Hidden Saigon: Wandering the Alleyways.

Saigon is a capricious city, seducing visitors with a freewheeling spirit, then maddening them with traffic, noise and heat. Transformation is all around and the sound of construction reverberates through the city as forests of shiny sky-scrapers continue to shoot up. The choked streets roar with an evergrowing sea of traffic, while the footpaths are crowded with food vendors, pedestrians and hawkers with makeshift stalls, selling everything from brooms to motorcycle helmets.

This is a city that knows how to have a good time. The bar scene is flourishing with the young and the beautiful rubbing shoulders in venues as hip and unique as anything you’d find in New York or London. If you are searching for something grittier, the wild-lands of Bui Vien St serve up the kind of full-throttle mix of music, booze and special balloons that’ll leave you feeling pretty sure you had a good time only you can’t remember how exactly.

The heat and the crowds and the noise can at times overwhelm and it can all leave some visitors feeling like Saigon isn’t really for them. Too crowded, too busy, too loud, increasingly too commercialised and too bloody hot.

Hiding behind the city’s brash and bold exterior though, lies an eclectic maze of alleyways, weaving their way behind and between the traffic-choked main roads. Here, just footsteps away from modern high-rises and flashy malls, is a whole other side to Saigon where the hustle of city life slows to a saunter and it is in this tangled web of narrow lanes that the real soul of this city can be found.

img_20190607_0734056547479855015667519.jpg

If you want to experience Saigon as the locals see it, these alleyways or ‘hems’, are a wonderful place to get lost for a little while. Life is lived out in the open here – children play, while old men spend hours sipping coffee on plastic chairs. The doors of homes are wide open and you’ll see families sitting together on the floor, sharing meals and each others company. Around every corner is another food vendor and there are countless small cafes, quirky bars and other delights that won’t be found in any guidebook.

img_20190622_1207216553187357139588025.jpg

Just outside my front door. My favourite place for breakfast.

It is down one of these hems that I have found a place to call home. Even though we are living in one of the most densely populated cities on earth, with a population estimated to be approaching 10 million, life in Saigon’s hems offers a local, small-town vibe, that you don’t often get in a big city.

Recently, my Vietnamese housemate, Tram, asked me –

‘Hey Carly, were you buying a coffee today down near the canal?’

‘Yeah, how’d you know?’

‘I was talking to one of the neighbors, he said he saw you’.

IMG_20181024_085446

Our rooftop. The perfect place to chill.

Apart from the people I live with, it’s not often I see another foreigner in the hems near my place. Most westerners tend to gravitate towards District Two, “The Bubble”, or District Seven, so when do I see another foreigner walking around near my house, my first thought is to wonder if they are lost.

I love where I live for it’s sense of community. My neighbors are friendly and warm, quick with a smile and even though we can’t say much to each other, there is a sense that we are all looking out for one another.

One evening, I arrived home and realised I had lost my house keys. I couldn’t understand how. I’d only been to a market and then to dinner so it wasn’t like I’d been drunk, wildly swinging my bag around a dance floor somewhere, but where ever they were and however they had been lost, they were certainly gone.

A couple of days later, after I’d already had new keys cut, Tram said to me,

“Carly, I have your keys.”

“What? Oh my gosh, where were they?”

“Someone found them in the street”.

“Where?”

“I don’t know where, but he brought them over for you.”.

I couldn’t believe it.

“But how did the person that found them know they were mine? How did they know to bring them to our house?”

“He thought they looked like a foreigner’s keys so he asked some neighbors if anyone knew any foreigners. Someone told him that this house has foreigners living in it, so he came around”.

img_20190726_1139362857730544576828685.jpg

My very “foreign-looking”, keys.

There is a neighbourly kindness here that I think is becoming increasingly lost in our modern world. One morning, my bike conked out right near home. I turned the key and pressed the start button multiple times, but she was going no-where. An old lady neighbour saw my troubles, grabbed my arm and indicated to me to follow her. We wound our way through the narrow alleys, me pushing my bike until we stopped at a house. The old lady rapped on the door and a young-ish man came out. They chatted in Vietnamese, then he mucked around with my bike for a bit, got it going again. I thanked them both in my smattering of Vietnamese and took off to work.

Saigon’s hems are a people-watchers dream and a constant source of new discovery and delights. If you are visiting this city you’ll find more to nourish your soul along here than at any of the better-known tourist sites. The brilliant website, Vietnam Coracle has an excellent guide to the best hem’s to wander and get a little lost in. Check is out and let me know how you go.

Riding the Road to Dalat.

 

 

Vietnam is beautifully diverse country full of stunning natural wonders and adventures just waiting to happen and there is no better way to see this county than on a motorbike – or so I’ve heard. Since touching down in Saigon a little over 12 months ago, I have hardly left the city, and as much as I love her chaotic energy, recently I’ve been craving nature and fresh air and a little peace from the never-ending noise.  I decided to get away from the hustle on bustle for a week and hit the road on my first solo, motorbike trip, riding from Saigon to Dalat via Cat Tien National Park.

IMG_20190701_110901

Time to put my new bike to the test

Before this trip, my motorbike experience has been limited to puttering around Saigon on an ancient scooter with a cheap, plastic helmet on my head. Seeing as I was going such a long way, a friend lent me a proper helmet.

img_20190708_0637261944290610381464757.jpg

The morning I left I stood next to my bike, packed and ready to go, fiddling with the strap of the helmet unable to figure it out, before giving up and Googling –

“How to do up a motorcyle helmet”

Once I got that sorted, away I went. As I rode further from Saigon, the country-side opened up and I wound my way through bright green rice paddies, rolling hills and small towns. I found myself falling into a relaxed and easy rhythym of riding and taking it all in when suddenly, “SNAP”, “BANG”.

 

 

 

Shit! One of the straps holding my all stuff broke and both my bags went flying 50 metres down the road. I pulled over and ran back to get them, my helmet still on and my head wobbling around, making me look like one of those bobble-head dolls.

I packed things back on as best I could and drove carefully until I got to a garage. I tried to indicate to the man working there that I needed to buy another strap by pointing at the one I already had and rubbing my fingers together in way to indicate, ‘money’. The poor fella just looked really confused at the foreign lady pointing at her bags and making weird hand signals.

I tried my smattering of Vietnamese –

“I want”, “I need”… but we got nowhere. Then I tried-

“Mua”, the Vietnamese word for, “buy”.

“Mua!” he said.

“Yes, yes, mua, mua”, I said and I think we were both a little bit chuffed about finally having a communication breakthrough.

The petrol station man pointed to a small shop, then he walked to the edge of the road and started to shout towards it. I didn’t understand any of what he was saying, but I am guessing it was the Vietnamese version of –

“Sheryl. Sher-yl. I have a lady here that needs an occy-strap. I’m sending her over”.

I bought two, just in case another broke, re-strapped my bags, tried not to think about what state my laptop might now be in and continued on. I was headed for Cat Tien National Park and according to Googlemaps it’s a drive that should less than four hours. I seemed to fall into some motorbike time-space vortex though, where Googlemaps would say I was 95km away, I’d drive for an hour and then I’d still be 82km away.

I was starting to get a little tired and over it when I heard a, “thud”, and thought my bags had fallen down again. I quickly stopped and looked at the road around me but my bags weren’t there. I had no idea what the noise had been, but not only were my bags not on the ground, they weren’t on my bike either. I looked back at the long empty road stretching out behind me and, heart pounding, I turned the bike around.

img_20190709_1002311564813723659918227.jpg

      No bags to be seen!

I felt sick as I wondered just how far back had my bags fallen off the bike? Laptop, cash, all my clothes, my passport – everything was in those bags and now they were gone.

Fuckity, fuck, fuck, fucksticks fuck, I was in a bit of a panic.

giphy

As I started to drive I heard some scraping noise and thought,

“Oh my God, what now?! Is something wrong with the bike?”

A Vietnamese fella drove past and started pointing, and it was then I realised my bags had fallen off my bike but they were still held on by the strap and I was dragging them along the road.

I pulled over and this time I strapped those babies on like my life depended on it. Vietnamese people are absolute legends when it comes to transporting things by motorbike, so I guess I still have a lot to learn.

554bb4d96da811d154adfd51-750-562See, this guy knows how its done.

Exhausted, I finally arrived at Green Bamboo Lodge in Cat Tien National Park, where I made myself at home in my bamboo hut by the river.

 

 

After an evening here spent drinking rice wine with some Vietnamese guys, I was up early to head off again, hoping it wouldn’t take me quite as long to get to Dalat as it had taken me to get to Cat Tien. The scenery from Saigon to Cat Tien  had ranged from the dull to the pretty and pleasant, but once I was out of Cat Tien and on the road to Dalat, the landscape became increasingly jaw-dropping.

 

 

The smooth road wound and weaved through jungle covered mountains, vast coffee plantations and remote villages. Every turn seemed to offer another sweeping view of lush green valleys dotted with distant homes and farms and it was such a joyous feeling of freedom to be out alone on the road with barely any other cars or bikes around.

 

 

 

Stopped for a coffee on an isolated farm and met this happy boy. He showed me his picture book and we had a running race (he won!)

I wasn’t too far out of Dalat when I checked the fuel gauge. I still had a bit under half a tank and seeing as getting fuel is a bit of a pain in the arse – I have to unload my bags to open the seat to get to the tank, I decided to wait until I got to town so I could leave my bags at the hotel and it would be a bit easier.

I was only about 15km out of town on a windy narrow road, looking forward to giving my bum a break when I looked at my petrol gauge and saw it was now very much in the red zone. How could this be? It hadn’t been that long ago that I’d had over a quarter of a tank, had it?

“Oh God. Please, please, please can a petrol station appear!”

I was in big trouble if I ran out of fuel. The road was narrow and winding and if I had to pull over there really wasn’t a lot of space to avoid a truck or bus that might come flying around the corner. I had all my bags, so trying to hitch-hike into town to get petrol, and get back again, especially when I don’t speak Vietnamese, was going to be almost impossible. Pushing my bike 15km through a mountainous road wasn’t really going to happen either. I realised that if the bike wasn’t going to make it, I was up shit creek.

“It’s okay. It’s in the red zone but it’s not on empty”, I tried to reassure myself. “I’m not that far away. 12km, 10km, okay now 9km, I’m going to make it”.

I looked at the fuel gauge again and my heart rate went up as I saw it was now it was right on empty and I was still around 7km out of town. I incredibly anxious the entire time and I don’t think I have ever felt such joy and relief at the site of a petrol station when I finally came upon one. I could have kissed the bowser.

Travelling by motorbike is both exhausting and exhilarating and this trip already has me hooked. Day-dreaming of big adventures, I’ve checked if I can ride from Vietnam to India, (I can’t. Border crossings at some countries make it almost impossible), but this is definitely going to be the first of many.

Riding the Backroads

To Market, to Market.

I am not a shopper. 90% of my wardrobe is hand-me-downs from my friends and if it wasn’t for that I’d probably get around in a rotation of three outfits. It is only my intense love for food that gets me grocery shopping each week and going on a, “shopping holiday”, is probably what they’ll make me do on holidays in hell.

I don’t mind shopping at my local market though. We have outdoor markets in Australia, but it’s totally different to the markets in Saigon. Australian outdoor markets tend to have handcrafts and fancy cheeses made from organic milk from the highlands of Lithuania and expensive  dips from the Blue Mountains- most markets are not really a place for the weekly grocery shop. Living here though, I barely have to go to the supermarket at all. I’d much rather shop at the outdoor market than walk around Woolworths listening to an elevator version of Taylor Swift and getting hit in the leg with someone’s trolley. Here I’ll just get hit in the leg by someone’s motorbike.

 

 

In the markets here you’ll find almost everything you could ever need. Looking for a raw frog? We got it. Fruit and veg you have never seen and don’t know what do do with? Also here. Undies? I no longer buy my undies anywhere else.

The other morning I headed to the market, list in hand, wanting to buy some fresh fish for a curry, but the only fish I have ever bought looks like this-

5759489_001

and when I went to the market and saw this-

 

 

I had no idea what to do. So, I did what any independent woman in her late-30s, living abroad would do. I called my Mum.

“Mum, I want to buy a fish for a curry but I am at the market and there are just whole fish. What should I do? Do you think I can cut it up myself?”

“Just pick a fish and cut it up with the bones, it’ll give flavour. Don’t try and fillet it yourself it’s not something you can learn on Youtube. And watch out for small bones”.

“How do I know which fish to get?”

“Just get a fat looking fish. But watch the bones, don’t choke on a  small fish bone!’

I am 37 years old and my mumma is telling me to watch out for bones when I eat a piece of fish. No matter how old you are, your Mum is always your Mum!

I picked out a fish that looked nice enough, not that I really know how they are supposed to look. Then when I got home I decided NOT to take my mothers advice and that I would try to learn how to fillet a fish from Youtube.

So this happened.

IMG_20190625_151544.jpg

“Just cut around the spine”, said Youtube fella,  “and look, look how easy this lovely fillet just comes away”.

No sir, as you can see, a lovely fillet did not just, “come away”.

Anyway, this poor bastard ended up as a fish curry that I padded out with prawns and tofu due to a lack of actual fish, and it was bloody delicious.

Do you live somewhere with outdoor food markets? Have you ever tried to teach yourself something with Youtube only to have it turn to shit?

An early mid-life crisis – From Sydney to Saigon.

How I went from working as baby health nurse in Sydney to an English teacher in Vietnam.

 It began with a sort of early mid-life crisis.

At the beginning of 2018, I was 35 years old, living in Sydney and feeling like something just wasn’t right. Nothing was particularly awful about my life. I had my health, I had a pleasant enough job that paid alright and I am lucky to have wonderful friends and family. Sure, I was single, but I was out there dating, which was fun most of the time. And when it wasn’t fun, at least it was funny. But something wasn’t right.

giphy

I have a cousin in Vietnam and I kept seeing photos of his come up on my Facebook. It looked like he was having a good time, so I sent him a message to find out a bit more. The decision to pick up and move to Saigon followed an exchange over Facebook that went a bit like this-

“Hey cuz, how is Vietnam? I am getting bored with my life in Sydney and feel like a change”.

“It’s great. You should move here”.

“Righto then, see you in a month”.

I handed in my notice at work, booked a one-way ticket to Saigon, then embarked on the special kind of hell known as, “selling your things on Gumtree”.

Do you enjoy receiving messages from strangers who will bargain with you over the cost of an old chair only to disappear into the ether once you agree on a price with them? Do you like getting ridiculous requests from entitled twats who think because they are buying something second hand for $10 from you, you should drive across the city to deliver it to them personally? If this sounds like you, then you too should try selling your goods online.

Anyway.

Moving to Vietnam, I had absolutely no idea what to expect and even less of an idea of what I was going to do next if it didn’t work out. Back in 2012, I went for a two week holiday to Vietnam with some mates. My main memory of Saigon is of partying all night only to come back to the hostel and throw up in a bin.

halong bay

Here I am in Halong Bay in 2012, oblivious to the fact that I was going to be calling Vietnam home 6 years later.

From the moment I arrived, it didn’t take long for this city to draw me in with its chaotic energy.  Saigon might not be the prettiest city in the world, but it’s vibrant streets heave with life. Food stalls spill onto the pavements, traffic is bedlam, the nightlife can be wild and the heat is exhausting. This city is at once captivating and maddening but the warmth of the people and the food culture by far and away makes up for any faults.

commute

Off to work we go.

 

dinner with friends

Dinner and beers with friends.

 

In just decades Saigon has gone from being one of the poorest places in the world to a boomtown where sky-scrapers are going up at a rapid pace. Change is in the air and maybe in 5 or 10 or 15 years, increasing gentrification will take away some of the city’s untamed charms, but right now, it’s a place that feels like anything can happen, and there is no place I’d rather be.

 

50663722_10156753990215049_798668212576190464_o

eating outside

Food is basically my main hobby here.

38137290_677045705966780_4235064974805827584_o

Never in a million years did I think I’d wind up working as a teacher in Vietnam, but here I am.

Moving to another country isn’t without its challenges and for me the biggest one has been the language. When I first arrived, I was sure I was going to learn to speak Vietnamese no worries. After all, I’d previously learnt to speak Spanish. Sort of.

Learning Vietnamese though is a whole different kettle of pho. The smattering I have learnt is usually met with that Vietnamese hand wiggle gesture or a shake of the head.

Out to dinner one night,, I tried to order a beer. The Vietnamese word for beer is ‘bia’, so surely this one at least wasn’t going to be too difficult.

“Bia”, I said smiling at one of the staff.

He looked at me.

“Bia”. I tried again. “Beeee-a. Biiiiia. Bi-ah.” I tried some variations on pronunciation while making a ‘drink’ hand gesture, only to be met with a look something like this-

giphy-1

He walked off and came back and handed me a glass of some kind of green juice.

“No, no”, I said. “Bia”.

A Vietnamese person sitting close by me said something which I can only assume was along the lines of, “she’s asking for a bia”.

The man laughed, “Ha ha ha oh, bia!” he said.

Suffice to say I don’t think I will be having deep and meaningful conversations in Vietnamese any time soon, but I am taking classes and trying.

The last 10 months have been a wild ride and while it hasn’t always been perfect, it has been pretty wonderful, so I don’t think I’ll be going anywhere any time soon.

 

So, there is a hate-thread about me over at Lonely Planet.

So, there is a hate thread about me over on the Lonely Planet Thorn Tree site.  Bored at work one night, I Googled myself and there it was. People I’d never met, united together in a massive slag-fest about what an awful human being I am. It’s from a long time ago but I still remember being absolutely mortified when I found it. 

It was all because of a piece I wrote about travelling, that was published in the Sydney Morning Herald  and seems to have got up the noses of quite a few people who enjoy travelling. Like this person-

Wow that lady is so bitter!

I hope I don’t sound like as much of a self-righteous, pretentious, bratty snob when I say I would prefer to travel independently rather than on a package tour as that lady (Carly Smallwood, or was it Smallbrain?) does!

Smallbrain? I have feelings too you know, random internet person.

Written at the age of 24, the article is a lot more caustic than something I’d write today, but if you actually read it, I never knocked travelling, or budget travel or independent travel. I was simply critical of the idea that going off backpacking somehow makes you superior to those that don’t.

                             “I’m not a tourist, I’m a traveller.”

imrollingmyeyes

 

Call yourself what you like, but no-one else cares, and in any case we are seeing different places not curing cancer here so let’s not get too enthusiastic about how wonderful we are.

images

Thanks hippy. If you hadn’t posted this wise meme on Facebook, I might never have left the house.

Being lucky enough to live in a part of the world where you can have a job that gives you a disposable income, then choosing to save some of that disposable income and get on an aeroplane doesn’t make you any better than people that don’t. Just because you  want to find yourself on a yoga retreat in Guatemala doesn’t mean that life is for everyone. I have friends who have little to no interest in travel. Being away from home and the people they love to go to somewhere stinking hot with limited access to clean water and sending themselves broke in the process is not their idea of a good time.

And that’s cool.

Some people like to go away on holidays and stay in fancy resorts.

And that’s cool too.

For people that pride themselves on being open-minded, “travellers” can sometimes be a judgemental lot. 

Travel, don’t travel, stay in a fancy resort for a week, go hiking alone for three months or stay curled up on your couch with your dog. Your choices are yours and what you do isn’t right for everyone else.

And that is ok.

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.

11666240_10153352536965049_5115652439505538346_n

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.

11666240_10153352536965049_5115652439505538346_n

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.

beds

Hey, a bed’s a bed right?

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

poolview

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.

men

IMG_0252OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Follow my blog with Bloglovin