Guatape – Colombia

We had heard from a few people that Guatape was worth a visit so we took a bus and planned to stay a couple of nights.  We were feeing a bit tired so we chose a nice quiet hostel a little out of town.  However, unluckily for us, the hostel owners wife was out of town and he decided that he wanted to party the first night!  We were both feeling the travel burnout and decided not to get involved, curling up in our beds instead.  Randomly the two English guys from the bus to Salento were in our dorm and also decided to go on a big party night and drink lots, even though they had to be up at 5 for the bus.  The younger of the two, came in pissed later on and said he would pack in the morning.  I became his mother and sternly told him he should pack now (He wasn’t going to be ruining my sleep in the morning!).  He obeyed and wasn’t too much trouble although left his hat, which resulted in me carrying it round for three weeks incase we bumped into him again.  We decided to stay a few days longer as it was beautiful, however this meant being in different dorms, which was actually a nice break from each other.  We hadn’t slept separately since the capsule hotel in Kyoto, Japan.  The hostel was unbelievably well placed.  These are the views of the rock.

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And it had its own lake.

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I spent a good amount of time down there on the grass sunbathing and dipping into the (freezing) water.  I would have loved to just float on the water all day but the lake bed was full of mud and reeds, and it freaked me out that something was constantly touching my leg!

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We climbed the famous rock – “El Penon De Guatape” which had 770 steps in total, in the blistering heat.  There were some people who had to have oxygen and didn’t make it, due to the altitude, but we treated it as training for the inca trail.  If we failed this we had no chance!  We had no problems in the end and got to the top quickly to see the amazing views.

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Apparently the rock has only got the “G” written on it, as it is between two towns, and Guatape had started to write “Guatape” before the other town kicked off.  So now it is just a G and half a u!!

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The town of Guatape was very nice, but  little like Salento, felt slightly unauthentic – Like it was putting on a show for tourists.  The town was pretty with lots of coloured buildings and cute streets, but there was also an array of shitty trinket stalls and waiters outside restaurants, clearly on commission to get you to come in.  Not dissimilar to Spain!

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However Guatape holds a special memory for me.  Which I will take with me for the rest of my life.  And yes this is about food.  All my big moments seem to be about food.  Bandeja Paisa.  This is apparently a very meaty dish but as we were veggie it was egg, fried plantain, arepa, Colombian beans (Oh my god I need to find them in England – These piss all over Heinz), avocado, chips and rice.  It was my Colombian equivalent of egg, chips and beans and it was divine.  I ate it every night for the rest of the time that I was in Paisa territory!

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The last night there, we were feeling a bit more social and chatted to an Ozzy couple who told us about a hostel in Minca.  This piece of information changed my life.  The blog is coming soon but Minca was my second favourite place on our trip, losing only to Tokyo.  I bought a bracelet off the lovely girl who worked in the hostel, who was sustaining her travel by making these lovely beaded bracelets.  And I chatted for hours to a young Colombian lad in my room whose english was excellent.  He told me all about his country and customs, and said something that stayed with me.  “Colombia isn’t a country, it’s a state of mind”

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Medellin

Medellin is renowned as the drug capital of the world and was home to drug cartel kingpin, Pablo Escobar.  Because of the popular TV series “Narcos”, there are a lots of tours that you can go on which show this part of Medellin, if you are so inclined. We weren’t.  We did a free walking tour with these guys and it was the best walking tour of our travels.  Everyone we had spoken to had raved about it and it’s number one on trip advisor.  However it gets booked very quickly so you need to get on theie webpage to book your place as soon as tickets are released. It is tip based, but they are really good so you will want to give what you can.

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The lady took us round parts of Medellin that we would never have dared to go by ourselves. It was fascinating learning about the culture too.

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She told us that generally speaking, other Colombian people don’t like people from Medellin, as they tend to think they are better than everyone else (They are – the people here are lovely!). She refused to say the name “Pablo Escobar” on the tour, instead calling him, “the one who shall not be named”. Because most of the local people don’t speak and English, the name would be the only thing they could understand, so they could (understandably) get upset. And she’s told us about Colombian memory. Because so many horrific things have happened here, as self protection, they only remember the good things. She’s told us “We have no other choice. If we thought about all the bombings and deaths, we would go under. So instead we choose to remember the successes”.

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This trip was only a couple of months after the Manchester bombings and the same thing had recently happened here in 1995. There was a gig happening at a San Antonio Park and a bomb was placed in this statue which was built by Botero (below). Around 25 (mainly young) people died and instead of moving the mangled statue, they built a replica next to it.  She says the people of Medellin look to the old statue as their past and the new one represents their future.

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The best part of the tour was walking round the plazas and seeing all the people sitting around in the sun, drinking coffee, playing music, and chatting.  The city is so vibrant and full of authentic culture, not the “just-for-show” culture that in some places is put on for tourists.  And the people seemed vvery genuine too.  A smackhead came up to us when we were in Bolivar Park (renowned for drug use, alcoholics and prostitution) and thanked us for coming to his country.  Even though he was clearly out of it, swaying all over the place, he was still grateful that the world’s impression of Colombia was changing enough for people to visit.

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We were in Medellin for a couple of days (and we even came back after Salento!).  We stayed just outside Zona Rosa, which is a nice area although it’s a bit touristy.  We wandered more away from the touristy areas and pottered around the malls (It was hot and I was looking for somewhere to fix my ipad).  The whole area was leafy and nice though.  We stayed here which we loved.

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I need to tell you something very important about this place.  The most important part of this whole blog…  The best burrito I have EVER eaten in my life was purchased in Medellin.  If you do stay at black pine, the burrito place is opposite – It’s called Barrita Burrito and it is almost worth a flight back to Colombia right now to get one.  Honest to god, this is the second best thing I ate whilst backpacking in that 8 months (1st was Coco Ichibanya in Japan).  They have three restaurants in Medellin so if you are there, don’t miss out on one!!

Colombia – Bogota

After the stresses of LA, we were grateful to be heading to a different country! I had practised my Spanish and was eagerly awaiting another completely different culture. The STA travel rep and our friend Louise had both raved about Colombia so I had high hopes. 

When we arrived at the hostel we were both sick and exhausted and our dorm wasnt ready.  We were so tired we upgraded to a private room (essentially just a 4 bed dorm between us) and slept for the whole of the first day.

When we woke up and felt a bit more human I decided to Google the following; “Is Colombia safe?” I strongly recommend that you don’t do this. Especially if you are already there and there is f*ck all you can do about it.  I spiralled into a panic. I wasn’t just reading about theft. I was reading about murder, bus hijackings, political violence, shootings and abduction. I started to Google “flights from Bogota to Manchester” instead. I was so ready for home – that point was the closest we came to quitting our trip early! I’m glad we stayed though because Colombia was amazing in the end (Bogota not so much).

Instead of flying home we booked a bus out of Bogota. Like most capitals, Bogota seemed to be a hub for crime. So we headed for the safety of Medallin. Can you believe I just said that? Headed for safety to the most renowned drug capital of the world! 
We did spend two days in Bogota but we didn’t do much due to fear and sickness. 

Here are some Bogota tips…

  1.  Stay in the Chapinero area.  We stayed here which was really well positioned.  Walkable to everywhere but safe enough. Avoid the La Candelaria area – this is where a lot of the attractions are and the cheap hostels, but is also where the majority of the crime takes place.
  2. NO DAR PAPAYA. This tip actually applies to the whole of Colombia. It is a Colombian saying that is translated as “don’t give papaya” or don’t show your sweet stuff if you don’t want it to be taken off you. So if you walk round with your phone out or with a real gold necklace on, then it’s your own fault when someone takes it from you.  I literally only walked round with a small amount of cash, no jewellery and no phone. It does mean I have no photos but at least I still have a phone. 
  3. Don’t go out after dark. Most violent crime happens after the sun has gone down so try to return to your hostel before then. Some areas are safer than others, for example Chapinero had some nice bars and restaurants and lots of people. However La Candelaria resembles a ghost town after dark as people heed the warnings. 
  4. Avoid Bogota if you don’t like dogs. I have never seen so many dogs – It should be called Dogota. Not the wild street dogs that travellers will be used to. Designer, poofed up, immaculately groomed ones. Everywhere. I think it must be written into their law that one cannot own a mutt. It has to be a pedigree and it has to be beautiful. Maybe that’s how they show status in Bogota instead of jewellery!
  5. Try to visit on a Sunday in the morning. They close many of the roads off and use them for people to run, cycle or walk their dogs. It’s actually amazing how many people go out though. If they did that in England, there would be ten people on the road whilst everyone else was in bed. But in Bogota hundreds of people get out exercising and chatting. It was quite nice to see!
  6. Be careful when using Uber. This might have changed since we were there but taxi drivers HATE Uber and regularly gang-attack them, injuring drivers and passengers alike. If you order an Uber then sit in the front seat so it doesn’t look like an Uber.  It is still the best way to get around however, as it’s a fixed price compared to the normal cabs who can charge anything. 

LA

I’m afraid to write this post in case I offend anyone! If you are from LA (or the U.S. in general) you might want to skip this one 😬

But here is the truth… Of all the places we travelled round the world, including India and Colombia, LA felt the least safe.  There was one place we liked, (ish) which was the pier. 

But it was crammed with bodies just like the streets of Varanassi. Other than this, we wandered round the shithole in disbelief at the sorry-looking place. It was not what we expected.

The city can be directly related to the horrendous state of its airport. 

The airport is disorganised. When we got of the plane we headed for security. They had those machine-things that scan your passport. We thought that would be quick.  We were wrong. We waited in a never-ending queue to get to the machine which only printed a form off with our passport details. We then queued up for a person to check our piece of paper who pointed us to yet another queue to another person who checked both the piece of paper and the passport. SO WHAT IS THE BASTARDING POINT OF THE MACHINE?! We had queued now for nearly an hour and we still had two more queues in store for us, customs and the biggest queue I have seen in my life TO GET OUT.  It was not a good introduction to the country but gave me an idea of why things there are such a mess.  It is pretty cheap to get a gun license but an ambulance will cost you ten thousand dollars. We found this out when we started chatting to our lyft (like uber) driver and he was telling us that he regularly picks people up who have broken limbs or need urgent medical attention but can’t afford an ambulance.  He said that it was normal for him to have to carry people into a&e. Looking at the state of the airport I can believe it.

People are miserable and there are so many untreated mental health issues. In the airport, the staff were either miserable or dangerously power hungry. I didn’t see anyone smile. No-one looked welcoming. I did, however, see the most terrifying man with a god complex. He was in charge of the two queues towards security and he clearly took his job extremely seriously.  So he should.  Queue management is one of the pinnacles of airport safety.  So many hazards can be avoided by proper standing.  He boomed over our heads to “MOVE TO THE RIGHT”. Me and Andrew were separated as it was deemed not safe to queue together.  “START TAKING YOUR SHOES OFF NOW.” But security is fifteen minutes away? “STAND UP STRAIGHT”. Ok he didn’t actually say this but it wouldn’t have surprised me.

This uncomfortable weirdness was seen across LA. The security man in the grocery store had a gun.  There were countless people on the streets shouting about god, including one man who ran between the cars at the pier shouting bible verses peppered with the odd “the Lord will kill all fags”.  

It’s easy to hate these people, but to me this is mental illness at its worse. It must be tough to live in such a consumer driven society with advertising shoved down your throat and poisons in your food.  Even when you try to find some serenity in religion, your leaders maniacally feed you lies and fear leading to your religous obsession.  Now all of a sudden you are a hypnotised robot fighting their battle, screaming against gays because you had a healthy amount of homosexuality before and now you afraid of it. Empty vessels are easy to fill and there is a lot of fake shit here.  The people that we spoke to in LA just seemed a bit false and entitled (and so unreasonably loud.)

We stayed in an airbnb which was nice but the area was terrifying.  The airport information man’s informational advice was “you shouldn’t be staying there”. The uber man said he wouldn’t have taken us had he known where we were going. After a quick Google it turned out we were near a high murder rate street. Lovely. We stayed in our room, slept off our horrendous jet lag and drunk giant beers and pretended we were midgets.

In terms of travel advice I have two good things to say about LA.

Michael’s. Because. Pens. 

And Cocoichibanya. Nom. 

But they are found in much better places so I would  just skip LA if at all possible! And until the orange babboon has left the whitehouse maybe skip the U.S. altogether and spend your money elsewhere.  Like north Korea.

Fiji – Our week in Paradise

When we booked our trip we knew it would be knackering so we booked a week in Fiji to do absolutely nothing.  For that reason this will be a very short blog post!

We decided to visit an island in Fiji rather than stay on the mainland.  Some of the islands are super expensive so we picked a budget one – Mana island.  It is where they film the reality TV show “survivor”.  In fact, they were filming whilst we were there so you weren’t allowed to go further than the edge of the hostel beach.  They didn’t want their deserted island TV programme exposed as a lie by having backpackers popping up in odd scenes! Again, this was fine as we didn’t plan on doing ANYTHING.

The hostel was good although food was expensive.  They have got you by the bollocks when you’re there, as there is no option for you to go and buy food from somewhere else – it is a tiny island!  We had no internet, and they turn the electric off between 3 and 5pm!

We spent our days lying on the beach, reading and getting pink in the sun.  We cuddled this beautiful dog called “Boi” who followed us round.  

We did go out for a morning snorkelling.  I enjoyed it, looking at all the brightly coloured fish and wondering what it would be like to live under the sea. It seemed so serene and peaceful.  Andrew, on the other hand, with his eyes bulging and breath shallow, didnt look at the fish. Instead he had a panic attack in the sea and had to be rescued by the strong and silent instructor Pedro.  He sat on the boat (eating bacon that another boat dropped off) and watched us in the water.

In the night times we played cards and had fun with some lovely people that we met. 

We tried Kava a couple of times but it didnt do what it was meant to.  It’s like a herbal drink that Fijians take and it has relaxing properties.  Generations before, (before the English came over and thrust Christianity on them) the Fijjians used to believe in an underworld that could be contacted through dreams when you take Kava.  I was very excited to have vivid dreams but instead I lay there and saw every hour!

We loved Fiji – It was so relaxing!  And the Fijjians are the loveliest people.  They spend all their day laughing and playing.  And they love the English too.  The lions game was on and all the Fijjians were cheering for us to win.  They speak of us as if we did them this huge favour.  When we had Kava with the chief from the village, he told us that they are grateful for the English coming over and giving them Christianity and education.  I guess that says something about seeing the positive side of everything.  Although, to be fair, we did stop them from eating each other, which I would be grateful for too if I was Fijjian!

Ten days in Southern New Zealand.

We took the ferry over from Wellington to Picton.  It was such a rough crossing!  I had joked about Andrew getting sick but after half an hour of being rocked around so much that my chair was sliding across the floor, I began to feel a little queasy myself.  We arrived in Picton but didn’t get chance to do anything – it was late and we had to get a bus at 7am the next morning.  In retrospect, I wish we had stayed longer in Picton rather than going to Christchurch.  The hostel seemed really nice too.  They had some lovely cats and a baby goat (obviouslly called Billy) that we didnt get to meet!

Christchurch

Christchurch was a huge disappointment, but it isnt really its fault.  It was hit by a massive earthquake in 2011 which killed 185 people and caused $40bn in damage.  Looking around it is clear that the city hasn’t fully recovered.  It seems empty and there are still buildings undergoing repair.  We stayed two days in Christchurch and just wandered around in vain, looking for something pretty. We only found this clocktower.  


We visited a park which was run down and dreary – it actually reminded me of a park from back home in Stockport.  On the positive side, we had the best ever mexican food here

Oamaru

We came to Oamaru purely because Andrew wanted to see the penguins and apparently they hang out there (more on that later).  But Oamaru was such a rich surprise for us.  We loved it and could imagine one day living there!  It is a strange place, full of quirky art and eccentric but friendly people.  


It has everything that you need; the high street is well stocked with shops, there is a large supermarket and a stunning park that the gardeners were lovingly tending to (even in the middle of winter – it was so cold even the fountains were frozen solid!).


Surrounding the town were fields and farmland.  Our hostel owner was a sheep shearer (and instructor) and I took the opportunity to ask him something that I had read on a vegan site.  They called for a boycott on Merino wool and claimed that farmers in New Zealand dont shear the sheep properly, cutting off folds of the sheep’s skin to save time, leaving them with open sores.  The farmer put my mind at ease.  He said that the Merino sheep have lots of folds on their skin and farmers do sometimes accidentally cut the sheep which is inevitable, however they don’t do this on purpose.  If you are a crappy sheep shearer you will cut the sheep more often, however you are likely to get called out by other farmers for this.

The hostel we stayed in was lovely!  It was like visiting nanas and felt really homely (oamaru backpackers).  It had a lovely family vibe and we met some really nice people there.

One thing that Oamaru is famous for is Steampunk.  I really struggle defining steampunk when someone asks.  So here you go…

Steampunk – a genre of science fiction that has a historical setting and typically features steam-powered machinery rather than advanced technology.

The Victorian part of Oamaru was so unique and interesting.  There was a whole back street with quirky cafe’s, artisan shops and artists workshops. 


We met a lovely lady called Purple who welcomed us into her workshop and told us all about her passions for restoring all things old and making odd but inspiring art.  


She had a car which she restored herself that was 70 years old! She read my cards for me and we shared music with each other (She was, like us, a fan of pirate rock!).


But back to the penguins…

We went to a beach where you cann see the endangered yellow eyed penguins as they come to land for the day.  We waited in the freezing cold for two hours, only to see two anticlimatic black dots moving across the beach.  The dots could’ve been anything to us but we were reliably informed by a smug man with binoculars that they were indeed penguins. 


Disappointed, we tried instead to see the blue penguins which were on the beach near our hostel.  We could pay for the viewing, however we had read online that if you sit quietly in the bay, you can see them for free.  In the freezing cold, we scoured for an hour but to no avail.  The next night was the same – We had gone out earlier just in case.  We wandered, shivering, up and down the coast and finally gave up.  Andrew declared war on all penguins.  He agreed that I had been right all along.  That penguins were evil, rapist, murerous paedophiles. (This is fact see here). We stopped being quiet and walked back chatting when suddenly in front of us appeared a very tiny and very cute penguin!  Penguin day saved! Although in retrospect it would have been much better to pay the money and save messing.

Queenstown

Be aware of this if you plan to visit queenstown.  This place will rinse you of all your money! There is so much to do and everything is so expensive.  However it is well worth the visit.

We spent a day at Milford Sound, which was a really long day.  


It was four hours to get there, we spent two hours actually on the boat, then four hours to get home.  It was worth it though. Both the drive and the sound itself, were beautiful.  


After that long day, instead of climbing into bed, we jumped onto the hostels bar crawl. We had booked a party hostel – not out of choice – but when we booked there were only two hostels left in Queenstown on our dates. (Book early!).  So instead of trying to sleep and getting grumpy about the excess noise and youth (like we did in Cairns), we joined in!  


It was a fab night. although some of it I don’t remember.  I do remember a free shot in every bar mixed with red wine, bad “one hand dancing” (I do this weird hand dance when I get drunk – without fail – It’s like I’m praising some unseen god of wine.  Or maybe the holy spirit?), the two aussie guys we were with rapping (quite well) at a random karaoke set-up on the side of the street and waking up fully clothed in my bunk with my light on at 4am.  Oops.


The next day, we (me, Andrew, and the two aussies Gerrard and Nick) attempted to climb a mountain called Ben Lomand. 


I felt super rough so I didnt make it very far. 


The boys carried on and I got the gondola up so I could still enjoy the views, which were magnificent!

Ten Days in North New Zealand.

New Zealand is truly breathtaking.  On the road you turn a corner and there is yet another amazing vista.  The hills undulate and roll into the distance wearing many shades of green.  We only had ten days, nowhere near long enough to explore the north island, so we only tickled the surface.  But it is one of the places that we will come back in the future.

Aukland

After the rain of Sydney, we were hoping for some dry weather.  We arrived in Auckland greeted by yet more rain.  It was wet and grey and reminded me a little of England.  We had decided on getting a campervan in the North Island so we could see more things and drive around wherever we wanted.  In retrospect, we should have also done this in the South Island, however we had mistakenly thought the roads would be treacherous and full of snow.  (Other than the road to Milford they weren’t.)

We had decided to go with Jucy – A bright green campervan/car thing – which was not in the least inconspicuous.  We chose to spend the night near Auckland and camp at a hippy commune and eco-farm called Fat Cat.  I was not in the best state of mind.  I was anxious, self conscious and irritated.  The hippy commune was like a shared house where everyone knew each other.  We sat in the corner hiding like new kids at school.  The hippies however try there best to get everyone involved and they have a communal dinner (all vegan) for which everyone sits around a table on the floor.  They had cards with conversation questions that they pulled out of a jar and they distributed chores by picking tasks out of a hat.  You could either get a card like “washing up” or as I got “give the person to your left a compliment”.  It was a fantastic place with really great people.  I really don’t know what was wrong with me but I think all these happy floaty people were getting on my nerves because I wasn’t either happy or floaty.  I was jealous of their Zen.  Because of that I didn’t have the best time, however I would still recommend this place.  It is somewhere that you need to stay for a while and get into their lifestyle, rather than just stay for one night as we did.

That night it rained.  I am SO GLAD it did.  Because we found out that the camper leaked really badly.  The door pockets were filled with rainwater and Andrews side of the bed was soaked. (The sogginess was near his head so I know he hadn’t pissed the bed).  The next day we drove it back and luckily got given another fairly quickly.  However, had it not rained on that first night, we wouldn’t have found out until later in the trip.

Bay of Islands

We had been told that the Bay of Islands was not to be missed, so we headed North.  This is a stunning place however we didn’t explore as much as we would have liked due to time limitations.  We stayed in Paihia (pronounced “pie here” in a lovely campsite on the water. 

We only had one day so we explored the town (I spent an hour in the local library resetting a second hand kindle I bought in Sydney) and went on a taxing walk in the forest which runs along the coast.  The walk was lovely and inspired another blog post about mental health (coming soon). 

In the morning, on the way out of the bay, we visited the family until Kawiti glow worm caves.  It is much cheaper than the more famous Waitomo and the glow worms were amazing!  As you would expect, you can’t take pictures of them but it was a sight not to be missed.  They looked like a Milky Way full of stars, except each one was a gross dribbling bug in a hammock.  They have quite an easy life until they reach adulthood and they develop into a fly which has no mouth, thus can’t feed and results in them starving to death.  Nature can be so f*cked up sometimes!

Heading South

We drove down the country, staying on night in the car park of an Irish bar called Murphies.  A super cheap option, if you discount the copious amount of Guinness consumed by the lovely log fire.  

We visited a beautiful waterfall, called Hanuah falls, completely by accident.  In New Zealand we started playing “follow the brown sign”.  As we head to our destination if we see a brown tourist sign, we go and see what it is.  This is the beauty of exploring the country in a campervan. You have the freedom to go wherever you wish.

We did a couple of hikes in this area, including this suspension bridge hike with lovely views.  

The weather is very changeable in New Zealand.  You can go from sunny to raining back to sunny in a matter of minutes!

Matamata and Hobbiton

Luckily (and I am using that word sarcastically) our campervan came with a DVD player.  And even more luckily (even more sarcastic) Andrew found “lord of the Rings” for free in the DVD bin at the Jucy depo.  We put the DVD in and the first six times it wouldn’t play.  Luckily (you get the gist now) on the seventh attempt, the DVD loaded and I lost my LOTR-virginity.  It was OK.  I had wine.  That helped pass the 3 hours.  However it irked me that the film doesn’t end so you are forced to commit another 6 hours of your life to the next two.  On a positive note I now understand where this meme comes from.


My initiation was complete and with that, we went to Hobbiton near Matamata.  If you do visit the definitely take a look round the town of Matamata.  It is a cute little town with a great vibe.  We got the coach to Hobbiton and it turned out, where we had stayed was overlooking the Shire!

Hobbiton was sensational.  Although the film was “meh” the set was magical!  The attention to detail (at eye watering expense to the film budget) was fantastic.  I wished I was a hobbit and could live there permanently.

We had a beer at the Green Dragon too which is a working bar and cafe inside the set.  If you are in New Zealand this is a Must Do.  Even if you are not a geek, it is totally worth it.

Rotorua 

When we first arrived in Rotorua we wondered why it was so busy.  We were surprised by the amount of British people everywhere.  A few days prior, at the Irish bar, someone had asked if we were chasing the Lions.  I thought is was some new drug reference so I said no politely and scurried off.  However we learned that the Lions are the English and Irish rugby team and the other Brits were following them as they toured New Zealand.  We accidentally followed them to Rotorua, hence the masses of people.

Rotorua is a strange place.  It is a volcanic area and steam just comes out of the ground which is very surreal.  We went to a free park with bubbling mud pools and lots of steam.

We also visited the lake which was beautiful but very stinky (eggy).

We camped at a place called Waikato Valley thermal pools site.  This place was out of this world!  You get to use all the thermal pools which are filled with natural thermal water that comes down the mountain at 100 degrees Celsius and results in an all natural steam room!  However in the pools it is mixed with the cooler natural spring water and is around 40 degrees instead.  Too hot for Andrew but I loved it!  I couldn’t believe I was out in my bikini in the middle of winter!  In the morning you get to use all the pools before it opens to the public and this was one of my favourite moments so far. Sitting in a hot thermal infinity pool, in the middle of the mountains, completely alone and in silence.  I wish I was back there now!

Taranaki 

We met a guy in the hot pools who lived in the Taranaki area and told us it was voted the number one place to visit in a recent Lonely Planet article on New Zealand.  We decided to go there – It was on the other side of the country, about eight hours drive.  Unfortunately I was ill for the first day and slept the entire time (probably because I was fannying around in my bikini in the middle of winter!) but the next day we went for an amazing walk up the base of Taranaki.  We didn’t dare to climb the whole thing.  I was still a bit peaky and it was an eight hour walk.  Plus there was snow on the top and we didnt have the right equipment.  But the base walk was still amazing!

Ekitahuna and Wellington
In a campervan there isn’t much choice in Wellington plus prices for sites are through the roof.  So we decided to stay in a teeny town called Ekitahuna on the day before we handed our camper back.  It has a population of 441 and they had to campaign to keep their petrol station and supermarket from being closed!  We thought our money would be better spent here.

We were meant to explore Wellington but the weather had a tantrum.  It was so windy that I couldnt shut the camper door as I battled to get myself out of the vehicle. It was that hideous icy-cold sideways rain that slaps you in the face like a frozen fish.  So far, this has been my least favourite day whilst travelling.  The weather was so vile that we hid in a McDonalds until our ferry was due.  

Apparently Wellington is a beautiful place but unfortunately our jury is still out on that.  It gives us an excuse to go back anyway.

Five Ways to be a C*nt in a Shared Dorm – the Official AnxiousBackpackers Guide! 

So you have finally got your flights booked.  You’ve saved for months.  You know which countries you want to cross off your travel bucket list.  But have you thought about the little things?  Take dorm etiquette for example.  You will be sharing your space with many other people over the next few months so it is important to know the do’s and dont’s of dorm life.  Here are some tips that I have picked up over the last six months of backpacking.

1.  Plastic bags are a must.

Why waste money on those fancy clothes packing cubes when plastic bags are durable, waterproof and most importantly – noisy.    You can separate everything easily and economically!  Use as many as is necessary – keep your toothbrush and toothpaste in two separate bags if you need.  But most importantly, wait until everyone in the dorm is asleep and then rustle those motherf*ckers.  It is important that you spend at least ten minutes finding everything that you need.  Zips are also extremely helpful in this scenario.  Please feel free to zip and unzip the same compartment as many times as required.  Don’t worry if you wake other people.  It’s a shared room and you need to find your stuff.  This is your trip remember?

2. Don’t oversleep!  
You have saved up for so long that you don’t want to miss any tours or flights that require an early get up.  If you are prone to oversleeping then it is imperative that you set your alarm to a loud enough volume.  Ideally top volume.  And if you have an auto-snooze function then enable this.  This means that when your alarm first goes off you can ignore the first two obnoxious rings and let it play out continuously into the room at full volume.  This will help all your newly acquired friends wake up slowly too. The third time it goes off, you should be fully awake, refreshed and ready to take on the day!

3. Night out etiquette.  

Part of travelling is the parties and nights out, making new memories and friends!  But when you arrive back in your dorm at 4am you need to respect the other people sleeping.  The best thing to do is to turn the main light on.  People appreciate this.  They might even get up and carry on the party with you!  If you don’t feel comfortable doing this then a torch is fine.  You can use the one on your phone but if you can find a heavy-duty super quasar-like bright one then this is better.  For your safety obviously.  You don’t want to trip over in your drunken state and wake everyone up.  Shining the torch in your dorm mates faces to check they are still breathing is a nice touch.  If you have made a new “sexy-friend” on your night out, then it is completely OK to bring them back.  Everyone does it.  Just make sure that you activate your sound proof bubble (aka your towel curtain) which fits neatly over your bed.  No matter how loud your partner is, as they pretend to have a good time, nobody will be able to hear you!  And when it’s all over, don’t forget to spray your mosquito spray too! Yes even in the early hours – You don’t want dengue. 

4. Laundry

Laundry can be expensive.  Especially in countries like Thailand where it can be as much as 40Baht (approx £1).  Why would you waste your hard earned money on these luxuries!  You can wash all your clothes whilst you have a shower and kill two birds with one stone.  Sometimes this means that you will use all the hot water but you know what they say about the early bird.  Remember that this is your trip and your questionably stained underwear takes priority over the needs of other travellers.  When you have finished, the bathroom may resemble a scene from the second half of the titanic movie but don’t worry.  All hostels have cleaning staff to mop up your mess.  Also other people won’t mind standing in your dirty laundry sea whilst they innocently try to take a piss.  Once all your garments are sparkly clean you can then start to hang your clothes in the dorm to dry.  Use any available surface; beds, frames, windowsills and ceiling fans are all fair game.  If you can get your underwear to drip onto one of your new roommates pillows then this is absolutely perfect.

5. You worked for it – Now own it!!

Assert your dominance over your roommates by claiming the space with your belongings.  This is a dog eat dog environment and if you don’t fight for your space you will lose the battle.  Think of the dorm as as the Serengeti; vibrant, alive and humming with various fauna.  Do you want to be a lion or an antelope?  The antelope will keep himself to himself, and take up as little room as possible.  A lion owns everything.  A lion opens his backpack right in the middle of the room and leaves it there.  A lion gets out every single toiletry item that he owns and spreads them around.  A lion will even put his stuff on beds that dont belong to him.  Because he can.  Every time one of your roommates has to step over your stuff, you get one step closer to winning the battle.  If they trip and fall over it – then well done, you have f*cking won!

If you follow all of these guidelines carefully you will not only have a great travelling experience, but you will make some lifelong friends along the way!  So to summarise; stay classy and don’t be a twatwaffle. 😉

Campervan journey from Cairns to Sydney

We arrived in Cairns at 5 in the morning after zero hours sleep.  The hostel couldn’t check us in, so we slept outside on their veranda, spooning our backpacks and trying to catch 5 minutes of sleep.  The hostel we had chosen had good reviews and said it was recently refurbished.  I know recently is an ambiguous word, but this place was rank.  There were three toilets between a gazillion people and it was full of 18 year old shrieking brits.  I might as well have been in fifth Ave in Manchester. “oh my gaaaaaaad I like totally slept with those two guys last night”, “sambuccaaaaaaa”, “are we doing shots yaaaaaaah”.  

So.  We changed our plans.  Instead of getting buses and staying in hostels, we would get a mini campervan.  We naively also thought this would be cheaper.  It is not cheaper.  Be warned.  It is only cheaper if you free camp and forgoe your bodily hygiene.  If you value a shower then you’ll have to pay site fees, which are similar to a hostel anyway.  But it is much better.  You can drive to where you want and see what you want.  You see a pretty thing.  You stop and eat lunch at the pretty thing.  Whereas on a bus you can only see it for a second from the window.

So we started in Cairns and hired “Coco the camper”.  Named after CocoIchibanya.  Because nom.  She was a mature old lady but very robust.  

She had a two ring burner, a full on proper fridge, plus all the bits that you should need – cups, cutlery, sleeping bags.  We got her from travelwheels, which is a much smaller rental company, but you don’t have the embarrassing advertisement on the sides.  She was discreet.

We stayed in a lovely place called Lake Eacham.  The campsite owners were lovely and talked to us for ages about MS.  Their daughter is currently in Mexico having stem cell therapy so it was interesting learning about their story and comparing to Andrew’s.

We went down the waterfall circuit past Millaa Millaa falls and spent the night at Etty bay.  

This site had Cassowaries wandering around on the beach and around your cars.  

We thought it was really funny.  Only later did we learn that Cassowaries are one of the most dangerous birds on the planet which can kill you with a kick.  Oh well!

We went to Airlie beach for a couple of days which was beautiful. 

 This was meant to be our stopping off point for Whitehaven beach.  It is meant to be one of the most stunning beaches in the world, with white sand and crystal blue waters.  We had booked a trip out there for the day and the weather seemed fine.  However out to sea, the boat was almost horizontal and we were being thrown about by the waves.  I was terrified, so when the skipper came to tell us it was too dangerous and we were turning back, I was relieved.  Andrew had had a dream that we were thrown overboard and got eaten by jellyfish, so I was starting to panic thinking that he had actually had a premonition. The company gave us a full refund and we got to eat our free lunch! 

Instead we went to Cape Hillsborough, which is a national park that you camp in.

There are some nice walks around, which we did, and the kangaroos just hang around the toilets like furry dealers.  It was nice seeing living kangaroos as there are so many obliterated on the side of the road.

We also visited a nature reserve and met some native animals including a blind Koala called Brady.



The actual highlight of our trip was Fardooleys bush camp.  It isn’t an official campsite.  This lovely couple have a shed load of land so they let people camp there for a nominal fee.  There is nothing nearby so the stars are amazing.  The showers are heated by a wood fire that the owner chops the wood for every night.  Best shower in Australia!  You are classed as a guest at their house rather than a customer and they invite you in to drink moonshine and listen to Australian country music with the locals!  We had a blast!  

We will never forget that it was Kevin’s birthday – He wore a little bow tie and hat and got a pie with a candle in it.  Kevin isn’t a human.  This is Kevin!!

We headed further down to 1770.  This place was stunning.  I have never walked on sand that squeaked before! 

Hervey bay was a bit of an anticlimax.  I had been before and remembered it being amazing.  I think I must’ve built it up in my head.  It did have an amazing pier though which seemed to go on forever.

We visited Noosa heads which was beautiful although really busy.  The sea was so clear and pretty.

Brisbane was a bit of a let down.  Cities aren’t great in a camper.  We spent a small fortune on the campsite yet we were still miles from the city so we paid another small fortune to get the bus into it.  It was OK.  Meh.  I think cities are cities.  They all have a forever 21 and a starbucks.  If you want something different you need to go out into nature.

We then headed down though Byron bay, through Flat Rock and Nambucca heads into Sydney.  

Unfortunately we got caught in a storm for two days and rain stopped play.  It was so heavy that there were flood warnings in Nambucca.  It felt like Manchester.

Down in Sydney, we braved the rain to go to see the city.  We were lucky and were there at the time when “Vivid”, was on, which is a light festival.  The opera house looked pretty cool.  The whole area around the opera house was nice and had some lovely bars and shops.  

At this point in my trip I had bought some tablets to help me de-stress.  They were just herbal things.  I noticed after a few days that my scalp started hurting.  A few days after that, my hair started falling out from the root.  Add to that that my pants are now becoming unbearably tight and my skin hasn’t seen the sun for a few weeks.  Some of my friends have been backpacking and have come back, slender, glowing and bronzed.  It will be just typical that I come back like this…

Shower the horse I’m done.

Anxiety in Oz

When I named this blog “the anxious backpacker”, I genuinely thought it would be filled with tales of panic, stress and woe.  Other than my completely appropriate response to backpacking in India, (you try having the shits for a solid month and see how happy you feel!) I haven’t actually had any cause to use the anxiety hashtag.  I’m not as homesick as I thought I would be.  I’m not as stressed as I thought I would be.  But on coming to the country which is most culturally similar to my own, a country where things should be easy, my brain decided to make things difficult.

We arrived in Perth and stayed with my Aunt and Uncle in Southern River.  It was time to decompress and chill out.  We ate Nando’s and KFC (We are back on the veggie wagon now – it keeps tipping over and throwing us off).  We did our washing. We watched TV and slept in a lovely comfy bed.

But I felt unbelievably sad and despondent.  Maybe my body thought I had come back home and it stopped producing the adrenaline that had been keeping me going in Asia?  More likely, it was the fact that 22 people were killed mercilessly in my hometown.  22 people, mainly teenagers, went on a night out to have fun and see their idol, and never came home.  We were glued to the TV and refreshing twitter constantly to get the latest.  It’s a weird feeling being so far from home and watching the events in your own city unfold, through a plastic box on the other side of the planet.

I am living in Bury at the moment and my heart was breaking for the mother of one of the victim’s Olivia, also from Bury.  She appeared on a news channel, pleading for anyone with any information on the whereabaouts of her daughter to contact her.  She fought back tears during the interview as she admitted that she hadn’t had any contact with her Olivia and was just waiting for some news.  Unfortunately it wasn’t the news she wanted.

When we weren’t staring aghast at the news or going down a twitter rabbithole, we did end up getting out into Perth city.  It was OK.  Meh.  I don’t know if it was my mood or if Perth is just “meh” but it just didn’t seem as nice as I remembered.  

The people in the city seemed a bit rough. The phrase I have learned to describe these people (which I’m still unsure as to whether it is offensive) is “feral bogans”. The kind of people I probably see in my hometown.  Chavs with no manners that push you out of the way to get down the street.  

I missed asian people and their good manners.

We had such a nice stay at my Aunties and it was great to see her.  I think it had been fifteen years or something since we last saw each other.  I will definitely go back to Perth, but I will make sure I am in a better mood!!