We need to get the hell off this island.

Remember that time you were robbed, injured while drunk, injured while sober, ripped-off, spent the night as a bed-bug buffet, experienced the most epic of diarrhoea and did things to the toilet you didn’t realise a human could do, crashed your scooter, or had a combination of the previous while at the same time coming down with malaria?

Just keep telling yourself “It’s all part of the adventure.”

“It’s all Part of The Adventure” a euphemism backpackers use when things go to shit.

After having an amazing time working on a farm on the island paradise of Ometepe, Nicaragua I was really excited to be going back there , only this time with my boyfriend, Dean. I was so excited for us to explore this magical place together.

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Look at this place, what could possibly go wrong?

As things turned out, going to McDonalds in our pajamas, ordering two Big Macs, then eating them while ignoring each other on our respective laptops at someone’s Grandmother’s house would have been a more fun and romantic time.

From the start, the heat was stifling. For the most part, Nicaragua is hot. You don’t go there to sit by the fire with a cup of cocoa, but the days and nights we were on Ometepe were unbearable.  The humidity sucked the life out of us and left us both unable to sleep. Without even a whisper of a breeze, the only way to fall asleep was to get drunk first, but inevitably we’d wake up a few hours later, drenched in sweat and spend the rest of the night tossing and turning in a fitful, half-sleep.

Despite the suffocating heat and a lack of sleep, we were determined to have a good time.  On our second day, we thought it would be fun to hire some bikes and explore the island.

Never in my life have I endured arse-pain like the vinyl hell that was my bike seat. As I rode I had to constantly re-position myself to share the agony to different parts of my cheeks. Finally, 4km of suffering later, we got to our destination, Ojo de Agua, a beautiful spring-water swimming hole. Admittedly, we did have a pretty good day there, until we had to turn around and endure the brutal bum-bruising return trip.

After another humid night, we woke up exhausted, but still wanted to try and make the most of our time.  Neither of us wanted to look at a bicycle again, so we rented a scooter instead and headed off for another “fun” day of exploring. We’d read some pretty good stuff online about a waterfall called San Ramon-

“Once you reach the waterfall it feels like heaven, pictures do not do justice for this place, the waterfall is so high in person and so beautiful to look at”

And, it was only a three kilometre hike. Easy! We decided to head there first.

I remain convinced there is no way that hike was 3km. It felt like 10km at least, maybe 100.

One website told us,

“At the end the path becomes a little steep, but in general the hike is not very tough.”

Shit. I’d hate to see what whoever wrote that’s idea of a “kind of tough hike” is. Everest?

It was not fun. It was shit and hot and then it got shitter and hotter. Typically unprepared, with just a small bottle water between us, the climb became horrendous as sweat rained out of every pour and we had nothing to replace it with.

Finally, close to dropping dead we made it to the waterfall.

It was alright.

I think maybe the people that wrote about how good it was haven’t seen a lot of waterfalls.

Exhausted and now massively dehydrated I stood under the waterfall with my mouth open drinking it in by the gallon, random, water-borne illnesses be damned.

After our waterfall “adventure” we decided to ride back out to Agua de Oja and chill out in the water for a bit, before spending the afternoon exploring more of the island by scooter. Back at Agua De Ojo, we dumped all our stuff on a chair, stripped down to our swimmers and got in the cool water. Floating around, I kept glancing back, keeping half an eye on our stuff.

“I`m so exhausted” I told Dean.

“Me too” he said, “Maybe we bail tomorrow, I can’t take too many more nights not sleeping”.

I agreed, “Tomorrow, lets just get up and go.”

We climbed out of the water and made our way back over to our stuff and picking up my clothes I realised,

“Fuck! The bag has gone!”

We both looked around as though it was suddenly going to appear, but it was long gone. Dean’s camera (notice the lack of photos?), money and the bloody scooter key were all in that bag. The also randomly stole Dean’s shitty old thongs, leaving him to go home barefoot.

“Faaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaark.”

I remain eternally grateful to the staff at Agua De Ojo who went out of their way to help us, moving the scooter somewhere safe in case whoever had the key came back to try and take it and even going as far as to drive us to the scooter-hire man so we could explain what happened.

In my shitty, broken Spanish I tried to tell scooter-hire man how our bag had been stolen with the bike key in it. I assumed we’d have to pay a few bucks to get a new key cut but scooter-hire man told us,

“There is no spare key so this whole bit here needs replacing. It’s going to be $100.”

“Faaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaark”

“Then we are going to need to pick it upso you’ll have to pay….” I could see where he was going with this, adding more on top of the $100.

$100 was already over the top and who doesn’t have a spare key?

I did the only thing I could think of and “burst into tears”.

“Oh God, it`s just, we had so much in that bag” I gasped for air between sobs, “camera, phone, money”. I fake-sobbed harder.

Somebody get me an Oscar.

“Tranquila, tranquila”  said scooter-hire man. We still had to pay $100, but anything else he was going to tack on to that was forgotten.

Relieved that the scooter was dealt with and trying not to feel too upset about the camera being stolen, we returned to our accommodation where Dean immediately fell down some stairs.

“We need to get the hell off this island.”

The next morning we headed off to catch the first ferry we could.  A taxi offered to take us to the port for $3 each. Three. Dollars. I can spend $60 down the pub without blinking at home, but no, I wanted to be a “real” backpacker and I insisted we take the bus instead.

The concept of a “bus stop” in Ometepe is apparently open to interpretation.  The bus just stopped where ever anyone liked. Someone would wave down the bus and get on, then maddeningly, someone got off a thirty meters down the road. With all the stopping and starting it took one hour and fifty minutes. We arrived at the port to see our ferry sailing away into the distance. Luckily, there was another soon after, the first thing to go right for us since we had arrived.

Back on the mainland, we took a cab to San Juan Del Sur,  where we checked into a hotel, cranked up the air-con and cracked open a well earned beer.

What’s your travel disaster story? Ever returned to somewhere you loved, only to have everything go wrong?

 

 

 

Some Stuff I Learned Working on a Farm in Paradise.

This view was my introduction to Ometepe, the volcano island paradise rising out of a lake in Nicaragua. This place was my home for a couple of weeks while I volunteered on a small organic farm.  I’ve written about this kind of work before, and it’s a pretty sweet way to travel.

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The location might have been mesmerising, but some of the work was bloody tough.

Shovelling rocks is hard!

It was pretty rustic.

Sharing a meal after a busy morning.

Our kitchen, note the duckie hanging out on the right.

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Hey, a bed’s a bed right?

But after a hard mornings work, we could head up for a beer in this pool.

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When you travel, every new place teaches you something. Here are a few things I have learned from working on a farm in the tropics.

1. Roosters do not shut the f*** up. Roosters love to crow at 4.30am. Roosters love to have a crow-off where one starts and they all join in, and just keep on going. How does so much noise come out of such a small beak?

2. When a dog kills a chicken, the results aren’t pretty.

3. Cooking together, with ingredients you’ve gathered from your own garden and sitting down and sharing a meal, is a pretty sweet way to live.

4. There are a lot of insects that like to bite you.

5. There are plenty of plants that like to sting you.

6. Lifting heavy shit in the tropical heat is a bit shit.

7. Beers by the pool taste extra delish after a morning lifting heavy shit in the heat.

8. If you aren’t careful about covering food, chickens will come and eat it, then take a poo on the table just for good measure.

9. When you are standing under a tree looking up at the monkeys, there is a fair chance they will piss on you, (didn’t happen to me but saw it happen).

10. If you are travelling for a while and have a bit of time, you should volunteer on a farm some time. It’s actually is quite wonderful.

Just to finish off, here are a few more photos of the farm and the beautiful surrounding area.

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Talking to Strangers.

I’ve been in this country just a day and already I have found the people of El Salvador to be wonderfully warm and friendly.

Even before I arrived, waiting for the bus in Guatemala City, I got to talking to Chris, a young Salvadoran guy. I had a ticket to the capital, San Salvador, but what I really wanted to do was go “to the beach”  only I had no idea which beach or how to get there. Chris told me about the different beaches in El Salvador and even took the time to write down some names and how long it would take me to get there.

“Come and find me if you need me” he said as we boarded.

When we arrived in San Salvador Chris came up to me and asked me if I needed and help. When I told him I needed to change money he took me to the currency exchange shop.

“Is there a catch?” a little voice wondered, “why should this stranger go out of his way to help me?”

After I exchanged money, he walked me to the taxi stand and told the driver where I needed to go. As I was putting my stuff in the boot he asked if we could share the cab.

Every thing seemed legit and I assumed Chris was a good bloke, so I agreed. I have been in dodgy cabs before though, and as Chris chatted away to the driver in Spanish a tiny thought crept into my head,

“I really hope everything is all cool here and this isn’t some set-up. I have just exchanged a wad of cash and no-one other than these guys, knows where I am.”

As we pulled up at the bus terminal, I reached into my bag to pay.Chris waved my money away,

“I’ll get it” he said.

I tried to insist, but he laughed and shook his head, “You women, always worrying.”

I collected my bags and thanked Chris. He waved as he drove off in the cab, to wherever it was he was heading.

Sometimes, lots of times, people really are just kind for no reason.

Beautiful El Savador.

Beautiful El Savador.

This experience got me thinking. When travelling, especially when travelling alone, how do you find the balance between being trusting and open and being wary and street smart? No-one wants to be taken for a mug (or worse) but if you spend your entire trip assuming everyone is out to cheat you, you may as well stay at home.

Years ago now, I was on a train in Morocco with my girlfriend Katie. We had planned to arrive in Tanger in the afternoon and take the boat back over to Spain, however delay after delay meant there was no way we were going to be getting a boat that day. Chatting to a young Moroccan dude on the train, we asked him if he could recommend a hotel in Tanger.

“You don’t need a hotel, just stay with me.” he said.

It turned out he lived with his aunt and uncle and their four children, none of whom seemed the least bit phased by their nephew bringing home to young Aussie backpackers at ten o’clock at night. They welcomed us into their home, fed us and made us and made up a bed for us both and even gave us breakfast the next morning.

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Way back when. Katie and I in Marrakech in 2006.

Sometimes, you just have to trust people.

Another night, this time in Barcelona, too much beer made me miss my hostel lock-out time. This left me with two options, roam around Barcelona alone in the early hours of the morning until I found more accommodation, or go back to a bar somewhere and stay out drinking until the sun came up and my hostel opened it’s doors once again. I was tired  and a bit drunk and just wanted to go to bed, so I sat down to have a think.

Out of the darkness, along came a young guy around 16 or 17 years old, riding on his bicycle. He pulled up when he saw me and sat down to talk with me. When I told him why it was I was sitting outside alone in the middle of the night, he insisited I come and stay at his place. I hesitated, but with just a few euros rolling around my purse, I didn’t have a whole lot of other options. He doubled me on his bike back to his flat, me sitting on his handle-bars, balancing precariously.

When we arrived he showed me to a bed in the spare room and left me to it. I woke up some time the next morning to an empty flat, made my bed and headed back out to the street, closing the door behind me.

Lots of times, people are just kind for no reason.

There is good and bad everywhere though. No matter how much you pride yourself on your good instincts or judge of character, sometimes, shit happens. In Bangkok one evening, I met one young Canadian bloke who had made friend’s with a local guy. He remembers going for a few drinks with him then nothing until over 12 hours later when he woke up on the street somewhere with his wallet and passport gone.

Sometimes, at home as well as while away, people are just total dicks.

There is no magical formula for deciding who to trust and who not to trust when travelling, but I think, for the most part, people are basically the same all over the world and people are basically good.

And, when inevitably while on the road, you are tricked, robbed or ripped-off, don’t let it spoil your trip, or lose your trust in all people. There is good and bad everywhere, but most people are pretty alright.

Lake Atitilan – A little piece of Eden.

Lake Atitilan is a ridiculously beautiful volcanic lake in the Guatemalan Highlands. Still blue water sits at the foot of lush green mountains and volcanos while dotted around the edges of the lake are colourful towns and villages, each with their own unique vibe. Mayan culture remains strong here with people speaking Mayan languages and dressing in traditional  clothing.

I'm no photographer and no photos I took did this place justice. Do yourself a favour and Google' Lake Atitilan images'. this place really is spectacular.

View of the lake from San Pedro. I’m not much of a photographer, but if you Google ‘Lake Atitilan images’ you will get a glimpse at how spectacular this place is.

Ladies in traditional Mayan clothing selling fruit.

Ladies in traditional Mayan clothing selling fruit.

I spent a week at Lake Atitilan, mostly in the village of San Pedro. San Pedro is the backpacker party town of the lake and it is a magnet for gap-year kids and wandering hippies. I took some Spanish classes here and my school arranged  a home-stay with a local family for me.  Unusually for me, I stayed out of the party scene this week. The family I stayed with lived away from the main strip and I didn’t really fancy stumbling home at all hours and waking everyone up. I was content to spend my days exploring and going to classes and nights hanging with my host family. Sometimes after dinner I would read the little girl stories and my pronunciation must be ok because she seemed to understand and enjoy the stories even if I had no idea what I was saying.

During the day I visited a couple of other nearby villages. San Marcos is a very pretty, chill little village where people go to do yoga, meditate and refresh their chakras. It is also home to the gorgeous Cerro Tzankujil nature reserve where I spent a beautiful morning bushwalking.

Quick rest before I head up the path.

Quick rest before I head up the path.

In San Marcos I also got involved with a bamboo building workshop. The plan is to build a shelter for local ladies who have been trained in Chinese massage where they can see clients and run classes. The shelter is made from bamboo held together with old bike inner tubes. We didn’t it finish but we did make a good start on the frame. It wasn’t that hard and if/when the apocalypse comes I reckon I’ll be able to knock myself up a bamboo hut without a drama – as long as I have some bike inner-tubes.

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I rode a tuk-tuk to visit the village of San Juan. San Juan is one of the smaller of the villages and is home to a number of co-operatives that produce and sell traditional arts and textiles. It is also home to some beautiful street art and is a bit less touristy than the other places I visited.

Tuk-tuks or boats are the way to get from village to village.

Tuk-tuks or boats are the way to get from village to village.

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San Juan.

San Juan.

My next stop is Semuc Champey and I will be staying in a hostel this time. I loved my home-stay but now I am looking forward to having a few beers some other travellers.

Cheers!

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