Monthly Archives: September 2013

What I packed

kit list South America 2013/14

What I just about managed to fit into my backpack

What I just about managed to fit into my backpack

  • 2x Jeans
  • 1x Combat/Trekking pants
  • 1x Hoody
  • 7x T-shirts
  • 2x Shirts
  • 1x Long sleeve base layer
  • 1x Micro Fleece
  • 1x Sweatshirt
  • 10x Boxer Shorts
  • 4x Pairs of shorts
  • 8x Pairs of socks
  • 1x Flip Flops
  • 1x Trekking trainers
  • 1x Waterproof jacket
  • 1x Waterproof trousers
  • 1x Beanie Hat
  • 2x Pairs of gloves
  • Medical Kit
  • Travel Towel
  • Sleeping Bag liner
  • Hostel World goody bag

Liebster Award

So, I have just been nominated for the Liebster award. I still do not know quite actually what it is as I have just got home from the pub and I’m feeling a little drunk. But I am truly privileged to receive such an accolade and major thanks goes to ‘The Cactus, the donkey and the Brit’ for recommending my blog for this award. If you have time please check out this blog. I find it truly entertaining and often find myself chuckling at some of his posts. Anyway from what I can make out the idea behind the Liebster award is to give some exposure to up and coming blogs like my own. So please support!

To accept this award I must

  • List 11 facts about myself
  • Answer the questions from the person who gave me the award
  • Nominate 5 blogs for the award by posting links to their pages
  • Create questions for people accepting the award from me
  • And post the award

This is mine….

11 facts about me

  1. I love travelling
  2. I love football & support Southampton FC
  3. I have never been in Love
  4. I hate Zombie films but i’m addicted to The Walking Dead
  5. I thought the ending to ‘Lost’ was the biggest cop out in Tv history
  6. Latin American supermarkets do my head in!
  7. Blogging is taking over my life
  8. I dream of owning my own hostel
  9. I hate winter
  10. I have a slight addiction to red wine, especially Malbec from Argentina
  11. I nearly died in a car crash in Colombia

The questions I must answer:

1) If you had to, would you chop off an arm or a leg?

As tough as it would be to make a decision like this I would have to go for an arm. I need both of my legs. I have aspirations to conquer Kilimanjaro and the Himalayas, and or no not impossible, would be extremely difficult without both of my legs.

2) What goals do you have before the end of 2013?

I hope to be able speak and communicate in the Spanish language to a fairly decent level.

3) If you could remove one animal from existence, what would it be?

Spiders were the initial choice as I truly hate them. But after bringing back a plague of bed bugs back from Guatemala I would have to definitely say BED BUGS! They never DIE!!

4) Favourite smell?

It has to be the smell of a roast dinner cooking on a Sunday when you are hungover. Factor in Sunday football and you have true bliss!

5) If I were to give you 1 million pounds / dollars right now, what would you do?

Where to start? I would take my family on holiday to experience all the amazing things I have been lucky enough to experience. I would treat my mates to anywhere in the world they wanted to go. I would buy a top of the range VW transporter camper and go off round Europe. Buy a hostel in South America. Road trip from tip of north America to the bottom of South America in a custom made vehicle.

Blogs I would like to nominate

I’m a traveller, not a tourist

Love from Cornwall

Life is a Camino

Yallah, bye

Gringo Suelto

Questions to my nominees 

1) If you could go anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?

2) What ‘Lost’ character would you like to be best friends with and why?

3) If someone offered you a million pounds/dollars to travel the world for the rest of your life but the catch was you could never see your friends again. What would you do?

4) Messi or Ronaldo?

5) Mountain Bike or Road Bike?

So that is the Liebster award everyone. Thanks for checking out my blog and keep coming back. There’s plenty more to come. I’m sure once I hit the road again there will be crap loads of more embarrassing tales of myself getting into some kind of trouble. Until then check out my ‘When things go wrong’ section. Hopefully it will entertain you.

 

Top 5 Disappointments

The top 5 things I was disappointed with on my travels.

There have been occasions I have felt a little disappointed with things I have seen and experienced whilst on my adventures. Maybe its hyped up expectations, the weather ruined it or just that they are actually crap. Here are mine.

1) Christmas Day on Bondi Beach

It’s world famous and it was one of the things I was looking forward to the most on my RTW trip. Having a BBQ and beer on Christmas day whilst sitting in your boardies on a beach, surrounded by new friends sounded like paradise. Sadly, this was not what I found. My friend and I had chosen one of Australia’s worst summers in recent years to visit. Christmas day was cold and overcast in Sydney on this occasion. When we arrived at the beach we found the few BBQ areas they had were all booked out months ago. To add to our misery we found all bottle shops were closed in the area so we had to watch everyone else get drunk and have fun while we shivered under our towels. My Christmas dinner was a McDonald’s cheeseburger meal. Orange Fanta my beverage of choice. To round off a truly terrible day we had to wait in line for 1 hour & 30 minutes for the bus back to the hostel.

Christmas Day at Bondi Beach

Christmas Day at Bondi Beach

2) The Terracotta Army in China

I had seen all the impressive pictures and heard all the hype. When I witnessed the sight with my own eyes I was truly amazed. The 7000+ life size clay statues stood impressively in formation waiting for battle.  How detailed and life like they looked. The museum that housed them was huge and they seem to stretch on for miles. However, I discovered that

The Terracotta Army, China

The Terracotta Army, China

virtually none of the statues had been found whole. Most had been rebuilt and restored from 100’s of broken pieces and then positioned into the famous formation which they stood so impressively today. What a rip off!

3) Manaus, Brazil

Since I was a youngster, I had dreamed of going to the Amazon. Images of exotic animals, towering trees and cannibalistic tribes had intrigued me for years. Manaus is in the heart of it, a city within a jungle. What I found was a sprawling mess of a city which felt as close to the mighty jungle as my own home and a McDonald’s which charged me the equivalent of £11 for a cheese burger meal. Not a monkey or poison dart anywhere to be seen!

4) Taganga, Colombia

I had heard many a great thing about this little beach town in northern Colombia. Paradise and the new Thailand to name a few. What I actually found was a shabby shit hole full of gap year kids on the hunt for cheap coke. A dirty stony beach where floating condoms and diesel spills graced the shore and an abundance of shady characters lined the streets. Give me Ko Lanta any day!

5) Creamfields, Buenos Aires

I am a huge lover of electronic music and I love a good festival. I had heard about the legendary night life of Buenos Aires and the how hard the Argentinians liked to party. This seemed a perfect situation. What I found was far from this. A festival which did n’t really get going until 11pm, which only served beer and wine for alcoholic beverages was what I really found.

Sun rise @ Creamfields, BA

Sun rise @ Creamfields, BA

So there are the 5 things I have been most disappointed with from my travels. What has let you down? Has something not lived up to the hype? Was lonely planet wrong?

The Day I woke Up In a Favela

The day I woke up in a Favela

Where: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

When: September 2010

How bad: 3/5

I had been travelling solo for 4 months when this story took place. I had spent 2 months in Africa and was now into my second month in South America. One of my best friends had flown out to meet me in Rio de Janeiro for a 3 week holiday and to celebrate our 30th Birthdays together. Our plan was to travel along the Brazilian coast all the way to Iguazu falls on the Argentine/Brazilian border.

On our first proper night we had decided to attend the Favela funk party that is organised by all the hostels in Rio. “Lots of single girls” was the sale pitch used by the guy at the hostel that flogged the tickets. WE WERE SOLD!

A Favela is a Brazilian shanty town, usually perched on the side of a hill looking down across a city. These places are not safe, especially for foreigners and are home to the poorest people in the area. Drug gangs run the show and violent clashes with armed police are a regular thing.

A Favela in Rio de Janeiro

A Favela in Rio de Janeiro

The Favela funk party was thankfully not quite as dangerous. Strict security and a VIP area only for foreigners  made even the most fearful of souls feel at home. A bus picked us and most of the other guests in the hostel up. We joined the rowdy and packed bus full of tipsy backpackers. You could tell this was going to be a good night. The journey took around 40 minutes to reach the venue and the tour guide gave us one valuable bit of advice. The bus leaves at 4am, if you are not here we go! The area around the venue was best described as chaos. It was called a favela funk party because it was supposed to imitate a traditional favela party and it was also located next to one of Rio’s Favelas.  Hundreds of drunk people filled the streets, a mixture of locals and backpackers.

The venue was huge and from what I remember the music was a mix of western pop and Reggaeton. Not really my cup of tea. We decided the best thing to do was to get smashed and seek out some girls. Beers turned into Rum & Cokes which again changed to Vodka & Redbulls. By this stage I think the correct term to describe our state was ‘wasted’. It was time to hit the dance floor. We tried and failed miserably to dance like the locals and the only thing that surpassed our failings was our poor attempt to chat up the local girls. Neither of us knew any Portuguese so we relied on our slightly better Spanglish to impress the ladies. We were failing! A new plan was needed. My friend decided the old ‘nick a girls hat and wear it’ trick was the way forward. It worked. She thought it was funny, and so did here friend. We were in.

Favela Funk Party

Inside the Favela funk party

We danced with them making time for several more trips to the bar for refreshments in between. Soon the night was at an end. The security ushered everyone outside and the chaos was once again upon us. Everyone was piling into their buses and making their way home. Accept for us that is. We were talking with our new ‘friends’. I use the phrase ‘talking’ lightly because it had similarities to a conversation a couple of 2 year old’s would have.

Chicas, Locals, Be a local

Mixing with the locals

By this stage my memory was hazy at best so I have to recall upon the events as my friend witnessed. Apparently our guide was frantically wandering around looking for 2 English guys that were missing. He found us! “Come on guys, we go. Take their cell number’s and call them tomorrow”. This did not appeal to us and my friend begged the guide to squeeze the 2 girls on the bus with us. “Impossible” was the reply. He eventually got fed up with waiting and the bus disappeared into the darkness.

Our new friends

Our new friends

We were now the only Gringos left and the severity of our situation was numbed by the alcoholic content in our bodies. We were 40 minutes drive from our hostel and we were in a somewhat sketchy place. We went to a bar across the road for another beer we DID N’T need!

The next proper memory I can recall is the next morning. It was like the opening scene from the Hangover movie. As my eyes slowly focused I felt disoriented. Where the hell was I? I did n’t recognize this ceiling. This was n’t my hostel. To my right I saw a girl. I remembered now, I had met her last night. Further to my right I saw a bed. To my left I saw my friend sound a sleep and next to him another girl. It then occurred to me that the reason the surface I was laying on was so hard and cold was because in fact we were actually lying on the floor. I thought this was a strange situation. Why on earth are we sleeping on the floor when there is a perfectly good bed? On closer inspection of the bed I noticed another girl sleeping. Next to her was a small child and next to her was a toddler. This was weird. As I surveyed the room I noticed exposed wiring hanging from the light going direct towards the light switch.

I woke my mate. “where the hell are we?” I asked. “Its bad, real bad” he replied. He began to tell me the full story. The girls felt sorry for us because we missed our ride home so offered to take us in for the night. But the problem was, they did n’t live in a regular house in a regualr neighborhood. They lived in a Favela, and deep inside a Favela. We had walked for 20 minutes or so getting higher and higher up the hill side until we had reached the very top and entered at best a basic looking home.

The view from the window

The view from the window

Our conversation had woken the others in the room. The strangers were all fascinated with us especially the small girl. The toddler started crying and it was nappy changing time. One of the girls said “comida?” I understood this as food. We looked at each other and nodded. They all the left the room locking us in from the outside. We began to discuss how we were going to get out of this mess and considered going out the window and making a run for it. We opened the wooden shutter and were greeted by the immense size of the Favela we were currently housed in. There was a 15 foot drop to the ground, we were well and truly trapped!

The girls returned with juice and hotdogs and now locked the door from the inside. I was surprised further when one of the girls produced a brand new Sony Vaio laptop and logged onto Facebook. How did they afford such things and how the hell did they have WiFi? It became evident why the door was kept locked. A mans voice was heard and the door was knocked. Was this a brother, father or even worse a boyfriend? I think we all agreed it was time for us to leave. The girls waited until the coast was clear and snuck us out through the door. We stayed close to the girls as we walked through the Favela. The locals all looked and starred as we passed by. It was a sketchy feeling. We finally reached the end of the Favela and a normal looking town emerged. the buildings had glass windows! The girls kindly flagged down a taxi for us and told the driver where we needed to go and agreed a price we were happy with. We were finally on our way home.

When I walked in through the hostel, the receptionist asked if I wanted to go on a Favela tour later that afternoon. I laughed and said I have just been. To this day this is still one of my favourite  travel stories to tell. Other backpackers always laugh at it. I know we were stupid and extremely lucky to escape unscathed. If it was n’t for the genuineness and kindness of the 2 girls we may have ended up in a real bad situation.

So my advice is, if you go to the Favela funk party,get wasted and meet a girl. Get her number and get on that bus! You may not be as lucky as we were.

The Top 5 Things I Miss About Home

Although exploring wonderful new countries and cultures is probably one of the best experiences you will encounter in life, there are always somethings that you really miss from home. Here are mine.

1) English roast dinners.

A traditional English roast dinner.

A traditional English roast dinner.

I have tasted some really delicious grub on my travels and some not so good. But one thing I always crave when I’m away is a traditional English roast dinner.

2) Watching football. 

Football is a huge part of my life. I have been a season ticket holder with Southampton F.C. for over 20 years. There have been lots of highs and lows, the latter more common, but there is nothing better than having a few beers with your mates and cheering on your team on a cold Saturday afternoon.

St. Mary's. Home of Southampton F.C.

St. Mary’s. Home of Southampton F.C.

3) Friends & Family.

When you are away for extended periods of time it is inevitable that you will miss the people who are closest to you. I am lucky enough to have an amazing group of mates who I have been friends with since school.

Me & my mates

My friends wedding Aug. 13′

4) Having my own room.

Dorms are sociable and can be heaps of fun, but nobody like a 3 am dorm party when you have an early morning bus. Snorers and nocturnal bed wetters can become a problem too.

5) Being able to throw paper down the toilet.

This might not sound a massive issue, and to be honest I don’t really find it a problem when I’m away. But its when I get home I truly notice it. The convenience and the cleanliness of tossing your dirty rags down the can is a luxury we take for granted. Plus there’s nothing worse than an overflowing bin of crap sheets at a hostel.

Top 5 regrets from my travels

I got the idea for this post from a fellow backpacker’s awesome website (Backpacker Banter). It made me think that even though every backpacking trip has been an unbeleivable experience, there are always some regrets. Maybe I spent too long somewhere, stayed in the wrong hostel or just had that one too many Sangsom buckets!

Anyway here are my top 5 regrets.

1) Not discovering backpacking/travelling at a younger age.

My first trip was n’t until I was 27 years old. Now in my 30’s, should I be thinking of settling down and wearing slippers instead of jetting off round the world?

My first ever day as a backpacker in Beijing. Oct 2007.

My first ever day as a backpacker in Beijing. Oct 2007.

2) Not cage diving with great whites in South Africa.

I had paid the full amount for the trip, went out on the boat, watched my friend do it, but ended up bottling it. It was cold!!! And I felt ill, honest.

Cage diving with Great Whites

Cage diving with Great Whites

3) Not taking the opportunity to get a working holiday visa for Australia or Canada.

Seems a bit unfair that you have to be under 30.

4) Not completing my Latin America trip.

The plan was to travel around South America and right up through Central America. I was away nearly 14 months, spent too long in certain places, made a few bad choices and kind of run out of steam. Colombia was as far as I made it.

Cartagena on Colombia's Caribbean coast.

Cartagena on Colombia’s Caribbean coast.

5) Not upgrading my backpack sooner.

I struggled on numerous trips for over 5 years with a top loading only pack. I could never find anything in it, or at least anything I wanted. My new pack is like a dream, I can not wait to road test it.

Conclusion 

Despite these regrets, I try not to dwell on things too much. I am a strong believer in things happen for a reason, good or bad and every experience leads you on your own unique journey and ultimately to where you are today.

The Beijing Bar Bill

Beijing

Beijing

The Beijing Bar Bill

Where: Beijing, China

When: October 2007

How bad: 4/5

This story takes place on my first ever night as a backpacker. Inexperienced, a little naive but full of enthusiasm for adventure. It all started at London’s Heathrow airport. My best friend and I were waiting to check into our flight bound for Beijing, the start of our year long round the world trip. Neither of us had done any real travelling, especially backpacking. We were both a little nervous and apprehensive at the thought of what we were about to embark on.

There was a bit of commotion in our check in line. The British Airways staff were frantically scouring the line looking for volunteers to give up their seat on the plane and take the next flight 24 hours later. Our turn came. The employee kindly explained the situation. The flight was overbooked by 45 people and they needed volunteers to forfeit their seat. For this inconvenience they would reward us with £475 compensation, a night in the Marriott hotel and 3 complementary meals. At the time this did n’t sound too appealing. I was nervous at the thought of going away for such a long time and I just wanted to get things underway as quick as possible. But my friend persuaded me, and once the idea had set in, I realized what a great deal it actually was. After all £475 would go a hell of a long way on a backpacker budget! That evening while we were enjoying our free meal we actually hoped the same situation would occur the next day.

Sadly the offer was not up for grabs the next day. We boarded our flight and started our epic journey around the world. The flight was long and I struggled to get any sleep. We finally arrived into Beijing early the next morning and swiftly made are way to our hotel. We had decided long before we left the Uk that our first night would be spent ‘flashpacking’ in a 5 star hotel to deal with the effects of jet lag. After getting our heads down for a few hours we headed out into the chaotic metropolis that was Beijing. After eating in a cockroach invested restaurant we both felt the jet lag kicking in once more and decided an early night was called for. But before we had chance to walk the 500 yards or so to the hotel we were stopped in the street by two pretty young Chinese girls.

Tiananmen Square, Beijing

Tiananmen Square, Beijing

Their reason for interrupting our leisurely stroll was because they wanted to practice their English. Not a problem we both thought, what could possible go wrong? The four of us chatted away in the street for ten minutes or so until one of the girls suggested we all go for a coffee. This did not appeal to me in the slightest. Coffee I thought, caffeine was the last thing I wanted in my blood stream. I was ready for bed and the sooner the better. My friend suggested going for a beer, which the girls loved the idea of. This is where the problems started. “Yes” one of the girls replied, “I know a nice bar just round the corner”. The next thing I knew we were being dragged off by hand to the bar.

The girls chatted to the barman in Mandarin and they secured us a table in a private booth. My friend and I ordered two beers and the girls, two glasses of wine. I must admit it went down pretty well and I was ready for another one sooner rather than later. The next thing I knew, a selection of nuts and other savory snacks appeared on our table. It was normal the girls replied. As the alcohol flowed and blurred our senses a bottle of wine was ordered. Now a quick social beer was turning into something of a session. That bottle soon disappeared and another was ordered. By this stage I started to worry about how much this was all costing and asked my friend to go to the bar to find out how much a bottle of wine was. 75 Yuan was the price advertised on the board, about £8. Not too bad we thought.

My friend playing pool with one of our new 'friends'

My friend playing pool with one of our new ‘friends’

We chatted some more, played some Pool and by the end of the night we got through 4 bottles of wine, 4 bottles of beer and 2 bottles of water. It had actually turned out to be a pretty fun night. This backpacking life was going to be awesome I thought. It was time to settle the bill. We had a rough idea of how much it was all going to cost (£55) and we just about had enough money to cover it and what we thought was a nice tip too. How wrong were we. To our horror and amazement the bill stated well over 7000 Yuan. This must be a mistake, they must have the decimal in the wrong place. This was working out at over £700!!

We showed our disgust towards the bar staff with a few choice words in English and pleaded with the girls to explain this must be a mistake. We asked how much the wine was, and the barman pointed to the price board. At closer inspection the bottle of red wine we were drinking was in fact priced at 750 Yuan not the 75 we had thought. The tiniest 0 was placed next to 75. This meant a bottle wine was about £80! The reality set in that we had been well and truly scammed.

We talked between ourselves what are options were. We could try and do a runner, just pay with the money we had in our wallets or pay the ridiculous bill. We decided the first option was not a possibility. We were in a strange city, jet lagged and pretty drunk. Plus we had both seen the movies about Chinese gangsters and what they did to those who crossed them. The second option seemed our best bet. But the bar staff were having none of it. They insisted we had to pay the full amount or the police would be called. After some time contemplating it we reluctantly gave in and decided to settle the bill, which I had to pay on my Visa card. It hurt, and to be totally honest, I just wanted to go back home where bad things like this did n’t happen.

We woke the next day hoping it was all a bad dream. But it was n’t and our hangovers did n’t help with matters. The only positive thing we could take from the whole episode was the money we had lost was covered by the money we had gained from British Airways. And we would never be so easily conned again on our trip!

Even to this day, 6 years on, I still have trouble initially trusting locals when i’m travelling. It is a shame because interacting with the locals is a big part of travelling, but at the same time I am more street smart, less naive and a much stronger person for it.

These things happen!

When things go wrong

In this section I would like to share some of my ‘not so good’ experiences from my travels. My aim of these posts is to show others that travelling and backpacking is not always fun and occasionally things go wrong. But despite these accounts I am sharing, they have never once put me off from picking up my pack and heading off into the unknown. I am a strong believer in any experience, good or bad are a positive things and will ultimately make you a stronger person.

Choosing a Backpack

Choosing a backpack will be the most important and probably the most expensive decision you will have to make before your trip. Whether you are going for a few weeks, months or years it will be with you all the way. It can be your friend or foe depending on your purchase. Too big, and you’ll have too much extra weight. Too small, and you’ll never fit anything in.

I should know. I loved my first pack. It was a part of me, my trusty old companion. It has been with me on all my adventures so far and has withstood countless airports, buses and rain storms. However it has frustrated me from the very first moment that I had to find something from within its realms. I had chosen the wrong type of pack!

Packs explained

Backpacks come in various sizes, internal capacities and materials. The most common capacity for backpacking is between 60-90 litres. Most have an expandable capacity should you need more space. The majority of modern packs have built-in frames. They also come in toploader (top entry only) and multi entry forms. Modern packs also have various back fitting systems which differ from brand to brand.

Learn from my experience

I did my research before I made my purchase. I searched relentlessly through backpacker forums and tried countless packs on in outdoor shops. Most recommendations were for toploader packs. Their reasoning behind this was because there was only one entry point improving security. This also meant with no zips there were less of a chance of parts failing. Brilliant I thought, a toploader was the way to go. How wrong I was. I decided on a Macpac Ascent. Its durability was one of its top attributes. I think that thing could survive a nuclear bomb. But the practicality of having only one entry point is far from ideal. As you can imagine you will be on the move every few days or so and will not have the time or space to unpack all of your gear. This also makes it a tedious  game of lucky dip when you want to find that favorite t-shirt or lucky underwear in a pitch black dorm room. A near on impossible task.

Time for a change

After 6 years of backpacking I have finally bitten the bullet and upgraded my pack. I have recently brought a Lowe Alpine Cerro Torre. http://www.lowealpine.com/tfx-cerro-torre-75-95-xl This pack has 3 entry points. The standard top entry, a bottom zip entry and a front entry system. It also comes with a built-in rain cover, an excellent addition. I have n’t had the chance to road test it yet, but the thought excites me! (Review to follow)

What pack is best for you?

When pondering on your first pack it is worth considering a few key factors. The length of time you plan on spending travelling, where you will be going and what type activities you will partake in. For example if you are going for a year you will naturally need more gear than if you were going for a couple of weeks. What will the climate be like? Is there a chance you will encounter a lot of wet weather? If so then maybe a built-in rain cover and water resistant material is worth considering. If you plan on doing lots of activities such as hiking, mountaineering you will need a lot more gear and equipment and maybe extra features like bottle holders, walking pole fasteners and easily accessible external pockets are worth thinking about.

So, taking all this into account my advice will be as follows…

At a glance

  • Do your research online (read reviews, search backpacker forums)
  • Determine what kind of pack suits your trip (what size, how long are you going for etc)
  • Choose a decent brand (Cheap ones may break half way through your trip)
  • Try as many different packs on as possible in stores (Comfort and fit is the key)
  • Make sure it has multiple entry options (avoids tedious games of lucky dip)
  • Make sure it looks cool (Style is important you know!)
  • Extra features (bottle holders, rain covers, adjustable back systems are all very handy)
  • Price match it (I saved £50 on my latest pack by shopping around and price matching)