Wednesday, 24 November 2010

World Trip Legacy

So the trip is over... but the legacy will go on!!

Urvi and I want this trip to be an inspiration to everyone, anyone who wants to fulfil a dream - You Can!!!

For ANY travel advice or guidance, don't hesitate to get in touch with Urvi or I on

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

The final Blog post of the trip

I have thought for a while what and how I should write the last blog entry of the trip. I have pondered whether it should be a summary of things we have done and experiences we have had, or maybe something more emotional and reflective. In the end I opted for a simple download of thoughts. There are many thoughts I am having about this trip and its conclusion, so much so that I think it is best for me to simple begin typing a blog post and end when it feels right! I have no idea where this will go and how long it will be so apologies if the post is too long or boring!

The world trip, the life that Urvi and I have led for the last 558 days is over. I am writing this post in the departure lounge of Johannesburg as we wait for our flight to Mumbai. I recall the moment well when the idea for the trip was born. It was during the summer of 2005. Urvi had seen an article in the Sunday Times Travel supplement about the increasing numbers of Career Gappers - people who would decide to give up their jobs and start to travel, seriously travel and see the world. She thought it was an awesome idea, but as ever I was most cautious about it. We were just chit chatting about it and Dad was saying that it sounded like a great idea and that he would have loved to have done this earlier in life. The idea was born. Goodness only knows how this casual chat about travelling for 3 months or so evolved into an 18 month mammoth trip, but evolve it did!

The last firework went off on New Years 2007 and the plan was on, we had to work hard and get things sorted, for we were leaving on the 2nd May 2009! The date was somewhat random, but it was also related to the year end dates in the UK. That was a special moment, as from then on all our efforts were focused on working for the trip. We made a number of serious life compromises during the years building up to our departure and although at the time I had some regrets, the moment that we started on the travel trail all those regrets vanished. Really the moment we arrived in Beijing and checked into our hostel, I knew this was going to be some trip. Beijing was such a rich place full of people and culture that just got me going, got me excited about travel and made me really understand that people are so different as much as they are so similar.

I look back at the first few months, and the pile of things that we packed that we did not use even once, I look back at the gleaming ruck sacks, and freshly ironed cloths, and it makes me smile. Just how far we have indeed come in such a time. Back at the start, every day was a vacation and yet every day was a challenge. It was such an undertaking for us, despite my confidence about being independent. At that time I particularly found it hard to mingle and speak to random people, I found it hard to share, because I guess I don't think I had that much to share. Over the months our routine became more fixed, between us our roles became defined and things smoothed out. We were then left with the experiences of every day. Both Urvi and I grow in stature and confidence, we began to enjoy time, just for the sake of it. We began to calm down and really let the world soak in.

By the end of the trip I think that our mindset to travel, to challenges and to each other has changed so so so much. Urvi is so comfortable with being uncomfortable and never have either of us felt that we are being forced to live a life on the road that we did not want. That was a special point really that only at the end I can appreciate. Urvi has compromised and been so flexible during the trip, and really I don't think we could have travelled with anyone else. At this time of reflection the partnership was just perfect. It sounds a little patronising but I am so proud of Urvi for all that we have achieved and for all that she has supported me to achieve.

On a very personal note I have learnt a great deal about myself and I believe I have changed a great deal. I am not scared to work hard, to be uncomfortable and to really put some effort into things. What ever it might be. People work hard around the world and achieve things and seeing that is very motivating. I have been happy with second best much of the time, but this trip was nothing short of life changing, because we both worked really hard to make it so.

I have learnt that I enjoy the company of new people more than I thought, I have learnt that I know just a fraction of a fraction of what the world and its people can offer, and the most interesting thing is that the knowledge is all out there, in the people you speak with and spend time with. I have learnt this during the trip.

I know now that I can overcome physical challenges and that I in fact enjoy that sense of challenge and totally cherish the moment of achievement. I could go on and on, but simply put I have learnt that there is so much out there that we are foolish to be happy in our own little niche.

The people we met during this time away have been truly AMAZING. Each and everyone of the great friends we have made are inspirational in so many ways. For what they have done in life, for what they were doing, for the way they thought about things, for the joy and love they gave us, for how close we became over the space of hours or days. The friends we made are the real jewels that we have collected throughout the route. I am not going to name a single one, because to name one means I must name them all, but for them all, thank you, and go well in your future and current travels. You were all amazing.

That goes for the people who kept track of us to, cared about us from a distance and talked about us to friends and family. There are people all over the world now who have heard of our trip, and if even 1 person does something that they thought was impossible for them because of some inspiration we gave them, then I am so proud. To be honest I don't expect or want this trip to be replicated by others, but I do hope that people will embark on their own ‘world trip’ - in their own way, by setting out to do something big, something hard and achieving it.

As we all know only to well, time is such a thing that cant be bought, no matter how much cash you have we all have the same unit of time and none of us truly knows how much we are given. Therefore you cant wait, you cant put things off. Start the diet today, plan for your trek today, save for your TV today. WHATEVER it is, do something today. The sense of achievement I feel after this trip will keep me going for a jolly long time!

We touched the feet of all 7 continents, we have seen the sun rise and set all over the world. Would I take up this challenge again? Of course I would. Indeed I think that travel and the feelings that only travelling can give you are now fixed I my head. I want to progress in my life but, travel will be part of that life I am sure. In this regard I am soooooo thankful that Urvi and I just click totally on this. She is a total travel addict too, and I am sure the moment we get home the travel magazines will be out again!

I don't know how life will be in the next days weeks or months, but I know that we have this experience to hold and give us strength as we go forward. We have done and seen things that most dream about, we have had the chance to have many life changing trips, within this one trip. We are lucky but we have also worked hard for it and worked hard during it.

We have this to look back on and motivate our children to never shy away from any challenge.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

The best of the trip...

These are some of the ‘bests’ of the trip...

Hostel - Sandalwood hostel, Kyoto, Japan
Nights Sleep - Lebua at State Tower, Bangkok, Thailand
Train Journey - Xining to Lhasa, The Tibet Railroad
Bus Journey - Bahir Dar to Lalibela, Ethiopia
Sunset - Phu Quoc Island, Vietnam
Sunrise - Poon Hill, Nepal
Cruise/Boat trip - ANTARCTICA!!!!
Street Food - Super Tacos, Mexico City
Swim - The Dead Sea, Jordan
Trek - Torres Del Paine, Patagonia, Chile
Mountain - Dhaulagiri, Nepal (Anand), Fitzroy, El Chalten (Urvi)
City - Cape Town, South Africa
Natural Experience - Leopard Seal Kill, Antarctica (Urvi), White Sharks, South Africa (Anand)
Cultural Experience - Hamer Tribe, Bull Jumping, Ethiopia
Thrill - Sky Diving
Day - Wine Route in New Zealand (Urvi), A380 Flight to NZ (Anand)
Diving - Coral Garden, Dahab, Egypt
Boat - Iceberg Alley, Antarctica
Drink - Coffee in Ethiopia
Religious Site - Angkor Wat
Best Architectural site - Potala Palace, Tibet (Anand), Petra, Jordan (Urvi)

Would go back tomorrow - Nepal, Japan, South Africa
Left Undone - Peru, Bolivia, Africa

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Cape Town - the most magical City I have ever been to...

I was very nervous about coming to cape town after 8 years, as I had such memories of the city and such admiration that I was really worried that these expectations would not be met again. A lot has certainly changed in CPT but I think that I have changed a lot too. Not least travelling here with Urvi, in a much more relaxed mood ha helped to bring out the best in tis wonderful, beautiful and alluring city.

We have spent a few days here now, and I must say all those great thoughts and images have come flooding back. People here are so relaxed and yet confident, the city is simply stunning and when the sun beams over table mountain there is NO city in the world more magical.

We stayed in the Gardens area of the City, which to be honest is just awesome for the flash packers like us! There are great coffee shops around and the views of the mountain are constant, we were also near by to long street and so never far from a great night out.

I have always said that Cape Town is the one place I would live, without question, the best thing about the last week in CPT is that Urvi feels the same now! We just lived our dream lifestyle there, lattes, dinners, friends, sun, shopping! I admit this was a dream time to mark the end of our trip, but even then I can see ourselves living here and loving every moment of it.

Heres hoping!

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Thanks to all the tour and expedition guides!!

We are currently at Victoria Falls and getting ready to do a days White Water Rafting. I am listening to the briefing that Hippo our guide is giving and by this I am reminded about the various guides and drivers we have met, travelled with and relied on through out the trip. I think that these guys and gals deserve a special and collective thanks from us both

We have trekked in Tibet with Chung Dak; Bumped around Mongolia; driven by Nemo; Learnt diving with PADI instructor Tom; Walked around the rice fields of Vietnam with the young informal tour guide girls of Sa Pa; lost and then found my Walking boots with the guides from Greenland Adventures; Jumped out of a plane with our tandem Sky Dive masters in NZ; enjoyed a life changing trip to Antarctica with Sebastian and his team; Climbed Cotopaxi with climbing guide Guido; Sweated in the desert of Jordan with Abed and his son Neal; Visited the tribes of the south Omo valley with Daniel and got soaked while white water rafting with Hippo and his gang.

These and many many other guides and drivers, have kept us safe and more than that helped us have some of the most amazing experiences I could ever imagine. I know this is their job but these people have a love for what they do, for their country and this is really infectious, they have really enriched our trip and I am thankful to them all!

Urvi would not have made it over the Drom La Pass on Mount Kailash if it were not for our driver and Chung Dak. This was the biggest achieved of the trip for her and it was the support and dedication of the driver that gave her the chance. We interact with people all the time, but when we meet guides and support teams, we build a short but important friendship. This is easy to disregard but it is important to acknowledge - thanks All!

Next time your are taking a guided excursion or thrill activity, spare a thought for the people who are assisting you, they are special and fun people!

Saturday, 2 October 2010

Returning to South Africa

Touching down in Johannesburg and taking a car to Blyde River Canyon and then Kruger gives me such a feeling that I am meeting up with an old friend, who I have not been in touch with for a while. South Africa was one of the places that I can say gave me a bit of the travelling bug. I came here for work almost exactly 8 years to the day, and travelled like a backpacker for the first time.

I was taken immediately by the beauty of the country and the warmth of the people. Despite the history and internal turmoil, the people I met then were so warm and welcoming. Nothing has changed, I have again been blown away by the natural beauty and diversity of South Africa, and once again can see why I feel in love with the people.

Ever since returning from South Africa last time I have not stopped talking about it. Especially Cape Town! And so we have decided that this would be the last country of the trip and Cape Town our last stop. I cant quite believe that we are here, at the final step, the final days. I am quite nervous after having raved about SA so much, I just hope that it will live up to the expectations that have been set.

South Africa is in fact the first country (excluding India) that either Urvi or I have been to before. This is a sign of just little we have travelled in the past and I guess something of a testament to how much travelling we have done on this trip! I was really keen to make sure that we don’t just replicate the trip I made all those years ago. Things have changed, we have changed and interests have changed. For example SA has some of the best National Park setups around, and last time I only got to 1 of the parks. This time we plan to go to many. In total we will be here for 5 weeks and I want to get to some new places, stay away from cities and make sure that we leave the trip with no regrets. This is a big ask but I think can be done in SA.

Cape Town should be the perfect place to end our trip, it has lots to do, great hostels and awesome food all set within one of the most beautiful cities in the world. There will surely be bittersweet feelings when we finally zip up our backpacks for the very last time but I cant think of a better place to be than SA for such a moment. The travel bug was seeded here and for me it will be renewed here. Maybe the next years wi just be a pause before another trip...

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Tribes of Southern Omo Valley

There have been times on this trip when we have debated about going some place or another, and most of the time we have not regretted the decision. During the Ethiopia leg of the journey the big debate was to head south or not. Whats in the South?? The Tribes are in the south! Ethiopia for the traveler is essentially split into discrete circuits covering the north, south and east of the country. The North is the Church and Historical circuit. The East has some amazing natural wonders, and the south has the tribes. The tribes of Ethiopia are varied and interesting, they hold much intrigue for those who venture down to visit them, and deciding to take this trip was the best choice of the whole african leg of the journey.

We were really debating this one hard, solely because of the costs - you have to take a 4x4 to visit the tribes, as the roads are even worse than the awful highway roads found around Addis! They really are African Bum massagers! The 4x4 guys have a great monopoly going on and the rates rarely drop below $100US per car per day. Sure for a group this might work out ok, but for us backpackers, thats a lot of Injera!

We were super lucky that as we were booking our jeeps we met a couple of guys from the Czech Republic and Slovakia - Ivan and Michel, they too wanted to do the trip and so we were set, 50% straight off!

I guess the first thing to say is that there are tribes all over Ethiopia, but the southern Omo Valley tribes have gained some notoriety as they have been cut off for a number of years (for main stream travelers, the villages were really only opened for visits 15 years ago), also they have maintained customs and traditions to this day that set them apart from what I or most others would know. They are intriguing and mind boggling in the way they live life. I think it gives some indication on how past generations may have lived.

Of course times are changing as these tribes are becoming more commercially savvy. There are new ‘better’ roads being built and villages are becoming easier to get to. There are park and village entrance fees, and I am waiting for the first tribal Starbucks to open soon!! Seriously I think that we had an experience that was somewhat staged, but as close to real life as I would expect. In the end we were visiting people in their homes and communities and jumping out of a non air-conditioned 4x4 to take photos and gawp at bull jumping and lip plates, is already pretty synthetic. This aside the experience was mind blowing and I am so glad that we decided to visit these tribes.

We were fortunate in that over 3 days we visited 4 different tribal groups - the Konso, the Arbore, the Hamer and the Mursi. Each were different. The Konso were most like conventional towns folk, the Arbore are famous for the beaded and metal jewelry they wear. The Mursi are rough, aggressive, savvy and plain weird! The ladies are famous for the huge lip plates the wear IN their bottom lips. These plate could easily hold my dinner on them and they are apparently a sign of beauty. I am not one to judge but the way that the ladies were taking the plates out and letting the resultant skin flap around was not too catchy for me!!

The Hamer were the most interesting and most welcoming of the tribes we met. We were super lucky to be in the area at the right time of year and the right day to witness and in some ways be part of the famous bull jumping ceremony they have. The Bull jumping is a coming of age ritual that any boy must perform before they can be called men. It is complex and goes on for many days, but the main highlights are as follows.

All boys must undergo the ceremonial process to become a man, indeed even if you leave the village for work or anything else, you must come back to your village for this ceremony.

All the ladies of the family of the boy perform many dances and performances to show their support to the boy. The greatest sign of their support however is that they are voluntarily whipped, by whippers for the area. These are no light dashes with a leaf, this whipping leads to blood. It is a very disturbing process to watch, but one can’t help being enthralled by the ruthlessness of the act. The more the whipping the more you are showing your support for your brother or cousin or son.

The boys family must arrange for many bulls to be brought to the village, the more bulls they can buy the richer they are and again the better for the boy. As you might guess there is whole marriage subtext to this whole thing, as once the boy becomes a man he needs a wife. As ever everyone is one to impress!

The concluding act of the bull jumping ceremony is exactly that. The boy must jump onto and run over the backs of all the bulls that have been collected. Other men of the tribe help him by holding the bulls by their tails and horns and her jumps on them and runs. He must do this non stop at least 3 times and he cant ‘train’ for it. More over as ever with tribes he is naked (why do they always do this!).

Seeing a boy grow in to a man by jumping over 7-10 angry bulls in a row is a sight to behold. This was not a show, it was not put on to impress the tour groups, these ceremonies are how life moves with the Hamer. I was taken aback by it all and it really was a privilege to see the events unfold. Sure I felt a bit uncomfortable as I clicked away throughout the ceremonies, but to be honest this was a time when the pics did not matter, having seen the tribes of the south Omo valley was an experience by itself and was unforgetable.

Sunday, 26 September 2010

What is the cost of a Photo

We have taken over 23,000 photos on this trip so far and many have been of people, of young and old. Indeed the people we have seen on our trip are the most interesting subjects for me when taking photos. To date most of these pictures were largely unstaged, in many cases spontaneous and in some cases, down right sneakily taken! So when we decided to come to Ethiopia and ‘visit’ the southern Omo tribes, Urvi told me of the custom of paying for all the photos. Villagers would be happy to pose for us (even what to pose) but insist on payment. There is no choice in this and in the end you enter into what feels like a mass portrait session, with numerous photo shoots taking place throughout the village.

I must say that this was very unforgettable for me, not least because although the tribes were in tradition dress and setting, most would pose for a photo, this resulted in staged looking photos, which I didn’t like. However we were fortunate to come across one tribal group that did not pose for shots. The Hamer are a welcoming and intense tribe with many distinct traditions. The reason that they were not posing for shots was that we visited at the time of a bull jumping ceremony. This is described in detail in a later post, but we were lucky that as the tribe were busy in this celebratory function, they were happy to invite us in and allowed photos. Indeed some of the tribe are budding snappers themselves, and loved to click away happily. I pondered what they actually thought of taking photos as they believe that when you take a photo it takes some part of the subjects soul away and captures it! Maybe they are right, paying for posed shots was a bit soul consuming for me!

Paying for photos is not in itself a bad thing, but the business transaction takes away all feeling that the photo you take is a glimpse in the real life of the subject. I didn't have the photographic skills to influence the situation, and I guess just photographing these tribes in interesting enough. General feedback on the shots was positive so something must have good right!

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Visions from an Alien world

As we trundle around Ethiopia I am starting to contemplate what life will be like in a few short months when I will be back in the UK. So many things have happened in the last year that I am not sure what life will look life when I return. It is in many ways an alien world for me. I find it a very bizarre feeling that I am currently on never ending dirt road in Ethiopia, with farms all around me, chickens and pigs scuttling all over the place and in 2 months I will be back in a different world again. How will this be?? I have no idea. For so many reasons I am not sure I recall normal life. I know that things will settle quickly, but right now this thought is as alien for me as the tribes of southern Ethiopia will be!

Monday, 20 September 2010

Ethiopia - A Land Full of Surprises

It seemed strange at first, but the people we met who had either been to Ethiopia or were visiting when we were there, all showed some major commitment in travelling to this country. By this I meant that people didn't seem to just land up in Ethiopia and it wasn't not to be found on any sort of gringo backpackers trail through Africa. This meant that travelers (us included had some story and reason to be in Ethiopia). Why is this notable? Well, it got me thinking why people were here? What was special about this country that made people ‘want’ to come here rather than just land up here.

It soon became very clear. Ethiopia is totally intoxicating - if you open up and let it in. Arriving in the capital Addis Ababa is an experience, the city is a mess, and is not very welcoming but spend a day here and we started to warm to the Capitals ways. In many ways it felt to us like we were hauled back in time, people went about their business mainly on foot, and the air of old world africa is all over. There are very few new buildings anywhere in Addis, and business style and culture just seemed to be stuck in the 20s!

Addis was where the real point of Ethiopia started to become apparent to us. This city and the country moreover is totally a land of surprises. Surprises and more importantly broken stereotypes. If you had asked me or most people about Ethiopia, the main themes that would come back are the famine of 1984 and a vision of an arid land, with no sense of future - all in all another african basket-case. Ethiopia is nothing of the sort. It is a land so rich in history and culture that it would put most other countries to shame, indeed the lands of Ethiopia are thought to be some of the first to host Mankind no less! Ethiopia’s history spans many generations and includes a rich and complex religious structure - the Ethiopian Orthodox Christian church is a religion all by its self and evident in most of the north of the country. We were amazed at the churches and substantial religious tradition here. The churches are simple but totally different to any other Christian buildings we have seen, and have the stamp of Africa and Ethiopia all over them.

Sure the country is poor, very poor, but its people are so hard working and over the last decades the state of the country has been totally turned around. Far from being a basket-case of Africa, Ethiopia is one of the success stories. And as in so many other countries we have visited the richness of the culture and the people shines through. Ethiopian people are so good to each other that we were seriously taken aback at the familial nature of society. Maybe history had had a part to play, but for example, no one will let a stranger eat alone. While travelling we would take lunch breaks and if there was someone travelling alone, without fail others would call them over to share a meal. We were invited for coffee by the driver of our bus on one such journey. People here really have big hearts and it shows all the time. Smiles are free and donate in abundance.

Another surprise was just how naturally beautiful Ethiopia is. Again a legacy of the coverage of the famine - peoples can be forgiven for thinking that Ethiopia would be nothing more than dry and parched scrub land. In fact, it is green green green, There are lush forests, stunning green fields the like of which we have only seen in Vietnam and just outstandingly beautiful lakes,hills and mountains. Ethiopia is truly stunning and varied in appearance - a total surprise to me in particular.

By far and away the most pleasant surprise for both of us was the variety and quality of the food. Put simply Ethiopians sure know how to cook. We were totally spoilt for most of our time here. The local fare is dominated by Injera. A kind of pancake made from a millet kind of grain, it is steamed, and then served cold. This forms the base (literally) of your meal. On top you are served with Wat (curry) or Shiro (like a Dal) or best of all a Beyenatu (a combo of curries, daals, salads and all). Its true injera takes a few goes to get used to, but once you are happy with it (Urvi as ever adapted faster than me) it is a really hearty meal. Best of all, the traditional way to eat Ethiopian food is together with company. One always asks people to join in and share a meal, and this is never turned down. It is such a nice change from the one person one plate culture that is all over the West.

You would be forgiven for thinking that this might be the limit of the food enjoyment, but its just the start. Ethiopia had some of the best pasts we have EVER eaten, including the fair we had in Italy! There are a few truly awesome restaurants and in general anywhere you order pasta you are sure to get a good meal. To top this off we had great pizza, Indian and even sandwiches.

Ethiopia is really a place where food is a joy and we had a great time, however even better than the food was the coffee. Oh My, I will go as far as saying, coffee in Ethiopia is pretty much the best coffee I have ever had. In the traditional form it is strong but served with sugar and from a classic clay jug, along side much incense burning. Its just a great way to finish your injera meal. In the western espresso or Macchiato form, the coffee is smooth, intense and just a joy. Add the 25p price tag for a cup and it is pure coffee drinkers heaven!!

Ethiopia may well be THE find of the world trip for us. We thought that Laos was a discovery for us, but this welcoming part of central Africa has won a place in both our hearts, and as I sip another cup of black gold coffee, I am so thankful that we were tempted to visit here, and that Urvi confirmed it in the plans. Missing Ethiopia would have (in hindsight) been such a mistake.

Saturday, 11 September 2010

The home straight is well and truly upon us.

We have 2 months to go, we have 2 main countries to go and we have little energy left. Don't get me wrong, Africa is as important for us as any of the other continents, but I think that we needed to break the trip up with some work or some other distraction, volunteering or something. I might be giving the impression that I cant wait for the trip to finish, this is not true, I am really saying that if you are gonna be away for this length of time then really consider what it means. It means a new way of life for that long, its not a vacation and its not always easy. When you know that you are ending this type of trip you really do feel mixed emotions, in many ways just as when you start it.

I am sure that we did the right thing to take on such a long venture, and I am also sure that at this final stage, the benefits may seem hazy than ever before, but I think that once we decompress in a few months time, we will look back with nothing but fondness to what has been unimaginably wonderful.

Ethiopia and Southern Africa await. I hope that we run through the finish line and not stumble over it out of breath and pining for home.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Egypt - dare I say - do it on a tour!

Egypt is only the 2nd country I can think of that we have had mixed emotions about leaving. Everywhere else other than here and Ecuador (excluding Galapagos and Cotopaxi) we were real sad to be moving on. Its not that we have had a bad time, but I guess that there are a number of factors that make this part of the trip less enjoyable than many others. The first is that despite Egypt housing some of the oldest and most important monuments in the world, it felt that there was not much to experience. The culture of the Egyptian people today is far from interesting and from the travelers perspective Egypt is the Nile, the Pyramids and ancient remains. These do indeed blow your mind but after that what?? The modern day culture is a little bland and there is little to sink your teeth or mind into. I think that we therefore found the place to be a little underwhelming from the travelers perspective. You also don't meet that many other travelers. Meeting others has been the cornerstone of our trip and we have enriched the experience beyond comparison because of the people we have met as well as physically where we have met them. So while in Egypt we have felt alone and detached from the traveller circuit and we have been besieged by tour groups and people on short breaks!

Indeed I think the dynamics of travelling in Egypt make it perfect for the tour or short break setup. Thats basically what you end up doing anyway so why not have the comfort and ease of travel that comes with it too!

2 weeks touring around Egypt gets you to all the major sights and although all our travelling friends will be freaking out as I say this, I think that it is a far more pleasurable experience if you bite the bullet and just travel on the tour bus! Would we have missed anything if we had done that? I don't think so...

Monday, 30 August 2010

Travelling hardships - part of the fun or too much?

Backpacking and travelling generally on a budget carries with it many sacrifices and compromises. Not least comfort. To be totally comfortable in travel, or accommodation or even food, and try and stick to a budget for 18months that equates to around $50 a day, its just not possible. So what gives? Well there is always a tension between cost, comfort and time. If we need to move fast, it costs; if we want to live in plush comfort it is gonna cost. And of course the other side of the equation is that if we want to be frugal then we are going to be in slow transport and cheap accommodation.

I guess the question is if it feel like sacrifice, whats the point? We are in a fortunate position (and thanks be to God for it) where funds are not the limiting factor for us to undertake this trip. By this I mean that we don't have unlimited funds but we have more funds than we need to undertake the trip. We have met many people who are right on the limit and for them spending more means cutting the time they will travel and maybe the destinations they can go. For us this is not the case - Japan, Tibet, Business class to New Zealand and Antarctica are testimony to that! For others it is therefore a matter of trip survival that they must budget, but if this is not the case for us then whats the story?

Living on a budget means that you end up eatig local food, travelling in the most local fashion that is possible, making more friends to pool costs and pass your time taking in the atmosphere of where ever you are, rather than doing things that cost money. Is this a good thing?? I think that it depends. Some people reading this are probably thinking that its obvious, doing things cheaply is a good thing and the only way to travel. Hostels and couch surfing are the centre of many peoples budget experience, and many would say that this is the only way to travel. Others would say that we are mad, why would you on purpose share dorm rooms with people, eat and drink on the streets, and pass night after night on buses and trains? Even more why would you do this when you have a choice!! Fair comments from both sides.

This is why it is a real question for me. We have travelled for 16months, and I would say we have travelled cheaply and wisely. We have not compromised a huge amount but in some places and at some times, it has got too much. Every so often I particularly have felt like I need some comfort. I am shocked that it was me that felt this first. Urvi has been a complete budget warrior, she has been happy with the cheapest hostel and the cheapest food. I have wanted to fly to places and she has set me straight, and in the end we have taken the bus etc. Her point of view is that we should be true to what this trip is about, and in the main this trip is about discovering and challenging. Doing things the cheapest way means finding our own solutions to things, and this is a good thing. I still maintain it is a bind sometimes but I guess I will look back at this time and think that it is worth it. There are more stories because of this approach. We would not have gone to the the 4000 thousand islands in Laos if we weren't doing things on the budget, we would not have travelled and seen South America by land in the way that we did if we were splashing out. We would not have cooked while trekking in Patagonia if we were wanting comfort, and most of of all there are many people, life changing people who we would just not have met if we were checking into hotels each night.

Comfort and 5 stars have their place but the trip would not have had the rich texture that it does if we had gone comfort class. I am proud that we as people had this choice and than we have been able to move in all these circles. 56th floor penthouse or 8 bed dorm, 2nd class 24hour bus or A380 suite. We have been able to do it all.

Friday, 27 August 2010

Murder on the night train to Aswan, a bugs tale

We had not taken a long distance train in quite a while (for an overnight train - since India) and so I particularly was looking forward to the train rides in Egypt. Rumor was that they were pretty good value and comfortable and the first short hop that we did from Alexandria to Cairo was exactly that. Feeling confident we got our night tickets for Aswan, only 13 hours, it was a short ride down the country. Due to the attacks on tourists a few years back people are not allowed to travel on the day trains. There are ways are it but in any case we opted to save the nights accommodation and go for the night train.

Problems hit from the start, the cabin we were given was an old style coupe, like something out of harry potter! The seats did not recline and all 6 seats were full. So yup sitting up all 13 hours. Ok not a big deal. But then... It soon became apparent the cabin was overbooked! We sat down and found out that our seats were already taken. Not double booked by people but by a collection of bugs and mites!! Urvi started itching and then I started! We were wriggling and giggling all night and all the morning. I think that it may well have been the worst journey we have had on the whole trip. It took a whole 2 days for the itching to recede and worse our bags had carried some of the critters along with them, so for at least 3 days we had to quarantine the bags!

Really it was horrible but maybe this is what travelling is all about...??

Thursday, 26 August 2010

How hot can you take?!!!

OK, so I am talking about the weather. Since we planned our route going essentially eastward, we have been broiling in the summers of South East Asia, Chilling in the South American summer and now have entered the oven of the Middle Eastern/North African summer.

I am pretty macho about heat, both in terms of food and climate and I reckon I take any temperature. Food wise I proved my credentials, by polishing of South Americas hottest curry. This ‘vindaloo’ in La Paz had over 30 chilies in one portion, it was mind blowingly spicy and with loads of rice and lots of moral support from the friends who put me up to this challenge I did it, and got the t shirt!

Weatherwise the heat that we are tramping around in right now is getting to be too much! We entered Mexico, and Cuba and it was kind of balmy, probably around 33ish. Canada and the US was fine, not really a major issue, but then we landed in Jordan, and more significantly we got to Wadi Rum, and boy oh boy! Ya I know its the desert, so what did we expect... 44 or so in the day, and no shade anywhere, the wind blew the hot air around like a fan assisted oven and slowly but surely we were both being roasted like two plump chickens. My glasses were hot on my face and walking on the sand was a form of torture. This was super hot!Urvi was actually pretty good about it all, but we both have really felt the heat. Trying to live on a budget is not easy, when AC seems a must but adds to the costs!

This heat wave we are wandering around in had not gone away, and I don't think it will until we fly into Ethiopia. The day temperature has not dropped below 40 it seems, and worse still the night temperatures have been in the 30s.

Seriously these are times to really be sensible about your travel plans and be really conscious about how much water you drink. I would never bother about this too much but in the last month I have really seen what hot is, and without the luxury of air conditioning everywhere you go, the heat soon gets to you.

Roll on the Southern African Spring...

Friday, 20 August 2010

Dahab, its not old it doesn't have pyramids, but it is diving heaven

Our first steps into Africa were actually splashes into the waters of the Red Sea. And all I can say is Wow. The Red Sea (named due to the sunbathed pink/red landscape that surrounds the coast) should be called the clear blue sea, because thats exactly what it is. The waters off the coast are just so clear that you hardly feel like you are in the salty waters of the ocean.

Dahab may not have pyramids, or have been on Rameses II list of temple sites, but boy does it have the best diving and swimming around.

The books talk about Dahab being a hippy backpacker chill out location, and in some ways it is, but with this description I was sceptical about spending any major time there. We initially decided on having a couple of days detoxing from Jordan, and then move on to Egypt proper. However within hours of lounging in a beach front restaurant (at 2am by the way!) we were hooked. Dahab had us. It only got better a few days later when we started diving there. Going with an outfit called Sea Dancer, the diving is simply outstanding. There are of course better dive sites all round the world, with better challenges, more fish, more whales, more of anything, but for the developing novice, dahab is awesome. The diving is very accessible (no long boat rides out), its super rewarding (an outstanding array of fish and other life, all close by), and its ‘easy’ (warm water, clear water, calm water).

We loved it so much that not only did we stay for over a week, but I think that I would like to come back yearly to further develop my diving. Its the perfect place to progress this new found lifetime hobby (cheers Urvi!). There are a couple of sites that I would love to dive that I missed out on, including the Thistlegorm, which is a 1940s ship wreck, so I can see this being the first visit of many!

Why was Dahab such a welcome surprise? I guess this is really about the relaxed and easy atmosphere here. There is lots of great food, and being here for more that a couple of days you soon start to feel like a local! For me the dive centre and the instructor I did my Advanced Diver course with (Kal) really made it a great short break within the trip.

I have been feeling for a while that the trip has been tough, and these few days really helped to recharge the mind and the body! Sorry Jordan, but after 2 weeks going stir crazy in Amman, we needed a nice change and boy was Dahab the change we needed!!!

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

7 out of 7, we have done it!

Finally with our bright new passports in hand we stepped of the ferry that took us from Aqaba, Jordan to Nuweiba, Egypt. With our first step off the ferry, we had completed the mission! We had entered each of the worlds 7 continents.

Whichever way you cut the world into continents (some say there are 5, some 6 and others 7) we have now set foot on each and every one of them. The biggest achievement was of course getting to Antarctica, but being in Africa is no less of a feat. I think now we can truly say we have travelled the world. Of course there is such a lot to see and experience but the continents are now our new friends and we will go back to each one with some fond memories to recall and talk about!

Friday, 13 August 2010

Ramadan Experiences - Mall Style

As I mentioned before we have been stuck in Amman waiting for our passports for a few weeks, and during this time Ramadan has also started. There is definitely a routine and rhythm to the holy month, that you have to get used to, in order to survive, enjoy and also be respectful to others.

Breakfast is early and although hostels do still provide breakfast but its meagre. Shops and other places (non food related) will open late and generally close up before the Iftar (the evening meal taken after the sun sets). Most tourist related spots stay open but close early. Food stores will be open during the day, but restaurants and eating stalls will be closed in the main. More importantly whether we like it or not it is disrespectful to be out and about in public with a sandwich and bags of crisps in your hand! Water is a tough one, because most locals will not drink during the day, however for people not used to the Middle Eastern heat, water is a must. So we have been buying water during our days.

If you want to eat in the day the only places you can buy meals are the more foreigner orientated locations, so McDonalds and Subway will happily serve you. Again its going to be more expensive and not that easy to find. We have therefore bumbled our way through the afternoon meal, sometimes finding a local place that will serve meals to tourists and cheeky locals sneaking a snack in the day and sometimes not eating anything.

However all in all, we have found it is essentially best to eat light, drink lots and then save up for the evening meal. Most people break fast at home, so when the clocks approach 7pm, the streets empty, EVERYTHING shuts, and restaurants may or may not be ready and open. There are some famous and popular places where people like to eat outside and there you see huge picnic/catering set ups where people all eat together. However a word of warning - When it comes to Iftar outside, it is like taking part in a motor race, people get to the restaurants early, order early and are ready on the start line with their food for the lights to go green, at which point they chow down in a cloud or falafels! If you want to eat at this time you have to follow the same routine, otherwise wait until 8:30 before venturing out. Its funny but for tourists Ramadan may mean an hour extra of fasting!!

For me it has been nice to follow some, if not all, the routines of Ramadan. We have eaten less during this month for sure, and going out in the evening, when the town come to life, people eat, drink coffees, play games and shop, it is nice to feel that you are taking part in something local and authentic.

The funniest experience was a day when we decided we wanted to break out of the routine. We were going stir crazy at the hostel, and thought we would head to mall and camp in Starbucks, for some coffee and wifi.

As most will know, when the going gets tough, Urvi and Anand get to the Mall! We have done it before and it just works for us, every so often to window gaze, sip mochas and sun bath in the incessant air conditioning. However this day we got to the mall at 1300, and found that EVERYTHING was still closed. What we forgot that not only was it Ramadan but it was also Friday. The shops and eateries were all closed, Starbucks - Shut.

OK no problem, we decided to combine the 2 things that were open at the time, the Cinema and the large (and pretty grand) supermarket. The store was full of upmarket Ammanites shopping for the Iftar meal. We also picked up noodles and other stuff, and then decided to go to the cinema. We therefore also got the usual M&Ms and Chips and drinks etc. Shopping bags in hand we got into the cinema and as it was mid afternoon on a Friday the place was empty, well apart from us and 2 others.

We smuggled all the food in, and chomped through all our snacks, being careful to only rustle or slurp when there was an action scene and lots of noise!! It was a sight, stuck in the back corner of the cinema, with contraband food! Too much.

We got out of our food frenzied movie, and decided to check out if Starbucks was now open, the stores were open and so we thought we had a good chance. Nope, Starbucks - Still closed.

We walked around a bit and by 1700 we realised that the shops were now closing up again, by 1800 all the stores in the mall were shut, and apart from the few cleaners and us, the place was deserted. Everyone who had stayed had made their way to the food court. I felt like Tom Hanks in Terminal! As we walked around people smiled at us quizzically, as if to ask what are you still doing here! All alone with nothing but empty shops around us was a weird feeling, still we had the AC on!

At 1930 we also made our way to the food court and decided to order dinner, the place was packed it was the most bizarre sight! Everyone had ordered and were staring at the KFC, Pizza hut, Quiznos and McDonalds trays they had in front of them. There was not a seat in sight, and we walked though the maze of people with everyone staring as if we had descended from another planet. The mall speakers blasted out the verses from the qua’ ran and everyone was off eating. Its only after the breaking of the fast that people entered a state of normality and at that point the mall was a buzz, the coffee shops were rocking and the shops were alive. Starbucks was still closed...

We gave up our mission for the frappuchino and ended up at another coffee shop, and at 2300 when Urvi proclaimed she was tired, we exited our home for the day, the city mall in Amman, just as it was getting super busy! Midnight is the time to be at a mall during Ramadan in the Middle East, its like mid day on a Saturday in London.

Oh and Starbucks never did open!

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Less than 3 months to go...

The countdown timer has really started now, we have less than 3 months just 90 days to go before this marathon trip is over. We end and begin at the same time. Take stock of the past and plan the future. Feel happy and sad all at once.

Being on the trip has often felt like living a parallel life, one that is often like a dream, but magically real. Who knows exactly how we will feel when we finally set down our Bergaus bags for the last time and ask if the hostel has WIFI for the last time. I know that there will be totally mixed emotions. The trip has been a total roller coaster for many reasons, we have experienced many many great things and a few things that have changed our outlook on the world totally, and indeed what this world looks like fundamentally. Would I change anything I have done on this trip, a few things yes. Do I regret no, definitely not.

Somebody said (or maybe I heard it in a movie) that one should make something of each day you are given, and end each day with a memory rather than a regret. End with a positive and not sadness. I think we be sure that on day 467, we have had more than 467 memories and are truly thankful for every one.

The countdown is on, we have 91 days left, and I just hope that we have the mental and physical energy to ensure we have more memories and no regrets...

Encamped in Amman

As some of you may know we have travelled so much and accumulated so many stamps in our passports that we were faced with the conundrum of how to get new ones made. This is seemingly only a major issue if you have a UK passport, as for whatever reason they don’t have a system of adding pages into the existing document - as the US do. In fact, I think this is the only reason why I would want US citizenship!

Anyhow, due to the need to consolidate the UK foreign office has decided that it would make all overseas applicants for Passports send them to area based centres. To cut a long story short this meant that we had to either travel back to the UK and get our passports made, or send the application off to Paris and get the office there to process it and send us the new docs back. We went with the latter option.

BIT OF ADVICE - When planning an extended trip like this GET A NEW PASSPORT WHATEVER. The only exception to this rule is if you have literally just renewed your passport. Otherwise just get a new one. This might sound like a waste of passport pages but if you think that you will fill up the 20 remaining pages in your current passport, then its better to waste those rather than pause your trip and spend more money while en route.

What this did mean is that we had to camp in Amman for a few weeks, while waiting for the UK bureaucratic machine to do its thing! We actually had quite a lot of fun during this time. Despite Ramadan starting we did a tour of most of the new eateries in the town (of which there were quite a few!) and after the 3rd night eating in a fancy restaurant, we had a reality check and then started enjoying in the local, cheaper favourites!

All in all, it was a head ache to be in Amman for a longer time. The city is not a place you can really spend weeks in without having something specific to work on, but still it was nice to have no agenda for a while, and I could cite many other worse places to be encamped in! And the FCO finished up the job in 3 weeks and we were on our way sooner than expected.

Sunday, 1 August 2010

Wadi Rum, Bedouin camps and the Arabian Nights

From the heat and awe of Petra we moved on to the full on open desert and dreamscapes of Wadi Rum. If you want to really feel the harshness and the beauty of the Arabian desert then this is the place for you. Just thinking about it and typing this blog is making me feel super thirsty. The desert of Wadi Rum is super super hot. I think (and I know I have said this before!!) this is the hottest place I have ever been to. The temp would be at least 45c and there was no air conditioning or even fan to speak of. Indeed a fan would have been no use at all, as it would have blown the hot air right into us!

We stayed at a camp called Bedouin desert camp. It is run by a local guy of bedouin ancestry, called Abaid. The set up is simple, tents for sleeping in the night and boiling yourself during the day, a covered area for eating and a camp fire for the night.

The days were too tough, the only way to survive in the heat is to follow the natural rhythm of the nature. Wake early and do what you can in the cooler morning. Have a major major siesta in the day until the sun fall low enough that shadows are cast from the rocks, allowing you to move about. Be active in the evening and once the sun sets take in the cool breeze that the night affords you. Sit by the camp fire and just stare into its mesmerizing flames. They take you wherever you want to go.

We rode camels through the desert, were flung around on a jeep as we careered through the sand, and revisited many stunning sites, many of which were used in the famous movie Lawrence of Arabia.

The rocks in Wadi Rum are what make it special. There are many stunning sand dunes but the rocks really do rock! The formations make the rocks look as if they are giant ice creams, just melting away in the heat of the day. The sides run almost like a smoothy and give rise to smooth and soft curves all over. It is tremendous, and despite the heat, and dust, and lack of water anywhere, you just don’t care. You are hypnotized again by the beauty of nature.

Friday, 30 July 2010

Petra by day, Petra by night, Petra by candlelight

Our travelling in Jordan was going to follow a fairly well trodden path down the kings highway that cuts the country in 2 halves. About 5 hours south from Amman (in the north) is the town of Wadi Musa (wadi means Valley). Wadi Musa is the launching point for Petra. This town was similar to Siam Reap in Cambodia, in that it only exists to cater and earn from the tourists that flock to trek to Petra.

Similar to Angkor (but not quite on the same scale), Petra Is actually a sprawling city of many temples and buildings. However again just like Angkor there is one focal point that most go to see, here it is the Treasury.

We visited the site 3 times over 3 days and each time it was different, we Saw Petra by Candlelight, by Sunset, and by day. The night time excursion was pretty nice. You walk the 2kms from the entrance to the treasury in a candle light procession, on arrival there is the wonderful sight of the 2,000 year old building glowing orange in the light of the candles. Story telling and music add to the romantic and eerie feel to the place and the silence of the desert is all around.

Petra was a Nabatean (old Arab tribe) City (with Roman and Greek influence) that was built up on the trading route that took people from west to east across Roman run Arabia. The buildings are mainly carved into the sides of the towering rocks and the scale and intricacy of the work is simple mind boggling. The conditions of the remains are also very dramatic. Some look as if the buildings were built just a few years ago.

The highlights are the Monastery, the Roman Road and surrounds, and the Treasury. The monastery is a mammoth temple at least 30m high and grand in its design. The trek up to the monastery is about 3kms up and so we left many of the day bus tourist behind at the start. This was a tough hike in the 40 degree sun, but so worth it. You come out on a flat plain where you see nothing. Then turn around and you gasp at the beauty of this site. With such few people at the top you have the whole place to yourself!

The roman road and surrounds are just typical of the constructions of that time. Roads that last 2000 years, put most of todays routes to shame! The pillars and temples along the route are again grand and just invite you to dare to imagine with life in those days was like. Real time travel.

The Treasury is a great wow moment. Not so much for the beauty or grandeur of the building (although it is beautiful), but more for the approach to it and the impact of the first sights of it. The route from the entrance to the treasury takes you through a winding labyrinth, where the rocks tower 50m above you. The path is relatively narrow at about 5-6m but you don’t feel boxed in. The rocks take turns to shade you as you go, and at every corner you think you must have made it, each time you are wrong, but still greeted with truly magnificent colour and contours on the formations all around. Finally in the distance you can hear the gasps of others who have found the treasury, it is near. You walk through and see the first sight of the 2000 year old monolith, so typically Roman in scale that you think you could be in Rome itself. The world famous photo of the treasury covered in part by the rocks that have followed you all the way here, is a sight in itself. You stop and imagine for a second who has experienced these first sights before, and even before them, the first people to rediscover this site. How did they feel!

The ancient city of Petra is a true wonder of the world, and despite the 40c temperatures and the baked hot sands, one cant stop to gaze and wonder what stories must have been told in the past about this place and about its people.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Adios Amigos! The final day in the world of Latin America

Finally as I sink back in my seat and the plane whizzes down the runway in Mexico City, I can truly say Adios Amigos! After 154 days in Latin America, I feel drained, and yet sad that we are leaving a place that we have called Nos Casa (Our home) for all this time, we have had a totally out of this world experience, but feel so much it is time to move on. We jet on to Toronto and to my Brother in Boston, and then hit another culture all together - the middle east. Of course this is going to be interesting for more than just Falafels and Hummus but right now all I say is goodbye Latin America, God bless you, you have kept us safe all this time. You have blown our mind and shown us beauty in a thousand winds, icebergs and volcanos, endless Penguins. Our outlook on life will never be the same, now that we have trekked your parks and climbed your mountains, you have shown us that anything is possible. But just for now My friend all I can say is...

Adios Amigos!!!

Urvi shed a silent tear as she sipped on her Bloody Mary, recalling those heady days when Buenos Aires was warm, and she was fortunate enough to call it home, to the days when Patagonia was windy and she was fortunate enough to see the Torres in blue splendor, to those days when she was able to share all these dreams with all the new friends we met. Thanks to South America we met Phil, Dom, Lynda, Hilde, Rael, Andy, Sebastian, Andrea, Jana, Sergei, Cat, Matt, Melissa, Claire, Michael, Grant, Claire (Ecuador), Ester (Ecuador), Sarah (BA), Jamie (BA), Nicole (BA) and so many more. This is what travelling is about. Unforgettable.

Monday, 12 July 2010

When in Cuba, Swing to the music and sway with the Salsa

The single most important thing for people in Cuba is music, and coupled with that is Dance. EVERYONE knows how to salsa. It is more important than any other skill, and you see it everywhere. Children who can barely walk to old ladies who can barely see!

Music flows out of every doorway, with a beat, and energy that is indeed infectious. And when the music pumps people dance, or at least swing and jig. Movement is in everyones bones. I have not seen a culture where this love affair with music and dance is so deep rooted. What is great is it only takes someone to start tapping on the table, to be joined by someone beating with a juice bottle, and they are off, the rhythm is going and people just join in like a snow ball.

Music in Cuba has many origins, just like the people but the defining routes are the Spanish and crucially the African blend. Music was, and still is a release from the pain of life, from the slavery of the past and the lack of opportunity of today. Love it.

I love to listen to music but I am NO dancer, yet Urvi was adamant, she was gonna get me to dance salsa! So we did what you do in Habana, found ourselves a salsa teacher and got to it. After 5 lessons, I was no dancer, but I had great fun, had a great workout and now have a totally new respect for dancers of any type. The flexibility and grace you need to dance well is beyond me but is just wonderful to see and experience.

We went to more clubs and dance shows in Cuba than we have been to in all the trip so far, and it was awesome. Jazz (my fav), traditional Cuban old classics, and of course the world famed salsa clubs. The nights start late and go on later, but what is for sure people enjoy, dance and live life as if there is nothing else. The freedom with which old and young, fit and fat move was a real lesson to me. The music and dance of Cuba will be as unforgettable as the mountains of Nepal or the beaches of Thailand!

Thursday, 8 July 2010

When in Cuba - Carry an Extra Large Wallet, a Calculator and an Extra Pair of Eyes

Dealing with anything money related in Cuba takes effort. Firstly there are 2 parallel legal currencies, the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC) and the Moneda Naconial (MN) the CUC is what most things are charged in and the MN is for the locals. Cuba is the king of differential tourist pricing, for example the main museum of the revolution was 3CUC for us to enter, about £3, ok not bad.. For the local visitor it was 3MN, about 12p! What!! Yup its like this all over the place. Apparently the average monthly wage for a Cuban is around 40CUC. So not a lot, and therefore basically people don't steal from you, but they fleece you every chance they can. Nothing seems to be less than 1CUC, and no price is written or fixed. For example, the haircut I got in Habana cost me another 3CUC, not bad really - after negotiating with the barber (always a risky strategy!), but the guy next to me got his haircut, a shave, face massage and a cup of coffee and he got change from 25mn (£1)!. Still when I think how much money we waste on nothing back home, the £3 haircut does not feel that bad.

Things generally are expensive in Cuba for the traveller, and we spent around $100 per day, thats as much as Japan. The problem is (particularly in food) you don't feel that you get the same value for money.

The second main headache and why you have to keep your brain engaged, is that in cafes and restaurants you will never get an accurate bill. There will always be something added, most of the time something you cant even read! I think that I had to correct at least 75% of the bills thus saving me at least $50!! Its crazy. When questioned people always correct things gladly, but cynically I think they are all trying it on to begin with.

Money in Cuba - keep your brain engaged and your eyes open. Two currencies, bills always 'wrong', tourist rates and no written prices!! Still you can accept it to some extent...All this adds to the 'tourist inflation rate' I guess.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

When in Cuba you should always ask Que Es Ultimo...

At the very least Cuba is probably the most ‘different’ country we have been to and will visit on the trip. Touching down in Habana, was like going back in time, and changing planet all in one go! It is hard to totally explain the atmosphere and air there but I will try my best!

The first observation is just how much of a heady mix there is between chaotic life and ordered behaviour.

Walking the streets of Habana is really like going back in time, the old town is a mess, lets be honest, but a mess that you soon grow to love. The streets remind me of the stories I heard about medieval England. People sprawled out on the roads, women throwing water from balconies, clothes flapping from every window and terrace, people shouting to each other across the roads, laughing and shrieking. It is just a feast for the senses.

When buildings become run down they are just left, there is rubbish in piles everywhere, and no-body looks to cosmetic beauty as important. This is the case in peoples appearance, the buildings and most obviously in the cars. Cars are defining of Cuba. People all drive around in grand but battered 1950s 1960s US cars, albeit with Lada and other russian engines in them! The look of the car, the condition its in is totally irrelevant, as long as you can pack the people in and it runs.

So there is chaos shouting out from ever nook and gap in this city. However for exactly this reason it is amazingly endearing. I totally loved the colour, smells, feel of it. History is still totally alive.

Despite this chaos the people have grown up with significant order and rule in their lives. Crime seems to be non existent. Image that the WHOLE of habana looks like the most stereotyped ghetto, gang dominated suburb in any US movie. Now image walking safely around that film set at 3am... You would think we are mad. But this place just is safe safe safe. People are hugely poor, but the risks related to criminality are too great, and therefore you don't hear of muggings robbery etc etc. A crazy paradox.

When you walk the streets you see queues everywhere, the rationing days are not over and people still understand the importance of respecting the queue. Queueing has become such an art that Cuban people have developed a wonderful way of doing this and still staying out of the hot mid day sun. When you reach a place, all you ask is who’s the last one. Que es ultimo. That person maybe all the way on the other side of the street, but once you have fixed eye contact with them, your set. Go and sit wherever you want, go off for a coffee if the queue is super long! All you have to do is make sure that you follow the one directly in front of you. Simple and yet super effective.

Habana is a total and wonderful mix of chaotic and hard life, and ordered and colour behaviour. It felt to me just like a huge village, and just like any village we have visited, you can observe the main components of village life! You see old ladies chit chatting with no worry of time, you see horse and carts, chick cows any sort of animal, you observe that everyone knows everyone, and more than that they all look out for each other. I felt Habana was a great reflection of how life was when the world was simple, when people thought about each other and talked to each other rather than talking to Facebook walls, and profiles. Habana has talked to me and made me question a lot of what I am and what I hope to be. Habana is not full of contradictions just a varied and colourful homogeneity!!

Due to the political climate and the major restrictions on external trade you are blinded by the total absence of gaudy marketing campaigns and advertising in general. So much so that during half time in the world cup final - the single most watched event in the world, where advertising sells for the value of some countries GDP, the Cubans talk about the match! Two old commentators sit and talk during what would the ad breaks!! How cool is that! You would never miss a goal because ITV cuts to the ads too early in Cuba! Its a real welcome disconnect from what we see as conventional life. Media, class, materialism, adverts, choice!!!

I loved the city, I loved taking photos of the city, and most of all as we decided to stay mainly in Habana I loved just walking and soaking in the contrasts between life here and life as I know it. I question which is better...

Sunday, 4 July 2010

Leaving Mexico with mixed emotions

5 weeks ago when we touched down in Mexico and I entered with mixed emotions. There was a bit of resignation of being in yet another Spanish speaking country, how different was it going to feel, was it just Argentina with cowboys and tacos?

I can safely say that for both Urvi and myself Mexico has been a total joy; it has been varied and full of culture, history and stories. The food has been by far and away the best we have had on this part of the trip, so full of flavour and spice, and the people have once again surprised us with their charm, intelligence and love of life and each other.

I know what you are thinking, all of this is fine when you visit a country for just weeks, but as they say (and I totally believe it) you make your mind up about someone, something or some place within seconds of meeting them. Within seconds of meeting Mexico we fell in love.

Sure it is complicated with tough drug issues and Mexico City is certainly not the cake walk we encountered when we were there - it is one of the toughest cities in the world, and by far the largest we have been to in Latin America. But all these issues accepted, Mexico really was the perfect place for me in particular after the ever descending shroud that I felt in South America. For Urvi too, Mexico had colour and flare and for us both the 5 weeks flew by.

Based on this hugely enjoyable experience we leave Mexico for Cuba with totally mixed emotions. Cuba was one of the hot spots when we were planning the trip, a place that we had heard lots but knew little about. So I in particular was looking forward to being there for a few weeks. However the way that Mexico captured us, and then the great time we had with family at the end of the time in Playa Del Carmen, really made it tough to leave and head on to the next country. Cuba was going to be hard work and expensive and these things combined made us more than a little sad to leave Mexico.

Would Cuba be worth it? Lets find out!

Looking forward to Cuba but what a country Mexico turned Out to be!

Thoughts on Southern Mexico.

After spending a few unforgettable weeks tramping across the hot and arid northern parts of Mexico, we headed into the south. Most people think that the south of Mexico is essentially the Yucatan Peninsula, however it also takes in a whole bunch of other states including Oaxaca. Southern Mexico is huge and contains a number of the ancient Mayan Sites, including the grand Chichen Itza and also the resort laden and ever so slightly tacky Cancun!

We changed our plans a bit to ensure that we were in Playa Del Carmen, a resort town that is much more relaxed that the bustling Cancun, to join my Brother and Family and my Mum, who were going to be taking a vacation there. Cancun was also the launching point for our trip to Cuba.

Southern Mexico is visited by many more people, and there is an interesting merging of hard core travelers, short vacationers from the US and Canada who decided (bravely they thought!!) to do Mexico properly and the guys who go straight to Cancun. Of course each has its place and I am not for one moment saying that relaxing at a resort having all your wants catered for is not a good thing! However there is a time for each.

For us I think we tramped through the south at a bit of a frantic pace, but having said that I also think I particularly wanted a break. We have been on the road for over 400 days and of course we have had breaks on the way, but it seemed that really since leaving Ushuaia I have been on the go traveling north through South America and now into Mexico. It was an unbelievable experience but pretty tiring, both physically and mentally. I think this is one of the major messages that people need to understand when planning a long trip. A 2 week vacation is just that, 2 weeks, chilling, seeing, eating, shopping etc it is great amount of time, when you combine 26 week vacations in a row to get 1 year of back packing, you really need to take time out to reflect, relax and recharge. Travelling is actually hard work in places, thats why we do it I guess.

Anyhow the planned chill out was fixed for a few days really just doing nothing but de stressing, that was a great thing to look forward to. Before that we had to travel from Mexico City. On the way we went to Oaxaca - awesome colonial town, with ladies dancing, amazing tacos, and great markets, oh and famous for the chocolate! Palenque - site of some grand Mayan ruins, really tucked away in the forest. Campeche - read below! Disaster of a stop, totally my fault. Merida - it rained and rained and rained. We took a day trip to Chichen Itza, from Merida. Chichen Itza was amazing, but slightly spoilt by the thunderous downpour we faced! When Mum and co went there they had too much sun! Somewhere in the middle would have been ideal I guess.

The last few days of the Mexico jaunt were hampered by a large tropical storm that was working north. It was a bad thing but hey thats nature, on the trip we have had about 10% rainy days, which is not bad at all, hardly ever have we been scuppered totally because of the weather, and only once can I recall (Glaciers in New Zealand) that we were totally fed up in the rain, and that was more to do with the mosquitos.
The south of Mexico felt very different to us, it was more touristy and more humid. The cultural explosion I felt in the north was not as clear. In many ways (maybe the weather and the palms) I felt that we were in Thailand again, which is no bad thing, but I wanted to be in Mexico!

I would suggest anyone coming to Mexico that you have to head into the central and northern belts of the country. That is no reason to ignore the South, as there is much to engage your mind and relax your body, but the picture of Mexico can only be completed when you marry the spanish colonial desert towns, with the tropical palms and beaches of the south.

Friday, 25 June 2010

Campeche - a day doin it the American way!


Just as Urvi had chosen Real De Catorce as a ‘must visit’ place, I somehow decided that Campeche was a place that had to be on our southern mexico route. Campeche, according to the guide book is a super picturesque town, which is just like being in a postcard. Well, I can tell you that this was not our impression or opinion.

The streets of Campeche are famous for being super narrow and cobbled and lined with colourful houses that create a patchwork of pastel shades - you get the picture right! Ok, as we pitched up to the hostel the grayness and rain clouds started rolling over. I can tell you this for nothing, Campeche is a fair weather town. The moment the clouds rolled over all the colour and vibrancy of the streets disappeared. Being a coastal town we thought we would take a walk on the sea front, maybe that would cheer us up, well no, the sea wall walk of Campeche is about as exciting as walking along a 1960s high street - full of grayness bland buildings and shops full of nothing!

Aghhh! The depression was really setting in, the weather was closing in and the hunger was building. I can tell you this is a bad combo for Urvi and I!! We went looking for our favourite pick me up - Tacos.... Not only could we not find Tacos anywhere in the vicinity but we couldn't find a half decent eatery of any sort! This was now a desperately depressing situation! So much so that we ended up eating in... Wait for it... Burger King!!!!!! Oh man!! After weeks of glorious mexican fare we had to lower ourselves to Fries and Chilly Cheese things in the most typical American Eatery you can think of. Surely nothing could get worse...

Urvi was still wanting to sty out and explore the town but by now I had given up on the place. However we still persisted and roamed a bit further. To cut a long story shorter, we ended up spending the afternoon in an Office Depot and worse still a Wallmart!! I mean I thought we were in Mexico not middle America... While in the mecca of low prices and quality goods (Wallmart, for all non US residents) we heard a few very long claps of thunder, the grayness had turned to a full on tropical storm, and one that would stay with us for a few days!

Now what to do, we waited for a short let up on the rain and ran to the next stage of our US practice day - the local multiplex cinema. Oh my Goodness, what have we done, totally frustrated we bought tickets for the only show that was in English and settled down to watch the remake of Nightmare on Elm Street. This movie was bad, real bad, however it was only made worse by the fact that I had left my normal glasses in the room (as I had stupidly thought that it would be bright all day) and therefore had to watch the whole movie in my sunglasses, and then walk home in the night, in my sunglasses.

Trust me this was a really dark end to the darkest of days in Mexico.

Takeaway message, if you are gonna visit Campeche, check the weather reports...

Saturday, 19 June 2010

Riding like Cowboys in the ghost town of Real De Catorce


Every so often Urvi pulls a real gem out of the bag when it comes to places to visit. Real De Catorce has definitely been one of these. Located about 5 hours north of Mexico City the town gained fame a few hundred years ago for silver mining and became rich through this industry. Then as suddenly as the town grew, it shrunk to nothing, everyone left and a ghost town remained. In modern days there has been a revival and the town, now driven by tourism is kind of flourishing again.

The route to the town was a hard one, with 3 buses and a number of cities to be passed, the final hour or so was on what is renowned as being the worlds longest cobble road! After an hour bumping our way along I am willing to believe this! The final leg of the journey was through a 2 km long tunnel, for the town is cut off from the rest of the world by a large group of hills.

Emerging into the late evening light we felt as if we had travelled back in time. There was definitely an eery feel to the place but something that was somewhat cosy also!!

Through the tunnel the temperature had suddenly seemed to drop too! It was positively cool... We found our guesthouse, and for the first time in a while made sure there were blankets and not a fan!

Urvi had planned this whole section out really well. We were to stay here 2 nights, and in so doing, we could enjoy the night skies, the sunny days and beat all the day trippers that might make the trip. It was a Thursday, and as we stepped out in the evening to look for something to eat, we were greeted by nothing but total silence. Everything seemed to be closed! Was this Ecuador again, there nothing seemed to be open for very long, but in Mexico this was a new experience for us. In any case we found something good to eat and shared a great chat with the cafe owner, he advised us to watch out for the weekend as things would hot up then...

The next day was one of the best in Mexico. We hired horses and took a wonderful half day horse trek into the Sierra Madre mountains. The horses were wonderful and really healthy, and our guide was really good as well, although I worried about him as he perched on the back of a tiny donkey and trundled along behind us! We trekked for a good few hours, to the top of a famous hill lookout and prayer spot. There we just looked out on the flat lands that seemingly stretched on forever the road that we had bumped our way along the day before seemed to be the longest in the world of any type let alone cobbled!!! The scene was majestic and being on a horse to experience just seemed perfect. Again Urvi seemed to get the most energetic and pushy horse of the group (goes with her character maybe!!!), and she was always leading the pack, her horse would not let anyone go ahead of him, which made for some fun when he wanted to stop!!

The ride was one of the best things we have done in Mexico it gave us such a different view on the scenes and was so much more fun than walking the route!

On our return to the town, we said goodbye to our new friends and chilled out for sometime. Slightly apprehensive about being the only ones looking for dinner again we went for a tramp around the town, and were surprised to see the place buzzing! Kids were whizzing around on bikes and the restaurants were abuzz with townsfolk and others, we found a dream place that believe it or no had the BEST pasta and a wood burning fire. I think this was Urvis dream combination for that evening. We sunk into the cosy chairs, played cards between courses and totally pigged out on awesome goats cheese salads and Pasta. It was sublime!

I am sure our dinner in Real was not totally authentic! But it was totally symbolic of the feeling we had about the town. Real was a cosy, comforting town, where you wanted to just relax and take in the views all around you. It encouraged you to do little, think alot and eat even more! This was just the combo Urvi wanted and just the potion I needed!!

Saturday, 12 June 2010

Copper canyon...!!!


When travelling through Mexico it soon became clear that in the 5 weeks we had we would have to ration our time and focus on a few areas. This has been a regular theme of the trip thus far. To be honest 18 months is no way near enough to visit, understand and experience even a few of the countries we have visited. People can rightly criticize the pace at which we have undertaken this trip, but broadly it has worked for us, so no matter!

Anyway back to Mexico. Pretty much as soon as we landed in Mexico City we knew that we would love this place and that we would want to visit again. So when planning the broader route the big debate for us was whether to head out to the Sea of Cortez, and Baja California or head inland and travel the Copper Canyon Railroad. The Sea of Cortez is the stretch of water that lays between the Mexican mainland and the long strip of land called Baja California. These waters are some of the richest in wildlife and great for diving. The Copper Canyon or in Spanish Cobre de Barranco is noted to be one of the worlds deepest and longest canyons. It is 1200m deep in places and incredibly interesting geologically. The highlight of the canyon is the railway that tip toes right on the edge and takes you on a 12 hour (straight through) roller coaster ride from Los Mochis on the western end to Chihuahua on the eastern side.

We opted to do the Copper Canyon. This was due to cost and the fact that we had been to Galapagos weeks before. Of course the Sea of Cortez will no doubt be on our list for the next trip here!

The plan for the Copper Canyon was to start our journey to El Feurte, a small town right on the western edge of the railway and split the route up with stops at Uriche and Creel. More about these towns later.

The train trundles its way over many bridges and through endless tunnels, and winds around impossible corners. The ‘second class’ train that runs ever other day was perfect for us, it was totally comfortable and full of locals. We also met some other travellers enroute, so had good company.

El Fuerte it self was another gorgeous oasis town, small in size but grand in stature. The day we arrived the temperature must have been up near 40c so we spent most of the afternoon indoors until the sun dipped away, and the scorching heat died down. The centre of town was then filled with families milling around and chomping their way through tacos and other treats. We joined them in the plaza and spent a lovely few hours in the cool sunset light. It was really idilic.

The first leg of the actual train journey started early the next day, and took us to the station stop for Uriche. This leg was interesting but nothing that would blow your mind. After having travelled on quite a few amazing trains on the trip our expectations are usually set quite high now! The highlight of the day was arriving in Uriche. The station we got off at was Bauochivio, it wasn’t really a station, rather a junction in the tracks where the train stopped for a couple of minutes. From there we waited and waited for the bus that would take us down to Uriche. The ‘bus’ was one of the famous styled US school buses, and yes it was yellow in colour!! After a bone shattering 30 minutes, where it seemed that pretty much all the dust that was meant to be on the road made it into the bus we stopped again, at a village I couldn’t even tell you the name of. For some reason we were told to get off and get on another bus that was plonked in the road. At least an hour went by before the driver decided to get moving (I guess they take working breaks very seriously here!).

At this point the reason for the change to the smaller bus became evident. The ‘road’ down into the canyon and to Uriche was one of the most challenging you could imagine, 200m drops without any sense of safety rail and with dust everywhere! I am pretty chilled when it comes to these things but I can tell you the only thing distracting me from the drop were the unspeakable views down into the canyon. The vistas were totally magical. The late afternoon sun carved long shadows and rays through the rocks and the golden hues were varied in shade and intensity.

The views carried us right down to the bed of the canyon and hot and steamy Uriche. The villages in the heart of the canyon are also at the heart of the Marijuana trade in Mexico and the farmers don't really like travelers snooping around. However the villagers are also really helpful in telling you where is good to go and where is not so great! We did some day trekking and also watched a bit of the world cup, generally taking in the atmosphere of this small village like town.

A couple of our friends (that we made on the train) had met a few of the locals who agreed to drive up in their jeep back to the station to get our train, this ended up being the four of us jumping in the back of a pickup and holding on for dear life as the car sped up the canyon road! As we climbed the temperature dropped significantly and the scenes filled with conifer trees, just like a Scandinavian forest! It was crazy how things change when you ascend a kilometer!

The second leg of the train journey was super spectacular and took us another 5 hours to Creel. The tracks wind even harder, so much so that there is actually a point where it turns 360 degrees in a loop! We gazed through the trees peeking at the canyon and on the other side the forests gave way to barren desert type terrain, it was really amazing to see the variety. One of the stations on the route is super famous and everyone gets out here for a quick mad dash between 2 big attractions. The first is that this station is right on the edge of the canyon, so you can run over and check out the drop right from the platform. Even better than that is the 2nd attraction which is the taco stall, that serves up the best tacos on the line! They are divine and the timing of the stop is perfect at 1300!!

Creel was the end of the train line for us. We got down at this tourist centre, and to be honest apart from a short tour of the scenic valleys, there was not much to get excited about. We took the bus straight to the violent fortress of Chihuahua (jst kidding!) to take the bus back south to Zacatacas.

The Copper Canyon railroad is a memorable trip that really set off our trip to Mexico. Despite being so tremendously beautiful and comfortable the railroad didn’t seem to be on many peoples routes. This was good for us. Having the whole canyon seemingly to ourselves was a special experience. It is really true to say that this mammoth feat of geology really does ROCK!!!

Friday, 11 June 2010

Mexico's Wonderful Oasis Towns

Mexico is a very interesting country, at first glance everything seems to be tacos and sombreros, but very quickly you soon start to see the many layers that lay under the surface.

The first thing that struck me was the depth of history that Mexico possesses. For example there were large population civilisations existing about 3000 years ago, in the form of the Olmecs. This history of advanced civilisations continues through many centuries until the present day and the Mexico we see now. One of the highlights of the northern section of the trip for us were the Spanish colonial towns, that not surprisingly came up through the time of the Spanish conquest of Mexico!

To us these towns, such as Guanajuato and El Fuerte, were like gushing oases in the centre of vast scrubland and desert. Urvi would often comment how we would drive through vast expanses where there was nothing but fields and then boom, we would hit upon a city with bright and gleaming buildings. It was really an amazing experience.

The Spanish ruled over much of South and Central America just as the British did across Asia and Africa. However there is an interesting contrast in the styles of ruling. The Spanish settled and integrated in their new lands whereas the British ruled from afar, from the garrisons and from England. This contrast is clear and seen in the populations and language and culture of the Americas. Most of the countries speak Spanish, and the populations are significantly of Spanish origin or at least mixed. This is not the case in India for example!

So back to the oasis towns of the North. These towns all have such well kept and beautiful Spanish colonial hearts that they just ooze style and panache, they totally meet the postcard expectations and have colour running through every street. The sun seems to always shine here and the people are like actors on the biggest of film sets. They just seem to glow and sparkle just as your mind would see it. The streets are often cobbled or paved, and people go about their business just as they have always done.

We spent quite a few days in these towns and although it could be said that they were a little same same - churches, picturesque plazas, food markets, white washed and colourful buildings - we definitely could not get enough. The colonial towns of central and northern Mexico are certainly full of character and charm and totally one one of the highlights for us of this wonderful country.

Podcasts Saved My Sanity!

What is he talking about I hear you say! This is either because you don't know what a podcast is or because you are thinking how can they be the saviour of anything!!

OK, to help the first group out, podcasts are a bit like audio magazines. People publish a podcast on a regular basis, on just about any topic you can imagine. More than that, large news and media groups churn out huge numbers of podcasts so that you can download and listen to programmes when you want to. This makes podcasts super useful for people who commute or travel alot, just like us.

So how did they save my sanity? Well, I guess this is putting a bit strongly but they did make all the bus journeys I did across the whole length of South America a much more manageable experience. Looking out of the window on the world flying by, is a really great experience, you think and then go blank and then think some more, but at some point things started to get a bit toxic, my mind would be very jumbled and confused and you don't know which thought goes where. This is where distraction comes in. Picking up the iPod and putting on some news, or a comedy show or some documentary gave me the perfect distractions and enabled me to really just relax.

Podcasts were really a saviour. I could download them when I had a chance and as I had my favourites already set up it was a breeze. The list of podcasts probably would not suit most people as it was a mix of UK, US and Indian news (mainly BBC radio 4 news podcasts), some sports podcasts and some Jazz music. I then added a few of my favourite comedy shows from Radio 4 and a good helping of Apple Computer gabs. These were really good at helping me sleep too!! The final podcast I have is super interesting and I suggest everyone download it, especially if you have school age kids, its the BBC radio 4, A history of the World in 100 objects podcast. The basic concept is that the director of the British Museum - probably the foremost collection of world antiquities in the world (!) - chose 100 objects with which to narrate the history of the world. It is really very interesting and as each section is only 15 minutes its a great intro to world history. I helped me put a lot of the things we saw in South East Asia and South America into context.

So heres a great example of how technology can be useful and how it can help the travelling experience. I think that an iPod should be on every travelers list and they should grab podcasts as they travel round, they are so specific to each person that you are sure to find something that will save YOUR sanity!

Thursday, 10 June 2010

If Mexico were a Cinema...

Sometimes when I am writing the blog I run out of funny or mind bending things to write (some would probably say that I have never written anything funny or mind bending!) and then I go out searching for inspiration. Well mexico is certainly full of this!

I try and describe things in different ways. So during one of our many ‘plaza, chilling, watching the world go by’ sessions I came across the thought of what if Mexico were a movie theatre, what would it be like...? I reckon it would be one of those super cool movie halls of the 1950s, the sort that you would find in many towns across the land.

The kind of movie theatre Mexico represents would have to have the funky couples chairs where you can sit with your date and share sweeties together, cos everyone loves to ‘be close’ here. You see couple literally embraced in the metro as if they were, well glued together, I think they even walked off on to the platform in the same position! They love to be emotional and show their love, people are always kisses and canoodling in the plazas and parks, and it is super normal. Old people don't tut in distain when they see a young couple or newly weds, they just think of how it was for them! People have a lovely air of relaxed expressiveness and for that the theatre would need the couple chairs - in the back row of course!

My Mexican cinema would of course have plenty of nachos to go round and loads of popcorn. Both dishes are made from corn and corn is something very dear to the hearts of Mexicans. So these are obvious additions. The only difference is that the nachos and the popcorn would have copious amount so of chili sauce all over them, yup the popcorn too!

The movie playing would have to be a really funny one and full of dialogues and punch lines. These guys LOVE to talk. I thought that India was a talkative country, not compared to Mexico. EVERYONE is chatting gossiping and catching up here. People seem to be ‘doing coffee’ all the time and when friends or relatives meet they just spend time talking and joking. It is nice to sit quietly in a coffee shop or outside in a restaurant for a few minutes and just look around. There are definitely none of the sullen faces we sometimes seem in the West, people eating alone or worse still eating together in silence, kids don't come to the table with the notable white iPod headphones hardwired into their ears. People share stories, jokes and nachos all at once. It rocks.

And of course the movie would be full of colour and music. The same as any typical town in Mexico. The colour oozes around all the walls and the beats ring from the door ways

So as you can see if mexico were a cinema it would be a fun fun place to be. But you don't have to hope that cinemas were like this, just come to Mexico the country and experience it all right now!!

Mexico!! Its like we have a whole country to ourselves...

Mexico is definitely not virgin territory for travelers, and places like Cancun have more foreigners than Mexicans tramping the beaches, but travelling through the northern parts of Mexico we have felt more alone and apart from backpackers than anywhere else. Sure this is probably a function of having been in South America for 5 months, where the gringo trail is so well worn that you have to really climb high to get out of it. I felt more of a traveller in south America, but the experience seems to be much better value here in Mexico. So far traveling has been about meeting people and sharing experiences, for me Mexico is simply about the experience. I am in a phase right now where I don't want to meet new people and go through the process of introductions and sharing stories. Right now it is about the place and me, the country and my reactions to it. Mexico is totally achieving this. There is no real reasoning for this sudden change in tone and the need to be alone, I thin that during any long periods of time people go through phases traveling is no different. There are days when all Urvi wants to do is curl up and read a book, we did this in Ushuaia before taking the Antarctica expedition. There are days when all I want to do is watch Man Utd thrash some poor team in the league. So days come and days go but you cant keep up a pace this frantic all the time. Mexico was therefore clearly a god send!

So just why is Mexico so traveller free? I guess there are a few factors to this. In the main the truth is that it is not so free of travelers, it's more that there is not one straight route and trail that you end up taking. We are doing two 'loops' north and then south of Mexico City, and most people travel through the south only, the second reason for the real sparsity of travelers is likely to be the worries of the violence throughout the country. Of course this is not at all a problem but especially for backpackers from the US people have been scared off and the numbers are definitely down. The other reasons include some worries around the continuation of swine flu, and maybe as a function of the summer hot season - its too hot for most.

All in all Mexico felt notably quieter of travelers than anywhere else we have been so far. For me this was super cool as I felt we had the country to ourselves and I definitely had the space to free my mind, stretch my feet and fill my stomache!

  © Blogger template 'Isolation' by 2008

Back to TOP