Friday, 23 September 2011

Irish Pubs, Sheperds Pie and Cocaine

I figure my five day walking excursion will take a whole blog post so I best get up to date beforehand. Plus I´m bored, its 3am and I won´t be picked up until 430am for a 3hour bus before the Salkantay trek begins. So here´s what happened before. Im not on my laptop as that is in storage and therefore have no photos, these will be added later.
Some Cartagena pictures...
Anchor Heart


Palm reflections

I left Cartagena without any bother, ate a Colombian pasty and spent my remaining Colombian money ona muffin at the airport from a Dunkin´Donuts no less and arrived in Lima at the fun time of 2am. My airport pick up  failed to arrive and so I got money from the cash machine to no doubt lose my card once again... luckily security returned it to me and I grabbed a taxi from the very persistant drivers.

Lima, is absolutely huge. It is also very like English summer; Cold and Grey. On the first full day I walked to Miraflores and around. which took over 40 minutes to reach. I saw some old buildings and had lunch in the Supermarket, it was an amazing fish dish with rice for all of three pounds. I eventually made it to make out point, and the Paragliding base which was pretty cool. Makeout point so named by me, as in the guide book it states thats where young couples go. I walked back via a huge ravine for cars to drive down to the sea.
Mosaic and Parasailer

Bridge over the Ravine
I went out that night to a place, two blocks away and yet we still got a taxi. After leaving I argued with the taxi drivers and said I would walk as it was so close. It was, so a personal victory there.

Waking, I had some Ceviche,the proper traditional dish (gudiebooks, you, etc say its Guinea Pig, buts it not, more on that later) Ceviche is raw fish served with lime juice and chilli´s, it is quite nice. I headed to Lima Centro to visit San Francisco church and its crypt. In the tour they told me 25,000 were buried here and excavation was continuing. The Rough Guide puts the total at 75,000. This was a nice church and they had all the bones on display... grim. The square outside was full of pigeons that were quite friendly.


I headed back for some cheap hostel food and ean early night. I had booked my bus to Nazca and a day trip to some fort as the other more interesting trip to an island was full.

Short story, the fort was quite dull, full of history about repelling the Spanish and Spanish control of it. The highlight was the included lunch which was breaded fish. I returned to the hostel to play table tennis and drank buckets of rum. This time the club was much further away and a lot of fun.

Nazca! I awoke just in time to check out and catch my bus to Nazca.Nazca is a town in the desert where some crazy people drew lots of lines in the desert. I went to bed early and got up to catch a bus to the local airport the view the lines. Although the pictures don´t do them justice, they were impressive. I mean in England all we have is stone circles and crop circles, these are huge lines drawn in sound meticuously planned. After that a local girl gave me a tour of Nazca, where I joked that a school looked like a prison. I retired to the bar for a tasty Pizza and some weird russian music.
Small Plane

Map of the Lines

Humming Bird


I had a lot of time to kill in Nazca before my bus too Cuzco so naturally I did nothing, ate fried chicken and uploaded photos.

Cuzco. I´ve been warned about here, my friend Steffan came for a week and ended up here a month. Natalie raves and rants about bars\clubs here so I had a pretty good idea it would be awesome.Simply put it is. Old colonial style buildings and open squares make the town itself lovely. It reminds me of Dali and to a lesser extent Songpan. Full of tourists, locals and dogs. It seems like a proper town (unlike Lima which was urban sprawl and Nazca)
Cuzco being at over 3000 metres a lot of people get altitude sickness. The traditional local remedy for this is a tea made of Coca Leaves called Coca de Mate (tea of coke), this is the same plant Cocaine is derived from. However it would take 250 grams of Coca leaf to make 1 gram of Cocaine. However you would still fail a drug test. The tea itself tastes a lot like green tea.

In Cuzco I whacked out the big bucks to try some ´Cuy´ - Guinea Pig. Usual meals cost 20 soles(5 pounds) and this cost 50 soles (12 pounds) but hey, when in Rome. Cuy is billed as a holiday food, ie a turkey at christmas. Cuy itself is served whole, body, head, everything. It is a hassle to eat and there is very little meat. What meat there is does taste a little of chicken. One dish that i probably won´t bother with again.

In Cuzco I have mainly just wandered around town taking photos of the sights and acclimatising to the high altitude. Tonight I went to an Irish bar,I normally triy to avoid these but the Wikitravel write up mentioned home cooked british food and pints, so I decided to check it out. It was so much like an actual pub back home I almost never left. I bought a pint of Abbot Ale and it also served the third best Sheperds pie ever (1. Banff Hostel,(sorry mum) 2. mums 3. Paddys Irish Bar) It even came with Worcestershire Sauce! So impressed by my response to it the two peruvians sat next to me, ordered one for themselves! After asking me what it was....
Church tower

Traditional dress.... tourist trap

'Worlds Highest Irish Pub'

Guinea Pig

I was then dragged off to a hippy bar that had a live reggae band in San Blas (not the islands) before I came back to the hostel to while away the hours before my bus at 430.
photos to come :)

Monday, 12 September 2011

But why is the rum gone? A Sailing Adventure Panama to Colombia...

Panama was the next stop in the adventure for both me an Savage, with him heading north and my aim to head south. Mainly due to the ridiculousness of the flights on offer when I booked my travels (to fly to peru from LAX the cheapest option would have been to fly up to seattle and then down) Panama seemed like a good compromise. However it turns out, mostly on my part due to some naivety that Panama is not such a good link station... but every cloud as it were.

Firstly there are no land routes south of Panama, no roads, nothing. The Darien gap is trekkable, but considered far too dangerous as many guerilla types inhabit this area and involves trekking through mountainous forest unguided alone... not recommended.
Secondly it appeared that flights anywhere South were also too expensive... cue remarkable strike of genius inspiration. Sail from Panama to Colombia! Upon investigation this is completely viable and so I booked a place on a boat that would sail via the San Blas archipelago and onto Cartagena, Colombia on the 6th of September. Exit planned, lets explore Panama.

Obvious excursions were to the Panama Canal and Casco Viejo where we accidently attempted to walk in to the Presidential Palace. Panama city is an odd mix of classic colonial buildings being renovated and towering skyscrapers, including one twisty one owned by Mr Trump. The food was also excellent, in down time we drank, ended up in a bar establishment where apparently one goes to pick up hookers... we were completely oblivious to this and the Hostel owner laughed at us the next day (apparently everyone ends up here because it is the only bar that allows people wearing shorts and flip flops in)
We made one trip to Panama Viejo, the old ruins of the city burnt down by a welshman, a one Captain Morgan, yes that guy, the one you all know from the rum. We spent any other remaining time learning spanish from the hostel workers, swimming in the rain in the pool(I'll add here that before Panama it hadn't rained on us since Florida, Panama also gets 9 months of rainy season) and eating tasty Panamanian food; think fish in coconut sauces with Plantains, a sort of potato version of a banana. (Weirdly I quite like Plantain, but it does taste nothing like a Banana)
Container ship passing the canal locks

Panama Viejo ruins
Panama city over, Me and Savage headed our separate ways. In true lazy fashion I only too late realised it was a sunday and had to pay for a taxi for the second half of the trip as there was no bus. In Puerto Lindo, with no internet I stocked up on Rum for the Voyage ahead...

Our boat was called Ilean which was a loan and was a 54ft converted racing yacht(for the techies), the usual boat would have been the Delfin Solo, captained by a turkish couple called Rengin and Tahsin, plus a ginger cat called 'Minoj/Catalito'. We set sail for San Blas early on the 6th, It was hot and sunny the whole trip, in typical British fashion I got sunburnt on day one. We also saw some dolphins on our way to San Blas. For the rest of the time I doodled in my journal some designs and thought about what I will do with my life when I return to the UK, this ranged from pipe dreams to actual possibilities -such as an R&P Vancouver department to simple things such as buying digital frames.
Catalito - The Boats Cat

Sunset from the dock

The open sea
We arrived in what can only really be described as a tropical island paradise. Sandy, palm tree covered islands and bight blue warm water. First order of the day was a snorkelling adventure of the surrounding reefs. We saw a Stringray, some Lion Fish and countless other colourful specimens. After Snorkelling we headed to the Island for dinner, this consisted of fresh lobster with a lime and garlic sauce. In fact this was so good we had it again the next night, Catalito, the best fed cat in the world also got some lobster! Overnight we slept on the deck until the rains came and washed us all inside, a unfortunate victim of this rain storm was my mp3 player.
Island Paradise


Live lobsters for dinner ($1 each)
We stayed in this area of San Blas for two nights, after a trip to a shopping island to buy some food/diesel we did much the same, more snorkelling and lobster. In the evening we had a party on the island, where we drank all of the rum at our disposal. The title is therefore misleading, we know why all the rum is gone, because we drank it. That night again we slept on deck until we were awoken by a ferocious wind and lightning storm, luckily waking us before the heavy rain kicked in. These amazing storms only added to the 'excitement'. In fact often I would sit an watch the lightning in the distance.

Next day we headed off to another area of San Blas, I don't know the name. This was the best location for snorkelling, a reef on the edge where it dropped off into the sea. Again we saw lots of exotic fish, like a black and white eel like thing and one of us saw a Barracuda. 
Ominous Clouds
The next morning it was time to set sail for the mainland. The sun was out once again and for a time we even managed to get both sails up. This called for another set of reading and self reflection. I finished my remaining book in one day, and thought further about the future, more so the immediate future of how to get to Peru. (this decision has now been made, I'm flying). Back to the boat we sailed all through the night and eventually reached our destination at about half four in the afternoon of the second day.
Under way with both sails up
If travelling truly is about the getting there, then this is the way to do it. Obviously now I want to own my own boat and do the same sort of sailing trips for people (this falls in to the pipe dreams of future planning). This was the best 'border crossing' ever, tops flying without competition. The only complaint I could have, is that it wasn't windy enough to go properly under sail, but then thats nobodies fault.

I am now in Cartagena, Colombia. It is awesome, the bars are excellent, the music fantastic, the weather brill and old town is classic. I wish I could stay so much longer and see all the things I want, but alas Colombia was never supposed to be part of the plan and I am already behind schedule for time I wanted in Peru/Chile. Couple more things to do in Colombia, such as try the coffee and then I fly to Peru tomorrow which hopefully gets me back on track.
True to the subtitle, I may not have intended to go to Colombia, but I think I needed to.

Ciao for now.

Friday, 2 September 2011

Top Ten Cities Pen style

"They" recently released a list of top ten cities in the world to live. The first thing wrong with this list is its based of 'statistics' which means nothing. Secondly, we know this list is rubbish as Calgary made the top five(I've been its rubbish). Also four Australian cities made the list( now i've never been so I might be wrong, but I doubt its that great). So rather frustrated I decided to write my own list of top ten cities to live in, which I have been to and quanitfy them with reasons.

1. Vancouver, Canada

One of the coolest and most laid back cities I have visited. It has a wide variety of things to do. From running/walking stanley park, to ice hockey(ignoring the riot, just look at the community clean up effort afterwards to negate that) to a good scene of music and bars. What really pushes Vancouver above the rest in my opinion is its proximity to other sites. In the winter Whistler is an hour away for skiing, and in the summer Mountain Biking. Victoria and its sights are also only a ferry trip away making it an excellent location for weekend getaways if city life gets you down. Plus situated on the west Coast its weather is rather mild.

2. Prague, Czech Republic

Historic buildings, a rich history and beer cheaper than water make Prague an excellent city to live. From dawn walks along Charles Bridge to summer days swimming in open air pools it is never boring. The food is also very reasonably priced and excellent (we had wild boar and deer to name a couple).

3. Osaka

Osaka ranks in my top favourite cities, it is exciting and glitzy, a lot like Tokyo but not quite as big. Making this a more accessible and thus better city to live in. Plus with Japans excellent train service Tokyo is no more than two hours away, nor are the cultural hubs of Kyoto and Nara more than an hour away, both worth the visit but not so much for living. Downtown is full of Neon and shops galore, while the outer city is quieter but too housing all the amenities and food you could ever want.

4. Tokyo, Japan

Ranked after Osaka purely to being a megapolis, this is also its best aspect. From the kitcsh surroundings of Harijuku to the hustle and bustle of Shinjuku, through to Roppongi bars and the techno heaven of Akhihabara there is so much to do you could never be bored in Tokyo. Rated down the list for the commute and fast pacedness which would drag after awhile, despite this it would still be an awesome city to live in.

5. Bristol, England

Yes, I am biased but I love my city. From the posh victorian cliftonites and the sprawling open spaces of the downs. Its Gloucester road is an independent shopping street that still receives national accreditation to this day, and after shopping can relax in St Andrews park before hitting the pubs. If you fancy heading into town, the centre has interesting spots aplenty, from the Cider Boat to 'artsy' films at the Watershed or Arnolfini. The nightlife is varied and new cool places pop up all the time. If you want to head further afield, Ashton Court just over 'that bridge' is pleasant for walks or picnics.
(reading this, i've clearly read too many lonely planets)

6. Kunming/Chengdu, China

I've joined these two together as I felt I could not choose, and are rather similar. Kunming has undergone a development surge rising it in the rankings. The centre is now modern and closed to vehicles. It is also perfectly situated for exploring the rest of Yunnan ( a must) and is the first arrival point for most who do this. Chengdu, is centred in the heart of Szechuan and like Kunming is therefore easily located for exploring the rest of Szechuan. Chengdu itself is another laid back city (the Chengdu people are frowned upon by the rest of China) with tea gardens aplenty. The old parts are well worth the explore and its young modern side is increasing, making it a good place to be. Did I mention the Panda sanctuary is just outside the city?

7. Austin, Texas

Indeterminably cool Austin is without a doubt a great city to live in. The bars are cool and the people interesting. It also retains its Texas vibes while remaining liberal and alternative. On the hot days one can relax in the nearby Creek and on alternate wednesdays in the summer they put on free gigs. Nearby sights include BBQ and Floating the River. These make Austin a definite favourite, in its faults, it is rather large and so owning a car is a must to get around. BUT the girls are beautiful which easily makes up for that :D

8. San Francisco, USA

Land of the hills, despite this San Francisco has plenty going for it. From neighbourhoods of victorian houses to the hippy hangouts of Haight/Ashbury (worlds best record store also here) to the fantastic views of the golden gate bridge. For liveability, it has a wide range of everything, including great food and bars. Only an hour away up highway 1 you have the splended coastal road and a bit further inland, you have wine country.

9. Lhasa, Tibet
One of the worlds highest cities, Lhasa has a lot going for it. Its cultural sights alone are breathtaking. Potala Palace for instance, I've never seen such an impressive palace and a sky so blue. The people are incredibly friendly, if you ignore all the oppressive Chinese police who by the locals ambivalence only adds to the character. Plenty of tasty tibetan food dishes, including sizzling Yak will keep you entertained and not too mention the proximity to Everest and other buddhist sites, if that is your thing. In time to come the Dalai Lama may return to his home, and you too could think of it as home.

10. Hong Kong

Once Britains far east vestige it now has been returned to the Chinese. For sheer excitement, glitz and glamour Hong Kong is second only to Tokyo. Definitely a city to be rich in, it still holds a fantastic amount of wonder and excitement for any budget. From the cultural sights to the buzz of Lan Kwai Fong. Hong Kong never really disappoints. Even Kowloon is a gem in itself, spiralling towards the north, with the best views of Hong Kong cityscape, to live here would be an adventure in itself.

Well there is my top ten. I hope everyone enjoys, and if you disagree, do tell me. This list will probably change once I finish the whole trip, but until then...