseled to the max. They're 'bling' landys. I remember Nicky and I driving Ed's landy to Stanley a few years ago. It had moss growing in the window frames and the steering was so bad you had to keep the wheel turned to the left to go straight. The taxi driver here has a cold and as we sit in the traffic he coughs, hacks and honks. We pass billboard upon billboard of advertisements ala American, all in English weirdly and a few flashing 'Jesus Loves You' signs. Then one advert for chicken hot dogs (reconstituted chicken hot dogs, nice). A smiling blond haired, blue eyed boy tucking in, and the slogan says: "Helps memory enhancement" ?? Does this mean that it enhances your existing memories. This could be good, I have a number of memories needing enhancement (technicolor?).

Although I have known Pierre since school, I have never really known Claire. She was a few years older then us, his older sister. She lives in big old mansion in Ortigas (with a pool). She has a very cool partner called Manu and a beautiful baby called Nina. They all welcome me into their home. I only have ten days in the Philippines so I have to get busy with seeing stuff. I book myself onto a bus up North for a few days to see the beautiful rice terraces for the weekend then back to Manila, when Ive booked myself onto a flight to Palawan.

I have a day or so to settle in and a delicious dinner out with some friends of Claire and Manu. I'm not entirely sure about Filipino food. Everything you order has sugar added to it. I'm dared to order the famous Halo Halo dessert. NOT nice. Don't even know what was in it...just googled it...http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Halo-halo , say no more.

Very sweetly (no pun intended) Claire has offered me the use of her driver. Domingo, who incidentally is training to be a priest. He takes me to the Vietnamese embassy to get a visa. He tries to convert me to Christianity whilst we drive. Again we sit in the most ridiculous traffic. Manila's not endearing itself to me. We eventually get there after doing the most amount of U-turns ever in a car. I head into the Embassy, but and stopped at the gate by the guard. He wont let me in until I give him my phone number? Are these correct diplomatic proceedings I wonder? 60 dollars (!) later I have a visa. But It will take a week for them to print it off, sign it, and stick it in my passport. We head home. Claire is cooking us yummy French food. By this I mean a yummy simple salad of boiled potatoes, french green beans, boiled egg and red onion. My bus to Banaue in the north leaves at 10pm that night, so after dinner I head to the Autobus station. The taxi drops me into the unknown. I'm the only tourist! Wow. Its a hot night and we wait for the bus. I'm totally on my own in the middle of Manila. I sit with my backpack, lovely and light because its emptied of all the extra crap I don't need (left at Claire's). There seems to be a karaoke bar waiting for the bus too. There are about ten massive boxes of karaoke equipment all being taken on the bus? I wonder how were all going to fit on? It takes and age for everything to be loaded. We all manage to sqeeze on. The bus is freezing. I had the foresight to bring a jumper. But I'm still cold. I don't really sleep, but I think it's so cold that my body sort of shuts down. I actually do sleep because I get woken up (5am)...the sun is seeping in though the dirty windows and musty curtains, most of which are drawn. The bus horn is honking loudly. Now they like a good old honk of the horn here, but this honking go's on for ages (about 20 mins). The horn seems to be broken, like in Little Miss Sunshine. I don't believe it. My mouth feels like Satan's bottom (red onions). I play my ipod again to try and drown out the noise. We arrive in Banaue and I'm grabbed by a guy as I leave the bus, Id called ahead to book into a guest house, and told them when I was arriving. Being the only foreigner I was easy to spot! I'm whisked off to the guest house by Javez on a tricycle (motorbike with side car). The guest house is very quaint and I have an attic room all to myself. Unfortunately the shower is broken, so I only have a cold tap; but I'm not fussed. Banaue is a small town surrounded by beautiful rice field terraces. They are the 8 wonder of the world, and quite staggering. I feel like I'm in the Alps somehow. I head to bed for a quick nap. Then Ive instructed Javez to take me an a three hour hike round the terraces. Beautiful.

Ive stupidly not brought enough money with me for the weekend. Banaue doesn't have a cash point, the next day I have to take a jeepney to Langawe which is about an hour away to get to a bank. I pile in with about 25 other people, bags of shopping, a few chickens, although they get relegated to the roof after the first stop. Along we bounce to Langawe. Find cashpoint, quick lunch of squid and rice (mmm) then back to Banaue. I fancy just sitting by the guest house and reading. Ive booked Javez to take me on another trek to Batad to see more terraces and things tomorrow. Javez is 24 and is the nephew of the lady who runs the guest house. We spend Sunday on a monster trek to Batad. Javez (who looks like and asian LLCool J) is rather tired because hes been out playing poker all night, and hasn't slept! I take the piss out of him! Ha ha, there is no way on gods earth I would be able to do the trek we're doing, on no sleep plus still boozed up. Sitting at a desk is one thing... We have to take a tricycle to start the trek (leaving at 6am). The is a big 'NO FEAR' sticker inside the sidecar which I where I sit. The sticker should read 'No Road' and 'No Suspension'. I feel like Ive been in a tumble drier. It's a great day, with incredible terraces thousands of years old, waterfalls, and we meet an 80 year old Filipino who chopped off Japanese heads in the war! Poor Javez starts to feel better after some lunch and I buy him a beer on route home. Back to the tricycle and jolted home. It now about 4pm so we have to watch for kids playing badminton, dogs with puppies, chickens, flip flops, babies and other trucks and bikes all in the non-road ahead that we bounce along. Domingo may not have converted me to Catholicism, but Ive hailed Mary a number of times on route home. My bus back to Manila leaves at 10pm again. Ive had a really nice time in Northern Luzon and although still not enamoured with Filipino food, the people are great.

Hair report: Really bad hat hair (I think), no mirror so dont care.

Manila = messy.
Too many eggs.
Too much sugar.
Drunk texting, Filipinos do it too.
The glow worms.
The incredible rainstorm with thunder and lightning.

Back to Manila on bus wearing all my clothes jumper and Northface jacket with hood up, eta...4am.

xxxx

Posted by spacebooth 06:20 Archived in Philippines Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Hong Kong

Sai Kung and the rest!

sunny 29 °C
View Esther's Adventure on spacebooth's travel map.

Dearest diary,

After such a long time away, it's nice to have nearly a month of chilling with friends. I've spent three weeks in Oz with some brilliant people. Now I'm flying to Hong Kong to see Darrel. Darrel has been in HK for nearly a year now. Unfortunately he's away in Ibiza till Sunday (today is Wednesday). So I will have a few days in HK on my own, but in the luxury of his incredible house in Sai Kung (beautiful green hilly, by the sea, suburb in HK).
The flight from Melbourne is rather hazy, I manage to drink myself silly. Two bloody Marys then six mini bottles of wine. I'm drowning my sorrows. I have a twin seat all to myself so can happily pour my heart out, cry my eyes out, quaff my wine in relative seclusion. Opposite, on the other side of the isle, there is a Chinese man who intrigues me. So far he's buttered his salad, you know the little plastic pot of butter you get, well he scrapes it out and spreads it onto the salad? Then he mixes his beef stir fry with the apple and cinnamon rice pudding desert. My crying is briefly interrupted with chuckling. It's strange how these two emotions are so easily interchangeable. He sort of shovels the food into his mouth, and he also seems to be forever spitting into a funny plastic bag thing. When he's finished, he starts to pick his teeth loudly with the plastic fork, and I see a big bit of something hit his DVD screen monitor. I'm trying so hard not to laugh I'm crying, oh that's how I started. As a finale just when I thought he'd finished, he crumples up the metallic tray all the food has been served on, and tries to place it on the spare table next to him, unfortunately all the remnants of the food drip off the metal and into his lap. I bury myself into my sodden serviette. Thank god I wasn't sitting right next to him. I arrive in HK and sort of saunter through customs. Then once through I call Norma, Darrel's Filipino ama (maid), to ask for directions. I jump into a cab and head into town. Sai Kung is right on the other side of the city, in the burbs...I eventually arrive at the house after some mistakes and lots of misunderstandings the taxi driver. We find the house and wonderful Norma is waiting for me. She shows me round (wow wow wow) and then leaves. I collapse on the sofa drink another glass of white wine (open bottle in fridge). Then up to bed. It's so hot I strip and fall flat on the bed without the cover and wake up lying across the bed totally disorientated.

Sai Kung is a sleepy suburb of HK and in my view quite perfect. The view is stupendous. Darrel and Ross' house is about 5m from the sea. The water is twinkling blue, the trees luscious jungle green, and little white boats bob in the bay. Its about 35 degrees and the suns rays are like lasers. It's so beautiful and I'm so hungover I can't move from the sofa. Later in the afternoon I decide to try to walk into Sai Kung, to find the Internet. I walk in (very hot and sweaty), and cant find it anywhere, or a pink Maybelline mascara for that matter. Find some cool cafes though and order a yummy chicken noodle soup thing and green tea. Its all in Chinese! Don't understand a thing. I quite like this though...I equate being in a foreign land, a bit like my head sometimes. Quite often I feel everyone is speaking in a foreign language to me. I buy a few groceries and head back to the calm of the house for dinner and more TV (DVDs). The next day I hit HK. I have to take a bus to the MTR station up the road (20 mins) then take the MTR into Central (25 mins ish). The MTR is clean, fast and efficient. It takes me into another dimension.
Hong Kong is crazy. What a culture shock. I love it. I spend a fab day just wandering about and taking everything in. The same on Friday. But I call a friend of Yara (who I met in Melbourne). Her friend Yogi lives in HK and shes apparently warned him of my arrival. I call him from street noodle shop in Central under the escalator, on the off chance that he's about. He is! 40 mins later we're slurping vodka tonics in the Buddha Bar. Yogi is a local and keeps bumping into friends he knows. Its all very endearing and a lovely way to be shown HK. Eventually we stagger out of the bar to find more food. Then on the Lan Quai Fong (hideous ex pat street in Central, full of merchant wankers and other city folk, oh and us!) I'm way too drunk, but it's insisted that I try a flaming Absinthe. Why?? It melts the straw and nearly burns all my eyelashes off. Revolting. It's way past my bedtime. I wake up groggy and like Ive been hit by a bus. I decide never to drink ever again. I'm desperate for a camera, since mine is kaput. So we head to Mong Kok (favorite name in HK), to buy me a new camera. I always do good buys when hungover. Well apart from the stick on goblin ears, at the Secret Garden Festival, which I thought were a good buy, stuck them on my ears and then I forgot I had them on for the whole night and the following day. I get a camera. Without it Ive felt like my arms been missing. Its a Canon G9, and in still figuring out how to use it. Yogi is a real gentleman and spoils me rotten. I'm taken out for Dim Sum and then we meet up at Felix Bar at the top of the Peninsular Hotel to watch the dazzling light show in Hong Kong Harbour. The most expensive drink ever, but very worth it. We meet up on Sunday and he shows me how every Sunday all the Filipino maids gather in Central and make makeshift camps, with cardboard boxes and such like. Then they pique nique, do manicures, pedicures, cut hair, gamble, and listen to music. Some do karaoke. The Filipinos are natural singers, and love a bit of karaoke. It's like they are at an enormous festival, but in the center of town. They're all camped under banks and other big business buildings which are shut because of the Sabbath. Then at 1830 we have booked a ride on the Aqua Luna. Which is an old junk ship tarted up so its a bit like a floating Chinawhites. We sail around the harbour and watch the sun set and the light show start up. Luxe Guide is right, Hong Kong skyline kicks New York's butt. I head back to Sai Kung to meet Darrel!

Darrel and I spend a super week chilling. He's back at work but we meet up after and go for dinner. Ive met up with Ken who I met in New Zealand. We've had a great day just hanging out and eating! More Dim Sum and strange Chinese desserts and octopus balls. I drag him along to meet Darrel and we head out for some Thai. Darrel has invited Sarah, who is a sweetheart and drop dead gorgeous. Ive had to break the bad news to Darrel that I'm off the booze. Hes quite grateful. Usually us two out and about = trouble. Darrel and I spend a week of sobriety and its does us good. During our week we do a Kooks concert, I cook the worst soggy noodles ever and we weather a bloody typhoon! Typhoon 'Nuri' hits Hong Kong and everything stops. Darrel and I are neatly cocooned in his house so don't really get the full force. Initially it seems very calm, the calm before the storm. Then it strikes and the wind gets up to 70 mph, not easy smoking a fag in that. I give up. We officially get cabin fever after being holed up the whole day and watching about 50 episodes of Alias and Dexter. We are still sober, god sobers so boring. In the morning the wind has died down. But the wreckage is everywhere. Some of the boats in the bay have sunk and there is all sorts of debris everywhere. Darrel has booked a yoga instructor to visit us and do a class on the roof terrace. Very civilised. I take it easy because of my back. The storm seems to have disturbed dragonfly larvae. After the yoga we sit and chill watching dragonflies buzz above us as the sun goes down. We're heading into town to meet up with Ken, his girlfriend and her sister. On Sunday Ive said I'll help Darrel out doing some errands with him for work. Ive been back into work mode since being in HK and have sorted out my CV and asked around for work. HK is made of money, you can smell it. I'm taken to the swishest shopping mall Ive ever seen to check out cool shop interiors. Beautiful. We also visit Bernice, a lady I worked with for a while back in London and who lives with her boyfriend, a dog and three cats. We're invited over for a bbq. I hope to meet up with her again to discuss a possible venture. Ross, Darrel's boyf has been away in the UK with his parents. He arrives back on Monday and it's great to see him before I shoot off again. I cook us a better dinner (honestly I was starting to worry that I've forgotten how to cook). The next day I have a flight to Manila. I'm dreadfully sad to go. I pack up by bag again, its still saturated even though Ive sent more stuff home. I've treated myself to a cab again because of where we are in HK. I'm really sad to be leaving. I like HK a lot and I hope to be back soon. Darrel has been the most gracious host and has really looked after me. I miss him already. Next stop Manila.

Hair Report: very fucking frizzy.

Hong Kong on a budget? - Don't bother.
In Hong Kong on a budget? - Start crying.

'Wing On' garage.
The Escalator
Flying Pan breakfast 4 x 4 x 4 = four eggs, four bacons, four breads, four sausages etc...BIG (heart attack on a plate and I don't try it).
I go for a walk to the beach behind Darrels house. Chinese boy in wetsuit, goggles and floatation device.
I give up coffee, headache, OW... what the fuck???!
oneatatime.com
Pile Up - sexual slang term.
Alias - Sydney Bristow rocks.
Dim Sum and Chinese tea - perfect.

Imelda hold on, I'm on my way...

xxxx

Posted by spacebooth 02:43 Archived in Hong Kong Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Australia

Melbourne

all seasons in one day 16 °C
View Esther's Adventure on spacebooth's travel map.

I have a flight to Melbourne early in the morning. Lisa drops me at the airport. I hate goodbyes so bite my lip and disappear as quickly as possible. I don't want to think about leaving her in this foreign country, and her not being in London when I eventually get back there. The thought of London without her is just too much. I'm thinking about joining her in Australia for a while...

Ive never been to Melbourne, Conor is collecting me from the airport. Conor was at school with me and Ive known him for about 25 years. He was officially my first boyfriend, and I was taken to Abingdon fair by him when I was 13 years old, after he asked me in front of everyone, having saved a seat for me during morning assembly. We held hands, but never kissed. Hes now 6 foot 5 and a very successful business man. I'm whisked off straight away to have lunch with another old school friend Tamas. Both boys have emigrated to Melbourne. Tamas is married to Jo and has a baby called Zoe. I'm treated to some bay bugs (crayfish things). It's very humbling being back with these two boys from my childhood. They are very special to me. I spend a hilarious week with Conor. Some great dinners and great company. Soulfood cafe, incredible vegetarian. Gingerboy - fabulous Asian fusion see menu below. Meet some very nice friends of his, especially Yara. Very funny! We end up going out for dinner to a veggie place where you pay what you think your dinner is worth. I decide to cook dinner for some friends of Conor's, Mark and Caddie. Right at the last minute they can't get a babysitter. So I semi cook dinner at Conor's. Then pack it all up in Tupperware and head over to theirs to finish cooking there. Borscht beetroot soup with crusty bread, followed by organic beef fillet (bought from Tom the butcher) with a garlicky green salad, then chewy chocolate brownies to finish. Conor and I fall home merrily. Conor has a trip to Europe planned with weddings etc. And he's meeting up with his beloved, whom obviously he needs to impress. He needs some help shopping. My favorite hobby. We head to South Yarra and shop till we drop (drop into a bar for a fat glass of Australian shiraz, yum). As a thank you for my eye and my help Conor treats me to a bottle of expensive scent. Cant remember if I ever said? But the Birthday box of things mum sent me in Rio, which never arrived. I mourned the loss of my Helmut Lang perfume, which is irreplaceable. Finally turned up back in Brussels two months later! I think it went on it's very own adventure. But I digress, I have been without a scent till now. I spray myself at every possible occasion.

I'm so far behind in my blog that I'm just going to run through my notes quickly:

Melbourne and Sydney are like two sisters at a party. Sydney's the one you'd like to fuck, Melbourne the one you'd like to talk to.

Conor weeing on his neighbour accidentally over the balcony.

Conor is so cool (Conor's contribution to my notes).

She's got a great face for radio.

A schnick schnock of whoo wha (gram of coke).

Putain des Palaces - my new scent!

Literally, tremendous, indeed - all words which are banned whilst in Conor's company.

She's very striking, she's been struck a few times.

cheaters.com - hideous car smash American TV about partners being caught cheating.

Liam - the lovely architect, and lunch at the Porsche Garage in town.

The cinema night, 'Married Life' = no thanks!

The winery lunch, Conor lets me drive back.

I climb up that tower with cool views and a gold plated top.

Meeting Angie for the briefest girly chat ever in the history of chats. We get everything in, in 1.5 hours. And we didn't even know each other before.

Zoe in hospital - she was so poorly I hope she's much better now xxx

The revelation from home on my last night in Melbourne. Not good. And I break my camera.

Menu at Gingerboy:

Chili salt cuttlefish
Green papaya salad
Son in law eggs
Tempura oysters with pink nam pla
Silken tofu with black vinegar sauce
Lamb backstrap
Hot and sour salad with peanut sauce
King-fish lemon grass curry

Amazing! Delicious and worth a visit.

Loved Melbourne, I leave in a whirlwind of emotion bound for Hong Kong.

xxxxxx

Posted by spacebooth 23:01 Archived in Australia Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Australia

Sydney

all seasons in one day 16 °C
View Esther's Adventure on spacebooth's travel map.

I have a 4pm flight from Nadi to Brisbane, then on to Sydney. Lisa A will be waiting for me at Sydney. I'm uber excited. I get to the airport and go through security. I have a few shells which Ive bought, and am worried about having them confiscated. I check my main backpack into the hold and take my day pack with shells through security. The shells pop up on the x-ray and I have to open my bag. I large Fijian security man paws through my bag, he check out the shells, they're OK for me to take. Then he stops at my bits and bobs travel case. This is a small toilet bag filled with things like my head torch, my jewelery, my sewing kit, some pens, my mini vibrator...The security guard pulls out my mini purple vibrator. "whats this?", he asks dead pan. Is he being serious?, I hesitate..."its a torch" i say equally dead pan. Quite by chance the vibrator doesn't have any battery in it. So he cant test it. He looks at it more closely, and I try not to smirk. Finally he seems satisfied (weird irony) and he puts it back in the bag and tells me I'm free to go. I zip everything up, and head into duty free. Flight to Oz is pretty unremarkable. Land in Brisbane or Bris-vegas as it's affectionately known. Have to go through stringent Aussie security, luckily they let the shells through, plus vibrator. Have an hour to kill before connecting flight to Sydney. I sit with Ipod and people watch, I seem to be surrounded by overweight men in board shorts and thongs. Beer belly hell. Board flight for Sydney. Arrive Sydney. Walk through to collect bags. Thinking I won't see Lisa until I get my main backpack, but then, as I'm waiting to get on escalator to head down into baggage claim, I spot Lisa! We then re enact a scene from Mills and Boon. We spot each other across a crowded room, and I try to push my way down the busy escalator. We both have tears in our eyes. ITS SOOOO GOOD TO SEE HER! We collect my bag and I'm treated to a taxi back to Bondi. Lisa has an amazing flat just off Bondi Beach. It's a home from home, shes simply transposed her fab flat from London straight into the heart of suburban Sydney (actually via shipping the entire contents of her London flat down-under, no mean achievement). I have my very own room with big double bed and a luxi super clean bathroom next door. Heaven. We spend all night yakking, till Lisa, bleary eyed and monstrously overworked, hears her bed calling and we head off for much needed sleep.

Hanging out in Bondi is very much like I imagine Malibu beach to have been in the 50s. It's super cool, but not garish and in your face. It has an innocence and charm about it. We become, well I become a regular at Gusto coffee where I feed my growing caffeine addiction. Long blacks with splash or hot or cold milk depending. A yummy brunch at 'Paris a Go', of homemade granola, yogurt and honey. Washed down with a fresh juice. I'm charmed. Lisa has taken some time off work to entertain me. All I really want is quality time doing nothing imparticular, but sharing company with my best friend. We're old pros at this, so slip into the norm without hesitation, and its feels totally normal to be darting around Sydney as if it were a home from home. We visit the New South Wales Gallery and do a bit of culture. I have unfortunately missed Sydney's World Youth day by only a few days. But luckily there are still plenty of youths floating around, singing in circles with guitars and tambourines. World Youth Day should actually have been called World Christian Youth Day. Sydney has just seen over 200000 youths from over the globe share what amounts to a big jamboree with the Pope headlining. Scary. Or as Ken from Hong Kong put it, 'World Youth Day, what a shit show!'. The few who still remain are easy to spot with their red, orange and yellow rucksacks.

My Birthday way back in April, still concerns Lisa. So in order to please her I am taken for a very expensive new hair cut. Such a chore! I leave the dressers with a brand new barnet, all coiffed and shapely (the first time in 7 months). Lisa has been lucky to receive the Haviannas I picked up for her in Sao Paulo. OK they're used, because mine got lost in Colombia, I tell her they're 'worn in'. Anna, Lisa's sister is also in Sydney, so we spend spend a nice Sunday walking over to Bronte for lunch. We spot a pod of dolphins frolicking in the bay. We also meet up with Kirsten, Claudine's very lovey friend from Uni. We hang out over at hers and eat the most incredible cakes from patisserie near her house. Architecture in the form of a cake. Although we're not being particularly lucky with the weather we decide to hire a car and drive to the Blue mountains. We haven't hired a car since Ibiza, back in the 20th Century (actually I think it was 2001, poetic licence). We have great day out. Lunch of fish and chips at a restaurant which hasn't changed since the 50's and has signed photos of Scott and Charlene on the wall, and possibly Rolf Harris (not confirmed). Then a brisk walk in to the canyons of the Blue Mountains to a beautiful waterfall. We have to run back because we realise that the parking ticket only gave us a couple of hours. We make it back without a ticket and head back into town for refreshment. We find a cosy cafe which seems to be run by a religious cult. Everyone is in Birkenstocks with cheese board tunics on, head scarfs and fat plaits. We discuss the merits of living in the cult having read about then on literature stuck outside the ladies loo, at the back. It all sounds quite good, until the bit about worshipping the chosen one and believing in 'Our Saviour'. We head back into town for the cinema and to watch The Dark Knight. Gregg has got us tickets and a big bag of sour worms. We settle in to watch. We have the car for 4 days so head up to the Northern Beaches for the day and then back for a walk in the Mountains. Leaving Sydney with the sun shining we head off back towards the mountains and then into the rain. We end up going on what amounts to 'a nice drive' ... We feel rather old and silly. But we both feel like that, so its OK and we laugh about it! We're in the middle of no where in the Australian outback and Lisa is navigating with Google maps on her new i-phone. I love our adventure. Ive missed Lisa so much since being away. A perfect week and a bit, with a perfect hostess.

The bliss of chilling out in a wonderful flat with all the mod cons you could desire, including wireless Power Book and Lisa's yoga DVD, is so appreciated.

Hair report: Louise Brooks

Delicious dinners at: North Bondi Italian, The Rum Diaries, Bills.
Lots of nice treats from Lisa (she knows how to treat a girl!)
Wardrobe envy back in force - Esther control yourself.
Buy some new bras from Pluto's of Bondi.
Visit another Chiropractor and am told I have an inflamed disc, nearly decide to come home.
Buy attractive back-brace.
Meet up with Olly, from Brazil (last seen at trance party in Trancoso), and have a boogie at 'Yu' in Kings Cross.
Lush balcony at Lisa's.
The light sabre application for the i-phone.
New neon pink Havaiannas.

LISA THANK YOU, GREGG THANK YOU! Mi casa et tu casa, basta.

Love you very much xxxx

ps Could I live in a place like this? xxxx

Posted by spacebooth 07:32 Archived in Australia Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Fiji

The Yasawas and Nadi.

sunny 30 °C
View Esther's Adventure on spacebooth's travel map.

Whistle stop Fiji.

Get to Christchurch airport and queue to check in for my flight. They can't find me on the system? I have changed this flight, or at least my travel agent in the UK has apparently changed this fight. What's going on? I move out the way to let other travelers check in. I AM flying to Fiji today, I don't care what it takes. I'm sent off to find the Internet, to find the email from the travel agent confirming the change. Can't print it off, so to have to email it to Virgin Pacific woman at information desk. Complete polava, and lucky that I left two hours for check in. Find coin operated Internet, stick in my only 2 dollar coin, and nothing happens. Fuck! Murphy's law again. Shake machine vigorously, kick it, look around for any help, no one. Double fuck! Resort to going to cafe to buy a water to get more change. Try another machine. It works, I find email and send it off. Please let cyberspace be prompt?! I already have all the reference numbers etc, so not really sure how this is going to help the situation. They seem to want proof that changed the original flight. Back at the check in desk I stand and wait anxiously. I watch everyone else checking in seamlessly. Everyone is in flip flops and summer gear. There are some brilliant mullets in the line, and parrot earrings, I feel Fiji might be the Costa del Sol for Kiwis. My email has got through. Finally I'm found somewhere in the system. Thank god. I run though to departures, I have no time for window shopping in duty free. At the gate an air hostess slips my boarding pass into the machine and it is eaten up, what now, another problem? The machine is taken apart, and the pass dislodged. I board the plane.

The plane lands in Fiji and we disembark onto the melting tarmac. It's baking. It feels like walking into Selfridges on a freezing winters day, when the hot air heaters hit you. I clear customs and am greeted by lovely smiling Fijian faces, grass skirts and flowers everywhere. Not really sure where to go, but I observe some other backpackers and head towards them. Safety in numbers. They are congregating around a bench at the entrance. They are all heading to Smugglers Cove, it sounds like something from Moonfleet, but I'm game, so off we head (plus we share a cab obviously). It is actually a very nice resort. Very new and a bit of semi luxury. It has a nice bar and restaurant and faces the bay in Nadi, pronounced Nan-di. I stay in the 30 person dorm they have. Yes 30 person! It's neatly split into sections of two bunks, ie 4 persons with 4 lockers. I know I can generally sleep anywhere so I don't really care. I hang with the crowd from the airport over some drinks and a bite to eat. There are a couple of guys going on to South America after this, they're very nice and I resolve to give them my doorstop Footprint guide, which I stupidly dragged around NZ. It takes up so much space in my now saturated luggage. Especially now that Ive bought the Count of Monte Cristo to read. I'm given a book about Tibet in return. Fair swap. I head to bed. Hum the dorm is quite quiet. Its about 11pm. I get about an hours of sleep when an English couple on the opposite side of the dorm (but right opposite me), crash in and make more noise than you would think possible. They wake everyone up. They're not even going to bed, they've just come in to change clothes. This goes on for the next four hours, in out, in out, quite unbelievable. I don't think I have ever ever wanted to kill, but these two c**ts are something else. I wake up groggy and moody, but then remember where I am! I'm in bloody Fiji!. The night before I have met Rashid from Didsbury in Yorkshire. He's very sweet. He's very calm, and speaks with the most beautiful soft Yorkshire northern accent. He holds himself beautifully to. We discovered that were both in Fiji for 10 days, so without even really discussing the ins and outs we subconsciously decided to travel together. I'm looking forward to hanging out with him. We're heading out of Nadi on the Bula pass up to the top of the Yasawas and then island hopping back to Nadi. The Bula ('welcome' in Fijian) pass means we have unlimited access to the Yasawa flyer, a bright yellow catamaran which glides between all the islands. The pass is valid for a week. We decide to spend the first night on Bounty Island before heading all the way to the top. Bounty Island is famous for Celebrity Love Island, and oh how I enjoy cavorting round like Rebbecca Loos. But actually it's very nice. I CHILL OUT, but by warming up!. Not that I hadn't in NZ but I think I was continuously cold there, and it got to me. I'm now blissfully warm, and have beach, sea and sun. Perfect. Rashid and I sort of do our own thing, which is great. I get stuck in to Dumas and Rashid disappears off to take what amounts to about 5000 photos. My kinda guy. One of the first phrases we hear is 'Fiji time', essentially this means take off your watch and hide in rucksack for the duration of your stay. Everything is done in Fiji time, get used to it! Tomorrow morning we island hop, we've booked into the different hostels, resorts along the way. There isn't really much choice where you stay on the islands, because they're so small. Food is included. We head to dinner on out first night and the food is pretty good, then we're entertained by the Island crew singing and dancing to native Fijian music. They're all so talented. Its brilliant because its 'the cook, the gardener, plus the woman from behind reception all singing and dancing and I love it. Then to bed in our much quieter 8 person dorm. Only negative on Bounty was my hot (boiling hot) shower, have to crouch way down, to rinse shampoo etc off me. On day two, the boat collects us in the morning and whisks us all the way to Nacula, right at the top. We're collected off the Yasawa flyer by a small tender which then takes us to the beach and the resort. The water is aquamarine blue and clear as crystal. It's quite spectacular. Rashid and I just grin at each other. Our room, sorry thatched hut, is very basic but we have it to ourselves. It's very windy, so the beach isn't as appealing instead we relax in hammocks near our hut. At dinner we meet the other guests, there are only 9 of us altogether. We meet a couple from Colorado who are on their honeymoon. Dinner arrives and it's positively the worst food I've ever had. Really crap. Edible I suppose, but barely. There isn't really anything to do after dinner, no bar as such, so Rashid and I head off to our hut. Just before were tucked up, the most enormous cockroach runs over my bed. It is so big that I could see the hairs on its legs. I try to put in in a plastic bag, but am so scared that I then drop the bag and it runs free. It's still in the room somewhere, as I tuck the mossie net under the mattress so nothing can get me. Rashid and I talk life, love, work, money, hopes and desires. Then all of a sudden we are plunged into darkness, the lights go off. No power after 10pm! Lucky we we're in bed. I dig out my head torch in case of emergency. We fall asleep. Breakfast is a miserable affair of musty stale cereal and warm milk? It's powdered milk. Washed down with nescafe. I feel a bit sorry for the honeymooner's. Who have two weeks here. After breakfast we head on a Village tour. We are taken by a very stoned man. Not really sure what he's high on, possibly Kava (narcotic Fijian root drink). It's a very poor village. Made up of mostly reed huts and some whats appears to be concrete constructions. There are dirty children, and women busy doing chores. The men I see seem to be sitting around, not really doing much. But everyone waves and smiles at us. Then we get to the chiefs hut, which is actually like the town hall. Unfortunately the chief is away, so we meet his son. He's only 6 years and very shy. We sit on the floor of the hut on reed matting, like tatami mats in Japan. Rashid and I sit for about 15 minutes with a 6 year old who doesn't speak, and a fucked guide who's also silent. There is a massive carved whale bone attached to a beam, I sit and muldoon. We head back and I buy some beautiful shells from a girl on the way back. Rashid and I are glad of the boat collecting us before lunch (another culinary delight), and heading to the next island. Our next venue is Naviti. The beach here is beautiful and less windy than before. We spend a glorious afternoon sunbathing and reading. We watch a beautiful sunset and then head to the main hut for tea. Just when we thought the food couldn't get any worse, it does. A chicken stew which I nearly break my tooth on, because it's bone and gristle. The food on Bounty Island was simple but fresh and tasty, there is just no excuse for serving crap food. Over dinner we meet the fellow packers. A crazy American girl with corn row plaited hair, she's loud and obnoxious. Beware Caucasians with corn rows. We head to bed. Breakfast is something deep fried and stale corn flakes again. mmm. Manta Ray island is next. Although we don't get to see any manta rays. Everything is fine. Until I head to bed for the night in the large dorm room. The loud couple from my first night in Fiji are again in my bit of the dorm. You cant be serious! They are just as noisy and thoughtless as before. I'm sorry but I believe that this is bad up-bringing. They simply have no manners. I wake up in the morning and am as loud as possible. I turn on the light, and turn off the fan, I open the window and I bang around. Then to the beach for a leisurely chill. Still no manta rays sadly, but some great snorkeling. Plus we watch a dog go fishing. We sit in some hammock chairs reading for a while, until there's a massive cracking noise and Rashid's chair breaks and he hits the floor with a bump. Laughing at the misfortune of others, priceless. The boat collects us again and its off down the coast to Octopus resort. Our fav spot. This place is an oasis of calm. More expensive, but so worth it. Beautiful idyllic beach, lagoon for snorkeling. Lovely super clean dorm with fresh chambray cotton sheets. Amazing food (I mean amazing), a lovely pool and just a delight after the few days of roughing it. Rashid and I are happy as pigs in shit. I have to say also that Fijians are great. So friendly and hospitable. At Octopus we're given a fire show and a dancing show. The music and energy are infectious. More snorkeling and sunbathing in the morning. Next to Waya Lai Lai Eco resort. Amazing sea view dorm. We meet some great people here and gets wasted on Kava (have to try some, sort of numb mouth speed effect), beer and vodka. A dazzling show is put on, with lots of dancing by us included. I note Fijians seem to have large feet with fallen arches and toes like chipolatas. The next day is a Sunday so we see a typical church gathering. Gospel singing and preaching. As per usual, Esther sitting down for nearly 2 hours in a warm place listening to Church readings = 40 winks. I'm gently nudged by a girl when we have to contribute and sing an out of tune Amazing Grace to the congregation.

Then back to Bounty Island, where we spend the last few days. It's so nice to be back here. Ive enjoyed seeing as much of the Islands as possible, the islands have all been uniquely beautiful and different. I've enjoyed them all. It hasn't been at all busy people wise, so it's been nice to be so remote and ace to travel with Rashid.

Hair Report: frazzled, Dicky Davis.

Fiji time - how does anything ever get done??!
Bula Bula - Fijians are warm and friendly and so welcoming.
Food - The very good, the bad, the ugly.
Liquid crystal sea.
The computer says no woman.
The two English twats.
The massive conga dancing, Rashid = no where to be seen.
The rather disappointing Hindu temple in Nadi.
The hottest day ever.
Dodgy looking ice cream, surprisingly good.
Excellent curry in Nadi (mini India)
16 bed dorm for the two of us (I have to run over all the beds, and film it).

In next chapter:

Esther heads to Sydney via Bris-vegas to meet up with long suffering best friend Lisa! xxx

Posted by spacebooth 01:00 Archived in Fiji Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

New Zealand

South Island

snow 5 °C
View Esther's Adventure on spacebooth's travel map.

There are a number of options with regard to travelling round New Zealand. Travelling on my own rules out getting a car or camper van (I love the Wicked ones!). Also it's winter, so a camper van is probably a bit chilly. There are then loads of bus tours you can go on. They offer a broad range of itineraries, which cover most peoples needs. I have heard various comments on the different tour operators. The Kiwi Experience: beer, beer, young, dumb, full of cum. Hum?... possibly? or The Magic Bus: wine drinking, not so young, wiser, easy going crowd humm?, nearly persuaded. However because I'm meeting up with various friends along the way, I opt for an Intercity bus pass. I have bought 'hours', I just call them up on a free phone number, give them my password and book the next leg of my journey. The hours are then just subtracted from the pass. In typical NZ fashion, its super efficient, the information easy to get, the people all super friendly: New Zealand = Travelling for Idiots!

The Interisland ferry which connects the North Island with the South Island is also part of my Intercity bus pass. It's eight in the morning. Sally has dropped me at the port and I embark onto the vessel. It reminds me of a cross channel ferry. I find myself a single seat by a window, grab a coffee and a muffin, and settle in for the crossing. We glide out of Wellington harbour and hopefully away from the rain. There is a big flat screen TV at one end of the lounge I'm sitting in. The TV comes on showing 'Good Morning'! Brendon and the team all on TV. I chuckle to myself, and remember again that I've lost my phone, drat.

The weather does in fact brighten as we near The South Island. The sea sparkles deep blue and the vegetation is lush and green. I head to the sun deck and soak in some rays, I've missed the sun. We even spot a pod of dolphins playing in the deep blue water. Picton is a small port in the north of the South Island. Apparently it was nearly made into the capital, but Wellington won the honour instead. Picton is tiny and very sleepy, I cant see how it could ever be a capital city. I love how proud New Zealanders are of their home towns. I walk past a hostel almost immediately called: The Villa, and book in. It has a hot tub and free apple crumble with ice-cream after dinner. I unload my stuff and go for a walk. I'm only here for a night, then off the Nelson tomorrow. Pre crumble I have a soak in the tub, there are 25 rubber ducks to play with. There is no central heating anywhere in NZ?? This is very strange, it seems its a legacy left over from the Victorians. I tuck myself in and hope I won freeze to death. I get up bright and early, and after a stupid shower which sprays water over the top of the curtain (I don't notice so soak my jeans and underwear), I get a lift to the bus heading to Nelson.
The weather is so much better. Its still a bit drizzly, but as soon as the sun is out you know about it. The sun is scorchio. No ozone layer. We arrive in Nelson and I find a hostel by the park. It is brand new and very smart. Then I have to head off to find the Police Station, to report my mobile phone loss. The police women is so helpful, that I wish I had other problems I could discuss with her. I now have a crime reference number. Although technically, losing ones phone when inebriated can hardly be construed a crime, more like asking for it. Back at the hostel I meet Ken. Ken is American from Queens in NYC. But he now lives in Hong Kong with his girlfriend. I eye up all his travelling items; his Victorinox bag, his Apple charger (he has his laptop, I WANT/MISS MINE), his neat pile of Liberty-esque print shorts and t-shirts. I like Ken, before I've even met him properly. I head off the next morning to do a trek in the Able Tasman national park. It is the only real trek I get to do whilst in NZ because the weather is so changeable, Tongariro crossing gets knocked on the head because of snow. BUT Able Tasman is more beautiful than words. I spend an amazing day with Sarah from England and Angela from Germany. It pours with rain for a bit, but we have our waterproofs, and just get on with it. I notice that one foot is wet in my shoe. There seems to be a hole in the sole, bugger. My Merrel trainers whch have done me proud, have a hole. Nothing I hope some superglue wont fix. We walk all day and end up in a weird sort of hippy commune art gallery/cafe. A deserved hot chocolate with marshmallows. I am damp and soggy, so glad of hot power shower (sans uber curtain spray) and snugly room at the hostel on my return. Ken and I then venture out for some Thai. He's been mountain biking, so we exchange notes. Back at the hostel we meet Peter, who has moved into our room. He's an American from Wisconsin. We all get into our various bunk beds and slowly drift off to sleep discussing relationships, falling in love with best friends, marriage, all sorts of stuff. Its nice to speak with two guys about it all, they have just as many worries and confusion surrounding these matters. I fall asleep, with them chatting like girls into the night. I have another early bus in the morning taking me to Christchurch to meet Charlotte. Lisa J's friend whom I also met in Argentina.

The bus to Christchurch will take seven hours. We drive back through the vineyards of Marlborough, then through Kaikoura, where we stop for lunch. This is whale watching paradise, but I can't stay, so will have to come back. New Zealand is achingly beautiful. Cobalt blue skies, emerald blue green seas, slate gray volcanic sand, tufts of Ed's blond hair (sea grasses) blowing in the wind. Seals sleep on smooth grey rocks in the sun, all the way along the coast. Snow capped peaks, washer board batches, bleached drift-wood and little fluffy clouds. I think the sheep look like little fluffy clouds too. Charlotte meets me from the bus in Christchurch. It is so cool to see her! I'm loving meeting up with travelling friends. She has a car, so we pack up and head towards Lake Tekapo, where we'll be staying with some family friends of Charlotte (the Kerrs). As the evening draws in, it gets colder and threatens to snow. Luckily we make it to the lake unhindered. A delicious home cooked dinner, plenty of chilled wine, and sweet nibbles awaits us. After dinner we star-gaze with a coffee. The night is clear and the stars are brilliant. I'm shown the southern cross and Venus. The Kerrs are super hosts and Charlotte and I finally trundle off to bed with full tummies, completely content. We have a big double bed with a mountainous feather duvet. I fall asleep almost instantly. I am awoken very early with the window behind the bed, rattling in the wind. I stuff a sock in it, and go back to sleep. When we do eventually arise, the weather outside has changed. The first flakes os snow are falling. It is freezing and we have a long drive over the Lindus pass ahead of us. After a fry up breakfast, we hit the road. It is also my first view of Lake Tekapo. A glacial lake with water this incredible turquoise icy blue colour, milky with sediment. As we near the Lindus pass, we are told that we may need chains. Its been snowing for a while, but Charlotte and I are determined to get over the pass without chains. We make it, passing cars on the side of the road who are putting theirs on (you so didn' t need them). We arrive in Wanaka, at Charlotte's friend Bernie's. A weekend at Bernie's!!

It is Friday night and because we're tired, we stay in and watch a DVD. I cook us a salmon steak each, which Charlotte and I picked up at a salmon farm on route. I check my email and establish that Sally has my phone! Weirdly its been handed into the bar I lost it in, a week later? I knew I would see it again, but it's a mystery where its been for a week. Charlotte arranges accommodation at the Heritage in Queenstown. We have a luxury villa for six awaiting us. On Saturday afternoon a gaggle of girls, five of us head to Queensown. Its been snowing loads so all the Winery's we attempt to lunch at, are closed. We arrive in Queenstown ravenous. I'm taken straight to Ferg Burger. An institution in Queenstown. Humongous burgers with all the trimmings. We then check in to the Heritage. We have a whole self contained villa to ourselves. It is beautiful and I feels like we're in a boutique hotel. Electric blankets (wheres the Teas made?), mock log burning gas fire, heated bathroom floors, the lot. I head straight to the bathroom and luxuriate in a deep bath. We all get dolled up and head out to watch Opshop. Meet the band, very drunk, Charlotte and I get kicked out of a bar, we break in through the back door, I snog some random guy (photos of him prove I was wearing BEER goggles), another Ferg burger and home aka... brilliant night!

We have to check out by 10 in the morning, so after I've stolen all the free toiletries (I ask the girls if I can), we head back to Wanaka. Charlotte has to leave, she's moving to London! So hopefully I'll see her there. I need to stay till Tuesday to await my couriered phone from Wellington. I have to be at home to receive the mobile phone, so I sit at Bernie's twiddling my thumbs. It arrives! I have my phone back, miracle. I have all afternoon now with nothing planned. So I decide to do a sky dive. Two hours later Im at 15000 feet jumping out of a plane. As soon as I hit the ground I wish I could do it all over again. What a treat. The free fall was for a full 60 seconds. I scream the whole way. So much fun! My bus back to Queenstown doesn't leave till Tuesday eve. So I go snowboarding at Cardrona with two of Bernie's friends in the day. Perfect weather and loads of snow. NZ does snow very well. There isn't the drop or the scope of pistes in Europe, but the snow is lovely and I spend a great day cruising about. Bye to Bernie and back to Queenie. Both Wanaka and Queenstown are quite touristy, but done so well. Great restaurants, bars and shopping. Both on beautiful lakes. There are so many things to do, you could spend weeks here doing something different everyday. I only really want to snowboard, so for the next two days I do. NZ snowboarders are about the coolest Ive ever seen. So many nice outfits. I'm peeved to be in my hotch-potch of Sarah's waterproof trousers over my trekking trousers, my Northface waterproof and my hired board and boots. I miss my gear.

The next day I get my final NZ bus back to Christchurch (it takes all day), I have one day and night before I fly to Fiji. I have loved NZ hanging with some great people, but I look forward to some HEAT, sea and sun.

Hair report: hat hair

After toilet paper drought in South America, I'm back to wrapping the loo roll round my hand.
Salmon sashimi lunch, so fresh.
Richard (40 something) doing the Kiwi Experience!?
The medical student who wrote her whole thesis spelling the word muscle, 'mussel'!
The unscheduled stop by the bus driver who wanted to buy swedes, which had experienced the first frost. A 20 minute detour. Bless him.
NZ obsession with massive fish sculptures.
Eat fantastic Japanese in Christchurch.

xxx

Posted by spacebooth 05:34 Archived in New Zealand Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

New Zealand

North Island.

rain 13 °C
View Esther's Adventure on spacebooth's travel map.

I am in Auckland and in a horrid hostel. It is quite new and clean. Nevertheless, it seems devoid of any character or characters. It is very early but I'm not tired having just slept for hours on the plane. I have no idea what time or day it is. I resort to having a shower. I nice hot steaming shower. I use tons of shampoo, shower gel, and face wash. I shave, I pluck and I moisturize. I still feel gross. I think after all the stress in the jungle, then lots of flights, crap food and not enough water...I feel wrong. I head to the room and mope.

I like Auckland. I have had some tips from Ana and Kate back in the UK about where to go and what to do. Unfortunately, the weather is pants. Rain and more rain. I meet a cool girl in my dorm called Cass, she's Aussie and out in NZ to work in a ski resort. Thank god she's in my room. Friday is wet and cold = venture to bank and Internet café which is full of hundreds of Asians playing in some weird computer world. On Saturday the sun is shining, and I drag Cass on the link bus up to Ponsonby. Here we wander until we find Dizengof. A very sexy eatery full of trendies and uber cool fashionistas. I am in heaven. After all the hardships in South America, I'm back in the West (well culturally) and I love people watching, checking out the clothes, shoes, bags, hair, makeup and jewellery. It is all here vying for attention, on this now sunny (but a bit windy and chilly) Saturday morning. I order a fat flat white coffee and a huge portion of scrambled eggs with smoked salmon on toasted sourdough. It is perfect. We then have some retail therapy on Ponsonby road. Lots of small boutiques and nice cake shops. Budget being as it is. I limit myself to free spray of perfume (new fav:
Hotel Slut flavour) and free mascara and eye shadow too, I am testing them with the intention of maybe buying them. This is in a shop called Mecca, full of luscious things for pampering, like Space NK. Then it is into an Internet cafe for a quick mail and a quick choc fix. Back to Cadburys, a Curly Whirly! And all things English! Well ish...

I have left South America, but I still speak to everyone in Spanish and am having trouble realising that everyone speaks English. I address everyone with 'hola'... Also, I cannot throw paper down the loo. Automatically I chuck it in the bin. Ahh, South America, I miss you. I spot a cool sunglasses shop and have a browse. I spot a Bottega Veneta pair in the sale (*£30!!), I have to have them. I could have spent a small fortune in Ponsonby. However, I draw in the purse strings tight and head back to the hostel. We have planned to go out for green-lipped mussels and Hoegaarden tonight. How nice is food in New Zealand? Such a good tip from Kate, and the French fries were to die for. I think of Brussels and les parents et ma soeur, I miss you!

I have emailed Lisa J whom I met in Argentina to see if she is about. She is, so I arrange to see her on Monday for lunch. I am sitting in reception on Monday morning, minding my own business with a cup of tea. The lady behind the desk approaches me to ask if I fancy trying the reverse bungee opposite the hostel. Apparently, there is a Japanese film crew and they are looking for some volunteers to go on the bungee with a comedienne they are filming for Japanese TV. How can I say no? I head outside and meet the crew. All very odd. Nick, a worker at the hostel joins me. We are told that this lady is scared to go on by herself, so they have enlisted our help. Nick and I wait for her to appear, whilst drinking tea we have brought in cups from the hostel. Finally, she arrives. She is dressed in a schoolgirls outfit; I think she is about 25 ish. She has on face paint (or heavy make up); a massive painted-on mono brow and rosy red cheeks! She speaks to us in Japanese and I have no idea what she is saying. Only one of the crew speaks English, the others all speak Japanese; we are not sure what is going on. While we stand there, they head off to do some more arranging. Nick and I are very confused. I think that is probably the point though. A random woman walking down the street stops and asks Chris the time, Chris has joined us and also works at the hostel. “10.20am” he says; she walks about a metre, pulls down her trousers down and pees in the street. I am speechless. Is this part of the joke? They direct us to the three seats, on the bungee. I have watched the bungee from the confines of the hostel bedroom. It is open all day, but no one generally uses it until late at night, either drunken revellers or big groups of girls on hen dos. I have heard the whooping whilst tucked up in bed. It is now Monday morning 10.30am. Nick and I sit either side of a Japanese lady comedienne. She is wearing a schoolgirls outfit (sailor theme), she has an exaggerated black mono brow, rosy red cheeks, and a film camera strapped to hear head. She is filming us for Japanese TV. We are about to do a reverse bungee, which reaches 60 metres in the air, speeds of up to 200 kph and G Force 5.

I make my way to Parnell to meet Lisa for lunch. All so civilised, after the morning I have had. She has a car, so after lunch she drives me round the bays. Ice cream and a stroll on the beach. The last time I saw her was in a red wine fog in Argentina, when I woke up on a top bunk after a heavy night out. She was shooting off somewhere on a big day out, and I was leaving and heading down to El Calafate. We said our goodbyes and I fell back asleep. It is so nice seeing her again. She drops me in a part of town where I can catch a bus. I hope to meet up with Charlotte too, but she is down south near Christchurch.

I am booked on an early bus in the morning to Rotorua. My back is aching but there should be some thermal pools to lie in. Rotorua lies on a Maori settlement, which grew there because of volcanic activity and the natural thermal pools, which cover the area. Our bus driver sounds like Barry White. I arrive and the steam from the thermals mixes with the rainy fog that has followed me in the bus from Auckland. Its like a big cold sauna and smells like fart bombs. I find hostel and am sharing a room with five Malaysian girls. They are all working here fruit picking and now because the weather is cold, fruit boxing. This weather is shite. I wander round and find the supermarket. It has the biggest pick n mix I have ever seen. I go mad. I have booked to go on a Maori cultural dinner that evening, so after a wander round Roturua, booking a massage (sore back) and thermal dip for the following day. I head back to the room, eat far too much pick n mix, read my book and and wait to be collected from the hostel at 6pm. It is still raining, and now it is freezing. There are a few of us going to the Maori Hangi dinner and show so we pile into a mini bus and it heads out of town. The dinner would have been a great success. Except for the fact, it is cold and raining, and we are in a marquee type thing (i.e. open air). We stand in the rain and watch Maori warriors canoe down a stream behind said marquee. All in loincloths and holding burning torches. Lots of Haka chanting and big eyes. Very impressive. I am cold, wet, and now hungry. We get back into the marquee, and watch a typical Maori show. Beautiful tattoos and very emotive. Not so sure about some of the costumes all rather gaudy and fake looking, mobile phone pokets in loin cloths? Then an eat as much as you like buffet. Spot the backpackers. It is embarrassing how much they pile onto their plates (I sort of do). I eat as fast as possible just so we can finish and go home. I long for warm bed. Eventually, not much later, I am brushing my teeth and then creeping back into the black bedroom and to bed. I snuggle up and drift asleep. The most ridiculous snoring I have ever heard then awakes me. I actually thought it was outside initially. Then realise it is one of the Malaysian girls. But which one? It is coming from the far side of the room. Its fucking noisy and my earplugs are some where in my backpack, but do not know where. Bollocks. I try to ignore it. It sounds like a train or airplane taking off, it's useless. What seems like hours later I fall asleep, well I must do because I awake from 'a sleep'. I feel like I have done an all-nighter. I am groggy and tired and annoyingly have a massage and hot pool to fall into at 10am...I have to get up. The room is nearly empty. Only one of the Malaysians is there. Is she the snorer?A massage and hot pool later, I am feeling better. However, my back is sore and the masseur suggests I visit a chiropractor to check it out. I go the next morning before my bus to Taupo. A nice guy in the hostel gives me a lift. I see a Maori chiropractor who crunches and cracks me; I have never been to a chiropractor. I leave feeling totally dazed and confused. I think I feel better? Then a nice long bus ride to Taupo.
Still wet, great hostel.
Walk around lake, horizontal rain.
Soaked through.
Ed calls me just when I cant feel any worse. It's like he knows...
Cheers me up no end. Cant wait to get to Wellington and a familiar ish face.

Wellington. It is still raining.

I have texted and emailed Sally, a good friend of M. She has been living in Wellington for nearly five years. She picks me up in her Toyota Rav 4 from outside the Wellington station. It is still raining. Its Friday night and there is a party to go to. We pop back to her home, which she shares with her mum and her mum’s two Staffordshire bull terriers. I have my own room! A quick glass of wine while I change into something slightly more glamorous (I am in tracksuit bottoms, a waterproof jacket and trainers). Sally is dead glam and very gorgeous. All willowy, with long dark hair and legs to die for. I put on my trusty Earnest Sewn jeans and a top. My standard outfit. GOD I hate my wardrobe. It is so dull after six months. Then off out to sample some Wellington nightlife. There is a 'Good Morning' program in NZ similar to that in the UK. Sally is kind of seeing the main presenter. We are going to his birthday party. This means nothing to me, being tourist who does not watch TV. A hilarious night unfolds. We arrive and have to climb a steep hill. So glad I am not in heels. Wish I had some heels. We arrive, ring the bell and nothing happens. We can hear music. Sally ends calling Brendan, and he comes to let us in. It is a house party in a lovely flat overlooking the sea (which we cant see coz its dark). It full of 30 somethings all chatting and drinking wine (white). There are some half empty plate of nibbles on the coffee table (smoked salmon cream cheese rolls?) and some garish over the to boy art on the walls. Soon I am chatting away and meeting some delightful new people. I know no one, and although Sally has told me about them, I am oblivious to whom I am speaking with. I meet one girl who half way though our conversation, slips in an aside of 'do you know who all these people are?’ 'No, I don’t' I say. 'Oh well, they are all on TV, don’t you know'...anyway, I feign surprise and we continue to chat. They obsess her, as I would be if it were Richard and Judy. It is actually a very good party until Sarah interviews me. I have had three glasses of white wine, a.k.a. loopy juice, and I can feel the chemistry changing in my head. Sarah sits next to me and talks at me for about 40 minutes. Questions about my trip and what I am doing in my life. She's speaking with me and her arms are neatly folded, and her questions are thought about and calculated. She has her hair cut into a fierce 'bob', and looks at me intently waiting for my every answer. I feel like I am on Good Morning. Finally, Sally rescues me and we head out onto the balcony for a sneaky fag. An almighty commotion then brings us back into the lounge. All the guys are doing the Haka. Bearing in mind the room is full of people, and they have had to move the coffee table, it is quite a spectacle. They are all topless. Everyone is roaring drunk, but venturing into town is now on the cards. We all end up in a bar somewhere downtown, dancing very badly. All sorts of girls are after Brendan. Sally brushes them off, and stares them down. Sarah goes home I think…and this is where my memory gets a little hazy. I loose my phone and Sally. Having no way of knowing where Sally lives or what her number is. I end up going home with a guy called Nathan and his flatmate Anna. I wake up on a couch in a living room. My head hurts and where’s Sally? Anna eventually tracks down Brendan’s number and calls him. Sally is coming to get me. It is a clear ish day outside, but both Sally and I have monster hangovers. We head straight for some breakfast and then back home. I spend the only clear sunny day in ages, watching DVDs and in bed. My beloved phone is missing in action. Somehow, though, I know it is not the last I will see of it. In the evening I pull myself out of my pit and we go out for Thai, and then the cinema. It is a really cool cinema in Island Bay, and you can drink wine whilst watching the movie. The seats are wide squashy sofas. We go and see Sex and the City. I weep throughout, it's so good. Will I ever find my Mr Big? One who teats me with respect. I wake up Sunday morning, it is pouring with rain. Sally drives me into town for a bit of shopping, and a look around. I decide I need a new bra. We head into Bedon (nice underwear shop). I have never been measured for a bra. I decide to try it. For about the last 16 years I have been a 34 B, I get measured and she tells me I am a 34 D? Sorry, backtrack how did that happen?? My throat gets all-dry and I am in shock. How have I gone up two sizes? I panic about weight gain. I think I have put on a few pounds. 'Diet Factory', said in my best Melburnian. Then home for Sunday lunch. Sally’s mum has cooked us roast beef with all the trimmings, how ironic.

Monday morning I head off toward the South Island, on the InterIsland ferry.

Hair Report: Wet and flat, curly on the edges. Ruffled.

  • £30 is not a lot of money for a pair of Bottega Venetas, but in the grand scheme of things, i.e my budget, it is.

My budget is skew-whiff all of a sudden.
I feel like I am in the States.
Tongue and Groove everywhere
Clean, neat, fresh.
Middle earth – didn’t go.
Hobbits – met two in Roturua.
FLAT WHITE – start of coffee addiction, which actually started in Colombia.
Diet starts today.

xxx

Posted by spacebooth 00:13 Archived in New Zealand Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Colombia / Chile / New Zealand

Bogota, Santiago, Auckland

all seasons in one day
View Esther's Adventure on spacebooth's travel map.

I'm in the final throws of my travels round South America. I'm devastated. I have already tried to change my flight from Santiago to Auckland, but to no avail. It's a busy route and one that is obviously booked up miles ahead of time. I'm gutted. I love South America more than life itself and I've had the most amazing time ever. I know I have lots more exciting travel to do and I should be dead excited, but in reality I'm desperately sad to be leaving this incredible Continent. It's been better than anything I could ever have imagined. I set off back in January with an open mind about what to expect from South America, it hasn't let me down. It's scared me, it's surprised me, it's wowed me, it's wooed me, it's shocked me, it's grounded me. It's made me cry like a baby, it's made me laugh out loud. It's loved me, and in return I have fallen head over heals in love with it. South America, I've got you under my skin. Actually to speak about it as 'South America' is silly, when obviously each country is very different and has resulted in different experiences and responses.

I sit on the sixteen hour bus ride from Santa Marta bound for Bogota and contemplate my trip so far, and each county I've been lucky enough to travel round. I've been here for nearly six months, yet it feels I've only scraped the surface. My true passion I think lies in Brazil. Maybe this is because of the extra time I spent there and also meeting Thiago. It was the first port of call when Marianne and I set off from grey, freezing, rainy London. We flew into Rio de Janeiro and it took our breath away. It was everything and more than we could have expected. It was a smorgasbord (conors word!) of colour, passion and adventure. It remains the most beautiful of everywhere Ive been, and just thinking about it, gives me goose bumps. I intend on trying to get back as soon as is possible. I speak with Thiago now and then, I miss him very much. He's up to his eyeballs in editing. His freelancing seems to be going very well. I'm happy for him. Ive been planning what I could possibly do in Rio, if I really want to go back. What I really want is a shop. A mega cool and very original shop. I have many contacts and suppliers I have gained on this trip, and from what I was doing in London before I left. My obsession is still design and the sourcing of cool objet d'art from all sorts of places. My shop would essentially be a collection of all my favorite things. One off, unique and beautiful. I think that Rio could be a perfect venue for such a shop. London definitely isn't the place for me to do this, or is it?! The other obvious place in South America would be Buenos Aires. BA already has a great collection of very cool shops and boutiques aimed at the market I'm trying to reach. I just didn't like BA as much as Rio. Argentina was great though. M and I had the best time in BA with Brendon and I will never forget it. I hope he knows he always has a home at mine wherever that may be. After I left BA I headed to beautiful Bariloche and met Lisa, Charlotte and Anna from New Zealand. I intend to see then when I get to NZ next. Then getting on the pesky 36 hour bus ride, down to El Calafate. I met Vikki and Danny. All friend's forever. The Torres trek in Chile will go down in history as one of the best experiences of my life. It was so spectacular and very funny. I rather surprised myself in Patagonia. After having read Bruce Chatwin I had this romantic notion about exploring Patagonia and Tierra Del Fuego. But when I got there sitting on a bus watching the bleak endless landscape roll out before my eyes and disappear into the horizon and the huge sky; I felt so truly alone, so far away from everything that I realized how I crave people and civilization. It's what make me tick. Esther on a bus in butt fuck no where... It makes me laugh now! This is in reality is what inspired me to fly back to Rio and Thiago. So once Id gotten to Ushuaia then Punta Arenas, I changed my flights. After a great month in Rio, I met up with Vikki and Danny again. Plus I travelled with Clare, Sean and Tommy. I miss them all now. We travelled through a lot of Bolivia, which was a land of contrast and unlike Brazil or Argentina not somewhere I would ever want to live. But beautiful, and I urge all to visit if they ever get the chance. Its landscapes are phenomenal and my experiences there uniquely, well Bolivian?! Still relatively untouched by controlled tourism, i.e everything being well run and efficient. The buses are crap, no hot water, no real customer service; but therefore a much more rewarding experience. Peru different again. Machu Picchu has meant that it has succumbed to western demands more quickly and is much more comfortable to travel in. Having said that I didn't venture far from the Inca trail (tourist hub). Having not been that bothered about seeing Machu Picchu, I'm so glad I did. It was extraordinary. My last stop before I fly on is this taste of Columbia. I think for the same reasons I loved Brazil, I love Columbia. The people are definitely the friendliest, the colour vibrant, the heat searing. I crave heat, I realized after being cold for months travelling round Peru and Bolivia. I'm sitting on a bus bound for Bogota. It's warm, the air con on, but its not chilling me to the bone. On some buses in Brazil, the weather would be boiling outside, but the air con would be so cold we'd have to wear jumpers and jackets just to keep warm. It's not yet dark but the moon is out and I try to take a photo of it through the bus window. It kind of works. The Sierra Nevada mountains disappear in the distance, Bogota is still hours away and will be much colder than the Caribbean coast. I'll be glad for my fleece.

I'm looking forward to seeing Bogota and when I arrive in the morning it doesn't disappoint. I've cocked up my flight times and have a day less here then I thought. I'm meeting Mark friend of Ross from London. He's married to a Colombian lady and teaches English here. I have booked into the Platypus hostel. Which I'm later told is a drugs den for travellers in Bogota?! I cant say I find any. I'm staying in La Candelaria, which is downtown and full of cool Colonial buildings and interesting streets with old cafes and shops with lots of character. I have some strong coffee and a tasty lunch at an arts cafe on a sunny square. Stomping ground for Gabriel Garcia Marquez. This reminds me that I must get a copy of 100 years of Solitude which I have still not read. Back at the hostel I meet two very sweet Danish guys who are sharing my room. I have been in email contact with Mark, Ross's friend. He has suggested that we meet out of La Candalaria in an area known as the Zona T. This is about 20 minute cab ride from the hostel. Mark lives out of town in this direction, so its only fair to meet midway. Its a Monday night too, so a school night. I head out of town in a cab with an Irish couple I have met in the hostel kitchen and who Ive convinced to meet Mark with me. Mark takes us to what is the most western expensive and super sheeshy area of Bogota. In Bogota it is still normal to see horse and carts trundling up the main streets being followed by expensive blacked out SUVs. The T zone is really not my first choice of where to go out in Bogota. Is a very affluent suburb with Irish pubs and Italian ice cream parlours. No sign of a Starbucks, but there's bound to be one. We meet Mark and he very kindly buys us a beer and we listen avidly to his tales about Colombia and how he comes to be here. Its great to get a Englishman's view of living in South America. He speaks highly of a country which still has many problems but is working hard to sort itself out. It's the people whom you fall for, and the richness of the culture. He speaks a little about the corruption he's encountered. As I read in Shantaram: The shame about corruption as a form of governance, is that it works so well. Mark leaves us after a few beers, as he has an early meeting and a heavily pregnant wife back at home. We head to a swanky Italian restaurant for some dinner. It feels like I'm in New York. I have a morning flight to Santiago to contemplate back at the hostel. I pack up my things again and lie in bed. The Danish boys are still out. I'm alone in Bogota. I think about David Delgado in London. I wish he was here to show me around. I know theres a great music scene here and I wish I could go and find it. I probably could but I'm on my own, its cold outside and I'm snug in my bed. I'm still not totally back to normal after the jungle illness and I haven't really had chance to rest. I drift off into a sound sleep.

I awake a minute before my alarm is supposed to go off. I love that I have a great body clock. I always wake up just before the alarm, even if I set it at different times. I brush teeth and head off to the airport. Five hour flight to Santiago.

Santiago is thick with rain when I arrive. I get a cab to the hostel La Casa Roja. Dom and Dan told me to stay there. I arrive and get a dorm room sharing with ten others! Its seems quite empty though, apart from a girls bag which has exploded over the floor. I have never seen so much crap come out of one bag. I meet two English guys who talk me into going snowboarding the next day. My flight is also the next day, but not until nearly midnight. I'll have time to have some snow fun. First problem, I don't have an outfit. apparently I can hire stuff? I decide that I can make a makeshift outfit out of what I've got in my bag. That'll be Sarah's waterproof trousers, over my jeans, over some thermals. Then more layers on top with North Face waterproof as outer layer. I will need gloves and some goggles though. The hostel through which I book the snowboarding has these items for hire. We disappear into the the depths of the hostel to find the ski storage room. I emerge with gloves and goggles. Then it's off to bed because it'll be an early start in the morning (7am). I wake and get myself ready. It's still raining, cold and wet. The mini bus sets off and makes its way out of Santiago up into the Andes. It takes us two hours to get to Valle Nevado. As we wind up the mountain roads the rain turns to snow. There is tones of snow! We get to the resort, hire boots and boards and hit the snow. I haven't been on the piste since the accident in Switzerland. I'm careful and take things easy. But theres so much snow, it's crazy! It's a white out, and as I sit on the chairlift, my mossie bites from Colombia still itch. Weird! A totally brilliant day. Powder, powder, powder. OK so I cant really see where I'm going or the resort. But the snow is ace and even when you fall it's soft and springy. We have all arranged to meet back at the cafe near the hire shop at around 4.30pm to head back into Santiago. Because of all the snow, our driver isn't sure how long the drive back will take. I start to panic about getting back in time for my flight. I'd envisaged being back at the hostel at about 7pm. An hour to change and sort myself out before getting to the airport. After a great day I sit in the cafe and wait for the others. Slowly they turn up. But two boys are missing. We're still waiting an hour later. At this point I'm properly panicking. It's still snowing heavily and now it's nearly dark. The drive isn't going to be quick. Finally the boys appear. They'd got lost. At least they're OK. We head off back to Santiago. I need to be at the airport at the latest 9pm. We don't get to the hostel till 8pm. I have time to change very quickly, and jump into a cab straight to the airport. It all goes like clockwork. Except I'm so tired, it's not funny. I've never been so grateful for an eleven hour flight ahead. I check in, the airport is quiet because its so late. I grab a hot chocolate and wait for the flight. I'm squished into a window seat with a rather large lady to my right. I'm so tired, I don't care. I end up watching one movie and then I fall asleep. Somewhere in the night we cross the international date line, move forward in time and lose 19th June 2008. I land in Auckland on the 20th, it's early morning, I make my way downtown. I'm back in an English speaking country everything is orderly, neat and tidy. I miss bonkers South America already.

I publish this thing, then re read it and make changes. I've done this about ten times tonight. Sorry for any mistakes. I'm not a very good editor.

xxxx

Posted by spacebooth 01:00 Archived in Colombia Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Colombia

Santa Marta and Ciudad Perdida

sunny 35 °C
View Esther's Adventure on spacebooth's travel map.

I jump in a cab outside the Marlin bound for the Cartagena bus station. It seems to take ages to get there. I'm certain I'm being kidnapped, I get out my all my money and credit cards etc and hide them in my shoes and down my bra. We then turn the corner and arrive at the bus station. I now have to secretly get the money back out of my bra, this is difficult and I'm not really sure what the driver thinks I'm doing. I grab a bite to eat and wait for the bus to Santa Marta. It's only a little way up the coast, and I have to change at Baranquilla, so no biggy. My plan is to try and start the Ciudad Perdida (lost city) trek the following day. I've decided to try and stay at the Miramar hostel in Santa Marta as they apparently organise all the Ciudad Perdida treks. I meet a Colombian pharmacist on the bus, he speaks little English but we still manage to converse. Possibly my Spanish is getting better?! I get to Santa Marta and check in to the Miramar Hostel. I'm in a very basic dorm room with a open brick shower in the corner. There is peeling wallpaper on the walls and creaky ceiling fans which look like they will wobble off their fixings. I meet Lucca from Switzerland, he invites me to join him on the lost city trek the next day. He gives me all the details and shows me where to book. We then head into town for a walk and to get some street pizza. Colombian street pizza is superb. I have two slices of the Hawaiian style with pineapple. It's cooked in a wood fired oven on a street trolley. Simple and delicious (and it seems not to affect my digestive system). Back at the hostel I sort out my small back pack of stuff to take on the trip. My big pack will stay at the hostel. I'm going to live in my black shorts from Rio...then my Religion Ibiza top (Claudine's fav), flip flops and walking shoes, North Face waterproof, two pairs of socks (regret not more), pants x 3, bra and bikini. Then toothbrush, toothpaste, soap, suntan lotion and bug spray. This all miraculously fits in my small backpack. I head to bed. A dirty feather thin mattress which sags in the middle, I worry about my back (snowboard accident in Switzerland at Christmas).

I awake with stiff lower back and attempt a shower. A crude pipe which comes straight out of the wall and pours cold water over me like a jug. At least I feel awake now. Then breakfast at the cafe in Miramar. It's pretty good but takes an age due to there being one lone woman preparing everything. I have a fruit salad and yogurt. Lucca and I then start to meet our fellow trekkers. We're going to be picked up from the hostel so everyone congregates here. Finally the trucks arrive and we pile in two four-wheel drive vehicles. I get into a brightly coloured car thing with three rows of seats, open sides and and an enormous fat Colombian driver. The glove box in the front has the word 'pocket' written on it in gold writing. The seat is red vinyl and the backs of my thighs stick to it in the heat. We head off into the jungle with all our luggage stacked on the roof and four people squeezed onto each bench seat, including the front seat. It's about a three hour drive from Santa Marta on dusty dirt roads, and the last hour is quite uncomfortable. We arrive having been jiggled to death in the back of the truck. Everything is dusty and we're all sweaty and a bit mucky. A nice way to start a six day jungle trek with no proper showers. There are supposed to be eight people maximum in the team, we're fifteen. We also have one guide and a cook. We're now in a small village from which we start the trek and are given lunch. Bread rolls, cheese, reformed ham (Brazil style), cucumber, tomatoes and mayonnaise. Some local kids come and watch us. There is a bathroom at the lunch stop, so we make use of it, and try to wash some of the dusty drive off. It'll be the last proper loo for a while. It's 2ish and we head off. We have a four hour trek to the first camp. It's quite a hard start, going up steep jungle paths, and it's so humid. First camp is in a village by a steam. We're all tired and are glad of the hammocks lined up ready for us. We're going to be sleeping in hammocks covered in mossie nets, open to the jungle! I'm very excited about this. Our team is made up of a few English but we also have one Israeli, one Japanese, one American, one Swiss, one Kiwi, one Aussie and a Dutch girl. Dinner is rice with a stew and salad. Pedro our cook is brilliant and we wolf down dinner then sip tea and chatter into the evening before bed. My first night in the jungle is amazing. The noises are fascinating and lying there in my hammock protected by the net I drift into a deserved and surprisingly good sleep. You have to sleep across a hammock, sort of diagonally, i.e. flat ish. It's up early in the morning. Mainly because it's gets light bloody early, and because it's so noisy. All sorts of animals squawking, barking, buzzing, honking and naying. Welcome to the jungle. Fried arepas (like pancakes) with scrambled eggs for brekkie. Greasy coffee (actually OK) from a large pan being kept warm on an open fire (which is how everything will be cooked). It's strange when dubious food is placed in front of you and you're hungry, you just eat it without complaint. Well I do. We set off on day two into the jungle. It's an incredible walk, and we travel through coffee fields, across rivers, up steep inclines, down gulley's and along ridges. The jungle is dense and surrounds us. We're high up and surrounded by the towering Sierra Nevada mountains range. Which shoot straight up from Colombia's Caribbean coast to a height of around 5000m. It's spectacular. We had been warned about the Federal police we would encounter along the way. There is still guerrilla activity in this area of Colombia. Although this trek is now supposed to be safe. There have been instances of kidnap by FARC (and other right wing paramilitary groups) on the trek we're doing (2003 being then last time). The Federal police now camp out along the route we travel and basically just keep things in order. They are all young men and I imagine bored senseless being stuck in the jungle for up to three months at a time. They all have guns and say hello to us as we huff and puff past them, bright red as beetroot and as sweaty as very sweaty things. Attractive. I never ever been so sweaty, of course its the humidity I've never before encountered.

We finally get to camp two and have some afternoon time to go swimming in the river. Its a beautiful hot afternoon and we have swimming competitions, swimming against the current. I prefer to lie on a rock and soak up the sun. It's so beautiful, but as the sun goes down I start to get eaten alive by the mossies. They love me and don't seem to be affected by deet. I count five mossie bites on my legs in the morning. Bastards. Off we set on our mission to find the lost city. Today (day three) we have to cross the river eight times. This means taking off my walking shoes and wearing my flip flops. On, off, on off. After the third crossing and the following walk up a steep track I notice that I only have one flip flop attached to my pack. Shit, I have a flip flop perdida! Luckily our guide take pity on me and heads back down the slope to find the lost flip flop. I'm devastated, and actually don't think I can cope without a pair of flip flops. The thought of having to wear my dirty soggy walking shoes in camp is almost too much to bear. I cross my fingers and toes. The flip flop is found, thank god! We set off again at full pace toward the lost city. It's the plan to get there tonight apparently. After a very long morning, lots more river crossings and then lunch at about 2.30pm we sit by the river and stare at the start of the 1200 wonky steps up to the city. The walk up takes forever. But it's worth it and soon we're at the top and marvelling at the lost city perched on the mountain side surrounded by dense jungle and cloud forest.

Ciudad Perdida was founded around 800 A.D. (650 years before Machu Picchu), and was the main base for the Tairona people, an indigenous Indian tribe. It's mainly terraces (i.e. foundations where huts would have sat) placed on the tops and sides of the mountains we're surrounded by. We're staying in a rustic open sided wooden house on stilts sitting on one of these foundations. We have a bit of a wander round the city in the afternoon but then head back to camp for dinner and chilling, I'm knackered. We score some homegrown weed from the police (?) and some beers, and settle in for the night. Apparently the way this city is layed out and where its positioned, means its actually intergalactic traffic lights for aliens landing in earth. Same as the pyramids are and other weird phenomenon around the world which we have trouble explaining (Nazca lines for example). This was explained to Cameron back in Santa Marta before he set off on the trek, and now sitting round the camp fire he tells us what he's learnt. The moon is out as are hundreds of stars, its beautiful and I imagine that the lost city really could be intergalactic traffic lights. It's a nice stoned idea. I head to bed, mattress tonight! My head full of spaceships and jungle sounds. I awake to more bites. Dreaded bed bugs. Day four is spent exploring the site. We play with some police officers and their guns. They insist we have our photos taken in bikinis with guns. These boys have had no girl action for months. I hate to think what wank bank Ive become part of, but they're all sweet and we all end up having a swim in a beautiful rock pool with a waterfall. A few photos of us in bikinis with guns isn't really an imposition. Back at camp I start feeling a bit off colour. Marijke has already taken to bed with a very poorly tum. I manage some dinner before I decide I need to head to bed. Bed bugs an'all.

I wake in the morning feeling decidedly wrong. I can't do breakfast. We have a six hour trek ahead of us today, I feel shite but think I'll be OK. I manage to get down the 1200 steps, much harder going down, because of all the moss. They are so slippy. I get to the bottom and immediately need to be violently sick. I then go downhill so rapidly its scary. Within about half an hour I can hardly walk. I'm doubled over in pain, being sick and needing the loo (jungle). The next eight hours (which is how long it takes me) are pure unadulterated hell. I can't really walk, but have to. I push myself to stagger in five minute bursts before I'm either bent over again, or being sick or other. Will and Itay stay behind to help me. Its frightening being so ill in front of strangers, I'm all alone in the Colombian jungle and the only way out is on foot. I'm in tears and feel completely pathetic. But I'm so ill I cant even really get my head around what's happening. I just have to keep going. Itay ends up carrying me for about a hour altogether. I finally get to the next camp, where we're just stopping for lunch. I can't walk any more. Our guide, who I have to say has been crap so far, sorts out a mule for me (which I have to pay for). I can't walk, but apparently I can ride a mule for the next three hours?! The mule is also laden with big baskets full of provisions and things. I have to balance on top of this with my legs dangling down between the baskets on a sort of wooden saddle. I'm given a sleeping bag to sit on to make it more comfortable. If this ride was along the straight it would be just about OK. Unfortunately its along a wiggly path, over rocks, through jungle, over fallen trees with precipices down the side. To be frank, an absolute nightmare, and I cry all the way. I'm hanging on for dear life, more unconformable than ever, trying not to puke or shit my pants. I just want my mum. Mum I need you! But I'm still deep in the Colombian jungle and at least a day from civilisation. I have no choice but to continue. Joanna who is also ill, and has also been stuck on a mule, is behind me and has to listen to my whimpering the whole way. All in all, five of us on the trek are ill. I seem to be the worst. We finally arrive in camp and I literally fall off the mule and am carried into a hammock. I'm given some water and an Advil. I now have a high temperature. I don't remember much about the night. I fall in and out of consciousness. Unfortunately I still have to use the loo. This isn't easy, in and out of a hammock. I dream of my bed (well I think I do).

The morning arrives and I feel remarkably better. My temperature is gone and I get up. Everyone is amazed at my miraculous recovery. Luckily it seems to have been a 24 hour bug. Actually all I want is to be left in the hammock to sleep. But the knowledge that I need to walk again today (at least five hours) and that I don't want to get on the mule again, ever. Means I struggle to get up and pull myself together. I manage some breakfast. I'm utterly exhausted, dehydrated and weak. A big girls blouse. But I feel better with some food in me and once I'm packed, head off with the first group of trekkers. I march (slowly) out of the jungle. Unfortunately my flip flops, which were taken off me when I was at my worst (my bag was also carried by the team). Have gone AWOL. They were special ones I bought in Rio. Oh well...they are officially flip flops perdida.

We pass a cocaine factory on the way back and we stop off to inspect it. Basically it's a glorified cocaine shop really. But we are shown how cocaine is produced from its base paste. Revolting. Cement powder and petrol are used. It costs 20000 pesos (about 6 GBP) for the tour, plus two grams are thrown in. Must keep going is all I can think. I lose the group in the last hour and am left walking back on my own. It's so beautiful and I'm so grateful to be feeling better. The path is clear and I love being on my own. Everyone on the trek is great but its nice to have some space. I march on and reach the village we started in, an hour or so later. I collapse in a chair and treat myself to a Gatorade, a coke (cola) and a chocolate bar. I'm back and I'm so happy to have escaped the jungle. I've been without a shower now for six days, Ive sweated, been in and out of rivers, been really ill. Ive lived in my bikini, black shorts and a t-shirt. I'm filthy. One last truck ride back to Santa Marta then a shower!

God it feels good, I wash my hair twice. We're all going out for dinner and drinks tonight to celebrate, but all I manage is some dinner and then have to retire. A proper bed in a relatively cool room. I meet a Dutch guy who's just arrived from Venezuela. He's about to do the trek, so I tell him about my adventure. He has had his own adventure. He got off the plane in Caracas, got in a licenced cab outside the terminal. This cab, picked up the taxi drivers 'friend' along the way and they then took Stijn down a dark road and robbed him of everything. His backpack, all his money, everything. They left him with the clothes on his back, his passport (so as not to ruin his holiday) and his debit card (they'd also made him withdraw everything he could from an ATM)...I curl up in my bed, the ceiling fan whirs above me and I sleep so deeply my alarm doesn't even wake me.

I finally get up. I have a sixteen hour bus ride to Bogota today, all I want to do is go to the beach. Bollocks. Not enough time in Columbia which, apart from the illness I've fallen in love with.

Hair report: wavy gravy

Taxi's being pushed by drivers in the taxi rank (to save fuel)
A pony tethered to a post eating cardboard (I see this from the bus so can't help).
Itay who officially saves my life.

Lucca, Itay, Daisuke, Joanne, Lucy, Tom, Will, George, Cameron, Lindsey, Marti, Marijke, Evan, Melinda, Pedro and the mule!

Thank you!

xxxxxxx

Posted by spacebooth 00:25 Archived in Colombia Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

(Entries 21 - 30 of 49) « Page 1 2 [3] 4 5 »