Living in a big city myself, I’ve been consciously avoiding hanging out too long in other cities during my travels, preferring the wide open spaces of mountains, coastline, islands and smaller, more intimate places. But there has been one city I have been increasingly looking forward to visiting. Whenever I have asked other travellers for highlights of their trip to Colombia, there has been a constant refrain: you must go to Medellín. Continue reading
I arrive in Colombia late at night, crossing from Tulcan in Ecuador to Ipiales via the border post at Rumichaca which is now open 24 hours a day. There is a long slowly shuffling queue on the Ecuadorean side, but I’m kept entertained for the whole 40 minutes by Continue reading
I’ve just returned to mainland Ecuador after almost two weeks of pure enchantment in the Galápagos Islands, I almost can’t even begin to write about it, my head is spinning with all I’ve seen and experienced. And I certainly don’t know where to end, so apologies if this is a bit of a long read!
My Galápagos adventure began aboard the appropriately named Beagle. Owned by a family in Puerto Ayora, it’s a genteel twin-masted schooner with polished wooden fittings, that certainly knows how to rock and roll when the swell gets up. Eating together al fresco around her family table, and watching the awe-inspiring southern star-studded nights from her deck were daily reminders of both the importance of our common humanity, also our minuscule significance in the universal order of things.
We set sail from Baltra in the north of Santa Cruz Island, Continue reading
N is for Nasca Lines
One of the great mysteries of Peru, the Nasca lines, these enormous patterns and designs in the desert were created by removing all the dark stones and exposing the lighter sand below. They’re fascinating to see, and sure to have you asking, but why? Continue reading
A is for Arequipa and artisanal alpaca hats
Arequipa was the first town I properly arrived in, having crossed the overland border between Arica in Chile and Tacna in Peru. The old city is full of character, beautiful cobbled streets, it nestles below three volcanoes, and the food has a style all of its own. I especially liked Rocoto Relleno, a large stuffed red chili, with a solid spicy kick. The monastery of Santa Catalina is an eye-opening revelation into how nuns from wealthy Spanish families lived – no vow of poverty here and only the first Vatican council changed their lifestyle into one more of community living.
An alpaca hat with ear flaps and tassels is the must-have item for overnight stays in Colca Canyon or the Inca Trail. There’s a moment on every trek when the baseball caps and wide brimmed straw trilby hats vanish and out come all the alpaca hats we’ve been cajoled into purchasing from the wizened knitting ladies in every market, tourist stop, or café. You can try to resist, but the cold nights in Puno or Cusco mean the alpaca hat will get you in the end! Mine’s reversible, just sayin’! 😉
B is for the Ballestas Islands
Iorana! Here we go with Choco’s top tips for visiting Rapa Nui. I don’t need to list the best archaeological sites to see – there’s plenty of info out there on that – but my personal thoughts on making the most of your trip. Tip Zero, obviously, is GO! It’s the most unique place, with a fascinating fusion of ancient and modern, RapaNui, Polynesian & Latin American cultures, set in an equally awe inspiring landscape.
1. Push the boat right out, and give it at least a whole week, or more! I was there 8 days and it still didn’t feel long enough. It’s the most remote inhabited island in the world, you’ve probably paid a fair bit just to get there, so why not take enough time to really enjoy it. English travel groups notoriously try to squeeze it all into a three-day tour package – yes, you can see all the highlights, but you’ll probably be so busy racing from site to site, there’ll be almost no time to just let Rapa Nui soak into your skin.
2. Make yourself independent with a copy of James Grant-Peterken’s excellent A Companion to Easter Island – especially if you are, like me, more inclined to independent discovery than being bussed around on a tour. I found it an invaluable friend, from history to best times of day to visit the busier sites to walks and restaurant recommendations. James lives on the island, he knows what he’s talking about. My now very dog eared copy was boughtbefore travelling, but there’s a kindle edition now, andgift shops on the island sell it.
3. Get ready to spend (and save) money – Easter Island’s isolation means it’s not cheap but it IS DEFINITELY worth saving for! It’s US$60/CLP54,000 just to enter the national park, food and accommodation are not cheap. I saved by staying in a hostal with guest kitchen, then bought eggs, cheese, yoghurt, bread and fruit for breakfasts and packed lunch. There are some good smaller cafes offering menu del día options for less than £10, including good fresh fish dishes. And for a cheap filler, no-one quite makes a queso-atún empanada quite like Tía Berta – Rapa Nui’s best pasty is filling and cheap, oozing with cheese, onions and juicy fresh tuna. Delicious!
4. Get some wheels. It’s really worth hiring a car, a scooter, a quad bike etc, and avoid the crowds by visiting the best sites in the early morning and late afternoon when the light will show off their better features, as well as taking you to the beach, or for some great walks. Its particularly worth making sure your visit to Rano Raraku is early morning (go after the sunrise at Tongariki maybe), before the tour buses arrive. You can hire a pedal bike, but three separate people I met did that for one day, then traded up to a scooter! If hiring an vehicle it’s definitely worth shopping around as prices can vary, and deals can be struck.
5. Eat the raw fish, drink the pisco! Easter Island has some truly great restaurants, specialising in fish and seafood (I particularly liked Te Moana and Haka Honu, both in the harbour area). I have never tasted such fresh, delicious raw tuna and sea bass in my life, and here it comes in vast portions, often plentiful enough for two to share with an additional side dish. There are plenty of variations of marination and the Moai sunset bar at Tahai also does some good spin in a pisco sour with a great view of the Moai to round off your day.
6. Go crater crawling. If visiting the volcano at Ranu Kau and Orongo, it’s really worth the 1-2 hour walk around the crater edge to the far side of Kari Kari (ie. opposite direction from Orongo). The spectacular view of the crater, with the precariously perched village, the sheer cliffs and the jagged motus poking out of the bluest sea, is really not something you want to miss.
7. See the sun rise at Tongariki. On Easter Island, it ain’t much of a hardship to get up before dawn because in order to synchronise office hours with Santiago, island time runs just two hours behind Chile mainland time. At the time I was there the sunrise was about 8.15 – with the skies turning peachy pink and orange a little before that. The shimmering shards of golden light behind the 15 giant moai is truly a sight to behold.
8. For the best sense of just how isolated the island is, and a breathtaking 360 view of the whole island and its craters and crags, take a morning to climb Mount Terevaka. It’s a relatively easy walk (just wear a hat and take water!), mostly on grassy track, about 1.5-2 hours up and a bit less to get down again, so up to 4 hours total. There is nothing but nothing but sparkling blue ocean all around. So. Much. Ocean.
9. Bring, beg, borrow or buy a snorkel and mask, so you can check out the underwater life, especially the array of interesting fish and giant turtles. A family of the latter almost daily hangs out amongst the boats in the harbour, catching the fish heads and scraps from the fisherpeople. Just check out my Chilean friend Christian’s one minute video and you’ll see what I mean. At Ovahe and Anakena beaches the areas by the rocks are where the interesting fish lurk.
10. See a show! I went to see Kari Kari, the most established professional group on the island, conveniently with its own venue just across the road from my hostel Inaki Uhi. Tickets there were CLP15,000 (around £19 at the time of travel). It was packed with great, and quite revealing traditional costumes and accompanied by ukuleles, drums, conch shells and heartily sung harmonies, the whole show was full of life, sexy & cheesily cheeky, all around entertaining and just put a smile on my face and the sunshine into my heart.
I could go on with recommendations! I haven’t even mentioned the two lovely beaches at Anakena and Ovahe, for example! Or Terangi, a great guide who works for Rapanui tours. If you’ve been to Easter Island, I’d love to know what you think, and please add your own highlights in the comments section! If you’re thinking of going there, and want to know more, get in touch!
To get to my sister’s home town in Golden Bay, you have to climb over Takaka Hill. And when you reach there, people routinely talk about “going over the hill” in the same way others would talk about going overseas, as in “oh, I don’t think I’ll be going over the hill this week/month/any time before Easter”! To be fair, although it only takes just under an hour in good weather, the journey between Motueka and Takaka in Golden Bay is pretty spectacular, not unlike the hairpin-heavy mountain passes leading to Alpine ski resorts, and features as one of the world’s most exciting and dangerous roads to drive.
But the journey is totally worth it, the scenery all around is spectacular, the weather its own Mediterranean microclimate and the atmosphere is as laid back as a Greek olive grove in the late afternoon sun. Takaka itself is like entering into a hippy time warp, where shopkeepers are open to bartering, swapping and “lay-by” purchase-in-instalment arrangements, hand-painted signs and murals everywhere you look (even the corrugated iron walls of the Freshchoice supermarket sport a mural) whilst barefoot travellers laze around, playing music and making art and jewellery.
It’s been a longish flight already, and we’re about to start our descent into Dubai to refuel when the woman in the seat in front of me turns around and asks me to hold her hands. Quick, quick, she says, put your hand here. I instinctively obey, and place one hand on top of hers, and the other below. There are slivers of paper on her hands between ours – they’re intricately patterned henna tattoos, and she needs help getting them to stick! She moves around, plonks herself next to me, and tells me she’s on her way to Somalia to see her mother. Born there herself, Sehara has lived and worked for the last 27 years in East London, whilst bringing up four kids. But this lovely, friendly, hard working woman is on Donald Trump’s Muslim ban hit list, should she ever try to visit her brother in the States right now.
One week to go til I set off on my big adventure…
So, the idea of taking time out from work is also meant to be a break from my über-planned life to date, in which I’ve never been out of work for a single day since I left university, and slogged away at my great and interesting jobs almost without pause since the summer of 1987.
Throw caution to the winds… throw plans out of the window, and just go with the flow…and see what happens. What turns up.
It lasted about a week. It turns out I can’t live without a plan. I was almost cracking up with the strain of not knowing what I was about to do next. Lost and anxious. My good friend Shirley in Boston came to the rescue. “Carpe the f***ing diem”, she said.
“We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started
And know that place for the first time.”
So, I finally took the plunge…
After 13 amazing years working for the Fairtrade Foundation, I’ve had the privilege of meeting coffee farmers from Costa Rica and Ethiopia, banana growers from Colombia and Dominican Republic, sugar farmers in Fiji, women cocoa farmers in Ivory Coast, date producers in the deserts of Tunisia and beleaguered olive farmers in Palestine. Some I’ve been able to visit on their own farms, others I have met here in the UK.
Now I have decided to take a break from the day job to embark on my own personal adventure in 2017. On 31 January, I board a plane in London and head off down under to Australia and New Zealand, and then from March on across the Pacific to Easter Island, Chile, Peru, Ecuador/Galapagos, Colombia, Panama and finally ending in Costa Rica some time in May. On this trip I want to get closer to the stories, cultures and ecosystems of the places I go and people I meet. There may be the odd familiar face, and hopefully many new ones too, along the way, but this time I definitely have no work agenda – just to meet and make friends, explore places and communities, stop, look, listen and gently breathe in and out for a while 🙂
Come with me on my journey & stay in touch as I go 🙂